Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Remembering My Daddy on Pearl Harbor Day

This is my dad: Bill Brown.

    Born on December 7, 1913 he enlisted in the Army on his 28th birthday to "defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

    A lifelong Republican I guarantee you he is rolling in his grave at what has become of his Grand Old Party and the real and present threat to the American Values he held dear.

    It is not hyperbolic to contend that the challenges to the American Dream are as dire today as they were in 1941 and the need to enlist to defend our Constitution no less urgent.



    Do what Bill did.
    Enlist somewhere.
    Make a plan. Join a movement.
    Take a stand.
    La lucha continua ("the struggle continues") -- be part of it.

    Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

An Open Letter to the Diocese of Los Angeles

Dear Diocese of Los Angeles,

My first Diocesan Convention was in 1988. Fred Borsch was our new bishop and I was a new vestry member at St. Paul's in Ventura -- finding my way around the church of my birth and baptism after my obligatory young adult lapsed phase. I took my place in the councils of my church with a convention credential that read "Mrs. Anthony Russell" ... never mind that Mr. Anthony Russell only darkened the parish door on Christmas and Easter. That was then and this is now.

As I get myself organized to head to the Ontario Convention Center tomorrow morning for what will be my 29th Annual Meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles I'm remembering a lot of moments from our conventions past. Powerful moments of the church gathered in all its diversity putting faith into action through corporate prayers and collective action. Poignant moments as we responded to the challenges of pressing issues facing us as a community of faith with candlelight vigils: AIDS, hate crimes, gun violence, Islamophobia.

I'm also remembering the days when any deviation from the "Father, Son & Holy Spirit" formulary for the Trinity would result in a line of dour, clergymen in dark suits at the microphones using "a point of personal privilege" as the opportunity to bewail the erosion of orthodoxy as a foretaste of the end of civilization as we know it.

I'm remembering the time when women literally flipped coins to decide who would run for diocesan office because otherwise they would "cancel each other out" ... and there was no way to elect TWO women.

And I'm remembering being told by mentors in seminary that I needed to "lose the red blazer." "Red is a power color," they told me. "And you already scare them too much -- so put it away until we get you ordained." And so I did.

That was then and this is now. For all the challenges we face as a diocese -- and I am neither blind nor indifferent to any of them -- after twenty-nine years of taking my place in the council of this church ... this Episcopal Church ... this Diocese of Los Angeles ... when I look how far we've come I am convinced there is nothing we can't overcome, heal, and improve as we move forward together.

In 1988 I could not have imagined we would become a place where our slate of candidates for bishop would reflect the diversity it does, where our convention liturgies are both bilingual and gender inclusive, where the challenges we face are brought to the floor -- not swept under a rug, and where we continue to take prophetic stands on issues of peace, justice and compassion.

So let's do this, Los Angeles. Let's say our prayers and pack our bags and head to Ontario for two days of legislation, liturgy and shopping all under one roof. And then let's come together as we start a new chapter in the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles with our coadjutor-elect and with the confidence that given the road we've traveled so far there's nowhere we can't go together as we live into God's future.

God bless. See you in Ontario!
Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena

PS -- We'll be tweeting from Ontario so follow #ladiocese2016 on Twitter







Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent One: Cast Away the Works of Darkness

Come, O Christ, and dwell among us
Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us hope and faith and gladness.
Show us what there yet can be. Amen.

And so it begins. Once again we enter a new church year with the lighting of the first candle on the Advent wreath – the candle of Hope. And just like every year for as long as anybody can remember we pray the familiar prayers, sing the familiar hymns and settle into the familiar season of preparation for the coming of our Lord beginning with the prayer we always pray on the First Sunday of Advent …

Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness.

We pray those words this morning with a deep awareness of the darkness and division dominating the discourse in our nation, the violence and oppression dominating the world news and the sad truth that the peace on earth, goodwill to all incarnate in the One whose birth we prepare to celebrate seems further away than ever this year.

When she spoke at our Diocesan Convention in 2008 then Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori called Advent “the season when Christians are called to live with more hope than the world thinks is reasonable” … and not surprisingly her words ring even more true to me today than they did eight years ago.

Nevertheless it is our call – it is our challenge – it is our opportunity – to choose hope … even when we’re not feeling very hopeful.

Wednesday night at our Thanksgiving Eve service the homily was centered on a Thanksgiving prayer from our friend Diana Butler Bass. And it occurs to me this morning that her wise words about choosing gratitude on Thanksgiving also apply to choosing hope during Advent … and so let me paraphrase:
  
God, there are days we do not feel hopeful. 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, this Advent, we do not feel hope. We choose it. And we will make hope, with strong hands and courageous hearts.

Reframing hope from something we feel to something we choose shifts our gears from passive to active.  Augustine of Hippo – one of the great fathers of the early church -- famously said: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Come, O Christ, and dwell among us
Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us hope and faith and gladness.
Show us what there yet can be.

We light this Candle of Hope with prayers of thanksgiving for those choosing to channel their anger and muster their courage by mobilizing around the shared values of love, justice and compassion.

Those who gathered in solidarity at the Dolores Mission last week to organize for resistance in the wake of the presidential election.

Those who stand with water protectors at Standing Rock as winter descends onto the North Dakota plains.

Those who work to guarantee that the equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution equally protects all – not just some – Americans.

For all those refusing to accept what is and showing us what there yet can be.

We choose hope as the armor of light we put on during Advent -- light that is a light to ALL people … especially those already marginalized and oppressed by the systemic “works of darkness” we name as the racism, sexism, homophobia and nativism that pervaded our civic discourse during the election cycle.  

And let us be abundantly clear this morning my brothers and sisters: these systemic works of darkness have always been part of the warp and woof of our national fabric. Dismantling them is not a post-election addition to our job description to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Rather -- for me -- this election cycle and its aftermath is like a rock that gets turned over in the garden and out from under it crawls all sorts of creepy, crawly, slimy, scary looking things that have been there all along but now we have no choice but to see them. To deal with them.

Those of us who have been protected by our privilege up until now from having to deal with them can’t “unsee them” – even if we want to. We can’t just put the rock back and pretend they’re not there.

For the truth is that this election told me what my head already knew: that we are a nation deeply divided and that the deep-seated combo of privilege and patriarchy are powerful roadblocks in the decades old journey toward making liberty and justice for all in this nation not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.

Or as the widely circulated meme names it: “When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

The irony that liberty and justice won the popular vote is small consolation as the dust settles and we watch white privilege and patriarchy poised to dismantle the safety nets and protections attempting to guarantee equal protection for all – not just some – Americans.

And so to my well meaning friends and colleagues – and some relatives -- who have quickly moved to calls to “wait and see” and “hope for the best” my response is this quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel: “Patience is a quality of holiness, but it may be sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.” As a Christian – as a priest and pastor – I am righteously indignant at what is happening in our nation not in spite of being a follower of Jesus but because I am a follower of Jesus.

And I am also deeply grateful for these words from Gay Clark Jennings – the President of our Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies:

“Reconciliation is holy work. Resistance is too ... When the agendas of the president-elect and the new Congress scapegoat people of color and Muslims, deprive our fellow citizens of control over their lives, desecrate God’s creation or enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor, we must oppose them. This is not a partisan political statement; it is a confession of faith.”

Advent is time for hope -- not a necessarily a time for patience. It is a time to use our collective righteous indignation as fuel for the holy work of resistance. It is a time to recognize that as the dust continues to settle one aspect of our post-election reality is the pulverization of the silos of competing oppressions that have too often separated us from those who are in fact our allies in the larger struggle.

This is no longer some straight people standing with gay people because their right to marriage is threatened; this is no longer some Christians standing with Muslims because their Mosque is under attack; this is no longer some white allies marching in Black Lives Matter protests or some cisgender folks showing up in solidarity on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

This is all of us under attack at the same time by the same agenda – an agenda antithetical to the core values of both Christianity and the Constitution. If we’re not righteously indignant we’re abdicating our responsibility to both our faith and to our country – and it is my prayer this First Sunday of Advent that our indignation will fuel our commitment to choose hope … even when we’re not feeling hopeful.

For when we choose hope -- when we put on that armor of the light of love, justice and compassion -- we can move again into active participation in bending that arc of the moral universe a little closer to justice by our shared witness to the God who created us all in love and called us to walk in love with each other. When we choose hope we not only can – we will – cast away the works of darkness.

One last quote – this one from Harvey Milk. “Hope will never be silent.”

A bullet may have silenced Harvey Milk – but it did not silence the hope his life, work and witness inspired. May his example challenge us to refuse to allow an election to silence the hope that is in us as we continue to look for ways – large and small – to cast away the works of darkness with the light of God’s love, justice and compassion.

For some of us, one small way has been wearing a safety pin as an “outward and visible sign” that we are a "safe place" – and that we will stand up for the rights of every single person.

Now let’s be clear: Thinking you can stick a safety pin on your lapel and make liberty and justice for all a done deal is like hanging a cross around your neck and thinking you've made the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

It's just a sign -- just a symbol -- of the commitment to be part of the solution. It is an icon of solidarity that transcends all the labels that have been deployed to divide us. It is one tiny way of taking hope out into the world – of refusing to be silent – of speaking hope to a world in desperate need of it.

For me it spoke one morning in line at Starbucks. As I waited patiently for my grande drip with room for cream, a young woman in a hijab turned from the counter with her Venti something-or-the-other in her hand and looked at me standing there with my big fat safety pin on my shirt. She smiled and nodded her head ever-so-slightly ... and in that moment of recognition I got all I needed to tell me that wearing a safety pin can be one of the ways we work to cast away the works of darkness – a tiny but concrete way to choose hope as we journey together beyond the world as it is to the place God would have it be.

Come, O Christ and dwell among us! Hear our cries, come set us free.
Give us hope and faith and gladness. Show us what there yet can be.


Set us free to be the change you call us to be.
Set us free to live your love.
Set us free to be your justice.
Set us free to journey into the adventure of God’s future this Advent and always.
Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Holy Work of Resistance

The analytics on my Twitter feed tell me my most retweeted tweet from last week was “I thought by now I’d be less nauseous.”

That data tells me what my heart already knew: that I am not alone in my struggle to process both the immediate impact and the long term implications of an election giving the most divisive and unqualified candidate in the history of politics the power to implement the misogynistic, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, nativist, xenocentric policies which were the hallmark of his campaign. 

Likewise, the election told me what my head already knew: that we are a nation deeply divided and that the deep-seated combo of privilege and patriarchy are powerful roadblocks in the decades old journey toward making liberty and justice for all in this nation not just a pledge we make but a reality we live. The widely circulated meme names it with this quote: “When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

 The irony that liberty and justice won the popular vote is small consolation as the dust settles and we watch white privilege and patriarchy poised to dismantle the safety nets and protections in place to guarantee that equal protection equally protects all – not just some – Americans.

To my well meaning friends and colleagues who have quickly moved to calls to “wait and see” and “hope for the best” my response is this quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel: “Patience is a quality of holiness, but it may be sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.” For as a Christian – as a priest and pastor – I am righteously indignant at what is happening in our nation not in spite of being a follower of Jesus but because I am a follower of Jesus — and not feeling at all patient.

And so I take heart in these words from Gay Clark Jennings – the President of our Episcopal Church House of Deputies. She writes: “Reconciliation is holy work. Resistance is too. When the agendas of the president-elect and the new Congress scapegoat people of color and Muslims, deprive our fellow citizens of control over their lives, desecrate God’s creation or enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor, we must oppose them. This is not a partisan political statement; it is a confession of faith.” 

This is not a time for patience. This is a time to use our collective righteous indignation as fuel for the holy work of resistance. This is a time to recognize that as the dust continues to settle one aspect of our post-election reality is the pulverization of the silos of competing oppressions that have too often separated us from those who are in fact our allies in the larger struggle.

This is no longer some straight people standing with gay people because their right to marriage is threatened; this is no longer some Christians standing with Muslims because their Mosque is under attack; this is no longer some white allies marching in Black Lives Matter protests or some cisgender folks showing up in solidarity on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. This is all of us under attack at the same time by the same agenda – an agenda antithetical to the core values of both Christianity and the Constitution.

And if we’re not righteously indignant we’re abdicating our responsibility to both our faith and to our country.

I thought by now I’d be less nauseous. But now that I think about it, I was nauseous for nine months twice – and ended up with two great kids to show for it. That was then and this is now. And now ... in this moment ... the stakes are way too high to let waves of nausea at every breaking news update immobilize us. Way too high.

So count me in. Count me in for reconciliation where it’s possible and resistance where it’s not – and count me in for solidarity in the struggle until liberty and justice for all finally becomes a reality we live, not just a pledge we make.

Monday, November 07, 2016

One More Day; One More Time: Why #ImWithHer



"When the going gets tough, the tough light candles."
 
OK -- I made that up. But here at Casa Mountain View it's true.

Make no mistake about it -- we also [a] get going [b] keep giving [c] keep organizing and [d] keep networking ... but we also keep praying and -- in our case -- keep adding to our "Election Shrine" on the sideboard of "outward and visible signs" of what's at stake in this election representing our prayers and positive energy being sent out into the universe.

From the Hillary swag to the Betty Friedan "secular saint" candle to the Constitution to the Jordan River Holy Water given to me by my sister-in-law's Jewish partner (I know -- seriously!) it just keeps growing. Along with my conviction that this is arguably the most important election of my lifetime.

So -- on this day before Election Day -- here (one more time) is why #ImWithHer

Her cohesive commitment to dismantle the interlocking oppressions of racism, sexism and homo/transphobia and to address the root causes of economic injustice in our nation exemplifies the broad range thinking I believe we need in the White House.

She is doggedly committed to tackling the seemingly intractable issue of gun violence in our nation and to taking on the NRA to move us forward on sensible gun safety legislation.

Her support for Planned Parenthood and women's reproductive justice is tireless, proven and powerful.

Her experience as Secretary of State means there is no "learning curve" on foreign policy -- an issue I think is critical in these volatile and challenging times.

Finally, I am inspired by the aspiration to "make America whole" -- which I hear as a paraphrase of the liberty and justice for all I've been pledging to work for since I learned to put my hand over my heart and turn to the flag in kindergarten. And I am convinced in order to do that we need everyone at the table -- and that we need a President who has the hope, the vision and the track record to not only secure the advances of the past eight years but move us into the future.

This will be the 12th Presidential Election in which I've had the privilege to vote. I have never not had some reservations about the candidate I supported -- and that includes Hillary Clinton.

I wish she had been stronger earlier on LGBT Equality.
She is more of a hawk than I would like.
I disagree with her on the death penalty.

And ... all things considered ... I do not believe I ever cast a vote for a more qualified candidate for President than I did when I (early) voted for her.

I'm Susan Russell and I totally approved this message

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Send Us Anywhere You Would Have Us Go

I meant to post this earlier but the week got away from me. Here's my sermon from Sunday, October 9 ... with thanks to Liz Habecker, Jack Spong, Jan Nunley and Delonte Gholston. I was totally preaching to myself ... and a week later, still am.






October 9, 2016 | All Saints Church, Pasadena

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.
Amen.

A week ago Friday I sat on my porch and wrote these words:

On what is for me a Sabbath day I am embracing gratitude for health, friends and family; for a new chapter beginning at All Saints; for the gifts of romping dogs and baseball -- especially this weekend the gift of Vin Scully. For music, theater and art that expresses what words alone cannot -- and for the pulse of love, justice and compassion beating at the heart of the universe.

And I am acknowledging this morning the toll that the deep ache of grief and sadness which saturates the very fabric of our beautiful and broken world is taking on my soul. The ugliness and polarization of this election cycle pointing a spotlight on systemic racism, sexism and ignorance that contaminate our nation.

The constantly growing list of hashtags that has become a numbing litany of the heartbreaking reality that black lives do NOT matter as much as white lives in our country. The scourge of gun violence that infects our nation -- taking the lives of children in our streets and police officers in the line of duty. And the very real fear of what impact the marshaling of forces and resources to preserve white privilege and patriarchy will have -- not only on all those on the margins but on what's left of the American Dream.

I can't embrace the gratitude without acknowledging the grief -- and at the same time I can't acquiesce to despair because of the gratitude. And so I sit on this Sabbath day in the both/and vortex ... until the dryer buzzes and it's time to fold laundry.


Shared on my Facebook page,
the comments in response told me I was not alone
in naming both the challenges and opportunities
of living in this moment in our history –
and that I am most certainly not alone
in the struggle to balance grief, gratitude
and a whole boatload of other feelings as well.

One place I go to for wisdom in seeking that balance
is back to the words I began with this morning –
the words of the blessing I inherited
from the priest who mentored me through my ordination process 20 years ago – words she inherited from her bishop Jack Spong 20 years earlier.

Send us anywhere you would have us go,
 only go there with us.

The very definition of being Christians – followers of Jesus – is to be sent.
Indeed, the definition of the word “apostle” in Greek is “one who is sent away.”

So as wonderful as it is to gather here on Sunday morning
in this awesome space with these fabulous people
and these gorgeous flowers with this beautiful music
the point of our being here is not our being here.
The point of our being here is going there.
Of being sent.
Of going out from here as beacons of God’s love, justice and compassion
in order to make a difference in the world.
In order to build the kingdom.
In other words the point of the church is not what happens in the church.
The point of the church is what happens in the world because of the church.

If you’ve spent more than two or three Sundays
in the pews here at All Saints Church none of that will come as news you.
But I remember when it was news to me.

Born at Good Samaritan Hospital and baptized at the Old Cathedral
I never remember not being part of the church.
But I do remember the first time I ever heard that going to church
was not the point of going to church.

It was 1980-something and I was a young mother at Saint Paul’s in Ventura.
There was 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.
And that was a learning that I took with me – eventually into seminary –
and have carried with me through 20 years of ordained ministry.

Through those years I’ve had plenty of opportunities to remember
that when the church becomes an end in itself
rather than a means to build the kingdom
it needs to be reminded of what its purpose is – what its role is
– what its mission is.

The church – meant to be a deliver system for the liberating love of God –
needs to be challenged to take that message out into the world
just as Jeremiah challenged the exiles in Babylon
to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” to which they had been sent.
Just so we are called to take the Good News of God’s love, justice and compassion into the city … into the streets … into our politics.

Yes, our politics. As my brilliant friend Jan Nunley explains:
“Politics is the art and science relating to citizens
making decisions in community about their community.
Politics can be done well or badly, by crooks or honest people,
but in the end, the business of government is not to turn a profit for some,
but to order society, as nearly as possible, for the good of all.”

To order society, as nearly as possible, for the good of all.
Not the good of some.
Not the good of just those who look like us, worship like us, or even vote like us.
The good of all

And that brings me to part two of the prayer and blessing we began with this morning:

Place upon us any burden you desire
 only stand by us to sustain us.

Today is October 9. A month from today – November 9 –
the longest election cycle in the history of voting will be over.
And no matter who gets elected to what by which margin on November 9th
we will wake up with the burden of moving forward together as a nation
which – whether we’re all acting like it or not at the moment –
was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all people are created equal.

The burden that has been placed upon us
is the burden of having seen what we cannot unsee –
and our response must be to trust
that the God who promises to stand by us to sustain us
will sustain us as we move forward on November 9
to make a way where it looks like there is no way.

For we have seen the ugliness and polarization of this election cycle.
We have seen the systemic racism, sexism and ignorance
that contaminate our nation.
We have seen the political system –
intended to “order society, as nearly as possible, for the good of all”
fail to live up to that high calling
descending instead into bickering, bias and partisan gridlock.
We have seen the constantly growing list of hashtags
that has become a numbing litany of the heartbreaking reality
that black lives do NOT matter as much as white lives in our country.

And we are reminded that the reason we continue to say BlackLivesMatter
is BECAUSE all lives matter --
and until we become a nation where we ACT like all lives matter -- equally --
saying BlackLivesMatter reminds us to be the change we want to see.

The burden that has been placed upon us –
the burden of seeing what we might otherwise have ignored –
is also the opportunity to be that change we want to see
as we are healed of our blindness
as surely as Jesus healed the ten lepers in this morning’s Gospel. 

Healed of our blindness to the polarization, alienation and ignorance
that afflicts our nation we can be liberated
to be sent back out with antidotes of love, justice and compassion –
tools to build that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Break any tie that binds us
except the tie that binds us to you

Break any tie that binds us except the tie that binds us
to the God who not only loved us enough to become one of us
but who is the very source of the love that is stronger even than death.

As resurrection people we celebrate the triumph of love over death
not just on Easter Sunday but every day we draw breath in this realm –
every time we choose love over fear –
every time we step up and step out in the name of the Jesus
who is the incarnation of all that is loving, liberating and life-giving.

In the words of an old favorite quote:
“The great Easter truth is not that we will be born again someday
but that we are to be alive here and now by the power of the resurrection.”

The great Good News of God in Christ Jesus is not about salvation someday
but about liberation from the fear of death today – here – now.
And liberated from the fear of death
we are freed to risk stepping up and speaking out
in the service of dismantling all that stands in the way
of our human race becoming the human family it was created to be –
even when it means breaking ties of dogma, doctrine and denomination
that have everything to do with the church-as-scaffolding
and nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.
I want to close with a story of a moment from last week
when I had the privilege of actually seeing that kingdom building in action
here in Pasadena.
It happened last Tuesday at an early morning meeting of Pasadena faith leaders convened in a conference room at Fuller Seminary
in response to the death of JR Thomas –
a conference room that became very holy ground.
It was a glimpse of what can happen when the Spirit sends us and stands with us – of what the church looks like when it is building the kingdom.
Hear the words of Pastor Delonte Gholston:
“The church in Pasadena will not stand on the sidelines in the wake of yet another hashtag. As the church always has, we will comfort those who mourn. As the church always has, we will honor the image of God in the hurting and the marginalized. As the church always has, we will lead our brothers and sisters who are "not there yet" into a place of deeper knowing and understanding toward communities that are hurting. We will hold this family, this community, this city, and this country in the light of Christ.  Even in the midst of chaos, anguish and confusion, we will hold the light of Christ. JR Thomas was a child of God, made in the image of God and we will hold the light of Christ to stand for justice, even as we mourn and grieve that his light was snuffed out, even as he and his family cried out for help. The Spirit of God is hovering over the deep and saying, "let there be light."

Let there be light.
Let there be love.
Let there be liberation.
And then send us anywhere you would have us go.
Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Again With the Coming Out Story

On July 4, 1996 at noon eastern time I was in the choir at the National Cathedral. While crowds of tourists milled about the nave of the cathedral and others gathered outside or headed toward the Mall for the fireworks festivities scheduled later it the day or lined up to see the opening-that-day film “Independence Day” (remember that one?) a remnant of us gathered in the cathedral choir for a festival celebration of the Feast of American Independence, BCP style.

The music was glorious, the lessons inspiring and the privilege of receiving Holy Communion at the altar in this amazing “house of prayer for all people” as we celebrated the birth of a nation dedicated to “liberty and justice for all” was an amazing gift I will always remember.

Oh … and I came out.

In the cathedral. On the Fourth of July. In the middle of festival Eucharist I had the great “aha” moment – the epiphany – the “I-shoulda-had-a-V8” realization that the God who had “fearfully and wonderfully” made me had made me gay. And called me to priesthood. And told me “now, go back and be the priest I called you to be.”

That’s my coming out story. I’ve told it many times before but on this “Coming Out Day” it seemed worth telling again. It seemed worth reminding myself – and anybody else who wants to listen in – that I did not come out from the fringes of anything but from what former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold famously called "the diverse center."

I came out in the context of a spiritual journey that began with my baptism at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles in 1954 (go ahead and do the math!) and continued through Junior Choir, confirmation class, Altar Guilds and Vacation Bible Schools, ECW Boards, teas and luncheons, Diocesan Conventions, vestries and parish day school boards and finally seminary, ordination and parish ministry.

My coming out had nothing to do with a political act. It had nothing to do with a genital act. It had to do with recognizing that I could not be fully present at altar if I was not fully present in myself – and it had to do with being raised in a church where +John Hines taught me that “justice is the corporate face of God’s love,” +Ed Browning told me that in the Episcopal Church there would be no outcasts and the consecration of +Barbara Harris incarnated for me the hope that this church was actually willing to live into its high calling to live out a radically inclusive gospel.

So Happy “Coming Out Day” to me – and to the scores of LGBT Episcopalians like me. Are we a challenge to the wider church? I hope so. And I hope we continue to be. I hope that our voices of faith and witness will continue to preach, to protest and to prophesy – that we will stand in the temple and tell the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made present in our lives, our vocations and our relationships. That we will preach that Good News in and out of season.

And here's to our core American values of liberty and justice for all and to everyone committed to our core Episcopal values of respecting the dignity of every human being. Not because we’re politically correct but because we’re gospel obedient -- and because we're going to do whatever we can to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right who have taken the Good News of God’s inclusive love and distorted it into a weapon of mass discrimination. Of humiliation. Of homophobia.

Because the stakes are too high. Because the damage to precious souls is too costly. And because the truth that there are people of faith who proclaim justice and compassion — not judgment and condemnation — is too important not to step up and speak out. As Harvey Milk said “You must come out ... and once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.” And for me as a Christian, those lies and distortions include hijacking my faith and turning it into weapon to wound God’s beloved LGBT children.

So Come Out, Come Out wherever you are. Come Out as proud LGBT members of the rainbow tribe. And if you happen to be the Christian variety, then Come Out as a Christian, too. Break down some myths. Destroy some lies and distortions. And if we do it long enough and loud enough and together enough eventually we will be done. And October 11th will roll around and nobody will need to Come Out because there won’t be any closets left.
And wouldn’t that be fabulous?