Sunday, March 10, 2024

No Accident We: The sermon I didn't preach on Lent IV

It was written, printed and ready to go -- this sermon for Lent 4/2024 -- but it turns out I wasn't. Ready to go.

Still managing symptoms from a virus picked up traveling a week ago, I opted to pass the 10am pulpit baton to the 7:30am preacher and keep my possibly germy self home for rest and hydration. But ... with deep bows of gratitude to the brilliant Deon Johnson ... here's what I would have said:

No Accident We | Lent 4_2024 


Remember that you are dust,

the substance of the stars,

animated with the breath of life.

Uniquely formed in the image and likeness

Of Divine Love,

authored in hope, forged in joy,

very good of very good.

No accident we.

This beloved quickened dust

Knit to love and be loved.

Remember that you are dust. Amen.

“Remember that you are dust” … words that have launched the holy season of Lent down through the centuries … words that showed up for me reframed and reformed this Ash Wednesday in this prayer posted by friend and colleague Bishop Deon Johnson.


It is a prayer that I have returned to daily during this Lenten Journey

and one I believe has a word for us … not only as we gather

on this Fourth Sunday in Lent in the year of our Lord 2024

on this Annual Meeting Sunday in a Centennial Year for All Saints Church …

but as we look ahead to the word we need to sustain us

for the journey in the days, weeks and months ahead …

the word we need to continue the struggle
of living out lives aligned with love, justice and compassion

in a world being torn apart by violence, polarization and division ...

the word we need as we strive to offer

an antidote to the toxic theology of Christian Nationalism

and the clash between two worldviews in our body politic and civic discourse.

It is not a new struggle.
But it does remind me of an old story.


It was 2007 and then rector Ed Bacon invited me to join him for his annual retreat.
It was an eight-day silent retreat
with the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Haverford, Pennsylvania —
and it is an experience I will always remember
and have absolutely no plan to replicate.


It will not be a surprise to most of you
that eight days of silence and I
turned out not to be a match made in heaven
and …
there were some wonderful things about the experience
I still hold with gratitude and which continue to inform my journey.

One of them was the homily I heard from Father Sullivan —
one of the Roman priests who came to preside in the convent chapel.
He talked about his early days in ministry,
doing missionary work in Guatemala
and the deep friendship he developed with his Evangelical roommate.
He said they had MUCH in common
as they worked among the most vulnerable in the city
and they had lots of great conversations about theology, mission and ministry.

The one chasm they couldn’t bridge, however,
was the one between their different views on the nature of humanity.

His roommate, the priest recounted,
was convinced humans are inherently evil beings
who can only accomplish good by being bathed in the Blood of the Lamb.

The priest, on the other hand,
was convinced that humans are inherently good
and that our baptism into the Body of Christ
is what enables, equips and empowers us to resist the evil present in the world
in order to participate with God in making that world a better place.


These two schools of thought create two very different world views because who we think we are turns out to have a lot to do with who we think God is: and how we understand who we were created to be turns out to have a lot to do with how we understand who the Creator is.

Are human beings inherently evil or essentially good?
Is God a punitive male authority figure
with an anger management problem
ready to cast us into outer darkness
for coloring outside of the lines of any of the house rules
or a loving creator
yearning to realize the dream
of gathering all creation around the table
to be fed by the holy food of love, justice and compassion?


And how we answer those questions for ourselves
turns out to influence not only how we live out our faith in the world,
but how we put our faith into action through the values we embrace,
and as we struggle to be the change we want to see in the world.


And it turns out, my sisters, brothers and gender fluid siblings,

that this struggle did not start with a particular election cycle or party platform

or the rise of a particular autocrat or economic system.


It is the same struggle we hear about week after week, year after year in the ancient scriptural story of our spiritual ancestors who struggled against the same powers and principalities they faced in their time as we do in ours.


In our scriptural story we hear about the times they succeeded – and about the times they failed.


But more importantly, we hear about the God who never gave up on them; whose quality is always to have mercy; who is always with us in the struggle against systemic evil.


Walter Wink — the 20th century biblical scholar and theologian
of “Engaging the Powers” fame —
brilliantly summarized what it is we’re up against
in this 1999 summary of what he called “the myth of redemptive violence:”


“The myth of redemptive violence is, in short,
nationalism become absolute.
This myth speaks for God;
it does not listen for God to speak.
It invokes the sovereignty of God as its own;
it does not entertain the prophetic possibility of radical judgment by God.
It misappropriates the language, symbols, and scriptures of Christianity.
It does not seek God in order to change;
it embraces God in order to prevent change.
Its God is not the impartial ruler of all nations
but a tribal god worshiped as an idol.
Its metaphor is not the journey but the fortress.
Its symbol is not the cross but the crosshairs of a gun.
Its offer is not forgiveness but victory.
Its good news is not the unconditional love of enemies
but their final elimination.
Its salvation is not a new heart but a successful foreign policy.
It is blasphemous. It is idolatrous.”


The bad news is that is what we’re up against.
The worse news is the Christian Nationalism
Walter Wink wrote about in 1999 is on steroids in 2024.
But good news is that we’re not up against it alone.


Lent is the season we reprogram our spiritual GPS.
It is the time we commit ourselves to realigning ourselves
with the grain of the universe which is love
in order to share what we know,
what we value,
and to spin a force of the Spirit
that reaches back to a tomorrow
we cannot yet imagine;
a tomorrow where the myth of redemptive
is banished
and the reign of God’s love, justice and compassion
has come on earth as it is in heaven.

To reverse our amnesia about who we are,

from where we come

and ultimately to where we will go when our time in the realm is over.


Of Divine Love,

authored in hope, forged in joy,

very good of very good.

No accident we.

This beloved quickened dust

Knit to love and be loved.

It was that glimpse of humanity as we were created to be –

of what the world could be

made manifest smack dab in the middle of the world

as the worst it had become --

that drew people to Jesus in 1st century Palestine

and continues to draw people to him in 21st century Pasadena. 


The thousands who flocked to him in this morning’s reading from Mark is one of the most famous in all of scripture – the miracle of the loaves and fishes where Jesus pulled off abundance in the face of scarcity while the disciples cluelessly flunked the story problem at the end causing him to ask – one more time – “do you not understand?”


A glimpse of Beloved Community where all are included, nobody leaves hungry and even if you don’t “get it” you’re still welcome.

It seems that Jesus had as many parables and stories as there were people who came seeking him – seeking that other world he came to show us was not only possible, but was here – but was now.


·      “The kingdom of God is like …”


But of all the stories in scripture of those who come seeking Jesus, the one on my heart this Fourth Sunday in Lent is not the one appointed for today by the lectionary lottery – it is the one we hear every year on Tuesday in Holy Week:  


Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.   


And one of the questions I have every time I hear this one is:
“But what about the Greeks?”
Every time I hear it read in church and we say  

“The word of the Lord/Thanks be to God,“   

I’m left wondering 
what happened to these Greeks who showed up 
at the beginning of the gospel saying 
"Sir, we wish to see Jesus" 
and set off the from Philip to Andrew to Jesus chain of events 
that ended up with Jesus going into 
the poetic and prophetic musing 
on what it means to be glorified 
and "indicating the kind of death he was to die." 
We never find out what happened to those Greeks. 

A brief historical “contextual” note: 
when John says "some Greeks", 
he doesn't mean folks who hang out in Athens and are related to Zorba. 
To the 1st century hearers of the Gospel "Greeks" meant "non-Jews" - 
foreigners - Gentiles. 

No wonder Philip had to go check with Andrew first ... 
did you notice that in the text? 
"They came to Philip -- who went and told Andrew; 
then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus."
As one of the commentaries I consulted noted: 
"... evidently being dubious how they might be received." 
No automatic welcome for these guys: 
these Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. 
So we’re all left wondering: 
Did they get to see Jesus? 

Were they in crowd when Jesus offered this long explanation 
of what his death was going to be about ... 
and if so did they "get it" ... 
or did they leave wondering what the deal was ... 
feeling as if they came in late in the second act 
and were not sure what the plot line was all about? 

Let’s hope not.
Let’s hope they encountered a 1st century version of our 21st century Welcome Table with someone like Nancy Naecker there to greet them and make sure they got a welcome bag and met some folks to help them find their way.


For at the end of the day,

what we are called to be about each and every time

we gather here in this sacred space

is to be the Body of Christ …

to do the ministry of Jesus on earth –

offering that glimpse of humanity as we were created to be –

a window into the world as it could be

made manifest smack dab in the middle of a world

that sometimes seems to be working overtime to be the worst can be.

Yes, it’s an aspirational goal.

Yes, we frequently fall dramatically short of living into the full stature of who we are called to be.

Nevertheless – we persist.


We persist in being the change we want to see in the world;

We persist in offering loving liberation

as an alternative to the myth of redemptive violence

And we persist in living lives in alignment

with the love lures us toward hope – 
as followers of the one who yearns to draw all people to himself:
the Jesus who spoke, in the last days before his crucifixion, 
to those Greeks who came to him – 
not sure if they'd be welcome. 
It is an old, old story still begging to be fulfilled – 
and we are the Body of Christ 
who have been charged with fulfilling it in our generation.

In the words of Deon Johnson:

No accident we.


And so, in this March Women’s History Month:

May we claim the charge of our sister Esther who “for just such as time as this” was called to speak to truth power; to risk for the hope of liberation; to trust in the God who created her from the substance of the stars.

May we remember Phyllis Tickle of blessed memory who taught us
that doctrine and liturgy are important 
because they represent 
the paper trail 
of our historic experience of God 
but those coming toward us 
don’t want just a paper trail … 
they want their own experience:
Just lik the Greeks
who came to Philip and Andrew 
they want to see Jesus. 

And we are the ones who have been called to show him to them.


Three weeks ago Gary Hall launched us into Lent reminding us of our call to be a prophetic church with these words: Prophets show things how they really are – and the church’s prophetic voice shows the world what it really is – reverses its amnesia about what it was created to be … calls us to remember who we are created to be.”


And so, beloved … if you remember nothing else:

Remember that you are dust,

the substance of the stars,

animated with the breath of life.

Uniquely formed in the image and likeness

Of Divine Love,

authored in hope, forged in joy,

very good of very good.

No accident we.

This beloved quickened dust

Knit to love and be loved.

Remember that you are dust. Amen.


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Rejoice & Resist

Rejoice & Resist: A Sermon for Advent Four

December 24, 2023 | All Saints Church, Pasadena

On this Fourth Sunday in Advent, 
we light the final candle on the wreath
that has marked our time of preparation for Christmas –
the annual celebration of
the mystical longing of the creature for the creator –
the finite for the infinite --
the human for the divine –
all wrapped up in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.

As we light the fourth candle – the “love” candle
we prepare to wonder again
at the power of a love so great that it would
triumph even over death ...
a love that came down at Christmas
incarnate in the One who loved us enough to become one of us
in order to show us how to love one another.
And many of us wonder as well:
how can it possibly be Christmas again already?

That final wondering is all the more present this year
when we have the unfortunate calendar karma
of the Fourth Sunday of Advent falling on Christmas Eve Day …
which means as we gather here in this sacred space
with lessons and hymns and reflections
on the gifts of waiting and preparation,
we do so with Christmas literally in the wings
waiting for its cue to take center stage …
not in a few days but in about four hours!

Tick Tock Baby Jesus!

We may or may not be ready –
but like any other baby about to enter this realm
when the time has come the time has come …
and the time is almost here,
my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings
to shift from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to “Joy to the World.”

But we’re not quite there yet. Christmas is still in the wings
as we pause for this last little bit of Advent.
And as we pause to gather as this faithful remnant
on this Sunday morning in this Centennial Year,
we recognize that as we gather in this sacred space –
in this thin place in this sanctuary we call All Saints Church
on this corner of Walnut and Euclid
where the faithful have gathered in this very room
for 100 years of Christmas celebrations –
we join the generations of those
who have lit the candles, said the prayers,
sung the hymns and maybe even listened to the sermons –
that call us to dwell for just a little longer
in that Advent both/and place of the not yet and the already.

Of the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
that dwells in us and is yet to be realized in this realm.

Of the Good News of the Prince of Peace coming into a world torn by War.

All of these both/ands point to the truth
Madeline L’Engle penned in her poem “First Coming”--
which is as true today as it was when she wrote it in the 1980’s:

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!


For many of us, that’s a tall order in a year,
in a moment, in a world, in a nation
that far too often feels the exact opposite of sane …
where we are bombarded with what
my father used to call “news of fresh disasters”
as innocents are slaughtered in a war that rages on
in the land where shepherds watched their flocks by night;
as gun violence continues unabated,
hatred and polarization reach epidemic proportions,
and refugees seeking sanctuary find no room at the inn at our border
while fascism rears its ugly head in a nation aspirationally dedicated
to the proposition that all people are created equal.

Nevertheless, we light the candle and we claim the promise –
because we are hardwired to live with the both/and –
the not yet and the already –
to live into the non-binary truth of Advent
that grief and pain can co-exist with love and joy –
and that the incarnation of that truth is once again about to come among us
as that baby born of our sister Mary:
the Word become flesh to show us how to live in a broken world
as if the kingdom God has already come --
as if the love of God is greater than anything that challenges it.

And how do we do that seemingly impossible task?
Sometimes begrudgingly.
But most importantly we do it together.
We do it together as community.

We do it as the Body of Christ
living out the peace, hope, joy and love of the Advent candles
not just during the run-up to Christmas but all year long.

And here at All Saints Church
we do it holding in tension two of the core values
we both claim and proclaim: Joyful Spirituality and Courageous Justice.
And so – with apologies to Madeline L’Engle – I want to suggest a slight reframe of her words
for this Fourth Sunday of Advent in the Year of Our Lord 2023:

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Resist!

Most of you are familiar with the blessing
I customarily offer when it’s my turn to offer the blessing
at the end of the service. It is one I inherited from Bishop John Shelby Spong
via one of my mentors the Reverend Liz Habecker:

Send us anywhere you have us go, only go there with us.
Place upon us any burden you desire, only stand by us to sustain us.
Break any tie that binds us, except the tie that binds us to you.
And the blessing of God – creating, redeeming and sustaining
Be with you – those you love, serve and resist – this day and always.

I love it because it not only calls me – calls us –
out of our comfort zone but reminds me – reminds us –
to hold always in tension the powerful truth
that this love of God we strive to live out in the world
is broader and wider than tribe, nation, dogma, doctrine,
race, creed, gender, identity or orientation.

And it calls me – calls us –
to never lose sight of the humanity of those whose actions we resist –
to never resort to becoming the evil we deplore –
to be the bridge builders, the boundary crossers and the breech repairers
striving with God to make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven
not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live.

That is the work we have been given to do.
We are the people we have been given to do it together.
And this is table we have been given
to be fed by the bread and wine make holy
to nurture and fuel us for both the challenge and the opportunity
of living out the Gospel in our beautiful and broken world.

I want to close this morning with these words from Steven Charleston –
a Bishop of the Episcopal Church and an elder of the Choctaw Nation:
words that summarize for me the both/and
of what we are up against in this moment in our community, our nation and our world
and of the power that is behind us as we lean into the work ahead:

Trust is hard to come by these days.
Suspicion, on the other hand, is abundant.
We must not look away from that reality.
It defines the scope of our challenge.
We must reverse the trend.
We must generate stable alliances of trust
while creating a transparency
that minimizes levels of suspicion.

Hard times are not a time to close our eyes,
but to open them to a brighter possibility.

So let us be bold in our witness,
for the time of change is upon us,
and the dreams of many hang in the balance.

Let us be clear in what we say,
for there are uncounted numbers listening,
waiting for just such a message
as we ourselves have been given.

Let us be transparent:
we are agents of love,
workers for peace,
stewards of the Earth,
and members of a community of seekers,
united in respect and diverse in opinion
[by the indestructible power
of God's inexhaustible love.]

Let us be bold in our witness, for the time of change is upon us,
and the dreams of many hang in the balance.

And so as we prepare to go forth this morning:
As we turn the corner from Advent preparation
to Christmas celebration:
May we be given the grace to move forward in faith
as rejoicers and resisters,
as agents of love and workers for peace,
as outward and visible signs
to a weary world in desperate need of
that indestructible power
of God's inexhaustible love.

Won’t you pray with me:

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of humankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice, Rejoice.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

On the $7.00 Tempest in the TEC Teapot

Some quick background for those who missed the latest episode of As the Episcopal World Turns:

The Washington National Cathedral (WNC) roll out of its annual "come to the cathedral for Christmas" campaign included a $7 fee to cover the cost of processing the passes that make managing the Christmas crowds possible.

Not making an explicit option for those for whom the fee was a financial hardship was inarguably a blow it … a blow it which the WNC folks quickly corrected -- making the fee optional but encouraged. 

My take on what became SevenDollarGate -- an explosion of social media shame, blame and pearl clutching -- is 20% unforced error in the roll out and 80% displaced anxiety, dread, fear projected onto the WNC, blowing up into a tempest in the TEC teapot — a tempest that was not coincidentally fueled by a blog post from Juicy Ecumenism … a mouthpiece of the IRD whose stated goal is to disrupt and dismantle mainline churches in order to precipitate a “return to Biblical Orthodoxy.”

It was nothing less than a textbook effort to polarize and divide us at the very time when our unity and mobilization on behalf of the Good News in Christ Jesus is so desperately needed in this beautiful and broken world. It’s enough to give Baby Jesus colic — and more than enough to convince those who think they know enough about Christians not to want to be one that they are right.

So let’s all take a breath. Resume our preparations for the Advent season of preparation for the coming of the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another. And then let’s work a little harder to live out that gospel we proclaim. 

Because at the end of the day, watching Christians be horrible and spiteful to each other will turn a whole lot more people away from coming to the manger than any seven dollar processing fee for a Christmas Eve worship service pass would ever do. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

“When was I supposed to sing?” -- Woke Words of Wisdom from Bishop John Harvey Taylor

When we gathered for our annual Diocesan Convention last week at the Riverside Convention Center our bishop -- +John Harvey Taylor -- did what bishops do at diocesan conventions and offered his convention address ... which is a kind of  church version of a "State of the Union" address.

You can watch the whole thing here ... and I commend it to you. 

But during this week of Transgender Awareness, I want to share this story he told in his address as a celebration of how one bishop used his platform of privilege to not only center the experience of God's nonbinary beloved -- but to challenge us to go and do likewise. Bravo, Bishop Taylor!

This is the power and majesty of our sacramental faith: that the risen Christ is alive ... inviting all creation to the party at the foot of the holy mountain – inviting everyone to come, without regard to race or nation, orientation or identification. The people of the Diocese of Los Angeles proclaim this Good News to all the world. With the Gospel, we say “Sleepers awake!” We are woke -- and we are proud of it! ...
Sometimes being woke is easy – once you get a poke in the conscience – as I learned just a few years ago, when I was still serving as vicar of St. John Chrysostom in Rancho Santa Margarita

I was spending a week at Camp Stevens as a summer chaplain. Every night at camp, at community gathering, the chaplains get the opportunity to preach -- but third and fourth graders after dinner don’t want to hear a reflection on Ephesians 5 any more than convention does after lunch. So my schtick was to get out my guitar – and take a Lady Gaga or a Taylor Swift song – and write lyrics that resonated with the theme at camp that week.

One time I was doing this and I told the boys to sing the first chorus and the girls the second. Afterward a camp staff member who was nonbinary took me aside and asked, “When was I supposed to sing?”

When it came to gender-inclusive language, I got poked into woke. While preaching the gospel of unity and love, I had actively made someone feel invisible and uncared for.

And you know what? Making some vocabulary changes has cost me exactly nothing.

Now I’d say, “Sing the first chorus if your first name starts with a letter between A and M.” Visiting schools, I used to love walking into a classroom and saying, “Hello, boys and girls!” Now I say, “Hello, kids!”

Instead of he or her, when in doubt, I say and write “their” -- and it’s the easiest thing in the world to replace “brothers and sisters” with “siblings.”

Language is powerful – righteous works proceed from righteous words. Woke language is calculated to include and welcome and to not do harm – as the letter of James reminds us, the words of our mouths are signifiers of the condition of our hearts-- and this is where it really can cost us – but it’s joyful work.

Because once our language identifies a reality, before too long, we are redesigning the restrooms – and appointing a committee to figure out how to include everyone who want to play sports irrespective of [gender] identification – and speaking out against politicians who get themselves into office and hold onto power by intentionally and cynically hurting our LGBTQ+ siblings, especially our children.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

“This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made: Sunday, November 02, 2003”

Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the consecration on the 9th bishop of New Hampshire and a historic crack in the rainbow stained glass ceiling with the first openly gay (emphasis on openly) bishop in the Anglican communion. Feeling nostalgic, I looked back at what I wrote 20 years ago this morning and was a little gob smacked to realize how many parallels there were between what was going on then in The Episcopal Church and what is going on now in our national civic arena. Looks like everything I need to know about fighting Christian nationalism I really can learn from the Anglican Inclusion Wars.

Happy Anniversary, +Gene ... and Church! La lucha continua!


“This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made: Sunday, November 02, 2003”
So here I am in New Hampshire – “the morning of” the much anticipated consecration of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese he has served for nearly 20 years as a priest and pastor.
At a reception last night for friends and family Gene posed for innumerable photo ops, hugged and kissed all comers and generally basked in the well deserved admiration and appreciation of those who elected him, supported him and look forward to his ministry as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The security was extraordinary – at least it seemed that way to me: a police escort waiting outside the parish hall and burly security guards stationed throughout the room, watching Gene’s every move.
I spoke to one briefly – saying I knew he wasn’t there to chat with me but that I wanted to take a second to thank him for his work in protecting Gene. “You’re welcome,” he said without taking his eyes of the bishop-elect. A minute later he leaned over and said, “It’s my job but I’m also an Episcopalian so this is important to me, too.” So there you go.
The service begins at 4:00 p.m. eastern time and I’ll be heading over to the arena shortly. (A hockey rink is being turned into a cathedral for the estimated 5000 who will attend.) The press is there in force – we’ve seen several live CNN reports from the site already this morning – and the CBS folks working a piece for 60 Minutes were with us for breakfast this morning. I’ll post reflections on the events of the day as soon as I can, for it promises to be a grand and glorious celebration.
But this morning I’m already looking past the liturgy we are about to celebrate this 2nd of November to the work we – the mainstream of the Episcopal Church – have ahead of us beginning November 3rd. And that work BEGINS with taking back the word “mainstream” from those who have hijacked it to use as one of the weapons in their arsenal of schism.
And let me be perfectly clear: I am not talking about faithful Episcopalians who disagree with the decisions of General Convention 2003, those who have different theological perspectives than I do or the people in the pews who are yearning to get on with the business of being the church and leave these debates about sexuality behind. I believe that there is more than enough room for all of us in this roomy Anglican tradition we inherit.
I am challenging instead a small segment of the leadership of the American Anglican Council who – in partnership with the Ahmanson funded Institute for Religion and Democracy – have made a decision for schism and are determined to succeed in their quest to split this church apart regardless of the cost.
I was quoted in a post-Plano/Dallas interview as saying “The AAC ‘is not a mainstream organization. This is the radical militant fringe of the church.’" What I actually SAID was "what we are hearing here in Dallas are not the words of a mainstream organization but the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe.” It is a fine but important linguistic distinction.
For there was a time when I did indeed considered the AAC “mainstream” -- "the loyal opposition" which offered a conservative perspective here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. I spent an entire YEAR having lunch once a month with David Anderson, Ron Jackson, and Bill Thompson -- reading the catechism with other clergy together as part of a reconciliation conversation initiated by Bishop Jon Bruno.
There were years when we managed to craft substitute resolutions at our Diocesan Convention with David and others which ended (for a season) the annual ritual of the same old voices at opposing microphones saying the same old things. And I attended expanded Reconciliation Conversations around the diocese modeled after the work of the New Commandment Task Force and led by AAC founding member Brian Cox.
I learned from those conversations. I grew in my understanding of those who approach Holy Scripture differently than I do. I heard the stories of those who felt that the church they loved was being taken away from them: for whom a church with a "new prayer book" and women priests was not a place of spiritual nurture. But time and again when our work together had ended -- when we stood in those "closing circles" and prayed for each other -- we also prayed together for this church we all loved as we committed to work together through the hard ground of our differences.
Was our communion “impaired” for those standing in that circle who could not accept as valid the orders of the women clergy who stood with them? Or for those who stood knowing that the relationships that they experience as holy gifts from God were not celebrated by all who stood with them? I suppose so – but we weren’t thinking in those terms at that point. Rather than dwelling on the issues that might have divided us we were focused instead on the Gospel that united us. Because our unity in Christ did not require uniformity in our opinions we were able to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” in communion – if not in agreement – with each other.
Fast forward to Dallas 2003. In order to participate in “A Place to Stand” one had to sign a “Statement of Faith” which excluded anyone who supported the actions of General Convention 2003. During the conference words like “apostate” and “heretic” were used to refer to the majority of the Episcopal Church as it had spoken through its elected representatives in General Convention.
Respected Episcopal media representatives were denied credentials to cover the event for their publications. In an explanation given to a FOX News reporter as to why the Presiding Bishop’s offer to send representatives bearing greetings was rebuffed, AAC leader David Anderson made the comparison of “asking a rape victim to sit down at the table with her rapist.” The conference concluded with nothing less than a demand to the Primates to – in effect – vote ECUSA off the Anglican Island. And in an interview soon after the conference, Anderson used the word “contamination” to refer to those who will be laying hands on Gene Robinson when he becomes a Bishop in the Church of God on November 2nd.
These are not the words of a mainstream organization: it is the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe.
These are not words that respect the dignity of every human being: they are words that create a climate where the Matthew Shepards of our world live in fear for their lives.
The time has come for us to cease to allow them to set the context for this debate. The day has arrived when the church is ready to get past being reactive to conservative threats and become proactive in telling the Good News of a church where everyone is welcome at the table – where the true mainstream includes a gay bishop AND faithful Episcopalians who voted against his election.
Today is a great day for the Episcopal Church. Let us rejoice and be glad in it – and then let’s get to work!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Coming Out In A Cathedral

Yes, I came out in the National Cathedral on the 4th of July in 1996. It's a story I've told many times ... but since it's the only one I have and it's National Coming Out Day 2023, here it is again.

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

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

Oh … and I came out.

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

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

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

My coming out had nothing to do with a political act. It had nothing to do with a genital act. It had to do with recognizing that I could not be fully present at altar if I was not fully present in myself – and it had to do with being raised in a church where +John Hines taught me that “justice is the corporate face of God’s love,” +Ed Browning told me that in the Episcopal Church there would be no outcasts and the consecration of +Barbara Harris incarnated for me the hope that this church was actually willing to live into its high calling to live out a radically inclusive gospel.

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

And here's to our core American values of liberty and justice for all and to everyone committed to our core Episcopal values of respecting the dignity of every human being. Not because we’re politically correct but because we’re gospel obedient -- and because we're going to do whatever we can to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right who have taken the Good News of God’s inclusive love and distorted it into a weapon of mass discrimination. Of humiliation. Of homophobia.

Because the stakes are too high. Because the damage to precious souls is too costly. And because the truth that there are people of faith who proclaim justice and compassion — not judgment and condemnation — is too important not to step up and speak out. As Harvey Milk said “You must come out ... and once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.” And for me as a Christian, those lies and distortions include hijacking my faith and turning it into weapon to wound God’s beloved LGBTQ children.

So Come Out, Come Out wherever you are. Come Out as proud LGBTQ members of the rainbow tribe. And if you happen to be the Christian variety, then Come Out as a Christian, too. Break down some myths. Destroy some lies and distortions. And if we do it long enough and loud enough and together enough eventually we will be done. And October 11th will roll around and nobody will need to Come Out because there won’t be any closets left.

And wouldn’t that be fabulous?

[photo: Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia. 1997]

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Walking on Water: A Sermon for the Celebration of the Ministry of Bishop Gene Robinson


Walking on Water A Sermon for the Celebration of
the Consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson | St. Thomas, Dupont Circle | October 7, 2023
It was 1998 and I was the Associate Rector at St. Peter's in San Pedro, California. The Inclusion Wars in the Episcopal Church were heating up with a resolution from the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops declaring "homosexuality incompatible with Scripture" -- a resolution my own Diocese of Los Angeles immediately "declined to receive."
A "concerned parishioner" made an appointment to come and talk to me ... and we met in my office. He started out by assuring me he wasn't anti-gay ... "but the thought of two homosexuals standing in the same spot in my church where my wife and I stood and took our marriage vows makes me sick to my stomach -- nothing personal."
Yeah. "Nothing personal." Except, of course, it was.
That moment came flooding back to me this week as I went down the rabbit hole labelled “memory lane” in preparation for the ridiculously awesome privilege of being invited to preach at this celebration of and with my beloved friend, mentor, colleague and sibling-in-the-struggle Gene Robinson.
It came back to me because it was a reminder of just how toxic the fear, ignorance and entrenched homophobia we were up against was back in what now seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away -- as we were organizing and mobilizing to be the change we wanted to see – to become a church where the full and equal claim promised to its LGBTQ members was not just a resolution we adopted but a reality we lived. Nevertheless, we persisted.
Here’s another story:
It was early in 2003 and a feisty group of Episcopal activists had gathered for a meeting of what would come to be called “Claiming the Blessing” to strategize moving legislation forward at the upcoming General Convention to advance our goal of approving liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions -- an audacious goal at the time.
Canon Gene Robinson was one of those gathered and he shared with us that he had decided to let his name go forward in the election process for the 9th Bishop of New Hampshire. And in a mic-drop moment, he told us while he could not imagine having the hubris to assume he would be elected, he also could not imagine not having a plan in case he was.
And the rest – as they say – is history.
We added “securing consents for Gene’s election” to our to-do list for the 74th General Convention meeting in Minneapolis that July … and we fastened our seatbelts for what would turn out to be an ecclesial version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride -- a ride which led us on a chilly November day to a New Hampshire Hockey Rink surrounded by news vans and security guards … where we passed through metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs to be part of the great cloud of witnesses to the historic shattering of the rainbow stained glass ceiling with the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Emphasis on the “openly.”
Here’s how the local New Hampshire newspaper reported it:
In his first words following consecration, Robinson asked the crowd to be seated so he could say a few words, words cracking with emotion: "It's not about me ... it's about so many other people who find themselves at the margins, and for whatever reason have not known the Lord's favor; your presence here is a welcome sign for those who have been brought into the center. This is not about me; it's not about us, even. It is about God, a God who loves us beyond our wildest imagination. … The eyes of the world are on us, and use every inch of it.
"We couldn't buy this kind of publicity -- Let's use it for God. There are so many people out there that are so hungry for the good news, who have no idea that they are loved the way this God loves us. And they will never hear it if you and I don't tell our stories about how God saved us. Please use this time, this wonderful event, to reach out to all those in the world who so desperately hunger for it.
Let’s use it for God.
That my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings is a sound bite summary of why we are gathered here to celebrate Gene Robinson and his 50 years of priestly vocation and 20 years of ministry as a bishop. It is a window into the mission and ministry of a man whose life’s work has been dedicated to reminding absolutely everyone that they are loved beyond their wildest imaginings. And it is absolutely consistent with the Gene I know and love who called me last week and said “I would never presumed to tell you what to preach” … and then said “but don’t preach about me.”
Sorry Bishop. It has to be a at least a little about you. You can absolve me later.
It has to be a little about you because your story – your example – your inspiration – is exactly what we need to equip, inform and prepare us for the work ahead – and to remind us to always, always, always “use it for God.” And my, my, my – there is plenty of work ahead.
For while it is absolutely true that we have made tremendous gains since those early days of taking on the seemingly impossible odds of challenging systemic homophobia, transphobia and heterocentrism in our church, our communion and our nation -- it is also absolutely true that there is an organized and rising tide of all of the above being motivated, mobilized and monetized to turn back the clock on LGBTQ inclusion.
For those of us who have been at this work of bending the arc of history toward inclusion for God’s beloved LGBTQ people over these last decades, it feels a little like we’re in a bad remake of the film “Groundhog Day.” Wait – didn’t we already do that? Didn’t we already fix that? Is that seriously a thing again?
But we in the LGBTQ+ community are not alone in this Groundhog Day scenario.
The overturn of Roe v Wade and the stripping of bodily autonomy from those who can become pregnant has turned the clock back on reproductive freedom while hard won voting rights are being rolled back, disenfranchising Black and Brown voters. Science is suspect, data is debatable and hate is being monetized to finance an upcoming election cycle in our divided and polarized nation.
White Christian Nationalism is on the rise and Homeland Security has declared a heightened threat environment for domestic terrorism from “individuals inclined to commit violence due to their perceptions of the 2024 general election cycle and legislative or judicial decisions pertaining to sociopolitical issues” and a CNN feature this weekend drew a lot of attention declaring “11:00 on Sunday mornings one of the most dangerous hours in America.”
Nevertheless, we persist.
We persist because the Episcopal Church has walked on water before and it can do it again.
Forged out of the crucible of the English Reformation, we have the DNA of Anglican comprehensiveness coursing in our veins – inheriting the legacy of a particular people of faith who in the 16th century when Christians were burning each other at the stake over whether they were Catholics or Protestants found a way … against all odds … to be both. Uniquely wired to hold differences in tension, in the 21st century we continue that legacy – continue that tradition – as we strive to become Beloved Community embracing gay and straight, transgender and non-binary – drawing the circle ever wider.
We persist in proclaiming the Good News of the God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings and calls us to keep risking stepping out of that boat in faith as we follow Jesus – the radical rabbi from Nazareth who got into his own Good Trouble by centering the marginalized, by siding with the oppressed, by eating with sinners and outcasts, by insisting that the kingdom of God could not come until there was not a single stranger left at the gate – and by insisting that centering those who have been historically excluded is not erasing those who have been historically centered – it is erasing the silos, barriers and boundaries that keep us from being the human family God created us to be.
Yes, it sometimes feels like a bad remake of Groundhog Day as we take two steps forward only to find ourselves one step back on the journey toward turning the human race into that human family.
But it is the journey we are called to make if we are going to move beyond inclusion to transformation of this broken world into the Beloved Community of blessing it was created to be.
For if we stop at inclusion – my inclusion, your inclusion, anyone’s inclusion – we miss the point. Inclusion is Step One. Step Two is to be fueled by the bread and wine made holy we will receive at this table in order to go out into the world as beacons of God’s love and justice … of compassion and transformation.
And there are as many ways to do that as there are beautiful, diverse, gifted images of God gathered here this or any Sunday.
If there was only one way, Jesus would only have had one parable. And he had a million of them … because he knew whoever you were and wherever you found yourself on the journey you needed to hear the Good News he had to proclaim in the way it would speak to your heart and transform you into a partner with him in the work of making that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
• This kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …
• The kingdom of heaven is like yeast a woman added to the flour …
• The kingdom of heaven is a like a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to search for the one lost one …
• The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who lost a coin,
• like a son who squandered his father’s inheritance …
• like whatever story it is that is going to get through to you that God’s love is absolutely limitless and that Beloved Community includes absolutely everybody.
That is the message every single solitary precious human being brought into this world should know as deep down as it is possible to know anything –
that their existence is a blessing;
that simply being gives them value;
and that the God who loves them beyond their wildest imaginings
wants one thing and one thing only from them –
that they love each other the way God loves them.
That is the message Jesus loved us enough
to become one of us in order to show us how to live it;
and that is the message the institutional church has failed to live up to
over and over and over again
every time it has chosen protecting patriarchal privilege
over birthing Beloved Community.
Nevertheless, we persist.
Which makes me think of another story.
It was 2009 and the Episcopal Church was gathering for its first General Convention after the 2008 meeting of Anglican bishops at Lambeth. The Archbishop of Canterbury had traveled all the way to Anaheim to bring us greetings … and a not so thinly veiled warning, saying he hoped there would not “be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart” … which was code for opening the way to ordaining any more LGBTQ bishops.
And in that context, we gathered for a Eucharist organized by Integrity – our then LGBTQ Episcopal Church Caucus – where Bishop Barbara Harris of blessed memory was our preacher and uttered these immortal words:
"If you don’t want LGBT 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?"
My brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings, the word we have to the world today from St. Thomas Church is that there’s no such thing as half-assed baptized and there’s no such thing as half-assed Beloved Community.
And the word we have for world today is that the Episcopal Church will continue its legacy of being a first responder church … running toward – not away from -- whatever threatens anyone from being a loved, valued and centered member of the Beloved Community we aspire to be ... walking on water if necessary.
Because either we’re all in or none of us are.
Either all of us are safe or none of us are.
Either all of our stories and images are represented or none of us are.
Either the radical welcome that calls us beyond inclusion to transformation includes all of us or none of us.
La lucha continua -- the struggle continues. But we're in it to win it … so as much as we yearn to hear those longed-for words “arriving at destination” from our spiritual GPS, we know there are miles to go before we rest – before liberty and justice for all really means all -- before that kingdom come on earth is not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live.
And so we continue to take two steps forward and the occasional step back …
trusting in the depths of God's mystery that truth will be vindicated someday …
trusting God will continue to bless the courage of our witness ...
trusting you can do the right thing and not just survive -- but thrive –
as we journey together into the future where the God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings – a future that is not only possible: she is on her way.
I want to close this prayer which is a gift from the inimitable Ana Hernandez giving voice to the words of poet Arundhati Roy, as we ask the God who gave the Gene Robinson and the Episcopal Church the courage to be the change they wanted to see as they stepped out in faith 20 years ago to give us the courage to go and do likewise as we step forward in faith into God’s future. Won’t you pray with me:
Another world is not only possible
She is on her way.
On a quiet day, you can hear her breathing.
She is on her way. Amen.