When I started writing this blog almost a year ago, I laid out four reasons why I was doing so. They could be abbreviated as: Ordination Vows, Frustration, Speaking Out as I Think the Church Ought, and My Own Amusement. As I did with my first blog, I’ll explain each reason at the end of this blog to refresh your memory. If your memory doesn’t need refreshing, just skip the four bullet points at the end of this post.
I bet most of you would agree that I was motivated mainly by frustration during the first year. That is a dangerous and slippery slope, since there’s so much to be angry and frustrated about that one is tempted to just rant full-time.
So this entry will be my attempt to re-ground myself in my original purpose: being a prophetic voice talking to the world from the Church. That is one thing a deacon should do, as I interpret the diaconal mission within the Episcopal Church. Of course, I cannot help but focus on events and individuals that offend my Judeo-Christian sense of what is right and what is wrong. So I find it impossible to be all sweetness and light, which is, of course, my true nature. My wife Lucy and my editor Fitz will attest to that …………….. I hope.
At every baptism and on several other occasions throughout the ecclesiastical year, we Episcopalians do something important. We renew our baptismal vows. The priest asks the congregation a series of questions, to which the people are to respond with the words “I will, with God’s help.” Two of those questions are:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Now, while these questions are part of an Episcopal liturgy, I submit that any person who self-identifies as a Christian would respond in the affirmative to each of them. And, further, I believe that with some rewording of the first question, people who self identify as Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs and other religions could answer each question in the affirmative, as could many agnostics and atheists. So my guiding premise is that most individuals believe in trying to love one’s neighbor and in striving for justice and peace.
If you will accept that premise, those deeply held beliefs must inform our behavior daily. Sure, we are going to stray from this path of love and justice, but most of us feel that we need to be intentional about the effort to love our neighbor, and respect the dignity of every human. And this intention must not be laid aside when we enter the public square.
To illustrate my point, I will relate an embarrassing story about myself. I was once on the board of directors of a public corporation. Board members were mostly high-powered CEOs of other corporations — as is typical of the boards of most public companies. During one meeting we were discussing the high turnover rate in a certain factory in which we were meeting. We were paying entry-level employees the minimum wage or very close to it. I commented that the high turnover rate might have something to do with the low wages. Another director then responded with a question: “Were people lining up in the employment office looking for a job?” The local manager responded that, yes, there were applicants for vacancies. To which the director responded, “Then we are paying enough.”
That ended the discussion. He mentioned some principle that I remember as “the clearing rate,” which meant that if people were still applying for jobs, the wage rate for entry level employees was sufficient.
Did I protest this callous and mean-spirited approach to setting wage rates? No. I was cowardly. It bothered me at the time but I was too timid to speak up. I failed to be intentional about my vow to love neighbor, respect the dignity of every human being, and strive for justice. And I am sure I have failed many more times since then.
Therefore, my re-grounding involves trying to be intentional about discussing issues and events that seem to show that our country isn’t serious about loving our neighbors, respecting the dignity of every human being and striving for justice and peace. Barring a stunning and welcome breakthrough in negotiations, I plan to start my re-grounded blogging with some thoughts on the DACA issue.
Now, as promised, here is the thinking that underlies my original four reasons for blogging:
- Deacons are required by their ordination vows “to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” We are also required, in the name of Jesus Christ, “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.” When you put these two parts of our ordination vows together, they call deacons to find their prophetic voice. Well, I am trying to find mine.
- Now, because of reason Number 1, I find myself immensely frustrated by observing what is going on around us in this country. It is especially frustrating to hear about how “exceptional” we are and to hear all sorts of politicians close their speeches with the words “God Bless the United States of America” or something similar. So, in addition to trying to find my prophetic voice as mandated by my ordination, I am blogging out of real frustration.
- Although I cannot speak for the Episcopal Church, nor for the Diocese of Rhode Island, nor, even, for the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Newport, where I serve, I can speak as a vocational deacon in good standing (so far) within the Episcopal Church. And, as opposed to those who think clergy should steer clear of politics and policy, I believe the Church must stand for something and speak out about things that are manifestly contrary to Christian and, not incidentally, Jewish, teaching. So, I would like to, in a tiny way, be a “voice crying in the wilderness.”
- Finally, as should be obvious from the foregoing, I am doing this because I plan to enjoy it.