“Staying put may seem like settling for less. Making the choice to stay is an internal struggle, but in deciding to stay we go deeper into the life we have,” said the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, June 27, morning ecumenical worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Deciding to Stay,” and the scripture was John 6:60-68.
Budde began her sermon by telling the story of Ian Bedloe, the main character in Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe. Ian blames himself for his brother’s suicide. He begins to wander the streets of Baltimore and comes across the Church of the Second Chance. When Ian confesses his guilt about his brother’s death, the pastor, Reverend Emmett says that forgiveness is possible through atonement.
Ian drops out of school, gets a job to help support his brother’s children and moves in with his parents. However, forgiveness eludes him.
One day, Reverend Emmett walks Ian home from church and asks him what is wrong. Ian says he feels like he is wasting away and he needs to get on with his life. Reverend Emmett tells him: “Ian, this is your life. View your burdens as a gift.”
“Reverend Emmett’s words are gospel to me,” Budde said.
In her own life, Budde found herself in her 30s, married with two children and a job she loved, but it was hard for her to talk about her feeling of being trapped.
“I chose to embrace the cost and gift of stability. We can learn faithfulness by walking in small steps, and we can make a difference in a small corner of the world,” she told the congregation.
Choosing to stay takes many forms, but staying requires remaining wholehearted, not floating through life, being fully present. It takes courage to leave or to stay, but with staying comes a deeper understanding of what staying means.
In John’s Gospel, the crowds begin to melt away from Jesus. He turned to his disciples, the closest 12, and asked them, “What about you?” Peter answered, “To whom would we go?”
The disciples’ destinies were bound to Jesus’ destiny.
Budde noted that in our faith families, many leaders understand why people leave the faith. But why do people stay?
“We get to the point where we question what we believed to be true and our leaders fail us. What keeps us from going stale?” she asked the congregation. “Where else would I go? I have come too far with Jesus; I have never lost faith in him, and I am inspired by those who live in his light.”
One of the people who live by Jesus’ light, according to Budde, is the V. Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York and canon theologian at the Washington National Cathedral. She will be the chaplain for Chautauqua during Week Eight.
Douglas, Budde said, is very open about her struggle as a Black woman, given the harm done to Black people by good Christians who participated in lynchings. Douglas is inspired by the witness of her grandmothers. They were aware that the people participating in the lynchings were not really Christian; they were not following the faith of Jesus. Douglas says she is a Christian because of the faith of her grandmothers.
“(Douglas) keeps me on my toes and helps me look at difficult truths that I could ignore. I stay for her sake and for ours,” Budde said.
Stability is not often associated with sacrificial love. Looking beneath the surface tells another story.
In his Monday morning lecture, Fareed Zakaria, Indian-American journalist and political commentator, said that Franklin D. Roosevelt was responsible for the economic and political world order after World War II.
“He could not have done it without Eleanor Roosevelt. They are icons of stability, compassion and courage,” Budde said. “But their iconic marriage could not stand the scrutiny of today’s tabloids.”
The Roosevelts almost divorced in 1918 after Eleanor confronted Franklin about his affair with Lucy Mercer. Franklin’s mother, Sara Roosevelt, who lived with Eleanor and Franklin and ran the household, was mortified and threatened to cut Franklin off financially if he divorced Eleanor.
Franklin pouted and tried to find a way to keep his relationship with Lucy without giving up his political ambitions. On her part, Eleanor was uncharacteristically decisive. Through their friend Louis Howe, Eleanor and Franklin negotiated the terms of their marriage. Eleanor would not stay in a marriage where she was not wanted. Franklin’s love of politics was greater than his love for Lucy and he promised to never see her again — a promise he did not keep.
Eleanor had deferred to her mother-in-law and had been submissive to Franklin.
“Eleanor gave herself the gift of her self and took the reins of her life. She came to a new view: The life you live is your own,” Budde said.
Eleanor demanded assurance that Franklin needed her as a life partner. When Franklin was struck with polio in 1921, she and Howe kept his political aspirations alive. They knew he was destined for greatness. Eleanor became a partner with Franklin, and they shared values, mutual need and affection. She was his most trusted adviser, and he defended her when she spoke out.
“The cost and consequence for Eleanor to stay was to be a partner, to give her heart to others. She was determined to live a life that mattered to her, defending justice, peace and human rights,” Budde said.
Budde told the congregation that “for us less widely consequential, our impact can reach farther than we know. Few see the choice to stay as an heroic journey; it is a private struggle. We need time to reflect, to trust our inner compass.”
There is no path for the choice to stay. People learn from others and, most importantly, from their own reflection.
“There is nothing passive in choosing to stay,” Budde said. “The paradox is that choosing to stay invites us to start something new.”
The Rev. George Wirth, retired senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, presided. Craig McKee, from Terre Haute, Indiana, read the scripture. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played “Élévation en si bémol majeur,” by Léon Boëllmann, for the prelude. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organ, sang “Have You Heard God’s Voice,” words and music by Jacqui G. Jones, music arranged by Frederick Chatfield. Stigall provided accompaniment on the Massey Memorial Organ. Stigall played “Sortie en si bémol majeur,” by Léon Boëllmann. Support for this week’s chaplaincy is provided by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund.