Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kingly foundations . . .

Today marks that most unAmerican of days in the Christian calendar, the day we call Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday marks the last day in the liturgical year—next week we will be celebrating Advent—and it reminds us of the governance we can expect when our Lord returns. It is quintessentially unAmerican because it describes the King. We tend to think democracy is the best kind of government. How do we call rectors? We vote on Search Committees and Vestries. How do we call bishops? We vote in two orders, lay and clergy by diocese. How do we call Presiding Bishops? We vote by orders, bishops and delegates, both of which are sent by participating dioceses. Our church functions similarly to the way our country does, which is not surprising given that many founders were also members of the Church of England and, later, the Episcopal church. And yet we proclaim that one day, one glorious day in the future, our Lord will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. We won’t gather in heaven and vote on what we will be doing. Our Lord will tell us. And so today becomes a day that can kind of stick in our own craw when we celebrate it; worse, if not explained properly to those outside the church, it can serve to repulse them.

For background of discussions today, I wanted to look at the passage from Ezekiel. The passage before our reading today reminds us of the relationship between Israel and God. When Israel is freed from slavery in Egypt, God goes with them. God goes with them in a real, if not entirely tangible, way. He provides the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day. Once they have journeyed to the appointed place, God instructs Moses and the elders how to build His Tabernacle. From that point forward, whenever Moses must speak with God, the cloud will descend into the Tabernacle to converse with Moses. It was a special position for Israel. God really was in the midst of them, in His dwelling-place. He was their God, and they were His people.

But what happens? Over time, Israel begins to think of itself as not like the other nations of the world. They look around and notice these other nations with kings. They ask the prophet Samuel to ask God for a king. Samuel, of course, is upset by this request. God reminds Samuel that it is He that is being rejected and to do as they ask. So, Israel votes on a king to replace God. Despite God’s warnings about human kings, Saul is elected by the people and anointed by Samuel. Over time, as God predicted, Saul refuses to obey God or even seek His advice. Worse, and this is really where Saul differs from David, Saul is unwilling to repent of his sins. Saul is unwilling to yield his desires, his wants, to the commands and expectations of the Lord.

If you have ever spent any time studying the books of Samuel or Chronicles or Kings, you know that very few of those kings that followed earned the praise of God. David is a king after God’s own heart. He sins, big; but he always repents of his sins. Solomon does a pretty good job, until he marries the foreign women who lead him from the wisdom and worship of God into idolatry. Josiah is unique in that he is praised and given a long rule. Most of those who follow in the lineage of David, though, do far worse than their fathers. Time and time again, Scripture describes the rule of the kings as abhorrent to God. Time and time again they do far worse than their fathers and grandfathers.

Fast forward to our reading from Ezekiel today. In the passage just before our reading today, the shepherds are devouring the choicest lambs. The shepherds are supposed to be taking care of the flock, but they prey on those whom God has charged them to lead. God declares that He will hold the shepherds accountable for the flock. Then He makes the claim we read today. He will pastor His flock. He will care for His sheep. He will be their God; they will be His people. Can you imagine the significance of what God is saying? How many times do we wonder if He cares? How many times do we listen to the whispers of His Enemy and believe that we are beneath His notice? How many times do we choose to sin, fully aware that it is, hoping He is like an inattentive parent who will not notice or be too busy to think it is really bad? Yet His judgement in the passage right before this reminds us that He pays attention to the littlest of the lambs in His flock. Put in the language of Matthew 25, what the shepherds do to the lambs they do to Him!

Christ the King Sunday reminds us that one day, all this inattention, all this preying on us by the shepherds, all the droughts and diseases, all these consequences of rejecting Him as King will come to an end. One day, one glorious day in the future, we will celebrate the fact that God is truly dwelling among us. He will be our God; we will be His people. We won’t have to vote because He will rule us. We won’t have to worry because He will be providing for us. He will be the Host. He will be the Groom. He will be the Waiter. We will be the bride and the guest at the Wedding Feast. It’s amazing imagery to be sure. But how do we convince modern Americans this is what they want? How do we convince the rest of the world that sometimes risks life and limb to make their way to our shores that democracy falls short of the kingship promised by the Lord?

As you all know, I was in Rome at the beginning of the month. The idea for this sermon popped into my head while I was there. As those of you who follow me on Facebook know, a lot of money was spent on our recent elections. I think nearly $75 million was spent on just our Senate race in Iowa. It seems like at least that much was spent on the Illinois House race. That last week in October saw increased political ads for the less important spots. The most wonderful part of Rome, as you have now figured out, was the blessed absence of political commercials. Yes, a television could be on or a radio could be on, and there was no Joni Ernst/Bruce Braley/Cheri Busto/Bobby Schilling advertisements to be heard. Can you imagine the peace? Can you imagine the happiness? You are laughing but only because you have not had to hear one of their advertisements for the last two weeks. Think how good this would have sounded before the election. Now add in all those other advertisements. You get an idea of the bliss promised us by our Lord.

All kidding aside, how long do you think it will be until we are disappointed by one of those whom we elected? How many days or weeks do you think it will be until you find out the position upon which they ran has shifted like sand? If a priest shows up here in February claiming that a politicians lied, will you be surprised? Or will you just assume he or she opened their mouth? It sounds cynical, but don’t we understand what God is saying in Ezekiel 34? Those who are charged with protecting us prey upon us? Those who are supposed to make it possible for us to pursue life, liberty, and happiness are willing to trample us and our rights to get theirs. What we offer, part of the Gospel, is that the Lord will dwell among us, that He will be our God and we will be His people! There will be no democracy. There will be no campaigning. There will be no weak preyed upon by the strong. The Shepherd will not be devouring His flock. He will be lovingly, tenderly, justly caring for His flock, from the littlest lamb to the oldest ram and all the sheep in between.

Unless you think this is only a long-dreamed-for event in our country, I got a view of some who desire it in Rome. While I was out and about in Rome, I ran into a cardinal in full regalia. He was actually on the other side of the street when I first noticed him, but he made it across the street before I could get passed him. I noticed he was passing out coins, laying hands and praying for others, and simply talking with still others. People were clutching at his cassock which, truth be told, seemed a brave event. It looked like a very well tailored cassock with nice think threads marking his position. When he crossed the road, he asked me about my green clergy shirt in perfect English, wanting to know my obscure order. I told him I was an Episcopal priest in Rome working against human trafficking. He held up a hand and offered me what sounded like an Italian blessing—I say sound like because he eventually got to the “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” as he made the sign of the cross.

When I made it back to the dorm that night for evening meal, I asked a friend I had made among the Roman Catholics what I had seen. He asked me where I was, then he told me I had simply seen Cardinal “So and so” campaigning. Like you, I was a bit taken aback. Campaigning for what? I wondered. Another Vatican official answered, as my friend was drinking his wine. “to be the next Pope.” It was then explained to me that some Cardinals make quite the show of being out and among their people in Rome, trying to win the support of the people. The problem with the Cardinal that I had met, he went on to say, was that he misunderstood what made Francis so popular. Francis did not do ministry, so far as he could tell, for public accolades. In fact, he went on, His Holiness is rumored to give their version of the Secret Service fits by slipping out in “regular clothes.” Both men wondered whether Francis was the first ever to give up the site cassock voluntarily. Of course, both had to be somewhat circumspect in their criticism. Both acknowledged that the Cardinal I had met might one day succeed the Holy Father.

While I can tell you the substance of our conversation, I cannot relate to you the tone in their voice. Both men are part of the Vatican machinery. Everyone who stayed in the dorm where I stayed is at least a midlevel Vatican official. Both men enjoyed the fact that Francis sneaks out to serve people. While they were sympathetic to the plight of the new Security Chief, both thought Francis’ willingness to be among the people was great for the Church. He was really trying to earn the mantle of St. Peter by being a servant of all. To them, Francis was a fresh wind blowing. And the Cardinal I had met represented the stale, putrid air of old. When I asked them why they were so critical of the Cardinal, thinking maybe he was really like Francis, both informed me that the Cardinal in question had no history of such activities in his home country. When he is in Rome, this is how he acts; when he is home, he is more a prince of the Church. Ouch.

Like us, our Italian brothers long for those who serve. Like us, our Italian brothers are energized by the thought that someone who seems to be a true disciple of Jesus could be named Pope. Like us, they have been so disappointed by men who have devoured the flocks, they have become cynical. Like us, they long to work with and for those whose hearts have been transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Like us, they long for that day when God will truly be Emmanuel, God with us!

My last conversation about how Christ the King Sunday speaks to us today was from a teenager from outside the parish. A local school brought kids in their religion to church see our worship space and to ask me questions. Let me tell you what, we need to keep our youth pastors in our prayers! Those who deal with teenagers have a special ministry on behalf of the Church. Anyway, this one youth asked me how many Christian denominations there were in the world. When I answered that it was hard to tell, but somewhere in the 30-40,000 range for denominations, everyone looked like they had misheard me. The instructor, trying to clarify things for me, said that the youth wanted to know how many denominations existed in the world. I laughed and told them I understood the question. There were, really somewhere around 35,000 denominations in the world. As everybody murmured and tried to decide whether I was right, the youth popped off “You guys sure don’t act like you believe Jesus was the Son of God.” When I asked why, he responded that if Jesus was the Son of God, you would think we would do a better job of staying one, just as Jesus said He and the Father were One. Ouch.

The instructor sought to intervene, but I thought the question fair and said the same. It was such a great question this week that I spelled it out for his classmates. One of the great prayers of Jesus is that we would be one as He and the Father are One. That is why divisions in the church are to be avoided. In our song, The Church’s One Foundation, that we sing from time to time, the robe of the Bride is distressed by heresies and torn by schisms. I laughed. When he asked the question, the youth had no idea about Christ the King Sunday. He had no idea that we Christians are supposed to long for hearts and minds of God. But do we really? Do we really want His heart, His eyes, His everything to lead us? Or would we rather keep Him at a bit of a distance from our hearts? Every time we are moved to divide, every time we are moved to split from one another, our testimony to the world is that our system of worship, our way of governing ourselves, and even our way “doing theology” is more important than our way of expressing the Gospel in our lives. Our One Foundation has become in many places anything but the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. And yes, the world notices. Even youths not yet in our church know that our fights dishonor our Lord and King. And still we fight.

Brothers and sisters, this day reminds each one of us that we are called to serve The Lord and The King. Sometimes our political situation or religious contexts or even our upbringing can cause us to forget this wonderful truth. Next week, we will begin the new year and the season of Advent. We will remind ourselves that, just as the Babe lying in a manger can to us, so will our Savior return to dwell with us. One day, one expectant day in the future, He will come. One Day, one expectant day in the future, He will come to live among us from that day forward and forever more. On that day, the wolves will have been cast out of the sheepfold, the bad shepherds removed from their responsibility, and those who have been victimized will be restored. On that wonderful Day, we will be able to burn the ballot boxes, cast aside our divisions like so many bad memories, and live in Unity with the One who died that we might all be One in Him. That is why we remember this day that Christ is truly King!



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Voice of Truth amid the cacophony of lies . . .

One of the downfalls about trying to keep a blog is that you can look back and begin to read some of what you have preached. As I was looking back this week, in anticipation of this week’s readings, I have only ever preached on the parable of the talents from Matthew in the past. It is a great story, to be sure, but I sure would have thought that at one point or another I would have preached on Judges, or Thessalonians, or Zephaniah, or maybe the psalm! I’ll trust that in those prior sermons I did not bore you to death; better still, I will assumed that I covered everything that I needed to with respect to preaching and teaching on that parable.

This year, I wanted to look at Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica. That is not to say I do not think Judges is not worth our time together. In fact, you all do a pretty good job of honoring several of the teachings from Judges 4. The most obvious lesson of the Old Testament passage is that God can use anyone, male or female, to accomplish His purposes. I know you all have heard it repeated over and over again that women were ill treated in the ANE, that they were little better than property because of this “God the Father” nonsense. As I have pointed out several times over these eight years, people may well have sinned in how they applied Scriptures to the lives of those worshipping, but God did not. Put differently, the teaching of the Bible is not at fault; the fault lies with those interpreting and enforcing. if women were ground down by the power of those in authority, it was because those in authority were misusing God’s word. Deborah provides yet another example that God can and does work through anyone. Deborah was a judge over Israel, a wife, and a prophet. Talk about multi-tasking! Although she is actually fulfilling her role as prophet, she even gives military advice to Barak! Next time, ladies, you hear any nonsense about you not being equipped for ministry, feel free to use Deborah, or Sarah, or Ruth, or Esther, or Hannah, or any of those other strong-willed ladies in the OT as your inspiration!

No, given the anxieties in the world, I thought we should spend some time with Paul in Thessalonica this week. Thessalonica, in case you did not know, is on the Aegean side of the Greek peninsula. It’s near the very northern part of the bay, not too far south from modern day Bulgaria, which meant it got to collect tolls on goods being shipped between Rome and Byzantium and on goods being shipped down the road from the Danube area to be sold throughout the Empire via the port. In its heydey, Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia, which makes sense since it was named for a daughter of Philip and sister of Alexander! It’s import also shows why the Holy Spirit pushed and prodded Paul into this area to preach the Gospel for about three weeks (Acts 17). As we read Paul’s letter today, we might not understand the details, but we sure ought to hear the message. Among its other traits, Thessalonica worshipped Dionysus. Yes, that means they drank a lot of wine and engaged in a number of orgies. We might think of it as a kind of fantasy land for George, except that he likes beer and loves Annette! When you hear or read Paul telling the Christians to stay a wake, or stay sober, or remember they are light, you now know why!

Paul’s message to them is rather simple. They should not be surprised by the return of our Lord Christ. Though others will be surprised at His return, the Christians at Thessalonica are not at all at risk of being destroyed. Christ has taught them that He will return like a thief in the night, like a woman going into labor suddenly. They have heard His message and are preparing themselves. Paul tells them simply to continue to encourage one another just as they already doing. Why? Because the world around them testifies to them that they are nuts for believing in a resurrected Christ. In many ways, our world testifies just as loudly to us that we are foolish for believing that our faith will serve us well.

I found myself on the plane from Brussels in the middle of one of those testimonies. As you all know, a collar either causes people to really open up or to really clam up. As we were settling in to our seats, everyone in my area was introducing themselves to one another. The guy behind me introduced himself as Dr. Soinso. Everyone had figured out my profession, though the green shirt gave them pause. Anyway, as we were waiting for the doors to the cabin to close, several of us were standing, avoiding sitting for any more than the next 9 hours and change we were going to have to sit on the way to Chicago. I asked the doctor where he had been, wondering whether he was on a business or leisure trip. I had to laugh internally as he said “Liberia.” I asked if he had been working with Doctors without Borders. He answered yes and asked if I was going to freak out. When I told him no, he was both curious and relived. He thought the press in the United States had done a great job of sensationalizing the disease and figured we were all scared of Ebola. I told him I had asked some medical professionals whether I should worry about air travel to and from the Vatican. Everyone had told me that our nutrition, our healthcare, and even our sanitation helped us fight the disease in the West. I got the old eye roll and “you have no idea” for a response. The doctor described conditions where he had been working. Needless to say, they were a bit worse than some of our bad neighborhoods. The doctor went on to explain that only about 6000 people had died from Ebola (hard numbers are tough to get because some governments want to downplay its impact while others increase its impact). While that number was important to everyone who had died and their respective families, in the grand scheme of worldwide plagues, it fell rather short.

As we were talking, a lady excused herself down the aisle, put her things in the overhead compartment, and sat down in the empty seat on the aisle. At this break in the conversation, she told us her name. I asked what she did for a living. She was a bit startled to be asked, and I realized I could be seen as “creepy priest,” so I shared our occupations and made introductions. When I got to the good doctor, she got really upset. For a minute or two she lamented her luck and convinced herself and all of us that we were going to catch ebola and die. The doctor asked her again what she did for a living, and she told us she was a nurse. Doc was not happy about this revelation and her response. They proceeded to have quite the medical jargon conversation for the next four or five minutes. Those of us who were not doctors looked at each other and shrugged, especially as her anxiety lessened. Eventually, the fact that he had had nine negative blood tests over the two-and-a-half days he had been getting ready to leave seemed to really make a difference in her mind. Then she laughed and said that she had embarrassed nurses everywhere. Everyone else seemed calm about it, and here she was freaking out a bit. Small talk continued until the fasten seatbelt light came on and the pilot told us it was time to make ready for departure.

During the long flight, of course, different conversations continued. The nurse engaged me about her faith upbringing and asked where I was going and coming from. When I shared, she played twenty questions about human trafficking. I answered more questions than she expected, and she seemed quite impressed that a sister had taken time not only to do an MNS on the subject, but to teach her priest a bit. Eventually, after some light discussions, she wanted to get back to something the doctor had said about the priest “accepting the news calmly and without overreacting.” Did I not understand the danger posed by the disease? I shared with her my elementary understanding. Then we began the real conversation of faith. What does it mean to possess the peace that passes all understanding? How can we calmly face situations where others fear to go? How can we labor on and on and on knowing that most could care less and mock us? I reminded her of some of her Sunday School lessons as a child; I also explored some adult experiences she had had which tempered some of her childhood education. In the end, she accepted that I really believe Jesus Christ will come again and claim me as His own. “You’d probably be a crappy priest if you didn’t, huh?” I still might be, but I knew what she meant. So, we talked about the Christian response to the plague in Rome (despite persecutions) and to other diseases over time. It seem to hit her in a spot she had not considered. “What kind of people would risk death for people who persecuted or ostracized them?” People who follow a Lord named Jesus, a Lord who bore persecution and humiliation and even death for us.

While the world continues to struggle with diseases, questions of provision assault the faiths of those who claim the mantle of Christian. Perhaps Nicole and I thought ourselves the only one going through that struggle this week, along with spouses Jason and Karen, but that is a theme rocking our country. How many people do we meet through Community Meal or SmartChoice that can no longer support themselves without help? How many people are working at jobs far below that for which they were trained or educated? How many people in this great nation are a case of Ebola away from bankruptcy or the streets? We live in a culture which tempts us into believing that we know we are loved when we have what we want. If you own the four bedroom, two car garage yuppie home, God must not be too upset with you. If you live in the gated community and can eat what you want when you want and do what you want when you want, well you must be one of His favorites. It is a subtle lie, but we come to accept its truth, do we not? And we know it is a lie. He has told us it is a lie. He has lived a life that showed us it is a lie.

Speaking of us, we in the Church do a good job of testifying against our own message and confusing those among us or not yet a part of us. Sometimes we lend our voice to the cacophony preaching against us. While the world has been busy hammering us over questions of provision and questions of health, our own church has been working hard to steer us from our God-given responsibilities. Some of you have asked this week about the goings-on at the National Cathedral. For those of you out of the loop, the National Cathedral, which is supposed to be an Episcopal Church, invited Muslims in to hold a Muslim prayer service. Cries of “what’s the big deal? We worship the same God” have flown on social media in regards to this event. More amazingly to me, women clergy have been incredibly supportive of this action. And we wonder why people have quit coming to our churches. We wonder why our faith, which has informed Presidents and Senators and members of the House of Representatives in the history of this country, has shrunk to numbers that are below the margin of error in religious polls.

Understand, we live in America and Muslim-Americans have every right to worship Allah as they see fit. I have no problem with it. I have no problem with Hindus holding their own worship services, Buddhists holding their own meditative initiatives, Jews going to synagogues, or even atheists choosing not to go to church. As American citizens we all have that right. As members of the Church, however, as members of that mystical Body that will become His Bride, you and I have a different obligation. The God to whom Muslims pray is not the God to Whom we pray. Either Jesus was right and Mohammed was wrong, or Muhammed was correct and Jesus was wrong. There is no middle ground. Sure, we can be peaceful towards one another, we can be supportive of each other’s spiritual efforts, but we are proclaiming fundamentally different messages. We proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah, that He died for our sins, that He rose victorious over the grave, and that He will return again, just as Paul reminds us this morning. Muslims believe that Jesus blasphemed God by declaring Himself the Son of God and so died a cursed death. Worse, they believe that His bones are still in some as yet undiscovered tomb. They believe that Mohammed is the prophet of Allah. And they pilgrimage to his tomb, where they know his body is. They believe a number of things which are untenable in our faith.

One of those fundamental differences is how we treat women. I understand that the Church has often literally and figuratively beat women down. I get it. But I am confident that all of us gathered here understand that women and men were both created in the image of God, that God has worked through the faith of women, such as Deborah, and men to accomplish His purposes for salvation, and that neither of us is more inherently sinful because of our gender. At no time does Scripture call women to repent of being women and men just for being men. It is our thoughts and actions which separate us from God which cause us to need to repent. And for all the faults of our beloved denomination, one thing I think we can all agree on is that we lift up the ministry of men and women well. Look around you. Do you diminish the ministry of those sitting next to you or across from you because they are a particular gender? Do you think that the sacramental ministry of St. Alban’s was negatively impacted because Dick or I were men or Kathleen was a woman? Has the church been ill-served just because our Presiding Bishop happens to be a woman? Even those of us who have disappointed by some of her statements, such as her sermon about slavery being good in South America, are we not taking issue with her theology or understanding rather than her gender? Have you not had those same questions and discussions with Bishop Scarfe? Bishop Epting before him? Bishop Righter before him?

How we view women has what has made me so disappointed that many women clergy have been vocal proponents of the Muslim prayer service held in the National Cathedral. If they share our understanding of how we lift up their ministry, how can they be so supportive of those who practice a religion which does not lift up women? If they serve a God who became human, who rose from the dead, and who promises to return, how can they be accepting of a competing message within our own sacred space? If they are truly trying to shepherd God’s people toward His kingdom, and if they understand that journey is made possible through Christ’s work on the Cross, how can they enthusiastically support a religion that claims theirs is false? How can they proclaim that the path to God really does not matter? Really, can you imagine the fallout if we re-proposed that women’s ministry does not matter, that how we treat women is really unimportant, that we are going to call ourselves Christian but treat women under the Muslim code of ethics? Yet that is precisely the confusing message they are sending by having supported this particular service. And we, like the people in Thessalonica, are supposed to know the Truth, to be heralds of His Gospel, to be not at all surprised by His Return!

Brothers and sisters, there is a cacophony of voices trying to convince you that you do not matter, that God does not exist, that you should be worried. Against that noisy chattering speaks that voice of love, that voice of truth, that voice of promise. You were bought at a price! You are promised salvation! Whether you experience disease or health, poverty or riches, transition or certainty, or even death or life, nothing, no single thing, can keep you from Him. Protected by the helm of that knowledge, and sent forth in His breastplate of loving service, you are fit to face the cares and concerns of those whom you meet in life. You may not know the answer to all their problems, but you know the God who does! Intimately. All you need to do is to keep doing what you have been doing: worshipping, serving, loving, and praying. When He finally returns, you know, you know, His words will be the words of the Master to the faithful servant in our Gospel lesson today; and we will each enter into that blessed life to which He has called us for all eternity.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What to wear, what to wear?

My guess is, by the time the next year is over, you will be sick and tired about hearing about Matthew 25. As hopefully all of you know, Matthew 25 serves as the point of emphasis in this year of the diocesan five-year plan. We will be more focusing on the “what you did to the least of these, you did to Me” aspects of the chapter, but the parables before that teaching certainly inform our reading and understanding of the five-year plan. I sometimes like to think of them as the disciples’ cram session before the final exam. Jesus is getting ready to leave them. They have lots of questions, and there is little time for all the answers. Today’s teaching from Matthew focuses on preparedness, on being ready. “For what?” you ask. His return!

The story that Jesus tells would not have surprised His audience very much. Weddings, as you all know, were huge events in the life of the Jewish community. They were the event on everyone’s social calendar. That is what makes the parable of the wedding feast for the king’s son seem so incredible to Jesus’ audience. No one ever would have missed that wedding for work, or family business, or mowing the lawn, or anything trivial. It was also acceptable that the groom and his buddies would increase the suspense or anxiety by showing up to claim the bride and begin the wedding at odd hours. Human nature being what it is, I am sure some grooms and attendants wanted the Bride to stress about whether he was going to show and marry her—that never happens today. I am also willing to bet some money that some grooms were delayed by an extra toast or three at the local pub. The ladies in this story, of course, would be familiar with these background traditions. Just as you eye-rolled at the thought of another bachelor party or another dragged out pre-wedding festivity, so would those invited to the wedding know what was going on.

So, knowing that background, the bridesmaids respond either wisely or foolishly. The wise bridesmaids, we are told, brought extra oil to their gathering, while the unwise ones simply can unprepared. Eventually, during the long dark of the night, the groom appeared with his friends ready to begin the ceremony and the party afterwards. The wise bridesmaids had oil, but the foolish bridesmaids were out. No doubt there will be many sermons preached today that the wise bridesmaids were mean and did not let the foolish bridesmaids share. Jesus, though, never condemns the wise bridesmaids. Jesus is always quick to condemn selfishness and self-interest. In this passage, though, Jesus praises the wise bridesmaids for responding and planning accordingly. The foolish bridesmaids’ lack of preparedness would be like a modern groom or modern bride or their attendants and groomsmen being late for their wedding. It just is not done! It would be the height of boorish behavior.

Such is our call to be ready for our Lord’s return. You and I and all whom we meet have been issued an invitation to THE WEDDING FEAST. As important as it was for us to get to our own, or our children’s, or our best friend’s, or any other wedding to which we have decided to attend, how much more prepared should we be for THE WEDDING FEAST! How do we get ready? What clothes do we wear? What kind of shoes do we wear? What present do we bring? In short, how do we get ready for that event, His return?

To begin with, we focus on the certainty we should have in His promise. Just as the groom in His parable has promised to marry the bride, so has Christ promised to return to us. That Easter morning so long ago taught us that His words are sure and that no power, not even death, can separate us from Him. You all chuckled at the thought of pub crawls and bridesmaid showers a few moments ago, but how many of us chuckle at the suggestion that He will return. We all know His promise. We all know His ability to keep it and so we accept it as true. But how do we go about preparing ourselves?

Partly, we go about preparing ourselves by gathering to worship. Every time we gather together to glorify God and thank Him joyfully for the saving work He has done in our lives, we are preparing ourselves for His return. We study His word. We eat His flesh and drink His blood. Today, we will anoint ourselves with oil and pray for healing, trusting that He will bestow upon us the healing that we need for His purposes and not necessarily the healing we want to fulfill our own. In fact, our active participation in all the sacraments prepares us for His return, readies us for the Wedding Feast. If sacraments truly are outward and visible signs of that inward and spiritual grace we all desire, we all long for, how else do you think we become clothed in the robe of righteousness that He has prepared for each one of us? We come to church not primarily to see one another, not primarily to be seen by each other, but for the primary purpose of being transformed in the heart and then learning how to show that transformation within us to the rest of the world. Don’t we? How else are we supposed to keep the light of Christ burning within us? How else are we to drink from His Living Stream? The sacraments replenish the oil within us. The sacraments prepare us for His return and for the Wedding Feast!

Unfortunately, just as Christ’s promise is sure and just as there are wise bridesmaids attending to the oil in their lamps in this age, there are those acting foolishly. Just like those bridesmaids that knew the groom would return to claim his bride and begin the wedding and the feast, there are those who have heard His promises, who have received His personal invitation to the Wedding Feast, and yet have decided not to prepare wisely, have decided that they need not be ready for His return. Perhaps you know some of them. Perhaps, you wonder into which group He would lump you. It is easy to discern whether He would judge you as wise or foolish. Have you accepted His invitation? If so, how are you going about getting ready for the Wedding Feast? How are you helping those whom you love, those with whom you work, those with whom you play get ready for that Feast? Do you accept their pronouncements that they will get ready when they are good and ready, or do you remind them that His return will be like the groom in this parable, the thief in another parable, and a ruler in yet another? Do you allow them to believe falsely that the “when” they begin their preparation is unimportant as they have plenty of time? Or do you remind them that preparations need to begin now as His return could happen any moment?

I get that these discussions are hard. I get that these discussions often make us uncomfortable because we do not want to be considered Jesus freaks or right wing wackos. The problem with that way of thinking is that is leaves too many people we care about in danger of finding themselves excluded when He returns. Those to whom we are speaking in these terms know us, understand us, should see us living out our faith in Christ each and every day of our lives. We are not random people on a street corner calling them to repent or die. We are their friends; we are their family. We want what is best for them, and they know that such is our love for them. In the parable of the thief, of the faithful and wise servant, of the slaves and the talents, and even of His discussion of the sheep and the goats, of the discussion of those who lived in Noah’s time, all of which surround today’s reading, look at the consequence of unpreparedness. Look at what happens to those who keep their own schedule, who try to supply their own oil, those who forget the Master—all express tremendous sadness and wailing for having missed out on the opportunity to attend the Feast. Jesus describes it as unconsolable. Each knew the path to wisdom and invitation, and each rejected it. Part of our responsibility, brothers and sisters, is to remind those in our lives acting foolishly that the path to wisdom is readily available. Part of our efforts to love others as ourselves is to remind them of the coming judgment. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be for centuries. But it will come. It will come with suddenness and with tremendous consequence. Those who have accepted His invitation and have prepared themselves accordingly will enter into a Feast the likes of which the world has never seen. Those who have rejected His invitation will find themselves consigned to the darkness and misery outside, fully aware that they rejected His invitation when they had the chance. If we truly love those in our lives acting foolishly, if we truly believe our Lord’s teachings are true, why are we so afraid to have these uncomfortable conversations? Why are we so willing to let others trust in their own method of salvation, when we know God’s plan for our salvation has been fulfilled in the work and person of Christ?

As you go forth this week, pray that God reveals to you those in your life who may be acting the part of the foolish bridesmaid. Pray that He gives you the opportunity to have that discussion about His invitation. Pray that He makes of you a worthy inviter, one able to draw them in with winsome and loving words, that they might take their place alongside all the wise and, more importantly, in His kingdom for all eternity!



Thursday, November 6, 2014

My own peace I give to you, My own peace I leave with you . . . Day 4 Theological Reflection . . .

Today was a day of finishing, of reporting, of good-bye’s, and of a spiritual journey. We finished up the purpose of our work before lunch today. Each group presented its focus at the Anglican Communion, Province/diocese, and parish/congregational level. We tried to be specific and present measurable goals, cognizant of the fact that, for many of our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion, the fight is just starting, even as some of us veterans report back. Once we settled on the action/goals of our P’s, those tasked with reporting out to the world headed over to the Anglican Center for the worldwide webinar. Upon their return, we learned that far more sites were logged on that we’s ever hoped! Once the presentation was discussed, we our group began to splinter a bit. Some began their journeys home this afternoon, while others left to take advantage of the trip and visit friends located in this part of the world. The rest of us packed and readied ourselves for the coach ride to Assisi.

Archbishop David selected Assisi as our “debriefing” point because it is the only city in the world associated with peace. The outward and visible those of the city is one of peace. Francis and Catherine are paired as saints, held in a tension reflective of the tension in the world, but also mirroring the peace we are called to bring to our brothers and sisters. Assisi is also recognized by all the world’s religions as the city of peace. Though their gathering every ten years belies the fact that there are wars and atrocities such as slavery occurring in our midst, their gathering reminds us both of our call and of what is possible. Lastly, Assisi is famous for its call for humanity to be at peace with nature and to bring peace to nature.

Although Francis is often associated as the saint of birdbaths, we were told to expect to see a number of statues and paintings with Francis and wolves. Though this side is lesser known of Francis, it is likely more true. There is a town to the north of Assisi called Gubio that, in the twelfth century, was being harassed by a giant wolf during the dead of winter. Chickens and piglets began to disappear in sufficient number that the townsfolk feared the wolf would begin attacking humans, their children in particular. According to the legend, just as the townfolk were getting ready to head out with their torches, pikes, and spears, Francis appeared. He entreated the villagers not to go kill the wolf. The wolf, he said, was too cunning. They would never catch it or kill it, and it would devour their children in its anger.

After some argument, the villagers asked Francis what he would do about the problem. He said he would go and speak to the wolf to see why he was so angry. As we might expect, Francis found the wolf, which began to run at him very aggressively. Francis made the sign of the cross between himself and the charging wolf, and the wolf stopped, whimpered, placed its paws on Francis’ feet, and laid down at his feet. Francis then led the wolf back down the hill to the town, where the wolf became the guard dog for the town and protected it against all predators, animal or human.

To those of us in the enlightened west, the story smacks of legend and fairy tale. The Franciscans, of course, tell us that the truth does not matter nearly so much as the outcome. Their story says that Francis approached the wolf with bits and pieces of meat. As Francis was not big on bathing and not scared of animals, the wolf did not associate him with the villagers. Instead of the cross, Francis tossed the wolf a bit of meat and then scampered up a tree as it ate. From there, he probably continued to toss it the meat he had brought. Once the wolf was full and left, Francis headed down the tree and back into the village. The process was likely repeated for several weeks. At some point, no doubt, the wolf began to associate Francis with food. At that point in their relationship, Francis could simply feed the feral wolf and stay out of the tree. Once Francis was satisfied that the wolf had been domesticated, he led it back into town. Since it associated the human with food, it treated the other humans like its pack. As they fed and interacted with the great wolf, it began to defend and protect the villagers of Gubio.

Perhaps the second story seems as fanciful as the first. There is, however, one piece of concrete history with which the unbeliever must deal: some years ago, when the altar in the church was being moved for renovation, the workers discovered the skeleton of a giant wolf had been placed under the altar. Carbon dating placed the age of the bones at around the 12th Century. By whatever means it happened, a great wolf was buried under the altar of the church of the town of Grubio, a town reportedly protected by a fierce, gigantic wolf! It is also why the Franciscans teach us that we must learn to tame the wolves within ourselves. Only by taming our anxieties, our fears, our hatred, our animalistic attitudes can we ever hope to be a family! Only by taming that wild wolf within us can we ever hope to achieve peace in ourselves, in our relationships with each other, and with the world.

Why did we focus on this story and not the birdbaths? Those of us who gathered this week at the behest of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have been dealing with wolves on behalf of those villagers we have left in relative safety. Some of us have ministered among the wolves; while all of us have ministered among those who have suffered at the fangs and teeth of the wolves. All of us gathered could speak to the terror, the hurt, the despair, and the isolation of those being preyed upon by society’s wolves. We even know the stories of countless other “Francises” in our lives, who journey out of the relative safety of the village and into the dark, inhospitable woods. How are we, and how are those whom we serve ever to find peace? Perhaps even more importantly, how do we civilize the wolves we know, the wolves we have met, that peace might grow ever more present in the world around us?

As David shared the story of Francis and the wolf, I could not help but see the face of Bennie. Of Johnnie. Of any number of those who employ the services of sex workers thinking the girls “like it” or “they can tell” whether she is enslaved. Of the gangs of beggars and panhandlers who grift for fear of their lives and the enrichment of their masters. Of the momasan in the “massage parlor”? Of those who have worked hard to drive me out of places where the piglets and chickens are being devoured all the time. Even of those vultures, our politicians, who care not from whence their scraps come, only that they get theirs. And I wondered, do I have the courage of Francis to make the cross and expect them to be transformed before its power? Do I have the plan to give them crusts of His broken body, trusting that one day they will become the defenders of our village? It is that peace we seek, that peace for which we strive—the peace that passes all understanding, that dwells within us, and is made visible through our faithful obedience to Him!

Christ’s Peace,


Rome: Day 4 . . . ingathering

Today we opened with the story of James Kofi Annan.  He was trafficked as a child and eventually was rescued.  James' story was particularly powerful in my mind because he shares the idea that the Church, as God's representative on earth, has an incarnational responsibility to care for survivors at all levels of their restoration/healing.  In a story that reminded me of Haiti, he pointed out how some Christians participate overtly in the trafficking process, but he also called attention to the fact that the Church likes to settle for "good enough."  We serve God.  Those whom we serve in His name deserve our absolute best!  For survivors like himself, he envisions a sanctuary of healing, a place of spiritual and emotional restoration, a place for job training or formal education, and a place that nurtures their overpowering will to survive.

That allowed me to share Becca Steven's program.  Many had not heard of it, though that is not surprising given the worldwide scope of this gathering.  James very much liked the idea of healthcare and vocational/educational opportunities, in addition to the sheltering.  Given that her ministry is Episcopal / Anglican informed, this has seemed a rather easy sale!  Praying that the Communion uses her ministry as a foundation for shelters worldwide . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

There's darkness and then there is darkness . . .

This afternoon saw perhaps the worst conditions in the area of human trafficking. As I updated on my Facebook status this afternoon, there are days when I think I have seen it all. Then, in a quick punch, I am simply floored by the depravity that human beings can show another human being. Canon Ken Peters of the Mission to Seafarers was the instrument of that shock. Ken’s ministry is among the approximately 1.2 million seafarers employed by cargo ships, fishing vessels, and other maritime vessels outside the cruise industry. More than 98% of those who live and work at sea are men. Some will go as five years between stepping on shore. Adding to the problem of human rights and, more specifically human trafficking, is that no one knows who ultimately is responsible for those on the ships. Should it be the country in which the vessel is flagged? Should it be the country of last port? Of intended port delivery? As Ken so aptly put it, take all your normal pastoral problems and put them in a tin box surround by water—that’s our ministry!

I won’t share the details of the ministry on this blog, as I cannot be sure who reads and who doesn’t. What Ken showed us disturbed every one of us. For those among us who were survivors, it was a tragic reminder of the life they escaped. For those of us who minister in those shadows, it put the dangers faced front and center. I am also reminded about the need for prayer in situations such as this. Many of us will never have the opportunity to minister like Ken and those in his organization. We will never see the evil that they do. But we can certainly support them through our intercessory prayers. It seems the least we can do when these (mostly) men and women risk their lives daily so that we can eat food produced around the world, buy goods made anywhere in the world, and even enjoy the seafood that sometimes finds its way to our plates. Prayer. It seems such an impotent answer to overwhelming evil. Yet we all know that none of us can change the conditions of those on the ships. It will take God moving and softening lots of hearts, both of those who enslave and those who seek to minister to those who have been enslaved. Pray for our seafarers and those who minister to them.



Rome: Day 3, afternoon session on Partnerships . . .

The questions prompted Rachel to share the purpose of the Anglican Alliance. The Alliance grew out of Lambeth 2008. Essentially, bishops wanted to share knowledge, resources, networks, and etc and needed a platform from which to accomplish missions identified by the Communion. As a result of Primacial conversations, decisions of the board, and advocacy within the advisory council, the Alliance is the platform for gender-based violence and human trafficking. Ideally, this group becomes the platform for sharing and educating provinces, diocese, and parishes.

Olga spoke next about Caritas International. Their work stems from the belief that the Church is called to be an agent of change in the world and the fact that the Church is called to give voice to the voiceless. They gather every two years to evaluate their last two years and to set goals for the next two years (which will be evaluated in two years). www.coatnet.org and BAOBOB serve as their internet sharing platform. Their current focus is advocacy, though they try to connect everyone with what they are seeking/need. people of faith have an obligation to work together because of the Second Great Commandment. What earns our right to be heard when advocating and setting policy is the fact that we live among them, and can earn their respect and trust.

Antonia Stampalija joined us for the last presentation to discuss the goals and objectives of the Global Freedom Network. The goal of the GFN is to eliminate slavery by 2020 throughout our world for all time. All world faiths are invited to participate. There will be a major announcement in December regarding the growing participation! First significant event will be the gathering of young adults to share experiences and instruct the Church how we might prevent other youths from experiencing the same. The just released TIP report of 2013 data said only 44,758 victims were identified, only 9460 prosecutions were attempted, resulting in only 5776 convictions. That means we could not identify even 10,000 individuals victimized by a $30+ Billion industry. Lord have mercy.

Terrie shared her perspective of the work being done around the Anglican Communion. She is the new director for Women in Church and Society.

Now it is video time. Some have used video to share their stories, and we get to see them! Then it is dinner with some dignitaries . . .

A new tool for our box?

Was Naomi a mommasan? Were the men in Judges 19 pimps and sexist pigs? What are we to make of scenes like Absalom raping his sister and then despising her for it in Judges 19? In the case of Naomi and of Judges 19, I would argue in a strict sense no. But they are stories in the Bible which speak to the questions of human trafficking, of gender violence, of sexist attitudes. We speak of the Scriptures as be God’s Living word. One of the amazing discoveries of those who do study the Scriptures is that they often engage us as different levels at different times in our faith walk. An easy example would be the Parable of the Lost Son. Some think of it as the Parable of the Loving Father. Others consider it the Parable of the ungrateful older brother. And there can be nuances to those positions. Which interpretation is right? Which one is the correct interpretation? Are we not more likely to say that the right interpretation is the one which allows us to see God at work in our own lives at that particular given moment?

David, on behalf of Archbishop Justin and of Pope Francis, is determined to keep this effort steeped in the love of God as expressed through the Word and the Sacrament. As one who often walks in the shadows ad dark places of human beings and who cares for fellow sojourners in those dark spaces, I cannot commend that focus enough. The contextual Bible study which Fulatta taught us today has the possibility of helping those who care for survivors and perpetrators, I think, in a way that allows the Word of God to come alive to them. I think, however, it’s use can be dangerous and even opposed. The question we as the Church will have to answer is whether the benefit outweighs the danger and the potential for misuse.

The method is dangerous because it can cut Scripture from its moorings. By that I mean the method allows Scripture to be read absent the Tradition of interpretation handed down from one generation of God’s people to the next for millennia. One of the fundamental understandings of the Church is that we engage Scripture in light of our own experiences and contexts but mindful that God’s people have provided a theological framework for the very passages we read. Fulatta’s discussion of Naomi and Ruth is a wonderful example of the danger and the need for those moorings.. Understand that as I point out the danger, I would in no wise tell a survivor he or she is wrong for seeing their own experience in the passage. From a perspective, Naomi could appear as an aunt/uncle/beloved cousin/mother/etc who sells a member of the family because she is desperate. Similarly, Ruth could agree to do what her slaver says because she is desperate but loves the slaver. A survivor of the sex trade could see themselves in Ruth’s behavior, particularly in the Hebrew, in the threshing floor activities. Those rescued from labor situations might well assume the other men on the threshing floor are slaves like they were. Perhaps the entrance of Ruth would remind them of other slaves being sent to serve them sexually. All these experiences might well and accurately come to mind when they confront a passage such as Ruth 3.

The problem is when we allow their context and experience to begin to create their god rather than reveal to them the God of Scriptures. While their are certainly analogous experiences which could inform the passage and allow survivors to enter into dialogue with the Lord, we cannot leave those reading assuming that their context and experiences are the Truth being revealed by God. Those leading the promotion of this methodology seem to want to stop at the survivors’ interpretations. But we can in no wise accept that Ruth is a trafficked victim or that Naomi was a trafficker or that Boaz is the “patriarchal rich ruler who seeks younger beauty.” Naomi’s story is one of redemption. She and her husband left Israel for Moab against the proscriptions of God. Worse, she and her husband found Moabite women as wives for their sons, marrying outside the people of Israel. Naomi and her husband, at the beginning of the story have lost faith in God’s promises to them. They travel to Moab to take care of themselves, as it were.

Interestingly, God does not condemn the ladies because of Elimelech and Naomi’s willingness to forge their own path. Instead, His grace is ever present. Naomi chooses to return to the land of her birth, but she gives her daughters-in-law and opportunity to stay with their people. Orpah chooses to stay, but Ruth declares that she will follow Naomi. Naomi’s people are now her people; Yahweh is now her God and her Lord. Her choice nets her a righteous man as Kinsman-Redeemer, a typology of the Christ who will come to redeem all of God’s people. Even more amazingly, from the standpoint of expectation, Ruth, a Moabite woman, will be grafted into the Holy Family Tree. When Jesus’ genealogy is recounted in the Gospels, Ruth will stand in the line of great-grandmothers.

Do I like the method of Bible study for drawing people into its narrative? Absolutely. Do I think God minds if we allow such passages to draw people into discussions that are outside the tradition in which they have been handed down? Absolutely not. Can it end, though, without revealing, perhaps at some later time, the truth or truths conveyed in the passage? No. Failing to do so leaves the one interpreting in light of their context to think that God Himself is somehow subject to the contexts in which they have lived. Scripture often shows how God is at work in the contexts of various believers, but He is always at work revealing His purposes, His truth, and His offer of salvation. For us clergy and lay leaders who try to open up the Scriptures to those in our care, this Contextual Bible Study method provides us with yet another tool in our box to reach those seeking God. But, as always, it is a tool which can be misused, as are many of the tools given us by God. We need only to exercise care, as is often the case, when using the tool to make sure we use it to His glory.



Rome: Day 3, 2nd morning session . . .

Charles kicked off our second session of the morning where we look at Participation. Charles is a policy adviser on foreign affairs to the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council. They look, in particular, at the theological rationale behind our decisions, structures, implementation, and the like. The inertia they are fighting is the person in the pew who has an attitude that they have no way in which to participate. once we get engagement, how do we continue the momentum? (overcome the attitudes of the #hashtag generation). They are playing a bit of catchup to our RC brothers and sisters in England, as well as organizations like the Salvation Army and Caritas. The difficulty, though, is getting the Church to engage at all its levels.

Kirsten from ERD. They generally work over long term with Anglican partners. Her interest in HT derives from Gender Violence (female minors represent the majority of those trafficked). Johari window. The boundaries around trafficking seem very porous. More than any issue with which they work, there is grey areas. We all despise brothels, but she has heard examples of prostitution from all over the world — not all of which are considered trafficking by everyone. Like many who supports free trade, the stories of the Seafarers just blew her away. What platforms are we building that allow us to examine how we are part of the problem ad how we are part of the solution? What are some of the behavior barriers to participation? Many of us are very specialized very focused on our local contexts, suspicious of those who seek to join the fight. Wants to add Process, Platform, and Professionalize (and Passion) to the P’s of this fight.

Fulata spent time teaching us about Contextual Bible Study as a creative resource in the healing of survivors (I wonder why no one ever thinks to apply to slavers and those who use them). The purpose is to get those reading to put their context in dialogue with the context of the biblical narrative. She thinks it is needed in communities that ignore 2 Samuel 13 or Judges 19, for example (again, we are called to preach and teach the whole text, so that is a valid criticism of lectionary editors and lazy clergy). We are because we participate. Until survivors are leading this effort, they will not be truly free . . .

Rome: Day 3, 1st morning session notes . . .

While I do not think the passage tells the story of human trafficking, it certainly allows us to use the biblical narrative to inform our understanding/treatment of some survivors and traffickers. In this sense, the passage is certainly alive and in dialogue with modern contexts. We can speak to momasans or even those prostituted and demonstrate that God cares enough for them, knows their situation so intimately, and is yet more than willing to bind Himself to them as kinsman-redeemer. I think in a strict sense, some of our discussions along these lines do violence to the text. I think in a gracious sense, though, Scripture allows us to speak into the life and experiences of those whom we are trying to serve.

A good example was the raped woman in a shelter. To Fulata, she appeared like a dead woman walking. The shelter was very much concerned with “right” doctrine about God. The girl was keeping the baby and being taught it was a gift from God. Had anyone thought to ask her? Was she making the choice conscious of God’s love for her and her baby, or was she making the decision to avoid being cast out and losing support? She was 14 and unsure which of three men who raped her was the father. Such liberation theology based approaches to Scripture, I think, allows others to see themselves in God’s plan of salvation, even if a strict reading of the text does not seem, at first, to apply to such situations. While not “orthodox” in its approach, I think it brings out the living Word way in which we rightly perceive Scripture. I disagree with Fulata’s assertion that Ruth is a trafficked woman. I do give thanks, however, that her engagement in the text with her background, has made her a powerful advocate for those who suffer gender violence and/or from human trafficking. For those interested in Fulata’s paper, shoot me an e-mail (Title it Fulata in the subject line so I can search and find it easily).

Bishop Alastair led off our discussion of policy with the Church of England’s efforts to protect victims. That discussion led to a discussion about the importance of definition and word choices. People universally are opposed to slavery, but what is it? People are universally opposed to exploitation, but what is exploitation? The challenges in England are how to protect potential victims, who themselves are often charged with crimes, and keep the integrity of the system. Another question is how to deal with supply chains? How do we monitor and then enforce? Is it reasonable in the world economy to expect businesses under 60 million pounds to be able to police their supply chains to make sure there is no slavery in the chain? What of mom and pop businesses? What of judiciary? How do we educate them? Fighting slavery is like squeezing air in a balloon. When we pressure one area, it simply moves to another? Alastair spent time also discussing about the Christian response to the areas (hey, he is a bishop!). As Christian business owners, we have an obligation to our workers? As adults, we have a Christian responsibility to others in sexual relations? We need to not be killjoys and be a people who speaks of God’s redemption in all these areas! And, his context is different as the Church of England, and a bishop, he has a role in both the church and state. In America we can assert / lead movements to get the attention of politicians.

Unlike in Bishop Eraste’s context, where one must be invited by the government of Burundi. The have formed a national commission to set policy against human trafficking (he is one of those appointed). The Anglican church has done a fantastic job of trying to convince the government and society that the problem of human trafficking is real. Now, their “speaking truth to those in power” has earned them the opportunity to help shape the state’s response. Burundi is, in this sense, leading the charge in Africa. They hope to network with others around the communion so as to figure out how to deal with training law enforcement, setting up care facilities/shelters, educate business owners, and train the church leaders how to engage with survivors. It is his hope that Burundi will lead Africa in all this . . . I think that will preach!

Canon Ken spoke to a problem, quite frankly, I had not considered. He represents the Mission to Seafarers. There are 28 organizations which minister to this group. Mostly, the workers they represent and minister to are out of sight out of mind unless there is a piracy and they are taken hostage. It is a life of marginalization. Many have no real country to call home (country of origin or country of flagging). They are unable to get to shore in many lands as they have no real country to call home. Naturally, they are easy targets for modern slavery. They can be denied medical care, pay, sexual abuse, murder, and etc. Most of the seamen are men (1.2 million—less that 1% are women; 300,000 are of Philippine origin—necessary for the survival of the state), so the preponderance of sexual violence is homosexual (most women in this life are in the cruise industries). Pastoral response is necessary for ministering to this group. He bases his ministry in Micah 6:8 and Matthew 25. Very informed by Moltman. Trying to create moments of church onboard ships with crew. 3 seafarers die every day, 1 ship disappears every week. Just because we are Christian does not mean that we are unprofessional. We know our subjects! We just know the Lord, too! He is accredited by the UN to instruct government inspectors on the soft issues surrounding seafarers. For example, an inspector may catch that a generator is dead and require that it be fixed, but are they knowledgable about nutrition? Transjurisdiction causes all kinds of problems. www.missiontoseafarers.org see also the Apostles in the Sea for fishing worker concerns (Deadliest Catch has another meaning in most of the world) think of this like everything we know about human trafficking/modern slavery and put them in a tin box in the middle of the ocean. One change they have seen is the drop in sexual diseases — can’t get off to visit a girlfriend in every port. The Church needs to be speaking to governmental powers and the UN. Cannot absent ourselves from those discussions in the halls of power. Also, the church cannot tear down without building up!

Rome: Day 3, Morning Bible Study . . . on Ruth 3:1-18

Fulata opened our day with a Liberation Bible Study on Ruth 3:1-18 looking at the question of whether Naomi was a trafficker. The purpose behind this Bible Study was to make us aware that contextual issues must be addressed in the care of survivors and that transformation is possible. The five C’s of the approach are Community—read the Bible in an interactive group rather than being told; Context—the context of the rear is always in dialogue with the context of the biblical author; Critically—make use of hermeneutical tools (exegetical and interpretative-which looks at feelings and experiences of the community); raise awareness about communal concerns; change — community transformation as outcome
What is the story about?
What possible themes can you attribute to this story?
What are the main characters and what do we learn about each of them?
Whose choice was better between Orpah’s and Ruth’s (1:14; 16-17) Why?
What could have prompted Ruth to go with Naomi to a foreign land? (6-7)
Why was it necessary for Ruth to glean in Boaz’s field?
Did Naomi possess and use Ruth as her labor commodity? (4:3-6)
Uncovering the feet, was Naomi asking Ruth to behave like a prostitute?
By Ruth marrying Boaz, who was probably Naomi’s age, what benefit was there for Naomi? For Ruth? What would have been at stake if this did not happen?
Do we have women like Ruth and Naomi in our own communities? What are their stories? How does the experience of Ruth and Naomi compare to the stories of vulnerable women, young and old in the context of Modern Slavery?
What community based resources do we have that can help us respond to the plight of our Ruths? What would be the best way for us to deal with the Naomi’s of our lives, whose desperation causes them to commoditize those of succeeding generations?
What two issues has this bible study made us aware of? What recommendation can we make to the church regarding such issues and this Bible study process?

While I do not think the passage tells the story of human trafficking, it certainly allows us to use the biblical narrative to inform our understanding/treatment of some survivors and traffickers. In this sense, the passage is certainly alive and in dialogue with modern contexts. We can speak to momasans or even those prostituted and demonstrate that God cares enough for them, knows their situation so intimately, and is yet more than willing to bind Himself to them as kinsman-redeemer. I think in a strict sense, some of our discussions along these lines do violence to the text. I think in a gracious sense, though, Scripture allows us to speak into the life and experiences of those whom we are trying to serve.

A good example was the raped woman in a shelter. To Fulata, she appeared like a dead woman walking. The shelter was very much concerned with “right” doctrine about God. The girl was keeping the baby and being taught it was a gift from God. Had anyone thought to ask her? Was she making the choice conscious of God’s love for her and her baby, or was she making the decision to avoid being cast out and losing support? She was 14 and unsure which of three men who raped her was the father. Such liberation theology based approaches to Scripture, I think, allows others to see themselves in God’s plan of salvation, even if a strict reading of the text does not seem, at first, to apply to such situations. While not “orthodox” in its approach, I think it brings out the living Word way in which we rightly perceive Scripture. I disagree with Fulata’s assertion that Ruth is a trafficked woman. I do give thanks, however, that her engagement in the text with her background, has made her a powerful advocate for those who suffer gender violence and/or from human trafficking. For those interested in Fulata’s paper, shoot me an e-mail.

Chains cannot hold it, neither can darkness overcome it . . .

Today we got to peek inside one another’s silos. By that I mean we each got to share a bit of what we are doing and our motivations for continuing in this fight. The first exercise pointed out that we each thought it was our love of justice or our feelings of compassion which motivated us, but there was, as one might expect, something far deeper that stirred us all. Not surprisingly, Archbishop David chose to root us in the imprisonment of Paul. I say not unexpectedly because David is very much aware of the need to root the effort in Scripture and to remind us of the well from which we draw our strength. We forget that truth at tremendous cost not just to ourselves but also to those whom we seek to free in His name.

Paul’s house of imprisonment is off a house along the Via del Corso. Archeologists are beginning to think it was Paul’s place of imprisonment because of the structure of the site. A church has been built over a church which was built over a church which was built over a significant shrine. Tremendous effort was made to preserve the site by the early Roman Christians. It was an amazing thing to sit and read Luke’s account of Paul’s imprisonment and of Paul’s own writings to Timothy which, if the professionals are correct, occurred at that site. You can see from the pictures that the rooms were rather small by our modern standards in the West.

Though Paul had no real chains, his house arrest was no less an effort to contain the Gospel than any time he had been jailed. This imprisonment of a bit over two years would be different, though, because it cost him his life. Early Church tradition holds that Peter and Paul were persecuted within days of one another in the eternal city. From the secular perspective, this would seem to be abject failure.

The same can be said of the work of most of us gathered who spoke today. The secular world might like to measure people rescued, recidivism rates, people jailed, and other measures. Yet those measures remain infinitely small when compared to the sheer number of those enslaved. Worse yet are the seeming failures. Many of us have had to learn hard lessons through failure, lessons that have cost us or those whom we have tried to rescue dearly. At times, as one presenter noted, the waves of anguish and misery and hopelessness wash over us like tsunamis.

David’s choice of Paul was simply divine. Looking in those rooms, at that little well, one could not help but wonder at the Apostle’s own sense of failure. He was stuck in a relative small space, thereby preventing him form his normal peripatetic ways. One cannot help but wonder that the Apostle did not feel like a failure, like a man spent. And yet, we all stood in that room where he once stood. Though the emperor took Paul’s life in a mad rage, he could not contain God’s joyous news! People travelled from all over the Mediterranean to speak to Paul about the Christ and about issues facing the early Church. Men like Timothy, perhaps Onesimus, Luke and others depended upon his wise council from that confined space.

More amazingly, look what happened. Though Paul was confined in a small space for two years and eventually beheaded at the whim of the mad emperor, the Gospel not only escaped—it flourished! Paul’s work with those who came to visit and his willingness to lay down his life for the sake of Christ paved the later way for Christianity to be adopted by another emperor and truly begin is spread to the ends of the earth.

Our work, as I described it above in silos, is much like Paul’s. Prior to this week, all of us have operated independent of one another, laboring for the freedom of those enslaved and for the repentance and reconciliation of those who would use them. No doubt in our little corners of that effort, we have felt useless, impotent, overwhelmed by the world around, and even wondering if anyone or God cares. Bishop Eraste has been fighting governmental inertia in Burundi. Ken has been fighting all the world’s governments because none of them seem to care for seamen. Prodip and Subarshan battle abject poverty in Bangladesh and other countries along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Some are survivors. Some of us have experienced the rejection of our help. At times, we have all wondered if it is worth it, if we can help turn the tide in this battle. Our pilgrimage today reminded us each of the power of the Gospel. It cannot be contained by walls any more that it can fail to set us all free from our sins. Better still we neither labor alone nor is its success in any way dependent upon us! All it requires on our end is the mustard seed of obedient faith, and God takes care of the rest.

We will win this battle. Maybe not in our lifetimes, maybe not even in the lifetimes of our grandchildren. But we will win this battle in the end. We know. Just as assuredly as His Gospel cannot be chained in any prison, neither can its light be snuffed by the evil and darkness of the world. He has already overcome that which we fight. We need simply to labor faithfully and watch as He brings His kingdom of heaven to earth, His light into the darkness, and His freedom into slavery.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Day 2 notes . . .

Our day began with breakfast and conversations

The formal part began in chapel as Rachel encouraged us to leave our cares at the altar so that we could focus on the task God has given us this day

Our first group activity was to pick a word that described our motivation — lots of justice, compassion, but some interesting individual choices — I chose thanksgiving, but craziness would have worked well

Rachel gave an overview of the goals and agenda of the consultation

We were divided up into the 6 p’s

Prevention — Luis, Delene, and Subarshan

Prosecution — Anne & me

Protection — Holly, Noah, Prodip, & Luis

Policy — Alastair, Eraste & Ken

Participation — Charles, Kirsten, & Fulata

Partnership — Anne, Antonia, Olga, & Terrie

Olie from the Walk Free Foundation kicked things off with an overview. What would it look like if we were successful? Enforcement of policies and laws, socially unacceptable everywhere, and no business provides goods tainted by slave labor. walkfree.org has a movement, business engagement, fund, awareness. Slavery Index will be out 18 November.

Fulata raised the question of teaching women in particular about individual liberty in cultures where women have none. Olie appealed to the UN. I appealed to Genesis and the imago dei.

They estimate 36 million currently enslaved

They will be breaking down by total number of slaves and per capita — difference in terms of income, type of government, types of slavery, etc. (882 from Nepal and India have died constructing World Cup stadia in Qatar) .  The numbers discussed will become official on November 18.

The second morning session kicked off with Delene and her campaign, Operation Hlompa Motho (Restoration of Dignity). In her context, it is more the rural poor that are victimized by the wealthy city dwellers. Obviously, in many places in Africa, speaking out on this issue is very dangerous. Used the World Cup to get increased funding which was used to promote awareness. 40,000 women were trafficked into South Africa, primarily from Eastern Europe. Given the AIDs culture and misconceptions, children were at particular risk (6 week holiday from school).

Subarshan focused on his faith-based organization, the TEARfund.org. 3 million displaced from the tsunami led to his discovery of the trafficking problem. They encountered moms who had sold their children because they could not care for them. Their goal is to prevent 50k children from being trafficked this year (modest goal) — built around their version of a FoodNetwork Cake Baking program. What drives the problem is economics. China is forcing through in 12 years and India is forcing through in 16 years what America did in three to four decades in the early 20th C. A big focus is the education of elders and mothers not to sell their children. That is accomplished by a biblical based program which speaks to God’s will for families — He gives us daily bread to face the day’s obstacles. Small group structures help the women as they discover they have not helped a childless couple or have not sent their children to a better life.

Luis shared his work with Centro de apoio e pastoral do migrant de Brazil. (CAMI) It is an NGO that focuses on eliminating abuses of migrant populations. Some native groups are trafficked within the borders of Brazil, and others are trafficked into Brazil. Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay constitute the lion’s share of slaves in his area. The lure is a whopping $4-500 each month job (by comparison, El Salvador is $175). The challenge is to be seen as an ally rather than an enemy. They offer owners the same opportunity to be an ally rather than enemy. cami-spm.com.br Citizenship is one of the cures for this evil in Brazil. The thought is that it is much harder to enslave fellow citizens. In the US and Europe the same fight is being waged. those trafficked want citizenship, but citizens want to deny citizenship. Easier to traffic those beneath us.

Anne, from the Salvation Army, led off the early afternoon session on Prosecution. The Salvation Army has the contract for that work in the UK. She led off the discussion with Stop the Traffic slogan. We need to turn the low risk, high return of human trafficking into a high risk, low return venture. Blockages to successful prosecution: Corruption, laws (jurisdiction), how cases are handled (survivors kept near the ones being prosecuted who threaten), societal assumptions, length of time for prosecution, the survivor is often prosecuted for a crime committed under duress or threat, fear of reprisal. Solutions?: Cannot be done on our own (need a network). Transform police attitudes and protocols, transform prosecutors, transform defenders, transform the judicial process, strengthen laws, transform migration control, civl compensation.

Charles joined me in calling for personal relationships leading to quality of care. Police in metropolitan London prefer working with the religious organizations and Women Religious because the quality of care includes a focus on empowering survivors to reclaim their lives by assisting in the prosecution of the slavers.

The late afternoon session focused on Protection.

Holly shared her organization’s work — Helpers for Domestic Help from the Philippines. As the name suggests, she is heavily involved in maids, ammah’s, and the like. Overwhelmingly (as in 98%) of those who seek their help are women. Are men not being targeted? Or are men simply unwilling to come forward in a shame culture and complain? Hong Kong is tough on the sex trade but very week on labor slavery. The difficulty in proving slavery revolved around the unwillingness of slaves to complain. In 2013, 18% experience physical abuse, 58% experience verbal abuse, and 6% sexual abuse. Part of the problem are government policies—2 week rule, Live-in requirement, narrow definition of trafficking, and criminalization of victims.

Noah spoke about the violence that is pervasive in the northern triangle of Central America. One is more likely to die a violent death in El Salvador than in all but three countries worldwide. Cristosal did not intend to get involved in the human trafficking fight, but so many of those who sought their help were victims/survivors of modern slavery. His work touches on the discussions in Iowa about the children at the border. 70% of those of El Salvador are claiming asylum, which gives us a beginning insight as to how well the government protects its children. To date this year 30,000 youth have been returned from Mexico alone. Those of us trying to get a grip on the crisis at the border truly are seeing only the smallest tip of the iceberg. Trying to build national capacities to protect its people by building small pilot homes. The state has lost its monopoly on violence and on justice. Amazingly, women claiming gender-based violence have a better chance of sanctuary in the United States than one who has been trafficked. We need to focus on the interview process/questions for those on the border!

Prodip spoke on his work in Bangladesh with the Church of Bangladesh Social Development Programme. The context is very poor and highly populated. The Church has to lead the politicians, the citizens, and everyone else in the fight against slavery. Mamun and 500 others were trafficked to Saudi Arabia to be camel jockeys. CBSDP was instrument in their rescue, public pressure, and after-care support. Church is mandated to work for those marginalize. Problem is the lack of skill and financial resources.

Luis also was invited to share in the Protection focus of the Consultation. Biggest slavery problem is in sweatshops. Women come with husbands or boyfriends for economic opportunity. Some come to Brazil fleeing violence in their country of origin. Also, slavers are excellent at victimizing the indigenous people groups. Most of his experience in the sex abuse has been perpetrated by owners and managers of those working for them.

The day ended with Compline and included a visit to the home where Paul served his imprisonment!  I am wiped, too drained to reflect.  Hopefully some sleep will give me clarity!


Those attending the conference . . .

I am learning the names that go with the faces! Here are their names:

Bishop Alastair Redfern, Bishop Eraste Bigirimana, Rev. Canon Ken Peters, Canon Delene Mark, Mr. Prodip Chand Mondal, Holly Allan, Noah Bullock, Dr. Luis Benavides, Ms. Kirsten Muth, Anne Gregory, Dr. Charles Reed, Ms. Fulata Moyo, Rev. Terrie Robinson, Rev. Rachel Carnegie, Ms. Isobel Owens, Ms. James Kofi Annan, Subarshan Sathianatan

Monday, November 3, 2014

The theological reflection of Day 1 in Rome

     In what can be best described only as one of those holy moments, I found myself unable to sleep any more after only five hours of sleep.  Those who know me know my love for sleep.  When I cannot, I try to take special notice.  This morning, I had that nagging sense of Samuel and His whisper.  It sure was not my choice.  I had spent the better part of two days without sleep.  Had God spoken to me as if in a whisper, I would not at all have been surprised.  But I found myself listening to the words of Sir David again and again.  Not unsurprisingly, once I logged onto the world for the first time today, I discovered that those who are engaged in the fight against slavery and who know me had a hunger for more of Sir David’s words.  We know all the stories.  Our battle is representative of that story told in Scripture.
     Sir David placed this battle against slavery by the Church in context of both the first and second Testament; more specifically, he placed the context of the fight against slavery within one of the overall meta-narratives of Scripture.  In the context of what you and I refer to as the Old Testament, slavery and deliverance stand as a metaphor for the spiritual condition of humanity before a righteous, holy, and just God.  When God’s people are enslaved by Egypt, the Lord works to free them from their chains.  For a while, the fight looks bleak.  Pharaoh’s heart is hardened.  Rather than free God’s people at each time Moses declares the Lord’s will to him, Pharaoh makes life even more bitter for the slaves.  The story, of course, ends when Pharaoh determines to show God who is boss and to kill all the firstborn males of Israel.  The result is that God’s people go free.
     But even that freedom is an uneasy experience for Israel.  Near the beginning of their freedom, we are told, Pharaoh’s heart is once again hardened.  He sends his army of chariots against the ragtag people of Israel, only to find his army, and his power, destroyed by God.  Even then, though, the cloak of freedom is not easily worn.  How does Israel respond to their deliverance?  They create a molten calf to worship.  They who have seen the ten plagues visited on Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, they who have seen Pharaoh’s army crushed by the might of the Lord, they who have heard the theophany of the Lord on Sinai, they who are scared by the reflection of the glory of the Lord in Moses’ face choose to enslave themselves again to an idol.  Given the choice of perfect freedom or slavery, they choose poorly.  God leads them through the wilderness allowing that generation to die out before Israel comes to possess the Land promised to Abraham & Sarah so long ago.
     Similarly, the Return from the Exile is couched in similar language.  God moves the heart of Nebuchadnezzar, through the loyalty of just three sons of Israel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  All who have forgotten the story can turn to Daniel and refresh their memories.  Essentially, though, the three become “good little slaves” to the Babylonians, except that worship only the Lord.  In diet and dress and knowledge and all ways superficial, the men become good behaving slaves in the empire.  Still, they remember the Lord and the promises He has made.  They cling to the Shema as if it is their lifeline in this new life, even when those in authority plot to take their lives.  No doubt as we work and toil in this digesting milieu of evil, the Lord is at present raising up men and women whose testimony in the midst of slavery will turn the hearts of those who enslave them and encourage those of us who cling to the promises of God!
     The second Testament, of course, speaks to God’s power to redeem all evil to His glory.  It is not enough for God just to free His people; He loves them and wants them redeemed!  The Cross stands as the fundamental testimony of God’s ability to take that which is evil and to use it for good, but there are other stories which speak to this truth as well.  In the Gospels, Jesus describes the kingdom of God as if a long-departed master returns to his estate and chooses to reverse the expected societal order for a time.  The master returns unexpectedly.  The joy at his return is palpable.  Yet the master chooses to don the robes of the slaves and to serve them for their service.  It does not last forever, but the elevation even for a short time was and should be significant in our minds.  Naturally, the story hints at the Last Supper and Jesus’ feet washing of the Apostles, but it declares to us that one of the signs of the coming of the kingdom of God will be the reversal of the expected order.  For a time, our Lord will serve us.  We will be cleansed and made worthy to stand before Him in worship and adoration for all eternity!  But for a time, He will act as our slave.
      With this knowledge in the back of our collective minds, it is no small wonder that we who toil in this evil are so determined, so unyielding in our fight.  Politicians, people in business, society, even the Church may get sick of our rants and our battles, but so long as we draw water from the wellspring of Life, so long as we drink deeply of that Cup with which He serves us, we can never give up this fight.  We may toil in seeming insignificance.  We may be ignored by our brothers and sisters in the Church.  We may never have a hand in the rescue of a slave.  Still, we know our work is the sign of the coming kingdom.  We labor not so much for the results, but in simple obedience that He who works in us accomplishes the miraculous in such situations.  It is in our very DNA.  It is stamped indelibly into the image with which He created each one of us.
     Lest we think he was picking and choosing stories, Sir David reminded us of the story of Paul and Onesimus.  Though Paul was not enslaved in the sense in which those who we seek to free are, he was by no means free.  He found himself in the very city we find ourselves gathered, though he is first introduced to us across the Sea in an undesired outpost in the Roman world.  Unlike us who were free to walk about and take in the sights and sounds, Paul found himself confined to a space of maybe 30 square feet.  He could not work and thus provide for his situation.  He had to trust completely in God’s promises.  And though he was trapped in a small space, look at what God accomplished through Paul’s faithfulness.  The Gospel could not be contained in the house that served as Paul’s makeshift prison.  Though the authorities tried to keep him contained, the Gospel was loosed powerfully in this, the gem of the earth in his day.  Less than three cities after his death, the Emperor would choose to embrace the Cross of Christ, changing forever the history of this city and the world.
     And, lest those of us who labor anonymously feel ignored by or beneath the notice of our Lord, Sir David shared the story of Onesimus.  The name I discerned for my ministry in the beginning was “Onesimus’ Heart,” so I knew this story before Sir David preached.  I had lived it.  I have seen it.  Onesimus was a runaway slave who encountered Paul, we believe, when Paul was imprisoned here in Rome.  We don’t know the particulars of the story, and we really have only Paul’s side of the story from which to discern it.  But Onesimus, a runaway slave under threat of a death sentence by Rome if captured or his lord if returned, meets Paul.  Onesimus hears the Gospel according to Paul.  He repents and claims Christ as Savior.  Not unsurprisingly to those who follow the workings of God, Onesimus’ rightful owner once sat in Onesimus’ place.  Once, some time ago, Philemon listened to Paul’s narration of the Gospel and chose the path and power of the Cross and Empty Tomb!
     The result is that the slave and the master have both become brothers in Christ!  And Paul uses that newfound relationship in Christ to plead for the release of Philemon’s claims against Onesimus.  Had Philemon simply elected to accept Onesimus back into his household with no punishment, the story would be amazing.  God, as is so often the case, goes even bigger!  In a stunning reversal of fortune, Onesimus’ submission to his former master results in him being elevated to overseer, episcopos, in the Church.  He who was a slave becomes one who should be serving all!
      That, brothers and sisters who are fighting modern slavery, is the context of our battle.  That is the source of our hope.  That is the spiritual DNA that undergirds our work.  We are gathered in a place that saw a Bergoglio become Francis.  We are gathered by a Francis and a Justyn who see themselves as champions of those enslaved and encouragers of all those who labor for the day when all men and women are given their perfect freedom in Christ.  As Anglicans, we stand in the footsteps of those who fought against king and country and church to stop slavery once.  Like them, we will win this battle, too!  It will not be easy; it will not be without cost to so many unnumbered, invisible victims; it may never be a popular battle in the paces we are called to serve.  But in the end, we know that we serve the Victor and that His promises are sure!