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.]

Monday, January 11, 2021

Choose This Day: Who Will We Become?

The privilege of being called to be a preacher is something that still floors me after nearly 25 years of ordained ministry. And some Sundays, the responsibility of being called to be a preacher is uniquely palpable. Yesterday -- January 10, 2021 was one of those Sundays. Here's that sermon: with thanks to Ana Hernandez, Steven Charleston, Michael Curry, John Lewis, George Regas and ... as always ... Jesus. 
On YouTube ... with text posted below:


======

Pray with me.

Another world is not only possible
She is on her way
On a quiet day,
I can hear her breathing
She is on her way.


 These words by poet Arundhati Roy and interpreted by musician Ana Hernandez are ones I have used in this pulpit before and probably will again.

On a quiet day. It might be hard for you to remember what a quiet day feels like on this tenth day of January in the year of our Lord 2021 in the middle of a global pandemic and in the wake of the domestic terrorist attack that rocked our nation this week. I know it’s hard for me.

There’s a prayer in our prayer book which speaks of going from “strength to strength in a life of perfect service” … and the last four years have been the exact opposite as we have gone from “crisis to crisis in a news cycle of utter chaos.”

And that’s not by accident, it’s by design

Because chaos is the point
Noise is the point
Drowning out hope is the point
Fomenting polarization and division is the point
Making impossible the quiet day when we can hear new possibilities breathing is exactly the point.

It’s the point Steven Charleston … retired Bishop of Alaska and an elder in the Choctaw Nation … wrote about earlier this week:

When many voices are shouting to get your attention, listen for the whisper they are seeking to silence.

Today, millions of Americans are whispering. They are whispering their prayers. They are asking for things to get better, for our world to come out of the virus. They are whispering prayers that they will keep a job, or find a job, pay their bills, not get sick, take care of the kids, cover their rent, buy enough food to get through next week. They are whispering these things in hope. They are praying for justice. This is the moment when their voices must be heard.

But to do that we need to lower the volume. We do not need leaders playing to the gallery. We need them to be still, listen, and to allow the people to speak their prayers aloud.


Bishop Charleston knows that when we speak our prayers aloud we speak the truth of our common humanity … we see in each other the divine spark of love that is part of every single member of our Big Fat Human Family … and it is that spark of love that hardwires us to be in relationship with God and with each other across whatever differences challenge us. Including the seemingly insurmountable differences that challenge us in our nation today.

And for anyone who hoped 2020 would be the end of all that, ten days into 2021 has ended that fantasy.

I hate so much about this pandemic -- and right now what I hate is that we’re not all here together in this church and I’m preaching to a camera lens hoping you’re out there somewhere. If we were in the church right now I’d ask you to raise your hand if you’ve heard someone in the days since that attack on the Capitol say these words: “This isn’t who we are as Americans.”

Sadly, I’ve heard it over and over and over again – and while it is not all of who we are as a Americans it is an irrefutable data point that it is part of who we have always been:
  • a nation aspiring to liberty and justice for all while enslaving and exterminating some;
  • a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal while creating and sustaining structures of institutional racism that perpetuate White privilege and inequality;
  • a nation where the certified results of a free and fair election are denied by those whose White supremacist worldview reject the votes of people of color as valid.
Make no mistake about it ... and now I’m preaching directly to my White siblings ... because everyone else already knows this:

What was on display on Wednesday in sharp relief in our nation’s Capitol was White supremacism on steroids – and January 6, 2021 will forever stand as the date when White Americans were asked to “choose this day” whether they will be a solution to the systemic racism that fuels and feeds the chaos and destruction we saw on our televisions and twitter feeds or they will be part of the problem by denying the existence of unexamined privilege granted to White people in our nation.

This is part of who we are as Americans – and owning it is part of healing it; is part of leveraging our power to make this a tipping point in letting go of who we have been in order to move forward to who we can become.

It is work our Presiding Bishop got us started on as he offered his word to the church this week, asking “Who Shall We Be” and how shall we move forward:

I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe that his way of love and his way of life is the way of life for us all. I believe that unselfish, sacrificial love, love that seeks the good and the welfare and the well-being of others, as well as the self, that this is the way that can lead us and guide us to do what is just, to do what is right, to do what is merciful. It is the way that can lead us beyond the chaos to community.

With these words Michael Curry stands firmly on the shoulders of prophets through the ages ... from Joshua who called the people of Israel to “choose this day” to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Amons and all the others who called our spiritual ancestors to turn from evil and choose good.

Because here’s the deal: Americans didn’t invent exceptionalism. Or imperialism, nativism, sexism, racism, heterosexism, or any of the other isms that divide us as a human family. The “othering” of human siblings is as old as the prophets and as new as whatever social media platform they’re cooking up to replace Twitter. It is arguably an “original sin” if we understand sin as that which separates us from God and God as the Source of love that calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Calling us to choose love –
Calling us to choose life – 
Calling us to choose that other world that is not only possible …
She is on the way.

How do we choose? One place I want to suggest we start is by claiming the power of John 8:32 – “the truth will set you free” – and telling the truth about the role that toxic religion has played in feeding, fueling, and fomenting the worldview that incubates division, polarization, and violence.

There are complex sets of factors that lead to the rise of the populist, nationalist, sexist, xenophobic, White supremacist, homo/transphobic toxins that have contaminated our body politic, dominated our public discourse and incited the terrorist insurrection we saw this week. 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 and rejection of the certified results of a free and fair election.

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.

And as people of faith we must offer that antidote from our own witness AS people of faith; to refuse to allow those who have corrupted the Gospel message of the Lord of Love into a weapon of mass destruction speak for Jesus; to choose this day to stand up and speak up when necessary.

Hear again the words of one of the saints in light, our brother John Lewis:

Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.

It was to the vision of that world community – that Beloved Community -- that George Regas called us over his decades of ministry and countless sermons from this pulpit.

And so it seems fitting today to end with words of his … these from that sermon that got us in trouble with the IRS in 2004:

We are humbled by the challenge of being faithful to God amid all the complexities and demands that are placed before us. Some of you will say, “I have so little to offer against the hugeness of the issues confronting us.”

Feeling that way myself sometimes, I go back to some words spoken by Senator Bobby Kennedy in South Africa in 1966. They have always inspired me. “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of our generation.”

Hold on to hope that your life and witness count. Hope will make a tremendous difference in the tasks you assume for yourself. Cynicism and despair are deathblows to any movement for national renewal and world peace, or just your trying to survive the challenges of daily life. Teilhard de Chardin said, “The world of tomorrow belongs to those who gave it the greatest hope.”

I believe that passionately. Many of us have been working on all of this for a long time. It is a terrible day when we let our defeats and failures beat us down into hopelessness and despair. Dante knew the destruction of the loss of hope, for he placed over the gates of hell the words, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Despair is the deathblow to a new and better and more just future. It is unmistakably clear that when we lose our capacity to hope, we lose our capacity to shape our future. Do you remember those days when your heart was full of hope that life could be different, that life could be transformed and healed, that life could be better and more wonderful?

Remember the energy that brought to your life. Those dreams you have for your children and grandchildren, those dreams for your marriage or close relationships, those dreams for your job—they are powerful engines for change in your life. Don’t let anyone take them from you. Nor take from you your dreams for a new America and a peaceful world.

For Jesus now speaks to all of us. “I need you to share with me the healing of all life.”

Let us choose this day to be agents of change in that high and holy work of all life healed, restored, and redeemed into the creation God intended it to be – the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – the garden of Eden grown green again.

That is the other world that is not only possible
She is on her way
On a quiet day … you can hear her breathing
She is on her way.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

We didn't listen


We didn't listen when they told us how bad it could be. Maybe because it was too hard to believe it could really happen to us ... to those we know ... to those we love. They warned us what would happen if we didn't social distance, wear our masks, "flatten the curve." They told us hundreds of thousands could die, that hospitals could be overwhelmed, that critically ill patients could be denied treatment and that life-as-we-knew-it would become more and more a distant memory. And we didn't listen. And we didn't wear our masks and we didn't stay in our bubbles and we traveled to see family and we met up with friends and now here we are: and what they told us could happen is happening across our nation in general and here in Los Angeles in particular. And it is terrifying and it is heartbreaking and it didn't have to be this way. 

We didn't listen when they told us how bad it could be. Maybe because it too hard to believe it could really happen here ... in this nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal. They warned us what would happen if we kept enabling a leader who flouted the rule of law, courted dictators and oligarchs and fomented sedition and rampant corruption. And yet it just kept happening. And those with the power to make a difference didn't listen, dismissing fears of coups and the dismantling of democracy as hyperbole and partisan hysteria and now here we are: on a day we couldn't have imagined where an armed mob has invaded our Capitol, terrorized our Congressional leadership and ground the certification of a free and fair election to a halt. And it is terrifying and heartbreaking and it didn't have to be this way.

We are fighting two viruses in this nation: the COVID19 coronavirus and the Trumpian White supremacy virus. And if we don't start listening -- if we don't heed the warnings -- if we don't come together across our differences and unite in the effort to eradicate them from our nation and figure out a way to move forward -- then the worst that can happen will happen again, and again and again ... and we cannot let that happen. History has its eyes on us. La lucha continua.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

A Giant Goes Home to Jesus: George Regas, 1930-2021

We know that there are giants amongst us -- giants of justice who live larger, dream bigger, risk greater and change more than the rest of us who stand on their shoulders. And we lost one of those giants today when the Reverend Canon Dr. George F. Regas went home to Jesus. In words I heard George say in more funerals than I can count: "Oh, lucky heaven."

George was 90 years old and had been in failing health and so his death this morning with his beloved Mary Regas at his side was not a surprise to those who know and love him. We are grateful for a peaceful passing -- and we trust the great resurrection promise that in death life is changed, not ended -- and yet it is still a special kind of grief and shock when one of our giants leave us. 

And George Regas was a giant of justice. His life was an incarnation of the words of former Presiding Bishop John Hines who proclaimed that "justice is the corporate face of God's love." In his words and in his actions; in his teaching and in his preaching ... oh, especially in his preaching ... George Regas did what prophets are supposed to do: he comforted the afflicted and he afflicted the comfortable as he made that face of God's love accessible to absolutely everybody -- sometimes much to the consternation of the institutional church.

He was in the forefront of the struggle for the ordination of women in the 1970's. He was in the vortex of the AIDS crisis in the 1980's. He broke liturgical ground that helped pave the way for equal marriage by blessing same-sex unions in the 1990's. His interfaith relationships were as legendary as his credentials in the Civil Rights movement and his unwavering commitment to preach peace -- even in times of war, election cycles be damned -- made for a rocky patch with the IRS and All Saints Church in 2004. 

Nevertheless, he persisted. And we are in no small part the parish we are, the diocese we are and the Episcopal Church we are because of his willingness to live larger, dream bigger, risk greater and change more than the rest of us who stand on their shoulders. 

"Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith you are welcome here to receive the bread and wine made holy." George's words of invitation to the communion table are words that have become a mantra for All Saints Church in Pasadena -- words that have inarguably changed countless thousands of lives ... both here in Pasadena and beyond ... making the corporate face of God's love avaialable to absolutely everyone. 

In the days and weeks ahead there will be many tributes, remembrances and opportunities to honor George and his legacy and I look forward to those. But right now -- in this moment -- as we pause to mark the passing of a giant who lived among us, my prayer is that we can be given the grace to remember George in his full humanity as a brother, mentor, teacher, preacher and friend -- and to celebrate the difference he made in our lives by continuing to do our part in the work of being the change we want to see in our beautiful and broken world. 

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Here's a photo tribute to George for his 90th Birthday: October 2020