the politicization of death

On October 4, 2017, Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, members of a 12-man unit on routine patrol in Niger, were ambushed and killed by a larger force of ISIS militants.

This past week, we have borne witness to what I consider the sordid politicization of death.

First, believing no two people ever mean the same thing when employing the same words and, thus, as the firmest believer in the necessity of defining one’s terms, I digress.

Politicization, in my lexicon, is the act or process of becoming politically conscious. Here, I understand “politically” in the primary sense, derived from the Greek polis (city) and, broadly applied, the human community (which is as expansive – locally, regionally, nationally, globally – as one’s imagination allows). Thus, to be politicized is to be aware and to practice with effective, respectful care the art of human relationships.

In the clutch of human selfish self-interest, politicization can be distorted. An example: One’s negative description and definition of the word or action (or unspoken word or untaken action) of another so to depict, so to diminish that person as lacking in character or virtue or falling short of accepted ethical norms.

This, for me, is when politicization is made sordid. This is what we witnessed this past week.

President Donald Trump telephoned Mrs. Myeshia Johnson, wife of Staff Sargent La David Johnson, to express his condolences and those of a grateful nation, saying, in part, as it has been reported, “He knew what he signed up for, but it still hurts.” U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida and a friend of the Johnson family criticized Mr. Trump as lacking empathy. Mr. Trump defended himself, denying Representative Wilson’s characterization.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I consider him zealously egoistic and injudicious in speech and action, at times, dangerously, given his role and responsibilities. (However, I am not one who claims, “He’s not my President.” I am an American. Mr. Trump is the American president. Therefore, he is my president.)

I also am less than sanguine about Representative Wilson’s public and repeated declarations of her discontent with the content of Mr. Trump’s words to Mrs. Johnson. For her criticisms, in my view, precipitated a furious round of point-and-counterpoint because of which the primary attention has been given to the politicization of death and not on the lives and legacies, the memories of and the memorials to the dead.

I never served in the military. In World War II, my father, William, served honorably in the army in the Philippines. Through his recounts of his experiences and his revelations of the scars he bore, some invisible, but no less abiding, I, at an early age, learned to honor the sacred sacrifice of all who wear the uniform and bear arms, whether near or far, to maintain the liberties Americans enjoy (though, yes, it must be confessed, imperfectly and unequally).

Thus, this day, I want to – I will – do nothing but pray:

O gracious God, Sovereign Source of all life, Supreme Solace for the dead, I pray You receive into Your nearest, dearest Presence in Your heavenly habitations the souls of Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright: Heal their wounds, bind them fast and forever in Your peace. And, by the living breath of Your Spirit, comfort, come with strength upon the families and friends of these fallen brothers in arms, guiding them through the shadowy valleys of their grief with the grace of the light of Your everlasting love; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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#MeToo

In the immediate aftermath of the daily increasing revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long sexual predation against women, the #MeToo campaign was launched with a simple, straightforward, profoundly compelling message:

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Carried aloft on the wings of social media, the response or rather, truly, sadly, the manifold responses of many, many women, some chronicling, detailing particular personal experiences of harassment and assault has been…is an unassailable testament to “the magnitude of the problem.”

My fear – perhaps, I confess, rooted in my prevailing pessimism about the perfectibility (or rather my persuasion about the imperfectability) of human nature – is that little to nothing will change; that, in days, weeks, months, years to come, #MeToo will have proven to be a powerfully cathartic, personally transformative, but not a communally revolutionary experience.

Why?

Because sexual predation, as, I believe, is true of all oppression, is an expression of the exercise of power, and…

Power is that capacity for one, always within the context of an enabling system, structure, society, to will and to do something, in this case, to harass and to abuse women, and…

As I read and reflect on human history, I cannot think of a time when the powerful, for the sake of the justice of equality, relinquished their privilege, however ethically bankrupt, to will and to do.

In the spirit of the Magnificat,[1] Mary’s song of praise to God in her reverent recognition of the One she bore in her womb, especially her words – He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly – I, in faith, hope, and love, shall pray fervently that I am wrong. For I, and I trust in league with many, many women and men, with the help of God and helping God, shall pray and labor for change.

 

Footnote:

[1] The full text of the Magnificat or The Song of Mary (Luke 1.46-55):

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,

for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

me, too?

Harvey Weinstein, American film producer and studio executive, has been exposed publicly as a long-time serial sexual predator who, wielding the power of his professional largesse, used, misused, abused his position to force his wanton intentions upon women. Weinstein stands and falls in a sorrowfully extended (interminable?) line of notable men, long known by some in their inner circles, who have been abusers of their prominence to assault, for their personal needs and gains, the values and virtues, minds and bodies, souls and spirits of women.

Yesterday, scrolling through my Facebook feed, I read and wept over the numbers of women who responded to the post: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Among my FB friends answering “Me, too” were woman I love and respect and one I most love and respect, my wife, Pontheolla. I know her. I know her story. Therefore, her affirmation of her union with women who have been harassed or assaulted was no surprise to me. That does not mean that this, her reminder of her pain, does not hurt; her, first and foremost.

Yet, as an introspective sort, my next thought was to ask myself (one who shares the same birth year as Weinstein and, to some degree, a similar cultural sensitivity or rather insensitivity): Paul, have you sexually harassed or assaulted a woman and, upon soulful reflection, must you be compelled to attest: Me, too?

Upon that soulful reflection, I answer “No”. However, that does not mean that I, in some way, by thought, word, or deed (or two of the three or all three), have not demeaned and dismissed a woman as my lesser. For, I know, I have so done. For this, I repent.

party hardy!

a sermon, based on Matthew 22.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2017

What a bizarre story! Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding banquet given by a king.

Who wouldn’t want to be invited? Clearly, none of these folks, who, summoned once, then twice, the second time with the added enticement of a description of the menu of succulent oxen and fatted calves (Yum!), refuse to come, and some of whom kill the messengers! The furious king retaliates, murdering the murderers, who are his subjects, and destroys their city, which is in his kingdom! Nevertheless, the party’s still on, the king inviting people off the street!

Sometimes when I’m preaching, as my personal reality-check, to assure myself that I’ve neither confused you nor left you along the way, I’ll ask you, “Are you with me so far?” As I read on this parable, I hear Jesus asking, “Paul, are you with me so far?” No!

Ah, then I remember that back in that late-first century day, Matthew was referring to the kingdom-banquet of God’s son, the Messiah, Jesus, the invitation to which some had rejected. The violence of the immediate outcome notwithstanding, our focus, as Christians, those who have accepted the invitation, is, must be on what happens at the party; where the king chastises and casts out a guest who, either disregarding or disrespecting the occasion, has failed to dress appropriately and, therefore, is out of place and might as well not have come at all.

Parable of the Great Banquet, Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

My sisters and brothers, God’s salvation in Jesus is a banquet. You and I have been invited to wear the robes of God’s love and justice, to feast on the food of God’s love and justice, to dance to the tune of God’s love and justice, and to share God’s love and justice with all. This, I submit to you, is what it means for a Christian to party hardy! So, let’s wear, feast, dance, and share God’s love and justice, thus, demonstrating our delight in being invited and having accepted the invitation to God’s banquet!

 

Illustration: The Parable of the Great Banquet, Jan Luyken (1649-1712). Note: Luyken’s depiction of the great banquet portrays the moment when the king (on the right with his arm outstretched) directs his attendants to “Bind (the guest who chose not to don a banquet robe) hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness…”

An Instructed Eucharist: Rite II, Part 1 – The Liturgy of the Word

epiphany-laurens-sc-facade

The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany

Laurens, South Carolina

The mission of Church of the Epiphany is to celebrate the light of Jesus Christ, proclaim the Gospel, deepen our faith, nurture and encourage all people

The 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2017

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Introduction

This morning’s Instructed Eucharist, covering the first part of the service, the Liturgy of the Word, is intended to give us a greater understanding of the Holy Eucharist, “the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.”[1] Today, we will explore in depth the first part of the Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Word. Next Sunday, we will continue with an in depth consideration of the second part of the Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Table.

The word eucharist means thanksgiving. The essence of Christian worship is giving thanks to God for creation and especially for the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

The early Church established the Eucharist based on Jesus’ actions on the eve of Passover; the annual Jewish celebration commemorating the liberation of the Hebrew people from Egyptian bondage. Moses, at God’s command, told the Hebrews to place the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts as a sign to God’s avenging angel to pass over their households. Death was visited on the Egyptians and the Hebrew people were freed.[2]

Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion coincided with Passover. The Church proclaims that Jesus is our Passover Lamb, whose death liberates us from bondage to sin. So the Apostle Paul declares: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.”[3]

At that Passover meal, Jesus took, blessed, and offered to his friends bread and wine; symbols of his coming sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross. Thus, we call the Holy Eucharist[4] a sacrament; the bread and wine being “outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace”[5] of communion with God in Christ. Although a bishop or a priest presides at the Eucharist, Jesus is the chief presider and all the people are celebrants.

The Liturgy of the Word

Processional Hymn 383 – Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature

Narrator: The Opening Acclamation and Response is an invitation to holy conversation between God and us. It also declares why we have gathered.

Presider          Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

People             And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Narrator: Entering God’s presence and remembering Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,”[6] in the Collect for Purity we pray that God cleanses our hearts.

Presider          Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

All                   Amen.

Narrator: Thankful that God, who loves us, has cleansed us, we sing Gloria in excelsis, “Glory to God in the highest.”

All       Glory to God in the highest,

and peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,

almighty God and Father,

we worship you, we give you thanks,

we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,

Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sin of the world:

have mercy on us;

you are seated at the right hand of the Father:

receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,

you alone are the Lord,

you alone are the Most High,

Jesus Christ,

with the Holy Spirit,

in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Narrator: The Salutation acknowledges our interdependence as priest and people in our offering of worship. We also express our unity in our customary response to prayer. When we say, “Amen”, meaning “so be it”, we affirm our agreement with what has been said.

Presider          The Lord be with you.

People             And also with you.

Presider          Let us pray.

All kneel.

Narrator: The Collect of the Day gathers together or collects the themes of the day as expressed in the Bible passages to be read.

Presider          Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we   may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All                   Amen.

All sit.

Narrator: The Liturgy of the Word focuses on the Bible. The order of the readings was established in the 7th and 8th centuries.

Old Testament reading – Exodus 32.1-14

After the reading, the Reader says, The Word of the Lord.

All                   Thanks be to God.

All stand to chant the psalmPsalm 106.1-6, 19-23

New Testament epistle reading – Philippians 4.1-9

After the reading, the Reader says, The Word of the Lord.

All                   Thanks be to God.

Sequence Hymn 645 – The King of love my shepherd is

Narrator: The Gospel, taken from one of the biblical accounts of the life of Jesus, precedes the sermon. Hence, it is read from the pulpit.[7] The Gospel is read by an ordained minister signifying the historic continuity of the Church from ancient times to the present day. We stand and face the reader to indicate the importance of this reading.

Presider          The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22.1-14)

All                   Glory to you, Lord Christ.

After the reading, the Presider says, The Gospel of the Lord.

All                   Praise to you, Lord Christ.

All sit.

Narrator: Having heard biblical readings that originally were directed to a particular group of people, at a particular time and place, and for a particular purpose, the Sermon seeks to interpret these texts for the current day.

The Sermon – Party Hardy!

Narrator: The Sermon concludes with the Nicene Creed. The Creed, from the Latin, credo, meaning, “I believe”, is a summary statement of Christian belief.

All stand.

All       We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Narrator: The Prayers of the People largely are intercessory in nature. We pray for the Church, its life and mission, the nations and all in authority, the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, the needs of those who are afflicted, and the departed.

All kneel.

Reader  In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.

Silence

Reader   For all people in their daily life and work;

People    For our families, friends, and neighbors, and for those who are alone.

Reader   For this community, the nation, and the world;

People    For all who work for justice, freedom, and peace.

Reader   For the just and proper use of your creation;

People    For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.

Reader    For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;

People     For those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

Reader    For the peace and unity of the Church of God;

People     For all who proclaim the Gospel, and all who seek the Truth.

Reader  For Michael, our Presiding Bishop, Andrew, our Bishop, Paul, our Priest, and for all bishops and other ministers;

People   For all who serve God in his Church.

Reader  For the special needs and concerns of this congregation.  Hear us, Lord;

People   For your mercy is great.

Reader  We thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life. We will exalt you, O God our King;

People   And praise your Name for ever and ever.

Reader  We pray for all who have died, that they may have a place in your eternal kingdom. Lord, let your loving-kindness be upon them;

People  Who put their trust in you.

Narrator: Having opened ourselves to God’s presence through scripture, sermon, and prayer, we offer ourselves once more in the Confession. We acknowledge the ways in which we sin or “miss the mark” of authentic and faithful living.

Reader  We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.

Silence

All           Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Narrator: In response to our confession and our intention to reform, the priest, in the Absolution, does not absolve sins, but rather declares God’s forgiveness made available to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Presider  Almighty God, have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our      Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.

All                   Amen.

Narrator: The restoration of our relationship with God is reaffirmed in the pronouncement of the Peace. In our renewed peace with God, we share it with others.

Presider          The peace of the Lord be always with you.

All                   And also with you.

All exchange the Peace.

The Holy Communion or the Liturgy of the Table

Offertory

Doxology

Praise God, from whom all blessing flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

The Great Thanksgiving

Presider          The Lord be with you.

People             And also with you.

Presider          Lift up your hearts.

People             We lift them to the Lord.

Presider          Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People             It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Presider          For you are the source of light and life, you made us in your image, and called us to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Sanctus – Holy, holy, holy

The Breaking of the Bread

Communion Hymn 325 – Let us break bread together

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Blessing

Recessional Hymn 625 – Ye holy angels bright, who wait at God’s right hand

Dismissal

 

Footnotes:

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, page 13

[2] See Exodus 12

[3] 1 Corinthians 5.7-8

[4] The Holy Eucharist is known by a variety of titles, each focusing on an aspect of its meaning or arising out of its historical development. The Lord’s Supper affirms that the meal belongs to no Christian assembly, but to Jesus, who offers it to us. The Holy Communion affirms that through this meal we are brought into union with Jesus and one another. The Mass is derived from the Latin dismissal in the Roman Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, “Ite, missa est”, “Go, the mass is ended.” The Divine Liturgy emphasizes that Eucharist is a communal act of God’s people responding to God’s love in Jesus by offering themselves in worship.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer, The Catechism, The Sacraments, page 857

[6] Matthew 5.8

[7] In many places, the Gospel is read in the midst of the congregation following a procession, symbolizing the carrying of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to the world. When the Gospel is announced, we may make a sign of the cross on our foreheads, lips, and breasts indicating our intention to keep Jesus’ words in our thoughts, speech, and hearts.

the separable individuality of suffering

A friend, Daniel Gutiérrez, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania – though we’ve never met in the flesh, via Facebook we have connected and, even before, I, having known of him, Episcopal Church circles trending toward small, have admired his life and ministry from afar – today, in a FB post, wrote: Monday will be two weeks since the horrific violence in Las Vegas. Have we forgotten? Have we moved to the next news cycle? Let us embrace His Kingdom.

Bishop Gutiérrez, for me, an incarnation of passion for God’s love and justice, reminds me ever to remember, to “embrace” the sorrows of my sisters and brothers, in the instant case of his post, the October 1 mass shooting. His clarion call of loving and just remembrance gives me pause to reflect on how, if not easily, inevitably I do “(move) to the next news cycle.”

Thinking about this, I turned to Pontheolla and asked, not to induce her guilt, but rather as my reality-check, “Honey, when was Hurricane Harvey?”[1] She answered, “I don’t remember exactly.” I replied, “Neither do I.”

I repeated my question concerning Hurricanes Irma[2] and Maria,[3] the Mexican earthquake,[4] and the current California wildfires.[5] Her answers, the same. My replies, the same.

I wonder. Is this not true for any (all?) of us?

Do we not move on unless and until “it” (whate’er the tragedy) is our immediate experience or that we are vitally, viscerally connected because our loved ones, those near and dear to us, have suffered?

Do we not move on given the press, the pressure of our daily inundation through the 24-hour news cycle that continues to operate under an ages-old mandate, “if it bleeds, it leads” (which is to say, suffering, more than good news, sells, therefore, dominates the headlines)?

Do we not move on, for suffering hurts and there is only so much that we, psychically, even physically, given our own trials and tribulations, worries and woes, can tolerate?

I suspect that for these reasons, perhaps primarily the separable distance of tragedy not personally experienced, the painstakingly honest answer is “yes”, we do move on.

Yet, Bishop Daniel, I want to do as you implore…

I want not to move on…

I want to stay, as damnably discomfiting as it is, in the pain of the tragedies of others.

Why?

At most, for I want my mind and heart, soul and spirit never to be inured, desensitized to the hurts of others, so to be able and willing to act where I can, when I can, how I can for their good, and

At least, for I believe that the sufferings of my sisters and brothers, whate’er the tragedy, as easily, perhaps as inevitably could well have been mine and could well one day be mine.

 

Footnotes:

[1] mid-late August

[2] August 30-mid September

[3] mid-September-early October

[4] September 19

[5] early October-ongoing

if…then…: part 2 – hazarding some answers

I ended yesterday’s blog post (October 9, 2017: if…then…): I wonder, why can we not, will we not, do we not fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books?

In my continuing wonderment, I hazard some answers or rather, in the fairness of honesty – for the subject of gun control, though my concern, is beyond my realm of expertise – some guesses to my question.

It would be easy, too easy, therefore, I think, unfair and dishonest, to attribute or blame “it” (our American unwillingness to do anything more vigorously legislative concerning gun control) on the National Rifle Association and the greater gun lobby. Yes, with the support of millions upon millions of dollars and millions of gun-rights advocates, the NRA can and does influence elections and, therefore, legislation or no legislation.

Yet that’s only a part of it, for, it seems to me, the immobility of our inability to do anything is, must be a complex matter rooted (again, hazarding a guess) in our national psyche. And this rootedness in the soil of the American soul (again, hazarding a guess) has to do with the power of the symbol of the gun.

Now, I’m not opposed to individual, private gun ownership. However, I neither have owned nor desire to own a gun. So, in an effort to understand, dreaming my way into a mindset other than mine own…

If I was or wanted to be a gun owner, then I wonder might that be an expression of my desire and need to take individual hold in hand (literally! physically!) of:

  • my 2nd Amendment rights and freedoms, especially in reaction and resistance to what I perceive (indeed, fear) as the external intrusion and erosion of those rights and freedoms by the government? Perhaps, and even deeper,
  • my sense of security in an era of unparalleled (read: uncertain, power-shifting, and status quo-threatening) social and cultural change? Perhaps, and still deeper,
  • my self-confidence in the glaring light and encroaching shadow of my ever-increasing awareness that I control little to nothing of the circumstance and chance of this world I inhabit and thus, the life I live (where even my free choices are in response to uncontrollable circumstance and chance)? Perhaps, and

If any (or all) of my guesses and more than I possibly can guess – all powerful, abiding, perhaps unconscious and, thus, unspoken reasons, verily, forces – are true, then I don’t wonder (or, at least, I wonder less) why we can’t, won’t, don’t fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books.