08 August 2019

A living sanctuary

Hieromonk John and protesters advocating honest elections in Moscow. Photo by Yulia Zakharova; source.
Our church today finds itself at the center of a political confrontation for a simple reason: the demonstration was supposed to be at Tverskaya Street, and Stoleshnikov Lane, where we’re located, is the closest pedestrian side street. It just happened geographically.

The church was open to the public today, like usual. It’s always open, and we’ll always welcome anyone inside. Welcoming everyone is our duty. That’s why we’re a church. So we haven’t done anything here today that’s special or extraordinary. [More.]
Olya Misik reads the Russian constitution. Source.

My Alexander Men' library -- see something you need?
We know the place well -- the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Shubino, located in the center of Moscow and named in honor of two Arabic Christian martyrs who practiced medicine without charging fees. I have several friends and acquaintances at this church. Moscow Friends Meeting used to have a member who was also part of Cosmas and Damian.

For me the church was often a sanctuary for rest and contemplation, where I loved sitting in an obscure corner and watching the life of the church go by. Judy and I bought books and art from their bookstore; that's were we bought Bibles for Moscow Meeting and for giving away, using money donated for that purpose by Friends Women. It was also my source for books by Alexander Men', and once I had a chance to attend one of the church's regular conferences dedicated to Men's memory.

We also know the geography that the monk is referring to, having walked to the church building numerous times from Okhotny Ryad metro station, passing near City Hall as we approached the church. It makes total sense that some of those trying to squeeze their way out of a police action on Tverskaya might find themselves precisely at this sanctuary. I'm simply grateful that the church itself was spiritually prepared for that clash between people demanding honest elections and riot police determined to shut down their demonstration. The church was prepared, not by any sort of political work on behalf of the protesters, but by simply being "church."

When I saw yesterday's news item about the decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to declare the whole ELCA denomination a "sanctuary church," I couldn't help think of the story from Moscow. The context is dramatically different -- the Lutherans see themselves as "an immigrant church in a nation of immigrants" and they are responding in part to developments at the U.S. southern border -- but there are underlying commonalities. In both nations, the governments are becoming distinctly more authoritarian, and in both nations, good-hearted people with a diversity of opinions are reeling from successive shocks. In both countries, official lawlessness is on the rise, and people are suffering as a result.

In both places, the temptations to extremism on the one hand, and a passive alienation or escapism on the other, may seem attractive. Speaking personally about the U.S., I can imagine all sorts of worst-case scenarios which sometimes seem almost inevitable, and in which I have no effect at all. I find this very disheartening. And at the same time, looking across the ocean, I see people the age of my Elektrostal students, and younger, being randomly arrested and beaten in broad daylight in the capital of the country I was blessed to serve in for ten years.

It's in this wider context that I'm wondering whether, maybe, the word "sanctuary" is regaining its power as a helpful metaphor for how the church is to serve everyone. Back in the 1980's, when the sanctuary movement for undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers in the USA was taking off, I used to muse over the linguistic communities formed around the different meanings of this word "sanctuary." Some Friends would immediately associate the word with help for immigrants, while others only used it to refer to their meetinghouse's main room. In my heroic fantasies, I would be the one who could build a bridge between these two communities. These days the gap seems wider than ever.

Many Friends churches and meetings sing the well-known worship song "Sanctuary" by Randy Scruggs and John W. Thompson:
Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
Sanctuary for You

It is you, Lord
Who came to save
The heart and soul
Of every man [sic]
It is you Lord
Who knows my weakness
Who gives me strength
With thine own hand

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and Holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving I'll be a living
Sanctuary for you

Lead Me on Lord
From temptation
Purify me
From within
Fill my heart with
You holy spirit
Take away all my sin

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
Sanctuary for You
Far from being an anthem to an escapist God-and-me spirituality, maybe this song -- and others like it, and related spiritual disciplines -- can help us grow ourselves and our churches into real sanctuaries. It's a bit scary: preparing to be a Sanctuary for the One whose Jesus-identity is disguised as a refugee.

Even more scary: what if, in time of crisis, the person who stumbles into our church does not connect the Gospel dots the way we do -- in fact is afraid of refugees and foreigners? What if he or she comes in with badge and gun? How seriously do we dare believe that the Prince of Peace knows our weakness and gives us strength with his own hand?

Update to my Nagasaki post: Wilmington College returns the Nagasaki cross to the Urakami Cathedral. (Also see the Wilmington Yearly Meeting epistle.) Thanks to Dan Kasztelan for the links. Here (video) is the story from a Japanese viewpoint.

As the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty fades into history, Anthony Wier explains what he means by "arms quicksand." (Thanks to Riley Robinson for this link, and for the link to the Friends Committee on National Legislation's Nuclear Calendar.)

El Paso, Dayton, the Bible, and now is the time.

Why Sharon Hodde Miller can't follow Christ and also succeed at being nice. Toward the end of her article she points out that we shouldn't exchange the appearance of niceness for the appearance of boldness. Maybe someone will take up the implied challenge to address that opposite failure: those who think that you can't follow Christ without pugnaciously Standing On The Word with everyone you disagree with.

There's a part of Norway that has open borders ... but it's not easy to reach.

Tomdispatch: John Feffer and Lifeboat Earth.

Steve Guyger and this week's blues dessert:

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