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Building the Beloved Community

—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Many in the United States are feeling that their basic human rights, privileges, and safety are being threatened. There is a lack of civility in our public discourse and an uptick in the number of hate crimes in the U.S. Yet each morning also brings news of radical changes in the capacity of our country to practice Christian principles such as compassion, mercy, service to others, welcoming strangers, and respect for the dignity of every human being.

We Have Room for YouInstead of allowing politicians to determine our “frame of reference,” it’s time for us, as Christians, to lift up the “frame of reference” that supersedes all others. We are followers of Jesus Christ. And the values that Jesus lived out are the ones that we are called to put first in our own lives. Our Judeo-Christian tradition tells us that every person is created in the image of God and is a beloved child of God who is worthy of our care.

It’s time for us to renew our efforts, as followers of Jesus, to practice the spiritual discipline of loving kindness. We take seriously St. Paul’s words from Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

The world’s major spiritual traditions have asserted the principle that if individuals look within and work on generating loving kindness, then that love has the power to ripple out into our relationships and communities, and to change the world. When we are feeling powerless to change what politicians and others are doing, we can still practice loving kindness as a way to transform the world into the “Kingdom of God.”

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. invited people to build “The Beloved Community.” According to The King Center, “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace and justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”

Let’s build The Beloved Community by practicing the sacred art of loving kindness, one action at a time, and so transform our world into a more just and loving home for all.

Epiphanies, Hopes, & Tiny Owls

Katherine Mead-Brewer, St. Paul’s Member

One of my dearest friends recently moved from D.C. to Austin, Texas. She was nervous but also enthusiastic about the change; she wanted a new city to explore, new opportunities, new weather. But when she and her husband got there, nothing was as they’d expected. There was loneliness and job uncertainty and personal insecurities and missing their church family. I couldn’t figure out why something like this, such a heavy disappointment, such a heavy sense of fear about making a wrong/expensive/isolating decision, should fall on someone who’d only ever loved the world around her, someone who’d only ever brought happiness and light to all fortunate enough to know her.

At first this seemed like just one more negative to pile onto the aggravation-heap that became 2016 for me. What recourse did my friend have? They couldn’t move back; they’d put too much money into their new (first) house. And I couldn’t even reach out to her as I normally would’ve, because now we were hundreds of miles apart. I couldn’t wrap my arms around her or bring her ice cream or invite her out for coffee.

For a fix-it personality like me, this issue has recently felt all-consuming, touching nearly every corner of my life. So many problems seem to have clear solutions to me—just as, I imagine, they likely seem clear to others in their own ways—so why can’t I manage to fix any of them? Why are so many of my friends now living in fear?—afraid that they’ve made the wrong decision regarding their job, their schooling, their home? Afraid for their own personal safety when only a few weeks ago they were optimistic about the entire country’s future? How do we begin to move forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as a country, when everything feels so wrong?

This past Sunday, The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley preached on the fact that now, as we come out of the season of Christmas, we enter the Christian season of Epiphany. A time of revelation. The season that celebrates when the Magi finally found the infant Jesus, their own revelation, a symbolic epiphany for all of us.

Of course, simply reading this story from the Bible can make the entire thing sound easy and magical. They came bringing gifts! They followed a star! When really, I can’t think of an experience that sounds more fraught with discomfort, danger, and uncertainty. A hard journey through alien lands, traveling far from their friends and loved ones, enduring grueling encounters with selfish, paranoid leaders who would hurt others in order to further their own ends—leaders who would sacrifice an entire generation of sons simply to ensure their own continued reign.

In many ways, the season of Epiphany is exactly where I am right now. It’s a time of hardship and trials. A time of maddening limbo and grave uncertainty. But as Christ’s story reassures us, this is also a time of great revelation and discovery. This is a time when we stand up to those who would victimize us and our neighbors, even if victory seems impossible. Even if we feel powerless or inadequate. This is a time when we allow ourselves to recognize the discomfort and painfulness of our journey without succumbing to it. This is a time for persevering in the face of great obstacles and insecurity.

Just the other day, my now-Austinite friend sent me an email—the first hopeful one she’s sent in a long, long time—and in it she included the photograph of a young screech owl nesting in the tree in their backyard.

“There is a TINY OWL in my backyard,” she wrote to me, ecstatic.

“It’s a sign,” I told her. “It’s a sign that you’re supposed to be where you are. It’s a little blessing.” A little epiphany. A little emblem of hope, wonder, and beauty in the midst of so much strife and loneliness.

To me, a firm believer in signs and symbols, it seemed clear that this tiny owl was a piece of God reaching out to give comfort. A mysterious, winged creature–not so unlike the Holy Spirit.

rosemary

Rosemary peeking out her front door. Photo by H.S.

And though my friend remained dubious about what exactly (if anything) the owl symbolized, she and her husband quickly named the little fellow Rosemary. Rosemary for remembrance. Because though it can be difficult to know the path forward when everything at your back is continuously shouting for your attention, continuously trying to pull you down and tie you up, always remember that life is peppered with tiny owls epiphanies, with sparks of hope and moments of inspiration, pointing you forward. Pointing you toward something better.

 

 

Thoughts on Advent, 2016

Larissa Peters, OSP Congregant

I’ve put this annual reflection off, and now it’s January 2017. I haven’t wanted to write it because I don’t like to do things for the sake of doing them. I don’t like saying rote things that could be counted as trite, like I haven’t thought about it. Especially to those who are going through pain. I’ve been the recipient of that, and it sucks.

And I’m weary. A lot of people have said that. They have said they are excited to get rid of 2016. But even that makes me weary. I don’t have a lot of hope for 2017.

There have been quite a few I know who have just been through it. Like you wouldn’t believe. Family members sick, broken relationships, internal turmoil, death…. And others  who have been waiting—waiting for jobs, for a change, for health….

And I work for an int’l development agency, and we’re inundated with news of Syria and millions of refugees fleeing. We hear of children trying to cross the border into Texas because of the violence in Central America. And our country is incredibly divided, not to mention our own families at times. And it’s exhausting.

So I want to be careful about saying just words.

As I began this advent, I thought—I’d like to reflect on PEACE. We need peace in us, in our world, all that…isn’t the Christmas story full of peace?

But then I couldn’t find it. Do you know how many times ‘peace’ is mentioned in the Christmas story? Once.

You can’t force a meditation. And truth be told, there wasn’t much peace. Israel was occupied, under another regime. There’s a lot of waiting. And in that waiting, so much anxiety. So much fear and doubt.

And when I read the part about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. It hit home. How tired they must have been. Finally getting there and hearing, “No room.” Mary had to have thought (well, I personally would have thought), Of course, this is just about how I’d expect everything to go based on this year….

How exhausting it must have been for Mary, both physically and mentally. Was she full of doubts?—doubts that others had certainly placed in her. Fears she herself couldn’t help but have.

And when they arrived at an inn where they expected to hear yet another, “No room,” only to instead land in a stable, placing their baby—whom they had been told is the Messiah—in a feeding trough, Joseph must have felt incredibly inadequate as a husband and a father.

I’m sure the shepherds couldn’t have come at a better time, bursting in shouting, “Where’s the Messiah we’ve heard about?”

I see both waiting (Simeon, Anna, Israel) and journeys taken (Mary, Joseph, the wise men) in the Christmas story. But the process is the same. The emotions are the same. The inner turmoil and questions still exist whether you are stagnant or wandering.

Were the wise men disappointed to find a baby in the end? How many times did Simeon and Anna ask God, “How long, oh Lord? How much longer?”

And then Mary and Joseph again having to get up and flee for their child’s life—really holding the destiny of mankind in their hands—leaving an entire town weeping behind them…because of them.

So often, I tend to get into myself, and my path feels tired, full of doubt, unrelatable. And just when I think I’ve arrived where I wanted to go, it wasn’t what I expected or it’s even scarier than I’d imagined.
Or I never move.
At all.
And everyone else does.
It can feel incredibly lonely sometimes. And very far from peaceful. And the people I thought I could trust—well, they disappointed me.

So what’s left? What small piece can I take with me as I enter into a new year?

20160828_145216I’d like to be like those shepherds. I’d like to be able and willing to show up in the right moment because I took the opportunity—without hesitation, confirming to a fellow wanderer that they are on the right path. So much of the violence, pain and hatred of 2016 may not have been directed specifically at me or happened to me, but if I can come around and just be someone who says, “I’m here with you,” then I want to be that person.

I’d like to continue on waiting (or moving) despite my fears and doubts. So I have to ask, how could all these people do that? How does anyone? Really, there has to be a very deep motivation for either one—greater than all our unmet expectations, disappointments, and feelings of inadequacies and loneliness.

The wise men, shepherds, Joseph, Mary—all had a deep pull, that only a very deep calling could keep them going.  Something—that in the midst of the oppression, fears, doubts, weariness, murderous threats, fleeing, loneliness, trouble—something greater gave them a reason to continue. And continue in what may have seemed to some a bold or scary choice. I want this courage and this passion. This I want to remember and hold on to.

Theirs was a deep hope in the belief that Mary carried the Savior of the world, and that he was called the Prince of Peace.
There. Peace.
Let me again repeat this line from that old Christmas carol: “the hope and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight …”

 

This article was originally published on Larissa Peters’ blog, In Other Words Poetry. For more of her writing, visit: http://www.inotherwordspoetry.com/

 

What We Hope Church Can Do

—Scott Burkholder

My wife Jenn and I spent our initial Baltimore years developing our spiritual lives at a church in the suburbs. When we moved downtown we felt a need to find a church closer to our weekday community. We also felt a need to change how we were nourishing our understanding of God. We started attending Old St. Paul’s in the Fall of 2009.

Our first Sunday at St. Paul’s was the kickoff of The Forum, the adult education program. There was palpable excitement for the local celebrity speaker. The church had reserved the ballroom of the Tremont Grand, the hotel next door, for the special occasion. Gary Vikan, Director of The Walter’s Art Museum, was sharing a playful lecture on his recently released book, From the Holy Land to Graceland. It was immediately obvious that his deep knowledge of Byzantine art was matched by his deep wonder of rock and roll culture. The lecture was mesmerizing. It spoke to my mind, my heart, and my soul. It was what I hoped church could do. It was what I hoped I could do with my own life’s work.

When I started attending Old St. Paul’s, I was looking for direction. I was reasonably far removed from my engineering degrees. It would be hard to pursue a path in that trade, not to mention that I lacked the ambition to do so. I had an inkling to go into finance, but again I was not moved. I was dabbling on the business side of art, managing a friend’s mural project. I was moving forward, but with hazy vision and limited fire. Gary clarified for me what might be possible and kindled the notions of the value of art that were already floating in my head.

In the course of his lecture, Gary shared that he was from Minnesota. I took the divine connection to my home state as an omen. I stalked him out of the hotel and stopped him before he got into his car. I shared briefly about my work on the Baltimore Love Project and he gave me his contact info. Two weeks later, we met for coffee. I will be having lunch with Gary again next Thursday. It is something we have done consistently since our initial coffee nearly 7 years ago.

The introduction to Gary was pivotal to my career, but it is not the only thing Old St. Paul’s has done for my vocation. The church has been a consistent source of inspiration, purpose, and direction. And, just as importantly, it has often allowed me to provide the same for others. This receiving and giving afforded by Old St. Paul’s has changed my life. It is one of the most cherished and valuable things to me. As a result, I yearn to invest more of myself, my time, and my treasure into Old St. Paul’s being!

J&S

Scott and Jenn Burkholder


Interested in sharing the various ways Old St. Paul’s has changed you? Please either email The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley or include a comment directly to this post by typing in the discussion box below. You can also choose to receive email notifications of new St. Paul’s articles by clicking the “Follow” button on the left-hand side of your screen. Thank you & God bless!

Climate Change: Fragile Earth, Our Island Home

“At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile Earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being.”

—Eucharist Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer, pg 370

Growing up Methodist, I never encountered this prayer. But as an Episcopalian today (freshly confirmed!), I thank my blessed stars for Eucharist Prayer C, because it stops me in my tracks every time. Unlike so many other prayers, creeds, and rituals (however important and valuable), this one always zings straight to the heart of me, reminding me of the vastness of the universe and of the Creator’s role in this vastness (not limited to me and my limited imagination; not limited to fragile Earth, my island home).

Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park (one of my most favorite places in the world)

Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park (one of my most favorite places in the world)

As well as a Christian, I am an environmentalist, and both have led me to a firm belief in the reality of climate change and of my significant role as a human being in the exacerbation of this phenomenon.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve done all I can to alter my behavior accordingly. This doesn’t mean I’m doing all I can to honor and protect the sanctity of Earth, fragile Earth—my sacred, God-given island home. And why? Because I’m imperfect. Selfish. Wasteful. Thoughtless. A sinner.

But, as with all sins, there are ways to repent and reform. There are other roads to take. So, where are they? What can I do today to change these things? What actions and new roads can I take now?

As poet Wendell Berry explains in his Yes! article, “To Save the Future, Live in the Present,”

“None of us knows the future. Fairly predictably, we are going to be surprised by it. That is why ‘Take…no thought for the morrow…’ is such excellent advice. … I am not an accredited interpreter of Scripture, but taking thought for the morrow is a waste of time, I believe, because all we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is to do the right thing today.” (emphasis added)

I love this advice from Berry (as well as his poetry!), because it speaks to me as both a Christian and environmentalist; it reminds me that both of these identities are activist ones, demanding action today rather than countless empty promises, pity parties, and nail-biting worries for the future.

Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This isn’t scripture giving us an “out” to stop worrying about issues like climate change or to leave such things for future generations to figure out; it’s a moral imperative to take action and do what’s right today. Now.

Or, as Berry puts it:

“The right thing to do today, as always, is to stop, or start stopping, our habit of wasting and poisoning the good and beautiful things of the world, which once were called ‘divine gifts’ and now are called ‘natural resources.’”

And there are many things we as individuals can do today to “start stopping” our wasteful behaviors and become better stewards of these divine gifts. For myself, I’m working to spend more time out in nature (both urban and rural); to dedicate more time to reflecting on and learning about Nature’s variety, strength, and fragility; and to adopt more conservative energy-use habits at home (such as unplugging computers and other appliances when not in use, avoiding the overuse of AC and heaters, avoiding the use of cars when possible, and by keeping more aware of my water usage). I also strive to keep myself as up-to-date on the latest energy and environment-related legislation as possible. But these are only starting places.

Don’t let worries of the future draw you into complacency in the here-and-now. Don’t let the vastness of the issues at hand convince you that you have no role to play or that the solution lies in the hands of others. Whether you’re an environmentalist or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re an activist—charged to love the world as God loves us, to love and care for the whole package: this fragile Earth, our island home.

Now, my fellow activists, let’s go act. (Now!)

–Katherine Mead-Brewer