Monday, November 18, 2019

Together Let Us Live Like Jesus

I had the privilege of being the preacher at the Eucharist for the 124th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in Riverside on November 16, 2019. Here's the text to that sermon.




Together Let Us Live Like Jesus
.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be aligned with your love O God, our strength, our courage and our freedom. Amen.

Go. Cross Boundaries. Listen Deeply. And live like Jesus.

Those are our marching orders as we prepare to gather around this table to be fed by the holy food of new and unending life and then ask to be sent out into the world to continue our lifelong journey along the way of love.

Go. Cross Boundaries. Listen Deeply. And live like Jesus.

These words bring to mind other words – words from the Gospel According to Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Gathered today at this 124th meeting of the annual convention of the Diocese of Los Angeles,  we stand on the shoulders of many generations of thoughtful, committed people who have gone before us in the lifelong way of love … those who changed the world for the better in their lifetimes as we strive to change it in ours – who said yes to the call to be people of justice and joy; compassion and peace.


It was 1997 and I was a brand-new deacon attending the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Summit in Cincinnati, Ohio -- and the preacher at the Eucharist concluding the conference was Dr. Verna Dozier.

Biblical scholar, author, gifted educator and faithful Episcopalian Verna was 80 years old and it was one of her last appearances before the Parkinson's disease she battled took her out of public life.

After she was assisted into the makeshift pulpit in the conference center assembly hall, she paused for a long moment to survey the gathered community before she proclaimed "You are a peculiar people ... and by the grace of God may you always remain so."


She then went on to challenge us to live into that peculiarity -- into our particular charism and challenge as American Anglicans with these words: "The Church has the possibility of being the new thing that can haul the whole world into God's vision for God's creation. Our choice is to be the ones who see the new way and to follow it, or to be the ones the new creation leaves behind."

We, my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings, are the Los Angeles branch of that peculiar people -- and both the challenge and the choice before us in these waning days of 2019 is exactly the same as the one Dr. Dozier named for the Episcopal Church in the waning days of the last millennium.

And the good news I bring today is that we are a peculiar people with lots of practice at choosing the new way and following it ... it is part of our DNA as both Anglicans and as Angelenos.

I am a daughter of this diocese. I was born at Good Samaritan Hospital and baptized at the Old Cathedral. I spent my earliest church days following my Aunt Gretchen around while she did her altar guild tasks at a time when hats were required for women and the priests were all men. And when we reached the age where it was time for confirmation class the boys went off to be acolytes ... and the girls went off to do nursery duty.

My first diocesan convention was 1987 and my name badge read "Mrs. Anthony Russell" ... never mind that Mr. Anthony Russell darkened the church door solely on Christmas and Easter. I remember in 1992 when two women clergy literally flipped a coin to decide which one of them would run for Deputy to General Convention -- because there was no way the diocese would send TWO women priests.

Let me pause for just a moment and note how far we've come. Yesterday this diocese not only elected an awesome slate of young leaders to represent us at General Convention but all four clergy deputies are women, our first alternate is a woman and six out of the eight deputies and alternates are new deputies. So we are a diocese that is choosing the new way.

And in a story that lives on in the Sisterhood of the Red Blazer, I remember being warned by women clergy mentors to "lose the red blazer until after you're ordained" because it was "too threatening."


I tell these stories because while we are most certainly not yet done with the systemic sexism which continues to plague our church, our nation and our world it is inarguable that we have come a far piece from those days. And it is a deep joy to have over and over and over had the high honor of being part of this work of the church in the world as we have gathered convention after convention to discern together what new ways the Holy Spirit is calling us to follow -- and then finding the courage to say yes when Jesus says "Go!"

And that brings me to the Gospel lesson for today. It starts with Jesus giving the disciples yet-another-teachable-moment -- yet another reminder of what it is they are supposed to do: to serve the least, the lost and the lonely ... and that "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant."

And then they encounter Bartimaeus – the blind beggar who many tried to silence but Jesus would have none of that. Modeling what he had just taught his disciples, he called the man everyone wanted to silence and ignore to come to him … and then asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” “How can I serve you?”

Crossing the boundary others were not willing to cross, Jesus centered the man on the margins.
Jesus listened deeply to what the man needed … not assuming to know his needs but granting him agency to name that for himself.

And then when he did … we are told … immediately he regained his sight.

Our human family is in desperate need of recovering its sight. It is suffering from an epidemic of blindness … blindness to the divinity present in each and every human being. That blindness fuels our divisions and feeds our polarities – and we are the ones Jesus is calling to walk the way of love as agents of hope and healing.

Yes, the challenges before us are great, the divisions are many and deep and there is much work to do.  And yet we claim the legacy of those on whose shoulders we stand … of those who have led the way through the struggles our Big Fat Anglican Family has weathered in the past.

Of John Hines who taught that justice was the corporate face of God’s love.
Of Ed Browning who proclaimed that in this church there would be no outcasts.
Of Barbara Harris who preached that there is no such thing as being half-assed baptized.
And of our own Malcolm Boyd who challenged us always to ask: “Are we running with you, Jesus?”

Just the tip of the iceberg of those faithful, committed people who changed the world … sometimes an inch at a time … because they were willing to:

Go. Cross Boundaries. Listen Deeply. And live like Jesus.

There is another gospel I have on my heart today -- the Gospel According to Joan Chittister. Sister Joan famously wrote: “We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again.”

They are words that have inspired me ever since I read them decades ago in her brilliant book “Wisdom Distilled From the Daily” and yet -- if I’m honest -- there are moments when I’m so tired from thinking about it all I’m ever so tempted  to give up on the inch much less the mile.

And when that temptation looms, I remember my son Brian and his struggle in grade school as he tried to conquer the inch in front of him: mastering the mystery of Long Division! I remember the night he proudly announced at the dinner table that he'd finally figured it out. "First you guess, then you multiply, then you subtract until you run out of numbers!" And then, pausing for effect, he announced: "So now I understand math!"

And I remember his older brother, quickly bursting that bubble with the sobering news of algebra, geometry and calculus yet to come. "Oh no" exclaimed Brian in disbelief and horror. "You mean there's MORE?????"

Yes, there's more -- for Brian and for us. And just as my mother's heart ached for him that night at the dinner table -- wanting him to celebrate the achievement, yet knowing how much further he has to go -- how many lessons he has yet to learn -- I imagine God who is mother and father to us all feeling much the same about us every time we think we're finished: every time we're tempted to think the inch we've just reclaimed is enough.

Over and over and over again we face the challenge of refusing to settle for how far we've come and opening ourselves up to where God is calling us to go.

To Cross Boundaries. To Listen Deeply. And to live like Jesus.

To live like Jesus is to literally be  the change we wish to see in the world -- and the blessing we gather to claim today is a church changed and changing -- the challenge we face is an inch reclaimed and miles yet to go.
  
Hear these words from our former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

Until we can see the chasm between what is and what ought to be, we don’t have any hope of changing.  Indeed, it is the act of crossing that boundary between what is and what ought to be that gets us across the fence between fear and possibility, reconciling division, transforming injustice, urging the lost onto the road home.

These words were preached back in 2012 to a congregation of people who love their church and strive to live out the Gospel while not always agreeing with each other about how to do both of those things.

And she was challenging us – and, I suspect, challenging herself (because we know all the best sermons are actually the preacher preaching to the preacher) – to get ourselves together and get over that fence between fear and possibility in order to bridge the gap between what is and what ought to be in our church and in our world.

I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that seven years ago the world was far from perfect and we faced a whole list of challenges.

But I think it is fair to say that since then the fence between fear and possibility has only gotten taller and harder to climb and the chasm between what is and what ought to be has only gotten deeper and more treacherous to cross.

It was Verna Dozier of blessed memory who said: “Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe.”

Today we gather together as the Diocese of Los Angeles to be fed by word and sacrament not just because we believe – but because we believe we are called to make a difference.

Called to climb the fence between fear and possibility.

Called to refuse to settle for what “is” but to work together with God to create what “ought to be.”

One more quote from Verna: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”

To say that we live in challenging times is an understatement – and the onslaught of breaking news makes it clear that there are even greater challenges ahead.

But we are a peculiar people. And if we move together by the light we have – knowing it is only finite and partial -- we will move forward together as co-creators of what ought to be; agents of the change we want to see refusing to allow fear to keep us from climbing that fence that stands between us and another world that is not only possible ... she is on her way.

I close with these words of Indian author Arundhati Roy as interpreted by Ana Hernandez:

              Another world is not only possible. She is on her way.
              On a quiet day, you can hear her breathing. She is on her way. 
Now …

Together let us Go.
Together let us climb that fence.
Together let us claim the future.
Together let us make the impossible possible
as we work to reconcile division, transform injustice
and urge the lost onto the long road home.
Together let us live like Jesus.
Amen.


Friday, November 01, 2019

The Weaponization of Religious Liberty


Religious discrimination is a real thing.
History — both modern and ancient — is tragically full of examples of times and places where religious discrimination has been the source of persecution, death and destruction. The perversion of religion into a weapon of mass destruction is antithetical to the core beliefs of all the world’s great religions. And yet, none of those religions have escaped the sad reality that human beings — given the power to do so — will use God as an excuse to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.
Our forefathers knew that. And they brought that knowledge — that wisdom — into our Bill of Rights with a First Amendment that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”
The First Amendment both prevents the government of the United States from privileging one religion over another and protects each and every one of us — as American citizens — to believe whatever we choose — or choose not — to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses.
It is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy. And, as we watch with sadness and horror the nightly news stories of religious wars and sectarian violence, this guarantee of religious freedom is something Americans of all religions — and no religion — should rejoice and be glad in.
What that guarantee of religious liberty is not is something to be distorted and exploited to further a political agenda of discrimination against LGBTQ people ... but that’s exactly what happened today with the Trump Administration’s HHS announcement today removing any requirement that recipients of grants from HHS enforce nondiscrimination rules that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and rules prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion.

Today’s HHS announcement comes on the heels of
the appointment of Paula White to the White House staff to advise the administration’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which was established last year by executive order to “give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty.”

It is yet another step by this administration to license discrimination against LGBTQ people on religious grounds … policies that are dangerous and detrimental not only for the LGBTQ Americans who are its direct target. It is a policy that opens the door for discrimination, inequality and prejudice to nearly every citizen of every state, undermining the foundational American value of equal protection. It is nothing less than an orchestrated backlash against equal protection for LGBTQ citizens and a flagrant distortion of the ideal of religious freedom into a vehicle for religion based bigotry.
Bottom line: The First Amendment protects your right as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against other Americans.
And watching the tragic consequences of genuine religious discrimination on the nightly news makes it all the more urgent that we stand together and speak out against yet another effort to turn religious liberty into a weapon of mass discrimination.
Because religious discrimination is a real thing. And this blatant effort to exploit it in order to attack LGBTQ citizens is a reprehensible thing.


Words & Worship: The Ongoing Work of Prayer Book Revision


And just like that it's November ... and Diocesan Convention looms on the horizon: November 15/16. In addition to all the regular work and worship of our Annual Family Reunion complete with Liturgy & Legislation, this year the Diocese of Los Angeles will offer an expanded set of workshops. You can see the full schedule here ... and do note that one of them will explore the ongoing work of prayer book revision.

Here's the description of the workshop ... being offered at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, November 15 at the Riverside Convention Center (where we're thrilled to be returning after a number of years in convention center wilderness):
General Convention has invited dioceses to talk about and collect liturgical materials to bring to the national conversation about new forms of worship, i.e., “Prayer Book revision.” In this workshop, we will talk about the “why” and the “how” of these imagined changes as they are lived out in a parish context. We’ll talk about how some churches have introduced changes, and we'll offer tools for undertaking this work in your parish.
Presenters include: Norma Guerra, Susan Russell & Kay Sylvester
If you need a reminder of where the Episcopal Church stands in the process of creating a process to begin a process of prayer book revision, there's this fine overview by Melodie Woerman from Episcopal News Service ... and here's a link to the enabling resolution 2018-A068 ... which includes this resolve:
Resolved, That bishops engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church ...
So if you're a Dio L.A. peep coming to convention, join us for what we hope will be the first of several opportunities to engage in this work of collaboration and collection of alternative texts for worship that we can offer to the wide church. If you've got thoughts or ideas send them my way ... srussell@ladiocese.org

And do keep this important work in your prayers as we continue to live into our responsibility to incarnate in our generation the ongoing work of prayer book revision that has been part of our heritage since 1789 ... articulated in these opening words of the Preface of our Book of Common Prayer:
It is a most invaluable part of that blessed “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,” that in his worship different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that, in every Church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore, by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people, “according to the various exigency of times and occasions.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

#Resist


Good people of deep faith read the same Bible and come to different conclusions about what God wills, intends and blesses. Patriotic Americans come to different conclusions about how best to defend the Constitution against all enemies—foreign and domestic. And what makes America great is that we are protected in our differences by the rule of law — and that no one is above the law.

Yes, we have failed over and over again to make the aspiration of liberty and justice for all a reality — but the fact that it remains an aspiration is the North Star of our journey toward a more perfect Union.

I come from Republican stock who would support many of the policies I disagree with in the current administration — but they would not be willing to either participate in or support the dismantling of the fabric of our democracy that is happening in broad daylight in front of our eyes.

Where are the Republicans who will put country before party and recognize that if we let this continue, our democracy is the baby that goes out with the bath water? Where are the patriots who will stand against this civic heresy that a President is above the rule of law?

Resistance is not an option. It's a duty.

Friday, October 25, 2019

"So what exactly is your new job?"

On September 1st I began a new chapter with new work and a new title: Canon for Engagement Across Difference for the Diocese of Los Angeles.

I'm still at All Saints in Pasadena as a member of their clergy staff ... dividing my time 40/60 parish and diocese ... and still living into a new paradigm of being "bilocational." But suffice to say it's exciting, energizing and just a little intimidating to be given the chance to both imagine and implement this new initiative which is the brainstorm of our Bishop Diocesan John Taylor.

And that brings me to the question which is the title of this post: So what exactly is your new job?

The announcement that went out back at the end of June does a good job of outlining the vision ... you can read that here ... but the Clif Notes version is this:
Known as “One in the Spirit: Finding Divinity Within Difference in the Diocese of Los Angeles,” the 3-year initiative will begin in September guided by a new staff officer, working group, and mission statement prioritizing four goals:
  • “To live more fully into our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being.
  • “To understand better how barriers of class, race, language, nationality, culture, politics, geography, orientation, and identification blind us to the burning image of the divine in one another.
  • “To proclaim in Christ’s name that we will not submit to our era’s epic division and polarization.
  • “To feed hearts that are hungry for connection and community in a secularizing, isolating age.”
My job is to pull together a diverse team of folks from around the diocese who will initially work on a process of collaborating and collating: doing an inventory of what programs, projects and initiatives are already in place doing this core Gospel work of reaching across difference and imagining together what we can create to both amplify the existing work and create new opportunities that don't yet exist.

A core piece of this work is our Anglican identity -- remembering that we come from spiritual ancestors who found a way to hold together the seemingly irreconcilable tensions of being both catholic and protestant in the 16th century -- and trusting that the DNA of Anglican comprehensiveness will equip us to do the work of bridging the differences that challenge us as 21st century disciples.

The plan is to have our Steering Committee in place by the end of November and then to call together a broadly based Task Force early in the new year. Stay tuned for more updates on that as we continue to build as we fly. And ... if you're a Diocese of L.A. peep ... come find me at Diocesan Convention and let's talk. I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas as we build this together.

In the meantime, I wanted to share these words from our Presiding Bishop's opening remarks to Executive Council last week ... works that are germane not only to this Engagement Across Difference initiative but to our work in the world in these days of challenge and polarization.
The United States is being torn asunder within by the inability to be in deep relationship with each other and yet hold differing positions and convictions. And the test of this democratic experiment will be the capacity of this particular nation to hold differences in the context of deep and real human relationships.

I really believe that Jesus was right. That the Way of Love, doesn't mean the way of agreement. But it means the capacity to love each other, and therefore, to seek the good together. Whether we agree or disagree. This is the democratic experiment; this is not just religious platitude. Dr. King once said, “History is replete with the bleached bones of civilization that have refused to listen to (Jesus),” who said love your enemies, bless those who curse you.

This country must not become a valley of dry bones. And frankly, the only way is the way of love. There is no other way. And maybe, this wonderful little church of ours, can offer that. This Way of Love to the body politic.

Not for political ends, not to change anybody's vote. But to change how we relate to each other as human beings.

And then we see what happens.
This is us ... the Diocese of Los Angeles. Ready to see what happens.

A Bishop on the Heretical Error of Male Supremacy


Written by the Right Reverend John H. Taylor (Bishop of Los Angeles) and posted to his Facebook page this morning -- shared with his permission.



=====


A conservative website has given its readers the opportunity to cull intimate emails and photos of Representative Katie Hill. It's a sad story. She's having a lousy divorce. But that's public life for you. Members of Congress should follow its ethics rules. Candidates shouldn't have affairs with subordinates, as Hill admits doing. She may have issues with alcohol, for which she deserves our prayers. The House ethics committee will no doubt do its work diligently and hold her appropriately accountable.

Meanwhile, down the street is someone who is finally being held accountable for his shadow foreign policy but not his well-illuminated male predation. A new book adds scores of stories to what we knew already. Sickening behavior toward women that, it were undertaken in the form of assaults on members of almost any other cultural group -- African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, Latinx people -- would result in eternal disgrace. But in our society, you can still do that to women and get away with it. If you are a bisexual woman, and you comb your friend's hair, you get your naked pictures on a blog, and an investigation promptly ensues. If you're a powerful man, assaulting women time after time, your buddies say “but Clinton” and line up for your reelection campaign.

As for why there’s such a double standard, my siblings in faith, it's our fault. We Christians, at least in the aggregate. It's because of the continued distortion of the true gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It's because many of us have committed the error of male supremacy.

A powerful 80 million-strong bloc of conservative Christians keeps Trump in power while participating in ecclesial polities that keep women down. One of the authors of the new book "All The President's Women: Donald Trump And The Making Of A Predator," Monique El-Faizy, nails it in a "Huffington Post" interview:


"The structure of the evangelical church, where Trump gets the bulk of his support, is very patriarchal. For them, this kind of patriarchy is what God has instructed them to do, and they find all kinds of different ways of rationalizing it. Early on, I called an old source of mine. I said, 'How on earth are you supporting him?' And they said, 'God uses imperfect vessels.' So they rationalize it by saying, [Trump] is being used, he’s a tool of God. He doesn’t need to be perfect, we’re all sinners. But at the very core of their support is just a comfort with patriarchy and the idea that women are supposed to be submissive to men."

Not every evangelical or Christian Zionist, of course, behaves or thinks abusively about women. Obeying their male preachers and Bible study teachers, many treat women with deep respect and reverence. Male supremacy reigns nevertheless. We see it parts of the Muslim world, unfortunately. But we also see it in our Christian home town. Most non-denominational churches won’t permit a woman in the pulpit or top leadership. If your daughter or granddaughter wants to preach the gospel, for instance, she had better not be a Southern Baptist, the denomination Jimmy Carter left over just this issue.

No enlightened Bible scholar can actually find reliable warrant for such prejudice. Your local male-dominant pastor will probably quote Deutero-Pauline writings such as this clunker from Ephesians: "For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church." But these are probably not the the apostle’s words. Scholars have known this for hundreds of years. Try this: Read 1 Corinthians 13 and then Ephesians 5. It's like comparing Yeats to the second inaugural address of Calvin Coolidge. Paul thought Christ would return in Paul's own lifetime. He didn't think people should bother to get married. So he devoted no energy to deciding who should take out the garbage. A loyal member of Paul's movement probably wrote Ephesians as the church dug in for the long haul and Greco-Roman male dominance smothered living memories of our Lord's egalitarianism.

Yet Ephesians' household codes and the work of post-Pauline writers and editors -- not the gospels, not Paul's genuine texts -- undergird the social teachings of modern evangelicalism. They help keep Trump on Air Force One while poor Katie Hill girds for ignominy. If there's a deep state in control of our civic lives, there you have it -- deep in the darkness of misogyny committed in the name of him who came in light and love to save and lift up all people to love God and care for one another in the spirit of mutual self-sacrifice.

So come, spirit of the risen Christ. Come cleanse, teach, and unite your church. Show us the way to the Oxford Annotated Bible, Education for Ministry, and a really good seminary like Bloy House, The Episcopal Theological School at Claremont. That includes all us preachers in the progressive denominational church, who must do the hard and sometimes unwelcome work of sifting the canon for its essential nuggets of justice, righteousness, peace, and love. It means teaching explicitly about what Paul said and probably didn’t say.

Because in these times, now more than ever, we need well-educated Christians — Christians who refuse to acquiesce any longer in the heretical error of male supremacy.

(Photos: All Saints Pasadena; Rep. Katie Hill)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

On Equality, Protest & the Truth that will set us free


On Thursday, October 10 in Los Angeles an auditorium packed with LGBTQ community members in specific and supporters of equality in general gathered to hear nine of the Democratic candidates for President field questions about their hopes and dreams for our nation at a town hall entitled "Equality in America."

At exactly the same time in Minneapolis, an enthusiastic crowd gathered to hear Donald Trump make his case for "Making America Great Again" by continuing the policies he has advanced during his three years in office.

The contrast could not have been more stark. The differences could not have been more distinct. And the divide could not have been deeper.

The Los Angeles crowd heard a diverse field of competitors for the presidential nomination in their party address how they would work to both reverse the steps backwards during this administration and move to take steps forward toward the goal of full equality for LBGTQ Americans. Representing different generations, cultural and geographic contexts, ethnicities, genders and orientations they offered a hopeful, forward looking vision for a nation living out its aspirational ideal of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.

The Minneapolis crowd heard the President of the United States attack a sitting member of Congress, a former Vice-President of the United States, the Speaker of the House, refugees in general and Somali refugees in particular. In a rally described by the Washington Post as "Stunning in ugliness and tone" he offered conspiracy theories, obscenities and character assassination directed at his opponents and a vision for a nation continuing on the path he has chartered during his administration ... a path notable for its chaos and corruption at home and abandonment of historic allies while embracing dictators and oligarchs abroad.

I was honored to be in the audience here in Los Angeles for the Equality Town Hall ... sitting amongst a great cloud of witnesses in the balcony above the candidates and questioners. There were a number of moments that stuck out for me: Elizabeth Warren's brilliant response to the question about marriage and connecting our trade policy to advocacy for human rights, Pete Buttigieg so artfully navigating questions about his faith, and the universal support of all nine candidates for Equality Act.

But the most powerful ones were the moments when the carefully orchestrated agenda was disrupted by transgender rights protesters calling for an accounting for the ongoing murder of black trans women in the streets of our nation. In a statement after the event, HRC President Alphonso David apologized saying, "Black and Latin trans women should not have to protest to have a voice in spaces created for the LGBTQ community."

Their pain was palpable, their voices were strong and the justice they seek is irrefutable. None of us are free and safe and home until all of us are -- and the marginalization of black trans women as the story of the LGBTQ movement's past is told and as the future of the LGBTQ movement is shaped is undeniable.

Their courage in standing up and speaking out challenged all of us to continue to live into the aspirational vision of a nation where liberty and justice for all really means all.

And in that moment, they also provided the candidates and moderators the opportunity to offer a vision for what public civic discourse looks like when we amplify rather than vilify voices of protest; when we live into the best of who are are as a diverse nation still striving to become the nation we were conceived to be; when we are willing to listen to those whose experience is not ours in order to become partners in dismantling oppression.

The greatness of America lies in the power of protest to continue to challenge its leaders to live up to the promise of greatness we have yet to fully realize … and in the willingness of Americans to be transformed by the witness of the stories, the pain and the struggle of those with the courage to speak their truth in order to set us all free.

Because -- as the radical rabbi from Nazareth taught us in John 8:32 … "the truth will set you free."

And until all of us are free, none of us are free.