The Trinity: A Model of Interdependence and Sustainability for a Threatened World

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Three Sisters

Every society and culture that has arisen on the earth appears to have developed a concept of power(s), supreme being(s) or wise teacher(s) that provide/s instruction or guidance on how to live.  Within the study of cultural anthropology, there has been a long history of academic dialog regarding the role of spiritual or religious belief within society.

In early human societies, belief as a method of transcending self can be considered a highly adaptive and successful strategy for coping with dangers in the environment and engaging in risky or innovative behaviors that may yield a high reward or benefit for the self and/or the family/community. From the historical perspective of the study of spiritual/religious belief systems, the ability for a community to survive within the competition for land and resources, for achieving freedoms and new opportunities, has always come down to what a given culture believes and is prepared to do because of those beliefs.

I believe that we are observing (again) in our current time, that no matter what demonstrable knowledge we may have of the world, it is what people believe about that knowledge that makes the difference between either assuring human survival or assuring our demise. Subsequently, belief itself could be said to be the summation of an ultimate power.

One example of how belief (in supernal beings or wisdom figures) dovetails with knowledge of the natural environment as a successful survival mechanism is the domestication and cultivation of the crops of squash, beans and maize (corn) among the Iroquois peoples.  In a technique known as “companion planting,” the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is around 6 inches tall, beans and squash are planted around it, alternating between the two kinds of seeds.

The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as biome of living mulch that helps retain moisture in the soil, while the prickly hairs of the vine are a natural deterrent to bugs.

Anthropologists theorize that the process to develop this agricultural knowledge took place over 5,000–6,500 years. Knowledge of how to grow “The Three Sisters,” as they are called among many North American indigenous cultures, has been passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. Variations of the theme exist between Native cultures, adapted to specific environments, resulting in a diversity of “Three Sister Gardens.”

For many Native peoples, the meaning of the Three Sisters runs deep into the physical and spiritual well-being of their people. Known as the “sustainers of life,” the Iroquois consider corn, beans and squash to be special gifts from the Creator. The well-being of each crop is believed to be protected by one of the Three Sister Spirits. Corn, beans, and squash contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all eight essential amino acids, allowing most Native American tribes to thrive on a plant-based diet. In this instance, knowledge and belief support one another and collaborate to assure the survival of several types of plant species as well as supporting several types of human communities.  The interdependence of knowledge and belief becomes cultural wisdom, while the interdependence of several species supports the well being of each.

Within the stories associated with the Judeo-Christian belief system, three interdependent beings emerge in the form of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Though there are variations of the specific nature of the relationship between these three beings within the variants of Christian belief, the common theme is that the Trinity is a divine expression of a unified way of being. The three beings support one another, care for one another and ultimately seem to be mutually dedicated to sustaining and nurturing people specifically and life in general.

The adaptive survival mechanism to human communities through maintaining a Trinitarian belief system may not be as readily tangible or apparent as food production.  However, when one applies the importance of the belief in the incarnation of God in Christ, Jesus becomes the model for how his followers are to incarnate the Holy Spirit as an indwelling reality. Through the spiritual ritual of Baptism, the believer is motivated (called) to actively engage in several practices that can effectively improve the survivability of several species simultaneously.

Trinitarian spiritual life practices include (but are not limited to): service to others, dedication to social justice, commitment to the alleviation of poverty and hunger, sustainable stewardship of Creation, healing of communities and reconciliation between peoples, laboring for peace, and teaching about the life-giving power of love. These actions are understood to demonstrate the believer’s love of Christ, having an ultimate affect that changes the socio-cultural world and improving the chances of survival of life – in all its diverse expression as the singular entity known as Earth.

Truly, as the stories of many faiths and cultures teach us, the archetypal form of the Trinity within belief systems speaks to a deep and shared wisdom – an intuition that seems passed on in the human genome – that all of life is connected, interdependent, mutually resilient, collaboratively co-creating, capable of tremendous life-sustaining nurture and equally threatened in survival without this awareness.

The ultimate power of belief in the Trinity is that it has the potential – if fully lived among human communities who practice its tenets – to save the world, not from some mythic end of divine retribution but from an all too real consequence of humans not believing in the interdependence of all life. The human species has an immanent survival need to create sustainable communities based in a mutual commitment to sharing resources, cultivating multiple species upon which we depend and which in turn depend on our species for their survival through responsible care of creation – appreciating the knowledge we have (in fact) of the impact of our species on the Earth.

Knowledge and belief are lovers in the aware mind, and we are called to incarnate the compassion by which that union compels us to act. Knowledge, belief and compassionate action compose a trinity of consciousness unique to human kind, an incarnate trinity that can transform the world as we know it into a new creation, one on which all life depends upon us to realize.

In the name of the Creator, the Gardener and the Nurturer – Amen.

Nurturing is the Labor of Spring and of the Easter Season

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Angelico - Magdelene & Jesus in Garden

Fra Angelico’s Painting of Mary Magdalene recognizing the risen Christ, who is depicted as a gardener, carrying a hoe used in cultivation – the New Adam cultivating both Creation and people through his relationships with them.

At the end of a grey and rainy winter, I feel very grateful for the breaks of sunlight and sweet spring melodies of the songbirds that have returned to nest in the woods and brush that surround our home.  To support the birds and squirrels that are making nests at this time of the year, I have put out special containers containing the carefully saved lint from our dryer at home for the animals to use in nest building.

As I watch the animals in the spring and experience my own desire to assist them, it seems to me that nurturing is an instinctive quality among most species – even older trees share nourishment through their root systems to help support saplings and trees that are unwell. Nurturing is sacred work, and it is work in which all the earth appears engaged.

For human beings, Nurturing draws on our fullest capacity for physical, emotional and spiritual labor. When we nurture, we become deeply connected to the recipient of our care, even as we become deeply connected to those who care for us in our vulnerabilities. Christ models the impulse to nurture as spiritual response to the need he sees around him.  His response is grounded in compassion and love, which is the essential work of God and reflects the summary of the Law as the commandment that Jesus gave to his followers to love one another.

In the last days of his life – when deep appreciation for his life and the love he felt for his friends welled up in him like the sweet nectar of a ripe grapes or the yeasty impulse of rising bread – Jesus nurtured those around him with all that he had to give; he bathed them, he fed them, he taught them, he comforted them, he forgave them, he encouraged them and he loved them.  Jesus nurtured all who came to him.

In the late 14th century, the English anchoress and mystic, St. Julian of Norwich, wrote:

It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us. Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother. And He showed me this truth in all things, but especially in those sweet words when He says: ‘It is I.’ As if to say,  I am the power and the Goodness of the Father, I am the Wisdom of the Mother, I am the Light and the Grace which is blessed love, I am the Trinity, I am the Unity, I am the supreme Goodness of all kind of things, I am the One who makes you love, I am the One who makes you desire, I am the never-ending fulfillment of all true desires…

The nurturing quality of God is in us as part of the image of God in which we are made.  In each of us resides the essential trait of mother/father nurture, even as this aspect was essential to the nature of Christ.  At this time in history, in the life of our world, nurture is a radical force that utterly unhinges the swinging door of hate that can shut away and separate parts of the human family, one from another.

Nurture is a force for unity, for profound relationship and connection across national boundaries, across belief systems and cultures, across ages, economic disparities and even across species – as we see in so many unique and beautiful animal friendships in nature. Surely, God is at work in all of Creation as the loving force of nurture, and we are meant to be part of that force.

This Easter, for you, for our Church and for our world, I pray that we may all know the deep nurture of God through our relationships with one another and with God’s Creation.  Through the sacred labor of nurture, let us live from Christ’s selfless love that has been instilled in our hearts.  Let us serve Christ by giving our hearts freely away to the world that Christ lived and died and rose again to save.

This Good Earth, like a Pearl of Great Price, spinning amidst the awesome wonders of the universe, is Beloved by the God who called it good and which has been given into our care. Let us be a force of nurture in our world.  All the lives on our dear planet deeply long for and deeply need the cultivating touch of genuine care.  In every heart there is a seed, you see, that needs the water and sun in us that we must provide. Every life with which we share God’s Creation desperately needs the gifting impulses of our Baptism, the fruit of the covenant that we have made with the Son of God. For, the Water and the Son in us is enough to nurture all the world, if only we believe.

Rachel Science March

At the March for Science, Coupeville WA – April 23, 2017

“Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled”- Coping with the Death of a Dysfuntional Parent

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mukilteo-light-at-night

Mukilteo Lighthouse – Stormy Sunset

Before I became a parish priest, I spent twenty years as a professional hospital and hospice chaplain. During that time of my ministry, I provided pastoral care within a wide range of family dynamics (and dysfunction) as well as within some of the most compassionate and present families I’ve ever seen.

All the families that I encountered brought their hearts, needs, secrets, issues and gifts to the patient bedside like shepherds and wise men bringing gifts to the manger of the Christ child – not all the gifts and personalities that made the pilgrimage were beautiful or perfect. Yet, all did bring gifts, because they brought themselves. Truth does not come from perfection.  Rather, truth emerges only and always from the messy muck, the dirt and ashes, pressures and darkness that have conspired to give rise to  life itself.

Most family members had a moment during their loved one’s dying process when they expressed embarrassment for the depth of their emotion, vulnerability or attachment – as though they had learned somewhere that strong feelings indicate weak character. Vulnerability is a prerequisite for personal growth (as in, “Oh, crap! Here comes another learning experience”). Additionally, introverts grieve differently from extroverts; there are general differences between genders in the grieving process; cultural and social background influence grief expression or repression; and children express grief differently depending on age and developmental stages.

Grief is individual and complex.  The ability to grieve can be further complicated when there are challenging dynamics or abusive history between the one who is dying and the family member or friend who is struggling to cope with feelings of anger, guilt, relief or annoyance.

A funeral that I have done recently for the alcoholic parent of four adult children has caused me to reflect once again on the complex grief process involved for those left to either pick up or throw away the pieces.

The encouragements that I  share below are specific to adult children coping with the loss of a parent who was abusive, alcoholic, addicted or otherwise incapable of providing a healthy parent-child relationship. Family Systems Theory helps us understand that addictive disorders, sexual abuse and dysfunctional dynamics are commonly passed down through generations. Stopping the cycle requires intense and purposeful self-awareness and change in those who inherit the legacy.

The death of an addicted or abusive parent brings with it by default a challenged grief process for adult children. This is a summary addressing the most frequent issues that I have encountered in their complex grief process, though it is not all that has been, could or should be said. Perhaps, though, it can be a start for someone seeking a beginning…

Expect to Feel Many Emotions; Please Do Not Fall into a Cycle of Shame for Feeling Them

The parent-child bond is a fundamental human relationship. Whatever our relationship with or experience of a parent, the child within us will have as much (or even greater response) than the adult we may be now.  While everyone has unique feelings about the death of a parent, some of the more common emotions include: Sadness, Relief, Anger, Guilt. All that we feel is necessary to experience in order to move healthfully through the grief process. There is no “bad” emotion, though there can be unhealthy ways of attempting to cope with them. Be honest with yourself about how you feel (or don’t feel), and be even more honest with yourself about how well (or unwell) you are coping with the loss you feel or the issues raised for you by your loss of your parent.

Emotional Labor: Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Needs

While we are used to thinking about our work life as valuable enough to deserve compensation, our culture does not sufficiently value our emotional labor as real work. Because processing the emotions of grief is laborious,  while engaged in emotional labor, we need to find real ways to compensate ourselves through rest, renewal and nourishment. Your feelings of loss and sadness will contribute to genuine fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make good decisions will be impaired. Your low energy level will slow you down, so respect the need that your body and psyche have for rest and care. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Resist over indulging in ways that you know are harmful to you or those around you. Lighten your schedule as much as possible, and take breaks  to do enjoyable activities. When you experience negative flashbacks to the past, look around your immediate environment – name five colors that you can see around you, identify five textures that you can feel, identify five sounds that you can hear, identify five smells that you can detect in the environment, then take five deep and slow breaths…repeat the sequence whenever necessary. Sink an anchor bolt into the present moment to help you be here now and not there then.

Realize Your Grief is Unique to You; Everyone Grieves in Their Own Way and at a Different Pace

Your grief is unique. No one grieves in exactly the same way. Your particular experience will be influenced by the type of relationship that you had with your parent, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background. As a result, you will grieve in your own way and in your own time. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of other people or adopt assumptions about how long your grief process should last. Take each day anew, and grieve at your own pace. Allow others to do the same.

Recognize the Death’s Impact on Your Entire Family

If you have brothers or sisters, the death of this parent will probably affect them differently than it’s affecting you. The death may also stir up sibling conflicts. Try to do your part to encourage open communication, but set clear boundaries on what behaviors you’re willing to tolerate from others towards you, and stick by those boundaries. You may find, on the other hand, that the death of your parent brings you and your siblings into greater mutual understanding or clarity of your own relationship with them. Your role may change within the family, as other members either let roles go or accept new ones.

Acknowledge Your Parent’s History and Strengths.

Chances are your parent was raised by a family struggling with some combination of its own dysfunction, psychological issues, sexual abuse, tortured family relations, addiction, financial pressures, etc. At the same time, your parent probably would not have been as strong an antagonist unless she/he possessed underlying strengths, however misfired or unrealized. The goal is to learn to see your mother/father as a human being rather than judged through the lens of either the fantasy parent that we wish we had or a grotesque monster set apart from the context in which that person was formed. Through the death of a challenged parent, we can need to acknowledge both the death of the real person as well as the death of the possibility of the reality being different than it was. Recognize that both losses are valid causes of grief, and that you will be processing grief over both what you had and what you didn’t have.

Reach Out to Others for Support

Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself is to reach out for help from others. Take responsibility for getting the help you need, and do not blame the dead then for what you fail to do for yourself now. You may need to re-parent the child of you that still lives in memory in order to nurture the child within with messages of self-acceptance, love, compassion and encouragement. Make a promise that you will limit how much time you spend a day dwelling in self-pity (which can develop when grief is used to justify addictive or codependent behavior) but you can certainly indulge in it if it’s helpful to you. Then, grab onto those who love you and move on with them.

The Relationship is Not Gone

Though the parent may have died, the impact of your mother/father on your life and sense of self will not suddenly be gone or resolved – for better or worse.  To be reconciled to the hurts of the past does not mean that the past or the person is forgiven or forgotten.  Rather, to be reconciled with what has been is to be reconciled with the nature and reality of life, of living within the truth of the human condition.  Happiness is not made by wish fulfillment – of longing for what cannot be changed. Rather, peace or personal happiness comes to us when we can turn our gaze from what is behind us that keeps us living from the past, towards the possibilities before us that draw us into the life to come. Your parent’s life is over, but yours doesn’t have to be. Whether you write a letter to your deceased parent, express your relationship through art, writing or therapeutic conversations – say what you need to say, how you need to say it, and live by the boundaries you set for your parent’s impact on your self-concept going forward.

Be Honest with Yourself, as you Sift Through Your Memories

Chances are that what makes a grief process difficult when it comes to the loss of a challenging parent is that not all the memories are bad ones. Pan through your childhood carefully, like a miner sifting for gold in the moving river of memory and time. Be deeply honest about the muck, AND lift up even the smallest grain of good and do not disvalue it. Those golden sands have formed you at least as much as all the muck, and the gold is what the wise miner keeps to invest in the future. Leave the muck – as much as possible – to settle silt-like in the riverbed of time.

Following the Indigenous Jesus

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Author’s Note: I wrote this reflection for my parish’s newsletter after returning from the interfaith clergy gathering at the Oceti Sakowin Camp that took place on
November 3, 2016
native-maddona-and-child

For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden,
because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed,
so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  2 Cor 5:4

The last week of October was very difficult for me.

I have been close to Native ministries in The Episcopal Church for almost sixteen years now. I have experienced many joys and developed friendships that sustain me in crucial ways in the many ministries into which I am called in the church. I have remained present and supportive over the years within many of the difficult but important relationships which characterize The Episcopal Church’s organizational relationship with indigenous communities throughout the Provinces of the church, as well as within many nations that are a part of the Anglican Communion.

I have served as a member of two indigenous delegations sent by The Episcopal Church to participate in international meetings of indigenous peoples within the Anglican Communion – at a meeting in Australia and another in New Zealand. I served for five years on The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council Committee on Indigenous Ministries, before it was disbanded due to budget cuts by General Convention 2015 along with a majority of other committees, councils and advisory boards. I currently serve on the Presiding Bishop’s Indigenous Missioner Search Committee, even now engaged in the search for The Episcopal Church’s next Indigenous Missioner.

I have served in indigenous ministries within the Diocese of Olympia, since I arrived here in 2000. My tribal affiliation is the Shackan Band of the Nicola Tribal Association in British Columbia, and I remain the first and only (known) indigenous person ordained by our diocese. At this time, I am proud to be part of the supportive community of two indigenous men who are currently in the ordination process, each of whom I have known for several years. Many of you know Allen Hicks (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), and some may know Daren Chidester (Aleut/Athabaskan).

The Episcopal Indigenous Network in the Diocese of Olympia is a small but dedicated group of indigenous Episcopalians. We were glad to recently sponsor The Rev. Branden Mauai – an Episcopal Deacon from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation – to be a guest of our diocesan convention in October, when he presented two workshops about what is happening in the conflict between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners – the organization building the Dakota Access Pipeline through the historic treaty lands (and sacred burial areas) of the Standing Rock Sioux.

Our Indigenous Network also sponsored two letters and a petition calling for the cessation of building the Dakota Access Pipeline as part of creating greater opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue that respects the dignity of the Standing Rock Sioux and the historical trauma of indigenous peoples in our country (which greatly informs the current moment). The letters and petition were signed by members of Diocesan Convention and are being sent to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the Governor’s Office in North Dakota and the White House.

On the same weekend of our Diocesan Convention (October 21 and 22), The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church met. As part of their business meeting, they passed a resolution, formally requesting that law-enforcement officials, “De-escalate military and police provocation in and near the campsites of peaceful protest and witness of the Dakota Access Pipeline project.”

Five days later, police and security forces from six states joined various police agencies in North Dakota in a heavily militarized operation to remove indigenous peoples and other Water Protectors from a camp located on historic treaty lands that blocked the “progress” of the pipeline constructions.

On October 27, I watched the coordinated, militarized assault take place over live streaming video from indigenous friends and contacts at Standing Rock, and I was horrified. I saw a whole new generation of indigenous youth being traumatized by an all too familiar pattern of systemic aggression and racism. When our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, visited Standing Rock in September, he shared that in his opinion, Standing Rock could be the Native peoples’ “Selma,’ in terms of civil rights justice. I think that the Presiding Bishop is correct in his assessment.

Immediately following the Executive Council meeting, The Rev. John Floberg (a member of Executive Council and rector of St. James in Cannon Ball, ND) issued a call to Episcopal Clergy in particular but to religious leaders and laity of all traditions, to come together for prayer on November 3, in a peaceful demonstration of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and Water Protectors. Our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, is supportive of my participation in the event, and I will be at Standing Rock for the first week of November. Barring any travel delays, I will be presiding at our Sunday services celebrating All Saints on November 6th.

Later in the month, beginning November 15th, I will be travelling to Nepal to participate in a long-planned service trip to bring medical and educational supplies to villages still engaged in the process of recovery from the earthquake that took place in April of last year. The trip to Nepal is my continuing education project for 2016. I have a professional ministerial interest in studying how unique faith traditions (such as Buddhism) provide psychological and spiritual support during times of community disaster. This work is related to my ongoing role as board-certified professional chaplain, who can be deployed to provide support to first responders and victims during times of national and community crisis.

I feel that I will be responding to two very different but equally real national disasters this month – one still actively emerging in our country and one still in recovery in Nepal.

As many challenges as there are in our nation and in our world, the sincere practice of our faith – whatever that faith may be – is crucial to our personal ability and collective responsibility to be centered in peace and committed to love.

In the Prayers of the People of our Book of Common Prayer, our collective prayers are always to include prayers for: 1) the members and mission of the Church, 2) our nation and those who hold authority, 3) the welfare of the world, 4) the concerns of the local community, 5) those who suffer and those in trouble, and 6) the saints and those who have died.

I know that for me, both personally and professionally, I will be engaged in prayer for all of the above and more on a daily basis. As with the network of indigenous peoples within our diocese, I cannot do all that God calls me to do, without you. Whether I am serving you, or indigenous peoples in our diocese, or people in other countries, Trinity is my home. Let us pray for one another, and let us give thanks together for the eternal promise of freedom and peace that God gave to the world through the Nativity of his son, Jesus Christ – our Savior and our Lord.

Service Sermon for the Victims of the Orlando Shooting

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Kintsugi

Kintsugi of The Heart

June 15, 2016
Trinity Episcopal Church, Everett WA
The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton

We have come together this evening, a composition of the diversity of American culture and identity – united by a shared grief and a common comprehension that prejudice creates an intolerable dissonance within a nation founded on principles of freedom, equality and justice for all.

There have been many early responses over the past few days since the lives of 49 people were taken and 53 more people were left injured and bleeding in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando early in the morning on Sunday, June 12th. Some responses have been predictable, because – unfortunately – by now in our national life, they are all too familiar.  In some ways, as The Late Show host, Stephen Colbert, observed, “It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned. And I think by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time. With nothing changing.”

Indeed, nothing can change when people are drawn into a cycle of violence that leads to fear and scapegoating that leads to more violence, fear and scapegoating.  Hate is like using a hammer to fix cracks in a precious ceramic bowl. Violence only further breaks what we would repair.  The only force that can bring healing, to a world, a nation, a community, a family, a person, or even a bowl is a mind motivated by love.

Kintsugi is a Japanese technique of repairing broken pottery with gold.  Translated as “to repair with gold” or other precious metals, the philosophy behind Kintsugi approaches breakage and repair as part of the valued history of an object, rather than something to disguise. It embraces what is flawed or imperfect, cherishing marks of wear made by use. Using gold resin to rejoin the broken pieces has the effect of highlighting or illuminating the repaired cracks as an historic event in the life of an object.  The bowl is not simply thrown away.  Rather, Kintsugi resurrects or empowers the bowl to continue its usefulness, with even greater beauty added to its vulnerability.  The ability of the bowl to be of service to the needs of others does not end at the time of its damage or breakage.

Like Kintsugi, our conversations and interactions – both in our personal lives and in our national life – moving forward from the tragedy in Orlando must realistically highlight our social fractures, while also being compassionately committed to repairing what is broken. We must not hide or minimize our wounds but work to fuse one community to another with the gold that abides within each of us – our ability to love.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda summarized in an original sonnet he shared with our nation at the annual Tony Awards on Sunday night:

“We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
cannot be killed or swept aside.”

I believe that this is the summary of Christian faith for our day. The fact that this Gospel comes from an inspired American (born in the northern Manhattan) and of Puerto Rican heritage causes me to hear the echo of the voices of those who died in Orlando within the violated sanctuary of Pulse Nightclub.  They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, somebody’s children, friends, committed partners, lovers, dreamers, and artists. At least three same-gender couples died together, and one of these couples will be buried together in death (Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and his 32-year-old boyfriend, Christopher “Drew” Leinonen), because they were not able to be married in life.

Within the divine work of loving one another, it must be stated clearly here in this sanctuary space that peoples of all faith traditions – most particularly the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – must challenge those within our respective religions who attempt to justify the alienation, discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ peoples or any minority in the name of God.  We must refine our hearts into the gold that we need to be, in order to be repairers of the breach that we helped to create within the history of human civilization.

As many have said, prayer alone is not sufficient for the work we must do together. Jessy Briton Hamilton, a school teacher and advocate within LGBTQ community, is also a member of The Episcopal Church.  He writes, “I believe very strongly in prayer, but the point of prayer is not to persuade God to grant our wishes, but to move us to action. Prayer’s power is in its ability to move us to change; to transform us. If you’re waiting for God to stop gun violence, terrorism, or homophobia, then you’ll be waiting awhile. You’ll be waiting until you wake up to realize that you are the only hands and feet and voices God has in this world. So keep praying, but don’t expect anything to change until we all come together to DO SOMETHING.”

The American Muslim community has reacted with an outpouring of love and support in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The support came in the form of fundraisers, blood donations, and public statements that firmly condemned the violence. Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR-Florida [Center for American-Islamic Relations], called for unity in a Facebook video, saying that it was important not to allow politicians to use this attack to “promote fear, division and hate” within America. “America is one of the best places in the world to be a practicing Muslim,” said Shibly, “To be Jewish, to be Christian, to be atheist, to be whoever you want to be, it offers us more freedom to practice our religion than almost anywhere else.”

Joshua Friedes, Director of Rabbinic and Synagogue Engagement at J Street in Seattle shares, “I am, like so many, profoundly depressed by the violence in Orlando. Forty-nine predominately young LGBT Latinos were robbed of living in a changed America, a country where the overwhelming majority now embrace gays as part of the fabric of our imperfect but nonetheless great nation….  As a middle aged White Gay Jewish man who has lived most my life in a virulently homophobic society… I am realizing the America into which I have become equal is not the America I want, even while it is the nation I love. America is a great nation. We must understand that our diversity is our superpower.”

Indeed, in the wake of the shooting in Orlando, many people – from many communities, ethnicities, faiths, and orientations of love, from both sides of the political aisle and across the economic spectrum are taking collective action.  President Obama, who has been confronted with addressing our nation no less than on 18 occasions of mass shootings prior to Orlando, shared the reminder that, “Regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.”

The largest medical organization in the United States, the American Medical Association, passed a historic resolution this week in response to the weekend’s mass shooting. After years of tiptoeing around the topic of gun control, AMA leaders voted to officially call gun violence a public health issue — and respond accordingly. That means flexing the organization’s powerful political muscle on Capitol Hill to refocus federal funds toward studying gun violence.  To see this through, however, Congress would need to lift a 20-year-old ban that blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding any research related to gun violence. However, the AMA, with one of the largest political lobbying budgets of any organization in the U.S., appears ready to fight for all of us.

The solutions to the complex set of interrelated issues that contribute to mass shootings in America will not be easy to achieve. The challenges involve several issues – such as mental health care funding and provision, immigration policies, gun legislation and regulation, discriminatory laws that reinforce old social patterns of prejudice and privilege, racist attitudes and beliefs towards immigrant populations and LGBTQ peoples, and fear-based assertions about the Muslim faith – just to name a few.

Yet, there is much being spoken, shared and enacted in response to the Orlando shooting (as added to a history of loss in our nation) – upon which we can base a reasonable (and holy) hope.

The Republican Lt. Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, addressed the vigil held in Orlando on Monday night (on June 13th) to honor the victims and survivors of the shooting.  He confessed that his thoughts and beliefs about LGBTQ people had changed and that he had needed that change.  However, he also acknowledge the challenge remaining of changing the hearts and minds of many more who continue to think and legislate from the type of discriminatory beliefs that he once held.

“But just because an easy solution doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” he said to the diverse crowd gathered at the vigil, “The greatest generations in the history of the world were never innately great. They became great because of how they responded in the face of evil. Their humanity is measured by their response to hate and terror.  I truly believe that this is the defining issue of our generation. Can we be brave? Can we be strong?… What our country needs more than ever is less politics and more kindness. If nothing else, as we can see here tonight, this tragedy has the potential to bring us closer than ever before.”

Finally, over the last three days, more than 20 Hispanic organizations have formed a coalition called “Somos Orlando,” which is offering assistance to the victims’ families. While the United States offers a bit more stability, Puerto Ricans and Latinos in central Florida still face a number of challenges—ones that make it complicated for shooting victims and their families to access resources. For example, many families have not come forward because they are afraid, based on past experiences of their community involving immigration policies and practices.

Even though many groups have come out to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community after the shootings, this kind of tragedy is particularly difficult because of the lack of acceptance for LGBTQ people among some Latinos.  The loss of so many of their promising young people has caused a level of conversation within their communities that will challenge their traditional cultural understandings of gender and identity. However, they are certainly not alone in addressing such challenges.  A diverse spectrum of hearts and minds must engage a journey of socio-cultural and personal transformation.  Our commitment to be in relationship with one another is vital for our mutual success.

In many, many ways, then, the deaths of 49 beautiful men and women, who were simply being true to who they were, will continue to inspire the positive actions of thousands – bringing together the many pieces representing diverse communities and governance structures that have been living in a condition of isolated fear.  The love that these 49 people felt and shared and incarnated through who they were is the gold that is even now illuminating where we need to come together – uniting us across many differences so that we can be both imperfect and more beautiful, stronger than before and broken no more.

Edward R. Murrow Vs. Donald Trump

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Murrow quote

American broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow, was an astute observer of the media realm in which he worked.  Murrow shared, “We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”

The book, Mockingjay, recently made into a trilogy of movies under the title, Hunger Games, tells the tale of a world (and people) so thoroughly shaped by media, that society is governed (and experiences revolution) through the manipulation of message and image.  Within the scenario, the wealthy government controls media, and success of the people’s revolution includes strategies of gaining control of the communication assets as well as control over the messaging. When the rebellion’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, realizes that rebel leader simply intends to maintain an oppressive status quo while hiding behind Katniss’ heroic image, Katniss assassinates the rebel leader.

In an interview with the novel’s author, Suzanne Collins, it was noted that the series “tackles issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war.” Collins replied that the inspiration for these themes was from her father.  A veteran of the Vietnam War, Collin’s father made sure that his children understood the consequences and effects of war.

All too often, the ideals that inspire military service are challenged by a reality that falls far short of those ideals, and soldiers become casualties of moral harm and the effects of emotional ambiguity, as well as physical injury.  And yet, those who have served and returned home can, perhaps, best appreciate Murrow’s insight, “Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.”

Throughout Collin’s novel (and subsequent movie trilogy) a central question of “Real or not real?” is asked repeated by the character Peeta, who has suffered the effects of torture and post-traumatic stress.  Within the context of a war, loyalties are unclear within a reality that destroys illusions even as it destroys a populace and the lives of those who fought in the war. Media communication has a long history of being used as the tail that wags the dog, and those who can best afford to manipulate the resources of communication can insulate the populace from truth by providing a more appealing alternative in its place. Rome burns, but Nero plays his fiddle.

Recent changes in the news programming of a local television station in Seattle have concerned me a greatly.  Since February of this year, I have observed significant changes in the production and messaging of what is categorized as “news.”  Women evening newscasters have gone from previously wearing business attire to wearing a shared uniform of figure-fitting dresses and high heals. Accompanying the visual of professional to vapid, appears to be a correlative change from investigative journalism to sharing opinions about large cookies and small dogs.  Meanwhile, priceless works of art are at risk of flooding in Paris and nearly 600,000 people are besieged in 19 different areas in Syria, with two-thirds trapped by government forces, the rest by armed opposition groups and Islamic State militants.

Admittedly, topics of Climate Change and global war are challenging to cover, analyze and present to the public.  They are also hard sells to sponsors who want to sell gas-fueled cars and network owners with ties to corporate global interests. However, it’s really not possible to single out producers of news media as the source of our social ills. Rather than stepping on their heads, I’m aware that I actually feel a great deal of empathy for journalists and broadcasters.  The public consumer is an important partner in shaping what they prefer to consume – in both subtle and not so subtle ways.

I have a similar challenge when preparing sermons.  I consider impact as well as content, because even if I believe that what I’m saying contains important truth, the reality is that the financial bottom line of our congregation can be impacted by who may be unhappy with what I’m saying.  That doesn’t necessarily keep me from speaking, but I am aware that I engage in the phenomenon of “choosing my battles,” a self-inflicted censorship which at times serves to preserve some other good – my parish budget, my relationships with parishioners, or my own mental health.

Now, with all of this said, there is one word – one name – that I will share here and which will not be spoken by me within any sermon, and that name is, “Trump.”

I believe that the phenomenon of Donald Trump in our current presidential race is a direct result of a collective failure to speak the truth, and thereby break bullies and stop a social/political process of the objectification and persecution of the marginalized “other.” There is, by this point, no minority or underprivileged group that Donald Trump has not held in contempt or denigrated in thought, word or action.

This past week, our nation and our church recognized Memorial Day – an occasion in the United States to honor and remember the people who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces. This Memorial Day, I could not help but remember another quote by Edward R. Murrow, “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”  As citizens, whenever we fail to defend any instance and every insult inflicted on the diverse peoples who call this country home, we fail those whose lives were given to defend what they gave their lives to preserve – the opportunity to be a better world for all people.

As people of faith, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to call out every bully, whether that bully be in a house of government or in a house of God.  We must renew a quality and practice of moral courage that the world and our country have engaged before in our history under the persecution of Senator McCarthy. In Murrow’s words, “We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular…. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.”

“No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices,” said Murrow then, and we must not be accomplices now.

What Donald Trump lacks in social empathy, moral character and global awareness is precisely what our country and others must uphold today if we – all of us – are going to create together a world in which future generations will thrive.  Through mutual understanding, collaboration and commitment to shared principles of governance, that all people – being equal before God – “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

About the nature of the American politician, Murrow has said, “The politician in my country seeks votes, affection and respect, in that order. With few notable exceptions, they are simply men who want to be loved.”  The ego of Donald Trump is such that he is bottomless pit of narcissistic need which we – as citizens of this country – are under no obligation to meet.  We will love him best by being tough with our love, by holding him accountable to the basic principles upon which this country was founded; by holding him accountable to those we have sent to war in every age and who have not returned; by holding him accountable for the utter lack of compassion which he inflicts on every other person but desires most especially for himself.

By holding him accountable, we do our most basic duty as citizens – whether we are journalists and reporters or whether we are teachers and preachers.  Donald Trump is only aided by our silence.  Therefore, let us not be silent.

If this were a sermon, I would conclude here with the words, “In Christ’s name – Amen.”  If this was a homage to Edward R. Murrow, I could end with, “Good night and good luck.”  However, my friends, I feel strongly that this time in our life as a country requires great things from all of us, and there is no easy blessing to give for the work we must do.

Let us  courageously create the world that we would have come upon the earth, the world that has not yet come but which is relying fully upon us alive now to make possible.  Love and hope must dare today and every day to compete with hate and despair in the market place and in the political forum. Let us speak again and always of the value and imperative of truth, and let us absolutely insist upon it from those who would lead this nation.

Murrow quote 2

On Marriage, Divine Love and the Anglican Communion

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I love weddings. Relationships built on love knit the human community together as a species – ever growing through the generations into a unifying, woven tapestry of diversity.

The Episcopal Church has a broad understanding that the tapestry of humanity woven together through love is the Body of Christ.  Selfless love – an ideal lifted up through the self-sacrificing nature of marriage – serves as the metaphor of Christ’s union with the Soul and his eternal commitment to the Beloved.  The power of weddings to unite people across divisions of culture, race, religion, nationality, time and orientation of love makes John’s story of the wedding at Cana a very appropriate setting for Jesus’ first public sign of the inward grace of God within him.

The Sacramental Union of Christ with the Beloved human soul within the mystery of God should not be confused with the socio-culturally applied term of ‘bonds of affection’ – frequently used to describe the relationship between member churches of the Anglican Communion. The following statement is shared from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s web page:

The Anglican Communion is not held together by a formal constitution or international church law, but rather by a shared heritage, by ways of worshipping and by the relationships—the “bonds of affection”—between its members worldwide. These are strengthened when Anglicans meet, informally and at such formal gatherings as the Instruments of Communion. President of these Instruments is the Archbishop of Canterbury who acts as a unique focus of unity.

When the Primates of the Anglican Communion met in January, they did NOT seem to be acting out of either a generous theological understanding of marriage or even the simple hospitality that Christ asks of his followers in loving their neighbors.  Despite claims of a shared commitment to be in relationship, it’s clear that the Primates have upheld an “us v. them” mentality when it comes to The Episcopal Church.

In a room full of heterosexual men – as the gathering of Primates was – it appears that the term “bonds of affection” is intended to apply only to a select subgroup of the Communion  worldwide.  For example, for many of the Primates, “bonds of affection” are not meant to include women in leadership, gay men (much less lesbians), and transgendered persons.  “Bonds of affection” in the Communion are meant to be non-sexual as well as non-spiritual and are, therefore, virginally academic.

Actually loving one another into becoming the Kingdom of Heaven is very difficult work.  It requires the courage to embrace differences as God-given, allowing mercy and truth to meet, witnessing peace and righteousness kissing one another unashamedly, and getting between the sheets of our own vulnerabilities in order to create a greater strength together based in Christ’s passion and love.  Anything less is just a bad date.

The wedding at Cana invites us all to drink deeply of an infinite cup of salvation extended to all people – not because they deserve the best vintage but because God is a generous host and God’s Son is a loving husband to us all, regardless of our gender. For, in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female – we are all one. We are – all and each of us – the Bride in the wedding at Cana. However, I am unwilling to, “Lay back and think of England,” as the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to be asking The Episcopal Church to do.

We are – all and each of us – additionally called (as followers of Jesus) to emulate the work and sacrifice of Christ’s life on behalf of the marginalized in human society. On this Earth, we are called to do the preparation work of the Groom by building Our Father’s House of many rooms on Earth.

As an “instrument of unity” of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Justin Welby seems more concerned with keeping his Primatial gentleman’s club in good order than in bringing restorative justice to LGBTQ people.  He is, “Deeply sorry for the pain that the church has caused LGBTI people in the past – and the present – and for the love that too often we have completely failed to show in many parts of the world, including England,” but he is not sorry enough to stop the abuse within the Communion.

As in many dysfunctional systems or families, the member who presents that there is a problem is usually the one who is alienated and punished, while the abuser remains in place and even claims the moral high ground.

Characterizing the Primates Meeting, Welby writes, “We remain committed to being together, albeit we asked that TEC, while attending and playing a full part in our meetings and all discussions, will not represent the Anglican Communion to other churches and should not be involved in standing committees for a period of three years. During this time we also asked that they not vote on matters of doctrine or how we organize ourselves.”

Go ‘should’ on someone else, Archbishop Welby.  TEC is not the problem in this situation, but the blackballing of TEC by the Primate’s Meeting is far out of bounds in all the many ways that there are of maintaining bounds.

Here’s the thing about the Primates Meetings in general – a Primates Meeting as a body doesn’t have any authority to make binding statements of any kind about anybody or anything within the politics or beliefs of the Communion. Not even our own Primate has the authority to make binding statements on behalf of or to The Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope, and the Primates are not a curia.

As Rev. Mike Angell has well summarized, “The [Primates] gatherings began in 1978 at the invitation of Archbishop Donald Coggan (101st Archbishop of Canterbury) as an opportunity for ‘leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation.’ They did not begin with, nor have they ever been given, any sort of legal or canonical authority. They were created to be a bit of a retreat and a place for bishops with a great deal of responsibility to share life and experience.”

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) would have to voluntarily agree to what is being requested by the Primates Meeting. Furthetmore, TEC has representatives on the ACC, including Gay Clark Jennings, President of TEC’s House of Deputies of The General Convention.

The Anglican Communion is in the midst of the work of transformation within the backdrop of a greater historical period of global, social change. However, as Presiding Bishop Curry has said, “It may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people.”

In a sermon that I gave on January 17th (Epiphany II) following the Primates Meeting, I offered a reflection on the events, within the context of marriage customs of First Century Palestine. (The sermon is available here on YouTube). Among other wedding customs, after the formal engagement of marriage, the Bridegroom would leave the care of the Bride to her family in order for to prepare a place in his father’s house for his Beloved so that when the wedding ceremony was completed a year later, the Bride could be brought to a home prepared to welcome her.

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are challenged by Christ to make room in Our Father’s House for all who hear Christ’s call of Love.  For some time, TEC has been spiritually building a place for our LGBTQ members. My parish church and many of our Episcopal churches are (even now) rooms in the house of God where Christ embodied in the community welcomes them.  The water of our Baptism is not intended for upholding old ways of doing and being, purity codes that enforce an exclusive priesthood or closed community of “chosen” believers.  Rather, like the wine at the wedding at Cana, our Baptism is meant to transform us into a community of celebration, in union with Christ and witnessed before God – for all people.

For as challenging and painful as it has been at times, I am very grateful to God for having the opportunity in my life to: advocate for marriage equality in the State of Washington; sign my name to General Convention resolutions last year that literally ‘made room’ in our language around marriage for recognizing same-gender union as marriage; and for presiding at same-gender marriage rites in the Church. I am the one that is transformed with the blessing of every couple. What I see standing before me is the story of Christ’s love and God’s abundant Grace that is freely given.  Such grace is not for me to constrain or to condemn in favor of institutional bonds of affection.

Our relationships as the Anglican Communion are worth preserving only insofar as we are mutually committed to building up the Kingdom of Heaven by adding rooms onto God’s House in every generation.