Cathleen Deppe is a retired teacher and lifelong peace and justice activist, Cathy Deppe is a member of Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood, California and leads the Justice and Mercy Commission.  From 1980-1994, she  co-coordinated the Dutchess County (NY) Peace Center, an affiliate of the War Resisters League.  

Since 1994 she has co-founded two California chapters of 9to5, National Association of Working Women (9to5.org) and currently serves as co-treasurer of the Southern CA War Tax Resistance Alternative Fund (scwtr.net) and board member of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Council (nwtrcc.org).  She has a Masters in Secondary Education from Duke, is married with 4 grandchildren, and lives in Los Angeles.

 

What is needed for the peaceful people of the world to build a lasting structure of peace –  a firm bulwark against  the nationalist wars of governments everywhere?  I gained new insights from recent participation in the annual  peace conferences  commemorating  the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Japanese peace movement is in a life and death struggle to maintain one critical structure of peace – one that has rooted Japan in a war-free environment since 1945.  Imposed by the United States after Japan’s surrender,  Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is a  renunciation of war that has kept Japan free of involvement in war for decades.   No Japanese citizen has been sent to fight, kill, or die in any of the U.S. backed wars since then:   Korea,  Vietnam, Cambodia,  Afghanistan, or Iraq.

With the onset of a United States  cold war belligerency towards China,  the current Japanese Prime Minister Abe has shaken hands with President Obama and is pressuring the Japanese Diet (parliament)  to remove  Article 9.  There is also pressure to pass several “war bills”, as they are known to the movement,  that will remove other post-war restrictions on the military.  The Japanese majority opposes these moves as both unconstitutional and dangerous.  The presence of peace protestors rallying and marching in the park during  the official  government commemorations on August 6 and the faint smattering of applause from the 40,000 gathered to hear Abe’s official address are unmistakable signs of that opposition.    As only a few of the hundreds of international peace delegates were given official seats at the commemoration,  I stood beneath the trees in Peace Memorial Park,   hearing that faint applause amid the pounding of protest drums and the  roar of cicadas joining in a determination to be heard.

I first learned of Article 9 in a visit to the Kyoto Museum for World Peace, Ritsumeikan University.     On the wall hangs a beautifully knit  tapestry banner of Article 9, which reads:

“ Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.  In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.  The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

(Article 9, the Constitution of Japan, Chapter II.  Renunciation of War).

 

For Americans to participate in observances around the August 6 and August 9 1945 horrific atomic bombings of civilian populations is a necessary act of repentance and reconciliation, whether in peace actions at home or in Japan.  That the Japanese people feel remorse for  the actions of their government in Hawaii,  China and Korea binds us  in the call for peace.

Every nation should have an Article 9.  We can spread the peace!   The international adoption of constitutional amendments which renounce war is both necessary and possible, for victors as well as vanquished.

In May, 2015,  over 1,000 Japanese delegates traveled to New York for the United Nations  Review Conference of the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty. now signed by over 189 parties.  The Japanese peace movement delivered more than  6 million signatures from all over Japan , calling for an international convention for the abolishment of all nuclear weapons. The petition asks all governments to enter negotiations without delay for a convention banning nuclear weapons.   The cries of the world’s people demand peace:    No nukes, No war, No hate.   To support these demands, sign the online petition at:  antiatom.org/script/mailform/sigenglish/  .

 

Cathy Deppe

August 20, 2015

 

 

This is the question that leapt into my mind this morning as I laid aside my reading. It startled me, though it was simple enough to see where it had stemmed from. I had just finished reading From Sin to Amazing Grace (Cheng, 2012) and the chapter I had skimmed the fastest was “The Self-Loving Christ”. It was a difficult to read about how Christ’s self-love provided a way to persist in his ministry, even in the face of adversity at a time when my own reserves of self-affection feel depleted after my work at General Convention.

I woke up this morning to a nightmare. I was running frantically though the Salt Palace convention center, trying to figure out if “255C” was up or down stairs, terrified that I would miss my chance to speak. I don’t usually place a lot of weight on dreams, but the connection between that nightmare, the challenges I’ve faced in the early stages of healing, and the resounding question of this morning made me feel this was worth exploring.

I think the root of that dream is a fear of not being heard. I went to General Convention with the realization that my ministry would likely be centered on demonstrating that people like me exist. It was work I thought I’d prepared for, but it turns out no amount of preparation can make you ready to feel as though your very existence is a lot of work, or at the very least an inconvenience. Most conversations about transgender people, and nearly all of the ones that cover non-binary gender identities often start with a disclaimer “we know this is hard, but it’s worth it”, or more often “this is too hard you need to accept that we can’t get it”. Even simple things like correcting people’s misuse of my pronouns often leads to me being told that “there’s not need to be nasty” or “short”*.

This sense of existence as imposition is compounded by the lack of restful places to escape being gendered or hearing that people like me aren’t real. I picked up three books at Convention, one (“Salvation on the Small Screen”) was meant to be a silly way to decompress, another (“Where God Hides Holiness”) was a favorite that kept me in the church even as I initiated a Title IV process for discrimination based on my gender, and the third was From “Sin to Amazing Grace”. On Monday, I turned to this trove and found binary language within the first chapter of each of them. Setting each of them aside, and growing more and more hurt I began to wonder if I had lost reading as a way to relax.

I’ve often felt that each new thing I develop language around to describe myself often pushes me further and further into exile. As soon as I reach a place where I can articulate where I am, I am challenged to explore a new part of my experience. With each new injustice I discover, the less able I am to participate in the restful activities I once loved as I grow keenly aware of how in them I am told not to be.

This transition of places of life becoming places of fear and burden cannot be better demonstrated by the manner in which I once approached the Eucharist, and the preparation I now must undergo. In the podcast the Collect Call I spoke of my initial experiences realizing the limitations of binary language in the liturgy. After more than a week of attending daily worship at General Convention, and hearing people like me aren’t a part of the church in every single service, that sense of alienation has been accentuated. I left convention with a sense that I must first prove my realness before I can partake and truly enter into the body. Yet even when I do take action to draw attention to the gaps in our liturgy, there are always things I miss.

Take this past Sunday for instance. Exhausted from convention, worn thin by repeated explanations and spiritually ready to hide from the world for an extended period, I chose to push myself to still attend the service mostly due to the face that I had volunteered to set up for coffee hour. Concerned about the language of the service as I knew we would have a supply priest, when I went over on Saturday night to prepare the treats, I also glanced over the bulletin. Seeing the words “Eucharistic Prayer B” I immediately went into damage control mode, debating options, gauging my emotional spoons, and trying to decide which course of action was simultaneously both Christian and healthy.

This apparent conflict between my baptismal duty to “continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers” and my obligation to love this life I’ve been given, and to honor God’s work in creating me as I am has continued to escalate as I encounter more and more spaces in the Episcopal church that ask me to choose one over the other. That Sunday I decided to arrive early and to speak with the priest about my concerns. He listened attentively and said he would try to remember. During the Eucharist he did use “the everlasting heritage of your descendants” as I’d requested. This was a change that I almost missed because I’d forgotten that we’d be using the preface for baptism and “received us as your sons and daughters” was still echoing through me. The added burden of coming early, starting a nerve-wrecking conversation, and explaining its importance led to one change, providing hope, but the service still left me feeling hollow due to what I’d missed.

Do you love yourself? On the surface it seems like a simple question with an obvious “right” answer (yes). But as it tumbles through me I couldn’t help but ask a question in return, how? How can I love myself when everything around me tells me I’m a burden, an oddity, an exception or simply not there? How can I find this “inner core” that people tell me to rely on when I have yet to find a space where I’m not expected to defend as real those parts of myself I haven’t yet come to accept, let alone love.

Sitting with this question I finally found an answer I can live with. I can’t say “yes” or “no” for at this moment both would be untruthful. What I can say is this, I commit myself to the work of self-love. I can acknowledge that I have been corrupted by the sin of a world that doesn’t want me alive and by the grace of God I can and I will resist that message. I give myself permission to read what I can, when I can without judgment for the knowledge I can’t obtain in my infirmity. I promise to celebrate the victories I’ve already achieved in simply living to see this day. Above all, whether in church or outside it, I offer myself to Love, not only love for my neighbor but also for the God who made this body, this spirit so determined to keep going long past the point it made rational sense.

 

*Both of these phrases were used when I gave blood yesterday. The technician who was handing me off to her supervisor said “he…umm she” and then got very upset when I stepped in and said “they”. I was told by them that I should feel guilty for not just “going along” with the needed questions, which are actually needlessly invasive as I was only changing my name and not my gender marker on my Red Cross records.

 

**This is cross-posted from my personal blog http://onservantswings.blogspot.com/. If you are interested in what I continue to do with the lessons I’ve taken from General Convention I’d encourage you to hop on over. I usually post about once a month on topics relating to spirituality, gender, social justice, and community life.

God I thank you for the gifts of today.

I’m not really sure I want to write this blog post. For one thing, I know that it will be raw. My filter of polite conversation has been gradually eroding over the past week, as the weight of what I’ve been trying to do has seeped at my strength. Therefore I ask you take this reflection at face value. I’m not writing for an audience, or as part of a plan, but because I don’t think I’d be ok if I went without putting these stories somewhere.

I didn’t want to go to the Eucharist this morning. I reset my alarm three times during the waking up process, stalling for time and wishing that I could be the type of person who could miss things. I’d already decided last night that I’d leave the tally counter home for the day, this late at convention it’s persistent glare felt more destructive than a tool. Still, I knew that leaving it behind didn’t mean things would go away. As such, even though communal prayer, and the mass in particular is a central (if not THE central) part of my spiritual life, I dawdled.

Entering the service I was wound tighter than a spring. I kept waiting for the moment the destructive gender binary would rear its ugly head. I had quickly flipped through the program, and finding nothing obvious resigned myself to the uncertain fear of “sometime” when I would yet again be told that I’m an outsider. The sermon shook me out of my reverie, though I was certainly a reluctant traveler. As she talked of going out and bringing the lost sheep home, I found myself frustrated that “home” is so often a place of destruction. I did nod in agreement as she described how most of the sheep don’t wander off, but are actively pushed from the fold. As her sermon progressed I found myself drawn in by her hope, and reassured that even when describing her experiences with women no reference to the gender binary was included.

As we transitioned to the prayers of the people, I’d begun to open up again. A piece of me began to hope that today would be the day I wouldn’t be wounded again. Sitting there I’d realized that while I’ve attended every worship opportunity I could, there had been only one* that didn’t stir up a sense of disconnect, frustration, pain and distance in the assumptions of the service. As such this hope was refreshing, a longing was rising to belong and I dared to believe it could be possible. Then at the blessing “My brothers and sisters”…I crumpled. For a daring moment I wished I had the courage to shout “AND OTHERS”, but the moment quickly passed. My fears of the security at General Convention are still on too raw for me to risk making a scene. In that moment my frustration spilled over. “UYou were SO CLOSE”, I thought, but in issues of justice close doesn’t really quite cut it.

During check-in I felt exhausted, though this time it was mostly spiritual rather than total. I wondered how many times can I say that I’m tired? How often can I repeat the same phrasing is still painful before I just become an annoyance? Even now, as I’m typing this up I figure people reading it have got to be tired of hearing this same thing over and over. God knows, I’m sick of saying it and of trying to find new ways to say the same thing.

I gained a new wave of energy from another member of our delegation, who told me what a difference my witness was having on her. I don’t want to go into too much detail, lest I fail to give her powerful words justice, but there is one piece I think people should know about and pay attention to. I bring this up because I’ve heard it before, and I loathe the sense that it makes. She told me that the church needs me, but I don’t need the church. That is to say I do not need to stay present in a church that persistently exposes me to pain and question because of my difference.

I decided to table that question, of where do I set the boundary between the witness of my presence and my growing awareness that this constant ministry of contradictory existence is eating away at me, until later. I figure it’s better to delve into that when I can go into at least a partial exile, shielded from gendered language, misgendering, and unsafe restrooms so that I might have the energy to look at it from a holistic place.

Holding that question I went to pass out Issues for TransEpiscopal during lunch. I had the spot outside the exhibit hall, which was fairly slow. Then I saw someone coming toward us, who tried to start a conversation. Security followed behind him, along with a “public safety officer” from the Episcopal Church. As the man told us he had only come in to ask for directions, and was being targeted for his race the security officer offered the justification that he was the fifth person who’d been escorted from the premises this week and all the others were white. The public safety officer said that he’d been caught asking people for money and that was why he’d been asked to leave. We heard the explanation that everyone in the convention center needed to have a badge. (For the record, if I had to buy it on my own, a single days visitor pass would cost me over 1/3 of my monthly stipend). In the midst of their dialogue, as I stood uncertainly, I heard the man say something profound. “God wouldn’t act like this”. In that moment I knew he was right. Apparently the church paid lots of money to rent the entire convention center, so we could mark it as a “gun free zone” (despite armed security being present). And because we had/paid this “large amount of money” it was within the power of the Episcopal Church to decide who is allowed within that space.

As I watched the man leave I couldn’t help but be struck by the dissonance between what we claim to be gathered here for and the strict limits on who is allowed to speak and how. I feel caught between a church that taught me to long for justice, and an institution that enforces the privilege of its wealth and power. There was a hashtag earlier this week #JesusAtGC, with a bunch of pictures of paper Jesus at various booths and events. While I’m looking back over my day I can’t shake the feeling that Jesus did come to GC, in the form of a man who needed our recognition, our ears, and our hearts to remind him that badge or not, believer or not, he is a beloved child of God. Jesus came, and we responded by kicking him out, with vague claims of “we do this to everyone” to justify the ejection of someone who had so much to teach us about what it means to live and serve “the least of these”, that is to say those whom our God has promised will be the greatest.

I don’t know what I should do with all of this. I feel like I can’t even look at things straight for the number of mirrors and turns that have been thrown into my path. Raw, uncomfortable emotions have taken root within me, and I long to be free of them. I feel guilty, guilty that twice today I let fear keep me from speaking up in places where harm was being caused. I feel weak, because I don’t have the strength to keep hearing this. I feel fragile, and hate waiting for the “next” thing instead of being able to trust in the gifts of the present.

To be clear, this week has been such a gift in so many ways. I know that my testimony has made an impact on several resolutions I cared deeply about. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, forging real-time connections with those who introduced me to online ministry. I’ve had the chance to see and participate in so many wonderful things. Yet, as I’m looking forward to returning home I feel hollow. A quick check-in with myself tells me that I will be months recovering from the dissonance I’ve been enveloped by here. As my gift with words begins to run dry I find myself asking myself “was this all worth it?” I really hope, that after I’m rested I’ll be able to say yes, yes it was totally worth it. Right now though? The question of costs and value is running way to close for comfort.

 

*One as of this morning. The one to which I am referring is the TransEpiscopal Eucharist from Sunday night. The Acts 8 Moment & Union of Black Episcopalians gathering this evening also managed to avoid the gender binary, which brings the total up to 2 out of 10 services, neither of the 2 where official to the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. To say that another way in any worship at convention I’ve encountered discrimination 80% of the time, 100% of the time during our formally scheduled worship. I really wish I didn’t feel like I had to justify how wrong this is, and to struggle to remind myself that it’s ok to be upset by this.

I learned the difference between the EWC (Episcopal Women’s Caucus) and the ECW (Episcopal Church Women). I think my church had a chapter of ECW going when I was a kid.  It was a group of women that sat around and did stuff. Since I’ve been coming to General Convention I’ve learned that the ECW also has meetings every three years in the same place as General Convention. These are the women that collect the coins in those little blue boxes that are iconic in so many Episcopal Churches. Between 2012 and 2014 they collected almost $4.5 million dollars in those boxes. The ECW was (and perhaps still is) mainly composed of the wives of the leaders of the Episcopal Church. The triennial meetings of the ECW were what the wives of the priests, bishops, and deputies did during Convention. Now on to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. They are a small but dedicated group of women who fight for equal rights within (and outside of) the Church. They were a key player in women’s ordination. This year their booth was just behind the EPF booth. I bought a tote, coffee mug and bumper sticker with the slogan “God is not a boy’s name”.  These are the people that fight for equality rather than simply celebrating what already is.

God is not a boy’s name. In this convention we have elected the first African American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. We have also ended our separate but equal treatment of marriage by my church. We claim that we are not simply satisfied with what is we are imagining what can be. We  can claim that God is not male nor is God female but God encompasses both which is why we can (and should) call God our mother and our father. God can be so much more than this church. God can be so much more than we can imagine. For too long we saw God as only a man – a very powerful man – but now we can begin to imagine what it means to embrace God as more than and inclusive of masculinity but God not being a stand in for a boy’s name.

As we draw to the end of convention I am tired, so very tired. But I am also renewed. I sometimes wonder what is the point of us coming together and spending all this money. I often think that perhaps we shouldn’t be so extravagant. But we are also celebrating that the God we worship is magnificent. The God we worship is extravagant. Sometimes it is good to focus on the love and mercy of our God and celebrate together as we plan together how to be this holy body of disorder that is called the Church.

 

 

Monday managed (thankfully) to be a somewhat less hectic day than my last several days. In the evening I and my EPF Young Adult compatriots had the pleasure of attending the Integrity USA Eucharist in support of their work for LGBTQIA Episcopalians and the entire Queer community. After a truly moving video, award and speech for Louie Clay Crew, the founder of Integrity USA, we shared a delightful liturgy with Eucharist celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus of California, a renowned ally of the LGBT community. The Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles- the only currently active LGBT bishop and an old friend from our days in the Diocese of Maryland – preached a brilliant sermon about the concepts of “home” and “family” for Jesus, based on Mark 3:20-34. Her thoughts caused me to reflect on the idea for myself, especially in light of EPF’s work for those whose homes have been made inhospitable, such as the Palestinians of the Israeli occupied territories.

As famously borrowed later by Abraham Lincoln, Jesus says “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. A church, a people of God divided against itself cannot stand. Satan cannot drive out Satan. Demons cannot drive out Demons. Evil cannot drive out Evil and Hate cannot drive out Hate. Violence cannot drive out Violence and degradation cannot drive out degradation. If the People of God respond to judgment by sowing more judgment, we respond to hatred by sowing more hatred, to violence by sowing more violence, than we – ALL of the people of God, from you and I to those Christians who most viciously attack the rights of LGBT folks, Palestinians and others – CANNOT STAND. We cannot love God and hate our neighbors whom God created. It is simply impossible.

This is even more remarkable when we think about Mark 3 and Jesus’ family. While the two other Gospels tell the bit about sin and demons, only Mark tells us in the beginning and the end about Jesus’ Mother and Brothers. In fact, Matthew and Luke place this story in chapters 12 and 11 respectively, after Jesus has already been performing miracles and healing people for a while – and so the emphasis in those Gospels is on the healing and therefore on the stuff about demons. But Mark puts this story up front in chapter 3, immediately after Jesus chooses the disciples! So for Mark, this story is about the questions of “who are Jesus’ disciples? And “who are his friends” and “who are his family?”. Jesus’ twelve new disciples and his mother are outside this crowded house trying to get Jesus out of there for fear that he has actually lost his mind! As Bishop Glasspool pointed out, when someone tells him that his friends and family are outside, he retorts “who are my friends and family? Here they are! In this house! Those who follow God’s will are my friends and my family!”. In one swift (and frankly, sarcastic) move, Jesus turns the concept of family on its head! Mary and the new disciples, who completely misunderstand what Jesus is doing, are literally on the outs – outside the house, and the poor, the sick and those who have clamored to see Jesus are there on the inside! These, he says, are my family. It’s of course not the only time he turns this family idea upside-down, and in fact he does it often. Recall the Good Samaritan story which he concludes by asking which person had really been the neighbor to the dying man. And recall the words of Jesus in John 10, “no longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends”.

And so we are called always to remember that if we are to be disciples of Jesus – if we are to be his family in the world, all that matters is that we serve him. All that matters is that we return hate, not with more hate, but with love – that we return judgment not with more judgment, but with love. All that matters is that instead of condemning others as devils, or sinners, or any other epithet we might come up with, that we do the hard work of loving everyone – EVERYONE – even when they might do nothing but hate us in return.

We are soon going out of this General Convention into a world fully prepared to call us devils and demons for doing the work of Christ in the world, and at the same time, we are going into a world full of people that are badly in need of love after being told that God hates them and they have no part in God’s kingdom. Our response to each is the same. Love. We are each going out of Salt Lake with new tools and skills to share the love of God with the world.  And we’ll go out into that hurting world renewed, refreshed, and re-enlivened to share God’s love with every person we meet.

I’m so blessed and fortunate to represent the Episcopal Peace Fellowship in going out to share God’s love with a world so badly hurting from senseless violence at home and abroad.

On the heels of two very eventful, historic and profoundly emotional days, EPF was up bright and early Sunday morning. More than a dozen EPF representatives joined approximately 1,000 bishops, priests, deacons and laypeople from across the country to march through downtown Salt Lake City calling for increased background checks on gun sales and other gun control measures. Several bishops and a priest took to a prepared stage at the beginning, middle, and end of the protest march to share their reasons for supporting gun reform.

Bishop Eugene Sutton of Maryland spoke of the rioting that has beset Baltimore in recent years and the murders of more than 300 people in that city every year. Bishop Scott Hayashi of Utah, the host of the convention, described being shot as a young man in a botched robbery & seeing the toll that the injury took on his father’s health. Connecticut’s Bishop Ian Douglas quoted studies on the impact of state background check laws, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in his diocese. Two former police officers – the bishop of Oklahoma and a priest from Washington DC – spoke about responsible policing rather than deadly and often racist aggression.

EPF’s Young Adult Delegation and friends from the Episcopal Service Corps  served as volunteers, sporting bright neon shirts, carrying banners, ensuring cleanliness and preventing litter, handing out service leaflets with the litany of prayers to be said, and performing other useful tasks.

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship even got some great press on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune – one of the region’s largest newspapers. I had the honor of being interviewed about what brought me to the march – to which I said “I’m a 25-year-old black man from Baltimore. In some neighborhoods of my city, there’s so much gun violence that the life expectancy of a black male is about 25 years, so I’m a living testament.”

Indeed I’m a living testament to two things: (1)God’s Grace and (2) a loving community of people who have been willing and able to love, care for and protect me throughout my life. I will not stop fighting, and EPF and the Episcopal Church will not stop working until we eradicate the senseless gun violence that destroys the lives of young black men like me and God’s children of every kind.

The whirlwind of emotion that was this weekend reached its absolute epoch on Friday afternoon with the election of our incoming Presiding Bishop. As I said often in the last two months since the candidates’ names were released, I happen to know three of the four candidates personally (one was my childhood rector, one is my current bishop, and one was on the board of my seminary). Beginning at 11:15am I sat in the first row of the gallery of the House of Deputies to see the proceedings.

Over the next few hours, suspense built on top of suspense as the bishops prayed, discussed and voted privately a few blocks away. The Deputies passed the time by celebrating their 230th anniversary and debating on a resolution until notice came that the bishops had made their decision. Lunchtime was approaching but in a quite uncommon move, the deputies fiercely pushed to suspend their lunch break until the election was confirmed. While the Committee on the Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop retired to another room to deliberate, the Deputies returned to some time-passing legislation for what seemed to many of us observers to be an eternity, especially as our stomachs growled and our hearts pounded mercilessly.

Then it happened. Before a standing room only crowd, House of Deputies president Gay Jennings announced that the committee had confirmed the Bishops’ election of the Rt. Rev…(drumroll please)…… Michael Bruce Curry of North Carolina! All who were able leapt to our feet, cheered, hugged, applauded, and I for one certainly cried!

I’ve known Bishop Curry for 22 years, since long before he was a bishop! In 1993 my parents and I moved to Baltimore and joined St. James Episcopal Church, of which he was the young firebrand rector. Michael Curry was the first priest I ever strongly remember, and I had the enormous honor to hear his world-renowned preaching virtually every Sunday of my childhood. When he was elected Bishop of North Carolina in 2000, I learned for the first time what the phrase “the Rt. Rev.” meant. I was present on the day he was consecrated, June 17, 2000 – a day I will never forget – at Duke University Chapel in Durham. The Bishop’s family and mine have kept close touch over the years, and I remain close with his daughters, who are around my age.

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Just two hours before the election, I ran into Bishop Curry as the worship service was about to begin, and friends were taking selfies with him to mark the occasion of his potential election. I came up to him with camera phone in hand and immediately he jubilantly introduced me to the North Carolinians around him, saying “This guy was my parishioner back at St. James in Baltimore when he was a little boy! He just graduated from Yale Divinity!” He even told me he was proud of me and I had the pleasure to introduce him to three of our EPF Young Adult Fellows! As we all took some celebratory selfies, a few of his fellow bishops came up for selfie time too!

I’m so completely blessed and honored to know this incredible man of God, and I can’t wait to see how his incredible witness will continue to grow and strengthen our Church.

I am usually not one who cries. Really. But Friday was quite a day.

While ironing my pants and getting dressed for the day, I went to check the time on my phone. An update from my POLITICO app announced the big news – “The Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 decision that same-sex marriage is now legal nationwide”. I was not overcome with emotion. I was not shocked. I was not even surprised. But I was gratified. I was thrilled. I was – and I am – thankful beyond measure.

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All day long I was telling anybody who would listen that the General Convention hearing before the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage would be full to the brim and without a dry eye in the room, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling. After much of the day had proceeded in a surprisingly normal fashion – a clear indication that this ruling was not a surprise to those in attendance at the convention – my prediction largely came true.

In a large hotel ballroom (larger than the one in which the committee had met the evening before), several hundred piled in a few minutes before the start. More than a dozen of us representing EPF, including nearly the entire EPF Young Adult Delegation, sat together to celebrate the cause of marriage equality in our liturgy.

Three speakers rose in opposition to the measure, albeit sounding far more resigned than on the previous night, Then one after another, at least a dozen speakers rose to support the resolution to adapt & allow the Prayer Book’s marriage rite for use by non-heterosexual couples. A Chicago priest, testifying in Spanish, recalled an active parishioner saying “the Prayer Book is not welcoming to us” because it would not afford her to marry her longtime partner. A Maryland priest discussed having to marry her wife three times in different ceremonies, and the beauty of the third service in which they had been able to use the BCP due to a technical loophole. A young adult described his now-fiancée being so deeply moved at the sight of a same-sex marriage using the BCP rite, that it inspired the two to consider marriage for themselves.

Among the most moving testimonies of all was that of EPF Young Adult Anne Marie Witchger Roderick. Having married her husband just a few weeks ago, she spoke beautifully about her friends and family’s astonishment at the beauty of our Prayer Book’s liturgy at that sacred event, and the need for non-heterosexual couples to be able to share in that experience as well.

The power of that moment, the palpable Holy Spirit in that space, the energy and love and inertia of God in that room, all coalesced and sure enough, before long I was in tears. Oh, how blessed we are that EPF and many others in our church are here to stand up for love and justice for all.

Here is the testimony for the second resolution I testified on a few days ago:

“I want to begin my testimony in favor of this resolution with a question. Have you ever thought about how much it costs to wash your laundry? If you have your own washer and dryer, given energy and water costs, it’s around a dollar per load. But in a Laundromat, the cost per load is a little over three dollars. Three times as much money. If you were already struggling to pay rent or put food on the table, imagine how far those two dollars could go.

Laundry Love was an initiative started after a conversation with a homeless man in Ventura, California named T-Bone (or Eric). When asked how someone could work alongside to help him, T-Bone responded: “If I had clean clothes I think people would treat me like a human being.” As the explanation of this resolution points out, the Baptismal Covenant asks us to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Participating in this ministry made me that fulfilling this doesn’t always mean big, grand gestures. Sometimes, and maybe often, it’s something simple as providing clean clothes.

Moreover, through the neutral space of a Laundromat, every guest and stranger becomes a friend, no matter their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, education, ability, wealth or religion. I am not in service to the Other during Laundry Love. I am in kinship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I encourage this committee to pass this resolution so that all congregation in the Episcopal Church will recognize the powerful, transformative experience of relationship-based social justice. Thank you.”

I feel like I needed a lot more reflection on this testimony and the other resolutions that were on the agenda for this committee that day. My numerous tweets from this night are indicative of that.

For one thing, the committee was Congregational Vitality. Someone on the committee asked if his committee was really the best place for this resolution. Mainly because he was associating congregational vitality with butts in pews, and relationship-based ministries often don’t lead to that. And that’s the biggest problem I found with the things that were being discussed in the committee that night. Vitality is not only butts in pews, or money. It is relationships that we have with people both inside AND outside of the Church. And if we are talking about “inside” and “outside” the Church, here’s something else: church can no longer be service on Sunday anymore.

My Bishop testified on another resolution in the same place that night, which would chance the way TEC counts congregations. And in that conversation, it seemed to me that the only “service” that was mentioned as a way to count a congregation was a worship service. But as the same resolution noted, there are FIVE Marks of Mission. Worship, yes. But also relationships, justice, peace, love…and I don’t think all of those mean a church service, no matter what day of the week it’s on. What about Laundry Love? Or Seeds of Hope?

I’ve been getting an MBA in Nonprofit Management for a year now, and I still have a year left. But it seems to me that TEC is struggling with the same thing that most nonprofits are struggling with: measuring our reach and impact, and what exactly that measurement should be. In the past, I think the measurement has been the number of unique visitors to a church, and the money they give. But like so many other things in the church, it can’t be that anymore. We need to think creatively about how to measure our vitality, and our reach, and whether or not we are doing the good work Jesus encouraged us to do.

Anyone have any ideas?
-Johnna

General Convention Self-Care
Or: Contemplating the level of sacrilege involved in switching communal wine with shots of espresso.

This schedule, dear friends, is no joke.
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Throw in a few extra shifts at the EPF booth each day and attempts to eat, and it’s a wonder anyone is still standing (seriously, the blisters are out of control).

Sunrise to well after sunset, deputies, bishops, clergy, laity, and Episcopal Peace Fellowship Young Adult Delegates are working tirelessly to make a better church. The testimonies I hear at 7:30 am speak loudly to the dedication and passion of the people here. We are pressed, polished, and (mostly) caffeinated before the sun has finished rising; we are ready to put our hearts on a platter and grant glimpses into our souls in front of 80 strangers before most people have changed out of their pajamas. And that is just the beginning. After this comes Eucharist, then meetings, then a quick lunch, then more hearings (or a shift at the booth), then hearings, then quick dinner (unless it’s Sunday when no where in SLC is open…it’s a city wide Chick-fil-a), then, you guessed it! More hearings.

This has been the most physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting trip of my life.

Today, however, marked a turning point. I realized I was starting to look very similar to a Flat Jesus a youth group was passing around: deflated, faintly colored in, and lacking dimension. I don’t want to be Flat Jesus! I want to be three-dimensional, I want corners and edges and to be able to walk without a breeze knocking me down. I want to fill a room, not be shoved into someone’s back pocket.

This was when I realized that my self care was truly lacking. The three cups of coffee I had been pounding each day could no longer make up for the four to five hours of sleep each night. And it wasn’t just the lack of sleep that had me so pooped: it was throwing myself so passionately behind these issues, pouring my heart and soul into two minute testimonies and then not taking the proper time to let myself rebound.

“The only hands God has on earth are ours.” The only hands God has on earth are ours and my hands were stained, stretched in a million directions, and in desperate need of rest. General Convention is go go go, but God also invites us to seek out the silence. To detach. To take a step back. To remember that it is God’s work we are here to see done, not our own. As I jumped in to the cold pool at the Red Lion hotel, I felt myself melt. The stress and negativity was burned off by the chlorine. As I floated on my back, I felt the warmth of the sun press down on my face while the cool water held me up. And in the muffled silence of water filling your ears, I felt my soul heal.

 

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
–Isaiah 43:2