From the Rector
This past couple of weeks has been quite a whirlwind in the realm of church and state relations. From Donald Trump’s assurance of the Bible as his favorite book, to Ben Carson’s belief that the President of the United States must be a Christian, to the Prime Minister of Hungary’s statement about the Christian nature of Hungary, the question of what it is to be a “Christian nation” has been front and center.
This question has brought with it a host of responses. From the use of the Bible in taking the oath of the Presidency to the question of a religious test in our Constitution to President Obama’s own belief system, the discourse has shown a good deal of tension around this question: is the United States of America a “Christian nation”?
We should not be surprised by this tension. It has been part of our story for a very long time. This summer, as part of our lectionary readings we heard about the rise of kingship in Israel, as told in the book of 1 Samuel. As you may remember, Samuel was growing old and so he appointed his sons as judges over Israel (1 Sam 8:1). Unfortunately, we are told, his sons took bribes and perverted justice. So the people of Israel came to Samuel asking for a king like the other nations around them. Samuel was disturbed by their request and so he prayed to God. This is the answer he receives,
“Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, but they have rejected me from being king over them…Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. (1 Sam 8:7,9)”
From this response, Samuel warns Israel about what a king will mean: that their sons will be conscripted into the king’s armies, their daughters will be taken to serve in the king’s courts, one-tenth of their best produce will be taken for the officers and courtiers, the best of all they own will be in the hands of the king, and that in the end, they will serve as slaves to the kingdom. And despite this dire warning, they choose to have a king.
I hold this text up, not to subscribe to any particular way of governing in our time and space, but simply to show that this tension, inherent in the conflation of worldly and spiritual power, has deep roots. For me, though, one of the clearest discussions on whether or not the United States (or any nation) can or should be a “Christian nation” comes from the words of Jesus the Christ.
In a discussion like this, some point to the “rendering to God what is God’s and to the emperor what is the emperor’s.” (Mk 12, Mt 22, Lk 20) While I see great merit in that text, I find even greater clarity in the passage from the Gospel according to John where Jesus is being interrogated by Pontius Pilate. In this dramatic scene, Pilate is attempting to determine just who this Jesus thinks he is. After Pilate asks Jesus if he is the “King of the Jews,” and then talks about Jesus’ own nation, Jesus answers this way,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to (the religious authorities). But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” (Jn 18:36)
There are many insights to be gleaned from this interaction, but one in particular stands out for me this day: that Jesus did not seek the authority over a temporal nation. The kingdom that he lived and died for was not about tax structures or military forces or food regulation. Make no mistake, we as Christians should care deeply about all of these issues of our nation and more. But our care for this should not come because we profess this country to be a Christian nation, but because we, as citizens of this nation follow the ways of Christ.
To put it simply, to call the United States of America, or any nation, a Christian nation is a category error. A nation can absolutely act in ways that reflect the life and teaching of Jesus the Christ. But in no way did Jesus of Nazareth, or the early Christian communities, live or teach with this as a goal.
What makes this bitterly ironic is that the founders of our country actually held this in mind. Remember that our nation was founded as an independent nation against the backdrop of devastating bloodshed on the European continent, often fought because of doctrinal differences between Christians. Those who founded this country were desperate to avoid the enmity and violence that they saw religiously-sponsored states wreak. It was for this reason that they built into our structures ways to prevent tests or markers of religiosity from ruling our common life.
In short, there are numerous historical, scriptural, theological and practical reasons why this country—invested with as much potential and possibility as any on this earth—should not be considered a “Christian nation.” What I am much more interested in is whether or not we act in the ways that Christ actually lived, with mercy, compassion, and justice. Ways of the Christian life—lived by those who serve and lead this nation—this I can pray and work for.
Gratitude, Grace, and Proportional Giving
Asking and answering this question is how my family starts every evening meal. This daily practice of gratitude is not intended merely as a way of sharing information with one another, nor even as a short-cut for “saying grace.” It is an intentional way of reflecting as a family – reflecting on all that is good and giving thanks for all that we have. Responses range from the simple “I am thankful that we have a good dinner,” to gratitude for guests and friends, and sometimes to more profound expressions of thanksgiving for the many gifts we have received. The practice of reflecting on our day with gratitude makes explicit the abundance in our lives and increases our capacity for generosity and our appreciation for all creation. Most importantly for me, these family expressions gratitude provide a daily reminder of the uncontrollable nature of God’s grace in my life.
Over the years that we have engaged in our family meal-time practice, I have found that acknowledging even small things for which my family members and I are grateful makes it easier for me let go of anxiety regarding the things that we have or do not have. Gratitude diminishes the fears that can crowd my mind and provides a sense of calm security. Gratitude opens me up to experiencing God’s love, which is not something that is mine to hold or control or accumulate. It just is. I can neither calculate its size nor develop strategies to earn more. This is at the heart of my relationship with God – there are no trade-offs, no returns on investment, no savings plans in this relationship. This relationship is one where there is always enough – today and tomorrow – if I am truly open to believing in and experiencing that abundance.
Several years ago, I decided to challenge myself to live more fully into this relationship by changing my approach to pledging to All Souls. Specifically, I decided to begin to engage in proportional giving. Instead of calculating a dollar amount that seemed somehow to reflect my “fair share” of support for All Souls, I began to pledge a proportion of my income to God and God’s work as manifest in the worship and ministry of All Souls. I was surprised by the freedom this change offered me. Suddenly my pledge became connected to my relationship with God and stopped being a financial measure of commitment to All Souls. Suddenly my pledge was related to my family practice of gratitude – it was a concrete expression of my belief that all that I have has been given to me not to hold or store up, but to use well – to steward. By designating a proportion of my income as my pledge to All Souls, I freed myself from the impossible burden of trying to measure divine grace, blessings, love, and the value of ministry in worldly terms. I experience proportional giving as a way of honoring and deepening my relationship with God as I respond to God’s uncontrollable grace.
This year, the Stewardship Team is asking each member of All Souls to consider a move to proportional giving. When you make this move, whether your pledge is a tithe (10% of your income) or another proportion, your experience of it will certainly be different from mine. I cannot wait to learn about the difference it makes in your life.
— Caroline McCall
St. Francis Day this Sunday!
Join us this Sunday as we celebrate Francis of Assisi, in our little corner of the East Bay of Francis! All creatures are welcome at the 7:30 and 11:15 services, though if your animal friend leans towards the predator end of the spectrum, please keep them safely apart from the prey that will be in worship as well. The actual blessing will be after the 11:15 service, beginning around 12:30 pm, in the courtyard. If worshipping with animals isn’t your cup of tea, the 9:00 service will be the place for you this Sunday. To add to the fun, we’ll also be clambering up on the roof to bless our solar panels. After a year of research, discernment, creative scheduling, permitting, installation, inspecting, more bureaucracy, and final checking, they are turned on and powering our church!
Come join the chaotic joy, and invite friends and neighbors. This is a particularly good day to bring folks who might be a bit hesitant to try church. It’s a little wild: the humor of dogs singing along to hymns, cats trying to escape, hedgehogs rolling around (anyone going to come through here?) and more. With all this, there should be little concern for fitting in, knowing when to stand, and so forth. It’s an easy entry point; invite away!
Let the little children come to me!
Jesus was pretty clear about this, wasn’t he? We’re trying to listen. This Sunday, you can look forward to our new soft spaces for small children and their caregivers in the sanctuary! As I shared several weeks ago, we want to make our church more accessible for little ones and the particular ways they engage the world. Our two new spaces are set up and ready! One rug, a glider and baskets of soft toys and books are situated in the front of the church, close to the side door to the Parish Hall. We created a second area in the back of the church, also with a rug, glider, and toys and books. Our intention is for these spaces to be used by small children or babies and their parents or caregivers. The long front pew should offer ample room for adults to be close to their children and help them engage thoughtfully with the liturgy and with their special space. Likewise, the back area has a glider and chair so adults can be close at hand there, as well. Our hope is that the two gliders better meet the needs of nursing moms and caregivers helping babies sleep.
The only thing these spaces need now are some of our youngest members to try them out! Please let Phil or me know how you experience them, and if you have ideas for how we can improve them. Thank you for all the ways you support little ones as full members of the body of Christ!
Interfaith Vigil to Support Immigrant Detainees
Join together with folks from All Souls and other Bay Area faith communities on October 3rd, and the 1st Saturday of every month. The vigil includes prayer, sacred stories, song, teaching and more to support detainees at the West County Detention Facility, 5555 Giant Highway, Richmond.
All Souls Acting for Racial Justice Discussion
On Wednesday, October 14th, from 7:00 – 8:30 pm, All Souls Acting for Racial Justice will host a discussion of the book, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Everyone is welcome, even if you haven’t finished the book!
Fall Formation Classes
Fall formation classes continue on Sundays at 10:10 am. The classes this session are “Science and the Spiritual Quest,” taught by the Rev. Dr. Mark Richardson, Dean and President of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and “Stories of All Souls,” a great introduction to this parish and our common life, taught by the Rev. Phil Brochard. Bible Workbench also continues.
Youth Group is off and running!
On Sundays, Middle School Youth Group meets in the Youth Room of the Parish House from 4:00 – 6:00 pm. High School Youth Group meets there from 6:30 – 8:30 pm.
Save the Date!
October 25th, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Join us for our annual Parish dinner to celebrate the 2016 pledge campaign and the generous gifts we receive from God and one another.