Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I will vote for 10-A

This is my response posted today on Bruce Reyes-Chow's blog, asking people to write in why they will vote "Yes" on 10-A, the modified version of G-6.0106b. Please add your comments to his page, as well.
  1. Ray Bagnuolo, New York, NY
  2. Twitter: raybagnuolo; Facebook: Ray Bagnuolo;; 
  3. Presbytery of New York City, Minister Member; Voting Date Spring 2011
  4. Reason 1 for voting in favor of ratification: G-6.0106b should never have been inserted in the Book of Order, in the first place. This is first, about writing a wrong.
  5. Reason 2 for voting in favor of ratification: A vote for 10-A is a vote for one another, as Christians and witnesses to the world.
  6. Reason 3 for voting in favor of ratification: How could we ever accept complicity in the violence surrounding exclusion in general, and the gay community in particular, regardless of how unintentional that complicity might be. What better indications that 10-A needs to be ratified than to erase the role we have in the shunning and silence?
  7.  My greatest hopes are that we embrace one another, forgive each other for the hurt and anguish and vow to enter into a community that no longer abides by fear. I wish, also, that the leadership at the highest levels of this church speak out against this violence toward our sisters and brothers - as we do about other worldly horrors. I hope for the leadership silence to be filled, instead, with voices of support for members of the church they serve.
  8. No person in the work for including people who are LGBT, that I know of, has ever suggested that the resolution should be in forcing others out. That has been the wish, desire, effort on the part of many who oppose people who are LGBT. To suggest that we be held hostage for fear of others leaving is just that - a fear. It is also not a true condition. People leave and join all the time for different reasons. To place the burden of membership on the shoulders of a group some are trying to keep out of church leadership is just another form of violence, a political spin, which has no place in this (or any other) church.
  9. In a post-B world (already begun) we focus on healing, in full display for others to see - in and out of our church. There is no question in my mind that we as Presbyterians are called to this time to help heal this world, while opening our churches, pulpits, and personal interaction with one another to carry the Gospel in a fullness that has long been missing.
  10. As a Minister of Word and Sacrament, ordained as an openly gay man, while refusing to abide by G-6.0106b, I know the faithfulness of others, who like Jesus, set their face on Jerusalem, regardless of the risk, because it was the right, just, faithful thing to do. Scripture calls us to one another, even when we are not always comfortable with one another. This is not about comfort. It is about a change for love, which is all about Scripture.
A note on Scripture: There is no way to persuade or assure people to make a choice for welcoming LGBT solely on Scripture. We don't agree on Scripture. To force a decision on scriptural agreement is another way to postpone change and accept the violence of exclusion as a willing price for comfort or indecision. We are more than Scripture. Please, let all of you, all the ways that God informs you, bring you to welcoming all God's creation.

Summary: A vote for the ratification of 10A is a vote for one another. Perhaps the new thing God is doing in this world is giving us a chance to vote for one another in becoming a church that finally says, "Enough. We will not participate in the violence of the world, in this or any way. We will trust that God would never call us to such a place. We will take the risk that is part of the inherent call of every Christian - to love one another, without qualification."

This is personal. This is not an "issue." This is about real people and real lives being affected greatly by the decision that is before the presbyteries. This is about people you love and love you. Please, vote with me, for one another. And let us move on...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

PCUSA: Yes on 10-A; A Vote for One Another

This post refers to upcoming votes in presbyteries on ratifying Amendment 10-A, which modifies the language of G-6.0106b, the amendment in the Book of Order mostly used to keep folk who are LGBT out of leadership roles. Bagnuolo, an openly gay ordained minister who refused to abide by G-6.0106b as a matter of conscience during his examination, talks about a vote for one another and the need to finally become the welcoming church we have long been called to be.

Sorry...the audio and video are a little out of synch. Trying to figure out why. I'll post just an audio file a little later. Thanks for bearing with me as I learn how to do these videos.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It Gets Better: Bishop Gene Robinson

It Gets Better: Ray Bagnuolo, Minister PC(USA)

Reaching out to members of the LGBT/Q Community to offer hope and alternatives to hurting oneself, especially in light of recent suicides of young people who were LGBT/Q following bullying and outings.

View more amazing videos by searching "it gets better" in your browser or on you tube
or click here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In response

In response to
Another Step In The Journey
Synod PJC Decision In Parnell And Others v. Presbytery Of San Francisco

And in response....

Thank you for this posting. It is especially helpful to read through it all as an accurate and fair reporting and analysis of what is impacting this church we serve and the lives of people touched by it's decisions.

In a time when much-needed attention is being brought to the deaths of young gay people, choosing suicide as a remedy to the intense and unbearable bullying and violence they are subjected to for being gay, the PC(USA) is being called. Called to grapple with how people, sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) are to be welcomed in this church. Called even more, and in more difficult ways, to acknowledge and accept that we (the church we serve) have unwittingly become complicit in the violence as a result of our decisions and those of the broader church, in sending out messages that add to the hatred of LGBT folk and the rampant marginalization and oppression to which we are subjected.

This is not a conversation that most of us want to have, however, it the one place where, as painful as it is, I believe we can start out in agreeing that God and the teachings of Jesus and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit would ever call us to practice anything that causes such terrible things to happen to people we increasingly come to know as family, friends, loved ones, and baptized sisters and brothers. That same call of the Trinity, I believe, would never call us to exclude or marginalize or oppress others to make our church more "pure."

It seems to me that such things are among the most egregious violations of what we hold essential, and we need to change, I wish by heart and love alone, and if not by amendments and ratification.

I say all these things as a Christian, a man who is gay, and a minister of Word and Sacrament, ordained in 2005 as an an openly gay man who refused to abide by G-6.0106b. There were no hidden agendas, a 45 day wait before ordination to allow any charges to be made, and none came.

In practice, good practice, we have already changed. These efforts toward continued exclusion and growing hostility are perhaps increasing because we are approaching a time when we will be a church of hospitality in new ways, ways that will challenge and bless us and provide a place for all. From hostility to hospitality. That, surely, is the way of the Irit, as well.

How anyone can talk about these faithful candidates without understanding the grace they are bringing our way, seems to be more the difficulty of those who cannot or will not accept the impact, if not the intent, of their actions.

We can be a church that embraces our differences, as well as one another. We should, by now, be pretty good at that. God knows the world needs us to be so.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let's leave the BOP out of this...

[Response to the leadership of the PLC calling for churches to hold back per capita as a protest against health coverage for same gender couples. PLC Article]

Is it possible that no one associated with the PLC knows or loves anyone who is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT)? I cannot believe that every member of the PLC or reader of the Layman would encourage holding back health care for same gender partners to be part of an increasingly sad attempt to divest a group of people from the PC(USA) at any cost - even denying them the same basic care others get simply as a matter of their employment. What will be next?

I have said it before. I do understand the difficulty for many in welcoming people who are LGBT into ordination and marriage. If you have been brought up to believe certain things and then are faced with challenges, challenges that turn everything upside down, at first, it is a daunting consideration.But isn't that what Christianity has always been? Hasn't the gospel message consistently called us forward into assembly and unity that at one time or another were most unlikely? And haven't we always been blessed by such growth in ways that carried the message of Jesus and the Gospel forward through more than 2000 years?

We, we who disagree in such ways, do need to work this out. However, disagreement to the degree of holding back per capita to prevent coverage for employees who are LGBT has to cross the line for most, except perhaps the most vocal, prolific, and conflicted of professors and authors who make a living off the dehumanization of others. That is quite an extreme group in our church, and I would expect anything of them.

But for the rest of us, we can argue and disagree while we address the basic health and human concern of all of those who work for the church, people who are not proselytizing their own form of witness, but just doing the work we have called them to do - in jobs that span the gamut.

The attempt to link this type of insurance and care to the idea of being immoral - is, in fact, itself and immoral act of attempting to "cleanse" this church of the LGBT community in every way possible.

As I said, if there is no one in your life who you know and love that is LGBT, who goes to work every day - to do a good job, support a family, contribute in some way to the greater good of family, church, and society -- if there is no one in your life who you know that is such a person - then they who are those in your life are afraid to tell you so. Because this idea will surely hurt someone you know and love. This church - or any part of it - cannot call us to such a thing. It is immoral, indeed.

Please, let's make our arguments where they belong - with one another on the theology and polity regarding ordination and marriage, not on the back of people who work for us.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
Gay Member of the LGBT Community
New York City

Friday, September 24, 2010

In Response to Re. Kim...

For the original post by Rev. Kim please visit:
Dear Pastor Kim,
   While I appreciate your comments and all conversation related to the ways in which our current polity affects our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender - your suggestions for more study and your seeing no end to the "debates," are in fact the problem that has brought us to this place.
   A few clarifications, if I might, speaking for me and those who might agree with me, I am not an "issue." I am a living, breathing human being, created by God as I am - gay, ordained as an openly gay man, serving all those who come to me as best as I can, and frankly - outraged - with the PC(USA) and it weakness and inherent cowardness in standing up for full inclusion. I may be a problem for some in the church, but I am not an issue. I cannot be objectified and talked about at arm's length as though I were not here. That has been part of the problem.
   Second, whose side is Jesus on? Whew. That sure is a way to solve this all. It's clear to me, actually which side Jesus is on. Jesus is on the non-violent, loving side. Those still fighting to keep us divided by G-6.0106b and other "standards," are actually complicit in the violence that continues to be experienced through hate crimes and other exclusionary measures toward gay people that are rampant in our society. And, the voice of the church and the limited interpretation of the gospel that would exclude gay people is culpable in that violence. On which side do you think Jesus would side here?
   Additionally, there is no one that I know in the community of LGBT people in the PC(USA) that wants to keep others out, i.e. excluded, [in order to] to settle our differences. In fact, the LGBT community continues to try to work together and honor each other in ways that are far from returned by those who call upon the gospels as reasons to marginalize our community. On which side of that do you think Jesus would place his affirmation.
   Look, we need to move on, embrace on another with all our differences, and stop studying and delaying the call to love, non-violence, and leaving the judging to God. If we are making a mistake, let's err on the side of love. That I think Jesus would agree with.
   In peaceful outrage, because this call for more than study and time -

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Distance of Fear: Ruling in the Trial of The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr & the PC(USA)

     I am really not used to dealing with anger to any great measure. Sure, I have it from time to time. As a person and a pastor, I struggle to use it in productive ways when it takes hold. Generally, with prayer and the help of friends, I get beyond it and move a bit further in what some of my friends refer to as “character building.”
     However, I have been spending the last several days struggling mightily to understand the anger in me generated by the guilty verdict of Janie Spahr by the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of The Presbytery of the Redwoods. It been anything but an exercise in “character building.”
     Janie was charged by an anonymous complainant for her officiating at more than a dozen same gender weddings in California during a time when they were legal in the State. The PJC found Janie guilty of violating her ordination vows, the church constitution, and other rulings – while commending her on her prophetic ministry to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community. The accuser was never named nor ever appeared.
     This decision and procedure was enough to generate disappointment and dismay. But there was more to this anger of mine this than just disappointment.
     I have been going over the events of the four days of hearings in Napa, trying to find the reason for the near sickness I have been feeling. A thousand questions I’ve asked of myself.
     Was it the failure of the PJC to notify the defense counsel that a seventh member of the PJC had days before said they would not be able to participate in the trial? Janie’s defense team found this out only hours before the trial began. This changed the PJC from a 7 member to a 6 member board; changing the necessary votes for a verdict of guilty from 5 to 4 (a 2/3rds vote was necessary for the decision). The guilty verdicts were all by a 4-2 vote.
     Was it the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission's (GAPJC) refusal of a request by Rev. Spahr and her counsel? They had gone to the GAPJC for guidance in the marriages before she officiated at them, in which she and her counsel noted that the civil laws of the State had changed, following their last ruling. She had been told she had "no standing" to make such a request. (The ruling in question was the outcome of an earlier hearing against Dr. Spahr. No standing?)
     Or, maybe it was my own sense of fairness that the PJC should have included someone who is openly a member of the LGBT community. Certainly, there was someone in The Presbytery of the Redwoods that could have stepped forward and been fair in their deliberation. Or do we only trust heterosexual individuals to make the best judgments in the church of those who are on trial, in part, for being Lesbian?
     Perhaps my anger came from the absence of any apparent sense of prophecy or awareness of the moment in history that was in the PJC’s hands, or from the dismissal of the heart-wrenching and courageous stories of the same gender couples who allowed themselves to be examined and cross-examined, stepping into a place of great love and vulnerability to witness for all.
     Perhaps it was the prosection who called no witnesses, narrowing the case “into the head” and away from the heart, as she suggested. If this isn’t a matter of both – what have we become?
     All of this contributed to my distress, but still there was more to it. Of course, I admit to holding Janie as best friend, prophet, mentor, and example of who we are and what can be in the church when at our very best. Even the PJC didn’t contradict that. They commended Janie on her prophetic and exemplary ministry and then failed to exercise any of the same prophecy or courage they so lauded.
     I know that’s getting close to the anger, because the quiet voice inside me almost cries out, “How dare they?!”
     And then to say they love Janie as they handed down the verdict. To apologize for the church and all it has done wrong to the LGBT community. To thank the power of the witnesses and their hearts, thanking them for sharing their lives in ways no one has been asked to do in being accepted in this church, and then to succumb to the injustice of a constitution they referred to as confusing and in conflict with itself…was almost too much to process in any rational way. To say we love you in such a way is to really say, “We don’t want you.” It was stunning in all the wrong directions.
     That’s when it started to hit me. I knew from the start that PJC had the power that seldom comes to people to make an incredible change in an unjust system. Had they voted acquittal and stood as tall as the accused, stating for all to hear that there was no way they could find this minister and these couples guilty of anything except faithfulness and enhancing this church – what an amazing day it could have been! Had they ruled in alignment with their hearts and their heads, they could have sent a message to the church, society, and the whole nation that this church, this PC(USA) would not stand for this attack on one of their own (their own) or the LGBT community they considered family, if they had anything to say about it. And, if as I believe is true, they were convinced as they said that this ruling would move the discussion forward – then why do it in such a hurtful way? Why not vote 6-0 in favor of acquittal. I promise you that such a verdict would have produced appeals in a heartbeat. Instead of beating down those you say you love and admire - you would have lifted them up for the first time in this church in a way that truly had meaning.
     In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King said, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” That’s the measure of just how wrong this all was.
     And there it is. Although I have felt opposed, marginalized, mischaracterized, and demeaned, I have never experienced such blatant degradation in all my time in the PC(USA). And what made it worse, what made me angrier is that this decision degraded an entire community of people. It did it in accordance with the law, as they saw it. Did anyone say, "Gospel"?
     And, it’s here that the anger takes a deep dive through what I had just imagined to be fear on the part of others toward our community. This verdict and the subsequent rationale and comments of the PJC and others articulated a deep and institutionalized aversion to us, a feeling of dislike for us that is so strong that it produced this institutionalized reaction. My free fall of anger to utter sadness is hinged here, hinged on the meaning of deep aversion and intense dislike, for sadly this is a definition of hatred. I must have been na├»ve for I never once thought this was at the root of all our struggles in the church. How could we follow Christ and be so distant, at the same time?
     While I call no one on the commission or otherwise involved hateful, we need to acknowledge that the reason that the LGBT community is not fully integrated in this PC(USA) is because of such irrational sentiments and the distance that fear produces. Not a fear of those of us who are LGBT, I suggest, but a fear of calling this illness what it is.
     So, as Dr. King also once said, “Where do we go from here?”
     Dr. King’s response was, “…we must first honestly recognize where we are now.”
     Where we are now is a church divided. We are not divided by people who are LGBT who want to belong. We are divided by the culture of hate that has invaded us from all around us. We have embraced the hate of sectarian interests and cobbled it together to represent the PC(USA) in judging the lives of our sisters and brothers who are LGBT. Instead of leading by the gospel against the violence and damage of institutionally degrading this community, we have mislead ourselves by our aversion to others. And in the process, to protect our own failings, we have marginalized others.
     Folks, we cannot wait for institutional change to address these injustices that are creeping us closer and closer to no return from hatred and violence. If we as a church cannot rise up with the leadership of those like The Rev. Dr. Spahr and stand by them fully – we will continue to feed the culture that surrounds us with our own witness of fear and acquiescence. We seem to willingly replace justice and prophecy with doing things “decently and in order” – and fail to treat those we accuse with anything like the decency and primary order of ours being the Church of Jesus Christ.
     It is not enough to look at the things which we do well as church, which are many. We also need to enter into the wrong we are doing others – and address them now. If we can accept the disharmony and degradation of others as an acceptable price to pay for the years it will take to right this abomination of exclusion of the people who are LGBT, then indeed we have no idea what this is all about. It may be that the mountain of such pain we have caused over the years has made us immune to the complicity of this sad state in which we now find ourselves.
     From that place, loving us…means nothing at all. It’s enough to make one angry…and very sad.
     But just in case you might be hoping, it’s no where near enough for us to give up. Folks are fond of asking, why don't you find another denomination. The answer is simple, "This cannot be a whole church without us, and we love you too much to leave you."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Please pray with us...

In a few hours the verdict on Janie Spahr's ministry and this church's welcoming of LGBT sisters and brothers will be known. Yet the verdict will not be about Janie or any of us who are LGBT, family, friends, supporters, will be about the church who believes they can sit in judgment of others.

Sorry, I don't have space for more time, for more study, or the stomach or heart for more violence extended from the exclusionary practices of this church. This commission has what few have, the chance to open the doors to the church in ways that have always been meant to be. These commissioners have the chance to strike down what should never have stood in the way of we who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender...

Simply, to find others guilty for practicing faithfully what never should be lost is hard to fathom. And, we are in difficult times obscured by fear and worse. All the more reason for this to be a day and a time to fill this world with the Light in ways for all to see.

If you pray, please pray with us this morning. If you don't pray, please pray with us this morning. Pray and envision this committee and this fellowship hall at Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Light of God and the presence of Jesus and the Spirit. Pray that the hearts of the commissioners and the church will open for all. Please. Pray. For us all. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Amazing Day for Love and Testimony

Someone out there might say, because people say the darndest things, that the intense and invasive testimony of the eleven couples that Janie married "...was really their own fault. They should have known that being legally married in the State of California when marriage was legal, having their marriage officiated by a faithful Presbyterian minister would cause them these problems. It's their own fault."

And to that I say, "Pooh!"

Every Presbyterian, the real ones, the ones that still honor those who historically have fought for justice and equality across a host of social changes - those Presbyterians - should thank these couples and the minister who married them. They should be here, standing by these couples and the church leaders like Janie Spahr, Jean Southard, Janet Edwards and others who have extended themselves deep into this time of imminent change with faithfulness, courage, heart, intelligence, and above all a commitment to Jesus Christ as "Lord of the Conscience." In other words, Presbyterians.

These leaders have filled the gap left by a GAPJC that refused to honor a request for guidance to The Rev. Spahr following a change in the laws in California that made marriage legal. These leaders again stand alone, filling the gap created by the absence of any past or present leaders from Louisville at these proceeding and the distance of the Office of the General Assembly at this critical trial. Not a word from any one of help, no guidance, not a peep.

Is it any wonder that members of this church who are LGBT feel like their church has left them behind? If it weren't for these leaders being charged for their leadership - who would there be speaking up for the LGBT community?

Now, about the couples who testified. Amazing. To listen to people who are lesbian and gay and who have fought through more than could be imagined to honor their love and then to make themselves vulnerable to questioning and cross-examination to affirm their love is the Power of God at work. For them to open their lives to public display to support the minister who honored their love and to share the gift of their hope with all who are marginalized and excluded by a church that cannot even give its pastors guidance on legal marriages of gay couples...well, it is the Spirit at work in stunning ways.

They certainly strike me as being more like Presbyterians than those who don't even talk to us or get to know us before they bring charges against us. (Which is how these charges were delivered.)

Tomorrow, Thursday, closing arguments will be made by counsel. Following that the PJC will deliberate until they have a decision about whether The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr violated her vows and the rule of church law by performing legal same gender marriages. The PJC will deliberate. Their decision will say a great deal about who we are, what we believe in, and where we are headed.

What will be certain - what is certain now - is that through these hearings, Janie and these couples have given this church a chance to be faithful, courageous, and prophetic in leading this church through these times instead of into the shadows of what we once were. To the rest of us they have given us a wonderful gift and a blessing of huge proportions.

And I join others in awe of them and with deep thanks for their courage and heart.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A church tha includes one and all

The Trial of the PC(USA)
Monday, August 23
San Rafael Califormia

Tomorrow, the church trial of Janie Spahr begins. It is a continuation of the attempts of some to prevent the marriages of same-gender couples. Eleven of the couples The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr married during the time they were legal in California will testify before the Permanent Judicial Committee (PJC) at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Napa. This is Janie's second trial for marrying same gender couples. The first ended when the then PJC ruled that since there is no such thing as "gay marraige" in the church constitution, whatever Janie might have done - it wasn't a marraige in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Case closed.

Not true. This "case" will not be closed until there is a breakthrough. A breakthrough that makes it clear to those who use the lives and loves of people who are LGBT as their rallying cry that this argument is over. That while we are fully willing and committed to healing and working through our differences together, this church and the lives of its members cannot be used to spread fear, hatred, and violence by a litigious and frightened few bent on excluding gay folk. Any place that does that, whatever it is, is not church; cannot be church - in the PC(USA) or anywhere else.

After 9/11, just about every country in the world came rushing to the side of the USA, ready to make it clear that the world community was with us and against such terrible acts of horror. We had a chance to lead in a thoughtful, collaborative, and strongly measured world response. Instead, we missed the chance. The chance to draw closer together in a response that could easily have led to greater cooperation across a wide host of human needs around the world. Instead, we made it clear that we were the same nation that exercized the only use of atomic weapons in history. We made it clear that anger and fear (and lies to support the associated vengeance) would continue to be the order of the day.

Such opportunities in history happen infrequently, but there are times when groups of individuals and their leadership have the chance to move the cause toward justice beyond the easy embrace and entanglement of the status quo, too often based on unjust and unholy arguments.

In Napa, this week, the PJC will have the chance to "call out" the consuming non-argument of whether same gender people and their sacred covenants be honored with marriage. They will have the chance to make it clear that ministers in this church can only be faithful to their ordination vows by honoring and officiating at same gender marraiges, when asked. The courage to stand up and state that the church is wrong to block the way of honoring such love will change the course of this church. It will move us further in reaching the point where we can work together to address the broader spiritual and world needs that call out to us, refusing to allow the voices of fear and bigotry from holding all of us, all of us hostage.

This is a time when such things can happen. If you think that is not true, just look at how hard others are fighting against us. It is a time into which we have been invited by the faithfulness of ministers, such as The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr, who continue to honor their vows and continue to serve others.

It seems that any charges that are being brought forth against Janie and others, have been brought againt the wrong parties. It is perhaps the accusers that ultimately will indict themselves by these attempts to divide this church. And, when that happens, we will be there, with all the married couples, to welcome them back to a church that includes one and all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gay Redux - They just keep trying...

Is it a lingering continuation of the late 19th Century apocalyptic millennialism and its charge that the growing feminism was going to bring down the world, no less? Is this all so unfamiliar…

From: Catherine Keller’s Apocalypse Now and Then, A Feminist’s Guide to the End of the World: (Some quotation marks removed for clarity. Further references available on request)

(circa 1890) At that moment, we witness for the first time the potent and now so familiar pairing of conservative gender essentialism with apocalyptic biblicism. A popular fundamental magazine wrote that when woman assumes ‘the prerogative of power which belongs to the man and seeks to dominate the world or all of its activities, as she is doing today, she then possesses the spirit of the beast and is like an angel of light fallen from heaven.’

This rare acknowledgment of the dragon’s female side seems to encode the response of the new backlash against the New Woman’s answer to the last. DeBerg demonstrates that in many of the pamphlets and articles listing signs of the end times – riots, violence, and crimes were prominent – ‘the most space was given to a discussion of the social behavior of the New Woman: the ‘easy-going manner in which women of highest rank and culture have allowed the old-fashioned rules and restraints which governed society to be relaxed.’ In these last dreadful days, women will be tempted to take part in this or that social reform, to give their sex the ballot and place them on political equality with men, for their own protection, and to reform society. Political emancipation was a sure sign of the end. Women assuming leadership roles outside of the home but above all in religion embodied a foreboding sign of the approaching tribulations: ‘but the prominence of women in a sphere inconsistent with nature and with the meekness and quietness, which are the ornament of the Christian woman is one of the signs of the times. Quite logically, if the world is constituted of the proper harmony of the two spheres, then when woman leaves her sphere the world will fall apart.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No Obstacles...

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church & Neighborhood House
New York City August 15, 2010
No Obstacles (Sermon Notes)
©2010 Ray Bagnuolo

If I were a fire and brimstone preacher these passages would rank right up there at the top of my list. Both readings exhale excoriation. In Luke, the frustration of Jesus and in Hebrews, the writer, Paul – maybe or maybe not – challenging early Christians to stay the course, regardless of the temporal conditions.
I’ll start with Luke, listening especially for Jesus’ frustration, almost anxiety in the difficulty he is having at getting his message across. Jesus’ words remind me of his actions on the day he overturned the tables in the temple.
The prophetic tirade that follows must have been especially aggravating since it was likely directed to those close to him, rather than a distant group of "moneychangers" - strangers, in the dusty poorly lit back of the temples.
These were likely people, many of whom we know by names, men and women who had been with him, probably finishing another one of their annoying arguments about who would be first when this new conquering kingdom of theirs is achieved; who among them was the most faithful (read favorite of Jesus); or even the criticism: Why has he not brought down fire and punishment upon these oppressors of the times, establishing himself once and for all?  More:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Already Home...

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church & Neighbrhood
New York, New York Bulletins & Sermons

Already Home! Sermon Notes
©2010 Ray Bagnuolo

From late spring until the beginning of fall, I share a small studio with a lady friend of mine on Fire Island. Toni Ann works during the week, and I work on weekends, so it makes it possible for me to get away on my days off to something of a retreat. For me that is often the beach.

This summer, I’ve been given a good deal of thought to my relationship with God. Through reflection, meditation, readings, and conversations…I’ve been really trying to better know – God.

I don’t expect to understand my relationship with God, but I do believe that God understands God’s relationship with me. It is a home place that I can always enter.

Some of the questions I’ve been thinking about include: How does God understand me? What does God know about me that I haven’t figured out for myself? How is God trying to help? What does God know about me that I would like to keep from God (impossible as that is)? And, what does God know about me that I would really like to know for myself?

And, how does this all connect together?

Well, it’s one of those questions that is too big to answer. But in there somewhere is the belief I have that God trusts and loves us. And that God has faith in us to continue the great hospitality of the ancients with the strangers that come our way, as well as with one another, growing together in relationships. More...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Twenty Years Ago

Twenty Year Ago - A Generation...April 2Twenty YearTwenty Yeas6, 1990

From the Session minutes of Jan Hus Presbyterian Church - 20 years ago: [While The Rev. Jan Orr Harter served as pastor]

Dot [Turnier] presented the proposal to declare ourselves a "more light" church, welcoming gay and lesbian persons into full membership and leadership in our congregation. After discussion about how this would affect the church and about how we feel the spirit is leading us Amy [Miracle] moved, Sue [Erben] seconded and it was unanimously approved to pass the following "More Light" statement:

We at Jan Hus Church believe that to exclude gays and lesbians from the Church is contradictory to Christian principles. We affirm that gay and lesbian persons are vital to God's plan for us and the church. Churches, in general, are uncomfortable discussing issues relating to sexuality. However, we now feel it is time to move beyond our discomfort in order to welcome all people into the fold of God. We believe God's love embraces gays and lesbians, with no requirement of contrition for or abstinance from the sexual expression of their love. We are obliged to make use of God's gifts to gays and lesbians to further the mission of the church including use of these gifts in leadership roles. We believe it is contradictory with the essence of Christian principles to require deception on the part of gays and lesbians as to their sexual orientation to allow then to fully utilize God's gifts and experience of God's grace. Following the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we welcome gay and lesbian people to be active and open members of our congregation, celebrating with us God's love for all.

After presenting a variety of follow-up options, including congregation education, worship, Evangelism, financial support - it was moved, seconded, and passed to: Join with other "More Light" churches in preparing literature and an ad for distribution for Gay Pride Week, the last week of June. Funds will come from the Evangelism budget.

It's been a long time...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

All God's Creatures

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House:   Bulletin

Following the attack on New York City in 2001, the great tragedy of that day and its aftermath brought much of the world to us in unconditional support of the United States of America. For a moment in time, we as a people and a nation had the chance to rise above belligerence and testosterone to embrace the nations of the world and lead in a powerfully peaceful and measured response. Yes, I believe that in that brief window of time we had the chance to take a different path, unlike the path we chose of wars and suspicions.

The reaction. The response.

It is these that I watch for, in myself. Perhaps you watch for it, as well, in your lives.

When I greet life with the “long view,” with patience, tolerance, love, understanding, serenity, joy, gratitude; when I hold onto these in my engagement of life – despite the situation or conditions – I am most who I wish to be; I am closest to the unconditional love and unwavering trust naturally and freely given by the animals here today and those we remember from other times in our lives.

We should always behave, as well.

At the most difficult times of my life, I have taken great comfort in the pets I have cared for. It is no accident that many of the hospitals and schools I have worked in have introduced visits by different animals for the very spirit and comfort they bring to others. These animals, all of them, seem to have the ability to absorb from us the edginess or worse that we know, and replace it with calm and serenity, bring out the best of our own humanness.

I remember Muffins, an Old English sheepdog I once had. She knew when things were off and with all the playfulness and great mass at her possession, she’d leap from a distance onto the couch or the chair where I was sitting - right into my lap, almost as if her great humor and energy knocked me off my perch of disappointment or distress. Nuzzling and licking and knocking me down, soon, I would be laughing and playing with her, the troubles at hand replaced with the great wonder and energy of God in Muffins and all creatures.

We live in a world of great need, and the unique gifts of our pets draw us into their seemingly limitless empathy, joy, and friendship. And, somehow, I don’t know how, these creatures make us better people.

Today’s reading of The Prayer of St. Frances, filled with the aspirations of unconditional love; the promise of Jesus in the reading of Matthew, with cosmic assurance that we have nothing to worry about
are mystically present through these and the other creatures of this world.

For those of us who have before or now offer homes and care for animals, we know they are family. And as with any family, their presence influences us. What could be better than to grow in the kindness and love of these amazing creations of God in all her majesty!

So, let’s follow their lead this morning. Let’s see in each of them the assurance that we can approach life with the lift of timeless joy, the wag of a tail (theirs or ours), the nuzzle of trust that tells us not to worry, that we’re being taken care of, and the deep wisdom that tells us their God and Ours, touches us both.

It would surely be good to strive to approach life with the core of such warmth and steadfast love as present in those we will bless this morning. If we continue to try such a thing, there’s a good chance the world of All God’s Creatures, Great and Small will, indeed, be a much better place.

Let it be so.

Blessing of the Animals

When we bless, in scriptural terms, we are imparting the power of life, mediating that power – a conduit – from the God we know and knows us – to others. What a blessing!

Today’s blessing of each animal by name, means that health, healing and life are being channeled through us from God for the benefit of the animal and its relationship with its human partners.

It is the Shalom we know.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"This kind of thing..." Really.

In an article posted today on the Christian Century Networks Blog the following was reported, referencing the maneuver to prevent discussion on the definition of marriage at the last General Assembly:

"Progressive Presbyterians were disappointed by the redefinition defeat. The resolution was essentially voted down July 8 in a parliamentary maneuver and never came to the floor for a full debate; an attempt to revive the resolution failed by a wide margin the next morning.

'The church was not yet ready to make a decision,' General Assembly moderator Cynthia Bolbach told reporters. "This kind of thing happens at every assembly.'"

"This kind of thing..." Really.

Earlier in the article, Pam Byers, Executive Director of Covenant Network offered this statement:

We're hoping very much to reengage and continue the momentum...As more Presbyterians recognize that they know good, faithful gay Presbyterians, it becomes harder to maintain this exclusion."

"It becomes harder to maintain this exclusion."

The juxtaposition of these comments by two powerful leaders in the PC(USA) frames some of the problem. For the church, it's just a time of not ready and expressing the lack of readiness as just another exercize of parliamentary procedure. So, for the gay and lesbian people of the church the status of exclusion continues, based on policy absent any other voice from leadership levels of the Office of General Assembly or elsewhere in Louisville.

Policy v. People. PC(USA)?

I admit it. I don't believe it has to be so. As a result, I continue to exhort every leader I can find, inlcuding supportive moderators of the PC(USA) to stand up and state to all that this church is wrong in its exclusionary policy. To state to those who believe that they are forgotten that it is not so. That they know this church is not welcoming and that it needs to change to become fully faithful.

Leadership from the PC(USA) needs to stand up and say that this instiutional marginalization is not "just a thing" dictated by policy. We need to exit the state of denial we seem to cower within, acknowledging that it is not "decent" to accept the dehumanization of others to maintain "order."

We who are excluded are not issues. We are baptized living, breathing, loving sisters and brothers. And this church's actions, or in this case inaction, reaches far beyond those who might call themselves Presbyterians. We are failing the human community of creation by excluding Lesbuan, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender folk from the full work and worship of this church with all the privileges of the church, including marriage. If there is to be any discussion of sin, it needs to start with this egregious error.

If the leadership of the church represents the whole church, when do they represent the LGBT commnity? Where in the official PC(USA) church is there an office, a person, or an outreach for the concerns of our sisters and brothers who are lesbian and gay? There is only public silence and sometime private support.

I also admit to wondering when will this church produce someone unconcerned with losing their status or position to the degree that they will stand up for the marginalized people they privately say they support and, at least, create a center in the church, not another study,  to help change the institutional church. We do not need to be studied; we need to be welcomed, even at the risk of upsetting others. I believe there is biblical precedent for such a thing.

I agree with Pam Byers and others who say that the exclusion [of LGBT folk] is slowly being chipped away, as more and more people ..."recognize that they know good, faitful gay Presbyterians."

I would add to that. I would add that in addition to knowing good, faithful gay Presbyterians, more and more people are recognizing the unintentional complicity of this church in the hate crimes and homophobia that plague this and other societies and cultures around the world. More and more people have had enough with a church that promises to follow the teachings of Jesus, but lacks the courage to make the same sacrifices it demands of others. Sacrifices it demands without any sense of public policy statement, institutional support, or what would be welcome outrage at the harm and injustice caused by silence and refusal.

Just another thing...


Sunday, July 25, 2010

out of bed

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
New York City, July 25, 2010

Sermon Notes: out of bed...
©2010 Ray Bagnuolo

Part of my time living with my family was spent in E. Northport, Long Island. We moved there from the Bronx when I was 18 or 19. It was one of the favorite houses my family lived in over the years; however there was one part of it I would have been happy to change. The previous owners had installed an intercom system in all the rooms. My mom quickly put it to good use for her and annoying use for me.

My dad has always had enormous energy, and on Saturday mornings after a long week of working, you would think he would like to sleep in a bit. Nope. He'd be out in the yard or the garage or somewhere around the house doing one of his "projects." Me, I’d be sleeping, often after getting in only a few hours before.

My mom hated to see my dad working alone - so she would call me! You guessed it using the intercom. But not just calling me and saying, "Come help your father." No.
She would sit down at the kitchen table, coffee in front of her, reading the paper, with one hand on the intercom - saying over and over..."Raymond, get up Raymond" in the sweetest, sing-songy, most annoying voice you could image.

It was like fingernails on the chalkboard.

Like the neighbor in this morning’s reading who finally gave in to the person knocking at his door for bread, it worked and I would sooner than later get up out of bed, grumbling and mumbling, as I went.

It can still take encouragement now and then to get things done. It can take encouragement to pray, now and then, as well.

Jesus was certainly someone who encouraged others to pray. To follow him as one of the early disciples must have been and experience that included sheer wonder at what he was able to do and an ongoing effort to understand how he did it.

Luke pays close attention to Jesus and prayer, as did the disciples. He reports several instances of times when Jesus prayed: before calling the disciples, Peter's confession, at the transfiguration, Gethsemane, on the cross, and at the table with the disciples.

Often Jesus “would go off” to pray in places away from distractions. The earliest of sanctuaries, perhaps.

So, it would be natural for the disciples to see the connection between Jesus in prayer and how he performed some of the signs or withstood some of the things he did. And, Luke tells us that on this one particular day. following Jesus' prayers, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.

I have to believe that the disciples had already prayed in some way or another before this request they made of Jesus. It then seems to me that they were asking Jesus how to pray as he did. It wouldn't surprise me if the were looking for something like “magic words” that would make it possible for them to do the things that Jesus did. They had yet to learn they already had what was needed.

There seems to be no hesitation in Jesus’ reply:

"When you pray, say:
Father (Mother), hallowed be your name
Your kindom come.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.

The prayer is an awakening; getting out of bed; opening the door - stepping into the Spirit in the full cosmology of the coming kingdom of God. It is a prayer that bridged the difference then and now between this world and the next; a prayer that discarded time, with the wave of a hand. It is a prayer of faith, vision, and action.

You likely have discovered much of this on your own, through your own prayer life.
• The reference to God as a loving parent...a loving parent
• The wish that God's name would be hallowed, made holy - not by just us but the whole world: "hallowed be your name."
• The request for bread on a daily basis, to carry us through on this journey
• To clean the slate of resentment, jealously, anger, fear with forgiveness of others and of ourselves
• And to protect and watch over us with your Spirit as we come to you.

To me, it sounds just like the journey we are on. The same ones the disciples were on. Here, in this world, surrounded by much beauty and hope, but also surrounded by totally incomprehensible events of oppression, war, discrimination, illness, and a more.

When the disciples were around Jesus, he brought the promise to them in his presence, his "Way." Today, the promise is still with us - and so is the prayer.

And, so is Jesus with us.

And, that surprising as it may sound to some is fundamental to Christianity. We are a community that spans time and space, actually - compresses it into the "now" with just a small change in our thinking or perceptions. And, this is what prayer does, along with drawing us into community.

Our Father/Mother...
Grant us the serenity...
God, have mercy on us...

Our opening hymn...Gather us in...

And, as only Jesus can do, he takes prayer, the cosmic connection, and community and brings it to life...

In the second portion of the reading from Luke, we have the section know as The Shameless Neighbor. Some refer to it as The Persistent Neighbor. It all depends on your point of view.

Set in the community of 1st Century Palestine, the tradition among the Hebrews of hospitality and generosity would be strong and life-giving. To break the tradition would be a shameful thing to do.

In teaching his disciples further about prayer, Jesus talks about the neighbor who is dealing with unexpected guests. He or she is scrambling to get some bread to complete the meal and be able to serve the guest, following the tradition of hospitality.

The one that is petitioned for the bread is in bed. The most likely typical Palestinian home would have been a house of two rooms. The door would have been bolted and to get up out of bed and open the door would have awoken the entire family.

Still to not be persistent in seeking what was needed - or to be shamed the next day by neighbors for refusing to help the neighbor...

Both center on the promises of the tradition. Promises that do not change, even when it takes a little more effort in seeking the promise or in living it out for others.

Such seeking and such effort, says Jesus, we will get "whatever we need."

That's the "ouch of faith," so to speak. There is no quid pro quo, here. There is no instant prayer lottery. There is prayer and there is...

Our Mother/Father...

And there is the belief in the promise that we will be given what we need...

And, almost in anticipation of the disciples saying what we might, something like, "Yeah, but Jesus, how will we know...really...that our prayers are being answered, that we are getting whatever we need...

Jesus assures the disciples that it is so. That God hears our prayers.

"So, I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you for you."

Ask, search, knock and enter...

Don't get discouraged. Trust in God. Pray. Pray together. Know that when you do - you enter a different place, you move closer to God, however you know God, and you and your prayers are heard. You will get whatever you need. You can rely on that.

Ask, search, knock...and enter.

But first, you need to get out of bed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

So, you thought this would be easy...

Delivered at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
351 E. 74th Street, New York, NY 10021-3701
Sunday, July 18, 2010

So, you thought this would be easy....
©2010 Ray Bagnuolo

Sermon Notes…

While at the General Assembly, I attended a worship service with That All May Freely Serve. TAMFS, as it is known, has long been a sacred force in this PC(USA) for full inclusion of gay (LGBT) folk and a prophetic voice for God’s wildly inclusive and radical love of all.

These friends who God calls to serve as evangelists for the work of TAMFS are among those I most love and aspire to follow in their faithfulness, courage, perseverance, and deep spiritual being.

It was just before 9:00 P.M. I was on my way back to the convention center from another meeting in downtown Minneapolis. I was tired and felt the weight of relentlessly working toward and believing in a church that will one day get it right, one day fully welcoming gay people and as a result - break down the barriers and layers of fear upon which this oppression is built, barriers and fears that once they come tumbling down will cause the Spirit of God to come rushing in as never before: the rushing wind of the Spirit that would change the world. That the possible and promise in which we work.

This morning, as I prepared for worship, I thought about the stories of Jesus and his disciples, tirelessly exhorting people in every way they knew to get out of the way of the Spirit. To let God come rushing in. It didn’t seem much different than today.

Whether they were standing before councils of the authorities, their accusers, or praying and taking action to overcome all obstacles, they spoke honestly and courageously, present before God, witnessing to others with their lives

“Brothers (and sisters), Paul says, I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.”

I imagined they, too, at times were tired; I imagined they at times felt the weight of relentlessly believing in and taking action for whatever it took get the world – right with God and God’s love.

I imagined that they never realized how hard it was going to be, especially knowing the great promise and possibility of a God of Love – how could anyone not come running to this God. Instead, they watched as all that was promised all that was possible was being squandered, squandered by fear that masquerading as order and law, when in fact it was all about power and dominion.

“Keep up your courage!” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. “For as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also in Rome.”

So they persisted.
And so did the small worship group that I joined that evening.

The sanctuary had the “old” wonderful feel to it that said it had weathered much, stood by many, and wasn’t about to lose its deep prophetic roots.

It had that knowing feel of a place that had welcomed others in the sadness created by church and society through exclusion, wars, discrimination, and more.

It felt much like Jan Hus, Palisades, and South Presbyterian Churches in New York, Palisades, and Dobbs Ferry.

In those pews on this night were the disciples, shuttered by the PC(USA) because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender – supposedly different.

In those pews on this night, were 30 young, blessed, and called Presbyterians refusing the shutters, the councils, the accusers and embracing the God of Promise in the midst of others’ fear.

“Keep up your courage!” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. “For as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so must you bear witness also in Rome.”

And their witness touched me more deeply than anything else during the 10 days of General Assembly. It changed me, again, and wounded me in a way that should be felt by all, a wound that knows the sadness and wrongness of “placing barbed wire around these people and God’s Spirit,” as my friend Joe Gilmore says.

“Keep up your courage!” Jesus says to Paul.”

Their table at worship was set very much like this one. And, as the order of the service unfolded, these young faithful queer people came forward and read Scripture or Prayer, each closing with the statement that said because of their gender and sexuality they were not permitted to serve at this table. They then walked down the aisle and out of the sanctuary, as the remaining witness responded that their presence would be missed.

There was profound silence, except for the tears that could be heard to fall more and more as the evening went on.

Was it something like this in Jesus’ time, seeing members of their community marginalized, falsely accused, forced out, taken away, humiliated, punished, jailed, executed? By the leadership of their own traditions…all in the name of God.

I wonder how many times through history the persecution has been repeated before reaching this sanctuary at Wesleyan Church on this night.

Jesus didn’t say it would be easy. He said, “Keep up your courage, and prepare for more.”

And then, as only Jesus could he framed it all in a sentence or two:

Fortunate are you when people hate you, exclude you, abuse you and denounce you on my account. Celebrate when that day comes and dance for joy – your reward will be great in heaven. Remember that their ancestors treated the prophets in this way.
-Matthew 5:11-12

And so, this group of courageous, oppressed, and fortunate folk at the TAMFS worship, eventually all left the sanctuary, but they didn’t end their witness.

They proceeded to a lawn, outside the Convention Center where the Assembly was taking place. They formed a circle, in the midst of the city, and they who would the next day stand before the councils and committees, they who were accused of being abominations, they stepped into the great promise of God and Love, the celebration of those witnessing for Jesus and God and all, into a sanctuary greater than the four walls of any church, and they prayed and broke bread in a place where all were welcome.

And in the deep richness of the night, with a gentle rain of sorrow and joy beginning to fall, passers-by stopped and were drawn in. The sadness toughed the joy and turned to music and prayer and praise and refusal to be denied, refusal to be chased away, any more than the disciples that brought this church forward refused to be chased or denied.

We look around this sacred space this morning, this sanctuary, and know that it is part of God’s world of sanctuary. We seek peace and solace and meditation, here, joined by all those who have come before and will follow. Joined by every person who comes to this place for any reason – prayer, food, clothing, or a table where they are welcome.

Jan Hus was the Bohemian Czech reformer for whom this church is named. Yesterday, Robin reminded me of one of his best known quotes, a quote that could have been spoken by Jesus, Abraham, Martin, John, Nelson, Janie, Lisa, Michael, Howard, and more…

“…see Truth, listen to the Truth, learn Truth, love Truth, speak Truth, uphold Truth, defend Truth until death; for Truth shall deliver you…” “

The Truth is among the power of this place; it is here because of you who gather here.

On many a night, I have enjoyed the gentle rain of a late summer eve, but it was the people and God in the people of that assured me of God with us, still. I needed that on that day; we all need that from time to time. The church needs those people and all the others whose absence and exclusion breaks us into pieces, continents seeking the original Pangaea.

Whether you gather here in support of inclusion, for end to wars, for meditation, solace, peace, or petition – whether you gather here in sadness or celebration – you are not here by mistake. You have been called here.
This is not a place of entertainment. It is a place of gathering. Nor is it a place of towing any line other than the one God leads you to tow, in all of your fullness of being.

This is also a place where the “difficult” will be apparent. Where you are asked to carry the message of our worship to others, inviting them, calling them to be part of the mission of gospel and social justice. It is a place for you to bring your burning desires and your commitment to work toward them, leading others – for so you are.

This is not a one direction “Way.” It is a path of Love and Justice, and like those refusing to be denied in this morning’s gospel or in those circled in prayer and worship outside the General Assembly, we are called to step up, speak up, and act.

That is both the Truth and the Joy.

Whatever you decide…whoever you are…and whoever you lead here…

We will stand with all in this sanctuary inside and the one outside, as well.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I remember being 19 and the night my brother was lost in a car accident. The next morning I awoke thinking, "What a terrible dream," only to suddenly be swept up in the reality of finding Michael was forever gone.

No one died last night at the plenary, but the reality is that a huge loss took place in the way of the 219th General Assembly and those who came here faithfully and prepared to have an open conversation about marriage. When I awoke this morning, I thought, "What a terrible dream," only to be rapidly filled with the familiar sickening disappointment of our community again being admonished by those who see us as "less than" because we are people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.

The vote to put off discussion of the amendments sent to the assembly by the dedicated and faithful work of the advocates, committee, and all those who have labored for more than two years to be ready to speak - the vote to put this off was more than a procedural maneuver. It was an act of violence, such as the gay (LGBT) community has come to know all too well from those who affirm their comfortability by denying the fullness of our lives, any way they can.

What took place last night is neither Christian nor loving. It was the act of desperation and fear by those who know this church is changing and are so fearful of the possible change - that they are willing to block the Spirit they claim so passionately to embrace.

Last night's actions to quiet the voice of those who the Spirit led here to speak have changed this morning's landscape to one littered with the broken facade of forbearance and decency. I do hope that none of the commissioners who voted to postpone the conversation ever experiences what they did to us last night. It was really that bad.

As before, let us continue to pursue the justice, once more denied us, praying for those who continue to oppress us, trusting in God even now.

We are not done.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

219th General Assembly Chooses Courage Over Fear

Simply, the 219th General Assembly has said, "Enough!" Again. The Assembly voted today at 4:48 PM Central Standard time by a margin of 53% in favor and 46% against to send Overture 06-09 to the presbyteries for ratification. The overture eliminates the language that has been used to prevent gay (LGBT) people to be ordained as leaders in the church. Yes, indeed, the Spirit is moving us forward, again!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We are in an amazing time of hours to go...

We are on the eve of the plenary of The General Assembly of the PC(USA) meeting to decide whether to agree with committees recommending broad changes that would welcome people who are gay (LGBT) into leadership and same gender loving couples into marriage.

This day, Wednesday, has been a time of reflection and hope, looking back over the last few days and over the entire arc of our history and faithful advocacy for equality, justice, and welcoming. Tomorrow, we pray that the plenary will forward the recommendations of the committees to the presbyteries for ratification.

What is exciting is that this General Assembly may astound the world in its broad embrace of God's creation in all of its wonder. Sometime ago, I heard Rick Ufford-Chase, former moderator of the General Assembly, talk about the rising motion toward a wave of change. He said that once the wave crests there is no stopping the change.

This wave of reform and hope and healing has been decades in the making. The world has been waiting since creation for the witness that is rushing toward it. Hold on...and pray with us. The wave may, indeed, be hours away.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Committee Votes in Favor of an Exciting God

There is an amazing energy on the edge of God's possibilities for us. It attracts folks from all places in all times. It is that: an attraction, a longing, a hopeful, resilient willingness to move more closely into the Presence of God.

For some this is a scary process. Who wouldn't be a bit unsettled moving more closely into the power and presence of God. For others, it is awesome and more. It is welcoming and sought after presence.

Perhaps the question of whether we are scared by God or excited by God may be at the heart of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) being held this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What scares you? What excites you? It seems that God does both to folks and welcomes both the frightened and the excited.

However, there is another group. A group that uses God in the name of God's awesome presence as fear - combining idolatry and abuse, in order to impose itself on others. Idolatry because it raises fear above God and an abuse because of the repercussions of such actions. A church that uses God or Scripture to exclude people who are gay (LGBT) is complicit in violence not faithful in loving.

Fear is how G-6.0106b got into the Book of Order in the first place. So, it makes sense that those who used fear to get it in - will use fear to keep it there.

It should not be that the excitement of God's unfolding Spirit in this world elicits the type of fear that pushes the Spirit back.

This afternoon, in the committee hearings on a change to the Book of Order that would remove the bar to ordaining leaders who are gay (LGBT) a vote was taken in favor of the exciting God. Overture 06-09 passed by a vote of 36-16-1.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It happened again...

Difficult, painful, misguided. No other way to describe the stream of "ex-gay" individuals who stand before the committee and offer their experience as representative of all folk who are gay (LGBT). Simply not true.

There's more than we see...

Monday, July 5, 2010 Testimony Before the Committee On G-6.0106b
THE amendment to the constitution used to restrict the ordination of folk for are LGBT.
Minneapolis, MN

Working as one among many.

A few minutes ago, personal statements began about whether people who are gay (LGBT) should be allowed to serve as church leaders, deacons, elders, and ministers. There are dozens of people who will speak for and against welcoming all to this church, living together as we still differ.

It's easy to wonder how we can ever work this out. Yet, how can we otherwise than try? If it were just left to us, I don't think we'd ever work it out. However, there is no reason to be a part of a church if we don't believe in something greater than ourselves, for many of us, that is God.

So, as we begin these hearings we live into that hope. If you pray, pray for us. If you don't pray, pray for us anyway. This division we seek to heal extends well beyond our borders.

More to come...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dear God: A troublemaker?

It was the day when Jesus healed the man by the pool: "stand up, pick up your mat, and walk." And, John concludes the section with: "It was the sabbath."

Healing on the sabbath. As good of a day as any. Oh, and a clear violation of the practice and teaching of the ruling priests and the law, as they knew it. They would use this against him, too.

Such a trouble-maker.

Dear God, help us to be more like Jesus in this way. Especially in this way...

We'd be in good company.

Friday, May 7, 2010

It is no longer about G-6.0106b...

Letter to the Editor of the Layman
Responding to: Stockton Presbytery Joins John Knox Complaint
[Re: Ordination of Scott Anderson]

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Not too long ago, the receptionist at our church called me late at night. There was someone in our foyer in hospital garb, slippers, and a catheter hanging from his arm. We came to find out that he had been in a local hospital for detoxification from alcohol and somewhere in the process simply disconnected himself from the IV and walked out, leaving everything behind. It was a cold night and he came directly to the church. He was pretty disoriented, but we got him some clothes from our clothing distribution room, food from our pantry, contacted the hospital, and got him help in removing the catheter from his arm. We kept him company, making little sense of his ramblings, but after a while, we convinced him to go to a local shelter and get some rest.

He is one of the hundreds we serve each month in our worship as outreach.

A few days later, I saw the gentleman at our weekly dinner program, where we serve almost 100 people a week who have either no food, no company, or no other place to go. I asked him how he was doing, and in conversation asked him what made him come to us when he left the hospital. Without missing a beat, his answer was: "It was where I knew I could find God." For him, on that night, God was a welcome, food, clothing, and help in finding a place to rest. His faith did, indeed, set him free.

It didn't matter that as the pastor of the church I am gay. In fact, being gay in the PC(USA) no longer matters any more than being straight does. People will argue about that, but we, as a church, have already deleted G-6.0106b. It's gone in our hearts and in practice. True, some still find comfort in the same kind of teachings that once held women and people of color to be second-class in God's eyes. However, the reality is that we already work together and serve God as a community of great diversity that includes gender identity fully.

I honestly do wish to continue to dialogue with those who disagree, because I believe they are being faithful in their own ways and we need to pray and talk together. However, those who are unable or unwilling to accept the truth that this artificial division between us is no longer valid cannot be allowed to prevent others who believe differently from full inclusion in this church. The lives of faithful people cannot be divided along gender identity any more than they can along the lines of the sexes or color.

In a short time, we will all gather in Minneapolis for our General Assembly. We will worship together, work together, share meals, cabs, and conversations. We will pray and seek God's will. And, the "we" will include many of us who identify themselves as gay, whether spoken aloud or not. We will agree and disagree. Sooner or later, it will be apparent that, in fact, G-6.0106b has been deleted in the way God has moved this church and its people. Sooner or later, the constitution will catch up. In the meantime, none of us can be held hostage by what we know in our hearts to be wrong.

Like the gentleman who found us on that cold night, there are too many people "seeking God" for us to deny any qualified candidate from ordination based on G-6.0106b.

Scott Anderson is clearly qualified to be ordained. To hold G-6.0106b against him or anyone else is to hold this church hostage to an aberration in our constitution. We no longer allow the few who still hold onto prejudices against women and people of color to hold us hostage to their beliefs, nor should we allow those who have yet to embrace the gay community to marginalize or exclude us.

It is no longer about G-6.0106b.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
Serving Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
New York, NY

Dear God: Namasthe

I hope today is a little different. I hope I am a little different. I pray that I slow down from the start. That's one of the reasons I write.

I ask that no one be invisible to me; that I don't move so fast; that I don't miss the presence of others; and the ways in which I might be able to help or just smile.

It never ceases to amaze me at the power and impact of a smile.

A little patience, more patience I should say, would also be appreciated.

Let nothing today have to be done so quickly that I miss remembering that you, in all the ways we know you, are in each of us. Let our spirits greet one another, and let us in return smile.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dear God: About Arizona...

To pray this morning and think that there are others who will be targets of legal and social marginalization because of how they look - must really cause you to wince.

I wonder if you wonder how long it will take for peoples and nations alike to see one another as the great creation of your Love: equal and part of the great fabric you have woven.

I wonder, too, how you consider the performance of your places of worship in speaking out against this and other forms of marginalization and oppression that serve no purpose except to satisfy the perverse satisfaction of fear-based control.

My prayers are with the people of Arizona, this morning, all of them - and for all of us, who need to put the pressure on - always - to eliminate such blatant forms of discrimination.

How could you have us do otherwise...

Appreciate your help in guiding us...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Life presevers and flare...

Delivered at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 2, 2010
(c)2010 Ray Bagnuolo

How would you Email God?

Recently even Dell has gotten an Email address. So I figured for sure, if Dell had one – God had one, too.

What would God’s Email address be?

Maybe more interesting would be the conversation…

and The Reply!

Annie Dillard [on the front cover of the bulletin] suggests that there might be reason to run for the hills:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return." (Teaching a Stone to Talk)

The author of today’s Unison Prayer, Aaron Zeitlin, suggest that it doesn’t matter whether you praise or curse God in your Emails or sing out God’s graces or revile God. Either way, God will know you love God. Based on what Zeitlin says, what you most need to be concerned with is:

…if you sit fenced off in your apathy, says God,
If you sit entrenched in, “I don’t give a hang,” says God,
If you look at the stars and yawn,
If you see suffering and don’t cry out,
If you don’t praise and don’t revile,
Then I created you in vain, says God.

Well, Annie and Aaron are not God’s spokesperson’s but they do make us think. What is the relationship we are to have with God, what does it mean, what does it call us to do, and what of being here in worship?

Michael Lindvall, who is the Senior Pastor at The Brick Presbyterian Church, says the following about worship in his book, The Geography of God:

Worship that does not make you anxious once and again
Worship that fails to stretch your mind and spirit to the edge of discomfort
Is something other than worship.

A little later on, Michael says,

“If you and I enter worship facing anywhere but toward God, the experience may please us, it may inform us, it may comfort us, but it will hardly transform us.”

Transformation, emerging…a NEW JERUSALEM.

There are so many books written about the transforming and emerging churches in the modern, post-modern, information age…

It’s almost like we are trying to get somewhere. If we just get the right formula: Done! Finito! Time to sit back.

Truth is we are not going to be emerged or transformed until we are stunned to one degree or another. Stunned into a moment of clarity and a psychic and spiritual change that is often referred to as the Aha! Moment. However, even that pales in describing what John of Patmos gives us in his visions.

Think of Picasso, Chagal, deKooning Van Gogh…think of Picasso’s Guernica, of Chagall’s American Windows, de Kooning’s Spoletto, or Van Gogh’s The Starry Night…

Visions of art, music, sound, cosmos, eschatological forbodance – all wrapped up in one series of dreams…

All emerging through the discomfort and unease of a Babylon and beast to the NEW JERUSALEM – now on Earth.

“The focus is now on Earth, since this heavenly city has descended to Earth. It is no longer necessary to raise one’s eyes to the sky to see God. Yes, to see a manifestation of God as in all creation, but God is now on Earth.

Where? Look around. This should make us a little uneasy…

And the emergence of God the touch of God is not in the temple – note: no temple has descended. Jesus is the temple. No building required.

Hold on, because the ride has changed. The rise and risk of transformation is happening…just as it has been from the day that out of his grace, not sacrifice, but out of his grace and fulfillment Jesus didn’t give up his life – he gave it away.

What are we giving away in this NEW JERUSALEM? Please keep your donations coming for our mission, because we need depend on it…but for a moment put the money aside. What are you giving away of you as worship in this place and presence of God?

Last night, I worked the desk. As I sat there, getting ready for today and directing folk to wherever they needed to go, a woman came in who could not get down the few steps into the foyer but not up the steps to the meeting she wished to go.

Another woman who was on her way to the meeting stopped to help her. Sat down, took out her meeting book, helped her find a more accessible meeting, asked her again if she would like to get some help to make it up the steps, and when the woman declined…the person helping her walked her outside, keeping her company as she went off to another meeting.

The person who helped the other gave away: her plans, her movement, her momentum, her thoughts of the moment to help another who needed some help. I cannot be convinced of that as being anything other than worship.

Recently, I was reading about Solomon’s Temple and his decline. The author spoke of how later in life, Solomon continued to acknowledge God as beyond human comprehension, but for Solomon and those who followed him, God because too identified with a place, made of human hands, a dynasty, and ultimately a city of oppression and injustice.”

Revelation. God is. God cannot be kept. Look around. Find worship, be worship.

John’s Gospel this morning goes further. Find the seek the relationship that Jesus had with God and enter into it as a disciple. Forget about perfection. Jesus acknowledged that betrayal was no reason for expulsion. Judas was not the only one who betrayed Jesus. While most dramatic, perhaps, so did Peter and so did all those who were not at the cross. And, still, the relationship between Jesus and God understood.

Sing out My graces, says God.
Raise your fist against Me and revile, says God,
Sing out graces or revile,
Reviling is also a kind of praise, says God.

Love one another as I have loved you…

Praise Me, says God, and I will know that you love me.
Curse Me, says God, and I will know that you love me.
Praise Me or Curse Me.
And I will know that you love me.

Love one another as I have loved you…

Email that to others…and hold on for the ride!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

There is no compromise…

These comments were offered today at our Easter service at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House.

The article referred to by Bob Herbert is from The New York Times, April 2, 2010 and can be found here:

Earlier this week in the New York Times, Bob Herbert wrote about a speech The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave on this day, April 4, 1967.

As Herbert describes it:

The great man was moving with what seemed like great reluctance. He knew as he climbed from the car in Upper Manhattan that he was stepping into the maelstrom, that there were powerful people who would not react kindly to what he had to say.

“I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight,” said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “because my conscience leaves me no other choice.”
King entered the Riverside Church and addressed more than 3,000 people gathered, telling them that silence in the face of the horror that was taking place in Vietnam amounted to a betrayal.

He warned: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Perhaps, in fact I think it is mostly true, that this is a silence of two places that are likely one: a fear of doing the wrong thing and the fear of being accused of doing the wrong thing.

So, we sometimes look elsewhere to more comfortable place, finding ourselves suspended in silence or engaged in protracted processes that postpone any chance for courage and change. We look back too far, too much. We look forward too far, too often. And we end up between the two – making distinctions that make no difference. Frozen, dismayed, discouraged; turning more and more toward isolation, observation, and inaction. In a word: fear.

I do believe Jesus must have had fear, but it did not drive him. He was guided by something more powerful.

In this morning’s gospel, when the women, the faithful women came to the tomb, the angel, the heart, the one who stood there said,

“I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here…”

In all the readings and worship that will take place around the world today, among the many messages one I think is clear: “Jesus is not in the tomb. Not then, not today. Don’t waste your time looking for him in such a place.”

As the women ran toward Galilee to tell the others what they had been told, suddenly Jesus was among them, “there in their path.”

The horror of silence that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed has been long shattered by this risen Jesus. The question is, do we believe that? And, if so what risks are we willing to take? How are we willing to speak out and act for others.

What drives us?

All week long, I have been meditating on a comment in Michale Lindvall’s book The Christian Life: A Geography of God in which he says that Jesus faced the choice of compromise or crucifix.

That lay heavily upon me all week, through Maundy Thursday and into Good Friday. On Friday, I had a chance to sit here in meditation from 12 – 3. I pretty much sat still all the time. I kept thinking that if Jesus could hang on the cross for those hours, it’s not such a big deal to sit here.

I let the thoughts come and go…and the “compromise or crucifix” came to mind. I knew Jesus didn’t compromise, but I am also not ready to be crucified. I kept thinking that in a world of negotiation are we supposed to compromise, when folks are hungry, out of work, marginalized, oppressed, and dehumanized.

Then the thought occurred to me that maybe it’s not we who are supposed to compromise.
If love is unconditional, and we come from the Love that we believe is God and Jesus in God and Spirit – that is enough to take this all to a new level, out of a place of negotiation to love.

It also occurs to me that love is a resurrection from a places of divisiveness and oppression – and is not compromisable. I may not always do it right – but that doesn’t change the truth – love can never be a compromise.

It is a path we follow. It is the one that Jesus led us to and promises to be beside us as this morning’s gospel reminds us.

There can be no place for silence when such joy is in our lives. “For were we silent, even the stones would call out!”

Love is a joy that surpasses the easy and the hard times, rooted in the Good News. It is the well of courage and action and, yes, God. But then, you know all that!

Mr. Herbert says later in his article on Dr. King, which by the way is titled, “We Still Don’t Hear Him…”

[Dr. King’s] bold stand seems all the more striking in today’s atmosphere, in which moral courage among the very prominent — the kind of courage that carries real risk — seems mostly to have disappeared.
Be that as it may, moral courage is not for the prominent. It is for us all. It is the balm that heals the horror of silence and leads us to the Risen Path of unconditional love.

May you find such Jesus, such God, in all the ways you know God – now!

Yes, he is risen indeed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Reponse to Scott Anderson's interview...

The following is a response to a recent interview of Scott Anderson by Janet Edwards on her blog A Time to Embrace:

Dear Janet,

Thanks for this interview and thanks to Scott for his dedication to the radical message of the gospel, made even more radical because we have moved so far from it in so many ways. I couldn't agree more about fighting, especially over Scripture. Still...

... if Jesus could flip the tables of the moneychangers on much more might he respond in the face of our sisters and brothers paying the price of exclusion and bearing the brunt of the complicity of a church in its teachings? Teachings that impact the broad society, and in this instance, foster marginalization and violence toward our sisters and brothers who are LGBT, all done in his name? I think the tables, at least, would fly again.

As I see it, for a church to be relevant, it must take the same risks that Jesus did, risks which ended up having him executed. We're not there, maybe never will be in taking such risks. But the path to such steadfast love is too often littered with the selfish needs of others. In this case, the needs seem to include a requisite comfortability with the LGBT community before we are fully embraced. So, the church accepts, as a matter of course, the destruction of others' lives until enough people are comfortable for a church, this church, to finally say, "Welcome."

I believe that it must be the church that leads the way, and not for the benefit of you, Scott, or me, really, but for all those who see this church as unwelcoming. For those we are turning away. How can we be who we say we are and continue such practices? How can our leadership from the local congregations to the moderator's office do anything other than publicly and unequivocally call for change now, letting others hear the voice we follow in so many ways? What on earth or in the heavens are we afraid of? Maybe, better question, what are we afraid of losing for speaking out with such conviction and risk?

This is not just about polity. It is about witness and about execution: an execution now being done by some in the name of Jesus.

That's got to be enough to turn some tables over...

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister Word and Sacrament
Ordained and openly gay in 2005
Serving Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
New York City
Board Member of More Light Presbyterians, speaking only for myself.