Monday, January 13, 2020

Ecclesiastes 3:1 and Integrity USA 2020

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

Because I'm a queer fish who swims in the Episcopal pond, my email, voice mail and social media feeds have all been full of the latest breaking news of the turmoil and challenges facing Integrity ... the 40+ year old advocacy organization committed (at its best)  to the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments ...and with questions about what I have to say about it. Here's what I have to say.

I spent nine years on the Board of Integrity ... three as Communication Director under the leadership of the inimitable Michael Hopkins (2000-2003) and six as President of Integrity during what can arguably be described as the height of the Inclusion Wars (2003-2009).

It was an era that included:
  • the 2003 election of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire
  • the 2004 Windsor Report
  • the 2005 TEC response to the Anglican Consultative Council ("To Set Our Hope on Christ") 
  • the 2006 GC Resolution B033 (creating a de facto moratorium on the election of any other-than-straight candidates for bishop)
  • Lambeth 2008 
  • the 2009 overturning of B033 and crafting of rites for the blessing of same-sex unions
  • trans-inclusive changes to our canons
  • liturgies and canonical changes paving the way for equal marriage 
  • and soon-to-be five members of the House of Bishops who identify as LGBTQ.

I offer that quick review in part to say that this is not my first rodeo ... and in part to emphasize that the struggle for full inclusion has been long, has always been messy and -- for all the progress we have made over the last 40 years -- is far from over.

We are not "there yet" until there truly are no outcasts, until the full and equal claim promised by this church in 1976 is actually full and equal and until there's not a single stranger left at the gate.

And ... to every thing there is a season.

So in answer to all those emails, voice mails and social media posts asking for comment on the current "Integrity troubles" here are my two cents:

I think it's time to let it go.

I think the institutional container that was created in the 70's & 80's to provide a place of refuge and community on the margins of the church and which led to the empowerment of activists in the 90's & 00's to stand up, speak out and be agents of the change they wanted to see in the church and the world has outlived its capacity to do the work in front of us in this present era and prepare us to do the work ahead of us as we move forward into God's future.

This is not because of what one president, board member, treasurer or executive director did or didn't do. It is not a conclusion I've come to in the last days, weeks or months -- indeed it is a position I held in 2012 when an intergenerational visioning team gathered in Pasadena to consider Integrity's future and articulated again in 2018 when a group of past-presidents were invited into a conversation with the then-board.

In an analogy I've used before, for me it is like the history of the women's suffrage movement -- which organized, strategized and eventually achieved the goal of Votes for Women.

Achieving that goal required a particular organizational structure and strategy ... a structure and strategy that was finally and thankfully successful. And -- when the goal had been achieved -- there was still work to do. The work of dismantling sexism, confronting misogyny and taking down the patriarchy in all its forms. Work that continues today. Work that calls for different strategies and structures than ones our grandmothers and great-grandmothers used to get us the vote. Work that continues today with the League of Women Voters -- the new organizational structure that rose up out of the sun-setting of the Women's Suffrage Association

In my experience, Integrity has been the most effective at building grassroots organizing structures to influence ground breaking changes in the Episcopal Church through legislation that has made us a church where the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments is not a soundbite coming from the margins but the position preached by our Presiding Bishop and the policies written into our canons.

No, we're not done yet.
Yes, we have miles to go before those aspirational goals become a reality for everyone in this church we love, serve and challenge.
And ... to every thing there is a season.

In this season, I am persuaded that the old wineskins of Integrity USA's organizational structure are neither adequate, sufficient nor capable of equipping us for the work we are being called to do.

And, in this season, my hope and prayers are that collectively we can find a way to celebrate the accomplishments of the past while we work together to reimagine the work moving forward.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Truth Will Set You Free

On Impeachment Eve -- Tuesday night December 17th -- hundreds of rallies were held around the country in support of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. I was honored to be asked to speak at the rally being held here in Los Angeles ... but didn't make it back in time due to weather delayed travel home from Alabama. Here is what I would have said if I'd gotten back in time:

We stand together tonight and in solidarity with over 600 rallies happening around this great nation of ours -- in witness to the strength and power of the aspirational goal which we call the American dream: the dream of a nation where liberty and justice is not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.

As a priest and pastor, I stand here tonight claiming the promise my faith teaches me in the words of John 8:32 … and that promise is “the truth will set you free.”

My brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings, the truth that will set us all free is the truth that nobody is above the law.

The truth that our House of Representatives will be voting on tomorrow is the truth that that the oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies -- foreign and domestic – does not come with an asterisk that reads “*unless the enemy is the President.”

And the truth that we must continue to hold sacred is the truth that our sister Margaret Mead spoke when she said “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Over 200 years ago the founders of our nation were those people as they imagined the great democratic experiment that is the American dream. And we stand on their shoulders tonight as we rise to resist the shameful and systematic efforts to dismantle that democracy before our eyes.

May the truth that sets us free sustain us in the struggle and give us the strength and courage to continue to be the change we want to see as we commit to protect our Constitution against all enemies – including the President.   

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Why I Blame Biblical Literalism for the Rise of Donald Trump

If we manage to survive as a human race long enough, a few hundred years from now scores of PhDs will be earned as scholars analyze the combination of social, political, and economic factors leading to the rise of the current resident of the White House and to the concurrent orchestrated assault on our constitutional democracy. So, let me get a head start. 

I’m convinced biblical literalism is a prime cause of the mess we find ourselves in as a nation.

Yes, there are a complex set of factors that lead to the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, white supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins that have contaminated our body politic and dominated our public discourse.  

But incubating those factors into this particular set of toxins requires a kind of cultural Petri dish which will simultaneously provide the nutrients necessary to nourish the toxic worldview while protecting it from contaminates like data, facts, diversity and multi-cultural competency.

The biblical literalism foundational to 21st century American Evangelicalism does precisely that.

It feeds, waters and fertilizes exclusively male language for God -- marginalizing women and non-binary people, perpetuating the patriarchy and fanning the fire of unexamined privilege making a Putin-style oligarchy appear preferable to a democracy where brown and black women have voice and power.

It creates a context where it is a very short journey from “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” to “my country, love it or leave it” – with a direct connection to the rise of nationalism, sexism, white supremacism and the rest of the litany of isms that plague our nation and our world: the rise of the forces we struggle against daily as we live out our baptismal promise to persevere in resisting evil.

And it is this fertile environment that becomes a breeding ground for a population pre-programmed to believe fact-based science is an enemy of faith. It quite literally lays down neuron tracks in the brain set up to reject as “fake news” the very science that calls us to come together to save what we can of this planet we have exploited and the very evidence that proves our President is criminally abusing the power of his office for personal and political gain.

To be clear: the beauty, power and importance of the First Amendment is that it protects every last one of us to freely exercise the religion of our choice – including the freedom to exercise no religion at all. And including the freedom to reject science, fact and data and to believe whatever one chooses about what God wills, blesses or condemns.

However – and it’s a big however – the First Amendment does not protect the right to confuse the freedom to exercise religion with the license to impose religion. And the job of defending the Constitution against all enemies – foreign and domestic – requires each and every one of us to do our part.

If we are going to save our nation from devolving into a kind of theocratic oligarchy, those who believe that science and data are things – those who embrace the vision of a nation where liberty and justice for all literally means all -- must provide an antidote to the toxins of ignorance and “alternative facts” threatening our constitutional democracy with polarization and division.

Otherwise we risk finding ourselves in the last scene of the last act of “Camelot” -- looking for a boy to run and tell the story of what almost was: a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people were created equal.

The stakes are too high, the challenges are too great, and the struggle is too real to do anything less than to stand up, to speak out and to resist the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, white supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins contaminating our body politic and dominating our public discourse.

Pick your thing and do it. Now. Together we can make a difference. Together we can overcome.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Celebrating the life of Louie Crew Clay

The news came in an email from Elizabeth just few minutes ago. She had been with Louie and Ernest yesterday and it was the news we were expecting and dreading and hoping not to get ... news that our beloved Louie had passed peacefully from this realm to the next surrounded by love and light and the prayers of those of us keeping vigil from afar.

There will be much to say. Much to remember. Much to mourn. And much to rejoice in. But right now all I can think to offer is this video we made to celebrate his legacy back in 2015 ... "Once upon a time there was a little boy named Louie ..."

Rest in peace and power, dear one. There is so much more love in the world because of you. May we be given the grace to be wise stewards of your legacy and ... as you would want it ... find "Joy Anyway."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Comment on Integrity Leadership Transition

This morning the Reverend Gwen Fry announced her resignation as President of Integrity in a letter posted here ... and the Board has given notice of a process to elect her successor. Asked for comment by the ENS reporter covering the story (which you can read here) I wrote the following:

Gwen has been a long time leader in the movement for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the work and witness of the Episcopal Church and her resignation today as Integrity President comes after a long period of discernment factoring her own health and the health of the organization – an organization that has been struggling to find its voice in a new paradigm of advocacy for LGTBQ Episcopalians.

Integrity has a forty-plus year history as a leading voice for full inclusion – beginning as a mimeographed newsletter started by Dr. Louie Crew Clay in 1974 and evolving into an organization with bylaws, chapters and a volunteer board.

During the height of what I’ve come to think of as The Inclusion Wars (2003-2009) Integrity had an Executive Director, support staff and a full time advocacy and legislative agenda. That was then. This is now.

As the times have changed, so has the role of Integrity. We are now a church where the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in all orders and aspects of ministry is not theoretical but canonical. And we are also a church where the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in all orders and aspects of ministry still varies widely depending on your zip code.

There is still much work for an organization like Integrity to do to support LGBTQ Episcopalians and continue to advocate for church-wide inclusion, but the institutional structure that served its work in the past is not designed to meet the challenges of either the present or the future. And so it’s time for new vision and new leadership.

My hope is that this will be a time for those with a commitment to the vision Integrity has led since 1974 – the vision Presiding Bishop Ed Browning of blessed memory shared of a church with no outcasts -- will come up around the current Board leadership as they work to reconfigure the organization to meet the needs and challenges of 2019 and beyond.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

OMG ... And Then There Were Five!

I forgot they were electing a new bishop today in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.

Between the intense news cycle of the Impeachment Hearing Week past and the clean up I've had on my plate from our own Diocesan Convention last weekend and trying to remember where I put the Thanksgiving decorations before it's too late to find them and put them up I was quite literally busy and distracted by my many tasks.

And then my phone pinged with a text message from Jim White.

"Did you hear about Missouri? They elected Deon Johnson. On the first ballot!"

And all I could muster was OMG!

OMG ... what a difference a decade (or two or three or four) makes.

Booting up my laptop and catching up with the reports and videos and photos from Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis I was gobsmacked by muscle memory of having been there ... in that very same very holy space ... in November 2002 for the first Claiming the Blessing (CTB) conference.

It was the place we launched our initiative to "promote wholeness in human relationships, abolish prejudice and oppression, and heal the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church" -- and it marked  the beginning of years of intentional collaborative work by organizations and individuals within the Episcopal Church advocating for full inclusion of all the baptized in all sacraments of the church.

That was then: Members of the CTB leadership team making the case for blessing unions between same-sex couples in the Episcopal Church:

And this is now: The election on the first ballot of a married, gay man as the 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri.

Same church. Same chancel. Different day. OMG ... what a different day!

A week ago today I had the high honor of being the preacher at the 124th Convention Eucharist here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. One of the texts I preached from is what I've come to think of as the Gospel According to Margaret Mead ... and that text is "Never doubt that a small group of faithful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

The world is in desperate need of changing and the church is not yet done with its own struggle with the full inclusion of all God's beloved into the beloved community.

Nevertheless ... today is a day to pause and rejoice.

Today is a day to recognize how far we've come on the journey to where God is calling us to go.

Today is a day to say TBTG for the Diocese of Missouri and mazel tov to Bishop-elect Deon Johnson -- who will become the 11th Bishop of Missouri and the 5th LGBTQ Bishop in the Episcopal Church: words I could not even have imagined typing in 2002 when we launched the CTB initiative from the cathedral where he was elected.

And today is a day to give thanks for every single member of every single small group of faithful, committed people who have changed this church from where we were in 2002 to where we are in 2019.  We may not be "there" yet ... but today is yet another incremental victory toward the audacious goal of Ed Browning's dream of church where there are no outcasts. 

Tomorrow we continue the struggle. But today we celebrate.

OMG ... Alleulia ... Amen.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Children of the Resurrection

Proper 27C | November 10, 2019 | 7:30 a.m.
A sermon preached at All Saints Church in Pasadena

None of us can really know what happens after we die until we get there ... that’s part of the "mystery of faith" we proclaim.  But that doesn't stop us from wondering.

In the Gospel this morning Jesus is in Jerusalem teaching in the Temple. 

Our All Saints mission statement includes the phrase "following a revolutionary Jesus" and being a revolutionary -- running up against the protectors of the status quo -- is one of the hallmarks of Jesus' ministry. And in today's Gospel he runs into the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were a Jewish that disagreed with their cousins the Pharisees about a lot of things -- but one thing they both agreed on was that neither one of them liked what this radical rabbi from Nazareth was saying.

The Sadducees were a conservative, politically powerful cohort of religious leaders, wealthy men who mostly hold themselves to be superior to the common folk and were focused on the practices at the Temple. And -- germane to our Gospel today -- they don’t believe in resurrection at all.

So it’s no surprise that they show up to question Jesus while he’s teaching. And it's no surprise that they’re out to trip Jesus up.

And not for the first time we hear undertones of impatience as Jesus continues to contend with those who keep missing the point of what he's running out of time to teach them.

And the point is that Jesus is offering them a different way of seeing things: of seeing things as a child of the resurrection.

Last week we gathered for our parish feast day: the Feast of All Saints -- remembering those who have left their mortal bodies and our physical company, those whom we grieve and miss: opening our hearts to admit our pain and loss for those we love and see no more -- even while celebrating our hope and faith in the love of God that is greater than death.

To hold both grief and hope at the same time is the central paradox and fulcrum of the resurrection life we live as followers of the revolutionary Jesus.

And on this twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost in this year of our Lord 2019 ... two days away from the start of Impeachment Hearings on Capitol Hill and 360 days until the next presidential election ... I also believe we are grieving a deep societal sense of loss in our nation.  The raised tensions, the assaults on the rule of law and constitutional protections that have arguably been aspirational yet served as the guard rails for our fragile democracy, the veiled and not so veiled threats; the anger, polarization and division ... well, I could go on and on.

It’s a whole different kind of death.

The German theologian Dorothee Soelle wrote more than 30 years ago about how we can be living and dead all at the same time. Soelle says “Death is what takes place with us when we look upon others not as gift, blessing, or stimulus, but as threat, danger, competition. It is the death that comes to all who try to live by bread alone.”  It is not, she says “the final departure we usually think of when we speak of death; it is that purposeless, empty existence devoid of human relationships and filled with anxiety, silence, and loneliness.”

We all know that sort of death. We learn it in our earliest days and most of us – ironically – live with that sort of death for all of our days.

What does it mean for us to choose life in the face of that kind of death?  Jesus tells the Sadducees that they just don’t get it. They are thinking of life and death in wholly mortal terms. They are holding so literally to such a small vision that they are missing not only the bigger picture but the treasure of God’s love promised through the resurrection.

Jesus says that it’s really a whole different thing. The resurrection life is not just getting some version of your old life back. Nor is resurrection the same thing as immortality. This is not just a question of what happens to your physical body after you die.

My favorite Easter card puts it this way: "The great Easter truth is not that we are going to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the resurrection."

We can’t know what happens after our bodies die. We know that people live on in our hearts and our memories. We know that they live on through their influences on us, in the ways that they have shaped our lives -- and I think this morning in  particular of the influence of Rabbi Marv Gross ... whose influence through his work at Union Station is a legacy that will continue to give life long after his untimely death this week.

We hear that assurance of Jesus last line in this passage – God is the God of the living – and to God all are living.

But what does it mean for us in this moment to live as a child of the resurrection?  How does the experience of Jesus, this example of Jesus-  live on through you? And how do you bear witness to the resurrection in your experience of others?

For us in this moment, in this time and this place, to live as a child of the resurrection is not a matter of physical life and physical death. It is to be transformed by the witness of Jesus and to live anew in that spirit. It is to be transformed by the Incarnational Jesus’ words and deeds.

It is a rejection of the death-dealing of this world. It is moving from death into new life. It is the realization that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.

And because of that, because of the constant presence of God and constant love of God  for us as living children of the resurrection, the constant challenge to us is to allow that love to flow through us and out into the world.

Our practice of love in this world must be modeled on God’s love for us and it is active and engaged and ever-oriented toward justice and mercy for all God’s children and for this beautiful earth.

We know that we are surrounded by death. We are surrounded by polarization. We live enmeshed in a system that devalues human life and destroys the earth. We are soaked in fear until it seeps into our pores. We are taught to hate. We are robbed of our trust.

But through the love of God and the example of Jesus, we can move from death to life as children of the resurrection.

The lectionary passage leaves off the concluding two verses of this episode. Those versus are 39-40 and they read: Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well. For they no longer dared to ask him another question.”

Some of these folks heard Jesus. Sounds like some of them were transformed by his words and his witness. And the others at least realized they’d come up against a force to be reckoned with.

My brothers, sister and gender fluid siblings, living into the promise of resurrection will make you a force to be reckoned with. Not in the conventional ways of the world of smack downs and verbal violence. Not in the competitive market of unchecked consumption. But in bearing the heart of God, the force of justice, the sacred sense of compassion, and a deep vision for a better world right here and right now.

Our world needs that kind of spiritual force. It needs it today. It needs it on Wednesday. It needs it on Thursday. And it needs it each day going forward.

And the question before us this day is are we prepared to live that way? And are we prepared to help each other live that way?


Portions of this sermon inspired by and adapted from "Child of the Resurrection" by Jennifer Sanders: 11-6-2016