It is not true

The anti-racism training I attended last week did not live up to my expectations, and I offered my editorial opinion about that in my previous post. However, our times of prayer and meditation were filled with spiritual meaning, and I was most appreciative of a litany taken, as I understand it, from The Iona Book of Worship (Wild Goose Publications). I think it’s worth sharing:

It is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost;

This is true: For God so love the world that he gave in only son to that everyone who believes in him shall not die but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction;

This is true: I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever;

This is true: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given in whom authority will rest and whose name will be prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil that seek to rule the world;

This is true: To me is given all authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always to the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the church, before we can do anything;

This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old folk shall dream dreams.

It is not true that our dreams for the liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and this history;

This is true: The hour comes, and it is no, that the true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

Anti-Racism Training

I attended an anti-racism workshop held at my former parish last Saturday. The curriculum was well structured, a very model for adult education. The instructor was a pro, well versed in the subject and obviously gifted in teaching adult groups. For all of that I found it stale and vaguely offensive. There was little about it that was different from similar workshops I’ve attended over the last twenty or thirty years. The working assumption of the curriculum was that we are all white, mostly male, and largely ignorant of the systemic racism built in to our beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. As it turned out, we were mostly white, female and, with a few exceptions, reasonably well informed. The usual gang attended. Those who, perhaps, should have been there, were not, as usual. What was once fresh and challenging now seemed more like rubbing one’s nose in one’s inherent racism as a congenital disease more rampant in Northern European white Americans than anyone else. The instructor ended with the nationally prescribed conclusion that to really do something about our racism we needed to get more black members to join our church.

It seemed a little silly considering the very few who live in our community. It conjured up an image of trolling for a dark skinned persons and dragging them in to sit with us in our rather traditional Episcopalian congregation so that we could congratulate ourselves on our fine catch. The words rude and arrogant came to mind.

On the other hand, our community is ethnically and economically diverse with a considerable amount of shared ignorance and prejudice spread among us.

Maybe I’ve been thrown off track by attending too many Eric Law workshops and reading too many of his books, but it does seem to me that, at least for us, the issue has more to do with the need to learn about, learn to respect and learn from the cultures, traditions and ways of living in community that are represented in the diversity of our valley. I also think that any congregation desiring to welcome that diversity into its midst must do so through the humility of radical hospitality. Radical hospitality is difficult because it means that power relationships within the group will be changed, and giving up the systems of power with which we have become comfortable is very threatening.

If my former congregation became a congregation of radical hospitality serving the neighborhood in Christ’s name, it would look a lot different. The church is surrounded on two sides by low income rental housing – some with younger, often non-traditional, families and some limited to the more mature in age. The younger families tend to be among the working poor. The more mature tend to be the retired working poor. Up and down the adjacent streets are the homes of the solid middle class and a few of the wealthy. If the congregation was radically welcoming it would be filled with people new to Christianity, new to Anglicanism, but rejoicing in ‘their church’ as a place that is truly theirs, and not a place where they were simply welcomed as visitors. They would not be big pledgers. They would take up residence in pews ‘reserved’ for old timers. They would assume a variety of leadership roles and do new things without the advise and consent of the patriarchs and matriarchs.

Would we be worshiping in Spanish? Probably not. Would there be dozens of dark skinned persons in the pews? Probably not. Would the elders of the congregation still be respected and have a voice? Yes. Would the current ranks of extremely well educated upper middle class members still have some important role in decision making? Yes.

Moral World Leaership

Editorial comments abound on Obama and the Nobel Prize. The usual sneering from the right has been joined by disbelief from some of the more pacifist elements on the left. The president’s own most gracious words of self deprecating acceptance seem to have been lost in the babble. My own take goes in another direction. We just returned from several weeks traveling about Italy, Greece and Turkey, quite luxuriously I might add. I tried to poke my nose into the news about local politics and world opinions in the places we visited, and we found ourselves in the company of other tourists mostly from England, Canada and Australia who had a lot to say from their perspectives. Apparently the sun still never sets on the British Empire if one thinks of it as a river of English speaking tourists flowing around the world. But I digress. The point is that in every place there was renewed confidence in the United States as a respected nation of moral world leadership – not of world dominance but of moral world leadership. Obama is for them the symbol of that restoration. Whether earned or unearned is irrelevant. Our nation had become despised as just another corrupt super power. All of that has changed in slightly less than a year. To be sure, public opinion is fickle and all could turn again in a moment, but I believe that it also indicates how important moral world leadership is.

Now, here is the question. Why is the Christian Church not a symbol of moral world leadership? Why is Christianity, as an ideal, not a symbol of moral world leadership? Do we have to wait generations for the occasional Mother Teresa or Bishop Tutu to arise as moral world leaders? Are such Christian saints that rare? Is the institutional church incapable of that sort of leadership?

It Was All Greek To Me

My biblical Greek is lousy, but I thought I might be able to navigate at least some of the signage in the places we visited in Greece. It turned out to be all but impossible. For one thing, the Greeks, just as we do, use a lot of very stylized lettering in a variety of fonts to lend artistic expression or advertising zip to words. Moreover, since we were in areas haunted by tourists, many signs were in Greek looking letters that actually spelled things out in a variety of European languages using the Roman alphabet: sigma might be an ‘s’ sound on one sign and an ‘e’ sound on another. I gave up and just allowed myself to enjoy the chaotic beauty of it all.

Don’t Spoil Them

One day on our Mediterranean sojourn I overheard a woman (American) instruct her husband not to tip the room stewards too much: “You’ll spoil them if you tip too much.” My own thought was that these persons work very hard to make your life, and mine, easy and comfortable, so who is being spoiled here? That was not the norm for most of the Americans and Canadians we fell in with, but it symbolized an attitude that we have been warned about since the days of Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah. It’s the seductive notion that somehow “we” are a unique species better than “them.” My former parish is sponsoring a workshop today called “Hidden in Plain Sight.” It’s about exploring how that seductive notion can be a part of our own thinking without our knowing it. I, of course, do not need to attend since I am clean of the prejudices that infect those who need to be there. What about you?

The Center of All Existence

We’ve just returned from a trip that took us to Rome, Athens and Ephesus. I had some doubts about spending too little time in each place, but it turned out that “sampling” was a pretty good idea, especially if one goes to the table having read up on what will be there. I may offer some reflections on what we experienced a bit later, but what’s on my mind right now is the Daily Office. My habit of spending time with God in Morning Prayer and meditation gets a little wobbly when we travel, but I stick with it as best I can. What struck me so often on this trip was a portion of the prayers that petition God to “keep this nation under your care, and guide [it] in the way of justice and peace.” ‘This nation’ turned out to be Italy, Greece or Turkey, and that gave me pause to think about each of them in terms well removed from daily life on the American media farm.

It probably doesn’t matter where one lives, one’s worldview is likely to experience one’s own nation or tribe as the center about which all else revolves. I’m not sure there is any other way because the only way that any of us ever see at all is from the center that is our own being in the place where we are. The words of the Daily Office, offered up in fullness of heart and mind, did what they could to remind me that God’s worldview, if there is such a thing, centers all existence on him, and that his grace extends without particularity to all who would receive it.

I imagine that this could come as quite a shock to some of my acquaintances who are thoroughly convinced that God’s presence on this earth flows directly into the United States as God’s chosen distribution center for the rest of the world. I have no doubt that the same thought occurred to Martin Luther when he first visited the Vatican where every stone, statue and painting intended to show that it was there, and only there, that God’s grace flowed through to the rest of the world. London assumed that mantle for a few hundred years. Who knows, maybe Beijing will wear it next. In any case, it has always been a mantle of hubris that never lasted and always melted away, leaving little more than a statue to look at or ruin to visit.

The Daily Office goes on to offer a petition that God’s ways may be known upon the earth and God’s saving health be present among all nations. I don’t think God needs to be reminded of that. I think we need to be reminded of that, and reminded daily.