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...