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If only it were that easy.

St. Paul’s has been using red vestments each time there is a publicized mass shooting incident in the US.  We’ve been doing this since the Charleston attack, and no, actually, it was not my idea.  This one came from the rector.  As a result, the prevalence of gun violence has been front and center in our congregation all summer.

I should admit here that gun violence was the first political issue I was ever passionate about.  I started following the issue when I was 12, due to some events in my family, and the advocacy of a 7th grade history teacher who kept pointing out how history intersected with current events, and shouldn’t we start forming our own opinions on these things?

So, I have a weirdly specific knowledge of the history of gun control in this country.  Along with the Israel/Palestine conflict, it is one of those topics where you need to be sure you have an extra half hour before you engage me in conversation thereupon.

But I’ve never spoken about it from the pulpit.  Part of that is that Jesus never speaks about guns in the gospel  (swords, though, he has some opinions on.  #swordcontrolnow!)  And part of that is that this is America, and gun control is not an unemotional topic.  In church, or at least in the churches I’ve served, I actually believe it is easier and less polarizing to bring up gay marriage, or racism, or Medicaid expansion, than it is to bring up guns.

Until this week.   I talked about it this week, because I feel like someone needs to talk about it–it’s the elephant, staring in the corner of the room each time politicians lament in the aftermath of another tragedy, and mourn the ‘unforeseen’ and the ‘unpreventable’ events.

So here’s what I said.  (It’s in roughly note form, just for a change of pace. Yay?)

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

August 30, 2015

Proper 15, Ordinary Time Year B

Mark

—When I spent a summer in Israel and Palestine, my parents were understandably stressed.  They were not huge fans of this plan of mine, but they knew from long experience that talking me out of something I had decided to do was a non starter.

—So the day before I got on the plane, my mother “helped me pack.” 

—She made copies of every piece of paper I had—passport, airplane ticket, medication list, social security card, drivers’ license, everything.

-And what she didn’t make a copy of, she sorted into ziplock baggies.  She would not sit down and SHE WOULD NOT REST until everything I owned was either copied in duplicate, stored in a ziplock, or tied together with rubber bands.

—This made no sense.  It was a weird obsession, and not at all like my mother. 

—But it wasn’t about organization at all, of course.  It was her way of Doing Something to help me, since she couldn’t process the hugeness of me in Jerusalem for 3 months. 

—Big picture was too scary, so she went nuts with the little things.  The things she could get her hands on.  Those would save me!  

—I’m going to venture a guess to say that this impulse is where the Pharisees have their problem.

—We can’t deal with the immensity of what we’re supposed to be facing—so we get caught up in this minute arguments. 

—Rather than sort out how well we’re loving God, caring for creation and loving our neighbor—which are really big things to tackle, and take a lot of work and thought, we get caught on whether the most important thing to talk about is works or grace, or whether being religious means you have to hate these people or those people. 

—and it’s not from a lack of caring, necessarily, these arguments.  It’s from being overwhelmed by the bigger stuff, maybe.  So we get fixated on the tiny stuff.

—And so, behold the Pharisees. 

—Now, the Pharisees get a bum rap, which is too bad, because they’re really rather fantastic.  The Pharisees were basically one of many groups within the Judaism during Jesus’ time who were working really hard for a reformation.

—The problem had come up that the vast majority of Jews living in Judea really weren’t observant at all.  They didn’t have a clue about their own religion. 

—Not because they didnt’ care, but just because being observant of religion back then was HARD. 

—You had to go all the way to the Temple in Jerusalem several times a year, and you had to tote along your live offerings, and it was expensive and next-to-impossible if you lived up north in Galilee (like Jesus—because that’s at least a week’s trek there, then a week’s trek back.)

—So, what ended up happening was that the only people who really WERE religious were those who had been paid for it, and those who could afford it—the priests and those who lived in Jerusalem and who had $$$. 

—That’s hardly what God wants, judging from the prophets, right?

—This problem concerned the Pharisees, so they worked on making Judaism more accessible. 

—They wanted EVERYONE, no matter who, no matter how poor or rich, to participate in the worship and service of God. 

—WHICH IS A GREAT IDEA.

—They worked on teaching the average Farmer Joe in Galilee about the Torah, and how even he! could observe it without a nearby temple.  He can say his daily prayers!  He can assemble in the synagogue!  He can purify himself in the mikveh, which he can build in his own backyard!  EVERYONE CAN BE A GOOD JEW. 

—And, for the record, it’s the Pharisees that save Judaism after the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

—So don’t hate on the Pharisees.  Their big idea was great.  In fact, Jesus agrees with the big idea of the movement—

—His problem is that they get caught up in the minutae…because the overall goal is so big.

—Rather than concentrating on bringing the good news of God to the masses, what the Pharisees seem to have ended up doing was getting into fights about handwashing.  And the cleanliness of bowls.

—And that stuff isn’t the goal.  Religious observance—loving God, loving your neighbor is the goal.  And those things are only helpful insofar as they help you reach that goal.

—And meanwhile, the Pharisees largely weren’t addressing the major issues that were rampant in society. 

—The part of the reading the lectionary skips is where Jesus points out that the Pharisees went nuts over handwashing, but had no problem with people dedicating money to the Temple, and leaving their parents and relatives penniless. 

—They’re obsessing over the details, because the wider issues are too big.  Too overwhelming to change.  You can’t change something so big as the economic structure of the Temple, but hand washing?!  LETS GET ON IT.  THAT WILL MAKE GOD HAPPY WITH US. 

—But here’s the thing—when doing the work of God, there’s nothing too big to contemplate.  There’s no problem too overwhelming to change.

—When God calls us into the world, we are called not just to small things, but to big things.  So we can’t let the little things distract us.  The little things cannot save us.  The small things don’t hold salvation.

—It’s in this context that I want to talk about the events of the past few weeks.  We’ve been marking every mass shooting in the US by placing red vestments on the altar.  And as you may have noticed, we’ve been wearing red a lot.  Rare is the week we can keep green up—and in fact, there have not been two sundays together, since the beginning of the summer, in which green has been on the altar.

— It’s not your imagination—mass shootings are on the rise in the US—USA today estimates that mass shootings (situations where someone kills 4 or more people) happen about once every 8 days.  But we don’t actually know how many there are, because there’s no mandatory reporting being done. 

—And each time it happens, the same refrain gets trotted out—oh things would be different if those people had just been armed.  We can be safe if we just have more guns.  Over and over again.  It makes sense—we want to be safe, we want to feel secure, and that’s a big, huge problem that seems too big to solve.  So the temptation is to look for some small thing to fix on. 

—But you know what? Currently, 42% of the guns in the world are owned by civilians in the US.  Think about that.  42% of the guns in the WHOLE WORLD are owned by civilians in the US.***

We have a lot of guns.  And still, we have more deaths through gun violence than any other country on the face of the earth. So the pertinent question becomes–exactly how many guns do we need before we are safe?  Before the shootings stop?  

—But more importantly—we are Christians.  We aren’t called to put our faith in little things, in hand washing, in guns, in things we can hold onto and see. 

—Our safety, we believe, comes from God.  Not a weapon.  God alone makes us safer.  We cannot depend on guns or weapons or more or better armor.   

Because God calls us to love each other.  And serve one another.  And care for one another.  Which we can hardly do when we live in mortal fear of everyone around us. 

So, as hard as it is, we have to put down these small things that consume our attention—these idols that distract from the God we worship.  We have to put down the guns that promise safety, the hand washing that promises holiness.  And we have to embrace the vulnerability of believing that God alone can make us safe, and God alone can make us holy. 

And God alone has already shown us the path of life, stretching out ahead of us.  We just need to put down these small idols, and trust that God is enough.

Amen.

*** That statistic came from this: http://www.vox.com/2015/8/24/9183525/gun-violence-statistics

Landing the plane

Remember I promised to talk about Missionpolooza?  Well, since the kids are starting back to school, here it is!

 

Missionpolooza is a 5 day long experience for high-schoolers in Missouri to come and experience outreach work in the heart of Kansas City.  Every year, approximately 50 teenagers camp out on my church floor, and head off each morning at 7am to different worksites around the city: our food pantry, Habitat for Humanity, Operation Breakthrough, etc.  Then, they come back at day’s end and process what they’ve been doing, in the context of the Christian life.

My job, this year, was to take care of the 5 kids that had been selected to offer the sermon on the last day.  I greatly enjoy this job–last year, my rector and I took the selected kids to lunch at Hamburger Mary’s, thinking that all sermons should start with some quality real work experience.  This year, my rector was on vacation, so I alone took the youth to lunch.  (at the Ale House.  Their parents probably consider Kansas City the den of all iniquity now.)

(The rector being gone also meant the plumbing backed up at least twice, and two parishioners died.  As is the way of things.)

Anyway.  Preaching is hard, as I believe I have mentioned here before.  Harder still if you haven’t heard many sermons, or if you’re a teenager and terrified of public speaking, or worried about what your peers will say, or if you’ve spent the last 13 years in a school system that teaches you only one way to write.

The youth were great–they asked me tons of questions, and I tried to answer as best I could.  We sat around all afternoon, and I worked on and off while they tried to write, and asked me even more questions.

I told them that a sermon is like an airplane:  you need to take off, have one destination, and land.  Up, across, down.

There may have been a time, twenty years ago when people could stand longer airplane rides, with layovers in different towns to see the sights.  This time is no longer.  Fly your plane, and get to where you’re going.

Don’t swoop to the side to see the Grand Canyon when you’ve talked about going to Europe, and don’t say you’re going to Los Angeles and end up in London.  This will only upset and confuse your passengers, which is bad, because you need them to trust you as the pilot.  If your passengers don’t trust you, they will never fly your airline again.  They will grab their parachutes and jump off.

Make sure, when you’re taking off, that you know where you’re going to land.  THEN LAND.  Don’t circle the airport for hours, waiting for the FAA to give you permission–just land the plane.

This airplane metaphor got a LOT of mileage.  (No pun intended.)  Jokes about crashing, landing the plane, being the Malaysian Airlines of preaching were thick on the ground.

But after much wringing of hands, each and every one of those students gave deep and insightful sermons on Sunday.  So apparently we have some fantastic pilots in training!

**Addendum:

I should add that the OTHER thing that happened, presumably because the rector was on vacation–was that I got a phone call at home on 8pm on Saturday night from the youth leader.  She started by asking how I was (never comforting.  This means that whatever is coming next is going to be upsetting, and they want to ensure you aren’t already upset.)

She then informed me that a group of “homeless, travelling Lutherans had stopped by the night, and could we put them up for the night?”

I decided to head back over there.

Upon my arrival, I discovered a van full of ELCA teenagers and their erstwhile leader looking disheveled in my parking lot.  Apparently, they had driven that day from Wisconsin, with the understanding that they could stay at a local ELCA church in Kansas City.  But when they got there, there was no one around.  They called the pastor–no answer.  They then decided just to drive around town, and see if they could find a place.  (Kids, don’t try this.)  When they saw our lights on, they stopped and asked for help.

I had a short conference with the other youth leaders–we had space to spare, and could easily segregate boys, girls, and adults all one from another….not to mention we had lots of extra food, and a Guardians of the Galaxy blu-ray that needed watching.  So I invited them to stay.  We fed them, we gave them a lovely floor for the night, and we watched alien movies with them.  As our Lord doth command.

Our scripture for the week had been Matthew 25, and over and over I had been telling the students to focus on the people they met as reflections of God.

Who apparently sometimes rolls up in your parking lot at 8pm from Wisconsin.

 

 

 

What we talk about when we talk about Mary

On Friday, some parishioners asked if we could hold a vigil for the Dormition–a service in honor of the Virgin Mary.  “Sure,” I said.

We have a lot of former Roman Catholics who have migrated on over to Canterbury with us, and for them, honoring the Mother of Christ is a big deal.  I like Mary, though most of the traditional forms of mariology make me want to throw something, so I thought the service could be fun.

At the group’s request, I found a reading from a female theologian on Mary–because any excuse to buy a Dr. Elizabeth Johnson book is a good one.  And I came up with a reflection.

20111213-175554.jpg

 

Here’s what I said.

Two days ago, Janelle Monae, from Kansas City!, put out a new single—pretty much a protest chant.  She released it with the other artists on her record label at a #blacklivesmatter march in Philly.

It’s not really a song—there’s a repeated chorus, and then the shouted name of one of the many people killed by police over the past few years:  Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Jonathan Ferrell, Eric Garner, and on and on and on—a litany of names.  In between, the crowd shouts—say his name, say her name.

It’s the protest form of the litany of saints:  that roll call that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches do as you run down the list of saints, asking them to intercede for you.  Like an attendance call in heaven, of sorts—running down the list of the worthy, the holy, the good.

In pretty much every religious tradition, naming has been important—more than important—naming has been holy.  God brings things into being through naming them, as the first act of creation.  To name something is to speak its essence, to control it—and to give it life.  Adam and Eve name the animals.  Jesus names when he heals.  It’s also why there’s that big aura around the name of God.

And so, because naming has this power, this effect—it is vital that we pay attention to who is named in our tradition and who gets to name them.  Who gets to say his name.  Who gets to say her name.

And when we do that, we discover that there’s a bit of an inconsistency.  Men are named—men get lots of names.  Fathers, sons, uncles, family names.  Lots of names.  Women get …fewer.

Because we not only meet Mary Magdalene with Jesus, we also meet Joanna and Salome, floating out in space, untethered by named relationship, and for Gentile women, it’s worse– the Syro-Phonecian woman (no name) and the woman at the well (no name, again.)

But that’s not so bad!  At least women are there, right?! So many women in the gospels!  So many! And yet, names themselves are less important than who says them.

In the book I just read from, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ points out that for most of Christian history, only one group was really doing the naming.  Only one group decided what names got named. And so that affected the stories that got told.

The story of Mary. Mother of God, told this way, becomes a story about submission to authority, about purity, about self-denial, and at times, almost borderline erasure.  In many ways, the traditional telling of Mariology—all blue and white and hyperdulia, erased everything that made her unique.  Everything that made her human, so that she could be an even better story.  So that she could be a name that all women aspired to, and a name that reminded all women just how sinful we were.

But—(that never fully worked.) Did you notice?  Because all around the edges of this official, spiffed up story that the Church was telling, were these other stories.  Stories from different people, and not the people in charge.

Stories of Our Lady appearing as an Aztec princess to a Mexican man during the Spanish conquest, appearing as a grieving mother during the Plagues in Europe.  Mary being depicted as every tribe and race under the sun, even in priest’s vestments.   Mary never really seemed to get the memo on her ‘official story’.  Everywhere you look, Mary shows up in various not-exactly sanctioned guises.  One of my favorite iconographers, who’s work I borrowed for this service is Robert Lenz, who depicted Mary as a Latin American woman who lost a child to the death squads in the civil wars.  And as a woman in a Holocaust concentration camp.  And as a homeless woman.  And as a struggling woman in America’s inner cities.  Despite her official story, Mary has managed to reach out to women and the oppressed who find in her a a real person–a kindred spirit through the centuries.

And I don’t think that’s because the official naming of Mary by the church is so compelling.  (In fact, you can argue that the official “be good and quiet and God might love you” does a great deal of harm, but that’s another sermon.)

I think that’s because Mary does something no other woman in the Bible does.  Mary names herself.

When she greets Elizabeth, she sings the Magnificat—my soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior—from this day on, all generations shall call me blessed.  She defines herself.  THAT’s who she is.  A poor, pregnant, unwed teenage girl, in an occupied village, whom the whole world would say was anything but—She defines herself.

That’s her power, I think.  That’s her lesson.  For those of us whom the world would name as unworthy, as less than, as failed and as disposable, Mary reminds us in her witness and in her person, that in the reign of God we are all counted as beloved, all counted as worthy.  She gives us an example of naming ourselves blessed, of telling our own stories, for ourselves, in our own voices, as this is what God prizes, she assures us.  Because this is what the reign of God requires, what it is built on—this reign where the lowly are lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, and the hungry are finally fed.  In order for that to happen, all of our stories need to be told, all of us need to be named in this world.

For this naming is the work of the gospel, this naming is good news for all of us.

Amen

Good news and bad news

It’s been a busy summer here in KCMO.  Right after General Convention ended, I arrived home to a blistering heat wave, and to discover that several parishioners had entered hospice, only to die in the following weeks.  Missionpollooza–the diocesan youth event that sends 70 teens to camp out at St. Paul’s  for a week to learn about service–came and went in a blur, with the plumbing collapsing in on itself as per usual.  (More about Missionpollooza in the future, I think.)

I have been preaching, but not in a ‘write it all down’ sort of way.  By the time I reached Sunday, I generally was too brain-fried to do much more than follow a train of thought to its conclusion.

But this week, I was asked to preach at our local Clericus meeting, on the Transfiguration.  Here’s what I said.

Transfiguration reflection

You know the allegory of the Cave, by Plato?  A man is chained up inside a cave for years, during which he sees the shadows of figures dancing on the wall.  Because he doesn’t know any different, he takes them to be the real things—assumes they’re real for years.

Finally, one day, he escapes his chains and ventures outside of the Cave and melts down, when confronted with the real world of material things.  The tree is so much different than he knew, the sky so much bluer, on and on.  The truth is overwhelming and not in the most pleasant of ways at first.

It’s a transfiguration of sorts, this phenomenon Plato describes.  For the man in the cave, the world is suddenly illuminated by the truth, transfigured into something more real, more vibrant…and he can hardly stand it, as accustomed as he was to the illusion.

So maybe it was this that drove Peter to go a bit nuts atop the mountain?  He had been so accustomed to Jesus as this normal guy that he followed around Galilee for lo these several years, than when the truth, the fuller truth, hit him, he just sort of snapped, and starts babbling about making booths.  It’s all a bit much for poor Peter.  But truth can do that to you—knock you sideways for a while.  Jesus, I like to imagine, just sort of stares at him, then mutters to Moses that “Humans haven’t improved at all, really” and the three of them have a good laugh.

And then the important part.  Then they head back down the mountain. They head back to normal life.  And see, that’s the important part, because that’s where you have to make a decision.  You have to decide what you will do with that truth you’ve just figured out, as mindblowing and as uncomfortable a revelation as it might have been.  You have to decide whether you will continue to let the truth you now know shape you and your life, or whether you will go back to the comfortable, staid darkness of the cave of before.

The disciples, we know, were told to keep quiet when they went back down the mountain.  But there’s a difference between keeping something to yourself and forgetting about it all together.  Mary, at the birth of Christ, kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, which I take to mean that she didn’t corner the nearest shepherd and talk him to death about these angels that kept showing up—but neither did she forget about what had happened.  It showed in her later actions.

But Peter, James, and John, just as soon as they get back down the mountain, they’re up to their old boneheaded decisions again. As soon as Jesus explains to them what will happen to him in Jerusalem, they panic.  As soon as he heals a child afflicted with seizures, they marvel.  They argue about which one of them is the greatest, the most important.  They get territorial, they threaten Samaritan villages with fire from the heavens.  And Jesus just sighs and keeps walking.    That moment of glory, that moment of truth, was short-lived.  The disciples are back in denial.

Maybe it was easier to refuse the truth.  Maybe the truth was too blinding and too glorious to be acknowledged.  Maybe the truth would have required too much change on their part—their entire worldview upended, everything questioned.  A whole existential crisis in one moment.

Despite our blithe proclamations to the contrary, being confronted with the truth is often scary. It’s often blinding, like it was up on that mountain.  TS Eliot wrote once that the reason humanity invented poetry was because we couldn’t deal with very much truth.  And think of how many of us, when we first contemplated ordination, immediately decided that couldn’t possibly be right.  How many times do we see something wrong in the world around us, in the church around us, and do nothing…because God will fix it, or we just need to have more faith.  Or believe more.

Yet, we proclaim Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We worship a God who is revealed in Truth, who is worshiped truly in spirit and truth, and who calls us in faith to deal with the world as it truly is—not as we wish it would be.  Faith in Christ is never a shield from the truth, but a tool to be used in shaping it.

When I was a kid, around 5 or 6, I went with my grandparents and mother to visit a military museum in Virginia Beach.  We looked at all the neat planes, all the uniforms, and when we were done, we walked out into the sunlight, and sat on the front steps.  My grandfather turned to me, and said, “When I was in the Navy, in August of 1945, I flew escort for the atomic bomb that dropped on Hiroshima.”  Everyone was shocked.  It was the first time he had ever talked about what he had done during the war.

It took him years–his whole lifetime–to reckon with what he had done back then.  And I’m not convinced he ever fully did.  The weight of what happened on this day 70 years ago hangs heavy on all of us–but the only way to move into the future God calls us to is to name the truth.  To see it.  As clearly as we can manage.

Simone Weil, a French mystic and fighter in the Resistance, said “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

My friends in Christ, we have nothing to fear from the truth, blinding as it is, as uncomfortable as it may be.  Christ is the Truth, and the Way forward into the future God holds for us.  And that is where we place our hope.

Amen

Home again, Home again

I have now returned from my month-long string of conferences.  First CREDO in north-central Florida, then General Convention in Salt Lake City.  Both amazing, both exhausting in their own ways.

(Though–a protip–there’s really no better way to head into the onslaught of stress that is General Convention than a good CREDO.  But the bliss from your massage will disappear by day 3.)

I tweeted a lot, as you may have noticed.  Unlike last Convention, the House of Twitter was quite full this year, and we had a great time together watching the livestream from home, or commenting on legislation from the floor from the Alternates Paddock.  This was especially helpful on days when we waded into the parliamentary weeds for 45 minutes at a time.

I also wrote some things, though not for the blog.  I mentioned in the last post that I would be writing for Deputy News, and indeed I did.  Here is what I wrote (in reverse chronological order, to keep you on your toes!):

I believe: On how the Episcopal Church is overcoming its crisis of confidence.  And also about the Book of Mormon.

Hanging out in #gc78: On how the Twitter community formed during Convention. Also the likelihood of a robot takeover.

Then I’ll Sing, ‘Cause I’ll know : On witnessing a history-making week, and why everyone should listen to Nina Simone

A day in the life: Praying to lose control: On the Acts8 evening prayer service, and listening to the WeMo teens talk about resurrection

General Convention and Episcopal Jeopardy!: On the process of hearing from the Presiding Bishop candidates, and the whimsical nature of gameshows (NB: a deputy came up to me after this was published and critiqued my Jeopardy metaphor, with great seriousness.  He argued that it should be Bingo, as any game aficionado would know.  So, kindly consider the Jeopardy metaphor redacted.)

A Day in the Life: Megan is a Guinea Pig:  On the triumphs of being a legislative aide, and how we should all respect the spirituality of Hermes from Futurama.

Avengers, Pandas descend on Salt Lake City: On the resemblance of Episcopalians to both the Avengers and pandas.

 

I wrote a lot during Convention (I’m just now realizing) and one of the weirdest and best parts of the experience for me was having person after person approach me, shake my hand, and say that they read my tweets, or read my articles.

I forget that people read this, or that anyone outside of my parents and one or two very dedicated sermon fans read this.

So, thank you again for reading.  You are amazing and wonderful and a delight to write for!

 

Use your words

I’ve been at CREDO this week.

CREDO is a delightful program put on by the Church Pension Group in which clergy are whisked away for a week at a time to contemplate their vocations, their ability to care for themselves, and to get in touch again with their initial call to ministry. 

Also, to accumulate more CPG swag than you can outfit a small army with.

My CREDO is taking place about an hour northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, without cell service, or reliable internet, and so I was late to the news of the Charleston massacre.  9 people, murdered at Emmanuel AME Church, by a white gunman— a man who sat through Wednesday night bible study beside his victims before he opened fire.

It’s been three days now and I am still having a hard time with words, with language.  Thursday morning, when I saw the news on Twitter, I didn’t have words either—all I did was go to our faculty and ask that we begin in prayer.  So we had calming words.  We had soothing words, flying away, this bright morning.

They were fine, those words. We prayed for peace, for reconciliation, for comfort in times of fear.  All good things, that I am glad we prayed for. 

But perhaps this is not what we needed. 

What we needed was confession, and repentance. 

It strikes me, sitting here in the Florida sunshine that despite all these words that have been flowing, that flow so freely each time something like this happens (and let’s be honest for a moment—this happens.  This has been happening for a long, long time.  Sometimes it’s the police, sometimes it’s the neighborhood watch, sometimes it’s a man who dislikes loud music, but it happens way too often than it should in 2015 America.)

And each time it happens, there are so many words we don’t hear.  There are words we don’t say.  There are stories we don’t tell.

Yet we must.  We have to tell them.  And I say “we” very deliberately, because the problem of racism in this country isn’t a problem that the Black community needs to solve all by themselves—the problem of racism is a problem that the White community needs to solve.  Me.  People who look like me.  This heritage of hate that my ancestors built and I continue to profit from.  That’s my problem.  That’s my church’s problem.  We started this fire.

For as long as we pretend that the only people most affected by racism are also the only ones tasked with ending it, we will get exactly nowhere. 

So we need to tell the truth.  We need to tell it all.  We need confession and repentance in this country.  We need to start recognizing and naming the truth of the racism all around us, infecting the very ground of our country, the institutions we rely on.  If racism is our besetting sin, then only confession will help get us on the road to healing. 

We need to acknowledge that for generations, until the last 40 years, most white Americans did not believe in the humanity of Black people—this despite the fact that Black people literally built this country from the ground up. 

We need to tell the truth about the fact that if you have White ancestors who lived in this country prior to 1865, they either owned slaves, or profited in some way from the practice.  (This is to quietly gloss over the fact that lots of folks also profited from Jim Crow laws and redlining, by the way.)

And, we need to be honest about the fact that people are complex.  Just because someone is nice, or a good conversationalist, or makes hilarious jokes, doesn’t also mean they can’t also be virulently racist, or divide humanity into “human” and “less than human”.

We need to tell the whole truth.  We need to use all our words.  Not just the placid ones that comfort in times of trial, not just the ones that cry out for peace, but the ones that name the conflict.  The ones that bewail our aching wounds.  The ones that call for justice and lament our brokenness. 

Those are the words we need. Use them. 

Red Shoes’ Guide to General Convention

It’s that time again:  the ComicCon of Ecclesiastical Polity, the Family Reunion of church geeks, the Carnival of Pious Delights.

It’s time for General Convention 2015!  (Motto: Someone’s got to teach the LDS about scotch and Starbucks.)

Numerous tips and tricks have been flying about the interwebz on how best to attend to this EpiscoFest.  The esteemed HoB/D listserv has many recommendations, for example.  These include such gems as 1.) wash your undies in the sink 2.) bring high energy bars 3.) be sure to wear shoes best appropriate for mountain hiking, since the conference center may become mountainous at ANY MOMENT. 4.) Convention involves many of the following things for which one should be prepared: walking uphill many miles in the snow/rain/deadly heat/swarms of locusts, etc,  endurance trials the likes of which many lesser beings do not survive, lengthy tales of How Things Were in Ye Olden Days When All Was Sunshine and Joy. 

They are not entirely correct—though far be it from me to discount the word of an Episcopal listserv (the Wave of the Future!!)  However, there are several more pressing concerns that might be of interest to you, if by chance, you don’t buy the theory that General Convention is a slightly more polite gladiator contest.  Thus, I give unto you:  The Red Shoes’ Guide to General Convention!

1.) Portable power packs are your friend. 

You will, of course, need your smart phone and your laptop.  You will therefore never be able to find an outlet when you need it.  Invest, therefore, in a solid portable power source. 

If you’re very industrious, charge others for the service.  Or, if you’re running for something, this is a great way to build goodwill.  “Vote for me, and I’ll give EVERYONE POWER!!!!”

2.) It’s not the Exhibit Hall—it’s the EpiscoMall.

Want a new clergy collar?  Want all the buttons to be found outside the Summer Olympics?  Head to the Exhibit Hall, where every blessed group in the Church has come to set up a booth.  EVERYONE.  No matter your political, theological, or culinary leanings, you’ll find someone to hang out with in there.  And they will probably give you free swag. 

For that, you should be leaving extra space in your suitcase, otherwise that new crocheted fair trade stole from Guatemala is getting shipped home,

3.) This is not the Hunger Games.

I mean—it’s not.  Though at times, you will be so busy that you forget what day it is, and whether you believe in the Real Presence or not, much less whether you’ve eaten in the last day.

Therefore, please do take meal breaks.  If not those, take coffee breaks (I’m assuming that like a good Episcopalian, you’ve staked out all the good coffee shops already). 

4.) This is important

While General Convention does frequently feel like a giant summer camp, we do have an important job to do.  It is General Convention that is tasked with running the church—not the bishops, not the PB, excellent though they may be.  It is us.  This matters.

As a side, this is why, when you see me, I’ll be wearing nice shoes and somewhat nice clothes.  Because this is important, and, for me, when I want to take things seriously, I wear nicer shoes and nicer clothes. 

But, you do you.

5.)  This is fun.

Lots of people hate experiencing the councils of the church.  All the Roberts Rules of Order, all the arguing, the arcane debates, the endless politics and vote-getting.

Me, I love it.  Because one of the charisms of our church is that we enjoy each other.  We have conga lines of the floor of the House of Deputies, we establish running jokes, we initiate Bingo games to liven things up. 

The work of God in the world is serious—nothing is more so.  But neither is anything more joyous. 

So, if you’re here in Salt Lake City, and you see me, come over and see me.  But most of all, have fun in our wild little carnival.  We’re lucky to do this.

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