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

Highlights for June

Octavia Spencer, left, stars in “Self Made,” along with Blair Underwood. Photo/Amanda Matlovich/Netflix
Netflix series about Madam C.J. Walker should have cited her generosity

By Tyrone McKinley Freeman
The Netflix series “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” brings to life part of a fascinating rags-to-riches tale I’ve been researching for the past 10 years.
Walker, widely documented to have been America’s first self-made female millionaire, made her fortune building an Indianapolis-based beauty products company that served black women across the U.S. and overseas. Today it offers a product line through Sephora.

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Nathan (Robbie Amell) and Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) attend a digital funeral in “Upload.” Photo/Amazon Studios
‘Upload’: Life can be messy; so can the afterlife

By Linda Brooks
If you die and buy your way into your own customized heaven, would it be better or worse than living? If you can still contact your real-life friends and family, how will that change you — or them? Does it bring you closer to them or is there resentment that life is somehow on hold?
That is the premise behind “Upload,” a new Amazon Prime series that premiered May 1. Described as a comedy-drama-satire-science fiction, it falls into the latest genre of series giving us different views of what heaven or the afterlife might be like. But unlike the “The Good Place” or “Forever,” this is an artificial afterlife — with a dark side.

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Highlights for May

“Noli me Tangere” Léon, Spain, ca. 1115-20. Ivory, traces of gilding. Image/Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
‘Noli me tangere’: A reflection in the time of pandemic

By Pamela A. Lewis
Touch is one of our most powerful senses, connecting us with our environment as well as with other human beings and creatures. Much of the world would be meaningless were it not possible for us to experience it through our sense of touch, and human relationships, partly built and nurtured by touch, would feel incomplete without it. It is not entirely metaphorical when we speak of the “human touch,” suggesting as it does that touch transmits something significant from giver to recipient.

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Top, the Rev. C. Melissa Hall named her paintings on wood she found along the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J., “River Bones.” Left, Debra Cook’s painting “Holy Week” using acrylic, watercolor and gold leaf. Right, the Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber painted “Coastal Impressions 2” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Images/courtesy of the artists.
Artworks help buoy the spirit during widespread crisis

By Sharon Sheridan
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced people across the world to shelter in place, many turned to the arts for entertainment, solace and inspiration. To help lift readers’ spirits during this continuing global health crisis, Episcopal Journal offers these profiles and pictures from painters, the Rev. C. Melissa Hall, Debra Cook and the Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber, in the Diocese of Newark (N.J.).

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Highlights for March

A “carte-de-visite” photograph shows a young Harriet Tubman seated in an interior room. The photo dates from approximately 1868-69 and is jointly owned by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Library of Congress. Photo/Benjamin F. Powelson via Wikimedia Commons

 

Faith made Harriet Tubman fearless as she rescued slaves

By Robert Gudmestad
Millions of people voted in an online poll in 2015 to have the face of Harriet Tubman on the US$20 bill. But many might not have known the story of her life as chronicled in a recent film, “Harriet.”
Harriet Tubman worked as a slave, spy and eventually as an abolitionist. What I find most fascinating, as a historian of American slavery, is how belief in God helped Tubman remain fearless, even when she came face to face with many challenges. (Read the full article on The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/faith-made-harriet-tubman-fearless-as-she-rescued-slaves-127592)

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Forty days (and more) without plastic

By Linda Brooks
In the past, I usually didn’t give up anything for Lent mainly because of what I heard other people giving up — Facebook, favorite TV shows, cigarettes, beer. Somehow giving up what could be considered a “luxury” of our modern life didn’t seem to make much sense in the way of sacrifice and soul-searching.
But last year was different. It seemed like the whole world was on fire and there was nothing I could do as one individual that would make any difference.

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Highlights for February

Bob Libby
For a Lenten practice, try forgiveness

By Bob Libby
It was the last thing that I thought I would ever do. I was on a pre-Lenten retreat at a monastery and although I was an Episcopal priest, it was a Roman Catholic establishment run by the Trappist monks in Conyers, Ga. and a place where you’re not allowed to talk, or so I thought.
I came equipped to do some heavy reading, having packed both Augustine’s “Confessions” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship,” along with my Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. I had really set out to impress God, but the Lord had other plans.

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The Rev. Gayle Pershouse Vaughan, second from right, is presented to the congregation at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Mass. after her ordination as deacon. Photo/Tracy Sukraw
Massachusetts deacon’s ordination brings #MeToo moment of healing

By Tracy Sukraw
Diocese of Massachusetts
For her ordination as a transitional deacon on Nov. 10, the Rev. Gayle Pershouse Vaughan chose for the Gospel reading the passage from John 20 in which Mary encounters the risen Jesus.
“That speaks to me profoundly,” she said during an interview a couple of weeks before the ordination would take place at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Mass., her home parish for the past 15 years.

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Highlights for January

Bill Camp, left, as Wilbur Tennant and Mark Ruffalo, right, as Robert Bilott in “Dark Waters,” a Focus Features release. Photo/Mary Cybulski/Focus Features
Actor Mark Ruffalo blends film and
faith-fueled activism in ‘Dark Waters’
By Emily McFarlan Miller
Religion News ServiceActor Mark Ruffalo said he’s had a hard time melding his activism with storytelling.
Then Ruffalo encountered the story of the people of Parkersburg, W.Va., who were exposed for decades to “forever chemicals” produced by DuPont, one of the world’s largest corporations.
And he was moved by attorney Robert Bilott’s 15-year battle to bring DuPont to justice, putting his family, his career and his health at risk for others.
“In a moment in time where the stories that we are being told are so cynical and the stories we hear all the time are like ‘people are just horrible people’ and ‘just be as selfish as possible’ and ‘no one’s doing anything for the greater good, really; it’s all personal gain,’ I believe in a different reality than that,” Ruffalo said.

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N.T. Wright explains the world of the
New Testament in new book
By Emily McFarlan Miller
Religion News Service
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has spent most of his life teaching people how to study the New Testament.
And the most important thing, he says, is getting the context right.
Without that context, it’s “fatally easy for people to distort bits of Christianity,’” Wright said.
“If we ignore the context, we can make the New Testament stand on its hind legs and dance around the room and play to our tunes — and that that has always been the case, no doubt,” he told Religion News Service in a recent interview. “But the correction is always to go back to, ‘What was the context?’”

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Highlights for December

An artistic rendering of the future St. Paul’s Commons in Northern California. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek would like to open its affordable housing complex in December or January. It’s called St. Paul’s Commons, and it will be a mixed-use development with community spaces operated by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It will include 45 affordable apartments. Image/courtesy of Resources for Community Development
‘Yes in God’s Backyard’ to use church land for affordable housing

By Alejandra Molina
Religion News Service
Faith congregations across California are responding to the state’s housing crisis by sharing their parking lots with people living in their cars, providing mobile showers for the homeless and joining their neighbors in calling for rent control in their communities.
But another form of housing advocacy has been taking place among spaces of faith.
A number of churches are exploring ways to build affordable housing on their own land. It’s what pastors and other leaders are referring to as YIGBY, or “Yes in God’s Backyard.”
The acronym is a play off of the term NIMBY — short for “Not in My Backyard” — a term often used to describe community pushback against affordable housing or other similar projects.
“Jesus very clearly tells us to keep our eyes open to those who are in need,” said Clairemont Lutheran Church pastor Jonathan Doolittle.

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Visitors from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Ark, view art in the “Abraham: Out of One, Many” exhibition at St. Paul Cathedral in Boston. Photo/Aysha Khan/RNS
With interfaith exhibit, Boston’s Abrahamic faith groups revisit their shared roots

By Aysha Khan
Religion News Service
Just over a year ago, the day after the deadly mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, more than a thousand locals gathered together on the Boston Common to mourn and pray.
As the Rev. Amy McCreath, dean of the historic St. Paul Cathedral that overlooks America’s oldest park, watched people of various faiths unite once again to mourn another national tragedy, she was hit with an emotional realization.
“I looked out over the crowds of people, and it was so clear that all of them really want a peaceful future,” she remembered. “We want to work together against violence, but we don’t even know each other. Unfortunately, the odds are good that something like that will happen again, and we need to be prepared to support one another and defend one another.”
That’s part of the reason the Episcopal cathedral agreed to host a new interfaith art exhibit that explores the faith and life of Abraham, the shared spiritual forefather of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions — and launched an accompanying interfaith book study to spotlight Abraham’s wives, Sarah and Hagar.

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