Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday in Holy Week: Jesus lives in the hard, scary places

Holy Week is a journey to the cross and beyond ... and every day is a different step. This week, I'll be offering a reflection for each step of the journey for us as a Cathedral community.

Yesterday evening in St. Louis, a little more than a mile from Christ Church Cathedral, a man and a woman in their 20s were killed by a hail of gunfire while driving down Park Avenue. The woman’s nine-year old daughter survived with a gunshot wound to her hand.

About three miles away, a young man sat in his home courageously fighting his craving for drugs; his family and friends praying he’d make it to the check-in time at the drug rehab center this afternoon.

About 50 miles away, a woman who has been incarcerated for 12 years lay her head down on her bed for the last time in prison. As you read this, she is free and in May will be one of the first residents of Magdalene St. Louis.

In the Gospel reading for today, Tuesday in Holy Week, Jesus says:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

One of my favorite quotes is from an unknown monk who said:

The difference between false faith and true faith is that false faith says, “do not worry; that which you fear will not happen to you” and true faith says, “do not fear, that which you fear may well happen to you; but it is nothing to be afraid of.”

When we follow Jesus, it doesn’t lead us to soft places. Jesus doesn’t live in the soft places. Jesus lives in hard, scary places. Jesus lives in the cars riddled with bullets and in the lonely apartments of people struggling with addiction. Jesus lives in the prison cells and under bridges.

Jesus lives with us when we are honest about the pain, the grief, the loss, the fear in our lives.

Following Jesus is nothing but risk. Following Jesus is an invitation to fall to the earth and die.

To love so much that we care more about others than we do ourselves – not in a self-destructive way but in a way that recognizes the greatest thing we can do with our lives is to follow Jesus in giving our lives away.

To dive into really scary stuff and know that what we fear may well happen to us but that it is truly nothing to fear because even then we can never lose the only thing that truly matters – the love of God in Jesus Christ, love that is stronger even than death.

And it is scary. It’s not a sin to be scared. Hell, Jesus was scared! And we know this because the next line of John’s Gospel is Jesus saying:

Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-- `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.

That’s Jesus saying, “Yeah, I’m scared … but what are you going to do?” and God replying, “Don’t worry … I’ve got your back. Don’t worry – that which you fear may well happen to you; but it is nothing to be afraid of.”

I regularly get asked why I keep writing and talking and preaching about things like Michael Brown and the chasms of race and class among us; about human trafficking and Magdalene; about children being killed by guns and about the powerful hold addiction in its many forms has on us. Why can’t we talk about something else? The world is so hard and stressful, why can’t church be a place to escape?

I feel that pain and frustration, I really do. But this week, as we walk together with Jesus, we know that our engagement with these things as people many of whom like me have the privilege of choice over whether or not we pay attention to them … that engagement is not optional.

To walk with Jesus is to set a course for the cross.

To walk with Jesus is to brave the bullets and the addictions the undersides of bridges and the insides of prison walls.

To walk with Jesus is to fall into the earth and die.

To walk with Jesus, to be the Body of Christ, is to let Jesus be the light in our darkness and to ourselves be the light in the darkness of the world.

And we can’t do that unless we go there ourselves.

And as we do, we find Jesus is there waiting.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday in Holy Week: Love and Give Abundantly With a Focus on Others

Holy Week is a journey to the cross and beyond ... and every day is a different step. This week, I'll be offering a reflection for each step of the journey for us as a Cathedral community.

I remember a meeting Magdalene St. Louis Executive Director Tricia Roland-Hamilton and I had a year or so ago with a potential funder. She was skeptical of our model and pushed back strongly:

“Why does it need to be two years, could you do six months or a year?”

“Why can’t you do a more streamlined program for 30 or 40 women instead of this ‘Cadillac program for six or seven?”

Our answer was … because this is our model. This is what we believe. This is what it takes.

Because the women who will come into our circle will have had untold depths of pain and abuse … and we need to offer as much of an abundance of love.

Because this is about creating a sisterhood for life, and people who have learned to trust no one don’t get over that in six months.

Because one of Magdalene St. Louis’ core values is “Love and give abundantly with a focus on others.”

Today is Monday in Holy Week – our first step on our journey together to the cross and beyond. The Gospel reading for today is a story of this abundant love:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:1-11)

Everything about this story sings “love and give abundantly with a focus on others”

*The oil that would have cost an entire year’s salary.

*The intimacy of Mary massaging the oil into Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair.

*The fragrance of the perfume filling the entire house

The reason Christ Church Cathedral decided to take on the role of catalyst in starting Magdalene St. Louis is we believe the church’s job is Eucharistic – to gather all the people around the presence of Christ and invite all to lay their lives on the table with it, trusting that if we do, God will bless it and create new life which we will take out into the world.

In my life, I’ve never known anything to look more like Jesus than Magdalene/Thistle Farms. It’s the Benedictine model of welcoming the stranger as Christ married with the conviction that love in community is the most powerful force for healing and social change in the universe. That’s Jesus.

We are starting Magdalene here not because we want to “do something good” but because Magdalene is who we are called to be. Magdalene is the salvation of the church. The circle of Magdalene shows us who Jesus dreams and longs for us to be.

Magdalene is the church as Mary … pouring out love in abundance despite the scorn of those around.

Magdalene is the church as Jesus – saying the deepest pain and abuse of the world is to be borne by us all, because Love Heals.

What if the measure of success we used as Christ Church Cathedral was not whether our budget is balanced or what our average Sunday attendance is or how many meals we serve on Saturday morning. Don’t get me wrong … all those are good and laudable things.

But what if our measure of success … what if the questions we asked at every Chapter meeting and every Sunday and every time we gather were:

“Are we loving and giving abundantly with a focus on others?”

“Does the stranger feel welcomed as Jesus?”

“Is the world appropriately scandalized by our way of life?”

“Is St. Louis being filled by the fragrance of our love?"

Friday, March 20, 2015

What is Truth? "Hands up! Don't Shoot!"

“So God created humankind in God’s image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female God created them…
God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
– Genesis 1:26,31

“Hands up. Don’t shoot.”
-Ferguson protesters

This week, the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart wrote a thoughtful, well-researched op-ed saying that forensic evidence shows Michael Brown did not have his hands up when he was shot by Darren Wilson, and thus the core mantra of the Ferguson protesters is a lie (“’Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie” )

His thesis is nothing new. In fact I’ve heard it over and over again in my conversations with my fellow white people about Michael Brown’s killing.

“Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is a lie.

It never happened.

You all are perpetuating a lie.

When it comes to cases like Michael Brown’s killing, we white people love to talk about “the facts of the case.” I think that’s because our experience as white people is largely that the justice system is fair. That the facts will win out, and that everyone should agree that a reasoned, unemotional discussion of the facts of the case will yield a just result.

I think it’s also because the raw anger and pain of the protest movement is scary – I know it is for me -- and a “reasoned discussion of the facts” is a way of moving the conflict back into our own comfort zone. And we feel on pretty firm ground doing it.

After all, our justice system is not founded on mob rule but on reasoned argument and careful consideration of evidence.

After all, justice is supposed not only to be blind but dispassionate.

The trouble is, many people of color in this country have a different experience. For many people of color, the “justice system” in this country is not fair and “facts” are often manipulated by those with money, power and privilege for their benefit and against them.

For many people of color in this country, justice is not blind – it is meted out against them with more frequency and severity than their white counterparts. And the statistical facts of that case bear that truth out. And they are tired of being dispassionate about it.

And this is where I disagree with Mr. Capehart.

“Hands up, don’t shoot” is not a lie.

I don’t disagree with the findings of the Department of Justice Report on Michael Brown’s killing. If I am to accept the other DOJ report on the Ferguson police, courts and city, then I cannot choose to accept one report and disregard another.

I will grant that forensic evidence and witness testimony shows that Michael Brown did not have his hands up when he was shot six times by Darren Wilson. But that doesn’t mean “Hands up, don’t shoot” is a lie.

It’s not.

When we read in Genesis that God created humanity in God’s image, that God looked at everything and said it was very good. When we read the second creation story in Genesis and hear of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the fruit, we don’t believe these stories are factually true.

Our intellect has given us the capacity to look into the beginnings of time, and we see a Big Bang instead of a tree-filled garden. We know the earth is more than several thousand years old, and we don’t believe God was pathologically insecure enough to hide dinosaur bones to test our faith.

But that doesn’t mean Genesis is a lie. The creation stories of Genesis were written by a people who were expressing the deepest lived experiences of their life and relationship with God - that we were created in the divine image, are sacred, beloved and good.

The creation stories of Genesis are not historical fact, but they are true. They are true – they bear and express deep truth -- because they are true to our human experience.

In the same way, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is true. Not in terms of historical fact but in terms of the lived experience of a community … specifically the community of people of color growing up in oppression and poverty in North St. Louis City and County.

As I have tried to listen deeply since August 9 (and realizing I wasn’t listening nearly deeply enough before then), I have heard stories from that community of powerlessness and abuse, of huge gaps in educational, economic and social opportunity. I have heard stories of clear messages being sent that their black lives don’t matter … or at least matter much less than my white life.

I have heard story after story that feel like people with their hands on their head, threatening no one, and yet being gunned down anyway.

We have to ask ourselves why “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” caught on so quickly? Why was it so easy to believe? Why were hundreds of people on the street chanting it as soon as the admittedly factually incorrect narrative was floated?

Because for the people of color who lived in this community, the idea that one of their own was shot to death with his hands on his head surrendering was completely believable because it resonated deeply with their lived experience.

Should Darren Wilson have been prosecuted based on the “lived experience of the community?” Absolutely not. And although I still have serious questions about his use of force, the training he received and the clear racial bias in describing Michael Brown as looking like “a demon,” Darren Wilson should be accorded what many people of color have not been – being judged solely by his actions and not by any external prejudice against him.

But do not say that “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is a lie. Because it is not.

Don’t say it’s a lie when “black people are more likely than others to be arrested in almost every city for almost every type of crime.” (USA Today, Nov. 18, 2014)

Don’t say it’s a lie when the unemployment rate for Black and Hispanic Americans in major U.S. Metropolitan areas is 3-4 times higher than for whites.

Don’t say it’s a lie when Department of Justice report on Ferguson gives example after example of black people just living their lives being treated as ATMs at best and criminals at worst.

In his op-ed, Capehart, who is black, writes:

“We must never allow ourselves to march under the banner of a false narrative on behalf of someone who would otherwise offend our sense of right and wrong. And when we discover that we have, we must acknowledge it, admit our error and keep on marching. That’s what I’ve done here.”

I agree, we must never allow ourselves to march under the banner of a false narrative – and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” is not a false narrative. It may not factually be about Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, but it is about the lived experience of young black men and women who feel a target is on their back every time they step out of the house.

And it is true.

Two weeks from tonight, we will gather in the Cathedral Nave for Blues at the Crossroads of Good Friday and we will hear the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, a conversation that ends with Pilate asking Jesus the critical question:

What is truth?

Jesus didn’t answer Pilate’s question because he already had. After dinner with his disciples and washing their feet, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Truth is not confined to provable facts. We know this. Shakespeare tells us that “beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Jesus shows us that truth is a person, a relationship, a way of being.

Jesus shows us that truth is God who does not desire to be separate from us but as the living Word, becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Jesus shows us that truth is a God who takes the form of a servant, washes our feet and then says “if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Jesus shows us that truth is a God in dark-skinned human form who is convicted and sentenced to death by a rigged “justice system” despite there being no “facts of the case” against him.

Jesus shows us that truth is God dying on a cross as his mother wails in agony below and says “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Dying with a sign hanging over his head reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”

A sign that was not factually correct. A sign that was nonetheless true.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"Being Jesus in all our Fergusons" - a sermon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, AR

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Sunday, March 15, 2015 by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

It is an honor to be here. And I want to commend you and I particularly want to commend your rector, my old friend Lowell Grisham, for his courage and yours. Lowell invited me here knowing that I was not going to preach a nice, easy sermon. He invited me here specifically to talk about what has been happening in our city of St. Louis around our nation’s original sin of racism. To Lowell and to you all, I say thank you because even now 218 days since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, the congregations that are willing to have this conversation are a distinct minority. So I thank you for your courage. Just being here and being willing to talk about this is how movements for change happen.

This past Thursday morning just after midnight, I was standing in a parking lot across from the Ferguson Police Department. Around me was a group of about 50 people who were the remainders of a crowd that had been there all night celebrating the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and also making it clear that this was not the end … that much more change was needed.

Across the street, in front of the police department was a line of 40 or 50 police officers all in riot gear with batons in their hands. And as tense as that sounds, it looked like it was going to end up being a quiet night. An hour before the police had pushed the demonstrators back across the street with their shields and had stood face to face with them. Now, the police had dropped back, things were calming down, many people had left and it looked like the night was going to end without further incident.

Then the shooting started.

The shots didn’t come from the gathered demonstrators but up a street behind us. It happened fast, but I remember it in slow motion.

The unmistakable sound of gunfire from behind me.

A police officer falling to the ground.

Fear sweeping through demonstrators and police alike.

Demonstrators scattering in front of me, diving for cover and running from the scene.

Police officers scattering, some diving behind walls, others taking shooting positions, guns drawn. An officer sweeping his gun right across where I and the people I am with are standing, before we too run for cover.

A year ago at this time, I never would have thought this is where I would have been at 12:15 on a Thursday morning – on a street in North St. Louis County with a crowd of mostly young people expressing pain and anger facing down a line of police in riot gear.

A year ago, Ferguson was just one of 90 small municipalities that ringed St. Louis City, most of which came into being through defensive incorporation as white people fled the city for the suburbs. Now Ferguson is one of those words like Watts or Selma – not so much a place but an icon of the deep and systemic racism that infects our world, that many of us like to pretend went away after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act but that is alive and thriving not just in north St. Louis but all over our nation.

The shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9 last year was nothing new. Young unarmed black men are gunned down by police with shocking regularity in this nation. In fact, just four days earlier, John Crawford was fatally shot in a Wal-Mart in Ohio while talking on his cell phone and holding a BB gun he was shopping for. A white man named Ronald Ritchie had called 911 and told them that Crawford was pointing the gun at people, but a month later admitted this wasn’t the case. The police shot Crawford to death right there in the Wal-Mart.

And that’s why when I first learned of Michael Brown’s death, my reaction was, I’m ashamed to say, sadness but not shock. This happened again. It wasn’t until the next morning when my friend, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, called me and asked me to be at a prayer vigil that afternoon at the Ferguson Police Department. It wasn’t until at that prayer vigil young people began sitting down in the street and screaming for justice. It wasn’t until I learned that Mike Brown’s body had laid in that street for 4 ½ hours. It wasn’t until the police showed up with riot gear and automatic weapons at a candlelight prayer vigil where a community was mourning that I realized this was going to be different.

And it is to my shame that I say it is only at that point that I really started listening.

I had always considered myself a pretty progressive white guy. I had done dismantling racism trainings. Christ Church Cathedral had been involved in many conversations about race and class. If there was a learning curve to issues of race and class and privilege, I figured I was up near the top.

What I learned after August 9 is that I am down here. What I learned after August 9 is how much I don’t know because I haven’t lived it. And since August 9, I have moved up that curve only a little bit … and it has changed my life. And I thank God.

Michael Brown’s killing and the amazing young people who have become the leaders of a movement since then that is now second only to the Montgomery Bus Boycott as the longest continuous protest in the history of the civil rights movement have shone a spotlight on a way of life that I didn’t know existed because I live in White St. Louis, in White America.

It is a life of black mothers and fathers having to have “the conversation” with their sons about what to do if you see a police officer so you don’t end up dead … a conversation I never have to have with my white teenage sons because it never occurred to me nor would it need to that my sons would ever be in any danger from the police.

It’s a life of only having bad educational opportunities and then being blamed for not going to college or being able to get a job.

It’s a life of being seen by the police and the courts less as constituents to be protected and more as potential offenders and sources of revenue.

It’s a life where black men are not given the economic and job opportunities that I have been and my sons will be, and when they turn to the one good economic opportunity of selling drugs, they get imprisoned at a higher rate and for longer sentences than white people committing the same crimes.

It’s a life where children see their fathers killed and imprisoned and then they get made fun of for not having a daddy.

And as that spotlight got shone and the statistics and numbers got faces and names like Derrick and Brittany and Alexis and Rasheen and DeRay and Alisha and Amy, I realized I could not unsee what I have seen and I could not unknown what I now knew.

And so I was confronted with what to do about it. What do I, a quote-unquote “respectable” white church leader, dean of the Episcopal cathedral, do? And I went to prayer. And I went to the Bible. And one of the passages I came to was this one:

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

God looked down at a world that was broken by sin and writhing in pain. And what God offered was the divine self. In the words of the beautiful Christ hymn in Philippians, the Christ did not see equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied the divine self, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

When we look at a world that is broken by sin and writhing in pain, what we have to offer is Jesus. What we have to offer is that we ARE the body of Christ. That when Jesus died and rose again, Jesus sent the gift of the Holy Spirit and that is what binds us together now. That we are Jesus. That we are Jesus’ feet and hands and eyes and years and voice.

When we look at a world that is broken by the sin of racism and classism. Where there is too much blood in our streets and too many mothers crying and too many children who have grown up with targets on their chests, what we have to offer is Jesus.

So what does Jesus look like?

I’ll tell you first what Jesus doesn’t look like. Jesus doesn’t look like business as usual. Jesus doesn’t look like us staying in our churches. God so loved the world that God sent God’s son into the world – and into the places of deepest oppression. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace or a temple but as a refugee child in a backwater of the Roman Empire. Jesus lived with the poorest and the most marginalized and continually reached out to those who were even the poorest and most marginalized in those poor and marginalized communities.

And so as we asked ourselves the question, what does Jesus look like? Where would Jesus be? What would Jesus do? The answers became pretty clear.

Jesus would be on the street. Jesus would be standing with the young people who are crying out in their pain and their rage and crying out for justice. Jesus would standing in the breach, in solidarity with the oppressed and yet loving the oppressor. And as a white man, if I am to follow Jesus and offer Jesus, I need to do it realizing first that I look a lot more like the oppressor than the oppressed. That I look a lot more like Pharaoh than Moses. And so the first eyes that need to be opened are my own. The first ears that need to be opened are my own. The first heart that needs to be converted is my own.

God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son.

Part of my spiritual discipline in the weeks after Mike Brown was killed was in my prayers every morning to imagine my own sons’ faces on Mike Brown’s body laying in that street. God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son. That is a powerful love and a powerful sacrifice. I have to do this for my sons. I have to love Mike Brown as my own.

God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son.

God didn’t just love some of the world but the whole world. That means not only do we have to chant with fervor that black lives matter. It means that God loves Darren Wilson. And God loves St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough. And God loves the police officer out late at night standing in front of the Ferguson Police Department in riot gear. And that I am called to love them, too. It means in the words of Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi and so many others that our goal is not to defeat an enemy but to transform a heart. That our goal is to invite everyone into the building of the beloved community, the coming of the kingdom of God. To dismantle the us and the them thinking that infects and divides us and invite all into a greater and more glorious We.

God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son.

A friend asked me a couple months ago, “Why are you throwing yourself on this fire?” It’s a fabulous question. And the only answer I had for him is I have no choice. My friends are on that fire. And I can’t look at Traci and Starsky and Brittany and Alexis and Rasheen and Derrick and Shaun and call them sister and brother and stay in my safe home in my white neighborhood when the tear gas is being deployed and the shots are being fired. And for my friends who are police officers and police spouses who feel betrayed by me and who just can’t hear that I love them, too. I hope they know I hear them, too. I hear their fear and their pain. I hear the trauma of their lives and how the system traps them, too. And I live in hope that they will not only understand some day why we are doing what we are doing but realize that it is when we all throw ourselves on the fire of systemic racism together that the fire will finally go out.

I stand here before you this morning not so much to give you a glimpse into the Ferguson you have seen on TV but to invite you to find the Ferguson right here in Fayetteville. The place of segregation. The place of inequity. The place of invisibility. It’s there, I promise you. Some of you may already know it. Some of you may live there.

And when you find it, remember this Gospel. What we have to offer on the streets of Ferguson, wherever Ferguson might be, is nothing less than Jesus. And that means we must go dwell there knowing that Jesus is already dwelling there. We must learn the names and hear the stories and share the tears and the pain and the anger. We must see our children’s faces on the bodies of the dead. We must like the living Word of God, not be content to watch from a distance but seek those places of pain and danger and sorrow and in the flesh dwell there.

And it will be hard. And we will do it imperfectly. And we will be scared. And we will doubt ourselves regularly with each step.

But we are the Body of Christ. We are the Son that God sent into the world. And we do what is hard. And we do what is right. And we do what is scary.

God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

We are the Body of Christ. We are the Son that God sends into the world, not to condemn but to save.

And with the power of God behind us, if we are faithful to that call, we will not fail.

Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A night that breaks our heart. A God whose heart breaks, too.


Then the LORD said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:7-8)

Photo: Lawrence Bryant, St. Louis American
Last night, two police officers were shot and wounded in front of the Ferguson Police Department. Today, the anger, pain and confusion we have been experiencing as a community has new dimension and depth. We need to wrestle with that. That is why I am writing you all, because as followers of Jesus, we never wrestle alone. I hope my “wrestling out loud” will help, and I invite your voice as well.

I was there in Ferguson last night. I arrived about five minutes before the shots were fired. I was there to stand with Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell, two of the activists we hosted at Christ Church Cathedral this past Sunday, and to stand with three other demonstrators -- our diocesan youth missioner, Elle Dowd, and two of the Deaconess Anne interns who have made the Cathedral their worshipping home.

I heard the shots. I saw an officer fall to the ground. In an instant, I saw fear sweep across police and demonstrators alike. I saw guns drawn and people scatter. I heard a cry of pain.

My heart is breaking right now.

My heart is breaking for the police officers who were wounded, for their families and their fellow officers.

My heart is breaking that, last night, violence broke into a movement so many – myself included – have strived to keep nonviolent.

My heart is also breaking for six-year-old Marcus Johnson, killed in a drive-by shooting in North St. Louis last night … and his family, two of whom were also wounded.

My heart is breaking that violence is nothing new to us. That our Cathedral nave is filled with the faces of young people killed on St. Louis streets by guns. That there has been far too much blood shed and far too much pain.

My heart is breaking – and as painful as that is, I have come to believe that our hearts are supposed to break. Because we live in a world of pain and hurt. And in the face of it, our hearts will either break like God or harden like Pharaoh, and given that choice, I choose the Lord.

One of the touchtone scriptures for me these past months has been those two verses of Exodus 3. They are about God not being content to be removed from the suffering of God’s people. God moves with rich, active brushstrokes:

I have observed the misery of my people
I have heard their cry.
I know their sufferings.
I come down to deliver and raise them up.

God’s invitation to Moses was to lean into the suffering of the people – intimately lean into it to the point of sharing it. In God there are no “your tears” and “my tears” but every tear is “our tear.”

That runs the risk of sounding a little too kum ba yah. But it is anything but. It is an invitation to some of the hardest and most rewarding work there is – meeting at the foot of the cross. Meeting at that place of pain and not running away from it but leaning into it.

Like God throughout scripture, loving the people enough to let our hearts break … again and again and again

And so today, my heart is breaking. And maybe yours is, too.

It breaks my heart that those police officers were shot last night. It breaks my heart that even though I can tell you firsthand the shots did not come from the group of gathered protesters but from up a side street, this movement will probably be tagged with this violence.

It breaks my heart that this is nothing new. History tells us that though this is tragic and abhorrent, every mass, nonviolent movement for social change, be it India or South Africa or our own American Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, has had to deal with instances like this with people who wish to inject a violence that is not what we are about and that profoundly sets us back.

History has shown this is a part of the process because oppressed communities have a tremendous amount of anger and pain … and the African-American community is no different. That in no way excuses the violence – there is no excuse for the violence -- but it is a reminder that the situation is incredibly volatile and has been not just since August 9 but for a long, long time.

In fact, I believe last night shows us why nonviolent action is incredibly important. It gives a way for people to express their anger and pain without violence – and throughout the 200+ days since Michael Brown was killed, on behalf of the core group of demonstrators that is exactly what has happened.

It is a profound misunderstanding to believe that if the protests would just go away everything would be fine. The demonstrations are an expression of deep anger, pain and rejection. They are an expression of the misery of the people and their cry on account of their taskmasters and their sufferings that those of us in our privilege do not automatically share but which we are invited to share in and know.

The demonstrations are a constructive way to direct attention toward places where attention is desperately needed … and the recent responses to the DOJ report and the legislation that nine of us spent the day in Jefferson City lobbying for are examples that the needle is moving and change is happening. Slowly, yes. But it is happening.

Those emotions will not go away if the demonstrations stop … they will just more likely to be expressed in a never ending cycle of more and more Mike Browns followed by violent responses.

Today, the anger, pain and confusion we have been experiencing as a community has a new dimension and depth. We need to wrestle with that. We need to lean into that. If our hearts are breaking, we can be comforted that they do not break alone. That God’s heart breaks, too. And if we are tempted to lean away. To let our hearts get hard because feeling the pain just seems too much to bear … well, we need to hold even more tightly to one another and to Christ. And wrestle more profoundly. And pray more fervently.

Tonight I will be at St. Martin’s Church in Ellisville taking part in a Lenten book discussion of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I can’t think of a more important night for we as a Cathedral to be present in a suburban congregation that has the courage to discuss some of the core issues at the heart of what has erupted in Ferguson and throught the nation the past seven months.

This weekend, I will be in Fayetteville, AR, teaching on Saturday evening and preaching on Sunday about what is happening in Ferguson … and how it relates to a God who so loved the world that God sent his Son to be with us, to have his own heart broken and to invite us to do the same. Again, I can’t think of a more important time for us to be the Cathedral in this way for the wider church … after all, there are Fergusons everywhere.

In the coming weeks, months and beyond, we will continue on the course we have set as a Cathedral. A course to seek a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ through, among other things, proclaiming the Gospel boldly and embracing diversity joyfully – knowing that these things involve risk and pain and that all roads to the cross are littered with our own broken hearts.

We have said our Lenten journey this year is Face to Face. That means we will continue to walk this path together – together as a Cathedral congregation, together as a diocese, together as a St. Louis region. And it is together that we will be lifted up into that good and broad land, where the hardness of heart of Pharoah and the pain of Egypt will one day be a distant memory.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Praying the DOJ Report on Ferguson -- A Great Litany of Lament

As I spent time today reading the report of the Department of Justice on the Ferguson Police Department, it was clear to me that it is not just an indictment of one city, but of a nation broken by deep divisions of race, class and privilege. It is the story of one city but reflects the voices that are heard in cities throughout our nation.

It is, in fact, a record of the lament of people of color in this country who have been crying out for decades and even generations.

It is, in fact, a Great Litany of sin. A Great Litany of lament.

So that is what I have done with it. I have turned it into a Great Litany.

If you click here  you can download what I am calling "A Litany of Lament for the American Police and Court Systems ... Based on the U.S. Department of Justice Report on the Ferguson Police Department." 

It is long and arduous ... just as the report is. There are 89 different laments based on the sin revealed in the report. There are 29 petitions for transformation based on the recommendations of the report. Interspersed are 11 readings from the report of personal stories of oppression that remind us of the human face of all of this. Each lament, petition and reading is noted with the page number and paragraph it comes from in the report.

It is designed to be used as a liturgy but right now I have no idea if it will ever be used as such. While I have been writing this, I got 3 texts asking people to come to the Ferguson Police Department and protest and while I am holding those sisters and brothers who are doing that right now in prayer, I have felt called to stay and do this instead. For me, writing it was an act of praying with the report and joining my lament to the cries of those who have been oppressed for so long. I hope it can be helpful in our corporate acts of confession, repentance and amendment of life.

Let us continue to pray on our knees, to pray with our feet, to lift up the cries of the oppressed and to work together for the Beloved Community of God.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Brene Brown and Bartimaeus: Vulnerability and Healing


From our opening devotion at the Christ Church Cathedral chapter meeting, Thursday, February 19, 2015.


“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.

“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.
“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be – a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation – with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.”  - Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Take a minute and ponder: What makes you afraid to be vulnerable?

"They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way." - Mark 10:46-52

Take a minute and ponder: Where do we as a Cathedral most need healing?

When I ask myself the question "Why am I afraid to be vulnerable?" at the top of the list is REJECTION. It's a scary word and it's a big fear.  I'm afraid that I will show a piece of myself, something that's raw and real, and other people -- maybe even people whose opinion I really value and whose love I really want -- will laugh or ridicule or even just disagree with me in a way that will play old tapes in my head about my own unlovableness and unworthiness.

I love the story of Bartimaeus because there is so much going on here ... and the first thing that is happening is courage.

Bartimaeus dares to be vulnerable. He shouts to this hotshot rabbi, Jesus -- HEY! I'M OVER HERE! HELP ME!  And then his worst fear (OK, maybe it isn't his but it would be mine) happens --- he gets rejected. The disciples say "Sit down and shut up, Bartimaeus!"

But Bartimaeus has got it going on, and we hear that he cried out even more loudly. That's Daring GREATLY! And Jesus LOVES it. And he tells these same disciples that had been sneering at Bartimaeus to bring him into the very center of the community. And Bartimaeus goes all in -- he throws off his cloak, not hiding a thing -- and goes to Jesus.

And then Jesus asks Bartimaeus one of the most amazing questions in all of scripture.

What do you want me to do for you?

Just imagine if Jesus walked up to you and said:

"What do you want me to do for you?" 

Not in an Aladdin/Three Wishes kind of way, but looking deep in your eyes and inviting you to name your deepest wound. For me, it would be the ultimate approach/avoidance situation -- I can have my deepest brokenness healed, but first I have to admit it -- to Christ and to myself.

And Bartimaeus tells Jesus his heart's desire "My teacher, let me see again." And when we tell someone our heart's desire, we put our heart in their hand and give them the potential for throwing it on the ground and grinding it under their heel. But of course that's not what Jesus does ... he says "Go. Your faith has made you well" ... and Bartimaeus not only regains his sight but, maybe even more significantly, he becomes part of this community that just minutes before had been telling him to shut up and stay begging by the side of the road.

There is a link between vulnerability and healing. As followers of Jesus, we know this. We know this because the ultimate instance of power and the doorway to the resurrection is the ultimate instance of vulnerability ... Christ nailed to the cross.

The healing power of Christ is available to each and all of us -- but we have to walk through that doorway of vulnerability first. We have to name our brokenness and risk -- and sometimes even suffer -- rejection.

Where do we need healing at Christ Church Cathedral? Last night at Chapter we named several things -- internal disagreements about budget and mission, old conflicts that still fester, impatience, and our budget and finances themselves (which I know I often describe in medical terms as "hemorrhaging money.").

Where do we need healing in our lives? In our own struggles with addiction? In (in the beautiful words of the Ash Wednesday litany) "our anger at our own frustration?" In our fear? In our feelings of inadequacy, unlovability and unworthiness?

Brene Brown says: "Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement."

Bartimaeus enagaged. Bartimaeus dared greatly. He cried out to Jesus, risked and braved rejection, flung off his cloak and spoke the truth of his deepest pain and his heart's desire.

Our ability to receive the healing power of Christ's love is up to us. And our only choice is a question of engagement.