The Episcopal Church

Holy Week Under Quarantine Message

Here's what I wrote for the April newsletter of Christ Church, Elizabethtown, KY a few days before Palm Sunday:

We are entering our fourth week of social distancing. I must admit when we were first encouraged to stay at home I had a kind of “snow day” sensation – as if school was canceled and I was getting away with something. I like change and while I was concerned and anxious, there was an excitement to it. I had things to do to prepare, like shopping for supplies, and new things to learn, like Facebook Live. I knew that newness wouldn’t last. And it didn’t.

The reality of our situation is settling in. I find myself missing human contact, missing my kids and my friends in California and elsewhere more than usual. My living space, which I love, is feeling confining. And there is something more, something a little under the surface. I think it’s grief. I feel like we are in the midst of some kind of shift and that this moment will be somewhat like 9/11 – a time that universally marks a before and an after. Remember when we could fly without out so much security – when we could meet people at their gates? I don’t know quite what we will lose, but it will be something.

My feeling of grief is connected to the anxiety I have felt over our political and social climate change these past four years. As our political and social rhetoric has devolved into vitriol and name calling, we have lost a civility, a sense of community. Perhaps we can regain the civility we have had, but perhaps not. Into an already strained civic system our pandemic rages. And now we can’t touch, or even be close to one another. I have a sense that we have lost, or are losing something precious. I can’t really see it or name it clearly. What will life after the pandemic be like? In a year, how will we complete the sentence, “Remember when we used to . . . ?” I don’t know; the uncertainty is unnerving.

It is times like these when our faith is critical. Not a Pollyanna faith that everything will be unicorns and rainbows, but a gritty faith born from a bloody cross and carried by heroes who have weathered storms more perilous than ours. This won’t be easy. There will be blood. Pain. Despair. And in all things, in all of this, God will be present loving us and sustaining us, and in the end, resurrecting us. We don’t know what our future holds, but we do know that our future is held in the hands of God’s love and providence. God will take the pain and anxiety of this present moment and use it to create something new. God always has, and always will. There will be life, new life, on the other side of this pandemic.

Not only do we have the faith that God is with us, and will bring us to new life on the other side, we know that times such as these provide us with opportunities to love. Every crisis, every tragedy is an opportunity to love. We see it already in the ways people are connecting with one another in creative ways, in the ways people are giving sacrificially to support health care workers and isolated neighbors. There will be manifold ways for us to love one another in the weeks and months to come. We get to exercise our capacity to love, and doing so helps create the new, resurrected world that will emerge on the other side of this crisis.

This time is scary but we are not powerless. We can love. And we can pray the prayers of the church, prayers that are designed to give us hope. We are entering Holy Week – a week of intense prayers where we enter deeply into the pain and suffering of our Lord, Jesus Christ – pain and suffering that lead to profound despair, as we see from Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me.” But as the story plays out we see that Jesus was never forsaken by God. The pain of the cross led to new, rich, and abundant life. Jesus was transformed into something new and glorious in the Risen Christ. It is our belief that the transformation from death to new resurrected life is not a one-time event limited to Jesus. Rather the cross and resurrection of Jesus happened to show us that that is how God operates. God creates new and abundant life out of experiences that feel like death. It is what God does.

Our Paschal faith is defiant in the face of tragedy. This pandemic will be difficult, and we may feel forsaken for a season, but we are not forlorn. God’s will be done.

I invite you to enter as deeply as you can into the prayers of the church. We can’t meet as usual this Holy Week, but perhaps that isn’t all bad. Rather than going through the usual motions, our circumstances push us into a place that might be closer to the trauma and pain experienced by Jesus and the disciples. Rather than see our social distancing as an impediment to our worship, perhaps the disruption and fear of our present moment is an invitation to enter more deeply and authentically into the Paschal Mystery where pain and struggle, with God’s presence and grace, are transformed into new life.

Please join me in observing a holy Holy Week. In the coming days I will be planning Holy Week services that can be viewed online as well as sharing prayers and readings you can use on your own at home.                    

Blessings,

Brian

 

 

 


Burning Man and Everyday Evangelism

DSC_9947

“Do you use cannabis?” This is a question I have never been asked.

Except at Burning Man.

Burning Man has a gift-giving economy - not bartering, rather, gifts freely given and freely received. You might be riding your bike, then turn a corner and be greeted by someone in the street asking: “Do you want an omelet?” ”May I give you a massage? Even: “Hungry for a strap-on corn dog?”

The question is always part of a loving exchange, a request for connection, or communion.

As I was tearing down my camp after Burning Man 2017 a tall, thin, young white man with long blonde hair came by and asked if he could borrow my rake. We rake our campsites to make sure we aren’t leaving behind MOOP (Matter Out of Place). The rake sifts through the dusty dust and reveals tiny pieces of trash. I had forgotten my rake so I couldn’t help him, but we ended up having one of those chance conversations that make Burning Man so special.

He asked, “How will you be different when you go back to the Default World? How has this Burn impacted you?” I was moved by the depth and sincerity of his questions, and after answering them, I offered him my gift, the Burning Man Blessing.

“May I bless you?” He said yes.

I placed my hands on his shoulders, looked in his eyes and said, “The world now is too dangerous, and too beautiful, for anything but love.” Then I blessed his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet – kissing his feet. I placed my hand firmly on his chest and said, “And may your heart be so opened, so set on fire that your love, YOUR LOVE, changes everything.” His eyes welled with tears.

We hugged. He sobbed.

Then he asked me The Question,

“Do you use cannabis?”

“No,” I replied.

“That’s cool,” he said, “I had a gift for you, but that’s cool.”

I was taught by one of my first mentors to never refuse a gift, “If you refuse a gift, you refuse the giver.” But there are some gifts I can’t accept.

We parted ways. I tore down more of my camp and then took a break to explore more of the Playa – the dry alkalai lakebed that houses Burning Man.

Hours later when I was back at camp the man returned. He was eager to see me. He pointed to the banner on my shade structure bearing the name of my camp, Religious as Fuck, and asked,

“Is that true, are you religious?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am, I am a Christian.”

A big smile crossed his face as he exclaimed, “Wow, you just restored my faith in religion!”

And then he went on his way.

This man was eager to ask his question. I could tell he was hoping the answer was going to be yes . So many people have had bad experiences with religion, but haven’t given up hope—they yearn for the church to look like Jesus: loving, welcoming and compassionate. All it took was acceptance and a blessing.

Sometimes it is that simple .


This past week I was wondering what it looks like to pay homage. I understand conceptually what adoration toward God is about, but how can I talk about it in tangible, incarnational ways? How do we exercise the muscle of adoration, awe and homage?

The reason I was thinking about homage so much was because the Gospel reading for Sunday was the story of the Magi paying homage to the child-king (Matthew 2:1-12.) So I was in my office working on this sermon when a parishioner, Jean Wu, came to drop something off and asked, “Can I tell you a story?”

We sat down and she began:

“Every Christmas I go to the fortune cookie factory and buy a bag of fortune cookies to take to my local fire station.”

I was immediately distracted by what was the most important thing she could tell me. I thought, “Wait, there’s a fortune cookie factory??? In Sacramento!!!”

I pulled myself away from my wandering brain as she continued,

“I went to the fire station and knocked. The firefighters welcomed me in. I knew many of them because I have been doing this for years. I gave them the cookies. We chatted. Then I said, ‘We prayed for you today. At Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, we prayed for you.’ I then took out the bulletin and I read what we prayed for people who are unable to be with those they loved because they were working. After I read the prayer, they just stood there in silence for a long time. There were tears in their eyes. Then one of them spoke, ‘We can’t tell you how much that means to us. Thank you. Thank you.’ Then, when I was going to Trinity for the later service, I realized the parking attendant had been working all day and was away from her family. I told her the same thing. She said, ‘Wow! I mean . . . Wow! Thank you.”

I thanked Jean for her story and asked her if I could use it in a sermon sometime. She smiled and said yes. I didn’t realize that her story would be the perfect example of how we exercise the message of paying homage – of recognizing and acknowledging the people who are serving and blessing us every day.

Jean’s story is a perfect example of everyday evangelism – one Christian sharing Christ’s love with others. It is easy for me to do this at Burning Man, because everybody is giving gifts and sharing love. But Jean showed me what it looks like in the Default World. It is a great model of how we can live in a way that looks more like Jesus. Thank you Jean. Wow.


On the Episcopal Church being sanctioned by the Anglican Primates

On January 14, the Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Lambeth, England, voted to sanction the Episcopal Church for allowing for same-sex marriage throughout the church.  You can see the specific language of the sanctions in paragraphs 7 & 8 of this document

Here is the statement I wrote for the January 14 edition of Trinity Cathedral's enews:

There is breaking news from England.  As many of you know, the worldwide Anglican Communion is made up of 38 different autonomous provinces.  Each province is led by a primate; ours is our presiding bishop, The Very Rev. Michael Curry.  The Primates are meeting in London this week.  There has been tension in the Anglican Communion over the move toward acceptance of people who are gay and lesbian in some provinces.  There are several provinces who have moved toward inclusion, but The Episcopal Church seems to draw the greatest attention.  The primates have just voted to place a minor sanction on the Episcopal Church for three years.  We can not represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, we cannot be appointed or elected to serve on committees internal to the Anglican Communion.  Episcopalians who are already serving on such committees are not to vote on issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.  Since these committees don't govern doctrine or polity, this last sanction doesn't mean much.

While I will likely write a reflection on this after I have a chance to study the situation more, I would like to offer a few initial thoughts. First, our move toward marriage equality was the result of 40 years of hard, painful, prayerful and careful engagement with scripture and one another. I, and others who worked on this issue, firmly believe this is God's call to us, and that we are called to be a witness to the full dignity and inclusion of people and couples who are gay or lesbian. If we have to pay a price for this stand, then it is a price we willingly pay. That said, it isn't much of a price to pay.  This is not a very big deal in terms of our relationships with Anglicans around the world. Our real connection with the worldwide Anglican Communion is in our partnerships in mission on the local level.  Those will continue unchanged.

When reading this statement sanctioning the Episcopal Church, it is easy to react out of anger or fear.  I sometimes need to remind myself that Christ's love casts out fear. Our call is to love.  Love those sanctioning us.  Love the gay and lesbian persons who continue to be subjected to hatred and violence, who will see this statement as another spear in their sides.  Love and pray for one another.  

The following day I received a phone call at 5:30 in the morning from a reporter from the Guardian newspaper in England.  She didn't realize I lived on the West Coast.  I am not one of those people who wakes up at 5:00am so I was sound asleep.  We had a little chat that I can't remember.  I was pleased that in the article she only quoted my coherent speech.  

The following week I had many, many members of the Cathedral come talk to me.  They were upset at the actions of the primates.  On Sunday, January 24, I had the opportunity to address their fears in a sermon.

 

 

 

 


General Convention 2015 - Marriage Committee

DSC_2059In June and July of 2015 I was a clergy deputy to the triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  At this Convention, we were going to be considering important resolutions related to same-sex marriage.  A special committee was formed to handle all marriage-related resolutions.  I was appointed as the chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage for the House of Deputies.  My dear friend Brian Thom, Bishop of the Diocese of Idaho, was the chair of the committee for the House of Bishops.  Both Committees met together with Brian and I alternating the responsibility of chairing the meetings.

Unlike other committees, some of which had many, many resolutions to consider, we had only 10, and several of those were identical or similar.  We really had only three questions to consider: 1) should we change the church canons to allow for same-sex marriage, 2) should we adopt rites (liturgies) with gender neutral language to be used to wed same-sex couples and 3) should the Marriage Task Force continue its work.  Rather than speeding through a host of issues, we were able to spend time focusing on these three.   We knew our task was important, and potentially history making.  We also knew that there was a good chance the Supreme Court of the U.S. would announce its ruling on same-sex marriage while we were in session.

At General Convention a hearing must be held on every resolution before the committee can act on the resolution.  We held three hearings at heard moving testimony on both sides.  After the hearings, we wrestled with how to move forward.  Continuing the work of the Task Force was an easier issue.  There are so many questions still to be considered when talking about marriage and the church's role that we unanimously supported its continuation.  (For example, the report of the first task force pointed out the preponderance of couples that choose to cohabitate as a prelude to, or instead of marriage.  Consideration of that trend and the church's appropriate response was beyond the scope of the work of the first task force.)   The bigger question was about authorizing same-sex marriage.  Should we change the nature of marriage by authorizing  same-sex marriage?  If so, should such authorization be church-wide, or only for dioceses whose bishops support same-sex marriage?  If the answer to the first question is yes, how can we do it in a way that honors our constitution and canons?

DSC_2860

Continue reading "General Convention 2015 - Marriage Committee" »


Gay in Ghana

A few weeks after the Supreme Court of the United States made marriage equality a reality throughout the U.S. and the Episcopal Church changed the marriage canons to allow for gender neutral marriage rites, I joined other Episcopal priests, bishops, and laypersons and went to Ghana to meet with gay rights advocates, bishops and other clergy advocates from Sub-Saharan Africa.  This was the third African consultation in four years sponsored by the Chicago Consultation.  While there are countries in Africa that make accommodations for gay and lesbian couples, others criminalize gay and lesbian relationships and advocacy.  In some countries being gay is punishable by death.  Sadly, some of this animus toward people who are lesbian and gay is fueled by Anglican clergy.  

For four years the Chicago Consultation has been facilitating consultations in which clergy and advocates come together to pray, study scripture, tell their stories and talk about how they can be mutually supportive.  After the consultation in 2013, we endeavored to create a Bible study resource that will be published soon.  

We were hosted by Bishop Victor Atta-Baffoe, of the Diocese of Cape Coast.  His staff provided extensive support and the Bishop participated fully.  

Our time alternated between meeting as one large group, beginning of course, with ice breakers, and meeting in category groups (clergy, bishops, advocates) and Bible study groups.  In the large group we heard a variety of people's stories.  Each day our Bible study group met to read and discuss scripture and pray together.  We also met daily in our category groups so we could talk about issues that related to our particular vocations.

This consultation was held in Elmina, Ghana, just a mile or so away from Elmina Castle - a fortress used by Europeans in the slave trade.  During the consultation, we took a trip to Cape Coast Castle, another slave fort.  The trip was a sobering reminder of our ability to be horribly cruel.  We walked through the dark dungeons where Africans where held for weeks or months while they awaited the next slave ship.  The rooms that held hundreds of slaves had no bathroom and only one tiny window.

A Cape Coast Castle, we couldn't help but be shocked by the location of the chapel, established and supported by the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, right above the first male slave dungeon.  So Anglican Christians gathered to sing their hymns and pray their prayers while Africans were held in torturous conditions immediately below them.

For me, the trip to Cape Coast Castle helped me see the importance of our work - creating greater acceptance and lessening hatred. It was an invitation to be sensitive to cruelties we don’t even see. Upon returning from the Castle, one of the African participants said, "These were Christians who thought they were doing the right thing, they were just blind to their cruelty.  I wonder in what way we are blindly harming others and our world."  

One of the enlightening insights from the consultation was that in much of Africa, gay and lesbian relationships had been tolerated if not accepted.  We heard of one culture in which a woman can choose to be with another woman as a life partner.  They can choose a man to sire a child, and after birth, the child is part of the family of the women.  In that culture it is completely accepted.  Much of the hatred that now exists toward same-sex relationships was imported to Africa from the U.S. culture wars in the past decades.  

The consultation was a great opportunity to make and deepen friendships across the Anglican Communion. These friendships are essential as we strive to strengthen communities as they organize against violence directed toward people who are lesbian, gay or transgender.

You can see our official statement from the conference here.

Here are some of my pictures:

 

 

Ghana Consultation 2015

 

 And the sermon I preached after I returned:

After Ghana, Sermon 9/20/15 from Trinity Cathedral on Vimeo.


Episcopal General Convention Resolutions Referred to Dioceses

 At the 78th Triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a number of resolutions were referred to dioceses and congregations for action, consideration or information.  Below is a list of those resolutions as they appear in A Summary of Actions of the 78th General Convention.  I have included links to the resolutions in English.  You can search for any resolutions in English or Spanish here.  There is a box in the top right corner for searching by number, if you want to see the Spanish translation of the resolutions below.

 

A001     Restructure for Spiritual Encounter
A011     Recommit to Criminal Justice Reform Study and Advocacy
A012     Continue Funding of Mission Enterprise Zones

A013     Continue Financial Support for Global Missions, Young Adult Service Corps, and Episcopal Volunteers in Mission
A014     Celebrate Episcopal Relief & Development’s 75 Years of Healing a Hurting World
A018     Encourage Interfaith Engagement

Continue reading "Episcopal General Convention Resolutions Referred to Dioceses" »


Video of General Convention Marriage Debate

The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized two rites for marriage that can be used for same-sex couples and changed the canons of the church to support their use.  These resolutions were handled as a special order of business with a presentation of the resolutions, Q&A and debate on each of the two resolutions. 

 

   

Continue reading "Video of General Convention Marriage Debate" »