Thursday, October 03, 2019

When the President thinks he's the exception that proves the Rule of Law

I heard an update on the latest craziness from the current resident of the White House on the radio this morning -- and all I could muster as a response was surprise that anyone can still be surprised by the ongoing onslaught of corruption, chaos and collusion.

It cannot be a surprise to anyone that a man we all heard declaring on video tape those immortal words ... "When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything." ... thinks that when you're President you really CAN do anything: that you are the exception that proves the Rule of Law.

And anyone who thought that was libtard, snowflake hyperbole only needs to dig back through the wreckage of this administration to see what damage can be wrought to the body politic when a Commander-in-Chief confuses himself with a Despot-in-Chief.

Listen to the wise words of my bishop -- John Taylor -- who posted this observation on his Facebook page earlier today:
"Trump taunted his critics today by calling on China to investigate Biden. So there we have it. From “no collusion” to super-collusion, collusion everywhere, with all the wealth and might of the United States for sale to the highest bidder. This is familiar stuff. When the leader decides it’s legal, and has the power to back it up, then it’s legal. Thus it always was -- approximately until constitutions and the balance of powers. Humanity gets it deep in our being. Much of the modern world has still never known anything else. It’s important today to remember how easy it would be to lose it."
It is very important to today to remember how easy it would be to lose it. To lose it all. To lose not only what we've managed to accomplish after these couple of centuries of living into the aspirational American Dream but to lose all hope of making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.

Humanity does get it deep in our being ... and the place we "get it" is what I would explain theologically as the Imago Dei in each and every human being: the image of God that calls us to our best and highest self -- loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And yet our history as humans bears out how we've struggled to make what we get in our being align with how we live in the world.

If we could have done it on our own, there would be no need for the Garden of Eden myth to explain how death and evil entered the world. If we could have done it by following a to-do list, the Ten Commandments would have done the trick and we'd be good to go. If having the one who created us in love becoming one of us in order to show us how to walk in love with each other had worked there would have been no Good Friday.

Instead, here we are as Easter people. Continuing in the struggle to align our lives with God's values of love, justice and compassion. Continuing to be a church that is the Body of Christ -- the hands and feet of Jesus in the world -- comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Continuing to strive to be a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal -- a nation where the the rule of law is a thing and where a constitution and balance of powers are the bedrock of our fragile democracy.

And today -- a day when corruption, chaos and collusion dominate the news cycle -- to continue to remember how easy it would be to lose it ... as we renew our commitment to walk in love with each other in the struggle to preserve it.

La lucha continua.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

On Rowan Williams, Communion Across Difference and the Ghosts of Lambeths Past

This week the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles was treated to a visit from the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury -- Dr. Rowan Williams. He visited several congregations, presided at several services, got a chance to check out some cool ancient artifacts of the faith at the Huntington Library -- and he spent some time in conversation with diocesan clergy in the Great Hall of our Cathedral Center in Echo Park.

At one level it was just the ordinary stuff of the calendar of someone like the former Archbishop of Canterbury -- and at another level it was really rather extraordinary.

Rowan Williams is no stranger to the Diocese of Los Angeles. I remember when he and Martin Smith led a clergy conference for us way back when he was just that smart bishop from Wales. I'm thinking it was around 1999 and we joked about it being our "Rowan & Martin" year. I experienced him as wise and grounded and accessible and really quite a wonderful example of a scholar, pastor and teacher. I was honored to meet him and wished he could have stayed longer -- and I was thrilled when he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

I also remember when he joined us in Anaheim in 2009 for our General Convention. We were in the vortex of the "inclusion wars" and deep in our resistance against those lobbying to vote the Episcopal Church off the Anglican Island for ordaining gay and lesbian people in general and Gene Robinson in particular. I experienced him as cold and distant and judgmental and really quite a sobering example of the institutional church failing to live up to its call to both be and act like the Body of Christ in the world. I was sorry he came and relieved when he left.

So it's fair to say I had mixed feelings about his 2019 visit.

Pat McCaughan -- writing for the Episcopal News -- did a great job with her feature on his address to the gathering on Tuesday morning. I commend it to you here. And of course I had my own reactions.

I deeply appreciated all his wise words on family, community and the critical importance of proximity. One of the quotes I tweeted during the morning read:



And ... because life is complex and history has happened and there's a lot of water under the Big Fat Anglican Communion Family bridge ... I was struck in the moment that these wise words were being spoken by the very man who had himself excluded Gene Robinson from the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops -- making the kind of "contact with the other" he was calling for quite literally impossible: at least in that moment, at that time and in that place.

So that was then and this is now.

In the intervening years the Episcopal Church has "stayed the course" ... has kept showing up ... has survived all the threats to vote us off the Anglican Island and continues to move forward toward the goal of making the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments not just a soundbite but a reality. Rowan Williams has retired as Archbishop of Canterbury, TEC has now consecrated  three -- soon to be four -- gay or lesbian bishops and has both adopted rites and amended canons to make marriage accessible to all couples.

And we're not done yet. There is still work to do to assure that your access to marriage rites does not depend on your zip code, we are still on the journey to make our language in worship reflect the rich diversity on the continuum of God's beloved children and we are still working to live out our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Even those we disagree with. Even those who wish we weren't part of their Big Fat Anglican Family. Even those whose actions have fallen short of their ideals.

And one of the ways we do that is by taking seriously Dr. William's call to “... look very, very, carefully and imaginatively at where it is that mutual understanding really comes alive” and at his example of the Mother's Union.
“The Mother’s Union, as it exists in many of our provinces, is a much more important cement of unity in the communion than the primates’ meeting ... and does incalculable work in binding together people across different cultures and environments.We need to ask how we do more in that sort of way, building those relationships between active and committed lay people, not just hierarchs and committees across the communion.”
Those are exactly the questions we are asking as we begin to implement our "One in the Spirit" initiative here in the Diocese of Los Angeles ... as we work to build relationships between difference in our congregations and communities ... as we work to be an antidote to the polarization and division that afflicts our church, our nation and our world ... as we work to create opportunities for mutual gratitude, connection and understanding. while we continue to dismantle oppression and stay the course toward becoming a church where there are no strangers left at the gate.

It's a tall order ... but no one better to attempt it than the Diocese of Los Angeles and no time better than now.


And so for all my mixed feelings going into this third encounter with Rowan Williams -- that smart bishop from Wales AKA the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury -- I was grateful he came and grateful for the opportunity to literally be in communion across difference.

Grateful for the chance for some conversation about the Indaba process which was such a cornerstone of his archepiscopate and grateful for his sermon on love and truth. And at the door on the way out after the Eucharist, grateful for his handshake and kind words, "Thank you for your work. It's been quite a journey, hasn't it?"

Yes it has been quite a journey. And the journey continues: an inch at a time.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Diocesan Dodger Night 2019 #edladodgernight #GoBlue

And it's once again time for Episcopal Night at Dodger Stadium.

Introduced by Bishop Fred Borsch of blessed memory during his tenure as our Bishop Diocesan, for this cradle-Episcopalian/second-generation-Dodger Fan it has for decades now been one of my favorite of all mashups ... getting to root for my team surrounded by Episcopeeps from all around this Big Fat Episcopal Church Family of ours.

I remember bringing my boys when they were kids ... the year Brian caught a foul ball during batting practice and we had Bishop Borsch autograph it for him. (There's a picture of that somewhere in the Episcopal News archives.) I remember schlepping down from Ventura in my St. Paul's days and in from Claremont during seminary and then up from San Pedro.

I remember years when we had huge turnouts and years when it was a faithful remnant. I remember wins and loses and seventh inning stretches and the fun of running into familiar faces in line for Dodger Dogs. And I remember the year I got to be the catcher for Bishop Glasspool's ceremonial first pitch. For this life-long Dodger fan being down on the field was totally a #BucketList item!

And once again tonight is the night.

We'll be taking on the San Francisco Giants (historic rivals!) as we close in on this year's pennant race. Our magic number is 4 (any combination of Dodger wins and Arizona losses will wrap up the National League West race), Kershaw is on the mound and Bishop Taylor will be throwing out the first ceremonial pitch so we are primed for another "best ever" Dio Dodger Night.

I understand there will be about 1200 of us in attendance and am proud that 260 will be from All Saints Church in Pasadena: 160 parish members and 100 scholarship tickets from generous donors for youth in foster care. I've got my jersey on already ... and my Dodger earrings ... and can't wait for game time.

And I was also thinking driving into Echo Park this morning on my way to the office that in some ways what we do when we gather each year for Dio Dodger Night is a tiny icon of the work we're imagining as we build our Engagement Across Difference initiative: One in the Spirit.

Tonight we will be coming together from different congregations, communities, and contexts -- representing different cultures, ethnicities, identities, and orientations -- across economic, political and theological differences -- bound together by our common love of Jesus and baseball.

And if you're a Giant fan ... hey: come on down. There's a Dodger Dog (or equally attractive vegan alternative) with your name on it and may the best team win. Because maybe -- just maybe -- what we need most at this moment in our polarized and divided nation and world is to hold on tight to those moments and opportunities to come together across differences for common goals ... even if it is "just" a baseball game.

So tick-tock game time. See you at the stadium! #edladodgernight #GoBlue

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

And it was morning and it was evening and it was the second day

So here's the view outside my office window as I write this ... on the second day of my tenure as the Canon for Engagement Across Difference for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

I'm looking out at Echo Park and the lake where I used to go paddle boat riding with my dad and brother growing up in L.A. in the 1960s ... at the lawn where I sat with a boatload of other Episcopalians twenty-some years ago now when we broke ground to build this Cathedral Center when Fred Borsch was our bishop 1990s in the ... in a building with a ton of muscle memory of countless meetings, events, liturgies and highs-and-lows over decades of ministry in this diocese of my birth, baptism, confirmation and ordination. And I'm still trying to wrap my head around how I ended up here doing work I couldn't have imagined doing that I can't wait to get started at.

I'm still figuring out logins and logistics as we gear up to begin this new program year and this new initiative which is the brainstorm of our Bishop Diocesan John Taylor ... in his words:

"What we will build together over the next three years is our capacity as a diocese to expand relationships and deepen connections across differences in order to strengthen our shared commitment to follow Jesus. In response to the Gospel call to be agents of reconciliation, we envision a recovery of our deep connection to each other and our world so we can participate more fully in the transforming work of love."

 “Our aspirations include creating conversational communities to drive bridge building across the differences that simultaneously enrich and challenge us as a diverse, multi-cultural diocese utilizing existing diocesan programs and resources as well as creating new ones."

“Ours are audacious goals: but the challenges of this present day call for nothing less if we are going to be the change we want to see in our beautiful and broken world. And we believe that as Anglicans we are uniquely wired to offer an antidote of hope and joy to the destructive and pervasive narratives that fuel division and polarization."

"We remember that we come from spiritual ancestors who found a way to hold together the seemingly irreconcilable tensions of being both catholic and protestant in the 16th century – and we believe that DNA of Anglican comprehensiveness will equip us to do the work of bridging the differences that challenge us as 21st century disciples."


If any of it touches a nerve or stirs an idea or inspires a connection please do reach out. The first phase of this project will be "research and development" so if you have ideas, resources, stories or suggestions email me at srussell@ladiocese.org. This is wild and crazy work to take on in these wild and crazy times in which we live ... and we're going to need lots of wild and crazy people committed to the wild and crazy idea that we can indeed strive for peace and justice while respecting the dignity of absolutely every human being.

“Increase in us true religion” was part of the Collect of the Day that began our worship last Sunday ... a Sunday I had the privilege of being the preacher at All Saints Church in Pasadena, and here's some of what I said. (You can watch and/or read the whole sermon here.) Can't wait to see what Day Three brings!

==========

When we pray for God to increase in us true religion we are asking to be to deployed into the hard, challenging, joyful gospel work of tearing down walls and building bridges; of living out that promise we make to simultaneously strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every single human being … even those whose actions, policies and worldview we deplore.

 It is work we have been committed to for decades in this church and in this diocese and it is work that our bishop John Taylor is calling us to focus on with intentionality as we launch “One in the Spirit” a diocesan initiative with four goals:

• “To live more fully into our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being.
• “To understand better how barriers of class, race, language, nationality, culture, politics, geography, orientation, and identification blind us to the burning image of the divine in one another.
• “To proclaim in Christ’s name that we will not submit to our era’s epic division and polarization.
• “To feed hearts that are hungry for connection and community in a secularizing, isolating age.”

Starting this week I will be dividing my time between continuing to serve as a member of the All Saints clergy staff team and leading this initiative as a member of the bishop’s staff.

There will be much more to share and explore in the weeks and months ahead but today is a day to rejoice and be glad in this opportunity to make true religion — that which binds together people in their quest for the divine — not just something we pray for once a year but a reality we try to live all year long.

Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.
And yet that is the work we have been given to do.

It is why we gather around the altar table week after week, year after year, to be fed by the holy food and drink of new and unending life — reminding us that it is in the broken that we are made whole and that until all of us are gathered in none of us are truly home.

Reminding us that our true religion — that which binds us together in our search for the divine – is the ligament of love intimately linking us with all creation as we strive to make God’s love tangible in this beautiful and broken world.

Monday, September 02, 2019

United in the Fight Against White Supremacy

So honored to be among the great cloud of witnesses speaking out and working to challenge and dismantle white supremacy.

Here's a great summary video our colleagues at MPAC ... the Muslim Public Affairs Council ... put together of our recent event with Congressman Adam Schiff at All Saints Church. Together we CAN be the change we want to see!

Friday, August 09, 2019

ICYMI ... Countering White Supremacy with Congressman Adam Schiff


Scheduled way back in June, the idea for the event sprang from Capitol Hill testimony of Omar Ricci -- Chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California -- on the issue of inaction towards white supremacist violence.

After that hearing, Congressman Schiff agreed to participate in a community forum with Omar and MPAC ... and All Saints and IKAR joined as co-sponsors as "a powerful message of our unity against hate." We secured the venue (All Saints Church), recruited a panel of interfaith leaders (Salam Al-Marayati, Andre Henry, Mike Kinman, Omar Ricci, Susan Russell and Brooke Wirtschafter), and issued  joint statement which began: “We must move beyond words, thoughts & prayers and into action.”

Over 600 community members gathered at All Saints Church on Monday, August 5 for a two hour program that included remarks from Congressman Schiff and wide ranging panel discussions and questions from the audience.

You can watch the whole forum here and I hope you will ... it is well worth the time and -- IMHO -- a beacon of hope and encouragement that together we can be the change we want to see.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Countering White Supremacy: Moving from Words to Action

Tonight we welcome Congressman Adam Schiff to All Saints Church for a Community Forum entitled “Countering White Supremacy” – an important and timely conversation exploring how we can combat bigotry and discrimination and promote pluralism, acceptance and freedom for all.

Here's the video clip Rep. Schiff recorded to promote the event:



Scheduled way back in June, the idea for the event sprang from Omar Ricci [Chairman of the Islamic Center] testifying on Capitol Hill in May on the topic of inaction towards white supremacist violence. 

After that hearing, Congressman Schiff agreed to participate in a forum with Omar and MPAC ... and All Saints and IKAR joined as co-sponsors as "a powerful message of our unity against hate."

And so we secured the venue (All Saints Church), recruited a panel of interfaith leaders (Salam Al-Marayati, Andre Henry, Mike Kinman, Omar Ricci, Susan Russell and Brooke Wirtschafter), and issued  joint statement which began: “We must move beyond words, thoughts & prayers and into action.”

And then El Paso happened. And they Dayton happened. And the event we started planning in May took on the fierce urgency of now as we reeled from the toxic combination of unlimited access to automatic weapons in our nation and unleashed white nationalistic venom in our national discourse.

As Mike Kinman said in his comment for our press release this morning:
"We need look no further than this weekend's deadly shootings to know that white supremacy kills. It kills not only with the speed of an AK-47 but slowly through inequalities in opportunity, health care, education and more. With a president whose words and policies embody white supremacy and embolden those who would enforce it at the point of a gun, it is critically important that we come together across faith traditions and with our elected leaders to have action-oriented conversations about changing the direction in which our nation is heading. All Saints Church has always been a place for conversations like that -- and that is why we are hosting this conversation this evening."
So join us if you can. We'll be live streaming from this link ...

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Dem Debate 2.0 Postmortem


From its reality show hype intro to a format that literally pitted candidates against each other with questions baited with GOP talking points CNN did not offer a “debate” designed to help voters understand policy positions and distinctions between candidates ... it orchestrated a set-up to create the click-bait headlines they wanted in the morning: Democrats Deeply Divided.

And that — in a nutshell — is the distillation of the disease that infects our American body politic: exploiting differences into division in order to divide and conquer the majority into polarized cells and inhibit their capacity to challenge the dismantling of our democracy before our very eyes.

We have to be smarter than that. #organize
We have to be better than that. #mobilize
We have to be the change we want to see. #unify

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Remembering My Republican Daddy


I didn't remember that yesterday was the anniversary of my dad's passing until quite late in the day -- but when I did remember it made perfect sense that he'd been on my mind all day as I watched the chaos unfold in the Washington and kept shaking my head at what he would make of what had happened to his Republican Party. 

My dad -- Bill Brown -- was born in 1913 in Atlantic City ... the seventh of seven children ... into a family context that Daddy described as "episodically advantaged." His father ran "legitimate theaters" and at 16 -- as the Depression gripped the nation -- young Bill left school to make it on his own as an usher in "Roxie's Army" at the Radio City Music Hall.

A few years later he headed west and ended up at the Los Angeles Theater in downtown L.A. ... one of the great old movie palaces ... where he became the manager in the late 1930's ... and where he was working when, as he told it, the Japanese had the gall to bomb Pearl Harbor on his 28th birthday and so he signed up.

He served in the army in Burma, India and China as newsreel photographer and then returned to the L.A. and "theater biz" after the war ... where he met my mom ... who had come west from Minnesota and was the head usherette at the grand old theater.

I grew up thinking what daddies did when they went to work was wear a tuxedo and stand in the lobby to greet patrons. Daddy never saw a room he couldn't work ... never met someone he wasn't interested in talking to ... and he modeled a deep respect and curiosity about people and places that was one of his great legacies. That and a great tolerance for differences -- respectfully offered -- that was a hallmark of my growing up.

Daddy was a "Goldwater Republican" with strongly held opinions -- and as I turned out to have some pretty strong opinions of my own we had lots of "spirited conversations." I remember friends in college being amazed that I could actually go toe-to-toe with my dad about ... well, George McGovern comes to mind! ... but Daddy was convinced that encouraging us to think for ourselves was part of his job. Love and acceptance in my family wasn't conditioned on agreeing with each other ... and I think maybe that's one of the greatest gifts he gave us.

Daddy retired in 1977 and he and my mom had ten years of traveling, golfing, and grandparenting.  He died in the summer of 1988. After months of failing health he was ready, he said, to "pack it in" when he could no longer even follow his beloved Dodgers or swing a golf club. A lot has happened since then and I wish he'd been here to see it all.

Well, most of it.

I wish he'd been able to see his grandkids grow up.

I wonder if he'd have been as surprised as my mom was that I ended up a priest and I can only imagine how much fun he would have had with digital photography.

And then there's all he'd have to say about what has happened to the Republican Party he valued so much -- and about the fight we're in to save the democracy he enlisted to defend when it was under attack in 1941.

I can only imagine that he'd sign up for the fight again in 2019 -- and so it seems that the best way to continue his legacy is to go and do likewise.

La lucha continua. Miss you, Daddy!




Monday, July 15, 2019

"And who is my neighbor?" - A Sermon for San Diego Pride Sunday 2019


On Sunday, July 14th I had the privilege of preaching at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego for their annual Pride weekend celebration. It was a wonderful weekend of celebrating with old friends and new -- made all the more poignant as we were in the midst of the threatened ICE raids and shadow of deportation for immigrant siblings.

So grateful for such awesome partners in the ongoing work ... for the audacious goal of God's vision of a world aligned with love, justice and compassion ... and for the chance to pause and celebrate incremental victories along the way.



And Who Is My Neighbor?
A Sermon for Pride Sunday at St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
[Proper 10C – July 14, 2019]

"O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them ..."

These words that began our worship
are the same words being prayed throughout the Episcopal Church
on this Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
in cities and suburbs;
high church and low;
in tiny missions and vast cathedrals –
anywhere Episcopalians gather
to pray their "common prayer" this morning.

And it is arguably my favorite prayer in the entire prayer book:
summing up the both/and of what is it to aspire
to walk this way of love;
to be the church in the world.

Help us understand what we're supposed to do.
Then help us make it happen.

It also distills down to an essential level
the exchange we just heard in one of the most famous of all Jesus' parables –
the story of the Good Samaritan.

It is the story Jesus told in response to the question "And who is my neighbor?"

It is an ancient question that is as relevant in 21st century San Diego
as it was in 1st century Palestine.

And it was a question that was a set up from the get go.
The lawyer who stood up to "test Jesus"
had to have known the law they shared
as people of the Torah
well enough to know what Jesus' response was going to be:

Love God and love your neighbor as yourself … words as old as Deuteronomy and as foundational to their mutual faith as you get.

And so he was not only ready for the answer --
as any good lawyer would be,
he was also ready with his follow up question:

"And who is my neighbor?"

Was he looking for a loop hole?
Was he looking to trap Jesus into violating some purity code?
Was he grandstanding for the gallery like a congressional committee member in an open hearing?

We'll never actually know.

What we do know is that Jesus was ready for his question.

And ... as I said yesterday as we gathered for the Pride Parade ...
It turns out the Indigo Girls were right:
the hardest to learn was the least complicated.

And who is my neighbor?

It turns out Jesus -- in telling the story of the Good Samaritan --
left absolutely no doubt that the answer was utterly uncomplicated:
the answer is that absolutely nobody is outside the category of neighbor God calls us to love as our selves.

It turns out the criteria for being one of those neighbors we’re supposed to love as ourselves is being a member of the human family. Period.

It turns out that love your neighbor as yourself means all your neighbors.
The ones you like and the ones you don’t.

The ones you agree with and the ones you are convinced are as wrong as they think you are.
The Boomers, the Millennials, the GenXers and the ones who fall into any of the other generational buckets it is increasingly fashionable to swing about as blunt instruments to beat each other up with.
 Every last one of them as beloved by the God who created them as you are.
 No exceptions.  No asterisk that reads *some restrictions apply.
Imagine just for a minute what the world would be like if we declared independence from all the lies we’re told about each other and embraced this truth Jesus came to proclaim.

That's the good news we took to the streets
to offer to those lined up along the parade route:
many who think they know enough about Christians not to want to be one ...
many who associate being Christian with judgment, condemnation and exclusion
rather than justice, compassion and love.

And yesterday we had the chance to show them something different
as outward and very fabulous visible signs of God's inclusive love.

(And if you missed Canon Jeff Martinhauk
in his rainbow tutu do go find a picture on Facebook!)


But let's be very clear:
the good news we took to the streets of San Diego yesterday
is not some radical new agenda cooked up by a left coast think tank
(not that there’s anything wrong with left coast think tanks.)
 
It is the same good news the Church has proclaimed throughout the ages --
it is the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.

And the essence of that message
was brilliantly summarized a decade or so ago
by priest and pastor Michael Hopkins:
a past president of Integrity and my colleague, friend and mentor.

Michael wrote: "As we continue to proclaim our message of full inclusion and work toward its reality in our Church, let us not forget that it is simply the message of the Gospel. Let us now allow ourselves to be marginalized by talk about "issues that distract us from the real work of the Church" or "why can't we talk about mission instead of sex." We are talking about the "real work" of the Church, which is the proclamation of the Gospel. 
We are talking about the Church's fundamental mission. The full inclusion of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the life of the Church is not about sex or even about "an issue": it is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

It is that Gospel that brought us out into the streets of San Diego yesterday:
the opportunity to embody the Good News of a God
who loved us enough to become one of us;
to witness to and welcome those who have been told
they are beyond God’s grace simply because they are gay or lesbian;
bisexual, transgender or gender fluid.

And it is that Gospel that sends us out into the world the other 364 days of the year
as we continue to pray the prayer we prayed this morning:

Help us understand what we're supposed to do.
Then help us make it happen.

This work we are about is nothing less
than the building of that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we pray for
every time we gather as God’s beloved people –
every time we receive the bread and wine made holy
and pray to be sent out to do the work we have been given to do –
every time we take up our cross and go out into the world
as bearers of the Good News of a God
who loved us enough to become one of us …
and then called us to love our neighbors in exactly the same way.

And you don’t love your neighbors
by failing to give them the equal protection guaranteed all Americans
or equal inclusion in the sacraments offered to all Episcopalians
because they are gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender fluid.

You don't love your neighbors
by separating their families, putting their children in cages
and denying them due process.

You don't love your neighbors
by taking away their healthcare,
by terrorizing them with threats of deportation raids,
or by banning them because they’re Muslims.

The list goes on and on.

Nobody ever said it would be easy.
And I don’t know anybody who would argue with the fact
that it has gotten harder in the last few years: 
which is why it is even more important
that we keep ourselves sustained, resourced and supported
for the work we have been called to do.

And that brings me to Amos and this morning’s lesson about the plumb line.

Now I’m sure a plumb line is a great metaphor
if you know what a plumb line is.

But what I am wondering this morning
is if a better 21st century metaphor for what God gave Amos
might be, not a plumb line, but a satellite signal –
hooking you up to the God of love and justice and compassion,
plugging in your spiritual GPS.

Like a GPS connected to the satellite
that keeps it on course as long as it is plugged in,
we are connected to the love of God
which will keep us on course if we stay plugged in
and keep our lives in alignment
with God’s justice, with God’s love, and with God’s compassion.

What keeps us in that alignment –
what keeps our spiritual GPS charged and connected to that satellite –
is community.

And so it is to this place that we come
to remember both that we are loved and that we are called to walk in love;
it is to this place that we come to be fed and fuelled
in order to go back out into the world in witness to that love.

“Do this in remembrance of me” – we will say in just a few minutes,
when we gather around this table
to share the bread and wine made holy.

“In remembrance of,” to remember – to reverse our amnesia –
that we are loved by the God
who created us in love and then called us to walk in love with each other,
and who will at the end of this journey gather us back into that love.

And so since we already know
the answer to the question “where are we going?”
the question becomes instead:
what kind of journey are we going to make to get there?

Can we stay plugged into the GPS of God’s values
of love, peace, justice and compassion?

Will we listen when it is time to recalculate in order to stay on course and avoid the pitfalls and potholes the world and culture can throw our way?

Can we challenge not only ourselves but our institutions to recalculate when we, or they, get off course?

Can we take up the challenge Megan Rapinoe offered this week in NYC --
The challenge I’ve come to think of as the Gospel According to Megan:
 
          To be better. To love more, to hate less. To listen more, to talk less.
          To make the world a better place.

I want to close with these words from Barbara Mudge – the former Vicar of St. Francis in Simi Valley -- who ended every service with these words of dismissal:

The holiest moment is now – fed by word and sacrament go out to be the church in the world.

And that my brother, sisters and gender fluid siblings
is precisely what we are called to do –
each and every time we choose to be church
choose to love more and hate less
choose to make God’s justice roll down like waters
choose to love absolutely every one of our neighbors as ourselves.

Now -- let’s go be church.
Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

On Thin Places, the Bishop of Maine and Strength for the Journey


There any number of definitions of the term "thin place" but here's the one I like:
Thin places are places of energy. A place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds – the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one.
On Saturday, June 22, 2019 at St. Luke's Cathedral Church in Portland Maine we got ourselves a new bishop. God willed, the people consented and with all the pomp, circumstance and liturgical panache that our brilliant preacher du jour Barbara K. Lundblad fondly described as "weird," Thomas James Brown became the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Maine.

People came quite literally from sea-to-shining-sea to join the good people of the diocese -- adding some Big Fat Episcopal Family Reunion energy to the gathering. It was grand and glorious and there were moments when I literally felt the thinness of the veil between the two worlds of where we've come from and where we're journeying to -- of the power of the ancestors on whose shoulders we stood on Saturday in St. Luke's Cathedral and of the hope of those who come after us trusting us to keep up the work of fully becoming the church we have been called to be.

In that thin place I remembered another consecration down the road in New Hampshire in November 2003 -- where instead of a cathedral with a Pride flag out front we were in a hockey arena with bomb sniffing dogs, metal detectors and a scrum of international news vans out front. Nevertheless, we persisted.

I remembered flying to Nottingham in England with Frank Griswold and other members of our TEC team -- summoned to the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council to offer "To Set Our Hope On Christ" as our response to the Windsor Report in the days when it looked like price tag for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the work and witness of the church was going to be getting voted off the Anglican Island. Nevertheless we persisted.

I remembered the month we spent at Lambeth Conference in 2008 as part of the Inclusive Communion witness and the fears that our bishops had "drunk the purple Kool-Aid" and LGBTQ Episcopalians were going to end up as sacrificial lambs on the altar of global Anglican politics. Nevertheless we persisted.

And we have continued to persist -- weathering the storms of backlash and the threats and the challenges of "the inclusion wars" to arrive at a moment during the consecration of Thomas James Brown as the 10th Bishop of Maine when the packed cathedral sang this verse of "The Church's One Foundation" ... and it felt like a very thin place indeed.

Tho' with a scornful wonder,
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, 

by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.


This beloved old hymn -- which I proudly memorized all five verses in 3rd grade at Lutheran Day School and remember them all still -- was a profound reminder that the foundation of this church of ours is Jesus ... not some dogma, doctrine, council or confab. It was a reassurance that we have weathered storms in the past and will weather storms in the future -- and a moment to be grateful for the "morn of song" we had together at St. Luke's Cathedral on a beautiful June morning in Maine.

Make no mistake about it ... we have not yet "arrived at destination." We have miles to go before we rest in the work of being a church that fully lives up to former Presiding Bishop Ed Browning's dream of being a church where there would be no outcasts. And there will be nights of weeping aplenty before as we complete our journey along that arc of history that is long ... but we are promised bends toward justice.

And when  those nights come -- and they will -- I pray we'll remember morns of song like we had at St. Luke's Cathedral on Saturday June 22nd ... moments when we could feel the thin place between the world we've come from and the place we're journeying to and could feel the saints surrounding us. And I pray the gift of that morning will continue to give us strength for the journey. La lucha continua -- the struggle continues.




Friday, June 14, 2019

"When Fake Good News Ends Up As Bad Foreign Policy" by Bishop John. H. Taylor


This smart, concise and compelling apologetic for enlightened biblical scholarship offers a compelling challenge to the misuse of scripture as a blunt instrument against science, reason and interfaith peacemaking. Deep bows of gratitude to Bishop John Taylor for writing it and for giving permission to share it. Please read ... and then go and do likewise.


When word spread that presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was a practicing Episcopalian, adverse reaction from some evangelicals was swift. Some said he wasn’t actually a Christian -- not because he’s a married gay man, mind you, but just because he’s a practicing Episcopalian.

Most of us are used to it. Have you ever told a post-denominational friend that you’re an Episcopalian only to have them reply, “I’m a Christian”? Like the faint echo of the Big Bang in the cosmos, the anti-Catholic, anti-sacramental suspicions of the 16th century Reformation still trouble the body of Christ. With thousands of denominations and sects, ours is a rich but fractured mosaic. It’s vital to be tolerant of one another’s styles of worship and interpretations of Holy Scripture.

But when idiosyncratic beliefs put people’s lives at risk – when fake Good News ends up as bad foreign policy, as it has in the Trump administration -- it’s time for progressive denominational Christians speak up on behalf of one of the greatest gifts to people of faith: Enlightened biblical scholarship.

Many insist that the Bible, especially in the Revelation of John, predicts events such as the creation of the state of Israel and Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war. The theories fall under the broad category of Dispensationalism. Because of the “Omen” movies and “Left Behind” novels, many in society and the media, whether believers or not, may think it’s the only way to read the good book.

But we denizens of EfM (Education for Ministry), weekly Bible study in our parishes and missions, and seminary know the real sacred story. The texts themselves say nothing about these or any historical event that occurred after they were written, edited, and accepted as sacred canon in the fourth century. We know this and more thanks to analytical tools that scholars, interpreters, and teachers have had at their disposal for a century and a half or more.

The techniques are taught at all mainline seminaries and informed the preaching Buttigieg grew up hearing. They help us understand that Revelation was written late in the first century not to predict events in 2019 but to inspire and encourage churches in Asia Minor as the Roman Empire was persecuting Christians. Torah wasn’t the work of one author, Moses, but of many writers and editors, finalized seven centuries after the events the texts recount. Isaiah comprises the work of a succession of prophetic witnesses working across 200 years or more.

This doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t the inspired word of God. A Christian can believe in the birth, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus Christ without insisting that the world was created in six days, as Genesis recounts, or that Jonah survived inside a big fish. With all my lay and ordained siblings in the church, I believe the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation. But it can take a lifetime of discerning study to appreciate fully its foundational values of righteousness, peace, justice, and, above all, love.

Many theologically conservative Christians read scripture with modern minds, plumbing its verses for life lessons instead of clues about the Apocalypse. Denominational and evangelical Christians could discover some common ground by creating settings to study and debate the Bible together, perhaps someday healing centuries of schism and uniting behind Jesus’s commandment to love God and love one another as ourselves.

But Dispensationalist Bible interpretations are potentially deadly when politicians like Donald Trump permit them to inform their policy decisions. As recently documented in the riveting WGBH podcast “The End of Days,” so-called Christian Zionists consider the emergence of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel to be a pivotal step toward the end times. Evangelical preachers’ and voters’ demand that Trump move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a classic self-fulfilling prophecy. It did considerable damage to what remains of the Israel-Palestine peace process, in which most experts agree the status of Jerusalem should be settled last.

It could get far worse if U.S. policymakers keep implementing Christian Zionist Bible study lessons. Many want Israel to annex the West Bank so its borders would match those of Bible times. The result could well be the disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinian Arabs, turning Israel into a true apartheid state.

They also favor building a third temple in Jerusalem, with animal sacrifices and all, which would require destruction of Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount – again, to fulfill what they believe the Bible specifies on the way to the end of days. Should the U.S. ever encourage such steps, a catastrophic regional war could indeed result, all because politicians were in the thrall of those who claim that it’s actually Pete Buttigieg who misreads the Bible and disrespects Jesus.

Trump’s policies signal that it’s long past time for progressive denominational Christians and our dialogue partners in other faith traditions to reclaim the ineffable, irreducible, love- and justice-infused richness of our shared scriptural inheritance – and then make some foreign policy demands of our own. Here’s one for starters. Whoever replaces Trump should promise that they’ll dial the doomsday clock back a few millennia, not to mention reinvigorate the peace process, by moving the U.S. embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. You with me, Mayor Pete?

Written by the Right Reverend John H. Taylor,  Bishop of Los Angeles, this post originally appeared in the 2019 early summer edition of "The Episcopal News" and is shared with permission from the author.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Open Letter to Al Moehler et al re: Women Preaching

It was a random post on my Facebook page I could have just scrolled by but decided to read -- an RNS piece entitled "Beth Moore's ministry reignites debate on whether women can preach."


You can read it all here ... but this was the quote that got me started:
“There’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
Since this is the kind of toxic patriarchal bull sh** that literally makes my head want to explode, I decided to reach out via this open letter. Not because I expect Mr. Mohler to read it. But because -- as one FB commenter noted -- "Whether he reads it or not I feel better that it is out there." So here goes:

#####


Dear  Al .. can I call you Al?

There's just something about systemic sexism that means you are utterly blind to the projection of your own unexamined male privilege onto God that ends you up with a worldview where unless it sounds like you it isn't God. Which is scary-close to idolatry. Which I suggest you Google if you need a refresher.

 And ... while I've got you ... it's only a hop-skip-and-a-jump from there to the place where when the only allowable image of God is a Dysfunctional Daddy with an Anger Management Problem ... and then we are gobsmacked that anybody who calls themself a Christian and strives to follow the radical rabbi from Nazareth who called us to love our neighbors as ourselves and do all good things unto the least of these supports the draconian programs and polices of the current resident of the White House.

So just a hard no, Al. This has nothing to do with "the order of creation" and everything to do with the toxin of unexamined privilege. And we have an app for that. It's called #TheResistance.

God bless and Peace Out.

Your Friend (and fellow preacher),
(The Reverend Canon) Susan Russell

Saturday, June 01, 2019

We have an election!

On Saturday the First of June in the Year of Our Lord 2019, the good people of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan gathered in convention to elect themselves their eleventh bishop.

The Holy Spirit had sent them four stellar candidates and on the Fifth Ballot ... in a convention surrounded by prayers from around the church and a bunch of us live-streaming ... they elected the Reverend Bonnie A. Perry.


Bonnie is a brilliant priest, an awesome preacher, a gifted organizer and collaborator and a fierce sister-in-the-struggle for justice. Over the years we have worked together in more ways and times than I can count in the mutual work of calling the church to make the Good News of God in Christ Jesus available to absolutely everyone.

Over those year we have shared both great steps forward and devastating steps backwards as this church we love and serve has striven to make respect for the dignity of every single human being not just a promise we make at our baptism but a reality we model in our church.

Today's election is an affirmation that those seeds sown have born fruit, that the inches of the garden we have labored to reclaim are growing green and that the Episcopal Church truly means it when it says there will be no outcasts.

Fifteen years ago when Claiming the Blessing was working toward its goal of the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments, Bonnie opened up All Saints Chicago to us for our steering committee meeting. I'll never forget that as we gathered on a frigid January weekend the temperature on the bank thermometer outside our hotel was 1. As in one degree.

"One is not a temperature." I told her.
"It is in Chicago" she told me.

And collectively we hunkered down ... in the cold of Chicago and in the heat of General Conventions ... in the fields of the Lord from Lambeth to South Africa to Maine to Los Angeles ... and ultimately love cleared the way for this election in Michigan today.

To be clear ... love is not done clearing the way. There are miles to go before we rest and hear that "servants well done" refrain from that old hymn. But today is a day to rejoice. As George Regas taught us years ago, the road is long and the struggle is real and they way we make our way is by setting audacious goals and celebrating incremental victories.

The audacious goal of God's reign of love where there are no outcasts, where the earth and all its beloved creatures are healed and whole and reconciled is still somewhere out over the horizon. But the incremental victory of a brilliant, feisty, kayaking, Jesus loving lesbian being the bishop-elect of Michigan is an incremental victory worth celebrating.

So congratulations to the Diocese, to the Church, to the Communion and to the bishop-elect and her wife Susan. This is the day the Lord has made: we are rejoicing and being glad in it!

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Equality Act: In Celebration of Incremental Victories


This morning I got to watch some history happen.

By a vote of 236-173 the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 5 ... AKA "The Equality Act" ... which amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

Basically it would move us forward as a nation to a place where the constitutional guarantee of equal protection for all Americans would finally equally protect LGBTQ Americans.

Of course we're not "there yet."

The Equality Act now heads to the Senate where in spite of evidence of some bipartisan support it faces an uncertain future in the hands of Majority Leader who will be loathe to bring it to a vote and a GOP majority hell-bent destroying whatever shred of integrity is left in the Republican Party. (The sound you hear is my GOP Daddy rolling in his grave.) Not to even mention the current resident of the White House who would never sign it.

Nevertheless ... this morning I got to watch some history happen.

I got to watch the House of Representatives prove that they can indeed both investigate and legislate. In the words of Representative Jerrold Nadler (NY) the chairman of the Judiciary Committee: “The question before us is not whether the LGBTQ community faces outrageous and immoral discrimination, for the record shows that it clearly does. The question is whether we, as Congress, are willing to take action to do something about it. The answer goes straight to the heart of who we want to be as a country — and today, that answer must be a resounding ‘yes.’”

And while there are many who have been in trenches far longer than I have been, I couldn't help remembering when we stood on Capitol Hill in 2005 opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment ... and carried baskets full of postcards from constituents as we made our "clergy calls" on Congress ... captured in this image on an HRC postcard: a time when a vote like today's was hard to even imagine.

In the years since then there have been countless other times we have suited up, shown up and spoken up as people of faith to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right.

Because so much of the opposition to equality for LGBTQ people has come from Christians who confuse their right to believe with their right to impose their beliefs, the voices of Christians for Equality have been crucial in moving the needle forward an inch at a time -- a protest at a time -- a congressional visit at a time -- a vote at a time.

The point of our witness is not to change the hearts and minds of those who already have them made up because "the Bible said it, they believe it and that settles it." (Although that would be awesome.)

The point of our witness is to remind our legislators that good people of faith can and do come to different conclusions on a whole variety of questions about what God blesses or doesn't bless; approves of or doesn't approve of; sanctions or doesn't sanction.

The point of our witness is to make sure they know that there are Christians like us and our congregation members who support full equality for LGBTQ Americans -- not in spite of their faith but because of it.

Ultimately the point of our witness is to remind legislators that their job is not to decide what the Bible says about equality -- but to decide what the Constitution says about equality. And the Constitution is clear: equal protection is not equal protection unless it protects all Americans equally. Period.

In the days, weeks and months ahead there will be plenty of opportunities to suit up, speak up and show up as people of faith to continue the work of bending that arc of history toward justice. And we will do that. But today is a day to celebrate an incremental victory in the journey toward the audacious goal of liberty and justice for all.

And then we'll get back to work. La lucha continua ... the struggle continues!



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

My Ontological Argument for Mike Pence & the Anti-Equality Act Crowd

So Mike Pence was in the news again -- this time for his address to the graduating class at Liberty University where USA Today reports he told them "Be prepared to be ridiculed for being Christian."

That report prompted my Bishop -- John Taylor -- to write this:
An astonishing spectacle, when you think about it. A powerful Christian politician telling a group of young American elites, recipients of four-year degrees, that they’re actually victims. ... Privileged people playing the victim to increase their political leverage has become an epidemic. But it’s literally the last thing a Christian should do.
Bravo. Amen. Alleluia!

Because here's the thing:

There is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you’re disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are.

To take that a step further, there is a difference between feeling persecuted because you don’t get to impose your beliefs on other people and being persecuted because other people both have and use their power to burn down your houses and murder your children.

And claiming the former makes you only a victim of your own unexamined privilege ... and of absolutely no use to actual victims who desperately need you to live out that liberate the captive, let the oppressed go free thing Jesus and Isaiah talked about.

History — both modern and ancient — is tragically full of examples of times and places where religious discrimination has been the source of persecution, death and destruction. The perversion of religion into a weapon of mass destruction is antithetical to the core beliefs of all the world’s great religions. And yet none of those religions have escaped the sad reality that human beings — given the power to do so — will use God as an excuse to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.

Our forefathers knew that. And they brought that knowledge — that wisdom — into our Bill of Rights with a First Amendment that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”

The First Amendment both prevents the government of the United States from privileging one religion over another and protects each and every one of us — as American citizens — to believe whatever we choose — or choose not — to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses. It is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy.

And, as we watch with sadness and horror the nightly news stories of religious wars and sectarian violence, this guarantee of religious freedom is something Americans of all religions — and no religion — should rejoice and be glad in. It is not something to be taken lightly -- and it is not something to be distorted and weaponized against other Americans ... which is precisely what is happening as the fight for the Equality Act heats up.

Hot on the heels of Mike Pence's effort to convince a stadium full of Liberty University graduates they are victims because not everyone agrees with their theology,  today the CBN headline screamed "Warning: Christians Will Be 'Forced to Violate Their Beliefs' if Equality Act Passes" and Pat Robertson called it " a devastating blow to religious freedom and to the sanctity of America."

One more time:

The First Amendment protects your right as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against other Americans. And the Equality Act will make that clear: once and for all.

And in the days and weeks ahead it is going to be especially important for people of faith to raise their voices in support of the Equality Act to neutralize the rabid rhetoric of Mike Pence, Pat Robertson and the rest of the Religious Right who continue to confuse their right to believe whatever they choose with their right to impose those beliefs on the rest of us.

Because there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you’re disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. And it is time to end the epidemic of privileged people playing the victim to increase their political leverage. Make some noise!

Thursday, May 02, 2019

What Religious Liberty Is and Isn't

Religious liberty is trending on Twitter today — and not in a good way.

This morning the White House – on the National Day of Prayer – announced a new rule allowing health providers, insurers and employers to refuse to provide or pay for services that they say violate their religious beliefs.

It is yet another a battle in the war we have been fighting for decades – and whether the debate was about achieving marriage equality or ending employment discrimination … whether the issue was LGBTQ equality or women’s reproductive rights … it has seemed that someone, somewhere has been giving impassioned testimony about how their religious liberty is under attack.

So here’s a little reality check: Religious liberty is the liberty to exercise your religion; not to impose your religion.

The First Amendment protects us from any laws “impeding the free exercise of religion” thus guaranteeing that each and every American has the liberty to believe — or not believe — absolutely anything he or she chooses about what God wills or intends, blesses or condemns. It also — thank God — protects the rest of us from any other American imposing those beliefs on us.

So when our elected representatives are making decisions about equal protection the question isn’t what the Bible says but what the Constitution says. And what the Constitution says is that equal protection isn’t equal protection unless it equally protects everybody equally.

And when it comes to providing medical treatment, no American should be denied access to the services or procedures they need because another American has their theology confused with our democracy.

“Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it doesn’t include the right to discriminate or harm others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. “This rule threatens to prevent people from accessing critical medical care and may endanger people’s lives. … Medical standards, not religious belief, should guide medical care.”

The First Amendment is already doing its job protecting our religious liberty. This morning’s action from the White House is yet-another step down the slippery slope from democracy to theocracy having nothing to do with increasing freedom and everything to do with paving the way to discrimination. It must be challenged.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter Vigil 2019: "I have called you by name and you are mine."


This is the night ...



Tonight at All Saints Church we will gather as countless Christians do around the world to kindle the first fire of Easter, to light the Paschal Candle representing the light of Christ in the world, tell the stories of our scriptural ancestors and then -- with a joyful cacophony of ringing bells and all-the-stops-out organ music -- proclaim "Alleluia, Christ is Risen ... Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!"

Then we will do what we always do at the Great Vigil of Easter: to baptize some folks, to welcome some new members and to come to the table to receive the bread and wine made holy.

And this year we will so something else. We will affirm the new name of a beloved member of our parish family ... asking God to continue to bless and guide her as she continues the journey of living fully into her gender identity and claims her name as part of that journey.

We will do that after we kindle that first fire of Easter out on our quad lawn where the sign hanging under the venerable All Saints Oak Tree reads "Transgender Rights are Human Rights." And we will do that with deep gratitude that we are part of the branch of the Jesus Movement that is living ever more fully into its high calling to be a church where all God's beloved are welcomed, embraced, and included in the Body of Christ.

I love these words from the liturgy adapted from "Affirmation of a New Name" by friend and colleague Cameron Partridge ...
We honor the other names you have lived by. We release them into your history and acknowledge that the time has come to declare a new name. This name is the culmination of a journey of discovery and, at the same time, its beginning.
You can see our Great Vigil liturgy here ... and you can find out more about the journey the Episcopal Church has been on toward fuller inclusion of our transgender and non-binary siblings in our liturgical life in this blog post by TransEpiscopal.

And I want to celebrate that the "Rite for Receiving or Claiming a New Name" is (as of General Convention 2018) included in our Episcopal Book of Occasional Services and authorized for use in the whole church. From the notes on the liturgy:
When an event or experience leads a baptized person to take or to be given a new name, the following rite may be used to mark this transition in the parish community. This new beginning is distinct from the new life begun in Holy Baptism, which conveys regeneration and the responsibilities of Christian discipleship. Throughout the rite, the pronouns “they,” “their,” and “them” are used, with corresponding verb forms. These pronouns should be adapted to the preference of the person receiving or claiming the new name, with appropriate adjustment to the accompanying verbs.
No, we are not "there yet." There is still work to do and I pray that we will continue to raise up leaders and activists and agitators to do the work ahead of us. And ...

This is the night when we celebrate how far we have come on our own journey as a church -- a journey of discovery that continues to call us beyond binary boundaries and into God's future.

Alleluia, Alleluia!