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 ( 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 - 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.

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)