10 Books to Light a Fire for Racial Justice

In a footnote of a sermon from June, I quoted eminent theologian James Cone and mentioned that his book, A Black Theology of Liberation, would not be the first or even the tenth book I would read if you are a white person just coming to a new awareness of racial injustice in the United States. A person commented on the post and asked me what would be the ten books I would read before it, so I figured I would offer that list today.

I’ll begin with a caveat. I have been engaged for about three and a half years in personal reading and reflection concerning my own place in the great sin of white supremacy. I am by no means an expert, and I can only recommend books I have read – there are plenty more out there, as well as plenty of great lists to get engaged in the work for racial justice. What I offer below is a list of ten books leading up to Cone’s Theology, which would be book eleven. After that, I’ve added a few other resources that aren’t books but are incredibly worthwhile, especially if your own learning style leans towards the visual or auditory.

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Getting to Know Jesus

Sermon for Sunday, June 28, 2020 || Proper 8A || Romans 6:12-23

Would it surprise you if I told you that I didn’t get to know Jesus until I was in my mid-thirties. You might be thinking, “Wait, Adam, aren’t you in your mid-thirties right now?” Yes, yes I am. I am in what I will charitably call my late mid-thirties. Or you might be thinking, “Wait, Adam, didn’t you get ordained to the priesthood when you were 25? How could you not have known Jesus until years later?” Yes, I was ordained about ten years before I got to know Jesus. Or you might be thinking, “Wait, back in 2014, we hired a priest who didn’t know Jesus! We want our money back!”

Before you go asking me to refund six years worth of salary, allow me to explain what I mean. Obviously, I talked about Jesus a lot. I sang songs about Jesus, preached sermons about Jesus, and read books about Jesus. But I never felt connected in any substantive way to Jesus himself. A perpetual bait-and-switch was going on in my head. I could not square the Jesus the Church taught with the Jesus of the Gospel.

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The Meaning in Stories

Sermon for Sunday, June 14, 2020 || Proper 6A || Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7

Today, I’d like to share a few stories and talk about how we use them to make meaning. The lessons and meanings of our own stories, our communal stories, and our biblical stories dwell inside us, and we can use what we learn from these stories to make sense of the story we currently find ourselves in. Today, I’m going to tell two and a half stories: first a personal one, then a biblical one. The half story at the end is the story of now, which isn’t finished being written yet.

First, the personal story. Twelve years ago today, I knelt in front of the bishop of West Virginia. He and a dozen or so priests laid their hands on my head, back, and shoulders. And they prayed for God to make me a priest in God’s church. The day of my ordination was a blur, but I remember the next day much more, the day I celebrated Holy Communion for the first time. I was so nervous on the day of my first Eucharist as a priest. I was convinced I was going to knock over the chalice because I had to make specific gestures while clothed beneath a baggy piece of outerwear. 

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Vowels of Anti-Racism

In a 2016 conversation with Stephen Colbert, actor Will Smith said, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” With the video evidence of the racially-charged murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, along with the sobering display of Amy Cooper marshaling the forces of white power to her ‘defense’ when a black man asked her to leash her dog in Central Park, white America now has three recent galling examples of racism at work in this country. 

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Disrupt/Comfort

Sermon for Sunday, May 31, 2020 || Pentecost A || Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23

Today is the day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit empowering Jesus’ first followers to spread his loving, liberating, and life-giving message. If you were listening closely to the readings, you might have noticed we actually read two different versions of the sending of the Holy Spirit. In the first one from the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit spirals into the house like a rushing wind from heaven and anoints the disciples with tongues like fire. In this story, we sense the glorious upheaval in the lives of the disciples as these elemental forces – wind, fire – disrupt and invigorate them to embrace their new ministry as Jesus’ witnesses.

In the second story from the Gospel of John, Jesus comes to his disciples on the evening of the resurrection. They lean in close as he breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In this intimate story, Jesus delivers the Comforter, the enlivening companion the disciples need to be about their work.

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Engage, Expand, Reach Deeper

Sermon for Sunday, November 10, 2019 || Proper 27C || Luke 20:27-38

I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again. Jesus rarely, if ever, answers the questions people ask him in the Gospel. Instead, he answers the questions he wishes they had asked. Today’s Gospel lesson is a case in point.

Jesus does not answer the Sadducees question because their question is disingenuous. They ask him a question designed to expose what they think is the absurdity of the resurrection. However, since they don’t believe in the resurrection, they really have no standing to ask a question about it. They are simply trying to get Jesus to trip into a bad sound bite. They have focus-group-tested a stumper, and they deploy it to make Jesus look bad.

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Sabbatical Notes, Week 3: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Last week I wrote a brief summary of my initial reactions to the pilgrimage I took with other local clergy to Montgomery, Tuskegee, and Birmingham, Alabama. You can read that essay here. Today, I would like to dwell on the centerpiece of the pilgrimage, the year-old National Memorial for Peace and Justice (sometimes called the Lynching Memorial).

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Sabbatical Notes, Week 2: Peace and Justice Pilgrimage

Last week, I took a trip to Alabama with fellow clergy from New London and colleagues from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. For three days we made a pilgrimage to sites, memorials, and museums important to the legacy of Civil Rights. What follows are my initial impressions of the trip in brief. I am still (and will be for a long time) processing and integrating my encounters with historic and current injustice in this country, and I will be revisiting my experience as I write more during this sabbatical time. Continue reading “Sabbatical Notes, Week 2: Peace and Justice Pilgrimage”

Beyond the Zone

Sermon for Sunday, February 3, 2019 || Epiphany 4C || Jeremiah 1:4-10

I’m not sure who coined the term “comfort zone,” but I am sure the only reason that term exists is to define the space outside it. We don’t really think about the boundaries of our comfort zones until we have stepped beyond them. We realize that we are feeling uncomfortable, exposed, inadequate. In the moment of that realization we have exactly two choices: we can scurry back to the safety and predictably of the comfort zone or we can remain outside it and discover how God might be calling us to expand the zone.

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Bursting Bubbles

Sermon for Sunday, November 12, 2017 || Proper 27A

For people of my age and background, a certain horrific event in our country’s history shapes us. We’re too young to remember the Kennedy assassination or even the loss of the Challenger space shuttle. And yes, September 11, 2001 was a seminal event for us as it was for everyone. But that’s not the event that shaped people who, like me, were in high school in the late 1990s. The horrific event that shaped us happened on April 20, 1999 when a pair of students armed with assault weapons and explosives attacked their own high school in Columbine, Colorado.

You may or may not remember it, but if you grew up like me, I guarantee you do. That was the day we were confronted with the stark reality that nothing and nowhere is truly safe, that whatever bubbles we lived in could burst at any moment. And yet, what always happens after horrific events, happened after the Columbine massacre. I knew the bubble was there. I knew it could burst. But I still lived inside the bubble, content to exist adjacent to horror, knowing that my odds of personal victimhood were microscopically small. Continue reading “Bursting Bubbles”