Friday, October 2, 2015

Another day, another shooting ...

How long, O LORD? will you forget me for ever? *
how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day? *
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God; *
give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," *
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

(Psalm 13:1-4)

How long indeed? I write again today in the aftermath of another senseless shooting - 9 college students dead plus the shooter. Roseburg, Oregon this time - a small town not unlike where I live. There have been 74 mass shootings at schools since December 14, 2012 when Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT killing 20 children and 6 adults. Mass shootings have become so routine, I am beginning to forget all the places - Aurora CO, Isla Vista CA, Santee CA, Blacksburg VA, Fort Hood TX, Carson City NV, Seal Beach CA, Charleston SC ... and the list goes on.

We have turned into a country which is worshiping a new Baal - guns, the NRA and the 2nd Amendment. And not the 2nd Amendment as originally intended by our Founding Fathers, but a radical distortion of the original intent which has made it easy for guns to get into the hands of violent and/or mentally fragile people. This is idolatry and part of what Presiding Bishop elect Michael Curry calls the "Unholy Trinity" - poverty, racism and guns.

Our Bible study group at Grace Church is working through the Book of Revelation. Why? Because the regulars in our Bible study group said they found Revelation to be the most frightening book in the Bible. We are reading this together and learning that far from frightening, Revelation is a book of great promise and hope. It is also an indictment against the empires of this world. In John of Patmos' case, this was Rome (which he disguises by calling it Babylon). Revelation says that the powers of this world which corrupt and destroy God's people and creation are doomed and the reign of the Lamb of God has the last word. Our allegiance as Christians, therefore, is not to any power of this world, but to Christ alone.

I am a Christian first. My allegiance to country falls behind that. At times, my faith supports what the government by the people does. At other times, I stand in opposition to the United States of America. I believe my faith calls me to respect the dignity of every human being - part of that is respecting the right of others to live in peace without fear of gun violence destroying their lives. The unfettered and poorly regulated access to guns must stop.

I know I will offend the NRA apologists and those who support the more recent distortions of the 2nd Amendment with my words. If my words offend you, I ask why you are not offended by dead bodies bleeding on a church floor, a theater floor, or a classroom floor? How many children are you willing to stand by and see slaughtered to protect unfettered access to firearms? How many police officers do you want to see shot because they are outgunned on our own streets by inconsistent gun regulations?

Christians cannot bow down to worship this Baal anymore and silence is complicity. As a priest, I deal with the aftermath of violence - I and my fellow clergy are tired of picking up the fragments of what's left when the bullets stop flying. If our prayers do not lead us to action, they are empty and vain. Reasonable, consistent gun regulations including background checks and the ability to remove firearms from those who have proven by their actions to be mentally unstable or violent is no threat to responsible gun ownership. We don't need more prayers and sympathy - we need legislation and we need it now.

Friday, July 3, 2015

How long, O Lord? How long?

It hasn't been a very quiet week in the news, both secular and sacred. SCOTUS cleared the way for same-sex marriages to be recognized in all 50 states thus upholding the 14th Amendment's guarantee to equal protection under the law for our sisters and brothers in SS relationships. Now the Episcopal Church followed suit at their triennial General Convention with opening up the marriage rites for SS couples and removing gender specific language. A robust parental leave policy was passed by our General Convention bringing justice to families having children. Money was allocated to new church starts and advocacy for women serving the church. I celebrate and give thanks for all these developments. But as an ordained woman, there is, in the words of Jesus, "one thing lacking." We still, as a Church, bow to the conscience clause.

While this is a bit of "insider baseball" to the Episcopal Church, it has serious ramifications for ordained women. We have ordained women for almost 40 years and, when women's ordination was originally approved in 1976, a "conscience clause" was put in place allowing bishops who did not agree with women's ordination to refuse to:
  • Ordain women
  • Allow congregations under their jurisdiction to call a woman priest
This allowed the Episcopal Church to be the "big tent" it historically has been in accommodating disagreement and holding the tension.

In 1997, the "conscience clause" was technically repealed. Technically. Bishops could no longer refuse ordination to women just because they were ... women. Technically. They also could not prevent a church from calling a woman priest to serve them. Technically. But there are ways around this letter of the law. Like still refusing to ordain women but directing them to a "friendly diocese" or a "friendly bishop." Like not promoting qualified women for calls to churches and not hiring them for diocesan positions even though they are eminently qualified.

Those who oppose women's ordination to the priesthood base their foundational argument on two points. First, a woman cannot stand "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ) at the altar due to their chromosomal make up. The counter argument is that Christ is not the same as the human Jesus of Nazareth (who we affirm as the human embodiment of the Christ of God). Christ consciousness is not limited by biological limitations. It is found in Spirit and in Truth ... and among women and men.

The second point is that Jesus never called women as disciples - he only called 12 men. Well, that's true. But if we step out of gender for a moment and apply that argument in a different way, its foolishness becomes evident. Jesus never called any Asian, Black, Latino or ... wait for it ... White men either! Jesus called Palestinian Jews as his inner circle. If we apply the logic based on ethnicity, then most of our House of Bishops should immediately resign. Clearly, that's not going to happen and it sounds utterly racist and ridiculous. So if it is bigoted to apply the logic based on race, why is it acceptable to apply it to gender or sexual orientation?

I hope one day we can truly repeal the "conscience clause" once and for all. Getting off on technicalities isn't edifying the Body of Christ. It's time ... 40 years is long enough ... too long actually.

Friday, May 1, 2015

We are not meant to live alone

My mom started growing African violets when I was a kid. We had a number of them in her garden window in California. I now have several in a south facing window in our home in a garden tray my husband gave me for Christmas one year. They bloom constantly - even through the winter which brings color to our home in an otherwise colorless time.

This little African violet came to me last December. It had been left behind by its previous owner and wasn't in the best shape. The leaves were small and discolored and there were no signs of any blooms on it at all.

But you can see things have changed for it. There are still a few discolored leaves, but now there is new growth and today it bloomed. What changed?

It would be low hanging fruit to say it was the difference in care between the prior owner and me ... but that's not the case at all. I generally have a "brown thumb" ... I'm really not good with most plants. The difference is the environment.

African violets are "social" plants. They flourish when grouped together and wither when isolated from others. Here are this little violet's "tray mates":

These little plants teach us about ourselves. We are not meant to be isolated from the wider community. When we isolate, we wither ... we get small and we get selfish. We refuse to see that our own flourishing and growth requires us to be part of a larger community ... a community where there is commonality AND diversity (notice not all of these violets are pink!).

This has been a hard week for my sisters and brothers in Baltimore. Tensions have erupted between the largely impoverished African American neighborhoods on the west side and the police over the death of Freddie Gray. I have seen people of all races coming together to seek justice as well as the frustrations of years of being unheard erupting in looting and violence. I have seen withered small hearts isolated from these harsh realities passing judgment on social media - people who fail to see that their flourishing has resulted from the very system which has impoverished so many. As folk singer Pete Seeger once noted: "The rich are rich because the poor are poor."

There is an ancient Zulu word: Ubuntu. There is no simple translation of this word but as Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained, it's essence means "I am because of you" ... or "I am who I am because I am bound up in you." Our lives are connected! We do not live in isolation - what happens in Baltimore affects all of us: regardless of anything which appears to divide us. Ubuntu speaks to our need for true community. This is not just surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who look like you, share your values, socio-economic class, and world view. This means building real community and connecting ourselves to people whose lives are radically different from you. It means listening to and learning from the experiences of those who do not see the world as you or I do. It means honoring them as sisters and brothers in Christ knowing that any system which raises some up at the expense of others is not of God and is not, in the long run, sustainable in any meaningful way.

St. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 12 when he describes us as the Body of Christ. He said:
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I do not need you." Or the head cannot say to the feet, "I do not need you."
We need each other to become what God wants us to be ... just like this little violet needed others to truly become what it could be.