Presiding Bishop

Day Six: Memories

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I had a post in mind for tonight, but as I was drafting it I realized that I need to let the thought gestate a bit more before publication. Instead, here’s a fuzzy picture and a little story.

In 2002 I attended EYE, the Episcopal Youth Event. It was held in Laramie, Wyoming, and teenagers from all over the church came to live and worship and have fun together for a few days. During that EYE, we were visited by the then Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold. I’d never met or even seen a Presiding Bishop before, and I felt just a bit fancy knowing he came all the way to the tiny town of Laramie just to be with us.

During his visit, he blessed a pile of colorful crosses and gave one to every single youth in attendance. The cross was beautiful, a combination of red and green and blue. I really treasured mine, always remembering that it was the cross the Presiding Bishop blessed. This morning as I was getting dressed, I looked at the necklaces I brought with me and picked up the Presiding Bishop cross. It matched my shirt.

Today as we were remembering the work of outgoing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori, we were surprised by a special guest speaker: Frank Griswold. I hadn’t actually seen him since that day in Wyoming.

After all the speeches were done and the House was in recess, I ran up to snag him before he disappeared behind the curtain. I was holding my phone in my hand and a man nearby asked if I wanted a picture with Bishop Griswold. We took the photo, but I quickly let the bishop know that’s not why I wanted to see him. I told him my story and held out the cross on my neck. He smiled that smile of a person who wasn’t expecting something sweet to happen to him today, and an aid quickly jumped in to get him away from the crowd.

I looked at the photo that the stranger took. No good. But it didn’t matter. I could never treasure a photo as much as a cross.

Me and Frank

Day Three: The Beautiful Sausage-Making of a Presiding Bishop’s Election

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Here is the whole story, for anything less would make it seem like it was easy.

At around 10:45AM the worship services ended and the bishops proceeded to the buses. It took five buses to move the entire House of Bishops to St. Mark’s Cathedral where they were to deliberate. According to one bishop I spoke with, trying to get the entire House transported via bus takes a lot longer than you think. Though the cathedral isn’t far from the convention center, they didn’t get there until 11:30AM.

The Bishops sang a few hymns and got settled in the church. They jointly agreed that they were all grown ups and therefore nobody had to surrender his or her phone in order to ensure the name of the elected bishop remained a secret until the election could be confirmed. They prayed, and they voted. Typically it takes multiple ballots before a single candidate gets enough votes to win, so people were ready for a long day.

Hisako PartyMeanwhile in the House of Deputies, we took some time to honor past house members and celebrate the 230th anniversary of the House of Deputies. We went on with our regular legislative business. And behind it all we waited.

At about 12:45, fifteen minutes before we were set to adjourn for lunch, two representatives from the House of Bishops arrived. They were invited onto the floor (no unauthorized persons are allowed on the floor of the House of Deputies, including Bishops), and they proceeded to the front of the House. They told us that they had successfully elected a Presiding Bishop. They then turned around and quietly shared the name with Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. The President asked that all members of Committee 19 (Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop) step forward. There were a lot of them – 30 members in all. The house Chaplin, Fr. Lester Mackenzie, stepped forward to pray for the committee in their discernment. It’s strange. Even though I knew all the candidates were men, it still felt strange for Fr. Mackenzie to use masculine pronouns to describe the office after nine years of it being held by a woman. What a difference a word makes.

Committee 19 disappeared behind a curtain to deliberate. At this point I should clarify that I’m not exactly sure what their deliberation entailed. In order for the House of Deputies to confirm a new Presiding Bishop, the election must be given to us in the form of a resolution. In order for us to hear a resolution, it must be presented by a committee along with the committee’s recommendation on what the House should do. However when it comes to the election of the Presiding Bishop, this is more of a formality (one could argue the entire confirmation from the House of Deputies is a formality, but probably an important one). In theory there is no information the committee had about the nominees they didn’t have before, and there’s not much information they could have ever had that the rest of us didn’t have all along. If there was a nominee they had reservations about, those reservations would have existed long before they got the name. So who knows what they talked about. Perhaps one day I’ll have the chance to ask one of them.

Either way, at ten minutes until our planned adjournment, Committee 19 disappeared and the entire House sat there, knowing that a name existed and that name was known to every bishop, the President of the House of Deputies, and the 30 people who just went behind the curtain. The President called on the Secretary to ask what the next item of business was. He suggested that in light of the hour we adjourn and come back after lunch.

“No!”

The objections rang out from all over the House. The President looked shocked. Whispers began. As the thought of leaving for over an hour and not knowing loomed, from somewhere in the back the singing began. A few days before, the chaplain had taught us all a beautiful chanting song. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo // We are one together, yo, yo, yo.” The singing started and it spread fast. It was a bit of a joke to protest in this manner, but the intent was true. We were in this together. We were not leaving.

The President and Secretary suggested a few strange alternatives that involved everyone running out to get a sandwich and coming right back. People started to appear at the microphones to protest leaving. One deputy pointed out that the bishops were sequestered, unable to leave St. Mark’s until they heard from us, and that we owed it to them to stick around until confirmation could happen. After much bad suggestion-making we all agreed to suspend the rules and remain in session until Committee 19 came back. I started to check my phone. An isolated Twitter Storm was seen over Salt Lake City.

Committee 19 enjoying a nice lunch before beginning deliberations. #PB27 #gc78

I’ve never refreshed my Twitter feed so much… #gc78 #pb27 we at home want to know!!

In a bold strategy to kill time HOD will listen to long speeches about resolutions and then postpone consideration. #gc78 #pb27

Committee 19 debating anchovies or no anchovies with pizza.  #gc78 #pb27

Resolved, that if Committee 19 gets a pizza lunch, so do the deputies. #PB27 #GC78 #hangry

Re: #gc78 #pb27 This is worse than a woman being in labor…..just get it out already!!#!!

You know not the time nor the hour when committee 19 will return. #GC78 #pb27

#gc78 Knit a row, check Twitter, knit a row… this shawl will be done before #pb27 is confirmed.

Cameras in the hallIn the middle of the storm, a rumor started to go out. Someone had leaked the information, and we knew it had to be a bishop. So much for being grown ups. The Twittersphere responded by immediately urging everyone not to retweet the leaked name or share it if they had read it. The secrecy was out of respect for the dioceses of all four nominees. One of them was about to lose their bishop, and it would be cruel to toy with them by spreading unconfirmed rumors.

The gallery in the back of the House was standing room only. Photos from the exhibit hall showed it was completely empty. People back home were watching via live stream. At 1:45PM, the committee finally emerged. After more waiting for the electronic and administrative ducks to get in a row, the members came forward and the chair got behind the microphone.

Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina.

Curry is an incredibly charismatic preacher and a strong believer in evangelism and sharing the love of God. He also happens to be the first African American person to be elected to the office of Presiding Bishop. A cheer rang out and the President reminded us not to applaud. He still wasn’t confirmed. We must respect the deputies of the four dioceses.

The results of the House of Bishops vote went on the screen. He was elected on the first ballot, receiving almost 70% of the votes despite being one of four candidates. It was an absolute landslide. More cheering came from the crowd, and more calls for respect from the President.

The matter was put before the house. The committee was still standing in front, and the President politely suggested they might want to return to their seats so they could vote. We entered our selections into the voting machines at our tables. The confirmation was overwhelming: 800 to 12.

Now you can cheer.

Once the applause died down, the House was put at ease for 20 minutes while Bishop Curry was escorted from the Cathedral over to the House of Deputies. The President announced we would suspend the rules to allow him and his family onto the floor. Even the Presiding Bishop-Elect has to have permission.

On Stage with PhotosWhen we were told he was almost there, we stood up in anticipation. The cheering started, and everyone was up on their chairs trying to get a good photo as the Presiding Bishop-Elect walked from the back entrance to the front of the House. He was escorted by current Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. It was a beautiful sight to see them next to each other. A sign that even as we continue to struggle with diversity in our church, in our hearts we wish to be better.

As he reached the platform the cheers grew louder, and the singing began. “We are one together, yo, yo, yo!” I saw the delight and shock in Bishop Curry’s eyes. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your very presence inspire people to burst into song. We are one together.

His speech was short. “I know you haven’t had lunch,” he joked. He was eloquent and to the point as usual, ending with probably the most important fact of all: “Nothing can stop the movement of God’s love in this world.”

Amen.

Preliminaries: The Presiding Bishop Pageant

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PB with HaloThe Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church serves for a single nine-year term. There’s disagreement on what her job currently is, and much debate on what it should be. She is not infallible like a pope, and can’t veto like a president. In some ways she is more of a spiritual advisor and figurehead, in other ways she is the CEO and chief administrator.

Today was the first time the House of Deputies was given a chance to meet and learn about the candidates prior to the vote in the House of Bishops. There were bios and intro videos released ahead of time, and today we saw additional “homemade” videos, heard intro speeches, and listened to the candidates answer questions – A LOT of questions. The questions were submitted by church members ahead of time and separated out into categories such as structure, theology, LGBT issues, etc. The bishops took turns pulling questions out of a bowl and giving short, off-the-cuff answers. Over the course of three hours, we got to know a bit more about the candidates and how they might lead the church.

The environment surrounding the election of a Presiding Bishop is delicate and strange. On one side it’s a typical election where candidates are nominated and must prove their worth to a group of voters who then decide who should get the job. On the other hand it’s supposed to be a calling, not a career move. This subtlety is reflected in the language we use. The nominees aren’t “running” for Presiding Bishop, they are standing for election. They are making themselves willing and available, not vying for the job.

This tension was certainly present in the opening speeches and many of the answers. I couldn’t help but think of the Miss America competition. The questions ranged from the simple and easy (“How has your prayer life changed?”) to the nearly impossible (“How do you feel about divestment in Israeli companies?”). Just like with Miss America, the candidates must craft an answer that means all things to all people. Nothing too upsetting, nothing too generic. To their credit, the nominees were a lot more willing to jump into specifics than most beauty contestants, but then again their audience is a bit more forgiving and their answers aren’t on YouTube.

CategoriesAfter about an hour I leaned over to the deputy next to me and said, “You know if they weren’t all trying to become Presiding Bishop, I might really enjoy this.” If they felt a bit freer with their answers and if the questions were a bit more open, the basic activity would have been really wonderful. Imagine if part of every General Convention involved us putting a small group of well-spoken bishops and other leaders on the stage and asking them to reflect on the issues surrounding the church. How much might we learn – and how much might we change – if they speak and we listen and no one has an agenda?

While I think the session was well organized and I appreciate all the work that went in to getting the House of Deputies more involved in the process, I couldn’t help but ask, “What am I doing here?” The laws of the church dictate that it is the House of Bishops that elects their presider. All the House of Deputies does is confirm the election (a good and reasonable guard against a totalitarian takeover). There are plenty who think this should be changed, but I’m not one of them. The House of Bishops meets way more often, they are a smaller and more intimate body, and they have consistency of membership. The House of Deputies is huge, meets once every three years, and is about 40%-50% brand new people. We don’t know these bishops like they know each other, and we certainly aren’t any more qualified than they are to make a decision based on available information. So unless I suspect foul play, I see no reason not to trust their judgement and confirm whomever they call. If we can’t trust them enough for that, why did we elect them in the first place?

Before today, all I knew was the four names and I felt generally ambivalent about all of them. I was confident that the committee we elected was able to find four candidates that would all do a fine job. I didn’t really care who won. Now I know a bit more about each of them, and while I wasn’t really trying, I can’t help but have a favorite. But I still don’t have a vote. So all I have gained is the possibility to be disappointed when the guy I want isn’t picked.

I worry what will happen if we acquiesce to present paranoia and make the change suggested by TREC to have the Presiding Bishop elected by both houses. I worry that the politicking will go up, that we will have to suffer through actual campaigns, and that the job will always end up going to the person who wants it the most (which is almost never the best person for a leadership role).

The vote happens on Saturday in a closed session of the House of Bishops. No white smoke will go up. Instead a simple a message will be sent to the House of Deputies and a bit of (possibly unnecessary) bureaucratic process will occur before the vote comes before the house. And I’m voting yes. I don’t normally decide my votes ahead of time, but unless some strange and terrible thing is revealed about the candidates between now and then, I’m voting to confirm whichever person they choose. And why shouldn’t I? I respect and trust the bishops. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be in a church named after them.

Begin Again

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So it starts again. Another triennium, another convention, another set of hot-button issues to discuss. If time and internet access allow I’ll do expanded posts on each of these issues before convention starts, but in case it doesn’t happen, here’s the bumper-sticker version:

1) Election of a New Presiding BishopPB_Invest_Cath_112

This marks the end of Katharine Jefferts-Schori’s term as Presiding Bishop, and it’s time to elect someone new. The nominations committee has suggested four names (videos of the four candidates can be found here). The fact that there are no women on the list has not gotten past anyone, though the sad fact remains that there are very few women they have to choose from in the pool of qualifying bishops. The fact that three out of four are white has also escaped no one. Once again, small pool.

2) TREC Report and Restructuring

In the wake of the unanimous 2012 decision to create the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC), the 2015 Convention will have to deal with the report delivered by the task force. There is no doubt that “dealing with it” will involve completely changing the proposed resolutions in big and small ways. Some of the report’s suggested changes go so far as to suggest switching to a unicameral system and changing the Presiding Bishop’s job description. Responses to the TREC report have been mixed. People have expressed both excitement and concern over specific proposed resolutions, as well as over the general feeling and tone of the work. The bottom line: Did we get what we asked for? More importantly, is what we asked for what we really needed?

3) Marriage Canons

Same-gender marriage in the Episcopal Church seems more inevitable with every convention, but that doesn’t mean the road is easy or the journey fast. There is likely to be more harsh words and hurt feelings as we discuss changing the marriage canons, which currently describe marriage as between a man and a woman. The special marriage committee has returned from their work with suggestions on how to change the canons, but no there are explicit theological statements or suggestions of universal acceptance.

What else should we expect at General Convention? There are a few contenders. I’ve heard talk of changing diocesan assessment (the amount of money each diocese is expected to pay into the larger church). There’s bound to be a few things about climate change and the middle east. A special committee was created to discuss issues around drug and alcohol abuse. Or maybe, just maybe, we’ll sit around for 11 days and just talk about God. Wouldn’t that be something else.

There Are Too Many Elephants in This Room

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Every time I get back from General Convention, there’s a least a few people who mention seeing the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the news. I always give the same warning: assume any article about the Episcopal Church contains at least one factual error. Most of the time it’s something seemingly small, like referring to us as “The Episcopal Church U.S.A.” or calling it our “annual” convention. While they might be big mistakes to someone like me, most non-Episcopalians could care less, and I understand that.

Perhaps it’s only that I’ve become aware of a lot more Christian and Episcopalian bloggers, but the news cycle this time around seems to be a lot more intense. Gene Robinson’s consecration got us more headlines, but for that, the headline was the story, “Episcopal Church Elects Gay Bishop.” That was it. It was a thing we did. This time however, it’s gotten rather personal.

It started with a laughable opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, which many are blaming on the Journal’s recent change in ownership. Despite being in the opinion section, the piece was written like a journalistic article and often mistaken for one. And despite being written like a journalistic article, it contained almost no actual facts. A cursory view shows at least one error per paragraph, ranging from the seemingly inconsequential (gathered “from around the country” discounts all non-U.S. diocese) to the outright false (the presiding bishop carrying a metropolitan cross). I see the primary benefit in this article as being an excellent teaching tool to illustrate how personal prejudice can skew a piece of writing without being explicit. After all, the author never actually says that his real problem is with women leadership in the church, but I would be a fool to believe otherwise.

To give you an idea of what I’ve been reading, here’s a list I compiled, starting with the aforementioned muckraking:

What Ails the Episcopalians – The laughable piece of fiction from Jay Akasie, printed in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal.

What Ails the Wall Street Journal – A dismantling of Akasie’s article, exposing the most blatant errors.

Rum, Sodomy, and the Cash: The Episcopal Church 2012 – Lest you think I’m only quoting the liberals that pulled Akasie’s article apart, here’s one from a conservative blogger.

Wrong on Every Count – A bishop’s response to Akasie, also pointing out a few of the bigger flaws.

A Strongly-worded Letter about General Convention and Love – A response to Akasie regarding tradition and the Holy Spirit.

Episcopal Church is Radically Faithful to Its Tradition Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer for TEC, writes a letter to the editor at the Wall Street Journal arguing that our liberal values represent a true commitment to Jesus.

Why Is the Episcopal Church Near Collapse? – From Belief.net, an interesting exercise in using opinion as news.

Brazen Women, Cross-Dressers, and Canine Caskets – An unpacking of the patriarchical undertones in the articles by the Wall Street Journal and Belief.net

Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved? – A New York Times Op-Ed piece by Ross Douthat suggesting that liberalism is killing the TEC and other denominations like it.

Can Christianity Be Saved? A Response to Ross Douthat – Diana Butler Bass of the Huffington Post talks about the decline in church membership across all denominations, and suggests that liberal churches may not be the ones dying after all.

My Liberal Christian Church is Not Dying -A former Evangelical talks about TEC’s appeal to him and other young people in response to Douthat.

When “Liberal” Rhymes with “Theology” It’s Time for Evangelism – An argument for the theological basis of social liberal views in response to Douthat.

Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between – In response to Douthat and Bass, Rachel Held Evans talks about what it’s like to feel caught in the middle, and how embracing the middle could help both sides.

The Glorious Episcopal Church – In response to Akasie, Douthat, and Ross, we see a different interpretation of what happened at General Convention from voting secretary Rev. Winnie Varghese, who just so happens to be my second favorite General Convention celebrity (second of course to Gregory Straub).

 

Originally I ended this blog post with a long diatribe with my two cents about why we’re losing members and what it all means and the inevitability of death and there was even some nice imagery in there. But I think perhaps that’s a rant for another time.

Instead, with regards to the possibility that our liberal values are killing the Episcopal Church, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes. It’s from John Paul Jones, a navel officer in the American Revolutionary War:

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”

The Episcopal Church Welcomes Harm’s Way.

What a Difference a Word Makes

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I was reading through my copy of Shared Governance: A collection of essays prepared by The House of Deputies Special Study Committee on Church Governance and Polity 2012. The book was supplied to all deputies, and as I read it I couldn’t help but notice a particular pronoun popping up: her.

The highest clerical office a person can hold in the Episcopal Church is Presiding Bishop, and the highest (potentially) lay position is President of the House of Deputies. Currently, both positions are held by women (Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bonnie Anderson). As a result, the authors of Shared Governance often refer to the actions of either office by using feminine pronouns, as in “The presiding officer of each house has the authority under the Rules of Order of her House…”

To some, this might seem small. To me it is huge. I’m reminded of an old friend of mine from collage, who I’ll refer to as Matthew. Like all of us Matthew had his flaws, but on the whole he was a good guy.

One evening we were gathered at Matthew’s place to play Dungeons & Dragons, a role playing game similar in world to Lord of the Rings, and a traditionally male-dominated activity. Matthew was talking about some of the changes made to the player’s handbooks on a recent version of the game. These handbooks give outlines of the various characters you could be and their traits. Matthew was explaining the frustration he first had with the new edition, because the authors had chosen to alternate their pronoun use with each description instead of referring to all characters as men, as they had done in previous editions. So every other page talked about the ranger and HER preferred weapons, or the wizard and HER most powerful spells. He would reference the book, trying to create his character, and they kept calling him a woman. “My character’s not a girl,” he told me, “but they keep talking about him like he is. I get it now. That must have really sucked before … for the girls.”

He’s right. It does suck for the girls.

Talking about patriarchy in language in one of the fastest ways to get an eye roll at a dinner party, so I don’t like to bring it up too often. It’s a pervasive kind of problem, the kind that seems too small to spend any time or worry on, but in realty is huge and sweeping. Dungeons & Dragons knew their audience was primarily male, so they catered their product to that audience. It wasn’t until years later that they began to realize that their language was making their few female players feel like constant outsiders, and instantly alienating anyone new. So they changed. And for my part, it worked. When I play I don’t feel like a visitor anymore.

So this is why I experience joy when reading a phrase like, “appointed at her discretion” when talking about the Presiding Bishop or the President of the House of Deputies. It’s a small but impossible to ignore way of telling me I belong. The people in charge can be just like me.

Not a fluke. Not a token. Elected, called, and respected. I am not just a visitor here.

Breakfast with the Bishop

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This entry was originally posted June 14, 2009 as part of the website “Slouching Towards Anaheim.”

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child

This last Thursday I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to a special breakfast. Held at the home of Mike Schut, Program Officer for Environmental & Economic Affairs, 15 people along with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gathered to talk about three interconnected issues: multi-cultural ministries, environment and economic affairs, and young adults.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding BishopEach of us brought something to share – fruit, bagels, scones, juice, coffee – and put together a circle of chairs in Mike’s living room. We started by sharing our stories. Everyone went around introducing themselves and the kind of work they do. It was not strictly Episcopalians, but everyone in attendance was working in one of the three core areas we wanted to discuss. Introductions were so diverse and interesting they ended up taking up much of the time. We heard about volunteer run organic gardens serving the inner-city, native tribes struggling for federal recognition, and churches that manage to keep all the hymns and incense while appealing to a younger generation. For myself I spoke about Covenant House and Crossroads Ministry (also known as Episcopal / Lutheran Student Ministries) at the University of Washington, as well as my upcoming journey to General Convention.

When I first found out that the issues were to be discussed together, I was a bit skeptical about how they connected. But an hour in that living room and I knew exactly how connected we all were. The native nations of this country have traditions steeped in respecting and protecting the en
While I can’t list all of the things discussed, I believe the Bishop summed it up the best when she said that our job as Christians is to feed people, and that at this point in our history that might mean actual, literal food. People are hungry and what we eat really can shape who we are.vironment. Young people open up to ethnic ministries because inclusive attitudes signal change and revitalization which is something many young people are in search of as they are trying to find a place in the world and the church. As stories were told, more connections were found. These causes need not operate alone. We can help each other.

More than anything I was happy to be there because I personally got a wake up call. It is easy to know on an intellectual level that other people have different situations than you, that not everyone thinks like you do, that you do not speak for everyone in the groups you associate with. I realize that when it comes to church events, I often fall into a trap. I am not afraid to speak up in groups and voice my opinions or observations. I am also often the only young person there. These two things combined means that I tend to become the official spokesperson for youth and young adults in the church. People hear my opinions and regard them as fact. I began to believe that my opinions are fact. This last Thursday at breakfast I was fortunate enough to receive a reminder of how wrong I can be, and how isolated my experiences and opinions really are.

I was speaking to the group about how young people can be their allies with both the environmental and ethnic progress, since the generation now coming into power, my generation, was raised on Black History Month and Captain Planet. I told them that to young people, this “new” green movement and President Obama’s election have the ring of, “Well it’s about time.” I said that we get it and we want to help make it happen.

That’s when Rev. Robert Jeffrey of Clean Greens Farm (http://www.cleangreensfarm.com) spoke up. His was the story about the volunteer-run, organic garden that then sells to people in the city at very affordable prices. He said that for the young people who are raised in the inner-city, the earth is not seen that way. The earth is seen as the enemy because of the legacy of slavery that so many of them still carry. He said that when you’re raised in the heart of the city, “food” means McDonalds and Burger King. That’s what it means to be fed. Everything you eat takes less than 5 minutes, and that’s how you start to see yourself as well as life in general. There’s no concept of growing and nurturing over time, because that is not what food is in the city. It is a survival mentality and it does not include greens for dinner and organic pomegranate seeds. Rev. Jeffrey very clearly, politely and precisely let us know that not all young people think the same. It was a reminder I was in desperate need of, and i thank him for that.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to sit with these people, share food together, and talk about what our journeys have been thus far. It was a gift and a treasure. Special thanks go to Mike Schut for offering his home, Jason Sierra for inviting me, Katharine Jefferts Schori for taking time out of her busy travel schedule, and Rev. Jeffrey for reopening my eyes.