Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Blessings for the Almost-New Year!

While the beginning of the New Year is a cause for celebration all over the world, here in Pasadena we have our own particular signs and symbols for “out with the old and in with the new.” The signs for Rose Parade parking started appearing back in November, and now we are surrounded by a primary civic symbol of the approaching festivities: the walls of bleachers that rose like Brigadoon out of the mists of the Old Year preparing us once again to greet and celebrate the New.

The signs and symbols of our New Year's celebrations may differ but they unite us, on this last day of the Year of Our Lord 2008, as a human family -- as we prepare to greet 2009 with all its hopes and possibilities, choices and challenges. And so for this blog of 2008, I want to offer a quote and a prayer – each intended as a blessing for 2009 ahead.

The quote is one my rector shared with us a few weeks ago. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” said Rahm Emanuel. “It is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

We cannot know what challenges face us in the year ahead, but imagine for a minute what a blessing it could be to approach each and every one that arises with Emanuel’s sense of optimism and possibility. If we can take his words to heart – if we can journey ahead convinced that there is opportunity in every challenge -- then together we can accomplish great things in this New Year.

Now, don’t think for a minute that I don’t read the headlines. The challenges ahead of us are big ones; make no mistake about that. An economy reeling, a new administration getting rolling, a world warming and warring … and don't even get me started on the Anglican Communion! I could go on and on. And so could you.

And that’s why I invite you to join me in carrying into this New Year not just a quote in our heads but a prayer in our hearts -- the prayer I have prayed many times over my years at All Saints Church -- the prayer I "inherited" from the priest who mentored me through my ordination process in the Diocese of Los Angeles who "inherited" it from the bishop of her home Diocese of Newark:

Holy God,
Send us anywhere you would have us go,
Only go there with us.

Place upon us any burden you desire,
Only stand by us to sustain us.

Break any tie that binds us,
Except the tie that binds us to you.

We do not know where God will send us in this New Year, and we go forward in trust that wherever that ends up being, God goes there with us. We cannot guess what burdens we will be asked to bear on behalf of the Gospel we have been charged to proclaim, and we know whatever they are God has promised to stand by us to sustain us. And we recognize that there is cost to the promise of this work we have been given to do.

That cost is sometimes breaking the ties that have bound us to the security of “we’ve always done it that way” in order to liberate us to imagine new possibilities – new opportunities; new solutions … for our church, for our cities and for our world.

Finally, as we turn the page from one year to the next, may the blessing of the One who creates, redeems and sustains be with you – those you love, serve and challenge – each and every day of this New Year and always.



(PS -- And for a dog's eye view of the Rose Parade "behind the scenes" visit our Dec 31st Dog Blog.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One of my heroes ...

... is Bishop Tom Ely of Vermont.

His prophetic leadership as a Bishop in the Church of God has reached far beyond the boundaries of Vermont. His vision and compassion make him a leader not just in the House of Bishops but a respected voice in the wider communion. And I cannot overstate the impact of his personal pastoral care for so many of us who have labored together toward the goal of fully including all the baptized in the life, work and witness of this church we love. So, without further ado and as a case-in-point, here is Bishop Tom Ely's recent testimony at the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection.


My name is Thomas Ely. I live in Burlington and serve as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont. I have been happily married to Ann for 31 years and tonight I want to offer a brief word in support of civil marriage equality for all Vermonters.

As a person of faith, my religious convictions have led me to speak out for human and civil rights in a broad range of areas over the years. The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in resolution after resolution has, since 1976, consistently expressed its conviction that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws with all other citizens, and it has called upon our society to see that such protection is provided in actuality. I am here tonight in response to those resolutions and the Baptismal Covenant of The Episcopal Church, and the compelling case they make for people of faith to respect and work for the dignity of every human being.

The state has a compelling interest in providing equality in the matter of civil rights to all people. The provision for Civil Unions in Vermont was a positive step in assuring that those civil rights that automatically extend to married couples also extend to gay and lesbian couples. But the aim with Civil Unions was a separate but equal status. In the reality of our having lived with Civil Unions in Vermont for seven years now, we know that as was true with school segregation, so too with Civil Unions and Civil Marriage: separate is not equal. Discrimination does continue, and while making provision for marriage equality for all couples here in Vermont will not end the discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in other states and in the federal laws, it will be an important step in the right direction.

The other point I want to emphasize tonight is that providing the civil right of civil marriage to heterosexual and homosexual couples alike would not compel any religious community to perform marriages of same-sex couples. The state allows ordained clergy and certain other designated religious persons to act as agents of the state with regard to civil marriage, but no clergyperson is required by the state to do so. Different religious communities have different theological views on the subject of matrimony. The privilege and religious freedom to express and act upon those convictions is not compromised by the state providing civil marriage and the subsequent civil rights of marriage to all couples. It is my conviction that the church can and should support civil marriage for all - even if, at this time we are not of one mind about the church’s involvement in these ceremonies.

To date, 31 Episcopal Clergy are among the many religious leaders who have signed the Vermont Declaration of Religious Support for the Freedom of Same-Gender Couples to Marry. They have done so, knowing full well that the Canons of the Episcopal Church will need to change before they could preside at such weddings for same sex couples. While currently, they can preside at Civil Union ceremonies, they recognize as do I, that being “unioned” or “partnered” is not the same as being “married.”

I hope the work of this Commission will help Vermonters understand that reality and give encouragement to our state legislature to make civil marriage possible for all couples.
Let the people say "Amen." (And let the people, if they are so inclined to thank Bishop Ely for his good work and grace-filled witness click here to send him a note of thanks!)

'Episcopal Church Splits Over Gay Equality' from The Nation

Just posted to the online version of "The Nation," this overview of "how we got from there to here" was described by the Bishop of New Hampshire as "One of the fairest and most informed pieces I've read in the secular press."

By Drew Haxby
December 29, 2008

In the past five years, the Episcopal Church has found itself pushed to the forefront of the culture wars. After Gene Robinson, an openly gay man with a longterm partner, was elected Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, Anglican bishops from all over the world quickly decried the move. Conservative congregations in the US and Canada left the national churches. Some aligned themselves with the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its outspoken homophobic leader, Archbishop Peter Akinola.

On December 3 of this year, these conservatives announced the creation of a new denomination, one that will compete openly with the Episcopalians for congregations and tithes. While not recognized by the Anglican Communion, the New York Times described this latest move as "the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the Episcopal Church," which "threatens the fragile unity of the Anglican Communion."

The Anglican conservatives have argued that the Episcopal Church acted too rashly in its acceptance of gays and lesbians into the leadership of the church. Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone of America, called Gene Robinson's election "a slap in the face of the Anglican Church around the world." Reverend Nyhan of St. James the Just described it as "hubris of Biblical proportions, and that's a polite way of saying diabolical."

But in fact, Robinson's election was less an example of cavalier decision making than the outgrowth of a long and thoughtful debate within the Church. Following a request from the Lambeth Commission, the Episcopalian Church published a 135-page document entitled "To Set Our Hope in Christ," which detailed how the church had come to include homosexuals as equal members of the congregation.

Presenting both a theological and legislative argument for gay and lesbian equality, the document includes a long list of commission findings and carefully worded resolutions stating repeatedly how the Episcopal Church is "not of one mind" on matters of sexuality but is committed to "promot[ing] the continu[ed] use of dialogue." There's the 1976 Commission on Human Affairs asserting that "homosexual persons are children of God, who have a full and equal claim with all other persons on love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church," or the creation of a moderately liberal guide on sexuality in the 1980s.

One rare moment of drama came in 1995, when the Bishop of Newark was put on trial within the church for his ordination of an openly gay priest. Again, the Episcopal leadership looked to find a middle way: while "not giving an opinion on the morality of same-gender relationships," it refused to convict on the grounds that "there is no core doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship," and that "the Anglican tradition has encouraged theological diversity."

This glacial move towards equality did not sit well with conservatives within the church, a testament to the inevitable shortcomings of compromise and incrementalism. In 1997 yet another Commission stated in despairing tones: "'Dialogue' has become, for many people, a code word for deadlock," and "Mandated dialogue on human sexuality has run its course." Unable to convince conservatives within the Church of the basic equality between heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and unwilling to abandon its tradition of plurality and legislative democracy, the Episcopal Church found itself confronted by an irreconcilable crisis despite its many efforts to avoid one.

As Rev. Susan Russell, President of the Episcopalian LGBT group Integrity, put it: "The number of conferences, of consultations, of opportunities for us to come together in different formations, to talk across the divide, meet at round tables, to talk about what unites us instead of what divides us, to find resolutions that have compromised language, that give local options...all of those were never acceptable to the religious ideologues."

And so it is that, among those Episcopalians who've been involved with this conflict, the general attitude is one of frustration. Rev. Ian Douglas is a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, and is quick to disparage the conservatives' move to bring in the African churches. "I find it fascinating," he said, "that those who claim to be traditionalist, particularly when focused on matters of human sexuality, which I would grant they are, have been drawn to a radical innovation in Anglicanism that contravenes the ancient councils of the church."

In the Anglican Communion (the international confederation of churches that trace their ancestry back to the Church of England) the individual provinces operate more or less autonomously. As Rev. Douglas notes, the conservatives' inclusion of likeminded African churches is in violation of this tradition, a reworking of the most basic structure of the church.

Still, the fact that the conservatives were forced to do this is telling in itself. Roughly 100,000 Anglicans in the United States and Canada have left their respective national churches, less than five percent of the 2.3 million members. "It's a tiny fraction of the church," said Jim Naughton, of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. "Yet it's being played as if the church is splitting." As many Episcopalians have pointed out, the conservatives did not have the internal backing to overturn Robinson's election--even with the efforts of the African Churches and several fundamentalist lobbies. Their recent decision to disaffiliate is a last ditch gamble to assert their preeminence in North America.

How it will play out remains to be seen, but in the meantime the Episcopal Church might finally start to move on.

Drew Haxby, a former Fulbright scholar in Nepal and MFA graduate, is a Fall 2008 intern at the Nation magazine and a freelance journalist based in New York City.


If you remember nothing else from this piece, remember this: "In the meantime the Episcopal Church might finally start to move on."

From his pen to God's ears!!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Fun Facts to Know and Tell About Invocations @ Presidential Inaugurations

So I was websurfing while half-watching the Broncos & Chargers and found some Fun Facts to Know and Tell about Presidental Inaugurations:

According to Wikipedia (that "source authority" for all kinds of things) the custom of having a prayer as part of the Presidential Inauguration began in 1933.
Here's a link to the list of who prayed at which one every four years since then -- both Invocation and Benediction.
Posted below are links to Invocations from '89, '93, '97 and '01 -- AKA "The Graham Years." (Billy Graham the first three and his son, Franklin, the fourth.)

Couldn't find a copy of 2005 ... but that year (interestingly enough) the Invocation was given by Episcopal priest the Reverend Dr. Louis Leon -- rector of Washington's St. John's Church Lafayette Square.
The impetus for all this rummaging about was this interesting email, received on Boxing Day from a former All Saints colleague:
Over Christmas dinner some friends hatched a plan to make the inauguration invocation everything it could have been. We are calling it 'The Inauguration Project.' Look for a website by the same name in the next few days. What we are doing is inviting alternative inaugural prayers either in text form or YouTube video.
The results will provide an amazing tapestry of American voices in prayer. We will the invite folks to put Rick Warrenon 'mute' and enjoy an alternate prayer of their choice. We will be using Obama's Facebook groups and e-mail network to spread the option. We are all Barack supporters who feel gravely disappointed by the choice of a Warren to pray at the inaugural. We had hoped for real change -- a group prayer led by rabbis, imams, pastors, priests etc. to reflect the unity in diversity of Americans. So let's be the change we want to see. Stay tuned!
Stay tuned, indeed!

Invocation Achives:
1989 Inaugural Invocation with Reverend Billy Graham with George Herbert Walker Bush:

1993 Inaugural Invocation with Reverend Billy Graham for Bill Clinton and Al Gore:

1997 Inaugural Invocation with Reverend Billy Graham for Bill Clinton and Al Gore:

2001 Inaugural Invocation by Franklin Graham at the inauguration of President George W. Bush, January 20, 2001, in Washington, D.C.

The Color of Love

More from the Sunday paper ... this from the NYTimes Sunday Magazine tribute to Mildred Loving.

In June 1963, Mildred Loving, the 22-year-old wife of Richard Loving, a bricklayer, sat down with a piece of lined loose-leaf paper and wrote a letter in neat script to the Washington branch of the A.C.L.U. “My husband is White,” she wrote, “I am part negro, & part indian.” Five years earlier, they married in Washington, she explained, but did not know that there was a law in Virginia, where they lived, against mixed marriages. Upon arriving back home, the two were jailed, tried and told to leave the state, which is how she ended up back in Washington. Her request to the A.C.L.U. was heartbreakingly humble: “We know we can’t live there, but we would like to go back once and awhile to visit our families & friends.” A judge had told them that if they set foot, together, in the state again, they would be jailed for one year. She hoped to hear from the lawyer there “real soon.”

The letter didn’t mention the details of the arrest: the three local authorities who let themselves into her mother’s home one hot June night, invaded the bedroom where Mildred and Richard slept and woke them with the blinding glare of a flashlight. She didn’t express the humiliation of spending five nights in a rat-infested jail (her husband, because he was white, spent only one night behind bars). She didn’t try to convey just how homesick she was for the small, rural speck of a town in Virginia where she had lived with her family all her life, just down the road from Richard, who started courting her when she was just 11 and he was 17.

Their relationship was, by all accounts, an uncomplicated love affair in Central Point, Va., an area in which racial divisions were far from straightforward. She and Richard grew up attending segregated churches and schools, but outside of those formal arenas, blacks and whites, many of whom also had Cherokee blood, freely socialized, worked side by side (Richard’s father worked for a black landowner) and occasionally fell in love. Richard first met Mildred when he went to hear her brothers play music at her home down the road.

Two young civil rights lawyers took up the case, and in 1967 the ruling came down from the Supreme Court, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren: Declaring that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” Warren argued that the Virginia statute violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. An unforgettable picture captures the Lovings at a news conference in their lawyers’ office the day of the ruling: Richard and Mildred, their heads leaning close, his arm draped possessively around her neck, Richard looking gruff, Mildred looking girlishly delighted. More than triumph, more than justice, the picture captured, at a glimpse, a couple in love.

In the years following the ruling, the Lovings turned down countless requests for interviews, public appearances and honors. Mildred Loving had no affiliations beyond her church and her family and never considered herself a hero. “It wasn’t my doing,” she said a year before her death. “It was God’s work.”

She resolutely lived out a private, ordinary life with its ordinary pleasures — a happy marriage, three kids, a home near family — and its sadly ordinary tragedies. One day when Mildred was 35, she and Richard were driving on a highway when another car crashed into theirs. Richard was killed instantly. Mildred, who lost her left eye in the accident, never remarried or considered it. She spent the second half of her life attending church, cooking for children and grandchildren, smoking unfiltered Pall Malls, drinking cup after cup of instant coffee with the neighbors and looking out from her back porch to a peaceful view of the fields.

Civil rights historians had pretty much accepted that they wouldn’t hear again from Mildred Loving. But last year, the 40th anniversary of the ruling, three colleagues working on behalf of Faith in America, a gay rights group, visited Loving at the small ranch house that Richard built after they moved back to Virginia. The organization was hoping to persuade her to make a statement in favor of gay marriage at a celebration of her own court ruling that the group planned to hold in Washington. “I just don’t know,” Loving told them. She hadn’t given it much thought. She listened sympathetically, a worn Bible on her end table, as the group’s founder, the furniture entrepreneur Mitchell Gold, told her of his own struggles as a teenager to accept that society would never let him marry someone he loved. She was undecided when the group left a few hours later, but told Ashley Etienne, a young woman who consulted for the group, that they could continue to chat about the subject over the phone.

Etienne, who said Loving reminded her of her own grandmother, started calling every few days. She asked Loving about how she and her husband endured their setbacks; Loving told her that she didn’t understand why two people who loved each other could not be married and express their love publicly. She talked, as she always did, about how much she loved Richard and what a kind, gentle man he was. On her own, she talked to her neighbors about the request; she talked to her children about it. And in the end, Loving told Etienne, yes, she would allow the group to read a statement in her name supporting gay marriage at the commemoration. “Are you sure you understand what you’re saying?” Etienne asked. “You understand that you’re putting your name behind the idea that two men or two women should have the right to marry each other?”

“I understand it,” Loving said, “and I believe it.”

Hope has to mean action, not just words

It's kinda long, but this Frank Rich op-ed in today's New York Times (yet another installment in the Rick-Warren-as-Inaugural Intercessor-is-a-really-bad-idea series) was too "on point" to try to snippet or summarize.

You’re Likable Enough, Gay People

IN his first press conference after his re-election in 2004, President Bush memorably declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” We all know how that turned out.

Barack Obama has little in common with George W. Bush, thank God, his obsessive workouts and message control notwithstanding. At a time when very few Americans feel very good about very much, Obama is generating huge hopes even before he takes office. So much so that his name and face, affixed to any product, may be the last commodity left in the marketplace that can still move Americans to shop.

I share these high hopes. But for the first time a faint tinge of Bush crept into my Obama reveries this month.

As we saw during primary season, our president-elect is not free of his own brand of hubris and arrogance, and sometimes it comes before a fall: “You’re likable enough, Hillary” was the prelude to his defeat in New Hampshire. He has hit this same note again by assigning the invocation at his inauguration to the Rev. Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch preacher who has likened committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and “an older guy marrying a child.” Bestowing this honor on Warren was a conscious — and glib — decision by Obama to spend political capital. It was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong.

In this case, the capital spent is small change. Most Americans who have an opinion about Warren like him and his best-selling self-help tome, “The Purpose Driven Life.” His good deeds are plentiful on issues like human suffering in Africa, poverty and climate change. He is opposed to same-sex marriage, but so is almost every top-tier national politician, including Obama. Unlike such family-values ayatollahs as James Dobson and Tony Perkins, Warren is not obsessed with homosexuality and abortion. He was vociferously attacked by the Phyllis Schlafly gang when he invited Obama to speak about AIDS at his Saddleback Church two years ago.

There’s no reason why Obama shouldn’t return the favor by inviting him to Washington. But there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope. You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

Warren, whose ego is no less than Obama’s, likes to advertise his “commitment to model civility in America.” But as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC reminded her audience, “comparing gay relationships to child abuse” is a “strange model of civility.” Less strange but equally hard to take is Warren’s defensive insistence that some of his best friends are the gays: His boasts of having “eaten dinner in gay homes” and loving Melissa Etheridge records will not protect any gay families’ civil rights.

Equally lame is the argument mounted by an Obama spokeswoman, Linda Douglass, who talks of how Warren has fought for “people who have H.I.V./AIDS.” Shouldn’t that be the default position of any religious leader? Fighting AIDS is not a get-out-of-homophobia-free card. That Bush finally joined Bono in doing the right thing about AIDS in Africa does not mitigate the gay-baiting of his 2004 campaign, let alone his silence and utter inaction when the epidemic was killing Texans by the thousands, many of them gay men, during his term as governor.

Unlike Bush, Obama has been the vocal advocate of gay civil rights he claims to be. It is over the top to assert, as a gay writer at Time did, that the president-elect is “a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot.” Much more to the point is the astute criticism leveled by the gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who, in dissenting from the Warren choice, said of Obama, “I think he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences.” That’s a polite way of describing the Obama cockiness. It will take more than the force of the new president’s personality and eloquence to turn our nation into the United States of America he and we all want it to be.

Obama may not only overestimate his ability to bridge some of our fundamental differences but also underestimate how persistent some of those differences are. The exhilaration of his decisive election victory and the deserved applause that has greeted his mostly glitch-free transition can’t entirely mask the tensions underneath. Before there is profound social change, there is always high anxiety.

The success of Proposition 8 in California was a serious shock to gay Americans and to all the rest of us who believe that all marriages should be equal under the law. The roles played by African-Americans (who voted 70 percent in favor of Proposition 8) and by white Mormons (who were accused of bankrolling the anti-same-sex-marriage campaign) only added to the morning-after recriminations. And that was in blue California. In Arkansas, voters went so far as to approve a measure forbidding gay couples to adopt.

There is comparable anger and fear on the right. David Brody, a political correspondent with the Christian Broadcasting Network, was flooded with e-mails from religious conservatives chastising Warren for accepting the invitation to the inaugural. They vilified Obama as “pro-death” and worse because of his support for abortion rights.

Stoking this rage, no doubt, is the dawning realization that the old religious right is crumbling — in part because Warren’s new generation of leaders departs from the Falwell-Robertson brand of zealots who have had a stranglehold on the G.O.P. It’s a sign of the old establishment’s panic that the Rev. Richard Cizik, known for his leadership in addressing global warming, was pushed out of his executive post at the National Association of Evangelicals this month. Cizik’s sin was to tell Terry Gross of NPR that he was starting to shift in favor of civil unions for gay couples.

Cizik’s ouster won’t halt the new wave he represents. As he also told Gross, young evangelicals care less and less about the old wedge issues and aren’t as likely to base their votes on them. On gay rights in particular, polls show that young evangelicals are moving in Cizik’s (and the country’s) direction and away from what John McCain once rightly called “the agents of intolerance.” It’s not a coincidence that Dobson’s Focus on the Family, which spent more than $500,000 promoting Proposition 8, has now had to lay off 20 percent of its work force in Colorado Springs.

But we’re not there yet. Warren’s defamation of gay people illustrates why, as does our president-elect’s rationalization of it. When Obama defends Warren’s words by calling them an example of the “wide range of viewpoints” in a “diverse and noisy and opinionated” America, he is being too cute by half. He knows full well that a “viewpoint” defaming any minority group by linking it to sexual crimes like pedophilia is unacceptable.

It is even more toxic in a year when that group has been marginalized and stripped of its rights by ballot initiatives fomenting precisely such fears. “You’ve got to give them hope” was the refrain of the pioneering 1970s gay politician Harvey Milk, so stunningly brought back to life by Sean Penn on screen this winter. Milk reminds us that hope has to mean action, not just words.

By the historical standards of presidential hubris, Obama’s disingenuous defense of his tone-deaf invitation to Warren is nonetheless a relatively tiny infraction. It’s no Bay of Pigs. But it does add an asterisk to the joyous inaugural of our first black president. It’s bizarre that Obama, of all people, would allow himself to be on the wrong side of this history.

Since he’s not about to rescind the invitation, what happens next? For perspective, I asked Timothy McCarthy, a historian who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an unabashed Obama enthusiast who served on his campaign’s National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council. He responded via e-mail on Christmas Eve.

After noting that Warren’s role at the inauguration is, in the end, symbolic, McCarthy concluded that “it’s now time to move from symbol to substance.” This means Warren should “recant his previous statements about gays and lesbians, and start acting like a Christian.”

McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.” And “for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.”

Amen. Here’s to humility and equanimity everywhere in America, starting at the top, as we negotiate the fierce rapids of change awaiting us in the New Year.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

+Gene on Warren

An interview with Bishop Gene Robinson on the Religion News Service website by Kevin Eckstrom

The Rev. V. Gene Robinson blesses the congregation after being consecrated as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church on Nov. 2, 2003. Robinson's June election by New Hampshire Episcopalians touched off fierce contention within the U.S. Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Photo courtesy Episcopal News Service. Openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson has spent the last five years seeking reconciliation with those who saw his election as immoral, unbiblical or, as one Nigerian archbishop put it, a "satanic attack on God's church."

Yet the choice of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration left Robinson deeply disappointed after Warren campaigned for Proposition 8, a California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.

Robinson talked about seeking reconciliation with those who, like Warren, take a more conservative view against homosexuality. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.


Q: You endorsed Barack Obama before the New Hampshire primary. Does his choice of Rick Warren make you second-guess your support for his campaign?

A: No, not at all. I have just total confidence in Barack Obama and I think he will be the greatest friend to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community we've ever seen. This is about the religious person you put in front of the world to pray for the nation and for the new president.

Q: So let's cut to the chase. What's wrong with Rick Warren offering the invocation at the inauguration?

A: I actually have a lot of respect for Rick Warren; amongst evangelicals, he's taken a hit for his compassionate response to AIDS, his commitment to alleviating poverty. He's done some good things. The difficult thing is that he's said, and continues to affirm, some horrendous things about homosexuality -- comparing it to incest, bestiality, that kind of thing. This is not a choice that really represents everyone. This choice was just really, really unfortunate.


Q: You've talked a lot about reconciliation, and bringing disparate sides together, in your own divided Episcopal Church. Are you not willing to do the same with Rick Warren?

A: No, I absolutely am. I would sit down with Rick Warren this morning if I had the opportunity. I would love to engage him. In some ways he's a very brave person, but he's woefully wrong about the issue of homosexuality. He needs to be confronted about the lies he told about gay people to the people of California.

Q: So this is really about the forum of the inauguration, not necessarily Rick Warren per se.

A: That's right. It's about this particular venue and the role that he has in praying for all of America, and I'm just not sure he'd pray to God the same way I would.

Q: You told The New York Times that "the God that he's praying to is not the God that I know." What God do you think he's praying to?

A: I think he is praying to a God, at least around this issue, that calls upon God's homosexual children to deny who they are, to deprive themselves of love and intimacy that is permitted every other one of God's children. He's praying to a God who calls on me, as a gay man, to change, to submit myself to the power of Jesus so I can be healed of this `infirmity' of mine.

Q: And how is that different from the God that you pray to?

A: The God I know says to me, just like we hear God saying at Jesus' baptism, that you are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased. That's a very, very different God. Imagine the difference between a parent who loves you for you who are, and one that says I'll only love you if you change.

Q: If Warren hadn't endorsed Proposition 8, would this be such a big issue?

A: It's a little bit difficult to separate the two. It would have been better had he been silent on Prop 8, but his stated attitudes on this, and his views on gay and lesbian people, are a matter of record that predate Prop 8. The reason this has hit the LGBT community so hard is that the wounds are still awfully raw for us following the vote on Prop 8.

Q: Obama and Warren have both said that Warren got heat for inviting Obama to his church. So, isn't it appropriate for Obama to return the gesture?

A: Again, it's the specific thing and the specific event that he's been invited to do. This particular choice (of Warren) is not about having everyone at the table for a discussion or some sort of general forum. Every choice related to who does what at the inauguration is highly symbolic, and I think the transition team failed to ask the question of what, symbolically, this might say to some of our citizens.

Q: Are you coming down for the inauguration?

A: I am. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Boxing Day!

Boxing Day ... AKA St. Stephen's Day and/or the 2nd Day ("Two Turtle Doves Day") of Christmas.
Whatever you call it, my prayer today is that we be given the grace to dwell just a little longer in the glow of the gift of the One who loved us enough to become one of us to show us how to love one another.
Let the celebration continue!
(Check out our "dog blog" for how our girls have been spending the 2nd Day of Christmas!!!!!!!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hope Happens

Christmas Eve 2008 (5:30 p.m.)
All Saints Church, Pasadena

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon from this pulpit entitled, “Wilderness Happens.” And so I was amused just a few days after that Sunday when, stuck at a red light at Lake and Walnut, I noticed the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that read, “Fruitcake Happens.”

“Maybe that’s my Christmas sermon title,” I thought. But I ended up opting for a variation on the theme: Hope Happens. And at least part of the reason was this quote from our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

“Advent,” she said earlier this month “is the season when Christians are called to live with more hope than the world thinks is reasonable.”

I like that. A lot. So much that I don’t want to give up living with more hope than the world thinks is reasonable just because Advent is behind us and we’ve finally arrived at O Holy Night. For tonight is the night that we glimpse the incarnation of that hope – more hope than the world thinks is reasonable – represented for us as Christians in the baby in the manger. And it is the night we receive – once again -- the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.

For it is the night we gather together – once again -- surrounded by light and beauty and music and community to celebrate the mystery of Christmas. We welcome again the promise of new life in the birth of this Christmas baby. We wonder again at the power of a love great enough to triumph over death and we claim a Christmas Truth greater than any of the traditions it inspires: the mystical longing of the creature for the creator -- the finite for the infinite -- the human for the divine – all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

When my children were growing up, one of the most treasured rituals of the Christmas season was setting up the manger scene on the dining room sideboard. We actually used the same set of crèche I’d grown up with – including the lamb who had been making it through Christmas on three legs since about 1967 and the Wise Man whose head had to be super-glued back on about every third year. But every December out they came from the box with the tissue and the bubble wrap – ready to play their annual parts in the Christmas drama.

And I’m remembering tonight one year when we had a little more “Christmas drama” than usual. It was the year my younger son, Brian – who was probably about 7 or 8 at the time – decided to “expand” the cast of that year’s Christmas crèche.

We’d set everything up “as usual” … Mary and Joseph were in the stable with the donkey and the cow staring soulfully (Mary and Joseph … not the cow) at the empty-til-Christmas Day manger. The shepherds started out on the west end of the sideboard and edged their way toward the stable as Christmas approached while the Three Wise Men and their two camels did likewise from the east – what with striving for historical accuracy and all.

And lo it came to pass that one morning over breakfast my older son Jamie – who is still the detail guy in the family – noticed that something was not kosher in Bethlehem. Joining Mary and Joseph around the manger was Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and three Star Wars Storm troopers.

Jamie was not amused. In fact, he was pretty irate. “Who let them in?” he said … as if he didn’t know the culprit was across the table from him slurping up Honey Nut Cheerios. “There are no Star Wars guys the Bible!” But Brian, not missing a beat, said “Yeah, well, there wasn’t any Little Drummer Boy in the Bible either and they let him in. These guys are just waiting for Baby Jesus like everybody else. Get over it.”

Jamie must have – gotten over it. Because as I remember it, Luke, Hans and the Storm Troopers were still there when I retrieved Baby Jesus from his hiding place and put him in the manger late that Christmas Eve when I got home from the midnight service and they were fast asleep.

That was Christmas then and this is Christmas now. It’s been a long time since I had boys young enough to argue over adding characters to the nativity scene – but in retrospect I see that year’s Christmas crèche as an icon of a core All Saints Church value: “Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith there is a place for you here.” And it seems to me that the little drama between my kids at the breakfast table over who gets to decide who gets to “come let us adore Him” was a little microcosm of the challenges we still face in parts of this church – this communion – this country.

Hope happens. But it doesn’t just happen. Here’s another quote I found about hope … this one from one of the early church fathers-- Augustine of Hippo:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Ewww! Courage? Anger? That’s not very … “Christmassy!” Couldn’t we just stick to sweetness and light tonight? Of course we could.

And if we do, we give in to what is a greater Christmas temptation than all the Eggnog and Christmas Cookies in Christendom. And that is the temptation to “put Christ into Christmas” only to leave him there: to receive with joy the gift of the Word made flesh on this Christmas Eve and fail to live as the Body of Christ the other 364 days of the year.

For the shadow side of our beloved Christmas traditions is that we risk making them more important than the message they represent. We risk being like my 10 year old Jamie … so worried about where the Kings go on the sideboard that we aren’t willing to make room for everybody at the manger. The danger of the Christmas story is that it IS so familiar that we can lose the amazing impact of its glorious message in the frenzy that surrounds the Christmas event.

Its ironic – isn’t it – that the very season that offers the message of Peace on Earth, Good Will to All brings instead Stress on Earth, Bad Temper to Many. The challenge is to balance the traditions that manifest the joy of the season with the gift that is the reason for the season: and that gift is of course Love. And the work of Christmas – OUR work at Christians – is to make that love tangible … as Howard Thurman describes in what has become my annual Christmas meditation:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.

That, my brothers and sisters, is not just the work but the purpose of Christmas – purpose that drives our work and our witness at All Saints Church not just this Christmas Eve but 24/7.

And on this Christmas Eve 2008, let me enter into the record this important note: I am all in favor of living a purpose driven life.

But here’s the thing: let’s make sure that the purpose that drives us is turning the whole human race into the human family – not limiting those who can “Come let us adore him” to those who look like us, think like us, vote like us or believe like us. Let’s make sure that if we’re going to preach family values that we practice valuing all families. And let’s be clear that the hope that we claim on this O Holy Night – the “more hope than the world thinks is reasonable” -- is the hope we are called to not just celebrate but to guard: from war and violence, from hunger and famine, from budgets that prioritize bombs over bread, from policies that favor profits for corporations over healthcare for children, and from purpose driven agendas whose purpose is to write discrimination into our constitution.

Wilderness happens. Fruitcake happens. And hope happens. And in my imagination tonight a hope driven Christmas – a purpose driven Christmas – is driven by Hope’s two lovely daughters … Anger and Courage … who, together in a sleigh led by eight tiny reindeer, circle the globe this night proclaiming “Peace on earth, good will to all” … with Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and three Storm Troopers singing back up, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

[Have I mixed enough metaphors?]

My brothers and sisters, as we celebrate tonight the wonder of the amazing gift of our brother Jesus born of our sister Mary -- with all of its beloved trappings and traditions -- may we also be given the grace to bring the hope of Christmas alive in the year ahead. May we be given the courage to refuse to leave Christ in Christmas but to follow in his footsteps by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God “in season and out of season.” And may we be given the energy and imagination to hold onto more hope than the world thinks is reasonable as we go out from this place into this “O Holy Night.”

Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.

The Cusp of Christmas

Well, the halls are decked, the stockings are hung, the Rainy-Day-Christmas Plan B has been activated as we stand on the cusp of Christmas 2008 here in beautiful downtown Pasadena.

I'll post the sermon I'll preach at the 5:30 service after the fact, but here's the snippet I thought I'd offer this morning as a preview:


On this Christmas Eve 2008, let me enter into the record this important note:

I am all in favor of living a purpose driven life.

But here’s the thing: let’s make sure that the purpose that drives us is turning the whole human race into the human family – not limiting those who can “Come let us adore him” to those who look like us, think like us, vote like us or believe like us.
Let’s make sure that if we’re going to preach family values that we practice valuing all families.
And let’s be clear that the hope that we claim on this O Holy Night – more hope than the world thinks is reasonable -- is the hope we are called to not just celebrate but to guard.

From war and violence,
from hunger and famine,
from budgets that prioritize bombs over bread,
from policies that favor profits for corporations
over healthcare for children,
and from purpose driven agendas
whose purpose is to write discrimination into our constitution.


(Merry Christmas Eve to All ... and to all a "good day!")

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"I light this candle ..."

Take 90 seconds
to celebrate Human Rights
in this Festival of Rights tribute
to the beginning of Chanukah!

FOX News Fact Check

Following up on yesterday's transcript from our foray into Fox News Land, I decided a little "fact checking" was in order ... and decided to link here the background info that informed my on air statements on Sunday.

For example:
Bishop Harry Jackson: They’ve mischaracterized what they’ve said about Rick Warren. He was not calling gay people pedophiles or anything of that nature and they’ve been putting out a false story for PR purposes.

Really? Maybe Bishop Jackson missed this interview with Pastor Warren:

PASTOR WARREN: I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.
BELIEFNET: Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

[Maybe I'm missing some nuance here, but when I do the math "older guy" + "child" = "pedophile"]

And then there was:

Bishop Harry Jackson: Your other guest is mischaracterizing the statements of Rick Warren.
Hmmmm ... I wonder which statements he was talking about?

The statements about the President of Iran that Pastor Warren made on Fox News earlier this month?

HANNITY: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. OK, so with that understanding, there's always going to be human evil. The question is, can you eradicate it. In other words, the whole issue came up. Can you — can you talk to rogue dictators? Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, wants to wipe Israel off the map, is seeking nuclear weapons.
HANNITY: I think we need to take him out.
HANNITY: Am I advocating something dark, evil or something righteous?
WARREN: Well, actually, the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped. And I believe...
HANNITY: By force?
WARREN: Well, if necessary. In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers.

Or maybe his statements comparing a woman's right to choose to the Holocaust:

To me it is kind of a charade in that people say ‘We believe abortions should be safe and rare,’” he added. “Don’t tell me it should be rare. That’s like saying on the Holocaust, ‘Well, maybe we could save 20 percent of the Jewish people in Poland and Germany and get them out and we should be satisfied with that,’” Warren said. “I’m not satisfied with that. I want the Holocaust ended.”

And I didn't even get time to bring UP the fact that Pastor Warren got his Purpose Driven Self embroiled with the "Let's Boycott Lambeth" bunch last summer:

Famed American pastor, Dr Rick Warren supports the decision by Ugandan bishops to boycott the forthcoming Lambeth conference in England, United Kingdom. Dr Warren said that homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. "We shall not tolerate this aspect at all," Dr Warren said. "The Church of England is wrong and I support the Church of Uganda(CoU) on the boycott," Dr Warren.


Now, Pastor Warren talks a good game of "let's bring everybody to the table" but when you've got a history of working behind the scenes to support boycotting coming to the table with those you disagree with it seems to me you've got a little explaining to do before there's any more talk about being "the New Billy Graham" or "America's Pastor."

I'm all for a Purpose Driven life ... but let's ask a few more questions about the purpose driving the driver before we turn over the keys to the car!

Monday, December 22, 2008

FOX News Follow up

Well, no video clip but we've managed a transcript of Sunday's Fox News Sunday segment on the controversy over President-elect Obama's invitation to Pastor Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the January 20th Inauguration. The segment was subtitled “President-elect Obama under fire for inviting Rick Warren to speak at Inauguration.”

The guests were
Bishop Harry Jackson ... and me.


Bishop Jackson: This controversy is a clear example of just how intolerant the gay community is about anyone they disagree with. They’ve mischaracterized what they’ve said about Rick Warren. He was not calling gay people pedophiles or anything of that nature and they’ve been putting out a false story for PR purposes.

Moderator: Joining us now on the phone is the Reverend Susan Russell, a priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in California where Prop 8 has been a hotly contested issue. What say you about the invitation to Pastor Warren to speak?

Reverend Russell: Thanks for giving me the opportunity. I think it’s an unfortunate choice, I think it’s a disappointing choice. As I said in my open letter to the President-elect, I applaud -- I applaud! -- his efforts to bring the evangelicals back to the table.—I think that’s exactly the sort of post-partisan leadership we’re looking for in our president-elect, but we could have done better than Rick Warren.

And I want to rebut your other guest. This is not about gay intolerance. This about pointing out that Rick Warren as a pastor has compared a woman’s right to choose to the Holocaust, who doesn’t believe in evolution, he has said that the Bible would condone the assassination of the President of Iran. These are ideas that are way outside the mainstream of American religious thought.

What I’m saying is rather than seeing gays as being “intolerant,” we’re serving as the canary in the coal mine saying we deserve better – the American people deserve better – and if you’re going to ask someone to pray a blessing on America on Inauguration Day, please select someone who speaks for all Americans.

Moderator: Bishop Jackson?

Bishop Jackson: Well, I think this is part of the PR spin. Your other guest is mischaracterizing the statements of Rick Warren. He is the new Billy Graham. He represents American. The Purpose Driven Life … everybody knows …has sold multiple millions of copies … and he’s given millions of dollars to help people who are HIV/AIDS … he is not intolerant … he’s helped the gay community. I just resent that they’re slandering his name to advance their cause and their PR and they want to sound tolerant about being so aggressive.

Moderator: Let me point something out to both of you. Last night, Rick Warren spoke for a gathering of Muslims in Southern California – about 800 there. Melissa Etheridge opened up the event, performing there as well, and she of course is openly gay. She went on to say that Pastor Rick Warren is a great guy, someone that she enjoys talking to despite their differences. President-elect Barack Obama has said the same thing.

And then [Warren] also gave a quote here. He said, “Let me just get this over very quickly. I love Muslims, and for the media’s purposes I happen to love gays and straights." He said people ask him what he prays for when it comes to the President-elect Obama and he said (quote): “I pray for the president the same things I pray for myself: integrity, humility and compassion.” Reverend Russell, what’s wrong with that?

Reverend Russell: There’s nothing wrong with that. Our issue is, we want to see the actions meet the words. This is a person, Pastor Warren, who preaches family values and practices discrimination against gay and lesbian families. This is someone who fundraised and advocated to take civil rights away from California regarding civil marriage. We want to see the actions that meet the words and what we’re asking is that rather than Rick Warren, the President-elect should look at evangelicals like Tony Campolo or …

Moderator: Reverend Russell, we’re running out of time here. I understand your point -- point well taken. Bishop Jackson, I understand your point as well and of course it’s up to the President-elect, he can choose who he wants to for the Invocation, and he says his choice is Rick Warren.


So that was it. I'll admit, seeing it in black-and-white (or "white-and-green") it seems an unlikely source to inspire the emails I got in response:

You are doing this country a dis-service by preaching the evil filth that I heard come out of your mouth this morning. Obviously Satan has you firmly in his grip. Please take the time to read your Bible and get off your high horse and humbly ask for God's forgiveness. It is not fair to the people who listen to you to teach them LIES. You alone will be responsible for sending souls to hell. How can you look at yourself in the mirror morning??

[My, my, my!]

You shouldn't be a reverened or a pastor. Those are people I always thought, should be set aside to teach us the very words of God. He has a lot to say about homosexualaty, did you know that? Its not good. You, as a representative of God, or so you call yourself, will stand before Him someday, and be judged. If I were you, I would be worried.

[I'm worried about a lot of things, but this isn't one of them.]

And then there was this one from the Kentucky contingent:

Just heard what Susan had to say about Rick Warren on Fox News and I couldn't believe what came out of her hatred mouth. I don't mean to say anything bad about anyone, but that just flabbergasted me! How can she preach the Gospel with the hatred she carries??? Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.

Well, I hope she feels better now. (And it kind of makes you wonder what she'd say if she did mean to say something bad about someone !:)

Advent Wanes

The Advent Frontal is about all that's left of The Season of Preparation for the Coming of Our Lord ...

... as we've entered the "transitional breathing" phase of our labor-of-love to make bring Christmas 2008 happen here in Pasadena!

Volunteers are decking the halls with boughs of holly-esque Christmas greenery ...

... while the already decorated chapel give s a fortaste of the heavenly Christmas banquet to come!

So who ever you are ... and where ever you find yourself on your journey toward Christmas ... best wishes for much joy in both the preparation AND the celebration from all of us here at Christmas Central (AKA "All Saints Church, Pasadena!)

Prayers for those who travel

Holy God, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel this busy holiday season; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey's end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

FOX News Sunday Morning

On the off chance you're NOT in church at 11:35 Eastern time this morning (yes, that's like 20 minutes from now!) then tune into FOX News Sunday and you should be able to hear Bishop Harry Jackson and me having a little chat about life in general and Rick Warren in specific.

(See also: Never a dull moment in the Fields of the Lord!)


1:15 p.m. Quick Update: It ended up being about a three minute segment ... Bishop Jackson led off by talking about how this showed how intolerant gays were of anyone who disagreed with them. I tried to counter by saying I applauded the selection of an evangelical for the role but Obama could have found one who didn't advocate assasinating the President of Iraq and that I had a problem with someone in the role of "America's pastor" who preaches family values and then practices discrmination against gay and lesbian families.

Will try to get a transcript up ... I did find the moderator "fair and balanced" but Oh My Dear, has my email inbox been filling up! As soon as I did the segment I ran off to do two services and an adult education hour and by the time I got back to my desk found 14 emails and 4 voicemails..

My favorite was some hate mail sent to my ex-husband (who lives in Kentucky) -- he forwarded it to me with the note, "This is the sort of mentality I have to put up with hereabouts. If you have a minute I would appreciate some enlightenment to send her way."

I sent him some talking points.

And now I'm closing up shop and going home to finish decking the halls and getting ready for guests this evening.

Happy End of Advent, Everybody! And Merry Almost Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Open Letter to the President-elect

Dear President-elect Obama,

I'm sure you're hearing from a great many voices around the country this week about your choice of Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the upcoming inauguration. I am writing today to add my voice to those expressing regret at the choice and concern that the message being sent by the elevation of someone with Pastor Warren's values of narrow exclusionism to the "bully pulpit" of Inauguration Day.
I believe that reaching across the divide to include a strong, evangelical voice in the opening moments of your presidency is not just a good political move, it is a considered policy choice that helps bind up the wounds of a divisive campaign and eight years of polarization, preparing us as a nation to move forward together to solve the many problems that challenge us. This effort to begin your administration by representing differences of opinion in the selection of a pastor whose theological perspectives are different than your own is something I enthusiastically applaud.
The choice of Rick Warren is not. I agree with my Episcopal brother Bishop Gene Robinson, who said yesterday, "I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table, but we’re not talking about a discussion, we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most watched inauguration in history."

Rick Warren is a not only a vocal opponent of LGBT equality who does not believe in evolution, he has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His views are far outside the religious mainstream and his credentials are steeped in an “Old Time Religion” of narrow exclusionism that ill prepares us for the challenges of the 21st century.

There are many fine, strong, evangelical voices in this country who do not carry Warren's baggage of having been one of the generals in the culture wars. Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis are names that come immediately to mind -- pastors who have balanced the challenge of bridging differences while standing firmly in their evangelical tradition.
It is true that the unfortunate choice of Rick Warren is particularly painful to LGBT Americans who have experienced first-hand the destructive impact of pastors like Warren who preach “family values” while practicing discrimination against gay and lesbian families. But it should also be a cause for concern to any American concerned that the exclusionism represented by Rick Warren is antithetical to the core values of inclusion, tolerance and the celebration of difference that so historically mark your embryonic administration.
I'm still setting my Pacific Standard Time alarm early on January 20th to make sure I don't miss a moment of Inauguration Day. I'm still profoundly hopeful at the new beginning we will celebrate together as Americans on that day as we work together to become a nation where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a pledge but a practice.
But I pray that as we make that journey forward together, as you make the considered choices you will make about who prays God's blessing on America you will consider ALL Americans as you make those choices -- and you will consider that we can do better than Rick Warren. Yes we can. Yes we can.
The Reverend Susan Russell
President, Integrity USA

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jerry Brown: Gay-marriage ban should be invalidated

In a surprise move, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown asked the California Supreme Court on Friday to invalidate Proposition 8. He said the November ballot measure that banned gay marriage "deprives people of the right to marry, an aspect of liberty that the Supreme Court has concluded is guaranteed by the California Constitution."

It is the attorney general's duty to defend the state's laws, and after gay rights activists filed legal challenges to Proposition 8, which amended the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, Brown said he planned to defend the proposition as enacted by the people of California.

But after studying the matter, Brown concluded that "Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification."

Backers of Proposition 8 expressed anger at Brown's decision not to honor the will of voters, who approved the measure in November. "It's outrageous,"said Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Proposition 8.

Proposition 8 foes, however, were elated. "Atty. Gen. Brown's position that Proposition 8 should be invalidated demonstrates that he is a leader of courage and conviction," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California.

In his brief to the high court, Brown noted that the California Constitution says that "all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights," which include a right to "privacy."

The courts have previously said the right of a person to marry is protected as one of those inalienable rights, Brown wrote. The question at the center of the gay marriage cases, he told the justices, "is whether rights secured under the state Constitution's safeguard of liberty as an 'inalienable' right may intentionally be withdrawn from a class of persons by an initiative amendment." That, he concluded, should not be allowed.

Read the rest here ...

Weighing in on Rick Warren

It's been a busy day in the neighborhood, getting halls decked and decks cleared -- all the usual "stuff of life" on a day off the week-before-Christmas ... including a trip to the UPS store to mail one last package. I did, however, pause to take a few minutes to weigh in on the sad business of Rick Warren being tapped by the President-elect to offer the invocation at the January 20th Inauguration.

I'm thinking there's more to say on this matter but for now, here's the press release that just went out:

Rick Warren Unqualified for “America’s Pastor” Role

December 19, 2008

Integrity joins with those expressing profound disappointment at President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the upcoming inauguration. Mr. Obama’s effort to begin his administration by representing differences of opinion in the selection of a pastor whose theological perspectives are different than his own is commendable. The choice of Rick Warren is not.

“Rick Warren has become a recognizable pop culture religious voice but he is not qualified to be ‘America’s pastor,’” said Integrity President Susan Russell. “Warren is a not only a vocal opponent of LGBT equality who does not believe in evolution, he has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His views are far outside the religious mainstream and his credentials are steeped in an “Old Time Religion” of narrow exclusionism that ill prepares us for the challenges of the 21st century.”

“This unfortunate choice is particularly painful to LGBT Americans who have experienced first-hand the destructive impact of pastors like Warren who preach “family values” while practicing discrimination against gay and lesbian families. But it should also be a cause for concern to any American concerned that the exclusionism represented by Rick Warren is antithetical to the President-elect’s core values of inclusion, tolerance and the celebration of difference.”

“We have found so much to be hopeful about in these days of anticipation of the beginning of a new era of “Yes We Can” including significant gay and lesbian appointments in the new administration. Regrettably, the selection of Rick Warren is a significant step back after many steps forward on that journey toward becoming a nation where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a pledge but a practice.”

(The Reverend) Susan Russell, President
620 Park Avenue #311 Rochester, NY 14607-2943

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mea culpa

My post a few days ago on the controversy around our All Saints Church building project here in Pasadena has drawn some fire from Larry Wilson, editor of our local Pasadena Star-News.

In his blog (posted last night and entitled "Advice to priest -- Never blog angry") Larry took exception to my reference to Claire Bogaard as "Mrs. Mayor" and to what he experienced as my "dismissing" the preservationist organization, Pasadena Heritage. He ended his blog with what I heard as an invitation:
"I think y'all ought to talk, not rail."
So I gave him a call. And we did talk. For about 45 minutes. And while we agreed-to-disagree about several aspects of the Pasadena planning process in general and the All Saints Master Plan in specific, we ended wishing each other "Merry Christmas." And I ended regretting that I had not chosen my words more carefully.
My cavalier description of Ms. Bogaard as "Mrs. Mayor" was certainly not intended to diminish her standing as a prominent in-her-own-right preservationist but it was clearly received as such and I regret that. Likewise, I have great respect for many of the fine people affiliated with Pasadena Heritage and appreciate all their hard work and the dedication it takes to make Pasadena such a delightful place to live. As one long time Pasadenan emailed me, "Don't judge the whole organization by a few who may think they know architecture better than Richard Meier."
I do not -- and I regret that my blog comments implied that I did. Mea culpa.
I still believe that what happened at the Planning Commission on Wednesday night was a well- orchestrated effort -- by those with the power to do it -- to change the rules in the middle of the game in an effort to derail a project they had failed to defeat on as it worked its way through the planning process.
All Saints Church was making its second appearance regarding its Master Plan to remodel and build on their property. In May 2008 it was advised by the Planning Commission to make specific adjustments to the proposal.
All those adjustments were made and in the words of one commissioner, "It's the first time that I had ever seen an applicant do everything they were asked to do." And Richard Bruckner, the city's director of planning and development was quoted in the Star-News article on the Planning Commission hearing saying it was unheard of for a complete EIR to be requested at the end of the planning process. And yet, that's what happened at the December 10th hearing.
The foundation of the All Saints' Master Plan is increasing our capacity for ministry -- for outreach, with children and youth and for affordable senior housing, to name a few. And we have done everything we can -- and then some -- to work within the parameters set out by the City of Pasadena for a project of this scope. And everytime we have cleared the bar, it has been raised another notch.
Which brings me back to the "Catch 22":
The primary argument for insisting on the full EIR at this unprecedented point on this project is that it has become a controversial project.
So if this ruling stands the precedent will be set that in the City of Pasadena for ANY project ANYBODY doesn't like, all you need to do is whip up enough controversy about it so that an EIR that would not be required for any empirical reason becomes a requirement.
That is a VERY slippery slope -- and even those who agree to disagree about any number of things should agree that both the heritage of Pasadena's history and the hope of Pasadena's future deserve better.

Planning Ahead?

July 10, 2009 -- Anaheim CA

Integrity is so very pleased to announce that the triennial Integrity Eucharist held in conjunction with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Friday evening, July 10, 2009 in Anaheim CA.

The celebrant will be the Rt. Reverend V. Gene Robinson and the preacher will be the Rt. Reverend Barbara C. Harris.

"It is with deep delight that we invited those planning to be in Anaheim for General Convention to mark their calendars now and join us for this historic opportunity to celebrate the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made manifest in these two extraordinary prophetic voices," said Susan Russell, President of Integrity.

More details to come ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Signs of the Season

Too busy to write anything today but here is a little "seasonal bouquet" in this photo of the poinsettias out on my front porch.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On a lighter note ...

This just in from Borowitz Satire Land:

Yankees Sign Iraqi Hurler
Shoe-throwing Right-hander Impresses Scouts

In their latest bid to beef up their pitching rotation for the 2009 season, the New York Yankees today signed Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi to a three-year deal worth $32 million.

The right-handed al-Zeidi, 28, impressed the Yankee scouts with his performance in Baghdad yesterday when he threw both of his shoes at President George W. Bush.

While neither of the shoes hit their target, both throws "had great velocity and good movement," said Yankee owner Hank Steinbrenner.

"The first shoe was high and outside but the second one was right down the middle," Mr. Steinbrenner said.

The Yankee boss said that he was also impressed with Mr. al-Zeidi's fighting spirit when Secret Service agents tackled him.

"That could come in handy when we have a series with Boston," he said.

"Wilderness Happens" Video

Happy Monday!

Several folks emailed wondering when the video of "Wilderness Happens" ... the Advent 2 sermon I preached on December 7th ... would be posted.

It's up now ... click here to see it.

And if you'd like to see a copy of the new Diocese of Los Angeles policy on the Sacramental Blessing of Life-long Covenants (referred to in the sermon) then click here.

Putting the Episcopal rift in a historical context

Nice to see this kind of "let's set some of the record straight" journalism out in the public sphere about the Episcopal Church!

In today's Los Angeles Times:

The current controversy over gays in the Episcopal Church mirrors past conflicts that the global church has managed to overcome.
By Duke Helfand
December 15, 2008

Since its founding more than two centuries ago, the Episcopal Church has often struggled to keep disparate factions unified under its diverse umbrella.

Repeated controversies -- over slavery, the ordination of women and even the role of children in church life -- have threatened to tear at its religious fabric.

Now, the church faces one of its most daunting challenges yet, with hundreds of conservative congregations forming a separate North American church amid a dispute with liberal Episcopalians over homosexuality and Scripture.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sees the latest discord in historical terms, a view that sheds light on Episcopalians' religious and cultural DNA.

Similar controversies have come and gone, she told Times reporters earlier this month, but the 2.4-million-member church has remained largely intact -- even if unity has sometimes come at a steep price.

"The place of gay and lesbian people in the church is the latest expression of the ancient human struggle over who is 'the other,' " Jefferts Schori said. "There will be another group. I don't know who it is going to be."

Slaves were one of these first "other" groups to cast a long shadow over the church.

During the Civil War the church held together loosely, as Methodists and other denominations split over the issue of slavery. Southern Episcopalians formed their own branch but were marked absent during the church's 1862 general convention, returning to the fold after the war.

The church may have emerged from slavery intact, but many contemporary Episcopalians believe it lost its moral compass along the way. Episcopal leaders, acting at their national convention in 2006, apologized for the church's "complicity" in slavery. Church officials also have acknowledged that Southern and Northern Episcopalians alike benefited from the slave trade.

Modern disputes have similarly engulfed the church. Its decision in 1976 to ordain women raised new tensions, prompting the departure of some congregations while transforming the Episcopalian landscape, ultimately leading to Jefferts Schori's election to the top church office.

Revisions to the Book of Common Prayer in 1979 led to further dissension. The changes made baptism more central to the practice of the faith, empowering lay people and challenging the historical power of the clergy. The updates also made the Eucharist a regular act of Sunday worship and allowed children to receive Communion before they were confirmed, further challenging established practice.

The struggle over homosexuality burst to the top of the grievance chart in 2003 when an openly gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, was consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire. Tensions mounted as local churches blessed same-sex couples even as the national church refused to authorize official rites for such ceremonies.

(As bishop of Nevada in 2003, Jefferts Schori voted to affirm Robinson's election. She also permitted congregations to bless same-sex unions if they chose to do so after discussing the issue and developing their own policies.)

In the time since Jefferts Schori's 2006 installation at Washington's soaring National Cathedral, the furor over Robinson and gay marriage has intensified. Conservative Anglican leaders from Africa and elsewhere have waged a revolt against what they see as a permissive American church.

Those who study the Episcopal Church say the recent tumult over sexuality exemplifies a deeply rooted tradition of religious freedom and tolerance that hearkens to the church's Anglican roots.

The American church, they say, grew up in the late 1700s as a democratic institution alongside a young American republic. As time passed, it remained part of the global Anglican Communion even as its policies and tone were influenced by the culture in which it matured.

"There is something in the Anglican ethos . . . in which we live out our life of faith in the messiness of everyday life," said the Rev. Ian T. Douglas, a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

Speaking of same-sex marriage, Douglas added: "If that's what we are wrestling with in American culture, then of course the Episcopal Church is going to wrestle with it."

Jefferts Schori believes that Episcopalians in general are far less preoccupied with issues of sexuality than the congregations that have broken away.

"In most of the rest of the church," she said, "people are moving on with feeding the hungry, providing housing for low-income people and doing creative things to build what we call the reign of God in their own communities."

The pressures within the Episcopal Church have amplified tensions in the Anglican Communion. Several of Jefferts Schori's conservative counterparts, meeting in Jerusalem last summer, called for the creation of a new independent church, and 700 breakaway congregations did just that this month, declaring themselves the Anglican Church in North America.

Scholars say Jefferts Schori, and the church she leads, must find a way to harmonize their differences in the same way their predecessors have done.

"The biggest challenge for the Episcopal church is to get over its own internal arguments to live out its identity as a church dedicated to God and its mission in the world," said Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, assistant professor of church history at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley.

"The Anglican tradition is about holding things in a healthy and respectful tension and finding a way to . . . keep our eyes on the ministry we have been called to," he added.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meanwhile, in local news ...

The local news is about the ongoing saga of the All Saints Church new buildings project.

In October, the Pasadena Design Commission approved our Master Plan project by a vote of 6-2, after we made a number of changes in response to their input in earlier meetings. The next step was a Planning Commission hearing on December 10th.

The hearing lasted until after midnight and at the end the Planning Commission voted 8-1 to deny approval of the project and require an EIR (Environmental Impact Report).

From the December 12th article by Pasadena Star-News reporter Janette Williams:

Richard Bruckner, the city's director of planning and development -- who was not at the meeting -- said Thursday that it was unheard of for a complete EIR to be requested at the end of the planning process. The city does not require an EIR for every master plan, Bruckner said.
Environmental reports on the All Saints project, he said, did not reach the threshold that triggers requirements for more detailed reports on traffic, air quality, noise, dust and other impacts.
"The Mitigated Negative Declaration was brought to the Planning Commission on May 28, and they concurred with the decision -- in fact they moved for approval," Bruckner said. "We moved forward on that basis."

So what happened?

Quoted in the same article was Claire Bogaard, a founder of something called Pasadena Heritage. Mrs. Bogaard (AKA Mrs. Mayor of Pasadena -- her husband, Bill Bogaard, is Mr. Mayor) said:

"The church must recognize that the project has become so controversial that approval would be "premature" without a complete EIR."

And how did the project become "so controversial?" Easy. Pasadena Heritage made it that way. They never liked the concept of 21st century architecture in dialogue with the historic All Saints buildings -- never mind that it's a brilliantly designed and beautifully executed program integrating new design concepts and state-of-the-art green technology which will be not only an extraordinary instrument for the mission and ministry of All Saints Church but a gift to the City of Pasadena.

Their challenge at Wednesday's Planning Commission Hearing was that design issues were not on the agenda, so the game changed -- and it started to feel like Lambeth 1998 to me -- with Claire Bogaard in the role of David Anderson.

Just like the bishops' committee on human sexuality went to Lambeth having done what they were charged to do -- write a report that reflected the diversity of our experience on the issue around the communion -- when they got there they found that the rules changed in the middle of the game as a well organized, politically connected "cabal" presented resolution 1.10 writing "incompatible with scripture" into the record. It passed by a huge majority while "we" were still trying to figure out what happened to the process we entered in good faith.

What we're dealing with here in Pasadena are Architectural Literalists ... and they are every bit as convinced they have sole possession of the Capital A "Absolute" Capital T "Truth" as our biblical literalist friends.

They clearly came to the meeting Wednesday having changed their strategy to delay the project by staying with the "letter of the law" and avoiding the design issues by pushing for the EIR.

Here's the Catch 22 that I keep coming back to: the primary argument for insisting on the full EIR on this project is that it has become a controversial project.

Who made it a controversial project? The people who want it not to happen.
And how do you make it happen? By adding delays that run up costs and discourage potential funders. And what's the first step? Get the Planning Commission to add a last-minute, expensive, time-consuming EIR.

So if this ruling stands ... if we don't fight it and/or find a way around it ... the precedent will be set that in the City of Pasadena for ANY project ANYBODY doesn't like, all you need to do is whip up enough controversy about it, so an EIR that would not be required for any empirical reason becomes a requirement.

None of this has anything to do with making Pasadena a better city and everything to do with preserving the power and influence of those who appear to be willing to stop at nothing to impose their narrow, literalist "proof texting" of the Holy Scripture of the something called "The Gray Book" on a city that deserves better.

For the record, here's the update sent by our wardens via email on Thursday to the news of Wednesday's hearing:


Dear All Saints Parishioners and Friends,

On Wednesday evening, we attended the hearing of the Pasadena Planning Commission at which All Saints Church presented its revised Master Plan for our new building project. Just two months ago, the Pasadena Design Commission approved that same Master Plan, commending All Saints for the changes it had made in its originally submitted Plan in response to recommendations from both the Design and Planning Commissions earlier in the year. Further, in advance of Wednesday’s hearing, the Staff of the City’s Planning Department had thoroughly reviewed our revised Master Plan and concluded that it complied with the requirements of the City’s Central District Specific Plan and did not require the preparation or issuance of an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”). In light of the incredible work done by our project architects, led by Michael Palladio, and these favorable approvals and recommendations, we were optimistic that the Planning Commission would also approve our Plan.

We are greatly disappointed to report that our optimism was not born out. After a lengthy hearing and then a vote of the Commissioners that occurred long after midnight, the Planning Commission declined approval of our Master Plan and instead set a new requirement that we must undertake an EIR evaluation and report, a process that could take months and cost thousands of dollars.

We cannot refrain from reporting our own sense of unfairness in this process and decision. When the All Saints Master Plan was presented to the Planning Commission in May 2008, the Commission approved by resolution the Staff’s finding of a negative environmental declaration (i.e. that no EIR was required for the project) at the same time it itemized five specific concerns that it asked All Saints to address before approval. All Saints’ revised Master Plan, presented on Wednesday, addressed each of those concerns by making positive, significant changes to the Plan. In the words of one of the Commissioners, “this is the first time in my time on the Commission that I have ever seen an applicant make all of the changes we asked them to make.”

Nevertheless, at Wednesday’s meeting, the Planning Commission disregarded its finding of a negative declaration, concluded that All Saints now needed to go through the lengthy and expensive EIR process and stated that there were yet “additional requirements” that All Saints must meet, although the Commission itself was unable to articulate precisely what those additional requirements were or even agree what City planning documents apply to our project. Further, the Commission also chose to ignore its legal counsel, the City Attorney’s Office, which has concluded that the environmental impact of our project is so minimal that no EIR is required.

We are now in consultation with our architects and other professionals about the next steps we will take in our extended journey toward realizing our dreams of new buildings, and we hope to make recommendations to our Vestry about those steps at our next meeting. We continue to be filled with excitement and determination about the building and what it will mean to the vision and mission of All Saints Church. We were encouraged immeasurably by the quality of the presentation made last evening by the design team, the strong support we received in public comments from supporters of our project, including many people from outside of our parish, the attendance of so many passionate All Saints supporters and the leadership, passion and persistence of our Rector.

We will look for an opportunity early in 2009 to schedule another Listening Session where we can respond further to your questions and comments and advise you more thoroughly about future steps. While we are disappointed in last night’s outcome, we remain strongly optimistic about achieving our goals.

Cathy Keig, Senior Warden
Gloria Pitzer, Junior Warden


Stay tuned.