Revisiting the Tower of Babel

A Message from Rev. Rich Tafel on the

Mass Shooting in Uvalde

We are all heartbroken by the mass killing in Texas this week as we still mourn the killings in Buffalo. I found the prayer below by the archbishop of west Texas spoke to me and my prayers at this time. I also am on the board of Citizen's University a secular organization. I appreciated President Eric Liu's comments and put this in our newsletter as well. 

A few of you have emailed or text me about this, so let me share my thoughts.

When faced which such a horrible act of evil, we often seek simple answers. While I understand the position gun owners have in our country, I think the refusal to ban combat weapons and enforce greater age restrictions is an act of incredible selfishness. We need a bipartisan movement to address the availability of guns in our society.

But restricting guns is part of a complex problem. We face a spiritual crisis where a generation of young men are growing up susceptible to evil in ways we have not seen before. Our failure as a society to offer meaning, community, and spiritual connection to our rising generation also contributes to these moments of horror.

There are policy and spiritual issues that need to be addressed in tandem. The stress of these acts leads us to seek simple answers and clear villains. The question for us is what can our community do to play some role in working against this evil trend? It won't be simple but we need to act.



*We invite you to scroll down to read important takeaways from other faith and community leaders about the tragic events of last week.

This Sunday: Revisiting the Tower of Babel

Why did God Confuse the Languages & Scatter People?

This week the Church of the Holy City will begin our community-led Sunday worship!

On Sunday our President Annabel Park will lead us in a discussion about how the confusion of languages might be actually a good thing. If we were in too much agreement, it could lead to arrogance and authoritarianism.

What if we focused less on reaching agreement and even language, and more on actions based on love and understanding each other’s needs? The spiritual is pre-linguistic and we have become a society too focused on our capacity for language. We suffer from the arrogance of presuming that we “know” each other. 

Join us for what promises to be a lively discussion!

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Recap of Last Week

Check out a quick video recap of last week on our Facebook page.

There we also shared a snippet of an interview with one of our CHC Board Members Nikiar Ahmadi on what is the one thing that still draws young people to houses of worship? 

Also, here's some great feedback from last week's sermon from Swedenborgian minister Rev. Lee Wolfenden who teaches in Africa (view the comments below the video). 

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A Throwback Moment

Twenty years ago, Rev. Tafel traveled to Pretty Prarie, Kansas, to preach at our church there. He stayed with the Hilbert family. Their six-year-old daughter gave him her room to sleep in and made a poster to welcome him. Her family lived briefly in DC and attended Church of the Holy City in the early 2000s.

Rev. Tafel and Brooke's mom Paula developed a close connection. Paula died young after battling ALS. Last week Brooke stopped by the church for a visit. It's great to keep connections going through the years.

A Message from David Reed, Bishop of West Texas on the Events of Last Week

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Earlier today, a teenage gunman murdered at least 14 elementary-aged students and a teacher in their school in Uvalde. Not somewhere far off, but within the Diocese of West Texas. Not strangers, but children in a close-knit community of which the beautiful parish family of St. Philip’s is a vital part. People we know and love are heart-broken and grief-stricken tonight, even as they seek ways to care for and comfort the devastated families and their town. This is so utterly wrong.
Words of outrage are not enough to express our hatred of this evil done to little children who simply went to school this morning. Expressions of sorrow scarcely touch the depth of families’ grief tonight. There is nothing we can say today to comfort the parents, siblings, and grandparents whose lives were left in ruins by this evil violence.
What we have to offer is ourselves. To turn ourselves, our hearts and minds, to those who are suffering in Uvalde – to reach out our hands to lift up and to extend our arms to embrace – this is what we have to offer, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, and following him in whatever ways are available into the pain and brokenness of our brothers and sisters in Uvalde and at St. Philip’s Church. We have received power to love and to resist hatred.
And we can pray. We must pray. Ignore the cynics, and pray with all your heart. Let your cries reach to the heavens. Let your anger and despair be your prayer. And listen to God answering in return. Look for God’s tears revealed and listen for his perfect and righteous anger. Give yourself over to opportunities to join in the Spirit’s work of binding up and healing. Love with all you’ve got, and never, ever surrender to the darkness.
In the few hours since the news broke, I have already received so many emails, texts, and phone calls from around the Diocese and around the country, offering to do whatever they can, send whatever is needed, to support Uvalde. Episcopal Relief and Development has reached out and offered resources. The Presiding Bishop’s office has been in contact. Bishops have called me, including Bishop Scott Mayer of neighboring Northwest Texas and Connecticut’s Bishop Ian Douglas, whose diocese suffered the horrific Sandy Hook massacre. Clergy and people within West Texas are standing by, offering love, support, and prayers. As more information becomes available, we will do all we can to uphold our brothers and sisters of St. Philip’s, looking to them and their rector, the Rev. Mike Marsh, for guidance as to how we can support their community.
Because I believe in Jesus, I am convinced that sin and death are defeated and darkness will never prevail over the light of resurrection. Because I believe in eternal life, I trust that the senseless murder of these innocent children is not the final thing to be said about them. If the Gospel is true, it is true in all times and in all places, including in Uvalde tonight. If God is with us, then he is with us even in those times and places where it seems that death and darkness have prevailed.
Jesus loves the little children. He tells the disciples to move aside and make room for them, and he takes the children in his arms and blesses them. In your prayers, make room for the children of Uvalde—all of them, and of all ages—and pray for all victims of violence that the Peace of Christ will be known and welcomed.
Let us pray.
O God our Father, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust your beloved children of Uvalde to your everlasting care and love, and bring them fully into your heavenly kingdom. Pour out your grace and loving-kindness on all who grieve; surround them with your love; and restore their trust in your goodness. We lift up to you our weary, wounded souls and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to take away the anger and violence that infects our hearts, and make us instruments of your peace and children of the light. In the Name of Christ who is our hope, we pray. Amen.

Reflections from Eric Liu, 

CEO and Co-Founder of Citizen University

Last week I was at Disneyland with my daughter. When you’re there, it’s like a dream — a time-distorting swirl of people and sound and color. But as in a dream, certain details lodge in waking memory. One that has stuck in my mind is a burly young white father, ambling outside Fantasyland, wearing a T-shirt with a silhouette of a semiautomatic rifle and the words COME AND TAKE IT. This was days after Buffalo, and days before Uvalde.

This was, in short, just another day in America. But the reason that man and his T-shirt and his child stuck with me is that he felt it was utterly normal to wear such a shirt. In a way, it was.

COME AND TAKE IT is the slogan of gun-rights absolutists who think any effort to promote gun responsibility and safety is a tyrannical assault on their liberty that must be met with … assault rifles. It is defiant and petulant. It is threatening. And though it tries to project strength and bravado, it betrays deep weakness and sickness. In the guns debate, only one is armed to the teeth. Yet that side acts as if it is cornered, helpless, has nowhere else to turn.

Cornered, helpless, nowhere else to turn is how those students and teachers in Texas felt yesterday and those grocery shoppers in New York felt last week. Cornered, helpless, nowhere to turn is how so many of us today feel about the national epidemic of gun violence — about the diseased state of our norms, the comatose state of our democratic institutions. 

But we are not in fact helpless. 

This morning I met with a group of high school students from the West Side and South Side of Chicago. Black and brown, from neighborhoods that lack grocery stores, well-paved streets, youth development programs, job opportunities. They have reason to be as angry and defiant and petulant as that Disneyland man. They have reason to be cynical about how much attention gets paid to mass shootings and school shootings when 19 shot to death is a routine, overlooked two-week tally in Chicago.

They were, instead, compassionate and purposeful. They felt for the families and neighbors of Buffalo and Uvalde even as they feel for their own families and neighbors. They want more voice, in their school and in their city. They are learning to organize and advocate. They spoke of the need for better laws on guns and better policies on mental health. They spoke as much of the need for better norms. The world does not expect or allow them to be full human beings with deep potential and wide interests. Still, they keep pushing to be their full selves. They feel most powerful, they said, when they are keeping the peace, standing up for others, calling out injustice, organizing protest, figuring out who decides things and making them listen. They are redefining what it means to be age 17 on the West Side — what people expect of you and what you expect of yourself.

None of us is powerless right now because all of us can change the culture of our community. That man in the COME AND TAKE IT T-shirt is doing his best to change the culture, to shift the boundaries of what is normal and OK in public life.

We can do as those Chicago Public School students do, and commit to setting a different kind of example. We can learn from Sari Kaufman, a member of CU’s Civic Collaboratory and one of the survivors of the 2018 Parkland gun massacre: she didn’t just become a leader of the March for Our Lives movement; she created a project called MyVote to connect young people to local elections because she learned the hard way that change in this country comes from the local outward and the bottom up.

It is hard, when we are flooded by grief and numbed by death, to exercise civic imagination. But this is when we need it most. There is a different society to be had. One in which a teenager like the Texas shooter, a kid with a lisp and a stutter, isn’t bullied and shunned, doesn’t withdraw, doesn’t have easier access to firearms than to friends or counselors or opportunities to thrive. One in which gun owners, the day after, the minute after a massacre, do not harden their hearts and double down on talking points about "politicizing" guns but instead imagine what it’d be like to be there and then become the champions of responsible reforms. One in which people young and old recognize that the more we dehumanize each other the more we will kill each other and live in fear of being killed. One in which we are a strong people, able to integrate power and character, who don’t wait for strong leaders but in fact lead our leaders.

That is the society that every person I work with is trying to create. That is the culture we at Citizen University are trying to foster. It is what is in your power to make, at every scale from neighborhood to nation. 

Come and build it.

Sunday Readings

James 3:13 NIV

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

1 John 3:18 

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Genesis 11:1-9

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Swedenborg Insight

When people today talk about worship of God, they mainly mean worship of the lips in a church and [private prayers] morning and evening. However, it is not these that are the essential components in worship of God, but rather a life of useful activity. Worshiping by living a useful life accords with the arrangement ordained for heaven. Worship of the lips too is worship, but it does no good whatever unless we worship with our lives, because that is heartfelt worship. If worship of the lips is really to be worship, it must grow out of living worship. (Secrets of Heaven §7884)

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