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

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            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.