Friday, September 23, 2016

Reflections on Grief & Gratitude on a Sabbath Friday

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

And I am acknowledging this morning the toll that the deep ache of grief and sadness which marinates the very fabric of our beautiful and broken world is taking on my soul. The ugliness and polarization of this election cycle pointing a spotlight on systemic racism, sexism and ignorance that contaminate our nation. The constantly growing list of hashtags that has become a numbing litany of the heartbreaking reality that black lives do NOT matter as much as white lives in our country. And the very real fear of the impact the marshaling of forces and resources to preserve the patriarchy and undo the progress of the recent past will have -- not only on all those on the margins but on what's left of the American Dream.

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

Friday Sabbath Blessings, Blogosphere.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Choose Life, Hope and Resistance

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

I was reminded earlier this week of this prayer from poet and priest John O’Donohue in a Facebook post. It was nestled amongst multiple heartfelt posts from friends and colleagues marking back-to-school moments -- from five year old Andrew who was off to his first day of Kindergarten in Portland, Oregon to my own thirty-something Jamie who started graduate school at Western Kentucky University.

Because believe it or not … whether we’re ready or not … it is in fact September: the month no matter how old I get will always evoke the urge to wear plaid and buy school supplies. Where did the summer go?

But back to the prayer. O’Donohue’s words summarized for me in profound concision the blessing, hope and charge I would lift up for every student – and teacher! – opening the door to the new beginning of a new school year -- with all of its opportunities and all of its challenges ahead.

Life is too short to do anything other than live the life you would love.
Claim your dream.
Do what you came here for.
And do not waste a single, precious moment on fear.

And so that morning I scrolled down my Facebook page over my first cup of coffee … I prayed that prayer for each of the earnest faces captured in their “back to school moments” – whether with backpacks or lunch boxes – from Andrew to Jamie and everyone in-between.

And then I thought: why stop there? Yes, there are iconic moments of new beginnings and fresh starts – like first day of school photos in plaid skirts with new lunchboxes. But each and every day we draw breath on this Earth we face new challenges and new opportunities – and with each of those we are faced with choices on how we will overcome or embrace them.

How we will do what we came here for.
How we will choose life.

 And that brings me to this morning’s lesson from Deuteronomy.

Let’s set the context: Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of what we call “the Pentateuch” – the first five books of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. The name comes from a Greek word which means a second or repeated law.

In the biblical narrative, it comes at the end of the 40 year retreat the Israelites took in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land – and it is basically Moses’ refresher course for everything God had done and taught them up until this point … the point where they stood on the cusp of crossing over the river into the Land of Canaan and a whole new life … a journey Moses would not be taking with them but handing over to Joshua.

But Moses’ words to the Israelites in that moment were more than just a review session for anybody who had blown off a class or two over the years -- they was not a mere repetition of the law. But rather they were an application of the law they had already received from God instructing them on how they were to live their lives in their new context in Canaan.

And those instructions included:
Love God with all your heart, soul and mind;
Love your neighbor as yourself; and
You must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

 [We’ll get back to that one.]

The Book of Deuteronomy is -- at its core -- a reminder to the Hebrew people that God’s core values of love, justice and compassion where what they had been chosen to align their lives with – as a light to the nations and to the glory of God. And that they were called to choose life … not just for themselves but for their neighbors … including the neighbors who were foreigners in their midst.

It is the ancient record of Moses calling the Israelites – our spiritual ancestors -- to “choose life” – to choose to live in accordance with God’s highest purpose – and the speech we hear today is the summary – the Big Finish – the “Come to Jehovah” moment – where he reminds them who they are and who they belong to: the God of all creation.

To use a 21st century analogy: Deuteronomy is Moses recalculating the spiritual GPS of the Hebrew people to guide them into the next part of their journey.

To do at last what they came here for. To waste their hearts on fear no more but to choose life – and to trust that the God who had led them out of slavery in the land of Egypt would continue to guide them as they moved forward into God’s future.

And that reminds me of a story.

A number of years ago my late wife Louise and I took a trip we called our “Excellent European Adventure” – and part of what made the adventure excellent turned out to be our GPS.

She was very patient. She never panicked. She never raised her voice. She never freaked out when the road signs suddenly changed from Italian to German and then back to Italian. She never said, “How many times do I have to tell you?” She never said, “I cannot believe you missed that turn.” And she certainly never said, “No! No! The other left!”

Instead, no matter how clueless or far afield we got, her patient, persistent refrain was, “Recalculating.”

I think it is fair to say it took us a little while to trust her. The story I’m going to tell right now is about when that moment happened.

It was as we were arriving at our hotel on Lake Como, in Italy – which is absolutely as fabulous as everyone says it is, and you can totally see why George Clooney wants to hang out there. So we were moving along, we were following the GPS, we were wending out way up the side of the lake. I’m looking at the map, and Louise is looking at the map, and looking at the map and looking at the GPS, and she’s saying, “This can’t be right. We’re going to end up in the middle of the lake. Our hotel is on the other side of the lake. There’s no way this could be right.”

So we’re going along with no small amount of tension in the car, and suddenly our patient, wise, persistent GPS says, “In 500 meters, board the ferry.”

Who knew there was a ferry? Well, the GPS did, and we never doubted her again.

The way the GPS guided Louise and me on our Excellent European Adventure is how I believe the Holy Spirit guides each and every one of us on our Excellent Earthly Adventures. She is patient, she is persistent. No matter how clueless we are or far afield we go, her patient, persistent refrain is, “Recalculating”… continuing calling us back in alignment with God’s values of love, justice and compassion.

And what keeps us in that alignment -- what keeps our spiritual GPS connected to that satellite -- is community. It is where we come – here -- to remember that we are loved and called to walk in love, to be fed and fuelled and then go back out into the world and witness to that love.

“Do this in remembrance of me” – we will say in just a few minutes, when we gather around this table to share the bread and wine made holy. “In remembrance of,” to remember – to reverse our amnesia – that we are loved by God and – in response to that love – are called to plug in our spiritual GPS into those core values of love, justice and compassion as we journey forward.

And just as Moses seized the moment as the Israelites hovered on the cusp of new beginnings in the Land of Canaan to remind, refresh and recalculate their journey we have the opportunity this morning to do the same thing with ours.

For after the longest election cycle in the history of voting we as a nation hover on the cusp of new beginnings as we prepare to elect not only a new President but new legislative leaders and … here in California … to consider a boatload of ballot initiatives. And in each and every one of those transactions we will have the opportunity to choose life … not just for ourselves but for our neighbors – including the neighbors who are foreigners in our midst.

Tomorrow is Labor Day … and the prayer appointed for us in our Book of Common Prayer goes like this
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good
The work we are called to do … the work we celebrate on Labor Day and do the other 364 days of the year … is never for ourselves alone but for the common good. And that for me is a core value – a key litmus test – to carry forward as we choose life … not only into the decisions we will make in the upcoming elections but in the choices we make each and every day we draw breath on this Earth.

Choosing life is how we center ourselves to do what we came here for – to turn the human race into the human family. And it is how we resist the fear that would waste our hearts and become instead the change we want to see. For in the words of our rector-elect Mike Kinman: “In the face of fear, resistance is hope.”

Resistance to racism – in all its manifestations – is hope that we not only can but will heal the systemic poison of marginalization and oppression that infects our nation … making liberty and justice for all an aspiration we yearn for rather than a reality we live.

Resistance to sexism is the hope that we will quit reinforcing gender stereotypes in our young people represented in these magazine covers: Encouraging girls to aspire to “Wake Up Pretty” vs.encouraging boys to “Explore Your Future.”

We can and must do better than that.

Resistance to hijacking the core values of our Christian faith is the hope that our witness – in word and deed – to God’s love, justice and compassion can overcome those preaching the poison of polarization, judgment and condemnation.

Resistance to exploitation of the planet is hope that we can work together as a human race to undo the damage we have done to “this fragile Earth, our island home” and be part of the solution rather than continue to contribute to the problem of climate change.

Resistance to scapegoating immigrants is the hope that we will refuse to align our public policy with the fear and ignorance of nativism and xenophobia but instead listen to the ancient words of Leviticus 19:34

(Which for some strange reason is NOT the verse from Leviticus that ends up on the picket signs or in the emails from folks who want to tell me what the Bible says.)

But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

In the face of fear, resistance is hope.

So let us today choose to resist. Let us choose hope. Let us choose to recalculate our spiritual GPS’s to guide us – unafraid – into God’s future. Let us choose life.

May we have the courage today 
To live the lives that we would love, 
To postpone our dreams no longer 
But do at last what we came here for 
And waste our hearts on fear no more. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Vagenda of Manocide

No, that's not a typo. That is a direct quote from this sign spied on the campaign trail and now making the rounds on Twitter.

"Beware The Beast: Hildbeast Clinton And Its Vagenda Of Manocide."

Seriously. I couldn't make it up. It's evidently the brainchild (and yes -- I use the term loosely) of a dude who's kinda famous in his parts for outrageous stuff like this -- at least according to

It is hard to even wrap your brain around -- much less image a response to -- such overt misogynistic absurdity. Which is precisely why you need to get ready for the best part.

Guess what happens if you go to Seriously. It's an actual URL. Check it out.

That's right. It's a Donate to Hillary Clinton for America page.

Someone on the HRC staff was smart, savvy and with it enough to snatch up the URL and do the Genesis 50:20 thing -- turning what was intended for harm as a means to accomplish good.

I don't know about you but that kind of creativity and agency gives me hope that when we make it through these last days of the longest election cycle in the history of voting we're going to have smart, savvy, with it people in charge -- people who are committed to moving us forward into a future where we really are #StrongerTogether rather than #PolarizedToPieces.

In the meantime, I'm hearing rumors that the next hot Feminist Thrash Metal Band is going to be calling itself The Vagenda of Manocide. You just might have heard it here first.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Winning Some and Losing Some on a Summer Afternoon

This is my last week of vacation -- I go back to work next Monday after a lovely long time off with travel, family time and lots of R&R at home. Yesterday I got bit by the writing bug and decided to use some of my leisure time to dust off a piece I've posted before ... Top Ten Questions about Jesus, The Bible and LGBT People ... and update it for the current election cycle.

I posted it over on the Huffington Post -- you can read it here -- and then got back to the "To Do On Vacation" list. Now, the piece is hardly "going viral" ... but I knew it must be garnering some readership when I started getting hate mail ... from both rabid anti-LGBT Christians who accuse me of leading people to the Lake of Fire and from rabid atheists who are sure they'll change my mind if they point out that the Bible has inconsistencies.

Then there was this. I just went to check my email between loads of laundry (Item #7 on Today's Gay Agenda) and found these two emails quite literally back to back in my inbox.
Aloha Rev. Susan:

I just read your post on the Huffington Post site about the "10 questions...." Your answers and understanding are so clear and easily understood that I would like to share them with my members/friends/allies in our weekly newsletter.

I am currently pastor of Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church on the Big Island of Hawaii. We are a small community with a big heart. While I recognize that most of those who will read the newsletter already have some of the information you so clearly state, it is such a blessing to have it all laid out in such a logical and useful form. Prayers that you will be able to continue shining your light of compassion and understanding.

Love and blessings,
Rev. Dr. William H. Knight
To Susan Russell,

Where do I start? You so casually dismiss plain biblical teachings to validate your sinful life. 2 Peter 2 talks about the depravity of false teachers, speaking of evil things that they don't even understand. Those who have a heart trained in covetousness, and are accursed children, carousing in their own deceptions, those who have forsaken the right way. These Peter says are wells without water. You Susan if you don't repent will perish in your own corruption. You stated that Jesus never said anything about the homosexual. Well He did in fact do so in Matt 19:5f when He said, "have you not read, He who made them in the beginning made them male and female and for this reason a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, together being one flesh." This is the sexual relationship that Jesus taught. But lets remember, or don't you believe that all of the writers of the Bible were inspired of God, they didn't write what they wanted to, they were directed by God Himself. Does 1 Corinthians 6 mean nothing? You are twisting scripture to your own destruction. Teaching the doctrines of demons. It's clear, the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Unless they repent and are washed. The saddest part of this is, how many souls will be lost because of what you teach?

May God grant you the time to repent. 
Jeff Richardson
Aurora, MO.
As my friend and mentor Liz used to say all the time, "You win some and you lose some ... but you always dress out!"

And anybody who is tempted to think for a nanosecond that the work of dismantling the homophobia that infects the church and afflicts the world is even close to over just drop me a text, tweet or email and I'll be happy to give you a little reality check on why we keep dressing out. Seriously.

More later. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Claiming the Blessing: Fourteen Years Old YESTERDAY

Yesterday got away from me without marking it here as the 14th anniversary of my very first day at work at All Saints Church in Pasadena and the official launch of Claiming the Blessing: the intentional collaborative of organizations and individuals within the Episcopal Church advocating for the full inclusion of all the baptized in all sacraments of the church.

My, my. my how time flies when you're having fun.

On August 2, 2002 we set up shop in the "corner cubicle" in the "temporary trailer" in the North Driveway on the All Saints campus and we got to work on our agenda.

Yes, the truth can now be told -- the rumors were absolutely true. We TOTALLY had "an agenda" -- and it was:
"Promoting wholeness in human relationships, abolishing prejudice and oppression, and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church."
Since 2002, our advocacy has included liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships, equal access to all orders of ministry by qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender candidates and supporting civil and sacramental marriage equality.

In 2015 we saw extraordinary progress toward the goal of ending marriage discrimination in the Episcopal Church when the 78th General Convention — meeting in Salt Lake City — adopted resolutions that amended our canons on marriage and approved liturgies for equal use by same and opposite sex couples.

While there is inarguably still work to do to eradicate homophobia and discrimination against LGBTQ people in the church and in the world, it has been a deep privilege to be part of doing our part through the work of Claiming the Blessing and in partnership with heroes and sheroes of the movement too many to mention.

La lucha continua -- but for moment, let's mark this 14h anniversary with gratitude for the progress so far. (Visit our website for the CTB story.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

A crack at a time. A ceiling at a time.

Last night -- July 28 -- we watched history being made. Hillary Clinton's acceptance of the nomination of the Democratic Party for President of the United States broke through the glass ceiling she put 18 million cracks in back in 2008 and was a sign of hope and encouragement for anyone who believes love, justice and compassion trumps hatred, division and exceptionalism.

I loved what friend Peter Drier wrote.(You gotta love a guy who "gets" both politics and baseball!)
Donald Trump was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple. Tonight, Hillary Clinton hit a triple.

Triples are harder to hit than home runs. They require power AND base-running ability. When you hit a homer, you can jog around the bases. To hit a triple, you have to run full-speed from home plate to third base. You have to know your own strengths and those of your opponent - do I have the speed to make it third, does the outfielder have the arm strength to throw me out? Triples take grit and determination. They don't always excite the crowd like home runs. But they help your team win the game.
The "game" we're determined to win is nothing less than making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live in this nation. And last night we took a huge step forward toward achieving that elusive goal -- toward winning that game.

And now this morning -- July 29 -- as we continue to celebrate the history our nation just made in Philadelphia, I am reminded that we celebrate the anniversary of history made in our church: the ordination of eleven women in Philadelphia that shattered a stained glass ceiling and changed the church forever and for the better.

No, it didn't fix everything wrong with the church and of course it didn't end sexism once and for all. (And just for the record: no one smart enough to make that stained glass ceiling crack was naive enough to think we were "done.")

Forty-two years later we're still at it ... but today is one of the days we pause to celebrate the incremental victories along the way to the audacious goal not yet realized -- the goal of the end of gender bias and sexism and healing of the sin of misogyny not only in our church but in our world.

We are on this journey together. And as I wrote yesterday in my "Letter to My Sons" just before Hillary broke that glass ceiling in Philadelphia:
The glass ceiling that shatters today is about all of us - including you. It is about the opportunity you have to use your platform of privilege as straight, white, men to use the power that privilege gives you as an antidote to the rabid, sexist rhetoric that contaminates our public discourse in general and this presidential election campaign in specific.

It is about owning the words of Emma Lazarus — “Until we are all free, we are none of us free” - and recognizing that the shattering of this glass ceiling is another step toward freeing both women and men to become all they were created to be; another part of the journey toward making liberty and justice for all not just a pledge we make but a reality we live.
A crack at a time. A ceiling at a time. An inch at a time. La lucha continua.