Whose Story Shapes Your Reality?

your-storyThe theologian James Alison has said of human beings that “we are the animals that tell stories.”  When one thinks of the ways in which we are unlike other animals that inhabit our world, this is surely something that makes us different.   And this story-telling is not just a propensity we have or a habit we indulge.   It’s not just something we do because we like to do it, nor is it something we could choose to give up doing.  For it is precisely this telling of stories that constitutes our reality and makes it meaningful.

The primary way in which we make sense of ourselves and the world around us is through the telling of stories.  Our connection to everything is primarily linguistic.  Most people have no sensible memories before the acquisition of language, for it is language itself that allows us to order the reality around us and to interact with it.  Those who for reasons of disability are unable to engage the world linguistically are still certainly a part of it, but in a limited way.  They find ways to engage, but that engagement seems foreign to most of us.  Because for the vast majority of human beings, our connection to reality is rooted in language.  In order for something to be meaningful, it must be named.  And once something is named, a story can than be told about it.  Our reality is constituted by narrative.

The Judeo-Christian tradition itself points to the centrality of language and story-telling when it identifies the creative power of God with the spoken word.  In the creation stories of the book of Genesis, every thing that is made comes into being when God “speaks” it into being.  “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.”   The ancient writers of the scriptures perceived the power of language to constitute our reality — they knew who they were and the history of their people through the stories that were told down through the generations.   Thus, they easily imagined that the divine power to constitute reality was also rooted in the power of language.

We see this reflected over and over again in the Bible.  The prophets are conveyers of the word of God to God’s people.  The name of God is considered unutterable because to know and say a name implies some kind of power over it.  God and Jesus both give people new names when a new divine calling manifests in their lives.   The Gospel of John is able to say that Jesus is the Word made flesh, the embodiment of the divine creative word spoken of in Genesis.  Language is power — profound and fundamental.  And the great teaching of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and most of the world’s religious traditions are all given by means of story-telling.   Jesus himself tells stories — parables, a particular kind of story — that are meant to collide with the narratives we have already inherited and offer us new narrative possibilities, which have the power to re-shape our lives.

Right now, in America, in the midst of a feverish presidential election campaign, we are all caught up in conflicting narratives.   Different political parties and different candidates promote different stories of what it means to be an American, of what leadership is meant to be about, of what the larger world is like.  These conflicting narratives are nothing less than conflicting versions of reality.  People are captivated or repulsed by one narrative or another, while some attempt to break through these stories with yet other narratives.   All of these competing narratives are seeking to shape our personal stories, the stories of our country.  Indeed, they are seeking to shape the way we see reality.  The person who wins the election in November will be the person whose narrative attracts the greatest number of people.

Those of us who seek to follow Jesus are, like everyone, narrative creatures.  But we have been warned to be wary of the stories people tell us.  Wolves can appear in sheep’s clothing, telling us stories that seem to liberate us but really are meant to enslave us to a particular view of reality.  As Christians, the only story that is truly liberating for us is the story of Jesus.  It is the story in which a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew becomes the victim of powerful elites who create stories that mark Jesus out as dangerous, stories that are sold to crowds of angry and frustrated people to convince them to sign on to Jesus’ execution.   Jesus is turned into a scapegoat for the problems and tensions of his time, and becomes the victim of powerful people who stir up resentment against him in order to deflect people from the real problems that they are facing.

The Risen Christ emerges from that victimhood in order to bring all victimhood to an end. This habit of scapegoating a person or group and making them the target of a society’s fears and frustrations must end — this is, in part, the message of the Risen Christ.  He comes among us to show us a different way, to offer us a different narrative that does not require the making of victims.

And so, as we listen to the competing narratives in this election season, we are obligated as Christians to ask ourselves an important question:  which of these narratives is the narrative of oppression and which is the narrative of liberation?  In other words, which of the stories the candidates wish us to sign on to most closely resembles the narrative of Rome, which led to the victimhood and death of Jesus, and which resembles more closely the narrative of Jesus himself, that is, the story of God’s radical embrace of humanity, setting us free from the need to make victims?

As Christians, we cannot subscribe to narratives of oppression.  We cannot subscribe to the making of victims or the singling out of scape-goats.  We have been claimed by the story of Jesus, we have been claimed by the power of the divine creative word that seeks to bring into being the reign of God among us, that tells a story of love and faithfulness, that speaks good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, love of neighbor as self.  Our primary spiritual work is to make this narrative of liberation the central narrative of our lives, and to act in faithfulness to it.

From the cross, Jesus prayed God’s forgiveness on his oppressors, saying, “they know not what they do.”   The resurrection of Christ shown a powerful light on that moment, so that we might not slip into the darkness of that ignorance again.  Let us look now to that light, that we may not be overcome by the darkness of ignorance again.

What Praying for Orlando Really Means

241In the aftermath of the horrific violence against LGBTQ people in Orlando this past Sunday — as in the aftermath of all the mass shootings in the United States, of which this one was historically the most costly — we have heard people call for prayer.  As a priest, I would be among the first to declare that prayer is important.  But not, perhaps, in the way most people think.

I suspect, based strictly on many conversations with people about prayer over the years, that most people who engage in the practice of prayer do so in the hope of offering some kind of spiritual energy to those for whom they are praying.   That exchange of spiritual energy is, I think, a very real thing, even though it’s difficult to describe and, at least at the moment, impossible to measure.  And, praying for those effected by the murderous rampage in Orlando with this intention is certainly a good thing to do.

I would also suspect that another large group of people who engage in prayer do so with the hope of persuading God to do something.  Indeed, most of the official prayer of the Christian tradition (as with the other Abrahamic faith traditions) uses language that is directed toward this end:  please God, do something.  Engaging in prayer with this intention is problematic, because if God does not do what we ask, we are left with difficult questions that lead us into theological territory that tends, more often than not, to make God look at best, uncaring, and at worst, like a monster.

What most people in my experience seem not to understand about prayer is that engaging in the practice is really about changing ourselves.  If one reads the Christian tradition carefully — and, I would argue, the other great religious traditions of the world — it seems clear that all of the various ways we pray are meant to prepare us for the deepest prayer of all:  the contemplative prayer of the heart, in which we seek nothing but to engage with and be engaged by the Divine Presence.  And, in the context of that embrace, to consent to be softened.  The softening of contemplative prayer — or meditation, if you prefer — is a softening of the heart, mind, and soul.  It is a softening of the ego and of the passions that drive the ego.  It allows us to see the ways in which we suffer, and how that effects our relationships and the way we act in the world.  It shows us the places within us where love is found, but it also shows us the gaps where love is not in us.  And, over time, it seeks to fill those gaps with love — so that we may be totally and completely love.

This way of prayer is, it seems to me, the way in which we most need to pray in response to what has happened in Orlando.  Because we need a softening to happen among us.  We need to step away from the anger and hatred and violent passions that carry us away, and ultimately prevent us from experiencing the Divine.  It is, ultimately, the only way that we can short-circuit cycles of violence and retribution.  It is the only way we can truly deal with the turmoil in our society, which is ultimately a reflection of the turmoil within ourselves.  True peace in our culture can only happen when there is peace within us.

So, indeed, pray for those effected by what has happened in Orlando, and send out your energy to enfold them.  Pray to God — but in doing so, please recognize that we are truly God’s hands and heart in the world, and if we are looking for God to do something, that something must begin inside us, where the still small voice speaks in the vast silent embrace of love that lies at the center of our being.  And so, then, go within, allow God to reach you in the deepest places of your soul, and begin to be softened.  And as you act more and more in the world from that place of softening, so will you become a catalyst for peace.

I wish to end with a quote from the Rev. Paul Fromberg, which captures so well what we who would seek to follow Jesus are left with in the aftermath of all this death and destruction.  What he describes is, I think, both the act and the outcome of this softening of which I speak:

I spent hours thinking of something wise to write, something disruptive to do about the massacre of my sisters and brothers in Orlando. It keeps coming down to the essential truth of the Gospel: Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. This is the most radical starting place for restoring the moral order of society. Jesus taught other-love and not simply self-love or family-love or tribe-love. Living out of his teaching means that the manufacturers of the AR-15 assault rifle couldn’t make weapons designed to kill our enemies. It means that the NRA would have to work actively for the sake of eliminating weapons that are designed to kill our enemies, instead of preventing our elected officials from passing reasonable legislation to stop the sale of killing machines. It means that instead of stereotyping, demeaning and marginalizing members of Islam, we would do anything in our power to protect their dignity and honor. But, as a nation, we do not believe in the commandment of Jesus, not to the point of radicalizing the national conversation about violence. Which is why the only thing I know to do is be converted to the love of God manifest in Jesus, demonstrate that love to everyone that I encounter, and trust that God can empower me in this love to act for the sake of enemies and those who persecute. Love is the most disruptive force in the universe – it always has been and it always will be.

—  The Rev. Dr. Paul Fromberg, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco

The Practice of Hate

teach-girls-end-world-povertyI have never in my life known a time when hatred has been so acceptable.

I cannot remember a time when politics and hatred have had such a close relationship.

Hate has become acceptable in America, even fashionable.

And Christianity has been co-opted to validate much of that hatred.

I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know.  Wherever you get your news, there you will find ample testimony to the well-spring of hatred in our society.  There is no shortage of people from politicians to pundits to pastors who will tell you who you should be hating, who you should be blaming for whatever it is you are angry about.  And there is some recent evidence that all of this hate-speak is fomenting an increasing level of violence in our society, directed against those who are the targets of this venom.

No, this isn’t anything you don’t already know.  The question is, What are we going to do about it?

Fr. Gregory Boyle, the well-known Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles to help people escape gang violence, talks a lot about the importance of kinship.  The development of kinship is, in fact, what he says lies at the heart of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most emulated program of its kind in the nation.  Without kinship, he says, there cannot be peace and there cannot be justice.   Indeed, he says, “If kinship was our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice, we would be celebrating it.”  His insight is simple yet profound:  it is only when we recognize our kinship or intimate connection to others that we can truly become interested in their well-being, including whether or not they are being treated fairly.

It seems to me that when Fr. Boyle talks about kinship, he is talking about what Jesus was talking about when he emphasized the importance of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Very often, I have understood this teaching to speak of a connection between the way I regard myself and the way I regard others.  But Fr. Boyle adds another dimension to this teaching, which suggests that we are meant to see a kinship between ourselves and others.  It is not a kinship that is only to be extended to our family and friends, to those who love us and who are similar to us.  As Jesus said, everybody does that.  But we are to extend our kinship to the whole human family, to everyone we encounter.   That is the way we become interested and invested in the lives of others, and that is the way we truly develop a genuine desire for their well-being.  It is from this kinship that peace and justice truly flow.

We need to stop listening and giving privilege to those voices around us that seek to pull us away from any sense of kinship with others.  Those of us who are people of faith need to insist that our traditions stop being used to justify these voices that seek to prevent us from developing kinship with one another, for these voices are out of tune with the traditions they seek to co-opt.   We must dedicate ourselves to practices that nurture kinship with one another.   For whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the reality is that we all live together or we perish together.  Let us begin to say “No” to the voices that would seek to plant hatred in our hearts and souls, and begin to say “Yes” to the divine voice that points us toward the sacred kinship we share with one another.

In the end, I am convinced that this is the only path that will save us from the hatred that swirls in our midst.

Ethics from the Margins

After two months, the blog is returning from sabbatical — and a great sabbatical it was.  Shortly after it began, there were some significant news developments.  The Supreme Court issued a ruling legalizing gay marriage throughout the United States, and The Episcopal Church’s General Convention cleared the way for same-sex marriages to be conducted throughout the church.  For many, these developments were stunning because they signified victories for which people had been hoping, praying, and working for decades.  For others, they were deeply unsettling, a movement away from what Christians (and other religious traditions) have regarded as sacred tradition for millennia.  The aftermath has not been surprising, really.  Amidst the rejoicing by many, various secular officials have resigned or refused to conform to the Supreme Court’s ruling, mostly citing their own religious beliefs.   And some bishops within The Episcopal Church have announced they will not authorize same-sex marriages in their dioceses — though it seems the General Convention will require them to find a way to make that possible, eventually.

What would Jesus do with all of this?

None of us can answer that question with certainty, of course — though there are many who would like to think they can.  When it comes to marriage, Jesus actually said almost nothing beyond observing why we developed this tradition of marriage between men and women in the first place.    For his time and place, what we now call traditional marriage was normative — just as it has been for us until recently.   And, unlike us, Jesus did not live in a time when that norm was questioned.

But one thing that seems clear to me is that Jesus always did his ethics from the margins.  When he thought and taught about how we should treat each other, he always did so from the point of view of those who were the most disadvantaged of his society.   We see this emerge, for example, in his many debates with other rabbis over the keeping of the sabbath.  In each of those debates, he invariably places human need above law, custom, and tradition.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses all of the people whom we rarely bless.  And in his healing ministry, his attention is mostly directed toward those whose illnesses left them ostracized and on the outside of their cultures and families.  In those acts of healing, the biggest gift he gives people is not the healing of their disease, but the healing of their separation from community and the restoration of their sense of worth, dignity, and even humanity.

What Jesus shows us over and over again is that those in power, those who are privileged, never have the final word on what is right and what is wrong.  Rather, it is the victims of our personal and cultural prejudices who get that final word.  It is those who are the victims of injustice who get to say what injustice is.  Because in truth, they are the only ones who really know.

For the whole of its history, Western culture has marginalized gay and lesbian people, has declared them unworthy or inhuman or disordered or diseased.  They have been killed and imprisoned.  They have been forced to hide who they are and live locked up in unauthentic lives.  The damage that has been done to generations of gay and lesbian people has been profound.

If Jesus were to come among us today, we would find him among the gay and lesbian community, and among all the other people who are marginalized by today’s Western culture.  He would be visiting our churches and angering people with his radical interpretation of scripture.   He would be about the work of telling gays, lesbians, and all marginalized persons that they are beloved, restoring their self-worth and dignity.  He would be doing what he always did:  proclaiming the ethics of the kingdom of God from the margins, and making it very clear that the privileged and powerful don’t have the right to marginalize anyone.

I long ago came to the conclusion that straight people don’t get to say whether gay marriage is right, because they are not the victims of the traditional cultural norm concerning marriage.  Those of us who are in positions of power and privilege must instead look to the gay and lesbian community and ask, “How are you suffering?  And what must we do to alleviate your suffering?”   It is the question we are obligated to ask every marginalized person and group, because it is the only way we will be able to follow Jesus and do as he did:  develop our ethics from the margins, putting human need and the alleviation of human suffering above law, custom, and tradition.

Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”  That should be a mission statement for all Christians:  doing everything in our power to free those who are not free to have and hold the most abundant life possible.

Celebrating Difference, Overcoming Otherness

black_sheepIn the fourth chapter of his book, Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr points to something that lies at the very heart of the Gospel:  that Jesus calls us to celebrate difference while overcoming otherness.

Rohr makes this point while speaking of the way in which Jesus, in John’s Gospel, uses the metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep to speak about himself and his followers.  In the course of teaching about this metaphor, Jesus says,

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

In saying that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold”, Jesus is speaking of people who are different from those he is addressing.  Jesus knows that his listeners imagine that these others are not simply different, but they are other:  they belong to a different “fold”; they are a different people, with different ways and different customs, and so they are other:  alien, foreign, unknown, and thus dangerous.   But the voice of Jesus seeks to draw these others into one “flock”; notice that  he changes terms here, using the word “flock” rather than “fold”.  The flock is a different sort of entity:  it is a collection of folds, a coming together of peoples in a way that does not seek to eliminate difference (Jesus has no desire for uniformity).  But the flock is nevertheless one, because while the differences inherent in the various folds remain, the otherness has been overcome.  The sheep, listening to the voice of Jesus, have learned to celebrate difference while transcending otherness.

The very pattern of Jesus’ ministry, of course, reflects this.  He spends a great deal of his time among people whose differences have made them “others”, and alienated them from their families and communities.  This is often the result of circumstances that are beyond their control, like physical or mental disease or economic disparities.  When Jesus heals such people, when he helps them find divine love and forgiveness, he always sends them back into their communities — back among the people who cast them out for their otherness — and, by so doing, he forces both the formerly other and their community to find a way to reintegrate them, to find a way to overcome the sense of otherness that has been at the heart of their relationship, often for a very long time.

Interestingly, we almost never hear that part of the story.  We don’t know how these outcasts and their families and communities managed this integration.  But we know that the people involved must have been forever changed by the experience.

Modern American culture is a strange entity.  At one and the same time, it celebrates difference while using the very differences between us to keep in place a strong sense of otherness and alienation.  We celebrate the American myth that we are a great melting pot, while at the same time preserving a keen sense of who is “other”.  And, sadly, religious people — and Christian people — are often the best at keeping our various folds from coming together as one flock.

When we really deeply consider the teaching of Jesus, and when we really take in the pattern of his life, the task before us seems rather clear:  celebrate difference, overcome otherness, and stop maintaining the walls the separate us.

Apocalypse Now

crucifixionIf you look up the word “apocalypse” in the dictionary, this is what you find:

a·poc·a·lypse
əˈpäkəˌlips
noun
1. the complete final destruction of the world, especially as described in the biblical book of Revelation.
2. an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.

 

In common speech, when we throw the word “apocalypse” around, we do so with the sense that something devastatingly destructive has happened, something that either ends the world in a literal sense, or that makes us feel as if a particular world that we cherish is falling apart or is somehow threatened. We live in a time that is ripe with apocalyptic thinking.  As people look at the various human conflicts going on around the world, as we begin to appreciate the impact of climate change upon all of us, it’s not difficult to get in an apocalyptic frame of mind, feeling that our very existence is threatened, that our world is about to be destroyed.

Some religious people like to see these troubling times as a sign that God is about to act to bring the world to an end, and that usually involves some theological vision in which God destroys the world as we know it, and probably most of humanity, but saves “the elect” so that they might inhabit a new, glorious, everlasting world that is free of all these troubles.   As the dictionary definition suggests, this vision is usually heavily informed by the images and stories of the Book of Revelation with which the New Testament ends.

People who are attracted to this sort of theology tend to read some of the sayings of Jesus through the lens of Revelation, imagining that when he talks about the return of the Son of Man in glory (what is usually called “the second coming”), he is offering an apocalyptic vision just like that offered by the Book of Revelation:  a world-ending, sinner-destroying orgy of Divine Retribution.

But Jesus never read Revelation, and this kind of apocalyptic thought does not really lie in any way at the heart of Jesus’ teaching.  He is much more concerned with how we live now, with what our relationship with God and with others is like at this moment, than he is concerned about what may or may not happen in the future.  And, it may be argued, when he does speak apocalyptically, he often seems to change the popular meaning of that word.  Take this example from this past Sunday’s Gospel reading:

Jesus said to his disciples, “In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

from Mark 13

In this passage, Jesus puts two things together that don’t really seem to go together, at least when we define “apocalypse” according to its dictionary definition.  He invokes the imagery associated with that common definition (“the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.’), yet immediately after he says something rather remarkable:  “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”

The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that either Jesus was wrong (since it is manifestly clear that the generation he was addressing has passed away), or that he is talking about a different sort of apocalypse than we are accustomed to.  Of course, there are those who would try to find a third path, and argue that “this generation” means something other than those who were hearing Jesus speak these words, but I find that to be too much of a stretch.

Some commentators have suggested that what Jesus is, in fact, talking in apocalyptic language about is his own passion, death, and subsequent resurrection.  And when one reads some of the Gospel accounts of what happens as Jesus is being crucified and after he has died, that imagery also sounds rather apocalyptic (darkness covers the land, the temple curtain is mysteriously torn in two, earthquakes occur).  Yet, clearly, no world-ending, sinner-destroying event has occurred.  So what sort of apocalypse is this?

The etymological meaning of the word “apocalypse” is actually rather different from its dictionary definition.  The Greek from which the word comes actually means “to uncover”.   So, in the word’s original sense, an apocalypse is an uncovering of something previously covered up.  And I think it is in this sense that Jesus employs apocalyptic imagery.

For Jesus wishes his disciples, and those who have followed them, to understand that his passion, death, and resurrection — and, indeed, perhaps the whole of his life and death — are uncovering some very important things that were previously covered up.  In this drama, we see God show up not as the conquering military figure that is usually pulled from the pages of Revelation, but rather as the vulnerable human being who surrenders to our violence.  And that act of surrender not only uncovers a very different sort of God than the one who often lives in our imagination, but also uncovers some rather unpleasant truths about human beings, like the way in which we make others whom we fear or hate or don’t understand into our victims in order to preserve our own sense of the order of things, or to maintain our position.  In the death of Jesus, we see God uncovered as the One who joins the victim rather than the victim-maker.

And yet, the resurrection of Jesus uncovers God’s deep love and compassion for the victim-makers, for in the Risen Christ God shows up not as the avenger who will destroy those who sinned against him so violently but as the victim who forgives and who, through that very act of loving forgiveness, invites us out of our violence, out of our victim-making ways (thanks to James Alison for uncovering this for me!).

In this season of Advent, we hear a lot of apocalyptic language in church, and it tends to drive our thoughts toward the “second coming” of Christ and some kind of Divine Retribution that Christ will bring to deal with the world’s troubles.   But I think this understanding is very far from the teaching of Christ, who seems to see in his own death and resurrection the apocalypse that really matters:  the uncovering of inconvenient truths about ourselves coupled with the opportunity to move beyond ourselves into a different way of being human.

When we consider the latest violence of the world — Ferguson, Oakland, Syria, Iraq, climate change, human trafficking, and on and on — I think we should indeed see them as apocalyptic events.  But not in a world-ending, sinner-destroying sort of way.  We should not imagine them as signs that God is about to show up and kick some butt.  Rather, we should look at them through the apocalyptic lens of Jesus, and see them as events that uncover truths about ourselves and our world that many if not most of us would rather not see.   We should see God in the victims that emerge from these struggles, and recognize that the Christ whose birth we are about to celebrate came into the world to uncover these very realities, to get us to see them clearly, and then to give us the power to live differently.

So Now What?

What is unfolding in Ferguson and St. Louis County, Missouri, in the aftermath of the Grand Jury’s decision is on the minds of most of us as we move toward Thanksgiving.  I am reminded about how impossible it is for me to enter into the experience of the African American community:  I cannot know what it is like to step out of your house everyday with the knowledge that simply the color of your skin can place you in harm’s way.   I am reminded of how impossible it is for me to enter into the experience of the poor:  I cannot know what it is like to not have enough to eat or not have adequate housing.  The reality is that I am incredibly privileged.   But that does not mean that I cannot listen to the voices and stories of those whose experiences I cannot enter.  It does not mean that I cannot learn from them, and find my way through that learning to a deeper compassion and empathy.  It does not mean that I cannot focus on the common humanity that unites us all.   And out of that listening and learning, out of my own place of privilege, I can witness to the injustice and inequality of our society, and find ways to try to change that.

I can find no better words in response to what is happening in Missouri than the words that the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, Dean of the Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) in St. Louis wrote to his congregation, and so I share them with you:

I have said before that there are three types of journeys — tourist, mission and pilgrimage.

As tourists, we go on the journey to consume — goods, services, experiences. As missioners, we go on the journey to effect change — to make the place we are visiting better.

Then there is pilgrimage. As pilgrims, we go on the journey to be changed.

I wrote yesterday that this is only the next stage in an ongoing journey that began well before August 9 and will continue for years after.

We can approach this journey as tourists — consuming the experience as it comes to us on TV and social media. We can approach this journey as missioners — and have as our goal to make the world a better place. These both have their place. Particularly, I believe there is a mission aspect to what the present moment calls us to.

But I want to suggest Christ calls to approach this journey as a pilgrimage — to have as our goal to be changed ourselves.

Friends of mine who have gone on pilgrimages like the Camino de Compostela in Spain have shared that the most remarkable thing is not the steps you take but the people you take them with. It is the sharing of stories, the breaking of bread and the mingling of prayers along the way that is the true sacrament of the pilgrim.

They have shared that the real gift of a band of pilgrims is that even though everyone is walking the same steps, they are all in very different places and as long as none expects the other to be exactly where they are, they can push and prod one another, challenge and chide one another, love and share with one another, and they will all go deeper into the journey together. They will all be changed.

The key is recognizing that we are walking on holy ground — not so much the literal earth beneath our feet, but the holy ground of each other’s lives. That is where Christ enters in.

We arise this morning with the images of the night that is passed still burned in our brains. The feelings we had last night will resurface again — that is the nature of trauma — and they will be joined by new feelings and they will link up with feelings from long ago.

As with the pain and rage and conflict that was expressed on the streets of our city last night, we will have a choice of how to express those feelings. We may be sorely tempted to lash out violently at those who feel differently from us or whose thoughts or mere presence taps into old and deep wounds. We may be tempted to run away and hide — not only from each other but from ourselves.

My fervent prayer is that we will do neither. My fervent prayer is that we will take the pilgrim’s way. That we will continue to travel together and share with each other as openly and honestly as possible the breadth and depth of what we are feeling. But do it without the violence of personal attacks. Do it with the invitation of Christ that proclaims vulnerability as strength and love as the most powerful force for healing the world has ever known.

My fervent prayer is that we will recognize that one of our greatest gifts on this journey is one another, each other’s stories, the breaking of the bread and the mingling of the prayers. That we will listen deeply to each other and hold each other gently as we share these together. And that the other greatest gift on this journey is Jesus, who walks with us and whose story, presence in the breaking of the bread and the prayers is the common ground for the pilgimage we are on together.

My fervent prayer is that we walk this way together with Jesus. That we walk it willing not just to change the world but to be changed ourselves, knowing that is where the most profound change for the world will occur.

We do not need to be all of one heart and mind and this time. But we do need to keep coming together as fellow pilgrims and laying our lives on the table together and trusting that Christ will take us and make us new — not merely for ourselves but for the life of the world.

Yesterday, I invited you to stop, wherever you were, and pray a prayer. I’m going to do that again. But I hope you will not just pray it yourself but feel all your sisters and brothers in this community praying it with you. Ask God to bind us more closely together. Ask God to use us and change us. Ask Christ to be our companion on the way.

And so right now, wherever you are, I invite you to stop. And pray.

Breathe out all your anxiety. Breathe in peace. Breathe out. Breathe in.

Come Lord Jesus. Come fill our hearts. Come fill the streets of our city. Come fill us with courage. Come fill us with peace. Come Lord Jesus. Fill us with trust in you.