Sunday, June 23, 2019

On Thin Places, the Bishop of Maine and Strength for the Journey

There any number of definitions of the term "thin place" but here's the one I like:
Thin places are places of energy. A place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds – the worlds are fused together, knitted loosely where the differences can be discerned or tightly where the two worlds become one.
On Saturday, June 22, 2019 at St. Luke's Cathedral Church in Portland Maine we got ourselves a new bishop. God willed, the people consented and with all the pomp, circumstance and liturgical panache that our brilliant preacher du jour Barbara K. Lundblad fondly described as "weird," Thomas James Brown became the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Maine.

People came quite literally from sea-to-shining-sea to join the good people of the diocese -- adding some Big Fat Episcopal Family Reunion energy to the gathering. It was grand and glorious and there were moments when I literally felt the thinness of the veil between the two worlds of where we've come from and where we're journeying to -- of the power of the ancestors on whose shoulders we stood on Saturday in St. Luke's Cathedral and of the hope of those who come after us trusting us to keep up the work of fully becoming the church we have been called to be.

In that thin place I remembered another consecration down the road in New Hampshire in November 2003 -- where instead of a cathedral with a Pride flag out front we were in a hockey arena with bomb sniffing dogs, metal detectors and a scrum of international news vans out front. Nevertheless, we persisted.

I remembered flying to Nottingham in England with Frank Griswold and other members of our TEC team -- summoned to the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council to offer "To Set Our Hope On Christ" as our response to the Windsor Report in the days when it looked like price tag for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the work and witness of the church was going to be getting voted off the Anglican Island. Nevertheless we persisted.

I remembered the month we spent at Lambeth Conference in 2008 as part of the Inclusive Communion witness and the fears that our bishops had "drunk the purple Kool-Aid" and LGBTQ Episcopalians were going to end up as sacrificial lambs on the altar of global Anglican politics. Nevertheless we persisted.

And we have continued to persist -- weathering the storms of backlash and the threats and the challenges of "the inclusion wars" to arrive at a moment during the consecration of Thomas James Brown as the 10th Bishop of Maine when the packed cathedral sang this verse of "The Church's One Foundation" ... and it felt like a very thin place indeed.

Tho' with a scornful wonder,
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, 

by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

This beloved old hymn -- which I proudly memorized all five verses in 3rd grade at Lutheran Day School and remember them all still -- was a profound reminder that the foundation of this church of ours is Jesus ... not some dogma, doctrine, council or confab. It was a reassurance that we have weathered storms in the past and will weather storms in the future -- and a moment to be grateful for the "morn of song" we had together at St. Luke's Cathedral on a beautiful June morning in Maine.

Make no mistake about it ... we have not yet "arrived at destination." We have miles to go before we rest in the work of being a church that fully lives up to former Presiding Bishop Ed Browning's dream of being a church where there would be no outcasts. And there will be nights of weeping aplenty before as we complete our journey along that arc of history that is long ... but we are promised bends toward justice.

And when  those nights come -- and they will -- I pray we'll remember morns of song like we had at St. Luke's Cathedral on Saturday June 22nd ... moments when we could feel the thin place between the world we've come from and the place we're journeying to and could feel the saints surrounding us. And I pray the gift of that morning will continue to give us strength for the journey. La lucha continua -- the struggle continues.

Friday, June 14, 2019

"When Fake Good News Ends Up As Bad Foreign Policy" by Bishop John. H. Taylor

This smart, concise and compelling apologetic for enlightened biblical scholarship offers a compelling challenge to the misuse of scripture as a blunt instrument against science, reason and interfaith peacemaking. Deep bows of gratitude to Bishop John Taylor for writing it and for giving permission to share it. Please read ... and then go and do likewise.

When word spread that presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was a practicing Episcopalian, adverse reaction from some evangelicals was swift. Some said he wasn’t actually a Christian -- not because he’s a married gay man, mind you, but just because he’s a practicing Episcopalian.

Most of us are used to it. Have you ever told a post-denominational friend that you’re an Episcopalian only to have them reply, “I’m a Christian”? Like the faint echo of the Big Bang in the cosmos, the anti-Catholic, anti-sacramental suspicions of the 16th century Reformation still trouble the body of Christ. With thousands of denominations and sects, ours is a rich but fractured mosaic. It’s vital to be tolerant of one another’s styles of worship and interpretations of Holy Scripture.

But when idiosyncratic beliefs put people’s lives at risk – when fake Good News ends up as bad foreign policy, as it has in the Trump administration -- it’s time for progressive denominational Christians speak up on behalf of one of the greatest gifts to people of faith: Enlightened biblical scholarship.

Many insist that the Bible, especially in the Revelation of John, predicts events such as the creation of the state of Israel and Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war. The theories fall under the broad category of Dispensationalism. Because of the “Omen” movies and “Left Behind” novels, many in society and the media, whether believers or not, may think it’s the only way to read the good book.

But we denizens of EfM (Education for Ministry), weekly Bible study in our parishes and missions, and seminary know the real sacred story. The texts themselves say nothing about these or any historical event that occurred after they were written, edited, and accepted as sacred canon in the fourth century. We know this and more thanks to analytical tools that scholars, interpreters, and teachers have had at their disposal for a century and a half or more.

The techniques are taught at all mainline seminaries and informed the preaching Buttigieg grew up hearing. They help us understand that Revelation was written late in the first century not to predict events in 2019 but to inspire and encourage churches in Asia Minor as the Roman Empire was persecuting Christians. Torah wasn’t the work of one author, Moses, but of many writers and editors, finalized seven centuries after the events the texts recount. Isaiah comprises the work of a succession of prophetic witnesses working across 200 years or more.

This doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t the inspired word of God. A Christian can believe in the birth, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus Christ without insisting that the world was created in six days, as Genesis recounts, or that Jonah survived inside a big fish. With all my lay and ordained siblings in the church, I believe the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation. But it can take a lifetime of discerning study to appreciate fully its foundational values of righteousness, peace, justice, and, above all, love.

Many theologically conservative Christians read scripture with modern minds, plumbing its verses for life lessons instead of clues about the Apocalypse. Denominational and evangelical Christians could discover some common ground by creating settings to study and debate the Bible together, perhaps someday healing centuries of schism and uniting behind Jesus’s commandment to love God and love one another as ourselves.

But Dispensationalist Bible interpretations are potentially deadly when politicians like Donald Trump permit them to inform their policy decisions. As recently documented in the riveting WGBH podcast “The End of Days,” so-called Christian Zionists consider the emergence of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel to be a pivotal step toward the end times. Evangelical preachers’ and voters’ demand that Trump move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was a classic self-fulfilling prophecy. It did considerable damage to what remains of the Israel-Palestine peace process, in which most experts agree the status of Jerusalem should be settled last.

It could get far worse if U.S. policymakers keep implementing Christian Zionist Bible study lessons. Many want Israel to annex the West Bank so its borders would match those of Bible times. The result could well be the disenfranchisement of millions of Palestinian Arabs, turning Israel into a true apartheid state.

They also favor building a third temple in Jerusalem, with animal sacrifices and all, which would require destruction of Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount – again, to fulfill what they believe the Bible specifies on the way to the end of days. Should the U.S. ever encourage such steps, a catastrophic regional war could indeed result, all because politicians were in the thrall of those who claim that it’s actually Pete Buttigieg who misreads the Bible and disrespects Jesus.

Trump’s policies signal that it’s long past time for progressive denominational Christians and our dialogue partners in other faith traditions to reclaim the ineffable, irreducible, love- and justice-infused richness of our shared scriptural inheritance – and then make some foreign policy demands of our own. Here’s one for starters. Whoever replaces Trump should promise that they’ll dial the doomsday clock back a few millennia, not to mention reinvigorate the peace process, by moving the U.S. embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. You with me, Mayor Pete?

Written by the Right Reverend John H. Taylor,  Bishop of Los Angeles, this post originally appeared in the 2019 early summer edition of "The Episcopal News" and is shared with permission from the author.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Open Letter to Al Moehler et al re: Women Preaching

It was a random post on my Facebook page I could have just scrolled by but decided to read -- an RNS piece entitled "Beth Moore's ministry reignites debate on whether women can preach."

You can read it all here ... but this was the quote that got me started:
“There’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
Since this is the kind of toxic patriarchal bull sh** that literally makes my head want to explode, I decided to reach out via this open letter. Not because I expect Mr. Mohler to read it. But because -- as one FB commenter noted -- "Whether he reads it or not I feel better that it is out there." So here goes:


Dear  Al .. can I call you Al?

There's just something about systemic sexism that means you are utterly blind to the projection of your own unexamined male privilege onto God that ends you up with a worldview where unless it sounds like you it isn't God. Which is scary-close to idolatry. Which I suggest you Google if you need a refresher.

 And ... while I've got you ... it's only a hop-skip-and-a-jump from there to the place where when the only allowable image of God is a Dysfunctional Daddy with an Anger Management Problem ... and then we are gobsmacked that anybody who calls themself a Christian and strives to follow the radical rabbi from Nazareth who called us to love our neighbors as ourselves and do all good things unto the least of these supports the draconian programs and polices of the current resident of the White House.

So just a hard no, Al. This has nothing to do with "the order of creation" and everything to do with the toxin of unexamined privilege. And we have an app for that. It's called #TheResistance.

God bless and Peace Out.

Your Friend (and fellow preacher),
(The Reverend Canon) Susan Russell

Saturday, June 01, 2019

We have an election!

On Saturday the First of June in the Year of Our Lord 2019, the good people of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan gathered in convention to elect themselves their eleventh bishop.

The Holy Spirit had sent them four stellar candidates and on the Fifth Ballot ... in a convention surrounded by prayers from around the church and a bunch of us live-streaming ... they elected the Reverend Bonnie A. Perry.

Bonnie is a brilliant priest, an awesome preacher, a gifted organizer and collaborator and a fierce sister-in-the-struggle for justice. Over the years we have worked together in more ways and times than I can count in the mutual work of calling the church to make the Good News of God in Christ Jesus available to absolutely everyone.

Over those year we have shared both great steps forward and devastating steps backwards as this church we love and serve has striven to make respect for the dignity of every single human being not just a promise we make at our baptism but a reality we model in our church.

Today's election is an affirmation that those seeds sown have born fruit, that the inches of the garden we have labored to reclaim are growing green and that the Episcopal Church truly means it when it says there will be no outcasts.

Fifteen years ago when Claiming the Blessing was working toward its goal of the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments, Bonnie opened up All Saints Chicago to us for our steering committee meeting. I'll never forget that as we gathered on a frigid January weekend the temperature on the bank thermometer outside our hotel was 1. As in one degree.

"One is not a temperature." I told her.
"It is in Chicago" she told me.

And collectively we hunkered down ... in the cold of Chicago and in the heat of General Conventions ... in the fields of the Lord from Lambeth to South Africa to Maine to Los Angeles ... and ultimately love cleared the way for this election in Michigan today.

To be clear ... love is not done clearing the way. There are miles to go before we rest and hear that "servants well done" refrain from that old hymn. But today is a day to rejoice. As George Regas taught us years ago, the road is long and the struggle is real and they way we make our way is by setting audacious goals and celebrating incremental victories.

The audacious goal of God's reign of love where there are no outcasts, where the earth and all its beloved creatures are healed and whole and reconciled is still somewhere out over the horizon. But the incremental victory of a brilliant, feisty, kayaking, Jesus loving lesbian being the bishop-elect of Michigan is an incremental victory worth celebrating.

So congratulations to the Diocese, to the Church, to the Communion and to the bishop-elect and her wife Susan. This is the day the Lord has made: we are rejoicing and being glad in it!