Thursday, December 25, 2014

Malala's Magnificat | A Sermon for Christmas Eve

preached at All Saints Church in Pasadena at the 5:30 p.m. service Christmas Eve 2014

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.”

So there we 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.

One of those traditions it inspires is the lighting of the Advent wreath – candle by candle through the Sundays of Advent – until tonight when it glows with all its candles fully ablaze. When my boys were little, lighting the candles on the Advent wreath on the dining room table was a really big deal. I'd like to think it was because they had grasped the significance of the Advent season as a time of spiritual preparation for the coming of our Lord. However, I suspect it was because if the Advent Wreath was there, the tree and presents couldn't be far behind! 

Yes, we love our Advent wreath. And yet, like any beloved tradition, we can run into trouble when the symbol becomes more important than what it symbolizes. An Advent wreath case in point was an energetic exchange on a Facebook group called “Episcopalians on Facebook” in response to a question from someone who identified as “a new Episcopalian” about what color the candles should be on the Advent Wreath.

Three hundred and eighty six comments later – and no, I did not read them all – it became clear that there was GREAT division amongst the ranks between the three purple and one pink people and the three blue and one pink people. And don’t even ask about the reaction to the “what about four red candles – that looks more Christmassy” lone wolf – who was well and truly hounded out of the conversation as an Advent Heretic. 

Suffice to say it was not an exercise in social media Christian charity. 

And finally one voice of clarity weighed in with this brief comment: “Silly me. I thought the point was the light from the candles ... not the color of the candles.” 

Yes, the point of candles we light IS the light. The Advent candles are points of light in the darkness which surrounds us – and we light them – week by week – in anticipation of our hearts being filled again with this Christmas promise: 

"What has come into being in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

And this year, it seemed to me, was a particularly dark Advent. 

Night after night we lit the candles on the Advent wreath on our dining room table with the "breaking news" of the day echoing in our ears and in our hearts: the Ferguson Grand Jury decision; Eric Garner's poignant cry of "I can't breathe;" the Torture Report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee; the anniversary of the Newtown tragedy with its reminder of the ongoing scourge of gun violence in our nation. 

And all the while my email inbox and Facebook page were bombarded by pleas to "Keep Christ in Christmas" – followed by helpful hints on smacking down friends or neighbors who offend the Christmas Code by saying "Happy Holidays." 

Like I said, it was a particularly dark Advent.

Maybe that’s why the candles seemed to burn a tiny bit brighter … not only the actual candles we lit here at All Saints Church or the ones my wife Lori and I lit at home on our dining room table … but the virtual candles that were lit in the messages of hope, peace, joy and love that emerged from that darkness during the weeks of Advent preparation for this O Holy Night. 

And maybe what helped me recognize them was that – like a whole boatload of other people – I’ve been trying to take on the discipline of mindfulness – of being in the moment. Of being not just “present and accounted for,” but “present and aware of.”

Now this is easier said than done in an age of multi-tasking, multi-platform, multi-connectivity – and it is most definitely not my own person “default mode.” So it did indeed qualify as a discipline. 

But during Advent I tried to spend each week being mindful of where I saw the lights of hope, of peace, of joy and of love shining in the darkness. And here are some of the lights I saw … starting with Hope. 

“Advent is the season when Christians are called to live with more hope than the world thinks is reasonable” – wrote Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Tonight is the night that we glimpse the incarnation of that hope – more hope than the world thinks is reasonable – represented for us as Christians in the baby in the manger. 

“Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion” – said the Dalai Lama. Tonight is the night we hear again the angels proclaim God’s desire for peace on earth and goodwill to ALL – not just some – people. And we experience again the unique manifestation of compassion: the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace from a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another. 

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement: [to] get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” On the third Sunday of Advent, Ed Bacon challenged us to “choose joy” – and these words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel – which were making the rounds on Facebook as a meme – captured my imagination as the “how to” part of Ed’s “choose joy” challenge. Tonight is the night when we stand – once again – at the manger and our hearts sing “Joy to the World” in radical amazement.

Hope, Peace and Joy. And that brings us to the fourth candle – Love. 

These are the words Malala Yousafzai spoke earlier this month when she became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize: 

Dear brothers and sisters,
 the so-called world of adults may understand it,
but we children don't.
Why is it that countries which we call "strong"
 are so powerful in creating wars
but so weak in bringing peace?
 Why is it that giving guns is so easy
 but giving books is so hard?
 Why is it that making tanks is so easy,
 building schools is so difficult?

And in her words -- the words of a young, Muslim school girl targeted for violence by extremists of her own faith for daring to both aspire to and speak out for the education of women – I heard the echo of these words attributed to another young girl – a Jewish girl who extolled the greatness of God in these timeless words we call "The Magnificat:"

He has shown strength with his arm;
 he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
 and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
 and sent the rich away empty.

For the God Mary extolled in her Magnificat – the God who gave her the courage to say "yes" to the extraordinary call to be the bearer of the Christ Child in the 1st century – is the same God who inspires Malala with the courage to be an agent of change for love, justice and compassion in the 21st. 

To lift up the lowly. To challenge the proud and the powerful. To fill those hungry for education with good things. This is the God who upsets the applecart of the establishment and turns the tables on the powerful. This is the God who entrusts the incarnation of the Good News of God's inclusive love to an unwed mother in an occupied territory. This is the God who uses the voice of a Pakistani school girl to send a message-heard-round-the-world challenging the status quo and giving hope to the hopeless. Making God’s love tangible in powerful and unexpected ways. 

This is Malala’s Magnificat: a light shining in the darkness in a life lived in alignment with God’s love, justice and compassion. 

It has been a particularly dark Advent -- and so I give particular thanks on this Christmas Eve for the gift of mindfulness. 

For awareness of the hope, peace, joy and love – lit like Advent candles in the darkness of 21st century breaking news: in the words of a Presiding Bishop, a Tibetan Buddhist, a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim schoolgirl. I give thanks for the diversity of those voices and for the reminder that What is coming into being in Jesus this Holy Night is life; life that is the light of all people. No matter what tribe, gender, faith, tradition -- or what color you think the Advent wreath candles should be. 

And so on this “O Holy Night” may we resist the Christmas temptation that is greater than all the Eggnog and Christmas Cookies in Christendom. And that is the temptation 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.

My brothers and sisters, as we celebrate tonight the wonder of the amazing gift 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 keep the hope of Christmas alive in the year ahead. May we receive the gift of "Malala's Magnificat" and the light she is kindling in the world. It is a light that transcends gender, tribe and religion – calling us each to find in our own lives and in our own contexts the courage to scatter the proud, to lift up the lowly and -- all the while – to magnify the Lord. 

And as we claim both the gift and the challenge of living lives of radical amazement, may we be given the energy and imagination to hold onto more hope than the world thinks is reasonable as we go out into this “O Holy Night” as bearers of the lights of hope, of peace, of joy and most all of love.

Merry Christmas! Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

comment on TREC

Brief comment on recently released TREC Report (Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church):
Deeply grateful to all who worked so hard on this monumental charge. And I have absolutely every intention of caring about this very, very soon -- and am dutifully bookmarking smart things good people are saying about this important work -- but right now am in parish-priest-scrambling-to-get-it-all-done-before-Baby Jesus-hits-the-manger mode.

The good news from my corner of the kingdom is that the church is alive and well -- and so working to reimagine it to make it better is a good thing; fretting about the need to resuscitate it is an unnecessary thing.
Here endeth the brief comment on the recently released TREC Report. We now return to our regularly scheduled Advent program in progress.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bits and Pieces ...

It's been an unusually busy Advent so far ... including the privilege of being part of the #BlackLivesMatter March here in Pasadena on 12/14 -- AKA "National Black Solidarity Sunday." [photos here]

I did mange to write a short piece for the Huffington Post -- "Malala's Magnificat" -- which turned out to be the beginnings of my Christmas Eve sermon.

We've also launched a Advent Calendar of daily meditations from All Saints Church ... commend them to you here.

AND ... on a personal note ... my son graduated from college on Saturday with his B.A. Here's the note I posted on FB:

Just have to take a minute to send a shout to my brilliant, kind, amusing, creative and occasionally sardonic son Jim Russell (AKA Jamie to his mom) who is tomorrow -- December 13, 2014 -- graduating from WKU (AKA Western Kentucky University) with his B.A. in Social Studies and a teaching credential -- having completed the final semester of his undergraduate career with straight A's.

I know. Seriously. Am I a proud mom or what?

We're not going to dwell on the fact he only told us he was graduating two weeks ago -- leaving no time for us to reorganize heaven and earth to get there to watch him walk tomorrow. But he's promised [a] lots of pictures and [b] more warning when he finishes his Masters ... which he'll start on in January.

Some of you "knew him when" back in Ventura and Cucamonga days ... some of you helped us pray him through his active duty in the Army ... some of you just know him from pictures I post on FB. But however you know him, share our pride today as we celebrate this great big fat accomplishment.

GREAT job, sweetie. We are SOOOO proud of you!
And ... here are the pics he sent:

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Thus Spake the Diocese of Los Angeles on Marriage Equality

This is what it looked like when the question had been called and the main motion -- the "Resolution Regarding Marriage Equality" -- was voted on today at the 119th Convention of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The language of the resolution was simple:
Resolved, that the One Hundred Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles direct that the following resolution be filed with the Secretary of the General Convention for consideration by the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church:
Resolved, the Diocese of Los Angeles urges the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church to take any and all steps necessary to make the Rite of Holy Matrimony available to same-sex couples throughout The Episcopal Church immediately.
Jim White -- the chair of our diocesan deputation to General Convention -- introduced the resolution with these words:
Right Reverend, Sir, on behalf of the entire Deputation to General Convention, I present this Resolution on Marriage Equality. As delegates will see, we have written it as simply as possible, requesting that General Convention “take any and all steps necessary to make the rite of Holy Matrimony available to same-sex couples throughout the Episcopal Church immediately.”

If I may give a brief overview of the sausage factory that is the General Convention legislative process, the bulk of the work is done in General Convention’s legislative committees. Resolutions dealing with the same topic are sent to a single legislative committee to be perfected into a single resolution that eventually makes it to the floor of the Houses. There will be many resolutions on the topic of Marriage Equality at this upcoming Convention, and in fact, the Presiding Officers (the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies) have already announced that there will be a special legislative committee dealing just with the topic of Marriage. That committee will have members who are much better versed in the Canons and Constitution, as well as the rubrics of the Prayer Book, than are most of us are we. For that reason, we have not attempted to tell them how to go about making the necessary changes, rather just expressing our desire that they make them. We’ll leave the nuts and bolts up to them. It is our sincere hope that this Convention does not attempt to amend this resolution with those types of details as we believe that will just muddy the waters.

We should also say that it would have been possible for any three of us to have collaborated and written a Deputy’s resolution, or for 3 of you Bishops to have gotten together and written a Bishop’s resolution. But we felt that this issue was important enough that it should carry the weight of the whole Diocese submitting it. We hope this convention agrees with us that the Diocese of Los Angeles wants to stand on the right side of history and call the Episcopal Church to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples.
Following that introduction, there was discussion from the floor. About a  half-dozen folks spoke. One senior priest saying how much he hoped we could move this forward and give him what he needed to respond to all couples equally in his parish. One "usual suspect" (every convention has one!) wanted to move an amendment to change "immediately" to "as soon as possible" (seriously!) ... and then muddied the waters a little by conflating the issues of civil marriage and holy matrimony.

As I went to Microphone 2 to clarify that issue, another delegate at Microphone 3 spoke to God having created Adam and Eve for a reason and something about the gay men he knew not being "wired" for marriage.

Jesus gave me the wisdom to stick to what I'd gotten up to say and I so stuck to my clarifying comments. on the work of the Marriage Task Force and the purpose of this resolution -- to add the voice of the Diocese of Los Angeles to those urging the Episcopal Church to move forward on marriage equality at General Convention in Salt Lake City.

We then heard from one delegate to told us if we moved forward on equal marriage for same-sex couples missionaries would be dismembered in Syria. And then, finally, a delegate rose to share that when he and his partner of 35 years were married last year, it would have "meant a lot to them" to have been able to have their church offer them the same rite of Holy Matrimony straight couples received ... and he urged passage of this resolution. And there was much applause. And the question was called. And the resolution was adopted. And we moved on to the next item on the agenda.

And I'll admit to getting a little teary. When Nat, our transitional deacon hugged me and said, "congratulations" I thought about all the water under all the bridges during all those conventions and all the talking-across-the-divides and all the contentious floor fights and reconciliation task forces and compromise resolutions and everything else that got us to this point.

And I had to just pause for a moment and be amazed. And grateful. Tomorrow I'll be back to work on on making today's resolution a reality. But for the moment, I'm grateful just to sit in the gratitude that this is what it looked like when the question had been called and main motion -- the "Resolution Regarding Marriage Equality" -- was voted on today at the 119th Convention of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Resolution regarding Marriage Equality

The following resolution will be considered by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles at its upcoming Diocesan Convention -- to be held December 5th/6th in Ontario. If you are a delegate to that convention I urge your support. Thank you!

Resolution regarding Marriage Equality 

Resolved, that the One Hundred Nineteenth Annual Meeting of the Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles direct that the following resolution be filed with the Secretary of the General Convention for consideration by the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church:

Resolved, the Diocese of Los Angeles urges the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church to take any and all steps necessary to make the Rite of Holy Matrimony available to same-sex couples throughout The Episcopal Church immediately.


At General Convention 2012 the resolution authorizing Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships (A049) included authorization for bishops to exercise “generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church” and the “adaptation of these materials to meet the needs of members of this Church.”

In the years since 2012, the cultural landscape has shifted so dramatically that civil marriage equality has become a reality for a majority of Episcopalians in the United States  In some dioceses clergy are blessing civil marriages between same-sex couples and in others the A049 resources have been adapted for clergy to bless them on behalf of The Episcopal Church and to solemnize them as agents of their state.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said during the March 2013 oral arguments on DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) “There are two kinds of marriages; full marriage and the skim milk marriage.” In June 2013 the Supreme Court ruled against those skim milk marriages in United States vs. Windsor – opening the way for equal federal protections for same-sex marriages.

Our Bishops, along with bishops from all six dioceses in the State of California, joined other faith leaders in amicus curiae briefs supporting the overturn of Proposition 8 and the repeal of DOMA. And the 77th General Convention overwhelming adopted Resolution D018 urging Congress to end discrimination against same-sex marriage and to repeal DOMA.

It is time to act consistently with our words and witness to marriage equality. As we continue to call the state to equally protect all marriages in our culture at large, it is time to make Holy Matrimony a sacrament for all who seek it appropriately in the Church.

The time has come for The Episcopal Church to move beyond the skim milk of generous pastoral response and adapted materials for same-sex marriages and to acknowledge the equal sanctity of all marriages by making the Rite of Holy Matrimony equally available to same and opposite sex couples.

Submitted by:
Canon Jim White
General Convention Deputation; Chair
on behalf of the General Convention Deputation

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Gospel According to Jim Naughton: Pay Attention, Tell the Truth, Say Thank You

It’s the “end of an era” as Jim Naughton steps down after over seven years as editor the Episcopal Café: the go-to place for independent church news for Episcopalians.

Seven years – it has a nice Biblical ring to it. And it seems to me today that like another nice Biblical story – the story of Esther – it was “for just such a time as this” that Jim Naughton stepped up and brought his manifold gifts to work in the digital fields of the Lord.

Just as in the game of baseball (a passion Jim and I share) where a pitcher-who-can-hit is the double threat gift that keeps on giving to a team, Jim has brought to this team – the Episcopal Church team – his gifts of being a theologian-who-can-write. And edit. And investigate. His deep faith and hopefulness about the gospel in general and the Episcopal Church in specific has given him the grace to critique the church when it fell short of being the Body of Christ it’s called to be and to cheerlead the church when it rose to the occasion.

Since it has arguably been a particularly “dense” seven-plus years in church news land, he had plenty of opportunity for both. I remember when he started the “Blog of Daniel” – in response to the short-lived television show that was actually shot at All Saints Church here in Pasadena. As he describes in his farewell post over at Episcopal Café:
The Blog of Daniel was succeeded by Daily Episcopalian, a blog devoted primarily to the struggles over the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. At some point, while keeping that blog, it occurred to me that it was going to be difficult to persuade people that the Episcopal Church was more than an argument over human sexuality if all I covered were arguments over human sexuality. And so, Episcopal Café was born.
And what a gift it has been. Today I’m remembering General Conventions past and surviving Lambeth 2008 together. I’m remembering our Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys moments as we unraveled “The Case of the Errant Email.” Claiming the Blessing and the Chicago Consultation … and a boatload of blog posts along the way. From Plano to Putney, it’s been a journey we’ve shared toward the goal of a church where all the baptized are fully included in all the sacraments – and where “respect the dignity of every human being” doesn’t have a bunch of fine print in the disclaimer after an asterisk.

It is a true thing that our ecclesial GPS is not yet chirping “arriving at destination” – and yet we are many, many miles further down the road than we were when we started … with a big hunk of those miles directly attributable to the work and witness of Jim Naughton. And we are not done yet. There’s still work to do together and I look forward to doing it.

So as we salute Jim for his “just such a time as this” work at Episcopal Café and look forward to that work ahead, I’ll be taking with me all these great memories as motivation to keep moving forward – along with the Gospel Appointed for the Journey … from the Book of Jim, Chapter 7:10 – “Pay attention, tell the truth and say thank you.”

Thank you, Jim. La lucha continua.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

News from All Saints Church, Pasadena

Mixed feelings of sadness at the end of an era and delight for Ed and Hope at the beginning of a new chapter. It will -- to say the least -- be an interesting next 18 months!

A Message from Ed Bacon:

At the November 18th meeting of the vestry, I announced my plan to retire as the rector of All Saints Church in the spring of 2016. This morning I preached about my discernment process leading up to this decision and the discernment processes both All Saints and Hope and I have entered about our futures. All Saints will be discerning the best match for our new rector. Hope and I will be discerning where we are called to live and the particular work we will be entering. [video below]

The vestry has named two extraordinary leaders -- Gloria Pitzer and Bob Long -- to chair the search committee to find and call my successor. I invite you to keep that process in your prayers as it unfolds with the convening of a Search Committee and the creation of a Parish Profile -- and eventually the call to a new rector. We will be using Saints Alive, our website, and social media to inform everyone of the unfolding of the search process. Hope and I also desire your prayers as we seek to know God's call to us in this next chapter.

Meanwhile, during the next eighteen months we will continue to engage in the vibrant and vital mission of All Saints Church as we work together to turn the human race into the human family. I am supremely confident that the DNA of love, justice and compassion that is the essence of All Saints Church will continue to inform and inspire our work in the months ahead as it has through decades and rectors past.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fox News on the "Proper" Use of Scripture

ICYMI ... and you probably did, because odds are if you read this blog you don't watch much Fox News ... the Fox News Folks were evidently quite taken aback by my favorite part of President Obama's Immigration Action Speech ... the part where he said "Scripture tells us we shall not oppress the stranger." It's what I tweeted. It's the quote I put on my FB cover. And it's what made their heads explode ... according to this feature over at Raw Story. Check it out:

On Fox & Friends, Tucker Carlson accused the president of using the Biblical quotations to prove that “God is on [his] side.” “It’s repugnant,” Carlson said. This is the Christian left at work, and it’s repugnant."

"To quote scripture?” he added, “that’s out of bounds.”

“He’s using it to guilt someone into” supporting immigration reform, Elisabeth Hasselbeck replied. “That’s not what the scholars behind the Bible would interpret as proper use.”


Seriously. This from the folks who are fine quoting scripture until the cows come home as long as it's about what they think the Bible says about who's entitled to the equal protection of civil marriage.

Evidently using the Bible as a weapon of mass discrimination against LGBT people is fair game but suggesting that loving your neighbors by not deporting them is out of bounds. Honest to Ethel ... they make my hair hurt.

So here's some scripture for you. "You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God" Leviticus 24:22

Wonder how Hasselbeck's "scholars behind the Bible" would interpret that one?

This Happened

At my desk on Thursday.

Editing December newsletter.

Call from unknown number.

Pick up anyway.

Rector (who I've never met) from North Carolina wanting advice on "best practice" for moving vestry/congregation forward on embracing marriage equality.

Q. "The vast majority are supportive but anxious. What do I say to those who are worried someone might leave or their neighbors will be offended?"

A. "You say that those are exactly the same question every vestry and congregation has asked itself down through the ages when the Holy Spirit called them to step out and be part of bending the arc of history toward justice.

You tell them it was asked about standing against segregation. It was asked about supporting the ordination of women. And it's being asked now about ending marriage discrimination against same-sex couples.

And you say the more important question than "who might leave if we include everyone" is "who might come if we take our place with those standing on the right side of history on this challenge facing our generation the way our forbears did on the ones that challenged them."

Resume editing the December newsletter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Of Marriage Equality in South Carolina and "Marriage Pledges" on the Internet

So the same day we got marriage equality in South Carolina I got an email about "The Marriage Pledge" in my inbox. Coincidence?

Marriage equality came to South Carolina today when the U.S. Supreme Court today denied the motion filed by South Carolina's Attorney General to further delay the start of marriage for same-sex couples.

Interestingly -- to me, anyway -- in the same FB newsfeed was the announcement of a new initiative called "The Marriage Pledge" ... calling for clergy to cease "civil-marrying" any couples now that civil marriage is available to same-sex couples.

Seriously. From their pledge:
To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.

Therefore, in our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles ­articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.

Please join us in this pledge to separate civil marriage from Christian marriage by adding your name.
Already much discussion amongst the conservative cognoscenti over at Titusonenine but I have to admit I just don't really "get it."

To start with -- "government marriage"???? Really -- that's a new one for me. And don't even get me started on the "in accord with the principles articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church's life" part. Stay tuned for the History of Marriage essay in the Study of Marriage Blue Book Report to clarify just how much marriage has evolved over the centuries.

Oh, I get the arguments that clergy should quit acting as agents of the state on matter of civil marriage. I actually get the arguments on both sides of that question. In fact, those questions -- and a call for discernment on that issue -- will also be part of above referenced and upcoming report from the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.

And here at All Saints Church in Pasadena we have our own history of deciding not to act as agents of the state on marriage -- but in our case it was in order to not participate in state sponsored discrimination during the Prop 8 Era.

In point of fact for Episcopalians, our canons already give clergy the leeway to decline to preside at any marriage for any reason whatsoever -- Marriage Pledge or no Marriage Pledge. Canon 18, Section 4 (and I quote):
It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize any marriage.
Period. Seems pretty clear to me!

So what's to be gained by throwing out the bride with the bathwater in this dramatic temper tantrum -- rather than simply using their existing canonical ability to "just say no" to any marriage they consider "un-biblical?" Are the gay cooties of marriage between same-sex couples really going to sneak over and contaminate their otherwise pure marriages? Or is this just yet-another on the long list of efforts to posture and polarize instead of pastor and evangelize?


PS -- Mazel tov, South Carolina! (And I want points for managing to write this piece without bringing up Charles Manson. Until now.)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marriage is reflection of God's love | by Valori Sherer

Valori Sherer is an Episcopal priest, the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby, North Carolina and the author of this op-ed piece on marriage -- which appeared in the Shelby Sentinel in June 2014. I missed it then but it showed up today in one of my newsfeeds -- and I thought it was one of the most clear, concise and helpful summaries I've read in a very long time.

It will not tell you anything you don't already know, but it is totally worth reading and bookmarking for future forwarding to our "But you're redefining marriage!" friends as the journey toward equality continues. (And it WILL continue until we "arrive at destination.")

Marriage is reflection of God's love | by Valori Sherer

Many modern Christians hold the idea that marriage, that is, the union of one man and one woman in a life-long covenantal relationship, is an institution created by God in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

It is clear, however, from the Old Testament that many of the Jewish patriarchs had multiple wives, e.g., Abraham, Solomon, Jacob. Polygamy was still in practice, though less so, during Jesus’ time. Divorce was an accepted practice as well, but only the husband had a legal right to demand it. For centuries, marriage was a private, family matter and most marriages were arranged by the father of the family or the legal guardian.

It was St. Augustine of Hippo who, in the fourth century, first described marriage as “a sacred sign, a sacramentum, of the union between Christ and the church.” In the fifth century ecclesiastical blessing on marriage was only required for priests and deacons. It wasn’t until the eight century that “church weddings” became common practice.

The Christian perspective that has remained consistent is that marriage, as a covenantal relationship of persons, reflects God’s covenantal relationship with creation as described in Scripture. The fruits of any marriage, therefore, must reflect God’s saving plan for the whole world. The marriage must be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world.

Historically, the concept of marriage has evolved from polygamy to monogamy, from property exchange to consent, from duty to love. Each cultural shift in understanding has led to a shift in theological understanding and in the development and application of sacramental rites for marriage.

Our cultural, theological, and ecclesial understanding of marriage continues to evolve. We are confronted almost daily with changes in legislation around the country on the issue of marriage.

As we study, legislate, and enter into marriages in the world we live in today, it may help to remember that in the thirteenth century, the only legal marriages were those conducted in a church because the church and the state were the same entity. Such has never been the case in American history or in American church history. It hasn’t “always been this way” as some voices say. It has always been evolving.

In the Episcopal rite of marriage, we pray for the couple, asking that by God’s Holy Spirit “they may grow in love and peace with God and one another, that their life may be a sign of Christ’s love to a broken world, and that they may be given such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others.”

Christians are a New Covenant community commanded by Jesus Christ to love God, one another, and ourselves as he loved us. St. Paul’s letter to the Romans assures us that the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation was made once, for all. Christians, whether heterosexual or homosexual, form a community whose individual members constitute equally important parts of one body, Christ’s body; and we are all saved through faith, by grace. Marriage is one way we all can reflect this truth is our world.

Valori Sherer is Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Thoughts on Friday's Prayers at the National Cathedral

My first visit to the National Cathedral in Washington DC was a high school youth group trip in the '70s while the massive house of stone and light was still under construction. I've returned many times over the years and never fail to be moved by the beauty, power and energy of this place of worship in the center of our nation's capital -- a place which defines itself as a "house of prayer for all people."

Due to the marvels of modern technology, on Friday morning I was able to sit in my living room in Southern California and watch the livestream of the service of Muslim Friday Prayers (Jumu'ah) from that very National Cathedral in a service that emphasized the "all" in "all people."

You can read the rest here ... in the blog I posted to the Huffington Post yesterday. (And of course I hope you will.)

But in this platform I want to share a comment on Facebook in response to that blog. A reader wrote:
The Rev. Susan Russell offers some excellent insights about today's Muslim prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. Katie and I listened to the entire program this evening together on the Cathedral's website and were amazed by the remarks by the Dean, the Cathedral Canon, and the leaders in the Muslim Community.

I learned so much that I didn't know about our brothers and sisters in the Muslim Community. These peaceful people of prayer stood in the Cathedral and condemned terrorism and called for the protection of the religious freedom of Christians in the Middle East. There are Muslims who have helped to rebuild churches that have been destroyed by terrorists. I quickly learned in listening to their talks that there is nothing to be afraid of and I was able to lay some of my own personal biases to rest.

Those who were so against opening the Cathedral to the Muslim community could have really benefited from taking the time to listen to what our brothers and sisters have to say. Part of the problem with society is that nobody seems to want to listen to people who look or believe differently than they do. You don't have to agree with the other person, but you can learn by listening and offer hospitality while still standing confident in your own tradition. Love is the opposite of fear. Let us all choose love.
And that -- my friends -- is why we do what we do. An inch at a time.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In Praise of Certain Bishops

    The things you find digging around the Episcopal Archives.

    October 19, 1995 | A Statement Made by Certain Bishops in the Face of the Impending Trial of Bishop Righter

    We the undersigned recognize the witness of the Rt. Rev. Walter C. Righter to the Christ who lived, died and rose for the salvation of all. Walter Righter's trial is a trial of the Gospel, a trial of justice, a trial of fairness, and a trial of the church. We stand with Bishop Righter. We feel charged as Bishop Righter is charged. We feel on trial as Bishop Righter is on trial. Should he be found guilty, we are guilty. Should Bishop righter be sentenced, we will accept his sentence as our own.

    Allen L. Bartlett, Jr., Pennsylvania;
    George S. Bates, Utah;
    William Burrill, Rochester;
    Steve Charleston, Alaska;
    Jane Holmes Dixon, Suffragan of Washington;
    Ronald H. Haines, Washington;
    Sanford Z.K. Hampton, Suffragan of Minnesota;
    Barbara C. Harris, Suffragan of Massachusetts;
    George N. Hunt, Acting Bishop of Hawaii;
    James L. Jelinek, Minnesota;
    Jack M. McKelvey, Suffragan of Newark;
    M. Thomas Shaw, Massachusetts;
    Richard L. Shimpfky, El Camino Real;
    John S. Spong, Newark;
    Orris G. Walker, Long Island;
    R. Stewart Wood, Jr., Michigan;
    Tom Ray, Northern Michigan;
    Roger Blanchard, Retired of Southern Ohio;
    John M. Burgess, Retired of Massachusetts;
    John Harris Burt, Retired of Ohio;
    George C. Cadigan, Retired of Missouri;
    Otis Charles, Retired of Utah;
    David R. Cochran, Retired of Alaska;
    Robert DeWitt, Retired of Pennsylvania;
    A. Theodore Eastman, Retired of Maryland;
    John E. Hines, Retired Presiding Bishop;
    John Krumm, Retired Southern Ohio;
    H. Coleman McGehee, Jr., Retired of Michigan;
    William Marmion, Retired of Southwestern Virginia;
    Paul Moore, Jr., Retired of New York;
    Quintin E. Primo, Retired, Suffragan of Chicago;
    George E. Rath, Retired of Newark;
    Francisco Reus-Froylen, Retired of Puerto Rico;
    Robert R. Spears, Jr., Retired of Rochester;
    Richard M. Trelease, Retired of Rio Grande;
    Frederick B. Wolf, Retired of Maine

    This list represents a great cloud of witnesses – bishops who were willing to put not just their “money” but their vocations where their mouths were on the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments in the Episcopal Church.

    There has been a lot of water under the bridge since this “statement made by certain bishops” nineteen years ago. And although we’re not quite “there yet” on the full inclusion thing, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and we are inarguably leaps and bounds beyond the day when certain bishops had to write statements in support of a fellow bishop facing a heresy trial for ordaining a gay man to the priesthood.

    We are where we are because of them. Because of all of those who stood up, who spoke out, who took risks and who paid prices for their prophetic witness. And we stand on their shoulders -- theirs and unnamed multitudes of other giants of justice -- as we continue to seek God's will for us and for the witness of this church. Some of them are still with us in this realm -- others have gone to Jesus. But may I just suggest that today would be a really swell day to thank the ones still amongst us ... and to give thanks for those who have gone ahead.

    And may the One who gave them the courage, the clarity and the conviction to do all those things in their generation give us the same gifts in ours … especially as we move toward 2015 – the 20th anniversary of their statement – and the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Palm Springs Pride 2014 | Oil for the Lamps and Strength for the Journey

[sermon for Pride Eucharist at St. Paul's in the Desert, Palm Springs preached on November 8, 2014]

Listen. Can you hear it?

It is the sound of the sand running through the hourglass as we come to the end of yet-another church year and see on the horizon the end of yet-another calendar year – AND we gather here today for yet-another Pride weekend.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, time flies when you’re having fun – either by striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being … or by abandoning the faith received from the fathers and destroying western civilization as we know it … depending on your point of view.

Either way, times flies – and what a difference decade … or two or three or four … makes! Let’s review:

"It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church." -- Resolution of the Episcopal Church, 1976

And then just last month there was this:

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" -- Working document from the Vatican, 2014

Two statements -- issued decades apart -- by church councils struggling to respond to the conflict between ancient doctrines and new understandings: each case greeted by some as "too little, too late" and by others as "the end of the world as we know it."

As an Episcopalian busily ministering in a church on the cusp of finishing the work of fully including the LGBT baptized in all the sacraments it would be easy to dismiss the recent news from the Vatican as the former – especially as the final version "walked back" the more revolutionary language under pressure from conservative prelates.

And yet -- as my brilliant friend Diana Butler Bass said in response --
"When it comes to God's justice, all of us move too slow, too late."

We are told that the very arc of history bends toward justice.
And so the sound you heard from Rome was that arc bending a little further with this document moving (ever so slightly) And it was followed by the sound of the "one step back" in the proverbial "two steps forward, one step back" journey to justice.

Just as our own 1976 resolution promising "full and equal claim" was followed in 1979 by a resolution stating that it was "not appropriate to ordain a practicing homosexual."

So much for "full and equal."

Like the Vatican in 2014, the 1979 "one step back" in response to our 1976 resolution came from conservative elements within our polity pushing back on the tide of equal love, justice and compassion for all God's beloved human family.

But the good news is that the tide kept turning.
The arc kept bending.

And year after year -- General Convention after General Convention – resolution after resolution -- we kept coming back and pressing forward.

In terms of God's justice we may have moved too slow and too late but we kept moving. And last week when I stood with the rest of a packed-full church to applaud as Bishop Mary Douglas Glasspool introduced St. Luke’s Monrovia to their new rector and his husband I thought, "we may not be 'there' yet but we're sure getting there!"

Getting there because we’ve kept our lamps trimmed and burning.
Getting there because – unlike the bridesmaids in today’s Gospel – we’ve both stockpiled and shared the oil we needed to keep the light on in the dark days and to celebrate the victories on the bright ones.

And for those who work for equality, the recent past been chock full of examples of both.

Marriage Equality – extraordinary progress in the last year
Midterms – hard not to be discouraged by the polarization and division
Supreme Court – Circuit Court ruling going to put equality back in their lap
General Convention – on the cusp of finishing the work of 40 years
David Gushee – indicative of a huge shift for evangelicals
UMC – bishops meeting on LGBT issues with no LGBT people in the room

Steps forward – and steps back – on that arc of history we are promised bends toward justice but we are not promised bends easily. And the challenge is not to be discouraged in the process.

I hold in particular mind today Bishop John Krumm – the former bishop of Southern Ohio who retired to Los Angeles. A number of years ago now at his memorial service I had the privilege of hearing Bishop George Barrett reminisce about their 60-year friendship in the homily he offered at our diocesan Cathedral Center.

“John Krumm” said Bishop Barrett – stabbing his long, boney finger into the air for emphasis – “was never disillusioned by the church because John Krumm never had any illusions about the church!”

Yet John Krumm loved this church -- served it joyfully and well. Because he had no illusions he was free to focus on the ideal of what it could become. And when I think about his long and faithful life I think about the many changes he must have seen over the course of it – and the two steps forward and one steps back that made them happen.

John Krumm’s gift to the church – the oil that kept his lamp burning – was his willingness to be an agent of change – to venture into the unknown future God called him to without the fear that Episcopal theologian Verna Dozier named as the opposite of faith.

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

The journey to that new possibility – that New Jerusalem – is what today’s lessons are all about.

The days shorten and the shadows lengthen. As church year nears its end – yes, we are just two weeks from Advent! –the lessons turn to the end times. To what our spiritual GPS would call “arriving at destination.” To the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

And so this afternoon we hear Joshua call us – as he called the Israelites settling at last into the Promised Land – to remember to remember who got us this far.

And we hear the psalmist remind his listeners – and us -- to make sure the next generation knows their history.

And we hear Paul exhort the Thessalonians – and us – to encourage each other.

And we hear Matthew challenge his community – and us – to keep our lamps trimmed and burning with the oil they need to shine …

Because we may be on the journey but we’re not there yet.
And we do NOT know the day or the hour.
And we do not know when the step forward is going to be followed by a step back.
And so we need both oil for our lamps and strength for the journey.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is why we gather here today. In this place. With this community. Around this table.

Our strength is the community.
Our oil is the shared story
Our challenge is to continue to keep our lamps burning with the light of love, justice and compassion as we go out into a world in desperate need of the good news God has for God’s beloved human family.

As we offer an alternative to those who have hijacked the Gospel of God’s inclusive love and turned it into a weapon of mass discrimination.

And, particularly for those who prepare to march tomorrow, to be beacons of hope and welcome to those in our community who think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one because all they know about Christianity is what they heard from Pat Robertson. Or Sarah Palin. A tall order? You betcha … and yet …

I remember when I was in seminary and wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew and whether all the work was worth it. And I remember a moment with Bishop Barbara Harris – in the cocktail lounge at the Red Lion Inn in Ontario after an ECW Annual Meetings – and her gravelly voice as she laid her hand on top of mine and said: “Never forget: the power behind you is greater than the challenge ahead of you. And just keep on keepin’ on.”

But make no mistake about it – there is challenge in this Gospel work – and keepin’ on is sometimes easier said than done. Listen to these words from Mary Glasspool:

The enemy of fidelity and commitment is apathy, the inability to suffer.
In order not to feel the pain of loss, we set emotional limits on our commitments.
In order not to be disappointed or hurt in relationships, we set boundaries on our fidelity.
In order to avoid suffering, we diminish all passion and exuberance.
Apathy is the opposite of exuberance, a way of living designed to avoid pain.
And so life and vitality are swallowed up by apathy and despair.

That is one very visceral way to describe what it is to “run out of oil.”

Last week our Gospel for All Saints Day was the Matthew version of the Beatitudes – presenting an impossible ideal for the Christian life; but then – said Bishop Mary -- discipleship itself is shaped by immoderation.

The poor in spirit, those who mourn,
the meek and the merciful,
those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
the pure in heart and the peacemakers are the blessed ones.
The Beatitudes are the outrageous expectations of an extravagant God.
It is appropriate that God should set an impossible ideal for discipleship –
because we are called to model God's immoderation.

The Christian life – Mary concludes
is always moving toward an impossible dream,
in the confidence that God will not condemn us for missing the mark.
That is what it means to take God at God's word.

And that is the journey we are on.
To take God at God’s word as we work with God to make that Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live.

A journey to that place where there is no stranger at the gate,
no bridesmaid out of oil, no LGBTQ kid waking up thinking God hates him,
no transgender woman afraid to walk to her car by herself for fear of getting jumped,
no asterisk after “love you neighbor as yourself” that leads to
*unless you’re gay or lesbian
*bisexual or transgender
*queer or questioning
*or anything else.

And how do we get there?

The only way we can: two steps forward and one step back.

With the oil of love, justice and compassion in our lamps and the strength of the community supporting us on the journey.

Which brings me to these words from the late great Bishop Tom Shaw:

"We are what God has to do good in the world.
Every one of us has a voice and can make a difference if we exercise that.
I don't think we can point to one huge event that's changed everything.
I think instead it's thousands of ordinary people 
doing what they think is right, taking risks, 
speaking out in their lives in big ways and small ways.
Eventually that turns the tide.
God really depends on us for that."

Diana Butler Bass was right.
"When it comes to God's justice, all of us may move too slow, too late."

And yet we, my brothers and sisters, are the ones we have been waiting for.
And God is depending on us
to keep our lamps – trimmed and burning –
for the two steps forward, one step back journey to that Promised Land
trusting that the power behind us
is indeed greater than any of the challenges ahead of us.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Election Day Wisdom

Prayer for Election Day from the Book of Common Prayer: "Teach your people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation. Amen"

Friday, October 31, 2014

Words of Wisdom from my bishop for All Saints Day

Yes, I know it's not All Saints Day until tomorrow. My house is appropriately decked with jack-o-lanterns in the window, a bowl of candy is on the counter ready for any goblins who stop by this evening and the "Happy Halloween" yard flag is flying off the porch.

But since All Hallow's Eve IS the eve of All Saints Day, thoughts turn to the celebration of the saints in our worship and reflection this weekend ... and so I'm sharing this brilliant piece by my bishop, Mary Douglas Glasspool (pictured above at Diocesan Dodger Night) from her weekly "unofficial letter" which arrived today while I was doing my official day-off laundry.

Trust me, You'll never hear the Beatitudes quite the same again:
The enemy of fidelity and commitment is apathy, the inability to suffer. In order not to feel the pain of loss, we set emotional limits on our commitments. In order not to be disappointed or hurt in relationships, we set boundaries on our fidelity. In order to avoid suffering, we diminish all passion and exuberance. Apathy is the opposite of exuberance, a way of living designed to avoid pain. And so life and vitality are swallowed up by apathy and despair.

The Beatitudes from Matthew's Gospel are the Gospel Lesson for All Saints' Day. The Beatitudes present an impossible ideal for the Christian life; but discipleship is shaped by immoderation. The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek and the merciful, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart and the peacemakers are the blessed ones. The Beatitudes are the outrageous expectations of an extravagant God. It is appropriate that God should set an impossible ideal for discipleship. Saints mirror God's immoderation.

The Christian life is always moving toward an impossible dream, toward faithfulness and even total commitment in the confidence that God will not condemn us for missing the mark. That is what it means to take God at God's word. That is what it means to be a saint. -- Bishop Mary Glasspool
May you take God at God's word -- this All Saints Day and always -- as we strive together to live out the outrageous expectations of our extravagant God of love, justice and compassion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A saint is a person the light shines through

You've probably heard the story -- the one about the little girl in the cathedral entranced by the beautiful windows and pointing and asking her aunt "Who's that?" at one after the other after the other ...

Saint John.
Saint Peter.
Saint Martha.
Saint Mary.

... until she finally said with triumph "Now I know what a saint is! A saint is a person the light shines through!"

This window is one of the ones in the chapel at All Saints Church in Pasadena -- and when we gathered there on Monday for noonday Eucharist and reflected on the texts for the Sunday-coming ... All Saints Day ... I found myself telling that story and then inviting the "two or three gathered" to join in a time of silence together as we called to mind -- and gave thanks for -- all those people in our lives who have been saints to us. All those who have let the light of God's love, justice and compassion shine through -- and changed our lives as a result. Saints alive in this realm and in the next. All Saints.

It was a great way to start the week. And I've found myself adding to my list ever since. And then it occurred to me to invite you to "go and do likewise" by way of this blog post. Who are YOUR saints?
Almighty God, you have knit us together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

How We Got From There To Here: 1976 - 2014

As the number of dioceses in states or jurisdictions with marriage equality continues to climb and the countdown clock to General Convention 2015 continues to tick, I've gotten more and more questions from folks who want "background" on how we got to where we are in the Episcopal Church on the complicated issue of the church's response to same-sex couples/unions/relationships/marriages.

 So here is my first shot at trying to use "Google Slides" to put a presentation online. It is a distillation of presentations I've made over the years -- updated and edited to specifically address the institutional journey the Episcopal Church as been on over the last nearly-forty years. Hope it's helpful!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reprising my "Litany for Js & Ps"

The flurry of Myers-Briggs tests on Facebook this week inspired me to go look up this "oldie but goodie" from my archives -- a litany for Js & Ps to pray for and with each other.


For the gift of new visions for the future and for the ability to implement and expedite them,
We give you thanks, O Lord.

From the temptation to become so focused on the goal we vision that we do not see the possibilities you offer,
Good Lord, deliver us.

For the grace you give us to be present in the moment and for the gift of spontaneity and openness to changing direction,
We give you thanks, O Lord.

From the danger of being so present in the moment that we settle for what is rather than risk partnering with you to achieve what could be,
Good Lord, deliver us.

For the wholeness and joy you offer us in our relationships with one another,
We give you thanks, O Lord.

From being so defined by our relationships that we lose sight of ourselves in the process, and from the fears of abandonment and rejection that being vulnerable to such loving can bring,
Good Lord, deliver us.

For the strength of self and independence you give us as beloved, empowered and gifted children of God,
We give you thanks, O Lord.

From the temptation to focus so much on the gift of our individuality that we lose sight of our call to mutuality,
Good Lord, deliver us.

For the love you have given us to share, which has been a source of strength and comfort, joy and support, growth and grace,
We give you thanks, O Lord.

For the hurts we have inflicted, the wounds we have created, the trusts we have betrayed and the pain we have caused,
Forgive us, O Lord.

Gracious God, we know that you call us all into wholeness in body, mind and spirit … and we come to you today to pray for your help in that journey. Open to your healing spirit of love and compassion, we ask for your guidance as we seek to grow more fully into the people you have created us to be.

Trusting in your presence within us and between us, we ask for your wisdom as we seek to live more authentically into the relationships you have given us with one another and with you. Claiming the blessing of the vocations with which you have gifted us, we ask you to gift us once more with both hope and discernment as we journey into your future. All this we ask in the name of your Son our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Gays, the Vatican and the Episcopal Church

"It is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church." -- Resolution of the Episcopal Church, 1976

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" -- Working document from the Vatican, 2014
Two statements -- issued decades apart -- by church councils struggling to respond to the conflict between ancient doctrines and new understandings: each case greeted by some as "too little, too late" and by others as "the end of the world as we know it."

As an Episcopalian busily ministering in a church on the cusp of finishing the work of fully including the LGBT baptized in all the sacraments it would be easy to dismiss the recent news from the Vatican as the former -- especially as the final version "walked back" the more revolutionary language under pressure from conservative prelates.

And yet -- as my brilliant friend Diana Butler Bass said in response -- "When it comes to God's justice, all of us move too slow, too late."

Read the rest here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Remembering Tom Shaw: "God Depends On Us For That"

We lost a bishop, an activist, a monk and a friend today. Bishop Tom Shaw died in Massachusetts at the age of 69 after a valiant battle against cancer. The Diocese of Massachusetts released this remembrance ... which included these words which are, for me, the essence of the leader and mentor I knew:
Shaw saw no dichotomy between the daily hours he spent in solitary prayer and the public demonstrations he joined on city streets and State House steps; he believed that prayer leads to action, and sought to make the Episcopal Church a visible and vocal presence in the public arena.

“We are what God has to do good in the world. Every one of us has a voice and can make a difference if we exercise that,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I don’t think that on most civil rights issues, for instance, we can point to one huge event that’s changed everything. I think instead it’s thousands of ordinary people doing what they think is right, taking risks, speaking out in their lives in big ways and small ways. Eventually that turns the tide. God really depends on us for that.”
As the whole church mourns the passing of this powerful witness to God's love, justice and compassion, we also mourn the loss of our friend, companion and example.

I think today about the scene in the documentary "Love Free or Die" where Bishop Shaw romped on the beach with the family whose children were not welcomed to be baptized in another tradition -- because they had two dads -- and how +Tom embraced that family with joy, grace and playfulness.

I remember a moment in the Episcopal House of Bishops -- I've lost track of which year -- when he rose to speak about his vocation of celibacy and to challenge a brother bishop who was insisting LGBT folks were welcome in the church as long as they were celibate: "celibacy is a gift to be received by God -- not a sanction to be imposed by the church."

And I remember his quiet, gentle presence during the long month of Lambeth 2008 as we struggled with the Inclusive Communion team to give witness to the good news of God's inclusive love present in LGBT people around the communion. I remember a particular moment when he put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, "It is so important that you all are here. Thank you."

That's what I remembered when I read the quote above. "Eventually that turns the tide. God really depends on us for that."

God depended on Tom Shaw for that and Tom Shaw never disappointed. Now it's our job to take the baton -- to carry the torch -- to keep up the work ... taking risks, speaking out in big ways and small ways. Because eventually the tide will turn. And God is depending on us to turn it.

Rest in peace, Tom. We've got this.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#spiritday and the #episcopalchurch

Spirit Day. The day millions go purple on Spirit Day in a stand against bullying and to show their support for LGBT youth. Observed annually since 2010, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, and public figures wear purple, which symbolizes 'spirit' on the rainbow flag. And some of us change our FB profile pics purple.

And then the question becomes: what do we do tomorrow? When the purple is back in the closet (so to speak) and kids are still at risk and homophobia and transphobia are still real and present and bullying and killing our youth?

Here's what the Episcopal Church did -- at its General Convention in 2012: pass a resolution calling the whole church to take up the challenge of being the change we want to see in the lives of our precious young people by creating a church wide response to bullying 24/7 ... not just 10/16.

Respond to Bullying | 2012-D022

Resolved, That the 77th General Convention calls for a church wide response to the epidemic of bullying, particularly of those perceived as being “different” by virtue of economic, ethnic, racial or physical characteristics, religious status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression; bullying is defined as the recurring use of single or combined written, verbal or electronic expressions or physical acts or gestures, directed at any person that: result in physical or emotional harm to the person or damage to his/her property; places the person in reasonable fear of harm to him/herself or of damage to her/his property; creates an intimidating or hostile environment for the person; impacts the rights of the victim. Bullying shall include cyber-bullying through electronic/social media, telephonic technology or other means; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention encourage new partnerships among our congregations, dioceses, campus ministries, National Association of Episcopal Schools, public schools, counseling centers, and governmental organizations in order to support and offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment, and other related violence, especially with higher risk populations; and be it further

Resolved, That these partnerships be encouraged to create or join with existing required programs designed to recognize and prevent abuse, neglect, and exploitation in our church settings which:
  • utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials
  • raise participants' awareness about the issue
  • focus on prevention
  • seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior
  • create partnerships between youth and adults
  • provide intervention and treatment for those who exhibit bullying behavior.
Will one resolution passed by one church council end the scourge of bullying that plagues our LGBT kids? Of course not.

But we do believe -- I do believe -- that lifting our collective voice, putting the official energy of the Episcopal Church behind this challenge to speak out, reach out, step out and -- when necessary -- ACT out on behalf of our vulnerable youth is exactly what we both can and should be doing. And this resolution is part of that commitment.

So Happy Spirit Day! Put on your purple, stand up against bullying and together let's be that change we want to see.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dear George,

       To: George Waite
   From: Susan Russell
Subject: Thanks for stopping by

Dear George,

Just a quick note to thank you for your interest in this blog and for stopping by so frequently to comment. Since your comment is, unfortunately, always the same...
Religion is boring, stupid, expensive and a waste of time.
... you will no doubt have noticed that I ceased moderating those comments up a good long while ago.

You are, of course, more than welcome to continue to comment. Just be clear I'll continue to delete. Unless, of course, you'd like to post something helpful or substantive. And in the meantime -- this is just a suggestion for you to take or leave -- you might want to talk to your therapist (if you have one) about why you continue to be drawn to a blog that focuses primarily on something you hold in such contempt.

God bless and have a great day!

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena CA

Teachable Moment

So over on Facebook someone posted the link to this story (the "investiture of the Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach as Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America") with the question: "What does this latest development mean for ACNA and the Global South?"

I replied:
It's really not a "new development" -- it's just another ordination of another bishop in a community that defines itself by who it excludes. And my best advice on dealing with All Things ACNA I got from Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" when he prayed "May the Lord bless and keep the Czar ... far away from us." Bless their hearts.
Another commenter -- we'll call him Joe -- responded:
I'm curious about the idea that they define themselves by "who they exclude." I thought all denominations did that to one degree or the other...yet here you are passing judgment on those who have a different set of beliefs/standards. I wonder why such a double standard exists."
And so here comes the teachable moment:
Good question, Joe. Let me try to answer it. In Very Basic Terms.

One of the hallmarks of Anglicanism is that it evolved out of the crucible of the 16th century Reformation as a tradition with the DNA of comprehensiveness in that Anglicans have traditionally defined their members by belonging rather than by believing.

Yes, there are core beliefs we subscribe to. For those I refer you to the Outline of the Faith. AKA known as the Catechism. (In the back of the prayer book.)

But in a time when Christians were burning each other at the stake over “right beliefs” on everything from transubstantiation to propitiation Anglicans – arguably uniquely in that historical context – found a via media – a middle way – through what came to be known as the Elizabethan Settlement. And whether she actually said it or not, Elizabeth I is credited with having had the wisdom to decree she had no interest in “making windows into men's souls ... there is only one Jesus Christ and all the rest is a dispute over trifles.” She asked for outward uniformity – common prayer – rather than inward unanimity – common belief. Orthorpraxis over orthodoxy.

This was not good enough for the Puritans. You’ll remember they booked a cruise on the Mayflower when they decided the Church of England wasn’t “biblical” enough for them. Didn’t make them not Christians. Didn’t make them bad people. Didn’t make them a whole lot of things. But also didn’t make them Anglican.

Fast forward to the late 20th century when another set of folks decided they needed to purify Anglicanism on a laundry list of issues. I won’t trouble you with them here, but it’s a lot longer than Gene Robinson and women bishops. And their criteria for belonging includes a long list of things to which one must ascribe – including the exclusion of LGBT people and the marginalization of women.

Their version of the Mayflower cruise was ACNA. The difference is – for the purposes of this little teachable moment – that they decided to continue to claim that they are Anglicans. Which they are not – according to the commonly held definition of being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Which they are not.

They are still brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus still loves them beyond their wildest imaginings and the Imago Dei resides smack dab inside them as in all of God’s beloved children.

But they do indeed define themselves by who they exclude – which is, at its very core – profoundly un-Anglican. Not passing judgment. Just stating facts. Thanks for asking for clarification.