It is March, Women’s History Month, and there are many programs on TV and articles in our newspapers and newsfeeds about women who succeeded in overcoming prejudice, exploitation and inequality. It is also the season of Lent, the traditional time in our church calendar where we take time to reflect on what it is to be a Christian, what Christ did for us, and what He sacrificed for us. Then the next logical step, after the process of reflection, is action. What better time than now to consider the ways to take a stand for peace and reconciliation? What action can be taken to stop violence we see or hear about each day, especially violence against women and children? In my several years as a member of the Episcopal Women’s Ministry Council (EWM/ECW) in our diocese and Episcopal Church Women (ECW) in Province V, I have seen how working with an organized group of women for common causes can change hearts and minds.
The Mission of EWM is to “support women on their journey in the service of Christ by its giving of time, talent, and treasure.” While attending ECW Province V meetings and the ECW Triennial Meetings during General Convention, women share a sense of awe at the coordinated gathering as they attend workshops and share strategies for serving Christ in their hometowns and global communities. We all become inspired – transformed - taking up the yoke and doing the work Jesus requires us to do. ECW and EWM fosters the growth of leadership and self-confidence as we learn more about our wider church and ministries it supports. United Thank Offering is a ministry offering hope in the form of grants, providing much needed funds to start new efforts for the betterment of people and communities worldwide. ECW and the ministries it supports are beacons of hope for the men, women and children they serve.
God is our refuge and strength / Frank Boles
Ave verum corpus / William Byrd
Evangelism is a word that causes me anxiety, especially during Lent, a season that feels grim in Indiana with its almost continuously cold grey skies. However, having watched the short videos from the Brothers and their friends in Cambridge, the word evangelism has become much less scary. Now it seems to be more of a simple sharing of good news with others. Having friends and family members to share good news in good times and troubling times is a gift.
Lent is also a time of repentance, a changing of mind and attitude. It is a time to be more aware of my own thoughts and feelings of alienation and suspicion towards others. It is a time to remember the history of our faith, to teach young ones about it, and to contemplate. So, Lent is feeling more positive to me than it has sometimes in the past.
Ave verum corpus / Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Credo in unum Deum, from Lord Nelson Mass / Franz Joseph Haydn
Earlier this week I spent the day at Christian Theological Seminary participating in the spring conference of the Faith & Action Project. It managed to be both an inspiring day and a disturbing day: inspiring to see so many faith and community leaders dedicated to the elimination of the systemic injustices that impact us; disturbing because it reminded us that the task is so enormous and complicated.
The morning keynote speaker was Robert Lupton, the author of Toxic Charity. He spoke of the necessity of changing our perspective on our neighbor. Too often, he said, we see our neighbors as people in need and seek to meet the need by giving from our abundance. In doing so, we often unintentionally push down the neighbor instead of lifting up the neighbor. Lupton quoted Jacque Ellul: “Almsgiving is Mammon’s perversion of giving. It affirms the superiority of the giver, binds the recipient, demands gratitude, humiliates him and reduces him to a lower state than he had before.”
“No love’s as random as God’s love.” -Jeff Tweedy (Wilco)
This line in a song by one of my favorite bands has always bothered me and I have spent a lot of time reflecting on it. I suppose I find it so affecting because deep down, I’m terrified it’s true.
It seems true doesn’t it? After all, hungry children have done nothing to ‘deserve’ a lack of food. Likewise, the vast majority of those with immense wealth and material goods have often done little to ‘deserve’ their good fortune either. Other examples are not hard to find. Why do some seem blessed with God’s love while others seem forgotten, through no fault of their own?
It’s taken me a very long time to resolve the apparent truth of the song lyric with a belief in God. To be honest, some days I still find it almost impossible to reconcile. However, I have come to realize that God’s love is given freely to all.
When I feel angry about the injustice of the world, I remind myself that we have plenty. All of our needs are provided for, if we can ever find the strength to embrace it. There is enough food and water for everyone. The opportunity to provide housing, healthcare, and other essential needs is not bound by the earth’s limitations.
And yet. Too often even the most devout Christian is beset by doubt about whether or not one is deserving of our generosity. A homeless man is hungry in the street. If I give him money, will he just use it for alcohol to dull his pain? Will that person buy the ‘right’ kind of food? That person has a cell phone; he isn’t in real need.
It becomes clear upon reflection that it is not God’s love that is random; it is our own. As Christians we are called to put aside these doubts and help others, without qualification. We are called to offer not only our treasure, but our hearts as well.
A friend once told me that he cannot help every person at an intersection asking for assistance. However, he can make a point to look at them, to see their pain and acknowledge their existence. This is more difficult than pretending not to see the person in front of you. It is an opportunity to demonstrate compassion. As Christians, we cannot be random in our love.
A written reflection by Matt Ellis