Sanctuary Earth – A Creation in Peril

Altar Stained Glass Trinity 2020

East Wall Stained Glass Over High Altar – Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett WA

Over a period of five months in the spring and summer of 1892 [April to August], Trinity Episcopal Church grew from an idea in the minds of a few business owners into an incorporated parish with its own lumber-built church on the corner of Wetmore and California Avenues in what is now downtown Everett.

In 1911, the Trinity Vestry called The Rev. Edgar M. Rogers, who lead the Vestry in purchasing the current property at 23rd and Hoyt, breaking ground on the (former) parish hall on March 25, 1912. However, the work on building the church itself was halted as the working men of Snohomish County and many of its clergy went off to join the armed forces in support of the Great War. After Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, survivors returned home picking up the remnants of old lives and building new ones as best they could.

Work resumed on building the church sanctuary, and the first mass was held in it the Sunday after Easter of 1920 – 100 years ago today. The final dedication of the new building was held the following year, presided over by Bishop Keater on Trinity Sunday, May 22, 1921. On that occasion a plaque was placed in the original entry dedicating the sanctuary as a Victory Memorial to those who died in the Great War.

At the time when the old church property at Wetmore and California was sold, the funds helped to support the work of the architect of the new building, E. T. Osborne. Meanwhile, the stained glass windows were designed and executed by Charles J. Connock, who designed the stained glass windows overlooking our high altar. Connock designed the windows with the theme of Resurrection in mind.

The risen Christ is depicted on the center panel, with Mary his mother to the left and Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James on the outside left panel. To the right of Christ is Peter and to the far right is Joseph.  The middle panel – depicting the resurrected Christ – was given by the children of the parish in honor of mothers. Surrounded by doves and angels, with Roman soldiers giving up arms at his feet, the resurrected Christ raises a hand in blessing – etched in glass, immortalized in color and light. This blessing reminds us every time we behold it that there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.

The ancestors of this place dedicated (and gave) their lives to challenging global injustice and to upholding values of international peace and unity. During the years of WWI, Trinity’s parish hall had served as an active hub for community organizing in response to the war efforts – hosting Red Cross meetings, adopting war orphans, selling Liberty Bonds, and hosting an array of guest war time speakers and faith leadership dignitaries from all over the world, including Belgium, France, Greece and Russia. We have multiple photos of rows of scowling clergy to prove it.

Over the years that followed Fr. Roger’s time, the pursuit of justice took different forms in each generation. In the 1960’s issues challenging The Episcopal Church reflected the changing times. The movement for women’s rights, social justice concerns related to in human sexuality, and women’s birth control were foremost issues in international and domestic church meetings.

Voices were also being raised in the streets and in the pews calling for the formulation of environmental laws and policies that would address the then unregulated pollution of the air and water ways – including  the use of chemicals developed during wars being  used commercially as insecticides and herbicides that were poisoning ecosystems and towns. The early environmental movement in The Episcopal Church was in part informed by the Scriptural tradition of the Genesis – a story we heard just last Saturday evening during the Easter Vigil service. In the Genesis story of Creation, God created the heavens and the earth, as well as everything in them, each bit of Creation concluding with the refrain, And God saw that it was good. When finally all things in the heavens and the earth and their multitudes were finished, we hear that, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

From the perspective of many faiths, philosophies, and sciences, Earth Day was a unified response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers and lakes so polluted they literally caught fire.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental injustices and demand a collective new way forward. It is still recognized as the largest civic event on our planet.

This year, this Wednesday on April 22nd, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. Every thinking person with feet firmly planted in scientific reality, comprehends that climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and all life on Earth.

The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many countries soon adopted similar laws. Earth Day continues to hold major international significance: In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day when the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was signed into force. At the end of this year, nations will be expected to increase their national commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.

However, the Creation that God judges as good, very good, has throughout the course of human history been subjected to much human action that is bad –  very, very bad.

On November 8, 2016, four days after the Paris Agreement entered into force in the United States, a new President was elected President of the United States. Only seven months later, on June 1, 2017, the new President announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

In accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a country cannot give notice of withdrawal from the agreement before three years of its start date. So, on November 4, 2019, the new administration gave formal notification of intention to withdraw, which takes 12 months to take effect. So, the earliest possible effective withdrawal date by the United States cannot be before November 4, 2020. [The election for the next president of the United States is to be held the day before, on November 3rd. ]

When the President made his preliminary announcement on June 1, 2017, that afternoon the governors of several U.S. states formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement at the state level despite the federal withdrawal. The formation of the Alliance was announced by three state governors: Jay Inslee of Washington, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Jerry Brown of California. The founding statement noted that: “New York, California and Washington, representing over one-fifth of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, are committed to achieving the U.S. goal of reducing emissions 26–28 percent from 2005 levels and meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan.”

To date 24 governors both democrat and republican have signed onto the statement, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, Minnesota, Maryland, and Massachusetts among others. Several mayors and businesses have also signed onto the agreement.

Beginning with federal withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the current administration has since rolled back 95 environmental regulations that effectively remove oversight of oil, natural gas, and methane and power production. All previous targets for standards set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been abandoned by the administration in its gutting of the environmental policies and the Environmental Protection Agency itself.

On January 9th of this year, the administration announced its proposal to obliterate the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. NEPA is the nation’s first major environmental law, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970. That law requires that our government consider the environmental consequences of its major actions, including those that impact our climate.

The current administration wants to ease up on fuel efficiency regulations and has subsequently increased the amount of permitted poisonous nitrogen oxides in the air. As air quality is goes down, respiratory illnesses go up. If the Earth is not healthy, life upon it doesn’t have a chance.

With regard to protected public lands, the current administration is responsible for the largest reduction in the boundaries of protected land in US history, including shrinking protected land at the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument, both significant sites in Utah. The changes open up both areas to mining and oil and gas development. Additionally, the administration is expanding more than 180,000 acres of the Tongess National Forest in Alaska, the country’s largest national forest, known as America’s Amazon, for logging and fossil fuel exploration and mineral extraction. The administration is actively seeking to open oil and gas lease sales in the environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The administration seeks to change the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Act to allow logging in our country’s largest and most pristine old growth forest and to allow the massive proposed Pebble Mine to move forward with catastrophic effects on the world’s largest fishery of wild sockeye salmon.

The federal administration currently managing the EPA announced that it will additionally rescind Clean Water Act protections from critical streams and wetlands. This follows on last year’s announcement by the Interior Department that significant changes are being made to the Endangered Species Act to allow for more oil and gas drilling, placing a cap on how much regulators consider the impacts of the climate crisis.

The administration has made changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has severely limited any penalties for bird deaths across the United States, allowing the destruction of millions of birds and marking a radical departure from decades of federal policy that protected more than 1,000 migratory species.

The administration has increased the allowable levels of the herbicide Atrazine, which is used commercially to kill weeds on crops and lawns and which has the proven added effect of contributing to the loss of pollinators, bird populations, and contaminating water supplies and that has been linked to reproductive abnormalities including premature birth.

While our nation reels from the coronavirus pandemic, the current administration is accelerating an agenda that is extraordinarily harmful to all life on the planet — rollbacks that dismantle critical health and environmental protections, and that will inevitably deepen the climate crisis. The lives of American citizens are being impacted right now by a vindictive leadership that seems intent on taking vengeance on the governors and citizens of the states that dared to contradict the President on June 1, 2017 by supporting the Paris Agreement in the face of federal withdrawal. I believe the administration’s actions have been and are now intentional and malicious, constituting not only crimes against humanity but crimes against all life on Earth now and for generations to come.

The sanctuary of our church is 100 years old on its anniversary today. The stained glass windows of Christ’s resurrection are also 100 years old but carry the same message for our community today as they did for those who lived through the Great War and built a new world afterwards – there is no challenge so great that together we cannot overcome it.

Though we are not able to gather to celebrate in our church sanctuary today, we yet share the greater sanctuary of God’s Creation that shelters us all. Just as we few are tasked with caring for the heritage of our church building in memory of the sacrifices of those who have gone before for principles of liberty, fellowship, and peace, so we are bound as God’s stewards to protect the sanctuary of Creation on behalf of the liberty, fellowship, and peace of all the Earth. The national struggle in which we find ourselves today is not a matter of party affiliation or religious affiliation, it is not confined to our national boarders or even to our species – what we are called to confront in this present moment is a matter of life and death – whether the Earth as we know it can survive the impact of humankind or not.

I believe this Earth is the only one we have, I do not believe in the myth of a new Earth or new Creation that is anything other than made manifest in how we live together on this one. This. Is. It. And in the one mortal life we have upon the Earth, we must chose every day whether we stand with her or against her, whether we work with God as stewards of all that God has made or whether we turn our backs on God and let the sacred earth burn with human greed, with corruption, with the unrelieved fever of human illness in so many forms that must be challenged by every generation.

This church sanctuary is very beautiful, and we care for it as those entrusted with its care. How much more should we then care for the greater sanctuary of Creation where the God that unites us by the Spirit that rejoices in all that God has made, this sacred and glorious Creation where the Spirit of God entrusted to us truly lives  –  still.

10 Spiritual Practices toward a Peaceful Christmas

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God_Rest_Ye_Merry_Gentlemen“God rest ye, merry gentlemen – let nothing you dismay.

Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day!”

For many of us, the Advent and Christmas seasons can often mean the onset of a couple of unwelcome guests – Stress and Depression. In the midst of what is presented as a joyous time, we can often experience a burden of expectations (imposed by others or by the self) that can create a long list of demands upon us – parties, gatherings, watching a seemingly endless series of traditional movies, attending the theater or ballet, shopping, baking, Christmas pageant preparations, cleaning and entertaining, as well as decorating and driving around looking for “needed” items (just to name just a few stress triggers).

It’s so important to remind ourselves and our families that the Spirit of Christmas is not some kind of divine bullwhip driving us into a manic frenzy of over-commitment and consumerism. Rather, the Spirit of Christmas is a gently-whispered invitation to enter the quiet contemplation of the Holy Nativity scene – the hidden Crèche within each of our hearts, wherein lies the sleeping Christ Child.

Through some practical spiritual practices, we can help ourselves to minimize the stress that accompanies the Season and ensure that the King of Peace really is born into our world (into and through each one of us) this Christmas. To this end, here are 10 Spiritual Practices I have put together for your consideration in this Season of the Spirit.

1) Acknowledge you feelings. Whatever your feelings about this time of year or Christmas, acknowledge them. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with those you love, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and even grief at significant holidays and anniversary dates. It’s alright to take time to mourn or express your feelings. Try not to “force yourself” or permit others to force you to be artificially cheerful just because it’s the holiday season. Choose how you will manage your feelings and care for yourself, so that you can be authentically present to others (and to God), honoring your own needs as well as those of others.

2) Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community; come to our various church services or other social events around you – even if it’s just for a little while. These resources and gatherings can offer support and companionship, even if all you talk about is the sale at Macy’s, contemplate the weather, or just rest and take in what’s happening around you. Volunteering your time to help others is a great way to change your focus as well as broaden your friendships. Practice community – by bringing your whole and sacred self into the presence of the Season.

3) Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like years gone by. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals can change as well. Feeling nostalgic is natural, but we also follow a God who promises to renew all things. So, choose a few traditions to hold on to, but be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails, videos or Skype!

4) Set aside differences. (This is not asking the same as asking for reconciliation, which can be a life-long spiritual work). As a spiritual practice for the Season, try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. If you really cannot tolerate someone’s unhealthy behavior, limit your exposure to them through clear boundary setting of your time and participation – plan for a low-key, healthy exit strategy for the times when you may need one. You may even want to create a rescue code word or phrase (like “fruitcake!” or “the penguins must be hungry!”) in order to alert a close friend to quietly support you as you remove yourself from a given situation. However, be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry with planned events. Chances are good that they’re experiencing the effects of holiday stress and depression, too, but they haven’t identified those feelings.

5) Budget. Be a Good Steward of the resources God has provided to you, and stick to a budget you can afford. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then, stick to your budget! Don’t try to buy happiness or gratitude with gifts – guilt is always bad credit. Instead, remember the Pearl of Great Price – the genuine article of Love that can only ever be truly given when it is given with no expectation of return. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts, or write a handwritten letter – a personal letter is a precious and rare thing these days!

6) Plan ahead. Scripture consistently reminds us to be prepared – this spiritual practice applies to daily living as well as waiting for Christ (which very much characterizes Advent). Set aside specific days and times for preparations such as shopping, baking, visiting friends, Advent prayers/reading at home and other activities. If you’ve committed to assisting at church services, be sure to arrive a little early for personal prayer and centering – church isn’t just one more “task” to check off at this time of year. Rather, church services and service to others can help keep us grounded and fed by the Season instead of exhausted and depleted by it.

7) Learn to say a holy, healthy “no.” Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed later. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no to something, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the given time – set your priorities and stay with them. The spiritual practice of a holy, healthy “no” helps preserve and sustain our best health during a time when God asks us for the gift of our attention – inviting us to be fully present to the in-breaking of the Divine on Earth and within our own hearts.

8) Don’t abandon healthy habits. Christmas is a time for celebration but not for reckless abandon – try not to let the Season become an excuse for losing your spiritual mindfulness. Overindulgence only adds to stress and guilt later. So, have a healthy snack before attending holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Use small plates for buffets and servings. Also, continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity, offsetting any extra calories you may choose to take in.

9) Relax. Remember: the song is “God REST Ye, Merry Gentlemen!” Be intentional about scheduling some time for yourself. Spend at least 15 minutes alone every day of Advent as a Mini Sabbath – a sacred time without distractions or agenda; this can refresh you enough to handle what you need to accomplish. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find an image of the Sacred within your inward vision that reduces stress for you – then, clear your mind, slow your breathing, and restore your inner calm.

10) Don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Despite your best efforts and best spiritual practices, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical discomfort, unable to sleep, feeling irritable or hopeless – the season may disjoint you completely, causing you to feel unable to face even routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, please talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You may feel more comfortable initially speaking with a clergy person, such as [*gasp!*] your Pastor. If you would like to speak with me, please be assured that I will help find a referral resource for you for ongoing professional support while maintaining your confidentiality and respecting your privacy.

Ultimately, the most valuable gift we can bring to Christ at Christmastide is ourselves – complete and whole, just as we are – with all our feelings, all our messiness, all our hopes and fears, all our talents and insecurities. We are asked to leave it all at the Manger, in the sure and certain confidence that to God it is all priceless treasure. Even as much as Advent is a time of preparation, it is also a journey of remembrance – timelessly reminding us that we are unconditionally loved by the Christ who is Emanuel, “God with Us.” Now, always…and forever.

May you have a truly Blessed Advent and Merry Christmas,

Experiencing a truly sacred Season of the Spirit.

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