Friday, July 22, 2016

Fear and love. Trump and Tribe X. Standing on New Ground and Believing We Are Not Lost

“…perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” – 1John 4:18

I watched Donald Trump’s speech last night with one eye on the television and another on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Candidate Trump’s message was clear

Be very, very afraid.

And over and over again, I saw a similar message scrolling across my phone from people reacting to the idea of this man becoming president.

I am very, very afraid.

Fear is hard. We generally don’t decide to be afraid of something. Fear happens to us. Fear grips us. It tempts us into our panic zones where fight or flight kicks in.

Fear is hard, and fear is human. It is never our best selves, but it absolutely is part of who we are and nothing of which to be ashamed. Even Jesus trembled in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Fear, however, is not our calling. Jesus – whose words were meant primarily for a people who knew daily fear because they lived under an occupying force that continually threatened their livelihoods if not their very lives – regularly invited his disciples to “not be afraid” and to have faith – to trust -- in him.

And that trust – that love, that perfect love – will set us free.

One of my favorite quotes about faith and fear is this:

“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 be afraid of.’"

I love this quote because it’s not the simplistic “don’t be afraid” that silences the cries of the genuinely fearful and traumatized who know only too well that there is a great deal to fear.

Don’t tell the women who sleep on the streets of downtown St. Louis that there is nothing to fear when almost every one of them has been raped.

Don’t tell the transgender teen there is nothing to fear when she has been repeatedly beaten up by her classmates and ostracized by her parents.

Don’t tell the 35-year old with two small children there is nothing to fear when he has just received a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Don’t tell Lezley McSpadden, Gwen Carr, and Sybrina Fulton that there is nothing to fear as they stand over the bodies of their murdered children.

We live in a fearful world. There is a great deal to fear. And none of this is anything new.

What makes headlines is when people whose privilege allows us to live in the illusion that those things that others fear every day cannot touch us finally pays (or threatens to pay) us a visit.

Fear is real. Fear is very, very real.

So what do we do in the face of fear?

Do we shrink back? Sometimes. That’s a natural response to trauma.

Do we lash out? Sometimes. That’s a natural response to trauma, too.

But ultimately healing comes from recognizing that although there are times when truly we cannot choose not to fear, we can – with the help of God and one another – choose not to let fear define us, not to let fear control us, not to let fear dictate who we are, what we do and who we will become.

We can speak our truth even though our voice is shaking.

We can hold each other’s hands and wipe each other’s tears.

We can, together, not denying the fearfulness of the world, not denying the right of the traumatized to shrink back or even the overwhelming and understandable desire of the traumatized to lash out, with trembling hearts, hands and voices look fear in the face and respond with militant, revolutionary, nonviolent love.

We can make sure that those among us who have the most to fear – those who are the most vulnerable, traumatized, targeted and oppressed – are never standing on that ground alone.

We can find new ground to stand on together – honest ground, ground where the truth of the traumatized is spoken, heard and believed.

We can, in the words of Becca Stevens and the women of Magdalene, “Stand On New Ground and Believe We Are Not Lost.”

In the face of fear, Resistance is Hope.

Yesterday afternoon, I responded to the call from some of our best young revolutionaries to come to the Old Courthouse and take part in an action for the #FreedomNow day of action.

Tribe X, Potbangerz, and the Ferguson Action Team brought us together to stand in a place of truth and name what there was to fear.

*A nation where police can shoot a black therapist lying in the street with his hands up and whose only explanation is he meant to shoot the autistic man clearly playing with a toy truck sitting next to him.

*A nation where we treat every social problem like a nail to be hit with the hammer of policing and incarceration in for-profit prisons.

*A city where fewer and fewer services are available to the most vulnerable among us … and we respond by criminalizing those who are trying to step up and fill the need themselves.

Despite the 100-degree heat, a great crowd took to the streets and marched down Market Street, where we held the intersection of Market and Tucker for 4 ½ minutes – remembering in love our fallen brother, Michael Brown, and the 4 ½ hours his body lay in the street in front of his grandmother’s apartment building.

The young organizers then marched us to City Hall to bring our demands to Mayor Slay, which included immediate withdrawl of a board bill that further criminalizes helping the most vulnerable among us, the firing of Police Chief Sam Dotson and an end to the use of policing to criminalized poverty, increased resources allocated to mental health services and completion of the proposed homeless shelter that is currently being delayed.

We were locked out of City Hall but a representative of the mayor agreed to take our demands to him.

We then crossed over to the park and brought water, sandwiches and homemade cupcakes to the people struggling with hunger and homelessness that were spending the afternoon in the park (making sure all trash and recycling was collected).

It was a beautiful action. The young revolutionaries led us in naming that which is deeply fearful – fearful to the point of being deadly – and literally linking arms to look that fear full in the face and meet it with militant, nonviolent love. To make space for anger and rage and trauma to be expressed – ‘cause as Magdalene has taught me “you’ve got to feel to heal” – AND to show with our actions that we will not let anything define us but our love.

It was beautiful. It was people whom are some of the most beaten down in our nation recognizing it was “their duty to fight for their freedom. That it was their duty to win. That we must love and support each other. “ and that since none are free until all are free, that “we have nothing to lose but our chains.” (Assata Shakur)

The words of Becca and the women of Magdalene from Find Your Way Home rang in my ears:

“What we are feeling and experiencing is not a sense of being lost but the wonder of discovering something new. This is sacred ground… The prayer is to walk this ground in faith and trust that the Spirit leads us toward God.” (Find Your Way Home, Principle 9: “Stand on New Ground and Believe You Are Not Lost.”)

Last night as I lay in bed and watched Candidate Trump peddle fear, as I watched friends of mine speak of their fears, and as I began to fear myself … I tried to remember.

I tried to remember that bravery is not being unfraid but facing and owning fear and moving forward anyway.

I tried to remember that Jesus calls us to a life without fear – not because we have been shielded from the fearful but because in love we have dismantled and destroyed that which threatens all of us, starting with and especially that which threatens the most vulnerable.

I tried to remember that even though there is indeed much still left to fear in this world, that perfect love casts out fear. And I was filled with gratitude for the young people who that day had shown me a glimpse of what that perfect love looks like standing in that intersection, shouting at the locked doors of City Hall, and handing out food and water in that park.

And this morning when I awoke and saw the fear still swirling around (including inside of me), I tried to remember that what we are feeling and experiencing is not a sense of being lost but the wonder of discovering something new. That this fear is an opportunity for all of us to stand together on the ground occupied by the most vulnerable, oppressed and targeted. Ground that for many of us will be new and fearful … but ground that is deeply sacred because it is a way that with tears has been watered, a path through the blood of the slaughtered.

This morning I awoke and my prayer was that together we could stand on this ground and believe we are not lost. Trust those for whom this is their native land to lead us. To walk this ground in faith and trust that the Spirit leads us toward God.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Taking Leave

Charlie Brown, that great 20th Century nihilist philosopher, speaks for so many of us here. I know he speaks for me.

I hate goodbyes.

The problem is goodbyes are inevitable. Whether we like it or not, someone always leaves.

This Sunday will be my last Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral. Friday, ,July 1 will be my last day functioning as Dean, though I will officially be on the payroll of the Cathedral until the end of September as I finish off my sabbatical and vacation time.

Goodbyes are hard (though there are some partings that are long-awaited and joyful ... and some will greet mine in that vein!). We hate them. But it's important to do them well.

In the church, we have a checkered history on goodbyes. Maybe it's our theology of our interconnectedness as the Body of Christ ... or maybe it's because at our best we lay our whole lives on that Eucharistic table together that makes it so hard to let go of relationships that have meant so much to us.

But let go we must. So I want to talk about that a bit.

One of the things I have had to learn as a priest is the difference between being a priest and a friend.

Friends are wonderful, and I hope you have lots of them. I know I do, and they are fantastic!

Being someone's priest is different. As your priest, my primary job is to gather you with the rest of the community around the presence of Christ and lead us all in laying our lives on the table with Jesus. It is to preach the word of God in ways that lead you to do the same. It is to have relationships with you where my primary concern is always your discipleship of Jesus and how that is lived out in the church and in the world.

Like friendship, it involves a deep, deep love and affection. Like friendship it involves holy companionship. That's why the two are often confused.

But unlike friendship, while you might have many friends, you don't have tons of priests. Having someone as your priest is a unique and specific role ... much in the same way that I have many sibling priests but only one Bishop.

I had the conversation about this distinction with Chapter when I became your Dean, and someone at the table said:

"But when you say you aren't my friend, it feels like you're saying you don't love me."

My response was "I completely get that it sounds and feels that way ... but it's actually the opposite. The greatest joy of my priesthood is that I am called into a loving relationship with you that is incredibly deep. The difference is it is a relationship where I am called to put your well being, your discipleship of Jesus and care of you and the community above any need or desire of my own. It means that I need to be willing to speak truths to you and hear truths from you that I might not be willing to from a friend because of fear of damaging or losing the friendship.

"The difference is also that, frankly, I'm probably not going to be friends with everyone in a congregation ... and if I'm friends with some and not with others, that can send the message that Jesus loves some of you more than others ... and what a perversion of the Gospel that would be!"

"Our relationship as congregant and priest is wonderful and difficult. It is a unique blessing. And the truth is, if I am going to be sure I am being your priest, I have to be clear that I am not your friend."

So what does this have to do with saying goodbye?

One of the most common things clergy hear (and, regrettably, say) as we leave congregations is
"it's OK ... we can still be friends."

We can still talk. We can still hang out. I can still come to you.

It is that Charlie Brown piece of us talking. That piece that hates to say goodbye so much and that wishes so much we didn't have to ... and that even thinks it's stupid that we need to.

I feel it, too.

I hate this goodbye.

I think about not being here to sit at your bedside as some of you die and not being able to lay your ashes in the chapel. I think about not being able to baptize Anne and Perry Trolard's new baby. I think of not being able to watch Annaliese Dace graduate high school or celebrate Ron Friewald's retirement someday or be at the opening of Debbie Nelson-Linck's fantastic new exhibit or to hear Pat Partridge play the organ and it breaks my heart and fills my eyes with tears. But those tears are the cost of a calling that allows me the privilege of loving each you so deeply -- and of accepting your love in return.

So why that cost?

Because I have not been your friend ... I have been your priest. And in a few days, I will not be your priest anymore. And you -- and this Cathedral congregation -- will need someone else to fill that role. And if I am still there -- even if we call it "as a friend" -- it will be all the more difficult for someone else to come in and fill that role.  And that will be bad for everyone.

Also, I will have a new congregation. New relationships to build. New lives to share. A new community to stand in the midst of and say, "I appeal to you holy siblings, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." And my focus will need to be with the people of All Saints, Pasadena. Not because they are better or I love them any more but because I am a priest and that is my new call.

I have been in congregations where this has been done poorly -- and it is bad all the way around. I have been in congregations where former clergy left the jobs but stayed connected to the community,  and it made the job so much harder for I and other clergy who followed -- because there was no incentive for the people to do the hard work of building the new relationship with the new priest when the path of least resistance was to maintain the familiar relationship with the former priest. It's not impossible. But it is a lot harder.

At worst, this has included former clergy meddling and second guessing ... but even at best it has not been healthy or helpful .. particularly for the new clergy that arrive and are trying to take their place at the altar and in the midst of the community.

I don't want to do that to my successor and I don't want to do that for you.

If I were to try to maintain friendships after I left, frankly, it would be selfish. It would be me putting my own desire to stay connected to you over what is best for you and this congregation. And I'm not going to do that.

My deepest desire for Christ Church Cathedral is that you be a community of bold, joyful, healthy disciples of Jesus Christ. And the best thing I can do to help you continue on that road is truly to leave so that you can embrace and love your new Dean -- whomever she may be -- and to hold you in prayer for the rest of my life.

So that is what I will do. And that is what I ask you to do as well.

When I walk out the door on Friday, July 1, I will be holding you on my heart, and that will never change. But I will not be maintaining relationships. I will hold you in prayer always, but I will not be checking in to see how you're doing. There are a few folks who are out of town in June who have asked if we can have a farewell meeting later in the summer so that we can say goodbye properly and, with Lorraine's and Amy's permission, I am scheduling a few of those, but for all intents and purposes I will be gone, and we will let each other go.

Does that mean you or I need to duck behind a shelf if we run into each other in Left Bank Books between now and when I leave town? No. We don't have to be rude to each other or make a big deal of scrupulously making sure our paths never cross or names are never spoken of again. If I see you at Busch Stadium this summer I'll say hello. If you are ever in Pasadena on a Sunday, please do drop by All Saints ... I will be thrilled to see you.

If your new Dean decides she wants to invite me back at some point and that is something I am able to do, then that could happen someday ... but that will be her call. In the meantime,  I won't be reaching out to you and I ask that you not reach out to me. Not because I don't love you or because I think you don't love me ... but because of the opposite. Because while it has been the deepest honor to be your priest for these past seven years, I know the best way I can honor that is by getting out of the way so someone else can come in and experience the incredible gift of being your priest without me hanging around.

I take heart that Charlie Brown's yearning -- and my own -- never to say goodbye actually will be fulfilled. It is both present reality and sure and certain eschatological hope. St. Paul reminds us that

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Though we are parted, we are always connected. That is the joy of being the Body of Christ. And it is that joy and hope that lets me do what I need to do and lets you do what you need to do ... and that is to part well, pray continually for one another, and entrust one another and all our lives to Christ our Lord.

Our time together is ending.

The love of God in Jesus Christ is forever.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sabbatical – How it’s going to work (Part 3 of 3)

In the last two weeks, I’ve written about sabbatical as a time of rest, restoration and a check against the idolatry of believing in our own indispensability. I also wrote about sabbatical as a time of opportunity for reflection, discernment and to experience something new.

But how will things run and what exactly will be going on during my sabbatical? That’s what I want to talk about in this final installment.

The Vicar, wardens, and I have put together a document (approved by the Chapter) that outlines structures of authority, event planning and communications, the expanded role of chapter liaisons and the use of funds usually reserved to the Dean will happen during the sabbatical.

The entire document is available online (click here)- but the highlights are:

*The authority of the Dean will rest with the Vicar, the Rev. Canon Amy Chambers Cortright. This will include speaking on behalf of CCC, managing staff, and being the final authority on all decisions involving liturgy, pastoral care and Christian formation. The vicar will work collaboratively with the Executive Committee (wardens and treasurer)

*The Chapter will continue as it has been – as the primary policy-making and fiduciary body for Christ Church Cathedral.

*There is a process including the Vicar, a chapter representative and staff to decide questions of whether the Cathedral will host an event.

*There is a process involving the Vicar, digital missioner, wardens and communication & marketing committee involving communications and social media.

*The money that usually goes into the Dean’s discretionary fund will be diverted to the Vicar’s fund during the sabbatical, and she will also have access to the funds in the Dean’s hospitality account and a small special fund set up by Chapter that can be used at the Dean’s discretion with the advise and consent of wardens or chapter.

During my sabbatical, important efforts toward survival and sustainability at Christ Church Cathedral will also continue. Among them are:

BTM Rental Income – Facilities Manager Gary Johnson will continue to work with our commercial real estate broker to find tenant(s) for rentable space in the BTM. We currently are in negotiations with one interested party.

Chapter 2017 Budget Group – Jeff Goldone, Kris Reppert, Bruce Hopson, the Rev. Emily Hillquist Davis, and Andreas Altemueller is preparing 3-5 budget options that will be considered by Chapter – each of which is balanced or close to it -- with a broad structure for the 2017 budget being adopted at the May, 2016 Chapter meeting. This will give 7 ½ months both for any staff impacted by budget cuts to find new work or decide whether they want to stay under adjusted responsibilities/salaries and also time for the Cathedral to transition into what will very possibly be a smaller staff structure.

Facilities Audit – Cal Guthrie and the Property Committee are working with Gary Johnson on this project. In 2016, CCC contracted with ArchImages ( to do a complete audit of all CCC properties (Cathedral, BTM, parking lot) to determine the state of the facilities, any deferred maintenance and to estimate cost of maintaining all property both today and for the next 30-50 years. This data will be used to determine (among other things):
*budgeting for facilities expenses.
*the amount of money needed to be raised in a capital campaign
*feasibility of sustaining/remodeling/tearing down the BTM

BTM Development Feasibility Study – A group including Lorraine Kee (sr. warden), Anne Trolard (Chapter), Bill Thomas (CCC parishioner), Jeff Goldone (Jr. Warden), the Rev. Canon Amy Cortright (Vicar) and Desiree Viliocco (Diocesan CFO – bishop’s staff representative) is working with The Rome Group, whom we have contracted with to do a feasibility study of whether there is a development project for the BTM that fits with our mission, is economically sustainable and that people are willing to get behind. This data will help determine whether there is a reasonable sustainable future for the BTM and how to achieve it.

Explorations with the Diocese over ownership of properties – Steve Barney, Karen Barney, Kris Reppert and Lorraine Kee are representing the Cathedral in conversations with the Diocese about whether it would be feasible and advisable for the diocese to take a larger ownership role in the Cathedral and the BTM. We are working with the Episcopal Church Foundation in these explorations as well.

It is a sign of the health of this community that I am able to step away and so much is able to get done. I am deeply grateful to the many people who are stepping up during this time and I hope everyone will consider how God might be calling them to step up as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Welcome the party, pal!" -- on the House of Bishops' Word to the Church

“Welcome to the party, pal!” – John McClane

There’s a scene in Die Hard where terrorists have taken over the top floor of a LA high rise and are holding a bunch of people hostage. John McClane (Bruce Willis), has been in the thick of what has been going on and trying to get anyone else outside the building to notice.

A single police officer drives up way down below, takes a cursory look around and is about to drive off – completely ignorant of the crisis -- when McClane realizes he has to do something crazy to get his attention. So he takes the body of one of the terrorists he has killed, throws it out the window and it lands on the hood of the officer’s car. Instantly, the officer knows all is not well – especially when the terrorists open fire on the police car. (Check out the scene clip below, but, you know, trigger warning)

Two seconds before, he was ignorant of the horrors going on inside the building. Now he is not only aware, the horrors are all around him.

And McClane, in wonderful Bruce Willis fashion, yells down at him:

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

Welcome to the party, pal! That’s how I feel about the Episcopal House of Bishops' “Word to the Church” that came out yesterday.

It’s a great letter. (Click here to read it)

It names the crucifixion of Jesus as state terrorism.

It talks about how we are still “living under the shadow of the lynching tree” and about how we “seek to secure our own safety and security at the expense of others.”

I agree with pretty much everything in this word – except the tense our bishops use throughout.

They talk about a developing situation.

They talk about “violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric.”

That “Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society."

That “the current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege.”

Like all this is somehow something new.

Like this somehow hasn’t happened yet, but we fear it might.

Like violent forces, people turning against their neighbors and us worshipping a false idol of power and privilege hasn’t been happening all along – just because some of us are only now beginning to notice. Just because it is only now happening at rallies for a major party’s frontrunner for president. Just because it is only now CNN Breaking News.

Welcome to the party, pal!

As pastor Traci Blackmon says, “Trump isn’t the tree, he’s the fruit.” And he and what is happening around him is just the latest fruit of a tree that has roots older than our Republic itself.

Our bishops have wonderfully said:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

Welcome to the party, pal!

We have a national economy founded on the stealing of black bodies from Africa and having productivity tortured out of them in forced labor camps.[1] An economy that has been sustained by successive re-workings of that system in sharecropping, Jim Crow, the denial of key wealth escalators (the GI Bill, social security, FHA home loans, among others) and the discrimination of redlining/restrictive covenants to people of color[2],  and finally the school to prison pipeline. [3]

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

We have a system of policing where, as Professor John A. Powell says, “the role of the police is to contain the black community, to keep white people safe from the black community.” (watch the video above)

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

We have a political system that has embodied and sustained white supremacy – grounded in a founding document that designates black men as only 3/5 human and women as not recognizably human at all.

Ensuring the safety (and wealth) of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.

Our bishops write:

“We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”

Fantastic! Seriously. That is awesome. 

Welcome to the party, pal!

I honestly don’t say this in ridicule. I say this in thanksgiving. I say this as someone who is just starting to come to the party myself. I say this as someone who has spent most of my life benefitting from these systems and not bothering to seek out the truths behind them and perfectly happy to remain blissfully unaware that my safety and wealth exist through the sacrifice of the hopes and safety of others.

As the young leaders of the movement for black lives told me when I finally showed up in the street:

“You’ve been in your churches praying. We’ve been out here dying.”

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

I applaud the House of Bishops for their word. And I hope they – and all of us -- recognize the power of what they are saying. I hope they – and all of us – recognize  the radical, rooted nature of what they are calling us to and committing themselves to as our leaders.

They close their word by saying:

“We call for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.”

How we – the Bishops and us all – read this call will determine whether this word will be us truly coming to the party or whether we will once again in our power and privilege drive off in safety leaving the carnage to continue. 

Will we read this as a call to pray – not just on our knees but with our hands, with our voices, with our power, our privilege, and with our feet – for true reconciliation?

If we read this call as one for that kind of radical, rooted-in-Jesus “spirit of reconciliation” and not just as one more way to “be in our churches praying while ‘they’ are out there dying,” then this is a word that could change the church. This is a word that could change the world. This is a word that could truly lead us more deeply into the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ -- who is the source of those true selves we pray we will not betray.

Yes, the violence and rhetoric in this political season are disturbing. But it is the fruit, not the tree. It is the crazy thing that has finally gotten our attention to what has been going on all along.

Jesus is standing, as Jesus always does, with those most on the margins … those most oppressed … those most ridiculed … those most targeted.  And as some of our eyes are being opened not just to what is happening now but what has been going on all along, Jesus is shouting down at those of us who have remained blissfully unaware below:

“Welcome to the party, pal!”

How will we respond?

[1] For more on this, read The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist (

[2] For more on this, read and watch White Like Me by Tim Wise (transcript here -

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Opportunity of Sabbatical (Part 2 of 3)

Last week, I wrote about how sabbath/sabbatical is both a time of rest & restoration and also a check against the idolatry of believing in our own indispensability. This sabbatical time is also a time of opportunity. An opportunity for reflection, an opportunity for discernment, an opportunity to experience something new.

First, reflection.

We have spent seven years together, and we have undergone tremendous changes and tackled tremendous challenges.

We have had honest conversations about the role of alcohol and addictive family systems in our life as a Cathedral and a diocese.

We have wrestled with both stewarding the wealth of the Pope Bequest and the challenge of maintaining aging buildings with rising fixed costs.

We have welcomed many new faces and said goodbye to many others.

We welcomed Lafayette Preparatory Academy into our buildings and established ourselves as a force for the common good downtown.

We have dived into the middle of the great divides of race & class in our city – particularly after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson – and in so doing have become both a source of inspiration and a lightning rod for conflict within our own Cathedral, in the city of St. Louis and even across the Episcopal Church and nation.

Relationships have been strengthened and strained. Begun and broken. It has not been easy and it has not been dull.

It is good for all of us now to reflect back on these seven years. Where have we felt Jesus moving in our midst? For what are we grateful, and what do we regret? What joys do we have to proclaim and what sins do we have to confess?

The Christian life is an examined life – and we have been through much to examine.

As Antonio says in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” And while I’m not suggesting the murder of a king (or a dean!), there is wisdom here.

God is always operating on at least two tracks. One is about what is happening now. The other is about what unseen in the future it is preparing us for.

What’s past is prologue. And we all have some discernment to do. What of the past seven years do we want to continue and what do we want to leave aside.?

I have tried to lead us in very clear ways in embracing the movement for Black lives and breaking down the us/them structures governing relationships across class lines. This has been hard, controversial work – and this is a good time for you as the Cathedral to discern whether God is calling us to continue that work.

I have tried to lead us in very clear ways embracing a destiny of the Cathedral as a catalyst for mission downtown and in St. Louis and talked about Jesus calling us not to be unconcerned with survival but never to sacrifice faithfulness for survival. Is that a path we want to continue down? What is this past a prologue to for us?

And for me, I need to consider where God might be calling me as I enter my third decade of ordained ministry. To not just give thanks for what has been but to imagine what this might be prologue to for me as well.

And that leads us to the third opportunity – the opportunity to experience something new.

As we have discussed throughout this year, 2017 is likely to look very different at CCC. We have a $212,000 budget deficit this year and next year we will not have any cushion to allow much, if any, deficit at all. We have many different efforts happening right now to address the survival and sustainability of Christ Church Cathedral and these will continue full steam ahead during my sabbatical.

It is at least a distinct possibility that the 2017 budget will include salary for only one priest at Christ Church Cathedral. That means this sabbatical time is an opportunity for us to experience life with one clergy. That means there will be opportunities both for the baptized to step up and take new roles and responsibilities and also to discern what things might need to be laid down.

It is NOT a time to burn out the priest that you will have. It is important not just for Amy’s health but for the health of the congregation that she not over-function during this time – so that everyone can get a clear picture of what sustainable ministry is like with one full-time priest on staff.

Next week, in my final installment of this series, I’ll talk about the plans Chapter and I have made for structure, function and governance during the sabbatical.

Some of what I have written here may cause you to be anxious. I want to tell you that none of it makes me anxious. I believe God’s hand is firmly on this Cathedral community and if we engage in honest reflection, discernment and embracing this new experience we will, with God’s help, chart a course for a tremendous future for Christ Church Cathedral.

I am grateful for the opportunity for this sabbatical for us all … and for the work that we will be doing throughout.

Monday, March 7, 2016

God is about to show up and do something extraordinary.

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress. (Isaiah 65:17-19)

More often than not, the lectionary gives us wisdom and inspiration right when we need it. That happened -- at least for me -- this morning as the Eucharistic lectionary for Monday in the fourth week of Lent gave us this from Isaiah.

It's from the third part of Isaiah. The people of Israel have returned from exile but even though they are home, all is not well. When they were in exile, they dreamed of the wonders of return, and -- don't get them wrong, it's much better than being in exile -- life is still really, really, really hard. There is still deep brokenness in relationship between God and the people and among the people themselves.

All is not well. All is not as it should be.

And then God says this:

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

We Episcopalians don't like to talk about eschatology -- the end times. We don't like to talk about it because that conversation has been so associated with fundamentalism, fire & brimstone and the Left Behind series that we fear being tainted by association.

But we avoid (or even reject) our eschatology at our own great peril and sadness. Because our eschatology is our hope, that sure and certain hope that no matter what things seem like now, that God is always about to do show up and do something extraordinary. That sure and certain hope that even the worst conditions are redeemable and transformable.

That sure and certain hope that is expressed in the protest chant: "I know that we will win."

I spent a little time this morning having a "conversation" on Twitter with a downtown resident who is frustrated about homelessness downtown and thinks I and Christ Church Cathedral aren't doing enough about it.

I share his frustration. I want all of us to be doing more. I want us to be learning each other's names across class and race lines. Listening deeply to each other's stories. Pooling our resources to ensure that every person lives in a way that befits the dignity that should be accorded an image of God. Dismantling systems that oppress by helping some have much and others have not nearly enough.

I wish there was an easy answer. A switch to flip that makes it all better. A way to get us all on the same page and swimming in the same direction.

And I'm tired - and we all are.

We are tired that poverty abides and even grows -- though I am not nearly as tired as those images of God among us who truly live in poverty.

We are tired of the complexities and messiness of coming together across boundaries of race and class -- though I am not nearly as tired as those images of God among us who are parts of targeted races and classes.

We are tired of having the same meetings and same conversations and hearing the same tired program proposals that have never been fully funded or implemented because we can't muster the political will.

We are tired of family members and friends being diagnosed with cancer or incapacitated by strokes.

We are tired of the intractability of broken systems of education, policing and municipal government.

We are tired of giving money to really wonderful nonprofits and then feeling like things are still getting worse.

We are tired of friends who betray us and leaders who govern by fear & fiat instead of faith & vision.

And if we are tired in this nation that has the most privilege, power and highest standard of living of any nation in history ... imagine how tired the rest of the world must be.

And yet, in the midst of this, God sings out:

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be fools in the eyes of the world. We are called to believe after a human history of struggle that God is about to show up and do something extraordinary. And even more, we are called to trust that God will do that extraordinary work of re-creation, redemption and transformation through us. That our hands are God's hands. That our ears are God's ears. That our lips -- lips that speak, lips that sing, lips that kiss this world deeply and passionately -- are God's lips.

We are at that part of Lent where the time in the desert feels like it will never end. And our Lents are much longer than 40 days.

Together, let us try not to fear.

Together, let us try not to lose hope.

Together, let us strain to hear and trust that God is about to show up and do something extraordinary.

Together, let us trust that God is about to create a new heaven, a new earth, a new Christ Church Cathedral, a new St. Louis.

Together, let us offer ourselves anew to be part of that new creation, foolish as the world may tell us we are for believing in it.

Together, let us join God in proclaiming in joyful song that God looks at God's people -- each and all of us -- who are destined for that new creation -- and God does not despair but instead rejoices and delights.

Together, let us shelter each other when we need rest, and wipe away each other's tears.

And together, let us claim our belief that the day is coming when the sounds of weeping and cries of distress indeed will be no more.

That God is about to show up and do something extraordinary. And that we get to be a part of it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sabbatical – What is it? (Part 1 of 3)

And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Sabbath is rest. It is not only a primary human need it is one of the most ancient commandments of our faith (#4 of the Big Ten if you’re counting) – so important that we see God modeling it for us in the stories of creation.

The punishment for breaking the Sabbath commandment was death (Exodus 31:14)… which, frankly, always seemed a little extreme to me, until I really thought about it.

First off, if we don’t take Sabbath … if we don’t rest … we die. Without rest, our bodies deteriorate, we are more susceptible to life-shortening illnesses and events and our lifespans shrink. Medical science has proven that Sabbath – rest – literally is a matter of life and death.

But even more important (seriously … even more important than life and death) is that ignoring Sabbath leads to spiritual death.

The first commandment is “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of bondage in Egypt, you shall have no other gods before me.” When we ignore Sabbath, when we don’t take time to rest and to let the world go on without us, we are saying with our lives that we are indispensable. We are committing the original sin of Adam and Eve in putting ourselves in the place of God … only worse because even God rested on the seventh day!

When we ignore Sabbath, we are committing idolatry and violating this commandment. We are saying with our lives that God and the world can’t possibly do without us even for a day. It is the first, great step to squeezing out God altogether and constructing a world that is all about – and completely dependent on – us.

Through our time together at Christ Church Cathedral, I have not been good at Sabbath. And it has been an idolatry that has ill-served this Cathedral, my family and myself. From the very beginning, I let my own need to prove myself and my love for this community and the work we share lead me to taking on too much, working through my days off and sleeping fewer and fewer hours a night.

And, predictably, this has taken tolls on those same two levels that Exodus presages.

The first is my health. After seven years, I am exhausted. My blood pressure is creeping up. My capacity for creative thought is waning. I am in deep need of rest and restoration.

The second is an aspect of the spiritual health of this congregation. As I prepare for my sabbatical, I hear voices of anxiety being raised. Voices that question how we will face the considerable challenges before us with me gone for five-plus months. Voices that make me realize I have not done nearly a good enough job of teaching us by my actions that the future and fate of Christ Church Cathedral does not rest in the hands of your Dean, but of God and of one another.

And so, as was announced at the annual meeting Eucharist, starting the day after Easter, I am going on Sabbatical through the day after Labor Day. And I am doing this both as an act of self-care (one that is provided for me in my letter of agreement … though Chapter has, I am grateful to say, recognized that what I am owed contractually is not enough for the restorative task and has expanded it) and an opportunity to do the work of establishing healthier patterns of living for the years to come, but also an act of spiritual leadership as your Dean – to practice what I have been preaching these last seven years and that is faithfulness to and trust in Jesus as the only barometer of our success that matters.

This will be a true sabbatical for me. I will have no major travel or big writing project. When people ask me what I will be doing, I say the primary things will be sleeping and reading. I will be doing some writing not with an end product in mind but as a way of journaling and processing the past seven years we have traveled together. My prayer is that during these five months you all will find time to do the same. To realize that some things that I do will need to be taken up by others but that others will fall by the wayside – and that will be OK.

Over the next two weeks, I will be writing more about sabbatical. Next week, I will write about the opportunity I believe this sabbatical presents not just for me but for all of us. The week after that, I will lay out the plan – worked out with Vicar Amy Cortright, our wardens and Chapter – about how things will run and lines of authority and process while I am gone.

I look forward to this month together as we journey toward Calvary and the empty tomb. And I welcome the chance to talk about these and many other things as much as you like.

In Christ’s love,

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I listen to you and then I believe you.

“I listen to you and then I believe you.”

KB Frazier drums and leads chants as part of the
protest at St. Louis City Police Headquarters
last night.
Last night, I and a couple other CCC members stood in the middle of Olive Street in front of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters with around 70 other people protesting an incident that happened the night before.

The family of one of our black activist leaders, KB Frazier (also a worship leader and board member at Central Reform Congregation as well as an awesome drummer) was pulled over by the police without evident cause and their car was approached by two officers with guns drawn. Among those in the car was two year old Ethan, who stood up in the back seat, began to cry out of terror and was told to “sit down and shut up” by one of the officers.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because I took baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being – and the actions of those officers and the system of policing that supports them is neither just, dignified nor honoring of the image of God that is on every human being.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because Jesus calls me to stand with those most on the margins, because that’s where Jesus is.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because the behavior of those officers is not only dangerous, traumatizing and potentially deadly, it is not worthy of this City of St. Louis that I love.

Throughout today, I have been asked repeatedly:

“But how do you know that it actually happened?”

“Where is the evidence?”

“You know you can’t really prove it, right?”

And that leads me to the last reason I joined KB and others in the street last night.

Because I listened to KB, and I believed him.

When Bishop Gene Robinson was here at Christ Church Cathedral last spring, he told a story of a conversation he had with a student at Colby College in Maine about “what white guys can do to ‘get it’ about the experience of black people in America.” (if you click on the link, the story comes at about the 1:35:00 mark).

“Here’s what he told me was the first thing I can do,” Gene said.

“I listen to you and then I believe you.”

“We listen to someone who is different from us, and then we believe it’s their truth. It may not be my truth or anything out of my experience but it’s true for you. And then we have a chance to talk.”

Gene went on to say: “There are a lot of white people in America with not a clue as to why Ferguson happened they way it did. That’s just not their experience. OK, fine. Can you listen to someone for whom that is their experience and believe that it is their experienced truth?”

“And then we can start to talk.”

I’m not saying my belief in KB by itself should have the power of judge and jury. No one person’s should. Our legal system is rightly based on rules of evidence. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m not asking for officers to be convicted purely because KB or I say they should.

I am talking about listening and believing to a truth that is different from my own … and maybe different from your own as well.

We are talking about the lived experience of policing of people who have grown up black and brown in this country. And it is very different from my own. And in the face of that difference, my job -- particularly but certainly not exclusively when the speaker is someone I have come to know as a person of deep integrity and courage – is clear.

I listen to him and I believe him.

And one more thing.

I stand with him.

I stand with KB because we can’t start to talk, we can’t start to have the conversations that will lead to true reconciliation, that will lead to change, that will lead to us becoming the Beloved Community until we as a community truly listen to the voices that are coming off the streets. Until we listen to them and believe them … believe that they are telling their truth. And that it is a truth that needs to be honored and respected and believed.

I am grateful for the young black women, men and gender nonconforming persons in our community who refuse to “sit down and shut up” – even when guns are pointed at them. Who amplify Ethan’s cries and demand they be heard, that his name be known and that the trauma be believed.

I am grateful because I am so aware of how many times I have failed and still continue to fail to listen and believe.

I am grateful because I know the only way we will ever become the city God dreams for us to be is if their voices keep shouting.

If other voices like mine join and amplify them.

If all of us learn to listen and believe.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Men of the Church: It's time to call out misogyny. It's time for women to lead.

For the past 19 months, I have watched women’s leadership change this community and change this nation. Women like Brittany Packnett, Traci Blackmon, Brittany Ferrell, Susan Talve, Ashley Yates, Johnetta Elzie, Karen Anderson, Elle Dowd, Felicia Pulliam, Deb Krause, Amy Hunter, Rebecca Ragland, Momma Cat, (and gender nonconforming people like Alexis Templeton.). They have brought their whole selves to the struggle for black lives and human rights. They have been my leaders and my inspiration, and I am honored and grateful to be led by them.

And every step of the way, they have fought men trying to control them.

Minimize them.

Dismiss them.

Erase them.

The Church has a long history of controlling, minimizing, dismissing, and erasing women. In fact, throughout history, you’d be hard pressed to find a greater offender. That’s why it is particularly important for men in the church to speak out now.

For our entire nation’s history, if you are a woman you have to work at least twice as hard to get half as far (and again, for women of color – multiply that out by a whole bunch.).

The church – despite believing that “in the image of God they were created, male and female God created them.” – instead of transforming the culture, has mirrored it – and even worse. As of last summer, only 6.4% of Episcopal bishops were women. Women are a superminority of rectors of large congregations.

Our male supremacist nation continues to equate tokenism and individual women breaking barriers with real change. In America the gender pay gap remains at 21 percent – and considerably worse for women of color. And that doesn't talk about how women are treated and judged differently in the workplace. How women are subject to harassment at exponentially greater rates than men. How women have their health care options limited by the same men who scream about how "Obamacare will make you lose the choice of your doctor."

And while this has happened, what are we saying?

For decades and even centuries, men have told women to be patient, work within the system, and change will happen.

So let’s look at that.

A woman does that. A woman works the system incredibly well. She uses every opportunity and "despoils every Egyptian" (it's in Exodus -- look it up) so that she can have the same chance as a man to use her leadership gifts.

She does this so well that she becomes a U.S. Senator, the Secretary of State and on the cusp of her party’s nomination for president.

And what happens?

I mean, in addition to her being called “ambitious” where a man would be called “visionary” and being called “manipulative” where a man would be called “clever.”

I mean, in addition to her wardrobe being evaluated in ways that Marco Rubio’s tie choice never warrants.

I mean, in addition to her being singled out and vigorously labeled "dishonest" and "untrustworthy" to a degree that even a president who lied to get us into a war didn't come close to having to face.

I mean, in addition to all the criticisms that would be seen as strengths if she were a man – but instead make her “less likable” because we men are both threatened by strong women and in general don’t like women who fit into our own self-centering definition of what gender-specific behavior should be?

She gets called “Too establishment”

She gets called “Part of the problem.”

She gets called a bitch -- though not on TV, because that would be politically incorrect. On TV she just gets called "pushy."

Vote for Bernie. Vote for Hillary. Vote for who shares your values. Vote for whose vision for this country sets your heart on fire. Vote for the person who can get the job done. Vote for whomever you like. Criticize whomever you like – for surely there are legitimate criticisms of every candidate.

But recognize what is going on here. And recognize it not just in this election but in our church.

We men tell women that it really is a level playing field (which it’s not), and that women just have to work hard, play by the rules and work the system.

That generally means -- just act like men.

And then when women do, we men penalize them for it because they don’t fit men’s image of what a woman should be.

And still, even when women do act like men and work the system (and definitely if they don’t), we men call them "pushy" and "dishonest." We talk about being “uncomfortable” with women’s leadership or “not ready” for women’s leadership.  And that is seen as being perfectly acceptable and rational.

For the past 19 months, I have watched women’s leadership change this community and change this nation.

For the past 20 years, I have had amazing Episcopal clergy colleagues like Amy Cortright, Christine McSpadden, Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Paige Blair, Kate Moorehead, Suzanne Willie, Winnie Varghese, Becca Stevens, Stephanie Spellers, Dahn Gandell, Sherilyn Pearce, Penny Bridges, Gail Greenwell, Yejide Peters, Elizabeth Easton, Beth Scriven, Hope Welles Jernagan, Debbie Shew, Amy McCreath, Pamela Dolan, Emily Mellott, Emily Wachner, Amber Stancliffe Evans - I could go on and on and on and on and on (and apologies to the legions I’m leaving out) – change this church and teach ME what being a priest is all about.

I have seen them have to work at least twice as hard to get at least half as far.

I have seen them get judged on scales I never have to worry about.

I have seen them struggle with incredible grace and power against the misogyny of our church, our St. Louis community and this country.

And it is time for this to be over. It is time for this to be over for our church. It is time for this to be over for our nation.

The first step in any healing is recognizing that we have a problem.

The second step is doing something about it.

Jesus gave women the most important leadership ministry in the history of history – proclaiming the resurrection.

Paul bids us to “have the same mind in us that is in Christ Jesus” and empty ourselves, giving up power and privilege.

Whomever you vote for, it is time for we men to ask what we are doing to dismantle the systems of patriarchy that are binding our church and our nation. That are preventing us from fully realizing and benefitting from the gifts of more than 50% of our population.

We need to look in the mirror and examine our “uncomfortability” and instead of giving into it, lean the other way.

We need to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves – and not immediately get all fragile and defensive -- about how we have unconscious bias about both race and gender ... and that this is to all of our poverty.

We need actively to promote women for leadership positions. For the past several years, when people have asked me for names for rector or bishop positions I have only given women’s names. And still so few of them have been chosen. What if everyone did this?

We men need to stand up for women, knowing that even in 2016 women still have to work twice as hard to get half as far.

This is not a political post. This is a theological one.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ. And Jesus bids me to see Christ in all people, to value their gifts – including their leadership – and to bring people from the margins to the center until such time as there are no margins left.

Women are still on the margins. And as the Church, we have been one of the worst offenders in keeping women there.

As followers of Jesus, now we must be among the loudest voices demanding change. Not just with our lips but with our lives.

Women’s leadership will change our communities, our nation, our church and our world. Men ... we need to get out of the way.

Who's with me?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Smelling with the mind of Christ.

"A church without beggars is a museum." - Becca Stevens

This morning, I sat in the back of Christ Church Cathedral to listen to one of our seminarians, Andrew Suitter, preach. We are a wonderfully diverse community at CCC, but we still internally self-segregate. Come in on a Sunday morning and you will find that those of us who had a warm bed and a shower last night will sit in the front and in the middle, and those of us who slept in shelters or on the streets last night gravitate toward the back and the sides.

So this morning, I sat in the back, and as I listened to Andrew unpack the reading from Corinthians, the fragrances of those sitting around me wafted into my nostrils. And they made me think.

What makes a smell good? What makes a smell bad?

What makes one smell of beauty and another of ugliness?

It's our minds, isn't it? Smell is just our brain interpreting nerve impulses. We have learned over time to interpret some of those positively and others negatively. We have evolved over time to privilege some odors over others. Why else would we not only pay huge sums of money for certain perfumes and Febreze and other "odor eliminators" a multimillion dollar industry?

It's our minds, isn't it? It's all in our minds.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul and Timothy urge us to "have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus" -- then goes on to talk about giving up privilege and emptying ourselves for the life of the world.

And so I wonder -- how does the mind of Christ smell? How are those nerve impulses that travel up the olfactory nerve interpreted in the mind of Christ?

I breathed in deeply through my nose.  Fragrances of well-worn bodies, remnants of cigarettes and traces of urine filled me. Strong fragrances.

But who is to say they are good or bad?

What would they smell like in the mind of Christ?

I took another deep breath. I tried to imagine these smells as perfume. When I looked around and saw that some of the people they came from I could name ... and I knew ... and I love ... it became a lot easier.

This is not to glorify poverty. This is not to say that all of us shouldn't have a good bed and a hot shower and a place to go to the bathroom. Part of how we have evolved to interpret some smells as bad and others as good is because there are real health ramifications connected with them.

This is not to glorify poverty -- but it is to say that neither do those of us who are not bound by it need to fear it. None of us should hold our noses but breathe it in deeply, realizing that these are the fragrances of the beautiful people of God.

I am going to try to breathe deeply and smell differently from now on. When my first reaction is to hold my nose and pull away, I'm going to breathe in the perfumes of God's beloved.  I'm going to try to remember that I have odors that others might want to pull away from, too -- and that I hope others will approach my odors the same way!

I'm going to try to smell with the mind of Christ. And hope that will be one small step in me giving myself for the world in Christ's name as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


At Sunday’s Annual Meeting Eucharist, Senior Warden Lorraine Kee announced that Chapter has approved a sabbatical for me during 2016. Combined with vacation time, this means that I will be away from the Cathedral from March 28 (the day after Easter) until Sept. 6 (the day after Labor Day).

Sabbatical is based on the Biblical notion of rest (or Sabbath) being an essential part of the rhythm of life, as modeled by God resting on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:2). Because it is a part of dedicating our life to God and also a guard against the idolatry of believing in our own centrality and indispensability, the punishment the law assigned to violating the Sabbath was death (Exodus 31:14). Clearly, this is important stuff!

I am not just taking this sabbatical because I am owed it (it is a part of every clergy letter of agreement), because Chapter has granted it and because scripture demands it. I am taking it because both I and this Cathedral community need it.

During our seven years together, one of my highest priorities has been us growing healthier as the Body of Christ. Together we have established more honest and healthier patterns of communication, talked openly about the role of alcohol and addiction in our family systems, opened our doors to the neighborhood and city in new ways and also been unafraid to bring the conflicts and divisions of race and class of our city into our own community.

Your chapter has transitioned from a model of more autocratic, clergy-driven leadership to a model of shared leadership where difficult issues are wrestled with openly and the real conversations happen around the table not in the parking lot.

Systems do not get healthier than their leaders … and I am recognizing the ways I need to get healthier -- both for my sake and for yours. I work too many hours and spread myself to thinly. I too easily fall victim to the idolatry of believing that I have to do it if it is to happen and not trust enough in God and the gathered community.

That has taken a toll on me. I have not been operating at full capacity for several months, and my Bishop, Vicar, wardens, therapist, doctor and wife all agree I need a time of unplugging, recharging and reconnecting with family and God apart from the work of ministry.

There has been a toll on the Cathedral as well. As much as we have worked together to build structures of shared leadership, my overfunctioning runs the risk of turning the Cathedral into a system not centered on the Holy Spirit working through the Body of Christ but on the person and personality of her dean.

That’s why this sabbatical is for all of us. We are a far healthier body today than seven years ago – ready to face the challenges ahead of us. And part of that readiness means I can step away for a season, and we all can trust God’s grace and the people of this Cathedral will be up to the task.

Given how we have talked about what a critical year this is for Christ Church Cathedral – facing a $200K+ budget deficit -- this might seem like a strange time for a sabbatical, but Chapter agreed it is actually the perfect time.

Because of the transition we have made into shared leadership your Chapter is absolutely equipped to lead during this time – and in fact it is the healthiest thing.

During my sabbatical, Chapter will be constructing options for a balanced budget for 2017. Some options will likely involve staff restructuring (it is hard to imagine making up a $200K+ deficit without it) and that means all staff jobs – including my own – will be on the table. Your Chapter – and indeed the larger congregation -- is well equipped to have those conversations without me … and in fact it is important we all trust one another to do that.

In addition, the financial realities we are facing for 2017 mean it is a real possibility we will only be able to be a one-clergy congregation going forward. Though we are lining up clergy to help out Amy during my absence, this will be an important exercise in seeing what that reality would be like.

During the next two and a half months, we will have opportunities to talk about what all this means – and certainly I am happy to meet with anyone about any excitements, questions or concerns.

As we approach our time apart, I ask that you consider what this might mean for you stepping up in new ways in our community … and also how you might specifically support the work of and care for your Chapter and especially your Vicar, Amy Cortright, who will be under added strain during this time.

I look forward to our next two and half months together, to our time apart, and to sharing what we have learned when we come together again.

Monday, January 18, 2016

BJC and MLK: Creating space for trauma, healing and the language of the unheard.

My keynote address at the Martin Luther King Day service at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this morning. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Thank you for taking the time today to reflect on Dr. King and what he still has to teach us today. Thank you for all you do for health and healing in St. Louis city and the St. Louis region. Thank you for coming to work every day and facing the deepest trauma of human life – yes, the acute trauma of gunshot wounds and cancer diagnoses but also the chronic trauma of domestic violence and hearing those gunshots in your neighborhood every night … and also the complex trauma of poverty in all its many forms.

BJC is a trauma center, and I don’t just mean that in an institutional and medical sense that you are where the gunshot and car crash victims get taken. You as BJC are at the center of the traumas of this region. That’s because you are a unique gathering place. In a region that is annually ranked among the top 10 most segregated metropolitan areas in this nation, you as BJC are one of the only places in St. Louis where everyone comes … and where everyone works … and where everyone lays their trauma bare.

You name a demographic in the St. Louis region – race, class, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation – you name it and you will find people across that spectrum on this campus. As patients. As family members. As employees. And all of them – all of US bring our trauma to this place in hope of healing. It is the acute trauma of the unthinkable that has just happened. It is the chronic trauma of microaggressions, harassments and dismissiveness. It is the complex trauma of poverty, sexism and racism.

We could go around this room and every person in here could share our stories of trauma – the trauma we have seen and heard, the trauma of our own lives that rests on our heart this very moment. Now, we’re not going to do that because we would literally be here all day and into the night – but frankly, it wouldn’t be that bad an idea if we did. Because here at BJC, you are a trauma center. And what we know about trauma is this – trauma doesn’t go away on its own. Trauma needs to be named. Trauma needs to be spoken. Trauma needs to be heard. Trauma needs to be felt.

I said I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this morning – and here is why: Because I believe that you as BJC have a unique opportunity. An opportunity to be a place of healing not just of the acute medical traumas that come through your doors but of the deep, chronic and complex traumas of this St. Louis region. The traumas wrought by our deep divides of race and class. The traumas that we as a St. Louis region do not give space to be spoken, to be heard, to be felt – and that until we do, will never, never, ever begin to heal.

In the nearly 50 years since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder, white America has done a brilliant job of the unconscionable. We have taken a radical and revolutionary leader for justice in this nation and through sound byte sanitizing we have transformed him into a harmless champion of an oppressive status quo. We have taken the King who called out the white moderate who “is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”” We have taken the King who in that Letter from a Birmingham Jail called that white moderate “the greatest stumbling block to freedom” and through our “I have a dream” sound-byting we have turned him into an unapologetic champion of that same stumbling block. Turned King’s militant nonviolence into a mandate for black people to stay quiet and in their place. Turned our honoring of King on this day into a salve for our national conscience instead of a conviction that, in his words, “yes, we have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go.”

Like Dr. King, I am a lifelong and unshakable believer in nonviolence. But in the past 18 months an extraordinary group of young people who have risen up in Ferguson and around this region and across this nation have been teaching me the difference between the sanitized King and the genuine revolutionary article – and between the sanitized Jesus and the genuine revolutionary Christ as well. Teaching me the difference between nonviolent and peaceful.

I have been seeing Dr. King with new eyes. And the chant “No justice. No peace. If we don’t get no justice. Then they don’t get no peace.” has become profoundly meaningful and true to me. And it is about trauma. It is about how trauma needs to spoken, and heard and felt. It is about how until we create and hold spaces where that is allowed to happen, we will never heal, we will never have justice, we will never leave Egypt and we will never get to any promised land.

But we in St. Louis don’t do trauma, do we? I mean, unless it's about losing a football team.

We don’t allow that space, do we?

In fact, we here in St. Louis do our level best to suppress and repress and oppress trauma wherever it tries to raise its head, sing its heart and lift its voice.

40 white men carrying automatic weapons can walk down Market Street and the police barely bat an eye. But 25 young black women and men – out every night so the police know not only who they are but absolutely know that they are armed only with signs and their anger and pain get met with riot gear, pepper spray, and tear gas.

In St. Louis, we don’t do trauma. We don’t allow that space.

Last April, on the day before Easter, I took part in what we called a “mourner’s march” in the Central West End less than a mile from here. We invited mothers who had lost their children not just to police violence but to any kind of violence to march with us and to pray and yes, to cry and to wail. We blocked only one lane of traffic on a four-lane road and held intersections for no more than seven minutes at a time. And all the way, the police drove beside us – blocking as much traffic as we were – shouting at us through bullhorns that we were subject to arrest if we didn’t get out of the street.

On a springtime Saturday afternoon, we couldn’t even allow the space for mothers to grieve their dead babies.

Here in St. Louis, we don’t do trauma. We don’t allow that space.

You want to know why young black women and men are in the streets and the shopping malls shouting “shut it down?” because that is exactly what has been done to them when they have tried to speak their trauma. We have shut them down.

And so the King we need to hear today is not some sound byte from an idle dreamer. It is a revolutionary preacher who understood the nature of trauma because he had lived it. He understood that trauma must be spoken and heard and felt – and when that wasn’t allowed there were real and deep and lasting consequences.

On March 14, 1968, less than a month before he was murdered, Dr. King gave a speech in Grosse Point, Michigan called “The Other America.” And he talked about the expressions of trauma that were happening all over the nation. Here is part of what he said:

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?...It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity."

In the nearly 18 months since Michael Brown was killed and his body lay in the street for four and a half hours, there have been almost no instances of violence on behalf of those protesting – which is testament to the incredible discipline and leadership of the protest movement to continually channel deep rage and pain without crossing the line to violence. You wouldn’t necessarily know this by the saturation media coverage of the property destruction that happened around the flashpoints of Michael Brown’s killing and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, but it is true.

But what King is saying is that be they the vast majority of protests that are nonviolent or when anger spills out into burning down a Quik Trip we need to pay attention. We need to recognize that be it a protest or a riot, there is an expression of trauma happening that demands our attention.

King says, “I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

When that Quik Trip burned in August, 2014 and when other businesses burned three months later how many times did we hear people clucking their tongues and saying “look at what ‘those people’ are doing” – the us and them language is always a tipoff that we’re already running off the rails – “look at what ‘those people’ are doing burning down their own community.”

Instead of asking the simple question: Why?

When incredible young people continue to show up in the streets night after night, week after week, month after month chanting “if we don’t get no justice then they don’t get no peace,” holding die-ins in shopping malls and blocking highways during rush hour how many times did we hear people talk about how tired they were of the protests and how they wish they would just go away.

Instead of asking the simple question: Why?

People don’t just get up in the morning and say, “Hmmm ..I think I’ll burn down a Quik Trip today.” “Hmmm … I think I’ll go stand in the middle of I-70 today during rush hour.”

We only do these things if we are not being heard. And what is it St. Louis has failed to hear? We have failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And we have failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

And that brings us back into this room – to you as BJC and the incredible opportunity you have as a St. Louis institution that already has a deep commitment to equity and justice. You have taken things like the For the Sake of All report that shows that “residents of zip codes separated by only a few miles have up to an 18-year difference in life expectancy.” and that “Because of considerable residential segregation in St. Louis, many areas with high African American populations are also areas with concentrated poverty and poor health.” You have taken that information and responded by your particular care for impoverished children and families in some of those most deeply impoverished areas through things like your mobile units that reach more than 20,000 children and your free flu shot programs.

You have also committed to your own process of learning and listening through your work with Reena Hajat Carroll and the Diversity Awareness Partnership hosting Listen. Talk. Learn. Events – and if you haven’t had a chance to be a part of one of those, please do so they are absolutely worth your time!

You have done some great things. As Dr. King would say, we have come a long, long way, but we have a long, long way to go. Your opportunity goes far beyond providing a mobile unit where there really should be a first-class hospital and hosting really good two-hour educational sessions about race, class, power and privilege.

Your opportunity goes far beyond that. And it is about trauma.

You are the primary institution in the St. Louis region whose sole mission is healing. And healing is what we need right now. Unfortunately, for most of St. Louis, “healing” means pretending the past 18 months – and the past 400 years that led up to them – didn’t happen and going back to a status quo where those who have power and privilege continue to dig us more deeply into disparity and leave our deepest wounds untreated.

But we know better than that, don’t we?

You are the primary institution in the St. Louis region whose sole mission is healing. And healing is what we need right now. What we need healing from is our trauma and what we know about trauma is you have to feel to heal.

We have to listen deeply to one another. Even with the people already in this room, we have to just be with one another in that deeply uncomfortable and yet even more deeply sacred place of pain and rage. We have to listen to the language of those among us who have gone unheard for far too long. Give space for the pain and for the rage. Not shut it down be it with tear gas or quick pseudo-solutions – but instead lean more deeply into the discomfort of the trauma, sit down in our discomfort, hold one another in it, love one another through it and above all not be afraid to embrace the sacred humanity in it.

You do this as you listen to your patients – not just their physical symptoms but their stories, the tone of their voices and the pain in their heart.

You do this as you listen to one another. As you embrace the diversity of race and class that exists within the employee community here at BJC and use the people you work with every day to learn about life experiences far different from your own … and attend to the trauma in those lives and create spaces for feeling and healing that can be replicated out in the wider community.

You do this by going to the state capitol in Jefferson City and lobbying for things like Medicaid expansion that address the chronic trauma of disparity of access so that everyone can get the kind of health care that has for too long been available only to those privileged of race and class. By going to your corporate partners and demanding an end to food and care deserts and believing Teach for America and mobile medical units are an adequate response to systemic racism run tragically amok in American education and health care.

You do this as you amplify the voices you are hearing so that others beyond these walls can hear them too. When at a party or around the dinner table you hear people talking disparagingly about “those people” you have the courage, with another’s voice and story and trauma on your heart to stand up and say no, let me tell you a different story, let me introduce you to a person, let me share with you a pain, a rage that you might not know is out there but that needs to be spoken, and heard and felt.

You are the primary institution in the St. Louis region whose sole mission is healing. And healing is what we need right now. You are a trauma center. And what we need healing from is our trauma and what we know about trauma is you have to feel to heal.

Here in St. Louis, we don’t do trauma. We don’t allow that space. And that has to change. And that is your opportunity.

You as BJC have been that space for those who walk in these doors – but the opportunity for you is far greater. You have the chance to stand with and amplify the voices of those whose trauma cannot be healed with a pill or an incision. You have the chance to lead, to help us hear the language of the unheard, to gather us not just on this campus but as a region to speak the trauma that needs to be spoken, hear the trauma that needs to be heard and do the feeling that leads to the healing.

What is it St. Louis has failed to hear? We have failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And we have failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

At BJC, you hear these voices – and if you haven’t you need to listen more closely, because they are right here, right now. And so it is up to you to recommit yourself not only to listening more deeply yourself, but to leading the rest of us in doing the same.