Each week the Rector of the parish, The Rev. Kym Lucas, reflects on an event or issue of current concern or interest, or something of timeless interest written by friends, heroes, or colleagues. Please take the time to read back through ones you may have missed, or reflections you may want to read again.
2 John 1–9
The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love. I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father.
But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning—you must walk in it.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in a small North Carolina town between Ft. Bragg Army and Pope Airforce bases.
In many ways, it was a fantastic little bubble in which to grow up. I had friends of so many nationalities and ethnicities; and the combinations were incredible. My small town had not one, but two Mexican-Thai bodegas. Have you ever been to a Mexican-Thai bodega?
But my mother and the rest of my family made sure that I knew that my world was not like the world around me. I remember when one of my neighbors came over to tell my mom about a harrowing experience. She was German and had married an African-American GI and she had taken her children on an excursion, to the zoo, I think she headed home, after dark.
As she was coming down the road, she came to a place where the cars had stopped. And when she looked further, she saw a cross burning on the side of the road. She ordered her 3 children to get down on the floor of the car, to cover themselves with the blanket they’d been curled under, to be absolutely quiet and to be utterly still. As she inched her car forward she came to a spot where men in white hoods surrounded her car, shining flashlights. After a moment, they waved her through.
She told my mother that she was shaking all the way home and she didn’t let her kids off the floor until she’d reached the outskirts of the base. She said, “I couldn’t stop thinking what would they have done to my babies; my beautiful brown babies.”
After wards, when my family was together, I remember my mom “tsk, tsking” about my neighbor and saying, “What was she thinking, driving through there at night?!?” “Doesn’t she know where she lives?”
My mom wanted to make sure that I always knew where I lived. She pointed out the billboards that proclaimed Johnston County “Klan Country.”
She made me watch news footage of the Carolina Knights of the KKK, and made me listen to what their leader Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr had to say. She made me witness how even when the white robes come off, the messages were the same.
I am acutely aware of the world in which I live: So I wasn’t surprised at the looks Mark and I got when we were dating in North Carolina. Nor was I surprised when a woman grabbed him in the grocery store, “Asking are you WITH her?” And when Mark said yes, she hissed, “But she’s a Black woman!”
(I was surprised however when Mark yelled loud enough for the whole store to hear, “Kym, why didn’t you tell me you were a Black woman?!”)
I was horrified and deeply saddened by the 1998 lynching of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, TX and Matthew Shepard in Ft. Collins, CO. But I wasn’t surprised. I was somewhat surprised and thankful that the perpetrators in both cases were caught and tried.
I was not surprised when, in the progressive town of Chapel Hill, my 3rd grader was called the N word in 2008. I was angry, but not surprised.
I wasn’t surprised when after killing two adults and a child outside a Jewish Community and Retirement Centers, Frazier Glenn Cross Jr. said, “He was trying to kill Jews, not people.”
And I have not been surprised by the number of unarmed Black men shot by law enforcement. I have said to anyone who would listen that the significant difference between the past and present is that people have video cameras in their pockets and bear witness to what has been happening all along.
And when convicted rapist Brock Turner was given a commuted sentence with virtually no jail time?? I just shook my head and said, “This is where I live.”
I know where I live.
And for the last 8 years, I have noticed demons stirring in our nation. And to clarify what I mean by demons, I point you towards the baptismal covenant of the Episcopal Church (p.302 in the BCP). There it talks about the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, and the evil powers that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.
The demon of White Supremacy (that idea that skin color denotes one’s worth and value), the demon of misogyny that denies the full humanity of women and girls, and misogyny’s step-child, the demon of homophobia, these demons have been gathering momentum in our nation. While our society dismissed and denied, while many churches congratulated themselves on how progressive they were, these demons were gaining strength and spreading their poison, waiting to be unleashed.
And they have been. And these demons cannot be legislated away. They cannot be reasoned with, they can only be defeated by the Spirit of a living God, working through people like us, to change hearts and minds.
And guess what? St. Margaret’s Church was created for a time such as this.
This community named for a woman who dedicated her life to prayer and serving those in need; this church that opened its doors to people of color, when other churches were sending their black and brown guests to the “other Episcopal church” a few blocks east.
This church was one of the few “early adopters” when it came to accepting the leadership of women.
This church didn’t just tolerate gay and lesbian people with don’t ask, don’t tell; this church welcomed them and gave them shelter, seeing the merit of full, honest selfhood. This church mourned the loss and celebrated the lives of the victims of AIDS
This is the legacy of St. Margaret’s. This is who we’ve been and who we must be, especially now. A Jewish friend once told me that what mattered most was knowing where to could go for shelter when the pogroms started.
This community is called to be that shelter.
St. Margaret’s has faced these demons. And we must face them again. But we cannot afford to face them in the typical, genteel, quiet way of Episcopalians. We must now face them (as one of our members said) loudly. We must proclaim boldly with our words and deeds the truth that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.
We must proclaim that “scarcity mentality” is a ruse. There is enough for everybody. Just because a brown kid is getting a chance to go to school doesn’t mean that she’s taking a White kid’s place.
And we can’t just make these proclamations in the echo chamber of our social media. We have to talk to real people, in real time, face to face. We must speak up, in our work place, in our families and where ever we see those demons rearing their ugly heads.
Because friends, the hate speech and intimidation is growing.
Just this week, a clergy colleague in Silver Spring came across two teenagers berating an elderly Latina, calling her names and telling her it was time for her and her kind to get out of their country. The priest approached them shouting “Stop it! What is wrong with you?!” and the boys ran away.
This is what we’re going to be facing in the days ahead. And some of it will even be coming from people out there calling themselves Christians.
But Jesus himself told us that you will know followers of Jesus by the love they show. You know Christians by how they care for others. You know Christians by the way they offer food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty.
Today, I don’t care who you voted for and I don’t care why. What I care about is the witness that we, the people of St. Margaret’s, are called to make in this world.
We cannot afford to stand silent. To do nothing in the face of this kind of hate and ugliness is not of God.
We also cannot afford to rely on our own power in this endeavor. These demons cannot be defeated by the force of our will. We can only do this with God’s help.
And we have to start with prayer, real prayer for ourselves and for our nation; prayer for those who are being persecuted and their persecutors.
We have to start here, in our community reaching out and talking to our brothers and sisters in Christ, not just on Sunday, but in the days ahead. Check in with your fellow “Margretians,” (especially the Black and brown ones), listen to one another, pray with and for one another.
This day, St. Margaret’s Day, is when we, the members of St. Margaret’s, traditionally gather together and pledge our commitment to support the church. And I want everyone to know that a pledge is commitment based on your current circumstance. I realize many of you work for the government and have no idea what your future holds; I get that. And maybe the pledge you make will have to be adjusted for a future circumstance, you lose a job and can’t give all you’d hoped or (on the plus side) you get an unexpected bonus and can give more.
This is my pledge card, and I will fill it out. I’ve pledged $5,800, which about 6.8% of my pre-tax salary.
I understand all of the economic uncertainty in our hearts and minds, and I still want you to pledge. I believe that everyone can pledge something to support the vital work that is ahead of us.
And I want you to make another pledge today. I want you to flip this card over and write another pledge on the back; a pledge about what you will do to witness to the Gospel this year. Maybe it is a pledge to serve our homeless neighbors at Charlie’s Place; maybe it is a pledge to go to that black or brown person you know (a little) and invite him or her to dinner at your house, because you never have before; maybe it is a commitment to revisit our sacred texts and educate yourself on how they speak to our lives; maybe it is a pledge to lead or participate in more prayer with your faith family; maybe it is a commitment to figuring out how we progressives might be less disparaging and disdainful of our less educated brothers and sisters, our rural siblings, our isolated and provincial citizens, and all those who have disproportionately suffered under a system driven by power and greed.
I’ve said to this congregation many times that the witness of this community is too important for us not to do all in our power to keep it vital. We must change and adapt to meet the needs of the world we live in. We cannot afford to let our church, like so many Episcopal churches, go the way of the dodo. We must evolve, adapt to our current circumstances and live.
The world we live in is so divided. The demons are rallying.
And St. Margaret’s Church, Dupont Circle, was made for a time such as this.
On this day after the Presidential Election, one thing is clear: We have chosen.
And what we have chosen as a country for the last 40 odd years is to pretend: to pretend that the demon of White supremacy was dead, to pretend that the demon of misogyny was dead, and pretend that our nation was made of people who believed in equality.
People gave lip service to the idea that our differences made us stronger, but that was only pretend.
The results of this election frighten and disappoint me. My kids are scared of their future. My youngest child is convinced that we need to move to Canada because the President-elect "hates Black people and Mexicans and people who are different."
It breaks my heart that my children are scared, but if I am honest with myself, I am equally frightened. In that dark part of my heart where hopelessness and despair live, in my worries of how to keep my children from harm, I must confront the lies I've told myself about our "great society." And as appealing as Canada might look today, I know that there is no such thing as a safe place.
There is no place in this world untainted by human greed. There is no nation where girls are safe from molestation and children are safe from terror. There is no land free of hatred, no place of peace. There is no place to which I can flee that guarantees that my children will not face hardship or suffering.
Moses said, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live... (Deut. 30:19)." We must choose real life. There will never be peace unless we choose to seek peace. There will never be justice unless we choose justice.
God gives us the freedom to choose over and over again. It seems to me that my country has chosen division. We have chosen us vs. them.
But even now, I see an opportunity. At the very least, we can choose to stop pretending.
We take off our progressive tinted glasses. We look at the America in which we live in all of its brokenness and see all of its demons. We can now work to become the people we are called to be. We can dedicate ourselves to being people of peace and reconciliation.
We can stop pretending, and be the Church.
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Every year at St. Margaret's we celebrate the feast of St. Francis with the blessing of the animals. It is a time for people to bring their animals for blessings, but also a time to acknowledge the blessings that our four-legged companions are in our lives. This year will be bittersweet for me because it will be the first St. Francis Day celebration that my dog Sirena will not be with me.
Sirena Von Brewer Lucas-Retherford was my Christmas present from Mark. She was a very energetic, vain and stubborn Christmas present; but she was also extremely loving and fiercely loyal. We went to Von Brewer's kennels to get a puppy, but this 20-month-old dog started following us around. The kennel owner said that she had never seen anything like it. "Clearly," she said, "this dog has decided that you are her people." And so it was.
Since I was in charge of Sirena's training, she spent a lot of time with me. She commuted to work with me, ran with me and herded children with me. She wanted to sleep in my bed, and no matter how many times I told her that wasn't happening, she refused to give up hope that one day it might happen. Her infectious optimism and her friendly disposition always managed to make my bad days better.
Sirena even made friends on my behalf. Unlike me, Sirena was an extrovert. She loved meeting new people and making new friends. I don't know how many times I met people because they had gotten to know Sirena when the kids were walking her or when she had decided to take herself on an unauthorized walk around the neighborhood.
For nearly 13 years, Sirena was a treasured member of our pack. She blessed us with her dog-ness. She taught me that there were new treasures to be found even on the same old running path. She reminded me that there was always time to play. She demonstrated over and over that sometimes being willing to sit beside the person who was sick or sad was the best medicine.
In recent years, there has been a lot of research about how pets improve your health and overall quality of life. I figure that anyone who has been blessed to have a pet companion already knew that. Our pets bless us by reminding us of our humanity. And that can only make our lives better.
This Sunday, in addition to the blessing of the animals, I invite everyone who has lost a pet to bring photos in for remembrance and to give thanks to God for these creatures who brought us blessings.
The summer after I turned eighteen, I met Mark Retherford. Within 3 weeks of meeting him, I was hooked. Infatuated? Sure. In love? I didn't know. I just knew in my heart and soul that I wanted him. So I chased him.
In the chasing, I realized that I wanted a whole lot: his love, his respect, his attention; I wanted him for myself, for-maybe-ever. But knowing he was a Baptist White guy from the Midwest and I was a Black girl from the South, I knew the odds were not in my favor. And I also knew deep down that I didn't know the first thing about commitment or promise keeping. As a child of divorce, I was unequipped and unprepared for the kind
of relationship I dreamed of. I wasn't even sure that relationship was possible.
But in the confusion of what I thought I wanted and what I thought was possible, the words, "With God all things are possible" kept popping into my head (you can find them in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark).
And so I, who had abandoned church, deigned to pray. I prayed, really prayed, for perhaps the first time in my life. I would have liked to have prayed an eloquent, dignified prayer, but what came out was, "God, whoever you are, this is who I am, this is what I want; I have no idea what to do or if I even deserve anything this good, but if you lead me, I will follow."
A little over a month after I prayed that prayer, I met the late Rev. Bob McGee. Needless to say, he was NOT the answer I was expecting. Bob was the Episcopal Chaplain at Wake Forest University and a herder of wandering souls. With the lure of pizza, Bob re-introduced me to church and spiritual community and the Holy Spirit. A few months after that, I discovered the University Counseling center and the joys of therapy. And all along the way of my journey through college, Bob would say, "God has good things in mind for you! That's Jesus' whole point!"
At the time I had no idea how going to church was going to help me keep a boyfriend. But, today it seems fitting to me that in trying to learn how to love the man who became my husband, I learned about loving God and even more about how much God loves me.
I learned how love is about freedom, not bondage. I learned how love is a choice and that I have to choose, actually CHOOSE, love, every day. I learned that love is verb and that the words I say must match the things that I do. I learned what a gift it is to be loved "just as I am" and still be called to be my better self. But the biggest lesson I've learned is that love=forgiveness (giving and receiving) and forgiveness is amazing. Forgiveness is the stuff opens us to the Holy, to the world and it is the stuff that makes abundant life.
After eight years of the hard work of building relationships (with God, with myself and with Mark), I was finally brave enough to ask Mark to marry me. He answered (in typical Mark-fashion), "I'm open to that. When were you thinking?"
This month I celebrate nineteen years of marriage to the most amazing man I know. Nineteen years, two cats, three dogs and 4 children later, I still consider myself blessed beyond measure to share my life with him. We have known better and worse, sickness and health, richer and poorer. We have known laughter and tears and "whose idea was this?!!"
In my dreams I couldn't have imagined love so deep, so broad, so high. I could not have hoped for better love in my life. And there are days I ask myself, "How is this real?" "How is this possible?" And that little voice says, "With God all things are possible." Even love.
In one of the churches I served there was a woman who would always say, "Faith casts out fear." She said it to me often enough that it became one of those things that stick, mantra like in my head. When I read this post by Kaze Gadway this week,it caused me to reflect on how real the fear is in our world. There are so many people who are scared. And it makes me wonder what can we say, who can we be, for those who are scared?
by Kaze Gadway
A man comes over to where I am sitting. He sits down on the bench. He munches on a
sandwich. “I’m scared. People are so much meaner than they used to be. Today I was shoved off the sidewalk. People say things out loud that they used to be polite about. What is happening to our society? I’m scared. People hate those who are different and I am different. I’m tired of being treated like a dog.”
I don’t know what to say. I too have noticed that people say unkind things without thinking. Bullies have taken over on the internet and school halls. I think of the human journey I have been on; where I have learned to appreciate and value the differences in people.
I look at him in the eye. “I think you are a blessing.” His face tightens and his voice catches as he says “Thanks.”
“Stay safe,” I say as he walks away.
I used to tell people to have a good day. Now I tell them to stay safe. It has become a scary world for those who are different.
The season of Pentecost is upon us. While this has sometimes been dubbed "Ordinary Time," there is nothing ordinary about the call for Jesus followers to be and become church. After a conversation with my colleague the Rev. Nancy Jose about the challenges of being church, and all of the uncertainty involved she sent me this poem by Jan Richardson. It is a powerful reminder of the blessing each of us has received. I share it with you.
Blessing That Undoes Us, by Jan Richardson
On the day you are wearing your certainty
like a cloak
and your sureness goes before you
like a shield or like a sword,
may the sound of God's name
spill from your lips
as you have never heard it before.
May your knowing be undone.
May your mystery confound your understanding.
May the Divine rain down
in strange syllables yet with
an ancient familiarity,
a knowing borne
in the blood,
bringing clarity that comes
not in stone
or in steel
but in fire, in flame.
May there come
one searing word--
enough to bare you to the bone,,
enough to set your heart ablaze,
enough to make you whole again.
This week, I've been mulling over an amazing article by United Methodist Pastor, Rebekah Simon-Peter. It has provided a lot of food for thought for me, so I thought I'd share an excerpt from it with you.
"The primary product in a consumer culture is choice. And the primary question it invites consumers to ask is "What's in it for me?" But is there any place for that sort of question in the church?
"The church prides itself on being a self-sacrificing body, modeled on Christ'sself-giving love. "What's in it for me?" runs counter to everything we believe in. Or does it?
"Jesus gave people a reason to follow him, answering the inherent question: What's in it for me? He met people's deepest needs through his hands on healing. When calling disciples, he said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men and women!"
"What's in it for me?"
It's an honest question that deserves an honest answer. The secret value in [people] posing the question is they might actually find their own unique reason for being part of the church. They might find their answer for being connected to Christ. The not so secret value in our answering it is we get to check if we are actually serving people or asking them to serve us. In other words, if we are there to help them fulfill their lives, or just our structures.
"All too often we simply tell them what we, the church, are prepared to offer. Or what we think they should be looking for. Or perhaps we don't even explain that. But when people can connect with what truly matters to them, and see a way to fulfill that through the church, then they will be eager partners in their own spiritual formation. They will be eager disciples of Jesus Christ. But we must be willing to have them ask us the "What's in it for me?" question. And to wrestle honestly with the answers."
On April 9th, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, Lutheran pastor, child of God, was executed in Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in Germany
In seminary, I was profoundly affected by his book The Cost of Discipleship, as I was struggling with my Christian identity in the face of a Church that seemed largely unrepentant over its history of oppression and racism.
In these post-resurrection days, as I consider the world in which we live, these words from Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison, written from Tegel Prison in Berlin, weigh on me:
Stupidity is a more dangerous foe of the good than evil is. It is possible to protest againstevil, to expose [it], and at times it can be prevented by force. Evil always carries in itself the germ of a substitute for it, in that it leaves behind at least a feeling of uneasiness in people. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor force can accomplish anything here; reasons are of no avail; facts that contradict one's own prejudices simply do not need to be believed . . . and if they are unavoidable, they can simply be shoved aside as insignificant, isolated cases. In this the stupid person, in contrast to an evil one, is completely satisfied with himself.
The fact that a stupid person is often stubborn should not deceive anyone into thinking he is independent. In conversation with him it is felt that you are not dealing with the person himself, but with cliches, slogans, etc. that have gained dominance over him. He is under a spell, he is blinded, he is misused, mis-handled in his own being. Thus having become a will-less instrument the stupid person becomes capable of all evil, and at the same time incapable of recognizing it as evil. Here lies the danger of diabolical abuse.
I question the ways in which my self satisfaction might keep me from seeing the evils in which I unconsciously participate. I wonder if the call of the disciple in these days is to remind ourselves that we can only be as faithful as we are willing to question ourselves and our motives.
The past two weeks have been terrible testaments not only to the violence in our world, but also (consciously or unconsciously) to the way that we prioritize life: how do we decide who is important and who is not.
My Facebook feed “blew up” with reports of the horrible bombings in Brussels in which 31people lost their lives and hundreds of others were injured. Yet it was only because I have a BBC newsfeed that I learned of the March 13th attack in Ivory Coast that left 22 dead or the two attacks in Turkey less than a week apart taking 41 lives between them. Where is the outpouring of prayer and sympathy for those victims?
Perhaps this is our problem: Our outrage is only stirred when “our people” are affected.
As we approach Good Friday, I wonder about the ways I am blind to the suffering of others. I am asking myself to evaluate the ways in which I prioritize those who matter. I suspect that much of what went on in Jesus’ trial was about the religious leaders making those kinds of choices and the result was the crucifixion of an innocent human being.
I suspect that we Christians face many of these Good Friday moments in our lives, times when we think we have to choose who matters most. But in John’s gospel, Jesus says that he is “lifted up” (crucified) to draw all people to himself. And until we can see the worth of all people, we will know the pain of terror and violence. Perhaps the ending of terrorism has to do with our world finding compassion for All People who are affected. Maybe when we can see ourselves in the eyes of all who suffer, our prayers and our actions will begin to make a difference. When we can truly “seek and serve Christ in all people," we will make the witness we are called to make.
"Let every voice be raised, from every faith and tradition: good God of mercy, hold back the hand of terror, protect the innocent, drive back the evil that surrounds us, that we may live at peace once more. Comfort those who suffer. Give rest to their souls and strength to their families. Help justice to be done. From every voice and every faith, great God of mercy, receive our prayer." (The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston)
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