Monday, December 28, 2015

What if Tamir's face looked like this...

Tamir Rice was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.

Tamir Rice and my son could have been classmates. They could have been friends. They could have been brothers.

Tamir Rice and my youngest son, were born 76 days apart in the summer of 2002.  On November 22, 2014, both of them were playing -- my son playing indoor soccer at Vetta and Tamir playing by himself in a city park.

Today, my son is alive. Tamir is dead.

In the year and a half after Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, I have learned how much we white people like to talk about "the facts of the case." How we like to pretend each incident stands alone and completely unrelated to any other. How we dispassionately can pick any shooting apart and rationalize any behavior because we know it will never be our child lying in the street. How we can let our own implicit bias and irrational fear of people of color help us create justification even for killing unarmed children -- because we know the face will never be the one we tuck into bed at night.

When the news came today that officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback were not going to be indicted for shooting and killing Tamir within seconds after their cruiser out of nowhere sped into the park, screeched to a stop mere feet from him (something that would terrify anyone -- 12 years old or not), I wish I could say I was surprised, but I was not.

Nor will I be surprised when the apologists for Officers Loehmann and Garmback use the same tired arguments that have been used time and time and time again. When we are asked to believe that the "facts of the case" did not support even sending this case to trial -- despite incontrovertible video evidence to the contrary.

But there are some other "facts of the case" we need to consider.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that it is open season on your child in this country. That police can kill your children with impunity. That our irrational fear as white people is more important than your child's life.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that all people are not created equal in this nation. That our Constitutional valuing of someone who was black as 3/5 of a person isn't as much in our history as we tell ourselves.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that not only do we not care about your child getting a decent education, having decent recreational facilities or adequate health care, that just being black continues to be considered a capital crime.

If you are a parent of a black child, today's ruling is one more piece of evidence -- as if you needed it -- that her life, his life, and your life do not matter, period.

And the final fact of the case -- if Tamir's face looked like my son's -- then his parents would have had the chance to spend this afternoon the way I did ... watching the new Star Wars movie with my 13-year old son.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Based on this passage from Matthew 2, it commemorates the slaughter of innocent and unarmed children by the state:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

The slaughter continues, and Rachel is still inconsolable.

This afternoon, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of pain and rage from people who could have been Tamir's mother, father, sister, brother, classmate or cousin. From people who have seen too many of their children, sisters and brothers die at the hands of the state. And one word appears more often than the rest:


In the nearly 17 months since Michael Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson, I have been amazed at the strength and resilience of those who have been out in the streets protesting police violence. They have not been peaceful -- nor should they have been -- but with incredibly few exceptions they have been nonviolent. Despite every reason to let their pain and rage boil over -- to say "an eye for an eye" and to give back what they have gotten -- instead they have reached back to the best of the tradition of civil disobedience, blocking streets and shutting down stores, disrupting events and stopping traffic.

As the names continue to roll on the necrology -- Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Laquan MacDonald -- they remain steadfast in their commitment, though God knows how. And our response as white St. Louis has been nothing less than shameful. We whine that we are "tired of the protests" ... not recognizing that if our children were subjected to what Tamir, Michael, Sandra, Jamar and Laquan have been, we would be burning down buildings and demanding Congressional investigations. Not recognizing that we are blessed to have some of the most incredible leaders of a generation right here in our midst.

I hear their anger. I hear their pain. I hear their frustration. I hear their exhaustion.

But do we make changes? Do we make an effort to be with them in their pain? Do we at least acknowledge that the pain and the rage and the frustration have merit? Do we say, "My God, I can't believe this has been allowed to happen for so long, we're going to do something about this right now?"

No. We make plans to build a football stadium. That is our answer.

And in this Christmas season, in this season where we celebrate God becoming human in the most vulnerable of children, we have to ask: Where is the church??

Because if we as the church have nothing to say about it. If we as a church continue to let the litany of names roll on, then we are the Church of Herod, the Church of Empire, and we blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ.

If we as the church are not leading the way demanding change and supporting those who are putting their lives on the line in protest for it, then we are merely a chaplaincy for the comfortable and should close our doors.

If we as the church are not standing with the parents in shrouded in mourning and the children shaking in fear. If we as the church care more about respectability and keeping our pledgers happy and giving than following the Christ who bids us take up our cross and head toward Jerusalem, then the church has already died and all that is left is to hold the funeral.

And particularly if we as the white church are not putting our own child's face over Tamir's, and Sandra's, and Laquan's and Michael's -- if we are not even trying to imagine the fear and the agony and the rage -- then we are missing the entire point of the incarnation, where God emptied the divine self into the most vulnerable of children even to the point of suffering the same execution by the state that those holy innocents did just after he was born.

There is wailing and loud lamentation in Ramah this night. Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.

Tamir Rice is one of Rachel's children. And he was guilty of a capital crime: He did not look like my child. And because of that, he is no more.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Choosing foolishness

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, 
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18

Six checks of $30,599.25 each going in the mail today --
the final disbursements from the
Rebuild the Churches campaign
Following Jesus is a life of foolishness. A life that causes the world to point and stare at us, as Bill Hicks would say, "like a dog that was just shown a card trick."

There's some crazy, foolish stuff going on at Christ Church Cathedral today.

This morning, we are mailing checks totaling more than $180,000 to six churches that burned in the south in the wake of the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

This evening, our Chapter will wrestle with a budget more than $200,000 in deficit and what that means for the future of Christ Church Cathedral.

On days like today, I have never been prouder to be part of the Christ Church Cathedral community. Because we are raising foolishness to an art form.

The checks we send out today close out the Rebuild the Churches campaign that saw more than 3,000 individuals and 200 congregations of many faiths give more than $730,000. With the help of wonderful partners like Rabbi Susan Talve and her assistant, Jen Fishering, activist Ashley Yates and the Rev. Karen Anderson, (and our own Annette Carr and office volunteers!) we showed that what hate burns, love rebuilds.

It has not been lost on us (and certainly not to the people in the congregation who have brought it up to me!) that we could certainly use this money ourselves. Some have even questioned us spending the energy and time doing this ... wouldn't it be better spent trying to ensure our own future? Our own survival?

But that is not the way of Christ.

Throughout this fall, Jesus has been speaking to us through the Gospel of Mark ... and over and over again, he has laid a simple choice before us:

Concentrate on your own survival or concentrate on following Jesus.

Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.

Go, sell what you own, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me.

Survival or Faithfulness.

We must choose.

We cannot do both.

Someone once said that the difference between false faith and true faith is that false faith says, "Do not worry; that which you fear will not happen to you," and true faith says, "Do not fear, that which you fear may well happen to you, but it is nothing to fear.”

That following Jesus is called "the way of the cross" tells us surely enough that this is no prosperity Gospel. Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness is not a test that will lead to survival if we pass. Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness means we might survive and we might not ... but whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. And we trust that if there is death, resurrection will always follow.

That which we fear may well happen to us, but it is nothing to fear.

Shifting our focus from survival to faithfulness means the only way we fail is if we fall back in fear. Because success is not determined by how much money we raise or how many people are in our chairs -- but by how deeply we "have the same mind in us as Christ Jesus," emptying ourselves out of love for the life of the world.

As long as we love. As long as we give. As long as we step out in faith and not back in fear, we cannot fail.

But we're bound to look pretty foolish in the process. People are bound to point and stare and shake their heads and say:

"What kind of a business raises $730,000 for other businesses when it's running a $210,000 deficit itself?"

"What kind of a business raises money to move two people out of homelessness into housing for a year when it's not even sure how it's going to keep it's own doors open?"

"What kind of a business stands in the street with young people crying for freedom when public opinion is telling them to sit down and shut up?"

"What kind of business would embrace such foolishness with joy?"

The church. The Body of Christ. That's who.

Paul continues in his letter to the church in Corinth:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

I am proud to be the dean of this church of fools. I am grateful for other bands of fools like Central Reform Congregation and Ward Chapel AME for traveling with us. I am deeply moved by the courage of our Chapter and congregation stepping out in faith and not falling back in fear -- and wrestling honestly when we struggle with which is which.

And I am grateful beyond measure for Jesus Christ, who gives us the way of the cross as the way of life. If we are to boast, let us boast in that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"I stand in solidarity." ... "Oh really?"


Solidarity is a word that has a new and deeper meaning for me today than it did 16 months ago.

Sixteen months ago, solidarity was an idea. It was a sense of common purpose. Of agreement. Of "I'm on your side."

Solidarity was something I said. A word used in letters to the editor, Facebook posts and sermons.

I stand in solidarity with _______.

Solidarity was expressing support without risking anything except perhaps the passing ire of those who disagreed with me.

Solidarity was just a word.

Sixteen months ago, Michael Brown was killed and lay in the street for four and a half hours. And a group of young people stood up together and said: "No more."

And I said, "I stand in solidarity with you."

And they said: "Oh really?"

They said: "You can't just say: 'I stand in solidarity.' You have to actually stand in solidarity."

"Stand in the street with us."

"Stand facing the police in their riot gear."

"Stand facing the tear gas and the rubber bullets and the pepper spray."

"Stand and march with us and don't be afraid of our anger, don't be afraid of our pain."

"Stand and care less about your own feelings and more about ours."

"Stand and listen to our stories and believe them."

"Stand and let everyone see you standing with us."

"Stand and don't tell us what to say or how to feel or what to do."

"Stand and respect our leadership. Stand and respect our authority."

"That's solidarity."

"That's family."

"That's love."

And so I did. Or at least I tried to. I didn't always. But I tried to.

And I am learning that solidarity is so much more than just a word.

I am learning that solidarity is being willing to stand in front of someone when they are under attack because you love them so much an injury to them is an injury to you.

I am learning that solidarity is what God did when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" -- that it was physical and messy and risky and scary.

I am learning that solidarity not only means standing up but it means sitting down or turning away is nothing less than betrayal.

I am learning that solidarity is more than just a word -- it its about deep relationship. It is about family. It is about love.

This week, in the wake of the massacre in San Bernadino and the evil statements by Donald Trump, I have had many opportunities to sign statements of solidarity.

"I stand in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters."

It would be the easiest thing to do to sign those statements. To make those Facebook posts and tweets. To preach that sermon.

But every time I start to, I hear the voices of Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton and Derrick Robinson and Traci Blackmon and Starsky Wilson and so many others. I hear them say:

"Solidarity? Oh really?"

And I am convicted that I have not earned the right to use that word.

I am convicted that I have not "stood in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers," and to say so would be a betrayal of that word and what it has come to mean to me. A betrayal of all who truly have stood and now stand in solidarity with the Muslim community.

I am convicted that I have lived in St. Louis for nearly 20 years and I though I have acquaintances who are Muslim, I have never taken the time truly to listen to their experience and believe it. I have never given up power and privilege for them. I have never risked one thing out of love for them.

These words: Solidarity. Family. They mean something different to me now. And so while I absolutely stand against the demonization of Muslims and the evil that is spewing from Donald Trump's mouth and the support and silence coming from so many of his supporters, I cannot in good conscience say I stand in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who are Muslim because I have not.

I cannot in good conscience pretend to have a level of relationship I do not, to stand where I have never stood.

Not yet.

But I want to.

So that is my commitment. Not to sign a "statement of solidarity" but to seek out deep relationship ... relationships of "fictive kinship" (as Amy Hunter has taught me), relationships where I hope to find ways I can listen and believe and risk and trust and give away power and privilege. Relationships where I hope people will be as graceful and giving to me as Brittany, Alexis, and so many others have been to me in the past -- trusting me enough to invite me into solidarity that is so much more than a word.

I am tired of statements. Statements do not move me to change oppressive status quos. Statements do not call me into the thin places of risk, the ways of the cross. Statements absolve my conscience and do little else.

So I am not making a statement, I am stating a desire. And I'm asking any who are reading this to hold me accountable to it and, if these words resonate with you, to join me in it.

Not to say: "I stand in solidarity" but to actively seek to do it.

And to expect in the process to be changed forever.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

In Jesus' name: WHY?

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

At least 14 people dead in another mass shooting.

I am tired of providing resources for families to talk about this to kids.

I am tired of posting things on Facebook that like-minded people “like.”

I am tired of saying “never again” and “enough” and “this has to stop NOW.”

I am tired of praying for the victims, the families and the shooters.

I am tired of all these things and many, many more. Because they do absolutely no good. Because I have done all these things before and we all know that in a matter of days or, at best, weeks, the next news alert will pop up with a different place, a different name, a different body count and the same words:

“Shooting.” “Gunman.” “Massacre.”

One of the reminders I write on the top of my notepad at the beginning of ever meeting is this:

“Can you ask a question instead of making a statement?”

That’s because questions begin conversations and statements end them.

And I have one question this night:

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

Can someone please explain to me in Jesus’ name, why we defend gun ownership like it is a sacrament? Can someone give me a Gospel argument why weapons that are specifically designed to maim and kill human beings should be allowed to exist.

I’m not looking for a constitutional argument. I’m not looking for a statistical argument. I’m looking for an argument from the Christian faith. Because even though the percentage is declining, more than 70% of Americans still join me in identifying as followers of Jesus Christ . Identify as people who, in some form or another, “promise to follow and obey him as Lord.”

I read my Bible every day. I pray every day. I ask Jesus to grant me sips from the vast reservoirs of wisdom that continue to elude me, to challenge my prejudices, and even to hit me with the holy 2x4 if needed to shape me more into his image. And in my 47 years, I have never read, heard, sensed or had revealed to me my savior asking me to arm myself or to guard the rights of others to arm themselves. I have never heard him praising the virtue of killing or wounding even in self-defense. I have never heard him ask for anything to be pried out of his cold, dead hands save the love of the world for which he died.

But there are clearly sisters and brothers in the faith who have heard differently. And so I genuinely want to know: How do you reconcile gun ownership, gun usage, the nearly unlimited access to guns including those specifically designed not just to kill individuals but mass groups of people with turning your life over to the Prince of Peace? Why do you so vigorously defend the right to bear arms?

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

There are plenty of areas in my life that I freely admit my hypocrisy. I rail against homelessness but have a spare bedroom in my house that lies empty most nights. I rail against the sad state of public education while using my wealth and privilege to send my kids to John Burroughs and Crossroads. But I will not try to defend these things as virtue or claim that Jesus smiles on them – only that Jesus still loves me in spite of my failings.

But I simply don’t see how followers of Jesus can hold a cross in one hand and a handgun in the other and not see the contradiction. And perhaps I am missing something. Perhaps there is some wisdom of Christ that remains beyond me. And so if you are reading this and you are one of those faithful who believes that discipleship of Jesus Christ is compatible with gun ownership and use, please explain to me…

In Jesus’ name: WHY?

If I am wrong and you can hold the cross in one hand and a handgun in another, I really want to know.

But if I’m right and you can’t.

If I’m right and – like me with homelessness and education – we agree that it is sin but because of our weakness we fall short … can we as the 70% of this nation that follows Jesus join with other like-minded people in the other 30% and at least say we will work together to try to be more faithful? To try to reduce the number of guns and our access to them? To try to stop the killing?

If I’m right and Jesus is weeping right now not only in San Bernadino, but over the bullet-ridden body of a child somewhere whose death was deemed so inconsequential we didn’t hear of it, and also over the man stocking his home arsenal in fear of his fellow human beings …

If I’m right and we are truly breaking the heart of Christ with our idolatrous worship of the second amendment…

If I’m right and we are allowing ourselves to have our steps determined not by the Son of God but by a gun lobby making billions selling power to people of color and poverty and fear to people of wealth and privilege…

If I’m right and there is no answer to the question:

In Jesus’ name, WHY?

Then we either need to get to work disarming our society … or stop saying we come in Jesus' name. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

9 pm curfew on our steps: Living in the now ... working for the not yet.

As followers of Jesus, we live in the space between the "now" and the "not yet."

We live believing that the Word has become flesh in Jesus and has shown us a new way of being, begun the inbreaking of the realm of God on earth. When it is complete, it will be the heavenly city where the river of life flows and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. It will be the place where we can say "All Lives Matter" because there is no doubt that all are truly treated like they do.

It will be the place where there is no crime because none will feel the need. Where there is no homelessness because none will be without shelter. Where there is no poverty because all will give to each other out of our shared abundance whatever we need.

Our job and our joy as followers of Jesus is, infused with God's grace, to share with God the building of "thy kingdom come, " to take part in what our Jewish sisters and brothers call tikkun olam or "the repair of the world."

But we are not there yet. We live in the in between time between when the vision has been seen and set in motion and before it is realized. And every day we have to negotiate ethics for what living in that in between time means.

Beginning last night, we posted this sign ->->->
on a sandwich board in front of Christ Church Cathedral.

This sign is an icon of the now and the not yet. We dream of Christ Church Cathedral being a place where all can safely gather -- because God's welcoming love is always safe love. However, the reality we live in is that during times where we don't have security present (and at this point we can't afford 24-hour security), things have been happening on our Cathedral steps that aren't safe. We have been getting multiple reports of drug dealing, fighting, passers-by (particularly women) being harassed and even assault.

We also recognize that there are people who seek the shelter of a night's sleep around the Cathedral building. These are people who have told us they don't feel safe in the neighborhood shelters -- and we believe them. So while we long for (and are actively working toward) the day when all will have a safe bed, we do not wish to turn them away or criminalize homelessness by having the police charge them with trespassing while they are just trying to get some sleep.

We have also heard from some people who spend the night outside the Cathedral that they feel frightened and unsafe by some of those who gather on the Cathedral steps later at night.

So, after all these conversations -- with people who sleep around the Cathedral, with neighborhood residents, with people who hang out at the steps in the evening and later at night (a crowd that from night-to-night or week-to-week can change radically), and with our fourth district police officers, we agreed to try these signs for two weeks and to give the police the authority to disperse gatherings on the Cathedral steps between 9 pm and 6 am. We also asked them NOT to bother the people who are sleeping in the alcoves on the sides. The police have expressed concern that the people who have been gathering on the steps will then kick those sleeping in the alcoves out and begin to use those spaces and we have asked the police to let us know if they see that happening.

We believe Christ gives us stewardship of this building for the common good -- for the gathering of the people for the repair of the world and in the love of God that is always, always welcoming and safe. We are taking these steps because we believe the "safe" piece of that has been compromised and without safety, any welcome we offer is false at best and dangerous at worst.

We have also been clear in the conversations with neighbors and the police that enforcing a curfew on the Cathedral steps is not a solution but merely playing "whack-a-mole" with a larger problem. We need to ask the sacred question: Why?

Why are people dealing drugs?

Why are people carrying guns?

Why are people behaving abusively toward one another?

*Why do some people have to sleep outside?

We need to ask why and not be satisfied merely with the response that fits our preconceived notions and prejudices. We need to ask why and commit to the real tikkun olam, the transformation of the structures of the world that a revolutionary Jesus calls us to. The revolution of our broken school systems (and how we fund them) and culture of guns and violence and incarceration and misogyny and overprivilege.

If you are interested in getting more involved with the Cathedral community that lives in and around our building at night, it's pretty easy to do.

*You can just talk to one another as we come to worship on Sundays, particularly engaging people across class lines.

*You can contact Jeff Goldone ( or Muffin Rowlyk ( and get involved with our "Cross-Class Conversation" ministry.

*You can contact Joanne Kelly ( and support the Cathedral Housing Partnership, which is working to end homelessness one person, one relationship at a time with a housing first model.

*You can donate to St. Patrick Center ( and The Bridge ( and support their work to help people move from homelessness to housing.

*When you have friends, co-workers and family members who talk about how terrible and dangerous downtown is, you can stand up and say that downtown is wonderful and full of wonderful people and that they should join you coming to Christ Church Cathedral on a Sunday or any day and see for themselves and to not be bound by their fear.

There is much we can do in our own labors of tikkun olam. We are a long way from the "not yet" of the heavenly Jerusalem but we can rejoice that the destination is assured.

Living in the now means we are under the law even as we are leaning in trust into grace. And that's what we're trying to do here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"You. Can't. Stop. The Revolution." -- a sermon at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

A sermon preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond, VA. St. Mark's is using the occasion of its 150th anniversary to examine how they can be active in bringing racial reconciliation and healing in the capital of the Confederacy. 

Repeat after me.

You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution.


You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution.


You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution.

You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution.

You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution.

You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution.


Please be seated.

Good morning!

I bring you greetings in the name of Jesus Christ from Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. I bring you greetings from our Bishop George Wayne Smith and from the Cathedral congregation, from the people of the Diocese of Missouri and from people from all over the St. Louis region, for we mean to be a Cathedral for them all.

It is an honor to be here. And I want to thank your rector, David Niemeyer and Malinda Collier for the invitation. I am grateful to be invited here to preach the Word and to spend the day talking about our original sin of racism. I am grateful because even now 436 days since Michael Brown, Jr. was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, the congregations that are willing to have this conversation are a distinct minority. So I thank you for your courage. Your willingness to take your 150th year and engage this conversation is how movements for Gospel change happen. Just being here and being willing to talk about this is a first step in how the revolution happens. Thank you.

One of the things that has happened to me over those past 436 days is I am beginning, just beginning, to see Jesus with new eyes. I’m beginning to hear Jesus with new ears. I’m beginning to meet a Jesus who is different than any Jesus I have ever met before. And I am meeting this Jesus in different places than I have ever met Jesus before.

I’m meeting this Jesus not in church buildings but out in the streets.

I’m meeting this Jesus not as he gently talks and holds my hand but as she cries out in pain and in rage.

I’m meeting this Jesus not as he sings flowery hymns and prays beautiful prayers but as she faces tear gas and police in riot gear and with the sure and certain hope of resurrection shouts You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution. Because I am meeting a Jesus who is a revolutionary and who bids us to be revolutionaries too.

And as I am meeting this Jesus, and as I am falling in love with this Jesus, I am convicted that this Jesus has been right in front of me all along but I have chosen not to see. I am convicted that this Jesus has been right here in our scriptures all along and I have chosen not to hear. I am convicted that I have time and again read the Gospel and chosen a Jesus of comfort over a Jesus of challenge. Chosen a Jesus of accommodation over a Jesus of protest. A Jesus of empire over a Jesus of revolution.

I am convicted that time and again, I have chosen a Jesus who affirms my standard of living and ignores those on whose backs it is borne instead of a Jesus who bids me die so that I might live.

Now, this revolutionary Jesus really has been hiding in plain sight. Because we’ve been hearing from this Jesus for the past month or so of Sundays.

We’ve heard him say: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Then the next week we heard: "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." Then we heard: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off... and if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off… And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.”

Finally, last week, Jesus moved from preaching to meddling because he started talking about money and said “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

This is not some depoliticized, domesticated Jesus. This is not Jesus meek and mild. This is a revolutionary Jesus.

Now if we haven’t gotten it. If we haven’t seen this revolutionary Jesus, we’re certainly not alone – because even after all this, the disciples didn’t get it either. And we know that because this morning, we hear James and John say to Jesus, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."

After all this, the disciples still want to mold Jesus in their image. And Jesus plays along, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they say to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."

There it is. After all the times Jesus has told them it is about carrying the cross not sitting on the throne, James and John still think Jesus is about them gaining power and status and respectability.

As American Christians, we are the heirs of James and John. Our entire history is us trying to tell Jesus what to do – and we have used the Gospel to do our bidding not the Christ’s. To gild our own seats of power then photoshop Jesus in at our side.

For centuries, we have fashioned Jesus in our image, used his Gospel to justify the genocide of this land’s natives, the kidnapping and torture of black Africans and the building of our national economy on their labor. We have painted pictures of white Jesus to strengthen our own sense of white supremacy, and we have sold crosses as costume jewelry while embracing the same state-sponsored killing that killed him nearly 2,000 years ago.

We are the heirs of James and John because we have sought respectability more than integrity, supremacy more than sacrifice and power more than justice. And like James and John, we have convinced ourselves that it is all our entitled right from calling ourselves followers of Jesus.

And like James and John, if we have ears to hear, Jesus is telling us that we have to stop. That we have a choice. And that choice is not whether we will sit on his left or his right on thrones of glory but whether we will drink the cup that Jesus drinks, be baptized with the baptism with which Jesus is baptized and walk the way of the cross that is the way of life.

A year ago, when the uprising in Ferguson was playing out every night in the streets about 15 minutes from Christ Church Cathedral and on TV screens around the world, I found myself in lots of meetings with clergy across race and class lines trying to deal with this crisis. At that time, many of us were struggling to remember that “this crisis” was not primarily people in the streets and police with automatic weapons, riot gear and tear gas.->

No, the real crisis was decades upon decades, even centuries upon centuries of oppression of black lives in this nation. Of lives of inferior schools and low-wage jobs, of being targeted and profiled and even gunned down. Of being used as walking ATMs to support municipal governments that treated them as if their lives mattered not at all.

So, I was in a lot of meetings with clergy. And every one I went to, I heard the same thing over and over again.

“We need to get them to listen. If we could just get them to listen. We need to show them how this is done.”

The “them” was the young people in the streets. And we, the church, the respectable clergy, it was our job to tell them how to behave. It was our job to teach them about Jesus. And Jesus would be reasonable. Jesus would work the system and get things done. Jesus would keep the peace that kept us comfortable and in control.

And that really was the core issue for us – not issues of justice but our comfort and control. How can we control the narrative? How can we preserve our own power and authority? We were seeking a peace that was not about justice but about preserving the status quo – not looking for Jesus to lead us but telling Jesus what we wanted him to do.

I was at one of these meetings that first week when a new face appeared. His name was Derrick Robinson, and he was an evangelical bishop. And he marched into the church where we were having our meeting and walked right up to us sitting in our chairs and here’s what he said:

“What are you all doing here? You need to get out in the streets with the young people. And don’t be telling them to get into your churches, because they haven’t been there and they’re not going. And don’t be going there in your suits and your collars and preaching to them, because they don’t care and they shouldn’t care because we haven’t been out there with them. You need to go out there and let them lead, and you need to listen.”

“You don’t need to wear your suits. You need to wear your blue jeans.”

When Derrick spoke, it was like the sky broke open and his words pointed me a Jesus who would change me forever. Instead of trying to preserve a peace that was about my own comfort, this Jesus was showing me that the kingdom of God was breaking in all around us and it was intensely uncomfortable. It had to be uncomfortable because the comfort I had been enjoying was on the backs of my sisters and brothers, and my job was not to preserve my comfort but to get out in the middle of everything that was making me most uncomfortable and not tell Jesus what to do for me but to ask Jesus “how can I serve?”

Our job – and in fact not just our job but our greatest joy -- was to seek out those whose lives didn’t matter to the powers of the world and to serve them, to let them lead, to stand in solidarity with them, because that’s where Jesus was.

Our job and our joy is to recognize that the young black women and men who are crying out in the street are the voice crying in the wilderness – pointing the way to the living Christ breaking through into the world in new ways. To recognize that the real Jesus never is a shill for the status quo, the real Jesus never breaks into the world in ways that keep the powerful on the throne and the powerless underfoot. That the real Jesus takes the systems of the world where some are oppressors and some are oppressed and turns them inside out and upside down. Asking those who would be great to be servants, those who would be first to be last.

Our job and our joy is not to keep a false sense of peace of oppression.

Our job and our joy is to join the revolution.

Because just as we had been saying “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." The real Jesus was out there saying, “Drink the cup that I drink. Be baptized with the baptism I have been baptized with. Stand in my shoes and fear for your children the way I fear for mine. See your child’s face on Michael Brown’s body. Feel the rage and the pain and don’t turn away and don’t intellectualize and don’t just dip your toe in and then pat yourself on the back for being so progressive."

The real Jesus was saying, “Don’t go out there and preach to them but go out there and let them preach to you, because that is where I have always been. That is where I will always be. And you need to listen to me.”

And so as this new civil rights movement that began in the road in front of the Canfield Green Apartments in Ferguson, Missouri where Darren Wilson gunned down Michael Brown, Jr. and continued with Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and the seemingly endless litany of those whose lives have been taken by state violence sweeps across our land and a nation of young, black women and men find their voices of power, what we really have in front of us is a gift. We have the gift of an uprising. The gift of a nascent movement – a clear, clarion call from the margins for us to get off our thrones of glory and to come meet Jesus on the streets. To care more about integrity than respectability. To care more about sacrifice than supremacy. To care more about justice than power.

It is the gift of a choice. And the choice is which Jesus will we follow.

Will we follow the Jesus we have constructed who sits upon a throne, the Jesus that James and John bid clothe them in glory. Or will we follow Jesus of Nazareth who hangs on the cross and bids us join him in his glory, the glory of giving ourselves for the life of the world. The glory of meeting him in extraordinary images of God that live on society’s margins. The glory of joining him in the revolution that despite our best efforts has not, cannot and will never be stopped.

The choice is right here in front of us. Will we be concerned with power, status, privilege and respectability, or will we be concerned with standing with the oppressed and the marginalized. Will we be concerned with preserving the systems that keep the powerful in power and the powerless in chains or will we dedicate our lives as Christ gave his to tearing down those systems and standing for nothing less than a society that truly has liberty and justice for all.

A few minutes ago, we chanted a chant that I learned from the voices crying in the wilderness in front of the Ferguson Police Department. We chanted “You. Can’t. Stop. The Revolution.”

The Revolution is the gospel of Jesus Christ the revolutionary. The Revolution is not about being polite and nibbling around the edges and it is certainly not about securing our own places of power and privilege.

The Revolution is the last being first and the first being last. The revolution is putting our bodies in the dirt between the crowd holding rocks and the women caught in adultery. The revolution is bringing Bartimaeus, scorned and rejected and told his life doesn’t matter, into the center of the community and letting him set the agenda and guide our steps.

The revolution is seeing our children’s faces on the bodies of Mike Brown and Sandra Bland. The revolution is dismantling the school to prison pipeline. The revolution is giving up our belief in a white Jesus preaching white supremacy and embracing a black Jesus who isn’t afraid to turn over a few tables when he sees justice being denied and God’s children being profaned.

The revolution will not be stopped. The only question is will we get on board. Will we follow Jesus the revolutionary and be part of the repair of this world for which he died or will we be heirs of James and John and continue to preserve our place and our power while millions cry out in chains.

This is the conversation you have chosen for your 150th year. This is the choice that is before you. At stake is not so much the past that you celebrate but the future you will embrace. At stake is whether you will be truly a great church for the 150 years to come.

The kingdom of God is at hand. The revolution is all around us. It cannot be stopped. Will we gild your throne or pick up our cross. Will we build up treasures on earth or die so that we might live.

Will we cozy up to the first or will we stand with the last?

The choice is up to us.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Farewell to a Giant ... Rest in Power, Emery Washington

If we are truly blessed, we get to share our lives with a few women and men who are truly giants. People whose manner of life and very presence truly hushes our speech and fills us with awe.

Emery Washington was such a man. Emery died last night, succumbing to pancreatic cancer. And today I am filled with how much poorer our world is by his absence ... and how richer we are by the years he gave in service to Christ, church and world.

I first met Emery in the late 1980s when my mentor, the Rev. Jim Fallis, rector of Calvary Church, Columbia, introduced me to him at a diocesan convention.  As a young college student, then seminarian, then young priest who served with Emery as a General Convention deputy, my first memories of him were of him speaking with incredible power and grace ... and being infinitely patient with a wet-behind-the-ears neophyte who thought he knew way more than he did and had youth's sense of urgency rather than age's sense of wisdom. 

I know that whenever Emery spoke, I listened and listened deeply. I watched him sustain what seemed to me unlikely friendships -- like with seminary classmate and conservative bishop Ed Salmon -- that incarnated for me what it meant to be an ambassador of Christ given the ministry of reconciliation. 

When I lived with one of his parishioners, Edwina Corbin, during a college internship at Grace Hill Settlement House and sat with her in the back pew at All Saints every Sunday morning at 8 am, I heard preaching that was both powerful and pastoral -- and saw that priest, pastor and prophet could exist in the same person.

I remember Emery standing up at our diocesan convention as we prepared to approve our companion diocese relationship with Lui, and, while expressing support for the relationship, with his customary measured and gracious tone, warn us that relationships around the globe with people in extreme poverty do not relieve us of responsibility of healing grave injustices in our own cities. 

I remember every time I was in Emery's presence walking away so deeply glad that I was. For he was a paragon of faithfulness without being overly pious. He had deep compassion and twinkle-in-the-eye humor. He had a fierce sense of justice and the capacity for forgiveness. 

For me, Emery Washington will always be a giant. A model person and priest. To the very end following Jesus the best he knew how. 

This day I am filled with regret that I did not seek him out more. I wonder how much more wisdom I could have ingested, how much grace I could have experienced.

The church ... and all of us .. have lost a giant. But in the past decades of Emery being here, we have gained so much more.

Thank you, Fr Washington. Thank you for your witness and power. Thank you for your grace and humor. Thank you for your patience and thank you for your courage. 

Rest with our Lord as you lived in life -- in grace, peace and power. Amen.

A memorial service for Emery will be held at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion at 4 pm on Saturday, October 17. Bishop Smith will preside and Bishop Salmon will preach.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A weekend in Memphis: historic connections and new opportunities for Christ Church Cathedral

This fall, I have accepted several invitations to travel to different parts of our Episcopal church and share our experience of being a Cathedral … particularly as it relates to the past year and the new civil rights movement that began in Ferguson. I have accepted these invitations because it is both our job and joy to share what we are learning … and because whenever we build relationships across the Body of Christ, we give opportunities for the Holy Spirit to enrich us in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Sacred Conversations on Race & Class, Protest and Power
in the St. Mary's Cathedral Undercroft on Saturday morning
That certainly was my experience this past weekend as I spent the weekend with our sister cathedral, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis. I drove up Friday for an early meeting about bringing a theatrical production to CCC and to tour the National Civil Rights Museum; on Saturday I led a 3-hour workshop called “Sacred Conversations on Race and Power, Protest and Privilege,” and on Sunday I led a forum on our “On The Table” Eucharistic model for being a Cathedral and preached at two services.

It was a gift to be invited into the lives of so many people, and seeing how Memphis is dealing with (and, in some cases, not dealing with) the issues that have sprung up in the streets of our city, gives me a perspective that I will be spending much thought and prayer on in the weeks and months to come.

For now, I want to share three tangible fruits that this trip has brought forth for us as a Cathedral community.

As the members of the vocal ensemble, 'Inversion,' look on --
Frederick Douglass (Bakari King) breaks down beneath
 Anne Murray (Kelsey Unwuzuruigbo) - in
'Frederick Douglass: American Prophet,"
coming to Christ Church Cathedral in early 2016. 
On Friday, I met with Grammy-Award winning singer/songwriter/director Marcus Hummon and the Rev. Chris Girata, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis. Marcus has taken Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and turned it into what he calls a “concert theatrical,” (something like an operetta) called "Frederick Douglass: The Making of An American Prophet" that has been performed to great acclaim in churches in Nashville.

In late January/early February, we will be part of the first road show of this project. Marcus will take the production to Memphis for Friday and Saturday shows and then up to St. Louis for a Sunday night performance at Christ Church Cathedral. We will be looking to partner with other faith communities and institutions to ensure a packed house … and after the performance we will have a forum with Marcus, cast members and people from the St. Louis community discussing how Frederick Douglass is alive today in the civil rights struggle happening in our own community.

On Saturday, I had the honor of meeting Terri Lee Freeman, the incredibly impressive president of the National Civil Rights Museum. We talked about the possibilities of the Museum (which I had a chance to tour on Friday … and it is absolutely extraordinary) being not just a chronicler of the past but a place where the ongoing story of civil rights is told. I invited her to come to St. Louis, visit Christ Church Cathedral and meet with some of the amazing leaders of the movement in our own community, and we will be working in the coming weeks to set this up.

Finally, on Sunday, I learned of a deeply holy connection between Christ Church Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral. Part of the history of St. Mary’s is its role in the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic. While most people fled the city from the disease, several communities of Anglican and Roman Catholic nuns stayed behind to nurse the sick – St. Mary’s Cathedral being a base of operations. (These brave women are called “The Martyrs of Memphis – as most ended up dying of yellow fever – and are commemorated on the Episcopal calendar on Sept. 9).

The story of Louis Sanford Scbuyler told on the wall of Martyrs Hall
at St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis, TN
I knew this story. What I didn’t know is that a young priest. knowing it meant almost certain death, insisted on coming to Memphis to help. That priest was Louis Sanford Schuyler, son of our founding Dean Montgomery Schuyler (for whom Schuyler Hall was named). Schuyler indeed was stricken with yellow fever in the course of offering comfort, died soon after, and is buried in Memphis. His role is commemorated in this story board in Martyrs Hall at St. Mary’s.

This connection hit me hard. Not just a relationship but a relationship based in a conviction that we follow Jesus into the deepest pain and brokenness even at great personal risk … exactly what we had spent the weekend talking about in terms of our Christian call to stand with the oppressed in our own day.

This connection has led us to conversations about next year having a group from Christ Church Cathedral take a weekend pilgrimage to Memphis during their Martyrs Weekend in September. To tour the Civil Rights Museum. To spend time with our sisters and brothers at St. Mary’s and talk about our experiences and see how our Cathedral – less than 5 hours drive apart – might work together. And also to hear some blues and eat some BBQ, too.

If this is something you’d be interested in being a part of … please let me know.

In the coming months, I will be traveling to Buffalo, Columbus, and Richmond, VA … as well as spending a Sunday with St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, listening to their dreams for their Cathedral. Wherever I go, I bear Christ Church Cathedral on my heart … and I look forward to bringing more fruit back from the people of God in all these places.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Today, as yesterday, a movement of many people, driving in many lanes.

From the entrance to the National Civil Rights Museum
I spent this afternoon at the National Civil Rights Museum. It's a remarkable museum that should be required attendance for every American. I'd been there before but I saw it with new eyes today.

As I saw young Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette, Ella Baker and James Lawson and Stokely Carmichael, I saw the faces of Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton, Traci Blackmon, Starsky Wilson and Osagyefo Sekou. 

When I went through the museum 20 years ago, I heard the gunshots, this time I felt them in my chest. 

When I went through it before it felt like a museum. When I went through it today, it felt like life.

There were things that were very different .. things that are wonderful. In the 1960s the involvement and leadership of women was the exception ... today it is the dominant force. In the 60s, there was no mainstream LGBT presence. Today, the movement is actively queer and that is part of its strength. 

Then there were things that were eerily familiar. Not just the tear gas and the riot gear and the songs and the chants. Today's movement leaders draw from both the Black Power movement and the Civil Rights Movement and there are echoes of both.

There was something else that was familiar, though.

Both then and now, it takes many different people using many different methods to effect change.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, the NAACP and more "respectable" organizations believed in working through the courts -- and were often in conflict with the protest movement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee often were at odds -- many times over what we've come to call "respectability politics" today. 

But all were necessary. We needed the NAACP or the Supreme Court never would have heard Brown v. Board of Education. We needed the SCLC or we never would have had the leadership of people like Dr. King. And we needed SNCC or we never would have had the lunch counter sit-ins or the freedom riders or the amazing power of Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette. 

That's true today, too. We have incredible leaders like Brittany and Alexis on the front lines of the protests in the streets. We have equally as incredible leaders like Traci and Starsky and Rasheen Aldridge serving on the Ferguson Commission and sitting in boardrooms and courtrooms. 

And we have lots of people on the ground doing amazing community development work in majority black neighborhoods. I'm on the board of Grace Hill Settlement House -- and the work Rod Jones and his staff have been doing there is unparalleled.

A few weeks after Mike Brown was killed, Shirley Washington had me as a guest on The Pulse of St. Louis on KPLR and one of the other guests was Malik Ahmed from Better Family Life. I heard Malik talk about the redevelopment work BFL is doing in North St. Louis on so many levels and I was just blown away by his dedication and love.

Later that week, Brian Hall of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission called me. What was happening all around us was changing the landscape and Brian -- courageously -- was determined not to sweep it under the rug but to try to use it as an opportunity not to say that St. Louis was a place without problems but that we were a city who faced our problems of race and class, and we were going to be a model for what that looks like in this country.  I love that kind of hope and told him as long as it was honest I wanted to be a part of it.

He asked me for something that was good and I told him about Better Family Life and set up a meeting and a tour for him and some others to meet Malik and learn more about their work. Not as a way of saying "we've got it all covered" but as a way of saying that we have incredible people doing incredible work on the ground here ... and that this is a part of how we are going to make a more just city for everyone.

Brian came up with the idea of gifting Better Family Life with a film describing the work they are doing. It was released yesterday, and you can watch it here:

The stage we are in of this movement is that there is sometimes a lack of understanding and trust among people who are (as Starsky Wilson says) "driving in different lanes" in this movement. I've heard people who work for organizations like BFL criticize the protest movement and I've heard the protest movement criticize BFL and the "We Must Stop Killing Each Other" signs. 

But the truth is, just like in the previous civil rights movements, all of these people have their place. And we are stronger when we all recognize each other not as a threat but as important pieces of the whole. Without the protest movement, we wouldn't be having the legal reforms and political mobilization we see happening.Without community development organizations like Grace Hill Settlement House and Better Family Life we would be incredibly impoverished by absence of the foundations for community they are building. 

I'm grateful to have been a small part of making this connection. Making connections is what Cathedrals do. I'm grateful for Brittany, Alexis, Starsky and Traci. I'm grateful for Brian, Rod, and Malik. I'm grateful that it's going on 13 months after Mike Brown was killed and so many people are still working so hard and struggling and we haven't allowed this to be shoved under a rug.

And I'm grateful to be part of a Cathedral community that knows that Jesus calls us to be in the middle of it all. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Remember no feeling is final. Keep your feet glued to the ground.

Remember no feeling is final. Keep your feet glued to the ground.

On the day Magdalene Saint Louis​ opened, that's what Becca Stevens texted me as a message for our women who were moving in.

Remember no feeling is final. Keep your feet glued to the ground.

I had no idea what I was getting into when we opened Magdalene St. Louis. I thought I did. But I didn't. And thank God.

I am learning that Magdalene is not just a place where I help others. We call the Magdalene community "the circle" ... and although I am learning that my place in the circle is not as one of the women ... I am learning that as I find my place in the circle as Board President, it is a place where I am changed as well. Where as I put others at the center, an ancillary benefit is that "Love Heals" is for me, too. Where I too "have to feel to heal." Where I have a role and responsibility with the women and that it's about them first but that I also have to be committed to working on my own stuff, to taking my own time and space to feeling my own feelings and letting the women inspire me to being open to the healing power of love not just from me but for me in other places in my life.

I am learning that Magdalene is changing who I am as a priest. It is changing what I think about leadership. It is breaking down all the neat and tidy categories we are taught in seminary and that I have been taught in nearly 20 years of ordained ministry and replacing them with the messiness of love. It is a combination of healthy boundaries and deep vulnerability -- and being in communities of support and accountability to know when that vulnerability is appropriate and healing and used for the greater good (and also when despite the best intentions it is inappropriate and even harmful). Of knowing where my stuff ends and someone else's stuff begins. And when it is truly the stuff we are in together.

It is challenging everything I have believed about the church ... and reminding me of much that I have forgotten.

I am learning that the circle of Magdalene is not just those of us who are involved in Magdalene St. Louis​. It is the whole city, region, nation and world. We are feeling many, many things right now. These feelings are being shouted in the streets and by people blocking our interstates. They are being left in comment sections on websites. They are being stared across dinner tables where words can't be found. They are being felt in secret out of fear of not being accepted.

These feelings can be so scary but they must not be feared. We need to make space for them. They must be expressed. They must be felt. We have to feel to heal.

We need to remember that no feeling is final. We need to keep our feet planted on the ground. We need to remember we are in this circle together.

At the same time, I am learning that the circle of Magdalene has people in it who need incredible safety to learn -- sometimes for the first time -- how to have healthy relationships with each other ... and that there are times and places that I don't need to be in that particular circle because I'm not a part of that work. I am learning that there are circles in this city where people who have been traumatized and oppressed need to be with one another, and they don't need me intruding -- and they certainly don't need me taking over -- but they need me doing my own "white folk work" and using my power and privilege to support them.

I am learning that my biggest enemy is my privilege that tempts me to free from discomfort to comfort. Because the comfort is a luxurious prison. The comfort is choosing anesthetic over feeling. The comfort is not a place of healing. The comfort is not of Christ.

The first disciples were called People of the Way. That Way was the Way of the Cross. It is a way of deep feeling with our feet glued to the path ... together.

Jesus wept for the death of his friend. Jesus mourned for Jerusalem. Jesus raged and turned over tables in the temple and got really mad at his friends. Jesus cried out in despair from the cross.

Jesus was not afraid of feelings -- his or anyone else's. Jesus knew that no feeling was final. Jesus knew we just need to keep our feet glued to the ground with one another.

I am beginning to learn that following Jesus is living this way. And I can't do it alone. None of us can. I don't know what it I look like because if it is truly Jesus the path is beyond my control.

I don't know what it will look like, but I do know where it will lead. It will lead to the Cross. It will lead to that place where everything is stripped away and count as loss but for the surpassing love of Christ. It will lead through that Cross to resurrection. To that place where we will all get woke. To that place where we will all get free.

I am beginning to learn that Becca's words have to be my mantra as I walk this path and as we walk it together.

I am beginning to learn to remember no feeling is final.

I am beginning to learn how to keep my feet glued to the ground.

I am beginning to learn that if I am to help lead healthy bodies -- be it the body of a Board, or the Body of Christ at a Cathedral  -- I have to be healthy myself.

I am beginning to believe that this is the way we must travel together. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Moral Monday -- Trying to Deliver a Message to End Racially-Biased Policing.

Today, nearly 200 faith leaders and people of faith walked from Christ Church Cathedral to the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse for what was called a "Moral Monday" action on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown. After a year of conversation and studies and reports, we believe it is time for action -- and specifically for the U.S. Department of Justice to use all its power to end racially-biased policing in this country.

Pastors Karen Anderson, Heather Arcovitch and Starsky Wilson
read the letter to the Hon. Richard Callahan from a scroll
in front of the Thomas Eagleton Courthouse on Monday
We went as American citizens to a public building to deliver a letter to a public official -- the Hon. Richard Callahan, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri -- who is the highest representative of the Department of Justice in St. Louis. We went to pray and to claim this space as God's space and the people's space ... and all of us as sacred (which we did with a service of anointing, which I helped lead -- along with Rabbi Susan Talve), but basically we came to deliver a letter written from the depths of our faith to a public official in a public space.

We were met with barricades and US Marshals. Because it is a public space and we posed no threat and there was no legitimate reason to keep us out of that space, more than 50 people (I was not one of them) chose to ignore the barricades and, eventually, try to enter the building. They were arrested and charged with obstruction.

This makes me profoundly sad. How differently today could have turned out if Mr. Callahan had just come down to listen to our demands and commit to take them to Washington? How differently today could have turned out if those in authority had chosen to recognize that the people before them were -- as we have been for the past 365 days - coming in love ... militant love, passionate love ... but love all the same.

We must do better.

For me, the point of this action was always to deliver a letter and to have our voice be heard. I am proud to have been part of the interfaith team that designed both the action and the letter (which was read from a large scroll signed by all of us). And I want to share it with you here. The demands are taken straight from the Ferguson Action Network ... and so they represent the hearts and minds of a broad spectrum of God's children.

Here is the letter we tried to deliver:

To the Hon. Richard Callahan, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri

Dear Mr. Callahan,

We are all created in G-d’s image (Genesis 1:27), all equally loved, all equally sacred. This belief has been long-betrayed in this nation. Beginning with the stealing of Black persons into lives of torture and forced labor to build this nation’s economy and enduring today in systems that continue to use Black bodies for economic gain in ways that place them at far greater risk of imprisonment, injury, poverty, and death.

G-d’s people are crying out on account of their taskmasters. The taskmasters are all who benefit from American economic and political systems built on white supremacy. The taskmasters are all who support laws that criminalize and villainize Black children of G-d for trying to thrive or even survive in these oppressive systems. The taskmasters are all who support and even demand that those in law enforcement, sworn to serve and protect the people, instead serve to protect these systems, even using the fear of Black people to validate their practices.

G-d’s people are crying out on account of their taskmasters. G-d’s people have been crying out for centuries. We believe G-d hears these cries.

As people of faith, we believe G-d’s attitude toward the cries of the people is not to preserve privilege and stay silent but to “observe the misery of my people…hear their cry on account of their taskmasters…know their sufferings…come down to deliver them.” (Exodus 3:7-8)

It is not G-d who has failed to hear these cries, to know these sufferings, to come down and deliver these American people. As a nation, we have. We have failed to hear, know and deliver those who are in constant danger because Black bodies continue to be seen both as threat and economic asset.

We recognize this one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown at the hands of the state and of the ensuing and enduring Ferguson Uprising, to lift up one key element of this oppression – the continuing racial bias in policing across this nation -- and proclaim that NOW IS THE TIME for change.

We demand an end to racially-biased policing in our nation because it is a practice that denies the humanity of all as created sacred in G-d’s image. NOW IS THE TIME.

We demand an end to racially-biased policing in our nation because it upholds and intensifies the chasms of race, class, power and privilege that divide us and condemn us to fall short of G-d’s dreams for us. NOW IS THE TIME.

We demand an end to racially-based policing in our nation as a first step in dismantling the systems of white supremacy that are not worthy of any of G-d’s children and that have caused those among use who are Black to cry out for far too long. NOW IS THE TIME.

To this end, specifically, we demand a comprehensive review by the Department of Justice of systemic abuses by local police departments, including the publication of data relating to racially biased policing, and the development of best practices.

In addition, we demand a repurposing of law enforcement funds to support community-based alternatives to incarceration and the conditioning of DOJ funding on the ending of discriminatory policing and the adoption of DOJ best practices.

As faith leaders, we come together today to deliver these demands to the home of those who have been entrusted with the mantle of justice for this nation.

Mr. Callahan, your choice is a simple one. Will you hear the cries of the people on account of their taskmasters, will you know their sufferings, will you take it upon yourself to use the power and privilege entrusted to you to deliver them? Or will you use your power and privilege like Pharaoh did, closing his ears and hardening his heart?

As faith leaders, we come together today to amplify these cries and bear these demands as an act of prayer. We stand on the shoulders of leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who when he returned from marching in Selma was asked by someone if he found much time to pray there and responded: “I prayed with my feet.”

We are praying with our feet. And we will not stop until every ear is opened and heart is softened. We will not stop until Black lives truly do matter in this nation. We will not stop until the sun-kissed children of G-d are delivered from oppression and all share the good and broad land together. NOW IS THE TIME!


signed by nearly 200 faith leaders and people of faith

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Deeply Wailing: Lament, This Weekend, and our Life Together.

I'm doing something I've never done before ... I'm posting a Sunday sermon on the Thursday before. This is the sermon (more or less) that I'm going to preach at Sunday morning at 8 am (at 10 am we will be blessed to have Brittni Gray in our pulpit).  But because I have gotten so many questions about lament as we head into this weekend, I am putting it out there now for anyone. And please know I'd love to talk with you about it ... and be together in the wails you have to cry. 

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! 
Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden
lament the death of their son.
From the other end of the phone came a cry. Not just a cry but a deep, soul-wrenching wail. Like every cell in her body had emptied all its pain into one sound.

And then there was silence.

I can still hear it.

It began with the flashing light on an answering machine.

It was 14 years ago, and I was the Episcopal campus missioner for Washington University and I came to work at Rockwell House on the first day of Winter break. Some of the students were still around but many had been making their way home, including Julia, our student peer minister, who had driven home to Natchez, MS the night before.

I walked into the kitchen, and saw the flashing light and hit the button.

Julia had never made it to Natchez.

Julia, this compassionate, beautiful, full-of-light, full-of-life 21 year old woman had been killed on a lonely stretch of state route in rural Mississippi when her car hydroplaned in the rain and hit an oncoming truck.

I have learned most of my life to control my feelings. I’m a good Episcopalian, after all. I have learned to feel some of them and to jam the rest of them down inside for later. After all, there is always work to do. I went into comfort mode – my job was to be strong for the students. My pain could come later.

I began to call the students. Some were still in town and I could have them come over and we could share the news in person but others were already home and I had to tell them on the phone. Tell them that their friend, their sister was dead.

One by one I called them. I shared the news. They asked questions. There was silence. There were a few tears. We prayed.

And then I called Cori.

“Cori,” I said, in the words I had practiced and honed over an afternoon of phone calls. ”I need you to sit down. There’s no good way to say this so I’m just going to say it. Julia was killed in a car accident driving home to Natchez last night. She’s dead.”

And from the other end of the phone didn’t come a question, or tears, or even silence … but a deep, deep wail.

It was powerful. It was painful. It was raw.

You would think it would scare me. But it didn’t. It was like music. In that wail, Cori was expressing not just all her pain and shock but mine as well. That cry reached deep into my heart and soul and touched that place where I had jammed all that stuff down and as I heard her cry I knew that I wasn’t alone in that place.

I knew that someone else felt that, too.

I knew the Body of Christ was real and that Jesus was there, in that deep, deep wail.

Today we are using a word that is new to many of us. That word is “lament.”

Lament is many things.

Lament is a literary genre – there is a Book of Lamentations in the Hebrew scripture.

Lament is a liturgical form – we will have a litany of lament in our prayers of the people this morning.

But more than anything lament is a deeply honest human response to pain and grief. Lament is pushing aside all the voices that tell us we need to be in control and that there is work to do and that tears are for the weak and should be apologized for. Lament is pushing aside all those things and saying that pain needs to be felt and pain needs to be expressed. That we are not superwomen and supermen. That we are human and human beings feel and express pain.

It is recognizing that Jesus, in all his humanity wailed at the death of his friend, Lazarus, and cried out in agony from the cross – not the pain of the nails but the pain of feeling left by the one he loved … my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.

And if Jesus can, we can, too.

Today is a day of lament. We hear it in our scriptures. Our reading from 2 Samuel is the story of the death of Absalom. Absalom was the third son of King David … and he was not a model child. He plotted insurrection and tried to overthrow his father as king, and it looked like he might even succeed.

But even then, this father loved his son. And he gave strict orders that in the battle that Absalom not be touched. But those orders were not followed, and David’s forces found Absalom trapped in a tree and beat and killed him.

When David heard the news, the scripture tells us “The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

But the translation is wrong. David didn’t just say those words. Grief so deep that we are wishing we were in the ground instead of our child doesn’t just get said. Grief that deep gets wailed. David wailed:


The ability to lament is a beautiful piece of who David is. He is a great king, and part of that greatness is David’s humanity.

This is not David’s first lament. Earlier in 2 Samuel, he laments the death of another dearly loved one turned adversary, Saul. David somehow instinctually knows that these emotions need to be felt, need to be expressed, and in fact that his job as King makes it all the more necessary.

It is a message we deeply need to hear for ourselves.

In his commentary on Second Samuel, Walter Brueggeman writes:

“We (and I believe the we that Brueggemman is speaking here is the predominantly white Western society) have nearly lost our capacity for such grief. We are characteristically so busy with power, so bent on continuity, so mesmerized by our ideologies of control that we will not entertain a hiatus in our control of life to allow for grief. Such grief does for a moment require a relinquishment of control. David does not hesitate to enact such relinquishment."

David’s comfortability with lament, with giving up the control that is needed for tears and deep wailing shows that he recognizes a profound irony about us as human beings.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown names it clearly:

We fear being vulnerable with others because we believe they will see it as weakness. Yet when people are vulnerable around us – as Bren was in her sermon last week – we are deeply moved and see it as strength.

“Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.”

“I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.”

Today is a day of lament. This week is a week of lament. And we need it desperately. Because there has been so much pain and so much to grieve and it doesn’t stop.

On this one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, of course we stand with his parents who cry out like David, “O, my son, O my son, would I had died instead of you.” But just as this year has not just been about one child but so much more, our grief and need for lament runs much deeper.

We lament all the children that have died in our streets.

We lament the deep brokenness in the structures of our society and in our own hearts that led to that confrontation in front of Canfield Green Apartments.

We lament the friendships that have been strained or ended in the last year as we have confronted hard issues of race and class in our city.

We lament the trauma we have experienced and the trauma that many of us are just learning has been there all along.

We lament the other incredible losses that are gaping wounds that feel like they might never be filled and healed. The death of Cathedral family members like Norma Lemmon. Divorce. Illness. Losing our jobs. Betrayals both by us and of us. Diagnoses that in a minute say that our remaining time on this planet might be measured in weeks and months instead of years.

We lament because we trust with Jesus that feelings are not to be feared but that feelings are meant to be felt and expressed.

We lament knowing that the love of Christ is all about vulnerability, and that love in this place creates a space of safety where we can relinquish the control required not just to cry but to wail.

We lament knowing that it is only when we relinquish that control and let the tears and cries and deep wailing come, that the true healer, the love of the One who created us, sustains us and loves us without end, can reach inside and touch those wounds and begin to fill and heal them.

I’m still learning this myself, and most of the time I’m not a very good student. I still feel I have to be strong and I still spend a lot of time jamming feelings down inside in the name of keeping going and getting the work done. As much as I talk about vulnerability and laying our lives on the table with Christ, I know that I am as much a beginning student in that process as any one of us.

But after this year of Ferguson and Magdalene. After this year of deep pain and the hope of deep healing. After this year of people leaving and others joining this community. Of deaths and births. Of funerals and baptisms. After this year where so much seems so different than it did one year ago, I believe more than ever that this way of the cross is not to be figured out with our heads but emptied into with our hearts and our souls. That this way of the cross must lead us through deep pain before we get to resurrection. That we must do it together. That we must risk being vulnerable.

That not just today, but always together, we can be a people and a place where it is not only safe but encouraged to let those deep wails come forth.

That not just today, but always together, we can be be a community of lament.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hearing Sandra Bland -- It has to be personal

It has to be personal.

After Michael Brown was killed, I sat on my front porch every morning during my prayer time and I pictured his body lying in the street – only instead of his face I would put the face of my sons – Schroedter and Hayden.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

Then I would text my friend and colleague, Traci Blackmon, and I would ask her for one thing I could take off her plate that day. And, blessedly, she would always oblige.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

We will never stop “racism.” We will never end “homelessness.” We will never eliminate “misogyny” or “LGBT discrimination” or “sex trafficking” any other of the infections that plague us … as long as we view them as issues.

Because we will never care enough. Those of us with privilege and power will never care enough about an “issue” to do what is necessary. Because what my faith in Jesus Christ teaches me is that the only real change comes from laying my life down for someone. And even God didn't lay the divine life down for an idea. And created in God's image, we are the same. We don’t lay our lives down for ideas … we lay our lives down for each other.

It has to be personal.

Two months after Michael Brown was killed, I was hiking with a friend in the hills of Northern California, and he asked me of my involvement in Ferguson:

“Man, why are you throwing yourself on this fire?”

His question was one of deep brotherly concern. And it was a great question.

And in that moment faces flashed in front of my eyes. People whom I had met even in those two months in the movement. Friends I had known before who had shared with me their stories of growing up and living black in America. Members of our Christ Church Cathedral community who have lifetimes of oppression and microaggression. I saw their faces, and my eyes began to fill with tears, and I gave the only answer I could give:

“Because my friends are on that fire.”

It has to be personal.

I’m on vacation right now. And until this morning, I had put off watching the Sandra Bland video or reading too much about her. Because I’m on vacation. Because I need a break.

But as I sat on the beach this morning during my prayer time, it came to me that my friends on that fire don’t get a vacation from being black. They can’t choose not to be harassed this week because they are on vacation. I realized I had to watch that video … right then.

And so I did. Right there.

And as I heard Sandra’s voice – a voice of defiant power. A voice asserting her rights. A voice spelling out clearly exactly what sins were being committed against her and refusing to back down and submit to injustice.

As I heard Sandra’s voice, the voice changed.

And instead of Sandra Bland, I heard Traci Blackmon. I heard Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell. I heard Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Karen Anderson and Leah Gunning Francis and Dietra Baker. I heard Alice Dowd and Ashley Yates. I heard Regina Mullins and Ty Johnson. I heard Leah Clyburn and Huldah Blamoville and Maggie Linck and Lorraine Kee and Patricia Altemueller.

And I began to fill with rage. And my eyes began to fill with tears.

Because it was personal.

And I knew I had to do something.

Even if it was just writing about this.

Even if it was just committing to keep saying her name … and saying their names … and asking “what can I do today to lighten your load just a little bit?” … and continue to fight through my own shame and defensiveness and uncomfortability about white supremacy and racial oppression and not let myself get distracted by the next thing that comes along that demands my attention.

I have to keep it personal. Because I know if I don’t, I will never care enough. If I don’t, my passion will flag and fail. If I don’t, I will get distracted and lose focus.

But if I keep it personal, I will realize that it is my deepest honor to stand beside these amazing black women. It is my deepest honor to amplify their voices and use my privilege to point to them. It is my deepest honor to have them get in my face and call me on my privilege and all that I take for granted.

But it has to be personal.