Thursday, December 1, 2016

Remembrance: Leslie Wright Hall 1925-2016 [December 1, 2016] All Saints, Pasadena


For much of her adult life, my mother Leslie Hall was best known as the wife (then ex-wife) of Huntz Hall, my father. Happily, for about 30 years (the 1960s through the 1980s) she was well-known in her own right as the Motion Picture Costumer responsible for three iconic television “looks”:  Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched”, Barbara Feldon in “Get Smart”, and Mary Tyler Moore in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. They didn’t give Emmys in those days as they do now for costuming, but she would likely have taken home several during her long run as the commonly acknowledged best in the business in her time. At one point she had several shows going at once:  in addition to Mary’s show she also supervised “Rhoda”, “Phyllis”, and “The Bob Newhart Show”. When all those folded she went on to do “Lou Grant” and then the second “Newhart” show, after which she called it quits. The look she developed for Mary Tyler Moore had a major impact on working women’s fashion in the 1970s.

Leslie Hall was born in 1925 in Chicago. After high school she worked as a model and was first runner-up for “Miss Chicago” of 1946, losing (ironically) to Cloris Leachman with whom she later worked for so many years. In the same year she came out west to Los Angeles and became an Earl Carroll showgirl, and it was during those years that she met and married my father. They moved from Hollywood to Toluca Lake in the early fifties after my birth and divorced in 1953. A couple of years later, my mother decided to go back to work.

She originally wanted to be a set designer, and got a job at CBS Television City as a “set decorator”, working on an eclectic range of shows: “Playhouse 90”, “Art Linkletter’s House Party”, “Climax”, “The Bob Crosby Show”, and others. 1950s Hollywood sexism asserted itself, and it became clear to her that she would probably never graduate from prop shopper to set designer, so in the late 1950s she switched over to costuming, where her aesthetic and organizational abilities were more quickly recognized. At Warner Brothers she worked on all the television shows which dominated prime time in the late ‘50s: “77 Sunset Strip”, “Hawaiian Eye”, “Surfside Six”, “The Roaring Twenties”, “Maverick”, “Laramie”, and the rest. As a chubby, unpopular sixth grader I basked in her reflected glory when Troy Donahue showed up once with her at my school to pick me up at the end of the day. The twelve-year-old girls at Beverly Vista School couldn’t believe that someone like me could have a connection with such a dreamboat. My reputation soared for nearly a week, then settled back to its customary level.

Leslie Hall married three times: to Huntz Hall, my father, to Ben Kadish, a producer, and to Myron Healey, a character actor. After the third marriage ended in divorce she made the wise decision that marriage was not for her.  That was good news for me. In my teen years I tended to get along better with her boyfriends than I had with her husbands.

The final 20 or so years of my mother’s life were not happy ones. After retirement she became somewhat reclusive and phobic, with dementia and physical incapacity finally taking over her mind and body. For the final ten years of her life she lived at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills where she received wonderful care.

As you can tell, I am fiercely proud of my mother. She overcame a horrendous childhood in Chicago: her parents were a pair of Jazz Age Scott and Zelda wannabes who failed every parenting test imaginable. After high school she wanted to go to college, but her father forbade it. So she moved out west instead. Perhaps her greatest achievement in my mind was her challenge to the structure of the Motion Picture Costumers’ union: when she began work in costuming, men’s cards were numbered 1, 2, and 3; women’s were 4, 5, and 6. The highest card a woman could hold was 4.  Leslie Hall challenged that system and won. She became the first woman costumer to hold a number 1 card. Her perseverance meant that women and men—at least in this one area of below-the-line Hollywood work would have pay equity in the years ahead.

You don’t survive a childhood like my mother’s without some scars. Let’s just say that as a parent she could be complicated. But she gave me exponentially better parenting than she received, and my friends always marveled at how cool and funny my mother was and how better we got along with each other than they did with their parents. At my school open houses a couple of teachers actually accused me of trying to pull something over on them by bringing my sister instead of my mother. She was enormously devoted to me, and she loved Kathy and Oliver and my first wife Michelle too. Dementia really took her away over a decade ago, so much of our grieving has been done along the way. As saddened as I am by her passing, I am even more grateful for her generosity and her courage as a single parent in a time when raising an equally complicated kid didn’t come with a lot of social support. I hope someday she will get her due in the history of television fashion. And I trust that she now knows the depth of a divine love which she longed for all her remarkable life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Responding to the Election": Paper for Madres y Padres [November 15, 2016]



Responding to the Election
 The election of Donald Trump is many things: a surprise, an outrage, an occasion for sociological and theological reflection. How are we, as Christians, called to respond to the election of a misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic demagogue? How are we to live in a nation that has elected such a person as its leader? What do we tell and how do we organize our people about living and doing ministry in the America of 2017 and beyond?
I don't have very many answers to these questions, but I do have some thoughts. So please indulge me while I make a preacherly numbered set of three points, and then let's all have at it over a convivial serving of the beverage of our choice.
The first set of things I want to say is best summed up in a tweet I posted right after the election, last Wednesday. I said, "We have a choice between alienation and solidarity. Let's choose solidarity." As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I had already experienced one election loss this season, so while I was disturbed by Trump's victory I wasn't quite as devastated as were my sisters and brothers (mostly sisters) who had supported Hillary from the get-go. Don't misread me here: I voted for Hillary with enthusiasm and even sent her money (which, of course, made me prey to a relentless round of dunning emails as the campaign wore on), but having watched my first choice candidate lose narrowly in June was good preparation for seeing it happen to my second-choice one in November.
I have followed my friends on Facebook and Twitter pretty closely these past days, and I certainly understand their rage, bewilderment, and hopelessness. But I have been a bit concerned over posts that say, in effect:  "Trump will never be my president." Now, as an American, I may find Trump revolting, outrageous, and incredibly problematic, but yes, indeed, he will be my president. To say "Trump will never be my president," is, frankly, not much of a step up from being a Birther. The right wing crazies regularly cried that Obama was not their president. It seems to me that to be a citizen means that I inhabit a political community that will be led by whomever we lawfully elect. I may not be happy about it, but I must admit that, yes, unless I emigrate to Canada or Mexico, Donald Trump will be my president.
As the Psalms remind us, alienation is not a new experience in human affairs. Those of us who grew up in the 1950s (and our parents) knew a lot about alienation, the sense that we are at odds with the values and norms of the prevailing culture. But as Albert Camus and others reminded us, even if we take alienation as a given, we still face an "existential" decision: to act or not to act.  Camus' great short story, "The Artist at Work", tells of a painter who struggles between the poles of creative solitude and social solidarity. At the end of the story, his death, he leaves a canvas painted on which is one word, ambiguously hard to read (in French) as solitaire or solidaire. Camus' point: you don't really have much of a choice between personal integrity and standing with others. You have to do both. Even if you're alienated, you nevertheless inhabit a society you share with your fellows. So today's existential question, at least to me, shapes up this way: how do I maintain my own moral and intellectual integrity and at the same time continue to see myself in community with an electorate, half of whom espouse values I cannot stand?
There are, in effect, two questions of solidarity before us.  I have just named the first. The second goes this way. Yes, I need to work to see myself as part of an America that has just elected a royal jackass. But solidarity extends in a multitude of directions. So even more importantly, I need to reaffirm my solidarity with the marginalized, oppressed, and increasingly imperiled people now placed in greater jeopardy by that jackass's (and his congressional cohort's) new power.  Tempted as I am to tend my own garden, relax in the relative comfort of a CPG retirement package, and enjoy my status as one of the (white, Anglo, straight, relatively affluent) people Trump's administration will favor, it seems to me that I do not have the luxury of retreating into the comfort of my own private Weltshcmertz. I am still a member of the American political community. And, because I strive to follow Jesus, I am in a special kind of solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, and all those whom Trump and his minions would seek to disadvantage.
So the first point: let's take all the time we need to lament the outcome of last Tuesday's election. But let's not get stuck there. Real people will suffer because of Trump, a Republican congress, and a 5-4 right wing Supreme Court. We who follow Jesus must recommit ourselves to acting as agents of love, justice, and compassion in the years ahead. And, yes, we need to remember that the people who voted Republican aren't from Mars. They, too, are our fellow humans and citizens. Even as they appall us, we need, at least, to try to understand what drives and pains them. They didn’t just vote for Trump to be mean. They voted for Trump because they felt he could solve their problems.
My second point grows out of the first. Just as the Psalms remind us of the persistence of human alienation, so reading the New Testament recalls us to the social location of Jesus and his followers in first century Jewish Palestine. Christianity did not come into history in a vacuum: it emerged in the context of the Roman empire and its delusional claims to ultimate authority. Scholars like John Dominic Crossan and others have elaborated on the sociological reality that greeted the Jesus community both during Jesus's life and after. Palestine was occupied by Rome, which not only taxed the people mercilessly but also kept a standing army that ate all the food. So Jewish Palestinians were both starving and broke. And as the church began to spread in the Mediterranean world, it did so as a kind of alternative to the empire. The first deacons were a social service guerilla force bringing aid to the poor, sick, and oppressed. It's no accident that the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was a deacon. Rome didn't like its presumptions challenged. And it really didn't like any group that served the people Caesar then and Trump now would label "losers".
When asked how he would characterize Jesus's essential message, Crossan sums it up this way:  "In your face, Caesar!" The world is not Caesar's: it is God's. The Jesus community stands as a rebuke to all Caesar’s presumptions. And while we have no choice but to render unto Caesar that which is his, we who follow Jesus do so knowing that we are a resistance force whose final allegiance is to someone else.
I was in Washington D.C. last month for the installation of Randy Hollerith, my successor as dean of the cathedral there. The preacher that day was our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, who several times referred to the church in his signature phrase, "the Jesus movement".  He called on the cathedral to take up its role as the representative of that movement in the nation's capital. A great sermon which I enjoyed a lot, particularly as it recapitulated so many things I said myself from that pulpit so many times. Funny how we think preachers are brilliant when they say what we always said.
After the election, I found myself wondering: what would I do now if I were still dean of Washington National Cathedral in the wake of Donald Trump's election as president? It is no secret that I often found myself at odds with the prevailing culture of that cathedral during my time there as dean. I found the cathedral's mission statement, "the spiritual home of the nation", unintentionally hilarious (when, precisely, did the nation ask you?) and I regularly questioned the way the cathedral unthinkingly let itself be used to put a religious gloss on political power. One of my colleagues there preached a sermon on Last Pentecost/Christ the King that used the phrase “Christ is king” without any irony whatsoever. I used to say that the only place the illusion of Constantinian Christendom still flourished was at the corner of Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues NW in the District.
Over the last week, I have come to realize that, were I still at the cathedral, I would have opposed allowing it to host Donald Trump's inaugural prayer breakfast on January 21. I would have opposed it NOT because "Donald Trump is not my president", but because the values that Trump espoused during the campaign are so manifestly opposed to any plain sense reading of the Gospel. If we are the Jesus Movement in anything beyond name-only, we must, like the earliest Christians, be prepared to present ourselves as a counter-force and counter-culture to imperial values and norms. There is no way in which I, as a follower of Jesus, could allow sacred space to be used to put a religious gloss on Trump's reactionary and abusive ideas. I will be interested to see what the dean and chapter do, but my guess is that they will find the enticements of proximity to power irresistible.
One of the theological terms that helped me understand the cathedral and its culture is the idea of Erastianism, "the doctrine that the state is superior to the church in ecclesiastical matters. It is named after the 16th-century Swiss physician and Zwinglian theologian Thomas Erastus. . .  The state, he held, had both the right and the duty to punish all offenses, ecclesiastical as well as civil, wherever all the citizens adhered to a single religion. The power of the state in religious matters was thus limited to a specific area. Erastianism acquired its present meaning from Richard Hooker’s defense of secular supremacy in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. [Encyclopedia Britannica]
Erastianism is often summarized in the sentiment, "the church is the state at prayer." It is a tendency, I'm afraid, to which we Anglicans are unfortunately subject. As descendants of an established church tradition, our ecclesiastical culture continues to embody the idea, in Alexander Pope's words, that "whatever is, is right".
Indeed, having the chutzpah to erect a cathedral in Washington and offer it to the nation as "a Westminster Abbey for America" is something only entitled Episcopalians could pull off. (Can you imagine another religious group with only 3% of the population attempting that particular trick? They would have been laughed out of town.) But Washington National Cathedral is not alone in exhibiting Erastian tendencies. In many of the statements I've seen issued by clergy in the past week, I find several expressions of the Erastian idea that we're all Americans under God and we all need to support our president because he won and that's the way the Holy Spirit works. I have heard calls, to put it bluntly, for what I would call “cheap reconciliation”. I will reserve my ideas about Pneumatology for a later occasion, but I will now hazard the guess that it's a bit blasphemous to blame God for making Donald Trump our president.
So what is the public role of the church in this moment in American life? One of the unthinking ways we tacitly enable our Erastian tendencies is to buy into a quietist notion of the parish as a refuge from the push and pull world of politics, work, and social responsibility. "Come in here, rest, pray, and seek refuge from a chaotic world," we all but proclaim and thus by refusing to confront the established order we tacitly empower it. At the very least, the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress must alert us of the impossibility of living this fiction any longer. American Christianity tends to exalt the private and personal, but we all know that the Bible's moral concerns are overwhelmingly public. If the church is to act as the Jesus Movement it must do so publicly. We cannot pursue private spirituality and cohesive group feeling at the expense of advocacy for the values of Jesus in the public square.
And this leads me back to Richard Hooker, our greatest theologian. Yes, to an extent, Hooker did give in to Erastian tendencies, especially as he saw the church and the nation as coextensive with each other. But as dangerous as his proto-Erastianism was, Hooker also affirmed its obverse: the idea, expressed with such vigor and regularity throughout the "Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity" of commonwealth. For Hooker, the church is inexorably invested in the common good. Unlike the more rigorist sects which saw the church as the separatist ark of salvation for the elect in a world going to hell, Hooker saw the church enmeshed in the fabric of society, and he embraced and articulated a comprehensive vision of the church's mission as one embracing and forwarding the common good.
If we are to be the Jesus Movement in the Donald Trump years, we will need to hand over our Erastian tendencies to our higher power and re-engage Richard Hooker's notions of the common good. William Temple, a more recent theologian who knew Hooker better than I ever will, understood this. He called the church the world's only organization that does not exist for its own benefit. We are here, primarily, for others. As we figure out how to follow Jesus under President Donald Trump, we will need to reclaim our natural, Anglican public role as the comprehensive church embracing the common good. If we had done so better before now we might not be faced with this miserable political reality. But Trump's election gives us no choice but to take up the cross as a public act. We can no longer hide our prophetic candle under a bushel and say we’re being “pastoral”.
As the results began to come in on election night, Stephen Colbert said that his producer had taken away his shoestrings and his belt. You may be feeling the need to be on suicide watch yourself at this point in my musings, so before we all go over the cliff, I want to end on a genuinely affirmative note.
On Tuesday, November 8, my wife Kathy and my friend Larry Dilg and I spent sixteen hours as precinct poll workers in the largely Latino area of Mission Hills, not far from Sylmar and San Fernando. I have to tell you that beforehand I was dreading this work. Although I've put in lots of 16 hour days in my life, I was not looking forward to being stuck in one room for that long with the possibility of angry self-appointed Trump poll watchers coming by to harass voters with fistfights breaking out in the voting booth lines. I thought election day in a polling place in the Valley would be a day-long stomach ache. Boy was I wrong.
Even at this remove, it is hard to articulate the range of emotions my fellow poll workers and I experienced over the course of that day. As the first voters began to stream in, they all looked so happy and so hopeful. I turned to Larry and said, "this is the most inspiring thing I have ever seen," and that ebullient feeling lasted from 7 a.m. all the way to 8 p.m. and beyond. I would say 3/4 of the voters in that precinct were Latino, many of them fluent only in Spanish. Over the course of the whole day, I never heard a candidate mentioned by name. People were respectful of each other, and of the process, and they took each other and their obligations seriously. At the end of the day, many parents brought their children into the voting booth, and as a man with unmet grandparental needs I really enjoyed giving "I Voted" stickers to the kids. Working at precinct 9000167A was indeed a slog, but it will go down as one of the great and memorable days of my life.  It felt like a religious experience. As I said later on Facebook, "Voting is a secular sacrament."
Now I mean neither to be Pollyanna nor reductive when I say this, but something about the quality of that shared, polling place experience has stayed with me even in the cataclysmic aftermath of election night. Because on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, I was lucky enough to spend a day with the America that is coming to be. In 2040 there will be no majority racial or ethnic group in America. Although the electorate now continues to be predominantly white, Latinos and people of color will increasingly come to dominate it as the decades of this century advance.  Trump's victory, like Caesar's hegemony, is temporary and misleading. The world that is coming to be really is a world more in line with the values of Jesus and his movement. Trump's election is one of those creational groans that Paul speaks of in Romans. Something new is being born, and you and I and the people we serve can step into it now and be a part of it even before it happens. If all this sounds eschatological, well you get the picture.
Yes, Donald Trump won, in part because the old order has not yet passed away. But listen to some of what we learned from the exit polls that day (courtesy of Rebecca Solnit on Facebook):
According to the New York Times, Clinton won people under 45. She won nonwhite people by huge margins, including 88% of Blacks. She won people who earn under $50,000 a year. She won college graduates. She won 59% of city dwellers, 71% of Jews, and 68% of the nonreligious, 59% of those who are not evangelical Christians, 55% of the unmarried. 78% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual voters. 76% of those opposed to a wall along the border.

CNN polls say that she won 54% of the women's vote, while he won 41%, so we can say men did this, but he won 58% of the white vote and we can definitely say white people did this--63% of white men and 53% of white women. But 51% of college-educated white women voted for her. 62% of unmarried women voted for her, while only 49% of married women did.

Black women remain awesome, having given him 4% of their vote. But this poll also makes clear that more young white people voted for him than for her; the good-looking results for the youth vote are due to higher percentages of people of color.

Simply put, the social and demographic trends that were moving before the election will continue to move even during Trump's term and after. No doubt we are in for an execrable four years with this demagogue and his congressional (and, soon, Supreme Court) henchmen, but remember, in King's words, that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. The changing demographic nature of America and its electorate is on our side. And if we are to have any credibility in our own eyes or in those of the world, we will speak even more boldly on behalf of an inclusive and expansive vision of our country during Trump’s presidency than we ever have before. It’s easy to stand for inclusion in the Obama years. The test of our courage is what we will say and do under Trump.
As Anglican members of the Jesus Movement, you and I are necessarily invested in the common good.  As alienated as we may now feel, we will find our antidote to depression in civic engagement on behalf of the gospel, confident that a new day is coming to be born. And even if we all don't live to see that coming time of a genuine multiracial America, in walking toward it and witnessing to it now we will be counted among those who greeted it from afar and always knew that America's true greatness lies not behind us but ahead.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Homily: Doris Peyton Guthrie [October 15, 2016] Trinity Church, Fillmore



We’re gathered this afternoon to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of Doris Peyton Guthrie, by any measure a remarkable woman. In a long and generous life, Doris had an impact on so many people. As one whose life she touched in so many ways, I am honored and a bit overwhelmed by the invitation to preach today.
Like hundreds of other seminarians, I first met Doris when I came to theological school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Doris had her own professional life away from the seminary, but she was deeply committed to the school community and the lives of the students there. As did many others, I came to know Harvey in the classroom and the chapel. I came to know Doris sitting at her kitchen table and drinking her French Market coffee, bracingly laced with chicory. There were many wonderful things to learn in getting to know Doris, perhaps the most surprising of which was that she turned out to be even more radical than Harvey.
This next doesn’t speak particularly well of me, but I have to confess that one of the first things that came into my head after Harvey told me of Doris’s death was, “I guess this means I’ll never have Doris’s lemon merengue pie again.” I know, a pretty self-centered observation, right? But if you ever had Doris’s lemon merengue pie (or, a close second, her blood orange sorbet) you will know what I’m talking about. It was delicious. It was authentic. It was simple and yet sophisticated. In some ways, Doris’s lemon merengue pie was an epitome of the woman herself. 
What I’m trying to say is that Doris was the total package as a human being. She was fiercely intelligent. She was politically committed. She was empathetic. She was generous. She was prayerful without being pious. She was also a lot of fun to be around. And before her accident on the ice in Michigan many years ago, she was one of the most buffest people I know. Like so many of you, I could talk for hours about Doris and what she means to me. But we’re here in church and we have these Bible readings to think about. So enough from me. Let’s hear what Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus might have to tell us.
Our first reading, from the twenty-fifth chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 25:5-9], gives us an image of how things will be at the end of time. In this year’s dreary and creepy election season we have been treated to dystopian, apocalyptic visions of our future. But those visions are not the Bible’s vision.  The Bible, in the voice of Isaiah, views the end time as “a feast of rich food” which “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples.” (Here Doris would want us to note the absence of extreme vetting or Trumpian border walls.)  What Martin Luther King called the “arc of the moral universe” bends not only toward justice—it is pointed also toward fullness, abundance, blessing, and peace. When Isaiah says, “Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation”, the us here is not an us versus them. The us for Isaiah is all of us, an us where there is no them.
So the first thing the scriptures ask us to remember this morning is the gospel vision of justice, blessing, and peace in the light of which Doris lived and to which she dedicated her energy.  I’ve known a lot of social activists over the course of my life, and frankly Doris ranks first among them in my heart because she actually cared about people, especially the people who were up against it. Doris generously and tirelessly served the poor, the oppressed, the stigmatized, and she did it quietly and without any egoinvolvement. For Doris Isaiah’s eschatological banquet was a lived reality here and now. She didn’t just pray for people to be fed at the end of things. She herself fed them—both literally and as an advocate—in the here and now.
Our second reading [Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39] is a passage often read at funerals, and that is because it concludes with these memorable words:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

When we think about the list of oppressive forces that might presume to stand between us humans and God’s love, we can’t help but think first of the “principalities and powers” of sexism, racism, homophobia, and selfish affluence which Doris worked against for so longBut oppressive forces can also be personal challenges, such as the extreme pain Doris endured in the last several weeks of her life. In this passage from Romans, Paul wants to remind us that God’s love is the truest thing about us and that there is nothing—not even death—that can separate us from that love: not tyranny, not sexism, not poverty, not extreme pain. God is always in there in all of it with us.
But here’s the thing:  as I read that scripture for the millionth time with Doris Guthrie in mind, I was caught by the phrase that begins that remarkable passage. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” A lesser theologian than Paul would have praised us as conquerors, as victors in the oppressive struggles of life. But Paul has it that we are “more than conquerors”. Our contest with oppression, violence, degradation, and even pain is not a power play. We don’t win and pain doesn’t lose. The God from whose love we cannot be separated does not prevail by crushing the opponents. And if God is not about power, then living with, following, and loving that God is not about power either. God “more than conquers” life’s oppressive forces through transformative justice and love
Doris’s life and witness are a testimony for all of us about what it means to be something more than a conqueror. We stand, as she stood, against violence and oppression not by mimicking them but by living abundantly and generously in the style and image of the God we know in Jesus. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. That is as true in death as it is in life. The truest things to say about Doris are that God loves her and that she knew it. We are more than conquerors. We are missional lovers. God’s love is not a power trip. It is an invitation into universal blessing, wholeness, and peace.
And finally we have the gospel [John 11:21-27] in which Jesus tells Martha as she mourns the death of her brother, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Martha has complained to Jesus that if he had only been there, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus responds that even those who die are part of the resurrection now. 
Those of us who follow Jesus have so gotten used to talking about resurrection in the future tense that we have forgotten to look for signs of it in the here and now. I have no doubt that Jesus’s promise is real, that in and through him and the one he calls his father you and I and all creation will participate in that glorious banquet proclaimed by Isaiah. And if I know anything, it is that nothing—not even death and not even the pain of her final days—can separate Doris Guthrie from the love of God that she knew all her life not only in Jesus but in her marriage and her family and in her friendships and in her ongoing work for justice and peace.
But here is something else I know, and it is something we often miss at occasions like this. I know that every once in a while someone like Doris comes along who shows you what resurrection actually means. When we’re lucky enough to know someone who lives as Doris lived, we get a sense of resurrection not only as a future promise but as a lived reality now. And as painful as it is to lose Doris from the day-to-day experience of this life, it is in a sense easier to hand her off to the next stage because for almost 92 years she was already living the promise she hoped for.  Doris Guthrie lived a risen life in the here and now. And in so doing she made it possible for those of us who knew and loved her to live that life too and to trust that the promises of universal justice, peace, and abundance might just be not only possible but also trustworthy and true.
Today’s scriptures remind us why we so loved and will so miss Doris Guthrie. Her life was a banquet. She loved and was loved by a God who does something more than conquer. She chose to live as a person who knew what resurrection looks like today. We are coming now to the Eucharist—the meal we share with each other, with Jesus, with Doris, with God. This meal is a foretaste of Isaiah’s banquet. It is presided over by Jesus, the one who refused to be a conqueror and in so living showed us something about weakness as it moves into grace. This meal is another moment in our shared journey into what it means to be with Jesus, with Doris, with the saints, and with each other in resurrection and life.  
No, I guess I never will get to have Doris’s lemon merengue pie again. But I can be with her at this meal, as we gather around God’s table, and for right here, right now, this moment, and beyond,that will be enough. Amen.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Homily: St. Francis' Day [October 2, 2016] All Saints, Pasadena

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“Francis, We Hardly Knew Ye”

If I look a little tired this morning, I apologize. I’ve been up since 3:20 a.m. tweeting out insults to my detractors.
Today All Saints Church celebrates St. Francis of Assisi, and I was glad when they assigned me to be inside at the service inside rather than with the animals on the lawn. Don’t get me wrong. I love animals. But as the owners of two terriers (one a scotty, the other a cairn) Kathy and I are always mortified by their behavior around other dogs. Our terriers don’t need blessing. They need absolution.
You and I don’t know Saint Francis very well. As with many saints, we have a collective cultural cartoon of him. We tend to see Francis as a kind of blissed-out medieval hippie who walked round Italy picking daisies and smiling at wolves—a monastic version of Doctor Doolittle. Like all cultural cartoons, this version of Saint Francis trivializes him. Yes, he loved animals as he loved all creation. But there was a lot more to him than that.
When the current pope took the name Francis three years ago, I decided to read up on the life of the saint. To be sure, Francis did love animals. But he loved them as part of a larger openness to all of nature—his “Canticle of the Sun” famously praises brother sun, sister moon, brothers wind and air, sister water, brother fire, and sister earth. Francis saw God in all creation, and one of the reasons we respond to him in this moment is that his medieval nature mysticism anticipated our own postmodern love for an endangered earth and its creatures. But Saint Francis saw God not only in animals. He saw God in the poor, and that’s why he gave up a life of affluence for one of prayer and poverty and service to the poor and sick.
         Francis did not live his life of prayer and poverty alone. Like Jesus, he gathered a community around him. Early in his ministry, Francis was viewed with suspicion and ridicule.  His family disowned him. He and his brothers in the order owned no property or money, and they begged for their meals.  Even more shockingly, Francis did not shun lepers but would embrace them and kiss their sores.  The first responses to St. Francis were fearful and hostile.  He was considered a dangerous madman before he was revered as a saint.
         If Cardinal Jose Mario Bergoglio felt the need to call himself Pope Francis in 2013, he must have felt that Francis had something important to say to the 21st century. What can we take from this saint’s example to help us with the living of our lives?
You and I are living through an overheated moment in American society. While the presidential election may be the most visible evidence of the emotional process at work among us, the election is really more of a symptom than a cause. As a compulsive consumer of news, it seems to me that everywhere I turn I see people overwhelmed and overwrought, blaming their problems on scapegoats and behaving badly at every turn. I think this is true at all levels of our society. Our political life is overheated. Our personal lives are overheated. Our friendships and our households are overheated. Even people in churches can get a bit testy. The enmity on view in the election is only the tip of the cultural iceberg.
And then, of course, there is the unfolding of the story Friday’s killing of Reginald (Junior) Thomas at the hands of police here in Pasadena and the attendant protest yesterday. I have cops in my family, so I understand the pressures the police are under. But when is this seemingly endless drumbeat of police killing African American men going to end? The best way we can show that black lives matter is to stop taking them.
I’m not a sociologist, so I won’t hazard a guess as to underlying causes of this overheating. But I will try to put this moment into a religious context. Like the societies that surrounded Jesus and Francis—each one a holy fool who refused to accept the cultural norms of his moment—you and I have bought into some fairly pervasive and pernicious illusions—and that’s a religious problem. We have come to see the world as essentially competitive and not collaborative. We think there is not enough to go around and so we feel compelled to do everything to get ours first. We put our trust in leaders or systems or ideas that promise to make and keep us safe by giving us a leg up on someone else. We think that if we get and hoard enough we will be invulnerable to the risks and depredations of life.
For all its greatness, Western culture has consistently fallen prey to these illusions from Jesus’s day to our own. As these illusions collapse, things become overheated, as they are today. It is a sign of God’s forbearance, mercy, and grace toward us that holy fools like Jesus and Francis keep showing up in our lives to show us a way to bring our own personal and social temperatures back down to normal.
In today’s gospel [Matthew 11: 25-30], Jesus says two things we need to hear this morning. Here’s the first:
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.

         Maybe it’s important that we bless animals because, unlike us, dogs and cats have no intellectual pretensions. Both Pope Francis and Saint Francis have what we could call a “simple” faith, and here “simple” is a good thing.  The more that we live in our heads, the more we make following Jesus more complicated than it needs to be. Francis of Assisi believed in God and Jesus in a way that was simple and yet deep. His life and action were grounded in the basic teachings of Jesus: love God, love people, treat everybody—including animals—with decency, compassion, and respect. When Jesus says that God has “hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and [has] revealed them to infants” he is telling us something simple yet deep about the meaning of life. Really smart people can do really stupid things. Really smart people can do really cruel things. Our intellects can often mislead us. When I have done something incredibly stupid or cruel, I’ve usually done it as part of a carefully-reasoned well-thought-out plan. Jesus and Francis call us to get out of our heads and into our hearts. That’s a lifetime journey for some of us, but Jesus would remind us that only as we approach profound simplicity will we be open to the depth and beauty of life.
         And here’s the second thing Jesus says:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Francis gave up a life of relative affluence for a life of voluntary poverty. He spent that life in solidarity with and service to the poor and sick and outcast. And, like Jesus, he found the life of social solidarity finally easier and more joyful than the life of comfort. To the extent that you and I have bought into the values of an affluent, competitive society we have placed ourselves in comfortable traps.  We strive to attain and keep our culture’s signs of success—an important job, impressive houses and cars, exotic travel—but at what cost? Francis did not give those things up as a way of self-punishment. He gave them up as a way of personal and social liberation. In taking on the yoke of Jesus, Francis discovered that loving and serving the poor, treating others with compassion, regarding the whole creation with reverence and respect—these actions were rewarding in and of themselves. They were not punishments. They were gifts.
In one way or another, each of us is a prisoner of our culture and its values. We are like fish swimming in the water of affluence which we can’t even see. It is part of God’s mercy to us that people like Jesus and Francis, others like Dorothy Day, come among us and show us that there is another way to live. It’s not that we all have to drop our jobs and pick up begging bowls. It is, rather, that we can follow Jesus and Francis at least by questioning the truisms our culture offers. He who dies with the most toys does not necessarily win. She who opens herself to God’s presence in the world, especially in the ones or things the world does not value, can live a life of generosity and joy in the here and now.
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants. . . Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

In this overheated season, let us stop and listen to Jesus and Francis. We can survive and actually flourish in this moment by seeing and living life as it is, not as our culture portrays it. Life is not scary. Life is beautiful. Life is simpler than we make it and easier than it seems. Like Francis, let us see each other as blessings rather than threats. Like Jesus, let us rejoice not in our sophistication but in the elemental values of love, compassion, reverence, and respect. Once again, let’s try to move out of our heads and into our hearts. And if we need some guidance in how to do that, let us turn to brother dog and sister cat, our teachers gathered this morning on the lawn. Amen.