Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

Bishop's Writings Author: The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde


February 22, 2018

A police officer takes away protest signs on May 3, 1963. Moments later firemen hosed demonstrators. (Ed Jones/The Birmingham News)

A police officer takes away protest signs on May 3, 1963. Moments later firemen hosed demonstrators.
(Ed Jones/The Birmingham News)


Jesus said, “Let the 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

I think we were the pivotal point that caused some changes to take place in society. I think the nation was so outraged by how children were being treated . . .
Janice Kelsey, Participant in the Children’s Crusade, May 2nd, 1963.

In the spring of 1963, leaders of the Civil Rights Movement feared they were losing momentum in the Birmingham, Alabama campaign. White officials, led by the infamous Bull Connor, wielded the full power of a police state to deny black citizens basic civil and human rights. Violence was their tool of intimidation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and others had been beaten and jailed for their efforts, but the mass movement needed to awaken the nation’s conscience failed to materialize. African American adults feared house bombings, threats against their families and losing their jobs if they joined the protests. White religious leaders chastised King for stirring up trouble. The press was losing interest in Birmingham, as was much of the country.

But among young African Americans, the passion for justice was growing. Hundreds of teenagers and elementary-aged children began showing up at mass meetings. Fearing for their safety, King was initially reluctant to allow young people to participate in the resistance, but then realized he could not stop them.  

On Thursday, May 2nd, 1963, more than a thousand children and teenagers defied a court injunction prohibiting them to march on the streets of Birmingham. Police arrested them all. The next day a thousand more took to the streets. Police met them with fire hoses set at pressures strong enough to tear flesh. When water did not deter them, the police used billy clubs and dogs. Still the young kept coming. “Don’t worry about your children,” King told frantic parents gathered in a mass meeting. “They are suffering for what they believe, and they are suffering to make this nation a better nation.”  

If you don’t know the story of the Children’s Crusade of 1963, now is a good time to learn. For we are witnessing a similar rising up of young people. Student leaders around the country are stepping in where adults have failed, compelling our elected leaders to address the issue of gun violence. What began as a call from survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting has become a national movement.

We can ensure that they do not march alone.

To date, there are 63 marches organizing around the country for March 24th, with thousands planning to come Washington, D.C. The Diocese of Washington is preparing to join the marchers and welcome them with the best of our hospitality. We’re looking for churches where marchers can sleep, find respite during the day and food for the journey. More than a dozen churches are leading the way. We’re also organizing EDOW youth and all who wish to walk in solidarity with them to take part on this historic march. With our ecumenical and interfaith partners we are planning a pre-march vigil on Friday evening March 23. We'll have more information soon.

We are not alone in this work. The country’s conscience has been awakened and people from all sectors, many faiths, and every point on the political spectrum are responding. You can learn more about the Episcopal Church’s national efforts on the Bishops United Against Gun Violence Facebook page.

If you are interested in being part of EDOW’s ministry of solidarity and hospitality, please let us know. Plans are still fluid, but we will keep you informed each step of the way.

It’s a privilege and great responsibility to be present and awake at pivotal moments like these. I give thanks for the young people who are leading the way.

Learn more
on opportunities and information related to March for Our Lives. 


Wilderness Training (St. Thomas', DC)

February 18, 2018

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Mark 1:9-15

Preachers are often counseled to address from the pulpit whatever issues they know are on people’s mind when the come to church. While everything I have to say today has been informed by the events of the past week and all that has led up to them, I won’t touch upon them directly. So before going on, might we pause together and allow God’s grace to meet us in silence as we offer our sighs too deep for words on behalf of those killed or forever marked by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and for the 800,000 young people fearing deportation from the only country they’ve known as home.

The day after President Trump’s election, we held a service at Washington National Cathedral. We had planned it for weeks, recognizing that no matter the election’s outcome, we would need to pray for our nation. The biblical image that came to mind for me that day was exile. Many of us woke up feeling exiled in our own land. And we knew, that had the election gone the other way, at least as many others would have felt the same way. In fact, one of the more theologically conservative priests of the diocese wrote me afterwards to say that he was among those who have felt in exile not only in the country but in the Episcopal Church for a very long time. Regardless, then, of where we stand on any theological or political spectrum, exile is an experience common to all.

Today I’d like to reframe our experience of the times we live in through the lens of another biblical image given to us every year at beginning of Lent--that of wilderness. The season of Lent, as you know, is patterned on Jesus’ time in the wilderness, when he was driven by the Spirit after his baptism to the wilderness. He was there for 40 days and 40 nights, mirroring the ancient Israelites’ 40 years in wilderness after their escape from slavery in Egypt.

Wilderness and exile have a lot in common. They are seasons and states of dislocation and disorientation. We rarely choose to go to either place, but are instead driven there, as Jesus was, by circumstances or forces larger than we are. While the terrain may be similar, the reasons we’re there and the work given us could not be more different. In exile, we must learn to make our home in a new place, much like the refugee family  you are preparing to welcome. In contrast, when we enter a wilderness, we’re never meant to stay there. It’s a pass-through place, on the way to somewhere else.

The wilderness is a place of testing, of trial and transformation. We aren’t in control of what happens to us in the wilderness, but how we respond to our circumstances and what God is doing in the midst of them will, in large measure, determine the direction of our lives and the impact of our witness when we’re on the other side--and we will get to the other side someday, when we are ready. You know, it wasn’t physical distance that kept the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land, but rather their spiritual capacity to live as free people. It took them that long to able to live as free people.

So if we’re in wilderness now, let’s get our bearings so that we can be open to all that God wants us to teach, so that we, too, can move on.

Remember that being in a wilderness isn’t necessarily an indication that we’ve done something wrong. While it is, by definition, a hard place, landing there can be one of the best things that ever happen to us. The wilderness is where Jesus went, as Frederick Buechner once said, “to learn what it meant to be Jesus.” It’s where we learn something of who we are and what matters most. It’s where we learn to distinguish the essential from the trivial, and discover how little we actually need.

The wilderness is a lean place--you get what you need there, but not much more than that. There is a nomadic quality to it, which I’m sure as a church you can relate to. While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they complained of hunger and became nostalgic for their days in slavery, when at least they were given something to eat. So God sent them manna, a bland sticky grain that they could gather each morning, enough for the day. The day before Sabbath, they could gather for enough for two days, but otherwise if they tried to hoard or keep manna it would rot. The lesson is clear enough: in the wilderness, you get your daily bread from God, no less and no more. It isn’t the greatest bread, either, but it will keep you alive.

I once heard someone describe the kind of guidance God gives in the wilderness as that which comes to you one piece at a time. You receive an insight to act upon; after you do, the next bit comes to you, and then the next, each step requiring some response. The novelist E.L. Doctorow likened the work of writing a novel to driving the fog with your headlights on. You can’t see far in front of you, he said, but you can make the entire journey that way. Traveling in the wilderness can feel like that—moving forward according to the dim light you’re given, without being sure of the destination.   

There’s also a sense of cleansing that’s part of the wilderness experience, shedding patterns or ways of being that no longer suit us. Years ago, Anne Lamott told a story of a time went she went dress shopping with her dying friend, Pam. Modeling one dress that she especially liked, she asked her Pam if it made her look fat. Her dying friend was quiet for a moment and then said, “Annie, I don’t you think have that kind of time.” Is there anything you don’t you have time for anymore, some way of being yourself that no longer suits you? In the wilderness, you’re invited to lay it down.

We exercise new spiritual muscles in the wilderness. Sometimes we feel very far from God and must learn the disciplines to keep our own candles burning, but it’s also possible to feel an extraordinary connection to God, even in desolation.

I first met Bishop Gene Robinson years before his election. He had come to the Diocese of Minnesota to lead a clergy conference sometime in the late 1990s. He spoke to us of his wilderness time when he decided at last to be honest with himself and all around him about his identity as a gay man. That honesty resulted in the loss of his marriage, the daily joys of parenting his children, and the near loss of his vocation in the church.  “I crawled into bed each night,” he said, “with only my integrity and relationship to God intact. And I learned that those two things were enough.”

There’s something exhilarating about knowing God that way, and knowing that we are mentally and spiritually prepared to face just about anything. “I know that I will never be afraid of anything again,” I heard someone say, after facing his greatest fear. “I know that I will never be someone's good little girl again,” said another, after facing a mean-spirited authority figure and holding her ground. These are wilderness statements.

The last thing I’ll say about the wilderness, echoing Bishop Robinson’s words, is that it is a place of tremendous honesty and integrity. It’s where you learn what it means to be you. So if someone asks to you to state your truth, the essence of who you are and what you live for, you can do it. The wilderness is where God sends us to learn who we are and who God is to us. It is a costly yet priceless gift.

Now let me wrap things up by giving you a bit of wilderness homework this week, if you’re interested in going deeper.

First, read and contrast the biblical accounts of Jesus’ time in the wilderness as told in Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke. It will take about 5 minutes to read, and a lot longer to ponder: what were the temptations that Satan put before Jesus and what do his responses tell us about him? Equally important, what temptations would Satan put before you to keep you from your true path? What would he put before you to keep you small, prevent you from claiming your true identity as a child of God?

Second, read two articles from today’s Washington Post.

The first is a feature article in the Style section tracing the stunning career of African American director Ava DuVernay, whose film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time opens next month. Her story is a great example of wilderness training preparing a person for an important life work. Here’s one excerpt:

“DuVernay’s rise is not accident. It’s about talent, long hours and the way you treat people. About not doing things the same way because that’s how they’ve always been done. Oh, and always remember: you may be the first to get a big break but your not the first to deserve one.”

The article also tells of a particularly low moment when it would have been easy to be bitter that her white male counterparts were moving up in Hollywood at lightning speed while she felt passed by. But instead she reached out to a friend for support, got back to work, rededicating herself to her craft, her purpose in life, her abilities, and in so doing, forged her own path in the film industry.

The second article, A Politician is Born in the Magazine section, is an exile-to- wilderness story if there ever was one. It highlights all the women motivated to run for political office in the wake of the last presidential election and what it takes to get ready for such a race: motivation, training, confidence-building, fundraising prowess, networking skills. You don’t learn those overnight. It takes time, patience, willingness to fail. You go to the wilderness to learn those things. While our current body of politicians are doing whatever it is they’re doing, there is a rising body of women in wilderness training, getting ready for their opportunity to replace them.

The wilderness is where God sends us to prepare for a future we cannot yet see.

I can’t help but wonder what it is that you, as a church, are being prepared for, what spiritual attributes you will need for your life as a church when the new building is complete. With that in mind, I leave you with one final wilderness image, this one directly related to the creation of a building:

The renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, near the end of his life, taught a master class for gifted young architects. The students were rising stars in the architectural field, eager to try innovative ideas and make their mark in bold and dramatic ways. Wright, however, encouraged them to turn their energies inward. “As no stream can rise higher than its source,” he said, “so you can build no greater buildings than you are. So why not go to work on yourselves, so that you become the person you would have your buildings be?”

St. Thomas’ Church, we aren’t in exile any longer. We are in wilderness training. May God continue to bless and equip you to become the church your new building is being created to house. May God sustain each one of you in the wilderness terrain of your individual lives. You are meant to be here. There are lessons to learn here. God will show you the way, one wilderness step at a time.

Statement by Bishops United Against Gun Violence

February 16, 2018

The heart of our nation has been broken yet again by another mass shooting at an American school. 

We offer our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were murdered at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We mourn with particular sorrow Carmen Schentrup, a 16-year-old student at the school and leader in the youth group at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, who died at the hands of the gunman. We pledge to work with the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida to lend whatever material and spiritual comfort we can to all those who have suffered such a devastating loss. 

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has been devalued by politicians whose prayers seem never to move them to act against their self-interests or the interests of the National Rifle Association. Yet, as Christians, we believe deeply in the power of prayer to console, to sustain and to heal, but also to make evident the work that God is calling us to do. We pray that all who have been touched by this violent act receive God’s healing and solace.

In the wake of this massacre, we believe God is calling us to understand that we must not simply identify the social and political impediments to ending these lethal spasms of violence in our country. We must reflect on and acknowledge our own complicity in the unjust systems that facilitate so many deaths, and, in accordance with the keeping of a holy Lent, repent and make reparations.

Specifically, we ask you, members of our church and those who ally yourselves with us, to:

  • Contact your elected representatives and ask them to support legislation banning assault weapons such as the AR-15, which is the gun used in most of the recent mass shootings in our country; high-capacity magazines; and bump stocks, the equipment used by the killer in the Las Vegas massacre that allows semiautomatic weapons to fire dozens of rounds in seconds. We understand that mass shootings account for a small percentage of the victims of gun violence; that far more people are killed by handguns than by any kind of rifle; that poverty, misogyny and racism contribute mightily to the violence in our society and that soaring rates of suicide remain a great unaddressed social challenge. And yet, the problem of gun violence is complex, and we must sometimes address it in small pieces if it is not to overwhelm us. So, please, call your members of Congress and insist that your voice be heard above those of the National Rifle Association’s lobbyists.
  • Participate in a service of a lamentation for the victims of the Parkland shooting and all victims of lethal gun violence. We will be announcing a schedule of such services at churches around the country in the near future. To keep up with these plans, please follow our Facebook page Episcopalians Against Gun Violence
  • Enter into a period of discernment with us about how, through prayer, advocacy and action, we can make clear to our elected representatives that they must vote in the interests of all Americans, including law-abiding gun owners, in passing life-saving, common sense gun policies.Visit our websiteto learn more about our work and how to reach us. And if you plan to attend this summer’s General Convention in Austin, Texas, plan to join us each morning for prayer outside the convention hall and to attend the Bishops United Against Gun Violence public witness on Sunday, July 8 at 9 a.m. 

Two years after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that took the life of Ben Wheeler, an active young member of Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Connecticut, his father, David,asked parentsto look at their children and then ask themselves, “Am I doing everything I can to keep them safe? Because the answer to that question, if we all answer honestly, clearly is no.” In memory of Carmen and Ben and all of God’s children lost to senseless gun violence, may God give us grace and fortitude in our witness so that we can, at last, answer yes. 

Testifying to What We Have Seen: Faith Sharing Conversations

February 15, 2018

“We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen. . .”
John 3:11

In the last 3 weeks I’ve been in a variety of group settings--clergy lunches, a dinner with wardens, table fellowship at our home, and a Sunday forum. What they had in common?  Conversation in which we shared stories of personal faith experiences. I came away from each gathering uplifted, inspired, and wanting to hear more.

We had a prompt for these conversations, a deck of “faith sharing cards.” Each card has a question, both in English and in Spanish, such as:

Some people feel that they are being ‘led’ by God. Tell about a time when you felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as yourself. Share a story of a time in your life when this was especially challenging. How did you respond?

What is the message you think Christ wants us to take into the world? Share a story from your life when you were most faithful to that call.

Share a story about a time when you allowed God to change your mind.

Not wanting to put anyone on the spot, when I introduce this faith sharing exercise, I hand out at least three cards per person, so that participants can choose among a variety of questions. “And if you don’t any of those”, I tell the group, “you can pick three more.”

So far, after a moment’s hesitation, people have jumped into the conversation. The level of personal sharing surprises everyone. At one gathering over dinner, people who had not met before went around the table three times! At another, those who knew each other well expressed awe at what new things they had learned about their friends.

It’s often a revelatory experience to share part of our story, for in retrospect we often see more clearly how Christ was present in a time of struggle, how the Holy Spirit acted in ways that we hadn’t recognized before. In the telling of our stories there is an increased confidence in God and our response to God. It is always moving to hear another person’s story.

At Diocesan Convention last month, we gave a set of “faith sharing cards” to every delegate and clergy person present, encouraging them to use them in a variety of settings among their faith communities. For the next year, I will use them when I meet with clergy and lay leaders, particularly when we share a meal together, and at some diocesan meetings, perhaps inviting folks to share a faith story with the person sitting next to them as part of our devotional time.  

Research shows that among Christians, Episcopalians are the least comfortable sharing their faith with other people, which makes it difficult for us to grow in faith together, and it helps explain why our churches struggle to attract new people.

I invite you to join me and others in sharing bits of your faith story and listening to others in your community do the same. If we all take up this gentle challenge for a year in various settings, I’m convinced that we will be a more joyful, spiritually confident, warm and welcoming church.  

It’s worth trying, don’t you think?

You can download your own set of faith-sharing cards on the EDOW website. There we also have suggested questions for youth and children.


Living Fully on the Path of Suffering

February 11, 2018

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Mark 9:2-9

 Last week I sat down and read in its entirety one of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life. I chose the Gospel of Luke, in order to prepare for a more prayerful, slower reading that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has invited all in the Episcopal Church to undertake, starting today and continuing throughout the 40 day-season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday. The Gospel of Luke is the first selection for the Episcopal Church’s “Good Book Club,” which will continue after Easter with the Acts of the Apostles, the sequel to Luke, that tells the story of the early church.   

Obviously I was reading this week for breadth, not depth, taking in the entire arc of Jesus’ life and death. It took about two hours. Had I been reading the Gospel of Mark, I would have been done in less than an hour. For while the narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is essentially the same in three of the four gospels--Matthew, Mark, and Luke--Mark’s is leaner than the other two, with more action, less of Jesus’ teachings. Something to keep in mind if when choosing which gospel to read.

All three accounts land at roughly the same place at the same time to tell the story that we just read from the Gospel of Mark. When I came to Luke’s telling of the story this week, I realized how much the importance of that fateful day, when Jesus took three of his closest disciples with him up a mountain, is amplified when we remember its place in the story.  

To be sure, this wasn’t the first or the last time that Jesus went off to a secluded place to pray. That was his custom. He would go to a mountain or into the wilderness to pray. The texts rarely tell us what happened in his time of prayer, but in this instance they do, and we can understand why. For on that mountain, on that day, Jesus was swept up into a transcendent experience. He seemed to be transformed by light. He was visited by two of the great spiritual ancestors of his faith. A divine voice spoke from a cloud, as it had at his baptism, confirming his identity as God’s son.

This was, by all accounts, a big deal. Yet Jesus, Peter, James and John didn’t talk to anyone about it. As Mark tells the story, Jesus orders the others not to say anything until after his death. In Luke’s version, it says, “And they kept silent, and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”

Why not? Why not speak of such an amazing an event, so confirming of Jesus’ identity as God’s chosen, so unambiguous in glory? Only with a wider lens are we given clues as to why Jesus and his disciples would choose to keep silent.

Remember that Jesus’ public ministry, which began after his baptism in the Jordan River and 40 days of temptation in the wilderness, took place in the towns and villages around the Sea of Galilee, where he grew up. He taught in synagogues and in open spaces; he healed people from diseases and cast our demons--the inner tormentors that, by whatever name we call them, can make life a living hell. He created quite a name for himself, established a large following, and made those in authority nervous, by what he said and did and how the crowds responded to him.

All through this time a question hovers in the air: Who is this man? He speaks with such authority and acts with such love. He has compassion for the outcast, the poor, and all manner of sinner. He prays to God Almighty as if he knows God intimately and encourages us to do the same. In his presence, there is healing, there is food in abundance, there is life.

The more time people spend around him, the more convinced they become that he was no ordinary man. If God Almighty were to visit us in human form, they concluded, this is what God would look like. And Jesus himself is not exactly discouraging this manner of thinking about him.  

Imagine what hope would be stirred by such a man, such expectation for healing and liberation, such anticipation of God’s almighty power at last casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. There was excitement in the air, the stirrings of a movement, maybe even a revolution.

But then, in a turn that no could have anticipated, Jesus began to speak quite openly about suffering. Specifically his own suffering and inevitable death. No one wanted to hear this; no one, in fact, could hear it, anymore than we can hear something so far from our frame of reference that we have no place to put it.  

Shortly after he first broached the subject of his suffering and death, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to a high mountain. There, they saw him in what could only be described as glory. This amazing  experience of divine affirmation and love did not contradict Jesus’ foreboding sense of what was to come. Rather, it confirmed it. In Luke’s version, the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah is explicit: “They spoke to him about his departure--his exodus--which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Suffering was the path before him, and when Jesus came down from the mountain, he began to walk it. Onto Jerusalem, he told his followers, where my fate awaits.

Jesus didn’t want to talk about what happened on the mountain because it would seem to confirm all the fantasies about him and his power at the very moment he was to sacrifice his life. I daresay the disciples didn’t dare speak of it because it was too much for them to bear, this knowledge that the one upon whom all their hopes rested was on his way to Jerusalem to die.

This juxtaposition of God’s love and Jesus’ suffering, and the inevitability of suffering in a life devoted to love, is at the heart of Christian faith. I have never fully understood it, but I’ve seen it lived in the lives of remarkably brave human beings. I’ve come to believe in its truth and power, no matter how hard I resist the reality of suffering in my life and in the lives of those I love. Every year at this time, Christians are invited, in the midst of everything else our lives require of us between now and Easter, to keep part of our mind’s eye and spiritual heart focused on Jesus and his walk toward Jerusalem. It’s not the easiest thing to do: who wouldn’t rather stay on the mountain of glory, or at the least on the path of least resistance and the sweet illusions we can maintain for ourselves when life is going well?

I ask you to hold the image of Jesus’ walking toward Jerusalem and all that awaits him there, while I tell you about another person who is doing the very same thing right now.

Kate Bowler is a history professor at Duke Divinity School. She wrote her dissertation and first book on the history of what’s known as “The Prosperity Gospel,” a strain of American Christianity that believes fortune to be a blessing from God and misfortune as a mark of spiritual failing. Bowler admits that at age thirty-five, everything in her life seemed to point, in its own way, toward “blessing.” She had scored her dream job right out of graduate school, was married to her high school sweetheart, and was hopelessly smitten with her toddler son.  

Then she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

In a radio interview this week she said:

My diagnosis was like a bomb went off and everything around me was debris. Before my diagnosis, I assumed that I was the architect of my life, that I could overcome anything with a little pluck and determination. I pictured my life as an enhancement project, as if life were a bucket and my job was to put things in the bucket. The whole purpose was to figure out how to have as many good things coexisting at the same time. Then when everything fell apart, I had to make a switch in my image of life. Maybe life is more like moving from vine to vine, and I’m grabbing on, hoping for dear life that the vine doesn't break.

I started to practice giving things away; imagining my husband living without me; raising our son alone. But then the people I loved would come back at me and say, “We are going to fight this.” They wanted to pour their certainty into me, to remake the world as it was. But there was no going back.

In her memoir Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Have Loved Bowler chronicles the first year after her diagnosis, a year she was not expected to survive but did, thanks in large measure to harsh chemotherapy treatments combined with experimental immunotherapy.  

Near the end, she describes the moment when her doctor suggests that it’s time to stop both regimens of chemotherapy--because they are no longer helping her--and rely solely on the immunotherapy. It feels as if two of the vines she depends upon will be cut and she’ll swing on the one vine, praying it holds her up.

She doesn’t know what to do: “I’m not sure I want to know what happens if I stop chemotherapy, but at the same time I want to get it over with,” she tells him. “What would you do?”

“I’d go to work,” he said. She realized that she was in presence of one who was well acquainted with suffering. “We’re all terminal,” he reminds her. “Take a deep breath. Say a prayer. And get back to work.”

When she tells him of how she dreads dying, he says this: “Don’t skip to the end.”

So Kate Bowler has gone back to work, doing her best to cherish each day, and not skip to the end. “Yes, I’m going to die,” she writes at the end of her memoir, “but not today.”

That’s exactly what Jesus did after coming down from the mountain. He saw his future clearly before him, one that would not end well, but he didn’t quit living, and he didn’t skip to the end. He started walking to Jerusalem, and as he walked, he continued to do what he had been doing all along: heal the sick, feed the hungry, preach good news to the poor, challenge the religious authorities for the cruelty of their purity codes. Yes, he was going to die, but not yet. There was still good work to be done.

What I hope you take away from this juxtaposition of Jesus’ coming to terms with suffering and Kate Bowler’s story is simply this: First, a gentle reminder that our life’s task is not to fill our bucket with as many good things as we can. Life is a gift; a mystery; and a journey, and for all of us, the journey on this side of heaven will end. Suffering and death are the greatest frontiers of human life. They lie beyond our understanding, but we are beyond God’s grace and love when suffering and death come to us, as they will. Suffering is not our fault. It is the price of being human in a world where the kingdom of God has not yet fully come.

But knowing this, we needn’t skip to the end. We, too, can live each day fully, cherishing moments of goodness, doing the work God has given us to do, and if we feel so called, following in Jesus’ ways of love.  

Will you pray with me?  

Lord Christ, from the beginning, your followers have tried to understand why it was that you needed to suffer and die as you did. Today, we thank you for facing into the reality of suffering with such courage, and going about your life, not skipping to the end. We ask for the grace to do the same, and grace to accept that perhaps everything doesn’t happen for a reason, but simply happens because we are human. Thank you for walking the harder road with us, helping us to be brave. We know that we’re going to die, Lord, but not today. Thank you for the work you’ve given us to do, and life we’re blessed to live. In your name, we pray.