In this time, we stand on the Plain of Waiting
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.
New Lent and Easter resources are available
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.
Inspired by Cranmer, Lenten program
Book offers hope in journey through Lent
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.
As heavenly bodies converge, many ask: Is the Star of Bethlehem making a comeback?
By Eric M. Vanden Eykel
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.
Why I still watch ‘Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown’
By Pamela A. Lewis
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.
Cli-fi: What is it and why is it important to the church?
“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.
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.
Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans show solidarity with Black Lives Matter
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?
As native elders succumb to COVID-19, culture is lost
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.”
Yearning To Breathe Free: A Reflection On the Murder of George Floyd
“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.
Recognizing moments of gratitude during a crisis
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.
Presiding Bishop Curry’s Word to the Church:
[May 30, 2020] A word to the Church from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:
When the Cameras are Gone, We Will Still Be Here
“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.