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Safe Spaces

2017 January 14

Bishop David EppsI am somewhat bemused by all the attention given to “safe spaces” for university students these days. Not all colleges are going along with this sort of thing but enough of them are that a great deal of media attention has been garnered. So, I began to ponder where in my own life that I had the advantage of safe spaces.

The first thing that came to mind was home. Home was always a safe space. Nothing bad occurred there, no one was allowed to threaten or bully me, and every genuine need was provided. And then I turned six. At the age of six, I entered first grade which, back then, was the first time any kid went off to school. There, I discovered that life wasn’t safe anymore. There were tests, rules, discipline, and the possibility of conflict on the playground or on the bus.

That continued until junior high. And then it got worse. During the seventh grade various thugs from older grades would occasionally steal my lunch money. As a kid who was mostly gentle, I became a target –not all the time, but enough—for those trying to prove their manhood by pushing a younger kid around. In the eighth grade I went out for football and somehow made the team. There was one ninth grade kid, a big second string tackle, who continually violated my space that was nowhere near safe. Finally, the last week of the season, I took my helmet off at practice and slammed it into his head. Amazingly, his bullying ceased. I went into ninth grade determined to end the aggression on my person and, within a couple of months, my safe space was wherever I happened to be.

What followed were high school sports, competition for girlfriends, karate classes and tournaments, all which brought about the possibility of failure and hurt feelings. After graduation, I took a construction job for four months with men who had no time for my need for sensitivity and understanding. Then came the United States Marine Corps where there was nary a safe space to be found. There was a war on and military people were trained to be warriors and not wimps.

When I returned to the university I found that instructors and professors expected students to be men and woman who could deal with the pressures of academic life. In my case, before I graduated, I had a wife and two kids. I carried a full load while working nearly full-time. When I walked across the stage at graduation, I did so with the knowledge that I was ready for life. And, mostly, I was.

Life was not then, and is not now, easy. But, then, real life never is. Several weeks ago, I saw an interview with a college student, a young man. He was apparently on the losing side of the election. When the interviewer asked him what his reaction was to the election he said, “Well, I stayed in my room and cried most of the day.” Seriously? As that great British philosopher, Sir Michael Jagger, once said, “You can’t always get what you want.” Life is going to be full of disappointments and, in the real world there are few “safe spaces.” Whoever pretends there are, does these poor people no good in the long run.

Fortunately, not all university students or young adults are in need of someone to provide for them safe spaces. The world, while beautiful and full of opportunity, is also a hostile, competitive, and dangerous place and the sooner one learns that, the better. But, if one feels that one must cry all day and stay in bed because things did not go one’s way, at least have the decency not to go on national television and admit it.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Essential Keys to a Winning Season

2017 January 7
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Bishop David EppsThe University of Alabama football has just won 26 games in a row and plays (again) for the National Championship Monday evening. When does a team and coaching staff begin thinking about and planning for an undefeated season, a conference championship, and a shot at the national title? My guess is, in the case of teams with a winning history, well before the season starts.

If we wish to have a “good season,” that is, if we wish to have a good year ahead, and I am speaking about a spiritual life, we cannot assume that it will just happen. In fact, life will happen and our “season” will either be a winning one, a losing one, or a mediocre one. How does one prepare to have a successful spiritual season? How does one have a balanced Christian spirituality? Ronald Rolheiser, author of The Holy Longing, states that there are four areas of essential Christian discipleship and that, if even one is missing, one’s spiritual life will be unbalanced and unfulfilled. The four areas are:

– Private prayer and personal integrity. In the Gospel of John one of the major themes is intimacy with Jesus and the primary way this is achieved is through private prayer. One cannot achieve intimacy with anybody if there is little or no contact. An anemic prayer life will result in an anemic spirituality. But equally important is personal integrity, also known as personal morality. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me he (or she) will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Integrity is doing the right and moral thing even when no one is watching.

– Charity and justice. One of the failures of much of evangelical and conservative Christianity is the neglect—even disdain—for the poor. In both Testaments, believers are held accountable for their treatment of the poor. The Jewish prophets made it clear that God even favored the poor. Then Jesus takes it further. He says that God is in the poor and that how we treat the poor is how we treat Him (Matt. 25:31-46). Certainly, we are to be charitable and generous. After all, the KJV says that “he that giveth to the poor lendeth to God.” I once had several restaurant servers tell me that the day they dreaded most was Sunday. Why? Because they said that the “church crowd” was the least generous with tips. We need to do better.

But what about justice? What’s that about? In the biblical sense, justice seeks to correct the structures that help create poverty or oppression. In the past, it was the Church in Europe and America that founded universities, that fueled the abolition movement, that sustains the current Pro-Life efforts. Sunday schools were first established to teach poor children to read, write, and do math because they worked in the factories and didn’t go to school. My father-in-law, John Douglas, a devout Southern Baptist, is, at the age of 86, involved in his community with kids who are a high risk to drop out of high school. Hoping to save them from a life of poverty, he works with businesses, schools, and high school students to keep them in school with the promise of a guaranteed job when they graduate. That is justice. The Civil Rights Movement was about changing structures and the church was right there.

– Involvement with an ecclesial community. This is about church. As messy as church can be, one cannot say, “I love God but hate my brother or sister.” Christianity is communal and always has been. The Christian faith is not a private quest. You cannot love Christ and reject His bride. Some people say, “I can be a Christian and not go to church.” No, biblically, you cannot. “Just me, my Bible, and Jesus,” is not Christianity. It is a narcissistic, deluded spirituality that denies the very message of Jesus who came to “Build His Church.” Church life can be hard. Get over it.

– Forgiveness and mellowness of heart. In all the things we are called to do, it is essential that we do them with a forgiving and mellow heart. If our hearts are not tender, even toward those with whom we are offended, then we become the older brother in the story of the prodigal son who placed himself outside of his father’s house, seething in anger and bitterness. I have heard scores of people over the years say, “I just can’t (or won’t) forgive him/her.” Unforgiveness is the poison that we drink in the expectation that someone else will die.

An athlete has to make choices on what kind of season he/she wishes to have and what one is willing to do. And then they have to follow through. Because, prepared or unprepared, diligent or slothful, we will have a season. At the end of this year, and especially in matters spiritual, we will either have a winning, losing, or mediocre season. Choose wisely and carefully. And then, “Just do it.”

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Hey Santa!

2016 December 17
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsThis is the time of the year when, sooner rather than later, someone will call out, “Hey Santa!” Over a decade ago, I took a two week vacation and didn’t shave. When we returned, my wife suggested that I just let it grow to see what it looked like. So, I did. For quite some time, I have had, not gray hair, but white hair. And, when the beard came in, it was white too. Add to the fact that I have a larger than normal body, it is not too hard to see the resemblance.

When people first started calling me Santa, it irritated me no end. I might smile and wave back but, on the inside, I was seething. Guys don’t mind so much being mistaken for Tom Cruise or even Sean Connery. But mistaken for Santa Claus? Who wants to looks like Santa Claus? So, I resented it…especially when it was strangers doing the deed. I thought it was rude, crude, and offensive. It was my wife that finally said, “You know, you have three choices: (1) You can shave. (2) You can lose weight. (3) You can roll with it.”

It was at the beach that I decided to try rolling with it for the first time. I was sitting in a chair on the beach reading a book one summer when I looked up and a little boy, about four years old, was staring at me with an intensely serious gaze. So I said, “Well, hey there!” He looked around cautiously, leaned in, and whispered, “Are you Santa?” I put my finger to my lips said, “Shhhhhhhh! Don’t tell anybody. I’m on vacation.” His eyes got wide, he vibrated like a tuning fork with excitement and said, “I won’t!” as he took off and ran down the beach.

That scene has been repeated countless times since then, usually with small children, and, especially, near Christmas. Sometimes, adults get in on the action too. Just a few days ago, in the supermarket check-out line, a lady said, “Well Santa, I’ve been a very good girl this year. What are you going to bring me?” I laughed. She said, “What are you laughing at?”

I said, “I saw a cartoon on Facebook last week. It was of a dead Santa Claus lying in the street. The caption read, ‘Santa died laughing. He heard that you were telling people that you had been good this year.’” And then I said, “I thought of the cartoon when you said that.” She laughed and said, “You little snot! You just had to tell me that didn’t you?” I smiled and said, “It’s part of my charm.” Other people were smiling and laughing too. Before I left I turned to her and said, “You have a little less than two weeks until Christmas. You still have a little time to turn things around.”

Not only have I learned to roll with it, a couple of years ago, I bought a Santa suit. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” I thought. I don’t play the role often but I have done a few charity events. If I let my beard grow enough, it adds, I think, to the believability and authenticity. My children marvel at this because, when they were young, I never allowed them to believe in Santa Claus. I thought that if they discovered the truth that they would never trust me when they were told of Jesus. In retrospect, I think I was wrong and I regret those actions. My sons did not repeat my actions and the grandchildren seemed to have turned out just fine.

So, I haven’t shaved the beard off, I certainly have not lost weight, and I have learned, to a great extent, to roll with it. And now, I have come to expect it. I’m thinking that, On Christmas eve, I might just put on the suit, hop on the Harley, and roar down the highway, waving at every kid I see. Santa not only vacations at the beach but he rides a motorcycle as well. And, when there is no snow and ice, reindeer are simply useless.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

The Season of Hope

2016 December 11
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsFor many in our society, the future appears to be very threatening. Global terror continues to elicit fear, the threat of rouge nations employing nuclear devices seems more possible than in recent years, many are fearful of the predictions of climate change, student loan debt seems insurmountable, and the nation remains polarized. Readings from both the Old and New Testaments prepare the reader for uncertain days ahead. In fact, a reading from Isaiah 5 contains the phrase, “You are doomed!” five times (Good News Translation).

It is very easy in our society to become discouraged, hopeless, and despondent. With a 24-hour news cycle, we are bombarded with mostly bad news continually. Even the science channels on cable television postulate the possibility of global destruction from asteroids, plague, or rising seas.

Yet, many Psalms counterbalance the seemingly endless stream of gloom with the brightness of hope. It is to God that we offer prayer, it is God in whom we hope, it is God who extends his kindness, His constant love, and His forgiveness (Psa 25). It is because of God that the believer may praise, may sing with joy, and may trust in His protection. Even in the presence of enemies, one may find a refuge in Him (Psa 9).

Psalm 15 calls for the believer to live a “right life,” to do good, and to obey God. We are reminded elsewhere that our citizenship is not of this world; that we are sojourners here and not permanent residents. It is not possible to be completely aloof or divorced from the troubles and tragedies that abound. But neither are we to be obsessed, or overcome, or overwhelmed by them.

In the darkness, He is the light. And, because, for Christians, we are “in Christ,” we are also the light. As the Psalmist discovered, it is often in the darkest valley that the traveler discovers that there are refreshing streams, lush pastures, and abundant provision and protection. Even the “shadow of death” cannot stop our journey because we are not alone: “Thou art with me.” He has come. He will come again. But He also comes today. Do not be afraid.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

The Christmas Photo

2016 December 3
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsIn reviewing some old family photographs, I came across a few taken at Christmas time when I was a kid. One, especially, caught my attention. I had just received my first bicycle and the photograph is of the Christmas tree in our living room and I am putting hands on the new bike for the first time. The photo is in black in white but the memories are not.

I remember the trees that dad would cut from whatever woods he went to in order to find one. The lights were, by today’s standards, large and always brightly multi-colored. Fragile balls of various colors hung on the limbs and gold or silver tinsel would be wrapped around the tree. A star topped the tree and the decorations were finished off by the placing of aluminum foil icicles on the tree in abundance. The tree was a beacon of light in the midst of a cold Tennessee mountain winter.

After Christmas was over, the tree would be taken down and the decorations, including the icicles would be placed in boxes and stored in the attic for future use. The tree would be taken into the woods and abandoned to the animals and birds that would make it a shelter during the winter.

In retrospect, the amazing thing is that we had Christmas at all some years. When I was in the third grade or so, my father was laid off from his job and searched for work for 18 months. This was in the day before the relatively abundant safety nets that are in place today. Then, if one was laid off one was simply out of work. No money was coming in.

After the layoff, my dad would get up in the morning, don his work clothes, have breakfast with the family, and head out just like normal. About a mile down the road, he would stop at a local food market, take off his work clothes, put on his only suit and hunt for a job eight hours a day. At the end of the eight hours, he would reverse the process and come home. It had to be brutal and disappointing. Yet, I was a teenager before I ever discovered that he had been out of work. It was important to him that the kids have a sense of normalcy, hence the familiar routine. That routine included Christmas.

There were long months when my dad wasn’t home much. While it took a long time to find a regular job, he would pick up any work he could find. So, at nights and on the weekends, he worked at whatever people needed done. If he ever felt demeaned by digging ditches, or pits for septic tanks, or installing posts for fences, or whatever the task at hand, he never let on. He never accepted charity (although my maternal grandfather would secretly slip mom a few dollars here and there) and believed that a man provided for his family.

How they did it, I do not know but there were always presents under the tree. We were, for a long season, poor and I never knew it. I never lacked for anything. Indeed, I felt rich. My dad finally landed a general labor job with a contractor and, after much persistence, was admitted to the electrician’s apprentice program and became a full-fledged electrician. He was never out of work again, although he remained frugal in his finances and always avoided debt. Later in life, he retrained and became certified in electronics.

One of the reasons I put up a tree, I realized not long ago, is the warm, safe feeling that comes when I see the lights in the darkness. Sometimes, at night during the Christmas season, I’m a kid again and I know that all will be well. From my dad, I learned that a good father provides for and watches over me and mine, often at great sacrifice and cost to himself. Which, of course, is the very story of Christmas.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

The “R” Word

2016 December 2
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by Admin

Bishop David EppsThere is a word in the English language that has become so offensive, so distasteful, and so abhorrent that it is seldom used in conversation today. This word, at one time in this nation, was a common word sometimes used as a slur and sometimes as a descriptive word. It is the “word that cannot be named.” In fact, when the word is even referred to, it is given a letter. It is called the “N” word.

When I was a child in the South, use of this word was as common as any other everyday word among white people of every class, economic condition, social status, or religious affiliation. In my world, that all began to change around the summer of 1967 when, for the first time in Kingsport, Tennessee, the schools were integrated. Most of us (the white kids) had never even met a black kid.

Now, in August, the football players from Dobyns-Bennett and from Douglass high schools met in the same locker room to practice on the same field to play on the same team. Within a short period of time, the “word that cannot be named” disappeared from our youthful lexicon as teammates became friends…and finally understood that the word brought pain to our fellow players. I never used the word again. In time—and in not a very long time—my parents stopped using the word as well. What once was a common noun became a word as unacceptable as the vilest swear word.

But a new word has arisen that is as demeaning, as offensive, and as abhorrent as the “N’ word. It is slung around as commonly as the “N” word once was. It is the “R” word. It is used deliberately as a slur, often when the word itself is not appropriate. The “R” word is the word “racist.”

What is a racist? And what is racism? Both certainly exist in today’s society. But what do the words actually mean? The word “racist” denotes a person who possesses a particular ideology. The definition of the ideology of racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” That is, because of certain traits—such as skin color—a race is either superior or inferior. The ideology has been common throughout human history.

In World War II, the Japanese promoted the ideology that the Japanese were racially, morally and culturally superior. It was a racist ideology that led to horrific acts against peoples who were not Japanese. Certainly, the Nazi ideology was racist at its core, believing that certain people were superior and that others were inferior. The so-called Aryan race was inherently superior to, say, Jews, Eastern Europeans, and Russians among others. White Europeans who migrated to the Americas believed themselves superior to the native peoples and, certainly, superior to those Africans whom they enslaved. So, there are racists and there is racism.

However, the term, this “R” word, is commonly used to diminish and marginalize people who are not racists at all. Some people who believe in legal immigration, but not unlawful immigration, are branded as racists. Others, who are concerned about potential infiltration by terrorists and likewise branded with the racist label. Like unearned trophies, the label is handed out to people whether deserving of the label or not.

If one believes in voters proving their citizenship, they may be called racists. If a person believes that country music is preferable to hip-hop, the racist label may be slung. If a person voted for a certain person in a given political contest, depending on who they voted for, they may be called the “R” word.

Police officers are often accused of being racists but, in 25 years of service as a chaplain with a local police department, I never heard one single officer utter a slur about any other person based on their race. Were some of the officers racists? If they were, I never saw any indication of it in how they treated citizens with whom they interacted nor with those they stopped for traffic violations. All this is not to deny that racists and racism exists. It is merely to say that the word has been over-applied, over-used, and often not understood.

Following a column a few years ago, a reader, who chose not to reveal his or her name, wrote in and called me a racist. My non-white friends were more upset at the accusation than I was. They who know me knew how absurd the accusation was. I do not believe that any race is inherently superior or inferior. What I do believe is that we all are the sons and daughters of God and, thus, having the same Father, in whose image we are created, we are all brothers and sisters.

It is time to stop using the “R” word willy-nilly and reserve it for those who truly hold to a racist ideology. Just because someone does not hold the same political views, or religious preferences, or social agenda does not make them, or me, a racist. It simply means that we are different.

I despise the “N” word, whomever uses it. It ranks right up there with the “F” word. Polite people and people with character do not use it, even in private. The misuse of the “R” word should, likewise, be consigned to oblivion.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Five Ordained as Priests

2016 December 1
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Ordination to Priesthood - Nov, 2016

Left to right: Andrew Ellis, Tony McGee, Justin Allen, Paul Dickinson, Jim Gardner, David Epps

Five men were ordained as priests in the Charismatic Episcopal Church at The Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, on Christ the King Sunday just prior to Thanksgiving. All five had served as Deacons for several years.

Father Paul Harold Dickinson, Sharpsburg, holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from San Diego State University (CA) and a Master of Ministry from St. Michael’s Seminary, San Clemente, CA. He has served in the aerospace and defense industry and worked at the White Sands Missile Range , New Mexico. He is certified in TRW Project Management and as a Laser Safety Officer. He was ordained a Deacon in 2014.

Father James Franklin Gardner, Tyrone, holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Southern Technical Institute, Marietta, GA (now Kennesaw State University) and a Master of Ministry from St. Michael’s Seminary. He is a decorated combat veteran of the U. S. Army, having served in Vietnam. He was ordained a Deacon in 2009.

Father James Anthony (Tony) McGee, Newnan, is a graduate of the Carroll Area Vocational Technical School. He is also a graduate of the Institute of Applied Evangelism and the Stephen Ministries program. He received additional training from the Berean School of the Bible, the Timothy Ministerial Training Program, and St. Michael’s Seminary. He is a Chaplain for the Order of St. Luke the Physician. He is a Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Navy. He was ordained a Deacon in 2002.

Father Philip Andrew Ellis, Tyrone, received his Bachelor of Science with Honours in Environmental Science from Worcester College, Oxford. He received the Master of Science in Environmental Quality Management and the Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Law and Management from De Montfort University. He also pursued postgraduate work in Theological Studies at Worcester College Oxford and received his Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA. He completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education under the auspices of the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. He served as a Curate in the Church of England and as a Chaplain at Piedmont Fayette Hospital. He was ordained Deacon in 2014.

Father Justin Dale Allen, Woodstock, is a Certified Leader/Counselor of the Elijah House and Living Waters programs. He received training at the Chattahoochee Technical College and completed a certification course at Kennesaw State University. He received his ministerial training from St . Michael’s Seminary. He served with Home Ministries of Kennesaw, GA, an organization specializing in family preservation by providing counselors and assistance to DEFACS and the Department of Juvenile Justice. He was ordained deacon in 2004.

The ordaining bishop was The Most Reverend W. David Epps, Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South.