Monday, November 17, 2014

An open letter to my clergy colleagues: What You Can Do.

As we get close to the grand jury decision, I am getting wonderful notes and emails from clergy colleagues all over the country expressing their love and support. I first want to say thank you. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your prayers.

Some of these notes say: "Let me know if there's anything I can do." I know you mean that. And so I'm going to tell you what you can do. It will take courage. And know that as you do this I will have your back every bit as much as you have had mine.

When the grand jury decision is announced and the national media eye turns to whatever will happen in St. Louis, here is what I need you to do:

Preach about it. I need you not to let your congregation pretend this has nothing to do with you. I need you, in your own words and with your own integrity from your own heart, to preach about race and privilege and the deep brokenness we have not just in Ferguson, not just in St. Louis, but all over our nation. To preach in a way that will make your congregation uncomfortable in the same way we at Christ Church Cathedral are uncomfortable right now. To preach in a way that doesn't jump too quickly to peace and reconciliation but holds a mirror up to your own congregation and your own city. I need you to see what is happening in St. Louis and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ for your own congregation and your own community. And don't just preach it once like it's earning a merit badge but keep preaching it over and over again.

Find your young leaders. A gift of what is happening here is a group of young leaders that has come together on the streets of Ferguson. They are women and men who are strong, courageous and committed to militant, nonviolent love for the sake of justice. Their words and language is often harsh because the lives they are living have been harsh. I need you to find those young people in your community ... and you will have to go out of your churches to do it. And when you find them, I need you not to preach to them but to listen to them and look for ways you can stand with them, ways you can amplify their voices. I need you to confess where the church has abandoned them and to be the church in ways that gets their trust back. I need you to stand in the breach with them and guard them from harm. I need you to let them lead you.

Move some money. I need you to have the conversations that matter in your own family, in your congregation and in your diocese. Where do you spend your money? Where do you invest your money? Do you support, encourage and invest in minority-owned businesses? Does your money go all over the country and the world looking for the highest rate of return or do you invest in community development in neighborhoods of poverty right where you are? This is work we are just at the very, very beginnings of starting in my own family, congregation and diocese. I need you to be in this with us. Talk is cheap. People of color have been left off the financial escalators our society has privileged white people with since the Emancipation Proclamation. I need you to work with us in helping everyone be able to have the capacity to thrive.

Pray. This is definitely "last but not least." Pray for us and know that we are praying for you. Pray not for an easy peace but pray for transformation. Pray for courage. Pray for us not to fear and shrink from conflict but to let conflict drive us to transformation. Pray for God's Holy Spirit to move us in ways that we scarcely believe possible. Pray that all of us -- we here in St. Louis and you wherever you are -- may use this moment in time as a great opportunity to show how deeply we trust in Jesus and the amazing things that Christ can do.

As you do these things, know that I am at your service. I will do all in my power to help you. It is up to you if Ferguson and St. Louis will just be the identified patient for American racism or whether this will spark a national movement for transformation, a movement that will not end until all people are treated as beloved images of God.

My inspiration is the young women and men who are literally putting their lives on the line for this movement of transformation. I know that the little I risk is truly the least I can do to stand with these who are willing to risk so much. What can you do for me? Stand with me and do the same. Thank you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

There's something different this time ... and it's the women.


“If you want to kill a village, rape the women. If you want to heal the village, you heal the women.” -- Becca Stevens

The women of Millennial Activists United.
There's something different this time.
There's something different this time.

We have been here before as a nation. We've been here in 1965 in Watts. We've been here in 1967 in Newark. We've been here in 1992 in South Central LA and 2001 in Cincinnati. 

Young black men being abused and shot by police? That's not new.

Pain and rage? That's not new.

Clergy and activists organizing? Masses of people on the streets? Apocalyptic language? Terror of a slave uprising sweeping through the white community? 

None of this is anything new.

In many ways what is happening in Ferguson, Shaw and all over St. Louis is following a familiar script. Certainly the media, government leaders and the police know the script and are preparing for it to play out the same way. 

The same script is not good news for anyone. The same script has brought needed changes, but small ones. The same script has mostly set the stage for the script to be played out again and again and again.

But there's something different this time.

And it's the women.

I found out Mike Brown had been killed when the Rev. Traci Blackmon shared the news on her Facebook page and said, "Sometimes events happen that compel you to tear up your sermon and start over." At 6:30 the next morning, she was asking me to be at the Ferguson Police Department that afternoon to help her lead a prayer vigil.

When Traci asks me to do something, I try to never say no. So I tore up my sermon that morning and preached about what had just happened. And that afternoon, I stood with her in prayer on West Florissant Avenue.

Since that day, nearly 100 days ago, I have tried to follow Jesus' counsel to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. I have tried to balance my desire for both me and Christ Church Cathedral to be a reconciler of all people with the need for us boldly to stand with those who are in need and oppressed.

Since that day, nearly 100 days ago, there have been no shortage of people and groups to align with. I decided early on that I would try to stand with people who

*share my theological foundation that all people are made in God's image, are beloved and must be treated with honor, dignity and high regard
*share my absolute commitment to nonviolent social change and the transformative power of militant love.
*are of the highest integrity and the lowest ego.

And what that means has become abundantly clear.

I stand with the women.

What is different this time is the women. The most powerful voices in this movement do not have names like Martin and Malcolm and Stokely. They have names like Traci and Brittany and Alexis. Yes, there are men, wonderful and strong and courageous, who are leading as well ... but the core of this movement, the heart and soul of this movement, the spiritual power behind this movement are the women.

There's something different this time. And what is different is the women are no longer content to let us men relegate them to the back of the bus. The women are no longer content to let us men repeat the same script over and over again. The stakes are too high. Their babies are dying. Their sisters and brothers are dying. Rachel has been weeping for her children for far too long.

The women are in charge now ... and thanks be to God. They are telling us that they will not stop praying with their feet until there is no more blood on our streets. Everywhere I turn, I am confronted by powerful, courageous and grace-filled women who humble me and call me to my best self. The list is too long -- Traci Blackmon, Rebecca Ragland, Ashley Yates, Brittany Ferrell, Alexis Templeton,  Elle Dowd, Susan Talve, Leah Gunning Francis, Heather Arcovitch, Deb Krause, Mary Gene Boteler, Amy Hunter, Robbyn Wahby, Dietra Baker, Tricia Roland-Hamilton, Brittany Packnett, Hedy Epstein, Cassandra Gould ... I'm leaving so many out because the list goes on and on and on and on.

Over the past weeks, I have watched a parade of men step before cameras and talk about the police response that is coming, the government response that is being prepared. I have seen them talk tough and flex their muscles and over and over again use the language of fear. I have not seen them deviate once from the script that has got us to the same place over and over again.

At the same time, I have watched the women pray and anoint. I have watched the women collect scarves, caps and gloves. I have watched the women organize and prophesy. I have heard them use the language of hope and resurrection. I have watch them mine the deep power of tears and bring those tears pouring out of me.

In a day or a week or more, the grand jury will announce their decision. And it seems that everyone is preparing for the worst. It seems that everyone is preparing for the same script to play over and over again.

I do not believe it will. In fact, I believe that we in St. Louis are going to go down in history as the place where the cycle is broken.

Because there's something different this time. And it's the women.

 Becca Stevens reminds us, “If you want to kill a village, rape the women. If you want to heal the village, you heal the women.”

 I would add one more line.

If you want to transform the village, follow the women.

And that is what I am doing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In the midst of trauma -- choosing a time of listening.


In our Basic Discipleship course, I share the Rev. Gordon Cosby's framework of discipleship of Jesus as an inward journey and an outward journey. It is the inward journey of prayer and worship, the outward journey of serving and giving, with study -- from written texts, conversations and the text of our lives -- being the hinge.

Both the inward journey and outward journey are critical. The inward journey by itself becomes self-indulgent. The outward journey by itself becomes rootless activism. Following Jesus is a balance of reflection and action. We need both. This is why for the past five years on Martin Luther King's birthday, we have held a daylong reading of his sermons, speeches and writings. So that in the midst of a day of community service and action Christ Church Cathedral can be a place of quiet reflection on this great man's words -- not just the sound bytes but the full, deep, rich texts.

Over the past couple days, I have realized that my life is not in this balance, that it is affecting negatively my ability to follow Jesus and be a leader at Christ Church Cathedral and in St. Louis ... and also that my life affords me the privilege to choose differently not just for my own good but hopefully for the good of all.

Starting today, I will be embarking on a personal "time of listening" ... not as an escape from what is happening in Ferguson, Shaw and all around us but to dive more deeply into it, into our life together as a Cathedral community and to how this is affecting us as a St. Louis region.

This means for two-plus weeks, I will be laying some things down and taking some things up.

I will not be participating in any actions, not going to any planning or strategizing meetings, not doing any programs and not speaking to the press or blogging, emailing or FB posting about any of this (in fact, I am going to take a social media fast).

Instead, from the home base we share at Christ Church Cathedral, I will be:

*Engaging in daily intentional prayer and study.

*Inviting and seeking out one-on-one and one-on-two conversations to listen deeply (and pray with if people are open) to people who are experiencing what has happened in our region and our Cathedral from different sides and in different ways. I have already reached out to Cathedral parishioners, police officers and spouses, youth demonstrators and others asking for their time.

*Working with Amy and our Chapter leadership to listen deeply to the members and health of our Cathedral community and who & how God is calling us to be. And also to listen to what this and other things going on in our common life is revealing about us ... particularly as we engage in a strategic planning process at such a watershed moment in our region's history.

*Continuing to gather our Cathedral community in Eucharistic worship and preside at the other tables of our common life so we can lay our lives on the table with Christ.

This is not me "checking out" but instead "checking more deeply in." This means if you have something to say to me, something you think I need to hear, please come to me and know I want to listen.

From Sunday evening, November 2 through Wednesday, November 5, I will be meeting with my colleague group in northern California. For more than a decade, this group has been essential to keeping me on the winding path of Christ and I will be using them to help me pray through and process what I have heard.

On Saturday, November 8, our Chapter will meet for a workday to put together the draft of our strategic plan and I will be able to add what I have heard to that process.

While I will be preaching several times during this time of listening, I will not be writing because, following Sister Ruth's advice during my trip to Israel/Palestine to "go deep and quiet." I want to sit with the many things I will be hearing -- some of which will be contradictory -- and not rush to a resolution or completed thought.

I am choosing this path of a time of intentional and deep listening with the support of our Chapter in realization that we are in a time of trauma that has many levels:

*There are people in the African-American community who have been undergoing sustained trauma for years and decades, and the anger and pain from that trauma is understandably and rightly bursting out all over.

*There are city officials, police officers and their families and others who are having the pain and anger directed at them -- that is trauma as well.

*There are clergy and others like me who are trying both to stand with the voices of those with long-term trauma but also stand in the breach and be forces of reconciliation. That is traumatic.

*There are residents of Ferguson and Shaw who have not gotten a good night sleep in weeks or months. That is traumatic.

But that's not all.

As Christ Church Cathedral, we are changing. We are moving from being a pastoral-sized congregation with a big building and a bishop's chair into truly being a Cathedral. I and many others find that exciting and absolutely in line with Jesus' call in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I love that we are becoming more and more a place that St. Louis looks to as sacred public space to gather for the common good. I love that we have a bustling charter elementary school in our building. I love that the conversations at Chapter around our strategic plan are outward looking and talk about us being a "catalyst in the community" as well as a place where we gather the community to "celebrate the sacraments faithfully."

But like all change, this change involves loss. New people are coming and some longtime members have left. We are wrestling with moving from a model where "pastoral care" means the clergy are calling to how we can care deeply for one another. And now all this is happening while helicopters circle overhead, and we see our beloved city become the identified patient for American systemic racism on CNN.

All of this is trauma. And one thing we know about trauma is that we each feel our own trauma deeply -- regardless of whether it is greater or less than someone else's. And that trauma effects our actions. We also know that healing involves facing our trauma and turning it from something that binds us in chains to a resource for empathy and reaching out in love to one another.

My best teachers in this are the amazing women of Magdalene -- women who know more deeply than I ever will what trauma is. They have taught me that this transformation from victim of trauma to outward-reaching, empathetic, loving survivor of trauma is possible. That there is healing from trauma, but it is not quick healing.

The tagline of Magdalene is "Love Heals." And Jesus shows us what love looks like and that is the Word becoming flesh and dwelling with -- not just for a few seconds but for as long as it takes. Healing of trauma begins with sitting with one another and listening deeply. It's why it will have taken us more than three years when we open Magdalene St. Louis next spring and it will be another two years until the first women graduate. It's why relapse is an expected part of recovery. This is long, hard work -- and if we are to do it we need to listen deeply to each other and, when possible, move out of reaction into reflection.

We cannot rush to peace right now -- either in our Cathedral or in St. Louis or in America. This is going to take time. And while the landscape is changing on an almost hourly basis and there are those who have no choice to react to that change, I'm realizing our deep need of others to take up this ministry of reflection and listening.

I mentioned before that my life affords me the privilege of doing this. I choose those words carefully. I have many sisters and brothers who do not have that choice -- and I want to make sure you all know that, and that me making this choice is not judging you or abandoning you but quite the opposite ... seeking to discern through deep listening how I and Christ Church Cathedral can stand among you as a force for love, justice and reconciliation. I am deeply grateful for those who will continue to make themselves available faithfully to react to the changing landscape while I engage in this different form of the work.

I ask not only your prayers in this time, I ask your participation. Come talk to me. Talk with each other. Pray with me. Pray with each other. Join in reaching out to those with whom you might be disagreeing right now. Let me, let each other know what is on your heart -- not just about what is happening in our city but in your life.

Together we'll search for Jesus ... and I know together we will find Jesus.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Today in Ferguson -- Why I March


1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.
The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.
The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.

4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.
Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.
Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.

6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.
Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.

-The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's Six Principles Nonviolence described in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom.


This morning, I will join with clergy and people of faith from St. Louis and around the country in a nonviolent march to the Ferguson Police Department and protest there.

The principles of nonviolent resistance that Dr. King laid out are the philosophical foundation of my actions. The theological foundation is God's love for all humanity, the call of Jesus Christ actively to love any whom I might be tempted to call enemies, and St. Paul's charge to us to be ambassadors of Christ given the ministry of reconciliation.

King believed, as do I, that the goal of nonviolent resistance was to bring about The Beloved Community -- what Helen Ludbrook referred to in her sermon on Sunday as the realm of God. It is not a state of being without conflict but where conflict is used creatively as a tool for learning and resolved nonviolently. Where our fundamental belief that all people are created in God's image and worthy of equal dignity and share in the wealth of the earth is lived out in all aspects of our life.

I march today as a small part of trying to bring about that Beloved Community.

I march today specifically at the Ferguson Police Department because I wish to highlight the injustices of the systems of policing not only in Ferguson and St. Louis but in this nation. Systems which target people of color and treat them with less dignity and respect than people who look like me. Systems where the power differential is so skewed that a culture of verbal and physical abuse, particularly of young people of color, is allowed to exist and even thrive.

I march today in solidarity with the young people committed to nonviolent protest who have been on the streets for the more than 60 days since Michael Brown was killed. I march in solidarity with them in awe of their courage, their strength, their refusal to go away until their voices are heard and changes are made.

I march today in solidarity with clergy and people of faith who share these convictions. Some of them are choosing to risk arrest. I do not believe that is the path I am called down at this time. But I stand with them in solidarity and admiration.

I march today FOR the women and men of the Ferguson Police Department, the St. Louis County and City Police and all the police, judicial and governmental structures of our region. The Beloved Community includes them. The Beloved Community needs them. I march in deep, prayerful hope that the passionate conviction we have for justice will engage us all as partners in bringing the Beloved Community about.

I march today as the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, knowing that even though that title means far less than it did in days past (and in many ways that is good), that it still means something for the leader of this storied institution to stand as previous deans from Montgomery Schuyler through Michael Allen have, stand with the voices of the oppressed and affirming that in Christ, if one suffers, we all suffer.

Finally, and most important, I march today as a father. This is about our daughters and sons who are growing up black and brown in America. It is about their safety and even their very survival. I also march as a father because my son has chosen to march with me. He has seen what is happening in our streets. He has heard the voices and stories of those who have been abused and oppressed and his heart has gone out to them. He has shown his commitment by engaging in the nonviolent resistance training and expressed his deep desire to be a part of this action today. So mostly this day, I will be there as his father, proud to stand with him, and full of great hope that he and his generation will usher us more fully into that Beloved Community.

I beg your prayers. I welcome conversation. I urge you to join in bringing the Beloved Community to life.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Out of a night of tragedy, three glimmers of hope in Shaw

Last night was a night of many negative and terrible things. Most tragic, a young black man, VonDerrit Myers Jr., was shot and killed by an off-duty St. Louis City police officer. This is the fifth officer-related shooting this year, all of the victims black men under the age of 31. 

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Bryant, St. Louis American
We are at a dangerous time as a region, and that is frightening. But danger also holds our attention. We are a community ... and in many ways a nation ... at attention right now, and that is good. There will not be change unless we hold attention and keep us all in that place of uncomfortability. We cannot rush to peace.

That said, as a region, we need a container in which we can do this work. A container that will hold and allow enough uncomfortability and even threat of danger to hold our attention and to effect conversion.

As I stood on Shaw Blvd. last night -- called there to be a presence of prayer and peace -- and watched protesters smashing police car windows, and as two sets of gunshots went off, I thought to myself: "This is beyond peacekeeping. There is no way this ends well."

I was wrong. I am so grateful that I was wrong. As tragically as the evening began -- with the death of a young man and an officer forever changed as anyone is when we take another life -- the night into this morning did not end in tragedy. And so as all the things that were wrong about last night are being necessarily chronicled, I want to stop and ask why things didn't end in tragedy. And when I do, even on this rainy day where we are so aware of loss, I believe there is hope.

So what happened? Three things.

First, the young leaders of Millennial Activists United, the women and men who have been protesting on S. Florissant,  stepped up. They organized. They kept the crowd in that place of unpeaceful and nonviolent action that is so difficult and so necessary. They did not back down and they helped the crowd authentically express their rage and pain without violence.

Second, the police showed restraint toward the protesters. They gave space. They did not make mass arrests or brutalize the protesters. They acted in ways to contain but not escalate.

Third, the clergy found our lanes to drive in. We recognized that first, last and always what we bring is our charge to gather the community in prayer. We prayed with the boy's parents. After the crime scene was opened up, we gathered in prayer around where he lay and reclaimed the ground. Then we split into two groups with some going with the protesters and supporting the MAU leaders and others of us (myself included) going to the morgue to be with the father as he identified the body and provide prayer and pastoral support there.

Each group -- the protesters, the police and the clergy -- had a sense of what there purpose was and how to do it well. And as awful as last night was, and although there were certainly missteps in each of those groups, that is eventually what happened.

And that gives me hope.

We are living in a place of negative trust -- where there is not only a lack of trust of one another but active belief that the other is lying whenever they speak, active distrust of the validity of the experience of the other.

This negative trust developed over decades and it will take a long time to build a positive trust that very well may never have existed before. It will take a willingness of all sides to meet and have honest expressions of difficult experiences, facts and emotions. IT will take a commitment to a process of extended Truth as a road to eventual Reconciliation, a commitment to holding ourselves and each other in a position of profound, nonviolent uncomfortability.

A child is dead. A man must have his taking of a life of a child on his soul for the rest of his life. Regardless of the facts of the case, this is a tragedy. But on this gray, rainy day, there is still hope. We as a St. Louis region have a gargantuan task ahead of us -- but with God's help, working together and being guided by each of our better angels, I believe we will be equal to it. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Nonviolent Resistance Training at CCC - What, When and Why

Our vision for Christ Church Cathedral is that we be "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." Chapter has adopted this vision as part of our strategic planning process. It is the "heavenly Jerusalem" we believe we will become as we live into the mission we have discerned to "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."

From 5-7 pm on Saturday, Oct. 11, Christ Church Cathedral will be hosting a training session in nonviolent resistance as a part of the Ferguson October National Mobilization Weekend. I am writing to share what this training will be (and to invite your participation), who will be conducting it, why we have agreed to host and the process used in making that decision.

The training will be facilitated by members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (http://forusa.org/). FOR is a longstanding and respected interfaith organization that has been working for peace, justice and nonviolence for nearly 100 years. Historically, it's supporters have included such people as Albert Einstein, Corretta Scott King and Thich Nhat Hanh. You can read about FOR's history here - http://forusa.org/about/history. FOR's Director of National Organizing is Ethan Vesely-Flad, an Episcopalian. I am proud to be a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Specifically, the training will be led by the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a graduate of Soldan High School and Baptist pastor. I have met Rev. Sekou on several occasions, and he was with me on Monday evening as we served as peacekeepers with the young protesters in Ferguson.

I have been a student of nonviolence since my youth, and in particular have read and prayed deeply with the writings of Mohandas Gandhi and, to a lesser extent, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe our call to follow Jesus is consonant with the principles of nonviolent resistance when faced with situations of extreme injustice.

This was enough for me to consider FOR's invitation to host the training. I then took it to the Executive Committee of Chapter for their consideration. We had first an email conversation and then a conversation at our meeting Thursday evening. We agreed that gathering people together to be trained in nonviolence was a good thing no matter what the circumstances ... and particularly at this time where we have been experienced violence in our city recently and the potential for greater violence looms, the more people we can engage in nonviolence the better. We also agreed that this was a way to live into the vision of Christ Church Cathedral as a "catalyst for change and growth within the wider community."

I will be attending the training, and I hope you will consider attending it, too. I know there will be people there who will be attending it as preparation for direct nonviolent action ... potentially even that weekend. I also hope there will be plenty of people there who will see this as an opportunity for what is essentially a spiritual journey and way to engage powers with the heart of Christ's love.

FOR has offered to pay our security costs so that we are not out of pocket any expenses for this event.

If you have any questions about this event or any event we host at Christ Church Cathedral, please contact me and I will be happy to talk, listen, meet and pray with you. And I hope you will be a part of this gathering at Christ Church Cathedral.

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.