Sunday, January 31, 2016

Smelling with the mind of Christ.

"A church without beggars is a museum." - Becca Stevens

This morning, I sat in the back of Christ Church Cathedral to listen to one of our seminarians, Andrew Suitter, preach. We are a wonderfully diverse community at CCC, but we still internally self-segregate. Come in on a Sunday morning and you will find that those of us who had a warm bed and a shower last night will sit in the front and in the middle, and those of us who slept in shelters or on the streets last night gravitate toward the back and the sides.

So this morning, I sat in the back, and as I listened to Andrew unpack the reading from Corinthians, the fragrances of those sitting around me wafted into my nostrils. And they made me think.

What makes a smell good? What makes a smell bad?

What makes one smell of beauty and another of ugliness?

It's our minds, isn't it? Smell is just our brain interpreting nerve impulses. We have learned over time to interpret some of those positively and others negatively. We have evolved over time to privilege some odors over others. Why else would we not only pay huge sums of money for certain perfumes and Febreze and other "odor eliminators" a multimillion dollar industry?

It's our minds, isn't it? It's all in our minds.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul and Timothy urge us to "have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus" -- then goes on to talk about giving up privilege and emptying ourselves for the life of the world.

And so I wonder -- how does the mind of Christ smell? How are those nerve impulses that travel up the olfactory nerve interpreted in the mind of Christ?

I breathed in deeply through my nose.  Fragrances of well-worn bodies, remnants of cigarettes and traces of urine filled me. Strong fragrances.

But who is to say they are good or bad?

What would they smell like in the mind of Christ?

I took another deep breath. I tried to imagine these smells as perfume. When I looked around and saw that some of the people they came from I could name ... and I knew ... and I love ... it became a lot easier.

This is not to glorify poverty. This is not to say that all of us shouldn't have a good bed and a hot shower and a place to go to the bathroom. Part of how we have evolved to interpret some smells as bad and others as good is because there are real health ramifications connected with them.

This is not to glorify poverty -- but it is to say that neither do those of us who are not bound by it need to fear it. None of us should hold our noses but breathe it in deeply, realizing that these are the fragrances of the beautiful people of God.

I am going to try to breathe deeply and smell differently from now on. When my first reaction is to hold my nose and pull away, I'm going to breathe in the perfumes of God's beloved.  I'm going to try to remember that I have odors that others might want to pull away from, too -- and that I hope others will approach my odors the same way!

I'm going to try to smell with the mind of Christ. And hope that will be one small step in me giving myself for the world in Christ's name as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sabbatical


At Sunday’s Annual Meeting Eucharist, Senior Warden Lorraine Kee announced that Chapter has approved a sabbatical for me during 2016. Combined with vacation time, this means that I will be away from the Cathedral from March 28 (the day after Easter) until Sept. 6 (the day after Labor Day).

Sabbatical is based on the Biblical notion of rest (or Sabbath) being an essential part of the rhythm of life, as modeled by God resting on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:2). Because it is a part of dedicating our life to God and also a guard against the idolatry of believing in our own centrality and indispensability, the punishment the law assigned to violating the Sabbath was death (Exodus 31:14). Clearly, this is important stuff!

I am not just taking this sabbatical because I am owed it (it is a part of every clergy letter of agreement), because Chapter has granted it and because scripture demands it. I am taking it because both I and this Cathedral community need it.

During our seven years together, one of my highest priorities has been us growing healthier as the Body of Christ. Together we have established more honest and healthier patterns of communication, talked openly about the role of alcohol and addiction in our family systems, opened our doors to the neighborhood and city in new ways and also been unafraid to bring the conflicts and divisions of race and class of our city into our own community.

Your chapter has transitioned from a model of more autocratic, clergy-driven leadership to a model of shared leadership where difficult issues are wrestled with openly and the real conversations happen around the table not in the parking lot.

Systems do not get healthier than their leaders … and I am recognizing the ways I need to get healthier -- both for my sake and for yours. I work too many hours and spread myself to thinly. I too easily fall victim to the idolatry of believing that I have to do it if it is to happen and not trust enough in God and the gathered community.

That has taken a toll on me. I have not been operating at full capacity for several months, and my Bishop, Vicar, wardens, therapist, doctor and wife all agree I need a time of unplugging, recharging and reconnecting with family and God apart from the work of ministry.

There has been a toll on the Cathedral as well. As much as we have worked together to build structures of shared leadership, my overfunctioning runs the risk of turning the Cathedral into a system not centered on the Holy Spirit working through the Body of Christ but on the person and personality of her dean.

That’s why this sabbatical is for all of us. We are a far healthier body today than seven years ago – ready to face the challenges ahead of us. And part of that readiness means I can step away for a season, and we all can trust God’s grace and the people of this Cathedral will be up to the task.

Given how we have talked about what a critical year this is for Christ Church Cathedral – facing a $200K+ budget deficit -- this might seem like a strange time for a sabbatical, but Chapter agreed it is actually the perfect time.

Because of the transition we have made into shared leadership your Chapter is absolutely equipped to lead during this time – and in fact it is the healthiest thing.

During my sabbatical, Chapter will be constructing options for a balanced budget for 2017. Some options will likely involve staff restructuring (it is hard to imagine making up a $200K+ deficit without it) and that means all staff jobs – including my own – will be on the table. Your Chapter – and indeed the larger congregation -- is well equipped to have those conversations without me … and in fact it is important we all trust one another to do that.

In addition, the financial realities we are facing for 2017 mean it is a real possibility we will only be able to be a one-clergy congregation going forward. Though we are lining up clergy to help out Amy during my absence, this will be an important exercise in seeing what that reality would be like.

During the next two and a half months, we will have opportunities to talk about what all this means – and certainly I am happy to meet with anyone about any excitements, questions or concerns.

As we approach our time apart, I ask that you consider what this might mean for you stepping up in new ways in our community … and also how you might specifically support the work of and care for your Chapter and especially your Vicar, Amy Cortright, who will be under added strain during this time.

I look forward to our next two and half months together, to our time apart, and to sharing what we have learned when we come together again.

Monday, January 18, 2016

BJC and MLK: Creating space for trauma, healing and the language of the unheard.

My keynote address at the Martin Luther King Day service at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this morning. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thank you for taking the time today to reflect on Dr. King and what he still has to teach us today. Thank you for all you do for health and healing in St. Louis city and the St. Louis region. Thank you for coming to work every day and facing the deepest trauma of human life – yes, the acute trauma of gunshot wounds and cancer diagnoses but also the chronic trauma of domestic violence and hearing those gunshots in your neighborhood every night … and also the complex trauma of poverty in all its many forms.

BJC is a trauma center, and I don’t just mean that in an institutional and medical sense that you are where the gunshot and car crash victims get taken. You as BJC are at the center of the traumas of this region. That’s because you are a unique gathering place. In a region that is annually ranked among the top 10 most segregated metropolitan areas in this nation, you as BJC are one of the only places in St. Louis where everyone comes … and where everyone works … and where everyone lays their trauma bare.

You name a demographic in the St. Louis region – race, class, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation – you name it and you will find people across that spectrum on this campus. As patients. As family members. As employees. And all of them – all of US bring our trauma to this place in hope of healing. It is the acute trauma of the unthinkable that has just happened. It is the chronic trauma of microaggressions, harassments and dismissiveness. It is the complex trauma of poverty, sexism and racism.

We could go around this room and every person in here could share our stories of trauma – the trauma we have seen and heard, the trauma of our own lives that rests on our heart this very moment. Now, we’re not going to do that because we would literally be here all day and into the night – but frankly, it wouldn’t be that bad an idea if we did. Because here at BJC, you are a trauma center. And what we know about trauma is this – trauma doesn’t go away on its own. Trauma needs to be named. Trauma needs to be spoken. Trauma needs to be heard. Trauma needs to be felt.

I said I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this morning – and here is why: Because I believe that you as BJC have a unique opportunity. An opportunity to be a place of healing not just of the acute medical traumas that come through your doors but of the deep, chronic and complex traumas of this St. Louis region. The traumas wrought by our deep divides of race and class. The traumas that we as a St. Louis region do not give space to be spoken, to be heard, to be felt – and that until we do, will never, never, ever begin to heal.

In the nearly 50 years since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder, white America has done a brilliant job of the unconscionable. We have taken a radical and revolutionary leader for justice in this nation and through sound byte sanitizing we have transformed him into a harmless champion of an oppressive status quo. We have taken the King who called out the white moderate who “is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”” We have taken the King who in that Letter from a Birmingham Jail called that white moderate “the greatest stumbling block to freedom” and through our “I have a dream” sound-byting we have turned him into an unapologetic champion of that same stumbling block. Turned King’s militant nonviolence into a mandate for black people to stay quiet and in their place. Turned our honoring of King on this day into a salve for our national conscience instead of a conviction that, in his words, “yes, we have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go.”

Like Dr. King, I am a lifelong and unshakable believer in nonviolence. But in the past 18 months an extraordinary group of young people who have risen up in Ferguson and around this region and across this nation have been teaching me the difference between the sanitized King and the genuine revolutionary article – and between the sanitized Jesus and the genuine revolutionary Christ as well. Teaching me the difference between nonviolent and peaceful.

I have been seeing Dr. King with new eyes. And the chant “No justice. No peace. If we don’t get no justice. Then they don’t get no peace.” has become profoundly meaningful and true to me. And it is about trauma. It is about how trauma needs to spoken, and heard and felt. It is about how until we create and hold spaces where that is allowed to happen, we will never heal, we will never have justice, we will never leave Egypt and we will never get to any promised land.

But we in St. Louis don’t do trauma, do we? I mean, unless it's about losing a football team.

We don’t allow that space, do we?

In fact, we here in St. Louis do our level best to suppress and repress and oppress trauma wherever it tries to raise its head, sing its heart and lift its voice.

40 white men carrying automatic weapons can walk down Market Street and the police barely bat an eye. But 25 young black women and men – out every night so the police know not only who they are but absolutely know that they are armed only with signs and their anger and pain get met with riot gear, pepper spray, and tear gas.

In St. Louis, we don’t do trauma. We don’t allow that space.

Last April, on the day before Easter, I took part in what we called a “mourner’s march” in the Central West End less than a mile from here. We invited mothers who had lost their children not just to police violence but to any kind of violence to march with us and to pray and yes, to cry and to wail. We blocked only one lane of traffic on a four-lane road and held intersections for no more than seven minutes at a time. And all the way, the police drove beside us – blocking as much traffic as we were – shouting at us through bullhorns that we were subject to arrest if we didn’t get out of the street.

On a springtime Saturday afternoon, we couldn’t even allow the space for mothers to grieve their dead babies.

Here in St. Louis, we don’t do trauma. We don’t allow that space.

You want to know why young black women and men are in the streets and the shopping malls shouting “shut it down?” because that is exactly what has been done to them when they have tried to speak their trauma. We have shut them down.

And so the King we need to hear today is not some sound byte from an idle dreamer. It is a revolutionary preacher who understood the nature of trauma because he had lived it. He understood that trauma must be spoken and heard and felt – and when that wasn’t allowed there were real and deep and lasting consequences.

On March 14, 1968, less than a month before he was murdered, Dr. King gave a speech in Grosse Point, Michigan called “The Other America.” And he talked about the expressions of trauma that were happening all over the nation. Here is part of what he said:

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?...It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity."

In the nearly 18 months since Michael Brown was killed and his body lay in the street for four and a half hours, there have been almost no instances of violence on behalf of those protesting – which is testament to the incredible discipline and leadership of the protest movement to continually channel deep rage and pain without crossing the line to violence. You wouldn’t necessarily know this by the saturation media coverage of the property destruction that happened around the flashpoints of Michael Brown’s killing and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, but it is true.

But what King is saying is that be they the vast majority of protests that are nonviolent or when anger spills out into burning down a Quik Trip we need to pay attention. We need to recognize that be it a protest or a riot, there is an expression of trauma happening that demands our attention.

King says, “I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

When that Quik Trip burned in August, 2014 and when other businesses burned three months later how many times did we hear people clucking their tongues and saying “look at what ‘those people’ are doing” – the us and them language is always a tipoff that we’re already running off the rails – “look at what ‘those people’ are doing burning down their own community.”

Instead of asking the simple question: Why?

When incredible young people continue to show up in the streets night after night, week after week, month after month chanting “if we don’t get no justice then they don’t get no peace,” holding die-ins in shopping malls and blocking highways during rush hour how many times did we hear people talk about how tired they were of the protests and how they wish they would just go away.

Instead of asking the simple question: Why?

People don’t just get up in the morning and say, “Hmmm ..I think I’ll burn down a Quik Trip today.” “Hmmm … I think I’ll go stand in the middle of I-70 today during rush hour.”

We only do these things if we are not being heard. And what is it St. Louis has failed to hear? We have failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And we have failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

And that brings us back into this room – to you as BJC and the incredible opportunity you have as a St. Louis institution that already has a deep commitment to equity and justice. You have taken things like the For the Sake of All report that shows that “residents of zip codes separated by only a few miles have up to an 18-year difference in life expectancy.” and that “Because of considerable residential segregation in St. Louis, many areas with high African American populations are also areas with concentrated poverty and poor health.” You have taken that information and responded by your particular care for impoverished children and families in some of those most deeply impoverished areas through things like your mobile units that reach more than 20,000 children and your free flu shot programs.

You have also committed to your own process of learning and listening through your work with Reena Hajat Carroll and the Diversity Awareness Partnership hosting Listen. Talk. Learn. Events – and if you haven’t had a chance to be a part of one of those, please do so they are absolutely worth your time!

You have done some great things. As Dr. King would say, we have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go. Your opportunity goes far beyond providing a mobile unit where there really should be a first-class hospital and hosting really good two-hour educational sessions about race, class, power and privilege.

Your opportunity goes far beyond that. And it is about trauma.

You are the primary institution in the St. Louis region whose sole mission is healing. And healing is what we need right now. Unfortunately, for most of St. Louis, “healing” means pretending the past 18 months – and the past 400 years that led up to them – didn’t happen and going back to a status quo where those who have power and privilege continue to dig us more deeply into disparity and leave our deepest wounds untreated.

But we know better than that, don’t we?

You are the primary institution in the St. Louis region whose sole mission is healing. And healing is what we need right now. What we need healing from is our trauma and what we know about trauma is you have to feel to heal.

We have to listen deeply to one another. Even with the people already in this room, we have to just be with one another in that deeply uncomfortable and yet even more deeply sacred place of pain and rage. We have to listen to the language of those among us who have gone unheard for far too long. Give space for the pain and for the rage. Not shut it down be it with tear gas or quick pseudo-solutions – but instead lean more deeply into the discomfort of the trauma, sit down in our discomfort, hold one another in it, love one another through it and above all not be afraid to embrace the sacred humanity in it.

You do this as you listen to your patients – not just their physical symptoms but their stories, the tone of their voices and the pain in their heart.

You do this as you listen to one another. As you embrace the diversity of race and class that exists within the employee community here at BJC and use the people you work with every day to learn about life experiences far different from your own … and attend to the trauma in those lives and create spaces for feeling and healing that can be replicated out in the wider community.

You do this by going to the state capitol in Jefferson City and lobbying for things like Medicaid expansion that address the chronic trauma of disparity of access so that everyone can get the kind of health care that has for too long been available only to those privileged of race and class. By going to your corporate partners and demanding an end to food and care deserts and believing Teach for America and mobile medical units are an adequate response to systemic racism run tragically amok in American education and health care.

You do this as you amplify the voices you are hearing so that others beyond these walls can hear them too. When at a party or around the dinner table you hear people talking disparagingly about “those people” you have the courage, with another’s voice and story and trauma on your heart to stand up and say no, let me tell you a different story, let me introduce you to a person, let me share with you a pain, a rage that you might not know is out there but that needs to be spoken, and heard and felt.

You are the primary institution in the St. Louis region whose sole mission is healing. And healing is what we need right now. You are a trauma center. And what we need healing from is our trauma and what we know about trauma is you have to feel to heal.

Here in St. Louis, we don’t do trauma. We don’t allow that space. And that has to change. And that is your opportunity.

You as BJC have been that space for those who walk in these doors – but the opportunity for you is far greater. You have the chance to stand with and amplify the voices of those whose trauma cannot be healed with a pill or an incision. You have the chance to lead, to help us hear the language of the unheard, to gather us not just on this campus but as a region to speak the trauma that needs to be spoken, hear the trauma that needs to be heard and do the feeling that leads to the healing.

What is it St. Louis has failed to hear? We have failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And we have failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

At BJC, you hear these voices – and if you haven’t you need to listen more closely, because they are right here, right now. And so it is up to you to recommit yourself not only to listening more deeply yourself, but to leading the rest of us in doing the same.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016: A year everything is on the table for Christ Church Cathedral


Over our nearly seven years together at Christ Church Cathedral, we have grown in faithfulness, boldness of proclamation, depth of love and strength of courage. God has been using us in wonderful ways and shaping us for the present moment.

Last month, Chapter passed a budget for 2016 with a deficit of $211,692 ($957,975 in revenue and $1,169,667 in expenses – click here to download a detail of the budget). We have enough unrestricted funds to cover this deficit – but that would be it for deficits. There would be no cushion of unrestricted funds to cover any deficit in 2017 and beyond.  This budget was passed with the provision that it will be reviewed by Chapter quarterly with the possibility of adjustments being made.

This means 2016 is a year of incredible import and opportunity. We need to build on the good work we have done over the past several years and come together around a sustainable vision for the future of Christ Church Cathedral. There is no more next year for the status quo – and that is a great gift. We will step out in faith, put everything on the table, and listen to and follow the call of Christ.

Beginning immediately, we will be addressing this on multiple fronts

*At Sunday’s 10 am Annual Meeting Eucharist, we will begin to re-vision Christ Church Cathedral. We will hear God’s word and participate in exercises in creative thinking, naming our strengths and assets as a Cathedral, and beginning to imagine how we might reconstruct ourselves to make the best use of those strengths and assets to be who Jesus calls us to be with the money we have.

*Chapter will work with the congregation to clarify who we believe Jesus is calling us to be. This will build on the strategic planning work done in the past, offer a chance to reflect on our current direction and define what faithfulness to Christ looks like for the future. This process will take place in Lent, concluding at Easter.  

*Using this data, Chapter will build budget options for 2017 beginning with non-discretionary expenses (e.g. things we have no choice but to pay … like property insurance) and building balanced budget options for staff and program. This will provide a structure for faithfulness to Jesus that represents living within our means. Unless unprecedented revenue streams develop, this means the staff and program of Christ Church Cathedral will likely look much different in 2017 than it does today.

*With assistance from Bishop Smith, we will work with consultants from The Rome Group to gather data, conduct feasibility studies and help us determine the most faithful and sustainable course for the future of the physical plant of the Cathedral, the Bishop Tuttle Memorial Building and the parking lot. The goal is to have a clear course charted and begun by the end of 2016. These are the next steps building on work that has been going on with the Bishop, Diocesan Chancellor and others throughout 2015. 

*We are researching the core documents of the Cathedral endowments to explore any options we might have for use of Cathedral endowment funds. 

*We will continue to search for new and increased revenue streams, including:
            -finding new tenants for the BTM.
            -increasing the Cathedral’s use as a wedding location.
            -using a designated gift to hire a grant researcher/writer.
            -growing Friends of Christ Church Cathedral
            -beginning special funding appeals throughout the year.
            -engaging our neighbors as partners in supporting the ongoing life of the Cathedral.

What ties all of this work together is that our eyes will be firmly fixed on Jesus, who we trust Jesus is calling us to be and what we trust Jesus is calling us to do. We recognize that following the call of Christ means putting everything on the table and usually means letting go of things that are precious to us – again, the Cathedral in 2017 will probably look very different than it does today.  It also means trusting that the community Christ is gathering is equal to the task … and that the very act of coming together and prayerfully charting our future will fulfill our mission of “seeking a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ.”

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to refashion an amazing institution to be a force for the Gospel for decades to come.  We are operating from great strength. I am excited to see what comes from it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hoping Kroenke's 12th Night Gift Becomes Our Epiphany


When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. - Matthew 2:10-11

It is the Feast of the Epiphany - the day we remember rich and powerful people traveling far to lay their treasure at the feet of a refugee child in an occupied land. 

Not out of obligation. 

Not out of guilt or shame. 

Out of joy.

That's right. It was their joy to lay their gifts at the feet of the Christ child. And it is ours as well. It is our joy to use all that we have in the service of the One who loved us so much he became one us as one of the most marginalized among us. 

Who took the blind man, whom others stepped over, ridiculed and spat on and put him in the middle of the community and said: "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mark 10:51).

Who said of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoner: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

As we enter this season of Epiphany, it is good for us to pause and reflect on two events that happened yesterday, on the 12th day of Christmas ... and to see if they bear any epiphanies for us. 


When it came my turn to speak, I noted several things:

When I first came to Christ Church Cathedral seven years ago, I was told that "we've been having the same conversations about homelessness for 20 or 30 years with very little change." I can now add seven more years to that total. 

We spin our wheels. 

We complain about the ancillary effects of poverty and homelessness on the quality of life for those of us who are housed and the economy for those of us who own businesses downtown. 

We expend incredible resources fighting about New Life Evangelistic Center and complain about the city's short-sightedness and caring more about good press events than real solutions. 

And then we throw up our hands in frustration until the next firestorm comes around.

Except, it is not that we don't know what to do. There are data-proven, successful models of how to move people permanently from homelessness into housing (such as the model Iain De Jong laid out before us more than a year ago at Christ Church Cathedral, thanks to the work of Irene Agustin).  Models that we are using on a small, congregation-based scale with our Cathedral Housing Partnership. 

The problem is not lack of knowledge but lack of political will. 

The truth is, when we -- and by WE I don't just mean the "City of St. Louis" as an institution but ALL of us as the people of St. Louis -- when WE decide we want to do something, we do it. Whether it be renovate the Arch grounds, build a new stadium, give Forest Park a facelift or attract hi-tech businesses to the central core -- when we put our minds, our hearts and our money to something, it happens .. and it usually happens pretty well.

The question isn't "Do we know how to end homelessness?"

The question isn't "Is there enough money to end homelessness?"

The question is "Do we really care enough to end homelessness?"

And here, I suggested, our language is key.

With few notable exceptions (people like Teka Childress and Kathleen Wilder), those among us who are housed refer to those among us who struggle with homelessness as "them" or "those people" or "the homeless." 

When a problem is happening to "them" ... we usually care just enough about it to move it somewhere else or to kick the can down the road and assuage our conscience. But when something is happening to "us" -- that's a different story. When something tragic is happening to "us," -- like our football team leaving, for example -- we will move heaven and earth to make a solution happen.

We who are housed, we who have the resources and the access to political power, we will never care enough to end homelessness as long as those struggling with homelessness are a "them" or a "those people" or "the homeless." 

The first step to developing the political will necessary to end homelessness is to recognize that this is not an "us and them" situation. To recognize that God's dream is the building of the Beloved Community -- a community where there is no "them," only an all-inclusive "us." Where we know one another by name, know each other's stories and care enough about one another to speak the truth in love. 

Where those of us who sleep in warm beds at night cannot sleep because we care so deeply and personally about those of us who are on the streets.

Which leads me to the second event that happened yesterday.

Yesterday, Stan Kroenke sent his argument for the Rams moving back to Los Angeles to the NFL -- and distributed copies to all the major media outlets.  After politicians and power brokers in St. Louis have spent the past two years -- incredibly ill-advisedly, in my opinion -- throwing hundreds of millions of dollars in real and fictional money at him for a proposed new stadium, Kroenke's official response was to kick St. Louis in the teeth and trash us in what he hopes is his way out of town. 

This is the man at whose feet we were willing to lay our city's treasure. 

Which brings us back to the Epiphany -- and what I hope can be an epiphany for us as a city.

We love the Rams -- or at least we used to when they were winning and more lovable. We knew their names -- Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and on and on and on. They were OUR team. We took pride in them. And because of that relationship, we were susceptible to arguments that were highly questionable economically and utterly indefensible morally to try to keep them here.

There's nothing wrong with us loving the Rams ... or the Cardinals ... or the Blues  -- in the same way that there's nothing wrong with volunteering at Stray Rescue when there are human beings starving and abused. Love is always good. Love shows us what we are capable of doing when we care enough.

The Epiphany reminds us that the height of wisdom is to recognize that our greatest joy is to meet, love and give all we have to Jesus, who is present not on the thrones of the world (or in the stadiums), but on the streets, in the shelters and in the prisons. 

The Epiphany reminds those of us who, like the Magi, have great power and privilege, that our greatest joy is to open up those gifts and lay them at the feet not of the Stan Kroenkes of the world but at the feet of those of us who sleep on our Cathedral steps. 

The Epiphany reminds us that just as it was the Magi's joy to lay those gifts down in front of the Christ child, it is our joy to recognize that as the Body of Christ we get to to take the Bartimaeuses among us, call them by name, bring them into the center of the community, ask them "what would you have us do for you?" and tear down all the walls that would ever make them a "them" to someone else's "us" ... so we can together all "follow Jesus on the way." 

Stan Kroenke has given us a great 12th night gift -- one that today I hope becomes our Epiphany. That our greatest joy as the Beloved Community is not to build another palace for those of us who are the richest but to cultivate the relationships that will turn into the political will to lay our treasures down in front of those of us who are the poorest. 

Not out of obligation.

Not out of guilt or shame.

Out of joy.

Monday, December 28, 2015

What if Tamir's face looked like this...

Tamir Rice was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.

Tamir Rice and my son could have been classmates. They could have been friends. They could have been brothers.

Tamir Rice and my youngest son, were born 76 days apart in the summer of 2002.  On November 22, 2014, both of them were playing -- my son playing indoor soccer at Vetta and Tamir playing by himself in a city park.

Today, my son is alive. Tamir is dead.

In the year and a half after Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, I have learned how much we white people like to talk about "the facts of the case." How we like to pretend each incident stands alone and completely unrelated to any other. How we dispassionately can pick any shooting apart and rationalize any behavior because we know it will never be our child lying in the street. How we can let our own implicit bias and irrational fear of people of color help us create justification even for killing unarmed children -- because we know the face will never be the one we tuck into bed at night.

When the news came today that officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback were not going to be indicted for shooting and killing Tamir within seconds after their cruiser out of nowhere sped into the park, screeched to a stop mere feet from him (something that would terrify anyone -- 12 years old or not), I wish I could say I was surprised, but I was not.

Nor will I be surprised when the apologists for Officers Loehmann and Garmback use the same tired arguments that have been used time and time and time again. When we are asked to believe that the "facts of the case" did not support even sending this case to trial -- despite incontrovertible video evidence to the contrary.

But there are some other "facts of the case" we need to consider.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that it is open season on your child in this country. That police can kill your children with impunity. That our irrational fear as white people is more important than your child's life.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that all people are not created equal in this nation. That our Constitutional valuing of someone who was black as 3/5 of a person isn't as much in our history as we tell ourselves.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that not only do we not care about your child getting a decent education, having decent recreational facilities or adequate health care, that just being black continues to be considered a capital crime.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that her life, his life, and your life do not matter, period.

And the final fact of the case -- if Tamir's face looked like my son's -- then his parents would have had the chance to spend this afternoon the way I did ... watching the new Star Wars movie with my 13-year old son.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Based on this passage from Matthew 2, it commemorates the slaughter of innocent and unarmed children by the state:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

The slaughter continues, and Rachel is still inconsolable.

This afternoon, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of pain and rage from people who could have been Tamir's mother, father, sister, brother, classmate or cousin. From people who have seen too many of their children, sisters and brothers die at the hands of the state. And one word appears more often than the rest:

Again.

In the nearly 17 months since Michael Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson, I have been amazed at the strength and resilience of those who have been out in the streets protesting police violence. They have not been peaceful -- nor should they have been -- but with incredibly few exceptions they have been nonviolent. Despite every reason to let their pain and rage boil over -- to say "an eye for an eye" and to give back what they have gotten -- instead they have reached back to the best of the tradition of civil disobedience, blocking streets and shutting down stores, disrupting events and stopping traffic.

As the names continue to roll on the necrology -- Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Laquan MacDonald -- they remain steadfast in their commitment, though God knows how. And our response as white St. Louis has been nothing less than shameful. We whine that we are "tired of the protests" ... not recognizing that if our children were subjected to what Tamir, Michael, Sandra, Jamar and Laquan have been, we would be burning down buildings and demanding Congressional investigations. Not recognizing that we are blessed to have some of the most incredible leaders of a generation right here in our midst.

I hear their anger. I hear their pain. I hear their frustration. I hear their exhaustion.

But do we make changes? Do we make an effort to be with them in their pain? Do we at least acknowledge that the pain and the rage and the frustration have merit? Do we say, "My God, I can't believe this has been allowed to happen for so long, we're going to do something about this right now?"

No. We make plans to build a football stadium. That is our answer.

And in this Christmas season, in this season where we celebrate God becoming human in the most vulnerable of children, we have to ask: Where is the church??

Because if we as the church have nothing to say about it. If we as a church continue to let the litany of names roll on, then we are the Church of Herod, the Church of Empire, and we blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ.

If we as the church are not leading the way demanding change and supporting those who are putting their lives on the line in protest for it, then we are merely a chaplaincy for the comfortable and should close our doors.

If we as the church are not standing with the parents in shrouded in mourning and the children shaking in fear. If we as the church care more about respectability and keeping our pledgers happy and giving than following the Christ who bids us take up our cross and head toward Jerusalem, then the church has already died and all that is left is to hold the funeral.

And particularly if we as the white church are not putting our own child's face over Tamir's, and Sandra's, and Laquan's and Michael's -- if we are not even trying to imagine the fear and the agony and the rage -- then we are missing the entire point of the incarnation, where God emptied the divine self into the most vulnerable of children even to the point of suffering the same execution by the state that those holy innocents did just after he was born.

There is wailing and loud lamentation in Ramah this night. Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.

Tamir Rice is one of Rachel's children. And he was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Choosing foolishness

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18

Six checks of $30,599.25 each going in the mail today --
the final disbursements from the
Rebuild the Churches campaign
Following Jesus is a life of foolishness. A life that causes the world to point and stare at us, as Bill Hicks would say, "like a dog that was just shown a card trick."

There's some crazy, foolish stuff going on at Christ Church Cathedral today.

This morning, we are mailing checks totaling more than $180,000 to six churches that burned in the south in the wake of the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

This evening, our Chapter will wrestle with a budget more than $200,000 in deficit and what that means for the future of Christ Church Cathedral.

On days like today, I have never been prouder to be part of the Christ Church Cathedral community. Because we are raising foolishness to an art form.

The checks we send out today close out the Rebuild the Churches campaign that saw more than 3,000 individuals and 200 congregations of many faiths give more than $730,000. With the help of wonderful partners like Rabbi Susan Talve and her assistant, Jen Fishering, activist Ashley Yates and the Rev. Karen Anderson, (and our own Annette Carr and office volunteers!) we showed that what hate burns, love rebuilds.

It has not been lost on us (and certainly not to the people in the congregation who have brought it up to me!) that we could certainly use this money ourselves. Some have even questioned us spending the energy and time doing this ... wouldn't it be better spent trying to ensure our own future? Our own survival?

But that is not the way of Christ.

Throughout this fall, Jesus has been speaking to us through the Gospel of Mark ... and over and over again, he has laid a simple choice before us:

Concentrate on your own survival or concentrate on following Jesus.

Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.

Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me.

Survival or Faithfulness.

We must choose.

We cannot do both.

Someone once said that 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 fear.”

That following Jesus is called "the way of the cross" tells us surely enough that this is no prosperity Gospel. Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness is not a test that will lead to survival if we pass. Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness means we might survive and we might not ... but whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. And we trust that if there is death, resurrection will always follow.

That which we fear may well happen to us, but it is nothing to fear.

Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness means the only way we fail is if we fall back in fear. Because success is not determined by how much money we raise or how many people are in our chairs -- but by how deeply we "have the same mind in us as Christ Jesus," emptying ourselves out of love for the life of the world.

As long as we love. As long as we give. As long as we step out in faith and not back in fear, we cannot fail.

But we're bound to look pretty foolish in the process. People are bound to point and stare and shake their heads and say:

"What kind of a business raises $730,000 for other businesses when it's running a $210,000 deficit itself?"

"What kind of a business raises money to move two people out of homelessness into housing for a year when it's not even sure how it's going to keep it's own doors open?"

"What kind of a business stands in the street with young people crying for freedom when public opinion is telling them to sit down and shut up?"

"What kind of business would embrace such foolishness with joy?"

The church. The Body of Christ. That's who.

Paul continues in his letter to the church in Corinth:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

I am proud to be the dean of this church of fools. I am grateful for other bands of fools like Central Reform Congregation and Ward Chapel AME for traveling with us. I am deeply moved by the courage of our Chapter and congregation stepping out in faith and not falling back in fear -- and wrestling honestly when we struggle with which is which.

And I am grateful beyond measure for Jesus Christ, who gives us the way of the cross as the way of life. If we are to boast, let us boast in that.