From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society: ‘We need to abolish poverty and social injustice, and to deal with the problems of global warming and economic recession. But we need to begin with the painful feelings we carry inside us. We have to deal with these things first. If they’re not dealt with, we may inadvertently cause more suffering when we’re trying to relieve it. The Buddha didn’t begin his first teaching with the suffering of social injustice, poverty, and hunger, although he cared very much about these things. He began with the lack of peace within our own bodies and minds. We want to deal with suffering realistically and at the roots.”




From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth: “If we do not first practice patience with ourselves, we leave the seeds of hostility in place and are slower to generate the spontaneous compassion that establishes intimacy between ourselves and others. The courage that allows us to be gentle enough with ourselves that we can see our foibles without condemnation is the same courage that opens us to the beauty of others-complete with their foibles and difficulties.”




From Ruben Habito’s Zen and the Spiritual Exercises: “I am reminded of something I read in one of our required spiritual books as a Jesuit novice, recounting incidents in the life of a monk who later became a canonized saint. In one of these, this monk was playing pelota (a kind of ball game) with fellow monks during their afternoon recreation time, when he was asked, “Brother, if you were told that you were to die one hour from now, what would you do?” This saintly monk replied, “Why, I would continue playing pelota, what else? And then, after we finish with the game, I would take my bath and change, and then go and help in the kitchen, as that is my assignment for this afternoon.” In short, this monk was at peace with himself, the world, and God. He was living his life in this way, ready to meet his death at any point along the way.”


Soul Justice and Social Justice: Where Do We Go From Here?

From a talk by Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory Fellowship, a United Methodist Church in Washington, DC.

The McClendon Scholar in Residence Program concluded its four-part series, Spirit and Action: Learning from Howard Thurman, on May 20 with a talk by Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory Fellowship, a United Methodist congregation in Washington, DC. Rev. Daniels took the title of his talk from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Howard Thurman’s work substantially influenced Dr. King’s thinking.

Daniels emphasized the need for deep spirituality in fighting injustice. Citing a long list of economic and employment statistics that illustrate the divide between rich and poor, between whites and black and brown people, Daniels said, “If there’s not a deep involvement in our lives with those who are cut off, then our faith means nothing.”

Sadducees, Pharisees and Zealots
“I want to be a follower of Jesus,” said Daniels, but not necessarily a “Christian”—that word has been used by too many who don’t seem to follow Jesus. He pointed to Howard Thurman, who asks: Are we Sadducees, Pharisees or Zealots?

  • Sadducees imitate the status quo, becoming like the Romans for security.
  • Pharisees stay on the sidelines, reducing contact with the enemy, keeping their resentment under rigid control.
  • Zealots resist, but with a violence that it the end “doesn’t get us anywhere.”

Instead, said Daniels, “the answer is to go deeper into our faith … through really understanding what salvation is.” Salvation comes from a Greek word meaning “to make complete or whole.” This wholeness isn’t only spiritual: It’s physical, mental, relational, emotional and financial.

Going Deep
Traditionally, the right has focused on what Daniels called soul justice, the left on social justice, but we all need both: “We need to go deep,” he said, holding his hand low across his belly. “So that how we’re living is in line with the God who is living in us.” We need to confront our own racism, sexism, fear, deceit—“to have that purged” in soul work. This is “a daily walk,” he said. Without it, “we cannot begin to go forward in a way that transforms reality.”

We must “read the gospel with those whose backs are against the wall every day.” Daniels urged prayer, silence, meditation, fellowship, scripture reading, and study. “Until we do that, we are part of the problem, not the solution.” We should ask ourselves “Is my life having influence on the lives of others in a God-transforming way?” We must “step outside our privilege” and cross boundaries. We must act “informed by the fact that Jesus served me … and by the God that’s working inside us.”

For information about upcoming McClendon Scholar in Residence Programs, go to your website.

The Spiritual Work of Prophetic People

A Talk by Rev. Bill Lamar, Metropolitan AME Church, May 6, 2017

How do we gain the strength we need to take “prophetic” action in today’s world? Rev. Bill Lamar of Metropolitan AME Church addressed this question in his May 6 talk, the third in the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program’s four-part series, Spirit and Action: Learning from Howard Thurman. The series focuses on Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, which had a profound influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.,

In his talk Rev. Bill Lamar of Metropolitan AME Church pointed to insights from Howard Thurman that can help us gain the strength we need to take action in today’s world. In particular, he talked about two spiritual resources that are available to all of us:

  • special places that renew us and give us a sense of the sacred, and
  • the strength of our ancestors—both our direct relatives and others who have come before us.

He gave examples of ways that Thurman drew on these resources and urged us all to do the same.

The McClendon Scholar-in-Residence Program brings scholars to Washington to speak on their most recent research and to share their learning and their vision. Established through the insight and generosity of the late Rev. Dr. Jack E. McClendon, associate minister from 1957 to 1991, the program is one fruit of Dr. McClendon’s vision that justice, service, and action can only be sustained when a community of faith grapples with profound issues and is equipped to engage in a deepening of faith. To this end, he wished to bring to the church and the larger Washington community noted scholars whose unique gifts, knowledge, and lives would inspire both ongoing reflection and action.

For more information, including our schedule of future programs, go to our website.



From Roberta Bondi’s To Love as God Loves: “Our early monastic friends …believed… fervently that, working with the overwhelming whelming gift of God’s grace, not only could an individual come to be fully loving in a way that significantly changes the world but also that, in the continuation of the work of God begun in Christ in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, the whole human race and the cosmos itself would one day be transformed in love.”


Growing Love

IMG_0711From Roberta Bondi’s To Love as God Loves: “Our growing love is a continuous movement into God’s love, as the ancient Christian writers say. But because God’s love is without limit, and because being human means sharing in the image of God, we can never in our human loving reach the limit of our ability to love. This means that though we may love fully at any one moment, it is not perfect love unless that love continues to grow….That we can never “arrive,” then, is cause for celebration, not despair, because it grows out of our likeness to God.”


Pentecost Sermon 2017


“Feeling the Spirit”  — Acts 2:1-21/John 20:19-29

Preached on Pentecost Sunday 2017

Roger J. Gench

The Spirit is the least developed, or, better yet, most neglected, member of the Trinity. God the Father or Mother (the Bible uses both metaphors for God) and God the crucified and risen Christ are much more developed dimensions of God than God as the Spirit. Now, to be sure, there is one thing you can say about the Spirit that is clear—from both the Bible and Christian tradition: where the Spirit is, there also is God the Mother/Father as well as the crucified and risen Christ. So the Spirit is the Spirit of God the Father/Mother and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And that is saying a lot, perhaps all that needs to be said about the Spirit. So the Spirit is not a nebulous thing. It is God the Source of all that is (Father/Mother) and God who was and is present in the one who became incarnate and suffered under Pontius Pilate, who was raised from the dead, and who is currently raising life from the death-tending stuff on our world. That is a lot to say about the Spirit. And just as important, the Spirit’s role is to help us discern where God in Christ is at work in our time and place. The Spirit helps us discern, and participate in, the movement of God among us – to make sense of what God is doing here and now.

In our morning scripture lesson from the book of Acts, Peter (quoting from the book of Joel) emphatically repeats something that makes this point about the Spirit. The prophet Joel said that the Spirit’s work is to empower young and old, male and female— even slaves—to prophesy, that is, to make sense of what God is doing in the world. Then Peter, underlining this point, adds the words: “and they shall prophesy.” Why does he do this? Peter insists, emphatically, that the Spirit empowers young and old, male and female—slaves included—to prophesy; the Spirit will enable all of these people to make sense of what God is doing here and now. And the inclusion of last group—slaves— would have been shocking in both Joel’s day and Peter’s, because slaves were the most devalued and marginalized of people, those whom Jesus sought out in his ministry. In other words, the marginalized—those whom society has wounded the most—will be the very ones who make sense of what God is doing in our world.

Let’s add another dimension to this portrait of the Spirit and the Spirit’s work: the Gospel of John’s Pentecost story, our second reading this morning. In this scene when the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, he breathes on them, giving them the Spirit. Now you’ll note that I included the story of Thomas in this reading, which immediately follows, because it conveys something critical to our understanding of the Spirit that Jesus gives the disciples. For John, the Spirit leads Jesus’ disciples into further truth, which is to say that it unfolds the significance, the relevance, of what God accomplished in Christ (see John 16:12-13); and the story of Thomas provides clarity about the nature of this truth: the Spirit’s work is especially attentive to the wounds of Christ and to the crucified places in our own lives and in the world. Thomas has, for centuries been much maligned because he wanted to finger the evidence of the crucified and resurrected Christ. “Unless I put my finger in the nail marks, and my hand in his side, I will not believe (John 20:25).” Biblical scholar Richard Hays, however, suggests that Thomas is actually quite perceptive, insisting on a very important point. As Hays notes, Thomas did not say, “‘Unless I see his halo, I’ll never believe.’ He understood that the Christ of faith must be the Jesus who was crucified, dead and buried. Anything else, anything less, would trivialize the struggle, trivialize the power of evil in the world, trivialize the resurrection. The power of death is conquered—the wounds remain.” What this suggests is that the Spirit sends us into the wounded places of the world, the places where we, like Jesus, might participate in the Spirit’s work of bringing life out of death, healing out of woundedness. This is no doubt one of the most difficult lessons about the work of the Spirit—seeing and believing that God is especially at work in the wounded places of our lives and those of the world. The Spirit is sending us to those very places.

The church of Christendom, I’m afraid, has been slow to embrace this vocation, to see that this is precisely where the Spirit is at work in our world. With us, or in spite of us, the Spirit is at work in wounded places. I once saw a beautiful Tiffany window depicting the risen Christ. But the hands of Christ, in this window, bore no marks of the nails. I was mightily tempted to get a magic marker and add them. The window was created during the heyday of mainline Protestantism when the church was pretty much aligned with the principalities and powers of the world. The window, in other words, was more an expression of the Church triumphant than the Church of the crucified and risen Christ. Therein lies a perennial problem of the church—the temptation to focus on the glory of the risen Lord and thus to overlook the marks of wounded humanity he bears forever on his body. The Spirit of God (the Father/Mother and the crucified and risen Christ) is at work in the wounded places of the world— with us and through us, and even in spite of us if need be. This has been the case for 2000 years. The great promise or peril of the church has to do with whether we are the church triumphant or the church of the crucified and risen One!

I am currently serving on the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee of the PCUSA. This is the socially responsible investment wing of our denomination. Our work is to ensure that all of our monies are invested in socially responsible ways. The truth is, I was reluctant to serve on this committee; but they needed someone to serve and a friend twisted my arm. But it has turned out to be an important learning experience—and what I’ve learned is this: it’s true that if you follow the money, you can see all kinds of good, bad and everything between. One of the things we are working on right now is climate change. Many folk in the PCUSA want us to divest of fossil fuel companies. But interestingly, others have argued for retaining our investments in oil companies because otherwise we lose our voice. And just this week, we found out that during a shareholder’s meeting of ExxonMobil, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), along with nearly three dozen others faith-based communities, put forth a proposal that called on the oil giant to align itself with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement which calls for a global target of keeping global temperature rise to 2 degrees C. The proposal also called on the oil company to assess the its risk related to climate change—something that it has been heretofore unwilling to do. The proposal apparently persuaded the shareholders, for it received a whopping 62.3% of their vote!! Is this not the activity of the Spirit, working in, with and through the church? Some may scoff at this, but I don’t. The Spirit’s work leads us to those places where woundedness and power collide, and where God is seeking to bring life out of the death-tending stuff of the world.

There is a refrain in a Bob Dylan song that goes like this: “something is happening here but you don’t know what it is.” It’s a haunting refrain that speaks to the confusions of our life in a world where lies and false news become so commonplace that truth is hard to discern. Yet the Spirit is at work in such world, focusing our attention on the wounded places, for that is where God in Christ is always to be found. And that, to me, is the truth of the gospel—the gospel of which, by the Spirit’s power, we are witnesses.  Amen.



From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth: “The practice of patience helps to expose how raw and tender we are against everything that thwarts us. But if patience is to he a virtue, a power, it must not he confused with self-deception or passivity. It is not the repression of anger or bitterness: ‘We must deal with the cause of our anger: acknowledge the gift and message and respond to what our anger is calling forth in us. If we do not actively attend to our anger, it comes out in ugliness such as bitterness, whining, rage, and depression…. If we are willing to actively listen to what our anger would tell us, we can then act on what we must do: seek reconciliation, speak the truth, and/or make necessary changes in our lives.’”