Friday, October 17, 2014

Remembering Tom Shaw: "God Depends On Us For That"

We lost a bishop, an activist, a monk and a friend today. Bishop Tom Shaw died in Massachusetts at the age of 69 after a valiant battle against cancer. The Diocese of Massachusetts released this remembrance ... which included these words which are, for me, the essence of the leader and mentor I knew:
Shaw saw no dichotomy between the daily hours he spent in solitary prayer and the public demonstrations he joined on city streets and State House steps; he believed that prayer leads to action, and sought to make the Episcopal Church a visible and vocal presence in the public arena.

“We are what God has to do good in the world. Every one of us has a voice and can make a difference if we exercise that,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I don’t think that on most civil rights issues, for instance, we can point to one huge event that’s changed everything. I think instead it’s thousands of ordinary people doing what they think is right, taking risks, speaking out in their lives in big ways and small ways. Eventually that turns the tide. God really depends on us for that.”
As the whole church mourns the passing of this powerful witness to God's love, justice and compassion, we also mourn the loss of our friend, companion and example.

I think today about the scene in the documentary "Love Free or Die" where Bishop Shaw romped on the beach with the family whose children were not welcomed to be baptized in another tradition -- because they had two dads -- and how +Tom embraced that family with joy, grace and playfulness.

I remember a moment in the Episcopal House of Bishops -- I've lost track of which year -- when he rose to speak about his vocation of celibacy and to challenge a brother bishop who was insisting LGBT folks were welcome in the church as long as they were celibate: "celibacy is a gift to be received by God -- not a sanction to be imposed by the church."

And I remember his quiet, gentle presence during the long month of Lambeth 2008 as we struggled with the Inclusive Communion team to give witness to the good news of God's inclusive love present in LGBT people around the communion. I remember a particular moment when he put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, "It is so important that you all are here. Thank you."

That's what I remembered when I read the quote above. "Eventually that turns the tide. God really depends on us for that."

God depended on Tom Shaw for that and Tom Shaw never disappointed. Now it's our job to take the baton -- to carry the torch -- to keep up the work ... taking risks, speaking out in big ways and small ways. Because eventually the tide will turn. And God is depending on us to turn it.

Rest in peace, Tom. We've got this.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#spiritday and the #episcopalchurch

Spirit Day. The day millions go purple on Spirit Day in a stand against bullying and to show their support for LGBT youth. Observed annually since 2010, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, and public figures wear purple, which symbolizes 'spirit' on the rainbow flag. And some of us change our FB profile pics purple.



And then the question becomes: what do we do tomorrow? When the purple is back in the closet (so to speak) and kids are still at risk and homophobia and transphobia are still real and present and bullying and killing our youth?

Here's what the Episcopal Church did -- at its General Convention in 2012: pass a resolution calling the whole church to take up the challenge of being the change we want to see in the lives of our precious young people by creating a church wide response to bullying 24/7 ... not just 10/16.

Respond to Bullying | 2012-D022


Resolved, That the 77th General Convention calls for a church wide response to the epidemic of bullying, particularly of those perceived as being “different” by virtue of economic, ethnic, racial or physical characteristics, religious status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression; bullying is defined as the recurring use of single or combined written, verbal or electronic expressions or physical acts or gestures, directed at any person that: result in physical or emotional harm to the person or damage to his/her property; places the person in reasonable fear of harm to him/herself or of damage to her/his property; creates an intimidating or hostile environment for the person; impacts the rights of the victim. Bullying shall include cyber-bullying through electronic/social media, telephonic technology or other means; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention encourage new partnerships among our congregations, dioceses, campus ministries, National Association of Episcopal Schools, public schools, counseling centers, and governmental organizations in order to support and offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment, and other related violence, especially with higher risk populations; and be it further

Resolved, That these partnerships be encouraged to create or join with existing required programs designed to recognize and prevent abuse, neglect, and exploitation in our church settings which:
  • utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials
  • raise participants' awareness about the issue
  • focus on prevention
  • seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior
  • create partnerships between youth and adults
  • provide intervention and treatment for those who exhibit bullying behavior.
Will one resolution passed by one church council end the scourge of bullying that plagues our LGBT kids? Of course not.

But we do believe -- I do believe -- that lifting our collective voice, putting the official energy of the Episcopal Church behind this challenge to speak out, reach out, step out and -- when necessary -- ACT out on behalf of our vulnerable youth is exactly what we both can and should be doing. And this resolution is part of that commitment.

So Happy Spirit Day! Put on your purple, stand up against bullying and together let's be that change we want to see.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dear George,

       To: George Waite
   From: Susan Russell
Subject: Thanks for stopping by

Dear George,

Just a quick note to thank you for your interest in this blog and for stopping by so frequently to comment. Since your comment is, unfortunately, always the same...
Religion is boring, stupid, expensive and a waste of time.
... you will no doubt have noticed that I ceased moderating those comments up a good long while ago.

You are, of course, more than welcome to continue to comment. Just be clear I'll continue to delete. Unless, of course, you'd like to post something helpful or substantive. And in the meantime -- this is just a suggestion for you to take or leave -- you might want to talk to your therapist (if you have one) about why you continue to be drawn to a blog that focuses primarily on something you hold in such contempt.

God bless and have a great day!

Cheerfully,
The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
All Saints Church, Pasadena CA

Teachable Moment


So over on Facebook someone posted the link to this story (the "investiture of the Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach as Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America") with the question: "What does this latest development mean for ACNA and the Global South?"

I replied:
It's really not a "new development" -- it's just another ordination of another bishop in a community that defines itself by who it excludes. And my best advice on dealing with All Things ACNA I got from Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" when he prayed "May the Lord bless and keep the Czar ... far away from us." Bless their hearts.
Another commenter -- we'll call him Joe -- responded:
I'm curious about the idea that they define themselves by "who they exclude." I thought all denominations did that to one degree or the other...yet here you are passing judgment on those who have a different set of beliefs/standards. I wonder why such a double standard exists."
And so here comes the teachable moment:
Good question, Joe. Let me try to answer it. In Very Basic Terms.

One of the hallmarks of Anglicanism is that it evolved out of the crucible of the 16th century Reformation as a tradition with the DNA of comprehensiveness in that Anglicans have traditionally defined their members by belonging rather than by believing.

Yes, there are core beliefs we subscribe to. For those I refer you to the Outline of the Faith. AKA known as the Catechism. (In the back of the prayer book.)

But in a time when Christians were burning each other at the stake over “right beliefs” on everything from transubstantiation to propitiation Anglicans – arguably uniquely in that historical context – found a via media – a middle way – through what came to be known as the Elizabethan Settlement. And whether she actually said it or not, Elizabeth I is credited with having had the wisdom to decree she had no interest in “making windows into men's souls ... there is only one Jesus Christ and all the rest is a dispute over trifles.” She asked for outward uniformity – common prayer – rather than inward unanimity – common belief. Orthorpraxis over orthodoxy.

This was not good enough for the Puritans. You’ll remember they booked a cruise on the Mayflower when they decided the Church of England wasn’t “biblical” enough for them. Didn’t make them not Christians. Didn’t make them bad people. Didn’t make them a whole lot of things. But also didn’t make them Anglican.

Fast forward to the late 20th century when another set of folks decided they needed to purify Anglicanism on a laundry list of issues. I won’t trouble you with them here, but it’s a lot longer than Gene Robinson and women bishops. And their criteria for belonging includes a long list of things to which one must ascribe – including the exclusion of LGBT people and the marginalization of women.

Their version of the Mayflower cruise was ACNA. The difference is – for the purposes of this little teachable moment – that they decided to continue to claim that they are Anglicans. Which they are not – according to the commonly held definition of being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Which they are not.

They are still brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus still loves them beyond their wildest imaginings and the Imago Dei resides smack dab inside them as in all of God’s beloved children.

But they do indeed define themselves by who they exclude – which is, at its very core – profoundly un-Anglican. Not passing judgment. Just stating facts. Thanks for asking for clarification.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Thoughts on TREC: [Task Force for Reimaging the Episcopal Church]

So these are my quasi-random thought on TREC in general and Thursday's churchwide meeting in particular. [Warning to any Casual Reader: this will be a particularly egregious example of  the Episcopal Church's version of "Inside Baseball."] But here goes:

On Thursday, October 2nd TREC (the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church) held a "churchwide meeting" which was down-linked from the National Cathedral in Washington DC. To back up just a little, TREC was convened by a resolution (C095) of General Convention in 2012 which read in part:"
Resolved, That this General Convention establish a Task Force under the Joint
Rules of Order, whose purpose shall be to present the 78th General Convention
with a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and
administration;
That challenge was issued not to reform our structures just for the sake of reforming our structures, but because:
...this General Convention believes the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself, so that, grounded in our rich heritage and yet open to our creative future, we may more faithfully:
• Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
• Respond to human need by loving service
• Seek to transform unjust structures of society
• Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of
the earth;
Makes total sense. We should absolutely have structures that support those important goals.

So they -- the Task Force -- are now on the home stretch of coming up with their plan to present to the 78th General Convention ... which will be held in Salt Lake City in June 2015. And the churchwide meeting was a chance for them to present some progress and also to field questions and concerns from around the church.

If you have 2.5 hours you can watch the whole thing here ... but I would draw your attention to these to clips.

Bishop Michael Curry's opening remarks (read "sermon") on the both/and of church as movement/institution is brilliant. That's at 5:00-15:00 ... and TOTALLY worth the ten minutes it'll take you watch it. Trust me.

Then there's this response by Jen Adams and Michael Curry to a questioner about specific ideas to reach out to those "hungry for God" -- particularly younger people. The segment comes at 23:30 on the video, but here are the quotes:
Jen Adams: One of the things that I’ve learned as a part of this TREC project is how very little there is in terms of structure or governance or administration that stands in our way. We’re in our way at times, but it’s not generally our structure or governance or administration that keeps us from getting out there and finding those people and inviting those people and feeding those people and being those people. There are some technical changes we can make … but for the most part it isn’t the structure that needs to change. There’s something culturally that needs to change among us so we can inspire each other more fully be the people who are hungry to feed the people who are hungry for the good news.

Michael Curry: You’re talking about a revival. And TREC is about getting the bones rearranged so that they’re ready for the revival. We’re just doing a little piece – the cracking open.
That's the part that inspired this tweet with a question I'm still asking myself:

Seriously. I don't know anybody who doesn't want the church to me more nimbly response to all those great goals listed above in the enabling resolution -- but if what the Task Force for Reimagining the Church has discovered after two years of work is that it isn't actually the STRUCTURES that are getting in our way, then why are we going to spend a whole boatload of time writing, re-writing, debating and voting on resolutions to restructure structures that don't seem to the problem to begin with?

It's like a patient with a health issue being referred to a surgeon -- who does a battery of tests and comes back and says, "The good news is what you have doesn't require surgery. The bad news is we've scheduled it for Monday."

Somebody talk me down here.

Then there was the question I asked via twitter ... that actually got asked on-air by Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves:



The question was precipitated by a number of concerns raised by a number of smarter-people-than-me about the impact that some of the restructure suggestions being "floated" by TREC would have in continuing to concentrate power in the episcopate in general and in the Presiding Bishop in particular that seems contrary to the call to reimagine a more nimble church in this "age of networks" (as described in what has come to be known by some as the TREC Lazarus Letter.)

Question asked. Question NOT answered. The nice woman who took at stab at it -- Margaret Shannon from Texas -- instead gave a rather defensive reframing of the portion of the Lazarus Letter giving the PB unilateral hiring/firing capacity coupled with a little lecture about how it would all work out fine because "a wise presiding bishop" would surely consult wisely. (Ironic coming on the heels of the current debacle at GTS, let the buyer beware!)

I thought maybe it was just me  ... but at least some in the twitterverse seemed to agree:


Maybe I'll drop her a line and see if we can clear that one up moving forward.

The final point I'll make was the churchwide meeting did nothing to address the concerns many of us have about diluting the ability of the TEC to speak through General Convention on issues of social justice. The best piece on that was written by my brilliant friend Michael Hopkins. You can read it here. Seriously. Read it. You'll thank me,

But there was one point where the panel responded to a question about that concern with (what I experienced as) a rather dismissive answer about concentrating on "fewer things" in order to speak more emphatically about them. My response:


As Michael noted in his brilliant blog (which you will have read by now from the link above):
In 1976, a GC of some moment, one of the resolutions passed affirmed that gay persons were children of God and equal in receiving the pastoral attention of the church. How did that resolution get there? The short answer is that a movement had begun among members of the church, lesbian and gay, to find one another and seek to organize for mutual support and to work towards ensuring that their visibility as lesbian or gay people in the church could not be called into question.

What is important is that a movement was started. We call it grassroots now, and it was indeed that. But then how do we get from the movement to the resolution of GC? It was the openness of our system. A GC large enough that allies of lesbian and gay people could get elected as deputies, and, within a couple of GC’s, lgbt people themselves. And these people had access to the system, i.e., a resolution process that was relatively easy to initiate and an open hearings policy that allowed people other than deputies and bishops to speak.
And that legacy is not a baby I'm willing to watch get thrown out with the bathwater without a fight. Anybody think for a minute that if we'd had a more "streamlined" General Convention process with a committee that had the power to decide which "few things" we should be dealing with in 1976 -- which you will remember was the year we approved a new prayer book AND the ordination of women to the priesthood -- that we'd have managed to get the debate about whether or not we were children of God to the floor?

Give you a minute on that one. Minute's up.

So those are my thoughts on TREC. Not all of them ... it was, after all, a 2.5 hour event. But at the end of the day (or actually the next day) when the call came out for a "tweet sized recap" of the evening, here's what I came up with:


And a couple of days later ... with some time to reflect ... I'm still there. These are good people who love the Episcopal Church -- who want it to thrive and to grow in mission and ministry -- and who are responding with good will and great energy to the charge they were given in C095.

I'm not going to agree with all their proposals. (Heck -- THEY probably don't agree with all their proposals!) But it will be up to General Convention -- the duly elected representatives (lay, clergy and bishops) of the Episcopal Church -- to consider those proposals, to discuss, debate and amend them -- and make some decisions about some of them in Salt Lake City next summer.

These are not people who have all the answers and are going to fix everything that needs fixing in the Episcopal Church.

And they are not an agenda driven juggernaut focused on undermining western civilization and dismantling the church as we know it.

They are us; and we are all in this together. And I'm grateful for their service.

Onward and upward!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Reading from Romans: Thank God for Broccoli and for Prime Rib

So this is the Reading from Romans appointed for last Sunday ... from "The Message." Now, we don't usually use The Message in Sunday worship -- it is, after all, a paraphrase, not a translation. But our bishop has given us latitude to do so if we so choose -- and this Sunday our rector so chose.

And it is the first time I can EVER remember a congregation applauding the Epistle. Seriously. At both services. So check it out. See if it works for you. Maybe it will make you smile. Maybe it will make you think. And maybe -- just maybe -- if we'd paid more attention to the sentiments Paul offers here to the Romans we'd be a better, stronger, more inclusive, more Christlike church than we have managed to be up until this point.

Oh ... and (just for fun) here's the photo the rector texted me of his supper on Tuesday night. Seriously. Broccoli AND Prime Rib. (You couldn't make this stuff up!)



Romans 14:1-12

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”

So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Victory for Fred -- Justice for George: AZ Court rules recognition of their marriage


The news just broke: [AP]"A judge has handed a victory to a gay man who lost his spouse to cancer last month and was denied death benefits because Arizona does not recognize same-sex marriage."

The release from "Why Marriage Matters Arizona" included this quote "Today, a federal judge heard Fred’s motion—and we are happy to report that Judge Sedwick did the right thing. Fred & George’s marriage is now legally recognized in Arizona—and Fred will not be denied survivor benefits that he needs and so rightfully deserves."

It goes without saying that it is a bittersweet victory because George did not live to see his marriage recognized in his home state in his lifetime. But it is an incremental victory that is a stepping-stone toward the finish line of  marriage equality in our nation.

Equal protection is not equal protection until it protects all American equally. And today -- thanks to the diligence and determination of the marriage equality movement in general and to Lambda Legal in specific -- is a step in that direction.