August 7, 2019

Belonging with Purpose – Bishops United Against Gun Violence

Since last weekend, three young white men—all American citizens, all in legal possession of assault rifles—have murdered more than 30 people in cold blood. Most of the precious children of God who are dead and injured are people of color.

As Episcopalians, we are united to one another through the office of the Bishop. The Greek work (anglicized- episcopus) literally means “overseer.” It is this system of governance which supports and organizes Christians in the Episcopal Church, whether laity, priest, or deacon, to carry out their duty. For this reason, I share with you the letter sent out to all of those on the ECCT distribution list. To sign up to receive these e-newsletters go to https://www.episcopalct.org/enewsletters/

BISHOPS UNITED REPUDIATES CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM, SYSTEMIC RACISM White supremacy and gun violence coming to define our era, say Episcopal Church bishops AUGUST 6, 2019—Since last weekend, three young white men—all American citizens, all in legal possession of assault rifles—have murdered more than 30 people in cold blood. Most of the precious children of God who are dead and injured are people of color. When gun violence makes headlines, politicians supported by the National Rifle Association are quick to call white shooters “mentally ill,” while characterizing black and brown shooters as “criminals” and insisting that guns are not the problem. They choose to remain loyal to the gun lobby and its campaign contributions while denying the incontrovertible evidence that more guns mean more deaths. Common sense measures like universal background checks, assault weapons bans, handgun purchaser licensing, and restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers point the way toward sane gun policy that is well within any sensible interpretation of the Second Amendment. They are necessary and long overdue, but they are not sufficient. This latest sickening cluster of mass shootings has thrust into the headlines the deadly mix of white supremacy and gun violence that is coming to define our era of American history. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise and our government holds asylum-seekers on our southern border in inhumane conditions. The president of the United States uses racist tropes and inflammatory language to incite crowds against people of color, refugees and immigrants; and hate crime reports have increased for three consecutive years. The hatred and fury that drives mass shootings can also be turned inward, where it fuels the invisible and growing death toll of gun suicides. As Christians, we must work actively to dismantle the systemic racism that is part of our country’s founding narrative and that continues to fuel mass shootings and urban gun violence today. We must insist that both our fellow Christians and our elected leaders repudiate white supremacy and white nationalism and embrace humane immigration policies that follow God’s command and the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger in our midst. And we must refuse to participate in scapegoating people with mental illness, a ploy too often used to distract from the urgent yet simple need to enact common sense gun safety measures. Seven years ago yesterday, six people were murdered by a white supremacist at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. That massacre, one of two events that galvanized the creation of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, (the other was the shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut) brought us together across our differences to demonstrate that we believe in a God of life in the face of death. Today we are weary of witnessing the slaughter gripping our country. But we are no less determined to continue speaking, even when it seems our words make no difference; to continue praying in order to gather our strength to act; and to follow Jesus in speaking truth, especially when it seems that truth is out of season. Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a network of nearly 100 Episcopal Church bishops working to curtail the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. Learn more at bishopsagainstgunviolence.org and follow Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence on Facebook.

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November 5, 2018

And what about the End Times?

By following Jesus we can learn how to act in a way that makes fullness of life possible for all…

And what about the End Times?

I might be speaking to the church-y crowd with this title.  Everyone who goes to church seems to have an opinion on what the end of life as we know it will look like, regardless of their position’s biblical basis.  A clergy friend of mine brought this to my attention when he told of his experience of asking a group of people at his church…

Who has read The Revelation of John?  (only a few hands went up)

Who knows what The Revelation of John is about?  (almost all of the hands went up)

Now how can that be?  How can anyone know something that they haven’t actually studied?

The same is true for people not engaged with church.  They might think that they know what the Bible says on any number of topics, but without engaging the Holy Scriptures in the context of faith passed on from generation to generation (aka- tradition), such conclusion is built on a false premise.

With this in mind, I take up the common belief that Jesus’ return will be violent and destructive.  The poetic imagery of The Revelation of John defies any literal interpretation.  I particularly like Brian McLaren’s words in his book Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide.

“In light of the literary conventions of both literature of the oppressed in general and Jewish apocalyptic in particular, and assuming that Jesus’ coming as told in the Gospels was not a fake-me-out coming, but actually was the climactic revelation of God as the New Testament seems to affirm (Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-4), Jesus’ ‘striking down the nations’ with a sword ‘coming out of his mouth’ has a very different meaning.  Jesus’ word—the unarmed truth of the gospel of the kingdom—is the force that overcomes the ‘kingdom of this world,’ the dominant system, the suicide machine.  It conquers not with physical weapons but with a message of justice (Revelation 19:11), and the blood on Jesus’ robe is not the blood of his enemies, but his own blood (12:11, cf. 5:6). 

                Read in this way, we don’t have a violent ‘Second Coming’ Jesus who finishes what the gentle ‘First Coming’ Jesus failed to do, but we have a poetic description of the way the gentle First Coming Jesus powerfully overcomes through his nonviolent ‘weakness’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25), a prince of peace whose word of reconciliation is truly mightier than Caesar’s sword.” (p145)

By following Jesus, we can learn how to be reconcilers in our own day.  By following Jesus we can learn how to act in a way that makes fullness of life possible for all.  Isn’t this what we’re called to do?  Anything else will be our certain destruction.

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June 18, 2018

Planting Seeds that will bring about God’s Kingdom

How little things can grow into world-changing things through God’s transforming love

In my sermon on June 17, I spoke of how little things can grow into world-changing things through God’s transforming love.  I’m indebted to Jack Jezreel, the founder of JustFaith Ministries, for succinctly articulating the “seeds” that we can plant to help bring about God’s Kingdom. [i]  To hear my use of his words, go to June 17 http://stephen.echolink.org/sermons/ 

Relationships with Those at Risk

“Regardless of what else we do, we must stay connected in some kind of face-to-face way with the persons and the places at risk. . . .”

Justice Education

“The single most repeated phrase in the Gospels is [what] Jesus uses to describe the vision and focus of his ministry: the Reign of God. . . . This is the reign of service, reconciliation, justice, generosity, compassion and peacemaking. Jesus calls disciples to this vision.”

Simpler Lifestyles

“The history of affluence is the history of exploitation is the history of war. . . . Authentic love will not allow us to continue to ask the rest of the world to put itself at the mercy of our conveniences.”

Take time to Pray

“. . . Prayer is a way of connecting with our source. It is about being centered, grounded, mindful of the holy, the presence of the sacred and the precious. . . . Prayer can help us to connect with the poor with open eyes and hearts. It is prayer that can allow us to educate with patience, love and understanding. It is prayer that can enable us to move to a simpler lifestyle. And it is prayer that will allow us to do this with conviction and joy.

And whether or not we pray is as obvious as whether or not we have put our clothes on. For example, the compulsive, frantic, angry, cynical, unintegrated rambling from project to project—even from peace project to peace project—may speak of good intentions, but also of an uneasy and untended inner life. It is possible . . . to do much harm because we have not taken the time to pray. . . .”

Commitment to Nonviolence

“. . . Violence is awful. Violence is ugly. Violence is the saddest of human acts. . . It is so very difficult to lead people into a willing critique of their politics, their country, their allegiances, without some awareness of how violence is so often the handmaid of greed and power. . . .We are nonviolent, not because we simply eschew violence; rather, we are nonviolent because we are people who love like Jesus.”

Community

“. . Community is the most neglected and probably the most difficult ingredient for us to hold to in the U.S. context. And for the most obvious of reasons—we have come to worship at the altar of independence, individualism and autonomy. As much as there is a deep hunger for connection, common purpose, and kindred hearts, there is a merciless, deep-rooted entrenchment in the forces of competition, personal freedom and self-rule.”

[i] These portions of Jezreel’s work are taken from Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation post, Founder of the Center of Action and Contemplation, dated June 13 and 14, 2018.

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March 1, 2018

Faith Forward: A Renewed Mission

Faith Forward: A Renewed Mission- view the video!

Check out our youtube video regarding our New Mission Statement

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December 12, 2017

Waiting for heaven

Are you looking for love, joy, and peace in these weeks leading up to Christmas?

Waiting for Heaven by Rev. Whitney Altopp

Are you looking for love, joy, and peace in these weeks leading up to Christmas?  The news reminds us of past sorrows and horrors and present ones as well.  The suffering that we remember through either first-person contact or only a few degrees of separation puts a pall on this season of sparkle.  We know that the hope for joy and peace is not found in our items purchased for Christmas celebration.  As Christians our hope is in Jesus, the Christ, who came as an infant 2000+ years ago and promises to come again.  Let us be clear, however, that this hope is not passive or sedentary or naïve.  It is a hope that calls us into cooperative action in the redeeming work of God—here and now.  I find the words from this hymn from the Iona Community particularly profound in reminding us of God’s initiative to show love to all creation and God’s invitation for us to live as ones who have received it by living lives that reflect God’s redeeming, saving love.

Heaven Shall Not Wait

Heaven shall not wait

            For the poor to lose their patience

            The scorned to smile, the despised to find a friend:

Jesus is Lord

            He has championed the unwanted;

            In him injustice confronts its timely end.

Heaven shall not wait

            For the rich to share their fortunes

            The proud to fall, the elite to tend the least:

Jesus is Lord

            He has shown the masters’ privilege

            To kneel and wash servants’ feet before they feast.

Heaven shall not wait

            For the dawn of great ideas

            Thoughts of compassion divorced from cries of pain:

Jesus is Lord

            He has married word and action

            His cross and company make his purpose plain.

Heaven shall not wait

            For our legalized obedience

            Defined by statute, to strict conventions bound:

Jesus is Lord

            He has hallmarked true allegiance

            Goodness appears where his grace is sought and found.

Heaven shall not wait

            For triumphant hallelujahs

            When earth has passed and we reach another shore:

Jesus is Lord

            In our present imperfection;

            His power and love are for now and then forevermore.

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October 3, 2017

Responding to violence…again

Our salvation is found together…

Responding to violence…again

When the news story first came across my screen of the deadly shooting in Las Vegas Sunday night, I was struck by the terror of it.  “Should I write some sort of reflection?” I wondered to myself.  “Are people sick of reading some written reflection in response to violence?  Didn’t I just write one?  What could possibly be new to say?”  My tired, weary thoughts made the need for words and action even more profound.  VIOLENCE KEEPS HAPPENING!

Last year at this time, I was preparing for a trip to the Holy Land, a visit to Israel and the West Bank.  Aren’t you worried about the violence? People would occasionally ask me.  To what am I comparing the violence in the Middle East?  Who can judge between a shooter at the Al Aqsa Mosque and one in Las Vegas?

The Apostle Paul’s lament in his Letter to the Romans seems most suited for today.  Recalling various verses from the Hebrew texts he ruminates…

 What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:
‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 
   there is no one who has understanding,
     there is no one who seeks God. 
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
   there is no one who shows kindness,
     there is not even one.’ 
‘Their throats are opened graves;
   they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of vipers is under their lips.’ 
   ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ 
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; 
   ruin and misery are in their paths, 
and the way of peace they have not known.’ 
   ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’                      Romans 3:9-18

I believe that we will not find our way until we find ourselves in the Mercy that is God.  Discovering ourselves there will give us the strength and direction to find our way forward together.  No one is going anywhere.  The Violent are within each of us.  Our salvation is found together.  Jesus’ death on the cross shows us that although grace and mercy and love and forgiveness are free, our salvation is not.  Allowing ourselves to be saved is going to cost us something.

 

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August 16, 2017

Why it’s important to always speak up

There are people who listen to our words and consider our actions. What do they hear? What do they see?

Why it’s important to always speak up

In difficult situations it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. 

Knowing that your words carry gravitas and impact can be the “turn of the screw.”  So, I sympathize with public figures, like our President, who discover that every word spoken—or not spoken—is being listened to.

Lest we think that we’re off of the hook, however, we have our own area of influence.  There are people who listen to our words and consider our actions.  What do they hear?  What do they see?

What I hope that you hear from me is that white supremacy…or any other kind of supremacy…is wrong.  Our own Christian faith makes this very clear, with no room for misunderstanding.  Whether it’s Jesus who challenges the morally righteous or Paul who scolds the early followers of Jesus for seating themselves at the table according to status, these are only two examples of the many ways in our  scriptures that make it clear that there is no room for outcasts in Christ.  All are one.

This Sunday’s appointed lessons make this point clear.  In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, God says, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  The few verses from Romans emphasize that God’s favor on people other than the Hebrew people does not diminish his original blessing on the Hebrew people.  And Matthew’s Gospel leaves no room for confusion on our part– Then Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”  (To read these pieces of scripture, go to http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Pentecost/AProp15_RCL.html )

Freedom of Speech is not freedom to hate.

Hatred and division are not American values.  (Or am I wrong on this?)  I will work from the foundation of my Christian values toward eliminating hatred and division in our world.  I don’t want my moral failure to be indifference or surprise that hatred and division are alive in this world. 

German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) spoke a lamentation that I hope will never be mine.  Taken from Wikipedia, here is part of “his speech for the Confessing Church in Frankfurt on 6 January 1946, of which this is a partial translation:[1]

“When Pastor Niemöller was put in a concentration camp we wrote the year 1937; when the concentration camp was opened we wrote the year 1933, and the people who were put in the camps then were Communists. Who cared about them? We knew it, it was printed in the newspapers.

Who raised their voice, maybe the Confessing Church? We thought: Communists, those opponents of religion, those enemies of Christians – “should I be my brother’s keeper?”

Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables. – I remember a conversation I had with a person who claimed to be a Christian. He said: Perhaps it’s right, these incurably sick people just cost the state money, they are just a burden to themselves and to others. Isn’t it best for all concerned if they are taken out of the middle [of society]? — Only then did the church as such take note. Then we started talking, until our voices were again silenced in public. Can we say, we aren’t guilty/responsible? The persecution of the Jews, the way we treated the occupied countries, or the things in Greece, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia or in Holland, that were written in the newspapers

I believe, we Confessing-Church-Christians have every reason to say: mea culpa, mea culpa! We can talk ourselves out of it with the excuse that it would have cost me my head if I had spoken out.” 

I don’t want to fool myself in thinking that hatred and division will simply pass on by.  I’m smart enough to notice that it hasn’t happened yet.  Hatred and division were there in the time of Jesus.  And they’ve been allowed to have a place in the public sphere for way too many months now. 

How will I use my God-given creativity and my commitment to the power of Love to change these things?  How will you?

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June 29, 2017

Non-dualistic thinking

Non-dualistic thinking has opened for me a way to accept and proclaim the redeeming work of the Living God; the grace known in Jesus Christ…

I’m passionate about practicing and teaching non-dualistic thinking.  Non-dualistic thinking helped me change my question: Is this good or bad?  into the following questions: What is good and what is bad in this situation?  How do I know this?  Non-dualistic thinking allows me to be in relationship with these questions, which I find myself only capable of doing with God’s help.  The by-product of this way of thinking is that I grow in relationship with God through the very events/occurrences of my day.  Each event becomes an invitation to receive grace; an invitation to engage the Holy One – The Sacrament of the Present Moment, as Jesuit Priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) wrote over three hundred years ago. 

With all of the changes in our world, I find freedom in not judging them.  Instead of declaring from the beginning that something is good or bad, I hold it open to see what threads of good and bad run beside each other.  Where these threads of good and bad form a knot of reality, I ask God how I can untangle or pull apart the good from the bad AND how I might be a part of God’s redemption of the bad.  Well, if not a part of God’s redemptive work, at least not stand in the way.  *smile*  This is slow and attentive work which in practice looks like prayer.  As I join in the work that God is doing, God is right in there with me correcting my efforts, coaching me in my actions, and forgiving my shortcomings. Richard Rohr stated it succinctly,  “Once you have known grace, your tit-for-tat universe is forever undone: God is everywhere and always and scandalously found even in the failure of sin.” (p 77, The Naked Now)

This is not perfect work.  I’m not even that good at it.  Nor do I always enjoy it.  When things are hard, I growl or yell when I’m alone — sound born from my frustration or impatience or plain-good-ol’-weariness.  And these sounds are prayers, too.  Inevitably, God reveals what thread of the knot of reality God is redeeming.  And by the flash of God’s redemptive love at work, I’m inspired and consoled to join in the effort that God is doing.  I’ll try again.  It’s obviously not my job anyway—it’s God’s work.  I’m simply on the team. 

Non-dualistic thinking has opened for me a way to accept and proclaim the redeeming work of the Living God; the grace known in Jesus Christ.  So, I’m passionate about cultivating this practice within myself, and coaching others in it as well, so that the Always Redeeming Love of God can be made known in the world.

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June 21, 2017

World Refugee Day

Yesterday (June 20) was World Refugee Day, a specific day to remember the average people who flee their well-loved and familiar homes because of famine, war, or persecution…

Yesterday (June 20) was World Refugee Day, a specific day to remember the average people who flee their well-loved and familiar homes because of famine, war, or persecution.  Episcopal Migration Ministries invites us to a moment of reflection with these words:

A great commonality across religions and global cultures is the tradition of breaking bread together. The sharing of food between people is an effective and enduring way to foster interpersonal, inter-religious, inter-ethnic, and international connections. 
…This call [to welcome the stranger] is the essence of growth and development for humanity.

Sitting down together at the table, whether with our family or with guests, reminds us that we are not our own masters.  We cannot sustain ourselves by our own will.  The invitation spoken at the Communion Table each Sunday reminds us of this:

“Come to this table…It is Christ who invites us to meet him here, sustaining us for the life we are called to in him.”

How do we allow Christ to sustain us?  How do we allow Love to sustain us?  Somehow we have to go deeper into our common ground.  We have to find our shared foundation, beneath the chaos and volatility on the surface.  Breaking bread with one another calls us into our common humanity.  We’re not sure how to deal with all of the strife (both personal and political).  There is no obvious life-giving answer.  I believe, however, that we’re called to a greater awareness of our connectedness with one another, our shared identity as God’s creation.  This awareness is the seed of action, and the practice that sprouts from this interconnectedness provides a way for God to work.

Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter see on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”  Mark 4:26-29

May we plant seeds of kindness in our common humanity so that God’s transforming work is better able to grow.

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June 12, 2017

Today is the anniversary of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.

This morning on the radio news I heard two gay men in Chechnya share their stories of violence and abuse in Russia because of the fact that they’re gay…

This morning on the radio news I heard two gay men in Chechnya share their stories of violence and abuse in Russia because of the fact that they’re gay.

How can the church speak into this world of violence???

We can share what we know of ourselves as children of God and how it is that we’ve developed our lives to reflect that truth.  The Episcopal Church took action to affirm God’s blessing upon LGBTQ people by establishing a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples: The Witnessing and Blessing of a Life-long Covenant.  (You can find this liturgy under the “Services” portion of the Welcome tab)  The following is an excerpt from the introduction:

Christian Life and Covenants

All Christians are called to bear witness to the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are empowered for such witness by our covenantal relationship with God.

Baptism initiates us into that covenant, making us Christ’s own forever and members of Christ’s Body, the Church.  The Eucharist sustains us in that covenantal life and strengthens us to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.

Our covenantal life with God is expressed in relationships of commitment and faithfulness, including those of same-sex couples. It is the Church’s joy to celebrate these relationships as signs of God’s love, to pray for God’s grace to support couples in their life together, and to join with these couples in our shared witness to the gospel in the world.

In Matthew’s Gospel, at the very end,  

Jesus came and said to (the disciples), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

We have Good News to share—That God loves all that God has made.  God invites all humanity into covenant relationship with Him/Her.  Go into the world and let people know that God has not forgotten them.  They—YOU—are loved.

 

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