Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Last night in Ferguson ... the real picture.

This picture and others like it from last night in front of the Ferguson Police Department have been making the rounds on the internet today.

The reaction to this picture -- and to the clergy presence last night -- has been predictably varied. My actions and those of my fellow clergy have been called both "brave" and "self indulgent." Even protestors there last night had different views of our presence there. One person said,  "The clergy response here is definitely out here for good PR and photo ops" while another said, "The clergy are trying to keep the peace..." and "I think God led them out here."

Since Mike Brown was killed more than 50 days ago, I have been praying, thinking, listening, studying and carefully considering both my role and the role of Christ Church Cathedral in responding to the unfolding events. I know that pictures like this are open to broad interpretation, so when I do things like go down as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and stand with the protestors in Ferguson, I want to be as transparent as possible about what I did, why I did it and how it fits into the larger call I believe God has for us.

And that means there are other pictures you need to see as well. Pictures like this one:

The person I invite you to see is the young woman in red standing at the far left. Her name is Alexis, and she was one of two women who led the line of young men and women who were protesting last night. Last night was not about the clergy. Last night was about Alexis -- her voice. The people she is leading.

This is the picture we need to see. It is the picture of strong and courageous, young and brilliant leadership that is emerging in Ferguson and north of Delmar all over St. Louis. As I share with you what led me to South Florissant last night and why I did what I did there, I invite you to look not at my picture but hers. I invite you not only to ask if I stood with her well last night, but if you might be in your own way called to stand with her as well.

Last night was my third night with the protesters in Ferguson since Michael Brown was killed. I come down only when I am specifically asked to come as a clergy peacekeeper to stand with the young people who are protesting. That is because while there is much about my call to respond to the life Ferguson is revealing that is still not clear to me, a few things are clear:

*It is clear to me that the call of the church as ambassadors of Christ given the ministry of reconciliation is to stand in the breach ... in this case to stand in that in-between space between the powerless who are crying out and those in power who both need to hear that voice and have the power to suppress it.

*It is clear to me that the call of the priest is to gather the people around the presence of Christ and to invite all to lay our lives on the table with it. We all have the potential in different times and places of being that voice of Christ. Right now, that voice is coming from the young people in Ferguson who are crying out that their lives matter, that they deserve to be treated as full images of God, and that they are beautiful and powerful despite many others' claims to the contrary.

*It is clear to me that for the vast majority of youth, the church has become irrelevant because they believe the church has abandoned them and wants only to preach to them. It is clear to me that we as the church need to be present with the youth -- not just in Ferguson but everywhere -- and where we hear them preaching the Gospel, to be their guardian and their megaphone.

Last night, I was asked to come down to be a clergy peacekeeper and stand with the young people. This was deemed necessary because of the confrontations with police that had happened in the past few days. I arrived at 9 pm and left around 1:15 am. During that time, I and 10-15 other clergy (including fellow Episcopal priests Rebecca Ragland and Jon Stratton) marched with the protesters, talked with them (doing much more listening than talking) and stood with them.

When the protesters assembled in the middle of the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department, Several of us organized a few people to direct traffic so that drivers could still get up and down S. Florissant. Our goal was to give the police as little reason as possible to move on the protesters.

When the police began to line up and order the protesters to disperse, many of the clergy formed a line in front of them shielding them. It was clear this was an act of civil disobedience because it was willfully violating the ordinance against gathering in the street. I did not join this group because I did not feel called to break that law.

Instead, I did what I did feel called to do, which is be a peaceful presence -- and for me that means prayer. A few other clergy felt similarly called ,so instead of going into the street, we first stood and then knelt on the sidewalk (a legal place for us to be) and prayed. I can only say what I prayed for, and that is I prayed for God's spirit not just of peace but of wisdom and compassion to descend on all of us. I prayed for the protesters and I prayed for the police. I prayed for the spirit of fear and mistrust to leave.

The remarkable thing is what happened next, and that is these amazing young people moved forward and joined us ... literally getting our backs as we were praying for them. There was a standoff with the police for a time, and when we were done praying, we stepped to the side and the protesters returned to the street.

At this point Alexis and the other young woman who were the line leaders called the clergy together and said how grateful they were for our presence but asked us not to join them in the street. They needed to do this themselves. It was the most I was moved all night, so great was their courage and dedication. They asked that we stand to the side, legally, on the sidewalk and continue to pray. And -- with various other things that happened the rest of the night -- that is what we did.

Last night was an honor and a privilege. I pray it wasn't self-induglent. I have to say it didn't feel like it at the time. Nor did it feel particularly brave. It did feel like an honor because of what I saw from these young people.

Yes, there was a tremendous amount of anger. Yes, there were even calls for violence that made me wince and that go against everything I believe in. And I tried to listen to the pain from where those cries came even as I was praying that we would find a better, nonviolent way.

But more foundational and powerful than that, I saw the power of the cross. I saw people who were willing to sacrifice for a greater good. I saw young women and men who stared down powerful men with sticks and guns. And then I saw them invite one of those powerful men, Capt. Ron Johnson, to speak to them. And then I saw the police do something remarkable, too -- stand down and not force a confrontation but take the posture of mercy and perhaps even a little bit of listening.

I cannot call it providence that we are in this moment. Whenever a child is dead, I cannot bring myself to call it providential. But history has handed us this moment in time and it is an incredible opportunity and responsibility. The chasms of race and class Ferguson has revealed are not unique to St. Louis, but we have been given the spotlight and the opportunity to lead this nation -- and even this world -- in confronting our brokenness with integrity, compassion and deep, sacrificial love.

I was meeting with a friend today and he said that 30 years from now what America is going to know about St. Louis is Ferguson and the Arch. This is the time for us together to create that legacy. And it will happen in a thousand moments like last night. Moments where young and courageous leadership is allowed to rise up. Moments where people of faith use their power like John the Baptist -- not pointing to ourselves but seeking out and pointing to the voice of Christ. Moments where the powers that be allow themselves to stand down. Moments that could erupt in blows instead find even an uneasy peace (and make no mistake, it was an uneasy peace last night).

Moments that remind us that as followers of Jesus we must always work not to defeat enemies but to move hearts. And what we move hearts toward is the heavenly Jerusalem -- a common vision of a city, region, nation and world that makes glad God's heart ... thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

A world where one child of God is not privileged over another.

A world where our original sin of racism is finally redeemed.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who are my people?

"Then the Lord said, 'I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of 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.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of pain today.

Alumni of General Theological Seminary are in pain because of the conflict that has resulted in the Dean and Board of Trustees firing much of the faculty.

Many of us in St. Louis are in continued pain over how the Mike Brown killing is being handled and what it spotlights about the treatment of African American people in our region.

Downtown homeless service providers are in pain about the continued difficulties facing people struggling with homelessness.

A Cathedral parishioner is grieving the death of her beloved grandmother.

The common thread of all this pain is it is personal. Personal is what makes the difference between news that is bothersome or troubling and news that is deeply painful.

We care when something happens to us or when something happens to "our people."

That's not an indictment. It's human nature. It's why our Jewish ancestors made it so clear that God saw them as God's own ... that they were "God's chosen people." It was the most powerful way possible of saying that God cared about them ... and not just cared, but intimately felt it and was committed to saving acts in doing something about it.

God saw their affliction.

God heard their cry.

God knew their sufferings.

And because of that God acted.

Because of that, God responded.

Because of that, God came down to deliver them and bring them to a better place.

As long as we talk about homelessness, or crime or poverty or racial injustice as a problem, we will never solve it. We will never solve any of these problems as long as we see them as categories because we will never care enough. It is only when it becomes personal. Only when it is about "my people" that we care enough to act.

Kate Casas wrote a brilliant article last month where she described attending a focus group on equity in the St. Louis region.

The conversation eventually turned to education. The last two questions the moderator asked that night were about school transfers. First he asked "Do you think kids in unaccredited districts should be allowed to transfer to another better performing district?" About half the crowd raised their hand and said yes. Next he asked "If you lived in an unaccredited district, would you send your child to another better performing district?" For the first time that night, all 15 people in the group agreed -- 100 percent said they would send their child to a better performing school.

...When we think of children as our own, we will treat them better than when we think of them as someone else's.... The problem is that it is not just parents who treat some kids like their own. No, the problem is we have systems (education, justice, health care, etc.) that treat some children like they are its own and some children like they are someone else's. 

When a problem affects "our people," we care differently and more powerfully -- and we are more likely to act. But the converse of that is also true. When it is not "our people," we tend to think it's not "our problem" and we tend to ignore and lapse into inactivity ... after all, there is so much else for us to do.

It's human nature, but it's particularly potent in St. Louis, where we are so deeply segregated by not only race and class, but divided into 91 different municipalities on the Missouri side. The opportunities for us to say "not my people ... not my problem" -- not out of any sense of malice but out of the gravitational pull of that operating system of human nature -- are everywhere. That gravitational pull is so strong that we have to actively pull against it.

Which is why the voice of the church is so important. God in Jesus Christ stands in the midst of all of this and makes a profound statement -- that ALL people are OUR people. That what happens to one happens to us all.

It is this Gospel that led Christ Church Cathedral under Dean Michael Allen's leadership to weave a banner singing "Our Church Has AIDS." It is why we pray for our sisters and brothers in Lui, South Sudan and try to help them live a better life. It is why we have opened our building to Lafayette Preparatory Academy. It is why our baptismal covenant has us vowing to "respect the dignity of EVERY human being."

God, who so loved the WHOLE world, that God became human in Jesus, invites us into this life of seeing all people as our people. And I have to admit my first reaction to it is fear. I know how deeply I care for "my people" and how deeply I weep when they are in pain. How can there possibly be enough of me to go around. How can I possibly be like God and see all that affliction, hear all those cries, know all that sufferings and respond to all of it?

There is too much! How can I do it all?

The answer, of course, is that we can't do it all. We can't see it all, hear it all, know it all, feel it all.

But there are two things we can do:

First we can commit to do something. One of my favorite quotes is from Archbishop Oscar Romero, who said:

"We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest."

We can not let ourselves be paralyzed by the volume. We can see, hear, know and feel deeply and then respond in kind as best we can to a piece of it -- realizing that we are at best not generators of solutions but vehicles of God's grace.

The second thing we can do is recognize that all suffering is of a piece -- and that because of that there are no "my people" and "your people" but only "us" as "God's people." And that means the turmoil and General Seminary and in Ferguson and North St. Louis and on the streets of downtown and in the heart of the mourning granddaughter are all connected. They are all human beings, made in the image of God, crying out in pain. They all involve "our people."

And even though we cannot be everywhere and do everything, in Christ, there is no situation where our response is ever "not my people ... not my problem."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Next steps for CCC: Charting the Course into God's dream for us.

We've been together at Christ Church Cathedral for five and a half years. We have said goodbye to old friends and welcomed new ones. We have seen many changes and also many things that have stayed the same. It is a pilgrimage -- a journey together that is not just about us changing the world but about us being changed.

We're just getting started, and I'm writing to update you on the work your Chapter has been doing, the next stages of this journey and the part I hope you will play.

Last year, we had house meetings where we identified five core values that we shared as a Cathedral, the foundational principles on which we are built.

Spirituality and Faith

From those values, Chapter crafted a mission statement that we presented at the annual meeting in January. A mission statement tells us our basic purpose. It should answer the questions “Why do we exist?” and “What, at the most basic level, do we do?" For us that is:

We seek a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ through:
*Celebrating the sacraments faithfully.
*Proclaiming the Gospel boldly
*Embracing diversity joyfully
*Serving all passionately 
as a Cathedral.

By themselves, mission statements are just words unless they can be translated into meaningful actions. That has been the work of your Chapter this year. The work of translating our mission into a vision of God's dream for our future and concrete steps of how to get there.

We are blessed to be led in this work by our own Dr. James Kimmey, member of Chapter, longtime Cathedral member, and someone who has led organizations as large as the Missouri Foundation for Health and colleges of St. Louis University through strategic planning processes. Beginning this spring, Jim has led us through a process that will end with our Eucharistic Annual Meeting on Sunday, January 11, where we will commit to our goals for 2015 ... our next steps in becoming the Cathedral God dreams for us to be.

Chapter began by revisiting the values that came out of the house meetings, fleshing them out, and adding one that we believe is equal to the others in its importance to us: Respect.  

Spirituality and Faith: We see the face of God in everyone.

Diversity: As God's children, we welcome all.

Growth: We cultivate relationships that help us grow as individuals, as a faith community and as a civic partner.

Service: We actively answer the call: "What gifts can I share with others?"

Communications: We use communications to inform, to engage and to express who we are as a faith community.

Respect: We treat one another as blessed images of God.

Chapter also created a vision statement. Whereas a mission statement says "why we exist," a vision statement describes our heavenly Jerusalem -- what we will look like when our mission is accomplished. It is what we measure ourself against when we ask the question: "How are we doing?"

The vision Chapter has developed is:

Christ Church Cathedral is a place where people, all people, can gather to seek God and to be present to each other while being a catalyst for change and growth within the wider community.

Last night, Chapter affirmed this mission, vision and values and we agreed it was time for two things.
First, it's time to come back to the three constituencies the Cathedral exists to gather -- the Cathedral congregation, the Diocese of Missouri and the St. Louis region -- and get your input. How does this mission, vision and values resonate with you. Does this feel like who we are and who God is calling us to be? 
One opportunity for you to give your input is Sunday after the 10 am service in the Nave during our quarterly "On the Table" forum. Emily Lehr and Howie Hirshfield will open with a description of this process and then they, other Chapter members and I will be there to hear from you and answer any questions you might have. 
In this post you will also find the email addresses of every Chapter member. We hope you will contact us and give us your thoughts, which will be incorporated into the rest of the process. As always, the best conversations are face-to-face, and your Chapter is ready and eager to meet with you.
It is also time to start to consider the concrete next steps. We have divided the Chapter into four teams -- each one taking a piece of the mission statement -- to imagine strategies for achieving our mission. Jim has encouraged us to dream big because we have a God who dreams big, and Cathedrals are places of great visions and great potential. From those strategies we will discern concrete goals and action steps for 2015. And from there we will be on our way.
The mission teams for this stage of the process are:
Celebrating the Sacraments Faithfully
The Rev. Michael Dunnington – Convener
Dave Lawson
Laura Lambrix
Tom Gardner

Proclaiming the Gospel Boldly
Howie Hirshfield – Convener
Claudine Allen
Jim Berger
The Rev. Emily Hillquist Davis

Embracing Diversity Joyfully
Emily Lehr – Convener
Urlene Branch
Rudy Walz
Miriam Jenkins

Serving all Passionately
Lorraine Key – Convener
Jane Mayfield
Dr. Pamela Steurke
Titus Olajide

At the Chapter's October meeting, we will hear from each of these mission teams as well as consider the input we have gotten from you. On Saturday, November 8, Chapter will meet for a workday to clarify the mission strategies and specific objectives. These objectives will be used in constructing the 2015 budget, which Chapter will approve -- along with the final strategic plan document -- on Thursday, November 20.

While the timetable may shift if we need to spend more time to do all of this well, our goal is that on Sunday, Nov. 23 -- the Feast of Christ the King and last Sunday of the liturgical year -- all of this will be presented to the congregation. Advent will be a season of preparation of and prayer and on January 11, 2015 we will gather for our Eucharistic Annual Meeting and commit individually and together to do the work we have set before us for the coming year.

If you can, I hope you will be part of the On the Table gathering this Sunday ... or contact one of your Chapter members ... and definitely keep the Cathedral and this entire process in your prayers.

I am deeply grateful to be the Dean of a Cathedral with such a rich history and a bright future. You can be extremely proud of your Chapter leadership in getting us this far and committing to the work ahead. I am convinced that as long as we commit to continue to have the real conversation, pray with our lips and with our feet, keep our eyes fixed on the cross and hands linked with one another there is no mission that God can set before us that we will not accomplish.

What do you think?

Here are the names and emails of your Chapter members (click on a name to email):

Claudine Allen
Tom Gardner
Dave Lawson
Emily Lehr
James Berger (Trinity Church–De Soto)
Urlene Jackson Branch
Miriam Jenkins
James Kimmey
Jane Mayfield
The Rev. Michael Dunnington (All Saints -- St. Louis)
Dr. Pamela Stuerke (St. Mark’s Church–St. Louis)
Howie Hirshfield
Lorraine Kee
Laura Lambrix
Titus Olajide
The Rev. Emily Hillquist Davis (St. Martin’s Episcopal Church–Ellisville)
Rudy Walz (Emmanuel Episcopal Church–Webster Groves)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Our Cathedral buildings -- Today and Tomorrow

The church is first the Body of Christ -- people centered in Christ offering our lives to God and sent by Christ to love the world. When we say "church," our thoughts often first jump to buildings -- but we must always remember that the buildings exist to serve this mission of being Christ-centered and Christ-sent.

We at Christ Church Cathedral have been blessed with two impressive buildings for generations. There is the Cathedral proper, a national historic landmark, which for nearly 150 years has been place for congregational worship, diocesan gathering, and a spiritual, cultural and community center for downtown St. Louis and the region. There is also the Bishop Tuttle Memorial Building, which for nearly 100 years has lived out its purpose to be a center for mission and ministry in the city in many and various ways.

We are not so much owners of these buildings but stewards of them for Christ. And Christ invites not only us in, but invites the faithful of our diocese and the people of St. Louis and the surrounding region. The difference between owner and steward is significant. The buildings are not "ours" but Christ's. As stewards we are not called to the us/them question of "should we let them use our building" but how is Christ calling these buildings to be used and cared for ... and inviting as many people as possible into that conversation.

That said, we as Cathedral parishioners and clergy have a special responsibility for this stewardship, so I want to use this space to update you on some of the ways we are addressing this ... and some questions for your thought and prayer in the weeks, months and years to come.

First, the present.

Building Maintenance Tasks - The Cathedral Property Committee, under the leadership of Cal Guthrie, has worked with the staff to design a process for identifying building maintenance tasks, prioritizing, and determining how the work can be most effectively completed. The basic unit for this system is a Building Maintenance Work Order, which is available to be filled out on the wall by the security guard's desk on the first floor of the BTM. All work orders will be reviewed by a combination of staff and property committee and progress tracked on a weekly basis. The details of the process are available by clicking here.  Anyone may fill out a Building Maintenance Work Order ... so if you see something that needs maintenance, here is how you bring attention to it.

Complete Facilities Audit - The Cathedral and BTM are old buildings with many systems of varying ages. It is easy for building stewardship to become purely reactive -- only becoming aware of pieces when they break and not planning ahead for paying for large systemic overhauls (roof, HVAC, etc., structural work, etc.) As we near the 150th anniversary of the Cathedral, we will be undertaking a complete audit of both the Cathedral proper and the BTM. This "basement to belltower" audit will assess the current state of every system and feature of both buildings, chart what maintenance is overdue, what systems need replacing, and help us establish schedules for ongoing maintenance not only annually but decades into the future.

This week, we are sending out proposals to companies around the country who specialize in this work for old church buildings (this will include assessment of things like our organ and stained glass windows, so it is crucial it be done by someone who has expertise in churches). The goal is to have bids in and ready for Chapter approval by January with the audit taking place throughout 2015. When completed, we will have - possibly for the first time - an accurate picture of the state of our buildings and the issues (financial and otherwise) involved with maintaining them with excellence. Special thanks to Cal Guthrie, Gary Johnson, Ward Buckner, Jason Wiggins, Betsy Clark and Walt Johnson of the Property Committee who have been working on the proposal, and to Betsy Kirchoff and Karen Barney who brought back this idea from the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes meeting this past February.

Next, the future.

The immediate future - Our partnership with Lafayette Preparatory Academy last year and this year has given us a wonderful opportunity to use the BTM for the kind of mission -- providing excellent primary education to city children -- for which it was built and is also providing us with nearly $70,000 a year in income that has closed our annual deficit. LPA will leave in June, 2015 (we will no longer have the space to accommodate them as they grow) and with them the income they bring. We need a short-term plan both to use the space for mission and to close the gap of the income we will lose when LPA moves on. I am gathering a subgroup of Chapter (Laura Lambrix, Titus Olajide and Jane Mayfield) to explore options. Please let me know if you are interested in engaging this work as well.

The long-term future - As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Cathedral (2017) and the 200th anniversary of the Christ Church congregation (2019) it is time to look at the next 50 - 100 years of Christ Church Cathedral. This raises exciting questions for us. How is God calling us to use the buildings of Christ Church Cathedral to love downtown and the St. Louis region. What are the mission and ministry needs our buildings can fulfill both in the coming years and the coming decades? How can we build a sense of ownership in our buildings as sacred public spaces and catalysts for the common good -- and a shared financial stake in maintaining and perhaps even remodeling/adding to them?

This is a process of visioning that will dovetail with the strategic planning process that Jim Kimmey is currently leading your Chapter through (more on that later this week). It will include people of the Cathedral congregation but also the Bishop and people from around the diocese as well as civic leaders, residents and others from downtown and the region. A second small group (Sr. Warden Tom Gardner, Laura Lambrix, the Rev. Canon Dr. John Kilgore and me) are beginning to meet to begin this process as well.

What do you think? What are your thoughts about the current state of our buildings? How do you think Christ might be calling these buildings to be used in the near future and for the rest of the century? What dreams do you have for the Cathedral and the BTM?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gene Robinson and the Delmar Divide. Storms of yesterday and today.

I remember back in 2003 when the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion were wrestling with the consecration of Gene Robinson as our communion's first openly LGBT bishop, hearing some sisters and brothers wistfully long for when the storm would be over and we could "get back to being the church."

I remember being both sympathetic and saddened by those longings.

Sympathetic because those moments in history we are thrown in the midst of the storm are disorienting, frightening and exhausting -- especially for those of us privileged not to live in the storm the rest of the time. Those moments are hard and require hard work from people whose lives are already pretty full of labor.

Sympathetic because I know the gravitational pull of church being a refuge from a world that is changing so quickly. A place to "be still and know that God is God" and to be about the work of prayer, worship & study and tending to one another as the gathered and beloved community. That idea of church as refuge can feel so holy, compelling and life-giving to us that outside events that disrupt can seem like a distraction from the work of the church.

Saddened because those very places of sympathy reveal how easy it is for all of us -- myself included -- to be tempted to a narrow view of who we are called to be as the church, and the great gift God gives us in those very events that disrupt so profoundly.

Saddened because I realized how easy it is for all of us -- myself included -- to be tempted into thinking and speaking in categories of "us/them" and "either/or" that never seemed to pass Jesus' lips.

Looking back over the past decade since that moment in time, I believe we as Christ Church Cathedral have much to be proud of in how we received and embraced the gift of that storm. We used it to build on a history of welcoming all to Christ's table and stepped forward to witness to Christ's love in new ways.

We witnessed to it within our doors -- asking the hard questions posed by our Oasis Affirmation of Welcome.

We witnessed to it outside our doors -- not shrinking from the platform it gave us to witness to the St. Louis region of our mission to "restore ALL people to unity with God and each other in Christ."

All people. No exceptions.

We experienced the deep truth that while we absolutely must be a place to "be still and know that God is God" and to be about the work of prayer, worship & study and tending to one another as the gathered and beloved community -- that alone that is a vision for the church that is lacking in breadth, depth and joy. Alone that is a vision that is not worthy of we who follow the one who gave himself for the life of the whole world.

All people. No exceptions.

In the past three weeks, I have felt a growing tension. Certainly I have felt it inside myself, and I have also heard it in conversations I have had with people in the Cathedral community.

As I came back from my vacation the day after Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, I have been drawn not just to what was unfolding on the streets of that small community, but more deeply into the foundational rifts of race & class, power & privilege that have long festered throughout St. Louis.

At the same time, prayer, worship, study, fellowship and pastoral care of one another, stewardship of time, talent, treasure and the buildings we have been given -- all those things we traditionally see as "the work of the church" don't go on holiday.

I felt a growing tension inside myself as I tried to balance the two. I felt a growing tension in the Cathedral community as I had conversations with people who were expressing gratitude for the work being done in and about Ferguson and also those expressing concern that my focus was neglecting the care of the gathered community.

And the tension is all the more acute as I recognize deep truth in each voice.

And so as we prepare to welcome Bishop Robinson to Christ Church Cathedral later this month, I thought back to 2003 and realized that we are once again in the midst of a storm that is both challenge and gift. That our experience of that storm can inform God's call to us out of this one.

Christ Church Cathedral was a beacon of the Gospel for the past decade for full inclusion of LGBT persons in every level of church and society because for us this was not a political issue but an incarnational one. Our conviction that all God's children deserve a place to offer their gifts at the table regardless of sexual orientation is rooted in our deep knowledge of one another.

For the saints at Christ Church Cathedral, marriage equality is not a theological debating point ... it's an incarnational experience. It is the sacramental love of Shug and Doris, Ron and Don, Tom and Dennis, Betsy and Alicia and so many more.

We didn't and haven't taken a break from prayer, worship, study and tending to one another as the gathered beloved community to work for full inclusion of those among us who are LGBT both in our own community and in the world. Because that work out in the world has always been driven by that very work done within the community. Because justice is never merely an idea. True justice, lasting justice is always rooted in seeing the image of God on one another.

True justice, lasting justice is always rooted in not seeing "the other" or a "them" but seeing an ever-expanding "we."

Circumstance has put we in St. Louis in the center of a national conversation on race, class, power and privilege. And we have the opportunity to embrace this moment in time, the challenge and gift of this storm. But we are not faced with the choice of either witnessing for racial justice or doing "the (internal) work of the church."

The two are inseparable.

Today, as we did throughout the past decade, we can build on a history of welcoming all to Christ's table and step forward to witness to Christ's love in new ways. We can listen to the lived experience of the amazing saints of color in our own gathered and beloved community. We can together gather at the foot of the cross and pray, worship, study and build deeper and deeper relationships with one another -- particularly across those lines that divide us within our own body.

Then even as we are informed and converted by those relationships, we can go outside our doors -- not shrinking from the platform we are being given to witness to the St. Louis region of our mission to "restore ALL people to unity with God and each other in Christ."

We can, rooted in our incarnational knowledge of the deep beauty and worthiness of every image of God in human form, insist that no race or class be privileged over another, that all treat one another with love and equity, and that the current gaps in opportunity, education, economics and prosecution/incarceration be dismantled as unworthy of a city that wants to make glad God's heart.

The title of this blog is "Come Together" -- and we are being given an opportunity to do just that. But it will take all of us. It can't just be me or a few of us. It will take all of us praying, worshipping, studying, and reaching out in fellowship and care for one another. It will take all of us being converted by those relationships going out and building new relationships across the Delmar Divide and the many other divides that fracture us as a region.

57 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King stood a few blocks from our Cathedral at the old Kiel Auditorium and, speaking of race relations in the United States said:

"We have come a long, long way, and we have a long, long way to go."

Those words remain true today. But perhaps the most important single word of that sentence is the first word -- we.

Together, we have come a long, long way. And together, we do have a long, long way to go.

And we will get there, together.

All people.

No exceptions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beyond #Ferguson

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” – John 1:14

By now, everyone in America knows #Ferguson.

#Ferguson is what has been on our TV screens for the past two and a half weeks. #Ferguson has trended No. 1 on Twitter and dominated our Facebook newsfeeds.

#Ferguson is scary. #Ferguson is a place of young African American men shouting and Molotov cocktails flying. #Ferguson is a place of burned out convenience stores, snipers on rooftops and police with German Shepherds and military weaponry. #Ferguson is a 24/7 adrenaline rush and highly addictive dopamine hit.

#Ferguson is a dangerous place. Because #Ferguson isn’t real. It’s one-dimensional. It’s deep complexity and real, human pain with more than just one, simple cause packaged for mass consumption and even entertainment.

#Ferguson is dangerous because it tempts those of us of privilege to think this has no more to do with our real lives than the Real Housewives of New Jersey. #Ferguson is dangerous because it tempts all of us to look “over there” instead of “right here.”

#Ferguson is dangerous because it raises issues divorced from relationships.

Make no mistake, Jesus is on the streets of Ferguson… and on the streets of the rest of our city and cities across this nation. But you won’t find him by watching #Ferguson.

When the Christ saw equality with God not as something to be grasped but emptied the divine self into human form, it wasn’t the #Incarnation – a trending topic for conversation and titillation. It was Jesus, the Word become flesh and living among us.

Becoming flesh. Living among. Deep relationship. From deep relationship comes deep knowledge. From deep knowledge comes deep love. From deep love comes deep healing.

#Ferguson raises important issues of dignity, equality and justice. But #Ferguson will never, never adequately address them. Because we will never care enough to do the long, hard work necessary. Without the deep relationship, the deep knowledge, the deep love … it’s just too easy to turn away.

True healing. True reconciliation comes from incarnational relationship. From in the flesh dwelling with and among one another. From building relationships for the long journey, walking together that long road to the cross, putting each other’s lives in each other’s hands, all the time secure in the hope that resurrection is our destination.

That’s what it means to dive beyond #Ferguson. Each of us, in our own communities -- including us right here at Christ Church Cathedral -- committing to being incarnational Christians. Not just reaching across the segregations of our own communities but journeying across them, building flesh-and-blood relationships across them, truly sharing lives across them.

Becoming flesh. Living among. Deep relationship.

What does that look like for us? What does that look like in our presence as individuals and as a Cathedral in relationship with the primarily African-American churches of our region -- a relationship that has been largely absent? What does that look like as we consider the broader mission and vision of Christ Church Cathedral and what it means truly to be called to be a Cathedral for this whole region?

What does it look like within our own Cathedral Nave on Sunday mornings?

#Ferguson is ending (for now) and the media is about to move onto the next shiny thing. But if we open our eyes, there is a much richer, deeper, riskier, more transformational drama right in front of us.

It is a drama of incarnation. And we are invited not to be viewers and tweeters but intimate participants. A drama of deep relationship. Deep knowledge. Deep love. And ultimately, deep healing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

First, Eucharist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, reconciliation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gift of Eucharist and reconciliation.

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

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