Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The gift we as the church bring to Ferguson -- being theologians.

"What we need is not just diplomats. We need psychologists and theologians." - Yossi Halevi

Two months ago, I was with a group studying the conflict in Israel & Palestine, and spent a morning in Jerusalem with Yossi, a Jewish author who has spent decades immersed in the conflict in that land. I have come back to these words of his often as Ferguson, just 15 minutes from our Cathedral, has become the epicenter of America's latest seismic encounter with race and class, power and privilege.

Yossi could have been speaking of Ferguson and the national wound that has been ripped open by it. And that has led me to believe our primary gift as the Church in this moment is indeed to be theologians. To provide a theological framework and language for us to engage this work as followers of Jesus Christ.

As Episcopalians, our theology is intensely sacramental. The sacraments and sacramental rites of the church are not just ritual, they are a pattern for our entire lives. And so we engage what is happening in Ferguson the way we engage everything -- sacramentally. Specifically, through Eucharist and reconciliation.

First, Eucharist.

The first act of the Eucharist is gathering. We gather around the presence of Christ and focus our attention on it. We drink Christ's presence in with our eyes and ears. So what is the presence of Christ? The presence of Christ is where divinity meets humanity. It is when human beings allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to speak their deep truth. It is anything from the height of joy to the depths of agony. It is often raw, it is usually messy, and it is always, always real.

For us in this moment, the presence of Christ is the cries that are coming from Ferguson. As I preached on Sunday, it is the cries of mothers, children and everyone else who has been treated as less than full images of God because of their race. They are the cries of frustration from the police, cries of loss from business owners and cries of exasperation and sorrow from teachers who are being prevented from teaching their children. They are the better angels of all of our human natures when our efforts to guard one another's dignity and participate in human thriving are thwarted. They are voices not of a "them" but of part of the "we."

So our first task in Ferguson is simply to pay attention. To look at the faces and listen to the voices. To do so with "inquiring and discerning hearts," asking God to reveal the presence of Christ in these voices crying out in our midst.

The second act of the Eucharist is offering, and what we offer is our whole selves. One of our offertory sentences is a portion of this passage from Romans 12:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In the Eucharist after we gather around the presence of Christ, we offer ourselves to it. We lay our lives -- our whole selves, holding nothing back -- on the table with Christ's life. It is not just listening to the voices of Christ, but letting those voices become part of us. Letting them interact with us. Letting God change us through them.

When we lay ourselves on the table in the Eucharist, the offering of our lives becomes intermingled with the life and presence of Christ, and something new is created that is both each of us and Christ. It is this new life that happens when we all meet in that place where divinity touches humanity. Where our vulnerability touches each other's vulnerability in the model of the cross and together we become something we never could become on our own.

And that is the moment of blessing. That is the moment, as we offer all this life to God, that we ask God to say "this is good." All our vulnerability. All our joy. All our pain. All coming together into a whole that has the highest integrity.

For us in Ferguson, that means listening deeply to those voices, listening for the presence of Christ in them, letting them into the everydayness of our lives and our own stories and letting them change us. It means striving for honest conversation -- conversation whose goal is conversion. It means guarding against defensiveness and shame, which shut us down to the converting power of the other. And it means continually asking God to bless, continually trusting that God takes our efforts, honest and fallible, and says "this is good," continually believing that God means us for one another and that our destiny is to be reconciled to God and one another in Christ (2 Cor. 5).

And then we receive. In the words of St. Augustine, we take this new life that has occurred in all our self-offerings on the table and "be what we see, receive who we are." We become a healed and reconciled people because what we receive is a little peace of each of us and a lot of Jesus. Whereas we came to the table as individuals, we leave as one.

And we do leave ... or, more accurately, we are sent. We are sent out into the world "to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart." We are sent because in the words of my good friend the Rev. Dahn Gandell, "transformation not shared is wasted." We are sent because like Jesus, our life is not to be lived for ourselves but given for the love of the whole world.

In Ferguson living Eucharistically means our role as Christians is continually to be asking questions:

*Where is the presence of Christ? Who are those voices that are Christ's voice?

*How is God calling us to lay our lives on the table with that presence of Christ?

*How can we be open to the new life that emerges -- a new life that removes all the "us's and them's" and creates a new and glorious "we."

*How can we let this new life become our new identity -- who Jesus says that WE are?

*How can we, as a new people in Christ, be sent into the world to love and serve with gladness and singleness of heart?

Like the Eucharist ,this does not happen all at once. We come back to the table time and time and time again. We do it because we do this so imperfectly (thankfully God is even more graceful than we are imperfect!). We do it because it is so difficult but it is also so rewarding. It is not a one-time ritual but the gathering-offering-blessing-receiving-sending, wash-rinse-repeat motion of our lives.

Second, reconciliation.

Reconciliation is also a process, and like Eucharist, it is repeatable ... over and over and over again. It is the process of identifying where we have fallen short of living the way God dreams for us, where we have broken relationship with God, one another and creation. It is not about shame -- exactly the opposite. It is the liberating process of realizing that God's dream for us is like Eden ... that we be naked and unashamed ... and that because of the grace of God, even the worst sins and mistakes -- like those of the Prodigal Son -- can be amended and forgiven.

Reconciliation begins with self-examination. In the liturgy, this happens before the Eucharist, but really it's a much messier, more dynamic process. Often the very act of gathering around the presence of Christ and hearing those voices and gazing on that life leads us into self-examination.

The questions of self-examination are intense and unfailingly honest. Where have we fallen short of God's dream for us? Where have we injured or offended others or God's creation? Where have we contributed to the oppression of ourselves or others, and where have we not contributed as we might have to the thriving of every human being.

And then we confess. In Matthew, when John the Baptist is calling people to confession, he uses . the word ἐξομολογέω (ex-om-ol-og-eh'-o), which means “together, acknowledging openly and joyfully.” This is loud, communal, joyful confession. Confession is not a shame-filled dirge, but a liberation because we are freeing ourselves from a burden.

Then we repent. We literally pledge to turn our lives around. We pledge to repair the damage the best we can and, with God's help not to sin anymore.

And then God forgives. That is absolution. And it literally erases what is past. But we still have a covenant promise to keep, and that is the final step. Because finally we have amendment of life -- that's the actual living of it all. Recognizing that repentance is not just lip service, that we actually have to ... and more important, we GET to ... live as new, redeemed people in the world.

What does this look like in Ferguson. Well, like Eucharist, it's all about the questions.

*Self-examination -- where have I/we contributed to the pain that is being expressed in Ferguson? Where do we need to own responsibility for our sins of things done and left undone?

*Confession -- What do we need to stand up and take responsibility for? Not with our head low and mumbling, but standing tall with our heads held high. Knowing that naming it and taking responsibility for it means we are free from being "found out" and defensiveness. Free to receive the love of God.

*Repentance -- Now that we have confessed, what actions do we need to commit to so this is not just an empty apology? How do we work to rebuild trust, rebuild relationship, tear down structures that oppress and build up structures that nurture human thriving?

*Forgiveness -- How can we receive God's love and trust it will never leave? How can we not be burdened by the sins of racism and classism, power and privilege? How can we be open to receiving the healing power of God in Christ that is so much more powerful than any power we have and so necessary to the healing of the world?

*Amendment of life -- How can we go out and live differently? What does effective change look like? How can we live -- together with one another -- as people of a new creation, forgiven, loved and free?

We engage reconciliation both as individuals and as the communion of saints, local, national, global and cosmic. And as with the Eucharist, our call as followers of Christ is not only to live Eucharistically and as ambassadors of Christ given the ministry of reconciliation, but to lead the world into that life as well.

To help train the eyes of the world on the presence of Christ and invite them to lay their lives on the table with it.

To lead the process of all of us becoming something new and life-giving together.

To lead in taking responsibility for our part in the sin and brokenness of the world, not as a shamed, self-flagellating act, but as bold leaders of joyful reconciliation.

To proclaim that, as Becca Stevens says, love is the most powerful force for social change in the universe.

And love looks like gathering around the presence of Christ and laying our lives on the table with it.

Love looks like owning where we have broken relationship and pledging to our sisters and brothers to try not to do it again.

And love also means, in the words of the marriage prayer, to have the grace, when we hurt each other again anyway, to ask for each other's forgiveness and God's.

As we watch the events from Ferguson either from across town, across the country or around the world, we are called to consider what it means to encounter them theologically. Encounter them as Eucharistic people and ambassadors of Christ given the ministry of reconciliation. It is an incredibly imperfect and messy process. Not a single act but a pattern of life lived in community that will be repeated over and over and over again. We will have to hold each other in love and grace because more often than not, we will not get it right. But it is in the holding of one another in love and grace that the power of Christ is set loose.

I am convinced this is the gift we as the church bring to Ferguson ... and to the gaping wound of our nation's original sin of race as a whole.  It is for us not first to be social scientists or aid workers, community organizers or even crusaders for reform. It is for us first to be theologians, offering the life-giving gifts that, if not offered by us, may not be offered at all.

The gift of Eucharist and reconciliation.

The gift of the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that does not detour around the agony of the cross.

The gift of a Christ who gave himself for the whole world -- no exceptions -- and promises that, as we do the same, he will be with us always, even to the end of the age.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Healing the child and "Praying with our Feet" -- joining what God is already doing.

The Rev. Traci Blackmon prays over Gov. Jay Nixon last week.
Yesterday, in my sermon, I named four areas where "all of us working together, with God's help" can help with the long work of healing the child crying out in Ferguson.  We're calling it "Praying with Our Feet," and I want to take a little time to unpack each of those and let you know about some wonderful organizations and people that are already doing this work that you can connect with.

"All of us working together, with God's help, can close the gap of educational opportunity in St. Louis."

This is exactly what we are trying to do in hosting Lafayette Preparatory Academy in our building -- provide excellent public elementary education to children who have no educational choice and are trapped in failing schools. LPA certainly needs your help -- they take financial donations and they also can use volunteers. For more information, email head of school Susan Marino.

There are some other excellent schools that are doing great things at the mission of closing the educational gap. Please check out their websites and consider if you are called to help.

*Loyola Academy - "a Jesuit middle school for boys who have the potential for college preparatory work, but whose progress may be impeded by economic or social circumstances." Their head of school, Eric Clark, is an absolute visionary.

*City Academy - In North St. Louis, the only private, independent elementary school in St. Louis and the State of Missouri providing scholarship support to 100% of our students. I've toured there and know the head of school -- it's fantastic.

Also consider volunteering as a tutor in your local public school. Give to Grace Hill Settlement House to support their Head Start Programs. And educate yourself and promote positive change in educational policy ... such as the Teach Great ballot initiative that is coming up in November.

"All of us, working together, with God's help, can mentor young black men and women in St. Louis."

There is no substitute for relationship. Relationship changes lives. Here are some organizations where you can either build relationships yourself or support the building of mentoring relationships that will shape lives for the better:

*Episcopal City Mission -- Our Episcopal ministry for children and youth in detention. Start out by helping out at one of the birthday parties, then learn about the many ways you can be a positive force in the lives of these young people. Want to know more ... their offices are right here at Christ Church Cathedral on the third floor. Or talk to Dannie Franklin on Sunday morning.

*100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis - through empowering youth, a fantastic organization for improving education and economic opportunity in St. Louis.

*SistaKeeper -- Check out their video here.


*Girls, Inc of St. Louis -- A familiar name to us at Christ Church Cathedral as we have hosted it in the Tuttle Building and we have had parishioners intimately involved in this fantastic organization for empowering girls.

"All of us, working together, with God's help, can confess and remove the prejudice in our hiring practices, investment practices and social choices"

Most of us -- certainly Christ Church Cathedral included -- have a lot of work to do here. Does your workplace make sure that when contracts are bid out at least one bid comes from a minority-owned business? Does your staffing represent the diversity of your community? Are you -- either personally or as a business or church -- investing not only in terms of maximizing financial rate of return but also maximizing impact in the community. What about dedicating a portion of your endowment or investment portfolio to investing in minority owned businesses in your area.

When you choose a doctor, lawyer, financial planner, dry cleaner ... do you intentionally use that as an opportunity to diversify your relationships? Are there social situations you can intentionally enter into that, if you are white, put you in a situation where you are a racial minority?

"All of us, working together, with God's help, can with the power of our voice and the power of our vote stand up against racial profiling in our police forces -- and at the same time listen deeply to the voices of our police officers, because they have a cry as well."

Much of this is about listening and speaking up. Listen to the voices that are coming out of Ferguson. Educate yourself about the statistics of how out of proportion stops, searches and arrests of African Americans are to the rest of the population. Speak out in conversations with friends and family -- it's risky and scary, but we have to do it.

And yes, we need to listen to the voices of the police as well. We need to work to get the guns off the street. Our own Mike Rohan is working with former St. Louis Police Chief Dan Isom on an anti-violence/anti-youth-gun initiative in St. Louis City. Our good friends and neighbors at Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church have done a toy gun buyback and other efforts to take the guns off the streets. There are plenty of ways to grow this movement.

I'd love to talk with you more about any of these things. And this is just a starter set. The point is that we don't need to start everything from scratch. God is moving in powerful ways. We just need to keep stepping out of the boat and getting in the game!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Worship God in the Beauty of Holiness

"Worship God in the beauty of holiness." (Psalm 96:9)

Last Sunday we had our second community conversation about expected behavior during Sunday morning worship: How we can work together to create a space that invites people into God's welcome for all and at the same time recognizes that at 8 and 10 am on Sunday mornings we gather for a specific purpose ... together to "worship God in the beauty of holiness."

Several weeks ago, I invited attendees at our On The Table forum to talk to a wide variety of constituencies and ask them why they came on Sunday morning and what they thought reasonable standards of behavior were. (Read more about that conversation in this blogpost). What they reported included:

*Mostly people gather on Sunday mornings for worship, but -- particularly in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter -- people also come into the space for shelter.

*Different people worship differently -- and different people find different things distracting in worship. We need always to respect and grow from those differences.

*People of different ages and abilities are able to and, in fact, do engage in worship in different ways. Again ... grace is required.

After listening deeply to many different viewpoints, Amy and I have established these guidelines for our Sunday worship time:

In this sacred space, all are invited to “worship God in the beauty of holiness” (Ps 96:9) by together creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and joyful reverence.

Please join in congregational responses and singing with joy and enthusiasm. Look for opportunities to assist visitors and feel free to ask for help yourself. Enjoy the squeaks, hoots and impromptu dances that sometimes come from our youngest worshippers.

In addition, please keep conversation to the barest minimum, silence electronic devices, restrict your eating to the Eucharist and follow Jesus’ command to “stay awake” (realizing the preacher bears some responsibility there).

Please support one another by reminding each other of these “Rules of Respect*” for worship, recognizing that grace may be needed for young children, and that in all things we strive not to be bound by the law but by embodying the love of Christ that gives God greatest glory.

These will be printed in the bulletin and I will speak to them briefly before worship this Sunday. We ask that everyone support and hold one another accountable in living within these guidelines. If you truly feel unsafe reminding someone of these norms, we ask you to get a security guard. However, if you feel not so much unsafe as uncomfortable, we ask you to lean into that discomfort and have the loving conversation. We grow together in Christ by our willingness to have the loving, uncomfortable conversation.

We're going to try this for three months and see what we notice. What do you think?

*We call them Rules for Respect for worship because they are a version of our broader Rules for Respect for how we treat one another in community. Download and take a look at those by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lafayette Prep - A great first year and looking ahead to Year 2

When we began conversations with Lafayette Preparatory Academy to be their incubator for their first two years, we were excited at the potential of this relationship. For us it meant both engaging in important mission work -- providing excellent education to children both in the loft communities downtown and in the poorer communities surrounding downtown -- but also an income stream of close to $70,000 a year that would help us balance our budget.

We are now at the halfway point of that relationship -- a good time for a "state of the union" of sorts -- and I'm thrilled to say it has been an extraordinary first year with very few bumps along the way.

LPA operated had 74 students this year (out of a potential capacity of 90) with two kindergarten classes, one first and one second grade class. Next year, they estimate being at capacity with 120 students, with two kindergarten and first grade, one second and one third grade class. Any questions about the viability of LPA have been answered with a resounding YES and we are thrilled to be a part of that success.

The sharing of space has gone remarkably well. There have been adjustments, to be sure. We are especially grateful to our Sunday School teachers and families, who have adapted wonderfully to sharing of space and to others who have had to adjust. We are also especially grateful to our facilities staff: Rick Edwards, Robert Buckley and Dwight Minor, who have been stretched by the increased usage of the building -- even with LPA having their own custodial staff.

Next year, we will be even cozier and the need for additional classroom space will severely restrict our use of some rooms we have become accustomed to having at our disposal. This year we could use Schuyler Hall on occasion and same with the Guernsey Room. Next year, those spaces will be dedicated classroom and lunchroom space so we will not have use of them during the school year.

This will require some adjustment on our part. Events that had been held in those rooms will now have to be in either the Saturday breakfast room, the gym or the Nave. We got a taste of that this January when we had our inaugural Annual Meeting Eucharist in the Nave on Sunday morning. Starting this Sunday, Adult Christian Formation will shift to the Saturday breakfast room. Events like the Black History Month potluck will have to be relocated (the gym?) or re-visioned for 2015.

There will be other adaptations necessary because of sharing the space. It was noticed last Sunday that the refrigerators in the 4th floor kitchen are now locked -- and we certainly apologize for the inconvenience for people bringing food for the potluck! That was necessary because food the school was storing there had been disappearing. We are making sure our security ministers will always have the key to those so that won't happen again!

These adaptations are a sacrifice. But consider that the tradeoff is not only close to $70,000 that literally keeps our lights on, but providing quality education for 120 children, many of whom are living in poverty. It is not just a choice of economic necessity but a choice for mission.

When I first got here 5+ years ago, one of the most disconcerting things about this space was the dead silence in the Bishop Tuttle Building during the week. Now -- even today as 17 children are in LPA's summer program -- the sound of children is everywhere. I hope you take as much pride in this as I do. I will so miss LPA when they are gone.

And that brings me to the final piece of looking ahead. LPA will be leaving in June, 2015 because they will have outgrown our space. That leaves us with short- and long-term questions and possibilities. I have called together two teams to explore what our options are and make recommendations to Chapter.

The first team -- Laura Lambrix, Jane Mayfield, and Titus Olajide -- are looking at what our short-term options are to replace the $70,000 in income LPA is generating. We realize the BTM is our best asset to use to do this. Our initial hope was that another charter school would be ready to move in and incubate for two years -- given that the space would be move-in ready. We've found the existing charter startups are not interested in being downtown, so while we're keeping that option open I'm asking this group to also look at any other options that will both generate income and also accomplish the even more central purpose of using this space for mission.

The second team -- Tom Gardner, Laura Lambrix (she's busy!) and the Rev. Canon John Kilgore -- are exploring long-term possibilities for the BTM both in terms of financial sustainability and for mission engagement. How do we take this building that served as such a wonderful center for mission and ministry in the 20th century and turn it into an asset for mission and ministry in the 21st century? You'll be hearing more about both these teams' work in the months ahead.

As always, please come to me or any chapter member with comments or questions or ideas. Most important, continue to keep Christ Church Cathedral and our common future in your prayers ... and continue to think and pray on how you can be a part of the ongoing life of Christ here in the heart of downtown St. Louis.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How do we act in worship? And who is the "we" who decides?

Where do we say, “These are the rules.” And where do we say “the church is yours.” Where do we achieve that balance so that this Church too can be a place where people have an experience of Christ that is unparalleled in its depth and power.

And just as important, who is the “we” who gets to decide? For that question is perhaps the most critical of all, because at its heart is the question of who owns this space? Who is this community really? Are we going to have insiders and outsiders? And if so, who is which?


I preached these words this Sunday talking about Pentecost. After the service in our "On the Table" community forum, we had a conversation that put these words to work. It was the kind of conversation that I've come to expect at Christ Church Cathedral, the kind that makes me proud to be a part of this community ... where people speak their experience of truth in love and listen deeply to the experience of one another.

The presenting question was simple enough: What is considered acceptable behavior in worship? People shared stories of being disturbed by others talking or eating or trading cigarettes.  The conversation was sparked by stories of behaviors experienced from people who come into the space from living in nearby shelters or on the streets. There was a call to establish a set of rules. And that's where the conversation got good and holy.

We asked the question: Who gets to decide? It's a fundamental question of who is the church.

This conversation led to the heart of the complexity of living together in our diversity.

Is the "we" the traditional "we" for churches?  People who have addresses in the directory. People who put money in the plate. In which case, don't we create a "them," who while they might be objects of ministerial affection aren't a part of "us" as the Body of Christ?

Or do we -- everyone together -- reach for the Pentecost "we"? Do we reach beyond "us and them" language ... not asking "how do 'we' deal with or help 'them'" but instead saying how can we -- everyone -- be part of a community where together we work towards God's dream of human flourishing for all -- and trusting that we are each and all gifted uniquely and differently by the Holy Spirit for the task.

We discovered quickly this was about much more than the diversity of people with homes and people without. When you say "no eating" (setting aside the Eucharist for a minute), what about the father who gives his 3-year old daughter a bag of Cheerios to munch on during the service? When we say "no talking" what about the well-dressed people who chat during the anthem? What about ... as one person raised ... people who come from African-American church traditions where the congregation talking -- and often talking back to the preacher --  is part of the culture?

Does that get to be a part of we? Aren't we all richer if the answer is yes? And yet, still, don't there need to be some agreed-upon standards of behavior?

We agreed to try something together. Over the next several weeks those of us who were there agreed to engage as many different people from as many different constituencies at Christ Church Cathedral as we could ... and to ask two questions:

1) Why do you come here on Sunday morning?

2) What standards of behavior do you think are appropriate during worship? Particularly, are there things you think should not be allowed during worship?

On Sunday, June 29 after the 10 am service, we will gather in the front of the Nave to share the truths we have heard and see if we can come up with some standards agreed upon by the broadest "we" possible (and the broadest "we" possible is invited to take part in the conversation). These will be shared with everyone in the coming week and for a period of a couple months we will ask one another to commit to them and to support and hold one another accountable in adhering to them. Then in the early fall, we'll gather again and ask "what do you notice?" and evaluate and make any changes that seem necessary.

I ended my sermon Sunday with these words:

Pentecost ain’t just holding hands and singing kum ba yah. Embracing diversity is hard, hard work. It leaves us with many more questions than answers and, like the status quo (at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), often leads us into solutions that for now fall short of God’s dreams for us yet are also beautiful in their dedication to continuing the shared struggle. The struggle of law and grace. Grace and Law. Meeting. Battling. Kissing. Colliding.

From the church’s birth it has been this way. And so it remains today. 


I am proud and overjoyed that we have a community where people feel free to speak what's on their heart in love and at the same time to do that hard, hard work of trying truly to embrace our diversity. Believe it or not, conversations like this are just the beginning, the low-hanging fruit of coming together. But as we engage these with integrity and faith. As we begin to jettison our "us" and "them" language and think and speak and act more in terms of the larger "we." As we get more and more comfortable inhabiting that space where we repeatedly collide in our diversity ... the Holy Spirit will be revealed and will transform us in ways we can scarcely imagine.

As always, I, your clergy, your wardens and your Chapter welcome your comments, and your prayers.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

First thought: "Loving Openly and Notoriously."

Sister Ruth talking to us on one of our bus journeys
I am emerging from "going deep and quiet" and beginning to parse through all I have heard and experienced the past 10 days. I am deeply grateful for Sister Ruth's counsel not to blog as we went, because I know that much of what I wrote one day I would have wanted to delete the next.

As I told Sister a few days ago, each day I would hear stories of either Israelis or Palestinians and I would be so moved and convicted by them that I would be sure I had a handle on what and who was right and what and who was wrong. And then I would have to stop and tell myself: "Take a deep breath, tomorrow is another day." Meaning, tomorrow would bring different stories, different faces, different perspectives, different pain, different claims, different hopes. And those would need to be held in tension and love and humility with everything else I had heard.

This was a trip of hearing deep and powerful narratives that often conflicted with one another. Of realizing that as much as skilled negotiators, this region needs skilled psychologists -- and more than anything it needs deep prayer, deep listening, and deep love..

The list of people we met with was astounding. Each one either pricked our intellect or moved our spirit and many did both. We met with:

*The Dean of St. George's Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem.
*A Palestinian Christian who does tours of refugee camps.
*People we encountered on our walking tour of the DeHeisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank.
*A Palestinian Muslim in his 20s who lives in the DeHeisheh Refugee Camp.
*The architect of the security barrier, who was also a part of the Israeli delegation at Camp David when the Clinton Parameters almost brought a framework for peace to the region.
With our tour guide, George, on the other side of the
security barrier in Bethlehem.
*A retired Lt. Col. in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), who stood with us for two hours on a hillside in Sderot overlooking Gaza (about the same distance as from my house to Christ Church Cathedral) on a day when two rockets were launched from Gaza right to the area where we were (gratefully, not while we were there).
*An incredible Israeli author and journalist who emigrated to Israel and, as a Jew, has dived deep into the Christian and Muslim communities and had a unique perspective on the conflict and the role of faith in it.
*A Palestinian Israeli journalist who covers the conflict for the Jerusalem Post.
*A Palestinian Christian who founded the only Christian-owned TV station in the West Bank.
*The Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs and Official Spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
*A former member of and spokesperson for the Israeli National Police who personally had been to the site of 48 suicide bombings and had to retire because of PTSD.
*A professor of business at Tel Aviv University who runs a "mini-MBA" program for Palestinian businessmen and women from the West Bank.
*The head of the Strategic Section of the International Law Department of the IDF -- who gave us a briefing at the Israeli "Pentagon."
*A retired Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court (inside the Court building).
*The President/CEO of the Palestine Stock Exchange (and also Yasser Arafat's nephew).
*The president of the company building (with the help of Qatar) the first planned Palestinian city (complete with in-depth tour and tree-planting ceremony - more on that in a future post).
*A senior member of the Fatah party (the largest faction of the Palestinian Authority), who was part of the Palestinian group at Camp David when the Clinton Parameters almost brought a framework for peace to the region.

Part of our  group enjoying fellowship on a beautiful hotel patio.
One of the discussion questions -- What is the most memorable
meal you ever had? I think this feast of Cuban cigars, Macallan,
olives, crackers and water will rank up there.
So many different and powerful voices. Not to mention tours of holy sites. Views from bus windows and walks through neighborhoods. Experiencing the Pope's visit to Jerusalem. And late nights spent with my fellow pilgrims processing what we had heard and seen -- and sometimes intentionally doing anything but.

The group I traveled with is called "Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East," and a fair witness is what we got. We were given the opportunity to spend not minutes but hours with each of these people and told that no question or topic was off-limits. There were many things I can share from those conversations and also some things that were shared off the record that I will respect by not sharing but that powerfully shaped my mind and heart.

Through it all, as I had intended, I continually asked myself the question: "What can I learn here that will translate back to St. Louis ... to the conflicts of race and class that seem sometimes nearly as intractable as the Israelis and the Palestinians?" I will be writing more on that in the coming days and weeks as well.

But for all of this, some of the most meaningful conversations were the ones I had with Sister Ruth on the bus. She is a remarkable woman -- lawyer, nun, personal trainer (she never got around to teaching me the core exercises she promised to!) and tireless and passionate worker for peace in this region. My roommate John Ohmer remarked that all we needed to do was lock the architect of the barrier, the Fatah leader, Hillary Clinton and Sister Ruth in a room and not let them out until they had a solution and the conflict would be solved. When we told her this, Sister -- absolutely humble but not lacking any in self-confidence -- immediately said, "Ummm... Yeah, we could do it."

On Monday as we were entering our last two days and driving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Sister Ruth and I had a long conversation. I told her about my experience of every day being moved passionately and saying to myself: "Take a deep breath. Tomorrow is another day." And I asked her what she thought the church's job is. Here's what she said:

"The Church's job is to stand with people on both sides, loving them openly and notoriously."

Her words bring tears to my eyes as I write them. Because I don't want to take one side or another. More than that after standing with and hearing all these people, I don't want to presume Jesus is calling some sheep and some goats. I believe in calling out evil when I see it ... and I believe we ignore that call at the peril of our souls. But as much as there were parts of both the security barrier architect and the Fatah member (to use two examples) that I absolutely opposed, so too was there real passion and pain and a desire for justice that was true and valid and even rooted in compassion. There was goodness and even holiness in each narrative, in each person.

And I think about downtown St. Louis. And I think about the battle between the residents and business owners and the city and the people struggling with homelessness and Larry Rice and NLEC. I think about the seemingly endless cycle we are in of battling one another, of assigning blame. And as a Cathedral we have resisted taking one side or another and it has positioned us to be a place where, God willing I hope, in the coming months all will come together to try to broker if not a solution at least a better way.

Cross carved into the wall of the stairway leading
down to the St. Helena Chapel at the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre. Millions of people have
followed Jesus to and from this spot.
As soon as Sister Ruth said those words, I knew she was right -- not just for Israel and Palestine but for St. Louis. It was the statement that bound together everything we had heard from these diverse and amazing people and the incredible spiritual experiences I had at the Western Wall and the Golgotha Chapel.

Our job as the Church is to stand with people on both sides, loving them openly and notoriously.

Standing with -- doing what Jesus did with all humanity. Not promising to fix things or make it all better, but promising never to leave. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Loving openly -- loving in a public way as Jesus loved. Loving all without exception or strings attached (and that love means challenging sometimes).

Loving notoriously -- loving in a way that Jesus loved. Loving scandalously (You love HER??? You love HIM???). Loving in ways that put at risk our reputation and all that we have and are.

As I begin to think about this (and all of my thoughts are just beginning), if the question is "What is our role in Israel/Palestine? What is our role in St. Louis?" the answer is -- to follow Jesus.

What do you think?


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Going Deep and Quiet

Our group with Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday evening, boarded a bus, and headed for Jerusalem. As we were ascending the hills toward the Holy City our leader, Sister Ruth, read the "Psalm of Ascents:"(Psalm 122)

I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgement were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

Here with this small team of pilgrims to learn about the many layers of conflict here, and feeling us literally ascend into the city of Jerusalem, these words of unity, peace and security were haunting and beautiful -- because our very reason for being here is the lack of these things.

After dinner and a time of prayer and conversation, at about 9:30 pm, two of my fellow pilgrims and I headed out on foot toward the old city in search of a cafe that had this Palestinian beer that one of them loved. As we walked the narrow streets of the Old City, all I could think about was all the history and scripture I have ever read that took place in the places where I was walking. But this was not a museum -- this is a living city, with people of all sorts bustling around living their lives.

We got our itineraries last night for our stay here and each day is packed. The range of things we will be seeing and people we will be meeting with is tremendous. In addition to seeing many of the holy sites, we will be listening to a mixture of people from all sides of the conflicts here. From the architect of Israel's security barrier to people living in Palestinian refugee camps, to Anglican Bishops and Deans to a spokesperson from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and a representative of the PLO and the Israeli Foreign Ministry and even the CEO of the Palestine Stock Exchange. The list goes on and on.

Several of us asked Sister Ruth about blogging during this journey and she said she was going to ask us not to write daily blogs for two reasons. The first is that each day we will be hearing different voices -- and each voice will touch us in a different way. The point is not to react to each voice but to hold them each close to our hearts and listen to the next voice. Then, at the end, through thought, prayer and conversation, try to get a sense of what all these voices held together mean. Daily blogging is bound to be reactive and not reflective -- and would be counter to our purpose for being here.

Second, is that she said that every group she has brought here (and she has lost track of that number) has been moved in profound and different ways, and part of that is the open and honest conversations we have with one another. She has found that people posting daily online can have a muting effect on those conversations.

Both of these reasons make absolute sense to me. So, with the exception of posting some photos on Facebook, I'm going to go "deep and quiet" for the next week or so. That's a phrase submariners use when they are trying to go undetected by the enemy. For me, it means I am going into a posture of listening and holding things close to my heart. Going quiet in an attempt to go deep. The last two days of my journey here, I will be on my own staying at St. George's College and perhaps I will do some writing and trying to express the total picture then.

Please continue to hold me in prayer and know that I am holding all of you -- family, friends, the people of Christ Church Cathedral and the people of St. Louis -- in mine.

The top picture is the view from my hotel window. The second is three of us having drinks in the Old City.