Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Responding to B033

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of El Camino Real has published a revised charge to their bishop search committee, which deletes the previous admonition not to nominate any "homosexual persons" and replaces it with the following:

"The Search Committee shall be mindful of General Convention Resolution B033."

That is a definite improvement, but I prefer the response to B033 that will be brought to the Diocese of California's Diocesan Convention in October:

Dissent from B033

Resolved, the 157th Convention of the Diocese of California dissents from Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church as inconsistent with Title III, Canon 1, Sec. 2 of the Canons of the Episcopal Church and our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being; repents of the continuing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people that B033 represents; and strongly urges the Standing Committee and Bishop of the Diocese of California to refuse to discriminate unjustly against bishops-elect for any reason.


Title III, Canon 1, Sec. 2 of the Canons of the Episcopal Church states: "No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexualorientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established."

Resolution B033, which our deputation and Bishop Andrus voted against, reads as follows:

“Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

The intent of B033 is to subvert Title III, Canon 1, Sec. 2 of the Canons by institutionalizing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in response to the Windsor Report. This exemplifies the ongoing spiritual violence against LGBT members of our church. Such an effort is incompatible with an Anglican approach to the interpretation of scripture and tradition, the exercise of human reason, and the lived experience of the gifts of lesbian and gay people in this diocese.

Respectfully submitted,

Oasis/California Advisory Board
The Rev. John L. Kirkley, President

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Yesterday it was reported on various Episcopal listservs that the Standing Committee of the Diocese of El Camino Real (ECR) included the following in its instructions to the Search Committee established to secure nominations for their next diocesan bishop:

"At this time in our history and in view of General Convention Resolution B033, the Search Committee shall not nominate any homosexual person as a candidate for bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real."

You remember B033:

"Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

Well, it is clear whose "manner of life" is, um, challenging to the wider church. ECR has done us the service of making explicit what we knew already: that B033 institutionalizes discrimination based on sexual orientation in our episcopal election process. ECR has followed the logic of B033 a step further by refusing to accept even the nomination of a gay or lesbian person as a candidate for bishop.

Thus, we now have a diocese that, in keeping with the spirit of B033, has contradicted the letter of Canon III.1.2:

"No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination or election is hereby established."

Access, much less election or consent, is now being denied to otherwise qualified gay or lesbian priests who might be nominated for bishop of El Camino Real. At this point, unless the Standing Committee of El Camino Real rescinds this prohibition, their election process is in violation of the canons from the outset, and no one elected as a result of this process should receive consent from Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction.

The diocese of El Camino Real is free to elect any canonically qualified candidate to be their next bishop. They are not free to deny access to the nomination process based on sexual orientation. Gay and lesbian clergy have the same right to due consideration as any other qualified nominees: not that any gay or lesbian priest in his or her right mind would want to serve there.

Then again, any gay or lesbian person has to be a little bit crazy to hang in there with this church. As Anne Lamott famously said: "Sometimes the church is enough to make Jesus want to drink gin from a cat bowl."


Sunday, August 6, 2006

Practicing Prayer: A Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray. Amen. Luke 9:28-29

When you think of Jesus, what comes to mind? Do you imagine him teaching one of the parables to a crowd of eager listeners? Is he engaged in healing the sick or curing someone possessed by a demon? Do you recall one of the miraculous feeding stories? Maybe you picture Jesus confronting the religious authorities, chasing the bankers out of the Temple, generally stirring up trouble. And, of course, anyone with any exposure to the art of the Western world carries within herself an image of Jesus on the Cross.

This morning, I want to offer another, sometimes overlooked, image of Jesus. Running like a thread throughout the gospel narratives are moments in which Jesus steals away to pray. Following his baptism, he goes to the wilderness alone to pray. At various times throughout his ministry, as in today’s Gospel story, he leaves the crowds behind for a time of solitude. He prayed in the synagogue and the Temple. Before his arrest, he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane with such intensity that Luke says “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” Now that is some serious praying! Clearly, prayer was very important to Jesus.

Jesus is many things to many people, but I invite you this morning to see him as a man of prayer, and consider what it means for us to be people of prayer following his example. Prayer is the foundation upon which we build a life of faith, hope and love; the thread that weaves together the disparate elements of our lives into a meaningful whole.

As Brian Taylor notes, Life has a way of presenting us with opportunities for prayer every moment. A “life of prayer” is therefore simply a transparency to the divine in everyday life. This is the purpose of all practices and disciplines of prayer: to be spontaneously responsive to God in life.[i]

From what we know of Jesus’ teaching and practice, praying doesn’t have to be complicated or follow a particular formula. It isn’t something to be forced or imposed on us. It is meant to be natural, spontaneous, simple and direct, growing out of the stuff of everyday life with its worries, needs, opportunities, and joys.

Such prayer assumes an intimate relationship with God based on child-like trust. If my son is sick, he comes to me to make him feel better. If he is hungry, he asks for food. When he does something well, he wants me to celebrate with him. If he finds something interesting, he wants to share it with me. In other words, he lives life in the moment, with awareness, and desires a loving presence to share this magnificent and sometimes scary experience of life with him.

Our prayer can be like that, without affectation or worry about whether we are doing it “right.” With childlike trust and confidence, Jesus prayed to God as “Abba,” “Papa.” He claimed an intimacy with God that some thought blasphemous, and he invites us to share this same intimacy with God. He teaches us that God desires such closeness with us, that he wants us to consciously share our lives with him – all of it.

This kind of spontaneous transparency to God rarely comes easy for us as adults. To a greater or lesser extent, we learn over time to protect ourselves from the vulnerability we felt as children, a vulnerability that left us open to sometimes painful experiences. We close in on ourselves, becoming preoccupied with hurts from the past or fears of the future. Our prayer becomes a defense mechanism, a way of placating God or hedging our bets. Maybe, in our cynicism or despair, we stop praying altogether.

In such circumstances, we must pray our way into a second naiveté and learn to acquire an undefended heart again; a heart that is open to the divine in each moment. Paradoxically, many of us find that we must set aside time for intentional prayer, embrace certain formal practices and forms of prayer, accepting the need for training wheels until we can regain our balance again in prayer.

You may never forget how to ride a bike, but many of us do forget how to pray, how to be aware in the moment, in the way that children are naturally. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us, “Unless you become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” We must regain the childlike trust that allows us to enter into each moment with an undefended heart, transparent to God. Until then, there is no shame in praying with training wheels on.

Even Jesus set aside certain special times for prayer and solitude. If Jesus found such retreat time necessary, surely we might benefit from regular times of prayer and contemplation, with or without words. Such times are not an end in themselves; they prepare our hearts to accept life on life’s terms, and to hold ourselves open to God’s compassionate presence at work in the world around us.

This, I think, is the point of the story of the Transfiguration in Luke’s Gospel. That mountaintop experience that Jesus shared with Peter, James and John was transforming. Sometimes, prayer can be a powerful experience of intense clarity in which we see deeply and truly into the nature of reality. The Transfiguration was just such an experience of prayer, in which the disciples saw the presence of God in Jesus. In fact, the glory of God enveloped the entire mountaintop. Suddenly, the whole world looked different.

Peter wanted to freeze-frame the moment, to build a monument to the experience. It is tempting to remain attached to such “peak experiences.” God, however, has other plans. The point of prayer isn’t to have an “experience.” The point is to go back down the mountain and learn to see the presence of God in everyday life. Prayer trains us to see deeply and well, to be open to the presence of God in all circumstances.

As a Zen master once said to his student, “It’s not how high you can jump in meditation, but what you do when you hit the ground.”[ii] In Christian terms, the point isn’t to revel in rapturous mystical connection to God, but to be mindful of the divine presence in every moment and in all things, and to allow that mindfulness to inform our action in the world.

Another Buddhist master, Thick Nhat Hanh, describes perfectly what such mindfulness looks like in practice.

We have to practice awareness of each thing we do if we want to save our Mother Earth, and ourselves and our children as well, writes Nhat Hanh. For example, when we look at our garbage, we can see lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and flowers. When we throw a banana peal into the garbage, we are aware that it is a banana peel that we are throwing out and that it will be transformed into a flower or a vegetable very soon. That is exactly the practice of meditation.

When we throw a plastic bag into the garbage, we know that it is different from a banana peel. It will take a long time to become a flower. “Throwing a plastic bag into the garbage, I know that I am throwing a plastic bag into the garbage.” That awareness alone helps us to protect the Earth, make peace, and take care of life in the present moment and in the future. If we are aware, naturally we will try to use fewer plastic bags . . . This is living mindfully.

Nuclear waste is the worst kind of garbage. It takes about 250,000 years to become flowers. Forty of the fifty United States are already polluted by nuclear waste. We are making the Earth an impossible place to live for ourselves and for many generations of children. If we live our present moment mindfully, we will know what to do and what not to do, and we will try to do things in the direction of peace.

Something as simple as recycling can be an act of prayer if done with mindfulness of the glory of God, whose presence fills the whole creation. It can be an expression of our capacity to see deeply into the goodness, beauty, and interconnection of all things. As Nhat Hahn observes: If you are a good organic gardner, looking at a rose you can see the garbage, and looking at the garbage you can see a rose . . . without a rose, we cannot have garbage; and without garbage, we cannot have a rose. They need each other very much. The rose and the garbage are equal. The garbage is just as precious as the rose.[iv]

Our challenge today is to see the Transfiguration of Christ as a cosmic event; as a revelation of the holiness of the whole creation. Our practice of prayer can train us to see this holiness manifest in rose and garbage, friend and enemy, endangered species and fertile fields. We must learn to see with the eyes of Blessed Hildegard of Bingen, who wrote:

The earth of humankind
contains all moistness,
all verdancy,
all germinating power.

It is in so many ways
All creation comes from it.
Yet it forms not only the basic
raw material for humankind,
but also the substance of the incarnation
of God’s son.

To see the world in this way and to act based on such insight; that is what it means to pray. Amen.

[i] Brian Taylor, Becoming Human: Core Teachings of Jesus (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2005), p. 146.
[ii] Taylor, p. 149.
[iii] Thick Nhat Hahn, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (Bantam Books: New York, 1992), pp. 107-108.
[iv] Nhat Hahn, p. 97.
[v] Earth Prayers From Around The World: 365 Prayers, Poems, And Invocations For Honoring The Earth, Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Amidon, eds. (HarperSanFrancisco: San Francisco, 1991), p. 46.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Taking It Global: Support Human Rights for LGBT People in Nigeria

Dear Christian congregations, institutions, and members of the clergy,

We are writing to request your urgent assistance.

The Federal Republic of Nigeria is contemplating the passage of a bill
that would criminalize all forms of homosexuality. If the Same Sex Marriage
(Prohibition) Act 2006 were to pass, anyone engaged in private, consensual
behavior, involved with a lesbian or gay organization, who attended a
lesbian or gay public event, or who blessed a lesbian or gay union could be
held criminally liable and sentenced to a 5-year prison term. We believe
that this bill is immoral, inhumane, and would be in violation of the
basic Christian values of human dignity and fairness.

Because the Christian churches of Nigeria have been some of the primary
forces behind this legislation, we are mobilizing a US-based progressive
Christian response. Human rights organizations in Nigeria, Africa and
around the world have already sent letters of protest (see for instance
<> ).

With this effort, we raise our voices to proclaim that the persecution of
lesbian,gay, bisexual and transgender people is not a Christian value.
We are asking U.S. Christian leaders to sign a public letter of protest
to the Nigerian government condemning this immoral legislation. To add
your name to this letter - which you'll find pasted below and attached -
please email <>
with the name of your congregation, the name of your organization, or your
own name as an individual religious leader (complete with your title and
congregation or organization name for affiliation purposes only). The
Nigerian House of Representatives may consider the bill as early as next
week, so a quick response from you is urgently needed. Please sign the
letter by the end of the day Tuesday, August 8.

For more information, please contact David Lohman at the Institute for
Welcoming Resources at or (612) 821-4397.
By proclaiming the true meaning of Christian values, we can prevent the
persecution of lesbians and gays carried out in our name.


Reverend Rebecca Voelkel
Institute for Welcoming Resources

Reverend Susan Russell


August 9, 2006

Aminu Bello Masari
Speaker of the House of Representatives
Federal Republic of Nigeria

Dear Honorable Speaker,

It has been called to our attention that a bill now before the National
Assembly would strip a section of the Nigerian people of their basic
human rights. The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006 goes far beyond
banning equality in civil marriage. It is an assault on everyone's
basic freedoms. As leaders of faith communities, we believe that respecting
the dignity of every human being is a core spiritual value. We urge you as
civic leaders to respect human dignity by rejecting this bill.

The bill says that the law will provide five years imprisonment to
anyone who "goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same
sex," helps or supports a same sex marriage, or "is involved in the
registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or
meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship
directly or indirectly in public and in private." It will also prohibit
adoption of children by lesbian or gay couples or individuals. Arresting
people for these acts challenges fundamental freedoms under the Nigerian
Constitution and international human rights law and standards, including the
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

This proposed legislation also hurts Nigeria in its struggle to stop the
spread of HIV/AIDS. This bill would drive part of the population deeper
into invisibility and silence-cutting them off from any sort of education
concerning how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights affirms the equality
of all people. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
which Nigeria acceded to in 1993, protects the rights to freedom of
expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.
The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders says that "everyone has
the right, individually and in association with others, at the national
and international levels: a) to meet or assemble peacefully; b) to form,
join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or

Most importantly, this bill would strike at the equality, dignity and
respect due all people in Nigeria. As faith leaders we are committed to
building bridges of understanding across divides of difference. We
believe all people of faith are called to work together for a world of justice,
peace and equality. We urge you to resist the polarizing rhetoric of
some narrow, religious ideologues and instead affirm the fundamental values
of freedom reflected in the Nigerian Constitution.

We are asking that you oppose this bill and protect the equality of all
Nigerians. Your assistance is necessary in order to overcome the
discrimination that takes place in the world today. We are depending
on you to do all you can to prevent this bill from being passed and to take a
stand for the basic human rights of all people.



Christian Association of Nigeria
Members of the relevant committees of the House of Representatives to
be added.

Jessica Stern
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10118-3299
T: (212) 216 - 1867
F: (212) 736 - 1300

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Texts of Terror

JaninSanFran has moved me to reflect on something that has been bothering me lately. While Israel continues to destroy large parts of Lebanon in retaliation against Hezbollah, I've been continuing to pray the Daily Office. The readings for Morning Prayer have been the conquest narrative in the Book of Joshua, in which the Israeli invasion of Canaan is legitimated by divine command. There we find texts of terror like this:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand." . . . When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and attacked it with the edge of the sword. The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand - all the people of Ai. (Joshua 8:18a, 24-25)

This is hardly edifying; especially just after breakfast. In a world awash in the violence of competing fundamentalisms, nationalisms, and hegemonic globalism (aka U.S. imperialism), in which appeals to divine sanction for all kinds of barbarism is heard daily, how are we to respond to Scripture texts such as this?

The only sense I can make of such a text is to see it as part of the whole of Hebrew and Christian Scripture, a vast mirror that reflects back to us the many ways in which we humans try to understand and relate to God. It is a mirror that is sometimes painfully revealing of the ways in which we use and abuse God for our own purposes.

When I read texts like Joshua 8, I can only conclude that its inclusion as part of the canon of scripture is meant to serve as a warning: this is what God's people are capable of, and you are no better or worse; so beware. Beware of making God in your own image, subserviant to your own aggressive, greedy schemes.

The massacre at Ai is not meant to be emulated. It is meant to be condemned. Just as the massacre at Qana must be condemned. More than that, as Christian citizens of the U.S., whose government provides support and cover for Israeli aggression, we must work to delegitimize policies whose end is this kind of destruction. That is within the scope of our influence. My prayer is that Jewish and Muslim people of faith will exercise such influence as is within their power to deligitimize the terrorism and violence that is all too frequently justified by texts of terror.