Conversion from hatred requires person to person conversation

_iminuhfus0-matthew-clarkDerek Black, former White Nationalist – godson of David Duke, writes of his journey from “shining example” of the white nationalist movement to his present belief that the future is one of tolerance and the embrace of different cultures.

In particular he answers a question that I think a number of people are asking;

People have approached me looking for a way to change the minds of Trump voters, but I can’t offer any magic technique. That kind of persuasion happens in person-to-person interactions and it requires a lot of honest listening on both sides. For me, the conversations that led me to change my views started because I couldn’t understand why anyone would fear me. I thought I was only doing what was right and defending those I loved.

He also points out that his willingness to have those conversations started by encountering people who clearly and firmly rejected what he believed to be the truth.

You can read the full essay here: Why I Left White Nationalism – The New York Times

A Divided Community: Responding with Hope and Action

The results of the elections this week have confirmed what we already knew. Our country is deeply divided along regional, racial, gender and economic lines. The divisions are real and painful. The divisions are ending friendships and threatening family relationships. There are people in our communities and congregations who are delighted and people who are devastated. The emotions are real and raw, and their intensity is hard for some to understand. The simple, faithful response of Episcopalians across the state to pray for the president-elect will be a stumbling stone or a stepping stone for people who will be kneeling beside each other at the altar rail.

As people of faith, baptized into the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and fed at his table, there are things we can do to serve our divided communities.

We must remember our baptismal covenant in which we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We are each made in the image of the living God – and each one of us is infinitely precious simply by virtue of that fact. We can help others to see their neighbors as the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see one another.

There can be no room in our common life for hateful or dismissive language about people who are different from us. We are all fellow servants of the same Lord and cannot allow ourselves, or anyone else, to dismiss or harm someone whom Jesus has gathered to himself. There will be opportunities for us to bear witness to this Gospel value in the coming days. I pray that God will give us the will to do what God desires.

We gather around the altar to receive the gifts of God — the broken body and the poured-out blood of Jesus; Jesus who is the innocent victim killed by government forces at the demand of a people’s religious leadership. Holding that truth  before us gives us a way to listen and to serve in the midst of the whirlwind of emotions and rhetoric surrounding us.

We don’t always understand what things mean or what to do in midst of moments like this. It took many years for God’s children to fully comprehend what God was doing in the great mysteries of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. We need to pray and listen for God’s voice and God’s call to action. Even Mary, the Mother of God, needed time to ponder in her heart what the birth of Jesus meant. I do not know what God has in store for us in this moment of our nation’s history, but I have no doubt that God is in the midst of us and that God’s purposes of justice, mercy and the healing of the nations will not be frustrated.

As the body of Christ in the world we are called to be hope and light for the world. Someone wrote this week that a divided World needs a united Church. May the Holy Spirit use us so that we become what God dreams we will be.

+Nicholas
XIII Bishop of Rhode Island

Feast of St. Martin of Tours
Armistice Day

Nov 11, 2016

First we pray, then we move.

It’s beyond our bearing. Another mass shooting has happened, this one the deadliest in our country’s history. Someone was given access to enough weapons that 49 people were shot dead and nearly as many wounded in one attack by one man in one place. There was an armed police officer outside the club where the people were killed but that didn’t stop this shooter.

640px-Shooting_at_Pulse_NightclubThis time it is the LGBT community that is grieving their friends and their children who have been cut down. In the last few years it’s been the parents of school children, fellow parishioners after a bible study, social workers mourning their co-workers after a staff party, and the many others whose stories no longer have had enough shock value to gain national attention. No matter who it is, the tears are the same, the shock is the same, the elected leaders pledges are the same – and nothing seems to change.

This morning, after the shooting and killings in Orlando at Pulse, people are sharing their frustration that prayer isn’t enough. And by itself, it isn’t. But it’s the place we as Christians start. It’s the place from which we move. And that movement has to be out into a world that is reeling, shocked, weeping and devastated with pain beyond bearing. As followers of Jesus we are asked to move out toward the people who are persecuted and harmed and to take our place standing beside them. And we are asked to surround them with the kind of community that will start to slow the violence – to make these sorts of events a memory and not our future.

We do this with the simple tools God has given us. Prayer. Bread. Wine. Healing oil. And the tools that build community. Listening. Pot-luck dinners. Food drives. Homeless shelters. It’s nonsense in the eyes of the world, but it’s what God would have us do. Jesus showed us that these things change the arc of history.

Because as we stand with the victims and the persecuted, as we feed them and pray with them, as we give of ourselves on their behalf, we are creating a community that Jesus tells us will be impervious to the hatred and assaults of the evil forces of this world which seem to have the upper hand on dark days like today.

So today we pray. Tomorrow we move.

Prayer for Reconciliation

On Tuesday night I was asked to open a meeting of law enforcement and community representatives, and clergy that was set to discuss the federal grand jury process. It’s part of our Rhode Island response to what happened in Fergusson last year.

I used the following prayer to get us started. (I thought the prayer was worth sharing.)

God of Justice, God of Reconciliation, God of the outcast and the downtrodden; We come before you this evening as a community committed to finding a better way forward than we have yet seen.

Lead us out of our present wilderness with your strong sure hand into a new land that will empower us to live as a community that is known for living into our best selves, a community that believes and puts into practice the goals and dreams upon which our country was founded.

Be with our speakers now. May their words help us to see the truth of what we have and of what we lack. By the power of your Spirit give us the courage to change. By the gift of your Holy Wisdom help us to find a path forward.

We ask all of this in your Holy Name on behalf of all your Children.

Amen.

How to welcome the refugee and the foreigner into the land

Looking for information about the Syrian refugee situation for Episcopalians and what you can do to get involved, to welcome the stranger and the alien into the land (Leviticus 19:34)? Got you covered:

To help understand the current situation with Syrian refugees, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society will present two live webinars, both 60 minutes long, on Thursday, November 19 and Monday, November 23 to examine this emerging refugee crisis.

Presented by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s Episcopal Migration Ministries and Episcopal Public Policy Network, the live webinars will begin at 2 pmEastern on November 19 and 8 pm Eastern on November 23.

More details and links to resources here: Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society presents special important webinars: Syrian refugees in the USA

Bishop of the Armed Forces: Veterans and the Church

Don’t ask what we can do for the vets, instead ask them what we can learn from them.

Jay Magness, Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries, and himself a veteran, has long essay on the evolving relationship between the faith community and the veteran community. This is just a taste below.

Veterans Day 2015: A Meditation Upon the Uneasy Relationship:

On this Veterans Day 2015, unlike some of my friends in the faith community, I am not all that interested in what we can do for service members and veterans. I am, however, very interested in what these persons can do for the faith communities of America. Service members and veterans, if given the appropriate recognition, honor, welcome, and permission can teach us so very much about the spiritual value of personal and corporate sacrifice.

We live in an age dominated by the values of personal achievement and material acquisition. It will do us well to hear the encouraging word that service members and veterans can teach us about the spiritual value of sacrifice.

(Via Episcopal News Service)

It’s good advice. Don’t ask what we can do for the vets, instead ask them what we can learn from them.

Pray for the victims and shooter. Only the Gospel can end the violence.

There was another shooting in a crowded public space late this week. This time it was in a movie theater in Lafayette Louisiana. Once again the shooter, John Houser, a white man with a criminal record and a history of mental illness and violence had a legally purchased handgun. And he had a hatred of “liberals”, a fascination with Neo-Nazism and a distorted understanding of the Gospel.

As the New York Times reports:

Mr. Houser believed that women should not work outside their homes, and “had a lot of hostility toward abortion clinics,” Mr. Floyd said. He was the sort of person who believed “that all the trouble started when they took Bibles out of school and stopped prayer.”

On Twitter, antigovernment discussion boards, and other forums online, a person using the names Rusty Houser, J. Rusty Houser, and John Russell Houser praised the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members, driven by a loathing of gays, stage protests at military funerals; Timothy J. McVeigh, who bombed a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168; and even Adolf Hitler. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and antigovernment groups, said the posts were all from Mr. Houser.

The authorities on Friday outside the Grand movie theater in Lafayette, La., where a gunman opened fire on Thursday night. Several times, he described the United States as a “financially failing filth farm” that deserved to collapse, and would do so soon.

Sadly there is every reason to expect that there will be more opportunities to consider why it is that we as a people allow men like this to legally purchase the tools they need to kill children and our neighbors.

But in this moment, the Episcopal Bishop of Western Louisiana Jake Owensby, in whose diocese this latest shooting happened, asks us to pray for the victims, and because Our Savior commands it, to pray for the shooter as well.

He writes on his blog Pelican Anglican:

“My heart and mind—probably much like your own—are reeling with the specific horror and agony of the Lafayette shootings. Nevertheless, I am also mindful that these shootings join what seems like an endless stream of senseless violence across our country.

This is not the time to outline a detailed Christian response to our epidemic of violence. But there is space to name it for what it is: an epidemic. The medicine for this epidemic is the Gospel. And that Gospel teaches us to be peacemakers.

We followers of Jesus are not helpless in the face of violence. But we must take the risk to ask how we contribute—in many cases unconsciously and unintentionally—to a cultural addiction to violence. And we must have the courage to take the risky steps and to make the difficult changes to overcome violence with the peace that passes all understanding.”

I imagine Mr. Houser thought he understood the Gospel. He didn’t. He perverted it and then used it to justify violence against people he found “troubling” to his understanding of how the world should work. It’s time for those of us who struggle to follow the teachings of Jesus to stop standing by as people to twist the Gospel to their own purposes, to justify violence, destruction and death.

Pray for shooter. Pray for the victims. Believe in the Gospel. It is the only hope we have for the healing of the World.

Prayers for South Carolina from Rhode Island

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Beloved in Jesus, the Prince of Peace;

Our hearts are breaking today as we take in the news of another mass shooting. Today’s crime, apparently motivated by racial hatred, has taken the lives of nine innocent victims while they were gathered in prayer and Bible study.
 
Church bells are being rung across the nation calling us to prayer for the victims and for all who’s lives have been forever shattered by this tragedy. I ask that all of our congregations who can, do so tomorrow on Friday the 19th. Many are ringing their bells for 10 minutes to mark all who have died.
 
Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, the Episcopal bishop in South Carolina, has asked those who can, to pray the prayer of St. Francis:
 
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
 
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
 
Amen
 
I have joined with other religious leaders in the state of Rhode Island in issuing the following statement:
 
We reach out in loving concern to the people of Charleston, South Carolina, and especially the members and friends of the individuals who were slain while attending a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last night.  We not only honor the life of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney who lost his life shepherding his flock, but we also honor those who were gathered in prayer and reflection.  Houses of worship must be safe havens for all who are in distress and seeking God.  When any sacred space is violated, all faith communities are diminished.  

Although when such a senseless act of violence occurs, we are filled with many emotions, but we cannot respond to a hate crime with more hate.  One Charleston resident is reported to have said, “We must love our way through this.”  We concur.  

Let our response go beyond our expression of empathy and grief.   Let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of racial reconciliation and building communities of safety and love.  As our Presbyterian colleagues have stated,  “Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement.  Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do.”

 
+Nicholas Knisely
 XIII Rhode Island
 

To not be provoked to evil

I’m waking to the news that there’s been a mass execution of Coptic Christians in Libya this morning by masked men who claim affiliation with the Islamic State movement. The victims died with the words “Jesus is Lord” on their lips. Violent actions like these, shared widely in an intentional media campaign, are carefully calculated to provoke a response in the rest of world, to bring about a world wide religious war.

And here in America, in some isolated incidents, it might be having the desired effect. The details are still sketchy as to the motivation of the shooter, but last week three of the shining lights of the American muslim community were murdered in Chapel Hill North Carolina by a professed anti-theist. (Not an atheist in the strict sense of the word — someone who doesn’t believe in God, but a person who actively rejects those who do believe. It’s a relatively new phenomenon in the US apparently.)

In West Warwick Rhode Island yesterday, disturbing vandalism against a local Islamic school has brought the conflict to our community.

A day after holding a vigil for three Muslim students killed in North Carolina, the Islamic School of Rhode Island was vandalized.

Some time Saturday night racial slurs were spray-painted over the entrance of the school that serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, school officials said.

Orange paint covered the school’s doors with the words, “Now this is a hate crime” and “pigs,” among other expletives referencing the prophet Muhammad.

The irony is, such actions, if they are meant to be some sort of retaliation, are exactly what the violent actions in Syria, Iraq and now Libya are meant to provoke.

Jesus taught us that the great commandment was to love God above all else. And then he told us we could do that in a practical way by willing to love our neighbor as ourselves. Any thing else leads us away from God and into the realm of violence and death.

It will take a great deal of spiritual discipline to not be drawn into the whirlwind of violence which is the dream of those who have done such killings.

Will you join me in praying that God will grant us the courage and the will to resist? Pray that we focus on doing what we can to make our community stronger, to live into what America was founded to be, a place where freedom of religion was intended to put an end to religious violence of all forms.

It seems appropriate, on this President’s Day in 2015 to make the following prayer:

“O Judge of all the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 839)

Amen.

Connection is the cure to addiction

Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.

In the 1970’s Bruce Alexander, a researcher in Vancouver, discovered that the social experience of laboratory rats in addiction experiments had a profound effect on whether or not the rats became physically addicted to various substances.

Essentially, what he discovered was that isolated rats, kept in bare cages by themselves, when fed addictive substances quickly became physically addicted. But rats in stimulating environments (happy cages) kept with other rats, rejected the drugs they were fed and had a significant physical resistance to developing addiction.

His work has been repeated over the years and is referenced in a new book by Johann Hari called “Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the War on Drugs”. Hari references Alexanders’ work and subsequent research by Gabor and Cohen on human addictive behavior.

In an article on his research Hari writes about the futility of our present models of treatment for addiction where we treat physical addiction by essentially asking people to endure pain (withdrawal and denial) rather than suffer the worse pain (physical and emotional) which is caused by the active addiction:

“If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

You can read the whole article here.

Rhode Island has the highest rate of marijuana use (and I’m told of heroin use) of any state in the US. We’re also a place that is suffering from a lack of hope in the future. We’re a place where, it is my observation, people find it much to easy to isolate themselves into small groups, small families or stable small communities of acquaintances. People will cut themselves off from the larger connections that a vibrant participation in community or activity might bring.

It seems to me that our congregations might have the real solution to the pain that so many people are self treating with illegal substances. Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.