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]