Thursday, May 29, 2014

First thought: "Loving Openly and Notoriously."

Sister Ruth talking to us on one of our bus journeys
I am emerging from "going deep and quiet" and beginning to parse through all I have heard and experienced the past 10 days. I am deeply grateful for Sister Ruth's counsel not to blog as we went, because I know that much of what I wrote one day I would have wanted to delete the next.

As I told Sister a few days ago, each day I would hear stories of either Israelis or Palestinians and I would be so moved and convicted by them that I would be sure I had a handle on what and who was right and what and who was wrong. And then I would have to stop and tell myself: "Take a deep breath, tomorrow is another day." Meaning, tomorrow would bring different stories, different faces, different perspectives, different pain, different claims, different hopes. And those would need to be held in tension and love and humility with everything else I had heard.

This was a trip of hearing deep and powerful narratives that often conflicted with one another. Of realizing that as much as skilled negotiators, this region needs skilled psychologists -- and more than anything it needs deep prayer, deep listening, and deep love..

The list of people we met with was astounding. Each one either pricked our intellect or moved our spirit and many did both. We met with:

*The Dean of St. George's Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem.
*A Palestinian Christian who does tours of refugee camps.
*People we encountered on our walking tour of the DeHeisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank.
*A Palestinian Muslim in his 20s who lives in the DeHeisheh Refugee Camp.
*The architect of the security barrier, who was also a part of the Israeli delegation at Camp David when the Clinton Parameters almost brought a framework for peace to the region.
With our tour guide, George, on the other side of the
security barrier in Bethlehem.
*A retired Lt. Col. in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), who stood with us for two hours on a hillside in Sderot overlooking Gaza (about the same distance as from my house to Christ Church Cathedral) on a day when two rockets were launched from Gaza right to the area where we were (gratefully, not while we were there).
*An incredible Israeli author and journalist who emigrated to Israel and, as a Jew, has dived deep into the Christian and Muslim communities and had a unique perspective on the conflict and the role of faith in it.
*A Palestinian Israeli journalist who covers the conflict for the Jerusalem Post.
*A Palestinian Christian who founded the only Christian-owned TV station in the West Bank.
*The Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs and Official Spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
*A former member of and spokesperson for the Israeli National Police who personally had been to the site of 48 suicide bombings and had to retire because of PTSD.
*A professor of business at Tel Aviv University who runs a "mini-MBA" program for Palestinian businessmen and women from the West Bank.
*The head of the Strategic Section of the International Law Department of the IDF -- who gave us a briefing at the Israeli "Pentagon."
*A retired Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court (inside the Court building).
*The President/CEO of the Palestine Stock Exchange (and also Yasser Arafat's nephew).
*The president of the company building (with the help of Qatar) the first planned Palestinian city (complete with in-depth tour and tree-planting ceremony - more on that in a future post).
*A senior member of the Fatah party (the largest faction of the Palestinian Authority), who was part of the Palestinian group at Camp David when the Clinton Parameters almost brought a framework for peace to the region.

Part of our  group enjoying fellowship on a beautiful hotel patio.
One of the discussion questions -- What is the most memorable
meal you ever had? I think this feast of Cuban cigars, Macallan,
olives, crackers and water will rank up there.
So many different and powerful voices. Not to mention tours of holy sites. Views from bus windows and walks through neighborhoods. Experiencing the Pope's visit to Jerusalem. And late nights spent with my fellow pilgrims processing what we had heard and seen -- and sometimes intentionally doing anything but.

The group I traveled with is called "Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East," and a fair witness is what we got. We were given the opportunity to spend not minutes but hours with each of these people and told that no question or topic was off-limits. There were many things I can share from those conversations and also some things that were shared off the record that I will respect by not sharing but that powerfully shaped my mind and heart.

Through it all, as I had intended, I continually asked myself the question: "What can I learn here that will translate back to St. Louis ... to the conflicts of race and class that seem sometimes nearly as intractable as the Israelis and the Palestinians?" I will be writing more on that in the coming days and weeks as well.

But for all of this, some of the most meaningful conversations were the ones I had with Sister Ruth on the bus. She is a remarkable woman -- lawyer, nun, personal trainer (she never got around to teaching me the core exercises she promised to!) and tireless and passionate worker for peace in this region. My roommate John Ohmer remarked that all we needed to do was lock the architect of the barrier, the Fatah leader, Hillary Clinton and Sister Ruth in a room and not let them out until they had a solution and the conflict would be solved. When we told her this, Sister -- absolutely humble but not lacking any in self-confidence -- immediately said, "Ummm... Yeah, we could do it."

On Monday as we were entering our last two days and driving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Sister Ruth and I had a long conversation. I told her about my experience of every day being moved passionately and saying to myself: "Take a deep breath. Tomorrow is another day." And I asked her what she thought the church's job is. Here's what she said:

"The Church's job is to stand with people on both sides, loving them openly and notoriously."

Her words bring tears to my eyes as I write them. Because I don't want to take one side or another. More than that after standing with and hearing all these people, I don't want to presume Jesus is calling some sheep and some goats. I believe in calling out evil when I see it ... and I believe we ignore that call at the peril of our souls. But as much as there were parts of both the security barrier architect and the Fatah member (to use two examples) that I absolutely opposed, so too was there real passion and pain and a desire for justice that was true and valid and even rooted in compassion. There was goodness and even holiness in each narrative, in each person.

And I think about downtown St. Louis. And I think about the battle between the residents and business owners and the city and the people struggling with homelessness and Larry Rice and NLEC. I think about the seemingly endless cycle we are in of battling one another, of assigning blame. And as a Cathedral we have resisted taking one side or another and it has positioned us to be a place where, God willing I hope, in the coming months all will come together to try to broker if not a solution at least a better way.

Cross carved into the wall of the stairway leading
down to the St. Helena Chapel at the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre. Millions of people have
followed Jesus to and from this spot.
As soon as Sister Ruth said those words, I knew she was right -- not just for Israel and Palestine but for St. Louis. It was the statement that bound together everything we had heard from these diverse and amazing people and the incredible spiritual experiences I had at the Western Wall and the Golgotha Chapel.

Our job as the Church is to stand with people on both sides, loving them openly and notoriously.

Standing with -- doing what Jesus did with all humanity. Not promising to fix things or make it all better, but promising never to leave. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Loving openly -- loving in a public way as Jesus loved. Loving all without exception or strings attached (and that love means challenging sometimes).

Loving notoriously -- loving in a way that Jesus loved. Loving scandalously (You love HER??? You love HIM???). Loving in ways that put at risk our reputation and all that we have and are.

As I begin to think about this (and all of my thoughts are just beginning), if the question is "What is our role in Israel/Palestine? What is our role in St. Louis?" the answer is -- to follow Jesus.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Going Deep and Quiet

Our group with Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday evening, boarded a bus, and headed for Jerusalem. As we were ascending the hills toward the Holy City our leader, Sister Ruth, read the "Psalm of Ascents:"(Psalm 122)

I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgement were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

Here with this small team of pilgrims to learn about the many layers of conflict here, and feeling us literally ascend into the city of Jerusalem, these words of unity, peace and security were haunting and beautiful -- because our very reason for being here is the lack of these things.

After dinner and a time of prayer and conversation, at about 9:30 pm, two of my fellow pilgrims and I headed out on foot toward the old city in search of a cafe that had this Palestinian beer that one of them loved. As we walked the narrow streets of the Old City, all I could think about was all the history and scripture I have ever read that took place in the places where I was walking. But this was not a museum -- this is a living city, with people of all sorts bustling around living their lives.

We got our itineraries last night for our stay here and each day is packed. The range of things we will be seeing and people we will be meeting with is tremendous. In addition to seeing many of the holy sites, we will be listening to a mixture of people from all sides of the conflicts here. From the architect of Israel's security barrier to people living in Palestinian refugee camps, to Anglican Bishops and Deans to a spokesperson from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and a representative of the PLO and the Israeli Foreign Ministry and even the CEO of the Palestine Stock Exchange. The list goes on and on.

Several of us asked Sister Ruth about blogging during this journey and she said she was going to ask us not to write daily blogs for two reasons. The first is that each day we will be hearing different voices -- and each voice will touch us in a different way. The point is not to react to each voice but to hold them each close to our hearts and listen to the next voice. Then, at the end, through thought, prayer and conversation, try to get a sense of what all these voices held together mean. Daily blogging is bound to be reactive and not reflective -- and would be counter to our purpose for being here.

Second, is that she said that every group she has brought here (and she has lost track of that number) has been moved in profound and different ways, and part of that is the open and honest conversations we have with one another. She has found that people posting daily online can have a muting effect on those conversations.

Both of these reasons make absolute sense to me. So, with the exception of posting some photos on Facebook, I'm going to go "deep and quiet" for the next week or so. That's a phrase submariners use when they are trying to go undetected by the enemy. For me, it means I am going into a posture of listening and holding things close to my heart. Going quiet in an attempt to go deep. The last two days of my journey here, I will be on my own staying at St. George's College and perhaps I will do some writing and trying to express the total picture then.

Please continue to hold me in prayer and know that I am holding all of you -- family, friends, the people of Christ Church Cathedral and the people of St. Louis -- in mine.

The top picture is the view from my hotel window. The second is three of us having drinks in the Old City. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

This day began with a fight and a scream. It ended with a prayer and a song.

It began with a fight and a scream.

At about 10:40 this morning, an argument broke out on the sidewalk across 13th street from Christ Church Cathedral. Our canon precentor, Pat Partridge, was walking in our parking lot when he heard the argument ... and the scream ... and when he turned he saw in a blur one man stabbing another.

Pat ran and got one of our security ministers, Ezra, who sprinted to the scene and helped the people who had already gathered around the injured man give comfort while they waited for ambulance and police to arrive.

The man died, stabbed through the neck. His murderer ran off. Both are people familiar to us. Occasional guests at our Saturday morning breakfast. Sometime visitors to our Cathedral Nave.

It's been more than a decade since Cathedral secretary Carol Bledsoe was also stabbed in the neck and died, a senseless murder at the hands of a severely mentally ill man also struggling with homelessness. There have been so many changes in our neighborhood since then. Central Library is gorgeously renovated. So is the Park Pacific ... with CBS radio broadcasting in three stations from the third floor. Lucas Park has a beautiful facelift, and businesses and loft apartments are thriving on Washington Avenue and throughout the area.

And in our own building, Lafayette Preparatory Academy, a wonderful charter elementary school, is taking flight.

Downtown is on the rise. And it is an exciting thing to be a part of. There is no other place in the nation than I would rather be right now than at the corner of 13th and Locust in downtown St. Louis. We get to be the Cathedral at the epicenter of a community renaissance, our majestic structure exceeded only in beauty by our neighbor Central Library, our partner in the ministries of enlightenment and welcome. Ensconced in a community that is notable in our region for its diversity and creativity and civic-mindedness.

And yet here we stood again. The police tape. The blood. The fear. And the blame.

The murder in front of our Cathedral today is a reminder and a call to action. It is a reminder that we have much work to do making sure that the benefits of civil society -- food, housing, health, safety, employment -- are shared by everyone. It is a call to recommit ourselves to the work of making our city a place where all have the ability to live a safe, healthy and dignified life.

There are no easy answers. But we do know we cannot continue on the path that has led us, 11 years later, back to the same place. We cannot continue to have residents, business owners, the city, and service providers pointing fingers at one another, spending our energy battling one another instead of creating a city worthy of our great history and people.

My friend Clye calls poverty ... and I would add crime and hunger and homelessness ... dysfunction in community. I could not agree more. It is dysfunction in community that allows people to sleep on our streets. It is dysfunction in community that has children shooting children and adults stabbing adults.

It is our brokenness that allows days like this to happen. It is our brokenness that allows evil to thrive.

It began with a fight and a scream. But it did not end there.

At 5 pm this evening, 20 of us stood at the spot where just hours before one man had taken another's life. We shared our names and what drew us there. We prayed for the man who died. We prayed for the man who took his life. We prayed for our city. We prayed for ourselves.

We asked God's forgiveness and mercy for our part in this dysfunctional community. We reclaimed this profaned piece of real estate between these two great institutions of enlightenment by pouring blessed oil on it and massaging it into the stone.

We anointed our hands and asked God to make us agents of God's grace. And then we joined those hands and sang Amazing Grace.

And as we sang, I looked around that circle. I looked at who had taken the time to stand in the rain at 5 in the afternoon and pray for our city, for two men with nowhere to live, and for peace.

We were black and white. We were old and young. We were residents and workers.

There were Cathedral parishioners -- Jim McGregor, Carlyn Katz, Miriam Jenkins and Paul Anderson. There were downtown residents like Howard Wynder and Dana Kay Goddard and a friend she brought along. Waller McGuire, Executive Director of St. Louis Public Library was there with two library employees. So was Doug Woodruff, the new president of the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis and Missy Kelly, the Partnership COO. Chris Rice of NLEC was there, and so was Keith Raske, a retired Episcopal priest. Cathy Rodgers-Edmonds, the head of operations for Lafayette Preparatory Academy was there with her young son, and Amanda Andrus, co-owner of Gelateria Tavolini was there, carrying her unborn child within her. Wiley Price of the St. Louis American took pictures and Denise Hollinshed of the Post-Dispatch scribbled on her notepad.

None of them had to be there. None of them had gotten a phone call from me saying "please come." Or, "would you do me a favor." I didn't have to ask. They all care about this city. They all care enough to stand in the rain and pray for peace and mercy. They are what makes this city great. And they are not alone.

This day that had begun with a fight and a scream ended with a prayer and a song.  And as I looked around that circle, I knew without a doubt that we have what it takes to make this a city that makes glad God's heart. That if we work together, with God's help, we can move from constituencies looking after self-interest to neighbors looking after the common interest. We can come together to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable of our citizens, to make sure the benefits of the renaissance downtown are shared by all, and together to uphold a standard of dignity and quality of life for all God's children.

We call Christ Church Cathedral "sacred public space." I tell everyone who will listen that this is a place where all are welcome, where everyone is held to a standard of treating each other with love and respect, and where we come together to ask the questions we believe Jesus would ask and to work together for the common good.

There has never been a more important time for us to claim this mission. There has never been a more important time for us to show downtown the reconciling power of Jesus. And looking around that circle, I can't imagine we have ever had a better group of committed people to gather and get to work.

This day that had begun with a fight and a scream ended with a prayer and a song. But that prayer and song were not an ending but a beginning. Our goals are lofty. But downtown is a great neighborhood and St. Louis is a great region. And I believe we are more than equal to the task.

*Photo by Denise Hollinshed of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A pilgrimage into the heart of conflict

"From the earliest days of recorded history, conflict has been an integral part of human life. Although conflict and crisis are painful, they are visible and vital signs of the perpetual work of the church and society. Viewed in this light, they become sources of growth and gifts to be pressed into service.

The trouble with Jesus was—and is—that he stands in the midst of conflict, and allows the conflict actually to live in him even though it tears him apart, in order that new life might be born. The trouble with Jesus was—and is—that he invites us to follow where he has led." - Sam Portaro, Conflict and a Christian Life.

I used to fear conflict. It still makes me uneasy sometimes. Gradually, I'm learning to embrace it. I'm learning (and Sam's excellent book was an important prompt for me) that conflict is the prerequisite for creativity. That embracing conflict for its creative potential is how we unlock the treasures of the diversity of God's creation. That following Jesus on the way of the cross leads directly into conflict ... and thank God!

I'm also learning that it is hard work, this standing with Jesus in the midst of conflict. But it is work as a church given the mission of reconciliation that we cannot escape if we wish to be faithful.

On Monday morning, I will get on a plane and go to what could be argued is the epicenter of intractable conflict on planet Earth -- Jerusalem. The very words I use to describe my destination to people -- Israel/Palestine -- show that there is not even agreement on what this land is.

I am going as a pilgrim with a group of pilgrims -- with my goal not to change things there but to be changed myself. We will not just be visiting the holy sites of the geography (though there will be some of that) but the holy sites of people's lives and stories.  I am going with a group of Episcopal priests and bishops to learn about the many conflicts of that region. To listen deeply to voices of those who have given their lives to the various factions, and to some who are giving their lives to trying to bring creative harmony out of these conflicts.

The group I am traveling with is called Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, and it is led by a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Ruth Lautt, O.P, Esq., and their mission is to take denominational groups to Israel/Palestine to listen deeply to many different voices and to get a sense of the complexity of the conflict but also the potential gifts reconciliation has to offer. It is a remarkable group and an honor to go, particularly because it is invitation only and they cover basically all expenses - and also because my fellow pilgrims are extraordinary people. All they ask in return is that we give 10 days, open ears, mind and heart.

My hope in going is that through learning about the seemingly intractable conflicts in this region and also the faithful attempts at creative reconciliation, I will glean some wisdom that will be transferable to the conflicts we have in our own St. Louis region ... and to our role as a Cathedral to be a force for reconciliation. I imagine that, as true listening often does, I will come back in many ways more perplexed than when I left. But I am also hopeful that in this journey wisdom will emerge that can inform our conversations in the months and years ahead.

My intention is to try to bring you along on this journey through short bits of writing on a regular basis on this blog. I say that is my intention because I also know that I do not know what I will find when I get there, and though it is my intent, that might go the way of other best-laid plans.

I also imagine that much of what I hear, see and learn I will not want to react to immediately, but will commit to prayer and reflection. It's part of why I am taking an extra two days on the end of the journey to stay in residence at St. George's College and -- other than a trip to see the eye hospital that the Order of St. John supports -- spend that time in prayer, thought, walking the city's streets and sitting in its holy spaces.

I am deeply grateful to all those who make this journey possible. To Robin, who always bears an extra burden when I travel, and to Schroedter and Hayden, who bear a burden as well. To Amy Cortright, our wonderful vicar, and the rest of the staff of the Cathedral, whose excellence at all they do make it easy for me (not so much for them, perhaps) to leave without anxiety. To our wardens and Chapter who will exercise wonderful leadership in my absence.

Please keep me in your prayers and know that every step of this journey I will be traveling with you on my heart as well.