Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

For All of You Are One

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

For All of You Are One

Article excerpt

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere... . Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Letter from Birmingham Jail" 1963

Honduras made me a Christian. I am a little afraid to admit that to you. But it is the truth. A delayed reaction if ever there was one because I was already ordained by the time the plane landed on the tarmac in San Pedro Sula. Yet the truth is the collar was fastened to my neck before I felt I knew much about Christ. Surely there were events that inched me toward Christ: my cousin was murdered, five classmates died of AIDS, I had read poems to patients in hospice, I had gone to seminary twice and read the Gospels. Grief carved my faith, books had informed it, but I was a little green about how to execute my faith. I was ready to be a messenger. But what was my message? Who was this Christ that was sending me? Why would I turn to the oddball Jew who got himself murdered?

I had doubts. I felt so unlikely half the time to become a priestnot strident enough, not theologically informed enough, and certainly not a willing advocate for social justice. I did not even know what social justice was when I went to seminary. Christ had followed me through an Episcopal prep school without much fanfare. He was always there as an intellectual concept, but the flesh and bone and spittle and guts of Christ never transferred from the canvases of Velázquez to me. I was always a little removed. I tried seminary once in my twenties after college, then for nearly twenty years drifted quite far away to a life in retail and an obsession with writing a book of poems. Yet there I was, ordained in the middle of my life. Not long after the day came when I had to live my faith. Honduras was a hammer where the nails punctured through Christ's skin became awfully real to me.

In Honduras, Christ, like the sun, pressed close on me. Most find the heat nearly unbearable, and by two o'clock everyone finds shade and waits it out until five or six in the evening. Honduras is a country of two hundred thousand orphans. Our Little Roses, where I lived and worked, was the only all-girl orphanage in the country. Girls had been much discounted in Honduran culture, and twenty-five years before the founding of this home, the girls were sent to the state penitentiaiy for the inmates to look after. A judge, opposed to the founding of the home, in its early days had said to the founder: "If you open this home where will we get our maids and prostitutes?" Injustice pressed on us, too. And if you smell injustice Christ is never far from that; Christ was moving toward me but I could not see it yet. The kids and I just kept showing up in our uniforms-sweating, sweating, sweating, sweating.

Waiting informs faith and in Honduras everyone waits, just as in the Bible. I have often thought of the Bible as one giant waiting room: from Eve to John in Revelation, everyone waits. So, too, with Honduras-all of us who have ever lived in that country know about waiting. We wait for visitors, we wait for food, we wait for light and power, we wait, and in that waiting Christ breathed on the back of my neck.

Truth is I had been reluctant to fill out my sentences with Christ; it sounded fundamentalist, and fundamentalists made my stomach turn. My feelings on this subject had been a private, bottled-up affair. I felt somewhat justified in my silence-it seemed appropriately Episcopalian. But Honduras made me a more public person. Honduras pushed me good. The girls pushed me right out of New England. In Honduras I met Christ and after you meet Christ there is no turning back.

How did this happen, that a fifty-year-old gringo with very little Spanish felt so compelled to write an anthology of poems by the schoolchildren of San Pedro Sula? I will tell you. Pure and simple: an accident. I had gone off to do my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at Hartford Hospital when I was becoming a priest. …

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