Tomorrow is the day – and Sunday, too. June 2nd is national #WearOrange day, chosen for the birthday of Hadiya Pendleton, as a mark of defiant celebration of life in the face of death and violence.
Today, I am mailing out the last of the orange stoles to arrive in time for Sunday’s celebration in our churches. Some have wondered if such a symbol belongs in our service of worship; whether it is “too political”. Once such commentator suggested that our worship should be “pure and undefiled”; but to quote the letter of James, one needs to go a little further: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)
I think the orange stole fits.
When I became a citizen of the United States, in January 2012, it was in large part because I recognized that to serve the people I am called to pastor, I need to be able to speak about the distress suffered by orphans and widows, to address their needs in ways that give voice and action to the prayers that I share with them. I became a US citizen on January 20, a Friday; the following Tuesday night, I was made a priest in Christ’s one, holy, and apostolic church. In the space of a less than a week I was granted enormous privileges of vote and voice, and the heavy responsibilities of a duty of care for those whom I am called to serve.
That was January. In February of that same year, two of my former Sunday School children – brothers – were deeply, though fortunately not physically, affected by a shooting at their high school in Chardon which would leave three of their classmates dead, another paralyzed. The fallout from that day has continued to echo quietly through the community: an overdose, a prison break, amongst others.
In July, the church I was serving hosted a mission trip, and my former students came to stay in our choir room. The elder brother made music where there were no words to process what had happened earlier that year. He described coming together on the town square to pray and to sing and to comfort one another, the young people saving themselves and one another from sinking.
There was a new blockbuster movie out that month. Eldest daughter, newly graduated and free from curfew hours, went to the midnight showing, slipping quietly through the door at three in the morning, while in Aurora, CO, there was no more quiet to be had that night.
At the end of that infamous year, in December, I preached tears to my congregation in the wake of the horrific events in an elementary school in Newtown, CT.
The other day, after the march and rally, youngest daughter and I wandered over to the West Side Market to get lunch. Waiting in line in our orange t-shirts advertising God Before Guns, we were hailed by a stall keeper: “I like most of your message!” We turned, smiled inquiringly. “I wish you’d leave religion out of it.”
I touched my collar, shrugged off an apologetic half-laugh. “Sorry, can’t do that.” It took him a moment, then he saw it. Next thing we knew, he was out of his stall and shaking our hands.
“Thank you,” he said. “I like it when the clergy get involved. Thank you for speaking up.”
Religion that is pure and undefiled does not, I think, shield itself from the stain of the tears of widows and orphans. It does not conform to the compartments into which the world would fit it: do not speak of God here; do not speak of guns here.
I do not profess to practice a pure and undefiled religion, mind you.
The Sunday after Newtown, at the end of that turbulent first year as citizen priest, I preached this:
We live in a country blessed with a fairly determined tradition of democracy, a pretty decent overall standard of living, judiciously applied laws and civilized expectations, universal education and an interest in the good of the commonwealth. Yet in weeks like this one we are lost and we are bewildered. Christmas carols jangling the supermarket aisles clash with the somber news on the car radio, and every crying child is a symbol of what we have lost.
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”
There is a time to respect Rachel’s refusal to find consolation. There is a time to sit quietly beside her while she rages and rents her clothes and wails her grief. There is a time to let the good news wait, because for now it can hardly be heard over the loud lamentation, and it will, after all, still be there tomorrow.
John said, “One more powerful than I is coming.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
As long as Rachel remains unconsoled, I will #WearOrange.