Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

Bishop's Writings

Walking the Way of Love, Homily for the All Close Opening Chapel

August 30, 2018


Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.  

Isaiah 55:1-4

Let us love one another, for love is from God. Those who love are born of God and know God, for God is love.Those who dwell in love, are dwelling in God and God in them. There is no room for fear in love, for love which is perfect banishes fear. We love because God first loved us; we cannot hate another and say, ‘I love God.’ If we do not love those whom we have seen, it cannot be that we love God whom we have not seen. This commandment we have from God, that those who love God must also love their neighbor.
1 John

Each of the institutions on the Cathedral Close are in the midst of the rituals of new beginnings. What a gift for us to be all together today, to lift our collective voices in prayer and song, take a breath, and enjoy each other’s company before we are sorely outnumbered by younger generations. A special welcome to all who are new to the Close and thanks to National Cathedral School for hosting us.

A bit of history to remind us all how we are connected: St. Alban’s Parish was here first, established in 1854 as a worshipping congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. It would go on to establish a number of the Episcopal churches in the city, including St. Columba’s just up the way, and St. Patrick’s, home of one of our sister Episcopal schools. The Diocese of Washington was carved out of the Diocese of Maryland in 1895, right around the time that the U.S. Congress established the charter for the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation. The first Cathedral stone was laid in 1907. Were it not for the Cathedral, it’s not clear to me that the Diocese of Washington would exist, at least not in its present form. Our office building, known on the Close as “Church House,” was originally the Bishop’s residence, and the “Bishop’s Garden,” was once the bishop’s garden--or more accurately, the garden of the bishop’s wife. It was the wife of the cathedral’s first dean, Florence Bratenahl, who in 1916 established All Hallows Guild to nurture and protect the natural beauty of the Cathedral Close. National Cathedral School was established in 1900; St. Albans School in 1909, and Beauvoir in 1933.  

While each institution on the Close has its unique vision, charism, and rhythms--each so absorbing that we sometimes lose sight of one another--the deeper reality is that we are organically and relationally connected.

Among the things we have in common, we adults who work on the Close, is that for 9 months of the year, we are surrounded by more than 1600 children and their families. Whatever our role--be it in the classroom or administration, in worship or sports; whether we come to know them over years or meet them in passing on the grounds, standing in line at the Cafe, or waiting for the go-ahead from a police officer to cross the street, we all have a role not only in their education, but their becoming. Educating children and adolescents isn’t a sprint but a lifelong journey, taken mostly in small steps, with a few giant leaps; with more than a few setbacks and at least one or two colossal failures on their part, or ours.

We all know this but let me say it aloud as a reminder: 

  • How we treat children and young people teaches them far more than whatever knowledge we impart.

  • How we treat one another, others who cross our paths, and those whose lives we touch from afar communicates far more than our words about what we believe about the intrinsic worth and dignity of every human being.

  • How we disagree with one another, and express our disagreements with others in the wider society, teaches them more about living among their fellow human beings than anything they would read in a book.

  • How we respond when they make mistakes, and we make mistakes, and when other people we don’t particularly like make mistakes teaches them how we want them to live with the imperfections of human beings and of our relationships, and tells them how safe they really are--no matter how many security guards we have to protect them--to be themselves in our midst.

Now I’m of an age where I’m mostly invisible to anyone under 30, but the truth is--and you remember this from your own youth--young people watch adults like hawks. They see us better than we see ourselves. Think back now--how you were drawn to the adults who actually cared about you, and who lived lives that you admired; how you were inspired by those whom you saw mostly from a distance but who always seemed to see you as a person worthy of their attention and concern, and how a well-placed smile or word of encouragement could make your day or week. How we live and engage with one another and care--genuinely care--for those entrusted to this Close in the formative years of childhood and adolescence--matters more than we will ever know.

In the time I have left, I’d like to speak directly to the spiritual and religious dimension of our work:

First a story: A friend of mine married into a wealthy family and when she was in her 50s, she was invited to sit on the grant selection committee of their family foundation, which served as a major funding source for non-profits serving under-resourced neighborhoods and working for social change in the midwestern city where we lived (Toledo, Ohio) She told me of a time when members of this selection committee sat around a table, discussing proposals. One of the younger family members held up a proposal from a faith-based organization and asked, “Why on earth would we consider funding a church?” Another chimed in. “No kidding. The last thing the world needs is more Christians.”

My friend, a practicing Christian, told me of this exchange with real sadness, which I felt as I heard it, but we both understood why her younger family members felt the way they did. The appalling behavior of some Christians in the name of Jesus is the primary reason why many leave the faith or are repelled by it.

And so when I, as a Christian leader, ask myself if the world needs more Christians, as a Jewish leader might ask about the world needing more Jews or a Muslim leader about the world needing more Muslims, the answer would surely be, “Well, it depends on what kind of Christians we are talking about. What kind of Jew, what kind of Muslim?” Some would argue with plenty of data to support their argument, as did the young person my friend spoke of, that the last thing the world needs is more of us.

The sad truth is that being a religious people in no way assures that we will be good people, kind, caring, generous, loving people, although that’s what every one of our faith traditions--and speaking as a Christian, certainly what I know Jesus wants those who feel called to follow him--to be. We are all far more complicit in the evils and  hypocrisies we decry than we are comfortable admitting. There’s a gap between the aspirations of our faith and how most of live; for some, the gap is so wide as to create havoc and cruelty around them, all in the name of a loving God.

Yes, it’s enough to make people of conscience and goodwill want to walk away or to stay away from religion entirely. Or to go deeper. To walk with even greater intention and commitment to personal and societal transformation that every spiritual tradition known to humankind calls us to.

Going deeper is what these institutions stand for, and we, collectively affirm: that there is a way to live in this world steeped and schooled in the best of what it means to be human and personally touched by the spiritual mysteries that surround us and call us into relationship with the all encompassing mystery we call God.

This is a really interesting time to belong to the Episcopal Church, to teach in an Episcopal school, or work for an Episcopal institution. Because we have at the helm now a bit of a rock star. Those of us who knew Presiding Bishop Michael Curry before he catapulted onto the world stage with a sermon he preached at a wedding you might have heard of know how consistent his message is. His is the message of Jesus, one of radical love, the all encompassing, transformative love of God that Christians believe Jesus came into the world to manifest. We believe that Jesus came into the world to show us how to live, and how to love.    

Bishop Curry has been preaching essentially the same sermon he preached at the Royal Wedding for over 30 years. But now that he has our attention, he is calling anyone who is listening, and especially those of us in the Episcopal Church to intentionally walk and grow in this way of love, to be the kind of Christians, he would say, that actually follow Jesus.

He’s given us a rule of life, summarized in the small card before you, with specific spiritual practices that make up what he calls a Jesus-focused life. There is nothing new here--these practices align with ancient practices of all faiths and also with modern insights on how to live well. If you’re not a Christian, you can easily substitute your faith or sources of inspiration wherever you see the word “Jesus.”

Let’s look at them together:

Turn--Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.
Learn--Reflect on Scriptures each day, especially Jesus’ life and teachings.
Pray--Dwell intentionally with God each day.
Worship--Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and draw near to God.
Bless--Share faith and unselfishly give and serve.
Go--Cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.
Rest--Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.

I was talking to a colleague who worked for years as chaplain at one of our great rival schools across the Potomac that will go unnamed, and she said that these practices are at the heart of Episcopal education. I leave that to your further reflection to see if you concur.

I will be preaching and writing and reflecting on the Way of Love for the foreseeable future, taking each practice in turn and all them together, committing myself to them and encouraging others to remember how important it is to engage in simple but transformative daily practices that open and expand our hearts, enable us to be more present to one another, and receive the grace and mercy of God.

I leave you now simply with a word of encouragement to consider the gift and the call of your own lives,  the ways of love to which you are already committed. You might review these practices to see which ones speak to you, which ones are challenging. Ponder what it might look like for all of us, together, to intentionally commit to a way of love that is both robust and compassionate, humble and confident, focused on the highest aspirations that human beings are called to, in full recognition of how often we fail to meet them and how quick the God of love is to forgive and help us to begin again.

What an example that would be for the Close students and their families, giving them the greatest gifts of Episcopal education, which is a way to live with love and compassion in this world. May we aspire to be the kind of people, leaders and teachers who raise up young people walking in way of love so fully that while others may never know what faith they practice, they will surely say, “The world needs more people like them.”

Way of Love Sermon Sermon Series

August 16, 2018

 

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

Revelation 3:20

 

This summer, members of your diocesan staff and I have crafted an 8-week lectionary based on Presiding Bishop Curry’s call for all Episcopalians to commit to a common path of spiritual growth. Beginning on September 9th I will preach a sermon series on The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered  Life, using the biblical texts of this lectionary. Each week we’ll also provide, via email, suggested Scripture readings for daily prayer.

All diocesan clergy are welcome to use the Way of Love lectionary this fall or another time. Across the Episcopal Church, others are also generating Way of Love resources which we will curate and post on our website.

As I’ve committed to the Way of Love this summer, I find myself thinking my memories of Jesus, how the significant people in my life spoke about him and how my image of him has changed from when I was a child, then a teenager, and throughout my adulthood.

I’ve also been pondering the meaning of conversion. Conversion experiences were a source of confusion for me as a teenager and young adult, a time when I sojourned through several different branches of the Christian family, each with a particular understanding of conversion. I had several conversion experiences myself, but never in quite the way others described them. I didn’t feel what I thought I was supposed to feel; nor did my life change in ways I hoped it would. While I never doubted the existence of God and was deeply drawn to Jesus, I doubted my experience.  I marveled at those who seemed so certain about what was, surely, the greatest of all mysteries.

In a providential moment,  I was given a book entitled Turning: Reflections on the Experience of Conversion by Emilie Griffin, Using her own experience and that of well known twentieth-century Christians (C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and others) Griffin described several different paths of conversion. Some were dramatic, other more gradual; some were emotional, others guided by intellect. She also suggested that conversion is more of a journey than an event, which came as a relief to me 30 years ago and remains a reassuring notion still. But, in a gentle, yet firm challenge to that part of us that would prefer to remain non-committal and content with caricatures of Jesus that we are then free to keep at arm’s length, Griffins also insists that there is a choice to be made in the conversion experience. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. We are free to decide if we will let him in and then follow where he leads.

To turn, Presiding Bishop Curry suggests, is the first and foundational spiritual practice in a Jesus focused life. I’ll write more about this and the other six practices beginning next month. For now, I offer you a few excerpts from Turning that I have found especially helpful:

By conversion, I mean the discovery, made gradually or suddenly, that God is real. It is the perception that this real God loves us personally and acts mercifully and justly toward us. Conversion is the direct experience of the saving power of God. As such, it is not an event, not an action, not an occurrence. Instead, it is a continuing revelation and transforming force.

Conversion begins with a longing or desire, a heart’s ache for something we have never quite experienced and cannot fully describe.

If our Christianity is to be visible—a light to the world—it must be because the Lord makes it visible, not because we ourselves seek to place it before the eyes of the world.

Christ, we are told, has come to heal the brokenhearted; that we may have life and have it to the full. At the same time, Christianity is not some emotional wonder drug, as the trials and difficulties of many Christians show.  . . Those dearest to Jesus—in fact Jesus himself—had moments of sadness, discouragement, even despair. To pretend otherwise is to flee from reality rather than to face it as Christianity calls us to do.

And, quoting C.S. Lewis:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.

I am persuaded that it is not only the Presiding Bishop who is inviting us to us to walk in the way of love, but Christ himself. As we open the door for Jesus, daily turning our gaze toward him and committing ourselves to specific spiritual practices, we can rest assured that our congregations will be renewed, our communities transformed for the good, and our lives continually changed by his loving, liberating, and life-giving presence.

Join me in daring to believe that we have been called to this path by the God who is love. May we walk it together with kindness, curiosity, and whole-hearted intention.

Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde

 

Choose Love

August 09, 2018

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred let us so love. . .
Prayer attributed to St. Francis

As the one year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, approaches, tensions are mounting in Washington D.C. and Virginia. Last year’s rally exposed the racial hatred, Nazi admiration, and glorification of violence at the core of white supremacist groups. Those same groups plan to rally in front of the White House on Sunday after they were denied a permit to return to Charlottesville.

We are right to be dismayed and alarmed at such a gathering here. Or anywhere.

Many counter demonstrations are also being planned throughout the city. As your bishop, I ask that you pray, wherever you are, for the power of love to overcome hatred. Pray and speak out in faithfulness to our non-violent Lord and in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God.

Should you feel called to be physically present in your witness, please consider two prayerful gatherings for which we, as a diocese, are co-sponsors.

On Friday, August 10, Washington Hebrew Congregation (map) will host a teach-in followed by a special Shabbat Service.

From 3:00 - 5:45 p.m: A teach-In on White Supremacy, Racism, Anti-Semitism, and the Neo-Nazi Movement and a congressional town hall meeting. Organized by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, this informative session will feature leading experts in the from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Anti-Defamation League. The event will also feature a special presentation by the Reverend William Barber. This event is free. Register here

At 6:00 p.m. - Shabbat of Peace - A special Interfaith Shabbat service, open to all members of the community. Together we will embrace the unity of the human family and ask for prayers of peace. This service will conclude with a special candlelight vigil to honor and remember the lives lost in Charlottesville during the rallies and protests one year ago. Please visit Washington Hebrew Congregation’s website for more information and to RSVP for the service.

On Sunday, August 12, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.: United to Love: Standing Together in Love and Resisting Hate: an ecumencial, interfaith rally on the National Mall

The Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church invites all persons of faith and goodwill to gather on the National Mall (4th Street NW) in public witness for peace, justice, and tolerance. Worship and music will be offered from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., followed by the rally and speakers from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Our Canon Missioner, the Rev. Leonard Hamlin, from Washington National Cathedral, will be addressing the rally on behalf of the Diocese of Washington and the Rev. Charles Allen Wynder, Jr. Staff Officer for Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement will be speaking on behalf of the wider Episcopal Church. For more information and to register

The Diocese of Washington will be well-represented at both gatherings, a testimony to the love, courage, and conviction that God has placed in our hearts. But wherever we find ourselves this weekend and beyond, may we be instruments of God’s peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love.

What Difference Does it Make?

July 26, 2018

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

A friend of mine married into a family with a large philanthropic presence in the Midwest. She told me of a conversation among the family as they were reading through grant proposals for an upcoming funding cycle. Several of the non-profit organizations seeking financial support were churches committed to social service and advocacy in their communities. “Why on earth would we fund Christian organizations?” a younger family member asked. “Right,” replied another. “The last thing the world needs is more Christians.”

My friend, herself a faithful Christian, was heartbroken, as was I when she told me this story. Yet we both knew then what we all know now: there is no shortage of Christians acting so poorly as to give the entire Jesus movement a bad name. While examples abound of Christians who nobly embody the love of Jesus, in public perception the damage done by destructive expressions Christianity almost always overshadow the good.

As I visit the congregations of our diocese, I sometimes feel that shadow hanging over us. “We don’t want to be like those Christians,” we say to ourselves, either silently or aloud. As a result, Episcopalians often have an easier time articulating what we don’t believe rather that what we do.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called to us, as the Episcopal Church, to explicitly and intentionally follow Jesus in his way of love for the world. Specifically, he has invited us all to commit, or recommit, to faith practices that make for a Jesus-centered life. Doing so, he says, will help us become Christians who actually look and sound like Jesus, Christians through whom the love and mercy of God shines.

What difference would it make to others and to our world if more of us who identify as Christians made it our daily intention to grow in Jesus’ ways of love?  

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has reflected on that very question for many years. Two years ago he gathered up his thoughts in three short books: What is Christianity? A Little Book of Guidance, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, and Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life. If you’d like to dip into his writing without reading the books, I commend this short piece to you: What difference does it make?

Williams suggests that one of the tests of true faith, as opposed to bad religion, is simply whether it keeps us from ignoring things. “Faith is most fully itself when it opens our eyes and uncovers for us a world larger than we thought.” Following Jesus in the way of love, then, involves, among other things, “a process of educating our vision so that we understand how to see that we don't see, how to see behind surfaces, the depth we are not going to master.”

Williams goes on: “The story of Jesus is not just an epiphany – a revelation of glory and no more – and it's not just a commandment or a set of instructions dropped down from heaven. It is a manifestation of radiant beauty that lands in our world in the form of a profound moral challenge, because it's a showing of active love that dissolves fear.”

Eyes to see as God sees. Active love that dissolves fear.

I, for one, am persuaded that the world needs more Christians. The world needs more  people committed to Jesus’ way of love. Honesty compels me to acknowledge how often I fail in my efforts to be such a Christian, how I depend daily on God’s grace and forgiveness. That’s why each day, as his followers, we begin again and return to the practices that keep us open to Jesus and his love.

My thanks to all who responded to the questions I posed last week. As I prepare to preach and write this fall on the Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life, I would love to hear from more of you in these last summer weeks.

A final note for your calendars: this fall, Archbishop Williams will be in Washington, D.C. and he has graciously agreed to give a talk based on the works I referenced here. He will speak at St. Alban’s Church, on Thursday morning, November 8th, from 10:00 - 11:30 a.m. All are welcome, free of charge. We will record his talk for those unable to attend in person.

Growing in Love: Questions from Your Bishop

July 19, 2018


Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Romans 12:9-13

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has asked all members of the Episcopal Church, all of us who belong, as he says so often, to the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, to commit ourselves to The Way of Love -- seven spiritual practices for a Jesus-centered life. This is not a new program, but rather an ancient way of life, drawn from the deepest wells of the Christian faith.

The seven spiritual practices of the Way of Love are:

Turn: every day, to intentionally turn toward Jesus, committing ourselves to follow him.

Learn: every day, to read passages from Scripture and other spiritual texts, with particular focus on Jesus’ teachings and the stories of his life.

Pray: every day, to set aside time--it needn’t be long--for intentional prayer, allowing God to speak in our heart.

Worship: to gather, once a week, around Jesus’ table in Christian community.

Bless: to choose, every day, to offer blessing, to be a blessing to those we meet, consciously loving as Jesus loves, forgiving as Jesus forgives.

Go: to venture out, stretching ourselves to be present in places where there is great need, or where others see the world differently. This is the call to justice and mercy, with a heart willing to be sent where God’s love is needed most or where we have something important to learn.

Rest: to remember that our souls and bodies need rest, that as God rested on the 7th day of creation, so we are to rest, in order to be strengthened and renewed.

This summer, I’m setting aside time to plan for a year’s worth of preaching, teaching and writing on the Way of Love and related spiritual themes. So that I might better align my preaching and writing to the spiritual questions of greatest importance to you, I ask for your feedback. Would you please take a few minutes to answer the following questions?

  • Which of these 7 practices come easily to you? What resources have you found to help you in your practice?
  • Which of the 7 practices do you most struggle with? What questions and concerns would you like me, as your bishop, to address?  
  • On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate your ease with reading the Bible? What questions do you have about our biblical texts? What would help you go deeper with Scripture?
  • What societal issues are of greatest concern for you? How would like to see us, as a Church, respond?  
  • Thinking about members of your family or circle of friends, what spiritual or life topics might I address that could be of value for them?

You may email your responses directly to me. If there’s anything else you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

May God bless us as we strive to walk in the ways of Jesus, which is the way of love.

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