I’ve been hearing so many people say we still have hope. My desperation comes from the fact that I actually did have hope but in this moment it feels as though all hope is lost. I had hoped America was becoming better. I had hoped that we weren’t a nation utterly filled with hate and bigotry. I am well aware of the pervasive bigotry and hate that is spewed toward people of color and people of other faiths. Our young black men and women are being murdered in our streets, too often by the very people charged with protecting them. We lash out in fear at those who practice faiths other than our own rather than practicing the humility, justice and mercy that we all claim to believe. But still, I held onto hope that we were working harder to demand justice for all. I still had hope that we were building a majority that was inching forward despite all our setbacks.
I had hoped that we were smarter than we apparently are, that we were kinder than we are, that we believed in the basic tenets of the faiths we claim. I had hope that love truly does trump hate. But now, hope has been shattered.
I’ve lost hope in America, lost hope in the American people. We have embarrassed ourselves beyond belief. We have made a mockery of the presidency of the United States. We cannot pretend that the person we elected to that office is not a reprehensible fool (the most polite words I can come up with).
One of the most frightening and disturbing statements I read today was from a Canadian journalist, Neil MacDonald. MacDonald said “Ultimately, though, this was a legitimate expression of the will of the American people.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/neil-macdonald-trump-victory-1.3843090?cmp=rss) Is it truly the will of the American people to be governed by a billionaire who has promised to improve the financial condition of the middle and lower classes by bringing jobs back to this country while his own products that are made in other countries line his own golden tax-free pockets? Are the American people really that stupid?
Is it truly the will of the American people to build a wall around our country – denying certain groups of people the very essence of hope on which this country was founded? And do we not know that walls keep people apart by preventing movement in either direction?
Is religious persecution truly the will of the American people? How many of our ancestors came to this country to escape that very persecution? And did we learn nothing from the atrocities of Nazi Germany?
Can it truly be the will of the American people that girls and women are still nothing more than property to be used in any way for the entertainment of men? Do we want our boys to grow up believing that if they are sufficiently famous or have enough money they have the right to grope women whenever they choose? Can it possibly be the will of the American people that sexual abuse, harassment and assault are the price women should have to pay if we attempt to gain equality.
I could go on and on and on. But … I just can’t go on. “This was a legitimate expression of the will of the American people.” I no longer have any will to be called American.
Tomorrow will be another day. It will take more than a single day to overcome this sense of desperation in the midst of grief. But I saw another quote today that is so much more familiar, reassuring, and inspiring. One of my heroines, the great Maya Angelou, said it so eloquently –
“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
And tomorrow we will rise. Tomorrow we will mobilize again. We will come back stronger and more determined than ever. We will shatter that glass ceiling once and for all. We will stand with all of our sisters and brothers, of all faiths, of all colors, of all sexual orientations, of all ethnicities and nationalities to work for justice. You will have a choice to stand with us or just get the hell out of the way. Do not underestimate us. Wellesley women are known for their tenacity. Wellesley women are Women Who Will.
Undoubtedly many of my friends feel bombarded by all of the rainbows, all of the repetitive expressions of joy and celebration over the Supreme Court decision on marriage. But consider how we have been bombarded with your symbols that have excluded us all of our lives.
Every time you posted about a wedding or an anniversary, it was a reminder that until very recently (and even today in LA) we didn’t have that right, our celebrations had to be held in secret, if at all. Or we were relegated to celebrations of a lesser status (civil union). We were constantly reminded of being denied that simple opportunity to make a public commitment to our life partners and share our joy with family and friends. And because we couldn’t marry, we couldn’t have wedding anniversaries.
Every time you posted about your spouse’s illness or injury, it was a reminder that if one of us were ill or injured, we didn’t have hospital visitation rights, wouldn’t be given information by doctors or hospital staff, couldn’t make necessary medical decisions.
Every time you posted about new children in your family or your child’s school play, it was a reminder that we’ve been denied the right to adopt because our society would rather see children live without parents than place them in loving homes where they might be cared for by two men or two women. And if we had children, it was a reminder that we had to hide to protect them from those who would bully them, or worse.
Every time you posted about your teen’s prom, it reminded us that our children might be denied the right to take whomever they chose to their prom or that they might never make it to their prom because gay teens face such higher risks of violence and suicide.
Every time you posted about your office holiday party, it reminded us that we risked losing our jobs if our boss knew the truth about us.
Every time you posted your grief as you mourned the loss of your spouse, it reminded us that our loss wasn’t recognized because we didn’t have a spouse, we only had a “friend”.
We have been bombarded by your postings that remind us (as if we needed to be reminded) that we have been denied the rights you enjoy.
You probably didn’t mean to do this but nevertheless, it has been our reality. Likewise, we don’t mean to flaunt anything in your face, we are simply rejoicing that we have finally been granted one of the rights you take for granted. And we’re rejoicing even though it is only one of those rights.
We all have human failings. What we do in moments of blind terror is not really a true indication of our character, it does not speak of our being good or evil. It is a reaction that is simply part of the human condition. If faced with the terror of an agonizing death I am sure I would do no differently than Peter did. I know some would act differently in the same situation – whether out of courage or out of desperation. There are those who have the courage of their convictions in such a way that they can look pure evil in the face and not cower. And there are those who have suffered so much that there is no amount of evil that will turn them from their course toward justice. But I am neither. I am a coward through and through. Like Peter, I would have said “No, I do not know this man.”
That may be the point of Good Friday, but we know there’s more to the story and it is not the point of Easter. In response to the three times that Peter denied Jesus after his arrest, the risen Christ redeems Peter by asking not whether Peter knew him but “Do you love me?” Like the earlier question, it was also asked 3 times. Each time Peter responds in the affirmative and each time he is told to “feed (or tend) my sheep.”
When Peter denied knowing his friend Jesus, he was not condemned for his lack of courage in the face of potential martyrdom. He was simply reminded of his human frailty. And days later, when the risen Christ asked Peter if he loved him, Jesus didn’t criticize or condemn Peter for previously denying him, he merely asked Peter to demonstrate that love through service to others.
What hope do we look forward to this Easter? And what is expected of us if this hope is to have any meaning? While we must recognize our human frailty as we recall the times when we’ve lost courage and failed to stand for what we believe, we can take heart when we remember that this is not what was asked of Peter, and it is not what is asked of us. Instead, like Peter, we are called to show our love for God, not simply by acknowledging him but by doing as he asks – if we love him, we must serve others.
I may proclaim that I am a Christian from the rooftops but truly that is of no value. Even if I have the courage to say it in the face of potential violence, what real purpose does it serve? But rather, we must be willing to “walk with each other … hand in hand” and “work with each other … side by side”, as we feed and tend his sheep, showing the world that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” Only then will we be responding in the affirmative to the question of the risen Christ who asks us “Do you love me?”
We tell each other not to do it. We try to encourage others by sharing quotes about faith conquering it. We insist that it won’t change anything.
And then we feel guilty because we do it anyway.
Telling me not to worry is like telling me not to be me. I can’t help it, it’s a part of who I am. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have faith. It doesn’t mean that I believe the end is near. It simply means I acknowledge the struggle. I do have faith and I do know that I’ll be okay. But waiting and not knowing can be the hardest part.
Will my worrying change anything? Actually, yes. Not the outcome, but the process. It gives me an energy I might not otherwise have. The impetus to explore and learn all I can to prepare myself for whatever is next. And the strength to be vulnerable – to ask for help, for prayer, for love. Allowing myself to be vulnerable can be one of the most frightening and difficult things I do. But worrying can provide me an opportunity to let it show and to ask others to stand beside me and help me through it.
It also provides something for those who love me. Although it may be difficult for them to see my vulnerability, it gives them an opportunity to reach out and give me the gift of their strength, their love.
It’s okay for me to worry. I’ll get through this. And when I do, I’ll be stronger, my faith will be stronger, my relationships will be stronger. So I think that maybe worry can sometimes be a gift in disguise.
I read an article this morning entitled “‘Female Husbands’ in the 19th Century” and it made me think of one of the most liberating things about coming out for me – how it impacted my female friendships. (Disclaimer: I make no pretense to speak for all lesbians, I’m speaking only of my own experience. And I share this for those who might be curious or uncomfortable about the depth of female friendships with lesbians.)
I don’t know where I stand on the nature vs. nurture debate, nor do I really care. I am who I am and that is enough for me. If that’s not good enough for you, I simply don’t need you in my life.
As a teen and young adult I didn’t know I was a lesbian. Although I’d heard the word and could certainly define it, I really couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I didn’t dislike boys, in fact I can still name a few who were always very special to me (some of whom still don’t know how much!) If asked about romantic attractions, I would have named a boy or two, but it was just that – romantic, in that high school girl kind of way.
But I felt somehow more stifled in my friendships with girls – as much as I loved my girlfriends, there seemed a need to hold back, some subconscious societal message that I loved them too much.
It was only after I came out to myself that I was able to understand how important and special those female friendships were and how it was a stigma that I didn’t understand that had prevented me from enjoying those friendships to their fullest. Isn’t it ironic that I couldn’t fully express my platonic love for my female friends until I learned to accept and express my romantic love for women as well?
I’m a touchy-feely kind of person with a sensitive heart. It never seemed awkward to touch, hold hands, hug a male friend. But it did seem awkward to even want to have the same physical friendship with female friends. It was only after coming out that I was able to be freed from this foolishness and recognize not only that there is nothing wrong with women loving women, but what a wonderful and beautiful thing it is. Women have had these deep bonds with each other for millennia – sometimes romantically and sometimes simply as passionate friendships. That liberation of my female friendships has contributed so much to who I have become today.
When I’m with a friend who is secure enough in her own identity, I can walk down the street holding hands, arm in arm, or with arms intertwined around each other simply because we enjoy the blessing of sharing this world together. I can tell her I love her. I can hold her hand when she’s afraid, caress her cheek when she’s ill, hug her tight when she grieves. And I can also walk arm in arm with her through the park, caress her cheek when she cries tears of joy, and hug her tight at the first sight of her. How often I’ve walked, arms around each other, laughing and joking, with friends who didn’t think twice about what others might think of them or if I might have a hidden agenda or become overly friendly!
I dearly love my female friends. I can find them attractive without be attracted to them. I can hold them close without wanting to sleep with them. And by the way, I can love a man, find him attractive and even hold him close without wanting to sleep with him either! And despite the conservative frenzy over protecting the sanctity of marriage, none of this is a threat to my marriage, or to yours.
Reading historical stories of women’s lives, we do know that some of the women in these stories engaged in romantic/sexual relationships with each other but we don’t know that about all of them. Regardless of their romantic or sexual attractions and relationships, these are stories of women who cared deeply about each other. Being a lesbian certainly is about romance and sexuality, but it is not simply that. For some of us, it is also about being free to be whole – to cherish the depths of our female friendships in a way that allows us to be who we are meant to be – human beings fully dependent on our ability to be in relationship with others. Regardless of our sexual preference, we cannot be truly whole nor can we even survive if we do not embrace and nurture our ability to develop those caring relationships with those with whom we share our world.
An article on nj.com yesterday said “Not everyone in Camden sees Christie as city’s savior.” Christie claims the city of Camden has turned around during his tenure as governor from a city that “had a corrupt and inefficient government, a failing school system and was riddled with crime and devoid of hope.” The president of the local branch of the NAACP not only doesn’t agree, he says Christie has actually contributed to some of the problems and that there is less democracy in Camden because of it. Christie is, always was and always will be a bully politician twisting things to try to make himself look good. But this is not about him. No one politician will (or can) save a city on their own. Just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes more than a governor to revitalize a city.
Although not in Camden, the picture above demonstrates multiple ways of making change in one of our cities. An old rundown home in Newark was renovated by a community development corporation with the assistance of a YouthBuild program. YouthBuild is a program that “supports the achievement of 16 to 24 year old young adults who are academically under-skilled, under-employed, and/or have been involved with the criminal justice system.” The youth in this program complete their high school education, learn trades by working alongside tradesmen and develop life skills that will help them succeed in life. First-time homebuyer education and counseling helps people of all ages who may be financially unsophisticated, have had no basic education on handling their finances and/or have had financial difficulties learn about the processes of budgeting, credit, and purchasing a home. Subsidies that were provided for the home make the house affordable to low income families who otherwise would not be able to buy a home. And the ability to purchase and maintain the home helps a family begin to build wealth and increases their commitment to the community. One home improved a neighborhood, played a part in improving so many lives and those people, in turn, continue to make positive change throughout the city.
Not all redevelopment efforts yield such results. The article about Christie talks about the corporations that have been “persuaded” through more than $6 million in tax credits to move some of their operations into Camden. Although bringing business into our impoverished cities is important, it isn’t always clear who will really benefit from these moves, especially in light of the high cost of “persuasion.” The people living in these cities don’t always have the same optimism that the politicians have.
But at Corrine’s Place, a renowned soul food restaurant decorated already with heart-shaped balloons for Valentine’s Day, mention how Christie is helping the city and owner Corrine Bradley-Powers rolls her eyes. “It’s moving forward for the people that have money,” she said. “They’re coming here and getting all the benefits … that we don’t get.”
It is not a simple task to turn around our impoverished cities. I don’t claim to know the answers but somehow we have to find a way to turn them around by lifting up those who already inhabit them, not simply by bringing in “big money.” When we bring in this “big money” – corporations, entertainment, etc. – we have to ask what impact they will have. Will those businesses be spread throughout the city, including in the most desperate areas? Will they really be bringing those thousands of jobs at a living wage for city dwellers who need them? What will they do to improve the neighborhoods and the living conditions for residents? What power will decent politicians have to prevent corruption from undermining any of these efforts? And just how do those huge tax credits contribute to a low or nearly non-existent tax base in order to actually benefit the city?
I’m not familiar with Camden specifically, but I did spend 10 years working in affordable housing in another (not quite as) impoverished city in New Jersey – Newark. How have we tried to turn Newark around? Following the riots, the Gateway Center was a commercial complex built in the downtown area. While it may have seemed like a good idea at the time – a way to encourage business to move into Newark and have easy access for their employees, it was actually a way to bring employees into the city rather than employing those who already resided in the city. And by promising the safety of traveling into Newark by train through Newark’s Penn Station and allowing commuters to simply walk through the attached Gateway complex to an office, it did nothing to help bring suburbanites into the real Newark.
And then there was the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) which opened in 1997, another attempt to build up the city by bringing world class entertainment into Newark, just across the river from iconic New York. NJPAC was also built in the downtown area just a few short blocks from Newark Penn Station and the Gateway. It was intended to revitalize the area, bringing people into a blighted city and offer opportunities for local rock bands. Whether those opportunities ever materialized, I don’t know. I do applaud NJPAC for their annual free music festival and a number of special events that have been offered, but it also claims a much longer list of high profile artists who command high ticket prices. At the time, there was an awareness of how the Gateway, with its skyways, had further segregated the city and the master plan for NJPAC was to incorporate plazas and pedestrian boulevards. But by 2006 that vision had clearly faded with the opening a light rail between NJPAC and both Broad Street Station and Penn Station so that again, visitors would not need to actually walk on the streets of Newark. With good intentions, NJPAC was designed to connect this part of the city with the residents and invite them in but it falls short with such a social and economic chasm between the two. And agin, how many living wage jobs did this bring to the current residents of Newark as opposed to simply bringing suburbanites into the city to work and play? And how accessible or affordable is the entertainment to Newark’s residents?
In 1999, just a couple years after NJPAC opened, Riverfront Stadium was built to be the home of the Newark Bears, a minor league baseball team that folded in 2014. The stadium has now become home to 2 university teams. Also in the downtown area, it “improved” the area by tearing down abandoned buildings rather than restoring buildings with unique architecture and historical significance. The new light rail that brought people from Penn Station to NJPAC continued on a loop to Riverfront Stadium, on to Broad Street Station and back around. Although building an arts and entertainment center in the downtown area with convenient transportation is a boon to the city, I still have to ask to what extent does it provide living wage jobs or affordable entertainment for the city’s residents? How does it truly impact the lives of those who live in some of the Ironbound, Weequahic Park, and South Ward sections Newark?
During my time in Newark I began working in the downtown area and then our offices moved to Clinton Hill in the South Ward, the neighborhood where our community development work was centered. I worked in an office with a bullet hole in the window; I helped a genealogical group clean up a cemetery that we weren’t permitted to enter without police escort because of so many known drug and shooting incidents; and I worked with people who lived in this neighborhood every day. Where was Newark’s “renaissance” for these folks? As an agency, we were trying to build and renovate affordable housing but too often we found ourselves stymied by corruption in city government — city-owned properties that should have been made available at auction for non-profits to purchase and renovate or rebuild were being given to for-profit companies that built new developments, sold them at high prices either to non-resident investors seeking to turn a profit or to low-income buyers with predatory loans. And in a few short years, absentee landlords and the foreclosure crisis that destroyed the housing market around the country devastated these neighborhoods yet again.
Meanwhile, opening in 2006, Eleven80 is a building with 317 new luxury apartments that was built in the downtown area using tax credits. The building has 24/7 concierge service, a security system with TV monitors, valet parking, health club, private bowling alley, a multimedia entertainment room, lounge, and indoor basketball court. The target for these residences is the young professional looking for a Manhattan type experience at a more affordable price. While I am happy to see the conversion of an historic building that had stood empty for 20 years, it is, nevertheless, just one more example of what Ms. Bradley-Powers describes, “It’s moving forward for the people that have money. They’re coming here and getting all the benefits … that we don’t get.”
If we really want to revitalize our impoverished cities, we need to put our efforts into raising up those who are already there, and into rebuilding all that has been destroyed through decades of corruption and abandonment — abandonment of the city by those who had the means to do so and abandonment of the people by those who had the power not to.
Like the “projects” of the 1960s, our attempts at redevelopment and revitalization seem to be a road to hell paved with good intentions. It would seem that our more recent attempts at revitalization have been little more than the opposite of what we had done previously. I believe the projects of the 1960s were perhaps a good intention (providing affordable housing combined with community services) that was poorly executed and led to further disintegration in our cities by effectively “ghettoizing” people instead of integrating affordable housing and services throughout the larger community. We tried to learn from those mistakes and began creating mixed “affordable” housing alongside market rate housing in the same neighborhoods in attempts to build up those neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the city remains segregated with small communities of residents offset by insulated pockets of business, entertainment and “luxury” living. Those businesses participate in a pretense of being part of a city that most of their workers, consumers and new residents wouldn’t dare venture into. And so, still, we need to be doing more.
Instead of this segregation, we need to, as the master plan for NJPAC had envisioned, tie our downtown, our business and entertainment hub, to our residential neighborhoods in ways that will make lasting positive impact for all of the residents. If we can do that, we won’t need to work so hard to bring people and business into our cities, they will come because we have made it attractive for them to be part of a growing community.
It can be amazing sometimes to think of how self-centered our adolescent lives were. I was fourteen when my family moved from New York to South Carolina and while most folks made me feel very welcome there, there were a few who clearly didn’t. And being painfully shy didn’t help. Being new in town can feel isolating but I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I wasn’t the only “new kid in school.” Ours was perhaps the only class to attend the brand new Northwestern High School for four consecutive years and those four years were the extent of my life in Rock Hill.
Even among those who were always welcoming, there is a sense of feeling out of place when you don’t share a history. Many of you grew up together. You attended elementary school and middle school together. Some even went on to college together. And many have stayed, if not in Rock Hill, at least nearby. You have a history, and maybe even a “now.”
But for those of us who were only there a short time, our memories may have faded more than yours. Some of you I remember well while others I need to be reminded of. As each update on our reunion site comes through I run to my yearbooks to see if I can put a face with a name, bring up some old memory that I can dust off, and reconnect the dots of the past. Sometimes a name is familiar, sometimes a face, and rarely, a memory of some moment in time, a feeling, or some shared connection will come back. It was just four years, forty years ago.
I wonder how many of you remember those of us who were with you for such a short time. We were just high school kids – one kid in a sea of many faces, at a time when we weren’t likely to have made profound impressions on anyone. How many of us even noticed the new kids or noticed how short their time was with us?
And now forty years later, as we plan a re-union, we may meet for the first time. Or we may meet again and it will be as if we parted yesterday. But more likely for many, we will be meeting strangers we once knew or old friends for the first time. How much of life has happened in forty years? We’ve all had our successes and our failures, our celebrations and our sorrows. There have been comings and goings, births and deaths, sadness and hopefully, much joy. Some among us may not have changed – we may recognize you from your graduation picture or discover your life has been exactly as you planned it 40 years ago while others have become entirely different people or have simply grown into a potential we hadn’t glimpsed and couldn’t have imagined.
We are a tapestry of diversity with ever changing colors and shapes, a tapestry that tells multitudes of stories from varying perspectives.
Reunions help to weave those tapestries anew – with both the telling of stories and the keeping of secrets, both the making or strengthening of deep connections and the simplicity of superficial smiles. All are freshly sewn together with recollections of the joys of our youth and the angst of our adolescence.
As our lives intersect again for only a day or two, will you censure yourself to guard the facade you carry or will you throw caution to the wind and reveal your vulnerability? How will you sum up the past forty years or even just relate who you’ve become in that brief window of a conversation?
As for me, I’ve yet to decide about attending reunion. It’s relatively easy to take time from work at that time of year although the expense of travel does make it difficult to justify. But perhaps the biggest reason I’m undecided is that same self-centeredness I opened with about our adolescent years. I’m still shy and I’d be coming alone (my wife wouldn’t want to attend nor would I want to put her through it!) Attending any event alone is difficult for those of us who are shy and introverted. I don’t have a lot of history there and except for a few old classmates, I don’t know if any would even remember me. And whether pressed upon us or self-imposed, that sense of being an outsider, of being a new kid in town can be very uncomfortable for an introvert. Who knows, perhaps I will try to stretch my inner extrovert, expand my horizon and meet some strangers I used to know.
Dear Bishop Sutton,
You have suffered a terrible tragedy in your diocese, one that I believe was caused by illness and serious errors in judgement rather than by evil intent. My prayers are with all of you at this difficult time.
I write to tell you my appreciation for how you appear to have handled the publicity of information around this and your pastoral response to all involved.
It saddened me terribly to see the response by your predecessor who felt it appropriate to make a public statement exactly one day before the legal authorities made their public statement. It was a statement in which he felt it appropriate to pass judgement without the benefit of all of the evidence, violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affords everyone the presumption of innocence, and predetermining the outcome of the Title IV charges. While the Palermo family themselves respected the police investigation and did not comment, admitting they did not yet know all of the facts, why would a bishop of the Episcopal Church feel free to make such premature public statements?
While the evidence that has since been presented clearly implies that Bishop Cook is guilty of the crimes she has been charged with, we do hold that everyone has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. And that proof, whether in the courts of this country or in the courts of this church can only come after a thorough investigation has been completed.
Even if Bishop Ihloff had been privy to information that had not yet been released about the investigation, the charges themselves are still not proof of guilt. Furthermore, whether he has chosen to pre-judge another or if his words came from such confidential knowledge, perhaps his ability “to model a ‘wholesome example’” should be brought into question as well. Both condemnation of another without proof and speaking publicly about information that was confidential at the time violates “the basis of our trust” in the episcopacy.
While I agree that we all have a moral responsibility never to leave the scene of an accident, I, personally, am not willing to pass judgement on someone who may well have been in a state of shock (even if she had not been drinking or texting at the time) and may have acted irrationally for reasons unknown to us. We must wait for all of the evidence to be made known.
I am also appalled by comments I have seen both in response to Ihloff’s blog and on your Facebook page. The comments are so reminiscent of the mob mentality of “Crucify her! Crucify her!” that I despair of our Christian response to tragedy. If Bishop Cook is found guilty, she should be deposed and serve the sentence that is imposed upon her but let us wait until those decisions have been made. Regardless of the outcome, a man has been killed and a family and community have been devastated. Nothing will ever change that, nor will it change the fact that Bishop Cook’s own life and family have been destroyed. We should be praying for peace and healing, not vengeance.
As my friend and colleague, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, has commented elsewhere, now is the time to remember our baptismal vows. We have committed to “strive for justice and peace among ALL people” and “to respect the dignity of EVERY human being.”
None of us can take the moral high ground without having lived in another’s skin. All we can do is seek justice, require accountability, pray and care for all who have been harmed, and leave the rest to God.
Thank you Bishop Sutton.
Peace and Blessings,
A friend posted a video on Facebook where the text began “Feeling stressed out this week? Just remember it’s not about ‘Christmas’. It’s about Christ.” Sorry, Lynne Worrell Hamilton, I didn’t watch the video, but I’ve gotta confess that this can be even harder when you work in a church!
We just had an ordination last week, are celebrating a bishop’s anniversary of his ordination today and are preparing for a Christmas Pageant on Sunday, 5 services on Christmas Eve, 1 on Christmas Day and a service of Christmas Lessons & Carols at Princeton University Chapel next Sunday. (That’s over 3000 service sheets which are mostly at 16 pages each, hours of choir rehearsals, sermons to be written and preached, flowers and greens to dress the church, cleaning and altar preparations, receptions and brunches to be prepared and service participants to be rehearsed, etc., etc., etc.).
Parish volunteers just delivered poinsettias to over 50 parishioners (which meant a great deal of volunteer coordination, getting all the addresses and finding out all the changes that need to be made to the database so we can keep in touch with some of our most vulnerable parishioners). We collected Angel Tree gifts for over 250 children and adults from 5 or 6 different ministry agencies.
Our staff and volunteers are overworked and overstressed and struggling with our own personal crises while we try to support each other through this busiest time of our year. It can feel like Christmas is anything but sane, simple or still.
Whether your Christmas services next week are more or less than you might have hoped, consider what you can do to help make Christmas a little more sane, a little more simple, a little more still for those who have worked so hard to try to provide that beautiful, still place where you can celebrate “the reason for the season.”
Since not all of my friends are Christian, let me say I am wishing you all a blessed Christmas or a peaceful and joy-filled time to reflect on those values we all share regardless of our theological expression.
My great grandfather’s cousin was believed to have been the only allied soldier ever decorated on the field of battle by the enemy! When I first read this, my natural inclination was to think – “Leave it to someone in my family to be known for this!” But as I would soon discover, Cyril Gardner was not a traitor, but an inspiration, and not only for his time, but for ours as well.
As we celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May here in the United States we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. My relatives in Newfoundland will celebrate Memorial Day on July 1, the anniversary of perhaps the most devastating battle ever faced by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and one of humanity’s bloodiest. The RNR suffered a near 90% casualty rate at Beaumont-Hamel that day during the Battle of the Somme in WWI.
Cyril Gardner (my great grandfather’s cousin), his brother and a cousin were all wounded at Beaumont-Hamel – his brother died during the battle and the cousin succumbed to his wounds ten days later, but Cyril recovered, returned to his battalion and would later be awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the additional Bar for further acts of gallantry in battle. We may find it easy to understand those acts of tremendous courage when soldiers stand up against the horrors of war to protect or rescue their comrades or “innocent victims” but it may be more difficult to understand the courage necessary to take enemy soldiers prisoner rather than simply killing them. Cyril did just that, but he went even farther than that – he risked his own life to protect his prisoners.
The official reports say that Cyril had gone out on his own, leading a party of stretcher-bearers into “No Man’s Land” to recover the wounded. Taking a revolver from one of the dead and approaching cautiously, he convinced a German officer that everyone else had surrendered and the German brought out his own company unarmed. Although there are anecdotal embellishments to the story, what is certain is that Cyril did capture an entire German company single-handedly and marched them back to his camp. It was for this that he was awarded the Bar to the DCM.
But it was the German Iron Cross pinned to Cyril’s uniform on the field of battle that showed not that he was a traitor but his true heroism. While marching the enemy company back to his camp they came upon a superior British officer (at the time Newfoundland was a Dominion of the British Empire). The senior officer congratulated Cyril on the capture and raised his own weapon planning to fire on the prisoners. Risking court martial or even being shot on the spot, Cyril stepped into the officer’s line of fire and told him that if even one of the prisoners was shot, he, the officer, would be the next to die. The officer hesitated only a moment and then stepped down and walked away. The senior German officer among the prisoners then stepped forward, removed the Iron Cross from his own uniform and pinned it on Cyril.
Although the story of the confrontation and the receipt of the Iron Cross are not part of Cyril’s official war record or the news articles of the time, the Iron Cross itself does remain in the possession of his great nephew.
It was a gruesome two years between when he enlisted in December 1914 and his death on Apri 17, 1917 during which Cyril survived some of humanity’s bloodiest battles and at least twice he chose to protect human life rather than to take it. During that time there were 88 men who were captured alive rather than killed by Cyril’s hand.
Whichever day we celebrate Memorial Day and whichever country or homeland we claim, may we not only remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice but also those who took the ultimate risk to prevent others from having to make that sacrifice. Although Cyril didn’t survive the war, perhaps some of those 88 men whose lives he protected did survive. While we remember those who died, we can honor their sacrifice best by learning how to preserve our common humanity and “study war no more.”