Friday, January 27, 2017

justice, refugee style.

Yesterday morning when I came out of the gym, I tried to remember which parking space I had claimed just an hour earlier when I made my way, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, from the warmth of my car into the florescent-lit room filled with happily perspiring insomniacs.  (Who gets to the gym early enough to have already worked up a big sweat by FIVE-THIRTY AM?  Come on, people.)

I had a nice time simultaneously communing with the local tv news and a book on tape while on the treadmill (don’t test me on my retention of either) and then it was time to go home.

As I exited the building (as I was starting to say before I interrupted myself,) I tried to remember where I had left my car.  My parking spot varies every day.   This group of early exercisers doesn’t seem to stand on ceremony like we Episcopalians do, gravitating towards the same pews every Sunday. Parking at the gym is a daily adventure.

As I headed NW in the lot, towards the far corner, I noticed one car that had its flashers on.  You know—the headlight and taillights blinking, saying, in its mechanical way-  Danger!  Hazard!  Caution!  Look Out!

It was a moment or two before I realized that the car with the hazard lights flashing was…mine.

After I entered the car and turned off the hazard lights, I realized what had happened:  the suction on the suction–cup holding my GPS had given way and, as it fell to the floor, the GPS hit the hazard button.  Simple enough.  I was relieved that I had figured it out, but a tiny bit embarrassed that my car had been sitting out there – for how long?- drawing attention to itself.  It might have been for as long as an hour.  Oh, well, I looked around, to my left and right, and then in the rear-view mirror and, confident that no one was chasing after me to discern the nature of my emergency, I drove home.

In these past several days since the beginning of term of our new President and Cabinet, I feel as though I’ve been witnessing several hazard lights going off in community.  One of the most noticeable places is on Social Media (especially Face Book) where more and more people are sounding the alarm of what they consider to be unrighteous acts and are engaging in lengthy “dialogues” that are, really, more like jousting matches in which each side gets to take a jab or two at their opponent and retreat.  I’ve also witnessed a few full-on wrestling matches, a few linguistic sucker punches and some serious cyber-bullying.  There are those, too, who have offered ideas with maturity and civility and I am grateful for them.  What troubles me, though, the increasing number of people who are choosing to disengage and leave the conversation or quit all together.

I don’t think quitting is a long-term solution.  And I don’t think that disengaging is what we need right now. We need folks who are willing to press the hazard buttons and to respond sensibly and constructively.

Partisan politics aside, as a Christian I am called to uphold the vows of my baptismal covenant which include, among them, “proclaiming by word and example the good news of God in Christ, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being…” (Book of Common Prayer pg. 304-305)

As a bishop of the Church, I invite congregations to renew their baptismal promises in the form of the Baptismal Covenant - Every. Single. Week.   I stand with my tall hat and curved stick and invite the people to re-commit to the Jesus Movement.  I can see the earnestness in those who repeat, again and again, “I will, with God’s help.” And I count myself among them as I answer, too, praying for God’s assistance to be faithful and effective.

And so, I will not disengage.  In fact, I hope to engage even more fully-  working for justice in our world. 

Yesterday I was to serve for the first time on a new Advisory Council in our Commonwealth for  Refugee Resettlement.  This newly formed group is a joint effort of the State Refugee Coordinator’s Office and the Nationalities Service Center of Philadelphia.    The invitation to serve came on the heels of a meeting with our local Refugee Resettlement office and after two very successful campaigns in our diocese to collect goods for refugee families.  This work, led by the Rev. Loretta Collins, Deacon, and many others has been well received in Central PA. I was honored to accept the invitation to serve on the Advisory Council and then, at the 11th hour, the organizing call was postponed because of imminent activity at the national level around refugees.  (The Executive Order that was expected to be signed on Thursday included a block  on Syrian refugees  entering the United States and the barring of  all refugees from the rest of the world for at least 120 days.  The New York Times reported on Thursday morning that the draft of the order included plans for a much smaller program when re-instated with the total number of refugees resettled in the United States this year at 50,000 -down from last year’s 110,000.)  I was disappointed that the call was postponed and feel that the need for us to organize and find ways to deepen our support is, now, ever more sorely needed.

I don’t believe that reducing of our efforts to aid fellow human beings who have suffered the ravages of war is the answer.

I don’t believe that blocking access to our country to those who have endured violence and who are among the world’s most vulnerable makes sense.

There are 65 million displaced people across the globe.  65 million. More than 27 million of these are “internally displaced,” meaning that they are seeking safety within their own homelands. Half of all refugees are under 18.  (1)  Last year we welcomed 3,600 of those 65 million to Pennsylvania.   I learned on Wednesday that there are at least 120 minor refugees in PA who are without parents and who are living in foster-care or group home settings.  Imagine coming to this country as a child with no parents, no (English) language skills and only a very few personal items.  Imagine it.  Really.    How can we be anything but compassionate?

The Christian moral imperative is to welcome these people.  To extend hospitality and to risk, ourselves, being touched by the elemental needs of others.  Jean Vanier, one of my theological heroes, gave a conference in 2004 titled “Encountering the Other.”  In it, he named fear as one of the chief reasons that we do not engage with those who are different from us.  He said: “We are frightened. We are frightened of the other, of the one who is different.  And why? Because we are so vulnerable. … We hide behind walls, behind groups, behind culture.” (2)

The Jesus Movement asks that we make ourselves vulnerable and risk transformation.  By encountering the other, extending compassion and making room, we give the gift of life and are, ourselves, transformed and changed.

Yes. I know.  American Jobs.  The threat of terrorism. Overcrowding. A strain on the educational system.  All of that- and more.

And, still, for me, the call is to compassion, service, love of neighbor.  The transforming love of Christ that really can change the world.  I’m all in for that.

(2)  Encountering the Other  Jean Vanier Paulist Press, New York, 2004 pg. 28

Friday, January 20, 2017

I've been away

Sunrise, Thursday, at Rosyln Center, Richmond, VA

I've spent this week with my bishop classmates in the classes of 2016 and 2017 (even though I was elected in 2015, I am considered to be in the class of 2016 because that was our first meeting as a small group of peer-bishops).  We've been at the Rosyln center in Richmond, VA, and it has been a rich time of learning, conversation and building relationships that will last a lifetime.

We've been at it early in the morning until late in the evening leaving me little time to work on a blog.
Responding to the steady stream of emails from the people of Central PA (who are as active and engaged as ever)  has been my first priority in the few moments of free time that we've had.

So-  no blog today.

I'll be on the road, actually, headed home today and look forward to a full weekend spent with the Commission on Ministry and our postulants and candidates;  and two of our parishes as we worship-  one on Saturday evening and one on Sunday morning.

I'm praying, today, for those gathering in Washington-  for today's ceremony of Inauguration and prayer service and for tomorrow's marches.  And for all those who gather, this weekend, around our country speaking out in the name of hope, peace and justice.

Until next week,
blessings and love.

These are the members of my class.  From L to R, George Sumner (Dallas), Russell Kendrick (Central Gulf Coast), moi, Michael Curry (Presiding Bishop), Peter Eaton (SE Florida), Moises Quezada Mota (Dominican Republic, Co-adjutor) and  Mark Van Koevering (Mark served 13 years as diocesan bishop in Mozambique- Diocese of Niassa- and is now Assistant Bishop in W VA)

Friday, January 13, 2017


I get asked to pray for people all the time.

I am asked to pray for upcoming surgeries, for those about to interview for a new job, for those headed to the doctor for a diagnosis, for the improvement of a parent’s health or the sobriety of one’s spouse.

I am asked to pray for people in our churches; those whom I know only through the internet; for people in far-away places and for people who spot my purple shirt, big cross and collar and come up to me on the street, in the grocery store and in restaurants. 
I gladly add these names to a running list that I keep in my binder and remember these people at least once, daily, in my morning prayers but usually, again and again during the day, as I go about from meeting to meeting, from place to place.

Praying for others is part of my Christian life-  the life that is outlined so succinctly in the Baptismal Covenant and in which I have vowed to continue praying and to work at loving my neighbor (among other things), with God’s help.  Praying is an act of love and so, when I get a request, I gladly receive it and strive to honor it to the best of my praying ability.

There’s been a lot of hubbub this week about the prayer service for the President-elect that will be held at the National Cathedral, as is the custom, on the day after the Inauguration.  There are those who are vehemently opposed to opening the doors of this (Episcopal) Cathedral to the in-coming President who, in many ways and on many occasions, has spoken with vitriol and violence and who has demonstrated his ability to demean and take advantage of those who are weak and vulnerable.  There has been a rally cry for the Cathedral, its Dean, the Bishop and the Presiding Bishop to say “no” to the service and to keep the doors of the cathedral locked tight against the new President.

There’s been a parallel story about including the name of the President in the Prayers of the People during our (Episcopal) Sunday celebrations of Holy Eucharist. (Rite One Prayers of the People offers an option to include the names of “those who bear the authority of government in this and every land…” (BCP 329). In Rite Two, Form I invites Prayers for “the President,” Form III includes prayers for “those who govern and hold authority…” and  Form IV has an  option to name persons who are “in positions of public trust.”   Forms II and VI are silent on naming the president or civic leaders specifically, but invite prayers for “goodwill among nations…” and “for all who work for justice, freedom and peace.” (BCP 383-393) There are those who, opposed to the election of the new President, recoil at the thought of hearing his name uttered in church and have asked that these petitions be withdrawn from our services during the next four years. In our diocese, I have had more than one conversation about this.

There is a call for the prophetic voice to bring change.  Do away with the custom of the Inaugural Prayer Service on this occasion, drawing a line in the sand about what the Church will or will not tolerate in the arena of civility, respectable conduct and the use of power.

There has also been a call for praying even harder- on Jan 21st as well as throughout the next four years in our churches- and pouring the anger, fear, anxiety and discontent that some feel into the stream of Christian prayer that has been offered to God for millennia, knowing that God will accept these prayers- and all others- with graciousness and love. There have been comments that when we name our fears and the sources of our anxiety – out loud, in prayer-  that we claim some power over them and become less vulnerable. 

 I do not pray because I believe that my tiny voice can turn God’s heart.
And I do not pray (or withhold my prayers) as an act of conscience.

I pray, because it is how I am in relationship with God.  As a God-lover, follower of Jesus, it is what I know to do, a profound means by which my relationship with the Holy is lived-out, in the quiet corner of my living room as I pray each morning, swaddled in a blanket, a single candle glowing on the table nearby.  It is an important meeting-place for me as I begin my day and come to terms again- with the understanding that the One in Heaven is the one in whom I put my trust, who orders the Universe, in whom I find my Way, my Truth and my Life and in whom I live and move and have my being.    

The prayers that I offer for others?  I do not offer them to God expecting that the weight of my purple-prayers will reach the healing-power-of-God faster or deeper than others, but because by them, I live out an important part of our Christian tradition which is to honor the Incarnation, and to know that in offering the prayers of others, I am drawn closer, ever, to the Christ in our midst; the Christ who suffered on the cross and whom I see in the suffering hearts of those who bid my pleas for their improved health or welfare.   By praying with them, I am brought more deeply into relationship with them, with God and with Jesus and, I believe that it is in the dark folds of these relationships that holy strength is kindled and healing is forged.

So, my dear friends, I am praying for Donald Trump.  Because I believe that it can effect the healing of him (for we are all sinners and have fallen short of the Glory of God); because from prayer, I believe we can derive the strength that we,and our world, so sorely need; and because it is the way in which I gather my own fragile needs and make them real, offering them to God. And, honestly, I pray- for Donald and for others-  because I cannot imagine any other way.

My prayer is the way that I live my life with God and the soil in which all of my relationships are planted and grow.

I pray for you, too.  Every day.  For our diocese and the work that we do as people on God’s mission, for our dear congregations who support each other with Christ-like acts of love and service, for those in our communities who receive the outreach of our parishes, and for those who linger, yet, on the sidewalk, who need God’s love and our invitation to Come, Taste and See.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has offered a word on this subject of prayer, as well.