Justice of breaking boundaries

I’ve been playing a lot of video games lately. I didn’t grow up spending hours on video games: it is something I am still learning to do. In my youth, we didn’t have remote controls let alone Pac-Man. But my husband did grow up playing video games, and now it is something we can do together. Or at least it is something we can take turns doing while we sit on the couch. I figure it is a good way to spend time with him. And scientists say that we can delay the effects of aging by learning how to do new things. Take it from me, I am learning how to do new things.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been playing a new game called Horizon Zero Dawn. The plot revolves around Aloy, a hunter and archer living in a world overrun by robots. Having been outcast her whole life, she sets out to discover how she came to be an outcast. For her tribe is a matriarchy, and since Aloy doesn’t have a Mother, she is cast out of the tribe. She is shunned: members of the tribe can’t talk to her or help her or have any contact with her. Those are the tribe’s rules: it is taboo to break them.

Today’s gospel is about violating taboos – about breaking boundaries – to make justice. Today Jesus shows us what’s really important, and his teaching comes at a time when we need to hear and hearken to his words about doing justice even when it breaks the rules.

This is an important lesson to learn in a week when a spokesman for the administration declared Meals on Wheels to be a failure for not moving people off public assistance. He apparently doesn’t understand that the people who depend on Meals on Wheels are too old or too sick to work their way out of poverty. He doesn’t see that the correct metric for assessing Meals on Wheels is how many people they feed not how many people no longer need help. Remember, Jesus said: feed my sheep. And he fed a crowd of thousands with a few fish and a little bit of bread. Continue reading “Justice of breaking boundaries”

We are all Nicodemus

Nicodemus came by night to talk with Jesus the Rabbi. During the day Nicodemus was a Pharisee; a leader of the Jews; a respected man in first century Israel.

Yet Nicodemus came by night to talk with Jesus the rebel rabbi; the teacher of the poor, the prostitutes; the tax collectors. Perhaps Nicodemus came because he faced as difficult time as we do now: perhaps Pontius Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas – the new rulers of their nation’s life – were the Bannon, Sessions and Trump of first century Jerusalem. Then as now, a new team of leaders shared a profound disdain for human suffering. Then as now, a nation was led by a deeply elitist cult: men who were willing to inflict more suffering to establish their rule and enhance their personal wealth. Then as now, the spiritual path to follow the God of Abraham and Sarah was hard to discern: good people hoped for better times and longed for a deeper spiritual life.

Nicodemus came by night to visit Jesus, a rabble rousing rabbi who preached and lived a life that was different than any of the high priests, scribes, and Pharisees. Perhaps that is what drew Nicodemus to Jesus: a hope for finding a new way forward to fulfill God’s vision for the People of Israel. And yet their discussion seems to go off the tracks from the first.

Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” And Nicodemus misunderstands: he interprets this literally asking “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

But Jesus isn’t speaking in literal terms: he repeats “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” It is hard for Nicodemus to hear this message. Everything you have learned about how to work the system, how to get along, how to succeed in business and life is, Jesus says wrong. Instead of being literally limited by your roots in this world, Jesus says, you must be born in a new way of life; a way that is rooted in the Spirit of Good. And Nicodemus answers with a series of questions. Continue reading “We are all Nicodemus”

This Lent: Take Up Justice!

Please don’t give up anything for Lent this year. Please! It is getting so I really hate Lent. You see, lots of people give things up for Lent. And then they spend the next 40 days and 40 nights complaining about what they have given up for Lent. As a priest, I get to hear all about how difficult giving up stuff has made their life. Over and over and over again. Here’s what I mean.

One bright day in Len I am sitting quietly enjoying a moment’s peace in a coffee shop when a friend walks in, get a double latte no whip with half decaf – well we were in the Bay Area – and sits down with me. “This is so…so…so difficult,” he tells me. “You see,” he says, “I’ve given up sex for Lent.” And what I wanted to say was: “Dude it doesn’t count if you give up something you don’t get. It’s like I could give up riding around town in a bright red Alfa Romeo coup. But I don’t have an Alfa Romeo. So giving up something I don’t have isn’t going to mean much.” But of course, being a nice guy I didn’t say that. But today I am asking you not to give up anything for Lent. Instead, take up justice.

16865232_10155222698932259_5513993842975179587_nAcross America, immigrants and their families are literally trembling in fear. A Mom who has lived here for 20 years without a problem – and raised three kids – has been sent back to South America. A father who was picking uop his kids from school is now in custody. A Dreamer – one of those who could stay here under Obama’s Dreamer Program – criticized the current Administration and will be deported without a hearing. People are terrified – so don’t give up chocolates: instead take up justice!

Transgender Americans are reeling from the Administration’s decision to roll back guidance protecting transgender students in public schools. Others fear attacks on Planned Parenthood will end their access to the medications they need to stay alive. People are hurting – so don’t give up white wine: instead take up justice!

American LGBT people and their families are frightened by the Administration’s commitment to roll back marriage equality. The new president has pledged to sign a law that creates a new “religious freedom:” the freedom to discriminate against same-sex couples. People are threatened – so don’t give up desert: instead take up justice!

America’s Jew and Muslims now share a new common experience: the wave of hate unleashed by this Administration has led to vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers, and the burning of Muslim Mosques. A mosque in Antioch, CA burned – it was arson – and the other day a Sikh man who was working in the driveway of his home was shot by a masked white guy who said: “You don’t belong here.” The white haters don’t know the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh, but they do seem to see a difference based on the whiteness of skin. Some say we are in the midst of a campaign to “Make America White Again.” People are threatened – so don’t give up a favorite activity: instead take up justice! Continue reading “This Lent: Take Up Justice!”

A Story of Jack and Diane …

3-gift-from-bishop-paul-urban-mission-by-yvonne-bell-bind-up-the-broken-heartedThere was a time when you could learn what was happening in the world by reading say The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle or the New York Times and the Hartford Courant. But today some of the best reporting on what’s happening in American as well as California comes from The Guardian – a newspaper based in London, England. Time and again I have learned more and gained a deeper understanding of what’s happening here in San Francisco from The Guardian than any of the US newspapers I mentioned earlier.

After the 2016 election, The Guardian started taking us on a tour of states won by our current President. One of these stories centered on a man – who we’ll call Jack – who lives in the west, in oil country. He married a woman – we’ll call her Diane – who already had two children with two different fathers. They lived in a small town where people mourn the loss of community they used to have: people used to garden together and go to church together. But all that has gone away and now people wonder if, as the economy changes, their town will even survive.

we-ar-the-churchAfter marrying, Jack enlisted in the Army. He liked being in the service, made good money, bought a camping trailer, and went on a trip with Diane and the kids. They stopped at a yellow light and BAM – a truck hit the trailer and then their car. Jack and Diane both suffered painful neck injuries. Jack stopped taking the pain killers their doctor prescribed – he didn’t like how they made him feel disconnected from reality. But Diane liked how that felt – and she became addicted to the painkillers. Jack’s injury left him with lingering pain, so he left the military. He used a fraction of the accident settlement from the trucking company to start a welding business. Diane spent the rest of that windfall on clothes and a new double wide. All the settlement money was gone within a year.

But the welding business took off as fracking boosted their local economy. Diane continued to struggle with addiction. Jack tried to help Diane: he drove her to medical appointments, tried to get her into treatment programs, worked to get her therapy. But nothing would come together for Diane. She couldn’t find a bed when she needed it, she couldn’t find a therapist who made a difference.

Then the local economy went south. The family avoided cutting expenses by taking more and more money out of the welding business. Diane’s 13-year-old son started having more and more trouble in school. He dressed and was bullied like an outsider, an Emo freak, someone who did not fit in. Jack and Diane tried to help. But once again the safety net programs that are supposed to assist failed. Their son wasn’t sick enough, they were told, to be treated on one of the few spaces available in that rural conservative red state. The young man committed suicide and his Mother’s downward spiral accelerated. Jack and Diane divorced, she slipped deeper into addiction her mother died of complications from alcoholism. Diane slipped into dementia at age 43. One of the doctor’s treating her thought she might have a manic depressive personality – one that could have been treated had the diagnosis been made a few decades earlier. But this insight came too late. Diane died within a year of her mother. Continue reading “A Story of Jack and Diane …”

Time to rewrite the 10 Commandments

Let’s talk about the rules. Growing up, we all had rules. Our parents had rules. Our grandparents had rules. When we went to visit that certain aunt, we all had to follow her rules. Our schools had rules. We had a choice – whether or not we would follow their rules – but as children, we didn’t get to make the rules. In my family, each of the children developed their own way of following the rules. My much older brother, the eldest, would argue vehemently for what he wanted to do. Voices were raised, tempers flared, stomping was heard, and doors were slammed – in short, it seemed to me to be a whole lot of work.

hestonMy next eldest brother took a different approach: he would sit the parents down and explain why what he wanted to do was such a good idea. He would carefully explain why his idea was best for him, for our family – for everyone in the town, and the State of Massachusetts, and in fact for the promulgation of world peace. To me, it still seemed to be a whole lot of work.

When I came along, I neither argued nor reasoned in search of parental permission. I simply did as best I could and asked for forgiveness as circumstances warranted. In other words, I begged for pardon but only when caught. My strategy seemed a lot less work for all concerned and usually produced better results for me than did either of my brother’s tactics.

In part, my success in following the rules came from the kind of rules my parents set for us. Other children had to be home for dinner at a set time or their world might very well end. Their parents demanded literal adherence to the rules. Exceptions were not permitted. Rather than set an arbitrary expectation through a detailed rule, our parents taught general principles which we had to apply to our life. They sort of taught us an operating system for making good decisions. I knew that if I was going to be late for dinner then I should call and say I would be late. Later in life, I knew that if I was out to dinner with my Mother, then after the meal I should ask the waitress to bring Mom a cup of tea and me some brandy in a teacup. I learned a set of “if – then” rules that helped me adapt well to change – like the change of moving out of the house and into a dorm for freshman year of college. Even though circumstances changed, even though the parents weren’t there to enforce their rules, even though many of their rules no longer applied – or even made any sense, I was able to live within a set of rules that helped me understand the world and succeed in life.

Continue reading “Time to rewrite the 10 Commandments”

Becoming the light of the world in dark days

pink-sea-salt-2If you haven’t noticed, sea salt continues to be a hot new trend in the foodie world. Even our modest neighborhood market stocks several different kinds of sea salt. There’ pink sea salt and gray sea salt and black sea salt and imported from far away sea salt and sea salt that costs more than you ever expected salt would cost. New reports advise us regular table salt is losing favor, that more and more people are turning toward sea salts.

Sea salt is produced through evaporation of salt water, It often requires little processing. Depending on the source of the sea water, trace minerals and elements are left in the salt, giving it a distinct color or taste. Here in the Bay Area, you can see some of the last active salt ponds in the United States. For many years, salt was one of San Francisco’s largest industries. At its peak, more than 80% of the Bay’s wetlands were developed for salt mining. Now, much of the remaining salt pond lands are photo_08_fieldsofsaltin the process of returning to be tidal wetlands.

But is there really that much difference between the $16 a pound Aztec Coarse Unrefined Sea Salt – which is  “100% All-Natural, Unrefined, Handmade, Organically Hand-Harvested Coarse Sea Salt From The Cuyutlán Lagoon” – and Morton’s table salt? Aside from the fact Morton’s adds Iodine to boot our health? Some people can appreciate the difference between these salts. And I salute their discerning taste. But Jesus is asking a different question when he asks “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Continue reading “Becoming the light of the world in dark days”

Continuing the Jesus Revolution

Usually, the longest, darkest night of a year comes December 21 on the day of the Winter Solstice. I fear the darkest day of 2017 came early this year, arriving last Friday on Inauguration Day. Whatever your view of the new president or his policies, America faces dark times when an incoming leader has an approval rating of 40 percent. Whatever your views on his priorities, America faces dark times when more people take to the streets to protest a new leader than to celebrate his inauguration. Whatever your views of his programs, America faces dark times when a new administration’s programs include ending the National Endowment for the Arts, Destroying pu9blic broadcasting, and repealing affordable health care without having a replacement in place. These are dark days, days when people are afraid of losing their health insurance, their jobs, and their homes.

Sunset by the Rev. A. Garberra

Friday was the inauguration of a new administration. Saturday was the inauguration of the resistance to changes that seem to focus on returning our government to the size and functions it had in the 1920s. Both days marked the start of something new, something you and I have never seen before. But this is not the end of America, but it is the death of the America of the 20th century. We are now embarked on creating the America of the 21st century. Patriarchy, prejudice, and privilege die hard. The pyrrhic victory of the Britexit campaign in the UK and the election of our new president underscore this truth. People are afraid of change, of what comes next. They should be. We have lost more jobs to automation than to overseas competitors. In the years ahead more and more jobs will be lost to robots as the same time climate change will upend our economy and challenge our most basic human values. Fear won the last election. Will hope win the next?

Make no mistake: we are experiencing the birthing pains of a new America – one which is less white and less conservative and less fundamentalist ‘Christian.’ We are seeing the birth of a nation that will be an integral element of the global whole, a world where energy efficiency and environmental quality are top priorities. We are witnessing the birth of new challenges, challenges which demand new definitions of the value of work and life and economic justice. Spiritually, we stand on the verge of a new reformation, one that moves Christians for the tired dogmas of ‘old time religion’ into a new sense of spirituality that gives meaning to life in the 21st century. We cannot know the outcome of these changes. We do know we are not called to know what happens next: only to love one another as we show mercy and do justice. We are called to help create a compassionate Christianity which feeds the spirits of 21st century San Franciscans. This is a daunting challenge, but other Christians have transformed times which were more dangerous and difficult. Continue reading “Continuing the Jesus Revolution”

What would Dr. King do in a time of Trump?


I have a confession to make. I have big feet. Not large feet: big feet.  As in size 15 shoes. Sometimes I lose track of where my feet are headed and sometimes others do the same. On rare occasion I may actually step on someone’s toes.

When that happens I always:

  • Ask what happened;
  • Ask if they are OK;
  • Say I am sorry; and
  • See if I can make sure it won’t happen again.

Some people are suggesting that, once he becomes president, we not pray for Donald J. Trump by name during Sunday services. They say that Trump’s actions and attitude towards women makes hearing his name in church a ‘trigger event.’ By this we mean his name has become for some a trigger that reminds them in a visceral way of past harm. When someone says ‘trigger event’ to me I hear a preemptive ‘ouch.’ This preemptive ‘ouch’ echoes far beyond those who speak up. How big is this problem?

A 2014 report by the Center for Disease Control estimated almost half of all American women and almost a quarter of men experienced a form of sexual violence during their lives. And 15.2% of women and 5.7% of men have been a victim of stalking. The same report found almost a fifth of women have been raped at least once in their lives. That is a lot of people.

I can understand how some of Trumps’ actions and comments regarding women made his name a trigger that recalls negative experiences in the lives of women. This raises a pastoral concern if we, as a congregation, pray for the new president by name. Some leaders of our church and the Christian faith have warned that the optional custom or praying for the new president by name may drive women away from church services. Continue reading “What would Dr. King do in a time of Trump?”

A Justice Epiphany for A Baptismal Blessing

The Thre KingsWhat a week we’ve just had with Jesus! A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus the Christ. After the 12 Days of Christmas, on January 6, the three kings arrived and we celebrated Epiphany! And this Sunday, 48 hours after Epiphany, we hear Matthew’s telling of the Baptism of our Lord as a grown man. That seems like the shortest childhood on record.

But we only feel that disconnect in the timeline of Jesus’ life if we expect to read the Bible as a history book, if we are looking for a linear telling of the story of the life of Jesus the Christ. If we use scripture as a source of spiritual guidance – and neither a history nor a science textbook – then we can wrestle with the text until we understand what God is saying us today, right here, right now.

Those who want the Bible to be historically true argue the story in today’s Gospel must be true. But the anonymous author of the Gospel of Matthew knew he wasn’t writing a literal, factually accurate report on what happened after Jesus was born. The author of Matthew wanted to teach us a spiritual lesson – and that lessons rings true today just as it did in when it was written in the first century, log after Jesus died. Continue reading “A Justice Epiphany for A Baptismal Blessing”

Stand witness to the light


You may be here this night to recall the traditional tales surrounding the birth of Jesus – if so that is good. Or you might be here to sing favorite carols – is so that is very good. Perhaps you are here as part of a favorite family tradition; or to build a sense of community; or to experience a jazzy take on Christmas Eve. Any way you look at it, it is all good. But I am here for a different reason: I am here to stand witness to the light.

candles-2016-3Since the summer solstice, our days grew longer until earlier this week when we experienced the longest night of the year. Each winter Christmas Eve is part of a tradition that uses ritual to remind us that the light will return, that warner days will arrive, that the crops we grow for food will take hold and grow during the upcoming summer season. So Christmas Eve has always been about light: the light of the sun and the light of God’s love in sending us a child who will ‘lighten the way of the Gentiles’ – gentiles – that’s us.

Tonight is about enlightening us.

Yet this year is different: the dark seems darker, the cold deeper, the night more fearful. I cannot remember a darker time in America: not the dark days after 9/11; not the weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; not the cruelest moths of the Civil Rights movement which we thought had reshaped this nation, not the years of struggle which we thought had moved America away from blatant racism and the sin of white supremacy.  A dark pall has settled over America, one starting on Election Day and one which may continue for the next four years. This is the darkness of my despair.

So tonight I am here to stand witness to the light. Continue reading “Stand witness to the light”