Sunday, December 20, 2020

Of Light, Love & Miracles: An Evensong Meditation


Tonight we light the fourth and final candle on our Advent wreath and Love joins Hope, Peace and Joy in the iconic circle awaiting the arrival of the fifth candle we will light on Christmas; the Christ Candle in the center of the wreath -- the light of God’s love, justice, and compassion incarnate for us as Christians in a baby in a manger.

It is a ritual we repeat every year. As Christina Honchell wrote in an Advent meditation many years ago: 

“The beauty of the liturgical year is that we get a chance to re-do, to think, to worship in a new way each year, as we spiral toward the coming of God’s dream realized on earth. We go around the liturgical circle, and we start and end in a new place every time.”

And when I read those words this year, I thought that there might quite possibly never have been a year in my sixty-six-so-far that they rang more true.

To think and to worship in new ways 
are hallmarks of the global pandemic which continues to challenge our human family exacting a tragic toll in the numbers of precious souls lost and in lives turned upside down.

Nevertheless, we persist.

And to Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, that very persistence – that very willingness to try new things – are in and of themselves miracles. 

“What is a miracle?” he writes in his Chanukah message this year. “Most of us see the miracle of Chanukah as the menorah burning for eight days. Instead, we might back up a few steps to the moment the Maccabees decided to light the menorah even though it was clear there wasn’t enough oil. They had no idea a miracle might occur, but they lit it nonetheless.

The decision to try something without knowing the outcome is the miracle. It is the miracle of life itself and the miracle of human civilization. It is scientists who ultimately developed the vaccines that will now save our lives who had no guarantee their work would succeed. It is every medical professional who comes to the aid of a COVID patient, treating them the very best they know, without any inkling of whether the patient will heal.”

The weeks and months since the shutdowns began in March have been full of decisions to try something new without knowing the outcome.

Building online communities on Zoom comes to mind -- and figuring out how to adapt ancient worship practices to 21st century pandemic realities are but the tip of the iceberg.

Nevertheless, we persist

As we gather tonight for this “virtual Evensong” we may be separated by the miles between us but we are bound together by the love that unites us -- gathered together through the miracle of technology to try something new as we go around the liturgical circle again: a circle represented for us tonight in this wreath with lights of hope, peace, joy and love and prepare to hear again the stories that tell us of the mystical longing of the creature for the creator – the finite for the infinite – the human for the divine – all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

In the words from one of our Eucharistic prayers: “in miracle and mystery Jesus was born, as we are born, and lived as we might live” -- the miracle of a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how love one another; the mystery of the indestructible power of God’s inexhaustible love.

The light incarnate in the baby we await in these waning days of Advent -- and alive in the Jesus we follow into the New Year -- is the light as old as the prophecy from Isaiah and the call to God’s covenant people to be a light to the nations to open the eyes of the blind to free captives from prison, and those who sit in darkness from the dungeon.

And it is the light as new as the miracle of new vaccines to end the scourge of the virus that plagues us; of new visions for global cooperation and collaboration; of new hopes for our nation to live into its pledge of liberty and justice for all.

We are on the cusp of the Winter Solstice turning the corner toward more rather than less light; longer rather than shorter days; more rather than less hope for our beautiful and broken world as we work together to overcome the divisions that polarize us; the virus that infects us; the challenges that face us.

As we journey together toward that corner, we travel with the Spirit our brother Bishop Steven Charleston describes as “the ageless power of love.”

Into the darkness quickly, 
skating the cold air like ice,
seeking the lost and lonely,
the ones who are hanging on,
the ones who are feeling afraid,
the keepers of sad memories,
to each of them comes the Spirit,
gliding on the cold air like ice,
bringing a blessing to each and every one,
healing and mercy for the broken hearted,
strengthening for tired souls,
lifting up neglected lives,
making the dark corners bright,
comes the Spirit, the ageless power of love,
the force of love, breaking through gently
to free every human being
who feels the weight of this season,
setting them at liberty,
restoring each one to hope and wholeness,
into the darkness quickly,
skating the cold air like ice,
comes the Spirit,
to light a candle in every window,
every window of the world.

May we be agents of that Spirit as we work together to be the Body of Christ – to be the miracle of those who try new things without knowing the outcome – to be the change we want to see in the world – until that kindom come on earth is not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live -- until finally the candle of love shines in every window of the world. Amen.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Morning Prayer - November 6, 2020

This morning it was my turn to lead Morning Prayer for our diocesan staff cohort. And on this morning -- one we hope is near the end of the middle of the longest election cycle in the history of voting -- I won the Lectionary Lottery with propers celebrating William Temple.

So we began with this Collect:
O God of light and love, who illumined your Church through the witness of your servant William Temple: Inspire us, we pray, by his teaching and example, that we may rejoice with courage, confidence, and faith in the Word made flesh, and may be led to establish that city which has justice for its foundation and love for its law; through Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
And read this lesson from Exodus (22:21–27) appointed for the day:
You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. If you take your neighbour’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; for it may be your neighbour’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbour cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.
And then we reflected on what it is to build a city with justice for its foundation and love for its law.

And what it means to be part of a human family where wronging and oppressing resident aliens is as tragically old as our most ancient scriptural texts and where economic exploitation of the poor is not something that just got invented by a particular president or party.

And we pondered what it means to be part of that arc of history that bends toward God's justice -- especially in moments when the forces working to bend it the other way are active, energized and palpable. 

And then we turned to Bishop Steven Charleston for a Word -- and as usual, he came through:

Show me what I can do to help, Spirit,

show me what I can do.

You know me.

You know my strengths and my weaknesses.

You know my heart and my mind.

You know my story.

Come into my life as it is, Spirit,

come in and show me where

I can use my talents to make a difference.

There is so much to be done,

so much healing, so much rebuilding,

so many challenges for so many people.

I don’t want to stand on the sidelines.

I want to do something positive.

I want to do my share.

So show me where I can help,

whether it is deeper into commitments

I have already made,

or working for change in ways I never expected.

You are calling us to a new beginning

after this election.

You are giving us the ability to become

something better than we have been.

Let me be part of that with you, Spirit.

Show me what I can do to help.

Wishing you stength for the journey, hope for the future and safety in the struggle -- this morning and in all the days ahead. La lucha continua.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Cleaning Up the Mess on All Saints Day

Since the calendar gave us an “extra hour” on this All Saints Day morning I’ve been using it to reflect on how much this election cycle/pandemic time has been like unto moving a rock and exposing all the creepy crawlies under it. You can put the rock back — but they are still there and you can’t unsee them. 

And if our metaphorical rock is our American Exceptionalism, then everything we - particularly we White people - hadn’t seen because it was hidden under that myth has — over these last four years in general and last few months in particular — been incontrovertibly exposed. And it’s now up to us to clean it up ... which is - to put it mildly - a daunting task. 

But taking the long view, it is the task the human race has been set to from its most ancient days.
This president did not invent corruption, economic exploitation, the othering of immigrants, or any of the other ways we grieve the heart of God. The prophets railed against all of those. The psalms lamented them. And Jesus turned over tables and got himself killed trying to clean up the mess under the rock by the same evil energy that yesterday tried to run a bus off the highway because it represented those telling the truth about the mess that needs cleaned up in our nation. 

So yes, it sucks. And yes, it’s hard. And scary and anxiety producing and disheartening and exhausting.
Nevertheless on today of all days — on this All Saints Day — take heart in the truth that we are in good company as we come together to do the work we have been given to do - standing on the shoulders of generations who have gone before us as we strive to love God, to love neighbor and to clean up the mess. An inch at a time.

And yes, I’m preaching to the preacher. 

Happy All Saints Day, friends.
Be Safe. Be Kind. Wear Your Mask. And Vote.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Again with The Coming Out Story

Yes, I came out in the National Cathedral on the 4th of July in 1996. It's a story I've told many times ... but since it's the only one I have and it's National Coming Out Day 2020, here it is again.

On July 4, 1996 at noon eastern time I was in the choir at the National Cathedral. While crowds of tourists milled about the nave of the cathedral and others gathered outside or headed toward the Mall for the fireworks festivities scheduled later it the day or lined up to see the opening-that-day film “Independence Day” (remember that one?) a remnant of us gathered in the cathedral choir for a festival celebration of the Feast of American Independence, BCP style.

The music was glorious, the lessons inspiring and the privilege of receiving Holy Communion at the altar in this amazing “house of prayer for all people” as we celebrated the birth of a nation dedicated to “liberty and justice for all” was an amazing gift I will always remember.

Oh … and I came out.

In the cathedral. On the Fourth of July. In the middle of festival Eucharist I had the great “aha” moment – the epiphany – the “I-shoulda-had-a-V8” realization that the God who had “fearfully and wonderfully” made me had made me gay. And called me to priesthood. And told me “now, go back and be the priest I called you to be.”

That’s my coming out story. I’ve told it many times before but on this “Coming Out Day” it seemed worth telling again. It seemed worth reminding myself – and anybody else who wants to listen in – that I did not come out from the fringes of anything but from what former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold famously called "the diverse center."

I came out in the context of a spiritual journey that began with my baptism at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles in 1954 (go ahead and do the math!) and continued through Junior Choir, confirmation class, Altar Guilds and Vacation Bible Schools, ECW Boards, teas and luncheons, Diocesan Conventions, vestries and parish day school boards and finally seminary, ordination and parish ministry.

My coming out had nothing to do with a political act. It had nothing to do with a genital act. It had to do with recognizing that I could not be fully present at altar if I was not fully present in myself – and it had to do with being raised in a church where +John Hines taught me that “justice is the corporate face of God’s love,” +Ed Browning told me that in the Episcopal Church there would be no outcasts and the consecration of +Barbara Harris incarnated for me the hope that this church was actually willing to live into its high calling to live out a radically inclusive gospel.

So Happy “Coming Out Day” to me – and to the scores of LGBTQ Episcopalians like me. Are we a challenge to the wider church? I hope so. And I hope we continue to be. I hope that our voices of faith and witness will continue to preach, to protest and to prophesy – that we will stand in the temple and tell the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made present in our lives, our vocations and our relationships. That we will preach that Good News in and out of season.

And here's to our core American values of liberty and justice for all and to everyone committed to our core Episcopal values of respecting the dignity of every human being. Not because we’re politically correct but because we’re gospel obedient -- and because we're going to do whatever we can to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right who have taken the Good News of God’s inclusive love and distorted it into a weapon of mass discrimination. Of humiliation. Of homophobia.

Because the stakes are too high. Because the damage to precious souls is too costly. And because the truth that there are people of faith who proclaim justice and compassion — not judgment and condemnation — is too important not to step up and speak out. As Harvey Milk said “You must come out ... and once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.” And for me as a Christian, those lies and distortions include hijacking my faith and turning it into weapon to wound God’s beloved LGBTQ children.

So Come Out, Come Out wherever you are. Come Out as proud LGBTQ members of the rainbow tribe. And if you happen to be the Christian variety, then Come Out as a Christian, too. Break down some myths. Destroy some lies and distortions. And if we do it long enough and loud enough and together enough eventually we will be done. And October 11th will roll around and nobody will need to Come Out because there won’t be any closets left.
And wouldn’t that be fabulous?

Sunday, October 04, 2020

The Words of the Prophets: A Sermon for Saint Francis Day 2020

On this Feast Day of Saint Francis in the year of our Lord 2020, as we gather once more to discern how we can be instruments of peace in a world where peace seems more elusive with every Breaking News alert, let’s begin with these words from the Gospel According to Simon & Garfunkel:

And the people bowed and prayed
to the neon god they made
and the sign flashed out it’s warning
in the words that it was forming
and the sign said the words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
and whispered in the sound of silence.

The words of the prophets.

Twenty-seven years ago this fall I was a first-year seminarian – and the first class I was enrolled in was Hebrew Scriptures 101 taught by the inimitable James Sanders and the first book we were assigned was “The Prophets” by Rabbi Abraham Heschel. And it was from Rabbi Heschel … via Jim Sanders … that I learned that the prophet’s job description has two parts: to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.

And in our lessons appointed for this Feast of Saint Francis, that job description is embodied in sharp relief.
Woe to the ruler who builds a house without integrity and its upper rooms with injustice, enslaving the citizenry, not paying for their labor! Woe!
Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Here you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

The prophet has a both/and job description because we live in a both/and world – and yet we live in a moment when our discourse is dominated by those insisting on simplistic either/or solutions to the complex both/and challenges that face us –

a time where the polarization that divides us is as pandemic as the coronavirus that infects us – a time when science is argued to be antithetical to faith and a time when wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly disease has been polarized into a partisan political statement.

And it is in just such a time as this that we turn to the words of the prophets which can serve as antibodies to the pandemic of polarization by living into the both/and call to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.

It was into that both/and world that Francis was born in the 13th century and it was a both/and life he lived – a life reflected in the prayer famously attributed to him … a prayer we will pray later together in this liturgy … a prayer that many of us know by heart. A prayer that begins: Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Make us people who work to end violence in all its forms and who pray for both victim and perpetrator as we seek healing and wholeness for absolutely every member of the human family.

Make us people who afflict those who are so comfortable in their unexamined white privilege that they are blind to the systemic racism that surrounds us and make us people who amplify the voices of those who have endured generations of oppression, marginalization and discrimination.

Make us people who learn from climate scientists what we must do to be stewards of this fragile earth, our island home and make us people who reject the false narrative that we must choose between science and faith

Make us people who lift up absolutely every single individual infected by COVID19 – let those with ears to hear, listen -- and make us people who speak up to end the politicization of public health policies.

Make us a people who claim your resurrection promise, and give us that peace that passes understanding - trusting that nothing can separate us or those we love from your love; love that is stronger than death.

And make us people who remember that we are not the first generation to have faced these challenges that plague our communities, our nation, and our world.

A personal story in point:

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, I had a relative who made a boat ton of money, squirreled it away in offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, got caught by the IRS and got out of the country in literally the dead of night the day before the Feds showed up. He lived the rest of his life as an ex-pat in a country without an extradition treaty.

And the response of the rest of that branch of the family was "Good on you, old chap! Way to take care of Numero Uno!"

I tell this story not to throw shade on a now departed former family member nor on his family. I tell this story to illustrate that there are indeed those among us who live and move and have their being in a worldview where looking out for "number one" is the highest priority, where anyone who does anything else is a sucker and a loser and where if greed and graft are part of the equation then that's just the price of doing business.

And I tell this story partly as a reality check. A reminder that the "Numero Uno" folks didn't just materialize because of one political campaign or election cycle but have always been among us.

They are part of our history in this nation, part of our big fat human family album and part of our scriptural record.

They are who the prophets railed against, who Jesus tossed tables in the temple to protest against and who inspired our forbearers to throw the tea in the Boston Harbor and imagine a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we're all created equal.

And we who follow in their footsteps haven't come this far on the journey toward that more perfect union – toward that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – to let those who would dismantle it win now.

So as challenging as it might be to do so this morning -- and I know it's challenging to me -- take heart. 

Remember that greed and graft and corruption have always been with us: but so have truth and beauty; grace and compassion.

Remember that the power behind us is greater than the challenge ahead of us – and that we stand on the shoulders of the likes of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg … who stood on the shoulders of prophets like Jeremiah and saints like Francis before them … all of whom have paved the way for us that we might continue that work for those who come after us.

I close this morning with words from a latter-day prophet – Bishop Steven Charleston: bishop, pastor, preacher, and poet … and elder of the Choctaw Nation.

They are words of a prophet that deserve to written on subway walls and tenement halls; to be whispered into the sound of silence and – on this Feast Day of Saint Francis in the year of our Lord 2020 – to be boldly proclaimed into the pandemic of polarization:
People of faith, be alert, be awake, be active: for now is the time to live the peace we preach. The high tide of turmoil around us has not yet been reached. Fear and ignorance are out searching for an opening in hearts wherever they can find them. Anger comes as quickly as if people were a box of matches looking for a way to be lit.

In this volatile atmosphere let us be a calm voice of reason. Let us speak with courtesy to all whom we encounter. Let us embody the civility we seek to inspire in others. Even if we think we are only whispering into the wind, our presence will be felt.

The people around us are being driven by forces that want a reaction from them.

Let us want something else: let us want their shared humanity, their common sense, their mutual hope for a better day.

As hard as it may be, speak peace into the storm, knowing that with each word you say you help to calm the soul of a troubled nation.
And now, my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings, may the one who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power and stamina to faithfully accomplish them.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon preached by the Reverend Canon Susan Russell on October 4, 2020 at All Saints Church in Pasadena at the 11:15 a.m. Zoom Service. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The greedy will always be with us

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, I had a relative who made a boat ton of money, squirreled it away in offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, got caught by the IRS and got out of the country in literally the dead of night the day before the Feds showed up. He lived the rest of his life as an ex-pat in a country without an extradition treaty.

And the response of the rest of that branch of the family was "Good on you, old chap! Way to take care of Numero Uno!"

I tell this story not to throw shade on a now departed former family member nor on his family. I tell this story to illustrate that there are indeed those among us who live and move and have their being in a worldview where looking our for "number one" is the highest priority, where anyone who does anything else is a sucker and a loser and where if greed and graft are part of the equation then that's just the price of doing business.

I tell this story because yesterday's bombshell exposé on the President's taxes is not going to move them, impress them, shock them or change their opinion of the current resident of the White House or their vote in the upcoming election. They'll have the same reaction as they did to my family member who made it out of the country ahead of the Feds.

And I tell this story partly as a reality check. A reminder that the "numero uno" folks didn't just materialize in 2016 on the Trump Train but have always been among us. They are part of our history in this nation, part of our wider human family and part of our scriptural record. They are who the prophets railed against, who Jesus tossed tables in the temple to protest against and who inspired our forbears to throw the tea in the Boston Harbor and imagine a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we're all created equal.

We haven't come this far on the journey toward that more perfect union to let those who would dismantle it win now.

At this crucial moment in our nation's history, the good news is that there are inarguably more of us coming together than there are those working to tear us apart. The polls show it. The marches show it. And if we stay the course, remain focused and keep mobilized the election results will show it.

So take heart. Remember that greed and graft and corruption have always been with us -- but so have truth, beauty, grace and compassion. 

Remember that the power behind us is greater than the challenge ahead of us -- and that we stand on the shoulders of the John Lewises and Ruth Bader Ginsburgs who paved the way for us that we might continue that work for those who come behind us.  

And remember to be safe, wash your hands, wear your mask ... and VOTE!

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Of Losers and Suckers and My Dad

My dad Bill Brown was born on December 7, 1913. When Pearl Harbor was bombed on his 28th birthday, he enlisted in the Army to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic." A lifelong Republican I guarantee you he is rolling in his grave at what has become of his Grand Old Party and the real and present threat to the American Values he held dear."

I wrote those words in a 2016 Facebook tribute to my daddy on what would have been his 103rd birthday. I re-post them today in the wake of verifiable reports that the current Commander-in-Chief continues his assault on the nation he swore to defend by dismissing the service of those in our military as "losers" and "suckers." And when those reports -- initially generated by the Jeffrey Goldberg feature article in the Atlantic -- are verified by numerous news sources -- including Fox News (no that isn't a typo) reporter reporter Jennifer Griffin -- it is not hyperbolic to contend that the challenges to democracy in general and the American Dream in particular are as dire today as they were in 1941 -- and that the need to enlist to defend our Constitution no less urgent.

Only this time the attack isn't coming from a hostile nation dropping bombs on a military installation created to protect our nation from the outside. These attacks are coming from a White House dropping incendiary rhetoric and destructive policies designed to dismantle the civic infrastructure created to protect our nation from the inside. And this week's shocking revelations about our military are just the tip of the iceberg.

To be clear: As disgusting as it may be, I do not believe this evidence that the current President holds those who serve in our military in contempt is any worse than the evidence that he thinks he is entitled to "grab women by the p****." As shocking as it is, I do not believe that calling those who enlist to defend our nation "losers" and "suckers" differs in substance from calling those who exercise their First Amendment rights through peaceful protest in our streets "anarchists" and "thugs." And so as quickly as I rise to resist this language from the man elected to represent all the people when it is directed at members of the military, I believe we must all rise just as quickly to resist both language and actions directed at any of the people. Overtly racist rhetoric and policies perpetuating White Supremacy. Bans targeting Muslims. Discrimination targeting transgender Americans. Attacks on the immigrant population. Misogynist assaults on women in general and women reporters, governors and legislators in particular. The list goes on and on.

In 1941 when our democracy was under attack, my dad enlisted. Not because he was a sucker or a loser but because he loved his country and believed its aspirational values of liberty and justice for all were worth protecting. That was then. This is now.

In 2020 as our democracy is under attack, do what Bill did. Enlist somewhere. Make a plan. Join a movement. Take a stand. VOTE. La lucha continua ("the struggle continues") -- be part of it.

Friday, August 28, 2020

An Unsurvivable Storm Surge of Corruption

This administration has been the parable of the frog in the pot of water on steroids.

Beginning during the campaign with refusing to release tax returns, faking medical records and colluding with Russia to influence the election — and continuing unabated over the last nearly four years — the head of the Trump Family Crime Syndicate has systematically ignored and violated one norm, custom and law after another ... gradually turning up the heat in the water of our democracy until last night it hit a boiling point with this blatantly illegal show of oligarchical narcissism on the grounds of what is supposed to be the sacred civic space of “the people’s house.”

To be clear about something we shouldn't have to be clear about: the Hatch Act is a law. Not a recommendation. Not a suggestion. Not a libtard snowflake hoax. It's a law. Adopted in 1939, its longer title is "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities" and it explicitly prohibits civil service employees in the executive branch of the federal government from participating in partisan political activity. 

The unprecedented exploitation of the White House as a backdrop for the Republican National Convention is a clear violation of both the spirit and the letter of the law and is yet another indication of the contempt with which the current resident of the White House holds the rule of law which is a foundational tenet of our fragile democracy.

To use another metaphor, our nation is facing a potentially unsurvivable storm surge of corruption. Vote November 3 like your life depended on it. Because it arguably does.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Biden Harris 2020

Still managing PTSD from 2016, I refused to get emotionally invested in who our candidates were going to be in 2020. Since the stakes are too high for any option other than victory, I just kept saying “get the ticket together so I can support it 110%.” Oh, I had opinions and preferences — but I internalized the “vote blue no matter who” mantra, kept my head down and avoided polls.

Biden was not my first, second or third choice candidate but he is our candidate and so I’m all in. And ... I didn’t realize how much I was holding my breath until I exhaled yesterday with the announcement of Kamala Harris as his VP pick.

Kamala Harris has been my AG and my Senator. A stalwart defender of equality in general, she was an active advocate for marriage equality here in California in specific. She was "ahead of the curve" during the Prop 8 battle and never wavered in her support, she took on the big banks after the housing crisis and her take down of Bill Barr in congressional hearings was a thing of legends.

And then there is her fierce capacity to prosecute the case against oppression in all its forms. If ever we needed that prosecutorial skillset unleashed on our body politic it is now. It reminds me in some ways of the great covenant lawsuit in the Hebrew scriptures with the prophets prosecuting Israel for where it has fallen short of what God called it to be. With our aspirational values of liberty and justice on the line, we need her passion, her energy and her commitment to call us to the nation we have the possibility to become.

81 days. Let’s do this.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ode to Harry Knox

Georgia Equality is honoring Harry Knox today for "a lifetime of progressive advocacy" -- and it couldn't happen to a better human being ... pictured here at the White House for the signing of Obama's LGBTQ Federal Employment Executive Order.

I met Harry when he was with Freedom to Marry and we were launching Claiming the Blessing. Not long after that, he moved over to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as the first director of their  Faith & Religion program. I was honored to serve as a founding member of the HRC Faith & Religion Council with amazing colleagues like Bishop Gene Robinson, Rabbi Denise Eger, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, Bishop John Selders, Rev. Neil Thomas and a whole host of others.

The work we did together in the crucible years of of the fight for LGBTQ equality on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, advocating for an inclusive ENDA, supporting the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime legislation, fighting the Federal Marriage Amendment and eventually working for marriage equality were some of the most challenging and satisfying times of my life. And Harry was in the center of it all.

His deep faith and commitment to a vision of justice and equality for absolutely everybody -- along with his pastoral sensitivity and organizational skills -- equipped and challenged us all to speak up, stand up and organize for change.

You put a dozen high functioning, used-to-being-in-charge preachers, pastors and faith leaders in one room and it's a tall order to organize them to do anything -- and yet again and again Harry met the challenge. There would almost always be that moment when he would take control of the meeting with the gentle but firm words, "Now, friends ..." -- and the work that needed to be done in that moment would somehow get done.

From Clergy Call lobby days on Capitol Hill to local campaigns to educate and organize faith leaders to mobilize for equality, Harry taught, pastored, mentored, inspired and led us in work that truly helped move that arc of history we are told bends toward justice closer to full inclusion for LGBTQ people in our nation.

And when marriage equality had been won, it was one of the high honors of my life to preside at the marriage of Harry Knox and Mike Bozeman at All Saints in Pasadena.

Congratulations, Harry! Today's honor is well deserved and long overdue. Love you millions.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

On Independence Day, Common Prayer and Engagement Across Difference

On Sunday, July 5 at our 11:15 service at All Saints Church we observe the Feast of Independence Day  on the Sunday closest to July 4 as is our tradition. It is our yearly opportunity to sing songs of protest and patriotism, to pray and be grateful for all that this country stands for, as well as to acknowledge where we have fallen short of the vision of liberty and justice for all.
On this day we appreciate those who serve and have served our country, and we are reminded that the gift of liberty is in the service of justice -- and that God calls us to welcome the stranger and to love our enemies. Gary Hall ... former All Saints staffer, one-time Dean of the National Cathedral and Interim Dean of our diocesan seminary Bloy House ... is our preacher.
And here’s a little history from the website ... with a little window into the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of our “common prayers” ... and the reality that engagement across difference has always been part of the work of the church.
“The 1785 General Convention directed that a service be drawn up for Independence Day, and "That the said form of prayer be used in this Church, on the fourth of July, for ever." The Proposed Book of 1786 contained "A Form of Prayer and Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the inestimable Blessings of Religious and Civil Liberty" to be used on the Fourth of July.
The presiding officer, William White, was opposed to the service since many of the clergy had been Loyalists and were against the Revolution. The General Convention of 1789 supported White, and the service was withdrawn from the 1789 BCP. Propers for this day were published in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, but it was not a major feast until the 1979 BCP (p. 17), listed Independence Day as one of the "Other Major Feasts," and provided a collect for the day (pp. 190, 242).”

Saturday, July 04, 2020

A Message to Fellow Former Republicans on the Trumping of Buchanan's Culture Wars Speech

I’ve always been a political animal. I think it was in our family DNA.

The values my parents raised us with included a deep love of this country and its foundational values of liberty and justice for all — and they instilled in us a deep sense of our responsibility to participate in the political process. The first election I remember being aware of was 1960 — I was 6. Four years later, I walked our precinct with my mom handing out literature for Barry Goldwater. And in fifth grade I won first prize in a D.A.R. essay contest for a piece titled “The Land I Love is America.”

Yes, the family political roots went deep.

We watched conventions together — crunched up on the old couch in the den in front of the black-and-white TV with the rabbit ears, where we stayed up late following election returns. I remember explaining the Electoral College to classmates on the elementary school playground because my daddy explained it to me. And when I was in high school in Santa Barbara I volunteered to drive voters to the polls to make sure that shut-ins had the opportunity to vote. I voted in my first presidential election in 1972 — the year I turned 18 and they lowered the voting age to 18. I think I thought they did it just for me!

In college I majored in history and political science, with plans to go to law school and thinking that one day I might find my own role in the political process; I believed that the American Dream really is worth the work it takes to preserve and protect it, even as I believed we were not yet “there” in the “liberty and justice for all” part. Along the way I got sidetracked. I never made it to law school and instead stayed home and raised kids and remained a registered Republican — more out of loyalty to my father than to the GOP — but increasingly found myself voting “across party lines.”

That changed in 1992. I was watching the Republican Convention television coverage — cooking dinner while my sons did their homework at the kitchen table — when Pat Buchanan rose to the podium and gave what has come to be known as his “Culture War” speech. I listened with increasing horror as his narrow, exclusivist, fear-mongering rhetoric laid out a vision for what this country needed — a vision that bore absolutely NO resemblance to the values my parents had raised me to understand were core to the “Grand Old Party” of my Republican roots.

I turned the stove down under the simmering green beans, told the boys to finish their homework and that I’d be right back. I drove the six blocks down to the grocery store where earlier in the day I’d noticed the card table out front with the “Register to Vote” sign. And I changed my party affiliation that day — explaining to the woman at the card table that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow I was NOT going to die a Republican. And I’ve never looked back.

And here we are — nearly 30 years later. What has changed is that my two boys aren’t doing homework at the kitchen table. One is in Kentucky working overtime to try to make ends meet and the other is an Army veteran -- after tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- and father of one with another arriving next month.

What not only hasn’t changed but has exponentially increased is the rabid rhetoric that drove me out of the party in 1992 dominating the discourse from the GOP side of the aisle ... accelerating over the years and culminating yesterday with the horrific display of white supremacist nationalism in South Dakota ... described in this Tweet by Bradley Whitford:
On sacred land stolen from the Lakota Sioux, in violation of a treaty which granted them the land “in perpetuity”, a monument to their oppressors was blasted. Today the sexual assaulting racist birther @realDonaldTrump used it as a backdrop for a fascist photo op. Happy Birthday, America!
My prayer is that July 3, 2020 becomes for many life-long Republicans what August 17, 1992 was for me: the slap upside the head that reminds us that principles are more important than party. That truth and science and the aspirational dream of liberty and justice are not partisan issues that divide us but American values that unite us. And that saving what's left of the republic Benjamin Franklin told us was ours "if we could keep it" is the critical work before us in this moment in our nation's history.

My daddy’s Grand Old Party may not exist anymore, but the values he taught me are alive and well. And when I participate in the upcoming election process — and believe me, I will — I’ll be organizing, mobilizing and testifying against the judgment, intolerance and condemnation my Republican daddy taught me had nothing to do with traditional American values of justice, inclusion and compassion.

So with 122 days left before November 3rd and Election Day 2020, this former Goldwater Girl has just two words for what’s left of the party I left behind 28 years ago while my kids finished their homework at the kitchen table: Game on!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Why I Blame Biblical Literalism

If we manage to survive as a human race long enough, a few hundred years from now scores of PhDs will be earned as scholars analyze the combination of social, political, and economic factors leading to the rise of the current resident of the White House and to the concurrent orchestrated assault on our constitutional democracy. So, let me get a head start. 

I’m convinced biblical literalism is a prime cause of the mess we find ourselves in as a nation.

Yes, there are a complex set of factors that lead to the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, white supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins that have contaminated our body politic and dominated our public discourse.  

But incubating those factors into this particular set of toxins requires a kind of cultural Petri dish which will simultaneously provide the nutrients necessary to nourish the toxic worldview while protecting it from contaminates like data, facts, diversity and multi-cultural competency.

The biblical literalism foundational to 21st century American Evangelicalism does precisely that.

It feeds, waters and fertilizes exclusively male language for God -- marginalizing women and non-binary people, perpetuating the patriarchy and fanning the fire of unexamined privilege making a Putin-style oligarchy appear preferable to a democracy where brown and black women have voice and power.

It creates a context where it is a very short journey from “the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” to “my country, love it or leave it” – with a direct connection to the rise of nationalism, sexism, white supremacism and the rest of the litany of isms that plague our nation and our world: the rise of the forces we struggle against daily as we live out our baptismal promise to persevere in resisting evil.

And it is this fertile environment that becomes a breeding ground for a population pre-programmed to believe fact-based science is an enemy of faith.

It quite literally lays down neuron tracks in the brain set up to reject as “fake news” the very science that calls us to come together to protect each other from COVID19 and to save what we can of this planet we have exploited -- as well as the fact based reporting of historic levels of corruption and obstruction at the highest levels of our government.

To be clear: the beauty, power and importance of the First Amendment is that it protects every last one of us to freely exercise the religion of our choice – including the freedom to exercise no religion at all. And including the freedom to reject science, fact and data and to believe whatever one chooses about what God wills, blesses or condemns.

However – and it’s a big however – the First Amendment does not protect the right to confuse the freedom to exercise religion with the license to impose religion. And the job of defending the Constitution against all enemies – foreign and domestic – requires each and every one of us to do our part.

If we are going to save our nation from devolving into a kind of theocratic oligarchy, those who believe that science and data are things – those who embrace the vision of a nation where liberty and justice for all literally means all -- must provide an antidote to the toxins of ignorance and “alternative facts” threatening our constitutional democracy with polarization and division.

Otherwise we risk finding ourselves in the last scene of the last act of “Camelot” -- looking for a boy to run and tell the story of what almost was: a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people were created equal.

The stakes are too high, the challenges are too great, and the struggle is too real to do anything less than to stand up, to speak out and to resist the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, white supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins contaminating our body politic and dominating our public discourse.

Pick your thing and do it. Now. Together we can make a difference. Together we can overcome.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Celebrating Incremental Victories

In the wake of the seemingly relentless barrage of bad news, what a glorious relief to wake up to some good news this morning!

My wife woke me up with the words "There's great breaking news you're going to want to hear" ... and within moments I was deep into SCOTUSblog, digesting the 6-3 decision affirming that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- which prohibits sex discrimination -- applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling.
Yes. THAT Neil Gorsuch.

You can read more about the decision here ... and read the whole decision here ... but for the moment, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

As George Regas reminded us decades ago, the way we continue to bend that arc of history toward justice is to set audacious goals and to celebrate incremental victories.

Making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live is an audacious goal yet to be realized -- but the incremental victory of today's decision is a huge step forward.

Today is a day to give thanks for all who have brought us thus far on the way ... including those who put the Episcopal Church on record opposing employment discrimination based on gender identity back in 2009 ... as we redouble our efforts to continue the work, to join the struggle, to be the change we want to see in our beautiful and broken world.

And may the One who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power to accomplish them.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Church: #ItsComplicated

Let me start with the confession that I've always loved church. As a kid I was the one who wanted to go when the rest of the fam was happy to sleep in on Sundays. I loved hanging out with my friends and asking questions of the grownups, loved the flannel boards and the Bible stories, loved following the altar guild ladies around and loved the hymns.

I was the kid who memorized all the verses of "The Church's One Foundation" in third grade and would sing them all ... over and over and over again ... from the backseat of the station wagon on family road trips until my mom promised me ice cream at the next rest stop if I would quit. (True story.)

So like a lot of other people right now I miss it. I miss it a lot. Not just because I've been a priest for 20+ years and it's my day job, but because I've always loved church.

And so with all the controversy right now about churches being open or churches being closed -- and who gets decide whether they are which and when -- I've been following the wider conversations that include what it is to "be" the church.

Who has the right to tell churches how to gather in public spaces and how those with the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of congregations -- and in the Episcopal Church, dioceses -- make those decisions in ways that protect both the health and safety of congregations and communities and the historic faith.

The most appropriate hashtag is probably #itscomplicated

But thinking about it today ... which I was because of the erstwhile DOJ calling our California Governor Newsom on the carpet for including communities of faith in his limits on public assembly ... I got stuck on the seminal question "what IS the church?"

I got stuck there because it seems to me before you can decide whether something is open or closed you have to define what that "something" is. And I was grateful that as an Episcopalian, the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer has already done that for us.

So ... ICYMI:

The Church

Q.     What is the Church?
A.     The Church is the community of the New Covenant.

Q.     How is the Church described in the Bible?
A.     The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.

Q.     How is the Church described in the creeds?
A.     The Church is described as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

Q.     Why is the Church described as one?
A.     The Church is one, because it is one Body, under one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Q.     Why is the Church described as holy?
A.     The Church is holy, because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, consecrates its members, and guides them to do God’s work.

Q.     Why is the Church described as catholic?
A.     The Church is catholic, because it proclaims the whole Faith to all people, to the end of time.

Q.     Why is the Church described as apostolic?
A.     The Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and is sent to carry out Christ’s mission to all people. 
Q.     What is the mission of the Church?
A.     The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q.     How does the Church pursue its mission?
A.     The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Q.     Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A.     The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

So if you were reading for comprehension -- which I hope you were -- you'll notice one super striking thing that is totally missing: nowhere does the definition of the Church -- for Episcopalians -- mention a building. At all. Anywhere.

Oh, we love our buildings, don't get me wrong. We take care of them, we decorate them, we make beautiful music in them, we have awesome liturgies in them and they become sacred "thin places" for us where the distance between the finite and the infinite becomes translucent and we glimpse the indestructible power of God's inexhaustible love.

But if our Catechism is right -- or even close -- then the mission of the Church does not depend on whether or not we gather in buildings or on Zoom ... or even (fasten your seatbelts) depend on which sacrament we have access to how.

What it depends on is how we work to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ as we pray, worship, proclaim the Gospel and promote justice, peace and love.

So my fervent prayer on what feels like Day Bazillion Forty-Seven of #SaferAtHome is that we be given the grace to keep the mission of the church in our sight as we continue to journey through and to the other side of this global pandemic. 

Because there will be an "other side." And when we get there, the story we want to tell is about how we cared for each other on the way by being the Church -- not how we argued with each other about whether virtual community is valid community and who got to open which building to how many people when.

At least that's the story I hope we want to tell. I know it's the story I pray we will tell.

#BeSafe #BeKind #WashYourHands