Sunday, July 27, 2008

Paul's Gospel of Inclusion

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question this week. “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Who will condemn? Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” St. Paul goes into rhetorical overdrive as he barrages his readers with question after question. Another way to put the question might be, “Who will exclude us from communion with God?”

That really was the heart of the matter for St. Paul.[i] His Letter to the Romans is a long, complicated, and rhetorically brilliant argument for the inclusion of Gentiles qua Gentiles in the early Jesus movement. Paul is a Jew engaged with other Jewish disciples of Jesus in a debate about the basis for inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God. Must they first become Jews – accept circumcision and observance of the Torah – or not? Paul answers with a resounding “No!” They do not have to become Jewish converts to follow Jesus. They are included as they are.

At the same time, Paul argues that all Israel will be saved, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:29) If Gentiles are included through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus, that does not mean that Jews who are not followers of Jesus are excluded. Paul argues that “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” God will be merciful to all, whether Jew or Gentile. (Romans 11:30-32).

The tragic irony is that Christians have subsequently read Paul through the lens of the rejection/replacement argument; that idea that God has rejected Israel and replaced it with the Church as the new people of God. An inter-Jewish debate about the status of Gentiles became a Jewish-Christian debate about the status of Jews. This is actually the opposite of Paul’s argument, which is that through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus the Gentiles have been included in the people of God. It is an argument for inclusion, not for exclusion.

And so Paul assures his Gentile readers that nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ, while also cautioning them against boasting about their status as if Israel is now somehow excluded from communion with God. Paul is eager to offer assurance, but he also is eager to correct an anti-Jewish misinterpretation of his teaching already current in his day. Thus he argues that all are beneficiaries of the mercy of God – the Jews, first, who respond to that mercy through faithfulness to Torah – and the Gentiles, second, who respond to that mercy through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus.

Now, all of this might seem of merely historical interest were it not for the reality of continuing anti-Jewish Christian teaching and practice, and the very contemporary question within the Church about who is or is not included in communion with God. Paul’s cultural horizon was limited to a division of humanity into Gentile or Jew; his field of vision did not include Buddhist or Jain or Confucian, and Islam had not yet been born. In fact, I don’t believe it even included Christians; Paul never uses that term and never identified himself as anything other than a Jew who believed that Jesus is the Messiah. Christianity was not yet something separate from Judaism. Even so, despite our vastly different cultural context, the basic principle remains: God shows mercy to all, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

As Christians, our communion with God through Christ is not dependent upon anyone else’s exclusion. No one else need be condemned so that we can feel affirmed. Our identity is God’s gift to us and does not need to be defined over-and-against anyone else. Neither do we need fear anyone else’s condemnation or rejection. “Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8:34).

This question of inclusion or exclusion has been in the forefront of the Church’s life in recent days. As many of you know, the bishops of the world-wide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, gathered this past week in Canterbury, England for the Lambeth Conference, the bishops’ once-a-decade meeting. Well, actually, approximately 670 bishops are there. One bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, has been excluded from the meeting because he is an openly gay man in a faithful same-sex relationship. More than 200 other bishops have boycotted the meeting because the Episcopal Church has not been disciplined for consenting to Robinson’s election and consecration as bishop of New Hampshire.

For some people, not only Bishop Robinson, but any bishop who supports him should be excluded from the Communion. This past week, the Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, called for Bishop Robinson’s resignation and for repentance on the part of those bishops who support his ministry. "Gene Robinson has to be away from the Anglican world and be a normal Christian,” said Deng at an afternoon news conference. "If he is, as he always says, a Christian, he should resign for the sake of the church."

Asked if he has talked to Robinson, Deng replied, "I have nothing to say to him." He also said he cannot participate in the Anglican Communion's Listening Process because homosexuality is not "approved by the Bible" and "is not part of my culture, I cannot talk about it." Deng said there are no gay or lesbian people in Sudan. [ii]

We find ourselves in a situation where the cultural divide today between Archbishop Deng and Bishop Robinson is as great as that between Jew and Gentile in St. Paul’s day. Must gay people, as Archbishop Deng seems to believe, become or at least act “straight” in order to be included in the people of God? Must they be excluded so that others can be included in communion with God?

I would argue that we need to take our cue from St. Paul, who believed neither that Gentiles needed to become or act “Jewish” in order to be included in the people of God, nor that Jews who disagreed with him were beyond the pale of God’s mercy. Paul’s argument in Romans is the relevant biblical text with respect to the issue of inclusion. There is room at the table for both Archbishop Deng and Bishop Robinson when each can see the other in the light of God’s gracious love.

Here I am reminded of a very different reflection on the current Lambeth Conference offered by our own bishop, Marc Andrus. Marc writes that, “The Lambeth Conference brings questions of identity forward in our lives. We are with people of many different ethnicities, cultures, and languages. In the presence of great diversity our easy assumptions of identity are unsettled, and deeper ways to ground our identity can emerge. We can begin to see our life in Christ as the ground of our being, our identity.

As we are drawn deeper and deeper into relationship with one another we find that the descriptors that may catch our attention at first, those associated with ethnicity and culture, rich and capable of being explored in depth as they are, do not begin to sum up human life. Gender, sexual orientation, economic status, all these are important too. And then we begin to learn the personal histories of people, certainly conditioned and connected to all the above, but articulated in unique ways having to do with the inner life of people, their gifts and aspirations.

At some point we may come to understand, as we perceive the deepest aspirations of another person, their courage and hopefulness in the face of their own life challenges, that we are seeing Christ in that person. Christ speaks I AM from within all life, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

What Jesus, when he speaks of himself without metaphoric mediation is about is affirming the goodness of creation and the apprehension of the depth of human beings within that creation. He reminds us that we are all “offspring of the divine,” and have the divine image planted within us.

The Lambeth Conference is reminding me of the life Baptism has drawn me into and prepares me for each day. I am trying to look for Christ in each person here.”[iii]

As Christians, as the people of God, we are called not to judge who is included and who is excluded. God has already made that call and we are on the inside of God’s project of reconciliation along with everyone else. No, we are called, from within the perspective of the Christian story, “to look for Christ in each person.” Even more, as Bishop Marc has said on other occasions: “to look for the face of Christ in all of creation.”

A Guru asked his disciples how they could tell when the night had ended and the day begun.

One said, “When you see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it is a cow or a horse.”

“No,” said the Guru.

“When you look at a tree in the distance and can tell if it is a neem tree or a mango.”

“Wrong again,” said the Guru.

“Well, then, what is it?” asked his disciples.

“When you look into the face of any man and recognize your brother in him; when you look in the face of any woman and recognize in her your sister. If you cannot do this, no matter what time it is by the sun it is still night.”[iv]

So, let there be light. Let us accept that we are loved as we are. No one needs to become or pretend to be anyone else. Let us finally see each other as God beholds us: with a Lover’s gaze. Then we can become the people we are truly meant to be. Amen.

[i] My reading of Romans is indebted to John G. Gager’s Reinventing Paul.

[ii] Episcopal Life Online at

[iii] Bishop Marc’s blog at

[iv] Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, p. 161.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Keep It Simple

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Amen. Matthew 11.28

A young woman who was newly recovering from alcoholism complained to her AA sponsor, a program veteran, “I just don’t get this whole God-thing, and prayer doesn’t make any sense to me at all. What am I supposed to do?”

Her sponsor replied, “Here is what you do. Every morning when you wake-up go into the bathroom, take a bar of soap, and write, ‘Help’ on the bathroom mirror. At the end of the day, just before you go to bed, go back into the bathroom, wipe off the mirror, and then write ‘Thank You’ on it with a bar of soap. Repeat the process daily.”

“But, but,” the young woman stammered, “Who am I supposed to be saying this to?” “Darling,” said her sponsor, “you don’t need to worry about that.”

The secret to spiritual well-being is really quite simple. It is a matter of having the humility to ask for help, and to be grateful for what we are given. When we do this, we discover that our burden is a whole lot lighter. Unfortunately, we tend to try to make life a whole lot more complicated.

No wonder Jesus says that these things are hidden from the wise and the intelligent, and have been revealed to infants instead. Our humungous brains are constantly elaborating, abstracting, and analyzing, and so we often overlook the simple truths of life. And if we are at all successful by the standards of our society, we tend toward an attitude of entitlement and self-sufficiency that makes it very hard to embrace humility and gratitude. Others might think we are weak if we ask for help. And why should we be grateful when we believe we’ve earned everything we have?

But if we are willing to see through our elaborate self-justifications and illusions about life, we know down deep inside the truth of our vulnerability. We require the help of countless others just to get through each day – from the bus driver who gets us to work, to the migrant farm worker who harvested our lunch, and the folks who remove our trash for us. And that doesn’t even begin to include our psychological and emotional needs to be seen, heard, and held by others.

Are we responsible for our birth? Do we make the air we breath? Did we set in motion the hydrological cycles that provide our water? So very much has been given to us – everything that we need, really – not because we earned it, but simply by virtue of our being alive in this moment. How can we not be aware of the infinite debt of gratitude that we owe to our ancestors, to our neighbors, to the earth, to God?

Asking for help and being grateful should be like breathing in and breathing out, the fundamental rhythm of our lives. This is what we are invited to learn from Jesus, who is gentle and humble in heart. We make life much harder than it needs to be when we try to do it all, figure it all out, and pretty much control everything our self. In fact, such a way of living is a sure recipe for feeling overwhelmed and isolated. How much lighter our burdens would be, if we spent half as much time appreciating what we have as we do resenting what we don’t have (and often don’t really need).

So, if this is all so simple, why is it so hard to do?

It is hard because we fear acknowledging our dependency upon others and, ultimately, upon God. We are not so sure we can trust that we will have a future if we are not in control of it. And so we substitute our own will for God’s will, and try to make God a prisoner of our own plans and projects rather than subjecting ourselves to the yoke of humility and gratitude.

We want to bend Reality to the shape of our will, rather than bring our will in line with Reality. We are like the enthusiastic young man, just graduated from plumbing school, who was taken to see Niagara Falls. He studied it intently for several minutes and then said, “I think I can fix this.” But what if the point of life is to enjoy it, rather than fix it?

Let me tell you a little secret that most religious people – especially the do-gooder types, whether liberal or conservative – seem unable to grasp: life can not be fixed if it is not first enjoyed. We can not heal what we do not love. We can not change what we do not accept.

“Someday you will understand that you are seeking what you already have,” said the Master to an intense disciple.
“Then why do I not see it now?”
“Because you are trying to.”
“Must I then make no efforts?”
“If you relax and give it time,” said the Master, “it will make itself known.”

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,” said Jesus, “for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” If we are willing to accept the yoke of humility and gratitude, we can relax and let God be God. We can begin to rest in the joy and wonder of the present moment, which doesn’t depend upon us one bit, and THEN perhaps we will be in a fit spiritual state to be of service to others.

Self-will is the heavy burden that we bear. Rather than fix our problems, we need to dissolve the ego that caused them in the first place. When we accept Jesus’ yoke, replacing self-will with God’s will, resting in Reality rather than trying to control it, many of the problems that used to trouble us seem to melt away. We can spend more time enjoying life rather than trying to fix it.

Let me give you a homely example. My work requires me to attend a fair number of meetings, generally meetings to discuss issues and plan programs about which I usually have an opinion. Now, I have a choice when I attend a meeting. I can decide that I have the answers and that I’m entitled to enlighten you with them, treating any resistance to my desire as a problem to be solved through persuasion if possible, domination or manipulation if necessary. If things don’t go my way, I’m a failure or others are bad and wrong, or both. You can image how pleasant meetings are when I show up in that way.

On the other hand, I can decide simply to be present to my experience in the course of the meeting. I can be vulnerable with others, admitting what I don’t know and when I am wrong, and grateful for the wisdom and forbearance that they bring to our interaction. Conflict will not be a problem to be solved, but an inevitable reality to be embraced. I can accept whatever outcome emerges, entrusting the process to God. Such meetings are a pleasure rather than a heavy burden.

Each week as we gather around this Table we have the opportunity to learn anew from Jesus, to lay down the heavy burden of self-will and take upon ourselves the yoke of humility and gratitude. We acknowledge our dependence upon God and one another, and we offer thanksgiving for all that we have received in our creation and redemption in Christ. We leave the fixing and controlling to God, and focus on the accepting and enjoying instead.

“Help” and “thank you.” It really is that simple. Amen.

Note: The story of the plumber is from Antony De Mello’s Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations and the dialogue between the master and the disciple is from his Awakening: Conversations with the Masters.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Letting Go of Fear

Jesus said, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” Amen. (Matt. 10:27)

No doubt many of you saw the media coverage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons at their wedding this past week. They were the first same-sex couple to be married legally in California, following the state Supreme Court’s historic decision in favor of marriage equality. Now, Del and Phyllis actually have been married since 1953. It just took the state 55 years to recognize de jure the de facto reality of their committed and courageous love.

At a time when the truth of same-sex love was whispered in the dark, Del and Phyllis were shouting it from the housetops. When they co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, the first lesbian organization in the United States, the nation was in the grip of an anti-Communist and anti-homosexual witch-hunt. As editors of The Ladder, the D.O.B.’s magazine, they brought hope to thousands of women who were living in the shadows of society, enslaved by self-doubt and fear. Great daring was required for them to advocate for the dignity of gay and lesbian people in the face of persecution and ridicule.

Later, they would become leading activists in the National Organization for Women, at a time when lesbians were marginalized within the feminist movement. They would publish landmark books on such hot-button issues as lesbian rights and domestic violence, derided by some who persisted in the false belief that “domestic violence” was a “straight women’s issue.” They helped found the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club in San Francisco when many thought that political party activism was too mainstream and bourgeois. And they championed the rights and dignity of elderly people long past the time when they had every right to enjoy a quiet retirement.

What accounts for such patient and persistent struggle for justice in the face of great opposition? What kept them going when others succumbed to despair and cynicism? Pondering their story, it occurs to me that the secret of their success was their refusal to be beholden to success. In other words, they were able to persist in the work of promoting human life and dignity without being attached to any particular outcome. Whether or not they succeeded was beside the point. The point was to bear witness to the truth of their lives, and to the lives of people too often denigrated and ignored, regardless of the cost.

In simple terms, they were not afraid; at least, they did not allow their fear to determine their lives. They did not submit to the power of fear that either renders us timid and invisible, remaining in the shadows, or else drives us to manipulate, intimidate and control others to secure our idea of success. Del and Phyllis were not so afraid that they refused to take risks for truth and justice, but neither were they so afraid of loosing that they would subvert the very principles for which they struggled in the effort to defeat their opponents.

Fear leads to withdrawal, isolation, and despair. Or it can lead to a cynical justification of whatever means are necessary to secure one’s desired end. It is very difficult to find the third way in between despair and cynicism, the way of engaging conflict without anxiety or attachment to outcomes.

I don’t know anything about Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons’ religious views, but their ability to walk this third way through fear illustrates well the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ teaching was written to a Christian community that was facing great opposition. Fidelity to the truth of one’s experience of the Spirit of Jesus was tearing apart synagogues, communities, and families. In the midst of rejection and persecution, the early followers of Jesus were tempted to give in to their fear – either hiding the truth of their lives altogether, or else seeking to impose that witness on others rather than endure suffering.

In this context, Matthew’s Gospel recalls Jesus’ teaching about how to deal with conflict. First, we must get clear about our expectations. Conflict is normal and inevitable. Jesus begins by saying, “Look, the servant isn’t any better than the master. If I was treated so badly, why do you expect any better? Don’t think I’ve come to bring peace, but rather division. There are real risks involved in seeking truth, justice, and reconciliation in the world. Get used to it.”

At the same time, Jesus urges us to not be afraid of these risks. We can come out of the closets of our lives when we realize that God loves us deeply and intimately just the way we are. Our meaning and value is determined by God’s compassionate embrace of us – not by what anyone else thinks of us. There is a terrific saying in AA – “What other people think of me is none of my business.” The spiritual death that results from isolation and despair is far worse than the opposition and rejection we might face.

God’s compassionate embrace also frees us from preoccupation with outcomes. Since our life’s meaning and value is not determined by our success or failure, we are free to engage in the struggle for justice and peace in Jesus’ name without worrying about winning or losing. It really is much more about how we play the game. The spiritual death that results from cynicism, manipulation, and domination of others is far worse than any failures we might endure along the way.

There is life and then there is life. There is death and then there is death. We sometimes must lose our life in order to live. We must die to our fear of rejection or failure so that we can live with joy and freedom.

This spiritual struggle with fear is a daily challenge. Letting go of our fear to make room for God’s unconditional and abiding love isn’t a one time event. It happens in ways large and small over and over again, each time we choose to stay engaged with life’s challenges without anxiety – neither running away from conflicts nor running over other people in the process of resolving them.

I saw this spiritual struggle in action while I was on vacation in New Mexico last week with my step-father, Jay. Jay has been living with MS for more than a decade now, and his condition is slowly deteriorating. He becomes exhausted easily, with each movement of his arms and especially his legs feeling like he is moving underwater tied down by heavy weights. He can no longer walk without the help of a cane, and requires wheelchair assistance to travel any distance.

Over the years, I’ve watched Jay struggle against the tendency toward isolation. Early on, he was afraid to be seen in public, worried about what others would think about his uneven gate. Would they think he was drunk? Would they take advantage of him? I wondered if he would give in to despair and become a recluse.

Today, he struggles against the tendency toward cynicism and manipulation. It is hard to gracefully accept vulnerability and dependence. He is no longer in control of his own body, of his ability to get from one place to another. In such circumstances, it is tempting to want to blame others, to manipulate people to get one’s way rather than ask for help. Having overcome his fear of rejection, he now must confront his fear of failure. “Can I succeed in life by trusting others rather than controlling them?” This is a question with which all of us must struggle at some level.

Jay’s successful struggle with fear, like that of Del and Phyllis, has been a paradox: he has gained his life by loosing it, by embracing risk and vulnerability regardless of the result. Their struggles highlight a common feature of our spiritual condition. As a parent, I come up against it each time I ask myself anew: “Will I trust my ten year-old son so that he can grow-up, or try to control him to assuage my fear? Do I let him walk down to the corner store by himself? Middle school is just around the corner. Will I walk with him through his own inevitable suffering the pangs of adolescence, or will I distance myself from him to manage my own anxiety?”

As a congregation, we are in a period of transition in which conflict is inevitable. “What do we do about the budget deficit? What should our mission focus be? Can we trust the diocese and neighboring congregations enough to ask for help?” Here too, we are beset by the temptation of fear. Some of us may feel like running away, or whispering in the dark about this or that rather than confronting conflict directly. Some of us may be tempted to want to impose a particular solution right now, no matter what the cost, as a way to manage our anxiety.

Our spiritual challenge, individually and collectively, is to take to heart Jesus’ teaching about conflict: stay engaged without anxiety. Don’t worry about what other people may think. Let go of your attachment to particular outcomes. Trust that God loves you and accepts you regardless of success or failure.

Lose your life for the sake of Christ, for the sake of his way of justice and peace, and you will find new and abundant life. Do not be afraid. Amen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bishop Andrus' Pastoral Letter

The following pastoral letter to the clergy of the Diocese of California was published yesterday. It is a fair and defensible position, which "encourages" rather than proscribing or forbidding. In my view, this is an "outside of the box" series of recommendations that provides a way forward during this transitional period. Thank you, Bishop Marc, for a brave and creative statement.

June 9, 2008

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry. I am writing to you now to recommend a path to use this decision to strengthen our support of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers, and our continued witness to God’s inclusive love. Clergy and lay leaders in the diocese have been working for the rights of LGBT people and for their full inclusion in our Church for more than forty years. Today, we continue to walk a journey that includes:
  • Bringing the witness of our LGBT sisters and brothers to this summer’s Lambeth Conference,
  • Combating a ballot initiative this November that will attempt to take away the rights recently recognized by the California Supreme Court,
  • Providing leadership at next summer's General Convention to bring our marriage practices and theology in line with our fundamental baptismal theology.

For far too long the onus has fallen on marginalized people to bear the burden of inequalities that exist within the Church, and the decision by our state’s Supreme Court has given us the opportunity to level the playing field. To that end, the Diocese of California seeks to provide, by advocacy and example, a way forward for The Episcopal Church so that the marriage of same-sex couples will be a part of our official marriage rites, without distinction. Although The Episcopal Church does not have canonical rites for same-sex marriage, it is our goal that all couples be treated equally by the Church, as they are equally loved by God.I therefore provide you with the following pastoral guidelines:

  • I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service and then being blessed in the Episcopal Church. I will publicly urge all couples to follow this pattern.
  • For now, the three rites approved for trial use under the pastoral direction of the bishop, adopted by resolution at the 2007 Diocesan Convention (see appendix), should be commended to all couples (again, regardless of orientation) to bless secular marriages.
  • All marriages should be performed by someone in one of the secular categories set forth in California Family Code, section 400 (see appendix), noting that any person in the state of California can be deputized to perform civil marriages. The proper sphere for Episcopal clergy is the blessing portion of the marriage.
  • The understanding of The Episcopal Church currently is that blessings are an extension of the pastoral office of the bishop. I ask that you continue to inform me of all same-sex blessings.
  • Couples who have been married under the auspices of the California Supreme Court ruling must have the same pre-marriage counseling as that required of any couple seeking marriage or blessing of marriage in The Episcopal Church. This should be understood as an offering of the Church’s support for marriage.
  • I urge Episcopalians, clergy and lay, to volunteer as Deputy Marriage Commissioners. There are over 4,000 civil same-sex marriages planned in a short period of time in the city of San Francisco alone and the city is asking for help in meeting demand. I intend to volunteer for this at my earliest opportunity. This would be one sign of affirmation for the Supreme Court ruling from our diocese. By city requirement, clergy will not be allowed to wear collars when presiding at secular marriages. (For more information about how to be deputized, see the attached appendix.)
  • All people receiving blessings of civil marriages in the Diocese of California are free to use the same degree of publicity (e.g., newspaper notices).

These are interim measures as the Diocese of California and The Episcopal Church continue our journey in the context of this prophetic opportunity provided by the California Supreme Court’s ruling. I have already initiated a process to arrive at a more studied, permanent answer for Episcopal clergy presiding at same-sex marriages in this diocese. That process includes the formation of a panel of diocesan clergy to make recommendations about how to move toward equality of marriage rites for all people. These recommendations will be discussed across the diocese resulting in an official diocesan policy.

In the coming days, I will publicly state my opposition to the initiative to overturn the Supreme Court ruling.

The Diocese of California will publish advertising around June 17 celebrating the Supreme Court ruling and inviting same-sex couples to our churches for pre-marital counseling and nourishment in communities of faith.

As always, I welcome your wisdom, your insights and your input on these matters, and I continue in my commitment to work for a Church that sees all of God’s children through the same eyes that God does.


The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus


Appendix to Pastoral Letter Regarding Same-sex Marriage

Blessing Rites

The three rites approved by Diocesan Convention 2007 can be downloaded from Click on the link "CMB 2007 Report" to download a PDF. The Rites are found on pages 11 - 43 of the report.

California Family CodeSection 400-401400.

Marriage may be solemnized by any of the following who is of the age of 18 years or older:(a) A priest, minister, rabbi, or authorized person of any religious denomination.(b) A judge or retired judge, commissioner of civil marriages or retired commissioner of civil marriages, commissioner or retired commissioner, or assistant commissioner of a court of record in this state.(c) A judge or magistrate who has resigned from office.(d) Any of the following judges or magistrates of the United States: (1) A justice or retired justice of the United States Supreme Court. (2) A judge or retired judge of a court of appeals, a district court, or a court created by an act of Congress the judges of which are entitled to hold office during good behavior. (3) A judge or retired judge of a bankruptcy court or a tax court. (4) A United States magistrate or retired magistrate. (e) A legislator or constitutional officer of this state or a Member of Congress who represents a district within this state, while that person holds office. 401. (a) For each county, the county clerk is designated as a commissioner of civil marriages.(b) The commissioner of civil marriages may appoint deputy commissioners of civil marriages who may solemnize marriages under the direction of the commissioner of civil marriages and shall perform other duties directed by the commissioner.

Deputy Commissioners of Marriage in the County of San Francisco

If you would like to assist with marriages in the County of San Francisco, you will need to be deputized as a Deputy Marriage Commissioner. Help is needed from June 17 - 28, and you will be asked to work one of the following complete shifts: 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; 12:30 to 5 p.m.; 5 to 7:30 p.m. If you would like to volunteer, send an email to include "Deputy Marriage Commissioner" in the subject line. In other counties, you can contact the County Clerk's office for information about how to become a Deputy Marriage Commissioner. As of June 9, 2008, there is no expressed need from other counties within the Diocese of California for volunteer Deputy Marriage Commissioners.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Spiritual Life of Salmon

God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good. Genesis 1:31b

The Biblical Creation story reminds us that we humans are latecomers in the emergence of life on earth. We depend upon the sun, the water, the flowering seeds, the living creatures in all their variety. They can and have existed without us, but we cannot exist without them.

The Creation story also reminds us that everything that God has made is very good. The story does not provide scientific explanation, but rather spiritual meaning: the purpose of creation is enjoyment. The end of creation is Sabbath, rest, relaxing into the wonder and beauty of what is. To be created in God’s image is to participate consciously in the mystery of it all, to take our place as part of the whole with a sense of humility and responsibility. To be human is to be aware that we are humus, earth creatures.

So far, so good. But here, at the very beginning, there is a problem. The priestly scribes who handed down this story to us interpreted our relationship to the rest of creation as one of domination. God commands humanity to fill the earth and subdue it; literally, to make it a slave. At least, that is the story we’ve been told, but it strikes me as being in tension with the Sabbath observance, the command to rest in creation, to delight in it as part of it rather than over and against it.

This tension has had serious consequences. In our rush to dominate the earth, we have forgotten how to live on it. The history of civilization is the history of cultural amnesia, overshooting the limits of the land base to the point of ecological collapse. We keep forgetting how to live on earth, we keep forgetting to keep the Sabbath. We’ve only heard the part of the story that we want to hear.

In the past, ecological collapse was relatively localized and followed the rise and fall of various imperial regimes: the destruction of the fertile crescent in Mesopotamia, the deforestation and desertification of North Africa, and so on until today we are overshooting the carrying capacity of the whole earth. We are in danger of forgetting, finally and forever, how to live on earth.

But it has not always been so. For example, for more than 10,000 years the Yurok, Karok, and Hoopa tribes have lived along the banks of the Klamath river in Northwest California. These indigenous peoples have long lived in harmony with the land and water, with salmon at the center of their food supply and culture. That is, until the late 1960s, when dams and irrigation ruined one of the world’s great salmon fisheries.

Unable to reach their traditional spawning grounds upriver because of the construction of dams for hydroelectric power, and with reduced water flow diverted for farm irrigation raising the temperature of the water, the salmon are dying. In 2002, 35,000 chinook and coho salmon went belly-up in the lower Klamath within a five day period, their stench permeating the river valley for days.

The indigenous tribes, who depend upon salmon for their livelihood, are facing radical changes in their diet and social structure. Rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes have sky-rocketed since the loss of their traditional diet. Poverty, suicide, and social decay are following the loss of an entire way of life that maintained the health of the tribes and the ecosystem of the Klamath for millennia.

The fisheries have deteriorated to the point that on May 1 of this year, commercial and recreational fishing for chinook salmon in the ocean off California and most of Oregon was banned for the first time in 160 years by the National Marine Fishery Service. So few fish returned to spawn upriver last year, fishing had to be halted throughout the salmon habitat.

This, despite the fact that for years the tribes, along with conservationists and fishermen, have urged the removal of the four dams on the Klamath River that are destroying the salmon’s habitat. They have repeatedly appealed to Warren Buffet, whose company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns the subsidiary operating the dams. Even thought the amount of energy generated by these aging dams is negligible and easily replaced by other sources, Berkshire Hathaway has refused to act to save the salmon.

As beneficiaries of an extractive economy that supports unsustainable exploitation of the planet, we have become inured to a Sabbath perspective that acknowledges the spiritual life of salmon and our communion with them. I wonder if we can really even understand the plea of the Yurok tribesman who wrote,

“The existence of dams, these weapons of mass destruction, harms the life of our salmon brothers. That’s right, I say ‘salmon brothers’ . . . we believe all creatures are related as brothers and come from the same Creator. It is hard for me to lift a fish out the water that has been trapped in my net and not hear him call out to me for help. And with so few salmon in the river these days, it is always with great respect that he will be food for my family and my people. I thank him and the Creator for the sacrifice of his life so that all can eat. . . . The threats to my salmon brothers must be removed. The water quality and streambed access for spawning salmon must be restored. The Yurok Tribe will protect our salmon brothers and we call upon all who love the earth and the river to join us . . . Let’s not allow this moment to pass and be lost along with the salmon forever.”[i]

If we really believed in the goodness of creation, we would not destroy it in this way. If we really believed that we humans are made in God’s image, the God who delights and rests in the Creation, we would be in communion with the salmon and the rest of Creation, of which we are but one part. We must learn how to live on earth again. There is too much at stake.

As Derrick Jensen argues,

“When I talk about taking out dams, I’m not ‘just’ talking about liberating rivers, and I’m not ‘just’ talking about saving salmon. I’m talking about forests and meadows and aquifers and everyone else whose home this was long before the arrival of civilization. I’m talking about those whose home this is. You cannot separate rivers from forests from meadows, and it’s foolish to think you can. If you kill rivers, you kill forests and meadows and everyone else. The same holds true for all parts of these relationships, in all directions.”[ii]

The salmon put on 95% of their weight in the ocean, then swim upriver to spawn and die, bringing with them an explosion of nutrients. Prior to the destruction of the rivers, about five hundred million pounds of salmon swam up the rivers of the Pacific Northwest each year, releasing hundreds of thousands of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous nourishing the trees along the riverbanks.

Bears and eagles eat the salmon. Gulls eat what the bears and eagles leave behind. Maggots eat what the gulls leave behind. Spiders eat the maggots-turned-flies. Caddisflies eat dead salmon. Baby salmon eat living caddisflies. And so the cycle continues.

Perhaps there is no better account of the spiritual life of salmon than the observation of Jonathan Moore. “I have seen sockeye salmon swimming upstream to spawn even with their eyes pecked out. Even as they are dying, as their flesh is falling away from their spines, I have seen salmon fighting to protect their nests. I have seen them push up creeks so small that they rammed themselves across the gravel. I have seen them swim upstream with huge chunks bitten out of their bodies by bears. Salmon are incredibly driven to spawn. The will not give up.” [iii]

Can we be any less committed to the preservation of life on earth than the salmon? What sacrifices are we willing to make for a sustainable future? Can we imagine living without four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River? Can we admit that the salmon have something to teach us?

We must remember how to live on earth again, acknowledging our debt to the salmon and to the Yurok and all those who never forgot. We must humbly ask them to teach us. We can not rightly honor God, the one, holy, and undivided Trinity, on this or any other feast day, until we learn again to honor the earth God has made.

In the words of the Ojibway people, let us pray:

Look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.
We know that we are the ones
Who are divided
And we are the ones
Who must come back together
To walk in the Sacred Way.
Sacred One,
Teach us love, compassion, and honor
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other. [iv]


[i] Quoted in Derrick Jensen, Endgame Volume II: Resistance, pp. 631-632.
[ii] This quote and the description that follows are taken from Jensen, pp. 605 – 606.
[iii] Quoted in Jensen, p. 606.
[iv] Earth Prayers From Around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations for Honoring the Earth, p. 95.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Great Conveyor Belt?

In his book, Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World, Ken Wilber argues that “religion alone, of all of humanity’s endeavors, can serve as a great conveyor belt for humanity and its stages of growth.” (p. 192). This is because the great religious traditions are the repository of every level of human consciousness: from the archaic to the magical to the mythic to the rational to the pluralistic to the integral worldview and beyond. Every human being may progress through these stages in her own interior life, and the religions provide the map of the territory.

Not only do the religions contain within their traditions the stages of consciousness that each individual may recapitulate in her own development; they provide the religious and social legitimacy for each stage of development. In a world in which the vast majority of the population remains at a mythic level of spiritual consciousness, with religion at that stage too often providing absolutistic justification for egocentric behavior (the varieties of fundamentalist terrorism), this is of great importance. Religions also can provide the cultural resources, spiritual practices AND authority to legitimate higher stages of spiritual consciousness, aiding people to move through the mythic to higher levels.

Thus, Christianity is not only a religion of biblical fundamentalists. There is a mythic Christianity, a rational Christianity, a pluralistic Christianity, etc. – Christianity contains within its own spiritual line each of these stages of development (as do the other world religions). One of the important roles of religion in the postmodern world is to consciously embrace the work of assisting people to advance in their spiritual development to higher stages, incorporating and transcending the valuable insights of prior stages.

As Wilber points out, one unique resource that the religious traditions bring to bear on this work are the various techniques for attaining more expansive states of consciousness. People at every stage of spiritual development have the capacity to experience authentic spiritual states of consciousness through meditation, contemplation, charismatic experiences, and ritual observances. Granted that the “interpretive depth and inclusive embrace becomes greater at higher stages,” (p. 195), anyone can learn to cultivate these experiences.

Wilber argues that making contemplative states a core of their training is crucial for religions, because “the more you experience various states, the more quickly you develop through the stages . . . When you meditate, you are in effect witnessing the mind, thus turning subject into object – which is exactly the core mechanism of development (‘the subject of one stage becomes the object of the next’). (pp. 196-197) States-training is a necessary but not sufficient aid to advancing to higher stages of consciousness.

The modern and post-modern West is suffering from two related diseases: the secular culture’s repression of higher stages of spiritual development and the fixation of religion at the mythic level of consciousness. These serve to reinforce each other, with secularists assuming that all religions represent an infantile stage of human consciousness, and religionists acting in ways that reinforce the stereotype. The former reject religion, while the later become ever more defensive in their embrace of religion (at a particular stage). The problem is exacerbated by the repression of the contemplative traditions in Christianity, which provides an important antidote to the current lower-stage fixation (although as Wilber points out, it is possible to be both “deep” and “narrow”: experiencing all manner of mystical states of consciousness, while remaining fixated at a lower stage of spiritual development).

I think Wilber’s insights provide a way of understanding the current conflict within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church as a whole, at least among its leadership, is intentionally embracing a commitment to transcend (while incorporating) the stage of mythic Christianity AND to retrieve the practice of contemplation: moving to higher stages and states of consciousness. The minority within the Church that is still fixated at the mythic stage is resisting this movement with all its might, justifying all manner of violence to the Body of Christ in the process.

This is exemplified by the criticism of our Presiding Bishop’s Christology: she is operating out of a pluralistic stage of Christianity, in which Christ-consciousness is available in other religions (by other means) and revelation is ongoing. Her critics are operating out of a magical or mythic level of Christianity, in which Christ is the only way of salvation, and everybody who doesn’t believe the (closed) revelation contained in the Bible is going to hell. Those on the lower level really can’t see or understand what she is talking about.

This is a description, not a judgment. People have every right to be at whatever stage of consciousness they are at, and deserve the care and support of the Church. What we can not allow, is those fixated at a particular stage to hold back everyone else. In a healthy system, the least mature members have to adapt themselves to the most mature, not the other way around. Otherwise, Christianity will no longer be able to serve as a great conveyor belt, and the religious fundamentalists will continue to terrorize, while the secular culture denies itself the benefits of spiritual development necessary to heal a planet in peril.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bishop Marc Andrus' Statement on the California Supreme Court's Decision

The California Supreme Court ruled today that in California all people have the constitutional right to marry and raise a family, regardless of sexual orientation. Below is the text of a statement from Bishop Marc in response to the ruling:

I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry and establish a family.

All children of God should be afforded the same rights under the law, and this decision recognizes that all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation, have equal access to one of our fundamental human institutions.

This decision gives our church another opportunity to partner with our state to ensure that all families have the support they need to build relationships that strengthen our communities, state and country.

Jesus tried to free his disciples from a narrow definition of what it means to be his follower. In Matthew 10:42, Jesus says "whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward." God affirms the good in the world outside the boundaries of religious creeds and dogmas. In this spirit, we also affirm and rejoice in this decision by the California Supreme Court precisely because we are Christians.

Clearly, this momentous decision will have ecclesial implications for the Episcopal Diocese of California. I intend to be in prayerful consultation with the people of our diocese to see how we can use this decision to strengthen our support of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, and our witness to God’s inclusive love. The Diocese of California will issue an appropriate statement in due course.

The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Bishop of California

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Speaking the Truth in Public, or the Descent into Hell

May I speak in Name of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

Jesus said to his disciples, “You know the Spirit of truth because it abides in you.” Stop and think about that for a moment: “The Spirit of truth abides in you.” I wonder if you really believe that. Is that what you were taught?

I suspect not. I would wager that most of us have been taught that the truth lies outside of us. Truth is given to us by parents, teachers, experts, politicians, priests, bishops, and other authority figures. Our job is to receive the truth and conform to it. The promise is that, if we do, we will be rewarded.

That is not the kind of truth about which Jesus is speaking. Jesus speaks of a truth that lies within us. It emerges from the inside out, not the outside in. The truth about which Jesus is speaking is the truth about our identity. He is assuring his disciples that they will know who they are if they listen to the Spirit within. We must unlearn what we have been taught and return to the self we were before we internalized the pattern of cultural conformity.

Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces . . .

Like May Sarton, we wear other people’s faces, displaying to the world only what it wants to see or what we can bear to reveal. We spend the first part of our life trading in masks. But at some point, by God’s grace, we decide to become ourselves. We get in touch with the Spirit of truth that abides in us.

Jesus offers us a different pattern than that of cultural conformity. He offers us the deep pattern of his own life, a life transparent to God and marked by freedom, joy, and compassion. Jesus is wholly himself, secure in the truth that he is God’s beloved.

When Jesus tells his disciples “If you love me you will keep my commandments,” he is not calling for slavish imitation. He is inviting them to demonstrate their continuing love for him by discovering the truth within themselves through a similar openness to God. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “commandments” refer to all that he said and did in utter transparency to God. We discover our true nature by following a similar path of vulnerability to God.

Jesus promises his followers that if they embrace the pattern of compassion and vulnerability that marks his life, God will send an Advocate to remind them of who they are, the Spirit of truth within them that will defend them against the temptation to live a lie, to become someone they are not.

Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya.’[ii] It is the same question we must ask if we are to be whole. God does not desire us to be anyone other than ourselves. A secure identity is not something anyone else can provide us. We can’t buy it, or earn it, or get it in any way. It is a gift, our birthright. It can only be remembered.

Do you remember who you were before you put on the mask of conformity, the protective armor beneath which you hid your true identity? Do you remember who you were before the sexual abuse began? Do you remember who you were before mom started drinking? Do you remember who you were before you were told that there were some things that only boys were allowed to do? Do you remember who you were before white people started to look a little bit afraid when you walked passed them on the street? Do you remember who you were before you were dissolved and shaken, before you begin to wear someone else’s face?

Sometimes, it takes many years and places to become ourselves, to throw away the masks. I was 35 years-old when I was ordained a priest. Before then, I spent many years struggling to discern a sense of vocation. As a young man I had internalized the cultural norm that a secure identity had to be earned and that it required success – status, wealth, power.

In college I majored in politics and aspired to public office. Although after graduating I ended up in seminary, after one year of theological school I withdrew and applied to law schools. I received a full scholarship to my alma mater’s law school and decided to return to seminary instead only at the last minute. It was hard for me to let go of the face of conventional success. It would take another decade before pursuing ordination.

But when I think back only a little bit further, I recall my nine year-old self playing “preacher,” delivering sermons to an imaginary congregation from my front porch. I was just being John. I’m still learning to accept that that is God’s will for me. Just to be John. That is the truth. The Spirit of truth in me, and in you.

But, as Jack Nicholson famously said, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” The truth about ourselves can be hard to bear. Sometimes we’d much rather deny it, even die rather than come to terms with the truth. I vividly remember going to the emergency room at San Francisco General some years ago to see a former parishioner, Mary Ann. When I arrived, the doctor informed me that he’d never seen a patient with such a high blood alcohol level who wasn’t already dead.

Miraculously, Mary Ann survived after several days of treatment. Upon her release from the hospital she took a cab to the nearest liquor store and bought the biggest bottle of vodka she could afford. It was only a matter of weeks before her brother found her dead on the floor near her front door, leaving behind an empty refrigerator and countless empty bottles in every room of the house. She couldn’t handle the truth. And so she died.

In his Inferno, Dante described the descent into hell that accepting the truth sometimes requires:

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard – so tangled and rough
And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well
I’ll tell what I saw . . .

However painful it may be, how ever long it takes, we must accept the truth about ourselves – the whole truth – accepting the shadow and the light, if we want to live. This requires great vulnerability and risk, for the truth can hurt. But the descent into hell, into the darkest corners of our self, can be endured for there is good there also. There is the root of healing, the possibility for integration and wholeness. It is the price we must pay to become ourselves.

The plow has savaged this sweet field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
Last year’s growth demolished by the blade.
I have plowed my life in this way
Turned over a whole history
Looking for the roots of what went wrong
Until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.

Enough. The job is done.
Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be
Seedbed for the growing that’s to come.
I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons –
The farmer plows to plant a greening season

The truth about ourselves is often a hard-won truth. With it comes acceptance, even joy. But with it also comes freedom, and with freedom, responsibility. The Spirit of truth is not simply our private possession. Although it begins within, it is meant to make of our life a greening season, a bountiful harvest not only for our healing, but for the healing of the world.

We can survive the descent into hell and come back to tell the good we saw there. Consider Father Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest who was a chaplain to the African National Congress in Zimbabwe during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Listen to how he describes his story.

“Three months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, I received a letter bomb hidden inside the pages of two religious magazines that had been posted from South Africa. In the bomb blast I lost both hands, one eye and had my eardrums shattered.

For the first three months I was as helpless as a newborn baby. People have asked me how I survived, and my only answer is that somehow, in the midst of the bombing, I felt that God was present. I also received so many messages of love and support from around the world that I was able to make my bombing redemptive – to bring life out of death, good out of evil.

Quite early on after the bomb I realised that if I was filled with hatred and desire for revenge I’d be a victim forever. If we have something done to us, we are victims. If we physically survive, we are survivors. Sadly, many people never travel any further than this. I did travel further, going from victim to survivor, to victor. To become a victor is to move from being an object of history to become a subject once more. That is not to say that I will not always grieve what I’ve lost, because I will permanently bear the marks of disfigurement. Yet I believe I’ve gained through this experience. I realise that I can be more of a priest with no hands than with two hands.

In 1992, I returned to South Africa to find a nation of survivors, but a damaged nation. Everyone had a story – a truth – to tell. In my work I’ve developed a programme called the Healing of Memories. Our workshops explore the effects of South Africa’s past at an emotional, psychological and spiritual level. I try to support those who have suffered as they struggle to have their stories recognised.”[v]

The kind of truth of which Jesus speaks is not an idea, anymore than the love of which he speaks is just a feeling. Both truth and love are demonstrated in action. I become fully myself in relationship to you and to the web of life in which we are embedded. We need to hear one another’s stories in order to be whole, to give ourselves back to each other, to remember who we are. In doing so, we discover our vocation. Vocation literally means “to listen,” to listen to how the Spirit of truth within calls us to participate in the healing of the world.

Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be
Seedbed for the growing that’s to come.
I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons –
The farmer plows to plant a greening season


[i] May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself,” in Collected Poems, 1930-1973 (New York: Norton, 1974), p. 156.
[ii] Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim: The Early Masters (New York: Schocken Books, 1975), p. 251.
[iii] Robert Pinsky, Canto I from The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation (New York: Noonday Press, 1994), canto 1:1-7.
[iv] Parker J. Palmer, “Harrowing” in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2000), p. 72.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Fast We Must Choose

People push to receive food distributed by the Kenyan Red Cross in the Mathare slum in Nairobi.

AFP / Getty

Yesterday I came across this headline in the Business Section of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Global Rice Shortage Now Hitting U.S. Buyers." Costco and Wal Mart's Sam's Club are now limiting the amount of bulk imported rice that customer's can buy. The world food crisis is beginning to affect U.S. consumers.

Perhaps you didn't know that such a crisis was underway. Food riots, violent protests, and regime changes have resulted from the escalating cost of food worldwide. Haiti's Prime Minister was ousted due to protests over rising food prices, and President Musharraf’s drubbing in the recent Pakistani election was due, in part, to similar concerns there. India, Egypt, Vietnam and Brazil are restricting rice exports for fear of shortages in their countries, and widespread unrest has been experienced in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

According to the Chronicle article,

In London this week, the executive director of the World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, warned that more than 100 million people will be pushed into poverty by a "silent tsunami" of sharply rising food prices.

"This is the new face of hunger - the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," Sheeran said. "The world's misery index is rising."

Why the rising cost of food? What does it portend?

In February, Time Magazine reported that

The forecast is grim. Governments might quell the protests, but bringing down food prices could take at least a decade, food analysts say. One reason: billions of people are buying ever-greater quantities of food — especially in booming China and India, where many have stopped growing their own food and now have the cash to buy a lot more of it. Increasing meat consumption, for example, has helped drive up demand for grain, and with it the price.

There are other problems too. The spike in oil prices, which hit $103 per barrel in recent days, has pushed up fertilizer prices, as well as the cost of trucking food from farms to local markets and shipping it abroad. Then there is climate change. Harvests have been seriously disrupted by freak weather, including prolonged droughts in Australia and southern Africa, floods in West Africa, and this past winter's deep frost in China and record-breaking warmth in northern Europe.

The push to produce biofuels as an alternative to hydrocarbons is further straining food supplies, especially in the U.S., where generous subsidies for ethanol have lured thousands of farmers away from growing crops for food. "The area used for biofuels is increasing each year," says Nik Bienkowski, head of research at ETF Securities, a commodities-trading firm in London. To make matters worse, global stockpiles of some basics have dwindled to their lowest point in decades. Rice — a staple for billions of Asians — has soared to its highest price in 20 years, while supplies are at their lowest level since the early 1980s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meanwhile, the global supply of wheat is lower than it's been in about 50 years — just five weeks' worth of world consumption is on hand, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.

As always in a crisis, there are winners. The creeping fear that the world might actually run short of food — no longer simply the stuff of sci-fi movies — has led speculators to pour billions into commodities, further accelerating price rises. In a single day in February, global wheat prices jumped 25% after Kazakhstan's government announced plans to restrict exports of its giant wheat crop for fear that its own citizens might go hungry. Jittery officials in India and Egypt are also restricting food exports. "Prices have risen at a much faster rate in the last few months," says Fazlul Kader in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he coordinates rural projects for the U.N.'s International Fund for Agricultural Development; there, soybean oil alone has shot up 60% in a year.

. . . Last October, shortly before food riots began exploding across West Africa, the WFP's director in Mauritania, Gian Carlo Cirri, flew to a donors' meeting in Senegal and warned Western aid officials that "2008 will be a very dangerous year," with rising food prices increasingly liable to hurt middle-class city dwellers, "who are prone to demonstrating." Similarly, von Braun says he has felt "like a Cassandra" in Washington in recent years, as he tried to warn U.S. officials numerous times that a global food crisis was looming. Even now, he says, "the specialists share our sense of urgency, but it hasn't broken out of that circle yet.

Indeed, you'd think that a global food crisis, and the underlying problems of global warming and unsustainable patterns of agricultural production and consumption, would be a major preoccupation of the current presidential campaign. Yet, we've heard nary a word about it from any of the remaining candidates. As one Newsweek editorialist points out, global warming has been "curiously absent" from the campaign trail.

National polls show that the environment ranks fairly low as an issue that moves voters. In the Pennsylvania primary global warming was such a peripheral issue that exit pollsters did not even bother to measure voter attitudes toward it. Many younger voters wish the candidates would talk more about global warming. But most voters worry more about jobs and keeping fuel cheap. Aside from speaking in broad generalities and making vague promises, the candidates steer away from involved debate on global warming. (Enabled, it should be said, by political reporters. Of the more than 3,000 questions asked in the more than 20 presidential debates, fewer than 10 mentioned global warming.)

The current food crisis is a red flag for those concerned about the future of the earth. In his book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben notes that

The median predictions of the world’s climatologists – by no means the worst-case scenarios – show that unless we take truly enormous steps to rein in our use of fossil fuels we can expect that the globally average temperature will rise another four or five degrees before the century is out. If that happens, the world will be warmer than it’s been for millions of years, long before primates appeared on the planet. We don’t know exactly what that world would feel like, but almost every guess is hideous. Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air, for instance, we can expect more drought in the middles of our continents where grain growing is concentrated, and more floods on the coasts where many people live. The World Health Organization expects vast increases in mosquito-borne disease. Researchers warned in 2006 that climate change could kill 184 million people in Africa alone before the century is out, destruction on a scale so staggering it has no precedent. We might as well have a contest to pick a new name for Earth, because it will be a different planet. (pp. 20-21)

Hurricane Katrina, food riots from Haiti to Bangladesh to Egypt, water shortages, rising fuel costs, increased instability and conflict in resource-rich parts of the world such as Iran and Nigeria; these are harbingers of the new planet we are creating through environmental degradation. And the problem, as McKibben points out, isn’t simply that we are doing things badly, e.g. failing to put a filter on the smokestack. The problem is that we are doing too much, consuming too much, using too much.

The Earth is reaching the limits of unfettered economic growth and its effects. While those of us who are rich have long passed the point where more equals better, we continue a lifestyle that ensures that those who do not have enough will not be able to get more. Global warming boils down to a problem of collective greed and selfishness.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that sometimes we must choose to fast – to change our lifestyle for the sake of justice – so that others may eat at all. Will we choose to fast, or to allow millions to die? That is the question that our politicians have yet to answer this election cycle. We need to starting asking it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A More Perfect Resurrection

“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’” Amen. (Acts 10:34-35)

Peter, a devout Jew, begins his witness to the resurrection of Jesus by assuring his new Gentile friends that God shows no partiality. Peter is learning through his own experience that at least one of the implications of resurrection is the transcendence of invidious racial distinctions that divide and disinherit the children of God. The resurrection of Jesus signifies God’s forgiveness reconciling all people with God and each other, without exception.

The catechism of the Episcopal Church teaches us that “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP, p. 855) To us has been entrusted Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. Like Peter, we are called to witness to an ever-expanding circle of resurrection life, new life, embracing all people and all things.

And so this glorious Easter morning, the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus touches upon one of the most difficult issues in the life of our nation – the issue of racial reconciliation. Like so many Americans; indeed, so many people around the world, I was captivated this week by Senator Barack Obama’s speech on race and politics in the United States. Quite apart from whatever influence it may have on his electoral prospects, I take his elegant speech, so filled with pathos and passion, to be an invitation to a renewed commitment to the unfinished work of the Civil Rights Movement.

God shows no partiality, but we do, we do. As Senator Obama cogently argued, the perfection of the union we share as a nation requires that we acknowledge the need for racial reconciliation in public life. This morning, I would like to suggest that a more perfect union requires something more: a more perfect resurrection. We need to set the issue of race and politics within the larger framework of Christ’s mission of reconciliation.

But what does it mean to perfect the resurrection? Wasn’t Jesus’ resurrection the perfect, complete, sign of God’s action to make whole what is broken? Yes and no. Recall that in John’s Gospel, on the eve of his death Jesus tells his disciples that “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” (John 14:12) The resurrection of Jesus isn’t something that happened only to him, way back when. It is an ongoing, all-encompassing experience of new life in which all are invited to participate. The power and scope of the resurrection is being perfected in us, as we become united with Christ in his great work of reconciliation.

The work of reconciliation, the perfection of the resurrection, is not easy. It demands the best of us. It requires sacrifice, because reconciliation is the fruit of self-giving love. People do not become reconciled because they are intellectually persuaded to do so, or forcibly united, or enticed with rewards. The only way to become reconciled with another is to demonstrate to them the lengths to which you are willing to go to love them.

This truth is portrayed beautifully in Julie Scheers’ haunting memoir, Jesus Land, which chronicles her relationship with her African-American brother, David, who was adopted into her white family in rural Indiana.
“In preschool,” Julie writes, “color became a problem. There were kids who didn’t like David because he was black and there were kids who didn’t like me because I was his sister. Others were just curious and asked stupid questions. ‘How’d you get that color?’ They’d ask. ‘If you scratch your skin, are you white underneath?’ I’d thrust myself between David and his interrogators. ‘He was born that way, dummy!’ I’d say. ‘If you scratch your skin are you black underneath?’

But their questions never ended. ‘Is your blood green?’ ‘How do people see you at night? Are you invisible?’ ‘Is your hair plastic?’ They regarded him as a fascinating freak, and David dutifully answered there questions, letting them poke and prod at him. But as we got older, their curiosity turned into rejection. Insults were hurled on the playground – ‘Jungle bunny,’ ‘Poo boy,’ ‘Velcro head.’ They called us the ‘Oreo Twins,’ and we were often left to play alone at recess. That was fine by us, because we were best friends anyway.”
This vignette from Julie and David Sheeres’ life together captures so much of the tragedy of racism – how early it is learned, how it distorts the perception and poisons the soul of those it affects, how nobly it is so often borne by those who bear the brunt of it; but it also expresses the basis of hope for reconciliation – the experience of solidarity across racial lines, the fierce passion to stand against injustice, the reality of a shared identity that is so much deeper that skin pigmentation.

Julie could have chosen to pretend that David wasn’t her brother. She could have distanced herself, perhaps even joined in taunting him to fit in with their peers. She could have denied the common bond of their humanity, their being of one family. She chose instead to share in his suffering, to demonstrate the depths of her love and the unshakable reality of their unity. Together, she and David embodied a more perfect resurrection.

Julie and David illustrate what St. Paul meant when he wrote to his friends, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col. 1:24) Suffering that is chosen for the sake of love makes reconciliation possible. It is the path that leads to new life. The resurrection is perfected in us.

If racial reconciliation is one aspect of Christ’s resurrection, demonstrating that God shows no partiality, then we should not be surprised that the route to resurrection lies through the way of the cross: “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” That is precisely what the martyrs of the Civil Rights movement did on our behalf. They became Christ for us through their self-offering, so that we might enjoy a more perfect resurrection.

This coming Tuesday will mark the 43rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Viola Liuzzo, a wife and mother of three children who came down from Detroit to volunteer in the march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. As she was driving from Montgomery to Selma, a carload of 4 Klansmen spotted her, a white woman, with a black male passenger, 19 year-old Leroy Moton. Liuzzo and Moton had been transporting marchers back home after the triumphant journey from Selma to the state capitol.

Enraged by this display of interracial cooperation, the Klansmen followed them into the darkness and rural isolation of Lowndes County, where they fired shotguns from their car, killing Liuzzo while she was still behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Moton managed to steer the car to a stop on the shoulder of highway 80 and escape from the murderers. Taken back to Selma by another car of marchers who later drove by, Moton went to the police station, only to be arrested himself.

Moton was released and the four Klansmen were arrested by the F.B.I. within 24 hours – only because one of the four was a paid F.B.I. informant, who fired his own weapon at Liuzzo. Not only did the informant fail to intervene to prevent the murder; the F.B.I., knowing that the Klansmen were hunting for victims that night, failed to place the car under surveillance. The informant accepted witness protection in a cover-up of the F.B.I.’s mistakes, and the other three killers managed to escape with a hung jury and then acquittals in two state trials, before conviction on federal civil rights charges.

Between 1963 and 1966, Viola Liuzzo was one of thirteen martyrs who gave their lives to the cause of human freedom and dignity in Alabama alone. But their sacrifice was not in vain. Their witness inspired a non-violent revolution, pricked the conscience of a nation, and led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. That year, Lowndes County Alabama, where African-Americans constituted an overwhelming majority of the population, would see large numbers of black folks voting for the first time since Reconstruction.

Our Easter celebration is a call to become one with Christ in the work of reconciliation, the great work of bringing new life and new hope to a suffering world. God shows no partiality, and so this work must include an unstinting commitment to racial reconciliation. That work begins with our own vulnerability, our own honesty about our experiences of race. Like Julie Sheers, like Senator Obama, we must acknowledge that this issue is personal, deeply touching all of us.

That work also requires us to acknowledge the pain and promise of our common history, a history that encompasses both the KKK and the martyrs of Alabama. The legacy of white supremacy and the scars, resentments, and guilt that we bear are still very much with us. We must be willing to endure suffering, completing in our flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, for the sake of a more perfect resurrection beyond the cross of racism.

When we give ourselves to this great work of self-giving love we will experience the joy of the resurrection. “Joy,” writes Gerald May, “is altogether beyond any consideration of pleasure or pain, and in fact requires a knowledge and acceptance of pain. Joy is the reaction one has to the full appreciation of Being. It is one’s response to finding one’s rightful, rooted place in life, and it can happen only when one knows through and through that nothing is being denied or otherwise shut out of awareness.” (Will and Spirit, p.16).

If we would know the joy of the resurrection, we can not deny our complicity in structural racism and our responsibility for racial reconciliation. Painful as it may be, when we are willing to bring it into awareness, we can also begin to accept the love and forgiveness of the God who shows no partiality, and gladly accept our part in the creation of a more perfect resurrection.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Bishop Robinson and Lambeth

While it did not surprise me, it still saddened me to learn that Bishop Gene Robinson will be excluded from participating in any meaningful way in the Lambeth Conference of Bishops. Bishop Robinson responded to this slight with his usual combination of vulnerability and grace. Actually, to refer to his exclusion as a "slight" is inadequate. It is diabolical - literally, a splitting apart of that which should be united - the very opposite of the symbolic role of bishops in the Anglican Communion.

For so many of us, Bishop Robinson has been a symbol of the unity of gay and lesbian Anglicans with the larger Anglican Communion. As such, his exclusion feels like an attack on our dignity as well as on the integrity of the Church. It is painful to know that our acceptance is so very conditional, if real at all.

Yet Bishop Robinson is always the first to remind us that we are loved beyond our wildest imagining. Human dignity is our birthright signified in baptism, rooted in God's unconditional love. And it is inviolable. When we take our identity from God, the decisions of others no longer have the power to define us or determine our destiny. We are free.

And so, the question is: "How will we respond to the dynamic of scapegoating and exclusion?" Grounded in God's love, we can choose to do so non-defensively, joyfully, and courageously. We have the opportunity in this moment to rise above fear and resentment to offer the unconditional love of God to those who would scorn us. This Love comes to us through the Resurrection in the form of forgiveness. As forgiven and forgiving victims, we discover that we need not identify with our victimization, instead claiming our identity as children of God and heirs with Christ Jesus of a divine inheritance.

This is not easy. Surely it will be painful. But by joining our suffering with that of the Forgiving Victim, Jesus Christ, we can transcend our suffering in acts of compassionate witness to the reality of unity that the Church all to frequently obscures.

Now is the time for creative, nonviolent resistance to the mechanism of scapegoating and diabolic division. I would encourage every bishop from our Church to bring at least one gay or lesbian person from his or her diocese to Lambeth to surround that meeting with prayer. I would encourage each bishop to wear a black armband throughout the conference as a sign of solidarity and mourning with Gene.

The bishops who are our straight allies now bear a very special burden and responsibility. They must be very, very careful about speaking for gay and lesbian people. I would invite them to consider refusing to do so, finding ways to block the Lambeth Conference from making ANY decisions that affect LGBT Anglicans until such time as we are consulted about our own lives, relationships, and ministries. Would it be possible to put forward a statement to that effect?

Write to the Archbishop of Canterbury and gently remind him of the responsibilities of his office. Do not do so with judgment or vituperation. Remember that he is a man of conscience, and may well be divided against himself, in quite a bit of pain over his own decisions. The only feeling I can muster with regard to Rowan Williams is compassion. May God have mercy on him.

Make a contribution to the Listening Process in your diocese. During Lent, my mostly LGBT congregation met with an almost exclusively straight congregation for four weeks to listen to the stories of gay and lesbian Christians (and straight allies) and discuss readings on the topic. It was transforming for all of us (and the best part - the "straight" congregation invited us into the conversation!)

Most importantly, as Gene has urged his sister and brother bishops, stay at the Table. No one can define your relationship with God for you. No one can define you in or out of the very life of the Trinity into which you were joined in baptism. Keep bearing witness, keep being Christ for your neighbor, and trust that God will do the rest. You may well be the sign of hope that God is using as a means of grace for someone who is still struggling on the Way.

As we prepare to walk the Way of the Cross this Holy Week, it is good to remember that in the midst of what seems like failure the power of God to save is revealed. God is made known in how we respond to failure - including the failure of the Anglican Communion to be the Body of Christ in its fullness. How will we respond?