Saturday, December 22, 2012

Loving much

December 22, 2012

Dear Friends,

I heard one of the reporters say that the horrific loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the worst act of terror and violence we have experienced as a nation since 9/11. I don’t know how we measure such things, but I understood what the reporter meant. I understood because of the deep familiar feelings both evoked: shock, sorrow, grief, the inability to process any of it, and the desire, powerless as it initially feels, to help and change things – to hope we can change things. To believe it: we can change things.

Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling with being part of a society that could get to the point where this could happen. What have we done wrong? Where have we lost, whatever we have lost? And as a minister, I’ve been struggling to respond to the same questions and more that others have of us who serve. One answer that comes easily is that more violence and more guns is not the answer.

From there, not so easy…

I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and remember thinking that could never happen again, only to lose Robert and Martin a short time later.

I remember thinking after the murder of Matthew Shepard that no one could ever condone violence or homophobia again.

I remember the chaining and dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., sure that we would wake up to the inhumanity of racism, segregation, discrimination. Surely, after his death things would change.

And, I could add more…so could any of us. The prayer and hope we have is that out of tragedy some great change of heart and nation and world will come. Something will come of the pain and sorrow to honor those who suffered. Who continue to suffer…

The lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School have dulled me. It is the way of mourning, which I feel from this distance – far from being able to imagine the grief of the families and the community of Newtown during these days and those to come. We all now carry the loss of the children and adults with us. Distance, geographical or otherwise cannot be a balm to assuage our own sorrow. As hard as it may be to “stay close” in whatever ways we may – it is our responsibility to do so, or these lives lost will become part of what we once hoped for. That loss has already happened for the families. Let it not happen to us as a nation.

For many of us, this is a time when we remember the birth of a child who would live into and suffer his own great violence. As with so many traditions, the message he carried of peace, hope, resurrection, and a loving God was a radical one and a message that others sought to expunge, protecting their own interests and power. We face some of those same interests and powers now; those who seek to quiet what needs to be done, letting the news cycle add these lives to those too many lost before. Arming and protecting ourselves so that love becomes a quaint idea in an ever more violent world – is not an answer.

For me, this Christmas, especially, is a reminder that Jesus died loving us, knowing that he was loved, and promising the same to all of humanity. It occurs to me that the children and the lives lost in Newtown died loving, as well, filled with their joys and laughter, loving their families because they were loved by their families and their God. There is peace in that truth.

From there, we will all have to search our hearts about what we will do. As part of those seeking welcoming and inclusion in our church and this world for sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender – we know the violence and marginalization; we know the societal illnesses of others directed at us. We also know that our response has always been to love others, as difficult as that might be, to get to know one another, come together, and discover that what we share is greater than any of our differences. And it begins like that…

Whatever we may do to end the violence and change this society on broad local or national scales, whatever we may do to try and somehow honor the great loss of our family in Newtown and in countless other places, let us begin by loving each other. If there is reconciliation that has been put off – let it be embraced and healed. Let every prayer and act be an act of love and kindness. Even when we don’t get it right, the attempt itself is an act of love. From there, change will happen.

In our faith, we believe that God welcomes us home in the glory of true resurrection. We believe that all those who have left this world, however they have left this world, are embraced in Love and Joy and Wonder beyond our imaginings. They are now with the Child we remember at Christmas, helping us in a different way. A much needed way.

Let us ask God and them, in all the Love they are and all the ways we know God – to be with us and guide us this day and in all the days to come. We have much to do and we are not alone.

In this Spirit and embrace, with these thoughts, promises and more in our hearts, and loving you very much,

Merry Christmas from us all.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister Evangelist
That All May Freely Serve

Friday, December 21, 2012

Longest Night, Shortest Day

We pray into the darkness
seeking the light
Not expecting to find it…
Hoping that it finds us.
            In spite of us.

Shortest day, longest night:
But – only for us.

For the night it is just that. Night.
                                 And the light, is just light.

It is, in fact, about us.
It is we who call the shadows such, and ourselves lost.
It is we who call the light to us, declaring we are found.

Or are we just seen.

We see ourselves more easily in the shadows than the bright light overhead.
            The human condition?
                        More comfortable with our shortcomings than our gifts?

It is true. Shadows do show more of us than the light, at times.

Shortest day, longest night.

Maybe we miss the light in our sorrow and sadness. The malaise the angst.
Are we hurt – or afraid of being hurt – again.
Do we carry it all, the pain and sorrow, as a bulwark against fear, thinking:
“Surely, no more…”

And then, no matter how much we carry,
                        “there is more…”

Even the light is not welcome,
                For we cannot bear to see the children we have lost.
                           We lift the covers to protect ourselves,
                                   only to imprison ourselves in the sorrow; the sorrow without warmth

 Longest night, shortest day.

It is the time. The day. The juxtaposition of heavens…

There is talk of a child. The birth of the one we await.
There is no talk of this child without his full story coming to mind. 

We know the tale woven with truth,
the annunciation,
the leap in a womb,
a manger,
Stars, one special…
the wise folk, 3. 

A ruler calls for the death of newborns,
                                      Hoping “to get” the newborn

 Longest night, shortest day.
From the shadows of the stable, into the first light,
of his first day,
And we smile, because our hearts smile first.

 The heart that already knows the darkness and the light – chooses Love.
                  For it knows Love above all;
It was loved into being you know,
from the first day the first cell
beckoned the beats to follow.

 How the heart wonders, it must
                  When we will learn its song..
                            When we will resound with its song..

Still, it knows that the one born in the stable,
the Love,
will die a horrible death,
loving even as he died. 

Longest night, shortest day.
It is all about such Love.
There is nothing more to seek; whether lives are short or long.  

There is no other healing power
 more than the Love of God,
the Promise of Jesus,
the Spirit that understands not boundaries of shadows
nor light
nor anything else
– just Love.
It must be trusted, we know.
              We must trust this Love
                        that fears no shadows,
                              no cold, nor the heat of the hottest sun.

There is no balm other than this Love
              that makes longest nights and shortest days;
                           darkest shadows,
                           and brightest lights;
                                   deepest sorrow or most grievous of loss… 
                                                                                                       all pale in its midst.
There is no hope other than this Love and its forgiveness,
            its patience,
                    it gentleness
                      Even when we are not,
 and its eternal presence beyond the ways we count,
the eons we study;
          or the mysteries that engulf us. 

This is the Love --the Peace that exceeds all understanding, 

The Love that seeks us – now;
and is unrelenting. 
                                                           Give in the voice says,
                                                           maybe the heart
                                                                    maybe both.

Move with the Love that created universe and more,
              ask in this way:
Come, God;
Come, Love.
Come; Jesus and Spirit;
God and Wonder;
Counselor and Creator, Come… 

             or ask another way.

And wait; set fear aside;
                and wait.

We are in the advent of Love, always. 

An advent where shadows will lose ground;
 even brilliance will lose its shine;  

for Love will surpass it all. 

As it does now.
As it does always.
(c) Creative Commons 2012 Ray Bagnuolo

Friday, December 14, 2012

Even broken hearts can love...

Children. Five to ten years old.

I thought of my two nieces within those ages. Couldn’t imagine what it would be like to never see their smiles again, hear their wonderful giggles, look at them and be reminded why I still have hope. It’s always in the eyes of the child, you know. Hope. And, tonight, families in Newton, CT have had all this and more, lifetimes of promise, taken away on what was a mid-December Friday for all, and the next to last Friday before Christmas for many. It made it hard for me to even think of wrapping gifts for those nieces of mine; it made me feel like everything should just be canceled. Maybe if we stopped the holidays, maybe if we held our breath a little bit longer – the pain would lessen.

Truth is, there is no stopping the holidays and it feels as though there isn’t enough air to breathe right now, let alone hold my breath. And the pain, the pain I feel is nothing compared to our friends and their families, who with all of America mourn their loss.

Yes, as President Obama said, “Our hearts are broken.” Again. But, somehow more this time. Somehow, more.

I will not attempt to make sense of any of this. Truly, I haven’t a clue as to how I might do that. Without question, the one man who did this was terribly ill, and his actions beyond horrendous. The lives that were shattered today did not need to be broken any more than our hearts; yet, we all would take a broken heart and more to undo what has been done.

We know that once sleep finally comes for those who grieve - and with waking what was thought to be a nightmare is again real – we have to find ways to help. We need to. This is not voluntary; this need to help is from deep inside us.  And, honestly, each of us will have to find a path to be there in our own ways. Alone and together, we will need to find some response that embraces our greatest fears, so that those who suffer are not alone.

For those of us of a faith tradition, we will rely on community, prayer, readings, and other practices, knowing that these children and adults have been embraced in a special way by the loving God who grieves with us. Still, even with a deep and abiding faith, many of us will ask, “Why? Why, God?” I will be one of those who will lament with those words, as well as seek comfort for others and me in the God who knows what it is to lose a son -  and a son who knows the glory of resurrection in which these young ones and the adults who cared for them now find peace.

Our peace will come more slowly. Still, each of us can overcome the power of such sick acts by not letting the illness take us, as well. We can reach out and be present, if not to anyone in Newton, CT then to each other. We can care a bit more for the ones closest to us, the ones we otherwise would not see, those with whom we need reconciliation – or the ones we wish to avoid.

We can still love with our broken hearts, and it is the loving that will mend us and others.

It is the Love that many of us remember in Advent, as we await the birth of a child that has changed the world through the same power of God’s Love. It is the most important thing we have now, just as it always is – but, especially now. If we share it enough with one another, even these wounds will be bound up and healed. Yes, even these.

And then, however we can, we have to make sure this or anything like it ever happens again. Ever.  Love can do that, too.

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
December 14, 2012
Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, Stated Supply Pastor

Monday, September 24, 2012

Heaven Above or Hell Below? You say...

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
September 23, 2012
(c)2012 Ray Bagnuolo
pdf file
Readings: Psalm 1; Mark 9:30-37

On the eve of Yom Kippur...

One to two million tons of debris. That is the amount of debris that remains churning in the Pacific Ocean following the tsunami that hit Japan nearly 16 months ago. As recently as this week, the fifth piece of debris, a four by four foot plastic floating bin from one of the power plants arrived on the shore of Oahu. The rest is heading toward the shores of California, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Alaska, and elsewhere.

The good news is that only 1 to 5 percent of it all will ever reach our shores – the not so good news is that that will still account for up to 10,000 tons of debris.

Twenty or so billion pounds.

Try stopping that. Try stopping the massive destruction of any tsunami hitting a populated area. Think about just how powerless we are to so that. Natural disasters are only disasters to we humans and our possessions. To nature, well, they are just natural events – such as a gentle rainfall. For Nature, well – it’s all part of her nature.

Still, we humans do try to prepare for such events, we do all we can to protect ourselves and possessions with state of the art prediction and warning systems and models, programs, and advances in everything from architecture to evacuation techniques. We not only seek to prepare for the future – but to predict when the future preparations will be needed ---

All so we can survive. Or, control our survival. Which is sort of like controlling nature. A bit of insanity, some might say.
It’s not unlike the “soft” insanity we engage to distort the deeper reality of the loss of human life, the names and lives of those lost and those who care about them –by shifting the conversation to plastic bins and the debris of the tsunami –away from the people and the pain. We don’t like pain. It has become – as it always becomes what we do to try and distance ourselves from the reality of our humanity and mortality – a “numbers thing”: this many lives lost, this many plants destroyed; this amount of radiation let loose into the air; this amount of “debris” heading toward our shores. Numbers and distance.

Out of mind and sight. These are now events, out of the headlines, and about people and places, cultures and continents different and at a distance from ours. It might as well be another world, at times.

Some of the writing for this morning’s comments took place in a bit of another world, in the Apple Store in NYC, in the early morning community of the faithful, a 24 hour bazaar of techies, tech users, and tech wonderers. I did have a reason to be there, although I do admit that I sometimes go there for no reason, at all.

This time, I needed to get some functions on my phone updated and it was taking a while for everything to download. So I had an hour or so to wait and decided to do a little writing for this morning’s comments. It may seem strange to think about an Apple Store as being a place to write. Actually, aside from the hundreds of people floating about and the music that is just loud enough to be heard but not cover the sounds of voices, and the tables with no chairs – but hundreds of computers available for use, aside from all this an more – the energy and excitement can make it a fascinating place from which to write.

There were hundred of people milling about, in anticipation of something – an answer to a question? a revelation of how to use something? a discovery that would make lives more predictable and ultimately protected?

The words you hear most often strung together are: “Will it do this?” “Can it do this?” “Will I be able to do this?”

Will I be able to live forever?!

If such a thing is possible, surely it is in this place, amidst the blue-shirted Apple Geniuses and staff who are all around, each as different as the people who came to shop or wander. Glistening, gleaming steel and chrome highlighted designs, centering around a staircase that itself "centers up" from the selling floor to the world above on 5th Avenue.

Is it heaven below the surface and hell above – or is it the other way around.

Is it Dante’s Inferno, the Hotel California, Utopia – or just another store. No, really, its’ not just another store. J

And there is a calmness in the place, almost like the eerie calm that follows a storm – without the debris. No one is standing in shock in the Apple store, surprise, possibility, potential – yes; shock, destruction, debris - no.

But the absorption, the intensity, the “connection” is unmistakable and of the same root. Whether on the shore watching one’s live go out to sea only to become debris on another shore ---

Or whether leaning over the vista of gleaming technology and power about to be placed in your hand –

Both stir the human longing to find answers to questions such as of “Why?” “When?” “How?”

The problem with the longing, seeking answers to the longing – is that the answers are not externally based on a hard drive, operating system, or database. They are intrinsic questions about us, not what we can manipulate. Those are there, too, but these are the deeper ones. These are the questions internally woven into our DNA – these are the questions demanded by the Love that created us all and insists that Love be heard. Insists that God and Love be heard in our lives to know who we are and what we are called to do. It’s the connection. Not the Internet.

As I looked around the store, And, in this diverse place I ask myself the question...

So, pastor, what are you supposed to do? "What am I supposed to do here, below what may be heaven or hell or above what might be heaven or hell, on either surface -- what am I supposed to do to let everyone know how miniscule and unimportant the shifts in tectonic places or operating systems are compared to God's love and presence in our lives and the hopefulness and importance of serving one another to really know who you are and what your relationship with God calls you to do?

And the next question is one that refers to the inherent hubris in such a question: Who am I to think that any of these people need me -- or who am I to think that I know what any of these people need in their lives -- when there are times when I am not even sure what I need in mine?

There are times when I really do admire the courage of the street preachers. You know the ones. On the soap box, standing up in subways, calling people to God to repent. I wonder, “Am I supposed to do something like that here?”

“Ladies and gentlemen, Apple and tech lovers one and all, may I have your attention please…”

Then I shake my head.

Isn’t all of this in some way arrogant? To think that somehow I know what others need? Isn’t a little out of sorts to think that I (or any of us) can be first in leading others to heaven, fullness, completion, satisfaction, riches, --

Isn’t it sort of like being among the disciples in this morning’s readings, arguing about who will be first because they were the best of the disciples? Who will be #1?

It seems the desire for being number one in the first century already had its roots before we though we created the ad campaign or Sinatra sang the phrase…

And isn’t the message, the simple, humble, “unself” elevating command, the secret of living a faithful life as it always has been, as Jesus responded to the disciples jockeying for position:

If you wish to be first, you must be last. For it is in service to others, caring for other’s needs that the true heart and faithfulness are achieved. Be like the children, welcome them in my name (in words or in the quietness and actions of your heart) and you welcome the one who sent me. Welcome them and you welcome God. This is the message, the way, the path…

No matter what, love others; serve others. Even when the best you can do is to refrain from saying anything, letting go, forgiving from a distance…or being unsure of what to do. Love. Serve. Be still. And know God is.

So much of the confusion stems from the past; after what I have done how can it really be different; how can I be right with Go; maybe it’s just easier to speed up my wireless download speeds and hope for the best…

All kidding aside. What am I supposed to do? How do I get over the mistakes I’ve made, the times I’ve come up short, not taken the actions I’ve needed to help others or myself, been confused about when love and tough love are or aren’t, used the words I wished I hadn’t or kept silent the words I wished I had spoken…weren’t said.

On this eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the year for our Jewish sisters and brothers, the day on which Jews see themselves as closest to God and the quintessence of their own souls. Let us do the same.

Let us also pray the prayer of Yom Kippur asking for forgiveness and purification, being cleansed of our sins – those things that distance us from God.

Let us be like little children, washed of all we never needed to know or carry, and somehow let us be content with acceptance – acceptance of our limitations and the unlimited presence of God’s love in our lives.

Let us have no need to orchestrate events, but remember who the great conductor is and follow; listen as directed from the ancient and opening prayer of the Torah - Shema Ysrael

Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One

And as instructed by Jesus when questioned about what was the most important commandment of all:

To love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might and to love one another as you love yourselves.

And in so doing, in so remembering, we will know the one who has sent us all…and there’s a good chance that heaven or hell, tsunami or technology will not dissuade us from loving and serving one another – and for that being enough. Really enough. Welcoming the teachings of Jesus, being childlike, and, in so doing, welcoming the One who created us all. Could it really be that simple? Could it be? Could it?

You say…

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Be a Pray-er and the world may become more of a prayer...

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
July 22, 2012

Be a Pray-er
Sermon Notes - PDF File
© 2012 Ray Bagnuolo
Imagery is not always kind to the soul. Think about it, what could ever accurately reflect a soul, anyway?

Keeping up appearances, perceptions, to “show people” who you are, we are -- too often becomes a source of deception, instead. In the process, what is and is not real gets confused, lost, and blended in ways that can create the strangest of actions.

Aside from positive or negative campaigning, consider the way our nation receives the example of mental, spiritual, and physical help modeled by the presidential candidates.

As we approach the elections, the images of these folk will be even more carefully crafted than they have been, making it difficult to get to know people if all we watch or listen to are sound bites and commercials. And even if we do the work to research these folks more carefully – it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.

My comments today that flow from our gospel reading about Mark and are centered about rest and prayer, and how both are presented as a model or witness, if you like. Back to campaigning...

While prayer in this campaign seems to be more of a tag line “God Bless You! God Bless America! (forget the rest of the world) – a tag line that is generally accepted and being either a good thing or without any value as if everybody just sneezed!  – the image of rest produces an extreme response in the opposite direction. And play? Even worse.

You may remember the kerfuffle that Candidate Romney experienced over being seen jet- skiing with his wife; not a bad thing by any means – but considered a bad thing for a presidential candidate when the great majority of the country is under economic duress. It’s bad imagery.

Or remember the beer in the Rose Garde; the golf games; and such of the President.

These days, even the president, mindful of the images and their potential impact, canceled his annual vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, instead delivering a speech that forced him to address the dismal news of less than 80,000 new jobs being created in June.

What’s real what’s not. Please one side anger the other. Where are we supposed to go in our thinking, let alone our voting?

But really… When did family time or rest, within the budget you can afford, become a bad thing? When did it become something that came to mean being out of touch; a zealot; or just plain lazy?

It most likely has something to do with Americans wanting a “working president,” with few Americans really having any idea of what being the president entails  – and a sense of resentment by the many who have to work day in and day out – watching others who “seem to have it all;” as somehow better than they; seeming to have no idea of the extreme hardships of others - outside of sound-bites.

I guess we don’t want a president who looks like he or she is having fun – especially if we are having little fun. In fact, I think that is where the place of “anger” in these campaigns has found some of its footing. “How can they be enjoying themselves when we are so miserable?”

Or is it jealousy and greed, using the outsides of people and forgetting their insides. In the process we become superficial and caught up in the anger and the polarization and the nihilism, the sense that, well, everything is soon going to be shot to hell. And we all get angry!

Whatever it may be, it is unfair to expect presidents, presidential candidates, or any one of us to be a “working machine, living on the surface only, discounting time by looking for everything now – willing to trade down the future results of consistent, steady effort.

And the struggles and tragedies are real and daunting. The shooting in the theater in Colorado is real and, yes, somehow incrementally fostered by our society’s anger and divisions. Or so I think. And, we do have struggles and many of us do work more than one job to make ends meet, including the work to find a job or just get through a day.

Even so. Does that mean we don’t pray or rest? Is there any situation or condition that means we don’t rest? Meditate? Pray? I remember thinking as a kid that I had to be perfect in order to pray. Work hard to get to someplace where I could be “good.” As for rest, well it always seemed I had to do more or better, in work around home or studies in school.

With this in mind, the question for me today, from the fringes of Mark’s gospel, is “Am I a pray-er”?  Am I someone who rests, stops, prays, meditates – suspends, with practice – the noise around me. Drops below the surface, enters into the space that produces no products or calculable outcomes…but feeds me and guides me in who I really am in relation to God.

“Oh, I can’t stop! There’s too much to do!”
“I don’t have time to pray right now, maybe later.”
“I will be late…this is silly…I have too much on my mind…I am too worried.”
“I am too anxious to pray right now…”

Yet Paul in Philippians 4:6 says: “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, tell your requests to God in your every prayer and petition—with thanksgiving.”

Pause. Rest. Pray. Listen. Be guided. Be thankful.

In today’s reading of Mark, the passage is a familiar one about the feeding of the 5,000. It is, in fact, where our offertory response comes from. That passage is so familiar, that it overshadows the parts before and after –

Just before,
  • the disciples return from going out into the villages and communities spreading the Good News, returning they tell Jesus “all they had done and taught.” They had been working, cold-calling if you will – entering into places not always friendly, not always ready to listen and they had achieved some wondrous things. And Jesus’ first response according to Mark wasn’t “Great job!” It was compassion for these faithful disciples, whom he loved and who were exuberant and exhausted and Jesus says,
  • “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves (away from the crowds) and rest a while.”
Take a break. You deserve it. You need it. There is more to do, but first, eat, rest, pray.

And still the crowds pursued them, so much so that by the time Jesus and the disciples got to the other side of the lake, the crowds had rushed there to be with them, in their presence. And Jesus had compassion on the lost souls and taught them, fed them, and in the end collected more food than they had started with, for the generosity of those present began to flow…and there was abundance for all.

And when they had finished, Jesus “immediately” made his disciples get into the boat and go on to the other side to Bethsaida to rest, while he remained with the crowds so that they could get away for a while.

There is an expression in 12 step meetings that hinges on the word “HALT.” It means that if you are starting to feel anxious, nervous, troubled, or tempted to do something you don’t want to do…stop. HALT! Get away from the situation for a minute or two and think about whether you are:

Lonely or

Because one or more of those conditions can “change your thinking and behavior” just as they can impair your health, well-being, or interaction with others.

It seems Jesus knew this and part of his teachings, in fact much of his teachings intersect and interconnect with each of these time and again.

Eat. Rest. Pray. Listen. Be guided. Be with others in rest. Prayer. Compassion.

These things, too, are teachings of Jesus.

Above all, Jesus emphasized the personal aspect of prayer with God, so intimiately that he referred to God as Abba.

And he taught this to us.
When you pray, don’t pray in fancy, public ways for everyone to see. Pray behind closed doors to God: “do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your God in secret. And God, who sees all in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6: 1-4

In other words however you pray, however your prayer develops changes and grows, or even forms into moments and times of silence…it’s just fine.

In other words, public worship such as this brings us together and is important, just as the disciples came and rested and prayed together, but so too important is the quiet place between you and God, where we can be heard and listen and be guided. Refreshed, reconnected, and feel God’s love.

No showcases here. No carefully crafted images to spin opinion or perception. Just real, deep, uncertain -  Rest and Prayer. Prayer and Rest.

There will be plenty to do when done resting and praying, and the plenty will be better done once we are rested and filled with prayer.

Simply put: Be a pray-er and life will become ever nearer to being a prayer.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Overture Advocates for the Marriage Amendment: Audio

7/2/12 - GA220 Overture Advocates on Marriage Amendment

Advocate               Start time
Scott Clark:           0:06
David Kingsley:      5:50
Myra Kazanjian:    10:04
Andrew Stehlik:     15:57
Lara Marsh:           20:20
Ray Bagnuolo:       24:12
End:       26:04

Friday, July 6, 2012

GA220: A Display of Rainbow Grace!

I know. We ended up this assembly with ANOTHER STUDY. True. But what continues to be most amazing about this assembly is not the outcome but the demonstration, the promise of what is to come.

Think about what happened here. We had a vice moderator who resigned because of pressure she received for marrying a lesbian couple. We cringed at how she was treated. And, at a meeting to process the swirl of rumor and fact that surrounded her stepping down, ministers stood up and identified themselves openly as having performed same gender weddings. Ruth Hamilton, David Ensign, Mieke Vandersall, and I made it clear that we, too, conducted and will continue to conduct these marriage in states where they are legal - as being faithful to our ordination vows.

Others will follow as we simply refuse to accept the injustice. More will come...

Rev. Ruth Hamilton, a commissioner to the GA from National Capital, in a powerful statement from the plenary floor called others to COME OUT and identify themselves, their churches, and councils as having been part of the growing number of ministers and churches marrying same gender couples.

Looking for prophetic voices?  We haven't heard anything yet!

I don't know if you remember, but to get someone to even whisper such things in the not too distant past was almost impossible except for a very few. And they often found themselves quickly charged. It seems such threats, whether based in polity or out of efforts at intimidation have lost their salt. 

And, consider that it was at the last assembly that we passed Amendment 10-A that is now ratified and in our Book of Order. We are now ordaining pastors who would have been kept out with G-6.0106b, just two years ago. And today, at the very next general assembly we are in the process of bringing marriage equality to a mainline protestant denomination - the PC(USA). 

Yes, we are behind...but we are catching up in a hurry.

I can't help think about how many years it took to get G-6.0106b out of the Book of Order.  

And marriage? 

Remember, it was at the last general assembly that a parliamentary procedure was used to prevent marriage from even being discussed. We never even got to talk about it, following the exceptional report compiled by the marriage committee. And this year we not only get the amendment to the floor of the presbytery, we come back and nearly pass an amendment to change the constitution to become more welcoming for same gender couples in marriage with a margin of less than 5% separating the voltes: 308 - 338! 

And! In the process of getting to this vote, the commissioners turned back two minority reports, did not limit debate, and dismissed a series of claims about whether or not the amendment was even in order. What followed was more than a four hour conversation on the lives of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - those who love them, their pastors and families, and what this church is not doing to make us as welcome and safe as we all should be as baptized sisters and brothers. 

The evidence of grace is everywhere. I truly believe that every minute every single person who ever worked for justice and love in this church for the LGBT community is building to critical mass. Call it a crest, a tipping point, an emergence, or the Holy Spirit - it is happening and we have a terrific community building in numbers and strength to take us forward. Just take a look at the YAD's, TSAD's, and others - who even in disagreement came together. Courage, too, was on display.

Yes, there was some snarky stuff that happened, the comments that took the air out of the room, the extreme anger and ignorance that surfaced here and there, not to mention the treatment of the Tara and Neal. It was on display for more and more people to see just what we face all too often - and what no one should ever face in the church, any church, especially not this church.

I also have to mention the powerful sermons of The Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget and Elder Tony De La Rosa, with thanks to Cindy Bolbach for bringing their message to us all. My friend Joe Gilmore, the pastor of South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, NY once told me that he often thought of God pacing the horizon, waiting, waiting for us to catch up. We're on our way God, on out way...and we've got a rainbow scarves around our necks, flowing in the wind!

I came here expecting to leave with it all. And, honestly, we will leave with more than we expected -- and work to do.

Thank you all for your hard work and faithfulness in staying true to this call. We have only just begun, and the clock to the 221st General Assembly has already started. 

In all the ways you may know God, give thanks - as I do for each and every one of you.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Elusive Courage: GA220 Presses Leadership

A disclaimer of sorts...

The caution in writing about things that are "observed" is that such perceptions fall short of knowing what actually caused the observable event.

Yesterday's resignation of the General Assembly's Vice Moderator the Rev. Tara Spuhler McCabe was seen by many. The events that led up her stepping down are known to a very few. I have no inside information, just an inside response. I have my observations and my perceptions based on what I saw and what I read. I have these reactions within the context of the last six days of being at GA, but in the end these comments are intuitive and subjective.

Tara's resignation is in the middle, in this sense: behind Tara is all that led to her decision. Before her are all of us receiving her choice. Her action most likely satisfies the desire of the General Assembly to conduct the business of the church decently and in order. In many ways, her resignation was a business decision, as well as a pastoral choice. I say this because within minutes she had resigned, the name of a new vice moderator was offered, and the assembly was back on track. That is until a commissioner stood and asked this Christian body, "What just happened here? Are there any feelings of compassion or the need for some of us shocked by this decision to have some voice, some discussion..." The answer to that was no, by a vote of 232-233-17. We needed to vote to talk to one another as part of the human and church story that had just been exploded upon us. Our own pastoral care toward one another had slipped away, for the moment. 

And some of us remained silent.

Remember I said this is about my perceptions, and to me, it appeared that the leadership of this church "for the good of the body" exerted its power to chill us all down so that we could move forward. For those observing, many believed this was a good thing. Others, like me, disagreed. And it seemed that the overnight hours produced reflection that prompted a set-aside of fifteen minutes after lunch today for a "speak out." We will see how that goes.

For now, though, I have two things on my mind that might be described as the difference between what I hope for and what has happened, so far.

And, here, another clarifier. These General Assemblies tend to intensify everything. Thousands brought together in limited spaces and times with packed agendas and work to be done. It is a time every two years when those seeking entrenchment or change sit across from one another, too often dig their feet in and argue with passion and little openness for compromise. Yes, all too familiar.

Yet there are also here the signs of remarkable change and movement. It is amazing, for example, that in our time we have stepped beyond the discriminatory boundaries on ordination for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) folk, and we now seek a constitutional change for marriage equality in the Presbyterian Church(USA). The cumulative effect of more than forty years of sacrifice and work by thousands to welcome folk who are LGBT into the leadership of the church has changed this church.

Considering all that has been reformed around welcoming the LGBT community, it is not surprising that there are forces in our church represented here that will attempt to roll back such changes. Where that is not possible, these forces will create an entrenched presence to stop the church from any further advance in welcoming our community.

In small spaces and with limited timeframes to influence outcomes, some segments of the opposition become over zealous. The "pushbacks" can become so hurtful, un-Christian, and so pernicious that they obscure the loving embrace of the great majority of this church. There is an incredible cloud of witnesses here, witnesses who, whether in agreement or disagreement, have not forgotten who we are, whose we are, and how we are called to love one another. This is not about us who are such witnesses.

This is about our work. It is in this space and time that we are called to serve. And it is not easy. And, courage is sometimes elusive. Yesterday's resignation of the vice moderator spoke volumes for me about the shortcomings of love, patience, and understanding in our leadership and the void in courage it created. In the vice moderator's statement of resignation, she stated that she did not want to become a distraction to the work of the church. I am of the opinion the the "distraction" and that which causes it is, in fact, the work of this assembly, this church, our communities, our country, and our world. Our great desire to be macro-oriented in the work of the church has had the creeping effect of dwindling us into a limited, brittle, and fractured institution attempting to control outcomes, confusing courage and acquiescence. Therein lies much of our decline. It is self-imposed.

The resignation of Tara McCabe Spuhler was not the outcome of disagreement in theology, polity implications, or pastoral care. She signed the marriage license for a same gender loving couple. We all knew that before the assembly and Tara addressed it directly in her comments in the nominating process. And we elected her and a moderator who disagreed with her action but respected her decision of conscience and pastoral care in the matter. As a diverse church, we embraced that tension in the shared leadership role of the the moderator and vice moderator. Many of us hoped it might reflect a model for how we could grow more united, even with our differences in many areas.

No, the resignation was the result of bullying and the decision of the leadership not to stand up to the bullies. We chose the order of the church and its business over one another. And no one on the leadership team stood to say, "No."

Martin Niemöller"s words come to mind: "First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me." 

Seventeen abstentions did not speak...

I admit it. I have long hoped for leadership in our church made up of leaders who would stand and speak out against the bullying that has poisoned our process, even if it meant that their jobs were at risk. Yesterday, the opportunity to do so slipped away.

  • I wonder what it might have been like yesterday if the moderator had said, "No." 
  • I wonder what today might have been like had this church stood up against the forces that now pervade us, causing us to cower and cave. 
  • wonder what tomorrow and this witness might have been like for those who day in and out experience the impact of the bullies in our world.
  • What might it have been like had this assembly stood up to our own bullies, even if our jobs were at risk.
It did cause at least one person their elected position. But more, it caused us to be seen as elevating bullies in the Church of Jesus Christ, instead of saying get thee behind us...

Yesterday proved how, once again, courage will always be elusive unless we have the courage to say, "No." Yesterday, those who bully - not all those who disagree and love one another - but those who bully won the day.

Perhaps had their actions been a table in a temple we would have overturned it. One can still hope.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day 2012 - In my own words...

In my own words…
On May 29, 2009, Jan Hus Presbyterian Church gathered in worship to observe Memorial Day. In this bulletin, the readings have been taken from that day’s order of worship (during which they were read) for our own reflections over this Memorial Day 2012 weekend.
Today as then, in remembering those who have served this nation and are currently on active duty or in reserves, we also challenge the practice of war, it morality, effectiveness, and the remoteness that makes it too easy to forget. We see war as pandemic, its “easy access” too quickly ready to be used to resolve conflict. War is not a uniquely American phenomenon. It landed on our shores as the first inhabitants of the Americas once did; carrying forth traditions of violence we struggle to end today – once and for all.
Standing in opposition to war, recognizing the impact it has on all peoples and nations should never be an indictment of those who place themselves in danger for their country. Rather, we should see those in the armed forces as sacrificing for our inability to peacefully co-exist on this planet. 
Today, we honor and thank all those who have placed themselves in harm’s way as the result of our own shortcomings in making peace on this shared Earth. We pray and work and protest toward a time when their sacrifices will no longer be required. In the meantime, we thank and pray for them all, asking their forgiveness for us and our inability, as yet, to have found a better way. The best we can do to honor all those we remember, is to end war, once and for all, in their names and in the names of all who have loved them.  
~Ray Bagnuolo, Stated Supply Pastor;
Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House;

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Courage in The Redwoods

TV Link KTVU Channel 2

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Presbytery of the Redwoods took a stand on Tuesday morning. They really took a stand. Rather than accepting the ruling of the GAPJC and its rebuke of The Rev. Dr. Janie Adams Spahr for marrying same gender loving couples during the time in California when such weddings were legal -- rather than sitting quietly while one of their own was censured -- they opposed the rebuke.

Yes. They opposed the rebuke; by a vote of 74 to 18, the Presbytery stood with Janie. They stood with the minister who has been a part of the presbytery for more than 38 years. They stood with one another and with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community and by their action said what the courts did not say: The church is wrong; we support our minister and really mean it when we say that all are welcome here. We accept responsibility for the actions of our minister; we stand with her. If you have any questions about this, see us. Leave her alone. She and our other pastors have work to do.

In this unprecedented action, something has shifted in this church. Something has been put into motion that is hard to know at this point, but will surely have an impact in our efforts to continue the work of a building a fully welcoming church for all in the PC(USA). 

By this action, The Presbytery of the Redwoods has invited other councils and presbyteries to do the same. They have invited churches and governing bodies to pass their own statements of support for this presbytery; statements that affirm full pastoral care and inclusion of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community in the work and worship of this church under the care of its ministers. Statements that say enough with scapegoating our LGBT community; enough of the inherent violence in these trials and rebukes. It's time for this to change. Enough. It's time to get back to who we really are as loving Christians, loving one another -- in word and action.

Thank you to all in The Presbytery of the Redwoods for stepping up in this most important of ways.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Response to Presbyterian Outlook - May 4, 2012
A way forward together...

Lisa Larges' faithfulness to her call has carried us all through the entire judiciary and legislative process that brings us to this time and place of hope and welcoming for all. For more than twenty years, she has been steadfast in loving and serving this church. Long ago, Lisa agreed to say "Yes" to the call that many reading this will understand. She said, "Yes" and then lived into the mystery of God’s path that now meets the broader highway, clearing the way so that others may freely serve. 

The notion that this is a "victory" can only be embraced by those who misunderstand that Lisa's deep and abiding love for others was never divided the way some have tried to divide this church. This journey was and continues to be about healing an unjust and broken church that through its exclusion of sisters and brothers who were Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) - excluded a portion of God. 

In the ruling of the GAPJC, it was clear that there is still disagreement about whether folks like Lisa (and me) who identify themselves as LGBT should be ordained. Yet, in a hopeful and Christian response, a very Presbyterian embrace of mutual forbearance and the historical traditions of this church, the commissioners' ruling made it clear that we can disagree and move forward without creating distance between us. We can trust God into this time of healing and reaching out to one another. 

It is for these any many other reasons that I started out by saying that this decision creates an opportunity for all of us to live more lovingly and fully into welcoming all. The courage of the commissioners to reach the unanimous and honest decision that they did is a call to us all that this, like other great shifts in the history of our church, signals a time to move forward...together.

As for the title of this piece, “Court clears way for Larges’ ordination” - while the court provided the response, it is God who clears the way. Just as God is now clearing the way for Lisa’s next call.

Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, Stated Supply Pastor
Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
New York City

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Read about this weekend's
Shelter of Peace and Weekend of Prayer and Learning

Shelter of Peace website:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Remembering Martin's Life and Message

“So Precious that you will Die for It”
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From sermon at Ebenezer, November 5, 1967

     I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live. You may be thirty-eight years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot at you or bomb your house. So you refuse to take the stand, Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at thirty-eight as you would be at ninety. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice…

     Don’t ever think that you’re by yourself. Go on to jail if necessary, but you never go alone. Take a stand for that which is right, and the world may misunderstand you, and criticize you. But you never go alone, for somewhere I read that one with God is a majority. And God has a way of transforming a minority into a majority. Walk with [God] this morning and believe in [God] and do what is right, and [God will] be with you even until the consummation of the ages. Yes, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul, but I heard the voice of Jesus saying, still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968