Let us turn to prayer in the face of evil, a reflection from Bishop Akiyama

Let us turn to prayer in the face of evil, a reflection from Bishop Akiyama

Dear friends in Christ,

You may have noticed that I tend not to react to the latest news item by immediately writing an article or posting on social media about the event. It is not that I don’t have an opinion, I usually do. But I don’t believe my vocation as your bishop is to voice my opinion about every newsworthy item. My call is to reflect on events from a theological and faith-centered perspective and to offer a way to comprehend the world as a Christian seeking wholeness and healing in a broken world.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine rises to the level of such a reflection. While we have already consumed more than we can absorb about the geopolitical, economic, and humanitarian implications of this aggressive act, the matter that disturbs me most is the undeniable presence of evil that has brought about this nightmare. It is always dangerous to level the word evil against a person or a system. So often the word is used as a form of name-calling, or to categorize and then dismiss a force that has us feeling helpless. The indiscriminate and careless use of the word “evil” removes the sober and somber function of its meaning. Rightly applied to our human condition, “evil” names the shadowy and maniacal reality that we really have no better word to describe. 

The heartless and cruel killing of innocent citizens is evil. The complete lack of compassion for the lives of millions who have already suffered, to say nothing of those who will suffer if the violence continues, is evil. A psychological perspective asserts that Putin is unstable mentally – that he is a malignant narcissist. I would add that this diagnostic information, however accurate it may be, does not help us find our way through.

It is no mistake that evil is referenced in our Baptismal liturgy twice. In the Baptismal Examination (BCP p. 302) we are asked, “Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?” And later in the Baptismal Covenant, we are asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” The questions reveal to us just how vulnerable we are to the forces of evil. They also suggest that in order to renounce or resist evil, we need to know how to identify it. The quickest way to identify evil is to notice the absence of compassion, forgiveness, and love. The presence of these qualities make it nearly impossible for evil to take root.  And the surest way to develop the capacity for compassion, forgiveness, and love is through prayer.  

Many of us are seeking ways to help Ukraine. It is frustrating to feel helpless in the face of such destructive power. We must certainly do what we can to offer our help and support. I also want to remind us that prayer is a significant way for us to resist the evil powers of this world. Prayer has the power to transform us, our relationships, and our communities. Prayer is a generative engagement with the Holy Spirit; it is alive and enlivening. Prayer allows us to become quiet in order to hear what God is calling us to be and do. Even in the midst of the forces of evil, prayer calls forth a strength and clarity that shines brightly and casts out the darkest of fears.

If we are going to identify evil, let us then fall to our knees in fervent and unceasing prayer:

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.                                                                  (BCP page 148)

Blessings,

Persisting and prevailing, a reflection from Bishop Akiyama

Dear Friends in Christ,

“So, tell me, Bishop. Do you believe you will prevail with this lawsuit?” The interviewer had the distinction of being the first to pose the question so bluntly.  

We had been talking about the lawsuit our diocese filed against the City of Brookings. It’s been all over the news, you can search for it on the internet if you haven’t heard about it. My primary concern from the very start has been protecting the freedom of our congregations to express our faith. In the case of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings, the freedom of religious expression has been in the form of feeding the hungry. St. Timothy’s does a great many other things to serve those in need, but the city seems particularly interested in limiting our right to feed the hungry.  

The very idea that a city council would decide that feeding the hungry was not in the interests of the city or of its citizens struck me as wrong-headed, to say the least. Anyone, whether or not they are religious, could see the fundamental goodness in helping someone who is hungry. Our faith as expressed as Episcopalians calls us to serve those in need. It’s in our Baptismal Vows. It’s in the Scriptures.  

“Prevailing” legally is certainly an outcome we hope for – it is the reason for the lawsuit. We want to keep serving those in need and have been pushed to the point where we have to seek the court’s judgment to defend our right to do this. But beyond the legal remedy we seek, the essential and core purpose of our fight is to maintain our ability to live out our Christian faith. Our ministry, at the most basic level, is to continue to do what we are called to do to bring about the new creation revealed by God in the Resurrection. This new creation is not something we expect to see completed in our lifetime (although that would be a welcome miracle). It is something we live into while knowing its fulfillment will outlive us.

Why do we persist? We persist because there is no other way. Yes, some of us could give up out of fear or greed. But at our core, we know the only way is forward and in hope because we believe that the crucified Jesus was not the end. We believe that the fear, hatred, and greed that crucified Jesus will not prevail … it will not have the final word. We know this because, in his resurrection, Christ Jesus returned to us as proof positive that love and compassion will reign.

So, yes. I believe we will prevail. In the fulfillment of our Baptismal Vows, we will prevail.  In our proclamation of the Good News of God in our midst, we will prevail. In our striving to be Christ’s hands and feet in this broken world we will prevail.  

In Christ,

Being grateful this year for Thanksgiving

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Dear friends in Christ,

Thanksgiving is the beginning of a season of traditions for many of us. In the United States we tend to gather around food – lots of food. We expect to share our thankfulness in ways that make sense to our family cultures, however we define “family.” The meaning of Thanksgiving has changed dramatically for those of us who were raised on the standard story of pilgrims thanking the Native Peoples for helping them survive. This national holiday is no longer a celebration of colonialism; it is a day that has meaning based on a broadened invitation to reflect on historical injustices alongside those things for which we are grateful.  

In these times, we do find ourselves feeling somewhat frail in the area of gratefulness, however. Most of us are just too tired or stressed to reflect on the topic. It feels like we are still scrambling to adjust, adapt, and cope. As we approach Thanksgiving, I have been reflecting on the tension between the desire to be thankful and the temptation to give over to hopelessness, even despair. From global concerns over the “environmental cliff” to local concerns for racial justice in our communities, the weight of acting in the face of enormous odds can feel paralyzing.

Yet, our Christian story continues to push and prod us forward. God is relentlessly creating and stirring the Holy Spirit to dwell amongst us – kicking up light and love to remind us that hope will not be deterred. Even more, God does not need us to express false optimism or to sugar-coat that which is painful. We are called to be faithful – to return to prayers that shape us through praise, petition, confession, and gratitude. Too often we confuse hopefulness with being cheerful as in, “it’ll all turn out ok – you’ll see.” But as followers of Jesus, we know that lasting hopefulness is gritty and clear-eyed. And this kind of hope is founded on gratitude.

There are, undoubtedly, reasons to be grateful this Thanksgiving – for healing, for a goal achieved, for a reconciled relationship, for laughter, and for love. It’s also true that this season is accompanied by disturbing reminders of the brokenness of our world. This week alone, we wonder whether justice will truly be delivered in cases of racial violence. This mixture of joy and despair does not require sorting before we express gratitude. We are called to be grateful for all of it, and, in order to do this well, we need to dive in: in the face of injustice, for what are we thankful?  

Be grateful for the courage to speak out.  
Be grateful for hearts and minds that seek out solutions.  
Be grateful for a faith that continually fuels us to respect the dignity of every human being.  
Be grateful for a God who is tireless in calling us to respond to the weak, the vulnerable, and those in need.  

Above all, let’s be grateful for the wisdom to know that we are not God – only God is God; we are simply called to reflect God faithfully and with compassion. This we know with great clarity because of the one who came amongst us to live as one of us, Jesus.

For his bold and selfless love, let us be ever grateful this Thanksgiving.

In Christ,

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for Thanksgiving, BCP p. 246)


Queridos Amigos en Cristo,

El Día de Acción de Gracias es el inicio de una temporada de tradiciones para muchos de nosotros. En los Estados Unidos tenemos la costumbre de reunirnos alrededor de la comida, mucha comida. Esperamos compartir nuestro agradecimiento de maneras que tengan sentido para nuestras culturas familiares, sin importar cómo definamos “familia”. El significado de Acción de Gracias ha cambiado drásticamente para aquellos de nosotros que fuimos criados en la historia común de los peregrinos agradeciendo a los Pueblos Nativos por ayudarlos a sobrevivir. Esta fiesta nacional ya no es una celebración del colonialismo; es un día que tiene sentido a partir de una invitación más amplia para reflexionar sobre las injusticias históricas junto a aquellas cosas por las que estamos agradecidos.

Sin embargo, en estos tiempos nos sentimos, en cierto modo, frágiles en el área del agradecimiento. La mayoría de nosotros estamos demasiado cansados ​​o estresados ​​para reflexionar sobre este tema. Parece que todavía estamos luchando por ajustarnos, adaptarnos y hacerle frente. A medida que nos acercamos al Día de Acción de Gracias, he estado reflexionando sobre la tensión entre el deseo de estar agradecido y la tentación de entregarse a la desesperanza, incluso a la desesperación. Empezando por las preocupaciones globales sobre el “precipicio ambiental” y continuando con  las preocupaciones locales por la justicia racial en nuestras comunidades y el enorme peso para actuar frente a enormes dificultades, todo esto puede resultar paralizante.

Sin embargo, nuestra historia cristiana continúa empujándonos y empujándonos hacia adelante. Dios está creando y moviendo incansablemente para que more entre nosotros el Espíritu Santo, dándonos luz y amor para recordarnos que la esperanza no será desalentada. Más aún, Dios no necesita que expresemos un falso optimismo o que endulcemos lo que es doloroso. Estamos llamados a ser fieles, a volver a las oraciones que nos forman a través de la alabanza, la petición, la confesión y la gratitud. Con demasiada frecuencia confundimos la esperanza con la alegría, cuando decimos: “todo saldrá bien, ya verás”. Pero como seguidores de Jesús, sabemos que la esperanza duradera es valiente y clara. Y este tipo de esperanza se basa en la gratitud.

Sin duda, hay razones para estar agradecidos en este Día de Acción de Gracias: por la curación, por una meta alcanzada, por una relación reconciliada, por la risa y por el amor. También es cierto que esta temporada va acompañada de inquietantes recordatorios de nuestro mundo tan agrietado. Esta semana, precisamente,  nos preguntamos si realmente se hará justicia en los casos de violencia racial. Esta mezcla de alegría y desesperación no requiere una clasificación antes de expresar gratitud. Estamos llamados a estar agradecidos por todo ello y, para hacerlo bien, necesitamos meternos de lleno: ante la injusticia, ¿de qué podremos estar agradecidos?

Estemos agradecidos por el valor de hablar.
Estemos agradecidos por los corazones y las mentes que buscan soluciones.
Estemos agradecidos por una fe que continuamente nos impulsa a respetar la dignidad de todo ser humano.
Estemos agradecidos por a un Dios que no se cansa para llamarnos a contestar a los débiles, vulnerables y necesitados.

Sobre todo, estemos agradecidos por la sabiduría de saber que no somos Dios, solo Dios es Dios; simplemente estamos llamados a reflejar a Dios fielmente y con compasión. Esto lo sabemos con gran claridad por el que vino entre nosotros para vivir como uno de nosotros, Jesús.

Por su amor valiente y desinteresado, estemos siempre agradecidos en este Día de Acción de Gracias.

En Cristo,

Embodying Christ’s love for this world – a call to prayer for St. Timothy’s, Brookings

Dear friends in Christ,

How is your life unfolding in this no-longer-strange pandemic world? I’m noticing that we are still exercising caution regarding the highly transmissible Delta variant while also exploring ways to re-engage and gather safely. As has been the advice from the very beginning, gathering outdoors while being at safe distances is a good way to see one another in person. It has been a joy to be able to drive around the diocese to visit congregations in worship as well as in ministry.

Two weekends ago, I spent four days visiting Coos Bay, Brookings, and Roseburg.  The drive was beautiful no matter what the weather was doing. Even more, the spirit of our congregations was a beautiful reflection of Christ’s hands and feet in the world. I spent Saturday at St. Timothy’s, Brookings, and want to share with you some reflections from my time with the Rev. Bernie Lindley, Deacon Linda Lee, and their incredibly talented and energetic team of lay ministers.

The Oregon Coast near Brookings

As many of you know, the Brookings City Planning Commission has voted to recommend that the City Council pass an ordinance requiring churches to obtain a “benevolent meal” permit in order to continue serving meals to the hungry and homeless. The diocese has been focused on supporting St. Timothy’s in their ministry, and I needed to see for myself the ministries that have become so vital to the city’s hungry.

Beyond being highly organized, well-staffed, and attentive to detail, the folks at St. Timothy are serving with a heartfelt commitment to those in need. From the nurses giving vaccines, to the folks cooking in the kitchen (it was calzone during my visit!), to volunteers swabbing for covid tests each and every person is clearly serving because they want to participate in the way in which Christ’s body is being made known to the community.  They care about helping others because, for many of the volunteers, they were once on the receiving end of these same services.  Their gratitude is an endless source of fuel to become part of the love extended in feeding, vaccinating, and testing.

The contrast between the love and generosity of St. Timothy’s ministries and the intentions of the City to control or even close down their gospel work drew me into a reflection on Mark 13: 9-11.

 As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” 

It seems that the good work of embodying Christ’s love for the world is threatening to those who do not recognize the compassion that is alive at St. Timothy’s.  Perhaps it is not even the compassion that goes unrecognized, perhaps it is the children of God serving other children of God that is unrecognized.  

Proclaiming the good news in body, heart, and mind is dangerous business. Jesus knew this. And this is why he instructs the disciples to proclaim the good news first. Before self-defense before arguing or justifying, proclaim the good news first. The good news is revealed through loving sacrifice that is grounded in compassion for the other.  Systems organized around “othering” those who are not like us are the same systems that persecute the Body of Christ – especially when that glorious liberating and loving body shines a light on the humanity of everyone – the hungry and the fed alike.

On October 25th, the Brookings City Council will meet to vote on this ordinance. I call our diocese into prayer on that day. Those of you who can be with the congregation of St. Timothy’s on that day, or during the meeting, I hope you will be there to lift hearts and spirits. Let’s all remind St. Timothy’s, the city of Brookings, and each other of the wondrous work that is revealed when we awaken to the truth that what we “do to the least of these, you do to me.”

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessings,

Tending the garden of our diocese

Dear friends in Christ,

My father was a masterful gardener. Although he was not a “master” gardener by those official terms, he loved gardening and everything about it. Our family summer vacations had to be planned around his garden because we couldn’t be gone if something was fruiting or producing. Of course, in the earlier months, the garden needed watering. And weeding. And fertilizing … and tending.

I learned a great deal about gardening from my father. I also had bad allergies and hay fever, so gardening was never something I could fully embrace as a practice. It is, however, something I learned from watching and listening to him as he prepared starter plants with seeds and little pods of dirt placed carefully under grow lights in our basement.  

Plants have seasons – even in tropical environs, plants have seasons. There are plants that need alkaline soil, and there are plants that need more acidic soil. There are plants that crawl, creep, or spread – they seem to defy containers or barriers, so exuberant are they to grow. Over time, plants need to be repotted or moved to better soil or into better sunlight. I even learned that some plants need their roots trimmed so that they will continue to be healthy and vibrant.

I am reminded of my father’s gardens and his methods as I look out over the landscape of our diocese and our diocesan office. Change is difficult – this we all know from the pandemic that we continue to endure. Some of the changes in our diocesan office might make us anxious; change does that to us. Today, we also know so much more about our capacity to adapt and walk together in changing times. The analogy of a garden gives a frame for the ways our diocese is growing and adapting.  It reminds us that, as a diocese, we are growing where we are planted, and we are also invited to thrive in new soil, new locations, and new opportunities to live into the fullness of our gifts.

Last week, Deacon Maureen Hagen shared with her Facebook friends that her position as Dean of the Academy for Formation will be dissolved at the end of this year. This decision was not made lightly; Maureen has made the formation of deacons and priests in this diocese a process that will continue to grow and expand. She is a tireless connector of people and events, and she represents our diocese at the larger church (The Episcopal Church – TEC) level with faithfulness and enthusiasm. I am grateful to her for all her good work; and I look forward to discerning, with her, what is next for her gifts of ministry locally and beyond. Please join me in thanking her and celebrating her fine work for this diocese.

Another transition is that of the Chancellor. Mike Dotten, known to many of you as our loquacious and able chancellor, would like more time to travel with his family and has notified me of his resignation effective November 5, 2021. He has kindly timed this date with our Diocesan Convention/Annual Meeting in order that his successor will pick up the work beginning with convention.  

Our new chancellor will be Emily Karr. Ms. Karr is a partner at Stoel Rives LLP and heads the firm’s Benefits, Tax, and Private Client group, and advises clients about estate planning and the administration of estates and trusts. In our conversations, she describes herself as an attorney “who prefers to solve problems” rather than rush to court. I am delighted that Emily is eager and willing to serve the diocese in this way and I look forward to introducing her in November.  

This is a wonderful opportunity to give thanks to those who have given much for our great benefit and to celebrate the abundance that their gifts represent. The Holy Spirit has bestowed on us such wonderful riches: generosity, talent, faithfulness, and kindness. These are the fruits of the garden we call the Diocese of Oregon. I am humbled and grateful to serve alongside such dedicated souls.

Yours in Christ,

Bishop Diana

Making community and connection through cooperation, A Message from Bishop Diana

Dear Friends in Christ,

Last week Oregon Episcopal School (OES) welcomed its students onto campus for the beginning of the school year. It was energizing and fun to be with them and to give the final blessing, but the high point was the ritual bellringing by the 5th graders. Each student walked up into the bell tower and pulled on the rope to ring the bell. One student, one peal of the bell; one for each year that OES has been open – that’s 152 years in 2021. 

I love being on a school campus – it reminds me of my many years on college campuses serving as dean of religious life. The air is thick with promise, dreams, and aspirations on campuses like OES.  The faculty and administration reflect that same ideal: what more can we learn? Be? Do? And: how can we do it together – helping each other along the way?

After the 5th graders arrived for the ceremony, they stood with their arms outstretched to make sure they were at a safe distance from each other. Then they plopped down on the cold hard sidewalk to wait for the opening words. Watching them, I commented to Mo, the Head of School, standing next to me, “I remember well those days when sitting, cross-legged on cold hard concrete was just another way to rest!” We chuckled with admiration.

Driving back to the office, I reflected on the image of the 5th graders with their arms outstretched.  They cooperated in observing the COVID protocols with laughter and chatter – not because the protocols brought them joy but because they were finally together and were going to sit in classes with their friends. The joy of being back in community was palpable that morning. For the grown-ups, their joy that day came from witnessing the results of their hard work to create a safe way to be in community. For the students, it was about cooperating, happily, because being together means you get to have fun learning with friends, while also making your school pal laugh at your antics.

Making community and connection through cooperation — this is where the greatest joy is often experienced. We’ve learned this in new and unwelcome ways this past year and a half. The point really is learning it; our capacity to adapt, pivot, and remain open to one another teaches us new ways to be present to each other. Although we are now beyond tired of the ways this pandemic imposes restrictions on us, we have also learned some about our creativity and cooperation – the human desire for community is God-given. We are created to seek out each other in community and to adjust and make sacrifices in order to build relationships that will change us. Truly, this has always been God’s plan for us – to find one another, to love one another, and to challenge one another to be more of what we have been created to be. 

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is
born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

Amidst our heartbreak and anxiety and frustration, God loves us. This is not passive loving, it is a loving that continues to form us. We are being remade, through this incomprehensible divine love, for one another, and to bring into this world the Beloved Community of God’s desiring.  

As we prepare for another virtual Diocesan Convention/Annual Meeting, I pray that our patience and forbearance are not marked by gritted teeth, but instead by the love that embraces us during our great discomfort. 

I can still see those 5th graders standing next to each other with their arms outstretched. By cooperating as a community, they can reach toward each other with anticipation and joy. The Holy Spirit prevails as community is formed in yet a new way!

Blessings,

Bishop Diana

God is a basic need and Deacons will help us see that.

Dear friends in Christ,

“The Diaconate just might be what saves the church in these times.” These words came from a clergy colleague years ago. We were at a conference and the discussion topic was the changing church. Our focus had been primarily on the priesthood and the kind of leadership priests ought to have for these times. A thoughtful silence followed her words as the group reflected on this shift in perspective.

My own reflection in that moment was, “Oh snap! How did we miss that?” And ever since, I have turned my attention to engaging the ministry of deacons by asking folks how they understand the distinct order of the diaconate.

Last Saturday I spent the morning with the Community of Deacons to get to know them and to begin a conversation about the ways they are called to serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We talked about the central metaphor for the diaconate: a bridge. Deacons are the bridge between the church and the world. Their ministry is anchored in the sure and certain knowledge that their work is to make tangible the healing and hope of Christ’s presence in the midst of suffering. This is no great insight as the deacons in this diocese know this and are living it out with deep faithfulness. But, further thought and engagement is needed around the way in which deacons are uniquely called to interpret and demonstrate the need for God in one’s daily life.

These past few Sundays, our gospel proclamation has been from Mark’s gospel, which features rich descriptions of crowds seeking out Jesus for healing – they are so clear about his ability to heal that they know to merely touch the fringe of his coat will make them whole. I remember hearing a sermon in seminary about this theme in Mark’s gospel. The preacher eloquently framed a teaching about the accounts of Jesus healing and feeding people: we have essential needs (i.e. food, clothes, shelter) that must first be met before we can receive the more substantial food of Jesus’ teaching about God. For years that has been an underlying theme in my reflection on Mark’s gospel.

But as I reflect on my time with the Community of Deacons, I began to wonder if we don’t have it wrong in framing Jesus’ ministry that way. Isn’t Jesus’ teaching as essential as food and clothing? Interpreting Mark’s gospel using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is not a true reflection of how we need God in our lives. More true is the proclamation, in thought, word, and deed, of the essential nature of our faith in God. Our need for God in our lives is as basic, essential, and critical as food and clothing.

How would the church and the world change if our deacons served others with a life-giving conversation about the basic need for God in one’s daily life? How could this conversation be framed to side-step proselytizing and coercive evangelizing? What would bubble up from hearing someone describe the ways that God’s love, forgiveness, and grace brings joy and meaning to their life? For surely one can be fed, clothed, and housed and continue to live in misery and to suffer a joyless existence.  

I am a Christian for many reasons but the most important is this: I cannot imagine my life without God at the center. I need God in the same way I need food and water. God is a basic and essential part of my existence, and it is most certainly not the case that I have certain basic needs that come before turning to God. God lives and moves and speaks into every need or yearning I have – there is no place God is not.

The Community of Deacons heard me speak with great commitment and passion about the diaconate and my clarity about the hope they represent not only for this diocese but for the entire church. I am looking forward to walking with our laity and priests as we look with creativity and eagerness at the diaconal mission. God is on the move, and deacons have a key role to play in helping us recognize where this holy presence is taking us in the church and in the world.

In Christ,

+Diana

Courage vs. Conformity

Dear Friends in Christ,

I recently read a quote that stuck with me:  “The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”  The author is Jim Hightower, columnist and long-time populist from Texas.

Those words continue to echo in my reflections because we don’t typically think of courage dying in the hands of conformity. Courageous images tend to be images of soldiers bravely defending a country, or a passerby stepping in to prevent someone being attacked. To have courage is to stand out as someone with bravery and selflessness.  

After musing on this quote, it’s hard not to think of courage as a quality that is much more accessible than we realize. If we have the capacity to conform, we also have the capacity to act with courage by not conforming.  But the ease of conformity can drain our courage, making it easier to go with the flow instead of stepping up to do the right or fair thing.

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of King Herod ordering John the Baptist’s beheading. It is one of the more gruesome stories in The Bible, and is horrifying as a reflection on Herod’s desire to please his daughter and guests more than refusing to take a man’s life. We often focus on the way John the Baptist was dehumanized in order to justify killing him. Yet, looking at this story through the lens of conformity, we see a very different kind of dynamic. Rather than an example of dehumanizing an other, this story reveals the ease of conforming with a graphic example of abdicating one’s call to be courageous – to refuse to conform.

Conformity is seductive. It slips into our every day lives quietly and calmly. It is what makes things go smoothly in often productive and benign ways. Conformity is not a bad thing, on its face. But it can generate acts that lack reflection, compassion, mercy, and justice. Conformity also works quickly and in frightening ways when a crowd turns into a mob – and this is often justified by twisting conformity into a perversion of courage. Mob violence is not courage in numbers. It is the opposite of courage; it is conformity.

Jesus was a courageous human. And, I believe this was so because of his capacity to perfectly reflect God through prayerful reflection, compassion, mercy, and a laser-like wisdom when it came to questions of justice. Stories of his ministry give us example after example of his refusal to conform when it threatened to enervate his teachings on compassion and mercy.

Practically speaking, our daily lives cannot be sustained without conforming. The challenge, in this tension between conformity and courage, is to reflect and ask ourselves, “Am I conforming in order to truly help others, or am I conforming to avoid God’s call to lean in where justice and compassion are needed?” 

As Christians, the even better practice is to take this question to God. How might our open-hearted prayers reveal God’s yearning for us to step out of the ease of conformity to be courageous on behalf of another?

Blessings,
+Diana

Living with Integrity, a reflection from your Bishop

June is the month we observe, celebrate, and lift up integrity.  

When we describe a person as one who has integrity, we are saying they are honest, upright, and treat others with respect. We think of such people as well-integrated; they have faced their imperfections and weaknesses, and know they are God’s beloved even so.  

When we describe a structure as having integrity, we are confirming the soundness of that structure, as in “despite the earthquake, the building has maintained its structural integrity.”  In both instances, to have integrity is to be whole, upstanding, forthright, and reliable.

Digging a bit deeper into its meaning, integrity also implies having been challenged or tempted to compromise. Think of a time when you were pressured to go along with the group but did not because in doing so you would have compromised a core part of what you believe to be good or fair or loving. To have integrity is to risk being shunned, marginalized, even ridiculed. We honor our commitment to integrity because sacrificing what we know is good or loving would be like losing an essential part of our identity. To “live with integrity” is to know it will, at times, cause us discomfort or worse.

Soil taken from the site where Alonzo Tucker was lynched in 1902.
Photo by: Oregon Remembrance Project

This weekend I will be in Coos Bay to participate in the commemoration of Alonzo Tucker, a Black man who was lynched in that community in 1902. This inhumane act was ignored for decades and would have been unknown for decades longer were it not for a young man who believes this piece of history must be retrieved and acknowledged. Despite concerns for his safety, he pressed on meeting with community leaders, ministers, rabbis, teachers to organize the event this weekend. I met with him, over Zoom, to hear how he was organizing the community to memorialize the violent injustice suffered by Mr. Tucker. It was clear from the beginning of our meeting that this young man has integrity.

We tend not to list integrity as one of the qualities of Jesus even though he surely was a man of integrity. For Christians, Jesus’ act of sacrifice was much more than a sign of integrity – it was a sign of his limitless capacity to love and forgive us. It was a salvific act.  

Yet, perhaps striving toward a life of integrity is a way to begin to understand the meaning of salvation. To commit ourselves to walking with Jesus is to choose a journey into love for one another that is good. Our refusal to give up the journey may, at times, cause us discomfort or worse. Jesus embodied integrity and still reminds us that we stand the most upright when we lay-down our lives for another.

Blessings,

+Diana

Holy Week 2021

Dear friends in Christ,

It was the 1970’s and I was gathered around the television with my parents and sister to watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The theme music began and Jim McKay’s voice introduced the program. His unique style of intonation and emphasis made the phrase the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat ring. 

The dual themes of “victory” and “defeat” resound during this season as we prepare for Holy Week. The appointed liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer for this Sunday, Palm Sunday, rushes us through the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The liturgy of the palms is our enactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry and, in the same liturgy, we enact Jesus being condemned to die a brutal death. We are given a liturgy on Palm Sunday that assumes the congregation will not likely return for services during the week. So, it attempts to summarize the entire story in one liturgy. This results in a kind of worship whiplash that is far from what I imagine the architects of this liturgy intended.  

It is important to remember that Holy Week is actually one entire liturgy. It doesn’t work to compress an entire week of reflection, prayer, and praise into one hour of worship. The power and promise of Christ’s resurrection finds its full expression in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil – the conclusion of Holy Week and the primary liturgy of our tradition.

As you prepare for Holy Week, I encourage you to explore how you might participate in the entire liturgy: Palm Sunday to Easter Vigil. The challenge of worshipping in this pandemic will bring a different sense and feel to our worship, but it may also make it easier to “attend” all the services during Holy Week. 

In truth, our Holy Week to Easter Vigil liturgy is much much more than an enactment of the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” It is the human story enveloped in God’s grace: the joys of hope, the tragedy of injustice, the horror of a cruel death, and the lavish promise of new and unending life. It is my hope that, through a fuller engagement with our Holy Week to Easter Vigil liturgy, our understanding of Christ’s resurrection will be rich and full and truly life-giving.

Blessings, 
+Diana


Queridos amigos en Cristo,

Era la década de 1970 y estaba reunida, alrededor de la televisión, con mis padres y mi hermana para ver El Gran Mundo de los Deportes en ABC. Comenzó el tema musical y la voz de Jim McKay que hizo la introducción al programa. Su estilo único de entonación y énfasis hizo que al oír la frase se sintiera la emoción de la victoria y la agonía de la derrota.

Este doble tema de “victoria” y “derrota” resuena durante esta temporada mientras nos preparamos para la Semana Santa. La liturgia señalada en el Libro de Oración Común para este domingo, Domingo de Ramos, nos lanza a través de la emoción de la victoria y la agonía de la derrota. La liturgia de las palmas es nuestra representación de la entrada triunfal de Jesús y, en la misma liturgia, representamos a Jesús condenado a una muerte brutal. En esta liturgia del Domingo de Ramos se asume que la congregación probablemente no regresará para los servicios durante la semana. Entonces, intenta resumir toda la historia en una sola liturgia. Esto resulta como una especie de empujón dentro del culto, que está lejos de lo que se imaginaron los diseñadores de esta liturgia.

Es importante recordar que la Semana Santa es en realidad una liturgia completa. No funciona tratar de reducir una semana entera de reflexión, oración y adoración en una hora del servicio. El poder y la promesa de la resurrección de Cristo encuentran su plena expresión en la liturgia de la Vigilia Pascual, que es la conclusión de la Semana Santa y la liturgia principal de nuestra tradición.

Mientras se preparan para la Semana Santa, los invito a explorar cómo podrían participar en toda la liturgia: del Domingo de Ramos a la Vigilia Pascual. El desafío litúrgico en esta pandemia traerá un sentido y estilo diferente a nuestra celebración, pero también puede hacer que sea más fácil “asistir” a todos los servicios durante la Semana Santa.

En verdad, nuestra liturgia de la Semana Santa a la Vigilia Pascual es mucho, mucho más que, una representación de la “emoción de la victoria y la agonía de la derrota”. Es la historia humana envuelta en la gracia de Dios: el gozo de la esperanza, la tragedia de la injusticia, el horror de una muerte cruel, y la magnífica promesa de una vida nueva y eterna. Espero que, a través de un compromiso más pleno con nuestra liturgia de la Semana Santa a la Vigilia Pascual, lleguemos a comprender la resurrección de Cristo para que sea rica, plena y verdaderamente vivificante.

Bendiciones, 
+Diana