A message during Lent from your bishop

A message during Lent from your bishop

Dear friends in Christ,

How are your Lenten practices unfolding this season? Are they opening up a new space for you to reflect, pray, sigh deeply, exhale? If your answer is “no” I invite you to stop and re-think your practice for this season. Perhaps your revised practice should be more along the lines of eliminating things on your list of  to dos. Perhaps you are doing enough regarding the things of this world; perhaps doing less is perfectly fine. Perhaps what your soul hungers for is a different kind of moment…one that is not filled with anything tangible.  Perhaps what your soul desires is a moment with the intangible: a few minutes of sitting in stillness, walking away from your screen and looking at the clouds,, a good cry, a good belly laugh, calling someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile to tell them you are thinking about them.

We have been suffering for a year. Knowing that this will pass, at some point in the future, does not make it less awful in the moment. We continue to suffer and struggle while finding a way to keep our days from feeling like one long nightmare of disconnection.  

The fullness of our humanity is under stress in ways we could not have anticipated. And even under the weight of this suffering, we know that we can and do anticipate God’s full and certain presence with us. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth reminds us: “This too shall pass.” I remind us of this assurance not as a light-weight pep talk but as a reminder that our humanity is fully alive in God known to us in Jesus the Human One. This divine presence is available to us even in our suffering, our stress, our impatience with the daily Covid routines.  

Perhaps a simple revision to our Lenten practice might be to pivot, ever so slightly, away from all this we know will pass away and find a space to be with God … to be in God. A deep sigh. An exhale. A good cry. A belly laugh. These are ways to be in God, and they are blessings in the midst of our suffering.

O Lord, strong and mighty, Lord of hosts and King of glory: Cleanse our hearts from sin, keep our hands pure, and turn our minds from what is passing away; so that at the last we may stand in your holy place and receive your blessing; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Yours in Christ,
Bishop Diana

Ash Wednesday/Lent Miércoles de Ceniza / la Cuaresma

Psalm 51
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 
Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy Spirit from me.
Give me the joy of your saving help again and
sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Dear friends in Christ,

One liturgical year ago, many of us who were leading congregations were preparing for Ash Wednesday while keeping one eye on the news. A strange virus they were calling Covid-19 was threatening infection. It was unclear how seriously we should regard the news of this strange virus. My mindset, at that time, was to soldier-on: no virus was going to take down our Ash Wednesday liturgy. And so we did soldier-on. Only weeks later did the seriousness weigh on us, and we were in lockdown. I, like so many priests leading congregations, went into deep grief over what we were being asked to do: to plan a Holy Week and Easter without gathering together, without Holy Eucharist. I also remember thinking, “We’ll look forward to next Easter when we will all be back together again!”

It is painful to realize that we anticipated the end of the pandemic so much earlier. It is difficult to think about the hopefulness of a year ago because it is not over. We are into the second year of pandemic protocols; and we are planning year 2 of pandemic Lent, Holy Week, and Easter.  

Ash Wednesday presents a unique challenge for us as we struggle to absorb this past year and hustle to live into this abnormal world with its abnormal routines. The imposition of ashes is a challenge when we are observing Covid-19 protocols. The alternative approach to sprinkle ashes on one’s head is certainly biblical and historical – and makes sense in today’s reality of safe-distancing, mask-wearing, and hand washing. But I’m wondering about the meaning underneath the ritual of Ash Wednesday. I’m wondering about the ways we participate in the spirit of Ash Wednesday even in the absence of the familiar imposition of ashes.

The Ash Wednesday ritual was meant to prepare penitents to be received back into the faith community. It was meant to focus the hearts and minds of the faithful on the patterns of our living that separate us from God by inviting us to give up something. One of the reasons we encourage giving up something during Lent is to intentionally create a sense of lack or absence in our daily routines, such that we will pause at that moment of awareness around that lack and pray. 

In all honesty, I really don’t want to give up anything this Lent. I feel like I’ve given up so much because of this pandemic. But the other day, as I pondered this resistance, my thoughts wandered to those whose lives are disrupted, destabilized, and desperate even in non-Covid times. I began to think about what the ritual of Ash Wednesday invites when you have given up so much already. This reflection led me to reflect on the depth of Christ-centered self-denial.  It is not about suffering and the display of one’s suffering, it is about giving up the stubborn insistence that we are in control of it all. It is about giving up the selfish belief that those others are the ones who need to repent. Ash Wednesday is the threshold into the season of giving up our hardened hearts.  

These times are extremely difficult as we navigate how to be Beloved Community in the swirling chaos of fear, hate, anger, finger-pointing, self-aggrandizement, self-righteousness, and despair. Yet the more we try to impose our will, our control, our self-importance, the more we get caught in our sins: turning away from God who asks only that we accept God’s love and then love each other.  

I want to suggest that we do something daring and radical this Ash Wednesday. I ask each of us to reflect on what is required of us to give up the parts of our hearts that are hardened. Give up the self-righteousness, the cynicism, the deaf ear to those who disagree with us. Give up those hardened parts of our hearts and, instead, open our hearts to loving each other. Period.  No conditions, no prerequisites, no qualifiers. Let’s take this time beginning with Ash Wednesday to repent of our hardened hearts and the ways we have separated ourselves from each other. Let’s take this time to open our hearts to the “other” (read: the one who disagrees with us) and to love them by reflecting God’s infinite love for us.  

Yes, we are tired and worn out by this pandemic. And even so, God calls us to set aside our resistance and to let in that wondrous love that surpasses all understanding even as we acknowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

Blessings this Ash Wednesday and I wish you a Holy Lent,

Bishop Diana
The Rt. Rev. Diana Akiyama
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Western Oregon


Salmo 51
Crea en mí, oh Dios, un corazón limpio, 
y renueva un espíritu recto dentro de mí.
No me eches de tu presencia, y no quites de mí tu santo Espíritu.
Restitúyeme el gozo de tu salvación, y sostenme con un espíritu firme.
Los sacrificios de Dios son el espíritu contrito;
al corazón contrito y humillado, oh Dios, no despreciarás. 

Queridos amigos en Cristo,

Hace un año litúrgico, muchos de nosotros que, a cargo de congregaciones, mientras nos preparábamos para el Miércoles de Ceniza, estábamos atentos a las noticias. Un extraño virus al que llamaban Covid-19 amenazaba con un gran contagio. No estaba muy claro la seriedad con la que debíamos considerar la noticia de este extraño virus. Mi modo de pensar, en ese momento, era de no ceder: ningún virus iba a acabar con nuestra liturgia del Miércoles de Ceniza. Y así lo hicimos, como soldados. Solo unas semanas después nos dimos cuenta de la seriedad y ya nos encontrábamos en cuarentena. Yo, como tantos sacerdotes que dirigen congregaciones, sentí un profundo dolor por lo que se nos pedía que hiciéramos: planear una Semana Santa y una Pascua sin estar reunidos físicamente, sin la Sagrada Eucaristía. También recuerdo haber pensado: “¡Esperaremos con ansias la próxima Pascua, cuando todos volvamos a estar juntos!”.

Es doloroso darnos cuenta de que anticipamos el final de la pandemia antes de tiempo. Es difícil pensar con optimismo, porque desde hace un año aún no ha terminado. Estamos en el segundo año de protocolos pandémicos; y estamos planeando el segundo año de Cuaresma, Semana Santa y Pascua pandémica.

El Miércoles de Ceniza presenta un desafío único para nosotros, mientras luchamos por asimilar todo el año pasado y nos esforzamos por vivir en este mundo anormal con sus rutinas anormales. La imposición de cenizas es un desafío ya que estamos observando los protocolos Covid-19. El enfoque alternativo de esparcir cenizas en la cabeza es ciertamente bíblico e histórico, y tiene sentido en la realidad actual para la seguridad en una distancia física, el uso de máscaras y el lavado de manos. Pero me pregunto ¿qué significa el ritual del Miércoles de Ceniza? Me pregunto acerca de las formas en que participamos en el espíritu del Miércoles de Ceniza, incluyendo en la ausencia de la acostumbrada imposición de las cenizas.

El ritual del Miércoles de Ceniza estaba destinado a preparar a los penitentes para ser recibidos nuevamente en la comunidad de fe. Tenía el propósito de centrarse en el corazón y la mente de los fieles sobre el comportamiento de la vida que los separaban de Dios, y el invitarlos a renunciar a algo. Una de las razones por las que motivamos para renunciar a algo durante la Cuaresma, es para crear intencionalmente, la sensación de falta o ausencia de algo en nuestra rutina diaria, de modo que nos detengamos y conscientemente reflexionemos en esa ausencia y hagamos oración.

Honestamente, no quiero renunciar a nada en esta Cuaresma. Siento que he renunciado a muchas cosas debido a esta pandemia. Pero el otro día, mientras reflexionaba sobre esta resistencia, mis pensamientos se fueron hacia aquellos cuyas vidas han sido interrumpidas, desestabilizadas y están desesperadas, incluso en tiempos no Covid. Empecé a pensar en lo que el ritual del Miércoles de Ceniza nos invita, cuando ya hemos renunciado a tanto. Esta reflexión me llevó a pensar sobre la profundidad del sacrificio centrada en Cristo. No se trata de sufrir y mostrar el sufrimiento de uno, se trata de renunciar a esa insistencia necia de tener el control de todo. Se trata de renunciar a la creencia egoísta de que son los otros los que necesitan arrepentirse. El miércoles de ceniza es el inicio de la temporada para abandonar nuestros corazones endurecidos.

Estos tiempos son extremadamente difíciles, y más aún cuando tratamos de ser La Comunidad Amada en medio de un torbellino caótico de miedo, de odio, de ira, de acusaciones, de auto engrandecimiento, de superioridad moral y la desesperación. Sin embargo, en cuanto más tratamos de imponer nuestra voluntad, nuestro control, nuestra importancia personal, nos enredamos más en nuestros pecados: alejándonos de Dios, que solo nos pide que aceptemos el amor de Dios y nos amemos unos a otros. 

Quiero sugerir que hagamos algo muy atrevido y radical este Miércoles de Ceniza. Les pido a cada uno de nosotros que reflexionemos sobre lo que se nos pide para renunciar a las partes de nuestro corazón que están endurecidas. Abandonar nuestra superioridad moral, el cinismo, el oído sordo hacia los que no están de acuerdo con nosotros. Abandonar esas partes endurecidas de nuestro corazón y, por otra parte, abrir nuestro corazón para amarnos unos a otros. ¡Punto! 

Sin condiciones, sin requisitos previos, sin clasificaciones. Tomemos este tiempo, empezando con el Miércoles de Ceniza, para arrepentirnos de nuestros corazones endurecidos y las formas en que nos hemos separado unos de otros. Aprovechemos este tiempo para abrir nuestro corazón al “otro” (es decir: el que no está de acuerdo con nosotros) y amarlo reflejando el amor infinito de Dios por nosotros.

Sí, ya estamos cansados ​​y agotados por esta pandemia. Y aun así, Dios nos llama a dejar a un lado nuestra resistencia y dejar entrar ese amor maravilloso que sobrepasa todo entendimiento, incluso cuando reconocemos que somos polvo y al polvo volveremos.

Bendiciones este Miércoles de Ceniza y les deseo una Santa Cuaresma,

Obispa Diana
La Revdma. Diana Akiyama
Obispa de la Diócesis Episcopal del Oeste de Oregon

Don’t Say That Word!

By the Rev. Tim Hannon, rector of St. James, Coquille

You can’t read this meditation out loud. I mean, you can, but please don’t. And you shouldn’t, because I’m going to write a word that, usually, we don’t say during Lent: alleluia. Normally, in most liturgical and traditional parts of the Christian Church, we don’t say alleluia during Lent. It’s the “A” word.

It’s an odd tradition, but it’s one that I’ve always found kinda interesting. I mean, it’s just a word, right? Right? Well, this past Sunday, following the dismissal, when I said, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!”, and you all said, “Thanks be to God!” there was this empty space of silence left open. As someone said to me following the service, “Did you hear all of us biting our tongues not to say it?” Yeah, I did. We want to say it. We want to yell it out. For some people, it’s the best part of the service. But that is, in a way, exactly why we don’t say it.

The word “alleluia” means “praise Yahweh” (there’s another word that we actually shouldn’t be saying – more on that another time). And we may rightly ask: why should we stop praising God? Why hold ourselves back? We’re living in the time of Jesus Christ, the eighth day of Creation, when all things are being made new. And we are Christians for crying out loud! Shouldn’t we be praising God up, down, left, and right? Why hold it in? Why hold in the joy at being granted eternal and everlasting life from the Lord of all Creation? Isn’t that what being a Christian is about? Isn’t that what being in a right relationship with God is all about?

Well yes, and also no. Yes, we are living in a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ; and yes, we should be praising God, seeking after God, and loving God to the fullness of our being. The life of the Christian is to practice this sort of life and to live this sort of life. But discipleship as a Christian isn’t a gas pedal pushed to the floor. Discipleship requires reflection, contemplation, looking at ourselves (at times critically) and asking why we are doing all this to begin with. And, to do that, we can’t always be “praising” God.

What happens when we reflect on something? What happens when we turn to look at what we’re doing and examine it with a critical eye? Sometimes we find ways to do things better or to get better results. I remember reflecting often on lessons I taught in class: did the students learn the material? Was I too confusing or long-winded? Did the tests accurately examine the students’ knowledge? And following this reflection, I would tweak things here or there, or sometimes I’d throw out whole lessons and start from scratch. And, hopefully, what I came up with afterwards worked better than what I had before.

But something else happens – or can happen – when we reflect on our praise of God. Praising God isn’t about our prayers “working” better or more effectively. Living a deeper life in Jesus Christ isn’t about crafting the perfect life. Praising God is saying “I love you” to the source of all Life. Sure, we could do that better, but that’s not the point. For when we reflect on our praise, we reflect not on our words or our actions but on the Person we are giving our Love. We are looking again, turning once more, and focusing all our attention on that Life and that Love that founds all things. And sometimes we need to stop praising in order to return our gaze to God.

In forty days we will say that blessed “A” word again. It will be at the Easter Vigil, if you remember. Halfway through the service, after the candles and the darkness, the songs and the readings from the whole history of Scripture. We’ll throw on the lights and cry out with those words, filling that space that we left open this morning after the dismissal, and filling that space within our own hearts that is ever being reconciled to God. And that word will fill the darkness, for it is a word that bears with it the love and hope of God Almighty, against whom death and despair are powerless.

Becoming Beloved Community: From Reflection to Action

As we approach the end of Lent, our Labyrinth journey has given us truth to recognize and a dream to proclaim. Now, Becoming Beloved Community moves from discernment and reflection into concrete action.

As always, this framework highlights the local discernment of individuals and communities. As you look for Practicing the Way of Love and Repairing the Breach, consider the following concrete actions:

  1. Within the leadership of your individual congregation or group, set some time during your meeting to look at a particular goal or project, and ask yourself how you might approach it differently if you are being intentional around the issues of inclusion and justice. Is there a perspective missing? Can it be more inclusive? Can you identify a particular area where your congregation or group might be called into reparative justice or other concrete action?
  2. Connect with other organizations active in this kind of work, such as Oregon Humanities, the Rural Organizing Project, or the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice. Find ways to participate in a specific activity, presentation or project. How is the work from within your own congregation or group enriched by partnering with another group? Are there gifts and resources that your church can offer?

Blessings in the journey,
The Rev. Patricia Steagall
Diocesan Coordinator for Diverse Church

Becoming Beloved Community Week 4: Repairing the Breach

(March 11- March 17)

PRAYER:
Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

– The Book of Common Prayer

REFLECTION AND LEARNING:

  1. Read the detailed description of Becoming Beloved Community, focusing on Repairing the Breach (pages 21 – 23)

ACTION:
After focusing on our internal dynamics, it may be time to extend our work into the world. One way to do this is to partner with other individuals, agencies, ministries and groups that share our commitment to his work.

For individuals and groups:

Identity other groups doing this work, and consider one of the following:

  1. Attend a presentation or event organized by another group.
  2. Invite a speaker from another group to make a presentation sharing their work.
  3. Contribute and participate in a particular initiative or project sponsored by another group.
  4. Consider expanding the base of community work with specific steps towards developing and focusing ecumenical, interfaith and community partnerships.

Click here for a (growing) list of groups focusing on justice and inclusion work in the state of Oregon. (coming soon)

Becoming Beloved Community: Lostness

From the Rev. Marianne Allison, chaplain at William Temple House and associate priest at St. Gabriel the Archangel, Portland.

“My colonial credentials are impeccable.”

I heard myself saying that often as I was first getting to know members of an Indigenous Theological Studies cohort I had joined at Portland Seminary. The program was run by Native Americans and First Nations Canadians. We came together to learn about decolonizing the church, and decolonizing ourselves–colonized and colonizer both. As one of a white minority in the cohort, my awkward remark telegraphed my self-consciousness about Mayflower ancestors on one side of my family, and slaveholders on the other. Not to mention, my coming from a church of empire.

My new friends passed over the remark. So what?, they were saying, implicitly. We’re here together now, and we all come from somewhere that will inform our experience. Let’s just start where we are, and walk together.

In this first act of hospitality, I was being shown the way of love, and I recognized it as the way of Jesus. And so, I stepped into this community that became for me, beloved.

It was an experience of scales falling from my eyes—a way of appreciating difference in others I had never known. I remember feeling a vague irritation in class one day that we we weren’t allowed to watch an assigned movie in our own time. Yet watching it together, I learned more from someone’s laughter, or tears, or wisecrack, or story shared that the movie brought to mind, than I possibly could have by focusing on my own reaction. And the humor! How much vulnerability, humility, and story – how much of Christ – was revealed in it.

In time too, we came to share what we were working out, each of us on our own. There was no forced march—just a quiet expectancy, a trust bestowed on each other to do it, for the sake of the community. I came to see why my proffer of ancestral baggage had been met with respectful silence. It was a disconnected fact. It had no context in the rest of my story, in who I would be to them, and who we would be to each other. I felt seen. I felt forgiven. I felt saved.

My friends love Jesus, although they’re not big fans of “Churchianity.” And they revealed Jesus to me as healer of broken Shalom, as the shepherd come to bring his lost sheep to himself. “Lostness,” to them, is purely relational. It is being lost to each other, to Jesus, to the whole community of creation. We are all lost—the colonizer and the colonized. And so we come together, each broken in our own way. We observe and absorb our differences, and we begin to make sense of them together, by practicing the way of love.

A mentor in this community once said this about the essential task of mission: “Joy comes from the community being together with Jesus. It is bringing in each lost person to share in the joy, to add their piece to the tapestry, or to bring it back.” This is beloved community, as it was shown unto me. I am humbled, and grateful for it. How can I not want it for others?

Becoming Beloved Community Week 3: Practicing the Way of Love

(March 4 – March 10)

PRAYER:

Almighty God, You bring to light things hidden in darkness and know the shadows of our hearts. Cleanse and renew us by Your Spirit, that we may walk in the light and sanctify Your name through Jesus the Messiah, the Light of the world. Amen.
– The Kenyan Book of Common Prayer

REFLECTION AND LEARNING:

  1. Read the detailed description of Becoming Beloved Community, focusing on Practicing the Way of Love (pages 16-20)

ACTION:

The focus of our activities this week is to look at the way our communities are organized in their internal leadership and action, and start examining our common work through the lens of Becoming Beloved Community.

For individuals:

  • Make a thoughtful self-examination on your personal experiences and social location around the questions of inclusion/exclusion, privilege/oppression. Prayerfully consider how your personal experiences and background influence your perspective and voice as a member and leader within your communities.

For congregations and groups:
Of necessity, the action for this week needs to be discerned by each individual and group participating. Here are some possibilities:

  1. At your next meeting, set time aside to reflect on how one of your agenda items might be approached or engaged with differently if special attention is being given to the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion.
  2. Invite an outside speaker or diocesan consultant to work with your group on a topic related to justice and inclusion issues.
  3. Research and implement an exercise that will allow your group to become your conscious of its own dynamics or inclusion/privilege, or exclusion/oppression.

Becoming Beloved Community Week 2: Proclaiming the Dream

The Rev. Dcn. Maureen Hagen reads a portion of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in the chapel at the diocesan office during the Eucharist.

Proclaiming the dream is a hope-filled reminder that our work around inclusion and justice is grounded in our understanding of God’s vision for God’s creation. Biblical images of the Peaceable Kingdom, Beloved Community, the Kingdom of Heaven… all these come together in a common vision for the world as it should be. As followers of Jesus, we are called to participate in the embodiment of this dream.

This week on our diocesan Lenten series I’m please to share yet another excelent resource on practicing and becoming Beloved Community, “Becoming Beloved Community Where You Are: A Resource for Individuals, Congregations and Communities.” Just as our diocesan program speaks of this as a framework around which to understand and engage on justice, inclusion and reconciliation as a way of life, this resource offers a plethora of ideas to be adapted as suitable in our various local environments.

Given last week’s snow and ice in the metro area, our Eucharist focused on Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was rescheduled and held yesterday (click here to watch video of this Eucharist and discussion). Many thanks to those who participated, as well as congregations and individuals who read the letter and participated in discussion groups throughout the diocese. What did you learn? What surprised you?  What does this letter invite you to do, be or change?

Blessings in the journey,
The Rev. Patricia Steagall
Diocesan Coordinator for Diverse Church

Becoming Beloved Community: Inclusion and justice as a way of life

As we begin our Lenten journey, many of us will choose Becoming Beloved Community as our Lenten discipline, opening our hearts and minds to a theology and practice that offers a way of living into justice and reconciliation as a way of life.

This week, our emphasis is on the first step, which is “telling the truth.” As individuals, Lent challenges us to deepen our understanding of the truth in our lives as examined by the values and light of the Gospel of Christ. This same question needs to be asked at the level of community, and each one of us may choose to highlight the telling of truth within the communities of which we form a part.

At the level of the wider church, telling the truth is associated with church-wide surveys on how, and what, we are doing in terms of inclusion and justice.  Here in the Diocese of Oregon, our communal telling the truth, this year, is a generous invitation for as many of our leaders and voices as possible to participate in Diverse Church I.

So, let’s be generous in doing this work!

Click here to read the introduction and first theme of becoming Beloved Community.
Click here to “sign up” and commit to Becoming Beloved Community as your Lenten journey.
Click here for this year’s Diverse Church workshops in the Diocese of Oregon.

Blessings in Christ,
The Rev. Patricia Steagall
Diocesan Coordinator for Diverse Church