Friday, December 30, 2011

Creating Family: The Hanai Family

Not all of us are lucky enough to immerse ourselves into the bosom of blood relations who love us. And the feelings of loss and lack are especially felt during family holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My husband, Herb, and I spent twelve days in Springfield, Massachusetts, with our daughter and daughter-in-law, separately, because the girls are in the process of getting a divorce. They split up in July, after just one year of marriage, and are learning how to live apart after five years of being together as a couple. The breakup is still so new that many in the extended family haven’t yet heard the news. It’s not the sort of thing that anyone finds joy in announcing. Our extended family was incredibly loving and supportive when the girls married on July 4th a year ago, embracing the first openly gay couple in our Chinese and Jewish families.

One of the best things I learned from 15+ years living in Hawaii is that we can choose to adopt our own family, made up of persons who need our love and whose love we can benefit from. Herb and I have been in the practice of creating a hanai family for the entire three decades that we have been together. It’s what we do, and who we are, as a couple. There have been ex-secretaries escaping abusive marriages, Vietnam vets escaping personal demons, undocumented aliens seeking better lives for their families, and more. A hanai family is one that you choose, and foster and love into being, and it is any shape that you create it to be, where the bonds are bonds of love and choice, and desire to be together in mutual love and support.

When our daughter and daughter-in-law first got together, we met a young woman, only a few months younger than our daughter, who had been expelled from her family shortly after high school graduation, when she was inadvertently outed, for being gay. She’d been living by her wits and whatever kindnesses people were willing to extend to her in the interim. Her family of birth consisted of divorces, alcohol and drug abuse, and so many lies that it was difficult for any of her family to distinguish truth from lies anymore. And for her family of birth, judgmental and irrational attitudes trumped love, with the exception of one grandmother, who has since passed away.

We found in our daughter-in-law, just as our daughter found in her, a delightful young woman full of gifts and potential and an indomitable will to survive and do well; she only needed a family who believed in her and who were willing to be a supportive, present, loving and embracing family. We became that family for her, and we promised her, with our daughter’s concurrence and support, that we would be her family even if the girls broke up and were no longer in a relationship. That day has arrived.

Being loving and supportive is easy in the context of ourselves being an intact, wholesome and loving family that isn’t currently facing a lot of stressors like terminal illness, financial instability or bad behavior within the family. We are blessed, and we know it. We rely on our faith, and we rely on each other. But, and it’s a big “but,” maintaining family relationships in the context of a divorce and in the context of societal norms is not easy, because it’s not the norm and what’s expected.

Figuring out how to split one’s time between two households for things like a holiday meal is actually relatively simple. You negotiate what’s convenient for everyone. Figuring out how to tell each girl that you love her for who she is, and that your love for the other girl doesn’t diminish your love for her, is much harder, because it’s not just your feelings, thoughts and actions that you must account for. You also have to account for each girl’s feelings and thoughts. And as much as each girl wants to be her best self, expressing love even when she’s also expressing independence and separation from the other spouse, they can’t help but feel the pain of loss and all the things done and said that are now so much water under the bridge.

I wonder, a bit, if this isn’t something of what families with adopted children might encounter occasionally. I do not say that to denigrate or in any way take away from adoptive families, whom I admire deeply and profoundly. We are a form of adoptive family as a hanai family, having chosen to incorporate others who weren’t born or married into our family as part of our family, with access to love, support, and inclusion in birthday and holiday celebrations and all the other activities that families do together as family.

This holiday season, as I read my Facebook feed and see, again, my young friends who are estranged from their actual parents and families, I want to reassure them that they can have the family that they’ve dreamt of. It’s theirs to choose, to form and foster, in the configuration and shape that will meet their needs and buoy their dreams. And, if they choose, I am willing to be included, as a hanai mom or hanai sister or hanai Godmother. They can take their pick, and I will be there, online or in person, to cheer their joys and successes, to soothe their hurts and losses, and to lend strength to their journeys so that they know they’re not alone, not separate, but a part of a hanai family.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The problem with talking

The problem with talking is
that my words bleed all over my ego
and make me cringe.

The advantage of aging is
that cringing is not enough
to make me stop talking.

Speaking the truth as I see it
means that I often speak alone
and speak without being heard.

Not being heard doesn’t make
what I have to say
any less valid.

Not being heard doesn’t make
me hesitate to speak again
the next time and the next time after that.

I love the courage that aging brings.
It heats up my veins
and gives me power surges.

I may not be quick and agile
but I am firm and persistent
and my eyes are wide open.

I am awake.
I am a participant.
I am present here and now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jesus in the Margins

No church or government
should insulate itself
from raw human need

Mangers on Wall Street
fuel peaceful acts of protest
This is the place
where Jesus was born
Hunger for freedom in Egypt
fuels desperate acts of protest
This is the place
where Muhammad was born

Beggars plentiful
as black flies on city dung heaps
too weary to protest
This is the place
where Buddha was born

Focus our third eye
really see
our eyes
never to be closed
sheltered from the unedited

Our Mother groans
with remembered birth pains
In gathering we remember
where we were born

Hear the whispered confessions
of lifelong selfishness
Hear the whispered prayers
on dying children’s lips
that we make different choices

Step back
to widen the circle
Be slow
to enter the center
Where the warmth,
water and safety are
Need less, share more

There are others
waiting to be beckoned in
to the possibility of
hospitality without a home

Salve our broken souls
with love so gentle
it evokes the susurration
of a thousand million
angels’ wings ascending
to Heaven’s throne

Humankind in societies
must embrace a different path
says the king who walks among us

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Our Marriage

I'm back after a long absence. For the past six weeks, I've been constantly on the road attending church meetings and conducting workshops, preaching and teaching--seven meetings in six cities. It has been a delightful privilege and a humbling experience to be invited into communities of people doing wonderful ministry, to share conversation and stories with them, and to be blessed by their wisdom and spirits. I have also been blessed at home, here in Colorado, by a mother who loves to keep busy, doing the laundry and the cooking, and by a husband who continues to do consulting work, engaging interesting problems with tenacity and insight, and who doesn't demand a stay-at-home partner. I have garnered a boatload of stories and thoughts from these past six weeks and am eager to begin to blog about them!

* * * * * * * * * *
Below is my response to the current question in the Deputy Online Forum hosted by the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, of The Episcopal Church, which asks:

"In what ways do these theological principles (found in a document entitled "Theological Reflection on Covenantal Relationships: A Summary of 'Faith, Hope, and Love'") describe your experience of lifelong monogamous relationship (your own or someone else’s)? How do or might they help the Church consider the monogamous, lifelong, covenantal relationships of same-gender couples?"

* * * * *
Today my husband of almost 30 years and I had lunch with a friend and shared stories about how we have, in the wonderful partnership of our marriage, been able to incorporate into our family several other families who were undocumented and in great financial and pastoral need. It has been very clear to my husband and me that the covenanted, faithful aspect of our marriage has been integral in our call and our response to the needs of these immigrant families. This particular life of service probably would not have been possible had we remained unmarried and single. We more than likely would have been consumed with the demands of making a living and figuring out how to have meaningful social relationships, as was the case when we first met and chose each other. I am not saying that being single is bad; I am saying that my husband and I each have a vocation in marriage.

It has been the gift of our married life together that has strengthened us in our commitment to share the blessings that we have received. Having a partner whom we trust totally, with whom we can share completely our physical, emotional and spiritual lives, has given us the freedom and the joyful sense of gratitude to desire to share the blessings of friendship and family with others. We both know and acknowledge that we are better at being who we are, because we are married to each other. My husband makes me a better "Me," and I make him a better "Him." We don't take what we have as married partners for granted, and reflecting upon what we have makes us want more than ever to help others to be able to have the same thing.

We have taught our children that the single most important decision that anyone can make is choosing whom to love, including choosing to love God. Why should such an important choice be bounded by something as naturally occurring as gender or skin color? Our hope and our prayer for our children and grandchildren is that they find the partner who will help them create the sense of family, partnership, and completeness in their physical, emotional and spiritual lives, and when they find that partner, that they not feel any restrictions of artificial boundaries such as gender or skin color.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Appearances, Teachers and Stewardship of Mission

 [I had the opportunity to preach at St. George's Episcopal Church, Bismarck, this past Sunday, after having attended North Dakota's Diocesan Convention where I gave the convention workshop on Appreciative Inquiry: A Tool for Mission. This is my sermon.]

The Gospel:  Matthew 23:1-12

         Me Ke Aloha Pumehana. Aloha Kakou. Mahalo E Ke Akua No Keia La. Amen’e ~ I greet you with the warmth of my love. May there be love between us. Thanks be to God for this day. Amen.
         I found it ironic on Thursday morning when I left rural Boulder County where I live in Colorado, that I left the remnants of 15 inches of cold, wet, heavy snow and many fallen tree branches and rolling blackouts, to arrive here in bright, sunny Bismarck, North Dakota. Bishop Michael had advised me to leave a day early to get here to your diocesan convention, in case of weather. Little did either he or I think that the weather would be in Colorado and not in North Dakota!
         The very dense Gospel reading of this morning is a little bit like that unexpected weather picture between Colorado and North Dakota. Things are often not what they appear to be on the surface. The scribes and Pharisees of whom Jesus is talking in the Gospel paid great attention to appearances. The Pharisees were a religious sect who paid particular attention to being pious, observing the religious laws of the times including making up some rules of their own, along the way.
         The Pharisees made sure they had the nicest looking phylacteries or tefillin – a pair of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Jewish bible, the Torah, that they wore around their necks while saying morning prayers, and that the fringes of their prayer shawls, which they wore tied around their waists, were long enough to show under their coats – all for show, so that others might see them and their phylacteries and shawl fringes and see that they were pious. Jesus said, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others… They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.”
         I’d like to take you back with me almost sixty years, to my childhood experience of church, as a little girl growing up in Detroit, Michigan. The story of how I ended up in a beautiful, huge, gothic, cathedral-like church in downtown Detroit begins in China. My mother married my father in an arranged marriage in China and came to the United States a year after their marriage, when her number finally rose to the top of the quota list that allowed her, a pregnant 19-year old, and her Chinese-American husband, my father, a 24-year old cook from New York’s Chinatown, to come to New York City. Five years later, my family was living in Detroit, Michigan, where the unskilled labor jobs on the automobile factory assembly lines drew my father.
         My mother, whose family had been evangelized a couple of generations earlier by Christian missionaries, took me and my two younger brothers to church, so that she could be comforted by being in the presence of God, because it was very lonely being in a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language and had no family or friends. My memory of church as a child was of being dressed up in “Sunday best” and being on good behavior – back in the days of “Children should be seen and not heard.” Women and girls wore hats and white gloves and covered our shoulders. No tank tops or sleeveless dresses and no jeans or flip-flops for us. The unintended lesson that I learned about going to church was that it was important to look the part of a church-goer. How else would anyone back in the poor, inner city neighborhood where we lived know that I was a good Christian girl from a good Christian family, even if we were Chinese and my mother wasn’t American, if I didn’t look the part in my Sunday best, getting off the street car every Sunday afternoon?
         Fast forward to today, in Bismarck, North Dakota, and in Boulder County, Colorado, and we won’t see everyone in church dressed up in “Sunday best.” Church now-a-days is a “Come as you are” affair, and I think we are better for it. Jesus welcomes everyone into the membership of his Body and Blood, into his Beloved Community, and two thousand years later, we have learned the lesson that he taught in today’s Gospel.
         Jesus said, in regard to those scribes and Pharisees, who cared so much about appearances, “do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.”
         It is significant to note that Jesus did not say, “don’t listen to the Pharisees,” and “don’t do what they teach,” because Jesus knows that we humans have feet of clay. We humans, including the Pharisees of long ago, have many weaknesses and character flaws. That doesn’t mean that we don’t also know some good lessons and some truths that we can teach.
         How many of you are parents? How many of you still have living parents with whom you have conversations? Sometimes, we have to do what our parents teach, even when we know that we shouldn’t do what our parents do, because they aren’t perfect.
         Jesus goes on in this Gospel passage to tell us to call no one rabbi or teacher, because we have only one teacher and only one instructor – Jesus himself.

* * * * * * * * * *
         As we enter into this season of the church year when we begin to talk about stewardship, a lot of thoughts enter into our minds about what it means to be good stewards as members of the Body of Christ, as members of Christ’s Church. Traditionally, we talk about stewardship in terms of the stewardship of time, talent, and treasure. We talk about giving generously, because much has been given to us. John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  We talk about giving joyfully, because 2 Corinthians 9:7 says: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
         I would like to suggest to you, in the context of the Gospel reading for today, that you consider Jesus as your one and only instructor, and the fact that Jesus gave a new commandment in John 13:34-35: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
         I think this new commandment given in the Gospel of John holds us to a higher standard than the Golden Rule found in the Summary of the Law, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, I think that if we were to hold ourselves to the standard that Jesus sets, to “love one another,” “Just as I have loved you,” we would be spending ourselves and our treasure, our talent, and our time – very, very differently from the way that we have done it up until now.
         I want to broaden talking about stewardship to the concept of “stewardship of mission.” I want to challenge you to think about stewardship in terms of how you and I, individually, personally, become involved in participating in what God is doing in the world.
         God has a mission for his church that he wants us to be intimately, personally, deeply, passionately involved in. In theological language, we say that there is missio dei, the mission of God. God is doing something wonderful and wondrous in the world, and God is inviting us into that wonderful and wondrous thing that he is doing. God is inviting us, and all we have to do is say, “Yes, Lord, it is I. Yes, Lord, send me.” In many ways, we said “Yes, Lord,” when we were first baptized into the holy body of Christ, into his church. We said, “Yes, Lord,” again, when we became confirmed as mature teens or adults, making a public affirmation of our response to God, the “Yes, Lord,” that we said, or that was said for us, when we were first baptized as adults or as infants and young children.
         In our stewardship relationship to God’s mission, we are being invited in – in to the reconciling work that God is doing in the world. We are being invited in – to the work that restores and mends relationships in God’s creation so that the persecuted are victimized no more, so that the peacemakers are lifted up and blessed for their efforts. We are being invited to share in God’s mission in the world, so that the ones who love God, see their love of God reflected in the hearts of those with whom they share the good news of God’s redeeming love, so that the merciful see their acts of mercy multiplied by others who are touched by those acts of mercy. Our participation in God’s mission in the world, to restore our sisters and brothers to unity with one another through Christ’s sacrifice of love, means that we will be the hands that feed the hungry, and the arms that comfort those who mourn and are heavy-hearted. Stewardship of mission – our active, vibrant, joyful participation in the good work that God is doing in the world – means that we will stand in solidarity with all those who suffer from broken relationships, and we will love them as Jesus loves us. Jesus calls us to our better selves, to love others as he loves us.
         Let me give you some specific examples of the kind of transforming love that I am talking about, that changes the way that we love one another, and that changes the way that we participate in God’s mission.
         Bishop Nedi Rivera, the provisional bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon, and I were traveling together in Taiwan a few years ago. We had an afternoon off and went to visit Taipei 101, which used to be the tallest building in the world at 101 stories tall. We ended up in the gift shop at the top of Taipei 101, and we saw a beautiful carved coral necklace, that was only $199, which was a very good price. I encouraged Nedi to try the necklace on, and we both admired it. The sales clerk told Nedi how great the necklace looked on her, and Nedi agreed. But Nedi did not buy the necklace, because she said something that I will never forget. She said, “I could never spend that much money on myself.” What Nedi said changed the way that I shop. I no longer spend money on myself and my own wants and needs the way that I used to.
         We were talking about stewardship in an Education for Ministry class more than ten years ago, and the associate rector told a story about a seminary classmate of hers. She and her classmate were engaged in a conversation about the biblical tithe of 10% - the concept of giving 10% of your income to the work of the church before you begin spending the other 90% on yourself. The conversation went something like this. Most people aren’t able to bring themselves to give a 10% tithe, for whatever reason, but it’s important to try to get into the discipline of giving a set percentage to the work of the church, instead of just giving a set dollar amount. It’s the discipline of getting into a regular habit – a holy habit, if you will, that’s important – of giving a set percentage. My associate rector said that her classmate talked about how he and his wife were engaging tithing – giving the full 10% off the top before addressing their own wants and needs, and that the act of tithing changed the way that he and his wife ate. . . Think about that – the act of tithing changed the way that they ate.
          I had the opportunity to listen to an Islamic imam, a Muslim cleric, give a lecture about the five pillars of Islam, which are the five basic principles on which faithful Muslims base their lives. (There are three major religions that all trace their heritage back to Father Abraham. We are often called the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity.) The imam talked about the Islamic tradition of giving, which is a percentage based on not just income, but also on wealth – that is, based on everything that you own, not just on what you earned this year – and that it is given personally, face-to-face, to the needy in your community. It is an idea that is based on relationship with those you are helping. Imagine that – giving that is based on relationship and not just on writing a check. It is a fact that growing, healthy congregations have at least 25% of their members engaged in hands-on, up close and personal mission and ministry where relationships are being formed and nurtured.
         A lot of the thinking around Asset Based Community Development revolves around building and strengthening relationships. Asset Based Community Development involves focusing on the gifts that every community and everyone in a community has, as compared to focusing merely on the needs that communities and individuals in those communities have. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America refers to an accompaniment model of mission where we get involved in the lives of the people with whom and for whom we are doing mission. Because getting involved in people’s lives, building relationships, is an active way of entering into God’s mission of restoring humanity to unity with God through Jesus’ example of sacrificial love. Because accompanying people in their life’s journey not only changes them, but it changes us. It transforms us into the carriers of Jesus’ redeeming love into the world.

* * * * * * * * * *
         So, dear brothers and sisters, what are the lessons in today’s Gospel? It’s really rather simple. Follow Jesus as our one and only true teacher. Don’t be fooled by appearances, and don’t be seduced into caring overly much about how you look. Pay attention to Jesus’ new commandment, to love others as Jesus loves you, because that’s how everyone will know that you follow Jesus. Practice radical generosity, giving out of the depths of your love for others, because you will be transformed, by living into the grace with which God has blessed you. Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

[Dedicated to all who risk entering into relationships.
 It may not feel like it sometimes, but it's worth it.]

When I close my eyes
hieroglyphs and petroglyphs
stream across
my red veined eyelids
I tilt my head
listening to the sound
of all the breaking hearts
across the time-space continuum
a cacophony
it is the music of the human condition

If you feel bad
you’re right on target
crossing all the checkpoints
beginning with shock and surprise
that lock down your thoughts
unable to object
events roll right over you
if you’re on this ride
it’s only because
you got stuck in the mechanism
of promise-making
you didn’t choose to buy this ticket

Falling onto the tracks
the train barreling down
there’s nothing left to say
nothing to think about
only your brain trying
to figure out
who’s that screaming?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Loyalty Programs

Marketing is a business practice that figures out what consumers are interested in and then develops strategies for influencing consumers to become customers. Marketing has grown exponentially from the good old days of print advertising and billboards to robocalls, sidebar and banner ads on social networking sites and commercials preceding the news story you’ve clicked on.

Loyalty programs started out as a good thing that have become, in the instance of airline reward programs, promises that aren’t kept. United Airlines is in the process of merging with Continental Airlines, which means merging their frequent flier programs as well. Just do the math, and you’ll see that the downgrades affecting the lower echelon of loyal elite fliers were inevitable.

Nearly twice as many frequent flier members means that even among the elite, everyone doesn’t get to benefit. It makes sense, from the airline’s perspective, to give preferential treatment to the first class and business class fliers who pay more for tickets and fly more miles compared to economy class fliers. But, the downgrades – from no longer being able to reserve a premium seat at time of booking and only being allowed one free checked bag instead of two – represent promises stretched to the point of being broken no matter how you look at it.

The fact that the fine print says the airlines could change or cancel the programs at any time is no excuse. Depending on technicalities to change the rules while using marketing to raise and nurture loyalty based on promises of rewards is part of what’s wrong with the way that American companies do business. There is something inherently immoral about the scheme. In another context it might be called "bait and switch."

The airlines have a history of breaking promises. We haven’t forgotten the defaulted or vastly reduced pension plans for airline employees and how employees were led to believe during their working years that their pensions were promises of future financial security. The government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation also failed to live up to its promises. Guaranty doesn't mean guaranteed. Words can be manipulated through marketing to mean anything at all.

There are a number of local businesses to which my family is very loyal, even when their prices are slightly or even significantly higher than elsewhere. Why? Because these businesses give great customer service. We can rely on their word; they stand behind what they sell and the services they provide. Their employees are unfailingly polite, competent and honest. These businesses don’t need a separate loyalty program, because by being good at what they do, they keep loyal customers coming back.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Anxiety, Giddiness and Kneejerk Reactions

There’s been a lot of life happening all around me, in the church community and in our family. Along with that life comes lots of anxiety, giddiness and kneejerk reactions that bear some comment.

Just because something someone says or does generates an immediate emotional response inside you doesn’t mean that you have to share your feelings and thoughts with the rest of us immediately. Chances are – if you hung onto those feelings and thoughts for a few hours, or better yet, a day or two, it might change the tone, substance and amount of what you share – to the better. You’ll sound smarter, more thoughtful and be less likely to have to apologize or feel guilty later.

Online forums facilitate sharing one’s thoughts with a dispersed community, but they carry an inherent danger of “opening your mouth before engaging your brain.” Just because you can comment doesn’t mean that you should. Show some judgment and restraint, or as was said in an earlier generation, show some “class.”

When you’re happy while others around you are sad – like when you’ve landed the perfect new job while your buddies are still jobless, struggling to survive, give a thought to how you express your happiness without wounding your friends unintentionally. I’ve written before about how we should be happy for one another’s good fortune, how we shouldn’t have to dampen our happiness unduly. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t celebrate your good fortune. But it’s about tone, substance and amount of sharing again. It’s about empathy and compassion. We used to say, “put yourself in the other’s shoes” and “follow the Golden Rule.”

Some of us, yours truly included, have a core of impulsivity that we have to work really hard to control. Spontaneity and impulsivity are two sides of the same coin – an ability to respond to the world with unfettered enthusiasm and sheer joy or with unedited anger and harsh retribution. It’s easy to forgive or even join in the enthusiastic and joyful spontaneous and impulsive acts of others. They typically don’t cause irreparable or lasting harm.

But it’s often tough to forgive or recover from a flood of anger and paybacks, because the feelings they engender touch our very core notions of who we are and what our relationships are about. Count to ten. Count to a thousand. Make that ten thousand or a million, because it just might be best not to stop counting so that you don’t open those floodgates.

These instances of anxiety, giddiness and kneejerk reactions call for the healthier alternative of slowing down our responses instead of letting them fly out on their own. Slowing down allows space for deliberation and intentionality, so that we are not at the effect of our feelings or gut reactions. Relationships are worth the effort and time that it takes to think about them, invest in them and get them right.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Responding to Bishop Stacy Saul's Presentation

For background and context for the following post, see the Episcopal News Service’s article here and ongoing commentary on the subject at Episcopal Café here. Bishop Stacy Sauls, the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer of The Episcopal Church, made a PowerPoint presentation on structuring/restructuring the church as well as provided a model resolution for diocesan conventions to consider, and they may be found here [opens a PowerPoint document]. The following post is my response to the fact that Bishop Sauls made his presentation to the House of Bishops first without any prior notice to the Executive Council, which is The Episcopal Church’s governing body in the trienniums between General Conventions when both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops meet to consider legislation to govern the church.

I find it ironic that in a church where our Catechism defines the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” that Bishop Sauls, presumably in his capacity as the Chief Operating Officer, has made a presentation on structure/restructure to the House of Bishops prior to meeting the interim governing body of the church, the Executive Council, in person for the first time. That first in-person meeting will not take place until Council meets in Salt Lake City October 21-24.

We are a church that believes in the importance of relationship in the Body of Christ, and yet, we continue to impair our necessary working relationships by placing ideas, proposals and time pressures over and above respecting relationships with timely and collegial communications. Actions trump thoughts and words in exemplifying our beliefs.

Perhaps approaching the House of Bishops first might be blamed on the fact that Bishop Sauls has, in fact, not yet met Council, but has a long-term collegial relationship with other bishops in the House of Bishops and seized an opportunity to share some ideas with his sister and brother bishops due to the timing of the bishops’ meeting.

I have observed and heard from colleagues in other dioceses that there is a similar pattern in diocesan life, that is, that some bishops communicate things to the clergy cadre often in advance of communicating with their Standing Committees who share diocesan governance with them, leaving the Standing Committee members to learn these things from secondary and tertiary sources. So, from my point of view, this practice does not stand in isolation, and it smacks of disrespect for both the persons and the positions, however unintended.

Bishop Sauls’ presentation to the bishops first may also be a reflection of the reality that diocesan bishops respond more readily to recommendations from among themselves to commit their dioceses to study a specific subject than they do to recommendations that come from either General Convention or Executive Council.

I am experienced enough in organizational life to wonder if there was something intentionally strategic about presentation to the bishops first. Could this be an example of apologize later rather than notify first? It is also true in organizational life that she/he who speaks first and frames an issue often then has set the direction for the ensuing discussion.

How people feel about the circumstances surrounding the work that they have to do significantly impacts how they think about the substance of that work. Having said all of the above, my hope and prayer is that we will be able to move forward together in an attitude of unity as sisters and brothers in The Episcopal Church who want to engage our missional work with charity, clarity and truly shared decision-making across all the ministers of the church – laity, priests, bishops and deacons.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Banned Questions About the Bible

My friend, Deb Sampson, has been collecting a set of responses from all over the Diocese of Colorado to an adaptation of 50 questions from Christian Piatt's book, Banned Questions About the Bible, to be used for a class at her church, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. I was honored to be asked to participate, and here are the questions that I chose to answer:

#6 -- If people have to be Christians to go to heaven, what happens to all of the people born before Jesus or who never hear about his ministry?

I think of heaven as being united with God, and I think of God’s time as being without beginning or end (God, the alpha and the omega). Jesus IS God. God is Love. Knowing Jesus-God is knowing Love. Knowing the stories of Jesus-God’s ministry is just details. So, in God’s time, in eternity, people in their soul form have an endless opportunity to choose to be united with God. God never gives up on his beloved Creation, which includes all people.

#15 -- How can God be all-loving yet allow people to be thrown into hell?

I think of hell as being separated from God, from Love. God created people in God’s image, with free will. Love is an act of will. People choose to love or choose not to love. God is Love, and God-Love allows people to exercise their free will.

#19 -- Where are all the miracles today? If they were so prevalent in biblical times, why don't any happen today? Or do they and we just don't notice?

Miracles are all around us, everyday, everywhere, but we have succumbed to the distractions of our egos and our lives. Humankind is narcissistic. We tend to see the world only through the lens of our own selves. That narcissistic lens is like a permanent cataract that distorts our vision. As with cataracts, our vision isn’t good enough to see all the small daily miracles all around us. We only notice miracles if they’re huge enough to drop on our houses and heads and shake our world.

Think about the joy that a child, a young innocent, takes in simple things like blowing bubbles or mushing up a sweet, ripe fruit. Think about the occasions when you’ve stopped suddenly and noticed the fragrance of blossoming honeysuckle or the smell of wet grass after a rainfall. When we can step outside of ourselves into a stiller, simpler moment, we then have the eyes to encompass the miracles, because we see with an inner vision as well as through our physical eyes, and that inner vision is connected to God, the source of all miracles. Miracles are messages from God, invitations to come and see “my Creation and that it is very good.”

#23 -- Hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus are all labeled as “hell” by one or more Christian groups. Are they really the same? Are they all places of fiery torment? Are such things to be taken literally, metaphorically, or both?

All of those names for hell refer to the same thing, which is separation from God who is Love, separation from Love. Separation from Love is experienced and embodied by each person differently, in different intensities at different times, triggered by different external life events of all sorts – from loss of a parent to loss of a partner to loss of a job or loss of an ideal, etc.

Because love is an act of will, separation from Love carries with it the added pain of self-hurt, of self-inflicted injury that our soul recognizes as such even when our conscious mind believes that the hurt is other-imposed. It is that self-denial of our willful withdrawal from Love that is sinfulness manifest. And that sinfulness and self-denial imprison us in our own individual hells.

Certainly there are instances of separation from Love that a person can experience as torment so strong that it feels like one is being consumed by an unquenchable fire, but there are also instances of separation from Love that feel like a complete absence of feeling, a disembodiment of self, a numbness that feels more like being frozen solid than like burning up. You can call it a metaphorical feeling, that burning up or being frozen solid, but the person experiencing it knows it as real and palpable and present, now. 

In one of the reviews that I read about Piatt's book, the writer made the point that it's not necessarily the answers that matter, but that the conversation continues about these important, and perhaps occasionally, impertinent questions. I agree.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I watch you dance
a prologue to love
& flights to the sun
and I want to know
what love is

regret & grief
are what I know
they burrow deep
it is the dark interstices
I’m familiar with
the in-betweens
where there is equivocation
one foot firmly out the door
heartache & pain
ordinary as the clothes
you choose to
put on each day

grief & longing
are not so far apart
both elongating
pulled by ones
who don’t look back
distanced, yet connected
we are stars of a new
yet to be named
yet to be fixed
in the firmament of heaven

It’s not the hard work
of relationship that kills
it is the disappointment
beat beat beating
the flattened place in our hearts
that has no room for charitable thoughts
the escape of hope
from brain cells eroded
by the beat beat beating
grim grief
leading to despair

If we could gather up the edges
pull them tight
stuff the light back in
I promise you
life will grow again
one breath into the next
one day after another
new light leading to new hope
fragile yet tenacious
a reverse gravity
pulling us
into the
firmament of heaven

[Written Sunday, August 21, 2011]

Sunday, July 31, 2011

It has been ever so

My empathy meter is working overtime these days, and I am alternately sad, outraged, depressed and frustrated by my fellow human beings.

I just read an article in the Sunday Los Angeles Times about violence against nurses and caregivers, and I am so depressed by it. I'm depressed by the reaction of the hospital administrators after incidences of violence against staff have occurred, and I'm depressed by our American society that has dismantled the mental health residential facilities for patients who can't live by themselves or with their families.

Families - not everyone is lucky enough to have a functioning or cohesive family anymore. It's become too easy to divorce our families over all manner of slights and bad behavior and not to have the familial structure of elders to hold folks accountable. Mutual responsibility and accountability are key but not so easy to inculcate when family members are struggling to make ends meet. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that some family members shouldn't be divorced for our own mental and emotional health, and some familial bad behavior is best left in the dust along with the perpetrators.

I've also been following stories about school districts across the country and their failure to educate our children and to compensate teachers appropriately. This downhill slide in terms of maintaining a social safety net that enhances our life together has been happening throughout my lifetime, and mostly, I've been old enough to pay attention and watch its advance. The expectations of elders that children will attend school, on time and prepared, everyday, that they will do their homework and speak to teachers with respect, that they will do their very best at their "jobs," which is going to school, certainly helped my brothers, my cousins and me to go on to college and good jobs.

It's very clear to me that all of our societal ills are interconnected, that throwing money at them alone won't solve them, and that throwing people under the bus won't solve them either. The ideas of politicians, elected leaders, citizen activists, academic and think tank experts, and you and me all have merit at some level. The disagreements and the ways in which we disagree throw roadblocks into our hopes for compromise, experimentation and just rolling up our sleeves and tackling the hard work of digging out from under.

The resetting of an economic equilibrium for most of us continues to be painful. It feels unfair to almost everyone. No one, not God or anyone else, ever promised that life would be fair, and no doubt, your idea of fair is different from my idea of fair. Americans by and large are among the most privileged people in the history of civilization, even those of us who are struggling and living in poverty by American standards. There are so many concepts and ideals that we as Americans take for granted that are largely myths. "All men are created equal." "If you work hard and keep your nose clean, you will succeed." Those and other American myths don't take into account racism, classism, and a whole lot of other -isms including alcoholism, sexism, narcissism, consumerism and drug addiction.

I suppose you could say that today, I am writing just to lament, because I don't have any bright ideas about overarching solutions. I'm watching the congressional budget scenario play out with disgust and disappointment. I have some ideas, and I'm working in my little corner of the field. Prayer certainly is warranted, and so is meditation to bring peace to individual hearts and minds. Ultimately, regardless of overarching, dramatic, big proposed solutions, we are, each of us, called to nurture the flame of hope, to be kind to those with whom we come into contact, to make a difference in the lives of those we love and hold dear, to do no harm to the earth or its inhabitants, and to make some sacrifices for the younger generations who come after us. It has been ever so. We just forgot.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Let the River Flow

One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Pema Chödrön, writes about paying attention to the mundane and learning through patient indwelling with the everyday to honor it. Needless to say, I have a long ways to go before I can claim that wisdom as my own.

In many ways, when I think back to my earlier years, I can remember a time when I was much more present everyday than I have been for many years. As I reflect, I occasionally wonder if that memory is the truth or if I have romanticized who I used to be.

One major difference between then and now is that I was less busy with outside demands on my time. I went to school or I went to work, and then I came home to activities of my choosing, and I didn't have the many activities built on relationships and obligations that I have had for the last 30+ years. Being in a marriage, having children, relating to employees for whom you're responsible will do that to you. You get sucked in, absorbed, entwined.

I'm not saying that being involved with others and in their lives doesn't have its immense rewards and joys. It does. It is, in fact, a privilege to be invited in and to be allowed to share in others' walks, celebrations and dramas. It adds to the depth of experience and character that some of us take the opportunity to notice, reflect upon and build. Likewise, it can add stress and overwhelm and cause anxiety, resentment or even breakdowns. And, in either case, it takes time, a whole lot of time.

I'm in the second and final term of serving on The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado's Standing Committee, and after General Convention next July, I will enter the second triennium of my six-year term on the church's Executive Council. I'm also serving my second term as a member of Colorado's General Convention deputation. I've been thinking about my church service as a leader and thinking about topics like retirement, term limits and raising up the next generation of leaders.

It's clear to me that intentionality in everything we do is very important and that busy people who are in the midst of doing important things seemingly all the time sometimes lose sight of their intentionality. I fear that more, I think, than I fear anything else. Other words used to describe this might be losing sight of our mission or purpose, or forgetting why we got involved in the first place.

I believe that there is a call for observing self-imposed limits that many leaders in all bastions of leadership have forgotten or maybe never recognized or understood. When leaders egregiously lead poorly or vilely, their followers will take them down through complaints, protests, voting them out or overthrowing them with revolution. But most leaders are of the garden variety who are neither superstars nor villains as leaders, and most, if I may generalize, have left their humility and sense of self-limits somewhere in the past, foundering and misplaced in their early days.

My intent is to carve out more time in my weeks for quiet contemplation and Zen meditation. I know that I need to get back in touch with the mundane so that I can experience again the profound beauty and connectedness of nature and the interstices of the web that weaves the people of today and the generations before and after today together. When I stretch out my consciousness, I want to touch the stream of life that flows in every direction and take the time to follow some of those flows to places that are new to me and to grow into and as a result of experiencing those rivers of consciousness.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Unloading

I've been away from this blog for a long while, mostly because I've been immersed in the research, writing and preparation necessary to do a credible job of conducting Anti-Racism Trainings and Train the Trainer workshops for the Episcopal Dioceses of Wyoming and Northern California in June and July. The actual work "performance" only lasted two days in each place, but the participants definitely got the best that I could offer in terms of research, reflection and prayerful preparation. And my training partner and I worked with a new training colleague in Wyoming, which meant some extra time spent reading that newcomer in.

Everyone has her or his own process for getting work of this type done. My process is one of immersion, where I eat, sleep and breathe readings, videos and conversations about racism, racial justice, teaching and facilitation techniques. I've worked this way pretty much my entire life, including the thirty some years I worked in the corporate financial world. When I was putting together a new bank department or launching a new banking product, I lived a pretty workaholic existence. Thank God that my husband and my daughter were independent and resilient, because sometimes I just wasn't very present at home.

At the beginning of July, our family and household also underwent a major change. My brother, Jon, sold his long-time home in Newport Beach, California, and moved in with us - Herb, mom, me and the cat. Jon has been unemployed for four-and-a-half years, and we invited him to come live with us. It just seemed like he could use the support of family nearby, and Mom was ready to have more than just me in her everyday life. Happily, the transition has been a smooth one, with everyone adapting quite nicely to a new person in the household. We are blessed with enough space for everyone to have a room of their own, and all of our waking and resting hours, and eating and TV habits are compatible.

Jon showed up on Saturday, July 9th, in a 24-foot Penske rental truck, and he and our handyman-friend, Steel, unloaded the truck from Sunday through Tuesday. Unloading the truck sounds simple until you factor in the need to rearrange our three-car garage full of boxes that we moved in with 11 years ago and haven't unpacked to this day. Plus our cousin Cal sent furniture in the truck for his son, who's attending the University of Colorado at Boulder, to furnish his room in the house he'll be sharing with his buddies this academic year. The rental truck got returned after hours on Tuesday night, and I got to ride in it, hanging on for dear life as Jon maneuvered it around our two-lane back roads to Loveland, 30 miles north.

Jon's move-in has had the beneficial effect of forcing Herb and me (mostly me - I'm the pack rat in the family) to sort, recycle, give away and pitch countless amounts of "stuff." The biggest challenge, surprisingly, has not been being ruthless about what to give away and pitch. I've actually been able to let go of "love me" mementos and tchotchkes relatively easily, and I was long overdue to let go of clothing that no longer fits any of us. Plus, who really needs so many duplicates of staples like teeshirts and turtlenecks? We're determined not to keep paper files anymore, and I promise to resist bringing any new brochures into the house. A high speed, high volume scanner is on order.

The surprising challenge in all the sorting and pitching has been finding enough space in the recycle and trash bins to get rid of everything as quickly as we would like to. We'd rent a roll-away trash bin if we thought we'd be able to fill it quickly enough, but we're slow and deliberate in the sorting and pitching. We've also been interrupted by good things like the stray consulting assignment - to read and evaluate a set of technical documents here and there - that have taken our attention for a day or two at a time. I can't begin to describe how light and good it feels to unload all the little albatrosses that have bogged us down for so many years. It's clear to us that our children aren't going to want most of the stuff we've hung on to.

So, we are going to continue cleaning and clearing away clutter and accumulated stuff for the rest of our summer vacation and no doubt will count it among the best of all summers we've experienced. What about you?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Parable of the Mustard Seed and Racial Justice

This is a sermon that I preached at Trinity Cathedral on Sunday, July 24, 2011, following two days of conducting Anti-Racism Training and Train the Trainers hosted by the Diocese of Northern California's Commission on Intercultural Ministries. You may also watch a podcast of the sermon at

* * * * * * * * * * 

            The words of the Gospel passages of this week and the last two weeks resound in my heart and mind. As Jesus said repeatedly in Matthew 13 when he sat in a boat and told parables to the crowd standing on the beach, “let anyone with ears listen!”

         Me Ke Aloha Pumehana. Aloha Kakou. Mahalo E Ke Akua No Keia La. Amen’e ~ I greet you with the warmth of my love. May there be love between us. Thanks be to God for this day. Amen.

         We are fortunate, indeed, to be seated in this beautiful cathedral on this warm California summer day, basking in the delight of fellowship and shared worship.

         I come from the Diocese of Colorado where I serve on the Standing Committee. I also serve as the Province VI Lay Representative to Executive Council where I am the team leader for the ongoing Racial Justice formation work Council is doing among its own members. I also serve as an Anti-Racism Trainer in The Episcopal Church.

         I have been richly blessed and truly humbled to have spent the past two days here at Trinity Cathedral conducting an Anti-Racism Training for almost 70 of the leaders from four California dioceses hosted by your Diocese of Northern California as well a Train the Trainers workshop for 8 of the members of your Commission for Intercultural Ministry.

         I applaud Trinity Cathedral and the Diocese of Northern California for your exemplary commitment to hospitality, invitation and welcome, and the work you have seriously undertaken of dismantling racism wherever you encounter it, and your encouragement and advocacy of anti-racism training for your lay and clergy leaders as well as your generous sharing of that work with three of your neighboring dioceses – California, El Camino Real and San Joaquin. Your leadership is to be commended.

         I am passionate about doing the work of deconstructing racism, breaking racism down through analysis, reflection and conversation, in order that we, the church and its members, can more fully live into what it means to be members of the Body of Christ together, and equal, mutually respected and mutually accountable Beloved Children of God. Anti-Racism Training is very much about the work of equipping the Beloved Community to do Gospel work, work that we covenant to do when we are baptized into Christ’s holy Body, work that we reaffirm doing when we recovenant each time we worship in an Easter, Confirmation or Baptism service.

         Today and on the two Sundays prior to today, we have heard much of Chapter 13 in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells many parables about sowers and seeds, and the kingdom of heaven and what it is like.

         The parables of sowers and seeds are a lot like the work of racial justice and reconciliation. In biblical days, one had to sow, to scatter seed and tend its growth, in order to eat. Today, we go to the supermarket to buy what we eat, and most of us are greatly distanced from the work of obtaining our food from the actual fields where it is grown and harvested. It might be the case for you, as Californians, living in a state where much of the produce of the U.S. is grown, that you are somewhat less distanced from the sources of your food than the rest of us.

         Regrettably, we church members are also largely distanced from paying attention to and doing the work to interrupt racial injustice – that’s what the word “anti-racism” means: to interrupt racism - wherever we encounter it, and showing our love for our neighbors whose skin color is different than our own in the way that Jesus commanded us to do, when he gave us his new commandment in John 13:34-35: “Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” This is a higher calling to discipleship and accountability than that given in the summary of the law which we hear every Sunday in Rite I of the Holy Eucharist, “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

         The reason that I am passionate about conducting Anti-Racism Trainings and empowering laity and clergy to interrupt and dismantle racism (and all the other “isms” such as sexism, ageism, ableism, heterosexism, nationalism, etc.) is because I believe that Jesus has called each of us personally through our baptisms to be his disciples and to be mutually accountable to one another as members of his Body. Among the five Marks of Mission recognized by the churches in the fellowship of the Anglican Communion is the one that says, “To seek to transform unjust structures of society.”

         Unjust structures of society include all the instances of institutional racism found in these United States where predatory lending in lower economic neighborhoods has caused losses of homes, scattering of families and loss of hope; where racial profiling has subjected people of color, especially Blacks and Hispanics, to excessive surveillance and unequal protection of the law; and where White flight to the suburbs, tax base erosion and standardized testing have contributed to educational backwaters in inner cities and poor neighborhoods.

         Perhaps you have heard of Michelle Alexander and her book, The New Jim Crow, published earlier this year. In it, she lays out the story of “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”:

·      Where there are more African Americans under correctional control today – in prison or in jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began;
·      Where the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid; and
·      Where, in Washington, D.C., three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.

         The Episcopal Church has been paying attention to racism and the work that is needed, that is fundamental to our faith as followers of Jesus, to become educated about racism and its cost to people of color and indigenous people as well as to Whites, to become conversant with how to interrupt racism whenever and wherever we encounter it, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

         The House of Bishops, in Pastoral Letters of March, 1994, and March 2006, and a recent September, 2010, Pastoral Letter and Theology Resource on Migration and Immigration, has said that:

·      Racism wounds the Body of Christ;
·      We must name the sin of racism and repent; and
·      We are grounded in our Baptismal Covenant

         Since 1991, General Convention, the governing body of The Episcopal Church, which will gather again in 2012 in its triennial meeting in Indianapolis, has recognized the need for the church to address Institutional Racism, and since 2000, General Convention has required Anti-Racism Training for Lay and Ordained Leaders. That was a large part of the impetus for your Commission for Intercultural Ministry to host the Anti-Racism Training yesterday.

         You may be interested to know that among General Convention’s resolutions are those asking the church through its dioceses to research, own and repent its complicity in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, to extend its focus on racism to all ethnicities and nations of origin, and to study and report on Holy Orders recruitment and deployment of persons of color.

         The parable of the mustard seed is often explained as the story of how something very tiny can grow up into something large and significant and good – a tree that becomes home to birds of the air. The importance of the parable is often described along the lines of “the little engine that could” or what Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Associate Professor of Religion at Hastings College in Nebraska, calls “a kind of "camp song theology" – as in, "it only takes a spark to get a fire going."

         Listen carefully to the passage of the parable again: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

         The mustard herb is a plant that doesn’t require a lot of cultivation. It grows much like a weed does, taking hold and spreading wherever its seed is spread. That a Hebrew farmer in the days when Jesus walked and taught among the people would do something like purposely sowing a seed that would quickly overtake his other crops in the way that a weed can overtake a garden is significant. What does it mean? Is Jesus suggesting that planting weeds is like the kingdom of heaven? And how is sowing the mustard seed like the work of racial justice, the work of being an anti-racist, one who interrupts racism?

         I think that there actually is a great likeness between that tiny mustard seed and those of us who decide to respond to the call of doing the work of interrupting racism. We begin as small in number. We are tiny in comparison to the racial injustice and systemic, institutional racism that pervades our organizations, including, yes, even The Episcopal Church.

         And yet, if we approach one another as members of the Beloved Community seeking to converse with other members of the Beloved Community . . . if the holy in me seeks to greet and meet and engage in dialogue the holy in you . . . "How would conversation be different when it starts with belovedness?"

         One of the important things that we learn in Anti-Racism Training, which is actually a small thing that has huge consequences, is that we must converse with one another, even when the conversations are about hard subjects like racism, asking the image of the beloved in each other, "what can this image of God teach you?" and “what can the image of God in you teach me?” We begin by listening, seeking to see the image of God in the other. That begins as a very small thing, and yet, like the mustard seed, has the potential to grow into a tree that is large enough to shelter the birds of the air.

         As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has often pointed out, "You need to listen with the expectation that you will learn something." My prayer for you and your diocese is that your work in conducting Anti-Racism Training and raising awareness of the structures of racism and how to dismantle institutional racism will grow mightily, that from the small seed of beginning to do the work of interrupting racism, your work will grow into the large tree of friendship, community and love for your neighbors that is like the kingdom of heaven right here in Northern California.