We all Rise, Together

As a young woman, Diana Harvey Johnson, now seventy-four, marched up the steps of the courthouse to register to vote.  There she was confronted by a white woman who pointed to a Mason jar on the counter.  “How many butterbeans are in that jar.”  The inference was that if she was able to correctly guess the number, she would be allowed to register.[1]

“’I had a better chance of winning the Georgia lottery than guess how many butterbeans,’ Ms. Harvey Johnson continued.  ‘But the fact that those kinds of disrespects and demoralizing and dehumanizing practices – poll taxes, lynchings, burning crosses and burning down houses and firing people and putting people in jail, just to keep them from voting – that is not far away in history.  But it looks like some people want to revisit that.  And that is absolutely unacceptable.’”[2]

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.”[3]   Through our nation’s original sin, the notion that some count more than others, America’s ideals have often been a dead letter.

The spirt of “this world” is the evil that overtook much of this nation after the Civil War, after Reconstruction, and now, after the Civil Rights struggles of the 60s.  It is presently “Jim Crow in a suit and a tie, drafting new voter suppression laws in states across the land.

The sin, the evil, is exclusion.  It’s, “You don’t count in this country.” 

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”[4] 

In the midst of the hypocrisy, the land theft, the lynchings, God has been silently at work perfecting.  In every age, reaching some righteous hearts and minds.

As Christ rises, we all rise together.  That’s the bottom line of “For God so loved the world…”

The bottom line of Paul’s proclamation is – brothers, sisters you count.  We all count as God’s own.  No one is left out, left behind.  In the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are all raised up.  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert.  We all rise together. 

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead…”  Loved us even when we’ve given up on ourselves.

Those who take this promise to heart, they are God’s own.  We all rise together.  In our rising is proof positive that God “so loved the world…”

You count at the voting registration table!  You count at the school house door!  You count at the college admissions selection committee and on the high school track team.  You count!

We now have a whole bunch of folks who must have gotten a defective Bible.  The part about God’s inclusive love for all must have been left out.  Wasn’t in Sheriff Jim Clark’s Bible.  Must have not been included in Governor Faubus’s Bible.  Sure wasn’t in Bull Connor’s Bible.  Nope.  No evidence of any love on Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettis Bridge that day.

Must not be in the Voting Suppression Bible — definitely wasn’t in the spirit of those brand-new laws stifling the right to vote – like the elimination of Sunday voting, the restriction of same-day registration, the elimination of convenient drop-off boxes.   Except that one lone box, out in the middle of the Arctic tundra.

“For God so loved the world…”   That may well be.  But not you if you’re the wrong kind of voter.

But St. Paul continues, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”  The Easter story we so desperately await in this Age of Pandemic is that in Christ we all rise.  Together.

You are okay, just right.  The way you were created – simply by virtue of your being here.  “God does not make junk.”  So, stay in that voter line.  Make your voice count.  Stay in school and don’t let anyone turn you around.  Finish that novel.

Opportunity for all is the foundation of our country.  The idea “of the people, by the people, for the people,” – that’s a straight line from Paul’s proclamation that all are precious in God’s estimation.  Derivative from the Honest-to-God Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No watering down.

The God of Jesus is not about perishing.  This God is about raising us all up to the full stature of who we are meant to be.  We all rise together.

The people who remind us of this truth are our “balcony people,” as George Regas called them.  They cheer us on.  Though they be saints long gone on before, or they be current mentors and champions, they cheer us on as we approach that bright finish line.

This last week, March 8th, we celebrated International Women’s Day.  It is a day to celebrate one half of humanity that too often is ignored, patronized, dismissed.  These are the ones we’ve been waiting for if we but see them.  Strong, competent, talented, assertive women.

And they’re bustin’ out all over the place.  Not just at the voting booth, though I believe Stacy Abrams is a role model for all of us, men and women alike.

In celebration of Women, I picked up a book of the noted science fiction writer, Octavia Butler.  Very few successful writers in this genre are women, especially Black women.  In the Library of America, one can obtain the first collection of her stories and two of her novels.

Octavia grew up as a introspective girl, later subject to bouts of loneliness and depression.  But her mother was a fierce advocate for her daughter.  When a sixth-grade teacher told Octavia that she could not learn very well because she was “colored,” her mother, angry at this teacher, urged Octavia, you “be somebody.”  And gave her a typewriter for Christmas – that she would later write her first five novels on.[5]

Even her well-meaning aunt urged her to take up something practical: nursing, teaching, something what would return a decent salary.  “Black people can not grow up to work as writers.”  Butler worried that this might be the case. “In all my thirteen years, I had never read a printed word that I knew to have been written by a Black person.”  Yet, at this age she had already submitted a number of stories to science fiction magazines, encouraged by her science teacher.[6]

One night, as a seventh grader, watching a B-movie, Devil Girl from Mars, on late night TV, she came to four revelations.  “The first was that ‘Geez, I can write a better story than that.’ And then I thought, ‘Geez, anybody can write a better story than that.’  And my third thought was the clincher: ‘Somebody got paid for writing that awful story.’  So, I was off and writing.”[7]  This in the seventh grade!

Octavia, grew up in our own backyard, Pasadena and Altadena, attended Pasadena City College and my alma mater, Cal. State Los Angeles.  She would rise, and rise indeed, publishing scores of novels and short stories.  In 1984 her short story, “Speech Sounds,” is published in Isaac Asimov’s magazine and it wins her first Hugo Award for Best Short Story.  Hugo Awards are among the most prestigious in the SciFi trade.  In 1995 Octavia would be awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship – the “genius award,” so called.  Her novel, Parable of the Talents, wins a Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1999.  The top award for science fiction writers.

As Octavia rises, we all rise together.  All, in the full humanity that God intends for each one.  Her work has enchanted and challenged her many readers.

Another story, another incredible woman, from a recent episode of “60 Minutes.”  As a young college graduate, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson remembers standing in the NASA control center for many space launches.  Having, upon graduation, applied for a job at NASA, she stood in that fabled room and thought to herself, “I want a seat in that room.”  As a woman, this was not likely.  Virtually everyone in that room was a man.[8]

Charlie now has THE SEAT in that room as NASA’s first female launch director. 

A year from now she will give the launch command for a journey that will return humans to the moon.  The same room that witnessed the Apollo Missions leave earth.  The same room she had visited thirty years ago as a young college graduate.

If you look at those old black-and-white NASA photos, all you see is men.  White men.  Now, over thirty percent of the launch crew is women.  This room is presently diverse enough to almost look like America.

This achievement in inclusion is the realization of Paul’s proclamation — We all count.  The ethic of Jesus, running down the century and across cultures, through America’s foundational documents, has brought us to the richness of his promise for all.  We all count.

Title 9 has done this for women sports.  Title 9 was the seminal change in the U.S. education code that mandated equity in sports for both male and female.  Both funding and opportunity had to be on a parr for both. 


Now, a little home-town bragging.  Title 9 in high school, basketball opened the door for women like Diana Taurasi, a home-grown star from Chino’s Don Lugo High School.  She went on to headline University of Connecticut (UConn) Women’s Basketball. 

On July 8, 2018, Taurasi became the league’s all-time leader in field goals. Taurasi would also earn her ninth career all-star appearance after being voted into the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game.  This opportunity came all because of Title 9.

When I was in high school, during gym time I would see the girls in their area playing just half-court.  When I asked a friend why this was so, she told me that girls were too delicate to run up and down a full court.  Tell that to Diana Taurasi.

After college, she was a top draft pick by the Phoenix Mercury and that year was selected WNBA Rookie of the Year.  In 2017 she became the all-time top woman scorer, and is now considered one of the best female basketball players ever.

As Diana rises, we all rise together. The Glory of God is a woman fully alive.  A wonder to behold, on or off court.

We have our own Hayden, an up-an-coming pitcher in girls’ softball, burning them in at over 60 miles an hour.  I can’t wait for COVID to be over so I can see her show her stuff.

A couple of all-stars have combined to coach Hayden develop her talent.  Crystl Bustos is an all-time home run hitter in the late ‘90’s.  She was on the Olympic team in 2000, ’04 and ’08.  A two-time gold medal winner, known as “The Big Bruiser.”

Another, Rhonda Wheatley, from Cal Poly, Pomona was the number one pitcher on Team USA for1980 through ’88.  She was the fifth most winning pitcher ever in NCAA, Division 1.  With a record 198 wins and only 60 loses, she was one of the starting pitchers in the 1987 Pan American Games.  That is the sort of help Hayden is attracting.

Thank you, Title 9, that Hayden’s magnificent talent can blossom.  If she keeps at it with her studies and pitching practice, I hope to see Hayden in the record books.  This talent we also acknowledge on International Women’s Day.

This is what St. Paul celebrated in his glorious epiphany, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.[9]

Hayden, you and your teammates totally count, and are precious in God’s sight.  Your talents will be honored as far as they will take you.  You go, girl!

This week wherein we lift up the gifts and accomplishments of our sisters, it’s good to wear a pink stole.

Why a pink stole?  I’m told by our most English of Episcopalians at St. Francis that this Sunday is “Mothering Sunday” — No, nothing to do with the American holiday, Mother’s Day.  Think, “Rule Britannia.”  Yes, do remember the woman who gave you birth, but ALSO remember your Mother Church.  Especially the one in which you were baptized.  Leave a special offering.  So, we put on the pink – for a number of reasons.

Title 9 and other opportunities opened across the board access for our sisters to excel.  As they do, they lift us all.  In the Spirit of Christ, we all rise together.  This is not your grandfather’s church or country anymore.  All really does mean all. 

Octavia is interred in Altadena at Mountain View Cemetery, near her mother.  Inscribed on her marker are words from Parable of the Sower: “All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, Changes you.  The only lasting truth is Change.  God is Change.”[10]   


[1] Nick CoraaNIRI ns Jim Rutenberg, “Georgia Bills Target Black Church Voting Drives, New York Times, March 7, 2021

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ephesians 2:1-2, New Revised Standard Version.

[4] Ephesians 2:4-5, NRSV.

[5] Octavia: E. Butler: Kindred, Fledgling, Collected Stories, Gerry Canavan & Nisi Shawl, editors (New York: The Library of America, 2020), 744.

[6] Op. cit., 745.

[7] Op. Cit., 744.

[8] Bill Whitaker, correspondent, “60 Minutes,” March 7, 2021.

[9] Galatians 3:28, New International Version.

[10] Octavia, 755.

We all Rise, Together”

Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

March 14, Lent 4

Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

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