Today the Episcopalian commemorates the live of Anna Julia Haywood Cooper. A strong woman of faith who fought to be educated as an African-American woman, she was dedicated to the principles of Christian faith as expressed by Anglicans in the United States. It would serve is well in Canada to be reminded today of those who like Haywood Cooper found a voice to fight for justice for all.
Here is what satucket.com shares about her:
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (August 10, c1859- February 27, 1964). Educator, advocate and scholar. Born in Raleigh, North Carolina to an enslaved woman and a white man, presumably her mother’s master, Anna Julia was an academically gifted child and received a scholarship to attend St. Augustine Normal School and Collegiate Institute, a school founded by the Episcopal Church to educate African-American teachers and clergy. There she began her membership in the Episcopal Church. After forcing her way into a Greek class designed for male theology students, Anna Julia later married the instructor, George A.C. Cooper, the second African-American ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in North Carolina. After her husband’s death in 1879, Cooper received degrees in mathematics from Oberlin College, and was made principal of the only African American high school in Washington D.C.. She was denied reappointment in 1906 because she refused to lower her educational standards. Throughout her career, Cooper emphasized the importance of education to the future of African Americans, and was critical of the lack of support they received from the church. An advocate for African-American women, Cooper assisted in organizing the Colored Women’s League and the first Colored Settlement House in Washington, D.C. She wrote and spoke widely on issues of race and gender, and took an active role in national and international organizations founded to advance African Americans. At the age of fifty-five she adopted the five children of her nephew. In 1925, Cooper became the fourth African-American woman to complete a Ph.D degree, granted from the Sorbonne when she was sixty-five years old. From 1930-1942, Cooper served as president of Frelinghuysen University.
On our Lenten journey — can we seek to be inspired by such strong voices for justice and look to give a voice to those who suffer injustice? Join us each Wednesday during Lent to hear our series of speakers who will give us some ideas on what we might be able to do. This week the Rev Bruce Jackson from the Village of Aspen lake will be with us to discuss Elder care and spirituality — our program begins at 7:30 PM in the Upper Room of the Church hall.
Today the church commemorates the life of George Herbert. Herbert was a great priest of the church in the Late16th and early 17th centuries. He wrote plenty. When I was in Seminary at Huron University College in the mid 1990’s, The Right Rev’d John Chapman (now Bishop of Ottawa) was rector of St. Jude’s Church in London and he taught a course on Pastoral Care. A part of the assigned reading was a book called The Country Parson by George Herbert. It was among my favourite reading in the three years of study that I was there. I still read it today.
While it is dated, and some of it no longer is applicable, Herbert’s ideas of how to be attentive to prayer, education, Sabbath keeping, preaching, pastoral care, and all duties of being a priest, etc., are valuable to all who follow this vocation yet today. While the practices and theology that he sets out may at times seem foreign today, the passion that he holds for the values of being priest are timeless.
I want to share three little pieces if his writing on the day of his commemoration:
“He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.”
Perhaps there is no better time of year to be reminded of this than during Lent. At this time, when we are implored to journey into our wilderness and live with the wild beasts of our own minds, we often find that what we need more than anything else is to forgive those who have sinned against us. How many of us are carrying burdens today that should have been set down many moons ago? How imprisoned are we who have broken that bridge between us and another? How isolated have we left ourselves because we have forgotten that as much as we long to be forgiven we also must be willing to forgive?
Another gem is about preaching:
“When he preacheth, he procures attention by all possible art, both by earnestnesse of speech, it being naturall to men to think, that where is much earnestness, there is somewhat worth hearing; and by a diligent, and busy cast of his eye on his auditors, with letting them know, that he observes who marks, and who not; and with particularizing of his speech now to the younger sort, then to the elder, now to the poor, and now to the rich. This is for you, and This is for you; for particulars ever touch, and awake more then generalls.”
This note has been a guide for me in preaching. I remember the day I read it for the first time. Even though this was written so very long ago it remains so very true today. We parsons are preachers and our duty as such is to take time to care enough to use ‘all possible art’ to communicate the transformative love of Jesus to the community to which we are entrusted. Speaking in generalities may be safe, but Herbert reminds us all that the Word has a very real and particular implication for those of us who follow Jesus today. He knew that to be true in 1652 and I know it to be true today. Those of us who have been entrusted with such an awesome and humbling responsibility need to remember that the Word is relevant and in more that ‘generalls.’
His book concludes with this Prayer after Sermon:
“Blessed be God! and the Father of all mercy! who continueth to pour his benefits upon us. Thou hast elected us, thou hast called us, thou hast justified us, sanctified, and glorified us: Thou wast born for us, and thou livedst and diedst for us: Thou hast given us the blessings of this life, and of a better. O Lord! thy blessings hang in clusters, they come trooping upon us! they break forth like mighty waters on every side. And now Lord, thou hast fed us with the bread of life: so man did eat Angels food: O Lord, blesse it: O Lord, make it health and strength unto us; still striving &prospering so long within us, untill our obedience reach the measure of thy love, who hast done for us as much as may be. Grant this dear Father, for thy Son’s sake, our only Saviour: To whom with thee, and the Holy Ghost, three Persons, but one most glorious, incomprehensible God, be ascribed all Honour, and Glory, and Praise, ever. Amen.”
Until our obedience reach the measure of thy love…… I love this!
Hidden Greatness – Henri Nouwen
There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.
Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.
We all want love, appreciation, and we all want to be validated and affirmed in some way. All of that being said, we also know that there real best things that we most appreciate in life are often those quiet gestures of love that no one really knows anything about. Much of the greatness that surrounds us daily is indeed a ‘hidden greatness.’ Think about those times when love was expressed to us in the simple form of a pot of soup when we were ill. How about that gesture of support or warm embrace in the time of loss? Think of the hours that friends/family have given us when we needed someone present and we had no need for words. How about those who take time to be with those that others find uncomfortable to be with because they are ‘broken,’ ill, isolated, rejected…the list is extensive?
Greatness is indeed often very unobtrusive. What might we accomplish if we could lay aside our need to be affirmed and praised? What might we be able to change in another’s life if our motive is simply his/her comfort and not our feeling better for having done it? Lent brings us into a time of serious self-examination. Can we repent of our need to be acknowledged and respond this Lenten Season by taking on quiet, unobtrusive, and hidden acts of love for others?
Let us be reminded of the words of the Gospel for As Wednesday ….
“Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
“And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Today the Church keeps the Feast of St. Matthias. We know very little about this man. What we find of him is scripture is that he was chosen as the replacement for Judas —- we all know his story. So for those of us not real fresh on the story of St. Matthias – here is the one piece of biblical text about the great saint:
During this time, the family of believers was a company of about one hundred twenty persons. Peter stood among them and said, “Brothers and sisters, the scripture that the Holy Spirit announced beforehand through David had to be fulfilled. This was the scripture concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus. This happened even though he was one of us and received a share of this ministry.” (In fact, he bought a field with the payment he received for his injustice. Falling headfirst, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines spilled out. This became known to everyone living in Jerusalem, so they called that field in their own language Hakeldama, or “Field of Blood.”) “It is written in the Psalms scroll,
Let his home become deserted and let there be no one living in it;
Give his position of leadership to another.
“Therefore, we must select one of those who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus lived among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken from us. This person must become along with us a witness to his resurrection.” So they nominated two: Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
They prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s deepest thoughts and desires. Show us clearly which one you have chosen from among these two to take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” When they cast lots, the lot fell on Matthias. He was added to the eleven apostles.
Now once we get past the gory bits about Judas busting open in the middle and losing his intestines in the field (not recommended reading before the lunch hour), we come to learn that the disciples felt it necessary to fulfill the words of Psalm 109:8. “Give his position of leadership to another.” Now the question became, “how do we do this?” Discerning leadership in the church or in any other institution is not easy work. In the case of Matthias we hear two things. First – the people of God prayed! Novel concept for many, but for those of us who walk in the footprints of Jesus, this should be our first response. The second thing we learn, is that they cast lots – some believed that God would reveal who would be ‘elevated’ in the result of the casting (Incidentally, some still think this way – when you hand rosary beads from your slot machines, or pray that God would affect the outcome of a game of chance, the same principle applies). The lot fell on Matthias – he was chosen and is now known as the guy who replaced ‘that guy!!!’ But the intriguing part for me is what is not in the story. Surely there was more to it. They prayed and no doubt the Spirit spoke. Of the 120 in the community, gifts of a couple of people in particular must have been identified. I wish we know more about what those gifts were. We will never know. That being said, we do know that when we seek the counsel of the Spirit, we can see where God is leading is in terms of finding the gifts for leadership our communities and institutions need.
Just before heading out to Newfoundland last week, we had our first Parish Leadership Team (Our Parish Council). Meeting with our four new members present. Each year we must replace our PLT vacancies (thankfully none of those being replaced faced the fate of Judas). As I read about Matthias this morning I was taken back to that first meeting of a newly constituted group of leaders. It was very good meeting with great input from the four new leaders that had been raised up by our community at our Annual Vestry meeting. Had me thinking about what we did in early February to elect that group. I am pleased to say that we did not ‘cast lots’ to decide who would be our Leaders in this church for 2012. For weeks leading up to that meeting we asked folks to pray about who might have what is needed to lead. In my own prayers I asked God to reveal for us those who might be able to bring gifts of direction, flexibility, adaptability, insight, awareness, skill and faith to see our congregation continue to grow in faith. I believe that Chris, Stephen, Dan, and Elaine who have joined our team all bring unique wisdom and vision to us. Likewise our new Warden, Christian Paulton, also brings great energy, a discerning mind and a great love for God and for the church. I am grateful as are the faithful of this church for those that have served and have now stepped down, including Barbara Lyons, Jerry Pardy, Bob Cooper, Christie Paulton, and Scott Shields – and I am thankful as well for the new gifts lifted up in Stephen Willets, Christine McVeigh, Elaine Janosik, Dan Beaulieau, and Christian Paulton.
On this Feast of St. Matthias perhaps it is a good time for us to reflect on leadership in the church and how we renew that leadership. Often we are guilty of simply plugging names into vacant positions. As the year moves forward we may all have leadership positions in this church, in other churches, in other organizations or institutions that may need to be filled. Let’s agree to take time to step back, take a breath, offer some time for prayer and discernment, and let God lead us in identifying the for us those who will lead….or we could cast lots the next time we need someone to chair a committee??
Today’s Epistle reading in the Eucharistic Lectionary is from James Chapter 2:
My brothers and sisters, when you show favouritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favouritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges?
My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?
You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbour as yourself. But when you show favouritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. CEB
It seems to me that this is a tall order for us today. We have a real complex with showing honour and favouritism to those who already have much. What movie star, hockey legend, business superstar, favourite singer, etc, pays for much of anything in this world? Take the Oscars as an example. Last year’s swag bag was worth over $75 000. That’s correct folks – $75 000! How about swanky restaurants, exclusive clubs, private suites in sports arenas? Those who have so much are given so much more. It may be unjust and unfair, but it is the way of our society.
The danger here is that we read this pericope and think about the far off world of Hollywood or the haunts of the finest hotel. But what about our response to this epistle reading? Is it possible that we participate in this behaviour as well? Are we as excited or anxious to sit and eat with those who are down-and-out as we would be to chow down with a celeb? – Rhetorical question!
So this scripture is tough. It calls us to a high standard of behaviour and it is not a standard that is easy to attain to. The writer of James has laid out a very clear and specific idea of who this neighbour that we are called to love is. That neighbour is poor, rejected, dishonoured, broken, ill, unfinished, and often alone. The call of this epistler is to radical acceptance of those that are unacceptable by other standards.
What might that look like for us? Are there people that we can embrace that need our embracing? Does the possibility exist that we show favour to those who look good? Is it within the realm of possibility that we prefer those who have positions of power over the powerless? Do we want to be with the popular rather than with the so-called ‘loser?’ Again – all rhetorical questions? We know the answers. We also know that this form of behaviour has led to many a problem – in our schools, our families, our workplaces, our social circles, and dare I say it – even in our churches. The irony is that our favour means little to those who are in the seat of success, but to those who are hurting, our favour could mean so very much.
So how do we respond? We cannot all be Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But all of us, perhaps, can identify an opportunity to refuse to show favouritism. We all can pray to have our eyes opened and our ears perked to identify with the one who is rejected, broke, lonely, depressed, forgotten, ill, tormented, or hungry in the many ways in which one can hunger.
I have been guilty of showing favour to those who probably have no need for my favour. How about you? Now I must look to see where I could show love, hope, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, and embrace where it can make such a difference. How about you?
Every day I receive another email reflection from the Henri Nouwen Society. It is a great way for me to start my day. The words are often, if not always, useful and instructive.
Consolation is a beautiful word. It means “to be” (con-) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the mother who lost her child, the young person with AIDS, the family whose house burned down, the soldier who was wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old person who wonders why he/she should stay alive.
To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don’t be afraid. I am here.” That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as to receive it.
Lately I have been thinking about social media and the impact it is having on my life and the life of those in my life. I think these tools have a great advantage and can serve to do much good, if used properly. But I confess that I have become so frustrated with Facebook at times that I have considered just shutting down my account. The difficulty with that is, I lose a communication tool that seems to be here to stay. I would never consider cutting off the phone lines. So alas, I have resolved to take the bad and the good together. The note from Nouwen this morning set me to ponder the fact that sadly, many seem to be looking for consolation on Facebook. Seems odd given what Nouwen writes above. The very word means to ‘be with’ and we look for it in a place that is very without. We look to be with our ‘friends’ while all the while we are alone! I am troubled by the fact that our world has become so electronic that we have forgotten some very basic and fundamental ‘ways of being.’ Today, making friends has been changed to ‘friend me on Facebook!’
There was a time when we would express our concern for another with a call, a visit, or a hand written note. Birthday greetings from family and friends used to be done in person, on the phone or with a card – now we write Happy Birthday on a Facebook Wall or if we are real close, a text message. All of this feeds the illusion of closeness and friendship as expressed by clicking that we ‘like’ something. If we like it enough we might ‘share’ it by posting it on a wall. Indeed, I have on many occasions shared a link to a blog or article that seems to add something positive to the collective conscience. There is great delight in having ‘so many FB friends’ or ‘followers’ on Twitter. But who am I kidding? Who are we kidding as a society? All of this egoism is feeding something in ourselves which is less than a healthy place. Any of us who are on Facebook need to come to grips with this, the writer included!
In this world of email, Facebook, and Twitter we must ask ourselves, what consolation looks like? How is it that we are ‘being with…the lonely one?’ How often do we take time in our day to visit a friend or family member or for that matter to visit a stranger and seek out how he/she needs our presence, our love and our support? Do we take the time to ‘be with’ someone else or have we convinced ourselves that expressing our concern in the electronic world is in some way ‘being with’ another human being? Now this is not to suggest that one cannot make the best use of the tools at one’s disposal to be in touch. But we must be honest and admit that one is in a large way overtaking the other. How can we enter into another’ suffering by removing interpersonal contact in favour of virtual contact? This is exacerbated all the more by the need to become increasingly more personal via social media. Oddly, more detached we become to others, the more attached we become to the ‘other virtual world,’ where we are prepared to share feelings that, for whatever reason, we are reticent to express to each other face to face.
I fear that the answer is that we are afraid to take on the suffering of another. We are afraid to admit our own vulnerability, our own fragility, our own weakness. Looking into another’s pain and choosing to be present with it is a great act of love. It is choosing to go beyond clicking ‘like’ to embrace LOVE!
Feel free to click ‘like’ on this page! But know that our best response to this call will be to shut down our PC, Mac, Notebook, iphone, etc and set out today to find someone who needs consolation and space time with them – they are not hard to find.
“There shall in that time be rumours of things going astray, erm, and there shall be a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia-work base, that has an attachment. At that time, a friend shall lose his friend’s hammer, and the young shall not know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers that their fathers put there only just the night before, about eight o’clock.”
Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a real classic. There are so many great lines in that film. This line came to mind today as I was looking for yet one more thing that I had misplaced…er…lost. How often do I lose things? Now before you smarty pants who know me well start crowing — that was a rhetorical question.
For those who are unfamiliar with Life of Brian …where have you been? – Ok so in brief – Brian is born on the same day as Jesus in the neighbouring stable and spends his life being mistaken for the messiah. What follows in this movie is a series of events that can only be described as hilarious. If you have never watched Life of Brian – rent it and watch it – you will not be disappointed.
This whole thinking about Life of Brian was brought on by an exchange I had yesterday with a Roman Catholic who for the purposes of this article will remain nameless. To the incident in a minute, but first let me set the table. One of the funniest scenes of the movie is a scene where Brian’s followers split themselves into two groups. One group worship one of his sandals while others are devoted to a gourd Brian left behind. “Cast off the shoes, follow the gourd,” one woman exclaims. “No, No, let us gather shoes together,” exclaims another follower. Now this is ridiculously funny because it is an exaggeration of that which is all too real for those who follow Jesus. They spilt themselves into camps and argue about which way the ‘right way’ is. Now this takes me back to last night’s encounter. At a table with friends at a local football party, someone remarked that “he is a priest.” He, in this instance – is yours’ truly. To wit, this man said in the condescending manner that I have become accustomed to hearing from him, “He is not a priest.” To wit, I responded, “I most certainly am a priest. I was ordained a deacon on the feast of St. Bartholomew in 1997 and a Priest on the Feast of St. Boniface in 1998.” The response? “You are NOT a priest. You are a minister. Do you have a Pope? …He is NOT a priest!!!” Now this is ridiculous enough to be funny but it is also alarming this day in age. I would be lying if I said it did not bother me to be so clearly reduced to being ‘less than a priest.’ That is a priest as he sees it from his Roman Catholic perspective. Am I ordained by the group that worships the shoe or the group that wants us all to follow the gourd? I really am not sure! Both seem equally laughable. The issue here is the fact that my Holy Orders were not bestowed by the followers of the right rite!
Now it should be noted here, that I am married to a faithful Roman Catholic who shows nothing but respect for my Holy Orders as do most of the Roman Catholics that I know. It should also be noted that I have chatted with many Anglicans and Protestants of a variety of persuasions whose attitudes about Roman Catholics and RC priest are less than honourable and whose words are as derisory as those expressed by my ‘friend’ here in Tecumseh last evening. He is the product of a time which has thankfully passed – he and those like him, have sadly never accepted that passage of time.
When we reduce ourselves to a people who see each other with contempt, we sadly become the parody depicted so very well by Monty Python’s Life of Brian! We appear, to the world around us, to be arguing about bowing down to a shoe or following a gourd. How can we every salvage the Church (that includes the many manifestations of church), when we still have to contend with people who are willing to devour their own young? It there any wonder that we are struggling to find a relevant voice in this world? It is a challenge to overcome the negativity that is eating the Church from the inside out. The irony here is that my faithful ‘friend’ from Tecumseh appeared to feel smug and proud of the fact that he was reducing a ‘minister’ from another church while what he was really doing was reducing the Church (speaking in the plural here), the Roman Catholic church included. G.K. Chesterton wrote that “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” If we are unable to show one another that loyalty in the current storm that we all weather as Church, I fear we will one day realize that Ralph Waldo Emerson was correct in asserting, “Religion is as effectually destroyed by bigotry as by indifference.”
I hope that the reflection of religious bigotry that I was subject to last night was a glimpse at an endangered species that will soon be extinct as evolution takes its course. I hope that we all find a voice to speak together against those who deride, diminish and degenerate. Our common dignity demands no less.