The incredible success of Frances Perkins in Lent Madness has had the Episcopal Blogosphere talking the last two weeks. Derek Olsen and the Crusty Old Dean have done some in-depth reflection. Much of the debate has to do with modern vs. older saints, and how modern saints seem to do better. Some have put forth a preference for the more hagiographic saints of the past. The problem probably has more to do with how we write history than the saints themselves. The difference between Perkins and, say St. Brigid, is an issue of cultural norms of story telling rather than content. The chroniclers of St. Brigid lived in a culture where resurrection of livestock was considered quite possible, if fantastic. But what Perkins and Brigid accomplished economically was in many ways very similar. Brigid seems more “Numinous” due to the way the Irish wove her story and her historical distance. But while we can certainly debate how we should go about “making saints” and what the criteria should be, I think “the ”numinosity" is in the eye of the beholder. For me, Frances Perkins is pretty numinous.
When I was a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, I did my field education under Fr. Richard Downing at St. James Capitol Hill (Now St. Monica and St. James). SMSJ is an old “Gin and Lace” Anglo-Catholic parish that has always considered itself socially progressive. It puts itself in the tradition of the Anglo-Catholic “Slum Priests” of victorian England and has old ties to St. Boltoph’s, Aldgate. One evening when we were having dinner in the rectory, Fr. Downing related, “You know, Social Security was designed at the very table you’re sitting at.” He then related the story of Frances Perkins.
I’ll let former secretary of Labor Hilda Solis describe her experience at SMSJ. This is from a Labor Day speech she delivered in 2011. She first talks about her experience growing up admiring St. Bernadette. Then she continues:
More recently, another saint came into my life.
On a weekend shortly after I became the nation’s 25th secretary of labor, I was exploring my new Capitol Hill neighborhood. I came upon a small Episcopal church, St. Monica and St. James, just a few blocks from my home. I decided to check it out.
I liked the services very much. The music was beautiful. The sermons were thought-provoking. The congregation was engaged and friendly. I felt very much at home.
On my third visit, as the service ended, one of the ushers introduced himself and took my hand. He smiled warmly and said, “We know who you are. We’re so glad you are here. We knew you’d come.” I was taken aback. I had no idea what he was talking about. And then he explained.
It turns out, back when it was just called St. James, the church was the spiritual home of my predecessor and the most influential labor secretary in U.S. history, Frances Perkins. Appointed by Franklin Roosevelt, she was the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. During her 12-year tenure, she was the heart and soul of the New Deal. She led the effort to create Social Security (some say she wrote the legislation in the St. James rectory). Unemployment insurance, minimum wage and overtime pay are just a few examples of her legacy. The federal building where I work is named after her, and her portrait hangs outside my office. She was a woman of great accomplishments, and of great faith—a pioneer in what we now commonly refer to as social justice.
But most extraordinary: Frances Perkins is a saint in the Episcopal Church, welcomed into the calendar of lesser feasts and fasts in 2009. Her commemoration (or day) is May 13.
Frances Perkins knew the power the faith community had in making a difference in the lives of working people, and enlisted their support and involvement during the Great Depression. I think she would be very pleased to see how her department is working with that community today.
For the people of St. Monica and St. James, Frances Perkins is not just a New Deal bureaucrat, but is a living, breathing saint who worshipped with their predecessors and put the incarnational theology of their Anglo-Catholic liturgy into concrete social action. She is the very embodiment of all that our Anglo-Catholic tradition teaches. I’ve never forgotten that night when I heard of liturgy and action meeting in one person. While Frances Perkins certainly did not make the Golden Halo in my bracket, I think of her as numinous as Brigid, or Julian, or Margaret of Scotland. I will not find it amiss if she makes it all the way, and one parish in DC will celebrate their local girl who does well.
This is the last story for our Lenten series. It is on the theme of Loving. The previous sermons are linked at the bottom of this article.
As they strode towards the armory , the knight thought about his time in the Castle. how long had it been? Weeks? Months? Years? It had been a time of being stretched way beyond his areas of comfort. For one who had been trained for war, the disciplines of the castle had been so different. He had been forced to confront all of the ideas his birth, upbringing, and training had impressed upon him. The assumptions he had brought of the world due to his class and profession - of his own superiority - had been shattered like glass. Walking next to him was the kitchen maid. She had also faced a similar stretching, finding her own self-worth and struggling to convince herself that people needed to hear her voice. She now spoke up in conversations rather than demurely assuming her opinions were of little worth. The two had become unlikely friends in the Guild Hall. Stripped of class distinction and trained to listen and speak, they now saw each other as equal servants of their Courteous Lord, though their functions in the household differed.
In the armory, the Knight stood with his mouth agape. He had actually been looking forward to this - something familiar and grounded in his upbringing. But this didn't look like an armory at all. Instead of rows of armor and helmets, swords and pole arms, it was full of common stuff. Blankets, clothing, foodstuffs, even an area with coin in careful stacks. The maid looked at the knight and laughed in sympathy with her friend's bemusement. "You expected a worldly armory, didn't you? But this is the armory of our Lord." "Yes." And he laughed at himself, "Nothing is ever what we expect here, is it? But of course, the armory of our Lord would be filled with instruments of comfort, rather than that of harm." A portly man approached them, "Ready to sally forth, are we? I assume your guides have sent you?" "They have," replied the maid, "But what are we to take, and what are we to do?" "As for what you are to do, that will become apparent when you leave the castle. As for what you are to take, use the equipment you are most skilled with."
The Maid looked around the armory, passing between rows of goods. Finally, her eyes alighted on a set of cookware. Beautiful and gleaming, they looked finer than anything she had ever used. These were not the instruments of kitchen drudgery, but objects of art made to give comfort. She picked them up and put them into a sack, then went to the foodstuffs and took several staples and a selection of savory spices. Meanwhile, the Knight had passed through the armory and come to stand before the exchequer's table with the stacked coin. He looked at them in a different way than he ever had before. In the world, he had seen coin as a way to guard security or to provide personal pleasure. Now as he looked at the table, he saw them as gifts from his Courteous Lord, intended to provide relief and build places of refuge. The armorer came to stand beside him, "Take as much as you think you will need. You are a trusted servant of our Lord." The Knight pondered, then swept one coin into a purse. The armorer smiled, "Good. You take what is needed, not more. You learned well the lessons of the Guild Hall."
The two friends stood at the small sally port in the armory. The armorer unbarred it and opened it for them. "Do your work in the name of our Lord. Do it well and with compassion. Return when you require respite or refreshment. You are of both the castle and the world now." The Knight and the Maid instinctively clasped hands and stepped outside.
It was a beautiful spring day, and they stood outside the castle near the Emerald gate. Hundreds stood rooted, looking into the gates. Others wandered listlessly from gate to gate, peering in each one inquisitively. The friends headed back down the valley. As they reached the field full of tents, a light moaning could be heard emanating from one of the splendid pavilions. The Maid looked at the Knight knowingly, then headed towards the entrance to the tent.
The Knight continued to walk into the village. As before, everyone pushed past, but no one stopped to talk or even acknowledge him. He made his way to the tilt-yard. The constant tournament continued, with knights breaking lance after lance on each other. The Knight watched for several hours. Every once in a while, a knight would be unhorsed. That knight would then beckon to his squire to come forward with a purse and pay a single coin to the victor. As he watched, a contestant was struck from the saddle and collapsed on the ground. When the herald of the lists stepped up to him, he shook his head sadly. The herald made a motion, and two men-at-arms stepped into the list and took him by the arms, dragging him towards a stone building at the far end of the field. The Knight followed with interest.
The building was a Gaol, made of stone and with windows for each cell that were barred. As he watched, the men-at-arms took the defeated knight and placed him in a cell, where he went to the barred window. Most of the cells had defeated knights in them, and they all stood at the windows, yelling as victorious knights galloped past, challenging them to pay their coin and meet them on the field. As he walked past, he noticed one cell with a defeated knight in it who did not stand at the window, but only sat on his pallet and stared at the wall. "Good Sir. Why don't you stand and challenge the victorious knights as the others do?" "I used to," said the defeated knight, "but there's no point. Very seldom is one freed when there are more lucrative battles to be had with others. Besides, I no longer wish to fight." "What is it you wish to do?" The defeated knight rose and came to the window and stared at the castle in the distance. "I wish to go to the Castle. When I came here, I went to the field and stood for two days wishing to enter the gate, but the idea of no longer being a noble with servants under me made me unable to take the step. I finally turned in despair and came here, where I could indulge in that pointless game out there. " He gestured to the tilt-field. "Although I was proud, I was never particularly good at jousting. My money got me so far - several weeks - but I have been here for the past two months. After the first month, I stopped challenging passing knights. After six weeks, I seemed to come to myself, and noticed the Castle in the distance again. Now I long to go there, but I am a captive of my own pride and folly. I deserve my state, but how I wish it were different." The Knight surveyed him carefully, then reached into his purse, drawing out the single coin. "Here is your freedom." The defeated knight looked at the coin in his hand incredulously. "And who are you, Sir Knight, that I may thank you?" "My identity is not important, but I free you in the name of The Lord of the Castle. He bids you come and be his servant as well." That afternoon, the Knight of the Castle led the defeated knight back through the village, the field, and up through the gate of the castle. Celebrations broke out throughout the Castle as the news spread.
The maid walked to the entrance of the tent. "Excuse me." She called, "May I come in?" There was no answer. She remembered her Lord and boldly walked in. The inside of the pavilion was squalid. On a pallet in the corner lay an older noble lady, dressed in what must have been fine clothing once. "Go away," she croaked, and rolled onto her side facing away from the Maid. "I'm here to be of service. What ails you?" The lady rolled back over. "I stood day by day in front of those castle gates for years, never able to gather up the courage to step in. Every time I try to take the step, I'm held back by shame." "Shame? What could be so bad as to keep you out for so long?" The lady winced. "I was a horrid person. Outside the valley, I was a countess, and I lived an opulent life. I took my position for granted and the people around me even more so. I was especially horrid to the kitchen staff. I would send back dishes repeatedly if I didn't think they were perfect and ordered punishments for repeated mistakes. When I heard about the Castle, I was intrigued and packed my entire household to come here. In my pride, I thought the Lord of such a castle would ride out to meet me. When he didn't, I joined the seekers around the Castle, thinking I would surely be able to get in. Every time I tried to take a step towards the gate, I would be reminded of something particularly nasty I had said or done to one of my servants and be unable to finish. After a couple of years, I couldn't even look my remaining servants in the face and dismissed the last one. I haven't been back to try to get into the castle since then." "So you have no one here with you?" "No. I don't deserve company." "And what have you eaten?" The woman pointed at a loaf of moldy bread that was almost out. "My last servant, a sweet girl, left me that when I dismissed her. I couldn't even thank her in my misery." "I will return" said the maid. She turned and went outside, finding the fire ring. The servants had left some wood and kindling, so she soon had a fire going. She pulled out her cookware and supplies from the Castle and soon had a savory dish of potatoes and beef broth cooking. Finishing, she put some of the prepared dish into a bowl and took it inside to the woman. The woman looked at her incredulously. "Why did you cook for me? You're not my servant." "No, I'm the servant of The Lord of the Castle. I cook for whom he desires me to, and that is you." "But I've never met your Lord." "You've met him through me." The woman looked longingly at the dish. The Maid pushed it towards her. "Go ahead, take and eat."
The Maid tended to the woman for several days, watching her strength and manner improve. She cleaned and laundered, remembering, as she had been taught in the Guild Hall, that every time she did it, she did it for her Lord. Soon the pavilion was well-kept again. As they days passed, the woman wanted to know more about her, and the Maid told her about her former life in the kitchens of the baron and her new life in the castle. After a week had passed, the Maid said to the lady, "I need to return to the castle, and I want you to come with me." The lady paled. "I'm not sure I can do that. So many years of shame and hesitation outside the gates. I can't take that happening again." The Maid reached out and took her hand. "This time, it will be different. I will be with you." The lady considered for a moment, then nodded.
When they reached the gates, the lady stopped, transfixed by a bad memory, overcome with remorse. Then she turned and looked at the Maid, smiled, and stepped forward. As they both approached the gate, the Maid kept waiting for a guide to come and meet them, but no one appeared. Finally, when they reached the gatehouse, the Maid saw her guide waiting there with a large smile on her face. "I kept waiting for you to come out to guide us." said the Maid. "There was no need," said the woman. "You are her guide now." She turned to the lady. "Welcome, sister, to the castle. We have waited long for you to join us. When you faltered, we sent out our very best to guide you." The three women moved into the gatehouse to allow the lady to have her first glimpse of the valley and the castle. And there at the top of the gatehouse stairs, the Knight of the Castle welcomed them both, beaming from ear to ear.
From holy scripture:
Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.
Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
This is the third story for our Lenten series. It is on the theme of Praying. The previous sermons are linked at the bottom of this article.
The maid's companion shielded her eyes as she looked towards the gatehouse. "Another person has taken the step. Looks to be a knight." Then they continued to walk around the battlements of the castle. The maid looked again at the noble woman who had met her when she had finally stepped towards the gate after months of wavering. The woman was still beaming, as she had been on that day... how long ago had it been? A week? A month? Time seemed to stand still here. When she had first met the woman in front of the gate, she had bowed low to her in deference to her obvious nobility, but the woman had taken both her hands in hers and raised her up. "There is only one noble we bend the knee to in the Castle. While I shall be your guide, you shall not defer to me except in matters of instruction. Call me, 'sister.'" It was hard for the maid to accept after years of servitude, but after looking in the woman's eyes, she thought she could handle it. After all, hadn't she been able to overcome her personal sense of unworthiness to step forward to the gate? "Where, then Milad.... I mean, sister, are you taking me today?" The woman smiled at the slip, then said, "You seem to have recovered well. It is time for you to go to the audience hall to learn how to converse." The maid paled, "Converse with Him? The Lord of the castle? I'm only a maid, I'm not worthy to do that!." The woman looked at her sternly, "We have discussed this. Our Lord knows no class or birth. We are all unworthy of his countenance, but made worthy by his courteous action."
The maid paused, then said, "I have a question." The woman laughed not unkindly, "Of course you do. You all do. Endless amounts of them. What do you wish to know?" The maid blushed and smiled lightly. "Our Lord knows what it is we want to talk about before we ask, is it not true?" "Yes, it is. Our Lord knows our every thought and action down to the lowest functions of our being." "What, then, is the point of conversation?" The woman paused, "When you worked in the baron's kitchen, did you talk to the other servants?" "Oh yes, all the time." "Did anyone ever tell a story twice?" "There was a huntsman who would tell a story about a bull and a miller that was really funny." She blushed, "It was a little off-color." The woman smiled back at her. "He told it to us at least twice a week!" "Did anyone laugh after the first time?" "Oh yes! We rolled on the floor. It was funny every time!" "But you knew the information in the story. You knew how it began, continued, and ended. Why would you want to hear it again?" The maid thought, "Perhaps because its not about the content, but about the relationships between the teller and the listeners." "Exactly. Relationship is based on communication. Without communication, there is no relationship. The effectiveness of conversation is not based solely on facts, but on the quality of the relationship." "So even though the Lord already knows what we wish to communicate, the conversation still has value?" "Yes. And more than that. The process of conversing quite often clarifies in our heads what we want and desire. In some ways, that is the true value of conversation with our Lord. It does not change Him, but it changes us and how we see our world." They walked a bit while the maid considered this.
"How then do we converse with our Lord?" "There are many ways, almost as many ways as there are people. We can converse with words, or with thoughts, or with action. Some ways are quiet, others are loud, some are simple and spontaneous, others are complex and ritualistic. Tradition teaches us many ancient ways and the Spirit teaches us new ones." "Am I really ready for this?" The woman turned, took the maid's face in her hands, and spoke clearly and directly. "As servants of our Lord, we are ALWAYS worthy, and always called to pick up our conversation with Him. You start with a simple conversation, and then add complexity as it is called for. And you, my dear, are ready - nay - long overdue - to start this conversation."
This is the second story for our Lenten series. It ison the theme of Being, and picks up after the knight has entered the castle. The first sermon is linked at the bottom of this article.
After stabling his horse, the man who had escorted him in took the knight up to the roof of the gatehouse where they could overlook both the castle and the valley outside. The man waited patiently, regarding the knight with an untroubled expression. "My lord, may I ask questions?" Asked the knight. "You surely may," said the man, "but do not call me 'Lord,’ we have but one Lord in this castle." "My apologies, sir" replied the knight. The man indicated it was of little consequence and a common mistake. "Ask me your questions." The knight looked down at the open gate. "This could be an impregnable castle. If there were strong gates, it would take months for siege engines to breach the walls. But the castle has no way to bar entry!" The man replied, "The castle indeed has walls to define the here from the there. Boundaries are important for people. They help define who they are and provide identity. But unlike fortresses of human construction, our courteous Lord has decreed that the gates of this castle shall never be barred. The only person that can deny entry to this castle is oneself."
The knight looked out beyond the castle to the mass of silent people around the castle. They stood there, looking at the gates. Every once in a while, one would make as if to take a step forward, but then would draw back. "Who are they, and why do they stand there?" The man looked out and smiled lightly and sadly, "They are the seekers. They wish to enter the castle, but they cannot pluck up the courage, either because they feel they are unworthy to enter, or because they are afraid of being changed upon entering. They are right to do so, because no one leaves unchanged, even though it is a change for the better. Sometimes it is easier to hold onto the guilt, shame and feelings of unworthiness one has made a part of oneself than to let it go and step into the unknown of the castle. Every once in a while, a seeker will finally pluck up the courage and step forward. On those days, the whole castle celebrates, no matter how noble or common that person is. Just yesterday, a cook from a local baron's kitchen 'took the step' as we call it." He gestured to a young woman in common clothing walking the battlements with a companion.
The knight turned outward again and looked beyond the field to the village. Even from this distance, he could see the people frantically bustling to and fro and the knights lining up at the jousting field in their endless contest. "And what of the village? Why are they so obsessively busy? And why do the knights tilt endlessly?" The man looked out towards the village, and he sighed. "There are those who are seekers for so long that they lose hope, and go back to the village in despair. There are also those who come for the wrong reasons, seeking power or fame or glory. The peace and equality of the castle makes it impossible for them to come closer." "And why do they not acknowledge one another or the castle?" The man paused, "When you cannot 'take the step' for long enough, or the peace of the castle threatens your self-identity, a retreat into constant activity promises escape. Real rest and meaningful interaction with others would bring them face to face with their true selves. Many of them come to tell themselves that the castle itself does not exist and that their busyness is all that exists, because it's easier to deny that it is there than to admit that they cannot currently enter."
The knight paused, then spoke, "Will it be thus forever? Will people be always unable to enter the castle because of pride, or despair, or pain? " The man was thoughtful, looking out over the village and the field. "I do not know. We in the castle are taught that there is judgement, but also mercy. Many of us believe that at the end, our courteous Lord will perform a mighty act that will reconcile all things. We do not speculate how this can be or what form it will take, only that it will happen. But now, good sir, you have come into the castle. Let us survey where you have come to."
They turned and looked inside the castle. The knight's practiced military eye went over the towers and the walls, then looked at each of the gates. He noticed that they each had a different colored gem inset into the inner wall of the gatehouses. "Why are there four gatehouses, each with a different gem?" "The people that seek the castle are diverse. They each come with different strengths and weaknesses. Each gate is easier for some and harder for others. Those seekers who find the correct gate for them have an easier time 'taking the step.' You came in through the gate of action, of emerald, which is best suited for you. There are also the gates of diamond, which is clarity or learning, ruby, which is closeness or relationship, and sapphire, which is depth or contemplation.
The knights eyes fell from the defensive buildings to the interior keep, where he discerned three main buildings. The most prominent had the look of a great hall. "What is that building there in the center of the keep?" "That is the audience hall, where our Lord keeps court. It is there you will learn conversation." The knight looked at him quizzically, "I have spent my life in gentle conversation. Have I more to learn?" The man replied, "Conversation with our Lord is different. It is deeper, at the level of our very being. Sometimes courteous, and sometimes very... direct."
The knight's eye moved on to a quadrangle with a large courtyard. "And what is that?" "That is the guild hall, where you will learn how to live. You know much about life outside the castle, but so do the villagers. You must learn how to live inside so you can return outside and take the learnings of the castle with you." "And that?" asked the knight, looking at a smaller keep near the wall of the caste. "That is the armory, where we equip ourselves to Sally." "Sally? Thats a raid. You said this is a castle of peace. What do you mean by that?" "While we believe that our Lord will reconcile all things at the end, there is much we can do in the meantime on his behalf. Many seekers and villagers who cannot move themselves can be moved by a gentle word or kindness from others. We learn to converse and live so we can serve the world. As he shows compassion to us, so we show compassion to those gathered around the castle. But now, gentle sirrah, you must be exhausted. Let us see to your horse and make sure he is provided for, then you can eat and sleep. The teaching can wait while you recover." The knight took a last look about him - the village, the field, the audience hall, the guild hall, the armory. His eyes dwelt on the maid walking with her companion on the battlements, then he followed the man downstairs.
This Lent, our 5:45 Wednesday night program will be titled, “A Castle with no gate.” A Christian Community is like any other community, in that there are norms and boundaries that delineate out our common life. It might be likened to a castle. The difference between our community and other human communities is that the gate to the castle is always open and cannot be shut. God is always inviting all to deeper community. Over the course of Lent, this program will be examining the castle and the life within in the areas of Being, Praying, Living and Loving. I will be challenging us to look at our life together as a congregation less in terms of an organization, and more of a Community based in the ancient Christian spirituality of the Benedictines, which lies under the Anglican ethos. On the Sundays in Lent, My sermons will be presenting a series of stories that underly each one of these sessions. This first one simply sets the scene - the meaning of what the character sees and does will be laid out over the next several weeks.
The knight rode slowly up the winding road into the mountains. The clink of his chain mail and click of the hooves made their familiar rhythm on the worn path. He didn’t know how long he had been out in the wilderness at this point looking for the castle of renown, but it seems as if it had been forever. He rode lower in the saddle than he had years ago, and his trusted warhorse was starting to show its age. He was weary beyond fatigue. Soon, he hoped, they would be at the end of the quest. They moved over a gentle rise into a mountain pass, and all changed. There, in a cleft was a gentle green valley filled with human habitation. Here, at the nearest end of the valley, farm fields spread out with various crops. Further in, it appeared a village of goodly size was built. Beyond that, he thought he could make out a field covered with tents of various colors and types. At the end of the valley stood the castle itself, it’s towers and spires gleaming in the noonday sun, banners flying from its parapets.
Both the knight and his horse took courage from the sight, and they moved forward at a gentle trot, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Soon, they cleared the fields and moved into the village. The village itself was a strange place. It was well kept, ordered and filled with industry. In fact, it seemed to the knight that the people were a little TOO industrious. They hurried from place to place doing various tasks, barely noticing their neighbors as they pushed past each other. In the middle of the town, a jousting field had been set up, and a large line of knights in full plate arrayed themselves at either side of the list and took passes at each other in rapid succession. No one was in the observer stands. He paused and watched this for a little while, then attempted to engage several of the knights in conversation. They were all intensely focussed on their own preparations. No one seemed interested in talking about why things were being done this way, and when he mentioned the castle, they looked at him quizzically, even though the towers loomed at the end of the valley in plain sight.
He moved on out of the village into an area closer to the castle. In a large field, tents and temporary shelters of all kinds were erected. The were fine tournament tents of the nobility mixed with rough wattle-and-daub shelters that obviously belonged to people of lesser means. No one was in the shelters - they were all deserted.
The castle towered over the end of the valley, with impenetrable walls of fine stonework reaching high into the sky. Multiple towers broke the line of the walls, some of them ending in crenelated platforms, others in narrow spires. It was the most impressive castle the knight had ever seen, and seemed impossible to assault. Directly in the wall in front of him was one of the gatehouses. From what he could see, there were probably four total - one on each of the sides of the castle. The gate opening was huge and open. There was no moat, no drawbridge, no portcullis that the knight could see - nothing that would seal off the opening into the castle. A gentle, golden light diffused through the gate opening, which was empty. The area in front of the gate, however, was not.
The castle was surrounded by people, gathered near the gates. All sorts and means of people were gathered in huge numbers. There were noble ladies in fine gowns and fishwives in humble dress. There were other knights in full armor, tradesmen in merchant clothing, and serfs in peasant garb. They all stood silently, looking at the gate and not moving. Every once in a while, one of them would look as if they were ready to take a step forward, but then would seem to check themselves and pull back. The knight dismounted and slowly and carefully led his horse forward. He reached the front row of the motionless people, He hesitated. As he thought about entering the castle, a sense of unworthiness overtook him. He thought about the things he had done and the things he had left undone. They almost kept him from moving forward. But he had been questing too long, had invested too much to stop now. After a moment more of hesitation, he stepped forward.
After a few steps, he discerned that a shape was taking form in the golden haze of the gate, someone in the shape of a man. As the man drew closer, it was clear that this was no ordinary man. His face was both friendly and terrible, pleasant and frightening to look upon at the same time. Wisdom sat upon his brow, and understated power was in his hands. His raiment was cloth-of-gold, noble and shimmered in a manner that made him seem fey. The knight trembled as the man approached, but when the man spoke, all fear was removed. “Welcome, friend. We have been expecting you. Come into the castle. One quest is at an end, and the other is beginning.” He turned, and the knight followed him to the gatehouse.
Lent Madness is upon us! My bracket is below:
My October/November Newsletter Article:
“Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God.” Romans 13:1 (CEB)
Dear Beloved People of God,
As we head into election season full throttle, I know many if not all of us are exhibiting “election fatigue.” After watching the first presidential debate last night, I wonder if Jim Lehrer was not an archetype for all of the American people at this juncture, trying to make sense of it all and succumbing to the constant bombardment. It’s helpful to remember that this is probably not the nastiest election in American history. Most historians give that honor to the 1800 election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, which involved salacious personal slander from both Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Still, it seems overwhelming. We are tempted to throw up our hands and just “check out.” One might ask, “What does my vote matter? It’s only one of several million.” Alternatively, a Christian might claim that since Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world,” that deciding to not vote in the election is in fact a vote for Jesus’ kingdom by refusing to participate in “worldly” politics.
When I consider these arguments, I go back to Paul and his statement in Romans quoted above. Context is important. Taking in the full corpus of Paul’s writings, Paul is not making the argument that ALL authority is just and instituted by God, nor is he saying that people must obey unjust or immoral orders. He is making the argument that the fact that we have civil authority is part of God’s creation. Paul is writing that God created us for ordered community. The Greek echoes language of military formation: each person must take their “appropriate place.” And what is our appropriate place?
I believe God is agnostic about how we order ourselves. God doesn’t care whether we order ourselves as a monarchy, a democracy, or an anarcho-syndicalist commune. God cares about how government stewards his beloved creation. How does government enable or prevent us from doing what the Lord requires? The essence of that is, as the prophet Micah states, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
For most of human history, some form of monarchy has been the dominant form of government. The Old Testament tells both in favorable and unfavorable terms the transition of Israel from a tribal confederacy to a monarchy. King David is simultaneously the hero and anti-hero of this transition, with Saul and Solomon playing supporting roles. The Old Testament was often quoted to support the idea that kings reigned by the will of God - the “Divine Right of Kings.” The role of the subject in such a government was simply to obey. In a famous scene in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” the disguised Henry travels among his soldiers the night before the battle of Agincourt. He gets into an argument with one such soldier, Williams, over the culpability of kings. Williams states,
“But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make … if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it, who to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.”
But things are different in a Democratic Republic as we have. We have no hereditary monarch whom we hold to be a representative of God on earth. Instead, civil power is vested in elected representatives. That sometimes beneficial, sometimes terrible power that a civil government holds traces its origins ultimately to our consent. Williams’ protest does not apply to us, because we do not have a king. We, in effect, corporately ARE the king. Williams’ appropriate place was as an obedient soldier to what he considered a divinely-appointed (but not infallible in his thinking) monarch. Our appropriate place as we have ordered ourselves is in the voting booth.
Most American citizens have the right to vote. I believe as citizens of the Kingdom of God we have the obligation to vote. Voting effects the fate and livelihood of millions of people both inside and outside our nation. For us to not take our part in those determinations is to decline to take our appropriate place. Our Christian values should definitely influence our voting to bring about a better world. We should strive to bring it more closely into alignment with the values of the kingdom without using Jesus as an electoral prop. If one finds oneself unable to make a determination between candidates, perhaps casting a blank ballot would be a reasonable form of protest. But to not cast a ballot is to abdicate our individual portion of “kingly authority” to the powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.
Yes, American politics is nasty right now. But they’ve always been nasty. Yes, we’ve lost civility. But we’ve lost and regained that before. There is always hope. There is hope in the human spirit. Later in their lives, Jefferson and Adams became fast friends again through some very moving correspondence. We as citizens of the Kingdom of God have even more to hope, because we have hope in the Holy Spirit, that person of God who moves through and around and in us. But for the spirit to move, we must be willing to move as well.
Think about it. Pray about it. Then get in there and vote.
In Benedictine spirituality, manual labor isn’t just about avoiding idleness. It has its own benefits. It involves the hands and the autonomic parts of our minds so that we can pray more clearly. It’s not uncommon to find people talking about how their most fruitful times of prayer are doing laundry, or washing dishes, or knitting. Having something to do with the “busy” parts of our minds gives the more meditative parts of our psyche room to work.
I composed this prayer for use in our diocese this Sunday, using some Sikh imagery but trying to remain respectful of Sikh feelings around not having ritualized mourning.
Prayer for the Sikh Community
Uses imagery from the Kirtan Sohila, which is the Sikh prayer for the evening also used at funerals
Eternal God, every day you look after and behold all that you have created. Our world is engrossed in sin and evil. In the midst of the tragedy suffered by the Sikh community, we cry out to you for solace. Comfort the bereaved, heal the wounded, and move us to compassionate action to transform our communities so they may reflect your eternal peace. Send your spirit throughout the world, that all peoples may be gathered as your children, sharing in your divine light which pervades us all.
(Christian Ending) All this we pray in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. Amen.