Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shifting Gears, Looking Ahead

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’m writing late this week as I get everything ready to leave for vacation. Clergy in the Episcopal Church are blessed with good long chunks of vacation—no three day weekends, but four weeks a year to take whenever I want is pretty great. Time for conferences, retreats, and education, like Wild Goose Festival where I traveled a few weeks ago, is separate. It’s great for me, but it’s also great for you—Revs Anne and Norm, who are each taking two weeks in my absence, are totally different preachers and thinkers than I, and after ten years of me rattling around in that stone building it’s important to get me out of my enclosure once in a while. My family and I will be backpacking and camping the National Parks of Utah and Arizona, so if any pastoral emergencies come up the very faithful and capable clergy of Redeemer Lexington, Revs Kate and Andrew, will be on call. I’ve got one more Sunday, though, until I’m away, so I’m looking forward to being with you this week. The Gospel is a blockbuster—in John’s version of the Feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walks on water right afterwards. One miracle isn’t enough.

Meanwhile, vestry and I have been having some great conversations about what we’d like to work on for 2015-16. I’ve been working on my own goals as well—I’d like to focus more on structuring my work time for better preaching preparation, and I want to try having regular open office hours at CafĂ© on the Common. As I get drawn up into ideas for activities and programs, though, I keep pulling back and remembering what the actual mission here is—the mission is not the program or the attendance at whatever Tuesday event is happening. The mission is the reconciliation of all people with God. If Tuesday night programs help out with that, terrific, but if they’re not, then we should do something else.

So then the question is:
What do you want to do next year?
From the beach or the mountains or Moody Street, wherever you find yourself this summer, take a few minutes to imagine with each other over time and space. I’ve created this google doc to be a big whiteboard—anybody can write on it (no google ID necessary). Throw out all your ideas, sign your name or not, just use your imagination. In the Gospel passage we read last Sunday, Jesus taught the people who gathered “many things.” What does he want to teach us now? What does he want us to teach each other?


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Coming Toward Democracy

Dear People of Christ Church,
I’ve written several versions of this post trying to get to the bottom of what, exactly, I was doing for my time at Wild Goose Festival last week. Part of the standard clergy employment agreement is to have two weeks of “continuing education” time. I’ve gone to Wild Goose Festival now three times as part of that, and also used the time for retreats and conferences. So there is a sense of accountability around it—our parishes generously provide for this (and offer some funding!) in addition to vacation, so I want to try to share this with you.

I’m glad to include links of everything I saw—a lot of the presentations were things the presenters have offered before, so information is easy to convey. I will be glad to send you links. But the experience isn’t about data. What it is about is the amazing sense of how God was working in the lives of the people I met and listened to. Almost every person I heard had a deep sense of Scripture. I did the math and I’ve preached at least 400 sermons. I know some things about the Bible. But the way that Mark Charles, a Navajo activist and educator, talked about how white settlers in the Americas lacked a “land covenant” with God to guide our relationship, or the way Bree Newsome talked about how Jesus worked for peace, not order, or how Tony Campolo talked about the love of Jesus moved in his heart to advocate for GLBT persons in the evangelical movement—literally, OMG.

I have heretical moments, but by and large I think my theology about Jesus is pretty sound. But that’s my theology. My passion for Jesus is more in sacrament and symbol and church and service. It’s more intellection and less clear than “Ok, Lord, I’ll climb that pole.” I’d be afraid to climb a flag pole just for the sake of the height, much less risking arrest and the legitimate possibility of being shot. But Bree Newsome pointed out that Jesus was mostly just in the Temple when he was knocking things over. He was out in the world doing his ministry where God called him to be.

So that’s my real invitation from Wild Goose Festival. Where am I muting the invitation of the Holy Spirit because of fear? Where am I unfree from a disordered attachment to comfort? In church, in my family, in my prayer? How often am I willing to do the hard work for genuine, holy, peace? To learn from marginalized voices, not because it’s my “duty,” but because Jesus is there. It’s very comfortable to say that “education” is the key to success and social mobility, and that’s often true. But where we need to lean harder on education is for people like me who don’t get arrested for failing to use a turn signal, to learn what we don’t know. As a person of privilege in this country I can be like a fish in water and not have to understand what water is. But that is not the way of Jesus.

A white anti-racist response has to come from humility. This country was founded on the theft of land and came to economic dominance through slavery. It is coming toward democracy, and is founded on some amazing ideals of freedom and equality that are coming toward being for all people. But those ideals aren’t a reality for all of its people. The inspiring part, though, is that if the truth really will set us free—and I think we have to believe it does—is that we are all on our way to the vineyard. Some will be on time, some will be late, and some will be really, really late. But as Episcopal priest Paul Fromberg said in his talk on “An apocalyptic of peace:” I don’t believe in progress. I believe in salvation.”

As a Christian I, too, believe in salvation.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Receiving Grace

Dear People of Christ Church,
As you read this I’ll be almost finished with my 900 mile drive south to Hot Springs, North Carolina, home of the Wild Goose Festival, a Thursday through Sunday extravaganza of God, peace, art, music, and muddy Christians. Hot Springs is in an area in Western North Carolina that is basically a rain forest, and with mostly tent campers, you get very comfortable with dirt. 2 years ago my family had a bit of an extra adventure when our elderly camping trailer and our not-quite-up-to-the-task Subaru were no match for the mountains. Four of us in the front of a tow truck driving 45 minutes into the mountains to retrieve our camper was an exploit we hope not to repeat, so this year we are staying in a much more portable tent.

The first time we were at Wild Goose we heard civil rights veteran Vincent Harding speak—all the more powerful now, since he died in 2014. I remember hearing him talk about the United States as an “emerging” democracy—we just aren’t all there yet, as a nation, but God is leading us on. Observing July 4 this past week in the wake of the Supreme Court’s equal marriage decision felt like our country emerged a little further, though there is still a distance to go. Fundamentally, though, our faith is about joy, not sorrow. The Gospel calls us to mourn and weep (I’ve forgotten how many of the psalms are laments, but it’s a lot), but also tell us joy comes in the morning and that we are already reconciled to God. Already.

The most incredible gift, the one that’s somewhat peculiarly difficult to receive, is the grace of Jesus—the already-forgiven places we are invited to live in. Over the last few weeks I’ve sung Amazing Grace more times than usual, mostly as a go-to hymn a lot of people just know. We sang it at the service for Charleston, we sang it because the hymn number was printed incorrectly in church two Sundays ago, and we sang it this past week at Church in the Garden when we were competing with ambulances and traffic. My favorite verse is the last one:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

I love this image beyond time and space, as though we could begin singing and giving thanks for God now, but there’s no way we’ll ever finish. Even after ten thousand years, still the grace of God will catch us in joy, nudging us like a four year old who just needs their back scratched a little longer at bedtime. Just a little longer. Ten thousand years isn’t enough.

Where is grace finding you these summer days?


PS: please come to church this Sunday as we continue summer worship at 9:30—the incomparable Rev. Anne Minton joins us!…
Stop by and say hi between 10-12 this Saturday, too, for Waltham History Day at Christ Church!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Get Up, Girl!"

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week I’ve continued to watch the events coming out of General Convention in Salt Lake City with a bit more focus. One of the highlights was seeing (now outgoing) Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s sermon on Sunday’s Gospel text, in which a girl, a daughter of a leader of the synagogue, is healed of her illness. Even after her father’s friends tell him to stop bothering Jesus, that she’s dead and he has to just deal with it, even when those friends laugh at Jesus when he tells them that she’s sleeping, not dead, this girl’s father keeps his faith and gets his daughter back.

Talitha cum, the phrase Jesus says to the girl, is rendered by Bishop Katharine as “get up, girl!” and what a word for our church. Institutionally, the Episcopal church nationwide is in quite a lot of hot water. Membership declines, money declines, buildings decline. Jesus comes and says, “Get up, girl!” As we celebrate marriage equality coming to every state, Jesus says, “Get up, girl!” As we weep over the nine murdered at Emanuel AME Charleston and rage against Southern churches burned in white supremacist attacks Jesus says, “Get up, girl!”

Get up to celebrate, get up to mourn, get up to speak out. Don’t die before you’re dead. Jesus speaks a word to us all to be the church as fully as we can. Not the church-as-institution, as building, as provider-of-“intangible spiritual gifts” (as our donor acknowledgement letter states). But Church as people-of-God, as disciples-of-Jesus, as body-of-Christ.

This week in Salt Lake City we elected our first African American Presiding Bishop. Just as having a black president didn’t end racism in the US, having a black presiding bishop doesn’t end racism in the church. The House of Bishops passed a resolution to remove references to gender in our marriage canons, so that full marriage equality will be the rule, not the exception in all Episcopal dioceses (currently it’s case-by-case, permitted in our diocese for some time now). And just as marriage equality has become the law in our country and our church, it doesn’t end violence and prejudice against our LGBT siblings. But as Presiding Bishop-elect Curry said: we have a God, there is a Jesus, and we are part of the Jesus movement. And nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world. Thanks be to God!

Some links to check out:
Coverage of the bishops’ led march against gun violence in Salt Lake City

Christ Church Cathedral in St Louis gets up: Rebuild Black Churches Fund

Michael Curry’s remarks (the standing ovation stops at about minute 9)

More on the nuts and bolts on the legislation on marriage

For updates from the Diocese of Massachusetts folks at Convention, check out their website here

And last but not least, the video about John Obergefell and his husband I preached about on Sunday, click here. Have tissues available.

Sara +

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Dwelling Place for God

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week the wider Episcopal Church begins their ten day General Convention, an every-three-years bonanza of church policy making and community building. On the table this year is a pending change to the canons on same gender marriage (which is permissible in many places, including Massachusetts, but not officially the law of the whole church), the election of a presiding bishop (the head of the whole shebang—Katharine Jefferts Schori finishes her nine year term), and many, many, many other proposals of varying significance.

The violence in Charleston, though, and racism in America, is still more on my mind—it feels a bit beside the point to argue the finer points of church governance (will our currently bicameral system go unicameral? Oh, the suspense!). I read one reflection from Convention about “The Elephant in the Room” being that the African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded because African Americans were not welcome in those white-dominated denominations in their day. The Episcopal Herald author offers,
In the same way that a budget is a moral document reflecting our values, perhaps it is worth considering how the agenda for our time together reflects those same values. If one were to look at the proposed agenda, would it be clear as to where God is calling us to build the Kingdom of God in our communities throughout the world?
This is a good question for all of us engaged in church work to ask—how much of our vestry agenda every month directly relates to sharing the good news of God in Christ that we are reconciled, beloved, and freed for the work of being the body of Christ in the world? How are we engaging, every day, to confront all of the “evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” as we promised in our baptismal covenant along with Jane Harvey on Sunday? Instead of being fully focused on being hands and heart of Christ, how often do we instead flit in and out of doing that work? A special collection here, a fiery sermon there, and the box checked off of the to do list?

This Sunday after church, I’d like to invite anyone who is interested to spend some time looking at the Charleston Syllabus, an initiative begun by Brandeis professor Chad Williams. Both the Charleston doc and similar work on the Ferguson Syllabus preceding it (begun by Marcia Chatelain) are crowdsourced in-flux documents—(to see the whole conversation, see them on twitter at #FergusonSyllabus and #Charlestonsyllabus). So we’ll look at the list from the African American Intellectual History Society. What have you read? What do you want to read? How shall we work closer to home, to change ourselves as we change the world?

Finally, I want to offer you this prayer from Clementa Pinkney, offered just 2 months before his death. May we all be a dwelling place for God.

“Lord of all the names that we call you, we invite you into this space today. We pray that you would fill this place, Emanuel, with your love.
May we remember that the name Emanuel means ‘God with Us’ and so we invite you and we welcome you into this place.
And God we pray that you would make ‘Emanuels’ of all of us, that we may be filled with your love, for we know that only love can conquer hate, that only love can bring all together in your name.
Regardless of our faiths, our ethnicities, where we are from, together we come in love. Together we come to bury racism, to bury bigotry, and to resurrect and to revive love, compassion, and tenderness.
We pray that you would bless and empower all who are here to reach and to feel the love and to share the love.
We ask all now in reverence and holiness, may we together say, Amen.”
From Rev Mae Elise Cannon’s 5 Things White Christians Can Do in Solidarity with our Brothers and Sisters of Color

Friday, June 19, 2015

Remember their Names

Dear People of Christ Church,
This Sunday, we’ll hear the story of David and Goliath, a story we all know by heart. David, so young and so small he couldn’t even move trying to wear armor, hit Goliath in the middle of the eyes and knocked him down. Though everyone said it would be impossible, with God it would happen. Waking up to news this morning of a shooting at a historically black church in South Carolina, American racism feels like Goliath and we are all still on our way to battle.

In the story, David uses the same strength and skill that has brought him victory over all kinds of wild beasts. David knows himself. The United States, though? We don’t know ourselves. We don’t know each other. We don’t know our own minds, we don’t know each others’ experiences to free ourselves from this toxic fog of racism and hatred that seeps in everywhere. The assailant at the Emanuel shooting sat in Bible Study with his victims for an hour before beginning the attack. It’s beyond chilling.

So I don’t have a ton of words this evening, but I do have the Gospel. We can pray, pray, pray and be vulnerable to the suffering of others. We can remember their names and pray for Cynthia, Tywanza, DePayne, Ethel, Myra, Susie, Sharonda, Daniel Sr, and Clementa, each beloved children who rest in the arms of their Creator. We can remember that Jesus went to the cross rather than return violence for violence.

We can note that the terrorism perpetrated against this church is in a neighboring town to the place where Walter Scott was murdered just two months ago by police, also viewed with suspicion and hatred because he was black. And we can also say that they were martyrs, not only victims. We can say it is terrorism. Pray that we—you and me—have the courage to face our own racism and our own quiescence in the face of this violence.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP).

Please join me and members of the wider community at Christ Church on Saturday, June 20, at 6pm for an Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Peace and and End to Racism, hosted by the Waltham Ministerial Association.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

A New Take on Being the Body of Christ

Dear People of Christ Church,
This week, I had the privilege to sit next to Sister Simone Campbell, keynote speaker at the Episcopal City Mission Annual Dinner. She is the executive director of the Roman Catholic Sisters’ social justice advocacy organization, NETWORK. I first heard about Sisters Simone’s work in 2012, when she and her sisters began the “Nuns on the Bus” tour and offered their critique of the much-discussed Ryan budget, a budget passed by the US House that would have gutted safety net provisions for poor Americans nationwide. Subsequent trips have promoted support for new immigrants and their 2014 “We the People” tour encouraged voters to step up and claim their place at the table. I bought her book and would be interested in talking about it with a group—please let me know if you’d be up for some light summer reading! (It really is light—she’s charming and totally conversational).

One of the things that Sister Simone talked about was the image of the Body of Christ—I know, I know, you’ve thought about it before. But she didn’t talk poetically about how she thought she was the feet or the hands of Christ. She said she thought her ministry was in being the stomach acid. Yes, the stomach acid. To digest and process and get the protein and nutrients broken down and sent to where they need to go. All you need to do, she said, is find your part to play in the world—you don’t have to fix every problem, you need to find the one thing you are called to.

The other fantastic part of the evening was watching this video about the Burgess Urban Fund. The fund was started 40 years ago as the Joint Urban Fund between the diocese and Episcopal City Mission. The seeds for it were planted in 1968, when Bishop Anson Stokes offered $10,000 in response to activists’ demands to build affordable housing on a vacant lot at Dartmouth and Columbus Streets in Boston. That action set the tone for what would become the Burgess Urban Fund, named for John Burgess, the first African American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. The fund grew, supported by every parish, and over the years has given five million dollars to community organizations (including our local partner WATCH!). Our own Rev Norm Faramelli has long been affiliated with ECM and tells much of the story. Watch it here! (no, really. Watch it. It’s 8 minutes, and totally worth it).

Bishop Burgess said that he wanted to show how the Episcopal Church could be relevant to the lives of the poor. That was his “one thing,” as Sister Simone said. Not a small thing, but one thing. What’s your thing? Where are you called to meet God working in the world? Are you a hand, a foot, a heart? Or maybe something more specific, like stomach acid or blood or veins? A whole body needs every part.


P.S.—for another thing I wrote this week…check out my reply to a recent New York Times article on feminism and transgender rights on my blog—”Why politics needs theology: or why feminism and trans rights are part of the same train.”