ISSUES OF FAITH: Build a better Babylon today!

OK, SO TIME to change things up ‘round this column: up to now, I’ve been writing at random, bits of pieces of news here, things that bother me a lot there, and so on. In practice, though, this means I’ve been writing a LOT about COVID, and a LOT about labor issues and practices.

All very well, I suppose, but I need a plan here! I need a schedule! And I have just the thing in mind.

You see, I’m a deacon in the Episcopal Church and that means a fine balancing act between formality and order and, at our best, playfulness and sometimes even (GASP!) spontaneity; I should note that that kind of openness usually requires the permission of the local bishop.

Mostly, I like operating in that balance: I love our Book of Common Prayer for that reason. Like the Latin Mass did in its day, the BCP means that Episcopalians are meditating on the same text — with local variations — on the same day. And the Revised Common Lectionary means a lot of Christians everywhere are all reading, sharing and preaching the same texts: a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures; a song called a “Psalm” or Canticle” and two readings from the Christian Scriptures, one from the four Gospels. (For a great article on the RCL, see Ashley Danyew’s “How to Use the Revised Common Lectionary.”) And if you read the BCP, you’ll soon realize the tension between “may” and “must” is ever present. It’s a perfect representation of formality and freedom in a happy, productive tension.

That’s exactly what this column needs, in my opinion. Balance! Freedom! Order!

Thus, starting this month, I’m going to lead off with at least one of the readings for the preceding Sunday before publication: this column was turned in on Oct. 6, for instance, so I’ll use the readings from the RCL for Oct. 9 and printed or on screen for you, my readers, on Oct. 14.

I’ve used a bunch of words already, so I’ll just focus on one of the two choices for the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures: “These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1, NRSV).

Note the inclusive nature of that list. It starts with the leaders of the community, the ones who survived, anyway — no doubt the journey from Jerusalem to Babylon meant that many older folks died along the way. The clergy and the prophets. All the people. Everyone who lost their homes and their homeland. And what does God tell the people through Jeremiah?

In that moment of despair, God says “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

That’s a radical message of love. “You know the people who took you into captivity? Don’t let it get you down. Marry those people.” (Today, some of us would include adoption and other means for managing fertility for same sex couples.) “Build houses there.” Not “there by the waters of Babylon, we wept.” Nope. Plant gardens. Eat the produce you’ve grown, don’t be a liability to your captors. Fight back by multiplying. Become a part of Babylon. Make it better.

And most of all: seek the welfare of the new land to which you’ve been taken, O people of Jerusalem. Pray to your enemies and make them neighbors, because if you do, everyone benefits.

In today’s United States, this is advice we should take to heart. We all collectively feel that we are in exile from the other 50 percent of the electorate. So we must — myself included — pray for and be neighbors with the folks who voted for the other guy, whoever that may be.

Tough elections are coming up. Vote. Vote your heart. And then love those you might think of as practically foreigners, those crummy [fill in your blanks].

We all need to build together.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Keith Dorwick is a Deacon at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Port Angeles/St. Swithin’s Episcopal Church, Forks.

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