Saturday, August 1, 2015

Martyrdom--what does it mean?

As I prepare to go on the Jonathan Daniels' 50th anniversary pilgrimage, I am pondering what martyrdom means.  Throughout the history of Christianity we have had those who have 'died for their faith' or whose lives have been laid down for others because of their faith.  Originally the term martus meant witness, but as the years after the death of Jesus, many who followed him were seen as those who threatened the control of the Imperium. 

Saint Stephen is noted as the first Christian martyr (Acts 7ff).  Stephen was fairly inflammatory in his preaching so it isn't surprising; however, the stoning of him did mark for the early followers of Christ's Way a powerful image of the cost of discipleship.  The 2nd century was
filled with those who were willing to lay down their lives for the faith.  The attitudes of Roman or even local rulers were that Christians were 'obnoxious' or rebellious.   Christians were pacifists and refused to serve as conscripts in the Roman army.  And they refused to worship the Roman gods which was considered treasonous.  Just how destabilizing Christians were to the Roman Pax is questionable, but Christians were targeted and harassed the way that minority cultures or movements are today.  That so many were martyred says more about the fear that permeated Roman imperial society than it did about Christian bravery.

Martyrdom is still known in Christianity.  Even today, Christians
are being targeted and killed because of their faith. Well-lived Christian lives are still frightening to those who wish to control others.  For many Christians the witness of those who have laid their lives down for others is still the 'seed of the Church". 

It makes me deeply sad that in order to do good, or preach good, or to live the goodness of life in the name of Jesus is still grounds for people to kill. The need to kill those who are different is centered in the fear of those who are 'other'. The other sadness comes from those who
USE the word Christian to control others, and therefore negate the meaning of the cross.

I do not believe that the cross is the sign that demands suffering despite Gregory I.  Nothing in the life of Christ teaches that we are to take on suffering as a way of faithful living.  It is interesting that the cross does not become a symbol of Christianity until the 3rd or 4th century once the imperial powers have taken over the Church. 

 So what does it mean to 'pick up the cross and follow after me'?  Does it mean that I am to try to emulate Christ in the way I am to die?  No!  It means that I need to be willing to live my life so freely and so lovingly that death has no power over me.  It means that if I am asked for my life to save others, I can give it. But it does not mean that I am to go seek ways of giving up my life to emulate Jesus' death.  2 Cor. 6:2-10 speaks of the kind of integrity that life in Christ means--it is a kind of living that defies the critique that often happens to those who try to follow the Way of Jesus.  For invariably, living the life of Christ mocks the status quo in societies in which there are classes, boast have/have nots societies, or those who rule over others. 

In the particular martyrdom of Jon Daniels: he was not killed

Martyrdom doesn't really make saints.  God does that.  But martyrdom makes a society question.  The death of one who is willing to sacrifice his/her life because it can be lived freely is so awe-inspiring that it attracts the worn eyes of those bored by life caught up in meaninglessness. Jon's death captured the imagination of hearts that had grown tired of those who practiced a benign faith.  It caught the attention of those in Northeast who had been blind to the plight of people in the South--
Blacks and Whites caught in an evil system.  It was a system that masked the reality of humanity with layers of religious bias, socio-economic lies, historical jingoism and convenient anti-intellectualism.  

The witness of Jon's death brought a conscientiousness to the 'powers that be' at the time that brought legal changes for our nation.  Is that what Jon and Judy Upham were doing in Selma? Or
was it just naivete? It might have been, but there is something about lives that are lived in the freedom of Christianity.  They weren't thinking about their grade points when they responded to the call of Dr. King.  They were living lives freed by their love for God that would allow them to help others know the freedoms they knew.  They were supported by institutions that allowed them to act on their faith.  And had grown up in families that engendered the kind of fairness that Jesus' life characterized.  They had responded in a manner that changed their lives. And would change the lives of others.

Jon wasn't thinking when he pushed Ruby from the path of Tom Coleman's shotgun.  He didn't have to.  His faith was so integral to his living that it was 'natural' to do it.  That is a saint!  One who doesn't even have to think about laying down his life for another.

So martyrdom is not so much about the death of a saint.  It is about the living of those who are willing to live with such abandon that they are not afraid of death, not afraid of what others think, not afraid of the cost.  They live only in sight of God's love and that is enough.  

Holy One, I do not believe that you have asked me to be a martyr, but you have invited me to live a life worthy of your calling.  Grant that through the witness of others, I can keep the freedom you have wrought in me ever before me and allow me to continue to live in ways that can help others to know the joy that living in you means.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Touching the tassels: Sermon for June 28

Mark 5:21-43

It feels good to be back in the pulpit here at St. Martins. For those who have known me to preach extemporaneously, I have finally come to that place in life when I am beginning to lose words.  So I will be working from a text so that you won’t have wait for my brain to cough up the right word.  It will make the sermon shorter!!!

I would like for us to look at the Gospel reading for today.  It is really two healing stories wrapped into one. It is easy to just choose one of the readings but Mark embeds one of these stories in the other and because of this little literary device, we are invited to look at the embedded one as the more important.

First, it is important to look at what Jesus is saying and doing in this passage.  Jesus is in an area that was religiously diverse in the northern Galilee.  It was not a majority Jewish community.   The first story is of the 12 year old daughter of the leader of the synagogue, Jarius.  The other is the story is of a Gentile woman* who has had a hemorrhage for 12 years.   Even though the story of Jarius’ daughter is a story of resurrection, because of how this story is constructed it tells me that the important part of this passage lies in the story of the Gentile woman who reaches out to touch Jesus.* I bring up the number 12 because it is a metaphoric number. And when you hear the number 12 in the New Testament it is always associated with the coming of the messiah who would gather together all the 12 tribes of Israel in the reign of God. This story is about living in the kingdom where resurrection will not be needed nor will there be a need for healing.

 Jesus came to heal—yes.  But more importantly Jesus came to renew the faith as it was practiced in Israel in the first century.  He was neither a conservative in faith nor a progressive.  He was a radical.  He wanted to get back the roots of faith in God—not just observance of the Law of Moses.  And the root was love of God and love of others.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” Deut. 6:5

And what we see in these stories is not a NEW gospel, but a reclaiming of what was central to People of Israel’s relationship with God. It is my opinion that Jesus did not come to start a new religion, but to draw all into the realm of God. Not just Jews, not just Gentiles.  But all.
In first century Judaism, how one obeyed the Law labeled someone as faithful, or righteous (tzedek) in Hebrew.    Some followed the laws to the letter—every jot and tittle.  Others, and especially those farther away from Jerusalem followed the laws
‘spiritually’ or allegorically.  But the word ‘tzedek’ also means balanced and that is what Jesus taught.  Faith was a balanced relationship with the Holy One and with humanity.

The Gentile woman was a woman who had tried everything to be healed. She was shunned because she was not ‘righteous’ because a hemorrhaging woman was unclean.  Touching such a person rendered a man unclean, unable to enter the synagogue, unclean to celebrate Shabbos without a trip to the ritual baths.  So this encounter takes all the temerity of this woman to reach out to the rabbi.  She desires to be healed of her illness. She had to reach across the social customs of her society.  This is one story in which Jesus does not initiate the healing; the woman does.  She claims a faith in this man who has not even seen her.  And Jesus confirms her healing: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  He returned her life to balance, to acceptability and removed the shame that her society had heaped upon her because of her illness.
Jesus stepped into the real meaning of Mosaic Law—to the bring wholeness, to bring balance and healing despite all the rules and expectations of how one was supposed to act.  Jesus stepped over the partitions and boundaries of normal expectations so that God’s work could be seen. 

This is what I believe that Mark is trying to tell of the ministry of Jesus.  Mark is the first Gospel and the oldest and in some ways the most revealing of the person of Jesus.  And I take heart in this story of the woman with the hemorrhage.  Because I can hear so much of myself in this story that speaks of balance, of the willingness to not wait to know acceptance in God but to reach out and claim it even when we don’t look like everyone else.

The other thing about this story is that it has so much meaning for our own day.   There is a temptation to think that this is ‘girls only’ passage.  But it isn’t.  It has to do with the kind of healing of all those deep places within us that are ‘ickky’, those places we don’t want to look at.  David Lose, Lutheran pastor and teacher, refers to this ‘ickky
place’ as our deepest vulnerability.  It is that place where we try to avoid looking at ourselves and refuse to talk about, afraid that others would be horrified if they knew.  And consequently we often never become healed.  It is only when we acknowledge that deepest hurt, deepest unclean, part of ourselves that can God’s healing can be claimed. Often those places don’t have anything to do with sin, but it where we aren’t perfect.

The woman wanted healing and had spent 12 years trying to be healed.  But it is when she reaches out to Jesus that she knows the power of God in her life.  She isn’t Jewish—she isn’t one of his flock.  She steps beyond the normal boundaries of polite behavior to claim the righteousness—the tzedek, the balance that she so desperately needed.  She would not allow herself to be bound by convention.  She quit living quietly in her own hell of being an untouchable.

To know the healing of our hidden places requires a thirst to know balance and a willingness to speak the hidden so that it no longer tyrannizes us.  We have to be willing to acknowledge that we aren’t perfect and neither is anyone else.  We spend so much of our time trying to cover up our imperfections rather than live the life that God
has given us.  How much of our lives are spent in trying to cover up those ‘icky’ places in our lives.  Trust me, growing up lesbian in Tx in the 1950’s gets one in touch with the ‘icky’ of life. But unless we are uncommonly well balanced or have had a lot of therapy, I would guess that most of us are hiding something that we don’t even want to look at and won’t let God’s healing to restore us. And because of it we lose sight of the joy living in God provides. This story helps us see what it means to know the liberation that is part of the life of faith.  It is a place of comfort and courage.

But this story is not just for individuals.  Our society has many places where we as a people avoid raising up the places where we are unbalanced until things converge. And it is often in the face of tragedy that we see the consequences of our illnesses.  Over the
past year we have seen increasing instances where racism has raised its ugly head in this nation.  Fifty years ago, Judy and I both were in Selma for the marches that now they make movies about.  And later in the summer we will make the pilgrimage to commemorate the death of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, our Church’s civil rights martyr.  But here we are 50 years later and still finding people being killed or harassed simply because of the color of their skin. We find people killed in their
church. We find children harassed simply because of the color of their skin.  And I don’t care what color we are, we hear the discouraging and disgusting comments from those around us, possibly even from family members, neighbors, colleagues or other students that are designed to diminish others because they don’t belong to whatever group we belong to.  Those of us who are from minorities—however we identify, have known the exclusion and even the terror of not being able to live freely in a country that is supposedly the land of liberty and the home of the brave.

 And even though we as Church say that radical hospitality is practiced here in this diocese, we don’t ever talk about the pain that our thoughtlessness can engender.  Here at St. Martin’s I don’t believe we have had diversity training in this, the most diverse parish in our diocese.

Back in the late 80’s and 90’s I was rector of a parish about the size of St, Martin’s in the DC area.  It was one half Black and one half White.  Early in my tenure and deeply in my Southern stupidity, I made the mistake of asking the 4 persons of color on my vestry what the Black take was on a certain issue.  A six-foot two African American woman, principal of a local high school said, “Lauren, Toby is from Mobile, Alabama, I’m from the Bronx, Norman is from Jamaica and Emanuel is from Nigeria—pray tell
me which Black perspective do you want?” After I wiped the egg from my face we spent the next 10 years learning to listen to the hearts and desires of people who were so different and who had come together to be one because their faith demanded it. Diversity requires the hearts to listen to one another.  To tell of the stories of our fears and joys and to honor the stories of one another

 Here in Fort Worth we have been so caught up with the division of our Church we have not listened to the hearts or the stories of those who are different from us so that
we can hear the call that we all have, to know the healing of God’s love. And how many of us who are in the majority are willing to compromise the way that we have always done things so that the diversity of our parish can be seen and celebrated? Perhaps we need to be willing to talk frankly and in love about our love for God, and how each of us know that One God but live our relationship out a bit differently.  Episcopalians sharing faith??? What a novel thing!!!

When we aren’t willing to embrace what it means to really be one, we never know that balance, that righteousness, tzedek, that Jesus offered to the woman who touched his cloak.  We also will never truly be that nation that invites people from all over the world to our shores if we aren’t willing to recognize that longing to be healed of the boundaries that separate us.

Because I am a teacher at heart, I am going to give you some homework.  I will not be grading papers, but in the end THERE WILL BE A TEST! I would like you each to ask yourselves ‘1. what needs to be healed in my life so that I don’t expect others to be like me?’  2. ‘am I willing to reach out to Christ and allow myself to be healed of my fear?’ It is only when we as a faith community are willing to address those questions that we can claim the radical hospitality that we so desire to offer.  The God who gave Jesus the power to heal, gives us the power in faith to be healed of the fears that keep us from knowing the joy of life.  I am not suggesting that you go shout your vulnerabilities to the world.  But let yourself to reach out to the tassels on God’s garment.  And as a parish and diocese, let us reach out despite our brokenness to know the joy that God holds for us.  This is the Gospel that Jesus proclaims.  AMEN.

(*Following preaching this twice, Judy reminded me that no where in the passage is the woman identified as a Gentile. I went back to the text and she was right!  So I stand corrected about my isogesis.  Spouses are so helpful.) 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Behold, I make all things new!--a preparation for the 78th General Convention

Today I commented on a national church site on which I spoke to the area of TX in which I now live.  After spending 43 years living outside of TX, and now have returned ostensibly to help our diocese recover our Episcopal identity and to live supposedly happily in retirement, I have had to wake up to some realities that I wasn’t prepared to address when I moved here 5 years ago. 

I have been in NY State, MD, CA in the meantime and have watched our Church grapple with racism, prayer book revision, women’s ordination, Latino inclusion, the addressing of the place of LGBT persons in the church without too much schism.  There is a temptation to believe that there was a time before all of this ‘newness’ began we were all one big happy family.  Actually I have never known the Church without an issue that some said threatened us. And when some of those issues didn’t affect me personally, I understood that the Church needed to make allowances for those who it did. 

Faith demands that we constantly bounce what we know of the Holy One off on how we personally live and how we corporately live in the light of the Gospel, the light of how Christ lived.  The journey of faith is constantly making me face the cool comfortable shadows in which I want to walk so that I can see clearly how I participate in my own enslavement to systems that keep me bound. God’s desire for me is to live in the Light, in a way that proclaims with every step that Christ’s is my life.

 Part of the problem of having preached regularly for most of my lifetime is that over the years I have ingested enough Scripture and been forced to unpeel it from its time and place in order to know what it means some 21 centuries later, is that most of my actions I have to regard through an awe filled lot of messages.  But whenever I begin to hear the other messages about how we need to be people of peace and move slowly, I keep hearing “Behold, I make all things new.” It is from Revelation, not my favorite book of the Bible.  Also one of the most operative passages in my life is “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”. It is in Christ that I begin and I end.  I have no real existence outside of that relationship.  So I know I am beloved by God.  And I know that I am in Christ.  But as a priest I am required to uphold a Church too.  I am not solely my own person.  When I don my collar, I must speak for the Church too.  I cannot go off on my own personal journey without the community of faith which
ordained me.  Do I have a personal conscience?  Of course!  And I live it out always.  I am no good to Church or Christ if I do my own thing in isolation or without thought.
At the same time, different places have different ways of going about living out the same Gospel that challenge me.  And perhaps it is the gap between those who have been formed in this part of the Church and those who have been formed by other regions of the Church that drives up my wariness.

The Episcopal Church has always been a place that accepted ‘local custom’ as a natural way to live out one’s faith.  What has not been proclaimed as sinful is often permissible no matter if it appears to be wrong.  It allows each region of the Church to grapple with issues in due time and often I am so impatient. I would so like the Church where I live to be like the Church I came from, or experienced elsewhere.  But it doesn’t happen that way.  And nothing that I can do will change others overnight.

As the Church gets ready for its 78th General Convention, our triennial all Church meeting in Salt Lake City at the end of the month, many of the issues that have faced the Church over the past 50 years will once more be raised.  I have been a part of much of that history and live with decisions made in their light. And they have been
momentous issues.  Our Church has had a reputation for taking the bull by the horns and addressing the hard issues that face us.  I am proud of that record not because those decisions are liberal or conservative, but because we as a faith community have done hard work in trying to speak of how Christ is present to us.  After the 2003 Convention, those in the pews knew that being LGBT was ‘acceptable’ when a gay man was elected bishop.  After the 1976 convention we knew that women could be priests even though there were those who would not allow it in their own regions.  As a faith community we said what the ideal was whether it was what existed or whether it was even being tried in the local areas.

That has worked for the past 50 years.  Local ‘custom’ has often flown in the face of all the legislative work that Deputies and Bishops could work out in their 2 weeks of
legislative process.  However, there is a problem when local practice tops the rulings of General Convention.  And that is what happened here in Fort Worth.  The ‘local custom’ was at such odds with the workings of rest of Church that the leadership of nine years ago could not accept the decisions of the larger body.  It brought schism when it needed only to have been a point of disagreement and discussion. When we see such issues as life threatening—or soul threatening, there is no place to go except to leave. And while I find real exception in the way that the then leadership did it, I do not find it shameful that they had to leave.  The experience of Church in the local custom was at such variance that the center could no longer hold. 

A response to my comment on the website was one in which the responder admitted that he is opposed to mine and that because of his opinions he is feeling that he cannot find a ‘home’ in the Church any longer because of his holding his particular position.  It touched my own experience of exclusion in the Church because I have held the opposite view.  I hurt for him.  At the same time, I do not require him to renounce his position.  I do not demand that he leave the Church or be turned away from the sacraments and the life of the Church because he disagrees with me.  And that is why I continue to speak up to the growing backlash to LGBTQ presence in the Church and their service in the ordained ministry.  I have no problem that my colleague has a different opinion.  I actually relish it.  It means that the Church is alive and well.  But when his opinion must carry with it exile, the exclusion minorities in the Church, the loss of faithful people who are excluded because of his opinion, then I take issue.  We may disagree, but we may not exclude and that is what the LGBT movement has been about. 

Whether Same-Sex marriage passes at GC, isn’t that important.  Whether we restructure the Church is mere moving the deck chairs on the Titanic in my opinion. The Church that I have known over the past 40 years is changing so fast that I can’t keep up.  I just hope they can continue to send my pension check.  But the faith is still there.  The journey with Christ is still there no matter how it is packaged.  “Behold, I make all things new” is still the journey of the Church no matter what it looks like.  It is still the willingness us of all to listen for those places where those who are denied access to that message and flag them for the Church.  It is willingness to continue to be the outward and opening of life in Christ that will forever call us to this journey no matter if we have buildings or even altars.  It will be those of us who can hear that call who will build the new church, the new diocese, the reign of God.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Walking on the Dark Side

I have just finished Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, a beautifully written book that at the same time heals and scares the heck out of me.  I believe that it is meant to do that.  She reminds me that I can depend on nothing, not even God, for certainty when I so long for it.  After
all, what is faith for if not to give us some sense that we are ‘right with God’ when everything else in our lives is going haywire?  Taylor goes way beyond my comfort level inviting me into the ‘darkness’ [sic.].  What she really does is invite me into my fears to examine them, become familiar with their terrifying hold and allows me to relax in their tenuous hold on me so that their bonds begin to fail.  It is an amazing process but not for the faint in heart. 

I have not written much over the past 12 months.  I have been embroiled in some up close and personal events in my life.  As those who have followed this blog over the years know, I have had a life-long acquaintance with depression.  But if there is one thing that I am sure of, this experience has not been depression.  Like Taylor, I am knowledgeable enough to know that John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul is far too dramatic to call this ride. But the gloom I have
lived the past 10 months has been an alleyway that I don't wish on others.  It has been a walk with the Holy in ways that I would never have guessed or wanted.  I am not yet finished with this path, but I am being moved to speak of this passage simply because the Gospel cannot be kept within. 

I have been told that if I value my priesthood, I should be quiet.  I have been told that ‘people are not ready for the truth I speak’.  I have also heard that ‘the other side will use what I say against us’.  But all of this is fear of others who will not enter their own terror.  It paralyzes and heightens the anxiety rather than allows a passage through it to the embrace of healing and the liberation of the soul. 

Spoken journeys are the paths through the apprehension that keeps frozen the heart that longs to deepen its relationship with God.  Ask any therapist or spiritual director.  Fear is the stuff that keep us imprisoned, locked in the dungeons of our hearts and minds. 

The Gospel is that which releases us from the constraints of social conventionality and points us toward the Truth of the Universal Path of the Holy One.  I find in those who have marked this journey the courage ‘to live lives worthy of their calling’.
As one who still appreciates the name ‘Christian’ and refuses to allow the dogmatic fundamentalists to define the term, my Christianity demands action.  I cannot just be quiet like the benign soul
who smiles at the preacher on Sunday and says ‘good sermon’ even though they can’t remember what was said.  My baptism demands a boldness in faith that cannot be hidden.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Marriage, Covenant and Holy Week

This isn't the normal article one would usually find during Holy Week on this blog.  Because of J's fall  and broken neck in January and the weeks in rehab and therapy, we chose not to observe Lent this year.  January and
February was as close as we wanted to come to the journey to the Cross this year. And consequently I am not ready for Easter.                 

 Since neither of us have liturgical duties this year, we are 'sitting this one out'. We will attend, of course, but not get too Eastery--no chocolate eggs. 

Instead we are both are contemplating the meaning of Covenant and Marriage as we have decided to be married in 
Delaware in May.  This may come as a shock to some.  It even comes of a bit of shock to me as I have never thought of myself as being 'the marrying kind.' But the real issues of safety in medical facilities became not only apparent, but they showed to be real barriers to good care and made clear we need to make our relationship more 'official' as we grow older. One may have all the medical power of attorney in the world,  but if the doctor, nurse or orderly on the medical team doesn't want to deal with you, you can't get the medical information for the other unless one is a spouse.

Judy Upham and I have lived together for 40 years.  We first came together because of financial constraints: we were roommates trying to do ministry at the very beginning of women's ordination in the Episcopal Church.  J was one of the movers and shakers in the movement and was priested only 6 days after the ordination of Women was permitted in 1977.  We met at a group of interdenominational women in ministry founded by Mary Bruggeman in St. Louis.  We moved into a small house a couple of blocks from Eden Seminary.

Our relationship was not 'love at first sight'.  However we did know 'respect' very quickly and enjoyed the conversations and shared our respective ministries: I, a religion teacher in Roman Catholic schools and she, a hospital chaplain.  

Those were heady times.  The ELCA had just been formed; Seminex was meeting at St. Louis U, a Jesuit school where I was working on Masters in Religious Education.  I was also directing the choir in a large RC church.  We understood each other as support, financial, spiritual and emotional, over the years. In 1979 J was called to Syracuse, the first woman called across diocesan lines to become a rector.  I followed when the publication of Paul VI's encyclical on women was promulgated, and I realized that I could no longer stay a Roman Catholic.  

I did not become an Episcopalian in J's parish.  We knew that separation to do ministry was important and we have never worked or were members of the same congregation until retirement, recognizing that each of us had different ways of following God's call to us.  

I understood our relationship to be not much different from my life as a vowed celibate while I was in the convent.  I knew myself to be lesbian, but I also understood that the private vows I had made were still the way I wanted to live. I could not live openly as gay; I would never have been accepted as a priest and pastor in the congregations I served.  Also, I never
wanted to J to be identified as lesbian. It was too much of a stigma.  We both respected the relationship that she had had with Jon Daniels. The gay-straight relationship was a comfortable one for us.  

In the 80's we explored the possibility of joining with other women and formed the Caritas Community.  At that time there were no women bishops to sponsor and we chose not to go through the rigamarole of becoming 'official'.  Most of us were not Anglo-Catholic and the models of being an order didn't fit the priestly nature of the 5 of us who discussed the Community. It never really developed in the kind of spiritual reality that we wanted.

We lived in each other's rectories.  We attended the same clergy events and participated in the work of diocese as
rectors or interims as our ministries took us.   Sometimes we had to have 2 separate households to do the work that we were given.  But we still spent a great bit of time with each other.  We supported each other for 'richer or poorer, in sickness and health' and over the years the love just grew.  She helped me through seminary.  I took care of her after an aneurysm.  It was just what we did because of the commitment that we never had to speak.  

In 2003 after I supported the election of +Gene Robinson, I was outed by the dean of my district who finally left the Church.  The treatment that we received from the bishop then helped us realize that the Episcopal Church may be 'welcoming and affirming', but we weren't to be believed when we said we were celibate. I have had enough of knowing looks by men who cannot understand that there can be intimacy without sex.  We became worker priests learning about retail and the grocery business.  Finally I was called to a small ELCA congregation and was able to get enough credits to retire.

When NY state began to explore 'same-sex' marriage J and I would joke about getting married but we weren't serious about it.  We had friends who began to be married.  I was invited to critique the Blessings of Same-Sex liturgies before their acceptance at the 2012 General Convention.  I
was asked to celebrate the first Blessing in the Diocese of Fort Worth with the permission of the bishop.  Marriage still wasn't on my radar.  Texas doesn't recognize it.  Slowly but surely however, I realized that what J and I had was more than just roommate status.  And besides, at 70, to still refer to J as my 'roomy' was just a bit too much!  

After a lovely visit with a lesbian couple at Christmas, on the way home, I asked Judy if she would really want to be married to me.  Her vociferous response of YES!!! shook me.  I never knew she felt as deeply committed to me as I felt to her.  We have always told each other that we love her.  We do it several
times a day and especially when it is the hardest to say it.  But to be espoused is a whole different thing.  It is opening one's self to embrace a whole level of affirmation of life in one another.  It isn't about ownership, as marriage is often understood. It isn't about sex. It isn't about obedience but it is about the laying down one's life for the other.  It is a surrender.

The kind of intimacy we have may not be the same as either heretosexual couples or lesbians.  But it is just as deep, and it has stood the test of time.  It has gone through the same ups and downs that most good marriages have. 

Marriage is about trust and covenant.  It is about common values.  It is about holding up our place in society with respect and embrace.  It is about nurture of those around us in Christ's love.  And just as surely as J and I are called priests of the Church, we are called into the covenant relationship of Marriage. 

Those who feel that marriage can only be about
procreation do not read Scripture rightly. Most marriages in Scripture are about the giving and taking of property.  And this is even the basis of the Marriage ceremony in the prayer book.  I hope I am not stepping on  what many of you hold sacred about your marriage vows, but the vows that J and I will repeat in May will bring a covenantal nature to the relationship we have lived for more than a generation.  I am just thankful that we have lived to time and place where we can do this with the support of those who love us. We will not be each other's wife.  We are neither wives.  And neither of us are husbands.  We are two women who have claimed God's call to be coupled in the bonds of holiness and eternity.

If you can celebrate with us, please join us at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes, DE on May 30 at 2:oo pm. Please RSVP by email or Message so we can know how many to prepare for.  If not, your prayers and spiritual presence would be appreciated.

Lauren Gough and Judith Upham

Monday, February 9, 2015

Of Bishops, Clergy, Discrimination and Accountablity

February 9, 2015
Dear Deputies and Alternate Deputies:
Like many of you, I was deeply saddened by the news that bicyclist Thomas Palermo had died on December 27 after he was struck by a car driven by Bishop Heather Cook of the Diocese of Maryland. Mr. Palermo’s wife, Rachel, his children, Sadie and Sam, and his family are in my prayers every day. As a parent who has lost a child, I also grieve for Mr. Palermo’s parents, who survive him. I hope that you will consider a donation to the educational trust fund that has been established for his children.
 In the weeks since Mr. Palermo was killed, many people in the church have struggled to understand better how our systemic denial about alcohol and other drug abuse in the church may have contributed to Bishop Cook’s election and confirmation as a bishop even as she seemed to be struggling with addiction. Many Episcopalians are asking what people in positions of authority in the church knew about her history of addiction and driving while under the influence of alcohol. They are also asking why the electors in Maryland and the bishops and standing committees who consented to her election were not made aware of this information, some of which is a matter of public record.
Bishop Cook has been indicted on 13 counts including vehicular homicide and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Maryland has asked her to resign as bishop suffragan. There is also a Title IV investigation underway, and I hope there will be an open reporting of its results that will answer many of these questions.
However, the ongoing Title IV investigation does not relieve those of us who help lead the church of our obligation to acknowledge that the credibility of the process by which we elect bishops is in question. Long before this crisis, many people in the church understood that the process no longer serves us well in some instances. I have served as consultant to six bishop search committees, and I concur. The seeming failure of the process in Maryland lends new urgency to the discussion.
Resolution A002 from The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church asks General Convention to authorize a task force to recommend a new process for selecting bishops to General Convention in 2018, and it is very likely that other resolutions that address the need for transparency and accountability in bishop searches and elections will come before convention as well.
In addition, I have decided to appoint a House of Deputies special legislative committee on alcohol and other drug abuse to review the General Convention’s 1985 policy on alcohol and drug abuse (Resolution A083) as well as propose and receive resolutions on this and related topics. I believe firmly that people who experience addiction can be called by God to lead our church. I have been blessed by the leadership and pastoral gifts of my own bishop, Mark Hollingsworth, who, since before being named a nominee for bishop, has spoken and written openly and powerfully to us about his many years as a recovering alcoholic. I also know that the church can sometimes confuse secrecy and confidentiality, and that our desire for reconciliation can sometimes make us reluctant to confront one another in love. I hope that we can examine our church’s relationship to alcohol and other drugs in a clear-eyed and forthright way, mindful of the systemic issues that can constrain transparency.
These are the measures I can take to help our church repent for our role in Thomas Palermo’s death. I ask each of you to remember that all of us bear responsibility for ensuring that we elect our leaders honestly and transparently. Even until the very last moment, we all bear responsibility for coming forward when we believe that the process has failed us; in fact, in the liturgy of ordination for a bishop, the Presiding Bishop says, “You have been assured of her suitability and that the Church has approved her for this sacred responsibility. Nevertheless, if any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 514).
Please join me in praying for our church, for Heather Cook, for the Dioceses of Maryland and Easton, and most especially for the family and friends of Thomas Palermo.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings
President, House of Deputies

I remember protesting the election of Jack Iker in 1991, but because no one in the House of Bishops wanted to take seriously the charge of  his clearly stating that he could not 'support the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church', nothing could stop Jack's consecration.  Neither
the attending bishops, the clergy nor the laity were willing to look forward enough to see what kind of lasting and destructive effect his election would have on the Church.  As Church it was easier to smile and 'be nice' rather than be willing to ask the hard questions that the dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin, et, al. were posing with their 'gentleman's agreement' on women's ordination.  

We have a similar 'gentleman's agreement' is now being touted in the House of Bishop's re., the ministry of LGBTQ persons and the bishops are not willing to see what kind of duplicity they are again farming.  Bishops in some areas believe that they have the right to control the priests  of their dioceses as to how they live, what they may wear, who they may see and where they may attend church.  The Diocese of Texas has been especially grievous in this matter since the days of +Benitez.  At least some of this is being rectified by that diocese today, but it does not go far enough to note the damage that the Church has done to LGBTQ persons. 

 The shame with which many of us had to grow up because of not only flawed theology, but outrageous Biblical scholarship, has been held in place by those who are frightened and unable to reflect on a human dignity other than their own. First of all, it is paternalistic, at best.  It is judgmental and discriminatory and worse.  It can leave clergy constantly in fear of losing their jobs, their careers, unable to support themselves or their families simply on the whim of a single person in bishop's orders. According to the canons, a bishop may not do this, but once again, there is no way to bring such charges against a bishop without really ruining one's career.  The Women's Caucus produced a long list of instances where clergy are being bullied by their bishops and it is a growing problem throughout mainline churches. It is an ugly little secret throughout the Church that our juridical officers are unable to be held accountable.

And while I am grateful to +Andy Doyle's leadership in his support of the repeal of discriminatory canons in the Diocese of Texas, this should not be a matter for just a bishop to
decide.  How the clergy may serve and how they may live is a matter for the laity and the clergy to decide also.  If we are to root out discrimination, it cannot be a matter single bishop's opinion.  It must be the will of the diocese; it needs to be canonical.  There must be a willingness of the diocese to fight the discrimination within themselves.  

As for the election of bishops: all too often we go the easiest route to avoid conflict when we go shopping for a new cleric, bishop or priest. In that kind of climate, it is easy to hide.  It is easy to appear 'nice' rather than able to face the conflict in life.  For someone who finds it difficult to address  conflict in their lives, the episcopacy is no place for them in the present-day Church, and for that matter, the ordained ministry of any order.  We need to develop clear system of vetting of candidates who can lead the Church through conflict rather than hide from it.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, role playing, social climbing, are all forms of hiding.  And the Church is full of clergy who play such games  because the structure of the church is no longer one in which transparency and integrity is held as a sacred value.  

When women's ministry in the early 80's began to erode the 'good ole boy' network, where a new clergy person had to 'know someone' in order to get a cure, we replaced it with a computer driven system that ostensibly put everyone on an equal footing.  But these days, it is often the diocese who becomes the lynch pin, for who is called.  It is a different twist on the 'good ole boy's club'.  And bishops still have inordinate control over the clergy's lives in ways that are not healthy and would be considered criminal in the public or private sector.  

General Convention '15 may just be able to begin to address some of these issues because they are fresh.  But my guess is that the House of Bishops, the lower house, will stall any work by the House of Deputies to bring order to the Church that might affect the slow decline of a Church that has lost faith in its leadership. Is this part of checks and balances?  Perhaps, or it may be leading to the kind of log jam we have in Congress that will end up killing us.

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

'Where God and Man have sat down'

What is appealing about sermons?  Today I have listened to 3 or 4 of them.  Now that I am retired I don’t have the weekly responsibility of preparing sermons.  I generally enjoyed the process of preaching. It is why I took my doctorate in it. But I like to listen to good sermons too.  I even go back and read some of the sermons of the great preachers not only of my tradition but others as well.

 Preaching isn’t what some lay folks think, a matter of talking off one’s head or out of one’s back pocket.  Preaching is a holy discipline of being willing to pay attention.  But it isn’t just a hyper-awareness; it is a programmed vigilance. It is programmed by the lectionary that keeps one connected to the readings of the Christian world but it is constantly changing by the events of the world and our lives.
I have never been one who could just pull out an old sermon and preach it.  Only when I was incapable of thinking when I was too sick for the synapses to fire did I ever repeat a sermon—themes, of course, theological points, sure. But I could never just pull up an old sermon and preach it.  It didn’t seem honest.

But now, when I listen to sermons, I long to hear the faith of the person preaching.  I don’t care about hearing a testimony. I don't want to just hear an interpretation of the passage.  I want to know if the person who is preaching really believes what s/he says.  I want to know if the passage that is being preached is something that made the preacher think.  Today, I have listened to Baptist, Methodist, Christian Science, Episcopal and a non-denominational mega feel good church and each one had a piece of the puzzle that God has for me today.  Some of it pulled me back into that comfortable rhythm of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and some of it was meditations on other texts.  

I remember Alec Baldwin saying that he went to a church (not the same one) every Sunday to listen to people who think.  I had never really thought about why people
listened to sermons.  It was a part of church going.  But now that I am listening, I too want to know what people think.  I want preachers who have bothered to prepare, have bothered to embrace either the Scripture or the topic.  I want to know that they have struggled with the things that are raised by an event, or better, how they have wrestled with the passage to glean some meaning for their lives as well as mine.

Rarely was I ever able to tell for whom a sermon was written.  Most of them were directed to me as much as anyone or any parish.  But occasionally, someone would say, “You were talking to me today”.  And I have even said the same to a preacher.  I always appreciated hearing that it had made an impact on someone, rather than “good sermon, Pastor.” 

But what does it mean for us when we do think about an issue.  Does it cause a change of behavior?  Not generally. But it starts the wheels rolling.  Sometimes, it does.  I still remember the sermon Dean Harvey Gutherie of EDS, a Scripture scholar, taking apart the prohibition of women speaking in Church in Timothy back in the ‘70’s.  And while I don’t remember exactly what he said, I knew what it meant when Scripture was 'opened' to me.  It felt like the top of my head had been opened to a new light and interpretation.  It opened me to the call I had been hearing but could not give myself permission to pursue.

Preaching is a holy discipline that requires not only struggle with Scripture but also a struggle with what is going on in the world and the particular world of the congregation.  The Bishop that ordained me, +Ned Cole, said one should preach with a
Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. No wonder I was always fatigued following preaching…struggling with so many things and pulling them together to make a coherent point.  

Today I come away from the lectionary readings with the sense that Jesus did not allow evil to speak in his hearing.  He silenced evil when he could.  He didn’t listen to the whine or the excuse.  He looked past it and called forth the goodness of the possessed.  That is a hard task, but it is one I want to hold on to today. 
I appreciate good preaching.  I appreciate the time and effort that others have given to the readings to make them come alive for me.  But like Alec Baldwin, I love to hear how people think.  It is the holy discipline—it is Incarnational theology at its best.  And like the Eucharist, it is ‘where God and Man [sic] have sat down.’