Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Real Bishop Speaks

Grandmère Mimi has already posted this. I expect most of you saw it there. But just in case you didn't, I'm posting it here.

Bishop Charles Jenkins, currently Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, spoke to the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes. These are the most well-endowed parishes of our church. They have very sweet endowments. ... Meanwhile, Bishop Jenkins has announced he is resigning, because he is suffering his own demons since Katrina.

Read his whole sermon. I got it from here. It is such a brave and courageous sermon that I fear it may be removed from that site. So I am copying the entire sermon here.

MARCH 5, 2009

Speaking from Washington, D.C., the then President of the United States, George W. Bush, once demonstrated a bit of compassion fatigue with us. I think he was frustrated with us (and may I say we were too were frustrated – to put it mildly) anyway, his frustration came out when he said, and “those people down there need to understand . . .” and on he went. The next day an African American friend of mine, Bishop J. Douglas Wiley, asked, “Bishop Jenkins, have you ever been called one of those people before?” I replied that I had not. “Welcome to the club,” said Bishop Wiley. So welcome to the world of “those people.” If I may adapt the words of a beloved hymn, “I hope you mean to be one too.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a letter of encouragement to Louisiana in November of last year. Rowan Williams’ description of what God has done with “those people down there” is worth sharing. The Archbishop wrote; the whole story is really one of how the Church itself gets converted to being itself by the pressure of these moments when you have to decide for or against the most needy. Now, I want to put that into an image you can understand – this conversion is the movement from fear to hope. Let me say it again, the conversion to being ourselves is the movement from fear to hope.

This conversion is not an easy movement. As I watched, heard and listened to my city being evacuated to 18,000 Zip Codes across this land, I stood on the edge; I looked into the abyss of despair. I thought I had lost all my worldly possessions but that was not the issue. I watched people, my brothers and sisters in Christ, calling out from the roofs of their homes, I saw the horror in the Superdome, I knew what was happening at the Morial Center, I saw the bodies coming to the morgue at the Hansen’s Disease Center in Carville. I watched as we were flown out, bussed out and floated out from home. Friends, in that moment it was for me either a life of hope or death.

What it would be like for the Church to make the shift from fear to hope? What it would it be like for this Church, and especially those who are gifted with an extra capacity for generosity, to move from fear to hope? A first sign of this shift would be to boldly move beyond the technical to the adaptive changes. As did Dr. Martin Luther King in his speech at Riverside Church, that famous speech “Beyond Vietnam,” when he boldly challenged our thinking about the Vietnam War, the Church must boldly challenge the nation to realize the value, the dignity of each human being.

You know, we are building houses here through the Jericho Road; in a separate and distinct ministry the Diocese is rebuilding the houses your parishioners as volunteers gutted. We yesterday celebrated the fiftieth rebuild of the 920 houses we gutted. We could be rebuilding the ghetto. Let me say that again, if we were just about building structures, we could rebuild the ghetto. Instead, the Diocese through our office of Disaster Response and Jericho Road is about building homes, transforming lives, and changing neighborhoods. We are not building another ghetto that can be measured by the number of structures completed; for us to move from fear to hope is to move beyond the measuring stick. You cannot measure adaptive change; you cannot measure human dignity, you cannot measure compassion, you cannot measure mercy. Our ministry here, and it is our ministry, it is not mine, it belongs to the whole Church, is not about rebuilding what was. You can be darned proud to be an Episcopalian in south Louisiana. You know, the waters and winds of Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, washed away the thin façade of American respectability. Yes, post-Katrina New Orleans is America’s failure, but that failure began long before we were baptized the second time in muddy water. When that façade was washed away we saw the horror of centuries of racism, we saw the results of inadequate heath care and education, we saw the wound of a multi-generational trauma that goes back to the middle passage. And let me just say it whilst I am on a roll: I see the evil of an attempt to socially reengineer this city. I look that evil in the eye, and say, you will not succeed here. Instead, the Church stands for the life of grace and possibility in the beloved community of Dr. King, in that community in which our values are made manifest.

Some are thinking, “ it is a good thing he is retiring. “ The stress is too much for Jenkins. Perhaps so. I have been threatened physically, my reputation, which was never much, is hurting badly, but friends, I have learned to live in hope and not fear. I am told that we are trying to do too much; I must be realistic in these hard times. The Episcopal Church shall not abandon the field lest we give into fear. This is a Church of hope and that hope shall give life to the continuing conversion and sanctification of the faithful. To live in hope is to live a generous life even when the temptation is great to live otherwise. I can do nothing more than hope, I can do nothing less than to make that hope manifest.

Fifty-one percent of the children from pre-Katrina New Orleans are gone from here. In many cases, these youngsters realize they are not cared for, good riddance some would say. These youngsters have turned against themselves. It is ok to shoot a black person in New Orleans. It is so common that little notice is taken. Yet, your Church, through St. Anna’s parish, the Diocese of Louisiana and her Deacons will not let the city forget. Not only do we keep a murder board giving the name, age, and circumstance of all who are murdered in this city, we take to the mayor, the DA, and the chief of police a rose each week for every person slain. There is not a program out there that is going to change a population that hates itself. There is not measuring stick here. I am talking about theology, the spiritual change of heart and the intellectual change of mind that enables one to see dignity in oneself.

On June 21, 1964, three young civil rights workers—a 21-year-old black Mississippian, James Chaney, and two white New Yorkers, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schermer, 24—were murdered near Philadelphia, in Nashoba County, Mississippi. They had been working to register black voters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer and had gone to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on trumped-up charges, imprisoned for several hours, and then released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who beat and murdered them. It was later proven in court that a conspiracy existed between members of Neshoba County's law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan to kill them. I have talked to the man who gave those three youngsters the car they were driving that day. They were afraid to go into the evil but they went, hoping they could make a difference. And so they did.

Brothers and sisters, my gift for you this night is a challenge, in these hard times, let us manifest the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.


Remember again: He preached this sermon to the wealthiest parishes in The Episcopal Church. I am awed by his sermon.

Seldom have I heard or read such a brave and prophetic sermon. And it comes from a brave, faithful man who is soon going into retirement.


Blogger Ann said...

He is amazing. What a conversion experience he has had.

3/19/2009 10:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

It's probably inappropriate for me to say this ... but ... that's never stopped me before.
I don't know him, but it sounds to me like he is just now exercising the ministry of a true bishop. And I find it profoundly sad that he is now retiring. The wisdom ... the humility .. the passion ... the courage he has gained in the last few years... I wish all our bishopes had that.

3/19/2009 10:33 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

It was hearing people at our Diocesan convention a few years ago referring to gays as "those people" that finally emboldened me to say they are not those people, they are me!

3/20/2009 5:36 AM  
Blogger Kirstin said...

It is a brave and courageous sermon. But why would you suggest that "it may be removed" from his own blog? He put it there. It's consistent with his own courage, to let it stand.

I love Bishop Jenkins, and I deeply, deeply respect him. I don't know him well, but I had the privilege of meeting him several times, when I worked in NOLA for a month.

I'm sure I'd not have said the same, before Katrina. How he chose to be transformed into who he is, by that horror, amazes me.

3/20/2009 11:40 AM  
Blogger Göran Koch-Swahne said...


3/20/2009 1:39 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Robert, that gave me goose bumps. I admire the courage it takes. But it's important for people to know that some of "them" is "us."

3/21/2009 9:41 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Sorry about the misunderstanding, Kirstin. I didn't realize it was Bishop Jenkins' own blog; I thought it belonged to the whole diocese who might -- after he retires -- remove it.

3/21/2009 9:42 AM  

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