The following is the text of Andrés Gonzalez-Bonillas’ sermon from the General Convention Eucharist on July 8, 2018.
I pray for the silence and the words they wish to speak/ Allow their words to pop speakers and move us to new heights/ …/ I pray for those of us that have thunderstorms in our hearts and tornadoes in our minds and earthquakes in our soles/ For the weather cannot stop us and we have so much more to do
Please be seated
I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve picked up the phone and actually spoken to someone outside my family or close friends. I can however, count many, many, many, times that I have missed calls. And received voicemails. And left said voicemails unchecked. And left them in my box for a while. So when I got a text from Michael Hunn that he had left me a message, I checked my voicemail, full of birthday messages and blood donation calls, and there it was. Michael Hunn from the Presiding Bishop’s office had called me and I missed it. In all honesty, I knew I had met Michael before, but I didn’t really know who he was or what his position was. So I asked my parents, “Hey so Michael Hunn from the PB’s office called”, and the rest is history. When Michael offered me this opportunity I was honored and completely floored but I’d like to take this chance to extend my thanks to Presiding Bishop Curry, The Reverend Canon Michael Hunn, The Reverend Canon Anthony Guillen, and Director for Formation Bronwyn Clark Skov. These people have placed me here in front of all of you today, and I could not be more honored to have this opportunity.
In reading the prayers and readings for today, seven words stuck out to me. Seven. Seven words that may just have summarized my view of what the Episcopal Church should be, what I think it can be. In today’s collect we hear the words, “united to one another in pure affection”. The last two were especially powerful for me, those words “pure affection”. These words bring so many memories and thoughts to my mind, the foremost being stories of my experiences within the church. This morning I will share with you three of those about these words.
For those of you who have had the opportunity to visit Kanuga Conference Center, you know the beauty and spirituality of the place. You know the morning chill and the views of the lake, the sounds of birds and the rustle of leaves. I’ve been to Kanuga twice, once when I was 10, I went with my family to attend Nuevo Amanecer, a church-wide Latino ministry conference. But it was the most recent time that I’ve visited that made the most impact in my life. In February of 2017, at 16 years old I stepped foot on Kangua´s campus for the first time in almost 7 years, this time as part of EYE Planning Team. While I was there I was reminded of the peace and the power of nature to calm and to enhance my experiences. On the way there I placed the finishing touches on what would become the Closing Eucharistic Prayer used at EYE 17 in Oklahoma City. At the chapel at Kanuga, I and the Liturgy and Music team tested out our Closing Eucharistic Prayer with the rest of the team. For preaching, the four youth of the Liturgy and Music team took turns telling the group what the Path to Peace was to us. I think my answer has changed since then, but the sentiment is rather the same. Back then, my path to peace was a journey I had to go on to contentment with myself and with my actions and interactions with the world. I think now that has changed. I think rather than my interactions with the world, I’ve changed course to focus and appreciate those relationships I make with people, their stories, their mannerisms, the poetry in their emotion, and the wholesomeness of connection.
But it’s not my message from that night that I want to talk about at this time. I want to talk about how that message was received by my peers in that chapel. I want to talk about the pure affection I saw the group give us after we had shared with them our creation and our legacy for EYE. I remember saying the peace with every youth and adult on the team and the pride I felt and the love I received because of what I had to say. I remember Valerie Harris pointing at the altar and telling me I belong there, telling me she saw something more in me that I wasn’t aware of yet. Now I don’t agree, but in that instant I felt that I was loved in this church and in this community.
What I forgot to mention about my time at Kanuga, is that that was the first time I performed my spoken word poem, Alabanza. Actually, the first two sentences I said at the beginning of this sermon were pulled from that poem. That poem is the culmination of my year with the EYE planning team – from the first trip to the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial to the instant I was on stage at the University of Central Oklahoma, telling EYE this story I had made. It was humbling and powerful to hear people clap and cheer as I spoke, but more than anything I remember what happened right after I got off the stage, after I had said Alabanza one last time. I remember my sister, the reason I even applied for the planning team. I remember how she held me as I cried tears of happiness, exhaustion, and pride. I remember how my EYE family came up to me as I wiped my tears and shed new ones. I remember the delegation from Hawaii coming up to me to gift me a prayer book written in Hawaiian and a lei that I still have hanging on my wall back home. I remember when I heard my words inspire others after we had all left Oklahoma as I heard my words repeated in Minnesota. It was a raw and very real manifestation of pure affection, one that was shown to me when I needed it most.
When I hear the word affection, I think of children, and now that the dog Zach is here, I think of dogs, too. I think of kids and their ability to love everything and everyone they come in contact with. I think of the love between parent and child. Today, that love makes me think of how families that look like me go through the checks and balances of a legal system built for their fear and oppression. How brown kids are detained in modern internment camps because of their nationality, because they’re Latinidad and complexion. People see the actions of our new leadership and stare appalled and stunned, they say things like un-American to describe it. I beg to differ. If we are to rectify these actions, Americans must come to terms with the reality of our history, a history celebrated by fireworks only days ago. How our agriculture was cultivated and how cities were built by black bodies, how our first president, that revolutionary, owned black men and women. How the president credited with freeing the enslaved also had 38 Dakotas executed for protecting their ancestral lands. How the government has separated Latino and Indigenous children from their families through boarding schools and Mexican Repatriation. How the home of the free and the brave is the home of the incarcerated and the colonizers. How we have denied people of color their humanity for the sake of white fear. This new manifestation of white fear is only the most recent episode of a long history of American racism and violence. We deny our advertised freedom to Latinos who cross artificial borders, for what? Because they had different colonizers? Because their indigenous roots and branches cannot be removed from the culture? Right now, our church leadership is visiting Hutto Immigration Detainment Facility 40 minutes from us. I applaud them for this and I hope the right minds are changed and the right people are energized to make a change. A good man once told me the best work comes from a place of anger. So I say, may our anger bring justice and may it bring peace to those Latino families who must see their children held by ICE agents in cages. May our anger wipe brown faces of tears and may it begin a process to dismantle the xenophobic institutions that continue to thrive. May our anger inspire and may it create something new.
My father has told me stories of his father. My grandfather was a man brave enough to come to this country from Mexico City. He told us stories of his father living in fear of la migra and in fear of poverty back at home. My grandmother, my Nana, crossed that same desert to follow her husband. She did it for their three children so that they could have a better life than any she could offer back in Mexico. As a Chicano, I am thankful for my father and grandparents for their bravery to cross this border to attain opportunity, economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and social opportunity for me and my sister. And as a Chicano, seeing these families suffer at the hands of ICE and nativist fear infuriates me, because I know where I come from.
I am a product of unity via oppression, alcoholics and aliens
I am a child of revolution and adventurers who braved deserts and deployments
I am millions of steps taken from poverty to a broken promise of opportunity
I am an astronaut longing to free kids from their cages and take them to adventure among the stars our ancestors told stories by, to show them where la tierra bends and the sky and sea curve into each other like the moon and her stars.
I am and so are they. And we’re are Here to Stay
And maybe you don’t like what I have to say. Maybe you see me as just another angry brown kid who has no place to speak to the church like this. But if you read the scripture for today, if you listen to those texts, you´ll see that this is our calling. Ezekiel says “Whether they hear or refuse to hear…they shall know that there has been a prophet among them”. Listen, I don’t think I’m a prophet, but I have been given this amazing opportunity to speak to this church, to speak as a young Chicano, as a person of color, who sees this church and sees what it can be. We must be willing to change ourselves and our institutions if we are to make change in our world.
In its bad times, this church has given me stress and disappointment, and in the past year I have been challenged to reconsider how I view religion, spirituality, and the intersection of the two. That being said, I do not stay in the church because I love or fear God. I do not stay in the church because I want to please God. I do not stay in the church because I think it’s a ticket to heaven or any promise of salvation. I do not stay in the church because I think I need to bow down to God. I stay in the church because of the relationships made and curated by pure affection. I stay in the church for men like Randy Callendar, Frank Sierra, Luis González, Anthony Guillen, Jesse Villegas, and Broderick Greer. I stay in the church for women like Grace Ahern, Nancy Fraustro, Ariana González-Bonillas, Luisa Bonillas, Bronwyn Clark Skov, Valerie Harris, and Christi Cunningham. I stay in the church for the scent of Standing Rock and the chill of Harte Lawn on prayer night. I stay in the church for the way the stars look from Kanuga rocking chairs. I stay in the church for Hawaiian prayer books and Sandra Montes y su musica. I stay in the church for resolutions that support freedom from state-sanctioned oppression. I stay in the church for the story Anthony told me the first night I was here, how Latino Ministries went from a two page publication to the gold standard for group ministry. I stay in the church because la lucha is not over. I stay in the church because we have a platform to make real change and to speak for the silenced. We have a powerful voice, a poetic loving voice that sees the problems of this world and is willing to wrestle with them. So let’s use that prophetic voice. Amen