Friday, July 29, 2016

A crack at a time. A ceiling at a time.

Last night -- July 28 -- we watched history being made. Hillary Clinton's acceptance of the nomination of the Democratic Party for President of the United States broke through the glass ceiling she put 18 million cracks in back in 2008 and was a sign of hope and encouragement for anyone who believes love, justice and compassion trumps hatred, division and exceptionalism.

I loved what friend Peter Drier wrote.(You gotta love a guy who "gets" both politics and baseball!)
Donald Trump was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple. Tonight, Hillary Clinton hit a triple.

Triples are harder to hit than home runs. They require power AND base-running ability. When you hit a homer, you can jog around the bases. To hit a triple, you have to run full-speed from home plate to third base. You have to know your own strengths and those of your opponent - do I have the speed to make it third, does the outfielder have the arm strength to throw me out? Triples take grit and determination. They don't always excite the crowd like home runs. But they help your team win the game.
The "game" we're determined to win is nothing less than making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live in this nation. And last night we took a huge step forward toward achieving that elusive goal -- toward winning that game.

And now this morning -- July 29 -- as we continue to celebrate the history our nation just made in Philadelphia, I am reminded that we celebrate the anniversary of history made in our church: the ordination of eleven women in Philadelphia that shattered a stained glass ceiling and changed the church forever and for the better.

No, it didn't fix everything wrong with the church and of course it didn't end sexism once and for all. (And just for the record: no one smart enough to make that stained glass ceiling crack was naive enough to think we were "done.")

Forty-two years later we're still at it ... but today is one of the days we pause to celebrate the incremental victories along the way to the audacious goal not yet realized -- the goal of the end of gender bias and sexism and healing of the sin of misogyny not only in our church but in our world.

We are on this journey together. And as I wrote yesterday in my "Letter to My Sons" just before Hillary broke that glass ceiling in Philadelphia:
The glass ceiling that shatters today is about all of us - including you. It is about the opportunity you have to use your platform of privilege as straight, white, men to use the power that privilege gives you as an antidote to the rabid, sexist rhetoric that contaminates our public discourse in general and this presidential election campaign in specific.

It is about owning the words of Emma Lazarus — “Until we are all free, we are none of us free” - and recognizing that the shattering of this glass ceiling is another step toward freeing both women and men to become all they were created to be; another part of the journey toward making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.
A crack at a time. A ceiling at a time. An inch at a time. La lucha continua.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hillary Goes for the Touchdown

So it's officially Clinton Kaine 2016.

As we head into the Democratic National Convention next week -- another chapter in the longest election season in the history of politics -- the long awaited unveiling of Hillary Clinton's VP pick happened this morning at an event even Andrea Mitchell had to agree was "a home run."

Here's how the Daily Beast reviewed it:

Friend Diana Butler Bass -- a Virginian -- called him "kind, thoughtful, and a man of deep faith" -- and then posted this voting record:
    Planned Parenthood: 100%
    Brady Campaign: 100%
    NARAL: 100%
    Human Rights Campaign: 100%
    AFL/CIO: 94%
Some pundits immediately jumped in with words like "boring" and "safe." In response -- reading through his bio last night -- I came up with this meme:

Now -- after watching him "Kill It" in Florida today -- I've got some further thoughts. And those include:

This is a resounding "we've heard what you're selling and we're not buying" response to the Four Day Debacle in Cleveland AKA "The Lunatics Take Over the GOP Asylum."

This isn't a safe choice -- this is a leadership choice.
This is a "don't settle for a field goal, go for the touchdown" choice."
This is a unify the the nation -- not just the party -- choice.

With Obama, Biden, Warren, Sanders and Booker ready to rock and roll the Clinton campaign is trusting the intelligence of the progressive left to step up, turn out and support the ticket. And -- by picking a bilingual social justice Catholic who is pro-choice and pro-marriage equality with a resume that includes civil rights attorney, death penalty opponent and long time NRA adversary with a track record of working across the aisle in Virginia and in the Senate -- they are going after the moderate middle voters who are desperate for an alternative to the "Make America Hate Again" agenda of Team Trump/Pence.

So color me on the enthusiastic side of supportive. Sign me up to convert #ImWithHer to #ImWithThem. Let's do this. #GameOn

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Of Mary Magdalene and Fish Who Know They’re Wet

I had a great time both writing and preaching this sermon. I started out with a vision of weaving together the feminist critique that pretty much has to be part of any sermon on Mary Magdalene with other interlocking oppressions in general and racism in specific.

The rapidly unfolding events of the news cycle sadly provided both the opportunity and the challenge -- the news of the police shootings in Baton Rouge broke as I pulled into my parking space before the 7:30 service.

And the death of Former Presiding Bishop Ed Browning added another level of personal poignancy and historic context.

Anyway, it was "well received"-- and as always I'm grateful for the privilege of being part of a place like All Saints Church where there is room enough for a preacher to tell the truth ... both about how beautiful and hard life can be; how far we fall short of the mark how often and yet how much hope and promise there is in the Gospel ... and in the work and witness of those who have gone before us.

Sunday, July 17, 2016: All Saints Church Pasadena
Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene [transferred]

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

This is the prayer I’ve come to think of as the Gospel According to Barbara. They are the words Bishop Barbara Harris – the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion – has used to begin every sermon I ever heard her preach – and they are the words that came to me as soon as I began working on this sermon for this morning’s celebration of the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene.

The appointed day is actually July 22nd but since here at All Saints Church (for more years than anyone but Anne Peterson can remember) we transfer her feast to an adjacent Sunday, for us today IS Mary of Magdalene Day!

Now, I may not remember when All Saints started doing it, but I do remember that at the time it was considered kind of an edgy-if-not-radical thing: moving "her" feast day out of the shadows of weekday observance into the center ring on a Sunday. That was in the pre-Da Vinci Code Days when the work being done to reclaim Mary Magdalene's identity by feminist scholars was finally leaking into the pew and pulpit. It seems a very long time ago.

We’ve been at this for decades now – do we really still have to point out that biblical scholars agree that for centuries, Mary Magdalene was misidentified as a prostitute, although nothing in our scriptural record identifies her as one?

Do we really need to revisit how that came about: how Pope Gregory the Great made a speech in 591 A.D. where he lumped together the actions of three women mentioned in the Gospels and incorrectly identified an unnamed woman prostitute as Mary Magdalene?

Do we need to remind ourselves and each other – and anyone else who’s listening – that this erroneous view was not corrected until 1969 when the Vatican issued a “quiet retraction”? And do really we need to footnote all those sources that name Mary Magdalene as a prominent disciple and leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women's leadership? Have I reached the maximum allotment of rhetorical questions for one sermon yet? I think we get my point.

So let’s shift to some good news – some breaking news – from the Vatican. Recognizing St. Mary Magdalene's role as the first to witness Christ's resurrection and as a "true and authentic evangelizer" – the Vatican announced that St. Mary Magdalene’s day – July 22 – has been elevated from a memorial to a feast on the church's liturgical calendar. The decree was entitled "Apostolorum Apostola" or "Apostle of the Apostles” -- and in his comments, Pope Francis said (and I quote)

"It is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the general Roman calendar and highlights the special mission of this woman who is an example and model for every woman in the church."

Yes, it is good news. Yes, it is a step forward. Yes, it is one of those incremental victories we celebrate on the way to achieving audacious goals.

But let’s be clear: “same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles” is not the same as “feast of an apostle” – and so while it is a step forward it is also a step short of equal status for Mary Magdalene. And why -- I couldn't help wonder -- is her example and model for every “woman in the church” and not for everyone in the church?

Bottom line: Separate but equal is never equal and sexism is still a thing.
Ergo the Gospel According to Barbara:

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.

And in order to do that we have to be fish who know we’re wet. And in order to explain that, let me tell you a story. It comes from one of those mandated-by-the-diocese continuing education days that happened to be led by Michael Bamberger – an openly heterosexual, white, male, Episcopal priest – who began by talking about the changes he's seen in his life in the church.

“Something I've had to learn is that men are mostly clueless about the inherent power their gender gives them,” said Michael. “And was something it took me a while to learn. Because I grew up in a church where that power was so unquestioned – where the sexism was so normative – that there was literally no awareness of the power differential. And that is where the danger is: it's when we don't recognize the power we have."

Those would be the fish don't know they're wet.

"What is or is not offensive," said Michael went on to say "is determined by the person who's been offended. Not by the person with the power to offend.

And in order to make this church not just a safe place but a healthy place, we need to continue to attend trainings like these to recognize the power we don’t know we have. We have to change our behavior and – in some cases -- to make amends to those we've offended by abusing the power we didn't know we had."

“Abusing the power we didn’t know we had” is what happens when we’re so busy enjoying the privilege of being fish we don’t know we’re wet. It is what happens when we do not realize that we’re swimming in the water of sexism. And racism. And classism, heterosexism, xenocentrism, Christianism, ageism and ableism … to name just some.

And what happens when we abuse the power we don’t know we have?

A very quick biblical case in point is Mary’s encounter with the Risen Lord in today’s Gospel. It is the first resurrection story in John’s Gospel. The second is when Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room when Thomas is out running an errand. The third is when Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room when Thomas is BACK in the room. The fourth is when Jesus appears to the disciples on the lakeshore.

And yet at the conclusion of the lakeshore story, John 21:14 reads: “This was now the third time Jesus appeared after he was raised from the dead.” So either John couldn’t count … or the appearance to Mary … the “apostle of the apostles” didn’t count because she was a woman. I’ll let you do the math.

Over and over again women who have dared to point out that our scriptural record came to us from spiritual ancestors who were like fish oblivious to the water of systemic sexism they swam in are accused of “playing the woman card” – or worse. Historically that is how the voices of women have been silenced, marginalized and devalued. It’s as ancient as the disciples who dismissed the women who first proclaimed the resurrection and as recent as a conversation about unexamined male privilege that ended with “I’m not privileged. My parents were working class people.”

And of course it doesn’t stop with sexism.

People of color who name the racial inequality that infects our nation are accused of “fomenting racial division.” Historically that is how white privilege works – abusing the power of that privilege by refusing to acknowledge that it exists. It is as old as the sin of racism that has been part of our DNA even before we were a nation and it is as current as the blog posts and twitter feeds tearing down those to dare to speak the truth that Black Lives Matter.

And there it is. The reason we say #BlackLivesMatter is because we are fish who know we are wet.

The reason we say Black Lives Matter is because we know that all lives matter — and until we become a nation that acts like all lives matter equally the #BlackLivesMatter sign on our Quad Lawn reminds us that we will swim in the water of racism until we become the change we want to see – the change that will make liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.

And – if we’re truthful --sometimes it's just too hard. Sometimes it’s just much trouble. Sometimes it seems that nothing will change anyway so why bother. And so sometimes -- rather than drown in the water of oppression – we choose silence and let the fish in charge continue to swim about – continuing to be clueless about the fact that they're wet.

My brothers and sisters, the time for that option has long since passed. In the words of William Sloan Coffin, “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

And you do not need me to remind you this morning Just how dangerous our world is. Still reeling from the Orlando tragedy last month we struggled last week with the violence across the nation and the oh-so-close to home shooting death of a four year old on his porch in West Altadena. This week alone we have seen another unspeakable tragedy in Nice and a violent attempt to overthrow the government of Turkey.

And between the time I printed out this sermon and drove to church this morning we have the news of another shooting tragedy involving police officers in Baton Rouge. It just goes on and on.

The truth we have this morning for our world too dangerous for anything but truth is this truth from the Gospel According to Barbara:

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.

Let us be fish who know we are wet. And let us find allies in this struggle to build a church that isn't just safe but to build a church that's healthy; to build a nation where freedom isn’t just for some but for all; to build a world where the human race becomes the human family God created it to be.

Let us become a family where nobody is shamed into silence for speaking their experience and where those with power use it to liberate others – not to leverage more power for themselves.

Let us become that "Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."

We had a glimpse of that last week when in response to the tragic violence in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas we suspended our ‘business as usual’ and took our silent prayers into the streets in witness to our commitment to be the change we want to see. The veritable rainbow of women, men and children of all ages – led by our amazing youth with streamers streaming, flags waving and signs held high– were a powerful antidote to the corrosive cultural rhetoric that only serves to stoke fear and anger in our nation.

And this week Mary Glasspool – our former Bishop Suffragan here in the Diocese of Los Angeles and now an assisting bishop in the Diocese of New York – offered another glimpse of how to be that change we want to see … sharing in her weekly email this 1983 quote from poet Audre Lorde.
There is no hierarchy of oppression. I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.
On Tuesday I will fly to Portland, Oregon to represent All Saints at the memorial service of one of the wettest fishes I’ve ever known: Former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning.

Elected in 1985 he famously said “This church of ours is open to all — there will be no outcasts — the convictions and hopes of all will be honored.”

During the twelve years he led the Episcopal Church as Presiding Bishop he welcomed women into the House of Bishops, supported LGBT inclusion during the height of the AIDS crisis, and lobbied aggressively for civil rights and against the nuclear arms race. He opposed apartheid in South Africa, supported women’s reproductive justice and raised awareness about the suffering of the Palestinian people. He used his power to advocate for those on the margins – to liberate others rather than to leverage more power for himself.

For Ed Browning, there was no hierarchy of oppression – there was just the Gospel mandate to love your neighbor as yourself. In a world too dangerous for anything but truth he lived his life aligned with the same love Mary Magdalene – Apostle of the Apostles – proclaimed as she bore witness to the Risen Lord … a witness that survived down through the ages in spite of the best efforts of an institutional church dominated for millennia by fish who didn’t know they were wet.

Yes, we live in perilous times. The challenges we face are daunting, real and often overwhelming. But if we claim the Gospel of Barbara as our own we will become fish who know we are wet. And we will change the world.

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

#StopTheHate Sunday @AllSaintsChurch

    We pray this morning for peace, for an end to violence in all forms.

    • We pray for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And for all those people of color who have died at as the result of unnecessary and unjustified deadly force.
    • For their grieving families: for children who have lost their parents, and parents who grieve for their murdered children.
    • We pray for Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa. And for all those police officers who risk their lives to protect and serve our communities.
    • For communities who live in fear and despair, for the suffering, the poor, the marginalized.
    • For the courage and commitment to move beyond prayer to action, beyond tears to resolve, beyond weariness to true and lasting change.
    • We pray for righteousness to flow like a mighty river, until peace fills the earth as the waters fill the sea.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Baton Rouge. Minneapolis. Dallas

On Wednesday Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop for a broken tail light.

On my way to work on Thursday morning I passed the corner where I was pulled over for a broken headlight last fall. And I was thinking how annoyed I was because getting it replaced was on my "to do" list for my day off that week and now here I was ... inconvenienced by now having to fill out papers and file a "fix-it" ticket to prove I fixed it because the dude in the black-and-white pulled me over in front of the Jack-in-the-Box on the corner.

 Poor me. Poor unexamined privileged me.

It never in a million years occurred to me I might get arrested. Or shot. I don't have to think about that because I'm white. I just get to be annoyed at being inconvenienced. And that is not how this country is supposed to work. It's not how the world is supposed to work. And it's absolutely high on the list of reasons Jesus wept. And weeps today. Until all of us are free, none of us are free. Until ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬, no lives matter. And we are SOOOOO not there yet.

We are so not there yet when police officers are gunned down in the line of duty -- protecting peaceful protesters as they march to create change in our nation.

This morning these words were the first ones I read -- from UCC national leader Traci Blackmon:
Let me be clear... Ultimately, the guns used to kill 5 officers last night and wound 6 more and 1 civilian and the guns used to kill Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Amadou Diallo, 49 mostly Black and Latinx people who were LGTBQ at Pulse in Orlando, 9 people in bible study in Charleston and over 500 other people in our streets this year were loaded by the common enemies of fear and matter who pulled the trigger.

We are all connected. We must mourn it all...and we must all Love ourselves out of this.

 Murder is a by-product of people who have lost their love. Love is our only hope.
Amen. Kyrie Eleison.

Monday, July 04, 2016

20 Years Ago Today: Coming Out in the Cathedral

Twenty years ago today -- on July 4, 1996 at noon eastern time -- I was in the choir at the National Cathedral. While crowds of tourists milled about the nave of the cathedral and others gathered outside or headed toward the Mall for the fireworks festivities scheduled later it the day or lined up to see the opening-that-day blockbuster film “Independence Day” a remnant of us gathered in the cathedral choir for a festival celebration of the Feast of American Independence, BCP style.

The music was glorious, the lessons inspiring and the privilege of receiving Holy Communion at the altar in this amazing “house of prayer for all people” as we celebrated the birth of a nation dedicated to “liberty and justice for all” was an amazing gift I will always remember.

Oh … and I came out.

In the cathedral. On the Fourth of July. In the middle of festival Eucharist I had the great “aha” moment – the epiphany – the “I-shoulda-had-a-V8” realization that the God who had “fearfully and wonderfully” made me had made me gay. And called me to priesthood. And told me “now, go back and be the priest I called you to be.”

That’s my coming out story. I’ve told it many times before but on this 20th anniversary it seemed worth telling again. It seemed worth reminding myself – and anybody else who wants to listen in – that I did not come out from the fringes of anything but from what former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold famously called "the diverse center."

I came out in the context of a spiritual journey that began with my baptism at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles in 1954 (go ahead and do the math!) and continued through Junior Choir, confirmation class, Altar Guilds and Vacation Bible Schools, ECW Boards, teas and luncheons, Diocesan Conventions, vestries and parish day school boards and finally seminary, ordination and parish ministry.

My coming out had nothing to do with a political act. It had nothing to do with a genital act. It had to do with recognizing that I could not be fully present at altar if I was not fully present in myself – and it had to do with being raised in a church where:

John Hines taught me that “justice is the corporate face of God’s love,” Ed Browning told me that in the Episcopal Church there would be no outcasts and the consecration of Barbara Harris incarnated for me the hope that this church was actually willing to live into its high calling to live out a radically inclusive gospel.

So happy anniversary to me – and to the scores of LGBT Episcopalians like me. Are we a challenge to the wider church? I hope so. And I hope we continue to be. I hope that our voices of faith and witness will continue to preach, to protest and to prophesy – that we will stand in the temple and tell the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made present in our lives, our vocations and our relationships. That we will preach that Good News in and out of season.

And here's to Independence Day: to celebrating with BBQ, beer and fireworks our core American values of liberty and justice for all and to everyone committed to our core Episcopal values of respecting the dignity of every human being. Not because we’re politically correct but because we’re gospel obedient. And here's to the diverse center -- long may it wave and long may it MAKE waves as it continues to live into the promise it inherits from Hines and Browning and Harris; from Washington and Jefferson and Hamilton.

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.