Category Archives: God’s love

A Baptismal Proclamation following Charlottesville

Yesterday, at the 10:30 liturgy, we baptized five children, four babies and one toddler. The sacrament of baptism is one of the most powerful liturgies of our church. In the language of the liturgy, we make a powerful declaration of our belief/faith (Credo– “I believe . . . “) in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Such a declaration of belief of faith is an important public proclamation of our understanding of God and God’s saving message to us. But for me, while the declaration of belief/faith is hugely important, it is the series of questions in the baptismal covenant portion of the liturgy that is most profoundly important to me. In essence, this collection of questions asks us, “If we truly believe this, what will we do to make this real in our lives and in our world?” The questions of the liturgy guide us to consider elements of the Christian life and faith that call us to action or, as I so often say, call us to declare publicly we will live our baptism/faith in the world. Those questions are as follows:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the
prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good
News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?

Notice the action words contained in these questions: continue, persevere, resisting, proclaim, seek, serve, loving, strive, and respect. Our baptismal covenant is not a passive proposition! We are not baptized to sit quietly in our private prayer closet and blissfully ignore the challenges of a broken and sinful world. We are not called into isolated solitude, unconcerned about the challenges and attacks visited upon the least or marginalized among us. We are called, in baptism, to be the Body of Living Christ in the world.

Beyond the action words, these questions of the baptismal covenant call us into the moral and ethical community of the apostles. Baptism calls us to be a living community of grace and love in the world, making the sacrament of our faith, bread and prayers, real and available to all. Baptism calls us to reject evil and confess our failings. Baptism challenges us to evangelism, to make the Gospel, real and palpable in the world. Baptism requires we reach out to all people, standing for justice, peace, and dignity for every human being.

To each of these questions, we respond, “I will with God’s help.”

I will–This is the declaration to action we affirm every time we celebrate a baptism. I will . . .

On Sunday, five young children were welcomed into the Body of Christ. As we presented them, I asked the congregation, on behalf of Christians everywhere, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these children in their life in Christ?”. We replied, “We will.”

On Friday and Saturday, in Charlottesville, VA, our nation and our faith was shattered by unfettered evil, wickedness, and malevolence. The organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the neo-Nazis, the alt-Right, White Nationalists, and other related hate groups, must understand they are completely and totally rejected by the moral and ethical beliefs held by the Body of Christ—the Church. Such rejection must be clear, emphatic, and powerful. In moments like this, the faithful must be unrelenting in their public rejection of such manifestations of hate and evil. The Church has failed this challenge at historic moments in the past. We must not fail in the challenge we face in this present moment.

Five young children baptized on Sunday, with long and full lives before them, should expect us to live the faith we confessed as we presented them for baptism. God heard us when we confessed our belief/faith and responded to each question, “I will.” Each of us affirmed we will “do all in our power to support these children in their life in Christ.”

When my first daughter was born, as I reflected on the broken history into which she was born–of slavery, of the Nazi Holocaust, of the violent rejection by too many of the Civil Rights movement–I committed to never stand passively and allow such evil to progress unchallenged in her world. For each of my daughters, for all the children I have presented for baptism, and for my Lord and my God, I commit to unreserved and active rejection of those who promulgate hate, intolerance, racism, or any form of malignant, vile, and perverted evil.

The Charlottesville event and the rising, unfettered hate-movement reviving in our country is a challenge to the Body of Christ–the Church. Let us with courage, faith, and decisiveness reject the darkness of evil and hate in all its forms. Let us be the light of Christ in the world that overwhelms this present darkness. Let us make our baptismal covenant and our faith real and alive in the world.

Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alt-right, Baptism, Confederate flag, episcopal, Episcopal priest, faithfulness, God's love, Holocaust, Justice, Nazi, racism, terrorism

Druggie, let me be your servant

homeless woman 3Unexpected visitors are not such a strange thing for me.  It is a part of what I do.

I got a call that there was a woman downstairs, upset and crying.  Again, not an unusual scenario for me.  I was preparing for noonday Eucharist and was delayed from going straight down.  The call came again, “Could I come down quick?”  I headed down thinking I could handle this quickly.  Frankly, most of the crying I encounter is for effect in order to achieve a scam.  Scams are not hard to spot and, while I try to be courteous, I dispatch scams fairly quickly.

Tom and Karen were distributing food in the entry way and told me she was outside.  I walked out and found the women sitting on the bench by the door holding hands with one of the older, African American clients of our pantry and commodity programs.  The young women was sobbing and the older woman was gently consoling her.  A desperate older woman consoling an even more desperate younger woman, one black, one white.  I immediately knew this was a scene of human compassion and grace—no scam here.  “We were just praying,” the older woman said to me almost apologetically, me all dressed as the official holy person.  “Please,” I replied, “keep praying, it is a good thing.”  The younger woman looked at me and asked if I was a priest.  “Can we talk?” she asked.

Because of construction, I have few places to offer for private conversation.  I suggested the bench was about as private as I had right then.  The older woman excused herself and I sat beside the woman as she continued to sob.

She is a tiny person, 100 or so pounds, maybe 5 feet tall.  She has long, brownish/auburny/grayish hair all tied in a knot on her head.  Her skin is weathered and her arms are splotched with scars and sores.  I think I see some injection scarring.  She is a bit grimy and has the gaunt look of homelessness.  Her eyes are red from crying.  I am not sure how old she is, though I later find out she recently turned 42—I had guessed older before she told me.

I am going to miss Eucharist.

“I am from Dayton, Ohio, and I came here to get clean . . .”

A long story unfolded.  Spoiler alert—by her own admission she destroyed her life and lost everything important to her by making poor choices, choices she knows to be bad but she cannot help making them.

“I am so humiliated . . . I am not like this . . . I was raised in a house.  We had bathrooms and beds and everything . . . I know what is right . . .  but I just cannot do right . . . I have to panhandle on the streets; it is awful and I am so embarrassed . . . If I died, nobody would even care . . . I am so alone . . . I just want my momma to come hold me and make it better . . .  But I am not suicidal; I am too chicken for that.   If I could just go to sleep and not wake up, I would be okay with that.  There would just be nothingness where I once was . . .”

Part 1:  She became addicted to alcohol around 13 or 14.  She was the oldest of three, the only daughter, and she could never get it right.  She moved around a lot and had trouble making friends.  Way too early, she disappeared into her own oblivion of alcohol and later drugs.  She managed for awhile and even stayed clean throughout two pregnancies.  Her husband was abusive and violent to her and her two sons.  She escaped him and went back to live close to her parents in Dayton.  Initially, she had a good job, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and was doing good raising her two sons.  About ten years ago she unexpectedly lost her job.  She went from $30/hour to $8/hour and life became desperate.  In Ohio, heroin is the epidemic drug and has been for years.  Struggling and overwhelmed by the impossibility of raising two sons and surviving on $8/hour, she fell deeply into the heroin abyss.  Repeated attempts to clean up failed.  She came to Kansas City in February because she heard there was a good program here.  Initially she was successful, but eventually fell in with the local demon—methamphetamine aka “crystal meth.”  Two months ago she left treatment, became homeless, and the descent into this new abyss became unrelenting.  Her youngest son turned 19 last week and she had nothing to offer him.  Her backpack stolen at some homeless camp, she lost everything including her phone.  She could not call her “baby boy” on his birthday.  This was an awakening for her.

Part 2: She is a military BRAT.  She was born at Landstuhl Hospital at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.  For all her life, she moved every three years.  She formed no lasting relationships and moved when she was a senior in high school, losing whatever connections she had from her high school days.  Her family “landed” in Dayton, Ohio only because it was the last place her father was stationed and her parents liked it there.  She had no connections or friends there.  She expressed to me a sense of desperate loneliness that followed her all her life.   Growing up military left her with no support system or life-long friendships.  She felt terribly alone all the time.

Part 3:  She asked me for nothing.  At one point, she mentioned she was hungry.  One of our volunteers happened by and I asked him to bring one of the Pantry “homeless bags” out to me.  He brought one right out.  I recalled seeing a “self-heating” stew box in these packs and was curious.  I inventoried the contents of the food bag for her.  “No” to nuts, “no” to hot-dogs, “yes” to the M&Ms, “yes” to a piece of bread.  I showed her the stew box.  She was curious too.  “How does it heat itself?” she asked.  As she continued to tell me her story, I prepared the self-heating potato and bbq meat stew for her.  I won’t spoil the magic of the “self-heating” stew, but she gobbled down a hot, steaming stew occasionally reporting how good it was.  I did miss the Eucharist in the church, but I think we shared a holy meal at the entry way of the church.

Part 4:  Mostly I was just a listener today.  She was processing out-loud and had things she needed to say and hear herself say.  I just helped her focus on what she was saying.  I encouraged her to know that the future was yet to be written and now, because she had crashed into her own wall of despair, she had an opportunity to write the future in a different way.  We considered the good choices she needs to make to move forward in a better way.  I assured her she was not alone in this.  God, incarnated by the community of St.Paul’s, was with her as she journeyed forward.  I gave her my card and said I would be her friend and supporter during this effort to turn her life.  We defined a plan of next steps and she struck out planning to enter the detox facility a few blocks from the church or at Truman.  She seemed resolute and ready.  She wants to go home and make things work with her boys.  She knows she must be clean, sober, and steady if she wants to return and be accepted.  I pray she is up to the hard work ahead of her.   I pray we can be servant to her along the way.

1 Comment

Filed under children, drugs, episcopal, God's love, Military brat, sorrow

Raindrops

This morning, sitting at the coffee bar, sipping hot green tea, and savoring every bite of lemon lavender pound cake ( at a favorite neighborhood bakery–Heirloom Bakery & Hearth), it is pouring down rain outside.  Some great 60s era music is playing and I am feeling remarkably tranquil.  I am reading a great book (Outlaw Christian ) published recently by a young theologian ( @JacquelinBussie ) I met at a conference at the University of Virginia years ago.  I am aware suddenly of a mysterious peacefulness filling me.  I feel surrounded by the peace of God, embraced in God’s infinite capacity for love (quite the opposite of the hopelessness I wrote of a few blogs back).  I am startled to attentiveness.  What is this?  My eyes wander over the room wondering what changed, what brings this presence of God?   Then I realize it is aural not visual. The rain is pounding on the metal roof!

Years ago, while my dad was in Vietnam and I knew my life could change in an instant, the only time I felt safe was at my grandparents’ home, late at night, tucked in bed, and the rain beating on the uninsulated tin roof above me.  Alone, in the dark, under a pile of handmade quilts, the rhythm of the rain pounding on the roof somehow made me know God knew my fear and was with me always.  I can’t explain it; but, I knew it.

This morning, amidst the occasional clap of thunder and the rain beating its rhythm on the metal roof, me and 14 year-old me shared a moment.  And God was there.  And I felt safe, and peaceful, and loved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Army Brat, episcopal, God's love, grandparents