Thursday, July 2, 2015

WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?

An ordained trans woman, I should be overjoyed at the continued progress made by the Episcopal Church at its general convention on LGBT inclusion.  I am.

But, again, I leave yet another such convention in tears...tears brought on by the continued obstruction by the powers-that-be in the Episcopal Church of any meaningful action to achieve justice for the long-suffering Palestinians who, for a decade, have been petitioning us to enact a divestment policy that might pressure Israel to end its 48-year occupation.
Resolutions that would have done that from the dioceses of California and Hawai'i having been pushed aside, the convention's legislative committee on Social Justice and International Policy could only produce a watered-down call to look into the matter and report back in 2017.  And, as Palestinians continue to suffer and die, we - unlike the Presbyterians, Methodists, Mennonites, and, day before yesterday, UCC - continue our shameful silence,

Why?  Because we are afraid of conflict, afraid of being called anti-Semites, and, under threat, afraid that our dialogue of the deaf with the Jewish Establishment will be ended.

Yet, we at EPF have worked at general convention with young Jews from Jewish Voice for Peace who agree that criticism of the recalcitrant Netanyahu government is in no way anti-Semitic.  And, with them, the dialogue with Jews who believe in the universal justice-seeking ideals of the prophets flourishes.

In my sadness, I re-read Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry's 2012 convention sermon "Crazy Christians."  In it, he alluded to Mary Magdala.  And that reminded me of a poem by the late Jane Kenyon - "Woman, Why Are You Weeping?"  In a boat on the Ganges, as she watches the bodies of dead babies floating by, she's asked that question.  She replies "I have lost my Lord and I don't know how to find him."

As I left Salt Lake City yesterday, I did so with a similar feeling.  Oh, my Lord - Jesus - is closer than ever.  But I have lost my Church and I don't know how to find it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

WHY ARE YOU AFRAID

 
"Why are you afraid?" Jesus asks.  "Have you still no faith?"
But I am afraid this morning, and my faith is again being tested.  For I find myself at a loss for words, as we try to process the outrage at Mother Emmanuel Church.  The racial hatred that still stalks the land this Juneteenth weekend, this 150th anniversary of the end of slavery; the Confederate flag that still flies over the state house in Columbia, not even lowered to half-mast; the judge who expresses more concern for the killer's family than for the mother who played dead, lying in her son's blood; the country we love awash in guns; yet another massacre; Fox News contending that it could have been averted had the victims been allowed to bring concealed weapons into church; the sense of futility, of hopelessness - it's all just too much. 
The words are stuck at the bottom of my throat, afraid to be spoken, for they all have four letters and are devoid of those that spell hope.  For I know how this will once again play out…how it will end. We will rage. We will petition our lawmakers. We will march and shout and pray and preach.  And the NRA - the EVIL NRA  - will dispense its money and twist the arms of lawmakers who know better…who knowing better, will once again cave to the gun lobby.  The sense of despair – un-Christian despair – weighs heavily on me this morning.  No words, it seems, will suffice.
But I must try.  Not because we need to "make sense" of this.  It makes no sense.  Not because we need to search for some good that will come of this.  There is no good that can come from such profound evil.  But I must try because I am afraid and my faith is in danger.
And in our fear and anguish, this morning's Gospel speaks to us in ways that are especially poignant, especially important.
In unpacking that Gospel, let me begin by acknowledging that today is Fathers' day.
Let me wish all you dads out there… and all you men, who mentor children or who may, unknowingly, be an icon to some child, a happy Father's Day.  Sometimes it can be hard to be such a man.  I know.  I remember.
I know, too, that some of you could get up here and tell us just how hard it can be to besuch a man, to be a dad. 
But let me tell you about another dad - someone I got to know on a train, – someone who experienced many storms in his life and who always stood tall in the lives of his sons.
When I worked in Washington – the one back East – I would often take the Amtrak Metroliner to New York to visit my family.  On the train, I would invariably run into then-Senator Joe Biden.  Heading north, he always got off at Wilmington.  Only later did I learn why.  I'll let him explain in his own words:
Six weeks after my election, my whole world was altered forever.  While I was in Washington hiring staff, I got a phone call.  My wife and three children were Christmas shopping, a tractor trailer broadsided them and killed my wife and killed my daughter.  And they weren't sure that my sons would live.
So I began to commute -- never intending to stay in Washington.  And that's the God's truth.  I was supposed to be sworn in with everyone else that year in '73, but I wouldn't go down.  So Mansfield thought I'd change my mind and not come, and he sent up the secretary of the Senate to swear me in, in the hospital room with my children.
And I began to commute thinking I was only going to stay a little while -- four hours a day, every day -- from Washington to Wilmington, which I've done for over 37 years.  I did it because I wanted to be able to kiss them goodnight and kiss them in the morning the next day.  No, "Ozzie and Harriet" breakfast or great familial thing, just climb in bed with them.  Because I came to realize that a child can hold an important thought, something they want to say to their mom and dad, maybe for 12 or 24 hours, and then it's gone.  And when it's gone, it's gone.  And it all adds up. 
As you know, the Vice President's oldest son, Beau died of brain cancer a few weeks back at age 46.  The funeral was in their parish church.  Next day, the Vice President kept a date at Yale – the commencement speech at the alma mater of his youngest son, Hunter.  Through his sunglasses, he offered the young graduates the following advice:  "Don't forget about what doesn't come from this prestigious diploma — the heart to know what's meaningful and what's ephemeral; and the head to know the difference between knowledge and judgment."
My kinda guy.
So let's talk about what's meaningful in all this.  Let's talk about overcoming the fears we must all confront in the face of life's storms...the sorts of storms that have so buffeted Joe Biden's life…the storm of doubt and despair that threatens us all in the wake of the killings at Mother Emmanuel.
God knows – literally, God knows  – I've had my fair share of both – the storms and the fears - sitting in the dark of night at the edge of a rice paddy, fearing being killed and fearing more killing others; riding out the "perfect storm" of two converging hurricanes in a small ship and the twelve foot waves of another in a 25-foot boat; fearing the reaction of friends and family to my coming out; fearing praying for a miracle, as Mimi lay dying, lest the absence of a miracle destroy my faith; praying a prayer for new beginnings, as I said goodbye to who I was and began again; confronting a crisis of faith in the midst of the politics of a General Convention– not in Jesus, but in a church that, out of fear, chose silence in the face of injustice.
But, again, you've all faced such storms and maybe worse.  And they test our faith.
Today, Mark offers us a vivid example of such a test.  It was night.  A mighty wind whipped up the waves.  They were rocking and swamping the boat.  The sails were flapping and tattered.  Been there, done that.  I know how the disciples must have felt, adrenalin pumping, scared as hell.  And they were probably a little annoyed at Jesus, exhausted from a day of teaching, sleeping in the stern.  "Don't you know we're about to drown!  Do something!"
And he did.  Calming the wind and the waves, he turns to the awe-struck disciples and asks them "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?" 
Elsewhere – in Matthew – we hear a similar story.  This time Jesus comes walking across the water toward the boat.  Again, the disciples are terrified.  They think they're seeing a ghost.  But Jesus says "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."  But Peter wants proof.  "Lord, if it's you," he says, "tell me to come to you on the water."   "Come," Jesus replies.  Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water toward Jesus.  But, hearing the wind, he panics.  He's afraid.  He loses faith that he can do it.  And, beginning to sink, he cries out, "Lord, save me!"
Every time God speaks to us in the Bible – whether through an angel, some cloud, or Jesus – we hear that familiar "Do not be afraid."  And, in today's story from Mark, Jesus draws a tight connection between our fears and our faith.
We've all heard that question "What is the opposite of faith?"  As often as not, we answer "Doubt."  Were we on a TV quiz show, we'd probably hear that annoying buzzer - "Wrong answer."  Fact is, it's not only okay to doubt, it's required.  If we didn't have doubts, there would be no need for faith.  Doubt, as Saint Augustine and Paul Tillich have said "is not the opposite of faith; it is an essential element of faith."
No, the opposite of faith is not doubt.  It is fear...the sort of fear I feel this morning  As Ron Rolheise, a Canadian priest, puts it, "To lack faith is not so much to have theoretical doubts about God's existence as it is to be anxious and fearful at a deep level."  As I've said, we'll all experience one or another storm in our lives – and probably several.  And it's okay to worry how we'll fare in the moment.  "What opposes faith," Rolheise says, "is not so much worry about this or that particular thing as worry that God has forgotten us, worry that our names are not written in heaven, that we aren't in good hands, that our lives aren't safe, and that there is every reason to fear and be anxious because, at the core of things, there isn't a benevolent, all-powerful goodness who is concerned about us."
"Our anxiety opposes faith," he adds, "when, however vaguely we might have this feeling, we have the sense that God is not fully trustworthy or powerful enough to assure that, as Julian of Norwich so wonderfully puts it, "in the end all will be well and every manner of being will be well."
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was anxious to his core…anxious enough to pray that the cup of suffering he was about to endure be lifted from him…if it was his father's will.  But knowing that "in the end all will be well,' he prayed, as we will at communion, "Thy will be done."
Many of you probably know the New Zealand form of the Lord's Prayer in which "lead us not into temptation' becomes "save us from the time of trial."  There's yet another version, we used at my last church, St. James in San Francisco.  Perhaps because we know there will be trials in every life, it's a version that I think speaks more truly to the human condition.  It reads "Be with us in the time of trial."
There will most assuredly be trials and perhaps some awful storms in our lives.  The most honest plea to Jesus, the most honest expression of faith is not to ask for the laws of nature to be suspended or to be issued a one-time, personal get out of jail free card, but rather to ask simply that Jesus walk with us through the inevitable storms. 
Rabbi Nachman, the famed Reb Nachman of Breslov taught that all the world is a very narrow bridge, and that the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear as we walk toward God.  Walking that narrow bridge through life, we will be buffeted by many storms.  It takes courage to make it through without being blown off.
 
I'm deathly afraid of heights and the rabbi's image stirs up another that sends shivers up my shoulder blades and stirs a queeziness in the pit of my stomach.  It's an image of a French high-wire artist walking a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center.  Having eaten at Windows on the World at the top of one of the towers and, having felt the tower sway, I knew the strength of the winds at that height and knew what a single gust could do.
For all of us, the wind is gusting this morning.  We need the courage that is faith…faith not so much in the existence of God, but that God loves us and that, in the end, all will be okay. 
We need the courage and faith of the relatives of those killed in that Bible study class at Mother Emmanuel…the courage to say "I forgive you…the faith to insist that "Evil will not win."
Their faithfulness should give us all hope in this storm…hopefully enough to take the hand of Jesus as we walk, hopefully enough to keep our eyes on the prize, hopefully enough to find the faith that God loves us and waits for us with open arms, the faith that, in the end, all will be well
 
AMDG
 
 
 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

BDS AT THE GENERAL CONVENTION OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

On June 25 the Episcopal Church will gather in Salt Lake City for its week-long triennial General Convention.  Among other things, it will decide whether or not to adopt a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) resolution vis-à-vis Israeli policies on the West Bank to replace its decade-long policy of "positive investment" and "corporate engagement" last reaffirmed three years ago in resolution B019.
 
As should be clear from the rapid growth of settlements and escalating violence, particularly the more than 2,000 deaths in Gaza, the Episcopal Church's (TEC's) policy of "positive investment," as elaborated in resolution B019  has proved woefully inadequate in addressing the situation in the Holy Land or expressing proper moral outrage.  In the face of the deteriorating situation on the ground the possibilities for a two-state solution are rapidly disappearing.  We are now faced with the need for urgent, forceful action.  It must also be said that the Presiding Bishop's "Ubuntu" resolution would be a sad step backward even from B019.  
 
My support for the BDS movement, however, derives primarily from painful personal experience.  For me the occupation is not an abstraction.  It is the young people in Jenin's Freedom Theater and Nablus' university, seeking hope in art and education.  It is the ten-year-old shot in the kneecap in Bilin.  It is the dinner conversations with his family in Bilin, in Arbour refugee camp, and in a Bedouin village in the Negev.  It is the settler violence I witnessed in At Tuwani in the Hebron hills.  It is the broken plastic toy I picked up from the rubble of the destroyed village of Susiya in those same hills.  It is the Jersey wall that segregates Hebron's Shuhada Street.  It is the rifle pointed at an old woman on that street.  It is the dispossessed families in Jerusalem's Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods, the desecrated tombs in Mamilla cemetery, the barbed wire enclosed settlement across the street from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It is the stench of tear gas, the indignities encountered at countless roadblocks, the affront of a thirty-foot wall, the string of gleaming white settlements atop nearly every hill, dividing Palestine into unconnected Bantustans.  It is the plea of a little boy in an alleyway in Balata camp: "Don't Forget Palestine."
 
On my three trips to Israel/Palestine I also found many Israeli Jews who seek an end to the occupation and an Israel that reflects the universal values of Judaism – Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions, the young veteran from Breaking the Silence traumatized by his duty in Hebron, the high school girl from Shimistin who refuses to serve, the teenagers of Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah putting on a puppet show for dispossessed kids living in a tent, the brave human rights activists of B'tselem whose only weapon is a camera, the young lawyer in Beersheva who gave me permission to use the word "Apartheid."
 
To those who would equate criticism of illegal and immoral policies of the Israeli government with the sin of anti-Semitism, I would point to the growing number of American Jews, especially young people, who reject the notion of any such connection.  Witness the presence at General Convention of volunteers from Jewish Voice for Peace who come to support BDS and the more than forty rabbis who support such a resolution.  Witness also the recent letter to the Washington Post  by  Allan C. Brownfeld, of the American Council for Judaism who wrote:
 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the movement to boycott Israel or disinvest from those doing business in the occupied territories as "anti-Semitic." Similarly, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who recently presided over a meeting that raised more than $20 million to fight this movement, referred to it as "anti-Semitic." Whether one agrees with this movement or not, and many Jews are leading participants, the fact is that it is in no way "anti-Semitic." Judaism is a religion of universal values. Israel is a sovereign state. It has violated international law by occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The boycott movement is a nonviolent effort to show opposition to this occupation, similar, its advocates argue, to the movement of sanctions against South Africa to show opposition to apartheid. Hatred of Judaism or Jews, which is what constitutes anti-Semitism, appears to be absent from these boycott efforts.
 
It was for such reasons that the preamble of the Diocese of California resolution forwarding General Convention Resolution C012 contained the following "resolved":
 
Resolved, That the Convention expresses its profound love and concern for all the people of the Holy Land, both Israelis and Palestinians, and rejects attempts to equate honest and legitimate criticism of unwise policies of the Government of Israel with anti-Semitism;
 
I know that there is a fear in the upper reaches of the Church that adopting a BDS resolution would damage or end the interfaith dialogue with those purporting to speak for American Jewry.
If we vote down BDS, the two establishments – Jewish and Episcopalian – can, we are told, continue the "dialogue".  The question must be asked, however: "What do we talk about?"
Friends don't ask friends to close their eyes to injustice.  Friends don't ask friends to ignore their conscience as the price for continued dialogue.  Friends don't dictate to friends what they can or cannot talk about.  And friends don't act as enablers of their friends' bad behavior.
Let us act as our conscience dictates, confront injustice, and hold open our desire for honest, sincere dialogue.  That is what friends do.
 
To those who would raise concerns that a TEC BDS resolution might harm the institutional economic interests of the Diocese of Jerusalem, it must be said that 1) such fear only illustrates the pressure the Israeli government exerts on Palestinian society; and 2) positive investment aimed at the Diocese of Jerusalem might well alleviate such pressure.  Does it also need saying that man does not live by bread alone, that we have all taken a Baptismal vow to "respect the dignity of every human being," or that it that it is the role of the Church to witness to truth and justice?  In this regard, it is worth noting the words of the 2009 Kairos Document endorsed by all the Christian leaders of Palestine, including Archbishop Dawani:
 
The cruel circumstances in which the Palestinian Church has lived and continues to live have required the Church to clarify her faith and to identify her vocation better.
 
The mission of the Church is prophetic, to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events. If she does take sides, it is with the oppressed, to stand alongside them….
 
Archbishop Dawani will do what his conscience dictates in this regard.  We in the Episcopal Church must do the same.  By my lights we must stand with the oppressed Palestinians and pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation.  The best means of doing so is to adopt a strong BDS resolution.  C012 is such a resolution.
 
I know that some call C012 one-sided.  It is.  For the situation it addresses is one-sided.  One people – the Palestinians – are on their knees.  The other – the Israelis – have a gun to their heads.  And we – we Americans - .have paid for the gun.  As Americans and as Christians, we have a special obligation vis-à-vis that gun
 

THE TRANSGENDERED AND THE "BRAND JENNER" CIRCUS

As a transgender woman of a certain age, I have been having a hard time dealing with the whole "Brand Jenner" circus, the whole Kardashian-inspired ego trip. Get the "brand" out there, milk it for all its worth. That's what those "What do they actually do?" "celebrities" are all about — you know, Paris, Robert Jr., Lindsey, Kim, Kris.
I have a well-honed sense of knowing when I'm being used and, for that reason alone, the Vanity Fair cover sticks in my craw, as does the media reaction and that of too many of my transgender friends. The former fawn on Ms. Jenner as the face of the transgender community. The latter latch on to her as an icon.
Forgive me, but an air-brushed 65-year-old woman in a corset is not my idea of an icon. As a transgender person, I have other icons — people I respect, people who have made recognized positive contributions to society, people who are respected in their fields of endeavor — people like Anglo-Welsh historian Jan Morris, Stanford biologist Joan Roughgarden, University of Chicago economist Deidre McCloskey, novelist and English professor Jennifer Boylan, Pacific School of Religion theologian Justin Tanis, and the Rev. Cam Partridge and other trans clergy in the Episcopal Church. These are people worth looking up to and worth emulating, whether one is straight, gay, or trans. That's what icons are all about.
Clergy friends of mine are familiar with the term "rent a collar." I've marched in demonstrations and been arrested in mine to lend the cachet of the church to one or another worthy cause of social justice. But I've often wondered "Who's using whom?" and am always wary of not besmirching the reputation of the organization represented by the collar. In the case at hand of "Brand Jenner," I have to ask again ""Who's using whom?"
And to Caitlyn I would say "Welcome to our community. We welcome you and wish you well." But I would — and do — add "Don't besmirch the still fragile reputation of your new community."
Unfortunately, that, in many ways, is the effect of what she is doing, as the media portrays her privileged, pampered experience and her publicity-driven rollout as the norm for an economically burdened transgender community, a bleeding community that silently endures more than 150 murders a year and still more suicides. As it focuses on her "reality" show, the media, by and large, ignore the reality of the transgender community. People who have to work for a living. People who, having no work, must live on the street. People who can't afford her cash-on-the-barrelhead surgeries, and certainly not her team of publicists, photographers, and image consultants. People now shunned by their families and friends. Ours is a community she does not know and for which she cannot speak. Maybe later, but not now, not this way.
That said, this episode still has in it the seeds of a teachable moment. But only if the media moves beyond the stereotyping and sensationalism and explores the day-in-day-out experiences of transgender people, talking not about them, but with them. A phrase I learned in Mayan Chiapas apropos Mexico's federal government is "No more about us without us." Unfortunately, in the media circus around Jenner, there is far too much "expert" opinion being spewed about the trans community, too much of it without us. Denied full-throated agency, we are relegated to the status of exotic objects to be dissected.
Speaking of objects, there is, finally, the issue of misogyny — the misogyny that sours a needed conversation between cisgender and transgender women who should be allies, the misogyny that drips from every crevice of this affair, much of it generated by the Kardashians and, yes, Caitlyn who — wittingly or unwittingly — has allowed herself to be peddled as a sensationalized, stereotypical sex object.
Particularly offensive in this regard is the glib and superficial way in which Ms. Jenner's handlers have chosen to define womanhood. As a feminist recently said, "Nail polish does not a woman make." Nor, would I add, does a corseted body on a magazine cover a lady make. What makes a lady, a person of consequence, are the learned internalities that might be hard to learn from the Kardashians.
Misogyny remains pervasive in our society. It is a wrong that must be eradicated. Until it is, I would no more buy a Vanity Fair magazine than I would a Carl's Jr. hamburger.
____________________________________________________
This originally appeared in the Vallejo Times Herald June 13, 2015.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From: Vicki Gray


Hi! How are you?

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Vicki Gray

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

INIQUITAS RADIX MALORUM

44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
 
Happy Mothers' Day…to all the happy mothers among us, to all your loving spouses, and to all God's children who love and honor their parents.  Together, we are family.
We were all reminded of that yesterday as we came together with Tina and her family to honor her Dad, John.  Leaving, one lady remarked "What a lovely service.  I've never been in a church like this."  I replied "Neither have I."
I have not.  This place is special.  And, because we are family, because I love you, I feel a need to talk about a problem that impacts us all, but, most especially, families.  I feel a need to talk clearly, honestly about that problem – the gaping inequality of wealth in this country and in the world.  It's a growing inequality that has propelled the super-rich to levels of pomp and power not seen since the first Gilded Age a century ago…that has gutted the middle class…and trampled the poor under foot. Bear with while I try to lay it out from the perspective of the political animal that I am.  But, before I end, I will also try to put things into the proper context - the context of our reading today from Acts, the context of the Gospel.  I promise.  For we are dealing here not so much with a simple issue of economics or partisan politics, but rather with a profound moral issue about how we lead our lives and order our society.
As some of you know, there's a book out there containing the sermons and thoughts of an old deacon.  It begins with a simple declarative statement: "These are troubled times."  After pointing to the endless wars and foreign misadventures that have marked this last decade, it then offers the following by way of elaboration and a call to action:
At home we still suffer the consequences of decades of the rampant greed and reckless risk-taking that produced a Great Recession in an America we hardly recognize any more…an America where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
We are at a crossroads and the stakes are high.  We need to get off knees and find our voice.
Surveying the same scene a few years earlier from Paris, Stephane Hessel painted an even bleaker picture. A survivor of the Holocaust, a veteran of the Resistance, and a drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Hessel pointed to:
The grievous injustices inflicted on people deprived of the essential requirements for a decent life, not only in the third world…but in the suburbs of our largest Western cities, where seclusion and poverty breeds hatred and revolt.  The widening gap between the very poor and very rich is made all the more insulting by the access the poor now have to the internet and other forms of mass communication that highlight these inequalities.
Noting that "the worst attitude is indifference," Hessel - then ninety-three and on what he called the "last leg of my journey" - pointed to what he called the "unbearable things all around us." He urged the youth in particular "to look around you and you will find the themes to justify your indignation." 
His little red book, Indignez Vous, a Time for Outrage, inspired the Occupy movement which, in turn, focused national and global attention on the economic inequality that threatens not only our democratic system, but our very moral values.  Occupy's voices, however, were soon drowned out by those in the corporate echo chamber who cried "Class warfare!" and insisted instead on balancing our federal budgets on the backs of the poor and middle class. 
And, in the brief two years since the last tents were torn down on Justin Herman Plaza, the ranks of the poor have mushroomed, as those of the middle class have dwindled.  Meanwhile, the wealth of the ostentatious super-rich – promoted by ever newer tax loopholes and protected in ever-more creative tax havens – has reached obscene proportions. 
That wealth is being used in unhealthy ways to create an economic apartheid that is eroding our democracy and, with it, the means to break free of what is overtaking us.  How so?  Need I mention the uneven playing field created by the money that is polluting our politics and drowning out the voices of the common man?  Need I mention, Citizens United, McCutcheon, and the trek to Las Vegas by half a dozen presidential candidates to kiss the ring of a multi-billionaire with a questionable agenda?  Need I mention the starving of our public school system, while Walmart's Waltons lavish billions on the creation of a parallel charter system?  Need I mention how American college graduates are being crushed by student loan debts, while their schools recruit the children of wealthy foreigners to pay the top-heavy salaries of administrators?  Need I mention the consolidation of the media and the message in the hands of the wealthy few?  As T. H. Marshall said half a century ago, "freedom of speech has little real substance if…you have…no means of making yourself heard."
And so, as a recent Princeton study shows, our democracy slips ever deeper into oligarchy – rule by a privileged few.  And the things all around us become indeed unbearable.
The evidence of what is happening can no longer be ignored.  And, this time, it's not the kids in the streets who are ringing the alarm bells, but, rather, respected economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman, and, above all, Thomas Piketty – another Frenchman - who are providing irrefutable evidence that things are even worse than we thought. 
What sort of evidence?  How bad?  Take salaries.  Over the past thirty years, median salaries have stagnated and many poor and middle class families have experienced cuts in take-home pay or outright unemployment.  Meanwhile the already astronomical salaries of top CEOs – the .001 percent – have risen an average of nine percent a year to a median of $13.9 million a year.  Near the bottom, those making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour are earning $15,000 a year.  Consider that when the federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,000 a year.  Consider that when the President has just signed a budget that cuts food stamp funding but continues subsidies to big oil.  Consider that when Oracle CEO Larry Ellison raked in $73.4 million in 2013 or $37,692 an hour.  And, as the New York Times reports, "He seems not to care what you think about that."
Those of us who do care know that these are not just abstract facts and figures.  There's nothing abstract about the new homeless I see on the streets – the well-dressed father at Open Cathedral; his two sons so happy to get a few colored Easter eggs; the man in a good-looking suit on our soup line at the 16th street BART; the outrageous prices being charged for poorly heated, roach infested SROs in the Tenderloin; a housing market that's pricing out middle class families in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and, yes, the East Bay…pricing out the salt of the earth – teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen, baristas, who find it hard to live where they serve.  Just how bad is it here where we live?  Well, as an article in the New York Times last month reports that, of the 100 largest metro areas in the country, we're number one – number one in income inequality and number one in terms of least affordable housing.  Indeed, some of us in this room know what it's like to be housing poor.  Others of us know what it's like to be unemployed or to have to rely on food stamps or whatever's in that Shared Manna basket by the door or on the table  of donated layettes outside.  No, there's nothing abstract about any of this.    
But, as Piketty points out, it's not just a matter of salaries.  There's an even darker underside to all this.  The growth of income from idle capital – as in Das Kapital – inherited, accumulated wealth – has begun to grow at a rate geometrically faster than earned income from labor. 
We have, he says, reached a point where simply increasing the progressivity of income taxes will no longer do the trick.  He proposes instead a global tax on accumulated wealth and a redistribution of the proceeds to the ninety-nine percent who earn their income from labor.
Not surprisingly those in the one percent and their apologists in the media have taken to calling Piketty a communist.  He's in good company.
 Pope Francis, too, has been called a communist.  Why?  Because, as he said
I believe in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.  And, the core of the Gospel is the proclamation to the poor. When you read the Beatitudes, for example, or you read Matthew 25, you see there how Jesus is clear in this. The core of the Gospel is this. And Jesus says of himself, "I came to announce to the poor, freedom, health, the grace of God"…to the poor…[to] those who need salvation, that need to be welcomed in society… This is a banner of the Gospel, not of Communism; of the Gospel!
And the oligarchs of El Salvador called Oscar Romero a communist for holding high the same banner, a banner that proclaimed Christ's "opcion preferencial por los pobres."
One wonders how many good Christians harbor thoughts that even Luke must have been a communist – or, at least, a proto-Marxist - for reporting, as he did this morning, that
 
44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
How many good Christians balk at this because they mistakenly feel it's a notion only first propounded by Marx?  How many dismiss it as a utopian concept?
But we're not talking here about some utopia – some imaginary, unattainable state of perfection.  No, Luke is talking here about a concrete reality that actually existed in a specific time and place.  He's writing about the Christian community in first-century Jerusalem and how it ordered its life together.
Now, I'm not naïve and neither, I expect, are you.  While "day by day the Lord added to their number" - three thousand, we were told last week - we know that the first Christians comprised a small, compact, homogenous community.  And we know how hard it would be to replicate such an economic system in a country as large and diverse as ours…just as hard as it would be to expect our political system to operate as transparently or as responsively as the pure democracy of the tiny city-state of Athens.  No, these are ideals to strive for…much the same as those contained in our Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
But, oh, how far we've drifted from these ideals – of possessing equal voice and vote in our politics, of enjoying equality of opportunity in our pursuit of happiness, and of caring for the least among us as Jesus commanded…of creating a society where Shalom prevails – where there is, as in first century Jerusalem, a just and harmonious balance between individual self-realization and communal sufficiency.  Looking around us, we are right in concluding that the doors to self-realization are closing, that the least among us are falling off the edge, and that our capacity for caring is growing ever smaller…as our fear of being crushed beneath the weight of greed and inequality grows ever larger.  Yes, "look around you and you will find the themes to justify your indignation."
The cause of our fear and indignation is clear and simple. 
In case you haven't noticed, that Pope in Rome is given to plain-speaking and knows how to use the media, including the social media.  Two weeks ago he said it all in a three-word tweet – "Iniquitas radix malorum."  For the few of you who don't speak Latin that translates to "Inequality is the root of social evil." 
But we are a people of hope.  We can overcome evil.  We can overcome this…by returning to the roots of social good…the roots embedded in the Beatitudes, Matthew 25, and the example found today in Acts.  "The rich," as Francis has said, "must help, respect, and promote the poor," while we all must strive "to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beingFrancis, of course, is getting vocal pushback from his American bishops, while ours are sadly silent.  But church is more than just bishops.  We are the church, we the people.  And the time has come to speak – clearly, plainly, forcefully.  The church needs our voice.  Our society does.  Christ does.  So hold high the banner of the Gospel.  Give voice to your indignation.  Speak the simple truth
"Iniquitas radix malorum." 
 
AMDG
 

Monday, April 7, 2014

APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH

A LECTIONARY SERMON FOR LENT 5 2014
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain….
 
 
So begins "The Waste Land," the signature work of that most Anglican of poets, T.S. Eliot.  How it suits my mood and our readings today, including the one you didn't hear – Paul's letter to the Romans.  He begins that letter by warning that "to set the mind on the flesh is death."  In doing so, he is, I think a tad too hard on all of us, trapped as we are in the flesh of our bodies.  Oh, I try always to follow his advice and set my mind instead on "the Spirit [that] is life and peace," but every April death crowds my thoughts.
April is, indeed, the cruelest month and, for me, this is the cruelest week…so full of memory and desire, spring rains, dull and aching roots, lilacs I would coax from the dead land.  In a garden so full of life, the bright flowers, the well-fed birds, even the warm sun seem to mock a recurring sense of loss.
Sitting in that garden, my thoughts go back to 1968, a year that began so full of hope and promise – a war ending…or so we thought, rights being realized, positive change at every turn.  Then, on April 4, that awful evening bulletin – Martin had been shot and killed in Memphis.  In an instant, the best of times became the worst of times.  A bullet had killed the dream…had killed the hope…or so they thought.
Then, of a February just three years ago, in a squalid refugee camp in Jenin, Palestine, I met another hero – Juliano Mer-Khamis, the son of an Israeli Jewish mother and a Palestinian Christian father.   In his well-named Freedom Theatre, he was, we could see, bringing joy and hope-filled dreams to the traumatized children of the camp.  Their sense of joy was palpable, when, by mistake, I stumbled into a dark room where the kids were rehearsing "Alice in Wonderland."  It was a joy that stayed with me upon my return home…and all through March.  April 4 dawned again and, with it this time, an e-mail.  Juliano had been shot dead beside his little red car that I had last seen parked in front of the theater.  Another bullet had killed the joy…or so they thought.
But April 8 has for fourteen years now been the hardest day of all to bear.  It was a warm, sunny Saturday…about two in the afternoon…when Mimi, the love of my life for thirty-five years, breathed her last.  I held her hand, as her breath "returned to God who gave it."  And outside, on the street, I could hear the music of the ice cream truck and the sound of happy children.  I'll never forget the song on the jingling bells – "Do Your Ears Hang Low" – nor the cruelty of the faceless disease that had killed our love…or so I thought.
And this afternoon, this April 6 of the San Francisco Night Ministry's 50th anniversary, there will be a funeral in The City for its founder, the Rev. Don Stuart…a funeral I must miss to serve the living he had served.  I think he would understand and approve.  For his ministry lives and thrives in them. 
So too, despite death's best efforts, does the work of Martin and Juliano.  This April 4, for example, the Freedom Theatre's school graduated its first four actors.  One of them, Motaz, said the following:"The Freedom Theatre is not just a theatre, it's a stage that can create revolution. Theatre is my whole life now. It gives me hope, and dreams."  In those dreams, Juliano lives.  And, in my nightly dreams, Mimi also lives…proof for me that love does not die.  Paul was right about that as he was about the spirit.  The spirit of love is indeed "life and peace."
But there's another date to keep in mind as Lent winds down and, next Sunday, we begin Holy Week.  Ever wonder about the day that Jesus was killed?  When it was precisely?  A quick look at the Hebrew calendar tells us it was the first day of Passover in the year 3760.  That would be April 7 on our calendar… about three in the afternoon.  There's another song that haunts my thoughts every year about this time of year, every Good Friday round about three: "Were You There When They Crucified Our Lord?"  They had killed – or so they thought – our God.
And, today, we're reminded of the events that led up to that day, the events that presaged and precipitated that first Good Friday.
We've been through this before…together.  We know that, when we hear this story about Lazarus, Good Friday is near.  Consider where Jesus was and why.  Consider why, although he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, 6 "he stayed two days longer in the place where he was."  Fact is Jesus was on the lam again…for the last time it turns out.  Recall John's words in the verses immediately preceding our Gospel for this morning:
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly….
The Jews took up stones again to stone him….32 39Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.
40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there.
 
And today he crosses the Jordan and begins that final trek back up the Jericho road to Bethany and the cross.  The time has come.  "I won't keep you in suspense any longer," Jesus seems to say.  "I am the Messiah.  You want proof?  Come to Bethany and watch what I'm about to do!"
Jesus meets Martha on the road and a powerful scene unfolds in which Jesus, the Messiah, claims his divinity while demonstrating his humanity, grieving with, weeping with Martha and Mary, probably holding them in his arms….the very essence of human and divine compassion.  41
I thought of these things Sunday before last, when, in the New York Times style section, I read an article entitled "A Generation Redefines Mourning" about millennials trying to work out their grief on the internet.  The twenty-something asking the funeral home to e-mail him a picture of his dead mother, so he wouldn't have to go in and identify her body.  The "Ask a Mortician" channel on YouTube.  The Twitter hashtag "RIP."  The Facebook posting of a death followed by 136 "likes."  The "selfie" at a funeral.  Wading through this litany of what the author called the "still evolving social norms" of "modern loss " and "death awareness," I found it morphing into some black comedy reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One.  And, recalling Jessica Mitford's more serious American Way of Death, I found myself reflecting on how we've accustomed ourselves to avoiding facing death honestly; to masking it with perfumes, cosmetics, and euphemisms; to stifling our very human grief…forgetting perhaps that grief is but the continuation of love that refuses to die 
How unreal.  How unsatisfying.  How unlike the nitty-gritty, in-your-face,   quality of the Lazarus story.   The harsh reality of the decomposing body…"Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."  The hysterical hurled accusation:  "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  The honesty of the grief: "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved… 3435Jesus began to weep."
Jesus began to weep!  "It's okay," he seems to say.  "I understand.  Yes, Paul's right, keep your mind on the Spirit.  But it's alright to lament death, to grieve the earthly loss of a loved one, to share the grief of others."  "Don't worry," he adds, "there will be resurrection.  Roll back that stone.  I'll demonstrate."
Comparing ourselves to our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, we Episcopalians sometimes like to say "We're not a grief-stricken, guilt-ridden 'Good Friday Church.'  We're a joyful 'Resurrection Church.'"  Yes, we are.  And that is good.  But it is not good – it is not really possible – to fully be the latter without some experience of the former.  It is not possible to fully experience the joy of the Resurrection without knowing the anguish of that Thursday night in Gethsemane and the grief, the guilt, the pain of Good Friday.
As we are told in Ecclesiastes and will experience in the microcosm of Holy Week:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
 
And, among them,
 
A time to weep, and time to laugh;
 
A time to mourn, and a time to dance
 
 
So, next Sunday, as we dance in here, waving our palms and singing our hosannas, prepare to experience the totality of Holy Week – the good, the bad, and the ugly…and the sublimely, supremely joyful - yes, "every matter under heaven."  Don't just listen to the words of John's Passion Gospel.  Absorb them.  Live into them.  Savor them each day of Holy Week.  In the totality of that experience you will find the richness of faith, the fullness of life, and the completeness of Christ's promise of salvation.
 
AMDG