Sister Joan Chittister famously said, "We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again." Reflecting on that journey -- a blog at a time -- is the focus of this site.
Wednesday, March 08, 2023
Celebrating the Philadelphia 11 on International Women's Day
March is Women's History Month, and I've been picking a "woman of the day" to celebrate each day. Today is an exception as I'm picking eleven of them: The Philadelphia Eleven, to be specific -- the eleven courageous women who heard the "yes" of the Holy Spirit above the "no" of the institutional church and paved the way in July 1974 for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church.
I'm also using this day as an opportunity to invite you to join me in helping to tell their story! The Philadelphia Eleven -- a feature length documentary -- is in post-production and your tax-deductible donation can help tell this important story of these amazing women to the world.
For the past eight years, award-winning independent filmmakers of Time Travel Productions have been at work weaving a trove of archival footage with a narrative told by the ordinands and their allies: including our own George Regas. The film is slated for release in the fall of 2023 in anticipation of the 50th Anniversary in July 2024.
No donation is too small -- or too large! -- as we work to make our goal of raising $100,000 during Women's History Month. Give in thanksgiving for the courage of the Philadelphia Eleven, give in gratitude for the impact of women as priests on the church in general or give in celebration of the ministry of a woman priest in specific. And know that whatever you give will not only preserve and share history, but empower viewers for the work of dismantling the injustices we face today.
Be part of knowing our past in order to change our future. Donate here
Monday, February 13, 2023
They Shall Never Be Silent: A Sermon for Epiphany VI
A Sermon for Epiphany VI, Year A (Women’s Lectionary)
February 12, 2023 | All Saints Church, Pasadena
Upon your walls, daughter Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all the day and all the night, they shall never be silent.
They shall never be silent ... these truth tellers, these justice proclaimers, these whistleblowers Isaiah tells us about in this morning’s reading. These ones who inherit the legacy of the persistent widow in Luke’s gospel … who went again and again to the unjust judge until she received justice – not because he suddenly became a just judge but because she “kept bothering him” until she simply wore him down.
These ones who follow in the footsteps of Chloe’s people of First Corinthians fame ... who wrote to Paul with the news that their colleagues in Corinth were sowing polarization and division rather than reaping love and inclusion -- taking the Beloved Community of God’s abundant love Paul planted there during his visit and turning it into a hierarchical system arguing about who was in and who was out based on who was baptized by who and whether you agreed with them – causing Paul to write:
“My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people have informed me that there are quarrels among you ...” and reminding them in some of the most oft quoted words in all of scripture that “the greatest of these is love.”
These are for me historical data points worth remembering as we navigate the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching about the challenges of being church together in the 21st century … reminding us that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses in first century either – that we are not the first generation to struggle with living out this follow Jesus thing.
Friends, Jesus had barely finished ascending to heaven to sitteth on the right hand of the Father and already we needed Chloe’s people to call Paul’s people with a first century version of “Houston, we have a problem.” The church couldn’t make it past “soft launch” mode without needing sentinels willing to speak truth to power, to be truth tellers, to refuse to be silent when the gospel values of love, justice and compassion were being distorted into weapons of discord, division and competition – centralizing power rather than centering love.
It is a story as old as Isaiah and as new as the latest news update on your iPhone.
And this call to speak out – to speak up – to never be silent -- is part of our ancient spiritual heritage as old as the prophet Isaiah and Chloe’s people from Corinth … because so are the powers that sought to silence the sentinels then and seeks to silence them still.
In the 1980’s during the fierce vortex of the battle against AIDS the slogan “Silence equals death” was born … a truth that taught those of us who were raised with the axiom “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” that when there is literally nothing nice to say saying nothing is not an option.
Saying nothing not only isn’t an option – staying silent makes us complicit with systems of domination and oppression antithetical to everything Jesus called us to become as Beloved Community … as members of the Jesus Movement … as repairers of the breech … as salt for the earth … and light to the nations.
A recent case in point is happening as we speak across the pond with our Church of England siblings … where if you're someone who binge watches As The Anglican World Turns, a new series of episodes have just dropped.
To catch you up, the Church of England has been immersed in a years-long initiative called "Living in Love and Faith" encouraging members to "grow together" on issues of sexuality, identity, relationships and marriage. A recent set of pronouncements by their bishops and decisions by their Synod have resulted in a change in CofE policy to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships.
It is a step that has predictably whipped up the usual suspects into their customary ranting about heresy, apostasy and the irreparable renting of the fabric of the Anglican Communion. It is also a step that falls ludicrously and dramatically short of providing equity for the LGBTQ people, perpetuating de facto sacramental apartheid, convincing the increasing majority of Brits that the Church of England is an irrelevant vestigial organ of an anachronistic past at best and a hotbed of hypocritical homophobia at worst.
And absolutely none of this has done anything to advance the theoretical mission of the church -- which is to proclaim the Good News of God's inclusive love for absolutely everyone made present for us in the person of Jesus ... who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.
For those of us who have lived through the Anglican Inclusion Wars on this side of the pond, it feels eerily familiar for some and PTSD producing for others.
Yes, we have crossed the Rubicon in the Episcopal Church and revised our canons to make the sacrament of marriage available to all ... but there is still work to do ensure that unfettered access to those marriage rites does not depend on the zip code in which you reside. And there is still SO much work to do protect trans people in general and trans youth in particular both in our church and in our nation. There is so much not to be silent about.
And yet, where the Church of England finds itself today on the arc of history bending toward justice for LGBTQ people is just about where we were in 2012 when the Episcopal Church approved blessings for same-sex couples. But we didn't stop there.
We appointed a Task Force on Marriage which worked from 2012-2018 to secure "marriage rites for the whole church." And then in 2022 we appointed a Task Force on LGBTQ+ Inclusion "to continue our becoming “The Beloved Community;” a charism of which is a church that functions with equity and care for the whole body, including its LGBTQ+ members." I was honored to be asked to chair that Task Force and our work begins when we meet for the next month for the first time.
The arc of history is long and it bends toward justice, inclusion and equity ... but it doesn't bend by itself. It bends because we come together day after day, time after time, setback after setback, incremental step after incremental step forward ... refusing to rest until that kingdom come on earth we pray for every time we gather ceases to be something for which we pray and becomes something in which we live. Refusing to leave anyone behind in that journey. And refusing to be silent.
So today my prayers go out to our siblings in the struggle across the pond -- lifting up especially Jayne Ozanne, Colin Coward and all those sentinels we have partnered and labored with lo these many years.
And my thanksgivings go out for all those on whose shoulders we stand as we continue to do this work -- this holy work -- to which we have been called. From Dr. Louie Crew to Bishop Barbara Harris of blessed memory … to all the innumerable voices of witness who have brought us thus far on the way – those sentinels who knew their job was never to be silent.
Now the Anglican Inclusion Wars and the work for equity for LGBTQ people in the Episcopal Church are inarguably a very tiny subset of the kaleidoscope of challenges that face us as we seek to build Beloved Community in our beautiful and broken world … but I believe there are some object lessons to be learned there that can inform the wider work of dismantling oppression in all its forms.
If Jesus was right in today’s reading from Matthew and Wisdom is “vindicated by her deeds” then everything I needed to know about … oh let’s just pick resisting the forces working to dismantle our constitutional democracy out of the hat … I learned in the trenches of the Anglican Inclusion Wars, as we resisted the forces working to dismantle the Episcopal Church.
I learned that there is no compromising with those who believe they have Sole Possession of the Absolute Truth.
I learned that while we were meeting to negotiate how we would move forward together in spite of our differences, they were orchestrating an exit-strategy that involved litigation, property disputes and the demonization anyone and anything that challenged their patriarchal worldview.
I learned that the same theocratic zealotry that infused the Puritans who abandoned the Church of England because of its comprehensiveness in the 17th century was ironically alive and well in the 21st century -- attempting to reinvent Anglicanism in its own image: straight, White, male-dominated and biblical literalist.
I learned that part of their playbook was to attempt to gaslight the rest of us into the fiction that they were the ones who were the victims here -- an assertion that flies in the face of the reality that there is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you are disagreed with
being excluded because of who you are.
And I learned that unexamined privilege can be an insurmountable impediment to embracing diversity as a gift rather than attacking it as a threat.
Nevertheless, we persisted.
And we’re going to need to keep on doing both
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 to do that we need to be as willing to speak out in our day as Chloe’s people were in theirs … inheriting the call we heard in the reading this morning from Isaiah:
your walls, daughter Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels;
all the day and all the night, they shall never be silent.
They shall never be silent.
And neither shall we.
La lucha continua ... the struggle continues ... and we are in it to win it. Because nothing less than that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we pray for every time we gather is good enough for Jesus ... or for us.
So let us all pray for courage ...
each and every one of us ...
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.
to work to end violence in all its forms
and to 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 in general
and the victimization of trans youth as political pawns in particular.
Courage to afflict those who are so comfortable
in their unexamined white privilege
that they are blind to the systemic racism that surrounds us.
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.
and most importantly
courage to claim the resurrection promise,
that is the foundation of our faith:
trusting that absolutely nothing
can separate us from the love of God
which is the way of Wisdom:
Come and seek the ways of wisdom,
she who danced when earth was new.
Follow closely what she teaches,
for her words are right, and true.
Wisdom clears the path to justice,
showing us what love must do.
Friday, February 10, 2023
The Ongoing Saga of "As The Anglican World Turns":
Saturday, January 21, 2023
The Arc Doesn't Bend Itself: The Struggle Continues for LGBTQ Equity in the Church
So if you're following the debate across the pond in the CofE over blessings, marriage and whether or not LGBTQ people should be fully included in the Body of Christ (spoiler: not quite "there" yet!) just a little contextual reminder that way back in 1997 the Episcopal Church adopted Resolution D011, issuing a formal apology to "lesbians and gay men" for "years of maltreatment and rejection by the Church" and vowed to "seek amendment of our life together as we ask God's help in sharing the Good News with all people."
And it still took until 2015 to amend our canons on marriage and approve liturgies for equal use by same and opposite sex couples. And there are still a handful of dioceses where same-sex couples have to jump through hoops their opposite-sex siblings do not -- so we are not done yet.
NYT Report: Church of England Will Bless Same-Sex Couples, but Won’t Marry Them
Image: Post-2015 TEC Marriage Register
Tuesday, January 17, 2023
25 Years and Counting
It had been a long and winding road to get to that moment (and today is not the day for revisiting that saga) but suffice to say when we got to that moment, I swore as God was my witness that I would never take for granted the privilege of being called to do this work in this place in this time with these people.
And twenty five years later -- while I've failed at more things than you can shake a stick at -- I've managed to succeed in that vow. I am so deeply grateful -- and still awed every single day at the gift of this vocation and the work I have been given to do.
And I hope I'm not done yet. While I can see the light of retirement at the end of the tunnel, I'm delighted to have the portfolios I have both in my roles as parish priest at All Saints in Pasadena and as Canon for Engagement Across Difference in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
I am also beyond thrilled and honored to have been asked to serve as the Chair of the Episcopal Church's Task Force on LGBTQ+ Inclusion -- a new interim body resulting from Resolution D026 adopted at our 80th General Convention in Baltimore last summer. Proposed out of the Diocese of Los Angeles, the explanation for the resolution reads:
In 1976, the 65th General Convention of
the Episcopal Church asserted in a resolution 1976-A069 that ”homosexual
persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other
persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church.“
In the decades since its adoption, faithful witnesses to God's inclusive love
have been working to make that resolution a reality in the Episcopal Church for
all members of the human family, wherever they fall on the continuum of sexual
orientation or gender identity. As the Episcopal Church continues the work of
Becoming Beloved Community, it is time to bring that work from the margins into
the center by archiving our history, auditing our present and recommending
steps forward into our future.
The resolution was both adopted and funded (no small task!) with members preparing to begin their work in the days and weeks ahead. The first in person meeting will be held in March in Cleveland as part of the Joint Interim Bodies gathering.
It is truly a watershed moment for those who have been working since 1976 to make 'full and equal claim' for LGBTQ+ people not just a resolution but a reality in the Episcopal Church. And while there is inarguably still much work to do, the fact that the church has gone from arguing about whether to include us to strategizing about how to include us is something I couldn't even have imagined twenty-five years ago when we gathered at St. John's Cathedral on that chilly-but-sunny January day.
So Happy Anniversary to me ... and all my ordination day colleagues. A lot of ecclesial water under our bridges since that day
The full text of Resolution D026, including the scope of work of the task force is available hereAnd a list of members of the Task Force on LGBTQ+ Inclusion is available here
Saturday, January 07, 2023
Words of Wisdom from Three Wise Women
And the Word Became Flesh: Words of Wisdom from Three Wise Women
Christmas Day 2022 | Susan Russell | All Saints Church, Pasadena
And the Word became flesh … the scriptures tell us.
And a weary world rejoices … the hymn sings to us.
Familiar words Comforting words Christmas words
Words we’ve sung, said, and heard (many of us) for as long as we can remember …
maybe even before we can remember.
And so, on this Christmas Day in the morning,
it is the very familiarity of these familiar words
that can become their challenge.
It is the challenge to hear them … to actually hear them …
on this Christmas morning as words not just describing
a once upon a time long, long ago moment to us –
but as words that are for us –
words that are about us in this time,
in this place, in this moment.
And so on this Christmas day in the morning,
I want to add to the words we’ve heard
from our beloved ancient texts some words
from those I’ve come to think of as the Three Wise Women of Christmas:
Madeline, Marilyn, and Rachel ...
words that help lead us to claim the power
to be the change we want to see in the world
still struggling to become the Beloved Community
God created it to be.
For as we gather this Christmas day in the morning
the world we live in is too weary,
the challenges we face are too great
and the opportunities we have are too enormous
for us to claim anything less this Christmas Day
than the full promise of what we gather to celebrate
with our prayers and our praises,
our hymns and our hopes,
our carols and our candles.
And what we welcome this morning
is nothing less than the promise of new life
in the birth of this Christmas baby.
We are called to wonder again
at the power of a love great enough
to triumph over death
as we claim a Christmas Truth
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 –
and it is a longing that is represented for us as Christians
in this Christmas baby
all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
The sudden, amazing, and incomprehensible gift of grace:
a God who loved us enough to become one of us
in order to show us how to love one another.
Loved us enough to become human
in order to show us how to become fully human.
Loved us enough to yearn for us
to become the creatures we were created to be
rather than settle for being the creatures we had become.
And the Word became flesh.
All the traditions we inherit
all the rituals we practice
all the customs we claim
are designed to point us to that truth.
As sacramental people they are for us
“outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace”
of God’s love come down at Christmas.
Poet, author, and life-long Episcopalian –
and our first Wise Woman Madeline L’Engle --
offers these words of reflection
on that great mystery of the Word made flesh
we gather to celebrate this morning in her poem “The First Coming:”
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
And the Word became Flesh ...
in first century Palestine than it is in 21st century Pasadena
where we struggle to make meaning
out of the violence, polarization and fears
that surround us in our beautiful and broken world.
And no one better to help with that “make meaning” part
than theologian and Wise Woman Marilyn McCord Adams
of blessed memory who reminds us:
"God not only creates; God resurrects. God makes the worst count for good by bringing life out of death. To be on God’s side, we must bend ourself to efforts that foster life, inclusive community, and creativity. Collaboration revives hope because it convinces us: we are safe because, and only because, we are loved by God!"
No matter what, we are safe because we are loved by God.
And that, beloved,
is the essence of the Word made flesh
we celebrate this Christmas morning
in the amazing gift of our brother Jesus
born of our sister Mary.
Which it brings me to the third of our Wise Women –
Rachel Held Evans – who offered these wise words
centering Mary in the miracle of the Word made flesh:
In all these things, God is with us—and God is for us. God is for us … and made present among us in the Word made flesh in order to convince us that we are safe because we are loved by God.
And it is out of that safety –
out of the sure and certain knowledge
that absolutely nothing can separate us from that love –
that we can risk – we can dare.
We can be the change we want to see
in the world that is crying for change:
for hope, for light and for joy.
It is out of that safety that we can risk trying again:
countering the powers and principalities
of violence, discrimination, and fear
with love, justice, and compassion.
It is out of that safety that we can allow
the promise of being fully alive
outweigh the fear of loss and vulnerability.
And it is out that safety that can we dare to claim
what Howard Thurman calls “The Work of Christmas:”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace to all,
To make music in the heart.
And so on this Christmas Day in the morning
I pray that you can hear the familiar words of Christmas
not as once-upon-a-time long-long-ago words
but as words that are for you words that are to you
words that are about you
in this time, in this place, in this moment.
And I pray that the words of the Three Wise Women
will continue to lead us all forward into God’s future
as we align ourselves with the grain of the universe --
the love that came down at Christmas
as the Word made flesh.
Because my brothers & sisters & gender fluid siblings,
the world we live in is too weary,
the challenges we face are too great
and the opportunities we have are too enormous
for us to claim anything less this Christmas Day
than OUR call – each and every one of us –
to become the word made flesh
as the Body of Christ sent out to do the work of Christmas.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
Published in her collection A Cry Like a Bell (1987).
Marilyn McCord Adams: Ghastly Interruptions.
Rachel Held Evans: Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu,
Wholehearted Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2021), 3–5, 6.
[Image: Lupita Three Wise Women 1 by Emily Lupita Studio]