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Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton: Challenging the Mythology of Violence

Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton April 9 gave the following remarks to the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence. The conference continues until April 11.

“Challenging the Mythology of Violence”
Given by the Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of Maryland
At the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace Conference of the Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, OK
April 9, 2014

Let us pray.
Come by here, my Lord, come by here. Come by here, my Lord, come by here.  O Lord, come by here.
Someone’s dying Lord, come by here.  Someone’s dying Lord, come by here.  Someone’s dying Lord, come by here.  O Lord come by here.

Be present be present Lord Jesus.

The Episcopal Church aims to model at this gathering a civil and respectful conversation about violence in general and gun violence in particular — a dialogue that our society has not been able to accomplish. It arises out of a dream that a number of us had of gathering together Episcopalians from across the spectrum of geographical, political and theological differences to learn from each other, pray with each other, and discern together what the Spirit may be saying to us as church leaders.  In order to do this, we need to agree to make this a safe space, a “condemnation-free zone” for the next three days.

It will not help us to pre-judge each other here.  Do not assume that just because someone owns firearms that she or he is a right-wing, violence-prone, conspiracy theorist who does not want to end gun violence in our cities, towns and rural places.  And, on the other hand, do not assume that just because someone supports legislation to put limits on gun ownership that he or she is a left-wing, un-American, Constitution-tearing snob who wants to take away your private property and who does not himself or herself own firearms.  These are all unhelpful conversation starters, and not conducive to the building up of Christian community!  So, let’s leave all pre-judgments at the door, agreed?

What this means is that we are here to listen as much as we are here to advocate positions.  “Listening is the act of entering the skin of the other and wearing it for a time as if it were our own.”  (David Spangler in Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent)  It is in this climate of tolerance and respect that we can begin to address a major public health crisis in our country that increasingly is defining our image both here and abroad.

I want to speak to you know about Challenging the Mythology of Violence.
In the United States of America, the world’s only remaining superpower and self-proclaimed moral force for good in the world, 30,000 of its citizens are killed every year by firearms.  Another estimated 100,000 are shot every year, most of whom will carry permanent injuries, and all of whom will carry emotional scars for the rest of their lives.  Just think about these figures…what it means is that every 8-10 years, one million people are shot in this country.

This comes at a tremendous cost to our society: one million emergency room scenes, one million families grieving, one million victims and survivors trying to put broken bodies and wounded souls back together again.  The financial costs to our health system, the longterm costs of physical rehabilitation, and the emotional costs to the victims and their families last for decades.

The violence affects us all.  Whether it is in the middle class enclaves of Newtown, CT, on a native American reservation in the Dakota plains, a school campus in Colorado or Arkansas, an Army base in Texas, or on some forgotten street in Baltimore, Maryland -  we are a nation in mourning over the killing of its children.

What’s going to stop the epidemic of violence in our state, in or country, and in our world?  The Christian Gospel has proclaimed for thousands of years that there is a cure – but we have lost confidence in our day that that ancient solution will work.  For according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cure for violence is love.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you…” (Luke 6:27)

What?  Our violence-ridden culture would have us believe that what Jesus said in the gospel were wonderful words back then 2,000 years ago, and they may have worked well back there in Galilee, but we live in the real world in a very dangerous 21st century.  Love your enemies?  Love those who want to harm you? No, we must fight our enemies, outwit and outmaneuver our enemies, destroy and kill our enemies before they destroy and kill us.

And yet, Martin Luther King Jr., many years ago had this to say about these words of Jesus:
Jesus has become the practical realist…Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command [to love others] is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization.  Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.      -November 17, 1957

Well how can it actually work?  Remember a story that Gerald May, the Christian psychotherapist and spiritual guide at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in the Washington area, he once recounted this story:  “It was in 1976, and I had just received my first-level belt in the gentle Japanese martial art of Aikido: the practice (do) of the harmony (ai) of the universal energy (ki). A visiting master called me to the front of the room and he asked me to attack him.  He stood quietly as I charged at him, then turned his head slightly away.  My speed increased as I felt powerfully drawn toward him.  Then he bowed his head slightly and looked back at me, and I found myself lying comfortably on the floor.  We had not even touched…

“He explained that he had aligned himself with my attacking energy, joined it from his own centered stillness, and gently guided it back around me to towards the ground.  From my perspective, it seemed I had inexplicably decided to lie down and rest.”

What was that force, that non-violent power?  Power, in human terms, is the ability and use of force to accomplish one’s will over persons or situations.  But dunamis, the word for “power” which occurs over 120 times in the New Testament, is a creative, dynamic power that is very different from the “power over” aspects of human force or control.  Dunamis is spiritual power; the power that can only come from God.

As for human, or worldly, power, the United States is unquestionably the most powerful nation in the world. We have unparalleled economic power, so much so that it is said when the US economy sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.  We have immense technological power that enables American influence and culture to be felt to the farthest reaches of the earth – even into the universe.  We have unmatched military power, with capabilities of destroying targets with pinpoint accuracy from hundreds of miles away.

And yet, with all the power that is possible to acquire on this earth, still the United States of America is not able to force the rest of the world to act in accordance with our will, or to further our own national goals wherever and whenever we desire.  Despite our massive human power, we frequently find ourselves powerless to get persons or situations or countries under our control.  We find that we cannot force others to do what they do not want to do.

So we need to make a distinction between power on the one hand, and control on the other.  To illustrate that difference, I want to tell you about Louise Degrafinried.  Several years ago in Mason, Tennessee, an elderly black woman named Louise Degrafinried astounded the nation when she persuaded an escaped convict from a local prison to surrender.  He had a gun, and with his gun, he thought he had control.  He had surprised her husband Nathan outside their modest home and forced him inside.

But Louise was not afraid of the gun.  The short, grandmotherly woman told the convict to put his gun down while she fixed him some breakfast.  Now, I don’t know if you know anything about the amazing curative powers of a Southern home-cooked breakfast, it’s really built about fat.  While cooking the meal, Louise spoke of her faith and how a young man such as he should behave, and that with God’s help he could turn his life around.  Between the breakfast and her words, in no time at all, the young man was on his way back to the Tennessee prison.

The escaped convict had control, the control of the gun.  But Louise Degrafinried had power.

There is a fundamental distinction between control and power.  It is very important that we see it, both in our personal lives, in our society, and in our theology.  God, we say, is “omnipotent” – all powerful – and that is true, but we must not confuse that power with control.  God is all-power, but not all-control.  God has plenty of power, but chooses to exercise little control over the world.

The unchecked human need for control arises out of fear:  fear of a chaotic and unsafe world.  “If only the world were more predictable,” we think, “then I would feel better, I would feel safe.”  It is because of fear that humans tend to theologize a controlling God. Thus we also tend to believe that it is our duty, led by a controlling God, to control others by any of the means of control at our disposal – especially weapons. And there lies the idolatry.

But the agenda of God is not to control, but to love.  Love always seeks the best for the beloved, even at great cost.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…not to condemn the world [but to save it].”  (John 3:16-17)

The power of love to change the world cannot be underestimated. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr. again, he called that kind of power “soul force”.  The great American civil rights leader learned the principles of soul force from his reading of the ethics of Jesus, and from Gandhi’s use of the phrase to describe his methods of nonviolent resistance.

In terms of social change, “soul force” is based in the power of an idea:  freedom.  If our great nation has any real power at all, it is in the abundance of freedom that we enjoy here and our willingness to share this power with the world.  It is the only export that we have that has power over others – not money, not bombs, not self-interest, but freedom.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “When a people decide they want to be free, the nothing can stop them.”  They can even stare down the barrel of a gun – and they will prevail.

This soul force is not only the power to change human lives, but it is the most effective force that is available to humans to change whole societies toward the vision of God for the world.  In the book “A Force More Powerful”, written by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall in 2000, the authors carefully document over 15 movements of mass social change that have resisted systems of injustice on every continent of the world.  They have concluded that the 20th century should have been known as the century that has demonstrated the triumph of nonviolent action as the most powerful force in the world.  This massive and well-documented book reminds us that…

…it wasn’t physical force that drove the mighty British empire from colonial India in 1947, it was soul force.
…it wasn’t physical force that successfully resisted the Nazis in Denmark and saved many Jews it was soul force.…
…it wasn’t physical force that brought down the dictator General Martinez in El Salvador in 1944…
…it wasn’t physical force that brought down segregation in the American South in 50’s & 60’s…
…it wasn’t physical force that restored democracy to the Philippines in 1986…
…it wasn’t physical or violent force that moved Lech Walesa and Solidarity into power in Poland…
…it wasn’t physical force that brought down totalitarian regimes in the former USSR and Eastern Europe…
…it wasn’t physical force that dismantled apartheid and the racist government in South Africa…

In each case, it was soul force.

If the above representative list seems new or shocking to you, it is because we have done a poor job in this country of teaching any of the principles of nonviolent action as a way of solving conflicts.  We don’t do it. Many fear that our culture will never do this, because we have become intoxicated with violence as the only effective means to achieve our personal goals and national aspirations.  We have worshiped for too long at the altar of the gun to solve our problems.  This has led to what can be called The Mythology of Violence; namely, the widely held myth that violence works, and that nonviolence is a pipe dream for idealists who do not know how the world really operates.

I want to emphasize here that there is a time-honored tradition in Christianity of sometimes having to resort to a “just war” in certain extraordinary circumstances, and we are very dependent upon our brave men and women in the armed forces who are sometimes called upon to fight and put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.  We are grateful for their service and the service of all uniformed people; we pray for them and for our leaders to make wise decisions before sending them into armed conflict.  But you do not need be a pacifist like Jesus, Gandhi or King in order to learn any of the almost 200 methods of nonviolent action that have been proven to be effective in removing unjust institutions and governments, and restoring peace and freedom.  As Christians, as followers of Christ, we are called upon to teach peace as well as to practice peace, which means we have to continually re-learn the ways of peace in a culture that’s awash in violence.  We must repent, both individually and collectively, for believing that violence and killing will be the answer.

Just this past week I had the privilege of spending some time in Baltimore with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who was there to give a lecture.  I told him about this conference addressing violence, and I reminded him of some words he said 11 years ago that had a profound effect on me in my thinking about violence.  It was early 2003 when our nation was embroiled in an intense debate on whether or not the United States should invade Iraq to address the problem of Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction.  Dr. Williams said at that time:

“If all you have is hammers, then all you see is nails.”

His warning was clear.  If we put our trust only in guns and bombs to make peace, then we only see solutions that demand the use of guns and bombs.

Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. can teach us once again how to “live together as [family] or die together as fools.”   Six months before he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet, he said this in a sermon:

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and. we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to love. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

That is the power of love. We need to teach that.  That is soul force…the way of Jesus.

Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny’s opening remarks

Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny April 9 opened the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence with the following remarks. The conference continues until April 11.

Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace
Sheraton Reed Center – Midwest City, Oklahoma
April 9, 2014

Bishop Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma

Why are We Here?

Good Evening!

For those who don’t know me I am Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma. On behalf of our Diocese and all Oklahomans we welcome you to our Great State!

We extend a special welcome to the Most Reverend and Right Honorable The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and his wife Caroline. And to the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and her husband Dick.

I hope you enjoy your stay here and more importantly that you find the time we will share together over the next couple of days to be Thought Provoking, Challenging and Empowering.
I have been asked to kind of set the stage for these next couple of days; and share some thoughts on “Why we are Here”…

Over the next two days you will hear some keynote presentations, have the opportunity to participate in workshops, exchange ideas and network in table discussion and self selecting groups, and visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site  of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19, 1995 where 168 souls were lost including 19 children. Following the visit to the National Memorial on Friday, we will gather for a closing Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral with our Presiding Bishop preaching. We will conclude our time together with dinner at the cathedral and hear thoughts on how we take what has started here at this conference and move it forward.

So Why are We Here?

On December 14, 2012, a young 20 year old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut and fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members. Before driving to the school the young man shot and killed his mother in their home; and then as first responders arrived at the school he shot and killed himself.

The incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School was not the first of these kinds of incidents in our society; and has not been the last.

In 1966, a former Marine killed 16 people and wounded 30 others at the University of Texas

1973, a 23 year old man killed 9 people at a Howard Johnson’s motel

1986, a part-time mail carrier killed 14 postal workers in a post office, here, in Edmond, Oklahoma leading to the often and unfortunately used phrase: “Going Postal”

1999, two young men, 18 and 17 years old killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado

2007 a 23 year old student killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University

2012 a 24 year old man killed 12 and wounded 58 others in a movie theater in Aurora Colorado

2013 a Civilian contractor fatally shot 12 and wounded 3 others inside the Washington Navy Ship Yard

And just this morning, a student moved through a school in Murrysville Pennsylvania stabbing and slashing more than 20 others before being taken into custody.

These are just a few; in the last 30 years there have been more than 60 mass killings in the United States; and this doesn’t even begin to take into account the single acts of violence resulting in loss of life, wounding, and maiming that occurs every day in our cities, towns, and communities across this country.

By any definition of the word, the frequency of violent acts in our society is of Epidemic Proportion.

With what always seems to be predictable regularity, what follows these incidents are the speculations of motive, the arm chair psychological profiling, the ideological positioning, the political rhetoric, and the finger pointing, trying to cast blame on someone or something.

And sadly, after a few weeks, the shock and devastation dissipates from those not directly affected; our attentions are drawn elsewhere; politicians move on to the next political debate; and we are left wondering why and how and won’t anything ever be done…

Doing something is why we are here…

For years people have cried out for the authorities or politicians to enforce existing laws and pass new ones. For years people have pointed the finger at this or that as the cause for the violence in our society. For years the polarizing voices of the extremes have dominated the conversation, entrenched in their idealistic positions and agendas; and stifled any attempt for a reasoned, common sense conversation and approach to challenging the increased incident of violence around us.

We are not here to cast blame; or to produce some statement or resolution calling on others to act; or to be drowned out by those who want to intimidate…

We are here to have a new conversation; a conversation that says we are not willing to accept that violence is a natural part of society; a conversation that acknowledges we live in relationship; and that we are all responsible for how we treat one another; a conversation that talks about how each of us can make a difference; about how each one of us can change the trajectory of violence in our world; A conversation that recognizes and honors the diversity of voices and perspectives and passions.

So how is it that I am standing before you today?

I represent one of those diverse voices…

So let me share a little of my story…

It was a little over a year ago when I received a call from the Bishop of Connecticut, Ian Douglas

Ian asked if I would be willing to participate in a panel discussion at our Spring House of Bishops Meeting to reflect about gun control and violence in our society following the horrific incident at Sandy Hook.

In all honesty I was surprised by Ian’s call. I told Ian that I didn’t think my perspective would be welcome as part of the discussion. I shared with Ian that I was a former cop, having served for nearly 20 years in Southern California; that I support the Constitutional Right to Bear Arms; I have a CCW Permit, and on occasion have been accused of being a “gun toting Bishop”. I suggested that he might want to reconsider his invitation. After all, my voice was not exactly in the mainstream of political correctness.

Ian paused and said “your voice and perspective is absolutely needed in this conversation”; He said, if we are ever going to be able to change the incidence of violence in our society, then all voices need to be heard; that we need to do something other than entrench ourselves in ideological positions.

So, with a little persuasion, encouragement, and arm twisting Ian convinced me that my voice, my experience might add something to the conversation.

As I prepared my remarks for that meeting, I became very aware of a tension, an internal struggle that was challenging me to get past my long held party line perspectives and dig deeper into what I was truly feeling.

As a former Police Officer I can say: we work hard at meticulously building walls and putting up protective barriers to protect ourselves from emotions and feelings. The myth is that having emotions and feelings is a detriment to doing the job.

What I was discovering while preparing those remarks was that maybe I did have some emotions and feelings. That maybe over the years some cracks had developed in those walls…

At that House Meeting I started my remarks with what I had said to Ian:

You should know I am a gun owner;

I have a CCW Permit;

And I occasionally carry a gun when traveling throughout the State of Oklahoma.

And then I went on to share some of my experience:

In 1979, one of my best friends and fellow Police Officer, Don Reed, agreed to swap shifts with me so I could have a weekend off to of all things, play in a Police Softball Tournament. During that shift, Don responded to a call at a local bar where he confronted a man who was later determined to be a convicted felon, recently released from prison, and who had recently purchased several guns. As Don was escorting the man out of the bar with other officers, the man took a semi-automatic handgun out from under his coat and shot Don several times in the chest. Don died at the scene… The suspect eluded police for several days, but was eventually captured, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1982, as the lead investigator working on a Crime Task Force I was assigned the case of a prison escapee who was a serial rapist. The suspect was reportedly responsible for more than 20 brutal rapes, usually pistol whipping his victims in the two weeks following his escape. Early on a Sunday morning I received a tip from an informant that the suspect was heading to the Santa Ana area of Orange County. Staking out the area with other officers, the suspect appeared in the stolen vehicle of his most recent victim. A pursuit ensued with the suspect losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a telephone pole. The suspect exited his vehicle and in an exchange of gun fire, he was shot and killed.

In 1991, a couple of days before I was to leave the Police Department for seminary, I was dispatched to a Check the Welfare call. Family members had been unable to contact a brother who had been suffering from depression. Getting no response from knocks on the door, we checked and found the front door of the residence unlocked. Upon opening the door the man appeared directly in front of me with a rifle pointed at my head. The man pulled the trigger but the gun misfired. The man was subsequently arrested and taken for a psychiatric evaluation. It was later determined he had been suffering from Mental Illness for years, yet was still able to purchase a gun.

As I made these remarks to my fellow Bishops, a flood of emotions began to well up within me and I came face to face with my reality: I live everyday knowing that I share responsibility for the taking a human life; and but for the Grace of God I would not be standing here today.

These incidents, the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and all the other incidents of violence, and hatred, and intolerance, and death seem to collide within me; and I was left wondering how we got here. What have we as a people done or failed to do that causes someone to think that their only option is to act out in some violent way?

And then there was this question: “What are you going to do about it?”

For years these tragedies have been occurring, and while there may have been momentary calls for changes in laws or political rhetoric, what seems to be happening is that our world, our society; our communities are willing to accept this as the new norm. That we should all just get used to it because it is going to happen again and again and again….

(After that House Meeting, I decided) I am not willing to accept that… I refuse to feel powerless; that I cannot make a difference; or have an influence.

I refuse because I know better… I refuse because I have seen lives changed and relationships restored…

I have seen youth who have felt outcast and lonely and unworthy come to know that they are beloved children of God, cared for, and respected, and valued…

I have seen teenagers and young adults caught in the vicious cycles of life given a new sense of purpose….

I have seen adults incarcerated for the mistakes they made renewed, reconciled and restored…

I have seen how the faces of the homeless light up when they are treated with dignity and respect…

I am not willing to accept that we are destined to suffer the tragedies that have plagued our society.

Instead I am convinced that we can change judgmental attitudes, intolerant behaviors, and the violence in our society…

Each and every one of us has the power to make a difference. We do it by Proclaiming by Word and Example the Good News of God in Christ. We do it by seeking and serving Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We do it by striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.

These words may sound familiar. They should. They are the foundations of our Baptismal Covenant.

You see, we don’t have to figure out what to do; we just have to do that which we have already promised…

Each and every one of us here has the ability to make a difference; one person, one life at a time; And the time is now…

We didn’t get to where we are today overnight, or in a year or even a decade. It has taken generations.

And there are those who would say, we’re not going to change it overnight or in a year or in a decade. It is going to take generations. But there was a Jewish Philosopher who once said in the first century: If not now, when? And if not me, Who?

It is time that we as people of faith stand up and proclaim something new to this hurt and broken and violent world.

It is time that we as people of faith reclaim that which we have been blessed and given.

It is time that we begin a new conversation and that our voices instill a new mantra in the world: That all are created in the image of God; that all are children of God, and all deserve respect and dignity.

My hope is that this conference might be a model, an example to others of how differing voices, with often very opposite passions, can come together with honesty, charity, and grace for a common purpose.

As we go about our time together over these next couple of days, let’s keep in our hearts and minds all those who have been victims of violence, especially those who suffered that attack of this morning.

May God bless our time together, and may God make us instruments of His peace!

EPPN Lenten Series Pt. 6: Supporting peace in the land of the holy one

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Alexander D. Baumgarten
Director of Justice and Advocacy Ministries for The Episcopal Church

“The phrase “Holy City” is constantly used to describe the reverence for her shrines, but what it really means is that Jerusalem is the essential place on earth for the communication between God and man.” — Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem, the Biography

Dear Fellow Advocates,

Just as Jesus’ earthly ministry found its climax in Jerusalem, so too has our journey through Lent and toward Holy Week led us there. The status of Jerusalem is perhaps the most difficult contemporary issue for Israelis and Palestinians working toward a peace deal, and just as it has through centuries and even millennia, it continues to vex even those who have spent a lifetime working toward peace.

On one hand, Jerusalem is a study in historical and contemporary paradox. Landlocked and set on a hill, its practical and strategic value to any state has never been particularly high. Yet, more than any city in the history of civilization, Jerusalem has captured the imaginations of those who crave it, none more so than the adherents of the three great Abrahamic faiths. The Jewish tradition that included Jesus saw Jerusalem and its Temple as the literal dwelling-place of God on earth, and until Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, it was impossible to understand the faith of the Israelites apart from the physical residence of God on Mount Zion. For Christians, Jerusalem is of course the place to which Jesus’ entire earthly ministry slowly marched, his sacrifice at Calvary being rich with symbolism of the sacrifice of the Passover lamb at the Temple in the sight of the Divine Presence. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the location of Mohammed’s Night Journey and the site of Islam’s third-holiest site, Al Aqsa mosque, and the great Dome of the Rock that was built atop the Temple Mount (called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims) that once held the Temple. Each tradition has experienced periods of proximity and exile, and always longing, for the courts and citadels of the Holy City.

On another hand, the issues related to Jerusalem today might be seen as fairly straightforward. The modern city of Jerusalem, built around the Old City that still stands at its core, is a thriving metropolis of 800,000 people. Jews and Arabs in the modern city live largely separate, but sometimes overlapping, lives. While neither side can envision a future in which the other has permanent control of the full city, the question of territorial disposition in some ways becomes much easier once historical and religious claims to the Old City are dealt with separately. Strict territorial division of the city, as existed from 1948 to 1967, is of course one option, though many believe this to be an undesirable course for a city the Psalms describe as being “at unity with itself.” Since prior to the end of the British Mandate in 1947, international thinking about Jerusalem centered on ways it might be shared between Jews and Arabs as a capital for two states, a position consistently supported by The Episcopal Church. Still, the present status quo has not been good for the prospect of sharing Jerusalem. As last week’s rupture in the U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians revealed again, the question of construction on land perceived to belong to another is even more volatile in Jerusalem than the West Bank.

What is abundantly clear is that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not involve agreement on Jerusalem is no solution at all, and no matter how vexing the issues we will explore seem, the spirit of negotiation must produce compromise.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” cries Jesus as he moves to the final fateful moment of his passion, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” It is not difficult to imagine Jesus speaking those same words today as he beholds Jerusalem fraught with such complexity, but also such promise.

Next week, in Holy Week, we will conclude our Lenten series as we began it, by considering reconciliation. Today, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

JERUSALEMWhat is the central issue and why is it important?

Both Israel and the Palestinians have important historical and contemporary claims to Jerusalem. Each side in the present Conflict sees Jerusalem as its capital. The Old City – the most ancient and historic segment of Jerusalem – is today a tiny segment of municipal Jerusalem, but contains some of the holiest sites in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Israel has primarily administered the full city since 1967, a complicated and controversial 47 years, but Palestinians and Israelis alike continue to see the status of Jerusalem as critical to a final-status agreement. Modern Jerusalem, which is built out from the Old City, is a sprawling metropolis of approximately 800,000 people, and is extraordinarily diverse. Approximately 63% of the city’s residents are Jewish, with Muslims and a very small number of Christians comprising the bulk of the rest of the population. The vast majority of Jews live in Jewish neighborhoods and the vast majority of Arabs live in Arab neighborhoods, with economic and community life being largely separate.

What is the history?

As discussed above, international proposals for partition of Palestine during the final years of the British Mandate envisioned international administration or some other sort of sharing of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, however, Jerusalem was partitioned into two cities. West Jerusalem, on the Israeli side of the Green Line, became part of the new State of Israel, while East Jerusalem, including the Old City, became part of the Kingdom of Transjordan (now Jordan). This situation held until the 1967 Six Day War , in which Israel won control of East Jerusalem (along with the full West Bank) and reunified the city under Israeli administration. In 1980, the Israeli Knesset formally took control of East Jerusalem, an action disputed still by the United States and most other international observers. The construction of Israeli housing in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem has complicated the matter further in the years since.

What is the Israeli position?

Israelis hold that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, that its division between 1948 and 1967 was tragic, and that it should remain unified forever.

What is the Palestinian position?

Palestinians too understand Jerusalem as the capitol of a future state. Palestinians believe that they must have sovereignty over at least the portion of the city that was under Jordanian control prior to 1967.

How has each side approached the claims of the other?

This is a complicated question. Historically, each side has viewed the other’s history and present claims in Jerusalem with skepticism. This is particularly true where the holy sites in the Old City are concerned. Yassir Arafat, in his years as Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, denied that a Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem, a claim that historian Simon Montefiorehas noted even Arafat’s own historians disputed privately. Similarly, today, some far-right elements in the Israeli Knesset support an assertion of Jewish sovereignty over Temple Mount, whose Muslim waqf control of many centuries has been let stand by Israel since winning the Old City in 1967.

These voices, however, are out-of-step with the mainstream on each side. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke recently of his belief that Jerusalem should not be re-divided, and while Palestinians never have formally agreed to share the city, Palestinian negotiators reportedly agreed to these terms during 2006-8 talks. Similarly, while Israeli leaders insist that Jerusalem should never be divided, Israeli negotiators did offer Palestinian sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem during multiple past peace negotiations.

Is it possible to share Jerusalem without dividing it?

Yes. As numerous proposals have made clear, it is possible for Jerusalem to exist as a unified city (or an “open city,” as some call it) with both Israeli and Palestinian civil control over respective neighborhoods, without providing a stark division of the City as existed from 1948-1967. This is essentially what Israeli and Palestinian representatives have discussed during past negotiations. Particular challenges under such a scenario would include shared administration of the Old City, security around the full city, a shared economic life, and smooth cooperation between two municipal and two national authorities.

What is The Episcopal Church position?

The Episcopal Church has been clear for approximately three decades that a shared Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state, that access to the holy sites must be protected for all people, and that – as with all other issues dividing the Israelis and the Palestinians – negotiation is the only way for the parties to reach agreement.

What might a final agreement look like?

As always, it is important to emphasize that only the parties themselves can determine the outcome of this issue through negotiation. Still, past negotiations point us to what tenets might be included in a future agreement. These include:

  • An open and shared city in which Arab neighborhoods, primarily in the eastern part of the city, come under Palestinian civil administration while Jewish neighborhoods remain under Israeli administration;
  • Cooperation in civil administration, economic life, and protection of the security of the city;
  • A true capital for both Israel and a future Palestinian state in the portions of the city under the respective administrative control of each;
  • A special agreement for administration of the Old City that ensures that people from both sides, and all religious traditions, have open access to the holy sites.

To access the previous 2014 Lenten Series reflections on the new EPPN action center, go here

Presiding Bishop visits Western North Carolina

Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori visited the Diocese of Western North Carolina April 6-8, leading a retreat where members of the diocese explored the theme, “Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly in a 21st Century World.”

The retreat, held at Lake Logan Episcopal Center in Canton, North Carolina, focused on what mission means and how the church can be encouraged and inspired to do God’s work. Jefferts Schori stressed that missionary work is necessary at both the local and the global level. “The universe is connected in all scales in God’s transcendent, created reality,” she said. “The dream of God is that abundance is possible if we’re not selfish.”

Jefferts Schori’s address is available here.

A panel discussed mission work in far-flung places, like Haiti and India, as well as local projects that support the homeless, the hungry, and the under-educated. “We share the same destination, whether that is heaven or hell on earth,” Jefferts Schori said.

Western North Carolina Bishop G. Porter Taylor said that regardless of where we go to do missionary work, “we don’t go to tell them anything – we go there to discover and to be open to that power that transcends us.”

Jefferts Schori stressed that it’s not a decision about whether to do local work or global work – that we can think globally and locally, and take action in both. “We’re all called to do different things,” she said, encouraging everyone to find a passion and to connect to that ministry.

Taylor agreed: “If our theology is sound and we’re all connected, then we need to ask, ‘How can we react to that?’”

The presiding bishop used the Five Marks of Mission to describe how to approach mission work thoughtfully, but also encouraged everyone to “Fear not – be creative.”

The panel discussed what inspired them in their mission, with panel member Shawnee Irwin talking about the relationships she’s built in the companion diocese of Durgapur, India, and saying, “I keep hearing the voice of our Lord, and he keeps saying – ‘Go back, go back, they need you’ – and I need them.”

Jefferts Schori said her inspiration comes from hearing stories like the ones told during the retreat. “That’s a gift,” she said, “and then I can take those stories and share them wherever I go. That sustains me.”

– Chris Goldman is communications officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina.

Saint John the Evangelist in Newport reaffirms Episcopal identity

Thursday, April 10, 2014

[Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island press release] Saint John the Evangelist in Newport has reaffirmed its Episcopal identity by restoring its sign out front, after a decade of it reading “Anglican.”

The Vicar of St. John’s, Father N.J.A. Humphrey, will bless the restored sign at 9:00 a.m., following Morning Prayer on Friday, April 11th. Television, radio, and newspaper journalists are invited to be present for this special event at 61 Washington Street, between Poplar and Willow, in Newport.

In October, 2003, the former rector of Saint John the Evangelist Church in the historic Point neighborhood of Newport, Rhode Island changed the sign out front from reading “Episcopal” to “Anglican.” For the past decade, the former word “Episcopal” could still be seen faintly in the blacked-out background, over which the word “Anglican” was superimposed.

The 2003 sign change was intended as a protest against the consecration of Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire. “I believe some people hoped that St. John’s would leave the Episcopal Church over this issue,” the current vicar, Father N.J.A. Humphrey, said. Fr. Humphrey has been the priest at St. John’s since August, 2013.

But St. John’s didn’t ever leave the Episcopal Church, and the term ‘Anglican’ on their sign gradually became misleading. Over the years breakaway churches across the nation began to claim the title ‘Anglican’ as a way of distancing themselves from the Episcopal Church, which is the official U.S. branch of the Worldwide Anglican Communion. Fr. Nathan Humphrey said  “As soon as I arrived, several people asked me what I was going to do about the sign. It wasn’t exactly my top priority, but I was bothered by the fact that it sent not just the wrong message, but a false one.”

A few months after Fr. Humphrey’s arrival, the governing board of the congregation authorized the sign’s restoration, and soon thereafter Fr. Humphrey raised enough money to cover the cost. “John Liptak of Liptak signs did a beautiful job,” Fr. Humphrey said.

This restoration is not intended to signal any recent change in the church’s ideology. Fr. Humphrey said “St. John’s is home to people on all sides of any given political or theological issue. We’re just like any other happy dysfunctional family in that regard…There are plenty of Anglicans who are progressive as well as plenty of Anglicans who are traditional in our theological and political outlook. He continued on to say “The plain fact of the matter is that to leave the word ‘Episcopal’ off of our sign was false advertising. We have been a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island since our founding as an Anglo-catholic congregation in 1875, and we have never ceased being anything other than a member of this diocese. Nor do we have any intention of changing that now or in the future.”

In fact, last Spring the governing board of St. John’s voted to request that the Bishop of Rhode Island, The Right Reverend W. Nicholas Knisely, make the parish a transitional mission congregation of the diocese, legally making the bishop the rector of the church. As Rector, Bp. Knisely appointed Fr. Humphrey, an experienced Anglo-catholic priest, to be his Vicar. The church consented. “I was recruited to help St. John’s reclaim its traditional identity as a joyful center of high church worship and caring outreach in Newport,” Fr. Humphrey said. “The denominational in-fighting of the past forty years effectively distracted many past members of St. John’s from our core identity as brothers and sisters in Christ, called to glorify God in reverent worship, to edify each other through attention to the Gospel of Jesus, and to embrace service to the world in Jesus’ name.

He continued “Our identity in Christ is the only identity that really matters, and anything, including what the sign says out front, pales in comparison to that. Thank God that St. John’s has members who have remained faithful to that core identity through thick and thin. Now is the time to broadcast that nothing will hinder us from proclaiming who we truly are: a Christian community in the Anglo-catholic tradition within the Episcopal Church.”

The Anglo-catholic movement began in the Church of England in the mid-nineteenth century. Soon, its emphasis on reverent beauty in worship and fidelity to the apostolic teaching of the early church was imported to many congregations within the Episcopal Church. “People like to say we are all about ‘smells and bells,’ but I prefer saying we have ‘all the pomp without the pope,’ though were the pope to visit us, we’d be pleased as punch to welcome him,” Fr. Humphrey quipped.

The sign change comes just in time for Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday on April 13th. “We are planning a procession from Storer Park to the church, beginning at 10 a.m. All are welcome to join our blessing of the palms in the park that morning, weather-permitting.” Fr. Humphrey continued, “I hope our neighbors and friends will join us, as well, on Maundy Thursday, April 17th, at 6:30 p.m. and Good Friday, April 18th, also at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, Apirl 19th, Bishop Knisely will preside over the Great Vigil of Easter, at which the clergy and people of the other Episcopal Churches of Aquidneck Island and St. George’s School Chapel, Middletown will participate. St. Andrew’s, Little Compton will also join us, since they are in the same deanery as St. John’s.”

The Zabriskie Memorial Church of Saint John the Evangelist is located at 61 Washington Street in the historic Point neighborhood of scenic Newport, Rhode Island. The 139 year-old church was founded in the home of a free black man named Peter Quire from Maryland. In the late 1800s, Sarah Titus Zabriskie gave the current 13th century style stone gothic church overlooking the Narragansett Bay in memory of her mother, Sarah Jane Zabriskie. The church has been identified with the Anglo-catholic, or “high church,” tradition since its founding, and is known for its friendly, racially mixed and economically diverse congregation.

Canada: Welby explains gays and violence in Africa remarks

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop Fred Hiltz met for two hours at the convent of Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto. Photo: Michael Hudson

[Anglican Journal] After a 12-hour day of back-to-back engagements, a jet-lagged Justin Welby, the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, sat down for a 15-minute interview with the Anglican Journal late Tuesday evening, April 8.

Welby and his wife, Caroline, arrived in Toronto Monday afternoon for a one and a half day “personal, pastoral visit,” his first, to the Anglican Church of Canada. Welby, whose area of expertise includes conflict resolution, has said that these visits are part of a process for getting to know the primates (senior archbishops) and their churches. The Anglican Communion, which has been struggling with divisions over the issue of sexuality, has about 80 million members in 143 countries. Including Canada, the archbishop has visited 17 of the Communion’s 37 provinces and aims to visit them all by the end of the year or early 2015. He arrived April 9 in Oklahoma City, to visit The Episcopal Church.


Q: How would you describe your first visit to the Anglican Church of Canada? What have you learned about this church that has been most unexpected?

A: Two things have been unexpected, that have been striking. One is the depth of commitment to the truth and reconciliation process, which I didn’t realize quite how deep that went into the life of the church. And, also, the commitment of the church to support the Council of the North dioceses…That’s all part of the same sense of commitment to those who the church has damaged or who are on the edge. The other thing that’s struck me has been the commitment to the Five Marks of Mission and that these are very much part of the strategy of the church, and that’s the vision of the church.

Q: You mentioned in your dinner remarks that your conversation with the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, has been most useful in terms of how to move forward in the Communion.

A: We had two hours together and I find him a particularly helpful, thoughtful and challenging interlocutor, and someone who seems to be able to unlock and unpick issues that were weighing on my mind and to…enable more creativity. I don’t know if that’s part of his life as primate, but I felt that, as a result of the conversation, I was more creative than I was before it.

Q: Could you give us a sense of what you talked about?

A: There were these obvious things. We talked about the challenge of diversity in the Communion, that we have such breathtaking diversity across the Communion, that it’s a massive task to even think about how we can relate to each other effectively. We talked quite a lot about the companion dioceses and the value they are…the depth they get into.

Q: In 2016, the church’s General Synod will be presented with a resolution changing the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage. Is this a cause for concern?

A: That’s a really tough question. Well, it’s got to be a cause for concern because this is a particularly tough issue to deal with…And, I hope that two or three things happen: I hope that the church, in its deliberations, is drawing on the wealth of its contribution to the Anglican Communion and the worldwide church, to recognize…the way it works and how it thinks, to recognize the importance of its links. And that, in its deliberations, it is consciously listening to the whole range of issues that are of concern in this issue. We need to be thinking; we need to be listening to the LGBT voices and to discern what they’re really saying because you can’t talk about a single voice anymore than you can with any other group. There needs to be listening to Christians from around the world; there needs to be listening to ecumenical partners, to interfaith partners. There needs to be a commitment to truth in love and there needs to be a commitment to being able to disagree in a way that demonstrates that those involved in the discussions love one another as Christ loves us. That’s the biggest challenge, that in what we do, we demonstrate that love for Christ in one another.

Q: Some people have reacted strongly to your statements about the issue of gay marriage in your interview with LBC radio.

A: Lots of people have.

Q: Were you in fact blaming the death of Christians in parts of Africa on the acceptance of gay marriage in America?

A: I was careful not to be too specific because that would pin down where that happened and that would put the community back at risk. I wouldn’t use the word “blame”— that’s a misuse of words in the context. One of the things that’s most depressing about the response to that interview is that almost nobody listened to what I said; they mostly imagined what they thought I said…It was not only imagination, it was a million miles away from what I said.

Q: So what exactly were you saying?

A: What I was saying is that when we take actions in one part of the church, particularly actions that are controversial, that they are heard and felt not only in that part of the church but around the world…And, this is not mere consequentialism; I’m not saying that because there will be consequences to taking action, that we shouldn’t take action. What I’m saying is that love for our neighbour, love for one another, compels us to consider carefully how that love is expressed, both in our own context and globally. We never speak the essential point that, as a church, we never speak only in our local situation. Our voice carries around the world. Now that will be more true in some places than in others. It depends on your links. We need to learn to live as a global church in a local context and never to imagine that we’re just a local church. There is no such thing.

Q: You’ve said the issue of same-sex marriage is a complex one that you wrestle with every day and often in the middle of the night…

A: I have about a million questions. I think really I’ve said as much as I want to on that subject.

Q: You recently released a video collaboration with Cardinal Vincent Nichols. What was the impetus for that?

A: It came about in the discussions we were having together. We meet together to discuss and pray quite regularly and out of that came the sense that we ought to do something public and visible that demonstrated what the church is already doing, to draw attention to that and that we’re centered both in prayer and social action. 

Q: Is there an Easter message you’d like to give to Canadian-Anglicans?

A: I would say that at the heart of my own thinking as we approach Easter is to recall the joy that is in the risen Christ.

Q: Is it harder for you now to be on Twitter because you’re the Archbishop of Canterbury?

A: Yes.

Q: Are you less candid?

A: I’m not necessarily less candid. It’s very interesting with social media, isn’t it? Every day I get loads of questions directed at me through a Twitter message—everything from “What’s your favourite book?” to “Are you really saying…whatever?” Sadly, there’s really no way I can respond to those—it’s just impossible. I would do nothing else all day, and then I wouldn’t get through it. One of the things I find difficult is ignoring responses to things that are tweeted because everything in me wants to respond to the people who’ve responded to me. But it’s just not possible. The other thing is that you just become aware of the dark side of all these things: that people feel that they can write things about other people, and not just about myself, which are really horrible. And so I have to say there are moments when you think, “I just don’t know if I want to put up something on social media because it will just unleash a torrent of abuse from some people.” But in the end you think, “Well, I won’t read it…there’s no point… I’m just going to get on with life.”

Q: Do you still compose your own tweets?

A: Yes.

Q: You don’t have a minder doing that for you?

A: No, no. I said it’s got to be authentic. It’s got to be me; that’s why there are sometimes gaps. I’ll go through a few days where nothing particularly occurs to me or I’m traveling. I’m not on Twitter today—I might just manage it today before I go to sleep. Some days, lots of things happen; other days, my mind is a perfect blank…

Q: You also need to be kind to yourself.

A: I do know about that, but you at least have to know when you’re going to bore people stiff.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Las autoridades de Israel han cerrado el acceso a lugares de devoción para los cristianos como el Santo Sepulcro diciendo que es para mantener el orden y solemnidad de la Semana Santa pero grupos cristianos han interpretado la acción como un ataque a la libertad religiosa. El lugar del Santo Sepulcro se encuentra bajo el control de la antigua ciudadela y desde 1967 está en manos de Israel después de la guerra de los “Seis Días”.

El periódico francés “Le Monde” conocido por su línea liberal y pro revolucionaria, dijo recientemente en su editorial: “Los venezolanos llevan una lucha continua contra el despilfarro, la  corrupción y el autoritarismo político. Es un cóctel socio-nacionalista inspirado en el ejemplo cubano y el anti-imperialismo militante que saca sus fuerzas de un viejo fondo revolucionario latinoamericano. Es la herencia de un caudillo militar”.

Acaba de aparecer el libro “Chavistas en el imperio: secretos, tácticas y escándalos”  escrito por el periodista venezolano Casto Ocando que revela las inversiones secretas en los Estados Unidos y los negocios que han operado desde la llegada de Hugo Chávez al poder. El libro expone la doble cara del chavismo: por una parte una enemistad feroz contra el país del norte y  por otra las grandes inversiones secretas como empresas y edificios de lujo en el mismo. En una extensa lista el libro revela los nombres de los ministros, militares, parlamentarios y banqueros que están bajo investigación por el gobierno federal de Estados Unidos. El libro también revela los dineros del petróleo que han sido empleados para sobornar en el país y el extranjero.

Recientemente  hubo una reunión en Caracas con el fin de encontrar puntos comunes para la paz. La oposición pide la libertad de todos los presos políticos, el desarme de los grupos armados patrocinados por el gobierno, la libertad de prensa y reunión,  la destitución de funcionarios chavistas en la Asamblea Nacional, el Ejército, la Corte Suprema y otras instancias como la dirección de Ministerio del Tesoro. Estos puntos serán remitidos al ejecutivo mediante un delegado imparcial. Desde ya se cree que el gobierno rechazará discutir esos puntos. También se aceptó con beneplácito la medición del Vaticano.

A pesar de que las leyes brasileñas permiten que las iglesias no paguen impuestos  debido a su labor social hay iglesias evangélicas “que además de intentar llevar creyentes al paraíso celestial, también operan acciones para llevar dólares a paraísos fiscales”. Por esa razón,  Ministerios Públicos investigan a  templos que pudieran ser usados para lavado de dinero, ocultamiento de patrimonios y evasión fiscal.

Bob Coy, joven pastor que dirigió la segunda iglesia evangélica más numerosa del Estado de la Florida desde 1985, ha renunciado. La iglesia llamada “Capilla del Calvario” tiene 20,000 miembros y está situada en Fort Lauderdale, una ciudad cercana a Miami.  Coy dijo que renunciaba por razón de “dos fallas morales” que había cometido pero no dijo cuáles eran.

David White, que fue profesor del Seminario Evangélico de Teología de Matanzas, Cuba,  falleció el 1 de abril en su hogar de Nashville, Tennessee, a la edad de 92 años. Por varios años enseñó ética y otras materias en Matanzas. Hizo su tesis doctoral sobre el pensamiento de José Ortega y Gasset (intelectual español, 1883-1955). Sus alumnos lo respetaban por su carácter sobrio y sus conocimientos de varias materias teológicas. Al principio de la revolución en 1960 junto con otros misioneros norteamericanos en Cuba, escribió una carta al Presidente de Estados Unidos afirmando que la revolución era un “genuino movimiento nacionalista” sin conexión con las ideas socialistas de la época. Posteriormente cambió su posición al ver lo que pasaba en Cuba.

Bargeeta Almby, misionera evangélica sueca de 72 años fue víctima de un asalto a mano armada en Punjab, India, donde ha trabajado por 38 años. No perdió la vida pero está en estado crítico en un hospital local. Frans Van der Lugt, sacerdote jesuita holandés de 72 años fue asesinado en Siria por dos desconocidos.  Hace cuatro años se le ofreció salir del país pero rehusó diciendo “necesito estar con mi pueblo”. El sacerdote Juan Francisco Blandón, párroco de la Iglesia Concepción de María del Municipio de Wiwili, a 300 kilómetros al norte de Managua, Nicaragua, fue muerto tratando de mediar en una disputa matrimonial. Desde principios de año 24 mujeres han perdido la vida a manos de sus esposos o compañeros de vida.

PANCARTA. En una de las tantas manifestaciones de Caracas se podía leer la siguiente pancarta: “Fascista no es el pueblo que desconoce a su gobierno. Fascista es el gobierno que desconoce a su pueblo”.

‘Life becomes simple’ with lasting Lenten practices

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hikers rest and reflect upon reaching the 40-foot Eaton Canyon waterfall in the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena, California. Photo: Pat McCaughan/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] The season of Lent may rapidly be coming to a close but some creative Lenten spiritual practices seem sure to linger on.

Like the ‘Fat-Tuesday’-inspired “Skinny Tuesdays” running club at Trinity Cathedral in Miami in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida.

After the traditional Fat Tuesday pancake suppers “we figured everyone was going to need a skinny Tuesday,” joked the Rev. Grey Maggiano, assistant priest and a serious runner. “People enjoy it, it’s a neat way to have a diverse group of people gather.”

The ‘Skinny Tuesdays’ running group walks/runs about three miles weekly from Trinity Cathedral in Miami to Miami Beach and hopes to make Skinny Tuesdays a regular gathering. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Grey Maggiano

Altogether, about 50 people have joined in the runs at one time or another during Lent, with about a dozen participating regularly. “We meet on the cathedral steps at 6:15 p.m., stretch for 15 minutes, talk and catch up, pray and then we take off,” said Maggiano.

Participants are aged from 7 to 70; some do a two-mile walk, others a three-mile run along the Venetian Causeway from Miami to Miami Beach and back again. “We run along the water the whole way.”

The physical exertion helps clear out the clutter of the day, Maggiano added. “The rhythm and pacing of running has always given me something else to focus on so I can distract my mind … and that little corner opens up where I connect directly to God and pray as I’m running and life becomes simple. You focus on two things, God and the road and nothing else matters for that two-hour stretch,” he said.

It also has been a helpful spiritual practice because “Miami, like most cities, is so built up, we can forget how close we are to nature.

“Watching fish jump out of the water, and running by palm trees and reminding yourself that this once all was nature that we’ve taken over, is an important reflection for our call as Christians in this community,” he said. “To remember, that not only are we serving God and each other but we’re also serving this creation that surrounds us.”

The group has even attracted some runners who aren’t members.

“The thing that’s exciting for me as a priest is the people showing up and the conversations being had on the margins with folks about their lives and their kids and their spiritual lives and everything else.

“Now, one young runner wants to become an acolyte and to get more involved at the cathedral,” added Maggiano, 33. “Last week he brought a friend, so he and the friend raced while their moms walked and talked together. It’s exciting to see new people becoming familiar with the cathedral and the Episcopal Church through something as simple as running.”

Hiking in Los Angeles
Similarly, nature lovers from St. Luke’s Church in Monrovia, and Transfiguration Church in Arcadia, California who joined a Lenten “Wilderness Wondering/Wandering” Saturday morning meditation and hiking group want to extend it beyond Easter.

“Hiking is such a wonderful time to meditate, as well as focusing on health,” according to the Rev. Neil Tadken, St. Luke’s priest-in-charge, who is considering establishing hiking as a regular weekly time with parishioners.

Andy Dagis (in the foreground) follows the Rev. Neil Tadken along semi-rugged terrain during the weekly Lenten ‘Wilderness Wondering/Wandering’ on April 5. Photo: Pat McCaughan/Episcopal News Service

The hikers meet at the church and carpool to the hike location; the weekly treks are moderately paced, “and we’re learning what works and what doesn’t,” Tadken said. He selects the hiking paths in consultation with others and by checking hikespeak.com, a guide to California hiking trails.

Their first outing, a 5-mile jaunt along the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains, offered both physical and spiritual connections with that week’s gospel, “the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness where he is shown all the kingdoms of the world,” he said.

“We could see as far as from Camarillo to Palm Springs to Catalina Island” a sweeping panoramic 150-plus mile view of the Southern California landscape, according to Andy Dagis, an avid hiker and church member.

Wearing hiking boots, shorts and an Illinois sweatshirt, Dagis, a statistician for City of Hope and former Sierra Club member, also was along April 5 on a 3.5-mile hike to the 40-foot Eaton Canyon waterfall in the San Gabriel Mountains.

“Is the high road easier?” he mused as the group brushed past wild rosemary bushes, California pine and oak trees, navigating slippery rocks while crossing small flowing streams, up hill and down, alongside a winding creek, in semi-rugged terrain.

Much of the journey was single file, solitary, except for periodic stops to reflect on the next day’s Old Testament lesson, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones, prompting hikers to review the past and reflect on the future.

“When in your life have you felt all dried up?” Tadken asked hikers, in response to the Scripture. “What helped you renew your faith? If we say the future is nothing more than what the past has always been, then we can’t call something new into being.”

Yoga Nidra in Seattle: becoming still, still, still
For yoga instructors Wendy Townsend and Brenna Kramer, teaching ‘Yoga Nidra’ at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, was to offer stillness and centering as a response to the way “our society is so driven to go, go, go, do, do, do and it leads you into a very deep place.”

Citing a Thomas Merton definition of Lent as “seeing our own true self in Christ, in the desert, in meditation” Townsend added that: “I think our own true self is sometimes hard to connect with because we’re so outer-focused.”

Participants have gathered in the dimly lit cathedral for the five-week series and during the hour-long class focused on “a starry night, a mountaintop, images that help you let go of your shopping list and what you have to do tomorrow, and go to your center,” she said.

“I like to talk about my favorite Bible quote, 1 Cor. 3:16, do you not know your body is a temple and that God dwells within you,” she said.

The cathedral backdrop aids “the sense of being in a holy place. It’s a wonderful place to practice yoga,” added Townsend, 71, a 14-year instructor.

Yoga “is not a competitive sport. It’s an individual experience. We invite people to close their eyes and go inside and find this being that they are. It brings you into a reflective awareness and I think people long for that,” she said.

Similarly, “coming out from a deep sense of reflection enables you to better live your life because you are coming from a deeper place,” she added. “We get very superficial and we’re getting it all done but I don’t know that we come from the deeper place of being connected.”

North Carolina: passing the Lent Baton
Passing the Lent baton has been a fun – and virtual way – to observe the season at Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, North Carolina, according to the Rev. Stephanie Allen, rector.

“It’s an idea of using Instagram and sharing the pictures of our lives and where we see God at work in our everyday normal lives outside of Sunday mornings,” Allen told ENS recently.

Imagine spending an entire day snapping camera phone selfies – Lent- and faith-focused ones – and then sharing six to eight of them, said Allen who took the first slot on Ash Wednesday and included bread as one of her images.

“Somebody brought me some bread as a little thank you gift and so I took a photo of it with my phone. You know, bread, bread of life, it took me to all kinds of places.”

Others have taken photos of their journals, daily Lenten readings, plants, candles, and people interactions.

For Allen, it’s become a spiritual discipline in that it helps remind us “that God is there, if we pay attention and if we take the time to really open our eyes … and you realize that’s really what we ought to be doing all the time.”

She admits to being an Instagram newbie until the Lent baton happened, “but there is a lot of potential for sharing … your image of the world and how you see it,” she said. “Everybody is an artist with their camera phone” and the wider community has also joined in.

Parishioner Mike Belmares, who facilitated the Lent baton, got the idea after seeing the popularity of the RDU Baton where “people in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, were signing up to take the baton to show parts of their lives, where they hang out, go jogging, eat. It has a two- to three-month wait list so he decided to adapt it to the church.

With a signup genius phone app, all participants have to do is “see it, snap it, share it,” he said. Nativity lends its account user name and password for a day, to participants.

“Lent is kind of this forgotten season, yet so pivotal to our faith,” he added. “It isn’t just about weeping and gnashing your teeth, or about your sins. It is a procession up to Easter. The idea was to kind of give life to a somewhat forgotten season, and to find fun ways to do it.”

He aims to continue the practice. “It is a matter of taking the message outside the brick and mortar of our congregations,” he said. “It’s about sharing faith. And I love the Episcopal Church and I think it has a lot to offer.”

The enthusiasm has caught on and “we’ve had other folks in our diocese jump on board. That was really neat to see. Folks we’ve never known have gotten involved from other congregations and it’s become a way for people to share their faith.”

“We just wanted to engage people and to share, that’s all. There is more power in all our hands than some of our hands.”

Seattle and the Ministry of ‘Worsted Wool’
While it’s true that Jonie Pritchard and Barbara Erickson are serial knitters, this year they invited others to enrich their faith during Lent by knitting baby blankets for a local pediatric clinic for the underserved.

It has also functioned as a kind of virtual ministry, in that the participants corresponded via the Internet, exchanging patterns – called ‘Jonie’s pattern’ – and e-mails, but worked in the solitude of their homes.

For Pritchard, performing the knit one, purl one, simple basket weave stitch is in itself a spiritual exercise, which she augmented “by praying as we’re knitting,” she told ENS recently. “We are bringing a new child into the world and this is a special thank you God for the ability to knit or crochet.”

Soft pastel worsted wool yarn is used and “we should have a big basket full of baby blankets to be blessed the Sunday after Easter.”

Along with six other members of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, they participated in the ministry, dubbed the Ministry of Worsted Wool by Erickson.

“It dawned on me that the blankets we make are out of worsted wool yarn. So I decided to call it the ministry of worsted wool, and then I found a little lamb on Google and that’s become our little symbol,” Erickson said.

“It just felt like it was the right thing to do for the season,” she told ENS recently.

“We just knit, and I give away a lot of my knitted products. So, whenever I knit something it’s done with that spiritual intention.”

Knitting, for Erickson, “has a spiritual aspect. It’s a calming thing … To me, no matter what’s going on in the world if I just go and sit and knit I’m at peace.”

Added Pritchard, 76: “It’s a labor of love. I do this all year long but this time I have blocked out the other blankets I have requests for and am just doing this during Lent specifically with the idea in mind that St. Mark’s Cathedral will be knitting a bunch of blankets for the clinic.

“And I picture these little babies be there, and I pray it [the blanket] will comfort the new baby, and be of comfort to the mother, that the baby will be blessed by God and will turn to God. It’s all done with love and to the glory of God.”

– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

Episcopalians gather to ‘challenge mythology of violence’

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Participants in the Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence conference on April 11 will visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum which memorializes the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh, an act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 people and injured 600 others. The Field of Empty Chairs includes a chair for each life lost, including 19 smaller chairs for the children who died that day. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma] An Episcopal Church effort to have “a dialogue that our society has not been able to accomplish” about violence in general and gun violence in particular began April 9 here.

Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence being held April 9-11 at the Reed Center and the nearby Sheraton Midwest City is meant to help Episcopalians renew their commitment to the Gospel call to make peace in a world of violence and “reclaim their role in society as workers for nonviolence and peace,” according to a press release from the church’s Office of Public Affairs.

The gathering of 220 people, including 34 bishops, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, is centered around four pillars: advocacy, education, liturgy and pastoral care as “key avenues to address the culture of violence within and outside of the church,” the release said.

“We have worshipped for far too long at the altar of the gun to solve our problems,” says
Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton at the opening session of the April 9-11 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence conference Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Diocese of Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton asked the participants to create a “condemnation-free zone” for the three-day conference that he said was a gathering of Episcopalians from “across the spectrum of geographical, political and theological differences to learn from each other, to pray with each other and to discern what the spirit might be saying to us as church leaders.”

Sutton invited people to “challenge the mythology of violence” in the United States that says violence will protect us from an unsafe and unpredictable world. Sutton said there is a “widely held myth that violence works and that non-violence is a pipe dream.”

“We have become intoxicated with violence as the only effective means to achieve our personal goals or national aspirations,” he said. “We have worshipped for far too long at the altar of the gun to solve our problems.”

Sutton said we have known for a long time that there is another way.

“The Christian gospel has proclaimed for thousands of years that there is a cure but we have lost confidence in our day that that ancient solution will work,” he said.

The gospel cure for violence is love, Sutton said, reminding people of Jesus’s commandment to love one’s enemies, bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you.

Non-violent movements broke British colonial rule in India, ended apartheid in South Africa and drove the civil rights movement in the United States, he said, citing examples.

The text of his remarks is here.

Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny, who says he favors the constitutional right to bear arms, hopes the April 9-11 Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace: An Episcopal Gathering to Challenge the Epidemic of Violence conference will be a “model and an example to others of how different voices with often very opposite passions can come together with honesty, charity and grace for a common purpose.” Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Edward Konieczny told the gathering that he wasn’t expected to be invited into this conversation, much less be asked to host it. Konieczny, a former Southern California police officer who supports the constitutional right to bear arms, told the gathering that he has a concealed carry weapon permit.

“On occasion I have been accused of being a gun-toting bishop,” he said, adding that he sometimes carries a gun while traveling in Oklahoma.

Konieczny shared stories about his life as a police officer, including the time he switched shifts with a fellow officer who was killed by a man wielding a semi-automatic handgun on that shift.

Another time, he said, he responded to a call and a mentally ill man pointed a rifle at his head and pulled the trigger. The weapon misfired.

“But for the grace of God, I would not be standing here,” Konieczny said in an emotion-filled voice.

Rather than become more hardened by those experiences, the bishop said, “I refuse to feel powerless that I can’t make a difference or have an influence.”

Konieczny said he has seen many youths and adults be “renewed, reconciled and restored” by people who practiced the vows of what Episcopalians know as the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of all people and strive for justice and peace.

“We don’t have to figure out what to do; we just have to do that which we have already promised,” he said, adding that “it is going to take generations” to reverse a cultural reliance on violence that has been built over generations.

“My hope is that this conference will be a model and an example to others of how different voices with often very opposite passions can come together with honesty, charity and grace for a common purpose,” he said.

Konieczny urged participants as they meet over the next days to keep in mind all victims of violence, especially the 20 students and a security guard who were stabbed by a 16-year-old high school student at a high school in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh, early during the day on April 9.

The text of his remarks is here.

The rest of the conference

Following morning worship on April 10, Welby will address the gathering, followed by a press conference with Jefferts Schori. Concurrent workshops round out the morning. That afternoon the Rev. Chuck Jackson, associate pastor of South Grand Lake Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ congregation in Vinita, Oklahoma, will present an interactive discussion titled “Let It Begin with Me.” His presentation will be followed by a panel discussion on Episcopal responses to violence. The day concludes with workshop sessions in the afternoon and evening.

The April 10 sessions with Welby, Jackson’s presentation and the panel on Episcopal responses to violence are all due to be live streamed. The link is available here.

On April 11, the conference continues with a morning of worship, conversation and workshops. In the afternoon, participants will visit the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum. The memorial and museum memorialize the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh, an act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 people and injured 600 others. Some survivors of the bombing are due to make a presentation to conference participants.

The gathering concludes with Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral, less than two blocks from the site of the Murrah bombing. The cathedral was damaged by the 1995 blast. Jefferts Schori will preach. Dinner, featuring a concluding speech by Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith, follows at the cathedral.

A schedule and list of workshop topics and presenters are here.

ENS and others are tweeting from the conference using #peaceokc.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.