Sermons by Katherine Ragsdale

Occasional Sermons by Episcopal priest, Katherine Hancock Ragsdale.

Location: Massachusetts

you can always google me at "Katherine Ragsdale" OR "Katherine Hancock Ragsdale"

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Big Question

I asked it at one of the Lambeth press briefings but, just for the record, let's get it down here. (It has been reported elsewhere -- thanks Jim and Katie -- but may as well get it on my site, as well.)

The bishops were calling for moratoria on: 1) Blessing of same-sex unions; 2) consecration of lesbian or gay bishops; 3) incursions into each others' dioceses. They continually spoke of the need for concessions and sacrifice for the good of the whole.

Finally, I was called on for a question:

"Bishops, you continue to speak of sacrifice and that is understandable as Christianity is built upon the realization of the potential holiness of sacrifice. My question for you is -- do you see a difference between sacrificing oneself on behalf of others and forcing others to sacrifice themselves for you? And, if you do see a difference, what are the implications, then, for requiring the lesbian and gay faithful to sacrifice our lives, loves, and vocations as these moratoria do?"

Really, it just repeats a theme that has surfaced for years in my reproductive justice/abortion rights speeches: Sacrifice can be a noble and even holy thing but no one -- not politician, partner, or priest -- no one gets to tell someone else what sacrifice she must make.

Seems that, whatever the venue, that's a hard concept for some to grasp. Go figure.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sold into Egypt

They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him" -- that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Preparing to preach on this text today, I found myself thinking about the Church, its lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, and the Lambeth Conference. Ready to throw the gay and lesbian faithful into the pit to wither and die – having already thrown us there with centuries of denying our existence, much less our vocations; decades of asking us to remain quiet; two years of moratoria on blessing our relationships our consenting to consecrating any of us bishops – the Church, at Lambeth, has conceived the idea of drawing us out of the pit and bargaining us away for a profit.

The bargain? Our lives, loves, and vocations sacrificed to buy credit with those who insist we not be tolerated. Extending the moratoria shows good faith. Not to us, of course, but we, it seems, are not the ones who matter. And why should we, we’re on our way to Egypt. Sold for the appearance of unity, bargained away to make our betrayers look holy and self-sacrificing.

But remember what happened in Egypt. It was the one who was bartered away who saved not only the nation but also the family who sold him. Looking for redemption in the Anglican Communion? Keep your eyes on the folks in the many-colored coats (or boas). Keep your eyes on those who were sold into oblivion.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Gay Pride

All this Lambeth talk has me wanting to re-say a few things. So, here's a repeat of an oldie -- but still true:

Interfaith Pride Service, 6/14/03
Interfaith Pride Service
Boston, MA
June 14, 2003
Katherine Ragsdale

First, I’d like to thank you for the invitation to speak to you today. It is good to be here. I’ve just returned from a week in Washington – a week spent addressing a variety of peace and justice issues. And I need to say a word about that, because, if I don’t make an effort to de-compartmentalize, to integrate, my life, I spin out into a fragmented mess – and it’s not pretty. But I promise, if you’ll bear with me, I’ll bring us back home quickly.

So, first, there was a 2-day roundtable of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders—discussing the meaning of peace in today’s world and the conditions in the Middle East (and here at home) that might make peace possible. Only one person stormed out of the room, too angry, and, perhaps, too frightened to continue the conversation. That’s one too many, but, still, given the circumstances, not bad. For the most part, the group was able to embody the peace we yearn for.

Then there was a press conference by leaders of the women’s movement outlining some of the losses of freedom and dignity suffered lately and some of our plans to combat that. Let me tell you now – put April 25, 2004 on your calendars for a March on Washington for Women’s Rights – particularly reproductive rights.

Then we had a women’s leadership summit tracing the perils and oppression faced by women at home and across the globe and highlighting some of the ways governments, businesses, the entertainment industry, and activists are trying to respond to these challenges.

And finally, more informally, there was another of those exchanges where a gay man was arguing for our rights on the grounds that we can’t help being gay – the old take pity, have mercy, argument. You know, the one that concludes with a plaintive – who would choose this?

Let me answer that with three words:

Me! Me! Me!

In a New York minute! Me!

I can only hope that my straight sisters and brothers are as happy with their place in the sexual orientation continuum as I am with mine. But, alas, the conversation would not be de-railed; it continued with more insistences that we must be tolerated since we have no choice – the underlying assumption being that if we did have a choice we would, and should, choose to change.

So – war, poverty, religious disputes, politics, freedom, civil rights, gender, sexuality … it was a long week. And, frankly, I can’t quite decide whether to be energized and impassioned that there is so much good work for us to do and so many amazing people with whom to do it, or to be overwhelmed and depressed because there is so much important work to be done and, even with so many talented, passionate people working so hard, the end is nowhere in sight.

Energy, passion, depression, despair – and let’s not even get into frustration, righteous indignation, and outrage. I suspect that this cauldron of emotions is not some odd shortcoming peculiar to me. Perhaps you, too, know all these feelings. Perhaps they play tug of war with your psyche, heart, and spirit, as well. And perhaps, you, like me, find that, given the free reign of benign neglect, in this world of so many injustices and so much violence, the emotional balance seems, more often than not, to tip toward frustration and despair.

Actually, I think it speaks well of us that we look at the world and, even from the positions of privilege and comfort most of us inhabit, we notice the wrongs of this world and they matter to us. I pray that we may never become blind to the injustices that surround us – never cease to notice – never cease to care.

But -- but...

Even as we commit ourselves to noticing and caring about those things that require and deserve our attention – things we have to, have to, fix – let us not make the mistake of noticing only those things. Let’s never allow ourselves to become so focused on the work yet to be done that we neglect to notice and celebrate our successes and our blessings.

This, too is human, I think – this tendency to hyper-focus on the work ahead and miss the bigger and more complex, nuanced, and deeply textured picture. But it’s a dangerous tendency – for all too often it leaves us discouraged. Dis –couraged. And to be dis-couraged makes me useless and it erodes my soul’s health. I suspect the same is true for you.

So, let’s try to resist that temptation to narrow in only on the job ahead am try to look at the whole picture for a moment.

It is true that there is plenty of important work ahead. The NGLTF reports that fully 1/3 of lgbt college students experience harassment. We know that there are far too many schools and families where it is not safe for teens to reveal or explore their sexual orientation. We know only too well the benefits that are denied to too many of us because we can’t get legally married. Personal and professional frustrations, roadblocks, and even dangers, persist for all too many of us or our sisters and brothers. There is work to be done.

But, sisters and brothers, just in case you haven’t noticed, let me make this very clear – the work that remains to be done? We do it as victors. We know the outcome of this struggle. We have already won.

Listen to this:

88% of Americans support equal opportunity in the workplace. (Only a generation ago I’m not sure 88% of Americans knew we existed and, of those who did, I’m not sure 88% would have supported our right to live – much less to be given equal opportunities)

Today, 75% of Democratic voters, 70% of Independents, and 56% of Republican voters supported sexual-orientation non-discrimination laws.

Only 40% of the public supports our freedom to marry (still – 40%!) but 73% believe we should have inheritance rights and 68% think we should get Social Security survivors’ benefits.

96% think HIV and STDs should be covered in sex-ed in the schools.

Today, any day of the week, a child anywhere in this country can turn on the television and find images of happy, healthy gay people. Doctors, lawyers, sports and entertainment figures, parents, grandparents, members of Congress or the clergy … on television, in the movies, in the newspapers, in our communities, any child in America can find evidence – reason to hope – that they, too, can grow up to lead a happy, fulfilled life, no matter what their sexual orientation.

This was certainly not true 30 years ago when I was a teen who didn’t even have the vocabulary to conceptualize why I didn’t fit in. This is huge. Every gay child has access to signs of hope. And every straight child has exposure to the idea that other sexual orientations are simply other ways of being – or, as my then 10 year old nephew explained to his 6 year old brother, “of course women can marry women and men can marry men. It’s really no big deal.”

We have changed the world and there is no going back. As you have Acted Up in the streets and cared for one another in your homes through those early, devastating years of the AIDS crisis, our community set a new standard for compassion and commitment; as we came out of our closets and faced down the bashers and oppressors, we added a new category to the list of the courageous; as we raised our children, adopted others, claimed our alliances, named our loves, we have changed the meaning of the word family. And every family in America (even the 17% of them that follow the old Ozzie and Harriet model) every family in America has been enriched by this broader definition.

The world has been changed in profound – awesome – ways. And we have played a part – a large part – in making that happen. Gay pride? You better believe it!

Yes, we still have work to do. There are laws yet to be passed, kids yet to be saved, opportunities yet to be opened up and explored. And, as long as we’re broadening our vision, let’s remember what God told the children of Abraham:

You must never take advantage of a stranger, for you know what it is to be a stranger. You, whom God has set free from bondage and need, must never ignore the bondage or need of another. You who have been so richly blessed must share your blessings with those in want.

Sisters and brothers, the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East; the rise of poverty and the loss of hope here at home; the loss of civil liberties, freedom, choice, and opportunity – we are not free to ignore these either. We who know what it is to be marginalized, denied opportunity and hope, denied basic human rights, denied safety; we who know these things and yet have been so richly blessed, are not free to ignore the plight of others.

We have work to do – but we have powerful tools with which to do it. We have the communities and alliances we have built over the years, we have our passion and our vision, we have the things we’ve learned.

Let me just highlight a couple of those things –

1) We have learned not to give in to the temptation to be dis-couraged. We have learned not to be afraid.
Fear undoes us –
It renders us useless
It erodes our souls
And it is a faithless an ungrateful response from those who believe that we are never abandoned to the fray, never left alone, unaided or uncomforted – from those who have been carried so very far already.

2) We have learned that you cannot sustain a movement, or a spirit, on opposition – to anything, no matter how worthy of opposition it may be. Movements and spirits are sustained by vision – by what we are for not what we are against. As we march, today and every day, we march not primarily away from all that is wrong but toward all that is good and true and honorable and just. Yes, there may be, will be, skirmishes along the way, but they are incidental. They are not the point.

The vision is the point. We march and we fight and we persevere because we yearn for a world where every human being grows up safe and loved, where her dignity is respected and his particularity is celebrated. We dream of a world where everyone understands that the God who created us loves us -- and where true love is, God’s own self is there.

3) We have learned that Gandhi was right – you must become the change you wish to see. We will achieve our vision not by hiding and hating but by loving and celebrating. The world we dream of – a world free from fear – can be ushered in only by our own fearlessness. A world of rich diversity, beauty, love can only be achieved by our own refusal to be seduced by despair, our own refusal to live small, to be less than we were created to be. We win the ability to love only by loving – with powerful, extravagant abandon.

4) We have learned that we can afford to live like that. For the victory is already ours. And our adversaries would do well to remember the words of Gamaliel, a Pharisee and elder of the land who warned those who wanted to eliminate the followers of Jesus. Be careful, Gamaliel said. If this is of man alone it will surely fade of its own accord. But if it is of God nothing you can do will stop it – and you might even find yourself to be working against God’s own self.

We know where God is in this. We know it deep in our hearts – in our very marrow. And we see the evidence. The world has already changed – more profoundly than we could reasonably have hoped. Surely it is God who saves us – we shall not be afraid.

Yes, there is work to be done and, as people who have been so richly blessed, we are not free to shirk or disengage. We must press on – but we do so secure in the knowledge that the victory is ours; the prize has been won and claimed for us already. We do so grateful and proud to be allowed to play some part in seeing God’s love for the world brought to light and fruition.

Sisters and brothers – we are blessed to be able to be a part of this. Blessed to have each other. Let us press onward, march forward, this and every day, fearlessly, with confidence and joy, with grateful hearts, and yes, with Pride.

And may God continue to bless us and those we love this and every day.


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