Rector’s Musings

Articles written by the Reverend Patrick A. Campbell, often reflecting on the week’s Scripture readings.

August 18, 2019

            It is mid-August, the season of lazy days, summer vacations, and summer reading. Perhaps when we come to church in this season we expect a similar mood. But be forewarned, the scripture readings this Sunday are anything but serene and restful.

            From the prophet Jeremiah (23:23-29) we hear, “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” In our Epistle from the Letter to the Hebrews we hear of our heroes of the faith. But unlike earthly heroes they suffered terrible things, such as stoning, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, and being put to death for their faith.

            In our Gospel (Luke 12:49-56) Jesus is not taking a vacation, resting on a beach somewhere. Rather, the passage opens with Jesus saying, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” Jesus goes on to say he has not come to bring peace, but rather division.

            What are we to make of these words? How are to understand Jesus’ words? Isn’t he the Prince of Peace, the One Luke’s Gospel proclaims is born to usher in goodwill among people? What is Jesus saying to us?

            The peace of God is not the same as human peace. Human peace is typically understood as the absence of conflict. God’s peace is the peace of shalom. Shalom is working for the full personhood of every person. Shalom affords all people their dignity as those created in the image and likeness of God, of those beloved of God.

            Living by God’s peace, proclaiming shalom in one’s life, is at odds with the ways of this world. Doing so will inevitably bring division and strife. While Jesus does not come to sow division, taking discipleship seriously means living in opposition to the values of this world. This may cause division.

            We saw this on Wednesday night when Never Again Action, a Jewish activist group was protesting immigration policy at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls and a correctional officer allegedly drove his truck through the protest, striking several people. The protesters say the Central Falls police did nothing in response. (For the story, click here).

            These protesters believe their faith calls them to respond to the immigration practices of the federal government which they find unjust. There action threatens the status quo and prompted a response from the officer based on a different set of values and assumptions.

            As followers of Jesus we are called to live by a higher calling than the ways of this world. If we do so, however, we will be judged by others who do not share our calling. Division and strife may result, even within our own household, among members of our own family.

            Our epistle assures us, however, we are not alone. We “are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” These heroes of the faith gave their lives in witness to Jesus, even enduring the agony of death for his sake. Just as Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem, willingly enduring his cross, passion, and death, so they gave their lives for Jesus’ sake. They are an inspiration and support to us as we likewise walk with Jesus. We share with them citizenship in the household of God, in the community of those washed in the blood of Jesus. With them we already share in Jesus’ resurrection.

            We are assured that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, in which we share through baptism, we are set free. Walking with Jesus in resurrection life we are free to love extravagantly, witnessing to God’s love and living by God’s shalom. We are assured no power of this world, even evil and death, are stronger then God’s love. Through the witness of all the followers of God, the power of God’s love made known in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit can transform the face of the earth.

August 11, 2019

This year is being observed as the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in what would become the United States. On August 25, 1619 20 captured Africans arrived in what is now Virginia. They had been seized by English pirates off the coast of Mexico, from a Portuguese slave ship. The Africans were sold to English colonists in Virginia for labor. For an article about this anniversary, click here.

This anniversary was not a motivator for my recent sabbatical examining race and white supremacy. My work was largely the outgrowth of initiatives in the Mt. Hope neighborhood and my response to the racial tensions in our nation. This terrible milestone this month makes clear the timeliness of my experience.

This week I want to share more of my sabbatical experience with you, focusing on the Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, both undertakings of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL.

The Legacy Museum teaches about the legacy of slavery, and its continuation through Jim Crow and mass incarceration, in the oppression and dehumanization of people of color. One of the first things I saw upon entering the museum was text tracing the history of the land the museum now occupies. Located on Commerce Street in the heart of downtown Montgomery, the land originally belonged to the Crete Indians and was taken from them by white settlers.

The part of Commerce Street occupied by the museum, as well as businesses and hotels, was the site of warehouses and slaves pens. Slaves were held in the pens from their arrival in the city until sold at public auction. Slaves were transported by boat on the Alabama River and on a railroad built by slave labor.

In connecting the legacy of slavery with Jim Crow laws and mass incarceration, I learned several things. As during the days of slavery, certain assumptions about African Americans are perpetuated into the present, including the presumption of guilt, not innocence. The Civil Rights movement, while having an impact on US society, changed little in the criminal justice system. The US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated. The rate of imprisoned women in this country has increased 646% in the past 25 years.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, AL

After visiting the museum, I traveled across the city to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This site is called a sacred place to remember and memorialize the more than 4000 people known by name to have been lynched. Artists have created haunting sculptures found on the six acre site. 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the country where a racial lynching took place, list the names and death date for each person lynched.

Some of the 800 monuments to the more than 4,000 people lynched in the US.

This is one of the most difficult places I have ever visited. It was emotional seeing the horror of lynching represented in the 800 monuments carrying far too many names. I spent time sitting in the heart of the Memorial feeling grief. The only appropriate response seemed prayer. I prayed the Great Litany and prayers for the dead from the Book of Common Prayer. I asked God to move the hearts of the white church, including my own, to confront this history and work to dismantle white supremacy.

At the Legacy Museum are several panels as visitors leave the exhibit space. They ask visitors what they will do about all they have learned and seen in the museum. One was addressed to the white church and I think it is worth reflection:

“Throughout most of the 20th century, many white churches openly supported racial segregation and refused to permit black people to worship with them. The role of the church in supporting slavery, being silent about lynching and terrorism, and justifying racial segregation has never been acknowledge. Do churches and people of faith have a special obligation to address the history of racial inequality?”

August 4, 2019

It is a great joy to return to the Redeemer after three months of sabbatical. My time away was fruitful and restful. It was also educational and challenging. I think it will take time for me to process what I have experienced and how to share it with you. I come back to the parish filled with gratitude for the opportunity you graciously gave me.

This week I want to share an overview of what the past months have been for me. The beginning of May was a time for rest and detaching. I spent some time visiting family. I began reading the volumes on my reading list. Three days were spent on retreat at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastery in Cambridge. These days of silence and prayer in community set a tone for the following weeks.

Originally I thought during sabbatical I would make a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in England. While this would have been meaningful, I felt it did not relate to my sabbatical work on race and white supremacy directly. At any time I could travel there. Instead, I increasingly felt called to journey to Montgomery, Alabama.

In mid-June I spent a week in Montgomery. This city, the capitol of Alabama, was central in the Southern slave trade. Its location on the Alabama River near an important railroad line from Atlanta to New Orleans (built with slave labor) was a vital link in the selling of slaves from the upper South the newly developing cotton plantations in the Southwest.

In the mid-twentieth century, Montgomery was an important center in the Civil Rights movement, most notably in the bus boycott of 1955-56 that began with Rosa Parks and was led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Today Montgomery is home to Equal Justice Initiative. As it says on their website, “The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

The EJI is very present in Montgomery through the Legacy Museum where the history of slavery, lynching, and mass incarnation are highlighted and connected, as well as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice where the more than 4,000 people lynched in this country are remembered by name. I also visited the Rosa Parks Museum and the Freedom Rides Museum located in the city.

The remainder of my time I spent locally, and visited several sites, including the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, MA, a surviving 18th century home with its slave quarters extant, and the Robbins House, home of a free African American family in Concord, MA. I went on the African American Heritage walking tour of Beacon Hill, Boston offered by the US National Parks Service.

In addition to time spent reading, there was time for recreation and refreshment, including a week spent in Vermont, visiting art museums, and time with family. On Sundays I attended the 9 am Eucharist at SSJE, being wonderfully fed by their liturgy, music, and fine preaching. In all it was a rich and rewarding experience.