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All Saints Church

ASH WEDNESDAY: Why Bother?

Susan Russell – All Saints Church Pasadena

I can’t post the video – But I can post the writing for you to read and ponder.

ASH WEDNESDAY: Why Bother?
March 9, 2011

It is Ash Wednesday once more – the entry point for yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter. And today we hear again the words as familiar as their outward-and-visible signs etched on our foreheads: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On this Ash Wednesday, as the liturgical season shifts from Epiphany to Lent, we are called to make a shift, too. Our focus shifts, as it does every year at this time, from stories about the outward manifestations of God’s presence among us to a more interior place as we journey with Jesus on the road we know leads to Golgotha – to the cross – and ultimately, to the resurrection.

And so, on this Ash Wednesday, here is my annual advice for the journey ahead: Do not give up epiphanies for Lent!

It’s another commercial for “the Land of And” … Let us not become so inwardly focused that we forget to notice – to give thanks for – to respond to – those encounters we can and will have with the holy in the next 40 days. Let us not become so focused on our own “journey with Jesus” that we forget that as long as there are still strangers at the gate, walking humbly with our God is not enough: let us not forget that we are also called to do justice.

Called to do justice. During Lent? Really???? Yes. Really. And it’s not something Ed Bacon came up during a glory attack or an idea that’s exclusive to All Saints Church. It’s a call that was issued by Isaiah and incarnated by Jesus. It’s as old as the prophets and as urgent as this morning’s news … it’s a call to fast for justice:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly

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The fast Isaiah calls us to isn’t about giving up Twitter or Starbucks or Girl Scout cookies for Lent … it’s about getting ANYTHING out of the way that gets in the way of our being aligned with God’s love, justice and compassion … as we journey into these 40 days of Lent and beyond. It’s why we bother – not just with this service and these ashes this season of Lent. It’s why we bother to follow Jesus.

Let’s face it … you could all be doing something else with this hour at noontime … Eating lunch. Picking up dry cleaning. Going to the gym. Playing Farmville on Facebook. But you’re here. In this church. In this moment. Remembering that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Why bother?

It’s a bit like a question I got on my blog this week in response to Sunday’s sermon:

So if we’re all going to heaven anyway, what’s the point of going to Mass or even bothering to have a relationship with Christ and following any commandments at all? Why bother?

It’s a classic question and one I’ve had on my heart getting ready for today. What is the answer we give to those who wonder why we’re here … who wonder why we bother. Lots of people don’t. Bother. With Lent. There’ll be a lot more people here on Easter Sunday than there are today. And there are even more who have dismissed the “whole Christian thing” because it was reduced for them to “follow these rules and you’ll get into heaven” – and condemns to “the Lake of Fire” anybody who doesn’t. Follow the rules. The way you do.

Why bother? Here’s my short answer:

We bother because we gather here today not to try to earn God’s love by following rules but to give thanks for God’s love that transcends all boundaries. We bother because we follow Jesus not in HOPE that he’s our ticket into heaven but in RESPONSE to the promise he incarnates that nothing – even death – can separate us from the love of God. And freed from that fear of death we are free to live life abundantly … and to risk journeying into the wildernesses that cry out for the love, justice and compassion that God calls us to live out in the world.

We bother because there are many “wildernesses” into which we are called this Lent 201l: If we are to be a people who have bread to share with the hungry we must challenge those who would balance our budgets on the backs of the least of these.

We bother because we serve the God whose fast is “to let the oppressed go free” – and so we continue to speak out about protecting family values that value ALL families.

We bother because in order to choose the fast Isaiah offers us this Lent we must continue to undo the thongs of the yokes of racism AND sexism that continue to keep this country and this church from being all that God would have them be.

We bother because living up to our baptismal covenant calls us to advocate for just immigration policies that will truly respect the dignity of every human being.

We bother because today we choose again to follow the one who calls us to journey with Him into those wildernesses — bearing the Good News of a God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.

It is Ash Wednesday once more – the entry point for yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter. And now IS the acceptable time. May we be given the grace to choose the fast our God calls us to choose … trusting that the One who calls us into this wilderness will be with us and bless us on the journey.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu … in his own words…

Courtesy: All Saints Church Pasadena …

Here is a story from the sermon of Archbishop Tutu.

“God created us in the beginning out of dust, and putting this first lot, like bricks you put in a kiln, and firing them and God was busy doing all kinds of things and for God, God put this lot in the oven, and when God came to the door he was like ohhh and rushed found everything was burned to cinders, and this is how black people came about.

And God then put a second lot in the oven and this time God is too anxious and opens the oven too quickly and this lot was underdone and that’s how white people came about …”

“When the missionaries came to Africa, we had the land they had the Bible, and then they said let us pray, and we closed our eyes and they said Amen, and we opened our eyes, they had the land, and we had the Bible…”

His message, we are holy. We walk on Holy Ground, and we are God’s viceroy’s on earth. You are created in the image of God. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. You, You, You are the temple of the Holy Spirit, You are a God carrier.

His message was of peace and transformation.

You and I should be made for the infinite. Each of us has a God shaped space within us, and only God can fill that space.

Imagine if we all really believed this. If he is a God carrier, we are a God carrier. If we really believed the things we are taught you and I would say Ahh ahh it is holy, it is holy, because God suffuses everything.

At the burning bush Moses meets God, everything is a burning bush. If only you and I could we would say this is holy ground, not just here but everywhere, I tread on Holy Ground…

Nothing except sin is secular. So we come to this service God feels sorry for us, and the Holy the omnipotent the one before whom the arch angels fall down, I come in the form of bread I come in the form of wine and St Augustin said that you are that bread, you are that wine, you are in the chalice, become what you are. You are fantastic, you are holy you are God carriers. You are omnipotent.

You are a God carrier, you are God’s stand in, You, You, You … We are God’s viceroy…


The Lesson of the Advent candles …

The Rev. Zelda Kennedy, Sunday, December 19, 2010

4 candles slowly burned. The ambiance was so soft, one could almost hear them talking. The first candle said “I am peace, yet the world is full of anger, and violence and fighting. Nobody can keep me lit,” then the flame of peace went out completely.

The second candle said “I am faith, I am no longer indispensable it doesn’t make sense that I stay lit for one moment longer,” just then a breeze softly blew out faith’s flame.

Sadly, the third candle said “I am hope. People don’t seem to understand my importance, so they simply put me aside, I haven’t the strength to stay lit.” And waiting no longer hope’s flames went out.

Suddenly a child entered the room and saw the unlit candles, “Why aren’t you burning? We are supposed to keep you lit until the end.” Saying this the child began to cry.

It was at this time that the fourth candle answered, “Do Not Be Afraid, I am Love. And with Love we can relight the other candles,” with shining eyes the child took the candle of love and relit the others.

The flame of love should never go out of your life. And with Love each of us can live a life of Peace, Faith and Hope.

 


Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori & Integrity Sign Call to Action, “No More Bullying”

Courtesy: Ihaterenton

Lifted from: Walking with Integrity

For Immediate Release: October 18, 2010

Today, as leaders of Christian communions and national networks, we speak with heavy hearts because of the bullying, suicides and hate crimes that have shocked this country and called all faith communities into accountability for our words or our silence. We speak with hopeful hearts, believing that change and healing are possible, and call on our colleagues in the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.

In the past seven weeks, six young and promising teenagers took their own lives. Some were just entering high school; one had just enrolled in college. Five were boys; one, a girl becoming a young woman. These are only the deaths for which there has been a public accounting. New reports of other suicides continue to haunt us daily from around the country.

They were of varying faiths and races and came from different regions of the nation.The one thing these young men and women had in common was that they were perceived to be gay or lesbian.

Each in their own way faced bullying and harassment or struggled with messages of religion and culture that made them fear the consequences of being who they were.

In the past two weeks, cities like New York have seen major escalations in anti-gay violence. Two young men attacked patrons of the Stonewall Inn, legendary birth place of the LGBT rights movement in the United States, locking them in the restroom and beating them while hurling anti-gay epithets.

Men on a Chelsea street, saying goodnight after an evening out, were attacked by a group of teens and young adults, again hurling anti-gay slogans and hurting one person badly enough to require emergency treatment. And nine young men in the Bronx went on a two-day rampage beating, burning, torturing and sodomizing two teenage boys and their gay male adult friend for allegedly having a sexual relationship. “It’s nothing personal,” one of the now arrested said. “You just broke the rules.”

What are the “rules” of human engagement and interaction that we, as people of faith, want to teach our congregants, children and adults alike, to live by?

Many have responded from within and beyond the faith community offering comfort and support to the families and friends of Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase and Aiyisha Hasan. Our hearts, too, are broken by the too soon losses of these young and promising lives, and we join our voices to those who have sought to speak words of comfort and healing.

Many others, however, have responded by adding insult to injury, citing social myths and long-held prejudices that only fuel division, hatred and violence – and sometimes even death.

We, as leaders of faith, write today to say we must hold ourselves accountable, and we must hold our colleagues in the ministry, accountable for the times, whether by our silence or our proclamations, our inaction or our action, we have fueled the kinds of beliefs that make it possible for people to justify violence in the name of faith. Condemning and judging people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can have deadly consequences, both for the victims of hate crimes and those who commit them.

There is no excuse for inspiring or condoning violence against any of our human family. We may not all agree on what the Bible says or doesn’t say about sexuality, including homosexuality, but this we do agree on: The Bible says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” Abiding in love – together – is the rule we must all preach, teach, and seek to live by.

People of faith must realize that if teens feel they will be judged by their church, rejected by their families and bullied by their peers, they may have nowhere to turn.

Too many things go unspoken in our communities. It’s time to talk openly and honestly about the diversity of God’s creation and the gift of various sexual orientations and gender identities – and to do that in a way that makes it safe for people to disagree and still abide in love.

It’s time to talk openly and honestly about the use and misuse of power and authority by those we entrust with our spiritual well-being.  It’s time to make it safe for our clergy colleagues who are struggling to live what they preach, to get the help and support we all sometimes need.

The young people who took their lives a few weeks ago died because the voices of people who believe in the love of God for all the people of God were faint and few in the face of those who did the bullying, harassing and condemning. Today we write to say we will never again be silent about the value of each and every life.

To that end, we pledge to urge our churches, our individual parishes or offices, our schools and religious establishments to create safe space for each and every child of God, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. And we ask you to join us in that pledge.

Today, we personally pledge to be LGBT and straight people of faith standing together for the shared values of decency and civility, compassion and care in all interactions. We ask you, our colleagues, to join us in this pledge.


Fat …

jc

“God doesnt seem to call the qualified, but rather to qualify the called.”

Christians are called to be FAT: Faithful, Available and Teachable…

The Rev. Wilma Jakobsen – All Saints Church Pasadena, Good Friday Service.


Faith forms a bond for a lesbian priest and a Mormon father of three

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A documentary film about same-sex marriage and theology leads to friendship, admiration and new understanding.
By Duke Helfand
February 7, 2009

Who could have foreseen what would happen between the Mormon filmmaker and the lesbian priest?

Not Douglas Hunter, even after he took a leap of faith and trained his camera on the Rev. Susan Russell.

And maybe not even Russell, who had undergone a remarkable transformation from onetime suburban soccer mom to priest and outspoken champion of gay rights.

But the friendship that took root when Hunter asked Russell to play the central role in his documentary about same-sex marriage and theology would lead two people from different worlds to a new understanding of themselves and their faiths.

“We’re all telling the same stories about God’s work in our lives,” said Hunter, 40, a father of three from Pasadena who discovered Russell on the Internet.

Technology may have provided the bridge, but it was an ancient religious calling that drew Hunter to Russell, a senior associate priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

Hunter felt a religious obligation to cross the same boundary Jesus is said to have traversed 2,000 years ago when he spoke of embracing the outsider.

No group was further outside Mormon circles, Hunter thought, than gays and lesbians. Mormonism, he knew, viewed homosexual acts as sins, and Mormons would become among the most generous supporters of California’s Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage that was approved by voters last fall.

It was in early 2007, after the death of a close family friend, that Hunter decided it was time to put his religious ideals to the test.

Filmmaking provided the vehicle.

A freelance post-production supervisor for television shows, he had already made two films: a documentary about rock climbing and another short movie about a couple overcoming a marital infidelity.

His new film, he reasoned, would allow him to explore a subject considered taboo by many other Mormons but which he could no longer ignore.

“The engagement of the ‘other’ was so important in the teaching of Jesus that it had to have a place of centrality in my own faith,” he said. “What’s your reward if you only love people who already love you?”

Hunter didn’t know where to start, so he turned to his computer. He typed in random search terms — “Christian gay,” “gay theology.” The search led to a clip of Russell on YouTube and then to her personal blog, called An Inch at a Time.

“I was like, ‘Wow, she’s fabulous. She’s here in Pasadena. She’s practically a neighbor,’ ” he said.

Hunter sent an e-mail to Russell in June 2007, explaining that he wanted to make a short documentary about the personal and spiritual challenges of same-sex marriage. The finished product, he said, would be submitted to an international documentary project that would broadly address the meaning of citizenship.

Russell, 54, was accustomed to interview requests in her role as president of Integrity USA, an advocacy group for gay and transgender Episcopalians. She had few qualms about sharing the details of her personal story to further her cause.

With a command of Christian theology and a fearless streak, she had become a national emblem in the struggle for gay equality in the Episcopal Church, a spiky-haired priest in a clerical collar who turned up on CNN and such news programs as ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

A few weeks after Hunter’s e-mail arrived, Russell agreed to meet him in her office at All Saints.

“That first meeting was about getting my foot in the door and letting her know I was for real,” Hunter recalled.

By August 2007, Russell was sitting through several hours of interviews and camera shots at the church. That material — indeed, the priest herself — would become the heart of Hunter’s 19-minute film, “The Constant Process,” which also features family pictures, including a snapshot of a smiling Russell and her ex-husband on their wedding day, cutting their cake.

In the film, Russell tells how, after college, she settled into a privileged life in Ventura with her banker husband and two young sons. There was tennis and sailing and a golden retriever at home.

But Russell felt strangely agitated.

“I had this sense that I had everything I ever wanted, you know, this really blessed life, and then I had this imploding thought in my head. . . . Is that enough?” she says in the film. “I look back on that moment as the beginning of my spiritual U-turn.”

Russell felt a call to the ministry. As she grew more spiritual, however, her marriage deteriorated.

The turning point came during a religious conference on the East Coast, where Russell met a woman who also was struggling with a troubled relationship, in her case with a female partner.

Russell and her new friend talked at length about their lives. When the woman asked if Russell might be gay, Russell answered, “I’m quite sure I’m not gay.”

But the question weighed on her. Why hadn’t she ever entertained the possibility? Was there something inherently wrong with being gay?

The next day, during a service at the National Cathedral in Washington, Russell heard a voice in her head.

“This is how I made you,” it said. “Now I need you to go back and be the priest I made you to be.”

The words seemed so loud that Russell looked around to see if anyone else heard them.

“I walked out of that service . . . changed,” she says in the film. “It was just really clear to me that my life didn’t look like what I thought it did.

“So for me, the coming-out experience really had nothing to do with a sexual act or even a relationship or a person,” she adds. “It was about really, finally understanding my fullest, deepest self and getting all the pieces in place.”

As Russell told her story to Hunter, he realized that he wasn’t just filming, he was learning from her. He was especially moved by the priest’s concept of romantic love, with its emphasis on spiritual and emotional intimacy as a precursor to physical expression.

“That resonated with me and gave me a renewed appreciation of my relationship with my wife,” he said.

Hunter also felt his empathy growing for gays and lesbians, especially friends who felt compelled to hide their sexual orientation. Perhaps that was because he, too, held a secret: Hunter had been sexually abused as a child by two neighbors in his native Philadelphia.

He knew what it was like to hide a part of himself and pretend his life was in order. “I kept that locked away,” he said.

Something else was occurring: Hunter and Russell were becoming friends. As election day neared last November, Hunter began showing up at “No on 8″ rallies alongside his documentary subject.

Russell’s initial curiosity about Hunter gave way to admiration, particularly over his decision to vote against the same-sex marriage ban and to speak out against it. She realized that she was sharing in his transformation. And that filled her with a sense of wonder.

“It isn’t a risk for a priest from All Saints to go to a Prop. 8 demonstration, but it is for a devout, straight Mormon father of three,” Russell said. “It just speaks volumes about how deeply Douglas walks the talk in terms of really putting his faith into action.”

Hunter had to balance his new friendship against his obligation to his church, whose members, at the urging of church leaders, were contributing millions of dollars to help pass the ban.

Knowing he was walking the finest of lines, he told only a few close Mormon friends about his opposition to Proposition 8 and about his documentary, even as it debuted last fall at a gay and lesbian film festival in Chicago. The project also will be shown at a film festival in Pomona in April.

“As a Mormon, I have a responsibility and commitment to listen to my church leaders,” he said. “At the same time, listening to my church leaders does not absolve me of the ethical responsibility to listen to the voice of the other.”

Hunter said he hoped the film would spark a thoughtful conversation about acceptance. “There are some things that Mormons are going to find challenging in the film, such as a lesbian priest saying that God is working through her,” he said. “I think that is a good point of discussion.”

And so he stayed his course, but not without turmoil, as tensions grew over Mormon support for the same-sex marriage ban.

Just days before the Nov. 4 election, Hunter joined Russell for an interfaith service in the ornate sanctuary of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral near USC. One by one, speakers took the stage to reflect on the proposed ban.

Finally, Hunter stepped forward. He spoke about compassion and about the universality of love.

“If as a straight man I find the tools for strengthening my marriage in the relationships of same-sex couples and of a dear friend, can I deny them a fundamental right that I benefit from and cherish?” he asked. “The answer is no.”


Words

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Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones, but Words Have the Power to Heal Me.

Our job is to say words to everyone we meet that somehow can help each person feel like one of God’s children. Feeling God within and all around. Jesus it is said, taught with authority. The word authority – from the Greek  “exousia” meaning literally “coming out of ones own being” or “coming out of ones true self.” The English word authority derives from the word “Author” which means the power to originate, Jesus’ authority derived from Jesus’ relationship with the creator God, the originator of all life and the author of all healing, love and compassion.

Healing, authority and power that you and I are given by birth comes from our being aligned with the author of love and compassion, exorcising authority stems from living with the authority abiding within us the authority for liberating teaching springs from drinking deeply each day from the author of all freedom and life living inside our souls.

Every time any of us gets triggered by some spirit that is not our true self it is a signal that there is a deep wound that needs healing and God is coming to us right now to say my love can conquer any wound you have had the one who is within you is greater than the one who is in the world. May all our living and all our teaching and all our relating have the mark of this liberating cleansing authority that assures every human being that being beloved is the core truth of their existence. Amen…”

Rev. Ed Bacon, All Saint’s Church Pasadena

You can listen to the entire sermon at the hyperlink above.


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