Baltimore, Daily Office, Mark, Musings, Prayer, Suffering

Remembering Frederick Douglass: Daily Office Reflection

February 20, 2017

Epiphany VII (Psalm 106:1-18; Ruth 1:1-14; 2 Corinthian 1:1-11; Matthew 5:1-12)
Alternative Readings (Psalm 85:7-13; Isaiah 32:11-18; Hebrews 2:10-18; John 8:30-32)

Many of the readings today seem to fit so well with the life an legacy of Frederick Douglass, whom the Episcopal Church commemorates toda. If you don’t know about his life, a quick Google search will do the trick. He is an inspiration and a figure that continues to speak to us today as a prophetic witness.

I have been reading through Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and I was struck by this quote from Douglass:

In the darkest hours of this era, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass saw his health fade just as everything he spent his life fighting for was falling apart. He said, in his last great public lecture, delivered in Baltimore in January 1894, a year before his death, “I hope and trust all will come out right in the end, but the immediate future looks dark and troubled. I cannot shut my eyes to the ugly facts before me.”

-Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 791-795). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This quote has been haunting me over the past weeks, and I think it is because it embodies so much about what Christian hope is about. Douglass did not ever shy away from the stark realities of his day. Nor did he simply have a “sweet by and by” hope which would allow him to ignore such facts for the sake of focusing on heaven. He named reality as he saw it and proclaimed reality as he saw it could yet be. This, it seems to be, is the essence of the prophetic task. His words remind of St. Paul’s to the church in Corinth as he suffers. He is able to name what their sufferings are while also naming his hope for their to be fruit and rescue.

Over the past weeks, I have seen more darkness and trouble than I can remember being aware of in the past. And I have felt the impulse to want to shut my eyes to the brokenness and evil around me. Sometimes it just feels easier to ignore it, to self-medicate with television, or to lose myself in books. But I cannot. And, if I want to maintain truly Christian hope; I dare not close my eyes to the suffering of this world. To hope all will be made right in the end is to also come to terms with all that is not right, both within me and in the wider world.

What evils do you tend to ignore or explain away in yourself or around you? What wrongs in the world feel overwhelming and insurmountable? How can our God bring comfort to you here? How could you proclaim a good message of true Christian hope to yourself or those around you?

 

Collect for Commemoration of Frederick Douglass

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of people to a deeper obedience to Christ: Strengthen us also to speak on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, restored, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “The restorer of streets to live in”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day. (It looks like the site was down earlier this morning, but should be up now)

February 6, 2017

Epiphany V (Psalm 80; Isaiah 58:1-12; Galatians 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41 )

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Wow. It was hard to decide which passage to reflect upon today. And this one from Isaiah is so rich.

I had the chance to participate in a prayer vigil/information session yesterday afternoon at a church in our neighborhood. It was organized in response to some recent events of violence against our Latino brothers and sisters and the growing distrust and fear from many within immigrant communities of law enforcement. It was a beautiful and educational time for all of us as we heard from police, city agencies, and organizations who all seemed to be saying one thing: your livelihood is important to all of us–here are the tools and resources for you to navigate life here and thrive. We are fighting for you. We see you and we want you to flourish in our city. You matter.

As we walked from the church to the place where the most recent violence took place for a candlelight prayer vigil, I began to speak with one of the other clergy. We discussed the overall state of the church in their particular denomination in our area, and the word “burdened” kept coming up. But the churches were not burdened as much by the realities of their neighborhoods as they were with buildings and budgets and inactive/apathetic members. And, I would add, also burdened by political debate and theological hair-splitting and arguments. (this is true for too many churches/denominations, so I level no judgment at all against this particular tribe)

We both discussed how we are grateful for those churches and leaders who are finding themselves burdened by the plights of their neighbors, of the prevalence of injustice and its consequences, and the daily bread of every one of us. We had mutual friends who are in the trenches, doing the work of ministry in, of, and for the neighborhood.

In reading today’s texts, I am wondering what modern-day “fasting” looks like (the fasting Isaiah condemns). When Isaiah spoke against the fasting which does not please God, I wonder if today he would bemoan our aging church buildings which sit empty most of the week but have pristine sanctuaries. I wonder if he would speak up at the budget meetings or church council and ask where the money is going to feed the hungry and to work against injustice, as they vote to start yet another capital campaign. I wonder…

What if we believed that, when we care for those whom God cares, that God will rebuild and restore all of us? Is there a freedom awaiting us as we move from “institutional survival mode” into risky and radial hospitality? Is there provision for us as we shift from finger-pointing and fist clenched in anger to open hands offered in service? What could this look like?

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Finally, I think the Collect prayer for this week is apt for today:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

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Daily Office, Musings, Prayer, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “A house of prayer for all peoples”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

February 3, 2017

Epiphany IV (Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38; Isaiah 56:1-8; Galatians 5:16-24; Mark 9:2-13 )

Isaiah 56:1-8

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

2 Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
The Lord will surely separate me from his people;
and do not let the eunuch say,
I am just a dry tree.
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

First, I’m sorry for the gap in posts this week. I got a pretty serious cold that knocked me out for a few days. So…to the both of you who read this (one of whom is my mom!), my apologies! 🙂

This has more recently become a favorite passage of mine, as I continue to see how much Isaiah had a huge influence on Jesus’ conception of his own ministry (and how some NT writers picked up on other themes in Isaiah). It is clear that Jesus has a heart for the outcast. And even though he spends much of his ministry amongst the Jewish people, he has a strong disposition toward those who are excluded.

I’ve often heard this passage as a reference to a world mission impulse and perspective. Jesus quotes part of this passage as he overturns the money changing tables in the court of the Gentiles. The idea is that such activity was keeping the nations (ta ethne-Gentiles) from worshiping in the Temple. God’s intent is that all people groups from all over the world should worship him. And this is true.

However, Isaiah mentions two groups of people specifically: eunuchs and foreigners. These are the people who Yahweh wants to be in “in my house” and “in my walls” and on “my mountain.” The salvation of the Jewish people, the ingathering of the exiles, is directly tied to the inclusion of the “others”, both within their tribe and from other tribes. The presence of the eunuchs and the foreigners during the worshiping activity of the Temple is meant to be a sign that points to the future reality of the kingdom.

And the call for the people of God is to maintain justice and do what is right, which seems to at least mean inclusion of these groups of people. Those who are most disadvantaged and outcast and those who don’t belong. And we would agree with this…in principle. But what about in practice?

You see, the thing about the money changers is that they were actually providing a service. Or at least they thought they were. But the service had become oppressive and encroached upon the place created for the “others”. Commerce and transaction had replaced welcome.

Are there places where we have pushed out the other? Are there institutions (religious or otherwise) which may actually alienate and exclude in the name of proper order? Have we replaced doing what is right with doing what seems proper or efficient?

And then there’s this whole emphasis on the sabbath…but we will have to save that for another time.

 

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Daily Office, Musings, Neighborhood, Prayer, psalms, Scripture, Suffering

Daily Office Reflection: “Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”

If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.

January 30th, 2017

Epiphany IV (Ps. 56, 57; Isa 51:17-23; Gal 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37 )

Psalm 56

1Have mercy on me, O God,
for my enemies are hounding me; *
all day long they assault and oppress me.

2They hound me all the day long; *
truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High.

3Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.

4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can flesh do to me?

5All day long they damage my cause; *
their only thought is to do me evil.

6They band together; they lie in wait; *
they spy upon my footsteps;
because they seek my life.

7Shall they escape despite their wickedness? *
O God, in your anger, cast down the peoples.

8You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle; *
are they not recorded in your book?

9Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight; *
this I know, for God is on my side.

10In God the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can mortals do to me?

11I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God; *
I will present to you thank-offerings;

12For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet
from stumbling, *
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

 

Fear is such a powerful emotion and force. I think this is why God has to tell people to not be afraid so often (well over 100 times, by many accounts).

But sometimes I have an issue with the command, “Do not be afraid.” It reminds me of the Bob Newhart sketch where he is a psychiatrist. As he listens to someone pour out one of their deepest fears, his solution is simple: STOP IT! Stop being afraid of that! Just stop!

Is that what God is inviting us to do? Just to stop being afraid? I don’t think so. And, if that’s what you are doing, I would ask…how is that working out for you?

Fear is not something we simply stop. It is not something we dismiss or ignore. It is something we admit and explore. Why are we so afraid? What are we so afraid of?

For the psalmist, I would say there are some legitimate fears. Enemies attacking. People conspiring against him. Oppression and bullying. These are very real things of which to be afraid. For me, this brings my mind and prayers to the many refugees who have been leaving their homes in search of safety, and are being denied access to safety.

But, I’d argue that others of us may have different fears. We do not have literal enemies who are hunting us down. But we do live afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of loss. Afraid of being found out. And many, right now, are afraid of people coming into the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Many of my neighbors live in constant fear of being separated from their families because of their undocumented status. Many of my neighbors live in fear of people of a certain skin color or economic status. Others of my neighbors fear they are “losing the neighborhood” to those who are different from them. Fear is alive and well in my neighborhood.

And as the great Yoda once said: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Read this in your best Yoda voice, I hope you did. Mhmmm….)

As I said, fear is a powerful emotion and force. But the answer is not just to stop being afraid. No, the good news is that we can, instead, trust God. Whenever we are afraid, we have the opportunity to trust in God. And this is not some simple spiritual answer. Trusting in God gives us an imagination for ways in which we no longer have to live in fear. We can trust that God is at work. We can trust that, when we afraid no one cares about our pain, God holds our tears in a bottle.

So, if we are free to trust God in place of our fear (and even in the midst of it), what could our life look like today? What is the “fear story” you are living from today? What does God want you to know about him or who you are, in the midst of this fear? How could we respond to the good news that God is speaking to our fear?

For me, God is saying: “Derek, I see you and I see the suffering of the people in the world I have made. I see and I hear and I grieve. You are free to join me in my grief; a grief that grieves in hope and does not leader to anger or hate. You are free to weep and act from a place of love, not hate or bitterness.” So today, I will simply notice where I sense anger/hate/bitterness in my own heart or words.

Today, own your fear, and ask…what could it look like to trust in my fears?

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Baltimore, Musings, Neighborhood, Rooted, Suffering

Thoughts from the Justice for Joe Rally

I was honored to be a part of such a stirring support of Mr. Joe tonight. Mr. Joe (Yogesh Sheth), was shot and killed during an attempted robbery at his Mini Market Deli & Grocery store, a mere two blocks from our front door. He worked in Highlandtown for 25 years. He was killed May 1, 2015. The police have given no new information since the first 24 hours of the incident.

His family invited me to share a few words, and here is (mostly) what I said.

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I want to begin by thanking Ms. Meena Saywack and Teresa from Matthew’s Pizza who invited me to come and share some thoughts with you today.

I know some of you here, but I realize many of you may not know me. My name is Derek Miller and my wife, Kara and I are newer to Highlandtown, having only been here a few years. But we live a mere two blocks from this place, I serve as a neighborhood pastor at Gallery Church Patterson Park and serve on the board of our Highlandtown Community Association.

But today, I am merely a neighbor amongst my other neighbors. In spite of what has happened here and the many challenges we face as neighborhood, Highlandtown has become my home; a place that I love and believe in. I can’t claim to speak for all of us, nor would I even attempt to today. But I will share what I have seen, what I see now, and what I hope for for our community and for Mr. Joe’s family.

Like many of you, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news of what happened here to Mr. Joe. I was working with other neighbors, still cleaning up and recovering from the aftermath of the looting which took place mere blocks from here. I saw the police helicopter swooping over us and someone received word that there was a shooting on Highland Ave. I immediately ran up to see what had happened, and came across Mr. Harry and Miriam, in the midst of a flurry of police activity and crime tape. I couldn’t process what had happened. So many were in shock. The grief settled in for many of us waves. I still remember how numb I felt in trying to explain to others what had happened, as the concerned crowd grew. We talked and cried and prayed together. I didn’t know what else to do. To this day, I still don’t know what else to do but talk and cry and pray.

In the days that have passed, we have all grieved in our own ways. We have experienced anger, fear, confusion, indignation, and intense pain. This is normal but it is painful, there is no doubt about that.

What keeps me moving forward are showings like that of today. We, in spite of our differences, all have a deep desire for justice to prevail in our neighborhood. We want Highlandtown to be a place where businesses can operate without fear of senseless violence. We want a better story for those who come here from other places to seek their own welfare and the welfare of their community.

So I grieve today, but I have great hope. It is my own belief that God is capable of bringing amazing beauty and life out of the most despicable and ugly situations. That is my prayer and hope for Mr. Joe’s family and friends. It is also my hope for Highlandtown; not only for justice but for peace and prosperity, knowing that they are all linked together. I invite you to continue to work for the welfare of our neighborhood, and to continue to stand in solidarity with those who, like Mr. Joe’s family, have experienced such great loss. There is beauty and hope to be found there, as we share our pain and hope with each other.

We do want justice for Mr. Joe and we continue to implore the police and government officials to exhaust any and every opportunity and resource to bring those who committed this senseless crime to justice. I encourage all of you to sign the ongoing petition, if you haven’t done so already, which urges our police dept and all our representatives to do their jobs and not forget about what we remember every day we walk by this store. In the meantime, I commit myself to being more connected to our local businesses and neighbors. I regret that I did not take enough time to know Mr. Joe as well as so many of you knew him.

I wonder what we could accomplish if we all were able to support one another like this in the future. I wonder what our neighborhood could look like if we all lent the same support as we are showing today in both good times and bad. I commit to doing my best to support you as a long-committed neighbor.

Thank you all for being here, and may there be justice for Joe…

Please consider signing this petition, which will be handed directly to the Police Commissioner.

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awakening, church, city, Musings, Suffering

Suffering | Two Quotes

I’ve had some conversations with friends about the concept of suffering. This is a great mental exercise until you actually have to go through it, and then…well…it’s pretty terrible.
I would love your thoughts or experiences on this issue as it relates to the following quotes:
Two quotes:
The first is from a very conservative professor that I had. He said some pretty quotable stuff (i.e. at the end of class, he said the following: “‎If God spares the United States of America, he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. Be safe.”)–but that’s not the quote I want to focus on…it’s this:
If you have never shaken your fist at the sky, do not covet the experience; it will come. Never look into the eyes of someone suffering and say “God has a reason” or “Someday you will understand”. Both are lies. It is a grave invitation to offer comfort that is not true. The Lord comforts those who are in pain, but he does not do it through deception. The answer to human suffering is that there are no answers. We are not going to understand. The result of living in a fallen world where everyone dies.”
And the second:
“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”
— Thomas Merton
Thoughts?
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Musings, Suffering

A Year in Three Days: A Personal Story

(This was originally written 4 months ago, yet I now have the courage to post it)

Culturally, we love to celebrate and observe things in increments of years. Birthdays, anniversaries, memorials, holidays, observances; they all come and go in a year’s time. There is something within us that marks the passing of time in cycles. Because as much as our lives are linear, they are cyclical. It almost grounds us, helping us to feel as though there is still constancy in the courses our lives take. The seasons come and go each year. Even the Christian calendar has a rhythm.

Yet this year has been one of the most odd passings of time I have ever experienced. Twelve months have passed. Yet somehow I feel like I have fit a lifetime in them. The months, weeks, and days themselves are not longer. But it seems like I have fit 12 years within them.

Yet they have passed, as time does…regardless the pace. For me, they have passed slowly and quickly. They have dragged on and they have flown by.

Why? Because it has been a year of Eucharist.

 Betrayed. Broken. Abandoned. Poured out. Defeated. 

I remember what happened in my chest when the woman I had promised to love and cherish for the rest of my life, sat me down and said simply, “I do not love you anymore. I am leaving.” She said it like she would say, “We are out of milk.”

And then she left. And she kept leaving. She stayed gone. There is no need to go into any details beyond this, other than to say she made it clear she was gone and in no way wanted to come back.

To feel as though you have no control over a situation is one of the worst in the world. There was nothing I could say. There was nothing I could do. She left.

And I was devastated. The world around me was not immune, either. As these things go, when one person breaks relationships, the ripples extend out farther than we can know. I spent a lot of time just seeing the ripples and grieving over them.

The extent to which I felt grief, pain, sorrow, anger, and fear cannot be overstated.

I grieved. I remember sitting in my room in eerie silence. I wanted to scream out all of these things to God. It was hard to even speak. Often I found myself without words. I even quoted Jesus, somehow the Aramaic felt more intense. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani. (My God,my God, why have you forsaken me?)

But then, quietly, without fanfare or warning, resurrection happened.

It is curious to me why Jesus did not rise until the third day. I have heard some explanations, but nothing that seems, to me, satisfactory. Only, perhaps, that there was a day for everything.

A day for death.

A day for grief.

And a day for new life.

God began to create something new in and around me in ways I could not imagine; in ways I am still discovering. Songs were written from the desert. I found a renewed passion for people. When I was not seeking it, God brought me a woman who loves me, cares for me, and is passionate about caring for the people around her. She is a gift. Even thinking about this brings tears to my eyes. God is so gracious.

Yet there is this task of Eucharist: the command of Jesus to remember Him and proclaim his death.

Jesus said that when we drink from his cup, we proclaim his death until he comes.

Jesus also asked one of his disciples if he could drink the cup that He was about to drink.

Could it be that the way we proclaim Jesus death until he comes goes beyond drinking grape juice or chewing a stale wafer?

Could it be that we proclaim his death by enduring suffering? That is, entering the cycle of Eucharist. Broken open, poured out. Feeling empty and being filled again.

Could it be that a year (or a life, for that matter) is really three days? Death. Grief. Resurrection.

Repeat.

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