Monday, February 23, 2015

"Are You Running With Me Jesus?"

“Are You Running With Me Jesus?

The year was 1965 and I remember picking up a book of prayers by that title, by Malcolm Boyd, an activist Episcopal Priest. He was struggling with issues of faith and ethics. Is there a God? How can we know? And if there is a God how can people who call themselves “Christian” treat black folks the way they do?

I received word from some friends on Facebook yesterday that Malcolm Boyd is not expected to survive the weekend. I pray for the Companionship of Christ and the repose of his soul. 

We were in the midst of the Civil Rights Struggle at the time. Malcolm Boyd was one of the “Freedom Riders” of 1961. We were in the midst of the “Honest to God” debates where many of us were struggling with our faith at one level or another. The whole idea of God came under close speculation. Many abandoned the quest for God altogether and we entered what many historians call “The Post Christian Era”.

Malcolm Boyd wrote this book of prayers and it hit the New York Times best seller list. It is still worth reading. In it Boyd traces his long journey from a boyhood faith to a manhood atheism and back then to a place where the emptiness of the modern age seemed to beg for something more.

He put his questions to prayer. I put my questions to God in prayer as well. He entered the wilderness of the quest of God. I did the same. He became a priest. I became a priest. We come now to Lent, a time when we acknowledge that Jesus too was driven into the wilderness.

I must confess that there is part of me that loves the wilderness. As a boy, I loved it when it snowed. I am getting over that particular enthusiasm in my riper years. As a young man, my best friend and I used to travel to the north country in Ontario during the winter. We lived in Toronto at the time. The temperatures were often sub zero and the winds beat against us as we made our way on snowshoes across the lake to the family cabin. I loved the pure adventure of it. Even when I got a bit older, I loved going up to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and venturing out to climb parts of Mount Washington under the direction of the guides they had there. That was a long time ago. I’ve grown more cautious in my riper years. Hard experience has also taught me to respect the wilderness and to acknowledge my own mortality and vulnerability. 

The long journey through the wilderness of so many ethical questions was still before us at the time. Race, ethnicity, war and peace, class, gender and sexual orientation all the barriers we had before us to break in 1965. They still are of course. Malcolm Boyd posed the question in his little book of prayers. To him the answer to the question; “Are you Running with me Jesus?” was an a undone “Yes!”

After all, as the Epistle tells us today; “Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.”

This meant that God was there not just for Malcolm Boyd, or for Paul Bresnahan. God was there for all of us without exception.

This is now 50 years ago. At the time we posed the question, at the time I read the book, I thought the answer was obviously; “Yes”.

Of course there is a God. 

Of course God loves everyone without regard to race, ethnicity, class, gender, or orientation. After all, uncle Al and his partner were welcome at our Thanksgiving table in our home. Why wouldn’t he and Jimmy be welcome at God’s table too?

Little did I know.

It all began in Hyde Park, Boston during the days of integration. And let me tell you; the business of race was real then and there right there smack dab in the City of Boston. And it was not a pretty sight.

We moved to Cleveland’s east side to the city of Euclid. And guess what, the business of race was real there too?

And if that didn’t teach me all I needed to know about race in America, I went then to Pawleys Island in South Carolina. It was in the wake of Hurricane Hugo, and much help was needed. The Yankee from Boston did not last long there before he was shown to the door and rather unceremoniously bid farewell. I had the temerity to raise questions of how minorities were treated there.

In West Virginia, I stayed in safer territory, and took on the matters of poverty, hunger and homelessness especially among our veterans. Honest to God, you’d think that was a theological “slam dunk”. But not so fast! It was a battle all the way.

Then there was a cross burning I led the march from St. Mark’s to the Black Baptist Church with Mike Poke the pastor there. And that was not in the 1930’s. It was in West Virginia in 2005. 

Then the Diocese of New Hampshire elected and consecrated Gene Robinson and a hoopla over that cause all kinds of divisiveness in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. I spoke openly of my support of Gene Robinson’s election as well as of my children; two of whom happen to be gay, both of whom love this church with all their hearts; all because they love God with all their hearts.

“Are Your Running With me Jesus?”

It is a question that is profoundly spiritual and ethical at the same time.

Not only do we believe that Jesus runs with Malcolm Boyd in these ultimate moments, we believe that Jesus is running with all of us, because it is his belief as well as our own that “Christ’s Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is increasingly “A House of Prayer for All people” (Isaiah 56:7 & Matthew 21:13). And when I say all, I mean ALL. 

Admittedly we are a tiny corner of of Christianity and even in the rest of the world of faith, to come right out and say so. Our ministry and membership are open to all. There are now no barriers to ordained and lay ministries in this church.

“Are you running with me Jesus?” 

That is such a fruitful question both for our spiritual and ethical lives. Both are inextricably connected.

As for me and my house, the answer is an abundant; “Yes!”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Fr Paul

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