Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Remain Episcopal

Last Saturday, I was in Fresno to attend an all-California meeting of Integrity chapters and diocesan LGBT ministries. While there, we heard a report from Remain Episcopal, the group committed to maintaining a continuing Episcopal presence in the Central Valley should the Diocese of San Joaquin decide to embrace schism. At least three congregations (of 50) are committed to remaining in the Episcopal Church come what may. They need the financial and pastoral support of the wider Church as they struggle for recognition and voice in a very dysfunctional and oppressive environment.

Clergy and laity who disagree with the direction of Bishop Schofield have been ostracized by the conservative majority. Canonical processes for decision making and safeguards to ensure avenues of communication have been ignored. Faithful Episcopalians in the Central Valley need our help.

There are two things you can do right now to make a difference:

1. Join Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, for a day of worship and witness to the love of Christ at St. John's Episcopal Church in Lodi on Saturday, February 10, from 11 am to 4 pm. To register, email St. John's at or Remain Episcopal at This event is free and lunch will be provided.

2. Send a tax-deductible contribution payable to "Remain Episcopal" to Remain Episcopal Membership, 2067 W. Alluvial, Fresno, CA 93711.

Please keep the diocese of San Joaquin in your prayers.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jubilee, Justice, and the MDGs

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Amen. (Luke 4:18)

Jesus tells the hometown folks in Nazareth that his mission basically is bringing good news to the poor. He quotes the prophet Isaiah to demonstrate that his mission is consistent with what God has been promising all along. Jesus has come to fulfill God’s promise of good news to the poor.

Who are the poor? “The poor in the Bible are the helpless, the indigent, the hungry, the oppressed, the needy, the humiliated,” notes Elsa Tamez. “And it is not nature that has put them in this situation; they have been unjustly impoverished and despoiled by the powerful.”[1] This is real material poverty; not the “poor in spirit,” an abstraction that elides the real suffering of people whose poverty we tend to either idealize, vilify, or ignore.

“English equivalents to the Hebrew words for ‘the poor’ are such things as the frail one, the weak one, the bent-over one, the humiliated one. The New Testament Greek word ptōchos means ‘one who does not have what is necessary to subsist’ and is forced into the degrading activity of begging.”[2] It is to such as these that Jesus has come to bring good news.

You can’t help but encounter folks who are ptōchos on the streets of San Francisco. Yet they are only the tip of the iceberg of economic injustice that often lies beneath the surface of our awareness. A recent report, A Tale of Two Economies, chronicles the dark underside of the High Tech - Biotech economy in the Bay Area. The top 150 Silicon Valley companies recorded profits of $37.1 billion dollars in 2005, up 199% from 2003. Genentech, rated the #1 company to work for in the U.S., realized $1.39 billion in profits alone. Unfortunately, the benefits of this economic boom have not been enjoyed by the many low-wage service workers who clean-up after and feed the highly skilled professionals who work for these companies.

While Genentech employees enjoy great benefits, their cafeteria workers are subcontracted through companies like Guckenheimer Enterprises. These workers, like many others working in the Bay Area service economy, earn 69% less than the region’s median income; most can not afford health insurance premiums equaling 20% of take-home pay, and depend upon public assistance for food as well as health care; many report work place injuries and difficulties getting time off to attend to them; those seeking to organize union representation to negotiate better working conditions are harrassed, demoted, or "laid off."

Rosario Ramirez, a Deli worker employed by Guckenheimer, is typical of the Bay Area “working poor.” “I am 55 years old and I don’t have health insurance,” reports Rosario. “Guckenheimer’s health insurance . . . costs more than $200 per month and I only make $10 an hour. But I cannot ask for government assistance because I make too much money to qualify. I have diabetes and I cannot take any medicine for it because I can’t afford it. To survive, I avoid certain foods. But it is an illness that gets you over the long term. For instance, my eyesight is fading. On top of that, I have blood pressure.”[3]

“During 8 hours of work I never get my 10 minute breaks,” notes Aurelio Alvarado, another Guckenheimer employee. “We get pushed to run around like ants rushing everywhere to get work done. I am in charge of stocking kitchen supplies and products in the refrigerator and shelf. Most of the products are heavy, weighing approximately 30-50 pounds each. I lift boxes and boxes of sodas, oranges, potatoes and onions without a belt, dolly or pushcart. I now have a permanent pain in my back that feels like someone is punching me.”[4]

According to one of the union organizers with whom I've spoken, about 65% of these food service workers are Latino and most of them are women. I suspect that, given the climate of anti-immigrant sentiment, these folks are hired because they work hard AND are easy to intimidate. Jesus comes to announce good news to Rosario and Aurelio and all those bent-over ones harvesting our food, and tending our gardens, and cleaning-up our messes; all those who are marginalized and exploited. But what, exactly, is the content of this good news? The good news is that the world is about to turn.

Jesus frames his understanding of the good news of God’s kingdom in terms borrowed from the prophet Isaiah, who offered a vision of homecoming and renewal to the people of Israel in exile:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor . . . to comfort all who mourn . . . to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit . . . They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations . . . For I the Lord love justice . . .”[5]

Isaiah’s vision is one of refugees and immigrants becoming citizens, of those who are in servitude being liberated, of those who suffer and are weak finding strength and joy. It is a vision of health, of wholeness, of shalom. Jesus appropriates this vision and the mission of bringing good news to the poor, not as an act of charity, but because God loves justice.

Jesus and Isaiah reflect an even older Biblical tradition that recognizes the human tendency toward exploitation of people and the planet, and thus the need for a regular practice of restoring justice. This practice is described in the Book of Leviticus as the observance of the Jubilee year in a seven year cycle. It includes the following elements:

  1. The soil is to lie fallow. Recognizing the limits implicit in ecological health, even the earth must periodically enjoy a Sabbath rest. Earth justice is a biblical concept.
  2. All debts are to be cancelled. This is echoed in the petition, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” in the Lord’s Prayer, which is a Jubilee year prayer.
  3. All slaves are to be freed. No one should live in servitude forever, much less one’s children’s children. Liberty is to be proclaimed throughout the land to everybody, and this liberty is economic as well as social in character.
  4. Capital is to be redistributed: all land acquired since the previous jubilee year must revert to its original owner. This is to protect against gross inequalities in wealth and to insure the economic sustainability of families and communities.

When Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor he is announcing the observance of the jubilee year to a people who had long ago abandoned its practice. He is challenging us to consider the social and economic implications of the fact that God loves justice, and calling us to participate with him in the mending of the world.

From a human point of view, this is not a once and for all achievement. The world is about to turn, but it will need to turn again, and again, and again. There is a certain realism to the practice of the jubilee year, a recognition that the work of justice and mercy is an ongoing part of the project to make the world a habitable place for the children of God.

The observance of the Jubilee will look different in our day than it did in an ancient agrarian society, but its principles remain the same. It includes actions like the campaign urging Bay Area Biotech and High-Tech companies to adopt Responsible Contractor Policies or Codes of Conduct to hold subcontractors accountable for fair wages, compliance with state and federal laws, neutrality toward worker organizing, and worker retention practices when contractors change. Christian communities and leaders should endorse such policies because God loves justice.

Last year, the Episcopal Church adopted the United Nation’s Millenium Development goals as a blue print for imagining what the observance of the jubilee year will look like on a global scale, calling us to work to:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child Mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for economic development

Jesus calls us to embrace this Jubilee vision and to make it real in the lives of the poor in our neighborhood and around the globe. Last week, a group of us met with Eleanor Milroy from the Bay Area Organizing Project to begin a conversation about how St. John’s can make a difference in the city of San Francisco. We must continue that conversation and move from talk to action in the coming months.

I’m heartened by St. John’s growing relationship with the Diocese of El Salvador and look forward to our next mission trip there in October, as well as by the work Liz Specht and others are doing through El Porvenir to provide access to clean water in Nicaragua. In addition, I’m working with people from around the diocese to develop a microfinance program that will help gay and lesbian people in Uganda achieve economic sustainability. Our commitment to justice must be global and local.

All of these are what I would call jubilee year initiatives, and their practice is part of what it means to be faithful disciples of Jesus. The Church does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of the healing of the world. It is time to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor again – and again – until the great last day when God is all in all. Until then:

My heart shalll sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near and the world is about to turn. Amen.

[1] Elsa Tamez, Bible of the Oppressed, p. 70.

[2] Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes, p. 99.

[3] “A Tale of Two Economies: Food Service Workers in the High Tech-Biotech Corridor,” p. 8 found at

[4] “Tale of Two Economies,” p. 11.

[5] Isaiah 61:1-4, 8a

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Monastics Old and New

I recently came across an interesting post by Bishop Marc Andrus on the Benedictine concept of "Stability." Bishop Marc considers stability in the context of the "New Monastacism" and the emerging global consciousness of the Church and society. He invites us to consider stability - commitment to particular people and places - in its intrapersonal, interpersonal, and planetary dimensions. We are formed (and de-formed) in important ways by our location in particular relationships and communities, and by the level of our connection (and dis-connection) to them.

Marc's invitation is a timely one, putting me in mind of an essay by Wendell Berry that comes at this topic from a slightly different angle: through the lense of our economic life and its environmental effects. Berry notes that the number one principle of the current global economy is "That stable and preserving relationships among people, places, and things do not matter and are of no worth." Corporations readily destroy one place - its people, land, and culture - to enrich another place (which is why the New Monasticism's commitment to the abandoned places of Empire is such an important witness). To the extent that we are enmeshed in this economy, we are literally a people without an address, living "no where," because "any where" is equally exploitable and equally habitable in the monoculture of Empire: "New place, same Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken," or, even more tragically, "New place, same sweatshop and shooting gallery."

Berry argues that we have given proxies to Corporations to take responsibility for our lives - providing food, clothes, shelter, medicine, education, entertainment - without any real accountability, and to the detriment of our capacity truly to know and connect to other people and the places in which we live. We've given the global economy proxy to live our lives for us or through us, and, often, in spite of us. We need to take back the proxy and begin to live our own lives in real community again.

"A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life," writes Berry. Self-knowledge alone will not save us. What we need are practices that cultivate awareness, compassion, commitment, and competence in the rebuilding of connection to people and places. This is where churches, I believe, can actually make a difference.

At their best, our congregations are centers of real community, strongly rooted in the local ecology, economy, and culture. Often, as in our inner cities and rural communities, they already are located in the places abandoned by Empire, and therefore well-situated to witness to an alternative way of living - real life rather than virtual life. By offering people initiation and nurture in the Way of Jesus, congregations provide them with concrete practices of contemplation, worship, healing, hospitality, art, conversation, study, discernment, organizing, and advocating so that they can build the kind of intrapersonal, communal, and global stability to which Bishop Marc refers.

As the Body of Christ gathered in a particular place, congregations should be deeply concerned with the stability and preservation of relationships among people, places, and things. I know that there is a deep, spiritual hunger for such stability. I see it in the number of religious vocations present in my small congregation, and in the desire of some parishioners to make formal vows of stability in this particular congregation. In a time of increasing social mobility, isolation, and vulnerability to ersatz forms of community, it is important for us to find ways to help people choose stability. Perhaps the "New Monasticism" provides a clue, reminding us to make use of the old as well as the new in our tradition.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nothing Will Be Lost

I call your attention to this beautiful mediation, Nothing Will Be Lost, by the learned and eloquent Father Tobias Haller, BSG. May peace be upon him.

Thank you, Tobias.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bishop Marshall on Archbishop Williams

The following is the text of an email written by Bishop Paul Marshall to his
fellow bishops of the Episcopal Church, and posted on the House of Bishops/
Deputies listserve. It is a breath of fresh air.

If the Pope can go to
Turkey, Can the ABC go to Texas?
Being sure the obvious is said.

I have always been captivated by the realism about human interaction
found in the seven undoubtedly Pauline Epistles, our earliest
testimony to Christianity: for Paul, the living out of the gospel is
always a matter of imperfect personalities and events, redeemed and
being redeemed, giving and embracing comment and correction on the
way. Spirits are to be tested, and behavior in the Body addressed.
Compare Paul's own report of his conflict with Peter over the latter's
suspension of eating with Gentiles, and his report of what went on at
the Jerusalem summit with Luke's much smoother and curial account of
relations at a "council," and we begin to see more clearly the
apostle's consistency behavior and his point of view about leadership.
For good or ill, most people acknowledge that Paul led the formation
of the Christianity we know. It is wise to consider on the meta level
his operational principles of directness in truth-telling. Let us also
consider his directness in truth-acting: circumcision decisions on
Timothy and Titus are radically different because how those decisions
related to Gospel truth at certain places in certain times.

With St. Paul, we must dare to look at and respond to the vessels and
the circumstances, all of which struggle to bear the Gospel. Being
more modestly gifted than my apostolic namesake, I will limit my
theological observations while trying not to avoid naming the issue
and person that concerns me in the Church as much as President George
Bush does in the orbis terrarum, and I assure you that do I write to
him often.

The most un-biblical part of traditional Anglicanism is its
politeness, its charm, its unwillingness to confront and hold
accountable those who have sought and accepted positions of supreme
leadership. We in the Episcopal Church often brag about our Church's
failure to address slavery as though that were a virtue and not a
disgrace. The Church held together while humans died in chains and
even bishops (both north and south in the beginning) traded in human
flesh. We now have put the british emancipator William Wilberforce in
our calendar but do not make his commemoration one of fasting and
lament for our heritage of cowardice in the name of togetherness. The
words and deeds of Paul and even more certainly of our utterly
tactless Lord Jesus suggest that charm is less important than candor
or provocative questioning, that real love in times of disagreement is
often something quite uncomfortable. It seems no accident that
historically we are enthralled by John, whom we cannot understand,
rather than Paul, whom we can but would prefer not to.

That said, my subject, with both regret and trembling, is the
Arcbishop of Canterbury, but only in the very limited sense of his
functioning toward our house and to some extent our Church. That is a
tiny and limited subject and I do not intend it for a discussion of
the content of the myriad ministries in which he is engaged. As one
too old to have anything to gain or lose, I will try to say what may
be obvious to others but risky for them to voice. I hasten to add that
this is not a matter of condemnation: he needs no witness from me to
his reputation as a pious and good man, great in so many ways, and
someone whom I overall admire as writer, teacher, and moral voice in
the UK. I believe with all my heart that his intentions are at least a
good as any of ours. I write of a perceived chain mistakes in policy
and deed, mistakes, not evil. I have made perhaps more than my share
of system mistakes, so I know one when I see one.

It will, however, not do to say, as one persistent soul on HOBD
frequently does, that because Rowan is so smart and knows things we do
not, he must be right in his approach to us. I stopped believing that
about leaders during Vietnam, which this is not, of course.

A Gestalt bouquet: I am sadly impressed that my friend and neighbor
Bob Duncan, peace be to him, and a few of his supporters, have had
more time with Rowan Williams than has our entire House, or even our
Church gathered in Convention. The long-distance intervention in our
process during the last moments of the Columbus convention has made us
a laughing-stock. (Katharine wonderfully rolled with that without
losing her integrity, a marvelous first inning.) The public words of
welcome he gave to our new primate would have made a Laodicean proud
for their restrained enthusiasm. The widely-publicized Lambeth Palace
photograph of Rowan, Frank, and Katharine all standing as far away
from each other as the camera lens would allow has not been without
its effect on many among us. A dismal icon of formal communion
without a hint of affection or connection has been sent to the entire
inhabited world.

The perceived distancing did not begin with Gene Robinson. My
neuralgia on the question of the ABC's witness and function has been
growing since his disastrously insensitive comments on 9/11 -made in
New York!- which were alone nearly communion-breaking for lay people
in grief, and which have never been effectually mended. People in my
own diocese who lost loved ones in that attack have never recovered
from the insensitive academic speculation of their galactic leader
asking those covered in blood, ashes, and strewn body parts to reflect
on the bombers and "why they hate" the US. It is an important
question, but one painfully misplaced in time and space. It would have
been pastorally wise, if the relationship in Christ were really
valued, for Lambeth to work endlessly to overcome that perfectly valid
but tragically inept obiter dictum, but no. Curates know that moments
of grief are to be ministered to for what they are and save the dazzle
for much later in the process.

This situation of alienation was regrettably worsened by his
remarkable distancing of himself from a church that has followed his
own carefully thought-through teachings on sexuality, teaching that he
only last year suddenly dismissed as a sin of his academic youth. The
appointment to the Windsor drafters of North American representatives
wonderfully devout but historically disinclined to advocate vigorously
for the position of their church was not his sole responsibility, but
the buck sure stops there. Like many of you, I have submitted to all,
not some, of the demands of the Windsor report as a reluctant gesture
of good will to the Communion and sacrifice of principle for the sake
of those who may be weaker brethren. Cannot that be reciprocated? And
so on and so on. By Rowan's subsequent actions and inactions the
situation has for me now reached a proportion manageable only by the
combination of prayer and surrender to the belief that God will work
this out through the usual means - crucifixion and resurrection. But
before we get ready for life alone, we deserve to hear from him, in
the room with us, an explanation of his distance and intentions. We
are all busy, and we show up where we believe it is important to go.
Let's hope we become important. [An oddly parallel situation on the
other side: just recently the Bishop of Durham has roundly attacked
evangelical bishops in the UK for acting on doctrinal points of view
he has abundantly fueled for years. If we dare to teach, we must
accept the possibility that we will be heard and believed by those for
whom the life of the church is more concrete and less speculative than
academics ever imagine.]

The situation of the shunning of North American bishops would be
painful under any circumstances. The pain is more intense here because
it comes from the withdrawal of a human who was friend, teacher, and
colleague to many in this church - with no notice that either his
opinions or commitments were in flux. The archbishop has appeared to
my knowledge only once in the US since 2003, and that was the briefest
of visits to raise money for a function of the Communion. He cancelled
a date for a joint meeting with Canadian and US bishops with no real
excuse, and has made no effort to reschedule what could have been a
fellowship-redeeming encounter. Our relationship to the one who is
expected to be first in a world-wide college of bishops is distant,
confused, and multiply-triangulated. We are ceaselessly told by those
who would destroy our church that the ABC endorses this or that
crudely divisive action or position. Questions to Lambeth on these
occasions are sometimes met with silence and sometimes with stunning
equivocation. This distance, confusion, and triangulation ought not to
be. One of the basics of episcopal - or parish - pastoral care is that
one gets with and stays as close as possible to those who may be seen
to be problematic. The Pope went to Turkey. Can the Archbishop of
Canterbury not come to meet us just once at a regular or special
meeting in any city he would care to name?

An very highly-placed COE figure told me personally last September
that he thinks Rowan has been "badly advised" in what this person
admitted was callous treatment of the US and Canadian churches. I
rejoice in the hint that Rowan may wish have an authentic connection
with us, but I cannot accept that report of bad advice as sufficient
mitigation: as a bishop I alone am responsible for my actions. I
connect with my churches not with my words as much as by being among
them. Leaders are leaders because they show up when it is not pleasant
to do so.

All of this said, it seems necessary to report my perception that the
nadir in Rowan's overall relationship to the US, Canada and perhaps
South Africa has been the appointment of a virtual lynch mob to draft
the Covenant that will by all reports attempt turn a fellowship into a
curial bureaucracy in which the worst elements of the great and
oppressive Colonizer and of the Resentful Colonized will as meet as a
scissors to the denigration of significant number of God's people who
were almost equal in Christ for one brief shining moment. Are North
, South Africa and many other parts of the Communion (not to
mention "much cattle") of such little value in the grand scheme? Does
anyone think that the COE itself will not split if a continent and a
half are among those permitted to be set adrift?

So we must always talk about him, not to or with him. Like so many of
you, I have been disheartened by the succession of "second gentlemen"
from the COE who have addressed our House in Rowan's stead while
over-insisting that that they were not at all doing so. No bishop of
the left, right, or center, was taken in, and our colleague from
Missouri pointed this out on one occasion with deft words that the
Sage of Hannibal, MO, himself would envy. Even our steadfastly bucolic
local papers here in rustic Pennsylvania would not be deceived by such
over-wrought protestations of mere coincidence or fortuitous
invitation. By these speakers, one of whom just happened to have a
specific list of a dozen or so things we had to do, all but the most
anxious of us have been inevitably alienated. How can it help bonds
of affection for Communion leadership to so overtly and maladroitly
play us for chumps? There is a kind of contempt for our intellect
there whose sting almost matches the pain of the overall strategy of

Having now had three successive messages delivered to us by what some
UK friends describe as "fully accredited members of the British
Olympic Patronizing Team," I take this (perhaps not entirely welcome
to her) opportunity to thank Katharine for her outstanding integrity
and clarity of focus since her election, and accordingly to urge her
that no foreign bishop whatsoever be given the privilege of addressing
the House of Bishops of this Church until the ABC can personally enter
this country and speak to the House himself and deign to entertain the
level of frank questioning that his counterpart the Prime Minister
might have to endure among those he leads and serves. We all do get
cable news and know what the wonderful British tradition of
questioning in the house can helpfully add to common life.

As I began, I end. My text is Paul's reminder to Peter that he USED to
eat with Gentiles until he found it unhelpful to his plan for the
church. After decades of close fellowship, Rowan has steadfastly
chosen the comfortable path of being Peter when we need Paul, and
unless he can make an overwhelming Gospel case for it, I cannot help
but anticipate that he will be remembered as having chosen a path that
was not courageous or well-defined and actually fostered schism. I
cannot now imagine what it will take for him in the long run to
re-create good relations with the US and Canadian houses, but hope
that the effort will be made should we somehow be allowed to remain in

For now, I call on our own amazingly composed and delightful Leader to
require heightened integrity on ABC's part and to remind him that
without _pares_ there is no _primus_ _inter_ which he may by any
significant sense claim to preside.

I do not, cannot, ask the ABC to agree with us: we are a body of
bishops who hold many views and we could be wrong about any number of
our positions and actions. I do not ask that he endorse the actions of
this Church, even if they can claim that they were to some extent his
idea. He doesn't have to receive communion. He doesn't have to eat or
hang out with us. He certainly ought to meet us face to face and
accept accountability for his breath-taking words and actions
us-wards. He needs above all to square what he has said and done in
terms of congruence with what we can know of the ministry of the
fleshly Messiah.

No more messengers; no more cellphone calls to defeat the integrity of
this Church's polity. If Rowan really believes what the Lambeth press
office says he believes about us, it is past time for him to say it to
our faces, and have the goodness to listen to the response of those
who have to live with the results of his choices. This would be, I
believe, fair play and look very more like the New Testament.

Reluctantly yours,

Paul Marshall
[Bishop of Bethlehem, The Episcopal Church]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Beginning with Forgiveness

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” Amen. John 2:11

As you may have been reminded by our opening hymn, tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I was not quite one year old when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. (To save you time doing the math: that means I’ll be 40 this year). While I’ve read a number of King’s writings and something of the history of his life and the Civil Rights movement that inspired him, what usually comes to mind when I think of Dr. King is the haunting lyrics of the U2 song, Pride (In the Name of Love).

In the name of love, one man in the name of love
In the name of love, one man in the name of love
Early morning, April 4, shot rang out in a Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life. They could not take your pride

In the name of love, one man in the name of love
In the name of love, one man in the name of love

Now, as a theologian and poet, Bono far surpasses my abilities (he also sings better than I do!). But I do take issue with the word “pride” as used here. While it works better musically, theologically and morally I think what is at stake in Dr. King’s witness, and in ours, is not pride, but dignity. Dr. King’s dignity was rooted not in pride, but in humility: in his ability to see himself and others as no more, and no less, than human. It was his sense of the inalienable dignity of every human being, created in God’s image, that compelled him to live a life of sacrificial service in the name of love.

For it was in the name of the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ that Dr. King advocated for the dignity of every human being. This love embraces all, regardless of race, creed, gender, class, sexual orientation or any other distinction used to divide and discriminate among the children of God. Dr. King challenged the human tendency to define people in or out of the circle of God’s embrace based on some idea of purity. It is not that we must be pure (racially, sexually, or otherwise) for God to love us. Rather, it is God’s love that declares us pure, that secures our dignity in spite of ourselves. Nothing can separate us from this love, and thus our dignity is inherent in our humanity.

The significance of the sign that Jesus performed at the wedding feast in Cana has to do precisely with challenging the human and religious preoccupation with purity. Jesus instructed the servants to fill the stone jars for the rites of purification with water, and they filled them to the brim: between 120 and 180 gallons of water. These stone jars were normally used to contain the water for ritual cleansings, so that people could wash off their impurity. Isn’t that how we normally think about religious rites and institutions, as a container of water to wash off our sin and make us good?

By turning the water into wine – a lot of wine! – Jesus invites us to think about religious rites and institutions in a very different way: as a container for the wine that makes our hearts glad, as a dispenser of joy as we celebrate God’s presence with us. By performing this sign at a wedding banquet, Jesus is pointing to the tradition of the prophets of Israel, who pictured the coming reign of God, the kingdom of justice and peace, as a great wedding feast – an eternal fiesta, if you will. Jesus is inviting us to see God’s presence with us here and now, to join him in celebrating the restoration of a world in which human beings can realize their dignity.

Through this sign act, Jesus is teaching us that the spiritual life is not primarily a matter of purity, but of freedom and joy. He is reminding us that God created us for joy, and in Christ comes to set us free to embrace the joy of being human. Created for joy, we become bogged down by the weight of the world, the power of sin, and our captivity to self. How easily our joy turns to suffering and sadness.

The miracle of turning water into wine is but the sign of an even more profound reality: the gracious love of God that turns our obsession with our own sins and those of others into a joyful celebration of God with us in Christ, restoring our sense of human dignity. With respect to the stone jars, the question isn’t whether they are half empty or half full, but whether they are filled with water or wine. Do we see the spiritual life and our religious practices as an exercise in purification, or as an invitation to the party that God is throwing for us?

It seems to me that this distinction makes all the difference. I believe God is throwing us a party; a come as you are party, and our mission is to invite as many people as possible to share in the joyful celebration. We are, I think, gravely mistaken if we understand the life and ministry of someone like Dr. King as being focused on the sin of racism and the impurity of white supremacists. Rather, Dr. King called all people, black and white, to the party that God is throwing; and in so doing provided a means for both the victim of racism and the white supremacist to realize their dignity as children of God.

There is something a bit scandalous about this seemingly cavalier attitude toward the guest list to God’s party. The idea that people are invited without any preconditions, the idea that they don’t have to change beforehand or prove themselves worthy of the honor, is still very, very suspect. It ultimately got both Jesus and Dr. King killed. The Episcopal Church today is being torn apart over this idea.

The criticism leveled against Jesus and Dr. King is that this attitude is morally reckless, that it amounts to saying, “anything goes.” Let just anybody come to the party, and pretty soon nobody will want to come. That is the fear. The fear, however, is rooted in a sad misunderstanding about the nature of God, whose property it is always to have mercy, and the nature of humanity, which can never justify itself before God because God has already accepted us. In the game of forgiveness, God has beaten us to the punch.

St. Paul got it so right when he wrote that “rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:7-8)

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph. 2:4-5, 8-10)

We begin from the place of forgiveness, confronted by a God who loves us and invites us to party with him forever: not the kind of party that is simply a diversion from life, a way of tuning out reality; but a real celebration of the joy of being fully alive and truly free and unconditionally loved.

James Alison describes this way of beginning with forgiveness, noting that “forgiveness precedes confession. And the form that forgiveness takes in the life of a person is contrition, that is, a breaking of heart, a deep shift in attitudinal patterns of the sort: ‘Oh my God, I thought I was doing something good, or at least normal, and only now do I begin to see what I was doing was deeply sinful against God and profoundly hurtful to my neighbour, and thus of myself. I must undo in so far as I can what I have done wrong, and make sure never to do it again.’ This breaking of heart is eventually received as an extraordinary gift, that of being given to be someone else who I didn’t know myself to be and who is much bigger and more splendid than what I took myself to be. The actual verbal confession, the apology, or the asking of forgiveness, comes way down the line, and is usually a sign that the person is already receiving forgiveness.”[1]

We begin by accepting the invitation to the party. We start with the fact that we are already loved by God beyond our wildest imagining. It is only later, in light of that love, that we begin to see the ways in which we and the world fail to express and honor the dignity of one so loved. This realization provokes a breaking of heart, an opening up of compassion for ourselves and others. The result is an enormous sense of gratitude for being invited to the party, and the desire that everyone might join with us in the celebration.

This is what Dr. King understood so well and why he insisted that even the white supremacist must be loved. King held open the possibility that by God’s grace, love could move even a cold-hearted segregationist like Bull Connor to contrition. King also held open the possibility that, by grace, Connor’s victims could see themselves, in Alison’s words, “as a recipient of forgiveness: in short, not someone who is primarily a victim and secondarily a forgiver, but someone who is primarily forgiven, and for that reason capable of being a forgiving victim for another, without grasping onto that or being defined by it. This is a huge emotional and spiritual task,” Alison admits, “but without it we will not, I think, understand the salvation which we are receiving from Christ.”[2]

This is a huge spiritual challenge: coming to believe that everyone is invited to the party that God is throwing for us; perhaps especially for those of us who have been told that we are not welcome at the party. First we must come to accept and rejoice that we are invited. And then, in time, we must come to accept and rejoice that our enemies are invited too, forgiving them from the heart without resentment. This is true joy and true freedom, to discover ourselves not only loved, but defined solely by that love, and not by the harms we have done or received. That is when the party really starts!

Jesus has turned the water of purification, the way of being religious that is defined by sin, into the wine of rejoicing, the way of being religious that is defined by forgiveness. He is welcoming us to the great wedding banquet, the eternal party that we celebrate at this table. I hope you will accept the invitation. The party is way more fun with you, than without you! Amen.

[1] James Alison, “re-imagining forgiveness” in On Being Liked, p. 36.

[2] Alison, pp. 37-38,

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Tale of Two Economies

As a parish rector in the Diocese of California, I enjoy enormous job security. I am, for all intents and purposes, tenured. I can't be removed from office without cause. My parish is required to compensate me according to minimum standards set by Diocesan Convention and, by canon law, to pay into the Church Pension Fund on my behalf. It is a pretty good deal, which I largely take for granted.

A recent report from the hotel and food workers' union, UNITE-HERE, reminds me that there are far too many people in the U.S. who do not enjoy such security. Their report, A Tale of Two Economies, chronicles the dark underside of the High Tech - Biotech economy in the Bay Area. The top 150 Silicon Valley companies recorded profits of $37.1 billion dollars in 2005, up 199% from 2003. Genentech, rated the #1 company to work for in the U.S., realized $1.39 billion in profits alone.

Unfortunately, the benefits of this economic boom have not been enjoyed by the many low-wage service workers who clean-up after and feed the highly skilled professionals who work for these companies. While Genentech employees enjoy great benefits, the cafeteria workers are subcontracted through companies like Guckenheimer Enterprises. These food service workers, like many others serving Bay Area high tech and biotech companies, earn 69% less than the median income for Santa Clara and San Mateo counties; most can not afford health care insurance premiums of $200-$400 per month and depend upon public assistance (for food as well as health care); many of them report work place injuries and difficulties getting time off to attend to them; those who seek to organize union representation to negotiate better working conditions are harrassed, demoted, or "laid off."

These subcontractors provide cover for companies like Genentech, who pass along to tax payers the cost of the benefits they provide their employees. Genentech employees get subsidized meals, while taxpayers subsidize the food and health care that underpaid and exploited food service workers can't afford. According to one of the union organizers with whom I've spoken, about 65% of these workers are Latino and most of them are women. I suspect that, given the climate of anti-immigrant sentiment, these folks are hired because they work hard AND are easy to intimidate. It is a familiar story of the coincidence of race, class, gender and immigrant status in the ongoing saga of economic injustice.

UNITE-HERE has begun a campaign to urge companies like Genentech to adopt Responsible Contractor Policies or Codes of Conduct to hold these subcontractors accountable for fair wages, compliance with state and federal laws, neutrality toward worker organizing, and worker retention practices when contractors change. They are urging religious communities and leaders to join them in endorsing these Codes of Conduct. One way to start is by attending the clergy/religious breakfast they are hosting later this month:

Location: King Community Center
725 Monte Diablo Ave, San Mateo, CA
When: Monday, January 29, 9:00am
Phone: 415 336-4717
Help us celebrate the kick off of the "Service Workers Rising" campaign. We are starting here in San Mateo/Santa Clara but this campaign may change the lives of 1,000,000 workers in the US and Canada. Hear about the "Tale of Two Economies" created by Bio-Tech and High-Tech Industry. These corporations attract workers from all over the world. Both groups work hard but one set has the income and benefits they deserve and are treated with respect. The other group struggles to care for their family with low wages and poor access to health care, they also fight for dignity at work on a daily basis. Join us to support courageous immigrant workers and the challenges they face in organizing for their rights. SI SE PUEDE!
I hope to see you there!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Its about Sexism, Stupid

James Carville famously posted the slogan, "Its about the Economy, Stupid," all around the 1992 Clinton campaign headquarters to keep the future president and his staff on message.

If Carville were advising the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church about how to respond to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference report on women's ordination and the Diocese of Fort Worth, I imagine the slogan would be, "Its about Sexism, Stupid."

In essence, this report opines that until the Church catholic agrees that women can be ordained priests, it is OK for bishops of the Episcopal Church to refuse to do so. It goes further in insisting that the Episcopal Church should not refuse consent to bishops-elect who oppose women's ordination.

Can you image consenting to someone who refused to ordain African-Americans? Same difference.

Scratch a homophobe and he'll bleed misogyny. 'nuff said.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Reality Check

Hat tip to Louie Crew for sending the following editorial from the Utah Daily Herald:

Saturday, December 23, 2006
Church dispute gets in the way of God's love

For the last year and a half, I have lived in South Sudan, seeing first-hand what it means to be a Christian in that divided land where death is a daily occurrence. I have served with faithful Episcopalians, trying to help the Church there move from the survival mode it endured during 21 years of civil war to self-reliance and care for its people in this time of uneasy peace.

It has not been easy for Episcopalians in Sudan for many, many years. The Church has been clinging by its very fingertips to its existence. War, famine, drought, disease, oppression -- none of those could stop the Church from proclaiming the core of the Gospel: that God loves us, now and forever.

So it has been with a heavy heart that having returned recently to the United States, I see my own Church, the one that has nurtured and nourished me for the last 15 years, the one that sent me forth as a missionary to Sudan, torn apart by arguments over sexuality and so-called biblical inerrancy.

In the week, nine parishes in the Diocese of Virginia alone have decided to leave the Episcopal Church. The leaders of those congregations claim that the national Church has erred and strayed too far from what they claim is the unvarnished and clear truth. After periods of "discernment," these congregations, totaling only 7 percent of the Diocese of Virginia, and a minute number of Episcopalians nationwide, have made big splashes in the media for leaving. Most are claiming to align themselves with African bishops, whom they believe are better, more faithful leaders.

To complicate matters, the parishes that are leaving also want to take all their property with them, some of it quite valuable. It is theirs, they claim, because they are the only ones who being true to the Scriptures.

Church law says otherwise, meaning that long, brutal legal battles in civil courts are in the offing.

Not only do their arguments not make sense, they also miss the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ they are supposed to be preaching. The departing parishes never talk about God's inclusive love, only their own exclusion of those who disagree with them.

In Sudan, as in much of Africa, we argue over Scriptures with as much vehemence as any American. But those arguments are not the ones that dominate our lives; in Sudan, we worry more -- much more -- about the survival of our people. How are we going to feed them? Educate them? Provide health care? Bring peace to a war-torn land that seems poised on the edge of yet another war?

In Sudan, we are fighting for our very lives.

In the United States, we are fighting over how to interpret words written by mere mortals centuries ago.

In Sudan, people battle hunger, disease, land mines left over from the war, militias and bandits who pull people off buses and shoot them dead in broad daylight.

In the United States, people battle over who knows the mind of Christ the best.

In Sudan, the Church leads the way in breaking down the barriers of tribalism and ethnic hatred.

In the United States, the departing parishes lead the way in throwing up barriers of hatred and homophobism.

To be clear: I know very well what it means to be in disagreement with my Church. I was born and bred to the Roman Catholic faith; even after deciding I would have to leave the Church of my birth, it took years before I had the courage to actually do so. But when I left, I did so cleanly and without attempting to take anything with me. I could not change what Rome promulgated as the faith, so I did the only thing I could to maintain my own integrity: I left behind all I knew and had been taught, even though schism is one of the worst heresies to commit in the Roman Catholic Church.

If the Episcopalians who have voted to leave feel they must do so, I honor their commitment. I know their pain, and pray that they can find holiness in another setting.

But I cannot for the life of me understand why these parishes think they can take everything with them. I cannot understand why these parishes feel it is fine to call into question the salvation of those who remain in the Church.

I cannot find any integrity in filing lawsuits. I cannot understand why those leaving have not heeded the advice of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, with whom many are aligning and who told them last year that if they were to leave, they were to do so cleanly, forsaking their pay, their pensions and their buildings.

Most of all, I cannot understand how anyone can ignore the truth of what Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee has said all along in this dispute: We could ALL be wrong.

Even the Episcopal Church in Sudan, which disagrees with actions taken in the American Church in the last three years, understands this last part. In January, the Sudanese Church said that although it condemned some actions of the American Church, it wanted both churches to continue to walk together, because we are all sinners. More important to the Sudanese was the fact that the American Church had walked with it throughout the long, deadly national civil war. Now, in its time of need, the Sudanese said, they would walk with us through our own small version of a church civil war. Because there is a chance that indeed, we could all be wrong.

Those leaving the Episcopal Church claim they must do so to survive.

They seem to forget that in many parts of the world, the Church is concerned with REAL survival.

And in those areas where REAL survival is at stake, the Gospel that is preached is one of inclusiveness and love, because only inclusiveness and love can overcome the hatred that has left millions of Sudanese dead in the last 50 years.

Hatred has no place in the Sudanese Church.

It has no place in the American Church either.

God's love -- and how that is lived out -- is the ONLY thing that counts.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary serving in the Diocese of Renk in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. She is temporarily serving in the United States.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page B6.