Sunday, February 19, 2012

Margaret Mead, The Mountaintop & The War Against Women

Sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 19, 2012 - All Saints Church, Pasadena

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

In seminary I learned from Fredrica Harris Thompsett
that the reason we back up to learn from our history
is to get a running start on our future.
That framing warmed the cockles of this history major’s heart then
and continues to speak to me now -- nearly 20 years later

A recent case in point
is the celebration we had here at All Saints Church
marking 20 years of the blessing of same sex unions.
In taking time to back up
and learn from what happened in 1992
we were not only celebrating our history
we were mobilizing for our future.

Because, as it turns out,
George Regas did not wake up one fine day and say
“Mary Regas, I think I’ll bless some gay people today.”
Rather it was a small group
of thoughtful, committed people
thoughtful, committed, persistent people
thoughtful, committed, DOGGEDLY persistent people
who would not take no for an answer
who – in George’s words –
continued to love him and challenge him
through his hesitation and anxiety
and in the end their changing George
changed All Saints into an agent of change for equality
in the church, the state, the country and the communion

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The Gospel According to Mark
tells us about another small group
of thoughtful, committed people
who went up the mountain with Jesus
It is the Last of the “Epiphs” of the Season of the “Ahas!” of God
the season we celebrate not the fact that God “showed up”
but the times we were given the grace
to notice that God was here

And this is the “Big One” –
the mountain top one – the best for last one –
the Big Finish One:
the one we always hear on this Last Sunday of Epiphany
before our Lenten pilgrimage begins on Wednesday
with the ashes on our foreheads as outward and visible signs
of the 40 day journey to Easter Day
(never mind that Ralphs already has a whole aisle of Easter candy)

The church has a name for the story we just heard
of Jesus, Moses & Elijah
on the mountain with James & Peter & John
It’s called The Transfiguration
and one definition is:
“transformed or changed into something more beautiful or elevated.”

During Lent
we will learn from our Lent Event speaker Richard Rohr
about “The Change that Changes Everything”

He writes:

“Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”

Jesus was so in alignment
with the inherent experience of the love
of the one who created us ALL in love
and then called us to walk in love with each other
that he was transformed – transfigured –
in front of the very eyes of the awestruck disciples
who heard again
the words that had been spoken at the River Jordan
when Jesus was baptized by John: Beloved.

The engine of change –
the inherent experience of love –
was not only the engine of the Transfiguration …
it is the engine of change
that down through the ages
has empowered those thoughtful, committed people
to change the world.

The prayer that we prayed this morning –
that we “be changed into Jesus’ likeness from glory to glory”
had nothing to do with being changed into
the physical likeness
of the radical rabbi from Nazareth
and everything to do
with being transfigured
by the change that changes everything
into radical bearers
of the light of God’s inclusive love.

And from here this sermon was supposed to go on
to some more examples of how small groups
of thoughtful, committed people have changed the world
and how we’re called to go and do likewise
and it was supposed to end with some encouraging words
about using this upcoming Season of Lent
to be a time of reflection and preparation
to be changed by the change that changes everything.

With maybe an amusing story
about one of my children thrown in
if I could figure out where to fit it in
and still get you to the Forum in time to hear Kenny Turan.

And then that thing happened.
The thing where you have the Bible in one hand
and the newspaper in the other
(or more accurately the online lectionary in one hand
and my iPhone in the other)
and what is happening in the news
causes the homiletic GPS to recalculate
and the road you thought
was going to take you from
“May the words of my mouth
and meditation of our hearts …” to “Amen”
ends up being a road not taken at all
and you end up going somewhere
altogether different
and you end up taking on
The War Against Women.

Oh Lord
Not that again
Didn’t we do that in the 70’s
when we were women and you heard us roar
and we got in touch with our bodies and ourselves
and we grew up to be priests and bishops
and doctors and lawyers
and Secretaries of State and Studio Heads
and here we are again
watching our rights be questioned
and our choices be challenged
in the name of religious liberty
and in response to a fictitious
War on Religion.

Yes, that again.
Because it is not a "war on religion"
when 1st Amendment protections
are employed to protect both freedom of religion
and freedom from religion –
and it is not a "war on religion"
when someone points out the fact
that nobody has the right
to write their theology into our Constitution.

It is not a "war on religion"
when courts recognize that
the equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment
equally protects all Americans –
as the 9th Circuit Court did in ruling
Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

And it is not a "war on religion"
when the White House "just says no"
to efforts to make women's health care
a sacrificial lamb on the altar of partisan politics
by politicizing equal access to insurance for contraception.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote those words
long before twitter and facebook
helped mobilize small groups of people
into large groups of people
committed to changing the world.
And if there was a silver lining
in the whole sorry Planned Parenthood mess
it was the elevation of the issue
of access to women's health care
for underserved populations
to the top of the news -- for a moment –
with the good news of a victory against the politicization of health care.

It was, however, a short-lived victory
in a long running war
as a new front opened up on Capitol Hill this week
with hearings on whether the White House compromise
providing women who are employed by institutions
with religious affiliations
(like universities and hospitals)
with direct access to insurance companies for contraception coverage
threatened the religious liberty of those institutions.

Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures
of the panel of witnesses
called to testify to the House committee
The panel of men. Yes, all of them. All. Men.

Called to testify about their religious liberty being infringed
by women in their employ
having direct access to contraception
they are neither being asked to approve of nor to pay for.

A ranking committee member
asked the chair to include a female witness.
His request was denied.
The reason given was that the hearing
wasn’t about “birth control,”
it was about “freedom of religion and conscience.”
Which begs the question:
Don’t women have consciences?
Don’t women have religious freedom too?

No matter WHAT "the issue" is
to bring forward ONLY male voices
is Systemic Sexism Incarnate.

AND if the issue is "religious liberty"
the fact that the leadership is so blind
to the fact that women do indeed have a voice
in protecting our collective religious liberty
is the other side of shocking.

Because the First Amendment
guarantees the freedom to exercise religious beliefs
to every American.
It does NOT
guarantee the freedom to impose religious beliefs
on other Americans.

And whether the target is health care for women
(which is under direct attack in Virginia)
or marriage for same-sex couples
(which was vetoed on Friday in New Jersey)
all Americans suffer collateral damage
when the fundamental rights of some Americans
become sacrificial lambs
on the altar of patriarchal partisan politics. Yet …

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And even as we speak
thoughtful, committed, DOGGEDLY persistent people
like those who changed George Regas’ mind
about blessing the union of Mark Benson and Phil Straw
are hard at work changing other minds
and transfiguring other hearts
to align with the inherent experience of love
in the service of the change that changes everything.

And there are some who will argue
that issues like women’s health and marriage equality
and what happens on Capitol Hill or in Virginia or New Jersey
are best left to the others
while the church
focuses on “higher things”
holier things
more important things

In fact this very week
a bishop in the Episcopal Church
wrote on a list-serve
for bishops and deputies to our General Convention
“if we spend time debating and perfecting resolutions
on subjects like these,
we will certainly never accomplish
the goal of streamlining General Convention”

And I wrote back
“if the goal of General Convention
is streamlining General Convention
then I say we all do Jesus a favor and stay home”

To be changed by the change that changes everything
and then make the goal of General Convention
streamlining General Convention
is the 21st century version
of Peter’s 1st century response to the Transfiguration:
to build three booths
and stay on the mountain.

In seminary I learned from Fredrica Harris Thompsett
that the reason we back up to learn from our history
is to get a running start on our future.

And so what I know from our history
is that we are not a booth building people.
What I know from our history is that we are a
thoughtful, committed, DOGGEDLY persistent people
called to make God’s love tangible 24/7
as we work to turn the human race into the human family.

And what I know from history
is that what fuels us to keep taking that running start on our future
is returning to this sanctuary
to this table
to this mountain top
week after week
year after year
to be fed by the bread and wine made holy
and to align ourselves with the inherent experience of love
not to build booths and hide from the world
but to be sent down off the mountain
into the world
to BE the change that changes everything.
Because …

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And let all God’s people say “Amen.”


TennProf said...

Amen and amen.

stanchaz said...

I'VE HAD ENOUGH! In this Holy War on Religion, of Religion, and by Religion - I SURRENDER! ‘Cause I’m a lover, not a fighter. Instead...I’m gonna start my OWN religion, and get in on the good stuff: tax exemptions, and lots of taxpayer money to do what I want, in the name of religious liberty. AWESOME!
Hey NEWT -wanna join? We’re gonna have open marriages and multiple wives and all SORTS of neat stuff that you’re just gonna love! But don’t you worry Newt: we’ll have no - I repeat - NO nasty stoning of adulterers in OUR religion. None of that stuff. I Promise! As for SANTORUM, he just LOVES to tell other people how they should live. He’ll make us a REAL fine preacher-man. In fact, if he joins we’ll make him Saint Santorum....AND fix his Google search results! As for Mr. Obama, it’s obvious that we’ll need to (severely) demonize him, even further than now! Last but not least: MITT and RON. Hmmm... Hey, I know. Just for you two guys and the rest of the 1%: we’ll insist on NO TAXES AT ALL for our members…AND human sacrifice of illegal aliens. Tear out their hearts! Televise it live! WHAT A COUNTRY! :-)
By the way, the fact that Mitt Romney’s DAD was born in Mexico is quite relevant here. The reason is that Mitt’s Mormon GRAND-dad LEFT the United States and went to Mexico in the 1880‘s because laws against polygamy were passed in the U.S.; And being a Mormon back then, Mitt’s grand-dad just wanted to keep his multiple wives. Hey, who wouldn’t? Therefore, IF we follow the “logic” of the people crying crocodile tears about a non-existent “war on religion”, THEN the U.S. should have allowed polygamy back then (and religious racial discrimination, and who knows what else) - just because a particular religion claimed it as their cherished belief. GIVE ME A BREAK! Or better yet... give me a TAX-break...for my new religion!
Seriously: The bottom line is that absolutely NO ONE is coming into our Churches or places of worship and telling believers what to believe.....or forcing them to use contraception. BUT If the Bishops (and other denominations) want to continue running businesses outside of their places of worship...businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no "faith" at all- THEN they must play by the same rules and rights that other workers live by and enjoy (especially if their businesses use our tax dollars, and skip paying taxes, in the process). This is not a “war on religion”. Never was. It’s a war BY some religions... on women and men who simply want to plan their families, to control their futures, to keep their jobs, and to have health insurance that allows them to do that. The churches (or the IRS) need to decide whether these are gonna be political organizations proclaiming partisan politics from the places of WORSHIP. Not both.
p. s. I come from a religious background. I know that their are many good people out there in various faiths (AND outside of those faiths)...many good people searching for answers, searching for community, searching for a this all-too-harsh world. There's only one thing I can say to you: think for yourself, be yourself, trust yourself. Don't just accept something because it comes from a "voice of authority". For ultimately YOU are responsible for your life, and how you try to live it. That’s why you have a conscience: to choose, not just to follow....

Evan said...

Thanks for writing. I shared this on Facebook.