January 3, 2018

An Epiphany message from Bishop Mary

Living More Deeply Our Identity

 

Dear friends,

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,
+Mary


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!

+Mary


October 18, 2017

A message from Bishop Mary:

Prayers for Bishop Shannon Mallory

Dear Friends,

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
USA

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,
+Mary


October 4, 2017

A message from Bishop Mary

Kyrie Eleison

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.

Read about those who were lost here.

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.
Amen.

May the God of healing have mercy.
+Mary


September 8, 2017

Our Mission of Reconciliation: Stretching Ourselves for Peace

Dear Friends,

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.

Blessings,
+Mary


August 18, 2017

Building Monuments of Peace

Dear friends,
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.

+Mary


June 23, 2017

Moving to a steady, measured rhythm

Dear Friends,

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,

Mary


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?

+Mary

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,
+Mary


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.

Faithfully,

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

Dear Friends,

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.

+Mary


February 3, 2017

The Sanctuary Movement and Loving One Another

Dear Friends,

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.episcopalmigrationministries.org.

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.org) on the matter of immigration, human rights or other matters of concern to you in your community. What topics are emerging as important in your local congregation?  To listen and speak responsibly is to take action.  It is critical and productive to explore together with civility how our faith informs our values, opinions and actions. Discovering where we can respectfully agree could offer us powerful platforms for values-based engagement in our community. The groups within our diocese who have utilized this tool have found greater love and respect for one another which has deepened their experience of community; despite differences. Some will say, ‘the talking is nice but we need to take action.’ Others come to church for peace and quiet.  What if we could mobilize our diversity? The Rev. Canon Linda Taylor serves as a resource for LRCs and may be reached at canonlinda@gmail.com.

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.

Blessings,

+Mary


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)

+Mary


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,
+Mary


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.

candles-advent_2Advent 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!

+Mary


November 11, 2016

After the Election: Responding to Celebration and Grief

Dear Friends,

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.

Blessings,
+Mary


November 3, 2016

We are the Solution: Election Day and Reconciliation

Dear Friends,

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,
+Mary

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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?

Four: Reflection
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

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Dear Friends,

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.

+Mary

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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

Dear Friends,

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,
+Mary

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

Dear Friends,

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.

many-parts-but-one-body-christian-wallpaper_1366x768St. 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!

+Mary


June 17, 2016

Values Translating into Action

God’s beloved gunned down in Orlando, Florida, at the Pulse Nightclub:

Stanley Almodovar III, age 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar Aracena, 26
Rodolfo Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl R. Burt II, 29
Jonathan Camuy, 24
Angel Luis Candelario-Padro, 28
Omar Capo, 20
Simon Carrillo, 31
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frankie Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Jimmy De Jesús, 50
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Christopher Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Juan Chavez Martinez, 25
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Murray, 18
Geraldo Ortiz-Jimenez, 25
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 31
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, 25
Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera, 36
Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano, 35
Christopher Sanfeliz, 24
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Juan Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, age 31

To learn about each of their lives, visit the Orlando Sentinel’s story here or click the photo.

To learn about each of their lives, visit the Orlando Sentinel’s story here.

Dear Friends,

I have asked the question a lot lately, “How do our values translate into action?” It is a question that arises during the defining moments that inevitably come our way in life; those events that are transforming to the point where we are confronted with who we are, what we believe, and how we live out our values in the world. Our values can be clarified, strengthened and empowered as a result of having to wrestle with ourselves.

I was ticketed for speeding a few months ago. I clearly had decided that my right to drive beyond the speed limit on an unpopulated road was more important than the reason the speed limit in that location was determined in the first place. I slogged through traffic school and repeatedly, the obvious was stated: laws were in place to keep us from harming ourselves and others.

It puzzles me – it terrifies me – that we can place limits on how we use a cell phone in a car to save lives, but cannot freely and willingly work toward boundaries to lessen the capacity of another to exercise deadly rage.

How will our values be clarified, strengthened and empowered because of Orlando? Because of God’s beloved listed above? We don’t know all the details yet of the shooter’s disposition. He could have been an Islamist terrorist or a GLBTQ terrorist. He was plagued in some way and disposed toward raging violence. It is our reality that people are in our midst who will do such things.

Such events call us to consider our responsibility to one another. For me, questions arise. Is my right to bear certain weapons of more value than those who died? Is the lack of social responsibility taken in this country for the mentally ill of more value than those who died? None of us are free from guilt in these events. As citizens and residents in these United States, as Christians, each mass shooting says something about who we are. What are the words we would use to describe ourselves in these days?

In our gospel for Sunday, the story of the Geresene Demoniac, I have wondered how long the conversation goes on between Jesus and the demons who inhabit the man. He was plagued for so many years. This one is complex. They aren’t leaving without a fight. A strategy must be organized. Where will the demons go? Where will the man go? This was not a quick, “drive-by” healing. It would take some time. I was struck that at the end of the story Jesus tells the man to thank GOD for what God has done for him, but instead, he proclaims what Jesus has done for him. I think the distinction speaks of the power of the incarnation; that God was known in who Jesus was and what he did. For we who follow Jesus, it reminds us that God is known in who WE are and what we do.

I wonder if perhaps the man was so grateful that Jesus did not leave when it became apparent that the conversation would be complex and take time. There was nothing more important to Jesus in this moment than this “demoniac.” Perhaps this gentle, healed soul was so deeply thankful that Jesus stayed and kept working at it until the work was done. Jesus stays through his terror.

How might we walk alongside our bereaved families and our traumatized nation? Can we stay in these long conversations as we sort through polarized viewpoints? Can we find common ground for our values that can translate into life and goodness for us all?

Several weeks ago we held a diocesan conference on Living Room Conversations: how to have constructive conversation to find common ground on difficult issues. Gun Control, Racism, Homophobia, Sexism, Misogyny and Health Care are a few matters on which we disagree in this nation, reflected in the Orlando terror. I strongly encourage our congregations to use the Living Room Conversation process to engage in the Christian stewardship of relationship and conversation. The process to the LRC website, instructions and a set of questions are at the end of this article.

Mass shootings offer us an opportunity not only for more arguing, but for reconciliation and grace. Which will we choose? We struggle with our differences, and yet it is precisely in our differences that we can find creative solutions.

Please know that I am aware of my own bias and values in these and other pieces I have written following mass shootings. Part of my call as a bishop is to share what I think, and also to teach. However, my role as a gatherer is equally important. I hope that the LRC process can provide us space to talk about difficult topics together as the Body of Christ despite disagreement. Confident in the grace of God, may we consider one another’s views and discern our role in creating solutions that value the dignity of all human life.

O God, as the Body of Christ, may we remain with one another and with the angry, traumatized and broken heart of our nation. As we seek justice and change that reflects your will, may we trust one another as we responsibly speak our values, so that in faith, the ground from which we act in the world, we may take our place in your powerful and healing presence intended for all. It is in the power of the Spirit we humbly pray. Amen.

+Mary


May 20, 2016

Join our “Start-Up” Christian Movement!

Dear Friends,

BpMaryMessage_StFrancisThe Holy Spirit is moving in our midst! I hope you had good celebrations of Pentecost Sunday, and now deepen the meaning of that experience this week as we honor the Trinity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our faith is grounded in the communal understanding of God, expressed in the three persons. The Trinity reflects incarnationally that the transforming love of God is present and cosmically active in all creation; all time and every place. Our faith is not kept in history but is dynamic and lived synergistically in community.
That is why as Christians we say faith is personal, but not private. Every time we step out in faith (and just going to church in our secular culture is increasingly a radical and counter-cultural act), we are saying something about who we are and who we understand God to be.

The coming of the Holy Spirit was the start of a movement that took root in the conscious experience of transformation of the followers of Jesus of his life, death, resurrection and ascension. The day of Pentecost was a launch party for what would become the church’s part in God’s transformation of the world. From that little band of followers, God took transforming love viral.

This movement is one among many in the life of God. The word “eternal” – reality extending across all time and space – is critical to keeping us humbly in touch with the Spirit working outside our own context and understanding. We can remain inquisitive and open to the breadth of our Trinity, our Three in One. As a communal God, ‘who was and is and is to come,’ we have modeled for us in theology and scripture a myriad of partnering possibilities to help us learn our values as Christians and live them into the world on God’s behalf.

The Board of Trustees in our diocese engages in Lectio Divina at each of our meetings. The scriptures have become a critical partner for our formation as a learning and governance community. Lectio grounds our work in the movement of the Spirit – in the first century and now. This year we are listening deeply to stories from the Book of Acts. I invite you to join us as we study what is essentially the record of the “start-up” of the Christian movement. It has similar qualities to any new organization: rapid decision-making based on values still forming, the creation of language as new experiences become a way of life, managing the tension between the disorganized reality of start-ups alongside the benefits of a more settled and orderly existence, and of course, inevitable mistakes and God’s redemption of them.

Such stories help us see the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we study the rhythm of learning among the first followers of Jesus. They are helpful teachers as we increase our practice of discernment and translate our values into action.

The energy of God is in all times and places. Where is it moving in your congregation, in you? With whom might you be called to partner in your learning and your formation as Christian leaders in your community? How are your values translating into action on God’s behalf?

May the transformation you have known in Christ lead to action in the movement of the Triune God in our time!

+Mary


March 25, 2016

Disarmed and Disoriented by the Power of God

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen,” reads our Easter narrative.

What would a disciple do now?

While in Mexico a couple of weeks ago brushing up on my Spanish language skills, I also spent time in the Anglican Diocese of Southeastern Mexico with Bishop Benito Juarez, his wife Angelica and members of the church in the region. We visited several congregations, one of which was a new church plant in an abandoned neighborhood (previously company housing that had flooded and where the employees subsequently refused to live), now taken over by homeless people after 40 years of vacancy. The government allowed them to stay. They have fixed up their “new” homes and a small group has planted a church. Currently, the church is a concrete pad with a metal roof. No walls yet. There are plastic flowers, an altar and a statue of St. Francis, their patron saint. The church is located next to the flood plain which apparently manages the water flow in the area.

352fb815-814f-43e5-b18a-a4b43a2c26aeWe sat in the open air, sipped coke and chatted with the church planters, a group of four neighborhood women. The conversation turned to the statues and images prevalent in Mexican culture. These new friends noted the heartfelt experience of images important to those in the neighborhood: of Jesus, Mary and all the saints.

They provided a safe approach to conversation and prayer with God. The lack of them in this Anglican Church was maybe an obstacle to church growth, the women pondered. Into this conversation, +Benito made a comment that caught my ear:

“God is not a bureaucrat,” he said gently.

We did not disagree as we considered how to share with others the reality of God in Christ. Each culture has its way; all Christians must navigate a conversation between faith and culture. But cultural aids and supports to understanding the relationship between God and humanity can turn into requirements. We can develop an unnecessary dependency upon them. Resurrection though, is so entirely free of bureaucracy; it is a stark and direct work of God. There is no human power that causes or prevents it. It is just suddenly present.

How disarming and disorienting it must have been! The lack of something – anything – between the cross and the empty tomb was too much to take in for the disciples, so the story goes. One life had passed away; and almost too soon, another came in its place.How is a follower of Jesus, known in a particular way, to make sense of this? How would life change with this open space between God and humanity, especially with Jesus in resurrected form?

We tend to speak of resurrection as a simplistic quick-fix, but really, it’s as complicated as any death. “Walk in the light while you still have it” (John 12:35d803a64c-f16d-4a46-a264-de68b0e37195-36) is a piece of advice Jesus gives in the Gospel of John as he approaches the cross; perhaps not only to show the way through death, but as a support, an honoring of what it takes to find one’s way through the disorientation of resurrection.

The Easter story moves from the cross to the empty tomb to the 50 days of Easter. Eastertide is a time to ponder how we will live resurrection. What shall we do with this new life where there is no barrier between God and humanity? What will that mean for us in our everyday life? How does it change the way we share the good news of Jesus with others? As we enter this Eastertide, may we pray for a deeper understanding of the reality of resurrection in our lives, where there is no barrier between God and ourselves. May our own story of knowing the risen Christ be a gift to others.

Grace and wisdom in this Easter season,
+Mary

 


March 18, 2016

Values, Respect and Reconciliation for the Common Good

Dear Friends,

I write to you as I arrive home following nearly three weeks of travel. I spent a week in the City of Oaxaca, Mexico studying Spanish, and enjoying the history, art, food and people of that beautiful city. I then went to Tuxtepec near the border between Oaxaca and Vera Cruz to spend a few days with the Diocese of Southeastern Mexico. I attended their synod, visited congregations and very much enjoyed time with Bishop Benito and Angelica Juarez, as well as lay and clergy leaders. All Saints’ Palo Alto has a parish partnership with Santa Cruz in La Joya. It was wonderful to see the life and mission they share. Watch for news of their mission trip coming up in April.

The House of Bishops meeting in Navasota, Texas was my last stop on the itinerary. There we spent time in retreat with our new Presiding Bishop, listening to his vision and together crafting how we will move forward together as a House. Presiding Bishop Michael continues to hold out for us a focus of reconciliation (racial and otherwise) and evangelism: the most fundamental elements of our Christian calling. Our week together was a blessed time of prayer, worship, fellowship and joy.

As we do on occasion, the bishops issued a Mind-of-the-House statement “calling for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.” The complete statement may be read here. Together we expressed our concern regarding the current political climate in our country, the use of violent and manipulative rhetoric in the political process and our inability to disagree while still making decisions in support of the common good. I hope you will join us in prayer for reconciliation in our nation as we focus on that essential Christian work in our church.

When we pray in directed ways, we notice the synergism of the Spirit. Diocesan leaders discerned that in this year of prayerful consideration of our Values, that at our annual May conference we might explore ways of having conversation across difference. After all, while we may hold the same values, we may do so differently. This is good and is the strength of our country. If, as I think we have, lost the art of public discourse then it means that our differences cannot work together creatively for the common good.

All points of view matter. All points of view have something to offer into solutions for our most challenging social problems.

With the Diocesan Partnership Commission, I have invited Joan Blades, co-founder of Living Room Convrsations to be our speaker and facilitator. LRC is a non-profit organization that helps people have small group conversations across difference on matters that are of concern to us all. In turn, this relational model for community-building empowers people of differing points of view to wocfea50e6-f023-4d7c-981b-aaa745aed18erk together for the common good in their communities.

I am of the view that churches have the potential to have and host such conversations as one way to live out our Christian mission of reconciliation in our communities . . . both congregational and beyond. In that spirit, I invite you to join together on Saturday, May 21 for an important spring conference, “Living Room Conversations: Respecting, Reconciling, and Appreciating Differences.” Online registration can be found here.

We focus our attention this Holy Week on the saving work of Jesus the Christ. May our knowledge of the grace of God made known in the death and resurrection of Jesus increase in these coming days. May we live that abundant grace in our communities. May we trust and work with its power, and may the world be healed.

+Mary


January 15, 2016

More Work of Love for the Pain All Around

cathedral

Read in Spanish

Dear friends,

You will no doubt have heard about one of the outcomes of the Primates meeting of the Anglican Communion. For a second time (the first season of sanctions came in 2005), The Episcopal Church has been sanctioned for a period of three years. As reported in Episcopal News Service, a majority asked that TEC will “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or policy.”

I need to correct some statements in the media that The Episcopal Church has been excommunicated or suspended. This is not the case. We are still part of the Anglican Communion, but are in a very long conversation about the validity of our decision to affirm marriage for same-sex couples. Our change in language at last summer’s General Convention that expresses that marriage is for all people (instead of exclusively between a man and a woman) is unacceptable to many in the Anglican Communion. Since we are a Communion that is governed independently by province, there is little way to express this officially. The sanctions provide that way.

Our Presiding Bishop has released a video where he speaks eloquently of our place in the Communion as the voice that speaks for inclusion of all people. I want to affirm that we are a diocese that sets a wide table. Everyone is welcome to be seated, to feast and to fellowship. While our local conversation around the inclusion of LGBTQ persons is largely completed on an official level, we honor the diversity of personal opinions that are a part of us. We hold ourselves in a relationship of love and trust in God’s grace rather than our own theologies. We respectfully and carefully walk this path with one another and our partners in the Anglican Communion. We will continue to do so.

This moment will be particularly painful for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I love you very much and I am sorry for this further assault on your being. Please know that as a diocese we stand with you, even as we stand in this global church. I titled this article with words from Bishop Curry’s video, “More Work of Love” and added my own, “For the Pain All Around.” I am sorry for the pain in the wider church as a result of our decisions. I am particularly sorry for our friends in our partner dioceses who have been offended or harmed by our actions. On the one hand as a Bishop of the church, I am part of the problem for your provinces, and I ask your forgiveness; on the other hand, I do not regret my inclusive stance and votes at our General Convention. They are a matter of conviction, faith, theology and integrity. My prayer is we can continue to walk together despite our serious disagreement.

In closing, I quote what I wrote in last week’s message:

“In our gospel reading this weekend from Luke 3 when ‘Jesus and all the people’ are baptized, I note that the people come with expectation. They are not afraid of this salvation: they are hoping in it, curious about it, filled with expectation. How wonderful to be fearless in the face of God and the circumstances of the world; filled with expectation at what may come! How many of us instead fear God and the chaos of the planet in these days?

There is plenty to be afraid of in the world, but fear does not need to govern our response.”

With Epiphany blessings of light and wisdom,
+Mary

Photo: Episcopal News Service (click the link for continuing coverage)


January 8, 2016

Fear is Not a Christian Value

We have left Christmastide, the season in which we celebrate the coming of the Light of Christ. We have arrived at Epiphany, the season in which we become more conscious of being the Light of Christ in the world.

Fear is not a Christian value, but no doubt, it can protect us from our own poor judgment. As people of faith we must exercise discernment of the roots and the nature of our fear. Is it providing important protection, or preventing us from moving forward in some way?

Hope

The angels, as they announce the coming of God’s light in Jesus, all warn against “being afraid.” “Don’t go there,” they say. The angel says it to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds. “Do not be afraid.” This imperative is not a dismissal of their very reasonable fear in the presence of an angel, but to warn against allowing that fear to govern their response to God’s work of salvation. The angel not only calls them into the work of salvation but is a discernment partner in the face of fear. The angel gets them from fear to empowerment.

When I was in kindergarten I was asked to be THE class angel in the Christmas pageant at my Episcopal day school. I said no to this request because I was quite sure I had to learn to fly – and I was sure I would not be able to manage this. Some days after the pageant, my mother continued to pester me about why I had turned down this great honor. She could not make sense of it. I confided to her that I just knew I would not be able to learn to fly. It would certainly be too hard. My mother gently corrected my misperception. In the first grade I was given a second chance to be the angel for my class. I accepted and very happily fulfilled my role – no flying required. My mother was a fine discernment partner in the face of my fear.

Fear can be empowering when we acknowledge it and discern our way forward. We can learn, be strengthened and empowered by the process. The characters in our gospel story do just that. While they acknowledge their fear, they don’t allow it to keep them from serving God in the way they have been called. Fear is not suppressed or in control; or worse, a value. Instead these servants become empowered for the work of salvation.

In our gospel reading this weekend from Luke 3 when “Jesus and all the people” are baptized, I note that the people come with expectation. They are not afraid of this salvation: they are hoping in it, curious about it, filled with expectation. How wonderful to be fearless in the face of God and the circumstances of the world; filled with expectation at what may come! How many of us instead fear God and the chaos of the planet in these days?

There is plenty to be afraid of in the world, but fear does not need to govern our response.

In this Epiphany season, spend some time noticing what scares you. What prevents you from taking flight? As you discern your fears, the process will give you wisdom. The light of Christ, from which wisdom flows, will be an even stronger light in the world.

Grace and Light,
+Mary

faith

Photos: San Bernardino shooting memorial, December 2015 (Elrond Lawrence)


December 23, 2015
A Message from the Bishops of our Diocesan Partnership

There was no place for them: The ministry for refugees in our partner dioceses

When we are settled in both our civic and religious life, we can take for granted our citizenship, both in our belonging to a country and to the Kingdom of God. Yet they are precious and to be lived with reverence and responsibility. Both are a privilege and an honor.

The number of refugees in the world has swelled to over 50 million. There has not been a higher number since immediately after WWII. We call this a crisis, as though it will end, but will it? The current pattern of migration, refugees, those who are stateless, those seeking asylum, and those who are internally displaced reflects the world’s inability to be at peace and to manage its resources in just and equitable ways. People flee because of political instability, others because of food or water insecurity. About half of refugees are children. Some move to another country for better employment opportunities. These are technically not refugees, but both groups live with the same insecurities and threats. Exploitative human trafficking abounds in such chaotic situations of human desperation.

In this Christmas season, we turn our attention to the holy family and how salvation came into the world through their faithfulness. They gave birth to salvation while on the move in turbulent times. For a brief period, Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have qualified as refugees. In Matthew chapter 2, an angel warns them of Herod’s edict to kill all firstborn boys and urges them to flee into Egypt. Herod’s tyranny was prompted by fear of the salvation foretold in this baby Jesus, one who would be called the Prince of Peace. No doubt it also sparks the memory of salvation from slavery out of Egypt of the Hebrew people when Pharoah demanded the same infanticide.

Throughout his life Jesus lives in occupied territory. The salvation story is told amidst political unrest, fear, economic and social injustice and the movement of people living under constant threat. The same cry for peace on earth found in scripture is our global cry today. It is our context for following Jesus now. How shall we proclaim it? How shall we live it?

refugees-aid

Our diocesan partnership shares in many things. We are one in the body of Christ. We are blessed to share love, fellowship, and a commitment to deep conversation about what it means to be Christian in our respective contexts. There remains an abiding commitment to live peaceably with significant difference among us. We also share this global crisis, our concern for refugees, for peace on earth and for salvation in Jesus Christ to be shared. In this time we model the power of our faith to create a context for peace to be born in our turbulent world.

Here are a few words from each of our dioceses about our experience of this global reality. May we be inspired to serve God’s will in our time.

From Bishop Rachel Treweek
In the Diocese of Gloucester we are engaged with GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) and Chapter 1, a charity with a Christian foundation that works in our region to enable more properties to become available to families who might be deemed high risk for a private landlord. The hope is that as Syrian refugees arrive in our area over the next few years, we will be able to offer real and practical support and enable adults and children to integrate well with local communities.

From Bishop Sadock Makaya
In the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, we have been engaged in the ministry of serving the refugees from Burundi and from the Republic of Congo who now live in my Diocese. We have two types of ministries: spiritual and physical. As Bishop I always visit these poor needy people to encourage and comfort them, but also for confirmation services. Secondly under the department of Development, the diocese has been providing blankets, towels, mattresses and food. Last month, the UNHCR Project field officer from Kasulu wrote me an acknowledgement letter for what DWT is doing among the refugees. We feel that since the refugees are located in our diocese we have no excuse not to be engaged in this service.

We thank St. Barnabas Fund from UK and the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund from El Camino Real who donated funds toward the physical support to these people. John Mhanuzi has done an amazing ministry among the Refugees.

From Bishop Mary
Prayer and tangible support is variously found in our congregations for refugees the world over. We also have many undocumented workers in our diocese, vs refugees, and much support is offered to this population. Most recently some of our congregations have participated in an interfaith community organizing effort that resulted in the provision of maintenance health care for undocumented persons.

We are also discerning how we might help those effected by the refugee crisis resulting from gang related violence in some Central American Countries, especially in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The violence has led to extreme rates of homicide and forced displacement. As a result, many families, and a large number of unaccompanied youth, migrate irregularly to the United States. Foundation Cristosal, an Anglican/Episcopal human rights organization, is leading the national effort to provide direct assistance to victims displaced and persecuted by violence, or forced into sexual slavery. We will continue to support the refugees in DWT.

As we enjoy the celebrations of Christmas in our homes with our families and friends, let us pray for refugees and all those who have no place to call home. May we open hearts to them, support them as we are able, and live in hope alongside them for peace on earth. As Christians who know our spiritual home to be in Christ, may we share the gracious hospitality of God with all our neighbors.

O God of the wanderer, we give thanks that no matter where we are you have called us to make our home in Jesus. We thank you that in him we find the fullness of life. We pray today for all who flee their native land because of fear, hunger, violence, oppression, and terror. Give them comfort and deep peace as they travel; provide for them open arms and hearts as they arrive in a foreign place. May they find in us, their brothers and sisters, shelter, food, clothing, and a place to call home. May we embrace the stranger as we would your glorious presence. It is in this holy time of celebrating your Incarnation and by the power of the Spirit that we pray.

To support the refugees in our partner dioceses — either Western Tanganyika or Gloucester — please send your gift to Bishop Mary’s discretionary fund, noting the diocese to which you intend to contribute. Online donations can be made here. Thank you and Merry Christmas!


December 11, 2015

Advent is a Thin Place

“The koru, which is often used in Māori art as a symbol of creation, is based on the shape of an unfurling fern frond. Its circular shape conveys the idea of perpetual movement, and its inward coil suggests a return to the point of origin. The koru therefore symbolizes the way in which life both changes and stays the same.” (teara.gov.nz.org)

Unfurling fern frond

New Zealand is a thin spot for me. In other words, there seems to be less barriers between my human experience and the divine presence. It is a place where I easily sense God’s presence, especially in the sheer beauty of the creation one finds in that land. People say Ireland and Israel are also thin places. You probably have places in your life that feel this way for you.

The Maori language and culture reflect a deep spiritual connection with the land. New Zealand, Aotearoa (in Maori this means ‘the land of the long white cloud’), is a thin place for the people of New Zealand. Their relationship with the land has shaped their thinking and their language. Words always have more meaning than one can initially grasp. Understanding unfurls.

One of the symbols the people draw out of nature is the koru. It is the unfurling baby frond of the tree fern. The symbol is everywhere, as are the tree and buds themselves. New Zealand art and media abound with the koru. It is hard not to think about the constant generativity of creation, of God and potentially of the self. Any idea that life is stagnant or that we are not called to growth and change over time is wildly challenged by its presence. In these images of koru, I particularly enjoy the messy one of dead ferns on the forest floor. Even in all that dying, new life is emerging everywhere.

New life emerging everywhere

Advent is a thin spot in the liturgical life of the church. It is intended to be a time where the space between humanity and God is as minimal as can be. Jesus who comes as God among us is a thin spot; a place where the human and divine experience are drawn together as one. In our readings the prophets cry wildly of the generativity of God. Images of birth and new life are everywhere.

I am just returning from a month of vacation in New Zealand, where we lived from 1990-1993. It was a great trip in every way. We hiked in several forests, among other activities. Just driving along the roads is a feast for the eyes and the soul, but the forest is a special place. Koru is everywhere. During that time of rest and rejuvenation (and some news fasting), however, horrific things also happened: Lebanon, Paris, San Bernardino, and Planned Parenthood were attacked by terrorists. I came back to find that we now refer to these events as “today’s shooting.”

Climate talks have been underway, the refugee crisis continues, and the debate on gun control is as unproductive as ever. Our materialistic culture remains committed not to the spiritual process of new life unfurling but the end product that can be shot, bombed or bought. One might imagine God is not here at all or perhaps worse, that God too is a product we can buy.

“Come, Emmanuel, Come!” is our Advent cry. It is our Christian walk to stop asking that peace and a healthy planet magically appear, but to work for their slow and steady growth, to help them unfurl in the world. As we prepare to know God’s unfurling in the Christ-child, let us be conscious not only of a beautiful baby but also of the values of God that we celebrate this season: salvation, peace, and wholeness, to name a few.

May we walk in the thin place of this season. May we treasure the wild creativity of God in our soul, the human community and our planet. May we be part of the slow work of these Godly things.

+Mary

Healthy planet



November 7, 2015

Bishop’s Mary’s Annual Convention Address

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves’ annual address at the 35th Convention of El Camino Real sets a new direction for the diocese while challenging congregations to consider their own values and how they embody them in their communities.

Click here to view and download a copy of her 30-minute address that challenges El Camino Real to become a values-driven organization.

 


August 8, 2015

The Transformational Power of Camp

“If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings
If I were a robin in a tree, I’d thank you Lord that I could sing
If I were a fish in the sea
I’d wiggle my tail and I’d giggle with glee
But I just thank you God for making me, me.”

StAndrewsCamp_fishers5x_MGREvery August, about 140 kids, staff and counselors make their way to Pinecrest in the Sierras for Camp St. Andrew’s, our diocesan camp. The camp has been going for 38 years, same week, same beautiful spot.  Some leaders have come and gone, but Sue Ramar of St. Andrew’s, Saratoga – along with her family and adult counselors who started as campers years ago and who are now seasoned counselors – return each year for this transformational experience. Camp is a community. Camp is missional.

Many of us will have memories of the power of camp. Right now – remember!  In your mind or out loud, sing a song, do the hand gestures that go with it, ponder a prank or an activity you were able to have because you went to camp. Remember your friends and what you learned.  Same thing every year, but different because you were in a different place on life’s journey each time you returned. It was so fun – and formational!

What makes Camp St. Andrew’s different is the intentional community it gathers.  There are our typical church kids, who likely have the privilege of stable homes, church communities that embrace and raise them in the faith, and good education. A positive future awaits. There are also kids in foster care and whose families struggle with daily life in every way. The future is chaotic, confusing or cannot be envisioned at all. At Camp St. Andrew’s you can’t actually tell who has what sort of life (although the prayer requests during worship give insight to the differences). Everyone is part of the same transformational milieu, the same fun, the same worship, the same song. Everyone is just a beloved child of God in this place. The cultural crossing of emotional realities with Jesus in the midst means no one will leave quite as they arrived. And this is good.

StAndrewsCamp_group_MGRMy kids participated in Camp St. Andrew’s as campers and one keeps going back, now as a counselor, but I had not yet had the opportunity to go. This past week Channing Smith, Rector of St. Andrew’s, and I made our way up to Pinecrest and joined the fun, the songs, the worship. We all ate S’mores at campfire, had significant conversations, were conscious of the Spirit moving and were filled with gratitude for the experience. Gratitude for silliness and fun. Gratitude for an opening of the heart. Gratitude for being made stronger because we share in this community.

In the community of camp, rites of passage are marked for campers and counselors alike. Different color scarves are given at significant points of life change and levels of participation. There is something to strive for and to celebrate. The community notices growth. It has noticed that we have accomplished something and it has made a difference to others. In our Christian language, we might call it growing into the likeness of Christ and maturing as spiritual leaders. It is worthy of celebration.

StAndrewsCamp_fire_MGRWhile I don’t think weekly church should be campy, I do think the making of community that we do as church should always be this transformational. A little or a lot, something new or something that has been done over and over again; on any given day, the transformational power should grow in our congregations as we move along in our common life.

I see it happening in our congregations in lots of ways; how do you see it happening in yours? The Spirit is always calling it forth. Periods of transformation ebb and flow in a congregation’s rhythm of spiritual maturing in Christ; sometimes the transformation is lightheartedly silly and sometimes sensitively deep. Mark the passages, take notice, spill a tear, celebrate, do a silly dance in honor of the achievement, launch forward from that good place to whatever Christ has in store. In all this ebb and flow, these passages, these life stories, the Spirit makes us a community of transformation.

Thank you God for making us, us!

+Mary


Following Jesus Into the Neighborhood, Traveling Lightly

July 10, 2015

Dear Friends,

Flat Jesus_WebsiteThis now popular tag line of General Convention sums up my month of travel! My time away began with a Beautiful Authority conference — a gathering I help lead for women clergy that originated in El Camino Real, but now includes women nationwide for the purposes of co-mentoring and empowering for ministry. Then came a trip to Gloucester for a partnership visit, and finally, 10 days in Salt Lake City for the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Each journey required careful and precise packing for what would be required at my destination. Each gathering was different from the other; but they all had in common following Jesus, risk-taking, and forward movement for the sake of the gospel. These are, after all, characteristics of the Christian life.

“Flat Jesus”, a spin-off of Flat Stanley from the 1964 children’s book by Jeff Brown, was seen many times at General Convention. His little cartoon face on a stick, tucked into people’s name tags, was a reminder that for Christians, Jesus is with us everywhere we go, an easy traveling companion. He takes us and we take him on the journey of life. We travel together, find transformation and share it with the world. This is a rather simple formula.

Our General Convention was uplifting in so many ways. The mood was happy, energetic and forward looking. Even the contentious matters, such as marriage equality, were worked through with a more loving and less anxious spirit than conventions of the last 12 years. In the House of Bishops, a minority report was issued, as was a Mind of the House report. There were affirming words of love, collegiality and community among us as together we acknowledged deep joy and deep pain.

FollowJesusCrop-WebsiteThis big issue did not negatively impact our ability to work together on other matters.  Relationships remained intact. The resolutions addressing restructuring the church – something many thought would be even more challenging than marriage equality – moved through in due time and process.  Much of what the Committee for Restructuring the Church proposed (view the report here) was considered over recent months, prompting rigorous debate before convention and then at convention on the floors of both houses. Some matters were appropriately referred for deeper consideration.

A spirit of integrity pervaded our work as we sought greater accountability, transparency, and a leaner more efficient and effective structure, all with a collaborative energy that was in itself life-giving. These values of our common life were apparent in the work of other resolutions as well; they are increasingly foundational to the way we journey with Jesus as church.

The Episcopal Church Women and the United Thank Offering also had a strong presence as they gathered to conduct their business.  I was mindful of their good work impacting our diocese, especially since my daughter Katie attended convention as a grant recipient for 20-30 year-olds applying for funds for ministry start-ups. Also funded on our behalf was a joint grant application with the Diocese of Olympia to support a youth soccer program in Sudan and a 75,000.00 grant request for St. Luke’s Hollister as they strengthen their important bilingual preschool.

A focus on the important matters of racism, gun violence, gender parity in the church and society, church planting and revitalization are included in the budget and in the work ahead for The Episcopal Church. We shall be capably led by Presiding Bishop-Elect, Michael Curry. If you have never received the inspiration of his presence, I encourage you to listen to his sermon preached on the final day of convention, telling us to “Go” and make disciples for the Jesus Movement at hand. Watch a video of his sermon here.

HOB_Mary-MCurry_WebsiteMichael is my friend and colleague, and I will be honored to work with him as one of two Vice Presidents of the House of Bishops, along with Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas, also elected to this work (all pictured at right).

I come back around to our partnership with the Diocese of Gloucester and Western Tanganyika. Bishop Michael Perham has been restored to ministry and had a joyful farewell the weekend before our visit; importantly, before Bishop Rachel Treweek had her Confirmation of Election (a legal process and ceremony in the Church of England).  Her ordination will be held July 22 and her seating will be in September. I will attend the latter. We very much enjoyed meeting Rachel (the first woman diocesan bishop in the Church of England) and getting to know her as we begin a new chapter in our partnership.

We will continue to disagree on any number of matters, but remain in conversation across the differences as together we follow Jesus and are transformed by the journey. We do agree that Communion is not a matter of agreement but of being members of the body of Christ through baptism and this life of following Jesus. We will continue to work together on a number of matters, including the scholarship program, a new educational endeavor, and parish partnerships.  More information will be forthcoming on these adventures soon!

I am grateful to Jesus Reyes with whom I journeyed to England for our visit. I am grateful to the women of Beautiful Authority who journey with talent and strength beyond measure. Finally, I am grateful to our General Convention deputation who rose early and worked late for ten long days, giving their all for the proper and good stewardship of the governance of our church. You were thoughtful, pastoral and faithful as you made your way through the concerns of the heart of our church.

Now, as +Michael Curry reminded us, “GO” is the first word of the great commission in Matthew’s gospel. And in so doing may we ‘follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly.’

Amen!
+Mary

 


Notes from a Month of Travels

June 12, 2015

Dear Friends,

I write during a very busy month of travel! I am currently sitting in an airport lounge, having just completed another wonderful Beautiful Authority Conference where 18 women priests were encouraged and supported, and given the opportunity to build community while exploring life and vocation.

Beautiful Authority began in 2011 as a grassroots effort with Amy Denney-Zuniga and Christy Laborda: two young women clergy in our diocese, who expressed the need of their age group of clergy in the church to gather and build relationships of mutual support and learning. (Generally speaking, because there are so few male and female clergy under the age of 35 in any given diocese, they become isolated, increasing the likelihood of departure from ministry). ECR volunteers made that first conference a success and had women asking for more. While I have not led all five of the Beautiful Authority conferences that have taken place, we have now held three for women clergy under 35, and two for women between the ages of 35 and 45. The Beautiful Authority movement supports clergy leaders enhancing their capacity to serve the church for years to come.

BeautAuthority2_AKH
It is unfortunate but true that we have lost ground on the number of women being ordained to the episcopate, especially as diocesan bishops (there will be three of us in TEC after Cate Wainick of Indianapolis retires and Audrey Scanlan of Central Pennsylvania is ordained in September). The stained-glass ceiling also remains as thick as ever for women seeking equal access when applying for rectorships in larger congregations, diocesan staffs and cathedral deanships. Gender bias is alive and well in the wider American church. We don’t think about it very much in our diocese; however, nationwide it is a worrying indicator for the diversity needed in our clergy leadership.

On Saturday, I leave for England, and along with Canon Jesus Reyes (and my daughter Katie too) we will visit our partner diocese of Gloucester. We are looking forward to time with Bishop Sadock of Western Tanganyika and Bishop-elect Rachel Treweek, our new partner bishop in Gloucester. We anticipate meeting Rachel, getting to know her and having valuable time to discuss the future of the partnership and where we might go from here. We will also participate in the ordination of deacons and priests on the weekend we are there. I will have the honor of once again preaching for the diaconal ordination. (*Note – Visit our diocesan Facebook page and read our e-newsletter for updates.) This visit is shorter than others in part due to the postponed visit from last fall and the timeline within which we were able to meet in 2015. I look forward to writing you with news after our visit. I ask your prayers for safe travel and a fruitful time of communion with our Tanzanian and English brothers and sisters.

Finally, our General Convention begins June 24. I will have one day between returning from England and departing for Salt Lake City to get my laundry done and be back on the road! Our deputation is ready for the nine days of work that lie ahead. Some of the major considerations will be electing a new Presiding Bishop, considering the restructuring of the church-wide organization, and a report on The Theology of Marriage. While many things will be discussed at convention, these are likely to take a fair bit of our energy. As always, we will worship and pray, have fellowship together, and flop into bed each night tired from the work! Alongside the work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, The Episcopal Church Women will also meet for their Triennial meeting. We have two bloggers in our ECR deputation and they will keep you informed of what is happening at this convention.

Finally, as the anniversary of Michael’s death approaches (June 21), our family thanks you for the prayers and support you have offered on our behalf. We have been richly blessed by your faithfulness, love and care. We have been tended and held by our diocesan family. As this year of grief, challenge and change passes, we continue to live into our new reality each day with as much dependence on God’s grace as we can experience. As this second year following Michael’s passing commences, may we continue together to journey in this abiding blessing of grace that we know in Jesus. For in Christ, all things are possible; and in all things, our lives can be a blessing to others. May we share this good news!

Peace and grace,
+Mary


Walking the Way in a World That No Longer Speaks “Church”

April 24, 2015

Dear Friends,
Easter greetings of new and abundant life!

I pray the worship and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection throughout our diocese was deep, meaningful, holy and life-giving. I pray that our hearts were strengthened in their capacity to live this transforming faith well and that we are sharing it with all those who seek the way of grace. As this Easter season continues may we daily walk with God offering the light of Christ into our neighborhoods and the world.

In just one week, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will be with us for the advertised events of our pilgrimage walk and our May 2 conference. The pilgrimage walk is once again available and our Saturday conference has the capacity to hold many participants in the gym of St. Andrew’s School in Saratoga. +Katharine’s nine-year tenure as Presiding Bishop will end in November and we are blessed to have her with us for a visit before she concludes this part of her ministry. It will be a welcome opportunity to hear her insights and celebrate her history-making season as the first woman Primate in the world. We will reflect together on the topic of mission, inspired by our forebears for how we might live our Easter faith now.

In addition to offering conferences in our diocese that will inspire us to share our faith well, I also enjoy recommending books that may be “food for thought” in our congregations.  As I daily remain open to the new ways in which we can share the good news of Jesus in our neighborhoods and in our worlds, I commend to you a simple book, The Episcopal Way, which is the introductory text for the new Episcopal Teaching series.

The series will unfold in several books but this first one, written by Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law, outlines the shifts in thinking we would be wise to consider as we communicate the riches of our Episcopal heritage with a world that no longer speaks “church.” It may be a good book study for congregations exploring how we are to “Be the Church” and be in conversation with such a great diversity of thought and experience in our world today.  I commend this simple read to you as we seek to further open our hearts to the Spirit in this day and age. See you next weekend!

May the Risen One continue to unveil the mystery of resurrection so new life may continually be known!

+Mary

 


 

Easter Message:

“Death is skinny and weak and she can’t carry me!”

April 2, 2015

When I was first ordained and serving Christ Church, Redondo Beach, once a year as a congregation we joined with an organization named Corazon that builds houses in the poorest neighborhoods in Tijuana. In a day (starting early and ending late) a flimsy shack is torn down and a solid wood, single room house with a door that locks is erected in its place. Corazon identifies the recipient of this new home in advance of the team’s arrival, having a strong organizing presence in the neighborhoods they serve. The congregation funds the materials and builds the house. It is a powerful experience of resource sharing that involves one’s money, heart, soul, body and mind.

On my first build I was asked to help with translating for the mother of two young children; just the day before, she’d learned that the application she had filled out and the interviews she had completed over recent weeks were going to result in a new home – by the next night. I assumed this would be welcome and easy news, but in fact, she was quite frightened as she watched our crew eying her cardboard, wood and tarp home, preparing to tear it down. She could not imagine something else in its place. It had provided her shelter, a place to sleep. It was her provision for her kids and where she called home. She had built this place with her own hands. And yet it had not kept her safe: the father of her children paid unwanted visits and one of her key reasons for wanting a home with a door that locked was to keep him out. Nonetheless, the transition was painful and scary for her on many levels.

As I stood with her and watched the workers (my husband Michael among the “get-it-done” crew) prepare to take her little home – which would take just moments – I noticed her eying the marigolds she had planted by her entrance. Their bright orange and yellow contrasted starkly with the dirt and tattered wall of the home. As that first wall began to pull away she quickly began to dig up the flowering plants and hold them carefully. I helped her remove them and we set them aside in a safe place dampening their roots. They seemed to her a symbol of hope in the transition, something that would come from the old house and be planted with the new one. Indeed, as I helped her process what was happening through the day, and as the house came close to being finished, we planted the marigolds by the new front door. They were a symbol of hope keeping her mindful of new life in the midst of what clearly felt like a death.

BlessingOils-seeds Web

“Death went and sat down one day,
Sat down in a sandy place,
and ate lots of cold tortillas just to try and gain some weight.”

The word for skull in Spanish is “Calavera.” “Calavera” also refers to a poetic verse or rhyme in Mexican culture – such as the ones above – that mocks death in a satirical or humorous way. The Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, described his culture’s perspective on death: “The word death is not spoken aloud in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite toy and his most lasting love.”

What cultural confidence these Calaveras reflect – that death is not the end of the story! The brightly and wildly decorated skulls we see in our own context direct our thinking to the Day of the Dead. The artful outrageousness reflect ‘no fear’ of death because of the certainty that something more exists. Gracias a Dios!

At the time of that house-building weekend in Mexico, I did not know marigolds were associated with the Day of the Dead. Their scent is thought to help the spirits of the dead find their way home. They are a sign of hope that new life is coming, that death does not have the victory. As Paul says, ‘it has no sting.’ One may need their symbols of hope while making the transition, but indeed, the move from death to life lands you in a new place. Obviously, the same sort of thinking is asked of us as Christians.

The death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is our flowering marigold. Our powerful story of the cross and the rising of Christ is that to which we hold fast in the midst of such fierce transitions between living, dying and living again. Our story teaches us that death has no sting. It has no fat on its bones. It mocks death. Scared we may be, but not overcome!

May we praise God as we celebrate this Holy Week and Easter that we know the end of the story; that even though we can become confused in the midst of transition, the smell of new life is in the air!

The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed!

+Mary


Christmas Message: Learning to Walk in the Dark

December 23, 2014

“The Light Shines in the Darkness and the Darkness did not overcome it.”
-John 1:5

Neither did the darkness disappear.

I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is an easy read and prompts good pondering about darkness and our enculturated fear of it. Taylor reminds the reader that we have often interpreted our Biblical texts and Christian messaging as dominantly negative commentary on alldarkness.  She reminds the reader that two of the most important Christian beliefs, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, are based on something that happens in the dark.  The Incarnation begins in the dark of the womb, unseen and mysterious to the human eye. Resurrection occurs in the dark of the tomb, equally unseen and mysterious. We are hearers and believers of these events but not direct witnesses to them. We choose to trust the mystery of what happened in the dark.

At the creation, darkness is a pre-existent, formless void, but it is not labeled as bad or evil: It just is.  When it is created, light is named as good. One wonders if the naming of light as good is not to do with its moral essence, but instead that the presence of light gives the formless void shape, perspective, and character. One can see in the dark because of the presence of light. What we find in the dark may be identified and understood in some way even as it holds mystery. Think of your experience of the stars at night that light up the sky, or the qualities of dawn and dusk. Would they be of interest if there was no relationship between dark and light? If there was only dark or only light, how would we ever know the gifts the other holds? We rise early and set aside time at the end of the day to enjoy the miracle of interplay between light and dark. Something in us longs to witness and delight in the relationship of one to the other. Perhaps it is the life between light and dark that is born at the creation that is named as ‘good.’

The gospel of John reminds the reader that light will come and shine in the darkness and the dark will not overcome the light. Darkness does not disappear, but Jesus the Light comes and we are able to understand something of the mysteries of the dark. We will immediately gravitate toward naming the bad things of the dark; that ‘which goes bump in the night’ and terrify us! We want to get a handle, a grip, a firm hold on that which could overwhelm us in life. But let us also remember that darkness is filled with miraculous gifts: stars, silence, the nocturnal life of nature, even the heart of our faith.

The good news of the Gospel tells us God is in the dark (maybe even the dark), sharing light, so we may have perspective and insight into life, ourselves, and the essence of God. The Christian life may be less about dark and light battling until one overcomes the other, and instead God’s invitation to engage the interplay, the relationship between the two. Perhaps it is there we discover healing and we can know something of salvation.

Jesus, who is light himself, is the invitation to this interplay. It is He who emerges as salvation from the mysterious and life-giving dark of the womb. It is He who walks among those who dwell in darkness.  It is He who rises from the mysterious and life-giving dark of the tomb. It is He who leads us into the fullness of life.

This Christmas and forever, may the Light and Love of God that we know in Christ be yours.

+Mary


 

 

We Cannot be Silent. We Cannot Forget.

December 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

Racism, and the violence born from it, is as old as civilization itself. In the Jewish faith the concept of original sin as a way of explaining the deep flaws of humanity is not linked to sex, temptation or disobedience (as has been the case in the Christian interpretation of Adam and Eve since the time of Augustine of Hippo), but rather to sibling rivalry. It is the story of Cain and Abel, also found in the book of Genesis, which is often viewed as a window into human brokenness. As two brothers navigate the fragile reality of family relationships, the reader is invited to explore how a Godly civilization might be built among the human family in a world where debasing and violent conquest is the dominant mode of gaining power and access to resources.

In the spring of my senior year of high school, the city of Miami experienced the start of the Mariel boat lift (April to October, 1980) where ultimately 125,000 Cubans arrived on Florida shores, among them many mentally ill people and prisoners. At the same time, race riots exploded in an already volatile environment (May 1980) because four white police officers were acquitted in May 1980 of having beaten a black man, Arthur McDuffie, to death. The trial was held in Tampa due to the pressures in Miami. The jury was all white and all male.

Our neighborhood was quarantined and school was cancelled for several days. We lived near “Black Grove,” a neighborhood where rioting was taking place. The violence and subsequent action of being in a state of emergency segregated us with curfews and residential access only.  All that we have seen recently in Ferguson happened then. In the end 500 members of the National Guard were called in, 18 people died, 350 were injured, 60 arrested and 100 million dollars of assessed damages totaled.

I recall that after the rioting had settled and we returned to school, I reunited with black friends with whom I would receive a diploma in just a few short weeks. I recall being even more personally aware that while we went to school together, played sports and music together, studied together, we lived in segregated worlds based on the color of our skin.  Beneath that day-to-day encounter a deep, divided and painful reality existed based on gross injustice.

I also remember feeling like we all knew it, but did not speak of it. How does one begin to speak of it? It was not safe. No format was offered by our school.  Everyone feared igniting more violence. That was a powerful incentive to remain still and silent. I know I felt little sense of power to do anything about our burning and overwhelmed city where it seemed few knew how to grasp a way forward that did not involve more violence. As graduating seniors, perhaps at some level we were all relieved to not know, to not try; to forget and move on.

As I write now, I am aware that many of you reading this reflection will not remember these riots or the Mariel boatlift. People did move on. They were events in the life of one community, someone else’s community, but truly, they reflect America as a whole. Painful and explosive events around matters of immigration and race are not uncommon in our nation. Every day, in some way or another, they reflect our volatile and broken human reality. We would prefer to forget.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all” is the American promised land. In the Biblical story it is an elusive place that is never reached.  It is rather a vision, something to work toward.  The ‘Kingdom of God’ which as Christians we pray to come is this same sort of vision of a Godly civilization.  Racial harmony – everyone having equal access to the American promised land – is a dream, a vision. We have not reached it.  In order to work constructively toward it, we must acknowledge how very far away we are from it. And we must not let the rage and the violence of Ferguson silence us. We must not forget it.

jesus-loves-ferguson

Ferguson photo courtesy of Christian Goepel

Until we begin to have conversations and relationships that bring a deeper understanding and ultimately reconciliation across our racial differences, it will continue to happen. We all have a part in the injustice of our nation – and we have a place in discovering how we might create a society where power and resources are shared for the common good and not used as weapons of destruction one against the other.   

The Episcopal Church has drawn together several resources for local conversation on matters of racial reconciliation and how to move forward in building a more Godly society. In our diocesan work with The Kaleidoscope Institute we have several resources (see below) that may also be of help in having conversations at the congregational level.

I encourage you in this Advent season that we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Christ by drawing nearer to the brokenness of our world which Jesus came to heal.  How might we be part of this Godly mending?

Advent blessings of hope and expectation,

+Mary


A Partnership Update

November 26, 2014

Dear Friends,

It has been a while since I updated you on Bishop Michael, our partner bishop in Gloucester. As you will recall, a few months ago allegations of sexual misconduct from more than 30 years ago were raised against Bishop Michael. At that time, he stepped back from his ministry as Bishop of Gloucester. He was interviewed by the police and as was announced six weeks ago, there is to be no action taken regarding the matter. The Church of England is proceeding with their own safeguarding protocols.

Bishop Michael was scheduled to retire this past week, and indeed, has quietly completed his ministry as Bishop of Gloucester. There was no celebration of his tenure in Gloucester at this time but there is hope for a more formal farewell after the first of the year when the church has completed its investigation. I asked Bishop Michael to share a few words with us as his ministry as our partner bishop draws to a close.

“As I lay aside my office as Bishop of Gloucester, I am conscious that, among all the more local and national elements of my ministry over the last few years, there is something much bigger and wider that has meant a huge amount to me and enriched my ministry and that of my diocese. That bigger and wider element has been our series of international partnerships and, in particular, the relationship embracing Western Tanganyika, El Camino Real and Gloucester. It has been challenging, rewarding and a source of joy. It has created wonderful friendships and enabled us to be more truly the Body of Christ. I thank God for it and for all the people who have contributed to it and I will continue to pray for it in the future, hoping it may continue to serve the unity and the mission of the Church.”

Bishop Michael and his wife Alison have written farewell letters to the diocese of Gloucester and they may be found here.

It has certainly been a season of abrupt and traumatic change in the lives of many in our diocese – and of course we include Bishop Michael, his family and the Diocese of Gloucester among our own.  What follows now is the readjustment and settling of what new life awaits. Our faith always directs us toward hope in the new thing that God is unfolding in our midst, even as God is working through our need of healing from the painful and challenging events of life. This is true also for our partnership.  The Diocese of Gloucester is in the midst of its process to receive their next bishop, the news of which should come in the spring.

We are working toward a June visit by Canon Jesus and myself, along (we hope) with the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, which would fulfill the visit postponed from this past September. In the meantime, this open space is a good opportunity for us to consider the direction of the partnership since its birth five years ago. Such a pause and reassessment was in fact part of the process we originally set into place — although it was not meant to be filled with so much trauma for both our dioceses!  Nevertheless, this is God’s open space and we trust that the life ahead will be as fruitful as the first five years of our partnership. May we continue to give thanks and to pray for Bishop Michael, his family and for our partnership, that God will be glorified in our common life.

As we gather for our national holiday of Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for the gifts God has given us in this life, especially the gift of one another.

Love and Grace,
+Mary


Living the Questions: “What is in Your Hand?”

August 22, 2014

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Dear Friends,

This was the opening quote of last year’s convention address, where we launched the theme of “Living the Questions.”  Little did I know that at this point in my life, there would be so many questions whirring around in my head!

“What is in your hand?” is a question that is a sort of refrain in scripture. Notably, it occurs when God asks this to Moses as he stands at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on the Jewish people. He has only his staff, which God turns into a snake to demonstrate that what is “in hand” is more than enough for God to work a miracle. The staff becomes a source of power for the parting of the Red Sea and the beginning of freedom from slavery for the future nation of Israel. Likewise, as we heard a couple of weeks ago in our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus fed thousands with a few meager supplies. In slightly different words, Jesus asks his disciples to notice what they have: “what is in your hand?” They display a few fishes and loaves, Jesus blesses them. It is enough for all gathered – including leftovers.

In the weeks following Michael’s death, I often woke in the night asking many panicked questions about my future – both matters pertaining to the next day and the years to come. In those moments, I began to ask myself the question, “what is in your hand, Mary?”  As I called to mind the resources and gifts in my life (and you are all on the list!), my panic would shift to gratitude. Once there, my prayers of thanksgiving could include prayers for others in need and thinking of ways I might be of service to them. 

Such balance reminds me that we always have a choice about whether we will live in the presence of God’s grace — or outside of it — and what difference it makes in our ability to live the Christian life in a sustained way.  Most of us must make that choice many times a day.  Grace is only a thought away. Praise God!

Here is another question: “How are we thinking today?”

Last week’s New York Times Opinion section featured an article about the value of day-dreaming and taking vacations (“Hit the Reset Button on Your Brain”, Daniel Levitin, August 9). Our brains have a two-part attentional system with two dominant modes: the task positive network and the task negative network. The task positive network is for work that requires our full attention for a sustained period of time. The task negative network is active when we are daydreaming. The two networks operate like a seesaw in the brain (when one is working, the other is not) and their interaction maximizes creativity and insight. 

Today’s age of multi-tasking and our overachiever culture not only increases mental stress, but decreases the quality of our output.  The article notes this rather startling data: “According to a 2011 study, on a typical day we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986 . . . for every hour of YouTube video you watch, there are 5,999 hours of new video just posted!” Who can keep up? 

Recent weeks have offered too much startling, catastrophic and sad news: continued conflict in the Middle East, the Ebola virus and senseless shootings touching our raw American nerve of racism, to name a few.  Then there are the several (not just my own) personal tragedies and losses that have impacted those whom we know and love in our diocese and beyond.  On a lighter note, we are pushed over the edge of keeping up with the various Facebook posts on who had what for dinner!

As Christians we do not shy from the world. We believe in a God who is in the midst of the impossible – even 174 newspapers’ worth of overwhelming problems that seemingly have no solution. By our own power, we cannot fix a fraction of what is broken in the world, but we can pray and we can act out of God’s grace.  I would suggest that the practice of discerning how we might be the presence of Christ in any of the world’s catastrophic realities — or even our personal ones — is helped by taking stock of what we have to work with. Ask yourself: “What is in my hands right now?” 

This is a sustained thinking task that reminds us of the abundance of gifts in our lives, the thought of which will fill our hearts with gratitude.  This can lead to daydreaming about what we might do with those resources and what solutions might be possible.

I am no scientist, but I think such a process engages our brain’s natural design of the two-part attentional system.  Doing so will change how and what we think. And that will make a difference in our ability to receive the creative solutions of the Holy Spirit. 

Faith is such a gift!

With gratitude,

+Mary


July 25, 2014

Dear Friends,

I have said many times over the last five weeks that my gratitude is so great, I must give it to God.  We often say that we must “give things over to God” when they are too painful to manage.  Certainly this is true, but it is also the case that sometimes the good things in life are too great for us to hold alone.  As my family and I move through these early days of the death of Michael, I am so thankful that alongside grief my heart spills over with a deep awareness of God’s love made known through so many. We are devastated and at the same time have been beautifully held by our diocesan family and beyond. We could not move through these days without you. Thank you.

Following what was meant to be vacation time, I am now starting to re-engage my work life.  Through the month of August I will remain cautious and respectful of my challenged body, mind and spirit, and also tend to the important needs of my family and personal life.  Being a bishop is a demanding job in every way.  I am cautious that not only is it unwise to overwork at this time, but it is also filled with opportunity to act hastily and without all my faculties functioning at 100 percent.   People have asked what they can do for us, and of course, please continue to pray in the months ahead for our family. But also, I ask your patience as we find our way and regain our momentum for daily life. I assure you, it will happen – but for those of you who share the experience of a loved one’s death, you know that sometimes the “waves” of incapacitating grief are simply beyond one’s control.

We are blessed with incredible diocesan staff and leadership to whom I am especially grateful.  Diocesan business and life are in good order and Mary Beth has been in touch with those whose appointments or events needed to be rescheduled. If you are in anyway concerned, please call us and we will be sure that your needs are heard and met.

Finally, please be assured of my love for you, and of my experience of how much you love me.  We will be okay, but as with all of life’s great losses, time is necessary to heal.  I love these words below from Ephesians 3:14-20. Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus in their time of challenge.  Let us offer them in hope for ourselves.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

+Mary

March 25, 2016

Disarmed and Disoriented by the Power of God

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen,” reads our Easter narrative.

What would a disciple do now?

While in Mexico a couple of weeks ago brushing up on my Spanish language skills, I also spent time in the Anglican Diocese of Southeastern Mexico with Bishop Benito Juarez, his wife Angelica and members of the church in the region. We visited several congregations, one of which was a new church plant in an abandoned neighborhood (previously company housing that had flooded and where the employees subsequently refused to live), now taken over by homeless people after 40 years of vacancy. The government allowed them to stay. They have fixed up their “new” homes and a small group has planted a church. Currently, the church is a concrete pad with a metal roof. No walls yet. There are plastic flowers, an altar and a statue of St. Francis, their patron saint. The church is located next to the flood plain which apparently manages the water flow in the area.

352fb815-814f-43e5-b18a-a4b43a2c26aeWe sat in the open air, sipped coke and chatted with the church planters, a group of four neighborhood women. The conversation turned to the statues and images prevalent in Mexican culture. These new friends noted the heartfelt experience of images important to those in the neighborhood: of Jesus, Mary and all the saints.

They provided a safe approach to conversation and prayer with God. The lack of them in this Anglican Church was maybe an obstacle to church growth, the women pondered. Into this conversation, +Benito made a comment that caught my ear:

“God is not a bureaucrat,” he said gently.

We did not disagree as we considered how to share with others the reality of God in Christ. Each culture has its way; all Christians must navigate a conversation between faith and culture. But cultural aids and supports to understanding the relationship between God and humanity can turn into requirements. We can develop an unnecessary dependency upon them. Resurrection though, is so entirely free of bureaucracy; it is a stark and direct work of God. There is no human power that causes or prevents it. It is just suddenly present.

How disarming and disorienting it must have been! The lack of something – anything – between the cross and the empty tomb was too much to take in for the disciples, so the story goes. One life had passed away; and almost too soon, another came in its place.

How is a follower of Jesus, known in a particular way, to make sense of this? How would life change with this open space between God and humanity, especially with Jesus in resurrected form?

We tend to speak of resurrection as a simplistic quick-fix, but really, it’s as complicated as any death. “Walk in the light while you still have it” (John 12:35-36) is a piece of advice Jesus gives in the Gospel of John as he approaches the cross; perhaps not only to show the way through death, but as a support, an honoring of what it takes to find one’s way through the disorientation of resurrection.

d803a64c-f16d-4a46-a264-de68b0e37195The Easter story moves from the cross to the empty tomb to the 50 days of Easter. Eastertide is a time to ponder how we will live resurrection. What shall we do with this new life where there is no barrier between God and humanity? What will that mean for us in our everyday life? How does it change the way we share the good news of Jesus with others? As we enter this Eastertide, may we pray for a deeper understanding of the reality of resurrection in our lives, where there is no barrier between God and ourselves. May our own story of knowing the risen Christ be a gift to others.

Grace and wisdom in this Easter season,
+Mary


March 18, 2016

Values, Respect and Reconciliation for the Common Good

Dear Friends,

I write to you as I arrive home following nearly three weeks of travel. I spent a week in the City of Oaxaca, Mexico studying Spanish, and enjoying the history, art, food and people of that beautiful city. I then went to Tuxtepec near the border between Oaxaca and Vera Cruz to spend a few days with the Diocese of Southeastern Mexico. I attended their synod, visited congregations and very much enjoyed time with Bishop Benito and Angelica Juarez, as well as lay and clergy leaders. All Saints’ Palo Alto has a parish partnership with Santa Cruz in La Joya. It was wonderful to see the life and mission they share. Watch for news of their mission trip coming up in April.

The House of Bishops meeting in Navasota, Texas was my last stop on the itinerary. There we spent time in retreat with our new Presiding Bishop, listening to his vision and together crafting how we will move forward together as a House. Presiding Bishop Michael continues to hold out for us a focus of reconciliation (racial and otherwise) and evangelism: the most fundamental elements of our Christian calling. Our week together was a blessed time of prayer, worship, fellowship and joy.

As we do on occasion, the bishops issued a Mind-of-the-House statement “calling for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.” The complete statement may be read here. Together we expressed our concern regarding the current political climate in our country, the use of violent and manipulative rhetoric in the political process and our inability to disagree while still making decisions in support of the common good. I hope you will join us in prayer for reconciliation in our nation as we focus on that essential Christian work in our church.

When we pray in directed ways, we notice the synergism of the Spirit. Diocesan leaders discerned that in this year of prayerful consideration of our Values, that at our annual May conference we might explore ways of having conversation across difference. After all, while we may hold the same values, we may do so differently. This is good and is the strength of our country. If, as I think we have, lost the art of public discourse then it means that our differences cannot work together creatively for the common good.

All points of view matter. All points of view have something to offer into solutions for our most challenging social problems.

With the Diocesan Partnership Commission, I have invited Joan Blades, co-founder of Living Room Conversations to be our speaker and facilitator. LRC is a non-profit organization that helps people have small group conversations across difference on matters that are of concern to us all. In turn, this relational model for community-building empowers people of differing points of view to work together for the common good in their communities.

cfea50e6-f023-4d7c-981b-aaa745aed18eI am of the view that churches have the potential to have and host such conversations as one way to live out our Christian mission of reconciliation in our communities . . . both congregational and beyond. In that spirit, I invite you to join together on Saturday, May 21 for an important spring conference, “Living Room Conversations: Respecting, Reconciling, and Appreciating Differences.” Online registration can be found here.

We focus our attention this Holy Week on the saving work of Jesus the Christ. May our knowledge of the grace of God made known in the death and resurrection of Jesus increase in these coming days. May we live that abundant grace in our communities. May we trust and work with its power, and may the world be healed.

+Mary


January 15, 2016

More Work of Love for the Pain All Around

cathedral

Read in Spanish

Dear friends,

You will no doubt have heard about one of the outcomes of the Primates meeting of the Anglican Communion. For a second time (the first season of sanctions came in 2005), The Episcopal Church has been sanctioned for a period of three years. As reported in Episcopal News Service, a majority asked that TEC will “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or policy.”

I need to correct some statements in the media that The Episcopal Church has been excommunicated or suspended. This is not the case. We are still part of the Anglican Communion, but are in a very long conversation about the validity of our decision to affirm marriage for same-sex couples. Our change in language at last summer’s General Convention that expresses that marriage is for all people (instead of exclusively between a man and a woman) is unacceptable to many in the Anglican Communion. Since we are a Communion that is governed independently by province, there is little way to express this officially. The sanctions provide that way.

Our Presiding Bishop has released a video where he speaks eloquently of our place in the Communion as the voice that speaks for inclusion of all people. I want to affirm that we are a diocese that sets a wide table. Everyone is welcome to be seated, to feast and to fellowship. While our local conversation around the inclusion of LGBTQ persons is largely completed on an official level, we honor the diversity of personal opinions that are a part of us. We hold ourselves in a relationship of love and trust in God’s grace rather than our own theologies. We respectfully and carefully walk this path with one another and our partners in the Anglican Communion. We will continue to do so.

This moment will be particularly painful for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I love you very much and I am sorry for this further assault on your being. Please know that as a diocese we stand with you, even as we stand in this global church. I titled this article with words from Bishop Curry’s video, “More Work of Love” and added my own, “For the Pain All Around.” I am sorry for the pain in the wider church as a result of our decisions. I am particularly sorry for our friends in our partner dioceses who have been offended or harmed by our actions. On the one hand as a Bishop of the church, I am part of the problem for your provinces, and I ask your forgiveness; on the other hand, I do not regret my inclusive stance and votes at our General Convention. They are a matter of conviction, faith, theology and integrity. My prayer is we can continue to walk together despite our serious disagreement.

In closing, I quote what I wrote in last week’s message:

“In our gospel reading this weekend from Luke 3 when ‘Jesus and all the people’ are baptized, I note that the people come with expectation. They are not afraid of this salvation: they are hoping in it, curious about it, filled with expectation. How wonderful to be fearless in the face of God and the circumstances of the world; filled with expectation at what may come! How many of us instead fear God and the chaos of the planet in these days?

There is plenty to be afraid of in the world, but fear does not need to govern our response.”

With Epiphany blessings of light and wisdom,
+Mary

Photo: Episcopal News Service (click the link for continuing coverage)


January 8, 2016

Fear is Not a Christian Value

We have left Christmastide, the season in which we celebrate the coming of the Light of Christ. We have arrived at Epiphany, the season in which we become more conscious of being the Light of Christ in the world.

Fear is not a Christian value, but no doubt, it can protect us from our own poor judgment. As people of faith we must exercise discernment of the roots and the nature of our fear. Is it providing important protection, or preventing us from moving forward in some way?

Hope

The angels, as they announce the coming of God’s light in Jesus, all warn against “being afraid.” “Don’t go there,” they say. The angel says it to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds. “Do not be afraid.” This imperative is not a dismissal of their very reasonable fear in the presence of an angel, but to warn against allowing that fear to govern their response to God’s work of salvation. The angel not only calls them into the work of salvation but is a discernment partner in the face of fear. The angel gets them from fear to empowerment.

When I was in kindergarten I was asked to be THE class angel in the Christmas pageant at my Episcopal day school. I said no to this request because I was quite sure I had to learn to fly – and I was sure I would not be able to manage this. Some days after the pageant, my mother continued to pester me about why I had turned down this great honor. She could not make sense of it. I confided to her that I just knew I would not be able to learn to fly. It would certainly be too hard. My mother gently corrected my misperception. In the first grade I was given a second chance to be the angel for my class. I accepted and very happily fulfilled my role – no flying required. My mother was a fine discernment partner in the face of my fear.

Fear can be empowering when we acknowledge it and discern our way forward. We can learn, be strengthened and empowered by the process. The characters in our gospel story do just that. While they acknowledge their fear, they don’t allow it to keep them from serving God in the way they have been called. Fear is not suppressed or in control; or worse, a value. Instead these servants become empowered for the work of salvation.

In our gospel reading this weekend from Luke 3 when “Jesus and all the people” are baptized, I note that the people come with expectation. They are not afraid of this salvation: they are hoping in it, curious about it, filled with expectation. How wonderful to be fearless in the face of God and the circumstances of the world; filled with expectation at what may come! How many of us instead fear God and the chaos of the planet in these days?

There is plenty to be afraid of in the world, but fear does not need to govern our response.

In this Epiphany season, spend some time noticing what scares you. What prevents you from taking flight? As you discern your fears, the process will give you wisdom. The light of Christ, from which wisdom flows, will be an even stronger light in the world.

Grace and Light,
+Mary

faith

Photos: San Bernardino shooting memorial, December 2015 (Elrond Lawrence)


December 23, 2015
A Message from the Bishops of our Diocesan Partnership

There was no place for them: The ministry for refugees in our partner dioceses

When we are settled in both our civic and religious life, we can take for granted our citizenship, both in our belonging to a country and to the Kingdom of God. Yet they are precious and to be lived with reverence and responsibility. Both are a privilege and an honor.

The number of refugees in the world has swelled to over 50 million. There has not been a higher number since immediately after WWII. We call this a crisis, as though it will end, but will it? The current pattern of migration, refugees, those who are stateless, those seeking asylum, and those who are internally displaced reflects the world’s inability to be at peace and to manage its resources in just and equitable ways. People flee because of political instability, others because of food or water insecurity. About half of refugees are children. Some move to another country for better employment opportunities. These are technically not refugees, but both groups live with the same insecurities and threats. Exploitative human trafficking abounds in such chaotic situations of human desperation.

In this Christmas season, we turn our attention to the holy family and how salvation came into the world through their faithfulness. They gave birth to salvation while on the move in turbulent times. For a brief period, Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have qualified as refugees. In Matthew chapter 2, an angel warns them of Herod’s edict to kill all firstborn boys and urges them to flee into Egypt. Herod’s tyranny was prompted by fear of the salvation foretold in this baby Jesus, one who would be called the Prince of Peace. No doubt it also sparks the memory of salvation from slavery out of Egypt of the Hebrew people when Pharoah demanded the same infanticide.

Throughout his life Jesus lives in occupied territory. The salvation story is told amidst political unrest, fear, economic and social injustice and the movement of people living under constant threat. The same cry for peace on earth found in scripture is our global cry today. It is our context for following Jesus now. How shall we proclaim it? How shall we live it?

refugees-aid

Our diocesan partnership shares in many things. We are one in the body of Christ. We are blessed to share love, fellowship, and a commitment to deep conversation about what it means to be Christian in our respective contexts. There remains an abiding commitment to live peaceably with significant difference among us. We also share this global crisis, our concern for refugees, for peace on earth and for salvation in Jesus Christ to be shared. In this time we model the power of our faith to create a context for peace to be born in our turbulent world.

Here are a few words from each of our dioceses about our experience of this global reality. May we be inspired to serve God’s will in our time.

From Bishop Rachel Treweek
In the Diocese of Gloucester we are engaged with GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) and Chapter 1, a charity with a Christian foundation that works in our region to enable more properties to become available to families who might be deemed high risk for a private landlord. The hope is that as Syrian refugees arrive in our area over the next few years, we will be able to offer real and practical support and enable adults and children to integrate well with local communities.

From Bishop Sadock Makaya
In the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, we have been engaged in the ministry of serving the refugees from Burundi and from the Republic of Congo who now live in my Diocese. We have two types of ministries: spiritual and physical. As Bishop I always visit these poor needy people to encourage and comfort them, but also for confirmation services. Secondly under the department of Development, the diocese has been providing blankets, towels, mattresses and food. Last month, the UNHCR Project field officer from Kasulu wrote me an acknowledgement letter for what DWT is doing among the refugees. We feel that since the refugees are located in our diocese we have no excuse not to be engaged in this service.

We thank St. Barnabas Fund from UK and the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund from El Camino Real who donated funds toward the physical support to these people. John Mhanuzi has done an amazing ministry among the Refugees.

From Bishop Mary
Prayer and tangible support is variously found in our congregations for refugees the world over. We also have many undocumented workers in our diocese, vs refugees, and much support is offered to this population. Most recently some of our congregations have participated in an interfaith community organizing effort that resulted in the provision of maintenance health care for undocumented persons.

We are also discerning how we might help those effected by the refugee crisis resulting from gang related violence in some Central American Countries, especially in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The violence has led to extreme rates of homicide and forced displacement. As a result, many families, and a large number of unaccompanied youth, migrate irregularly to the United States. Foundation Cristosal, an Anglican/Episcopal human rights organization, is leading the national effort to provide direct assistance to victims displaced and persecuted by violence, or forced into sexual slavery. We will continue to support the refugees in DWT.

As we enjoy the celebrations of Christmas in our homes with our families and friends, let us pray for refugees and all those who have no place to call home. May we open hearts to them, support them as we are able, and live in hope alongside them for peace on earth. As Christians who know our spiritual home to be in Christ, may we share the gracious hospitality of God with all our neighbors.

O God of the wanderer, we give thanks that no matter where we are you have called us to make our home in Jesus. We thank you that in him we find the fullness of life. We pray today for all who flee their native land because of fear, hunger, violence, oppression, and terror. Give them comfort and deep peace as they travel; provide for them open arms and hearts as they arrive in a foreign place. May they find in us, their brothers and sisters, shelter, food, clothing, and a place to call home. May we embrace the stranger as we would your glorious presence. It is in this holy time of celebrating your Incarnation and by the power of the Spirit that we pray.

To support the refugees in our partner dioceses — either Western Tanganyika or Gloucester — please send your gift to Bishop Mary’s discretionary fund, noting the diocese to which you intend to contribute. Online donations can be made here. Thank you and Merry Christmas!


December 11, 2015

Advent is a Thin Place

“The koru, which is often used in Māori art as a symbol of creation, is based on the shape of an unfurling fern frond. Its circular shape conveys the idea of perpetual movement, and its inward coil suggests a return to the point of origin. The koru therefore symbolizes the way in which life both changes and stays the same.” (teara.gov.nz.org)

Unfurling fern frond

New Zealand is a thin spot for me. In other words, there seems to be less barriers between my human experience and the divine presence. It is a place where I easily sense God’s presence, especially in the sheer beauty of the creation one finds in that land. People say Ireland and Israel are also thin places. You probably have places in your life that feel this way for you.

The Maori language and culture reflect a deep spiritual connection with the land. New Zealand, Aotearoa (in Maori this means ‘the land of the long white cloud’), is a thin place for the people of New Zealand. Their relationship with the land has shaped their thinking and their language. Words always have more meaning than one can initially grasp. Understanding unfurls.

One of the symbols the people draw out of nature is the koru. It is the unfurling baby frond of the tree fern. The symbol is everywhere, as are the tree and buds themselves. New Zealand art and media abound with the koru. It is hard not to think about the constant generativity of creation, of God and potentially of the self. Any idea that life is stagnant or that we are not called to growth and change over time is wildly challenged by its presence. In these images of koru, I particularly enjoy the messy one of dead ferns on the forest floor. Even in all that dying, new life is emerging everywhere.

New life emerging everywhere

Advent is a thin spot in the liturgical life of the church. It is intended to be a time where the space between humanity and God is as minimal as can be. Jesus who comes as God among us is a thin spot; a place where the human and divine experience are drawn together as one. In our readings the prophets cry wildly of the generativity of God. Images of birth and new life are everywhere.

I am just returning from a month of vacation in New Zealand, where we lived from 1990-1993. It was a great trip in every way. We hiked in several forests, among other activities. Just driving along the roads is a feast for the eyes and the soul, but the forest is a special place. Koru is everywhere. During that time of rest and rejuvenation (and some news fasting), however, horrific things also happened: Lebanon, Paris, San Bernardino, and Planned Parenthood were attacked by terrorists. I came back to find that we now refer to these events as “today’s shooting.”

Climate talks have been underway, the refugee crisis continues, and the debate on gun control is as unproductive as ever. Our materialistic culture remains committed not to the spiritual process of new life unfurling but the end product that can be shot, bombed or bought. One might imagine God is not here at all or perhaps worse, that God too is a product we can buy.

“Come, Emmanuel, Come!” is our Advent cry. It is our Christian walk to stop asking that peace and a healthy planet magically appear, but to work for their slow and steady growth, to help them unfurl in the world. As we prepare to know God’s unfurling in the Christ-child, let us be conscious not only of a beautiful baby but also of the values of God that we celebrate this season: salvation, peace, and wholeness, to name a few.

May we walk in the thin place of this season. May we treasure the wild creativity of God in our soul, the human community and our planet. May we be part of the slow work of these Godly things.

+Mary

Healthy planet



November 7, 2015

Bishop’s Mary’s Annual Convention Address

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves’ annual address at the 35th Convention of El Camino Real sets a new direction for the diocese while challenging congregations to consider their own values and how they embody them in their communities.

Click here to view and download a copy of her 30-minute address that challenges El Camino Real to become a values-driven organization.

 


August 8, 2015

The Transformational Power of Camp

“If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings
If I were a robin in a tree, I’d thank you Lord that I could sing
If I were a fish in the sea
I’d wiggle my tail and I’d giggle with glee
But I just thank you God for making me, me.”

StAndrewsCamp_fishers5x_MGREvery August, about 140 kids, staff and counselors make their way to Pinecrest in the Sierras for Camp St. Andrew’s, our diocesan camp. The camp has been going for 38 years, same week, same beautiful spot.  Some leaders have come and gone, but Sue Ramar of St. Andrew’s, Saratoga – along with her family and adult counselors who started as campers years ago and who are now seasoned counselors – return each year for this transformational experience. Camp is a community. Camp is missional.

Many of us will have memories of the power of camp. Right now – remember!  In your mind or out loud, sing a song, do the hand gestures that go with it, ponder a prank or an activity you were able to have because you went to camp. Remember your friends and what you learned.  Same thing every year, but different because you were in a different place on life’s journey each time you returned. It was so fun – and formational!

What makes Camp St. Andrew’s different is the intentional community it gathers.  There are our typical church kids, who likely have the privilege of stable homes, church communities that embrace and raise them in the faith, and good education. A positive future awaits. There are also kids in foster care and whose families struggle with daily life in every way. The future is chaotic, confusing or cannot be envisioned at all. At Camp St. Andrew’s you can’t actually tell who has what sort of life (although the prayer requests during worship give insight to the differences). Everyone is part of the same transformational milieu, the same fun, the same worship, the same song. Everyone is just a beloved child of God in this place. The cultural crossing of emotional realities with Jesus in the midst means no one will leave quite as they arrived. And this is good.

StAndrewsCamp_group_MGRMy kids participated in Camp St. Andrew’s as campers and one keeps going back, now as a counselor, but I had not yet had the opportunity to go. This past week Channing Smith, Rector of St. Andrew’s, and I made our way up to Pinecrest and joined the fun, the songs, the worship. We all ate S’mores at campfire, had significant conversations, were conscious of the Spirit moving and were filled with gratitude for the experience. Gratitude for silliness and fun. Gratitude for an opening of the heart. Gratitude for being made stronger because we share in this community.

In the community of camp, rites of passage are marked for campers and counselors alike. Different color scarves are given at significant points of life change and levels of participation. There is something to strive for and to celebrate. The community notices growth. It has noticed that we have accomplished something and it has made a difference to others. In our Christian language, we might call it growing into the likeness of Christ and maturing as spiritual leaders. It is worthy of celebration.

StAndrewsCamp_fire_MGRWhile I don’t think weekly church should be campy, I do think the making of community that we do as church should always be this transformational. A little or a lot, something new or something that has been done over and over again; on any given day, the transformational power should grow in our congregations as we move along in our common life.

I see it happening in our congregations in lots of ways; how do you see it happening in yours? The Spirit is always calling it forth. Periods of transformation ebb and flow in a congregation’s rhythm of spiritual maturing in Christ; sometimes the transformation is lightheartedly silly and sometimes sensitively deep. Mark the passages, take notice, spill a tear, celebrate, do a silly dance in honor of the achievement, launch forward from that good place to whatever Christ has in store. In all this ebb and flow, these passages, these life stories, the Spirit makes us a community of transformation.

Thank you God for making us, us!

+Mary


Following Jesus Into the Neighborhood, Traveling Lightly

July 10, 2015

Dear Friends,

Flat Jesus_WebsiteThis now popular tag line of General Convention sums up my month of travel! My time away began with a Beautiful Authority conference — a gathering I help lead for women clergy that originated in El Camino Real, but now includes women nationwide for the purposes of co-mentoring and empowering for ministry. Then came a trip to Gloucester for a partnership visit, and finally, 10 days in Salt Lake City for the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Each journey required careful and precise packing for what would be required at my destination. Each gathering was different from the other; but they all had in common following Jesus, risk-taking, and forward movement for the sake of the gospel. These are, after all, characteristics of the Christian life.

“Flat Jesus”, a spin-off of Flat Stanley from the 1964 children’s book by Jeff Brown, was seen many times at General Convention. His little cartoon face on a stick, tucked into people’s name tags, was a reminder that for Christians, Jesus is with us everywhere we go, an easy traveling companion. He takes us and we take him on the journey of life. We travel together, find transformation and share it with the world. This is a rather simple formula.

Our General Convention was uplifting in so many ways. The mood was happy, energetic and forward looking. Even the contentious matters, such as marriage equality, were worked through with a more loving and less anxious spirit than conventions of the last 12 years. In the House of Bishops, a minority report was issued, as was a Mind of the House report. There were affirming words of love, collegiality and community among us as together we acknowledged deep joy and deep pain.

FollowJesusCrop-WebsiteThis big issue did not negatively impact our ability to work together on other matters.  Relationships remained intact. The resolutions addressing restructuring the church – something many thought would be even more challenging than marriage equality – moved through in due time and process.  Much of what the Committee for Restructuring the Church proposed (view the report here) was considered over recent months, prompting rigorous debate before convention and then at convention on the floors of both houses. Some matters were appropriately referred for deeper consideration.

A spirit of integrity pervaded our work as we sought greater accountability, transparency, and a leaner more efficient and effective structure, all with a collaborative energy that was in itself life-giving. These values of our common life were apparent in the work of other resolutions as well; they are increasingly foundational to the way we journey with Jesus as church.

The Episcopal Church Women and the United Thank Offering also had a strong presence as they gathered to conduct their business.  I was mindful of their good work impacting our diocese, especially since my daughter Katie attended convention as a grant recipient for 20-30 year-olds applying for funds for ministry start-ups. Also funded on our behalf was a joint grant application with the Diocese of Olympia to support a youth soccer program in Sudan and a 75,000.00 grant request for St. Luke’s Hollister as they strengthen their important bilingual preschool.

A focus on the important matters of racism, gun violence, gender parity in the church and society, church planting and revitalization are included in the budget and in the work ahead for The Episcopal Church. We shall be capably led by Presiding Bishop-Elect, Michael Curry. If you have never received the inspiration of his presence, I encourage you to listen to his sermon preached on the final day of convention, telling us to “Go” and make disciples for the Jesus Movement at hand. Watch a video of his sermon here.

HOB_Mary-MCurry_WebsiteMichael is my friend and colleague, and I will be honored to work with him as one of two Vice Presidents of the House of Bishops, along with Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas, also elected to this work (all pictured at right).

I come back around to our partnership with the Diocese of Gloucester and Western Tanganyika. Bishop Michael Perham has been restored to ministry and had a joyful farewell the weekend before our visit; importantly, before Bishop Rachel Treweek had her Confirmation of Election (a legal process and ceremony in the Church of England).  Her ordination will be held July 22 and her seating will be in September. I will attend the latter. We very much enjoyed meeting Rachel (the first woman diocesan bishop in the Church of England) and getting to know her as we begin a new chapter in our partnership.

We will continue to disagree on any number of matters, but remain in conversation across the differences as together we follow Jesus and are transformed by the journey. We do agree that Communion is not a matter of agreement but of being members of the body of Christ through baptism and this life of following Jesus. We will continue to work together on a number of matters, including the scholarship program, a new educational endeavor, and parish partnerships.  More information will be forthcoming on these adventures soon!

I am grateful to Jesus Reyes with whom I journeyed to England for our visit. I am grateful to the women of Beautiful Authority who journey with talent and strength beyond measure. Finally, I am grateful to our General Convention deputation who rose early and worked late for ten long days, giving their all for the proper and good stewardship of the governance of our church. You were thoughtful, pastoral and faithful as you made your way through the concerns of the heart of our church.

Now, as +Michael Curry reminded us, “GO” is the first word of the great commission in Matthew’s gospel. And in so doing may we ‘follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly.’

Amen!
+Mary

 


Notes from a Month of Travels

June 12, 2015

Dear Friends,

I write during a very busy month of travel! I am currently sitting in an airport lounge, having just completed another wonderful Beautiful Authority Conference where 18 women priests were encouraged and supported, and given the opportunity to build community while exploring life and vocation.

Beautiful Authority began in 2011 as a grassroots effort with Amy Denney-Zuniga and Christy Laborda: two young women clergy in our diocese, who expressed the need of their age group of clergy in the church to gather and build relationships of mutual support and learning. (Generally speaking, because there are so few male and female clergy under the age of 35 in any given diocese, they become isolated, increasing the likelihood of departure from ministry). ECR volunteers made that first conference a success and had women asking for more. While I have not led all five of the Beautiful Authority conferences that have taken place, we have now held three for women clergy under 35, and two for women between the ages of 35 and 45. The Beautiful Authority movement supports clergy leaders enhancing their capacity to serve the church for years to come.

BeautAuthority2_AKH
It is unfortunate but true that we have lost ground on the number of women being ordained to the episcopate, especially as diocesan bishops (there will be three of us in TEC after Cate Wainick of Indianapolis retires and Audrey Scanlan of Central Pennsylvania is ordained in September). The stained-glass ceiling also remains as thick as ever for women seeking equal access when applying for rectorships in larger congregations, diocesan staffs and cathedral deanships. Gender bias is alive and well in the wider American church. We don’t think about it very much in our diocese; however, nationwide it is a worrying indicator for the diversity needed in our clergy leadership.

On Saturday, I leave for England, and along with Canon Jesus Reyes (and my daughter Katie too) we will visit our partner diocese of Gloucester. We are looking forward to time with Bishop Sadock of Western Tanganyika and Bishop-elect Rachel Treweek, our new partner bishop in Gloucester. We anticipate meeting Rachel, getting to know her and having valuable time to discuss the future of the partnership and where we might go from here. We will also participate in the ordination of deacons and priests on the weekend we are there. I will have the honor of once again preaching for the diaconal ordination. (*Note – Visit our diocesan Facebook page and read our e-newsletter for updates.) This visit is shorter than others in part due to the postponed visit from last fall and the timeline within which we were able to meet in 2015. I look forward to writing you with news after our visit. I ask your prayers for safe travel and a fruitful time of communion with our Tanzanian and English brothers and sisters.

Finally, our General Convention begins June 24. I will have one day between returning from England and departing for Salt Lake City to get my laundry done and be back on the road! Our deputation is ready for the nine days of work that lie ahead. Some of the major considerations will be electing a new Presiding Bishop, considering the restructuring of the church-wide organization, and a report on The Theology of Marriage. While many things will be discussed at convention, these are likely to take a fair bit of our energy. As always, we will worship and pray, have fellowship together, and flop into bed each night tired from the work! Alongside the work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, The Episcopal Church Women will also meet for their Triennial meeting. We have two bloggers in our ECR deputation and they will keep you informed of what is happening at this convention.

Finally, as the anniversary of Michael’s death approaches (June 21), our family thanks you for the prayers and support you have offered on our behalf. We have been richly blessed by your faithfulness, love and care. We have been tended and held by our diocesan family. As this year of grief, challenge and change passes, we continue to live into our new reality each day with as much dependence on God’s grace as we can experience. As this second year following Michael’s passing commences, may we continue together to journey in this abiding blessing of grace that we know in Jesus. For in Christ, all things are possible; and in all things, our lives can be a blessing to others. May we share this good news!

Peace and grace,
+Mary


Walking the Way in a World That No Longer Speaks “Church”

April 24, 2015

Dear Friends,
Easter greetings of new and abundant life!

I pray the worship and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection throughout our diocese was deep, meaningful, holy and life-giving. I pray that our hearts were strengthened in their capacity to live this transforming faith well and that we are sharing it with all those who seek the way of grace. As this Easter season continues may we daily walk with God offering the light of Christ into our neighborhoods and the world.

In just one week, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will be with us for the advertised events of our pilgrimage walk and our May 2 conference. The pilgrimage walk is once again available and our Saturday conference has the capacity to hold many participants in the gym of St. Andrew’s School in Saratoga. +Katharine’s nine-year tenure as Presiding Bishop will end in November and we are blessed to have her with us for a visit before she concludes this part of her ministry. It will be a welcome opportunity to hear her insights and celebrate her history-making season as the first woman Primate in the world. We will reflect together on the topic of mission, inspired by our forebears for how we might live our Easter faith now.

In addition to offering conferences in our diocese that will inspire us to share our faith well, I also enjoy recommending books that may be “food for thought” in our congregations.  As I daily remain open to the new ways in which we can share the good news of Jesus in our neighborhoods and in our worlds, I commend to you a simple book, The Episcopal Way, which is the introductory text for the new Episcopal Teaching series.

The series will unfold in several books but this first one, written by Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law, outlines the shifts in thinking we would be wise to consider as we communicate the riches of our Episcopal heritage with a world that no longer speaks “church.” It may be a good book study for congregations exploring how we are to “Be the Church” and be in conversation with such a great diversity of thought and experience in our world today.  I commend this simple read to you as we seek to further open our hearts to the Spirit in this day and age. See you next weekend!

May the Risen One continue to unveil the mystery of resurrection so new life may continually be known!

+Mary

 


 

Easter Message:

“Death is skinny and weak and she can’t carry me!”

April 2, 2015

When I was first ordained and serving Christ Church, Redondo Beach, once a year as a congregation we joined with an organization named Corazon that builds houses in the poorest neighborhoods in Tijuana. In a day (starting early and ending late) a flimsy shack is torn down and a solid wood, single room house with a door that locks is erected in its place. Corazon identifies the recipient of this new home in advance of the team’s arrival, having a strong organizing presence in the neighborhoods they serve. The congregation funds the materials and builds the house. It is a powerful experience of resource sharing that involves one’s money, heart, soul, body and mind.

On my first build I was asked to help with translating for the mother of two young children; just the day before, she’d learned that the application she had filled out and the interviews she had completed over recent weeks were going to result in a new home – by the next night. I assumed this would be welcome and easy news, but in fact, she was quite frightened as she watched our crew eying her cardboard, wood and tarp home, preparing to tear it down. She could not imagine something else in its place. It had provided her shelter, a place to sleep. It was her provision for her kids and where she called home. She had built this place with her own hands. And yet it had not kept her safe: the father of her children paid unwanted visits and one of her key reasons for wanting a home with a door that locked was to keep him out. Nonetheless, the transition was painful and scary for her on many levels.

As I stood with her and watched the workers (my husband Michael among the “get-it-done” crew) prepare to take her little home – which would take just moments – I noticed her eying the marigolds she had planted by her entrance. Their bright orange and yellow contrasted starkly with the dirt and tattered wall of the home. As that first wall began to pull away she quickly began to dig up the flowering plants and hold them carefully. I helped her remove them and we set them aside in a safe place dampening their roots. They seemed to her a symbol of hope in the transition, something that would come from the old house and be planted with the new one. Indeed, as I helped her process what was happening through the day, and as the house came close to being finished, we planted the marigolds by the new front door. They were a symbol of hope keeping her mindful of new life in the midst of what clearly felt like a death.

BlessingOils-seeds Web

“Death went and sat down one day,
Sat down in a sandy place,
and ate lots of cold tortillas just to try and gain some weight.”

The word for skull in Spanish is “Calavera.” “Calavera” also refers to a poetic verse or rhyme in Mexican culture – such as the ones above – that mocks death in a satirical or humorous way. The Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, described his culture’s perspective on death: “The word death is not spoken aloud in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite toy and his most lasting love.”

What cultural confidence these Calaveras reflect – that death is not the end of the story! The brightly and wildly decorated skulls we see in our own context direct our thinking to the Day of the Dead. The artful outrageousness reflect ‘no fear’ of death because of the certainty that something more exists. Gracias a Dios!

At the time of that house-building weekend in Mexico, I did not know marigolds were associated with the Day of the Dead. Their scent is thought to help the spirits of the dead find their way home. They are a sign of hope that new life is coming, that death does not have the victory. As Paul says, ‘it has no sting.’ One may need their symbols of hope while making the transition, but indeed, the move from death to life lands you in a new place. Obviously, the same sort of thinking is asked of us as Christians.

The death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is our flowering marigold. Our powerful story of the cross and the rising of Christ is that to which we hold fast in the midst of such fierce transitions between living, dying and living again. Our story teaches us that death has no sting. It has no fat on its bones. It mocks death. Scared we may be, but not overcome!

May we praise God as we celebrate this Holy Week and Easter that we know the end of the story; that even though we can become confused in the midst of transition, the smell of new life is in the air!

The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed!

+Mary


Christmas Message: Learning to Walk in the Dark

December 23, 2014

“The Light Shines in the Darkness and the Darkness did not overcome it.”
-John 1:5

Neither did the darkness disappear.

I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is an easy read and prompts good pondering about darkness and our enculturated fear of it. Taylor reminds the reader that we have often interpreted our Biblical texts and Christian messaging as dominantly negative commentary on alldarkness.  She reminds the reader that two of the most important Christian beliefs, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, are based on something that happens in the dark.  The Incarnation begins in the dark of the womb, unseen and mysterious to the human eye. Resurrection occurs in the dark of the tomb, equally unseen and mysterious. We are hearers and believers of these events but not direct witnesses to them. We choose to trust the mystery of what happened in the dark.

At the creation, darkness is a pre-existent, formless void, but it is not labeled as bad or evil: It just is.  When it is created, light is named as good. One wonders if the naming of light as good is not to do with its moral essence, but instead that the presence of light gives the formless void shape, perspective, and character. One can see in the dark because of the presence of light. What we find in the dark may be identified and understood in some way even as it holds mystery. Think of your experience of the stars at night that light up the sky, or the qualities of dawn and dusk. Would they be of interest if there was no relationship between dark and light? If there was only dark or only light, how would we ever know the gifts the other holds? We rise early and set aside time at the end of the day to enjoy the miracle of interplay between light and dark. Something in us longs to witness and delight in the relationship of one to the other. Perhaps it is the life between light and dark that is born at the creation that is named as ‘good.’

The gospel of John reminds the reader that light will come and shine in the darkness and the dark will not overcome the light. Darkness does not disappear, but Jesus the Light comes and we are able to understand something of the mysteries of the dark. We will immediately gravitate toward naming the bad things of the dark; that ‘which goes bump in the night’ and terrify us! We want to get a handle, a grip, a firm hold on that which could overwhelm us in life. But let us also remember that darkness is filled with miraculous gifts: stars, silence, the nocturnal life of nature, even the heart of our faith.

The good news of the Gospel tells us God is in the dark (maybe even the dark), sharing light, so we may have perspective and insight into life, ourselves, and the essence of God. The Christian life may be less about dark and light battling until one overcomes the other, and instead God’s invitation to engage the interplay, the relationship between the two. Perhaps it is there we discover healing and we can know something of salvation.

Jesus, who is light himself, is the invitation to this interplay. It is He who emerges as salvation from the mysterious and life-giving dark of the womb. It is He who walks among those who dwell in darkness.  It is He who rises from the mysterious and life-giving dark of the tomb. It is He who leads us into the fullness of life.

This Christmas and forever, may the Light and Love of God that we know in Christ be yours.

+Mary


 

 

We Cannot be Silent. We Cannot Forget.

December 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

Racism, and the violence born from it, is as old as civilization itself. In the Jewish faith the concept of original sin as a way of explaining the deep flaws of humanity is not linked to sex, temptation or disobedience (as has been the case in the Christian interpretation of Adam and Eve since the time of Augustine of Hippo), but rather to sibling rivalry. It is the story of Cain and Abel, also found in the book of Genesis, which is often viewed as a window into human brokenness. As two brothers navigate the fragile reality of family relationships, the reader is invited to explore how a Godly civilization might be built among the human family in a world where debasing and violent conquest is the dominant mode of gaining power and access to resources.

In the spring of my senior year of high school, the city of Miami experienced the start of the Mariel boat lift (April to October, 1980) where ultimately 125,000 Cubans arrived on Florida shores, among them many mentally ill people and prisoners. At the same time, race riots exploded in an already volatile environment (May 1980) because four white police officers were acquitted in May 1980 of having beaten a black man, Arthur McDuffie, to death. The trial was held in Tampa due to the pressures in Miami. The jury was all white and all male.

Our neighborhood was quarantined and school was cancelled for several days. We lived near “Black Grove,” a neighborhood where rioting was taking place. The violence and subsequent action of being in a state of emergency segregated us with curfews and residential access only.  All that we have seen recently in Ferguson happened then. In the end 500 members of the National Guard were called in, 18 people died, 350 were injured, 60 arrested and 100 million dollars of assessed damages totaled.

I recall that after the rioting had settled and we returned to school, I reunited with black friends with whom I would receive a diploma in just a few short weeks. I recall being even more personally aware that while we went to school together, played sports and music together, studied together, we lived in segregated worlds based on the color of our skin.  Beneath that day-to-day encounter a deep, divided and painful reality existed based on gross injustice.

I also remember feeling like we all knew it, but did not speak of it. How does one begin to speak of it? It was not safe. No format was offered by our school.  Everyone feared igniting more violence. That was a powerful incentive to remain still and silent. I know I felt little sense of power to do anything about our burning and overwhelmed city where it seemed few knew how to grasp a way forward that did not involve more violence. As graduating seniors, perhaps at some level we were all relieved to not know, to not try; to forget and move on.

As I write now, I am aware that many of you reading this reflection will not remember these riots or the Mariel boatlift. People did move on. They were events in the life of one community, someone else’s community, but truly, they reflect America as a whole. Painful and explosive events around matters of immigration and race are not uncommon in our nation. Every day, in some way or another, they reflect our volatile and broken human reality. We would prefer to forget.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all” is the American promised land. In the Biblical story it is an elusive place that is never reached.  It is rather a vision, something to work toward.  The ‘Kingdom of God’ which as Christians we pray to come is this same sort of vision of a Godly civilization.  Racial harmony – everyone having equal access to the American promised land – is a dream, a vision. We have not reached it.  In order to work constructively toward it, we must acknowledge how very far away we are from it. And we must not let the rage and the violence of Ferguson silence us. We must not forget it.

jesus-loves-ferguson

Ferguson photo courtesy of Christian Goepel

Until we begin to have conversations and relationships that bring a deeper understanding and ultimately reconciliation across our racial differences, it will continue to happen. We all have a part in the injustice of our nation – and we have a place in discovering how we might create a society where power and resources are shared for the common good and not used as weapons of destruction one against the other.   

The Episcopal Church has drawn together several resources for local conversation on matters of racial reconciliation and how to move forward in building a more Godly society. In our diocesan work with The Kaleidoscope Institute we have several resources (see below) that may also be of help in having conversations at the congregational level.

I encourage you in this Advent season that we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Christ by drawing nearer to the brokenness of our world which Jesus came to heal.  How might we be part of this Godly mending?

Advent blessings of hope and expectation,

+Mary


A Partnership Update

November 26, 2014

Dear Friends,

It has been a while since I updated you on Bishop Michael, our partner bishop in Gloucester. As you will recall, a few months ago allegations of sexual misconduct from more than 30 years ago were raised against Bishop Michael. At that time, he stepped back from his ministry as Bishop of Gloucester. He was interviewed by the police and as was announced six weeks ago, there is to be no action taken regarding the matter. The Church of England is proceeding with their own safeguarding protocols.

Bishop Michael was scheduled to retire this past week, and indeed, has quietly completed his ministry as Bishop of Gloucester. There was no celebration of his tenure in Gloucester at this time but there is hope for a more formal farewell after the first of the year when the church has completed its investigation. I asked Bishop Michael to share a few words with us as his ministry as our partner bishop draws to a close.

“As I lay aside my office as Bishop of Gloucester, I am conscious that, among all the more local and national elements of my ministry over the last few years, there is something much bigger and wider that has meant a huge amount to me and enriched my ministry and that of my diocese. That bigger and wider element has been our series of international partnerships and, in particular, the relationship embracing Western Tanganyika, El Camino Real and Gloucester. It has been challenging, rewarding and a source of joy. It has created wonderful friendships and enabled us to be more truly the Body of Christ. I thank God for it and for all the people who have contributed to it and I will continue to pray for it in the future, hoping it may continue to serve the unity and the mission of the Church.”

Bishop Michael and his wife Alison have written farewell letters to the diocese of Gloucester and they may be found here.

It has certainly been a season of abrupt and traumatic change in the lives of many in our diocese – and of course we include Bishop Michael, his family and the Diocese of Gloucester among our own.  What follows now is the readjustment and settling of what new life awaits. Our faith always directs us toward hope in the new thing that God is unfolding in our midst, even as God is working through our need of healing from the painful and challenging events of life. This is true also for our partnership.  The Diocese of Gloucester is in the midst of its process to receive their next bishop, the news of which should come in the spring.

We are working toward a June visit by Canon Jesus and myself, along (we hope) with the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, which would fulfill the visit postponed from this past September. In the meantime, this open space is a good opportunity for us to consider the direction of the partnership since its birth five years ago. Such a pause and reassessment was in fact part of the process we originally set into place — although it was not meant to be filled with so much trauma for both our dioceses!  Nevertheless, this is God’s open space and we trust that the life ahead will be as fruitful as the first five years of our partnership. May we continue to give thanks and to pray for Bishop Michael, his family and for our partnership, that God will be glorified in our common life.

As we gather for our national holiday of Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for the gifts God has given us in this life, especially the gift of one another.

Love and Grace,
+Mary


Living the Questions: “What is in Your Hand?”

August 22, 2014

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Dear Friends,

This was the opening quote of last year’s convention address, where we launched the theme of “Living the Questions.”  Little did I know that at this point in my life, there would be so many questions whirring around in my head!

“What is in your hand?” is a question that is a sort of refrain in scripture. Notably, it occurs when God asks this to Moses as he stands at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on the Jewish people. He has only his staff, which God turns into a snake to demonstrate that what is “in hand” is more than enough for God to work a miracle. The staff becomes a source of power for the parting of the Red Sea and the beginning of freedom from slavery for the future nation of Israel. Likewise, as we heard a couple of weeks ago in our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus fed thousands with a few meager supplies. In slightly different words, Jesus asks his disciples to notice what they have: “what is in your hand?” They display a few fishes and loaves, Jesus blesses them. It is enough for all gathered – including leftovers.

In the weeks following Michael’s death, I often woke in the night asking many panicked questions about my future – both matters pertaining to the next day and the years to come. In those moments, I began to ask myself the question, “what is in your hand, Mary?”  As I called to mind the resources and gifts in my life (and you are all on the list!), my panic would shift to gratitude. Once there, my prayers of thanksgiving could include prayers for others in need and thinking of ways I might be of service to them. 

Such balance reminds me that we always have a choice about whether we will live in the presence of God’s grace — or outside of it — and what difference it makes in our ability to live the Christian life in a sustained way.  Most of us must make that choice many times a day.  Grace is only a thought away. Praise God!

Here is another question: “How are we thinking today?”

Last week’s New York Times Opinion section featured an article about the value of day-dreaming and taking vacations (“Hit the Reset Button on Your Brain”, Daniel Levitin, August 9). Our brains have a two-part attentional system with two dominant modes: the task positive network and the task negative network. The task positive network is for work that requires our full attention for a sustained period of time. The task negative network is active when we are daydreaming. The two networks operate like a seesaw in the brain (when one is working, the other is not) and their interaction maximizes creativity and insight. 

Today’s age of multi-tasking and our overachiever culture not only increases mental stress, but decreases the quality of our output.  The article notes this rather startling data: “According to a 2011 study, on a typical day we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986 . . . for every hour of YouTube video you watch, there are 5,999 hours of new video just posted!” Who can keep up? 

Recent weeks have offered too much startling, catastrophic and sad news: continued conflict in the Middle East, the Ebola virus and senseless shootings touching our raw American nerve of racism, to name a few.  Then there are the several (not just my own) personal tragedies and losses that have impacted those whom we know and love in our diocese and beyond.  On a lighter note, we are pushed over the edge of keeping up with the various Facebook posts on who had what for dinner!

As Christians we do not shy from the world. We believe in a God who is in the midst of the impossible – even 174 newspapers’ worth of overwhelming problems that seemingly have no solution. By our own power, we cannot fix a fraction of what is broken in the world, but we can pray and we can act out of God’s grace.  I would suggest that the practice of discerning how we might be the presence of Christ in any of the world’s catastrophic realities — or even our personal ones — is helped by taking stock of what we have to work with. Ask yourself: “What is in my hands right now?” 

This is a sustained thinking task that reminds us of the abundance of gifts in our lives, the thought of which will fill our hearts with gratitude.  This can lead to daydreaming about what we might do with those resources and what solutions might be possible.

I am no scientist, but I think such a process engages our brain’s natural design of the two-part attentional system.  Doing so will change how and what we think. And that will make a difference in our ability to receive the creative solutions of the Holy Spirit. 

Faith is such a gift!

With gratitude,

+Mary


July 25, 2014

Dear Friends,

I have said many times over the last five weeks that my gratitude is so great, I must give it to God.  We often say that we must “give things over to God” when they are too painful to manage.  Certainly this is true, but it is also the case that sometimes the good things in life are too great for us to hold alone.  As my family and I move through these early days of the death of Michael, I am so thankful that alongside grief my heart spills over with a deep awareness of God’s love made known through so many. We are devastated and at the same time have been beautifully held by our diocesan family and beyond. We could not move through these days without you. Thank you.

Following what was meant to be vacation time, I am now starting to re-engage my work life.  Through the month of August I will remain cautious and respectful of my challenged body, mind and spirit, and also tend to the important needs of my family and personal life.  Being a bishop is a demanding job in every way.  I am cautious that not only is it unwise to overwork at this time, but it is also filled with opportunity to act hastily and without all my faculties functioning at 100 percent.   People have asked what they can do for us, and of course, please continue to pray in the months ahead for our family. But also, I ask your patience as we find our way and regain our momentum for daily life. I assure you, it will happen – but for those of you who share the experience of a loved one’s death, you know that sometimes the “waves” of incapacitating grief are simply beyond one’s control.

We are blessed with incredible diocesan staff and leadership to whom I am especially grateful.  Diocesan business and life are in good order and Mary Beth has been in touch with those whose appointments or events needed to be rescheduled. If you are in anyway concerned, please call us and we will be sure that your needs are heard and met.

Finally, please be assured of my love for you, and of my experience of how much you love me.  We will be okay, but as with all of life’s great losses, time is necessary to heal.  I love these words below from Ephesians 3:14-20. Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus in their time of challenge.  Let us offer them in hope for ourselves.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

+Mary

March 25, 2016

Disarmed and Disoriented by the Power of God

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen,” reads our Easter narrative.

What would a disciple do now?

While in Mexico a couple of weeks ago brushing up on my Spanish language skills, I also spent time in the Anglican Diocese of Southeastern Mexico with Bishop Benito Juarez, his wife Angelica and members of the church in the region. We visited several congregations, one of which was a new church plant in an abandoned neighborhood (previously company housing that had flooded and where the employees subsequently refused to live), now taken over by homeless people after 40 years of vacancy. The government allowed them to stay. They have fixed up their “new” homes and a small group has planted a church. Currently, the church is a concrete pad with a metal roof. No walls yet. There are plastic flowers, an altar and a statue of St. Francis, their patron saint. The church is located next to the flood plain which apparently manages the water flow in the area.

352fb815-814f-43e5-b18a-a4b43a2c26aeWe sat in the open air, sipped coke and chatted with the church planters, a group of four neighborhood women. The conversation turned to the statues and images prevalent in Mexican culture. These new friends noted the heartfelt experience of images important to those in the neighborhood: of Jesus, Mary and all the saints.

They provided a safe approach to conversation and prayer with God. The lack of them in this Anglican Church was maybe an obstacle to church growth, the women pondered. Into this conversation, +Benito made a comment that caught my ear:

“God is not a bureaucrat,” he said gently.

We did not disagree as we considered how to share with others the reality of God in Christ. Each culture has its way; all Christians must navigate a conversation between faith and culture. But cultural aids and supports to understanding the relationship between God and humanity can turn into requirements. We can develop an unnecessary dependency upon them. Resurrection though, is so entirely free of bureaucracy; it is a stark and direct work of God. There is no human power that causes or prevents it. It is just suddenly present.

How disarming and disorienting it must have been! The lack of something – anything – between the cross and the empty tomb was too much to take in for the disciples, so the story goes. One life had passed away; and almost too soon, another came in its place.

How is a follower of Jesus, known in a particular way, to make sense of this? How would life change with this open space between God and humanity, especially with Jesus in resurrected form?

We tend to speak of resurrection as a simplistic quick-fix, but really, it’s as complicated as any death. “Walk in the light while you still have it” (John 12:35-36) is a piece of advice Jesus gives in the Gospel of John as he approaches the cross; perhaps not only to show the way through death, but as a support, an honoring of what it takes to find one’s way through the disorientation of resurrection.

d803a64c-f16d-4a46-a264-de68b0e37195The Easter story moves from the cross to the empty tomb to the 50 days of Easter. Eastertide is a time to ponder how we will live resurrection. What shall we do with this new life where there is no barrier between God and humanity? What will that mean for us in our everyday life? How does it change the way we share the good news of Jesus with others? As we enter this Eastertide, may we pray for a deeper understanding of the reality of resurrection in our lives, where there is no barrier between God and ourselves. May our own story of knowing the risen Christ be a gift to others.

Grace and wisdom in this Easter season,
+Mary


March 18, 2016

Values, Respect and Reconciliation for the Common Good

Dear Friends,

I write to you as I arrive home following nearly three weeks of travel. I spent a week in the City of Oaxaca, Mexico studying Spanish, and enjoying the history, art, food and people of that beautiful city. I then went to Tuxtepec near the border between Oaxaca and Vera Cruz to spend a few days with the Diocese of Southeastern Mexico. I attended their synod, visited congregations and very much enjoyed time with Bishop Benito and Angelica Juarez, as well as lay and clergy leaders. All Saints’ Palo Alto has a parish partnership with Santa Cruz in La Joya. It was wonderful to see the life and mission they share. Watch for news of their mission trip coming up in April.

The House of Bishops meeting in Navasota, Texas was my last stop on the itinerary. There we spent time in retreat with our new Presiding Bishop, listening to his vision and together crafting how we will move forward together as a House. Presiding Bishop Michael continues to hold out for us a focus of reconciliation (racial and otherwise) and evangelism: the most fundamental elements of our Christian calling. Our week together was a blessed time of prayer, worship, fellowship and joy.

As we do on occasion, the bishops issued a Mind-of-the-House statement “calling for prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation will prevail and we will not betray our true selves.” The complete statement may be read here. Together we expressed our concern regarding the current political climate in our country, the use of violent and manipulative rhetoric in the political process and our inability to disagree while still making decisions in support of the common good. I hope you will join us in prayer for reconciliation in our nation as we focus on that essential Christian work in our church.

When we pray in directed ways, we notice the synergism of the Spirit. Diocesan leaders discerned that in this year of prayerful consideration of our Values, that at our annual May conference we might explore ways of having conversation across difference. After all, while we may hold the same values, we may do so differently. This is good and is the strength of our country. If, as I think we have, lost the art of public discourse then it means that our differences cannot work together creatively for the common good.

All points of view matter. All points of view have something to offer into solutions for our most challenging social problems.

With the Diocesan Partnership Commission, I have invited Joan Blades, co-founder of Living Room Conversations to be our speaker and facilitator. LRC is a non-profit organization that helps people have small group conversations across difference on matters that are of concern to us all. In turn, this relational model for community-building empowers people of differing points of view to work together for the common good in their communities.

cfea50e6-f023-4d7c-981b-aaa745aed18eI am of the view that churches have the potential to have and host such conversations as one way to live out our Christian mission of reconciliation in our communities . . . both congregational and beyond. In that spirit, I invite you to join together on Saturday, May 21 for an important spring conference, “Living Room Conversations: Respecting, Reconciling, and Appreciating Differences.” Online registration can be found here.

We focus our attention this Holy Week on the saving work of Jesus the Christ. May our knowledge of the grace of God made known in the death and resurrection of Jesus increase in these coming days. May we live that abundant grace in our communities. May we trust and work with its power, and may the world be healed.

+Mary


January 15, 2016

More Work of Love for the Pain All Around

cathedral

Read in Spanish

Dear friends,

You will no doubt have heard about one of the outcomes of the Primates meeting of the Anglican Communion. For a second time (the first season of sanctions came in 2005), The Episcopal Church has been sanctioned for a period of three years. As reported in Episcopal News Service, a majority asked that TEC will “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or policy.”

I need to correct some statements in the media that The Episcopal Church has been excommunicated or suspended. This is not the case. We are still part of the Anglican Communion, but are in a very long conversation about the validity of our decision to affirm marriage for same-sex couples. Our change in language at last summer’s General Convention that expresses that marriage is for all people (instead of exclusively between a man and a woman) is unacceptable to many in the Anglican Communion. Since we are a Communion that is governed independently by province, there is little way to express this officially. The sanctions provide that way.

Our Presiding Bishop has released a video where he speaks eloquently of our place in the Communion as the voice that speaks for inclusion of all people. I want to affirm that we are a diocese that sets a wide table. Everyone is welcome to be seated, to feast and to fellowship. While our local conversation around the inclusion of LGBTQ persons is largely completed on an official level, we honor the diversity of personal opinions that are a part of us. We hold ourselves in a relationship of love and trust in God’s grace rather than our own theologies. We respectfully and carefully walk this path with one another and our partners in the Anglican Communion. We will continue to do so.

This moment will be particularly painful for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I love you very much and I am sorry for this further assault on your being. Please know that as a diocese we stand with you, even as we stand in this global church. I titled this article with words from Bishop Curry’s video, “More Work of Love” and added my own, “For the Pain All Around.” I am sorry for the pain in the wider church as a result of our decisions. I am particularly sorry for our friends in our partner dioceses who have been offended or harmed by our actions. On the one hand as a Bishop of the church, I am part of the problem for your provinces, and I ask your forgiveness; on the other hand, I do not regret my inclusive stance and votes at our General Convention. They are a matter of conviction, faith, theology and integrity. My prayer is we can continue to walk together despite our serious disagreement.

In closing, I quote what I wrote in last week’s message:

“In our gospel reading this weekend from Luke 3 when ‘Jesus and all the people’ are baptized, I note that the people come with expectation. They are not afraid of this salvation: they are hoping in it, curious about it, filled with expectation. How wonderful to be fearless in the face of God and the circumstances of the world; filled with expectation at what may come! How many of us instead fear God and the chaos of the planet in these days?

There is plenty to be afraid of in the world, but fear does not need to govern our response.”

With Epiphany blessings of light and wisdom,
+Mary

Photo: Episcopal News Service (click the link for continuing coverage)


January 8, 2016

Fear is Not a Christian Value

We have left Christmastide, the season in which we celebrate the coming of the Light of Christ. We have arrived at Epiphany, the season in which we become more conscious of being the Light of Christ in the world.

Fear is not a Christian value, but no doubt, it can protect us from our own poor judgment. As people of faith we must exercise discernment of the roots and the nature of our fear. Is it providing important protection, or preventing us from moving forward in some way?

Hope

The angels, as they announce the coming of God’s light in Jesus, all warn against “being afraid.” “Don’t go there,” they say. The angel says it to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds. “Do not be afraid.” This imperative is not a dismissal of their very reasonable fear in the presence of an angel, but to warn against allowing that fear to govern their response to God’s work of salvation. The angel not only calls them into the work of salvation but is a discernment partner in the face of fear. The angel gets them from fear to empowerment.

When I was in kindergarten I was asked to be THE class angel in the Christmas pageant at my Episcopal day school. I said no to this request because I was quite sure I had to learn to fly – and I was sure I would not be able to manage this. Some days after the pageant, my mother continued to pester me about why I had turned down this great honor. She could not make sense of it. I confided to her that I just knew I would not be able to learn to fly. It would certainly be too hard. My mother gently corrected my misperception. In the first grade I was given a second chance to be the angel for my class. I accepted and very happily fulfilled my role – no flying required. My mother was a fine discernment partner in the face of my fear.

Fear can be empowering when we acknowledge it and discern our way forward. We can learn, be strengthened and empowered by the process. The characters in our gospel story do just that. While they acknowledge their fear, they don’t allow it to keep them from serving God in the way they have been called. Fear is not suppressed or in control; or worse, a value. Instead these servants become empowered for the work of salvation.

In our gospel reading this weekend from Luke 3 when “Jesus and all the people” are baptized, I note that the people come with expectation. They are not afraid of this salvation: they are hoping in it, curious about it, filled with expectation. How wonderful to be fearless in the face of God and the circumstances of the world; filled with expectation at what may come! How many of us instead fear God and the chaos of the planet in these days?

There is plenty to be afraid of in the world, but fear does not need to govern our response.

In this Epiphany season, spend some time noticing what scares you. What prevents you from taking flight? As you discern your fears, the process will give you wisdom. The light of Christ, from which wisdom flows, will be an even stronger light in the world.

Grace and Light,
+Mary

faith

Photos: San Bernardino shooting memorial, December 2015 (Elrond Lawrence)


December 23, 2015
A Message from the Bishops of our Diocesan Partnership

There was no place for them: The ministry for refugees in our partner dioceses

When we are settled in both our civic and religious life, we can take for granted our citizenship, both in our belonging to a country and to the Kingdom of God. Yet they are precious and to be lived with reverence and responsibility. Both are a privilege and an honor.

The number of refugees in the world has swelled to over 50 million. There has not been a higher number since immediately after WWII. We call this a crisis, as though it will end, but will it? The current pattern of migration, refugees, those who are stateless, those seeking asylum, and those who are internally displaced reflects the world’s inability to be at peace and to manage its resources in just and equitable ways. People flee because of political instability, others because of food or water insecurity. About half of refugees are children. Some move to another country for better employment opportunities. These are technically not refugees, but both groups live with the same insecurities and threats. Exploitative human trafficking abounds in such chaotic situations of human desperation.

In this Christmas season, we turn our attention to the holy family and how salvation came into the world through their faithfulness. They gave birth to salvation while on the move in turbulent times. For a brief period, Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have qualified as refugees. In Matthew chapter 2, an angel warns them of Herod’s edict to kill all firstborn boys and urges them to flee into Egypt. Herod’s tyranny was prompted by fear of the salvation foretold in this baby Jesus, one who would be called the Prince of Peace. No doubt it also sparks the memory of salvation from slavery out of Egypt of the Hebrew people when Pharoah demanded the same infanticide.

Throughout his life Jesus lives in occupied territory. The salvation story is told amidst political unrest, fear, economic and social injustice and the movement of people living under constant threat. The same cry for peace on earth found in scripture is our global cry today. It is our context for following Jesus now. How shall we proclaim it? How shall we live it?

refugees-aid

Our diocesan partnership shares in many things. We are one in the body of Christ. We are blessed to share love, fellowship, and a commitment to deep conversation about what it means to be Christian in our respective contexts. There remains an abiding commitment to live peaceably with significant difference among us. We also share this global crisis, our concern for refugees, for peace on earth and for salvation in Jesus Christ to be shared. In this time we model the power of our faith to create a context for peace to be born in our turbulent world.

Here are a few words from each of our dioceses about our experience of this global reality. May we be inspired to serve God’s will in our time.

From Bishop Rachel Treweek
In the Diocese of Gloucester we are engaged with GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) and Chapter 1, a charity with a Christian foundation that works in our region to enable more properties to become available to families who might be deemed high risk for a private landlord. The hope is that as Syrian refugees arrive in our area over the next few years, we will be able to offer real and practical support and enable adults and children to integrate well with local communities.

From Bishop Sadock Makaya
In the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, we have been engaged in the ministry of serving the refugees from Burundi and from the Republic of Congo who now live in my Diocese. We have two types of ministries: spiritual and physical. As Bishop I always visit these poor needy people to encourage and comfort them, but also for confirmation services. Secondly under the department of Development, the diocese has been providing blankets, towels, mattresses and food. Last month, the UNHCR Project field officer from Kasulu wrote me an acknowledgement letter for what DWT is doing among the refugees. We feel that since the refugees are located in our diocese we have no excuse not to be engaged in this service.

We thank St. Barnabas Fund from UK and the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund from El Camino Real who donated funds toward the physical support to these people. John Mhanuzi has done an amazing ministry among the Refugees.

From Bishop Mary
Prayer and tangible support is variously found in our congregations for refugees the world over. We also have many undocumented workers in our diocese, vs refugees, and much support is offered to this population. Most recently some of our congregations have participated in an interfaith community organizing effort that resulted in the provision of maintenance health care for undocumented persons.

We are also discerning how we might help those effected by the refugee crisis resulting from gang related violence in some Central American Countries, especially in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The violence has led to extreme rates of homicide and forced displacement. As a result, many families, and a large number of unaccompanied youth, migrate irregularly to the United States. Foundation Cristosal, an Anglican/Episcopal human rights organization, is leading the national effort to provide direct assistance to victims displaced and persecuted by violence, or forced into sexual slavery. We will continue to support the refugees in DWT.

As we enjoy the celebrations of Christmas in our homes with our families and friends, let us pray for refugees and all those who have no place to call home. May we open hearts to them, support them as we are able, and live in hope alongside them for peace on earth. As Christians who know our spiritual home to be in Christ, may we share the gracious hospitality of God with all our neighbors.

O God of the wanderer, we give thanks that no matter where we are you have called us to make our home in Jesus. We thank you that in him we find the fullness of life. We pray today for all who flee their native land because of fear, hunger, violence, oppression, and terror. Give them comfort and deep peace as they travel; provide for them open arms and hearts as they arrive in a foreign place. May they find in us, their brothers and sisters, shelter, food, clothing, and a place to call home. May we embrace the stranger as we would your glorious presence. It is in this holy time of celebrating your Incarnation and by the power of the Spirit that we pray.

To support the refugees in our partner dioceses — either Western Tanganyika or Gloucester — please send your gift to Bishop Mary’s discretionary fund, noting the diocese to which you intend to contribute. Online donations can be made here. Thank you and Merry Christmas!


December 11, 2015

Advent is a Thin Place

“The koru, which is often used in Māori art as a symbol of creation, is based on the shape of an unfurling fern frond. Its circular shape conveys the idea of perpetual movement, and its inward coil suggests a return to the point of origin. The koru therefore symbolizes the way in which life both changes and stays the same.” (teara.gov.nz.org)

Unfurling fern frond

New Zealand is a thin spot for me. In other words, there seems to be less barriers between my human experience and the divine presence. It is a place where I easily sense God’s presence, especially in the sheer beauty of the creation one finds in that land. People say Ireland and Israel are also thin places. You probably have places in your life that feel this way for you.

The Maori language and culture reflect a deep spiritual connection with the land. New Zealand, Aotearoa (in Maori this means ‘the land of the long white cloud’), is a thin place for the people of New Zealand. Their relationship with the land has shaped their thinking and their language. Words always have more meaning than one can initially grasp. Understanding unfurls.

One of the symbols the people draw out of nature is the koru. It is the unfurling baby frond of the tree fern. The symbol is everywhere, as are the tree and buds themselves. New Zealand art and media abound with the koru. It is hard not to think about the constant generativity of creation, of God and potentially of the self. Any idea that life is stagnant or that we are not called to growth and change over time is wildly challenged by its presence. In these images of koru, I particularly enjoy the messy one of dead ferns on the forest floor. Even in all that dying, new life is emerging everywhere.

New life emerging everywhere

Advent is a thin spot in the liturgical life of the church. It is intended to be a time where the space between humanity and God is as minimal as can be. Jesus who comes as God among us is a thin spot; a place where the human and divine experience are drawn together as one. In our readings the prophets cry wildly of the generativity of God. Images of birth and new life are everywhere.

I am just returning from a month of vacation in New Zealand, where we lived from 1990-1993. It was a great trip in every way. We hiked in several forests, among other activities. Just driving along the roads is a feast for the eyes and the soul, but the forest is a special place. Koru is everywhere. During that time of rest and rejuvenation (and some news fasting), however, horrific things also happened: Lebanon, Paris, San Bernardino, and Planned Parenthood were attacked by terrorists. I came back to find that we now refer to these events as “today’s shooting.”

Climate talks have been underway, the refugee crisis continues, and the debate on gun control is as unproductive as ever. Our materialistic culture remains committed not to the spiritual process of new life unfurling but the end product that can be shot, bombed or bought. One might imagine God is not here at all or perhaps worse, that God too is a product we can buy.

“Come, Emmanuel, Come!” is our Advent cry. It is our Christian walk to stop asking that peace and a healthy planet magically appear, but to work for their slow and steady growth, to help them unfurl in the world. As we prepare to know God’s unfurling in the Christ-child, let us be conscious not only of a beautiful baby but also of the values of God that we celebrate this season: salvation, peace, and wholeness, to name a few.

May we walk in the thin place of this season. May we treasure the wild creativity of God in our soul, the human community and our planet. May we be part of the slow work of these Godly things.

+Mary

Healthy planet



November 7, 2015

Bishop’s Mary’s Annual Convention Address

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves’ annual address at the 35th Convention of El Camino Real sets a new direction for the diocese while challenging congregations to consider their own values and how they embody them in their communities.

Click here to view and download a copy of her 30-minute address that challenges El Camino Real to become a values-driven organization.

 


August 8, 2015

The Transformational Power of Camp

“If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings
If I were a robin in a tree, I’d thank you Lord that I could sing
If I were a fish in the sea
I’d wiggle my tail and I’d giggle with glee
But I just thank you God for making me, me.”

StAndrewsCamp_fishers5x_MGREvery August, about 140 kids, staff and counselors make their way to Pinecrest in the Sierras for Camp St. Andrew’s, our diocesan camp. The camp has been going for 38 years, same week, same beautiful spot.  Some leaders have come and gone, but Sue Ramar of St. Andrew’s, Saratoga – along with her family and adult counselors who started as campers years ago and who are now seasoned counselors – return each year for this transformational experience. Camp is a community. Camp is missional.

Many of us will have memories of the power of camp. Right now – remember!  In your mind or out loud, sing a song, do the hand gestures that go with it, ponder a prank or an activity you were able to have because you went to camp. Remember your friends and what you learned.  Same thing every year, but different because you were in a different place on life’s journey each time you returned. It was so fun – and formational!

What makes Camp St. Andrew’s different is the intentional community it gathers.  There are our typical church kids, who likely have the privilege of stable homes, church communities that embrace and raise them in the faith, and good education. A positive future awaits. There are also kids in foster care and whose families struggle with daily life in every way. The future is chaotic, confusing or cannot be envisioned at all. At Camp St. Andrew’s you can’t actually tell who has what sort of life (although the prayer requests during worship give insight to the differences). Everyone is part of the same transformational milieu, the same fun, the same worship, the same song. Everyone is just a beloved child of God in this place. The cultural crossing of emotional realities with Jesus in the midst means no one will leave quite as they arrived. And this is good.

StAndrewsCamp_group_MGRMy kids participated in Camp St. Andrew’s as campers and one keeps going back, now as a counselor, but I had not yet had the opportunity to go. This past week Channing Smith, Rector of St. Andrew’s, and I made our way up to Pinecrest and joined the fun, the songs, the worship. We all ate S’mores at campfire, had significant conversations, were conscious of the Spirit moving and were filled with gratitude for the experience. Gratitude for silliness and fun. Gratitude for an opening of the heart. Gratitude for being made stronger because we share in this community.

In the community of camp, rites of passage are marked for campers and counselors alike. Different color scarves are given at significant points of life change and levels of participation. There is something to strive for and to celebrate. The community notices growth. It has noticed that we have accomplished something and it has made a difference to others. In our Christian language, we might call it growing into the likeness of Christ and maturing as spiritual leaders. It is worthy of celebration.

StAndrewsCamp_fire_MGRWhile I don’t think weekly church should be campy, I do think the making of community that we do as church should always be this transformational. A little or a lot, something new or something that has been done over and over again; on any given day, the transformational power should grow in our congregations as we move along in our common life.

I see it happening in our congregations in lots of ways; how do you see it happening in yours? The Spirit is always calling it forth. Periods of transformation ebb and flow in a congregation’s rhythm of spiritual maturing in Christ; sometimes the transformation is lightheartedly silly and sometimes sensitively deep. Mark the passages, take notice, spill a tear, celebrate, do a silly dance in honor of the achievement, launch forward from that good place to whatever Christ has in store. In all this ebb and flow, these passages, these life stories, the Spirit makes us a community of transformation.

Thank you God for making us, us!

+Mary


Following Jesus Into the Neighborhood, Traveling Lightly

July 10, 2015

Dear Friends,

Flat Jesus_WebsiteThis now popular tag line of General Convention sums up my month of travel! My time away began with a Beautiful Authority conference — a gathering I help lead for women clergy that originated in El Camino Real, but now includes women nationwide for the purposes of co-mentoring and empowering for ministry. Then came a trip to Gloucester for a partnership visit, and finally, 10 days in Salt Lake City for the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Each journey required careful and precise packing for what would be required at my destination. Each gathering was different from the other; but they all had in common following Jesus, risk-taking, and forward movement for the sake of the gospel. These are, after all, characteristics of the Christian life.

“Flat Jesus”, a spin-off of Flat Stanley from the 1964 children’s book by Jeff Brown, was seen many times at General Convention. His little cartoon face on a stick, tucked into people’s name tags, was a reminder that for Christians, Jesus is with us everywhere we go, an easy traveling companion. He takes us and we take him on the journey of life. We travel together, find transformation and share it with the world. This is a rather simple formula.

Our General Convention was uplifting in so many ways. The mood was happy, energetic and forward looking. Even the contentious matters, such as marriage equality, were worked through with a more loving and less anxious spirit than conventions of the last 12 years. In the House of Bishops, a minority report was issued, as was a Mind of the House report. There were affirming words of love, collegiality and community among us as together we acknowledged deep joy and deep pain.

FollowJesusCrop-WebsiteThis big issue did not negatively impact our ability to work together on other matters.  Relationships remained intact. The resolutions addressing restructuring the church – something many thought would be even more challenging than marriage equality – moved through in due time and process.  Much of what the Committee for Restructuring the Church proposed (view the report here) was considered over recent months, prompting rigorous debate before convention and then at convention on the floors of both houses. Some matters were appropriately referred for deeper consideration.

A spirit of integrity pervaded our work as we sought greater accountability, transparency, and a leaner more efficient and effective structure, all with a collaborative energy that was in itself life-giving. These values of our common life were apparent in the work of other resolutions as well; they are increasingly foundational to the way we journey with Jesus as church.

The Episcopal Church Women and the United Thank Offering also had a strong presence as they gathered to conduct their business.  I was mindful of their good work impacting our diocese, especially since my daughter Katie attended convention as a grant recipient for 20-30 year-olds applying for funds for ministry start-ups. Also funded on our behalf was a joint grant application with the Diocese of Olympia to support a youth soccer program in Sudan and a 75,000.00 grant request for St. Luke’s Hollister as they strengthen their important bilingual preschool.

A focus on the important matters of racism, gun violence, gender parity in the church and society, church planting and revitalization are included in the budget and in the work ahead for The Episcopal Church. We shall be capably led by Presiding Bishop-Elect, Michael Curry. If you have never received the inspiration of his presence, I encourage you to listen to his sermon preached on the final day of convention, telling us to “Go” and make disciples for the Jesus Movement at hand. Watch a video of his sermon here.

HOB_Mary-MCurry_WebsiteMichael is my friend and colleague, and I will be honored to work with him as one of two Vice Presidents of the House of Bishops, along with Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas, also elected to this work (all pictured at right).

I come back around to our partnership with the Diocese of Gloucester and Western Tanganyika. Bishop Michael Perham has been restored to ministry and had a joyful farewell the weekend before our visit; importantly, before Bishop Rachel Treweek had her Confirmation of Election (a legal process and ceremony in the Church of England).  Her ordination will be held July 22 and her seating will be in September. I will attend the latter. We very much enjoyed meeting Rachel (the first woman diocesan bishop in the Church of England) and getting to know her as we begin a new chapter in our partnership.

We will continue to disagree on any number of matters, but remain in conversation across the differences as together we follow Jesus and are transformed by the journey. We do agree that Communion is not a matter of agreement but of being members of the body of Christ through baptism and this life of following Jesus. We will continue to work together on a number of matters, including the scholarship program, a new educational endeavor, and parish partnerships.  More information will be forthcoming on these adventures soon!

I am grateful to Jesus Reyes with whom I journeyed to England for our visit. I am grateful to the women of Beautiful Authority who journey with talent and strength beyond measure. Finally, I am grateful to our General Convention deputation who rose early and worked late for ten long days, giving their all for the proper and good stewardship of the governance of our church. You were thoughtful, pastoral and faithful as you made your way through the concerns of the heart of our church.

Now, as +Michael Curry reminded us, “GO” is the first word of the great commission in Matthew’s gospel. And in so doing may we ‘follow Jesus into the neighborhood, traveling lightly.’

Amen!
+Mary

 


Notes from a Month of Travels

June 12, 2015

Dear Friends,

I write during a very busy month of travel! I am currently sitting in an airport lounge, having just completed another wonderful Beautiful Authority Conference where 18 women priests were encouraged and supported, and given the opportunity to build community while exploring life and vocation.

Beautiful Authority began in 2011 as a grassroots effort with Amy Denney-Zuniga and Christy Laborda: two young women clergy in our diocese, who expressed the need of their age group of clergy in the church to gather and build relationships of mutual support and learning. (Generally speaking, because there are so few male and female clergy under the age of 35 in any given diocese, they become isolated, increasing the likelihood of departure from ministry). ECR volunteers made that first conference a success and had women asking for more. While I have not led all five of the Beautiful Authority conferences that have taken place, we have now held three for women clergy under 35, and two for women between the ages of 35 and 45. The Beautiful Authority movement supports clergy leaders enhancing their capacity to serve the church for years to come.

BeautAuthority2_AKH
It is unfortunate but true that we have lost ground on the number of women being ordained to the episcopate, especially as diocesan bishops (there will be three of us in TEC after Cate Wainick of Indianapolis retires and Audrey Scanlan of Central Pennsylvania is ordained in September). The stained-glass ceiling also remains as thick as ever for women seeking equal access when applying for rectorships in larger congregations, diocesan staffs and cathedral deanships. Gender bias is alive and well in the wider American church. We don’t think about it very much in our diocese; however, nationwide it is a worrying indicator for the diversity needed in our clergy leadership.

On Saturday, I leave for England, and along with Canon Jesus Reyes (and my daughter Katie too) we will visit our partner diocese of Gloucester. We are looking forward to time with Bishop Sadock of Western Tanganyika and Bishop-elect Rachel Treweek, our new partner bishop in Gloucester. We anticipate meeting Rachel, getting to know her and having valuable time to discuss the future of the partnership and where we might go from here. We will also participate in the ordination of deacons and priests on the weekend we are there. I will have the honor of once again preaching for the diaconal ordination. (*Note – Visit our diocesan Facebook page and read our e-newsletter for updates.) This visit is shorter than others in part due to the postponed visit from last fall and the timeline within which we were able to meet in 2015. I look forward to writing you with news after our visit. I ask your prayers for safe travel and a fruitful time of communion with our Tanzanian and English brothers and sisters.

Finally, our General Convention begins June 24. I will have one day between returning from England and departing for Salt Lake City to get my laundry done and be back on the road! Our deputation is ready for the nine days of work that lie ahead. Some of the major considerations will be electing a new Presiding Bishop, considering the restructuring of the church-wide organization, and a report on The Theology of Marriage. While many things will be discussed at convention, these are likely to take a fair bit of our energy. As always, we will worship and pray, have fellowship together, and flop into bed each night tired from the work! Alongside the work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, The Episcopal Church Women will also meet for their Triennial meeting. We have two bloggers in our ECR deputation and they will keep you informed of what is happening at this convention.

Finally, as the anniversary of Michael’s death approaches (June 21), our family thanks you for the prayers and support you have offered on our behalf. We have been richly blessed by your faithfulness, love and care. We have been tended and held by our diocesan family. As this year of grief, challenge and change passes, we continue to live into our new reality each day with as much dependence on God’s grace as we can experience. As this second year following Michael’s passing commences, may we continue together to journey in this abiding blessing of grace that we know in Jesus. For in Christ, all things are possible; and in all things, our lives can be a blessing to others. May we share this good news!

Peace and grace,
+Mary


Walking the Way in a World That No Longer Speaks “Church”

April 24, 2015

Dear Friends,
Easter greetings of new and abundant life!

I pray the worship and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection throughout our diocese was deep, meaningful, holy and life-giving. I pray that our hearts were strengthened in their capacity to live this transforming faith well and that we are sharing it with all those who seek the way of grace. As this Easter season continues may we daily walk with God offering the light of Christ into our neighborhoods and the world.

In just one week, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will be with us for the advertised events of our pilgrimage walk and our May 2 conference. The pilgrimage walk is once again available and our Saturday conference has the capacity to hold many participants in the gym of St. Andrew’s School in Saratoga. +Katharine’s nine-year tenure as Presiding Bishop will end in November and we are blessed to have her with us for a visit before she concludes this part of her ministry. It will be a welcome opportunity to hear her insights and celebrate her history-making season as the first woman Primate in the world. We will reflect together on the topic of mission, inspired by our forebears for how we might live our Easter faith now.

In addition to offering conferences in our diocese that will inspire us to share our faith well, I also enjoy recommending books that may be “food for thought” in our congregations.  As I daily remain open to the new ways in which we can share the good news of Jesus in our neighborhoods and in our worlds, I commend to you a simple book, The Episcopal Way, which is the introductory text for the new Episcopal Teaching series.

The series will unfold in several books but this first one, written by Stephanie Spellers and Eric Law, outlines the shifts in thinking we would be wise to consider as we communicate the riches of our Episcopal heritage with a world that no longer speaks “church.” It may be a good book study for congregations exploring how we are to “Be the Church” and be in conversation with such a great diversity of thought and experience in our world today.  I commend this simple read to you as we seek to further open our hearts to the Spirit in this day and age. See you next weekend!

May the Risen One continue to unveil the mystery of resurrection so new life may continually be known!

+Mary

 


 

Easter Message:

“Death is skinny and weak and she can’t carry me!”

April 2, 2015

When I was first ordained and serving Christ Church, Redondo Beach, once a year as a congregation we joined with an organization named Corazon that builds houses in the poorest neighborhoods in Tijuana. In a day (starting early and ending late) a flimsy shack is torn down and a solid wood, single room house with a door that locks is erected in its place. Corazon identifies the recipient of this new home in advance of the team’s arrival, having a strong organizing presence in the neighborhoods they serve. The congregation funds the materials and builds the house. It is a powerful experience of resource sharing that involves one’s money, heart, soul, body and mind.

On my first build I was asked to help with translating for the mother of two young children; just the day before, she’d learned that the application she had filled out and the interviews she had completed over recent weeks were going to result in a new home – by the next night. I assumed this would be welcome and easy news, but in fact, she was quite frightened as she watched our crew eying her cardboard, wood and tarp home, preparing to tear it down. She could not imagine something else in its place. It had provided her shelter, a place to sleep. It was her provision for her kids and where she called home. She had built this place with her own hands. And yet it had not kept her safe: the father of her children paid unwanted visits and one of her key reasons for wanting a home with a door that locked was to keep him out. Nonetheless, the transition was painful and scary for her on many levels.

As I stood with her and watched the workers (my husband Michael among the “get-it-done” crew) prepare to take her little home – which would take just moments – I noticed her eying the marigolds she had planted by her entrance. Their bright orange and yellow contrasted starkly with the dirt and tattered wall of the home. As that first wall began to pull away she quickly began to dig up the flowering plants and hold them carefully. I helped her remove them and we set them aside in a safe place dampening their roots. They seemed to her a symbol of hope in the transition, something that would come from the old house and be planted with the new one. Indeed, as I helped her process what was happening through the day, and as the house came close to being finished, we planted the marigolds by the new front door. They were a symbol of hope keeping her mindful of new life in the midst of what clearly felt like a death.

BlessingOils-seeds Web

“Death went and sat down one day,
Sat down in a sandy place,
and ate lots of cold tortillas just to try and gain some weight.”

The word for skull in Spanish is “Calavera.” “Calavera” also refers to a poetic verse or rhyme in Mexican culture – such as the ones above – that mocks death in a satirical or humorous way. The Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, described his culture’s perspective on death: “The word death is not spoken aloud in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite toy and his most lasting love.”

What cultural confidence these Calaveras reflect – that death is not the end of the story! The brightly and wildly decorated skulls we see in our own context direct our thinking to the Day of the Dead. The artful outrageousness reflect ‘no fear’ of death because of the certainty that something more exists. Gracias a Dios!

At the time of that house-building weekend in Mexico, I did not know marigolds were associated with the Day of the Dead. Their scent is thought to help the spirits of the dead find their way home. They are a sign of hope that new life is coming, that death does not have the victory. As Paul says, ‘it has no sting.’ One may need their symbols of hope while making the transition, but indeed, the move from death to life lands you in a new place. Obviously, the same sort of thinking is asked of us as Christians.

The death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is our flowering marigold. Our powerful story of the cross and the rising of Christ is that to which we hold fast in the midst of such fierce transitions between living, dying and living again. Our story teaches us that death has no sting. It has no fat on its bones. It mocks death. Scared we may be, but not overcome!

May we praise God as we celebrate this Holy Week and Easter that we know the end of the story; that even though we can become confused in the midst of transition, the smell of new life is in the air!

The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed!

+Mary


Christmas Message: Learning to Walk in the Dark

December 23, 2014

“The Light Shines in the Darkness and the Darkness did not overcome it.”
-John 1:5

Neither did the darkness disappear.

I have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is an easy read and prompts good pondering about darkness and our enculturated fear of it. Taylor reminds the reader that we have often interpreted our Biblical texts and Christian messaging as dominantly negative commentary on alldarkness.  She reminds the reader that two of the most important Christian beliefs, the Incarnation and the Resurrection, are based on something that happens in the dark.  The Incarnation begins in the dark of the womb, unseen and mysterious to the human eye. Resurrection occurs in the dark of the tomb, equally unseen and mysterious. We are hearers and believers of these events but not direct witnesses to them. We choose to trust the mystery of what happened in the dark.

At the creation, darkness is a pre-existent, formless void, but it is not labeled as bad or evil: It just is.  When it is created, light is named as good. One wonders if the naming of light as good is not to do with its moral essence, but instead that the presence of light gives the formless void shape, perspective, and character. One can see in the dark because of the presence of light. What we find in the dark may be identified and understood in some way even as it holds mystery. Think of your experience of the stars at night that light up the sky, or the qualities of dawn and dusk. Would they be of interest if there was no relationship between dark and light? If there was only dark or only light, how would we ever know the gifts the other holds? We rise early and set aside time at the end of the day to enjoy the miracle of interplay between light and dark. Something in us longs to witness and delight in the relationship of one to the other. Perhaps it is the life between light and dark that is born at the creation that is named as ‘good.’

The gospel of John reminds the reader that light will come and shine in the darkness and the dark will not overcome the light. Darkness does not disappear, but Jesus the Light comes and we are able to understand something of the mysteries of the dark. We will immediately gravitate toward naming the bad things of the dark; that ‘which goes bump in the night’ and terrify us! We want to get a handle, a grip, a firm hold on that which could overwhelm us in life. But let us also remember that darkness is filled with miraculous gifts: stars, silence, the nocturnal life of nature, even the heart of our faith.

The good news of the Gospel tells us God is in the dark (maybe even the dark), sharing light, so we may have perspective and insight into life, ourselves, and the essence of God. The Christian life may be less about dark and light battling until one overcomes the other, and instead God’s invitation to engage the interplay, the relationship between the two. Perhaps it is there we discover healing and we can know something of salvation.

Jesus, who is light himself, is the invitation to this interplay. It is He who emerges as salvation from the mysterious and life-giving dark of the womb. It is He who walks among those who dwell in darkness.  It is He who rises from the mysterious and life-giving dark of the tomb. It is He who leads us into the fullness of life.

This Christmas and forever, may the Light and Love of God that we know in Christ be yours.

+Mary


 

 

We Cannot be Silent. We Cannot Forget.

December 5, 2014

Dear Friends,

Racism, and the violence born from it, is as old as civilization itself. In the Jewish faith the concept of original sin as a way of explaining the deep flaws of humanity is not linked to sex, temptation or disobedience (as has been the case in the Christian interpretation of Adam and Eve since the time of Augustine of Hippo), but rather to sibling rivalry. It is the story of Cain and Abel, also found in the book of Genesis, which is often viewed as a window into human brokenness. As two brothers navigate the fragile reality of family relationships, the reader is invited to explore how a Godly civilization might be built among the human family in a world where debasing and violent conquest is the dominant mode of gaining power and access to resources.

In the spring of my senior year of high school, the city of Miami experienced the start of the Mariel boat lift (April to October, 1980) where ultimately 125,000 Cubans arrived on Florida shores, among them many mentally ill people and prisoners. At the same time, race riots exploded in an already volatile environment (May 1980) because four white police officers were acquitted in May 1980 of having beaten a black man, Arthur McDuffie, to death. The trial was held in Tampa due to the pressures in Miami. The jury was all white and all male.

Our neighborhood was quarantined and school was cancelled for several days. We lived near “Black Grove,” a neighborhood where rioting was taking place. The violence and subsequent action of being in a state of emergency segregated us with curfews and residential access only.  All that we have seen recently in Ferguson happened then. In the end 500 members of the National Guard were called in, 18 people died, 350 were injured, 60 arrested and 100 million dollars of assessed damages totaled.

I recall that after the rioting had settled and we returned to school, I reunited with black friends with whom I would receive a diploma in just a few short weeks. I recall being even more personally aware that while we went to school together, played sports and music together, studied together, we lived in segregated worlds based on the color of our skin.  Beneath that day-to-day encounter a deep, divided and painful reality existed based on gross injustice.

I also remember feeling like we all knew it, but did not speak of it. How does one begin to speak of it? It was not safe. No format was offered by our school.  Everyone feared igniting more violence. That was a powerful incentive to remain still and silent. I know I felt little sense of power to do anything about our burning and overwhelmed city where it seemed few knew how to grasp a way forward that did not involve more violence. As graduating seniors, perhaps at some level we were all relieved to not know, to not try; to forget and move on.

As I write now, I am aware that many of you reading this reflection will not remember these riots or the Mariel boatlift. People did move on. They were events in the life of one community, someone else’s community, but truly, they reflect America as a whole. Painful and explosive events around matters of immigration and race are not uncommon in our nation. Every day, in some way or another, they reflect our volatile and broken human reality. We would prefer to forget.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all” is the American promised land. In the Biblical story it is an elusive place that is never reached.  It is rather a vision, something to work toward.  The ‘Kingdom of God’ which as Christians we pray to come is this same sort of vision of a Godly civilization.  Racial harmony – everyone having equal access to the American promised land – is a dream, a vision. We have not reached it.  In order to work constructively toward it, we must acknowledge how very far away we are from it. And we must not let the rage and the violence of Ferguson silence us. We must not forget it.

jesus-loves-ferguson

Ferguson photo courtesy of Christian Goepel

Until we begin to have conversations and relationships that bring a deeper understanding and ultimately reconciliation across our racial differences, it will continue to happen. We all have a part in the injustice of our nation – and we have a place in discovering how we might create a society where power and resources are shared for the common good and not used as weapons of destruction one against the other.   

The Episcopal Church has drawn together several resources for local conversation on matters of racial reconciliation and how to move forward in building a more Godly society. In our diocesan work with The Kaleidoscope Institute we have several resources (see below) that may also be of help in having conversations at the congregational level.

I encourage you in this Advent season that we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Christ by drawing nearer to the brokenness of our world which Jesus came to heal.  How might we be part of this Godly mending?

Advent blessings of hope and expectation,

+Mary


A Partnership Update

November 26, 2014

Dear Friends,

It has been a while since I updated you on Bishop Michael, our partner bishop in Gloucester. As you will recall, a few months ago allegations of sexual misconduct from more than 30 years ago were raised against Bishop Michael. At that time, he stepped back from his ministry as Bishop of Gloucester. He was interviewed by the police and as was announced six weeks ago, there is to be no action taken regarding the matter. The Church of England is proceeding with their own safeguarding protocols.

Bishop Michael was scheduled to retire this past week, and indeed, has quietly completed his ministry as Bishop of Gloucester. There was no celebration of his tenure in Gloucester at this time but there is hope for a more formal farewell after the first of the year when the church has completed its investigation. I asked Bishop Michael to share a few words with us as his ministry as our partner bishop draws to a close.

“As I lay aside my office as Bishop of Gloucester, I am conscious that, among all the more local and national elements of my ministry over the last few years, there is something much bigger and wider that has meant a huge amount to me and enriched my ministry and that of my diocese. That bigger and wider element has been our series of international partnerships and, in particular, the relationship embracing Western Tanganyika, El Camino Real and Gloucester. It has been challenging, rewarding and a source of joy. It has created wonderful friendships and enabled us to be more truly the Body of Christ. I thank God for it and for all the people who have contributed to it and I will continue to pray for it in the future, hoping it may continue to serve the unity and the mission of the Church.”

Bishop Michael and his wife Alison have written farewell letters to the diocese of Gloucester and they may be found here.

It has certainly been a season of abrupt and traumatic change in the lives of many in our diocese – and of course we include Bishop Michael, his family and the Diocese of Gloucester among our own.  What follows now is the readjustment and settling of what new life awaits. Our faith always directs us toward hope in the new thing that God is unfolding in our midst, even as God is working through our need of healing from the painful and challenging events of life. This is true also for our partnership.  The Diocese of Gloucester is in the midst of its process to receive their next bishop, the news of which should come in the spring.

We are working toward a June visit by Canon Jesus and myself, along (we hope) with the Diocese of Western Tanganyika, which would fulfill the visit postponed from this past September. In the meantime, this open space is a good opportunity for us to consider the direction of the partnership since its birth five years ago. Such a pause and reassessment was in fact part of the process we originally set into place — although it was not meant to be filled with so much trauma for both our dioceses!  Nevertheless, this is God’s open space and we trust that the life ahead will be as fruitful as the first five years of our partnership. May we continue to give thanks and to pray for Bishop Michael, his family and for our partnership, that God will be glorified in our common life.

As we gather for our national holiday of Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for the gifts God has given us in this life, especially the gift of one another.

Love and Grace,
+Mary


Living the Questions: “What is in Your Hand?”

August 22, 2014

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Dear Friends,

This was the opening quote of last year’s convention address, where we launched the theme of “Living the Questions.”  Little did I know that at this point in my life, there would be so many questions whirring around in my head!

“What is in your hand?” is a question that is a sort of refrain in scripture. Notably, it occurs when God asks this to Moses as he stands at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on the Jewish people. He has only his staff, which God turns into a snake to demonstrate that what is “in hand” is more than enough for God to work a miracle. The staff becomes a source of power for the parting of the Red Sea and the beginning of freedom from slavery for the future nation of Israel. Likewise, as we heard a couple of weeks ago in our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus fed thousands with a few meager supplies. In slightly different words, Jesus asks his disciples to notice what they have: “what is in your hand?” They display a few fishes and loaves, Jesus blesses them. It is enough for all gathered – including leftovers.

In the weeks following Michael’s death, I often woke in the night asking many panicked questions about my future – both matters pertaining to the next day and the years to come. In those moments, I began to ask myself the question, “what is in your hand, Mary?”  As I called to mind the resources and gifts in my life (and you are all on the list!), my panic would shift to gratitude. Once there, my prayers of thanksgiving could include prayers for others in need and thinking of ways I might be of service to them. 

Such balance reminds me that we always have a choice about whether we will live in the presence of God’s grace — or outside of it — and what difference it makes in our ability to live the Christian life in a sustained way.  Most of us must make that choice many times a day.  Grace is only a thought away. Praise God!

Here is another question: “How are we thinking today?”

Last week’s New York Times Opinion section featured an article about the value of day-dreaming and taking vacations (“Hit the Reset Button on Your Brain”, Daniel Levitin, August 9). Our brains have a two-part attentional system with two dominant modes: the task positive network and the task negative network. The task positive network is for work that requires our full attention for a sustained period of time. The task negative network is active when we are daydreaming. The two networks operate like a seesaw in the brain (when one is working, the other is not) and their interaction maximizes creativity and insight. 

Today’s age of multi-tasking and our overachiever culture not only increases mental stress, but decreases the quality of our output.  The article notes this rather startling data: “According to a 2011 study, on a typical day we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986 . . . for every hour of YouTube video you watch, there are 5,999 hours of new video just posted!” Who can keep up? 

Recent weeks have offered too much startling, catastrophic and sad news: continued conflict in the Middle East, the Ebola virus and senseless shootings touching our raw American nerve of racism, to name a few.  Then there are the several (not just my own) personal tragedies and losses that have impacted those whom we know and love in our diocese and beyond.  On a lighter note, we are pushed over the edge of keeping up with the various Facebook posts on who had what for dinner!

As Christians we do not shy from the world. We believe in a God who is in the midst of the impossible – even 174 newspapers’ worth of overwhelming problems that seemingly have no solution. By our own power, we cannot fix a fraction of what is broken in the world, but we can pray and we can act out of God’s grace.  I would suggest that the practice of discerning how we might be the presence of Christ in any of the world’s catastrophic realities — or even our personal ones — is helped by taking stock of what we have to work with. Ask yourself: “What is in my hands right now?” 

This is a sustained thinking task that reminds us of the abundance of gifts in our lives, the thought of which will fill our hearts with gratitude.  This can lead to daydreaming about what we might do with those resources and what solutions might be possible.

I am no scientist, but I think such a process engages our brain’s natural design of the two-part attentional system.  Doing so will change how and what we think. And that will make a difference in our ability to receive the creative solutions of the Holy Spirit. 

Faith is such a gift!

With gratitude,

+Mary


July 25, 2014

Dear Friends,

I have said many times over the last five weeks that my gratitude is so great, I must give it to God.  We often say that we must “give things over to God” when they are too painful to manage.  Certainly this is true, but it is also the case that sometimes the good things in life are too great for us to hold alone.  As my family and I move through these early days of the death of Michael, I am so thankful that alongside grief my heart spills over with a deep awareness of God’s love made known through so many. We are devastated and at the same time have been beautifully held by our diocesan family and beyond. We could not move through these days without you. Thank you.

Following what was meant to be vacation time, I am now starting to re-engage my work life.  Through the month of August I will remain cautious and respectful of my challenged body, mind and spirit, and also tend to the important needs of my family and personal life.  Being a bishop is a demanding job in every way.  I am cautious that not only is it unwise to overwork at this time, but it is also filled with opportunity to act hastily and without all my faculties functioning at 100 percent.   People have asked what they can do for us, and of course, please continue to pray in the months ahead for our family. But also, I ask your patience as we find our way and regain our momentum for daily life. I assure you, it will happen – but for those of you who share the experience of a loved one’s death, you know that sometimes the “waves” of incapacitating grief are simply beyond one’s control.

We are blessed with incredible diocesan staff and leadership to whom I am especially grateful.  Diocesan business and life are in good order and Mary Beth has been in touch with those whose appointments or events needed to be rescheduled. If you are in anyway concerned, please call us and we will be sure that your needs are heard and met.

Finally, please be assured of my love for you, and of my experience of how much you love me.  We will be okay, but as with all of life’s great losses, time is necessary to heal.  I love these words below from Ephesians 3:14-20. Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus in their time of challenge.  Let us offer them in hope for ourselves.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

+Mary

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