Weekly Encouragement Blog: “Coexistence” Versus “Cooperation”

“That we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
Romans 1:12

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I imagine that you have seen the COEXIST bumper sticker pictured above — bright blue, with artfully mingled symbols for several of the world’s major faiths, representations of gender, and a peace sign. It presents a hopeful message in our troubling time when some people are trying hard to sever any ties of coexistence between faiths, between races, or between nations.

But it troubles me that coexistence is actually a very minimal standard for getting along with people who may differ from us. It reminds me of my parents’ admonition to me and my brothers to “just leave each other alone.” That might be sufficient to stop a quarrel, but it is not a solid ground upon which to repair that quarrel―much less to build the kind of lasting and loving relationships that one would hope for a family.

A mindset of intentional coexistence in our world might be sufficient to lessen some quarrels, but it is not enough of a solid ground upon which to build the kind of lasting and loving relationships that one would hope for the human family.

“Cooperation” is one word that comes to mind as a more active alternative, and it seems to relate more directly to what we at St. Paul’s hopes to foster through our Lenten Series this year, The City of God. We are welcoming speakers from other faith traditions not only to coexist with them, but to learn from them, to share in their aspirations, to be challenged by their views, and perhaps to discover ways to cooperate with them, and with others, in the shared project of making our city more into a city of God. With a slight change in the Romans passage above that I’m using for each of these blog posts, I pray that through our Lenten Series, we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faiths.

I also pray that many of you will be present tomorrow to welcome Imam Ammar Amonette from the Islamic Center of Virginia. Bring friends and coworkers with you as a physical representation of our desire to support Richmond’s Muslim community, especially following the horrific mosque attack in New Zealand last week. Be present, and stay for lunch, to talk about how we can actively cooperate with our Muslim neighbors.

Though I’ve not seen one on a car yet, there is apparently a bumper sticker that follows this same line of thinking, and which incorporates an even wider variety of symbols. It says, I Believe in COOPERATION. Let’s believe in cooperation, and follow that belief with acts of cooperation.

God’s Peace,

The Rev. Bill Queen
Interim Rector, St. Paul’s Church

The Rev. Bill Queen: “Healthy Quarreling”

The Rev. Bill Queen: “Transfigurations”

Weekly Encouragement: “Regular” May Be as Good as “Perfect”

“That we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
Romans 1:12

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Now that we are a week into Lent, how is your Lenten discipline going? Off to a good start? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak? Never got around to deciding what to do, or to undo, this Lent?

It is not too late to start a discipline for the season. Like school, regular attendance may be as good as perfect attendance. Some regular Lenten discipline may be as good as perfect observance.

Remember that we all are, as Christians, disciples. That means we follow Jesus. It also means that we follow his example. Taking on a discipline, for Lent or for life, makes us better disciples―makes us better followers of Jesus.

I considered giving up church for Lent, but was quickly told that that would not be an acceptable option under the terms of my letter of agreement with St. Paul’s. So, instead, I am focusing on two activities for my Lenten discipline.

The first is careful and prayerful daily reading of the Lenten Devotional FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT 2019 booklet, comprised of reflections written by St. Paul’s community members. Deeply thoughtful, each day brings me new ideas, as well as giving me insight into the spiritual lives of my fellow travelers in this corner of God’s world. If you are using it too, be sure to respond to anyone whose reflection may have spoken deeply to you. You might develop some new soul friendships this way.

The second is a devotional journey into our country’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism, using An American Lent. Its purpose is to help participants confront both our history and its current legacies, and then to try to repair broken relationships. I am finding it personally challenging and hope to bring some of my experiences from it into my work with you at St. Paul’s.

Wherever you are, or aren’t, in terms of your journey of discipleship, may this season of Lent be a blessing to you, and may you be a blessing to others.

God’s Peace,

The Rev. Bill Queen
Interim Rector, St. Paul’s Church

Weekly Encouragement: “Happy Shrove Tuesday?”

“That we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
Romans 1:12

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Happy Mardi Gras! Yet, it doesn’t sound right to say “Happy Shrove Tuesday,” does it? To “shrive” is to present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution. Somehow, we’ve let the party atmosphere of Mardi Gras crowd out much of the recognition of our need for forgiveness as the proper pre-Ash Wednesday lead-in to Lent.

If you won’t have the opportunity today to present yourself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution, let me suggest this home-grown way of observing Shrove Tuesday.

Perhaps you watched the closing remarks that Rep. Elijah Cummings (I almost wrote ‘the Rev.’ Elijah Cummings, given the theological content of his sermon-like witness) made at the Michael Cohen hearings, where he stated, repeatedly, “We’re better than this!”

Those words carry great power and great relevance for all of us. We can each take a close look at our lives, our actions, our thoughts, and ask ourselves, “How can I be better than this?” How can I be better than I find myself usually being on any given day of my life?

How can I be a better Christian? How can I be a better family member? How can I be a better parishioner? How can I be a better neighbor? How can I be a better citizen of our city, our state, or nation, and our world? You could do this as an exercise on your own, or share it with a trusted faithful friend.

Give these questions thoughtful, meditative, and prayerful consideration. Take enough time to ponder them deeply. Offer up your reflections to God, and then sit still and listen. Listen for as long as it takes for you to perceive some kind of response. The response may come from within you, or it may come from without. If it doesn’t come at all, that just means you owe yourself a bit more time with the questions, or with the silence.

May God’s Holy Spirit be present with you today, and tomorrow, and throughout the season of Lent.

God’s Peace,

The Rev. Bill Queen
Bridge Rector, St. Paul’s Church

The Rev. Molly Bosscher: “One Small, Ugly, Messy Step”

The Rev. Ben Campbell: “The Poor Get It”

The Rev. Sue Eaves: “Get Out of My Way, Jesus!”

The “Trembling Space” That Connects One Another

Dear Friends,

As I write my last “Jottings” for St. Paul’s, I am reminded that good-byes are anything but easy and this one has proved to be no exception. You have been unceasing in your generous good wishes and expressions of affection. As the recipient of all this kindness, I am both moved and humbled.

All has served to remind me that to be human is to be connected to each other. To be human is to desire and need those connections. We discover our humanity most fully when we are in relationship with another. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, pointed out that in any relationship there are three components: I, thou, and I-thou. What he meant was that as well as the two people in relationship, the relationship itself forms a “person,” too. Each person comes to a relationship with that unique and sacred self that God has given unto the world. The new “person” is the I-thou, which exists between those in relationship to each other. It is a relationship of great love and beauty. It does not obliterate the individual, but is a creation in itself.

This way of understanding our relationships is powerful. It helps explain why we experience our connections with each other as bigger than ourselves. Amazing things happen in that trembling space that connects one to the other. As individuals we can achieve little on our own, but together we can move mountains. Together, there is the potential for inspiration, creation, imagination, and the incarnation of love.

I will no longer be an immediate part of this community. Our I-thou is moving away from the immediacy of physical presence. For me, that brings a sense of great sadness. I have loved being with you and that isn’t something you just switch off. A wise friend tells me that our most sincere prayers are those of thanksgiving, because they are unsullied by self-centeredness. If this is so, and I believe it is, your living has been the source of my truest moments. Your faith, your individual struggles to respond to God’s loving will, your communal goodwill and dignity have often brought me to my knees in awe.

In saying this, I see afresh that our connection is not lost, for it is in thanksgiving we are eternally together. Thank God.

Blessings,

Sue

The Rev. Susan N. Eaves

Coming Up With Different Answers

Dear Friends,

I remember my eldest son’s history teacher explaining to the parents at orientation that if she said something was a certain way then it was the truth, even if she was wrong. She later proved the veracity of her statement when my son had the audacity to write the correct definition of evolution on a test. It wasn’t her definition – so she marked it as being wrong.

The gospel is constantly calling us out of our own little worlds into a wider and more generous life. God calls us to move beyond our own perspectives and to truly see the beauty and need that surrounds us. That was what made Jesus so extraordinary. He didn’t just stand there and tell people how he thought things should be or what they should do. He looked first. He listened first. And he looked with the eyes and ears of a heart attuned to God’s infinite compassion.

Jesus saw through the shallow, rule-keeping version of faith shared by so many of his countrymen – rules used to keep people in their place and order the universe according to their human understanding and power. Instead, he sought to find God’s love and truth in God’s world. He was a child of a great and ancient tradition of faith, and his faith insisted there was more to come.

His pilgrimage in life brought him closer and closer to the reality of God’s presence in the whole world. He invited that presence to teach him what to do, how to go forward, and what to say – which is precisely why the institutional religious leaders of the day became so angry. They saw themselves as the guardian of the tradition, as those qualified to make judgment, and as the keepers of a truth already revealed and fixed.

Jesus was offensive to them because as a devout practitioner of the same faith, he had come up with different answers, and he acted accordingly. God, in Jesus’ view, was doing things God’s way and it was all about making all things new all the time.

So “he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

Are you ready?

Blessings,

Sue
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves