Divine Urban Renewal: Rebuilding the Community of Priests of the Torn Curtain and Broken Chalice

I woke up this morning from a disturbing dream. I was at some large conference and I was supposed to be recognized for something I had done; it was related to investigative reporting, or something like that. Yet I had a ground-hog day like foreshadowing of what was going to occur. It was a setup. The people who were scheduled to acknowledge me were actually agents of some evil regime I had exposed. Instead, they were going to assassinate me. I managed to slip out the back and drive out of town, ending up hiding in a hotel a hundred miles away.

I’m not sure what underlies that dream. As I tried to shake off the sleep and fear I checked in on Facebook. A friend had posted a link to an article in the New York Times, A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches. I read the article and thought of a couple other articles I’ve recently read: White Christians are now a minority of the U.S. population, survey says and Gay United Methodist pastor in Clifton on trial – again.

Yesterday, a friend of mine livestreamed The Rev. David Meredith celebrating communion with his supporters after the trial yesterday. During the communion, Rev. Meredith spoke about the broken communion chalice of the United Methodist Church as it struggles how to be in communion with the LGBTQIA community.

As I thought about the broken communion chalice, I thought of Holy Week and Jesus’ confrontations with the religious leaders of the day which led to the crucifixion. The verse from Matthew 27:51 came to mind, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

Recently, in spiritual direction, I identified as a priest of the torn curtain. Perhaps it can better be said as a priest of the torn curtain and broken chalice.

On the surface, this may sound pretty bleak, but underneath all of this is hope. Some of this hope was reflected in a bible study with my friends from Andover Newton last Thursday. We were discussing Isaiah 58, those wonderful verses that start,

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

and continue on to

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

We were reminded that this was a text written after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian captivity to the destroyed city of Jerusalem, to start repairing those broken walls and damaged streets. One person asked if it were possible that we could be those doing urban renewal in the city of God today. I hope so. I think of the articles I’ve shared, and how desperately we need this divine urban renewal. Hopefully, more soon...

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Make #Wakanda Great Again

I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable watching people paint their faces and cheer on combatants representing some idealized group of people they identify with. People chanting USA! USA! at a hockey game are vaguely disturbing. Those chanting “blood and soil” are even more frightening. To what can we say the same about those posting Wakanda Forever?

I don’t want to post spoilers to the movie Black Panther, so I’ll keep my comments more general. If you have not seen Black Panther yet, please, go and see it. Ideally, go see it with a diverse group of friends. I’m a white male who has spent a bit of time trying to understand the black experience in America, but my understanding is very limited.

If you have time, read up on the slave trade. Read up on colonialism. Read up on the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. I recommend James Cone’s book, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. At least in my white male mind, some of the dynamic of Martin and Malcolm is played out beautifully in Black Panther.

If you are really motivated, spend a little time reading up on post-colonial theory.

As you watch the movie, think about the responsibilities that come with privilege. Does T’Challa have privilege? What can white folks learn about wielding privilege from him? Think about reparations. How do we make reparations and seek justice and reconciliation for evils that our previous leaders have done?

After you see the movie speak with some of your black friends about how they see the movie from their experience. Ask the women about the weaponization of hair.

Then, if you find messages of Wakanda Forever appealing, ask yourself, are you saying it in the spirit of Nakia, of Eric Killmonger, or perhaps a little of both. Be prepared to own some ambiguity and think about how you might share Wakandan knowledge.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, Lion and Lamb

Another month starts; March. Does it come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, or is it the other way around? Does the old saying talk about weather, or something more? The current forecast is for a noreaster coming up the coast tomorrow.

I love a good storm. There is something beautiful, awesome, and yet terrifying about a storm. As long as we can watch the storm from safety, it can be great, but if we, or others are in danger, it can be a great concern.

Perhaps some of the same applies to our inner storms. May we all weather our inner storms during Lent as we examine ourselves and seek righteousness and justice as we prepare for the Lamb on Easter day at the beginning of April.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

During my recent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, I would arrive for the services early and sit all the way in, so I could lean against the wall. These walls have absorbed decades of prayers and I could almost feel others who have worshiped there and leaned against the wall leaning against me. I was leaning on them for support, just as they may have leaned against the wall and others in this great crowd for support as well. Whom am I leaning against? Who is leaning against me?

I have similar feelings at the Orthodox Church. Who has looked at this icon with me? Whom am I looking at? Whose prayers are mingled with mine, as we offer up praise and thanksgiving and as we pray for forgiveness, mercy, and justice?

In the Eucharist, it is the same, no matter how and where I participate. I know different people have different approaches to the Eucharist. With some people, I remember Christ’s death and resurrection as I have a small piece of bread and sip some grape juice. With others, I sense the holy presence in the mysterious gifts. I don’t have to be exclusive with one of another, just as I can enjoy New Haven pizza as well as Chicago pizza.

Yet most of my interactions with others in this great cloud of witnesses seems to be with people brought up as European Protestants, Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox. I hope, through my studies, to get a better sense of people brought up in indigenous variants of Christianity.

What does this great cloud of witnesses look like where you stand?

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Retreat Reflections: Powdered Trees

I remember a week and a half ago, the trees covered by ice after an ice storm. Last night it snowed. I went out early during the snow to watch the woods fill up with snow. I noticed that at certain times, a snowflake would land at just the right angle so that it reflected the light from the guest house, like a sparkling diamond, a firefly, or a star. Sooner or later, another snowflake would land, covering that snowflake and extinguishing the fire but other snowflakes would land at similar angles and the ground was a slowly shifting constellation of snowflake starts.

This morning, as I ate breakfast, I noticed the snow falling from trees like confectionary sugar off of a pastry.

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