Archive for July, 2016

Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people

July 30, 2016

It is probably unlikely that Donald Trump will attend Sunday services in an Episcopal Church tomorrow. If he did, he would hear these words read from the Epistle to the church at Colossae:

“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.  But now you must get rid of all such things –anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…” (Colossians 3:5-9a)

Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people!

Women’s Leadership

July 29, 2016

While Hillary Clinton in 2008 tended to downplay the historic significance of the first woman President of the United States, this year she seems more ready to capitalize on that possibility. Her artful turning back of Donald Trump’s “playing the woman card” by listing certain “women’s issues” she would support and then capping the list with “Deal me in!” has been picked up by many supporters.

Jodi Kantor of the New York Times points out some upsides of a woman being elected for the first time: “The president would know what it is like to be pregnant. Top military leaders would answer to a female boss, when there has never even been a woman on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Workplaces and home life could be transformed through expanded parental leave and pay equity.”

But then, the reality check: “Or nothing could happen. The symbolism would be super-nova-level. The backlash could be withering.”  Of course, no one can predict what the possible election of a female chief executive of the U.S. — and particularly this female — would mean. Here are a few thoughts from my perspective in the Episcopal Church.

After decades of debate and struggle, women were ordained deacons in our church in 1971, officially approved to be ordained priest (after some “irregular ordinations in Philadelphia) in 1976, and Barbara Harris was elected as the first female bishop in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in 1989. Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and first Primate in the Anglican Communion in 2006.

What have we learned? Well, first of all, that women’s gifts and perspectives have mightily influenced and greatly enriched the ethos of our church. I will never forget how the very presence of Barbara Harris (alone for some time and then joined by other women) absolutely transformed the culture and quality of discourse in the House of Bishops.

Stereotypical (but nonetheless often accurate) qualities such as a more collaborative leadership style, the actual experience of being a woman confronting the challenges and opportunities they alone face, and a more compassionate (dare I say “maternal” ?) perspective on those who are often neglected and overlooked have “humanized” our church and made us more open and accepting of all people. Less judgmental.

Does this always occur in the ministries of ordained women? Of course not. It is tempting and sometimes easier for them to join the “good old boys club,” to “go along to get along” in the career path they have chosen. But, by and large, I will say once again that the leadership of women in our church has been an enormous blessing and I am grateful to them, and their supporters and friends, who bore the heat of the battle to make their inclusion possible.

When Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop we got an opportunity to see a woman operate, in our context, on the highest levels of executive leadership. Overall, she provided strong, thoughtful, prayerful, and prophetic leadership during challenging times in our church’s life. I did not always agree with her, particularly some decisions she made with respect to the hiring and firing of staff and what I perceived as a certain lack of involvement and support for her team at the Church Center (of which, in total transparency, I was a part).

But whatever mistakes or blind spots she may have had, from my perspective, they had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman. Many other bishops (myself included) have made similar errors over the years. Katharine’s overall record as the Presiding Bishop of our church was stellar and I have no doubt that we chose the right person for the right time in our history.

I believe that much of what has just been said will apply to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Is she the perfect candidate? Absolutely not. Has she made mistakes and even errors of judgment in the past? You bet. Is she part of the “political establishment” in a year when so many are looking to “throw the bums out” and start all over again? Unfortunately, yes.

But I agree with our current President that there may have never been a nominee for this office more qualified than Hillary Clinton. Her experience is unmatched. Her temperament nearly ideal. Her toughness demonstrable. Her compassion lifelong.

In short, I would not vote for Hillary Clinton solely because she is a woman. But, because she is otherwise uniquely qualified to shoulder this enormous responsibility, I look forward with delight to the particular perspectives and gifts she will bring as a daughter and mother, wife and grandmother — but most of all, because she is a woman!



Black Lives Matter — Except, Apparently, in Baltimore

July 28, 2016

It is beyond my comprehension that no one will be held criminally responsible for the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore! Because three police officers, including the driver of the van, had been acquitted by a judge, the prosecutor — filled with frustration and anger — decided to throw in the towel and dropped all remaining charges against the Baltimore officers still awaiting trial. Why not?

Why not, when police officers put a handcuffed prisoner in the back of their van, refused to buckle him in with a seat belt (as protocol demands), and took him on a “rough ride” which successfully broke Gray’s neck and resulted in his eventual death? You mean to tell me that no one was responsible for this twenty-five year old black man’s death?

My wife Susanne had “Black Lives Matter” signs printed up right after Trayvon Martin’s murder and we had one in our yard almost immediately. I marched in a rally here in the Quad Cities after that event and recently in another across the Mississippi River’s Centennial Bridge protesting the most recent waves of killings — both of young black men and of innocent police officers just trying to do their jobs.

I believe it is absolutely possible both to be outraged at the instances of police brutality and racism resulting in so many of these homicides AND to recognize that the vast majority of law enforcement officers are not involved in such incidents, do their jobs faithfully everyday, and indeed find the doing of those jobs made even more complicated by the lack of confidence and trust many in predominantly black communities have for the so-called justice system in general and police officers in particular.

This distrust, disappointment, and despair will surely be increased by the incredible failure of that same justice system in Baltimore. How can anyone, with an ounce of compassion and basic knowledge of this case, not be outraged that no one will be held accountable? Oh yes, there will be some kind of “internal investigation” into the matter. Small comfort for Gloria Darden, Gray’s mother, and the growing number of black families who will never be able to hold their sons again.

The only hope I have in the midst of this sad situation is that the U.S. Justice department has launched an investigation into this case and other allegations of abuse and unlawful arrests. According to the Associated Press, “the results are expected soon.”

Well, I hope so. And let’s hope they come during the Obama Administration. Because, unless we elect Hillary Clinton next fall, you can be sure that such investigations will cease under a Trump administration. And God only knows what the climate on our streets will look like then.

Understanding Sanders’ Supporters; The Media? Not So Much!

July 26, 2016

As disappointed as I was by the behavior of many Bernie Sanders’ supporters at the opening of the Democratic National Convention yesterday, I can understand them. So  many are young people, many of whom have never attended a National Convention before, don’t understand how it works, and frankly do not much care.

They bought into Bernie’s promise of a “revolution” and are not willing to stop pushing for it now just because Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee (can’t wait to be able to stop using that overworked adjective!). Their frustration was only fueled by the Wiki-leaks release of DNC e-mails (e-mails again?!) revealing the bias of that committee for Clinton. Hardly surprising to me that the epitome of the political establishment represented on that committee would be “for” the establishment candidate, but certainly some of their comments about Sanders were over the top.

So, I completely understand Sanders’ supporters. What I do not understand is the media. While one would think that Hillary Clinton would be the so-called “liberal media’s” ideal candidate for President, MSNBC in particular and CNN to a lesser degree seem intent on bringing her down.

Andrea Mitchell, for whom I used to have great respect as a journalist, can barely conceal her loathing for Hillary whenever she reports. And Chuck Todd, for whom I have never had much respect, actually asked one of his guests something like, I just don’t understand why Hillary Clinton is so distrusted and disliked by so many Democrats. Really!

Perhaps it’s because you, and the other pundits (not journalists, pundits!) persist in spreading the lies and half-truths circulated about Secretary Clinton by her enemies and to focus on those rather than making any attempt at objective reporting. After absolutely “making” Donald Trump by all the free advertising provided by your coverage, you now seem intent on fueling the fires of dissension in the GOP as well as the Democrats.

The old adage about sensationalist journalism “If it bleeds, it leads” now seems to have been replaced with “If they’re mad, we’re glad!”  While nearly 80% of Bernie’s supporters have heeded his plea to throw their support behind Clinton and “the most progressive platform ever passed by the Democratic Party” (largely due to Sanders’ incredible campaign), the media persists in covering, interviewing, and endlessly analyzing the remaining 20% who are threatening either not to vote at all (real smart!) or to vote for a Green or Libertarian Party candidate (a reasonable solution…as long as they vote for Democrats “down ballot.”)

I switched over to C-SPAN’s gavel to gavel coverage early on yesterday and intend to stay mostly with that for the remaining days of the Convention. They actually broadcast the entire proceedings and all the speeches and spare us the half-baked opinions that Mitchell, Todd and others drone on about and try to convince us are “analysis.”

I’m not convinced.

Teach Us To Pray

July 24, 2016

We have what may be the earliest form of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer” in our Gospel reading for today. Certainly it’s the shorter of the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer we have in the New Testament. The longer one is in Matthew and it’s hard to believe that Luke would have shortened the one in Matthew (if he knew it at all). Easier to understand how Matthew might have added a few things, perhaps by way of explanation, to Luke’s account of Jesus’ prayer.

Bible readers are often surprised that none of the biblical versions of this great prayer correspond exactly to the one we use every Sunday, and which most of us memorized as children. The prayer has developed, with constant repetition, over the centuries, into the form we are familiar with today. There’s even a more contemporary translation in Rite Two of the Eucharist which, sadly, very few of our churches use, even though it’s probably closer to the original than what we say every Sunday.

In any case, the fact that there are two version of this famous prayer should make it clear to us that the Gospels are not  word-for-word transcriptions of what Jesus may have said, but rather recollections and remembrances, passed down through years and finally written down forty or fifty years after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Nonetheless, it’s a powerful prayer that has its origins with Jesus, so let’s take a look at the two versions as they actually appear in the Bible.

Luke’s version begins in the simplest way possible: “Father!” We know from other accounts in the Gospels that this was Jesus’ favorite way of addressing God. It came from the Aramaic “Abba” which, as you probably know, was an intimate way of addressing one’s father, more like our term “Daddy” than  anything else. Matthew renders this, “Our Father in heaven.” He wants us to know that God was not just Jesus’ father, but “our” Father as well. And then he gives us the best definition of heaven I know of: heaven is where God is, and where God is, there is heaven!

Both Luke and Matthew follow that title of address with this phrase: “hallowed be your name.” That means that God’s very name is to be considered holy and it certainly was by the Jews. In their tradition God had revealed his real name to them through Moses at the burning bush. “I AM Who I AM” it is sometimes translated, and the Hebrew letters are YHWH (which we pronounce as Yahweh.) That name was so holy to the Jews that they wouldn’t even pronounce it out loud. When they read the Scriptures and came across the name Yahweh, they would substitute the word “Adonai” which means “Lord,”

Every time you see the word “LORD” written with all capital letters in the Old Testament and the Psalms, know that behind that is the Hebrew word “Yahweh” which the Jews would not even speak out loud because of its holiness. Only once a year, inside the Holy of Holies, was the High Priest allowed to call God by this actual name. That’s what it means in the Ten Commandments to say “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The Jews certainly didn’t then…and don’t today!

Luke goes on to say, in the prayer, “your kingdom come.” That was the ancient Jewish hope that God would finally come back to them, establish the kingdom, once and for all, and set the world to rights. Matthew makes that clear when he adds, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christians don’t just hope for a disembodied eternity spent on some cloud playing a harp but, after a period of rest in Paradise after death, that God will one day judge the living and the dead and usher in a new heaven and a new earth where we will live in happiness and health, in justice and in peace — A time and place where God’s will will truly be done “on earth” as it is (now) “in heaven!”

With all this emphasis on the future, the next line in both Luke and Matthew’s version focuses on the present: “Give us this day our daily bread.” That reminds us that we are dependent on God for everything in this life, including the very food we eat. But the sense of this prayer is that we should just ask God for “bread enough for today”, daily bread, and not worry about storing things up for tomorrow. God will provide — Jesus seems to be saying — so let’s not be greedy about it!

The prayer then moves on to our need for forgiveness. Luke says “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Matthew says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew’s version may actually be closer to Jesus here. He tells parables about debtors who were forgiven their debts and how grateful they were. The Jews were overtaxed and overcharged by their Roman oppressors in Jesus’ day and many of them lived under the burden of crushing financial debt. Either way, Jesus makes it clear that we are only to expect forgiveness if we ourselves forgive. “Forgive us…AS we forgive others.” It’s a two-way street!

Luke concludes the prayer “And lead us not into temptation” and Matthews adds: “but deliver us from the evil one.” Not just deliver us from evil, but deliver us from the Evil One! Matthew knows where true evil comes from and he prays for deliverance from that one – from Satan…the Adversary…the Evil One!

Now, neither Matthew nor Luke actually included the familiar closing doxology of the Lord’s Prayer. That was added by some scribe in some of the ancient manuscripts so it’s been around for a long time. I’m glad somebody added it because it’s wonderful…and a fit way to end a marvelous prayer: “for yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

I have, on my Android phone, a screensaver from NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). And, streaming onto my phone everyday are the most recent photos from the Hubbell telescope or other observatories. Photos of the Milky Way or other galaxies, photos of stars being born or dying in a blaze of glory, sometimes pictures of our beautiful planet earth, taken from thousands of miles away. Every time I look at a new picture, these words come to mind, “For thine is the kingdom…and the power…and the glory…for ever and ever. Amen!”

So, I actually agree with many saints and scholars across the centuries that the Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the most perfect prayer ever written. We acknowledge our intimate relationship with God;  we remember how Holy God’s very name is; we yearn for that Last, Great Day when God will judge the living and the dead and establish the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven; we remember that God is the source of everything we need in this life, even our daily bread; we ask for forgiveness and remind ourselves of the commandment to forgive others ourselves; we pray not to be tempted beyond our power to resist, but rather to be delivered from the Source of all evil…the Evil One! And we conclude with a hymn of praise to the Creator of all that is: “For Thine is the kingdom…and the power…and the glory…for ever and ever. Amen.” Never has a prayer said so much with so few words!


‘Splaining Kaine

July 23, 2016

While faithful followers of this little blog will know that I would have preferred Julian Castro, the brilliant and young Hispanic Cabinet Secretary, as Hillary Clinton’s running mate, I am nonetheless more than content with Tim Kaine. Clinton and Kaine are personally compatible and he certainly meets the primary qualification of being able to serve as president should that become necessary.

Tim Kaine has other experiences that are important for me: He has solid, Midwestern (Minnesota) roots but has served as both governor of the swing state of Virginia and a senator from that great state who happens to sit on the Foreign Relations Committee. Even more importantly, for me, he is

“the son of a welder who owned a small metalworking shop…(is)…a Roman Catholic…(who)…attended a Jesuit school and took a break from law school at Harvard to spend time as a Catholic missionary in Honduras, an experience that his family has said shaped him and helped him become fluent in Spanish. Early in his career, Mr. Kaine worked on fair housing and civil rights issues as a lawyer.” (New York Times, Saturday July 23)

I am a great fan of the Jesuits and believe it has to be a good thing that he was shaped by their blend of deep faith and educational excellence. He shares with me a personal, Catholic view of abortion but, like me, nonetheless is pro choice and believes only a woman can rightfully make such a momentous decision. He has a 100% voting record for Planned Parenthood. His fluency in Spanish will be invaluable and I believe his is the only United States Senator to have given an entire speech on the floor in Spanish.

I like the fact that he has been a governor and so has actually had to “govern” and make the kind of tough decisions that only come to one on whose desk the buck actually stops. Yet, he is also a well respected senator who knows how legislation gets done on the national level as well. He is certainly not flashy, but by all reports is liked by nearly everyone and can nonetheless be plenty tough when the situation calls for it.

Tim Kaine will be a worthy opposition VP nominee to Mike Pence and their debates should be interesting. Maybe more interesting than the Clinton/Trump ones which will undoubtedly be dragged into the mud by Donald Trump who seems to know no other way to disagree with someone. Kaine and Pence will actually debate the issues and my guess is that more light than heat will be generated by their conversation. I look forward to it.

I hope next week’s Democratic National Convention will be a celebration of unity and the launching pad for perhaps the most consequential  presidential election in my lifetime. Both candidates for the highest office in our land have opted for solid, if less than exciting, vice presidential picks. That’s OK with me. There will be enough fireworks as Hillary and the Donald battle it out.

It will be nice to have a couple of pretty solid back-ups in the bullpen.


Donald Trump’s Alternate Reality

July 22, 2016

Donald Trump gave an acceptance speech last night that, while crafted by someone else, he read credibly from the teleprompter. The speechwriter had gotten most of the Donald’s cadences down pretty well, and the fact that he yelled for most of the longest-ever acceptance speech made it all seem pretty much like a normal Trump rally.

The fact that his children (especially Ivanka) did masterful jobs of paving the way for Donald’s acceptance speech and that he was actually able to sound like he knew what he was talking about for a change led most of the media to stand in awe and commentators like Chris Matthews actually to sing his praises. What the media seems incapable of doing is to identify the fact that Donald Trump told at least 21 lies during his speech and set himself up as the savior of some alternate reality country that he calls the USA! A few examples cited by Politicus USA:

  1. Obama has doubled our national debt. Nope, most of is was amassed before he took office.
  2. Before Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State ISIS was not even on the map. Nope, its roots go back to 2004 when Bush was president.
  3. There is no way to screen refugees or find out where they come from. Nope, a careful vetting system is in place.
  4. Trump says he has been deeply affected by parents who have lost children to “violence spilling across our borders.” Actually, there is no evidence that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans.
  5. Donald claims that his tax plan would be the largest reduction of any candidate’s proposals and middle income Americans will experience profound tax relief. Nope, the Trump tax plan (predictably) will mostly benefit those at the very top.
  6. When the F.B.I. Director said that Clinton was “extremely careless” and “negligent” in handling classified material, those words were to save her from facing justice for her “terrible crimes” when others have paid so dearly for similar transgressions. Well, F.B.I. Director Comey has repeatedly said that is not true.

These are just a few examples, but they serve to illustrate the fact that Donald Trump is somehow able to tell the most outrageous lies and describe a nation in decline and in serious danger from within and without and no one seems willing or able to call him on it! I’m sure Hillary Clinton and the Democrats will try, but we will simply be caught in a “he said, she said” vicious circle and folks will discount our rebuttals as more political fabrication.

It is incumbent upon the national media, particularly the so-called “mainstream” media (network news and newspapers) which people actually listen to, watch, and read to hold all the candidates (Secretary Clinton included) to a higher standard of truth than we currently see happening. If the “Fourth Estate” does not fulfill its responsibility to be a watch-dog on politicians, then we are in danger of electing someone who lives in an alternate reality and wants to take us along for the ride.

These are indeed scary times. But not for the reasons Donald Trump enumerated last night.


The Communion of Saints

July 20, 2016

So many formative memories came flooding back yesterday as I attended the funeral of onetime Presiding Bishop Ed Browning at Trinity Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. Here are a few:

Processing into the church next to Bishop Fred Borsch,  my New Testament professor in seminary and a primary mentor over the years. Listening to retired PB Frank Griswold, my old boss at the Episcopal Church Center in New York preach the sermon, and seeing him join retired PB Katharine Jefferts Schori and current PB Michael Curry presiding at the Eucharist.

Being led in the intercessions by a dozen of the Browning children and grandchildren. Precious time with Patti Browning at the reception as she grieves and prepares for the immediate future without her life partner, her beloved Ed.

Private dinner after the funeral with dear friends and former 815 colleagues: my predecessor as ecumenical officer David Perry; peace and justice officer Brian Grieves; Chancellor David Beers; House of Deputy Presidents Bonnie Anderson and Gay Jennings; old friends and colleagues Don and Carol Ann Brown. So many Browning-era memories shared, so much laughter, so many tears.

My life has been enriched and blessed by all these folks and more with whom I was able to spend time yesterday. The communion of saints stretches across time and space into eternity…but it begins with shared commitments, adventures, and friendships with people like these.

This morning I am filled with gratitude for the life and ministry I was able to share with these dear ones. God is good…all the time! All the time…God is good!


Not Slaking Evil’s Bloody Thirst

July 16, 2016

Black men shot in their cars for no apparent reason, innocent policemen mowed down by a sniper, scores of French citizens and visitors run over by a madman at the wheel of a huge refrigerated truck. Why?

Racism? Anger and hatred fueled by racism? Mental illness at the service of radical jihadism? Likely.

Yet there is something other at work here which must be named. Evil. Whether understood as stemming from satanic power, the “fallen” nature of humankind, or human nature not completely evolved from the survival-of-the-fittest mentality of our primitive ancestors, “red of tooth and claw,” there is Evil in this world.

And this Evil is greater than the sum total of all the individual evil acts committed by men and women. There is the power of Evil. Evil with a capital “E.”

We are at war with that Evil, make no mistake about it. Unfortunately, when people realize that they are at war, their first thought is to use the weapons of war — violence, killing, conquest, imprisonment, torture, deportation and exile. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

This will never work. Using Evil’s tools against it only slakes its bloody thirst.

The only power able to overcome Evil is the power of Love. Blessing those who curse you, turning the other cheek, not returning evil for evil, loving your enemies not hating them.

Why will this ultimately work? Because God is love, and those who love align themselves with the power which holds the universe together, from galaxies far away to the quarks and gluons of beyond-microscopic atomic reality.

In the Face of such Power, Evil must eventually bow.

Wait for it with confidence.


Presidential Leadership

July 14, 2016

In the wake of a new series of “unjustified” killings of black men by police officers and the horrific assassination of five innocent cops just doing their jobs and protecting peaceful protesters in Dallas, President Obama hosted a largely-ignored but very significant meeting in the White House yesterday. Bringing together administration officials, community activists from the Black Lives Matter movement and representatives of police organizations, the President said this:

“There is no doubt that police departments still feel embattled and unjustly accused, and there is no doubt that minority communities, communities of color, still feel like it just takes too long to do what’s right. We have to, as a country, sit down and just grind it out — solve these problems.”

Sit down…grind it out…and solve these problems. Exactly!  Because at this point we continue to talk past one another with African Americans feeling like they are unfairly targeted for traffic stops, stop-and-frisk, and worse. And the police feeling that they are under siege, victims of a tiny minority of bad cops when most of them are risking their lives every day to keep everyone in this country safe.

As in most debates, there is truth on both sides. But we simply have to find spaces where we can actually sit down, “grind it out” (as the President said), and solve these problems. A meeting such as the one Barack Obama hosted at the White House is a magnificent example of the kind of thing which must happen. I think it is actually encouraging that, according to reports, “…hostility flared at times behind closed doors at the session, particularly as those representing police organizations clashed with people who had been arrested at protests.”

That is encouraging because it means truth was being spoken and wildly different perspectives were being shared and heard. This is the kind of thing that happened at Desmond Tutu’s “Truth and Reconciliation” meetings in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. But those meetings brought healing to a troubled land. We have a lot of painful conversations to have before we reach the common ground necessary to begin to work together to end this senseless cycle of violence in our communities.

And, of course, it is in our local communities that these conversations must take place. A meeting in the White House, even one that lasted for over four hours all afternoon and into the evening, can only be a model for what needs to happen all across this country. If our President is looking for something to occupy his time after the election in November, he could well look to Jimmy Carter’s Center and Bill Clinton’s Foundation as prototypes for an “Obama Initiative” focused like a laser on racial reconciliation in this “land of the free, and home of the brave.”

Someone needs to lead us in finding ways actually to have these crucial local conversations on race. Who better than the first African American President once he is freed from the responsibilities of saving the economy, winding down two wars, reforming health care, opening the doors of equality for GLBT folks, and keeping us safe from terrorists?