Dear Ones in Christ,
I find myself praying for you with with my sighs, my steps, my search for sturdy touchstones like morning walks and quiet evening moments on the porch as the crows fly home. What a complicated time to live! The pandemic continues to ravage nations and families, wildfires and hurricanes are worse than ever, murders continue as systemic racism comes to light more and more on the streets of Portland, and in these days when our nerves are taut and frayed, we cannot get together indoors in church to sing, pray, hug, commune, weep, encourage and serve one another.
Every day there seems to be a new tragedy. How then are we to live?
Professional musicians and athletes know that when in doubt, when the music or the opponent is challenging, it’s time to come back to basics. The repeated lay-up and jump shot, the relaxed hold on the violin bow, the breath and posture as the music begins… For those of us seeking to follow the Way of Jesus, we too hold on to the fundamentals. Paul lines them up well in his “Faith Life 101” letter to the Romans. When he writes to that community, full of new believers eager to learn what it means to walk the Way in difficult and dangerous times, he says:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Our call in Christ is to renounce violence — anything that physically harms any other human child of God. Period. In this moment we think of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Aaron Danielson and so many others. We are called also to be curious about all that lies under the violence – to ask “How has my behavior or my lack of action contributed to the ongoing silencing or pain of others?” Jesus’ life of compassion, healing and resistance points me toward an expanded notion of violence that includes anything that violates the dignity of another. My first instinct too often is to see violence as “individual,” but Jesus helps me see how systems, powers, principalities, and empires can also perpetrate violence. Because what violates human dignity so often operates within the structures, it quietly, stealthily becomes the norm and is overlooked by those of us in power. By naming and renouncing the ways that institutions dehumanize a race, we are also working against deadly violence, and FOR Christ’s peace/salaam/shalom.
A friend’s fourth grade teacher yesterday started her class by saying, “Today’s pandemic has two two faces: the coronavirus which is harming our earth and our bodies, and the virus of racism which has harmed our community and our spirits.” Yes!
Paul reminds us of the basics: following the Way means acting with courage, rejecting all evil and dehumanization, accompanying the stranger, blessing the persecuted, weeping with the weeping, listening to the “lowly,” and holding fast to what is good. It is not a recipe for popularity, for ease and comfort, or for being widely understood in a time of deep division. It IS a way of faithfulness that transcends human understanding.
So, writing from Portland, a city in turmoil but not a city without hope, perhaps a city being cracked open into a new and deeper humanity, I call upon you to pray, listen to voices whose stories have been hidden, reach out via phone or zoom to the lonely, extend hospitality, live humbly, and give time to considering what “wisdom” and “nobility” and “peace” look like in your life. Perhaps you’ve never memorized these verses in Romans, or any verse in the Bible. I would dare to bet, though, that you can name someone whose life exemplified these values. It may not have been written on their intellect, but it was written on their soul, their choices, the bones of their lives. Perhaps their life changed yours. These are the fundamentals of faith, in times good or bad.
Siblings in Christ, may we too grow in grace, mind, heart and soul.
May we be brave in Christ’s love,
Your bishop, Laurie