Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Acceptable Time

We have arrived at Ash Wednesday again – the entry point for yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter. We hear again the words as familiar as their outward-and-visible signs etched on our foreheads: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” On this Ash Wednesday, as the liturgical season shifts from Epiphany to Lent, we are called to make a shift, too. During these weeks since Christmas our lessons have focused on the “epiphanies” of those who encountered Jesus along the way and knew somehow, at some point, in some perhaps indescribable way, that they had experienced the holy: experienced what a clergy colleague once called one of the “Ahas!” of God.

And now our focus shifts, as it does every year at this time, from stories about those outward manifestations of God's presence among us to a more interior place as we journey with Jesus on the road we know leads to Golgotha – to the cross – and ultimately, to the resurrection. And so, on this Ash Wednesday, here is my annual advice for the journey ahead: Don't give up epiphanies for Lent.

Let us not become so inwardly focused that we forget to notice – to give thanks for – to respond to – those encounters we can and will have with the holy in the next 40 days. Let us not become so focused on our own “journey with Jesus” that we forget that as long as there are still strangers at the gate, walking humbly with our God is not enough: let us not forget that we are also called to do justice. Let us do an even bolder and more prophetic job of claiming “justice doing” as essential to our identity as Christian people – as Lenten pilgrims. Let us, by all means, pray silently to our Father who is in secret, but let us at the same time proclaim loudly to those who would dismiss our activism as “agenda driven” that our agenda is a GOSPEL agenda: that our call to do justice is rooted deep in the roots of our history as a people of God – in these words of the prophet Isaiah:

"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

“Here I am,” our God promises – ready to lead us through whatever wilderness we face: to accompany us wherever the journey goes. On this Ash Wednesday 2006, I wonder if the wilderness we are being called into is labeled “Mid-term Elections.” I can already feel the costliness of the challenge to those of us who are called to be peacemakers – justice seekers – reconcilers – as the divisive and polarizing rhetoric the political machine ramps up. And I wonder if the wilderness we are being called into is labeled “Anglican Politics” as the rabid Right Wing of the Episcopal Church continues to agitate for the schism they have been working to pull off here in the American Church while abroad the homophobic actions of Anglican bishops like Peter Akinola continue to oppress and marginalize gay and lesbian people -- creating yet more "strangers at the gate" by supporting the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

That, my brothers and sisters, is the fast we are called to choose -- the wilderness into which we are called this Lent. If we are to be a people who have bread to share with the hungry we must challenge those who would spend all our resources on arms for an immoral war that continues to kill Iraqi citizens and take American lives. If we are to serve the God whose fast is “to let the oppressed go free” we must speak out when gay and lesbian families are in danger of becoming sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics. If we are to choose the fast Isaiah offers us this Lent, we must continue to undo the thongs of the yoke of racism that holds this country and this church in its grasp.

A daunting list ... yet ... Now IS the acceptable time.

And may the God who calls us into this wilderness be with us and bless us on the journey.

Down From the Mountain Top

All Saints Church, Pasadena
The Last Sunday of Epiphany: February 26, 2006

Lent Looms. As we gather for worship this morning the Mardi Gras crowds are gathered in New Orleans -- committed to wringing every last bit of revelry out of these final days before the dawn of Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our 40 day Lenten journey. And is it just me or does it seem to come around a little more quickly every year? It was somewhat shocking to realize that we have already come to the end of the Epiphany Season -- the season full of the stories of the "aha's" of the people of God who encountered Jesus and knew somehow something different was going on.

Years ago … when our now Diocesan Bishop Jon Bruno was a parish priest and I was a parish secretary… Jon explained to me that an epiphany works like this: God is forever tapping on my head … saying, “Susan!” … “Susan!” … trying to get my attention. Everyone once in awhile I look up and say, "Huh???" -- and THAT’S an epiphany! And so, when we celebrate "epiphanies" we celebrate not the fact that God occasionally "shows up" -- but the fact that someone noticed! We celebrate the relentless love of the God who is our Creator … forever “tapping on our heads”… and calling us again and again to be partners with God

So if epiphanies are a "tap on the head" this morning's gospel -- the one we always hear on this last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany – must have felt like a whack upside the head. We call it "The Transfiguration" -- the great “aha” moment when Peter, James and John saw in a miraculous and transforming instant the transfiguration of the dusty, travel-worn rabbi from Nazareth who was their friend and teacher into the dazzling Christ figure holding his own in conversation with Moses and Elijah. Talk about a “mountain top experience!”

Every time I hear this story I think two things: no wonder they were terrified and God love Peter! If I got to actually PICK a "patron saint" I think it just might be Peter -- at least in part because I identify so much with him. I not only find comfort in the not exactly seamless quality of his dogged discipleship, I appreciate his outspoken extroversion. In fact, at the just completed vestry-staff conference while we were in the middle of a workshop on communication I had a little epiphany of my own – or, as Ed who never met a noun he couldn’t turn into a verb might say, “I epiphed.” And I decided Peter probably had the same “communication style” as I do.

It's what they call “an expressive” -- and one of the key identifiers is that we often speak first and think later. And that's precisely what happens here. Note that the gospel writer says, "Peter did not know what to say ..." and that it didn't slow him down for a second in saying something anyway. "Let's build a dwelling ... No, let's build THREE dwellings -- one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. And we can all hang out here and it'll be really great -- none of those pesky crowds or uptight temple leaders or IRS agents -- we can just stay here and enjoy this amazing moment forever!"

And the clouds parted. And a voice said "This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him." And what I imagine Jesus -- the Son -- the Beloved said next was "Back down the mountain, boys -- we have work to do." They had work to do. And so do we. And to do it we have to leave the mountain top. And sometimes that’s a tough thing to do.

We’ve all had them … the “mountain top experiences” … a moment when it “clicks” -- when you “know” -- when it works -- when it’s suddenly all clear … and it’s tempting, tempting, tempting to want to stay there – at least for awhile. Sometimes the mountain top moments come unbidden and surprising – I remember a particular retreat weekend many years ago now when I had the amazing, transformative, life changing experience of what I’ve described as “having Jesus come out of the prayer book and into my heart.”

Other mountain top moments come after long months of thinking and planning, organizing and anticipating. The birth of a new baby comes to mind. Not surprisingly perhaps, so does … a wedding. Louise and I had a “mountain top experience” a week ago Saturday when we stood in this very church full of many of these very same people in a service of love and commitment that exceeded even our highest hopes for how we wanted to begin living happily ever after until death do us part. In fact, I think I still detect a little “eau d’ mountain top” in the air – maybe even the echo of a Trumpet Tune somewhere in the rafters. We will be forever grateful to everyone who made our “mountain top experience” so memorable!

All Saints Church itself is a “mountain top” to many people. It is a place where “ahas” happen on a regular basis: those epiphanies that let us know that we were loved – REALLY loved … just as we are. For some it is the place we encountered Jesus -- maybe for the first time ever or maybe transfigured from the Jesus of judgment we grew up with into the Lord of Love we celebrate here every time we gather here at All Saints.

Having had that experience there is -- or can be -- the very real temptation to be like Peter … to metaphorically “build a dwelling” and just hang out … basking in the glow of the great music, beautiful sanctuary, caring community and stay on the mountain top.

Truth to tell, it’s scary down there – out there. It’s hard WORK to talk about this turning the human race into the human family stuff outside the community where it’s safe – where you’re agreed with – where people “get you.” And yet it’s what we’re called to do. The “me and Jesus” moments on the mountain top are precious parts of our spiritual journeys and are crucial parts of our spiritual growth ministries here at All Saints Church.

I believe the critical mountain top question is not one of time but one of motivation: if our mountain top moments become ends in themselves then they become idols we worship rather than the God who created us instead of the icons they are meant to be to call us to the full stature of our life in Christ. No one has the right to decide for another person when it’s time to step out in faith – to leave the comfort zone and come down the mountain. Five minutes, five months or five years – whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey of faith there must be the room for you to nurture that critical spiritual core that gives each and every one of us the strength and power – the courage and resolve – to reach out in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us. It is a critical “both/and” that the institutional church too often tragically ignored.

Verna Dozier, the 20th century prophet and biblical scholar said this about that: “I believe Jesus is the Word made flesh, the definitive action of God for our age to offer human beings a new possibility for participating in the dream of God. And I believe the church missed its high calling to be the new thing in the world when it decided to worship Jesus instead of following him.”

Worship instead of follow. Build a dwelling instead of coming down off the mountain. Staying in our comfort zone instead of reaching out across whatever divide there is between us and the rest of God’s beloved human family. In Jim Wallis’ most recent book: “God's Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong the why the Left doesn't get it” he critiques “private spiritualities that have no connection to public life [leaving] spirituality without social consequences” concluding “Spirituality without social conscience abandons the prophetic tradition.”

That’s building a dwelling on the mountain top rather than coming down the mountain and getting to work.

So what do we do when we get DOWN the mountain?

Well, for starters: Lent Looms – and with it the annual Lent Event – our opportunity to come together as a community of faith AND action as we begin the 40 day Lenten journey toward Easter. This year we are blessed to have Chris Hedges – best selling author, award winning war correspondent and dedicated peace activist -- as our mentor and motivator. Coming from a place of deep faith and mature spirituality, Chris is someone who has not only been to the mountain top but to the valley of the shadow and we will have much to learn from him and from each other on what I know will be a “mountain top” weekend.

One final pre-Lenten piece of advice: Whatever you do, don’t give up epiphanies for Lent! Don’t give up the expectation that God can and will continue to tap on our heads trying to get our attention – luring us toward all that is good and right and holy and life-giving … for us and for the rest of the human family.

And remember Paul’s words to the Christians in Corinth: It is not ourselves we preach, but Christ Jesus as Sovereign, and ourselves as your workers for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts, so that we in turn might make known the glory of God shining on the face of Christ.

Make known the glory of God by following Jesus rather than settling for worshipping him by proclaiming the core values he embodied – values of justice and peace, love and inclusion, compassion and grace. That, my brothers and sisters, is work worth doing … even if we have to come down off the mountain top to do it.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Gospel of Intolerance

An "out of the park" op-ed piece from the Washington Post by +John Chane, Bishop of Washington.

A Gospel of Intolerance
By John Bryson ChaneSunday, February 26, 2006

It's no secret that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are engaged in a bitter internal struggle over the role of gay and lesbian people within the church. But despite this struggle, the leaders of our global communion of 77 million members have consistently reiterated their pastoral concern for gays and lesbians. Meeting last February, the primates who lead our 38 member provinces issued a unanimous statement that said in part: "The victimization or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us."

We now have reason to doubt those words.

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and leader of the conservative wing of the communion, recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law that criminalizes same-sex marriage in his country and denies gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government. The law also infringes upon press and religious freedom by authorizing Nigeria's government to prosecute newspapers that publicize same-sex associations and religious organizations that permit same-sex unions.

Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion -- possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head.
Because the conflict over homosexuality is not unique to Anglicanism, civil libertarians in this country, and other people as well, should also be aware of the archbishop and his movement. Gifts from such wealthy donors as Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors and Scaife families, or their foundations, allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so-called "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in the United Church of Christ. Should the institute succeed in "renewing" these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow.

Many countries have laws restricting marriage on any number of grounds. Some of these, such as age, kinship and marital status, for instance, are prudent, while most of us believe other sorts of restrictions, including race and religion, are oppressive and indefensible. Our global community has certainly achieved no consensus on the issue of same-sex marriage or the related issues of civil unions.

But the Nigerian law has crossed the line in several important respects. Its most outrageous provision deals not with marriage but with "same-sex relationships" and prohibits essentially any public or private activity in any way related to homosexuality. It reads in part: "Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria."
Any person involved in the "sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly" is subject to five years' imprisonment.
The archbishop's support for this law violates numerous Anglican Communion documents that call for a "listening process" involving gay Christians and their leaders. But his contempt for international agreements also extends to Articles 18-20 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which articulates the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, association and assembly.

Surprisingly, few voices -- Anglican or otherwise -- have been raised in opposition to the archbishop. When I compare this silence with the cacophony that followed the Episcopal Church's decision to consecrate the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, a gay man who lives openly with his partner, as the bishop of New Hampshire, I am compelled to ask whether the global Christian community has lost not only its backbone but its moral bearings. Have we become so cowed by the periodic eruptions about the decadent West that Archbishop Akinola and his allies issue that we are no longer willing to name an injustice when we see one?

I also feel compelled to ask the archbishop's many high-profile supporters in this country why they have not publicly dissociated themselves from his attack on the human rights of a vulnerable population. Is it because they support this sort of legislation, or because the rights of gay men and women are not worth the risk of tangling with an important alliance?
As a matter of logic, it must be one or the other, and it is urgent that members of our church, and citizens of our country, know your mind.

The writer is Episcopal bishop of Washington.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Luna at 13 weeks ...

... getting to be a much bigger, longer legged girl!

Home Again, Home Again ...

After an all-too-brief sojourn just south of sunny Santa Barbara (see awesome sunset above) we returned home to a pile of wedding gifts to open, a slew of thank you notes to write, an email inbox full of emails to digest and/or delete and a voice mailbox full of calls to return to reporters looking for comment on the slate of candidates for bishop in the Diocese of California. Oh ... and a vestry retreat this weekend and a sermon to write for Sunday ...

Never a dull moment at work in the fields of the Lord!

The wedding itself was an extrordinarily grace, love and good-fortune filled day that made all the manic detail filled days leading up to it worth every bit of the work it took to get there. The music was glorious and the flowers were fabulous as friends, family and parish members filled the church on a day that had threatened rain but turned unexpectedly sunny and breezy. Perhaps the most moving moment was when presider Ed Bacon invited the whole congregation to come forward and lay hands on Louise and me after the exchange of vows for the blessing of the covenant.

That "outward and visible sign" of a community's blessing is always a powerful symbolic act but for me, knowing that the congregation included my 80 year old mother and 24 year old soldier son along with Louise's family & friends and diocesan & national clergy colleagues made it all the more an amazing grace being poured out on Louise and me as we begin this next part of our journey together. (A copy of the liturgy is now online on the Integrity website.) It truly was a day that exceeded all our expectations and one we will remember for the rest of our lives with great joy and gratitude for all the blessings.

And then back home to the good news of the excellent and diverse slate of candidates offered to the Diocese of California for the election of their new bishop -- scheduled for May 6th. The press is, of course, making much about the fact that there are gay and lesbian candidates included in the slate. And I am trying to make much about the fact that the slate is a true reflection of the diversity of not only the Diocese of California but of the Episcopal Church USA: gay and straight, black and white, male and female, east coast, west coast and red-states-in-between.

I believe it is an extraordinary sign of good health for the church-at-large that in spite of the saber rattling of the radical religous right the mainstream of the Episcopal Church is moving ahead with mission and ministry -- listening to the Holy Spirit as it lives ever more fully into its commitment to fully include all of the baptized into the Body of Christ as it searches for the best bishop for the Diocese of California.

As for the "schism" issue, let me restate what I wrote about schism in June 2003 ... just days after Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire:

"What If They Gave A Schism And Nobody Came"

What it takes to create schism is for someone to leave – and I am sick unto death with the unity of this church being placed on the shoulders of those of us who have committed to stay.

When are we going to hold accountable those who threaten to leave? When will we name the actions of those who have conspired with factions of the larger Anglican communion to actively oppress and marginalize its GLBT members with what it is: fomenting schism – creating conflict – sacrificing the unity of the church to their own agenda of power, control and heterosexism?

If schism happens – and I not convinced that it will – the blame will lie not with Claiming the Blessing, the Diocese of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson or the countless GLBT Christians living out their faith journeys in the Episcopal Church. It will lie firmly at the feet of those whose will to power is greater than their willingness to embrace the other, whose commitment to crisis is greater than their faith in the Gospel and whose singular obsession with things sexual has blinded them to the Spirit’s revelation via things incarnational.

The cornerstone of the Claiming the Blessing initiative has been this citation from the second chapter of Genesis: “I will bless you so that you will be a blessing.” The blessing of life-long, committed relationships of people who love each other and love Jesus will not split this church – they will bless this church. The election of one of the finest priests in the communion to take his place in the House of Bishops will not split this church – it will bless this church.

Committed to stay in conversation with each other we will weather this storm as we have weathered the others that doomsayers have predicted would destroy this great church of ours – and we can get back to the business of being a blessing to those who so desperately need the Good News of God in Christ we have to offer.

And now back to mulling the Transfiguration Texts ...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Live From Wedding Central

Well, today's the big day. The family is gathered, the rehearsal is behind us, the flowers are being arranged as we speak and the last minute call to the rental place has scored the in-case-it-rains-on-our-parade party tent to shelter the patio for the reception following the service. And this afternoon -- God willing and the primates notwithstanding -- my partner Louise and I will with much joy and a church full of people celebrate the blessing of the covenant of our relationship promising to love and cherish each other until death do us part.

As we've journeyed together toward this day I've been struck over and over again by just how ordinary AND extraordinary it has all been. Ordinary in that just about every cliché about wedding preparation that most of us think we're too "evolved" to get sucked into has played out -- fretting about fonts for the invitation, maps to the reception, who's going to stay in which hotel and who should sit next to who at the rehearsal dinner.

But all that’s behind us now. My mother is here from Minnesota, Louise’s brother from Colorado and my son home on leave from the Army. The wheels are in motion and the clock is ticking down and pretty soon it will be time to head to the church and wait for Henry Purcell’s “Trumpet Tune” to signal the thurifer to lead us in to the celebration of love and commitment.

So what am I doing on the computer blogging on the morning of my wedding? Still trying to make sense of what it is about what we are about to celebrate that holds such threat – that engenders such fear – that elicits such alarm. Still musing about one of the statements/questions from the radio talk show host the other morning – the one that started with something like, “Since you’re obviously rejecting traditional marriage …”

What strikes me this morning is that far from rejecting traditional marriage we’re embracing it – claiming it – committing ourselves to it. And I’m wondering this morning why whenever I hear the opposition talking about “defining marriage” we only hear about the “who” rather than the “what.”

I’m wondering if the sanctity of marriage everyone is so concerned about might not be better preserved if we talked more about the values we want to see represented in marriage rather than solely on the genders of the people seeking to commit themselves to each other.

I’m wondering if we heard more about the standards the Episcopal Church affirmed in its last two General Conventions of relationships “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” we’d be hearing less about “anything goes” theology.

Those are the values Louise and I are claiming for ourselves and for our relationship this afternoon as we commit ourselves to each other and to continuing our journey together into God’s future as partners in life. We bring all the hopes and dreams and expectations and anxieties to this holy day that every other couple that have ever dared to make this awesome commitment have brought with them down the aisle.

We also bring a combination of joy and sadness. There is tremendous joy and gratitude that we live in a place and time and community where our love and commitment is considered really quite ordinary and our families and parish community are surrounding us with support and blessing. And there is grief and sadness at the awareness that what we are about to celebrate is not yet available to every gay or lesbian couple yearning to claim for themselves the church’s blessing on their lives together that is their baptismal claim as members of the Body of Christ.

And there we are – committed to working and praying and advocating and, yes, agitating, until the gifts we have received are truly available to all. In the meantime, there’s a wedding to get ready for and living-happily-ever-after to get on with … a happily-ever-after we pray will be summed up in these words from this afternoon’s Offertory Anthem:

All our meals and all our living make as sacraments of thee,
That by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.
Alleluya! Alleluya! We will serve thee faithfully.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


One of my favorite soap boxes -- noted in an earlier posting on this blog -- is that for too long the voices of the Religious Right have dominated the media airwaves with their version of "Biblical Truth" and it is long past time for progressive people of faith to get their voice out there and offer our theological perspective of a God of justice rather than judgment, inclusion rather than exclusion, love rather than fear!

Sounds great until the radio talk show producer calls and offers you precisely the opportunity you’ve been asking for: only it’s for a South Florida morning show which means a 5:00 a.m. (a.m. as in the morning!) call Pacific Standard Time. But figuring I could file this under what my friend Elizabeth calls, “The Things We Do For Jesus” I set the coffee maker for 4:50 … the alarm for 4:55 … and said my morning prayers: gave thanks for an opportunity to offer the Good News of God in Christ Jesus on the AM airwaves and got ready to talk about Freedom to Marry Week and faithful, committed gay & lesbian relationships … I thought.

Instead I ended up on the Steve Kane Show in a live Point/Counterpoint exchange with pseudo-journalist David Virtue – arguably the most polemic voice of the radical schismatic reactionary fringe of the Anglican Religious Right.

Let’s just call it a “teachable moment.” I learned to ask more questions before I agree to do any more live radio interviews. I learned that no matter what the question is there are some agile apologists for Anglican Absolutism who can manage to work the answer around to beastiality. And I learned that while I am thrilled to be in dialogue and -- yes -- even in debate with those who hold differing theological, hermeneutical and political perspectives I am no longer willing to give time, energy or credibility to what amounts to the sex-obsessed radical fringe of the Anglican Right while the rest of the Episcopal Church is attempting to get on with the work of the Gospel.

Call it an exercise in futility. Or call it, as a musician friend of mine once did, like teaching a pig to sing: it wastes your time and annoys the pig. Whatever you call it, I'm over it.

Here’s what my cradle Episcopalian/Republican straight-white-husband-of-one-and-father-of-two lawyer friend currently residing in Florida had to say in his post-interview post-mortem: “Why is it that guys like Virtue, who are supposedly so repulsed by anal sex, the ones who always seem so fixated on it? Or, for that matter, with sex in particular and what kind of sex *other* people are having. Maybe we should go back to the rule that polite people don't enquire of others what they do in their bedrooms. And, really, why is it someone's sexual practice, orientation or whatever, that holds the keys to the Kingdom? If you're going to draw a line in the sand, aren't there more important places to draw it?

My simplistic but highly cynical legally and not theologically trained mind sees so much of this as an attempt to define everything as us versus them, who is saved and who is not, who is in and who is out? Or, are you one of us or not? It doesn't take much to see that in the "are they really Christian?" theme that runs through so many of the blog discussions. Or, who's the better Christian.”


There you have it.

Here endeth the teachable moment.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programing!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pat & Kate

A picture is worth a thousand words ...
unfortunately, not worth a marriage license!

La lucha continua

From today's LA Times ... Pat and Kate are clergy colleagues here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. God bless them and all the others engaging the struggle for equal rights AND equal "rites."

Gays Don't Lose Heart Over Inability to Wed: In an annual Valentine's Day rite, same-sex couples around the state seek marriage licenses. The rejections sting, but it's to make a statement.

By Fred Alvarez
Times Staff Writer

February 15, 2006

Pat Hendrickson and Kate Lewis knew they had no shot of marrying on Valentine's Day. They knew that when they got to the counter at the Ventura County Government Center, they'd be told that in California there's no such thing as same-sex marriage.

But like a dozen other gay and lesbian couples turned away by the county clerk Tuesday, the two women from Thousand Oaks said they were willing to take a stand, even if rejection stung.

"It hurt to have somebody say to us that you are less than, that you are not a full citizen," said Hendrickson, 63, an Episcopal deacon who has been with her partner for eight years. "We don't understand what threat we pose to anybody. In a country that says we are equal, we need to be able to live that."

>From Sonoma to San Diego, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses and were turned down as part of a statewide campaign to shine a spotlight on efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.

About two dozen couples arrived at the Los Angeles County registrar's office in Beverly Hills to exchange wedding vows, only to be turned away. Same-sex couples also tried their luck without success in Norwalk, Santa Ana, San Diego and Riverside.

The gay-rights group Equality California has sponsored similar Valentine's Day operations for at least five years. But a representative said the issue took on greater urgency this year as opponents of same-sex marriage proposed ballot initiatives to amend the state constitution.

"We are being discriminated against based solely on our gender," spokeswoman Stephanie Wells said. "We can get a driver's license, we can get a business license but we can't get a civil marriage license."

The annual campaign has spurred a counteroffensive. The Campaign for Children and Families stopped at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday for Day 5 of its Real Marriage Tour. The 11-city swing seeks to drum up support for a proposed ballot initiative that would limit marriage to between one man and one woman and roll back marriage-like
benefits granted in recent years to domestic partners through a state registry.

"Valentine's Day has been hijacked and that's wrong," said Randy Thomasson, who heads the initiative VoteYesMarriage.com. "This is a day about love between a man and a woman. Marriage and Valentine's Day are both wonderful, good things but they need defense and protection."

Valentine's Day is the busiest day of the year for the Ventura County clerk and recorder's office, and about 60 couples were expected to tie the knot Tuesday.

Edie Brown, 70, and longtime partner Beverly Taylor, 74, wanted to be among them, although it wasn't like they hadn't had the experience of marriage. After being together for nearly three decades, they ran off to Canada last summer and got hitched. They brought their framed wedding certificate to the government center in Ventura and showed it to the clerk reviewing their application. She smiled but still politely turned them down.

Brown said it's about more than a piece of paper. With efforts underway to strip domestic partners of benefits they have gained in recent years, she said she fears losing the ability to visit her partner in the hospital, make medical decisions on her behalf and make sure her end-of-life wishes are respected.

"We've worked hard to gain these protections, and now people want to take them away," said Brown, president of the board of directors of the Ventura County Rainbow Alliance, a gay and lesbian advocacy group. "This makes me determined to fight harder than ever."

Although none of their loved ones got married, family members and friends snapped photos of the couples anyway and handed out bags of rice bearing tags that read: "We tried to apply for a marriage license at the Ventura County Clerk's but all we got was this silly bag of rice!" Ventura resident Elizabeth Robledo went around tagging lapels with red broken heart stickers to put the day in its proper context.

"It's not Valentine's Day for gays, I guess," Robledo said.

But dressed in a sharp blue suit, with a red rose peeking out from his lapel, Oxnard resident Harris Berger said the day had served its purpose and paid tribute to his 22-year relationship with partner Michael Quick.

"Michael and I are here to put a face on same-sex marriage," Berger said. "We're just regular people trying to demonstrate our love for one another."

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Saturday, February 11, 2006

We The People

A couple of years ago on IRS Day (AKA April 15th) I joined a group of Marriage Equality folks in a protest at a local post-office. Here's the piece I wrote in response to that experience:

I really hadn’t known what to expect when I was asked to come lend my “clergy presence” to the gathering, but was happy to go hang out for awhile – figuring that a little political activism would be a great way to observe the Feast Day of Our Lady of Turbo Tax. We assembled out front of the post office at 5:00 p.m. – about thirty folks with the requisite rainbow flag and an assortment of signs including: “If You’re Going to TAX Us Then MARRY Us!” -- “Marriage Is A Human Right, Not A Heterosexual Privilege.”

The local media assembled seemed more interested in covering the late breaking news of motorists hurling manila envelopes into postal bins (on April 15th … imagine!) than they were in talking to us about gay marriage – although I did chat with a first-time filmmaker working on a documentary and have an interesting exchange with a reporter from an Italian news network.

He said he was surprised to see “religious people” supporting the issue and asked me what my position was. I liked being able to say that just as a I believe as a Christian that God’s blessing should be available to all people I believe as an American that Equal Constitutional Protection should be available to all citizens. In fact, I thought they were “separate but equally important” issues facing both the church and culture right now – and so couldn’t think of a better way to participate in that than to be part of the tax day protest action.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago when I got a call from Lisa Borelli -- the "first time filmmaker" from that April afternoon. The film she was making not only got made it was screening February 10th at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and she hoped Louise and I would be able to come. So off we went to Santa Barbara yesterday (after we got puppy-sitting arranged for Luna!) on a totally unasked for and unexpected media adventure.

What a treat.

Lisa's film -- "We The People" is a moving, timely and important portrait of the reality of gay and lesbian family lives drawn in sharp and revealing contrast to the rabid rhetoric of the Religious Right which is effectively woven throughout the film. Lisa is not a professional filmmaker -- she describes herself as "a mother who got mad." Last night in the crowded Santa Barbara screening room as the applauding audience wiped tears from their eyes at the end of the film's debut I thought of Cindy Sheehan -- another "mother who got mad." I thought of the impact her wilingness to rally others to end the madness has had. I wondered if "We The People" isn't precisely the kind of catalyst the Marriage Equality movement has been waiting for to challenge the political agenda of the Religious Right determined to make gay and lesbian families sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics.

I am convinced this is a film that should be seen and will make a difference. Check out the website and stay tuned. You're going to be hearing more about "We The People."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Bigger Microphone

So here’s one of my FAVORITE soap boxes: We miss an opportunity for evangelism every time we miss a chance to shout out the Good News we have been given to proclaim. We have the will and the vision to offer the Good News of a God who proclaims justice rather than judgment, who embodies inclusion rather than exclusion, who calls us to walk in love rather than fear – and yet the narrow, exclusivist, literalist voices of the Religious Right continue to dominate the Moral Values Debate. The truth is we have faith-based-moral values and they don’t look anything like Pat Robertson’s – and the other truth is: neither do our budgets. We have the will and the vision to offer an alternative – what we have lacked is the bigger microphone necessary to allow our message to be heard over the strident voices of the religious right who have strategically co-opted the term “faith based values” to advance their politically motivated agenda.

Enter the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) who have stepped up and been willing to put their money where our mouths are. Here’s how Harry Knox, director of the HRC Religion and Faith program sums it up: “We must bring faith discussions back to their roots of seeking understanding. A vocal minority is falsely promoting the notion that religious people stand in opposition to equal rights. Our job is to promote the truth that a majority of people of faith believes strongly in fairness and justice.”


Toward that end, Harry and the HRC team have called together a ten member team of what they’re naming “religious opinion leaders” to actively reclaim the language and tenets of faith from the opponents of equality – and I am deeply humbled, grateful and excited to be among their number. They’re calling us the “Religion Council” and we met for the first time last month in Washington DC for an energizing two days of briefings, community building and media conversations.

We are an eclectic lot* coming from different backgrounds, faith traditions and geographic areas and embracing different theologies, polities and liturgical traditions. Yet transcending those differences we came together to share the journey, offer our hopes and dreams and begin to voice to each other what we have been preaching in our pulpits, teaching in our classrooms, publishing in our papers and blogs – finding out that what we have in common is so much more compelling than what we hold in difference.

At the risk of getting all “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” about it, our gathering in the nation’s capital modeled for me what’s best about the religious pluralism that is a hallmark of our American heritage – a value we are in grave danger of losing if the agenda of the radical religious right prevails in its quest to reinvent the democracy we have inherited as the theocracy they envision.

We as progressive people of faith HAVE the vision, the witness and the will to challenge that agenda – to not only enter but to win the “moral values debate.” Partnering with HRC we will now have the resources, access and support we have lacked to get our message out as we work together toward the faith based values that will unite rather than divide, include rather than exclude and will work toward our common goal of turning the human race into the human family.

So now I'll get off my soap box and get back to work!


* Members of the HRC Religion Council include: Rabbi Denise Eger, Bishop Yvette Flunder, the Reverend Penny Nixon, Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop John Selders, Jr., the Reverend William Sinkford, the Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Dr. Mary Ann Tolbert, the Reverend Rebecca Voelkel

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

As We Pray, So We Believe

“As We Pray, So We Believe”:
A Theology of Inclusion

Part of what we inherit as Anglican Christians is a particular historic method of “doing theology” – a method coined in the Latin phrase “lex orandi, lex credendi” which can be translated “as we pray, so we believe” or “praying shapes believing.” At the heart of this methodology is the assertion that our believing (our theology) can and will be changed by our praying (our bringing to God the yearnings of our hearts and listening for God’s response.) It presumes:

That revelation is an ongoing process never fully contained in any text or creed.

That God continually calls us to new and wider expressions of the infinite love that lives beyond even our ability to imagine.

That we are partners with God in work of calling all creatures into loving relationship with their Creator and with each other

It is out of that historic dialectic process that All Saints Church strives to articulate a theology of inclusion. This theology of inclusion springs from our foundational understanding of God as the ultimate source of abundant love. As Trinitarian Christians that understanding manifests itself in prayers such as this blessing: “The blessing of God, the one who creates us in love, the one who liberates us to love everybody and the one who brings us into communities of love be with you this day and always.” It is also summarily expressed in the invitation offered at All Saints Church to the communion table: “Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith you are welcome to come to the Lord’s table and receive the gifts of bread and wine made holy.”

Those prayers, along with many others through the decades, have shaped our believing that one of our chief callings is to prioritize manifesting God’s inclusive love in all aspects of our mission and in our ministry. Our believing – our theology – is firmly grounded in the traditional Anglican triad of scripture, tradition and reason.

In Scripture we claim the over-arching theme of both the Hebrew and Christian texts we inherit: the relentless pursuit of a loving God calling all people into community with God and with each other. In our Anglican identity we claim a tradition that has historically and sometimes uniquely managed to establish an inclusive “via media” where diverse voices live together are enriched rather than threatened by their differences. And our reason tells us that the proactive articulation of this theological perspective has perhaps never been more needed as we struggle in these early days of the 21st century with the challenge of multicultural, interfaith dialogue in a climate of increasing polarization and empire building.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Biblical Orthodoxy

Biblical Orthodoxy seems to be all the rage these days: or at least there’s a lot of raging going on about who’s got it and who doesn’t -- who’s abandoned it and who’s in charge of defining it. So I wasn’t all that surprised when I found this email question in my inbox from a lay leader in a neighboring parish:

“Hi. I am asking clergy that I respect to answer a question for me. What is Biblical Orthodoxy? Since I evidently don't belong to a group that ascribes to it, I need to know what I am not. Thank you for your help.”

My reply? Biblical Orthodoxy is currently being proposed as a criteria for who’s in and who’s out of the Big Fat Anglican Family of Faith. Basically, those who are using it are saying that unless you understand the Bible to be the inerrant, literal word of God (like they do) then you are not “orthodox” and have abandoned the historic faith.


Historically, the very IDEA that something called "Biblical Orthodoxy" is a litmus test for communion is essentially antithetical to Classical Anglicanism.

Remember that we are a particular incarnation of Christian faith that emerged from the crucible of compromise that was the English Reformation -- creating a church that was both catholic and protestant and committed to leaving all but the most essential questions of faith to the individual conscience. Actually, we've been through this before -- and I'm NOT talking about the 1970’s when controversy over women’s ordination raged, but the 1600’s when Puritans left the Church of England in droves because it wasn't "pure" enough ... protestant enough ... biblical enough.

Meanwhile, Anglicans went on being the church that emerged from the Elizabethan Settlement: balancing their theology on scripture, tradition and reason. It‘s that church we‘ve inherited -- one that today is marked by an openness to the Holy Spirit (who continues to reveal the amazing wideness, broadness and inclusivity of God's love for us and all creation), by teaching tolerance and by celebrating diversity while wearing zippy vestments and singing good music.And where do we turn when we’re challenged by those who point to the Bible and say, “Ah! But what do you do about passage X, Y or Z?”

Being biblically orthodox ourselves, we turn to Holy Scriptures and the words of our Lord and Savior -- who when tested in the Temple by those who demanded that he pick a “greatest commandment” gave us this criteria: “The greatest commandment is this: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is like unto it: love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”

THAT’S the foundation of Biblical Orthodoxy: that‘s the historic faith we inherit as Anglican Traditionalists. That’s what you are, my dear, whether you knew it or not: a bastion of Anglican Biblical Orthodoxy.

What you are NOT is an absolutist, a fundamentalist, a literalist or a Latter-Day-Puritan. The truth is “Biblical Orthodoxy” is being used today as smoke screen language to cover up the actual controversy on the table: who has the power, who USED to have the power, who wants the power.

To accuse a fellow Anglican of NOT being "Biblically Orthodox" because their scriptural interpretation disagrees with yours, is like accusing a fellow American of not being patriotic because they belong to a different party or vote for a different candidate. Come to think of it, there’s some of that going on in the culture at large, too, isn’t there? Perhaps we detect a pattern here!

I find it deeply ironic that those whose rhetoric is full of language about commitment, values and historic tradition are so quick to jettison parish and diocesan commitments, devalue by their words and actions those with whom they disagree and abandon historic ties of relationship between bishop and parish; priest and people. The family system metaphor that keeps coming to me is a troubled marriage where there are clearly long standing differences but one partner believes the marriage is worth working through the differences and the other is ready to walk.

Who are the traditionalists, then: the workers or the walkers? For Anglicans, the answer is the workers -- those who hang in there in spite of differences about liturgies and language, gender and genuflection, sheep and goats. The historic faith we inherit is one that is stronger than our differences of interpretation of specific passages of Holy Scripture and deeper than the divides that sometimes separate us into different camps, parties and perspectives. It’s hard work but it’s work worth doing. And it’s the work we’ve been called to do at this particular time in the history of this beloved church of ours: to claim the tradition we inherit as we proclaim the Good News of a God strong enough to unite us in the love that is greater than any differences that threaten to divide us.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The New Puppy at Our House: Luna at eleven weeks! Posted by Picasa

Creation and Chaos

There's both creation and chaos going on at my house right now: my partner and I are creating a new relationship with the new puppy who has come to be part of our family and the result has brought CHAOS to what we thought was an already pretty hectic life.

Her name is Luna -- the little chaos maker, that is -- and she is a bundle of fur and energy and affection and sharp-little-puppy-baby-teeth. Her arrival in our midst from a Husky/Malamute rescue foundation just over a week ago has changed our schedule, re-organized our priorities, energized our aging shepherd-mix Harvey and given the complacent cats who are also part of our family more exercise than they've seen in a good long while. Quite a lot for only 11 weeks old and 9-pounds-and-counting!

Saying "yes" to adding Luna to our lives is already a lot like every other momentous "yes" I've ever breathed deep and voiced -- sometimes hearing the "s" hissing in the air and wondering if I was really up to whatever it was I had just said "yes" to. But like every other relationship worth building, bringing a new puppy into the orbit of our household life takes time -- it takes work and patience and love -- it's another one of those "inch at a time" propositions. Maybe not an inch that makes the Garden grow green again (in fact, I can already see some brown spots in the lawn outside my window!) but an inch that in connecting us to the Creator who created us in love to love one another -- all creatures, great, small and in-between -- may in the end be a sacramental relationship in its own right.

The Clear Truth of Scripture

Here’s a question from a letter I received this week: "What we're asking for is a straight answer out of you people on where in the Bible you find a passage that shows God approves of same sex relationships. Can you do that or not?"

Finally a question I can answer without hesitation.

The answer is "no."

There is no single text -- no specific chapter and verse -- that I can point anyone to and say, "Here is the clear truth of scripture" on the issue.

Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" in support of the ordination of women.

Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" on the sanctity inter-racial marriage.

Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" opposing the death penalty.

Nor is there any "clear truth of scripture" supporting the abolition of slavery.

Finally, if there WAS a single text argument for any of these hotly debated issues YOU WOULDN'T FIND AN ANGLICAN MAKING IT! We’re not a Sola Scriptura people. That is not how we do theology -- never has been and (God willing) never will be.

And yet, there are forces at work urging us to ignore our history and abandon our traditional methodology and polity – substituting literalism and “confessionalism” for traditional Anglican comprehensiveness. Key to that effort is the ongoing “spin” of the controversy du jour as the sole responsibility of the mythical gay agendists hell-bent on undermining western civilization and destroying Christianity as we know it. “The clear truth” is that these are not arguments about sexuality but arguments about biblical authority -- and we have been having for CENTURIES.

Check out Terry Holmes for a little historical perspective: “The Puritans taught that the Scriptures provided a certainty that transcended all other certainty, including reason, which reason they wished to confine to “science” (e.e. all forms of human learning). They believed that the Scriptures must be read for themselves and devoid of subsequent interpretations, namely, tradition. Hooker’s answer to this was that the Scriptures when read apart from reason and tradition and were subject to the all kinds of private interpretations, which would of necessity be biased.
Hence, Hooker articulates for Anglicanism its answer to the question of what is our authority.

Our authority is the association of Scripture, tradition and reason … Scripture for the Anglican is a fundamental source of authority for the church; but apart from reason it is dangerous. It becomes the mirror for the misdirected person to project his or her own opinions and give them the authority of God. The sin of schism in the result.” – Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 11-13

Hmm … “the sin of schism” … perhaps we detect a pattern here! Some of us had Puritan ancestors who jumped ship over this very thing in the 16th century and some of us are losing friends and colleagues in ministry over it in the 21st. And the battle goes on.

And to equip ourselves for it, I commend "To Set Our Hope on Christ": ECUSA's response to the invitation of the Windsor Report to explain "from within the sources of authority that as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ."

It is available for order through www.episcopalbookstore.org or downloadable in a PDF format here.

Read it.

Mark it.

Inwardly digest it.

Study it in a group and reflect on it in your prayer time.

Give thanks for the blessing it represents as a 21st century reflection of the historic faith we inherit as Anglicans.

And pay close, close attention to the powers and principalities organizing to take that historic faith and turn it into something neither Hooker nor Seabury would recognize.

Defending the Sanctity of Marriage

OK -- I'm convinced. The sanctity of marriage DOES need defending and I want to sign up to be on the defense team.

I want to be part of making the case that life long relationships between two people who commit themselves to each other and pledge monogamy, fidelity, mutual respect and holy love build up not only the couple and their family but all of us.

I want to argue that such relationships are indeed foundational to so much that is good and strong and solid and healthy about our society -- our culture -- our civilization.

I want to sign on in agreement that it is in such relationships that children are best nurtured -- raised to understand the basic family values of love, commitment, support and mutuality.

As a priest and pastor I want to add that for Christian couples, making that commitment to each other in the context of sacred vows made in front of God and witnessed by the community of faith offers both the faith context and community support to better equip the couple to make it through the "better or worse" times that come to all of us at one point or the other.

And -- perhaps impossibly given the political climate du jour -- I want to challenge the ridiculous assertions that somehow the gender of those seeking to love and promise themselves to each other is more important than the values, love and commitment they bring to the relationship.

I want heterosexuals to take responsibility for what has happened to the institution of marriage on their watch and for those determined to save it to partner with gay and lesbian couples who are still standing as "strangers at the gate" -- yearning for the kind of commitment and responsibility so many straight couples have taken so for granted -- and work together to shift the conversation from the genders that make up the couple to the values that make up the relationship.

And I want to make the case that Britney Spears did more in the 55 hours of her quickly annulled Las Vegas marriage to undermine the sanctity of matrimony than any gay or lesbian couple I have ever known -- and that debacle ALONE should be enough to convince the jury that marriage does INDEED need defending: but not from Gene and Mark, or Rosie and Kelly, or Michael and John, or ...

Where do I sign up for the defense team?