Bishop Tom Shaw come on back

The Prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered and awesome. Beliefs cherished as certainties, institutions endowed with supreme sanctity, the prophet exposes as scandalous pretensions. The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.

Abraham Heschel

Tom Shaw was the much loved former Anglican bishop of Massachusetts who died of brain cancer in 2014. His priestly life reads  as a model for discipleship in Jesus.

Unknown to most of us other than his Anglican family a cursory view of  the life of this humble pastor and church leader would inspire any Christian.He seemed to be on the gospel side of most issues but on one issue he was amazingly prescient and downright prophetic. Clad in his bishop’s garb in October of 2001 he dared to publicly call out Israel for its abundant brutalization of Palestinian life.

18 years ago on that October day Shaw incurred the ire of Jewish leaders when he joined others outside the Israeli consulate in Boston to protest that country’s treatment of Palestinians. Shaw was way  head of the curve at that time. Prophets always are.

This gift of solidarity and advocacy was no flavor of the month. Shaw was a man of deep prayer and like all prophets he had to speak as the majority of rabbis chose the tribalist defence of Israel while  Christian clergy kept their silence. they plugged their ears to the palestinian scream and God’s scream in the night.This brave brother Bishop Shaw knew what he was talking about having seen the reality to Israel/Palestine. He chose to ignore  the societal  third rail which inhibits any just criticism of Israel.

Today this crucial issue, this long-suffering wound issue scares the hell out of the priestly class, terrified at being labelled anti-Semitic instead of acting a pro-justice solidarity.This bishop refused to walk on by the Palestinian body at the side of the road. It cried out to him and he responded.The predictable cries of protest erupted”-”unbalanced, ”,“one-sided” and the lamest canard of them all, “anti-Semitic.”

Tom Shaw wrote:

My witness that cold evening in late October was an extension of my prayer for peace, in which I was not only speaking to God  but listening to God. If the work of God calls us to do in our baptismal covenant, to ‘strive for peace and justice among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being’ is not not advocacy, what is it?

I came to the conclusion that advocacy on on behalf of justice is deeply rooted in the Jewish and Christian tradition. Injustice has to be made visible if there is to be any reconciliation.Seeking justice and peace is not about avoiding conflict or protecting our brothers and sisters from them selves or unjust action, it is about taking risks on behalf of the victims of injustice.That is what the prophets did in Israel, what Jesus did to the Roman empire, what Gandhi did in India, what Desmond Tutu did in South Africa..The church is to be like that.

Tom Shaw knew his scriptures. He understood Jesus call of the kingdom was not about balance. It meant risk. He knew the prophets and his own Lord was never about ‘balance’. He noted:

When Jesus acts against he institutional structures of Judaism, or denounces the Pharisees and Scribes he is not attacking the faith of fellow Jews, to its shame as is often taught. In fact he is holding up to the Jews the tradition of of the Mosaic covenant, calling them back to the prophetic faith of the exodus.

Where in this land  is such episcopal leadership?

Shaw’s witness reminded me of the wise Vatican ll Belgian cardinal Leo Suenen’s line

Prudence is everywhere

courage is nowhere 

and we shall all die of wisdom.

As the Christian churches of the West our “hands in the water” are dying of wisdom, the Palestinian people, their “hands in the fire” are begging for solidarity.