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.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

What would it look like to actually follow Jesus?

A sermon for the Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany: February 17, 2019 [All Saints Church, Pasadena]

A world in need now summons us
to labor, love and give.
To make our life an offering
to God that all may live,
The church of Christ is calling us
to make the dream come true.
A world redeemed by Christ-like love
All life in Christ made new.

If those words sounds familiar it's because they are words sing frequently -- and, indeed, will sing later this morning -- as we present the offerings of our lives and labor at this table ... as we gather to receive the bread and wine made holy ... as we ask to be fed and fueled to go out as beacons of God's love, justice and compassion in  the world.

They are words that are arguably our job description as church -- a summation of what we're called to do as individuals, as a congregation and as a wider community of faith: to make the dream come true.

Because we are not yet living the dream.

The fact that our beautiful and broken world has yet to live up to all that God created it to be -- dreamed that it would be -- is not the stuff of breaking news ... it is the stuff of ancient mythology, copious philosophy and mountains of theology.

And yet this week -- as wave after wave of what my father used to call "news of fresh disasters" washed over our airwaves and twitter feeds and breaking news alerts on our smart phones -- it seemed to me that the goal of making the dream come true was being pushed even further and further away.

We observed the first anniversary of the Parkland Shooting and the tragic loss of seventeen precious lives with the stunning statistic that since February 14, 2018 there have been under 18 1200 victims of gun violence.

We watched the systemic racism that that afflicts our nation rear its ugly head in toxic debates about if and when blackface is appropriate (spoiler: NEVER!) and in the unexamined white privilege of corporate executives who announce they "don't see color."

We heard the president declare a national emergency to -- in the words of our own Congressional Representative Adam Schiff -- "build a wall we don’t need, to address a crisis that doesn’t exist, by claiming an authority he doesn’t have.”

And while children remain separated from their parents at our border, LGBTQ youth remain at risk in our communities, and access to health care remains under attack in our nation on Friday we paused to mourn yet-another-mass shooting leaving six dead and five police officers wounded in Aurora, Illinois.

We are not only not living the dream. We are so not living the dream that it is not an unreasonable fear that we never will.

Nevertheless, we persist. We gather together in community to remind ourselves and each other who we are and whose we are. And we listen to the voices of those who have gone before us for words of both hope and challenge as we make our way on our own journey -- following in their footsteps into God's future.

And this morning it fills me with deep delight that one of those voices is Verna Dozier.

Dr. Verna Dozier was a 20th century preacher, teacher and biblical scholar; a theologian and a prophet.

Some of you will recall that Rabbi Abraham Heschel offered this definition of a prophet: "One who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable." And Verna Dozier most certainly did both.

An African American, a woman and a lay person, her voice was a voice the church hadn’t expected to hear or – I suspect -- even wanted to listen to. And yet like the Syrophonecian woman who scripture tells us stopped Jesus in his tracks  insisting that Jesus hear her plea and heal her daughter, Verna stood her ground and insisted that church hear her plea and heal itself of the clericalism and institutionalism that distorted its vision -- hampered its mission – kept it from becoming all that God intended it to be.

I first encountered Verna back in the 1990's when a copy of The Dream of God leapt off the shelf of the old Diocesan Center bookstore and into my hands.

I took it home and literally read it cover-to-cover ... and her words stirred in me a deep sense of the beauty and the power of this dream that God dreamed for creation and the reality and the tragedy of how far we have fallen from living it out in the world.

Words like:

"The dream of God is that all creation will live together in peace, harmony and fulfillment. All parts of creation. And the dream of God is that the good creation that God created and then said 'it is good' will be restored."

And ...

 “God has paid us the high compliment of calling us to be coworkers with our Creator, a compliment so awesome that we have fled from it and taken refuge in the church. The urgent task for us is to reclaim our identity as the people of God and live into our high calling as the baptized community … that the dream of God for a new creation may be realized."

As I was preparing for ordination her words were my constant companions as The Dream of God became part of my seminary-survival-kit – reminding me over and over and over again not to confuse God with the church – challenging me to balance academics and action.

I only heard her preach once – in 1997 in Cincinnati at a national justice conference – and what I remember most were the words you see on the cover of your service leaflet under her picture: “Don’t tell me what you believe – tell me what difference it makes that you believe.”

Her operating principle – which was summarized in the reading we heard this morning from her "Agenda for the 90's" -- is that the church has failed in its high calling to be the Body of Christ in the world because it has too often settled for worshipping Jesus instead of following Jesus. That premise became a core value of my own priesthood -- and I am deeply grateful to be part of this All Saints Church community that both shares and strives to live out those values. Continues to work to make that dream we are not yet living come true.

How do we change that? How do we -- as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry puts it "turn the world from the nightmare it has become into the dream God dreamed"?

Sister Joan Chittister has this answer: "We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again."

An inch at a time. A prayer at a time. A letter to Congress at a time. A prayer shawl at a time. A City Council resolution at a time. A Sunday School art project at a time. A protest at a time.

There are as many ways at a time as there are inches at a time -- and each and every one of them is how we as the people of God ... answer Verna Dozier's question in her Agenda for the 90's ... "What would it look like to actually follow Jesus?"

If we've been listening to the Gospels appointed for the last few weeks we know something about where that following leads. It leads to proclaiming liberation to the captive, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed. It leads to speaking truth to those in power -- even when speaking that truth might get you thrown off a cliff by your own hometown crowd.  It leads to turning upside down the values of the world and replacing them with the values of the kindom of God ... where the blessed are not those with power, privilege and possessions but those we heard Jesus call out in today's Gospel: those who are poor, those who weep and those who hunger.

And it leads to what is perhaps the greatest challenge of all: refusing to settle for how far we've come and continuing to be open to where God is calling us to go.

Of all the words from Verna Dozier which have inspired and challenged me over the years, it may be these words about faith and fear that I have turned to more times than any other – especially whenever it’s time to once more step out into new beginnings, new challenges, new opportunities.

 “Doubt” said Verna, “is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today."

Freedom from the fear of risking because we might be wrong frees us to get it right -- by opening new doors, challenging old assumptions, chancing new undertakings. And let’s face it – there is an urgent need for new possibilities we cannot even imagine today to overcome the very real challenges facing the world we live in today: war-torn, terror-wracked, polarized and demoralized we are constantly bombarded by efforts to feed our fears as part of a strategic plan to keep us polarized and demoralized -- and therefore immobilized.

And one of the most effective ways to resist that fear -- to refuse to be immobilized -- is to remind ourselves of those voices of witness to the power of God’s love to transform even the fear in our hearts into strength for the journey -- voices like Verna's who remind us about our history in order to empower us for our future: voices that comfort us in our affliction and afflict us in our comfort ... voices that call us to continue to remember to ask of ourselves and each other: "What would it mean to actually follow Jesus?"

To labor, love and give.
To make the dream come true.
A world redeemed by Christ-like love
All life in Christ made new. Amen.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Celebrating Another Crack in the Rainbow Ceiling

Did you hear it? It was the faint but unmistakable sound of the arc of history bending just a tiny bit closer to justice as another crack appeared in the Rainbow Ceiling. It was the election of Thomas James Brown as the 10th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Long time friend, faithful priest and beacon of love, justice and compassion, Thomas has been a brother in the struggle for as long as I can remember -- and will be a great bishop for the Diocese of Maine and an awesome addition to the House of Bishops.

It is a day to rejoice for the good people of the Diocese of Maine, for the Episcopal Church in general and for the LGBTQ faithful in particular.

From the bishop-elect's video message immediately after his election:
It may not be the first time that a married gay man has been elected to the episcopate, but it is an important message of inclusion for all: for every kid, for every teen, every adult and every elder -- that regardless of their sexual orientation -- what you [the Diocese of Maine] are saying and what we are saying together today is "welcome home" ... and that this church of ours is open to all.
No, we are not done yet. Yes, there is still work to do.

It is the work we do as we continue to live into the full stature of our lives in the Christ who will not let us settle for simply having no outcasts. It is the work that continues to call us forward into God's future where there are no ceilings left to be cracked by any member of God's beloved human family because all are not only welcome but celebrated; all are not only included bur embraced; and all are part of making the radical transformative love of God tangible to this beautiful and broken world.

But what fuels us and feeds us to continue in that work are the incremental victories along the way -- and today is one of those. So let us rejoice and be glad in it. Let us give thanks for all those whose blood, sweat, tears, prayers, scars, wounds and sacrifices have brought us thus far on the way -- and then let's get back to work. La lucha continua.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

21 Years a Priest

Feeling nostalgic today -- this 21st anniversary of my ordination -- I spied this photo which sits on a table in my office. It's of me receiving a blessing from the inimitable Verna Dozier (in Philadelphia in 1997) and of me giving my first blessing-as-a-priest to Bishop Fred Borsch (in Los Angeles in 1998.)

It is in my office because it has always been an icon for me of a kind of apostolic succession that has nothing to do with patriarchy or institutional church hierarchy and everything to do with what Dr. Dozier taught, fought for and passed down to a next generation.

An African American, a woman and a lay person, her voice was a voice the church hadn’t expected to hear or – I suspect -- even wanted to listen to. And yet like the Gentile woman in Tyre insisting that Jesus hear her plea and heal her daughter, Verna stood her ground and insisted that church hear her plea and heal itself of the clericalism and institutionalism distorting its vision -- hampering its mission – keeping it from becoming all that God intended it to be.

In her 1991 book, The Dream of God, she wrote “God has paid us the high compliment of calling us to be coworkers with our Creator, a compliment so awesome that we have fled from it and taken refuge in the church. The urgent task for us is to reclaim our identity as the people of God and live into our high calling as the baptized community…that the dream of God for a new creation may be realized."

I first encountered Verna when a copy of The Dream of God leapt off the shelf of the old Diocesan Center bookstore and into my hands. As I was preparing for ordination her words were my constant companions as The Dream of God became part of my seminary-survival-kit – reminding me over and over and over again not to confuse God with the church – challenging me to balance academics and action. I only heard her preach once – in 1997 in Cincinnati at a national justice conference – and what I remember most were these words, “Don’t tell me what you believe – tell me what difference it makes that you believe.” Her foundational thesis – that the church has failed in its high calling to be the Body of Christ in the world because is has too often settled for worshiping Jesus instead of following Jesus -- became a core value of my own priesthood -- and I am deeply grateful to be part of this All Saints Church community that not only shares but lives out those values.

Finally, her words about faith and fear are ones I have turned to again and again – especially whenever it’s time to once more step out into new beginnings, new challenges, new opportunities.

“Doubt” said Verna, “is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today."

Words of hope and challenge we need today more than ever. And now -- back to my regularly scheduled to-do list.

[photo credit: Jamesetta Hammons]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

Comment on Presiding Bishop Curry's Response to Bishop Love

With his response this morning to the Bishop of Albany, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has officially ended the Inclusion Wars in our beloved church and abolished the de facto sacramental apartheid which has for too long denied a percentage of the sacraments to a percentage of the baptized. It is a great day to be an Episcopalian.

Presiding Bishop Curry, responding to Bishop Love’s refusal to make the sacrament of marriage available to all couples in his diocese as instructed by Resolution B012 adopted in July 2018 by our General Convention, wrote:
“I am therefore persuaded that as Presiding Bishop I am called upon to take steps to ensure that same-sex marriage in The Episcopal Church is available to all persons to the same extent and under the same conditions in all Dioceses of the Church where same-sex marriage is civilly legal.”

This is good news not only to any couples in the Diocese of Albany who have been waiting to be able to order their wedding cake and invite their friends and family to celebrate with them as they pledge themselves to love, honor and cherish each other until death do they part. And it is not just good news for Episcopalians who have been working for decades to become the church with no outcasts Presiding Bishop Browning dreamed of and to make the full and equal claim on the pastoral care, love and concern of the church promised LGBTQ persons way back in 1976 not just a resolution but a reality. This clarity from the Presiding Bishop is good news for the whole church, equipping us to more fully do the work of living out God’s values of love, justice and compassion in this beautiful and broken world.

There is absolutely a place in this church for those who hold – as the Bishop of Albany does – a minority opinion on the theology of marriage. However, as of today, that place is no longer standing between same-sex couples and the sacrament of marriage.

I am honored to serve as one of the co-conveners of the Communion Across Difference Task Force called for by General Convention Resolution A227 last July. Our first meeting is scheduled for mid-March and our “marching orders” include “That the Task Force seek a lasting path forward for mutual flourishing consistent with this Church’s polity and the 2015 “Communion across Difference” statement of the House of Bishops (‘communion-across-difference’), 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; and also affirming  (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.”

As Episcopalians we have the DNA of Anglican comprehensiveness coursing in our veins. Forged in the crucible of the English Reformation and emerging as a community of faith uniquely wired to hold in tension the seemingly irreconcilable differences of being both protestant and catholic at the same time, we are therefore uniquely wired to take that 16th century heritage into the 21st century and model how it is possible to be a church strengthened by its diversity and committed to moving forward together into God’s future. It is a great day to be an Episcopalian.

Monday, January 07, 2019

When the church is wrong

So here are some words I don't find myself saying very often: "You totally need to read this Baptist Blog." But check this out ... from 3 words for the church in 2019: ‘we were wrong’ by Mark Wingfield.
Too much of Christianity is built upon absolute certainty and not enough on divine mystery. I’m reminded of one prominent Southern Baptist pastor who assuredly declared that he had not changed his mind on anything ever. And I’m haunted by the words of an older adult friend who struggled with our church’s decision two years ago to be fully inclusive of LGBTQ Christians. After hearing a presentation on various ways to understand Scripture, he said: “You’re asking me to say that what I learned about the Bible from my parents and grandparents was wrong on this issue. And if I say they were wrong about this thing, then I have to ask what else they were wrong about. I just can’t do that.”

Sadly, we have been trained to worship the received interpretation of Scripture rather than the overarching narrative of Scripture embodied in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as we have been trained to worship the Bible as the word of God more than Jesus as the divine Word of God. Is our faith so fragile that to admit we have been wrong in one area necessarily pulls a string that undoes all the rest of our faith? Is our faith really a house of cards?
The answer, sadly, for many is yes. And the result -- which I wrote about during Advent in "The War on Truth" -- is a willingness to ignore any data that messes with that house of cards: and that inflicted  collateral damage on our civic discourse.
Marinated in a toxic stew of bad religion, patriarchal privilege and internalized oppression it is not surprising that current statistics tell us 30% of Americans believe without question whatever they are told by those they trust — even when that narrative works against their self-interest. In a context where fact-checking is represented as the road to faithless secularism, truth becomes collateral damage in a war to keep a worldview in place — and questioning any one groundless assertion is like pulling one card out of the house of cards that could come crashing down … and that is both terrifying and immobilizing.
But it doesn't have to be that way. And when Baptists like Mark Wingfield step up to say "we were wrong" it starts to feel like we're at a turning point. It also reminds me of a story.

It was June 2003 -- just days after Gene Robinson’s election as a bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire -- and then-Integrity-President Michael Hopkins was invited onto the Buchanan & Press show on MSNBC to speak in support of that election. After a rather rambling preamble about church history, scripture and the “faith received from the fathers” Pat Buchanan asked Michael (and I quote from the transcript):
BUCHANAN: ... you're saying the church was wrong then?

HOPKINS: I am saying it was wrong. I am saying the problem is that the church has been in hiding all of these years because there have always been gay clergy … they were just forced to live in the closet, to live lives of secrecy.
The Episcopal Church owes a lot to Michael Hopkins and all those who have loved it enough to tell it that it was wrong. And 15+ years later it's encouraging read Mark Wingfield and be reminded that la lucha continua ... the struggle continues. And we're all in it together.

John 8:32 ... The truth will set you free. But first you have to tell the truth. And the truth is -- sometimes the church is wrong.