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.