Friday, May 22, 2015

Claiming the Blessing 2015: The Case for Marriage


Claiming the Blessing (CTB) was convened in 2002 as "an intentional collaborative of organizations and individuals within the Episcopal Church advocating for full inclusion of all the baptized in all sacraments of the church."

In 2002 a CTB Theology Statement was distributed to all bishops and deputies prior to General Convention in 2003 making the case for the blessing of same-sex relationships. That resource remains available online here

As we head toward #GC78 CTB has created "Claiming the Blessing 2015: The Case for Marriage" - which is available online here  and will be available in print onsite at General Convention in Salt Lake City.

The content includes:
*  Introduction to the Marriage Task Force Blue Book Report
*  Q&A re: the Marriage Task Force Report
*  Summary of SCLM liturgical proposals
*  Legislative history timeline
*  Michael Hopkins' essay "Recognized Holiness" making the case for marriage.

I just have to add what a deep delight it was to receive the outpouring of response to our request for photos from weddings of same-sex couples around the church. The avalanche of joyful pictures representing just the tip of the iceberg of the couples in this church in in this country longing to make that profound commitment to love, honor and cherish the love of their life  as long as they both shall live was a reminder to me of the tremendous impact our work together in Salt Lake City will have on the lives of those we will never know.

Will we be a church that continues to travel forward on that arc of history that bends toward inclusion? Or will we reduce these precious lives, loves and relationships to "an issue" we continue to study and argue about?

With tremendous gratitude for all who have brought us thus far on the way -- and with thanks for the privilege of continuing the work -- it is time to let our "yes be yes." (Matthew 5:37) It is time to Reimagine the Episcopal Church with Marriage Equality.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Good News From Boy Scout Land



Good news from Boy Scout Land: "Boy Scouts' President Calls for End to Ban on Gay Leaders" saying "any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement."

Here's the link to the NYT feature and here's the text of the 2000 resolution from the 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church calling for an end to discrimination against gay Scouts and leaders.

How much combined impact did 15 years of seeds sown by the grassroots work of churches hosting BSA troops and advocacy at the National level have? We may never know. But I think there's a parable about that somewhere.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Time For A Little Terry Holmes

One of the books I can ALWAYS lay my hands on is a slender, worn paperback copy of Urban T. Holmes' "What is Anglicanism?" It is a book I virtually devoured when I discovered it back before I went to seminary and was trying to put into language what my raised-in-the-Episcopal-Church-heart believed but I didn't have the language to articulate.

As we move toward our 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City, Holmes continues to remind me in clear, concise, accessible language of all that is best -- and worth preserving -- about the historic Anglicanism we inherit as American Episcopalians. And he reminds me that there is a point to all we do as Anglican Christians that transcends the political, ecclesial and theological wranglings that seem to consume so much of our energy.

ON ANGLICAN COMPREHENSIVENESS: "We often speak of Anglican "comprehensiveness." If this is a way of making relativism palatable or a means of accommodating all shades of opinion with no regard for truth, then it needs to be rejected. If by comprehensive we mean the priority of a dialectic quest over precision and immediate closure then we are speaking of the Anglican consciousness at its best." – Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 7

ON CLARITY OF AUTHORITY: "Clarity of authority should not be expected-- in fact, it should be suspect -- when we are attempting to make clear the infinite mind of God for the finite minds of humankind. When Anglicanism is true to its concept of authority, this apparent hesitance to say, "Thus saith the Lord!" -- only to have to spend the next hundred years subtlely qualifying "what the Lord said" -- is not a sign of weakness but evidence of strength and wisdom." - Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 16

ON FAITH AND BELIEF: Ultimately the authenticity of faith and belief is measured at the bar of justice. All religious questions merge into the one query: What shall we do? There is an inevitable course to our religious profession which can be aborted only by denying its Lord. That course leads to living in the world as God sees the world. We can debate the trivial points, but the vision is largely clear. To love God is to relieve the burden of all who suffer. The rest is a question of tactics." - Urban T. Holmes, “What Is Anglicanism” pg. 95

Monday, May 18, 2015

time to make some lemonade

It's an old adage -- the making lemonade out of lemons one. But I think it's an appropriate one given last week's "leading the news" results from the latest Pew Research Center study on "the rise of the 'nones'" and the decline of "organized religion."

NPR article is here ... but in a nutshell:
The Pew survey found the number of Americans who describe themselves as Christian dropped almost 8 percentage points, from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent last year. During the same seven-year period, those who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or "nothing in particular" increased from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent.
Those are the lemons. Here's the lemonade ... in the form of a commencement address from Huffington Post Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush:
From my vantage point as religion editor at The Huffington Post, I see what Christians from around the world are doing and actually feel this is the most exciting time for progressive faith that I can remember in my lifetime. Christians are on the front lines demanding that BlackLivesMatter in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York and Baltimore, holding communion services at the border and demanding a just and merciful immigration policy, dedicating themselves to caring for God's creation, proclaiming the full humanity of LGBT people and honoring their relationships as holy, showing solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters persecuted in the middle East, leading interfaith engagement and standing up against Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, we are demanding gender equality both in and out of the church, naming the moral outrage of the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and waging peace between people's around the world. Every day I see the continuing spiritual power of the Gospel wielded by women and men who are healing broken souls and transforming systems that oppress.

This is the Jesus movement I want to introduce to people who feel that the church doesn't care about them. I want them to know about the exciting things that are happening right now, including all of the ways that you are gong to be doing ministry in the world. Let's go out there and shout if from the mountain tops, because it is such good news.
You can read it all here ... and you totally should. And not just because it completely resonates with my favorite personal soap-box rant of all time -- one my congregation and colleagues have heard more times than they can probably count by now. And it goes like this:

At any given moment we are surrounded by people who are convinced they know enough about being a Christian NOT to want to be one because what they know about Christianity they learned from Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Michele Bachmann. So who could blame them? They walk right past the banquet we set every Sunday morning because they think the menu items are judgment and condemnation rather than justice and compassion. And so they're left starving for community, hope and meaning -- and we're left wondering why our pews aren't full.

We can do better. We must do better. Time to make some lemonade, people.


Time For A Brief "Knowing Our History" Moment

You can set your clock by it.

As we count down to the 78th General Convention there are voices emerging from the bushes and on the blogosphere bewailing the incivility of the dialogue on issues that challenge us. Calling for "more time" to bring folks along on the full inclusion of the LGBT baptized into the work and witness of the Episcopal Church. Castigating "the church" for not making room for theological differences in our "rush to inclusion."

Sigh.

So here's your teachable moment for the day. Resolution D025 ... adopted in 2009 in Anaheim at the 76th General Convention. It was the one where Rowan Williams stopped by to encourage us not to do anything. It was also the one where we moved past the de facto moratorium on electing another LGBT bishop and called for the creation of liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships.

Please do read it. Know your church's history of taking careful, considered steps forward whilst striving to make the big tent of the Episcopal Church as big as possible.

Because here's the deal: There remain in this church those who do not accept the orders of women as sacerdotally efficacious. Forty years after the first women's ordinations. It is a tension we live with as Anglicans who started out living with the tension of being both catholic and Protestant. We know how to do this.

And here's the thing: There is an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Yes, the big tent must be big enough to include those with whom we disagree. However if your criterion for being included is being agreed with, then you are the one who has made the choice to step outside that tent if you leave over differences of opinion.

And holding the full inclusion of the LGBT baptized hostage to threats by those who disagree theologically about marriage equality does nothing to increase the size of the tent and everything to diminish our heritage as Anglicans.

So do let's know our history as we move toward and look beyond Salt Lake City. And let's start with this great example from 2009.

Resolution Number: 2009-D025
Title: Reaffirm Participation in the Anglican Communion While Acknowledging Differences Legislative Action Taken: Concurred as Amended
Final Text:

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of “listening to the experience of homosexual persons,” as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988 and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God’s call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, and that God’s call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

Monday, May 11, 2015

“The Hardest to Learn was the Least Complicated” | Sermon for Easter 6B

“The Hardest to Learn was the Least Complicated”
May 10, 2015 | All Saints Pasadena | Susan Russell Easter 6B: John 15:9-17



"This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you."

Jesus was running out of time when he spoke these words to his disciples. We find them in the 15th Chapter of John – part of the last great series of teachings Jesus offered to those who had followed him – up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea – as he proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of God – the Reign of God -- already begun in their midst. He speaks these words as the clouds of the impending crucifixion gathered over Jerusalem ... as the leaders of the establishment threatened by his words plotted his arrest, trial and conviction.

They'd heard it all before -- those disciples gathered to listen to Jesus teach. It was the same message he gave the lawyer who tried to trap him in a game of stump the rabbi in the temple with his “which is the greatest commandment” question. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Next question?

It was the same message he not only taught but demonstrated in the upper room when during their last supper together he told them he was giving them a new commandment – love one another – and then washed their feet to make the point.

And now here he is again: Same crowd. Same message. It’s almost as if he didn’t trust that they’d gotten it yet. Because – of course – they hadn’t.

Not really.Oh, they’d been there for all the teaching, the preaching and the miracles.They’d heard over and over and over again all the things the Kingdom of God was like: a mustard seed, a shepherd, a hen brooding over her chicks, a persistent widow who wouldn’t give up on justice. And when Jesus finished teaching and did whatever the first century version of pass the microphones in the Rector’s Forum was, the questions he got from his disciples were ones like: “So when we get to heaven can I sit on your right hand?”

I was driving to work a week or so ago thinking about where this sermon was going to go when a song cycled around on my playlist. It was an old "Indigo Girls" tune ... one of those ones you've heard so many times you don't even realize you've memorized the words until you find yourself singing along. And suddenly I heard myself singing these words "The hardest to learn was the least complicated."

BAM!

"The hardest to learn was the least complicated."

Sometimes the stunning simplicity of an idea is what makes it the hardest to learn. And so we have to hear it again -- and again -- and AGAIN ... until we can finally "get it." We're asked to trust that God loves us so much that we can risk loving in return. Not very complicated ... but hard, hard, HARD to learn – and harder to do!

And yet, if we listen, we can hear that call to love again and again -- and again ... as if God is saying, "Let me try this again ..." "Let me put it to you THIS way ..." "PSST ... over here!"

Not "this is my commandment; that you agree about everything." Not "this is my commandment; that you understand everything.” And certainly not “this is my commandment; that you write a bunch of creeds and doctrines and then adopt some canons that keep anyone who disagrees with you at arm’s length.” Nope. This is my commandment -- that you love one another.

Least complicated. Hardest to learn.

It might be tempting to say “of course we love one another ... we're Christians, aren't we? Doesn't it go without saying?” Again, I'm reminded of a song ... his one from "My Fair Lady" where Eliza Doolittle sings in frustration "Don't talk of love ... SHOW ME!" There's a world full of Eliza Doolittles out there just waiting for the Church to BE the Church – to "show them" that we mean what we say – that we practice what we preach – that love one another isn’t just a Bible verse we commit to memory but a value we commit to live.

And this week I was blessed to by being “schooled” by three people living out that value in the world: an activist in our Rector’s Forum, a new dad in the Diocese of Central Florida and a leader in our national church.

Last Sunday we had the honor of welcoming Patrisse Cullors – one of the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement – to All Saints Church. She spoke movingly in the Rector’s Forum of her lived reality that “If all lives matter we wouldn’t need the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter – and if you really believe all lives matter then you’re going to fight like hell for black lives.”

She described the #BlackLivesMatter Movement as “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society – offering a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes to the fight for housing, the fight for food, the fight for education.”

She spoke of the commitment to creating a new politic that leaves absolutely no one behind: "Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all black lives along the gender spectrum."

And she challenged us to dare to dream of a country – a world – where a #BlackLivesMatter Movement was not necessary because all lives truly did matter.

“Abolition,” she said, “is not the just ending of a system; it is also the act of reimagining what kind of world we want to be living in. A world rooted in the truth that ALL our lives deserve the full spectrum of living.”

And then Patrisse Cullors ended her presentation in the Rector’s Forum (up on our YouTube Channel in case you missed it!) with this 1970’s call to action that she has claimed as her own:

It is our duty to fight for freedom; It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another; We have nothing to lose but our chains.

The hardest to learn was the least complicated. The hardest to learn is that love your neighbor as yourself means all of your neighbors all of the time. #Period.

And then there was the story of Baby Jack – which I know some of you know because you either posted it or commented on it on my Facebook page. It seems that down in Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida Baby Jack was all set to be baptized on April 19th with the other babies whose parents had gone through the baptism preparation class at St. Mark’s Cathedral.

A few days before the big day, one of his daddies got a call from the cathedral that “there were members of the Cathedral who opposed Jack’s baptism and although the Dean hoped to resolve the conflict he was not yet able to” – so the baptism was off. Because Baby Jack happened to have two daddies.

Here’s how Jack's dad Rich began their account of the experience: "My hope in sharing our story is to raise awareness to our community, and to offer perspective to a reticent institution."

And by telling their story, he did both. He wrote:

“Jack’s baptism turned out to be the very opposite of what it should have been. It became about Jack having two dads, rather than a community opening its arms to a joyful little soul, one of God’s children. Ironically, tenets of the baptism covenant call upon Christians to “serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself” and “Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Is this how the church loves its neighbors and respects the dignity of human beings?

This is not an attempt to force the Cathedral’s hand to baptize Jack, but rather a moment to change the conversation – to make the conversation an honest one focused on what the church wants to be known for. And to discover if it indeed can fulfill the purpose it is called upon to perform — to reveal timeless truth to a changing world.

For my son Jack, this is a teachable moment —
• Do not be fearful of what you don’t know. Keep your heart and mind open to diversity among people, thoughts and experiences.
• Have patience, take time to learn and to teach others, realizing in the end we are more alike than different.
• Practice what you believe to be true even when it is difficult and you may need to stand alone.
• Demonstrate compassion and love.
• Resist judging others or applying your experience with one person unilaterally.
• Just because an individual has wronged you does not mean all associated with the person/organization are of the same mind.
The family did meet with the bishop. The content of that meeting is not public but the result is. Baby Jack will be baptized – at the Cathedral – early this summer. In the words of Jack’s dad Rich “after the dust has settled.”

And there was one more thing Jack’s dad had to say – one more thing to add to his “teachable moment list.” And that was:

• Aspire to live your life with grace and forgiveness. You will be better for it.

The hardest to learn may be the least complicated – but in this case Baby Jack’s dad gets an A+/go to the head of the class for not only learning it but living it.

And in being willing to share his story – to speak his truth – has taught others as well what Christian Family Values actually look like.

And finally, the third voice reiterating that “hardest to learn/least complicated lesson” this week was Gay Jennings – the President of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies – in her open letter to the Supreme Court regarding the marriage equality cases they are deliberating.

"No religion's belief or practice should be allowed to restrict the rights of people to marry and receive equal protection under the law. It is long past time to end any kind of discrimination against God’s children in this country.”

Any of God’s children. And not just in this country, but in this human family. That’s the radical vision of “a world redeemed by Christ-like love; all life in Christ made new” we sing about here at All Saints Church nearly every Sunday. It is the reason we put our faith into action at the table-on-the-lawn every week. It is a core value of All Saints Church rooted deep in the DNA of a congregation whose rector protested the deportation of Japanese Americans to Manzanar in the 1940’s; which stood against the Viet Nam War in the 70’s, for a woman’s right to choose in the 80’s and for equality for LGBT people in the 90’s.

The list goes on and on. We can and should take heart in the movements toward equality in our church and in our nation – and we rightfully take pride in the part All Saints Church has played in that struggle.

But we know that marriage equality will not fix homophobia any more than women’s suffrage fixed sexism or integration fixed racism.

And if we forget that then we have people like Patrisse Cullors and Baby Jack’s daddy to remind us that the hardest to learn is the least complicated and that we will not be done learning until there are no strangers at the gate; until there are no babies in this church denied baptism because of the orientation of their parents and until there are no citizens in this nation denied dignity because of the color of their skin.

And yes that work demands that we continue to learn and relearn the commandment Jesus taught and re-taught his disciples – and us: "This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you." Because the hardest to learn IS the least complicated.

And as the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice our job is to continue to be vigilant in discerning how and where we can best use our individual and collective voices and resources to be benders of that arc. Day in and day out. Year in and year out. Rector in and rector out. Making God’s love tangible as we go about the work of turning the human race into the human family.

Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Comment on Baptism, Baby Jack and the Diocese of Central Florida

If you missed the memo, there's a very sad situation down in the Diocese of Central Florida wherein Baby Jack was denied the sacrament of baptism because Baby Jack happened to have two dads. Their story is here ... and I was deeply moved by the way Jack's dad Rich out the account: "My hope in sharing our story is to raise awareness to our community, and to offer perspective to a reticent institution."

He has accomplished both.

The Faithful America online petition that had a goal of 15,000 signatures is up to nearly 24,000 as I write. Clearly awareness has been raised in the community that no matter how optimistic we are about the Supreme Court and the movement toward marriage equality, the battle against homophobia is far from won.

And he has also gotten the attention of "a reticent institution."Barraged by emails, Facebook comments and secular media attention, Central Florida Bishop Greg Brewer is meeting with the family today -- Thursday, May 7 -- because, according to the Orlando Sentinel: “Whether they are active in the church and Christians in the community is far more important than whether they are gay or straight.”

So my expectation would be that from now on Bishop Brewer will be meeting personally with each and every baptismal family in the Diocese of Central Florida to discern whether or not the parents are active in the church and Christians in the community. Otherwise he will be guilty in 2015 of singling out LGBT parents seeking the sacrament of baptism for their children for the same kind of heightened scrutiny African American voters were subjected to when seeking the constitutional right to vote before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That kind of systemic bigotry had no place in our nation fifty years ago and it has no place in our church today.

And so the only thing that Bishop Brewer should say to Jack's parents today is how profoundly sorry he is for the fact that he failed as the chief pastor and shepherd of the flock in his diocese to protect his LGBT sheep from the assault of systemic homophobia that raised its ugly head and disrupted their plans to baptize their child into the Body of Christ.

I remain ever hopeful that this sad episode can be used by the Holy Spirit for the good of breaking down any barriers between the full inclusion of LGBT people in the work and witness of the Diocese of Central Florida. It certainly has the potential to be a Syrophoenician Woman Moment -- reminiscent of the story from Matthew's gospel where Jesus himself changed his mind about healing the daughter of the woman his tradition and his disciples told him was unworthy.

WWJD? He'd baptize Jack, of course. Let's fix this, people. And not just for Jack -- but for all the babies coming after him. We not only can do better than this -- we have to.