We are all immigrants

 

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A Statement on President Trump’s executive order

Our Diocesan Lenten Program in the Diocese of Western New York this year is called “A Space for Grace”.  The program will use Scripture and pieces of modern writing as launching pads for us to talk about our own stories and how those stories are informing our lives in the world today.

I have been thinking and praying all weekend about how to respond to President Trump’s executive order regarding travelers, immigrants and refugees and it seemed to me that using my own story was a place to start.

I am the husband and father-in-law of immigrants.  My wife, Carmela, and her family came to the United States from Italy.  I am blessed every day by the presence of Carmela and I literally cannot imagine my life without her.  Carmela is a scholar and a professor and she has impacted the lives of her students and the institutions that she has served.  The ripples of influence of the different perspective as well as the love of America that Carmela has brought cannot be measured.  That influence is repeated by the life and work of every immigrant to our country.  I see the same impact from the presence of my son-in-law, Dr. Rey Ramirez, whose father is from a family of Mexican immigrants.  In my own family, I see the great benefits to this country of the presence of immigrants.

I grew up in the segregated South.  I have seen the horrible impact of laws and practices based on fear and discrimination.  It is not only those who are discriminated against who suffer.  The whole society is warped and lives of everyone in the society are limited and maimed when we act out of fear, especially when we act out of fear of those who are different from us.  The ripples of the negative effects of laws and practices that separate us from each other are as far reaching as the ripples of positive effects from immigrants in our society.

I am an historian.  I have spent my life studying the past.  I speak with knowledge and authority when I say that there is no time in the history of this country or any other, when excluding people based on race or religion or clan has been of benefit to the society that is excluding others.  From the ancient Israelites through Europe in the Middle Ages to the multiple times in the history of the United States when we have excluded people based on race or religion or ethnic origin, it has always been detrimental.  It comes back to the fact that acting out of fear is always the wrong choice.  History teaches us this over and over and over again.

I am a proud citizen of Buffalo.  Buffalo is a city formed by immigrants.  From the Irish, Germans, Italian and Polish of the late 19th and early 20th century to the people from Syria, Burma, various nations of Africa, China, India and Japan today, immigrants have added to the economy and community and culture of Buffalo.  The immigrants have made us what we are.  It is hard to remember sometimes, but often immigrants have not been initially welcomed.  The Irish were not welcomed, the Polish were not welcomed, the Germans were seen as enemy aliens and the Italian immigrants were accused of bringing a foreign religion and way of life.  Today, we take great pride in being a city of immigrants and have festivals and restaurants and celebrations of the gifts they have brought.  The same cycle is repeating with our newer immigrants.  I am certain that in the, hopefully near, future, the Syrian and Burmese and Indian festivals will be every bit as much of the culture of Buffalo as the Italian festival, St. Patrick’s Day and Dyngus Day.

I am the Bishop of deacons and congregations involved in refugee resettlement.  I have learned the difference between refugees and immigrants.  There are no people who come to this country who are more thoroughly vetted then refugees.  Refugees are fleeing the very people that we name as our enemies.  In the last 40 years the number of American citizens killed by refugees in the entire United States can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  We are in no danger from the people who seek refuge from war and persecution in our country.  This is what American was founded for – to be a place of refuge for all.  That is what makes us a light to the world.  Turning away refugees who have already been screened are have spent years proving themselves to a variety of government agencies is a betrayal of the founding principles of the United States of America.  The draconian limits to the number of refugees in President Trump’s executive order is a betrayal of the spirit of America and the vision of our founders.

Most importantly, I am a follower of the God of Jesus Christ.  It is not possible to read the Old Testament without hearing over and over and over again the call of God to his people to care for those in need, and particular to immigrants and foreigners.  To give just one of hundreds of examples, as the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land that God had promised to them, God gave them instructions for the setting up of the society in the land that they were about to enter. God said this, “So circumcise your hearts and stop being so stubborn, because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes.  He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing.  This means that you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:16-19 CEB, emphasis added).  We are all immigrants, we, as the American people, are all immigrants every bit as much as the people of Israel were and God’s command does not change.  As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must love immigrants.  As Episcopalians we promise over and over again to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.  This is one small part of that vow.

I call on the Diocese of Western New York to join with me in standing against President Trump’s executive order, both as it applies to limiting immigrants from seven nations and as it applies to stopping all refugees for 120 days and limiting the total number of refugees.

Contact your elected officials.  The White House is not taking phone calls, but you can send letters directly to the President at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC, 20500.  Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you oppose this action and ask them to do anything in their power to oppose it.  Brian Higgins represents the 26th Congressional district.  His office can be reached at 716-852-3501 or 716-282-1274.  Chris Collins represents the 27th Congressional district.  His office can be reached at 716-634-2324 or 585-519-4002.

Support the work of the ACLU who are holding our government accountable to our Constitution, laws and the vision of our founders.  You can donate through their website at http://www.aclu.org

Commit to supporting the resettlement of refugees.  There are several organizations in Buffalo the help refugees resettle and become a part of our community.  Donate, volunteer, help in any way that you can.  Journeys End is one that Episcopal congregations have worked with.  Their web-site is http://www.jersbuffalo.org.  Contact Archdeacon Tom Tripp at tomtripp2007@gmail.com to ask advice on a program at your congregation on refugee resettlement.

Above all pray.  Pray for those who have been turned away from our country.  Pray for those who are being detained.  Pray for those who will face further persecution or even death because of this action.  And pray for President Trump and his advisers, that God will turn their hearts.

The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin

Bishop of Western New York

January 30, 2017

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Where is our stable? Where is our manger?

Sermon from Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo

In the name of our loving God who on this holy night bring us to the miracle of Christ’s birth.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Every Christmas Eve when I come to the Cathedral for this service I am amazed at the beauty of this place.  Thank you to all who have worked hart do make this possible – the flowers, the tree, the candles, the music the welcome and hospitality.

Whether you come here every Sunday, or come here once a year, tonight this is everyone’s spiritual home.

And it is nice to come home for Christmas.

When I was a child, growing up in Mississippi, I knew that there would always be a tangerine in the toe of my Christmas stocking.

This year I think we’re all hoping that someone will find a way to fill the hole in our hearts of a rough year, 2016.  Our nation is about equally divided over whether to rejoice at the election results of 2016 or to regret them.  So is our Episcopal Diocese equally divided.

Those who are unhappy about the election results ton’s want to hear the Christmas carol reminding them that, “’tis the season to be jolly.” They’re more in tune with Elvis Presley, who sang: “You’ll be doin’ all right with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.”

Many people can barely manage a fa or a la, let alone a full fa-la-la-la-la.

Some Americans are experiencing a collective trauma as we realize that our nation is more divided than most of us knew or were willing to admit.  Some people feel that their most deeply held beliefs about what America stands for have been rejected.

Others are delighted with the results of the election. They’re saying, “It’s about time,” and for them this IS a season to be jolly, as hope is renewed.  They cast a vote for change, for relief, for the restoration of a world they had lost.

They have their own trauma to deal with – one they have been suffering far longer.  I am speaking of people who, over the last decade or so, saw their jobs and their savings and their futures and their dignity disappear.  No one was listening as Buffalo was hollowed out, when manufacturing jobs went away.  It is a story we’ve lived out right here all over Western New York.  Those are voice we are called to listen to now.

In the City of Buffalo we point to our economic recovery and creation of lots of new jobs, but that recovery, those good times, have yet to spread to the small industrial towns around us.  We know that an island of prosperity in Buffalo surrounded by a sea of despair is not a description of a healthy region.

So one way or another we are all a nation traumatized, a nation for whom the America dream has been diminished.  A week from tonight we may all be crossing our fingers when we tell each other, “Happy New Year,” desperately hoping that it might be so.

All of us are looking for a place of comfort, security and safety.  We’re like the Holy Family; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as they made their way to Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay in a dark and uncertain time of Roman occupation.  For them it was a stable and a manger – a place of protection, a place where new life could be born.

Where is our stable tonight?  Where is our manger?

For us as Christians, it lies in our commitment that the values of our Christian faith override political concerns and we will continue to care for God’s people regardless of who is in the White House.  We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with LGBT youth, with those who fear that their health insurance or their right to marry the person they love will be taken away.

Where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It is in the Garden of Love outside, just outside this Cathedral wall, where warm coats and gloves are available to anyone who needs them, and where the Homeless Jesus statue there reminds us that what we do to others, we do to him.  And it is the work of every congregation in this diocese that offers food and clothing and shelter and support and hope, not just one night a year but every day.  Where others are at each other’s throats, we are touching each other’s hearts.

So, where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It needs to be among desperate refugees who are seeking stability, but who are often reviled and threatened.  The refugees we read about on the front page of the newspaper every day bear a strong resemblance to the Holy Family in the crèche just over there.  Like them, the infant Jesus and his parents were homeless Middle Eastern asylum seekers who fled death threats in a nation occupied by a hated, murderous invading force.

So where is our stable? Where is our manger? It is in the future of this Cathedral, where a search process is already under way for the position of a permanent dean.  It will be a high point of my time as your bishop to install as permanent dean, one who will welcome everyone, as we welcome everyone tonight – who will make this Cathedral a crossroads of the city for worship and the arts and for important conversations about our region’s future with voices from all sides – and a place of sanctuary and hope for everyone.

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With some acolytes at Feast of Lights at the Cathedral

Where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It is in making not a bigger church but a better world as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, describes it – a son of this diocese who was ordained right over there – our mandate is to create a world “saturated in love.” Where there is always room at the inn or around the table, where the lost and the lonely find a welcome, where those whose lives are rich and full of stuff but empty, at the core, find what they are looking for.

Ken Burns, the great documentary filmmaker, commented recently that “those people who did not vote as we did are not our enemy.” All of us who are traumatized – left and right, red and blue – need to engage with one another, he said, “offering shared stories and real solution rather than narratives that are calculated to divide, offering fellowship and unity where fake news has helped stoke tribal angers.”

We engage each other when we speak to and about each other with language of respect and dignity – and when we refuse to tolerate insulting language and racist epithets.  These are not jokes.  There is nothing to laugh at.  Language can hurt and language can heal and we will speak up when anyone – particularly those in positions of leadership – uses vile language to attack and demean others, who are, after all, created in the image of God.

We will heal that hole in our hearts when we become Believers without Borders, proving that our faith can succeed where all else fails to transform this world from a nightmare of such insults, a broken American dream, into the dream of God for justice, for dignity and peace for all.

Henry Lebedinsky has written a new Christmas carol for the end of 2016 and it ends with these words:

“Now, as we wait yet again for his coming, may we remember that, when first he came, we were afraid; we cried out “Crucify him!” Thus those in power used our fear for their gain.

When we are anxious and hope seems audacious, anger and hatred clang loud in our ears, over the tumult, a still, small voice, is still ringing, challenging, strengthening, casting out our fear.

Come let us work for a new world of justice.  Let us build bridges.  So through our lives, we may echo the angels; ‘Glory to God, peace and goodwill to all.’”

This is good news for all tonight.  And that good news is God is in charge.  Love will ultimately triumph.  In the name of that loving God.  Amen.

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Believers Without Boarders

 

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In the name of our God who waits for us, calls to us in the wilderness, and builds a highway to lead us home: Amen.

Well, don’t we look festive today!

With all this red everywhere, I don’t need a calendar to know that it is two weeks before Christmas Eve.  Thanks to all who have made this a beautiful space for this joyous occasion, the ordination of the two newest deacons in the Episcopal Church.

After all this time of waiting, calling, and building, Susan and Diana, beloved sisters of this Diocese, this is your special day.

This great Cathedral offers us an opportunity to see the extremes of our faith.

Just over here to my left we honor Charles Henry Brent, the great missionary bishop of the church, founder of what became the World Council of Churches, senior chaplain to the American Forces in Europe in World War I, and my predecessor as bishop of this diocese, a towering figure in Christianity whose accomplishments shape our church to this very day.

Just outside, over there, is the Garden of Love, where we hang jackets and scarves and mittens for anyone who needs them.  Where we pay special attention to the needs of the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.

And we are in the in-between space, which seems a perfect place for the ordination of our new deacons, whose job, after all, is to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.  And we gather in and in between the election of our new President and the inauguration of that President.  We are aware that many people are still depressed, and some are scared by the results of the election and we also have had brought home to us that there are many people who feel that they have not been heard, who are being left behind, who were depressed and scared before the election.

Our job is to bring those needs before us here in the church, where it might be easy to ignore them amid the grandeur of this historic building and the accomplishments of our great leaders … and to lead us out into the world to minister to its needs, reminding all of Christ’s people that in serving the depressed, the angry, the people who haven’t been heard, they are serving Christ himself.

Susan and Diana, you have been walking all your lives on God’s highway that brings you here today, to this place, this moment.  Whether you knew it or not.

Susan has been running on that highway since she was a little girl.  She tells me, “My earliest memories of attending church are from age 4 or 5 in Lancaster.  I would run down Central Avenue and over Broadway to Trinity Episcopal Church.  I don’t remember much about being in Sunday school, but I do remember being in a hurry to get there.  I guess that urgency has stayed with me most of my life, the wanting to get to church!”

Susan was sidetracked for a while when her father had to take the family’s only car to get to work on Sunday.  But no worries, her mother walked the children to a nearby Methodist church where Susan learned to sing all those great Methodist hymns.

Susan’s mother served as an acolyte at her church at the age of 83.  Her parents read daily Bible lessons, which Susan admits she often interrupted with very important questions about “Where is the Scotch tape?” or “Can I go over to Sharon’s house?”  Those were early lessons about the importance of daily devotions and the value of scripture.

Susan tells me that twice she and her husband Robert have tried to visit Chartres Cathedral in France.  Once they were deterred when Robert injured his foot; a second time when his travel documents and money were stolen.  They are determined to get there yet.  “Never give up!  That must be our motto!” she says.

That, of course, is an excellent motto for a deacon.

Diana recalls her family story:  There is Diana nursing a baby with one hand, stirring a pot of soup with the other, children playing at her feet, while construction workers were tearing down one wall of her kitchen to build on an addition to the house.

That also sounds like excellent preparation for life as a deacon.

Despite a satisfying life as a stay-at-home mother of five for 12 years, and then a 27-year career as an art teacher, Diana kept feeling the pull.  “The more I tried to ignore the pull, the louder the voices grew in my head,” she said.  “I would say, ‘Yes, Lord,’ and feel peace for a short time, then second-guess my intentions.  After 40 years of struggling I was ready to find out if it was God calling me, or if it was just my ego calling.”

Diana, it sounds as if God finally won.

Diana tells me that as a teenager, “I knew I was called to something in the church, but I had no idea what it was because females couldn’t even be acolytes in those days.”  One of my biggest regrets for our beloved church is how long it has taken us to acknowledge the fullness of women’s ministry as lay people, bishops, priests and deacons.  How many years of their wisdom and service did we lose because we did not recognize their gifts? Thanks be to God that has changed.  We are a richer church because women are part of the leadership and councils of the church.  On this 40th anniversary year of the ordination of women, and on this day when we do indeed ordain two women, I hope every little girl and young woman in this church hears that loud and clear.  The Episcopal Church needs you!

The ministry of the diaconate is only going to become more important in the future we are moving into now.

In this post-election season, all of us as Christians can show the world that the values of our faith override political concerns and we will continue to care for God’s people regardless of who is in the White House.  We will stand for immigrants and refugees, with LGBT youth, with prisoners and captives, with those who fear that their health insurance or their right to marry the person they love will be taken away.  We will listen to the people in our small towns who are crying out for change, for a chance to be heard and have a future for their children.  How fortunate that our two new deacons will be serving in the Genesee region, exactly where we need to be listening.  I look forward to working with our deacons to make that happen.

But what is our mission now?

We can stop keeping our faith the best-kept secret in town.  As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, said recently, our goal is not to make a bigger church.  What we are about is making a better world, one that is “saturated in love.” And our Presiding Bishop was himself ordained deacon right here in this space.  He has never lost his sense of his diaconal ministry.  He says, “We do that by being out in the world, reaching out to those who are yearning for something they can’t define, letting them know that God loves them and longs for them and is desperate to welcome them home.”

Bishop Curry suggests that we think of ourselves as the church version of Doctors Without Borders.  We marshal our resources and go wherever there is a need.  That is the future of the church, and our two new deacons are going to lead the way.

Susan and Diana show us the pattern of all our ministries in this new time after the recent Presidential election.  We must all be Believers Without Borders, proving that our faith and our good works can succeed when all else fails to transform this world from the nightmare it often is into the dream of God; for justice, dignity and peace.  I look to our deacons, Susan, Diana, all our deacons, to make that dream come true.

God bless the diaconate and today in a special way, God bless Susan and Diana.

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