The Island of Misfit Toys

Every Christmas during my childhood, my older brother Robert and I eagerly awaited the night CBS would air the Claymation cartoon special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  We loved everything about it: Santa Claus, who took care to fatten himself up before Christmas so his red suit would fit; Rudolph, with his nose so bright; Yukon Cornelius and Hermie the Elf, who tame the Abominable Snowman.  But the part of the cartoon I most anticipated, for reasons I could not explain in childhood, was the Island of Misfit Toys.

The island is populated by flawed toys: a fire engine painted pink instead of red; a security doll that is herself insecure; a Charlie-in-the-box no one wants because his name isn’t Jack.  The toys live isolated on the Island of Misfit Toys because, they believe, their flaws render them unlovable in the toy box of any child.  Even at age six, the sadness of this scene worried and overwhelmed me.

Island of misfit toys

This morning Matthew gives us his version of Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Banquet.  As in Luke’s version of this same parable, a host plans a wedding banquet for his son, but the guests everyone expects to be invited all refuse to attend.  So the host creates a new invitation list.  His emissaries go out into the streets and gather all whom they find, both good and bad, and, we are told, “the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

But Matthew’s version of this parable adds something that’s missing in Luke: a disturbing coda to the end of the story.  When the host enters the festive banquet, he notices a man who is clothed wrongly, and he asks, “Friend, how did you get in here dressed like that?” The guest cannot answer, and he is removed from the party.

Especially when we remember that the host is God in this parable, there are two things startling about this twist at the end.  First, and most often remarked upon in sermons and bible studies, is that the host removes the guest after taking such pains to invite everyone in.  It seems ungracious if not unfair, and maybe even cruel.  But second, and more often overlooked, is the word by which the host addresses this guest.  The host calls the guest “friend,” affirming a relationship of companionship and even love.  And so, whatever else happens at the end of this parable, it must be interpreted not through vindictiveness or retribution, but through the friendship and love the host extends to this final guest.  Though at times one may have to do so, one never seeks or wants to exclude a friend.  So we are left to ask, “What is the wedding garment that this guest lacks, and which prevents his participation in the party?”

parable of the wedding banquet

Flannery O’Connor’s stories are about the American South, about which she said “while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is surely Christ-haunted.”[i]  O’Connor’s stories are unflinching.  She uses abrasive and challenging language to get our attention.  In her short-story “Revelation,” O’Connor tells the reader of Ruby Turpin, a genial, middle class Southern Christian woman who has, as Ruby repeatedly reminds herself and others, “a good disposition.”  Ruby is cordial, she is outwardly kind to the African-Americans who work on her small farm, and she supports the causes of those in need.  True, Ruby is also preoccupied by how relieved she is that she wasn’t born (as Flannery O’Connor puts it) poor white trash or black, and she allows herself the satisfaction that it’s people like her who make the world go round.

In a doctor’s office waiting room one afternoon, Ruby finds herself surrounded by all those in society from whom she considers herself set apart: a poor and ignorant white family, whose little boy drips snot from his nose and mother has snuff stains around her mouth; a black delivery boy who mouths back at Ruby just enough that she can guess what kind of family he must come from; and a sullen, pimply-faced college coed who scowls at Ruby over the top of the textbook she is reading.

With Ruby’s only recognized peer in the waiting room (a tidy woman who happens to be the mother of the coed) Ruby carries on a conversation that is genial, but also indicting of anyone whose circumstances in life differ from Ruby’s own.  She talks about the character flaws of this group and the vices of that group.  And she mentions how important it is to society that her people are at the top of the social pyramid.  Ruby crescendos, “Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is! It could have been different…Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!”  And at that moment the college student hurls her textbook at Ruby, hitting Ruby square across the forehead, and says, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old warthog!”

flannery o'connor

Flannery O’Connor

If you’ve not read the short story “Revelation,” it would be easy to imagine Ruby Turpin in caricature, as if she is a cartoonish lampoon of the worst kind of backwards Southern Christian.  That would be a mistake.  She is not.  But in an earlier era, she could be us.  Outwardly, she truly is genial and kind; she truly does have a good disposition.  And, her cultural lenses lead her subconsciously and uncritically to imagine that she is deserving of her place and everyone else is deserving of theirs, that all is just right as it is.

Ruby recovers from the coed’s assault and goes home, but the coed’s words won’t leave her mind.  They burn deep beneath the surface.  She wanders to the hog pen on her farm and begins to wash down the swine with a water hose, as if to scrub away the coed’s application of “warthog” to herself.  How could she be as ugly to the others in that waiting room as they were to her?   “How am I me and a hog both?” she asks in anguish, “How am I saved and from hell too?”

And then Ruby looks up at the setting sun.  A purple streak cuts across the crimson sky, and Flannery O’Connor tells us:

“A visionary light settled in [Ruby’s] eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire.  Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of [black folks] in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself…had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead.”

In the Rudolph Christmas special, grace comes for the six-year-old viewer when Santa’s first stop on Christmas Eve is to the Island of Misfit Toys to retrieve all the toys and find them homes of acceptance and love.  I can still recall the childhood memory of that blessed relief.  Every child feels that he is, in his way, a misfit toy, and Santa Claus is a natural and intuitive stand-in for God.

Flannery O’Connor gives us the grown-up version.  In “Revelation,” the parade into God’s heavenly grace includes everyone, even white trash, poor blacks folks, and blind Ruby Turpin herself who, until her illusions were shattered by her vision, could not imagine that they all belonged together and to each other.  She is—and, friends, we are—the riff raff and rabble scattered around the doctor’s waiting room, sullen and anxious and proud.  We are the pink firetruck, the insecure blanket, the Charlie-in-the-box.  The truth is that we are all, every one of us, misfit toys.  Our flaws may not be so obvious on the outside.  With our bravado and neatly-put-together-selves we may even, like Ruby, almost convince ourselves that our flaws don’t exist.  Almost.  But we know deep down, perhaps when we are alone looking up at the evening sky, that it is a blessing beyond imagining that God’s grace is extended freely, along the highways and biways, to everyone—everyone—including you and me, that in God we find a home of acceptance and love.

The wedding garment—the only thing we must adorn in order to participate in the banquet of grace—is that very recognition.  The wedding host names us friend.  We are wanted and desired, flaws and all, but we must wear the flaws.  The pretension that we receive God’s grace while others don’t, and worse yet that we are deserving of it while others aren’t, is the wrong garment.  The only robe for us is the joy that sings in gratitude, even when off key, for a love that invites everyone, even an old warthog like me.

________________________

[i] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/443791-whenever-i-m-asked-why-southern-writers-particularly-have-a-penchant

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Giving Everything to God

At the parish I served in Roanoke, Virginia—St. John’s—we had a partnership with the Virginia Tech Medical School, which is also located in Roanoke.  At the end of each spring semester, med school faculty and first-year medical students gathered in St. John’s memorial garden, and together we interred in sacred ground the cremated remains of those who had donated their bodies to medical education.  It was a lovely service, planned by the medical school students with minimal guidance from me.  Doctors-in-training treated the ashes of the cadavers with reverence.  Students and faculty of varied faiths prayed, side-by-side.

The identities of the cremated donors were unknown to those of us gathered in the garden and are unknown still.  The only thing we knew about them was that, at the end of their mortal lives, they determined to give the entirety of themselves so that young medical students could train.  Virginia Tech doctors settle in the finest hospitals all over the country.  Who knows, someday you may find yourself being stitched up in the emergency room, the attending physician’s skill with needle and thread first having been formed by the sacrifice of a man or woman interred in the St. John’s garden.

suturing

But that’s all we knew.  We weren’t aware of the donors’ family backgrounds, their professions, their religious faith, or their loves and passions.  For a long time, that troubled and preoccupied me.  I wanted to know those people.  I want to know how they made the decision to give of themselves so radically.

In today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we hear what some scholars believe to be the oldest passage in the entire New Testament.  St. Paul has likely heard it elsewhere—he may even have written it himself—and in his conversation with the Philippians he determines to quote it.  It is a hymn about Jesus, and it goes like this:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

It has been said that the most awesome, most incomprehensible truths are best conveyed through music, and this hymn—which was likely originally set to a chant—certainly fits that bill.  In just a few lines, it captures the very essence of Christian belief, that which makes Christianity stunningly different from all other religious faiths.  That essence is this:

God—the God, the one who crafts the galaxies, and creates quantum physics, and gives the azaleas bloom, and fills a baby’s lung with that first breath—that God emptied Godself in the person of Jesus, living among us as one who experienced the basest, the worst that humanity can do to humanity.  After creating a universe in which human life is possible; after giving breath to that very life; in Jesus, God chose to give of himself completely to us, without reserve.

Sand from hand

How we make sense of this is what keeps theologians from joining the ranks of the unemployed.  But the fact of this truth has given, and still gives the deepest comfort to people of faith.  Every day, its realization changes people.  As the hymn in Philippians continues, “Therefore…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Not because of God’s majesty, and not because of God’s power, but because God emptied Godself of these things for us, because God preferred to know us as we are rather than sit remotely on a throne in highest heaven, we know Jesus is God Incarnate and not some pretender.  We praise Jesus as Lord, as the one who has claim to our hearts and our lives.

That is the “therefore” of St. Paul’s hymn.  In fact, he prefaces the hymn today with the exhortation, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

In other words, Paul is challenging the Christians in Philippi.  He’s saying, “This is who God is.  You want to know how much God’s heart yearns for you?  You want to know how desperately God loves you?  You want to know what God gives you?  The answer is everything.

And how do we respond to that?  How do we return that grace, that love?  By letting our hearts and minds be like Jesus.  By emptying ourselves.  By giving God the all of us.  By giving God everything.”

I’ll never know the identities of those people we interred in the St. John’s memorial garden.  But I think I know something about them.  I suspect that their final act was a sacrament, a representative symbol, of the way they lived their lives.  In the end, they gave away everything: the eyes that had gazed upon their children, the hearts that had loved, the arms that had embraced.  Whether or not they claimed the Christian faith, I suspect they’d have understood Paul’s hymn to the Philippians.  Paul adds today, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”  Indeed.  At the last, the people in that memorial garden gave everything.  I’d wager they did the same at the first.  I suspect they lived as they died, giving the all of who they were in life for the interest of others, in recognition of the profound grace in their lives.

We here do claim the Christian faith, explicitly, every week.  Today, St. Paul sings to us the truth at the center of that faith.  In Christ, God has given everything to us.  We are to give everything back.  But how do we begin?  In a culture that rebels against this very notion, that immediately seeks to rationalize it away, that instills the mantra “me first” from every quarter, what first step can we take?

This is, in the end, what stewardship is all about.  It is the first step, the way that we begin to orient our entire lives to God’s priorities rather than our own.  Stewardship is the sacramental way—the outward and visible symbol—by which we begin to allow our hearts and minds to be formed like those of Christ.  Biblically, stewardship is not just giving something back to God, it is giving the first and best back to God, what the Bible calls the “first fruits” of our labor.  When we encounter the grace and freedom of giving to God the first and best of us, we soon discover that giving God the remainder—following the Way of Jesus with our entire lives—becomes infinitely easier.

first fruits

Here, at the beginning of our Every Member Canvass, I pledge to do this, and I pray you will, too.  To the instruments of the Church, I will give back to God in 2018 ten percent of my income.  Before I consider anything else in my budget for next year, I will give to God the first fruits.  My prayer is that this emptying will, slowly but surely, help me to realize the Lord of my life: the one who created the galaxies, who gives the azaleas bloom, who puts breath in my children’s lungs, and who beyond all of that gave everything to me in God’s incarnate Son.  It is my prayer for all of us, and in our Every Member Canvass I pray you’ll join me.

Seventy times seven: Is Jesus asking us to be doormats?

“Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord… how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”  Some translations say, “Seventy times seven,” which would mean we must forgive a transgressor four hundred-ninety times.

At first blush, that degree of forgiveness seems gratuitous to me, and unrealistic.  It reminds me of an old married couple I once had as parishioners (not here, of course).  He did something really stupid in the marriage, and she let him have it.  The hammer came down mightily.  He apologized from the bottom of his heart, and they reconciled.  However, from time to time over the years to come, she would dredge up the old wound and throw it back at him again and again.  “Sweetheart,” he finally asked, “Why do you keep bringing that up?  I though you said your policy was to forgive and forget.”

“It is,” she replied, “I just want you always to remember that I’ve forgiven and forgotten!”[i]

In seriousness, people do hurtful and sometimes horrible things to one another, and often the emotional and psychological effects are far worse than anything tangible.  In our cultural history, easy forgiveness has often served as license to allow bad acts to continue.  For centuries, abused wives were encouraged to forgive their husbands and return to the home where abuse was sure to recur.  Even in less severe circumstances, gratuitous forgiveness seems like acquiescence.  Forgive you once, shame on you; forgive you twice, shame on me; forgive you seventy-seven times, and I’m just a doormat.  This implication is exacerbated further when we realize that nowhere in today’s passage from Matthew does Jesus say that repentance by the transgressor is required before forgiveness is granted.  So, what do we make of Jesus’ counsel today?

Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry

Regular attendees of the Dean’s Book Club know that my favorite author, living or dead, is Wendell Berry.  I’ve read every word of his prolific fiction, all of which takes place in the small town of Port William, Kentucky.  Berry’s novels and short stories involve the same cast of characters, interrelated families over the course of generations, who are characterized by virtue and vice, success and failure, sin and forgiveness.

In the short story “Pray without ceasing,”[ii] Margaret Feltner tells her grandson Andy the story of his great-grandfather’s (her father-in-law’s) murder in 1912.  His name was Ben Feltner, and he was good.  Fifty-three years before the telling, Ben had been approached for help by his friend, Thad Coulter.  Thad was in a bad way, and he showed up to request Ben’s aid after drowning his problems in alcohol and self-reproach for days.  Ben wanted to help Thad, but he told Thad that Thad must first sober up.  Thad took this as rejection, and in his drunken anger and wild despair, he took a gun and killed Ben.  Thad murdered his friend.

The reactions to Ben’s murder by those in town range from rage to sorrow.  There is talk of a mob who will mete out its own brand of justice against Thad Coulter.  But Ben’s family refuses to seek out retribution.

At that point in the telling of the story Margaret Feltner pauses, and then she says, “Thad Coulter was not a bad man.  I believed that then, and I believe now that he was not a bad man.  But we are all as little children.  Some know it and some don’t.”

Pray Without Ceasing

Though Andy may believe her, he can’t yet reconcile his family’s attitude toward their patriarch’s murderer a half-century ago.  And so, his grandmother looks at him silently for a long time.  She wants Andy to go deeper than his felt animosity, not to deny the truth of it, but to approach it with a perspective infinitely broader than his own.  “For she had much to ask of me,” Andy says.  And then Margaret Feltner speaks.  She says,  “People sometimes talk of God’s love as if it’s a pleasant thing.  But it is terrible, in a way.  Think of all it includes.  It included Thad Coulter, drunk and mean and foolish, before he killed [Ben] Feltner, and it included him afterwards…If God loves the ones we can’t, then finally maybe we can.”

That is one reason we forgive, and forgive, and forgive: Because we are all but children, in the end.  We all think, and do, and repeat things that are bitter, and coarse, and foolish, and mean (in the older sense of that word).  And, thank God, even so we are loved by God with a love that runs deeper than the very worst we can do.  The love of God includes Thad Coulter, the drunk who killed his only friend.  The love of God includes those who have harmed us, the ones we cannot bring ourselves to love.  And because God loves them, one day, with hearts that forgive, perhaps we can finally bring ourselves to love them, too.

But what of the things I said earlier?  Does forgiving with abandon mean that we also forget?  Does forgiveness serve as tacit acceptance or license to repeat an offense?  Does forgiveness mean that we become the doormat?  No, it does not.  Forgiving an embezzler does not mean giving him the keys to the vault.  Forgiving an abuser does not mean—should never mean—entering back into the context of abuse.  Forgiving a criminal does not negate the prison sentence that is the consequence of the crime.

Paul Young says, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting…It is about letting go of another person’s throat.”[iii]  Consider that image.  In the end, the virtue of forgiveness does not primarily accrue to the recipient.  It is about release for the one who has been harmed.  “Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver,” Paul Young says, “to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and ability to love fully and openly.”[iv]

Poison

Drinking poison and hoping the other person dies…

 

That is the other reason we forgive.  It is an act of empowerment, of claiming our wholeness over our woundedness.  It was Emmet Fox who first offered a version of the sentiment that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.[v]  We all know those—we may be those—who have clung viciously to a grudge, daily nursed old wounds, and kept a metaphorical iron grip around the other’s throat.  And we have observed the ultimate result.  In the short term, holding onto pain and resentment toward the one who has wronged us may feel like power, but in the end it corrodes and imprisons us, as well as those in this life who depend upon us.  A life lived through the prism of unforgiven hurts becomes a bitter life.  But when we forgive—when we let go of the other person’s throat—we become free.  Though we will always be people marked by the wrongs we have endured—even the resurrected Jesus bore his scars, after all—we will not be consumed by them.

And so, in the end Jesus the Christ calls upon us to forgive because our forgiveness, or lack thereof, has consequences for us.  Forgiveness is about who we will become and what we will bequeath.  Seventy times seven, Jesus says, so that we are released from bondage, so that we can love fully and know joy.

__________________________________

[i] An adapted internet joke.

[ii] Berry, Wendell.  “Pray without ceasing,” in That Distant Land, 38-76.

[iii] Young, William P.  The Shack, 224.

[iv] Ibid, 225.

[v] https://www.quora.com/Who-said-the-phrase-Holding-a-grudge-is-like-drinking-poison-and-waiting-for-the-other-person-to-die

“I will send you”: In the wake of Hurricane Harvey

The disaster has happened.  It is a concrete fact that cannot be altered or undone.  A bright day turned to shadow, and by the time the clouds lifted, everything had changed. In the wake of tragedy, the question is “What happens next?”

This describes the experience we have all just had.  It also describes, exactly, where Moses finds himself in today’s reading from Exodus.  The Book of Genesis ended on a sunny and bright note.  Jacob and his sons had left their land of famine and traveled to Egypt, where they not only discovered grain in plenty, but also Joseph, Jacob’s lost son, who had risen in rank from slave to become the governor of all Egypt.  But Joseph died, and over time the relationship of the Egyptians to the Hebrews soured.  Jacob’s descendants became an underclass, and then slaves, and finally, when Pharaoh felt threatened by their numbers, he killed their baby boys.  Sunlight turned to shadow.

Moses survived because his mother’s love was as shrewd as it was powerful, and Moses was raised as an Egyptian.  As he grew, Moses despaired at the conditions all around him, and he eventually fled, until, Exodus tells us today, he was “beyond the wilderness.”  This is biblical speak for telling us Moses was out of options, and so frayed he couldn’t think straight, and all alone, and on the very edge of panic.  Moses wondered in his exhaustion, “What happens next?”

Flood evacuees

Very like us.  Skies were sunny, and Houston was a shining emblem of that which is good in our country.  And then the world ended.  Beginning Saturday a week ago, and continuing for days, Houston experienced more than fifty-one inches of rain.  That’s more than twenty-four trillion gallons, breaking every U.S. record. Harvey also retained tropical storm force longer than any storm in Texas history.  If Harvey’s rain had been snow, the snow would have reached forty-two feet.  That’s level height, not snow drifts.[i]  More than three hundred thousand people have already applied for FEMA relief.  Forty-two thousand people are presently housed in shelters.  Forty people have died.  Rockport was devastated.  Beaumont drowned.  One runs out of superlative adjectives to describe things, and then one simply runs out of the energy to speak at all.  By last Monday night, many Texans, including a fair number of our own parishioners—including the roughly three hundred downtown homeless who rely on the Beacon for water and food—were out of options, and so frayed they couldn’t think straight, and all alone, and on the very edge of panic.  We all wondered, “What happens next?”

For Moses, what happens next is most unexpected.  In the wake of disaster, beyond the wilderness, when everything is stripped bare, Moses meets God.  God appears in a bush that burns but is not consumed, and we mustn’t let the power of that metaphor escape us: The powers of nature are great and fierce, but they cannot touch the power of God.  God says to Moses the very words Moses longs to hear.  God says, “I have seen the misery of my people.  I have heard them crying out.  I know their suffering.  And I have come to deliver them.”  Sweeter words were never spoken.  Sweeter words were never heard.

 

But lest Moses exhale, relieved that God will deliver him and his kinsman and wondering vaguely how God will accomplish this, in God’s very next utterance God says to Moses, “I will send you.”

Moses and the burning bush

Very like us.  By Tuesday morning, flotillas of boats replaced this city’s deluged cars.  The George R. Brown opened its doors.  The Coast Guard sent helicopters. And thousands upon thousands of Houstonians responded to the call of God.  “What happens next?” we ask.  And God responds, “I will send you.”

I want to tell you some stories.  On Wednesday morning, I worked the breakfast shift at the George R. Brown.  As I visited with people, hearing their experiences, a man in street clothes named Bob Merrill approached me to tell me that he is a bi-vocational Episcopal priest.  The Red Cross is afraid that clergy volunteers will try to proselytize (even though I explained to them that Episcopalians don’t really do that), and I said to Bob, “You were smart not to wear your collar; the Red Cross won’t question you.”  To which Bob responded, “Oh, I don’t have my collar.  I was flooded out.  I’m mainly here as an evacuee, but I’m also trying to help.”  He’d lost everything, and his first instinct was to his calling: I will send you.

Chris and Allison Bells’ home was flooded this week for the third time in as many years, but, as for everyone, this time was far worse.  The Bells’ flood drill had almost become routine, and Chris, Alison, Atlee, and Connally moved to the second story as the water crept in.  But this time the water didn’t stop rising.  Eventually, a boat plucked Chris and Alison, their sons, and their dogs from the house, but next the Bells’ endured a rain-soaked ride in the back of a county dump truck before being left on the side of the road shivering alone in darkness.  (Be in that moment for just a second.)  Finally, the headlamps of a jeep emerged, and a young man name Brandon, a stranger, picked up the Bells and navigated a slow path to safety.  The Bells’ saga was long, meandering, and frightening, but when I talked to Chris two days later, this is what stayed with him.  These are Chris’ words, “Every time I [think of] Brandon, our rescuer, I start tearing up.  It’s overwhelming when one realizes there really are saints among us.  He came from nowhere at a time when four people and three dogs were incredibly cold and helpless.  Perhaps not from nowhere.”  God says, I will send you.

One more: Throughout the storm, I worried about the Cathedral campus.  I take the stewardship of this historic and sacred space very seriously, and I feared both flood waters and bad actors.  On Sunday, our head sexton, Ardell Ray, had made it to the Cathedral before the water rose too much.  But on Monday Ardell had to go back home to check on his own house, and he barely made it; his car nearly stalled in water on the way.  So, on Monday afternoon I put on my rain boots and decided to try and drive downtown to check on the Cathedral myself.  Before I could do so, Ardell called.  (Which is odd.  Ardell takes my calls, but he rarely calls me.)  He was on his bicycle, pedaling through the city in the storm at a snail’s pace, making his way back downtown to protect this holy place.  “Dean,” Ardell said, “You don’t have to worry about a thing.  I’m going to take good care of it.”  And God says, I will send you.

Ardell and me

Ardell and me on Wednesday morning last week, by which time Ardell had been traveling back and forth to the Cathedral through the storm for five days.

When God tells Moses that Moses is to be the instrument of deliverance, Moses’ momentary relief turns to anxiety and terror.  Moses is inadequate to the task, he says.  He has not the voice, the skill, or the will to do what God says must be done.  And God does not disagree.  But rather than removing the responsibility from Moses, God gives Moses Aaron, recognizing that none of us can navigate the storms, and none of us can deliver one another, without all of us.

God hears our cry.  God takes note of our suffering.   And though the power of Hurricane Harvey was mighty, it was no match for God.  “I will send you,” God says to us.  So, what happens next?

Here’s what happens: Fellow parishioner Seth Hinkley has accepted the call to serve as our Cathedral Hurricane Relief Coordinator and parishioner Gary Krause has agreed to assist Seth.  Beginning tomorrow, Seth and Gary will coordinate all of our parish relief efforts.  The email at which to reach them is hurricanerelief@christchurchcathedral.org.

We will have ample resources with which to do this work.  In the past five days, the Cathedral has received more than twenty thousand dollars in hurricane relief contributions, and more funds are streaming in.  Every dollar will be used to help those in need.  We will help with housing; we will help with transportation; we will help with groceries; we will help in whatever ways help is needed.

We will open the Ballard Youth Center as temporary housing for relief and restoration work crews from across the country in the coming weeks and months.

These things we will do, but we have not waited until now to respond to God’s call.  Since the middle of last week, Cathedral work crews, under the able foremanship of Jeremy Bradley, are every day helping our parishioners tear out soaked carpet and drywall and moving belongings to safer places.  Additionally, we have matched parishioners who are displaced from their homes in temporary housing with parishioners who have a garage apartment or available guest room.

Hurricane Harvey work crew

One of our Hurricane Harvey work crews

We have also compiled a list of parish attorneys, who have graciously offered their knowledge pro bono to assist those dealing with the arcane language of FEMA or insurance.

We’ve made plans for The Beacon temporarily to expand its mission, to offer service seven days a week rather than five, and to serve three meals per day rather than one.  This will, by the way, require our parishioners—those of us here in this room—to step forward and volunteer, especially Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which are days The Beacon is normally closed.  Register to volunteer on The Beacon’s web site, http://www.beaconhomeless.org.

And, we’re working far beyond our parish boundaries.  At the Bishop’s request, the Cathedral has taken the lead in organizing a network of Episcopal parishes throughout the city, including St. Martin’s, St. John the Divine, Palmer, St. Mark’s, Trinity, St. Francis, and Holy Spirit, to connect aid with needs across the city in the most efficient and effective way.  Our CUSE director, Christy Orman, has been named Hurricane Relief Administrator for this effort.  The results of this work will have an enormous long-term impact on Houston’s recovery.

sunrise over houston

In the wake of disaster, beyond the wilderness, when everything is stripped bare, the God whom fire cannot consume and water cannot drown comes to us and says, “I will send you.”  God is calling nowus, this Cathedral, this community of disciples—and he does not send us alone.  We are Christ Church together, and we will see the dawn.

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[i]“Exactly how much rain Harvey has brought to Houston, elsewhere in Texas.”  The San Diego Tribune, August 29, 2017.