Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Malcolm Boyd: Reflections from me and Louie Crew

As we continue to grieve the loss of our friend, colleague and brother Malcolm Boyd -- who died on February 27th at the age of 91 -- the tributes to his work and witness continue to roll in.

The New York Times called him an "Author, Activist and Counterculture Rebel."

The Religion News Service called him "the gay rights icon you've probably never heard of."

And the Episcopal News Service feature included this quote from Bishop Jon Bruno: “Malcolm lives on in our hearts and minds through the wise words and courageous example he has shared with us through the years.”

Those wise words and courageous example are a loss to all of us -- and a personal loss to many of us. This picture of the two of us was from the celebration of one of  his retirements -- this one in 1996. Malcolm and his husband Mark stood up with my late wife Louise and me at our February 2006 wedding. Our birthdays were just days apart (he was June 8th -- mine is June 10th) and so we had shared birthday celebrations over the years. And when Malcolm turned 90, here's what I said to Pat McCaughan when she interviewed me for the feature she wrote about him for our diocesan newspaper.
There are so many things I could say about Malcolm Boyd as a trailblazer, truth-teller, and courageous witness to the power of God’s inclusive love. It is no exaggeration to say that his "Are You Running With Me, Jesus?" fed the hunger of a generation of people who had given up on the church or anyone connected with it having anything relevant to say.

His willingness to put his faith into action by marching in Selma to end segregation was a powerful witness to what former Presiding Bishop John Hines called ‘justice as the corporate face of God’s love. And his example as an out-gay priest in a time when such a thing was practically unimaginable was – and continues to be – an inspiration to all who work for the full inclusion of LGBT people in this church and in this country.
And all of that is as true today as it was then.

Then there's this great reflection from Louie Crew -- posted on his Facebook page and shared with his permission:

I first met Malcolm in 1968, when he was a guest of radical groups at the University of Alabama. Even David Matthews, President of the University, showed up to hear the chic priest in a crowded sports arena turned auditorium, but Matthews walked out after a few swear words and more evidence of street reality than was in his ken.

Malcolm's presentation was welcomed by many. That spring — whether before or after Malcolm's visit I cannot remember — the sorority/fraternity circuit was radicalized because local Tuscaloosa police beat them over the heads in the wake of campus protests sympathetic to Kent State and Jackson State. I did time for a few hours in the Tuscaloosa jail as one of two faculty members arrested for refusing to obey the lawful order of a policeman to abandon our peaceful demonstration.

When Malcolm's main gig ended, a couple hundred of us squeezed into a campus Presbyterian church nearby. I lived a few houses down and fetched Malcolm a huge tumbler of scotch, delivering it to him where he sat on the altar. I wore a black cape which I had made with lavender taffeta lining. We were instant friends. He was in the closet then but picked up on my dress code with a wink. We were correspondents ever after. His most recent hand-written letter (they all were) arrived in January.

From the altar Malcolm did the holy thing of asking the black students in the audience to tell the white students the truth about how white people treated them. Several squeezed onto the altar with him, anger unleashed and unchecked for a rare cleansing. Only four years earlier had Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium in an effort to block federal enforcement of integration. Then the brothers Kennedy nationalized the National Guard, forcing Alabama to be a part of a more perfect union.

That's what Malcolm did too: with holy candor, he forced the church not to ossify by mistaking liturgy and iconography as more holy than flesh and blood human beings.

Thank God for Malcolm and other Yankees who cared enough to speak the truth to us, to invite us into a more perfect union.

The Diocese of Los Angeles bade Malcolm's friends to pray his most famous prayer in the vigil they kept. Let's continue that as we rejoice in Malcolm's eternal life with Jesus:
“It’s morning, Jesus. It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again.

… “Where am I running? You know these things I can’t understand. It’s not that I need to have you tell me. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you. That helps a lot.

“So I’ll follow along, OK? But lead, please. Now I’ve got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus?”

Monday, March 02, 2015

"Marriage Matters" to be focus of Diocese of Los Angeles Clergy Conference

Super delighted to share that the Diocese of Los Angeles will focus its annual spring clergy conference on "marriage matters" ... because (... wait for it:) Marriage Matters.  

From "The Angelus" -- our monthly email newsletter:

The topic of our spring clergy conference will be "Marriage Matters" and during our three-day gathering (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, May 3-5), we will consider "What makes a marriage Christian and holy?"

Marriage is both a sacred covenant and a civil contract. Whether we're preparing a couple for marriage, counseling a couple in a troubled marriage or answering questions about where the Episcopal Church stands on marriage equality -- whether we serve a mission or parish, urban or rural, large or small - marriage is an issue that we all "touch" as clergy.

Over the last three years the Task Force for the Study of Marriage - convened by the 2012 General Convention - has been working on its charge to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage" and to "address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of same-sex couples in states that authorize such."

The Task Force framed its work with the question "What does the Episcopal Church have to say to today's world as to what makes a marriage Christian and holy?" And that is the question we want to consider together at this year's clergy conference.

We are honored to have as our keynote speaker Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether. Rosemary Radford Ruether is arguably an embodiment of the theological vocation well lived. Her scope is awesome, her writing compelling, her commitment to a livable planet unceasing. The impact of her work can be found in so many fields and hearts that she fairly defines the term "scholar activist," teaching and mentoring generations of appreciative colleagues. Dr. Radford Ruether will help us ground our reflections in and exploration of theology, marriage and family in the 21st century.

This year's conference will also include expanded opportunities for interaction and consultation with workshop and breakout sessions focused on a wide range of marriage matters, including: 

• Pre-marital Counseling Best Practices;
• Navigating Life as a Clergy Couple;
• Pros and Cons of Clergy Acting as Agents of the State;
• Challenges & Opportunities of Interfaith Couples;
• Same-sex Marriage: What's Next in the Church and the Courts.

We will also have one breakout session for further conversation with Dr. Ruether and the opportunity to consult with a representative from CPG (Clergy Pension Group) on benefits and beneficiaries.

- From the Conference Planning Committee

Friday, February 27, 2015

Malcolm Boyd 1923-2015

Today we lost a friend, a mentor and a giant of justice. It is no exaggeration to say that Malcolm Boyd’s 1965 book of prayers “Are You Running With Me, Jesus?” fed the hunger of a generation of people who had given up on the church and given up hope that anyone connected with it had anything relevant to say.

From Bishop Jon Bruno

Karen Ocamb's wonderful tribute in Frontiers

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A long time ago in galaxy far, far away ...

This was truly one of those random, serendipity, synchronicity things that leave you scratching your head.

I was looking through old files for a picture I just KNEW I had somewhere in the process I found this letter ... dated exactly 15 years ago today ... that I sent with my application to serve as a volunteer for Integrity at the 2000 General Convention in Denver.

And I'm trying to imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't sent this letter -- exactly 15 years ago today. If I hadn't gone to Denver. If I hadn't had the mentorship and friendship of Michael Hopkins for the last 15 years. If we hadn't come up with Claiming the Blessing. If ...

Well, I have a really vivid imagination -- and I just can't imagine.

And I am so very, very grateful.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Transfigured by Transparency

Last Sunday After Epiphany | February 15, 2015 | Susan Russell

And so the season of Epiphany – the weeks between Christmas and Lent -- ends with the story from the Gospel According to Mark about Jesus and his small group – James, Peter and John – and their quintessential “mountain top experience.”

It is the Last of the “Epiphs” -- as Ed Bacon calls them -- in the Season of the “Ahas!” of God the season we mark with stories from our spiritual family album of the times and ways and places our ancestors were given the grace of awareness of the palpable power of God’s love, justice and compassion present with them.

And this is the story we always hear on this Last Sunday of Epiphany before our Lenten pilgrimage begins on Wednesday with the ashes on our foreheads as outward and visible signs of the 40 day journey to Easter Day (never mind that Ralphs already has a whole aisle of Easter candy.)

It is the “Big One” – the best for last one – the Big Finish One – the one that would feature Neil Patrick Harris if this was musical theater instead of church.

And the church has a name for it – the story we just heard of Jesus, Moses & Elijah on the mountain with James & Peter & John.

It’s called The Transfiguration and one definition of the word transfiguration is: “transformed or changed into something more beautiful or elevated.”

That’s a dictionary definition. Here’s a poetic definition … in a sonnet from English writer Malcolm Guite:

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
 A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

The glimpse of how things really are

Seen in a moment of transparency that transformed: a moment when the Love that dances at the heart of things shone out upon them from a human face. What the disciples glimpsed in that moment of transfiguration was their rabbi, friend and teacher Jesus so in alignment with the love of the one who created us ALL in love and then called us to walk in love with each other that he was transformed – transfigured – in front of their awestruck eyes and they heard again the words that had been spoken at the River Jordan when Jesus was baptized by John: Beloved.

I love how Nadia Bolz-Weber describes that transaction:

Identity. It’s always God’s first move. Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. God’s beloved. But almost immediately, other things try to tell us who we are and to whom we belong: capitalism, the weight-loss industrial complex, our parents, kids at school— they all have a go at telling us who we are. But only God can do that. Everything else is temptation.

Everything else is temptation. Everything that tells us we are less than, fallen from, short of, not enough of, too much of. All temptation.

Everything that fails to recognize the utter belovedness of every single human being. All temptation.

Everything that wants to take the experience of God’s transforming love and contain it in a dogma, creed, doctrine, rubric, order, canon, construct, book … … or booth. All temptation.

Clueless Peter – my favorite disciple -- fell right into that temptation. Let’s build some booths. And God interrupted … in what I can’t help but imagine was some exasperation: “This isn’t about building booths, dude. This is about my Beloved. Listen to him.”

Listen to him. Listen to the part about liberation to the oppressed. Good news to the poor. Sight to the blind. The part about love your neighbor as yourself. And down the mountain they went. to proclaim the Good News of God’s astounding love to a world so desperately in need of it that it couldn’t handle it.

Just as we are called to go this morning: Out into a world yearning for a glimpse of how things really are; a look behind the dark veil of violence, oppression, division and separation that keeps the human race from being the human family God intended it to be; the dark veil that covers the sublime

For the prayer that we prayed this morning – that we “be changed into Jesus’ likeness from glory to glory” -- had nothing to do with being changed into the physical likeness of the radical rabbi from Nazareth and everything to do with being transfigured by transparency -- by our glimpse of how things really are -- transfigured into radical bearers of the light of God’s inclusive love down of the mountain and into a world in desperate need of that light and that love.

And yes -- this is a sermon you have heard before. Not these words in this order – with this poem or this example or this illustration – but this sermon –from countless preachers down through the years from this pulpit of privilege here at All Saints Church: God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings. Now go put that love into action in the world.

Last week we celebrated the life of Liz Morton. Liz lived a long, feisty, faithful life which included sixty years of leadership here at All Saints Church. The first woman to serve as senior warden she loved to tell stories of having “trained four rectors” as indeed she did.

• John Frank Scott – who stood in protest at Union Station during World War II as Japanese Americans were deported to Manzanar
• John Burt – who received death threats at the rectory after standing with Martin Luther King Jr. in the L.A. Coliseum in the 60’s
• George Regas – whose powerful sermon against the war in Viet Nam in the 70’s galvanized the faith based anti-war movement
• and Ed Bacon – who isn’t done yet.

And what was the advice Liz Morton gave her “rectors in training?” According to Ed Bacon it included “Remember to tell us God loves us.”

Remember to tell us God loves us. Remember to give us glimpse of how things really are. And then … and only then … send us down off the mountain in response to that love not to built booths or write creeds or dictate dogmas but to do justice. To love mercy. And to walk humbly with the God who created us in love and then called us to love one another.

To reclaim the planet an inch at a time … a glimpse at a time … until the Garden of Eden grows green again

Until this world – this fragile earth, our island home – is transformed by the transparency of the Love that is at the heart of all things

• and Muslim students do not have to fear for their lives as they park their cars in their apartment complexes
• and couples don’t have to worry about whether they’ll still be married if they move from Malibu to Mississippi
• and the public health threat of gun violence does not take 2500 American lives in the month of January alone
• and mothers don’t tuck their black sons into bed every night praying they’ll be safe from the virulent virus of racial bias that infects our country
• and loving your neighbor as yourself means not deporting or exploiting your neighbor
• and we recognize that climate science is not a “myth” but our best hope of reversing the damage we have done to our planet
• and 50% of transgender youth don’t consider suicide because they’ve gotten the message that their one, wild precious life isn’t worth living
• and nobody’s religion is hijacked to support terrorism
• and we come to the place where we recognize that we cannot bomb our way to peace.

And yes – there are those who will argue that issues like gun violence, marriage equality and climate science are best left to the others while the church focuses on “higher things” holier things -- more important things

Like a bishop in the Episcopal Church who wrote on a list-serve for bishops and deputies about our upcoming General Convention “if we spend time debating and perfecting resolutions on subjects like these, we will certainly never accomplish the goal of streamlining General Convention”

And I wrote back “if the goal of General Convention is streamlining General Convention then I say we all do Jesus a favor and stay home”

To be changed by the change that changes everything and then make the goal of General Convention streamlining General Convention is the 21st century version of Peter’s 1st century response to the Transfiguration: to build three booths and stay on the mountain.

In seminary I learned from Fredrica Harris Thompsett that the reason we back up to learn from our history is to get a running start on our future.

And so what I know from our history – the history of All Saints Church -- is that we are not a booth building people. What I know from our history is that we are a down-off-the-mountain-top thoughtful, committed, DOGGEDLY persistent people called to make God’s love tangible 24/7 as we work to turn the human race into the human family.

And what I know from history
is that what fuels us to keep taking that running start on our future
is returning to this sanctuary
to this table
to this mountain top
week after week year after year
to be fed by the bread and wine made holy
and to align ourselves with the inherent experience of love
to be transformed by the transparency of love
not to build booths and hide from the world
but to be sent down off the mountain into the world
to BE the change that changes everything.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Reimagine the Episcopal Church ... with Marriage Equality

Today we launched a new FB page called "Reimagine the Episcopal Church with Marriage Equality." It will be the place to share resources, build networks and stay on top of developments as we move toward the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church and consider resolutions that would end discrimination against marriage for same sex-couples.

Please help us spread the word. "Like" the page. Share it with your friends and networks -- Episcopalians and otherwise. Because the time has come to "Let our yes be yes." [Matt. 5:37] The time has come to reimagine the Episcopal church with marriage equality.

Join us ... here!