Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Ten in Twenty Fifteen

Of course it's almost impossible to reduce 365 days into a "top ten list" ... but since everyone else is doing it, here's my look at ten of THE top events from the year just passing away. If I did this tomorrow, the list might be different but here's what bubbles up as the clock ticks down on this last day of 2015:

Celebrating Michael Hopkins 

January started off with the chance to go to the Diocese of Rochester and celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ordination of friend and colleague Michael Hopkins. Yes, it was crazy cold but a good time was had by all!

Dodger Stadium LGBT Day 

LGBT Day at Dodger Stadium made the list -- not only because [a] it was LGBT Day at [b] Dodger Stadium but because we [c] got to "double date" with Cynthia Case and her charming wife Kay Sylvester. No, it does not get much better than this!

SCOTUS Marriage Equality Decision/#GC78

The only thing BETTER than a sweeping, historic decision by the Supreme Court on marriage equality is a sweeping, historic decision by the Supreme Court on marriage equality coming WHILE we were in Salt Lake City at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church -- followed by the enormous steps forward on sacramental marriage equality that came out of the same#GC78 that elected the first African-American Presiding Bishop.  #priceless 

Task Force on the Study of Marriage 2.0

One of the great privileges of the last three years was working on the Episcopal Church's Task Force on the Study of Marriage -- and I was super honored to be reappointed for another three years of working with these great people on this important work.

Diocesan Dodger Night 2015

Always a highlight, this year's Diocesan Dodger Night became a "bucket list" event when Bishop Glasspool invited me to be her catcher for the ceremonial first pitch. As a lifetime Dodger fan it was the coolest thing ever to be ON the field with this great cohort of fabulous people. (And no -- I didn't catch the ball. It got past me. And having lived my worst nightmare and not only survived it but embraced it ... well, it was a once in a lifetime thing.)

My Brilliant Wife

After years of graduate school, thousands of clinical hours and a boatload of studying Lori passed the LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) licensure exams (Part One & Two) ON the first try and with flying colors. #SoProud

Standing Against Islamophobia

Unfortunately, this year gave us multiple opportunities to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who became collateral damage in the polarized partisan political climate in a nation that should know better. (This picture from the L.A. City Hall rally against violence and extremism.) #WeAreBetterThanThis

Family Wedding

What a delight to be able to be part of celebrating the marriage of Marisa and Jenn in Portland the week before Thanksgiving. It was lovely, sweet, moving, ordinary and extraordinary -- all the things a wedding should be and made me so, so grateful to [a] be part of this family and [b] to have lived long enough to see these moments of joy and equality become a reality.


They kind of mushed together this year with Jamie home for ten days over Thanksgiving and then great church during Advent and Christmas followed by more family fun in Vegas for Christmas. So grateful. So lucky. So blessed. 

And last but not least ... 

The Privilege of Working at All Saints Church

Whether all showing up in pink to support Planned Parenthood or marching in #BlackLivesMatter rallies or standing with our MPAC friends or making liturgy, pastoral care and formation happen 24/7 All Saints Church is an amazing place to live out this crazy vocation of presbyter in the Episcopal Church. #SoGrateful


Monday, December 21, 2015

Another World Is Not Only Possible

Meditation for Advent Evensong | December 30, 2015

For liturgical Christians, candles on the Advent Wreath are part of the ritual of preparation the coming of the Light of God’s Love into the world in the person of Jesus — the refugee baby born in a manger because there was no room anywhere else for his marginalized family.

This Advent, those sparks of light on the wreath had a particular poignancy in the darkness of the violence, extremism, hatred, xenophobia and bigotry has pervaded our national discourse and led the news cycle. The darkness is real. And — as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said — “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

 Only light can do that … and so … in the darkness of this Advent … the season our former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori named as the “time when Christians are called to have more hope than the world thinks is reasonable” – our hope has been made manifest in these candles on this wreath; in our prayers prayed and lessons read and in songs sung.

One of the songs that has been part of the soundtrack for my Advent is a new one to me. It came from my friend Ana Hernandez – who taught it to a group of us gathered in Baltimore the end of November for a large organizational and governance meeting of what they call “interim bodies” in the Episcopal Church.

I know. Kind of an unlikely place to get inspiration for Advent, but hey … God finds us where we are.

So the tune that permeated my Advent – thanks to Ana Hernandez -- goes like this:

Another world is not only possible
She is on her way
On a quiet day,
I can hear her breathing
She is on her way

Another world is not only possible: she is on her way.

And throughout this Advent season, this was the message playing in the background for me
Behind all the other prayers, hymns and lessons that tell us what that world looks like.

Prepare the way, O Zion your Christ is drawing near!
His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth and love.

And of course the Magnificat:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

This, my brothers and sisters, is the world our faith calls us to hear breathing – the world on her way in these waning days of Advent as we await the Glory of Christmas.

It is the faith of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews … “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Unseen but yet glimpsed in the glow of the candles lit this Advent – not just on this wreath but in the world.
• A circle of cell phones shining at an impromptu “cell phone light” vigil outside the Ontario Convention Center – gathered with our bishops and other diocesan leaders in the wake of the tragedy in San Bernardino
• Candles lit in this chapel in the darkness of the 3rd Anniversary of Sandy Hook as stories were shared and a bell was tolled for those lost to gun violence
• A resolution supporting Syrian Refugees adopted by our Diocesan Convention and a motion opposing Islamophobia approved by our L.A. County Supervisors
• Boatloads of donated coats now heading out into the community in response to the rector’s invitation to turn extra coats in our closets into “coats of compassion”
• The rector on KPCC sharing the moving story of light, love and grace in the midst of the tragic death of his cousin in the San Bernardino shooting.
These are but a few of the lights lights of hope and love, of justice and compassion that have been lit this Advent season that is almost behind us as we gather this evening, bathed in light, beauty and music and on the cusp of Christmas.

And since we are not only on the cusp of Christmas but in the wake of the opening of “The Force Awakens” I hope you will indulge me in re-telling a favorite family Christmas story:

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.

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.”

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 as we work to make God’s light and love known in this broken, beautiful world.

It is an icon for me of another world where everyone is welcome, wanted and celebrated – a world that is not only possible – she is on her way.

And we are the ones who have been called to light her way –
Not just with the candles on our Advent wreath
in the days before Christmas
but with our actions in the world the rest of the year –
as bearers of more hope than the world thinks is reasonable –
hope of a world not only possible … but on her way.

You can hear her breathing.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Christmas Video from All Saints Church, Pasadena

This Christmas our world is in need, now more than ever, of God's expansive love and peace. Christmas is a time for hope and light to overcome fear and darkness. May it be so for all of us in the All Saints community, so we can be God's messengers of love and hope to so many who desperately need it.

LA County Speaks Out Against Islamophobia

On Tuesday, December 15 in the middle of a very busy staff meeting filled day in the week before Christmas I schlepped down to the L.A. County Supervisors meeting to speak in support of a motion by Supervisor Hilda Solis opposing Islamophobia and stating  -- in part -- that we as the County of Los Angeles:
Recognize that the terrorists who committed these acts, motivated by violent religious and political extremism are to blame, and that no religion or race or ethnicity is responsible for these acts, and that fear-based stereotyping and scapegoating creates an atmosphere conducive to Islamophobia, xenophobia, discrimination, hate, and bigotry.
Here's what I said:
I am the Reverend Susan Russell – a native of Los Angeles and an Episcopal priest and pastor from All Saints Church in Pasadena. As you might imagine, the week before Christmas is a busy time for a parish priest – and yet when I got the call today to come speak in support of this important motion I didn’t hesitate to accept. I was honored to be asked and heartbroken that it is once again necessary -- in the wake of the San Bernardino tragedy -- to rise to speak against the scapegoating of our Muslim brothers and sisters.

I am also a mom. One of my sons is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and he was home with us the week after Thanksgiving. As we watched the news together – first the tragic news of the shooting and then the terrible news of the Islamophobic backlash -- he made one thing perfectly clear:

When he swore to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” that meant defending the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment from being jettisoned by those who blame a whole faith community for the violent extremism of a few. It also meant challenging those who insist that the Second Amendment is so sacrosanct that even restricting access to assault weapons by people on the terror-watch no-fly list would somehow undermine the Constitutional protections our Founding Fathers intended.

“That’s not what I signed up for, Mom,” he said. “We’re better than that.”

I’m proud of my son. And I’m also proud of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors for this resolution sending the message that we will take concrete steps to stand against the victimizing and scapegoating Muslim Americans.

When I was in seminary they made me take Greek – and one thing I remember is that the root word of the Greek word angel is “messenger.” And so it seems appropriate in this week before Christmas that the County of Los Angeles – the County of Angels – would send out to the rest of our state, nation and world this message of support for these core values that make our nation great.
Delighted that the motion was adopted unanimously. If you're an L.A. County resident you might take a minute to thank your Supervisor. Every little bit helps!

Lighting Candles in the Darkness

For liturgical Christians, candles on the Advent Wreath are part of the ritual of preparation for the coming of the Light of God's Love into the world in the person of Jesus -- the refugee baby born in a manger because there was no room anywhere else for his marginalized family.

This Advent, those sparks of light on the wreath have had a particular poignancy in the darkness of the violence, extremism, hatred, xenophobia and bigotry that has pervaded our national discourse and led the news cycle.

The darkness is real. And -- as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said -- "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that."

So here -- in the service of driving out the darkness -- are a few lights from the last few days. The first was this impromptu vigil opposing gun violence and Islamophobia held on December 4 in Ontario at our Diocesan Convention.

The second was this massive rally on the steps of the City Hall in Los Angeles on December 13 -- a demonstration against violence and extremism hosted by Mayor Garcetti featuring interfaith voices and an overwhelming majority of Muslims from all over the southland.

And the third was this letter to the editor I just sent to the L.A. Times -- which provided ZERO coverage of the rally.
On Sunday afternoon, December 13 I stood with hundreds of others on the steps of City Hall for an interfaith rally against violence and extremism hosted by Mayor Eric Garcetti. It was an extraordinary outpouring of commitment to overcome hate with tolerance; victimization with proximity; fear with love.

I personally spoke to a photographer from the Times who double checked the spelling of my name after taking multiple photos -- none of which showed up in the paper where there was no coverage of this prophetic gathering of faith leaders -- led by Muslims speaking out against terrorism, violence and extremism.

They were an incarnational response to the question, "Where are the moderate Muslims condemning terrorism?" The answer is "They were on the steps of City Hall on December 13 -- but you'd never know it by reading the L.A. Times." Which may just be why fewer and fewer people do.

The Reverend Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena
We can be the change want to see. We can make the light of Advent promise ignite into the light of God's love in the world.

Monday, December 07, 2015

"I was a stranger and you welcomed me ..."

The Diocese of Los Angeles went on record for refugees with the following resolution — adopted by an overwhelming majority at its 120th Annual Meeting in Ontario, California on December 5, 2015. Thanks go to all who scrambled to make this happen on very short notice — especially to Bishop Jon Bruno for incorporating it into his Bishop’s Address to Convention. Grateful to be part of a church working to live out the gospel call to welcome the stranger and striving to love our neighbors as ourselves. All our neighbors. All the time.

Resolution supporting Refugees

Resolved, that the One Hundred Twentieth Annual Meeting of the Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles rejects calls from state and national political figures to slow or halt the processing of refugees and immigrants, regardless of point of departure.
and be it further

Resolved, that the One Hundred Twentieth Annual Meeting of the Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles commits to act in support of refugees and immigrants by

1. Encouraging congregations within the Diocese of Los Angeles to support the work of the IRIS with financial assistance and by sponsoring refugees and immigrants in their communities, and
2. Supporting the Episcopal Church in continuing to take a strong public stand in favor of welcoming the stranger in our midst and calling for increased funding for Episcopal Migration Ministries, and
3. Challenging our Local, State and National elected officials to support, streamline and expand efforts to move refugees and immigrants through the screening process and provide a welcoming environment for these new arrivals to our nation, and
4. Instructing the Secretary of Convention to send a copy of this resolution to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and all Members of Congress who represent the areas encompassed by this Diocese.

Welcoming the stranger and treating the sojourner with love and justice are core values of our faith. Jesus himself taught that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him – and the teachings of the Church have always included admonishments to show hospitality to strangers. We see those values expressed in the ancient words of the prophets and in the recent news reports of the powerful statements by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry speaking in opposition to the backlash against Syrian Refugees in the wake of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

This convention has the opportunity to make a powerful and time critical statement of love, justice and compassion and to offer a much needed rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric demonizing and marginalizing refugees fleeing violence in their homelands. We urge adoption of this resolution and continued support for the work of our partners in ministry: Episcopal Migration Ministries and Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service.

Submitted by The Reverend Canon J. Edwin Bacon
Rector, All Saints Church, Pasadena
on behalf of:

The Very Reverend Canon Michael Bamberger, Church of the Ascension, Sierra Madre
The Reverend Canon Gary Commins, St. Luke’s, Long Beach
The Reverend Charleen Crean, All Saints, Pasadena
The Reverend John Crean, St. Patrick’s, Thousand Oaks
The Reverend Jon Dephouse, All Saints, Pasadena
The Reverend Stephen Huber, All Saints’, Beverly Hills
The Reverend Canon Lynn Jay, retired
The Reverend Zelda Kennedy, All Saints, Pasadena
The Reverend Susan Klein, St. Alban’s, Los Angeles
The Very Reverend Canon Kelli Grace Kurtz, Saint John’s La Verne
Ms Marie Mota, St. John’s, La Verne
Ms Jana Milhon-Martin, St. John’s, La Verne
The Reverend Ada Wong Nagata, Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel
The Reverend Thomas Ni, Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel
The Reverend Brian O’Rourke, St. James’, South Pasadena
The Reverend Canon Susan Russell, All Saints, Pasadena
The Reverend Canon Ed Snicienski, Church of the Ascension, Sierra Madre
The Very Reverend Sylvia Sweeney, Bloy House, the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont
The Reverend Kay Sylvester, St. Paul’s, Tustin
The Reverend Canon Anne Tumilty, St. James’, South Pasadena
The Reverend Barrett Van Buren, St. Johns, La Verne
Canon Jim White, All Saints Church, Pasadena
The Reverend Canon George F. Woodward III, St. Edmund’s

Proud Mom

My kid did this: