November 1, 2018
2018 Bishop’s Annual Address: The “Church That Does Not Yet Exist”
“We can offer programs, make our worship as slick and performative as can be, offer the best and brightest sermons, the most moving of liturgies, and the greatest hospitality practices ever . . . but ours is an incarnational faith. If we are not present, then the essence of Christianity is not present.”
October 29, 2018
A message from Bishop Mary
We had a very wonderful convention this past weekend, filled with the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all the good ways we are sharing love of neighbor in our diocese. Ripping into our happy time was the atrocious and hateful massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s message is below. I want to echo his call to reach out ecumenically to our neighbors who are living at a level of fear that has increased in the last three years.
The number of US hate crimes have continued to increase since 2015. In its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US rose 57 percent in 2017 – the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.
Several of you have let me know of your involvement with local synagogues. Please attend prayer vigils and services in your communities with our brothers and sisters who wish to stand with one another, resisting hatred in all its expressions and protecting religious freedom for all. Indeed, if no one else is holding a service, host one. Be the Episcopal Church that opens the space of love for all. If we are silent, we are contributing to this evil.
Much love to you, my brothers and sisters. Share the good news!
“Do something that helps to end the long night and helps to bring in the daylight.”
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry issued the following statement on October 27:
I’m here in Des Moines, Iowa at the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa. It’s Saturday, and several hours ago you learned, as did we all, that a gunman entered Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. A number of people have been killed and wounded. Our Jewish neighbors, our brothers and sisters, are fearful and we must stand with them and provide comfort and support for them and for all. It is reported that the gunman not only ranted anti-Semitic sayings, he has also ranted and spoken against immigrants and refugees and other peoples.
We must pray, we must pray for him, we must pray for the spirit of our nation, that a spirit of love and compassion and goodness and decency would pervade, and that spirits of hatred and bigotry would be cast away. But, above all, at this time, pray for those who have died and for their families and their loved ones. Pray for those who are wounded. Pray for the first responders, pray for our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community. Pray for the Tree of Life synagogue. Pray for the City of Pittsburgh. Pray for America. Pray for us all.
And then, go out and do something. Do something that helps to end the long night and helps to bring in the daylight. Visit a neighbor. Remind our Jewish brothers and sisters that they do not stand alone. Care for someone. Love. Stand for what is right and good. Then pray. And then act.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry
Presiding Bishop, the Episcopal Church
July 18, 2018
A message from Bishop Mary
Beyond General Convention: Being a loving, liberating and life-giving church
Your deputation, bishop, ECW representatives, churchwide Altar Guild participants and various volunteers have returned from General Convention! I hope the GC79 webpage and the various stories and blog posts by our deputation have been helpful in acquainting and educating you to the topics, resolutions and activities in which we engaged over the 10 days of our gathering.
This was my last General Convention as your bishop, and once again it was an honor to serve with our wonderful representatives from El Camino Real. I have always been inspired by the care our deputies take in studying the matters at hand, knowing the pertinent concerns of resolutions and engaging fully in the debates of the House of Deputies. As well, I am always blessed to spend time sharing the House of Bishops’ perspective and trajectory of the decisions of that house, as we ultimately make a decision we hope will be in the best interest of the church.
I think at this convention we learned more deeply what it means to practice being a “loving, liberating and life-giving” church, engaged in the Jesus Movement. Resolutions alone do not bring the Kingdom of God into the fullness of reality. Our practice of vulnerability, transformation and healing as we deepen our love, liberation and the life God wants for each of us is what furthers God’s dream for our broken world.
It is important that we do not put the work of being Christian on the General Convention. It is the work of each of us to know our living God in Jesus Christ and to share that presence with the world. We offer our own story of transformation that “makes our joy complete.” (John 15:11) Jesus reminds the reader in the gospel of John of this purpose when he wraps up the why of the spiritual practice of abiding in the graceful and loving presence of God.
There is much loving, liberating and life-giving content in the resolutions of our General Convention. May we live that truth so that others may find eternal joy and work for justice for the whole Earth and all of her inhabitants.
July 10, 2018
A message from Bishop Mary
Reflections from General Convention
General Convention 2018 is three days away from being completed. I am just now having a chance to jot down a few reflections. Members of our very capable and committed deputation are blogging. They have been in much better touch with the news and spirit of this gathering! You can access their experiences at Katy Dickinson’s blog here, as well as our updated GC79 web page and other links below this message. My time is spent in the House of Bishops, assisting the Presiding Bishop and other officers with special projects and in leading the house.
Many conversations are taking place here at General Convention. Indeed, listening and speaking is at the heart of our efforts to live a democratic process. Conversations happen in hallways, committee meetings, online, over meals, among deputies, bishops, volunteers, vendors and visitors.
There are many communities within the community of The General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Listening and speaking are happening formally and informally … and not always by resolution. In fact, the resolutions are the last thing to happen. It is the conversation and interaction between us that brings the action.
At this convention the modes of conveying our Episcopalian values and ethos have been more varied, taking place out in the community instead of exclusively in the convention center. Liturgies of lament and reconciliation — both issue-focused and in daily worship — have gathered our prayer and common life. Protest and Revival have been vehicles to convey our values, ethos and God’s work of the kingdom. They have touched our hearts and enlightened our minds moving us to love one another more deeply and tangibly. The Body of Christ feels emboldened.
The current themes launched by Presiding Bishop Curry — Racial Reconciliation, Evangelism and Creation Care — can drive the content of resolutions, but alone they will not bring the healing and life God intends for us. Growth involves the turning of the heart and mind that comes with shifts in thinking, as well as sacrificial changes in behavior. Human beings move – and are moved – in this way as we respond to one another in loving and caring relationship, inviting us to change for the well-being of the whole human community.
About 24 members of El Camino Real are participating in General Convention. Deputies, Churchwide Altar Guild, Episcopal Church Women, volunteers, and visitors are representing our diocese and taking in the experience of being the Body of Christ in this place. We will bring back information, stories and new learnings. Mostly, I pray, we will return transformed by being in loving presence with one another across our international church. May we be transformed as we agree, disagree, laugh, cry, worship, protest, revive, deliberate and love.
My prayers for our diocese are the same. May we be transformed in our relationships with one another and with the creation as we seek to live with greater awareness, love and justice for all.
Grace and Peace,
May 16, 2018
When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth …
It sounds so simple to be guided into all truth. But do we want to go? Do we really want to know the truth?
Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospels that “the truth shall set us free.” Do we really want to be free? From what? How would we spend our time except bound by our various concerns, worries, troubles, brokenness and resentments? What would we do with our minds if we were not so completely occupied by such things?
Jesus gathered the broken, taught them the process of dying and rising and the power of forgiveness, gave them the Spirit and invited them to join God in transforming the world. This process is the Gospel in a nutshell. It sounds simple – and it is. But each step requires us to give up our investment in our brokenness, our “deaths,” our resentments. Human beings struggle with releasing attachment to the pain of life. It comes to define us so strongly that we believe the fullness of our identity comes to rest in our life experiences. As we follow Jesus we begin to glimpse that there is life beyond our experiences … a deeper identity that rises above them. We cannot imagine life without these attachments while we have them, but just as soon as we begin to release them, a new thing comes into view. We begin to see the expanse of freedom.
In the Easter season I invited us to explore forgiveness – in ways large and small to release a resentment, some shame, a division. What was that like for you? It is a key step in the Gospel process and lays the groundwork for the coming of the Spirit, which we celebrate this week and live into as we move forward in the liturgical year. It is life in the Spirit that builds a community of co-workers with God, inspiring us to transform the world into a loving and just reality. Perhaps in our freedom we could spend our energy imagining and working for such a reality.
Peter Block, the author of Community: The Structure of Belonging, notes that “nothing new can come from the desire for a predictable tomorrow. The only way to make tomorrow predictable is to make it just like today. In fact, what distinguishes the future is its unpredictability and mystery.” (page 123)
Block’s book is a good read. I encourage you to ponder its contents, especially as we move into this season of transition. It offers usable language to describe the process of co-creating a future where we are truly invested in building a more loving and just world: the Kingdom of God. I have resonated with Block’s descriptions of how ways of gathering, inviting participation, and of structuring our conversation, discernment and learning can influence the outcome. They are ways we have found to be effective in our diocese.
As we move toward the next chapter in the life of our diocese, we must resist the comfort of “making it just like today.” We must be able to articulate how we have arrived where we are and simultaneously be willing to move forward into the mystery. We must trust the Spirit to guide us into all truth (including the bits we don’t want to face) and do the work it takes to be ready to live it. The process makes a difference to the outcome.
Come Holy Spirit, Come!
Grace and Peace,
March 28, 2018
Bishop Mary’s 2018 Easter Message
Jesus is Coming Back, and Boy is He Mad!
Written by Lynn Ungar
By what are you saved? And how?
Saved like a bit of string,
tucked away in a drawer?
Saved like a child rushed from
a burning building, already
singed and coughing smoke?
Or are you salvaged
like a car part — the one good door
when the rest is wrecked?
Do you believe me when I say
you are neither salvaged nor saved,
but salved, anointed by gentle hands
where you are most tender?
Haven’t you seen
the way snow curls down
like a fresh sheet, how it
beautiful, without exception?
In Mark’s resurrection narrative, women-followers Mary, Mary and Salome go to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Upon entering the tomb, they find a man (Jesus, perhaps?) seated there. He instructs them to go and tell the “disciples and Peter” (yes, even that denier, Peter!) that they will meet up in Galilee. The women run away in fear and “tell nothing to anyone.”
Maybe the women thought Jesus had come back to have his revenge. “Jesus is coming back and he is mad!” … or so the saying goes. Betrayal, persecution, abandonment and execution; conventional experience dictates an equally violent response to settle the score. How can there be any other way to make things right but to balance the evil with evenness? Maybe the resurrection was terrifying because the disciples feared they would be hunted down.
One of the powerful qualities inherent in resurrection is forgiveness; the release of one’s wrongdoing and the cessation of the madness of trying to even the score, make things settle out, eye-to-eye, tooth-to-tooth.
Jesus’ re-entry into the lives of the disciples – those who apparently loved him but left him – makes them the first to hear the message of resurrection. This in itself is a generous act. Maybe they could believe all those things he said and did for others. This confusing, counter-intuitive offering could be for them too. And if the disciples could receive forgiveness, they could also offer it, witnessing to the power of resurrection expressed in the power of forgiveness.
I do not think Jesus’ resurrection suggests that the human failing that got him to the cross did not matter; rather, resurrection conveys that the brokenness of humanity does not matter most. In the eyes of God, our failing is never more powerful than God’s forgiveness. We are invited to live from there, making up the resurrected body of Christ, a witness to the power of the practice of forgiveness.
We tend to stop reflecting on the power of resurrection after Easter Day. I invite you to reflect on forgiveness in the whole season of Easter. Where do you need to be forgiven? To forgive? What difference does it make to your experience of life? How does it strengthen your spiritual identity as a Christian? How does it bring healing? The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers the concept that forgiveness provides a strategic way to heal the world. How might we live strategically this core concept of our faith?
May we be a living witness to the power of the resurrection.
The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!
March 15, 2018
A message from Bishop Mary
I write today to share with you my decision to begin the process of electing the next bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real. Many of you became aware last year that I was praying and discerning the timing of my departure as your diocesan bishop. I spoke with both the Board of Trustees and the Standing Committee at that time, recommending that we begin budgeting for the transition process. The transition of a bishop takes time, money and oversight. A search process is necessary. It includes full diocesan participation about the identity of the diocese, a review of its history, what has been accomplished during our tenure, and what the hopes and dreams are for the future. This work is essential to a healthy discernment process that results in the fruitful calling of our next bishop.
While a date for an electing convention is not yet set, the ordination and consecration of the next bishop will be held January 11, 2020. At that service the transition from my episcopate to that of our new bishop will take place. In other words, I will remain your bishop, working as I have, until that day. I will be in the 13th year of my episcopate at that time.
The Canons of the Episcopal Church and our diocesan canons will govern the process of the transition and election of the new diocesan bishop. The process will be overseen by our Standing Committee, assisted by the Office of Pastoral Development and a search consultant. This morning The Right Reverend Todd Ousley joined the Board of Trustees, the Standing Committee, myself and the staff so that we could be fully oriented to the process, to our respective roles during the time of transition and to express our own needs moving forward. The Standing Committee will soon communicate with you their next steps in appointing a Search Committee and the anticipated timeline.
Meanwhile, I am going to continue working as I have been, focusing on our Strategic Plan remix alongside diocesan leaders and staff. It will be important that I not involve myself in the search process, but continue to keep our diocese moving forward in the positive direction that has allowed us to accomplish so much in these years of ministry together.
Many will wonder what I am doing after my tenure here is completed. The answer is that I do not yet know. I will not run for election in another diocese. Personal considerations include needing more flexibility in my schedule, regaining balance in my personal life. The work of a diocesan bishop is demanding, and the Diocese of El Camino Real is no ordinary place! A leader who will harness the considerable energy, gifts and spiritual depth of this diocese will be needed to engage the Spirit’s call on our church and the ministry we share with our neighborhood partners. Our transition will be orderly and in the best interest of the church. Fresh energy will allow us not to miss a beat as we seek to live out God’s calling as a diocese.
Please join me in prayer, trusting in the grace of God who holds all life and calls us to exciting and fruitful opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. May we be courageous as we are enlightened, faithful as our wisdom is deepened, and true to our following of Jesus whose path leads us into all life.
I love you and I am deeply honored to continue serving as your bishop in the nearly two years before us. I will treasure this time of transition, knowing that God has yet more wonderful life ahead for us all.
Blessings of grace and peace,
February 21, 2018
A message from Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves:
As you may know, a unique invitation for this year’s Ash Wednesday was presented to me by St. Stephen’s in San Luis Obispo. After discernment and planning with leadership, we worked together to focus attention on the inappropriate use of power in relationships between men and women. We began our Lenten season of “making a right beginning” by including the rape of Tamar from 2 Samuel as one of our readings for the Ash Wednesday liturgy.
Additionally, the congregation partnered with a local non-profit, RISE SLO, which supports victims of sexual and domestic violence, to raise funds and attention by hosting the “Vagina Monologues.” The performance was held in the sanctuary following the day’s worship services. With a packed church and a wonderful group of local women including the Mayor of San Luis Obispo, Heidi Harmon (pictured above and below), we shared a powerful time expressing the feminine experience – boldly and creatively – in church. It was both funny and heartbreaking. Deeply self-reflective and outwardly liberating.
In this season of #MeToo and #Timesup, it is good and right for the church to take its place in what has become a national conversation about the relationship of power between the sexes. We do not get a pass. As Episcopalians, it falls precisely within our baptismal covenant: what would it mean to more consciously and carefully “respect the dignity of every human being”? What would it mean for us personally to consider our use of power in all our relationships? Where do we use power in ways that may be damaging to another because we know we have more of it socially/culturally/physically than the other – and because we can?
In Lent we engage particular spiritual practices: “self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on God’s Word.” Our own engagement with the realities of the power imbalances we experience in many spheres of life and culture can cause us to feel uneasy, confused, cautious, angry, ashamed – or maybe empowered. Such feelings can alert us to an opportunity for transformation. Forgiveness is usually involved, of both self and others. Forgiveness is critical and aids the learning of new behaviors and the resetting of cultural norms to something more holistic and respectful for all people. After all, the gospel is about freedom from sin and glorifying God in yet more ways through holy living.
One of the spiritual practices we continue to encourage in our diocesan culture to help us bridge the multitude of divides in our world is Living Room Conversations. LRC has a set of questions called “Let’s Talk About Power in Relationships.” I encourage you to try this conversation (or another) to deepen your listening and discernment skills, as well as your awareness of the variety of perspectives regarding our complex world. All topics may be found at Livingroomconversations.org, under “Topics.”
Both as individuals and as community, may our Lent be holy in every way.
February 14, 2018
A message from Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves:
What Would Glory Look Like Around Here?
We are on the eve of Lent. Together, may we welcome this holy season of self-examination, repentance, forgiveness, healing and action.
Our gospel reading on the last Sunday of Epiphany is of the Transfiguration. With the disciples watching and wondering, Jesus shines like the sun alongside Moses and Elijah, mythic figures in Israel’s history. There is glory all around. Everyone is light and love as God calls attention to Jesus’ belovedness. For the mere mortals among them it is difficult to understand. Jesus says, “don’t tell anyone until after the Son of Man rises from the dead”—perhaps as a way of saying that such an event can only be taken in from the perspective of resurrection, a mystical and mysterious event that enlightens what and how we see in the world.
Hope in the resurrection, in the concept that life – we – can be born anew, allows us to see glory in both the suffering and mountaintop experience common to us all. When we trust the concept of dying and rising, we can look ahead to it from wherever we find ourselves. In fact, if we frame our lives based on the way of Jesus, then we are always somewhere in the process of death and resurrection. It is ongoing continuously. The idea that death and rebirth happen constantly is, in and of itself, a wonder to behold, is it not?
Where might the process be happening in your life right now?
God gives us this process in Jesus the Christ as a means of unleashing grace and love in ourselves and in the world. It engenders hope, healing and wholeness for all people, for all the creation. This way of death and resurrection is a glorious gift from God. We return the glory by engaging the process, and activating grace and love in our daily lives.
If at this time you are in a place of brokenness or discernment about something in your life, you could ask, “What would glory look like in this situation?” It is a hopeful question for ourselves as individuals but also for our congregations and our diocese. It is a way we can deepen our identity as Christians, as Church, as we trust the process of dying and rising. As we receive the means of unleashing grace and love in the world, what does giving glory to God look like around here? What are the wounds today that could shine like the sun later?
May we trust in the resurrection as we move through this season of self-examination and deeper exploration. And to God be the glory!
January 3, 2018
An Epiphany message from Bishop Mary
Living More Deeply Our Identity
This wordle was a gift to all who attended our 2017 diocesan convention. It holds the words of vision, mission, values and themes of our ten years together. It was the perfect tenth anniversary gift as we celebrated our pastoral relationship together, remembering and celebrating our commonly discerned language. Words – and The Word – are such a gift! I am so thankful for the words and the ways we have lived into our identity of faith and our ministry of reconciliation.
As we begin 2018 and another year of life and ministry together, we build upon the common life we share. Through our life and action together we are continually deepened as community – as the body – in the image of Christ. Together we are continually made ready for the Spirit to come and inspire us . . . to “enflesh” the Holy One whose birth we celebrated at Christmas, and in Epiphany whose light we offer to the world.
May we begin this season of Epiphany and 2018 with a strong intention of being bearers of light and good news for a broken world. May the fruit of our common life as the body of Christ be a gift to others as our identity of faith deepens and our ministry of reconciliation is empowered.
With light and love,
December 20, 2017
Bishop Mary’s Christmas Message
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!
It is said that planning a trip is as good for one’s spirit as taking the trip itself. It doesn’t need to be somewhere far away. The intention of planning where one will go, the events of those special days, learning about the place and pondering who one will meet; these all contribute to a sense of hope and adventure, learning, opening, and maybe even an experience of transformation.
The sixth century Pope, Gregory the Great, is quoted by Belden Lane in “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes.” “Anyone who wholeheartedly wishes for God, has what he longs for, because no one can love God unless he possesses already the one that he loves.” Lane further adds, “The very ‘desire’ is what gives us pleasure, not just its gratification.”
The Christmas narrative involves travel. The holy family is on the move when Jesus is born. The shepherds see a star and travel to the place it illumines. The kings come from afar to behold this amazing new energy that has entered the world. Just the choice to journey to see if they can catch a glimpse of what God is doing is communicated as exciting, energizing, a blessing. Perhaps this resonates for those who made the journey this year to a special place to see the solar eclipse!
Spiritually, in preparing for a journey and in making it, one finds themselves prayerfully committing to the destination and what lies beyond it. Prayer is more than just asking for something. Prayer changes us and makes us ready for what the answer will be. We must take discernment seriously as we pray. Is my longing God’s longing? What are my real intentions? Why am I asking for this particular change? What will change if the prayer is fulfilled? What will be required of me in order to be a partner in the transformation? How shall I prepare? Am I sufficiently committed for the journey ahead?
I have recently enjoyed the memory of when my late husband Michael and I first visited the place that would become our church home, Emmanuel Church Fullerton. It was 1983 and we were newly married, young, in college, barely making rent. As we had an initial conversation with the rector, Paul Edwards, he said “We have been praying for young couples to come to Emmanuel. You are an answer to prayer.” We had been praying for a church. Emmanuel was an answer to our prayer!
I have pondered and given thanks lately for how seriously that community took its prayer life and that particular prayer ‘for young couples to come to our church.’ In looking back, I can see that they considered carefully what that would mean in a community of established middle aged people. They cared for us and our particular needs, invited us to their homes, listened to us, integrated us, sponsored us for Cursillo, made us part of the family without changing where we were in life. They launched us into the next stage of our lives, without ever letting us go.
I visited there a couple of years ago to talk about my book Unearthing My Religion. They prayed for us at the end of the gathering. One of the women, a member from the time we joined Emmanuel, offered in her prayer details of our young adult journey; including stories of our wedding and how we had come to California. I continue to marvel at how deeply we were – we remain – held in the hearts of those who longed, who prayed for us to come so many years ago.
May we long for God this Christmas.
May we long for love.
May we long for others – meeting and joining with them in the journey with God.
Brothers and sisters, journey faithfully in prayer this Christmas as we prepare for the coming of Christ, the answer to all prayer. May we open ourselves to the deeper reality of God’s longing for us and be transformed.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
October 18, 2017
A message from Bishop Mary:
Prayers for Bishop Shannon Mallory
I have been in touch recently with our first bishop, The Right Reverend Shannon Mallory. For those who may not know Shannon, he was Bishop when El Camino Real was formed in 1980, serving for ten years. He currently lives in Indian Wells, Cal., with his wife Marti and serves/attends St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert.
Shannon was diagnosed with Leukemia about two years ago. The treatments have been successful until recently. In a recent email he expressed that his strength is lessening for daily tasks and that he is focused on his inner life as he prepares for death. While this is not immediate, it is reasonable to think it will come in several months’ time.
He and Marti welcome our prayers and I’ve include his mailing address below. Cards are also welcome.
74988 Tahoe Cir
Indian Wells, CA 92210-7204
I wish to express my personal respect and affection for Bishop Shannon. He has been a blessing to me as a predecessor and friend. We have shared meals and conversations that have been nurturing and supportive to us both. As well, I was deeply touched when some years ago at our convention he gave me his Episcopal ring. It is made from gold from members of the diocese and bears the seal of El Camino Real.
I give thanks for Shannon, for his ministry in El Camino Real and as Bishop of Botswana in Central Africa, and in the many ways he has served our church. He’s been a faithful minister of the gospel, building up the body of Christ around the globe and in the hearts of many.
May God deepen the knowledge of the gospel, granting peace and security now in the hearts of Marti, Shannon and their family, as they move through this leg of the journey of eternal life. Praise be to God our Creator, to the Son through whom we know the way of eternal life, and to the Spirit who is our inspiration and comfort as we daily walk this life of faith.
Love and blessings,
October 4, 2017
A message from Bishop Mary
Here we are again. Las Vegas this time. Please pray for the dead, their families, those recovering and those who will never recover. Listen to something of their stories (below). Take note of the loved ones, especially the children, left behind. Imagine what their lives will be like. Stay with them in your mind and heart for some time. If you have lost someone to violent death, you know what is in store. Times 59 (including the shooter), this will be overwhelming. But do not desensitize to such events, even though they occur every few months. Do not let your soul be numb to this devastation. It only encourages more violence in the world.
I experience America to be a culture steeped in violence. What do you think? We export twice as much violent media imagery as any other country in the world. Our language uses twice as many violent references as any other language on the planet. Just try dropping “bullet point” from your vocabulary. I googled a very specific description of my search for an alternative to that ubiquitous phrase. It took several iterations of what I was looking for just to be understood by that all-knowing search engine. Finally, a few options were offered. “Info-point” is my choice as an alternative, since I seek to eliminate as many violent patterns of speech as I can manage. It is much harder to achieve than it should be.
I fear our comfort with the use of violence in our culture as a means of problem-solving or self-expression. I fear how quickly we are able to settle our cognitive dissonance about who we are as a nation.
Cognitive Dissonance: “The mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas or values. The occurrence of cognitive dissonance is a consequence of a person performing an action that contradicts personal beliefs, ideals and values; and also occurs with new information that contradicts said beliefs, ideas, and values (Wikipedia).”
There will be as many points of cognitive dissonance around Vegas as there are people reading this reflection. There will be much searching for how to make sense of something that makes no sense, given how we see such an event.
In these last few days we will have offered lament, mourned, prayed, and spoken passionately of what we believe to be the roots of violence in America. We will find ways to explain, argue and rationalize the event. It helps us to feel better. We cannot hold the enormity of this pain for very long. Our minds will need relief.
A consequence, however, is that we will forego self-examination and transformation, individually and as a nation. We will give up. We will give in. You and I will let slip from our minds and hearts this intentionally disturbing imperative we sign onto at baptism, offered by the Gospel and the God of Peace whom we worship. The yearning for equilibrium will overwhelm us. We will settle into some reasonable ground between, say, our national self-rhetoric of how great we are and events like Vegas, which speaks confrontational truth about the deep and soulful wounds of America and her people.
Jesus, whom we follow, created cognitive dissonance everywhere he went. He was an agitator – on purpose. May he agitate us now. The Bible is filled with thoughts that disturb us and challenge us to deep self-examination, transformation and the hard work required by both. No matter our politics or rationale of why terrorism happens internally in America (even as we fear it so much from outside our borders), may our arguments that draw us back to psychological equilibrium remain insufficient, incapable of offering us reasonable peace in these days.
May we have the courage to remain with the deep and prayerful disturbance offered to us by the God of Peace.
The following Janet Morley prayer was written for the season of Advent, a time of hopeful anticipation for transformation, accompanied by self-examination. May we live it together.
O God Our Disturber,
Whose speech is pregnant with power
And whose word will be fulfilled;
May we know ourselves unsatisfied with all that distorts your truth,
And make our hearts attentive
To your liberating voice, in Jesus Christ.
May the God of healing have mercy.
September 8, 2017
Our Mission of Reconciliation: Stretching Ourselves for Peace
I am back in my work saddle, having enjoyed some summertime riding in my other saddle!
It is good to return to our beloved diocesan staff and to live and work with you in our common mission of reconciliation with God and one another. What a powerful calling this is!
As you recall, the centerpiece of my sabbatical time was a course on Conflict Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Conflict Studies has been a field and area of academic study since the 1980s and involves studying, engaging in, and supporting the world’s most complex conflicts and development challenges. This was a rigorous three-week course with 105 hours of instruction time, mostly in the classroom (with two days of field trips), with reading required for each of three daily segments/topics. If one did not complete the required reading before the course began (and even more additional reading was suggested), one would have begun way behind!
In addition to course time and reading, we were required to write three blogs per week (all student blogs have been linked and can be read here — you can get a good sense of the course content). We also completed a multi-page reflection at the end of each week and completed a group project. We heard 30 different presenters who were local, from other parts of the US, or Skyped in from other parts of the world. The panel who assigned and guided our projects represented The World Bank, Catholic Relief Services, Partners Global, and Refugees International. While grueling in terms of schedule, I continue to marvel at the variety of both academics and practitioners in the field of Conflict Studies from whose expertise we benefited.
My hope for this course was “to improve my mediation and conflict resolution skills.” In hindsight, this was a meager goal in comparison to what was offered. I did not grasp beforehand the world that would be opened to me. Indeed, in many ways, the entire world has been opened to me. I will be processing for quite some time all that was shared with us.
Reconciliation, which is the ultimate goal of our efforts to work out conflict and support development in the world, can be lived out on a large scale as well as daily in our families, faith communities, work places and neighborhoods. It is the same work at heart, whether in the civil war of a nation or of a family. Forgiveness, keeping the big picture in mind, discipline of one’s thoughts and emotions, deep listening, and respect are always required.
In this diocese we continue to enhance our ability to do this reconciling, peacebuilding work in our communities. As we stand with one another and work out our issues, we contribute to social cohesion among our churches, neighborhoods, and all who live in this land. Doing so prevents conflict before it happens. This is the best peacebuilding tactic there is. The church has much to offer. No effort is too small or insignificant; reconciliation is our reason for being. The church is equipped in so many ways to develop and share the practices of making a just and peaceful world. Developing the gifts we have of scripture, theology, the intent to love both neighbor and enemy are simply a matter of the stewardship of grace.
Next January, instead of having a single day conference as we usually do, we will hold deanery training days with our “Emergency Mediation Team.” This group of trained, professional mediators has coalesced in the last several months as a more organized group that exists to support our congregations when conflict arises. Some churches have asked for the EMTs to come in and help leadership groups improve their communication skills.
It seemed a good idea to make this available to the whole diocese. Is it not true that every one of us could improve our communications skills? More information on these training days will be coming soon.
In the last few years we’ve sought to live more deeply into the practices of reconciliation. Living Room Conversations, Mutual Invitation, relational practices of evangelism, a more collaborative approach to our common life; these are seemingly “soft” tools. In the world of Conflict Studies they would fall in the category of “Transitional Justice.” They are what you do in a post-war society after the fighting has stopped. To live them with deep intention is to live the Christian life – and to help the violence from taking hold. It is the daily discipline and practice that keeps the peace and deepens it. It is there that we see “the lion lie down with the lamb.” This is the vision for the church that we are called to always seek – and which we will not fully reach, but must strive for in every word and deed of our lives.
What daily practices do you employ in the discipline of your personal and congregational life that supports the building up of good will and healthy co-existence? In what ways could you stretch yourself for the sake of peace?
May we continue to be the reconciling presence of Jesus in our world.
August 18, 2017
Building Monuments of Peace
I remain on sabbatical until after Labor Day, but I wanted to write regarding the violence that erupted last weekend. For generations such outbreaks have occurred. Such events reverberate our national reality as racially divided. Christians, it is our call, even in the midst of violence and trauma, to name our corporate need to heal from a national wound that on every level of American identity reveals our brokenness. As we pray, let us hope that racial reconciliation is also a part of the conversation before us. Let us pray that love will conquer hate in all its forms.
I completed my course on Conflict Studies last Friday. Racial and religious conflict were no small part of our learning, in the United States and around the world. Many wars occur because of it. There was no disagreement on the relevance of religious and racial divides across three weeks, 105 hours of instruction, 30 Academics and Practitioners in the field of Conflict Studies, and 17 students from around the world representing a span of ages (most were of college age).
As we stay on our west coast, please let us remember that this is a national reality. We may reactively place this conflict in the category of black/white relations given the ties of this week‘s events to the Civil War. We may associate this with southern and east coast history. Hate groups are as prevalent here as anywhere. In fact, more so: the August 15 Sacramento Bee reported that we have 79 active hate groups. The most of any state in our country.
When examining the roots of violence, there is a lot to consider. I offer just two points as we think about what is happening and how we can be present as Christians during this conflict. One is that violence occurs when people perceive they do not have what they need and when they are unable to get those needs met. We can argue all we like about the validity of the needs. While we might argue that the values and needs of White Supremacy (or any other hate group) are not legitimate, they perceive that they are. They are willing to resort to violence to make that known. When groups who perceive that their basic human rights are denied or constitutional rights violated – whether we agree with their point of view or not – this will be at the root of a violent outbreak such as we are experiencing.
The second is that post-war societies (and any organization for that matter) that do not undertake some sort of long-term, strategic process of reconciliation, including development to transform unjust structures, have a far greater likelihood of returning to conflict. Much work remains to be done following our Civil War, which has economic and racial basis in the institution of slavery. We are woefully lacking in the work of reconciliation in these crucial aspects of our national story. Who even knows how to approach such a disturbing aspect of our history? Of course, under slavery is our colonial history which has denied native peoples of just as much.
These realities are part of what make us who we are as a people. They are painful to accept. If we think all of this is a long time ago and we should just move on, remember how many conflicts on the planet are far older than our country and erupt regularly. We are no different, I believe.
Our religious language of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, spiritual wisdom and maturity are aspects of what it takes to heal following trauma and conflict. It is the language of salvation history. It is a very long work. Our baptismal covenant calls us to speak these words and enact them amidst such conflict, trauma and injustice; even as there are layers upon layers upon layers of it. Every day, we will keep speaking and acting a just peace in the face of injustice and violence.
“Our actions may feel insignificant, but they add up. One of the best ways to prevent conflict is to find ways to resolve our problems non-violently before they inspire brutality.”
Many people feel disempowered at times such as these. It is easier to say it is someone else’s problem or to name ourselves as powerless. We are not. I know that many people who are reading this are white. I am white. I have been given privilege beyond my awareness because of the color of my skin. Colonization, institutions such as slavery, and unjust structures I don’t even know about have all worked in my favor. I wish I could separate myself from it all, but I can’t. It lives in me. I embody it. I resonate with Paul’s words: “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:14-16). Letting grace hold us as we examine our own bias gets us a long way toward freedom for ourselves and for those whom our privilege continues to enslave.
Accepting this reality and working to right these long-lived wrongs is something we can do. Our actions may feel insignificant, but they add up. One of the best ways to prevent conflict is to find ways to resolve our problems non-violently before they inspire brutality. Imagine how much clean-up we would not have to do if the warring south and north had found another way to solve their problems before the fighting began. How might we have spent our energy and time as a nation?
Being in conversation, supporting non-violent means of social change to create a more equitable society is something we can do. Continuing to walk the way of Jesus, our Prince of Peace, but no stranger to naming the gross injustice rampant in our world, is language we can continue to speak. I can participate – as can you – in a Living Room Conversation. Our churches can host a service for the wider community on racial reconciliation. Educating ourselves and hosting gatherings for information-sharing about hate groups, unjust structures that bias us toward a particular race and unfair social norms are further ways we can peacefully combat these realities. Partnering with other faiths in all these endeavors speaks of our values of love and respect for all persons — no matter their color, faith, ethnicity or other difference. It seems obvious, but clearly we need to speak these values more loudly in our country. Together, we can add up to bringing greater good in our world.
Interestingly, over the last two weeks I have held a young man in my heart that I met while visiting Salinas Valley State Prison as part of my course. You know how God keeps people on your mind … maybe because they need prayer or because they are a gift to their learning. In this case, it is both, I am sure. This young man is a gang drop-out and a fine leader. We were there on a day he was a keynote speaker on what life-factors contribute to people going to prison. I was privileged to be in a small group conversation that he also led. His gang affiliation was with a White Supremacy group. He will be released from prison in the coming months. He cannot go home to his family because they are all part of the gang. He has no idea how to imagine his life because he was born and raised in the gang.
I have wanted to reach out to him and encourage him to find an Episcopal Church. Would you welcome him?
This is the sort of reconciliation Jesus speaks of. Take some steps toward the fullness of that ridiculous grace. Strategize to help heal our nation‘s brokenness. It might just prevent another civil war.
June 23, 2017
Moving to a steady, measured rhythm
We have moved into the weeks after Pentecost, sometimes known in the church year as Ordinary Time. These weeks, in contrast to our major liturgical seasons and feasts, are more even, counted, ordered. They move to a rhythm the likes of a steady — walking — pace. As we move through liturgy and story in this less-hurried way, we can become more aware of the underlying rhythm of faith within. This underlying rhythm grounds us, ever-deepening, keeping us tethered to God, even as the highs and lows of life intercede. Our inner peace can be nurtured in this time.
I am taking some sabbatical time this summer. This begins Monday and will last through Labor Day. I too will enjoy some of these weeks with ordinary, measured rhythm, but also engage some new learning with a course on Peace Building. I will wonder as well as intentionally study about how peace, a central hope of our faith, might become a stronger beat in the wild and often violent rhythms of the world. How might the church take a stronger role in building a more peaceful society?
I am excited to participate in this three-week intensive (with a lot of reading and reflecting that will keep me busy in the weeks preceding our meetings) at The Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. The course looks at post-war societies, as well as the violent, cultural and structural realities in our own culture. We will explore community assets that can collaborate for peace as we examine, for example, our local, complex, gang culture.
I have some fun things planned too; and I hope for regular naps, time with friends, and a more measured pace of life.
I know you will hold me in prayer, as I hold you. This summer may we know the energy of God drawing us all into deeper peace and flourishing new life.
With much love, gratitude and blessings,
June 2, 2017
Pentecost: Learning to Play with Fire?
When I was a child I liked to play with fire. Many children find the power to create a flame fascinating, as well as an exercise in negotiating with its dangerous burn. I remember being reprimanded for this, anxiously told not to play with fire. In my adult life, I no longer wish to play with fire, although I make use of it in many ways. I wonder though what I might have discovered if my parents had invited me to learn about fire and how it works, rather than just telling me to stop playing with it? Fire has its powerful way. It is a science and worthy of study.
We might think of the fire, the power of the Holy Spirit, in a similar way.
I wonder if we are not quite sure what to do with the Holy Spirit beyond our celebration of Pentecost. I wonder if we avoid a deeper education and articulation about the ways of Spirit. She is more difficult to get ahold of since this Holy One is not incarnated as Jesus was, or the Father who created all things. Spirit, numinous, urging new life to be born, this is harder for us to see, hear, anticipate, welcome, embrace. And so, perhaps we say, “don’t play with that. It is dangerous.”
The Biblical stories that help us explore the Pentecost event offer us a few pointers on the work and the way of Spirit. We will hear from the Book of Acts the moment the disciples knew her together. This event follows 40 days with Jesus, and an additional 10 days after the Ascension waiting for the Promised One to appear. Much happened in that time.
We can be conscious of and learn from the disciples’ experience in those 50 days. They came to trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus. They embraced for themselves dying and rising as a spiritual practice. This would ground their lives in the Risen Christ. They began to accept, watch for, encourage the death of behaviors, world views, brokenness, biases, animosity and resentments that were not aligned with the love, mercy and grace of God. They looked and waited for what was rising as they helped old ways die. They wondered about God’s power and how it would come. They waited faithfully.
This is The Way of following Jesus and of being ready for Spirit who turns our healing and transformation into a powerful witness for a broken world.
The technology, the science — the process — of knowing the liberating and empowering Holy Spirit is not conditional per se, but does require our attention toward those things in our lives which may keep us from knowing God’s power. If we are going to hold fast to, say, resentments, then that is what will remain and our lives will be bound by that aspect of our lives.
How might the disciples be our teachers as we too prepare ourselves for the Spirit to come? Where might we need to be unbound so as to learn to play with the Spirit’s Fire and help God bring the kingdom?
Image from ECF Vital Practices
April 12, 2017
Bishop Mary’s Easter Message:
One Day at a Time
Holy Week and Easter are an opportunity to move slowly through the real-life transforming process in which our faith is grounded: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The experience of loving and life-changing relationship, realizing a purposeful life and meaningful servanthood, betrayal, political stuckness, capital punishment for the purposes of social problem-solving, unthinkable pain, loss and mourning, disorientation and emptiness — in ourselves — and in the tomb.
And then, surprisingly, new life comes. This story of the divine-human drama has it all.
Teasing it out during the measured pace of Holy Week, we can see that amidst the painful part of the drama, the theme of new-life is set out in the distance. We may be too overwhelmed to perceive it, on what appears to be an empty horizon. But the promise of the gospel story includes a constant subtext: just because we cannot see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If we are willing to notice it when it stands before us, we can discover that we have not been left to sort out our own mess . . . instead, the power of God in Christ has mystically come alongside this fraught life so it may be healed. Hope and wisdom begin to appear as we walk a new way with the Risen One. And correcting the perception that resurrection is easy and single-faceted, we come to realize that new life is no cake walk; it has a rhythm all its own and a learning curve that requires our deepest and most disciplined intention.
This week we move through a story that is not just a tale of millennia ago, but our story today. Where are you just now in the drama?
As we walk the way of Jesus, living our own life, death and resurrection, our story can become a witness to His story. We can become a way for others to see how they too can frame their reality through a life-giving paradigm, rather than only seeing themselves through the lens of their mess.
The Latin source of the word authority means “one who bears witness to the authenticity of something, such as a legal document.”* When one speaks or acts with authority, they speak of something that is real and true. To what do you wish your life to bear witness? What do you wish to say is true and real for you? Do you wish to always speak of how hard life is, or how powerful new life can be? Could the two realities of your life story, intertwining, reflect a profound wholeness that comes through the loving and passionate relating between human and divine?
May our stories, grounded in the story of Jesus the Christ, speak the truth of the power of resurrection.
The Lord is Risen, the Lord is Risen indeed!
With Easter blessings,
March 24, 2017
A Statement from the Board of Trustees, Diocesan Officers, The Partnership Commission and Bishop Mary
We stand alongside other faith leaders against the appalling, hateful and violent acts of aggression taken against our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters and the disturbing rhetoric against refugees and immigrants. The latest bomb threats in Jewish synagogues and community centers in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Los Gatos drive home the intent of these actions: to strike fear, do physical harm, to undermine religious freedom in our country, and to divide us as a nation.
For some of us these events seem surreal and harken memories of the past, but we cannot deny that such terror is present in our land again. The March 13, 2017 Wall Street Journal reports that more than 100 threats have been made against dozens of Jewish community centers, schools and synagogues across the U.S. since the start of the year. While no bombs have been found, these threats are nevertheless successful in disrupting lives and spreading fear and hate. The number of hate groups has doubled since 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, while the number of anti-Muslim groups has increased by 197% since 2015. The number of hate crimes is also increasing. The December 10, 2016 Economistreported 360 hate crimes under investigation by the New York Police Department in 2016, an increase of 35% over 2015.
The Episcopal Church has always held up the importance of religious tolerance, even when falling short of our own principled vision. Additionally, we have a long tradition of supporting immigrants and refugees and caring for the needy and marginalized.* Welcoming refugees is a particularly clear Biblical value:
“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt… (Leviticus 19:34)”. This and many other texts in sacred scripture urge us in some way to support those in need of protection, care and basic human sustenance.
We invite our diocese and wider communities to stand together in prayer, advocacy and action amidst these days of emboldened intolerance. May we stand with all our neighbors to protect the rights and dignity of every human being. May we be ready to walk this long road of increasing division, embodying the reconciling power of God. Christians know this essence of the holy in Jesus Christ and through his merciful grace. We seek to respect all people, loving one another as we profess that God loves us. As we follow the One who waged a revolution of peace and justice for all people, may we walk together with all God’s beloved children.
The Board of Trustees, Diocesan Officers, The Partnership Commission
and Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves
*The word refugee is technically defined by the United Nations as, “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reason of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a specific group.” Please explore episcopalmigrationministries.org for more information on Episcopal Church involvement in US refugee resettlement efforts.
February 24, 2017
A Message from Bishop Mary
While we give thanks to God that the drought is over, the rains are now relentless. We hold in prayer all those who are experiencing damage and difficulties from the recent heavy rainfall and flooding.
God of all heaven and earth. We give you thanks for the fullness of your creation and for the bounty of gifts that come from both earth and sky. We pray for humility and respect for the world you have made. May we remain mindful of the balance through which all life is fruitful. May we tend to the earth with utmost care.
We thank you for the end of drought and now ask for strength to bear the heavy rains. May all within our diocese and throughout the state be protected and held safe. May damage be minimal and the clean-up easy. We pray your protection for all rescue and maintenance workers serving our communities and assisting those in need. May our hearts be filled with your peace and may we remain steady in the knowledge that the universe is held in the palm of your loving hand. It is in the name of Jesus that we make our prayer.
February 3, 2017
The Sanctuary Movement and Loving One Another
Several of you have written to ask about ways to support refugees and undocumented persons in light of our President’s recent executive order, and other potential policy actions regarding such persons living in the United States. The importance of caring for the poor and the refugee is expressed in scripture and has always been a critical part of the lived expression of our Judeo-Christian faith. This does not mean that these matters have been easily negotiated. They require our prayerful attention.
I remind you of Episcopal Migration Ministries, serving refugees since the late 1800s and a vocal advocate especially since WWII, which served as precursor to Episcopal Relief and Development. More information on how our church engages with refugees may be found at www.episcopalmigrationministri
Some leaders have asked about the Sanctuary Movement. There is much information online and I encourage you to research it carefully. There are many ways to engage a movement, and here are a couple of points to consider from the perspective of the church canons and best legal practices.
A parish (not an aided or mission congregation) is free to discern its use of space independently of the diocese, providing there is no sale or encumbrance of the property. Therefore, if a parish or a family were to choose to house a family under threat of deportation they are free to do so. While there are less cumbersome ways to participate in the Sanctuary Movement, it is important to be mindful of the commitment required of housing a family for any period of time. Thought must be given to protection of those in the vicinity of any sanctuary. A procedure will need to be developed to screen the individuals seeking sanctuary. It is important to be sure those being sought for deportation are not seeking to avoid police because they are being accused of breaking the law. Discerning carefully the full implications of housing a family requires detailed consideration. An Immigration attorney that was consulted advised that one of the best ways to help is to find and help fund good legal advice.
As well, I would strongly encourage you to engage a Living Room Conversation (www.livingroomconversations.o
I ask you to consider: where else in our culture does a group of people who live by the words “love one another” gathered regularly? I think it is increasingly extraordinary and counter-cultural. What an opportunity we have to think and reflect together across a broad spectrum of opinion about our challenges as a human community. How the Episcopal Church views matters of political and social concern will always include as many opinions as we are members. We are not a church that requires its members to “fall in line” with the leaders of a congregation, diocese or beyond. What a tremendous – and underutilized – resource.
Being part of our national conversation is an essential part of American citizenship and of being Christian. My read of the scriptures is that Jesus was a politically active member of earthly society – and of the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe we should find ways to follow his lead. Let us pray that we may capitalize on our identity as a church that invites its members to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider their values of faith and to live them accordingly.
January 20, 2017
Being a Learning Community: Inauguration Day, 2017
I remember in the sixth grade becoming more conscious of the bias of the content of my history classes. My mother was a help to this. When having to write an essay for the Daughters of the American Revolution (of which our family is tree-worthy), I asked my mother “why aren’t we members of the Daughters of the Revolution?”
The reply was, “Black people can’t really join. They are part of our national story too, and until their stories are included, then we won’t join either.” Eleanor Roosevelt resigned the DAR in protest of this truth and my mother resisted for the same reason.
It would take a number of years before I would begin to understand – and lament – the deficiency of my education and how very damaging this was to me personally, as well as to our country. As Jesus is known to have said, “the truth shall set you free”. In my formative years I did not hear nearly enough stories of the victories, the losses, the day-to-day life experience and the suffering of indigenous, black and brown brothers and sisters, of women, of LGBTQ persons. I learned some of those stories as I lived one myself and from my friends, but the fullness of their — our — pre-American and American reality was not in the textbooks we read.
Certainly the perspective was biased toward the location in America of power and privilege; which remains bent toward people who look like me and have family histories like mine. As they say, history is told by the winner. It would be disadvantageous to parallel the historical narrative with tools for critique such as systems theory or how to do a power analysis around something like, say, slavery and its long term economic and social impact. I know I miss quite a lot of the truth that has the power to set us free as a nation. I know I did not learn to look — or want to see — this truth with a sharp eye because of the grip our American institutional narrative has on me.
A blog by Gregory Jones notes that Political Scientist Hugh Heclo (author of On Thinking Institutionally) argues that institutions enable us to be “mindful in certain ways, exercising a particular form of attentiveness to meaning in the world.” Vibrant institutions are crucial to sustaining meaning and purpose in our lives and in the world.” (Patheos.com, Gregory Jones, March 18, 2015.)
I agree with this, but what is NOT transmitted in an institutional story also demands our attention, our critical eye and our critical word. Heclo would also remind the reader that it is “the quality of an institution that gives it value.” This would also be true for us as a church. Whose stories are not told among us as Episcopalians? How does that impact our narrative? Our denomination is certainly a part of the American historical narrative as most of us have received it. What is our critique? How shall we speak about it? What is the quality of our institutional conversation and how does it express the values of Jesus in our American story?
“The fullness of our national truth is in our conversation all around the inauguration podium, taking place all around this country . . . May this nation, under God, know its unity today.”
It should come as no surprise that I fall in the body of people today who are highly distressed that Donald Trump is now our President. It is a powerful moment in our American story. It is painful for some and victorious for others. In any election, this will be true. History will tell how this season of our national life will take its place in our American institutional narrative. Quoting Abraham Joshua Heschel, from his book The Prophets, he says, “Few are guilty, but all responsible.” This could be a good mantra for all of us, to keep us centered and focused on what is important: “the preservation of the integrity of our institutional life.”
This weekend, however, I am celebrating the powerful and colorful display of the many and diverse narratives that truly make up our story as a nation. No matter what the history books that end up in our classrooms say, “we the people” have a voice. It is in the fullness of these inauguration events that our diverse narrative asserts its powerful energy to include more and more stories. The fullness of our national truth is in our conversation all around the inauguration podium, taking place all around this country.
May the guidance of the Spirit help us see where we do not. May the critique and the truth of Jesus give us our voice. May we embrace our baptismal life as we live these uncertain times. May this nation, under God, know its unity today — not because we agree or disagree on the direction of our country, but because we sacrificially listen, hear, respect and honor one another and act according to God’s will of love and justice.
O God, we pray for our President Donald, our Vice-President Michael and for all in authority. Grant them wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen (The Book of Common Prayer, page 820)
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (The Book of Common Prayer, page 823)
December 23, 2016
Learning Together: The Incarnation, Nesting or Journeying?
When a baby comes, we make things ready, settle down and settle in. The space is liminal, a joining of heaven and earth (much as it is at the time of death); quiet, pierced only by baby sounds. The noise of daily life disappears as this new creature becomes the most important, largest, greatest thing to ever arrive on the planet. Dreaming of the future, pondering hope embodied in the little one, we consider a love that makes the heart so irrevocably full, one can hardly stand it. This is life.
For the holy family, the nesting period would be brief. According to at least one gospel (Matthew 2), they must flee soon after the birth to avoid the threat of violence, persecution, and death. I think now of pregnant refugee women who will give birth as they flee, not even a few days for nesting but perhaps stopping just long enough so the birth can take place. Families across the world who may be settled somewhere, but undocumented and without the benefit of status, live under the threat of being separated one from another for as long as they dwell in a foreign land. I pray they too have this moment of incarnation, God with us, where all reality is peacefully united. May we the privileged, housed and settled, be prayerful and mindful of all those in our world today who are relentlessly on a journey.
The incarnational reality is always with us. As Christians, we know it in Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Whether we have the privilege of being settled in life or we are on the move, God is with us. We are never separated even when we think we are. The circumstances of life can shape us but they do not have the power to separate us from God. This is the heart of the message of the mythic hope of the Incarnation. God with us – always. May we live into this hope.
So, what is your experience? Are you nesting or journeying? Can you grow your capacity to experience the presence of God within, being one with God just as a mother and child share body and blood in the womb? Can you “birth” a treasure into the world as Mary and Joseph were faithfully able? Both nesting and journeying are opportunities to draw close to the One who is the giver of all life.
As I consciously dwelled “in the moment” with a friend the other day, together we honored the truth that “time is precious.” I was reminded to approach all that I have to do as I prepare for Christmas grounded in the thought that we cannot be separated from God. The holidays can be frantic and loud. Perhaps we just want to get past them. It makes a difference to remember that Christmas is a celebration of liminal space: where the imagined boundaries between heaven and earth disappear, and a little baby reminds us that love is real and has the power to define everything. What a difference it makes to live in that liminal space.
May the eternal, immeasurable, ever-graceful love of God define us this Christmas and in the New Year. May Jesus, Incarnate One be our graceful way. In our lives, may we incarnate this good news!
In the abiding love of Christ,
December 2, 2016
Learning Together in Advent: The Value of Good Order
The Dalai Lama said, “Learn the rules very well, so you will know how to break them properly.” Similarly, the now very famous Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, notes: “Before you start, visualize your destination.” Kondo’s book on organizing one’s things and personal space has become household language, so to speak.
These two phrases have in common the value of living with intention and good order, and knowing the deeper meaning of why you do what you do. The Dalia Lama and Marie Kondo do not propose legalistic, superficial or blind following of the rules just for the sake of doing so. More often than not, rules and rituals have spiritual wisdom at their core. To follow them is to move more deeply into the wisdom they reflect.
Kondo’s method of organizing one’s physical space has been helpful to me personally as I have engaged the discipline of sorting through the physical stuff of my life — as I once knew it. Michael’s death brought so much needed tossing and keeping; both physical and spiritual. Memories, clothes, memories, pictures, memories, books… the list goes on. Kondo’s question of “what are you keeping and why?” vs “what are you throwing away?” was such an important one for me as I prepared for life ahead – and continued to treasure the life that has passed. This time was deeply ritualistic for me and created space for thorough physical and spiritual engagement.
Kondo relates the story of asking one of her clients, “what do you want your space to be like?” The woman ultimately responds, “I want to fall asleep with a feeling of unhurried spaciousness.” Unhurried spaciousness. What a great pairing of words. What a great spiritual destination. What a great vision for church life, for liturgy, for friendship, for family, for the frenetic holiday season, for our inner life.
Advent begins our church year. It is akin to Lent in that it is a season of preparation. While it might correspond for us this year with a season of personal wandering (i.e., life is for whatever reason uncertain), it is a time of doing so with spiritual intention: attentive to God, watching for salvation, making ourselves vulnerable to its life-changing power.
In the coming weeks, even as we wander, we can light the Advent wreath, read the Daily Office (daily!), tend to our relationships and prepare for the feast of Christmas. As we are more mindful, engaging the rituals that hold us, we will see God more deeply. May these practices offer us not a legalistic, to-do list frenzy, but an inner space of unhurried spaciousness. In that open place we will find Emmanuel, God with us. And his name is Jesus.
May this Advent season be one of joyful and hopeful expectation!
November 11, 2016
After the Election: Responding to Celebration and Grief
It is quite a time for our nation indeed. Following Tuesday’s election, there is both exultant celebration and deep grief. May we be respectful and gentle with one another as we express whichever is true for us. I encourage you to gather, pray and engage in civil discourse. We must find our common ground as a nation and move forward. We must do so even as we grieve or celebrate. We must remember that things are dying in our nation. What they are and whether it is a good and right death are debatable points. No matter; since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is our central truth in which we trust. If something is dying, then, something is rising. The Kingdom of God is coming. That is the process of life and this is what we serve. May we do so prayerfully and as conscious of all our brothers and sisters on this planet as we are able.
I encourage you to be bold and host a Living Room Conversation. The questions were included in my article to you last week, located here. I had the pleasure of leading one at York School last week, focused on our post-election life. The scene was 230 or so students and faculty, crammed into the York chapel, engaged in small group sharing of their personal responses to their set of LRC questions.
At the end of the process, one ninth grade student gently shared: “I think we are better friends now because of this time. See…my friend, whom I did not know so well before now, has laid his head on my knee…” Now, there was probably some typical ninth grade napping happening as we gathered our conversation back into the larger group; yet friendship was clearer, deeper and more tender as personal perspectives were shared.
Jesus words, “I call you friends…” (John 15:15) was not a call to agree, it was a call to be in community as equals in knowing the truth of Jesus and a shared commitment to the way of Jesus. In this they would lean on one another and trust one another amidst diversity. In this, they would be a witness to power of God in the world.
And now in these times of great change, may we witness to the graceful way of Jesus, and to the power of our reality as Christian community.
November 3, 2016
We are the Solution: Election Day and Reconciliation
Besides our diocesan convention which begins tomorrow, our nation is very much on my mind. I know it is on your mind too. I know there is significant distress among us as we watch the news, listen to debates, and worry about the economy, international relations, our kids, our future, our world.
These are not irrational concerns or worries. They are legitimate and arise out of a sense of violation to our values as a nation as well as out of our personal political perspectives. Indeed, I find myself more troubled not by differences of political opinion, but that we seem unable – and even unwilling – to find a way through those differences. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. Worldviews are colliding. This is not a battle with a quantified battlefield. It is in the air we breathe. We cannot distance ourselves from it; “It” is us.
I do not need to tell you to pray or to vote. I believe you know these things and are living them to the best of your ability. I do believe I need to remind us all that democracy “only works if we work it.”
True democracy only works if we have our common good as a goal. What this is and how it is lived out shall be negotiated, of course. That is the process. In this collective time of repentance and soul-searching as a nation, I invite us to observe ourselves and our roles. As we figure out where we stand, how we vote, with whom we align, we must not forget that we are our problems. We can also be our own solutions. As a people, is it not also good and right to drop to our knees in humility and say we are sorry for the ills of our nation?
As I pray for our nation and for our election process, I know I will also open my heart for the ways in which I have exercised my democratic obligation and privilege that have been self-serving, disrespectful, harmful, and in violation of others. Ways known and unknown. Things done and left undone. As we take our stand, may we do so conscious of our deep need of God’s grace and healing.
As the church, we are able to share this message. It is our regular spiritual practice to name our personal and corporate brokenness. We know how to do this. We have the tools to open our doors to our neighbors who are having this same experience and do not know what to do with it. I would urge all of our congregations to open doors on Election Day and in the days following. I would encourage us to be spaces where our neighbors may enter and pray, light a candle for our country, find a community with whom to gather. No matter who becomes our President next week, serious matters will remain before our nation.
Living Room Conversations has become a valued and precious partner in our ministry of reconciliation in this diocese. Several of our congregations are having LRCs, and as a diocesan staff we are using them to open up conversations in order to strengthen our congregations at times when conversation across difference is challenging. Would you be willing to host a Living Room Conversation in your congregation, open to your neighborhood, in the days following the election? Our members and our neighbors will need a safe and constructive place to gather, speak and listen to diverse points of view. This is not only cathartic and healing, it is a step forward as “we the people” re-gather as a nation.
Scroll down to find guidelines and questions designed to support a Living Room Conversation about the election experience.
Next Sunday, if you’re following the lectionary for All Saints Day, the gospel reading will remind us to love your enemies. This is not for the faint of heart or the spiritually undisciplined. There is no wiggle room to minimize the mandate. Jesus offers a very complete and rigorous exegesis of the Hebrew understanding of this great commandment. Our practice of such love is The Way toward the wisdom and courage we need to be the people God calls us to be. With confidence in God’s grace, may we step forward in the same sacrificial love made known to us in Jesus’ own dying and rising.
To God be the glory,
Living Room Conversations:
The Election Experience
Below are suggested questions for your congregation to host a Living Room Conversation.
One: Why are we here?
What interested you or drew you to this topic?
Two: Your core values
Answer one or more of the following:
- What sense of purpose or duty guides you in life? What is your mission statement?
- What would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you tick?
- What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country, now and long-term?
Three: Your election cycle experience
Remember that the goal of this Living Room Conversation is for each participant to listen to and learn about the different opinions within the group to see where you might share interests, intentions and goals.
Answer one or more of the following questions:
- Did you vote? Why or why not?
- What was your experience during this election cycle?
- How has your experience changed your perception of our nation?
- Where do you find yourself now?
Answer one or more of the following questions:
- In one sentence, share what was most meaningful or valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation;
- What new understanding or common ground did you find within this topic?
- Has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?
Five: Accomplishment and moving forward
Answer both of the following questions:
- Name one important thing that was accomplished here;
- Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?
For more background on LRC, read an interview with co-founder Joan Blades here.
September 16, 2016
The Jesus Movement: Loving, Liberating, and Life-Giving
No sooner had I returned from my brief sabbatical and vacation (see my Facebook page here for pictures of the latter!), than I made my way to Detroit for the House of Bishops. This short update is to say that here, we are speaking of “The Jesus Movement; Reconciling Reality and Ideal.”
Over the summer a video conversation between me and the Presiding Bishop was shared with you (available to view here). I hope it was of help to you as you think about this language presented by the Presiding Bishop. I hope it encouraged your wonder about yourself as a witness to Jesus and the transformation that comes from the life we share with him.
Below is a short video by Presiding Bishop Michael on his intent of this phrase, “The Jesus Movement.” It’s also a beautiful reflection on the liturgical presentation of the Gospel in which we engage each week. This very act can help us think of how we move with the Gospel reading; indeed, how we become a movement as we turn our bodies to hear of the life, the words and the gift who is Jesus. The reading of the Gospel is the time we orient ourselves to the heart of our faith.
We are considering the language in the House of Bishops and I invite you to do the same. How do we turn toward the Gospel in our daily lives, take it in and walk with it in the world? Are we in conversation with our communities in some way of what we hear Jesus speaking and living? What would it take to do more of that in ways authentic to our Episcopal way, encouraging a wider conversation and potential for transformation?
Finally, in brief, my sabbatical time was a wonderful break to complete my move, read and write on “Becoming a Learning Organization” and rest. Our November Convention — which is coming up soon — will be an opportunity to hear more of how this cultural shift is happening in our diocese.
We are blessed to live this life of Christ together. May the wisdom of the Spirit continue to move among us and our communities as we grow the Kingdom for the glory of God.
Click the photo above to see Presiding Bishop Curry’s video message from Detroit. Transcripts of his message in English and Spanish can be read here.
August 13, 2016
The Jesus Movement: A Video Interview with Presiding Bishop Curry
I am on sabbatical now, but before I left, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and I were able to conduct a video interview via Zoom about “The Jesus Movement.” As this phrase has been launched (or re-launched) by +Michael, the response in our diocese has run the spectrum from great embrace to great aversion. So, it seemed a good idea to listen to our Presiding Bishop and hear what he is thinking about as he uses these words. In turn, we can listen to one another.
The interview is filled with great energy, insight, and humor, and it’s available to view at the video link below. Together we will discover the wisdom of the Spirit!
You will hear in our exchange several references to the book The Beloved Community by Charles Marsh. It’s a great read on the Kingdom of God, a review of the civil rights movement, and some thought critique about “what makes a movement anyway?”
I hope you might watch this video in community and have a fruitful discussion. I hope we might be inspired to think and act more deeply about Jesus, and the life to which we have committed as the baptized. What scares us? What inspires us? What challenges us?
You might wish to use the Living Room Conversations format. Once again, the link to the website can be found here and below is a set of questions you may use, which has been customized for a discussion on the Jesus Movement.
May the grace of God that we know in Christ call us, lead us and keep us on the path to which we have been called.
With every blessing,
Click the image above to view the video of Bishop Mary’s interview with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. The HD video on our YouTube page can be viewed full-screen and is great for viewing in community settings, such as Bible study groups or congregational gatherings.
Sample Questions for The Jesus Movement
Round One: Getting Started / Why Are We Here?
– What interested you or drew you to this conversation?
Round Two: Core Values
Answer one or more of the following:
– What sense of purpose / mission / duty guides you in your life?
– What would your best friend say about who you are and what makes you “tick”?
– What are your hopes and concerns for your community and/or the country now and long-term?
Round Three: The Jesus Movement
Remember that the goal for this conversation is to listen and learn about different opinions and where we have shared interests, intentions and goals.
– What is your personal response to the language, “The Jesus Movement”?
– What is a movement to you?
– What would it take for you to be part of a movement?
– What is your hope for the church? How do we become that hope?
Round Four: What Are We Learning Here?
Answer one or more of the following questions:
– In one sentence, share what was most meaningful / valuable to you in the experience of this Living Room Conversation.
– What learning, new understanding or common ground was found on this topic?
– Has this conversation changed your perception of anyone in this group, including yourself?
Round Five: Accomplishment and Next Steps
Answer the following questions:
– What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
– Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?
July 8, 2016
Becoming a Learning Organization: Living to Our Fullest Capacity
As some of you know, I began seven weeks of sabbatical time on July 1st. My intention for this time away (a fairly brief break in sabbatical terms) is to continue learning about what it means for us as a diocese to live into being a Learning Organization.
If you attended deanery meetings this spring, you will have heard this phrase. A video presented at those meetings included a conversation with Board of Trustees Vice-President Joe Head and Standing Committee President Maly Hughes, where we explained that the leadership groups of the diocese have been considering ways to more fully engage all our members — to strengthen our capacity to share the good news of the gospel in our communities.
As well, it is present in the remix of the strategic plan under the second goal: “Develop lay and clergy education with particular focus on Gospel witness, leadership development across generations, historical and cultural reconciliation, and social justice ministries.”
While there are various theorists who work with the concept of the Learning Organization, some diocesan leaders have studied Peter Senge’s work, “The Fifth Discipline.” He explains the difference it will make in a corporation if all employees, from the janitor to the CEO, are able to exercise the same level of commitment and power of voice.
James Good, who wrote “The Fifth Discipline in 15 Minutes,” gives an excellent “nutshell” comment: “A learning organization, in essence, makes use of the entire workforce to create a community where the team learns together and shares the same vision. It creates interconnected thinking, so that everyone is on the same wavelength. It encourages, through organized and shared learning, greater openness, more productivity, more communication – and thus more progress.”
St. Paul, of course, had something to say about this: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ….Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many.
If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body…” (1 Corinthians 12:12ff).
Our baptismal covenant bears this theology, and in theory we are ordered for life and ministry in this non-hierarchical way. The question is not then whether we believe the theory. The question is are we living to its fullest capacity? Is there something we can do to better reflect our oneness in Christ through the way we behave as the Body of Christ? We are still quite a hierarchical church with bishops at the supposed “top” – and then “on down” – to the average person in the pew. In practice, some are more equal than others . . . and we tend to value the leadership of some more than others based solely on their position in the organization.
Much of this way of thinking is unconscious. We just go with the flow since it is a prevalent way of being in the world. There is no pure exercise of the theory. But organizations, from families to corporations, learn by praxis. Theories find their reality as they are played with, lived in the real world.
So we are playing with this idea at every level of diocesan leadership. We are living it and learning a lot. I hear from some congregations that they too are fiddling with the idea, the language, the theory. Pondering is happening: what if we really listened for wisdom from every place in the community? Who is our community? How would this make a difference in bringing about the Kingdom of God? Two tools that are taking stronger hold among us are Lectio Divina and Living Room Conversations. Both of these practices help us listen and learn from one another. I am hearing reports of energy, excitement and increase. We are becoming a smarter organization. The Church, as we live it, is increasing in wisdom.
In these seven weeks I am going to play with the theory of the Learning Organization and think about how I can better live this theory from my position as Bishop. How does my leadership style need to shift for the good of the body? I am going to explore who our partners in the wider church and world might be. With whom could we learn?
You will hear more about this at convention and other places. Our formation and education in the diocese will shift accordingly as we discover the tools to help us live more fully into the reality of being the Body of Christ.
With blessings for a fruitful summer; please pray for me as I always pray for you!
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