Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bishop Gene Robinson on wedge issues as distractions

This is the third part of my transcription of Bishop Gene Robinson's talk at the Center for American Progress, when the host started to ask him some questions.
Part 1
Part 2

Wendy: In terms of the common good, one of the tensions, I think, with the common good, is I think exemplified in the General Convention. There was a nonbinding resolution that called on the church to exercise restraint by not consecrating future gay bishops. And something you said too, during the summer made me wonder about this. In an interview, you asked what was the most important thing the General Convention could do this summer, and you said that the United Nations Millennium Devel0pment Goals, which is something I really appreciated having worked some with the U.N. And you said, "I think God would have us be about taking care of the poor and marginalized in the world, and would actually be quite sad to see us obsessing over sex."

And so I wonder--one of the tensions, I think within the common good is that people sometimes tell people to wait on their individual rights or their group rights for "the common good". And I wonder how you handle that tension within discussions around the common good, and that sense of timing. And also I wonder if you could speak some to the issue of the right using sexuality issues as a tactic, as a wedge tactic to divide the coalition that you concluded on, that could possibly be put together.

Gene: In the last election, I think it was Barbara Boxer who said that she thought the debate on gay marriage was a "weapon of mass distraction". And I think that these sexuality issue debates that we are having is a massive effort to distract us from our mission. As a country--I mean, God forbid we should talk about Iraq, or the 45 million people who don't have healthcare, or, the list goes on and on and on. Better to talk about gay marriage, abortion, etc.

And I think the church is just as guilty of that, although I don't think the church is as conscious of what it's doing. I think in the political realm that's an absolutely intentional strategy. But I think that the church, while not planning to do so, has fallen into it. It's easier for us to fight about this issue than do the mission of the church.

The follow-up to the Mark story--Jesus comes back from the Syro-Phonecian woman thing, and it's the first time he starts talking about the cross, and how painful...whatever is in his mind about salvation and life with God and such, he starts saying, "You're going to have to pay a price for it." And you know what the disciples do? Twice--as soon as he says "This is going to be *really* hard, and you're going to have to pay a really big price", they start talking about who's going to sit on his left and his right in the Kingdom. And another discussion is "who's going to be the greatest?" And I read that to mean talking about the institution. Who's going to be one-up, who's going to have the best title, who's going to get "Right Reverend" in front of their name, you know? Who gets to wear the best vestments? (Points to himself and mouths "Me!" ;) )

We settled that! And I think in response to having to do the hard work of the Gospel, we retreat into something that's more familiar, safer, and is a wonderful distraction. So I think at the end of the day, the sexuality stuff is a distraction.

First of all, I think it's a distraction for straight people, from talking about their own sexuality. God forbid that we should *actually* talk about the state of marriage--the institution of marriage in the culture. And rather than talk about the fact that half of all marriages end in divorce, and what is *actually* tearing families apart (and there are all kinds of things tearing families apart) *I* have an idea--let's talk about gay marriage, and focus on that!

And, I think for the church, it is far earlier to talk about an openly gay bishop than it is to talk about what Jesus talked about, virtually more than *anything* else in the world, which is the plight of the poor. And so the reason I think that our embrace and our commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals is so important, is that it finally refocuses us on the mission of the church, instead of all this other stuff.

But, you know, I was pretty unglued by the decision our church made. My 0wn personal opinion is, I think we had a failure of nerve. I think that the kind of courage we had in 2003 was just simply not there. I also think we wanted to demonstrate in some way our commitment to the wider Anglican Communion, and our wanting to be in relationship with them. Obviously the sad part of that is that we were willing to do that on the backs of gay and lesbian people.

But, what I said to gay and lesbian people in our church was, I see this as pushing the pause button. We didn't push stop, and we didn't push reverse--we just pushed pause. There's no question in my mind where we're going. We just couldn't find the courage to go there this time.

So, the Millennium Development Goals are just so important, and you know what? If we start caring for the world's poor, alleviating the most extreme poverty. If we start supporting efforts to empower women and children. If we do the work that it will take to ease the suffering that's caused by malaria and HIV-AIDS and so on, if we're doing those things, we're going to be just fine. And if the institution changes, why should we be fearful of that? And why should a denomination, the Anglican Church, that got its *start* because of controversy and conflict, be afraid of change?

Click here for the whole video.

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Links to check out

Just found out about this site--actually, I'd probably heard about it before and forgot about it--and thought I'd share.

And it has a link to this, which also looks fascinating, and I am bookmarking to read later in more detail.

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Gene Robinson on understanding what his opponents fear

Part II of Bishop Gene Robinson's talk at the Center for American Progress...

So people are going to resist anxiety. People are going to resiste change. Change *always* involves anxiety, so why do we act as though that shouldn't be the case? Any time you're working to bring about change, you should not ask *are* people going to be upset, but when and where and how/ It's just simply going to happen. And somehow we keep acting as if that's a surprise.

I mean, I tell my clergy, if they aren't in trouble, then they're not preaching the Gospel. And that's a ditch I'm willing to die in for them. If I get complaints about clergy because they're preaching the hard stuff, I will go to the ends of the earth to support them in that. And if they're not in trouble, my guess is that they're preaching "Jesus, meek and mild" and not the Jesus we find in the Gospels.

...In this culture, and in this discussion about the common good and so on, I would say that we are these days much more apt to engage in debate than in dialog. The culture now is such that, politically--ugh--it has taken over. But I think just in normal discourse as well--when I listen to you, all I'm listening for are your weak points, so that I can come back at your weak points and win this discussion we're having. I'm not listening for your strongest points. I'm not trying to understand where you are, what your experience has been, what makes you think the way you do...I'm just looking for the place that I can pick you apart. So I'm listening for the *worst* that you have to say.

Wheras in dialog, it seems to me, I'm listening for the best that you have to say, and looking for some kind of common ground that would permit us to move forward together. I suppose it's just another version of "walking in someone else's moccasins", that's been so overused. But I just think that this "listening for the best" in the opposing arguments is a good thing.

So I have a suggestion for you, which is that you have a conference here, and that you invite two people on opposing sides of an issue, and get them to prepare the speech for the other side. Let each one of them speak, but let them speak as their opponent would speak. Kind of force them into thinking through what makes their opponents think the way they do.

Because the thing that keeps *me* as sympathetic as I'm able to be with my opponents, is to try to understand what makes them my opponents. First of all, those that oppose anyone gay or lesbian being ordained, much less a bishop, I remind myself that they're only believing what we've taught them for 3000 years. I mean, why should the last 10 or 20 years change their minds when they've got 3000 years of teaching behind that. Behind them, not behind me. So, why would that surprise me that they're holding onto that for dear life. That's one thing.

Second thing, it can be condescending, and maybe it is, but I'm just assuming they're coming from a place of fear. There is something about my election as bishop that scares them to death. And the closer I'm able to A) figure out what that is or--God forbid--ask them what that is--as best I'm able to determine what that is, it helps me be sympathetic to them in a way that allows me to stay in contact with them.

And to honor their integrity, because frankly, that will speak far louder than any words I will ever say. In a public setting, I *love* to get the tough question. I was speaking at Keane State College in Keane New Hampshire, and in the question and answer time, a young man stood up with a bible in his hand, open, of course, ready to read to me as I hadn't already that stuff, and ask this really tough question. And people in that audience afterwards, and to this day, remember that moment. Not because they remember what I said, but because of the way that I tried to treat him with the same kind of respect and human dignity as I expected from him. So I think that this "staying sympathetic" to what makes people fearful is just really, really important.

Lastly, I would say, I want to put this in a larger context. I think that the common good, the seeking of equal rights for all, the inclusion of every human being in our life, is about something really, *really* big, and makes it no wonder that we're experiencing the kind of resistance that we are. I think that we are experiencing the very early beginnings of the end of patriarchy. I think that's what people are unglued about.

For a very very long time, straight white western males have made most of the decisions for most of the world, and we're beginning to see the end of it. Finally, finally, finally, people of color are being brought to the table, finally women are being brought to the table, and now gay and lesbian people are being brought to the table. And *all* the voices of *all* the people are beginning to be at the table where those decisions get made. Is it any wonder that this patriarchal institution that we have, which has existed since the beginning of time, practically, is there any reason to wonder *why* there'd be so much resistance to that? I don't think so. I mean, we are trying to change something really, really big. And I can promise you, we will not see the end of it.

I mean, we may have ended slavery in the 19th century, and we may have had the civil rights movement in the 60s, but we *certainly* are not seeing the end of racism. And we may have had the women's liberation movement in the 70s, but does *anybody* think that sexism is over? And gay and lesbian people are still struggling for some of their *basic* rights, never mind a positive attitude in the culture. We're not going to *see* the end of it, but it's pretty darn exciting to see the *beginning* of the end of it. Because I think that's where we're going.

And until we get some straight white western males who "get it", and are also speaking out about this, we're not going to get too terribly far. The straight white western males who don't want to see this happen, are trying to keep us all divided. So that people of color, and women, and gay and lesbian people, and a whole host of others are fighting with one another over whose pain is greatest--who's had the rawest deal. And as long as they keep us divided, we're not going to be terribly effective in making these changes. Because if we were all united, we'd be the majority.

So I think it's a very exciting time. I can't *think* of any better time to be alive. And I also think that we ought to take *great* hope from that. The one criticism that I would have of the equal rights movement right now--and I think it's typical of the culture--is our lack of patience. We are in a *very* long journey here. And how dare we lose hope? We just don't have that luxury.

One of my favorite places in the whole world is the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. If you've not been there, go! But it's at the old Lorrain Hotel where Martin Luther King was shot, in the warehouse district of Memphis, which was the only motel he could stay at during that time. And at the entrance to that hotel is this enormous black monolith, which, when you get close to it, you realize is carved in bas relief. There is a never-ending, upwardly spiraling, line of African Americans. And every one of them is standing on someone else's shoulders. And I think that's how we have to view this struggle. We are on a journey, we're standing on the shoulders of some very courageous people who've gone before us, and if we do nothing else, we provide the shoulders on which our successors will stand. And that spiral is moving inexorably upward, toward the kind of vision that not only we have for the common good, but that I think God has.
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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gene Robinson on "Justice and the Common Good"

The following is from a talk by Gene Robinson to the Center for American Progress, on the topic of Working for Justice and the Common Good. It took place on the third anniversary of his becoming the bishop of New Hampshire. Initially, I was thinking I would just try to summarize it, but there is a lot of good stuff here, so I ended up largely transcribing about the first third of it. Will share more in a future post, and in the some of the parts toward the end of the talk/interview, I'll have more of my own thoughts to share.

Bishop Gene Robinson: Micah said "love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with your God". For the Episcopalians in the crowd, there is a typo in the prayer book--whoever did the typesetting transposed that into "love justice and do mercy." That's been in there since 1979. And I think that's the temptation that we have, which is to just *love* the notion of justice, and be perfectly willing to do those merciful acts of charity. But not do the hard work of justice.

And who is the common good for? This year (in the liturgical cycle) we are reading from the Gospel of Mark. It's the oldest, "lean and mean", "Cliff's Notes" version. Gene mentions being a proponent of studying the Gospels in terms of how they depict "what did Jesus know, and when did he know it" with regard to who he was and the nature of his mission. In the Gospel of John, which is believed to be the latest written, Jesus seems to know all.

In Mark, Jesus seems to be figuring it out as he goes along--which to Gene makes sense, because if God chose to live a completely human life, we don't know what's going to happen an hour from now. "And I think that's how Jesus lived his life, so, as you read Mark's Gospel, you can begin to see Jesus kind of putting all this together in his mind...I think Mark's Gospel gives us an idea of the development of Jesus' self-understanding.
Gene goes on to set the stage for telling a story that Robinson sees as a turning point in Jesus' self understanding.
"Jesus is, of course, always in trouble, especially with the religious types. ... So Jesus was really fed up to here with all this, and he goes on vacation. Well, it doesn't actually say that. It says he went into a foreign country--into Tyre, which is in modern day Syria. It does say that he didn't want anybody to know he was there, he didn't want anybody to know his name (which I can perfectly understand these days!) He just wanted a little peace and quiet.

But a woman who's described as Syro-Phonecian finds him. But she finds out he's there, and she comes to him and says "My daughter's possessed of a demon, will you heal her?" Now, he's still feeling pretty cranky--he's up to here with all the crowds and demands and stuff. So he says something that's really quite amazing that it made it into scripture. Because, if you're going to whitewash the story, this is not something you would tell.

He says to her, "Woman, the bread that I have to give doesn't belong to the dogs." Meaning *her*.

Now, she's got three strikes against her. She's a foreigner, she's a Gentile, and she's a woman, which counted for simply nothing in those days. And all three of which would have made him ritually unclean as a Jew.

And, she may not have been a Jew, but she sure had chutzpah. She kind of like puts her hand on her hip--you can almost see it--and says to him, "Well, you know, the dogs even get to clean up the crumbs after the meal!"

Now, Mark doesn't say this, but I would have put in a little thing that says "Gulp!" Because you can hear Jesus react like, "Whoa!" Here's this woman who has no business being with him,who has no claim on him, and yet she is laying claim to the good news that he's been preaching to the Jews.

And you can almost hear the wheels in his brain turning to say, "You know, maybe my mission isn't just to reform Judaism" (which is what I think he first had in mind). But maybe the mission, maybe this good news about the love of God, extends to *everyone*--to the whole world.

I think that's the kind of shift that we need, especially in this country, around who the common good is for. It's not just for me, it's not just for people like me, it's not just for people who think like me, but it's for all. And I think that this is a very difficult time to get that message across. I think it's a particularly American problem with our focus on individualism. Whether we say it or not, it's every man, woman, and child for themselves. It's at least *my family* for themselves.

People will tell you that Scripture says "God helps those who help themselves". It's not in there. What *is* in there is this mandate to care, not only just for everyone, but especially for the marginalized, for the poor, for those who have been pushed to the sides of society for whatever reason. We seem to be at no loss for finding yet more reasons to push someone to the side.
I think that the greatest enemy of the common good is anxiety. And probably every age has felt anxious, but boy, let me tell you, this one feels like it's right up there with the greatest times. And we have an administration right now that is using that anxiety, *promoting* anxiety, I think, to forward its own agenda.

Because, if I'm anxious enough, I'm willing to give up all kinds of things to make the anxiety go away--whether that's in the name of Homeland Security or--well the list goes on. Our anxiety is even color go to the airport and find out how anxious you should be that day.... We're told to *be* anxious--but we can't tell you what to be anxious about, we can't tell you *where* you should be anxious, or what to do about it, or how to avoid it, just be more anxious. And it's just in the air that we breathe these days.

And I think it's a great enemy to us, because when people are feeling anxious, they're thinking more about themselves and *not* about the common good. And I would say that one of the great instruments of promoting the common good right now is to acknowledge people's anxiety, and to look for value systems that speak to that anxiety.

Robinson goes on to tell about a book by Ron Heifetz called Leadership Without Easy Answers, in which the author says that leadership in today's culture is really about holding the hand of the organization, the people in the organization, and assuring them that we're going to live through this. That's the primary role of the leader is to lower the anxiety level of the institution enough so that they can get their work done. Because if they're highly anxious, if they're worried about survival, they're not going to be about their mission, because they're going to be all about survival.

...and I say this to clergy, with all the hubbub the Episcopal church is going through these days. We need to take the hands of those we are leading and say, 'You know what? This is going to be okay. God's in charge here.' We may not see the end of it in our lifetime, but, okay. That's okay. I mean, it's not *okay*, but we can live with it. And we can work with it. And in the end, God's will will be done. *Every* human being will be valued for who they are, so let's do our piece, and let's not beat ourselves up when we're not successful. And, by the way, let's find a little joy in it along the way!

And, my message would be, it is exactly where you find God. It is exactly where you find God--in the midst of that struggle.

More to come. You can listen to the streaming audio here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Katharine Jefferts Schori's Investiture Sermon

This morning, beginning at 11 a.m., I watched Katharine Jefferts Schori's investiture online via streaming video. This is the first such service I have ever witnessed, and I found it quite moving and hope-inspiring. At several points during the service I grabbed screen captures, which I hoped to share along with the transcript of her sermon. Unfortunately, the screen capture software, which has worked beautifully for me in the past, yielded nothing but all-black images. This is disappointing, because I had gone to the trouble of capturing some great shots, like the one of KJS knocking on the door with her staff at the beginning of the ceremony, shots of her with the outgoing Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, an pictures of the banners, choir, liturgical dancer...the list goes on. I hope there will be pictures of the event somewhere--possibly in the photo galleries of her official web page.

The sermon was wonderful, though, and to me it felt very timely because the focus was on the notion that "we're all in this together"--all will not truly be right with the world as long as some of God's children are living in poverty, without clean water, without adequate healthcare. But I'll shut up now and let Bishop Katharine's sermon speak for itself. She said, in part...

In Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost said that "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." We all ache for a community that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses – and yet they still celebrate when they see us coming! That vision of homegoing and homecoming that underlies our deepest spiritual yearnings is also the job assignment each one of us gets in baptism – go home, and while you're at it, help to build a home for everyone else on earth. For none of us can truly find our rest in God until all of our brothers and sisters have also been welcomed home like the prodigal.

There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work – shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.

You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God's creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God's abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts – through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.

That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet. None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers – for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life's restless sea.

This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals – a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God's vision of homecoming for all humanity. [Applause]

The ability of any of us to enjoy shalom depends on the health of our neighbors. If some do not have the opportunity for health or wholeness, then none of us can enjoy true and perfect holiness. The writer of Ephesians implores us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – to be at one in God's shalom. That is our baptismal task and hope, and unless each of the members of the body enjoys shalom we shall not live as one. That dream of God, that word of God spoken in each one of us at baptism also speaks hope of its realization.

The health of our neighbors, in its broadest understanding, is the mission that God has given us. We cannot love God if we fail to love our neighbors into a more whole and holy state of life. If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness. As long as children live exposed on the streets, while seniors go without food to pay for life-sustaining drugs, wherever peoples are sickened by industrial waste, the body suffers, and none of us can say we have finally come home.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shalom from Bishop Katharine

This Saturday, November 4, marks the investiture of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The ceremony will be viewable via webcast. The following bulletin insert is going out for use at services this Sunday.

For Global Good

Presiding Bishop invites Church to widen ‘shalom’ by taking up U.N. Millennium Development Goals

In this octave of the Feast of All Saints, at this time of remembering the interconnectedness of communion and community, Katharine Jefferts Schori has begun her ministry as the Episcopal Church’s 26th Presiding Bishop. Here she encourages each Episcopalian to care for all creation by living a local life for global good.

by Katharine Jefferts Schori

The Episcopal Church adopted a set of mission priorities at its General Convention in June. First among them is justice and peace work, framed by the Millennium Development Goals. We understand this work as a visible sign of the work of building the Reign of God. A vision of the Reign of God lies behind the ancient Hebrew concept of shalom, which means far more than simply peace. Shalom has to do with the restoration of all creation to right relationship with God, so that the hungry are fed, the grieving comforted, the ill are healed, and prisoners set free. The mission of the church, according to our Catechism, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (Book of Common Prayer, page 855). That work of restoration and reconciliation frames all our ministry as Christians, whether we are students, parents, legislators, or farmers. We cannot be at one with our neighbors if some are starving or living in slums. The work of achieving the Millennium Development Goals is intimately wrapped up in the promises we make in the baptismal covenant to engage in God’s mission.

The other priorities adopted by our General Convention include work with young adults and youth, congregational transformation, reconciliation and evangelism, and partnerships within the Anglican Communion and with other faith communities. The fi rst priority has important connections and impacts on the others – for example, partnerships in developing countries, often through Anglican churches, are essential and intrinsic elements of addressing most of the MDGs, and our youth and young adults will experience part of their formation as Christians in service to others.

The Millennium Development Goals seek to end the deep poverty that limits human flourishing. Achieving them would provide concrete examples of the abundant life Jesus insists is the reason he came among us – “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

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