On Pride - Joseph Wood

Dearly Beloved,

  I suppose that I should be writing a more formal farewell right now; however, I'm honestly not ready for that kind of finality quite yet. So, I thought I'd tackle another topic that's near and dear to my heart: Pride. June 28-29, 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, an event that has come to be recognized as something of the advent of the modern LGBTQ+ movement—making the topic all the more apropos for my final meditation with Emmanuel. (The first pride parade, known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, was held in New York City on the 1-year anniversary of Stonewall.)

  So, what is Pride? A casual perusal of the Book of Common Prayer might suggest that any good Episcopalian should be opposed to the very notion. As part of the Great Litany, we beg God to deliver us "from pride, vainglory and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity" (149). Every Ash Wednesday, we enter into Lent by confessing to the Lord "all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives" (268). In the assortment of prayers near the back of the BCP, we find one for our country that, among various other things, petitions Almighty God to save us "from pride and arrogance" (820), as well as one for families that likewise asks our heavenly Father to put far from them "the pride of life" (829). Last, though certainly not least, an optional section of the Exsultet sung out during the Easter Vigil declares that holy night "casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord" (287). In each of these instances, Pride is portrayed as a particularly pernicious manifestation of sin, distorting our relationships with God and Creation. It is grouped with such evils as "hypocrisy," "arrogance," and "hatred," all of which suggests an understanding of Pride that is one of egotistical idolatry, a kind self-aggrandizement that allows no room for the "peace" and "concord" that are essential elements of the Christian life and worship. Such Pride is rightfully declared one of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Early Church, robbing our connections with God and our neighbor of any chance at life in order to glorify ourselves. Such Pride is rightly named as antithetical to Christian love, to charity. Such Pride knows nothing of the existence of the Other. See, for example, the calls for a "Straight Pride" parade in Boston this summer.

  However, these examples are not the only times that Pride is mentioned in the BCP. In the Collects for Various Occasions, there is one for commerce and industry that asks that, in echo of the Incarnation, Almighty God "give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor" (208, 259). In the Psalter, we find celebrations of the "pride and "majesty" of the "mighty warrior," the "annointed" (Psalm 45, 647) and God as "the pride of Jacob whom he loves" (Psalm 47, 650). This kind of Pride would seem entirely different from the sinful one named so often in our life together. This kind of Pride is fundamental to a right relationship not only with God, but human labor and salvation history. This kind of Pride is holy, sharing in the Triune life through its foundation in relationship--rather than casting them out. When we are proud of "what we do," it should be in a way that reflects upon God and our neighbor. When we are proud of what we do, it should be rooted in charity, in love beyond measure, and justice. It's the Pride of LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

How do I figure? The difference in the two kind of Prides is, in the end, a very simple one: Pride in oneself vs. Pride in who we might be. The former is static and stultifying, unable to perceive anything beyond the way things are. The latter is fundamentally life-giving, always reaching towards the possible and, thus, towards the Other. It is Pride in the Kingdom of God. God’s LGBTQ+ children are proud not because of the world, we are proud despite the world. We are proud of all of the different ways we have survived a world that has been distorted, a world that has been twisted to deny us and so many Others of our God-given share in it. We are proud because we believe that, through truly loving ourselves and our communities, we can begin to reclaim the glory intended for us—all of us. We are proud because we know what is possible. Happy Pride: may you have joyous, defiant faith in something better.

-Joseph Wood

Here We Go Again - Joseph Wood

Dear Friends,

  During the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus urges his disciples to "not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." (John 14:27) It's part of a larger teaching that he's trying to offer them, with which he's trying to help prepare them by articulating the complicated nature of leave-taking and homecoming in the life of faith. It's only by "going away" from his students and friends that Christ can come to them. (John 14:28) It's only in loving that we become lovable in the divine sense. Peace finds its fulfillment in leaving and giving. Identities resist any neat delineation, even in the midst of the telling--let alone the experience.

  No wonder the disciples struggle to understand! No wonder Jesus has to repeat the perennial greeting of God's messengers throughout the Bible ("Fear not!") to even begin to reveal the fellowship that he's offering his community. I don't know about you, but I often find my heart troubled, even afraid, no matter what I hope to let it do or not do. Keeping his word can feel like an impossible task. We may love his words, but we also forget again and again and again that there is any way to give other than that of the world. We forget what Jesus has said almost as quickly as he tells us. As much as we hope to welcome the Father home, we struggle to even recognize the Son.

  But the Triune life is one of grace. Our God knows us down to even what W.H. Auden--a good Anglican--calls our "crooked heart."* Even as we forget, even as we fail to recognize, God enters in. An Advocate is sent to us, and we are reminded again and again and again what we might be. We are taught what it means to live a life that the Divine might call home. The task might still sometimes feel impossible, we might still sometimes find our hearts troubled, but the Holy Spirit moves among us. The Holy Spirit is our spirit. As often as we go away, we are given the opportunity to return--and sometimes where we return to appears nothing like what we thought we had left.

  So, even as we welcome the Rev. Anne Marie Richards and her family home this Sunday, listen for Christ's words. Listen for invitations to leave-takings and homecomings known and unknown, done and undone. Try to hold both the fear and the joy lightly, because greater things are coming. And peace runs on.

 -Joseph Wood

*From his poem "As I Walked Out One Evening"

A Letter from Our New Rector

Dear Friends,

 Early in St. Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he writes, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s a pretty good greeting, all in all, right? But it doesn’t quite capture what I want to say to you all today, so I think I’ll start with slightly different words:

 Here we go!

 Here we go on the adventure that God has called us all to take.

 Here we go on a journey of joy, peace, hope, mercy, justice, and love.

 Here we go in word, sacrament, song, silence, prayer, conversation, and holy listening.

 I am excited to be joining you in life and ministry and mission, and to be coming at such a wonderful time in the life of Emmanuel. I’m so grateful to Fr. Jim for the work he has done during the interim period, and to Fr. Joe for continuing to guide the parish before my official arrival on Monday. I know the staff has been hard at work through changes and transitions, as have the Vestry and Wardens. It is because of their work, and the work of so many others, that you and I begin this next chapter in such a good way. I hope that you all will thank these folks for their efforts.

As for me, I am coming to you ready to do the work that we have been given to do. My husband, Brook, and I are mostly settled into our house on N. Calvert Street, and have already begun exploring the city. Among my favorite finds so far? A Senegalese restaurant, Nailah’s Kitchen; the delicious lattes at Baby’s on Fire; and the cool house stuff at Nouveau Designs. But more than those fabulous discoveries, I am filled with joy because we have met the most wonderful people in Baltimore, and been blessed with stories of deep faith in Jesus Christ. Even the man at the MVA prayed for me and my new ministry while transferring the title of my car. Truly, the Holy Spirit is at work here in Charm City.

In due time we will come to know one another deeply. We’ll share our stories, our blessings, our burdens, our faith, and our doubts. For now, please know that you are in my prayers and that I ask for yours in return. God is doing a new thing among us, and for that I give thanks and praise.

 Here we go!

The Rev. Anne Marie Richards,   Rector-elect

The Rev. Anne Marie Richards,

A Pastoral Letter on Racial Reconciliation

May 2019

Dear Friends in Christ,

We know that God has a great vision for all of us - the dream of our becoming and living as a Beloved Community. In this dream of God’s, all people experience dignity and abundant life, and see themselves and others as beloved children of God. The dream is deeply rooted in our Christian faith and expressed in our Baptismal covenant. It is a hope that promises transformation throughout the Church and the world by following the way of Christ, by actually striving to live in the way Christ taught us—respecting and loving every person, and advocating for true peace and true justice.

In the Diocese of Maryland, we are faithfully living into our vision of being a community of love. The imperative to love finds its roots in that long-awaited hope that God dream even at the foot of Mount Sinai, where the Israelites – a battered nation of freed slaves – were becoming the called people of God.

People in the United States, in the Episcopal Church and in the Diocese of Maryland have inherited our share of breaches and broken places, especially with our legacy of slavery (See Appendix A). For generations the bodies of black and brown people did not belong to themselves, but were bred, used, and sold for the purpose of attaining wealth. Not only did our nation prosper under this evil institution, but our beloved Episcopal Church profited as well. However, as Jesus teaches us, a structure with a broken foundation cannot hope to stand.

The subject of reparations is mired in emotion; it is often mischaracterized and certainly largely misunderstood. It is a complex issue that involves economic, political, and sociological dimensions that are difficult to grasp without a willingness to engage more deeply than having a quick emotional response to the word. The issue highlights the racial divide among us, creates varying levels of resentment and suspicion, and accentuates a pain that has long plagued our country since its founding.

Reparations, at its base, means to repair that which has been broken. It is not just about monetary compensation. An act of reparation is the attempt to make whole again, and/or to restore; to offer atonement; to make amends; to reconcile for a wrong or injury.

Isn’t that our work in this broken world? As the Church, our primary mission is “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, p. 855). This is our primary call and charge, and we take on this responsibility by praying, worshipping, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice and love. Our mission is further met by understanding and living out our Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 416), not only with one another, but in the world as witnesses to God’s love for all of God’s people. We reaffirm these covenant vows whenever we baptize, confirm, or receive into this communion.

Our own commitment to this vision will require honest reflection and a holy devotion to reconciliation. Forgiveness alone is but one step in the long journey to reconcile our past with the present. We need to repair the broken places and wounds that we have all inherited from centuries of the degrading treatment of our fellow human beings.

The Episcopal Church, at its 78th General Convention in 2015, made a commitment to building the Beloved Community, in part through a devotion to racial healing. The four steps of the ‘Beloved Community’ process are Telling the Truth; Proclaiming the Dream; Practicing the Way of Love; and Repairing the Breach. Isaiah prophesied that we will be “repairers of the breach” (Isaiah 58:12) as we loosen the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free and share our bread with the hungry. This letter and accompanying materials lay out the beginning steps of what our commitment to “repair” – reparations – can look like in the Diocese of Maryland.

While we take our own share in God’s blessing through the saving work of Jesus Christ, we remain responsible to the call to care for those who are vulnerable, and we must continually be engaged in the work of reconciliation and repair. This is what being a community of love means. There is a heavy burden that comes with being called the people of God, and we must be willing to bear that burden to do those things that God says are important—to care for the poor, to welcome the stranger, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Otherwise we risk becoming hypocrites or false prophets.

While the history of slavery is widely understood in the U.S., the continuing impact of its legacy is less understood – even in the Church. Some Episcopal bishops, clergy and laity stood up for the fair and equal treatment of African American slaves and free people. Bishops from James Kemp in the early 19th century to William Whittingham in the latter half of the 19th century to Robert Ihloff in the 21st century; and many white lay people and clergy, such as Mary Miller and the Rev. Bill Fallowfield (see Appendix B), worked for the well-being of African Americans as equal to all children of God. More often, however, Episcopal bishops, clergy and laity supported segregation of diocesan schools, churches, and institutions through the 1960’s. Episcopal clergy and diocesan leadership were active participants in the continued segregation of housing and schools in Baltimore City and across the State of Maryland. The symptoms and wounds of that old sin continue to poison our society and threaten the health of the Body of Christ of which we are all a part.

After the hard-fought abolition of slavery, there was a fateful denial in our nation of reparations for freed African American people for their centuries of undeserved bondage, even though in many instances white plantation owners received reparations in the form of compensation for the losses they incurred from the Civil War and the end of slavery. Racism and greed fueled that basic injustice, and those attitudes have poisoned race relations ever since. From the implementation of Jim Crow laws, lynching, segregation, redlining, job discrimination and unequal funding for majority African American school districts, to our own segregated church demographics, we see that we have not fully reckoned with our past. We are not yet fully a community of love.

The concepts of power and powerlessness have strong emotional impact for each of us. Most of us experience one or both during our lifetimes. The ability to have control of our lives can give us a general sense of security and well-being, while the inability to control our lives leads to a sense of powerlessness, to insecurity, depression and anger. There are consequences to constantly feeling powerless. When we have limited agency, it is incredibly hard to build a life of success, security, and love. Repeated exposure to trauma can lead to post traumatic stress disorder, which only enhances the feeling of powerlessness, as well as further social isolation. As we know from our own family lives, psychological damage from all forms of abuse, verbal and physical, trauma and addiction, penetrates generations. Living under these circumstances is not a recipe for success. This simply isn’t part of God’s dream for us. We Christians are called to weep with our God in sorrow over the love denied our human family members. We are called to weep, pray, love and then act—to repair and reconcile.

It is time for all of us to understand how power gained by force and wielded unevenly impacts African Americans in this country. We can all celebrate the tremendous strides that have been made in racial attitudes in our nation, and we are very proud of the accomplishments of many individuals who have overcome great odds to achieve success. But for the millions of descendants of American slaves who are trapped in a pernicious cycle of hopelessness, poverty and rage due to their real experience of racial segregation, redlining, inferior schools and the like, the widespread assumption that everyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is a long way from being accurate. They know that the odds are against them on so many fronts: they cannot change their environment, and they cannot change the color of their dark skin.

All of these factors have played into creating a lack of power for brown and black people. This lack is a social problem: it goes beyond an individual’s character and will. It is time for all of us to move towards a place of acceptance of humans who want the same things we do, but who have not been found to be worthy of those desires by the dominant society. Self-examination, learning about how the self reacts emotionally to those who are different and acknowledging preconceived expectations of another race or culture that lie inside the human being is vital to creating an environment where communication between the races can exist (See Appendix C).

Beloved, it will be by our lives and actions with regard to racial reconciliation that we will speak most prophetically to the world. In this way, we are writing a “living Epistle” to the whole Church. This holy missive was begun with God’s call of freedom to the people of Israel in Egypt, continued with Jesus’ proclamation of freedom to the captives in the synagogue, and Paul’s invitation to his friend Philemon to free his slave Onesimus. It continues through the action and dedication of our forebears in the Civil Rights era who were convicted by the Gospel imperative of love and justice.

The biblical mandate to justice (see Appendix B) is to hold leadership accountable for the fair and equal treatment of all God’s people. All of us have been taught to love everyone regardless of their race and human condition. However, we must come to acknowledge that there can be no love without justice, and there can be no justice without some form of repairing an injustice. Through prayerful and dedicated study, combined with deep discussion and loving actions, I believe we can do the work of repair. Through reparations, we can be leaders in the long-awaited process of reconciliation, of creating God’s dream for us—a truly Beloved Community.

Finally, please know that our conversation on reparations in the Church is, and should be, different from the ones we hear in the political arena. For us, “repairing the breach” is not a mandate from a government or leader, but a mandate from our God to commit to the rebuilding of a relationship between the world and God, between individuals and communities and to seek a better world for our children. The Sutton Scholars® High School Enrichment Program is a good example of a type of reparations. This diocesan program is designed to help inner city youth, particularly black youth, to realize their life’s hopes and dreams, and equip them to become the young men and women that God intended them to be. It empowers them not to fall prey to the many traps that often confront them – including the prevailing belief that they are “less than” others in our society. Programs such as this have proven to be a significant contribution to helping young black youth achieve success and stay out of the criminal justice system. These kinds of programs are invaluable; might the diocese fund such initiatives as these to repair and heal the past?

Please join me in studying the issue of reparations and prayerfully consider how all of us in the Diocese of Maryland – of whatever race, background or national origin - can together embark on this journey of repairing the breach we’ve all inherited from our nation’s past. Attached are other resources to help us all engage in this work together, including a history of the legacy of slavery in our diocese; a look at biblical and theological views on slavery; a description of the psychological ramifications of the powerlessness created by slavery; and, a series of reflection questions. A workshop prepared by the diocesan Reparations Committee will be offered this fall. I urge you to enter into this holy work with me. As a community of love we will collaborate, question and discuss how we heal the past through our present actions. In so doing, we all proclaim “the message of reconciliation to which God has called us as ambassadors for Christ.” (II Corinthians 5:18-20)

Blessings and peace,

Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.png

(Originally found here.)