I have taken to early morning walks in my favorite park about a mile from my apartment in Owings Mills. It is full of hiking trails, both paved and unpaved, and I love it. There is nothing like saying “good morning” to my fellow early risers—the honeysuckle with its delightful smell, a squirrel or two, the cicadas, an occasional frog, and of course, the birds. As I wind deeper into the park it gets even better; here is where the grass is still wet and there is just-kissed sunlight on the ground and at the tops of those magnificent trees. In this place, I am overwhelmed with the Presence of the divine mystery of LIFE. It is a holy place and a sacred space for me.
There is hardly anywhere that I do not experience the Divine Presence with me, but this is especially true when I come onto the grounds of The Church of the Redeemer. As a member of the staff, I am here often and like all workplaces, it can become easy for our church-home to become just another place to go to work instead of a place to come and be with GOD in a true and real way. Here we get to know GOD in the Silences as well as in our loving relationships together.
Now that our community is happily back in our lovely worship space, something seems extraordinarily special about the silences which punctuate our being together especially on Sunday mornings. As a child in the black Baptist church, I was always taught to pray upon immediately entering the church. It was usually a prayer of music offered by all of us to remind us of why we were gathered—to worship GOD. Wasn’t it St. Augustine who said, “those who sing pray twice?” Imagine my amazement when my first visit to an Episcopal church many moons ago demonstrated the same thing! I was confirmed three years later.
Now that we are back, I love the way we are all invited to “create sacred space” together in our Episcopal liturgy (the work of the people). I love the way we begin to experience GOD’s Presence through both silence and the music of the Voluntary and The Introit offered by our choir (just like in the Baptist church). Somehow, when I am listening, I am transported into a separate space and time suffused in GOD. I become so aware of how WE, the entire congregation, is caught up in Something very special and very holy. As we offer the Holy Eucharist together, I am filled with great JOY.
I realize that the return to our worship spaces will not necessarily mean a return to our former ways of being church. If there is anything the past 15 months have taught us, it is that change is truly inevitable; some things will be picked up and some things will be left behind. We may not come back the way we went out, but there are some things that we will return to. We return to a GOD whose faithful love for, within, and among us is changeless. We return to a true and real worship as we come together in the SILENCE and in our liturgy—our work of prayer and praise in all its flavors. We return to a respect and love for the GOD who creates, redeems, and sustains us in every breath and beat of our hearts. This Sunday, I invite you to listen…can you hear the ONE to whom you return?
With Love and in Joy,
Last summer, a flight attendant boarded her plane with a heavy, broken heart. She, like us, had just watched a man named George die under the knee of a police officer named Derek. Knowing her job was to put a smile on her masked-face and make passengers feel welcome, safe and secure while on a plane during a worldwide pandemic — a smile that passengers would need to see shining through her eyes — she prayed to God for help.
As passengers boarded their Southwest flight, she noticed one in particular; the book he carried happened to be a book about racism in America that she had heard of but hadn’t read yet.
After she finished her duty of conveying passenger safety instructions and completing safety and baggage checks, when their flight was on its way and she had a moment, she walked back to the passenger with the book. He was seated next to the window typing on his laptop, an empty seat beside him, so she sat down and introduced herself.
“Hey, how are you? So that book, how is it?”
They began talking, and at one point, she remembers him saying, “We have to start these conversations. It’s our fault.”
Moved with emotion at hearing his words, she began to cry. They talked, shared and listened some more. At the end of their conversation, which lasted at least another 10 minutes, she hugged him and thanked him for his interest and for caring.
Then they introduced themselves to one another.
“I’m JacqueRae Hill.”
“I’m Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines.”
As it turns out, her mother was one of his employees.
Before getting off the plane, Doug wrote a note to give to JacqueRae:
Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me. It was a gift from God ….
I am saddened that we as a society have progressed so slowly on an issue that has such a clear right vs wrong.
Much of the problem is we don’t talk about it enough. Thank you for talking to me and showing your emotion. That took courage. The book, White Fragility, is great. But it is more for people like me than you. (A black friend recommended it to me.) I really appreciate you. If you’d like to continue the conversation, my email is ….
P.S. Say hello to your mother for me.
This past Memorial Day, JacqueRae got married and Doug was in attendance. On Instagram this past week, he thanked her and her family for including him and his family in their celebration and reflected on their friendship: “She started a courageous conversation with me about race in America and it’s one I will never forget.”
On this Thursday before Juneteenth, our oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, let us commit to one another, to continue having these courageous conversations. With God’s help. Amen.
A family is continually becoming what becomes of it, writes Frederick Buechner. “It is every christening and every commencement, every falling in love, every fight, every departure and return… It’s the sound of the phone ringing in the middle of the night or the lying awake for hours waiting for the phone to ring.” (Whistling in the Dark) It’s the children laughing, brothers wrestling, parents offering advice, lovers whispering or crying, and the silence after a door is slammed shut. For anyone who’s had one fall apart, a family’s wings are gossamer, “a web so delicately spun that it takes almost nothing to set the whole thing shuddering or tear it to pieces. Yet the thread it’s woven of is as strong as anything on earth.” (ibid) The depth of our longing for connection has everything to do with the family that gave us our start, and we shape our current communities with the new, perhaps healthier systems we’ve been building since then.
If you are looking for snap-shots of an ideal family, of life-giving parent, child, and sibling relationships, the Bible may not be the best place to look. Consider Abraham almost sacrificing his son on a make-shift altar, or the crippling favoritism that Isaac later showers on one of his twins, or old Samuel and his shiftless sons, or the awful tangle between David and his children Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom, whose saga includes a rape and a murder within their intimate circle. And Mark reveals tension within Jesus’ own family(!) One translation says, “When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20, Common English Bible)
Yet much of the tradition is uncomfortable suggesting that Jesus had trouble getting along with his closest relatives. The King James Version totally removes Jesus’ family from this part of the story, saying instead: “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold of him, for they said, ‘He is beside himself.’” Other translations put the disparagement of Jesus in the mouths of anonymous “other people” instead of his kinfolk, and the authors of Matthew and Luke, written after the time of the gospel of Mark, omit entirely from their stories any hint that Jesus’ family thought he was disturbed.
The wider context of the story is a controversy over authority involving influential religious leaders and Jesus’ family, with both groups expressing trouble understanding who Jesus is and what his actions mean. The scribes who came down from Jerusalem conclude he is possessed by Satan, the tempter, while his family worries he has lost his sanity, and in this ancient setting, these two diagnoses are roughly equivalent to each other. (Matthew Skinner) It’s an old story, really, to label a challenge to the status quo “crazy talk,” and both allegations attempt to discredit the one here who is facilitating health. Jesus experiences in this exchange what a modern person discovers when he exposes a bully in the workplace, when an abused spouse begins to take care of herself, when a sober sibling navigates an alcoholic system, or when the son of slaves reveals the violence of low expectations.
The story digs a little deeper. “Then his mother and brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. The crowd sitting around Jesus said to him, ‘Your mother and your brother and sisters are outside, asking for you.’” And Jesus replies with a shocking query, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at the people near him, he answers his own question: It’s you. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother, he says.
This is good news for the folks inside the house that day, who identify with Jesus and his teaching, and it’s good news for Mark’s earliest readers, who often found themselves estranged from their biological families… Think of the disciples who left everyone behind…
But this is pretty hard to take for his relatives standing outside, and for anyone with high regard for conventional notions of honor and social stability. In a stunning and probably painful exchange with his relatives, Jesus redefines family altogether here. For him and his Way, family will no longer be determined by blood relations, kinship ties, or the rules of inheritance. Life-giving family is defined by something bigger, less parochial, more inclusive, characterized by mutual respect and called to the work of leveling generations of uneven playing fields.
You see our family is much bigger than we thought it was. Who’s in our gang after all? Prostitutes, thieves, widows, the childless, immigrants, angry brothers, the prodigal, the Ethiopian, the Samaritan, the Greek, the Jew, the wealthy benefactor, the never married, the three times married, gay, straight, and trans, Republican, Democrat, independents, even Yankees fans. And our call is to weave the streets of Baltimore and its various factions and fractured relationships into a living fabric that joins disparate, unlikely, even antagonistic strands together. Because according to Jesus, the courage and will to love is what makes a family, not blood.
Welcome to that great, green, growing season — Ordinary Time! We have arrived in the season after Pentecost, one in which we get to stretch and grow and wonder and wander through stories about Jesus and the disciples and the adventures of the people of Israel with God. I love Ordinary Time. It’s spacious. We aren’t preparing special liturgies for any quickly approaching feast, or working up specific programs based on said feast. We’re existing: swimming around through the sounds of the cicadas and God’s Word.
We are entering another season, too. The beginning of June marks the beginning of Pride Month (referring to Gay Pride). Happy Pride!! To our LGBTQIA+ siblings: You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, a beloved member of the Body of Christ, always. In celebration of the LGBTQIA+ histories that are part of our Episcopal and Christian story, below is a little bit of history about a Baltimore native, who we also happen to remember at the end of June or beginning of July: The Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray.
Pauli Murray was a queer Episcopal priest, civil rights activist, lawyer, and writer of poetry and prose. She was born in Baltimore (!) in 1910 but went to live with family in Durham, North Carolina at a young age. Pauli studied English literature in college. During her young adulthood Pauli wrestled with gender identity. She sought hormone therapy during the 1930s but was denied by doctors. Pauli favored “masculine-of-center” gender performance, and while today she might have identified as gender non-conforming or as a transgender man, that kind of terminology was not available to her in the 1930s and 40s. (I’m using she/her pronouns in this reflection because that is how Pauli often referred to herself.) While Pauli was not closeted and had romantic partnerships with women throughout her life, she also had to navigate the respectability politics of her time period.
Active in the movement for civil rights, in 1938 Pauli campaigned to attend law school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, but was denied because of race. She was arrested and imprisoned for refusing to move to the back of the bus in 1940; in 1941 she began law school at Howard University, focusing on civil rights law. During this time, Pauli’s writing (poetry and prose) was widely published. Although she graduated top of her class from Howard, she was denied entry to Harvard Law, this time because of her gender. Pauli attended the University of California Boalt School of Law instead and later published a book that supplied some of the ideas and arguments used during Brown v Board of Education. Pauli fought throughout her career for equal rights for people of color and women, and eventually went to work at a law firm where she met her partner, Irene Barlow, in 1956.
Pauli remained engaged in the civil rights movement, including critiquing it for the ways that men made up most of the leadership while women did much of the ground work. After Irene’s death in 1973, Pauli became a candidate for ordination to the priesthood at General Theological Seminary in New York City (which is where Cristina and David went!). In 1977, Pauli Murray became the first Black woman ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, one year after the Church changed its policy to affirm the ordination of women. Pauli died of cancer in 1985; she was made a saint in the Episcopal Church in 2012.
Pauli’s history is part of our church’s history. Her story is another story to wonder and wander through this Ordinary Time, another beloved child of God’s adventure with God. I wonder what other stories you will discover during our green and growing season? How will you stretch into God’s story with you? Into God’s story with the world? I pray that we may celebrate one another in all our beautiful particularities, this June and in the months to come.
P.S. If you’d like to read more about Pauli Murray, I commend to you this biography from the Pauli Murray Center or this article by Professor Brittany Cooper of Rutgers. Professor Cooper also advised on an upcoming documentary about Pauli, My Name is Pauli Murray.
Additional Sources (for photos and information):
The Pauli Murray Center (https://www.paulimurraycenter.com/who-is-pauli);
NY Review of Books (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/10/25/catching-up-to-pauli–murray/)