Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Farewell to a Giant ... Rest in Power, Emery Washington

If we are truly blessed, we get to share our lives with a few women and men who are truly giants. People whose manner of life and very presence truly hushes our speech and fills us with awe.

Emery Washington was such a man. Emery died last night, succumbing to pancreatic cancer. And today I am filled with how much poorer our world is by his absence ... and how richer we are by the years he gave in service to Christ, church and world.

I first met Emery in the late 1980s when my mentor, the Rev. Jim Fallis, rector of Calvary Church, Columbia, introduced me to him at a diocesan convention.  As a young college student, then seminarian, then young priest who served with Emery as a General Convention deputy, my first memories of him were of him speaking with incredible power and grace ... and being infinitely patient with a wet-behind-the-ears neophyte who thought he knew way more than he did and had youth's sense of urgency rather than age's sense of wisdom. 

I know that whenever Emery spoke, I listened and listened deeply. I watched him sustain what seemed to me unlikely friendships -- like with seminary classmate and conservative bishop Ed Salmon -- that incarnated for me what it meant to be an ambassador of Christ given the ministry of reconciliation. 

When I lived with one of his parishioners, Edwina Corbin, during a college internship at Grace Hill Settlement House and sat with her in the back pew at All Saints every Sunday morning at 8 am, I heard preaching that was both powerful and pastoral -- and saw that priest, pastor and prophet could exist in the same person.

I remember Emery standing up at our diocesan convention as we prepared to approve our companion diocese relationship with Lui, and, while expressing support for the relationship, with his customary measured and gracious tone, warn us that relationships around the globe with people in extreme poverty do not relieve us of responsibility of healing grave injustices in our own cities. 

I remember every time I was in Emery's presence walking away so deeply glad that I was. For he was a paragon of faithfulness without being overly pious. He had deep compassion and twinkle-in-the-eye humor. He had a fierce sense of justice and the capacity for forgiveness. 

For me, Emery Washington will always be a giant. A model person and priest. To the very end following Jesus the best he knew how. 

This day I am filled with regret that I did not seek him out more. I wonder how much more wisdom I could have ingested, how much grace I could have experienced.

The church ... and all of us .. have lost a giant. But in the past decades of Emery being here, we have gained so much more.

Thank you, Fr Washington. Thank you for your witness and power. Thank you for your grace and humor. Thank you for your patience and thank you for your courage. 

Rest with our Lord as you lived in life -- in grace, peace and power. Amen.

A memorial service for Emery will be held at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion at 4 pm on Saturday, October 17. Bishop Smith will preside and Bishop Salmon will preach.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A weekend in Memphis: historic connections and new opportunities for Christ Church Cathedral

This fall, I have accepted several invitations to travel to different parts of our Episcopal church and share our experience of being a Cathedral … particularly as it relates to the past year and the new civil rights movement that began in Ferguson. I have accepted these invitations because it is both our job and joy to share what we are learning … and because whenever we build relationships across the Body of Christ, we give opportunities for the Holy Spirit to enrich us in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Sacred Conversations on Race & Class, Protest and Power
in the St. Mary's Cathedral Undercroft on Saturday morning
That certainly was my experience this past weekend as I spent the weekend with our sister cathedral, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis. I drove up Friday for an early meeting about bringing a theatrical production to CCC and to tour the National Civil Rights Museum; on Saturday I led a 3-hour workshop called “Sacred Conversations on Race and Power, Protest and Privilege,” and on Sunday I led a forum on our “On The Table” Eucharistic model for being a Cathedral and preached at two services.

It was a gift to be invited into the lives of so many people, and seeing how Memphis is dealing with (and, in some cases, not dealing with) the issues that have sprung up in the streets of our city, gives me a perspective that I will be spending much thought and prayer on in the weeks and months to come.

For now, I want to share three tangible fruits that this trip has brought forth for us as a Cathedral community.

As the members of the vocal ensemble, 'Inversion,' look on --
Frederick Douglass (Bakari King) breaks down beneath
 Anne Murray (Kelsey Unwuzuruigbo) - in
'Frederick Douglass: American Prophet,"
coming to Christ Church Cathedral in early 2016. 
On Friday, I met with Grammy-Award winning singer/songwriter/director Marcus Hummon and the Rev. Chris Girata, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis. Marcus has taken Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and turned it into what he calls a “concert theatrical,” (something like an operetta) called "Frederick Douglass: The Making of An American Prophet" that has been performed to great acclaim in churches in Nashville.

In late January/early February, we will be part of the first road show of this project. Marcus will take the production to Memphis for Friday and Saturday shows and then up to St. Louis for a Sunday night performance at Christ Church Cathedral. We will be looking to partner with other faith communities and institutions to ensure a packed house … and after the performance we will have a forum with Marcus, cast members and people from the St. Louis community discussing how Frederick Douglass is alive today in the civil rights struggle happening in our own community.

On Saturday, I had the honor of meeting Terri Lee Freeman, the incredibly impressive president of the National Civil Rights Museum. We talked about the possibilities of the Museum (which I had a chance to tour on Friday … and it is absolutely extraordinary) being not just a chronicler of the past but a place where the ongoing story of civil rights is told. I invited her to come to St. Louis, visit Christ Church Cathedral and meet with some of the amazing leaders of the movement in our own community, and we will be working in the coming weeks to set this up.

Finally, on Sunday, I learned of a deeply holy connection between Christ Church Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral. Part of the history of St. Mary’s is its role in the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic. While most people fled the city from the disease, several communities of Anglican and Roman Catholic nuns stayed behind to nurse the sick – St. Mary’s Cathedral being a base of operations. (These brave women are called “The Martyrs of Memphis – as most ended up dying of yellow fever – and are commemorated on the Episcopal calendar on Sept. 9).

The story of Louis Sanford Scbuyler told on the wall of Martyrs Hall
at St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis, TN
I knew this story. What I didn’t know is that a young priest. knowing it meant almost certain death, insisted on coming to Memphis to help. That priest was Louis Sanford Schuyler, son of our founding Dean Montgomery Schuyler (for whom Schuyler Hall was named). Schuyler indeed was stricken with yellow fever in the course of offering comfort, died soon after, and is buried in Memphis. His role is commemorated in this story board in Martyrs Hall at St. Mary’s.

This connection hit me hard. Not just a relationship but a relationship based in a conviction that we follow Jesus into the deepest pain and brokenness even at great personal risk … exactly what we had spent the weekend talking about in terms of our Christian call to stand with the oppressed in our own day.

This connection has led us to conversations about next year having a group from Christ Church Cathedral take a weekend pilgrimage to Memphis during their Martyrs Weekend in September. To tour the Civil Rights Museum. To spend time with our sisters and brothers at St. Mary’s and talk about our experiences and see how our Cathedral – less than 5 hours drive apart – might work together. And also to hear some blues and eat some BBQ, too.

If this is something you’d be interested in being a part of … please let me know.

In the coming months, I will be traveling to Buffalo, Columbus, and Richmond, VA … as well as spending a Sunday with St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, listening to their dreams for their Cathedral. Wherever I go, I bear Christ Church Cathedral on my heart … and I look forward to bringing more fruit back from the people of God in all these places.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Today, as yesterday, a movement of many people, driving in many lanes.

From the entrance to the National Civil Rights Museum
I spent this afternoon at the National Civil Rights Museum. It's a remarkable museum that should be required attendance for every American. I'd been there before but I saw it with new eyes today.

As I saw young Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette, Ella Baker and James Lawson and Stokely Carmichael, I saw the faces of Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, Traci Blackmon, Starsky Wilson and Osagyefo Sekou. 

When I went through the museum 20 years ago, I heard the gunshots, this time I felt them in my chest. 

When I went through it before it felt like a museum. When I went through it today, it felt like life.

There were things that were very different .. things that are wonderful. In the 1960s the involvement and leadership of women was the exception ... today it is the dominant force. In the 60s, there was no mainstream LGBT presence. Today, the movement is actively queer and that is part of its strength. 

Then there were things that were eerily familiar. Not just the tear gas and the riot gear and the songs and the chants. Today's movement leaders draw from both the Black Power movement and the Civil Rights Movement and there are echoes of both.

There was something else that was familiar, though.

Both then and now, it takes many different people using many different methods to effect change.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, the NAACP and more "respectable" organizations believed in working through the courts -- and were often in conflict with the protest movement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee often were at odds -- many times over what we've come to call "respectability politics" today. 

But all were necessary. We needed the NAACP or the Supreme Court never would have heard Brown v. Board of Education. We needed the SCLC or we never would have had the leadership of people like Dr. King. And we needed SNCC or we never would have had the lunch counter sit-ins or the freedom riders or the amazing power of Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette. 

That's true today, too. We have incredible leaders like Brittany and Alexis on the front lines of the protests in the streets. We have equally as incredible leaders like Traci and Starsky and Rasheen Aldridge serving on the Ferguson Commission and sitting in boardrooms and courtrooms. 

And we have lots of people on the ground doing amazing community development work in majority black neighborhoods. I'm on the board of Grace Hill Settlement House -- and the work Rod Jones and his staff have been doing there is unparalleled.

A few weeks after Mike Brown was killed, Shirley Washington had me as a guest on The Pulse of St. Louis on KPLR and one of the other guests was Malik Ahmed from Better Family Life. I heard Malik talk about the redevelopment work BFL is doing in North St. Louis on so many levels and I was just blown away by his dedication and love.

Later that week, Brian Hall of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission called me. What was happening all around us was changing the landscape and Brian -- courageously -- was determined not to sweep it under the rug but to try to use it as an opportunity not to say that St. Louis was a place without problems but that we were a city who faced our problems of race and class, and we were going to be a model for what that looks like in this country.  I love that kind of hope and told him as long as it was honest I wanted to be a part of it.

He asked me for something that was good and I told him about Better Family Life and set up a meeting and a tour for him and some others to meet Malik and learn more about their work. Not as a way of saying "we've got it all covered" but as a way of saying that we have incredible people doing incredible work on the ground here ... and that this is a part of how we are going to make a more just city for everyone.

Brian came up with the idea of gifting Better Family Life with a film describing the work they are doing. It was released yesterday, and you can watch it here:

The stage we are in of this movement is that there is sometimes a lack of understanding and trust among people who are (as Starsky Wilson says) "driving in different lanes" in this movement. I've heard people who work for organizations like BFL criticize the protest movement and I've heard the protest movement criticize BFL and the "We Must Stop Killing Each Other" signs. 

But the truth is, just like in the previous civil rights movements, all of these people have their place. And we are stronger when we all recognize each other not as a threat but as important pieces of the whole. Without the protest movement, we wouldn't be having the legal reforms and political mobilization we see happening.Without community development organizations like Grace Hill Settlement House and Better Family Life we would be incredibly impoverished by absence of the foundations for community they are building. 

I'm grateful to have been a small part of making this connection. Making connections is what Cathedrals do. I'm grateful for Brittany, Alexis, Starsky and Traci. I'm grateful for Brian, Rod, and Malik. I'm grateful that it's going on 13 months after Mike Brown was killed and so many people are still working so hard and struggling and we haven't allowed this to be shoved under a rug.

And I'm grateful to be part of a Cathedral community that knows that Jesus calls us to be in the middle of it all. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Remember no feeling is final. Keep your feet glued to the ground.

Remember no feeling is final. Keep your feet glued to the ground.

On the day Magdalene Saint Louis​ opened, that's what Becca Stevens texted me as a message for our women who were moving in.

Remember no feeling is final. Keep your feet glued to the ground.

I had no idea what I was getting into when we opened Magdalene St. Louis. I thought I did. But I didn't. And thank God.

I am learning that Magdalene is not just a place where I help others. We call the Magdalene community "the circle" ... and although I am learning that my place in the circle is not as one of the women ... I am learning that as I find my place in the circle as Board President, it is a place where I am changed as well. Where as I put others at the center, an ancillary benefit is that "Love Heals" is for me, too. Where I too "have to feel to heal." Where I have a role and responsibility with the women and that it's about them first but that I also have to be committed to working on my own stuff, to taking my own time and space to feeling my own feelings and letting the women inspire me to being open to the healing power of love not just from me but for me in other places in my life.

I am learning that Magdalene is changing who I am as a priest. It is changing what I think about leadership. It is breaking down all the neat and tidy categories we are taught in seminary and that I have been taught in nearly 20 years of ordained ministry and replacing them with the messiness of love. It is a combination of healthy boundaries and deep vulnerability -- and being in communities of support and accountability to know when that vulnerability is appropriate and healing and used for the greater good (and also when despite the best intentions it is inappropriate and even harmful). Of knowing where my stuff ends and someone else's stuff begins. And when it is truly the stuff we are in together.

It is challenging everything I have believed about the church ... and reminding me of much that I have forgotten.

I am learning that the circle of Magdalene is not just those of us who are involved in Magdalene St. Louis​. It is the whole city, region, nation and world. We are feeling many, many things right now. These feelings are being shouted in the streets and by people blocking our interstates. They are being left in comment sections on websites. They are being stared across dinner tables where words can't be found. They are being felt in secret out of fear of not being accepted.

These feelings can be so scary but they must not be feared. We need to make space for them. They must be expressed. They must be felt. We have to feel to heal.

We need to remember that no feeling is final. We need to keep our feet planted on the ground. We need to remember we are in this circle together.

At the same time, I am learning that the circle of Magdalene has people in it who need incredible safety to learn -- sometimes for the first time -- how to have healthy relationships with each other ... and that there are times and places that I don't need to be in that particular circle because I'm not a part of that work. I am learning that there are circles in this city where people who have been traumatized and oppressed need to be with one another, and they don't need me intruding -- and they certainly don't need me taking over -- but they need me doing my own "white folk work" and using my power and privilege to support them.

I am learning that my biggest enemy is my privilege that tempts me to free from discomfort to comfort. Because the comfort is a luxurious prison. The comfort is choosing anesthetic over feeling. The comfort is not a place of healing. The comfort is not of Christ.

The first disciples were called People of the Way. That Way was the Way of the Cross. It is a way of deep feeling with our feet glued to the path ... together.

Jesus wept for the death of his friend. Jesus mourned for Jerusalem. Jesus raged and turned over tables in the temple and got really mad at his friends. Jesus cried out in despair from the cross.

Jesus was not afraid of feelings -- his or anyone else's. Jesus knew that no feeling was final. Jesus knew we just need to keep our feet glued to the ground with one another.

I am beginning to learn that following Jesus is living this way. And I can't do it alone. None of us can. I don't know what it I look like because if it is truly Jesus the path is beyond my control.

I don't know what it will look like, but I do know where it will lead. It will lead to the Cross. It will lead to that place where everything is stripped away and count as loss but for the surpassing love of Christ. It will lead through that Cross to resurrection. To that place where we will all get woke. To that place where we will all get free.

I am beginning to learn that Becca's words have to be my mantra as I walk this path and as we walk it together.

I am beginning to learn to remember no feeling is final.

I am beginning to learn how to keep my feet glued to the ground.

I am beginning to learn that if I am to help lead healthy bodies -- be it the body of a Board, or the Body of Christ at a Cathedral  -- I have to be healthy myself.

I am beginning to believe that this is the way we must travel together. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Moral Monday -- Trying to Deliver a Message to End Racially-Biased Policing.

Today, nearly 200 faith leaders and people of faith walked from Christ Church Cathedral to the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse for what was called a "Moral Monday" action on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown. After a year of conversation and studies and reports, we believe it is time for action -- and specifically for the U.S. Department of Justice to use all its power to end racially-biased policing in this country.

Pastors Karen Anderson, Heather Arcovitch and Starsky Wilson
read the letter to the Hon. Richard Callahan from a scroll
in front of the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse on Monday
We went as American citizens to a public building to deliver a letter to a public official -- the Hon. Richard Callahan, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri -- who is the highest representative of the Department of Justice in St. Louis. We went to pray and to claim this space as God's space and the people's space ... and all of us as sacred (which we did with a service of anointing, which I helped lead -- along with Rabbi Susan Talve), but basically we came to deliver a letter written from the depths of our faith to a public official in a public space.

We were met with barricades and US Marshals. Because it is a public space and we posed no threat and there was no legitimate reason to keep us out of that space, more than 50 people (I was not one of them) chose to ignore the barricades and, eventually, try to enter the building. They were arrested and charged with obstruction.

This makes me profoundly sad. How differently today could have turned out if Mr. Callahan had just come down to listen to our demands and commit to take them to Washington? How differently today could have turned out if those in authority had chosen to recognize that the people before them were -- as we have been for the past 365 days - coming in love ... militant love, passionate love ... but love all the same.

We must do better.

For me, the point of this action was always to deliver a letter and to have our voice be heard. I am proud to have been part of the interfaith team that designed both the action and the letter (which was read from a large scroll signed by all of us). And I want to share it with you here. The demands are taken straight from the Ferguson Action Network ... and so they represent the hearts and minds of a broad spectrum of God's children.

Here is the letter we tried to deliver:

To the Hon. Richard Callahan, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri

Dear Mr. Callahan,

We are all created in G-d’s image (Genesis 1:27), all equally loved, all equally sacred. This belief has been long-betrayed in this nation. Beginning with the stealing of Black persons into lives of torture and forced labor to build this nation’s economy and enduring today in systems that continue to use Black bodies for economic gain in ways that place them at far greater risk of imprisonment, injury, poverty, and death.

G-d’s people are crying out on account of their taskmasters. The taskmasters are all who benefit from American economic and political systems built on white supremacy. The taskmasters are all who support laws that criminalize and villainize Black children of G-d for trying to thrive or even survive in these oppressive systems. The taskmasters are all who support and even demand that those in law enforcement, sworn to serve and protect the people, instead serve to protect these systems, even using the fear of Black people to validate their practices.

G-d’s people are crying out on account of their taskmasters. G-d’s people have been crying out for centuries. We believe G-d hears these cries.

As people of faith, we believe G-d’s attitude toward the cries of the people is not to preserve privilege and stay silent but to “observe the misery of my people…hear their cry on account of their taskmasters…know their sufferings…come down to deliver them.” (Exodus 3:7-8)

It is not G-d who has failed to hear these cries, to know these sufferings, to come down and deliver these American people. As a nation, we have. We have failed to hear, know and deliver those who are in constant danger because Black bodies continue to be seen both as threat and economic asset.

We recognize this one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown at the hands of the state and of the ensuing and enduring Ferguson Uprising, to lift up one key element of this oppression – the continuing racial bias in policing across this nation -- and proclaim that NOW IS THE TIME for change.

We demand an end to racially-biased policing in our nation because it is a practice that denies the humanity of all as created sacred in G-d’s image. NOW IS THE TIME.

We demand an end to racially-biased policing in our nation because it upholds and intensifies the chasms of race, class, power and privilege that divide us and condemn us to fall short of G-d’s dreams for us. NOW IS THE TIME.

We demand an end to racially-based policing in our nation as a first step in dismantling the systems of white supremacy that are not worthy of any of G-d’s children and that have caused those among use who are Black to cry out for far too long. NOW IS THE TIME.

To this end, specifically, we demand a comprehensive review by the Department of Justice of systemic abuses by local police departments, including the publication of data relating to racially biased policing, and the development of best practices.

In addition, we demand a repurposing of law enforcement funds to support community-based alternatives to incarceration and the conditioning of DOJ funding on the ending of discriminatory policing and the adoption of DOJ best practices.

As faith leaders, we come together today to deliver these demands to the home of those who have been entrusted with the mantle of justice for this nation.

Mr. Callahan, your choice is a simple one. Will you hear the cries of the people on account of their taskmasters, will you know their sufferings, will you take it upon yourself to use the power and privilege entrusted to you to deliver them? Or will you use your power and privilege like Pharaoh did, closing his ears and hardening his heart?

As faith leaders, we come together today to amplify these cries and bear these demands as an act of prayer. We stand on the shoulders of leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who when he returned from marching in Selma was asked by someone if he found much time to pray there and responded: “I prayed with my feet.”

We are praying with our feet. And we will not stop until every ear is opened and heart is softened. We will not stop until Black lives truly do matter in this nation. We will not stop until the sun-kissed children of G-d are delivered from oppression and all share the good and broad land together. NOW IS THE TIME!


signed by nearly 200 faith leaders and people of faith

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Deeply Wailing: Lament, This Weekend, and our Life Together.

I'm doing something I've never done before ... I'm posting a Sunday sermon on the Thursday before. This is the sermon (more or less) that I'm going to preach at Sunday morning at 8 am (at 10 am we will be blessed to have Brittni Gray in our pulpit).  But because I have gotten so many questions about lament as we head into this weekend, I am putting it out there now for anyone. And please know I'd love to talk with you about it ... and be together in the wails you have to cry. 

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! 
Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden
lament the death of their son.
From the other end of the phone came a cry. Not just a cry but a deep, soul-wrenching wail. Like every cell in her body had emptied all its pain into one sound.

And then there was silence.

I can still hear it.

It began with the flashing light on an answering machine.

It was 14 years ago, and I was the Episcopal campus missioner for Washington University and I came to work at Rockwell House on the first day of Winter break. Some of the students were still around but many had been making their way home, including Julia, our student peer minister, who had driven home to Natchez, MS the night before.

I walked into the kitchen, and saw the flashing light and hit the button.

Julia had never made it to Natchez.

Julia, this compassionate, beautiful, full-of-light, full-of-life 21 year old woman had been killed on a lonely stretch of state route in rural Mississippi when her car hydroplaned in the rain and hit an oncoming truck.

I have learned most of my life to control my feelings. I’m a good Episcopalian, after all. I have learned to feel some of them and to jam the rest of them down inside for later. After all, there is always work to do. I went into comfort mode – my job was to be strong for the students. My pain could come later.

I began to call the students. Some were still in town and I could have them come over and we could share the news in person but others were already home and I had to tell them on the phone. Tell them that their friend, their sister was dead.

One by one I called them. I shared the news. They asked questions. There was silence. There were a few tears. We prayed.

And then I called Cori.

“Cori,” I said, in the words I had practiced and honed over an afternoon of phone calls. ”I need you to sit down. There’s no good way to say this so I’m just going to say it. Julia was killed in a car accident driving home to Natchez last night. She’s dead.”

And from the other end of the phone didn’t come a question, or tears, or even silence … but a deep, deep wail.

It was powerful. It was painful. It was raw.

You would think it would scare me. But it didn’t. It was like music. In that wail, Cori was expressing not just all her pain and shock but mine as well. That cry reached deep into my heart and soul and touched that place where I had jammed all that stuff down and as I heard her cry I knew that I wasn’t alone in that place.

I knew that someone else felt that, too.

I knew the Body of Christ was real and that Jesus was there, in that deep, deep wail.

Today we are using a word that is new to many of us. That word is “lament.”

Lament is many things.

Lament is a literary genre – there is a Book of Lamentations in the Hebrew scripture.

Lament is a liturgical form – we will have a litany of lament in our prayers of the people this morning.

But more than anything lament is a deeply honest human response to pain and grief. Lament is pushing aside all the voices that tell us we need to be in control and that there is work to do and that tears are for the weak and should be apologized for. Lament is pushing aside all those things and saying that pain needs to be felt and pain needs to be expressed. That we are not superwomen and supermen. That we are human and human beings feel and express pain.

It is recognizing that Jesus, in all his humanity wailed at the death of his friend, Lazarus, and cried out in agony from the cross – not the pain of the nails but the pain of feeling left by the one he loved … my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.

And if Jesus can, we can, too.

Today is a day of lament. We hear it in our scriptures. Our reading from 2 Samuel is the story of the death of Absalom. Absalom was the third son of King David … and he was not a model child. He plotted insurrection and tried to overthrow his father as king, and it looked like he might even succeed.

But even then, this father loved his son. And he gave strict orders that in the battle that Absalom not be touched. But those orders were not followed, and David’s forces found Absalom trapped in a tree and beat and killed him.

When David heard the news, the scripture tells us “The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

But the translation is wrong. David didn’t just say those words. Grief so deep that we are wishing we were in the ground instead of our child doesn’t just get said. Grief that deep gets wailed. David wailed:


The ability to lament is a beautiful piece of who David is. He is a great king, and part of that greatness is David’s humanity.

This is not David’s first lament. Earlier in 2 Samuel, he laments the death of another dearly loved one turned adversary, Saul. David somehow instinctually knows that these emotions need to be felt, need to be expressed, and in fact that his job as King makes it all the more necessary.

It is a message we deeply need to hear for ourselves.

In his commentary on Second Samuel, Walter Brueggeman writes:

“We (and I believe the we that Brueggemman is speaking here is the predominantly white Western society) have nearly lost our capacity for such grief. We are characteristically so busy with power, so bent on continuity, so mesmerized by our ideologies of control that we will not entertain a hiatus in our control of life to allow for grief. Such grief does for a moment require a relinquishment of control. David does not hesitate to enact such relinquishment."

David’s comfortability with lament, with giving up the control that is needed for tears and deep wailing shows that he recognizes a profound irony about us as human beings.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown names it clearly:

We fear being vulnerable with others because we believe they will see it as weakness. Yet when people are vulnerable around us – as Bren was in her sermon last week – we are deeply moved and see it as strength.

“Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.”

“I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.”

Today is a day of lament. This week is a week of lament. And we need it desperately. Because there has been so much pain and so much to grieve and it doesn’t stop.

On this one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, of course we stand with his parents who cry out like David, “O, my son, O my son, would I had died instead of you.” But just as this year has not just been about one child but so much more, our grief and need for lament runs much deeper.

We lament all the children that have died in our streets.

We lament the deep brokenness in the structures of our society and in our own hearts that led to that confrontation in front of Canfield Green Apartments.

We lament the friendships that have been strained or ended in the last year as we have confronted hard issues of race and class in our city.

We lament the trauma we have experienced and the trauma that many of us are just learning has been there all along.

We lament the other incredible losses that are gaping wounds that feel like they might never be filled and healed. The death of Cathedral family members like Norma Lemmon. Divorce. Illness. Losing our jobs. Betrayals both by us and of us. Diagnoses that in a minute say that our remaining time on this planet might be measured in weeks and months instead of years.

We lament because we trust with Jesus that feelings are not to be feared but that feelings are meant to be felt and expressed.

We lament knowing that the love of Christ is all about vulnerability, and that love in this place creates a space of safety where we can relinquish the control required not just to cry but to wail.

We lament knowing that it is only when we relinquish that control and let the tears and cries and deep wailing come, that the true healer, the love of the One who created us, sustains us and loves us without end, can reach inside and touch those wounds and begin to fill and heal them.

I’m still learning this myself, and most of the time I’m not a very good student. I still feel I have to be strong and I still spend a lot of time jamming feelings down inside in the name of keeping going and getting the work done. As much as I talk about vulnerability and laying our lives on the table with Christ, I know that I am as much a beginning student in that process as any one of us.

But after this year of Ferguson and Magdalene. After this year of deep pain and the hope of deep healing. After this year of people leaving and others joining this community. Of deaths and births. Of funerals and baptisms. After this year where so much seems so different than it did one year ago, I believe more than ever that this way of the cross is not to be figured out with our heads but emptied into with our hearts and our souls. That this way of the cross must lead us through deep pain before we get to resurrection. That we must do it together. That we must risk being vulnerable.

That not just today, but always together, we can be a people and a place where it is not only safe but encouraged to let those deep wails come forth.

That not just today, but always together, we can be be a community of lament.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hearing Sandra Bland -- It has to be personal

It has to be personal.

After Michael Brown was killed, I sat on my front porch every morning during my prayer time and I pictured his body lying in the street – only instead of his face I would put the face of my sons – Schroedter and Hayden.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

Then I would text my friend and colleague, Traci Blackmon, and I would ask her for one thing I could take off her plate that day. And, blessedly, she would always oblige.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

We will never stop “racism.” We will never end “homelessness.” We will never eliminate “misogyny” or “LGBT discrimination” or “sex trafficking” any other of the infections that plague us … as long as we view them as issues.

Because we will never care enough. Those of us with privilege and power will never care enough about an “issue” to do what is necessary. Because what my faith in Jesus Christ teaches me is that the only real change comes from laying my life down for someone. And even God didn't lay the divine life down for an idea. And created in God's image, we are the same. We don’t lay our lives down for ideas … we lay our lives down for each other.

It has to be personal.

Two months after Michael Brown was killed, I was hiking with a friend in the hills of Northern California, and he asked me of my involvement in Ferguson:

“Man, why are you throwing yourself on this fire?”

His question was one of deep brotherly concern. And it was a great question.

And in that moment faces flashed in front of my eyes. People whom I had met even in those two months in the movement. Friends I had known before who had shared with me their stories of growing up and living black in America. Members of our Christ Church Cathedral community who have lifetimes of oppression and microaggression. I saw their faces, and my eyes began to fill with tears, and I gave the only answer I could give:

“Because my friends are on that fire.”

It has to be personal.

I’m on vacation right now. And until this morning, I had put off watching the Sandra Bland video or reading too much about her. Because I’m on vacation. Because I need a break.

But as I sat on the beach this morning during my prayer time, it came to me that my friends on that fire don’t get a vacation from being black. They can’t choose not to be harassed this week because they are on vacation. I realized I had to watch that video … right then.

And so I did. Right there.

And as I heard Sandra’s voice – a voice of defiant power. A voice asserting her rights. A voice spelling out clearly exactly what sins were being committed against her and refusing to back down and submit to injustice.

As I heard Sandra’s voice, the voice changed.

And instead of Sandra Bland, I heard Traci Blackmon. I heard Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell. I heard Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Karen Anderson and Leah Gunning Francis and Dietra Baker. I heard Alice Dowd and Ashley Yates. I heard Regina Mullins and Ty Johnson. I heard Leah Clyburn and Huldah Blamoville and Maggie Linck and Lorraine Kee and Patricia Altemueller.

And I began to fill with rage. And my eyes began to fill with tears.

Because it was personal.

And I knew I had to do something.

Even if it was just writing about this.

Even if it was just committing to keep saying her name … and saying their names … and asking “what can I do today to lighten your load just a little bit?” … and continue to fight through my own shame and defensiveness and uncomfortability about white supremacy and racial oppression and not let myself get distracted by the next thing that comes along that demands my attention.

I have to keep it personal. Because I know if I don’t, I will never care enough. If I don’t, my passion will flag and fail. If I don’t, I will get distracted and lose focus.

But if I keep it personal, I will realize that it is my deepest honor to stand beside these amazing black women. It is my deepest honor to amplify their voices and use my privilege to point to them. It is my deepest honor to have them get in my face and call me on my privilege and all that I take for granted.

But it has to be personal.