Monday, September 25, 2017

Unpopular Thoughts, Part II

"Thinking NFL players are 'protesting the flag' is like thinking Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation." @jeffisrael25

Relatedly. It's a hard conversation, but I am deeply grateful for the charitable friends with whom I have shared it and from whom I have learned. The conversation is the one that opens itself to exploring that and how it is both possible and good to
  • support the remarkable people who serve this country in the military AND 
  • grieve and challenge the military-industrial complex that increasingly defines this country's relationships with the rest of the world, its own land (read Wendell Berry!), its approach to education, policing, incarceration (watch 13th!), and a bunch of other issues through which - significant among other problematic things - white supremacy is systematized and habituated. 
To confuse these tasks is to fail one another in the basic human obligation to listen and tend to each other. Moreover, to pit these tasks against each other is to leave the military-industrial complex, an ailment common to both "sides," unnamed and spared our critical reflection. Indeed, one of the glaring holes of the military-industrial complex is that it leaves little to no space for veterans to talk about the sacrifices this country asked of them (google '22 Kill'!). The absence of such a space is not patriotism; it is politically and financially incentivized dishonesty, very little of which has to do with the military personnel of this country and which hides behind other people's public disagreements over whether to stand or kneel. 


It does not dishonor one's country to pray for its healing and the making right of broken things anymore than it dishonors our military to pray for peace and the flourishing of people. Moreover, I do not know anyone who prays prayers for peace more fervently than my friends who have served in the military.


But the flag carries multiple symbols for people, and so the president is retweeting photos of amputee veterans in an attempt to shame those who would help us see the incompleteness of our freedoms. It is hard but important for white folks to see and own that no one is free in the charade of white supremacy, 
  • which I do not wish to uniquely attach to the present administration (lest the nation become complacent) and 
  • which simultaneously mocks the flag, our conception of freedom, and those who have served the military of this country for or under both. 
It has taken too long for white athletes (and many others of us who are white but not athletes) to join the human chains (actual and metaphorical), but they are there now, which is a significant step. 


Prophets come to heal our blindness, and the reactive response of the powerful reveals that our blinding has not been an accident. You know you have been made a pawn in someone else's game when the subversive next step that threatens to undo it all is the befriending of the side you are being told to despise.


Postscript: It is entirely possible that this short post takes too much for granted the story of Nate Boyer and Colin Kaepernick's remarkable friendship in ways that would have been better to make explicit. If that's the case, here's the story to compensate for the deficit.

PPS The above analysis is only implicitly Christian, in its valuation of friendship and its desire to see discourse shaped by truthful speech, but the post largely punts the still more difficult conversation about allegiance with which Christians are obliged to wrestle. As a student one time said to me, "Allegiance in the church? How would that work? We only have one pledge to give." Right. Another post, maybe, would consider the relative generosity of the Book of Common Prayer's rubric "The people stand or kneel" and the undeniable discomfort that comes from recognizing that the present debate is about how not if national liturgies should be performed. 

I do think it is important to name here on that score the work of folks like David Fitch, who would contend that mutual submission under the Lordship of Jesus, as we come together and listen to discern Christ's presence in our midst, is important to understanding the kind of friendship God in Christ has opened to us and so also the kinds of friends we might hope to become, even with people who are not Christian.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Wendell Berry Quote I Can't Shake from My Head

Wendell Berry, in his essay God and Country (in What People Are For, 1988):
Organized Christianity seems, in general, to have made peace with "the economy" by divorcing itself from economic issues, and this, I think, has proved to be a disaster, both religious and economic. The reason for this, on the side of religion, is suggested by the adjective "organized." It is clearly possible that, in the condition of the world as the world now is, organization can force upon an institution a character that is alien or even antithetical to it. The organized church comes immediately under compulsion to think of itself, and identify itself to the world, not as an institution synonymous with its truth and its membership, but as a hodgepodge of funds, properties, projects, and offices, all urgently requiring economic support. The organized church makes peace with a destructive economy and divorces itself from economic issues because it is economically compelled to do so. Like any other public institution so organized, the organized church is dependent on the "economy"; it cannot survive apart from those economic practices that its truth forbids and that its vocation is to correct. If it comes to a choice between the extermination of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field and the extermination of a building fund, the organized church will elect - indeed, has already elected - to save the building fund. The irony is compounded and made harder to bear by the fact that the building fund can be preserved by crude applications of money, but the fowl of the air and the lilies of the field can be preserved only by true religion, by the practice of a proper love and respect for them as the creatures of God.
So, on the one hand, Berry's words could be read (though I believe it would be a misreading) to suggest that church that is true to itself doesn't have bills or financial concerns. In other words, one could walk away from Berry's challenging thesis bent toward an overly spiritualized gnosticism that is simply the mirror opposite of the one Berry is naming.

What is compelling, however, is the givenness Berry sees in the dependence of the church's identity on economic norms and the extent to which that situation robs the church of an identity and vocation that was never its own to choose, but which is and has always been its gift from God for the world.

As a priest, I have many times come to the realization, in conversation with someone come to me for counsel, that if I don't ask this particular question, it is very possible that no one else will. For example, the priest must be counted on to ask about the prayer life. It is a question that belongs, perhaps not exclusively but no less definitively, to the vocation of priests.

With respect to humanity's right relationship to the earth, Berry likewise sees the church as that peculiar people whose vocation it is to live proper love and respect for creation, as creatures of God. Consequently, such a people must seek awareness of the givens that have challenged its vocation by compelling us into concessions we did not even realize we had made.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

No Way! Way! The Impossible Possibility and Thanks for Robert Jenson

Readings for today. Sermon for Good Shepherd, Sun Prairie.

The Christian theologian Robert Jenson passed away this week. He was an amazing man, pastor, and scholar. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re normal. Even if you’ve never heard of Robert Jenson, his work almost certainly shaped the life of someone else who helped shape your life for the good. Globally regarded and a Minnesota Lutheran. A mentor and fellow Texan one-time told me that there, in Texas, all the denominations are at least partly Baptist. You’ve got Baptist Baptists, Methodist Baptists, Episcopalian Baptists, even Catholic Baptists. Episcopalians are Baptists who can drink. It’s the same kind of thing up here, Wisconsin/Minnesota, but instead of Baptists it’s a cultural tug of war, a tie between the Catholics and Lutherans. Lutherans like Robert Jenson, who shaped us for the good. It’s good to thank God for such a lover of Jesus. May he rest in peace and rise in glory. 

Theologians write a lot, and not always plainly, but one of Jenson’s most famous sentences was alarmingly simple: “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before delivered Israel out of Egypt.”

In that simple sentence, Jenson does a couple of things. First, he connects the Old and New Testaments, saying that it is the same God at work through the same people all throughout. One persistent, stubborn, beautiful mission working its way to fulfillment in Jesus. Israel, made a light to enlighten all people, salvation unfolding. Second, Jenson recognizes in Jesus the second exodus. You remember the first exodus: that’s Israel being delivered out of slavery in Egypt. Charlton Heston, walls of water, Pharaoh, plagues, and all the rest. Resulting in freedom for God’s people. Not just freedom, but impossible freedom made possible. The kind of freedom most of God’s people didn’t think to hope for any more because the lengths it would take to get there from where they were seemed utterly unattainable. Better to eat cucumbers in slavery. But over and over in the days after that impossible day, the scriptures would talk about what happened this way, “When there seemed to be no way, God made a way.”

You remember that exodus. Much later, when Jesus takes his buddies up on the mountain, and there is a terrifying cloud, and Moses and Elijah, and Jesus turns all glow-bug on them, do you remember that? The gospels tell us that Jesus was about to accomplish his departure, but the word for departure is exodus again. In other words, it’s the same God, persistently, stubbornly, beautifully working God’s mission to fulfillment, one more time. In other words, slaves are about to be set free again. In other words, the impossible is about to become possible and the freedom the disciples couldn’t even think to ask or hope for is about to become accomplished for them and for us. Freedom for God’s people one more time. This time from death. From death? How? Death is the original dead-end. But when there seemed to be no way, God made a way. So Christians come to this table and have learned to proclaim, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

Time and again, this is the way of God’s people, remembering, proclaiming, living: once there was no way, but God made a way!

Think about that. Think about how this refrain, this faithful chorus, runs counter to how, even Christians, often talk about life and how it works. Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Well, one door closed, but another one opened,” as if the naturalness of the path was a validation of it? As if the path of least resistance bears the stamp of divine approval. But Jesus, when he talks about doors at all, doesn’t talk about moving from door to door until you find the unlocked one. He talks about a widow, persistently banging on a neighbor’s door, in the middle of the night, until the neighbor gives up and comes down. And after the day faith died for the disciples, after that dark Friday they hadn’t yet learned to call Good, and they’re there, gathered in a room behind locked doors because of their fear, Jesus doesn’t find the door locked and move on. Where there seemed to be no way, God made a way. He stands before the the ones who’d cried, lied, and denied him and they tremble in his presence and he breathes his peace and forgiveness on the ones he is determined to call his friends. Impossibilities be damned. Christians don’t make a way by ourselves, but we have learned that our God has a knack for showing up at dead-ends, God has a heart for dead-ends, even us. And because God has a heart for dead-ends, Christians pray that, with God’s help, we are unlearning the fears that control us. Because when there was no way, God made a way.

All I want to say today is that when Jesus is talking to his church in Matthew’s gospel - and it’s one of a small handful of places where the word “church” comes up in the gospels - when he’s talking to those who gather in his name, and he’s giving instructions for what to do when one person hurts or disappoints another person, he’s not just giving moral rules for civil engagement and getting along, he’s inviting his church - his body - to embody with each other the truth that they worship the God who makes a way when there seems to be no way. Even with each other. In other words, when we pursue reconciliation, we proclaim resurrection. When we step toward the ones that others run from, we proclaim the God “who raised Jesus from the dead, having before delivered Israel out of Egypt.”

This stepping forward isn’t the same as condoning or ignoring or using platitudes to smooth things over. It is confronting. It is saying, “You hurt me, but I won’t settle for a future in which we both hide from the truth and each other along the way.” Because the opposite of confronting isn’t condoning, but hiding out of fear. And our lives are defined by these attempts to avoid from one another. Call it hating from a distance. You can see this dynamic at work in the antagonisms that drive our society, people separating into “us versus them.” It is as if, from our quarantined perches, we wait, perversely hoping that that side will really screw up, say the unforgivable thing, because then we will be justified in moving on without them. We will talk about, but not to, and it feels almost right on social media screens, but then we remember, we glimpse some part of the person, still there behind the label that has justified our desire for a future in which they don’t exist. Only by now we can’t imagine how we’d ever step back toward the other across the chasm of antagonism. That’s not far-fetched; that’s the way of the world. And it’s not just the way of the world on the cultural meta-stage, but in my heart, too! And maybe yours. One time I noticed myself taking notes every time someone hurt me, let me down, or disappointed my expectations, in a given day. I even made a kind of daily habit of it. Rather than take those notes back to the others with the opportunity for them to help make the situations right, I made the notes so that I could remember to complain to my real friends later. Of course, “real friends” were supposed to be those who would agree with me and justify my righteous anger. And given how painful it can feel to be hurt by another person, you can make the case for what I was doing. Writing others off is a defensible position to take. But Christians have been saved from fear and so where others give up, we show up in hope.

How else can you explain lives like that of Nelson Mandela? Imprisoned in his country for decades. Called a terrorist by our country for organizing military resistance against state-enforced racial oppression. Freed and put in power, elected president of post-apartheid South Africa, Mandela refused vengeance on his enemies and instead sought a future in which the truth about the evils of apartheid would, case by case, be seen and spoken through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (chaired by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu), pain would be legitimated, forgiveness would be extended and gradually received, and the still-healing people would learn to step toward God’s good future together, making room at one table for everyone.

Sometimes, most times, it would be easier to give up than to do what Jesus says to do in Matthew’s gospel, especially when time and circumstance give you the upper hand on the ones who rejected you. But where others give up, Christians show up in hope. Because the stone the builders rejected (that’s Jesus) has become the chief cornerstone. Because once there was no way, but God made a way. Because to pursue reconciliation is to proclaim resurrection. Because the God we worship today is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before delivered Israel out of Egypt.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

House Blessing Vlog: Footnotes & Links

Hey friends! Yesterday, we posted this video (below). Links spontaneously came out of our mouths, and we wanted to share them in an accessible way here. So, without further ado...

  1. Here is Debra Dean Murphy's amazing and challenging article about hurricanes, climate change, and justice here
  2. You can tune into my friend Ekene's radio show, The Blerd, WEDNESDAYS at noon, at 91.7 WSUM in Madison or online, here
  3. You can get Hauerwas' commentary on Matthew here
  4. Pope Benedict XVI says something like what I attribute to him about Peter and forgiveness in this great little book, Called to Communion
  5. Here's a copy of the prayer we prayed at the end: A Prayer for UW-Madison at the Start of a New Academic Year
  6. If you want us to save a House Blessing care package (they came out GREAT!!) for yourself or (even better) someone else on campus, let me know
  7. What else? Oh! We'll be posting a short vlog this afternoon (via FB live) to show you just exactly what the House Blessing care packages look like AND to introduce you to SFH's program intern, Mckenzie, who's going to tell us a little bit about a beautiful new practice that might change your ordinary life. Look for it! We'll see you then, and I hope we get to see some of you this Sunday at 5pm for our annual House Blessing(1) at St. Francis House. 
(1)Nerd note: I know, I know. It's technically "A Celebration for a Home." But you get it. It's beautiful. It expresses the Christian conviction, hope, and prayer that God would meet us in the gift of hospitality extended and received, and that God would help us make good beginnings of our studies, work, and all the rest of life. It's a good thing. See you there.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Welcome to Campus! (Hey, from the UW Episcopal Community)

Hey friend!

Welcome to campus! Whether you are new to Madison or returning, we are glad you are here. A bunch of us have been praying for you and this year in your life, and we look forward to connecting! 

A great first opportunity to connect is tomorrow (Wed) night, at 7pm at the St. Francis House Student Center (1011 University Ave). We'll have snacks, teas, and coffee, and a chance to meet other folks. A little after 8, we'll pray Compline together to end the evening and begin the new year. Everyone is welcome. 

This Sunday at 5pm, I hope you'll join us for our annual House Blessing Eucharist
​We'll pray for the different spaces in the Episcopal Center and have house blessing care packages for you and any​ friends you'd like to share them with. Christians usually bless homes as a way to ask God's help to make good​ new beginnings and as a way to name our intention to live our ordinary lives​ -​ in our homes​, classrooms, and workplaces​ - in ways that are shaped by God's love and call.

​One of the things the student leadership and I have been praying about already is how crunched life can feel at this moment in time. College. Politics. Work. Anxieties. Time. Relationships. Finding meaningful ways to act in the world. What else? SFH is committed to being a community and ​place where we make space together, over against the crunch, seeking to be present to God, each other, and ourselves. What does it mean to make space for "the life that really is life" (1 Timothy 6:19)? As that commitment/question resonates with you, I invite you to come, connect, share your gifts, and find new friendships and belonging. 

​That's all for now. Holla on FacebookCheck out the calendar. Call me for coffee, anytime. And I hope to connect with you soon.

God's good peace as you settle in and make your way and the new semester begins. 


Ways You Can Jump In (this week)*
  • Help us put together care packages this Wed at 7pm!
  • Come early on Sunday, at 4:15pm, to play an instrument or lend your voice at worship. Email Mckenzie for details/questions/to let her know you are interested. 
  • Read a Scripture on Sunday (come 5-10 min before 5pm). Email Jonathan.
  • We're looking this week for help next week, at the RSO fair (Sept 13-14, 5-8pm). Can you help cover a shift? Let Kate know!
*WYCJI is a new feature this year, which comes from our hope that you make yourself at home here. We'll do our best to communicate opportunities clearly and would love you to join us in any (or other) of these ways!

Last thing

Most weekly emails come from Kate and are way shorter than this, but we're excited to welcome you well, and I hope this email gives a sense of what SFH is about. If you're rather not receive them, though, let Kate know at any time. Peace, friends!

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