Thursday, January 17, 2019

21 Years a Priest

Feeling nostalgic today -- this 21st anniversary of my ordination -- I spied this photo which sits on a table in my office. It's of me receiving a blessing from the inimitable Verna Dozier (in Philadelphia in 1997) and of me giving my first blessing-as-a-priest to Bishop Fred Borsch (in Los Angeles in 1998.)

It is in my office because it has always been an icon for me of a kind of apostolic succession that has nothing to do with patriarchy or institutional church hierarchy and everything to do with what Dr. Dozier taught, fought for and passed down to a next generation.

An African American, a woman and a lay person, her voice was a voice the church hadn’t expected to hear or – I suspect -- even wanted to listen to. And yet like the Gentile woman in Tyre insisting that Jesus hear her plea and heal her daughter, Verna stood her ground and insisted that church hear her plea and heal itself of the clericalism and institutionalism distorting its vision -- hampering its mission – keeping it from becoming all that God intended it to be.

In her 1991 book, The Dream of God, she wrote “God has paid us the high compliment of calling us to be coworkers with our Creator, a compliment so awesome that we have fled from it and taken refuge in the church. The urgent task for us is to reclaim our identity as the people of God and live into our high calling as the baptized community…that the dream of God for a new creation may be realized."

I first encountered Verna when a copy of The Dream of God leapt off the shelf of the old Diocesan Center bookstore and into my hands. As I was preparing for ordination her words were my constant companions as The Dream of God became part of my seminary-survival-kit – reminding me over and over and over again not to confuse God with the church – challenging me to balance academics and action. I only heard her preach once – in 1997 in Cincinnati at a national justice conference – and what I remember most were these words, “Don’t tell me what you believe – tell me what difference it makes that you believe.” Her foundational thesis – that the church has failed in its high calling to be the Body of Christ in the world because is has too often settled for worshiping Jesus instead of following Jesus -- became a core value of my own priesthood -- and I am deeply grateful to be part of this All Saints Church community that not only shares but lives out those values.

Finally, her words about faith and fear are ones I have turned to again and again – especially whenever it’s time to once more step out into new beginnings, new challenges, new opportunities.

“Doubt” said Verna, “is not the opposite of faith: fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move today by the light that is given me, knowing 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."

Words of hope and challenge we need today more than ever. And now -- back to my regularly scheduled to-do list.

[photo credit: Jamesetta Hammons]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

Comment on Presiding Bishop Curry's Response to Bishop Love

With his response this morning to the Bishop of Albany, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has officially ended the Inclusion Wars in our beloved church and abolished the de facto sacramental apartheid which has for too long denied a percentage of the sacraments to a percentage of the baptized. It is a great day to be an Episcopalian.

Presiding Bishop Curry, responding to Bishop Love’s refusal to make the sacrament of marriage available to all couples in his diocese as instructed by Resolution B012 adopted in July 2018 by our General Convention, wrote:
“I am therefore persuaded that as Presiding Bishop I am called upon to take steps to ensure that same-sex marriage in The Episcopal Church is available to all persons to the same extent and under the same conditions in all Dioceses of the Church where same-sex marriage is civilly legal.”

This is good news not only to any couples in the Diocese of Albany who have been waiting to be able to order their wedding cake and invite their friends and family to celebrate with them as they pledge themselves to love, honor and cherish each other until death do they part. And it is not just good news for Episcopalians who have been working for decades to become the church with no outcasts Presiding Bishop Browning dreamed of and to make the full and equal claim on the pastoral care, love and concern of the church promised LGBTQ persons way back in 1976 not just a resolution but a reality. This clarity from the Presiding Bishop is good news for the whole church, equipping us to more fully do the work of living out God’s values of love, justice and compassion in this beautiful and broken world.

There is absolutely a place in this church for those who hold – as the Bishop of Albany does – a minority opinion on the theology of marriage. However, as of today, that place is no longer standing between same-sex couples and the sacrament of marriage.

I am honored to serve as one of the co-conveners of the Communion Across Difference Task Force called for by General Convention Resolution A227 last July. Our first meeting is scheduled for mid-March and our “marching orders” include “That the Task Force seek a lasting path forward for mutual flourishing consistent with this Church’s polity and the 2015 “Communion across Difference” statement of the House of Bishops (‘communion-across-difference’), affirming (1) the clear decision of General Convention that Christian marriage is a covenant between two people, of the same sex or of the opposite sex, (2) General Convention’s firm commitment to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to authorized liturgies; and also affirming  (3) the indispensable place that the minority who hold to this Church’s historic teaching on marriage have in our common life, whose witness the Church needs.”

As Episcopalians we have the DNA of Anglican comprehensiveness coursing in our veins. Forged in the crucible of the English Reformation and emerging as a community of faith uniquely wired to hold in tension the seemingly irreconcilable differences of being both protestant and catholic at the same time, we are therefore uniquely wired to take that 16th century heritage into the 21st century and model how it is possible to be a church strengthened by its diversity and committed to moving forward together into God’s future. It is a great day to be an Episcopalian.

Monday, January 07, 2019

When the church is wrong

So here are some words I don't find myself saying very often: "You totally need to read this Baptist Blog." But check this out ... from 3 words for the church in 2019: ‘we were wrong’ by Mark Wingfield.
Too much of Christianity is built upon absolute certainty and not enough on divine mystery. I’m reminded of one prominent Southern Baptist pastor who assuredly declared that he had not changed his mind on anything ever. And I’m haunted by the words of an older adult friend who struggled with our church’s decision two years ago to be fully inclusive of LGBTQ Christians. After hearing a presentation on various ways to understand Scripture, he said: “You’re asking me to say that what I learned about the Bible from my parents and grandparents was wrong on this issue. And if I say they were wrong about this thing, then I have to ask what else they were wrong about. I just can’t do that.”

Sadly, we have been trained to worship the received interpretation of Scripture rather than the overarching narrative of Scripture embodied in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as we have been trained to worship the Bible as the word of God more than Jesus as the divine Word of God. Is our faith so fragile that to admit we have been wrong in one area necessarily pulls a string that undoes all the rest of our faith? Is our faith really a house of cards?
The answer, sadly, for many is yes. And the result -- which I wrote about during Advent in "The War on Truth" -- is a willingness to ignore any data that messes with that house of cards: and that inflicted  collateral damage on our civic discourse.
Marinated in a toxic stew of bad religion, patriarchal privilege and internalized oppression it is not surprising that current statistics tell us 30% of Americans believe without question whatever they are told by those they trust — even when that narrative works against their self-interest. In a context where fact-checking is represented as the road to faithless secularism, truth becomes collateral damage in a war to keep a worldview in place — and questioning any one groundless assertion is like pulling one card out of the house of cards that could come crashing down … and that is both terrifying and immobilizing.
But it doesn't have to be that way. And when Baptists like Mark Wingfield step up to say "we were wrong" it starts to feel like we're at a turning point. It also reminds me of a story.

It was June 2003 -- just days after Gene Robinson’s election as a bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire -- and then-Integrity-President Michael Hopkins was invited onto the Buchanan & Press show on MSNBC to speak in support of that election. After a rather rambling preamble about church history, scripture and the “faith received from the fathers” Pat Buchanan asked Michael (and I quote from the transcript):
BUCHANAN: ... you're saying the church was wrong then?

HOPKINS: I am saying it was wrong. I am saying the problem is that the church has been in hiding all of these years because there have always been gay clergy … they were just forced to live in the closet, to live lives of secrecy.
The Episcopal Church owes a lot to Michael Hopkins and all those who have loved it enough to tell it that it was wrong. And 15+ years later it's encouraging read Mark Wingfield and be reminded that la lucha continua ... the struggle continues. And we're all in it together.

John 8:32 ... The truth will set you free. But first you have to tell the truth. And the truth is -- sometimes the church is wrong.