Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Homily: Tuesday in the Third Week in Advent [December 13, 2016] Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati

For many of us in my aging generational cohort, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan served as one bit of good news in an otherwise grim year. Last Saturday morning, the great Patti Smith showed up in Stockholm to sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” on Bob Dylan’s behalf. There has been some controversy over the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan, voiced mainly by those who think Dylan is not in the same literary league with fellow American Nobelists Sinclair Lewis and Pearl S. Buck. Other disgruntled critics are probably big, big fans of more recent laureates like Elias Canetti and Dario Fo. (When all this Dylan controversy started, a friend and fellow Dylan fan asked rhetorically if the Nobel Committee had run out of obscure, central European essayists to recognize.) Nevertheless, there can be no dispute that Patti Smith’s performance of Bob Dylan’s dystopian lament will stand as one of the great moments in performance history. It’s available on YouTube, and I encourage you to check it out.

            Part of the reason I found Patti Smith’s performance so riveting is that she forgets the words midway through and asks to start over. She is clearly overwhelmed by the moment. Another part of the reason is that the song itself speaks to the current cultural moment as if it were written this morning:

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

            As the song goes on the blue-eyed, darling young one describes a vision of a cruel and callous world: poets die in the gutter, clowns cry in the alley, people are wounded by both love and hatred. The emotional process described in “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” exactly mirrors what many of us have been through over the past several weeks, especially since November 8. Like time or space travelers, we look around and find ourselves marooned a culture and world that seem alien and inhospitable. A lot of people seem to be getting away with behaving badly and expressing ideas aloud that I wouldn’t want to hold in private. The humane values espoused by us mainline Christians have been brushed aside in favor of a new, harsher set of attitudes. The foxes seem to be taking over the henhouse.

            As I read over the readings to prepare for today, I could not get Bob Dylan’s song out of my mind. Zephaniah [Zephaniah 3:1–2,9–13] addresses a “soiled, defiled, oppressing city”:
Ah, soiled, defiled,
   oppressing city!
 It has listened to no voice;
   it has accepted no correction.
It has not trusted in the Lord;
   it has not drawn near to its God.
            (As a former resident of the District of Columbia, I couldn’t tell if he was describing Jerusalem or Washington.) In Matthew’s gospel, [Matthew 21:28–32] Jesus tells a story of two brothers asked to work in the vineyard. One says no and then goes, one says yes and stays home. “Which of the two,” asks Jesus, “did the will of his father?” But the news is not all bad. Something or someone else is afoot. In the first reading, Zephaniah proclaims that the speech of the defiled city will be changed “to a pure speech”. In the second reading, Matthew’s Jesus announces, “Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
            We have, then, two scripture readings today which offer us a mixed grill of judgment and hope. The city has lost its bearings. The respectable people have turned callous and self-satisfied. But that’s not the end of the story. Someone is coming who will set all that right. That’s how it is in Advent. We are asked to look our predicament square in the face. And in doing so we are shown a light and a path and a future.
            Last week a friend of mine posted this on Facebook:

With the death of John Glenn falling so closely after the deaths of Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, et al, I'm beginning to think The Rapture has occurred, leaving the rest of us schmucks stuck here with Trump. [Judd Parkin]
Though I echo the feeling of his post, the gospel never holds out to us the false hope of divine intervention. Nevertheless, Advent is about seeing a light and a path and a future even as we stand huddled together in the very darkness and alienation of an ugly moment. Where might we find them?
            My own quest for the light and the path and the future take me back to the words of Bob Dylan.  In the final verse of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” the speaker, that blue-eyed son/darling young one is asked, “Oh what’ll you do now?” We wouldn’t be surprised if the answer to that question was, “retreat into my own alienation.” But here, instead is the stirring and startling reply:
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

            Advent announces both judgment and hope. It shows us the hard truth of our situation and offers a light and a path and a future. Jesus shows us the light and the future in the willingness of the truculent son to get up and go out to the vineyard. The path to our future lies ahead in our individual and shared willingness to go where the speaker in Bob Dylan’s song goes: to stand with and for those who are most vulnerable in this new, scary moment. The hope for our nation, our church, and ourselves lies in our willingness to sing a song of judgment and hope even in a time of oppressive darkness.
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it

            Advent announces the coming of one who will transcend and outlast all the forces unleashed against him. In this current moment, we bear witness to that one by telling and thinking and speaking and breathing and reflecting, so all souls can see it, the judgment and hope on offer this season. Let us find our meaning and purpose as a force for resistance and blessing in a broken yet beloved world. A hard rain is a-gonna fall. We can survive and outlast it in solidarity and compassion, together. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Homily: The Second Sunday of Advent [December 4, 2016] Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati

            I want to begin by thanking Dean Greenwell for inviting me to spend Advent with you exploring what the mission of Christ Church Cathedral might look like, and Canon Zacharia for organizing the details of my time here. As a former parish priest, cathedral and seminary professor and dean, I know how important it is to take time to reflect theologically on what we’re doing. And as one who has worked in the church for over 40 years, I know how seldom it is we actually take the time to do that.
            I have been very fortunate in the communities I have been called to serve—from Malibu and Pasadena in California, to Evanston, Illinois, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, all the way east to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and finally the northwest part of Washington, D.C. Hey, somebody had to be in all those nice places, right? Nevertheless, one thing I’ve learned about serving affluent communities and their churches is that they can become a little, well, shall we say, “entitled”.  Indeed, all “establishment” church institutions—urban or suburban--can become a little self-satisfied if they’re not careful.
One of the parishes I served still has to this day numbers on all its pews. Though they had stopped charging pew rents 50 years before I got there, parishioners still treated certain pews as their own and would ask visitors to vacate them if they happened to sit there. I thought of that parish and your challenge here at Christ Church Cathedral when I first read through the gospel for this morning. On this Second Sunday of Advent, we focus on John the Baptist, his strange habits, and his prediction of the coming of Jesus. But as I read the gospel this time around here’s the part of the passage that leapt right out at me.
Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [Matthew 3: 9-10]
John the Baptist directs his challenge precisely at the people we might today call “entitled”. But let’s not be too hard on them, shall we? The Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’s day were pretty much the “good Episcopalians” of today. I always try to resist the preacher’s tendency to beat up on the Bible’s entitled, establishment folks because my greatest personal spiritual battle has to do with taming my own inner Pharisee. Those of us who keep the church going—giving to support it, showing up every week, volunteering to do its many thankless tasks—we are pretty much just trying to get through life with faithfulness and grace. You could say the same for the Pharisees.
Yet here is John the Baptist calling us a “brood of vipers”. “Even now”, he says, “the axe is lying at the root of the trees”. He calls us to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”.  Hey, John, give us a break! We’re just trying to hand out church bulletins here. Why pick on those of us who year in and year out keep the place going?
The answer to that question brings me back to the image of those numbered church pews. It’s one thing, says John (and later, Jesus) to live a faithful and pious life. It’s quite another to think that doing so confers on you a special status. What we Pharisees and good Episcopalians get right is our acknowledged need to experience and respond to God in this kind of setting. What we get wrong is the all-too-human tendency to confuse what we perform out of our own need to do it with being better than those who don’t.  As John says,
Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, a day on which we move closer to Christmas by hearing John’s prophetic critique [Matthew 3: 1-12] so that we may open ourselves to the grace and glory of God’s presence in and with us at Christmas in the birth of Jesus. “Repent”, says John. “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” How do we make sense of this language today? How do we move out of our own Episcopalian entitlement into something like bearing fruit worthy of repentance?
One thing I hear in John’s prophetic critique is a call to step out of the illusion of my own privilege and entitlement and into the truth of the human vulnerability I share with others. You and I live in a pretty scary moment in time. Early last week a young Ohio State student attacked his fellow students with his car and a butcher knife. The incoming administration in Washington seems determined to destroy even the minimal social safety net we have established for seniors, the sick, and the poor. The wildfires in Tennessee and the tornadoes throughout the south serve as yet another reminder (as does the ongoing drought in California where I live) that climate change is moving even faster than we thought. And the continuing spike in hate speech both during and after the election calls in question our shared sense of what it means to be an American.
What is all this but an axe lying at the root of our trees? You don’t have to be a religious nut or a seasoned preacher to hear God addressing us in this dangerous and frightening moment. When John the Baptist compares us to snakes slithering away from a fire, I know what he’s talking about. We humans are destroying our environment, rending our social fabric, and in danger of losing whatever we had left of empathy and compassion in America. If, as good Episcopalians—the Pharisees and Sadducees of our own day—we are to respond to this current moment, the least helpful thing we could do is to assert our own entitlement. We are the ones who have kept the flame going for so many generations. That is no small achievement. But what is our role now as we prepare for the advent of Jesus in the wake of the wrath not only coming but here at work among us now?
One of the ways our Anglican tradition has tried to tame its inner Pharisee is through the very heart of our established church heritage. We Episcopalians began life as the Church of England, and for the first several hundred years of our existence we were the established church of a nation state. Though we present-day Episcopalians can still behave as if we’re the ones in charge—believe me, I lived and worked in Washington, D.C--, we know that in America there is no one official religion. Nevertheless, from our established church days we carry within us a profound sense of our shared investment in the common good. Our great 16th century theologian Richard Hooker called that idea “commonwealth”, and he articulated a vision of the church which understood itself empowered by God to advocate for and act on a notion of what was best not just for us but for the entire community.
You and I here not only at Christ Church Cathedral but those of us who follow Jesus in this Episcopalian mode around the country—we have a shared calling and mission to speak for, to act for, to care for the common good. Even now, the axe is lying at the root of the trees. Even now we face together into the wrath to come. God calls us to bear fruit worthy of repentance. The way we tame our entitled, inner Pharisee is to empower our shared commitment to the common good. Who else will speak for an inclusive, generous, compassionate vision of America if we don’t? Who else will announce that entitlement also involves responsibilities if we don’t? Who else will represent Jesus with some kind of faithfulness to his actual message if we don’t? Jesus and his followers stood up to and outlasted Rome. You and I can be a force for resistance and transformation in this dangerous hour.
Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees. Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Those of us who worship God in places like this can be silly and fussy and entitled. But we are also the bearers of a vision of God’s approaching kingdom made real in a nation and church dedicated to advancing the common good and standing with and for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the vulnerable. On this Second Sunday of Advent, let us prepare for the good news of Christmas by getting ourselves ready to offer a creative and hopeful vision to an angry and hurting nation and world. Let’s stand up, together, now for gospel values. If that’s not a mission statement for a cathedral church in the 21st century, I don’t know what is.  Amen.

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.