Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Gospel According to Jim Naughton: Pay Attention, Tell the Truth, Say Thank You

It’s the “end of an era” as Jim Naughton steps down after over seven years as editor the Episcopal Café: the go-to place for independent church news for Episcopalians.

Seven years – it has a nice Biblical ring to it. And it seems to me today that like another nice Biblical story – the story of Esther – it was “for just such a time as this” that Jim Naughton stepped up and brought his manifold gifts to work in the digital fields of the Lord.

Just as in the game of baseball (a passion Jim and I share) where a pitcher-who-can-hit is the double threat gift that keeps on giving to a team, Jim has brought to this team – the Episcopal Church team – his gifts of being a theologian-who-can-write. And edit. And investigate. His deep faith and hopefulness about the gospel in general and the Episcopal Church in specific has given him the grace to critique the church when it fell short of being the Body of Christ it’s called to be and to cheerlead the church when it rose to the occasion.

Since it has arguably been a particularly “dense” seven-plus years in church news land, he had plenty of opportunity for both. I remember when he started the “Blog of Daniel” – in response to the short-lived television show that was actually shot at All Saints Church here in Pasadena. As he describes in his farewell post over at Episcopal Café:
The Blog of Daniel was succeeded by Daily Episcopalian, a blog devoted primarily to the struggles over the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. At some point, while keeping that blog, it occurred to me that it was going to be difficult to persuade people that the Episcopal Church was more than an argument over human sexuality if all I covered were arguments over human sexuality. And so, Episcopal Café was born.
And what a gift it has been. Today I’m remembering General Conventions past and surviving Lambeth 2008 together. I’m remembering our Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys moments as we unraveled “The Case of the Errant Email.” Claiming the Blessing and the Chicago Consultation … and a boatload of blog posts along the way. From Plano to Putney, it’s been a journey we’ve shared toward the goal of a church where all the baptized are fully included in all the sacraments – and where “respect the dignity of every human being” doesn’t have a bunch of fine print in the disclaimer after an asterisk.

It is a true thing that our ecclesial GPS is not yet chirping “arriving at destination” – and yet we are many, many miles further down the road than we were when we started … with a big hunk of those miles directly attributable to the work and witness of Jim Naughton. And we are not done yet. There’s still work to do together and I look forward to doing it.

So as we salute Jim for his “just such a time as this” work at Episcopal Café and look forward to that work ahead, I’ll be taking with me all these great memories as motivation to keep moving forward – along with the Gospel Appointed for the Journey … from the Book of Jim, Chapter 7:10 – “Pay attention, tell the truth and say thank you.”

Thank you, Jim. La lucha continua.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

News from All Saints Church, Pasadena

Mixed feelings of sadness at the end of an era and delight for Ed and Hope at the beginning of a new chapter. It will -- to say the least -- be an interesting next 18 months!

A Message from Ed Bacon:

At the November 18th meeting of the vestry, I announced my plan to retire as the rector of All Saints Church in the spring of 2016. This morning I preached about my discernment process leading up to this decision and the discernment processes both All Saints and Hope and I have entered about our futures. All Saints will be discerning the best match for our new rector. Hope and I will be discerning where we are called to live and the particular work we will be entering. [video below]

The vestry has named two extraordinary leaders -- Gloria Pitzer and Bob Long -- to chair the search committee to find and call my successor. I invite you to keep that process in your prayers as it unfolds with the convening of a Search Committee and the creation of a Parish Profile -- and eventually the call to a new rector. We will be using Saints Alive, our website, and social media to inform everyone of the unfolding of the search process. Hope and I also desire your prayers as we seek to know God's call to us in this next chapter.

Meanwhile, during the next eighteen months we will continue to engage in the vibrant and vital mission of All Saints Church as we work together to turn the human race into the human family. I am supremely confident that the DNA of love, justice and compassion that is the essence of All Saints Church will continue to inform and inspire our work in the months ahead as it has through decades and rectors past.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fox News on the "Proper" Use of Scripture

ICYMI ... and you probably did, because odds are if you read this blog you don't watch much Fox News ... the Fox News Folks were evidently quite taken aback by my favorite part of President Obama's Immigration Action Speech ... the part where he said "Scripture tells us we shall not oppress the stranger." It's what I tweeted. It's the quote I put on my FB cover. And it's what made their heads explode ... according to this feature over at Raw Story. Check it out:

On Fox & Friends, Tucker Carlson accused the president of using the Biblical quotations to prove that “God is on [his] side.” “It’s repugnant,” Carlson said. This is the Christian left at work, and it’s repugnant."

"To quote scripture?” he added, “that’s out of bounds.”

“He’s using it to guilt someone into” supporting immigration reform, Elisabeth Hasselbeck replied. “That’s not what the scholars behind the Bible would interpret as proper use.”


Seriously. This from the folks who are fine quoting scripture until the cows come home as long as it's about what they think the Bible says about who's entitled to the equal protection of civil marriage.

Evidently using the Bible as a weapon of mass discrimination against LGBT people is fair game but suggesting that loving your neighbors by not deporting them is out of bounds. Honest to Ethel ... they make my hair hurt.

So here's some scripture for you. "You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God" Leviticus 24:22

Wonder how Hasselbeck's "scholars behind the Bible" would interpret that one?

This Happened

At my desk on Thursday.

Editing December newsletter.

Call from unknown number.

Pick up anyway.

Rector (who I've never met) from North Carolina wanting advice on "best practice" for moving vestry/congregation forward on embracing marriage equality.

Q. "The vast majority are supportive but anxious. What do I say to those who are worried someone might leave or their neighbors will be offended?"

A. "You say that those are exactly the same question every vestry and congregation has asked itself down through the ages when the Holy Spirit called them to step out and be part of bending the arc of history toward justice.

You tell them it was asked about standing against segregation. It was asked about supporting the ordination of women. And it's being asked now about ending marriage discrimination against same-sex couples.

And you say the more important question than "who might leave if we include everyone" is "who might come if we take our place with those standing on the right side of history on this challenge facing our generation the way our forbears did on the ones that challenged them."

Resume editing the December newsletter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Of Marriage Equality in South Carolina and "Marriage Pledges" on the Internet

So the same day we got marriage equality in South Carolina I got an email about "The Marriage Pledge" in my inbox. Coincidence?

Marriage equality came to South Carolina today when the U.S. Supreme Court today denied the motion filed by South Carolina's Attorney General to further delay the start of marriage for same-sex couples.

Interestingly -- to me, anyway -- in the same FB newsfeed was the announcement of a new initiative called "The Marriage Pledge" ... calling for clergy to cease "civil-marrying" any couples now that civil marriage is available to same-sex couples.

Seriously. From their pledge:
To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.

Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.

Please join us in this pledge to separate civil marriage from Christian marriage by adding your name.
Already much discussion amongst the conservative cognoscenti over at Titusonenine but I have to admit I just don't really "get it."

To start with -- "government marriage"???? Really -- that's a new one for me. And don't even get me started on the "in accord with the principles articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church's life" part. Stay tuned for the History of Marriage essay in the Study of Marriage Blue Book Report to clarify just how much marriage has evolved over the centuries.

Oh, I get the arguments that clergy should quit acting as agents of the state on matter of civil marriage. I actually get the arguments on both sides of that question. In fact, those questions -- and a call for discernment on that issue -- will also be part of above referenced and upcoming report from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

And here at All Saints Church in Pasadena we have our own history of deciding not to act as agents of the state on marriage -- but in our case it was in order to not participate in state sponsored discrimination during the Prop 8 Era.

In point of fact for Episcopalians, our canons already give clergy the leeway to decline to preside at any marriage for any reason whatsoever -- Marriage Pledge or no Marriage Pledge. Canon 18, Section 4 (and I quote):
It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize any marriage.
Period. Seems pretty clear to me!

So what's to be gained by throwing out the bride with the bathwater in this dramatic temper tantrum -- rather than simply using their existing canonical ability to "just say no" to any marriage they consider "un-biblical?" Are the gay cooties of marriage between same-sex couples really going to sneak over and contaminate their otherwise pure marriages? Or is this just yet-another on the long list of efforts to posture and polarize instead of pastor and evangelize?


PS -- Mazel tov, South Carolina! (And I want points for managing to write this piece without bringing up Charles Manson. Until now.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marriage is reflection of God's love | by Valori Sherer

Valori Sherer is an Episcopal priest, the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby, North Carolina and the author of this op-ed piece on marriage -- which appeared in the Shelby Sentinel in June 2014. I missed it then but it showed up today in one of my newsfeeds -- and I thought it was one of the most clear, concise and helpful summaries I've read in a very long time.

It will not tell you anything you don't already know, but it is totally worth reading and bookmarking for future forwarding to our "But you're redefining marriage!" friends as the journey toward equality continues. (And it WILL continue until we "arrive at destination.")

Marriage is reflection of God's love | by Valori Sherer

Many modern Christians hold the idea that marriage, that is, the union of one man and one woman in a life-long covenantal relationship, is an institution created by God in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

It is clear, however, from the Old Testament that many of the Jewish patriarchs had multiple wives, e.g., Abraham, Solomon, Jacob. Polygamy was still in practice, though less so, during Jesus’ time. Divorce was an accepted practice as well, but only the husband had a legal right to demand it. For centuries, marriage was a private, family matter and most marriages were arranged by the father of the family or the legal guardian.

It was St. Augustine of Hippo who, in the fourth century, first described marriage as “a sacred sign, a sacramentum, of the union between Christ and the church.” In the fifth century ecclesiastical blessing on marriage was only required for priests and deacons. It wasn’t until the eight century that “church weddings” became common practice.

The Christian perspective that has remained consistent is that marriage, as a covenantal relationship of persons, reflects God’s covenantal relationship with creation as described in Scripture. The fruits of any marriage, therefore, must reflect God’s saving plan for the whole world. The marriage must be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world.

Historically, the concept of marriage has evolved from polygamy to monogamy, from property exchange to consent, from duty to love. Each cultural shift in understanding has led to a shift in theological understanding and in the development and application of sacramental rites for marriage.

Our cultural, theological, and ecclesial understanding of marriage continues to evolve. We are confronted almost daily with changes in legislation around the country on the issue of marriage.

As we study, legislate, and enter into marriages in the world we live in today, it may help to remember that in the thirteenth century, the only legal marriages were those conducted in a church because the church and the state were the same entity. Such has never been the case in American history or in American church history. It hasn’t “always been this way” as some voices say. It has always been evolving.

In the Episcopal rite of marriage, we pray for the couple, asking that by God’s Holy Spirit “they may grow in love and peace with God and one another, that their life may be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world, and that they may be given such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.”

Christians are a New Covenant community commanded by Jesus Christ to love God, one another, and ourselves as he loved us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans assures us that the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation was made once, for all. Christians, whether heterosexual or homosexual, form a community whose individual members constitute equally important parts of one body, Christ’s body; and we are all saved through faith, by grace. Marriage is one way we all can reflect this truth is our world.

Valori Sherer is Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Thoughts on Friday's Prayers at the National Cathedral

My first visit to the National Cathedral in Washington DC was a high school youth group trip in the '70s while the massive house of stone and light was still under construction. I've returned many times over the years and never fail to be moved by the beauty, power and energy of this place of worship in the center of our nation's capital -- a place which defines itself as a "house of prayer for all people."

Due to the marvels of modern technology, on Friday morning I was able to sit in my living room in Southern California and watch the livestream of the service of Muslim Friday Prayers (Jumu'ah) from that very National Cathedral in a service that emphasized the "all" in "all people."

You can read the rest here ... in the blog I posted to the Huffington Post yesterday. (And of course I hope you will.)

But in this platform I want to share a comment on Facebook in response to that blog. A reader wrote:
The Rev. Susan Russell offers some excellent insights about today's Muslim prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. Katie and I listened to the entire program this evening together on the Cathedral's website and were amazed by the remarks by the Dean, the Cathedral Canon, and the leaders in the Muslim Community.

I learned so much that I didn't know about our brothers and sisters in the Muslim Community. These peaceful people of prayer stood in the Cathedral and condemned terrorism and called for the protection of the religious freedom of Christians in the Middle East. There are Muslims who have helped to rebuild churches that have been destroyed by terrorists. I quickly learned in listening to their talks that there is nothing to be afraid of and I was able to lay some of my own personal biases to rest.

Those who were so against opening the Cathedral to the Muslim community could have really benefited from taking the time to listen to what our brothers and sisters have to say. Part of the problem with society is that nobody seems to want to listen to people who look or believe differently than they do. You don't have to agree with the other person, but you can learn by listening and offer hospitality while still standing confident in your own tradition. Love is the opposite of fear. Let us all choose love.
And that -- my friends -- is why we do what we do. An inch at a time.