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.

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!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Abduction of the Holy Innocents

Watching the ongoing crisis at our border where refugee families fleeing the terror in their home countries are being terrorized by order of our President made me re-think the Collect for The Holy Innocents as this prayer for The Abduction of the Holy Innocents:
We remember today, O God, the abduction of the holy innocents at our border by the Trump Administration. Pour out your mercy, we pray, on all innocent victims of racism and nativism; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

We are here ... on the way to there.

Catching up on the news this morning I came across this article in the Greenville News on Pete Buttigieg (pictured above with his husband Chasten Glezman) and his presidential campaign --- an article which included this quote:
"Buttigieg, an openly gay man who is married, told The Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail that his Episcopalian faith has grown stronger through marriage because his marriage has made him a better person. "My marriage and my faith go well together," he said. "We live in a country that is committed to the idea that people of any faith or no faith all have an equal claim on the blessings of life in our country. He said more people are accepting LGBTQ equality today, including in South Carolina.”
Just take a minute to breathe this in. We are not “there yet” on full inclusion in our church by any means, but we are here.

We are in a place where a married gay Episcopalian can talk about his faith and marriage on a national platform because of the hard work we have done in the Episcopal Church to be the church of Ed Browning where there are no outcasts; the church of Barbara Harris where there are no half-assed baptized; the church of Louie Crew Clay where there is Joy Anyway; the church of Michael Curry where love is the way; and the church of the persistent widow in Luke’s gospel who keeps coming back again and again until justice rolls down for absolutely everybody.

We are not “there yet” but we are here.

So let us take a moment to rejoice and be glad in that. And then let us get back to work.

Because someday we will be there. And it will be because of the work every single one of us committed to the full inclusion of all God’s beloved in all the sacraments persisting for as long as it takes. La lucha continúa.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Thoughts on "Communion Across Difference"

I am writing this on a plane somewhere between LAX and ORD bound for the first meeting of the Episcopal Church's Communion Across Difference Task Force.

The group -- called together by Resolution 2018-A227 adopted at our 79th General Convention -- consists of equal numbers of  those holding that marriage is a “covenant between a man and a woman” and those holding that marriage is a “covenant between two people” -- and our job is to seek a pathway toward mutual flourishing in the Episcopal Church.

I know.

But wait. There's more.

We are charged to seek that  lasting path forward for mutual flourishing "consistent with this Church’s polity and the 2015 'Communion across Difference' statement of the House of Bishops affirming:"
(1) The clear decision of General Convention that Christian marriage is a covenant between two people, of the same sex or of the opposite sex;
(2) General Convention’s firm commitment to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to authorized liturgies;
(3) The indispensable place that the minority who hold to this Church’s historic teaching on marriage have in our common life, whose witness the Church needs.

Needless to say, we covet your prayers as we gather for this first meeting and work together to imagine how we will respond to this arguably daunting task and high calling. I am privileged to be co-convening the task force with John Bauerschmidt -- Bishop of Tennessee -- and although our work is just beginning today, we stand on the shoulders of a great cloud of witnesses who been striving to figure out just how to manage mutual flourishing across deep divides for generations.

It is a cloud of witnesses I would argue dates back to the original architects of the "Elizabethan Settlement" -- those who dared to imagine mutual flourishing across the seemingly intractable divide of whether we Anglicans would be protestant or catholic in the 16th century. Rather than continuing to burn each other at the stake over real presence vs. transubstantiation, our forebears found a way forward. And the reason I signed up for this gig is I am convinced that if they could find a way where there was no way in the 16th century we can find one in the 21st.

This is not say I am convinced it will be easy. My email inbox is full of missives from folks around the church about equally divided between "you are an intuitionalist sellout perpetuating toxic homophobia and patriarchy" and "you are an apostate heretic leading sheep astray to burn in the Lake of Fire."

The jury is still out -- but it is fair to say I hope the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I hope what I am is someone who loves this church enough to challenge it to live up to its full potential and revolutionary roots of being a particular people of God with the DNA of Anglican Comprehensiveness still coursing in its veins.
I hope I am someone who knows our history well enough to know that from the get-go we have been a people of God who came to the communion rail every Sunday knowing that half the people sharing the pews with us thought we were as wrong as we thought they were.

And I hope I am someone who can trust that if we started out doing that around different theologies of how the Holy Spirit made holy the bread and wine we received in the sacrament of Communion we can continue doing that around different theologies of how the Holy Spirit blesses and sanctifies those who come seeking the sacrament of marriage.

What I know is that there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. And so in order for us to continue to live out our Anglican ethos with Integrity there absolutely must be a place in this church for those who hold the minority theological position that my marriage doesn't exist. And -- equally essential to living out our Anglican ethos with Integrity -- is that place is not and cannot be between any couple seeking the sacrament of marriage in this church. All the sacraments must be available to all the baptized, period, full stop. [See (2) above.]

Yes, the challenge of finding the place of "mutual flourishing" is a daunting one ... but it is the challenge the Holy Spirit has put on our plate and it is the challenge we will be striving to mutually address in the days, weeks and months ahead.

To say we live in polarized and divided times is to damn by faint adjectives the times in which we live.

And so it is my deepest hope and most fervent prayer that whatever the Holy Spirit has in mind for us as we engage in this work over these next weeks and months, She will equip and inspire us to bear fruit that transcends the issue that has brought us to the table. I hope our history will equip and empower us to live into our future and model a way forward that is both an antidote to the many challenges that threaten to divide us and an inspiration to others who look for ways beyond the challenges that divide them.

I believe this is good and holy work to which we have been called. And I pray that the God who has given us the will to attempt these things give each and every one of us the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

When Hate Comes To Town

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church — known for decades for their hate-filled targeting of members of the LGBTQ community and their allies (including All Saints Church) — have announced their plans to visit Pasadena next week.

From the article in the Pasadena Weekly:

Members of anti-gay and anti-Semitic Westboro Baptist Church have targeted openly bisexual 2019 Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel and are expected to picket Monday morning February 25th at her high school.

Our colleagues at Neighborhood Church — on whose property the school campus is located — have initiated a brilliant response … detailed here and excerpted below:
We do not want to feed this group’s hunger for publicity or provide a megaphone for their words of hate. We want to support and surround the Sequoyah students and parents with messages of love, and so we are working with our members, with Sequoyah and the community at large to craft a peaceful response grounded in respect for the worth and dignity of all human beings. Maintaining a safe and healthy environment for students is our top priority therefore we ask that you refrain from demonstrating on Monday. If you would like to participate as a peacekeeper in our nonviolent response please join us on Sunday, February 24 for a training and poster-making workshop conducted by The Neighborhood Church Social Justice and Inclusion staff and LGBTQ+ community organizers. The workshop will be a safe space for neighborhood church members, Sequoyah faculty and students, and the San Gabriel Valley community at large. All are welcome — registration is requested … follow this link to register.
All Saints Church stands will all those standing up and speaking out for love, justice and compassion in the face of hate, bigotry and oppression. Our rector Mike Kinman is working with the planners and will be part of the Monday morning response team.

As we continue to work and pray for the dismantling of systems of oppression in general — and homophobia/transphobia in specific — please keep all those at risk especially in your prayers as we give thanks for those creating a witness to God’s love for every member of the human family.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Prayer for the United Methodist Church

Written by Mike Kinman for our Prayers of the People at All Saints Church on Sunday, February 17, 2019.

Leveraging Lambeth: Can we turn the lemon of exclusion into lemonade for at-risk LGBTQ Youth?

The every-decade-or-so gathering of Anglican Bishops is once again looming on the horizon as announcements about plans for the 2020 assembly have begun to emerge from Lambeth Palace.

Disclaimer: Since the longest year of my life was the month I spent in Canterbury for Lambeth 2008 I own my own personal hermeneutic of suspicion that nothing good comes out of that many bishops left to their own devices for that long. [Here's an album of photos from our Inclusive Communion witness back in 2008, just for old times sake.]

Lambeth 2008 did, however, offer one unexpected benefit for me personally -- and that was a total and complete healing of any lingering symptoms I had of the Anglophilia that I carried through my adolescence and into my young adulthood.

The homophobia, misogyny and xenocentric exceptionalism on rampant display during the time leading up to and during our month at Canterbury was more than enough to cure me -- and explain to me once and for all why so many people think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. And I was reminded why the tea in the Boston Harbor was the smartest thing we ever did. And I was grateful to return to my own Big Fat Episcopal Church Family -- with all its faults, challenges and growing edges.

But like it or not Lambeth Conference is evidently going to happen again ... and the news from As The Anglican World Turns Central this week from was a decidedly mixed bag. 

Writing on the ACNS (Anglican Communion News Service) blog, Secretary General Dr. Josiah Idowu-Fearon said:
Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies.
So -- Point One -- it does not look as though there will be a "lock out" of active LGBTQ bishops -- as we experienced in 2008 with the Bishop of New Hampshire who was quite literally left as a "stranger at the gate" by Archbishop Rowan Williams. And "recognising that all those consecrated to the office of bishop should be able to attend" is a 180-degree turn from that policy.

And yet -- Point Two -- this position does create a defacto second-class standing for any bishop with a spouse of the same-sex ... not to mention an indefensible disconnect with the reality that inviting spouses of bishops in polygamous marriages (yes, they're out there) and those in marriages-after-divorce (yes, they're out there, too) is also in conflict with the standard of "lifelong union of a man and a woman."

But there it is.

And -- for what it's worth -- here's my suggestion as a response that has the potential to transform an inherent injustice into a tool for raising both awareness and support for the LGBTQ marginalized:

On reflection -- wondering whether the better course of action would be to show up to serve as leaven-in-the-loaf but do fundraisers to raise "matching funds" for youth-at-risk between now and then. That definitely has a more incarnationally Anglican both/and appeal.

Just some thoughts on a Monday morning on only one cup of coffee.

As Rachel would say: Watch this space.