Fear and Compassion… Security and Salvation

This has been a rough week for humanity around the globe.  We are all on edge about safety and security for ourselves, for refugees, for other cities and nations.  Fear and compassion are waging a battle in our politics and within ourselves.  Do we go out of our way to welcome and embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters and welcome the refugees from Syria who are fleeing the persecution of ISIS?  Or do we batten down the border and declare the risk of terrorism greater than the charity of welcoming refugees into our neighborhoods?  Is our humanitarian desire to help others going to be our undoing or is it the only path to refute the power of terror?

I put all of these polarizing questions together because the conflict between the choices before us is real and part of the Gospel message.  Who is my neighbor?  And how should I treat my neighbor?  Jesus had something to say about this because he knew that each of us, in our humanity, wrestles with the choice between care of self, care of others, and how far that circle of care extends.

AND, I know the answer to WWJD.  It is not a mystery, he instructs us to welcome the refugees and care for them as part of our own human family.  He says over and over and over again,  “Be not afraid.”  Even in the face of death, “Be not afraid.”  For if you would save your life, you will lose it.  And if you lose your life, for the sake of Christ in your neighbor, you will save it.

The Gospel instructs us, but it does not make the decision to care for others any easier.  We only gain the strength to fight terror with love and relationship by our daily practice of faithfully seeing Christ in those who are different from ourselves.  It is the incremental change within each person and within each community that allows us to ultimately risk ourselves for people we have not even met yet.  I believe that the Good Samaritan must have spent years practicing loving others, even those who would hate him, before he was ready to care for the injured man in the ditch by the side of the road.

We are practicing this kind of care and compassion at St. Mark’s.  I am so grateful to be part of a community that values difference and seeks to share our unique cultures with honor and respect. I hope that we are creating a culture of loving curiosity and developing relationships of trust.  I pray that our faithful practice of loving others who are different from ourselves is changing each one of us.  This is what I believe will fight terror and bring an end to the violence that infects our planet.  But this vaccine is administered one person at a time.  Are you getting inoculated?  Have you had a booster shot?  If people are not vaccinated, then the disease can spread and create a mass epidemic of fear and violence.

I am so excited for our Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Mark’s because I see this celebration as an opportunity to practice loving our neighbor and sharing without counting the cost to ourselves.  It is an opportunity to develop relationships in our community and recognize that our community extends to everyone who is fed at St. Mark’s.  Not just those who gather around the communion table at worship, but also those who gather at the food pantry.  It is a chance to get a big booster shot in the arm for your ability to fight off fear and embrace compassion.

Even if you are celebrating Thanksgiving with your kinfolk, look for every opportunity you have to practice loving your neighbors who are different, and give thanks for the community of love that we are creating around the planet, one member at a time.

~Mother Dawson

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Join the Jesus Movement underway from General Convention #78

  “We are one together, yo yo yo. (clap, clap) We are one together yo, yo, yo. (clap, clap)”

We sang this song back and forth across the House of Deputies at various times of prayer with the drumming leadership of our Chaplain the Rev. Lester Mackenzie. Lester+ is a native of South Africa, growing up there during aparteid and now serves the church in Los Angeles. To learn more about him and his amazing ministry CLICK HERE 
This chant both challenged and energized the 800+ members House of Deputies as we united our voices and our bodies in a new way, not found in Hymnal 1982. We quickly discovered that not only did we enjoy the chant, the words we were singing were actually true. We are one together… Yo, yo, yo!  
At various moments during our work together this chant would begin spontaneously within the members of the house and spread like wildfire as we all sang our unity “We are one together, yo, yo, yo.” Usually, these were moments of celebration and joy.
One surprising moment came on Saturday when we raised our voices in song to resist the leadership of our president. Usually, we were mostly well behaved and used the cueing protocol at each of the microphones to express our thoughts and questions. But on Saturday, while we awaited the delegation from the House of Bishops to share with us the results of their vote for Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Gay Jennings, president of the house, was about to dismiss us for 20-30 minutes and reconvene after the delegation arrived. However, the 800+ members of the House of Deputies had no desire to be in recess while we awaited the information. Somehow, without speaking a word, we all knew that our desire was to stay together, continue working, and await the results.  
We began to sing, “We are one together, yo, yo, yo. (clap clap)”  

Gay+ responded, “It may take awhile for them to get here from St. Mark’s Cathedral.”

We sang louder, “We are one together, yo, yo, yo. (clap, clap)”

Gay+ continued to argue, “If I keep you here, you will miss lunch.”

We sang even louder, “We are one together, yo, yo, yo. (clap, clap)”

The president of the house was overwhelmed by our song and relented to our desire that we remain one together in the house of deputies. For me, it was a powerful experience of our unity of heart and mind.  

Earlier in the week, the chaplain shared with us the theory of quantum entanglement as a metaphor for our life of faith. He explained that it is possible for two or more particles to become connected on a quantum level and forever after they are a system that can never be considered apart. It does not matter how close or far apart the particles are, they could be on opposite sides of the universe and still, they would be connected. If something affects one of the entangled particles, then the other particle, no matter how far away, seems to “know” what has happened to its partner particle and responds accordingly. They are one together… yo, yo, yo.  
Doesn’t this sound like the Body of Christ? No matter how close together or far apart, we are one together. When something happens to one member of the Body, the rest of the entangled members of the Body respond. We have all become entangled through the waters of baptism in the Holy Trinity and we can never be separated from our brothers and sisters in Christ. I think it is this entanglement that allows us to join our voices in song without conversation or inquiry into every members mind and heart. We just know that we are one together… yo, yo, yo.  
There were other amazing moments of togetherness that we experienced throughout the week. Worship that lifted up our weary selves, early and late hours working in committees to craft the text of resolutions, caucusing with other members to organize what to say and when to say it. Our Maryland deputation tried to eat a meal together almost every day. We were all about our separate tasks during the day, but at lunch or dinner we would gather to share what was happening in our corner of convention. We laughed, we supported, we shared disappointment, and we imagined the church that God is calling us to become.  
Upon reflection, at this convention I have experienced the most “oneness” of our church. Granted, it is only my third convention. But the energy and the will of the church seems to be united and moving in a similar direction. Each member is entangled in the life of the other and we are aware each other in a way that allows us to act as One Body. Even when we disagree on an issue, we still move together – aware that what is a joy to one particle is a disappointment to another. We are still connected no matter how far apart.  
Perhaps our Presiding Bishop – elect, Michael Curry feels the power of our One Body resonating together with quantum entanglement? Maybe that is why he keeps inviting us to join in the Jesus Movement. Follow Jesus, into the neighborhood, travel lightly… together.  

Casting Out Satan: The Remains of an Exorcism

Most people are not aware of it, but before every baptism or confirmation we have a mini-exorcism to ritualize casting out Satan and turning towards Christ.  These days, we aren’t really comfortable with the idea of Satan.  Who is this evil guy, anyway?  If all of creation is good, how did Satan get created?  Do I really need to believe in Satan?  Can’t I just accept the reality of human sin and forget about this crazy character in a red suit with a pitch fork?

Others have said that the greatest trick Satan ever pulled was convincing people he didn’t exist.  Just read C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters,” you’ll enjoy it and get a new perspective on the manipulative little devils in our lives.

I confess that my scientifically minded modern self has a hard time with all the caricatures of Satan.  However, the most powerful spiritual direction I have ever received was from a woman who was able to routinely unmask the events of my life in the context of spiritual warfare.  Rather than reducing all the struggle, disrespect, injustice, and rejection to petty human failings, she painted a picture of an evil force that diminishes life and lures us away from God’s love until we whither and starve in the darkness.  Her spiritual vision of the world helped me to see my life as an opportunity to cast out satanic forces and turn towards Christ, over and over again.  Rather than throwing up my hands and feeling despair over the millions of ways that we humans sin against one another and against God, I could put on my breastplate of righteousness, a belt of truth, pick up my sword of the Spirit, don a helmet of salvation, and go to battle for the goodness of God.

In our liturgy we ask the candidates for baptism (or their sponsors if they are too little) to renounce evil three times.  The first renunciation is cosmic evil, grand scale.  The second is earthbound evil, the corruption of creation.  The last renunciation is personal evil, the stuff that tempts and taunts us to choose something other than God in our own lives.  (BCP pg. 301)

Celebrant       Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

Candidates    I renounce them.
Celebrant       Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

Candidates    I renounce them.

Celebrant       Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

Candidates    I renounce them.

This is what remains of an old school exorcism that could have lasted for weeks or months.  Preparation for baptism in the early church used to invite candidates for baptism to come up during communion and receive salt on their tongue as a symbol for purification and casting out Satan.  Sometimes, those waiting to for baptism were dismissed form worship before the communion liturgy began with a ritual or a prayer for their exorcism from evil. Interestingly, this dismissal – in Latin “missa”- is where the term “Mass” comes from.

But once you cast out the demons and trample them under your feet, what next?  Next we turn our selves towards Christ.  Literally, we reorient ourselves with Christ at the center after having cleaned out the distractions and temptations.  It’s like divine GPS.

Celebrant       Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?

Candidates    I do.

Celebrant       Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

Candidates    I do.

Celebrant       Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

Candidates    I do.

All of this will happen on Sunday at 11am as we gather to baptize Chisom and Namachi into the household of God.  But, I think that this exorcism and returning to the Lord is probably an important spiritual practice for all of us on a regular basis.  We put ourselves at great risk if we ignore the devil’s existence and allow ourselves to be manipulated and led astray.  We may think that it is just our little lives, but we are battling evil along with the angels and arch-angels and all the company of heaven.  And if we are feeling weary and overwhelmed by evil, if that sword of the Spirit is getting too heavy to lift, know that the entire Christian community has vowed to assist and support  you in your life in Christ.  You are never a alone in this Body of Christ!

 Celebrant     Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support them in their life in Christ?

People            We will.

Be exorcised from your devils and turn towards Christ, everyday – it is important and our lives just might depend on it.

~Mother Dawson

There is a Balm in Maryland

Reflections On Healing Our Diocese
The 231st Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in Maryland

Last weekend, the leadership of the diocese gathered at Turf Valley for our annual convention.  I have come to realize that there are two kinds of people in the church – those who enjoy convention, and those who cannot stand it.  All the clergy of the diocese are expected to attend convention because by virtue of our ordination, we took vows to participate in the leadership councils of the church.  Then each congregation sends a number of delegates and alternates depending on the size of the church.  So, as you might imagine – the lay delegates self select into people who mostly enjoy convention… It is the clergy who grumble.

This year, convention exceeded my expectations and I heard almost no grumbling!  An Easter miracle?  No, the success of convention was all about excellent planning, a fantastic keynote speaker, and responding to feedback from past conventions.  When you see Kathleen Schotto, thank her, she is a co-chair of the planning committee.  If you want to read more about the specific resolutions and decisions of convention, you can visit the diocesan web page LINK here.

For the first time in a while, diocesan convention felt “healthy and whole” to me.

That is not to say that everything in the diocese is perfect – far from it.  We have been through the wringer this past year: the tragic death of Tom Palermo and Heather Cook’s disease of alcoholism, racism taking the lives of young black men around the country and now our own uprising in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray.  Our 2015 horizon goals that were set five years ago seem to be submerged in the tide of todays concerns.  Bishop Sutton acknowledged in his address that we had a goal to grow in church attendance by 10% and we actually shrank our numbers by 9%.

So – what felt healthy and whole was not achievements to be celebrated, it was the unrelenting honesty, vulnerability and truth-telling that we shared at convention.  We really spoke the truth in love.  We shared our concerns, heart breaks, and our faith and hope at table conversations.  We attended workshops that addressed really important and thorny issues in our current world: the trafficking of women into prostitution and drugs, the violence and poverty in our urban areas, the evironmental impact of human consumption and the need to be good stewards of God’s creation.  We did not shy away from difficult conversations and it felt good.  The opportunity for these conversations was built into the fabric of convention and we were encouraged and empowerd to wrestle with the hard stuff.

The key-note speaker, the Rev. Becca Stevens founder of Magdelene House and Thistle Farms, was also part of the healing and loving honesty.  She spoke fearlessly about the suffering of girls and women who are sexually abused, introduced to drugs, and have all love stripped away from their lives.  This is not often a topic of church conversation and for centuries the prostitutes in the bible were at best to be pittied, but those women were always seen as complicit partners in their life of sin.  The Rev. Becca Stevens shone a bright light into the shadowy rooms and alleys and cars where women are abused.  Her ministry welcomes those women into a circle of love, lit by a candle made by women who know this darkness, and she asks them to embark on a journey of healing.  She was powerfully honest and vulnerable about the struggle and the miracle of housing women in an unconditional circle of love – and we could feel the healing oil of her words pour over our convention.

Another healing moment came with Bishop Eugene Sutton announced that he will ask the Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen to be our assisting bishop for at least two years.  Bishop Chilton was consecrated for the Diocese of Maine in 1997 and retired in 2008.  She has served as assisting bishop in the diocese of New York, and she is a leader in the work of addiction and recovery in the church.  Her gifts are desperetely needed in our leadership and as it was announced that she would come to serve beginning in the fall, another balm of healing was poured out over the convention.

I attended the workshop on Urban violence and poverty that was fresh with many stories and articles about Baltimore and our age old issues that are getting so much current attention.  Both of the presenters, Carrie Brown and the Rev. Ramelle McCall, began their remarks by sharing their personal connection and pride in law enforcement as well as their sadness and anger about the poverty and racism of Baltimore.  So many times this important conversation about healing Baltimore becomes a false dualism of pro-police or pro-black Baltimore.  Fr. Ramelle and Carrie knit the two sides together immediately and then we could begin our conversation with a whole heart.  As we read articles and histories that overwelmed us with the enormity of racism and poverty – we also had the courage to imagine where we might begin to make change.  More healing was poured out over us all.

I left convention feeling extremely hopeful for the coming year of our common life as the Body of Christ in Maryland.  It is through our woundedness that Christ is made known to be our Savior and I am grateful to have experienced our resurrection faith carrying us through convention and leading us out into the world.

~Mother Dawson

Lord, give us ears to hear.

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”
             
As I sat in the Province III meeting in West Virginia Monday afternoon, my phone was buzzing and buzzing and buzzing from the depths of my purse.  I wondered what in the world was going on for so many messages to be coming all at once.  We took a break and as I retrieved my phone and walked out into the hotel lobby I saw the television and my phone messages simultaneously.  A group of youth and surrounding police were shown from a helicopter camera gathering into opposing camps in the Mondawmin Mall parking lot and spilling out onto the road.  An armored vehicle drove towards the teens and I watch them throw things at the truck and the police were moving their line of officers forward along the road.  Myself and a few other folks from Baltimore stood in the lobby dumb-founded.

I am sure that many of you had similar experiences this week.  The sickening realization that the few isolated incidents of the previously peaceful protests surrounding Freddie Gray’s death were about to blow up into something much more dramatic and violent.  And at the same time, I looked at these teenaged figures from the bird’s eye view of a helicopter and my heart broke for them.  Who was down there to hear their cry?  Who was listening to the pain and rage and humiliation and oppression of their childhoods?  The police line and the armored truck looked liked targets, a double-dog dare from the authorities.  Give it your best shot, we’re protected with armored plates and riot gear.

I watched the screen a little longer and I noticed that the police kept a distinct distance, encircling the youth and giving them space at the same time.  I wondered how much of their behavior was influenced by the results of Ferguson’s heavy handed police efforts that resulted in an escalation of violence.  If too much brute force is used to control this small gathering of teens, then a huge reaction might rise up to meet the police with an equal amount of rage and violence.

My break was quickly over, and I returned to the hotel meeting space to continue with our preparations for General Convention… but a portion of my heart was still out in the lobby watching my city and my neighbors.

Later that evening we all saw the anger and frustration overflow the streets and set fire to some cars and some buildings.  My heart was breaking for the many ways that this righteous anger was going to get lost in the criminal destruction of property.  I was shouting at the TV in my hotel room because the news anchors treated the unfolding events as if each tragic loss were a touchdown that would keep viewers glued to their screens.  Will the “Other Baltimore” understand the deep well of anger that has been stored up in Sandtown and go there to listen deeply?  Or, fearing the riots, will we feel justified walking away from the very community that has been abandoned so many time before?

“A riot is the voice of the unheard…”  These words from Martin Luther King Jr. were spoken in 1968 at Grosse Point High School in Detroit, but they are still resonant today with the current injustice in Baltimore.  A riot is not just criminal behavior.  A riot is not just ill-behaved kids who need discipline and come from a single-parent home.  A riot is a community that has been silenced for so long that when they finally do speak – it comes out all at once as a roar.  MLK goes on to say,

And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

Reading these words, I cannot tell the difference between 1968 and 2015.  We have failed to hear the plight of people living in poverty all over our city.  But especially, we have failed to hear young men like Freddie Gray.  And now, his voice is silenced.  It is no wonder that others feel the need to shout as loud as they can.

Tomorrow, at 3pm there will be a march from the State’s Attorney’s office (120 E. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21202) to City Hall, #JusticeForFreddieGray.  The march is an opportunity for voices to be heard, for people to listen, and for a community to gather from every corner of our city and surrounding counties.  Baltimore lives matter, black lives matter, Freddie Gray matters.  If you are able, join me and many other tomorrow.

~Mother Dawson

The Power of Being Present

jesus dies on cross
Over the past four years we have sung the hymn “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” in the context of the Passion Narrative reading.  Sometimes a soloist has sung it.  This year the whole choir led it with the mournful tone of John Lamkin’s trumpet playing a kind of gospel taps as we sang the plaintive question, “Were you there?”  Each year, this worship experience is always powerful and moving as it expresses longing and fear and loving and trembling with each verse.
Were you there?  This is a question of presence.

Were you there when Jesus died?  Or did he die alone?
Were you there when he stood trial before Pilate?  Or did he stand alone?
Were you there when he prayed in the garden?  Or did he pray alone?
Were you there when he ate his last supper?  Or did he eat alone?
Were you there when he washed the disciples feet?  Or was he unable to love you tenderly and tangibly because you were not present?

Being present with Jesus and with each other is one of the most loving and life changing things we can do.  Let’s be realistic, being present at the cross does not change the course of events – the Romans were going to carry out the sentence of death.  But begin present does transform Jesus’ death from an insignificant and forgettable death of another man chewed up and spit out by human injustice, into a memorable gathering of community and love to bear witness to the brutality and injustice of violence.  Being present means that none of us have to go through the really difficult and dehumanizing moments alone.  We may suffer, but we remain human children of God.
Being present is hard work.  To be present is to choose to face helplessness and limitations and vulnerability with open arms.  When we choose to be present with someone, especially when it is terminal cancer, the end of a marriage, the death of a child, the foreclosure of a house, bankruptcy of the Spirit… then we bring with us something more powerful than all the forces at work in this world.  We bring with us the power of God – witnessing the rough road we travel and saying to us, “I am with you and I will raise you up.

“So…  Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make this earthly pilgrimage with us.  So be swift to love, make haste to do kindness, and may the blessing of God who comes to us as a Creative Force, a Redeeming Presence and a Life Giving Spirit be with you and all those in your presence, this day and forever more.  Amen.

~Mother Dawson

Tomb and Womb

We are about to enter Holy Week, a time when we remember the tragedy and mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection…  and also Wednesday was the Feast of the Annunciation, the day when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was going to be pregnant with God’s only begotten Son.  The Feast of the Annunciation is always 9 months before Christmas and it always plants a seed of hope, a promise of new life, in the midst of our journey to the cross.  It is a strange juxtaposition of beginnings and endings as our church calendar overlaps the anticipation of conception and a death row trial.Perhaps, the tomb and the womb have more in common than we think. When we stand in anticipation of pregnancy and in anticipation of death we experience the same longing for life. In both places we are mystified by the ability for cells to divide and develop into a complex human being and the ability for cells to die and return to the dust. The miracle is that God is present, announcing new life at both the womb and the tomb.

I invite you to journey with me through Holy Week at St. Mark’s so that we may discover how God is midwifing new life at the tomb in all of us. I invite you to the annunciation of the resurrection – it happens this week as we approach the cross.

~Mother Dawson

HOLY WEEK JOURNEY

March 29 – 9 & 11am, 6pm Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday Worship

March 30 – 8:30pm Compline Prayers

March 31 – 6:30pm Lenten Supper and Storytelling

8:30pm Compline Prayers

April 1 – 12pm Healing Worship

8:30pm Compline Prayers

April 2 – 7:30pm Maundy Thursday Footwashing and Stripping the Altar

April 3 – 6:30pm Via Crucis (Way of the Cross)

7:30pm Good Friday Prayers and Veneration of the Cross

April 5 – 9 & 11am Easter Sunday Worship

10am Easter Egg Hunt