Jun 5, 2020

In Good Faith: The Language of the Unheard

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about race, racism, and that which is swirling in our country these days.

The Language of the Unheard

Last week, as part of a year-long parish program on race and racism at our predominantly
Photo by Brooke Bartletta
white church, one of the facilitators, a beloved African-American parishioner and retired dean at Northeastern University, shared with us a powerful quote. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, once said to the noted feminist Bella Abzug on the topic of racism, “Until you really feel as angry about this as I do, ain’t nothing gonna change.” 

I know we are all hurting and frustrated and angry about the injustices that have been revealed, once again, in the lives of our sisters and brothers of color. If you are a person of decency and conscious, let alone faith, this has been a heartbreaking moment in our common life. 

Unfortunately, none of this is new. Racism is deeply embedded in the very foundations upon which this nation was built. This isn’t to belittle a country we all love, rather it’s simply stating objective fact. From the genocide of indigenous people to slavery to segregation, the injustice and indignity with which people of color have been treated is well documented. It has also mostly been ignored by those who’ve written the history books and thereby relegated to the ghetto of white consciousness.

But this past week, the curtain that hides so much racism and violence and degradation and inequality from the eyes of many white people has been torn apart for all the world to see. Between the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the rising death toll of this pandemic unduly felt in communities of color, white Americans are witnessing something of the reality that people of color live with each and every day

The inevitable and righteous bubbling over of emotion reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. once proclaimed that, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” For too long, so many of us have been deaf to the cries for justice that emanate from the voiceless. The act of protest, of agitating for change, is the language of the oppressed. And it is being spoken right now loudly and passionately and with profound clarity. 

Of course, the destructive violence that has, in some cases, accompanied peaceful protests in cities around the country must be condemned. But the greater condemnation must be reserved for the sin of the systemic and insidious racism that continues to plague this nation leading to inequalities in education, employment, health care, housing, wealth, and government representation.

All of which is to say that I encourage your anger. We may not be able to feel it at such a visceral level as our friends of color who fear for the very safety of their children and grandchildren every time they leave the house. But for those of us who are white, we must speak out when we see and encounter racism. It’s not easy; it’s uncomfortable; it won’t make us popular in certain circles; we may lose friends on Facebook; it may make for awkward family dinners. But this is a tiny cost when weighed against the burdens of those whose entire existence is defined by discomfort.

When we do stand up for racial justice, when we say no to treating others as ‘less than,’ when we start to incorporate some of that anger into our very souls, we can slowly, if haltingly, begin to exact real change. A change that must begin within ourselves, before it can spread into the bloodstream of our community, our nation, and our world.

May 8, 2020

In Good Faith: Filling Bare Cupboards

In my May In Good Faith column, I write about the balance between virtual and hands-on ministry during a time of pandemic.

Filling Bare Cupboards

I read an article this week in a British church publication with a pretty damning headline:
YouTube sermons will not feed the hungry.” The young Vicar’s point was that while churches are spending a lot of time figuring out how to live-stream their services, that can’t be all they’re focused on. People are suffering during this time, and we have a moral obligation to meet their physical as well as spiritual needs.

She’s right, of course — although her context is different from the suburban one in which I serve. She ministers to a small, impoverished, mostly elderly parish in London, many of whose members are unable or unwilling to watch online services. She reminded her readers that, “Staying at home is wonderful — when you have a home, with electricity, and food, and a job, and access to the internet, and are computer literate.” And that streaming worship, while important, assumes “that everybody is in a safe and comfortable home setting, and, therefore, the only need to be met is a spiritual one.”

Now, I’d argue that physical needs are spiritual needs. But one of the great needs to emerge out of this pandemic, here on the South Shore and all over the world, is the issue of food scarcity. People are going hungry. People who have never had to use food pantries before are lining up for groceries. Hoarding is driving up the prices of food staples and the ones who can least afford the increases, because of rampant unemployment, are unduly suffering. 

Church leaders can’t simply fiddle with the Wi-Fi while ignoring the increasingly loud cries for help. To address this in our own community, I spent time this week working with our Outreach Ministry to turn our church into a community food drop-off center. We now have bins outside our doors where people can drop off groceries and volunteers are lined up to make regular trips to the three local pantries we support. 

You can log onto our website at www.stjohns-hingham.org for more information. You’ll also find the list of needed items and we ask that you limit your purchasing to the following for now: condiments, cooking oil, cereals, canned meals, pasta, sauce, peanut butter, jelly, boxes of macaroni and cheese, crackers, soups/soup mixes, tuna, instant mashed potatoes, rices/side dishes, Bisquick, flour, Spam, canned hams, oatmeal, toilet paper, Clorox wipes, soap, laundry/dish detergents.

If you’re unable to physically drop off items, but still want to help, you’re invited to donate financially to these pantries — the information is on our website. Either way — dropping off food or making a donation — this is holy work and I encourage your participation.

Faith has always been lived out on the continuum between contemplation and action. We pray, but we also serve. We worship, but we also live out our faith in the world. I like to think of worship as a slingshot that propels us out into the world to do good. We need both sides of the spiritual coin now more than ever. 

And, of course, the streaming of online services and the feeding of the hungry cannot and should not be mutually exclusive. As we are invited to both love God and love neighbor, we can’t help but be comforted even while offering comfort to others. Thank you, if you’re able, for helping to ease the burden of those in our midst who are experiencing unprecedented hardship right now. That’s ultimately what faith is all about.

Apr 19, 2020

Quasimodo Sunday

Today on the Facebook Live Sunday morning pre-game show, I mentioned that the Second Sunday of Easter is also known as Quasimodo Sunday. This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of liturgical minutia and I thought I'd take a brief moment to explain why. 

The name has nothing to do with a certain French hunchback BUT there is a connection to Victor Hugo's character. I'll get to that shortly. 

But the reason the Sunday after is Easter is called Quasimodo Sunday is because of the Latin introit traditionally sung at the beginning of the liturgy: Quasi modo geniti infantes. It's translated as "like newborn infants" and comes from the second chapter of the First Letter of Peter, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation."

The reference is to those who were baptized during the Easter service, whether infants or adults. New Christians live into their baptismal vows throughout their lives and this is a prayer for spiritual maturity.

In The Hunchback of Notre DameMonseigneur Claude Frollo finds the deformed, abandoned child inside Notre Dame Cathedral on the Sunday after Easter. That's right, on Quasimodo Sunday! 

In Hugo's words, Frollo "baptized his adopted child and called him Quasimodo; whether it
was that he chose thereby to commemorate the day when he had found him, or that he meant to mark by that name how incomplete and imperfectly molded the poor little creature was. Indeed, Quasimodo, one-eyed, hunchbacked, and bow-legged, could hardly be considered as anything more than an almost."

So there you have it. A connection to the famous novel, but Quasimodo Sunday is much older than Quasimodo the fictional character.

Oh, and if you're curious about the Latin introit, you can listen to it here.

Apr 15, 2020

In Good Faith: The Accidental Televangelist

In my April In Good Faith column, I share the experience of becoming a televangelist. Which reminds me, I really do need to find Bryna some fake eyelashes...

The Accidental Televangelist

I never thought I’d say this but…I’ve become a televangelist. On Sunday mornings I preach
into the lens of a video camera, encouraging my online flock, coming to them live from a makeshift church studio. Virtually overnight, I had to reinvent myself as the Joel Osteen of Hingham. Minus the private jet and the sickeningly sweet message that goes down like cotton candy but quickly dissolves into nothing.

None of this is by choice, of course. We’ve been streaming our church services on Facebook Live and through our website ever since we had to shut down in-person worship. On Easter, “Let us pray” was replaced with “Quiet on the set!” 

Although we are worshipping virtually right now, there is nothing “virtual” about our faith. This world needs God’s love more than ever right now. And it needs us all to share God’s love with others.

That whole “love your neighbor as yourself” thing? This moment in our common life cries out for the embodiment of this command. Not with hugs or hand holding, but by praying for one another, by sharing our resources with those in need, by reaching out to those who are isolated and alone, by supporting those who are on the front lines of this pandemic, by making masks, by staying home, and even by watching your pastor morph into a televangelist. 

I do mourn the loss of our communal interaction amid this time of social distancing. I miss gathering with friends, I miss seeing my beloved parishioners and worshipping with them in person, I miss sitting in the stands at baseball games, I miss writing at my favorite coffee shop. But all of these temporary measures are acts of love. They are ways of loving our neighbors as ourselves. And they serve as stark reminders that true love always involves sacrifice, which is what the story of Easter is all about

I will say that our online worship has been surprisingly interactive. One advantage is that people can share comments in real time. And so we can pray by name for someone’s uncle who has been hospitalized with COVID-19, or for a child’s grandmother who is living alone, or for the first responders and health care workers who have been risking their lives to serve others. For me, these interactive prayers serve as glimmers of glory in the midst of a rather painful time; reminders that God’s love may stand in stark relief to global anguish and isolation, but it doesn’t stand apart from it

I’ll probably never fully embrace the full-on televangelist vibe. Sure, like everyone else, my hair’s getting longer, but I can’t imagine it’ll turn into a Jimmy Swaggart-worthy bouffant. I haven’t started referring to St. John’s as my own personal Crystal Cathedral. My suits aren’t shiny, I don’t have a 900 number, and I exercised great restraint in not inviting people to touch the screen and be healed during the Easter service. 

But until we gather together again as a congregation, I will continue to embrace technologies that keep us connected. And I’m reminded again and again that the church is not a building, but its people.

Mar 21, 2020

The Top 10 Reasons to Attend Online Church

During this unprecedented time, many faith communities around the world are gathering online for worship. While this is no one's preference, it is an important way to hold congregations together and keep people connected to one another. 

At the parish I serve, we're holding Sunday services at 10:00 am via Facebook Live on our Facebook page. It's not exactly a liturgy with high production values, but it comes from the heart. Clergy, parish staff, and volunteers everywhere are doing the best they can in this brave new liturgical world.

But, you have to admit, there are some advantages to gathering online for worship. Here's my Top Ten List -- add others if you have them -- and see you online!

The Top 10 Reasons to Attend Online Church 
1.  You can wear your PJs to church.

2.  Drink coffee DURING the sermon to stay awake.

3.  Hungry? Don’t wait for coffee hour. Grab that donut RIGHT NOW!

4.  Every Sunday is the Blessing of the Animals.

5.  Bad hair day? Who cares!

6.  You can scroll through Facebook during the “boring parts.”

7.  La-Z-Boy > Uncomfortable pew.

8.  Seven year itch? “Cheat” on your pastor by tuning in to another church’s service without even breaking one of the 10 Commandments!

9.  No kneeling. Or standing, for that matter.

10. Keeping connected to God and your community during this unprecedented time.