Fierce Protector of Humanity

Today the church remembers a 19th Century saint who deserves to be remembered much more widely than she is: St. Sojourner Truth, Abolitionist, Voting Rights Activist, and Fierce Protector of Humanity.

Born in New York under the name Isabella Bomfree, St. Sojourner was bought and sold four times by people who thought they could own other people. At 15 she was joined with another slave and birthed five children, eventually fleeing slavery with her infant Sophia to take shelter with an abolitionist family. That family bought her freedom for $20, and helped her sue to have her son Peter returned to her after he was illegally sold to a family in Alabama.

St. Sojourner Truth moved to New York City and, joining the Black Church movement there, became a charismatic speaker and preacher, proclaiming in 1843 that the Holy Spirit had called her to be renamed Sojourner Truth. In New York City she joined forces with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison in decrying the demonic pandemic of slavery that spread across the land. She also began speaking out for women’s suffrage, taking up the mantle with Susan B. Anthony.

In 1851 she went on a national tour in the North, famously delivering her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a women’s suffrage conference in Akron, Ohio. At six feet tall, St. Sojourner brought the audience to attention by pointing out both her strength and femininity make her extremely powerful in equal measure.

St. Sojourner eventually settled in Battle Creek, Michigan to be near her three daughters and help them raise their families. From her outpost in Michigan she continued to preach, speak, and help fleeing slaves escape to the North by providing safe harbor. As the Civil War began, St. Sojourner encouraged soldiers to join the cause of freedom, and became a gatherer of supplies for black Union troops. Because of her efforts, many black regiments were outfitted in ways that the neglectful Northern Army reserved only for white regiments. After the war she was invited to the White House to meet President Lincoln, and began on a new course in life to help the freed slaves find jobs in a fractured America.

Having spent her life as an advocate for others, St. Truth died in 1883 having used up most of her physical faculties (she was both hard of hearing and legally blind at death), but retaining her mental tenacity.

St. Sojourner Truth is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church (and all people), that the moral arc bends toward justice, but the Divine calls upon all of us to aid in the bending, by God.

Even if it takes a lifetime.

My favorite quote by St. Sojourner is,

“That man say we can’t have as much rights as a man ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with it.”

-historical bits gleaned from entry in the National Women’s History Museum

-icon from St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco

Women Led the Way

Today the church honors Perpetua and Felicity, 2nd Century North African martyrs arrested just as they were preparing for baptism.

In Perpetua’s writings we have the earliest confirmed first-person account of a woman’s journey with the faith, especially her last days waiting for execution.

It’s poetic that her name means “unending,” and Felicity’s “articulate” as we see their story continue through the women who journey in the faith today, especially as Deacons, Deaconesses, and Pastors, who serve with distinction and articulation.

And using their life as a lens, we can also hear the cries of the women who are arrested or otherwise obstructed from obtaining those things they greatly desire and work hard for: promotions, border crossings, equitable pay, voting rights, and freedom.

Perpetua and Felicity are usually depicted together, often embracing, as they had a deep friendship, and perhaps even a partnership.

St Perpetua and St Felicity are another reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that women led the way in the ancient church, and still do today.

Breakthrough Month

March is, for the ancient Celts, the second month of Spring.

It may be odd to see it as that, especially as so much of the Northern Hemisphere continues to be frozen, and much of it under snow. But the ancient Celts understood that growth happens even if you can’t see it, and that March would be the “break-through” month for much of creation.

It would literally break through the ground in bits and pieces.

I remember one March in Toledo, Ohio, listening to the radio as the snow fell on a Sunday night. Those wonderful words I had longed to hear finally came out of the announcer’s mouth, “No School for Trinity Lutheran Church and School,” and my brother’s and I cheered from our beds that we’d have a snow day that next day.

And as I lay in that bed and looked out the window, I saw the large tree next to my window, snow-covered, with small buds hanging off the branches.

It was ready to bloom, even as a blanket of ice and snow covered it.

And I remember feeling both glad for no school, but also quite sad for that tree that was ready for a break-through, and I resolved at that moment not to wish or pray for anymore snow that March, even if it meant no more snow days, so that tree could have a chance.

A quaint little story, for sure. But impactful for me. I had both extreme naivete (as if my prayers had caused or hastened snow), and some profundity, feeling connected with nature and a responsibility to allow it to do its thing.

March is the break-through month. The vernal equinox will balance life for a bit. The Earth will feel more and more alive with each day.

March is associated with the ash tree. In Nordic mythology Yggdrasil, the world tree, was an ash tree. It represented for the Celts the connection between the heavens and the earth, and in the month where the light and shadows balance for a moment, it makes sense they’d choose this tree.

We can meld our intentions with that of creation and allow each and the other to “do its thing.”

Plant the seeds you’re waiting to sow.

Stick daffodils behind your ear (a common practice for the ancient Celts to honor the Spring).

Embrace a new idea, aligning your inner life with the outer burgeoning life around you.

March is the break-through month.

What is breaking through for you?

On Methods

Today, March 2nd, the church remembers brothers John and Charles Wesley, renewers of the church.

John was the 15th child of Susanna and Samuel Wesley, and Charles was the 18th, born in England. Both were ordained as Anglican priests in the early 18th Century, in the midst of a serious decline in the Church of England, both in influence and conversion.

John and Charles grew dissatisfied with the religious life they were instructed in, and Charles started the “Holy Society” at Oxford comprised of those intent on finding a deeper and more meaningful way of spiritual living. They focused on frequent communion, prayer, spiritual practices like fasting, and service to the poor and disenfranchised.

This methodological way of doing things led others to disparagingly call them “methodists.”

The name stuck.

Charles and John were sent to evangelize in Georgia in the 1730’s, primarily to the colonists and the Indigenous Peoples. Their insistence on denouncing both slavery and gin, however, didn’t sit well with the colonists.

Both joined the Moravian church, having experienced an inner conversion. This sparked the 18th Century Evangelical revival, and the brothers eventually began their own order of Christianity, a “Methodist” way of being in the world.

Charles became an accomplished hymn writer; John an antagonistic writer and theologian, not unlike Martin Luther before him, pushing the church onward. Both were often met with hostility and derision for their thinking and work, which bucked the status quo of the church of the day.

They are a reminder to the church that what at first might seem unorthodox and detrimental may, at length, be just what the church needs for revitalization, renewal and, yes, reform.

-historical notes gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

Nothing Spectacular

On March 1st the Church remembers a saint who is notable for nothing spectacular…and in that, he is worth remembering: Saint George Herbert, Parish Priest and Poet.

George Herbert was born at the end of the 16th Century in Montgomery Castle. Raised by his mother (who was friends with the influential John Donne), he was handsome, witty and a wonderful scholar.

Befitting his skills, he entered Parliament but found political life to be, well, unsatisfying. Having befriended Nicholas Ferrar and the Little Gidding community, he took up studying Divinity and became a deacon of the church in short order.

In April of 1630 St. Herbert was instituted as the rector of the (very British-ly named) St. Peter’s Fugglestone, and also St. Andrew, Bemerton. These yoked parishes were small and full of salt-of-the-earth folks who not only loved “holy Mr. Herbert,” but received his tender care and attention, too.

Though his congregations were largely illiterate, he took to teaching them with fervor. The Mass, the Catechism, hymns, and spiritual songs, St. Herbert relished these people and they, him, often putting down their work tools at morning and evening when the bells tolled, knowing that St. Herbert would be in prayer (and they joined him from the blacksmith shop, the field, and the wash basin).

Unfortunately St. George was plagued with ill health his whole life, and on March 1st in 1633 he died of consumption and was buried under the altar at St. Andrew parish.

His poetry was published shortly after his death by his friend, Ferrar, under the instructions to publish them if they were any good, but burn them if they were lacking.

They were published and are considered 17th Century British works of art.

St. George Herbert is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes just doing your work with care and attention is laudable enough. I still contend that the best sermons on a Sunday morning are heard by less than fifty people.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

Under the Rowan Moon

In Celtic spirituality, February is associated with the rowan tree. Its red berries were thought to guard against all sorts of bad things.

They’d put rowan branches on their cattle sheds and dairy barns to keep the meat and milk fresh and free of disease, and across Celtic lands crosses of rowan twigs were tied with red thread and carried in pockets or sewn into the linings of coats for traveling mercies.

Since the saint of the month, Saint Brigid, was associated with flame and fire, the blazing red berries were thought to be little glimpses of her favor.

I found a modern Celtic prayer to say under the Rowan Moon (February’s moon). And since it’s the last day one can say it, I thought I’d throw it out there.

What I love about this prayer is that, while images of Christ/love and the sun are really common, we don’t get many images of Christ/love being seen in the moon. But in the month where the moon still outshines the sun, it makes sense to have a prayer that highlights this truth, right?

Bright glory, bright moon,
the moon that shines on Brigid,
lamp of the poor,
love, light,
illumined by God.
Bright moon of glory,
teach me good purpose
toward all creation.
Bright moon of grace,
teach me good prayer
in accord with Christ’s heart.

Fiery moon of great light,
be in my heart
be in my deeds
be in my wishes.
Teach me your grace.
Bright moon over Brigid,
your light my hope,
your light on my purpose here,
in accord with God’s satisfaction.

Bright fire, bright moon,
point my heart to God’s repose.
Point me to my rest,
with the Son of Tranquility.

On Being Neighborly

As night falls on February 27th, I would lobby hard that the church remember a modern saint who saw everyone as his neighbor, and therefore loved his neighbor as himself (and even more-so) without even trying, teaching others to do the same: Saint Fred McFeely Rogers, Friend of Humanity and Muse of Young Ones.

Fred McFeely (yes, you read that correctly) Rogers was born in 1928 just as the American landscape was about to take a turn for the worst. Born in Latrobe, PA, Saint Fred was a shy child, spending much of his spare time with puppets he made or who were given to him. He was tormented and bullied at school because of his quiet way, and was called “Fat Freddy” by classmates because he was overweight.

These early experiences no doubt sent him on a spiritual quest for true friendship.

He overcame his shyness in High School through trial and error, finding out what true friendship looked like, and eventually gained a University degree in music. On one of his summers home from college he encountered a new box in his parent’s house: a television. He was intrigued and disgusted.

Saint Fred was not in love with television at first, but saw that it had potential to shape the people who tuned in. He went to work for NBC, and then his local Pittsburgh affiliate, trying his hand at children’s shows and production. While doing all of this he also answered a call from the church and graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. But rather than finding his parish within sacred halls sitting in pews, he cultivated his parish within living rooms across vast distances who sat on couches, floors, or on their knees with their small hands pressed against the screen.

Freddy had found the friends his childhood self desired, but never could make.

Saint Fred had a number of different children’s programs in different markets through the early ’60’s. He worked with child psychologists to understand best how children not only developed, but also how they learned best. He was tireless in trying to make the medium a good for children.

In 1968 Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood began airing nationally on what would become PBS. Over almost 900 episodes children learned how to make and keep friends, sing songs together, use their imaginations, and be curious. When the last episode aired in 2001, Saint Fred had not only left his mark on the television industry, he had left his mark on so many of our hearts, me included.

Fun fact: he taught me what house shoes are…always being sure to change into them when he came in the door.

Alongside his care for children and their education, Saint Fred was a tireless advocate within the halls of power for educational opportunities and children’s rights. He spoke before congress, used politics for the betterment of humans, and gave scores of commencement speeches to eager young minds wanting to change the world like he did.

As if all of the above didn’t keep him busy enough, he also married and had two sons, appropriately named James and John. He kept his license as a Presbyterian minister his many years, and reportedly had a deep spiritual life that also studied mysticism, Buddhism, and many other faiths. He never spoke about religion overtly on the air, but believed his example said volumes about his core convictions.

He was eloquent and honest and earnest. But I think his deep secret to changing the world had very little to do with what he said and most to do with who he was: he was a very good friend.

And that made all the difference.

He died on this day in 2003.

Saint Fred McFeely Rogers is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes evangelism isn’t done by saying anything about your faith, but rather by simply living it and being a darn good friend in the process.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-historical bits from public sources

-icon written by Kelly Latimore (and is available for purchase from him!)

The Lot Fell on Him

Today the church remembers a saint who was a victor (or victim?) of chance: Saint Matthias, Apostle and Patron Saint of One-Hit Wonders.

We know absolutely nothing about St. Matthias except for the brief account in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles where he is chosen by throwing dice as a replacement for Judas in the pantheon of Apostles. The early church felt it was necessary to restore the ranks to twelve, mirroring the tribes of ancient Israel. One wonders why they didn’t just incorporate Mary Magdalene into that position, as she was already performing the duties and fulfilled Peter’s qualifications for the role as a “witness to the resurrection,” but whatever. Patriarchy wins again, I guess.

When considering who should replace Judas, two disciples were put forth that supposedly fit the bill: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias, both who were supposedly part of the seventy sent out by Jesus when he was alive. The dice landed on Matthias.

And that, Beloved, is all we know about him.

There is apocryphal lore regarding Matthias, though there is some confusion as to whether the authors of these stories meant to reference the Apostle Matthew instead. St. Clement quotes a second-century Gospel of Matthias, though we have no text of this Gospel book. Other works from the 6th Century and later expand upon the lore, often pairing Matthias (or is it Matthew?) with the Apostle Andrew in spreading the Gospel in hostile lands.

The one thing all the tales do agree on is that he was a martyr for the faith in the end. His crest exemplifies this thought, often depicting a double-headed axe resting on the scriptures.

It’s unknown why today was chosen as his feast day back in the eleventh century. Rome has him commemorated on May 14th to avoid the feast falling in the season of Lent, but Lutherans have no qualms lifting up a martyr in the penitential season. After all, though he witnessed the resurrection, he did so with his life on the line, which seems to fit both Lent and Easter sensibilities.

St. Matthias is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes things just happen and they don’t need a Divine reason behind it to be significant. I’m not one to say the Holy Spirit plays dice, and in all honesty I’d rather have had Mary rightfully acknowledged as the true Apostle she was, but I’m happy to give Matthias a nod today because, whether he wanted it or not, the lot fell to him.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon written by Noah Guitierrez

“No Thank You…”

Today the church remembers one of the most direct links to the first Apostles (if the lore is true), constituting a bridge between those first followers and the emerging church to come: St. Polycarp, Disciple of St. John, Bishop of Smyrna, and Martyr.

Born just as the Gospels were being penned by Matthew and Luke (70 AD), St. Polycarp was appointed by St. John the Apostle as Bishop of Smyrna (preceding my favorite Saint, Nicholas, in that role). Polycarp kept good company with both Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus, making him the third in that Trinity of first-generation theologians.

St. Polycarp supported the early church through words of love, encouragement, and discipline (as all good parents do), and his Epistle to the Philippians remains to this day as a pastoral letter against the growing Marcionite heresy that saw the Hebrew scriptures as irrelevant. Though this letter didn’t make it into the canon of scripture (though it was close!), it was still read and disseminated throughout the early church during worship.

Polycarp was largely the leading figure in Asia Minor where the early church is concerned. In his old age he went to Rome to argue over the dating of the resurrection (long story there!) and, upon returning to Smyrna, was captured and killed by authorities at the age of eighty-six. The story goes that he was captured, brought before the proconsul and, when he refused to give oblations to the Emperor (what is it with tough guys in power always needing their egos stroked?), he was burned alive on this date in the year 156 AD.

He is unique in that his martyrdom was captured by eyewitnesses and published to embolden the church, and the Martyrdom of Polycarp can still be found at your local library (or wherever books are sold).

St. Polycarp is a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church, that when people in power invite you to stroke their egos, the faithful response is, “No thank you.”

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon written in Byzantine style and can be purchased at Legacy Icons (