June 5, 2020

A Friday Reflection from the Bishop During a Difficult Time
Aloha my Siblings in Christ Jesus,

During the Governor’s “Stay at Home Order,” I, like many others in the Islands, worked from home. I learned to use “Zoom” and spent hours on the phone (in fact, I still am doing so). I was also given added time to pray and read. I re-read some of the writings of Soren Kierkegaard (long on my shelf from my undergraduate days). I actually did that because I had read in The Roosevelt I Knew by Frances Perkins [Penguin Classics (Reprint edition), 2011] and A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt by John F. Woolverton with James D. Bratt (Eerdmans, 2019) that during War World II a dinner conversation with an Episcopal Priest motivated President Roosevelt to read Kierkegaard. The President was pondering human nature, and especially human sin and collective depravity. 

So, I again began to read Kierkegaard from old books with yellowed pages and then from downloaded newer translations. As the weeks have gone on and then with the crisis of George Lloyd’s murder, I have found solace in words of an early nineteenth century Dane. His notion of “repetition” seems particularly important to our times as Christians. As I understand it, the Danish 19th century Danish term he uses for “repetition” is gjentagelsen. It’s a compound expression that means “to take” (at tage) with a prefix meaning “again” (gien). It is different than “recollecting” or “remembering” some past event. It means to take on again a decision or reality that one had undertaken earlier. It is the conscious “repeating” or “owning” of the intention. The effort to engage a Christian life, to imitate Jesus Christ, involves a constant “repetition” of faith, a constant “repetition” of the effort to bring your own faith to concrete expression.

It seems to me that our regular affirmation of the Baptismal Covenant must be such a “repetition.” Perhaps it needs to be a daily practice. The questions and answers are themselves the basis of our faith and an examination of our lives:
Question Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
Answer I do.

Question Do you believe in God the Father?
Answer I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Question Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Answer I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Question Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
Answer I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Question Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Answer I will, with God's help.

Question Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Answer I will, with God's help.

Question Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Answer I will, with God’s help.

Question Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Answer I will, with God’s help.

Question Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Answer I will, with God's help.
As Episcopalians, the Baptismal Covenant is our model for self-examination and the blueprint of God’s Commonwealth. It is the framework for how we engage the world. It is the basis for our daily – even moment to moment – “repetition.”  

With it, the inconvenience of wearing masks and the awkwardness of social distancing are placed in the context of loving our neighbor as our self. It is acting as best we can with the information we have to care for others.

Likewise, as Christians, the current peaceful protests regarding the murder of George Floyd as a symbol of systemic racism and the unequal reality of American society are embodiments of our striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. As Christians, we must acknowledge our own personal sin and complicity in an unjust and racist system. We are striving for God’s Commonwealth of love, justice and peace. 

By wearing our masks and in our protesting, Episcopalians are trying to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We are doing our best in a hurt world to be the balm of healing. It can be discouraging, but by faithful “repetition,” we can carry on.  

“Repetition” is not an easy spiritual task. I know that I fail every day. I am aware that I have left undone those things which I ought to have done, and I have done those things which I ought not to have done. Too often, I am ignorant of my own failures and blind to injustices around me. By God’s grace, I truly desire and intend to live the life given to me at baptism. I am open to hearing the cries of others. I am trying to listen and act in love. With you, I will strive to live in this world as a citizen of God’s Commonwealth of love, justice and peace.  
Aloha ma o Iesu Kristo, kō mākou Haku,

+Bob

The Right Reverend Robert L. Fitzpatrick, Bishop
The Episcopal Diocese of Hawai'i
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