Saturday, June 20, 2015


"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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


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


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.