Do you believe all this stuff?

Dear Friends,

Perhaps there has been a time when someone asked you, “Do you really believe all that stuff?” (God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, etc.)  People who don’t “believe” often wonder why it is that we do believe, and also what is it, exactly, that we believe.  Recently, I have been re-reading Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams. In the first chapter, Williams addresses “belief.”  He does so by reframing the question and concept of belief, and asking, rather, in what or whom do you put your “trust.”  To believe in God is to put our trust in God.  To believe goes well beyond believing “this” or “that” about the historical Jesus, but instead calls us to the depth of our hearts and souls and where we place our trust.  To believe in all that stuff — is really “saying that we can trust the maker of heaven and earth precisely because he is the maker of heaven and earth.” (p.11)

Believing things about Jesus is not the same as putting one’s trust in Jesus.  For the reality is that people “believe” all kinds of different things about Jesus that can be debated and disputed until the end of time, but the real question is not what do I believe, but in whom do I put my trust.  With whom can I trust my soul, my sin, my dreams, my disappointments, my fears, my utterly true and vulnerable self — I believe that one is Jesus! 

In Christ,

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Paul

Liberation

I recently finished reading Educated: Memoir, by Tara Westover. A disturbing and yet inspiring true story of a young woman who grew up in a survivalist family in rural Idaho. She miraculously finds liberation with admission to BYU, then to Harvard, and ultimately to Cambridge for a Ph.D. During her first lecture at Cambridge, the professor spoke of Isaiah Berlin.

"So what are Isaiah Berlin's two concepts?” the lecturer asked.  Nearly everyone raised a hand.

"Negative liberty,” [a student answered], “is the freedom from external obstacles or constraints. An individual is free in the sense if they’re not physically prevented from taking action.”

“Very good,” the lecturer said. “And the second?”

“Positive liberty,” another student said, “is freedom from internal constraints."  

I took a picture of this page and sent it to Sophia, JP, and Luke. "Please read! What is preventing you from being who and what you truly want to be, truly can be?"  

I offer this to you with the question, “What is preventing you, me, us/we - as the people of Trinity Church, from truly and completely living into God’s call for us - both as individuals and as a community of believers?”

What external and internal constraints are limiting our liberty and freedom to truly follow Jesus? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of liberation, true freedom.  The Gospel calls us to break down the constraints both external and internal that imprison humanity and prevent us from living more fully into God’s call, God’s dream for us, for all!

Peace, 

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The Rev. Paul Jeanes III
Rector

Ascension Day

Women at the Grave of Christ and Ascension of Christ, Reidersche Tafel; Ivory; Milan or Rome, c. 400 AD

Women at the Grave of Christ and Ascension of Christ, Reidersche Tafel; Ivory; Milan or Rome, c. 400 AD

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Luke 24:44-53

 Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven: May our hearts and minds also there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A few years ago, while on sabbatical, I had the blessing of visiting many sacred sites in and around Jerusalem.  One of these was in Bethany at the site of the Ascension, where our Lord was “carried up to heaven.”  When you are there, you can’t help it.  You have to look up.  You just have too.  For perhaps by some gift of the Holy Spirit you might miraculously see a so very faint remnant of the Lord’s ascent.  Like the lines across the sky still visible long after a plane is out of view. 

 Did I see something, feel something, perceive something that gives “evidence” of His journey.  No. I simply saw the miracle of a beautiful blue sky.  But, I was reminded to keep my eyes open for sightings of Heaven, to keep my ears open for the sounds of Heaven, to keep my heart open to the dream of Heaven, and through word and deed to keep aspiring for reality and promise of Heaven - that indeed God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Though on this day we celebrate our Lord’s ascent and return to the Father, let us remember that there is much of Heaven’s work to be done right here, right now on this most soild ground.

In Christ,

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The Rev. Paul Jeanes III
Rector

Br. Chris Leaves for Guatemala

Before seminary, I was part of a team providing pastoral care to migrant horse groomers.  It was a wonderful experience.  I also struggled to understand the men as they shared their heart breaking stories of migration.  As a result of these experiences, I began learning Spanish.  It’s been a long road — due to the generosity of Trinity Church, I’ll be taking a big step forwards fluency.  

On May 26, I’ll travel to Antigua, Guatemala for four weeks of Spanish Immersion. I’ll be staying with friends of the Jeanes family; a parishioner very kindly donated their airline miles. Additionally, the tuition of all day Spanish lessons for four weeks is quite inexpensive.  All of this has made my trip possible.  I’m grateful to Fr. Paul for letting me combine all my vacation and continuing education time into this four-week venture.  

According to the Episcopal Church’s Strategic Vision for Reaching Latinos/Hispanics, the United States is the second largest Latino country in the world — second only to Mexico.  Yes, the United States has more Hispanics than Spain!  Later on in the same report, we read:

In the midst of various challenges resulting in the Episcopal Church’s membership decline, our church also faces the unprecedented opportunity to embrace the changing times with excitement, zeal, and hope. The dramatic increase in the numbers of Latinos/Hispanics in communities throughout the country should be seen as an evangelistic opportunity and hope for the church.

The ability to speak Spanish will significantly increase the impact of my ministry in the years to come, providing a welcome to people who might not otherwise have felt at home in the Episcopal Church.  I’m so grateful to Fr. Paul, our Vestry, and the entire parish for making this possible. Hasta luego!

La paz,

Hermano Chris 

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The Power of Testimony

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On Saturday, May 4, the Body of Christ tragically lost a wonderfully creative and passionate young woman, Rachel Held Evans. “Raised in an evangelical household, she spent much of her adult life challenging the harmful role that conservative American culture plays Christianity” (New Yorker, May). Only in her death did I become aware of her most important role and prophetic place in our faith. Below I offer an excerpt from her last blog

Life eternal grant to Rachel, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon her.

In Christ,

 
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The Rev. Paul Jeanes III
Rector

— The Power of Testimony —

Rachel Held Evans

“There is deliverance in the music, there is healing in the music, there is love—there is love—in the music.”

Tiffany Thomas had reached a crescendo. As the twenty-nine- year-old pastor concluded her riveting and rhythmic testimony about how the hymns of the black church drew her to Jesus, the nine hundred people crammed into Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis rose to their feet and cheered.

That weekend, a dozen speakers, ranging from pastors to artists to teachers to scientists joined Tiffany in responding to the question, Why Christian? Why, with all the atrocities past and present committed in God’s name, amid all the divisions ripping apart the church, in spite of all their doubts and frustrations and fears about faith, are they still followers of Jesus? What makes them continue to believe?

My friend Nadia Bolz-Weber and I posed the question at our inaugural “Why Christian?” conference in 2015 because it’s a question that weighs on us every day and it’s a question Christians don’t ask one another often enough. As each speaker approached the microphone to share their stories—some with the practiced cadence of working preachers, others with a quiet vulnerability, and all with the conviction of people whose faith has been hard-won—it became clear that there simply remains no greater apologetic for the Christian faith than a life caught up in the story of Jesus.

“I am a Christian,” explained Episcopal priest Kerlin Richter, “because having a body wasn’t always good news for me, but then I met Good News that had a body. In Jesus, I met a God who spits and kisses, who yells and cries. I am a messy and embodied person, and this is a messy and embodied faith.”

“I am a Christian,” declared Austin Channing Brown, an author and activist whose work focuses on racial justice in the church, “because God knows my pain, not in an abstract way, but in a real, bloody, enfleshed way.”

“I am a Christian,” said Rachel Murr, a researcher and counselor, “because the gospel is good news for gay people too.”

“I am a Christian,” explained Baptist preacher and human rights activist Allyson Robinson, “because I don’t always know if this story is true, but I choose to live my life as if it were. I choose to live as if the things Jesus died for were worthy of God’s sacrifice and therefore worthy of mine.”

When it came time for me to share, I spoke honestly about my doubts about the Bible and Christianity. I confessed my uncertain- ties about raising children in this broken and beloved community we call the church. I explained how gatherings like these help restore my faith because they pull me out of my head and into the lives of others, into the big, colorful, messy, and magical story of Jesus.

“I am a Christian,” I concluded, “because the story of Jesus is still the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.”

I had forgotten the power of giving testimony, of publicly recounting our unique “gospels according to . . .” We can know a person for decades, share a pew with them in church every Sunday, without ever knowing their testimonies, without ever asking them, “Hey, why Christian?” We can spend a lifetime singing hymns and reading the Bible without honestly answering that question for ourselves.

Jesus invites us into a story that is bigger than ourselves, bigger than our culture, bigger even than our imaginations, and yet we get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of our particular moment and place in time. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God.

May we never neglect the gift of that. May we never lose our love for telling the tale.

The Easter Paradox

Paradox is at the heart of our Christian faith.  As we continue celebrating Easter, we remember the most profound paradox in Christianity — that death leads to new life. 

This past week, I travelled to New York City to see long time choir member, Nicholas Gordon confirmed at St. John’s Episcopal Church. On Sunday, we saw Mother Kara become the Canon Theologian for the Diocese of New Jersey. It was a wonderful time of celebration in our community!

Even as we celebrated these accomplishments, I found out that Rachel Held Evans died at 37 years old.  Rachel was a prominent author who spoke about her evangelical upbringing and finding a home in the Episcopal Church.  Her death, especially at such a young age, was shocking.  She once wrote, “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.  Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth.  We might just create sanctuary”. 

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Earlier his morning, I read about the passing of another great hero in the church — Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche passed away at the age of 90.  Vanier served in the Royal Navy in Canada and upon discharge, he felt called “to do more”. He went to help a priest in France, who worked with people who have developmental disabilities. Vanier was shocked how people were thrown away and treated as garbage.  He created L’Arche — where people who have developmental disabilities can live with others in a true family like setting.  Amidst this model, incredible healing has occurred, all around.  Vanier wrote in his book Community and Growth, “I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” Talk about paradox!  As I said before, Christianity is full of paradox.  

Krista Tippet, of On Being, interviewed Jean Vanier a number of years ago at an Episcopal retreat center in rural Maryland.  As we seek to make sense of the Easter paradox, of Rachel’s death, and Jean Vanier’s passing… I pray Vanier’s words will heal you as they’ve healed me.

Your brother,

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Br. Christopher McNabb, OSF

Second Chances at Easter

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

— John 21:15-19, NRSV

I defended my doctoral dissertation on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. I remember this fact only because I said a Eucharist for that feast day the morning of my defense. Since my dissertation was about how liturgy and the sacraments should re-order our thinking about time, I wanted to practice what I wrote — by liturgically offering my work to God before I offered it to my committee. I’m reminded of that event this week partly because my installation as Canon Theologian of the Diocese is coming up on Sunday, and my graduation from Duke is happening the week after that. It’s a time for joy and celebration, as well as for gratitude to each one of you for your support of my ministry at Trinity Church and beyond. But I’m also reminded of it because the Gospel for that feast day is the same one that appears in our lectionary this Sunday.

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In Sunday’s Gospel, we hear Jesus telling Peter that one day, someone will fasten a belt around him and take him where he doesn’t want to go. Even though that’s a phrase that comes to mind every time I put on my cincture before the Eucharist, and I think it does capture something of what priesthood is about, that’s about Peter. It’s not about me. Finishing a dissertation is not analogous to martyrdom. I am one of those rare people who actually had a great time in graduate school — so much so that I did it twice! And even though priesthood, and theological scholarship too, can be a walk to the cross, perhaps it is not for any of us to desire suffering for the sake of the Gospel. It comes to us quite independent of our desires or our efforts, and perhaps rightly so. 

Instead, what I want to note is the shape of Jesus’ call to Peter. Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me. Three times, the risen Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” And three times, Peter says yes. Three times. The one who denied his Lord three times gets a second chance to make it right. In the form and the pattern of Peter’s betrayal, in the wake of his greatest shame, the risen Christ shows us that in him, everything really can be redeemed. Peter is called to follow once again, and to be that rock upon whom the church will be built, because the God we serve is a God of second chances, new life, and new birth. 

I wouldn’t be writing to you today if it wasn’t true. Alleluia, Christ is risen! 

Yours faithfully in Christ,

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Kara Slade
Associate Rector

Hallelujah, Anyhow!

The Rt. Reverend Barbara Harris was the first woman ordained and consecrated a bishop in The Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. In her memoir, entitled Hallelujah, Anyhow!, [she] quotes an old Gospel hymn that says it this way:

Hallelujah anyhow
Never let your troubles get you down
When your troubles come your way
Hold your hands up high and say
Hallelujah anyhow!

When I get to Heaven, I want to meet one person, and her name is Mary Magdalene. Because if ever there was another Hallelujah, Anyhow sister, it was Mary Magdalene. And her life, and her example, tells us what it means to follow in the way of Jesus, in the Way of Love.

Mary Magdalene showed up when others would not. Mary Magdalene spoke up when others remained silent. Mary Magdalene stood up when others sat down.

John’s Gospel tells us that when many of the disciples fled and abandoned Jesus, Mary Magdalene stood by him at the cross. Hallelujah, Anyhow.

Against the odds, swimming against the current, Mary Magdalene was there.

John’s Gospel says in the 20th chapter, early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene and some of the other women went to the tomb. Hallelujah, Anyhow.

They went to the tomb when it didn’t make any sense. They went to the tomb when the evidence was against them. Jesus was dead. They knew that. The power of the Empire had crushed the hope of love. They knew that. And they got up in the morning and went to the tomb anyhow. Hallelujah, Anyhow.

But more than that, John’s Gospel says it was dark. It was dark. That’s not just the time of day in John’s Gospel. The darkness in John is the domain of evil. In John’s Gospel when Judas leaves the Last Supper to betray Jesus, John inserts a parenthetical remark. When Judas leaves to betray him, John says, “And it was night.” The darkness is the domain of wrong, of hatred, of bigotry, of violence, the domain of sin and death and horror.

And early in the morning while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, Hallelujah, Anyhow.

The truth is, she didn’t know that Jesus was alive. She was just doing what love does. Caring for her beloved, her Savior, her friend, in his time of death, to give him the last rites of burial. And when she got to the tomb, and the other women with them, they eventually discovered that Jesus was alive, and in the silence of the night, in the moments of despair, in the moments of the worst darkness, God had done something incredible. God had raised Jesus from the dead

The truth is, nobody saw Jesus rise from the dead, because God had done it secretly and quietly, when nobody was looking.

When I was in high school, I learned a poem composed by James Russell Lowell. He wrote it in the 19th century, in one of the darkest periods in American history, when this country was torn asunder by the existence of chattel slavery in our midst. In this great land of freedom, there were slaves being held in bondage. And this nation literally went to war, tearing itself apart, trying to find the way to do what was right. And James Russell Lowell wrote, in the midst of this darkness, in this dark hour:

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ’tis truth alone and strong…
Though her portion be a scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own

Hallelujah, Anyhow.

Christ is risen

The Lord is risen, indeed.

God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.