Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Justice before our eyes

On this most important day in our common life together, when we have been called to a new era of personal responsibility by our new President, I offer this essay along the same lines, which was recently published. Here goes,

Perhaps my ponderings on this subject should be far more global and all encompassing. I suspect this is what is expected when one is asked to muse on what it means to be a Christian seeking justice. Actually, I am in total agreement that it is a big thing, crucial for the world, for all of us, even those who don't particularly feel that injustice is a regular part of their lives. In fact, it may be even more important for those of us in which this is true.


No, my thought on this is really a very small thing. Some will even dismiss it as too small and perhaps even irrelevant but I am going to persist nonetheless. I have three major ministry initiatives I have vowed to work on as I begin my new episcopate. The first of these three is work and focus on those 35 years of age and under. To this group, the church seems ever more irrelevant because the Church, to them, seems to be irrelevant to the world. This is not actually new. In some ways every new generation has had its "issues" with the Church. However, even when viewed historically, we seem to be witnessing as stark a denial as we have ever seen. The denial comes with a wish, at least from what I hear from these generations, that it might be different, which is hopeful.


When I meet with the mostly older generations that occupy the pews in our churches, I hear, eventually, some notion, and even accusation, that the younger generations seem to be uncommitted and self indulged. I listen for a while and then I have to ask, "Who raised them?" Somewhere, from someone, these young people learned to be uncommitted and self indulgent, if that be the truth. In reality, the entirety of the former generations raised them, corporately, as well as individually. I have to wonder if, in fact, they are not uncommitted and self indulgent at all. This is not what I sense when I engage them. Instead they are wise enough to sense, in the Church, an often inauthentic loyalty and some suspicion that our words and proclamations don't match our intentions or actions.


This is my small thing. Though I have not been one to jump on the family values bandwagon as the solution to all things, I am coming around to the notion that it makes a difference, perhaps a more profound one than many of us want to imagine. Instead of biting off the major social issues of our day, some of which are truly more than one has time to spend any time on, perhaps it would do well for us to calculate how we can make a difference within the moments in our lives which we cannot avoid, working in our jobs, making our way to those jobs, living with our families and others we live with each day. How can we live justice in those relationships so that justice becomes a way of life?


I think of my twelve year old son. Several years ago, I took him to Disney World. We lived in one of the perimeter hotels which require that you board buses, mostly packed unsafely to the gills with humans, so that you might make it to the various parks. I witnessed old women and men having to stand up, holding on for dear life, as we whipped through the park, while strapping young men sat inches away safely in a seat. It was clear that the thought had never crossed their mind to get up and offer their seat.

I became rather obsessed from then on to teach my son, making him get up, as I did on many occasions to allow others to sit. You will never know the great conversations that started as we offered this kindness. Sadly, it was so unusual as to be novel. My son began to actually look forward to doing it.


Lest you think I am taking it to the younger generation, you can witness the same from everyone. We are a pampered nation, a people blinded by our wealth, and so this type of entitlement living is all around us. I succumb to it too, I am not excluding myself. We, here, have to work hard to see beyond it. On a small ferry ride recently I watched an older woman plop herself down in a chair, prop her leg up on the one next to her, and proclaim loudly, "Just let someone try to take this seat away from me!"; all the while, all around her, the same scene; men and women bouncing around in the waves trying their best to stand.


I know, I told you these were small things, you might even be saying petty. But, like the ripples of waves that come from the stone thrown upon the water, or the old adage that the flap of butterflies' wings in Japan is connected to the tornado in Texas, I think this may actually be the world when we consider how a Christian seeks justice.


I think this same mentality keeps us from having real conversations, something also quite wanted by the younger generations and something they see quite missing from our midst. A friend of mine recently bore her soul regarding her experience with racism, only to have those very ones who should have praised her venture, eat her alive. It is so much easier to stay on the surface, to keep the veneer of care and concern alive rather than really delve into our demons; so much easier to look across an ocean than to see the injustice in our homes, schools, or churches. We have seen this played out on the national scene as well.


Thich Nhat Hahn once reminded us that peace is every step. I believe Jesus walked, with every step, purposeful and centered on justice and peace, for every person he encountered.


The call or need for justice is not far away, in some other place. The root of our response, the place we learn, is right before us every day. May we teach our children consideration, hospitality, and justice. Have them watch us do the same, and I think we will change the world. A Christian seeking justice, is a Christian doing justice with every step.

Monday, 5 January 2009


Now is the time for resolutions. To some degree most people make them. I am no different. I make many, every year. I am going to lose those 10 or so pounds I need to lose. I will work out more, pray more, eat less, or at least better. The turn of a new year is like a car tune up in a way, a reboot of the computer. The reality of how few of these get actualized in a year, and are lost before January is even history, may have something to do with our feelings of immortality. Deep down we know, or hope with all our might, that we will be around next year, and we will just do it then. I have to wonder myself if I might let these go believing in some strange way, if I were to accomplish them all, well, then what would I do next year? Which of course, means, I truly believe next year is mine already.

I remember fondly doing a Vestry retreat many years ago with a fabulous vestry from my home parish. A member of that vestry was one of the old, and he was, patriarchs of the parish. I had them do an exercise where they imagine if they were to die five years from now, what would they want people to say about them? Of course, the whole point is to show that usually what is on these lists are not possessions or even accomplishments, but attributes and relationships deepened; the punch line being, well why don't you live the next five years so that people would say all of that. This wonderful man, when first asked the question, what would you want people to say about you in five years, said, with a big smile, "he's alive!: I just want to be here in five years!" He, of course, had a good and timeless point.

And so, on this New Year's Day, surrounded by my family, sisters, mothers, fathers, I was thinking this same thing. I was musing about my "resolutions" watching some bowl game when the call came in, a frantic one, from my sister, who had just left our gathering hours earlier with her husband. She was desperately doing CPR, the ambulance had finally arrived. She did all she could, we met the ambulance at the ER and shortly after got the news, that her husband, who had sat right beside me at dinner just hours earlier, had passed on to larger life at the age of 45 leaving my sister and 6 children. His name was Norm. He was a good man who loved them all very much. The next day we were graced with lunch with our good friend, mentor, priest, Dennis Campbell, who just two weeks ago said goodbye to his wife, mother of our god children, priest, mentor, friend, Peggy Bosmyer.

Two days into 2009 and I had been given some rather pointed perspective. In both cases, what I hoped for was just one more conversation, a little more time, perhaps a little less of that notion that next year is mine, and that I will be part of it, along with everyone I love and value in this world. Of course we all have these moments in our lives, and then for some reason, maybe it is survival itself, we fall back into the inevitable illusion that we direct our time.

Perhaps the most difficult thing, and in the strangest way, the place I learned the most, was watching my 6 year old niece and nephew try to reason with the fact that their Dad was not coming back. They are, of course, at different places with this and yet their questions are the ones we all have. Most of us have answered them in one way or the other, some are answers of faith, and others simply the answer we need in order to go on, and in some cases both. Combine all of that with the many problems throughout the world, not the least of which is the continuing death and struggle in the Middle East and certainly some of our resolutions would pale in comparison.

I still have some things I would like to do this year, to better myself, always with the hope of more balance in my life. But perhaps more than anything, I hope I can just be more aware, and believe what has always been a line in my rule of life, that every day should be lived like it's my last, because one day it will be. Jimmy Buffett has a great song where he says, "I'd rather die while I'm livin' than live while I'm dead." These two, Norm and Peggy were great examples of just that, and that seems like a good resolution for us all, to truly, deeply, fully…. live.