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Archive for the ‘The Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson’ Category

As a father, as a concerned citizen, as a leader, and as a person of religious conviction, I have been struggling for a while now to find my way in – struggling to figure out a way to faithfully engage with the complex issue of racial injustice and systemic racism in the city and community in which I live and work. I am heartbroken by the statistics and stories of inequality in our state and city, how the systems and communities here, as in so many places in our country, seem to be almost intentionally structured to negatively impact African Americans.

While Minnesota may top the list over other states in literacy, public education, livability, the economy, and quality of life, the census data for the black community within our state tells a different story – we rank dead last in almost every category. And, there is a subtle and sometimes implied belief in our country that the disadvantages and suffering of the black community are at least partially deserved. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said in accepting his National Book Award, “At the heart of our country is the notion that we are okay with the presumption that black people … somehow have a predisposition toward criminality.” Like Coates and many who have raised their voices, I refuse to be co-opted into this lie. It simply isn’t true.

Yet, because of the fear that we might be asked to face some of our own culpability and participation in systems of oppression and white supremacy, the problem remains largely unaddressed. Survey after survey and poll after poll tell us that a majority of white Americans have deep trust in the judicial system and law enforcement officials, while African Americans have a disproportionate distrust of those same structures. Could it be that our experiences are vastly different, and could it also be that it is time we listen to the experience and stories of our brothers and sisters in the black community, and take them seriously?

As I have come to grips with these disturbing truths from where I sit firmly ensconced in a position of white privilege, a privilege that I neither earned nor deserve, I have wrestled with what I can do. How can I begin to live responsibly and intentionally in ways that repair the gap and address the inequality? How can I teach my children to not only be “nice” to people whose skin is different from their own – rather, how can I teach them to eschew the privileges they will unjustly gain at the expense of their peers of color?

How do I live as Christ lived and as he taught, reconciling Jew and Greek, male and female, black and white? How do I proclaim and practice the healing and reconciling love of God, that I experience in Jesus? How can I be transformed into a person who practices justice and peace in my life?

In seeking to answer these questions I have been listening deeply to the stories and witness of the African American community. I am allowing myself to be disturbed by the hard truths of injustice. I have also been praying that the Holy Spirit might lead me into places and opportunities where as a citizen, leader, pastor, and father I might be able to be an agent of God’s reconciliation. This week God answered that prayer when a colleague, my sister in Christ, the Reverend Letha Wilson-Barnard,

from Holy Apostles Episcopal Church (our companion parish) invited me to join her at a protest at City Hall. I went, I listened, and with other clergy from around the city, I used my status as an ordained person, to help (I hope) create space so that the protest might be heard, that the stories and suffering and demands of black lives, might actually be listened to.
Our bishop asked that we look to the “abandoned places of empire” in our neighborhoods and around the city. I have been looking and listening and praying – as I am sure are many of you. I have been wondering where in the neighborhood around St. John’s we might engage on the margins with those who have suffered under structures of racism and injustice. And, then again this week I received another invitation to join in a conversation being hosted by the Wilder Foundation on December 9 at 6PM (451 Lexington Parkway N.). The conversation is called “Engage!” and is being convened by the St. Paul Public Schools and Ramsey County leaders to collaboratively reduce the number of children and youth of color in the criminal justice system. The conversation is open to neighbors, stakeholders, and community leaders as well as youth and children from the surrounding community. I have invited our Senior Youth group to join me and I invite any and all from the St. John’s community who, like me, have been struggling to find a faithful way to engage with systemic racism and injustice.

I don’t have a lot of answers but I am tired of waiting to do something personally to engage and take action on this important issue. If you’re tired of waiting and want to act, let me know.

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Dear Friends in Christ,

I don’t often post on EpistlesandEpiphanies, but I do enjoy reading Barbara’s monthly reflections here.

However, in the midst of all that is going on in the life of our city and the life of the world, I have felt acutely the last few days, the need to say something to our faith community about the events in North Minneapolis. Like so many of you, my heart has broken again and again at the news of violence and unrest in our twin city across the river, just as my heart breaks at the systems of oppression and hate that infect our world and affect even our own neighborhoods here in St. Paul.

As I sat down to write something to you last night, I received the following pastoral letter from our bishop, the Right Reverend Brian N. Prior, speaking to the same events and offering counsel, prayer, and opportunity for action. What he has written is powerful, challenging, and as good or better than anything I could write or say on the matter. Since Bishop Prior is the chief priest and pastor of our Diocese, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, I will pass along his letter to you here and commend it for you to read, mark, and inwardly digest. I agree with our bishop that “As the church we can be complicit in supporting white supremacy or we can join with the Holy Spirit in actively interrupting the cycle of violence. We cannot choose the illusion of neutrality. To be ‘neutral’ is to support a status quo that ‘corrupts and destroys the creatures of God’ as we say in our Baptismal Covenant.”

We will be praying for justice, in North Minneapolis, and in our own neighborhood, this Sunday. Moreover, I invite you to join me, as the bishop has invited us to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ across the Episcopal Church in Minnesota and across faiths, to “look in our own communities for neighbors and neighborhoods that have been abandoned” and to seek to find ways we can engage as people of faith with others who are there on the margins and together with them seek justice and peace.

My prayers are with you and with all our community this Thanksgiving weekend, that we might choose to embrace one another and the world that God came to love and save.

For the full text of Bishop Prior’s letter, see below.

I’ll see you in church.

Blessings,

Jered+

 

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The Roman Empire turned its back upon tiny Bethlehem, and yet God showed up. Ignored by emperors and kings, Bethlehem was a speck on the map – if it even appeared at all. Yet Jesus entered the world in this place abandoned by empire and was Good News for those who lived there.

In the same vein, Minnesota turned its back upon North Minneapolis. White supremacy, economic disinvestment and government disinterest have been present in North Minneapolis for generations. We weep and mourn with the families of Jamar Clark and the five protesters who were shot – and we also acknowledge that this is not a new narrative. Still, as Christians we believe that Jesus is present: creating, transforming, and proclaiming Good News to a world that deeply needs it.

As you reflect upon the events of the past eight days since the shooting of Jamar Clark, we invite you to deeply consider engaging with the abandoned places of empire, at the margins of society. For some of us this might mean physically moving and buying one of the vacant properties in North Minneapolis. For others, this might mean finding ways to intentionally spend time, talent, and treasure in that neighborhood. Yet others might look in our own communities for neighbors and neighborhoods that have been abandoned, and add prayers for justice in North Minneapolis to our prayers.

As the church we can be complicit in supporting white supremacy or we can join with the Holy Spirit in actively interrupting the cycle of violence. We cannot choose the illusion of neutrality. To be “neutral” is to support a status quo that “corrupts and destroys the creatures of God” as we say in our Baptismal Covenant.

Below, there is a prayer that you can use. If your faith community plans to gather or participate in events responding to this situation, we invite you to let us know so that we can communicate your event. If you don’t know what to do, please contact Missioner for Community Engagement Rachel Babbitt, Rachel.B@episcopalmn.org.

Prayer in Response to Events in North Minneapolis

Gracious God, our times are in your hands.
You gave hope to our ancestors when they thought they were lost.
Your son Jesus taught us how to live with compassion and integrity in a time of great division and fear. 

We pray for Jamar Clark, his family, and those protesters who were shot; for the police officers involved and their families; for those who incite violence; for the Minneapolis mayor and police unions; for the leaders of Black Lives Matter, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, and all those affected by the events of recent days, especially residents of North Minneapolis and abandoned neighborhoods anywhere in our state. 

Give us a holy intolerance for oppression – whether we are the oppressed or the oppressor.

Send your Holy Spirit into our hearts to replace our fear of each other with a longing for connection and trust.

Compel us to see your image in the Other, in our families, neighborhoods, houses of faith, workplaces, and civic conversations.

Give us the will to commit to reconciliation through relationship building and reinvestment in our neighborhoods.

Give us the guiding star of your Holy Spirit as we seek to heal our community. 

In the name of Jesus, who broke bread with sinners and saints, friends and enemies, and spoke words of Good News into their hearts, and ours. Amen.

Blessings,

The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior
IX Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota

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Mark_Twain002_bw_webOnce in an interview Mark Twain noted of humor, that “It is nature’s effort to harmonize conditions. The further the pendulum swings out over woe the further it is bound to swing back over mirth.”

The pendulum has been swinging far “out over woe” these past days, and like many of you I am anxious for a return to laughter – for a ray of light to break through the dark clouds settling over so much of our national life.  Last weekend in a speech delivered at a memorial service for the victims at Newtown, our president relayed a story from that terrible day.  Reminding the gathering of the hope buried in the midst of their pain he described for them

“the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, ‘I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.’”

Did you catch that?  Two jokes in one sentence – “the way that young children sometimes do….’I know karate’” – jokes! And people laughed.  Not just chuckles, but, honest to goodness laughs.  There, in the midst of such terrible darkness and sadness and pain, there was light, and it came in the form of humor.

I know this hardly makes me a revolutionary or a genius, but I’ve long contended that humor is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  It isn’t just an anesthetic from the suffering of life or a protective wall behind which we can hide, it is the very road to understanding and reframing life’s setbacks and pain. I’m sure that is part of why the Bible is riddled with humor and jokes.

Humor tells the truth.  It is true that young kids do, every once in a while, follow instructions.  A child’s bravado in the face of terrifying circumstances does bring a smile.  These stories remind us that these kids were more than victims – they were kids – honest, and foolish, and brave.  And, like kids should, they make us smile and free us to laugh.  They are funny.

I know the darkness is not past.  I know that we cannot shirk the serious and difficult conversations ahead.  I know that in many cases, humor is but a momentary reprieve – a breath of honesty in an often-dishonest world.

But, just as those shepherds and wise men stared into a feeding trough and realized that the peasant child lying there, vulnerable and fragile, must have felt laughter welling up inside them.  Just as they came to understand that this vulnerable and humble creature was the one of whom prophesies spoke – this was God come to be with us, full of grace and truth.  My hope is that we, who face the humble and humbling realities of this present day, are able, at the end, to laugh – not the cynical laughter of the hopeless but of ones who have seen the truth and been set free.

See you in church!

Jered

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Sunday blew through the doors of St. John’s, a whirling flurry of white surplices and giggling children.  After the last notes of the oboe floated up into the rafters and the bulletins were collected from the pews, the altar cleared, and coffee consumed, I shuffled into the nave of the church to have a sit and to take a moment to soak in the stillness.  As the afternoon light cut silent trails through the settling dust I enjoyed the rare chance to just be in that space, to sit where so many of you sit week in and week out.  And, sitting there, the echoes of Psalm 62 came back to me in that moment – my soul in stillness waits.

Fall, this season peppered with back-to-school and a rush of activity, resists the pull of our soul toward silence and stillness.  After a summer of leisure, of lakeside retreats and books on the porch, autumn brings with it an over-industrious urge.  The promise of winter propels some of us into a forced productivity and busy-ness.  During the months of September, October, and November the voice in my head seems to shout “Hurry, hurry, hurry! – Get it all done!”  At the same time, the voice in my heart cries out – “Slow down! Rest! Wait!”

Waiting is often a theme more closely linked with the coming season of Advent – yet here, in “ordinary time”, in the busy season of harvest, the need for waiting and watching is as vital as any other time in our lives.  Only as we pause, only as we sit, only as we wait, can we tumble to the knowledge of who and whose we are.   When we stop and when we are quiet, we can silence the urgent voices of both our head and our heart and hear the one that is both still and small whispering to us “Come to me and rest. Come to me for refuge.  Come to me and be made whole.”

This is a message that transcends creed and that finds resonance in both sacred and secular realms.  One of my favorite bands in a recent song on their new album puts voice to the longing for restoration in a song simply titled “I Will Wait”.  If you’re a fan of rambling and rowdy bluegrass music, give it a listen, and even if you are not, the words stand on their own as a poetic testament to the need we each have, to pause, to wait, and to find in our waiting, the embrace of the One whose love knows no bounds.

And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun

And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground

And I will wait, I will wait for you

See you in church.

Faithfully,

Jered+

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Dear Friends in Christ,

With nearly half a year behind us in this new relationship as rector and parish, I can say that St. John’s is beginning to feel very much like home.  As the year winds to a close and as we approach the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, I am mindful of all the ways you have increased my faith, inspired me to deep gratitude, and filled me with a sense of hope.  God is at work in our midst in truly amazing ways, shedding light and brightening our lives by the presence of his Son.

Because these are busy times, I am particularly conscious of all the many ways that many of you have participated in and edified our common life through contributions of time and talent and treasure during this season of Advent and looking ahead at Christmas.  I want to say a special thank you to all of our choirs – vocal and bell, to the youth and all of the elves that helped green the church, to our altar guild and readers and acolytes who have helped us worship in the beauty of holiness, to our fellowship committee and all those who have decorated, cooked, and baked so that we might eat drink and be merry.  A special thank you is in order to the excellent staff who have worked countless extra hours so that liturgies could be printed, our space cleaned, parishioners visited, and music prepared.

As I write this I can hear the organ warming up for our festal services tomorrow (4PM and 10:30PM) and Sunday  (10AM) and the sounds of the altar being set with beautiful flowers.   It truly promises to be a delightful weekend full of the glory of the incarnation and the celebration of God with us.  I hope these days find you all in the warm embrace of family and friends.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Faithfully,

Jered+

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