Sunday, December 31, 2006

My New Year's Eve Baby ...

... then and now: Jamie (AKA James William Russell) turned TWENTY FIVE today ...

... I know they say that time flies when you're having fun but WHO KNEW a quarter of a century could go by so fast?

I had hoped to find an actual "baby" picture of His Nibs tonight but this one of him at about 2 1/2 in Dodger regalia is the closest I can come up with (and he's probably just as happy that's the case!)

This is Mister "I've had a five year plan since I was five years old" living out his dream of training to be a pilot ... and while I'd a whole lot rather he was living that dream in ... oh, let's say INDIANA rather than IRAQ I'm terribly proud of the great grown-up he's turned out to be.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

And on the SIXTH Day of Christmas ...

[The Living Church] A member of the U.S. Cavalry in Kirkuk, Iraq, holds some of the more than 400 Christmas cards that were sent to soldiers stationed there from parishioners of All Saints Church, Pasadena, Calif.
Private first class James Russell, a Blackhawk helicopter crew chief and the son of the Rev. Susan Russell, senior associate at All Saints, distributed the cards. (Photo: All Saints Church)

Grow in Peace

New on You Tube ... Grow in Peace ... featuring one of my favorite hymns, "One Earth, One Sky" by Kim Oler (son of All Saints clergy colleague Clarke Oler).

From a 2004 ENS article:

The spot features the song “Peace on Earth” composed by Kim Oler and Alison Hubbard, and recorded by the choir of All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, Calif., which commissioned the music and lyrics in 1986. Since that time, the song has been sung regularly, and often weekly, during Sunday services at the Pasadena parish ... Oler – a New York City-based composer whose father, Clarke, assisted on the staff of All Saints, and was previously rector of Holy Trinity, Manhattan, and All Saints, Beverly Hills [recorded] the spot with the Pasadena parish choir, directed by James Walker.

One Earth, one sky,
one God on high,
one people here below;
one binding theme,
one goal,
one dream,
for all who live and grow:
Peace on Earth,
Peace on Earth,

Friday, December 29, 2006

Prayers for Peace

News reports tonight tell of the execution of Saddam Hussein and of the mounting American casualty numbers ... last report 2996 dead in the line of duty. Iraqi dead and wounded? Beyond number at this point. And a communciation blackout keeps us from hearing from our loved ones in harm's way this night as predictions of escalating sectarian violence in response to Hussein's execution fill the air waves.

Peace on Earth seems ever so far away this Fifth Day of Christmas ... and yet, our prayers rise as incense into the bleak midwinter night ...

Eternal God, Creator of the universe, there is no God but You.
Great and wonderful are Your works, wondrous are your ways.
Thank You for the many splendoured variety of Your creation.
Thank You for the many ways we affirm Your presence and purpose,
and the freedom to do so.
Forgive our violation of Your creation.
Forgive our violence toward each other.
We stand in awe and gratitude for Your persistent love
for each and all of Your children:
Christian, Jew, Muslim, as well as those with other faiths.
Grant to all and our leaders attributes of the strong;
mutual respect in words and deed,
restraint in the exercise of power,
and the will for peace with justice, for all.
Eternal God, Creator of the universe, there is no God but You.

Iraq Peace Prayer from the World Council of Churches website

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Inquiring Minds Want to Know ...

I just love "Father Jake" ... not only because he CLEARLY stops the world with his kick-butt blog but because he consistently finds answers to the very questions I find myself asking.

Case in point was the media flurry around the recent defection of a couple of parishes in Viriginia. "What's up with that?" I wondered.

OK ... they're historic churches and all but come on, I thought as I was fielding media calls for comment on a Sunday night and the local news folks wanted to send the news van over NOW to get a live stand up for the 11:00 news ... I mean, really -- with Darfur, Iraq and Global Warming in the queue FALLS CHURCH deciding to enmasse to sign up for a Berlitz course in Nigerian is actually big news? Two parishes out of 195 in a diocese defect and it's "breaking news?" What about the other 2.3 million of us getting ready for the good news of great joy that will be to all people?

But life moves on ... Christmas happened and New Year's looms and my pondering turned away from things media strategy to things, well, if not more heavenly at least more churchy! And then today's post over at Fr. Jake: FOX News, the Falls Church and the IRD ...

Some of you may have been wondering why there was so much press generated by two previously unknown Episcopal congregations voting to align with Nigeria. In the big picture, it is hardly a newsworthy event.Beth Adams of The Cassandra Pages suggests at least one reason for the big media splash:

The announcement about the Virginia parishes has been directed by the skillful spokespeople at the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a neo-conservative Washington think-tank that has innumerable connections, through its board of directors and officers, to the conservative Washington area parishes that have recently left the Episcopal Church. These parishes have been home to prominent conservatives such as Oliver North and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as top-level IRD Episcopalians. For instance, Fox News commentator Fred Barnes is a member of the Falls Church congregation, and serves on the Board of the IRD; Fox has covered this story extensively and sympathetically, interviewing Barnes as part of a roundtable discussion, but never mentioning his IRD connection...

What do Fox News, The Falls Church and the IRD have in common? None other than our old friend Fred Barnes, who launched the smear campaign against Bp. Robinson the day before the House of Bishops was to vote on giving consent to his election at GC 2003. Imagine that.

Imagine that, indeed. And now, inquiring minds want to know now that we know about it, what are we going to do about it?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On Emperors, Archbishops and Pulpit Power

It's been a great media month at All Saints Church ... first the CBS News spot contrasting the open doors of All Saints with the closed minds of Falls Church and then the frontpage story of the Avalance of Outerwear precipated by the rectors' "Sin Coat" sermon on 3rd Advent. Then there was PULPIT POWER ...

... the cover story on this week's Pasadena Weekly -- offering All Saints a great opportunity to tell some good news the week BEFORE Christmas.

Inclusive love, prioritizing "the least of these" and preaching peace even when it pisses off the IRS -- we must be doing something right ... with standing-room only at four Christmas Eve services and a record breaking stewardship campaign still bringing pledges in for 2007. And all that tells me there IS a great longing in people still living in deep darkness yearning for the light we have been given to share in the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

And that Good News we're offering -- the Good News the Episcopal Church is proclaiming -- stands in stark relief against the polarizing and dehumanizing polemic being proclaimed by +Peter Akinola ... Primate of Nigeria and Champion of Bigotry, Sexism and Homphobia as outlined in the much-blogged-about NYTimes Christmas Day frontpage article: At Axis of Episcopal Split, an Anti-Gay Nigerian.

Lots of good commentary on that to peruse ... I commend especially Mark Harris' The Archbishop of Nigeria Digs a Hole for Christmas and Father Jake's commentary (which includes the fun-fact-to-know-and-tell that the Queer Christian the Nigerian Bish was too horrified to shake hands with much less "seek and serve Christ in" was our own Dr. Louie Crew.)

Substitute "Archbishop" for "Emperor" and we've got a new twist on the old "No Clothes" story ... and the more he talks the more obvious the nakedness of his above referenced bigotry, sexism and homophobia becomes.

From Fr. Jake's conclusion: In his "heated" response, the Archbishop claims he was simply "...sending a bishop...where there is no church to provide one." In other words, since the Episcopal Church is no longer a Church in his eyes, he had to send a bishop. At least that response to the question is more honest than the shell game regarding exactly what CANA is that we have heard in the past. A church for Nigerians in America? Did anyone ever believe that was anything more than a subterfuge?

Let's hope more reporters will give the Archbishop opportunities to "respond heatedly" in the future. Honest answers are a refreshing change from what we usually hear from this man.

Onward and upward ... And may God give us grace to use the "pulpit power" we have to shine the light and tell the Good News ... and a Very Merry 3rd Day of Christmas to all! (No sign of any French hens here yet ... mine must be on back order! :)

May he rest in peace and rise in glory

"We are both saddened at the death of this good and faithful servant and enormously grateful for his care-filled ministry over many decades. We give thanks for his life of service in government leadership as well as in the several parishes to which he belonged. His leadership in assisting with the completion of Washington National Cathedral and supporting the work of Episcopal Relief and Development will be long remembered.

His family, especially Mrs. Ford, will continue in our prayers as they grieve this loss. May he rest in peace and rise in glory." -- PB's December 27th Statement on the death of former President Gerald Ford

Monday, December 25, 2006

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy ...

... AND Christmas cards for the troops in Kirkuk, Iraq full of prayers and best wishes for peace from the folks at All Saints Church, Pasadena. (Special Delivery by Santa Jim Russell ... AKA my kid.)

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The “Peace on Earth” Part of Christmas

The “Peace on Earth” Part of Christmas
Christmas Eve 2006
All Saints Church, Pasadena ~ Susan Russell

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among all people.”

And there you have it. The familiar words that conclude the Christmas Story in Luke’s gospel echo in our ears once again on this Christmas Eve as we gather surrounded by light and beauty and music and community to celebrate the mystery of Christmas. We welcome again the promise of new life in the birth of this Christmas baby. We wonder again at the power of a love great enough to triumph over death and we claim a Christmas Truth greater than any of the traditions it inspires: the mystical longing of the creature for the creator -- the finite for the infinite -- the human for the divine.

It is a longing that transcends culture, religion, language and custom -- a longing that is represented tonight for us as Christians in the baby in the manger -- the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us. Yes, we manifest the wonder of Christmas in the gifts given, the meals shared, the gathering of family and loved ones. But the greater wonder is that the God who is love incarnate came down at Christmas to be among us as one of us. Came to show us how to share that love with a world in desperate need of it – to a world yearning for the “peace on earth, good will among all people” the angels proclaimed.

The “peace on earth” part of Christmas is arguably the crescendo of the Christmas story but twenty five years ago tonight my attention was on another part … on the “and she brought forth her first born son” part. What must it have been like, I wondered, for a teenaged mother to bring forth her first-born child and cradle him in a manger rather than a bassinet in an occupied territory under martial law with the words of the angel who announced his coming still echoing in her head? It was the year I heard the Christmas story quite specifically through the lens of my own experience; the particularity my impending motherhood. On Christmas Eve 1981 I was not only pregnant for the first time, I was waaaaaay past “great with child.” Actually, I’d hit “great with child” back about October, reached “enormous with child” sometime in November and by “O Holy Night” was pretty much “immobilized with child.”

Although Jamie came into the world a week later – on New Year’s Eve -- on that particular Christmas Eve for me it was all about the baby. And in what seems like the blink of an eye here it is 25 years later -- and this Christmas Eve my New Year’s Eve baby is a helicopter crew chief serving on active duty in Iraq -- so “peace on earth, good will among all people” – the crescendo of the Christmas story – is very much the focus of both the prayers in my heart and the music in my head this Christmas Eve.

Beyond the din of flairs that spin
and missiles aimed to crush
There can be found the purest sound
An unfamiliar hush
Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Shanti, Salaam, Shalom
Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Shanti, Salaam, Shalom

That shalom – that “unfamiliar hush” -- is the peace on earth I’m praying for this Christmas – the shalom that doesn't just mean the peace that comes when we're no longer at war but the shalom that means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. The shalom that is Hebrew for what we describe as “turning the human race into the human family” – the peace on earth that we are called to be about as Christians – not just this Christmas season but all year long.

For peace is only an echo tonight in so many parts of the world. In Bethlehem – once again a little town in an occupied territory -- in Lebanon and in Darfur -- in Israel and Iraq and Afghanistan – the list is long and sobering and the challenges standing between just solutions and lasting peace great indeed. Closer to home, within our own Episcopal Church, I believe it grieves the heart of God in the week before Christmas there was news of Episcopal congregations in Virginia choosing the bias and bigotry represented by doctrines of exclusion over the "Peace on Earth, Good Will to All" incarnated by the baby in Bethlehem. In the streets and in the hearts and in the minds of so many throughout this world and throughout this church peace is in very short supply. And if our “Christmas peace” has only to do with the candles, the quietness of this Christmas Eve, this silent night, this beautiful sanctuary then it’s a lovely experience … but like an aspirin it will last about four hours if we’re really lucky.

I love the story Ed tells about the difference between peace lovers and peacemakers. Every contestant in every beauty pageant when asked her deepest desires says, “My deepest desire is for world peace.” But simply loving peace will not change the world. And simply “putting Christ back in Christmas” won’t either. Again this year I’ve been bombarded by the sincerely Christian folk busily emailing everybody they know about how important it is to put Christ back into Christmas … and yet the church so often seems content to leave him there — to receive with joy the gift of the Word made flesh on this Christmas Eve and fail to live as the Body of Christ the other 364 days of the year.

This Christmas Eve more than ever I believe that if our eagerness to worship the baby in the Bethlehem manger is not matched by our willingness to follow in the footsteps of the radical rabbi he grew up to be then our earnest Christmas prayers for “peace on earth” will have as much impact on this broken world as the earnest words of every peace loving beauty pageant contestant who ever lived. My brothers and sisters, we can’t just sing peace on earth – we have to bring peace on earth.

To do that we have to go out into this Christmas night and into this New Year and continue in the All Saints Church tradition of putting our faith into action. That means prayers and protests; speaking up and stepping out; offering whenever and wherever possible the Good News of God’s shalom that we claim as God’s long-range strategic plan for us and for all creation.

And the Good News I want to share with you tonight is that this year Santa came early. Our All Saints stocking was full this week of opportunities to offer that message to a community and a world yearning to hear it. The local TV news aired a story contrasting the open doors of All Saints Church with the closed minds of the Virginia congregations. The Pasadena Star-News made it front page news when the rector’s call for donations of coats for the homeless resulted in an avalanche of outerwear in the All Saints office. And the Pasadena Weekly cover article – Pulpit Power – is another chapter in the ongoing saga of All Saints standing firm in its commitment to preach peace from this pulpit: in and out of election seasons!

God’s inclusive love made available to absolutely everybody – cleaning out closets in response to the needs of “the least of these” among us – preaching peace on earth, good will to all not just Christmas Eve but 24/7: that’s taking the Body of Christ out into the world to make a difference, not leaving the baby in the manger to make a Christmas card! And let’s give thanks tonight for the early Christmas present of the media spotlight helping us spread that Good News – telling the story of a church committed to being peacemakers even when that means we must live into the tension of speaking truth to power.

Because all that attention also means that we live with those who describe us as “that political church” as if that’s a bad thing … as it in challenging the systems that foster oppression, that make war and that perpetuate violence is anything other than following in the footsteps of the peacemakers who have gone before us: of the Isaiah the prophet and Jesus the Christ; of Martin King and Desmond Tutu, of all those who have not just loved peace but have worked for it. AND I am convinced there are others who are coming toward us for precisely those reasons – those who have in their hearts the deep desire to be peacemakers and who recognize in our witness that this is a community of faith that will support and empower them to make a difference. Those who recognize that what Howard Thurman calls “the work of Christmas” is what we do all year long:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.

The work of Christmas is at work in Kirkuk, Iraq tonight where my New Year’s Eve baby is playing Santa and handing out the 400+ Christmas cards sent by this congregation with love and prayers to our troops in harm’s way. And may we – each and every one of us -- take with us into this O Holy Night the music in the heart that is the peace on earth part of Christmas – and be given the grace in the New Year coming to not just sing peace on earth, but to bring it.

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Shanti, Salaam, Shalom
Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Shanti, Salaam, Shalom

Merry Christmas. Amen

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Work of Christmas

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.
Howard Thurman

It is not only my favorite Christmas verse – this poem by Howard Thurman – it’s also my Christmas life preserver. It’s what I pull out and put on when I find myself floating in the vast sea of all there is to do, find, buy, wrap, bake, cook, plan and finish as the clock ticks down to the Christmas event.

It’s hard to keep your head above water when the culture is crazed, the media relentless, the pressure to “get it right” is everywhere. Ironic, isn’t it, that the very season that offers the message of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to All” brings instead “Stress on Earth, Bad Temper” to many!

And so – every year – Howard Thurman reminds me that the real work of Christmas isn’t about trees and tinsel but about peace and justice. “The Work of Christmas” calls us to resist the greatest temptation of all this blessed Christmas season: to “put Christ into Christmas” only to leave him there — to receive with joy the gift of the Word made flesh on this Christmas Eve and fail to live as the Body of Christ the other 364 days of the year.

And so as we celebrate the Christmas miracle of our brother Jesus born of our sister Mary — with all of its beloved trappings and traditions — may we also be given the grace to bring the hope of Christmas alive in the year ahead.

May we be given the courage to refuse to leave Christ only in Christmas but to follow in his footsteps by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God “in season and out of season.” And may we be given the energy and imagination to ask “what child is this” of each and every member of God’s beloved human family as we go out to do the work of Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fun Facts to Know and Tell About Archbishop Akinola

From Holy Homophobia in The Nation:

The Washington Post noted Akinola's support for legislation in Nigeria that would make it a crime for gays and lesbians to dine together in restaurants and identified him as "an advocate for jailing gays." In a subsequent op-ed, Harold Meyerson dubbed the breakaway faction "Episcopalians Against Equality," and linked them to other orthodox fundamentalists of Catholic and Jewish persuasions who've made anti-gay politics a focal point of their scriptural literalism.

Akinola's supporters quickly denied these allegations. In a post on the website of Truro Church (Fairfax, Virginia), Marytn Minns, a leader of the schism and a friend of Akinola's since their days at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the early '80s, said "That is not true. Archbishop Akinola believes that all people -- whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation -- are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect." Subsequently, the Post and other outlets repeated Minns' claim, cryptically writing, "His advocates say he is trying to navigate an explosive cultural situation in Nigeria and appease Muslim leaders."

While it's certainly true that parts of northern Nigeria submit to Sharia law, under which homosexual sex is punishable by death by stoning, holding Muslim leaders solely responsible for the bill doesn't quite wash with an examination of Akinola's published declarations. The legislation under question is known as the "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act." Under the guise of banning gay marriage, the bill would prohibit almost any association of gays and lesbians, restrict their freedom of speech and movement. Section 7 prohibits any "publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationships through the electronic or print media" (for example, a screening of Brokeback Mountain). It would also imprison for five years anyone "involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public showing of same sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly in public and in private" (for example, any lesbians or gays meeting in a restaurant or even in their own homes).

This bill was introduced by Nigeria's Minister of Justice, Bayo Ojo, on January 19, 2006. In a "message to the nation" issued in February, Akinola endorsed the legislation saying, "The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality." In another declaration made in September, Akinola said, "The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values."

Given these statements, the attempts by Akinola's supporters to distance themselves (and him) from his previous support of this draconian legislation ring false. Is this crusade what the parishioners of Truro Church and Falls Church in Virginia, who according to World magazine include "leaders of government agencies, members of Congress, Washington journalists, and think-tank presidents," meant to endorse by siding with Akinola?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Sin Coats" Swamp All Saints Church

So how much do I love this church????? Way-to-go All Saints!

PASADENA - It's not up there with lust, wrath and that seasonal favorite, gluttony. But if you have more than one coat in your closet when others have none, it's your official "sin coat."
Judging by the quantity of faux fur and tweed piled up in the rector's office at All Saints Episcopal Church on Tuesday, there was enough closet sin going on in Pasadena to clothe the multitudes.

Sunday's sermon by the Rev. Ed Bacon contained a simple message from John the Baptist: "If you have two coats, share with the person who has no coat."

To drive the message home, Bacon also quoted a fourth-century bishop preaching on an earlier Advent Sunday: If you have more coats in your closet than you need, the excess are "sin coats" that should be given to the poor.

So, on one of the coldest days of the year, volunteers sorted through the resultant piles of donations Tuesday. They packed the estimated 300-plus garments five to a bag, ready for delivery to homeless agencies including Pasadena's Union Station and Dolores Mission in Los Angeles.

All Saints parishioner Dale Sorenson, 79, of Mount Washington, was one of many inspired to root out sin in their closets.

"I remembered a jacket I thought would be worthy, then I looked and saw three jackets plus nine sport coats I'll never get into again," he said, musing on the sin of overeating. "They're really nice and I hate giving them up, but I know I'll never see 155 pounds again!"
Some dug deep for their donations.

"People gave up things they'd held on to for a while," said All Saints' Maren Tompkins. "One Navy veteran gave a peacoat he's kept for 51 years."

Then there was the World War II-vintage duffel coat, the rabbit fur-lined coat, 10 brand-new coats from an anonymous donor and some mystery garments volunteer Rod Leonard needed fashion advice on: men's pile, or women's?

Anita Davis, a 20-year All Saints parishioner, said she wasn't entirely surprised at the response by the 3,500-member congregation because of its history of helping others. "I bet this becomes a tradition," she said.

by Janette Williams Staff Writer, Pasadena Star-News

What Message Do We Send?

Q. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
A. I will with God's help.

It is a promise we make as part of our baptismal covenant and then spend our lives living up to -- knowing that it is only with God's help that our work and our words will truly proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. So what is the word and example being proclaimed by the recent actions of the Episcopal congregations making news in Virginia?

Here's a sample:

From today's Washington Post -- Episcopalians Against Equality: The founders of the church believed, within the context of their time, that all men were created equal. Today's defectors have thought it over in the context of our own time, and decided that they're not.

From Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" -- Treating gays like they were human has prompted eight parishes to split from the Episcopal Church.

From an editorial in the Falls Church News-Press: If this week’s vote results in the departure of Falls Church Episcopal from the Episcopal denomination, the church will go down in infamy as a regrettable and despised bastion of bigotry, prejudice and hatred.

And then from the Presiding Bishop's office? We regret and grieve their departure, and pray that they may continue their journey as Christians in another home. In the hope that some may decide to return, we intend to keep the door open and the light on.

"Choose this day" indeed! Our task in these waning days of Advent is to focus our energy, our attention and our message on the light coming into the world once again in the miracle of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

I think it grieves the heart of God in this week before Christmas there are congregations choosing the bias and bigotry represented by doctrines of exclusion over the "Peace on Earth, Good Will to All" incarnated by the baby in Bethlehem."

And I believe our call is to strive for that peace on earth that has so far eluded us as we reach out to "the least of these" among us wherever they may be. In so doing we are proclaiming by word ... and example ... the Good News we have been given to proclaim in the name of the One whose birth we will celebrate on that "O Holy Night" looming "O-so-soon-to-come."

May our prayers rise as incense and may God give us the grace to continue to walk in love with God and with each other as we complete our Advent journey and welcome again the Christ Child into our hearts. And may the witness of love and inclusion we offer be the message we send to the world in such desperate need for it -- an antidote to the word and example so sadly offered by the actions in Virginia.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"We'll leave the light on for ya ..."

The Episcopal Church continues to focus on its mission of reconciling the world, particularly as it cares for the least, the lost, and the left out.

While the Episcopal Church laments the recent votes by some persons in Virginia congregations to leave this Church, we are clear that individuals may depart, but congregations do not.

Congregations are created and recognized by the diocese in which they exist, and can only be closed by action of the bishop and diocesan governing bodies. Even if a large percentage of a congregation departs, the remaining people will be assisted by the diocese and the larger Church to reconstitute their congregation and continue in mission and ministry in that place.

These recent departures have received a significant amount of publicity, but they represent a tiny percentage of the total number of Episcopalians in the Church. We regret and grieve their departure, and pray that they may continue their journey as Christians in another home.

In the hope that some may decide to return, we intend to keep the door open and the light on.

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori on the Washington Post/Newsweek On Faith site.

A Christmas Prayer for Our Troops


Stop the war. Bring our children home.

Soften the hardened hearts and open the closed minds of our pharaohs to see the destructiveness they have wrought.

Open again the Red Sea to allow our children to pass back through to their homeland.

May they return to a promised land and a people who honor the promises we made to them that they may see their risk of life, limb and sanity for our sakes to be valued and respected.

May this season in which we once again celebrate the coming of light into a darkened world mark a new beginning for us, for them and for a world weary of pharoah's arrogance and the interventions of pharoah's armies.

All these things we pray, O God, creator and lover of all living beings who bear your image even when we fail to recognize it. AMEN.
[Harry Coverston: Christmas 2006]

Monday, December 18, 2006

'Twas the week before Christmas ...

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the church
There were rumors of schism and heresy and worse.
So I turned to my archives for a word of good cheer
And found an old friend that I share with you here.
With best wishes for a Christmas
And a Happy New Year!

The Santa Candle Sermon
It’s finally Merry Christmas: the day we’ve prepared for, decorated for, waited for and dressed up for. The day we hear again the familiar words, sing the familiar songs rest in the security of the familiar message: REJOICE! Look the baby is in the manger the shepherds, the angels and the Star these are the traditions that tell us its Christmas again: and they surround us on this Holy Day in this Holy Season.

It is a time when beloved traditions abound. For most of us, there are a few things that it just wouldn’t be Christmas without things that sometimes defy logic or elude explanation. For me, the icon of that reality has become The Santa Candle.

A few years ago, as I was engaged in the task of decking the halls with the familiar stuff of Russell Family Christmases I came across the Santa Candle a jolly, rotund wax figure that had presided for many years from the top of the bookcase in the living room. Every year, someone would ask, Can we light the Santa Candle? And every year I would explain that if we lit the candle, Santa’s hat would melt into Santa’s face and there would soon not be much of Santa left for next year.
Well, you guessed it: the year before, someone had been unable to resist and Santa was indeed a shadow of his former self. After a moment of irritation at having my well-reasoned instructions so blatantly disregarded, I tossed the half-melted candle into the trash bag without much more than a second thought.

And that’s where Jamie who prefers to be Jim my then-17-year-old son -- found him. “You threw away the SANTA CANDLE?” he asked in horror. And dusting him off began to clear a space. Look at him I protested. He’s half melted away!

But paying no attention to his mother, my 6’2” son carefully placed the Santa Candle on the shelf. “He ALWAYS goes on the bookcase!” he said. And so, there he sat. There was in that beat-up, half melted Santa Candle something that spoke to Jamie of what is valuable, dear, worth preserving in a Christmas tradition ... assuring me that the seeds his father and I have tried to sow throughout his childhood have taken root in this almost adult seeds that say family matters, traditions matter, CHRISTMAS matters. And even if we can’t see the final flower they’ll take as he finds his own path, they give him the foundation to find his own traditions as he grows and matures and changes.

For there are indeed few things more certain in life than change. Our reconfigured family is an outward and visible sign of that, made up as we are of parents and children; ex-spouses and partners; girlfriends and grandmas. Every time we gather I am amazed at the miracle of how traditional this non-traditional family has become for us how blessed we are to have weathered all the changes that have come our way over the years how God has enabled us to stay family through all of it and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. My family may not make James Dobson’s list of ones to focus on any more than my melted Santa Candle would make it to Martha Stewarts sideboard but it is mine and God is there and we are blessed.

My heart is very aware this Christmas of how precious those blessings are as I think of those who are facing the challenges of changes much greater and harder to reconcile than a melted Santa Candle. Those who will spend a first Christmas without a loved one; those whose joy in the holiday is tempered by worry about a son stationed in Iraq or a daughter in Afghanistan; those who can’t be home for the holidays -- who are away from all that is familiar -- all that makes it Christmas.

For the shadow side of our beloved Christmas traditions is that we risk making them more important than the message they represent. The danger of the Christmas story is that it IS so familiar that we can lose the amazing impact of its glorious message in the frenzy that surrounds the Christmas event. The culture is crazed, the media relentless the pressure to get it right is everywhere from the Rudolph specials to the department store ads. My heart ached for the woman who confided, “I feel like I’ve flunked Christmas” -- overwhelmed by how much there was left to do and how little time there was left to do it.

Its ironic, isn’t it, that the very season that offers the message of Peace on Earth, Good Will to All brings instead Stress on Earth, Bad Temper to Many. The challenge is to balance the traditions that manifest the joy of the season with the gift that is the reason for the season: and that gift is of course Love.

Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely, love divine
Love was born at Christmas
Stars and angels gave the sign

Stars and angels gave the sign. So did wise men and shepherds then so do presents and mistletoe; homecomings and holly and Santa Candles today. All the things that make Christmas Christmas point us to that gift of love if we let them.

The promise of new life in the birth of this Christmas baby becomes the hope of life eternal in the resurrection of our Easter Lord. It is love that triumphs over death -- Love that is the Christmas Truth a truth greater than the traditions it inspires: the mystical longing of the creature for the creator the finite for the infinite the human for the divine. It is a longing that transcends culture, religion, language and custom it is a longing that is represented for us as Christians in the baby in the manger the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us. Yes, we manifest the wonder of Christmas in the gifts given, the meals shared, the gathering of family and loved ones. But the greater wonder is that the God who is love incarnate came down at Christmas to be among us as one of us to show us how to share that love with a world in such desperate need of it.

In a moment we will be fed by the holy food and drink of new and unending life as we gather about this altar for our Eucharistic. And then we will be sent out into this Christmas Day to love and serve the Lord. May the God who calls us to do this work give us the grace to accomplish it and give us always grateful hearts

· for the privilege of being God’s people
· for the gift of music in our heart
· and most of all for the gift of love!

Thanks be to God. Merry Christmas. Amen.

Local News Coverage on the Virginia Mess

We had a local news crew wanting to get "comment" on the Virginia congregations walking apart from the Episcopal Church last night and they caught up with Ed Bacon and Zelda Kennedy from All Saints, Pasadena after the Advent Evening Service last night ...

Check it out at CBS2 -- and give thanks for such able, faithful witnesses to willing to step up and offer the Good News of a church taking to heart the "Fear Not!" part of the Christmas message and moving ahead with mission and ministry!

Who Knew?

I must have missed the meeting but according to Frank Rich in this morning's op-ed Mary Cheney's Bundle of Joy PENGUINS have been added to the index of gay icons:

Yes, penguins. These fine birds have now joined the Teletubbies and SpongeBob SquarePants in the pantheon of cuddly secret agents for “the gay agenda.” Schools are being forced to defend “And Tango Makes Three,” an acclaimed children’s picture book based on the true story of two Central Park Zoo male penguins who adopted a chick from a fertilized egg. The hit penguin movie “Happy Feet” has been outed for an “anti-religious bias” and its “endorsement of gay identity” by Michael Medved, the commentator who sets the tone for the religious right’s strictly enforced code of cultural political correctness.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

+Katharine on NPR

Listen to +Katharine on NPR today on All Things Considered

Our focus needs not to be
so much on internal politics
but on serving the world.

And let the people say ...


Spanning the Blogosphere To Keep You Better Informed

A busy Sunday in the Blogosphere -- here's just some of the:

Fr. Jake's headline pretty much says it all: Truro and Falls Church Vote in Favor of Bigotry

Meanwhile, Mark Harris writes on Clarifying CANA's agenda and plans over at PRELUDIUM, concluding: Being an Episcopalian is a vocation that for the moment seems near the edge. It is just our turn, and a long time coming at that. We must do what we believe is right and let it unfold. Yet in all this we must be alert. There are those who will steal the sheep and run off with the silver, all the time claiming they are the holy ones and we are debased. They are with guile and while honored as brothers and sisters for whom Christ died, they are not to be given license to steal.

Bishop Lee's Statement is available at ENS in Virginia bishop vows to care for remaining Episcopalians: Bishop Peter Lee of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia said December 17 that he was saddened by the fact that, as of that afternoon, Nigerian and Ugandan congregations were "occupying Episcopal churches."

And Jim Naughton comments on Dining while gay, and other crimes on the Daily Episcopalian: The members of Truro and the Falls Church have now declared that belonging to a church that permits gays and lesbians to become bishops is too great a tax on their conscience, while belonging to a church that believes gay people should be imprisoned for eating together in public is not.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Christmas preparations continue at Chez Brooks-Russell, as noted on Harvey and Luna: This Christmas stuff is SOOOOOO exhausting!

Editorial From the Falls Church (VA) News-Press

Sometimes the media actually gets it!

Descent Into The Abyss
14 December 2006 [Falls Church News-Press]

Few people in Falls Church, including many who attend the Falls Church Episcopal here, fathom how bad what the church’s leadership is asking its members to vote for this week really is. Balloting of the 2,800 church members will continue through services this Sunday, and it is expected that the vote will be overwhelming in favor of the church’s formal withdrawal from the Episcopal denomination.

This move has been coming since the Episcopal denomination, by wide majority of its bishops nationwide, voted in November 2003 to consecrate the openly-homosexual Rev. Eugene Robinson as a bishop.

Local church leaders have variously confirmed this, emphatically, and also tried to cloud the issue with theological jargon, claiming the denomination has, more generally, drifted from roots they claim are grounded in “Biblical inerrancy.” That is, the claim there is not a single mistake or outdated notion in the Bible. Therefore, since homosexual behavior is condemned in a handful of random Biblical verses here and there, it is anti-Biblical to consecrate a gay bishop. You’d be surprised to see what other things are condemned in different parts of the Bible.

The actions of the Falls Church Episcopal’s leadership, and that of the Truro Church of Fairfax and some others across the U.S., is a mild replay of the same sad history of centuries of division, slaughter, discord and tyranny within Christendom. This week’s action will not trigger another Inquisition, but the mentality is the same.

Rather than affirming a generosity of spirit and Good Samaritan compassion that can embrace and nurture a complex and multi-faceted humanity, in this case, the leaders of the Falls Church Episcopal have chosen to stand against the civil authority of the U.S. Constitution that promises equal rights for all, just as happened in all those pulpits that, in the past, denounced what they called the “un-Godly” acts of freeing slaves, ending segregation, or more recently, ending prohibitions on interracial marriage. Church folk experience such hate, emotionally, as a burning righteous indignation.

If this week’s vote results in the departure of Falls Church Episcopal from the Episcopal denomination, the church will go down in infamy as a regrettable and despised bastion of bigotry, prejudice and hatred.

In order to earn this legacy, the church’s leadership is willing to disenfranchise its members from access to one of the nation’s most historic church structures and histories. On this one issue, of the consecration of an otherwise completely qualified, but gay, bishop in New England, this church’s leadership is descending from the heights of grandiose plans for a major expansion in 2000, to years of development paralysis, to now being expelled from its property by the Diocese of Virginia following this week’s vote and its flock sent wandering. The power of hate can be so strong.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Preach it, Leonard!

Why defense of gays matters

This is for a reader who demands to know why I write about gay issues. His conclusion is that I must secretly be gay myself.

Actually, he doesn't express himself quite that civilly. To the contrary, his e-mails -- which, until recently, were arriving at the rate of about one a week -- evince a juvenility that would embarrass a reasonably intelligent fifth-grader. The most recent one, for example, carried a salutation reading, "Hi Mrs. Pitts."

We're talking about the kind of thing for which delete buttons were invented. So you may wonder why I bring it to your attention, especially since acknowledging a person like this only encourages him. It's simple, actually: He raises an interesting question that deserves an answer.

If from that you conclude (or fear) you're about to read a stirring defense of my manly male masculinity, no. The guy is free to believe what he wishes; I really don't care. And here, let me digress to confess that, though I refer to him using masculine pronouns, I actually don't know if he's a he because his notes have been anonymous. Still, I assume it's a guy because the level of sexual insecurity the e-mails suggest strikes me as -- boy, am I going to get in trouble for this -- rather guy-specific.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I'm not here to argue sexuality. I just find myself intrigued by the idea that if you're not gay, you shouldn't care about gay rights.

The most concise answer I can give is cribbed from what a white kid said 40 or so years ago, as white college students were risking their lives to travel South and register black people to vote. Somebody asked why. He said he acted from an understanding that his freedom was bound up with the freedom of every other man.

I know it sounds cornier than Kellogg's, but that's pretty much how I feel.

I know also that some folks are touchy about anything seeming to equate the black civil rights movement with the gay one. And no, gay people were not kidnapped from Gay Land and sold into slavery, nor lynched by the thousands. On the other hand, they do know something about housing discrimination, they do know job discrimination, they do know murder for the sin of existence, they do know the denial of civil rights and they do know what it is like to be used as scapegoat and bogeyman by demagogues and political opportunists.

They know enough of what I know that I can't ignore it. See, I have yet to learn how to segregate my moral concerns. It seems to me if I abhor intolerance, discrimination and hatred when they affect people who look like me, I must also abhor them when they affect people who do not. For that matter, I must abhor them even when they benefit me. Otherwise, what I claim as moral authority is really just self-interest in disguise.

Among the things we seem to have lost in the years since that white kid made his stand is the ability, the imagination, the willingness to put ourselves into the skin of those who are not like us. I find it telling that Vice President Dick Cheney hews to the hard conservative line on virtually every social issue, except gay marriage. It is, of course, no coincidence that Cheney has a daughter who is a lesbian. Which tells me his position is based not on principle but, rather, on loving his daughter.

It is a fine thing to love your daughter. I would argue, however, that it is also a fine thing and in some ways, a finer thing, to love your neighbor's daughter, no matter her sexual orientation, religion, race, creed or economic status -- and to want her freedom as eagerly as you want your own.

I believe in moral coherence. And Rule No. 1 is, you cannot assert your own humanity, then turn right around and deny someone else's.

If that makes me gay, fine.

As my anonymous correspondent ably demonstrates, there are worse things to be.

LEONARD PITTS JR. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Write to him here

Come thou long expected Schism

Interesting overview of the Episcopal Schism Du Jour in today's NYTimes (posted below).

Reading it through I thought "how sad that it has come to this" and yet here we are. Maybe this is a good time to ask again how it works that after 30 (at least) years of living with differences it is those of us committed to continuing to live with those differences (including being in communion with those who do not accept our orders, affirm our relationships or acknowledge our vocations) who are being blamed for this ecclesial rupture orchestrated by those whose criteria for being included is being agreed with.

From a piece I wrote before General Convention 2003: What if they gave a schism and nobody came? -- What it takes to create schism is for someone to leave -- and I am sick unto death with the unity of this church being placed on the shoulders of those of us who have committed to stay. When are we going to hold accountable those who threaten to leave? When will we name the actions of those who have conspired with factions of the larger Anglican communion to actively oppress and marginalize its GLBT members with what it is: fomenting schism -- creating conflict -- sacrificing the unity of the church to their own agenda of power, control and heterosexism?

If schism happens -- and I am not convinced it will -- the blame will lie not with Claiming the Blessing, the Diocese of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson or the countless GLBT Christians living out their faith journeys in the Episcopal Church. It will lie firmly at the feet of those whose will to power is greater than their willingness to embrace the other, whose commitment to crisis is greater than their faith in the Gospel and whose singular obsession with things sexual has blinded them to the Spirit's revelation via things incarnational.

It was true then and it is true now and shame on those whose will to power brought this sad state of affairs to pass and who now have the gall to bewail "a huge amount of mess" without acknowledging it as a mess of their own making. With all due respect to Canon Harmon (as quoted in the NYTimes article referenced above) this "fight" affecting everybody in the Episcopal family IS a fight because the conservatives he champions have decreed it so.

So we reach the point where, sadly, "Come thou long expected Schism" is the All-The-Rage-Advent refrain this year in reasserter-land. But for the record, the rest of us are sticking to the original ...

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

... and when the dust has settled from this shameful schism du jour we will get on with the work of the church -- with or without those who "like a good fight."

Thus Spake the New York Times

Episcopal Rift Drawing Near Point of Revolt

For about 30 years, the Episcopal Church has been one big unhappy family. Under one roof there were female bishops and male bishops who would not ordain women. There were parishes that celebrated gay weddings and parishes that denounced them; theologians sure that Jesus was the only route to salvation, and theologians who disagreed.

Now, after years of threats, the family is breaking up.

As many as eight conservative Episcopal churches in Virginia are expected to announce today that their parishioners have voted to cut their ties with the Episcopal Church. Two are large, historic congregations that minister to the Washington elite and occupy real estate worth a combined $27 million, which could result in a legal battle over who keeps the property.
In a twist, these wealthy American congregations are essentially putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishops in poorer dioceses in Africa, Asia and Latin America, who share conservative theological views about homosexuality and the interpretation of Scripture with the breakaway Americans.

“The Episcopalian ship is in trouble,” said the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, one of the two large Virginia congregations, where George Washington served on the vestry. “So we’re climbing over the rails down to various little lifeboats. There’s a lifeboat from Bolivia, one from Rwanda, another from Nigeria. Their desire is to help us build a new ship in North America, and design it and get it sailing.”

Together, these Americans and their overseas allies say they intend to form a new American branch that would rival or even supplant the Episcopal Church in the worldwide Anglican Communion, a confederation of national churches that trace their roots to the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, is now struggling to hold the communion together while facing a revolt on many fronts from emboldened conservatives. Last week, conservative priests in the Church of England warned him that they would depart if he did not allow them to sidestep liberal bishops and report instead to sympathetic conservatives.
In Virginia, the two large churches are voting on whether they want to report to the powerful archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant. Archbishop Akinola presides over the largest province in the 77-million-member Anglican Communion; it has more than 17 million members, dwarfing the Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million.

If all eight Virginia churches vote to separate, the Diocese of Virginia, the largest Episcopal diocese in the country, will lose about 10 percent of its 90,000 members. In addition, four churches in Virginia have already voted to secede, and two more are expected to vote soon, said Patrick N. Getlein, secretary of the diocese.

Two weeks ago, the entire diocese in San Joaquin, Calif., voted to sever its ties with the Episcopal Church, a decision it would have to confirm in a second vote next year. Six or more American dioceses say they are considering such a move.

In the last three years, since the Episcopal Church consecrated V. Gene Robinson, a gay man who lives with his partner, as bishop of New Hampshire, about three dozen American churches have voted to secede and affiliate with provinces overseas, according to The Episcopal News Service.

However, the secession effort in Virginia is being closely watched by Anglicans around the world because so many churches are poised to depart simultaneously. Virginia has become a central stage, both for those pushing for secession and for those trying to prevent it.

The Diocese of Virginia is led by Bishop Peter James Lee, the longest-serving Episcopal bishop and a centrist who, both sides agree, has been gracious to the disaffected churches and worked to keep them in the fold.

Bishop Lee has made concessions other bishops would not. He has allowed the churches to keep their seats in diocesan councils, even though they stopped contributing to the diocesan budget in protest. When some of the churches refused to have Bishop Lee perform confirmations in their parishes, he flew in the former archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, a conservative evangelical, to take his place.

“Our Anglican tradition has always been a very large tent in which people with different theological emphases can live together,” Bishop Lee said in a telephone interview. “I’m very sorry some in these churches feel that this is no longer the case for them. It certainly is their choice and their decision. No one is forcing them to do this.”

The Diocese of Virginia is also home to the Rev. Martyn Minns, a main organizer in the global effort by conservative Anglicans to ostracize the Episcopal Church. Mr. Minns is the priest in charge of Truro Church, the second of the two historic Virginia parishes now voting on secession.
Anglican rules and traditions prohibit bishops from crossing geographical boundaries to take control of churches or priests not in their territory. So Archbishop Akinola and his American allies have tried to bypass that by establishing a branch of the Nigerian church in the United States, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Archbishop Akinola has appointed Mr. Minns as his key “missionary bishop” to spread the gospel to Americans on his behalf.

Mr. Minns and other advocates of secession have suggested to the voters that the convocation arrangement has the blessing of the Anglican hierarchy. But on Friday, the Anglican Communion office in London issued a terse statement saying the convocation had not been granted “any official status within the communion’s structures, nor has the archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment.”

The voting in Virginia, however, was already well under way, with ballot boxes open for a week starting last Sunday. Church leaders say they need 70 percent of the voters to approve the secession for it to take effect.

If the vote is to secede, the churches and the diocese will fight to keep ownership of Truro Church, in Fairfax, and The Falls Church, in Falls Church, Va., a city named for the church.
Henry D. W. Burt, a member of the standing committee of the Virginia Diocese, grew up in The Falls Church and recently urged members not to secede. He said in an interview: “We’re not talking about Class A office space in Arlington, Va. We’re talking about sacred ground.”
Neither side says it wants to go to court over control of the church property, but both say the law is on their side.

At one of the four Virginia parishes that has already voted to secede, All Saints Church in Dale City, the tally was 402 to 6. But that church had already negotiated a settlement to rent its property from the diocese for $1 each year until it builds another church.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, said in an e-mail response to a request for an interview that such splits reflect a polarized society, as well as the “anxiety” and “discomfort” that many people feel when they are asked to live with diversity.
“The quick fix embraced in drawing lines or in departing is not going to be an ultimate solution for our discomfort,” she said.

Soon, Bishop Schori herself will become the issue. Archbishop Akinola and some other leaders of provinces in developing countries have said they will boycott their primates’ meeting in Tanzania in February unless the archbishop of Canterbury sends a second representative for the American conservatives.

“It’s a huge amount of mess,” said the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, who is aligned with the conservatives. “As these two sides fight, a lot of people in the middle of the Episcopal Church are exhausted and trying to hide, and you can’t. When you’re in a family and the two sides are fighting, it affects everybody.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

As the Anglican World Turns

While I've been busy trimming trees, decking halls, planning liturgies and otherwise being sucked into the late-Advent-almost-Christmas frenzy there have been some notable ripples on the "As the Anglican World Turns" front:

Jim Naughton over at Daily Episcopalian gives a good overview of the recent pronouncements from Uganda: "The Anglican right makes its long-planned move."

Mark Harris has been weighing in about the Covenant issue and Fr. Jake is calling for a United Response -- which makes utter sense to me.

Ruth Gledhill has blogged "An Innocent's Guide to things Anglican in the U.S." which has some interesting background on those who are working so hard to bring you this schism they've been dreaming about for lo these many years and the IRD has now taken on Verna Dozier ... Lord, Lord, Lord!

More later ... and now, back to our regularly scheduled Advent!

Quote du jour

History is shamefully littered with the moral bankruptcy of people who were Christian in name but not behavior who were silent or indifferent or neutral in the face of dehumanizing and destructive public policies ... Neutrality and silence in the face of oppression always aids the oppressors. The Rev. J. Edwin Bacon

(pictured at left being arrested at a 2002 anti-war rally ... oh that those with ears to hear would have listened then!)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thoughts for Third Advent

Even those of us working hard to observe the Holy Season of Advent, find ourselves fast-forwarding a bit and starting to hum along to "Joy to the World" while we stand in line at Starbuck’s waiting for our … Venti Christmas Blend.

After all, it's not as though we don't KNOW what happens next. The baby in the manager ... the shepherds and wise men gathered in wonder ... the star, the angel, and the great news, "Peace on Earth, Good Will to All." It's what we're preparing for. It's what we're waiting for.

A friend of mine once described how "waiting" during Advent is different than some of the other kinds of "waiting" we do -- waiting for a bus, for example. Waiting for a bus is both boring and anxiety producing. Will it be on time? Will I make my connection? Am I waiting at the right bus stop ... what if I looked at the schedule wrong? Where IS that bus, anyway? That's waiting in anxiety.

Waiting in expectancy is more like being seated in the concert hall, waiting for the curtain to rise. We know something wonderful is about to happen: and everyone else is waiting with the same expectation. We may know what to expect -- we've bought the tickets, looked over the program, checked out the performers -- but the experience is yet to happen: and so we wait -- expectantly; we wait in the tension of both knowing and NOT knowing -- open to the experience about to unfold: expectant rather than anxious.

I believe that is the kind of "Advent Attitude" God calls us to aim for: to live in both trust and tension as we prepare, once again, for the coming of the One whose birth turned the world upside down as certainly as the preparations for his birthday turn our schedules upside down every year at this time. Now don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas as much as anyone – and I have a garage full of red and green plastic storage boxes full of “signs of the season” to prove it! (Ask Harvey and Luna!) But a few years ago I found the following “voice in the wilderness” that helped me put my preparations in perspective – a voice I turn to every December about this time to remind me of what I already know and too easily forget to remember:

· If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

· If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook. ·

. If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

· If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

· Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

· Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the partner.

· Love is kind, though harried and tired.

· Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

· Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way.

· Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

· Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

· Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust.

· But giving the gift of LOVE will endure.

What we are called to prepare for is the love that will set us free if we’ll embrace it: not just the holiday that will make us nuts if we let it. And when it threatens to – make me nuts – I listen for those voices in the wilderness that call my heart back where it longs to be: waiting expectantly rather than preparing anxiously.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Advent 1C: "There will be signs ..."

This may not be the kind of sign Luke was talking about but it has "new beginnings" written all over it for me! Happy Advent, All!

Photo credit: Bill Youngblood

Quote of the week

We've now heard from the Iraq Study Group, but we need the White House to become the Iraq Results Group. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton responding to the Iraq Study Group's recommendations

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Of cats and kids and learning how to get along ...

In a world yearning for harmony,
here's a story about choosing love over fear . . .
I'm a big fan of good children's books and this one looks like a great one. Here's from the postcard I received announcing its publication: "Aware of the world's crucial need to solve conflicts nonviolently, we have created cat characters who -- even after chasing and clawing -- learn how to solve their problems fairly, honestly and lovingly." Maybe Santa could drop this one in a few Episcopal/Anglican stockings ... couldn't hurt! Check it out online here ... and no, I'm not getting a percentage or anything ... it was written by an old choir-friend of mine and her sister and I just wanted to "share the joy!"

Wilderness Voices

Wilderness Voices
Advent 2 ~ December 10, 2006 ~ Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena

Time flies when you’re having Advent. Hard to believe Christmas Eve is just two weeks from today but here we are -- the second candle on the wreath is lit, the Christmas preparations are well underway and the prayers and hymns and lessons on this Second Sunday in Advent once again focus our attention on those prophets who came before us to prepare the way of our God.

Here’s how Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori describes that “way” they’ve come to prepare: There's a wonderful Hebrew word [for it] – shalom. [Shalom] doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. In short, shalom is Hebrew for “turning the human race into the human family” – it is the long-term strategic plan of God’s messengers, the prophets.

I love that today’s lessons call me to revisit what I learned about prophets in seminary-- that they have a two-fold job description: to comfort the afflicted – and to afflict the comfortable. John the Baptist was working the afflicting the comfortable angle – in order to prepare the way he had to preach repentance to those who were so busy being religious that they’d forgotten how to be faithful. His words were not new to his hearers – he was echoing the proclamation of the prophet Isaiah who had uttered them centuries before in a very different context. Isaiah spoke them not to a settled people but an exiled one; he did not preach to afflict those comfortable in their religious institutions but to those who mourned in lonely exile – to an Israel held captive in Babylon: without homeland or hope -- as they waited for God's promise to them to be realized.

Another thing I learned in seminary is that the Holy Scriptures we inherit as the Living Word of God came to us without punctuation. Commas, colons and semi-colons – later additions to humanity’s linguistic tool belt – were added by what we call “redactors”: translators and transcribers down through the ages. And for those of you tempted to file this factoid under “in one ear and out the other” this morning’s Gospel is a perfect illustration of why this information is more than just “Fun Bible Facts to Know and Tell.”

“A voice crying in the wilderness" is commonly understood as "a warning voice no one pays any attention to." What got lost in translation – or punctuation! – is that in the early translations of Isaiah the voice doesn't cry in the wilderness at all. In Hebrew, the voice instructs some unnamed prophet to go out into the wilderness to prepare a "highway" through it. The line was botched both in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, and the King James Version follows suit. [Brush Up Your Bible]

So is it: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of our God.”

Or is it: “The voice of one crying, “Out in the wilderness, make ready the way of our God.”

It can go either way. And I submit to you this morning that it should – that it is another one of those “both/ands.” There are voices crying in the wilderness: voices that echo in the wasteland of fear, war, disease, occupation and genocide. They are the warning voices no one pays any attention to and I believe our charge this Sunday in Advent is to both listen for and be responsive to them.

But there are also other voices – those crying out in cathedrals and convention centers, in Congress and on conference calls: those who have the power and influence – the privilege and position – to not just cry for justice, peace, wholeness and liberation but to make them happen – to prepare the way of shalom.

One of those voices was Bob Long, our own Senior Warden who, along with the rector, rose last week at Diocesan Convention in Riverside to “protest and voice disagreement with” the continued scapegoating of gay and lesbian people by the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. Standing against the injustice perpetuated by B033 – the discriminatory General Convention resolution passed last June in Columbus – Bob and Ed (along with other prophetic voices) cried “Out in the wilderness of homophobia, make ready the way of shalom.”

Not always a popular thing, you know, being a wilderness voice. And in Riverside the evening after the resolution Bob and Ed supported was overwhelmingly adopted by the diocese I got an earful from a colleague who was tired of hearing how tired gay and lesbian people were of being treated like an “issue” when – in his words – we are the ones who have made ourselves the issue by insisting that the church hear our voices – listen to our witness. I’m thinking his would be the voice crying, “Hey … you in the wilderness … pipe down” – and that isn’t in either Isaiah or Luke … no matter what translation you use! (I checked!)

Then at the microphone the next morning another clergy colleague waved around the local Riverside paper with its grammatically incorrect headline “Episcopals Protest Church Stand on Homosexuals.” His compelling argument against the resolution the day before had been three-fold: [1] we “didn’t need it” and [2] if we keep talking about “it” we’ll keep ending up in the newspaper again and then [3] what would people think? And now here was “Exhibit A” – another one of those pesky headlines drawing attention to the fact that in spite of our two-steps forward, one-step back history, this Episcopal Church is striving to prepare the way of shalom for all people; is taking a stand for those in the wilderness.

Remember that “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” part? Father-Newspaper-at-the-microphone is one of the comfortable arguing that we’d be better off letting those voices keep crying in the wilderness so as not to “end up in the paper” and risk shaking up our status quo. That, my brothers and sisters, is not preparing the way of shalom – that’s preserving the way of the Institutional Church. Maybe my brother priest “didn’t need” the resolution we passed but listen for just a minute to this voice crying in the unsigned email from the wilderness of an un-named diocese:

Dear Susan, Thank you for what you all did in Los Angeles. I am from a diocese where I am a very frustrated and miserable Episcopalian. I'm scared to say too much – even in this email. I am in a relationship and we love being together. I am a member of a very conservative Episcopal (soon to be Anglican) church and my neighbors all like to gossip. One afternoon when there was a play at church, I invited her as my guest but didn’t dare sit with her. We don't want to hide but don’t have any other choice. Please keep this totally anonymous but thank your church for me for all you do to make a difference for people like me who aren’t safe to speak up for themselves. Hers is a voice crying in the wilderness: the voice of the afflicted seeking comfort. I am so very proud to be part of a diocese – and congregation – willing to step up to offer comfort to those who live in the wilderness of oppression and marginalization.

Another voice “stepping up” this week was +Marc Andrus, Bishop of California. "God is with all who have suffered in Iraq,'' the bishop said as he was arrested with demonstrators at the Federal Building in San Francisco. "This war needs to be opposed. Even though there is widespread sentiment against the war, we need to continue to push for peace.'' A bishop crying, “Out in the wilderness of the War in Iraq, make ready the way of shalom.” That’s what I call putting your miter where your mouth is!

And in the days and weeks to come, others will be doing likewise as they stand for and with those voices crying in arguably the most devastating wilderness of our day: the Genocide in Darfur. On this weekend of Prayer and Action for Darfur we recognize that without immediate action, 1 million men, women and children will die needlessly. Those voices are reminding us of the voices that cried in the wilderness while the world sat by and let a holocaust of 6 million Jews be slaughtered while we talked endlessly about resolutions, delays and hesitations. As I described the situation in Darfur to my son Brian this week he “got it” immediately: “that’s just like Hitler and the Jews,” he said. “Why isn’t America doing something about that instead of messing in Iraq?”

A good question – and one we should be asking those with the power to make a difference. The late Illinois Senator Paul Simon said: If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda when the crisis was first developing then I think the response would have been different. We have the chance today to let our voices be the ones crying, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of shalom …” by participating in actions to influence the United States to advocate for a strong United Nations peacekeeping force. Some will have the chance to go to Washington DC to “Stand With Darfur” in demonstrations of solidarity. And all will have the opportunity to stand with religious communities across the political spectrum to raise our voices on behalf of those whose voices the world has not yet heard.

Voices like this one … a voice of hope in the midst of hopelessness … the voice of a Darfurian woman in the wilderness, crying in her prayer, “prepare the way of shalom:”

I want to join my prayers to many other voices. Every few months we are driven away from one refugee camp to the other, so far into the desert where nothing, nothing at all exists. This is no way for a human being to live. No way to live in such a shocking place – uncultivated, waterless, treeless and barren region! Everything is burning, Lord, around me, around us … in me, in us … Everything is barren, hell, hell …! Yet, Lord, we believe you are there, beside us. We pray for all Africans living now our same condition. Bring back peace and tranquility to our beloved country. Peace which is desired by everybody, the old and young, rich and poor, women and men. Amen … amen … Let it be so.

Prayer from a Darfurian woman, c. Gloria Silvano, Sudan/CAFOD

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Put Another Candle on the Birthday Cake ...

... he's another year old today!

Happy 70th

Louie Crew!!!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Putting His Miter Where His Mouth Is

Giving thanks for the witness and ministry of the Bishop of California ... another voice crying, "In the wilderness of war, prepare the Way of Shalom!"

Episcopal bishop arrested in protest over war in Iraq

SAN FRANCISCO - Northern California's Episcopalian leader, the newly elected Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, was arrested Thursday afternoon for blocking the front door of the San Francisco federal building to protest the Iraq war.

Andrus, carrying a shepherd's staff and singing "Down by the Riverside,'' was among about 200 protesters who had marched from Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill to join the weekly anti-war rally on Golden Gate Avenue near City Hall.

The bishop celebrated communion at the entrance plaza before Federal Protective Service officers began arresting protesters shortly after 2 p.m. for lying down and blocking the two main doors.

The officers passed Andrus in their first round of arrests because he was not positioned in front of the doors. After Andrus, in his purple robe, got up, moved a few steps and lay down again directly in front of the entrance, the officers returned and placed him in handcuffs -- while one said, "How are you?'' and shook the cleric's hand.

Protesters applauded, cheered and sang as Andrus was photographed by another officer and led inside the building.

"God is with all who have suffered in Iraq,'' the bishop said. "This war needs to be opposed. Even though there is widespread sentiment against the war, we need to continue to push for peace. There is good reason to believe this is an unjust war.''

Andrus became the eighth bishop of the 80-congregation Episcopal Diocese of California in July.
Eleven other protesters were arrested for blocking the door. All were cited and released. A half-dozen other people who lay down in front of the door got up and left when the crowd began to disperse and it was clear that the officers were all done arresting people.

"What do you have to do to get arrested in this town?' said Matt Cantor, in exasperation. "The war in Iraq is horrible, unthinkable, and we cannot stand by while children are dying.''

"Well, the bishop got arrested,'' said Cathy Lipscomb, another nonarrested door blocker. "That was the important thing."

Several hundred people crowded into the plaza for the rally and religious service, the biggest turnout for the protest and vigil that has been held weekly in front of the federal building for about five years.

In another anti-war protest Thursday, several dozen students at Stanford University drew chalk outlines representing the Iraq war dead at major locations around campus, including the library and post office.

Click here for link to SFGate online article
And click here for a photo album of the protest event on the blog "Happening Here"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

All Books All The Time

I loved meeting Senator John Edwards yesterday and actually got to ask him a question while he was here in Pasadena to flog his book ... "HOME: The Blueprints of Our Lives" ... the proceeds from which are going jointly to Habitat for Humanity and the Intenational Rescue Committee. (see news article below)

It was a very hope-filled night ... I went home and read some of more Barak Obama's "Audacity of Hope" ... and all this day after we had Arianna Huffington here speaking about being "On Becoming Fearless" ... not only a good Advent theme but the title of HER new book.
All in all a great start to Advent and contemplation of how we balance our faith and action in these reflections from people of faith who live their lives walking their talk in the most public of arenas.

From today's Pasadena Star-News:
Edwards in Pasadena sounds like candidate
By Janette Williams Staff Writer
Pasadena Star-News

PASADENA - John Edwards all but declared his 2008 candidacy for president at what was billed as a book-signing Monday night at All Saints Episcopal Church.

Many in the overflow crowd of about 500 hadn't even bought "HOME: The Blueprints of Our Lives" for him to sign. And the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate announced be would spend "two or three minutes" discussing the $29.95 book - the famous and the unknown talking about the homes they grew up in - before the real business of the evening began.
The crowd came to hear the former senator from South Carolina, John Kerry's 2004 running mate, talk politics.

An hour and three standing ovations later, Edwards wrapped up a Town Hall-meeting style question-and-answer session, leaving his mostly middle-aged audience hopeful his name will be on the 2008 Democratic ticket.

"He's very charismatic, a breath of fresh air," said Jean Tam of San Marino, who did buy a book - which she described as "warm and fuzzy" and perhaps designed to make him connect with voters on a personal level. "I think he's using \ as a barometer" for a presidential bid.
Earlier, in All Saints Rector Ed Bacon's office, Edwards said he was aware of the Internal Revenue Service's investigation of alleged politicking from the pulpit there before the 2004 election, although he wasn't familiar with the sermon's details.

"But I think it's naive to think politics don't go on in churches across America every Sunday - I saw it in my own campaign" in 2004, Edwards said. "I'm more concerned with the opposite, candidates who themselves inject their personal faith belief system into national policy."
After Edwards, relaxed in jeans, a navy blue blazer and open-necked striped shirt, was introduced by Bacon, a woman in the audience shouted "Three cheers for the nominee" to laughter and applause.

And Edwards sounded very much like a candidate as he touched on a wide-ranging series of topics raised by the partisan audience, including Darfur, poverty, healthcare, the tax system and Iraq.

The Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints, whose son is stationed in Tikrit, Iraq, asked Edwards if he had "a word of hope for us" about the situation there.

"America and the world desperately need the truth," Edwards said. "I voted for the war and I was wrong ... it's what makes it so hard to say to people like you, whose son is serving in Iraq, and to those who have died or were maimed in Iraq, that they did nothing wrong ... mistakes were made by people like me. But I don't take responsibility for the conduct of the war."

That, he said, belonged to President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"My personal view is what we need to do is make it clear we are going to leave" Iraq, Edwards said. "And the best way to do that is to start leaving."

Edwards said the "single greatest responsibility" for the next U.S. president will be to reclaim American's moral authority to lead the world.

"I really liked him when he was the vice presidential nominee," said Loretta Alvarez, one of scores who waited in line hours before the event. "Now I feel he will be one of our future presidents."