Thursday, February 23, 2017

identity and place

We are all beloved children of God.

That’s one of the messages that I had thought I might receive at last night’s keynote lecture at the 2017 Humanities Symposium: Slavery and Justice from Antiquity to Present at Messiah College. After a week that had more than its share of cranky meetings, I arrived a little prickly and worn out and an affirming message of our common humanity and God’s love for all of us was something that I would have gladly grabbed and swaddled myself in… but, after the opening moments of our speaker’s address, I realized that, The Rev. Canon Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas had a different message in mind.  This was not going to be a call to common, cuddly mission and identity or even reparation and reconciliation offering a pathway for peace and harmony. Not even close. And my clamoring for a message that was going to give me a soft landing was the icon of irony-  who did I think that I was, slumping into my seat at 7:25 daring to exchange short words born of fatigue and normal work stresses at my dear husband who had just driven me over here?

The Humanities Symposium at Messiah College this year focused on the theme of Slavery and Justice.  The Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas, an Episcopal priest, professor at Goucher College (MD), womanist theologian, leader in the field of racial reconciliation and sexuality and the black church, canon theologian at the National Cathedral,
mother and author, was the keynote speaker.  Her most recent book is Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, released in May 2015 by Orbis Books.     She spoke with deep beauty and personal power about racism in our country-  about the historic and destructive Anglo-Saxon privilege that we have not been able to overcome; about the white need to claim space and the abuse of power that we use to enslave and  imprison people of color in order to keep our white space free and our hearts without fear; and how this sinfulness, this racism, perpetuated by our white-ness and our blind-ness results all too often in the ultimate act of power and fear:  the killing of innocent black men- Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Philandro Castile, to name just three.  The Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas’ words were powerful, articulate and important words to hear.

And they made me uncomfortable as hell.

The reasoned historical analysis that The Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas offered in her lecture did not just provide an understanding of how we got to where we are today- with a disproportionate number of people of color in jail, a disproportionate number of people of color shot dead in traffic stops and a pervasive superiority that infects the hearts and minds of even our youngest school children, acted out on every school playground - The Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas moved on to address her audience at Messiah whom we guessed (including me and the 20 or so local Episcopalians that I had spotted) were mostly Christian.

She issued a stunning call to us as Christians to embrace the way of our crucified Lord and to see that it is through the oppressed and wounded ones that God does God’s work.  She did not call us to minister to the oppressed, wounded and persecuted (though that is the common Christian missiological theme) but instead, she lifted up the theological concept that it is through Christ’s kenosis, his emptying himself in weakness on the cross, through what St. Paul calls the foolishness of the cross, in which our salvation and the hope of our redemption lies.  As the Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas offered this part of her remarks, I remembered my work in the Theology of Disability in which the community of the intellectually, physically and and developmentally disabled have found life-giving hope and redemption in the crucified Christ, the icon of weakness transformed by the power of God into Eternal Glory.

During the Q &A portion of the evening, a student in the audience asked a question inviting The Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas to offer recommendations to people of faith in “white churches” to work for justice and peace.  The answer was stunning- and forgive me if I don’t get it just right- but we were told that there can be no such thing as “White Churches.”   That we cannot identify ourselves as “White” and “Christian” at the same time.  As followers of Jesus, the one who came calling for justice and peace and ushering in God’s reign of love, we cannot identify ourselves simultaneously as both White and followers of Jesus (Christian), for drawing ourselves apart into “white churches” perpetuates the core problem of white Anglo-Saxon privilege born of fear, working to claim ones own “safe, white space.”

The Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas told her story by sharing with us several “talks” that she has had though the years with her son.  The first one- given in the delivery room on the day of his birth- was this:  “You are a beloved son of God.”

The message on Wednesday night- for me as a white woman of privilege- was not that I am beloved child of God, it was that I’ve got work to do.  Even though I don’t think that I’m racist. Even though I innocently bought my house on the “White Shore” because I liked the style of the house and the large wooded lot behind it and the perennial gardens and the quartz countertops in the kitchen.  Even though I preach almost every week on our call to join God’s mission of justice and peace and love.  It’s not enough. There is more to do. And more to do, until we can all look each other in the eye- brown and black and white and tan and all the colors in between- and say to each other, from our hearts, “you, my brother- you, my sister- are a beloved child of God.”

Colleges and Universities have the role and responsibility to open our minds, to continue the growth of knowledge and understanding in this world, and to host difficult and boundary-crossing conversations.  My hat is off to President Dr. Kim Phipps of Messiah College, to Dr. Peter Powers, Dean of the School of Humanities and Dr. Jean Corey, Director of the Center for Public Humanities at Messiah to open themselves and their space for this transformational conversation.  I hope to be able, through the generosity of Messiah College, to offer a recording of the Rev. Canon Dr. Douglas’ lecture on our website when it is available.

Friday, February 17, 2017

traveling light

Part of the life of a bishop involves time on the road.

As a new bishop, I travel to the College of Bishops once per year( for my first 3 years) to meet up with my other new bishop colleagues and the faculty of the “Living our Vows” program to receive training and formation for my work.  As a member of the House of Bishops, we meet twice per year for a week for shared work, education, worship, study and prayer.  As a member of Province Three, there are obligations that take me on the road once or twice a year to connect and collaborate with members of our regional Episcopal dioceses.  I travel at least to one conference or continuing education event per year to learn about and participate in the ongoing development of the Church, and, around the diocese, in the fall, spring and summer months, I spend at least one night a week away from home in a visit to one of our parishes or clergy groups. (In the winter, my assistant Carolyn has wisely scheduled my visitations closer to home.)

In short, this job takes me on the road.

And, I’m a lousy packer.

I bought the biggest suitcase possible for those trips that take me away for a week at a time.
On overnights, I pack one of those carry-ons-on-wheels… and bring along, too, my briefcase, a pocketbook and, usually, an entirely separate bag with whatever weird food trend I am following that month-  protein bars, lots of fresh fruit, vegan soup, or gluten free bread and crackers.  It’s nothing short of ridiculous.   I bring my lap top for work, my tablet for reading and video entertainment, a cell phone (of course) and all of the attendant chargers.  I’ve learned to travel with a power strip to accommodate the massive need to plug in.  I pack toiletries and jewelry and do not forget to be grateful that my short haircut does not require that I also drag around a blow-dryer and lots of “hair product.”  My “uniform” allows for wardrobe planning around the magenta shirt and collar (some other time I‘ll share with you the fashion-fun of coordinating one’s wardrobe with the color purple) so there are a lot of black skirts and black tights and black jackets in the bag.  But- what if there’s a night when I can wear jeans on the trip?  And what about sweaters, and warm clothes and “dressing in layers?” I need a sweatshirt and leggings for sleep and a separate outfit for my morning exercise and sneakers and work shoes and boots and… my husband always cheers on the addition of a raincoat- just in case.  Thank God for and that provide on-line resources for daily devotions and study.  I don’t have to bring along an entire library with me anymore. (though I always have a hard copy Bible and BCP in my car, just in case.)

Jesus had a different way.

The gospel of Mark (6: 6-9) tells us:
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

No suitcase on wheels, electronic potpourri and special food bag for the disciples, I guess.
They traveled light-  with the authority to heal and the power of the Good News of God’s Kingdom come close.  That’s it.  They were at the mercy of their hosts to receive food enough, adequate lodging and whatever they needed to sustain themselves, day by day, as they did God’s work.  In this pared-down life, you have to imagine that the disciples were able to focus more on the work at hand, and not on dragging things around behind them.  They were more vulnerable, yes, dependent on their neighbors for sustenance, but spiritually, less burdened down by the weight of their former possessions.

Simplifying is not an uncommon spiritual movement that marks for many of us the season of Lent-  making a shift in the ways that we do things including- for some of us-  a simplifying of spiritual practices. As we can see Lent coming, now just around the corner, I am beginning to consider how I might implement some spiritual- and material- lightening up, in this season.

I usually shift my devotional practice by season and find that Lent is a good time to take on, again, contemplative prayer- the simple and profound practice of sitting, silently, in God’s presence for several minutes a day.  While I love the rhythm and comfort of the Daily Office, the space and discipline of contemplative prayer is very good.  I don’t know if I can change my patterns of wardrobe- cultural convention demands certain things-  but I am going to spend some time in the next couple of weeks as we get closer to Lent thinking about shifts that I might make… and what it would be like to be a little more vulnerable, leaning on the kindness of others, to fill in the gaps if I forget an extra pair of socks or a raincoat …and what it might be like to drink tap water in the hotel instead of lugging along a twelve pack of grapefruit-scented seltzer in my trunk.

Small shifts can result in some profound spiritual lessons.  I’m looking to lighten up.  How about you?


Friday, February 10, 2017

in transit

Dear friends,

This morning finds me on an airplane winging my way back from a 48-hour trip to Austin, TX.
It was a whirlwind, but so worth it.

I was there to meet with the WEEL (Women Empowering Executive Leadership) project, a group of Episcopal women priests who are interested in discerning their gifts of leadership and ways to work towards gender balance in our House of Bishops.  Many of our women bishops in the church have worked with other cohorts of this project-  I was honored to meet with this new cohort group as they gathered for the first time.  It is a project in which the group will get together several times over the next 12-18 months to support each other in discernment.  The Rev. Helen Svoboda-Barber is the organizer of this initiative-  she's done a nice job getting a great group from all over the US in one room.  (And she's looking for others who are interested in future cohort groups. Let me know if you are interested, and I'll connect you.)

So-  even though I'm still young in my field (17 months a bishop, just 14 years ordained all together), I have been thrust into my "crone years."  I hardly feel ready.  That's the thing, isn't it?  I remember my mother, when she was 84, told me that she still felt 25 inside.

My own discernment for the episcopate was... on the fly, since I never imagined myself leaving my home and deep roots in CT (except, maybe, for that Maine island retirement for which I'm holding out) and, every day, I continue to discover what the calling of the episcopate is- and how God has laid a claim on me for these next several years.  It is exciting and still, new every day.

And so-  I'll be answering emails in Chicago on my 3 hour layover, maybe treating myself to a little Netflix on the last leg home, and thinking of all of you with great affection- especially those in Central PA- who occupy my days and nights, are the focus of my energy and inhabit the beautiful place in which God is revealed to me, again and again, each day.

I am grateful for you, and hopeful for the Church.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Leading of the Spirit

Feast of the Presentation 2017
(2 February)

William Barclay, Scottish bible scholar and author of the quaint and dated (1953) commentary on Holy Scriptures, identified Simeon and the prophetess Anna in the story of the Presentation of Jesus as among the “Quiet of the Land.”   Noted for their steadfast faith, patience and hopeful outlook, Simeon and Anna waited in the Jerusalem temple for the arrival of their salvation.  They were not given to protesting, acts of violence or unleashing “armies with banners,” as Barclay put it, but chose, even in the face of chaos and oppression, to wait it out and to be confident in their eventual redemption.

In these recent days, I have thought about Simeon and Anna.

The changes in the tone and texture of our country have changed, dramatically, since the inauguration, and I have been watching the reaction of those around me, carefully, as I have been keeping one eye on the news.  One eye on the news, the other on our people, here in Central Pennsylvania. 

I read in the pages of social media about the despair that people are feeling and their loss of hope. Many of these voices are members of our Episcopal Church in Central Pennsylvania.  And, I am keenly aware of the voices that I am not hearing.  My responsibility is to care for, tend and support all of those in our Church who are within our diocese, to maintain and build relationships with our ecumenical and interfaith partners, and to explore how our ties to community can be strengthened, bringing the light of Christ to places where he is yet unknown.

The ordination vows of a bishop include promises to “boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlighten the minds and stir(ing) up the conscience of the people and show compassion to the poor and strangers, defending those who have no helper,” among other things. (BCP pg. 518)

I want to find ways to engage in dialogue with those in our diocese who want and need to talk. I pray for the open sharing of ideas, respectful listening, and exchange of points of view that will allow us to grow together in Christ. 

I am also compelled to share my own interpretation of the current events with those whom I serve and to share how I perceive Christ’s call to us in this world.  For it is my Christian identity that matters most to me, and the values of Christianity- love, justice, and peace- which influence my actions.  In my heart, I live in fervent hope, and, by nature of my vocation, I am called to speak out against injustice and to proclaim Good News when I see it.

How is the Spirit leading you in these days?