St. Mark's Stories

The Things that Break the Heart of God

This reflection involves the topic of suicide.


Two weeks ago a note was in the church mailbox late on a Thursday afternoon. Steve apologized when he gave it to me, but he had to.


It was a suicide note. From someone I’ll call Angie who identifies as a 27-year-old trans woman.


I read it. I wept. I prayed. And I hoped.


I hoped Angie is not the young person I’ve seen in the last few months occasionally sleeping or reading in the garden. I hoped Angie is not the one who's bedding always lay against a mirror so if startled they could readily see if anyone was behind them. I hoped Angie is not the one who never returned my gaze - staring fixedly ahead. I hope Angie isn’t the same young person who for the first time on the Wendesday morning before we found the note had returned my “Good Morning,” with a “Good Morning.”  


I hope it isn’t Angie. 







It should. And more importantly it breaks God’s heart. As Rev. Dorothy White often reminded us, “Oh that our heart would break with the things that break the heart of God.” Angie’s pain breaks the heart of God.


No life goes unrecognized by God. God who I am beginning to regard as the “original they/them” (thank you Facebook) loves us all – no exceptions. To be so separated by our lived experience from this love is a tragedy. Angie, I grieve for you and pray this isn’t you. But Angie - whomever you are - I know that you are loved and held and treasured in the arms of God. I hope you come to know that, too.


Gender equity is some of what our Justice & Advocacy Team is working on, and you will be hearing more about in the late summer and fall. You will be invited into the discussion about how we can work and advocate to provide a different outcome for those who have found only rejection and pain, and feel so lost and separated from love and nurture that they decide to take their life. 


So, after we weep and pray let us get up and get loud – stand up against the hate that is so rampant in our world, the othering and the dehumanizing that damages and destroys lives.  While we may never know who Angie is – we know that their story is not unique. Transgender people experience discrimination, abuse, violence, and harm at rates far higher than other groups. 


Something brought this hurting human, this child of God to our door. Their note was found in our mailbox. I don’t think this was random. There are plenty of other churches on our street, but Angie’s note was placed in our door. Something must have made Angie believe we would hear them.  And we do. 


We are called to respect the dignity of every human being. We are called to practice and model God’s love in a world that mocks us for doing so. What the world needs now is love – that daring and transforming love which produces growth and change. Let us pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and be the love of God in a hurting world.


PS: I saw our young person last week, got another “Good Morning.” 


It’s a start - I hope. 




If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 988. Help is free and confidential, available 24 hours.


You can also contact NAMI: the National Alliance on Mental Health, M-F 10am – 10pm, 800-950-6264 or text Helpline to 62640.


Locally, Side by Side offers support for transgender youth and young adults,


by Malinda Collier  | 

Love in All Caps

The word love gets used a lot.  I’ve commented before that English does us no favor when it unlike other major languages fails to signal different kinds of love by the word used.  I can both love ice cream and love my neighbor as myself. Same word – very different emotions and emotional commitment.  


I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book titled Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature.  Written by Farah Jasmine Griffin there is a terrific chapter on the transformative power of love. Griffin writes:  Because of my own experience of having been so deeply loved I have no difficulty believing in its transformative power. To love the least of these is to be enraged by the conditions, if not the individuals, that enslave them. That love wins out over fear.  That love inspires courage in the face of near-certain defeat.  That love ought to be extended to babies in cages, to those in the throes of addiction, and to all those whom others would deny dignity and respect.


Wow.  That is love in all caps. This is the love Jesus speaks of when he commands us to love one another.  It is active.  It is transformative.  Griffin quotes bell hooks about this type of love: all great movements for social justice in our society have strongly emphasized a love ethic.  A love that presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well.  A love ethic differs from a sentimental, overly romanticized understanding of love.  It is an action, rather than a feeling.  Love is a choice.  Love requires us to see each other and to commit to each other’s humanity.  


James Baldwin helps us in this understanding of what it is to love.  Writing in The Fire Next Time he notes the watering down of what love means, I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, a state of grace – not the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.  


Our Baptismal Covenant speaks to this kind of love when it calls us to seek and serve Christ in all persons loving you neighbor as yourself.  Our walk of faith is in the light of this kind of love.  Not easy, not about being made happy but rather about daring and growth.


I do not get to hear the sermon as preached.  I am downstairs with our youngest members.  But late on Sunday afternoon when I first download the recording from Zoom and then upload it to our website, I listen.  This past Sunday was particularly evocative as Father Benjamin told the story of the clergy gathering when many were speaking effusively of the support and community and collegiality of the diocese.  One voice offered a different story.  A person of color told a very different story.  One that pointed out the unequal treatment and lack of support they had experienced in the same group.  It takes bravery to speak up when your story is not the story being featured and lauded and embraced.  It takes courage to say my story is not the same as yours.  


A few years ago, during one of our Community Reads sessions two members – both of color – were equally as brave sharing with the group that they could not bring their whole truth to church, they could not tell their full story.  It was then and remains with me now the most important question/truth I have heard in many years.  And I am grateful that I heard it.  I am grateful that in a different setting Benjamin heard it also, and shared his experience with us from the pulpit.  


It takes a love that is about daring and growth to say my story is not the same.  And it takes a love that is about daring and growth to make sure there is space to hear it.  Our love response has to be equal – a love that is action, that requires us to see each other, to hear each other, and to commit to each other’s humanity.  


This is the love that must be our tradition.  



by Malinda Collier  | 

In the face of the continuing and uniquely American plague of gun violence

A Prayer of Bishop Goff

In the face of the continuing and

uniquely American plague of gun violence


Holy God

God of Peace

God of Justice

Giver of Life,

We mourn, we lament, we rage

as the scourge of gun violence

in our land continues unabated,

as the uniquely American

plague of gun violence slaughters

our siblings, our parents, our children.

Just last evening it struck in an Episcopal Church

during a potluck supper.

Many in the Diocese of Virginia

know the rector and people of

St. Stephen’s in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.

We know how they gathered last night

when random and senseless violence

changed their world.

We know because we gather as they did

to enjoy the ordinary ministry of community.


Every time the sin and evil

of gun violence strikes,

we are traumatized again. 

And again,

because those killed and injured

are our family. 

They are us.


God, we mourn, we lament, we rage.

We organize and march.

We write our Senators and Congress members.

We go to Washington and meet with them in person.

We engage the legislative process and the gun lobby

through Bishops United Against Gun Violence,

our Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations

and the Episcopal Public Policy Network. 

We adopt General Convention resolutions.

We wear orange stoles and orange clothes

as a sign of our commitment.

We gather and vote and listen and learn.

And we pray. Oh, how we pray.

For hope. For faith. 

For an end to this brutal bloodshed.


And still so little seems to change.

We feel helpless in the face of a culture

that chooses the right of an individual to bear arms,

any and all arms without restriction,

over the right of all people to life, liberty

and the pursuit of happiness.

We fall prey to hopelessness

when members of our human family

are slaughtered day after day, week after week. 


But we are not helpless.

We are not without hope.

We hope in you, powerful God, to turn the tide,

To help us turn the tide of public opinion at last.

To turn the tide of what we Americans will tolerate.

To turn the tide of our uniquely American

love affair with guns into a love affair with life. 

To turn the tide as we make distinctions between 

gun ownership and gun violence

so that this scourge will end at last.


Save us from helplessness.

Save us from hopelessness.

Teach us how to be your partner

in turning the tide

for the sake of Life.




by Bishop Susan Goff  | 

The Cost of Indifference

The Cost of Indifference
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
John 5: 1-9
Rev. Judy noted in her Sunday May 22 sermon that the man in this gospel story had been ill for 38 years. By first century Palestine standards that was almost a lifetime. In all these years, in his entire lifetime he had been ignored. When I teach the children about Jesus's miracles I always tell them that perhaps the real miracle was that Jesus looked at people. Jesus turned his attention to those who were ignored, shunned by society. You see in the first century no one understood germs and ailments we commonly treat and forget. Conjunctivitis blinded people, a broken leg unset lamed people, epilepsy resulted in being labeled as demon-possessed. And all these conditions were believed to have been caused not by illness or injury but by sin. You must have sinned and sinned badly to be in such a state. Or your family had. So this man was passed by, ignored in his need for simple comfort and care. Blocked perhaps from enjoying the waters of the spring as he was not worthy.
Or perhaps it was simpler. Perhaps it was not active behavior on the part of the passerby. Perhaps is was indifference. The cost of indifference for this man was any hope of restoration to life's fullness. The cost of indifference for this man was life.
As it has been for too long and too many in this country. I'm picking one example out of a bouquet of social injustices: mass shootings. How long have we cried out, yelled and screamed, grieved and prayed, marched and lobbied to address the needless death caused by gun violence in our neighborhoods? Years, decades, longer than many of the victims were alive. A lifetime.
And still the violence persists. The disease endemic. And the math is deadly: hate+guns=death. Let us not be so numbed that we cease to see and feel the pain these deaths inflict on family, community, and nation. Let us not be inured to the terror left in the wake of gunfire and ignorance. Let us honor and remember and vindicate the victims. Let not the indifference of empire erase the humanity of lives lost. Say their names.
The Washington Post recently updated (updated!) a powerful litany of the cost of mass shootings in America. It begins in April 1999 with Columbine. It continues year after year with accounts of those killed in schools, stores, places of worship, offices, restaurants, entertainment venues, and in everywhere and anywhere of our daily lives. It ends with Buffalo.
I am embarrassed to say I had forgotten some of them.
It is a brutal read. And this list does not include the domestic violence, neighborhood violence, and police violence (this is the second anniversary of George Floyd's death) too common in our shared lives. There are those in this community who have fought and fought hard - fought themselves to exhaustion for change yet change seems so elusive. Why? Does indifference make it easier to pass by? Does labeling it sin allow us to walk away? Does it just feel like there are too many people blocking our way to make the changes that end this tragic litany?
I don't know. I wish I did.
It has been a lifetime.
Photo from the Washington Post
Sadly, after I wrote this on Monday - on Tuesday another school shooting - more lives lost to senseless gun violence at Robb Elementary in Uvalde Texas. Another 18-year-old shooter. Another update for the Post litany. Another call to action.
Our website has a page, Conversations to Help End Gun Violencewith links to some of the organizations active in the efforts to end gun violence.
Please give it a look and use the resources to advocate for change.

by Malinda Collier  |