Monday, July 31, 2017

Good News vs. Fake News: La Lucha Continua

There is an old axiom about "the preacher preaching to the preacher" -- and it was never more true than the 8th Sunday After Pentecost when I preached this sermon I needed to hear: How to persist in resisting evil without becoming the evil we deplore. Thanks to inspiration from Walter Wink, Susan Thistlethwaite, Fredrica Harris Thompsett, George Regas and  ... of course ... Jesus.

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Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

Some of you will remember this prayer -- the one I’ve come to think of as the Gospel According to Barbara. They are the words Bishop Barbara Harris – the first woman bishop in the Anglican Communion – has used to begin every sermon I ever heard her preach. They are also the words that have become my own mantra to stay focused as an active member of The Resistance.

And boy howdy have they been getting a work out over these last days, weeks and months.

In our Collect of the Day this morning we prayed that we might: "so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal."

It is the same prayer we pray absolutely every year at this point in the lectionary cycle - - and yet it is arguable that in this particular year the tsunami of the twenty-four hour news cycle has made holding onto those "things eternal" more of a challenge than many of us can ever remember.

And that is why gathering together is such a critically important part of our resistance. We come together as community to pray, reflect and recharge -- to remember who are and whose we are. We come together not to escape "things temporal" but in order to engage them in the service of the eternal values of love, justice and compassion.

And then we go out -- refueled and refreshed by the bread and wine made holy: Go out to love, serve, challenge -- and resist -- for another week.

It is who we are as All Saints Church. It is part of our DNA.

A few weeks ago I was making my way to the chapel for Noon Eucharist and one of the memorial plaques caught my eye. Now, next Tuesday -- August 1st -- will the sixteenth anniversary of my first day at work here at All Saints Church. So it is fair to say I have walked by that memorial plaque literally hundreds of times.

But for some reason -- that quiet weekday morning in an empty church -- it tapped on my shoulder and demanded my attention.

It reads:

In affectionate memory of Julia Adele Meeker.
A consecrated member of this parish
rich in good works for all peoples.
"She fought the good fight
and kept the faith."
1861 - 1930

Julia Adele Meeker was born the year Civil War tore our nation apart and died the year after the Wall Street Crash threw it into the Great Depression -- with the First World War thrown in between. I can't even imagine the troubles she saw -- the challenges she faced -- the evils she resisted. And yet what we know is at the end of her life what the community who loved her wanted us to know about her was that she was rich in good works for all peoples ... and that she fought the good fight.

One of my teachers and mentors is historian Fredrica Harris Thompsett -- and Fredrica taught us that the reason we learn our history is to get a running start on our future. And so as we gather this morning to be refueled and refreshed for the challenges ahead of us, it bears remembering our history.

It bears knowing that we stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us -- those known and unknown to us -- who ... like Julia Adele Meeker ... fought the good fight. And to recognize that the fight we fight -- the resistance in which we engage -- the struggle that continues -- is not just an historic one. It is a cosmic one.

It is the fight between nothing less than good and evil. It is the cosmic struggle between the Good News of love, justice and inclusion and the Fake News of fear, judgment and discrimination.

Now, the term may have been coined in the last election cycle but Fake News has always been around. It is as ancient as the mythological story of the serpent in the Garden telling the first humans they didn't need God ... they could do it themselves if they just ate from that forbidden tree.

It is woven into the narrative of our spiritual family album in story after story after story as we chose domination over collaboration; chose our own way over God's way; chose fear over faith. And was part of this morning's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures when Solomon ... given the gift of whatever he might ask of God ... asked for discernment between good and evil.

Cosmic Fake News manifests itself in what theologian Walter Wink described as "the domination system" -- which operates according to the myth of redemptive violence, entrapping us all in the amazingly self-destructive dynamic of violence responding with violence to violence and on and on.

When I discovered Walter Wink's work in seminary I discovered a powerful tool to understand both the depth of our culture’s commitment to the way of violence and the power of the Gospel as a viable alternative to that way of violence: Of the power of the Good News of Love to ultimately triumph over the ongoing struggle to defeat the Fake News of Domination. The struggle continues ... la lucha continua.

A critical part of that struggle is to refuse to become the evil we deplore; to bear witness to the truth that resistance and reconciliation are not mutually exclusive. We put into action the truth that we can be both resisters and reconcilers every time we offer this blessing:

"And the blessing of God Almighty be with you -- those you love, serve, challenge and resist -- this day and always."

We are lovers and servers and challengers and -- yes -- resisters. And yet even as we resist we ask God's blessing on those we resist.

Because the good fight we are fighting is on behalf of the Good News of the God who loved us enough to become one of us in the person of Jesus. And the Jesus we follow is the one who will not rest until there is not a single stranger left at the gate.

Go ahead. Close your eyes. Picture the person you would most NOT want to be in heaven with. Have you got someone? OK ... That is the very person Jesus won't rest until he or she is inside the gate ... is gathered into the loving embrace of the kingdom of love, justice and compassion. That is the Jesus we follow.

And the Jesus we follow had as many parables to proclaim that Good News as there were people who needed to hear it. We hear some of them in this morning's Gospel from Matthew ... a Gospel that reads a little bit like all the best outtakes left on the cutting room floor pulled together and stuck into the 13th Chapter of Matthew so they don't get lost in the annals of time:

The kingdom is like a mustard seed ...
The kingdom is like yeast in a loaf of bread ...
The kingdom is like a treasure ...
The kingdom is like a pearl of great price ...
The kingdom is like a net cast into the sea ...

Jesus had as many parables as there were people to hear them because there is no "one size fits all" story about the kingdom of God ... because the kingdom of God is as deep, and as wide and as abundant as the infinite love of God.

The Good News we have staked our lives on is that we can resist to our last breath ... blog post, tweet, email, protest march and petition ... the actions of those who participate in the oppressive domination systems that surround us ... while at the same time refusing to let the "fake news" that they are anything less than beloved children of God win out over the Good News that God loves us all beyond our wildest imaginings.

Another quote from Walter Wink: "Evil can be opposed without being mirrored. Oppressors can be resisted without being emulated. Enemies can be neutralized without being destroyed."

And we can fight the Good Fight without losing sight of the Good News in the process. We not only can ... we must.

Our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being requires us to stand up and speak out when the dignity of any member of the human family is threatened. This week we stood in solidarity with members of the transgender community who once again found themselves being used as sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics.

The unconscionable attack by the current administration on the fitness of transgender Americans to serve in the military was not only unwarranted -- it was antithetical to our core values as Americans and as Christians.

As our brilliant friend Susan Thistlethwaite wrote: “Transgender Americans do not “weaken” the military or the country. The profound truth of the American experiment, when we are living up to it, is that we are much, much stronger as a people when all are treated equally and have equal rights. Blaming and shaming transgender people is not only a betrayal of our national political aspirations to “all” being “created equal,” it is a betrayal of deeply held religious values.” [Manufacturing Resentment, 7/26/17 | HuffPost]

At All Saints Church we will continue to stand with and for all those on the margins. We stand with all those in danger of losing healthcare, with anyone being profiled because of their race or their religion, with neighbors under threat of deportation, with refugees seeking a safe haven and with Dreamers seeking an education. We will challenge those who applaud excessive force by law enforcement officers and those who threaten to undermine equal protection for LGBTQ Americans.

We refuse to choose between competing oppressions; instead we will stand together and resist any and all assaults on the dignity, the safety and the humanity of any and all of God’s beloved human family.

And we will not allow ourselves to be either distracted or discouraged as we continue in to live out All Saints’ DNA-deep commitment to turn the human race into the human family – a commitment that fuels our resistance, sustains us in the struggle and inspires our vision for a kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven that includes absolutely everyone.

Full stop. No exceptions. Period.

One of the handful of biblical citations I carry around in my back pocket at all times is John 8:32 ... "the truth will set you free."

And the truth is Jesus didn't come to make people comfortable -- Jesus came to tell the truth about the good news of God's inclusive love available to absolutely everybody and to debunk the fake news that some people are more loved, some people are more saved, some people are more worthy.

If Jesus' goal was to make people comfortable there would've been no cross and there would've been no resurrection and we wouldn't be here over 2000 years later still fighting the good fight.

Many years ago our Rector Emeritus George Regas challenged us to live out the prophetic Gospel by "setting audacious goals and celebrating incremental victories."

This morning we are still celebrating the incremental victory that came in the wee hours of Friday morning: the defeat of the latest effort to take healthcare away from millions of Americans. It was an incremental victory ... make no mistake about that: we know that battle is far from over.

And yet against a lot of odds the combined voices of women and men over days and weeks and months -- in the streets and on the phones and at town hall meetings and in the halls of Congress -- including my mother-in-law who called her Senator so often that when she called the intern answered "Good morning, Mrs. Hall. What can we do for you today?" Together we  fought the good fight ... like our sister Julia Adele Meeker ... and proved once again that together we can make a difference for "all peoples"

In a few moments we come together again around this table -- not to escape "things temporal" but to engage them in the service of the eternal values of love, justice and compassion. And then we will ask God to send us out -- refueled and refreshed once again by the bread and wine made holy -- to love, serve, challenge -- and resist -- for another week.

It is who we are as All Saints Church. It is part of our DNA.

Let there be peace among us, and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. Amen.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

In Solidarity with the Transgender Community

Comment issued by All Saints Church in Pasadena in response to the July 26, 2017 assault on the dignity of transgender Americans by their President.

Our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being requires us to stand up and speak out when the dignity of any member of the human family is threatened. 

 Today we stand in solidarity with members of the transgender community who once again find themselves being used as sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics.

The unconscionable attack by the current administration on the fitness of transgender Americans to serve in the military is not only unwarranted -- it is antithetical to our core values as Americans and as Christians.

As our brilliant friend Susan Thistlethwaite wrote: “Transgender Americans do not “weaken” the military or the country. The profound truth of the American experiment, when we are living up to it, is that we are much, much stronger as a people when all are treated equally and have equal rights. Blaming and shaming transgender people is not only a betrayal of our national political aspirations to “all” being “created equal,” it is a betrayal of deeply held religious values.” [Manufacturing Resentment, 7/26/17 | HuffPost]

At All Saints Church we will continue to stand with and for all those on the margins. We stand with all those in danger of losing healthcare, with anyone being profiled because of their race or their religion, with neighbors under threat of deportation, with refugees seeking a safe haven and with Dreamers seeking an education. We refuse to choose between competing oppressions; instead we will stand together and resist any and all assaults on the dignity, the safety and the humanity of any and all of God’s beloved human family.

And we will not allow ourselves to be either distracted nor discouraged as we continue in to live out All Saints’ DNA deep commitment to turn the human race into that human family – a commitment that fuels our resistance, sustains us in the struggle and inspires our vision for a kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven that includes absolutely everyone.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Celebrating with the CofE & Reprising "An Ontological Argument"


Over the weekend while we were busy here in Los Angeles consecrating a new bishop and the rest of the country was busy being embarrassed by the fallout from the behavior of the current resident of the White House at the G20 there was a seismic shift across the pond in the CofE as our "Mother Church" took actions to ban so called "reparative therapy" for LGBT   people and to open the way to "welcome and affirm" transgender people.

As reported in the Guardian:
The General Synod, meeting in York, voted in favour of the move by 284 votes to 78. It was the second time in two days that it gave overwhelming support to motions seen as positive towards LGBT people, suggesting to some a significant change of mood. 
Huge shout outs to all who worked so hard in this campaign in specific and down through the years in general ... for it has been a long, long journey to this point -- and it's not over yet.

I'm thinking today particularly of friends Colin Coward and Jayne Ozanne who have stood in the breach over and over again. And I'm thinking of the many incremental victories it takes along the way toward the audacious goal of the full inclusion of all baptized in all the sacraments. And I'm grateful that today we get to celebrate here -- across the pond -- with our CofE siblings who are celebrating two of those incremental victories today.

Well done!

Meanwhile -- of course -- there is push back from some who self-identify as "evangelicals" and who presume to dictate to all of us how the "clear truth of scripture" is on the side of heterosexism and that the marginalization and oppression LGBT people is God's will ... and for their own good. (This blog post as case in point.)

The short answer is: poppycock.
The longer answer is one I've been giving for decades ... summed up in this ontological argument from 2005 ... written a few months before we (the Episcopal Church) went to Nottingham to plead our case for full inclusion to the Anglican Consultative Council.

An Ontological Argument: April 2005 (originally posted on the EveryVoice Network)

It seems to me that the essential matter at hand is not sexuality but baptism – and the essential question on the table is, “Will this be a church where all of the baptized are fully included in the Body of Christ or not?”

It also seems to me that whatever “threat to the unity and mission of the Anglican Communion” we are currently experiencing must be firmly laid at the feet of the committed percentage of the American conservative fringe whose criterion for being included is being agreed with. Finding that they have been repeatedly disagreed with by the duly selected representative voice of the Episcopal Church on this baptismal question their quest has shifted to orchestrating an “end run” on the historic polity of the Episcopal Church – successfully escalating an ongoing family fight into an international schism.

To further that end, in the months since General Convention 2003 every time there has been any hope of reconciliation, whiff of compromise or effort to seek the classical via media they have skillfully upped the ante, leading us to this seeming impasse on this decades old disagreement du jour. For if we are going to be honest about our differences – about this “impaired communion” – then we must trace them not to 2003 and the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire but to 1974 and the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven.

If the criteria for impaired communion are our differences on who among the baptized may exercise ordained ministry – on whether or not the orders of all our bishops will be received throughout all of the Communion -- then our communion has been impaired for over thirty years – indeed, we are not in agreement on that yet within our own American Episcopal Church!

I remember well my experience at General Convention 1994 in Indianapolis when ECUSA bishop, Bill Wantland, explained to me that I had tremendous gifts for ministry but could never “be” a priest because I was “ontologically incapable of being an efficacious bearer of a sacramental presence.”It was a very clarifying moment.

According to Bishop Wantland, the very essence of my being – my “ontology” as a woman – prohibited me from exercising sacramental ministry. And yet, we have managed to muddle along, he and I, in the same church – impaired communion and all – for lo these thirty-something years.

What has changed? Why is THIS issue – the fuller inclusion and gay and lesbian people into the mission and ministry of the church – THE issue that will split the church when we have managed to work through so many others in the past? We have for decades lived in communion with those who differ on the role of women in ordained ministry in spite of those differences. Why has the ordination of an openly gay bishop – the blessing of gay unions -- become the “defining issue of orthodoxy?”

I actually got to ask that question of David Anderson (president of the American Anglican Council) just a few months before GC2003. And like my 1994 conversation with Bill Wantland it was another clarifying moment.

David was a clergy colleague of mine in Los Angeles for many years. We agreed about a few things and disagreed about more but were nevertheless “in communion” with each other. We ate lunch together once a month for a year with other clergy colleagues reading and discussing the catechism together as part of a dialogue and reconciliation effort by our bishop. We ran into each other at early morning “Mananitas” services for the Cursillo community to which we both belonged. Heck, I sang in a praise band that was part of the prayer team in David’s hotel suite the night before the episcopal election in the Diocese of Pittsburgh when David was on the ballot.

Yes, we were always at opposing microphones when debates happened on diocesan convention floor, but at one time it seemed that the essentials of the beliefs we held in common were more important than the very real differences that sometimes kept us apart.Until 2003. A few months before Minneapolis and GC2003 we were both part of a pre-convention meeting between AAC and Integrity “core leadership.”

After a long discussion I finally said to David, “We’ve been at this for decades, you and I, agreeing to disagree about any number of things. Help me understand why THIS issue is the one that you believe will finally split the church – why is this disagreement one we cannot overcome?”

And David said to me, “Because genital activity is so important to God that God has drawn a fence around it – and within that fence is only a man and a woman within the sanctity of marriage. Anything outside the fence is not subject to blessing and for the church to do so is to unravel the very fabric of the faith.”

Excuse me? If I heard David right – and in checking with my colleague in the room at the time I am assured that I did – the essential matter … the thing that matters MOST to God … is “genital activity?” I’ve got first year EfM students who could make compelling rebuttal to that contention – along with the Old and New Testaments, the received tradition and “reason” by any reasonable definition.

Is that the only argument David has to offer? Of course not – but it was clarifying to me that for the Reverend Canon David Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council, it was a defining one. It was clarifying to me because it was a window into just how far beyond the bounds of historical Anglicanism this small band of conservative reactionaries are willing to go in their quest to turn the Episcopal Church into something neither Hooker nor Seabury would recognize and my sainted Aunt Gretchen – who died with a “Save the 1928 Prayer Book” bumper sticker on her car – would find shocking.

And it has led me to conclude, in the weeks and months since that meeting, that what we are seeing play out around us has less to do with the essentials of the faith than it does with an exit strategy – an exit strategy devised by those who have determined to split this church rather than continue to live in communion with those with whom they disagree.

It is a strategy under-girded by a virulent absolutism that seems to justify any means toward the end of “preserving orthodoxy” and is, in fact, working to destroy the unity of the church while placing the blame for the break up with those of us who have repeatedly committed to STAY in communion with those with whom we disagree.

Which leads me to my own “ontological argument” and it is this: there is an essential difference between feeling excluded because you are not agreed with and BEING excluded because of who you are.

The current “persecution of the orthodox” in so-called “liberal dioceses” is nothing more than the self-fulfilling prophecy of the spoiled, entitled childish behavior of those pitching a fit after being told they must learn how to work and play well with others. The Gospel for Easter 5 tells us that in our Father’s house there are many mansions. St. Paul tells us that essential to the Body of Christ are its many members. And our historic tradition as Anglicans tells us that when we live into the true via media we CAN hold in tension perspectives that others find “mutually exclusive” (catholic and protestant come to mind!)

It is long past time to leave the tantrum throwers to their kicking and screaming -- just like I did to my own young sons when they tried the “my-life-is-over-if-you-don’t-buy-me-the-Cocoa-Puffs-fit” in the cereal aisle. Sometimes, no matter how you yearn to reason them out of their tantrum, you just have to keep the shopping cart moving.

And I believe we have reached that point in this ecclesial tantrum that is threatening to consume us. It is time for the church to move on – to GET on with the work of the church: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, liberating the captive and proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ Jesus available to ALL! Those are the “essential matters of faith and practice” that should be consuming our energies in this Anglican Communion – in this Episcopal Church.

And so may God give us the grace to get back to this work we have been given to do – this Gospel we have been charged with proclaiming – praying all the while that the tantrum will end and we might find unity in the places we can agree and the grace to disagree agreeably in the places we cannot.