Highlights for March

In this time, we stand on the Plain of Waiting

LeSueur

By Richard LeSueur

Beneath the towering umber faces of Mount Sinai lies a broad, empty valley called the Plain of Waiting. Bounded by peaks that rise sharply out of the south Sinai, the Plain of Waiting is where tradition says the people of Israel waited and waited in a howling desolation. Dislocated from familiar things, reduced to a marginal existence, they grew more and more anxious. To their leader Moses they repeatedly cried, “Did you bring us out into this wilderness that we might die?”  

To be alive in this time of global pandemic is to occupy a “plain of waiting.” We wait for a vaccine. We wait for the number of active cases to reduce. We wait for the end of a “second wave.” We wait for the easing of restrictions. We wait.

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New Lent and Easter resources are available

Episcopal Church Public Affairs Office

New and updated Lent and Easter resources for congregations, dioceses, and communities of faith are available from the Episcopal Church, including Updated Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent curriculum; Sermons That Work for Holy Week and Easter; a new podcast series, Prophetic Voices: Preaching and Teaching Beloved Community.

Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent: The journey through Lent into Easter is a journey with Jesus. We are baptized into his life, self-giving, and death, then we rise in hope to life transformed. …

Prophetic Voices: Preaching and Teaching Beloved Community: This new podcast series is hosted by the Rev. Isaiah “Shaneequa” Brokenleg, Episcopal Church staff officer for Racial Reconciliation. Across our church and our society, we are having profound dialogues about race, truth, justice, and healing.

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Highlights for February

Inspired by Cranmer, Lenten program
combines daily worship and Bible study
Thomas Cranmer was a leader of the 16th century English Reformation. Photo/National Portrait Gallery, London

By Sharon Sheridan

A Lenten program created by a liturgy professor and priest offers a way for congregations to study the Bible within the context of worship and community in a quintessentially Anglican way.

“I’ve always been really drawn to the preface that [Thomas] Cranmer wrote to his first prayer book,” said the Rev. Kevin Moroney, liturgy professor and chapel director at General Theological Seminary in New York and priest-in-residence at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Clifton, N.J.

“What he explained in this preface is really that the Holy Scriptures can be learned by reading them, book by book, continuously nestled within the arms of the daily prayers, morning and evening,” he said. And, when they do so, Cranmer wrote, clergy and laity “become inflamed with the love of God’s true religion.

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Book offers hope in journey through Lent

Review by Jerry Hames

What better time during the isolation caused by physically distancing from family and friends during the pandemic, coupled with the desire to drive away the winter’s cold, than to pick up a book that takes us through the solemnity of the Lenten season, offering a promise of hope for the days ahead?

The Stations of the Cross is a devotional practice that originated in the early centuries of Christianity. Pilgrims who could not actually walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem — the “sorrowful road” that it is believed Jesus took from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgotha to face his crucifixion — were able to simulate this experience by meditating upon a series of images.

This noteworthy book, a collaboration between Margaret Adams Parker, an artist, and Katherine Sounderegger, a preacher, both faculty members at Virginia Theological Seminary, leads readers through the traditional 14 Stations.

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Highlights for January

As heavenly bodies converge, many ask: Is the Star of Bethlehem making a comeback?

The painting, “Adoration of the Magi,” by Giotto, in Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy shows the Star of Bethlehem as a comet. Photo/Wikiart.org

By Eric M. Vanden Eykel
On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn crossed paths in the night’s sky and for a brief moment, they appearws to shine together as one body. While planetary conjunctions like this are not everyday events, they also are not particularly rare.

This year’s conjunction is different for at least two reasons. The first is the degree to which the two planets will be aligned. According to experts, they appeared closer during this conjunction than they have in nearly eight centuries and also brighter.

But the second factor, and the one that has thrust this event into the spotlight, is that it occured on the winter solstice, just before the Christmas holiday. The timing has led to a speculation whether this could be the same astronomical event that the Bible reports led the wise men to Joseph, Mary and the newly born Jesus — the Star of Bethlehem.

As a scholar of early Christian literature writing a book on the three wise men, I argue that this planetary conjunction is likely not the fabled Star of Bethlehem. The biblical story of the star is intended to convey theological rather than historical or astronomical truths.

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Why I still watch ‘Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown’

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown was featured on 2015 US postage stamps

By Pamela A. Lewis
Like many Americans of my generation, I have been a big fan of “Peanuts,” the cartoon created by the late Charles Schulz. As a kid, I impatiently awaited the delivery of the Sunday papers so I could turn immediately to the page where Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and their motley group of friends held court and made me and my parents laugh at their amusing adventures and experiences.

I loved each of the main characters because of the way Schulz designed their physical characteristics: Lucy’s big gaping mouth that either bossed others or was Snoopy’s target for one of his dreaded sloppy wet “kisses”; Charlie Brown with his nearly bald pate and woe-is-me expression; or the rumpled Pig Pen, who was eternally surrounded in a cloud of dust. By some mysterious alchemy, Schulz gave his characters personalities that were at turns irritating and endearing.

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Highlights for December

In the year of the pandemic, a printmaker seeks to honor those we have lost

By Jerry Hames
Troubled by thoughts of the increasing pandemic death toll across the nation, the Rev. Mark Harris, a retired Episcopal priest and creative printmaker, struggled with how he could memorialize those who had fallen victim to COVID-19.

“I was trying to work out how to make real the number of those who had died, how to make it something I could handle, make manifest in some sort of art object,” he said.

Unexpectedly, the answer came in a dream. “What came to me was the idea of a book in which each person who had died would be tallied with a mark of some sort, and the whole collection of those marks would be a book of many pages. I decided to have the book represent all the American dead from January to November 1. The book would be completed and added to the remembering on All Saints Day,” he said.

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Desire for church reform led to Mayflower voyage

Review by Chip Prehn
More recently than I ought to admit, a distinguished schoolmaster taught me the difference between a New England Puritan and a New England Pilgrim. In his 1996 history of Roxbury Latin School, F. Washington Jarvis notes that John Eliot (1604-90), the founder of that oldest and still superlative American school (1645), considered himself a member of the Church of England.

How could this be, since Eliot lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony? The answer is that Eliot and most other members of the Bay Colony were bent on reforming the Anglican Church, refashioning the established church along the lines of what the New Testament persuaded them was correct.

But unlike the Puritans, the Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Plantation 10 years before the Bay Colony, in 1620, were separatists. Separatists were not interested in an established church at all. Whether governed by bishops or presbyters, they rejected establishment altogether in favor of local churches governed by the people. It is of the English progenitors of the Pilgrims that Stephen Tompkins writes in “The Journey to the Mayflower.”

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Highlights for November

Renewing our citizenship, faithfully

By Kate Beeby
Exhausted by our political circumstance? Terrified as our brokenness, selfishness and crass disregard crushes the cornerstone of our democracy into unstable footing? Maybe we need to get away. Perhaps Canada — though it’s not clear that our friendly neighbors to north will have us.
Perhaps times like this call for another kind of journey. I’ve read that the act of pilgrimage is a prayer — costly, time-consuming, arduous — a purposeful and sacred expedition. The bishop of the Diocese of Texas, C. Andrew Doyle, expresses his autobiography in a scant, yet compelling, six words: “Met Jesus on pilgrimage, still walking.”
In his most recent book, “Citizen, Faithful Discipleship in a New World,” he invites us on another trek in this critical election year.

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Finding joy in 2020? It’s not such an absurd idea, really

Angela Gorrell

By Angela Gorrell
The year 2020 hasn’t been one to remember — in fact, for a lot of people it has been an outright nightmare. The pandemic, along with political turmoil and social unrest, has brought anxiety, heartbreak, righteous anger and discord to many.
Amid such suffering, people need some joy.
As a scholar who has investigated the role of joy in day-to-day life, I believe that joy is an incredibly powerful companion during suffering.

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Highlights for October

Cli-fi: What is it and why is it important to the church?

Reviews by Christine Havens

“For years, authors have been writing climate change fiction, or ‘cli-fi,’ a genre of literature that imagines the past, present, and future effects of climate change.” So wrote Amy Brady, of the Chicago Review of Books, for her then-new column, “Burning Worlds,” an exploration of all things cli-fi. Her piece also introduced Dan Bloom, a literature professor who coined the term in 2007 after having read the 2006 report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Though as a proper genre, cli-fi is just over 10 years old, books fitting the definition have been around since at least the 1960s. Science fiction authors and staples of mainstream and literary fiction have created a varied and blended spectrum of books. Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, “Dune,” is a primary example, as is Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” and J. G. Ballard’s “The Drought.” What unites them is a desire to help humanity “’see’ possible futures lived out on a burning, drowning, or dying planet,” says Brady.

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In the autumn, looking for grace in the ‘church of baseball’

Reviews by Solange De Santis

Religion and sports have been closely linked for centuries, teaching eternal values and calling the human spirit to greater heights.

Baseball is no exception, from Annie Savoy in the movie “Bull Durham,” who declares her faith in “the church of baseball,” to the book “Green Cathedrals,” which lovingly details every past and present major league and Negro League ballpark.

As this unusual, shortened baseball season winds down to the World Series, scheduled to start on Oct. 20, here are three books that propose various forms of relationships between the national pastime and the divine.

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Highlights for September

Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans show solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Clergy and laity from Southern California churches acknowledge complicity with racist structures and systems as they participate in a “Vigil in Solidarity and Love” in Los Angeles. Photo/Ken Fong

By Pat McCaughan
, Episcopal News Service

With passing cars honking approval, the Rev. Peter Huang and hundreds of Asian and African Americans gathered Aug. 1 in South Los Angeles’ historic Leimert Park neighborhood raising fists; praying on bended knee; singing; chanting in solidarity, “Your liberation is our liberation”; affirming that Black lives matter.

The Gathering: A Space for Asian American Spirituality participated as a co-sponsor and helped to plan the socially distanced and livestreamed “Vigil for Solidarity and Love.” The group’s involvement signaled a shift for this Diocese of Los Angeles ministry, created in 2019 to affirm and explore Pacific Islander and Asian American identity within the Episcopal Church. The nation’s current conversation about race has led the ministry to further define that mission through the question: How do we fit into this work, this dialogue?

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As native elders succumb to COVID-19, culture is lost

The sun rises over Oceti Sakowin Camp just north of the Cannonball River where opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline stayed during the 2016 protests. Photo/Lynette Wilson/ENS

By Heather Beasley Doyle, 
Episcopal News Service

In early 2019, as an editorial committee began working on a new Lakota translation of the Book of Common Prayer, two of its members died “right off the bat.” They were Indigenous elders whose language fluency had uniquely qualified them for the task, the Ven. Paul Sneve, who coordinates the project funded by a United Thank Offering grant in 2018, told Episcopal News Service in May.

The loss hurt Sneve both personally and culturally: Losing two elders in short order was a reminder that time is a critical factor in saving Native languages, stories and customs. Then, about a year later, the coronavirus began disproportionately affecting Native Americans, putting elders at particular risk. The pandemic is “scaring us to death,” said Sneve, who also serves the Diocese of South Dakota as archdeacon. “We’re terrified of losing [our elders]. And our tribes are very aware of it.”

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Highlights for July-August

Yearning To Breathe Free: A Reflection On the Murder of George Floyd

By Pamela A. Lewis

“It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate.” — James Baldwin

America has been and is a place of irreconcilables. In contrast to the stalwart Pilgrims and other early settlers who survived perilous journeys to forge new lives are the indigenous peoples whose territories were taken from them and who became displaced persons within their own lands.

There are the soaring words of the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of humanity’s God-endowed freedom and unalienable rights, penned in elegant calligraphy by a man whose slaves were not meant to be included in those words. America is a place where a black man has served two terms as its president, yet one where an unarmed black man can also die from a white police officer’s pressing his knee on his neck.

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Recognizing moments of gratitude during a crisis

By Heather L. Melton

In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

The above quote was written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer while imprisoned in Germany near the end of WWII. Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and Lutheran pastor, was being held in prison for treason after participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler, for which Bonhoeffer was ultimately executed. The entire process of writing Letters and Papers from Prison relied upon individuals putting their lives at risk to bring Bonhoeffer writing supplies and to make sure his texts were delivered to those who would preserve them.

In this context, gratitude was likely much clearer, as the costs were especially high for those helping him. The quote makes clear that Bonhoeffer recognized that when everything is going perfectly (or as close to perfectly as we can encounter), it is easy to assume that we have achieved security, happiness or success on our own and overlook those that aided us. It is in moments of struggle that we then realize that our lives and achievements are woven tightly in with the lives of others.

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Update

Presiding Bishop Curry’s Word to the Church:
When the Cameras are Gone, We Will Still Be Here
Presiding Bishop Curry
[May 30, 2020] A word to the Church from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:
 
“Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.”
 
 In the midst of COVID-19 and the pressure cooker of a society in turmoil, a Minnesota man named George Floyd was brutally killed. His basic human dignity was stripped by someone charged to protect our common humanity. 
 
Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13 in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Georgia. Racial terror in this form occurred when I was a teenager growing up black in Buffalo, New York. It extends back to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and well before that. It’s not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life. 
 
But we need not be paralyzed by our past or our present. We are not slaves to fate but people of faith. Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.
 
That work of racial reconciliation and justice – what we know as Becoming Beloved Community – is happening across our Episcopal Church. It is happening in Minnesota and in the Dioceses of Kentucky, Georgia and Atlanta, across America and around the world. That mission matters now more than ever, and it is work that belongs to all of us.
 
It must go on when racist violence and police brutality are no longer front-page news. It must go on when the work is not fashionable, and the way seems hard, and we feel utterly alone. It is the difficult labor of picking up the cross of Jesus like Simon of Cyrene, and carrying it until no one – no matter their color, no matter their class, no matter their caste – until no child of God is degraded and disrespected by anybody. That is God’s dream, this is our work, and we shall not cease until God’s dream is realized. 
 
Is this hopelessly naïve? No, the vision of God’s dream is no idealistic utopia. It is our only real hope. And, St. Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Real love is the dogged commitment to live my life in the most unselfish, even sacrificial ways; to love God, love my neighbor, love the earth and truly love myself. Perhaps most difficult in times like this, it is even love for my enemy. That is why we cannot condone violence. Violence against any person – conducted by some police officers or by some protesters – is violence against a child of God created in God’s image. No, as followers of Christ, we do not condone violence.
 
Neither do we condone our nation’s collective, complicit silence in the face of injustice and violent death. The anger of so many on our streets is born out  of the accumulated frustration that so few seem to care when another black, brown or native life is snuffed out. 
 
But there is another way. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a broken man lay on the side of the road. The religious leaders who passed were largely indifferent. Only the Samaritan saw the wounded stranger and acted. He provided medical care and housing. He made provision for this stranger’s well-being. He helped and healed a fellow child of God.
 
Love, as Jesus teaches, is action like this as well as attitude. It seeks the good, the well-being, and the welfare of others as well as one’s self. That way of real love is the only way there is. 
 
Accompanying this statement is a card describing ways to practice the Way of Love in the midst of pandemic, uncertainty and loss. In addition, you will find online a set of resources to help Episcopalians to LEARN, PRAY & ACT in response to racist violence and police brutality. That resource set includes faithful tools for listening to and learning from communities too often ignored or suppressed, for incorporating God’s vision of justice into your personal and community prayer life, and for positively and constructively engaging in advocacy and public witness. 
 
Opening and changing hearts does not happen overnight. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Our prayers and our work for justice, healing and truth-telling must be unceasing. Let us recommit ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, the way that leads to healing, justice and love.

Updates

The following is a statement from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:

This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.

The bible teaches us that “God is love.” Jesus of Nazareth taught, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”

The bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts.

We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs

 

Presiding Bishop Curry
Presiding Bishop’s Word to the Church: When the Cameras are Gone, We Will Still Be Here

A word to the Church from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:

“Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.”

In the midst of COVID-19 and the pressure cooker of a society in turmoil, a Minnesota man named George Floyd was brutally killed. His basic human dignity was stripped by someone charged to protect our common humanity.

Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident.

Full story