Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Taking Leave


Charlie Brown, that great 20th Century nihilist philosopher, speaks for so many of us here. I know he speaks for me.

I hate goodbyes.

The problem is goodbyes are inevitable. Whether we like it or not, someone always leaves.

This Sunday will be my last Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral. Friday, ,July 1 will be my last day functioning as Dean, though I will officially be on the payroll of the Cathedral until the end of September as I finish off my sabbatical and vacation time.

Goodbyes are hard (though there are some partings that are long-awaited and joyful ... and some will greet mine in that vein!). We hate them. But it's important to do them well.

In the church, we have a checkered history on goodbyes. Maybe it's our theology of our interconnectedness as the Body of Christ ... or maybe it's because at our best we lay our whole lives on that Eucharistic table together that makes it so hard to let go of relationships that have meant so much to us.

But let go we must. So I want to talk about that a bit.

One of the things I have had to learn as a priest is the difference between being a priest and a friend.

Friends are wonderful, and I hope you have lots of them. I know I do, and they are fantastic!

Being someone's priest is different. As your priest, my primary job is to gather you with the rest of the community around the presence of Christ and lead us all in laying our lives on the table with Jesus. It is to preach the word of God in ways that lead you to do the same. It is to have relationships with you where my primary concern is always your discipleship of Jesus and how that is lived out in the church and in the world.

Like friendship, it involves a deep, deep love and affection. Like friendship it involves holy companionship. That's why the two are often confused.

But unlike friendship, while you might have many friends, you don't have tons of priests. Having someone as your priest is a unique and specific role ... much in the same way that I have many sibling priests but only one Bishop.

I had the conversation about this distinction with Chapter when I became your Dean, and someone at the table said:

"But when you say you aren't my friend, it feels like you're saying you don't love me."

My response was "I completely get that it sounds and feels that way ... but it's actually the opposite. The greatest joy of my priesthood is that I am called into a loving relationship with you that is incredibly deep. The difference is it is a relationship where I am called to put your well being, your discipleship of Jesus and care of you and the community above any need or desire of my own. It means that I need to be willing to speak truths to you and hear truths from you that I might not be willing to from a friend because of fear of damaging or losing the friendship.

"The difference is also that, frankly, I'm probably not going to be friends with everyone in a congregation ... and if I'm friends with some and not with others, that can send the message that Jesus loves some of you more than others ... and what a perversion of the Gospel that would be!"

"Our relationship as congregant and priest is wonderful and difficult. It is a unique blessing. And the truth is, if I am going to be sure I am being your priest, I have to be clear that I am not your friend."

So what does this have to do with saying goodbye?

One of the most common things clergy hear (and, regrettably, say) as we leave congregations is
"it's OK ... we can still be friends."

We can still talk. We can still hang out. I can still come to you.

It is that Charlie Brown piece of us talking. That piece that hates to say goodbye so much and that wishes so much we didn't have to ... and that even thinks it's stupid that we need to.

I feel it, too.

I hate this goodbye.

I think about not being here to sit at your bedside as some of you die and not being able to lay your ashes in the chapel. I think about not being able to baptize Anne and Perry Trolard's new baby. I think of not being able to watch Annaliese Dace graduate high school or celebrate Ron Friewald's retirement someday or be at the opening of Debbie Nelson-Linck's fantastic new exhibit or to hear Pat Partridge play the organ and it breaks my heart and fills my eyes with tears. But those tears are the cost of a calling that allows me the privilege of loving each you so deeply -- and of accepting your love in return.

So why that cost?

Because I have not been your friend ... I have been your priest. And in a few days, I will not be your priest anymore. And you -- and this Cathedral congregation -- will need someone else to fill that role. And if I am still there -- even if we call it "as a friend" -- it will be all the more difficult for someone else to come in and fill that role.  And that will be bad for everyone.

Also, I will have a new congregation. New relationships to build. New lives to share. A new community to stand in the midst of and say, "I appeal to you holy siblings, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." And my focus will need to be with the people of All Saints, Pasadena. Not because they are better or I love them any more but because I am a priest and that is my new call.

I have been in congregations where this has been done poorly -- and it is bad all the way around. I have been in congregations where former clergy left the jobs but stayed connected to the community,  and it made the job so much harder for I and other clergy who followed -- because there was no incentive for the people to do the hard work of building the new relationship with the new priest when the path of least resistance was to maintain the familiar relationship with the former priest. It's not impossible. But it is a lot harder.

At worst, this has included former clergy meddling and second guessing ... but even at best it has not been healthy or helpful .. particularly for the new clergy that arrive and are trying to take their place at the altar and in the midst of the community.

I don't want to do that to my successor and I don't want to do that for you.

If I were to try to maintain friendships after I left, frankly, it would be selfish. It would be me putting my own desire to stay connected to you over what is best for you and this congregation. And I'm not going to do that.

My deepest desire for Christ Church Cathedral is that you be a community of bold, joyful, healthy disciples of Jesus Christ. And the best thing I can do to help you continue on that road is truly to leave so that you can embrace and love your new Dean -- whomever she may be -- and to hold you in prayer for the rest of my life.

So that is what I will do. And that is what I ask you to do as well.

When I walk out the door on Friday, July 1, I will be holding you on my heart, and that will never change. But I will not be maintaining relationships. I will hold you in prayer always, but I will not be checking in to see how you're doing. There are a few folks who are out of town in June who have asked if we can have a farewell meeting later in the summer so that we can say goodbye properly and, with Lorraine's and Amy's permission, I am scheduling a few of those, but for all intents and purposes I will be gone, and we will let each other go.

Does that mean you or I need to duck behind a shelf if we run into each other in Left Bank Books between now and when I leave town? No. We don't have to be rude to each other or make a big deal of scrupulously making sure our paths never cross or names are never spoken of again. If I see you at Busch Stadium this summer I'll say hello. If you are ever in Pasadena on a Sunday, please do drop by All Saints ... I will be thrilled to see you.

If your new Dean decides she wants to invite me back at some point and that is something I am able to do, then that could happen someday ... but that will be her call. In the meantime,  I won't be reaching out to you and I ask that you not reach out to me. Not because I don't love you or because I think you don't love me ... but because of the opposite. Because while it has been the deepest honor to be your priest for these past seven years, I know the best way I can honor that is by getting out of the way so someone else can come in and experience the incredible gift of being your priest without me hanging around.

I take heart that Charlie Brown's yearning -- and my own -- never to say goodbye actually will be fulfilled. It is both present reality and sure and certain eschatological hope. St. Paul reminds us that

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Though we are parted, we are always connected. That is the joy of being the Body of Christ. And it is that joy and hope that lets me do what I need to do and lets you do what you need to do ... and that is to part well, pray continually for one another, and entrust one another and all our lives to Christ our Lord.

Our time together is ending.

The love of God in Jesus Christ is forever.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sabbatical – How it’s going to work (Part 3 of 3)

In the last two weeks, I’ve written about sabbatical as a time of rest, restoration and a check against the idolatry of believing in our own indispensability. I also wrote about sabbatical as a time of opportunity for reflection, discernment and to experience something new.

But how will things run and what exactly will be going on during my sabbatical? That’s what I want to talk about in this final installment.

The Vicar, wardens, and I have put together a document (approved by the Chapter) that outlines structures of authority, event planning and communications, the expanded role of chapter liaisons and the use of funds usually reserved to the Dean will happen during the sabbatical.

The entire document is available online (click here)- but the highlights are:

*The authority of the Dean will rest with the Vicar, the Rev. Canon Amy Chambers Cortright. This will include speaking on behalf of CCC, managing staff, and being the final authority on all decisions involving liturgy, pastoral care and Christian formation. The vicar will work collaboratively with the Executive Committee (wardens and treasurer)

*The Chapter will continue as it has been – as the primary policy-making and fiduciary body for Christ Church Cathedral.

*There is a process including the Vicar, a chapter representative and staff to decide questions of whether the Cathedral will host an event.

*There is a process involving the Vicar, digital missioner, wardens and communication & marketing committee involving communications and social media.

*The money that usually goes into the Dean’s discretionary fund will be diverted to the Vicar’s fund during the sabbatical, and she will also have access to the funds in the Dean’s hospitality account and a small special fund set up by Chapter that can be used at the Dean’s discretion with the advise and consent of wardens or chapter.

During my sabbatical, important efforts toward survival and sustainability at Christ Church Cathedral will also continue. Among them are:

BTM Rental Income – Facilities Manager Gary Johnson will continue to work with our commercial real estate broker to find tenant(s) for rentable space in the BTM. We currently are in negotiations with one interested party.

Chapter 2017 Budget Group – Jeff Goldone, Kris Reppert, Bruce Hopson, the Rev. Emily Hillquist Davis, and Andreas Altemueller is preparing 3-5 budget options that will be considered by Chapter – each of which is balanced or close to it -- with a broad structure for the 2017 budget being adopted at the May, 2016 Chapter meeting. This will give 7 ½ months both for any staff impacted by budget cuts to find new work or decide whether they want to stay under adjusted responsibilities/salaries and also time for the Cathedral to transition into what will very possibly be a smaller staff structure.

Facilities Audit – Cal Guthrie and the Property Committee are working with Gary Johnson on this project. In 2016, CCC contracted with ArchImages (http://archimages-stl.com/) to do a complete audit of all CCC properties (Cathedral, BTM, parking lot) to determine the state of the facilities, any deferred maintenance and to estimate cost of maintaining all property both today and for the next 30-50 years. This data will be used to determine (among other things):
*budgeting for facilities expenses.
*the amount of money needed to be raised in a capital campaign
*feasibility of sustaining/remodeling/tearing down the BTM

BTM Development Feasibility Study – A group including Lorraine Kee (sr. warden), Anne Trolard (Chapter), Bill Thomas (CCC parishioner), Jeff Goldone (Jr. Warden), the Rev. Canon Amy Cortright (Vicar) and Desiree Viliocco (Diocesan CFO – bishop’s staff representative) is working with The Rome Group, whom we have contracted with to do a feasibility study of whether there is a development project for the BTM that fits with our mission, is economically sustainable and that people are willing to get behind. This data will help determine whether there is a reasonable sustainable future for the BTM and how to achieve it.

Explorations with the Diocese over ownership of properties – Steve Barney, Karen Barney, Kris Reppert and Lorraine Kee are representing the Cathedral in conversations with the Diocese about whether it would be feasible and advisable for the diocese to take a larger ownership role in the Cathedral and the BTM. We are working with the Episcopal Church Foundation in these explorations as well.

It is a sign of the health of this community that I am able to step away and so much is able to get done. I am deeply grateful to the many people who are stepping up during this time and I hope everyone will consider how God might be calling them to step up as well.





Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Welcome the party, pal!" -- on the House of Bishops' Word to the Church


“Welcome to the party, pal!” – John McClane

There’s a scene in Die Hard where terrorists have taken over the top floor of a LA high rise and are holding a bunch of people hostage. John McClane (Bruce Willis), has been in the thick of what has been going on and trying to get anyone else outside the building to notice.

A single police officer drives up way down below, takes a cursory look around and is about to drive off – completely ignorant of the crisis -- when McClane realizes he has to do something crazy to get his attention. So he takes the body of one of the terrorists he has killed, throws it out the window and it lands on the hood of the officer’s car. Instantly, the officer knows all is not well – especially when the terrorists open fire on the police car. (Check out the scene clip below, but, you know, trigger warning)

Two seconds before, he was ignorant of the horrors going on inside the building. Now he is not only aware, the horrors are all around him.

And McClane, in wonderful Bruce Willis fashion, yells down at him:

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

Welcome to the party, pal! That’s how I feel about the Episcopal House of Bishops' “Word to the Church” that came out yesterday.

It’s a great letter. (Click here to read it)

It names the crucifixion of Jesus as state terrorism.

It talks about how we are still “living under the shadow of the lynching tree” and about how we “seek to secure our own safety and security at the expense of others.”

I agree with pretty much everything in this word – except the tense our bishops use throughout.

They talk about a developing situation.

They talk about “violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric.”

That “Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society."

That “the current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege.”

Like all this is somehow something new.

Like this somehow hasn’t happened yet, but we fear it might.

Like violent forces, people turning against their neighbors and us worshipping a false idol of power and privilege hasn’t been happening all along – just because some of us are only now beginning to notice. Just because it is only now happening at rallies for a major party’s frontrunner for president. Just because it is only now CNN Breaking News.

Welcome to the party, pal!

As pastor Traci Blackmon says, “Trump isn’t the tree, he’s the fruit.” And he and what is happening around him is just the latest fruit of a tree that has roots older than our Republic itself.

Our bishops have wonderfully said:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

Welcome to the party, pal!

We have a national economy founded on the stealing of black bodies from Africa and having productivity tortured out of them in forced labor camps.[1] An economy that has been sustained by successive re-workings of that system in sharecropping, Jim Crow, the denial of key wealth escalators (the GI Bill, social security, FHA home loans, among others) and the discrimination of redlining/restrictive covenants to people of color[2],  and finally the school to prison pipeline. [3]

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.



We have a system of policing where, as Professor John A. Powell says, “the role of the police is to contain the black community, to keep white people safe from the black community.” (watch the video above)

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

We have a political system that has embodied and sustained white supremacy – grounded in a founding document that designates black men as only 3/5 human and women as not recognizably human at all.

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

Our bishops write:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

Fantastic! Seriously. That is awesome. 

Welcome to the party, pal!

I honestly don’t say this in ridicule. I say this in thanksgiving. I say this as someone who is just starting to come to the party myself. I say this as someone who has spent most of my life benefitting from these systems and not bothering to seek out the truths behind them and perfectly happy to remain blissfully unaware that my safety and wealth exist through the sacrifice of the hopes and safety of others.

As the young leaders of the movement for black lives told me when I finally showed up in the street:

“You’ve been in your churches praying. We’ve been out here dying.”

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

I applaud the House of Bishops for their word. And I hope they – and all of us -- recognize the power of what they are saying. I hope they – and all of us – recognize  the radical, rooted nature of what they are calling us to and committing themselves to as our leaders.

They close their word by saying:

“We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.”

How we – the Bishops and us all – read this call will determine whether this word will be us truly coming to the party or whether we will once again in our power and privilege drive off in safety leaving the carnage to continue. 

Will we read this as a call to pray – not just on our knees but with our hands, with our voices, with our power, our privilege, and with our feet – for true reconciliation?



If we read this call as one for that kind of radical, rooted-in-Jesus “spirit of reconciliation” and not just as one more way to “be in our churches praying while ‘they’ are out there dying,” then this is a word that could change the church. This is a word that could change the world. This is a word that could truly lead us more deeply into the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ -- who is the source of those true selves we pray we will not betray.

Yes, the violence and rhetoric in this political season are disturbing. But it is the fruit, not the tree. It is the crazy thing that has finally gotten our attention to what has been going on all along.

Jesus is standing, as Jesus always does, with those most on the margins … those most oppressed … those most ridiculed … those most targeted.  And as some of our eyes are being opened not just to what is happening now but what has been going on all along, Jesus is shouting down at those of us who have remained blissfully unaware below:

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

How will we respond?



[1] For more on this, read The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist (http://www.left-bank.com/book/9780465002962)

[2] For more on this, read and watch White Like Me by Tim Wise (transcript here - http://www.mediaed.org/assets/products/421/transcript_421.pdf)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Opportunity of Sabbatical (Part 2 of 3)

Last week, I wrote about how sabbath/sabbatical is both a time of rest & restoration and also a check against the idolatry of believing in our own indispensability. This sabbatical time is also a time of opportunity. An opportunity for reflection, an opportunity for discernment, an opportunity to experience something new.

First, reflection.

We have spent seven years together, and we have undergone tremendous changes and tackled tremendous challenges.

We have had honest conversations about the role of alcohol and addictive family systems in our life as a Cathedral and a diocese.

We have wrestled with both stewarding the wealth of the Pope Bequest and the challenge of maintaining aging buildings with rising fixed costs.

We have welcomed many new faces and said goodbye to many others.

We welcomed Lafayette Preparatory Academy into our buildings and established ourselves as a force for the common good downtown.

We have dived into the middle of the great divides of race & class in our city – particularly after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson – and in so doing have become both a source of inspiration and a lightning rod for conflict within our own Cathedral, in the city of St. Louis and even across the Episcopal Church and nation.

Relationships have been strengthened and strained. Begun and broken. It has not been easy and it has not been dull.

It is good for all of us now to reflect back on these seven years. Where have we felt Jesus moving in our midst? For what are we grateful, and what do we regret? What joys do we have to proclaim and what sins do we have to confess?

The Christian life is an examined life – and we have been through much to examine.

As Antonio says in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” And while I’m not suggesting the murder of a king (or a dean!), there is wisdom here.

God is always operating on at least two tracks. One is about what is happening now. The other is about what unseen in the future it is preparing us for.

What’s past is prologue. And we all have some discernment to do. What of the past seven years do we want to continue and what do we want to leave aside.?

I have tried to lead us in very clear ways in embracing the movement for Black lives and breaking down the us/them structures governing relationships across class lines. This has been hard, controversial work – and this is a good time for you as the Cathedral to discern whether God is calling us to continue that work.

I have tried to lead us in very clear ways embracing a destiny of the Cathedral as a catalyst for mission downtown and in St. Louis and talked about Jesus calling us not to be unconcerned with survival but never to sacrifice faithfulness for survival. Is that a path we want to continue down? What is this past a prologue to for us?

And for me, I need to consider where God might be calling me as I enter my third decade of ordained ministry. To not just give thanks for what has been but to imagine what this might be prologue to for me as well.

And that leads us to the third opportunity – the opportunity to experience something new.

As we have discussed throughout this year, 2017 is likely to look very different at CCC. We have a $212,000 budget deficit this year and next year we will not have any cushion to allow much, if any, deficit at all. We have many different efforts happening right now to address the survival and sustainability of Christ Church Cathedral and these will continue full steam ahead during my sabbatical.

It is at least a distinct possibility that the 2017 budget will include salary for only one priest at Christ Church Cathedral. That means this sabbatical time is an opportunity for us to experience life with one clergy. That means there will be opportunities both for the baptized to step up and take new roles and responsibilities and also to discern what things might need to be laid down.

It is NOT a time to burn out the priest that you will have. It is important not just for Amy’s health but for the health of the congregation that she not over-function during this time – so that everyone can get a clear picture of what sustainable ministry is like with one full-time priest on staff.

Next week, in my final installment of this series, I’ll talk about the plans Chapter and I have made for structure, function and governance during the sabbatical.

Some of what I have written here may cause you to be anxious. I want to tell you that none of it makes me anxious. I believe God’s hand is firmly on this Cathedral community and if we engage in honest reflection, discernment and embracing this new experience we will, with God’s help, chart a course for a tremendous future for Christ Church Cathedral.

I am grateful for the opportunity for this sabbatical for us all … and for the work that we will be doing throughout.

Monday, March 7, 2016

God is about to show up and do something extraordinary.

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress. (Isaiah 65:17-19)

More often than not, the lectionary gives us wisdom and inspiration right when we need it. That happened -- at least for me -- this morning as the Eucharistic lectionary for Monday in the fourth week of Lent gave us this from Isaiah.

It's from the third part of Isaiah. The people of Israel have returned from exile but even though they are home, all is not well. When they were in exile, they dreamed of the wonders of return, and -- don't get them wrong, it's much better than being in exile -- life is still really, really, really hard. There is still deep brokenness in relationship between God and the people and among the people themselves.

All is not well. All is not as it should be.

And then God says this:

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

We Episcopalians don't like to talk about eschatology -- the end times. We don't like to talk about it because that conversation has been so associated with fundamentalism, fire & brimstone and the Left Behind series that we fear being tainted by association.

But we avoid (or even reject) our eschatology at our own great peril and sadness. Because our eschatology is our hope, that sure and certain hope that no matter what things seem like now, that God is always about to do show up and do something extraordinary. That sure and certain hope that even the worst conditions are redeemable and transformable.

That sure and certain hope that is expressed in the protest chant: "I know that we will win."

I spent a little time this morning having a "conversation" on Twitter with a downtown resident who is frustrated about homelessness downtown and thinks I and Christ Church Cathedral aren't doing enough about it.

I share his frustration. I want all of us to be doing more. I want us to be learning each other's names across class and race lines. Listening deeply to each other's stories. Pooling our resources to ensure that every person lives in a way that befits the dignity that should be accorded an image of God. Dismantling systems that oppress by helping some have much and others have not nearly enough.

I wish there was an easy answer. A switch to flip that makes it all better. A way to get us all on the same page and swimming in the same direction.

And I'm tired - and we all are.

We are tired that poverty abides and even grows -- though I am not nearly as tired as those images of God among us who truly live in poverty.

We are tired of the complexities and messiness of coming together across boundaries of race and class -- though I am not nearly as tired as those images of God among us who are parts of targeted races and classes.

We are tired of having the same meetings and same conversations and hearing the same tired program proposals that have never been fully funded or implemented because we can't muster the political will.

We are tired of family members and friends being diagnosed with cancer or incapacitated by strokes.

We are tired of the intractability of broken systems of education, policing and municipal government.

We are tired of giving money to really wonderful nonprofits and then feeling like things are still getting worse.

We are tired of friends who betray us and leaders who govern by fear & fiat instead of faith & vision.

And if we are tired in this nation that has the most privilege, power and highest standard of living of any nation in history ... imagine how tired the rest of the world must be.

And yet, in the midst of this, God sings out:

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be fools in the eyes of the world. We are called to believe after a human history of struggle that God is about to show up and do something extraordinary. And even more, we are called to trust that God will do that extraordinary work of re-creation, redemption and transformation through us. That our hands are God's hands. That our ears are God's ears. That our lips -- lips that speak, lips that sing, lips that kiss this world deeply and passionately -- are God's lips.

We are at that part of Lent where the time in the desert feels like it will never end. And our Lents are much longer than 40 days.

Together, let us try not to fear.

Together, let us try not to lose hope.

Together, let us strain to hear and trust that God is about to show up and do something extraordinary.

Together, let us trust that God is about to create a new heaven, a new earth, a new Christ Church Cathedral, a new St. Louis.

Together, let us offer ourselves anew to be part of that new creation, foolish as the world may tell us we are for believing in it.

Together, let us join God in proclaiming in joyful song that God looks at God's people -- each and all of us -- who are destined for that new creation -- and God does not despair but instead rejoices and delights.

Together, let us shelter each other when we need rest, and wipe away each other's tears.

And together, let us claim our belief that the day is coming when the sounds of weeping and cries of distress indeed will be no more.

That God is about to show up and do something extraordinary. And that we get to be a part of it.



Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sabbatical – What is it? (Part 1 of 3)

And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Sabbath is rest. It is not only a primary human need it is one of the most ancient commandments of our faith (#4 of the Big Ten if you’re counting) – so important that we see God modeling it for us in the stories of creation.

The punishment for breaking the Sabbath commandment was death (Exodus 31:14)… which, frankly, always seemed a little extreme to me, until I really thought about it.

First off, if we don’t take Sabbath … if we don’t rest … we die. Without rest, our bodies deteriorate, we are more susceptible to life-shortening illnesses and events and our lifespans shrink. Medical science has proven that Sabbath – rest – literally is a matter of life and death.

But even more important (seriously … even more important than life and death) is that ignoring Sabbath leads to spiritual death.

The first commandment is “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of bondage in Egypt, you shall have no other gods before me.” When we ignore Sabbath, when we don’t take time to rest and to let the world go on without us, we are saying with our lives that we are indispensable. We are committing the original sin of Adam and Eve in putting ourselves in the place of God … only worse because even God rested on the seventh day!

When we ignore Sabbath, we are committing idolatry and violating this commandment. We are saying with our lives that God and the world can’t possibly do without us even for a day. It is the first, great step to squeezing out God altogether and constructing a world that is all about – and completely dependent on – us.

Through our time together at Christ Church Cathedral, I have not been good at Sabbath. And it has been an idolatry that has ill-served this Cathedral, my family and myself. From the very beginning, I let my own need to prove myself and my love for this community and the work we share lead me to taking on too much, working through my days off and sleeping fewer and fewer hours a night.

And, predictably, this has taken tolls on those same two levels that Exodus presages.

The first is my health. After seven years, I am exhausted. My blood pressure is creeping up. My capacity for creative thought is waning. I am in deep need of rest and restoration.

The second is an aspect of the spiritual health of this congregation. As I prepare for my sabbatical, I hear voices of anxiety being raised. Voices that question how we will face the considerable challenges before us with me gone for five-plus months. Voices that make me realize I have not done nearly a good enough job of teaching us by my actions that the future and fate of Christ Church Cathedral does not rest in the hands of your Dean, but of God and of one another.

And so, as was announced at the annual meeting Eucharist, starting the day after Easter, I am going on Sabbatical through the day after Labor Day. And I am doing this both as an act of self-care (one that is provided for me in my letter of agreement … though Chapter has, I am grateful to say, recognized that what I am owed contractually is not enough for the restorative task and has expanded it) and an opportunity to do the work of establishing healthier patterns of living for the years to come, but also an act of spiritual leadership as your Dean – to practice what I have been preaching these last seven years and that is faithfulness to and trust in Jesus as the only barometer of our success that matters.

This will be a true sabbatical for me. I will have no major travel or big writing project. When people ask me what I will be doing, I say the primary things will be sleeping and reading. I will be doing some writing not with an end product in mind but as a way of journaling and processing the past seven years we have traveled together. My prayer is that during these five months you all will find time to do the same. To realize that some things that I do will need to be taken up by others but that others will fall by the wayside – and that will be OK.


Over the next two weeks, I will be writing more about sabbatical. Next week, I will write about the opportunity I believe this sabbatical presents not just for me but for all of us. The week after that, I will lay out the plan – worked out with Vicar Amy Cortright, our wardens and Chapter – about how things will run and lines of authority and process while I am gone.

I look forward to this month together as we journey toward Calvary and the empty tomb. And I welcome the chance to talk about these and many other things as much as you like.

In Christ’s love,



Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I listen to you and then I believe you.


“I listen to you and then I believe you.”

KB Frazier drums and leads chants as part of the
protest at St. Louis City Police Headquarters
last night.
Last night, I and a couple other CCC members stood in the middle of Olive Street in front of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters with around 70 other people protesting an incident that happened the night before.

The family of one of our black activist leaders, KB Frazier (also a worship leader and board member at Central Reform Congregation as well as an awesome drummer) was pulled over by the police without evident cause and their car was approached by two officers with guns drawn. Among those in the car was two year old Ethan, who stood up in the back seat, began to cry out of terror and was told to “sit down and shut up” by one of the officers.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because I took baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being – and the actions of those officers and the system of policing that supports them is neither just, dignified nor honoring of the image of God that is on every human being.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because Jesus calls me to stand with those most on the margins, because that’s where Jesus is.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because the behavior of those officers is not only dangerous, traumatizing and potentially deadly, it is not worthy of this City of St. Louis that I love.

Throughout today, I have been asked repeatedly:

“But how do you know that it actually happened?”

“Where is the evidence?”

“You know you can’t really prove it, right?”

And that leads me to the last reason I joined KB and others in the street last night.

Because I listened to KB, and I believed him.

When Bishop Gene Robinson was here at Christ Church Cathedral last spring, he told a story of a conversation he had with a student at Colby College in Maine about “what white guys can do to ‘get it’ about the experience of black people in America.” (if you click on the link, the story comes at about the 1:35:00 mark).

“Here’s what he told me was the first thing I can do,” Gene said.

“I listen to you and then I believe you.”

“We listen to someone who is different from us, and then we believe it’s their truth. It may not be my truth or anything out of my experience but it’s true for you. And then we have a chance to talk.”

Gene went on to say: “There are a lot of white people in America with not a clue as to why Ferguson happened they way it did. That’s just not their experience. OK, fine. Can you listen to someone for whom that is their experience and believe that it is their experienced truth?”

“And then we can start to talk.”

I’m not saying my belief in KB by itself should have the power of judge and jury. No one person’s should. Our legal system is rightly based on rules of evidence. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m not asking for officers to be convicted purely because KB or I say they should.

I am talking about listening and believing to a truth that is different from my own … and maybe different from your own as well.

We are talking about the lived experience of policing of people who have grown up black and brown in this country. And it is very different from my own. And in the face of that difference, my job -- particularly but certainly not exclusively when the speaker is someone I have come to know as a person of deep integrity and courage – is clear.

I listen to him and I believe him.

And one more thing.

I stand with him.

I stand with KB because we can’t start to talk, we can’t start to have the conversations that will lead to true reconciliation, that will lead to change, that will lead to us becoming the Beloved Community until we as a community truly listen to the voices that are coming off the streets. Until we listen to them and believe them … believe that they are telling their truth. And that it is a truth that needs to be honored and respected and believed.

I am grateful for the young black women, men and gender nonconforming persons in our community who refuse to “sit down and shut up” – even when guns are pointed at them. Who amplify Ethan’s cries and demand they be heard, that his name be known and that the trauma be believed.

I am grateful because I am so aware of how many times I have failed and still continue to fail to listen and believe.

I am grateful because I know the only way we will ever become the city God dreams for us to be is if their voices keep shouting.

If other voices like mine join and amplify them.

If all of us learn to listen and believe.