Following the Jesus Way: Connecting faith practice and strategy for moral, just action at Episcopal City Mission’s 174th Annual Meeting

Episcopal City Mission convened our 174th Annual Meeting on Saturday, October 27th, 2018.

The Annual Meeting, called to order by Bishop Alan Gates, gathered its members and partners, 80 people representing more than 30 parishes and more than ten grassroots organizations from eastern Massachusetts, to pray together, connect communities and elect three new Board members: the Rev. Noble Scheepers (Trinity, Marshfield), Carolyn Chou (Asian American Resource Workshop), and George Whitehead (Grace, Newton). We also lifted up the leadership of our outgoing Board members: the Reverend Jack Clark, the Reverend Matt Stewart, the Reverend Marisa Egerstrom, Erin Alarcon, and Bill Haynsworth for their faithful service.

Outgoing ECM Board member Reverend Jack Clark shared the theological and moral imperative for following Jesus’ Way of Love in a time when heightened hate and division are being provoked and unleashed against vulnerable communities. The Reverend Arrington Chambliss, ECM’s Executive Director, laid out our strategic plan to faithfully and boldly express our mission to build relationships and collective power across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for racial and economic justice as the expression of God’s transforming love through: Mobilizing, Developing and Funding prophetic leaders in Episcopal communities, grassroots organizations, and faith-rooted organizations. For more information on the strategy presentation, click here.

We gathered insights from our members through the Question Formulation Technique to inform and shape the Develop aspect of ECM’s work: developing the leadership of clergy and lay leaders to act for racial and economic justice. ECM staff will use the information to hone our strategy in December 2018.

Finally participants were invited to act. Representatives from nine grassroots initiatives, ranging from accompanying immigrant neighbors with Beyond to building a solidarity economy with Boston Ujima Project to developing faith-based organizing skills with Episcopal City Mission and anti-oppression training with the Mission Institute. A full list of organizations and action opportunities can be found here.

During ECM’s Annual Meeting we learned of the horrific violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Gathered by Bishop Gayle Harris’ prayerful leadership, we prayed and grieved with our brothers and sisters and recommitted ourselves to stand in love against racist and anti-Semitic hatred and violence.

We are grateful for all the members who joined us!

IMMIGRATION JUSTICE - GET INVOLVED, AUGUST 30TH

As a result of unjust immigration policies there is currently a high need for people to accompany, represent, and offer pastoral care to people in our immigration system. Come and learn how you can get involved in the work of accompaniment and immigrant justice on Thursday, August 30th. Opportunities are available for anyone interested - especially lawyers, clergy, and anyone interested in volunteering! Join us for wine, hors d’oeuvres, and an informational session about how to get involved in this pivot work in partnership with Episcopal City Mission.

Open to the Public
WHERE:  St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
34 North Summer Street
Edgartown, MA 02539

WHEN: Thursday, August 30, 2018
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

RSVP: For More Info and to Reserve Your Spot, please fill out the form below or contact
The Reverend Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Esq.
Amy@EpiscopalCityMission.org
www.EpiscopalCityMission.org

2018 ANNUAL CELEBRATION REFLECTIONS

ECM CELEBRATES OUR 2018 AWARDEES - COURAGEOUS FAITH AND SPIRITUALITY-ROOTED LEADERS WORKING FOR IMMIGRANT JUSTICE. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEXIE TORRES, THE REVEREND DOROTHELLA LITTLEPAGE, AND ST. PAUL'S NEWTON HIGHLANDS, CLICK HERE!

Thank you for attending Episcopal City Mission's 2018 Annual Celebration, Prophetic Hope: The Soul of the City, and for making the evening such an inspired night. It was the launch of the renewed focus of our strategic plan and we are delighted that you could be part of this important milestone. You can see photos from the event on ECM's Facebook page - even if you do not personally have a Facebook page!

While the evening was very special, we welcome your feedback and reflections about opportunities to enhance the event even further. Please take 5 minutes to give feedback on the event through this short survey.

Today, we witness moral crises at the highest echelons of our political leadership as our President equates asylum seekers and refugees with pests and shamelessly supports the elimination of the most basic constitutional due process protections that residents enjoy. These developments have happened against the backdrop of children of all ages being separated from parents and detained in cages in warehouses. Families have arrived at our borders fleeing violent persecution, death threats and grinding poverty. Why else would anyone consider coming to this country with their children at this time? These unjust practices deny the humanity and dignity of those who have risked their lives for safety.

In this difficult and challenging moment, ECM calls on each of us to embrace prophetic hope through action. Join a Families Belong Together rally this weekend, join a prayerful and educational evening on the North Shore; find solace at a local house of worship this weekend or join ECM's advocacy work as we vigorously advocate for just and equitable pathways to citizenship; or make a donation to our campaign.

ECM's vision is that every detainee in Massachusetts must have effective counsel and be known and accompanied through the difficult process of establishing permanent residency.  Statistics show 68% of people detained by ICE are ultimately allowed to remain in the US when they have access to legal counsel and can mount their case from outside prison walls.

Our ambitious and immediate funding goal is to raise $500,000 to increase the number of lawyers available for this challenging work and to engage parishes and communities of faith to walk with their brothers and sisters as unabashed allies in this difficult time. Click here to contribute today.

Please stay in touch and let us know about how you manifest hope through action. See this action alert from ECM about more ways you can taking action and keep families together today.

We take comfort in remembering the prophetic words of Cornel West who implored us to "Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public." May we each find opportunities to publicly demonstrate love in the coming days as we take steps toward justice.

We are so grateful to be joining you to demonstrate love doing justice.

The ECM Team
The Rev. Arrington Chambliss
Natalie Finstad
Ellen Sheehy
Yani Burgos
Caroline Weeks
Lily Luo
The Rev. Dr. Michael Melendez
Dan Gelbtuch
The Reverend Amy Whitcomb Slemmer

We Are Rising: An Easter Reflection from Ashley Anderson of the Crossing

About a year and a half ago, I was riding my bicycle down Commonwealth Avenue on a brisk morning, a poster slung around my shoulder bearing a quote from Fr. Daniel Berrigan, a longtime peace and justice advocate, “Your faith is rarely where your head is at and rarely where your heart is at. Your faith is where your ass is at.”

I was part of a small group of faithful young people who trained to commit civil disobedience in West Roxbury. The energy company Spectra was building an extremely dangerous and unnecessary gas pipeline that would bring fracked gas into Boston. The City of Boston was suing the company, but Spectra had begun building the pipeline anyway. We were part of a group of folks seeking to slow construction. We gathered early in the morning to pray and run through logistics. Then, we marched to the site where they were digging and we linked arms, walked under the construction tape, and sat down in a circle. We sang,

“When the world is sick,

can’t no one be well,

but I dreamt we were all beautiful and strong.”

After about an hour, a local pastor came up to us and said that the police had asked us to leave and would let us go without even a ticket if we got up and left. Each one of us spent some time in silence, until eventually, we nodded to each other. We would stay in our circle, arms linked, singing songs and sitting in our joyful resistance.

We were each, in our own ways, combatting our despair. Despair for the Earth, despair for the damage being done by anthropogenic climate change, despair for our neighborhoods risking their safety for this pipeline. We were seeking the rising up of our own souls in a doomed landscape.  

As we were arrested, we sang. We sang in the van and we sang in jail. We sang because our souls had been set free, at least for the moment, from late-stage capitalism’s death-logic.

The pipeline was built anyway. And yet, amidst the destruction and ongoingness of climate chaos, we arose. And all around us, like crocuses through the snow, the people are rising. Amidst the war and oppression, we are rising. Amidst the budget cuts and flooding, we are rising. Amidst the impossible, we are rising. Won’t you join us?

--------------------------------

You can join the local climate justice movement in fighting a new pipeline in the Back Bay. Contact ashley.thecrossing@gmail.com for more information.

Ashley Anderson is a graduate of Boston University School of Theology and School of Social Work. She is committed to cultivating joy, curating creativity, and pursuing justice. She loves The Crossing's commitment to seeking God at the intersection of community, social justice, and liturgy. Ashley enjoys urban gardening and hanging out with her dog, Pope Joan. 

Note: 

Welcoming Silence, Welcoming Grief: A Holy Saturday Reflection from the Rev. Arrington Chambliss of Episcopal City Mission

This last day of the forty days of Lent is one of silence.  Altars are still stripped of candles and crosses. There is no Holy Communion or preaching.  We are just with ourselves in the wake of the reality of Good Friday, the violent death of God-with-us.  Words and actions fail to capture the mystery and importance of the holy emptiness on this Saturday.

I believe the wisdom of this day that finds a particular expression in the Christian tradition is essential for our common lives and for the work of creating whole communities.

Many years ago, I was a part of a spiritual activism fellowship with an organization called stone circles. I joined an impressive group of eight leaders from different spiritual traditions – Diné, Jewish, Christian, Lakota and Buddhist.  During this time, my relationship with a beloved partner was ending. I cried between every session. I had difficulty focusing or seeing that I belonged among this group of powerful leaders. I was a mess; my heart was breaking and I could not contain it.

One of the leaders, a healer and teacher from the Diné tradition, pulled me aside and generously welcomed me and my grief.  She thanked me for being willing to grieve and shared that in her tradition there was a teaching that we must cry the tears of seven generations of our grandmother’s uncried tears to heal the world.

Her loving kindness and acknowledgement of our common humanity contradicted how I had been raised in white, middle class southern culture – hiding grief and those more unsavory bits of being human. Making space for all aspects of my humanity; she opened the way for my healing and the group’s fuller connection. And I was able to find my spiritual leadership and wisdom born from the truth of grief and loss and brokenness acknowledging it as a natural part of the human experience,  not meant to be experienced in isolation, but with others.

I believe this is also the wisdom of Holy Saturday. Easter new life and liberation are preceded by Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  How do we pause to acknowledge the small and large deaths in our personal and collective lives? How can I become more comfortable with silence and all aspects of being human including the grief, emptiness and uncertainty that draws me into more wholeness? How does this healing wisdom impact our work for justice?  

The promise of Easter, the promise of a Love that defies death, becomes more poignant and real, as we learn to sit with death and the heart break and emptiness of Holy Saturday.  The Spirit promises to breakthrough Though we will not know the truth of her promise, unless we become comfortable with the silence and waiting of Holy Saturday.

----------------------

Arrington was the co-founder and former Executive Director of Life Together. Ordained to Episcopal Priesthood in 2004, she served five years as Assistant/Associate Rector with the Church of St. Andrew in Marblehead, MA. Prior to ordination, she founded No Ordinary Time, an organization that worked primarily with young activists, artists and faith-based leaders to integrate faith, spirituality and reflective practice into their social justice work. Past work includes the National Community Service field for Campus Outreach Opportunity League (COOL), a campus organizing project; and Project Leadership Education Employment Opportunities (LEEO), an organization aimed at channeling the leadership skills of gang-affiliated young men. She is particularly interested in the intersection between the inner work of contemplative prayer, reflection and healing and the outer work of nonviolent action, reconciliatory dialogue, and community organizing to bring about social change and with God's help, grow the kingdom of God on earth.

Arrington was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She holds a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School. She lives in Jamaica Plain with her partner and seven-year old daughter.

Notes: 

We, Too, Shall Be Raised: A Good Friday Reflection from Luke Abdow of Life Together and MCAN

Recently, the song “Drop, Drop, Slow Tears” came on while I was listening to a playlist of hymns. I love this piece. Its slow, beautiful, relentless harmonies. I’ve listened to it countless times, yet this past week I was hearing the words anew. The first verse reads: “Drop, drop, slow tears / and bathe those beauteous feet / which brought from heaven / the news and Prince of Peace.”

The Prince of Peace. At those words, I was instantly brought back to Christmas. To being in Maryland with my mom’s family, to the lard-fried potatoes on Christmas Eve I wait for impatiently each year, to gathering around the piano to sing carols, to winter, to snow.

In the liturgical calendar, we are just days from the Crucifixion, and it feels like the Incarnation was mere moments ago. In hearing those words, it struck me that Jesus’ life of 33 years was short, and our celebration of that Earthly life, from Incarnation to Crucifixion, is even shorter —made more apparent by the persistence of cold temperatures and snowfall through the end of March this year.

This Lent I’ve experienced reminders of the shortness of life. It has been a season of death and dying in which I’ve lost my grandmother and ended a significant and beautiful relationship.

In this season of grief, I’ve been reminded that the only true constancy comes through radical dependence on God alone. Part of my practice (and let me assure you, it really is just a practice - a constant repetition of falling off and getting back on) of radical dependence on God is attempting to let go of that which keeps me independent from God. Sometimes, I’ve discovered, it’s habits and lessons I’ve been learning from a young age — to measure my worth in terms of my productivity, to make judgements of others depending on what they look like or where they come from. Sometimes it’s the internalized dominance built up inside of me that keeps my ego healthy and safe, but fractures my relationships with others. Sometimes it’s people that I cling to or am scared to let go of.

This Lent, while all around me, it feels, is death, the promise of new life is nevertheless present. In the days leading up to my grandmother’s death, amidst many consoling words and prayer, the most pastoral and comforting thing I read was on page 507 of the Book of Common Prayer. It begins: “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too, shall be raised.” This small, italicized note — practically a footnote to the main text — was what I needed to read to understand that it’s OK to let go, it’s OK to let death happen, it’s OK to say goodbye. Because in God there will always be new life.

I’ve come to understand this radical dependence through a process of letting go as deeply necessary in our work for justice in the world. Our outer realities will always be confined by our inner limitations and constrictedness. In a world that preaches accumulation and upward mobility, can we understand letting go to be a counter-cultural practice that is necessary to create the coming of the Kin-dom? I believe it is. Like Jesus, who emptied himself and accepted death on the Cross, practicing surrender and letting go is what will take us from here unto the Resurrection.

-----------------------------------

Luke Abdow is a community organizer at the Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN), and a second-year fellow in the Life Together program. At MCAN he works to engage people of faith and values and religious communities across the Greater Boston Area in campaigns for racial and economic justice. His primary focus over the past year has been immigration justice. Originally from Amherst, Mass., Luke first came to Boston for college, and after spending a year in Senegal and France, came back to Boston and eventually came to  Life Together. In the program, he has discovered community organizing, contemplative prayer, and community life all to be practices he is excited to continue exploring.

Whoever Receives: A Maundy Thursday Reflection from Ellen Sheehy of Episcopal City Mission

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
John 13:3-5 (New Revised Standard Version)

Here we are again…where did the 40 days of Lent go? A snow day here, a work deadline there, some tax preparation and a family visit, poof, Easter is upon us!  All those good intentions for giving up, taking on, praying, centering, deepening…and now it’s Maundy Thursday. Nothing new for me…seems like I always count on the Holy Triduum as a chance for a fast-track Lent.  Would it not be so, but this is a pattern…maybe next year, I’ll break it. But, for now, I cherish the last-gasp chance to prepare for Easter by walking with Jesus from the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem to the upper room for the Passover feast to the cross.

This year, I am focused on really imagining myself in that upper room with Jesus and the disciples. I am particularly thinking about Jesus’ humble act of washing the feet of the disciples.  This symbolic act — part of many Maundy Thursday services — makes me deeply uncomfortable and to be clear, I don’t participate…my feet are misshapen, surely there is lint between my toes, and to boot, my feet are super sensitive...and they may well be smelly, too! I squirm in the pew and try to become invisible until this part of the powerful Maundy Thursday service is done.

I get it. Jesus wants us to be humble servants and shows us by his example of literally washing the disciples’ feet…but I don’t need to bare my tootsies to understand what he is teaching, do I?  I understand the context of this ritual — the roads were dusty, they wore sandals. And, rather than being under a table and out of sight, their dirty feet were in full view as they reclined to eat. By performing an odious (and likely odoriferous) task reserved for the lowly, Jesus models servant behavior...but is that all there is to Jesus’ lesson? Is it only about service?

Peter was initially horrified at the idea that Jesus would wash his feet--he couldn’t imagine letting Jesus do that. "Peter said to him, 'You will never wash my feet.' Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.'" (John 13:8 NRSV) Once again, Jesus turns the situation on its head...the consequence of refusing Jesus’ humble service is not simply dirty feet.  "'Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.'” (John 13:20 NRSV)

As we continue on our journey for justice, let us remain humble and remember our own human frailties and shortcomings and be open to both receive and spread God’s love every single day.

Why Are You Here?: A Lenten Reflection from the Reverend D. Littlepage of the Roxbury-Dorchester Mission Hub

I was recently at a training hosted by Prophetic Resistance Boston (Mass. Community Action Network). During this training, we did an exercise in which we were to listen to someone’s story and ask them: “Why are you here?” Once the person responded, we were to ask again, “Why are you here?” And after their response, ask a third time, “Why are you here?” The threefold questioning pushed me to dig deeply into my initial responses about the importance of people of faith being involved in the work of justice and my desire to be a part of that work. Yes, you believe that to be a faithful Christian means being active in working for justice, but “Why are you here?”

Since that training, I’ve been paying more attention to why I engage in acts of justice making. With so many organizations and communities doing good, hard work of trying to make God’s love manifest in the world around us, how do I choose? On what criteria do I base my decisions on how to best use my time? Why participate in this event rather than another one? When I show up to a space, am I clear about why I have decided to show up?

It is important for we who engage in justice work to be in touch with the deep reasons why we do it, not just as a way to prioritize our efforts, but also as a way to make sure that we are engaging justice work in a just way. If I’m just showing up without a connection to my why, I am at a greater risk of engaging the work in a way that perpetuates unjust systems of oppression. Being connected to why I show up grounds me and allows me to engage in justice work with humility, perseverance, and hope.

During this Lenten season, I invite you to join me in connecting or re-connecting to the most core reasons why you engage in justice work. Why are you here?

-----------------------------

Reverend D. Littlepage is a priest and the Executive Director of the Roxbury-Dorchester Mission Hub. 

Thou Art With Me: A Lenten Reflection from Yani Burgos of Episcopal City Mission

I went for a walk around my neighborhood in Quincy recently after one of the many winter storms. A bit above freezing, I felt the warmth of the cloudless sky on my head, through my hat. There was debris of various kinds among the slowly melting mounds of snow - trash not collected, hunks of branches, ‘for sale’ and ‘for rent’ signs from houses.

As I walked, a trash bin bounced with the wind and landed right on the street, and I couldn’t help but laugh. It stood right next to the curb, as though holding a parking spot for a vehicle not yet arrived.

Picking up the trash bin and moving it closer to its home, I wondered what the impact of this simple action would be. Would it end up back out on the street after I turned my back? Did it belong at that house at all? Will the wind pick it back up to explore new space altogether? I smirked at what felt like such strange questions and kept moving - it just felt clear that something had to be done.

Although small, my interaction with the bouncing bin has moved me to wonder...what would it take to trust that, like the bin, my very being will be supported by community? By God? So often, I make the choice to be guarded and closed, struggling alone, in the interest of self-protection - or to not burden another. And I have also felt the warmth of a helping hand when life throws unexpected curveballs. As we continue to move through Holy Week, I am pushing myself to remember that even on the coldest, windiest of days, thou art with me.

------------------------------

After being introduced to community organizing as a teenager, Yani Burgos has committed her life to community-led social change. For the last 10 years, she has explored how might different communities work together to build power, particularly among folks of color and LGBTQ+ communities. Prior to Episcopal City Mission, she worked with Mothers Out Front, supporting the mobilization of mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers to ensure a swift transition away from fossil fuels. Yani received a BA in American Studies and Government from Smith College. She lives in Quincy, and enjoys finding innovative ways to use a slow cooker, chanting on the beach at sunrise, and searching for the latest and greatest in sneaker fashion trends.

Email: yani@episcopalcitymission.org

God is Found in the Everyday Moments: A Lenten Reflection from Carolyn Chou of the Asian American Resource Workshop

I grew up in one of those big stone Episcopal churches. One of those churches with old wooden pews, stained glass windows, big parish hall. I am so grateful to have grown up in a progressive community of faith, centered in faith, tradition, and reason. But as I have moved away from the church of my family and my childhood, I am grateful to find faith and God outside of the walls of a stone building – in the small moments, in the air around.

When I came into movement work, it felt so far from the faith in which I was raised. I felt burnt and burnt out by formal religious institutions and found home in communities of young people of color with the vision to change our city and country. This Lenten season, I am reflecting on this quote by Octavia Butler, and I am committing to redefining my faith within my social movement context.

“All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
is Change.

God
is Change.”

-Octavia Butler

God is Change. God is found in the everyday moments, in the conversations and connections. I am committing to centering conversations and practicing deep listening this Lenten season. To seeing holiness in the way each conversation and each connection changes me and how I impact the world around me. I am committing to taking my faith outside of the walls of the church and into the social movements in which I find home, knowing that building a new world is God’s work, remembering that God is Change.

------------------------------

Carolyn Chou is a queer, mixed race, Chinese American woman who is committed to working in Asian American communities and building grassroots power and solidarity with other communities of color. Carolyn currently serves as the Executive Director of the Asian American Resource Workshop where she supports the programming and organizing work of the organization led by our amazing staff and manages AARW's fundraising and operations with Janet and the Board. Previously, Carolyn served as the Director of Programs of AARW and was a STRIDE Postgraduate Fellowship recipient from Harvard College. Carolyn was politicized as a college student at Harvard College, where she was deeply involved with the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA). At PBHA, Carolyn worked with recent immigrant youth in Dorchester through the Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment (BRYE) program and supported after school, summer, and advocacy programs led by students and community members.

They Are Singing Your Song: A Conversation with the Rev. Moses Sowale of Grace Chapel Brockton

The term “prophetic voice” always comes alive for me when I am able to speak with the Reverend Moses Sowale of Grace Chapel in Brockton, MA. I knew when I began ECM’s Lent story collecting campaign that I wanted him to be a part of it. When I invited him to share one of his stories, he said that making the time to write would be challenging for him, so I had the fortune of Facetiming with him on March 1. This piece is an adaptation of our conversation.  

Caroline Weeks: The season of Lent is often one of self-examination. Is there anywhere you feel called right now to examine yourself? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a self-effacing thing.

Rev. Moses Sowale: This Lent, I have been reflecting on a poem by Alan Cohen, called “They Are Singing Your Song.” It has themes of being known, self-examination, self-awareness - a theme of identity, of discovering who you are, apart from expectations, approval, and what you are labeled as. We don’t know who we are, we have been subjected to stigmas, stereotypes, all forms of conjectures - many of us want people to know us but we don’t know ourselves.

When we look at the last words of Jesus on the cross - “Father, forgive them, for they do not know [what they do]” - I am reflecting on our ignorance. What is that costing us? Father, we don’t know ourselves and don’t know others - it brings fear, suspicion.

In the Old Testament, the reason Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites was that he did not know these people, he was afraid they would become so great they would take over the land. He called on his counselors for suggestions, and they called for him to kill the Israelites - kill all the males and let the girls live. The root of all this was ignorance. The Book of Exodus opens with “There was a king who did not know.” Ignorance precedes fear, precedes oppression, precedes insecurity, because we don’t know - we’re scared.

When Jesus said his last words, even when he was talking about himself, he was also speaking for me. He spoke to our need for creating room for our own ignorance of ourselves and ignorance of others about us. True salvation, true liberation, can’t happen until we understand two things: forgiveness, and to know and be known.

CW: That rings very true for me. It reminds me with attitudes we’re dealing with around immigration right now - there is a inability to see on the part of legislators and American citizens, to really see our immigrant neighbors and who they are. In your own life, where are you feeling known or not known?

MS: I feel the young people know me. For instance, my son was being interviewed, and the interviewer asked him what he would do if he had a lot of money, if I had a lot of money, and he told them I was going to build a beautiful city for young people. He knows the passion of his father. I sometimes feel people in authority, parents, clergy, they don’t understand, they don’t know. We have this cloud, this veil, that is keeping us from knowing what we should be doing, where we should put our resources. We are clouded by fear, distracted by degrees, power - we become short-sighted.

CW: And it sounds like you know them! Why do you think feeling known and seen is so important to us?

MS: The need to be known is deep. Some people are looking in marriage, in friendship, in food, in shopping, in substances - to fill that vacuum. But we cannot. All we are really looking for is someone who knows us. I want to share the poem I mentioned with you.

[MS reads this Alan Cohen poem]

See, when the child does anything that is wrong, any misbehavior, any bad pain that is against the norm of the society - the village doesn’t believe in punishment, they believe that they just need to remember who that child is. They bring the child to the village square and sing to them.

That to me sets the parameter and radius of my purpose in life - I want to know Caroline. I want to know her for who she is, and after I know her - I want to remind her of who she is when she has forgotten. The Islamic religion says that human beings are forgetful beings. We often tell our friends, remind me to buy this thing in the grocery store. We are forgetful beings. What we need are people who remind us who we are - there will be no need for competition and fear of our neighbors.

CW: And I want to know you, Moses. I think this is especially poignant right now, as I was saying earlier with immigration, but also in our personal dealings with each other, across political lines and in families.

MS: We don’t even know ourselves. We are all victims of this ignorance - this lack of knowledge, of true identity, is an epidemic that we all need to humbly confront. I have a supervisor who has helped me with the word “confront,” they say “carefront.”

In my Nigerian culture, there is a saying: “A mother is gold, and a father is a mirror.” When the mother dies, the precious gold is gone, when the father dies the mirror is broken.

I realized about 90% of the children I work with don’t have their fathers in their lives - whether he died, is incarcerated, or just doesn’t care. [...] And then there was an epiphany of my own life - I don’t even know my own father. My father died when I was three months old. But this proverb made me think differently about it. How do I know who I am if I don’t have a mirror? Where do you turn to when your mirror is broken?

There are 2 places to turn to: one, when I look at my children - they show me who I am. The second place to turn to is to turn to God - he is our heavenly father. If we can get closer to him and look inward, we will see who we are. And we can discover our old song, and teach our friends how to sing our song to us. Rather than expecting people to love me and respect me - do I love myself? Do I respect myself? To know me means everything - my darkness, my light, my beauty and my ashes. How do I get the courage to embrace all of who I am?

CW: That has been something so challenging for me recently. How do I know who I am? Why do I think so poorly of myself so often? Who or what is telling me who I am right now? Why do I believe that more than I believe what God says about me?

MS: Sometimes during Lent, the self-examination is about examining how sinful and bad you are - but I am turning that around - what is good, what is unique [about you]? Can you imagine that there is no other fingerprint than yours?

The first mention of knowledge is in Genesis chapter four, after the fall. God said, and Adam knew his wife - it meant a sexual relationship in that place. It occurred to me that after that first mention of knowledge there was conception - but you know the word of the scriptures are not to be read literally, you must look for what God is really saying. God is saying for us to conceive - to discover the creative nature of God. Not on the physical or casual level.

It is my prayer to first forgive like Jesus did, and then to know and be known.

The Public Heart: A Lenten Reflection from Natalie Finstad of Episcopal City Mission

Scripture for Today: Psalm 146147

Yesterday we sought to understand God more deeply by reflecting on David’s prayer to God. Today we turn our attention to the public arena of Israel’s liturgical service. Similar to David’s praise, we can further our understanding  of God by exploring what this liturgy reveals about Israel’s communal understanding of God.

Psalm 146 praises God’s commitment to bring justice to the oppressed: two-thirds of the verses praise God for being with the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the prisoner. In this hymn of praise people celebrate God’s constant upheaval of power structures.

Alternatively, Psalm 147 focuses on the praise of God for strength, order, and understanding. The last half of the hymn claims how God has blessed Israel, and, in effect, enabled their current power structure.

Walter Brueggemann, one of the premier prophetic theologians of our time, insists that we recognize these distinct types of praise, as they have drastically different impacts on our relationship with God.

If we offer praise to God that recognizes God’s commitment to lift up the lowly and to care for those who have been forgotten, we develop a readiness for everything (including ourselves) to change. We can see this readiness at work in the raw vulnerability of 12-Step programs, which capture this abandonment and trust in God’s healing by centering recovery stories in their liturgy.

However, singing to a God who has established us as a great nation and will maintain a sense of order in our midst makes us reticent to disturb this order. A hyper-example of this sort of liturgy happens in “prosperity gospel” churches where the liturgy revolves around the idea that God will bless you wildly if you only obey and trust in God’s power. This culture can lead to an unwillingness to question any authority, clerical or political.

Brueggemann encourages us to avoid this type of complacency by keeping stories of renewal and rescue at the center of our worship services. Let us preach and sing of the ways God has healed us and is working to heal our world today. Let us tell of a God that is always making things new. Let us stir our hearts to be open to what such a God might do in our world today.

Prayer: God you are always moving; keep us open to what you might do.

Reflection: Reflect on the worship services you attend. Do the songs and teachings lift up God’s ongoing transformation of our world, or reminders to trust in God’s provision?  How could you incorporate the telling of redemption stories into shared worship?

[Follow Natalie's reflections throughout Lent on her personal blog!]

------------------

Natalie Finstad began her professional career as a community organizing fellow with Life Together, a program for young adults in the Episcopal Church. Here, Natalie experienced how organizing can simultaneously seek collective justice and develop an individual awareness of agency.

This inspired Natalie to lead organizing movements in Boston, New Zealand and Nairobi, Kenya. In Kenya, Natalie was an Episcopal Missionary and worked with young adults to found Tatua Kenya. Most recently, Natalie was the Executive Director for the Leadership Development Initiative. Natalie worked extensively as a teacher and consultant with organizations such as: The Harvard Kennedy School, St. Paul’s Richmond, Planned Parenthood, and the Global Episcopal Missionary Network. Natalie was a featured speaker at TEDx Beacon Street.

Natalie is a postulant for the Diaconate in the Diocese of Massachusetts and an Episcopal Church Fellow. Natalie enjoys traveling, staying active, hosting dinner parties, and reading memoirs.

Email: natalie@episcopalcitymission.org

 

Notes:

  • The thumbnail art is a piece entitled Psalm 147 by Elena Hopsu. 

A Mindful Presence in Justice Work: A Lenten Reflection by Laura Wagner of UU Mass Action

My spiritual practice centers on maintaining a mindful presence.  When I maintain a feeling of balance and focus, I’m able to engage in the world around me in a way that does not exhaust me, but rather, energizes me.  The analogy that best describes this feeling is being able to move with the flow of the water rather than working against it.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am called to live our seven principles and put our faith into action.  My calling to bring my values and principles to life resides in all manner of my being; intellectual curiosity, raw emotion that spans from crushing heartbreak to pure joy, and my connection to that which binds us all.

Without my engagement in justice work I know I would be lost.  The despair I struggle with would cause me to see only the worst of humanity and drive me to isolation.  By working to confront oppression and injustice, I receive the gift of also seeing the best of humanity.  I enjoy being in relationship with others who are courageous, creative, loving, joyful and resilient.  Being connected to this energy calls me to my best self and  to know that I am not alone.

It is through my practice of mindfulness that I’m able to engage in work that is often challenging and frustrating.  In each moment there is an opportunity, to breath deeply, observe the beauty, feel comfort, taste sweetness and listen to the life that surrounds us all.  

Years ago, a friend helped me see that the divine is in every moment.  I have a small tattoo on each wrist to remind me of this.  They help call me back to the present and see the beauty in each moment.  What I enjoy most about this practice is that, rather than feeling the need be a certain way,  I know I am always in a state of becoming.  This feels much more in harmony with the rhythm of life and brings me great comfort.

------------------

Laura Wagner joined UU Mass Action in 2014 as the Executive Director.  She was an active volunteer with the organization prior to accepting this position.

Laura is a social worker, earning her Masters from BU in 2006.  She worked as a clinical social worker but closed her practice when her position at UU Mass Action transitioned to full time in 2017.  As the granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors, immigrant rights has long been a passion of hers.  She became a Unitarian Universalist in 1993 and has enjoys living her values through engagement in social justice work.  Contact her at LWagner@uumassaction.org

"Oneness" and Justice: A Lenten Reflection by Hazel Johnson

I draw on the wisdom of the Enneagram [personality test] to continue to develop my understanding of my spirit, actions and intentions. As a [type] one on the Enneagram, I tend to see the world from how it should be. I want to improve, reform, correct and fix things to the ideal of how it “ought” to be. This, though perceived as rigid, really supports my drive for social justice work. Because I desire for the world to be “right”, I have identified the things that make that world come into fruition. My experience as a one has drawn me deeper into relationships with others and those relationships have pushed me back out into the world to work for justice.

Enneagram scholar Helen Palmer writes that “[Enneagram personality type] ones are attracted to purist points of view, which provide a safe launching pad for righteous anger in the name of a worthy cause.” However, in my experience as a community organizer and leadership development facilitator, I have had to check myself in my perfectionism.

A few years ago, I was given the task to create a youth organizing network that helps bring Lynn teens out of systems of oppression. Sounds easy, right? Wrong! After being in Lynn for 3 days I “knew” exactly what the teens needed. I had a goal to have our first event with 50 people present and when that day came there were 5 people present. My perfect gathering and my perfect image fell flat.

Later that week, I sat down with one of my core teens and he just flat out told me “Hazel, you need to be realistic. Did you think that you could come into a new city and just create something without it being hard?” That hurt coming from a 15 year old, but he was right. How could I believe that I had the answers? How could I let me desire to be right cloud the core principle of community organizing- relationships?

My “oneness” gets in the way of the process by which we come to know justice in our world. Relationships, for me, are a key pathway to bring justice and peace, but my “the way things ought to be” mentality creeps in from time to time. That’s when I use the Enneagram to deepen my understanding of the different ways people interact in the world, and that strengthens my own self-awareness. From that re-evaluation place, I am able to return to the justice work assured that I do not have the right answer and that it is just fine. As a one, I have to constantly examine my intentions. The Enneagram helps me to be a more self-reflective and flexible leader so that true justice remains the focus. 

As I look to the 40 days (and more) ahead, I am reminded that God does not need me to be put together or perfect. God desires to be with me and that is what the Enneagram has been for me- a tool to help me grow in the truth of who I am and that brings me deeper into my relationship with God.

------------------

Hazel Johnson is a Nevada native that moved to Boston in 2011 to participate in Life Together. Her work included organizing Lynn’s first youth organizing network and partnering with the Youth Jobs Coalition to secure $8.6 million in youth summer jobs funding. Community organizing introduced her to the Leadership Development Initiative where she continues to work as a facilitator and presenter. Currently, Hazel is pursuing her MDiv at Boston University School of Theology in hopes to be a bridge between her interests in leadership development, theology and political action.  

 

Notes: 

 

Beautiful and Strong: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

Most mornings, I find myself on a crowded red line train from my intentional community’s house near Ashmont Station to Park Street. Shuttered inside the train car I am one face in the constellation of commuters - business people, teenagers on the way to school, construction workers, parents cradling their children. I moved to the greater Boston area from New York City to join Life Together, an Episcopal Service Corps program, although I’m originally from Georgia - from a place sprawling with cotton, tobacco, or peanut fields, depending on the season. Train delays are a relatively new kind of frustration for me. Oddly enough, and despite my chagrin, I have grown to appreciate the opportunity for stillness these moments spent below ground, in between destinations, present.

As I wait underground, the divine has come to feel strangely accessible. It is not so much a space I have made for God as a space I feel God has made for me. Recently, I’ve been revisiting the Christian musicians my Mama used to play in my childhood kitchen. I am still healing from aspects of my fundamentalist religious upbringing. CeCe Winans’ music in particular brings comfort and healing, while reminding me of a complicated relationship to God and faith. I listen to her honeyed voice:

That's when I close my eyes, take some time and realize

That He was always there

Truth is He never left

That is what the Spirit says, and I believe it so

I never have to be alone.

On my morning commute, I am compelled to have patience with myself and my growth, and recognize the one to whom I belong - the one who was always there, and always waiting for me to come back.

This Ash Wednesday, as I acknowledge my mortality and limitations, I am thinking about what it means to surrender. There are so many ways we can separate ourselves from others and from God. In my work at Episcopal City Mission, I expand from thinking about my own healing to how we can create contexts for healing and justice in the world. We often open our staff meetings at ECM with a chant describing the world’s sickness that ends “...but I dreamt we were all beautiful and strong.” When I think of the work we are doing around immigrant, racial, and economic justice, this image anchors me.

In pausing, I can see where there is longing for healing and longing for wholeness - in myself and in the world - and surrender to that truth. Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest and theologian, reflects on “the self-surrender of Jesus” (5)  in his book A Season for the Spirit. Smith states that “the forty days for Jesus began with this handing over of himself to the Spirit” (5). My intention during Lent is to hand myself over to the Spirit. In surrender to my own personal healing process, I believe I can draw nearer to those touched by the world’s sickness, and stand alongside them, all of us beautiful and strong.


Notes:

  • The lyrics come from "Never Have to Be Alone," a song on CeCe Winans’ 2017 album Let Them Fall In Love. 
  • Smith, Martin L. A Season for the Spirit: Readings for the Days of Lent. New York, Church Publishing Inc., 2004.

------------------

Caroline is a Life Together fellow thrilled to learn more about community organizing and join the wonderful Episcopal City Mission team. Caroline graduated in May 2017 from New York University with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. At NYU, she was Co-Events Coordinator for Active Minds, a mental health awareness and stigma-fighting student organization. She has edited and contributed to to literary magazines at Thomas University and New York University, and has organized and participated in community poetry readings. Caroline is a Georgia native who writes, reads, bakes, and does yoga in her spare time. 

Email: caroline@episcopalcitymission.org