Tuesday, March 25, 2008

an idea that lives

Like many clergy these few days after Easter have been about sabbath - finding rest and refreshment after weeks of intense church work. Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to sleep in a bit, enjoy breakfast with an old college friend and go for a long walk around our neighborhood surrounding Bernal Heights. All over this hill are little gardens and staircases, each one encouraging the climber to slow down, take a deep breath and look around. As we walked, we talked about contemporary politics both local and global, how challenging raising children must be in our time (we both are childless so far though Renee teaches kid's piano) and about the past. When I returned home I received an email from a really old friend from my childhood in Winchester, who had come to mind during the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. As I watched the torches being lit I recalled how Philip was a far better acolyte than I ever was. Philip went onto military service and I into the church -- perhaps there's some sense in that. 

Last night, Matt and I attended a vigil organized by Veterans for Peace in front of City Hall where 4000 candles were lit for the men and women who have died in Iraq. Philip's message yesterday, and the photos of his children, nieces and nephews on his myspace page gave the names read during the vigil weight. Each person no matter how young, had a life, family, faith and story. I'm grateful that Philip is alive and continue to mourn those whose lives were cut short and pray for peace.

Last week, a colleague asked me what I preached last year at the Sunday evening Easter service, the gospel lesson was Jesus' appearance to two disciples as a stranger on the road to Emmaus. Below you'll find what I preached, pardon the poor grammar and spelling mistakes. Much of this message was inspired by the work of Ched Myers, check out his take on the Road to Emmaus here. Also, reading this sermon reminded me of a favorite new book, Jesus for President. The author Shane Claiborne and friends will be coming to the Bay Area in July, look for more on that soon.

Happy Easter!
Where are we going? What are we going to do? He's dead --- those women in our group gossiping about seeing some angel --- we are in deep --- we've got to get out of Jerusalem --- they could come after us next. How could we be so ridiculous --- how could we think that he was the one? 

In a world like our own --- amidst imperial occupation, oppression, injustice and violence. In a world like our own --- where movements of change and hope are ignored, dismissed, ridiculed, and put down 

Jesus comes back --- Jesus comes back --- Jesus is resurrected --- we'll find him on the road --- we'll find him at table --- we'll find him ---- 

We'll find Jesus and we'll be opened up so that we might move beyond the site of defeat and despair to new life, hope and courage.

As we gather on this night --- we do so --- on the brink of if not in the midst of apocalyptic ecological catastrophe--- occupants of a world misshapen by human greed and carelessness, we gather as troops head into war, children lay dying of curable disease and hunger --- we gather together for what on this night? 

We gather in this sacred space to be energized by the resurrection power of God --- that is manifest in an odd way, in the presence of a stranger on the side of a road --- who talks and walks with two disappointed revolutionaries about the rejection and execution of their movement's leader. Who joins these two fearful people for a meal --- and in the midst of sharing bread and wine with them reveals that he is their executed teacher --- alive and with them in a new way. 

If we are paying attention we like those disciples on the road desperately need a savior --- one to save us from ourselves and the brokenness of our world --- we need a liberator from the reign of death that covers us. We need to know that despite and in spite of evidence to the contrary --- this is God's world and we are God's people --- our lives have meaning, purpose, direction. Death, violence, destruction, greed, inhumanity, injustice, imperialist wars are not the future -- are not the ultimate victors --- God is about a movement of love and transformation. God is about drawing people into a way of life that brings health, wholeness, healing, reconciliation, peace, justice and comfort. 

Easter is about Good News --- about new possibility about a transcendent God who gives and gives and gives again. Leading us to do the same for each other.  All who are suffering today can turn to this generous God and to God's people who are called to follow God's example by reaching out to strangers with a hand, with a meal, with our lives. 

Easter is not about the denial of how bad things are, Easter is about the continual challenge, the ongoing movement of God against the powers of death. This resurrection power of God if it gets into our bodies --- activates us for prophetic witness in the face of our contemporary reign of death. For the disciples the resurrection was terrifying for lots of reasons --- perhaps primarily because to follow an executed prophet, raised from the dead would mean that the teachings of Jesus are the way to find liberation. Dying not killing is the way to a future of hope, justice and peace. 

The night Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed --- Bobby Kennedy gathered before a crowd of African Americans and informed them of the death of this nonviolent leader --- and called upon them and all people in this nation to pray that compassion, justice, and gentleness might be the future. A stranger --- a white, wealthy, Irish Catholic politician speaking before a large crowd of African Americans --- invited  remembrance of the words, teachings and life of their hero --- soon RFK would lay dead as well, dying for a future of hope, justice and peace. 

Dorothy Stang, a nun and community organizer in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil was killed as she sought to defend the rights of the poor and the earth in the face of lumber companies and wealthy ranchers. Her fellow sisters write, 

In the days preceding her murder on February 12, 2005, Sr. Dorothy was attempting to halt illegal logging where land sharks had interests but no legal rights. Authorities believe the murder was arranged by a local rancher for $19,300 ( U.S.). Many believe that a consortium of loggers and ranchers had contributed to the bounty in an effort to silence Sr. Dorothy. Ironically, their attempt at silence resulted in the opposite effect: an outraged world, well informed about the murder through persistent global media reports, sent Sr. Dorothy's voice soaring to new heights. And a proclamation came quickly from Brazil's president, Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, that the land in question, over 22,000 acres, would be reserved for sustainable development by the poor farmers whose cause Sr. Dorothy had championed. 

Sister Dorothy Stang following the way of Jesus - died for a future of hope, justice and peace. 

Steve Biko, years before was killed in prison for the sake of the nonviolent movement he helped organize to oppose Apartheid in South Africa --- according to our own Bishop one of the few icons hanging in the Archbishop of Canterbury's office is one of Steve Biko. Archbishop Nungane spoke of him as his hero when our group heard from him at the TEAM Conference in Boksburg, Biko is remembered to have said, 

"It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die."

The Resurrection of Jesus is an idea that lives --- and Jesus' life, death and resurrection continues to inspire and empower movements of liberation, justice and peace in our own time. May we be willing to give our all for the sake of God's truth, God's nonviolent victory of life over death --- peace over war --- mercy and forgiveness over vengeance, solidarity over oppression. 

We are at the cusp of some major changes, changes that we either make for ourselves simply to survive or changes that we make together --- to make peaceful and just the future of this planet. 

We desperately need salvation --- and a savior --- this Savior comes to us in the form of strangers on the side of the road, on the margins --- strangers who speak to us of the reality of God's challenging call for change --- for repentance --- for new life. 

Resurrection is about transformation --- and we human beings would rather pretend that change is impossible --- than to own up to our responsibility for being an alternative.

We have work to do --- each of us --- to make ready the world for God's full reign. 

The resurrection -- is not comforting to those who would like things to stay the way they are --- the resurrection is for those who cry out for change --- who believe that another world is possible --- who are willing to be opened up --- to being connected to the movement of Jesus. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

called to another way

If there is one thing that has been consistent in my life since starting seminary, being ordained and serving as a priest, it has been standing in opposition to the Iraq war. While a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, I was part of organizing the local chapter of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. I attended many and helped organize a few vigils and marches on campus and off, in front of the White House and the Capitol. Between classes on systematic theology and pastoral care I could be found in the seminary computer lab sending out email newsletters entitled “Called to Another Way” with articles by Stephen Zunes, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Molly Ivins, Ray McGovern and many other people of faith and no faith all who voiced articulate, informed opposition to this unjust war. I was nearly arrested before the war with Medea Benjamin and a huge group of women from Code Pink before the war started. I actually feel guilty about not doing more before the war to try and keep it from happening. I have tremendous respect for all those who have risked much to try and save this planet from war. I’m really grateful that Medea will be a guest at the cathedral where I serve next month.

After seminary, I worked as a priest in a suburban Washington, DC, parish where I taught and preached regularly. I struggled with being part of a faith community whose members both stood in opposition to and in alignment with this Administration’s imperial ambitions. I met fascinating personalities who, despite appearing to be part of the war machine, held profound personal commitments to peace and the upholding of the dignity of every human being. I wrestled each day with how to serve in this place, often driving to work listening to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on the radio and later finding myself sharing communion with people who would seem to have enormous power and wealth to really change things.

Over a year ago, I was arrested with the Episcopal Bishop of California and other clergy from the Episcopal Diocese of California in front of the Federal Building, we were participants in a “die-in” seeking to draw attention to the numerous casualties of the Iraq War. This arrest didn’t cost any of us very much and it didn’t end the war. But there was something holy going on as we lay there on the cold concrete waiting for the police officers with the plastic handcuffs, surrounded and held up by the chants of our faith community.

This week the interfaith community of the Bay Area will acknowledge the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War on the steps of Grace Cathedral surrounded by numerous shoes and boots, symbolizing the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and U.S. military soldiers who have died in this war. At the center of Holy Week, as our attention is on the nonviolent teacher named Jesus who was executed by a religious establishment and an empire unable to comprehend the things that make for peace, we will read names, sing songs, mourn the dead and pray for peace. Join us.

If you are planning to come to the vigil, I encourage you to bring a pair of shoes, or two or three. For the past few weeks one of my responsibilities in helping organize the event has been collecting shoes. We have collected a lot from churches as far away as Santa Cruz. But to be honest, we are far from having enough to truly do justice to the tens of thousands of Iraqi causalities. As I prepared the names for tomorrow’s event I was struck by how few names we actually have --- for example a 10 year old girl shot by U.S. forces last week --- nameless. Yet each one of these people we Christians believe are made in God’s image. As we lay these shoes at the feet of this mighty concrete cathedral, may God forgive us for the atrocity of this war.

Sojourners has put together a profound call for repentance and peace, signed by numerous faith leaders including Tony Campolo, Richard Rohr, and Brian McLaren please sign and share widely. For the past month the God's Politics blog has had moving commentary on the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War, you can check those posts out here.


Jan in San Francisco attended this evening's vigil and took some moving photographs, check them out here. Also, of the news coverage so far KTVU Channel 2 News at 10 p.m. gave our vigil strong coverage, watch the video here. More coverage can be found here and here.

Thank you to all who came, who read names, chanted and prayed. May we continue to pray and work together for peace.