Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Blog Location

This blog has been moved to, where you will find all of the posts here as well as new ones. Please update your bookmarks, and thank you for your interest!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After Hurricane Irene: support, solidarity and the gift of God's presence

Hurricane Irene blew through the Northeast leaving a wake of destruction that individuals, families and officials are still trying to assess. In our diocese, from what we have learned so far, two churches have been significantly affected. St. Andrew’s in Newark had a tree limb pierce the roof of the sanctuary. The Church Insurance Company and Jim Caputo, our property manager, have been on the scene and have reported that no structural damage has occurred. On Sunday afternoon, St. Stephen’s, Millburn had a veritable river on the street in front of the church. At one point the parish hall was inundated with four feet of water; and the rectory -- which had been completely refurbished through the expert sweat equity of dozens of parishioners in anticipation of the arrival of their new rector, suffered thousands of dollars of water damage. Insurance-ordered remediation efforts are already underway.

There have been other reports of water in church basements, and in some rectories, but for the most part our church buildings have been spared lasting damage.

Not so with many people in the diocese -- and beyond, who are waiting for power to be restored, safe water to drink or damage to be repaired.

The storm has passed -- and we give thanks for that. Its ferocity was less than expected, but its legacy will long be remembered. The storms of life -- whether they carry the name of Irene or are anonymous cloudbursts that erupt in the soul, are not what we want but are what we can expect. Other storms will come. And through it all we can give thanks for the intangible but life-giving elements that help us weather the storms -- the support and solidarity of one another, and the abiding gift of God’s undying presence.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scarcity, Abundance and Faith

The stock market is in free fall. The economy is a mess. The only certainty that public officials are able to muster is the insistence that it all is someone else's fault -- which are hollow accusations at best, and display verbal violence at worst.

And what has been stirred up is a cauldron of fear -- with scarcity as its main ingredient. And the scarcity is real. Unemployment is up, a credit rating is down. Assets are shrinking, along with collective confidence. With the growing fear, there is a tendency to hoard -- or to hide.

The scarcity is real. But so is the abundance. You just have to dig down a bit harder to find it; and a bit further to trust it. Jesus was no stranger to scarcity. In the economic system of his day, Jesus and his fellow Jews were no more than sharecroppers to Roman overlords. They had few rights, and fewer freedoms. Talk about scarcity.

And yet Jesus preached abundance. Over and over again. About mustard seeds, pearls of great price and demonstrating how a few table scraps can feed 5,000 people. He was not a first century Pollyanna, nor was he offering some sort of economic panacea. He was pointing people to another, more abundant reality than the scarce circumstances that surrounded them. It required -- and requires, faith to see the abundance.

Faith requires our participation. Belief refers to something that we think. Faith takes us beyond belief; faith is something we live into. Faith leads us to hope -- and hope can trump fear. It is often said that we need to think our way into a new manner of living. From a faith perspective, we live into a new way of thinking.

I have a friend who tells me that whenever she feels the strains of scarcity she gives some money away. The more the fear, the more she gives. Hers is an act of faith. And she says it works. It may not move mountains, nor solve her economic problems. But it does point her back into the direction of God's freeing and life-giving abundance. And away from the culture's menacing mantra of scarcity.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reflections on the diocesan mission trip

Photos by mission trip participants can be seen online here.

We stayed at "Almost Heaven," a rather Spartan building located about ten miles outside of Franklin, in northeast West Virginia. It was adequate enough for the 32 of us who stayed there -- a large bunk room for the men and another one for the women. A dining area in between, adjacent to a well equipped kitchen. While the accommodations themselves didn’t call forth heavenly comparisons, the surrounding landscape certainly did. As soon as we walked outside we could fairly hear John Denver's voice extolling the glories of West Virginia. Mountains everywhere, intersected by rivers and streams. Wildflowers along every roadway. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

And rural. 7500 people in a county of 800 square miles. Not to mention poor -- Pendleton County has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the country. Habitat for Humanity has operated "Almost Heaven” as a construction base camp for twenty years; and over 100 houses have been put up by the various crews from all over the country that have come in for a week at a time. Mostly college kids and high school youth groups come. I think we were the first group of all adults.

We worked on five houses -- and started a sixth. We had a few ringers -- professional contractors and electricians; but most of us were like me – very eager yet requiring a fair amount of on-site supervision.

As we gathered each evening to reflect on what we saw and learned, it was clear that everyone felt stretched -- either by rural poverty, or by the distance from home (compounded by the fact that there was no cell phone service), or by the stories of the people who worked alongside of some of us on the houses that were destined to be their homes -- or by new skills learned or re-learned. We also felt connected -- by our commitment to mission, our desire to help -- and by our desire for God. Prayer came easily -- as did the building of community among us. The incredible food (provided by our own kitchen crew) helped, as did the bonfire and the closing Eucharist.

While many in our group had worked on Habitat projects in Newark and Paterson, this was my first experience of working directly with this world-wide ministry. When I arrived, I remarked on what I had long regarded as the inefficiency of Habitat for Humanity. That in the face of such urgency for low income housing, the Habitat model is to respond incrementally. One unit at a time. It is a model that won’t fill the overwhelming need. Add to that the work-site inefficiency many of us experienced when the materials needed for the next phase of the project never materialized.

The inefficiency was real. It is real. But then, creation has never been a straight line. It is filled with stops and starts, do-overs and unpredictable trajectories. In spite of all that, we made significant progress on all the work projects. But more than all that, our sojourn at Almost Heaven re-exposed the inequity of the world we live in; and deepened our commitment to do something about it -- which may be the best hedge against inefficiency there is.

Most everyone in the group expressed a desire to return to Almost Heaven. To continue the mission and deepen the commitment. Plans are already in the works to go back next summer -- from July 15 to 21. We welcome pilgrim oriented missioners.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Marriage Equality In New York

I rejoice with our New York neighbors on the passage of a state law that will make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry. I ache for gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey, which came very close two years ago to passing similar legislation. By a close vote New Jersey chose to stick with civil unions -- which is a separate but unequal provision if there ever was one.

What the country is learning, slowly but inexorably, is that marriage for gay and lesbian couples and families strengthens marriage for all couples and families. Relationships marked by fidelity and life-long commitment, and which are protected by law -- as well as blessed by the church, weaves yet another important and necessary thread of support into the social fabric.

Same-gender marriage also exposes the inequity of so-called "traditional" marriage, in which a wedding ceremony was in large measure a contract between two men -- the groom and the father of the bride. When the father of the bride "gave away" his daughter, she surrendered her name, her property and her legal status -- to her husband. With the evolution of marriage -- and particularly with the advent of same-gender marriage, the only surrendering is that of two people giving their love and commitment to each other.

My hope and prayer is that the action in New York will serve as a catalyst for providing the same outcome in New Jersey. Many in the Garden State will redouble their efforts to promote marriage equality. I will join them.

I am reminded by an insight made some sixty years ago by Reinhold Niebuhr, a remarkable theologian who in many ways served as our culture's post-war conscience: the human capacity for justice makes democracy possible; and the human capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.

I hope and pray for the continued unfolding of democracy, the evolution of marriage -- and the freedom and equality that are the hallmarks of each.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Alleluia Season Message From Bishop Beckwith

Easter is the liturgical season set aside for the purpose of celebrating new life in the risen Christ. For centuries, “Alleluia” has been the verbal response to this extraordinary gift. The Easter season ends on Pentecost Sunday, June 12; but the “Alleluias” continue, because new life continues to be offered. The challenge to us is to receive this new life – however it comes to us; as we receive it in the Eucharist, as we gather with the people we love – and in the transfiguring beauty of creation which takes our breath away at this time of the year.

As we are challenged to receive this new life, we are also expected to share it. When we give from what we have, we become co-creators with the Divine Creator.

The Alleluia Fund is an opportunity to express our alleluias in a tangible way. The Alleluia Fund is designed around the fundamentals of Christian stewardship: people’s need to give as opposed to an institution’s need to receive. The Alleluia Fund gives individuals and families across the diocese the opportunity to give into a large pool of funds – and therefore make a significant and collective impact and witness in areas of human need. Last year the diocese raised over $100,000. This year we hope to do the same. All of the monies go to outreach – and where it goes is determined by a diocesan committee that reviews grant applications from ministries in the diocese – or international ministries connected to the diocese or the wider church. The international portion of the Alleluia Fund will go to Nets for Life (, a remarkable initiative sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) in which $12 buys not only a malaria-preventing net, but also a community education component that has made the ERD’s ministry in this area the international model for malaria prevention.

You can contribute online by going to and clicking the yellow “Donate” button on the right, or by mailing a check payable to the Diocese of Newark with “Alleluia Fund” in the memo line to: The Alleluia Fund, c/o Diocese of Newark, 31 Mulberry Street, Newark, NJ 07102. Say “Alleluia” in a tangible way.

In the spirit of alleluia,
+Mark M. Beckwith

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The death of Osama bin Laden

Most all of us have spent the better part of the past ten years trying to re-wire our psychic and spiritual GPS systems after they were blown apart on September 11, 2001. The mix of shock, fear, anger -- and grief, has had a hammerlock on our national psyche for nearly a decade.

That grip has eased somewhat and our emotional tracking devices are in better working order after hearing the news of Osama bin Laden's death. The feelings that have emerged from this news are very different from those of ten years ago. We feel safer. There is a sense of relief -- and the satisfaction that some justice has been served.

And there has been rejoicing. I haven't heard news reports of people singing, "Ding dong, the witch is dead," from the Wizard of Oz, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that people danced and sang it on the streets somewhere. For much of the world, bin Laden has been the embodiment of the wicked witch. And now he is gone.

The sense of safety and relief is understandable -- and human. So is the desire to rejoice -- given the vortex we have been through.

But the rejoicing expressed in the past two days has parallels in the same emotion we all felt as kids watching TV or a movie when the good guys came over the hill and wasted the bad guys. There was satisfaction, yes -- and it was real and raw. But it was not rejoicing. It was vengeance.

Justice is one thing. We need to exact justice. We need to hold people accountable -- which has been the driving concern in the operation that concluded on Sunday. Vengeance is something else. Justice may sometimes involve violence; vengeance is always directed by violence -- of one sort or another. And the desire for vengeance lies close to the surface in everyone.

Jesus understood vengeance. He saw it. He was the recipient of it. And he refused to engage in it -- because he knew that the desire for vengeance can eclipse the challenge of justice. Over and over again Jesus stood up to violence nonviolently. He repeatedly called for justice; and while he may have felt the need for vengeance, he never acted on it.

So -- in the swirl of all our emotions and reactions, and the ongoing national commitment to rooting out the scourge of terrorism, it is helpful -- if not necessary, to hearken to Jesus' commitment to justice. Especially in a world that increasingly tempts us to learn the dance steps of vengeance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Witnessing to the level of the soul

April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. On one level it was a conflict over sharp regional differences. On a deeper level it was a bitter four year battle for the national soul. Differences between the Northern and Southern culture and economies could be honored -- and even worked through; but differences would not be tolerated if it meant that an economic engine was powered by slavery.

Last week, the Congress and the President averted a government shutdown by reaching a compromise on the federal budget. On one level, it has been a battle between Republicans and Democrats about the economy: how much we can prudently spend; how much debt we can safely carry; how much we have mortgaged our economic future. But on a deeper level it feels to me like another battle for the national soul. Buried in the numbers are the livelihoods of millions of people -- many of them faceless and voiceless. No, they are not enslaved; but they are not entirely free either. More and more people are held hostage by an economic system that has cut them off or shut them out. And the result is a system that commits violence by withholding or withdrawing support. It may not be intentional, but it is still violence.

We can endlessly debate economic strategy. We can -- and will, take political sides on the federal budget issue. Fine. But as Christians, we are required to go beyond economics and politics to the level of the soul. And if a system is committing violence by cutting people off, or abandoning them to fend for themselves (which is another way of saying “get lost”), we had better say and do something about it.

The economics of it all are confounding and complicated. And I admit that the political dynamics are, in fact, hard to understand. There are those who say the short term budgetary violence is necessary to avoid the greater violence of a financial meltdown. There are tough choices to make. All the more reason to witness to the level of the soul. When we live our lives at the soul level, we cannot escape the honor -- and responsibility, of being brothers and sisters to one another.

Next week we will observe Holy Week, which I have always found to be a strange title for such a violent time. Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Jesus was the recipient of every form of violence that human beings can inflict on one person -- including betrayal and abandonment. It doesn’t feel all that holy to me. It sounds more like a living hell.

Jesus didn’t survive the violence -- at least not during that span of five days. He died. But through it all he stood up to the violence -- with nonviolence; and with the faith that new life would emerge. And it did.

And it does. In the mist of all the rhetoric, and the verbal violence that often accompanies it -- lobbed in from both sides, we are called to witness to the level of the soul. In the hope -- and trust, that new life will emerge.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The earthquake and the heart of God

I was two days into my two-year sojourn in Japan when the country paused to honor the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo earthquake. The country mourned the 120,000 lives that were lost on September 1, 1923 -- and took the opportunity to showcase the importance of public safety (every Japanese school kid knew that they were to get under a desk whenever the ground shook); and the progress made in mandating stronger building codes. The entire country invested a lot of financial and social capital in being prepared for seismic activity.

That helped last week, but not enough. The perfect storm of earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear meltdown has brought a level of devastation that reverberates with us, a half world away.

We don't know what the ultimate financial and human cost will be, but it is more than our psyches can absorb. But it will not be as much as the aggregate cost of the Haiti earthquake last year, or the South Asia tsunami several years ago.

The world can be a dangerous place, often through no fault of our own -- even though there are those who attempt to ascribe blame and responsibility for what otherwise would be called a natural disaster. And often couch it in theological language. Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment, some said. Still others maintained that the earthquake in Haiti was a direct consequence of forsaken destiny. On the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo earthquake, I remember reading stories of vengeance against Korean people who were thought -- by some, to have caused the disaster.

There is a deep human temptation to respond to violence with violence. Tit for tat. We may be able to mitigate some of the geological violence-- but we can't control it. But we can -- and should, stand up to the physical, verbal and theological violence that flares in reaction. Even --and especially, if it means standing up to yourself.

And then there is the temptation to just get away from the violence of the earth gone wild. There is just too much misery. It either hurts too much -- or we become steeled against it.

There is another way to respond to the world's pain. Take it to the heart of God. That's what Jesus learned to do in his sojourn in the wilderness, which we commemorate each Lent. Jesus brought himself to the heart of God -- and by doing so he was then able to better see the divine in everyone else.

Take it to the heart of God -- through prayer, through giving, through whatever means available that will keep your heart open in the face of overwhelming misery or the temptation to respond with some sort of violence. That can be a part of a Lenten discipline.

Henri Nouwen used to say that the shortest distance between two people is God. At a time when so many have literally been swept away, may we resist the temptation of being swept up in attempts to spiritually escape (which is its own form of violence) or come down with pernicious explanations -- and instead stay grounded in God. Take it to the heart of God -- which mysteriously keeps us in closer relationship with one another. And can contribute to the binding of the world's brokenness.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The public processing of pain

It has been said that Twitter and Facebook are the electronic engines behind the waves of demonstrations that are sweeping across the Middle East. Social media have indeed kept people apprised of events, issued important information -- and have helped create a virus for change, but the real catalyst for these huge actions has been the courage to speak. And speak publicly.

In any and every totalitarian regime, the freedom to speak is the first thing that is taken away. Sharing hope or pain generates a power that is not easily controlled, and so any gatherings where people can converse become illegal. Offenders are hauled off and rendered silent -- for days, for years or forever. Fear becomes a cultural norm. With the exception of a few among the elite, the populace is marginalized -- unless and until the gatherings become so large and the voices become so loud that the power of it all cannot be stopped.

These are historic demonstrations, which will be remembered for generations, and which will reshape the future of each country. As we follow the unfolding of events in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, I keep being drawn to our less dramatic, but critically important weekly liturgical demonstrations, which have the capacity to transform lives as well as propose a reshaping of the future. I cannot escape the parallels between the two.

In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh kept the Jewish people silent by making them slaves. They groaned under their oppression. God heard their groaning (Exodus 2:3-4); and God responded by appointing Moses to lead them to freedom. In so doing, God announced that pain is not meant to be a normal social cost. The Exodus story is the foundation of the Passover liturgy. It is a liturgy that begins in pain -- and results in freedom.

Which is also the case in Christian worship. Worship is the public processing of pain. Eucharistic language is very clear about the pain of Jesus' death, and the celebration of his Resurrection. Our worship is designed so that people can freely offer up their individual or community pain in the prayers of the people, and bringing that pain up with us to the altar -- and then have it blessed and transformed through the receiving of bread and wine.

Our worship is a demonstration of hope rising out of hurt. It empowers people with that hope -- to a degree that they become committed to transform systems that render us silent, oppressed -- or exhausted (and sometimes all three). Liturgy practices a critique of our world. It proposes a love from God in Christ and from the Christ-centered community; which lives in some contrast to a culture that regards people anonymously at best -- and marginalized or oppressed at worst.

The demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen have released a huge groaning, and have exposed the limits of their local regime's despotic power. God invited Moses and his followers to hearken to an abiding power that defeated the armies of Pharaoh. Jesus beckons us to subscribe to a power beyond our knowing, and to a peace which surpasses all understanding.

The purpose of worship is to provide a framework for us to express our confusion and pain, and to receive God's blessing, freedom and love. All the elements of worship -- the choreography, the space, the music, the color -- are crafted in such a way that we are not just free to speak -- but free to have our imaginations unleashed so that we can -- with the living Christ, work together in order to create a world of abiding justice.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Tucson and non-violence

Our country pauses this weekend to honor Martin Luther King on his birthday, January 15. Our prayer cycle remembers Dr. King on April 4, the day he died. I well remember that evening in 1968 -- the violence that cut him down, and the violence that erupted after his murder. I remember my sadness – and disorientation and fear. That settled down after awhile, only to spike again two months later when Robert Kennedy was killed.

The shootings in Tucson last week connect my psyche to the 1968 shootings in Memphis and Los Angeles – and the 1963 shooting in Dallas. And the scores of shootings in Newark last year – and several years ago at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Not to mention the recent bombings in Egypt and Baghdad and Afghanistan.

We know we live in a violent world. We cannot deny it, but most of us work very hard to keep ourselves removed from it.

And we can’t. Not just because the violence can emerge almost indiscriminately outside a Tucson Safeway (which could probably be described as Ground Zero for Anywhere, USA), but because of the violence that lurks just beneath the surface in most of us. And which surfaces more often than we care to admit. I am talking about verbal violence. The verbal violence that emerges when dialogue dissolves into diatribe; when civility dissolves into sniping, scoring points and assigning blame. The not so subtle violence of Schadenfreude, when our happiness is built on someone else’s misery – which we can easily create by putting someone down or shutting someone out.

Martin Luther King had a dream for America. Foundational to that dream was his commitment to nonviolence. And the challenge in his dream was that we embrace the biblical vision of nonviolence – and have the discipline to live it out. “No killer statements” was the mantra of every youth group I ever participated in. It took a lot of reminding to enable that mantra to take root.

Research has shown that violence spreads. Violence is a pernicious and toxic contagion. Martin Luther King’s death demonstrated that. My experience and faith has demonstrated that non-violence is also a contagion: a life-giving contagion of hope and peace. Martin Luther King’s witness engendered that. Non-violence won’t solve the problem of violence, but the commitment to non-violence can stymie its spread – in the world and in us.