A Word From Our Bishop

Pectoral cross being help up with a hand.
Close up of a Pectoral Cross.

Editor’s Note: You may notice that the Bishop’s photo in his monthly column has changed. This new photo was taken at the Lambeth Conference by the Rt. Rev’d Frank Logue, the Bishop of Georgia in the Episcopal Church of the United States.

Growing up in school, I was taught by older teachers who drilled english grammar into our heads until we could parse and diagram a sentence in our sleep. I have a particular memory of my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Holbrook reminding us over and over again that the word ‘but’ negates everything that precedes it, so we had to be very careful in how we used it.

From the sixth grade perspective, that’s not hard to understand. Imagine a teacher breaking up a fight on the playground. The first defence is always “But he hit me first!” The word ‘but’ is meant to excuse the second punch in light of who threw the first punch. Mrs. Holbrook simply would not, in writing or in life, let us use the word ‘but’ in a way that tried to weasel out of responsibility or dismiss injury or injustice. I can hear her now in my mind saying,  “‘But’ is a word that can cause injury on top of injury because it may dismiss pain while trying to justify it.”

Many that try to defend the church from the injustices or injuries it has inflicted often begin the defense with a ‘but’. To those who are trying to heal from injustice or broken hearts, that ‘but’ that starts the statement is another layer of pain on top of the burden they are already carrying. An ocean of good

works the church has accomplished can dry up in the eyes of someone who has been injured, if the church fails to care properly.

Even on the flip side, when the church reaches out to those who are the guilty parties in our responsibility to care for all – the ‘but’ is often employed again in righteous indignation to suggest that we should cut people off – “But they are responsible for so much pain!”

These are the frail and human uses of the word ‘but’.

But there is another way to use the word. That is – the way it is used in scripture by God. The words ‘but God’ appear repeatedly in scripture to remind us of the true mercy, love and compassion on offer. The sentence structures are often the exact same as Mrs. Holbrook deplored, but the things that are being negated are all the failures we lay down.                                                      

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”               —Psalm 73:26

“When they had carried out all that the scriptures said about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead;”
—Acts 13:29-30

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” 
—Romans 5:6-8

I think Mrs. Holbrook would accept and applaud all these uses of the ‘but’ because they are all instances of how grace interrupts the cycle of death, or pain, or sin. This is the essential message we have to offer people that are deep in their own troubles or pain as they live them out. We can pour out before him all the reasons that we are unworthy, unready, unhappy, unloveable and unreachable. But God tells that inner storm “peace, be still” and we are made one with him again. We can all rejoice that we are living our daily lives after the but God. We can share this message with everyone who feels unworthy, unready, unhappy, unloveable and unreachable and we can become the living, breathing, incarnate but God to them.


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