Wednesday, April 29, 2015

God has chosen solidarity with us so then with whom shall we show solidarity?

Who are Christians to be in solidarity with? And what does solidarity look like?

Hundreds of Baltimore clergy linked arms and took to the streets this week in an effort to restore peace amid the unrest caused by the death in police custody of Freddie Gray, April 19. WBAL reporter Deborah Weiner described the remarkable scene. “These are the church leaders who are putting themselves in harms way to end the violence … they are linked arm-in-arm … one gentleman is in front in a wheelchair.”

This was a sign of solidarity for peace and transformation.

Weiner continued: “I asked the clergy what they thought of the State of Emergency that the Governor declared. They said there has been a State of Emergency way before tonight in Baltimore City, an emergency in poverty, lack of jobs [and] disenfranchisement from the political process.”

In an editorial, The Baltimore Sun called on “the thousands who have already marched in peaceful solidarity with the Gray family’s cause, and the many thousands more who have silently supported them, to take back the movement, to drown out those few who choose chaos over order.”

Gray, a 25-year-old black male, died of spinal cord injuries following his arrest by the Baltimore police department. The city was already in the process of dealing with broken relationships between police and the community in the shadow of allegations of police brutality for years. Statistics show that a black male is four times more likely to be shot by police than a white male in Baltimore. Many people, including good police officers doing their duty, have been injured.

Violence and looting is wrong and unacceptable in any situation, even as a reply to injustice.

But let’s acknowledge that this is not an isolated event. Let acknowledge that this riot, this curfew is about more than one confrontation between police and one man. This event is about more than what happened in Baltimore. This event is more than violent anarchists using a situation. In this day and age that might be a comforting thought.

Too often we tend to be cause-and-effect thinkers when it comes to issues of race and violence. Baltimore Councilman Nick Mosby suggested that racial and societal healing can only happen when we stop narrowly focusing on the latest victim and begin to think more deeply about the way we continue to avoid the hard work of what it means to be a civil society that benefits its people.

I was moved deeply by Mosby's belief that the violence experienced in Baltimore this week is not primarily about Gray’s death, but rather the fruit of decades of growing anger and frustration over a system that has failed the city’s largely black, urban population. The violence and looting are symptoms of much deeper, and systemic issues that leave privileged groups in power and other folk perpetually at a disadvantage.

The social determinants of violence are clear. (See previous post "Prayer for the United States".) Violence is linked intimately to a lack of education and economic opportunity.

We would be naïve to think that society affords all of us the same opportunities. For some people--perhaps even most people--options seem perpetually limited. Some people take one step forward only to find the systems they must deal with day in and day out push them two steps back. This creates a deep sense of anger and frustration, which breeds violence.

The question then becomes--at least for me as bishop--what is the Church’s response? How do we understand our vocation to strive for justice and to respect the dignity of every human being?

How do I understand the gifts I have been afforded and the opportunities I have been given, knowing the reality for many others is not the same. I have to pause before speaking and ponder my place in this conversation. I must address squarely the racism that has benefited me. I must not be afraid to own my opportunities, safety nets and benefits. I can choose to get angry and reject this reality by being defensive. I can chose to ignore it. But what happens if I, as a Christian (Episcopalian and Anglican), chose to live into my baptismal covenant.

First, we must refuse to cast blame, which is an instinctive response to feel more comfortable. Brené Brown defines blame as the discharging of emotional discomfort. By casting blame, we distance ourselves from responsibility and we wrongly assume that nothing we do helped to create the unfair systems. It is what St. Paul called “the powers and principalities” that breed violence, division and a consistent gap in opportunity between whites and non-whites.

If we are blaming someone else for the violence and racism in our world, we are part of the problem, for in blaming we fail to see our deep interconnectedness as human beings and how our behavior and thinking always creates the behavior and thinking of everyone else.

Second, we must work for political change without naively assuming that political change will bring deep healing. We cannot ignore the fact that some policies leave certain groups of people at a perpetual disadvantage. We must be thoughtful about working to bring change to the political arena in a way that does not cast blame or settle for quick-fixes.

Third, we must engage society faithfully around these issues. As James Davison Hunter notes, the Church’s chief task is to be a “faithful presence” in society. Jesus just called it being salt and light. Perhaps this means mentoring a child at an underprivileged school or getting involved in an organization that helps create jobs. But if our presence is to be effective, it will entail personal sacrifice. Perhaps what is so appealing about blaming others and advocating for political solutions doesn’t require us to actually get bruised and bloodied as we work for transformation and change. I don't actually have to get to know someone different than me or care about the things they care about.

The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, with bruises and blood. The measure of our faithfulness as the Body of Christ is never whether we inflict bruises (on whoever we are convinced is to blame) but whether or not we love people enough to receive bruises. Think about it. Jesus’ commitment to the truth didn’t lead to someone else’s death, but rather to his own.

The question then is how are we supposed to die, be uncomfortable, let go of past behaviors so that others might have life and have it abundantly. The mere existence of racism or another’s impoverishment calls us to personal transformation.

Fourth, we must be realistic about the deeper problems that persistently create violence, which is not a lack of education or economic opportunity alone. These are symptoms of the much deeper problem: sin. Sin is what allows me to believe that unity is rooted in skin color and not grace. Sin allows me to think that I am entitled to what I have because I have worked hard. Sin allows me to think that I exist apart from you and that there is such a thing as a “pure victim” apart from Jesus Christ.

As Bishop I am mindful of how deeply sin dwells, not just in society, but in my own heart. But I am also confident and hopeful because I know the power of God’s reconciliation, which for me is not some lofty idea but a theological truth. From a Biblical perspective, it is not so much that we need to be reconciled with one another, as it is that we are reconciled already–with God and with each other–as an act of sheer grace.

God has chosen solidarity with us so then with whom shall we show solidarity?

As Christians, we do not need to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. We just need to wake up to the great theological truth that in Jesus Christ God’s Kingdom is already here. It is a Kingdom that celebrates diversity of every kind. People from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” are part of God’s Kingdom (Rev 7:9). It is a Kingdom where Freddie Gray and the Baltimore police department already stand together reconciled under the foot of the cross, and where violence gives way to economic opportunity for all as “swords are beat into ploughshares” (Isaiah 2:4).

Our vocation as Christians is simple. We are to make real social change happen and to be a sign that points to God’s all-inclusive Kingdom where all people have access to education, health, relationships and meaningful work. This will in-turn repair the unjust structures within society.

But let us not forget that real and lasting growth begins at the root. Transformation happens when we (as individuals) work on the sin that is in us and seek to live differently. Transformation happens when we see ourselves as members of the one, reconciled human family and begin working to repair the unjust structures within our own heart.

So let us chose solidarity with Freddy Gray because black lives matter. Let us chose solidarity with our black brothers and sisters because of our past and our potential future. Let us chose solidarity with the people of Baltimore who seek to be a better city tomorrow.

I also stand in solidarity with God and I will show this solidarity by working for the greater good because all lives matter, and how we live matters, long before the living is done.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

You Shall Be Witnesses of the Second Adam

Sermon preached for Easter 3b, 2015, at St. John the Divine Houston, St. Mary's Lampasas, and Holy Spirit, Waco.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Rise Up Whoopin and Hollarin

Sermon preached on Easter 2015 at the Great Vigil at Canterbury A&M. Here is a video of Ray singing:

Rise Up



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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Real World and Clergy

I recently heard these words about the clergy, “I don’t want [spiritual] direction by some pious fool who doesn't know what real life is about.” 

Sometimes I hear that there is a difference between Church, the life and ministry of clergy, and the REAL WORLD. This is what I say when I hear words about how clergy don’t know what real life is about. 

The clergy I know work over 50+ hours a week – many more than 60. They are not compensated fairly for their level of expertise but do it out of a sense of calling and devotion to God’s people.Clergy labor under the stresses and strains of a job at the crossroads of business, religion, spirituality, and public speaking. They take potshots from members of the church about how this or that was not quite good enough; meanwhile, they manage crisis after crisis. Their families at times are poorly treated by members of the congregation. Mothers glared at for noisy children, parishioners yelling at spouses because something the priest said or did. Yet, clergy walk with people through cancer, fevers, illness, deaths of beloved parents, suicides, and the death of a child. They have stepped bravely into the midst of family crisis often times taking arrows from the very people they are trying to help. They try and broaden their people's horizons on issues affecting the culture while being told they are heretical or having their job threatened. They have fought against racism and all manner of evil at great personal cost. I know many who have sat in hospital rooms with parents holding dead infants, sat at the bedside of a dying parishioner who had no family, and pulled over at the roadside to pray and help a stranger. I know still others who have gone into battle with their brothers and sisters in foreign lands. Clergy have called together communities to rescue people from slavery, to feed the poor, and to give voice to the voiceless. I know clergy who have heard literally thousands of 5th steps, confessions, and lies - and they have kept the faith. 

So this is what I think. If anyone knows about the real world it is the clergy person, the deacon, the priest and bishop, only they can be foolish enough to have faith given everything they have seen and experienced. They not only know what real life is about, they have committed their whole life to walking with people through it regardless of what it brings, regardless of the faithful and the faithless, and regardless of where it leads.  So today, in this real world I live in, I give thanks for the men and women with whom I get to share this life of ministry.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Christ is Risen...forever and forevermore

Preached Easter Sunday, Year C, Christ Church Cathedral, Houston, 2010.

Check out this episode!

Easter Sermon: Go to Galilee

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston Texas, Easter 2011.

It was a wonderful service with baptism.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Reflections: The Broken Man and his Breaking Cross

Sermon preached on Good Friday at Christ Church Cathedral Houston 2015.

Click here for the link to the sermon.

This Shattered Man on this Breaking Cross

Good Friday Meditation

An essay I recently read entitled “Reflections” contained this paragraph:

“I move away from him again, my hip hitting the side of the table and knocking the mirror to the floor. We both watch it slip from its place on the table, and its ear-splitting crash bringing us to a standstill. Neither one of us looks away from the glass on the floor. One piece captures my teary face and another has caught his; it looks just as broken as the glass that portrays it. The other pieces show images around the room: gray bed sheets, blue curtains, my bare legs. Everything is shattered.” (Caisa Doyle, Reflecting our Greatness, 2015, 16)

The cross is a mirror.

Knocked to the floor. We watch it slip. We watch him slip. There is an ear splitting crash. We are stopped – all movement -all creation brought to a standstill.

We wish to look away. We cannot look away. The brokenness of the cross and him upon it draws us deeper into its embrace.

Look away to what, after all, our brokenness? Our pain? Our suffering? The suffering and pain we cause others?

So we look. We watch. We listen. We imagine. And we know. The cross is there – shattered – and we are shattered too.

One part captures our teary faces, one part captures his, still another our splintered family.

Another part discloses the brokenness of our relationships, perhaps with a family member, a loved one, a friend, a brother or a sister.

Still another shard of cross exposes our broken relationship with God – God’s broken relationship with us.

This piece of true cross depicts the distance between us while that piece over there unveils the reality we are bound together in this mess.

We see in the reflection the brokenness of our world and our society where the powerful and their power are protected and once again the weak and vulnerable are preyed upon.

We see clearly in the cross how our actions of consumption and desire affect and break the lives of men and women elsewhere.

We see the breaking cross under the weight of division between black and white, gay and straight, conservative and liberal, rich and poor, between the man and his spouse, the mother and her son, the son and his daughter.

We see it all here. We see the generations of grey reality which is our reality. We see what is normal and plain unmasked as broken - not right.

Here he is laid bare, and we are laid bare.

We cannot look away. We see that we are as broken as the broken man and his breaking cross.

Everything shattered.

Yet here in the brokenness is something else altogether.

It is also a view of reconciliation.

Here in the shards of the cross is a seed planted.

Here too is atonement.

Here is the beginning of redemption.

Yes, here are all our plots unmasked – to kill God and stand in his place.

But, here too is God Standing with the victim.

Here is God with the suffering.

Here is death defeated.

Here our pretension to the throne and godliness is defeated.

We are out flanked, not by power, but by complete vulnerability.

Here is the revelation that God reaches out to us - vulnerable. God says to us we shall belong together and to one another. We shall have love. This cross shall be the cross road which links heaven and earth – you and me.

We shall see in its shards both the brokenness and our redemption.

For we long to be loved and belong.

We long to love and provide belonging.

So we see here in this broken man and breaking cross is an image of belovedness, the complete giving over of one’s self for another, vulnerability, and perfect invitation.

We see here, in this brokenness, both our sorrow and our joy.

And it speaks to us of the reality of love.

For where we love there is great sorrow.

Where we are vulnerable there is pain.

Where we are broken there is redemption and recreation.

Here as we halt, as we stop, we see truth then – that in this brokenness there is also great love.

They are mixed together as wine and vinegar.

There is no redemption without the broken man and breaking cross.

There is no love without pain.

There is no Easter without the cross.

The deeper the pain and sorrow the greater the container is hollowed out so it may be filled again.

The empty vessel burrowed by this pain and this sorrow is such that it can contain all joy and all love.

So it is that we too are hollowed out, bored out, carved out on this day, in this hour. For here we are also made to hold a great love – a great joy.

Kahlil Gibran was that Lebanese artist, poet, and writer. A literary and political rebel in his home country , he became popular in the 1930s in the west and again in the 1960s counterculture. He is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu. He wrote a poem entitled On Joy and Sorrow – and l leave a portion of it with you to close our Good Friday meditation.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your table, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The School of Rock - I mean the School of Atonement

Sermon on the Atonement and an invitation to experience Holy Week again for the first time. Palm Sunday - Trinity, Galveston.

Check out this episode!


  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball