Wednesday, November 29, 2023

On the $7.00 Tempest in the TEC Teapot

Some quick background for those who missed the latest episode of As the Episcopal World Turns:

The Washington National Cathedral (WNC) roll out of its annual "come to the cathedral for Christmas" campaign included a $7 fee to cover the cost of processing the passes that make managing the Christmas crowds possible.

Not making an explicit option for those for whom the fee was a financial hardship was inarguably a blow it … a blow it which the WNC folks quickly corrected -- making the fee optional but encouraged. 

My take on what became SevenDollarGate -- an explosion of social media shame, blame and pearl clutching -- is 20% unforced error in the roll out and 80% displaced anxiety, dread, fear projected onto the WNC, blowing up into a tempest in the TEC teapot — a tempest that was not coincidentally fueled by a blog post from Juicy Ecumenism … a mouthpiece of the IRD whose stated goal is to disrupt and dismantle mainline churches in order to precipitate a “return to Biblical Orthodoxy.”

It was nothing less than a textbook effort to polarize and divide us at the very time when our unity and mobilization on behalf of the Good News in Christ Jesus is so desperately needed in this beautiful and broken world. It’s enough to give Baby Jesus colic — and more than enough to convince those who think they know enough about Christians not to want to be one that they are right.

So let’s all take a breath. Resume our preparations for the Advent season of preparation 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 then let’s work a little harder to live out that gospel we proclaim. 

Because at the end of the day, watching Christians be horrible and spiteful to each other will turn a whole lot more people away from coming to the manger than any seven dollar processing fee for a Christmas Eve worship service pass would ever do. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

“When was I supposed to sing?” -- Woke Words of Wisdom from Bishop John Harvey Taylor

When we gathered for our annual Diocesan Convention last week at the Riverside Convention Center our bishop -- +John Harvey Taylor -- did what bishops do at diocesan conventions and offered his convention address ... which is a kind of  church version of a "State of the Union" address.

You can watch the whole thing here ... and I commend it to you. 

But during this week of Transgender Awareness, I want to share this story he told in his address as a celebration of how one bishop used his platform of privilege to not only center the experience of God's nonbinary beloved -- but to challenge us to go and do likewise. Bravo, Bishop Taylor!

This is the power and majesty of our sacramental faith: that the risen Christ is alive ... inviting all creation to the party at the foot of the holy mountain – inviting everyone to come, without regard to race or nation, orientation or identification. The people of the Diocese of Los Angeles proclaim this Good News to all the world. With the Gospel, we say “Sleepers awake!” We are woke -- and we are proud of it! ...
Sometimes being woke is easy – once you get a poke in the conscience – as I learned just a few years ago, when I was still serving as vicar of St. John Chrysostom in Rancho Santa Margarita

I was spending a week at Camp Stevens as a summer chaplain. Every night at camp, at community gathering, the chaplains get the opportunity to preach -- but third and fourth graders after dinner don’t want to hear a reflection on Ephesians 5 any more than convention does after lunch. So my schtick was to get out my guitar – and take a Lady Gaga or a Taylor Swift song – and write lyrics that resonated with the theme at camp that week.

One time I was doing this and I told the boys to sing the first chorus and the girls the second. Afterward a camp staff member who was nonbinary took me aside and asked, “When was I supposed to sing?”

When it came to gender-inclusive language, I got poked into woke. While preaching the gospel of unity and love, I had actively made someone feel invisible and uncared for.

And you know what? Making some vocabulary changes has cost me exactly nothing.

Now I’d say, “Sing the first chorus if your first name starts with a letter between A and M.” Visiting schools, I used to love walking into a classroom and saying, “Hello, boys and girls!” Now I say, “Hello, kids!”

Instead of he or her, when in doubt, I say and write “their” -- and it’s the easiest thing in the world to replace “brothers and sisters” with “siblings.”

Language is powerful – righteous works proceed from righteous words. Woke language is calculated to include and welcome and to not do harm – as the letter of James reminds us, the words of our mouths are signifiers of the condition of our hearts-- and this is where it really can cost us – but it’s joyful work.

Because once our language identifies a reality, before too long, we are redesigning the restrooms – and appointing a committee to figure out how to include everyone who want to play sports irrespective of [gender] identification – and speaking out against politicians who get themselves into office and hold onto power by intentionally and cynically hurting our LGBTQ+ siblings, especially our children.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

“This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made: Sunday, November 02, 2003”

Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the consecration on the 9th bishop of New Hampshire and a historic crack in the rainbow stained glass ceiling with the first openly gay (emphasis on openly) bishop in the Anglican communion. Feeling nostalgic, I looked back at what I wrote 20 years ago this morning and was a little gob smacked to realize how many parallels there were between what was going on then in The Episcopal Church and what is going on now in our national civic arena. Looks like everything I need to know about fighting Christian nationalism I really can learn from the Anglican Inclusion Wars.

Happy Anniversary, +Gene ... and Church! La lucha continua!


“This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made: Sunday, November 02, 2003”
So here I am in New Hampshire – “the morning of” the much anticipated consecration of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese he has served for nearly 20 years as a priest and pastor.
At a reception last night for friends and family Gene posed for innumerable photo ops, hugged and kissed all comers and generally basked in the well deserved admiration and appreciation of those who elected him, supported him and look forward to his ministry as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The security was extraordinary – at least it seemed that way to me: a police escort waiting outside the parish hall and burly security guards stationed throughout the room, watching Gene’s every move.
I spoke to one briefly – saying I knew he wasn’t there to chat with me but that I wanted to take a second to thank him for his work in protecting Gene. “You’re welcome,” he said without taking his eyes of the bishop-elect. A minute later he leaned over and said, “It’s my job but I’m also an Episcopalian so this is important to me, too.” So there you go.
The service begins at 4:00 p.m. eastern time and I’ll be heading over to the arena shortly. (A hockey rink is being turned into a cathedral for the estimated 5000 who will attend.) The press is there in force – we’ve seen several live CNN reports from the site already this morning – and the CBS folks working a piece for 60 Minutes were with us for breakfast this morning. I’ll post reflections on the events of the day as soon as I can, for it promises to be a grand and glorious celebration.
But this morning I’m already looking past the liturgy we are about to celebrate this 2nd of November to the work we – the mainstream of the Episcopal Church – have ahead of us beginning November 3rd. And that work BEGINS with taking back the word “mainstream” from those who have hijacked it to use as one of the weapons in their arsenal of schism.
And let me be perfectly clear: I am not talking about faithful Episcopalians who disagree with the decisions of General Convention 2003, those who have different theological perspectives than I do or the people in the pews who are yearning to get on with the business of being the church and leave these debates about sexuality behind. I believe that there is more than enough room for all of us in this roomy Anglican tradition we inherit.
I am challenging instead a small segment of the leadership of the American Anglican Council who – in partnership with the Ahmanson funded Institute for Religion and Democracy – have made a decision for schism and are determined to succeed in their quest to split this church apart regardless of the cost.
I was quoted in a post-Plano/Dallas interview as saying “The AAC ‘is not a mainstream organization. This is the radical militant fringe of the church.’" What I actually SAID was "what we are hearing here in Dallas are not the words of a mainstream organization but the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe.” It is a fine but important linguistic distinction.
For there was a time when I did indeed considered the AAC “mainstream” -- "the loyal opposition" which offered a conservative perspective here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. I spent an entire YEAR having lunch once a month with David Anderson, Ron Jackson, and Bill Thompson -- reading the catechism with other clergy together as part of a reconciliation conversation initiated by Bishop Jon Bruno.
There were years when we managed to craft substitute resolutions at our Diocesan Convention with David and others which ended (for a season) the annual ritual of the same old voices at opposing microphones saying the same old things. And I attended expanded Reconciliation Conversations around the diocese modeled after the work of the New Commandment Task Force and led by AAC founding member Brian Cox.
I learned from those conversations. I grew in my understanding of those who approach Holy Scripture differently than I do. I heard the stories of those who felt that the church they loved was being taken away from them: for whom a church with a "new prayer book" and women priests was not a place of spiritual nurture. But time and again when our work together had ended -- when we stood in those "closing circles" and prayed for each other -- we also prayed together for this church we all loved as we committed to work together through the hard ground of our differences.
Was our communion “impaired” for those standing in that circle who could not accept as valid the orders of the women clergy who stood with them? Or for those who stood knowing that the relationships that they experience as holy gifts from God were not celebrated by all who stood with them? I suppose so – but we weren’t thinking in those terms at that point. Rather than dwelling on the issues that might have divided us we were focused instead on the Gospel that united us. Because our unity in Christ did not require uniformity in our opinions we were able to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” in communion – if not in agreement – with each other.
Fast forward to Dallas 2003. In order to participate in “A Place to Stand” one had to sign a “Statement of Faith” which excluded anyone who supported the actions of General Convention 2003. During the conference words like “apostate” and “heretic” were used to refer to the majority of the Episcopal Church as it had spoken through its elected representatives in General Convention.
Respected Episcopal media representatives were denied credentials to cover the event for their publications. In an explanation given to a FOX News reporter as to why the Presiding Bishop’s offer to send representatives bearing greetings was rebuffed, AAC leader David Anderson made the comparison of “asking a rape victim to sit down at the table with her rapist.” The conference concluded with nothing less than a demand to the Primates to – in effect – vote ECUSA off the Anglican Island. And in an interview soon after the conference, Anderson used the word “contamination” to refer to those who will be laying hands on Gene Robinson when he becomes a Bishop in the Church of God on November 2nd.
These are not the words of a mainstream organization: it is the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe.
These are not words that respect the dignity of every human being: they are words that create a climate where the Matthew Shepards of our world live in fear for their lives.
The time has come for us to cease to allow them to set the context for this debate. The day has arrived when the church is ready to get past being reactive to conservative threats and become proactive in telling the Good News of a church where everyone is welcome at the table – where the true mainstream includes a gay bishop AND faithful Episcopalians who voted against his election.
Today is a great day for the Episcopal Church. Let us rejoice and be glad in it – and then let’s get to work!