The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, June 23, 2019

“The Laborer is Worthy of His Hire”: A Sermon on Luke 10: 1-10

[Delivered at St. Bartholomew's Church, June 23, 2019]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I smile whenever I hear this reading, particularly when Jesus reminds the 70 disciples to accept the hospitality that is offered to them, because, as the King James version puts it, “the laborer is worthy of his hire.”

That’s because a lawyer I once knew used to quote that line in explaining that he would pay, would absolutely pay, the young law student working for him one summer, and would do it as soon as the next check from a client came. Because the laborer, as he assured the student, was worthy—-oh so worthy, so very, very worthy-—of his hire.

I don’t think I ever got it all, to be honest, but he did pay me some of what we’d agreed. And I wrote briefs, met clients accused of all kinds of crimes, and got to see my boss joust with prosecutors state and federal.

I think I grew up that summer.

If I ever did at all.

And that summer changed me. The first of many such changes. Learning comes at a cost. Childhood fades a little each day, as you see how the world wags, and what wags it. Only a very few years later, I was the one in court, arguing to judges, jousting with prosecutors, and striving to free my clients.

We change, leaving our past selves behind, like a butterfly leaves its chrysalis.

Not just us, though.

We’re here in New York City, the town that Luc Sante describes as having no truck with its past, that led him to say that “self-reinvention is an essential trope of the American project.”

So perhaps you won’t be surprised to know that our church, this church, in which we gather tonight has constantly been reinvented too. The plain, simple church built in 1835, all the way downtown between Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place, was replaced in the 1870s by a much grander building at 44th Street and Madison Avenue.

Some of that second building has stayed with us in this, the third St. Bartholomew’s Church. The portals and the great bronze doors outside—they come from that second St. Barts.

The dome was added to Bertram Goodhue’s majestic basilica design, St Barts Mark 3, and the dome was restored—really refashioned, would be a more accurate word—in 2017. I was in the first party that was led up the scaffolding to see, just this once, before the scaffolding was removed, the dome close to.

To be honest, I didn't have a choice/ Despite my fear of heights, Lynn Sanders made me go up, and not miss a once-in-a-lifetime sight. Even through my palpable terror, it was worth it: We were allowed to walk around the entire new dome, to see the fresh, smooth tiles making up the dome, firm, and strong, and bright and new.

In all of its incarnations, St. Barts has relied on its parishioners, its neighbors, the people who come to it to worship, to find a still, quiet place away from the noise outside those old portals, or to savor the beauty of the sacred.

Of course, not all of St. Barts’s members have supported it with equal zest. Clarence Day, whose stories about his parents were the basis of the play, the film, and the television show Life With Father tells us that his father, also named Clarence Day, was a member of our church—St. Barts Mark 2, that is-–and particularly enjoyed when the Rector preached pugnacious sermons that were “like a strong editorial in a conservative newspaper.” He particularly enjoyed sermons in which the rector, "instead of nagging at him, gave all wrong-thinking persons a sound trouncing, just the way he would like to."

But then, when the Rector began calling for what he consistently called “a new Edifice”—and you could hear the capital letter “E” in that title—Clarence Sr began to fear the worst.

That he was going to be asked to contribute.

Beyond his usual pledge, he would have to stump up more cash.

At first, he thought it would be a tolerable $50, or even a hundred, which was still enough to depress him. But when he found out that he was expected to give a thousand—well, he did it but was never the same man.

He did receive a reward, though. Possibly from his son, although I can’t prove it. Clarence Sr hated to be told that he should be humble, or should follow the lives of the saints instead of good sound business principles. He rebelled mightily against the notion that the "meek"--creeping little nobodies that they were--would inherit Secaucus, let alone the Earth. His son was a little bit like him here, and admits that he also found “blessed are the meek” to be uncomfortable--too reminiscent of Uriah Heep, of weakness. Neither Day liked that suggestion. But with her usual ability to defuse these conflicts, Lavinia Day, wife to one Clarence and mother of the other, blithely corrected the translation for them: “Blessed are the debonair,” Lavinia translated the verse, based on her French Bible.

And that’s how our window, fourth from the back, on the left side if you’re facing the congregation, and toward the entrance of the chapel, reads at the very bottom. Blessed are the debonnaire. It's attributed--patently falsely, unless it's Lavinia Day's translation of her French Bible that is meant--to the "French Bible," even though every word other than "debonairre" is English.

Clarence Day Sr’s grudging support of the New Edifice makes for amusing reading, and the incorporation of Lavinia’s more palatable version of the beatitude into our stained glass windows is wonderfully ironic. But Clarence Sr’s vision was blinkered. A rich man, he saw only the cost to his wallet in the rector’s request for support, and not the opportunity to participate in and to sustain a community.

If you look around the chapel, the sanctuary, the corridors to the community house, you will see the names of some of those who have given of themselves to St. Barts—members of the vestry, wardens, clergy, and others. Some names are emblazoned on our walls for the financial support they have provided, others for work they have done in keeping the church running, some for the ministries they supported by volunteering their time. Many are listed in our bulletins, on the chairs in the sanctuary. And even more are known by the kindnesses they have shared with our guests in our overnight shelter, our soup kitchen, our food pantry.

And some are wholly anonymous, whether in giving funds, or in their volunteer work. They just show up and get on with it.

St. Barts isn’t just a building. It’s a community—a big sprawling family of people who may not agree on every doctrine in the Prayer Book, but who have chosen to be a part of a family that believes in an ethos of service. But not service of the haves to the have nots; our long time deacon, my mentor and friend J.D. Clarke, taught me early what our ethos was on my first night in the shelter.

He said, “You take our guests—never clients, always guests—by the hand. You look them in the eye. You share a meal together.”

Every night I served in that shelter, I ate with our guests, we listened to each other, told our stories, and became more than just strangers, we became brothers and sisters, if only for an evening.

The Laborer is worthy of her hire.

That can sound like a good deal for the disciple. And it is, though not in the normal sense. After all, they wander, dusty, tired, from street to street, town to town. Maybe they are received. Maybe not. If not, the wandering continues, until they find some welcome, however poor.

The hire—the reward—is in the labor. In giving, we receive. In knowing each other, we find ourselves known.

I would not presume to tell you how you can yourself find that hire. I would not presume to tell you how much you should give, in terms of financial support, volunteering time and effort, or what it is that you feel called to do.

I would only refer you to the words of Frederick Buechner, who famously wrote that “[t]he place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Many of us have found that place here, at St. Barts.

In so doing, we have found friends, a shared sense of purpose, and a renewed commitment to reach out our hands to all of God’s children. We have found family, not biological, but, to steal a great phrase from Armistead Maupin, a logical family, bound together by the inspiration of the God who calls us into relationship with each other and with God, through the life of service modeled for us by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ who draws us together.

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

“How the Foot” A Sermon on John 5: 1-9 St. Bartholomew’s Church May 26, 2019

[There are a few paragraphs that I cut from the sermon, but that I'm including as a prefatory note, to commemorate the late, great Herman Wouk, who died a little over a week ago. Wouk kept writing until shortly before his death at the age of 103. No, I’m not exaggerating. But though he’ll always best be remembered for The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance, the novel I discuss in this sermon, Inside, Outside, is special to me.

It tells the story of young I. David Goodkind, whose life tracks Wouk’s own in many ways (though Goodkind becomes a lawyer specializing in tax law and free speech cases), from childhood to the threshold of old age. It’s warm, and touching, and sometimes farcical—Inside, Outside reminds us that Wouk got his start writing comedy for radio, and he’s never been funnier than in this book.


But underlying the nostalgia and the warm humor is a character arc that seems to have matched Wouk’s own: David finds himself feeling trapped in the rules-oriented traditional Jewish life of his parents and extended family, and slowly falls away from it, disappointing his father and his scholarly grandfather, only to find himself drawn back into his faith in middle age. He may not follow all the rules as closely as his parents did, but he cherishes what they mean to him.

When David is sent to study at a yeshiva, his grandfather proudly takes him to meet another student. This student is a youthful Talmudic prodigy known as the “Kotzker Iluy” which translates from the Yiddish as the “genius from Kotzk”, the town from which his family immigrated to America.
]

We all know what happens in verses ten through whatever, right? (OK, it’s verse 47; I looked it up for you.).

In case you haven’t worked it out, here’s the tell—today’s Gospel reading ends on “That day was a Sabbath.”

And, as usual, whenever Jesus cures someone on the Sabbath, and they carry their pallet, or even just walk away and are recognized, two things are guaranteed to happen:

First, the people who know the cured person will be awestruck. They’ll want to know how this incredible—literally—change has freed from suffering their friend, neighbor, or, in this case, the poor man they’ve seen languishing for almost forty years, unable to get into the pool in time to benefit from an angel’s stirring the water.

They’ll find out, the authorities will get wind of it all, and, of course, Jesus will come under their jaundiced eyes, and be required to account for his breaking God’s commandment to refrain from work on the Sabbath.

Just how serious this commandment is, and how rigorously it is enforced in certain aspects of the Jewish tradition is a major theme in the late Herman Wouk's last great novel, Inside, Outside (1985).

It tells the story of young David Goodkind, who finds himself feeling trapped in the rules-oriented traditional Jewish life of his parents and extended family.

David’s parents send him to study at a yeshiva, to his great discomfort. One day, David catches his sister using the wrong dishtowel to dry the meat utensils instead of the milk utensils, and she storms out when he tells her. David asks a fellow student if his sister’s breaking the rule is really so terrible. The other student says that everything will break down if you don’t follow the rules. David gets a second opinion from another student, who asks, “what kind of religion is it that you can disintegrate with a dishtowel?”

Finally, he goes to a prodigy, known as The Genius from Kotzk, who kindly asks David what he’s learning—at the yeshiva everyone is learning, not studying or teaching—and David tells him. A Talmud chapter, known by its first two or three words—in this case “How the Foot”—a section on the law of contributory negligence. The prodigy’s eyes light up, and he smiles. “How the Foot?” he says, “you’re learning a marvelous chapter like “How the Foot,” and you worry about dishtowels?”

The Genius from Kotzk reminds me of another young scholar who confounded his teachers in one way: He grasps that the rules aren’t the essence of the spiritual life. That’s not that to say that they’re trivial, or have no place in the spiritual life. Rather, rules don’t matter more than the reasons for them, and certainly not more than those for whose good they were created.

Or, as Jesus put it more simply, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” (Mk. 2:27).

It would be easy to just denounce the Pharisees as those who haven’t learned that their lives have been structured around a deeply flawed understanding of what is justice.

But that’s oversimplification. And as our former rector Robert Norwood wrote back in 1932, his last year at St. Barts, it’s just not true. As Norwood said:
The Pharisees and scribes were not bad people as we think of badness. Many of them were heroic, and we owe much to them. We do not scruple to say that even Jesus owed the Pharisees and the scribes a debt which he gladly paid on the cross. He loved them; he loved many things for which they stood. But there was one thing about them which he did not love—their dogmatism.
And then Norwood points out that this dogmatism “is still in the Church,” and that is the one thing Jesus cannot love.” Not the people who carry this dogmatism, but the dogmatism itself.

Rather, out former rector reminds us, “We must be set free from anything like ecclesiastical narrowness,” that obsession with rules is a “fetter which we must break if we would walk with Jesus.”

Norwood warns us that “there are many people in our world who are crippled and impotent at the beautiful gate of life,” and that they will always be on the outside, unless one of else helps them. He adds, “[i]f our Christianity is not helping the lame at the Beautiful Gate, it is of no value.”

No wonder they called Norwood ‘the poet of the pulpit.”

But how do we put this into practice—how do we help those who have been wounded, or, even worse, discarded by our ever faster moving society, by our ever-increasing acrimony?

How do we live with one another, when our divisions threaten to tear us apart?

It’s the question of our time, in my opinion. Look at Brexit tearing the United Kingdom apart—literally, as the Scots consider leaving the UK rather than leaving the European Union—and the major parties tearing themselves apart, and the far right possibly triumphing in the very nation that defied the Nazis. Look at our own dysfunctional politics, with the Executive Branch refusing to cooperate with the Legislative Branch unless it surrenders its oversight powers.

And look at how those battles between would be and maybe power brokers are poisoning the body politic, leeching out into the relationships between we the people who have to live with the consequences of their decisions and teaching us how to hate. How to hate each other, that is.

Having been tainted by these dark lessons, how do we live lives that are not framed by hatred?

We are living in a stormy time, my sisters and brothers. We are witnessing the rejection by large factions of the world of kindness, of forbearance. We live in a time where arrogance and triumphalism is rampant, and in which cruelty is becoming normalized, and even valorized.

But we are not just witnesses. We are not just helpless viewers of events on a screen. We are participants in the drama. I know it’s a cliché, but when I was a child, my mother taught me that every life we touch, we affect for either good or bad. We must model the virtues we profess, while standing up for the least of us.

Not the least of these, you notice. Because we are not ourselves yet healed. We are at the pool, hoping for the stirring of the waters. We can push each other out of the way, demanding “our rights,” like road-rage filled drivers, or we can help each other heal by speaking truth, but with love. By sharing experience, strength and hope. By reaching out to the stranger, and finding a sister or a brother.

I’ve been preaching about this for the past year, and I’ve quoted saints, sages, and scriptwriters. But here’s one more quotation from the poet of the pulpit, our own Robert Norwood, that puts it better than I can:
Be more concerned with your kindness than your goodness. If you will study Jesus in relation to people, you will find that he did not care much for conventional goodness. I have discovered that the people who put the emphasis on their goodness are narrow, hard, intolerant and mean. . . .I have seen “good” people in the church make the church a hissing and a by-word. There goodness was of no value. It was full of dry-rottenness.

Suspect your goodness, but be reverent toward your innate kindness. Practice it in every season. Believe in it above everything else. Be confident in your kindness. ….Do not trust even your intellectual conclusions or your religious practices. But trust your innate courtesy, that sudden softening of your heart, that ability to forget yourself, your rights and your wrongs, in pity for your neighbor, his problems, her needs.
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Herman Wouk, In Memoriam



I first met Herman Wouk (in print, never in life) through Herbie Bookbinder, the fat, clever, put-upon "General Garbage," who is the hero of City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder. Set over half a century before I was reading it (1980-ish, I'll guess), it made me laugh, made me wince with familiarity, and enter into a world of New York City that was already gone, and yet which Wouk brought back to human, humane, life.

Adelle Waldman has an appreciation of the late Herman Wouk that is in fact a strong defense of just two of his books--The Winds of War (1971)and its sequel, War and Remembrance (1978). She doesn't discuss his other novels, and that's just fine. Because Wouk's books, especially Winds and War, are often, as Waldman notes, dismissively "often grouped with middlebrow writers of popular historical fiction — James Michener and Leon Uris." One of my favorite literature professors, Nick Loprete, dismissed him with a glib one liner--"too much wind," he said, "and too much war."

But I'm with Waldman, especially where she writes:
Although sweeping, the novels aren’t melodramas. They are the kinds of books in which an attractive young woman in a doomed love affair comes down with a cold — and doesn’t die. She doesn’t even become seriously ill. She takes some aspirin and goes to bed early.

These are also novels in which you can’t immediately tell whether a character will turn out to be mostly admirable or mostly not. With Wouk, it takes hundreds of pages of seeing the character in action before you can decide — and even then, your verdict is liable to remain uncertain and subject to change. Even in literary fiction, this kind of authorial restraint and fidelity to human complexity is surprising.
Yes, very true--and Waldman's exegesis of Wouk's depiction of the slow corruption of people of good will through normalization of the abhorrent by its repetition, as exemplified by Rhoda Henry's slow acclimatization to Nazi Germany during her stay as an attache's wife, is especially resonant today, as long-held norms are fragmenting in law (good-bye, stare decisis) and politics (around the globe).

Waldman touches on the character of Aaron Jastrow, the scholar who found fame in America, is caught up in Fascit Italy, and, ultimately, dies in a concentration camp near where he studied as a boy. She is very good on Jastrow's glib sophistication that leads him into the trap, but I value even more the passage I have previously cited, in which a wiser Jastrow, returns to his roots as a talmudic scholar, even though heh is imprisoned in the "paradise ghetto" of Theresinstadt. Jastrow lectures on the Book of Job in contrast to the Iliad, and points that:
In Job, as in most great works of art, the main design is very simple. His comforters maintain that since one Almighty God rules the universe, it must make sense. Therefore Job must have sinned. Let him search his deeds, confess and repent. The missing piece is only what his offense was.

And in round after round of soaring argument, Job fights back. The missing piece must be with God, not with him. He is as religious as they are. He knows that the Almighty exists, that the universe must make sense. But he, poor bereft boil-covered
skeleton, knows now that it does not in fact always make sense; that there is no guarantee of good fortune for good behavior; that crazy injustice is part of the visible world, and of this life. His religion demands that he assert his innocence,otherwise he will be profaning God's name! He will be conceding that the Almighty can botch one man's life; and if God can do that, the whole universe is a botch, and He is not an Almighty God. That Job will never concede. He wants an answer.

He gets an answer! Oh, what an answer! An answer that answers nothing. God Himself speaks at last out of a roaring storm."Who are you to call me to account? Can you hope to understand why or how I do anything? Were you there at Creation? Can you comprehend the marvels of the stars, the animals, the infinite wonders of existence? You, a worm that lives a few moments and dies?

My friends, Job has won! Do you understand? God with all His roaring has conceded Job's main point that the missing piece is with Him. God claims only that His reason is beyond Job. That, Job is perfectly willing to admit. With the main point settled, Job humbles himself, is more than satisfied, falls on his face. So the drama ends. God rebukes the comforters for speaking falsely of Him, and praises Job for holding to the truth. He restores Job's wealth. Job has seven more sons and three more daughters. He lives a hundred and forty more years, sees grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and dies old, prosperous, revered.

****
Satisfied? A happy ending, yes? Much more Jewish than the absurd and tragic Iliad. Are you so sure? My dear Jewish friends, what about the ten children who died? Where was God's justice to them? And what about the father, the mother? Can those scars on Job's heart heal, even in a hundred and forty years? That is not the worst of it. Think! What was the missing piece that was too much for Job to understand? We understand it, and are we so very clever? Satan simply sneered God into ordering the senseless ordeal. No wonder God roars out of a storm to silence Job! Isn't He ashamed of Himself before His own creature? Hasn't Job behaved better than God?
It is a chilling indictment, and yet Jastrow has returned to his faith, despite--or because of--the insanity and horror of his situation, but he doesn't return blindly--he later says that as he must answer to God for his apostasy, God must answer to Jastrow for Auschwitz.

Wouk's later novels--with the exception of the under-appreciated Inside, Outside (1985) (both touching and wonderfully, ruefully funny. Philip Roth must have felt the burn in that one, too.) don't hit the same high point, but his fertile mind teemed with lesser novels in different genres, from science fiction to Hollywood comedy. But he never failed to interest me, to enlighten me, and to do so while thoroughly entertaining me.

Vogue la galère, O teller of tales; let your ship sail free!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

“Dat Doubt”: A Sermon on John 20:19-31 St. Bartholomew’s Church, April 28, 2019

Despair and doubt can be heavy burdens. Especially when you live in a world that seems to be turning away from what we were taught to see as “the Good,”—from compassion, from love of neighbor, including the stranger and the refugee. From basic honesty and integrity. From justice, let alone mercy.

When the apostles saw Jesus arrested, sentenced, and executed, they fled—all but one, the professed author of this Gospel, who, like Ishmael in Moby Dick, is the sole witness of the bitter end.

But endings are rarely clear and simple.

The 11 men of Galilee are hiding in the upper room they had rented for what turned out to be their last Passover with Jesus. They are cowering, afraid. Strike the shepherd, and then scatter the sheep, indeed (Matt. 26:31)

Except, the disciples don’t all scatter. Oh, a couple head off toward Emmaus, Judas has hanged himself, the women are—well, we don’t know where they are. But the majority of the Eleven hunker down.

They’re not safe—look how many people quizzed Peter if he was one of Jesus’s disciples—but they can’t quite bring themselves to flee. Among the detritus of the Last Supper, they–wait. It’s all they can do, really. They can’t give up on their years following Jesus, can’t admit that it is all over. In their hearts, they have what C.P. Snow described as “a bit of idiot hope,” or, more kindly, “the obstinate hope of the fibers.”

They can’t believe that this is the end. They doubt that life can be so empty, so cruel, so without hope.

In the 1970 movie Ryan’s Daughter, Robert Mitchum plays a schoolteacher in a tiny Irish village during the First World War. The schoolteacher marries Rosy, the beautiful young daughter of the pub landlord, played by Leo McKern, who is both a pillar of the local IRA, and an informer for the British. A wounded British soldier and Rosy have an affair—he’s so much more dashing than her aging, decent husband—and are found out by the villagers, who assume Rosy is the informer. Her father, afraid for his own life, lets the villagers seize his daughter, weeping at his cowardice. They publicly strip and shame her. Her betrayed husband opts to take her to Dublin so she can start a new life, though he is unsure that their love can be redeemed from her betrayal.

The village priest—who prevents the punishment of Rosy for her father’s crimes from being even more severe—gives one last word of advice as they get on the bus. In Trevor Howard’s clipped, accented tones, Father Collins says to the schoolteacher:

I think you have it in your mind
that you and Rosy ought to part.
Yes, I thought as much.
Well, maybe you're right,
maybe you ought, but I doubt it.
And dat's my parting
gift to you. Dat doubt.

That doubt—the doubt that it’s over, that it’s ruined beyond redemption—is what holds the disciples in place, and so they are mostly there when Jesus comes to them in the Upper Room. Paralyzed by doubt that hope can die, they are able to say to Thomas when he returns, “We have seen the Lord.”

Ah—when he returns. And where, I wonder has he been?

Who is this disciple, forever known as Doubting Thomas? And what has he been doing?

Thomas has been out and about, while they’re all hiding.

Thomas may not have been the most spiritual of the disciples, but he’s got courage. And in fact he’s pretty bright. Because when Jesus tells the disciples about the death of Lazarus, and that he is going to Lazarus’s family and then back to Jerusalem, Thomas is the only one who knows what’s coming next.

Grim but loyal, Lazarus says only, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn. 11: 16)

So Thomas is skeptical of his remaining friends, who are still hiding away, while he’s doing whatever needs to be done in the city.

Of course, in the Synoptic Gospels, none of the disciples believe Mary Magdalene, Joanna or the other women when they report the empty tomb, and the strange men in dazzling clothes—angels? Almost certainly—who tell them that Jesus is not to be found among the dead, but among the living. The disciples dismiss the women’s testimony as “an idle tale,” except for Peter, who, hoping against hope, must see for himself—and sees that the tomb, at any rate, is empty.

But Thomas, that rather grim, pragmatic man who goes out to obtain food, or to find out if it’s safe for the disciples to leave Jerusalem—Thomas is, in the midst of his own despair, acting. He’s serving his brothers, seeing to their needs, their safety.

He is doing Jesus’s bidding, as Jesus did at the Last Supper, when he wrapped a towel around his waist and served the Twelve. Now, with Jesus and Judas dead, two other disciples departed, with the brotherhood of the disciples and their teacher shattered—Thomas keeps walking in the way Jesus taught him, even if the fire in his heart has been reduced to a flicker.

And Thomas’s courage, and his loyalty, are rewarded. Jesus comes back for him, to make sure that he doesn’t miss out on the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, like any teacher, he answers Thomas’s challenge. He says to him, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas doesn’t take him up on the offer. Instead, he answers him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus then says, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

That, in case you haven’t worked it out, is us. You and me.

We haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh. We’re two whole millennia removed from anyone who has.

So Jesus is holding out to us the hope that we can be blessed in a way one of his most loyal, brave disciples was not, simply because we have come to believe.

In the very first chapter of this Gospel, we are told that “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1: 12-13)

Right, that’s not exactly self explanatory, is it?

Maybe we need to dig just a little deeper.

The Fourth Gospel, traditionally attributed to John, the son of Zebedee, is sometimes a very challenging one. It has dense, theologically rich discourses by Jesus about His role as the Bread of Life, or the vine to which we—that’s right, you and me—are the branches.

First, what we are called to believe is, as Jesus summarizes it, as we heard throughout Lent, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

But how can we love on command? I’ll steal a sentence from our Presiding Bishop: “Love isn’t an emotion—it’s a commitment.” Our as the teller of tales Steven Moffat put it, Love isn’t an emotion—it’s a promise. Make the commitment; vow the promise. And then walk the Way.

We’re not called to sentimental uselessness, but to action, action without malice, but with love.

Always remember that the early church didn’t see itself as a checklist of beliefs but as a way of life—it’s even called The Way, in the Acts of the Apostles.

And there is, I think, where we find the ultimate clue to what it is to come to believe.

This too:

Believe that you are loved. Don’t doubt it.

When you doubt it, because you will, don’t let that tear you down.

When you doubt it, because we all do from time to time, remember that when Thomas was too skeptical to believe the Good News at second hand, Jesus came back, just for him.

But there are things that you should doubt.

Doubt the cynical horselaugh.

Doubt the self-hatred that we all harbor within ourselves, that says you’re not worthy of God’s love.

Doubt the despair that invades your heart when you lie awake at night wondering what is it all for?

Doubt that might is right, that cruelty is strength, that mercy is weakness.

Because that is Thomas’s gift to us, that doubt. His example of going on, even when he couldn’t feel it, when all seemed lost.

But remember the even greater gift.

Most of all, don’t be afraid you’ll be left behind.

Jesus came back for Thomas; he won’t forget you.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

“Father, Forgive”: A Good Friday Meditation on Luke 23:32-35



[Delivered at St. Bartholomew’s Church,
April 19, 2019]

Did you see it?

Did you see the videos that have gone viral on the news, or are proliferating around Twitter, or did you watch in real time, as flames shot up the length of the towering spire of Notre Dame Cathedral?

Did you see—see for yourself—that elegant, finger pointing at the heavens crack, at about the halfway point, and slowly, inexorably topple, only to fall onto the already burning roof?

Did you see the blazing roof of the Cathedral?

And have you seen the pictures of the damage? The soot and charcoal everywhere, the near-total destruction of one of the great hallowed places of the world?

I say near total—two thirds of the roof is gone, leaving the cathedral open to the sky, the interior damage is still being assessed. The bell towers so beloved of Victor Hugo’s fictional Quasimodo, were spared.

As of today, nobody is quite sure what caused the fire—electrical problems, an accident on the part of the reconstruction team working to preserve and shore up the nearly 800 year old treasure.

So far as we know, there is no reason to believe that the Cathedral suffered anything but an accident.

As I watched it, though, I flashed back on another Cathedral destroyed by fire—and very much not by accident.

During the Second World War, the Nazi regime tried to cow the British into submission by what the British called Baedeker raids—bombing runs to destroy historic sites that had been chosen by the famous Baedeker Guide books.

In November 1940, one of those bombing raids opened up Coventry Cathedral to the sky.

The roof, the windows, the beautiful interior were reduced to smouldering, blackened rubble. Only the outer shell of the building survived.

Seeing Notre Dame burn makes me realize the shock and loss the people of Coventry endured, knowing that the treasure of their community was reduced to a shell because it had been awarded stars in a guide book. And at least at Notre Dame, nobody was, as far as the reports tell us, killed—one firefighter and two police officer injured, the firefighter seriously—but no deaths, as far as we know, and God grant that it remain so.

Coventry was not so fortunate.

568 people were killed, roughly 1200 injured, nearly 900 of them seriously. Almost 8,000 houses were destroyed outright, or so damaged that the occupants had to be evacuated

The next day, the very next day after the bombing raid, the Cathedral provost, Richard Howard, chalked on the wall of the ruined sanctuary the words, “Father, Forgive.”

Before the fires had died down, before it was safe to inspect the damage inside, Coventry Cathedral began its ministry of reconciliation.

While the losses were fresh.

While the outcome of the battle was far from clear.

While the war looked like it would end with Fascism triumphant, decency buried in rubble and scorched wood.

When it was safe to enter the ruined, shattered Cathedral, the people of Coventry doubled down on Howard’s bold move. A stonemason named Jock Forbes built an altar from the rubble. Behind it, two charred, twisted roof beams, still attached to each other, stood as the Cross behind the altar. Forbes had carved the words “Father, Forgive,” into the altar. I have been told that at the first service in the shell of the cathedral, under the twisted, blackened cross, and the open sky—the unjust skies that had rained down devastation and death so recently—that the people of Coventry prayed for their losses, but also for the souls of the German pilots who had inflicted those losses.

A few weeks later, on Christmas Day, Provost Howard spoke over the radio from the ruins. He asked those who were listening “to banish all thoughts of revenge” and called on them to “make a kinder, simpler world—a more Christ-Child like world.”

Coventry had taken its stand.

It has devoted itself to a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation ever since.

Half a century later, on my first trip to England, we stopped at the new Cathedral next to the ancient ruin. I was drawn into the ruins, and pulled by the inscription on the altar, to the twisted, blackened Cross,

And at once I was confronted with the best and worst of humanity.

I don’t need to specify the worst—the ruins had been tidied up, shored up, cleaned up. But the house of worship was a vestige, literally a shell.

But inside the shell was a pearl.

A pearl beyond all price, like the one in the Gospel.

That pearl was the echo, resounding from that day to the present, of people at their very best—following the example of Jesus Christ on the Cross, praying for his persecutors with his rasping, dying breath.

In that moment, standing there, I wasn’t thinking; I was in awe. And then it clicked in my mind—THIS. This is what we are meant to be. It’s all real, every bit of it, if we choose it, grasp it, and try to live it.

I say “try” advisedly, because we fail. All of us. Anyone whos’s driven in a traffic jam with me has living proof of that fact.

But at our best, we can follow the example of Jesus on the Cross, and forgive those who have hurt us. And we’d better get on it.

Because we are a long way off from the “kinder, simpler, more Christ Child-like world” that Richard Howard called out for in Christmas, 1940. We seem further from it than ever in my lifetime. Our British friends riven by conflict over Brexit, our own politics defaced with division and distrust curdling into contempt. We need the Cross today more than ever, and these words of Jesus call us to do better.

Because Jesus did. And Jesus does.

Maybe it’s because He knows us better than we know ourselves, and is able to understand how easy it is to fool ourselves into the worst betrayals, the worst crimes. After all, Peter has denied him out of fear, Judas has sold him for profit, the Temple authorities have betrayed him to the Romans, and the Romans—well, imagine the betrayal of finding in the occupier of your nation someone who understands exactly what is going on, knows that you’re not guilty, and then, as a matter of political expediency, sends you to an agonizing death anyway.

And yet he gasps, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

It’s all too common and all too tempting to read these words to mean that the whole cast of characters who betrayed Jesus that night and that day would have acted better if they knew he was the Messiah.

But that glib, easy reason lets us off the hook. It protects us from the duty to forgive. And allows us to hold on to our self-righteousness, out appalling certainty that we are right, and they—define the term yourself—are wrong. And only afterward do we realize that certainty is a betrayal of all Jesus taught us.

Like Peter, like Judas, perhaps even like Pilate. Like Paul in Acts, when the scales fall from his eyes. Only afterwards do they understand the enormity of what they have done.

And not just because Jesus was the Messiah. Because they have, in betraying Jesus, betrayed what was best in them.

As we do, as I do, when we burn bright with self-righteousness at the terrible things that happen in our poor world, and we give ourselves permission to hate whoever we think is responsible for them, to deny their humanity. As we do, as I do, when we feel that wonderful sense of justified anger, and give into it. As we do, as I do, when we accept an unjust status quo, and convince ourselves that there is nothing to be done. That so the world is, when in fact it is so we have made the world.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.

Coventry Cathedral burnt cross

(Photo credit: sannse [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

"Pining for the Fjords": Trying to Resuscitate Lambeth Resolution 1:10



I regret to say that Ephraim Radner's article "CLEANING UP THE PLAYING FIELD: SIX RESOLUTIONS FOR LAMBETH" put me in mind of the above classic Monty Python sketch. Dr. Radner's "Resolutions" for the 2020 Lambeth Conference are an effort to revive the long-dead Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998), as a backdoor way to institute punishment on non-compliant churches.

Well, non-compliant progressive churches, that is. Because the fact that Dr. Radner does not acknowledge, is that the so-called Traditionalist provinces never themselves complied with the Resolution. The Episcopal Church did, but that didn't abate the Traditionalist disregard for the Resolution insofar as it would have affected their conduct.

Here are Dr. Radner's proposed Resolutions:
1. This Conference reaffirms the 1998 Resolution 1.10.

2. Those bishops and churches who contradict or contravene this affirmation (I.10), or who punish others on the basis of such an affirmation, stand outside the boundaries of Anglican teaching and witness as this Conference understands it.

3. We request that other Communion Instruments of Unity pursue their work on the basis of this teaching and witness.

4. We recognize the missionary and pastoral integrity of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and its related member churches; and we urge serious deliberation, locally and at the international level, over how these churches can be integrated fully into the life of the Communion.

5. We commit ourselves as bishops to the work of formulating and pursuing extended, coordinated, and coherent formation and catechesis in the Christian faith within our churches and across the Communion.

6. We commit ourselves to gathering again in 10 years, and in the interim to developing ways by which, despite the real differences that divide us, we can fruitfully and honestly engage one another and our service of Christ according to the levels of communion we actually share.
But here's the problem; Dr. Radner only focuses on one part of the Resolution, missing the reciprocal obligations the 1998 Lambeth Conference attempted to create:
This Conference:

a. commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality [1];
b. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
c. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
d. while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;
e. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;
f. requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;
g. notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.
In 2004, The Windsor Report added to these principles a request, implicit in the plea for unity in the Resolution, for a moratorium on the part of the Episcopal Church "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges," and, reciprocally, for
those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own to
♦express regret for the consequences of their actions
♦ to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion, and
♦ to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.
(Windsor Report para 155).

Now, as I pointed out in 2010, when the Episcopal Church, after complying with the requested moratorium placed upon it for over 6 years, finally abandoned its adherence, it did so after the reciprocal obligations in the Resolution and in the Windsor Report had been systematically, comprehensively, and shamelessly flouted by the Traditionalists:
But I find I do have a word to say to the self-styled reasserter community, and to the communion conservatives joining them in deploring TEC's lack of "gracious restraint" in no longer honoring the Windsor Reports moratoria after six and a half years of compliance: Congratulations.

Seriously. In the years since the requests were made, TEC complied. In return, it was subjected to cross-boundary jurisdictional crossings, attempted property seizures, a farcical "listening process" and a never-ending wave of bile and venom. Additionally, our Presiding Bishop was insulted at the 2007 primates meeting, where seven Global South primates refused to take communion for fear of being polluted by her presence. And then of course there was the Lambeth Walk. And, finally, the ongoing effort to replace TEC as the North American Anglican entity. So, in view of all these, riddle me this, Batman:

What incentive did your side ever give the Episcopal Church to continue its adherence to the requested moratorium?

I mean, really. You go all out to tear her apart from within, demonize her and her leadership, replace her in the worldwide communion--and then you're surprised that she doesn't continue in a posture of "gracious restraint" which your "side" has been flouting for the same 6 1/2 years she's been complying. I mean, I know you have a low opinion of TEC, but what adverse consequence do you have in your arsenal that you haven't already launched at TEC? What benefit did TEC receive by holding off for 6 1/2 years? None, and none.
I wouldn't use the Batman reference nowadays, but, frankly, I stand by my point: The Resolution was never received by the Traditionalists of the Anglican Communion, only its condemnation of same-sex relationships. Sections (c), (d), and (f) (which gave rise to the so-called "Listening Process") of the Resolution were simply disregarded, or cavalierly "complied with" in form only. So, for example, The Church of Nigeria's Report on the Listening Process did not reflect the testimony or views of any person but the Archbishop of Nigeria, stating simply:
The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God- given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration.”
The rest of the report comprises arguments from Scripture to support this statement--not any evidence of any listening at all--and the "Report" as a whole can be accurately summarized by the old Ring Lardner line, "Shut up, he explained."

In sum, Radner seeks to elevate to canonical status a Resolution that has, for nearly a decade, been rejected by the Churches making up the Anglican Communion, on both sides of the divide. That the Resolution was frail at birth, and died nine years ago, after TEC alone had kept it on life support from 2004-2010, is the one thing the actions of the Churches establishes.

Why on earth would we pay lip service to a dead parrot? It's not pining, it's passed on.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Found Words: Albany Edition

As readers may know, my wife and I bought the home of which I was renting a floor in Albany from the estate of my late landlady--herself an advent feminist, defender of the right of children to be free from abuse, a collector of old Albany stories and memorabilia (I have a beautiful old silver matchbox with the Capitol Building embossed on it that she left behind. We used to compare historical characters--I fed her tales of James Michael Curley, she'd regale me with the legends of Erastus Corning, and of his namesake great-grandson.

She also did stained glass, many of which I have great affection for. And, in her workshop she had some items posted where she alone would see them, and draw inspiration.

Here's one, that she typed out--the paper, once a creamy, heavy bond, now is brittle, crumbling around the edges, and I'm posting it as much so I don't lose it as to share it with you. The lines are blocked as Bernadette typed them:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved
in your heart,
Try to love the questions themselves.

Do not seek he answers,
which cannot be given
because you would not be able
to live them
And the point is,
to live everything.

Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then,
gradually,
without noticing it,
Live along some distant day
into the answers.

Rainer Maria Rilke

[The poem is a paragraph from Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, p. 43.]

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Wideness of God’s Mercy: A Sermon on Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

[Delivered at St. Bartholomew’s Church, March 31, 2019]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

We are more than 3/5 of the way through Lent. I don’t know about you, but my more ambitious offerings have given way to a more standard observance. I don’t mean that I’ve given up wearing hair shirts, fasting, or days of silent contemplation—largely because I didn’t even try them.

I know myself, you see, and I’m not up for Lent as a set of spiritual calisthenics. I take great comfort from the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas was so fat that they had to carve a deep groove into his pulpit so that he could fit into it.

Hope for me yet.

No, Lent isn’t about becoming a spiritual superstar, it’s about realizing that the fundamental truth of the universe is that we are loved. Now. Today. As we are, flawed, fallible, and fallen.

Lent is, it’s true, also about recognizing that we are flawed, fallible and fallen—without losing the sight of the fact that we are loved by our Creator with all our flaws, all the way to the foot of the Cross.

Lent is a time when we make a conscious effort to turn our eyes and our hearts to that Creator, and prise open out hearts a little bit so that we can return that love.

But you know that.

We just sang it:

There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.


Now, before anyone says isn’t this just liberal theology, where sin doesn’t matter, and everything is all sunshine and unicorns and rainbows, let me point out that the lyrics of that St. Barts standard capture both parts of the equation. Our failings are real. Our sorrows too. And we are judged. But the judgment is kindly, informed and the product of a love that is broader than our minds can comprehend.

It’s like qualifying at an AA meeting. “Qualifying” is when the sober alcoholic tells his or her story–shares her or his experience strength and hope,” as we say—to the whole group. It’s when you tell the things you’ve been holding onto, the guilty, shameful things that make you suffer, as one friend of mine put it, from delusions of terminal uniqueness.

When you qualify, and you tell the part that you’re sure everyone will judge you harshly for, that’s when you’re most likely to be surrounded by friends rocking with laughter. Not laughter at you, a laughter of recognition that, change the details, almost everyone in the room has their version of that story.

It’s the laughter of identification, of total acceptance of you, as you are. It’s the moment when everyone recognizes your shame, identifies with that shame, and, instead of turning away from you, smiles at how foolish we all are, and still how very loved.

We are each of us the prodigal son or daughter. But what does that mean? According to St. Ambrose of Milan, the son was not wrong to ask for his share of the inheritance. And, St. Ambrose continues, the father was not wrong to give it to him. But Ambrose tells us that the younger son’s journey away from his family, and his riotous living, is a metaphor for leaving behind his best self. Not his pure sinless self—there’s no such thing—but his best self, the real man—or woman—he or she was created to be.

The younger son lost himself.

We do it all the time, though, in our busy, demanding, stress-filled world.

And that’s just how Jesus puts it, in telling the tale. As Jesus said, “When he came to himself”—that is, when he had that moment when he saw in a flash what his life had become, when that true self broke through the layers of fear, neediness, desperation—he saw the direction of his life, as if he were watching from the window of a subway car when a spark lights up the whole track, and the curves of the trip become clear. He saw himself as he truly was, and decided to do something about it.

Christina Rossetti projected herself into the mind of the son in that moment, and portrays his thoughts in an illuminating way:

DOES that lamp still burn in my Father’s house,
Which he kindled the night I went away?
I turned once beneath the cedar boughs,
And marked it gleam with a golden ray;
Did he think to light me home some day? 5

Hungry here with the crunching swine,
Hungry harvest have I to reap;
In a dream I count my Father’s kine,
I hear the tinkling bells of his sheep
I watch his lambs that browse and leap. 10

There is plenty of bread at home,
His servants have bread enough and to spare;
The purple wine-fat froths with foam,
Oil and spices make sweet the air,
While I perish hungry and bare. 15

Rich and blessed those servants, rather
Than I who see not my Father’s face!
I will arise and go to my Father,—
“Fallen from sonship, beggared of grace,
Grant me Father, a servant’s place.”

The starvation that brings the son home, that gives him the courage to face the family he deserted and disappointed is not just physical or economic; it’s the loss of the love of his father.

For father, read mother, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather, uncle or aunt—whoever it is in your own life who first loved you unconditionally, just as you were.

And so he returns, hoping to be accepted, in a lesser station, only partially forgiven.

And so we come to the prodigal father.

Because the father surprises his younger son—and scandalizes the older son—by welcoming him home, and unconditionally restoring him to his place in the family.

More, he celebrates his return with a feast, a banquet—one of Jesus’s favorite images for the Kingdom of Heaven.

It isn’t fair, the older brother, the good brother complains. I’ve never been given such a feast, he grumbles, and yet I’ve been faithful and true.

And yes, by human standards, that’s true.

The father acknowledges the truth of that, and simply responds, but I’ve never been so close to losing you as we were to losing your brother.

As we sang just before I read the Gospel to you, “[t]here’s a kindness in God's justice, which is more than liberty.”

God isn’t fair, C.S. Lewis wrote; God doesn’t play by rules.

God isn’t fair—by our standards. God is so much better than fair. Like the father in the story, he has kept he light burning, he has hoped it to light us home, and, when we arrive, the judgment is this:

We have to accept forgiveness, and forgive ourselves. And, if we respond in love, we model ourselves on the forgiveness we have received, and try to extend it to those who have hurt us.

We are called to be prodigal of love, as the father in the parable was. To be constant in caring, in loving, and in greeting each guest as Christ. That is how “our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord.”
Lent is three-fifths done, and we are beginning to approach Jerusalem, and the trauma of the Cross, the desolation of the Tomb. But through that same journey, we are also drawing near to the joy of the Resurrection, the reunion of Jesus with the disciples, when Jesus confronted Peter, who wept with shame at denying him, only to find that this betrayal was already forgiven.

There’s no depiction in the Gospels of Peter seeking forgiveness for his denial. It’s simply granted to him without even being mentioned. Just like the father in the parable of the prodigal son—or the prodigal father, take your pick—Jesus greets Peter, and the rest of the Eleven, as his beloved friend and disciple.

In these last weeks of Lent, be encouraged to persevere in whatever way you have chosen to open yourself to the Holy Spirit. If it isn’t working, find something that suits you better, and nourishes your soul. We have a long way to go, yet, and while the night may be dark and full of terrors, we know that we are journeying home, the long way round.

In the Name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Prodigal Son

Tomorrow’s Gospel is the the parable of the prodigal son, (or, as I prefer to think of it, the parable of the prodigal father). In researching my sermon for tomorrow, I was moved by Christina Rossetti’s take on the parable:
DOES that lamp still burn in my Father’s house,
Which he kindled the night I went away?
I turned once beneath the cedar boughs,
And marked it gleam with a golden ray;
Did he think to light me home some day? 5

Hungry here with the crunching swine,
Hungry harvest have I to reap;
In a dream I count my Father’s kine,
I hear the tinkling bells of his sheep
I watch his lambs that browse and leap. 10

There is plenty of bread at home,
His servants have bread enough and to spare;
The purple wine-fat froths with foam,
Oil and spices make sweet the air,
While I perish hungry and bare. 15

Rich and blessed those servants, rather
Than I who see not my Father’s face!
I will arise and go to my Father,—
“Fallen from sonship, beggared of grace,
Grant me Father, a servant’s place.” 20

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

“Tomorrow, Yesterday, Today”: Law Like Love

Researching one of my predecessors at work, for an archival project, I found that he had, on several occasions quoted the same poem, by W. H. Auden:
Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don't know where or why,
Like love we can't compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.
It’s a marvelous poem, and it saddens me that I never got to meet my predecessor, a man of raucous humor, profound wisdom, and a delicate taste in poetry. I am grateful to him for introducing me to Auden, whom I have come to love.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

“The World Turned Upside Down”: A Sermon on Luke 6:17-26

[Delivered at
St. Bartholomew’s Church
February 17, 2019
]



(at 4:10)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Like many great stories, the one about the British forces under Lord Cornwallis playing the song “The World Turned Upside Down” at the surrender ceremony that ended the siege at Yorktown is probably not true.

(Don’t tell Lin-Manuel Miranda, ok?)

But as George MacDonald Fraser once wrote, if it isn’t true, well, it ought to be.

Lord Cornwallis’s song choices aside, “The World Turned Upside Down” is a British song that dates back at least to the 17th Century, and, I think, it can shed a light into today’s Gospel.

Yes, you heard me. Shed light into today’s Gospel. Yes, that's what I said. I said it.

And why would the Beatitudes, among the most beloved passages in Scripture, need light shone into them?

Who can’t get on board with the blessings? What could be more comforting than knowing that the poor, the hungry, those whose devotion to Christ causes them to be marginalized and excluded will know joy, even if they suffer now?

Sure, that's easy.

But then we have the next verses, and these are all too often pushed to the side, or minimized:

But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
For those of us who are not the oppressed, these latter verses can be a little--daunting.

Are we meant to seek out suffering, so that we can earn the rewards of the poor, the persecuted, the reviled?

Are we supposed to crush every natural instinct for happiness, instead dwelling in somber misery, hoping that the loss of joy in this life will be more than made up for in the next?

Are we supposed to be Puritan vegetable folk, like Lord and Lady Whiteadder in the old British comedy Blackadder, treating themselves to the sumptuous meal of a turnip apiece?

It sounds almost comic in our contemporary hedonistic society, but a terrifying number of people do exactly that.

In her latest book, Shameless, Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes about the torment inflicted on gay, lesbian, trans, and other people whose sexuality does not fit the calcified limits of fundamentalist or even traditionalist interpretations of Scripture.

Many are taught to hate themselves from their childhood on up, and become their own torturers.

This self-torture isn’t limited to sexuality of course. Bolz-Weber points out how women in those traditions are not allowed to own or claim their own talents, identities and joy in life, and how all too many men in clerical collars are eager to clamp women in spiritual chains.

As a man in a clerical collar, I have to acknowledge the truth of this, and can only recoil in horror at the abuses she describes.

And it isn’t limited to fundamentalists, either—as someone raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, I experienced teaching aimed at pushing me toward a patriarchal role, one that is not who I am, or want to be—the kind of man I have no desire to be. Nothing like as extreme as what Bolz-Weber describes, but nonetheless a very real efforts at conditioning.

She writes that: “We should not be more loyal to an idea, a doctrine, or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to people. If the teachings of the church are harming the bodies and spirits of people, we should rethink those teachings.” [1]

Bolz-Weber reminds us that “[f]ive hundred years ago, Martin Luther took a look at the harm in his own parishioners’ spiritual lives, specifically their torment from trying to fulfill the sacramental obligations that the church determined would please an angry God.”[2]

She reminds us that Luther dared to think that the story of God coming to humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, and speaking to us the words of life—could free his parishioners from the harm their own church had done them, and tells us that Luther was “less loyal to the teachings of the church than he was to people.”[3]

So should we be.

There’s a reason I have often called Bolz-Weber my favorite living theologian, and here’s why: She says the truths I wish I had recognized for myself.

My favorite, well, how to put this discreetly--not-living theologian is Charles Gore, who lived from 1853 to 1932. Toward the end of his long ministry, he wrote a long defense of Christianity as rational, relevant, and still important in the post World War I era under the title The Reconstruction of Belief.

Here’s Gore, in agreement with Pastor Nadia, describing “the fluidity of all the religions of history”—including Christianity—“and the transitoriness of their specific forms”: “The letter killeth, we hear it said,” Gore wrote, “but the Spirit giveth life. The Spirit must be free to ‘lead us into all the truth,’ and we must expect to see all of the standards and formulas of the past, however venerable, superseded in the light of increasing knowledge, and the sacred books of the past read in a light their authors would not have recognized.”[4]

In other words, the Beatitudes are not Jesus telling us to seek out misery, to frown when others would smile, to turn away from the joys of life. His own life makes that perfectly clear—in the very next chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus quotes his critics, who after rejecting the ascetic John the Baptist as “having a devil,” then denounce Jesus himself. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking,” Jesus says, and “ye say, behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!” [Lk 7:34]

So what then are these Beatitudes saying to us?

The world turned upside down…

Jesus is shattering the old link between prosperity and moral worth. The notion, which pervades the ancient world, and recur throughout the Scriptures, that good things happen to good people. He’s not the first, or the only one to make this point. In The Book of Job, that good, deserving man is healthy, wealthy, and wise, the father of many children, universally respected.

All of that is taken away from Job. But he remains faithful, loyal, and clings to his integrity. He does not understand what is happening to him, but he refuses to deny the truth of the God he has loved his whole life.

But The Book of Job is a parable, a story, and it ostensibly ends with the restoration of the moral order—Job is, at the end of the story, once again healthy, wealthy, and wise, universally respected, the father of many new children.

Of course, if the Book were not a parable, Job would still be mourning the children lost, the shattering of his relationship with his wife, who urged him to “curse God and die,” and the hollowness of his friendships, as demonstrated by the facile rebukes his so-called comforters offer him, to find where he erred, and beg forgiveness—and then God will promptly end the pain.

Like Job, Jesus knows better. And he’s warning us: There is no connection between our status as children of God and our financial resources, our social status, our secular power or status.

None.

The Prosperity Gospel, which seeks to con Christians into believing that there is, is the single most dangerous heresy in Christian history, because while most of the other famous heresies reflect failed efforts to grapple with the nature of Jesus’s relationship with the Father, this one tells you that if you are rich, successful and healthy, you stand well with God. And if you are not—well, too bad for you.

Jesus has rejected that ancient belief—more, he has inverted it. It’s part of the world that Jesus turns upside down. Not to exalt misery for its own sake, but to teach us the love of God and of neighbor, love that goes beyond intellectual precept into action.

In Jesus’s day, the way to wealth was filled with compromise and collaboration with the “domination system” of the Roman occupiers.

In our own day, we are similarly hemmed in by our choices—the television show The Good Place points out that acts that are on their face innocent—buying organic fruit, for example, or a cellphone or a tablet—enmeshes us in the exploitation of workers around the globe, and in their suffering.

Like Jesus’s audience in today’s Gospel, we cannot find a morally pure way to exist in our society.

But we can oppose what Gore called the “abiding sources of misery and strongholds of tyranny.” The call of Christ was not, first and foremost, to believe a doctrine, but to live a life. The first name of the Church was simply “the Way.”

And that way calls us as to live a life that is grounded in love. Not an emotion, but a promise. A promise to treat everyone we engage with as enshrine in our hearts and a fundamental concern for the well being of every other person—and to work in our various ways what to make as nearly as impossible as it may be the exploitation of the weaker by the stronger.

If we are complacent in our wealth, and believe it is ours because we are righteous—than woe on us indeed.

If we are full, and do not do not acknowledge our duty to do what we can to alleviate the suffering of the hungry—then, again, woe to us.

If we complacently rejoice, and just shut out the moral complexities and tangles of our interconnected, overly burdened planet, then, yes, woe to us.

Because when we do these things, we are closing our eyes to reality, and turning away from the costs of our comfort to others who are not as lucky as we are.

We would be part of the moral order Jesus repudiates—the simplistic notion that good things happen to good people, and that privilege equates to moral worth.

But if we use our privilege to work toward a more just world, to oppose exploitation and oppression, then we are alive to the inconvenient truths around us. If we truly wish to walk in the way, we must confront the fact that we are all tainted by the world we live in, and are all complicit in its violence and exploitation—but facing that fact and promising to try to build a better world means that we choose, by every act we take toward changing those conditions, large or small, we stand with the God whose redemptive love is over us and within us, and we will be answering, each in our own small way, God’s call to stand against the forces that crush the vulnerable and injure the little ones loved by God. [5]

And, when enough of us join in the effort, we just may see the world turn upside down.

The Kingdom of God is just that, and we are told that it is within us.

So let it out. Turn the world upside down.

And rejoice.

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

____________________________

[1]-[3] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, at 5 (2019)
[4]Gore, The Reconstruction of Belief at 624 (1926).
[5] Gore, Christ and Society, at 165, et seq. (1928).

Monday, February 4, 2019

In The Castle of the Forest Sauvage



We begin:

An older boy, leading his foster-brother, angrily tries to fly a hawk, who flaps away, itself in a mood. The hawk will not be taken willingly, and heads deeper into the dark, frightening forest near the boys' home, the Forest Sauvage. The older boy, angry at himself, his brother (who warned him), and the hawk, storms off home. The boy follows the hawk into the depths of the Forest Sauvage, and pursues, even as the shadows lengthen.

The world changes.

***

As a better writer than me once put it, " I really didn't know. I wasn't sure. You lose sight sometimes. Thank you!"

I've been revisiting T.H. White's original, uncut, unblemished, "fully rounded, bright and done," The Sword in the Stone, and it is every bit as glorious--no, it is far more glorious than when I read it as a child. Seriously, it is a beautiful book.

But you must read it alone and apart from the compilation volume The Once and Future King. Brilliant though that volume is, comprising the two sequels, and a final book, The Candle in the Wind, that only appears in the tetralogy, the edits White made to Sword lose much of the grand daylight sense of whimsy and anachronistic comedy that make the original so special. The lost set pieces--Merlyn dueling Madam Mim (White's original cries out for Michelle Gomez to play the mad, funny, beautiful-but-deadly villainess), the rescue of Morgan le Faye's captives (Morgan as a jaded 30's sophisticate (Constance Bennett, perhaps?), whose sunglasses blot out what she doesn't want to see), and the lyrical visit to the kindly snake T. Natrix--the inserted materials from the aborted The Book of Merlyn are well worth having, but not in Sword. They are a harder, older man's writing, the writing of a man whose hope in his kind is flagging, and the sunset of that uncompleted volume is bright, but not like the dawn-filled sky of White's first Arthurian romance.

No. Read the original or go home. And do not watch the Disney movie. Wait for a proper adaptation (Michelle Gomez required!), or read the original--aloud, if you can; this marks two books I have read aloud to myself for the savor of the language. The Christmas dinner and Boxing Day boar hunt are beautiful in ways that I simply missed as a child, as a youth, as a young man. Now, ensconced in middle age, I laugh at Sir Ector--but for him, too. King Pellinore, Robin Wood, and, most surprisingly, William Twyti, King Uther's gnarled and wiry huntsman, strike different chords in me now. (I defy you to read aloud the boar hunt, and remain dry-eyed at “He [Twyti] said, 'Good dog, Beaumont the valiant, sleep now, old friend Beaumont, good old dog.' Then Robin's falchion let Beaumont out of this world, to run free with Orion and roll among the stars.” )

But White's use of language is extraordinary throughout. Here he is, setting a scene, and creating a song another man would simplify two decades later:
These marvels were great and comfortable ones, but in the old England there was a greater still. The weather behaved itself.
In the spring all the little flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang; in the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed; in the autumn the leaves flamed and rattled before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory; and in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned into slush
Such gems are freely strewed by White throughout the novel; here's White describing the young Arthur (called the "Wart" because he's illegitimate (so everyone thinks), after falling asleep in the woods:
The boy slept well in the woodland nest where he had laid himself down, in that kind of thin but refreshing sleep which people have when they begin to lie out of doors. At first he only dipped below the surface of sleep, and skimmed along like a salmon in shallow water, so close to the surface that he fancied himself in air. He thought himself awake when he was already asleep. He saw the stars
above his face, whirling on their silent and sleepless axis, and the leaves of the trees rustling against them, and he heard small changes in the grass. These little noises of footsteps and soft-fringed wing-beats and stealthy bellies drawn over the grass blades or rattling against the bracken at first frightened or interested him, so that he moved to see what they were (but never saw), then soothed him, so that he no longer cared to see what they were but trusted them to be themselves, and finally left him altogether as he swam down deeper and deeper, nuzzling into the scented turf, into the warm ground, into the unending waters under the earth
Not a bit of showing off to be seen; the similes enrich and convey the feeling White wishes to convey, concretely.

Among all the character beats (on Sir Ector's "proper" son, Kay: “He was one of those people who would be neither a follower nor a leader, but only an aspiring heart, impatient in the failing body which imprisoned it.”), apothegms, the comedy, the call-backs (or forward; Merlyn lives backwards in time), and may have been Sherlock Holmes in the 1890s), comes the single best advice I have found in a book:
“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.”
There speaks a man who has battled his own demons with curiosity, books, keen observation.

And then read the rest, The Witch in the Wood, The Ill-Made Knight, and then return to the omnibus, and read The Candle in the Wind. And don't neglect The Book of Merlyn, because this last gasp of White's Arthurian genius, as the Second World War engulfed, and threatened, everything he believed in, White manages one last affirmation of humanity:
He [Arthur, now in old age, the night before his final battle] caught a glimpse of that extraordinary faculty in man, that strange, altruistic, rare, and obstinate decency which will make writers or scientists maintain their truths at the risk of death. Eppur si muove, Galileo was to say; it moves all the same. They were to be in a position to burn him if he would go on with it, with his preposterous nonsense about the earth moving round the sun, but he was to continue with the sublime assertion because there was something which he valued more than himself. The Truth. To recognize and to acknowledge What Is. That was the thing which man could do, which his English could do, his beloved, his sleeping, his now defenceless English. They might be stupid, ferocious, unpolitical, almost hopeless. But here and there, oh so seldome, oh so rare, oh so glorious, there were those all the same who would face the rack, the executioner, and even utter extinction, in the cause of something greater than themselves. Truth, that strange thing, the jest of Pilate's. Many stupid young men had thought they were dying for it, and many would continue to die for it, perhaps for a thousand years. They did not have to be right about their truth, as Galileo was to be. It was enough that they, the few and martyred, should establish a greatness, a thing above the sum of all they ignorantly had
The Book of Merlyn closes with a dedication to Sir Thomas Malory, and asks prayers for his soul, and that of his humble disciple (White himself), who now "lays down his books, to fight for his kind."

The books are extraordinary, unlike any others in literatureI have read.

The story begins with a boy, chasing a hawk, into the Forest Sauvage, where he meets an old man (or a young man?) who will be his tutor.

Begin.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

“You Have Kept the Good Wine Until Now”: A Sermon on John 2:1-11

[Note: Due to technical glitches, this sermon text lacks the usual links, block-quote formatting, and italicization. As Anglocat Central is moving within the next two weeks, I hope these difficulties will be solved by then. Apologies for any lack of clarity as to what is quoted and what is original material.]

Delivered at St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York City
January 20, 2019

Long ago, in a town called Cana, a man named Jesus attended a wedding. He was a religious leader of a kind, and those who were trying to walk the way with him, to live a life in harmony with their truest, best selves, joined him at the wedding.

Well, as seems to fit a perennial pattern, the guests got drunk, and the wine ran out.

Having been a host, and a guest, at weddings, let me assure you that a large number of drunk people who are suddenly cut off tend to become less than ideal guests.

Normally, this wouldn’t fall within Jesus’s purview. But His mother was there, also, and that’s when the trouble begins.

“They have no more wine,” she tells him, and his first response is a neat little blocking shot; basically, he says, “Why is this my problem,” and then adds, a little inconsistently, that his hour had not yet come anyway. Also, he addresses her as “Woman,” which I’m sure helped out. I tried that little gambit when I was a kid after hearing the story in religion class, and I’m only here to tell you about it, because Mom was too busy laughing to smite me.

Mary is unflappable. “Do whatever he tells you to do,” she says to the servants, and she exits the story. So not only does Jesus make a whole new supply of wine, it’s so much better than what they’ve been serving that the steward thinks the bridegroom is an idiot for serving the cheap stuff first, and wasting this great wine on these drunk unruly guests who would find antifreeze perfectly acceptable by this point in the evening.

It’s a strangely mundane, almost funny, beginning to Jesus’s public ministry, the first of his signs—the Gospel’s word for miracles—being the saving of a party, because Mom put him on the spot.

But it’s only funny if we look at it through modern eyes. The bridegroom will be disgraced if he fails in hospitality, and Mary knows this. Jesus doesn’t deny her claim on him, and he doesn’t take it lightly that she is trying to salvage the event from disaster.

And I really wasn’t kidding about how that drunken crowd could have turned angry.

In other words, a celebration, a feast, a social norm of bounteous hospitality which the guests were entitled to expect, were all about to be violated, with all kinds of social consequences—humiliation and social ostracism of the bridegroom and his new wife, spilling onto their families. Loss of social cohesion, of the glue that holds the community together.

Instead, the bridegroom ends up with an enhanced reputation for exuberant, open-handed generosity—he doesn’t run out, and in fact, he doesn’t serve cheap wine as the event’s going into overtime! Nothing but the finest for his guests! In an honor culture, that kind of generosity can make you a legend.

Oh, it was just a small town wedding, not an epochal historical event, but Jesus’s bemused intervention saves the community from fracturing.

As our own National community, based on unwritten norms sometimes feels as if it is fracturing. We can all point to different instances of community fractures, but my attention was drawn by this weekend’s march for life, disfigured by a group of high school students who surrounded a Native American man, chanting a song as part of the Indigenous People’s March. The videos of students from Covington Catholic High School, ostensibly there to urge the protection of life, aggressively chanting “Build that wall” at Nathan Philips, a Native American veteran of the Vietnam War, paint a picture of mere anarchy, a center that cannot hold.[1]

It’s a long way from the Wedding at Cana, but these days, Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming,” resonates in my mind:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

It feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?

The federal government has been shut down since December 22—tomorrow, when we celebrate the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will mark the end of the first month of the longest shutdown in American history.

800,000 federal employees, furloughed, or, worse, forced to work indefinitely without pay.

The State of the Union Address?

Cancelled, or indefinitely postponed, or reduced to a written homework assignment.

Which is not a bad reflection of the fractious and dysfunctional—no, sorry, it isn’t even dysfunctional, it is simply non-functional state of the union.

And the focus of all this chaos? A wall, to separate us from our neighbors to the South. After all, as Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

But Frost didn’t say that. He was quoting his neighbor, with whom he annually repaired the wall between their homes, who had adopted the maxim from his late father. Frost’s response is “to

Wonder if I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down."

On this Sunday before Martin Luther King’s Feast Day, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you to think of whom we are walling in, or walling out. Of to whom we are like to give offence, with our wall to only one border, while the northern border remains free and open. Of the harms this internecine war is inflicting on us as a Nation, on those who wish to legally seek asylum, on those who look to us as a Nation to emulate, symbolized by the lady with the torch, a beacon of welcome.

That’s closed too, by the way.

Actually, it isn’t, but that’s because New York State is keeping it open by bearing most of the costs.

The ostensible subject of this stand-off, the Wall, is both a national security policy debate, and a symbol. I’ll leave the policy and politics to those who are competent to address that, draw your attention to the symbol.

A wall is a symbol of divisions that are perpetuated without any real reason for them, as Frost delicately suggests in “Mending Wall.” In Game of Thrones, which some advocates of the proposed southern border wall have pointed to as an analogy, the Wall turns out to separate those who need each other to survive, and, when true danger threatens those who rely on its protection, it is too brittle to withstand the real threat.

As a symbol, whether at Jericho, in Game of Thrones—even in Robert Frost—the Wall comes tumbling down.

That’s because division and discord are not our natural state. Dysfunction, and stalemate are not who we are called to be.

Systems do not shutdown when they are healthy, but when toxicity has reached a critical mass.

And so we have to ask ourselves, what can we learn today from Jesus’s giving in to his mother’s concerns so long ago at Cana?

Generosity of spirit, for one thing. As far as we can tell, Mary doesn’t draw any attention to Jesus from the bridegroom, the bride, or their families. She just goes to her son, and presents him with the problem. And, for all of his not feeling that this is the proper place for him to begin his ministry, he does it.

The time may not be right, but the need is real, so Jesus responds with generosity of spirit, with a sign that nobody other than his friends see, and that the bridegroom gets the credit for.

Second, a sense of humor. Yes, everything I said about the duties of hospitality in the ancient world is true, but there’s a slightly sardonic edge to Jesus here. His words to Mary are slightly barbed, and of course his wine makes the bridegroom’s best taste like the cheap stuff. He throws himself into salvaging the wedding feast, but almost like he cant believe that this is his first sign. I can’t help but think that he had to smile as he watched the restoration of the social fabric, the reproachful steward, that he had to contain his laughter. I think he enjoyed this one—no big splash, no demons to cast out, just some big jugs of water, and a mysterious benefactor who manages to use them to restore harmony to the town.

Third, we don’t have to be miracle workers. In the reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul lists various gifts we are all given, and various ways in which we can serve—but he then adds, “All of these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually, just as the Spirit chooses.”

In other words, we all have our unique gifts, our abilities, we all have our passions, and what we do with them tells us a lot about who we are. But even more importantly, if we use our gifts, our passions, to reach across divides, to make connections, to build others up, rather than tear them down, we can find ourselves looking across our divides as sisters and brothers, rather than as strangers. We can forgive, and accept forgiveness for hurts inflicted on us and by us. We can learn that hate is always foolish, and love is always wise. That takes generosity of spirit.

If we can laugh with each other, at our own foibles, and at the incongruities of life, we can see our commonalities, our shared humanity, and not our differences, and hear what we have to offer one another.

And with that recognition that we can let go of preconceptions and of fear, and find that we are all the beloved children of the same God, and that those divides, those toxins don’t get the last word.
We do.

You do, as the beloved children of God.

In the Name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

[1] Reportage subsequent to the preparation of this sermon has provided more context for the encounter between the studeants and Mr. Philips. The students appear to have been on the receiving end of hostile remarks from a third group, leading Phillips to interpose himself between the groups, in an effort to deescalate the situation. See Sarah Mervosh & Emily S. Rueb, “Fuller Picture Emerges of Viral Video Between Native American Man and Catholic Students,” The New York Times, Jan. 20, 2019, at p. A 13.