Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Moment of Personal Privilege

Please take a minute to read this letter from our Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies calling for a repeal of HB2 in North Carolina and for solidarity with our transgender brothers and sisters being denied dignity and humanity as children of God.

And indulge me, if you will, in a moment of personal pride and bittersweet celebration that my late wife Louise’s last documentary project – “Out of the Box” – is called out and commended to the church for the work ahead:
In the face of the violence and injustice we see all around us, what can we do? We can start by choosing to get to know one another. TransEpiscopal, an organization of transgender Episcopalians and their allies, has posted on their website a video called “Voices of Witness: Out of the Box” that can help you get to know some transgender Episcopalians and hear their stories. Integrity USA, which produced the video, and the Chicago Consultation are two other organizations working for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Their websites also have online materials that you can use to learn more about the stories of transgender Christians and our church’s long journey to understand that they are children of God and created in God’s image.
Louise's inspiration to capture the TransEpiscopal stories that changed hearts and minds at General Convention in Anaheim in 2009 and make them available to the wider church in her last film project released for General Convention 2012 is a powerful tribute to her vision, tenacity and commitment to leave the world a better place than she found it.

It was a true labor of love – supported by Integrity, TranEpiscopal and a truly stellar production team – which she embraced through the battle with cancer that eventually claimed her life in September 2012 – just weeks after “Out of the Box” premiered in Indianapolis.

The struggle continues – and it delights me in a deep, profound way that Louise’s legacy lives on in that struggle.

Thanks for letting me share.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

No Longer

A sermon preached on Sunday, June 19th at All Saints Church in Pasadena -- with thanks to Michael Hopkins, Anne Lamott, Michael Curry, Salam Al-Maryati, Mike Kinman, Diana Butler Bass and ... as always ... Jesus.




O God of deep compassion and abounding mercy, in whose trust is our perfect peace: Draw near to us in this time of anguish, anxiety and anger, receive the dead into your eternal care, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are wounded or in despair, turn our anger into the conviction to act, channel our passion to end our dependence on violence for our sense of security, and lead us all to greater trust in you and in your image found in the entire human family; through Jesus the Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns among us and eternally. Amen.


And here we are again – a shell shocked nation gathered for candlelight vigils, press conferences and solidarity rallies in the wake of yet another mass shooting – this time targeting the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida.

Our Twitter feeds and Facebook pages are full of earnest memes and links to statements, prayers and press releases. The collective will of the nation seems – for the moment – to be galvanized to call for the kind of systemic change that will end the scourge of gun violence that plagues our nation and bloodies our streets, our homes, our schools, our churches, our movie theaters and our nightclubs.

#WeAreOrlando is trending on Twitter and will be until it isn’t anymore … until the hashtag joins the archive of outrage that has so far inexplicably failed to rouse our nation to address the carnage with sensible gun laws.

In the vortex of the longest election season in the history of voting, the June 12th shooting in Orlando has brought into sharp relief the choice in front of us: Will we be a nation that lives in fear or a nation that overcomes fear?

If children slaughtered at their desks, college students murdered in their classrooms, and church members massacred in their Bible Study class hasn’t been enough to overcome the gun legislation impasse then what makes us think that this latest attack on an LGBT nightclub will be the tipping point?

I am daring to hope that it is.

Our friend author Diana Butler Bass wrote on Facebook this week: When I was a church history professor, I used to ask every class this question: "Think 100 years in the future. What will those people look back to our time -- to us -- and say 'How could they have been so stupid? Why couldn't they see how wrong they were?' What do we do now that will look completely immoral to them?” 

“This week,” Diana said “my top answers are gunphilia and homophobia.”

Those would be my answers, too.

And yet I am daring to hope that today – now – this moment – June 19, 2016 – will be a date history will recognize as the day we turned the corner to end the scourge of gun violence that afflicts our nation and to heal the systemic homophobia that infects our nation; as a moment we embraced our high calling to – as Michael Curry puts it –
change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. 

June 19th is already an historic date. A date of transformation. A date of liberation.

Also known as “Juneteenth” it is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  June 19, 1865 was the date Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the enslaved were now free.

Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation become official in January 1863.

Official or not, the Emancipation Proclamation had virtually no impact on those enslaved in Texas -- because the Good News of liberation was withheld from the enslaved by those with the power to withhold it; by those refusing to accept the authority of the President who proclaimed it.

Not knowing freedom had been declared they suffered under the yoke of slavery – until June 19th when the word finally came to them that they were no longer enslaved but free. Juneteenth.

And what is the word that comes to us today – June 19, 2016 at All Saints Church?

In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.  All are one in Christ Jesus. 

Those powerful words -- those liberating words of Paul in his Letter to the Galatians -- are a kind of Emancipation Proclamation: freeing the entire human family from the artificial constructs that the world tells us divides us.

Yet just as those enslaved in Texas did not hear the word of their freedom until years after it was proclaimed, there are still those waiting to hear that Paul’s proclamation applies to them these many centuries later.

And the wake of this week’s tragedy in Orlando has exposed the harsh reality that like those who intentionally kept the news of liberation from reaching the enslaved there are those who intentionally work to keep the news of God’s inclusive love available to absolutely everybody from reaching all God’s beloved children.

It has become so predictable that you can practically set your clock by it. I’m talking about the point after a national trauma when actual Christianity gets hijacked by someone spewing the kind of hateful, harmful utterly unchristian diatribes that make Jesus - in the words of Anne Lammot - “want to drink gin straight out of a cat dish.” It is a sad and crowded history.

Jerry Falwell blamed the 9/11 attacks on “gays, abortionists and feminists.” Pat Robertson narrowed the blame for Hurricane Katrina down to “the gays.” And Terry Jones burned copies of the Quran to mark the anniversary of 9/11.

One of this week’s hijackers of actual Christianity – and there were sadly more than one -- was SacramentoPastor Roger Jimenez. In his Sunday sermon on June 12 — just hours after the Orlando massacre — he asserted “these deaths shouldn’t be mourned because if the victims were gay, then the Bible calls them sinners, and they deserved to die.”

He went on to say “If we lived in a righteous government, they should round them all up and put them up against a firing wall, and blow their brains out.”

And as I listened to him – in horror and outrage that my faith was being hijacked by this homophobic wolf in pastor’s clothing and being represented as “Christian” – I realized my outrage was a tiny window into what billions of Muslims feel every time they hear the horrific distortion of their faith being called “Islamic.”

Roger Jimenez is to Christianity what ISIS is to Islam ... and it is up to every single one of us to speak out against this hijacking of the core tenets of our faith by those who would distort them as weapons of mass discrimination; lob them like incendiary devices to ignite hate and division; and convince any sane person that Christianity is that last thing they want anything to do with.

It is also up to us to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters when their religion is hijacked by media pundits and political candidates who ignore the billions of faithful followers of Islam - a religion of peace, justice and compassion - and feed into the agenda of the terrorists.

Speaking at the June 13th Interfaith Vigil in Los Angeles, our friend Muslim leader Salam Al-Marayati called ISIS a “cult of death” that “does not represent me and does not represent 1.5 billion Muslims — it represents the worst of humanity, not just a distortion of the faith.”

And then – in a moment I truly did not think I would live long enough to witness – one of those moments that gives me hope we truly are at a “tipping point” –Salam went on to address the LGBTQ community saying: “We are your shield. The Muslim community stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the LGBTQ community. We are one, we are all part of one humanity, and we will defend each other — we will work together.”

Glory!

This is what a “radical” faith looks like: a radical vision of love, justice and compassion that transcends dogma and doctrine and focuses on our common humanity as children of the same God — refusing to be hijacked by those who would divide, polarize and terrorize us. It is the kind of faith that can and will change the world: if we work together.

That is the radical faith we gather here, in this sacred space, week after week, year after year, rector after rector, to embrace and to proclaim; and then to take out in the world in desperate need of love, justice and peace as an antidote to hatred, oppression and violence.

This is the radical faith into which we welcome 22 new members at our 11:15 service and it is the radical faith into which we will baptize Grete, Christian, Deborah and Nicholas today.

It is a radical faith that says we do have the power as old as the words of Isaiah
that Jesus preached in his first sermon in Nazareth:
          to proclaim good news to the poor.
to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

It is a radical faith that says we do have the power to cast out the demons that afflict us as a Body of Christ and as a Body Politic just as surely as Jesus cast out the demons we heard about in today’s Gospel.

Speaking of demons, here are some words of wisdom from our Rector-elect Mike Kinman … with a hat-tip to Christina Honchell for pointing me to them online:

We don't talk about demons much ... probably either because it's too scary or because they sound like superstition and we consider ourselves too intellectually evolved. We'd rather think of them as a literary device. Whether or not that is true, there are demonic forces out there. Demons change people, separate and isolate people, and are incredibly powerful: so powerful we feel like we are powerless against them. But we are not.

No, my friends, we are not. We are equipped and empowered with the powerful Good News that our church, our nation and our world is longing to hear. It is the Good News of the liberating love of God that is as long overdue to those enslaved by oppression and marginalization in 2016 as the Good News of the Emancipation Proclamation was overdue to those enslaved in Texas in 1865.

It is the Good News of the dream that God intends
where there is no longer Jew or Greek,
no longer slave or free,
no longer male or female,
no longer gay or straight,
no longer white, black, brown or any variation thereof,
no longer cisgender or transgender,
no longer theist or atheist,
no longer Democrat or Republican,
no longer Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan or None of the Above.

In the dream that God intends there are ALL of the above, no longer divided but united -- woven into one human family created in love by the God whose deepest desire is that we love one another as much as God loves us.

That is the dream we claim as our own -- the vision we proclaim to the world;  It is the radical faith that dares to tell us we have the power to cast out not only the demons of gunphilia and homophobia but to banish any demon that separates, isolates or enslaves us until there is no longer anything that keeps us from being
the beloved community we were created in love to be.

Amen

[Opening Prayer from Michael Hopkins' "Litany after the Orlando Massacre"]

Monday, June 13, 2016

#WeAreOrlando


My email inbox, FB page and Twitter feed are all full of poignant, powerful statements in the wake of yesterday's tragic shooting in Orlando. None more eloquent and spot on than this one from Hillary Clinton.

So many of us are praying for everyone who was killed, for the wounded and those still missing, and for all the loved ones grieving today. 

We owe their memories and their families more than prayer. We must also take decisive action to strengthen our international alliances and combat acts of terror, to keep weapons of war off our streets, and to affirm the rights of LGBT Americans -- and all Americans -- to feel welcome and safe in our country.

Here’s what we absolutely cannot do: We cannot demonize Muslim people.

Inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric hurts the vast majority of Muslims who love freedom and hate terror. It’s no coincidence that hate crimes against American Muslims and mosques tripled after Paris and San Bernardino. Islamophobia goes against everything we stand for as a nation founded on freedom of religion, and it plays right into the terrorists’ hands.

We’re a big-hearted, fair-minded country. We teach our children that this is one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all -- not just for people who look a certain way, or love a certain way, or worship a certain way.

I want to say this to all the LGBT people grieving today in Florida and across our country: You have millions of allies who will always have your back. I am one of them. From Stonewall to Laramie and now Orlando, we’ve seen too many examples of how the struggle to live freely, openly, and without fear has been marked by violence. We have to stand together. Be proud together. There is no better rebuke to the terrorists and all those who hate.

This fundamentally American idea -- that we’re stronger together -- is why I’m so confident that we can overcome the threats we face, solve our challenges at home, and build a future where no one’s left out or left behind. We can do it, if we do it together.

Thank you for standing together in love, kindness, and the best of what it means to be American.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

#HesWithHer -- Obama Endorses Clinton

"I know how hard this job can be. That's why I know how good Hillary will be at it." BAM!!

    Tomorrow I turn 62 ... which I just have to say sounds ridiculously old to be still figuring so many things out. But today I'm deeply grateful for the early birthday present of a clear path forward for a united Democratic Party from Bernie & Barack. Elizabeth Warren's endorsement will be the icing on my birthday cake ... and my "blow out the candles" wish will be for an issues driven campaign and a clear mandate in November for the Clinton White House. BAM!!


Monday, May 30, 2016

When A Foreigner Comes: Sermon for Sunday, May 29th

Even after fourteen years I never climb into the pulpit without a deep awareness of what a privilege it is to preach at All Saints Church. Sunday it was a particular privilege to take a great cloud of witnesses with me: friend Joe Henry, mentor Barbara Mudge, prophets Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Heschel, the inspirational Dr. Susan Partovi, my daddy and  -- of course -- Jesus. [YouTube link]


Inspiration comes in many forms … Including music, scripture, nature, poetry … and (sometimes) in Facebook posts.

The following words of deep truth were ones my friend Joe Henry posted on his Facebook page the day Prince died … and I snagged them and saved them because they spoke to me so deeply in that moment I knew somehow they would continue to speak to me and they have.

I have ceased distinguishing
between the religious and the secular,
for everything is holy:
our courage and humility,
our senses both lost and found;
our love and our lust…
all that shall swoon and couple,
leaving in their wake the real hope that,
late as is the hour –
with as much as we have been given
and have squandered;
as little as we might deserve it,
though we stomp and plead—
there may yet be more on offer:
God willing,
just one more song
sung into high rafters
before we are finally called
to quit and disperse.

What a deep truth does is draw us into deeper truths. And one of the deep truths this reading continues to draw me into is challenging the false narrative of either/or that has so permeated our civic, cultural and collective discourse that we seem to have lost the ability to apprehend the in-between or the both/and – succumbing to the misapprehension that unison is a requirement for unity, that differences equal divisions and that being agreed with is a criterion for relationship.

And that deep truth leads us into the deeper truth which Martin Luther King, Jr. named as the “inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” where whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly; and I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.

This is the inter-related structure of reality; the place where there is no distinguishing between the religious and the secular the place where everything is holy -- the place where everything is love.

It is what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven -- proclaiming – by word and example— that it was already within and among us. It is what we pray for every single time we pray the words “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

And … it is a journey.

Some might argue it is the journey humankind has been on since “In the beginning …” And my seminary Hebrew Scripture professor would be one of those making that argument.

In fact, he made it in almost every lecture I ever heard him give. Dr. Jim Sanders – now 89 years young and still lecturing in Claremont – is an extraordinary scholar, teacher and preacher … and one of the translators of the Dead Sea scrolls. When I sat in his classroom – over twenty years ago now – he stressed over and over and over again the importance of what he called “the monotheizing process” … (and I quote:)
Critically moving from the older passages through to the later, careful readers are able to trace a process that is best called monotheizing. In effect the first commandment of the Decalogue, the first of Jesus' two great commandments, and the Qur'an's clear mandate fashion an imperative to continue the monotheizing process that is not yet complete but that enjoins adherents of each to live life in the belief that there is but One God of All.
To be clear – this is not a process of God changing God’s mind but a record of humanity’s evolving understanding of the infinite nature of God’s love, justice and compassion.

We can actually see a version of that process at work in the lessons appointed for us this morning.

In the first – the reading from I Kings – Solomon prays that “when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house” that God should hear those prayers and “do according to all that the foreigner calls to you.” A huge step forward from “when a foreigner comes kill him or enslave him” – which would have been much more in alignment with the world as it was in 500 BC. No. It’s when a foreigner comes, hear their prayer.
Then – fast forward about 500 years and we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with a foreigner who comes to him. This time it’s a Roman centurion seeking healing for his very sick servant – and Jesus … amazed by his faith … heals him. When a foreigner comes, don’t just ask God to hear his prayer – heal him.
And if we travel further into the scriptural story we inherit – beyond the lessons appointed for today into Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – we hear these words: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one.”

Remember the part in last week’s gospel when Jesus told us the Holy Spirit was coming to lead us into all truth – some of which we weren’t ready for yet? The same Holy Spirit he told us the week before – on Pentecost – would equip us to “do greater works than these?”

That is what we see at work in these ancient stories of faith: the Holy Spirit leading us into all truth -- at work helping us grow more fully into the understanding of the One God of All. Taking a giant step forward from “when a foreigner comes …” to “There are no foreigners. We are all one.”

And so the “therefore” for me this morning is that because the One God of All is alive and at work in absolutely every human being – therefore -- to paraphrase Joe Henry:

We are called to cease distinguishing
between the foreigner and the homey,
for everyone is neighbor everyone is family
everyone is holy.


And just like the monotheizing process Professor Sanders taught was “was not yet complete” we are not “there yet” in the process of living into that call – not by a long shot.


Instead we are surrounded by polarization and polemic that seems to sink exponentially lower with every news cycle. The venom, vitriol and ad hominem attacks during this election cycle have taken on a toxicity that transcends party and ideology. And the search for common ground to unite has been abandoned for the search for differences to leverage into division.

I should probably offer a brief disclaimer at this point – although it will likely not come as a great surprise. I’ve always been a political animal. I think it was in our family DNA. The values my parents raised us with included a deep love of this country and its foundational values of liberty and justice for all — and they instilled in us a deep sense of our responsibility to participate in the political process.

We watched conventions together — crunched up on the old couch in the den in front of the black-and-white TV with the rabbit ears, where also we stayed up late following election returns. I remember explaining the Electoral College to classmates on the elementary school playground because my daddy explained it to me.

He also explained the genius behind our Constitutional Democracy with words I still remember fifty years later:
“We have a system of government that at its best protects us from ourselves at our worst,” my daddy said. “Because at our worst every man is on the same side … and that’s the “me” side. He will vote for what’s in it for himself – and forget that we are all in this together.”
My Daddy was “spiritual but not religious” long before it was actually a thing … but that moment was arguably my introduction to what I would eventually come to understand as the theology of the myth of the separate self.

And outdated gender pronouns notwithstanding, it was my initiation into a polity framed by the network of mutuality – into a worldview of an inter-related reality where the most important question was not “what’s in it for me” but how – together -- can we become a more perfect union.

I wonder what my Daddy would make of where we are today.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel was the one who famously said “in every moment something sacred is at stake” – and there are some moments when that truth seems so much more pronounced than others.

We are, I believe, collectively in one of those moments as a nation.

And our challenge, in this moment, is to be an antidote to the toxic narratives that surround us. Our task -- in this moment -- is to refuse to settle for being ourselves at our worst by claiming the high calling to cease distinguishing between the foreigner and the homey and to build a world where everyone is neighbor everyone is family everyone is holy.

And in spite all that conspires to tell us how impossible that is if we’re paying attention; if we’re lucky; if we’re blessed -- there are moments when our lives touch the lives of those who are being the change we yearn to see and remind us who we are when we are ourselves at our best.

I got the gift of one of those moments last week in a video called “Skid Row Doctor” – the story of Dr. Susan Partovi who works on L.A.'s Skid Row -- the most densely concentrated population of homeless people in the country.

The video chronicles one day in the life of a doctor who has chosen to work in the streets with the sickest of the sick meeting people where they are quite literally incarnating love, justice and compassion in a place described as “an ocean of staggering need.”

In her work and witness in the streets of Skid Row Dr. Susan Partovi lives and moves and has her being in a place where there is no foreigner where there is no human being beyond dignity, respect and hope. where – in her own words -- “If you treat people like human beings, they show up like human beings.”

And there – for a moment – in an online video about a doctor on Skid Row was the glimpse of the inter-related structure of reality; the place where there is no distinguishing between the foreigner and the homey; the place where respecting the dignity of every human being is not just a promise but a practice the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven the place where everything is holy -- the place where everything is love.

I want to close with the words of a beloved friend, mentor and teacher: The Reverend Canon Barbara Mudge – former vicar of Saint Francis in Simi Valley – and the priest who sponsored me for ordination on June 1, 1996. Barbara died this week after a long illness and among the many things I remember about her was “her” dismissal – these words she said every time we ended worship at Saint Francis:

The holiest moment is now.
Fed by Word and Sacrament
Go out to be the church in the world.


Show the world – like Joe Henry – that everything is holy.

Remind the world – like Martin Luther King, Jr. – that I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

And serve the world – like Dr. Susan Partovi – as beacons of love, justice and compassion.

Go. Amen.

Monday, May 09, 2016

We See You. We Stand With You.



Today Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced legal action against the state of North Carolina for HB2 as a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

From her statement::

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself ...
No matter how isolated,
afraid,
and alone
you feel today,
know this:

The Department of Justice
and the entire Obama
administration want you to know 

We see you;
We stand with you
and
We will do everything we can to protect you going forward.

Please know that history is on your side.
This country was founded on the promise
of equal rights for all
and we have always managed
to move closer to that idea,
little by little, day by day.

It may not be easy, but we will get there."

-- US Attorney General Loretta Lynch


That not only will preach. It should.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jesus Saves ... From the Myth of Redemptive Violence

My Good Friday sermon is now up on YouTube ...



In some ways it's arguably the same Good Friday sermon I preach every year ... part of my life-long vocation of debunking substitutionary atonement one Good Friday at a time.

But I also felt this year -- in the shadow of this crazy election season and the violent extremism dominating our news cycles -- that it was particularly germane to tackle (once again) the Myth of Redemptive Violence that I learned about from Walter Wink 20 years ago. A myth that still masquerades as reality. From the sermon text:
Anyone who thinks that Domination System is not alive and well listening to the rhetoric on the election campaign trail or watching the evening news with its onslaught of violence begetting violence, in thought, word and deed. In terrorist bombs in Belgium, Turkey and Nigeria and in gun violence in the streets of Pasadena; in policies that endanger our planet and incarcerate our youth; in state sponsored discrimination against LGBT people and in court decisions that strip communities of color of their voting rights. I could go on and on.

This violence – in thought, word and deed -- is the Domination System Jesus came to dismantle -- and the truth we face is that two thousand years later the same Domination System which conspired to kill Jesus on Good Friday is still conspiring to co-opt the Christian narrative intended to overcome it.
And that -- I believe -- is the work of Easter: to resurrect the authentic narrative of Jesus' life, work and witness from the tomb of dogma, doctrine and domination where the institutional church tried to hide it.

Because (stop me if you've heard this one before:)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!