On October 8, CDSP held its annual alumni convocation in All Saints Chapel. The Rev. Dennis Tierney '02 preached at the service, and the Rev. Canon Robert J. Brooks '73, Dr. Ronald C. Johnson and the Rev. Eliza Linley '90 were awarded honorary degrees:
The Rev. Cn Robert J. Brooks ’73
Canon Robert Brooks is a priest of the Diocese of Connecticut and Canon for International Affairs of the Diocese of El Salvador. He is President of the national Episcopal Urban Caucus, and member of the Executive Committee of APLM. He was appointed to the Standing Liturgical Commission (1985- 1988) that produced the first expansive language Eucharistic texts which are still in use; chairing the Committee on Initiation that enhanced the liturgies for the catechumenal process. He represented The Episcopal Church on the Consultation on Common Texts, making contributions to the development of the Revised Common Lectionary. Among his many accomplishments, Canon Brooks was elected to the Bretton Woods Committee to honor his role in the funding of debt relief for the world’s poorest countries. As Director of Government Relations of The Episcopal Church (1988-1998), Canon Brooks worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on democratic transitions from apartheid systems, and has worked with leaders in the Middle East in search of peace. Canon Brooks played a definitive role on the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the National and Community Service Act (Americorps), the Omnibus Crime Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the International Religious Freedom Act. He organized religious community support for ratification by the Senate of the treaty banning chemical weapons. For his work around the world in conflict resolution, Canon Brooks was invested by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a Commander of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.
Dr. Ronald C. Johnson
Band raised in Philadelphia, baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church in my teen years. After completion of military service and pursuit of a career in science, I earned a doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. Following graduation, I was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship position at the University of California, San Francisco, and after a two-year period was invited to stay on as full time staff. I am currently retired from the University after a 30 year career as a research biochemist.
In retirement I have been involved in tutoring and mentoring young people. I have served in both leadership and participatory capacities in several governance and service positions in my parish, Grace Cathedral, and in the Diocese of California, where I was appointed to the Commission on Ministry and elected to the Standing Committee. I have also functioned for many years in adult Christian formation and have assisted those in their discernment to calls to lay and to ordained ministry.
The Rev. Eliza Linley ’90
After beginning her professional life as an artist and architect, followed by a detour as a caterer and refectory manager at CDSP, Eliza received her MDiv with Distinction from CDSP in 1990. She then served various Bay Area parishes as Priest-in-Charge and Interim and returned to CDSP as Visiting Chaplain to Students in 1997-9. She joined the CDSP Board of Trustees in 2001 and, in 2007, became the first ordained woman to chair the board of an Episcopal seminary until her term ended in 2013. She has taught as adjunct professor at the GTU in the area of Worship and the Arts and has led numerous congregational workshops on sacred space and the building process. Eliza was a founding member of the Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts and has served on the boards of the Church Building Fund, the Center for Arts, Religion and Education at the GTU, St. Dorothy’s Rest and the Bishop’s Ranch. She is also an artist whose work hangs in collections across the country including Stanford University, the Episcopal Church Center in New York, and Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago.
Blow trumpets and horns, and shout for joy to the Lord our king. Psalm 98:6
Even if you haven’t yet met Devin Rodgers on the CDSP campus, there’s a chance you may have heard him.
When Bishop Marc Andrus joined the CDSP community October 1 to bless the campus buildings and the ministries they support, Rodgers helped lead the parade.
“I played trumpet and we had a drummer,” he said. “We walked around campus singing and playing music between the places we were blessing. It was kind of cool.”
Rodgers is this year’s recipient of the Norman Mealy Music Scholarship, given to encourage skilled musicians with an interest in church music to attend and enrich the musical life of CDSP and the church at large. Rodgers is thrilled with the seminary and is grateful for the scholarship.
“I love it here,” he said. "It’s a great fit.”
Rodgers spent a year at Bexley Seabury before arriving at CDSP in September as a second year MDiv student, a move prompted when his husband, Philippe Terrasson, got a new job in California.
Church music has been an integral part of Rodgers’ life since he was a little boy attending the Lutheran church. In grade school he learned to play the clarinet and the trumpet, which is his primary instrument. He went on to major in music education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he was the principal chair of the symphony band and was trumpet section leader in the marching band. Following graduation, he taught instrumental music for four years to students in grades six through twelve in North College Hill, Ohio. While serving as a band director, “I began to see the ways music-making could be translated into service and community. How could this be translated into a formal church structure?”
At Bexley Seabury, Rodgers was in a brass choir and took piano lessons as an elective.
“As a musician, I recognize that there’s a spiritual aspect of music connecting with worship and prayer. Music, by its nature, is an expression of who we are. If we are created in the image of God, then music gives us a glimpse of God’s nature, particularly as creative and life-giving.”
The Norman Mealy scholarship is given in honor of Norman Mealy (1923–1987), who was professor of church music at CDSP from 1952 to 1987 and at the GTU from 1965 to 1987. He also served as the director of music at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley from 1947 to 1961 and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1960.
Mealy was active in developing new music within the Episcopal Church and served on several commissions on service music and liturgy. The scholarship bearing his name requires proficiency in music leadership and helps to pay the tuition of recipient, who also serves as an assistant to George Emblom, the director of chapel music and CDSP’s assistant professor of church music.
At CDSP, liturgical and ritual music has long been considered an essential part of liturgy, and everyone is encouraged to develop their own musical skills and appreciation. Sixty years ago, a May 14, 1955, article in the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard newspaper announced a 10-day summer school of church music at CDSP, run by Norman Mealy.
According to the article, “This school will provide the only intensive training in the music of the Episcopal Church that is available to church musicians west of the Rocky Mountains. It has been designed to offer training in the practical aspects of church music and to help musicians understand the profound relationship of music to the worship of the church.”
Rodgers understands that relationship.
“Music is so tied into our liturgical traditions. Our liturgy and scripture are full of images of music-making, both on earth and in heaven,” he said. “I particularly like Psalm 98, verse 6, which talks about praising God with the sounds of trumpets. When I was confirmed, each confirmand got to choose a favorite piece of scripture. That was the passage I chose.”
Rodgers became an Episcopalian in 2008, while he was in college.
“I went to an adult forum at Holy Trinity Church in Oxford, Ohio, to discuss how the church could be more supportive of the LGBT student community. I was so impressed that the parish was so supportive and receptive that I stayed for the Eucharist, and then I was kind of hooked.”
Rodgers said he looks forward to working with Emblom and exploring how sacred music can involve the use of a variety of instruments and music selections.
“One of the things I talked to George about is that, traditionally, we think of church musicians as selecting music for organs or pianos or choosing hymns. It was cool to talk to him about using other instruments and about music selection. As we strive to be the Episcopal Church in a more diverse society, I hope our musical tradition continues expanding and evolving to reflect the culture of the people, while also holding on to our traditional and rich music background.”
Whatever instrument or style is used, “music is one way that humans make theological connections and understandings,” Rodgers said. “As church leadership and musicians, it is our job to ensure that the liturgy and music is in the language of the people. It is my hope that our musical offerings would add a level of understanding and insight to the mission that we are called to in the world.”
The Rev. Suzanne Guthrie, a noted author and spiritual guide, will be CDSP’s second St. Margaret's Visiting Professor of Women in Ministry.
Dean Mark Richardson announced that Guthrie, author of “Praying the Hours” and “Grace's Window,” will offer a course on spiritual practices, devotions and praying during the spring semester next year.
“Our students will be able to get a taste for 'practices' of spirituality, varieties of prayer practice, and ministries of spiritual direction on their own campus with one of the leaders in our tradition,” Richardson said. “Suzanne Guthrie will be able to present students with the genius of Anglican spiritual traditions, while also offering a still larger diversity of practices in other traditions.”
Guthrie has served as a parish priest, a Christian education consultant and in chaplaincies at Vassar College and Cornell University. She and her husband, Bill Consiglio, are the parents of four grown children. Guthrie traces her interest in mystical theology to the “Autobiography of Teresa of Avila,” which she read at age 22.
"Christian leaders need to have a deep spiritual practice in order to sustain themselves in the ordinary stress of ministry,” Guthrie says. “Also, the world is changing very, very fast, and I think ministers have to be ready for catastrophe. So I think it is important to develop a vibrant theology of prayer out of which to live an active life and be able to respond to people who are suffering, with empathy and compassion, even if not in words."
Guthrie’s course will focus on a wide range of spiritual practices including monastic practices, lectio divina, body prayer, intercessions, rules of life, and devotional lifestyles.
"I've been having fun crafting this course because there's an unlimited number of ways it can be done,” Guthrie says. “It's like creating a palette of colors and textures for a painting."
Richardson said that as the visiting professor of women in ministry, Guthrie will have “the flexibility to work with students in groups and one-on-one, and both in classroom settings and informal contexts.”
The St. Margaret’s professorship was inaugurated last fall at CDSP on the 40th anniversary of the ordination of the first women to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. The professorship was made possible by generous support from women who taught or studied at the seminary. The chair is named in honor of St. Margaret's House, a Berkeley-based institution that trained deaconesses and laywomen for ministry in the Episcopal Church from 1909-66.
Joey Courtney traffics in understatement.
“I kind of always had a connection to service when it comes to the church,” says Courtney, 26, who began classes at CDSP this month as the recipient of the seminary’s Presidential Scholarship, which covers tuition, room and board.
A cradle Episcopalian who grew up at Good Samaritan Church on Cedar Bluff in Knoxville, Tennessee, Courtney started bagging groceries for the parish’s food pantry in the first grade after his mother, Meg Rutherford, took over the operation. “When I was 6 year old I didn’t want to do it, but as I got older I saw the importance of it and the value of it,” Courtney said. “It became part of my spiritual practice. It was something I learned to love.”
Courtney worked among prisoners, the poor, the hungry and the homeless throughout high school and at Maryville College, where he was awarded a community service scholarship. One summer, while working as a chaplain at a Boy Scout camp, he read “An Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne and felt he had found a kindred spirit. Claiborne founded a neo-monastic community in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, and Courtney was inspired by his teaching that “the poor are holy, and that living in solidarity with the poor was a central part of Jesus’ message.”
After college he spent two years with the Episcopal Urban Intern Program (EUIP) in Los Angeles, a branch of Episcopal Service Corps, a nationwide program that offers college graduates in their twenties the opportunity to live in a prayerful community and work in innovative social service agencies. Courtney worked first in children and youth programs at the Salvation Army Alegria in the Silver Lake neighborhood, and then at Chrysalis, an organization that helps poor and homeless people become self-sufficient.
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, Courtney found his way to Holy Spirit, an emerging Episcopal congregation not far from Salvation Army Alegria. There, he helped launch a local chapter of Laundry Love, a nationwide movement to assist people who are struggling financially by helping them to do their laundry. Courtney, the Rev. Nat Katz of Holy Spirit and Garrett Klindt of Founders Metropolitan Community Church in Los Feliz say they were inspired by a similar initiative in Huntington Beach started by thom’s, another emerging Episcopal ministry.
“I think it is important to do things that build relationships with people who are different than us,” Courtney says. “Laundromats are places everyone has to go to even if they don’t talk. Giving back to the community in a way that is very non-judgmental. You don’t have to sign up. You just have to show up.”
Katz, who in addition to being a leader in the Holy Spirit community is director of communications for Claremont School of Theology, says Courtney “takes Jesus at his word in Matthew 25 when he says that when you care for ‘the least of these’ you care for Jesus.
“Joey does not go about his ministry with fanfare but with a tenacity for improving the lives of those who live on the margins. His encounters on the margins draw him deeper into his calling and deeper in his relationship with God. He is remarkable in his ability to make human connections with people who are routinely ignored by our society.”
After finishing his internships, Courtney went to work as a job developer for The Los Angeles Youth Network, which works with abused, neglected and homeless adolescents, and began contemplating his future. He had enrolled in college as a chemistry major, but he was also the recipient of one of the Lilly Endowment’s Isaac Anderson Fellowships, which are awarded to “students contemplating lives in the field of ministry.” In Los Angeles, he entered the diocesan discernment process and soon found himself choosing a seminary.
“I was kind of blown away by the program [at CDSP],” Courtney said. “I didn’t realize it was so connected with the other seminaries [through the Graduate Theological Union]. I loved learning from other traditions about their theology, where they are coming from, their perspective. That made CDSP even more impressive to me.”
He continued mulling his choices until February when he visited campus another time. “That just reaffirmed what I was feeling,” he said. “I could talk to them very candidly about questions I had. Everyone was really welcoming and warm. The other schools I talked to weren’t as proactive.”
The Rev. Andrew Hybl, CDSP’s director of admissions, says the seminary was impressed by Courtney’s long record of service and his openness to following God’s call. "Joey has proven his leadership capabilities in numerous settings prior to attending seminary,” Hybl says. “His compassion for the poor and marginalized in our society is humbling. Joey will be a great addition to CDSP's residential community and I look forward to seeing his further development over the next few years."
Thanks to alumni and donors who have contributed to funds through estate plans and endowed gifts, CDSP has expanded its range of scholarships and financial aid for the 2015-2016 academic year, Hybl said, and that has allowed the seminary to make generous offers to students like Courtney.
Courtney arrives at CDSP with few preconceptions about where his seminary training will lead him. “I could see myself working with the homeless and the disenfranchised, or doing an environmental ministry doing things in the wilderness,” he says. “I could see myself doing prison ministry, hospital chaplaincy, doing something outdoors like being at a summer camp.
“I really rely on the spirit,” he says. “I try not to nail down an idea of what it will look like when I am done.”
Scott MacDougall, a scholar who has taught at Fordham University since 2010, has been named visiting assistant professor of theology at Church Divinity School of the Pacific for the 2015-2016 year.
MacDougall, who earned his PhD at Fordham, is the author of the new book “More Than Communion: Imagining an Eschatological Ecclesiology” and has written for Huffington Post and Religion Dispatches as well as academic publications. He earned his master of arts in theology at General Theological Seminary in 2007, where the Very Rev. W. Mark Richardson, now dean and president of CDSP, was his advisor.
While at CDSP, MacDougall will teach two required theology courses as well as electives titled “Contemporary Theologies of Church” and “Eschatology and Christian Practice.”
“Scott’s theological voice is clear, focused and timely. He interprets the contemporary context and the kind of leadership needed to serve the church in our day. I am confident that students will feel his passion for theological dialogue and reflection as well as the depth of his preparation,” Richardson said.
MacDougall, an experienced grants manager who has worked for the Rockefeller Foundation and consulted for the Open Society Foundations, is married to Michael Angelo, founder and creative director of the prestigious Michael Angelo’s Wonderland Beauty Parlor in New York.
On June 7, President Richardson preached at the American Cathedral in Paris:
The story of human origins in Genesis is one of the most often read scriptures in the Bible. It is an ancient people’s understanding of moral awakening, the joy and sorrow of coming into our humanity as moral and spiritual beings. We in the West turned it into a story of rebellion against God so grievous as to cause a fall, a fall so deep it ruptured the harmony of creation altogether.
But if we look at the story with fresh eyes what do we really see? It is an account of the transition from innocent dependence on the gods (in ancient polytheism), to acting on the basis of meaning, and pursuit of the knowledge of good, with all its attractions, dangers and confusions.
If we enter the story once again through contemporary eyes, knowing our evolutionary roots in the story of the natural world’s unfolding, then we see ourselves as built upon the shoulders of millions of year of life and death and extinction. We are not actors on nature’s stage, we are fruit on nature’s tree. And we arrive with a certain kind of moral innocence but certainly not immune to the hardships of sheer existence. Wouldn’t this feel more like the complexity of an entangled jungle than an ordered garden? The beginning of our moral and spiritual capacity that defines us as human beings must have been fragile, and in a complex environment already containing life and death. Adam and Eve do not appear deliberately to thwart God—through trial and error they are experiencing the confusion of moral awakening as mere children of a species coming into its own.
Imagine, just to illustrate, a 3 year old child momentarily alone in the living room; the child goes over to the fish bowl, sticks a hand in to grab the gold fish, wanting to see how the fish lives outside the water. The child is not rebelling against the parent who most certainly had said on occasion ‘careful with the fishbowl;’ the child is exploring. But the action still has consequences because the fish most likely dies.
So let’s look at each character in this Genesis story. We encounter a deity who knows in advance the risk of creatures growing into a capacity for meaning making, which so easily twists into orienting all value into self-concern. Innocent obedience seemed safer to the deity than risking a creature liberated to connect desire and attraction to the discerning of the moral good.
But now picture curious Eve: she hears the voice of the serpent, and is enticed by the possibility of merging her desire (this apple is edible), her attractions in the world (it is beautiful), with a pursuit of wisdom will knowledge of good and evil. Is it worth the risk? What would it be like if I were empowered by the capacity to know the good, she wonders? Will I really die? She is confused by the mixed messages the world outside herself is giving her. So she acts at a cost, but she acts.
The serpent urges Eve to take the risk—to explore—but it’s voice is deceit by half truths for the serpent does not communicate the cost. “You won’t die,” (which ends up being true to a point), but the serpent is silent on the matter of consequences, the danger of a spiritual quest, the risk of distorting good and bringing pain.
Then finally there is the simplest character, Adam, who just doesn’t want to wake up morally, preferring to pass the moral question backward onto Eve: “She gave it to me. I didn’t do it. I’m a victim here.”
Coming into a capacity for moral and spiritual engagement with our world was a breakthrough, but it was a bumpy road, a risky undertaking even as it is exhilarating. No wonder Eve tried but in the end felt tricked, and Adam wanted to walk away from the prospect of good and evil altogether.
We have wrestled and conversed with the text and it raises a fundamental question: How do we keep our eye on the true Good, the reality of God, in the process of coming into the knowledge of moral and spiritual possibility? How do we move from innocent obedience to our own consent to the way of God?
Spiritual Awakening and Rite 13
This Sunday we celebrate Rite 13, the onset of adulthood in our young people. And I wonder whether we might find analogy in what we have said so far as we think about what lies ahead for our youth. And adults, take a moment to remember your own pathway in life along with them.
The church as a community wants our young people to find their own spiritual ground; we launch them into this venture not on their own but surrounded by a community that prays for them and encourages them spiritually. We know there will be trial and error in the quest for finding the good, coping with the awakening of attractions of many kinds along side the awakening of moral wisdom, and our obligation is to be with them when they stumble and fall. In fact one of the charisms of the church community is being a place of grace in difficulty.
I think about this and recall a childhood experience. Our home in Oregon was on the edge of a forest, and as I walked up into the wood one day I spotted a tree on a high point, and wondered what the view would be like from the top. The climb would be risky but I decided to go up the 20 ft tree to get the view from above. Suddenly as I reached the spindly top I lost my grip and began to tumble backward, each bow of the tree softening the fall, one by one, until I hit the ground. Without the branches my fall might have been life threatening. Our church community, an extended family, can be like the branches of the tree that bear the tumbling we go through.
From our experience of adulthood we can say we do not expect this day to mark your perfection, Mathilde, Samuel and Quinn—it is not magic, and Dean Lucinda does not take a wand and strike you with a new power. It is an important moment along the way between an earlier life of innocent dependence, on the one hand, and your own accountability as a human being on a spirit filled journey, on the other hand. You will explore and grow; you will be excited and sorrowful along the way. We want you to recognize and learn from the sadness and joy alike, and to know that God’s spirit is in you to hold you up. It is all part of discovering freedom to be not unlimited choice, infinite possibility, but rather freedom as consent to the good.
The gospel story presumes that God desires creatures capable of responsive love, capable of finding the will of God in one another. Oh, most likely you will be like Adam in my story telling—who isn’t sure he wants to claim his adulthood yet, and you will be at other times like Eve who wants to connect curiosity about the attractions of life to knowledge of good and evil, and sometimes misreads the context and consequences. The only way freely to give ourselves to the will of God is to risk this moral agency and to live into our humanity.
The new human family
Now as we close, fast-forward from Genesis to the story of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. We began with the family of our human origins set in ancient Mesopotamia, and now we turn to the refashioning of family on wholly other terms as the family of our destiny. It is a radical message, it is Mark’s insinuation of Pentecost wherein the new global reality that is anticipated will be formed by those whose freedom is turned toward consent to doing the will of God.
When Jesus’ family called upon him as he was out with the crowds and they passed on the message that his family was outside asking for him. He turned to the crowd and replied: “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister.”
Notice there is no belief orthodoxy, no biological or tribal orthodoxy, no socio-economic, territorial or language orthodoxy in this reply. Family consists in those who do the will of God, full stop. It is those who consent to this ultimate Good. Like the Pentecost spirit reaching out to all nations, the family Mark’s gospel envisions is potentially globalized through the key of grace found in doing what Jesus is modeling when he cares for the neighbor with his whole life, through healing, casting out demons of distortion and confusion, and feeding the hungry. This is the interpretive key to knowing what it means to will the will of God. So, for example, when Trinity Cathedral offers hospitality and a meal on Fridays it is a sacrament in action of doing the will of God.
On the other hand, when we treat with indifference the suffering of others, from travails at home and wars that plague so much of the world, we place at risk our very humanity.
Jesus advocates for us by pioneering, inspiring and encouraging a different way into the experience of grace. He is the moral high point of our humanity by being his brother’s keeper, keeping watch over the neighbor, gathering as family those who would take this to be the will of God.
And now in this Pentecost season we expect to find him not in Jerusalem or Galilee, but in his spirit everywhere God’s will is sought and done on earth as in heaven. This prayer in action becomes the mark of Jesus’ family. Amen.
Author James Carroll gave this address at CDSP's 121st Commencment on May 22, 2015. Watch it online.
“Cries of ‘Please help us!’ rose from the boat.” - the New York Times, only days ago.
“Cries of ‘Please help us!’ rose from the boat.”
Imagine. Imagine that this beautiful enclosure is its absolute opposite - the stark negative of this so profoundly positive scene.
Imagine, that is, that instead of a happy throng of graduates from one of the great theological schools in the country, together with loved ones, proud professors - all celebrating one of the milestone achievements of your lives, and the generous gift of your futures to a welcoming community of faith.
Imagine instead that we are a completely different throng. Women, children, men—crowded into a confine perhaps this very size, but a dangerous confine. A tarp above us perhaps, flapping. Walls. Or railings, at least. But, instead of steady ground beneath us, an unsettling, sickening roll and heave. The sea.
Terrors of the sea. Imagine that we are migrants on an overcrowded, top-heavy, unseaworthy vessel, at the mercy of human traffickers, pirates, ocean storms, sea monsters, and an indifferent world. Nation after nation refusing us landfall.
Brothers and sisters of 2015, I am privileged to salute you this morning. The text of our gathering is your happy graduation. But what is the context?
In the Mediterranean Sea since April, at least five vessels with thousands aboard have sunk, leading to the deaths of more than twelve hundred people. The Prime Minister of Malta declared recently that the Mediterranean is becoming a cemetery for migrants.
In the Andaman Sea off Thailand, up to 20,000 people have taken to rickety boats to escape violence and deprivation in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Even today, legions of the world’s most desperate people are casting themselves upon the waters, as Pope Francis put it, “In boats which are vessels of hope and become vessels of death.”
“These broken lives,” he declared, “compromise the dignity of the international community, and we…”--the rest of us--“…are in danger of losing our humanity.” Because we ignore them. We do not see them.
At commencement ceremonies across America this weekend--or across town--it might be a matter of bad taste to impose such an unhappy reference on the festivities. After all, graduation is one of life’s unbridled joys--the occasion when the diligence of students and the support of families are honored. But in fact, the commencement of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific measures this occasion against a different standard.
What is CDSP for?
What are your degrees for?
What have you been doing here across these years?
And what are you going to do now?
“Cries of ‘Please help us’ rose from the boat.”
Many people of good conscience everywhere are attuned to the grotesque inequality that shapes the culture, economy, structure of law, and the very meaning of life across this nation, and on the planet. But for a community that defines itself as a custodian of the Biblical vision and Gospel values, the plight of the desperate ones can never be a marginal concern, one on a long list of problems to be addressed, challenges overcome.
What does it mean to be a fully formed and well educated person of faith if not this: Aren’t you here today to do nothing less--forgive my presumption in suggesting this--than see the world through the eyes of God?
To the globe’s infamous one percent which owns nearly fifty percent of the world’s wealth, the very poor are invisible. To Americans who take satisfaction in a dropping crime rate, the more than two million people in prison are invisible, especially if they are among the more than three thousand on death row. To educators condemned to operate within a triage system, the one third of children left behind by No Child Left Behind are invisible. To Americans who grieve the roughly seven thousand U.S. troops killed in a succession of misbegotten wars, invisible are hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, Afghanistanis, Pakistanis, Yeminis, Libyans, Syrians, and Somalians, not to mention the millions upon millions of the displaced, many of whom die at sea trying only to find a safe harbor, a home..
And even here in Berkeley this weekend, to a population that defines itself by success, achievement, accumulation, and looks--those who fall behind, or fall off, are invisible.
Who sees those who suffer? May I ask such a question here, today, when we are gathered by the opposite of suffering?
But of course. It is not my question. It is yours. What did you do when you chose to come here if not submit to it?
Who is the God whom we uphold? That was the question Moses put to the One who commissioned him. Who are you? Why are you sending me forth? Why?
“And the Lord said, ‘I have seen the misery of my people… I have heard them crying out… and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.’”
Note: The foundational text of our tradition does not say, “I have seen the sin of my people.” The falling short. The failure to succeed. Nor does the text say, “I have seen the winners. The good-lookers. The one per cent.”
No: “I have seen the suffering, and I will rescue them.”
And in what does God’s rescue consist?
When the people are driven out, exiled, made migrants, refugees, literally scapegoated--the goat “driven out” in Leviticus. God goes with them!
Yes, the Bible is the story of power and the violence needed to hold onto power, but the Bible uniquely tells the story of power from the point of view of the powerless. God sees the suffering ones, and sees the world through their eyes.
“Cries of ‘Please help us’ rose from the boat.”
I was raised to believe that when God looked upon the people, what God saw was sin. Therefore God said to Eve, “I will greatly multiply your pain.” Because of sin! To Adam, Therefore, “you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
Thus, we have brought suffering upon ourselves. An offended God condemns us to it. Such a theology--emphasizing an Old Testament God of vengeance--is not only slyly anti-Semitic; it undergirds the heartless indifference of the world’s affluent minority toward the misery of the vast majority. Somehow, they brought it on themselves. If we are privileged, we are invited to believe we have earned it. We have a right to our indifference.
No. “I am concerned about the suffering. I have come down to change it.”
And how does God do that? Not through magic or miracles; not through denial, or through willful blindness. God changes suffering, rescues from suffering, by joining in it.
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to cling to.” Here is Paul’s astonishing assertion. “But emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2: 5-8)
Perhaps the true miracle of Christian origins was in the way the good news of Jesus Christ sped across the ancient world--a fire ignited over night in the hearts of legions. Forty percent of the Roman empire’s population were slaves--laborers in mines, farm workers, war captives, sex servants, the colonized, and the exploited. Together with the urban poor, they were a host of deracinated, hounded, lost and invisible underlings on whom the pyramid of the Romasn empire stood.
Invisible people. But not to God. “I have seen the suffering, and I have come down to change it.”
How? By joining in it. Here is the urgent and never more relevant meaning of our conviction that Jesus Christ was somehow divine. The boldness of Paul’s elevation of Jesus of Nazareth into the status of Christ of God, somehow God Himself, lay in the central fact of the ignominy of what befell Jesus. “Even death on a cross.” Instead of downplaying the crucifixion, the mode of death expressly reserved for slaves and insurrectionists--and recall that thousands of Jews were hung on Roman crosses - Paul made it the keystone of faith. The cross saves. This is not the crude atonement theology--again, slyly anti-Semitic - that would later grip the Christian imagination, but a drama of an ultimate empathy. In Jesus, God suffers with you!
Enslaved people heard this word - and so, in many cases, did their masters, since suffering is only partially circumstantial. It is existential, too, as everyone here knows very well. “There are tears in things…” This is Virgil. “…and all things doomed to die touch the heart.” Somehow, everyone is crying out, “Please, help us.”
The Church Divinity School of the Pacific exists to hear that cry. At CDSP, you have sharpened your hearing to take it in. You have honed your vision to see those who, mostly, remain invisible.
They are not invisible to God, who not only sees the suffering, but joins in it--the ultimate “compassion,” which means, as you know, “to suffer with.”
If faith in such a God enables the transition from despair to trust--from “Why have you abandoned me?” to “Into your hands I commend my spirit”--the suffering is not removed, but it its meaning is changed. Or rather, it can have meaning.
For us, as privileged people, the meaning takes the form mainly of a demand. We must, we are obliged to, we simply have no choice but to see everything--as the Lord God of Israel does--from the point of view of those on the bottom, the otherwise invisible ones who carry the weight of war, of free market capitalism, of contempt for the other, of an ever more degraded environment.
“Please, help us.”
Those words have intruded on our festivities today. Can it be that the intrusion is welcome?
A reminder of what made you want to shape your lives by such a place as this? Not Law School. Not Business School. Divinity School.
A reminder that the God in whom you believe comes announced as one who exists to hear those words. A reminder that God made those word’s God’s own: “Let this cup pass from me.” Please, Jesus said, help me.
“Therefore…” Paul goes on to say in that famous passage in Philippians, “…God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”
Do you see it? Paul’s genius was to see Jesus’ identification with suffering as the revelation of his divinity. A revelation also known as the Resurrection.
And here is the Resurrection promise: What God does for Jesus, God does for us. The meaning of suffering changed for all and forever.
“Cries of ‘Please help us!’ rose from the boat.” From beneath the tarp. From the crowded space.
The most wrenching dread of the human heart is that we are castaways adrift on the seas of an indifferent cosmos. But we are not. For the creating and sustaining heart of the cosmos is with us. The life force, the principle, the ground of being, transcendence itself, whom we chose to think of as a person. Whom we call ‘God.’ In Jesus Christ. “God with us.” That is the good word--the Word that was with God, the word that is God, dwelling here.
That Word is now entrusted to you. Accept your commission to go from this place as its proclaimers. Your commission to see those whose suffering is otherwise unseen. Your commission is to hear their plea and answer it with your very lives. Go!