Patience and Impatience

by the Rev. Canon Anne Hallmark

One mild spring morning during a retreat, two women were walking in a field. 

The younger woman was lamenting how unimportant her life was, how far from perfect she was as an individual, how little glory she was giving to God.  As she was saying these things, the pair came upon a very small and flawless light blue flower surrounded by green grass.

The older woman asked the younger, “Is there anything wrong with that flower?”  “Nothing.” “Is the flower unimportant?” “No, it’s beautiful.”  “Does it glorify God completely?” “Oh! Yes.”

When I consider June as Pride Month,” I believe the point is the same.

We, each of us, no matter what our life and work, glorify the Living God by blossoming as fully and freely as we are able, remembering always that it is the Love of God that creates us as we are and keeps us becoming.

For me, Pride Month honors participation in the long march out of the darkness of active repression, contemptuous stereotyping, and willful ignorance.

For me, Pride Month honors participation in the long march out of the darkness of active repression, contemptuous stereotyping, and willful ignorance.  Many have already braved much to speak up, to be visible, to demonstrate against such evil.  I wish I could say that the road ahead is clear but I know it is lined with badly frightened people who attempt to hide their fear with rage, aggression, and confusion.  Even so, Love marches on.

Thank you, each and everyone who has found and used your voice to express the wholeness of who you are, particularly with regard to something so tender and vulnerable as your sexual identity.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  Thank you for your impatience and outrage.  Thank you for speaking out, for being out.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.  Thank you for your impatience and outrage.

I believe that by your generous and courageous words and deeds, you are living out the Baptismal Vow each of us makes every time we renew those vows, the commitment “to seek and serve Christ in all persons”.  Thank you for calling all of us to more abundant possibilities of love fully and freely expressed.

The lives of all who are celebrating and being celebrated by Pride Month fill me with gratitude for the risks our brothers and sisters have taken, some smaller, some larger, some life-shattering – the risk of expressing their individual humanity, the struggle to blossom as the unique creation each one is.  And, I am deeply grateful for the the gatherings this month that express, support, encourage, and joyfully celebrate this way of walking in the Love of God.

Ascension Day

by the Rev. Canon Bill Spaid

Ascension Day is one of my favorite feast days. I love the scriptures, prayers, psalms, hymns, and just the fact that by the time Ascension Day rolls around spring really has arrived here in the north.

Sadly, though, this festival of the church often gets lost in the plethora of graduations, proms, Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day and other springtime events.

I find a whimsical delight in the imagery of the Ascension; our Lord’s sandaled feet dangling from a cloud and the disciples standing with their mouths agape wondering what was going on. I imagine that had I been there I would have been grabbing for those feet trying to pull him back to earth. But the whole point of the Ascension is that Jesus is no longer the Master of a small band of disciples in a particular place and time, but the ruler of the universe who transcends time and place.

Think about how in our prayers we often are grabbing for Jesus’ feet – “O Lord be with us…, O Lord please help me…, O Lord if only… O Lord, please fix/heal/save…”  You get the idea.  They’re fine prayers, really, but do we also pray with imagination and hope and a longing for what might be in a kingdom that already is.

In the collect for Ascension Day, we pray that as Jesus has ascended into heaven, so may we also in heart and mind there ascend.

I wonder what our churches would look like if we prayed with the imagination of what heaven would be if it was our community. Do we share a vision of hope that enlarges our scope of the world and all that is holy, and embraces a mystery that calls us into new and deeper relationships with God and one another, and the world around us?

I certainly see heaven apparent in many instances in my visits to parishes – where vision and imagination are transformed into generous engagement with their communities in service, and where formation contributes to a lively sense of faith and commitment, and where people feel safe and welcome to participate.

Our Canon Missioners — Val, Anne and I – would enjoy and welcome the opportunity to engage in conversations with you about how we can more confidently look to Jesus and see the hope to which he has called you and the immeasurable greatness in his power in us who believe.

The kingdom of God, my friends, is in our midst.

That All May Be One

by the Rev. Mike Wernick

During the first week of April, I attended (for the first time) the National Workshop on Christian Unity, held this year in St. Louis, Missouri. For over 50 years, the mission of the workshop has been to celebrate the spirit of unity that exists among Christians and search for ways to overcome the divisions that remain, by providing seminars for all who are concerned with Christian unity.

I attended as the Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer representing both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan and the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan. I went with a sense of hopefulness because I reject denominational tribalism – the “we’re right, you’re wrong” thinking that pervades some congregations and some parts of Christendom, and given expression by minister Michael Kinnamon when he said: “Denominations are wonderful adjectives, but idolatrous nouns.”

I went with a sense of hopefulness because I reject denominational tribalism – the “we’re right, you’re wrong” thinking that pervades some congregations and some parts of Christendom.

But I also went with some trepidation, because as a gay man and priest (who is married to my partner), I have encountered my share of cultural and theological homophobia.

In my role as EIO, I have also attended LARC (Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholic) Conferences for several years. At LARC, each denomination takes yearly turns selecting the conference’s speaker and theme and leads worship on the middle (longest) day. The first year I attended, just several months after the SCOTUS decision regarding marriage equality, the Roman Catholic speaker asserted that “marriage was being assaulted from the very depths of Hell.” Three years later, a distributed Roman Catholic brochure on ecumenical dialogue concluded: “With a focus on two case studies concerning migration/immigration and same sex relations, the document concludes that even if Anglicans lack a clear authoritative voice on moral questions, the way they approach these issues shares important common features with ours.” And so I wondered whether and to what degree my experience at LARC would be reflected in my experience at the NWCU. It was not.

Conference participants, whose focus was more on what unites us than on what divides us, came from the UCC, the UMC, the PCUSA, the ELCA, TEC, the RCA, the Roman Church, and the Moravian Church, among others. There were more opportunities for worship than usual, and it was contemplative worship led by Br. Emile from the Taizé Community (in the contemplative tradition, God is understood to transcend all the distinctions and categories and labels that we humans impose on God). And workshop sessions were centered around themes of welcome, care of creation, spiritual dialogue, and building the beloved community.

There was even one conversation led by a United Methodist Bishop and a Roman Catholic Archbishop who have forged a deep friendship in spite of the social justice issues to which our minds race. And I must believe that this is due in part to an approach which rejects broad brush strokes, in favor of subtly and nuance, and which we must recognize that what was theologically formative/normal for one, was not expected to be/become normative for the other. In other words, neither one conveyed a sense of moral superiority.

We must recognize that what was theologically formative/normal for one, was not expected to be/become normative for the other.

There was, however, an update by leaders of the United Methodist Church about the Special Session of General Conference, held February 23-26, 2019. This special session was called to vote on three submitted plans related to human sexuality: the Traditionalist Plan, which would broaden the definition of “self-avowed, practicing homosexual,” put penalties in place for disobedience to the Book of Discipline, and require bishops, pastors and annual conferences to certify adherence to the Book of Discipline; the One Church Plan, which would remove restrictive language from the Book of Discipline that prohibits same-gender weddings in UMC properties and ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” and would add language to protect churches and pastors who choose not to allow same-gender marriages; and the Connectional Conference Plan, which would replace the current jurisdictional conferences with three connectional conferences based on affinity –– Progressive, Traditional, and Unity. All three would use a general Book of Discipline but be able to adapt other portions to their context for ministry.

Due in large part to The United Methodist Church’s more conservative global perspective, the Traditionalist Plan passed by a vote of 438 to 384. This means that the UMC’s current statements about homosexuality, same-gender marriage, and the ordination of LGBTQ persons –– as outlined in the Book of Discipline –– have not fundamentally changed.

But even before the Special Session of General Conference closed, a motion was passed to seek a decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the Traditionalist Plan’s legislative petitions. Several weeks later, the Judicial Council met (from April 23-25) in Evanston, Illinois, and upheld the Traditionalist Plan.

At this writing, The Episcopal Church is in full-communion with The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Moravian Church – Northern and Southern Provinces, The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India, Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, The Philippine Independent Church, and The Church of Sweden.

And more than fifty years ago, General Convention approved full-communion dialogue with the United Methodist Church. In 2002 The Episcopal Church – United Methodist Dialogue Committee was formed, and in 2017, the committee released a full communion proposal: A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers in the Healing of Brokenness. This proposal would need to be affirmed at the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church and at the 2021 General Convention of The Episcopal Church in order to become canon law. For us Episcopalians though, February’s Special Session vote and the Judicial Council’s support of that vote may seem to put this proposed full- communion agreement into jeopardy.

But meeting from April 29-30 in Austin, Texas, the joint Episcopal – United Methodist Dialogue Committee said that they have decided to continue on this path toward full communion.

But meeting from April 29-30 in Austin, Texas, the joint Episcopal – United Methodist Dialogue Committee said that they have decided to continue on this path toward full communion. “We do not make this decision naively and are fully cognizant of the hard realities our churches face. We feel the pain and inexpressible weight of discrimination that is the burden of LGBTQ Christians whose lives are so often objectified, debated, or dismissed. We acknowledge that the decisions of the 2019 Special Session of UMC have deepened divisions. And yet, we believe that what we are experiencing in the various crises of our denominational life is the birth pangs of something remarkable, something new. We desire as a dialogue committee to take the next faithful step in this journey, trusting in the God who alone holds the future and who may yet be calling us to something bigger and grander than we have imagined.”

The Rev. William Fleener once said, “Look around at creation, and if you can – if you’re able – show me evidence that God favors uniformity.”

“Look around at creation, and if you can – if you’re able – show me evidence that God favors uniformity.”

This calling us to something bigger, to boundlessness, to being One, is what God always does. And it finds expression –– and imagination –– in Psalm 118:5: “I called out to God from my narrowness, and God answered me with a vast expanse.”

I’ll take the vast expanse, thank you.

An Easter Message from Bishop Hougland

Hello, Western Michigan. Hope you are well. We are nearing the end of our Lenten journey, closing in on Easter and I wanted to share some thoughts with you to help you celebrate this special time of year for us. Lent, as you know, is a time of discipline – a time of fasting and prayer, a time for introspection and reflection, and most of all, a time for repentance, turning around, changing direction, of moving towards God instead of away from God. It’s a time of practice forming a discipline of prayer, study, and reflection to help us get centered on God, so that when Easter comes, we can experience the great joy of new life. Some people say that there’s a reason for everything – when bad things happen. When hurricanes happen or floods happen. When there are terrible crimes and mass shootings, as we continue to see.

We say, “Well, that was just part of God’s plan.”

We say that because we really don’t know what to say. We say that because we want to have some sense of control over what has taken place. We say those sorts of things because we want to believe that we can understand the things that happened in the world when we really can’t explain it.

But as we understand Easter, we understand that there is actually a reason for everything. And that reason is resurrection.

Some want to believe that God is like a puppet master – perhaps controlling our lives like we’re puppets, causing things to happen so that we’ll come back to God because we’re bad and sinful people, which we can be. But that’s really thinking more about ourselves than about God.

For me, the providence of God is so beautifully evident in the season of Easter – in the story of the resurrection, that God takes a terrible thing – the death of his son – and creates something good out of it. And that good is resurrection.

God is like a magnet drawing us towards God – drawing the bad out of us and drawing us towards goodness in him.

Lent is a time to practice humility – not to think less of ourselves, but to think of ourselves less. This lends us to be open to the grace that God has in store for us at Easter.

We want to skip right over Good Friday. Don’t we? We don’t want to deal with the death that is in life, that’s all around us. We want to sanitize it and clean it and wash our hands of the pain of death, of the fear of death, of the concern over dying. But dying is a part of life. It’s part of who we are, part of our experience, and it’s part of our relationship with God – that God came into the world to enter into this life, including dying himself.

And so, we have nothing to fear in life, and we have nothing to fear in death, and this should give us hope. Easter is about is focusing on hope, not wishful thinking. Wishful thinking says, “Gosh, I hope I win the lottery this week, or I hope my team wins the tournament coming up, or I hope my hair would grow back or the rain.”

That’s wishful thinking. That’s not Christian hope. Our hope is a certainty, a confidence –  hope and confidence not in ourselves and what we can do, but in God and what God has done and is continuing to do. God is drawing all things towards God like that magnet.

Death is not the end. The end and the hope and the purpose for all of life is resurrection to new life. That’s who we are – a people on hope, a people of resurrection. And if we can focus on that, instead of the badness, of our own sinfulness, if we can focus on grace and resurrection and seeking to see it and our life, then we will see it and experience it. We will begin to trust more, see grace more, be more accepting of others and live lives of hope.

We’re called to be a resurrection people. That’s what Easter is all about and that’s my call to you in this season of Easter.

Richard Rohr says it really well. He said, “God appears to be resurrecting everything all the time. It’s nothing to believe in as much as it is something to observe and be taught.”

In this season of Easter, my friends, look about you and see the good things that are coming to life all around.

Let me end with a prayer. It comes out of our prayer book in the service for ordinations.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light, look favorably on your whole church, that wonderful and sacred ministry. By the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility, the plan of salvation. Let the whole world see and know that things which are cast down are being raised up and things which had grown old are being made new and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Happy Easter.

 

Hola, Michigan Occidental. Espero que estén bien.

Nos estamos acercando al final de nuestro peregrinaje cuaresmal, llegando a la Pascua, y quería compartir algunos pensamientos con ustedes para ayudarles a celebrar este tiempo especial del año para nosotros.

La Cuaresma, como saben, es un tiempo de disciplina – un tiempo de ayuno y oración, un tiempo para la introspección y la reflexión y, sobre todo, a un tiempo para arrepentirnos, dar la vuelta, cambiar de dirección, y volvernos hacia Dios en vez de alejarnos de Él. Es un tiempo para intentar crear una disciplina de oración, estudio, y reflexión que nos ayude a centrarnos en Dios, de modo que cuando la Pascua llegue, podamos experimentar la alegría de la vida nueva.

Algunas personas dicen que hay una razón para todo – cuando pasan cosas malas. Cuando ocurren huracanes o inundaciones. Cuando tenemos terribles crímenes y tiroteos masivos, como los que seguimos viendo.

Decimos, “Bueno, eso era solamente parte del plan de Dios”.

Decimos eso porque realmente no sabemos qué decir. Decimos eso porque queremos tener algún sentido de control sobre lo que ha pasado. Decimos ese tipo de cosas porque queremos creer que podemos entender las cosas que han pasado en el mundo, cuando realmente no podemos entenderlas.

Pero a medida que entendemos la Pascua, entendemos que, de hecho, hay una razón para todo. Y esa razón es la resurrección.

Algunos quieren creer que Dios es como un titiritero controlando nuestras vidas, como si fuéramos marionetas, haciendo que las cosas pasen para que regresemos a Él porque somos personas malas y pecadoras – y bien podemos serlo. Pero eso es más bien pensar en nosotros que en Dios.

Para mí, la providencia de Dios es hermosamente evidente en el tiempo de Pascua -en la historia de la resurrección, en la que Dios toma una cosa terrible -la muerte de su Hijo- y crea algo bueno a partir de ella. Y ese bien es la resurrección.

Dios es como un imán, atrayéndonos hacia Dios – sacando lo malo de nosotros y atrayéndonos hacia su bondad.

La Cuaresma es un tiempo para practicar la humildad – no para menospreciarnos, sino para pensar menos en nosotros. Esto nos permite estar abiertos a lo que la gracia de Dios tiene preparado para nosotros en Pascua.

Queremos saltarnos el Viernes Santo, ¿no es verdad? No queremos lidiar con la muerte que hay en la vida que nos rodea. Queremos desinfectarla y limpiarla y lavarnos las manos del dolor de la muerte, del temor a la muerte, de la preocupación sobre la muerte. Pero morir es parte de la vida. Es parte de quien somos, parte de nuestra experiencia, y es parte de nuestra relación con Dios, un Dios que vino al vino para asumir completamente esta vida, incluyendo su propia muerte.

De modo que no tenemos nada que temer en la vida, y no tenemos nada que temer en la muerte. La Pascua se trata de enfocarnos en la esperanza, no en los buenos augurios. El buen augurio dice, “Ay, espero que me saque la lotería o, espero que mi equipo gane el próximo torneo o, espero que mi cabello crezca de nuevo o, espero que llueva”.

Eso es un buen augurio. Pero no es esperanza cristiana. Nuestra esperanza es ciertamente una confianza- esperanza y confianza no en nosotros mismos y en lo que podemos hacer, sino en Dios y en lo que Dios ha hecho y continúa haciendo. Dios está atrayendo todas las cosas hacia sí mismo, como el imán.

La muerte no es el final. El sentido, la esperanza y el propósito para toda vida es la resurrección a una nueva vida. Eso es lo que somos – un pueblo de esperanza, un pueblo de resurrección. Y si nos enfocamos en eso, en vez de en nuestra maldad y nuestro pecado, si podemos enfocarnos en la gracia y la resurrección y buscamos encontrarla en nuestras vidas, entonces la veremos y experimentaremos. Empezaremos a confiar más, a ver más la gracia, a aceptar más a otros y a vivir vidas de esperanza.

Estamos llamados a ser un pueblo de resurrección. De eso se trata la Pascua y a eso les invito en este tiempo de Pascua.

Richard Rohr lo dice muy bien. Él dijo “Vemos a Dios resucitando todas las cosas todo el tiempo. No se trata tanto de creer como de ver y ser enseñados.”

En este tiempo de Pascua, mis amigos, mírense ustedes mismos y vean todas las cosas que están tomando nueva vida alrededor de ustedes.

Déjenme terminar con una oración. Está en el Libro de Oración Común, en el servicio para las ordenaciones.

Dios de poder inmutable y luz eterna: Mira con favor a toda tu Iglesia, ese maravilloso y sagrado misterio; por la operación eficaz de tu providencia lleva a cabo en tranquilidad el plan de salvación; haz que todo el mundo vea y sepa que las cosas que han sido derribadas son levantadas, las cosas que han envejecido son renovadas, y que todas las cosas están siendo llevadas a su perfección, mediante aquél por quien fueron hechas, tu Hijo Jesucristo nuestro Señor; que vive y reina contigo, en la unidad del Espíritu Santo, un solo Dios, por los siglos de los siglos. Amén.

Feliz Pascua.

Pastoral Letter 2019

To the People of the Diocese of Western Michigan,

As we make final preparations for the 144th Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, I request your fervent prayers for our diocese, for the communities we serve, and for our nation. We need God’s help – and your support – to expand and energize our work of healing and reconciliation to address the growing divisions in our American life.

A little less than 3 days after the gavel closes on our 144th Diocesan Convention, America’s polls will open for the 2018 midterm election. When the polls finally close, Americans could end up more bitterly divided than we are already. No matter who “wins” all of us might end up losing.

I am concerned about thisgrowing chasm of distrust and fear amongst us and the increasing hostility being expressed towards entire segments of our varied communities. This distrust and fear is the opposite of the spirit of reconciliation embodied in the work of the Episcopal Church. As Episcopalians, our mission is, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other, as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love.” (BCP p. 855)

The challenges facing the Jesus Movement in Western Michigan are enormous and among the most urgentis the need for racial reconciliation.

This is also an area where we are well positioned to take important new steps toward effective action.In 2017, our Diocesan Convention passed a resolution calling for the development of a policy and procedure requiring that, “persons running for any elected diocesan position must have completed an approved course of study on racial reconciliation.” Our Diocesan Commission on Dismantling Racism has done great work. Working in conjunction with your bishop, they have developed a policy and procedure that was passed unanimously by your diocesan council at its September 2018 meeting.

Regardless of who you are – your background or your beliefs – we are all shaped by systems, including within the Church, in which attitudes, social practices, and power dynamics intentionally and unintentionally create unfair advantages or disadvantages for groups of people based on race.

Simply put, racism is prejudice coupled with power. Racism in all its varietiesexists to help those holding power and control to maintain power and control.

It is only when we see and recognize the overarching role of racism as a systemthat we can begin to examine its consequences and seek ways to change. Our sincere engagement in dismantling racism is a necessary step toward making visible God’s likeness and goodness in every person.

As your Bishop, I now call upon us to take up our mission – to seek restoration and unity by fully giving ourselves to the work of dismantling racism in our lives.

The new policy and procedure for Dismantling Racism in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan outlines a course of study on racism awareness and reconciliation.

Phase One – Understanding the history of racism: US origins of racism, institutional racism, awareness of personal bias.
Phase Two – Committing to intentional personal and public change.
Phase Three – Creating a parish plan and determining outcomes to be measured and follow-up activities to maintain momentum.

This will not be easy work. It will require humility, vulnerability, honesty and courage. It will take graceful listening with gentle responses. It will require patience and prayer, lots of prayer, as we seek to shift our awareness and our actions, so we might become agents of healing and reconciliation in our communities and in our time.

I look forward to taking up this work with you and moving deeper into our relationship with God as we move deeper intorelationship with one another.

I am honored to be your bishop.

May the blessing of God Almighty be with us now and always,

The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
IX Bishop,
The Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan

Click here to download this letter as a PDF.
Click here to download the new Policy and Proceedure for Dismantling Racism Training.

Bishop’s Statement on Charlottesville

My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I write to you in the aftermath of the great evil manifested on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville last weekend. I am deeply troubled by the images coming from the scene; angry young white men carrying torches like the Klu Klux Klan, heavily-armed uniformed militia roaming unregulated while mobs of white supremacists waving Nazi flags openly marched with the expressed intention to incite violence, hatred and fear. They succeeded.

Let me be clear, racism, in any form, along with the tenets of white supremacy, white nationalism, Nazism and other similar ideologies of hate and divisiveness, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus Christ or the Christian faith. Anyone who proclaims these ideologies and claims to be a Christian is mistaken and in error. As Episcopalians, our mission is to constantly pursue unity and reconciliation with God and each other. Our baptismal covenant commands us to love ALL our neighbors and it commands us to respect the dignity of EVERY human being. All means all and every means every. There can be no compromise, equivocation or rationalizing of these.

Perhaps this horrifying incident will move us all to reflect more deeply on how we understand ourselves as members of the Body of Christ while considering how to more fully be children of light. Are we not called to proclaim hope, certain hope, in the resurrection to eternal life with Jesus or to proclaim ourselves? Are we not to live selflessly serving the least, the last, the lost and the losers amongst us or to serve our own special interests? Are we not to give our lives for the world as Christ did for us, or are we just hedging our bets?

My dear friends, in moments like these, when evil masked as righteousness rears its ugly head, we must be true to our baptism by unabashedly shining the light of Christ’s love into the world. It is our Christian task and duty to live compassionately, to pursue justice and mercy, to demonstrate grace, to offer forgiveness, to live, move and have our being seeking to bring reconciliation and unity to an ever more broken and divided world. We are built and empowered by our baptism for these challenging moments. If we do not stand up to hate by bravely, selflessly loving ALL people then we are nothing more than a worship club and our faith will make no difference.

I write this while attending our diocesan Episcopal Youth Camp for third, fourth and fifth graders at peaceful Camp Newaygo. I am thankful for this place and for the holy space it provides our children to experience and practice unconditional love. They are beautiful and good. Their future lies ahead of them open and hopeful even while threatening clouds of hate, violence and fear appear on the horizon. What we do now, in this time, affects their future. How we live now affects their prospects. What we teach them now informs their perspective, their faith, and their very souls. So, today, let us renew our commitment to Christ by seeking to love each other selflessly, generously. Let us firmly and resolutely reclaim our loving, liberating, life-giving faith. Let us humbly proclaim the good news of God in Christ which is the assurance there is nothing, not even death, that can separate from us from the love of God.

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (For the Mission of the Church, The Book of Common Prayer)

Peace,

+Whayne

Bishop’s Statement: A Response to Violence in Our Time

My Dear Friends,

Last Thursday evening, a large Grand Rapids Police Department SWAT vehicle stopped in front my house. A dozen officers in full riot gear – helmet, body armor, shields and machine guns – moved with precision up the steps towards Dana and me as we sat on our front porch. At the top of the stairs, they turned right toward the four apartment house across the open lot, taking no notice of us. Immediately behind them followed another dozen or so armed uniformed and plain clothes police officers who took up positions at each corner of the neighboring house.

We quickly went inside, locked the doors and hid behind the curtains timidly peering out on the frightening unfolding scene. Dana downloaded a Police Scanner App to her smart phone so we might figure out what was happening. No luck. We watched and wondered, scared and confused, for a very long fifteen minutes until the tense scene began to break up with officers lowering their weapons moving back down to the street.

One riot gear clad officer came near our house so I went out and asked what he could tell me about what was happening. He very politely and directly said this was not an active scene. He said they were acting on a search warrant. I presume it involved drugs because soon after two police dogs appeared next door. He apologized for using our front steps. “No, no thank you for your service,” I said relieved the incident had ended peacefully and without violence.

Over the last two weeks, we have experienced gut-wrenching violence against police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. I am very thankful for those who take up the difficult, almost impossible job to protect and serve – police officers, fire departments, emergency medical technicians and our military personnel. To put one’s life in harm’s way for the sake of another is noble and holy. Please continue to pray for these servants and their families.

My recent encounter with our local police force was frightening, to say the least. I was, if only momentarily, very afraid for mine and Dana’s safety as that heavily-armed team moved toward us.

I think I may better understand now why people of color, who experience disproportionately more violence than white people, fear the police. Fear is never a reason to commit violence against another and yet fear is always the root cause of it. Perhaps, our fear of police officers is reflected in their being clad in armor which in turn reflects their own fear of us. It is fear that causes us to distrust each other, fear that leads us to arm ourselves and fear that moves us to acts of violence perpetuating a never ending cycle of violence and fear, fear and violence.

What do you fear? How does fear affect you, your relationships, your actions?

I am so deeply saddened by all the recent violence in our world that I barely know how to respond. The burden of it all bares down on me such that my spirit aches. The only thing I can control in all of this is me. So, when my spirit needs healing I return to my favorite source of comfort and strength I find in the Rule of St. Benedict as presented by John McQuiston in his simple book, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, Morehouse Publishing, 1996. Listen to what he says about Paramount Goals, p. 21-22:

“What is wanted is not that we should find ultimate truth, nor that we should become secure, nor that we should have ease, nor that we should be without hurt, but that we should live fully. Therefore we should not fear life, nor anything in life, we should not fear death, nor anything in death, we should live our lives in love with life. It is for us to train our hearts to live in grace, to sacrifice our self-centered desires, to find peace without want without seeking it for ourselves, and when we fail, to begin again each day. If we adopt an outlook of confidence and trust and perfect our experience by care for others, if we live in the certainty that we are heirs in providence of the outmost mystery, we will begin to change into the persons that we have the potential to be.”

Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage, hold fast that which is good, render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you this day and always.

+Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
IX Western Michigan