Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My two word argument for Hillary in 2016

My late wife Louise put this on the top of the bookshelf in the living room when Hillary conceded to Obama in the 2008 primary -- and said it was going to stay there until we needed it in 2016. And it's been there ever since.

And for those who will argue (and they will) that Hillary is too old, too conservative, too liberal, too unelectable, too Wall Street, too hawkish, too much whatever or not enough something else here's my two word argument for why we get behind her. And those two words are: Supreme Court.

Need a three word argument? Okay -- here it is: Supreme Freaking Court.

In 2016, four of the nine justices will be aged 80, 80, 78 and 74. If we don't want to condemn this country to a Court that will take away women's reproductive freedom, threaten civil and voting rights and continue to empower corporations over citizens -- not to even mention undermine LGBTQ equality -- then we suck it up, put on our big girl/boy panties and support the ticket. (Or that thing you hear go bump in the night may just be Louise. Wouldn't put it past her!)


Monday, April 13, 2015

Wedding Cake Question

So if selling a wedding cake makes you a participant in "gay marriage"
does selling a gun make you a participant in armed robbery?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Eastertide Day Three Round-up

When I was a day school chaplain all our students knew that Easter wasn't just a day -- it was a season. A 50 day season. It was a point I reinforced over and over -- telling them Chaplain Susan didn't do 40 days of Lent to do just ONE day of Easter -- so we were going to celebrate all fifty of them!

So Happy Day Three of Eastertide!

If you're interested in what Easter looked like for us at All Saints Church, you can check out  these pics over on flickr.

And if you want to hear a groundbreaking Easter sermon, check out "A New and Fuller Life" by my rector, Ed Bacon: “The risen Jesus has gone back to work, dismantling the very crucifying system that crucified him. Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Finally, on this third day of Eastertide, I commend this excellent interview with Diarmaid MacCullough -- one of the foremost scholars of Christianity of our generation -- who offers from across the pond a brilliant critique of what Ed talks about in his sermon: "the dangerously narrow "pot-bound" version of Christianity that is far too narrow to convey the energy -- much less the truth  -- of  Jesus."

“His fame has given him a platform to write about contemporary Christianity, and he’s very much taken this on. I would say he’s become quite a prophetic voice for Anglicans.” -- Judith Maltby

Read it all here.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday 2015: Here We Are in Church Again

Good Friday sermon preached on April 3, 2015 at All Saints Church in Pasadena. Giving thanks for inspiration from a great cloud of witnesses, including the Trinity of Malcolm Boyd, Verna Dozier and Marcus Borg.

Here we are in church again.

We know where this familiar Good Friday story leads – know where we will leave it when we conclude this three hour service of prayer and reflection; of story and song.

We know that Jesus dies: that the life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly will be extinguished. All that will remain of the radical rabbi from Nazareth will be a broken body and the broken dreams of his scattered followers.The Kingdom he proclaimed has not come. The powerful remain powerful: the oppressed remain oppressed – where there had been hope there is only despair – and -- for Peter -- there is denial.

Me? I’m not one of them.
Don’t know him. Never met him.
No idea what you’re talking about.
Must have me confused with somebody else.

At that moment the cock crowed.

And at that moment – as I imagine it – a flood of memories of sharing the work and witness of Jesus must have poured into Peter’s paralyzed mind and broken heart. The teachings, the healings and the miracles. The miles walked, the meals shared, the message proclaimed.The moments of transfiguration and the times of trial. “You are the rock upon whom I will build my church” and “Get behind me Satan.”

Peter denied it all in this seminal moment in the Good Friday story.

And here we are in church again – to hear that story again. The story we know leads to the good news of resurrection, Easter lilies and Peeps After we get through the bad news of betrayal, denial and trauma.

Which begs the question: Why couldn’t we just skip this part? Clearly that's an option lots of people exercise. Look around you: I think I'm safe in saying that there'll be a few more folks with us on Sunday morning – folks who will show up for the good news of resurrection, Easter lilies and Peeps without sitting through the bad news of betrayal, denial and trauma.

Garrison Keillor tells the story of his uncle who, at annual family gatherings during Holy Week, always read the story of the passion and death of Jesus. And each year he would burst into tears. The family would sit awkwardly until he was able to continue the reading. “My uncle took the death of his Lord so personally,” said Keillor – pausing to add: "The rest of the church had gotten over that years ago."

Indeed -- over the centuries the church has gone to great lengths to present two options for “getting over” taking Good Friday personally.

One option is to ritualize and sanitize the story so that it remains at a safe, historical distance: The Institutionalization of the Crucifixion.

The other extreme is to so focus on the agony of the cross that the glory of the resurrection becomes practically incidental: to make how Jesus died more important than the life Jesus came to show us how to live.

And neither option enables us – empowers us – inspires us -- to do what we have been called to do as members of this thing we call the Body of Christ: to take both the death AND life of Jesus “personally” – to hear these stories of Lent and Holy Week and to take them personally enough to be changed by them.

Malcolm Boyd took them personally. He took them personally enough to be changed by them.

And then he used the experience of that change to help change the church. His “Are You Running With Me Jesus” – was published in 1965 feeding the hunger of a generation of people who had given up on the church or anyone connected with it having anything relevant to say.

Feeding it with poetry like this:

Here I am in church again, Jesus. I love it here, but, as you know, for some of the wrong reasons. I sometimes lose myself completely in the church service and forget the people outside whom you love. I sometimes withdraw far, far inside myself when I am inside church, but people looking at me can see only my pious expression and imagine I am loving you instead of myself.

Help us, Lord, who claim to be your special people. Don’t let us feel privileged and selfish because you have called us to you. Teach us our responsibilities to you, our community, and to all the people out there. Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you.

Loving religion instead of Jesus has been one of the ways the church has denied Jesus over and over and over again as surely as Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest as the cock crowed the third time.

To love religion instead of Jesus – to worship Jesus instead of following him – is to choose institutionalization over mobilization – to opt for the safety of becoming an institution rather than risk the invitation to be part of God’s movement.

Verna Dozier in her wonderful book "The Dream of God" describes it thus: "The people of the resurrection made the incomprehensible gift of grace into a structure. [Rejecting] the frighteningly free gift of God go be a new thing in the world – a witness that all of life could be different for everybody – this gift was harnessed by an institution that established a hierarchy of those who "know" above the great mass of those who must be told."

And so -- for generations – those of us who "must be told" were told all kinds of things about what Jesus' life and death and resurrection meant. And a great many of them bore little or no resemblance to the actual life and witness of the one the church claims to follow – of the Jesus … • who put table fellowship at the center of his life, • who ate with outcasts, • who welcomed sinners, • who proclaimed the year of the Lord's favor, • who was so centered in God's abundant love that he was willing to speak truth to power from that first sermon that almost got him thrown off the cliff by his irate Nazarene homies to his last cross-examination by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.

Instead we were given doctrines we were supposed to digest and not delve into, creeds we were supposed to recite and not question, scriptures we were supposed to memorize and not contextualize.

And then they wondered why the church was increasingly perceived as irrelevant!

The truth is that the witness we have to offer the world – the witness we call turning the human race into the human family – has nothing whatsoever to do with swallowing morally indefensible theories of an atoning sacrifice to appease an angry God and everything to do with living morally accountable lives of service and self-offering in alignment with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.

To live those values is to walk what Marcus Borg called “the way of Jesus” a way that is not a set of beliefs about Jesus … [but] the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.”

It has to do with being the Body of Christ in the world – it has to do with these words we sing as we bring the offerings of our lives and labor to the table on Sunday mornings:
A world in need now summons us
To labor, love and give;
To make our life an offering
To all that all may live.
The church of Christ is calling us
To make the dream come true;
A world redeemed by Christ-like love
All life in Christ made new.

All life made new. is the Easter promise we claim even as we stand at this moment at the foot of the Good Friday cross.

For the first thousand years of Christian faith the predominant story the church told about the cross was not “Jesus died for our sins,” but “Jesus died to destroy the power of death.” Therefore, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, humankind could live healed from the fear of death.

When Jesus talked about his death he used this parable: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. So for those first thousand years of the church’s life, Jesus’ death and resurrection were primarily about death, not about sin. Jesus died and then rose victorious from the grave.

There was no angry God; no atoning sacrifice. Instead there was the paradigmatic example of the One who loved us enough to become one of us not only to show us how to love one another but who loved us enough to die in order to rise again to heal us of our amnesia about the love of God so great that it transcends death. Even death on a cross.

Robert Shahan, a former Episcopal Bishop of Arizona famously said: "Faith is what you are willing to die for. Dogma is what you are willing to kill for."

In an online exchange this week over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy in Indiana, an attorney colleague wrote: “When the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in 1993 to protect religious minorities, who could have imagined state-law RFRAs enacted to protect the "religious liberty" of bigoted business owners to discriminate against members of any minority groups they disapprove of.”

Inspiring this response: “When Jesus said to his disciples “Behold, I give you a new commandment – that you love one another as I have loved you” who could have imagined that that dictate of love would be twisted into dogmas of discrimination against other beloved members of God’s human family.”

We gather today – at the foot of the cross – as people of faith; not as people of dogma. We gather in the shadow of religion being used and misused as a weapon of mass discrimination in our nation and as a weapon of mass destruction around the world. Being used and misused to inflict trauma rather than to heal trauma. Being used and misused for oppression rather than for liberation.

And every time we let that use and misuse go unchallenged we deny Jesus just as surely as Peter did.

And so my prayer for us – for all of us – the “us” gathered here at 132 North Euclid Avenue and the “us” who make us the Body of Christ gathered in prayer and contemplation throughout the church on this Good Friday is that we – like Malcolm Boyd – might be given the grace to take both the death AND life of Jesus “personally” – to take them personally enough to be changed by them – and then to change the world.

Let us pray.

Here we are in church again, Jesus. We love it here, but, as you know, for some of the wrong reasons. We sometimes lose ourselves completely in the church service and forget the people outside whom you love. We sometimes withdraw far, far inside ourselves when we are inside church, but people looking at us can see only our pious expression and imagine we are loving you instead of ourselves.

Help us, Lord, who claim to be your special people. Don’t let us feel privileged and selfish because you have called us to you. Teach us our responsibilities to you, our community, and to all the people out there. Save us from the sin of loving religion instead of you. Amen

Thursday, April 02, 2015

What kind of priest would be against a Religious Freedom Act?

also on the Huffington Post

Yes, it was an actual question in an actual email precipitated by a Huffington Post piece I wrote on the Indiana “Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA]” entitled Misusing Religious Freedom as a Weapon of Mass Discrimination. It started:
Dear “Reverend” Russell,
[Spoiler: When there are quotation marks around Reverend we’re never going anywhere fun.]
What Bible to do you read? First of all, women are to be silent in the church – which you would know if you’d read 1 Corinthians 14:34. And secondly, what kind of priest would be against a Religious Freedom Act?
I’ll spare you the rest. But it wasn’t the only email I got.

I also got several from folks convinced I hadn’t read the bill (I had) or didn’t know that President Bill Clinton had signed the federal RFRA in 1993 (I did) and contending that the Indiana bill was exactly the same thing (it isn’t.)

And then there was the intern over at NewsBusters who suggested I was “too busy botching elementary scripture passages to notice that Indiana is actually the 20th state to adopt a RFRA law and that the origins of said laws date back to the 90's, long before gay "rights" became an issue.” [I know – quotation marks around rights. It’s a pattern.]

So since the flurry of activity around the RFRA in Indiana and then Arkansas has clearly precipitated the need for a “refresher course” on the history and impact of this legislation, I’m grateful to The Religion News Service for a great, concise review and summary of [a] what the federal government passed in 1993 and [b] why what’s happening with current legislation is different.

You’ll want to read it all here, but it starts by explaining that the act Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993 required a “compelling state interest” in order to justify a ban on religious practice and it goes on to explain “that all changed in the 2000s, as conservative activists began using RFRA in a new way: as a sword, rather than a shield … arguing their religious belief should trump your civil rights.”

And there, as they say, is the rub. And there is also the part that explains what kind of priest would oppose a religious freedom act.

The kind of priest who understand that the First Amendment is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy, preventing our government from privileging one religion over another and protecting each and every one of us to believe whatever we choose -- or choose not -- to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses.

The kind of priest who believes that religious persecution is when you're prevented from exercising your beliefs, not when you're prevented from imposing your beliefs.

And the kind of priest who has been sharing these words from Rev Emily C. Heath via Daily Kos explaining how you tell if your religious liberties are being violated:

You are not allowed to attend religious services of your choosing … YES
Others are allowed to go to religious services of their own choosing or not at all … NO 
You are not allowed to legally marry the person you love …YES
Someone else is allowed to marry the person they love in spite of what your religion says … NO
You are being forced to use birth control even though it is against your religion …YES
You are unable to prevent others from using birth control …NO
You are not allowed to pray privately in your home or in a public place …YES
You are not allowed to force others to pray publicly … NO
You are not allowed to purchase read or possess religious books and materials …YES
Others are allowed access to books movies and websites that you don't like …NO
You are not allowed to teach your children creation stories of your faith in your own home …YES
Public school science classes are teaching children science …NO
Bottom line: What kind of priest would be against a Religious Freedom Act? The kind of priest who is all in favor of religious freedom – and inalterably opposed to having religious freedom hijacked and misused as a weapon of mass discrimination.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Indianapolis Star Steps Up

This is what tomorrow's Indianapolis Star looks like:

This is what the editorial sounds like:

"Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage."

Read the rest here.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Let your yes be yes.

"And Jesus said, Let your yes be yes and your no be no." It's in the Bible, dude. Matthew 5:37