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.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Thoughts on TREC: [Task Force for Reimaging the Episcopal Church]

So these are my quasi-random thought on TREC in general and Thursday's churchwide meeting in particular. [Warning to any Casual Reader: this will be a particularly egregious example of  the Episcopal Church's version of "Inside Baseball."] But here goes:

On Thursday, October 2nd TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) held a "churchwide meeting" which was down-linked from the National Cathedral in Washington DC. To back up just a little, TREC was convened by a resolution (C095) of General Convention in 2012 which read in part:"
Resolved, That this General Convention establish a Task Force under the Joint
Rules of Order, whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention
with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and
That challenge was issued not to reform our structures just for the sake of reforming our structures, but because:
...this General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:
• Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
• Respond to human need by loving service
• Seek to transform unjust structures of society
• Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of
the earth;
Makes total sense. We should absolutely have structures that support those important goals.

So they -- the Task Force -- are now on the home stretch of coming up with their plan to present to the 78th General Convention ... which will be held in Salt Lake City in June 2015. And the churchwide meeting was a chance for them to present some progress and also to field questions and concerns from around the church.

If you have 2.5 hours you can watch the whole thing here ... but I would draw your attention to these to clips.

Bishop Michael Curry's opening remarks (read "sermon") on the both/and of church as movement/institution is brilliant. That's at 5:00-15:00 ... and TOTALLY worth the ten minutes it'll take you watch it. Trust me.

Then there's this response by Jen Adams and Michael Curry to a questioner about specific ideas to reach out to those "hungry for God" -- particularly younger people. The segment comes at 23:30 on the video, but here are the quotes:
Jen Adams: One of the things that I’ve learned as a part of this TREC project is how very little there is in terms of structure or governance or administration that stands in our way. We’re in our way at times, but it’s not generally our structure or governance or administration that keeps us from getting out there and finding those people and inviting those people and feeding those people and being those people. There are some technical changes we can make … but for the most part it isn’t the structure that needs to change. There’s something culturally that needs to change among us so we can inspire each other more fully be the people who are hungry to feed the people who are hungry for the good news.

Michael Curry: You’re talking about a revival. And TREC is about getting the bones rearranged so that they’re ready for the revival. We’re just doing a little piece – the cracking open.
That's the part that inspired this tweet with a question I'm still asking myself:

Seriously. I don't know anybody who doesn't want the church to me more nimbly response to all those great goals listed above in the enabling resolution -- but if what the Task Force for Reimagining the Church has discovered after two years of work is that it isn't actually the STRUCTURES that are getting in our way, then why are we going to spend a whole boatload of time writing, re-writing, debating and voting on resolutions to restructure structures that don't seem to the problem to begin with?

It's like a patient with a health issue being referred to a surgeon -- who does a battery of tests and comes back and says, "The good news is what you have doesn't require surgery. The bad news is we've scheduled it for Monday."

Somebody talk me down here.

Then there was the question I asked via twitter ... that actually got asked on-air by Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves:

The question was precipitated by a number of concerns raised by a number of smarter-people-than-me about the impact that some of the restructure suggestions being "floated" by TREC would have in continuing to concentrate power in the episcopate in general and in the Presiding Bishop in particular that seems contrary to the call to reimagine a more nimble church in this "age of networks" (as described in what has come to be known by some as the TREC Lazarus Letter.)

Question asked. Question NOT answered. The nice woman who took at stab at it -- Margaret Shannon from Texas -- instead gave a rather defensive reframing of the portion of the Lazarus Letter giving the PB unilateral hiring/firing capacity coupled with a little lecture about how it would all work out fine because "a wise presiding bishop" would surely consult wisely. (Ironic coming on the heels of the current debacle at GTS, let the buyer beware!)

I thought maybe it was just me  ... but at least some in the twitterverse seemed to agree:

Maybe I'll drop her a line and see if we can clear that one up moving forward.

The final point I'll make was the churchwide meeting did nothing to address the concerns many of us have about diluting the ability of the TEC to speak through General Convention on issues of social justice. The best piece on that was written by my brilliant friend Michael Hopkins. You can read it here. Seriously. Read it. You'll thank me,

But there was one point where the panel responded to a question about that concern with (what I experienced as) a rather dismissive answer about concentrating on "fewer things" in order to speak more emphatically about them. My response:

As Michael noted in his brilliant blog (which you will have read by now from the link above):
In 1976, a GC of some moment, one of the resolutions passed affirmed that gay persons were children of God and equal in receiving the pastoral attention of the church. How did that resolution get there? The short answer is that a movement had begun among members of the church, lesbian and gay, to find one another and seek to organize for mutual support and to work towards ensuring that their visibility as lesbian or gay people in the church could not be called into question.

What is important is that a movement was started. We call it grassroots now, and it was indeed that. But then how do we get from the movement to the resolution of GC? It was the openness of our system. A GC large enough that allies of lesbian and gay people could get elected as deputies, and, within a couple of GC’s, lgbt people themselves. And these people had access to the system, i.e., a resolution process that was relatively easy to initiate and an open hearings policy that allowed people other than deputies and bishops to speak.
And that legacy is not a baby I'm willing to watch get thrown out with the bathwater without a fight. Anybody think for a minute that if we'd had a more "streamlined" General Convention process with a committee that had the power to decide which "few things" we should be dealing with in 1976 -- which you will remember was the year we approved a new prayer book AND the ordination of women to the priesthood -- that we'd have managed to get the debate about whether or not we were children of God to the floor?

Give you a minute on that one. Minute's up.

So those are my thoughts on TREC. Not all of them ... it was, after all, a 2.5 hour event. But at the end of the day (or actually the next day) when the call came out for a "tweet sized recap" of the evening, here's what I came up with:

And a couple of days later ... with some time to reflect ... I'm still there. These are good people who love the Episcopal Church -- who want it to thrive and to grow in mission and ministry -- and who are responding with good will and great energy to the charge they were given in C095.

I'm not going to agree with all their proposals. (Heck -- THEY probably don't agree with all their proposals!) But it will be up to General Convention -- the duly elected representatives (lay, clergy and bishops) of the Episcopal Church -- to consider those proposals, to discuss, debate and amend them -- and make some decisions about some of them in Salt Lake City next summer.

These are not people who have all the answers and are going to fix everything that needs fixing in the Episcopal Church.

And they are not an agenda driven juggernaut focused on undermining western civilization and dismantling the church as we know it.

They are us; and we are all in this together. And I'm grateful for their service.

Onward and upward!