Friday, May 6, 2011

Dive for our keyboards or fall to our knees?

Sometimes this week, I've felt like the only person who hasn't issued an missive or tweeted or posted a Facebook opinion about the death of Osama bin Laden.

It's certainly not for lack of opportunity or invitation or even time.

Like a lot of people, I first found out about it on Facebook when a whole bunch of status updates started announcing it. So I climbed into bed and turned on CNN and watched it all unfold.

And then it began. The tidal wave of reaction ... and reaction to the reaction ... and so on and so on. There were the people celebrating his death ... and there were the people chastising the celebrating ... and people chastising the chastisers ... and theologians or all stripes weighing in with incredible certainty in their tones ... and people saying exactly what this meant to the ridiculously named "war on terror" and what it meant for Obama's presidency ... and so on and so on and so on.  Twitter reported that "more than 4,000 tweets per second were being sent at the beginning and end of Obama's speech."

The next morning, the Gen X clergy listerv I'm on had lots of reaction along this line. The one I was waiting for and that particularly stuck with me was my friend Vicki's ... because not only is Vicki a fairly conservative Republican (different from me!) but, more to the point, her fiancee was on the Pan Am jet that was brought down by terrorists over Lockerbie. What I got from her message made a lot of sense to me -- "don't tell people what they *should* be feeling or how they *should* be reacting."

I began to read the missives that started being issued by my fellow cathedral deans. And I began to feel like,  as the new Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, I should write something myself. But I couldn't. Well, that's not right. I could have. But it just didn't feel right. And part of it was not only that I didn't have a pat and easily tweetable response, but every time I thought of trying to write something I would wonder "how is this not just adding to the noise?" And the certainty of everyone's statements was making me feel really uncomfortable and yet I felt this pressure to weigh in ... a pressure that I pretty much have resisted.

So five days later, I'm just beginning to pray and sort through where I am on bin Laden's death. And it's not full of certainty. And it's not simple and easy to tweet.

I am sad.

I am sad at any death. I am sad when violence is seen as an appropriate solution. I am sad at the brokenness and sin that leads to people like bin Laden doing the things they do and that lead us to using violence against him. I am sad that the people who are his victims in some ways have wounds reopened by this. I am sad that this is leading to a new round of American exceptionalism. I am sad at the resurgence of blood-lust that events like this send into the streets, calling us not up to the better angels of our human nature but to our baser, animal instincts. I am sad that flashpoint events like this draw us like moth to flame to expressions of easy, cheap patriotism that not only avoid but incriminate any who try to take an honest look at the real reasons why others in the world might look at us with fear and loathing. I am sad wondering what my friend Mohammed in Iraq is thinking of us right now and if his own loathing of America is being stoked even further.

I am empathetic.

I am empathetic for the people who have suffered much at bin Laden's hands and the joy and relief they feel. I feel for the people who have been hit hard by any number of other things -- the economy, racial discrimination, etc. -- who are using this as an opportunity to have some kind of celebration about something, to "feel good again." I have empathy and intellectual respect for the pragmatists who state with certainty that just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right to work for Hitler's death, there is justice and even greater good in murder sometimes. I see what they are saying and understand why they might feel as they do ... even if I don't believe or feel the same way myself.

I am relieved and hopeful.

I am relieved that what seemed like an interminable manhunt for him can finally end. I am hopeful that the President will take this opportunity to draw down our military presence in Afghanistan. I am hopeful that we can use this to move past the 9/11 mentality that has turned all Muslims into suspects and enemies in the eyes of many. I am hopeful that Jon Stewart is right that this, combined with the relatively peaceful revolutions in places like Egypt, will signal that groups like Al Qaeda are done and that the new voice of change in the Arab world is the voices of the young people in the streets calling for democracy.

I am resigned and cynical.

I am hearing the words of Gandhi that "an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind" and that this will just be one more chapter in the seemingly endless cycle of violence. I am readying myself for disappointment that the President's real instinct for peace will be shouted out by the tremendous monetary interests invested in war that he believes he needs to please to get re-elected. I am doubtful of our own ability to learn from history and not continually repeat it.

And no, I'm not trying to be politic and give everyone something to agree with me on. I am genuinely all these things and probably many more. Even though it is not good messaging or marketing or what some people would view as "strong leadership," I am genuinely filled with conflicting emotions and it seems best just to be honest about that. If it matters to you at all where I am with all this, well, this is where I am right now. I don't know where I will be tomorrow or next week or next month. But in the eyes of the world, I don't think that matters ... because we will have moved on to the next shiny thing. And people will be reacting to it ... and reacting to the reactions ... and so on ... and so on.

So more than anything, I am wondering what has become of reflection instead of reaction. As someone who wants to proclaim the Gospel, do I have to conform to the speed-of-light pace of Facebook, Twitter and CNN? Do I have to come up with a 140-character or less opinion that I can broadcast immediately while we still have people's attention? Is that just part of being a dean ... or a priest ... or a Christian ... today?

Maybe it is. But I don't think so. Maybe the witness we have every time a major event happens isn't diving to our keyboards but falling to our knees. Maybe it isn't just being the faith-based version of the reactive cable news pundits but inviting people to join us in a place where we can "be still and know that God is God." Where we remember that "God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts our thoughts." Where with Elijah, we realize we don't find God in the whirlwind and the fire and the noise but in the "sound of sheer silence."

I think about our life together at Christ Church Cathedral. We are a diverse group of diverse opinions and backgrounds and experiences. I get challenged by different views pretty much daily and I'm pretty much at my worst when I react immediately to them. But I find when I turn them over in my heart and mind. When I take them to God in prayer. When I probe deeper in conversation. When I reach for a wisdom that is greater than our own and look for God in that "sound of sheer silence" ... I begin to change. I begin to let God change me through you. I begin to become something different. And I think that something different is more like the Body of Christ.

There are some things -- many things -- I have no problem giving an instant reaction to, for good or for ill. I don't need to stop and think about whether women being used in prostitution is bad or whether a lunatic planning to burn a Koran is something that should be condemned. But often .. even most of the time ... the world is more complex and interesting and nuanced than that. And that's where the world really needs to stop and turn away from the whirlwind, flame and noise and listen for the still, small voice of the divine. And that's where I pray we can take the time to fall to our knees, listen deeply, love deeply, and reach for the wisdom to channel it.

in Christ's love,


Sunday, May 1, 2011

"The Peace of Christ be always with you." -- a sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 1, 2011

The peace of Christ be always with you.

And also with you.

“The peace of Christ be always with you.”

And also with you.

“The peace of Christ be always with you.”

And also with you.

It's pretty much a reflex, isn't it. An automatic response. I think it's just human nature. Part of how we're wired. We can take the most profound things and through sheer repetition, turn them into just this reflex response.

When we leave the house each morning:

"Love you."

 "Love you, too!"

And we don't even think about how much it means until that spouse or partner is gone or the child has grown and has moved away.

“Take care of yourself”

"You, too."

It’s just a throwaway line until someone we love is in an accident or is diagnosed with cancer ... And then we realize how much we really mean it. You are precious and fragile. Take care of yourself. Please!

And then there’s this one: The peace of Christ be always with you.

And also with you.

It’s easy for it to turn into the churchy version of the captain turning off the fasten seatbelt sign. Bing. You are now free to move about the church - until we begin our final descent into the Eucharist.

Except ... somehow not here. Here at Christ Chirch Cathedral we have an instinctual sense that this isn’t some throwaway line. There is an energy and urgency and a joy to the peace here. And that’s how it should be. Because the peace is not just a halftime whistle. This morning we hear Jesus say, “Peace be with you.” three times. And it's not just his way of saying, "Hey ... Whassup?" He’s letting the disciples and us know what kind of community we are supposed to be with one another.

You see, the word for peace here is the Greek word eirene. Eirene is better translated as harmony. And it’s not just just an absence of conflict but something incredibly active. You gotta work for it. Like singers in a choir who have to listen deeply to each other so their different voices can blend into beauty, the peace of Christ happens when we listen and work together to create something far more beautiful than we could on our own or just with voices in our own range.

The peace of Christ isn’t just passively tolerating each other in that false virtue of “you can be who you are … over there … and I can be who I am … over here … and we’ll just stay out of each other’s way.” No, it’s when we actively seek out those who are most different from us, those whom we have the most conflict with, and get right in each other’s faces and say “I am not letting you go. Because God has put something in you that I need to be whole. And God has put something in me that you need to be whole.”

The peace of Christ is hard. It’s hard because it goes against this deep instinct we have to avoid conflict by gravitating just toward people who are like us. After all, it’s so much easier that way. We imagine everyone can be happy and nobody gets hurt and God knows it’s nowhere near as messy when we all basically agree and nobody makes anyone else too uncomfortable. And certainly in a world where we all have enough challenges without seeking out new ones, that kind of thinking and living can be really, really tempting.

But that kind of peace, the kind that is just a segregated absence of conflict is not the peace of Christ but a false peace. And we have seen what it does.

It is the same false peace that led to nearly a century of Jim Crow and so-called “separate but equal” laws in this country. That led to the formation of churches like All Saints in North St. Louis when people of color came to churches like Christ Church Cathedral and were told, “wouldn’t you be more comfortable over at your own church over there.” When it was never the comfort of the black people that was the issue. It is the quest for the same false peace that gay and lesbian people still hear in many other churches of “you’d probably be happier at the Cathedral or Trinity.” It is the quest for the same false peace that leads us in our worst moments to throw nasty looks at the two-year old who is who is just being a fidgety two year old in worship or to sigh and shift away from the person who has spent the night on the street. This makes me uncomfortable, so it's best for everyone if we just keep our distance from each other.

But that peace is not the peace of Christ. And we know it. We know it because almost all of us have chosen every Sunday to drive past churches that are closer and more homogenous that this one to come to a place where we really are a glorious mixed bag of different ages, races, tastes, classes, sexual orientations. You name it, we’ve got it, we ARE it! But yet even though we have chosen to be here, we are still so subject to the temptation to reach for the false peace. To even in this diverse community gravitate toward just being with a subset that is most like us. To segregate into interest groups and to lobby against one another to get the ministry or the liturgy that most suits us.

And left to ourselves, I wouldn’t expect anything different. It’s human nature. But as I’ve said so many times before, Jesus meets and loves us as we are, but Jesus never leaves us the way we are. Jesus didn’t go into that locked room where the disciples were huddled together in their little like-minded subset and say, “It’s OK, I love you. You can just stay here and I’ll drop in and visit once a week.” No, he said, “peace be with you. As the father has sent me, so I send you.” Go out into the world that is different and challenging and risky, and seek out the gift that otherness has for you and give the gift your otherness has for them. Create the harmony that only comes when very different voices are blended together.

I am convinced that is Christ’s dream for us as his beloved community. It is the peace of Christ. And it is exquisite harmony that comes from the hard work of loving, listening and being deeply engaged with one another. It is coming together in all our blessed difference to embrace the holy habits that shape us as Christians – the habits of prayer, worship, study, service and stewardship. It is coming together in all our blessed difference to lay down our lives and agendas for one another and for the world.

It is why we have a group now working on tracing our history with race at Christ Church Cathedral. It is why we have an oral history project group forming to learn to capture and tell the stories and history of the diverse peoples of this Cathedral. And it is a big part of why, three weeks ago, I announced that I was seriously considering consolidating our Sunday morning from three services to two, and indeed starting on Pentecost, June 12, that is what we are going to do.

I had someone say to me, “I just don’t see what problem you are trying to solve with this!” And if you feel that way, I really get it. Because on one level, everything might seem just fine the way it is. There are ways that our current Sunday structure keeps us in peace, blissfully separate but equal, able to spread out and choose not to be as challenged or shaped by each other’s “otherness.”

But it in the end that is a false peace that is not worthy of us. In the end, that is a song that will fall far short of the harmony we are capable of singing. And so the past three weeks I have tried to model what I believe Christ calls us all to do. I have listened deeply to you. I have prayed A LOT. And I have set a course that I believe is the best for embracing not the peace of the absence of conflict but the Peace of Christ. To come together and most fully become the diverse and challenging and beloved community that Christ dreams for us

Starting June 12, at 8 o’clock, there will be a Rite I, said service in Bofinger Chapel. At 10 o’clock, there will be a Rite II, choral Eucharist in the Nave, with a separate liturgy of the Word offered in the chapel for children with everyone back together for the Eucharist. And beginning the fall, in between the two, from 9 – 9:45, there will be opportunities for all of us of all ages to participate in Christian education.

For those of you who have been with us the past two summers this will be very familiar and thats no accident. We've discovered that coming together like this works. Its just that when fall comes, this year, we're going to keep on doing it.

But there will be some new things. The 8 o’clock service is being moved because what we are doing in worship is coming together as a community. And where we are a community of 25, we can come together better in a space that seats 40-50 rather than one that seats 350-400. If that service outgrows the chapel and gets to the point where we are regularly reaching 80% capacity, we’ll move it back to a space that fits it better.

You spoke with a loud voice that you far preferred a later start time than I had proposed … with Christian education in between the two services. That’s great, and I’m happy to make that shift. But coming together not just for worship but for Christian education – for learning about our faith, learning about how we can support each other in those holy habits of prayer, worship, study, service and stewardship. That’s not some optional extra but a huge part of us learning how to live our faith … how coming here on Sunday becomes not just a quick hit of prayer and worship but an ongoing experience that changes who we are.

Amy, our Sunday School teachers and Nancy Kinney and the Adult formation committee are committed to providing excellent chances to come together learn from one another and grow in our faith. With this new structure for Sundays there should be no barriers for anyone participating. And it's important for us to. And so I look forward to seeing you there.

Finally, the Chapter and many of you spoke loudly about three things to do with our new principal service, which will be at 10 am.

1) That the liturgical style and music build on the strength of our wonderful music program.
2) That we be open to a greater diversity in music that reflects the diversity of this community.
3) That we more greatly embrace the presence of children and youth in church, including additional "Rules of Respect" for how children should be welcomed.

I loved hearing this from you because not only are these things possible and exciting, they are about just this kind of coming together Jesus challenges us to embrace when he stands among us and says “Peace be with you!” How can we take our diverse strengths and talents and let God use us and them to create expressions of deep beauty.

I am entrusting Amy to work with Pat Partridge and others to craft a liturgy that embraces all of this. Not some lowest common denominator worship that tries to please everyone and ends up muting our best gifts but an expression of worship that helps us look deeply and fully at one another – particularly at those of us who are most challenging to each other – and to offer the best of that to God.

Be not afraid! We’re going to have fun figuring this out. And we’re going to learn from each other and we’re going to learn about one another. And yeah, it’s going to be messy at times, and yeah, there is going to be conflict. But that’s OK. Because there is no conflict we can’t love each other through, no height of harmony we cannot attain if we remember to keep coming together each week and seeking out those whose otherness is our greatest gift.

If we remember to keep doing what we do best … looking each other in the eyes and joyfully embracing each other with the words that are among Christ’s greatest gifts to us.

The peace of Christ be always with you.