Text: Lessons appointed for use on the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C, RCL
Good morning! I’m so glad to be here with you today. I want to thank Rev. Stephanie and Rev. Danae for the privilege of sharing this pulpit, to tell you all a little bit about the work we do at Chaplains on the Harbor. My name is Aaron Scott. I am the Organizer at Chaplains on the Harbor, which is a mission station of this diocese in Grays Harbor County. People don’t always know what that means—are we social service providers? Are we a non-profit? The answer to both of those questions is no. We are a church. We are a congregation. Like St. Stephen’s we are a network of people who take care of each other, worship together, eat together, pray together, study the Word and the world together, dream of ways to transform our community together, and then take action for that transformation together. We are a church. Chaplains on the Harbor is a church. We have that in common with you.
Here is where we are a little different from St. Stephen’s: we are a congregation made up almost entirely of poor and homeless people. Westport, where our church building is located, has an official unemployment rate around 10% but when you add in the number of people living on disability and the number of people who are no longer actively seeking employment, about 70% of adults are out of the work force. In a town of roughly 2,000 people, over 400 people have active warrants out for their arrest—overwhelmingly for poverty-related offenses like failure to pay traffic fines, petty theft, and other crimes of economic survival committed in the absence of legitimate employment opportunities. As the timber industry pulled out of our county and the fishing industry has dwindled with warming ocean temperatures, the primary replacement industry has been an expansion of prisons and jails. Much of our congregation has done time. Nearly all of our young people—my generation, millennials—have felony records. Continue reading
“The Prodigal Son: Undoing the Criminalization of Poverty and Youth”
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
So Jesus told them this parable…
Jesus told them this parable about a younger son who, under the rules set out in Deuteronomy to prioritize first-born sons, inherits one-third of his father’s wealth. His older brother inherits two-thirds. This family has animals, land, and slaves—and also relies on daily hard labor of family members side by side with slaves to maintain themselves (near the end the older son says to his father, “For all these years I have been working like a slave for you”). Don’t think the older son is exaggerating in this complaint: under the Roman Empire, male heads of household had legal jurisdiction over their family members that paralleled a master-slave relationship.
With this background in mind, there is a way we can interpret the younger son not as a pampered kid throwing a hissy fit but rather as a rebellious slave. Slavery in this empire, in Jesus’ time, was brutal but less static than in our own nation’s history—debtors and prisoners of war often cycled in and out of slave status, getting their freedom by working off debts. This younger son’s act of demanding the smaller portion to which he is entitled, setting off on his own, and spending it without concern for respectability—rather than working side by side with the elder brother and the enslaved members of his father’s household—might’ve been understood by the crowd around Jesus as the younger son giving his middle finger to the law and social order of their time.
“Christ the Necromancer”
Text: Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
What we find in today’s Gospel, in the story of the transfiguration, strikes me as simultaneously trippy and mundane. Trippy because, as the text clearly indicates, this is Christ the Necromancer Sunday. Dazzling harder than Edward Cullen in a Twilight movie, Jesus is reunited with his long-dead friends: Zombie Moses the Murderer and Zombie Elijah the Rainmaker. Or maybe they’re not zombies, maybe they’re just ghosts. Either way, trippiest of all to me is Peter’s total nonchalance in witnessing this—“Hey guys, great to see you all, let me help you pitch your tents.” Conjuring is obviously no big deal for Peter.
On the flip side, I sometimes have a pretty trippy job. So reading through Luke 9 doesn’t sound all that different from what I might overhear on any Tuesday night swing shift at the low-barrier shelter between serving dinner and scrubbing toilets. I recently finished a book called Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders. It’s written by Chris Hoke, a young pastor to prisoners and gang members in Skagit Valley, and it’s got a lot of overlap with my line of work. He writes,
“For some time I’ve imagined all of us having a fragile nerve inside of us, like a spiritual antenna deep within our core. Some people, I’ve thought, simply have an abnormally large antenna inside—poets, prophets, psychopaths, your slightly crazy aunt who’s drawn to the paranormal, who some days is more compassionate than anyone you know and other days is aggressive and convinced everyone including the government is conspiring against her. In my work both behind jail bars and the years I continued with homeless youth on the streets of downtown Seattle, I’ve met a number of young people with schizophrenia. I’ve wondered, when talking with them about some of the abuse and trauma they’ve survived, whether the internal antenna-nerves of some people are damaged. Maybe they could be exposed, jutting out like a bone from a broken arm, picking up way too much of the otherwise faint spiritual frequencies coursing through this world—from ‘beyond’ as well as from the person across the room. I’ve wondered whether some of these people slam heroin or meth or any street medicine they can find as a way of jamming cotton into their spiritual ears.
“King Herod is a Liar”
Text: Matthew 1:18-2:23
I used to live in New York City. I used to go a little church there, around the corner from where I lived, called St. Mary’s Harlem. New York is a big city but the neighborhood around St. Mary’s always felt, to me, more like a small town. Everybody knows each other’s business, for better or worse. People say “Hi” to each other on the street. St. Mary’s church is an important part of this feeling of community because it’s one of the only spaces where people in the neighborhood can come hang out for free. It’s a poor neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood where the police bother people a lot—especially young people, especially homeless people. We think of Harlem, of New York City, as a place that’s very different from the Harbor. But they’re facing a lot of the same problems and dreaming a lot of the same dreams as we are. St. Mary’s called themselves the “We-Are-Not-Afraid Church.” And they meant it. They were never afraid to talk about hard stuff—about the ways they were struggling, about all the powers and principalities they were up against as a community of mostly poor and working Black people. And even in the middle of their own troubles, they never turned their backs on other poor folks.
a holiday poem
by Aaron Scott
send the Mother of God fleeing across borders,
lock her out at the gates,
bomb the manger,
hunt the children for sport,
raise them in an open air prison,
lock the messiah up for disorderly conduct
and lynch him,
put three generations of resistance
in the ground.
it does not matter–
rome always falls.
that is all they know
how to do,
is kill God and collapse.
so why don’t you try
Presented at The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia’s Diocesan Convention, Clergy Spouse/Partner Luncheon, November 14, 2015
I want to thank Marti Rickel [Bishop Greg Rickel’s wife] for inviting me to speak to you today, and to thank each of you for coming. My name is Aaron Scott and I work as an organizer with Chaplains on the Harbor in Grays Harbor County, a mission station of this diocese. Before I say more about that, I also want to say that I’m a clergy spouse. And I think the role of spouses and partners is absolutely critical not just in ministry, but also in organizing and building a social movement for a more just world. The people in this room, all of us, have the power to make or break a lot of things if we so choose. If you think that’s an exaggeration just remember Coretta Scott King, first lady of the Civil Rights Movement. There is no Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. without her. She pushed him continually toward deeper commitment and more radical analysis of the problems they faced, particularly in tying the Civil Rights Movement to the anti-war movement. The FBI was terrified of her, writing in their surveillance notes that her “selfless, magnanimous, decorous attitude is belied by…[her] actual shrewd, calculating, businesslike activities.” If that’s not a fitting tribute to the unique ministry of clergy spouses and partners, I don’t know what is.
Co-authored by Aaron Scott and The Rev. Sarah Monroe (Chaplains on the Harbor) and The Rev. Lindsey Krinks (Open Table Nashville, Inc.)
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a “nonviolent army of the poor” in the last campaign of his life, the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Willie Baptist, founder of the Kairos Center/Poverty Initiative, frequently takes this call to the next level by saying, “Every army needs generals.” Chaplains on the Harbor recently returned from a week on the road with a cohort of our fellow street pastors, grassroots organizers, and movement builders. Through our conversations and information gathering along the way, we reached a point of clarity regarding our own role in King’s and Baptist’s assessment: just as every army needs generals, every army also needs chaplains. We do not define “chaplain” here in the terms narrowly set by institutions invested in enforcing the status quo, but rather by those in our movement who are getting the job done. What is the role of chaplaincy in social movement building, in resurrecting a new Poor People’s Campaign for today? Five key responsibilities emerged over the course of our time together: