Occupy Trinity Wall Street: Part 4 of 4

Sunday, December 23rd, Trinity Wall Street held it’s final forum at the office complex at 74 Trinity Place on “Jesus in the Margins”. TWS’s site states this last session “continues by exploring economic marginalization. Bryan Parsons will look at Situational Ethics, the prophet Amos, and the goals that Occupy and the Christian movement have in common. How does Christ call us, and Occupy encourage us, to look at humanity first when considering another? And what is the place of movements in influencing secular society to create space for all people to live happy and productive existences?”  Those familiar with this blog and the OTWS community remember Bryan Parsons arriving intoxicated one night to trade alcohol for cigarettes. Clergy, Matt Heyd, commented in November that it was time for these people to leave. It was getting cold, after all. It was cold for those shepherds who kept watch, and the parables often read in Advent are about waiting in faith. This is the time of year during which we are reminded that it is God’s decision about what happens in our lives. Our work is to wait in faith. Rather than deciding what’s right for those on the street, it might be the “churchy” or priestly thing to do and bring blankets. a hot meal, counsel for the troubled.

Some of those sleeping in front of Trinity Wall Street are part of the Occupy Sandy efforts – it’s an easy commute to Brooklyn or downtown and the Diocese of New York (not Long Island of which Brooklyn is a part) has forbidden volunteers from sleeping in the churches.  It has been observed that the space in front of Trinity Wall Street could provide a warehouse for provisions, but that space is locked up tight.  This time of year, it’s dramatic and telling – lots of square footage empty, with signs posted about the area being under surveillance, and tourists following red umbrellas touring the adjacent graveyards.

The spiritual illness at Trinity Wall Street has metastasized and those charged with oversight are cowed by Trinity’s wealth. Like so many stories in holy scripture, riches keep a person or an institution sick.  Christmas Eve marked day 200 of Occupy Trinity Wall Street.

OTWS Five Marks of Mission

Real Estate and the church

OTWS under surveillance

Occupy Trinity Wall Street: How it started

 

Trinity Wall Street Moral Gate

“Trinity Wall Street could be the moral gateway between Wall Street and Main Street.”

OCCUPY TRINITY WALL STREET: OVERVIEW

Since June 8th the sidewalk in front of Trinity Wall Street (TWS) has been location central for prophetic witness.  People affiliated with Occupy Wall Street (OWS), calling themselves Occupy Trinity Wall Street (OTWS) are occupying that doorstep 24 hours a day.

WHY?

At least 10 and as many as 30 people are sleeping on the street-an activity completely legal in New York City and protected by the U.S. Constitution. These men and women bear witness to the inequities wrought by the greed of Wall Street calling attention to a deformed capitalism that does not respect the dignity of every human being but looks on all Creation as a source of personal profit and production. For Episcopalians the significance of this sleep-in is sacramental. Yet rather than welcome the presence of these prophets or offer any kindness, TWS has harassed, humiliated, and sent protesters and homeless youth to jail and the hospital. This was done in the name of the Episcopal Church, notably with the tacit acceptance of the Diocese of NY.

 HOW IT STARTED: D17

When OWS was violently rousted in November, 2011 from the encampment at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square, it lost a home. People were fed, educated, and community was being built. A national voice of outrage was embodied. A new vision of democracy was evolving–inclusive and horizontal-it was oriented towards peace, justice, and mutual aid. Without a home, OWS would have a difficult time working on this vision. OWS approached Trinity Wall Street, particularly CEO/Rector James Cooper, in December to discuss the possibility of occupying one of its many Manhattan real estate assets–a vacant lot on Canal Street and 6th Avenue known as Duarte Square. Like the time when St. Paul’s Chapel was a sanctuary for recovery workers after attacks on the World Trade Towers, Trinity Wall Street, by destiny, was at another a nexus of history.

Encouraged by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, retired Bishop George Packard was asked to facilitate dialog between OWS and TWS. With the exception of token gestures, CEO/Rector Cooper would not enter into discussion. OWS was told ground would be broken on a new building in May, 2012. OWS gathered support from the local Community Board and residents surrounding Duarte Square; made plans for a healthy encampment; and promised it would move out when ground was broken in May. Several members of the OWS community went on a hunger strike to call attention to this prophetic moment and a need for sanctuary. TWS and CEO/Rector Cooper only answered with a corporate line about plans for private property.

Mallory Diego Elliot

 Hunger strikers Malory Butler (19-year-old ballet student) & Diego Ibanez, with supporter Elliot Figman on Day 15 of the hunger strike. Mr. Ibanez was a critical organizer for Hurricane Sandy relief, spearheading a volunteer corps that served over 5,000 hot meals a day in addition to other forms of relief.

Coming up: D17 and Duarte Square

Ed Mortimer Text Box

Another person in prison courtesy of The Episcopal Church

The verdict and sentencing for the Duarte defendants came yesterday afternoon.  The day was marked by the completion of testimony from Bishop George Packard and the testimony of Rev. James Cooper, Rector and CEO of Trinity Wall Street.

I remember when the Anita Hill hearings were going on, Clarence Thomas would look from side to side during questioning – like someone behind a painting in a Scooby Doo episode set in a haunted house.  Thomas was literally shifty-eyed.

In downtown Manhattan yesterday, family and friends of the defendants were galvanized at the sight of Rector James Cooper on the stand. Wearing the vestments of someone who had taken vows for the priesthood, he visibly turned his head away from the courtroom. No eye contact.

Then came the testimony. I give Cooper the benefit of the doubt, he most likely has a bad memory. He couldn’t recall a petition in late 2011 with over 13,000 signatures on it asking Trinity Wall Street to give Occupy Wall Street sanctuary. Another petition -again with over 13,000 signatures on it- to ask for clemency and forgiveness when it came to prosecuting the defendants who would not be suppressed with ACDs.  He forgot about 15 additional phone calls between himself and George Packard . (Jim – we could really use some reimbursement for those calls. Happy to show your people the Verizon bill.)

There were many moments where Cooper was unsure and unclear. And that’s all right, really because he’s human. But he’s a human who gets an annual package of over 1 million dollars.  He sanctions teach-ins and gives lip service to the values of OWS. Is this how Wall Street and the corporate ethos has corrupted The Episcopal Church? I know of golden parachutes given to failing rectors, but are we seeing right in front of us the phenomenon exemplified during the administration of Bush 43 – that of  “failing upwards”? (Heckuva job Brownie!)

Cooper not only unleashed the brutal berserker of our so-called justice machine, he did nothing to stop it. He said nothing about the violence done to OWS nor about the violence done to people gathered around Duarte Square on December 17th. Beatings done in his name.
…or your personal benefits and perks.

The defense team – Paul Mills, Meghan Maurus, Gideon Oliver, and Martin Stolar – presented insightful closing statements. The heart of the matter is First Amendment rights. Does private property trump free speech? According to Judge Matthew Sciarrino, yes. Yes it does.

The first sentencing was alphabetical and the most harsh. Mark Adams, a sweet spirit, comrade of everyone in OWS got 45 days in Rikers. Forty five days for clipping a chain link fence and trespassing on property that never really belonged to Trinity Wall Street in the first place.

Sentencing statements were made by Bishop George Packard and Medic Ed Mortimer. Packard’s can be read on his blog Occupied Bishop. Ed’s statement and his humanitarian witness will be written about soon.

The trial transcript is a rich document.The morality play that is this trial, what it uncovered about The Episcopal Church’s collusion and adoption of the Wall Street/corporate culture will be unpacked and explored for years.

Most important now, is active support for Mark Adams through visiting, writing letters, advocacy, and prayer.  Parishioners of Trinity Wall Street – some portraits of the man Jim Cooper sent to the environment that is Rikers Island.

December 31, 2011

The New Year blew in a month or so ago along with the Occupy movement. A tempest of blessed confusion and change, it began quietly in the sea of summer, advancing to the shore of public awareness, and gaining more momentum after the brutal international raids on Occupy communities in mid-November.  Two days later, 30,000 (a low estimate) marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in joyful solidarity on a cold night. All ages, vocations, a few carrying signs that read “Screw us and we multiply.”

Now that was some candlelight vigil – Welcome Advent!

The Occupy movement brings with it provocative topics for discussion and action.  A few of its principles include anti-consumerist, anti-corporate, anti-hierarchical world views. Along with these are many pros: the movement is deeply spiritual – to be close to an action and the leadership involved is to experience something akin to another Great Awakening. Those involved are dedicated in a way we have not seen for some time in America to principles of community and caring, and respect for the dignity of every human being.

It’s about occupying space, interior, exterior, positive, and negative. With occupying space comes the question “What is public property, what is private property?”  You hear the call and response around the country:  Whose streets? Our streets! Whose park?  Our park!

If we were to ask a group attending a Sunday morning liturgy and started chanting “Whose church?” could those attending chant back as confidently as Occupiers “Our church!”? Or more accurately “God’s church!”?

That question –“Whose church?” – has been at the center of this blog since its beginning.  The great divide of wealth that has been increasing over the past 30 years has been mirrored in the institutional church in terms of power and control.  Control born out of fear. Economically, a few parishes hold on to their privilege while the poorer parishes start filing for the equivalent of unemployment benefits or even hospice care.

One of the things that, in my opinion, have shocked the 1% is the proud claim “We are the 99%!”  They’re confused – the meme is that everyone should want to be the 1% and if you’re not there, well it’s not only your fault but you should be striving for that particular gold ring.  We are expected to wait by the gate of envy, sites set on McMansions and bumper sticker colleges, producing another generation of dislocated masters of the universe.  They never consider that among the 99% are those who teach the children, heal the families, clean and repair the belongings of the 1%. And the 1% can’t see the truth before them:  the work of the 99% has more cultural and spiritual value and personal satisfaction than manipulating  abstract false derivatives or collecting interest on inherited investments.

In my experience, the wealthier parishes are content with “church as club” served with a palate-cleansing sorbet of charity in between courses. The less wealthy – kept from understanding the freedom that accompanies poverty – are frequently wannabes. This occurred in a parish our family attended for a number of years. It was small – maybe 75 on a big festival day – but it seemed sincere and our daughter had friends in the Sunday School. Flawed as it was, it was there for a few years of her formation.

Then money got in the way. The wealthiest parishioner fell in love with the notion of labyrinths. I suppose one should give her credit that she spent her time between trips in the mini van picking up the kids reading about the history of labyrinths instead of lunching and shopping.  She decided that what this tiny parish needed was a 50,000 dollar labyrinth – averaging a little over 1,000 dollars for each head attending Sunday morning.

The desire for more took the form of a capital campaign. Not one to fix the roof, get the asbestos out of the classrooms, but one that had a wish list determined by a few for the few more:  a new pipe organ for the organist (a relative of the rector), an upgraded kitchen, and a columbarium.  But first on the list was a fancy consultant who called in the various family heads to read us the wish list and ask us to which project we’d like to contribute.  During the discussion, it was mentioned that the campaign was considered successful as 50,000 had already been raised….for a labyrinth.  Needless to say, people found better things to do on Sunday morning since they had been left out of the discussion and had money targets painted on their backs.

The labyrinth still is there, private property of the church.  It’s empty most of the time. There is a more rustic, community-built labyrinth three miles away by the water that is open to everyone.  A few years after leaving, while on staff at an Episcopal church nearby, I suggested that the youth group walk the labyrinth.  No clergy or parents knew of its existence. We tried to make an appointment. No one answered our messages.  The parish web site says that those who have a divine experience while prayerfully on its path can send a letter via snail mail to the woman who donated it.

And that was a moderately middle-class parish suffering from the wannabe ethos. An ethos identical in intention with that of reality TV shows. Four miles north is a different, wealthier parish that embodies “church as club”. When the local high school performed Les Miserables (Les Comfortables present Les Miserables!) the choir director had the professionals in the choir give free private voice lessons  to the high school choristers. He then purchased a booster ad in the program congratulating them as they had gotten leading roles. When the same choir director moved on, the Anglophilic search committee chose from a short list of four the one who came from the UK subsequently paying over five thousand dollars in visa fees. Let’s add to the cost of collusion in this elitist endeavor the fact that the church had to bear false witness  in order to hire outside the US.

Whose culture?

What is public culture and what is private? Whose church? God’s church?

Wealthy parishes are, of course, in wealthy towns. The parishioners reflect the demographic of the area. Taxes are high; real estate in many of these areas has not been affected by the crash so far. When I say high, I mean crazy high – like the taxes on the rectory alone in our town would be the equivalent of the average American family income.

Whose building? The parish’s building. Well…the Vestry’s building for a while. But with tax exemption there ought to come some community responsibility.

Here’s a proposal and a challenge to all those who do not go to church – and there are so many of us: work for local legislation  stating that a church does not receive tax exempt status unless it proves it is doing the work of the Gospel – particularly Matthew 25.  And then, if the parish makes the cut and achieves tax exempt status determine what its responsibility should be to the greater community.  What’s the exchange for city income deprivation?  A little give-back like ensuring the church’s real estate, grounds, meeting rooms, libraries, and even worship space are open all the time.  To a person of faith, all is God’s world and there is nothing secular. With real leadership and vision everything is sacrament and blessing, a banquet table to be shared by all.

Another challenge to those still attending church regularly: occupy your church. Not warm the seats on Sunday morning, or go to a few classes, or feel guilty because you missed that choral evensong, but really question who and what is “church”.  Do you have a nursery school that is open just 3 hours a day and caters to the tennis mom set? How many working mothers could use affordable full-day early childhood education live surrounding your church? A lot.  Stop the music style arguments. Now. Instead, ask who is singing our music, chanting our psalms. Educate upwards. I once heard a rector respond to the question “Is your new call high or low church?” that the church preferred a more relaxed style of worship, but she would be changing that as soon as she could. Whose pastor?

Are you in one of the churches on life support? Open the doors, define Christian community historically, and embrace the changes The Holy Spirit has in store for you. It will be sweet or raucous or both and indeed divine.

We cannot rely on those who have visible power in the church hierarchy to change things. They have too much self identity and comfort tangled up in the status quo. Take the recent kerfuffle over private property between Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Wall Street.  The Bishop of New York and the Presiding Bishop both chose private property over people, the latter clumsily asking Occupy Wall Street to “put down their arms” – not even stepping into the ministry of wisdom – and the NYPD exercised their typically brutal response.  Who was acting in holiness?

“If you consider the holiness that is God’s,
you can be sure that everyone who acts in holiness
has been begotten by him.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
in letting us be called children of God!
Yet that is what we are.”

We are the 99% in the pews or out. Whose church? The church of the children of God!

Good Friday 2011

My Lenten discipline for 2011 was to say “I honor the Christ in you” prayerfully, to myself, to everyone I encountered. I slacked off, but it was enormously helpful and humbling at those moments when I tend towards the judgmental and self-righteous. I am my own Miss Bossypants.

Starting with Shrove Tuesday, it became a Lent without a church building to go visit. The early church was comprised of spiritual communities, communities that held each other accountable in study, worship, and action. More of us are finding our community in other places. One from column a, two from column b, a little introspective dim sum and you have a meal. No longer content with the prix fixe banquet dinner choices – chicken, fish, or beef? – offered in the brand-name church.
I remember well the Shrove Tuesday pancake battles. Yes, battles, not batters. Everything cooked with that secret ingredient: resentment. There were years when the cook staff was manned by people who volunteered solely to stand sentry on the kitchen ramparts, ensuring the Mardi Gras and gumbo contingent didn’t pollute the purity of the Anglophilic pancake supper. There is the irony of extra pancake mix, syrup, and butter that goes home after a meal originally intended to clean out the larder.

Taking into account the real tradition of Shrove Tuesday, I made a supper of what was in the pantry. Half of those two-for-one purchases of red sauce, pasta, beans, and Costco discount quality grains, went to a food pantry. Such a simple resolution to the Shrove Tuesday wars. And we can’t all get together and do this in church?  If only….

In our home, Holy Week was marked by daily meditations. Each of us kept private counsel, pondering in our hearts the events that occurred in Jerusalem. We made it a focus to carry those meditations into the mindfulness of our days. The Holy Spirit will call your attention to what needs to be heeded if ye but have ears to hear away from the pulpit.

Today, at noon, we turned off the Internet, phones – even the washing machine – and began by reading the Passion according to John. It was followed by the BCP Good Friday liturgy. Mid way, I was affirmed that it was a good and wise decision to stay far away from church today.

Why? Because for the past two weeks, my prayers had brought me to a place where I wanted to know what Jesus would have me do – specifically – with his sacrifice and resurrection. I don’t think he would want me to leave it at the modern perfunctory equivalent of nard and tears. Facebook was filled with posts like “Good Friday service at noon, then on to MOMA and a terrific late lunch in NoHo!”

For a moment, I yearned to be part of a spiritual community where every Friday there was a liturgy for the social justice and human rights; where the faithful sit in discernment, worshiping with a call to action. If only…

I remembered the rector of a church I attended who did not want to go ahead with tolling the tower bells, prominent in the community, when there was a state-sanctioned murder (execution) without Vestry permission because the death penalty was “controversial”.

I remembered an Easter Eve walk with families when the brutality of the crucifixion was brought home not by words, but by the sound of a hammer on wood. An informal group of children and parents sang “Were you there?” and yes, yes we were. That year, the children from one family went home, retelling their visiting grandparents the most wonderful story they had ever heard – begging them to go to church with them on Easter morning so they could witness how their church made this story live! But Easter morning was the adult-oriented service and instead of parading with Jesus, chanting and drumming and waving palms; praying with him in the garden; standing next to him as he argued with the money changers and Pharisees; and hearing the hammer, there was a formal choir and a trumpet. They apologized to their grandparents during the Easter Egg hunt.  The candy paled when compared to the living story.

We know that 2,000 years out of the starting gate, this story still sets our hearts on fire. Roils our compassion, and opens our eyes to its reoccurrence all over the world. It calls to you – the loudest shout of the liturgical year.  If only….

As our family sat, listening to the prayers from Good Friday’s liturgy, we got to the part where priests, deacons, bishops, and the president were prayed for. Fortunately we weren’t silenced in church pews so we could offer up our own voices in the Good Friday litany:

for those in prison

for those with degenerative diseases who are frightened

for the caregivers

for those who sacrifice for the common good

for those who live with needless shame

for the lonely

for the hungry

for those being tortured – particularly on this day, Private Bradley Manning

for those who cannot tell their story of pain, whose very life narrative has been taken away

for the mothers and fathers who have lost children

for those who die publicly, painfully and without dignity

for those who die alone

for forgiveness as we allow these things to happen around us

On Good Friday, at least, can’t we ask the bishops, priests, deacons, and the president to pray for those who have no voice?   If only….

Long live the Church!

The  Hopeful Episcopalian is delighted at this critical response to a blog post from  June 22, 2009:

It appears you don’t understand the history, heirarchy (sic) and governing canons of the Church. Perhaps you should go elsewhere. Deliberation will never be out-of-date. Elitism is not present when each diocese elects its own delegates. Please – a little more research before you throw out the presiding Bishop, etc., with the bathwater.

No one is throwing the baby out. People are siphoning out the bathwater so the real baby-Christian faith- doesn’t drown.

Delegates to General Convention are typically the same people elected by a tiny in crowd.  Voting is not an exercise in populism: the elite elect (and re-elect, and re-elect, and re-elect) the elite without term limits.

Local parishes can barely recognize their diocesan bishop unless there’s a mitre on his or her head on Confirmation Day. The majority have no idea what General Convention is or who attends. Most Americans  can’t recognize their congressperson. You think they know who Katharine Jefferts-Schori is?  Ask an Episcopalian to provide the surname for “Rowan” and you’ll hear silence or “Atkins”.

Of what use are governing canons if 20,000 people are leaving TEC each year? Who will be around to govern over? And have you asked the faithful church attendees if they are aware they are being governed?

The hierarchy, i.e. the leadership and the elite, is leading the institution in a direction that ensures TEC will be an oddity read about in history books.

Your post indicates that you don’t see church as a home for the faithful seeking God’s face in a spiritual community.  To you, it is a museum where delegates and governing canons are priorities. You want people like me to go elsewhere.  Not to worry – I have and we are! We want to worship, pray, and be part of a Eucharistic community.

And with a drain of 20,000 a year, who will fund General Convention?  The costs are huge: travel, copying, hotel rooms, hospitality suites, salaries of coordinators, etc.  Producing GC is an industry of its own at 815.

You and others like you can take refuge in your “rightness” when we ignorant faithful who haven’t done our research have gone elsewhere.   I’ve witnessed that many times on a parish level.  Those  entrenched in certainty about history and the right way to “do church” –and frequently it was a skewed as Glen Beck’s interpretation of US History–were left with no children, no one with the gifts of hospitality, prayer, prophecy, joy, patience, kindness, or goodness.  Ironically, even self control is absent.

But dad gummit – they sure knew how the governances worked and peppered their conversation with references to the PB! (When PB is used in conversation, most people think the person talking left out “and J”.)

The history of the presiding bishop as figurehead and self-proclaimed primate is astonishingly brief. Primate is as recent as Griswold. What was THAT about?

The presiding bishop was once a bishop with a geographical episcopacy who presided over House of Bishops meetings. Meeting over, everyone went home,  and next year the bishop with the most seniority got to bang the gavel when Roberts Rules of Order went astray.

The luxury penthouse  with terrace on 2nd Avenue and 44th Street, the international travel budget, the personal media machine of ENS were never part of that position until the latter part of the 20th century. Many of us yearn for the old days. This is an entitled baby with a silver spoon in its mouth. We’re willing  to toss her out because we understand that church is local.

Speaking of local and the importance of deliberations: is your local parish familiar with the resolutions about the the military base on Okinawa, or the one about honoring the much-anticipated first Eucharist on the moon?  The latter made it into the House of Bishops for a “yea”  vote. I was there during the deliberations for the former – educated as other significant international issues were discussed.  On returning to my parish, the biggest local deliberation was all about who was going to do coffee hour.

After the approval of Gene Robinson’s election in 2003, the September newsletters from all the local parishes in my area led with a letter from their rectors: Don’t panic! Nothing’s changing in your home parish!  Everything will be exactly the same as always.

For me, the biggest wake-up call regarding the relevance of GC resolutions sounded during a discussion with a fourth-year EFM student who could not be swayed from her entrenched belief that death penalty ought to stand.  She was educated, a big fan of the hierarchy, well-acquainted with the several resolutions about the death penalty, and still wanted state-sanctioned murder. “Forgive us our trespasses as we lethally inject those who sin against us.” – John Fugelsang

Here’s an idea: perhaps the church should be more concerned about changing hearts and nurturing faith.

There are some wonderful, hard-working delegates who have come to similar conclusions:  the church is dead. Long live the church.

Promises to Keep…conflating rights with rites

A blip on the sonar screen of history occurred this week: the synchronous moment when secular liberals stood firm that Elena Kagan’s sexuality was nobody’s business while Episcopalian liberals ensured that the sexual orientation and gender of Mary Glasspool, newly-ordained Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles was everybody’s business.

Historians of the United States Supreme Court have observed that the primary qualification for the life-long appointment is “greatness”:  hard to define with specifics, but an important quality in the consideration process.

What is the primary qualification for a competent bishop? It would be disrespectful to say that gender or sexual orientation ride in the front seat. Then why is this the lead in every TEC news story or grassroots Facebook post about Mary Glasspool?

I maintain that a significant path for Christians parallels the one followed by of John the Baptist: point the way to the Christ. Therefore, the role of a bishop in The Episcopal Church is to live into the specifics of episcopacy, rejecting entitlement, honoring tradition and culture yet responding to it in a vibrant, meaningful way. Thus a good bishop defines the leadership of a servant in order to hand it off to the next person elected.  The cycle continues. Rather than “greatness” as the singular quality for a bishop, a bishop’s duty evolves from prayerful responsive action to time and place. Never from grand gestures.

In the Episcopal Church – as in the case of Elena Kagan – sexuality and gender ought to be nobody’s business. Since 2003, the argument breaking up the church has been over an adverb: Openly.

Note to Episcopalian liberal idealogs – that teeny tiny little circle in the jumbo Venn diagram of liberals in the US -you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t have sexual orientation both private and an important raison d’etre for the future of the church.  It is not responsive, prayerful, nor appropriate to have Katharine Jefferts-Schori show up on a Native American reservation to discuss the ordination of homosexuals while omitting economic justice and suicide issues that scar the community daily.

Some bishops didn’t even try to have it both ways. They said one thing in 2008 then did another in 2009.
Where were you in July 2008? Did your Church pay for your European vacation?

In 2008, the bishops of The Episcopal Church used tithes of the faithful to go to the Lambeth conference pursuing the noble cause of  relationship in the Anglican Communion.  There, they heard bishops from countries where the issue of homosexuality was dealt with barbarically.  They heard of Anglicans around the world who were harassed and beaten because they were part of a greater family that allowed homosexuals to be ordained. They also heard from bishops who weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed… but I’m sure that went both ways.

There’s an interesting phenomenon in the House of Bishops – the ones who talk the most tend to be the ones who think the least.

In July 2008, the elected leadership of The Episcopal Church was faced with a quandary. On one side of the scale were those who suffered physical pain, complete social shunning in small villages, and possibly death because th Americans had consecrated an openly gay man. It did not help that the House of Bishops voted “yea” on Gene Robinson a few months after America illegally invaded a sovereign nation.  On the other side, openly homosexual men and women were denied their life’s true call.  Openly gay men and women who felt that their one true path in life was to be ordained would be forced to live in the closet with all the dreadful soul-killing, potentially life threatening and health damaging, implications.

It was a difficult justice and mercy conundrum.

The TEC bishops looked their brother bishops in the eye during the Indaba (Bible study and prayer) groups, promising there would be a respite from ordaining openly homosexual clergy until the rest of the world could understand to the point of compassion.

It makes me uncomfortable, leaving entrenched, secure notions; but as a liberal who strives not to be an ideolog, there are a few grains that balance the scale towards honoring the promise made at Lambeth.

Grain one: beatings, shunning in community in a developing nation without the mobility- as flawed as it can be – of the United States.

Grain two: Promises are broken, integrity eroded. The bishops vowed to maintain the unity of the Church when they were consecrated.  You can’t get it both ways – can’t promise to hold the church together, enjoy all the entitlements some episcopacies offer and do whatever you want in your diocese.  They took diocesan funds to attend a conference focused on international relationships. They shook hands – no, they prayed – on a promise. Then they broke it.

Grain three: Confusing rights with rites. We are not dealing with suicidal gay teens, we are not dealing with civil rights: There is no right that everyone should be ordained in the church. In fact, there are so many collars and mitres and people confusing collars and mitres with spiritual journey and holiness that it’s like 8 anthropologists tracking one indigenous person smashing yucca root.

Ah..the theology of yucca root! Sounds like a new title for Church Publishing!

We are dealing with adult men and women who think they have a call to be clergy.  Anyone exposed to the discernment process knows that this is more often than not a battle of wills at worst, or acknowledgement of a moment of grace at best. There’s still a lot of red tape, tic marks in plus columns for dioceses and parishes, and shuttling  people into archaic institutions with serious budget problems hoping tuition income will prop them up for the next program year. Somewhere, a human being gets on the seminary conveyor belt and pops out the other side ordained.  (But not trained for the 21st century!)  Confusing call to be a priest or deacon with some God-paved tarmac highway is as disingenuous as saying the U.S. Constitution was written by the finger of God.  There are plenty of people called to do the work of the Lord not wearing collars.

Having the benefit of not having to validate my church salary or my seminary degree, I recognize the quandary. Here’s my Monday morning quarterback solution: solve it locally.  It’s a perception issue.  Bishops, get real. Dioceses are locally based for a reason, the exception are those that are relationally based.  You listened to the pain of bishops caring for their local flocks and at that moment in time made a promise.  You – like everyone else in the church – are working on the John the Baptist level.  Employ some wisdom.

A bishop in the United States is elected – there is nothing sacred about the  process. It can have all the nuances and hard-nosed realities of Tammany Hall  politics. Sometimes the most popular person wins. Or the person with the team  that works the room the hardest. Or one memorable speech – maybe a nifty  one about whales!

The election process is clarified and becomes healthier, when a bishop has      defined the role by acting in the moment that history has offered.  If a bishop  has taken diocesan funds to participate in Lambeth, that bishop has been  centered in a historical moment, charged by the men and women he or she  serves.

When anyone makes a vow to another Christian in another land, that promise  that needs to be honored.

God is stronger than any of this.  In my circle of gay and lesbian friends, I don’t   know of anyone with an opinion about Gene “is my mike working?” Robinson.  But my friends and I are in contact constantly about legislation that will change civil rights the U.S. We pass around petitions, call our representatives, standing firm together.  When the world sees that Massachusetts, a state with legal same-sex marriage, does not get plagues or earthquakes; when partners are allowed to visit each other in hospitals and the sun still shines, the dominos of legal prejudice will continue to fall.

The church is not a political party and if it were it would be hard-pressed to get a mayoral campaign rolling.

Mary Glasspool may be the perfect person to lead the Diocese of Los Angeles in the next decade or so. I hope the bishop that preceded her had wisdom enough to define the assignment, not getting distracted with high-profile projects or making promises he had no intention of keeping.  But as long as the rhetoric is all about her gender and sexual orientation, it will take a long time to determine whether the best candidate was elected.