Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Of building bridges and breaking down walls

My turn to offer the meditation for our diocesan staff Morning Prayer today ... with thanks to Richard Rohr & Phil Groves:

The idea of bridge building is both admirable and common — but there is also the biblical image of wall breaking.

We build bridges across natural divides (especially rivers and canyons) but the divisions that challenge us as a human family —  male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, black and white, citizen and immigrant, millennial and boomer, heterosexual and LGBTQ (to name a few) — are not natural divides. They are the walls those with power have built between us with the intention to divide us -- and they are the walls that need breaking down.

It is fear that motivated those with power to build those walls -- fear that without them they and their power will not be protected ... fear that without the walls, anyone could just come in and out. And they are right.

The world tells us to separate from “the other.” The Gospel tells us we are all one in Christ. We cannot face this crisis as individuals; we cannot carry the pain of this reality on our own, nor can we only look out for ourselves. The pain is communal and so too must be the response -- a response that breaks down any walls that divide us.

And the irony of this coronavirus crisis is that in physically separating from each other in order to protect the most vulnerable, we are breaking down those walls that divide us, recognizing that we are — as Dr. King taught us — part of “an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Let there be peace among us ... and let there be no such thing as half-assed baptized

It was the early 1990's and I was in the cocktail lounge in the Red Lion Inn in Ontario, California. Some of us were having a nightcap after the first day of our Diocesan ECW (Episcopal Church Women) Annual Meeting when we were joined by our keynote speaker ... the Right Reverend Barbara Clementine Harris (AKA the first woman ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion.)

I was in awe as I listened to her tell stories going back to the 1974 first ordinations at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia and about being the first and still only one of three women in the House of Bishops. But she also wanted to hear our stories ... asking about congregations and ministries and families and listening with a deep attentiveness to those gathered around the table.

When then she turned to me and said "And how about you? How's your ordination process going?" I told her what everyone at the table already knew: I was having a rough patch with my then-sponsoring rector who had issues with women priests in general and me in particular.

Bishop Harris reached over and put her hand over mine on the cocktail lounge table top and said "This too shall pass, my dear. Just remember that the power behind you is greater than the challenges ahead of you ... and that when it's time for you to kneel in front of your bishop, the same power that got you to that moment will carry you through whatever challenges lie ahead."

And I swear I felt like I had already been ordained -- and I didn't wash my hand for a week.

Over the next 25 years I had many opportunities to work with +Barbara and I treasure each and every one of them. Learning both theology and the Electric Slide from her at Kanuga where we gathered in 1999 for a groundbreaking feminist/womanist Christology conference.

Recruiting her to do the narration for "Women of the Table" -- the video Katie Sherrod produced for the Nat'l ECW in 2002. Relying on her wisdom and counsel through the worst of the Inclusion Wars ... from Lambeth 1998 through the Windsor Report and out the other side ... and protesting with hotel workers and the Episcopal Urban Caucus.

Sharing the joyful moment of the 2006 election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first woman to serve as Presiding Bishop and the demoralizing moment when 2006-B033 ushered in a de facto moratorium on the election of any more LGBTQ bishops. Joining us at All Saints for confirmation in 2010 and continuing to be a persistent voice for love, justice and compassion in the House of Bishops.

But the moment I'm remembering the most poignantly today is the Integrity Eucharist in 2009.

It was the General Convention immediately after Lambeth 2008 and B033 was still on the books. The "smart money" was on the bishops being unwilling to do anything to rock the Anglican Communion boat ... especially when word got out that Rowan Williams -- then Archbishop of Canterbury -- was coming to address us and urge us to stay in line.

Nevertheless, we persisted. We pulled out all the stops for the Integrity Eucharist with the two historic "firsts" -- Bishop Barbara preaching and Bishop Gene presiding -- and former Presiding Bishop Ed "There Will Be No Outcasts" Browning in the house.

+Barbara began her sermon as she began every single one I ever hear her preach: "Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression" ... a sermon that included this quintessential Bishop Harris quote:
"If you don’t want GLBT folks as bishops, don’t ordain them as deacons. Better yet, be honest and say, “We don’t want you, you don’t belong here,” and don’t bestow upon them the sacrament of Baptism to begin with. How can you initiate someone and then treat them like they’re half-assed baptized?"
Every prediction to the contrary and the Archbishop of Canterbury notwithstanding, we left the 2009 General Convention with B033 behind us and with the formation of a Blessings Task Force charged with creating trial liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships. And the rest -- as they say -- is history.

Today as we grieve her passing and celebrate her life and legacy, I am absolutely convinced that the sermon Bishop Barbara preached to that 1600+ member congregation gathered in that Anaheim hotel ballroom that July 2009 night was one of the factors that turned the tide.

And I am equally convinced that the power behind her words that night is the same power that continues to call this church forward into God's future -- to meet whatever challenges lie ahead.

One more Bishop Barbara quote ... this one from an ENS interview "I love the church because the church has proven time after time that she can rise to new heights and be more than she has been."

We are more than we have been as a church because of the work and the witness, the grit and the grace of +Barbara Clementine Harris. May the power behind us continue to equip us as we stand on the shoulders of those who have led us thus far on the way. Rest in power, our beloved sister. We've got this.