Sunday, September 12, 2021

Send us anywhere you would have us go

John Shelby Spong 1931 -2021


Send us anywhere you would have us go … only go there with us.
Place upon us any burden you desire … only stand by us to sustain us.
Break any tie that binds us … except the tie that binds us to you.

This is a blessing I love … one I give whenever I have the chance. There has rarely been a Sunday in the 20 years I’ve been at All Saints Church that someone hasn’t asked me for a copy of it -- so that tells me I’m not the only one it touches in a very deep way ... including Grammy award winning composer Bruce Babcock who turned the text into a choral anthem a few years back.

It is a blessing I inherited from +Liz Habecker-- the priest who sponsored me for ordination. She herself inherited it from the bishop who ordained her back in 1977 in the Diocese of Newark: the Right Reverend John Shelby Spong … AKA Jack ... who left this realm today at the age of 90.


To say that Jack Spong was a controversial figure in the Episcopal Church is to perfect the art of understatement. Over the years I’ve read most of what Jack written – agree with some of it, disagree with lots of it and frankly don’t quite get a great deal of it. But I love that we’re part of a church that gives us – all of us – you and me and Jack Spong and everyone in-between -- the freedom to think things out, to imagine things through, to risk being wrong.

And that’s what I love about Jack’s blessing: I love its focus on the freedom of knowing that wherever we go, God goes with us. Whatever burden we bear, God stands by us to sustain us. Whatever ties bind us or restrain us or restricts us pales in comparison with the tie that binds us to the God who created us in love and then sent us out to love one another in return.


Send us anywhere you would have us go … out of our comfort zone – out of our context – out of what is safe and familiar and “home” … into this school year, program year, election year … confident that no matter where we go, you go with us.

Place upon us any burden you desire … and help us remember that you will stand by us to sustain us through even the burdens that come from not from you but from the brokenness of this world that has failed to live up to your dream for it. 

Break any tie that binds us … ties to “how we’ve always done it” … ties to living in safety rather than reaching out in risk … ties to the fears that persuade us to build walls rather than bridges.

To claim that blessing as our own is to claim the freedom it promises: to claim the power of God’s love to transform even the fear in our hearts into strength for the journey – the journey we make together with Jesus and with all the saints who have gone before us and now cheer us on from that balcony in another realm ... including the inimitable Jack Spong.

Rest in peace and power, +Jack. We are so much better for the courage of your work and witness.

Monday, August 02, 2021

It Is Never Just A Joke

It is always just a joke -- and if you don't "get it" then you're the one with the problem.

It is also a foundational skill required to pass Gaslighting 101: Fundamentals in Perpetuating Patriarchy.

And it is one of the most frequently used tools in the toolbelt of those who use insults to undermine confidence and credibility in an ongoing effort to perpetuate the dominance and control which are essential components of the DNA of toxic patriarchy holding our democracy in a death grip.

So no. It is never just a joke. 

And it is long past time for all of us stand up and say so when the toolbelt comes out and the gaslight gets lit.

The most recent paradigmatic example is of course the one currently trending on social media: Kevin McCarthy's recent Gold Medal in Gaslighting. 

ICYMI, in a fundraising speech before an estimated 1,400 Republicans in Tennessee, he told the crowd that if the Republicans win the House in the midterms he wants everyone to come down because "I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel" ... and then added: "It will be hard not to hit her with it."

The "It will be hard not to hit her with it" was of course (wait for it) ... "a joke." 

And those of us who didn't think it was funny are the problem. 
  • Those of us who remember that McCarthy voted against the Violence Against Women Act are over-reacting.
  • Those of us who have watched him undermine the investigation into the January 6 attack by insurrectionist terrorists on our Capitol targeting our democracy in general and Speaker Pelosi in specific are the snowflakes.
  • Those of us who find this yet-another example of unexamined white male privilege are the problem because we can't take a joke. 
Except it is never just a joke. It is variant of the viruses of sexism and misogyny that infect our body politic and it is what has for too long made sexual harassment and violence against women team sports in our nation.

And it is time for it to stop. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Women Who Proclaim the Good News are a Great Army


A Sermon for the Feast of Mary Magdalene:
The Women Who Proclaim the Good News are a Great Army

Sunday, July 18 [transferred] All Saints Church, Pasadena 
Year W | Psalm 68:4-11, John 20:1-2; 11-18

Today we celebrate The Feast of Mary of Magdalene – which is officially July 22nd and falls on a Thursday this year -- but here at All Saints Church we’ve been transferring her feast to an adjacent Sunday for many, many, many, years now.

Here’s how former All Saints staff member Anne Peterson told the story of how that came to be in a piece from our archives written in 2006:

The celebration of Mary Magdalene at All Saints began years ago when task forces exploring inclusive language and images of God were at work. Women’s Council went looking for women in the New Testament.

Not many were to be found, but there was Mary -- a leader of women who supported Jesus’ ministry out from their resources, a faithful disciple who stood at the cross when others had vanished, and the first to experience the risen Christ.

We celebrated this amazing woman starting out with an evening service. The fact her feast day, July 22, was in the summer months when the liturgical calendar encouraged experimentation, was helpful.

The first services, sponsored by Women’s Council, experimented with inclusive language and feminine images of God. Anne Howard and I composed a Eucharistic prayer for these occasions. We invited a variety of women priests to preside.

After the services participants were invited to gather and talk about what it felt like to be in such a service. Having this opportunity to focus on a woman in our traditionally patriarchal church was back in those days highly unusual – and moving to men and women alike
. And eventually the celebration made its way to Sunday morning.

And so here we are – all those years later – and once again we hear the story of Mary’s encounter with the Risen Lord. And once again, I feel honor bound to contextualize her story in the resurrection narratives. So here we go:

Mary's is the first resurrection story in John’s Gospel. The second is when Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room when Thomas is out running an errand.

The third is when Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room when Thomas is BACK in the room.

The fourth is when Jesus appears to the disciples on the lakeshore.

And yet the conclusion of the lakeshore story reads: “This was now the third time Jesus appeared after he was raised from the dead.”

So either John couldn’t count … or the appearance to Mary -- the woman known in the first century church as the “apostle of the apostles” -- didn’t count because she was a woman.

I’ll let you do the math.

It is an irrefutable data point that the biblical stories we inherit as our scriptural family album came to us predominately from our male spiritual ancestors who too-often ignored the work and witness of women because for them … they didn’t count.

 Historically that is how the voices of women have been silenced, marginalized, and devalued not only in our church but in our world.

It is a story as ancient as the disciples who dismissed the women who first proclaimed the resurrection and as recent as a conversation I had with a male colleague about unexamined male privilege.

It was a conversation that ended with him saying defensively: “I’m not privileged. My parents were working class people.”

That is how privilege works to maintain its power: abusing the power of that privilege by refusing to acknowledge that privilege exists. And of course it doesn’t stop with sexism.

It is a process as old as the sin of racism that has been part of our DNA even before we were a nation.

It is as current as the blog posts and twitter feeds tearing down those who dare to speak the truth that Black Lives Matter and those who remind us that unless we are indigenous Americans we are ALL immigrants – or descended from them.

And most recently, it is being used by those who are attacking what scholars call “critical race theory” because it dares to challenge us to teach our children all of their history – not just the parts that make their white ancestors look good.

All of this is at least part of the reason here at All Saints Church we have been using Dr. Wil Gaffney's “Year W” lectionary … a churchy word for “schedule of lessons” … this year: because it centers the often-neglected stories of the women in our biblical family album and gives us all a chance to hear them in a new way.

For as the words of the Psalm appointed for today reminds us:

The AUTHOR OF LIFE gave the word;
          the women who proclaim the good news are a great army.

We stand this morning here at All Saints Church in Pasadena on the shoulders of a great army of truth telling, justice seeking, Jesus following women whose stories bear telling and re-telling lest we lose them to the mists of time.

One of those women is Margaret Sedenquist of blessed memory, who we lost in February to COVID-19. In the 1970's Margaret began keeping track of gender-oriented words in the sermons and liturgy here at All Saints. During her first recording period, 100 gender-oriented words were used; 97 were male oriented and the 3 female terms used were mother, daughter and wife. Her persistence in sending these tallies to then rector George Regas -- and having meetings with him to discuss them -- led to changes in our liturgies that put All Saints in the forefront of the inclusive language movement.

 Margaret was also a delegate to our Diocesan Convention, and it came to her attention that the Canons of the time were made up of exclusively hierarchical male language.

In 1976, Margaret took the microphone on the floor of convention to move that the Canons be rewritten to give equal consideration to women. The logistics of the undertaking would be massive, but Bill Rodiger, then Chair of the Commission on Canons, promised that his committee would work over the next year to have a recommended version ready for adoption at the next convention.

“Does that satisfy you, Mrs. Sedenquist?” Bill Rodiger asked from the podium.

 “I’m not seeking satisfaction, Mr. Rodiger” Margaret famously said. “I’m seeking justice.”

The AUTHOR OF LIFE gave the word;
          the women who proclaim the good news are a great army.

Another of those women was Lydia Wilkins ... long time member of All Saints and a feisty voice for inclusion and equity until her death at the age of 106 in 2010. As an African American woman born in 1904 when women couldn’t vote, and it was difficult or impossible for black men to cast a ballot, Lydia saw momentous changes in her lifetime ... and was a dogged participant in being an agent of those changes.  Until she was 101 she drove herself to the polls -- finally giving in and letting daughter Marjorie drive her to cast her vote for the first African American President in 2008.

 A life-long Episcopalian, Lydia was also an agent of change in the church she loved -- telling this story in a video interview in 2006:

"In 1946 Bishop Stephens called a meeting and so I said “Bishop Stevens, what about our girls going to that camp you're starting up?” And after that meeting my friend called me and said “Lyd, when you asked the bishop about our girls going to camp he just about swallowed his cigar!” But I'll tell you what -- the next year those little girls went to camp. All four of them. And he was at that camp that year to see to it they were taken care of properly."

The AUTHOR OF LIFE gave the word;
          the women who proclaim the good news are a great army.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Mary Magdalene. But every day we have the opportunity celebrate the great army of truth telling, justice seeking, Jesus following women whose stories bear telling and re-telling lest we lose them to the mists of time.

And we have arguably never needed their inspiration more. as we face challenges in our polarized and divided nation moving out of a global pandemic back to a future we have yet to imagine in a world simultaneously threatened by the climate crisis attacking our planet and the rise of authoritarian oligarchies attacking our democracy.

So in conclusion, here are some words of wisdom and inspiration from Bishop Steven Charleston -- words that spoke to me the minute I read them as the marching orders for that great army called to proclaim that good news:

Those who need hope cannot see us if we are bent over with worry.

They cannot find us if we are hiding from conflict.

They cannot join us if they cannot see what we are doing.

As people of faith, we must take the risk of being visible.

Even if our hearts are heavy we must stand and be counted.

Each one of us is a sign someone else is searching for.

We are the inspiration they have been needing.

Our role is often nothing more than being present,

visibly, actively present in reality.

Not offering sympathy from a distance

but offering a hand up close and personal.

It is not always easy for us to do.

It takes courage and commitment, but consider this:

Who do you remember seeing standing tall that touched you in your own life?

And who moved you by doing nothing more than being seen to do the right thing?

THE AUTHOR OF LIFE gave the word; 
the women who proclaim the good news are a great army.

Mary Magdalene was part of that great army.

So was Anne Peterson and the women who worked to bring her story out of the shadows into our Sunday worship; 
So was Margaret Sedenquist who was not seeking satisfaction but justice for the women of our diocese;
and so was Lydia Wilkins whose feisty challenge to Bishop Stevens just about made him swallow his cigar -- and opened the way for integration at our diocesan camp.

And so are all those who labor today to dismantle oppression in all its forms as beacons of God’s love, justice, and compassion in our beautiful and broken world.

And so on this Feast of Mary Magdalene – the first to witness the resurrection, whether John counted her or not – let us give thanks for that great army of women who have proclaimed the good news down through the centuries.

And let all of us – no matter where we fall on the continuum of gender identity – continue to be part of the good work of amplifying their voices and telling their stories as we take our place on their shoulders – proclaiming in our generation as they did in theirs the good news of the indestructible power of God’s inexhaustible love.  Amen.

==========

A Woman's Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year W by Dr. Wilda C. Gafney

Cartoon by Naked Pastor; used with permission

Friday, July 02, 2021

On Integrity and Wineskins and the Choices We Make

This is the time of year when the "memories" on my Facebook page are full of the ghosts of General Conventions past. Among those "ghosts" are the years when working with Integrity -- for many years the Episcopal Church's most effective and influential LGBTQ advocacy organization -- took a major part of my time, energy and attention ... not to mention blood, sweat and tears.

And I begrudge not a minute, not an ounce, not an iota. It was some of the most challenging, rewarding and fulfilling work I've ever been called to do. It was a privilege to have even a small part in calling this church I love and serve to live more fully into its commitment to make the full and equal claim promised "homosexual persons" back in 1976 a reality for LGBTQ+ people moving forward into God's future.

Yet we are in a place now where what worked then isn't working now -- and we need a new vision to continue the work. I wrote about that awhile back -- Ecclesiastes 3:1 and Integrity 2020 -- and hold now to what I wrote then: 

In this season, I am persuaded that the old wineskins of Integrity USA's organizational structure are neither adequate, sufficient nor capable of equipping us for the work we are being called to do. And, in this season, my hope and prayers are that collectively we can find a way to celebrate the accomplishments of the past while we work together to reimagine the work moving forward.

Which brings me to today -- where my dive down the rabbit hole of Integrity archives due to the current contretemps with the AWOL Integrity leadership and its utter lack of financial transparency unearthed this "Letter from the President" I wrote in 2004: a time that now feels like a long time ago in a galaxy very far, far away indeed! 

It was just after +Gene's consecration and before Windsor Reports or B033s or Lambeth Conferences or Blessings Projects or Marriage Task Forces ... much less Prop 8s or SCOTUS watches or marriage equality ... and long before any of the work now being done on transgender and nonbinary awareness and inclusion had even begun to start to gain traction. 

And yet there is part of it that still rings true. There is a part of it that still works. There is a part of it that still calls me -- and maybe will call others as well -- to make our choices count as we continue to do the work ahead of us -- an inch at a time. See what you think as la lucha continua ... the struggle continues!

======

A Letter from the President: January 2004

"It's our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." [Professor Dumbledore to Harry Potter]

I believe it has been our choices – far more than our abilities -- that have shown what Integrity truly is as an organization and has enabled us to reach this moment in our history where we stand poised between the amazing accomplishments of the recent past and ready to move forward into God’s future.

An inventory of our abilities might lead one to the conclusion that we have bitten off far more than we can chew: dependent on the donations of supporters to keep us funded and the commitment of over-extended volunteers to keep us moving, our resources sometimes pale in comparison with the work that looms in front of us, even while we celebrate how far we have come.

Much progress has been made in realizing the dream voiced in 1976 of a church where “full and equal claim” means “full and equal claim.” And while God is not finished with us OR with the Episcopal Church yet, we do indeed have much to celebrate. New Hampshire has a fabulous new bishop, the number of dioceses creating policies to enable the blessing of same gender relationships continues to grow and (perhaps most importantly!) in many parts of the country we have a tremendous opportunity for evangelism in the LGBT community as a result of the actions of General Convention 2003.

At the same time, we are also dealing with a predictable backlash within the church as those who have made a decision for schism continue to practice a “Chicken Little” theology and insist that the Anglican Sky is Falling, despite the body of evidence to the contrary. Many who live in parts of the country where the actions of General Convention are not being embraced have a hard time imagining the day when the decisions in Minneapolis will make a difference in their congregations. 

And in this election year, we are also finding that gay and lesbian families are in danger of being scapegoated as the source of all that’s wrong with the sanctity of marriage in this country. These are but a few of the challenges to our resources and our energy, our commitment and our abilities. But once again, I believe it will be our choices that will show what we truly are.

Choices to continue to work together – as chapters, networks and congregational circles – to tell our stories, witness to our faith, bring others into conversation and conversion to our commitment to the vision that the full inclusion of LGBT people into the Body of Christ is not an issue that will split the church but an opportunity that will grow it. 

Choices to continue to be active in ministries of reconciliation and outreach to those whose perspectives differ from ours even when it’s hard – even when we’re tired of extending our hand – even when we’re sick to death of our own stories. 

Finally, the choice to continue to base our witness and our work on the firmest foundation of all: the sure and certain love, acceptance and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – the choice to bear witness to the blessing God’s love has been to us and to our relationships by being a blessing to those we encounter even as we go about the struggle for justice and inclusion.

May God continue to bless us in the struggle,
Susan+

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Turning Religious Liberty Into a Weapon of Mass Discrimination

Religious liberty was once again trending on Twitter this morning — and not in a good way.

Whether the debate is about achieving marriage equality or ending employment discrimination and whether the issue is LGBTQ equality or women’s reproductive rights it seems that someone, somewhere is convinced that their religious liberty is under attack because not everyone agrees with them. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on since Pat Robertson launched the Culture Wars with the speech that drove me out of the Republican Party in 1992. But I digress.

The reason religious liberty was trending on Twitter this morning -- and not in a good way – was the Supreme Court decision siding with the Philadelphia Catholic foster care agency turning away gay and lesbian couples as clients.

Reviews on the impact of the ruling were mixed. While some conservatives were disappointed the ruling did not go further, LGBTQ advocates agreed it that this loss is another effort to use religion as a weapon of mass discrimination against members their community. As HRC President Alphonso David noted: "Our opponents are constantly looking for opportunities to challenge our rights. So this is not the end of the story."

Far from it. La lucha continua … the struggle continues. And as it does, I give thanks for these strong words from our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: “My heart is with my LGBTQ siblings in light of today’s ruling by the Supreme Court in Fulton v. Philadelphia,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a statement. “LGBTQ siblings, we stand with you in this moment, and we continue to affirm that you are — and have always been — a blessing to our church. But above all, you are children of God with the entire human family. The struggle does not end here; the work goes on, and we are committed to the fullness of human equality and to building a just future that is free from discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

And for these from our President of the House of Deputies Gay Jennings who wrote: “Scholars can debate the broader legal implications of the decision, but as a Christian, I continue to be alarmed by the bigotry that lies at the case’s heart. Religious liberty is a bedrock of our country and a right cherished by Americans of many faiths. But disguising homophobia as religious freedom, as the plaintiffs in this case have done, is not only a dangerous legal precedent, it is a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus.”

So one more time with the reality check: Religious liberty is NOT the liberty to impose your religion on everybody else.

The First Amendment protects us from any laws “impeding the free exercise of religion” thus guaranteeing that each and every American has the liberty to believe — or not believe — absolutely anything he or she chooses about what God wills or intends, blesses or condemns.

It also — thank God — protects the rest of us from any other American imposing those beliefs on us.
For example: A Jew has the religious liberty to keep a kosher kitchen — but not to take away your ham sandwich. A pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic had the religious liberty to abstain from meat on Friday — but not to confiscate my pot roast. And an Evangelical Christian has the right to believe that God doesn’t bless same-sex marriages - but not to deny equal protection to the marriage of the lesbian couple next door.

The First Amendment is doing its job protecting our religious liberty. And anybody who tells you otherwise needs to do a little remedial reading of the Ninth Commandment. (I'll save you having to look it up: that's the "shall not bear false witness" one.) 

This is why we need the Equality Act ... the bill already adopted by the House and waiting action by the Senate which prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system -- specifically, defining and including sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation.

It's long past time to end this annual SCOTUS Watch exercise where members of the LGBTQ community wait one more time to see if their full humanity and citizenship will be affirmed or diminished by the ongoing efforts to chip away at those rights by using religion as a smoke-screen for homo/transphobic bigotry. 

Bottom line: The equal protection guaranteed all Americans by the Constitution is not equal protection unless it protects all Americans equally. And we won't quit until it does.

Friday, June 04, 2021

FAQs About Jesus, the Bible & LGBTQ+ People

Here's the annual repost of the Pride Month FAQs I first wrote almost 20 years ago for the Diocese of L.A. booth at Gay Pride and have updated nearly every year since. It's a reminder that we have a chance to offer a counter-narrative to the toxic theology out there wounding precious souls by hijacking the Good News of Jesus and turning it into a weapon of mass discrimination. Happy Pride! 


1. Is being gay a sin?

No. Sins are acts that separate us from God and keep us from loving our neighbors as ourselves. Being gay is not a sin. Bullying is a sin. Being hateful to other people is a sin. Putting yourself in the place of God to judge others is a sin. Being gay is not.

2. What did Jesus say about LGBTQ+ people?

Jesus said the same thing about LGBTQ+ people that he said about all people: God loves you beyond your wildest imagining and calls you to walk in love with God and with each other. He also said a whole lot about welcoming the stranger, embracing the outcast, ministering to the marginalized and loving – not judging – your neighbor.

3. Does the Bible really condemn homosexuality?

The short answer is no, it does not. The handful of passages in the Old and New Testaments that talk about God condemning specific sexual acts have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with contexts such as cultic prostitution or gang rape. To put it another way, using the Bible as a handbook on human sexuality makes as much sense in the 21st century as using it as a handbook on astronomy did in the 16th. The church got it wrong when it misused the Bible to condemn Galileo and it gets it wrong when it misuses the Bible to condemn LGBTQ+ people.

4. How do I respond when people say “God hates f–s”?

First of all, God’s nature is to love, not to hate. We believe that what God cares about is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation — and that the question that matters is not “who do you love?” but “do you love?” Recognizing that homophobia causes some folks to project onto God their own fears, prejudices and biases against LGBTQ+ people, sometimes the best response is simply no response. It can be a challenge, but getting triggered by hate-mongers prevents us from being the change we want to see.

5. How about transgender and non-binary people? Where do they fit in?

The same place all God’s beloved children fit in: smack dab in the center of God’s care, love and desire for health and wholeness for every single human being.

6. What do I tell people when they say being gay is a sin and a choice?

Tell them that Jesus said absolutely nothing about being gay, but he said a lot of things about judging other people. Then tell them that while there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation, there is consensus that sexuality is a continuum. So the “choice” is not to be gay, straight or somewhere in between; the “choice” is to build our own healthy relationships — and give other people the grace to build theirs.

7. How do I respond when politicians condemn my sexuality, citing their belief in the Bible?

Remind them that the First Amendment protects them in believing whatever they want to about what God does or does not bless, but it also prohibits them from using those beliefs to decide who the Constitution protects or doesn’t protect. Tell them to stop confusing their theology with our democracy. And then campaign for and donate to their opponent in the next election cycle.

8. What about those who say they need “religious freedom laws” to protect their right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people because of their religion?

They are wrong. The Constitution already protects their right to exercise their religion. It does not protect their right to impose their religion. Just as using the Bible to justify racial segregation was wrong in the 1960’s, using it to justify LGBTQ+ discrimination is wrong today.

9. So I get LGBT – but I don’t understand the Q. I’ve heard it stands for “questioning” and I’ve also heard it stands for “queer.” So which one is it?

Both. Questioning means someone who is figuring out their gender identity and/or figuring out how they want to identify their sexual orientation. Queer is not specific to sexual orientation or to gender identity but is more of an umbrella term for anything that exists outside of the dominant heterocentric narrative. Originally pejorative for gay, it is now being reclaimed by some gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons as self-affirming language.

You may also see the acronym LGBTQIA. The additional "IA" is added to include those who identify as intersex/intergender and asexual. Some iterations of the acronym also add a "+" sign at the end, symbolizing the inclusion of all other identities.

Yes, it's complicated. It is also not at all surprising that as we grow in both our understanding and experience of the complicated continuum of sexual orientation and fluidity of gender identity/expression our language will grow and change as well.

Ultimately, the most important message we have to offer is that whoever you are and wherever you find yourself in the alphabet there is a place for you here.

10. Should I try to “pray away the gay”?

No. If you need to pray away something, pray away homophobia. Homosexuality doesn’t need healing. Homophobia does.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Enough Already


Today Senate Republicans added insult to the list of injuries being inflicted on our democracy by blocking the creation of a commission to investigate the January 6 Insurrection that killed one police officer and injured many others -- an action they took on the very eve of the weekend dedicated to the memories of those who have given their lives in defense of our country. They may be trying to kill democracy but they are keeping irony alive and well.

The shameless will to preserve partisan power over every other consideration has become more and more evident every day -- and the sad reality that there is literally no room for compromise of any kind in the worldview of Leader McConnell and his get-in-line-behind-the-Beloved-Leader crew of sycophants has to be faced head on by Democratic leadership.

A Facebook thread posed the question: "What are Republicans afraid of?" and I answered "Losing the power to control the economy in order to retain the power to control women, LGBTQIA people and black & brown people." AKA losing patriarchal power.

I was raised by Republicans. I was one until 1992. And there is much I now disagree with, fight against and have abandoned along the wayside of the policies and premises I was raised with.

However, as much as my GOP Daddy and I would disagree about a whole boat load of things if he were still alive today, I guarandamntee you he is not only spinning in his grave over what McConnell et al have done to his Grand Old Party: he is fixing to haunt them until their dying day for what they are doing to the democracy he held sacred as a WWII veteran and a true patriot.

If today's sad action proved anything, it proved that there is NO reasoning with this bunch; no compromise with this bunch; no choosing country over party with this bunch. The only option we have to defend our Constitution against all enemies -- foreign and domestic -- is to outnumber and out vote them in every election cycle.

If we cannot find 10 Republicans willing to choose country over party over investigating armed insurrection against our Capitol,then bipartisanship has flatlined and it's time to pull the plug on the filibuster in order to get on with the work of the people, by the people and for the people.

(And yes, Joe Manchin ... looking at you, buddy.)

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Remembering +Jon Bruno

In the week since the phone call came with news of the sudden and unexpected death of J. Jon Bruno, there have been many opportunities to share our stories, post our photos and express our grief at losing someone who was at the center of so much for so many for so long.

The chronicle of his life written by Bob Williams for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles website does a brilliant job of memorializing the scope of his work and witness: starting with growing up as an Angeleno and then growing into his calling as a priest and pastor, advocate and activist -- and eventually as the Bishop of Los Angeles.

Since that job has been done and done so well, my remembrances are personal. My relationship with +Jon went back to when he was serving at St. Patrick's in Thousand Oaks and I was the parish secretary up-the-road at St. Paul's in Ventura. We served on the Stewardship Task Force together, worked Cursillos together and rooted for the Dodgers together ... in good years and in bad. 

I remember the day I got the news that he was going to continue to run for Bishop of Los Angeles with a nomination from the floor -- and that David Anderson (then Rector of St. James in Newport Beach and the guy who was always at the other microphone on the convention floor when issues of LGBT inclusion were under debate) was supporting his nomination.

I picked up the phone and l left him a message that I had a question for him.

He called me back almost immediately. My question was -- to put it bluntly: blunt. "I heard that David is supporting your candidacy and before I can figure out who I'm supporting need to know from you whether you've cut some kind of Griswoldesque deal with him that involves the word "abstain." (This was not long after Lambeth 1998 when +Frank Tracy famously abstained on Lambeth 1.10) 

Jon's answer was he had not cut any kind of "deal" -- that David knew where he stood on the issues they disagreed about and the only thing he'd promised was that there would always be a place at the table for people who disagreed with him. And he asked me for my support. And I gave it to him.

And he became the Sixth Bishop of Los Angeles. And the journey continued.

He was there for my family as a pastor when my younger son was going through his roughest patches after his "summer of bad decisions" and he was there for me as a brother-in-the-struggle through General Conventions and Lambeth Conference and innumerable confabs and conferences as we struggled to make "full and equal claim" for LGBTQ people not just a resolution we passed but a reality we live in this church. La lucha continua ... the struggle continues ... but we are without a doubt further along down the path because of the work and witness of J. Jon Bruno.

Dodger Games and Garden Parties; Clergy Conferences and Conventions; Protest Marches and Pride Parades ... the scrapbook is full of photos and the heart is full of memories on this day we celebrate his life and grieve his passing. May his memory be for a blessing and may we be given the grace to continue his legacy of love, justice and compassion in our beautiful and broken world.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your Saints: where sorrow and pain are no more;
neither sighing, but life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Dear Charles

 


Dear Charles,

You will forever be the priest I want to grow up to be. Watching you preside at altar I always felt like I had been invited to the best party in town which you could not wait to get it started ... and you were SO glad we were there! The joy was both palpable and inextricably connected to your fierce commitment to inclusion: at your party there were no outcasts and you spent your life in the church calling it to live up to your expectations in that regard. Your commitment to love, serve and challenge the church and her people never wavered -- even in the times when the institution in general and some individuals in particular -- fell short of deserving that commitment. Nevertheless, you persisted -- and your example of not letting anyone or anything steal your joy remains for me both the hallmark of your legacy and something I aspire to emulate.
Your laugh was legendary. I remember being on my cell phone in the lobby of the Cathedral Center many moons ago and your laughter in the background caused my conversation partner so say wryly "Sounds like my rector is in the house!" And indeed you were -- and any house you were in was the better for your presence.

I am so grateful we had the chance to cross paths in ministry after your retirement during your time at All Saints in Pasadena. I swear I can still hear your voice reading the names of those we had lost on the first anniversary of 9/11 in the somber silence of the church full of people. And I remember as if it it was yesterday my first All Saints Sunday at All Saints Church when suddenly there was a grand procession stuck in the middle of the service I hadn't seen coming. I was blessed to be sitting next to you on the chancel, and you just patted my hand and said, "Follow me, darling. You'll be fine!" And I was.

You were one of my champions during the rocky part of my ordination process and I treasure this picture from January 1998 at St. John's. You’ve taught and given us all so much over the years it's hard to imagine filling the void your passing leaves for us ... but we will continue to keep the joy, the laughter and the commitment to throwing the party where all are welcome as you showed us. As much as we grieve your passing, we know that you were ready to go home. And there is some comfort that even at the last, you exercised your legendary "Sacquety Slide" to slip away home to Jesus in the waning hours of Easter Day. Give restO Christ, to your servant with your Saints: where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Good Friday 2021



This was the 19th Good Friday sermon I've preached from All Saints Church in Pasadena and the second one in The Time of COVID-19. Always a privilege to be part of the three-hour service of prayer, music and meditations at the foot of the cross and never more so than in this poignant time of so much loss and grief; hope and challenge. Inspirations this year include Marcus Borg, Malcolm Boyd and Stephanie Spellers. And of course Jesus.

Luke 22:54-62
                                                      
Again Peter went out and wept bitterly.

What a difference a week makes. Just days before – during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem – when the Pharisees had challenged Jesus to rebuke his disciples for their “Hosannas” Jesus had replied, “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out.”

But that night in the courtyard the stones were silent. There were no hosannas. No palm waving crowds. No “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of our God.” There was just a cock crow echoing in the silence of betrayal and denial. And Peter weeping bitterly.

Soon they will stand at the foot of the cross where the life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly in the Jesus they knew as son, teacher, leader and friend will be extinguished. All that would remain of the rabbi from Nazareth was a broken body and the broken dreams of his scattered followers. The Kingdom he proclaimed had not come. The powerful remained powerful: the oppressed remain oppressed -- and where there had been hope there is only despair.

And yet we call this Friday “Good” -- because even the worst that we can do cannot kill the love of God.

The amazing promise of Good Friday is that even at the foot of the cross … in the midst of the pain and agony and betrayal and denial … the love greater than the worst the world could do to it never wavered … but prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

And they didn’t. Know what they had done … were doing. None of them. Not really. Not the ones who nailed him to the cross. And not the ones who followed him there. Not even the ones who had been the closest to him – who had trudged along with him all over Galilee as he preached and taught and healed and proclaimed the good news of God’s love made present and available for all.

 

How many times during his earthly ministry did Jesus have to take a time out to explain to his disciples what was going on – to remind them what the “mission statement” was – what the “strategic plan” looked like?

 

Love God and love your neighbors as yourself.
On those two hang all the law and the prophets.

 

“Right, right,” they’d say. “But when are we going to rise up and throw the Romans out? And why can’t we build a booth up on the top of the mountain and hang out with Moses and Elijah? And when we take over, can me and my brother sit on your right hand? Please?

 

The scriptures are full of examples of just how much the disciples didn’t “get” what this Jesus of Nazareth was about. What the kingdom was he came to proclaim was meant to be.

I’ve sometimes wondered if all the times we read about when Jesus “went off to a quiet place to pray” one of his prayers wasn’t, “And could you send me another twelve disciples? These twelve don't seem to be catching on and I’m running out of time!”


Even at the last – on Maundy Thursday when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples 
as they ate their last meal together in that upper room -- Peter ... the disciple renamed by Jesus as the "rock on which I will build my church" -- protested at the very idea of Jesus washing their feet and Jesus responded: "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

And over 2000 years later we're still on the journey to that understanding.

As we gather on this Good Friday 2021, we gather in the shadow of and ongoing cycle of Breaking News of how the Good News of the God who loved us enough
to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another continues to be used and misused as a weapon of mass discrimination in our nation; used and misused to inflict trauma rather than to heal trauma; used and misused for oppression rather than for liberation.

We see it over and over and over again as we watch the video footage of violent insurrectionists storming our nation's Capitol screaming hateful rhetoric and carrying the cross of the Lord of Love.

We see it in lawmakers restricting healthcare options for transgender youth based on bad theology rather than good medical science.

We see it in the denial of climate science based on bad biblical studies standing in the way of action needed to save this fragile Earth, our island home.

We see it in the adoption of restrictive voting laws denying the dignity of black and brown voters ... creating a 21st century version of the 1st century parable:

And they will ask
“When did we see you thirsty and did not give you water to drink?’”
And the answer will be,
“Standing in line to vote in Georgia.”

The list goes on and on ...
And if we let that use and misuse go unchallenged: If we let the love, justice and compassion of the Gospel  be hijacked in the service of hatred, oppression and marginalization then we deny Jesus just as surely as Peter did.

And we fail to be Body of Christ in the world the church is meant to be ... fail to be part of making that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

A long time ago when I was a young mother my church had a Wednesday night soup and study series during Lent – and I signed up to go … partly because it was Lent and I wanted to do something to deepen my spiritual life and partly because there was child care and I could talk to adults for a couple of hours once a week.

One Wednesday night we had a visiting priest from South India who invited us to think of the Kingdom of God we’ve been called to build here on earth as a massive construction project -- and to think of the scaffolding surrounding it as the church.

“The point of the church is not the church in the same way the point of the scaffolding is not the scaffolding,” he said. “The point of the church is to build the kingdom. And the church gets it wrong is when it spends so much time polishing, preserving and fussing with the scaffolding that it forgets to build the building – forgets to build the kingdom.”

If we're honest, over the last 2000 years the church has not only gotten it wrong by forgetting to build the kingdom -- it has gotten it wrong by joining forces with the empire and instead of building a kingdom of love, justice and compassion has participate in building systems of domination, injustice and oppression.

And every time that happens I imagine Jesus looking at it -- looking at us -- just he looked at Peter in the courtyard. I imagine I can hear off there in the distance the faint but unmistakable sound of a cock crowing. And I remember the words of the prayer Malcolm Boyd taught us to pray:

Dear Jesus,
Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.

Loving religion instead of Jesus has been one of the ways the church has denied Jesus over and over and over again as surely as Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest as the cock crowed the third time.

To love religion instead of Jesus – to worship Jesus instead of following him – is to choose institutionalization over mobilization – to opt for the safety of becoming an institution rather than risk the invitation to be part of God’s movement – to … in the words of Jim Sanders of blessed memory: “worship the gift rather than the giver” making idols of the outward and visible signs that represent an inward and spiritual grace that transcends any outward and visible sign … even the ones we hold most dearly the ones we revere as the most sacred.

And here at All Saints Church we certainly gotten a master's course on giving those up over this last year.
In this time of COVID-19 we have not chosen to love religion instead of Jesus we have chosen to re-imagine religion because of Jesus.

In this time of COVID-19 we have been loving our neighbor by staying away from them by washing our hands, by wearing our masks, by sacrificing our deep desire to gather in person for the sake of the deeper desire to protect the most vulnerable.

The religion we have been claiming is the religion Jesus threw down: “love your neighbor as yourself.” All your neighbors. Not just the ones who live in your zip code or are part of your car pool. Not just the ones who think like you or vote like you or worship like you. Love them enough to stay home to protect them. ALL your neighbors. Every. Single. One.

And on this Good Friday, the religion we claim has nothing whatsoever to do with swallowing morally indefensible theories of an atoning sacrifice to appease an angry God and everything to do with living morally accountable lives of service and self-offering in alignment with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.

To live those values is to walk what Marcus Borg called “the way of Jesus” a way that is not a set of beliefs about Jesus … [but] the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.”

On this Good Friday 2021 we are still in the midst of that transition and transformation. We are not "there yet" -- but we are at the point in the journey where we see light at the end of the tunnel as we continue to take what
  our bishop John Taylor has called "incremental steps back to a future yet to be discovered."

And in her wonderful new book “The Church Cracked Open” Canon Stephanie Spellers unpacks that future with these powerful words:

I love the church
the same way Frederick Douglass loved America:
not in spite of its brokenness,
not hiding from its truths,
but taking what is and what could be
and embracing it with deep love
and fierce, unshaken hope.

That’s the kind of love
our church cracked open needs right now.
A love that gets frustrated and angry
but keeps on going.
A love that gets sad and tired
but keeps on hoping.
A love that’s willing to smash our own jars
and let the oil pour,
because we trust God
is creating something
even more beautiful
with these broken pieces.

As we gather today at the foot of the cross, let us pray for the Body of Christ in all its beauty and brokenness. And let us pray that as we take those incremental steps 
back to a future yet to be discovered we might each be given the grace to love, serve and challenge the church to live up to its high calling to truly be the Body of Christ in our beautiful and broken world.

Holy God, we pray for your Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior. Amen

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Comment on the former Bishop of Albany


This press release was in my inbox when I woke up this morning:
In response to a request from Bishop William Love, resigned bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany to be released and removed from the ordained Ministry of The Episcopal Church, pursuant to Episcopal Church Canon III.12.7, Presiding Bishop Curry brought this matter to the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice. On March 29, following consultation with this Council and with the advice and consent of a majority of the members, the Presiding Bishop granted Bishop Love’s request.

In my 25 years of ordained ministry I have been saddened by announcements such as these many times -- and I am saddened again by this one. +Bill Love has made a principled decision that he cannot remain in a church that assents to the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Body of Christ. That is his decision to make and God’s job to work out with him.

At the same time, we have made a decision that we will be a church where there will be no outcasts ... meaning the church will not cast you out for being who you are. And while we continue to strive to make that aspiration a reality in the ongoing process of becoming Beloved Community, let me repeat this refrain: there is an ontological difference between being excluded because of who you are and feeling excluded because you’re disagreed with.

Bishop Curry has reiterated a fundamental value of Anglican comprehensiveness: there is plenty good room for all God’s children in this church. Even for those who choose to leave because others are welcomed in. The door is always open. The table is always set.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The Equality Act: What Religious Liberty Is and Isn't

 
With the Equality Act heading to the Senate, religious liberty has been trending on Twitter— and not in a good way. So here’s a little reality check from Chaplain Susan's archives:

Religious liberty is NOT the liberty to impose your religion on everybody else. 

The First Amendment protects us from any laws “impeding the free exercise of religion” thus guaranteeing that each and every American has the liberty to believe — or not believe — absolutely anything he, she or they chooses about what God wills or intends, blesses, or condemns. It also — thank God — protects the rest of us from any other American imposing those beliefs on us. 

For example:
  • A Jew has the religious liberty to keep a kosher kitchen — but not to take away your ham sandwich.
  • A pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic had the religious liberty to abstain from meat on Friday — but not to confiscate my pot roast.
  • And an Evangelical Christian has the right to believe that God doesn’t bless same-sex marriages - but not to deny equal protection to the marriage of the lesbian couple next door.
So when our elected representatives are making decisions about equal protection for LGBTQ Americans the question isn’t what the Bible says but what the Constitution says.

And nobody’s religious liberty is under attack when the answer is “equal protection isn’t equal protection unless it equally protects everybody equally.”

The First Amendment is doing its job protecting our religious liberty. And anybody who tells you otherwise needs to do a little remedial reading of the Ninth Commandment. (I’ll save you having to look it up: that’s the “Thou shall not bear false witness” one.)

And it you're a person of faith, make your voice heard -- loud and clear -- to your Senator. If we don't stand up and speak out the only faith-based narrative they will hear is from those trying to hijack the Holy Scriptures we hold in common and use them as a weapon of mass discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Our voices are nothing less than a vaccine against the toxic theology that relegates LGBTQ Americans to second-class citizenship -- and if ever there was a time to raise those voices it is now as we continue to work for "herd immunity" against the viruses of homophobia and transphobia that infect our nation. 

Ready. Set. Go. 
Equality Act Action Alert

Saturday, February 06, 2021

What Engagement Across Difference Is and Isn't


The first heads up I had that the Washington National Cathedral had invited noted evangelical Max Lucado to preach on Sunday, February 7 was the voicemail yesterday from a reporter asking me to comment. Since [a] it was my day off and [b] I didn't have any data I [c] didn't call him back. But that was yesterday and today is today ... and now I have a comment.

For starters my “day job” is Canon for Engagement Across Difference and THIS IS NOT THAT! This is handing over the bully pulpit of our National Cathedral to someone who supports sacramental apartheid for the LGBTQ baptized. 

If they had invited him to come participate in an exercise like the “From Many, One” one Bishop Brewer and I did last month THAT would be engaging across difference. This, however, is a totally unforced error by the WNC inflicting deeply hurtful collateral damage on LGBTQ people in general and Episcopalians who have worked long and hard to move their church closer to its 1976 promise of full and equal claim to its LGBTQ members in specific. 

It is confusing engagement across difference with amplifying the voice of a preacher of whom one colleague said “has a theology with a body count.” It is unexamined privilege writ large when straight people don’t even get what they don’t get about the toxic impact on queer people of someone like Lucado in the pulpit. It is a bad decision, a sad day and a huge disappointment.

Yes, there is a critical need in this nation to build bridges and work to deradicalize evangelicals who are adopting Christian Nationalism -- but you don’t do it by throwing LGBTQ people under the bus. Our National Cathedral should both know better and do better.

Here endeth my comment.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Role of Toxic Religion in Dismantling Democracy


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 violent assault on our constitutional democracy. So, let me get a head start. 

I’m convinced toxic religion 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 --ultimately making a Putin-style autocracy appear preferable to a democracy where brown and black women have voice and power and leading to the kind of violence we saw in our nation's Capitol on January 6.

Make no mistake about it: 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 the forces that have assembled to create the climate of violent extremism that fueled the assault on our Capitol, our Congress and our Democracy.

What we saw in sharp relief on our televisions and twitter feeds on January 6 -- and continue to fight against in our body politic -- is the effect of an anti-fact virus epidemic super-spreading in 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 in general and the certified outcome of a free and fair election in specific.

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, division and violent overthrow.

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.

[This is a reprise of a piece I've posted previously ... updated in the light of the January 6 domestic terrorist attack on our Capitol.]