Last week I attended the consecration of the fourth Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Western Mexico in Guadalajara. It was a magnificent place to be and a magnificent service to attend. The cathedral was packed, and the reception afterwards was warm and hospitable. However, having grown up in Latin America and schooled in the doctrines of indigenous church planting, I was taken aback when the hymns sung were all translations (albeit good ones) of English hymns. At the reception I made bold to announce my misgivings in the hearing of the new Bishop and he, ever so gently, said, “Oh, but I think they are very human hymns.” Cut off at the knees, I began to think about it. I brought it up with another attendee, the director of music emeritus of the Anglican Cathedral in Mexico City. He explained how Episcopal missionaries had brought these hymns with them more than a generation ago, and over the years they had worked their way into the fabric of the Anglican Church. For them they were not “English hymns,” that was my category. For them they are human. They give expression to the inner longings of their hearts.
Atahualpa Yupanqui, Argentine popular singer, used an adapted excerpt of a poem by Manuel Machado:
“Procura tu que tus coplas vayan al pueblo a parar Strive such that your couplets reach the common people
porque al volcar el corazón en el alma popular Because when your heart fuses with that of the common soul
lo que se pierde de gloria, se gana de eternidad” What you lose in glory, you gain in permanence.
Ok, my sister will pick apart my crude translation, but you get the idea. These hymns had worked their way into the very fabric of the Mexican Anglican. They couldn’t care less that Samuel John Stone wrote “The Church’s One Foundation” in 1866 in England, in response to a schism with a bishop in South Africa. It expresses for them (as it does for me) the great mystery of that work of God among humanity that we call the Church Mystical. Though written for a time and place and set of circumstances, it gives voice to a much deeper human experience, even if that experience is lived in a different time and place and set of circumstances. The bishop is right. It is deeply human.
If it is not a song of the heart it’s hardly a song.
The other day I was watering my orchard. I had my rubber “farm boots” on, one of which has a small split in the sole. Pretty soon one foot was wet and the other wasn’t. Squish-step-squish-step, each foot kept me vertical, but with a different kind of sound.
I just got back from three days in Guadalajara, Mexico. Another priest friend and I went to the consecration of the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Western Mexico. I am completely comfortable in Latin America, I grew up there. Within our home we were Americans in most ways. Around us we shared the Latin American culture of Ecuador. Squish-step-squish-step, each foot keeps me vertical, but with a different kind of sound. My wife’s experience is similar. Raised in Africa, I took her to Ecuador early in our marriage and we spent a good number of years there. Yesterday we spent time just across the border with good friends, a Pentecostal pastor and his family. On the way home Karisse was quiet. I asked what was going on and she said, “It’s good to feel comfortable being foreign once more.” Squish-step-squish-step. Each step keeps us vertical, but with a different kind of sound. As people who were raised in expatriate families, the feeling is natural to us.
With the rising sense of diversity in our own society within these United States the sense of being foreign is everyone’s experience. Those who are new arrivals are foreigners, getting comfortable in a new situation. Those whose ancestors arrived here longer ago are finding that the newcomers can make them feel foreign in the land they consider their own. Like water in one’s boot, it’s easy not to like it, but I believe that it is vitally important that we all learn to feel comfortable feeling foreign. Squish-step-squish-step, each foot will keep us vertical, but with a different sound—the sound of the future.
A woman in the church whose husband has been fighting cancer for the last six months just told me that the doctor had given him two to five years. When the diagnosis was first given, the life expectancy was a matter of months at best. This news sent her out of the doctor’s office dancing—and to Chilis for margaritas! I bet it’s good advertisement for an oncologist to have a woman to come out of the office dancing!
The couple has been married over 50 years. They thought it was over, but they have a reprieve. Celebration is definitely in order. But now how are they going to live the next two-to-five years? I’m sure there will be a special poignancy in what they choose to do, where they choose to go and who they choose to be with.
The poignancy is not a product of their situation, it is a result of their awareness of the situation. The meaning of what we do, where we go and who we choose to be with is not dulled by our inattention. It is just as powerful, even if it is just beyond our conscious awareness. It is in times like these that the veil of daily living is pulled back and we see, not death, but life for what it has been all along. To be aware of the poignancy of life, to learn to live without the veil (rather than having it pulled away) is to live a life of wide-awake gratitude. It’s enough to dance to.
May I always dance!
The current issue of National Geographic Magazine is dedicated to the issue of race. On the front is a picture of fraternal twins born to a mixed-race family in England. One looks quite white and the other is unmistakably black. I have noticed recently that TV programming and commercials show more and more people of color in core roles. I know a person who wouldn’t even touch this issue of the magazine because of its topic. It is most poignant that it appears near the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The editorial at the beginning is telling. The editor-in-chief is the first woman and Jew to hold the position at the National Geographic Society. Her piece takes apart the implicit racism of the magazine’s past, noting a 1916 photograph of two Aboriginal people from Australia with the caption that they “rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.”. She gets more sophisticated when she shows a 1960’s picture of a journalist showing off his modern camera to some people from some remote corner of the world. The locals are puzzled and amazed at western technology. The implication is that the locals are ignorant about the important things—western technology. Contrast that to another article in which cameras were given to people in Haiti and asked to go and document their lives in pictures. She presses the point when she notes that in two years more non-white babies will be born in the US than white. It is quickly becoming the issue of the age.
She names the issue in the first paragraph: race is a social construct, not a biological one. We have social conventions about how we treat people who have certain physical characteristics, but those conventions are not rooted in biology. They are social conventions. When Texas was admitted to the Union it did so with a document that declares in no uncertain terms that the black race was divinely ordained to subjugation by the white race. We know that to be a theological fallacy now, and a hugely offensive one. Why skin color? There are plenty of examples of white people being discriminated against, like the Irish. It’s not a matter of biology. It’s about social convention, and social convention is something WE decide. WE need to decide what we believe it means to be fully human.
Maybe this issue is an indication that we as a people are rethinking that question in other-than-biological terms. I would hope so.
One of the emerging fault-lines in the Christian Church is whether or not politics belongs in the pulpit. It’s an interesting question. Throughout our history politics has been a major topic in pulpits, and at the same time, preachers have been maligned and sometimes dismissed for “being too political.” One of the big criticisms of the Evangelical movement today is that it is hardly distinguishable from the ideology of the Republican party—a religious movement become established, if you will. Recently Christian leaders from 23 different organizations, including Dr. Tony Campolo, co-founder of Red Letter Christians, and Dr. Ron Sider, President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action, signed a document that makes a seamless line of argument from faith to socio/political action.1 Our own Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry is among its signers. The document has six pairs of arguments that start out with, “We believe…” and conclude with “Therefore we reject….” I sent it out to my congregation and got a response back from someone for whom it was too political. I can see why the person felt that way, though I don’t agree.
What is the relationship between politics and the Church? Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”2 We cannot ignore the fact that the moral imperatives of the Gospel have political implications.
We have no business endorsing candidates or aligning ourselves with a given political party, but we must never shy away from critiquing policy in terms of the moral imperatives of the Gospel.
1 Read the full text at http://www.reclaimingjesus.org/
There is a great mystery at large in the world, and I am at a loss to explain it. It happens over and over again. We generally call it luck, but it happens to regularly to be chance. It’s when bad things result in good things. I heard about a person who has a homosexual child recently who was going to go take the people at a church to task for their narrow and exclusive stance on homosexuality. Upon arriving at the Church the receptionist received the person and “the spiel” was made. It turned out that the receptionist had just had a son come out. She was distraught and didn’t know what to do, given her church’s stance on such things. What was supposed to be a confrontation became a moment of real unity and fellowship. You walk away from stuff like that and want to say, “Darn!” but can’t.
In my Christian tradition we live out that same mystery in the three days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday a good man is submitted to a kangaroo court and condemned to death. The Roman authorities are cornered into making it happen. Even if you don’t believe that Jesus was divine (like I do,) it was a travesty of justice. We Christians hold that on Easter morning death was conquered and Jesus rose again. Eye-witnesses recorded their experiences of the risen Christ. Whether or not you believe in the resurrection, you have to admit that the Christian faith emerged from the disciples’ experience of that first Easter day, whatever it really was. Though much evil has been done in the name of Christ, much good has been done as well (same great mystery at work!) Great spiritual masters have arisen from this tradition, giving the Christian slant on the perennial wisdom of the ages. Millions of people have found a spiritual home and path. All this is the result of a travesty of justice.
Maybe that’s what God does for a living—redeem the bad by bringing good out of it!
Today is Maundy Thursday. The word is a middle-English word meaning “commandment.” World Wide Words says, “In Latin “new commandment” is mandatum novum (the first word is also the origin of mandate); on Maundy Thursday in Roman Catholic churches the anthem Mandatum novum do vobis (“a new commandment I give to you”, the start of verse 13:34 in St John’s gospel) would be sung, in particular following the royal ceremony of washing feet and giving alms. As a result, the ceremony became known as mandatum. The Old French version of that word is mandé and over time it became corrupted into maundy.”1 There was a tradition in England until James II that the monarch washed the feet of the poor on this day. Now ceremonial coins are given by the monarch instead.
The new commandment that Jesus gave was to love one another, symbolized in the washing of feet. Feet in Jesus’ day were not protected from the elements in fancy Oxfords or even Nike’s. The roads did not have “Do Not Litter” signs along them and nobody picked up after their dogs. Sandaled feet tended to be—dirty. Washing them was a profound act of service and welcome, something normally done by a household slave. Now the Master kneels to wash feet.
I am no monarch, but today I will be down the street at “The Hub” offering to wash anyone’s feet (or hands) that would like me to. I offer it as a symbol of our commitment to Jesus’ new commandment to love as he loved—to “wash the feet” of the world.
Picture credit: https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/jesus-washing-apostles-feet-39588?lang=eng