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December 26, 2006
St.Stephen's Day: hard on the heels of the Nativity, as if to show us what the coming of Christ might really mean in our lives. Stephen is a deacon in the early church, one of a group of people so designated, people who will become the administrators of the community, and who will have a special charge for the poor and those in need. He will also become the Church's first martyr.

How he will do this is interesting and instructive: it was his preaching,not his service, that got him killed. Although the deacons were charged with living out the close relationship with the poor and those in trouble that Jesus himself put first, and with administering many details of communal life, they were not "in charge." And the early church was beginning to come to grips with how seductive a thing it is to be "in charge" -- if one is not careful, the maintenance of one's position consumes all one's time and effort. One's personal place in the hierarchy begins to seem theologically important, a matter of faith. It begins to seems that God is personally invested in one's own hegemony. The hierarchy becomes the most important thing in the Church. If any good work gets done, that's all very well, of course -- but only after the hierarchy's rule has been noisily protected.

A true deacon isn't nearly as concerned with who's "in charge" as priests often are. And, because of their proximity to real life, the real life of men and women struggling with poverty or illness, they sometimes become a threat to leaders whose focus is more institutional. Those folks don't always like it when deacons preach -- Stephen didn't die for serving the poor; he died for proclaiming a new approach to institutional life, for opening his mouth in the middle of the struggle between Jewish and Hellenist Christians.

He should have kept quiet, I suppose. Let them spend energy -- and perhaps even blood-- fighting it out, until one or the other emerged the victor. But deacons aren't ordained to keep quiet. Or to keep still. Or to be idle.

Here is a poem about Bro. Justus, a deacon whose blessed life is very close to many of our hearts on this St. Stephen's Day. New York poet Christopher Davenport worked with Justus in the early 1990s.


Eighteen months
Or there about, some
Time worth considering
But consideration is due
Not only to time itself
But mostly to one
Blythe Deacon who
Taught me all I would
Ever need to know
About pie and sky and
How to be devious.

How to take the pie
Out of the sky and serve
It up to anyone truly hungry.

Could I have learnt that
From anyone elseó
From anyone
Except my dear
Brother Jusus whose
Take on this old world
Gathers us all who loved him
Into his charming Wake.

This slice I shall remember
With relish; it will instruct my
Future steps with care
As I remember deftly
One blessed soul
Called Justus.

Such a fine

Christopher Davenport
December 2006
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