Hurricane Season

Providence by Natasha Trethewey

This poem, by former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, is about Hurricane Camille, which made landfall some fifty years ago. As we enter another hurricane season and track the terrifying path of Dorian, the sentiments Trethewey’s poem communicates feel present and prescient. The poem’s meandering line breaks seem equally to map the unpredictable path of the storm – Camille traveled from Cuba to the Gulf Coast, up through St. Louis, then east through the Appalachian Mountains – and the pell-mell devastation it left in its wake.

In particular, the poem’s final stanzas speak to the truth that loss of land signifies much more than a loss of material property. Disasters like Camille and Dorian uproot families and homes, literally and figuratively. Even when no lives are lost, the social and economic upheaval leave people adrift:

in the flooded yard: no foundation
beneath us, nothing I could see
                          tying us                      to the land.
                          In the water, our reflection
                                                               trembled,
disappeared
when I bent to touch it.

 

Like water trembling and disappearing,  these catastrophes have the capacity to sweep away the “reflection” – the sense of self-determination, connection and identity – of the communities that called that place home. From Katrina to Harvey to Maria, this is a familiar story in the United States, as is the truth that vulnerable people are disproportionately harmed by these weather events.

As a community of faith, we are faced with the challenge of what to do, how to respond. Our prayer – our holy attention directed toward the people affected – is important. Arousing compassion through poetry is one means to engage this way. But also important is our commitment. Our commitment to educate ourselves on the structural factors such as racism and classism that make these events particularly catastrophic. And our commitment to  provide material support such as we can.

Here are some organizations collecting funds for hurricane relief:

Episcopal Relief and Development

Global Giving

With prayer,

Taylor+

 

Back to School 2019/20

Dear Friends,

Though its exact date varies from year to year, the first day of school has become a kind of secular holiday–complete with rituals, special costumes, and lots of companies trying to sell you stuff. I still remember the clench of dread and disbelief that would grip my stomach when I was a kid as soon as the “back to school” ads started appearing on television. How could summer be nearly over already? These reminders of the coming transition always felt cruel and premature.

Like many of us, as I got older, especially once I made it to college, my feelings about the transition from summer vacation to the academic year became a little less full of foreboding. And yet, even during the few years of my adult life that I haven’t spent as part of a school or university–I still felt the special tinge of sadness and expectation that I associate with this time of year.

"The Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges, illustration by Erik Desmazieres
Back to the books. “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges, illustration by Erik Desmazieres

Now, in  my role as Episcopal Chaplain I have cause to consider this first day of school feeling anew, using a different lens than that of an anxious student or teacher. Rather than seeing the transition from summer relaxation into scholarly busyness as a mere shift in activity and stress levels, I see it as a particularly lucid movement of the spirit–a call to notice changes and to trust in God.

For instance, at the start of a new school year we are uniquely able to look out on a span of time–the two semesters ahead of us–not just as minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months, but as a period of possibility. An envelope of time that we’ll always file in the same folder–2019/20–with its own cohort of as-yet-unknown people who will become important to us, decisions to be made, personal and global events that will be tragic or hopeful or groundbreaking, new foods to try and new memes to be forgotten, another Christmas, a new shirt we’ll keep until it disintegrates in twenty years, a new apartment or dormitory, a Lenten promise, a different and deepened relationship to God and our neighbor. In May, we’ll look back on this school year and say: I can’t believe all that happened. And now, here we are, poised on the edge of it. And with God’s help, we’ll make choices that reflect our love of him.

On the brink of all the possibilities of the new school year, I am particularly looking forward to worshiping with the Episcopal community once again, starting this Sunday at 5PM. The Eucharist is an event that changes very little and very radically, not just from year to year, but every time we gather to celebrate it. Christ’s gift of transformed life will always be available to all who seek it. And yet, as with all the other changes of the new school year, we will find that we have a particular relationship to holy communion as individuals and as the Episcopal Community at Cornell in 2019/20. I invite you to join me to begin to discover what God has in store for us on September 1 at 5PM in Anabel Taylor Chapel.

 

In Faith,

Taylor+

 

Anti-Racism in the Episcopal Church

Like most American religious denominations descended from European peoples, the Episcopal Church has a deeply troubled history of racism in its DNA. We acknowledge this at ECC and do not shrink back from naming the sins and repenting of them. .

At the same time, part of the racism endemic in our story is the failure to lift up or even know about the rich history of African-Americans and other people of color in the Episcopal Church’s past. Here at ECC, we strive to learn this history and to celebrate the rich and diverse history from which we all benefit. The towering black intellectual, W.E.B. DuBois, for example, was a member of the Episcopal Church and one of the most moving chapters of his magesterial treatment of race in America, The Souls of Black Folk, has a chapter devoted to one of his friends and mentors, the Episcopal priest and black nationalist, Alexander Crummell. Crummell founded one of the most historic black Episcopal churches in the country,  Washington D.C.’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. St. Luke’s, along with many other historically African-American Episcopal parishes, continue to send out servants to serve the wider world having been steeped in the rich traditions of African-American spirituality and historically Anglican liturgy. We have been blessed to have had many members of ECC over the years who have attended a number of  historic black Episcopal parishes.  Recently this included a student who attends Epiphany and Christ Church in Orange NY.  whose rector, The Rev. Joseph A. Harmon, is a Cornell alum.

One of our historic black parishes is St. Phillips in Buffalo, New York. St. Phillips was a home to The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry whose father was once the priest there. Bishop Curry who now serves as the Presiding Bishop of the entire Episcopal Church in the U.S. Closer to home, one of ECC alumna, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, was recently consecrated the first African-American female Diocesan Bishop in the Episcopal Church.

African-American history is not the only tradition represented among non-European heritages at ECC. It does hold a special place in our history since the time our longest-tenured chaplain, Gurdon Brewster, came to Cornell in 1965 after two summers spent serving with the King family at Ebenezer Baptist Church. We also have had numerous students of color come to ECC from outside the American context. Trinidad, West Africa, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Japan, China, and Korea– All of these countries have been represented at ECC in recent years. We are proud of our diversity and we expect to continue to be an international, ,multi-racial and multi-ethnic community for years to come.

We are clear-eyed, however, and know that having people of color in our community and even in leadership positions  does not mean that racism does not exist here. Tokenism is a scourge in all too many places in our society, and the church is no different. We believe that having honest discussions about racist incidents on our campus is crucial to holding our institutions, including the church, accountable for the ways in which white privilege continues to bedevil Cornell and its affiliate organizations. In recent years our chaplain has preached a number of sermons on the topic and challenged us to be bold in speaking out in the spheres in which we have influence. Much work remains to be done!

 

Located in Anabel Taylor Hall

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