Monday, November 14, 2011

New Priorities

This morning I spent some time at City Hall talking with a number of people connected with the New Priorities Network, and the Bay Area New Priorities Campaign. The hope is to encourage local communities across the country to collectively speak up for a shift of resources away from war-making towards jobs, healthcare, and education.  As one person said of this effort, “This is an opportunity to bring a policy issue that represents the 99% before an elected body."

Poster from
Below, is what I plan to say to our Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks. Wherever you are, consider connecting with this effort. Join folks all over the country asking our elected officials, at every level, to speak up for funding the priorities we share.

Members of the Board of Supervisors,

My name is Will Scott, I am the Vicar of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in the Western Addition of San Francisco and live in Bernal Heights. Faith communities in the city of San Francisco as in every part of this country share the challenge of caring for those Jesus called “the least of these” --- we are one of the places people go to seek support in times of economic stress.  A few examples:
  • In my faith community, congregation members are struggling to keep their homes.  Young families are leaving because they can’t afford to stay.
  • In our neighborhoods the lines at food pantries are getting longer and longer. 
  • The already far too lean budgets of non-profits serving the vulnerable, youth,  elders, veterans, the working poor, those who are homeless, mentally ill, and addicted are being cut --- in a time when there are more and more people who rely on these services.
  • Many people with valuable skills are unemployed or underemployed and have been for years now ---  isolation, depression and hopelessness have become daily struggles.

Sometimes our church is able to provide some alleviation, counsel, comfort and advice to those who are feeling the deep pain of this economic crisis, the most severe since the Great Depression, and we aspire to do more --- but the reality is that the struggles so many are facing demand more than charity, or attentive pastoral care.  Communities of all shapes and sizes are crying out for justice. 

Holy Scripture from the Book of Isaiah paints a hopeful picture of the future when there will be judgment between the nations,
the nations, shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

The resolution before you calling for cuts in war spending & redirection of those funds to domestic needs is an important step toward that hopeful vision of the future expressed by the Prophet Isaiah.

On Sunday mornings at St. Cyprian’s new and longtime members are speaking up and out clearly and passionately about the need for a reevaluation of our national priorities. There’s a shared recognition that we need our government to invest in the fabric of this country, we need a new New Deal. I believe strongly that we must stop spending trillions of tax dollars a year on the instruments of war and redirect those funds towards “the things that make for peace. “ I say all this as the grandson of a WW2 veteran, and my maternal grandfather spent his entire career at the Pentagon serving there through three wars--- but his heart broke during the Vietnam War, and he suffered a nervous breakdown. During his long retirement his children and grandchildren witnessed not a defeated old military man but one passionate about education, the arts, empathy for the suffering and the beauty of nature. I believe our country is going through its own nervous breakdown --- we need to regain our passion, as my grandfather did, for education, the arts, care for the vulnerable and creation.

Thank you.

Monday, August 08, 2011

yearning & groaning continues...

Dear Yearning & Groaning Readers,

You may have noticed for some time now that I'm just not posting much here anymore. That's not because I've stopped yearning and groaning. In fact, I'm yearning and groaning more than ever, focusing my energies at St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I'm not planning on closing this blog down, but do want to encourage you out there in cyber space to stay connected through the weekly e-news I put together for St. Cyp's and our related websites. Light a candle, say a prayer for us every once in a while, and if you are in the Bay Area stop by Turk & Lyon.


Monday, June 27, 2011

on being in the paper

A little over a week or so ago I got a phone call from a lovely person,at The Bay Citizen (a great local non-profit news site that partners with the New York Times). I later learned she grew up in the same area as my Mennonite grandmother in Mifflin County, PA. I think Nana from her hammock in heaven sent her my way, she always loved surprises.

Reyhan said she was working on a story collecting quotes from different parts of the gay community, on the gay community for Pride. My first reaction was, how come there aren't ever any articles on the "straight" community --- is there such a thing? Then I went on and on talking to her like the opinionated blabber mouth I am (don't worry, I'm getting myself signed up for some real media training some time soon). After that the friendly reporter said she'd be in touch next week, "we'd like you to come downtown to our offices so we can take your picture." Let me tell you that was fun, it is not often that a poor urban priest gets treated like a celebrity. The gifted photographer Annie Tritt was so sweet, hilarious and taught me that my left side is my best side (according to her some really famous people actually never let the other sides of their faces get taken pictures of).

You can check out the article here & here. Just for the record, Matt and I got married in October 2008 at City Hall & had a wedding/blessing of the marriage at Grace Cathedral (my former employer) in October 2009. Thank you to everyone at the Bay Citizen for including me in your story, along with such interesting and inspiring other queer people I'd really like to get to know some day. Hopefully, a little attention like this will inspire a few more folks to peek in the door of St. Cyprian's, God knows we've got lots of good reasons for one to do so. Reyhan, coincidentally did a fabulous story on St. Cyprian's friend Damon Styer owner of New Bohemia Signs, who made our hot new sign.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Letter to SFMTA about Masonic & Turk Streets

Below is a letter I sent to the SFMTA recently about changes to Masonic & Turk Streets. You can read all about the plans to make this street safer for everyone over at Bike NOPA. This is not an official church endorsement of the plan, but written as an active member of the neighborhood. This was written before the most current collisions and fatality.  If you are inclined to write a letter/email as well send them to :, with "PUBLIC HEARING" in the subject line.

Jesus walked. That's not just a song by Kanye West, it's true. 

As a priest at St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church on the corner of Turk & Lyon Streets, my congregation and I are particularly sensitive to those who walk, bike, run, drive and park on the roads, sidewalks and bike paths near our church building. Their safety is often compromised because of speeding motorists on streets that look and function like freeways.

I choose not to drive regularly but walk, bus, and occasionally bike to get around the city. I am keenly aware of just how vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists can be on Masonic and Turk Streets. Both are excessively wide and cars, trucks, and buses often move far too fast through our residential neighborhood.   My congregants feel they often risk their lives getting to the church.  I regularly witness elderly members dodge speeding vehicles on Turk Street, and I see the same on Masonic. Not long ago one of our members was hit by a vehicle outside our doors following Sunday service. 

Last fall my congregation and I joined community members in a vigil to mourn the loss of a 22-year-old man, a visitor to the city, who was struck and killed by a motorist on Masonic at Turk, just two blocks from our church. In our grief for this terrible loss, we also resolved to work harder for safer streets, especially Masonic and Turk streets.

This tragecy on Masonic brought back the difficult memories of my mother being hit just three years ago at a dangerous intersection in downtown Washington, DC, My family’s lives have not been the same since. Though we are lucky she is alive, my mother's life as an avid dancer, cyclist and hiker is dramatically different since her accident. 

I have reviewed the city’s plan for a safer, more livable Masonic as outlined in the Boulevard design. I support, along with many members of my congregation, this bold reworking of a dangerous street. We understand that parking will be removed to make these changes possible. For some this will be an inconvenience, but we believe the city has a responsibility to design streets that are safe for all users.

The Boulevard plan also proposes to add parking along Turk street between Central and Baker streets, and we very much support this action as a traffic calming measure badly needed on Turk Street.

Remembering that Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. walked --- as do City College and USF students, children and parents on their way to the SF Day School or to Pacific Primary School, donors to the Blood Centers of the Pacific,  and church goers -- I encourage you to make everyone safer, by implementing the proposed improvements to Turk & Masonic Streets.


The Reverend Will Scott
St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church
2097 Turk Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter 2011 St. Cyprian's

John 20:1-18

Mary’s persistence and insistence on finding Jesus throughout today’s gospel, her emotional vulnerability, and rawness of presence leads her to be the first one to experience the resurrected Christ, in the face of a stranger. Resurrection is a strange thing, yet faith in this unexplainable mystery is at the heart of Christianity. The testimonies of wise ancestors and elders of the faith all teach us that when we persist and insist on finding Jesus we will be surprised and delighted to discover the resurrected one in the face of strangers. If we like Mary Magdalene, are present to our pain and suffering, our hearts deepest yearning, if we are vulnerable we shall discover that new life is possible, is right there beside us opening us up for a new adventure.

Resurrection is the opposite of preservation. When Mary arrives at the tomb early in the morning, while it is still dark, does she come as the other gospels suggest to anoint the body of Jesus with oil? That admirable gesture of affection and care is about preserving a dead body, not about discovering a living one. Preservation is not resurrection. To preserve is to protect and defend, resurrection is about letting go and opening up --- preservation is about what was, resurrection is about what is and is to come. Mary Magdalene through her persistence and insistence after being shocked by an empty tomb and then interrogated by angels shifts her focus --- she changes how she sees things. We too if we are to really experience the transformative power of the resurrection in our lives ---  we must change how we look at things, people and circumstances. We must let go of one way of operating and embrace the wild, uncontainable, liberating Spirit of the resurrection. Like Mary we have to move from preservation to resurrection. Preservation and resurrection are very different --- preservation is about living anxiously in ways that keeps the story of our lives, circumstances and communities closed and predictable, the best days are behind us, resurrection is about constant change (the gardener Jesus tells Mary don’t hold on to me) resurrection is about an open, ongoing, story one that invites participation, interaction and new adventures. Resurrection reminds us that we don’t and can’t know everything, and that what might appear to be a lost cause may really be the starting place of major revolution --- a baby is being born in a morgue.

As Wendell Berry’s poem, which we heard read at the beginning of today’s service, illustrates resurrection takes practice. We humans would rather have something “ready made” safe, secure and easy than wild, uncontainable, challenging and free. But resurrection is all about asking questions that have no answers, loving someone who does not deserve it, being joyful though you have considered all the facts. When my mother was hit by a car a few years ago, the only thing I could read in the ICU was poetry, and a wise old mentor of mine, said that’s because poetry is the language of the heart. We contemporary Christians might want to read more poetry, we may need to appreciate what one expert on joy describes as “the poetic principle.” Jacqueline Kelm writes that the poetic principle suggests “we can find whatever we want in every situation and whatever we choose to notice is fateful. All is present in every moment, from love to fear, good to bad, beautiful to ugly, joy to sorrow. Whatever we focus on from unbound possibilities defines experience. In this sense reality is like poetry, it can be written in any manner conceivable and is open to infinite possibilities.”

The early followers of Jesus could have chosen a different end to their story, they didn’t have to choose resurrection, the didn’t have to believe Mary Magdalene, they didn’t have to trust the strange visions and happenings around them. They could have believed that death, cruelty, injustice, violence, wealth and power were the definers of reality. That actually would have been easier, safer, and more comforting. But they practiced, whether conscious or unconscious, the poetic principle, they practiced resurrection. They told stories that shifted the focus from a dead guy on a cross to a living one, present everywhere including the face of strangers and supposed enemies. St. Cyprian’s has to me been practicing the poetic principle for a long time. There have been artists and poets in this community’s story since the beginning. Today we are continuing to practice resurrection, we are like Mary insistent and persistent in seeking Jesus and we are being surprised again and again how our resurrected teacher comes dressed as a gardener, stranger, cyclist, mother, activist, neighbor, supposed enemy ------

Yesterday I visited Ruth Maloof briefly at a hospital she has been in for a long time. Mrs. Maloof is one of our community’s many elders who was a very active leader not just at St. Cyprian’s but throughout San Francisco. Her husband who is daily by her side, shared with me notes and photographs, booklets and programs that she had saved from her years of service at this church. I was moved by the handwritten notes, and newsletter announcements that she had penned many about a tutoring program she helped start downstairs for youth from Wallenburg High School in the early 90’s. Familiar names were among her notes, Dr. Matthews, Mrs. Jones, and Dr. Daniels. But these materials were not stale artifacts of old, they bore witness to an active, engaged, connected faith --- and inspired within me an appreciation for the spirit of resurrection among us in this place today --- when any one of us is nearing the end of our life someone I bet will pull out a folder giving testimony to our, your active, engaged, and connected faith.

Before I close I want to share a few more words about Mary Magdalene, there are many stories about her --- some call her the Apostle to the Apostles because she was the first to proclaim she had seen the risen Christ, some incorrectly claimed she was a repentant prostitute --- but one thing is clear her life was made completely different when she decided to follow Jesus. At the foot of the altar is an icon of Mary Magdalene, she’s holding an egg, the story goes that ...

following the death and resurrection of Jesus, Mary used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house. May we each one day be as bold, confident, provocative, creative, and poetic as Mary Magdalene.

Let us ask unanswerable questions --- what will St. Cyprian’s be like in 50 years from now, in 2061? Let us every day do something that won’t compute, let us Love the Lord, love the world, love someone who does not deserve it --- Let us practice the poetic principle, let us practice Resurrection.

image by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM
Wendell Berry's poem can be found here.
story of Mary Magdalene & the egg is from here

Monday, January 03, 2011

Notes from Sunday's Homily

This morning I took a look at the CNN news ticker, noticing that all the stories were discouraging, here’s just a sampling...
Latest news

  • 200,000 affected by Australia floods
  • Birds fall dead from Ark. sky
  • Foot-and-mouth spreads in S. Korea
  • Deputy killed in shootout in Ohio
  • Raunchy videos shown to Navy crew
  • Fire shuts ride at Florida theme park
  • 3,605 Iraqis killed in 2010
  • 4 dead after fire on Russian plane
  • Death toll from storms rises
Closer to home...
  • Man fatally shot in Tenderloin on New Year's Day 9:05 PM
  • Homicide up in S.F.
  • North Beach fire leaves 48 homeless in S.F.
  • 7-member family, 2-bedroom apt.
The stories of our faith stand out, give meaning and hope not because they avoid real world challenges like these, all the stories of Christ nativity are told in the midst of difficult, and discouraging political, economic and social realities --- the stories of our faith nurture and stimulate within us, as for generations of believers new possibilities. If we read the stories of our faith closely, not with a fundamentalist, literalist approach (things had to happen this way) but with open, generous, and inquiring eyes we can discover safety, peace and comfort in surprising places, wise strangers are bringing us important gifts, and within us there is an eager, rebellious, creative character full of questions for history and the status quo.

Perhaps with a bit more awareness, attentiveness to the bad news around us, and an equal focus on the stories of our faith we may discover what good news might be taking shape within us, and around our little faith community. Too often people of faith look like those funny images of ostriches with their heads in the sand, or the fundamentalist, reactionary religionists are putting on a history play in costumes of scared villagers with pitch forks and torches ready to burn the unbeliever or supposed sinner. In this new year of 2011 we don’t know what the story of St. Cyprian’s will be, but my hunch is, if we strive together to be present to our local context, to the people and circumstances around us, doing our best to listen closely not just to familiar voices but those of strangers as well, if we are equally attentive to the stories of our faith from scripture and history we will find that in midst of all kinds of calamities and challenges new hope, new possibilities, good news will take shape in us and around us.

Last week, I went to visit one of our long time members at Laguna Honda hospital --- now I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Laguna Honda, but when I first visited there a few years ago within a few months of first moving to San Francisco I was very discouraged and depressed by the dilapidated building, you could tell by looking around that at one point it was probably state of the art, but that would have been in the 1930s at the latest. When I went back last month, I didn’t notice the building so much, because I could see signs that the new building was on the horizon at near completion, I did notice the people more, and the care that seemed to be going on all over the place. My mind and heart shifted a bit from being appalled by the conditions, to being moved by the compassion --- and then this last week entering that new hospital, something shifted again --- the place is amazingly beautiful, state of the art, clean --- the people seemed as though they were still getting used to the place, figuring out how to use the new equipment, how to get around. But I was encouraged also to recognize that even in the finest of facilities, people can feel lost, ignored, unloved and uncared for ---

The good news must be grounded in reality, in order for us to really know hope, joy, and the blessings of Christ’s presence we need to be present to the conditions of our own lives, we don’t want to be like ostriches with our heads in the sand, or lost in some reactionary historic drama. We can be a community who bring light, life and hope to others by taking time to notice what’s happening around us, listening to the stories of our faith, and imagining new possibilities for ourselves and others.

So what will 2011 bring for St. Cyprian’s? Let’s strive to be a people who are honest with one another about the conditions of our lives both personally and together, lets notice and pay attention to the circumstances, challenges, hopes and dreams of ourselves and others beyond our walls and let’s spend time being nurtured by the stories of our faith.

As the great theologian Howard Thurman proclaimed,

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.