Sunday, November 15, 2015

Martin of Tours and St. Martin in the Fields: A Patronal Feast

The patronal feast is always a special date for every congregation.  I tried to find out how we got named St. Martin’s in the Field and so far haven’t found out.  (As we come close to our 50th anniversary in a couple of years, it might be interesting for those who know that story to put it in print.)  

Usually the saint for which a congregation is named is important to the spirit of a parish and for us here at St. Martin’s that is true.  But the name of St. Martin’s in the Fields is also the name of an important parish in the heart of London in Trafalgar Square that may have figured in the naming of our parish. Often parishes get named after parishes in 'old country'.  So I did some
checking. I am a classical music aficionado and am used to hearing music from the Academy of St. Martin’s of the Field, one of the finest music schools of the UK. I knew it started from a parish in London, so I decided to do a bit of study on that congregation.  

The earliest date on that parish is 1222.  It kind of puts our history in a bit of perspective, doesn’t it?  It was built in the fields between Westminster Abby and the Diocese of London and in the 13th century there was a bit of a kerfuffle about to whom the parish belonged —the Abby or the Bishop of London. (Sounds a bit familiar, huh?)  Now, that church is in the center of London in Trafalgar Square in what is considered the center of London.  It has been a church for the homeless for centuries, a place where 'the doors are never closed.' 

Our parish was named a little less than 50 years ago, and it would not surprise me because of the lovely fields around us.  But like the London church, we are quickly becoming the center of a lively community, no longer out in the country where we were just within the lifetime of many of us. When I started teaching here in Keller in 1967, I can assure you there was nothing here BUT fields! 

 Another little piece of information I found was that a distant cousin of mine was the organist at St. Martin’s in the Fields, Trafalgar Square.  I can no longer just find that my presence here at St. Martin’s is just a matter of serendipity.

The Saint Martin for whom both Trafalgar Square and here in Keller/Southlake is named is one of the early Christian spiritual powerhouses.  Martin was born in the early 4th century in Hungary, the son of a member of the Roman Imperial Horse Guard.  He spent his childhood near Pavia, Italy and at the age of 10 attended the Christian community there. There was a certain amount of mobility at that time as there is today. 

Against his parent’s wishes he became a catechumen, much as the Emperor Constantine had done.  At the age of 15 he was drafted into the cavalry and stationed in France.  The military at that time was as much the agent of public works for the empire as it was a fighting arm. They built roads, towns and aqueducts.
When Martin was 18, he met a man who had too little clothing to keep him warm.  With his military sword, Martin cut his lush military cloak in half and gave it to the man.  That night Martin dreamed that the man who had received the cloak was Christ.  He had been touched by the spirit of God. The next morning, he went to the priest and asked to be baptized.  Not long after his baptism there was a threat of war by local Gallic chieftains.  Martin went to his military commander and said he was a ‘soldier for Christ and he could not fight.’  He was arrested for cowardice.  He offered himself to be placed on the front lines and help his colleagues, but said he would not carry a sword. The military threat dissolved and Martin was dismissed from the army in France.  

Martin set himself up as a hermit on an island off the Italian/French coast.  Soon he came into contact with  Hilary of Poitier, the earliest bishop of the area, and attached himself as a hermit.  Martin became a monk before the idea of monasticism was very well developed.  Others, men and women, flocked to him for advice and direction. 

Christianity was still new in the area and it was difficult to find those who could lead.  The people of Tours needed a bishop.  They knew that Martin would not accept the position so they invited him to tend to someone who was ill in Tours. The people of Tours wanted to press him into service as bishop. Martin tried to escape by hiding among the geese, but the geese gave him away. And to this day, Martin is considered the patron of geese. The herald of hospitality among the Celtic people has always been the goose.

Martin was consecrated as the bishop of Tours in 371.  But instead of being housed in the bishops’ palace, he chose to live in the caves across the river from the city where many new Christians came to live with him. The Abby of Tours grew up there and became a center of learning and remarkable devotion in which all were welcome. Martin founded monasteries and parishes throughout that part of France.  And through this time of the
“Dark Ages” these monasteries became the centers of education for England and Europe after the fall of Roman Empire.

The mark of hospitality of Tours was one that was absorbed into Benedictine spirituality some 250 years later, and it has characterized the lives of those who followed in the spirit of Martin of Tours. We really do not know much about the life of Martin per se, but he was a soldier who refused to
fight.  He understood the meaning of Christ’s peace.  It is not the way we think of Christianity today, but perhaps it is a part of Christianity that perhaps we need to recapture. 

He was a man who preferred to follow Christ by being a monk, but was pressed into service to the whole of Christian community to serve in leadership.  He was called to serve Christ not the way HE wanted but in a manner that was needed.  He stood firm in Trinitarian theology at a time when the Emperor was touting Arianism.  Yet he did not believe in the wars that were fostered to root out those who did not believe the way he did.  He was outspoken in his opposition of the institution of the death penalty for those who were convicted of heresy.  He was an icon for peace and hospitality at a time when unrest was beginning to infect various parts of western Europe.  The Abby of Tours, Marmoutier  and Liege and  the various convents
founded by him became the refuges for pilgrims in the age of pilgrimage and marked the highway systems of what is now France, northern Italy and Spain. 

So what do we have to take from our patron today?  Martin, as a person, was a person who personally took his faith seriously.  His personal relationship with God in Christ moved him to center on service, kindness and living out the peace he saw in Christ.  The manner of his living informed his theology and vice versa.  Wealth and position were not for him.  He stood for what he understood was the way that Christ had taught and he ministered in that light. Conscientious objection was not centered in fear.  It was a clear conviction to fight was singularly opposed to the values of Christ.  It is ironic that he became the patron of the military in the 19th century with his firm conviction about peace.

 Hospitality was also part of how he saw his commitment in community. Those places which he founded became places where people in need could find welcome no matter their situation.  He refused to find fault with those with whom he disagreed.  He would not malign those who held different ideas of faith but required those who followed him to offer generosity despite the differences.  He was a bishop who did not garner power or use his authority to demean others.  He led by humble example.
Saints are not necessarily remarkable men and women.  They are plain ordinary people who face their lives with a single mindedness centered on Jesus.  They give us a vision of how we can face the things in our lives with the kind of vision that Jesus had.  The early saints have some wonderful stories (we call it hagiography) told about them that may or may not be factual, but they are true to the character of their gifts.  What I see in Martin is the greatness of the person, but also what has followed in the institutions that have been raised up in his name.  All over Europe, institutions were raised up
under the influence of Martin of Tours.  They became the hospitals, the monasteries, the places of higher education especially in France and the stops of cordiality on the pilgrim ways to Compostella in Spain, to Rome and even to the Holy Lands.  Even St. Martin’s in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, founded some 800 years after Martin’s life, has a tradition of being a place of education and hospitality to the homeless, ‘never closing its doors’. 

The kind of peace that Martin lived is the kind of peace that we too can live here at our St. Martin’s.  And while we remember Martin of Tours as a soldier, he was a soldier who called for the laying down of arms in the name of Jesus.  He was a bishop who laid down his raiment so that the poor could be clothed.  He was a saint that spoke quite theologically but refused to demand the expelling of others if they believed
differently.  These are all qualities that we, here in Keller/Southlake, can call from ourselves as we conform to the life of our patron.  It is the way that we celebrate his life with our own.  Even in the youth of our foundation—50 years is not a very long time in the story of Christ, we stand in an ancient tradition as it is reformed into the newness of faith today.  We stand upon the shoulders of a humble man, a faithful man, a peaceful man who followed in the ways of Jesus.  And we stand upon the stones of monasteries and dioceses of Europe, built also as a place of hospitality, peace and education.  And we should be able to see that we being tended by the saint even without knowing it.

So how do we continue the tradition for a new era?  How will we maintain the charisma of our patron for a new age? 

1.     Let us claim a code that calls us to non-violence as a part of our core.

2.     Let us contribute the education of Christian values in for all ages.

3.     Let us demand from ourselves a type of humility that allows this community to go out to others and invite them to share Christ with us.

4.     Let us always offer the kind of welcome that allows for differences.  Hospitality is not just radical, it is part of our DNA! It comes from the heart of our namesake.


Martin dared to live the life of Christ and it changed the face of Europe.  St. Martin in the Fields, now in Trafalgar Square some 800 years ago helped to change the fabric of British society.  Can we begin to think of what it might mean a millennium from now here in North Tarrant County?  We may be the center of Dalworth then and our fields filled with ways for others to know of Christ.  This building probably won’t be here, but the spirit of Martin can still be lived in what we have begun here.  We stand in a tradition, a remarkable heritage, but it isn’t just history we promote.  The remarkable ways that we have to continue these values and will continue throughout the generations ahead will continue to promote the values we have absorbed and embrace. 

I invite you to make the new paths to Christ as did Martin 1,800 years ago.  AMEN

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Of Truth, Witnesses to History and Windows 10

I have a new computer with Windows 10.  I can't quite tell if the problems with Windows 10 are a part of the program or the fact that the new HP has a touch pad that I can't turn off.  But so far I have erased my prose much to my consternation and which undoes much of the quietude that celebrating the mass at the early service this morning offered.  I am also about to attend a clergy conference, the first in several years.  Add to that the funeral of a friend on Sat., the visit at my former parish in the Diocese of Washington last week and the incredible service at the National Cathedral with the dedication of the image of Jonathan Daniels in the narthex. 

Prayer shapes our believing, so we say in the Episcopal Church. How we pray helps me come to a greater understanding of how God acts in my life, and this can be for good or ill.  But the various exercises we do throughout the week also shape our believing.  There is part of me that is likely to relegate issues with the new computer to the realm of the holy--or at least the unintelligible.  I am thankful that I learned I can cuss at God like a Jew and I have no trouble of doing the same to Microsoft or Hewitt-Packard.  The blue air just fills my room and only the cats have to avoid it.

But learning to post on my blog with all these new tools do have something to
do with faith.  I do not put my trust in HP, I do put my trust in a loving God that has ushered me about the country the past couple of weeks allowing me to catch up with friends that I haven't seen in a while and who have shared their walk in Christ's light.  And so I come to a recalcitrant computer as a newbie and yet I touch on the love of those from my past.  I guess that is the nature of one's 70's.  The old is constantly touching the new or perhaps it is the new that is touching the old that makes one's life so interesting. 

A week ago Friday, J and I flew to Baltimore-Washington Airport and were met by J's seminary roommate and her husband, also a classmate.  This was a part of this summer's 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jonathan Daniels which I have talked about in various posts on The Selma Tales.  But catching up with friends, those who also attended our wedding in May, was delightful. We were lay, bishops, priests and deacons but that wasn't what mattered. We talked about the old days and the new days with the same kind of joy.  We still talked about hopes for the future often realizing that we would not see their
realization.  To me that is what friendship really is--those with whom one can remember the past and yet still image for a time we can barely see and most likely won't.  

On Sunday morning we met people from my old parish for breakfast.  I saw the parents I had known now being grandparents, the children I had taught now being parents themselves and women whose marriages I
had blessed, celebrating their lives with one another as widows.  Returning is bitter-sweet yet powerful.  For one woman I had buried her husband when she had a young son, but that day brought me her grandson (about the same age as her son was back then) and asked me to bless him.  What an awesome moment for me.

As I was walking up the way to my old church, no one really knew I was coming, I met a former warden.  We embraced.  She too had a grandchild in tow who read the Epistle.  The ancient parish was continuing to do what it has done for over 300 years...teaching the next generation how to know of Christ.  Thankfully, the parish has a new organ. The one we had when I was there was known to make some rude noises upon occasion--usually when we had important guest.  God always offers humility at a time when we want pride.

At coffee hour we caught up with those multitudes that we had known together, remembered those who had died in the bosom of the parish and those who had moved to other places nourished by the community of the time.  That too is what friendship means: carrying on the traditions and faith that is borne of
communal love and care.  By the time we broke up the 'coffee hour', we had little time to brave DC traffic to get to the Cathedral for the Evensong.  Much has happened in 20 years to the traffic patterns, and we were stuck in DC central without maps.  It seems that DC on various map programs on phones are blocked.  We had to resort to rolling down our windows and ASKING people! What an amazing thing!  Human contact in the process of making a pilgrimage??!  

We got there in time to find parking.  In the little place that used to be called the "Herb Cottage" we found our parish seminarian from Fort Worth.  It was
good to find Lisa studying but waiting for us.  She is doing her internship at the Cathedral.  What an awesome experience.  But she will always be spoiled by that experience.  Nothing in the Episcopal Church, much less the Diocese of Fort Worth will EVER be like the National Cathedral.  But that is true about every parish and every position in our Church.  

The National Cathedral is the most like the cathedrals of England and Europe.  It does not have a parish attached as do other diocesan cathedrals.  The architecture provides the awe of the medieval world that we in the Americas never experienced.  But there are always things that are uniquely American such as the moon rock in one of the stained glass windows or the faces in the statuary that remind us of our particular part of the Christian kingdom.  The service of Evensong is something that is not celebrated much in our part of the Anglican Communion anymore.  The UK does a better job most of the time.  But not last week. The Choir was incredible.  The service of
Evensong was done with such simple honor, in the warmth of the quire, but with the dignitaries which brought such solemnity to the marking the sainthood of an American seminarian who gave up is life to save another at the age of 26. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jeferts Schori, blessed the statue. Bishop Mariann Budde presided. And Dr. Harvey Guthrie, a professor of Jon and Judy's and the dean of EDS when I was there, preached. And once again he found the Gospel in Hebrew scripture and rattled cages to remind us that God continues to speak through ancient words.

 Judy and I have been witnesses to history.  That is both a blessing and a curse.  But looking back 50 years at a time when Christianity has been both its greatest and yet at its worst, we still have stories to tell of a God who is with us and whose glory can still be experienced.  

Saturday I attended the funeral of a Baptist friend.  Arnold and Barbara were the first people I had gotten to know when I spent a bit of time at a Baptist church in Dallas last year when I did not feel comfortable in my own diocese.  Barbara sat next to me in choir and Arnold, who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, had been missionaries in the early 80's in Korea.  We had common stories to share.  And Arnold was able to still discuss points of Church History with me.  He also shared his little book of the experience of a military coup in South Korea that ultimately meant that he would return to Korea to testify in the revelations of military misconduct.  He was so revered by the Korean people that Korean dignitaries were sent to celebrate in the funeral service.  Most who knew Arnold here in TX knew a nice dottering old man.  The people of Korea knew a courageous man who had sheltered the college aged children of their town, who had interviewed lower members of the military in order to understand the truth of coup, and who had spoken the truth to the people of Korea.  Alzheimer's was not the memory of the people of Korea. So the liturgy celebrated not only the hope of the future of Arnold in heaven, it carried the truth to shape the faith of future generations.

Bearing witness to history is often seen by the young as those who are 'stuck in the past'.  But what I have seen over the past weeks is not that at all.  I have seen those who have lived one reality challenge those who would rather avoid truth than embrace it.  There is a temptation to continue to reconstruct truth than observe its real consequence.  And while it seems easier to ignore those places where the truth has been uncomfortable, or even 
frightening, there can never be health when we build on histories that are not rooted in it.  

I long for truth to triumph in the Church worldwide.  I long for the time when God, no matter how God is named, can be embraced despite differences.  I stand as a witness that it can happen.  I have known it in my own life.  I have shared it with others so they too can live in the freedom of the truth.  And this is the gospel I teach--that the Truth will set us free.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Selma Tales: Montgomery and Selma III

On the way to Selma we went through Montgomery.  One of our pilgrims, Richard Morrisroe, the former Roman Catholic priest who was shot with Jonathan Daniels in Hayneville, took the bus microphone and as we passed the hospital, he told of his harrowing experience after the shooting.  He lay on the ground in front of the cash store at least a half an hour bleeding before anyone was allowed to tend to him. He was transported to a hospital in Montgomery in the hearse that carried Jon's body.  He lay in a corridor without care for some hours before a Roman Catholic priest was able to
The Cash Store in Hayneville, AL
find a doctor who would tend to him.  Finally, it took 11 hours of surgery to save his life. I believe that Richard was in hospital for almost 6 months after that.  He was permanently marked by this incident.  He subsequently left the priesthood, became a civil rights lawyer, married a woman of color and has two wonderful children, one who is named Jonathan and several grandchildren.

I had met Richard on several other venues celebrating the life of Jon over the years.  He is mainly a quiet, thoughtful person.  He is still a strong Catholic, and I think finds himself rather bemused by the fact that he has been a part of the life of an Episcopal saint.  Later, in NH, I would hear him say that he knew Jon 'eight days in life and fifty years in death'.  He has been a ready witness to the death of Jonathan, willing to share this pilgrimage even though it was difficult.  

We arrived in Selma at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  There is now a National Parks Historical Center on the corner across
from the famed bridge.  Many of the pilgrims walked the bridge. It was a hot day and Judy and I opted not to.  We had done that before.  For several in the group that was quite meaningful and empowering. There was not much time to linger because we had been invited to lunch at St, Paul's Episcopal Church.

St. Paul's closed its doors to the marchers 50 years ago.  The Episcopal members of the march gathered on the steps of the church and praying that the doors and hearts of the people
would be opened.  Later, through the spring semester,  Judy and Jon would attend the parish taking with them children from the projects in which they were staying.  They were treated to really crude comments from 'good' members of the parish.  There was even discussion of destroying the chalice after the Black children received communion.  Judy, Jon, the children and few other African-Americans were only allowed to sit on the back row. Over the altar in the church are the words "He is risen, He is not here." But the group could only see a portion of the phrase..."He is not here." And agreed. 

The present rector of St. Paul's hasn't been there a year, but he was so welcoming.  They prepared a lovely luncheon and then spoke of the change of heart that the parish had come to. Several of the older members reminisced, but I had a hard time staying present. I realized that the deep Southern Alabama drawl still carries the weight of racism for me.  It took all I could to listen to the veiled excuses for their behavior 50 years ago.  It was hard to stand in forgiveness, and yet I knew that was where the heart of my pilgrimage was.  This pilgrimage wasn't about Jon; it was about me, about how privilege has changed me for good or ill.  

I had to step out of the remembrances for a bit just to catch
my breath. And when I returned the rector was making a presentation to Judy in the name of Jon for helping the parish grow.  A lovely trophy was presented.  It was the first time I have seen Judy awarded anything or even acknowledged for her work in Selma.  She has so often gotten lost in the mystique of Jon that people didn't realize the work she did.  Most of the photographs of Jon that are part of his story were taken by Judy and yet she is never given credit for them.  They now are copyrighted by others.  
EDS Pilgrimage 2015

We returned to Montgomery and went to the Civil Rights monument.  It is a simple fountain in the center of the city's government complex.  Designed by Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam memorial in Washington, DC.  There is a constant
sheen of water that flows over the names of the Civil Rights Martyrs.  Some of the pilgrims went to one of the churches, but I sat in the evening with a young priest I had met on facebook.  We talked of ministry and the needs of the Church in the wake of the racial issues that still face us.  

The bus was quiet on the way back. Later I heard that the trip to the church was quite a spiritual time for those who went.  I was still trying to reconcile my emotions in the face of the racism that I was still feeling and working through what that kind of exclusion says about us as Church.  

Even now, some weeks after the trip, I am still trying to allow myself to touch those hidden places in myself--I do not
believe that I find racism in me but I did find a growing dissatisfaction with the kind of privilege that I represent simply because of my skin.  I know that it has offered me things that I have not deserved simply because of the color of my skin.  It sets up barriers that I have worked hard to to tear down and yet at times it seems that not enough has been removed for us to know how to trust one another.  And so in my seventies I feel that 'separate' state that continues to break my heart. And yet I cannot give lucha continua...


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Is it not the rich who oppress you?

Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? James 2

Nearly every time I read Scripture things jump out at me.  Reading the texts for tomorrow, I am caught by this phrase from the Epistle. I am not preaching so I haven't prepared the texts all week like I would if I were going to be in the pulpit.

 I have read this passage for years and probably preached on the whole passage numerous times, but for some reason I am caught by these words, this part of the whole part of the Epistle of James for so many different reasons that it feels like it swirls around in my heart.

This Epistle isn't used much in the lectionary.  Martin Luther was really opposed to this epistle because it spoke of spiritual works, works that showed forth the change of heart, the transformation of spirit that occurs when faith is operative in the Christian.  Luther was trying to
emphasize the place of faith over works which at the time was the face of Roman Catholicism.  The Catholic theology of works had devolved into a cash hound for the Vatican so that it became a mere matter of buying one's salvation.  Luther was rightly scandalized by the Church's practice of selling indulgences. However, Luther's corrective was to deny the place of works in the salvific action of faith.  Actually it wasn't Luther who was opposed to 'works'. It was those who parsed the theologians later in history. And it is the exaggeration of this idea of faith OVER works that has eroded the Christian message in the past 25 years. 

The balance of faith and works has always been a difficult barometer of faith.  It is so easy to look at what one person does to measure their faith, we think.  And yet it is so difficult for us to know the struggle of faith that goes on in the heart of
individuals in relationship to the Holy Center of their lives.  I am sure there are those who are scandalized by my outward actions when I am advocating for those who are not as strong.  How we can judge the character of others solely by their actions is a mystery to me. And yet I find that I do that just like others. It is a constant struggle for me.

But this part of the whole passage caught me.  It throws a monkey wrench into all the Protestant Work Ethic, or the Prosperity Gospel
that is being bantered about these days.  It is easy to think that the 'ME' generations have led us to the type of 'get ahead' thinking that amounts for education these days.  But it isn't a recent phenomenon.  Obviously James and his followers were dealing with the same problem. The author of the epistle is dealing with a time of dislocation and violence and yet he is exhorting his followers to peacemaking as a sign of their faith.  I have always found this epistle one that calls me to action standing firmly on the Christian principles that I have learned in the life of Jesus.

But this one little verse has stopped me. God [has] chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  Of course, this mirrors the
Sermon on the Mount.  Of course, the Magnificat speaks of  'lifting up the poor', but do we really trust that?  If Christianity is really lived, if we are really going to embrace a kind of spirituality that proclaims the simplicity that was taught by Jesus of Nazareth, how do we treat the poor?  How do we see the poor?  Do we see them as people who have more faith than we ourselves? Or do we not even see them?

Over 45 years ago I went to Mexico to do 'missionary work'.  I thought that I had something to 'give to the poor people' in small
ranchitos.  I must admit I had a rather romantic idea of what being a missionary was.  I was going to 'take faith' to a poor people.  When I got there, I found a people who had greater faith than I  because their faith was so necessary for their basic existence.  I was 'rich' by their standards although I had been raised working class in my own
country.  But I was educated and I had a car...signs of material wealth in their eyes.  They appreciated what I brought them, teaching English, but I came to realize that they had so much more to teach me about trusting my life to God.  And I learned something
about being poor.  I learned that the work ethic I had growing up enough.  I didn't have to 'get ahead' of others just to be successful.  What I chose was not success, or perhaps my definition of success changed.  I chose to try to live as best I could living Christ's life and provide for myself minimally.  I chose to live a life of poverty--not the kind of abnegation that denies the beauty of God's life.  But I chose to step off the rat race of self-aggrandizement to know that my values were more important to live than trying to meet society's.  Somehow I was able to allow myself to be different enough not to worry about what the neighbors thought. In 1970 I made private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience--an obedience that was made to Christ, not those who felt they had the right to demand it. 

My friends have been with others who have chosen to live simply in faith assured that God was in charge.  Yes, there have been times when I have gotten into financial problems because I choose not worry about what I am saving for a rainy day.  I try to be responsible, but constantly worrying about my portfolio is not something that I do.  

Recently we had a bit of a problem with cash flow and our account
was charged with items that were supposed to be paid by others.  The person responsible for the mistake said "You should have a credit card.  This wouldn't be happening if you just had a credit card."  I told him that I do not choose to have a credit card and participate in the credit system of privilege that continues to deprive the poor and
participates in debasing people everyday.  He didn't 'get' it. (I think he's a banker.) He is a good person but cannot see that the kind of identification with the poor that this passage calls us to.  He can't see that the whole system is what abases millions around the world and conversely debases him. To choose to opt out of the system is unheard of, in his mind. He does not see it as oppression. And he doesn't realize just how he is chained to the fundamental of richness that leaves him impoverished.

All too often those who are in positions of privilege cannot see
what they are doing is oppressive.  I have often railed against 'white, straight, male privilege' and I am finding that it isn't any one race, sexual orientation, gender that oppresses. It is those who seem to have the comfort of being able to dictate how life is to be lived by others.  We are seeing it a clerk in Kentucky, in heads of universities that ignore quotas, police who live in fear so that they inflict fear on others, even people in our own churches or synagogues.  We may do it to people in the grocery line or to a waiter at the restaurant. James' words haunt: Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 

I often forget the blessed name that was invoked over me at my baptism.  I often forget the faith of the poor that is in me and find
myself trying to 'get ahead' instead of 'paying it forward' in the name of Jesus.  

When I find myself worrying I try to unravel it, to pick it apart to see what is at the heart of it.  I often find that it is my own sense of privilege that is at the center of it.  It is then that I must call myself to repentance and return to the poverty of my choosing, the poverty that says I can depend upon God for all that I need.  It is in that poverty that I can find the richness of God's presence.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Selma Tales: Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, AL II

After meeting our fellow pilgrims on Wed. evening and some guided discussion, Thurs. morning we all went to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.  There was a instructional exhibit for those who had never experienced the Jim Crow laws of the South.  The majority of our group had either not grown up in the South or were too young to have been confronted with many of the
degrading expectations of people of color in the 50's and 60's. It was hard for me to remember the indignity of Jim Crow.

I remember the injustice of those laws. Riding in the back of the bus, the green or worse water fountains, the smell of bathrooms that were never cleaned marked 'colored' from the time I was small.  It wasn't until college that I learned of 'night riders', the rape of Black women that was not seen as a crime, and the lynchings.  The Institute had exhibits that brought them all back.  The recordings of
bigoted politicians and police were played that reminded me of the TV in the 60's.  But standing now in a Birmingham museum the horror of those days it all returned.  Judy and I did not walk together.  I couldn't walk with anyone.  The violence of the videos of marches, police brutality upon non-violent marching were visions I didn't want to revisit, and yet needed to.  It is so easy for white folk to close their eyes.  However, if my Black friends had had to endure it, I could
not in conscience close my eyes. There is such truth in "I am not free if my brother is oppressed." My own oppression came over me in waves, the kind of oppression that I allow when I fear those who would belittle others because of ethnicity, color, culture, sexual orientation, creed.

We also went to the 16th Street Baptist
Church, the church that was bombed in 1963 and where 4 tween girls were killed on their way to their Sunday School class.  Many went to the Jazz museum where images of how people of color coped with the oppression and how a local musician was able to lead young people of the era into creativity rather than hatred. 

While in the Institute I met the daughter of Rev. Fred
Shuttlesworth, the founder of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and a member of the NAACP, an organization that was outlawed in AL in the 50's. She was visiting the Institute while on a visit to Birmingham too.  I felt humbled by her presence.  She wanted Judy's name so that the whole story of the struggle for equality could be told. She too understood that White folk were oppressed by Jim Crow too.  Any group that has to oppress others to feel superior is already imprisoned.  And the White folk of the South were as much chained by their fear as people of color were by the law. And in many cases, still are.

When we got back on the bus, I sat with an African-American priest, younger than I, who had never lived under Jim Crow.  "How could they do that to MY people?" she cried.  I realized how much of a shock the exhibit had been for her.  I was reliving but she was experiencing it for the first time. My heart hurt for her.  It hurt for me--a White woman whose race had terrorized her people and I began to understand just how hard it is to us to talk with one another to get to any kind of healing of the racial barriers.  Between the shame and the indignation it is hard to insert reconciliation. 

This pilgrimage was not about what happened 50 years ago.  It was
about now.  It was about Ferguson, Charleston, and every other murder that we have had over the past years.  It was about Rebel flags. It was about voting rights now.  It was about scholarships and percentages
of minority admittance or employment. It was about anger and despair where minorities will always be minorities until America becomes brown or learns that cultures are designed to give us more than what they mean to separate in us.

A type of fatigue began to settle on me. I not only couldn't find internet connections in which I could blog or sent my impressions back to the parish or the diocese as I had planned.  I was overwhelmed with what hadn't happened in the past 50 years in the South.  And by the end of my first day, I knew that this trip was going to be life changing if I allowed it.