Episcopal Diocese of Washington

To draw people to Jesus and embody his love
for the world by equipping faith communities,
promoting spiritual growth, and striving for justice

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

The Role of the Church in the Election

September 24, 2020

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven... 
Acts 1:1-2 

The Presiding Bishop has something important to say to us now.

Last week Bishop Michael Curry addressed all the bishops of the Episcopal Church in a virtual gathering and then distributed both a video recording and the text of his address as “A Word to the Church,” to be shared with all Episcopalians. Please take the time to watch or read his message: What Did Jesus Do?  

Clergy of the Diocese, this would be an appropriate message to put before the congregation for a Sunday morning sermon, which given our COVID modes of worship now is more easily done.  

He begins by setting the context:  

This November, the people of the United States will elect a president and many others to public office. This election occurs in a time of global pandemic, a time when there is hardship, sickness, suffering and death. But this election also occurs in a time of great divisions. Divisions that are deep, dangerous, and potentially injurious to democracy. So what is the role of the church in the context of an election being held in a time such as this? What is our role as individual followers of Jesus Christ committed to his way of love in such a time as this?

Citing the passage above from Acts, Curry suggests that Jesus’ words and deeds are our precedent. “Simply asking the question, ‘What did Jesus do?’” Curry writes, “and summoning the Spirit to help us apply it to our lives and to our times, may mean the difference between the church simply being another religious institution that exists for its own sake and the church being a Jesus movement that courageously follows the way of Jesus and his love.” 

Regarding the elections themselves, Curry is clear that as a church, our role must be non-partisan. Religious organizations are prohibited by law from publicly endorsing, supporting, or opposing candidates. Moreover, Episcopalians can be found at every point on the political spectrum. “The Bible says that we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” Curry writes, “not one political party.” That is as it should be. As in the wider society, all are to be respected in the Church. 

Then, in a sentence that sums up his entire thought, Curry states: Partisan neutrality does not mean moral neutrality. Instead we look to Jesus--what he taught and what he did--as our guide and precedent.  

  • In Jesus’ summary of the Law: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

  • In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan which describes one who helps another even though they were a different religious tradition, ethnic group, and perhaps  their politics and worldview. That is what loving your neighbor looks like. "Go and do likewise,” he said. 

  • From the the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit"; "Blessed are those who are compassionate and merciful"; "Blessed are the peacemakers"; "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst and labor for God's righteous justice"; "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you.” 

These are the precedent for what it means to follow in the way of Jesus, Curry argues, “in the first century or the 21st century.”

Regarding our specific actions in the election season, Curry passionately encourages us all to vote, encourage others to cast their vote, and assist those whose right to vote has been compromised. “Voting is not a popularity contest between two candidates,” he writes. “It’s a discernment of moral values as they are expressed in public policy. It is an act of moral agency.” Voting is a sacred privilege for which people deprived of the right to vote have given their lives.

Yet Curry is clear the vote is not enough to heal our nation. He speaks directly to the “death-dealing depth of racism and white supremacy deeply embedded in the soil and soul of America.” Alongside the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others, Curry laments the shootings of two deputy sheriffs as they sat in their car and those who shouted outside the hospital ‘Let them die’. “We cannot go on like this,” he warns. “These divisions are dangerous, injurious to democracy itself. We must, and I believe we can, find a better way. . . I am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, because I believe he has shown us that better way.”  

Our Presiding Bishop inspires me to engage our civic life wholeheartedly, doing all I can to further the moral vision I see in Jesus, but in such a way that all feel inspired to do the same, no matter their views. In the Church we do not speak or vote with one mind, but we follow the same Lord. An election season is a time of robust debate and mobilization. For Christians it is yet another season to live the way of love.

You may be seeing more of Bishop Curry on television and social media these days. He’s making the rounds to discuss his new book, Love is the Way: Holding onto Hope in Troubling Times. I’ve ordered my copy and hope you’ll do the same, so that we might read and reflect on his message together. It takes all we have to hold onto hope in troubling times, but Jesus promises to see us through. Bishop Curry encourages us to walk together as the beloved children of God that we are. 


El papel de la Iglesia en las elecciones

September 24, 2020

En mi primer libro, excelentísimo Teófilo, escribí acerca de todo lo que Jesús había hecho y enseñado desde el principio y hasta el día en que subió al cielo…
Hechos 1:1-2

El Obispo Presidente tiene algo importante que decir ahora.

La semana pasada el Obispo Michael Curry se dirigió a todos los obispos de la Iglesia Episcopal en una reunión virtual y luego distribuyó una grabación de vídeo y el texto de su discurso como “una palabra para la Iglesia”, para ser compartido con todos los episcopales. Por favor tómese el tiempo para ver o leer su mensaje: ¿Qué hizo Jesús?

Clero de la Diócesis, este sería un mensaje apropiado para presentar ante la congregación para un sermón del domingo por la mañana, lo cual dado nuestros modos de adoración debido al COVID-19, es más fácil de hacer ahora. 

Comienzo estableciendo el contexto:

En noviembre, el pueblo de Estados Unidos elegirá a un presidente y a muchas otras personas para cargos públicos. Esta elección tiene lugar en un momento de pandemia global, en un momento en el que hay dificultades, enfermedades, sufrimiento y muerte. Pero estas elecciones también tienen lugar en un momento de grandes divisiones. Divisiones profundas, peligrosas y potencialmente lesivas a la democracia. Entonces, ¿cuál es el papel de la Iglesia en el contexto de unas elecciones que se celebran en un momento como este? ¿Cuál es nuestro papel como individuos seguidores de Jesucristo, comprometidos con su manera de amar, en un momento como este?

Citando el pasaje de Hechos, Curry sugiere que las palabras y obras de Jesús sean nuestro precedente. "Simplemente haciendo la pregunta, "¿Qué hizo Jesús?" Curry escribe, “y convocar al Espíritu para ayudarnos a aplicarlo a nuestras vidas y a nuestro tiempo, puede significar la diferencia entre ser simplemente la iglesia u otra institución religiosa que existe por su propio bien, o ser el movimiento de Jesús que sigue valientemente el camino de Jesús y su amor."

En cuanto a las elecciones mismas, Curry está claro que como iglesia, nuestro papel debe ser no partidista. Las organizaciones religiosas están prohibidas por ley de endosar, apoyar u oponerse públicamente a los candidatos. Además, los episcopales se encuentran en todos los puntos del espectro político. "La Biblia dice que tenemos un solo Señor, una fe, un solo bautismo," escribe Curry, "no un solo partido político." Así es como debería ser. Al igual que en la sociedad en general, todos deben ser respetados en la Iglesia.

Entonces, en una frase que resume todo su pensamiento, Curry afirma: la neutralidad partidista no significa neutralidad moral. En cambio, miramos a Jesús, lo que él enseñó y lo que hizo, como nuestra guía y precedente.

  • En el resumen de la Ley de Jesús: "Amarás al Señor tu Dios, con todo tu corazón, alma, mente y fuerza, y amarás a tu prójimo como a ti mismo."

  • En la parábola de Jesús del buen samaritano que describe a uno que ayuda a otro, aunque fueran de tradiciones religiosas, grupo étnico y quizás política y visión del mundo diferentes. Eso es lo que significa amar a tu prójimo. "Ve y haz lo mismo". 

  • Del Sermón del Monte: "Bienaventurados los pobres y los pobres en espíritu"; "Bienaventurados los compasivos y misericordiosos"; "Bienaventurados los pacificadores"; "Bienaventurados los que tienen hambre y sed y trabajan por la justicia justa de Dios"; "Ama a tus enemigos, bendice a los que te maldicen, ora por aquellos que te desprecian."

Estos son los precedentes de lo que significa seguir el camino de Jesús, argumenta Curry, “en el primer siglo o en el siglo XXI.”

En cuanto a nuestras acciones específicas en la temporada electoral, Curry nos anima apasionadamente a todos a votar, animar a otros a emitir su voto y ayudar a aquellos cuyo derecho al voto se ha visto comprometido. "Votar no es un concurso de popularidad entre dos candidatos," escribe. "Es un discernimiento de los valores morales tal como se expresan en las políticas públicas. Es un acto de agencia moral." Votar es un privilegio sagrado por el cual las personas privadas del derecho al voto han dado su vida.

Sin embargo, Curry tiene claro que el voto no es suficiente para sanar a nuestra nación. Habla directamente de la "profundidad del racismo y la supremacía blanca que trafican con la muerte profundamente incrustada en la tierra y el alma de Estados Unidos." Junto con las muertes de George Floyd, Breonna Taylor y tantos otros, Curry lamenta los disparos de dos agentes de la policía mientras estaban sentados en su coche y los que gritaban fuera del hospital 'Déjalos morir'. "No podemos seguir así'', advierte. "Estas divisiones son peligrosas, perjudiciales para la democracia misma. Debemos, y creo que podemos, encontrar una mejor manera. . . Soy seguidor del Señor Jesucristo, porque creo que nos ha mostrado esa mejor manera."

Nuestro Obispo Presidente me inspira a participar en nuestra vida cívica de todo corazón, haciendo todo lo posible para promover la visión moral que veo en Jesús, pero de tal manera que todos se sientan inspirados a hacer lo mismo, sin importar sus puntos de vista. En la Iglesia no hablamos ni votamos con una sola mente, pero seguimos al mismo Señor. Una temporada electoral es un momento de fuerte debate y movilización. Para los cristianos es otra temporada para vivir el camino del amor.

Puede que esté viendo más del Obispo Curry en la televisión y en las redes sociales en estos días. Puedeq que formes parte de un grupo que está debatiendo su nuevo libro, El Amor Es El Camino: Aferrarse a La Esperanza en Tiempos Preocupantes. He pedido mi copia y espero que hagan lo mismo, para que podamos leer y reflexionar juntos sobre su mensaje. Toma todo lo que tenemos que aferrarnos a la esperanza en tiempos preocupantes, pero Jesús promete vernos a través del camino. El Obispo Curry nos anima a caminar juntos como los amados hijos de Dios que somos.


Forgiveness

September 10, 2020

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? 
Matthew 18:21 

If you join an Episcopal worship service this Sunday you’ll hear Jesus speak of forgiveness--a timely, challenging topic. Peter sets Jesus up by asking how many times he’s required to forgive another. In essence, Jesus’ replies, “If you’re keeping track, you haven’t yet learned to forgive.” He then tells a story of an ungrateful servant who received lavish forgiveness but then refused to offer forgiveness to another. Things didn't go well for the servant in Jesus’ story, to put it mildly. His message to all who will listen is clear: don’t be like the ungrateful servant. Receive God’s lavish forgiveness with gratitude and then pass it on. 

I’m no expert at forgiveness. But I know that in some situations forgiveness comes easily and in others we struggle, for good reason. What are we to do, for example, when others demand, to paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “cheap forgiveness” without  restitution or even acknowledgement of the pain that was caused? “What we call ‘asking for forgiveness’,” C. S. Lewis once observed, “often consists of asking God or another to accept our excuses.”1

Like many in the diocese, I’ve been participating in Sacred Ground, an in-depth historical study of race and racism in America from a faith perspective. “I had no idea,” is a common refrain each week as our small group grapples with what we never learned about our past. How do we seek forgiveness for the harm we’ve never taken the time to learn about or acknowledge, from which some of us benefit? What does restitution look like across generations and in light of ongoing disparities that are matters of life and death? These are difficult questions, but ask them we must.  

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting, as if the offense never occurred or has no lasting consequence. We know it doesn’t work that way. Forgiveness is not some kind of erasure, nor would we want it to be. Think of all the hard won learning we would lose if we forgot what we needed to forgive. Even when forgiven, living with the consequences of our deeds is costly. About our abuse of the environment, Pope Francis warns, “God always forgives; Nature cannot.” 

For the deeper wounds, forgiveness isn’t a given and it cannot be forced. “True forgiveness,” writes the Buddhist Jack Kornfield, “does not paper over what has happened in a superficial way. It is not a misguided effort to suppress or ignore our pain.”2 Nor is forgiveness an entitlement.  

The work of forgiveness--both offering and receiving--takes courage and sufficient internal strength to rebalance the scales of power. It isn’t the same as reconciliation, but at its best, forgiveness leads to a mutual process of setting a relationship right. We can’t be reconciled until both sides are willing. We can, however, forgive on our own, for our own soul’s sake. It isn’t easy. For some it’s impossible, and we dare not judge. For all of us, forgiveness takes practice. 

But how do we forgive, exactly? What does it feel like? 

As the word implies, forgiveness feels more like a gift we receive than something we do. Indeed, the harder we try to forgive, the more resentment we may feel. For what forgiveness requires is not effort, but openness. It feels like letting go, relinquishing control, and allowing the grace of God in. In 12-step groups, if a wounded person speaks of resentment and an inability to forgive another, the advice typically offered is, “Pray for the S.O.B. that hurt you.” 

What happens in prayer is that we’re reminded of the full humanity of the other person, and not just the part of him or her that hurt us. It takes a lot to do this, and sometimes we’re not ready to make the effort. “Staying angry with you is how I protect myself from you,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor, “Refusing to forgive you is not only how I punish you; it is also how I keep you from getting close enough to hurt me again, and nine times out of ten it works.” But there’s a cost. “There is a serious side effect,” Taylor warns. “It’s called bitterness and it can do terrible things to the human body and soul.”3 

In time, forgiveness brings acceptance and a spiritual power none can take away. Remember the words of criminal justice reformer Bryan Stevenson, “Everyone is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.” With forgiveness, we help restore another to their full humanity.  

Jesus teaches that our capacity to forgive is linked to the experience of receiving forgiveness ourselves. In fact, it’s the only thing he says about how to forgive. When Jesus instructs us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” he isn’t setting up a contractual arrangement between us and God, but merely describing how forgiveness works. It’s a mystery. 

If either receiving or extending forgiveness is a struggle for you, know that you’re in good company. We all struggle. Every relationship we have affords ample opportunity to practice forgiveness. That’s a good thing: practicing forgiveness is what makes us Christians and better human beings.

How often shall we forgive? Will seven times take care of it? “Not seven times,” Jesus said, “but seventy-seven times.” Forgiveness, you see, is a way of life. For Jesus, forgiveness is the way of love. 

~~~
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: RandomHouse, 1952).
2 Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace (New York: Bantam Books, 2001), 28.
3 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Arthritis of the Spirit,” in Gospel Medicine (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1995), 9.

El Perdón

September 10, 2020

Entonces se le acercó Pedro y le dijo: «Señor, si mi hermano peca contra mí, ¿cuántas veces debo perdonarlo? ¿Hasta siete veces?» 
Mateo 18:21

Si te unes a un servicio de adoración episcopal este domingo escucharás a Jesús hablar de perdón, un tema oportuno y desafiante. Pedro prepara a Jesús preguntando cuántas veces se le requiere perdonar a otro. En esencia, la respuesta de Jesús es: Si estás siguiendo el camino, todavía no has aprendido a perdonar. Luego, Jesús cuenta la historia de un siervo desagradecido que recibió un perdón enorme, pero luego se negó a ofrecer perdón a otro. Las cosas no fueron bien para el siervo en la historia de Jesús, para decirlo suavemente. Su mensaje a todos los que escucharán es claro: no sean como el siervo desagradecido. Reciban el perdón amplio de Dios con gratitud y luego, compártelo con otros. 

No soy una experta en el perdón, pero sé que en algunas situaciones el perdón llega fácilmente y en otras tenemos dificultades. ¿Qué debemos hacer, por ejemplo, cuando otros exigen, parafraseando a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “perdón barato”, sin restitución o incluso sin reconocimiento del dolor que se causó? Lo que llamamos 'pedir perdón'", observó C. S. Lewis una vez, "a menudo consiste en pedirle a Dios o a otra persona que acepte nuestras excusas". 1

Como muchos en la diócesis, han estado participando en Tierra Sagrada, un estudio histórico en profundidad de la raza y el racismo en los Estados Unidos desde una perspectiva de fe. "No tenía ni idea", es un estribillo común cada semana mientras nuestro pequeño grupo se enfrenta a lo que nunca aprendimos sobre nuestro pasado. ¿Cómo buscamos el perdón por el daño que nunca nos hemos tomado el tiempo para aprender o reconocer, del cual algunos de nosotros nos beneficiamos? ¿Cómo es la restitución entre generaciones y a la luz de las continuas disparidades que son asuntos de vida o muerte? Estas son preguntas difíciles que debemos hacer. 

El perdón no es lo mismo que olvidar, como si la ofensa nunca hubiese ocurrido o no tuviera consecuencias duraderas. Sabemos que no funciona de esa manera. El perdón no es una especie de borrador, ni queremos que sea. Piensa en todo el aprendizaje que ganamos si olvidamos lo que necesitábamos perdonar. Incluso cuando se perdona, vivir con las consecuencias de nuestros hechos es costoso. Sobre nuestro abuso del medio ambiente, el Papa Francisco advierte: "Dios siempre perdona; la naturaleza no puede".

Para las heridas más profundas, el perdón no es un hecho y no puede ser forzado. "El verdadero perdón", escribe el budista Jack Kornfield, "no pasa por escrito lo que ha sucedido de manera superficial. No es un esfuerzo equivocado para suprimir o ignorar nuestro dolor.”2 El perdón tampoco es un derecho.

La obra del perdón, tanto ofreciendo como recibiendo, requiere coraje y suficiente fuerza interna para reequilibrar las escalas de poder. No es lo mismo que la reconciliación, pero en el mejor de los casos, el perdón conduce a un proceso mutuo de establecer una relación correcta. No podemos reconciliarnos hasta que ambas partes estén dispuestas. Sin embargo, podemos perdonar por nuestra cuenta, por el bien de nuestra propia alma. No es fácil. Para algunos es imposible, y no nos atrevemos a juzgar. Para todos nosotros, el perdón requiere práctica.

Pero, ¿cómo perdonamos exactamente? ¿Cómo se siente?

Como la palabra implica, el perdón se siente más como un regalo que recibimos que como algo que hacemos. De hecho, cuanto más nos esforzamos por perdonar, más resentimiento podemos sentir. Porque lo que el perdón requiere no es esfuerzo, sino apertura. Se siente como dejar ir, renunciar al control y permitir que entre la gracia de Dios. En grupos de 12 pasos, si una persona herida habla de resentimiento y de la incapacidad para perdonar a otra persona, el consejo que normalmente se ofrece es: "Ora por el S.O.B. que te lastimó".

Lo que sucede en la oración es que se nos recuerda la humanidad completa de la otra persona, y no sólo la parte de él o ella que nos lastimó. Se necesita mucho para hacer esto, y a veces no estamos listos para hacer el esfuerzo. "Permanecer enojado contigo es cómo me protejo de ti", escribe Barbara Brown Taylor, "Negarme a perdonarte no es sólo cómo te castigo; también es cómo te impido que te acerques lo suficiente como para lastimarme de nuevo, y nueve veces de cada diez veces funciona". Pero hay un costo. "Hay un efecto secundario grave", advierte Taylor. "Se llama amargura y puede hacer cosas terribles al cuerpo y alma humanos."3

Con el tiempo, el perdón trae aceptación y un poder espiritual que nadie puede eliminar. Recuerden las palabras del reformador de la justicia penal Bryan Stevenson, "todo el mundo es más que lo peor que jamás haya hecho". Con el perdón, ayudamos a restaurar a otros a su plena humanidad.

Jesús enseña que nuestra capacidad de perdonar está vinculada a la experiencia de recibir el perdón nosotros mismos. De hecho, es lo único que dice sobre cómo perdonar. Cuando Jesús nos instruye a orar, "perdónanos nuestros pecados así como nosotros perdonamos a aquellos nos ofenden", no está estableciendo un acuerdo contractual entre nosotros y Dios, sino simplemente describiendo cómo funciona el perdón. Es un misterio.

Si recibir o extender el perdón es una lucha para ti, sé que estás en buena compañía. Todos tenemos dificultades. Cada relación que tenemos ofrece una amplia oportunidad para practicar el perdón. Eso es bueno: practicar el perdón es lo que nos hace cristianos y mejores seres humanos.

¿Con qué frecuencia perdonaremos? ¿Será suficiente siete veces? "No siete veces", dijo Jesús, "pero setenta veces siete." El perdón es una forma de vida. Para Jesús, el perdón es el camino del amor.

~~~

1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: RandomHouse, 1952).
2 Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace (New York: Bantam Books, 2001), 28.
3 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Arthritis of the Spirit,” in Gospel Medicine (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1995), 9.


More Than A Feeling

August 30, 2020

We've put together a Sermon Reflection Guide to help you dig deeper into Bishop Mariann's message. Use it on your own or in a small group.

Let love be genuine. . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:9-21) 

In the name of God, our Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

I’d like to begin with a question: 

  • When and how did you first learn that love is more than a feeling? 

The word itself holds layers of meaning. We use the word love to describe our preferences for ice cream or music; our feelings we have for those closest to us, ranging from grandparents to lovers; our actions, and the impact of our actions on others. 

A hard way to learn that love is more than a feeling is when someone who professes to love you treats you in ways that are not loving. It happens to all of us at some point, because those who love us are not perfect, nor are we perfect in our love for them. In most loving relationships, the gap between our words and deeds is the terrain for growth in love. It’s where we strengthen love’s muscles of forgiveness, acceptance, and our desire to be better people than we sometimes are. Learning to love well is a lifelong process of trial and error and trial again. We also learn that what doesn’t feel like love at first might be the most loving thing we can do for another. Think of a parent saying no to a toddler who wants to play with fire. 

Sometimes, however, those who say that they love us seem to have no appreciation for, or concern about, the disconnect between their feelings of love and what we receive from them. It’s as if their love is an internal experience for them alone that doesn’t need to translate into loving words or deeds. I had that experience as a child, and I carry with me a memory of the day, somewhere around the age of 12, when I said to myself, “That is not love. If I ever have a kid, I’m never going to do that.”

I also remember what it felt like years later to recognize that people have different capacities for love; that some aren’t very good at it and aren’t interested in getting better. That helped me to forgive and seek the best possible relationship with people in my life who aren’t particularly good at love, while at the same time, wanting to be someone who acts in ways that others experience as loving. I often fail in love, as those close to me will tell you. But I’m willing to learn and to grow. 

Let me now say what some of you may already be thinking, given what’s happening now in our country. There is a parallel between our definitions of love and of racism. As with love, most of us who have white skin begin with an understanding of racism that’s rooted in our feelings. We don’t like being told we’re racist, because we don’t harbor racist feelings, at least none that we’re conscious of or want to admit. We certainly would never say or do the things that blatant racists do, those who unapologetically believe that white people are superior to people whose skin is black or brown. If your definition of racism remains on the level of feelings, okay, but as with love, your impact for good will be limited. 

There are other definitions of racism that have to do not only with how we feel, and how we treat an individual person of a different race, but also how willing we are to accept and complacently benefit from a society organized in such ways that people of color suffer more on every scale of well-being. We want to say that all lives matter, because they do. But as a country, we don’t act as if black and brown lives matter as much as white lives. We don’t. The disparities are everywhere--in health care, education, housing, policing, and in our churches. As Ibram X. Kendi writes, “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. . . The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.” As with love, what matters is less how we feel inside and what we actually commit our lives to changing in a racist society.  

Circling back now to how we grow in love: one way that we grow is when we realize that we’re willing to act in ways that others experience as loving even when it costs us, when, as Jesus said, we have to make sacrifices and take on suffering. That’s when it dawns on us that sacrificial love is a choice. How we feel in a given moment is irrelevant. 

The truth is, no loving relationship can survive if we aren’t willing to make sacrifices, to persist in love, persevere in choosing to love, even when loving feelings are absent.   Fortunately, feelings of love wax and wane, and then return in a deeper way. Our capacity to love deepens and grows, so that we have more love to offer, which is something we’ll miss if we walk away too soon. I don’t mean to imply that we never walk away--sometimes our capacity to love isn’t large enough to hold what love requires or out of self-love we end an unloving relationship. But those are tragedies of a different order.

In these days of transition from summer to fall, I’ve been taking stock of my life over the last six months. It’s a humbling exercise at any time, but especially as so much has changed, so much has been lost; when we’ve all had to adapt to new realities and face hard truths. And because there are people who look to me for guidance and hope, I’ve been asking myself what they have learned from my example. What am I teaching, through how I live my life, about what it looks like to love in challenging times? 

Suffice it to say that there’s been plenty to grieve and confess, and much for which to give thanks. Some things I’m proud of; others I’m not. Widening the lens to consider all that’s happening in our country, it’s clear that everything depends now upon our capacity to love, to choose love. There’s a lot at stake whenever we refuse to love, or cannot love when love is needed because we’ve never practiced those muscles. 

As I turn my gaze toward the future, I find myself called back to the core practices and postures of a Jesus-focused life. It’s not that I wasn’t praying in the last six months--in some ways I’ve never prayed harder in my life. But the rhythms of my life and the practices that sustain me suffered in all the upheaval. Perhaps that’s been true for you. It’s understandable, and perhaps it was necessary. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a reset and rededication. 

In the Episcopal Church, our presiding bishop Michael Curry has called us all to practices that help us strengthen our love muscles, to receive Jesus’ love for us and then to live in such a way that others experience His love through us. Those practices are called, appropriately, the Way of Love. There is nothing new or earth-shattering about them. They simply express the kind of intentionality necessary for growth. For in love, as in any other realm in life, we don’t drift toward our highest aspirations according to how we feel on a given day. There is sacrifice involved, discipline and practice. 

The harsh truth is that if we don’t grow in our capacity to love, we become part of the problems we see all around us, and not the solution. The good news is that with effort, we can grow. 

Let love be genuine, St. Paul writes as the opening line for one of the most compelling descriptions of what love in action looks like. If you have a Bible, you might look up the passage in Romans, Chapter 12, write it down for yourself and post it in a place where you can see it every day. It wasn’t Paul’s first attempt to describe such love. He wrote a similar passage in the letter we know as First Corinthians, one that no doubt you have heard many times at weddings:  

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. . . Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
(I Corinthians 13:1-8) 

The passage from Romans is similar yet strikes different themes:  

Let love be genuine.
Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with mutual affection; 
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Do not claim to be wiser than you are. 
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:9-21)

These are compelling words to live by for anyone, for the call to love in action is universal. But for those of us who claim to be Christians, they aren’t optional. They are our mandate. The one commandment Jesus left for all of his followers is that we love one another as He loves us. That’s the only one, but it takes a lifetime of practice to live. No one drifts into this kind of love--we have to want it, and work for it, be willing to fail at it and try again.  

So here is my invitation and my challenge to you as the season turns from summer to fall: Take stock. As they say in 12-step spirituality, make a moral inventory of your capacity to love right now.

  • Where are you loving well? Be sure to celebrate that. 
  • Where have you fallen short?
  • How do those whom you profess to love experience your love? Do you know? 
  • And how far does your circle of love extend?

After taking stock, ask yourself this: 

  • How might I grow in my capacity to receive love and offer love? 

If you’re a Christian, you might want to add Jesus into your question: 

  • How might I increase my awareness of Jesus in my life and be a channel of his love for others in deeper ways?   

If you’re inclined to accept this invitation, one more thing: Best not do this alone. It’s not that you can’t, but it’s harder. We all benefit from being part of a community in which to practice love. If in COVID time you’ve fallen away from your community of faith, why not recommit to it now or find another that helps you grow? In that community, dare to go deep with someone, or a group of someones, in spiritual practice.

A word to the church leaders, particularly in the Diocese of Washington: our most important work isn’t getting back into our buildings, as great as that will be. It is, rather, creating as many opportunities as we can for our people to grow in love. 

In closing, let me ask again with one notch greater specificity: 

  • What one step might you take this day, this week, this fall to grow in love? 

For your sake and that of everyone around you, I urge you to take that step. Take it so that you may know more of God’s love for you. Take it so that others may know that love through it. Take it so that together we might help overcome the evil of this world with the goodness that flows from love. 


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