Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

Bishop's Writings

Personal Finance Seminar for Parish Clergy and Lay Leaders

September 12, 2019

Jesus said, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much. . . You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Luke 16: 10; 13

Whenever I ask congregational leaders how the diocese could serve them, the issue of money almost always comes up. The daunting task of raising sufficient funds to support the congregation’s ministry, maintain its buildings and property, and adequately provide for its clergy weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of our leaders. 

For that reason, a few years ago we established the Financial Resources Committee, run by a small group of people passionate about Jesus, the Church’s mission, and how to fund it. Since its inception, the group has worked to provide leaders with strategic resources, including the debut of the Annual Giving Toolkit (If you’re in charge of your parish’s campaign this fall, I encourage you to explore this trove of helpful material). 

Yet as Episcopalians, we have a tendency to talk to one another as if we all have a healthy relationship with money and no trouble managing our personal finances. While we know that isn’t true, rarely do we discuss personal finances not as a stewardship issue for the church--but as a critical dimension of individual and family well-being, and yes, spiritual freedom. 

A few gifted members of the Financial Resources Committee with professional expertise in financial planning have been hard at work to change that. They’ve spent fruitful time researching and curating resources to help us all address concerns of financial health for our members and clergy at every stage of life. They are now ready to share their findings and knowledge with parish clergy and lay leaders at a two-session, all-day presentation on Thursday, October 10. Please read below for more information and register if you are able to attend. 

I will be there, fully expecting to gain insight for myself. I look forward to learning alongside all who can join us, as we work to create a church where we can talk about our struggles with money honestly and open ourselves to the wisdom and freedom that Jesus wants for us all.

From the Personal Finance subcommittee leaders:

The Bible references money and possessions 2,350 times. That’s a lot. It’s more than Jesus talked about love, and more than he talked about heaven and hell combined. It’s almost as if God knew we would need direction and clarity on the whole money and stuff issue. And yet, many of us aren’t as intentional with our money as we would like to be, let alone, consider what our faith guides us to do with this resource.

As part of the Financial Resources Committee, we have created a two session program for delivery to the parishes in our diocese. We are inviting you and your significant other to participate in the initial presentation on Thursday, October 10 from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. at Grace Church in Silver Spring at 1607 Grace Church Rd, Silver Spring MD 20910.

During our time together, you will engage in two sessions that have been designed for our parishioners. The morning session focuses on providing a context for a faith based approach to money management and then centers on financial fundamentals. There will be discussion and exercises for identifying where you and your significant other (as applicable) currently are financially; and then give you a strategy to deliberately chart a course going forward that will align your values with your resources.  

We will break and share lunch together before reconvening for the second session. 

The afternoon session dives into specific financial topics (philanthropy, retirement planning, estate planning, college funding, insurance, etc) that are familiar to many, yet often also a bit of a mystery to many. We believe you will walk away with less mystery and a clearer picture of how they can specifically move forward in the areas that are most important to you.

Aside from the personal value we hope you will gain from this time together, we will also seek your feedback as we hope to roll out to EDOW parishes in the coming months. 

Please indicate your attendance by registering here. While these sessions are intended to be delivered together, if you cannot commit to the full day, we ask that you attend the morning session.

If you are unable to attend, please extend this invitation to another leader in your parish who you believe could represent your congregation and offer feedback as well as serve as an advocate when we roll out to the parishes. We are very excited and hopeful about the potential this program can bring to our parishioners and look forward to seeing you on October 10.

If you have any questions about the day, please email our team



Created to Walk on Water

September 08, 2019

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased, and those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God." 
Matthew 14: 22-34

Let me begin by saying how grateful I am for the faithfulness of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church. When I think of all you’ve been through in the eight years I have served as your bishop and the many ways you strive to love God and your neighbors, sustain your church family, and raise your children well, I’m filled with awe. Father Lewis has told me of your good ministry this summer--another successful Vacation Bible School, your ongoing monthly meal program, your commitment to provide scholarships for your college bound students and steady commitment to the children and young people of the congregation.  

You give of yourselves in this way in the midst of all that your personal lives ask of you, with all their challenges and blessings. So today I pray that you may feel God’s love and Jesus’ abiding presence, that you sense in a real way how the Spirit is guiding you and giving you strength. On the days when God seems distant and, like Simon Peter, you feel yourself starting to sink, may others be God’s instruments, reaching out their hands to lift you up.  

Now I know from experience that one of the first things we let go of when life gets stressful is the very thing we need most. So I encourage you, as your bishop, to take time each day for quiet prayer. Sit in a chair in silence for as little as ten minutes, or turn off the radio while driving in your car; or don’t wear earphones when taking a walk, and offer that time to God. Turn your gaze toward Jesus. 

I also encourage you to read from the Bible each day, and in particular, from the life and teachings of Jesus. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar and you don’t need to read for hours. Simply start with one of the gospels and read a portion every day. When you come across something you don’t understand or agree with, you can do  one of two things: dig a little deeper to learn more about that passage or skip it and keep reading until some word speaks to you. Go to the Bible, not so much for answers as for strength, guidance, and inspiration. 

As I thought about what word I might offer you today, the biblical story that came to mind was the one you just heard Fr. Lewis read about Jesus and Peter walking on the water. It’s a story that is speaking to me as your bishop, and, I believe, for all of us in the Diocese of Washington for reasons I hope this sermon will help explain. 

Let me begin by putting the story in its context. We find it in Matthew chapter 14, which is exactly the halfway mark of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life. In the chapters leading up to this one, we see Jesus at the height of his influence and fame in the region around the Sea of Galilee, which is in northern Israel, not far from the village of Nazareth where he grew up. Large crowds had begun to follow him and his disciples wherever they went, so drawn were people to Jesus’ teachings and healing.

Jesus and the disciples had been hard at work teaching and healing throughout the Gallian countryside. But then word came to them that Herod, the puppet ruler for the Roman Empire, had killed John the Baptist. When Jesus heard the news of John’s death, he abruptly withdrew by boat to a deserted place by himself to pray. He was grief-stricken and needed to spend time alone with God. But when the crowd realized that Jesus had left, many followed him on foot, because they still needed and wanted more from him. When he saw the crowds, even in his personal sorrow, Jesus was filled with compassion. So he and his disciples worked another long day, curing the sick and offering words of hope. You know that wasn’t easy. You know what it’s like to set aside your own needs in order to be present for another. It’s humbling and gratifying to feel God can carry us through those times when we’re called to focus on others when we ourselves are in need. 

When evening came, the very tired disciples urged Jesus to send the crowds away, as there was no food to provide for so many. Instead, Jesus asked the disciples what they had to offer. You remember this story: all they had was a few loaves of bread and some fish, not nearly enough to feed so many hungry people. But Jesus told them to offer what they had, no matter how insufficient. And from their offering, which Jesus blessed and gave back to them to distribute, there was more than enough for everyone, with food to spare. So like Jesus in his fatigue, the disciples experienced in their inadequate offering how God meets us in the gap of what we have to give and what is needed, and then works through us, enabling us to do what we could never accomplish on our own. 

But now Jesus was truly exhausted and he told the disciples (which is where we pick up the story today) to go on ahead of him by boat and he’ll catch up with them later. He didn’t say how he would catch up with them, only that he would. While the disciples were on the water, a storm came and strong waves battered the boat. The wind remained against them, such that they couldn’t make their way toward land. So they were stuck in the middle of the lake all night with a storm raging. Most of the disciples were professional fishermen, so they knew what to do. Nonetheless, you can imagine how exhausted they were. Then early in the morning, the disciples looked out on the water and saw someone walking toward them, on the water. They thought they were hallucinating. But instead, incredibly enough, they heard Jesus say, “Take heart. Don’t be afraid. It is I.” 

Simon Peter, as you may remember, was by far the most impulsive of the disciples and the most eager to be at Jesus’ side. So when he heard Jesus say, “It is I,” walking on the water, he wanted to go out there, too. “If it’s really you, Jesus,” he said, “command me to come to you.” Jesus did, and Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water towards him. He actually walked on water for a few steps, until the wind began to blow and he got scared. Sinking, he cried out to Jesus, and Jesus grabbed his hand, lifted him up, and together they climbed into the boat.

This may sound like a fantastic story and it is. But here’s the takeaway: each and every one of you has walked on water, and more than once. Perhaps not in the way that Simon Peter did, but in other ways just as important, just as miraculous. Every time you tried to do something that you’ve never done before, you were walking on water. Every time you stretch beyond your capacities, you were walking on water. Every time you took a risk--perhaps inspired by someone else doing the same, as Simon Peter was by Jesus’ example--you were walking on water. And you weren’t being superhuman those times. You were being the most human, and in your finest hour. We were created to walk on water.  

In truth, you’ve walked on water all your life. In childhood, everything before you was something you’d never done before--do you remember? The first time you rode a bicycle, or swam on your own, or mastered a skill, solved a problem, or fell in love. I remember when one of our sons broke his arm, badly, when he was eight years old. He needed to have surgery, and as I stood beside his cot about to wheeled into the operating room, he panicked. He didn’t want to go. At that moment, the anesthesiologist, who happened to be a member of the congregation I was serving as rector at the time, came to his bedside and calmly explained what would happen when they passed through the swinging doors. Our son listened, trying not to cry. Then he took a deep breath and to me, “Tell them to take me in now.” And off he went, facing the unknown with such courage, and--this is important--a friend at his side, like Jesus alongside Simon Peter, who said, “I’m right here. You can do this.”  

We walk on water when we climb the stairs of a new school, sleep in our own apartment for the first time, make a terrible mistake and have to pay the consequences, commit to someone or something not knowing if we can keep our word, join the military, or move to a new county. We walk on water whenever we have to face something really hard--the hardest thing, what we dread most. 

Walking on water isn’t just a Christian experience. It’s a human experience. But what makes walking on water a faith experience is when we sense that it’s Jesus calling us out of our boat onto the water. “If it’s you, Jesus,” Simon Peter said, “command me to come to you.” When it’s Jesus calling us out, and we take those first steps toward him, our relationship with him moves to a new level of intimacy and trust.   

When I was 17, I heard Jesus call me out on the water, which involved leaving my home in Colorado where I had lived for many years with my father, and return to live with my mother in New Jersey. It’s a long and complex story, but the call was clear. I got on that airplane and cried the entire way, for I was leaving what felt at the time was my entire life. But I also knew that it was the right thing to do, and that I wasn’t alone. 

That experience pales in comparison to Father Lewis’ story. When he was 24, he traveled by himself from Sierra Leone to the United States. I suspect that others here can tell of a similar journey, that either you or your parents took. What kind of faith does it take to travel halfway around the world? 

Sometimes when Jesus calls us out, we’re excited to go, as Simon Peter was. And sometimes, we dread stepping out, wanting more than anything to stay right where we are. In the end, it doesn’t matter. We take those first steps; more often than not, we sink; then somehow we’re lifted up and we keep going. 

To those being confirmed in the way of Jesus today, know that part of being a Jesus follower is to be called out of your boat and onto the water. Listen for his voice calling you from time to time, from where you are now to a place of great adventure. At other times, when life itself seems to thrust you into a new and unfamiliar place, or asks of you something you’ve never done before, go ahead and take your first step. Then look around for a loving presence, a supportive hand. Remember you were made to walk on water. 

For those of you, like me, who have lived a good many years, rest assured that there is more water walking in our future as well. Sometimes we will respond to the call with a spirit of adventure and other times it will be the thing we dread most. Either way, if it’s Jesus calling us out, we can trust that we’ll be okay, no matter what happens. 

And to all who belong to this beloved congregation of St. Michael and All Angels, you know what it feels like to walk on water together. That’s a good thing, because it’s clear that you’re being prepared to step out of the boat again. I’m not sure what it will look like, but I know this: we serve a faithful God, and a loving Savior who is not daunted by our human limitations. In fact, God seems to prefer to work through our limitations, making miracles happen along the way. Remember that you were created--we all were created--to walk on water, putting our trust in who calls us out and whose hand is there to catch us when we fall. 

 

Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump

July 31, 2019

Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump

 

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington

The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral

The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral

 

The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressed outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent.

 As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ­– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough? 

 As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history:

 “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. …  You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

 That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free reign to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.

 In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?

 We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.

 This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?

 Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.

These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

 When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president's sense of decency, but of ours.

 As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated.  To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.

 There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

 That remains our prayer today for us all.

Religious Faith and Public Life: The Voices of America

July 07, 2019

It’s been quite a week in our nation’s capital, with a lot of anxiety leading up to the July 4th celebrations, and endless conversation about President Trump’s decision to highlight the four branches of the military with tanks and flyovers on the National Mall and to give a speech of his own. While extreme in comparison to celebrations of memory, it was a predictable spectacle. July 4th is an unapologetically patriotic holiday, and it always serves to highlight what we love most about our country--and we don’t all love the same things--even as we pray, in the words of our beloved anthem America, the Beautiful, that God mend our every flaw.

One of the many things I love about our country is the relationship between religious faith and public life in this country, for all its contradictions and distortions. In the United States, religious freedom is a sacred trust, and our highest spiritual aspirations are what have inspired us over the centuries to face our flaws and by the grace of God amend them.

My offering today is a mediation on the relationship between faith and public life, beginning with words read aloud in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness...We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States…And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.”

Apparently just after the Declaration had been signed, Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and one of the signers, overhead a conversation between Benjamin Harrison of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry,” said Harrison, “when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of yours you will dance in the air for an hour or two before you are dead.” No event in American history that, in retrospect, has seemed so inevitable was at the time more unlikely and doomed to failure than the American Revolution itself.  (Quoted in The Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph J. Ellis, Vintage Books Edition, 2002, p.5)

Fast forward to another sweltering summer day in Philadelphia, in late June, 1787. The war against Britain is over. The colonies are free and independent, but their relationship to each other is, to put it kindly, weak and poorly defined. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention have been meeting for a month, a month of deep distrust and bitter quarreling. The elder statesman, Benjamin Franklin, who has not yet spoken at this Convention, rises, at last, to address the delegates:

“The small progress we have made after four or five weeks’ close attention and continual reasoning with each other, our sentiments different on almost every question…is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of human understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running all about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and we have viewed modern states all around Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances. In this situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark to find political truth… how has it happened that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understanding? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers were heard and they were graciously answered… I have lived a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men... We have been assured in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without God’s incurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building not better than the builders of Babel…”

Franklin ended his speech with a motion to hold prayers every morning that the delegation was in session, a motion that was almost unanimously defeated. But his point was made, and heard, that their efforts could not be successful without mutual sacrifice and a summoning of their best and most creative efforts. (Quote in The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, by Jacob Needleman, Penguin Press, 2002, pp.63-64)

What they finally produced, the Constitution for the United States, is our nation’s most significant and enduring political document. “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

We owe its creation and success to the diverse personalities and ideologies present in one room all through that long, hot summer. Not one was completely satisfied with their final product. But in the end they trusted the wisdom of the collective; they were willing to compromise and institutionalize the inevitability of political disagreement. It helped that these men, political allies and adversaries alike, all knew each other well. They had shared meals together, sat together at countless meetings, and corresponded with each other on private as well as public matters. Some of them, when they weren’t working on forming the governance of the country, were forming the governance of the Episcopal Church, which had its beginnings in the same revolutionary, democratic spirit that formed our nation.

It is also true, painfully so, that our nation’s founding generation deliberately deferred for future generations the most divisive issue between them—that of slavery, so clearly incompatible with the principles of the freedom and equality. They all knew it. Some agonized over it more than others; most believed, rightly or wrongly, that the nation would not survive the debate, should it be taken up at its founding.  Could they have forseen how their decision would cost untold millions of people, both who endured the lash of slavery and those who died 100 years later in the effort to end it? 

In March of 1865, as President Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address, he didn’t know if the nation would survive the war that slavery had wrought, and he invokes the will of God in a particularly haunting way:

“Fellow countrymen: .. . On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it…Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.

“One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the nation, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war... Yet neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration of which it has already attained...

“Each looked for an easier triumph… Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any man dare ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes… If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God he wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn from the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous all together.’ With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

The nation did survive, even without Lincoln to guide it. Still another war raged on, however, for America was not able to live at peace with the nations it encountered on the soil it claimed as its own. Surely the genocide of the native peoples of this land is as great a stain on our nation as that of the slavery, but it is a sin largely to us, for we do not know what our ancestors destroyed. In 1909, Chief Plenty Coup of the Crown Nation conferred with his tribal council on achieving peace between all the great tribes of the United States. At the age of 63 years, Chief Plenty Coup had witnessed the forced removal of Native Americans from their homes, the undermining of treaties by the US government, and the steady encroachment of white settlers on Native American land. But as the Crow Nation prepared for a meeting with the chiefs of the other Indian nations, Chief Plenty Coup knew that the end for his people had all but come. It was time to build a legacy of peace between the Crows and the other nations.

“The ground on which we stand is sacred ground. It is the dust and blood of our ancestors. On these plains the Great White Father in Washington sent his soldiers with long knives and rifles to slay the Indian… A few more passing suns will see us here no more, and our dust and bones will mingle with these same prairies. I see as in a vision the dying speak of our council fires, the ashes cold and white. I see no longer the curling smoke rising from our lodge poles. I hear no longer the songs of the women as they prepare the meal. The antelope have gone; the buffalo wallows are empty. The white man’s medicine is stronger than ours; his iron horse rushes over the buffalo trail. He talks to us through his ‘whispering spirit.’ We are like birds with a broken wing.

Before our red brothers pass on to the happy hunting round, let us bury the tomahawk. Let us break our arrows. Let us wash off our war paint in the river. I will send my runners to the lodges of the Blackfeet in the north, to the fiery desert of the Apaches in the south. I will send them east to the lodges of the Sioux, warriors who have met us in many a hard battle. I will have outliers build smoke signals on the hills, calling the chiefs of all the tribes together, that we may meet here as brothers and friends in one great last council, that we may eat our bread and meat together, and smoke the council pipe, and say farewell as brothers, never to meet again.”  (From In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century, Robert Torricelli and Andrew Carroll, editors, Kodansha International, 1999, p.25)

Twenty chiefs accepted Plenty Coup’s invitation, and in September 1909, the Last Great Indian Council was held in the valley of Little Big Horn in Montana. All agreed to terms of peace. 

These are but a few of the great voices of our America. I could go on, to read the words of those who continued the struggle for justice African Americans during the long era of Jim Crow, lynchings, and the Great Migration; those who fought for women’s suffrage and worker’s rights, those who resisted the Nazis, welcomed immigrants, and worked for Civil Rights, those who considered it their patriotic duty to question the foreign policy of our government even as they were accused of betrayal and even treason. We have much in our history to make us both proud and ashamed, to both humble and inspire us. Never should we be persuaded by those too hardened and cynical to see our nation’s goodness; never should we be seduced by those who cannot see, much less repent of our sins. As with each person here, our country is a combination of all that defines human existence, sin alongside saintliness, with a good deal of mediocrity and quiet heroism all around.

I close with excerpts from the sermon that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached the night before he was killed. Against the advice of many, King had traveled to Memphis to stand in solidarity with the city’s sanitation workers who were on strike for better pay and working conditions. The last part of his sermon is well known, for he seems to know that death is near: God has allowed him to go the mountaintop, he said, and there he saw the Promised Land. “I may not get there with you,” he said, “but I am here to tell you that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” 

The first part of the sermon is equally compelling. He begins with a statement of heart-breaking candor: 

“I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled. Life is a continual story of shattered dreams... Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying, ‘It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow but it’s good that it is within your heart. It’s good that you are trying. You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality.’” 

He also gave an interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan that epitomizes how King lived his life, from those early days in Montgomery right to the end. He began by contrasting the actions of the priest and the Levite who passed the wounded man on the roadside with that of the Samaritan who stopped and offered help. “I think those men were afraid. And so the first question the priest and Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ That’s the question before you tonight. Not, ‘If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job, or my normal duties as a pastor?’ The question is not, ‘If I stop to help people in need, what will happen to me?’ The question is ‘If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.”  (The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, p.363)

For those of us called to follow Jesus, in our moment of this country’s history, it’s our question, too.

Let the Children Come

June 27, 2019

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’
Matthew 19:14

Like many, I am trying to better understand and respond to reports of how unaccompanied children or those separated from their parents are being treated in US custody at the southern border and in detention centers across the country. Add to that the staggering number of people fleeing their countries and seeking refuge here, and the specter of mass deportation of those whose asylum requests have been denied, and the word “crisis” hardly begins to describe what we’re facing as a nation. 

In times like these, I am grateful for the bonds that unite us across Episcopal Church and the ways we can work together to alleviate suffering and stand for justice. I draw strength and inspiration from the example of others. 

Last week Bishop David Reed of the Diocese of West Texas, which shares 500 border miles with Mexico, wrote to the people of his diocese:

As the immigration crisis continues to roil and divide our beloved country, we find our souls as stressed as our legal and political systems. Our desire to act wisely and compassionately, to “Walk in love, as Christ loved us,” collides with the enormity and complexity of the issues. What we are experiencing within the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas is only a small piece of the human migration occurring worldwide, a movement of peoples that will likely be with us for many years to come.

A simple solution to this crisis does not exist, but we can be instruments of God's grace and peace. We cannot do everything, but for Christ's sake, we can do something.

A number of our clergy and people are doing something to alleviate the human suffering along the border and farther north. I commend them for the hope and healing they offer, for their persistent love in the face of suffering . . . They are seeking to serve Christ in the person standing in front of them, whether asylum seeker or Border Patrol agent. Our clergy and churches did not go looking for this ministry; they did not rally to "an issue." They are seeking to respond faithfully to those in need arriving in their communities and on their doorstep.

We can and should, and desperately need to, have informed, respectful debate on our country’s immigration laws and policies. But the time for that is not when a weary, confused, and hungry person stands before you, whether that person wears tattered clothes or a dark green uniform.

To be angry and resentful is easy, a reaction that takes little imagination. To become cynical is to reject the hope of Christ. To love and to care is much harder, requiring that we extend grace and mercy to one another and to ourselves, but acting in love and choosing to care is the life into which we've been baptized. To love and to care is the Way of Christ, and the way of the Kingdom.

Many thanks to those who have contacted me, asking for ways that we, as individuals and a diocese, can choose to love and to care. Here are but a few of the ways we can be of help to those in desperate need, and work for just and compassionate immigration policies.

1. Ministries on the Border

  • The Diocese of West Texas has a broad array of Immigration Ministries in towns at the US-Mexico border that would benefit from financial and material support. 

  • The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has partnered with Catholic Charities in McAllen, Texas to provide basic needs for the 400-600 asylum seekers that arrive daily. Here are ways we can support them.  

 2. Local Ministries 

  • To donate locally, where family separation is happening as well, please consider Congregation Action Network, (formerly DMV Sanctuary Congregation Network). The network is a coalition of multifaith congregations whose primary focus is deportation defense, family support, community education and action. The Network has active clusters working locally in Montgomery, Prince George counties, DC and Northern VA. You can donate or learn more at Congregation Action Network.

  • The CAIR coalition-- Capital Area Immigrants' Rights Coalition strives to ensure equal justice for all immigrants. Their Detained Children’s Program provides legal services to unaccompanied immigrant children detained by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at juvenile facilities in Maryland and Virginia. 
  • If you would like to help locally, please email our diocesan Latino Missioner, the Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin or call 202-537-6441. 

3. Advocacy for Immigration Reform

As Bishop Reed reminds us, to be angry and cynical requires nothing from us. And for Christians, hopelessness in the face of hardship is not an option. We cannot do everything. But in the name of Jesus, we can do something, and for the children’s sake, we must. 

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