Sunday, December 26, 2021

Remembering Archbishop Tutu

We lost a global giant of love, justice and compassion with the death today of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ninety years old and in frail health, the fact that his passing to the other realm was not unexpected does not lessen its impact -- for it feels almost impossible to imagine a world without the north star of his courage, wisdom and impish humor shining in our world.

Nevertheless, we persist. We grieve his loss and we celebrate his life ... and we remember his indomitable spirit and faithfulness to the good news of the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another. For if Archbishop Tutu's life was about any one thing it was about the power of that love to transform absolutely anything and anyone. 

In 1994 Archbishop Tutu spoke to our General Convention in Indianapolis. We gathered in a cavernous convention hall with probably 3000 people -- and from the back-bench bleachers where my seminarian self was sitting he was a tiny speck of a man who filled up the whole room. I remember leaving the hall feeling like I was the luckiest person on earth to have actually been in the same room with such holy wisdom and courageous energy.

Over the years I had several other opportunities to be in the presence of "the Arch." 

In 2005 -- in the midst of the Anglican Inclusion Wars -- he visited All Saints Church in Pasadena and preached a sermon where he famously said:

"Jesus did not say,
'I, if I be lifted up,
will draw some.'
Jesus said, 'I, if I be lifted up,
will draw all.'
All! All! All! All!
Black, white, yellow,
rich, poor,
clever, not so clever,
beautiful, not so beautiful.
It's one of the most radical things!
All, all, all belong.
Gay, lesbian, so-called straight.
All! All are meant to be held 
in this incredible embrace 
that will not let us go."

In 2011, Archbishop Tutu returned to All Saints. Taking my hand on the lawn before the service, he told me "All Saints Church stood with us in the fight against apartheid and we will stand with you in the fight against homophobia." 

It's a moment I'll never forget -- and a moment I'm so deeply grateful to Cyrus Davis for capturing in this picture.

"All are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go." Rest in peace in that incredible embrace, Archbishop Tutu. As our Rector Emeritus George Regas would say: Oh, lucky heaven!

Friday, December 03, 2021

The Advent Waiting Game

This month I had the privilege of writing an Advent reflection for our diocesan clergy newsletter ... and having no idea where to start I wrote what I needed to hear: "The Advent Waiting Game" ... with thanks to Diana Bass & Liz Habecker for inspiration: 

With the lighting of yet another candle on yet another Advent wreath a new church year is launched, and we enter once more the season of waiting as we prepare to claim again the Christmas Truth greater than any of the traditions it inspires: the mystical longing of the creature for the creator – the finite for the infinite – the human for the divine. 

It is a longing that transcends culture, religion, language and custom – a longing that is represented for us as Christians in the baby in the manger – the sudden, amazing, and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us. Yes, we manifest the wonder of Christmas in the gifts given, the meals shared, the gathering of family and loved ones. 

But the greater wonder is that the God who is love incarnate came down at Christmas to be among us as one of us: to show us how to share that love with a world in desperate need of it – to a world yearning for the “peace on earth, good will among all people” the angels proclaimed. 

And so we wait. And as we wait, I’m remembering many, many Advents ago our colleague Liz Habecker describing how “waiting” during Advent is different than any of the other kinds of “waiting” we do — waiting for a bus, for example. Waiting for a bus is both boring and anxiety-producing. Will it be on time? Will I make my connection? Am I even waiting at the right bus stop? What if I looked at the schedule wrong? Where is that bus, anyway? That’s waiting in anxiety. 

Advent waiting is more like being in the concert hall or theater, waiting for the curtain to rise. We know something wonderful is about to happen and everyone else is waiting with the same expectation. We know what we’re waiting for — we’ve bought the tickets and looked over the program — but the experience is yet to happen: and so we wait — expectantly. We wait in the tension of both knowing and NOT knowing — open to the experience about to unfold that is somehow different every time. We wait in anticipation rather than anxiety. 

And so another Advent begins. 

We light that first candle, and we wait. We wait in both trust and tension as we pray the familiar prayers, read the familiar lessons, and sing the familiar hymns. And yet for all the comfort of the familiarity of those beloved prayers, hymns, and lessons there can be no escaping the reality that this year … this moment that Canon Melissa described in her recent Angelus article as the “current normal” … is different. 

We cannot ignore that we wait in the shadow of a pandemic that may be loosening its grip but still holds us and those we love in a kind of ongoing limbo of vulnerability. We cannot hide from the fact that our nation is increasingly polarized, our democracy is inarguably under threat, that liberty and justice for all remains a pledge we make rather than a reality we live -- and that over it all looms the existential challenge of the climate crisis that threatens this fragile Earth, our island home. 

And so this Advent I take great comfort in these words from our friend, author Diana Butler Bass, who writes: 

Advent recognizes a profound spiritual truth: 
that we need not fear the dark. 

Instead, wait there. 
Under that blue cope of heaven, 
alert for the signs of dawn. 

For you cannot rush the night. 
But you can light some candles. 
Sing some songs. 
Recite poetry. 
Say prayers.

We cannot rush the night. But we can light some candles – and this year we can light those candles in person, rather than on Zoom. We can sing some songs – and this year we may have to sing them into our masks, but at least we get to sing them together. And we can recite poetry and say our prayers – sharing and offering words of inspiration and aspiration as we wait expectantly for the coming of the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another. 

And so my prayer for all of us in this time of holy waiting is that we will be given the grace to wait in expectation rather than anxiety – and that our work and our worship will be outward and visible signs of hope, peace, joy, and love to our beautiful and broken world … the Advent and always. 

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Again With the Prayerfully Pro-Choice Post

The arguments before the Supreme Court are over and the deliberations have begun re: Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health – the latest battle in the war to overturn Roe v. Wade and eviscerate access to safe and legal abortion for people seeking reproductive health care.

And this time they are likely to win. 

It is a moment that does not come as a surprise as we have watched the orchestrated efforts of those who would return seek to control the bodies of others work out their long-game strategy over not just years but decades – including literally stealing a Supreme Court seat in order to pack the Court with opponents of reproductive freedom. 

Over the years we have suited up and stood up and spoken up and marched, lobbied and agitated more times than I can count to preserve what has been a constitutionally protected right since 1973 – my freshman year in college. I was honored to serve a four-year term as a member of the National Planned Parent Clergy Advocacy Board and continue to support that important work whenever and wherever I can. 

That support includes engaging with folks who are unable to reconcile my position as a pro-choice advocate with my vocation as a priest and pastor. One commenter summed it up tersely: "What kind of religion do you represent, lady?" 

The answer is that I represent one which gives me room to be both proudly and prayerfully pro-choice.

In 1988 the Episcopal Church went on record with a powerful statement affirming its commitment to both the sanctity of life and a woman's right to reproductive freedom. 

And then, in 1994, as the anti-abortion movement mobilized to restrict reproductive freedom of American women, we added this "further resolve"
"The Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision."
That's the "religion I represent" -- one that acknowledges there is tension between the sacredness of life we affirm and the freedom of choice we support. And the parish I represent -- All Saints Church in Pasadena -- is one that has been officially "prayerfully pro-choice" since 1989.

And here we are again. La lucha continua … the struggle continues. As I posted on Twitter this morning:
"If what is happening in the Supreme Court this morning does not mobilize every single person committed to reproductive freedom to get to the polls for the 2022 Midterms then The Handmaid’s Tale becomes prophesy rather than fiction and we become Gilead. And we are not going to let that happen."
So buckle up. Say your prayers. Dig out the protest signs and pussy hats. Figure out who’s running for what and how to support them. Give to Planned Parenthood. Make some noise.

They may win this battle – but they will not win the war. Not on our watch.

[photo: All Saints contingent -- including our late Rector Emeritus George Regas -- at a 2019 "Stop the Bans" rally at Pasadena City Hall]

Thursday, November 25, 2021

A Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve 2021

A Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve 2021 at All Saints Church, Pasadena … with thanks to Diana Bass, Michael Curry, Sharon Brous and Joy Harjo.

The familiar trappings of Thanksgiving are all around us. Here at All Saints this evening we gather in this familiar sacred space, sing the familiar hymns, and pray the familiar prayers. In the days leading up to this evening, we have been culturally bombarded by the familiar signs of the season -- including the ubiquitous "pumpkin spicing" of almost everything. And -- here in Pasadena -- the most familiar sign of them all: the rising of the Rose Parade bleachers along Orange Grove Boulevard.

And for all the comfort of the familiarity there can be no escaping the reality that this year is not “Thanksgiving as usual.”

We cannot ignore that we also gather in the shadow of a pandemic that may be loosening its grip but still holds us and those we love in a kind of ongoing limbo of vulnerability – and that too many beloved members of our families and communities are now absent from us.

We cannot hide from the fact that our nation is increasingly polarized, our democracy is inarguably under threat, that liberty and justice for all remains a pledge we make rather than a reality we live.

And we cannot deny that over it all looms the existential challenge of the climate crisis that threatens this fragile Earth, our island home.

Nevertheless, we persist. Nevertheless, we choose to give thanks. And one of the things I give thanks for are these words from Diana Butler Bass:

God, there are days we do not feel grateful. When we are anxious or angry. When we feel alone. When we do not understand what is happening in the world, or with our neighbors. God, we struggle to feel grateful.

But this Thanksgiving, we choose gratitude. We choose to accept life as a gift from you, from the unfolding work of all creation. We choose to be grateful for the earth from which our food comes; for the water that gives life; and for the air we all breathe.

We make the choice to see our ancestors, those who came before us, and their stories, as a continuing gift of wisdom for us today. We choose to see our families and friends with new eyes, appreciating them for who they are, and be thankful for our homes whether humble or grand. We choose to see the whole planet as our shared commons, the public stage of the future of our race and creation

So I'm not a morning television person.
I'm a let's have it quiet around here until I've had a second cup of coffee person.

But today I got a heads up from my east coast friends on Facebook that two of my favorite people on the planet – Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Rabbi Sharon Brous – were going to be on the Today Show … so I turned it on. (And if you missed it, check out All Saints Facebook Group … I posted a link to the segment clip.)

What stood out to me in the 6 minutes of wisdom from these two great spiritual leaders was how grounded they both were in their respective faith traditions -- and how in alignment they both were in their message of putting that faith in to action.

Rabbi Brous called listeners to recognize the vulnerability of this moment of shared recognition of the fragility and preciousness of life and to hold that vulnerability as a call to live differently in the world. “Our work” she said, “is to mitigate against the darkness by bringing light.”

And Bishop Curry noted that Thanksgiving is made up of two words: that thanks is an attitude and giving is an action. And the call he made was to do both in such a way that “we deal with the problems of our past in order to solve the problems of our present in order to create a better future for every member of the human family.”

So on this Thanksgiving Eve we not only give thanks: we choose to put into action the powerful words of Poet Laureate Joy Harjo* in this evening’s reading:

“All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice.”

The war for justice is a battle over those would polarize us by fear and division -- and the weapons we are called to use are weapons of mass reconciliation: truth and justice; peace and love.

All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice … and as that war continues to rage around us, we pause along the way to mark the incremental victories in order to keep us moving forward in the journey … this evening remembering especially:

• Justice for the family of Ahmaud Arbery … even as we work to dismantle the systemic white supremacy that led to his tragic death; and
• Gratitude for the exoneration of Kevin Strickland … even as we challenge the justice system that held him for 43 years for crime he didn’t commit.

In the face of the daunting challenges
of pandemics and polarization,
injustice and inequality
we choose to remember that
we belong to the God who created us in God’s image
because God wanted relatives –
that the God who spun the sun and moon and stars
and is mother, father, brother, sister and sibling to us all
gives us what we need to keep us from giving up
in this land of nightmares which is also the land of miracles –
calls us to gather up the strands broken from the web of life
and make them into something holy.
Something whole. Something beautiful.

When I first read those words of Joy Harjo I was immediately reminded of what we do when we gather at this table to receive the bread made holy … of the words of the old hymn:

As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
was in this broken bread made one,
so from all lands thy people gathered
into thy kindom by thy love

And so as we prepare to gather at the table which is the center of our life in Christ, may we also prepare for action we go out from that table into the world as beacons of God’s love, justice, and compassion

On this Thanksgiving Eve may we be given grace live out both the attitude and the action of Thanks Giving -- to be the change we want to see in the world as we continue to choose both gratitude and love; as we act as lights in the war for justice.

Let us close with this prayer from Diana Butler Bass:

God, this Thanksgiving, we do not give thanks. We choose it. And we will make thanks, with strong hands and courageous hearts. When we see your sacred generosity, we become aware that we live in an infinite circle of gratitude.

We will not let anything opposed to love take over this table. Instead, we choose to see grace, free and unmerited love, the giftedness of life everywhere, as the tender web of all creation. In this choosing, and in the making, we will pass gratitude onto the world.

Thus, with you, and with all those gathered here, we pledge to make thanks. And we ask you to strengthen us in this resolve. Here, now, and into the future. Around this table. Around the table of our nation. Around the table of the earth. Amen.


*Reconciliation - A Prayer by Joy Harjo

Thanksgiving Prayer 2016 - Diana Butler Bass

Monday, October 25, 2021

Acting as an Antidote to the Virus of Homo/Transphobia

The nature of a virus is to produce variants in order to survive. According to the CDC: "The best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection." This wisdom applies not only the COVID-19 virus that continues to prey upon our global human family in general, but to the virus of homo/transphobia that continues to prey on our LGBTQ+ siblings in specific.

And today heavy on my heart is the news of a particularly virulent variant of that virus rearing its ugly head in the nation of Ghana.

If you missed the memo, CNN does a good job of summarizing the situation in this October 8, 2021 feature exploring the connections between the U.S. far-right influence on the draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation pending in Ghana.
[Gay activists] denounced the claim that homosexuality is a Western import or that LGBTQ activists were out to recruit and convert straight Ghanaians. "The same people they claim to have brought homosexuality to Africa are the same people who told them to have this hate they are using against us. There have always been queer Ghanaians. The anti-LGBTQ "family values" coalition have long been a loud presence in Ghana, but it was never organized or particularly strategic. That changed when a US group promoting those same "family values" organized a conference in Accra in late 2019 -- just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The U.S. right-wing people were here and after that there was a rush to push legislation." 

Once again we see that toxic religion mixed with right-wing politics create the perfect Petri dish to incubate new and ever more virulent variants of the virus of homo/transphobia that puts the lives of LGBTQ+ people at risk. Toxic religion is arguably the Patient Zero for the spread of this particular virus variant -- a variant that has evidently spread to the Anglican Church in Ghana.

In an October 20th feature in The Living Church Kirk Peterson reported that Anglican Bishops in Ghana have endorsed the legislation. From the TLC feature:

“The support of the church for the Anti-LGBTQI Bill is borne out of the belief that the practice is unbiblical and ungodly. We see LGBTQI as unrighteousness in the sight of God and therefore will do anything within our powers and mandate to ensure that the bill comes into fruition. Leviticus 20:13 clearly declares that, a male lying with a fellow male is an abomination and punishable by death."

These reports have sparked a call for Anglican leaders in general -- and the Episcopal Church in specific -- to stand up and speak out for God's LGBTQ+ beloved who find themselves in harm's way as the virus spreads. 

So what are we to do? If "the best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection," how can we be agents of change in reducing the spread of infection of the toxic religion that feeds, waters and fertilizes the demonization and scapegoating of LTBTQ+ people in the service of political agendas committed to division and polarization? 

We start by standing up and speaking out as people of faith -- refusing to allow the Good News of the Gospel be hijacked as a weapon of mass discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. We start by continuing to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right.  

And this morning -- at the opening session of our Episcopal Church's Executive Council -- President of the House of Deputies (PHOD) Gay Clark Jennings did exactly that. Hear these words from her Opening Remarks;

According to news reports, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Ghana has endorsed a draconian anti-LGBTQ law now awaiting a vote in the Ghanaian parliament. This is upsetting and particularly regrettable in light of the 2005 commitment of the primates of the Anglican Communion to stand against the “victimisation or diminishment” of LGBTQI people.

For our part, in 2015, General Convention passed Resolution A051, which commits us to stand with our LGBTQI Anglican siblings in Africa, and that our churchwide offices, including the Office of the Presiding Bishop, “be directed to work in partnership with African Anglicans who publicly oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality and incite violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people.”

I expect that it has not yet been possible to understand exactly what has transpired in the church in Ghana, and what kind of risk our LGBTQI friends and allies there are now facing, but we must commit ourselves to standing with them in whatever ways we can. I hope that it will be possible for us to discuss this matter at this meeting with the goal of hearing a full report and taking action in keeping with Resolution 2015-A051 at our January meeting. Mission Beyond, I believe that this is in your portfolio.

"We must commit ourselves to standing with them in whatever ways we can." 

Those ways will emerge in the days and weeks ahead: the ways we can work to reduce the spread of infection; the ways we can live out our baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. But in the short term, here are two things we   can do:

  • The first is urge our representatives on Executive Council to act on the PHOD's charge this morning. Here's a link to the Council roster. Reach out to any members you know. If you don't know any of them, use your social media platform to write an open letter to Council and tag people who do. Make some noise!
  • The second is to thank President Jennings for her leadership and willingness to stand up and speak out -- once again -- on behalf of God's LGBTQ+ beloved. Go thank her on her Facebook page ... you'll be glad you did!

Ready. Set. GO!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

On Prophets & Crocuses & Queers


“On Prophets & Crocuses & Queers” — Sermon preached at All Saints, Pasadena on “Dodger Blue” Sunday (October 10, 2021) with thanks to Jim Naughton, Rose Hayden-Smith, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, +Fred Borsch … and of course, Jesus! === "God of the stand-up triple, the backdoor slider, the stolen base and the 3-6-3, we thank you for the ordered enchantments of the game of baseball. For the snap of a split-finger fastball in a catcher’s mitt and the arc of a white ball against a blue sky, we praise you. For the green of the grass and the throat of the crowd, we glorify you. For the grace and grit, the speed and strength, the skill and savvy of those who take the field, we give you thanks. Creator God, teach us to play fair; to cheer excellence whomever exhibits it, to root for teams worthy of our affections and keep us ever mindful that no matter what the umpire says, in your love, we are always safe at home. Amen." Yes, it's a bit of an indulgence for this died in the wool, second generation, life-long baseball fan to start by giving thanks for the gift of baseball. But my hope is wherever you find yourself on the continuum of baseball fandom, the words of my friend and colleague Jim Naughton are a window into not just the love of a particular game -- or a particular team or a particular playoff season -- but a celebration of all those gifts that give delight, bring joy and offer respite from all the challenges and struggles that surround us. And so I want to begin this morning with a moment focused on gratitude. Just a moment to pause -- to close your eyes if you choose to or not if you don't -- and call up what it is that gives you delight, what it is that brings you joy, what it is you're thankful for this morning. We'll get to the challenges in a minute ... and Lord knows there are plenty of them ... but just for now ... breathe in gratitude for all the blessings of this life ... and breathe out anxiety for all the challenges of this life. And just for a moment be mindful that no matter what anyone says in God's love we are always safe at home. And it is that knowledge -- that sure and certain conviction -- that nothing can separate us from the love of God -- that is the core of the faith we share as followers of Jesus ... the radical rabbi from Nazareth who wasn't always all that welcome in his own hometown. The Gospel this morning tells us that story according to Mark. Mark tells us "they were offended over him" as he preached to them in their synagogue. Luke tells the same story but with a little more graphic detail: "When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff." It turns out a prophet is not only without honor in their hometown -- sometimes a prophet is in danger in their hometown. And little wonder. Speaking truth to power is never popular with the powerful because it just about always involves asking those with power to recognize the usually unexamined privilege that comes with that power ... and it's just a hop, skip and a jump from there to examining that privilege and to being asked to share that power. But that's how change happens -- healing happens -- transformation happens. And since tomorrow is National Coming Out Day I have a quick story as an example. I came out in the National Cathedral in on the 4th of July in 1996 ... but that's not the story I'm going to tell. The story I'm going to tell is about when I came home and met with my then Bishop -- Fred Borsch -- to break the news. Fred asked me two questions for which I've always been grateful -- "how can I help?" and "how are your boys?" And then shared something with me -- which I've never forgotten. He told me he believed the voices, stories and experiences of gay and lesbian people were going to be a gift to the church because they were going to challenge the unexamined sexuality of most straight people ... and while those weren't always going to be easy conversations to have, they were going to be critically important in order to heal the church of the homophobia that infects it and to liberate both the oppressed and those participating in the oppression ... whether they're aware of it or not. "And that includes," he said smiling, "old bishops like me!" I look back today at how far we've come since that July 1996 afternoon in the bishop's office ... recognizing how far we have yet to go ... but also grateful for how far we've come ... and for the prophets on whose shoulders we stand as we continue to do this work we have been called to do. And this feels like a good point to pause for a little refresher course on the job description of the prophet ... something I learned in seminary from Rabbi Abraham Heschel in a book called ( .... wait for it) The Prophets: "The prophet has a two-fold job description: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." The prophet has a both/and job description because we live in a both/and world – and yet we live in a moment when our discourse is dominated by those insisting on simplistic either/or solutions to the complex both/and challenges that face us – a time where the polarization that divides us is as pandemic as the coronavirus that infects us – a time when science is argued to be antithetical to faith and a time when wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly disease has been polarized into a partisan political statement. And it is in just such a time as this that we are all called to the work of the prophet to serve as antibodies to the pandemic of polarization by living into the both/and call to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. I know. Seriously. It sounds exhausting, doesn't it? Because it is. And most of us don't feel very much like prophets. At least I know I don't. But like it or not, it is the work we have called to do. When I went off to seminary -- a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a friend and choir colleague sent me off to seminary with a poem she had copied out on a piece of notebook paper. I kept it folded up in my prayer book and read it over and over and over again ... and I managed to find it yesterday to share with you this morning. It was entitled simply "Crocus." * "It takes courage to be crocus-minded Lord, I'd rather wait till June like wise roses when the hazards of winter are safely behind and I'm expected and everything's ready for roses But crocuses? Highly irregular knifing up through hard frozen ground and snow sticking their necks out because they believe in spring and have something personal and emphatic to say about it Lord, I am by nature rose-minded Even when I have studied the situation her and know there are wrongs that need righting affirmations that need stating and know that my speaking out might even rock the boat Well, I'd rather wait till June Maybe things will sort themselves out and we won't have to make an issue of it Lord, forgive Wrongs don't work themselves out Injustices and inequities and hurts don't just dissolve Somebody has to stick their neck out somebody who cares enough to think through and work through hard ground because they believe and have something personal to say about it Me Lord, crocus minded? Could it be that there are things that need to be said and you want me to say them? OK. Then I pray for courage. Amen." So let us all pray for courage ... each and every one of us ... no matter how "rose-minded" we are ... to ask God to send us into the boats that need rocking, to tell the truths that need telling, to work through the hard ground that needs breaking through. Courage to work to end violence in all its forms and who pray for both victim and perpetrator as we seek healing and wholeness for absolutely every member of the human family. Courage to speak up to end the politicization of public health policies. Courage to afflict those who are so comfortable in their unexamined white privilege that they are blind to the systemic racism that surrounds us and make us people who amplify the voices of those who have endured generations of oppression, marginalization and discrimination. Courage to learn from climate scientists what we must do to be stewards of this fragile earth, our island home and make us people who reject the false narrative that we must choose between science and faith Finally and most importantly courage to claim the resurrection promise, that is the foundation of our faith: trusting that absolutely nothing can separate us from God's love; and that no matter what anyone says in that love we are always safe at home. Amen"

===== *It Takes Courage to be Crocus Minded" by Jo Carr and Imogene Sorley

Monday, September 27, 2021

Truth & Love: A Homily for a Seminary Eucharist

Homily preached on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at The Episcopal Theological School at Los Angeles (AKA Bloy House)

"Your image of God creates you." Every morning I start my day with the deeply predictable routine of pouring some coffee, feeding the dogs and checking my email inbox ... which always includes the daily meditation from Richard Rohr's Center for Action & Contemplation. And these words which began one of those meditations have stuck to me like glue since I read them on Saturday morning, September 11: "Your image of God creates you."
The meditation went on to say: "This is why it is important that we see God as loving and benevolent. This is why good theology still matters."
And so when I was invited to share a word with you this morning, I could think of no better place to start. For whoever we are or wherever we find ourselves on the continuum of theological studies -- first year students, seminary veterans, faculty or aging alums -- our image of God continues to create us ... and good theology still matters.
Matters perhaps more than ever in this time global pandemic, political polarization and climate crisis in a world living up to William Sloan Coffin's description as "too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”
Truth and love.
Here in the Diocese of Los Angeles we've been talking a lot about truth and love since that's the theme of our upcoming Diocesan Convention.
In the wider church, we've been digging deeper into telling the truth in love about how we've come to be the church we are through the Sacred Ground series on racial healing, reconciliation, and justice grounded in our call to faith, hope and love.
And for almost a year now -- since Advent One 2020 -- in my parish of All Saints Church in Pasadena -- we have been using Dr. Wil Gafney's Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church -- Year W ... a lectionary created in response to these truth seeking questions asked in love:
• What does it look like to tell the good news through the stories of women who are often on the margins of scripture?
• How would a lectionary centering women’s stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, frame the presentation of the scriptures for proclamation and teaching?
Recognizing that just as our image of God creates us, so our translations of Scripture shape our faith seeking understanding ... AKA our theology ... this past almost-year has been a rich one in terms of hearing again for the first time familiar passages in new ways. The readings appointed for tomorrow -- Proper 21 -- were for me, no exception.
In her notes on the lessons appointed for today, Dr. Gafney writes:
"Although it is arguably not fashionable to speak, let alone preach about sin, the lessons appointed for today call us to reflect on transgression, consequence and repentance. In the first lesson David’s most infamous acts -- the rape of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah -- take center stage. In the Psalm, the petitioner speaks as one who could have been the perpetrator of those or of similar crimes. The epistle speaks to a world where there seems to be no consequences for transgression or rhetorically to the survivors or victims of someone else’s transgressions. And in the Gospel, Jesus offers a pathway to reconciliation for those who’ve been wronged and for those who have wronged."
If the world is indeed dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love ... and it's hard to watch the nightly news and come up with an argument against that assertion ... then the world is also in desperate need of ways to tell the truth and live in love. And since that is ostensibly the vocation of the church as the Body of Christ in the world it begs the question: what kind of church will we be?
Which brings me to a story.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when I was a young mother my parish 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 and his subject was “building the kingdom of God.” And he used this example that I’ve never forgotten.
He asked us to picture a big, tall, beautiful building under construction. And then he asked to picture the scaffolding that surrounded the building while it was under construction … supporting it and framing it as it rose into the sky until it was ready to stand on its own.
He told us to think of the building as the Kingdom of God we’ve been called to build here on earth as it is in heaven … the kingdom we pray about every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. And then he told us to think of the scaffolding surrounding the building as the church.
And this is the part where he rocked my world. “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 when 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.”
It was in that moment in that parish hall on that Wednesday in Lent I realized for the first time WHY it is we need the church – and not just as a place to go once a week to talk to adults! I realized that the church is not an end in itself – but that it is essential to our work of building the kingdom of God as we follow the Radical Rabbi from Nazareth who called us to tell the truth and to walk in love.
And what kind of church shall we become in this time of transition and challenge; of threat and opportunity ... in a world too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love? Can we be a church capable of preaching about sin and reflecting on transgression, consequence and repentance while we walk in love with the One who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another?
Barbara Brown Taylor offers some perspective on what our options are in her book "Speaking of Sin" in the chapter she calls "Recovering Repentance." She writes:
"It is easy for me to think of churches that operate like clinics, where sin-sick patients receive sympathetic care for the disease they all share. Such churches subscribe to a kind of no-fault theology in which no one is responsible because everyone is.
It is also easy for me to think of churches that operate like courts, where both sins and sinner are named out loud, along with punishments appropriate to their crimes.
True repentance will not serve either of these purposes.
It will not work in the church-as-clinic because repentance will not make peace with sin. Instead, it calls individuals to take responsibility for what is wrong with the world – beginning with what is wrong with them – and to join with other people who are dedicated to turning things around.
True repentance will not work in the church-as-courtroom either, because it is not interested in singling out scapegoats and punishing them. Instead, it calls the whole community to engage in the work of repair and reconciliation without ever forgetting their own culpability for the way things are.
Bent as we are with either excusing sin or pounding it into the ground, it is no wonder that a third kind of church is so hard to find and so desperately needed – not church-as-clinic or church-as-courtroom but church-as-community-of-transformation, where members are expected and supported to be about the business of new life in Christ bringing that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."
Our image of God continues to create us ... not only as individuals but as the church ... and good theology still matters.
And so I want to close this morning with some from our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in his address this week to the House of Bishops: a reflection on how our image of God in Christ Jesus is continuing to create us as that "third kind of church" ... a church of community-of-transformation:
"May we dream of that new and re-formed church, not formed in the way of the world but formed in the way of Jesus and his love. Genuinely, truly, authentically a branch of the Jesus Movement today — a community of individuals and small gatherings and congregations of all stripes and types, a human tapestry, God’s wondrous variety, the kingdom, the reign of God, the beloved community. No longer centered on empire or establishment, no longer fixated on the preservation of institutions, no longer propping up white supremacy or in collusion with anything that hurts or harms any child of God or God’s creation. By God’s grace, a church that looks and acts and lives like Jesus."

Proper 21: Year W (Closest to September 28):
2 Samuel 11:2-15; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Peter 3:1-4, 8-9; Matthew 5:21-26

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,