A Letter from our Interim Rector, The Rev. Penny Nash
Dear Friends in Christ,
Many of us have been glued to the news for at least 24 hours, watching and listening - and wondering. Wondering what has happened, is happening, to our democracy that a mob of our own fellow citizens would/could break into our Capitol building for the purpose of terror and intimidation of our Vice President and Congressional leaders and their staffs, for the purpose of occupying their chairs, their desks, the Senate and House chambers, and stalking the hallways to disrupt the business of Congress and to chant and wave flags and pose for pictures doing so.
People - political figures, media spokespeople, Facebook friends - keep saying, “This is not who we are.” But, sadly, that is not true. It IS who we are, and if we want to change that to “This is not who we want to be,” then we must face that now. The events of January 6, 2021 did not simply rise out of thin air.
So what is our response?
First, of course, we pray. We are a people of prayer. We have posted on our Facebook page some prayers from our Book of Common Prayer, that deep well of Spirit-filled wisdom that seems to always give us the words to say when words would otherwise fail us. And we have also shared there a video of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, bidding us to pray along with him some of those same prayers. Our prayer book, in the rubrics for the prayers of the people, reminds us that we are called to pray for the church (its members and its mission), our nation (and all in authority), the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, those who suffer or are in any trouble, and the departed. So we pray.
Second, we ponder. What does our faith tell us about living in community? About how we regard our fellow citizens who are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our fellow human beings whose dignity our baptismal vows command us to respect? And what are our faith stories that inform us now? As we roll into the season after the Epiphany from the season of Christmas, I remember how Jesus was born into a strife-torn world. And we will see again this year that his death was part of a mob-fueled spectacle. And yet during his life, his work was to teach us how to love one another not so there would never be strife or mobs or death but so that we could learn how to live faithfully, to seek to live the life God has intended for us to live, amid all those struggles.
And third, we act. At 4:30 the morning of January 7th in the Senate chamber, Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black closed the joint session of Congress with prayer. Among his petitions were these words: “Lord, use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world.” We have to decide to do this every day, with each interaction with others, with decisions we make about how to live in ways that build up the Body of Christ, resisting selfishness and instead living in commitment to the common good.
Assistant Rector John Hogg has given a lot of thought to the events of January 6, and he has written an informed and thoughtful essay to share with you. I include it below. Please join us in praying, in committing ourselves to compassion and to non-violence, in seeking justice.
The Rev. Penny A. Nash, Interim Rector
The measure of a country's greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.
A Letter from our Assistant Rector, The Rev. John Hogg
On August 24, 1814, as the War of 1812 raged on, invading British troops marched into Washington and set fire to the U.S. Capitol building. For the first time since that historic day, it nearly happened again in our country. Except this time, it was not an invasion by foreign troops but by our fellow citizens. Many of us watched the events evolve in our nation’s capital yesterday with anger, disbelief, sorrow, and fear. We listened to reports of Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs being found, but thankfully not used, around the Capitol grounds. We watched as self-proclaimed patriots mocked, taunted, and threatened both law enforcement and our duly elected public officials and staff- fellow Americans who are working in that historic building with the purpose to serve the very citizens attacking them. We watched as individuals acted en masse on a passionate belief of innuendo and conjecture that has yet to be rooted in either demonstratable fact or sound reason. Many more of us were astounded because these events unfolded, at least initially, with the implicit blessing of our president and because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a free and fair election. Naturally, we have questions...Why?...How could this happen? Fortunately, the turmoil seems to have ended with the day. However, there is a question that is probably weighing heavily on all of our hearts. What’s next? We know the feelings of anger, sadness and betrayal will not stop simply because the riots ended. Nor will feelings of mistrust and neglect go away simply because people went home, arrests were made, and our elected leaders completed their constitutional duty of certifying the legal election. Still the question remains. What is next?
Honestly, the road ahead is unclear at best, but for sure it starts with doing what Justice Marshall reminds us, by moving ahead with compassion during this crisis. We would do best to remember our humanity and locate our inner ability to see God in others even when we ardently disagree with them. Screaming “what about” or giving weight to self-interest will achieve very little. In short, the road ahead is clearer when we keep the faith and refresh our knowledge of the teachings and lessons of Jesus. In part of Matthew's Gospel we are taught that “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Compassion. "Com-passion." "Feeling with." Feeling another's pain, another's suffering. Compassion literally means "shared suffering." It is grounded in love and it requires the compassionate to act – because feeling is itself an action and we can be shepherds in those actions.
Clearly there are a lot of feelings in our world today and for some they are growing feelings of resentment that cries selfishly for retribution. We saw this clearly as the barricades were breached, the senate chamber was evacuated for safety. Retribution is the selfish path to justice – or rather it is a short-sighted path. Retribution is the cry of an eye for an eye. While it does give us the false sense that justice has been served, retribution does very little to establish lasting justice, and it drowns out our ability for compassion. How would we feel if we thought we could not trust anyone? How would it feel if we thought we cannot be trusted by anyone? Yet, having compassion doesn’t give us permission to accept others’ feelings of anger or resentment, and then in our attempts to connect with them, excuse their violent or abusive acts towards others. The other side of the same coin is Jesus’s command to “turn the other cheek.” This guides all of us to refrain from responding with revenge, creating more injury. It does call us to be the shepherds who take the high road to guide others.
By asking us to turn the other cheek, Jesus is inviting us to focus on forgiveness and loving others with compassion. It is without a doubt one of the most difficult things Jesus asks of us. If we focus only on a concept of justice that says an eye for an eye, we risk creating a system of justice that only focuses on retribution and leaves no room for greater atonement and reconciliation. Retribution grounded in violence only creates more violence - creating a vicious cycle that can and will only be broken with an uncompromising mission to live and teach compassionately. We can accomplish this when our first steps down the next road are taken from a place of prayer and prayerful discernment.
When we pray, we are reminded of who God is in this world and who we are in relation to God. God is the One who was there in the beginning. God is the One who will be there in the end. And God is the One whose spirit moves even now through our current trouble and into our empty voids. Our prayers help us to join with God in remembering our place with reconciliation and with all the children of God. Even in the darkest of times, God brings light into the shadows. We can and will see this through our own ability to pray for others even when we are scared or angry or resentful. No mater how confident we are in our feelings we must always remember that God is the source for our direction. Even yesterday, when it seemed we may be witnessing the beginning of a civil war there were things to celebrate in the darkness. Thank God law enforcement showed restraint and more people were not injured or killed. The result of which may have escalated events far beyond the damage of a single day. While the death of even one person is deeply tragic, thank God it was not a violent battlefield on our Capitol steps, with potentially thousands of citizens being killed. Still in our thanksgiving we should pray.
Pray for those elected officials and staff as they sheltered in place wracked with fear.
Pray for those who still fear for their safety as they continue to perform their elected duties.
Pray for the law enforcement and military that had to control their own feelings to restrain their fellow Americans.
Pray for all those who knowingly and unknowingly go into harm’s way.
And yes, pray for those who have allowed their passions as the guide to act unwisely or cruelly.
What is next? We prayerfully take the next steps toward becoming who we want to be.
The Rev. John Hogg, Assistant Rector
Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle. - Ben Franklin