Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Will This Pride End the Prejudice?

This is an historic weekend for the LGBTQ+ community. President Barack Obama has designated the Stonewall Inn, a once-seedy little gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, into a national monument as we mark the 47th anniversary of the uprising that started our modern day gay rights movement. Pride parades held across the country and all over the world saw marriage proposals (we hit the one year anniversary of that law in America on Sunday) and joy and presidential candidates marching with us. OK, just one presidential candidate who happens to be a woman.

There are 49 Florida flags, flying for 49 days, to honor the victims of the attack on Pulse nightclub. There is no mention anywhere about the intersection of these being mostly gay, Latinx people.

And there was the recognition that our celebrations are still happening in a world where a person can kill forty-nine people out having fun at a gay nightclub, and elected officials and church leaders struggle mightily with identifying the victims as members of the Latinx LGBTQ community. If it were any other minority group, would there be this reluctance?

These past couple of weeks, I have been fortunate to be immersed in my community of the Mickee Faust Club, a collection of artistic misfits of all kinds who come together to make the smartest and most relevant theater seen on any stage in this country. 

Faustkateers gathering before the start of a performance.

Our “Queer as Faust 9” cabaret couldn’t have come at a more needed time as we honored the dead and wounded by continuing to live out loud and proud and rejecting the political narrative that what happened at Pulse was about terrorism. Instead, we named the oppression we continue to live under in Florida that has been propped up and supported by the very people who stood in front of TV cameras and talked about the “victims” and seeking justice for “the victims” without acknowledging the most important intersection of their victimhood: they were…almost all of them…gay!

The tears are now drying up, and I can feel myself moving into the next level of processing my grief around this hate crime. I admitted to my spiritual director that attempting to keep up with my regular routine of prayer was greatly challenged. Tragedies such as Pulse are so horrid that one really does wonder, “And where were you, God?!”

I have asked this question before, and I’ve often encouraged other people not to be afraid to ask that question because if there’s any entity that can take a painful and agonized and angry cry of “Where are you?!?!” it’s God.

For me, the answer is that God was also being gunned down that night in a hail of bullets.
God was in Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, who put herself in front of her son to protect him and ultimately gave up her life.
God was in the bouncer who rushed people to the staff exit door, saving at least 50 people.
God was in the first responders who both surrounded the club and helped get the wounded to a nearby hospital.
God was in the surgeons, some of whom have had war time experience, who saved the lives of all the wounded.

God has appeared and emerged in many ways in this period. There is “not so religious” way of finding laughter and connections with Faustkateers as we each grappled in our own ways with grief. 
Modern Major General cast from "Queer As Faust 9." 

There is the out pouring of love from people at St. Thomas, a community that has been friendly enough toward me since I’ve been with them, but a few of them have intentionally sought me out the past two Sundays to hug me. And, when I was cyberstalked by an unstable person last week, there was an immediate online uprising of friends who wanted to let me know that they had my back. And one of them, a former newspaper bureau chief, made the observation that it is no longer OK for the straight community to sit on the sidelines and let us queer folk defend ourselves. It is time for them to also call out homophobia when they see it, and not allow bullies to get in a few licks before they step into the ring with us.

But this also goes beyond good feelings and seeing posts online. The deaths of 49 LGBTQ+ people cannot just be about words. There must be action. At all levels and in all corners of the country, in city halls and state houses, and Congressional chambers, and the White House. And—yes—even in the churches, and synagogues, and mosques, and temples, and Wiccan circles.

The gospel lesson in the Monday morning daily office was from Matthew and it was what I’ve been thinking about lately. Jesus, upon arriving in Jerusalem, sees that the Temple has become a center of commerce instead of a place of prayer, and he goes wild, kicking over tables, sending money and doves flying. This is when activist Jesus has had all he can take of how the people have debased the holy, and he displays a righteous rage which upsets the order of the day. And he doesn’t care because the order was out-of-order.

We have been out-of-order when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. Like all groups that do not fit into the category of “majority,” it’s easy to forget that I can still be fired from a job, or denied housing, or refused services because I am a lesbian. Florida and the nation have refused to pass bills to make us a protected class. Instead, they adopt “religious freedom” laws to give cover to people who want to use their religious beliefs to justify discrimination. Or they pass “bathroom bills” to require transgender and gender-queer people to produce proof of their biological sex in order to use a public restroom. While there have been religious leaders who have spoken out against these laws, there have been many who have insisted they need them. And then they wonder why the LGBTQ+ community might be a little leery of their expressions of thoughts and prayers during a time of tragedy.

If there can be any good out of this horrible event, maybe it will be the work of God to open the hearts and minds of those on their knees in prayer…and soliciting our support this election…to quit being the stumbling blocks to our full humanity and not just tolerate us but recognize and accept us as part of the mosaic of God’s human creation. Pope Francis has called on the Roman Catholic Church to apologize to the LGBTQ+ community for the centuries of mistreatment and seek forgiveness. While that might be great PR for the Pope, I want to see the Roman Catholic Church not only apologize and seek forgiveness; I want it to repent of its attitude toward our community, quit with the fear that seems tied to the rejection of “the flesh” and understand that “the flesh” is the container for “the spirit” while it is here in this realm. Hating on the body seems to be a root cause for the animosity toward LGBTQ+ people. We are so “earthy” because our identity is tied to our sexuality. Has the Church forgotten to teach that our sexual selves are also gifts from God and should be celebrated and treated with honor and glory?

The common theme I have had running in my head for more than a week comes from Psalm 80: “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.”

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Mighty Force of Love

There's been a lot said this week and a lot shared on social media about the horrible crime at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Many of us in the LGBTQ+ community have struggled with staying focused at work in between bouts of sobbing and the mental fog that descends when you are in grief. Grief is like that. It suspends all time, manner, and place as it puts you in an other-worldly in-between space of neither here nor there.

I have appreciated the posts where gay people attempt to explain to the straight community why we who are LGBTQ+ feel this tragedy on a personal level. It is a rare person who comes out as gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender who has not been to a gay nightclub and considers such places to be a refuge from a harsh and hating world. Every one of us could see in the faces of the victims our own selves as well as seeing the individual young and joyful eyes of so many Latinx who were embracing life and celebrating Pride Week in America's theme park city. When we expressed "We are Orlando" that's what we meant.

I also have appreciated those expressions from straight friends struggling to find words and ways to express their profound sorrow about this hate crime. For some of them, it has come in the form of wanting to offer prayers, attend the vigils, give free hugs. For others it has been to express their outrage that we've had another mass shooting in America and the demand that we not ignore the carnage or worry that "now is not the time" to talk about the growing problem of gun violence. At long last, some of my friends who are gun enthusiasts are now raising the same questions I've had forever about the wide and easy availability of certain weapons and the lobby that blocks any study of gun violence from happening. I see in these responses that effort to channel into action feelings of "What can I do?" To not feel helpless in a helpless situation.

Still, there have been those whose response to the terribleness of this shooting was to do one of two other things: attempt to turn away from the real fact that this was a targeted killing of LGBTQ+ people of color and make it about terrorism (a claim that has now been refuted by our own intelligence sources) and to otherwise not speak the name of "gay" or "queer" or "LGBTQ+" but generically refer to the 49 dead as "victims" or "humans." The other was to want to do what I call "turning the spotlight" on themselves by insisting that (fill-in-the-name) minority group has, in fact, been killed in greater numbers than what happened at Pulse in one night, as if there was something to be gained in taking the prize for "worst mass shooting ever."

For me, the biggest hurt has been in how the church and Christians specifically have responded. A hate-filled pastor in California puts up a video saying that more of us should have died. That he claims the mantle of Christ is offensive to me. And then why anyone who professes a belief in Jesus Christ would feel the need to share videos or reports about these anti-gay remarks of an off-the-wall pastor was mind-boggling. Atheists, naturally, would share such a thing so as to highlight the hypocrites in their contention that all Christians are hypocrites.

In response to those irresponsible and hateful words, I shared this Facebook video by Fr. Jim Martin, a Jesuit Roman Catholic priest to show that face of Christianity that is not homophobic. His words are of far greater value, in my opinion, and deserve to be shared. Because the true test of one's faithfulness to Christ is the ability to enter into the pain and suffering of the injured, the despondent, the grieving and the hurting person without condition and without the need to shift the spotlight onto one's self or to keep one's self aloof and apart. The words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew, "Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest," is the type of invitation that many of us would be happy to accept from those who profess to be followers of Christ. Shoulder this grief with us, give us the space to feel and breathe again. And above all else, refute the attempts to whitewash this tragedy by acknowledging this  was about hatred of gay people. Just like the shooting at this time last year inside Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston was about the calculated killing of black people. It's all about hate and fear of those painted by some politicians and church leaders as "others."

I am more convinced than ever that the reason the LGBTQ+ population was a target in this crime and why we are trotted out every two-to-four years to be vilified and made into demons in the political spectrum is because we are a community built on love.

Because we love we are hated and feared.

Because we love those who dwell in darkness are always attempting to douse our light.

Because we love the peddlers of destruction and death project their own brokenness unto us and then scream, "A-ha!"

Jesus, who was the queerest person in every sense of the word in the whole Bible in my opinion, knows the odds that the LGBTQ+ community faces because he, too, was killed by a world that was too scared and threatened to accept that he loved and wanted everyone to love. Obviously, the world hasn't changed that much. And yet, it is the Christian narrative of Jesus' resurrection and his power to overcome death that serves as a source of strength for me in my commitment and belief that Love is going to win. Always. Even when it suffers punches and body blows, it will prevail.

Time to commit to love more deeply and strongly than ever before.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Love Boldy, Freely, Queerly

 I participated this evening in a prayer vigil at First Presbyterian which was pulled together by various LGBTQ+ groups. I spoke on behalf of both PFLAG and the Mickee Faust Club. The PFLAG comments were a last minute extemporary explanation about who the group is, how it functions, and that it actually meets at First Pres in the Westminster Room. And then, I turned to talking about the meaning of the Mickee Faust Club:

The Mickee Faust Club is known for making people laugh. But it is very hard to find humor at a time when we are hurting, and your Faustkateers…like everyone…are in pain, shock and horror over this hate crime in Orlando. Spaces such as Pulse are the safe havens for those of us who have suffered threats of violence and physical and verbal attacks for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or any other variation of non-conforming to the “norm” of society. It’s these spaces that allow us to be free and to breathe and relax and be at home. The Mickee Faust Club has been one of those comforting “queer places” for almost three decades in Tallahassee, and it is a center of activism for the gay community. So we have felt this attack on Pulse both at an individual and a corporate level.

But the spirit of our theater troupe is the same vibrant, creative, strong and amazing life force that exists within the larger LGBTQ+ community. We love. And because we love, we are able to laugh. And because we laugh, we can shed light into those dark corners of the world that are threatened and scared of our love. Forty-nine bright lights were violently snuffed out this past weekend. But the fire of our love will not be put out or put down. Or silenced with paper bags over our heads or shoved back into the closets so many of us finally escaped. Together with love we will take to the stage in Railroad Square and be Queer As Faust to the Ninth Power!!

Love may have suffered a blow to the heart this weekend, but we will pull together and we will overcome. Remember the dead with the defiance that has defined our movement from Stonewall to today. Love boldly, freely, and queerly. Faust is with you!

Thoughts on A Horrible Day

He didn't like seeing two men kissing in Miami, so he shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando full of young LGBTQ+ people, many of color.

That's the boiled down version of why the worst shooting massacre in United States history occurred early Sunday morning at last call at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. At the end of the shooting spree, there were  fifty dead including the shooter, and at least that many or more injured and needing to go to the hospital.

It was a devastating story to encounter first thing in the morning on Facebook. And I have been crying on and off all day.

The Mickee Faust Club, one of those supposed "safe places" for queer people to gather, is in the process of pulling together our cabaret to celebrate Gay Pride month. But instead of doing our tech rehearsal, we joined with others at a local downtown lake to mourn and march and sing. Monday night's run through was also postponed so that we could gather at the state Capitol to rededicate ourselves to living in love without fear.

I have purposely stayed away from a lot of media today. I did hear that supposedly the shooter has a connection to the terrorist organization ISIS, and even though the FBI knew that, he was able to purchase an AR-15, the same weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut and the San Bernadino Office Party shooting last Christmas.

This led me to post the following status on Facebook:

A shooting at a Luby's in Texas? Nothing. A shooting at a McDonald's in Southern California? Nothing. A shooting at a high school in Colorado? Nothing. A shooting at a public event with a Congresswoman in Arizona? Nothing. A shooting in a movie theater in Colorado (and Louisiana)? Nothing.A shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut? Nothing. A shooting at a university in Virginia? Nothing. A shooting at the DC Navy Yard? Nothing. A shooting at Fort Hood in Texas? Nothing. A shooting at a military recruitment center in Tennessee? Nothing. A shooting at a Bible Study in South Carolina? Nothing. Regular shootings daily in Chicago? Nothing. A shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando? _________. Do NOT tell me this isn't a public health problem! And do not come here to tell me why you love your guns. Seriously, not today!

Of course, some people want to argue with me that this isn't about the guns; it's about the people. But I'm sorry. If there is one thing I have come to learn in 48 years of living on this planet, it's that the human heart has both the impulse for good and the impulse for evil. It lives in each of us, whether we profess a belief in God or not. If you feed the heart with Love and beauty and seek what is life-affirming, then the goodness will grow. However, if you take a regular bath in hatred and anger and greed, then you are feeding the evil part of yourself at the detriment to the good. Give that person a gun and....

This is why I really didn't want to hear what Florida Republican Senator, and a vocal opponent of the gay community, Marco Rubio had to say, or watch him shake his head in disbelief. I didn't seek out Governor Rick Scott who treats us like pesky flies, or the truly repugnant Republican AG Pam Bondi who actively fought our right to marry, and still cannot understand that blocking marriage equality was UNconstitutional. While I don't pray for the death of any of these folks, I do acknowledge that they are my enemies, just like the shooter in Orlando was my enemy. And their words and actions have helped to foster and grow an intolerance and nonacceptance of us that fuels idiotic bathroom debates, and mass shootings at gay nightclubs.

I do hope that maybe this time this will lead to really introducing a bill in Congress to get this mass shooting public health problem solved. The medicine is within our reach. We just need our elected leadership to stop looking over their shoulder at what the National Rifle Association may or may not do to them. A tall order, but I expect and demand bravery.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Seeing God in the Other: a sermon at United Church Tallahassee

Scripture used:
1 Kings 8:22-23; 41-43;  Psalm 96 1-9; Luke 7:1-10

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the Naturalization Ceremony at the United States Federal Courthouse. I was there to show support for my friend, Beatrice, who after living in the country for thirty years was finally becoming a citizen. She didn’t want anyone to come and, of course, my wife and I, being her friends, heard this request…and ignored it. This was a big deal…and we were going to be there whether she wanted us to or not! That’s what friends are for, right?
Not only was this a big deal, it was a HUGE deal. Seventy-one people….from France, England, Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Vietnam, Palestine, Iraq, China…and so many other countries were taking an oath and pledging their allegiance to the United States of America. They were smiling (how many people are happy to be in a federal court room?) Family members and friends were snapping photos. Each of the petitioners was given a short moment to express the meaning of this day to them. Over and over we heard “thank you!” “What a privilege!” “I am so happy to become an American!” As a native of this country, I was in awe to witness this joy, and to hear people with various lilts and accents speaking with pride about becoming one with me as a citizen of this nation.
I don’t often think about what it means to be an American, let alone think about citizenship as a privilege or something that makes me feel grateful and happy. More often than not, I see America’s flaws and where we have failed to be a great nation that takes care of its poor, its hopeless, and its lost and lonely people.  I sat next to a woman wearing a hijab. She was there because her husband was becoming a citizen. She pledged allegiance to the flag. She recited the oath of citizenship along with everyone else.  And, as we stood and listened to a man with a magnificent baritone voice belt out the national anthem, I felt myself overcome with the emotion of this moment. We were welcoming the foreigners into our land of the free and home of the brave.
Welcoming, and including foreigners is a central tenet of our Judeo-Christian tradition. We hear that clearly in the reading we had from First Kings. Solomon has just finished building the Temple and in his prayer of dedication he calls on God to hear the prayers of the foreigner “who is not of your people Israel” when they come to this house and call upon God.  Jewish law required them to show hospitality to the strangers in their midst, and Solomon went so far as to intercede to the God of Israel to pay attention to the foreigners and give heed to their pleas in the same way that God would hear the prayer of an Israelite. In this way, the foreigner might come to know the God of Israel and become part of the crowd.  The ceremony on Tuesday reflected that same generosity of spirit toward these newest citizens. Besides all the documentation that they now possess that proves their citizenship (and their desk-sized American flags) the presiding judge and speakers could not emphasize enough that the most important right of citizenship was to register to vote. And don’t you know that our Supervisor of Elections had three members of his staff on hand ready to help sign them up! Many of the petitioners mentioned how excited they were at this opportunity to vote in the upcoming election. And those of us in the room contemplating the current political state of affairs in the country likely all had the same collective thought of, “Oh, I bet you are happy to vote!”
Which brings me to the Gospel lesson we heard this morning from Luke about the Roman centurion seeking help from the Jewish Jesus. Remember that in this time, Rome was an occupying force and the Jews felt under the thumb and oppressed by the presence of the Roman soldiers. This centurion, however, was viewed a little differently. He had been kind to the Jews and had even built their synagogue. He petitions Jesus to please heal his sick servant. When Jesus comes, the centurion, aware that Jewish law forbids Jesus from entering the house of a Gentile, urges Jesus not to come under his roof.  Just say the word…he pleads…and heal my servant. And I can almost picture this moment: Jesus…stunned by what this Gentile Army General has said and just how deeply this man “gets it”…turns around to the people following Jesus and says…to take some liberties with text…,“Whoa! Now THIS is what faith looks like!”
I go back to that Naturalization Ceremony and all those people who desired to become part of our country and take part in our right to vote. Even my friend made her first act as a citizen registering to vote so she could have a say in the governance of this state and the nation.  Think about that for a moment. People…who have had to jump through hoops and drive to Jacksonville and Miami and swear an allegiance to the United States…are relishing this opportunity to vote. They believe and have faith in this as a democratic society where voting does matter and does make a difference. And then consider the conversation---if you can even call it that—that seems to be happening on social media sites such as Facebook. I don’t know what you’re seeing and reading from your friends, but on my timeline it seems everything about the system is rigged and the will of the people is being thwarted. Democracy is a sham.
I don’t believe that. Democracy is messy. Democracy means that I win sometimes and I lose sometimes. If there is anyone who has cause to feel that the system is rigged, it’s those for whom guarantees of access through the Voting Rights Act are being threatened. And, despite the undue influence of money in our political system, I still have faith that my vote…and the votes of real people and not corporations…matters.
Now…before you think this is only a sermon on voting...let me bring this back to the matter of faith and the foreigner. Because just like the messiness that is our Democracy…this idea of who is a beloved child of God is also not so clean cut. It would be so much easier and convenient if we could say that if you look like me, talk like me, and worship in the same church as me…then you’re “of God” and everybody else…is not. But that certainly isn’t what Solomon was saying in his prayer of dedication of a temple he built to the glory of God. And it isn’t the lesson we’re getting from Jesus this morning about the one who is outside of his own flock of followers, and yet had more faith in Jesus’ healing powers than what the Son of God had found in all of Israel. Perhaps what we’re called to hear in all of this is that God’s grace is abundant, God’s mercy is everlasting, and God’s faithfulness can be found in those who are “the others” in our society. It could be that God is calling us to see in those who are not just like us the hope and the joy of what it means to be citizens not only of a country on earth but a country on earth as it is in heaven. Embrace the faith. Be kind to one another. And let us all say, “Amen.”

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Outrage in the Land of the Free

We've been praying a collect that talks of the reconciling love of Christ, and yet I have felt very little love for my neighbors in Mississippi or North Carolina. Or the Florida Governor's Mansion. Or even for some of my friends on Facebook during this political season. This has been a week of outrage and outrageousness.

Again, the LGBTQ+ community finds itself under attack by state legislators who suffer from "Trans panic" about who is going into which public restroom, and whether a hospital should be compelled to provide care to someone who is a member of the LGBTQ+ population. I realize it's more ridiculous to talk about denying a wedding cake to a gay or lesbian couple, but the more truly horrid part of the new Mississippi law is that a hospital surgeon could decide she doesn't want to treat a person because their orientation or gender identity or expression offends her religious beliefs. Our Governor walked into a Starbucks in Gainesville, a university city with a more liberal-leaning than its neighboring towns, and found himself face-to-face with a woman who had had enough of his anti-woman, anti-poor policies. Rather than sticking around to get his soy no water chai latte (I have it on good authority that this is his preferred drink order at Starbucks), the Governor walked off...and then had his PAC cut an ad lambasting this female citizen critic. And let's not even get started on the many flare-ups between friends on Facebook over Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and which one is "qualified" to be President. Lord, make haste to help us!

In fact, God is providing for me a few hints in this Sunday's lectionary that, as always, Love is aware and pointing toward the possibility and rewards of reconciliation. 

We hear the story from the Acts of the Apostles about the conversion of Saul (who will miraculously become Paul midway through that book). This is one of my favorites from Acts because it speaks so well to the tension of division and God's power to take two bitter enemies and convert their hearts to the oneness of being in relationship with the One and each other. Here's Paul, on his way to Damascus and all fired-up because he's going to get more of these followers of "The Way," stopped in his tracks and faced with the resurrected Christ saying, "Why, Saul? Why are you doing this to me?" He is blinded, led into Damascus to the home of a follower of "The Way" named Ananais, who is just a tad bit worried about having this hater in his home town. God assures Ananais that this will all be OK if he will please lay his hands on Saul and pray. Reluctantly, he does it, and Saul's eyes are opened...not only in the physical sense that he is no longer blind, but also the eyes of his heart are opened to a conversion to Christ as messiah. And a tremendous and important advocate for Christianity is born. And Ananais is, well, in awe. Thanks be to God! Now, let's hear that Gospel story again about fishing off the other side of the boat, and the discussion with Peter out on the beach. 

Peter, feeling a little sheepish (yes, pun intended), is having an important one-on-one discussion with Jesus at the end of John's Gospel. It sounds a little like the song from "Fiddler on the Roof": "Do you love me?" "Do I what?!"  Peter needs this moment with Jesus to undo the three times of denying knowing him before the crucifixion. Jesus needs this moment with Peter to convey the forgiveness of this wrong, and place a heavy burden upon Peter to now, for real, "follow me." And, once more, God has interjected God's self into strengthening the faith and the bond to open Peter's heart to become a tremendous and important advocate for the future of the Christian church. Peter and Paul had dual and important missions serving different pockets of people in the spreading of the Good News. And both were key figures in the story that would lead to a religion that would be subsumed at different times by the power structures of the day. Not always to the glory of God, but that's not the fault of either Peter or Paul. Their mission was to bring the transformative power of Love to the people. And, ultimately amidst all the hubbub and nastiness of the day, that's our job, too.

It is tremendously hard to keep that focus, at least it is for me, and I fall short of it often. But it is the point to which I must return if I am to remain able to be the light I wish to see in the world. And we need a whole lot more light because, as we've seen in the past week alone, the streets are still filled with too much darkness and there are those who keep attempting to shoot out the street lights to make it even darker. This is not some Pollyanna baloney I'm putting out there. This is my entreaty to those of us who call ourselves "Christian" to remember that when we fail to act out of our place of Love, we need to stop, think and return to that place because that IS our true power. As I so often pray, "Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the church and in Christ Jesus. Amen." These are not just words; this prayer is the intent of my heart. In the face of opposition, and meanness, and rancor, we have the power to combine with others who are tapped into the Light to overcome the darkness of the world. Believe in it. Live into it.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Maybe We Need to Do Things Differently

"The Miraculous Draught of Fish"by Rubens

The days of Easter Week are kind of like the old Ginsu knife commercials where with each subsequent amazing feature of this kitchen cutting implement, the announcer would say, "But wait: there's more!" Since the most amazing and miraculous event of the Resurrection last Sunday, we've been treated daily to more wonderful testimonies of Jesus appearing to the disciples, being known to them in the breaking of the bread, etc. At the 12:10 service this Friday, the scene was the moment when Peter and some of the disciples take off in a boat to go fishing, since this is what they know how to do. They keep trying to catch fish, but they're not successful. Jesus in the meantime has been watching them from the shore, and when they come in, empty-handed, he tells them to cast the net off the right side of the boat. So, off they go, and they give the right-side a try. And--holy mackerel, salmon, and tuna--they haul in 153 huge fish!

Our celebrant was most interested in the charcoal fire on the beach...which he noted the only other time there was a charcoal fire mentioned was when Peter denied Jesus, something that would be undone in the verses to follow in the 21st chapter of  John's Gospel. But I was more interested by a couple of other parts of today's Gospel. First, it hadn't struck me until today that the breakfast Jesus serves up on the beach is bread and fish, which for me recalls the miraculous feeding of the five thousand and is one of the few stories of Jesus which exists in all four Gospels. This breakfast is only going to feed a dozen, not thousands, and yet it is significant that the same food which fed all and all were satisfied is brought out again to feed those who will be charged with "feed my sheep."

Even more interesting is the idea of the 153 fish. I've looked, and I can't find anything that would be a clue about this number, but I am taking it as a sign of the diversity of sea life that found its way into their net and even with all of them squirming and their collected weight, the net didn't break. Cool, right? "But wait: there's more!"

I have to wonder if the significance of this catch could hold a lesson for us, the Church, today? I am curious about the idea that the apostles weren't able to fulfill their mission to "fish for people" until they dropped their net off the other side of the boat. As I consider this, it makes me think that for the church to grow, we need to be willing to cast our net into the waters that are not the usual ones. There are a lot of "fish" out there...just as there are a lot of "sheep" who need feeding and tending. But if we keep going to the same places, and using the same methods of attracting people, then we are missing an opportunity to reach those who are still swimming about in the great big sea called "the world." And the people we may encounter may not be "the usual suspects," which, in the case of Episcopalians, would be upper middle-class white people. Our population could stand to look a little more diverse and come from more walks of life.

Naturally, this requires people to step outside of their usual patterns and gathering places in order to meet those who are not just like us. That's risky, and nobody really likes to do what is risky. Face-to-face, person-to-person contact is always the best. And I sometimes wonder if it doesn't help to share freely and fully some of the good things happening at a particular church through this medium called "social networking." It may not seem as effective as the incarnated encounter with a happy Episcopalian. And yet, more and more people are dependent on their FB and other social networks to know what's happening in the world. A well-organized and planned strategy for sharing posts will raise a church's visibility. And once people find the church, a congregation trained in showing hospitality to a stranger is the net to encourage that visitor to become a more frequent participant. And once someone feels included, their willingness to take part in the life of the church takes off. And now--you have a net teeming with fish!

Are we ready for that?