Sunday, July 05, 2020

On Independence Day, Common Prayer and Engagement Across Difference


On Sunday, July 5 at our 11:15 service at All Saints Church we observe the Feast of Independence Day  on the Sunday closest to July 4 as is our tradition. It is our yearly opportunity to sing songs of protest and patriotism, to pray and be grateful for all that this country stands for, as well as to acknowledge where we have fallen short of the vision of liberty and justice for all.
On this day we appreciate those who serve and have served our country, and we are reminded that the gift of liberty is in the service of justice -- and that God calls us to welcome the stranger and to love our enemies. Gary Hall ... former All Saints staffer, one-time Dean of the National Cathedral and Interim Dean of our diocesan seminary Bloy House ... is our preacher.
And here’s a little history from the episcopalchurch.org website ... with a little window into the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of our “common prayers” ... and the reality that engagement across difference has always been part of the work of the church.
“The 1785 General Convention directed that a service be drawn up for Independence Day, and "That the said form of prayer be used in this Church, on the fourth of July, for ever." The Proposed Book of 1786 contained "A Form of Prayer and Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the inestimable Blessings of Religious and Civil Liberty" to be used on the Fourth of July.
The presiding officer, William White, was opposed to the service since many of the clergy had been Loyalists and were against the Revolution. The General Convention of 1789 supported White, and the service was withdrawn from the 1789 BCP. Propers for this day were published in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, but it was not a major feast until the 1979 BCP (p. 17), listed Independence Day as one of the "Other Major Feasts," and provided a collect for the day (pp. 190, 242).”

Saturday, July 04, 2020

A Message to Fellow Former Republicans on the Trumping of Buchanan's Culture Wars Speech

I’ve always been a political animal. I think it was in our family DNA.

The values my parents raised us with included a deep love of this country and its foundational values of liberty and justice for all — and they instilled in us a deep sense of our responsibility to participate in the political process. The first election I remember being aware of was 1960 — I was 6. Four years later, I walked our precinct with my mom handing out literature for Barry Goldwater. And in fifth grade I won first prize in a D.A.R. essay contest for a piece titled “The Land I Love is America.”

Yes, the family political roots went deep.

We watched conventions together — crunched up on the old couch in the den in front of the black-and-white TV with the rabbit ears, where we stayed up late following election returns. I remember explaining the Electoral College to classmates on the elementary school playground because my daddy explained it to me. And when I was in high school in Santa Barbara I volunteered to drive voters to the polls to make sure that shut-ins had the opportunity to vote. I voted in my first presidential election in 1972 — the year I turned 18 and they lowered the voting age to 18. I think I thought they did it just for me!

In college I majored in history and political science, with plans to go to law school and thinking that one day I might find my own role in the political process; I believed that the American Dream really is worth the work it takes to preserve and protect it, even as I believed we were not yet “there” in the “liberty and justice for all” part. Along the way I got sidetracked. I never made it to law school and instead stayed home and raised kids and remained a registered Republican — more out of loyalty to my father than to the GOP — but increasingly found myself voting “across party lines.”

That changed in 1992. I was watching the Republican Convention television coverage — cooking dinner while my sons did their homework at the kitchen table — when Pat Buchanan rose to the podium and gave what has come to be known as his “Culture War” speech. I listened with increasing horror as his narrow, exclusivist, fear-mongering rhetoric laid out a vision for what this country needed — a vision that bore absolutely NO resemblance to the values my parents had raised me to understand were core to the “Grand Old Party” of my Republican roots.

I turned the stove down under the simmering green beans, told the boys to finish their homework and that I’d be right back. I drove the six blocks down to the grocery store where earlier in the day I’d noticed the card table out front with the “Register to Vote” sign. And I changed my party affiliation that day — explaining to the woman at the card table that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow I was NOT going to die a Republican. And I’ve never looked back.

And here we are — nearly 30 years later. What has changed is that my two boys aren’t doing homework at the kitchen table. One is in Kentucky working overtime to try to make ends meet and the other is an Army veteran -- after tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- and father of one with another arriving next month.

What not only hasn’t changed but has exponentially increased is the rabid rhetoric that drove me out of the party in 1992 dominating the discourse from the GOP side of the aisle ... accelerating over the years and culminating yesterday with the horrific display of white supremacist nationalism in South Dakota ... described in this Tweet by Bradley Whitford:
On sacred land stolen from the Lakota Sioux, in violation of a treaty which granted them the land “in perpetuity”, a monument to their oppressors was blasted. Today the sexual assaulting racist birther @realDonaldTrump used it as a backdrop for a fascist photo op. Happy Birthday, America!
My prayer is that July 3, 2020 becomes for many life-long Republicans what August 17, 1992 was for me: the slap upside the head that reminds us that principles are more important than party. That truth and science and the aspirational dream of liberty and justice are not partisan issues that divide us but American values that unite us. And that saving what's left of the republic Benjamin Franklin told us was ours "if we could keep it" is the critical work before us in this moment in our nation's history.

My daddy’s Grand Old Party may not exist anymore, but the values he taught me are alive and well. And when I participate in the upcoming election process — and believe me, I will — I’ll be organizing, mobilizing and testifying against the judgment, intolerance and condemnation my Republican daddy taught me had nothing to do with traditional American values of justice, inclusion and compassion.

So with 122 days left before November 3rd and Election Day 2020, this former Goldwater Girl has just two words for what’s left of the party I left behind 28 years ago while my kids finished their homework at the kitchen table: Game on!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Why I Blame Biblical Literalism

If we manage to survive as a human race long enough, a few hundred years from now scores of PhDs will be earned as scholars analyze the combination of social, political, and economic factors leading to the rise of the current resident of the White House and to the concurrent orchestrated assault on our constitutional democracy. So, let me get a head start. 

I’m convinced biblical literalism is a prime cause of the mess we find ourselves in as a nation.

Yes, there are a complex set of factors that lead to the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, white supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins that have contaminated our body politic and dominated our public discourse.  

But incubating those factors into this particular set of toxins requires a kind of cultural Petri dish which will simultaneously provide the nutrients necessary to nourish the toxic worldview while protecting it from contaminates like data, facts, diversity and multi-cultural competency.

The biblical literalism foundational to 21st century American Evangelicalism does precisely that.

It feeds, waters and fertilizes exclusively male language for God -- marginalizing women and non-binary people, perpetuating the patriarchy and fanning the fire of unexamined privilege making a Putin-style oligarchy appear preferable to a democracy where brown and black women have voice and power.

It creates a context where it is a very short journey from “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” to “my country, love it or leave it” – with a direct connection to the rise of nationalism, sexism, white supremacism and the rest of the litany of isms that plague our nation and our world: the rise of the forces we struggle against daily as we live out our baptismal promise to persevere in resisting evil.

And it is this fertile environment that becomes a breeding ground for a population pre-programmed to believe fact-based science is an enemy of faith.

It quite literally lays down neuron tracks in the brain set up to reject as “fake news” the very science that calls us to come together to protect each other from COVID19 and to save what we can of this planet we have exploited -- as well as the fact based reporting of historic levels of corruption and obstruction at the highest levels of our government.

To be clear: the beauty, power and importance of the First Amendment is that it protects every last one of us to freely exercise the religion of our choice – including the freedom to exercise no religion at all. And including the freedom to reject science, fact and data and to believe whatever one chooses about what God wills, blesses or condemns.

However – and it’s a big however – the First Amendment does not protect the right to confuse the freedom to exercise religion with the license to impose religion. And the job of defending the Constitution against all enemies – foreign and domestic – requires each and every one of us to do our part.

If we are going to save our nation from devolving into a kind of theocratic oligarchy, those who believe that science and data are things – those who embrace the vision of a nation where liberty and justice for all literally means all -- must provide an antidote to the toxins of ignorance and “alternative facts” threatening our constitutional democracy with polarization and division.

Otherwise we risk finding ourselves in the last scene of the last act of “Camelot” -- looking for a boy to run and tell the story of what almost was: a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people were created equal.

The stakes are too high, the challenges are too great, and the struggle is too real to do anything less than to stand up, to speak out and to resist the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, white supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins contaminating our body politic and dominating our public discourse.

Pick your thing and do it. Now. Together we can make a difference. Together we can overcome.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Celebrating Incremental Victories


In the wake of the seemingly relentless barrage of bad news, what a glorious relief to wake up to some good news this morning!

My wife woke me up with the words "There's great breaking news you're going to want to hear" ... and within moments I was deep into SCOTUSblog, digesting the 6-3 decision affirming that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- which prohibits sex discrimination -- applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling.
Yes. THAT Neil Gorsuch.

You can read more about the decision here ... and read the whole decision here ... but for the moment, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

As George Regas reminded us decades ago, the way we continue to bend that arc of history toward justice is to set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories.

Making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live is an audacious goal yet to be realized -- but the incremental victory of today's decision is a huge step forward.

Today is a day to give thanks for all who have brought us thus far on the way ... including those who put the Episcopal Church on record opposing employment discrimination based on gender identity back in 2009 ... as we redouble our efforts to continue the work, to join the struggle, to be the change we want to see in our beautiful and broken world.

And may the One who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power to accomplish them.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Church: #ItsComplicated

Let me start with the confession that I've always loved church. As a kid I was the one who wanted to go when the rest of the fam was happy to sleep in on Sundays. I loved hanging out with my friends and asking questions of the grownups, loved the flannel boards and the Bible stories, loved following the altar guild ladies around and loved the hymns.

I was the kid who memorized all the verses of "The Church's One Foundation" in third grade and would sing them all ... over and over and over again ... from the backseat of the station wagon on family road trips until my mom promised me ice cream at the next rest stop if I would quit. (True story.)

So like a lot of other people right now I miss it. I miss it a lot. Not just because I've been a priest for 20+ years and it's my day job, but because I've always loved church.

And so with all the controversy right now about churches being open or churches being closed -- and who gets decide whether they are which and when -- I've been following the wider conversations that include what it is to "be" the church.

Who has the right to tell churches how to gather in public spaces and how those with the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of congregations -- and in the Episcopal Church, dioceses -- make those decisions in ways that protect both the health and safety of congregations and communities and the historic faith.

The most appropriate hashtag is probably #itscomplicated

But thinking about it today ... which I was because of the erstwhile DOJ calling our California Governor Newsom on the carpet for including communities of faith in his limits on public assembly ... I got stuck on the seminal question "what IS the church?"

I got stuck there because it seems to me before you can decide whether something is open or closed you have to define what that "something" is. And I was grateful that as an Episcopalian, the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer has already done that for us.

So ... ICYMI:

The Church

Q.     What is the Church?
A.     The Church is the community of the New Covenant.

Q.     How is the Church described in the Bible?
A.     The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.

Q.     How is the Church described in the creeds?
A.     The Church is described as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Q.     Why is the Church described as one?
A.     The Church is one, because it is one Body, under one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Q.     Why is the Church described as holy?
A.     The Church is holy, because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, consecrates its members, and guides them to do God’s work.

Q.     Why is the Church described as catholic?
A.     The Church is catholic, because it proclaims the whole Faith to all people, to the end of time.

Q.     Why is the Church described as apostolic?
A.     The Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and is sent to carry out Christ’s mission to all people. 
Q.     What is the mission of the Church?
A.     The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q.     How does the Church pursue its mission?
A.     The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q.     Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A.     The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

So if you were reading for comprehension -- which I hope you were -- you'll notice one super striking thing that is totally missing: nowhere does the definition of the Church -- for Episcopalians -- mention a building. At all. Anywhere.

Oh, we love our buildings, don't get me wrong. We take care of them, we decorate them, we make beautiful music in them, we have awesome liturgies in them and they become sacred "thin places" for us where the distance between the finite and the infinite becomes translucent and we glimpse the indestructible power of God's inexhaustible love.

But if our Catechism is right -- or even close -- then the mission of the Church does not depend on whether or not we gather in buildings or on Zoom ... or even (fasten your seatbelts) depend on which sacrament we have access to how.

What it depends on is how we work to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ as we pray, worship, proclaim the Gospel and promote justice, peace and love.

So my fervent prayer on what feels like Day Bazillion Forty-Seven of #SaferAtHome is that we be given the grace to keep the mission of the church in our sight as we continue to journey through and to the other side of this global pandemic. 

Because there will be an "other side." And when we get there, the story we want to tell is about how we cared for each other on the way by being the Church -- not how we argued with each other about whether virtual community is valid community and who got to open which building to how many people when.

At least that's the story I hope we want to tell. I know it's the story I pray we will tell.

#BeSafe #BeKind #WashYourHands



Sunday, April 19, 2020

On Doubt, Fear and Recognizing Resurrection



Second Sunday of Easter: 2020

"The great Easter truth
is not that we will be born again someday --
but that we are to be alive here and now
by the power of the resurrection.”

This verse came to me on an Easter card --
so long ago that I don't remember either the who or the when --
but every year it reminds me
that Easter is not just an ancient story
but a present reality.

And every year it reminds me that “here and now”
is sometimes easier said than done ...
teaches me once again
that celebrating the resurrection
is sometimes a whole lot easier
than figuring out how to recognize it.

And that has perhaps never been more true
than in this year of unprecedented challenges
in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic.

So if you're struggling with that this morning --
as I know I am --
I hope you'll take heart -- as I do --  
that we’re in good company.

Notice that throughout these Fifty Days of Easter
we will hear the stories of those who actually
had the direct experience of the Risen Lord –
and still struggled to figure out this resurrection thing.

There were the women at the tomb –
who seemed to had an attack of collective amnesia
about Jesus telling them he would rise after three days.
It took the angels to remind them of that rather important detail.

And then when they ran back to tell the disciples;
who Luke tells us “dismissed it as an idle tale.”
(There's a whole 'nother sermon in that ... but not for today.)

There was Mary in the garden
mistaking the risen Jesus for the gardener.

And then there is this morning’s Gospel
where Jesus appears to the disciples:
who John tells us “were huddling in fear behind locked doors.”
Nevertheless, Jesus appeared and “breathed on them.”

Except for Thomas,
who is stuck with going down in history as “Doubting Thomas”
for his refusal to accept the testimony of others,
for his demand of his own experience of the risen Lord.

What took him away from the community that day?
Why was he out of the room?
Had they drawn lots for someone to run out for food?

We’ll never know -- but there are plenty of possibilities.
Imagine, missing one Sunday, and coming back to hear
“Guess who showed up while you were gone?”

Would you believe it?
It’s always seemed a bit unfair to me
how quick we are to make Thomas
the poster child for faithless doubt when –
truth be told -- the rest of the bunch
weren’t exactly stepping up.

What strikes me about this story every single year
is that Thomas came back at all.
Whatever had taken him away from the community,
he came back.
And it was in the community that Jesus came to him,
and -- without so much as a confession or absolution --
went straight to Thomas – with hands outstretched –
knowing what Thomas needed to believe and giving it to him, saying:
“Here ... check it out. Is this what you need? Touch, me Thomas.”
One of Thomas’ great virtues
was that he absolutely refused
to say that he understood what he did not understand,
or that he believed what he did not believe.

There was an uncompromising honesty about him:
he would never still his doubts by pretending they did not exist.
Thomas had doubts,
but he refused to surrender to the fear
which kept the disciples shut up in that locked room.

He both ventured out
and then had the courage to return:
to face a community which had had an experience he did not share
and to be willing to insist on his own experience of God.
And so for me, Thomas becomes a symbol not of faithless doubt,
but of courage.
Courage to trust
that there are no doubts so profound that God cannot answer --
to believe that Jesus cares enough to show up a second time ...
a third time ... an umpteenth time ...
to breathe that breath of life on Thomas – and on us ...
to give us what we need not only to believe
but the courage to act on what we believe.

I truly believe that it was Thomas' willingness to doubt
that led him to an even deeper faith:
a faith that was his own and not somebody else's.

In words I have often quoted before,
Verna Dozier famously wrote:

Doubt 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.

Thomas' example calls us to risk the doubts that call us to greater faith --
that open us to the things we cannot even image today --
that equip us to recognize resurrection
as we move forward into God's future.

And I cannot imagine a time when the gift of being open to new possibilities is more crucial than it is right now.

·       New possibilities of cooperation between public and private sectors in creating safety nets for the most vulnerable among us;
·       New possibilities for worship and community building on virtual platforms as we re-imagine what it means to "be church" in the world;
·       New possibilities for dismantling the polarization and division that have infected our civic discourse;
·       New possibilities for changes to our economic system that continues to build more wealth for the few and perpetuates debt and poverty for the many;
·       New possibilities for reversing the damage we have done to this fragile Earth, our island home;
·       New possibilities for healthcare equally available to all and for ending the affordable housing crisis;
·       New possibilities to finally become a nation where “liberty and justice for ALL” is not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.

The story of Thomas
speaks with particular power to generations of Christians
like us
who inherit the stories of the risen Lord,
but who must -- at some point --
insist on their own experience of Christ
as we continue to make the great Easter truth
not just an ancient story
but a present reality.

Continue to strive to be alive -- here and now -- by the power of the resurrection.

Continue to have the courage to ask for what Thomas asked for --
and to trust that just as Jesus met Thomas where he was
and gave him what he needed to believe
He will do the same for us when we need Him to.

What we celebrate
as we journey into the fifty days of this Easter season
is the awesome privilege and responsibility
of being the church in the world:
being Jesus on earth:
being the place
where those who come seeking the risen Christ,
doubts and all,
not only seek but find
that breath of new life that God offers all creation.

Listen to Jesus say today:

See me.

Touch me.

Ask for what you need in order to believe
and I will give it to you.

And then,
give thanks that Easter is not just a Sunday but a season
and that we have 50 days ahead of us
to celebrate the great Easter truth
... not that we are going to live newly after death,
but that we are to be new here and now
by the power of the resurrection.

Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen.

[Preached via Zoom on Sunday, April 19 for the 11:15 service; All Saints Church, Pasadena]


Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday 2020

It was a Good Friday like no other
in a Holy Week like no other
in the middle of a year like no other.
Nevertheless, in this time of social distancing
and virtual church we offered
our annual meditations
at the cross from All Saints Church.
This was mine.




Good Friday 2020

This is the day when life is raw,
quivering, terrifying:
The day of numbed emotions,
the day of blunt nails
and splintered wood,
of bruised flesh
and red blood.
The day we loathe,
when hopes are crushed.

The day we long for,
when pretences fall away—
Because the worst that we can do
cannot kill the love of God.

We know this Good Friday story.
We know that Jesus dies:
that the life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly
will be extinguished.
All that will remain of the radical rabbi from Nazareth
will be a broken body and the broken dreams
of his scattered followers.

The Kingdom he proclaimed has not come.
The powerful remain powerful:
the oppressed remain oppressed –
where there had been hope there is only despair –
and -- for Peter -- there is denial.

Me? I’m not one of them.
Don’t know him. Never met him.
No idea what you’re talking about.
Must have me confused with somebody else.

At that moment the cock crowed.

And at that moment – as I imagine it –
a flood of memories of sharing the work and witness of Jesus
must have poured into Peter’s paralyzed mind and broken heart.
The teachings, the healings and the miracles.
The miles walked, the meals shared, the message proclaimed.
The moments of transfiguration and the times of trial.
“You are the rock upon whom I will build my church” and
“Get behind me Satan.”

Peter denied it all in this seminal moment in the Good Friday story.

And here we are in church again – this year “virtual church” but still church –
to hear that story again.

Garrison Keillor tells of his uncle who, at annual family gatherings during Holy Week, always read the story of the passion and death of Jesus. And each year he would burst into tears.

The family would sit awkwardly until he was able to continue the reading. “My uncle took the death of his Lord so personally,” said Keillor – pausing to add: "The rest of the church had gotten over that years ago."

Indeed -- over the centuries the church has gone to great lengths to present two options for “getting over” taking Good Friday personally.

One option is to ritualize and sanitize the story
so that it remains at a safe, historical distance:
The Institutionalization of the Crucifixion.

The other extreme is to so emphasize the agony of the cross
that the glory of the resurrection
becomes practically incidental:
to make how Jesus died more important
than the life Jesus came to show us how to live.

And neither option enables us –
empowers us – inspires us –
to do what we have been called to do
as members of this thing we call the Body of Christ:
to take both the death AND life of Jesus “personally” –
to hear these stories of Lent and Holy Week
and to take them personally enough to be changed by them.

Poet, author and priest Malcolm Boyd took them personally.
He took them personally enough to be changed by them.

And then he used the experience of that change
to help change the church.

His “Are You Running With Me Jesus” –
published in 1965 fed the hunger of a generation of people
who had given up on the church or anyone connected with it
having anything relevant to say.

From one of his prayers:

Help us, Lord, who claim to be your special people. Don’t let us feel privileged and selfish because you have called us to you. Teach us our responsibilities to you, our community, and to all the people out there. Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.

Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.

Loving religion instead of Jesus
has been one of the ways the church has denied Jesus
over and over and over again
as surely as Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest
as the cock crowed the third time.

To love religion instead of Jesus –
to worship Jesus instead of following him –
is to choose institutionalization over mobilization –
to opt for the safety of becoming an institution
rather than risk the invitation to be part of God’s movement –
to … in the words of my Hebrew Scripture professor Jim Sanders:
“worship the gift rather than the giver”
making idols of the outward and visible signs
that represent an inward and spiritual grace
that transcends any outward and visible sign …
even the ones we hold most dearly
the ones we revere as the most sacred.

And boy howdy have we all gotten a crash course
on giving those up for Lent this year.

Remember when just giving up the wine for communion
and not hugging during the Peace
seemed like a huge, crazy steps away
from everything we were used to
when it comes to church?

That seems in some ways like a lifetime ago
and yet it was just a little over a month ago …
and since then we’ve gone from
virtual services streamed from 132 Euclid Avenue with a handful of participants
to virtual services streamed from our living rooms, dining rooms and studies
and Zoom is our new best friend.

We have shared spiritual communion and virtual prayers
and continued to be fed by the ministry of the word
in scripture shared, sermons preached, and prayers prayed.

In this time of COVID-19
we have not chosen to love religion instead of Jesus
we have chosen to reimagine religion because of Jesus.

In this time of COVID-19 we have been loving our neighbor
by staying away from them
by washing our hands.

The religion we claim
is the religion Jesus threw down:
“love your neighbor as yourself.”
All your neighbors.
Not just the ones who live in your zip code or are part of your car pool.
Not just the ones who think like you or vote like you or worship like you.
Love them enough to stay home to protect them.
ALL your neighbors. Every. Single. One.

The witness we call turning the human race into the human family – has nothing whatsoever to do with swallowing morally indefensible theories of an atoning sacrifice to appease an angry God and everything to do with living morally accountable lives of service and self-offering in alignment with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.

To live those values is to walk what Marcus Borg called “the way of Jesus” a way that is not a set of beliefs about Jesus … [but] the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.”

It has to do with being the Body of Christ in the world – it has to do with these familiar words we sing when we bring the offerings of our lives and labor to the All Saints table on Sunday mornings:

A world in need now summons us
To labor, love and give;
To make our life an offering
To all 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.

All life made new is the Easter promise we claim
even as we gather once again at the foot of the Good Friday cross
in this year of our Lord 2020.

Yes, it is a time of challenge.

We gather as people of faith
stripped of many of the outward and visible signs
that have for generations defined that faith.

And we gather in the shadow of religion
which continues to be used and misused
as a weapon of mass discrimination in our nation
and as a weapon of mass destruction around the world.
Being used and misused to inflict trauma rather than to heal trauma.
Being used and misused for oppression rather than for liberation.
And if we let that use and misuse go unchallenged
we deny Jesus just as surely as Peter did.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There is a meme circulating on social media with this unattributed quote:

And then the whole world
walked inside and shut their doors
and said we will stop it all
everything
to protect our weaker ones
our sick ones
our older ones
and nothing
nothing in the history of humankind
ever felt more like love than this.

That, my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings
is what it is to walk “the way of Jesus”
a way that is not a set of beliefs about Jesus …
[but] the way of death and resurrection –
the path of transition and transformation
from an old way of being to a new way of being.

To walk in love as Christ loved us, an offering and sacrament of love, justice and compassion.

To walk in love as Christ loved us as we move forward into God’s future – knowing that even the worst the world can do cannot kill the love of God.

Amen.

Good Friday 2020: Hearing it again for the first time

On this Good Friday 2020 these 1981 words of William Sloan Coffin have never rung more true: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.”

And the truth is in order for compassion to triumph over domination we must be willing to hear this Good Friday story we’ve heard so many times as if we’ve never heard it before.

When I was a young mother I sang in the choir at St. Paul's in Ventura and so my two small boys would sit during church with their friends Alex and Kimmie and their parents.

I remember looking down one Good Friday from the choir loft at the four of them intently coloring on the back of their bulletins during the reading of the passion – seeming oblivious to the liturgy surrounding them.

All of a sudden, Kimmie, who was about four, stopped coloring and began to listen to the unfolding story.

Now Kimmie had been in church since before she was born – an embryonic Episcopalian: which is one better than a "Cradle Episcopalian." So she'd heard this story many times, even for such a little one. She could sing "There is a Green Hill Far Away" from memory. She had filled up her "He is Risen" coloring book.

But on this particular day, she was listening like she'd never heard the story before.

When the gospel got to the words, "because he was already dead," she suddenly stood up and said (in a loud, horror-filled voice)

"Jesus is DEAD? They KILLED JESUS????"

And she started to cry in a way that made it very clear: this story she'd heard over and over again she had just heard, in some very profound way, for the first time.

At four years old, she entered into the pain and suffering of the crucifixion event … and in experiencing that pain herself, was changed by it. And, as she was carried out of church, inconsolable on her daddy's shoulder, so were we.

Compassion is what Kimmie experienced on that Good Friday: compassion in the truest sense of the word: "with suffering."

The invitation to compassion is the invitation to be with -- to be a part of something requiring sacrifice and often pain.

And for us, today, it is an invitation to join and be part of the crucifixion story.

A story that is not about suffering for suffering’s sake. A story that is not about a God who causes suffering in order to test us. To try us. To punish us. To “make us pay.”

Rather a story about a God whose quality is always to have compassion – to always be present in the suffering that is – and who is calling us to be present in it in order to transform it.

IN ORDER TO END IT.

In order to bring to earth the kingdom come as it is in heaven – a kingdom of love and justice, of healing and hope, of inclusion and embrace for absolutely every member of the human family.

Friday, April 03, 2020

"Hands off 'our' stockpile" - Jared Kushner's Message to America

This morning on Twitter, Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake offered these "before and after" screen shots from the Department of Health and Human Services website.

The first is before Jared Kushner took the mic at the Coronavirus Briefing yesterday and the second is after. They represent a striking, stunning and significant shift of the federal government policy from "ensuring that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most" to providing "a short-term stopgap buffer" -- putting federal policy in alignment with Mr. Kushner's assertion that:
"The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use."





Can I just ask: WTF does that even MEAN???

Who is the "our" in "our stockpile" ... and if "the states" aren't supposed to use it who is? Jared, Ivanka & fam?

Seriously. Anybody? Buehler??? I just can't even.

If having Jared Kushner rewrite our public health policy isn't jumping the shark then there is no shark.

Thanks for letting me vent.
#BeSafe #BeKind #WashYourHands

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Of building bridges and breaking down walls

My turn to offer the meditation for our diocesan staff Morning Prayer today ... with thanks to Richard Rohr & Phil Groves:

The idea of bridge building is both admirable and common — but there is also the biblical image of wall breaking.

We build bridges across natural divides (especially rivers and canyons) but the divisions that challenge us as a human family —  male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, black and white, citizen and immigrant, millennial and boomer, heterosexual and LGBTQ (to name a few) — are not natural divides. They are the walls those with power have built between us with the intention to divide us -- and they are the walls that need breaking down.

It is fear that motivated those with power to build those walls -- fear that without them they and their power will not be protected ... fear that without the walls, anyone could just come in and out. And they are right.

The world tells us to separate from “the other.” The Gospel tells us we are all one in Christ. We cannot face this crisis as individuals; we cannot carry the pain of this reality on our own, nor can we only look out for ourselves. The pain is communal and so too must be the response -- a response that breaks down any walls that divide us.

And the irony of this coronavirus crisis is that in physically separating from each other in order to protect the most vulnerable, we are breaking down those walls that divide us, recognizing that we are — as Dr. King taught us — part of “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Let there be peace among us ... and let there be no such thing as half-assed baptized

It was the early 1990's and I was in the cocktail lounge in the Red Lion Inn in Ontario, California. Some of us were having a nightcap after the first day of our Diocesan ECW (Episcopal Church Women) Annual Meeting when we were joined by our keynote speaker ... the Right Reverend Barbara Clementine Harris (AKA the first woman ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion.)

I was in awe as I listened to her tell stories going back to the 1974 first ordinations at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia and about being the first and still only one of three women in the House of Bishops. But she also wanted to hear our stories ... asking about congregations and ministries and families and listening with a deep attentiveness to those gathered around the table.

When then she turned to me and said "And how about you? How's your ordination process going?" I told her what everyone at the table already knew: I was having a rough patch with my then-sponsoring rector who had issues with women priests in general and me in particular.

Bishop Harris reached over and put her hand over mine on the cocktail lounge table top and said "This too shall pass, my dear. Just remember that the power behind you is greater than the challenges ahead of you ... and that when it's time for you to kneel in front of your bishop, the same power that got you to that moment will carry you through whatever challenges lie ahead."

And I swear I felt like I had already been ordained -- and I didn't wash my hand for a week.

Over the next 25 years I had many opportunities to work with +Barbara and I treasure each and every one of them. Learning both theology and the Electric Slide from her at Kanuga where we gathered in 1999 for a groundbreaking feminist/womanist Christology conference.

Recruiting her to do the narration for "Women of the Table" -- the video Katie Sherrod produced for the Nat'l ECW in 2002. Relying on her wisdom and counsel through the worst of the Inclusion Wars ... from Lambeth 1998 through the Windsor Report and out the other side ... and protesting with hotel workers and the Episcopal Urban Caucus.

Sharing the joyful moment of the 2006 election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first woman to serve as Presiding Bishop and the demoralizing moment when 2006-B033 ushered in a de facto moratorium on the election of any more LGBTQ bishops. Joining us at All Saints for confirmation in 2010 and continuing to be a persistent voice for love, justice and compassion in the House of Bishops.

But the moment I'm remembering the most poignantly today is the Integrity Eucharist in 2009.

It was the General Convention immediately after Lambeth 2008 and B033 was still on the books. The "smart money" was on the bishops being unwilling to do anything to rock the Anglican Communion boat ... especially when word got out that Rowan Williams -- then Archbishop of Canterbury -- was coming to address us and urge us to stay in line.

Nevertheless, we persisted. We pulled out all the stops for the Integrity Eucharist with the two historic "firsts" -- Bishop Barbara preaching and Bishop Gene presiding -- and former Presiding Bishop Ed "There Will Be No Outcasts" Browning in the house.

+Barbara began her sermon as she began every single one I ever hear her preach: "Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression" ... a sermon that included this quintessential Bishop Harris quote:
"If you don’t want GLBT folks as bishops, don’t ordain them as deacons. Better yet, be honest and say, “We don’t want you, you don’t belong here,” and don’t bestow upon them the sacrament of Baptism to begin with. How can you initiate someone and then treat them like they’re half-assed baptized?"
Every prediction to the contrary and the Archbishop of Canterbury notwithstanding, we left the 2009 General Convention with B033 behind us and with the formation of a Blessings Task Force charged with creating trial liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships. And the rest -- as they say -- is history.

Today as we grieve her passing and celebrate her life and legacy, I am absolutely convinced that the sermon Bishop Barbara preached to that 1600+ member congregation gathered in that Anaheim hotel ballroom that July 2009 night was one of the factors that turned the tide.

And I am equally convinced that the power behind her words that night is the same power that continues to call this church forward into God's future -- to meet whatever challenges lie ahead.

One more Bishop Barbara quote ... this one from an ENS interview "I love the church because the church has proven time after time that she can rise to new heights and be more than she has been."

We are more than we have been as a church because of the work and the witness, the grit and the grace of +Barbara Clementine Harris. May the power behind us continue to equip us as we stand on the shoulders of those who have led us thus far on the way. Rest in power, our beloved sister. We've got this.

Monday, February 17, 2020

One in the Spirit: Claiming the DNA of Anglican Comprehensiveness

One in the Spirit is an initiative of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles focused on deepening and broadening the mission of the Church as outlined in our catechism: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

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

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

We have audacious goals: but the challenges of this present day call for nothing less if we are going to be the change we want to see. Those goals include:
  • To live more fully into our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. 
  • To proclaim in Christ’s name that we will not submit to our era’s epic division and polarization. 
  • To understand better how barriers of class, race, language, nationality, culture, politics, geography, orientation, and identification blind us to the burning image of the divine in one another. 
  • To feed hearts that are hungry for connection and community in a secularizing, isolating age. 
  • To choose not to choose between challenging systemic oppression in all its forms and respecting the dignity of every single human being. 
As 21st century Anglicans we are the spiritual descendants of 16th century Anglicans who chose not to choose between being catholic and protestant in the 16th century … a seemingly impossible thing when people were burning each other at the stake over theological differences. Claiming that DNA of Anglican comprehensiveness, we are uniquely wired as a community of faith to offer an antidote of hope and joy to the destructive and pervasive narratives of anxiety and fear that fuel division and polarization in our church, our nation and our world.

We are convinced that claiming that core piece or our Anglican identity will equip us to do the work of bridging the differences that challenge us as 21st century disciples … whether theological or political; cultural or generational or any other category that threatens to divide us.

Our initial task is to pull together a diverse team of leaders from around the diocese who will begin work on a process of collaborating and collating: doing an inventory of what programs, projects and initiatives are already in place doing this core Gospel work of reaching across difference and imagining together what we can create to both amplify the existing work and create new opportunities that don't yet exist.

Presiding Bishop Michel Curry offered these remarks to our Executive Council a few months ago and they remain words that are germane not only to our One in the Spirit initiative but to our work in the world in this time of conflict, division and polarization.
The United States is being torn asunder within by the inability to be in deep relationship with each other and yet hold differing positions and convictions. And the test of this democratic experiment will be the capacity of this particular nation to hold differences in the context of deep and real human relationships. I really believe that Jesus was right. That the Way of Love, doesn't mean the way of agreement. But it means the capacity to love each other, and therefore, to seek the good together. Whether we agree or disagree.

This is the democratic experiment; this is not just religious platitude. Dr. King once said, “History is replete with the bleached bones of civilizations that have refused to listen to Jesus who said 'love your enemies, bless those who curse you.'” We must not become a valley of dry bones. And frankly, the only way is the way of love. There is no other way. And maybe, this wonderful little church of ours, can offer that -- This Way of Love -- to the body politic. Not for partisan ends … but to change how we relate to each other as human beings. And then we will see what happens.
Together we will see what happens here in the Diocese of Los Angeles as One inthe Spirit draws us even more fully into our call to be beacons of God’s love, justice and compassion in our beautiful and broken world.

Friday, February 14, 2020

"notification of successful canonical consent process"

They came in side-by-side into my inbox yesterday so that's how I saw them as I was drinking my morning coffee.

They were just a routine set of emails ... the kind I've gotten dozens of during my decades at work in the Episcopal Fields of the Lord ... from our Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs notifying us that two dioceses -- Missouri and Lexington -- had received the necessary canonical consents to their recent elections of new bishops.


And ... I sat there for a minute staring at the subject lines before opening them -- wanting to just savor the moment and not lose sight of just how much this very ordinary, first-thing-in-the-morning email on a routine matter of church bureaucracy would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. And inconceivable a few decades ago.

It was another one of those moments when I thought of the words of George Regas ... who famously challenged us to "set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories."

We cannot yet say that we have reached the audacious goal of the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments when some dioceses still create separate and inherently unequal standards for access to the sacrament of marriage for same-sex couples and others still discriminate against LGBTQ people in the ordination process.

And yet the incremental victory of the election of Deon Johnson as the Bishop of Missouri is one to be celebrated. Deon is a awesomely faithful priest, pastor and person who will make a brilliant bishop ... and when he is consecrated on April 25th, he will among other things become the fifth openly LGBTQ bishop in the Episcopal Church.

Some of us lived through the height of the Inclusion Wars and the high drama of the constant threats of being voted off the Anglican Island (not to mention the Lake of Fire, which was also on our threat list) for the election of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003-- and we took our share of licks here in the Diocese of Los Angeles when we elected Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool in 2009.

And so the fact that Deon was elected Bishop of Missouri because the good people of Missouri and the Holy Spirit decided he was the right person for the job is one thing to celebrate -- but the fact that the wider church consents were received with dispatch and the news came in a regular old email just like it was the most ordinary thing in the world is absolutely an incremental victory also worth pausing to celebrate.

So congratulations, Diocese of Missouri. And Diocese of Lexington, too. Wishing you all nothing but best blessings as you begin new chapters of mission and ministry in your corners of the kingdom.

And we continue as a whole church toward that audacious goal of full inclusion, let's give thanks for all who have gone before us ... some of whom did not live long enough to get perfectly routine emails in their inbox like the ones I got yesterday. May their memories be for blessing ... and may we be given the grace continue the struggle until the work is finally done.





Monday, February 10, 2020

Nobody Is Electable Until We Elect Them


It is the eve of the New Hampshire primary. We are months away from November 3, 2020 -- arguably the most important General Election in our lifetimes -- with the Iowa Caucus Debacle still in the rear view mirror and the most ubiquitous question on every platform, in every interview and from every pundit discussing the Democratic field is "Which candidate is the electable one?"

And that question is inevitably followed by a laundry list of reasons why every single candidate is unelectable ... sending shivers of fear down spines and inspiring pearl clutching immobilization on the part of a large percentage of the still-traumatized by 2016 Democratic electorate.

And since I've personally been guilty of all of the above, I wanted to take a minute to share this twitter exchange that snapped me out of it.


What Brad said.

The antidote to being immobilized over the question of which candidate is the electable one is to be more in love with the consequences of the upcoming election than with any particular candidate. To let the primary process play itself out. To campaign for, give to and support the candidate of your choice and then campaign for, give to and support whoever the nominee ends up being. Ignore the pundits and click bait and doomsayers and pearl clutchers. Focus on organizing, mobilizing, unifying ... and hydrating.

Remember 2018 and the Midterms. Remember there are more of us than there are of them and undivided we really are a Blue Wave that can be the change we want to see. But most of all, remember that every single candidate is unelectable -- until we get behind them and elect them.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Dear Bonnie,

Dear Bonnie,

It is Thursday before your Saturday consecration as the 11th Bishop of Michigan and I'm sitting here with my morning coffee feeling a bunch of feels.

I'm feeling delighted for the Diocese of Michigan in specific and the Episcopal Church in general as we gain a awesome addition to our House of Bishops -- and I'm feeling challenged by how far we have yet to go until that House genuinely reflects the diversity of our Big Fat Episcopal Family.

I'm feeling sad that I won't be there in person to celebrate -- and I'm feeling grateful for both the great cloud of witnesses who will be gathering and for having lived long enough that live-streaming is a thing and we can be part of the digital-congregation celebrating out here on the Left Coast.

And I'm feeling nostalgic. Having spent some time digging through an archive of old pictures this morning, I'm remembering a long list of milestones we've had the privilege of sharing along the way to this big day; good times and bad times; steps forward and steps back; a lot of water under a lot of bridges on the journey.

I'm remembering the year you led the conga line around the floor of the House of Deputies, introducing the budget to the tune "You Can't Always Get What You Want." And I'm remembering the dour senior clergywoman who was not only not amused ... but who shook her head and said what a shame it was Bonnie Perry had just lost any hope of every being elected as a bishop. (Shows how much she knew!)

I'm remembering the crazy wild ride of 2003 when we all worked together to secure consents to the Gene's election in New Hampshire ... and then hung together to weather the storm that followed. I'm remembering when you hosted the steering committee of Claiming the Blessing at All Saints in Chicago in January and had to explain to me that "Yes, 1 is actually a temperature around here." I'm remembering when you and Thomas teamed up as the floor managers in the House of Deputies as we fought off the push back during the height of the Inclusion Wars.

I'm remembering both the devastation of the adoption of B033 in 2006 and the work you helped drive with the Chicago Consultation to move the Episcopal Church beyond being blackmailed into bigotry by those using the lives and vocations of the LGBTQ faithful as bargaining chips in a game of global Anglican politics.

And I'm remembering the unmitigated joy we shared in Salt Lake City in 2015 as the Supreme Court decision brought civil marriage equality to our country and the General Convention brought canonical marriage equality to our church. (Look at those faces!)


In an Instagram post this morning our sister Becca Stevens wrote "I've been a minister for 28 years now. And sometimes I really do believe it's all about the hokey pokey. The answer to the questions about how we live into our faith is to put our whole selves in."

And so with all the remembering, what I'm remembering most is how fully and completely you have put your whole self into all of it.

The ups and the downs ... the battles and the celebrations ... the conga lines and the caucus fights ... as a priest and pastor, as a rector and reconciler -- 100% all the time. And what I'm rejoicing in on this Thursday morning before the Saturday of your consecration is how you will continue to put your whole self in as a Bishop in the Church of God -- and how we will all be blessed by that.

George Regas ... our rector emeritus here at All Saints in Pasadena and one of the valiant allies in the struggle for both women's ordination and LGBTQ inclusion ... famously challenged us to "set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories.

In these dark and challenging times we need to celebrate those incremental victories more than ever as we work to dismantle oppression in all its forms and strive to respect the dignity of every single human being. And so on Saturday, February 8 we will pause for a moment in the struggle to celebrate with the good people of the Diocese of Michigan the incremental victory for love, justice and compassion of your consecration as their 11th Bishop.

Bonnie, you're going to be a great bishop ... and I'm so very proud to know you and call you friend.

All best blessings,
Susan