Sanctuary Earth – A Creation in Peril

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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.

Diversity & Inclusion: The Holy Covenant of Faithful Community

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Capernaum - Many Rooms

House Ruins in Capernaum, Israel – in the foreground is an example of a home with added rooms (Photo taken by the author in 2017)

 John 14:1-6 
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The Gospel of John came into its current form between 90 AD and 110 AD. The historical context of time and place in which this gospel emerged helped shape the discourses and themes contained within it. Understanding the socio-cultural environment can help translate the use of symbols and metaphors employed by the gospel’s author in order to communicate the intended messages and teachings. This holistic approach underscores that it is not possible to understand any one passage from John’s gospel without a consideration of the way everything contained within the gospel is interrelated, internally consistent, and intentionally dialogical in construct.

The author whom Christian tradition names as “John” (although there is evidence indicating several contributors over time) is intimately familiar with the scriptures and symbol system of the Jewish faith, culture, and history. John is also familiar with non-Jewish sources of Greek philosophers and Greco-Roman mystery cults. By weaving together themes that were influential among the diverse populations of the Mediterranean, John presents an interpretation of Jesus that communicates common themes that would have been comprehensible and attractive to a wide-range of cultures and belief systems extant in the author’s time and place.

John is writing for a diverse Christian community experiencing a significant shift in communal identity as related to but independent of Jewish community and identity. The symbols and imagery evoked in the gospel open up the early Christian worldview to thoughts and influences beyond the Hebrew lexicon of stories and symbols representing the Israelite understanding of the Messiah. For John, the Messiah invites spiritual union between Christ and the individual that is unmediated and free-of-charge. This spiritual union is contrasted to the communal covenant with God requiring the fee-based mediation of Jewish priests and interpretation by Jewish teachers who have the exclusive cultural authority to do so. Liberating one’s relationship with the Messiah from Jewish mediation and interpretation is why John contrasts Christian belief from Judaism as it was identified in Judah, even utilizing messianic concepts from the Samaritan Jewish tradition.

For John, the importance of the innovation of a personal relationship with Christ is why the passage of John 14:1-6 is significantly illuminated when it is viewed in light of John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. I believe that that the symbolic language employed in the depiction of the wedding at Cana is a storyline that is completed in the symbolic language of Christ going to prepare a place in his Father’s house for those he will bring to where he is going.

Firstly, in the marriage traditions of the ancient Israelites, the father of the groom often selected a bride (kallah) for his son, as did Abraham for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4). The consent of the bride-to-be is important. For example, Rebecca was asked if she agreed to go back with Abraham’s servant to marry Abraham’s son, Isaac, and she went willingly (Genesis 24:57–59). Mutual agreement was required for a valid marriage contract.

John’s gospel uses the image of marriage at the wedding of Cana as the central image of the nature of the believer’s relationship with Christ – namely, a spiritual, intimate, and mutual union. Further, the illustration of water turned to wine at the wedding feast encodes the early Christian teaching coupled frequently in John’s gospel, linking baptism to the pascal feast – both are celebrations and occasions of our spiritual union with Christ. The symbol of wine employed in the joyful experience of a wedding is linked to the wine used in the Last Supper, specifically the cup of wine reserved for after the meal which is traditionally associated with the joyful expectation of the arrival of the Messiah.

The link between the waters of baptism and the wine representing Christ’s sacrifice can be found in the traditional preparation for the Jewish betrothal ceremony. Namely, the bride (kallah) and groom (chatan) are separately immersed in water in a ritual of mikvah, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing. For John, Jesus has already been immersed (baptized) by John the Baptist in the waters of mikvah at the Jordan River, in preparation for Christ’s union with his Beloved, which is each of us. From John’s use of symbols, the community is to understand that baptism serves a similar purpose.

After the immersion in the mikvah, the betrothed couple enters the huppah (marriage canopy)—symbolic of a new household being planned, to establish a binding contract. Within the symbol of home, the groom would give the bride a valuable object such as a ring, and lastly a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows.

After the betrothal ceremony, the bride returned to her mother’s house, while the groom departed to his father’s house. This period of separation lasted about a year, providing time for the groom to add additional rooms to his patrilineal household in order for him to prepare for welcoming his bride into the household of his father. Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour. He could come earlier or later than was expected. For this reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night (Matthew 25:1-13). It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for the time for him to return to collect his bride.

When the time came, the bridal procession was led by the sounding of the shofar to the home he had prepared for her. The final step of the wedding tradition is called nissuin (to take), a word that comes from naso, which means to lift up. At this time, the groom, with much noise, fanfare and romance, carried the bride onto the property of his father’s home. Once again, the bride and groom would enter a huppah, recite a blessing over the wine (a symbol of joy), and finalize their vows. Now in their home, the bride and groom lived out their covenant of marriage – the traditional Jewish version of “and they lived happily ever after.”

In her book, “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas,” Elaine Pagels suggests that John’s gospel is a direct response to the emerging Christology of the community that gathered around Thomas, which is why John portrays Thomas as having a theologically challenged Christology. Now as then, different Christian communities have different
understandings of Jesus and can hold conflicting beliefs of how to interpret Jesus and the stories that are our collective legacy about him.

While both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas value the individual’s relationship with Christ, The Gospel of John and its basic tenets seem to be in direct opposition to Thomas. John says that he writes “so that you may believe, and believing may have life in [Jesus’] name.” Thomas’s gospel, however, encourages us not so much to believe in Jesus, as John says, as to seek to know God through one’s own, divinely given capacity, since all are created in the image of God. The Gospel of John speaks from a multivalent symbol system in which there are “rooms” for each person to have a unique relationship with Christ but which are also an interconnected part of the common household of the Father. The Gospel of John, therefore, provides a foundation for a unified church, which the Gospel of Thomas, with its emphasis on each person’s search for God, did/does not.

For the author of the Gospel of John, the belief that Jesus is the Messiah is sufficient common ground for unity. Each believer is a bride to Jesus the groom, expressed and experienced through Baptism and communion. The house of Christ’s Father has many rooms, because Christ has prepared a place for each person that the Father has approved or “given to him.” When John reports Thomas asking, “How do we know where you are going?” the question represents the emphasis John perceives in the Thomasine community regarding the path of gnosis, which appears to focus on secret knowledge held by the few over belief that makes God readily accessible to all. The response given by Jesus, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” emphasizes John’s teaching on the primacy of belief. In the Gospel of John, a community of believers is bonded together through a shared belief that Jesus is the Messiah, while also making room for the validity of individual relationship with God through a shared and public belief.

For the author of the Gospel of John, the Christian community for whom the author is writing is diverse, informed by mystery traditions and covenant traditions, populated with peoples drawn from multiple faith traditions, histories, and cultures indicative of the Roman Empire. What they hold in common is a desire for liberation from tenants of the belief systems influential in their time (Jewish and Roman) that restrained them from practicing social and spiritual equality before God and with one another. Every individual in the community of the faithful has free and equal access to God, and the way to that access is by agreeing to enter a spiritual union with Christ that while mystical is not at all mysterious, and while binding is not legalistic in nature but rather a mutual commitment to love one another. Personal love for God is expressed in one’s commitment to live together in community, as represented by the many rooms in the Father’s unified house.

Throughout the generations of the church, ideas of how to achieve unity amidst our Christian diversity has been often elusive. We identify instruments or statements with which we are expected to agree, but such relationships seem always to be conditional. Alternatively, in the Gospel of John, we are all of us brides in love with the same groom, and if we are truly in love with God, then our hearts ought not to be troubled – for truthfully, in our Father’s house, there are many rooms. Within an incarnational theology of the Body of Christ — the church — the rooms are ours to build for one another. For John, the concluding line, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” is not exclusionary. Rather, the symbols used throughout the gospel convey that everyone can have access to God, if they simply believe in the love that Christ has for them and live by the wide embrace of that covenant for all people.

A Letter from John the Baptist to the Government Administration in Washington DC

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John the Baptist 3

Advent III – Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dear Brood of Vipers,

What do you think you’re doing? Are you ready to reap what you have sewn? It would be better for you if you had rather grown non-GMO fruits than made your money by investing in environmentally hazardous chemicals and toxic methods of mineral extraction and fossil fuels.  If you think that you are safe from the wrath of future generations, you should probably be aware that your care in your old age is entirely in their hands. If you do not invest in them, they will owe you nothing.  They will name their ancestors as only those who truly cared for them. The arrogant and self-centered are a dime a dozen and are easy to fire, while those who truly serve the people know that they nurture those who are not yet born and whom they may never meet but by so doing will themselves be honored forever.

Those who belong to the 1% are those who must learn to live with less, not those whom they would seek to deprive. Stop stealing what belongs to the people for all generations – clean water, national park land, entire species of animals, sustainable employment, just wages, healthcare, and even good health itself. You tax those who bear the greatest economic burden of your inflated prices – stop it! You give tax money to those who have far more than they need – stop it!  You build and populate prisons with minorities whom you have provided no viable alternative or route to human dignity – stop it! When they raise their voices and not weapons, you threaten the people with the same weapons you have created for fighting in foreign wars – these are your citizens – stop it!  You claim divine blessing and flaunt your so-called piety, dressing up your misdeeds within the robes of a corrupted belief – stop it!

As children are taught when they are very young, you must learn to share. You must be taught anew and learn well that you belong to a common God, a singular Spirit that binds you into one family called humanity. You must change your ways from fighting for an empire to cultivating common ground.

Well you may wonder, “Who does this person think they are who presumes to teach us and tell us what to do?” Your actions have already told me that you think that I am worth nothing. And you are right – not because I have no value, but because there is One who exists that is of greater worth than any of us. Neither you or I are worthy of his notice, yet he notices everything and forgets nothing and no one. I can’t harm you, nor would I want to do so even if I could.  No. Violence is your way, not mine and not his.

Do you know what Baptism is?  A little water, a dab of sacred oil?  These are only small signs, human gestures pointing only faintly to an immense reality far more powerful than anything you can do from your vantage point of human authority. Compared to one who was and is and is to be, you are as chaff that will be blown away on the winds of change. Baptism is a heritage of revolution from generation to generation. For, my friends, change is coming, and it will swallow you up whole. The people who are even now rising will be as a resurrection of hope to the world.  The fire of their love for one another and for all Creation will consume your petty greed and will set right all your common thievery and will till under the ground of your wars to plant a New Earth and new ways of being together that will bring life to all people.

So, prepare for your end, you Vipers. The poison of your work has met its healer, and only those whose action is illness and whose intent is death will know fear. Love is coming and is already here, dwelling as the flame of the Spirit within the hearts of those who champion the poor, the stranger, the victims of injustice. These are the truly Baptized, those who bring a revolution of Peace for all Creation.  If you do not change your hearts, you will not have the ability to enter into a better world – and that is your choice and your responsibility, not God’s.

Love,

John