Thursday, June 21, 2012

Advice to the Nominees for President and Vice President of the House of Deputies: Getting Out of the Way and Changing Demographics

I’ve been thinking about this post and its contents pretty much constantly since I last posted Wish List for Next President of the House of Deputies on May 27th. I care very much that The Episcopal Church that I love and serve makes choices that open the cooperative and collaborative space for wider, deeper participation in its mission, ministry, and governance. 

In the past triennium, as a lay member of Executive Council, Provincial Council in Province VI, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Colorado, and the Executive Committee of the Front Range Region (Deanery), and as the ecumenical partner from Executive Council to the ELCA Church Council, I’ve had a broad and vertical experience of the church. I've observed, learned a few things, and reflected.

Arthur Fletcher, a history maker
So, I will presume to give some unsolicited advice to the declared and undeclared nominees for our two highest elected offices in the House of Deputies, because I think I have some things to say that need to be said and heard, and that I suspect others are thinking but haven’t yet articulated.

In speaking out, I’m honoring the memory of Arthur Fletcher, U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner in the 1990’s and often referred to as the “Father of Affirmative Action,” whom I heard in a speech, and I paraphrase, “I’m 67 years old, and if I don’t speak my mind now, what am I waiting for?” I admit to adopting Fletcher’s reasoning for speaking out for a number of years now, and when I reach 67 in four more years, I hope still to be speaking out.

The election of both a President and a Vice President for the House of Deputies at the same General Convention is a big deal in and of itself. This convention is our trial balloon at doing in eight legislative days what we used to do in ten. It is an even bigger deal, because this election comes within the context of a reformation of Christian churches and this church’s leaders’ varied and often oppositional responses to how we organize ourselves to live into an unfamiliar future.

Let me say right away that I think the cooperative and collaborative capacities and abilities of our top leaders are what’s important. I care that our leaders are open to hearing the myriad voices that articulate visions for the church, are open to considering those visions and their possibilities, and will prayerfully discern in wide conversation and consultation with other leaders how to articulate a broad vision for the church. 

Conversation and consultation across all orders of the church are necessary and the right thing to do. Hiding behind allegiances to orders and houses, position descriptions, and protocol can't be good enough, when members want to be knowledgeable and participate with their hearts and souls. I believe that leaders are called to lift up a community space that affirms members' participation through communication, education, and invitation to the dance.

I trust the Holy Spirit to lead us in the right direction, even if we don’t quite see it at the moment. I want us to trust each other enough to believe that each of us cherishes our ecclesia, even though we might disagree, sometimes even vehemently, though, I hope, graciously, about how we are ecclesia together.

I’m also much less interested in the specific vision that a particular leader brings to the table, because I’m hoping that our leaders will celebrate the holy work they are being called to do more than they celebrate who is leading and facilitating the work, including themselves. I might add here that I also hope that our leaders will listen to a wide range of political and organizational viewpoints when they choose formal and informal councils of advice. 

Listening to people who agree with me is easy. It’s much harder, more intentional work to seek out and sincerely listen to people who disagree with me, and sometimes, it doesn’t feel good. I want leaders who are theologically grounded and can articulate the theology undergirding their thinking. And I also want leaders who haven't made up their minds about how things will be done, before they've taken office, before they've been introduced to the lay of the land from more than just the perspective they are accustomed to or favor. 

In the midst of much conversation and consternation about structure for mission and governance of The Episcopal Church, we must acknowledge some facts about the world in which we are the church. The future is unfamiliar not merely because it is calling the church to a new vision that is yet unknown. We’ve faced new visions before and mastered them. The future is unfamiliar, because it is calling the church to embrace a new identity, and many in the church don’t want to become someone that they don’t recognize in the mirror.

I recently attended an evening event featuring Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Morris Dees, founder and chief trial attorney. When Cohen talked about the SPLC’s lawsuits through the years, I was struck by how many times he cited “changing demographics” to explain the growing need for the SPLC’s educational and legal work due to increasing numbers of hate organizations.

The emergent church movement, the millennial generation, Post-Christianity – all of these can be summed up and explained as changing demographics. The collective “we” isn’t who we used to be, despite power politics to the contrary. It simply isn’t possible to silence or sequester the people and the ideas that infuse the changing demographics in order to stop the change from occurring.

Being called to embrace a new identity is particularly problematic for many in the church when we have not done a good enough job of grounding our members in our core baptismal identity. If we truly embraced our baptismal identity of all of us being Beloved Children of God and Members of the Body of Christ, it would be easy, natural, and logical to embrace a new churchwide identity that results from changing demographics. Our core baptismal identity levels every playing field, if we only just believe and follow Jesus. 

The old order would become the new order, because the new community is rising up from the margins of the United States of America where our church headquarters is located and rising up off our shores where our fastest growing congregations and dioceses are located. There are vitality, desire, and promise in the new community of ethnic and people of color cohorts. Those in the center of the sacred circle of God’s church, those who are in positions to lead change with access to people and resources, must actively, intentionally, engage and build the relationships that invite the changing demographics to change our ecclesia. 

We are being called to a new identity, not just a different structure. Will those we elect in this General Convention reflect that new identity?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What We Do Matters

It can be astonishing when we have occasion to learn of how we might have impacted someone else's life. This was the case for former radio DJ, Dave Lee Travis, who met Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time yesterday at BBC Broadcasting House in London. [See news story and photographs here.] Suu Kyi’s story gives us a chance to see these distant impacts that our actions make on another human being.

Former DJ Dave Lee Travis greeting Aung San Suu Kyi at the BBC
When Suu Kyi met Travis, also known by his nickname, “Hairy Cornflake,” she commented on how listening to Travis' music request radio program "A Jolly Good Show" from 1989 to 1995 made her world more complete during her years of house arrest. She said that listening to Travis' program connected her to the world outside of Burma and gave her solace, even though she was prevented from communicating with those on the outside. Travis responded by saying, “I am just glad to have been a part of the things that you listened to that helped you.” [Another story of their meeting is here.]

Suu Kyi has been on a European tour since May, when she finally had enough confidence that the government of Burma would allow her to return home if she left the country. The 2012 by-elections changed the political landscape of Burma. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton remarked following those by-elections on April 4:

"The results of the April 1st parliamentary by-elections represent a dramatic demonstration of popular will that brings a new generation of reformers into government. This is an important step in the country’s transformation, which in recent months has seen the unprecedented release of political prisoners, new legislation broadening the rights of political and civic association, and fledgling process in internal dialogue between the government and ethnic minority groups.

“The Lady,” as Suu Kyi is known, made stops to pick up awards that were made while she was under house arrest in Burma for a total of fifteen years, off and on from 1989 to 2010. During her years of house arrest and the periods spent afraid to leave Burma’s borders, Suu Kyi remained resolute in her commitment to the cause of democracy for the people of Burma. Those years of sacrifice meant separation from her two sons and not being at her husband’s side when he died of prostate cancer in 1999 on his birthday at age 53.

Aung San Suu Kyi giving her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize
On Sunday, she finally accepted her 1991 Nobel peace prize in Oslo, commenting, Often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. What the Nobel peace prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me.” It was important that people outside of Burma, and especially people at the level of public attention and respect like the Nobel prize committee, noticed and acknowledged Suu Kyi’s leadership on behalf of her people.

Today, she received an honorary doctorate in civil law that was awarded in 1993 from her alma mater, Oxford University. In her acceptance speech, she said, "During the most difficult years, I was upheld by memories of Oxford: those were among the most important inner resources that helped me to cope with the all the challenges I had to face."

Suu Kyi after receiving her honorary doctorate at Oxford
As I was reading about Suu Kyi during the past week, I have pondered the comfort that The Lady found in listening to a radio program from the other side of the globe and a former life from which she had been exiled. I have also reflected upon what it is that comforts the legions of incarcerated men and women - and teens - in our country, who do not have the resoluteness of their political convictions to guide and undergird them.

As I have imagined Suu Kyi’s days at Oxford, first as an undergraduate student, and later, after having earned her PhD at the University of London, as a wife and mother, and as I reflected on how she talked about those happy memories, I have wondered what happy memories that might be as vivid as days at Oxford sustain our incarcerated, or those living alone. 

I don't have any brilliant ideas here. I only know that the little things that we do matter and that doing what we're called to do in service to others, matters. I know that small acts of kindness sometimes make the difference between an easy day or a hard day for someone. I know that sticking up for someone who's being bullied by rules, tradition, and other people matters. I know that doing something, whether it's opening a door, or offering a glass of water, or preparing a space at the table, with a cheerful disposition, matters. Being mindful of lovingkindness matters.

On occasion, Herb and I have been pleased and humbled to receive messages from people in our past that have been affirmations of things we've done that have made a difference in their lives. They've typically been little things that we've done in the course of a work day or other interaction that we no longer recall, and yet, those little things were memorable for someone else. What we do matters, and we need to remember that in order to be more intentional about investing ourselves into what we do.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mending Our Brokenness

When I first heard of kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery by filling the cracks with amalgam mixed with powdered gold, I was awestruck. Kintsugi is translated as “golden joinery,” but means so much more than those two descriptive words. As an art form, kintsugi points to valuing the history of something that has been broken and is made whole again in a new identity. The new, reformed whole contains both the remembrance of that which was before and also what is now – something that had been broken into pieces and is now reformed, containing the additional joining amalgam that is noticeable and traceable.

Viewing kintsugi pottery brought to mind how quickly Western culture discards the broken – broken objects, broken people, and broken relationships. We fail to see what the broken might look like if we put the resources into mending the broken. Our trash bins and landfills are filled with objects which might have been mended, but weren’t, because it wasn’t “worth the money or time” to do the mending. As a society, we find it easier and cheaper to warehouse broken people in facilities and prisons than help rehabilitate them. We have family members whom we’ve left behind, because the broken relationships required more effort and pain than we were willing to take on.

Applying gold amalgam by brush
I am reminded of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In this story, the father said, “. . . this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” What joy he had to celebrate the restoration of a relationship that he thought was lost forever. Here was a relationship that had been broken intentionally by the son, who had asked for all his inheritance, only to leave his father to go to a distant country, to live dissolutely, squandering all he had been given. Yes, there was poor judgment, willfulness, and selfishness on the part of the son.

And when the son fell upon very hard times, he hired himself out as a servant in the pig pen. When he came to himself, awakening one day and realizing that he could humble himself before his father, he did so. The son confessed that he had sinned against heaven and his father, and begged for mercy. The father responded by calling for the best robe in the house to be brought and a ring to be placed on the son’s finger. He was overcome with joy that what was lost was found again.

The broken relationship was mended by the father’s love and forgiveness. The beauty of the mended relationship was highlighted by placing the best robe and a ring upon the newly returned son. When the elder son rebuked the father for his acts of love and forgiveness for the prodigal son, the father said, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. . .” – echoing the philosophy that the Japanese art of kintsugi embodies.

Gold veins on once broken cup
Mending is about restoration, and restored relationships are something to be celebrated. If we do mending intentionally and well, it should be about putting the very best that we have into the act of restoration, giving more than just the bare minimum, giving the very best from all that belongs to us, from all that God has given us. Because the restored relationships are worth having and worth celebrating.

Kintsugi made me wonder what The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion would be like if we chose to use precious gold to mend our broken relationships. What if we poured our limited resources of time and money into being more present with one another, striving to be in person-to-person conversation, visiting the places where we make our homes and where we worship, living into the painstaking steps that build and sustain relationships? How would our relationships in Executive Council and General Convention be different? How would our relationships with our ecumenical, interreligious, and communion partners be different? 

Because ultimately, God calls us all to wholeness. Mending is about choosing wholeness and choosing life. Having his prodigal son restored to him and his family made the father and the family whole again. Not having a relationship with his son, not knowing where he was, or even if he was alive, meant that the son was as good as dead to the father and the family. As Easter people who celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and triumph over death upon the cross, it should matter to us that we choose life over death. As a church that has a mission, it should matter to us that we choose restoration of relationships over separation and loss. How much are we willing to give of ourselves to mend our relationships?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Stopped in Our Tracks

[I was pleased to be invited to preach at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minnesota, this morning. The scripture for today was 1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; and Mark 3:20-35.]

            Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to be with you this morning. I was so pleased to spend yesterday here at Trinity conducting an Anti-Racism Training for the youth and adult leaders who will be going on mission trips to the White Earth Reservation this summer. There were about 40 participants from several area churches, who spent five hours together sharing and reflecting upon their own cultural stories - we all have them - and listening to each other, beginning to build relationships and learning how to engage conversations with people who are different from ourselves in an open-hearted, respectful manner.

            We watched videos that recited some of the history of racism and discussed subjects such as how to have the “what you said is racist” conversation instead of the “you might be a racist” conversation. We practiced listening and speaking in an intentional way, which sounds easy, until you try to do it in a patient, attentive manner. We focused on values such as cooperation, collaboration, and communication, which are all aspects of what we, as the Body of Christ, the church, are called to do in the name of mission. Mission is defined in the Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer as our call to reconcile ourselves to God and to each other in God through Jesus Christ. Relationship - that is our call, relationship with God and relationship with each other through our personal relationship with Jesus.

            So, I want to congratulate all of you here at Trinity for your loving, warm, and ongoing engagement in mission with the people of the White Earth Reservation. It is important work; it matters; and you are making a difference by building relationships. I give thanks for the leadership of your rector, Devon Anderson, and of your curate, Gretchen Roeck, and for their exceptional hospitality, which is an important spiritual gift and part of who we are as the heirs of Father Abraham of the Old Testament.

            I also have the privilege of serving the church as a member of Executive Council, and will complete my term in 2015, as the lay representative from Province VI. Additionally, I am a Lay Deputy from the Diocese of Colorado to General Convention and am serving as Vice Chair of the Legislative Committee on Ecumenical Relations. In this past triennium, I have been blessed to serve as the Ecumenical Partner from Executive Council to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Church Council and to observe first-hand how our full communion partner conducts its business and how it faces the changing religious, economic, and demographic landscape – a landscape that challenges all our churches to reaffirm our core baptismal identity and to seek to be a light and a balm to God’s people. I know that you, as residents of Minnesota, have a firsthand knowledge of our Lutheran sisters and brothers. I do, too, as someone who was baptized and confirmed in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan. I came to the Episcopal Church 17 years ago.
            Let us turn now to today’s Gospel and look at how it speaks to us.

            In preparation for writing this sermon, I read quite a bit about the Gospel of Mark and especially some of the writing found in the book, Binding the Strong Man, by Ched Myers. “Binding the Strong Man” refers to the passage in Mark 3:27, which says, “But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

            I had the opportunity to hear Ched Myers speak in 2005 at a TENS conference when I was working as the program administrator for the Colorado Episcopal Foundation. TENS is the Episcopal Network for Stewardship, and I was at the conference to learn about different views of stewardship and how to teach about stewardship in the church. Ched Myers was there as the founder of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries to talk about his life’s work on what he calls Sabbath Economics, a phrase that Myers and Bartimaeus use to describe the theological concept of “enough for all.” Myers comes from a theological perspective, which our own Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori shares, that says that scripture, especially the Gospel of Mark, teaches us that God has a preferential option for the poor.

            Certainly, we all know the numerous Gospel stories of Jesus and his personal interactions with people who were poor economically or poor of spirit, who were at the bottom of the social strata in biblical times and places. These poor people really needed and wanted contact with the Christ in order to have a connection with Jesus’ message of hope and God’s promise of a better life and to gain a sense of who they were and how they fit into a reign of God that was immediate, in the here and now. Last week’s Gospel lesson of the rabbi Nicodemus was an example of how much the people of Jesus’ time wanted to connect with this messiah who was doing and teaching things that were turning the social order upside down. Nicodemus stole out in the middle of the night to find Jesus so that they could have a conversation, so that he could hear what Jesus had to say from Jesus himself.

            We Episcopalians often hear about Sabbath Economics in words that talk about a theology of abundance and how God’s grace and God’s provision for us, his beloved children, is open-handed and unending, flowing from God who loves us unconditionally, and that God’s grace is unearned, unmerited by us. We talk about this abundance of God’s when we talk about our own call to stewardship of all that God has given to us, everything from our families to our jobs to the things that we own, the experiences that we have, our educations, and more. One of the ways that we talk about Sabbath Economics is we say that “Stewardship is everything I am and everything I have, after I say, ‘I believe.’”

            Seven years later, Ched Myers’ teachings at the TENS conference and in his book, Binding the Strong Man, resonate strongly for me, as I have engaged Anti-Racism Training in The Episcopal Church and other religious and nonprofit organizations. I am deeply drawn to the issues of the people at the margins of our society, the people of color, and the people who are poor, lost, lonely, and abject in spirit. In today’s Gospel, there is a call to action, if we listen carefully enough to discern that call in the dense language of Mark.

            Listen to a portion of the Gospel passage again, only this time, in the words of Pastor Eugene Peterson in The Message Bible:  “Do you think it's possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man, and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out.

            Ched Myers’ reading of this passage in Mark is that it is written in symbolic language, and when taken as part of the whole of the Gospel of Mark, this passage reinforces the idea that Jesus was a counter-cultural kind of a guy. Jesus lived his life in direct contrast to accepted norms. Jesus’ opposition to the social order was nonviolent; his was an active resistance to the dominant order and the dominating powers. He chose his disciples and closest companions from unlikely people from the lower classes of Jewish society, fishermen and tanners. He shared meals with Jewish society’s undesirables and talked to beggars, lepers, and women of questionable reputations. Jesus came to make a new society, which was a repudiation of the norms that had the high society, the Pharisees and Sadducees, lording it over the poor and marginalizing them.

            In this passage of Mark’s Gospel, from Myers’ perspective, it is Jesus who “binds the strong man,” trashing his house of social, economic, and religious oppression, and cleaning him out of all that he possesses. The image that I have of Jesus binding the strong man is sort of like when the comic book superhero, Superman, blows with his mighty lungs, and his mere breath stops the bad guys in their tracks. They can’t advance against Superman, because his mere breath holds the bad guys in thrall. The image of Jesus’ binding the strong man is about how Jesus’ human death on the cross is such an overwhelmingly powerful witness of love and sacrifice for us, his beloveds, that we are stopped in our tracks when we finally get the message and meaning of Jesus’ death for our redemption. When we finally get Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross, we are stopped in our tracks. Our concepts of who we are, what’s important in our lives, of our worlds, get totally turned topsy turvy, and we are bound in the amazement and overwhelm of what has been given to us by God’s sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus.

            The Message Bible continues: “‘Listen to this carefully. I'm warning you. There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God's Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.’” Jesus warns his listeners to pay attention and not to speak or act against God’s Holy Spirit. It is our willfulness, our persistence in our sinfulness, that will sink us, because we risk being cut off from God who forgives all when we perversely, stupidly, willfully, choose separation over connection, doing our own thing over building and strengthening our relationship with God.
            The Message Bible goes on to say in today’s Gospel:  “Jesus responded, ‘Who do you think are my mother and brothers?’ Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, ‘Right here, right in front of you - my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God's will is my brother and sister and mother.’” Jesus is upholding the new order that he came to establish, a new family that is his Body born of his suffering and death upon the cross to redeem us from our sins to be his own Beloveds. He is saying that those who choose to obey God, to answer God’s call to be in relationship with God and to accept God’s goodness and grace, are his true family, his true brothers and sisters, his relatives.

            The call to action in this passage of today’s Gospel is this:  Come, my beloveds, and choose a relationship with God and a relationship with each other in God through me, and you will be my relations, my brothers and sisters and my family. Over and over again in the Gospels, Jesus says, “Come.” “Come and see.” “Follow me.” Jesus’ call to us is so simple: “Come.” “Come and see.” “Follow me.” And what we have to do, is equally simple. We are called to respond to Jesus’ call by saying, “Here am I, send me.

            Ched Myers in Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries emphasizes what he calls Theological Animation. Basically, Theological Animation says that studying, thinking about, and meditating on theology, on our relationship with God, is not sufficient. We are called to put that relationship with God into action through our relationships with God’s people, with our sisters and brothers in Christ.

            The concept of Theological Animation is supported within our own Episcopal tradition. Bishop Stacy Sauls, The Episcopal Church’s Chief Operating Officer and former diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky, says that “The fundamental missionary activity is remembering in the sense of anamnesis—not reminiscing and not telling, but acting, making present, being the hands and feet and vision and compassion of Christ in the world.”
            Mark’s Gospel this morning tells us that Jesus has come to turn the old order upside down and to establish a new order, and we, each and every one of us, baptized into Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of death upon the cross, is called to play our part in that new order, to be the hands and feet of Christ to bring health and healing to a hurting world. My sisters and my brothers, after we have said the Prayers of the People for the people, and after we have shared table fellowship in the Holy Communion, after the words of dismissal at the end of this service, let us, indeed, with gladness in our hearts, go into the world to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Our Call to Leadership

The Episcopal Church's Vestry Papers for June is out! 

The online version titled "Vital Practices" has a link to an article that I contributed, entitled "Our Call to Leadership" (@, written from my perspective as a Person of Color. Este artículo también está disponible en Español - "Nuestra Llamada al Liderazgo" (@

I begin the article with "I believe that People of Color have a special call to leadership in the church today in the United States. Although People of Color, particularly Latinos/Hispanics, are the fastest growing segment of the overall U.S. population, we are vastly under-represented in the pews of the Episcopal churches located within the U.S. and even more so in the ascending leadership ranks, especially at the diocesan, provincial, and church wide levels."

And I go on to say, "Ultimately, the responsibility to know one's own biases or lenses, including acknowledgement that such biases and lenses exist, is of paramount importance and falls upon the shoulders of the dominant culture. The almost constant burden to "translate" our (People of Color's) cultural differences into forms that are readily understood by the dominant culture is what causes the eye rolling you might sometimes catch us doing. It is a tremendous burden always to be the teachers, especially when we often perceive a willfulness not even to try to learn.
"My observation for my brothers and sisters of color is that our unique call as Persons of Color is to keep on showing up and doing the translating in the same way that the unique call of Christians is to keep on showing up and doing the translating of the values of following the Christ versus following money and power."
Read the article in full 
in English at 
or en Español at

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nicodemus and Conversation

I preached at St. Mark's on-the-Mesa Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM, this morning. The readings at today's Eucharist were Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; and John 3:1-17.

            In the name of God the Creator, who makes everything and says it is very good; in the name of God the Reconciler, who redeems us from our broken relationships and brings us back into God’s fold; and in the name of the Sanctifier, who calls us into relationship with God and each other and anoints us with the Holy Fever of faith, peace and love; may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts always be acceptable to our Triune God, now and forever; Amen.

            Good morning. Thank you for the invitation to be with you this Trinity Sunday. My training partner, Pamela Kandt from Casper, Wyoming, and I spent Friday and Saturday at the Cathedral Church of St. John, with some people from both the Diocese of the Rio Grande as well as from the Navajoland Area Mission, in Anti-Racism and Train the Trainer workshops. We were also very pleased to spend time with a few of your congregation’s members in the workshops.

            Anti-Racism Training is one of my main ministries in The Episcopal Church. I am humbled to be invited to many dioceses to conduct these trainings and to support participants in learning how to recognize the sin of racism and its intersections with other forms of oppression such as classism, sexism, ageism, homophobism, ableism, and other isms, and to teach on how we can each do our part to dismantle racism and racist institutions, including racism within the Christian church.

            I also have the privilege of serving the church as a member of Executive Council, and will complete my term in 2015, as the lay representative from Province VI. Additionally, I am a Lay Deputy from the Diocese of Colorado to General Convention and am serving as Vice Chair of the Legislative Committee on Ecumenical Relations. In this past triennium, I have been blessed to serve as the Ecumenical Partner from Executive Council to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Church Council and to observe first-hand how our full communion partner conducts its business and how it faces the changing religious, economic, and demographic landscape – a landscape that challenges all our churches to reaffirm our core identities and to seek to be a light and a balm to God’s people.


            Let us turn now to today’s Gospel.

            I wanted to see what other people picture, what they imagine, when they hear the story of Nicodemus. So, I went to the Internet and looked up images of Nicodemus. I was curious about how artists over the centuries have depicted Nicodemus and his meeting with Jesus.

            Here is a man, a learned rabbi, a leader in Israel, who steals from his home, late at night, under the stars and perhaps under a full moon, to find this other great teacher, the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, of whom there has been great buzz. “He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God . . . .’”  In The Message Bible, writer and pastor Eugene Peterson says, “Late one night [Nicodemus] visited Jesus and said, ‘Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God . . . .’

            The images I found on the Internet showed Nicodemus and Jesus talking to one another, in deep conversation. In some of the images they were gazing into one another’s eyes, intense attentiveness showing on their faces. In other pictures Jesus’ hands were shown in gestures of explanation or emphasis, making a point. Other times, Nicodemus was painted, obviously deep in thought, his hands steepled under his beard, or a hand held over his heart, or his hands in a prayerful clasp in front of him. There were some images that showed Nicodemus leaning forward, reaching out to Jesus, as if inquiring some further explanation from Jesus. There were also images that showed Jesus touching Nicodemus on his shoulder or arm. These two rabbis were having a moment. They were connected in conversation.

            I do not mean to diminish the importance of the content of the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. What was asked and answered between the two men was important. That’s why the Gospel of John has captured the content of that conversation about being “born from above,” “being born from water and Spirit,” the Son of Man being lifted up, and the words that every child learns from John 3:16, “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.

            However, I want to focus for the moment on the conversation itself, on the fact that Nicodemus and Jesus were talking to each other, and the importance of them having a conversation, rather than solely on the conversation’s content captured in the Gospel of John.

            So often, in contexts where there is disagreement between people about content, or where there is confusion and misunderstanding about content, that’s as far as things go. No one reaches out to ask for a conversation, to speak directly to the one or ones who might be able to shed light on the subject. No one digs deeper, going to the source, to learn not only what was really said, but to learn what was really meant in the discussions about the subject matter. This is the part of the story of Nicodemus that I find compelling – the fact that Nicodemus had such a deep, abiding, fire-in-his-belly passion to find out the truth from Jesus himself, that he sought Jesus out in the middle of the night to have a conversation.

            Among the things Nicodemus had figured out from what he had heard about Jesus is that “no one can do these signs that you [Jesus] do apart from the presence of God. [NRSV]” The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson says it this way: “No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.

            And Jesus replies, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. [NRSV]” He says in The Message version: “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to – to God’s kingdom.” At this point, poor Nicodemus goes all literal on Jesus. He asks Jesus, rather indignantly, “How can anyone be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk? [The Message]” And Jesus, perhaps a little bit exasperated with Nicodemus, answers, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. [The Message]”

            How many of us as parents have said that? “You’re not listening. Let me say it again.” How many of us have said that to our good friends, as we’ve talked about serious topics? “You’re not listening. Let me say it again.” These testy words are evidence of a real, honest to goodness, engaged conversation, with give and take, questions asked and questions answered, evidence of connection with another person.

            Now, let me ask a question that I once heard Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori ask in a large town hall meeting in the Diocese of Forth Worth. She asked, "How is conversation different when it starts with belovedness?" She had just told the story of Jesus’ baptism by the shores of the River Jordan. The Gospel of Matthew says, “. . . when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ [NRSV] Jesus is beloved of God the Creator, and we are beloved of Jesus the Redeemer. The Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove when Jesus stepped from the baptismal waters of the Jordan, just as we each received the Spirit in our own baptisms with water and the words of the Trinity, being baptized “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

            Surely, Jesus, when found by Nicodemus in the middle of the night for a little chit-chat, saw Nicodemus as a beloved child of God. Jesus stopped whatever he might have been doing and sat down to have a conversation with this beloved, Nicodemus. Jesus thought it was important to respond to Nicodemus’ seeker’s questions, to the extent of even finding, at some point in the conversation, the need to chide the rabbi that he wasn’t listening and that he was going to say it again to Nicodemus.

            Having just come out of two days of Anti-Racism Training in which we talked about interrupting racism and dismantling institutional racism, I am reminded again of the over-arching importance of having deep conversations with people who are different from us. In our trainings, we look at the sin of racism, focusing in on building a common vocabulary with which to have these conversations, and delving into examining the elements of prejudice, privilege, and power. 

            Talking about prejudice, privilege, and power is hard work. The topics are tough topics. It’s not easy to talk honestly and openly about how we are prejudiced against each other, judging before we get to know each other, and how we use privilege to get our way and power to get the upper hand – how we don’t love each other in the way that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

            The conversations challenge us to look deeply into ourselves, each other, and our society. And as we begin to talk with one another, we begin to expose some of the brokenness and hard-heartedness inside ourselves. As our conversations deepen, becoming more intimate and more confessional throughout the day of training, we find our hearts and our minds, our very souls, broken open, becoming vulnerable to each other, becoming vulnerable for the Holy Spirit to enter us once again, so that we are born from above, born again, and made new.

            Early in each training we spend time doing two things:  the first is focusing on our baptismal identity, getting in touch with our core identities as Beloved Children of God and Members of the Body of Christ. The second thing we do is sharing some personal storytelling with each other. The goal of the storytelling is to build relationships, because we know from our Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, that it is through relationships that we become reconciled with God and with each other in God through Jesus. We suggest some simple reflection questions that anyone can ask in conversations with other people. Questions like “Who are your people?” and “What did important people in your life, people in positions of respect and authority, tell you about people who are different from you?”

            The point that Presiding Bishop Katharine made in the town hall meeting was simple:  We must converse with one another, even when it's hard, asking the image of the beloved in the other person, "what can this image of God teach us?" We begin by listening, seeking to see the image of God in the other.

            Bishop Katherine further pointed out, "You need to listen with the expectation you will learn something." Think about that:  expect to learn something when you engage in conversation and listen to your conversation partner sharing his or her story. Bishop Katherine continued by linking that listening to evangelism, which begins with hearing someone else's story, and only then, after listening, sharing your own story of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ in your life.

            Bishop Katherine made the point that we need the diversity of all of us, from cultural differences to differences in theological perspectives, because none of us has the whole truth. We need all the diversity in order to reflect the image of God . . . even when it's hard.

            In Anti-Racism Training, just like in the conversation that Nicodemus had with Jesus, we seek to talk openly, honestly, and deeply about the important issues in our lives together as the Beloved Children of God. Depending on who we are, the topics of conversation will vary; they will be different. That’s okay, because ultimately, it’s not the topics in and of themselves that are most important. It’s having the conversations that is most important. What’s important is building relationships based on telling our stories and getting to know one another. What’s important is making the connections, building the bridges that help us to see each other as beloved of God and as worth our time and effort to get to know and connect with.

            In Anti-Racism Training, we do a lot of repetition, sharing the same message in different ways so that the core message of Cooperate, Collaborate, and Communicate gets laid upon the hearts and minds of the workshop participants, just as the Holy Spirit laid the core message of Jesus our Reconciler and Redeemer upon our hearts and souls, to love our neighbors as Jesus himself loves us, because by this, we will be known as followers of Jesus. Amen.