Monday, August 31, 2015

Diocese of Mississippi | August 21-23 "Are We Running With You Jesus?"

Getting time to post a few pictures from our time with the great folks in the Diocese of Mississippi at their 10th Annual Spiritual Retreat -- at the "Gray Center" Diocesan Conference Center.

It was was great privilege to be asked to come lead this year's retreat -- standing on the shoulders of folks like friends Steven Charleston, Mary Glasspool, Dent Davidson and Ed Bacon ... just to name a few.

Also a delight to be able to spend some time in ministry with old friend Brian Seage -- now Bishop of Mississippi. And by "old friend" I mean back when he was doing youth work at St. Patrick's, Thousand Oaks and I was the parish secretary at St. Paul's, Ventura. Old.

We picked the theme "Are We Running With You, Jesus?" to "claim the legacy of Malcolm Boyd" on this 50th Anniversary of the publication of his 1965 best seller. It was a great weekend with wonderful people ... and here's the sermon I preached on Sunday morning:

Save us from the sin of loving religion more than you

The lessons appointed for this 13th Sunday after Pentecost are challenging ones. Joshua challenges the leaders of Israel to “choose this day.” Paul challenges the Ephesians to “stand firm” in the face of the spiritual forces of evil. And Jesus – Jesus is still challenging the disciples to figure out what he means by the bread of life.

We could have dodged them this morning … the retreat organizers gave the preacher the option of picking different lessons. But I’m a lectionary preacher and so you’re stuck with them – challenges and all … including the question: What is there in these ancient texts for us on this Sunday in 21st century Mississippi as we consider our own challenge – claiming the legacy of Malcolm Boyd ?

To begin, I want to share with you these words from my bishop -- Mary Glasspool – words she wrote in response to my request for whatever thoughts she might like to share with us about how Malcolm influenced her, her life and her ministry. Mary wrote:

In 1965, when "Are You Running With Me Jesus?" was first published, I was 11 years old. Being a voracious reader I went out and bought the book, read the prayers (all at once) and was horrified. Who on earth would address JESUS so casually? As if Jesus were his best pal? Or his running buddy? I couldn't believe that Malcolm Boyd was an Episcopal Priest.

But I kept that book, and it traveled with me to this day. I met Malcolm Boyd, for the first time when I first came to Los Angeles in 2010. He became my spiritual director and I was amazed at the depth and wisdom of his counsel.

There is so much to say about Malcolm: his incredible sense of humor, his seemingly ubiquitous presence at the Cathedral Center, and his love, commitment to justice, and tenacity as a man of faith - all were palpable until the day he died and then even beyond.

I think we sometimes forget that Malcolm was, really first and foremost, a man of prayer. It is his prayers that have influenced me the most, and even though a runner myself, my favorite prayer from Malcolm is not the "Are you running with me, Jesus?" prayer - it's the following:

You said there is perfect freedom in your service, Jesus -

Well, I don't feel perfectly free. I don't feel free at all. I'm a captive to myself.

I do what I want. I have it all my own way. There is no freedom at all for me in this, Jesus. Today I feel like a slave bound in chains and branded by a hot iron because I'm captive to my own will and don't give an honest damn about your will.

You're over there where I'm keeping you, outside my real life. How can I go on being such a lousy hypocrite? Come over here, where I don't want you to come.

Let me quit playing this blasphemous game of religion with you.

Help me to let you be yourself in my life - so I can be myself.

Help me to let you be yourself in my life SO I can be myself. Help me “choose this day” to follow the God of justice and compassion and leave behind the false idols of judgment and condemnation. Help me “stand firm” in the face of spiritual evil and “to learn how to oppose it without creating new evils and being made evil ourselves.” Help me receive the bread of life in order to BE the bread of life – the Body of Christ – in a hungry and hurting world.

Yes, as the disciple said in this morning’s gospel “This teaching is difficult.” But part of claiming the legacy of Malcolm Boyd is recognizing that it is worth the work – worth the challenge – worth the risk of becoming vulnerable enough to let Jesus be himself in our lives even when that makes us – or those close to us – uncomfortable.

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 Jesus so personally,” said Keillor – pausing to add: "The rest of the church had gotten over that years ago."

Like Garrison Keillor’s uncle, Malcolm Boyd took Jesus personally. He took him personally enough to be both challenged and changed by him.

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,
• ate with outcasts,
• welcomed sinners,
• proclaimed the year of the Lord's favor,
• 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 at All Saints Church in Pasadena 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.

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 a recent online exchange over the “religious liberty” issue, 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 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 before the cock crowed.

Instead, let us claim the legacy of Malcolm Boyd – and all those like him down through the ages who have understood that – in the words of my rector, Ed Bacon -- “to have the mind of Christ is to interrupt and dismantle whatever is crucifying anyone.” That, my brothers and sisters, is “all life in Christ made new.”

And so my prayer for us – for all of us – the “us” gathered here today at this retreat center in the Diocese of Mississippi and the “us” who make us the Body of Christ gathered in prayer and contemplation throughout the church on this August Sunday 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, August 27, 2015

Where I'm From

One of the great delights of being with the fabulous folks in the Diocese of Mississippi for their 10th Annual Retreat at the Gray Center last weekend was getting to share the adventure with my wife, Lori.

It was her brilliant idea to use the "Where I Am From" poem template to get us started on our "Are We Running With You Jesus?" theme for the weekend -- so on Friday night we all had a chance to back up a little and spend some time reflecting on where we were from in preparation for reflecting on where we're going -- where we're "running" -- next.

Here's the template we used if you want to try it for yourself. Here's what I came up with ...


Where I'm From

• I am from plaid skirts and knee socks; from the Helm’s Bakery truck bringing bread to the back door and the milk man leaving bottles on the front porch.
• I am from a big stucco house with squeaky screen doors, dogs on the couch and the smell of eucalyptus trees in the afternoon sun.
• I am from the California live oak, palm trees and the Santa Ana winds.
• I am from never missing opening day at Dodger Stadium and staying up on election night until all the precincts have reported in; from Bill & Betty and Worth & Tillie; from Browns and Bundys and Gustafsons and Hesses.
• From “when I say jump, you say how high” and “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
• I am from the Book of Common Prayer and “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.”
• I’m from Los Angeles, Minnesota and Atlantic City, from casseroles with cream of mushroom soup and Beef Wellington on Christmas Eve.
• From saving bread crusts to feed the ducks at the Arboretum, from listening to Vin Scully on the patio on warm summer nights and from fishing for sunfish with a drop line from Aunt Anne’s pontoon on Lake Geneva.
 • I am from Eagle Rock, Ventura and Santa Barbara; from unconditional love and constant critique; from the double feature and the seventh inning stretch; and from sometimes you win and sometimes you lose -- but you always dress out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Contending against the evil of gun violence


Giving thanks for the leadership of the Bishops United Against Gun Violence as we pray for the grace to contend against the evil of gun violence in our nation.
"Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

#BreatheFire

I’m home on vacation and today was “catch up the laundry and housework day” so I had the news on in the background. Three of the lead stories (after the obligatory Donald Trump Behaving Badly open) were [a] the New Hampshire prep school rape trial [b] the Old Dominion University fraternity scandal and [c] more on the Ashley Madison/Josh Duggar debacle. Three lead stories on the exploitation and objectification of women.

Enough -- as Anne Lamott famously said -- to make Jesus want to drink gin out of cat dish.

And then CNN ran an interview with Jessica Krammes Kirkland. She's the mom of two daughters who had finally had it up to here and let it rip on her Facebook page and wrote "Let's Talk About Anna"-- a post that went so viral that when I just checked it had over 400,000 likes and 200,000 shares -- and landed her a national television interview. And by the end of it the CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin was saying “You go, girl” and I wanted to applaud.

In her Facebook post Ms Krammes Kirkland wrote, in part:
As a mother of daughters, this makes me ill. Parents, WE MUST DO BETTER BY OUR DAUGHTERS. Boys, men, are born with power. Girls have to command it for themselves. They aren't given it. They assume it and take it. But you have to teach them to do it, that they can do it. We HAVE to teach our daughters that they are not beholden to men like this. That they don't have to marry a man their father deems "acceptable" and then stay married to that man long, long after he proved himself UNACCEPTABLE. Educate them. Empower them. Give them the tools they need to survive, on their own if they must.

Josh Duggar should be cowering in fear of Anna Duggar right now. Cowering. He isn't, but he should be. He should be quaking in fear that the house might fall down around them if he's in the same room as she. Please, instill your daughters with the resolve to make a man cower if he must. To say "I don't deserve this, and my children don't deserve this." I wish someone had ever, just once, told Anna she was capable of this. That she knew she is. As for my girls, I'll raise them to think they breathe fire.
And it made me proud all over again that at All Saints Church in Pasadena what we're teaching our children -- ALL our children -- is totally in alignment with the values Ms. Krammes Kirkland wrote about … as called out in this blog post by the parent of a ten year old girl who participated in this year's "Summer Adventure:"
“Thank you, All Saints. For teaching our children that they are enough, more than enough – just as they are. That all of us are Beautiful, Miraculous, and fit to change the world.”
Fit to change the world. And fit -- if necessary -- to breathe fire.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ah, to be in Mississippi now that August has come

Honored to be prepping for a visit to the Diocese of Mississippi next week for the 10th Annual Spiritual Renewal Retreat hosted by the diocese and their ministry to and with LGBT folks. Special treat to be looking forward to being with old (or I guess I should say "long time") friend Brian Seage ... now Bishop of Mississippi. Brian and I knew each other before either of us went to seminary and we were ordained priests together in January 1998. (AKA "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away!")

Anyway, in preparation for the retreat -- which I'm told will have 90 participants -- I've been spending a lot of time with the work of Malcolm Boyd and even if you're NOT planning to lead a retreat on claiming his legacy, I totally commend that to you as part of your summer reading and reflection. From the blurb I wrote for the PR on next week's retreat:
In 1965, Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd published “Are You Running With Me, Jesus?” -- a book of prayers which fed the hunger of a generation of people who had given up on the church or anyone connected with it having anything relevant to say. His willingness to put his faith into action by marching to end segregation was a powerful witness to what former Presiding Bishop John Hines called “justice as the corporate face of God’s love.” And his example as an out-gay priest in a time when such a thing was practically unimaginable is an inspiration to all who work for the full inclusion of LGBT people in this church and in this country.

Fifty years later, Malcolm’s prayers and poems continue to inspire and challenge us as we work to make God’s love tangible, to abolish prejudice and oppression and to heal the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the church and in the world. In prayer and reflection, story and song we will claim the legacy of Malcolm Boyd as we align our lives with God’s love, justice and compassion. Come share in a time of spiritual renewal and refreshment in community as we discover together how God is calling us to run with Jesus.
I'm thrilled that my wife Lori is going to be able to join me for this one and add her tremendous gifts as a small group organizer and "process person" to our work together. Putting together the handouts we've framed the work around the metaphor of running the race ... hurdles included ... and I loved the subtitle "1965 Prayers for 2015 Pilgrims."

Stay tuned for more -- but do keep us and the good people of the Diocese of Mississippi in your prayers as we prepare to gather for this opportunity to retreat, reflect and renew. And give thanks for the work and witness of our brother Malcolm -- who continues to inspire us to run our race with as much grace and faithfulness as he ran his.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Offer Yourselves and Your Food to the World

Proper 14B | All Saints Church, Pasadena | 7:30 a.m. Sunday, August 9

I have always been a big fan of bread. As a child, I went off to school every day with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread with the crusts removed.

The crusts were saved in a plastic bag in the freezer to take to the Arboretum over in Arcadia to feed the ducks – fat, waddling, noisy old things who lived off the bits and pieces rejected by picky little girls like me.

My early years were filled with an abundance of both bread and people who prepared it to my liking – and it seemed that bread – soft, white and usually smeared with something sweet – was something I would always relate to.

But it wasn’t until I went to seminary that I got the chance to actually bake any bread. It is an awesome privilege to be asked to bake the bread for communion and as I worked the dough on the floured board one morning it occurred to me that when the church becomes more like the bread that feeds it we will have inched closer to the coming of the kingdom.

The ingredients were set out, ready to be combined in the big, yellow mixing bowl: flour and shortening, sugar, salt and an egg – and yeast: turned frothy in the measuring cup of hot water. Separate and distinct when lined up on the counter, each of these items would serve a different but essential function when kneaded together into the dough that would become our bread.

The large pile of flour and the tiny packet of yeast were equal in importance: without either of them the final creation would be less than it was meant to be. Mixed together, kneaded and left to rise on the window sill in the afternoon sun and then baked in the heat of the over they would transformed into a new thing – brown and fragrant, crusty and warm – ready to be the food offered to feed both body and soul in a very hungry world.

The volume of the flour many times outweighed the other ingredients – but bread would not have happened if the flour had used its majority status to argue for the exclusion from the mixing bowl of the insistent salt or the disruptive yeast. Each had to play its own role in the process of becoming bread: to be wrenched from its own bag or box or packet or where it was comfortable with its own kind and combined with things which were “other.”

And the bread which emerged from the oven resulted from the interaction of those ingredients as much as it did from the kneading and shaping of the baker or the heat of the oven.

As the church we are called to be the Body of Christ to the world – a body symbolized for us by the bread we break each time we gather – the Bread of Life.

Yet sometimes it is tempting to settle for my childhood relationship with the bread that God has given us. I know there are times when I am still that little girl who wants her bread the way she wants it: safe and familiar and prepared for me by someone else – sweet and with the crusts cut off!

I don’t want to participate in the process: I just want to be fed by what I expect. Sure the ducks can have the leftovers – as long as I get mine first, says the selfish little girl that still lives somewhere inside of me.

But I know God wants more than that from me -- and more than that from all of us. When I baked the bread for communion, there was a radical transformation that took place between the time the ingredients were lined up on the counter and the moment the fragrant loaf emerged from the oven. And God is calling each and every one of us to be open to that same kind of transformation in our lives.

But that transformation will never happen if we stay safe in our containers – wrapping creeds and formulas and rituals around us like the bag around the flour, protecting itself from the influence of the frothy yeast or the pungent salt – isolating ourselves from the very things that are essential to becoming the bread – the community -- God would have us be.

It will never happen if we stay safe in our containers – wrapping creeds and formulas and rituals around us like the bag around the flour, protecting itself from the influence of the frothy yeast or the pungent salt – isolating ourselves from the very things that are essential to becoming the bread – the community -- God would have us be.

There’s a hungry world out there waiting to be fed and we’re the ones who have been called to feed it: both to offer and to be the bread of life as the Body of Christ in the world.

And we live up to that call in to be the bread of life every time we take the message of God’s love, justice and compassion out into the hungry world.

· When we stand for economic justice and a minimum wage that provides dignity to workers in our cities and in our nation.

· When we work to end the plague of gun violence that continues across our country.

· When we support legislation that ends discrimination against any member of the human family

· When we refuse to settle for the increasingly polarized political process that demeans and dehumanizes those who are “other”

· When we march for peace with justice on this 70th anniversary of Hiroshima & Nagasaki

· When we proclaim that #BlackLivesMatter on this first anniversary of the death of Michael Brown

· And when we work to liberate women from the sexism that still permeates our culture -- fueling the War on Women we’ve seen on such stark display in the news cycle this week.

We live up to that call to be the bread of life each and every time we challenge any of the above -- and anything else that makes this world less than what the God who created it in love created it to be.

The Good News we both claim and proclaim today is that God has called us to be a new thing – to be a light to the nations – to be part of the Jesus Movement moving the arc of history toward that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven we pray for every time we gather.

And to get there – to become the bread of life we are called to both offer and to be in the world -- we must first be mixed up, kneaded and punched, left to rise and then subjected to the heat of the oven.

That, my brothers and sisters, is the work we ask God to do in us each and every time we gather around this altar to receive the bread and wine made holy and then to be sent out into the world as beacons of God’s love, justice and compassion. Every time we do as Jesus called us to do:

“Take. Eat. This is my body that I share with you. Remember me whenever you eat, and offer your food and yourselves to the world.”

So let us gather. Let us be fed. And then let us go – go out into the world rejoicing the power of God’s spirit … both to offer and to be the bread of life as the Body of Christ in the world.

Amen.