Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve at St. Cyprian's

Below is the text of my sermon from last night's St. Cyprian's Christmas Eve candlelight service. The St. Cyprian's community welcomed our neighbors from the First AME Zion Church of San Francisco and their pastor, the Reverend Malcolm Byrd, offered inspiring original prayers. The Reverend Dr. Sue Singer of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific shared a Godly Play children's homily and presided. My husband Matt (not much of a church goer) sat near the front, along with some distant cousins of mine from Santa Rosa. Then a number of us headed over to Grace Cathedral for a packed late night service.

Merry Christmas! 

What  are we doing here? What is going on? What compelled you to walk through that door with the hole in it? What led you to say, I am going to that little church on the corner of Turk and Lyon on Christmas Eve? I’m going to step into that church and sing some songs, say some prayers and light some candles and focus my attention on a baby being born in a barn, in a cave in 1st century Palestine?

What’s going on?

Might it be that we crave the message of the incarnation ---- the big, fancy word theologians use to describe the eternal word or logos of God becoming flesh in Jesus----  we long to know that we are entirely and utterly loved --- that there is something in us and outside us, rooting for us like a good coach, breathing with us like a Doula --- one who says I am with you, closer than your breath --- ready to open us up more and more fully to what is true, real and whole. We long to know that our lives even the very ugly, painful, and difficult parts may be uncovered, lifted up and made sacred. We long to know that despite all that might tell us otherwise, there’s reason to hope, trust, share, and love.

The reading that Pastor Malcolm shared at the beginning of the service, is all about the deep theological stuff of this Christmas event, the incarnation. There is great beauty, grace and poetry in that opening chapter of John’s Gospel, there’s also much there for theologians to discuss, debate and write about.  The author of John’s gospel must have wanted his hearers to be lifted up, inspired, intrigued --- to have their curiosity piqued. The story that Sue read from Luke‘s gospel, of an unmarried pregnant girl and an old carpenter heading to Bethlehem to be counted as part of Roman imperial occupation making a bed for their baby out of a trough , and stargazing shepherds following extraterrestrial instructions --- is, well, not quite so high brow. Luke’s story of Jesus’s birth is downright strange and complicated --- like an episode of the X-Files or a country love song.

These two very different ancient texts together seem to say that there’s deep stuff going on just under the surface of our strange and complicated lives, these texts want us to know that someone is trying to help, someone is trying to send us a love letter, someone is paying attention and working day and night to get us to notice that there’s really, really helpful information right there in front of us. Someone is eager to see humanity not just surviving but thriving, and the baby born this night is that love letter, is that invitation to notice the light increasing in us and all around us. This night is not just about strange stories from long ago but about the here and now, the common era about you and me becoming an integral part of the messy, complicated unfolding drama of hope, joy, and love --- about each of us becoming good news of great joy for our time and for our neighborhood.

How do we do that? How do we help this birthing of love? These ancient texts seem to offer two things John seems to be saying, look up --- reach for the heavens, use your mind, talents, questions to discern the profound meaning of the incarnation --- the word made flesh --- let your mind wander, explore, and aze off into the horizon.  The Gospel of Luke seems to say, also look at the cracks, the tough places, the forgotten, the challenging --- notice the strange and the quirky --- and be open to surprises. There’s angels in the sky, there’s a baby in a trough. Luke’s gospel says, there’s a cave, there’s a messy barn, a place off the beaten path that has a message for you --- that message says the political, economic, social complexity of our time like that of Jesus’ cannot keep hope from being born, cannot shut out the dawning of a new day for us and for the whole human race.

Tonight we gather together in a sacred space, that as someone said the other day could use more than a little loving attention, in a city named for Saint Francis who brought living nativities into being. In the Middle Ages St. Francis had villagers of Assisi perform the roles of Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus and the shepherds to help poor, young, and illiterate people understand the meaning of the incarnation. Francis, our city’s patron Saint has much to teach us about Christmas --- about seeking tangible ways of manifesting the meaning of this day to all people. Francis walked away from a comfortable life of wealth and status, to renew an old church, walked across battlefields to meet with an enemy of his people --- Francis, must have sensed that the incarnation, Jesus’ birth, was reason to give birth to hope and new possibilities for himself and those around him.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who works among the urban poor of Washington DC came to visit the parish where I worked in the suburbs. She came to teach a class --- and in the class she helped us imagine the incredible gift of the incarnation. She did this using markers and a dry erase board.  On the board she drew a line.  On one side of the line she wrote "The nightmare" and on the other side "God's dream.”  On the nightmare side she had the group describe the nightmares of human life ---- war, violence, poverty, injustice, disease, bigotry, racism, sexism ---- on the other side of the board under God's dream ---- we listed those longings that we all have, that we believe God intends for all life ---- peace, harmony, justice, compassion, love, health, and enough for everyone. Looking at these two lists, the nightmare and the dream, was nothing new.  But what my friend began to share was how God had for centuries spoken to God's people about this yearning this longing for justice, peace --- the dream ---- through prophets and sages but people did not seem to get it --- to recognize or realize what God was trying to say. So my friend took a marker and drew on top of the dream --- a body,  the shape of a human body.  And this body encompassed the dream.  This body was God's dream made flesh --- God's eternal word.  The story we celebrate today is the story of God's longing for all coming to earth.  God's dream, God's hope and yearning is given flesh in the baby born in Bethlehem. No longer was God's dream, God's longing just an abstract thing, in Jesus the dream was made real, tangible. Christmas --- this special night--- full of all kinds of symbols is about that dream, God's yearning for justice, mercy, compassion and peace being born in us.

Our challenge--any community of faith's challenge really--is to invite people to look up, to notice the lights in the darkness and to look at their own lives to see even in the strangest of places there’s reason to hope, and reason to become part of making the dream of God realized. In singing, and praying, lighting candles and sharing a bit of bread and wine in reading again and again the sacred story --- we become midwives for each other and we help one another breathe. We are invited to step out of life as usual and discover good news of great joy and peace in the trough, in the baby, the body. May this service warm our hearts and strengthen us for becoming as St. Francis was in his era, the dream and hope of God born for our time.

So look up to the heavens, and look down at the cracks, into the caves and the dark, damp places ---- breathe, know that you are surrounded by all you need to give birth.  We may need to improvise a bit but in the messy, smelly and complicated reason to hope is born this night.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

speaking up for human rights

Just listened to this story on NPR about a bill being considered in Uganda that is a violation of the human rights of gay people. The Reverend Susan Russell and many others are working hard to encourage religious leaders to speak up against the bill. The Reverend Canon Mary Haddad took the occasion of her last sermon at Grace Cathedral (she'll be missed much as she heads south to Beverly Hills) to point out how slow Anglican Communion leadership has been to speak up.

The following words inspired by Martin Niemöller, seem hauntingly appropriate,

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

You can follow this story in more detail over at the Episcopal Cafe. Pray for Uganda, pray for human rights and dignity for all.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

seasonal sounds

So I've been cheating on Advent, I've been sneaking into Christmas music and I'm going to boast about it. So if you are one of those few who successfully waits to put up the tree until Dec. 24th, you might want to save this post for later.  This year, in addition to my favorite Sufjan Stevens Christmas albums and The McGarrigle Christmas Hour, I now get to be filled with cheer by Tori Amos and Sting as well. I am especially fond of Tori's "Star of Wonder." Why she couldn't have launched that album at Grace Cathedral I don't know, the Men & Boy's Choir would have provided amazing backup vocals.

This early step into Christmas is partly due to planning Incarnate, an adventure of sorts for St. Cyprian's where we've invited a few rockabilly musicians to play some seasonal tunes and other folks to share poetry. You can join us on the next two Thursday nights at 8 p.m. The poem that gets me most serious about the meaning of Christmas, isn't a carol or a hymn but a poem by San Francisco Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Christ Climbed Down.

Christ climbed down 
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down 
from His bare Tree
this year 
and ran away to where 
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory 
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post 
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down 
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where 
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down 
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where 
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down 
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of 
Second Comings

Sunday, December 06, 2009

yearning for justice & equal rights

Gratitude and hope are the feelings that come to mind for me this morning as news of the election of the Reverend Mary Glasspool, as bishop spreads around the world. The Episcopal Diocese of LA, meeting this weekend elected two qualified and gifted women to serve as bishops. You can read all about this news, here and here.

I am especially grateful for the words of Bishop Gene Robinson,
The people of the Diocese of Los Angeles have elected two extraordinarily gifted priests to serve them as Suffragan Bishops. They have chosen the two people who, in their minds, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are best suited for this ministry, and one of them happens to be a lesbian.

But let us be clear: it is Mary Glasspool's experience, skills and faith which will make her a good bishop, and are the reason for her election. Rightly so, the people of Los Angeles have not let current arguments over homosexuality or threats to “unity” impair their choosing the best persons for these ministries.
This is the Church we declared at this summer’s General Convention we would be, following God’s call to us as best we can discern it, and we are now living into that calling. I am delighted over the elections of Diane Bruce and Mary Glasspool and, upon consent by the wider church, look forward to welcoming them both into the House of Bishops.
The Reverend Mary Glasspool is quoted in the Washington Post saying the following, 

"Any group of people who have been oppressed because of any one, isolated aspect of their persons yearns for justice and equal rights,"

I'm looking forward to hearing lots more from the Reverend Mary Glasspool as her new ministry in L.A. unfolds.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mary Oliver, Anne Lamott & Evensong

Last week after three years of working at Grace Cathedral for the first time with much anxiety I officiated at Evensong. Those men and boys are very intimidating. Having grown up in a household that didn't sing much and a church that didn't chant ever - I don't think I was so horrible. I should have practiced more, I hope I'll get other opportunities because with Matt's help I actually began to see the joy in doing it.

For the said prayers at Evensong a book literally fell off my office shelf an hour or so before the service. I flipped through "Thirst" a book of poems by Mary Oliver and the two below felt just right for the week before Thanksgiving, and the approaching season of Advent. Here they are, feel free to "read, mark, and inwardly digest them." Anne Lamott tonight in her reading at a Welcome event I attended called Mary Oliver divine, I agree with her.

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
Still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you.  Under the sink, for example, is an

uproar of mice—it is the season of their
many children.  What shall I do?  And under the eaves

and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season

when they need shelter, so what shall I do?  And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard

while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do?  Beautiful is the new snow falling

in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door.  And still I believe you will

come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know

that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon:  Come in, Come in.


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

waiting pains

Transitions are painful, complicated and confusing. These words of Kahil Gibran the famous poet and artist came to my mind as I considered some of the current struggles going on in the church and other institutions dealing with change. The last part about the value of stability is so helpful to me when so much lacks clarity, and seems up in the air.

Once as a teenager when arguing with my mother I remember picking up "The Prophet" and reading these words to her triumphantly. Now 30 years old I have greater appreciation for their painfulness as well as their blessing.  I don't know where you are (whoever you are reading this) but while there is much to be grateful for (it is one of my frequent Facebook status updates after all) I'm also feeling a lot of stress, pain and impatience while waiting for the "new" to emerge.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran  

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.   You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.   You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

flesh & blood

Last Sunday, I preached at the 11 o'clock service at Grace Cathedral. A special word of thanks to my Uncle Kent back home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia who first introduced our family many years ago to the "Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet" composition by Gavin Bryars. You can check that sermon out here. Click here for the gospel text. Peace!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What's going on...

This summer is turning out to be one of exciting change and growth. A few weeks ago, Bishop Marc Andrus announced as Acting Dean a transition in my role at Grace Cathedral:
The Reverend Will Scott, Associate Pastor at Grace Cathedral since October 2006 has recently been named Cathedral Missioner at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church and will be part of the emerging North of Market Area Ministry Team. In this role, he will strive to connect all the Episcopal congregations and institutions in the region with one another and help them discern new ways of serving their neighborhoods. Now a small but vital multicultural community, St. Cyprian’s is a historic African-American and Caribbean congregation whose members were active in the Civil Rights Movement and hosted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he preached at Grace Cathedral in 1965. Will will remain Associate Pastor at Grace Cathedral while embarking on this new mission continuing in his leadership role in the Sunday at Six worshiping community, Dinner with Grace, and Youth Confirmation Program.
You can learn more about St. Cyprian's Episcop
al Church here. Tomorrow and for the next few Sundays, Church Divinity School of the Pacific professor the Reverend Sue Singer will be part of our worship life. A few weeks ago, the Reverend Megan Rohrer of Welcome joined us. This new adventure is all about collaboration, relationship building, sharing, listening and learning. Please keep everyone involved in your prayers as we together experience change and growth.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by Liz St. John about Dinner with Grace and had an opportunity to talk more broadly about ministry in San Francisco, including my role at St. Cyprian's. The interview will air August 16th on KLLC’s Sunday Magazine; you can listen to the podcast here. Many thanks to Heidi Zuhl, who coordinates communications at Grace Cathedral, for all she is doing to help support our work.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

General Convention - staying connected

Thousands of Episcopalians are gathering in Anaheim, California for General Convention, the triennial meeting in which bishops, clergy and laity make important decisions about our life together. For those of us not attending there's a ton of ways to stay connected to the action. Here's a few of the places I'm trying to visit regularly.

General Convention HUB

Episcopal Cafe

Diocese of California General Convention Updates

Walking with Integrity

An Inch at a Time

Center Aisle

My friend and colleague Rosa Lee Harden even created a Facebook group for all of us not there.
If you are at GC2009, please help keep the rest of us in the loop (thanks to everybody who is blogging & twittering) If you are not there and have sites you recommend for staying up-to-date, please post away.

Big Table

I just received a phone call from Michael Tedrick, the Episcopal Diocese of California's & Grace Cathedral's Mission Partner in the Diocese of Curitiba, Brazil. Michael expressed great joy about his new work and appreciation for the ways his involvement with Dinner with Grace in San Francisco is helping him share in community there. Here's a bit from Michael's blog:
Yesterday, sixty people crowded the small hall to share a meal at Sao Tiago Catedral. The unspoken language of sharing. We meet in the midst of our mutual hunger. Some with hungry bodies and others with hungry souls. Together, we are fed in body, mind, and spirit. Warm, simple greetings and a smile was the language spoken and understood. I used the skills I honed with Grace Cathedral's Dinner With Grace, hand mashing 50 lbs. of potatos, chopping onions, (Will+ & Alex would be glad to know that I didn't cut myself), serving meals, peeling and seeding papayas, washing lettuce and arranging tables and chairs. It is welcoming, reassuring, and comforting for the stranger. I continue to be amazed by the breadth and length of The Table.
Please keep Michael and those he is working with in Brazil in your prayers and visit his blog regularly for updates on his journey.
Also, Dinner with Grace was recently in the news, check out this story here. Many thanks to Carolyn Tyler and her crew, who communicate well what Dinner with Grace is all about.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Now let us praise an inspiring Episcopalian...

My colleague at Grace Cathedral Elaine Belz recently shared this great article from Sojourners, on the influential 20th century Episcopalian Frances Perkins. I've often thought a cool advertising campaign for the Episcopal Church would involve photos of some of the inspiring characters who have hung around with us through the years like Frances Perkins, Margaret Mead, Edward Albee, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Norman Rockwell, John Steinbeck and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Here's a bit from Rose Marie Berger's article:

THOUGH PERKINS GREW up in Boston as a Congregationalist, she was confirmed at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit near Chicago, where she was teaching and volunteering at Jane Addams’ Hull House. With her Book of Common Prayer in one hand and Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives in the other, Perkins waded into the tenement houses and sweatshops to interview immigrant women about their lives. For the rest of her life, she used this triad—liturgy, analysis, and the voices of those at the bottom—as a tool for shaping public policy.

Donn Mitchell, editor of The Anglican Examiner, told me that Perkins had a deeply sacramental spirituality, which helped shape a “politics of generosity”—in which the state was the instrument through which the national community expressed its compassion. This was no small shift, said Mitchell, who published an article about Perkins in May. Her vision of the New Deal was a radical theological shift away from the judging and punitive God of Puritan and Calvinist theologies and toward the community-based solidarity of the immigrant Catholics and Jews.

“Frances Perkins was a social scientist and an artist,” Mitchell said. “She had a strong aesthetic orientation and the sacramental language spoke to her. Beauty was a manifestation of God’s graciousness. She saw that many people were cut off from this beauty by industrial problems and poverty. It became an incarnational act for her to bring provisions to the people who needed it. Since she couldn’t do that for everyone, she developed legal structures through which she could deliver the necessary things of life to those in need.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dinner with Grace in today's SF Chronicle

Dinner with Grace, a collaborative program of Grace Cathedral and Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco is featured in today's San Francisco Chronicle check the article out here. Last month, Episcopal Life also covered this growing program. As I type this posting a large crew of Dinner with Grace volunteers are organizing the cathedral kitchen to improve our work together. We're blessed by a dedicated team of lay volunteers, and according to Alex Senchak, our Core Team coordinator this month we have 100 regular volunteers involved in serving and sharing meals in the Tenderloin.

The most important thing Dinner with Grace seeks to do is build relationships. I recently discovered an inspiring quote of Gustavo Gutierrez in Anne Sutherland Howard's book, "Claiming the Beatitudes" which speaks to the significance of friendship and the preferential option for the poor:
The preferential option for the poor is ultimately a question of friendship. Without friendship, an option for the poor can easily become commitment to an abstraction (to a social class, a race, a culture, an idea). Aristotle emphasized the important place of friendship for the moral life, but we also find this clearly stated in John's Gospel. Christ says, "I do not call you servants, but friends." As Christians, we are called to reproduce this quality of friendship in our relationships with others. When we become friends with the poor, their presence leaves an indelible imprint on our lives, and we are much more likely to remain committed.
Many thanks to Meredith May and Brant Ward at the San Francisco Chronicle for their helpful coverage and attention.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Liturgies for San Fran? Bicycle Blessings & Bjorcharist

So they say imitation is one of the highest forms of are two stories about creative liturgies I hope some of us in the Bay Area will soon replicate.

Bicycle Blessings


What do you think?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Testifying to Love - Why I was arrested

Ann Fontaine of the Episcopal Cafe, encouraged me to share my reflections on what happened yesterday. Thank you for all the prayers and support. I am so grateful for the congregants and staff of Grace Cathedral many who stood alongside those of us being arrested and who have offered their support in numerous other ways as well. At the service prior to yesterdays march we sang a beautiful song with the refrain, "we are all in this together." The struggle continues...

Testifying to Love
- Why I was arrested

I grew up in a small Episcopal Church in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley where that tiny mid-century A-frame building on a hill and its odd mixture of congregants became for me as a gay person an oasis of encouragement, love, and support. When most other churches were campaigning for prayer in schools, we were learning about what we could do to end apartheid in South Africa, other churches encouraged their flock to listen to James Dobson while we were invited to listen to the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There at St. Paul's on-the-Hill, as a young acolyte I first heard about how faith compels us to stand with those pushed to the margins, and to work for justice. Yesterday was not the first time I’ve been arrested seeking to bear witness to a faith that calls us to honor the dignity of every person --- it is not likely to be my last.

How did I end up in the street? I prayed and felt inspired. On Monday night, I was part of a group led by the Reverend Roland Stringfellow, coordinator of the Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations that organized an interfaith prayer vigil at Grace Cathedral on the eve of the Supreme Court's decision. The first part of the event was filled with beautiful and moving
words and music from various people of faith, towards the end things got more explicitly personal and political. A gay couple stood up and spoke nervously for the first time of how inequality and homophobia were affecting them in the workplace, in how they accessed health care (one of them is disabled) and paid their taxes (they would save over $4,000 a year if they were counted the same as a straight married couple). The couple shared that they rarely came anywhere near places of worship, but this event encouraged them to speak up even in a church. As they spoke I thought of how my beloved Matt and I had moved from Virginia to California three years ago to be in a more supportive context for our relationship. Next Kip Williams a passionate young organizer with the group One Struggle, One Fight spoke about their plans for the next day if the Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 and then invited those in the faith community who were willing to risk arrest to stand. There was an uncomfortable pause, and a few people stood up, and I found myself standing up to join them. In some ways it was like an altar call, we were being invited to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. At the close of the service I was asked to invite the gathered congregation to spend time praying and lighting candles throughout the cathedral. Here’s what I said,
On behalf of the Bishop, clergy, and staff of Grace Cathedral I want to thank you all for coming tonight. As we move out from this sacred circle, I invite you to wander amidst the many chapels, windows, murals and icons of this holy space --- a place where so many individuals, couples, and families have found solace, inspiration and strength for their journey, struggle, and work for justice. Light a candle; say a prayer for all who will be affected by tomorrow¹s decision. Remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, generations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons who like us struggled to find hope, as you walk past the UN mural pray for our LGBT brothers and sisters throughout the world who share our yearning for liberation, as you walk past the icon of Mary Magdalene of the 1st century and Martin Luther King of the 20th remember our solidarity with women, people of color and the poor, as you look up to the windows containing the images of scientists like Einstein and theologians like Martin Buber remember all those who were persecuted for seeking and speaking the truth as they experienced it, this Memorial Day let us also remember the many glbt persons who have served this country --- may we discover in the courage and perseverance of all these persons reason to continue our work for justice and equality.

And now a final blessing,

The blessing of the One who liberates the oppressed, who blesses all the families of the earth and whose name is love be upon you and remain with you always. AMEN
The saints who dance with us around the altar at communion, in the icons, murals and windows of our churches to me are not static but are moving. I experience their presence as continually inviting us to make the gospel real now in our time, in our lives. We are forever invited to join them in movements for justice and equality --- movements that testify to love. While the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday was bad news for so many, the willingness of people to stand up for the faith and hope that is within them, to testify to the love they know is real and true is a proclamation of the good news.

Yesterday, on the march from the Castro neighborhood to Civic Center I was joined by an Iraq war veteran, a young Latino man named Joseph carrying an American flag and wearing his badges of honor. He was arrested yesterday as well. When I took my spot in the large circle of a 150 or more in the street outside City Hall I found myself sitting next to David a 19-year-old transgender man who works at the grocery store in my neighborhood. When I stood up to stretch my legs I saw Brendan, a 20 something lay person from St. Gregory’s of Nyssa dancing in the circle to music provided by a visiting folk band on the sidelines. Across the circle was Rabbi Sydney Mintz from Congregation Emanu-el, a synagogue with strong ties with Grace Cathedral and Buddhist Nun Jana Drakka sitting near Episcopal Deacons Anthony Turney and Nancy Pennecamp. Down the way from me was Reverend Dawn Roginski from St. Francis Lutheran Church where the Morning Prayer service prepared us for the day’s work. In the paddy wagon on our way to the county jail, I learned more about Kip Williams, who said when the day started they were praying they would have at least 30 people willing to risk arrest, now there were so many more. We learned how Kip’s first act of civil disobedience was at a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility in his home state of Tennessee and how his diverse community of faith helped him in coming out. Others in the wagon talked about Paul Farmer and his work in Haiti. Each of us in some way seemed to get that what we were doing was linked, inspired, and related with the wider movements for human rights and justice. As we were led out of the wagon and into our designated holding areas I caught glimpse of a young tall African American man, whose hair standing straight up reminded me of photos I'd seen of Bayard Rustin. Rustin is someone far to easily forgotten, a gay, African American, man of faith who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and advised the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on the nonviolence of Gandhi.

LGBT people of faith in San Francisco and throughout the world would do well to remember our connections to other movements --- and gain inspiration, courage and strength for our contemporary struggles. There are many causes, and concerns worth our time and energy --- may we each discern with God's help our place in the dance and testify to love.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

appreciating William Stringfellow

Last week, as I was preparing to teach an introductory class on Anglicanism at Grace Cathedral I googled one of my favorite Episcopal/Anglican 20th century saints, William Stringfellow. Stringfellow was a passionate lawyer, lay theologian and advocate for justice. Gratefully, among the list of articles about Stringfellow, I found this beautiful reflection on Stringfellow's life by Nathan Schneider, a New York writer whom I discovered is also originally from Virginia. Check out Nathan's great blog The Row Boat as well.

Here's a bit from Nathan's reflection:
Consequently Stringfellow’s God is not just a character to whom we must defer to for the sake of some future salvation, nor some almighty therapist. God is the means for inhabiting a world filled with mighty principalities and powers. Stringfellow clings to the promise that “Jesus is Lord” because if that is so, there is a reason to love our neighbor no matter what the principalities and powers—from the Pentagon, to “family values,” to the Ford Motor Company—may say. These things are all doomed to death anyway. “Resurrection,” he explains, “refers to the transcendence of the power of death, and of the fear or thrall of the power of death, here and now, in this life, in this world.”

His own answer to the powers came in simple acts. Defending poor black and Latino people in court even though they were not of his clan. And offering hospitality to his friend Daniel Berrigan even when it meant breaking the law. And being with the person he loved, despite the disapproval of society and the churches.

The icon above is by Fr. William McNichols

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring Reading

I find myself carrying around a heavier backpack these days as three books are adding fuel to my journey. They're all non-fiction and all have something to do with religion. Surprised? I'm taking suggestions for a good summer novel so please suggest away. Here they are in no particular order. I'm appreciating the dialogue amongst these different voices, themes, and styles. What are you reading this spring? What's on your summer reading list?

Claiming the Beatitudes: Nine Stories from a New Generation
by Anne Sutherland Howard

Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate
by Terry Eagleton

The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon
by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan

Sunday, May 03, 2009


I preached this morning at the 8:30 service at Grace Cathedral. Here's my sermon notes.

John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

It is comforting to recognize that we are sheep, not shepherds.

The famous scholar and author Peter Gomes, shares this interesting history about churches in New England, he writes,

In New England, the ancient parishes of the seventeenth century in the Congregational order are not described as "founded"--if you ever look at an old seventeenth-century New England church, the sign will not say, "Founded in 1620," "Founded in 1636," "Founded in 1690"--but use a very strange nomenclature used nowhere else in the church, either in Europe or in this country: it says "Gathered in 1620," "Gathered in 1640," "Gathered in 1690," and there is something very different between being founded and being gathered. The notion is that of sheep being gathered into the sheepfold.

The Congregations of 17th century New England recognized they were sheep, not shepherds.

The other night I attended a friend’s birthday party --- she invited a diverse group of 5 people to celebrate with her, all of whom she knew but who did not know one another there was a fire and good food --- and over the course of the evening strangers did become friends. We were each quite different from one another. As we sat around the fire ---we told stories about our lives, loves and challenges as we did this I thought about today’s gospel and the image of being gathered into a sheepfold, being cared for, held together by one shepherd.

I don’t usually like to think of Jesus as a shepherd, I find the image somehow too cute, or too distant, the metaphor doesn‘t feel particularly relevant to our contemporary cosmopolitan lives--- but as I thought more about this passage and listened to a simple but beautiful gospel hymn sung by Ralph Stanley the famous bluegrass singer --- the more the image spoke to me, the more I was able to trust it --- Stanley’s piece goes like this,

“listen to the shepherd, listen to the shepherd calling calling us over, we are all his children, we are all his children calling, calling us over, he will guide us safely, he will guide us safely calling, calling us over.

There’s very little in our 21st century lives that helps us recognize ourselves as part of a flock, part of a community being gathered, there’s little that inspires us to let go of our individual wandering and find our lives and meaning as part of a community. Fragmentation, being scattered seems to be the only reality we know, or find comfort within, despite numerous forms of technology that tell us we are being connected --- many of these tools seem to actually pull us further a part. Everyone’s plugged in, looking at different screens, listening to different music, chatting with someone else. Fragmentation, being scattered, separated out --- pulled a part, today’s gospel and the lessons as well point us to a different way of being ---- that frees us from the powerful urge to think that we are in charge --- that we need to be in control, on top of it all. John tells us there is one flock, one shepherd. We’re being gathered. I’m not the shepherd, you are not the shepherd, Jesus is the good shepherd and we are all sheep --- we are all his children. We are being gathered.

One gift of bluegrass music, of sitting around a camp fire telling stories with strangers and friends--- of worshiping like this, singing hymns together, is that we are somehow more free to embrace the idea of being part of a flock. Acknowledging, noticing that none of us are the shepherd, but that we are all in need of the one who lays down his life for us is liberating --- is in a strange way comforting. We don’t need to fix one another --- as John’s letter tells us --- we are to love one another. Even Peter after the healing in the temple in our reading from Acts, --- rather than claiming his own role and power points the gathered community to the one shepherd, Jesus who heals and whose spirit inspires his strong words. He could have very well drawn attention to himself but instead pointed to the one who called him into the sheepfold.

Perhaps what links all of our sacred stories today --- the amazing miracle in Acts and Peter’s powerful speech, the poetry of John’s letter on loving others, and today’s gospel --- is this sense of being held --- being cared for ---being led out of lives of fragmentation, separation, isolation, to being part of a story greater than ourselves as individuals, being attended to in such a way that our actions, stories, struggles and hopes speak to a deeper identity --- as a people being gathered seen and recognized as part of the shepherds flock.

This recognition of being part of one flock, and Jesus as our shepherd need not be exclusive or triumphalistic --- for as Jesus says in today’s gospel “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Many people committed to the way of Jesus, understand this passage as an invitation to live a distinct and unique faith while wholeheartedly engaging in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue for peace and justice. This text also frees us from the arrogance of thinking that only our tribe, or our particular part of the flock, or our specific narrow religion listens to God’s voice. Again we are the sheep, Jesus is the shepherd.

May we in the days to come find ways to get over ourselves and our need for control, may we discover practices that help us appreciate being part of a gathered community in which Jesus is our shepherd --- perhaps its making a meal for someone, or visiting a sick person, or noticing and appreciating the ways others reach out to us in love and care ---- perhaps its praying or studying in a group ---- but what ever we do may we be invited to embrace this strange, foreign and ancient concept --- we are part of a flock --- we are not the shepherds of our own destiny --- we are part of one flock, we belong to one shepherd.

As we contemplate our belonging to a flock --- as we open ourselves to the deep and beautiful ecology of God I invite you to listen to this poem by Mary Oliver --- who as a fellow sheep reflects on our work of loving and place in nature.

By Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In Memory of Papa

Below are reflections on the life of my grandfather, Roy Charles Roberts who died last month. For a variety of reasons, I did not fly home for the Memorial Service. The picture above was taken this past January and you can read his obituary below. Papa was an amazing man, who had a tremendous influence on me and many others in his long and beautiful life.

Roy C. Roberts

Roy Charles Roberts, 95, of Harrisonburg, passed away on Friday, March 27, 2009, at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC).
Mr. Roberts was born on Oct. 2, 1913, in Locust Grove, Okla., and was a son of the late Charles and Ella Moore Roberts. He was also predeceased by his son, Benjamin Roberts, two brothers and one sister.
Roy was a member of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church and was a well-known Shenandoah Valley artist. His artwork depicted scenes of the coastal region, Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and various courtroom sketches. In addition to his prolific artwork, he enjoyed music, travel, reading, and stimulating conversation. He was an Army veteran and was employed as an analyst with the Department of the Army at the Pentagon.
In 1950, he was united in marriage to Naomi J. Yoder, who survives. Also surviving are two daughters, Rebecca Scott-Mitchell and husband, Mark, of Martinsburg, W.Va., and Sarah Holmes and husband, Don, of Winston-Salem, N.C.; four grandchildren; and a very special sister-in-law, Nancy Y. Smith, and brother-in-law, Kent Smith, both of Harrisonburg.
A graveside service for family and friends will be held on Saturday, April 18, 2009, at 2 p.m. at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church Cemetery officiated by Pastor Mark Keller.
Memorial contributions may be made to the VMRC Compassion Fund (In his memory), 1491 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.
Arrangements are being handled by Kyger Funeral Home in Harrisonburg.

© 2005 Daily News-Record

In Memory of Papa

Today though I am not physically with you, I am connected with you through the Spirit of our creative, liberating God who inspires us to live as Papa did, with integrity, gratitude, courage and love. I am writing to you from San Francisco, a city where a young Roy Roberts spent time long before any of us knew him selling ice cream to the people who built the Golden Gate Bridge. Every time I look at the Bridge I think of Papa --- I try to imagine what this city must have been like when he was here and how much fun it would have been to walk up one of our large hills with him. My earliest memories of Papa involve walking, walking on walls, visiting Jesse’s Hot Dogs and the Library around Harrisonburg. Early on Papa taught me to appreciate the unique qualities of neighborhoods, parks, trees, sculpture, and architecture --- I often remember him pausing and pointing at things, small and large that were beautiful unique and wondrous. When we would walk into the old library --- I was set free in the children’s section up stairs where I would often watch a film strip of the Wizard of Oz and Papa would put on his reading glasses and sit in the periodicals section downstairs. When I was 5 years old Papa and Nana were my best friends. Spending time with them at their house was heaven to me. There seemed to be infinite freedom and love --- always something yummy to eat, something beautiful to look at or listen to, and always a comforting lap to sit in and hand to hold.

The last time I saw Papa, a few months ago, I remember taking some time to have a conversation one I now believe we both knew would be our last on this side of the grave. Looking into one another’s eyes, I was able to tell him just how much he and Nana meant to me, how so much of what I have been able to do in life --- study, travel, and discovering a vocation caring for others --- I know was due in large part to their steadfast love, their commitment to my education and nurture. Papa gave us all an appreciation for nature, beauty, art, learning (he was always reading something --- philosophy, history) and music (who can forget him learning to play the piano when he was well into his 70s?). I think of him every time I hear “what a friend we have in Jesus” or “Tennessee Waltz” I imagine he must have learned to play “Over the Rainbow” for me.

Papa’s life was full of pain as well as joy. Though there’s the story involving a pet duck, which is humorous but also quite sad too especially if that was his most memorable childhood friend. Perhaps Papa was a bit like St. Francis -- connecting with nature in a unique and deep way. We all know stories about how his father abandoned his family early in life, how he had to go to work quite young before finishing high school. As my mother told me when I was little, Papa was a kind of hobo before he found a stable job in Washington. Hitch hiking across the United States, riding the rails, and working in CCC camps --- young Roy Roberts must have been wise, strong, and courageous. On my last visit to Virginia, Papa shared with me how he learned to dance in San Francisco --- watching a dance class through a window on Market Street. I love to dance, and love imagining Papa practicing his dance moves on a side walk in San Francisco. When I look into the eyes of the homeless and poor people I meet in the Tenderloin, a rough neighborhood in San Francisco near the cathedral where I work I think of Papa and I think of his son Ben too. I remember their challenging relationship and the struggles of people with mental illness. I also remember their difficult but I believe real reconciliation --- and the ways in which especially toward the end of Ben’s life there was a kind of peace in what I can only imagine was a very painful and complicated relationship.

Papa was a man of adventure --- I don’t know how he could have spent so many years working at the Pentagon. When I lived near it in Arlington and passed by it everyday on my way to work in McLean I loved imagining Papa dashing out of that cold, dark place, and finding his easel hidden under a highway bridge and painting the beautiful skyline of Washington, the Potomac River, and the monuments in the distance.

Though Papa was not a religious man, I know he was a man of faith. In the Hebrew Bible, the word faith is best translated as trust. Papa trusted that with God’s help people could overcome any obstacle, that even in the midst of great pain --- there was the possibility of beauty, hope and love. Had Papa been introduced to meditation or contemplative prayer earlier in life I think he would have found a religious practice nurturing of his deep, wise, and thoughtful personality. A few years ago Papa shared with me that he heard the famous Amy Semple McPherson founder of the Four Square Gospel Church preach once when he was in California over loudspeakers in a crowded street and that he had found nourishment at one of the soup kitchens her ministry inspired. Religious or not, I will always cherish memories of our family gathered together around Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner lovingly and creatively prepared by Nana and Papa leading us in a gentle prayer beginning with the words, “dear heavenly father.”

Papa taught me how to ride a bike. Of all the things that I can say about Papa this is to me the most significant, more because of its symbolism than its actuality. Learning to ride a bike is challenging and painful, one falls down a lot. He insisted that I not use training wheels but instead he would hold up the seat running along behind me --- there’s a kind of gift in that --- a bond established….I remember often looking behind me to see if he was still holding on to me…and discovering gratefully him waving and smiling at me as I rode away and then of course quickly falling down and skinning my knee. Papa was always quick to comfort though, he’d blow on the scrape and if duct tape were present I’m sure he’d have covered it with that too.

I always felt free to be myself with Papa, he never questioned my love for and commitment to Matt and always asked how he was doing. We all have profound stories about Papa --- about how his amazing life and personality touched us, inspired and nurtured us. I know my Dad has one involving homemade diapers made out of paint rags, a plastic bread bag and held together with duct tape but I’ll let him tell you that story.

Papa -- Roy Charles Roberts --- was an ingenious artist --- who created amazing works of art --- and most of all he created an incredibly inspiring life --- may our lives be filled with adventures, beautiful vistas, stunning artwork, unique people, trust that with God’s help any obstacle can be overcome, reconciliation with those we love, and the courage to be ourselves wherever we may be.

With love for all of you, and anticipation of seeing you in San Francisco in October --- may we remember Papa as we together gaze upon the Golden Gate Bridge and eat ice cream.

Monday, April 13, 2009's about time

My friend and neighbor Kevin Jones, shared this piece by Brian McLaren on twitter today, wow! Thanks Kevin. Read it, here.

Here's a chunk,

In the Bible, we find a variety of understandings of God’s agency in history. Some, like Job’s friends and the writer of Proverbs, think God controls everything according to simple, karma-like moral rules, so God makes bad things happen to bad people and good things to good people. Others, like Job and the writer of Ecclesiastes, find that view ridiculous, and they see chaos, accident, and injustice as part of the cosmic equation. Those who read the Bible with Greco-Roman assumptions must homogenize these voices and eliminate all tension between them, so generally they subordinate the latter to the former, and then fit the former into their six-state timeline.

But when we read the Bible as a conversation, less constrained by Greco-Roman assumptions, we look for revelation precisely at the point of tension between the two views. And in that tension, we see that God is not in control in the sense of being a chess-master moving pieces or a machine operator pulling levers, but God is in relationship, like a rider guiding a horse with a will of its own or a parent guiding a child with a will of its own. The universe, in this view, isn’t just an object upon which God acts by dominating fiat; it is a subject endowed by its Creator with millions of minds and wills, a community with which God relates inter-subjectively. Simultaneously, we see that the universe is not out of control in the sense of being chaotic, random, and purposeless, but it is out of relationship, like a child pouting in the corner at times, or like a teenager sneaking out the window at others.

Put more positively, we see that whatever happens in history, God is with us. God is present in all life’s joys and sorrows, successes and failures. God is present, gently guiding those who seek for God’s good dreams to come true, and gently warning and inviting those who are still pursuing their own selfish agendas to change their way. More striking still: God is even present in our misery and shame, suffering with those who suffer life’s injustices, grieving with those who have ruined their lives, and groaning in and through creation as a mother in childbirth, laboring for a better future to be born.

celebrating easter on the labyrinth

Throughout the season of Easter, the Sunday six o'clock Contemplative Eucharist at Grace Cathedral will be held on the labyrinth. Here's my sermon notes from last night's service.

Happy Easter!

Contemplative Eucharist at Grace Cathedral Sermon Notes
Easter 2009

on Luke 24:13-49

The child of a secular Jewish family, a 20th century leftist French intellectual Simone Weil, was a person on a journey toward truth, she was drawn to Christian theology and most of all to the enigmatic character of Jesus. In her short life, she had deep conversations with mystery. As I was considering tonight’s gospel text I ran across this quote from Weil,
"Christ likes us to prefer truth to himself, because before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms."
Tonight, as we celebrate Easter together, as we engage in our own deep conversation with mystery, whether we’re ardent believers, or passionate doubters, people who have heard this story many times, or for the first time may we discover ourselves headed towards truth and falling into Christ’s arms.

This week tells us that we can not get to Easter, with out going through Good Friday, without confronting the painful, confusing, disturbing, haunting image of Jesus’ execution by imperial power and religious oppression. The disciples who met this stranger on the road in tonight’s reading were fleeing Jerusalem perhaps afraid that they too would be arrested and killed if they stayed in the city, that they too would be executed for their subversive activity, for following this one who had confronted the powers, whom they thought would liberate their people. Who can blame them for hitting the road, for getting out of there?

What happened on that road though --- who it was that Cleopas and his nameless companion ran into walked and talked with, offered hospitality to ---- is a mystery to them until that stranger picked up bread, blessed and broke it. When they realized these familiar gestures --- as those of their teacher who had been executed --- he disappeared.

There are many things to say about this story, it is one of my favorite stories concerning Jesus’ resurrection because it is so different from the many other stories of his appearing. What makes it so different and perhaps so comforting to me is because the risen Christ appears to those who fled, who walked or ran away --- I often feel like one who has left... who has walked or run away and still wanders away. This story is for all of us who doubt, who are so often at a loss for what to do, who like Cleopas know sadness and confusion ---

Tonight the Risen Christ appears to all of us as a stranger, a mystery...a fellow traveler...who engages us where we are and fills in the gaps, and opens up our stories and our lives to greater meaning and adventure.

The Christian tradition holds that the Risen Christ is someone we may encounter, lives now and gives us that same strange joy that Cleopas and his companion experience--- The Risen Christ of Easter keeps us going on the path toward wholeness and reconciliation. Who in words, actions, and presence like this labyrinth --- keeps us journeying back toward the center --- toward the heavenly Jerusalem, the realm of God. If one studies labyrinths, you know that those built in the Middle Ages were intended to aid those pilgrims who could not make the difficult and expensive journey it to the holy sites of Jerusalem --- instead they could make the sacred pilgrimage where they were. The center there where the altar stands is sometimes called, Jerusalem, the Semitic root word for Jerusalem means peace, harmony and completeness.

So the Risen Christ is our labyrinth --- the risen Christ is our path and the strangers we meet along the way --- the risen Christ points us toward peace, harmony and reconciliation --- completeness --- the risen Christ arms outstretched brings us full circle.

The disciples who met Jesus on the road turned around, returned ... rejoined the confused and curious community of disciples in Jerusalem and gave something to them, gave them reason for hope, and to keep going...Cleopas and his companion gave those back in the city as they shared their story reason to keep sharing and living the teachings of Jesus.

As we gather in this night to celebrate Christ’s resurrection we gather on the labyrinth opening ourselves up to engage this ancient story, opening ourselves up to the strangers on our path, opening ourselves up to make space for the unexpected. We discover right here, right now reason for hope and joy --- we come finding ourselves moving closer to what we know to be true and real.

Where ever we are on the journey of faith --- may this Easter celebration inspire us to slow down, talk to strangers, share stories and food --- discovering that the Risen Christ is with us.

A few nights ago, as we do each month a group from Grace and other volunteers shared a meal with former homeless persons in the Tenderloin --- during the meal one of the women we ate with began sharing how she was about to celebrate 8 months of being clean --- being sober. By the look on her face and those around her who were familiar with addiction --- you could immediately sense just how challenging and how significant that anniversary really was. That night that meal shared amongst strangers opened up the story of liberation --- of freedom --- for us. We encountered the Risen Jesus in our midst, as we engaged in conversation with mystery and shared our yearnings for liberation.

When do we find ourselves vulnerable, and willing to take in strangers? When in our lives do we risk hospitality, welcoming another into our journey, into our stories, into our struggles and confusion?

Our tradition boldly proclaims that Jesus' violent death was and is not the end of the story --- death, injustice, cruelty, despair, disease, addiction, poverty... all that seeks to bind, trap and kill us is not the end of the story--- the resurrection, the opening up of ourselves to one another, opening our selves to new understandings, new possibilities, to new companions... finding our hearts strangely warmed…this is truth…this is faith... the resurrection tells us we are free to begin the journey again. The story continues ….the story continues to unfold, the journey is forever leading us toward hope --- and new life ---the path leads to harmony, peace and wholeness --- into the arms of Christ.

There are many places we could be on this night in San Francisco --- but for whatever reason we find ourselves together in this cathedral --- where strange stories are shared, and bread is broken.

In the midst of this supposedly hyper secular city Christian theology and tradition tells us that we’re bound to discover the presence of a living Jesus.Tonight’s gospel tells us that no matter how far we run, no matter how confused or sad ---- Christ rises, comes to us as a mysterious stranger, warms our hearts, questions our understanding and reveals truth in broken bread.

Alleluia Christ is Risen!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Passion Sunday - becoming "little Christs"

Below you'll find my homily notes from today's 8:30 a.m. service at Grace Cathedral.

Liturgy of the Passion

This is our story, this is our song…disturbing, confusing, challenging, moving, troubling, inspiring, complicated….

A lot of words, texts, stories have been read today, have been in a way performed --- it has been the church’s tradition for some time now to read on Palm Sunday the passion narrative and not simply the passages of scripture relaying the story of Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem on a donkey and being greeted by people with palm branches.

We’re invited to read along and we --- the masses gathered here--- were given the part of the crowd, we got to say , repeatedly, “crucify him, crucify him”

Looking back at Christian history, the church has again and again betrayed the teachings of Jesus ---- humanity has again and again turned our backs on Jesus’ vision of the realm of God and those who sought to live a life in the way of Jesus. Humanity says these words “crucify him, crucify him” every time we choose violence rather than peace, whenever we are unable to tolerate the voices and perspectives of those who challenge us, when we fail to honor the dignity of others or the image of God within ourselves.

Yet reading these parts, “crucify him, crucify him” I wonder if these recitations --- don’t take our eyes off the one we’re to be following --- rather than identifying with the one who is inviting us to come and follow, to love as he loves, to live as he lives --- we on this day in the dramatic reading spoke the language of the oppressor, took the role of the betrayers. This performance, this text pushes us to ask whom do we really identify with? Whom do we really seek to follow in our day to day lives?

These two questions are central to all of the readings we heard today, all the passages of scripture we’ll engage in this week--- these questions are central to our lives --- to our moment in time --- whom do we identity with? Whom do we seek to follow?

John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg --- in their important book “The Last Week” remind us that two processions came into Jerusalem in the year 30 -- one was a peasant procession waving palm branches, the other an imperial procession with soldiers and weapons. Which procession do we find ourselves in? Whom do we seek to follow? Jesus, the nonviolent revolutionary teacher or the power and wealth of empires, corporations, the stock market?

Perhaps the church in its wisdom in having us read these words, “crucify him, crucify him” is giving us an opportunity to purge ourselves of our inclination to do that in our lives, to acknowledge the ways we betray and deny Jesus --- and even taunt the one who seeks to give us life and make us whole. This collective performance then is a confession and an opportunity for reorientation. May we see other options, may we find a different part --- may we come to more deeply identify with Jesus, and those whom he identified with ---with the nameless woman who anointed his head, Mary Magdalene and the other women who stayed with him to the very end. Let us open ourselves to the possibility of becoming “little Christs.”

Author Diana Butler Bass writes, “Early on, Romans scornfully tagged the Jesus followers with the name “Christian,” meaning “little Christ.” Being a Christian meant being like Jesus; following his way meant imitating the life of its guide and founder, even to the cross.”

As we enter Holy Week --- let’s keep our eyes on Jesus --- and invite the Spirit to help us make his script a central part of our lives, praying that our identity and our path be focused on Jesus and what Jesus was passionate about, the reign of God as Crossan and Borg write “the first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God’s distributive justice that led inevitably to the second passion by Pilate’s punitive justice. Before Jesus, after Jesus, and for Christians, achetypically in Jesus, those who live for nonviolent justice die all too often from violent injustice.”

May we follow Jesus into the broken relationships, systems and institutions of our contemporary world, follow Jesus into the homes of the sick and marginalized, into the midst of demonstrations and protests, the cold complicity of churches, the inhumanity of the judicial structures, may we follow Jesus into the cruel torture chambers, the lonely jails and prisons, the bloody golgathas and calvarys, the abandoned tombs --- let us follow Jesus --- may this be our story, may this be our song. May we be known as “little Christs.” Blessed be the King who comes in the Name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and Hosanna in the Highest”

The image above is by South Asian artist, Solomon RAJ

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I noticed this morning that Walter Brueggemann's presentation to the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops last month is now available online, check that out here.

Here's a bit from the end of the document:
It is my judgment that the church, in all quarters, must repent of its lust for the absolute. But surely the Rabbis, and the Church Fathers after them, understood that there are no final interpretations. And surely we have learned in the twentieth century that final interpretations are a dangerous step along the way to the Final Solution. In my Church, the United Church of Christ, we have now adopted the slogan, “God is still speaking,” which means in that liberal context, God has something new to say about sexuality. The logo for that slogan is a comma, suggesting that after the received truth of scripture there is not a period, but a comma.

But my church is tempted to disregard everything in front of the comma. The task for Red and Blue in the church, conservatives and liberals, is to recognize that because the spirit is on the move, we must pay attention to both sides of the comma, not just what is old and not just what is new.
For those who appreciate Brueggemann, check out his 19 theses, which he presented to the Emergent Theological Conversation in September of 2004. Our friend Paul Soupiset transcribed and posted the audio here.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Faith & Fools on April 1st

A number of faith blogs have special April Fool's Day postings, here's a few to enjoy:

Rush Limbaugh to Speak at Sojourners’ Mobilization to End Poverty

From the posting:

Limbaugh, longtime champion of conservative media, announced his acceptance of the invitation on his daily radio show. Interrupted occasionally by call-ins of incredulous listeners, Limbaugh detailed months of off-the-record conversations with Wallis during which the two forged a deep friendship despite political, theological, philosophical, ideological, ecological, anthropological, eschatological, and soteriological differences. That dialogue came to a head one night when an anguished and sleepless Limbaugh called Wallis after 3:00 a.m., seeking spiritual solace.

“I responded like any good evangelical would,” said Wallis. “I told him he should read his Bible. And then I hung up and went back to sleep.”

Vexed but desperate, Limbaugh grabbed his trusty KJV, fanned it open at random, closed his eyes, and thrust his index finger upon whatever page it might find, landing upon this passage from James 5:

Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

“I admit, of all the verses for him to read, this passage sounds a bit harsh—especially in the King James,” said Wallis. “But with 2,000 verses on poverty in the Bible, Rush was bound to hit one of them.”

Trinity Expanded to Include Oprah

From the posting:
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 1 -- Oprah Winfrey has been declared the fourth person of the Trinity, according to an astonishing new theological agreement hammered out by the world's major Christian denominations. Along with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the popular talk show host will be recognized as one person in the sacred and indivisible unity of the Godhead--or Quadhead, as the updated Trinity will now be called.

New green initiative for General Convention

From the posting:

Youth from the Diocese of Los Angeles will roam the floors of both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies carrying aspersories and aspergillia to keep members hydrated during sessions. “We plan to use a form of blessed Gatorade,” Straub noted, “which when placed against the skin will absorb instantly without the use of paper or plastic cups.”

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams will also reduce his carbon footprint when he visits General Convention by sailing from England to Los Angeles on board the restored 18th century frigate, HMS Compass Rose. Rumors that Williams plans to walk the entire distance from Canterbury to Anaheim were dismissed by the Anglican Communion Office as “exaggerated” because the Archbishop only walks a mile or two a day.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Four Voices of hope & change

This past Sunday evening at the Contemplative Eucharist at Grace Cathedral I spoke about three voices that have been influencing my thoughts, dreams and work over the past few weeks. I'm adding a fourth to this blog post. Here we go.

The work and life of Elizabeth O'Connor

Phyllis Tickle's new book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing & Why

Elizabeth Lesser's Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow in particular what she calls the Phoenix Process

Diana Butler Bass' latest A People's History of Christianity

Each of these voices speak to the challenges and opportunities of changing times. Please check them out and pass them on.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

homelessness & community in SF

Last week, I visited the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society's Polk Street: Lives in Transition exhibit, which chronicles the complex lives and circumstances of those who seek and have sought comfort, acceptance, hope and a home in the Polk Street & Tenderloin neighborhoods through the years. You can learn more about the exhibit here, and in this week's Guardian read a story about a few of the people whose stories are shared in the exhibit. One of those people is my friend and San Francisco clergy colleague, the Reverend Megan Rohrer. Megan is an important part of today's Polk Street area and through the Welcome Ministry is seeking to respond to poverty in San Francisco one person, one sidewalk at a time. The Human Rights Campaign shares some of Megan's inspiring story here.