Four priests were having an argument about the nature of God. Three of the priests sided against the fourth. The fourth, dissenting priest prayed, “Lord, I know I’m right. Please send us a divine sign to prove it.” A big storm cloud materialized, and there was a clap of thunder. “See,” said the single priest, “It’s a sign from above.”
Slavery is the blight of American history. It is irredeemable, and no mitigating factor can dilute its scourge. In any discussion of the antebellum South or the Civil War, slavery must play a central role, because it was a central cause of the war. A review of the several Southern states that issued “Declarations of Causes” to accompany their acts of secession makes this clear.[i] The declarations focus much on economics, but the economics are thoroughly and explicitly undergirded by slavery. The declarations of Mississippi and Texas are the most forthright in their admission that secession intended to preserve and perpetuate slavery. The Mississippi declaration crescendos, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” The Texas declaration says, “[In 1845, Texas] was received as a commonwealth [by the United States] holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery—the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits—a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.” Whatever other contributing factors to which one may point with regard to the Civil War, the war was certainly about slavery, and as the first nation in the history of the world founded on the premise that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” we continue to struggle with its blight.
In June, forty-two Cathedral parishioners traveled to Wittenberg, Germany, to pray, learn, and pay homage to the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. We walked through that picturesque village to the City Church, where Martin Luther pastored and preached for decades in the sixteenth century. In the sacristy of the church we held a prayer service and raised our voices to God in praise. It was a remarkable experience, across time, space, and language, that reminded us of the Communion of Saints, that great cloud of witnesses to God’s love, grace, and mercy of which we are a part.
Those with keen eyes will notice that the stole around my neck is not one I normally wear at Christ Church Cathedral. The Cathedral owns a set of lovely, embroidered white damask stoles, and, admittedly, my stole doesn’t match our beautiful Cathedral hangings. Even so, it is important to me to wear it today, because today is August 6, which is the date on which we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration is, as we just read in Luke’s Gospel, that event at which Peter, James, and John first experienced Jesus in his truest form, in divine glory. But why this stole on this day?