Bishop Miller (Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee) urges clergy and laity to support Senate action on gun control

Here”s his letter to the Diocese:

June 17, 2016

Dear Friends in Christ,

Yesterday the members of Bishops United had our monthly phone conference. Our discussion had a renewed sense of urgency because of the Orlando Shootings and renewed efforts to pass common sense gun legislation by member of the Senate.

If you haven’t had a chance to keep up with recent developments, including Senator Christopher Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster that stretched until about 2 am and produced an agreement to get gun violence prevention legislation onto the floor of the Senate, here’s an New York Times story with details: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/17/us/politics/senate-filibuster-gun-control.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

This is perhaps the best opportunity we have had since the defeat of Mancin-Toomey to move gun violence prevention legislation forward a peg or two on the federal level. The horrific massacre in Orlando has changed the climate in which this legislation will be considered.

Today, I write you to ask to contact Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin before Monday at noon asking them to support legislation that will

  • Make it illegal for people convicted of violent hate crimes to buy or possess guns
  • Make it illegal for suspected terrorists to legally buy guns
  • Require a background check for every gun sale, no matter where you buy a gun or who you buy it from

In particular what we are asking is for Congress to pass what is being referred to as Brady Bill 2.0, (S 2934) which would require a background check for any gun purchase and S 551, which would prohibit individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying weapons. (The shorthand here is No Fly, No Buy.)

There are a number of ways to find your senators’ contact information. Here, for instance, is a directory of phone numbers and links to email forms: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/ However, probably the best way to be in touch with senators is through the website of one of the large gun violence prevention groups such as the Brady Campaign: http://www.bradycampaign.org/close-the-terror-gap-tell-senate-to-vote-yes-on-brady-bill-20-terror-gap-bill or Everytown: http://act.everytown.org/sign/orlando-congress-petition/?source=etno_ETHomepage&utm_source=et_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=ETHomepage.

Both of these pages provide a little coaching instructions for those who would find that helpful. One of the advantages of placing the call with the assistance of the Brady Campaign or Everytown websites is that they are able to estimate the volume of calls they have generated, and those numbers, if they are large enough, can help to change wavering senators’  minds. Additionally, you can sign up for text alerts so you know when it might be helpful to make another call.

If you find that a senator’s voice mail or inbox is full, you can fax them at:  https://faxzero.com/fax_senate.php.  You can call one of the senator’s offices in your state during office hours.

One important point: it doesn’t matter whether you already know how your senator is going to vote on these bills. Volume is important. So please be in touch with those who are co-sponsoring the bills (to thank them) and those who will never vote for it (just so they will know you are out there).

Thank you for joining me in this important work.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller

Bishop of Milwaukee

 

“And God is gay”: A new poem by Carol Duffy in the wake of Orlando

This writer is gay,
and the priest, in the old love of his church,
kneeling to pray.
The farmer is gay, baling the gold hay
out in the fields,
and the teacher, cycling to school each day.
The politician is gay,
though he fears to say,
knotting his tongue, his tie;
and the doctor is gay,
taking your human pulse in her calm way.
The scientist is gay,
folding the origami of DNA,
and the judge, in his grey wig, is gay.
The actress is gay,
spotlit in the smash-hit play;
the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,
our children, are gay.
And God is gay.

source: The Guardian

Praying for America in a time of hate and fear

I’m on vacation this week but I’ve been horrified by the Orlando massacre and felt helpless and impotent. That a deeply troubled young man, suspected of sympathizing with terrorism, can easily purchase weapons and express his anger by killing dozens, is beyond my comprehension. That his actions will contribute to the spiral of hate, fear and violence in which we’ve found ourselves over the last fifteen years leads me to despair and lament.

What can I as a religious leader do? The ritualized response of politicians, clergy, and ordinary people expressing their “thoughts and prayers” is vacuous in the face of collective belief in the redemptive power of violence and our national worship of guns.  

When I heard that Franklin Graham was coming to Madison, I wanted to offer an alternative witness to his vision for America and Christianity. Bearing witness to that alternative is even more important now in the wake of Orlando, in the context of the presidential campaign, and the hatred and fear that consume us.

 
Tomorrow, Franklin Graham will bring his “Decision America” tour to Madison, the latest stop on his tour of all 50 state capitals in 2016. He will lead a rally on Capitol Square to urge Christians to pray for the United States to return to Christian values. Graham is the son of renowned Evangelist Billy Graham but his tour is much more similar to the tactics and message of the late Jerry Falwell than of his father. In recent months, Franklin Graham has advocated a ban on Muslims traveling to the US as well as the internment of Muslim citizens. He has gone further to suggest stopping all immigration to the US. He is a vocal supporter of North Carolina’s HB 2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” which forces transgendered persons to use the restrooms of their birth gender.  

Graham claims his tour is non-partisan (he resigned from the Republican Party last year) but most of his political positions conform to the positions of the most conservative of Republicans. Graham also asserts that his goal is to bring America back to the Christian values on which it was founded. There is no evidence to support his claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, and even if that were the case, we live now in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. Christians must welcome members of other religions and no religion into the public square. Sadly, in the so-called Christian values that Graham advocates, there is klittle that is in keeping with the biblical tradition, the teachings of Jesus or the ethical perspectives of traditional Christianity. 

I do agree with Graham on one matter. Our nation needs our prayers. We live in a deeply divided culture with a fractured political system. We face significant problems as a nation, a state, and city that require creativity, hard work, cooperation, and sacrifice to address. I hope to join with my Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish brothers and sisters to pray for a nation in which all are welcome, all religious traditions are allowed free expression, and where all people, of every national origin, whether heterosexual or LGBTQ, of every religion or no religion, can find a home, a welcome community, and an opportunity to flourish as human beings. I am praying for that vision of America to become a reality and I pledge to join with others who share that vision, of any religion or no religion, to work for its realization. 

Neighbors in Faith: An Interfaith Response to Franklin Graham’s Decision America Tour

On June 15, Rev. Franklin Graham brings his “Decision America” tour to Madison, the latest stop on his nationwide tour of all 50 state capitals in this election year. Graham’s website states the following about his motives:

“I’m going to every state in our country to challenge Christians to live out their

faith at home, in public and at the ballot box—and I will share the Gospel.”

While we agree with the challenge to Christians to live out their faith and to share the gospel, we fear that the vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of America that Graham wants to share has very little in common with the diverse and multicultural nation in which we live.

As Rev. Graham rallies with his supporters on one corner of Capitol Square, we invite you to join us for a very different gathering at Grace Episcopal Church (116 W. Washington Ave.) where Jews, Muslims, and Christians will come together to pray for peace, civility, and the common good, and will share a vision for an America that welcomes people from every nation and religious tradition (as well as those of no religion) and where all people can thrive and pursue happiness.

Our speakers will include Rev. Stephen Marsh, Pastor of Lake Edge Lutheran Church, Rabbi Jonathan Baitch of Temple Beth El, Rabbi Bonnie Margulis of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and Sheik Alhagie Jallow, of the Madinah Community Center (Muslim).

The Facebook event is here.

 

Jesus, Elijah, and the Hebrew Prophetic Tradition. A sermon for Proper 4, Year C

As we enter this long stretch of Ordinary Time that extends right up to the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I think it would be helpful to give offer you an overview of where our lectionary readings will take us over the next several months. We are in Year C of the lectionary cycle, so we are focusing this year on the Gospel of Luke. And today, we finally return to that gospel—we haven’t read from it since Holy Week and Easter, when we read the whole of the story of Jesus’ last days, his arrest, trial and crucifixion, on Palm Sunday, and read the story of his resurrection at Easter. Our readings since then have come from the Gospel of John. Continue reading

The Evangelism of Sacred Space

I’ll be taking a sabbatical this fall! Here’s the full text of my communication to members of Grace Church concerning my plans:

 

May 24, 2016, The Commemoration of Jackson Kemper, First Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church, First Bishop of Wisconsin, and first Episcopal clergy to lead services in Madison Wisconsin (1839)

At its meeting on May 11, the Vestry of Grace Church approved my sabbatical leave for October 23-November 27, 2016. My letter of agreement with Grace provides for a week’s sabbatical leave for every year of service and each year our operating budget sets aside one week’s salary and benefits for a sabbatical fund that will be used to defray my expenses. The letter of agreement also specifies that my sabbatical be taken after 5 years of service. I delayed it because of our work on the master plan, capital campaign and renovation. Sabbaticals are intended to offer clergy the opportunity to reflect on their ministry and develop new or enhanced skills or expertise.

During my sabbatical, I hope to lay the groundwork for the next phase of common ministry. I will explore a series of interrelated issues. First, we live in a rapidly changing religious landscape. With the increased presence of non-Christian religions and especially the rise of the so-called “nones” (those who identify themselves as having no religious commitment or affiliation), and the decline of mainline denominations, the future shape of denominations like the Episcopal Church or local congregations like Grace will be transformed. Second, as our society becomes more diverse ethnically and racially, how do we create communities that embrace this diversity and how do we reach out across the deep racial and socio-economic divisions in our city? Third, I’m intrigued by the ways in which sacred space can become a means for outreach and community building. The beauty of our courtyard garden or an encounter with the silence and grandeur of our nave can become experiences of the divine. To bring these three issues together, my sabbatical project is tentatively entitled: “The Evangelism of Sacred Space.”

To that end, I will spend my sabbatical to visit churches in other urban areas that are especially effective in developing creative ministries for our current religious context. My travels will take me to Washington, DC., New York City, Cambridge, MA, as well as to the Pacific Northwest. Included in my time away will be a retreat at the Society for St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge and the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in San Antonio.

I anticipate learning a great deal about how churches are engaging with their neighborhoods and responding creatively to our changing religious landscape, and I hope that ideas and processes I encounter can be adapted for our ministry and mission here at Grace. In addition to planning my travels, I am also making plans to provide for pastoral care and worship during my absence. I hope to be able to share those plans with the congregation by the end of June. I give thanks to God for all we’ve accomplished over the last seven years and for our continuing shared ministry.

God’s playful delight: A Sermon for Trinity Sunday, 2016

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is also the day when we mark the end of our program year. At our 10:00 service, some of our children and youth will be assisting in the service in more expansive ways than is typical. They will read the lessons, serve as ushers, and be Eucharistic Ministers. We will also recognize all of the volunteers and leaders who work so hard throughout the year to make our Christian formation program a success.

We do these things on this day because the church tends to follow roughly, the academic year and with graduations occurring at UW and the high schools in these last weeks of May, and many of us looking forward to travel plans this summer, the pace of life at Grace will begin to slow. That’s a welcome development after all of the hard work and excitement that we’ve experienced over the last few years.

Still, not everything will come to an end. Even as we mark the ending of our program year, other activities are ramping up. The long moribund Outreach Committee has been re-invigorated and will have its initial meeting after the 10:00 service today. This summer will be a time when we plan carefully and lay the groundwork for some new programs and new ministries that we hope to roll out in the fall.

While all of this is going on, it’s actually remarkably fitting that we reflect a bit on the Trinity today. This is the one Sunday in our liturgical year when we focus on one of the doctrines of our faith. In many ways, the Trinity is that element of our faith that distinguishes us most clearly from our monotheistic brothers and sisters in Judaism and Islam. For while we agree with them on the central confession that God is one, for us Christians, the Trinity is our effort to explain and understand how we experience and know God, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as well as God in Godself, and how the threeness of God relates to the one-ness of God.

I’m not going to try to explain the Trinity to you—it would take much more than the 10 or 12 minutes available to me in a Sunday sermon. Instead, I would like to explore a little bit some of the implications for our faith and shared life of this belief that God is three in one. I would like to focus on two elements in this, first, that inherent in God is community, fellowship. And second, that God is creative, that God’s power and love flow out of Godself into the world and into us.

First, that God is, by nature, a God who seeks and is community. Just as we rejoice when we welcome and recognize the gifts and talents of the younger members of our community, just as we celebrate the presence among us of people from diverse backgrounds, just as we embrace strangers and visitors, the life we share in community is a reflection of and witness to the life of the God who is One in Three, unity in trinity. And as our gospel reading reminds us. The ongoing life we share is a life in which we experience God’s continuing presence and guidance, and that the questions and struggles we face as a community are resolved through the Holy Spirit’s continuing presence and leadership among us. The gospel reminds us that that our struggles to be faithful, our doubts, uncertainties, our conflicts are overcome when we listen to each other, listen to the Holy Spirit, and discern the movement of God among us. When we do that, the future opens up in all of its possibility and creativity, and we move forward in ways we cannot imagine on our own. We experience the creative power of God at work in and through us.

Indeed, at the heart of the Trinity is creativity, creativity that flows out into the universe, flows out into us. We see that creativity at work and at play in today’s reading from Proverbs. The reading from Proverbs is a poem of Wisdom. Wisdom, personified here as female is speaking:

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

“On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out.”

We may find it hard to imagine Lady Wisdom taking her stand at the crossroads, beside the gates of the town. Such imagery may bring to mind the sort of protests of which we are familiar around here, but that’s a little misleading. In the biblical tradition, the city gates or portal was the place where justice was meted out; where injustice was decried and people who had been wronged received their due. The crossroads or marketplace was a place where ideas were exchanged, decisions affecting the community decided. So here, Lady Wisdom is proclaiming her role in creating community. She speaks from the centers of human life, from and about economic and social relationships.

But Wisdom isn’t just present in human society. She also is present in God, at the creation. She reminds us that it was through wisdom, in wisdom, that God created the universe. She helped to give it order:

“When he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

Here, Wisdom describes herself as the master workman, and in the reading we get a strong sense of Wisdom participating in creation in some way, helping plan it or at least observing it. But, wait. There is another possible interpretation here. What’s translated as “master workman” could also mean, “little child.” That offers a completely different meaning of the text. Let’s read that verse again.

“When he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was with him, like a little child, I was his delight, rejoicing before him always, and delighting in the human race.”

I love that dual image, of Wisdom as a master worker, wisdom as a little child. I especially love that last verse, “I was his delight, rejoicing before him always, and delighting in the human race.”

I think we tend to miss out on something central in God’s nature when we overlook God’s playfulness, delight, joy. In the Psalm from last week (Ps104), a marvelous song in praise of creation, there’s a verse I particularly love:

27 There move the ships,

and there is that Leviathan, *

which you have made for the sport of it.

We see the beauty and wonder in creation, but we also see unimaginable creativity. To think of the wonder of creation as evidence of God’s sheer joy and playfulness, and wisdom, running like a child beside God, as uncontrollable as a four or five year old is when they overcome and overwhelmed by the joy of life.

Wisdom is God’s delight, the delight of a parent for her joyous child. We are God’s delight. When we live in hope and faith, when we open ourselves to the possibility of the future and trust that God is holding our hand as we run headlong, we are God’s delight. As a community, when we open ourselves to God’s creative possibilities, and open ourselves to the gifts of others, we are God’s delight. As a community, when we reach out and grasp the hands of our neighbors and allow them to share with us their joy and their creative wisdom, we are God’s delight. When we do all that, we participate in the creative power and creative wisdom of the Trinity, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.