Monday, January 19, 2015

The Drum Major Instinct

It was a cold and windy mid-November morning when I walked from a hotel in downtown Atlanta through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. I kept my pace brisk as I crossed street after street, even walking under a major interstate. I passed by many a closed business, and bars advertising prizes for twerking. This was definitely out of my element. But I was on a mission: I wanted to go to Ebenezar Baptist Church, the church that launched the career of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I was not disappointed. The docent at the desk informed me that, in the church basement, there was a video playing of one of Dr. King's siblings telling the story of her brother and her family's involvement in the life of Ebenezer Baptist. King's father was the pastor and his mother was the organist and choir director. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was a child, he used to love to sing. He would grow up to be the co-pastor of the church with his father from 1960 to his death in 1968. The video also told the story of how violence rocked their church about six years after Rev. Dr. King's assisination. It was a Sunday morning. Dr. King's mother had just finished playing and they were starting prayers in the church when a man stood up on one of the pews, announced he was taking over, and began shooting. King's mother was killed in the melee along with a deacon. The 23-year-old who did the shooting said he did it because he was opposed to Christianity.

With that in my head, I ascended the steps to the sanctuary. There was only me, and one other couple. They left fairly soon after I got there, which gave me the entire space to myself. Me, an empty sanctuary with flowers and an old-fashioned microphone on the pulpit and the recording of the Rev. Dr. King's sermon, "The Drum Major Instict." 

I was deeply moved as I sat and listened to his voice filling the air. I knew the Scripture passage well, the moment in which the brothers are arguing and asking Jesus to give them the seats of honor on his left side and the right side. It is a moment in Jesus' ministry where I often wonder, "Did these guys who were following him here, there and everywhere have a clue as to what he was doing?" The presumption of these two guys, John and James, that they could ask Jesus to make them first ahead of the other disciples is pretty amazing, and yet, pretty typical of so many of us. That's what Rev. Dr. King referred to as "the Drum Major instinct."  I sat at times with eyes closed as I took in how Dr. King put this tale into his modern day situation in 1968. People putting themselves into financial crises by attempting to live beyond their means. Nations putting themselves and their people at-risk by asserting that their way is superior to the way of other nations. Racism, and how poor whites had deluded themselves into believing they are superior to blacks while suffering under the same oppression and injustice plaguing communities of color. And he turned his own sights back to Jesus for the role model of what real leadership looks like. I wept as I heard Dr. King say of himself that at his funeral he didn't want anyone to go on and on about him. He didn't want to be known for the many accolades he had accumulated. He didn't want them to talk about his Nobel Peace Prize. 

"Tell them I tried to love and serve humanity." 

Little did he know, he was preaching his own eulogy. His wife requested that this sermon be played at his funeral.

Little did I know this mission to find and visit his church would leave such an impression on me. I heard in his sermon many things I have felt for myself as one who has kept plugging away at the struggle for equality particularly for LGBTQI people. I don't work for justice so that I can get awards. I work for justice because I can't feel comfortable knowing that others are struggling. Yes, we have finally achieved marriage equality in Florida. But people are still able to be fired from their jobs if they get married to their same-gender partner. The Roman Catholic diocese in South Florida has made it clear to all its employees to "beware" of making public comments on social media about the marriage issue that might "contradict" traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. The Episcopal diocese of Florida has not even acknowledged that there has been this sea change in the civil marriage laws. We have made progress. But this march is far from over. And so I'm lacing up my shoes, ready to walk the path that is laid before me.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Marriage Happens

Overwhelmed. Goose bumps. Tears. Lots and lots of tears.

I'm frankly too spent and have no more words to describe what an amazing day this has been. All of our city commission and mayor, and the majority of the county commission stood in the entrance of the Leon County Clerk of Courts office to greet us, the LGBTQI community seeking marriage licenses for the first time in Florida history.

It was joyous. And a wonderful counterbalance to today's other activity; the inauguration of the people who have been fighting us every step of the way.

But today wasn't about them; it was about us. This is the day that Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Epiphany Brings Equality

At 12:01AM, January 6, 2015, the LGBTQI community of Florida will receive a gift. It won’t come in a box, wrapped in paper with a bow on top. It’s not something that can be contained in a bottle of bubbly, or put in a stocking. It’s a gift that comes in a legal opinion authored by United States District Court Judge Robert Hinkle declaring Florida’s laws, both in the state constitution and state statutes that limited marriage to heterosexuals only, to be in violation of the United States Constitution; hence marriage equality will be coming to Florida. In the words of Judge Hinkle:

"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage... will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination. Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held. The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down. Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society." (Judge Hinkle, August 21, 2014)

Pardon me while I wipe away tears.

This has been a long slog for many of us. When my partner and I were first dating and I asked about having some kind of a commitment ceremony that was all we could hope for. It wouldn't come with state and federal recognition, so that we might have benefits and protection of our property. And certainly, neither of us at that time conceived of having our union blessed. (Neither of us was active in a religious community, and the Episcopal Church wasn't
anywhere close to blessing same-sex couples!) When the movement for marriage equality began in Hawaii, and then had success in Massachusetts, it was intriguing, but still seemed a far-fetched notion that this would catch on, especially in Florida.

Then came Iowa.

And Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, California (on again, off again, on again) the District of Columbia…

As marriage equality was becoming a reality, opponents continued their fight. It wasn’t enough to have marriage outlawed in four places in the Florida statutes; they needed a constitutional amendment. 

And they got it…with just over 61-percent of the vote in 2008. It was a moment of bitterness to realize that a majority of those who cast ballots in an election that helped put Barack Obama in the White House also brought out voters who were willing to make me and my partner second-class citizens. It was devastating.

And so we marched. We shared our lives and our stories. We organized. And we filed lawsuits.

And we won a victory in June, 2013, in the United States Supreme Court with the Windsor decision.

Quickly, the dominoes began to fall. State after state, some by popular vote, many by court order. Secular and religious leaders were standing up for our rights. Even President Barack Obama arrived at a place where he was comfortable saying he had no problem with marriage equality.
Still, as all this happened, those of us in Florida kept wondering, “When will this be our reality?”

That time has arrived. Not without pain and suffering through the attempts to stall Judge Hinkle’s order. But it has now really arrived.

That this moment is coming to pass on the day that Christians celebrate the Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi bearing frankincense, gold, and myrrh, could not be more perfect. These wise men following a star in the east come bearing gifts to one whose purpose will be to spread the Good News of Love. They are overjoyed at the sight of this child, born in exile, and unpack their treasures for him. 

This is very much what this moment in our state’s history feels like. The courts have followed Wisdom that has led justices to bestow upon a community, singled out for who we love, with the gift of equal rights in marriage.
It is also not lost on me that our wonderful happy day is coming on the same day that the opponents of the LGBTQI community will be taking the oath of office for another four-year term. John Stemberger, the man who put the noxious anti-marriage amendment on the ballot in 2008 is on the guest list for the pre-inaugural prayer breakfast. There are clerks of court in Baker, Clay, Duval, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa Counties who have responded to the ruling by ending the tradition of courthouse weddings for anyone rather than be compelled to marry a lesbian or gay couple. Without statewide, or in many places county protections from discrimination, we may get married, but we aren’t necessarily protected from losing our jobs, housing or access to public accommodations. After the Magi left the manger, Mary and Joseph had to stay on the run with Jesus because King Herod was out to kill him. Love seems to never know complete peace or absence of fear and loathing in the world. We are still a long way from reaching full equality.

For now, however, the celebrations are on. My partner and I will be heading to the clerk’s office to make our application for a marriage license. It will be a lovely step forward in this 23+ year “courtship” and the start of the state-recognition of our marriage. Let the wedding bells of freedom peal out over the Sunshine State.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of 2014

Here in the United States, we're hours away from saying, "Good-bye!" to 2014. I am fine with seeing this year go away and become part of the history books. The year had a difficult and sad beginning for me. Multiple airplane trips north with delays, cancelled flights due to ice and snow in Atlanta, and unexpected stays in Baltimore and Jacksonville...all were part of the difficulties and trauma associated with the eventual death of my mom. She passed away on February 7th, and I was back with my partner in New Hampshire for my birthday for her funeral a week later. 

Losing my mom was different than when I lost my dad. Dad's death awakened my faith; mom's death put it more to the test. This might account for why I haven't been posting as much on this blog during the year. She was my most avid reader and would comment regularly. With her gone, this space has sometimes felt as if I'm talking to the trees, and just another reminder of her death. I started this blog in the wake of my dad's death and as a way of processing my faith journey, particularly as I returned to a church that had a reputation for homophobia before it split in October, 2005. With my mom's death, I also experienced something of a more symbolic death in having left that church in Tallahassee to join my new congregation, St. Thomas in Thomasville, GA. There I am opening to new life. I'm singing in the choir, serving as a Eucharistic Minister, lector and will be leading an EfM group. And my discernment process continues. In Georgia, it's allowed to continue because my sexual orientation doesn't pose a problem. 

Which brings me back to my faith. It has suffered some knocks but it hasn't waivered and, in fact, has been sinking deeper roots to draw up the Source to keep me centered. Something about having lost an important and central figure in my life has made me reflect on the importance of letting go of certainty and holding onto things. The worst pain seems to come from becoming overly attached to people, places or things and expecting that nothing will change. The one thing that will always remain is that Source which continues flowing like a constant river and even as all other things fall away and become part of my memories, I can continue to drink from that river. Without it, I don't know how I'd manage.

This blog will continue. I will post as I am moved to share that drink with all of you. Happy New Year and may 2015 bring new lessons. 


Monday, December 29, 2014

History and the Holy Innocents

There is some doubt about whether King Herod's fear-filled directive to execute all the baby boys in Bethlehem actually happened as was stated in Matthew's gospel.  But the history of Wounded Knee is real. A friend posted this account today on Facebook:

From today's Writer's Almanac by Garrison Keillor
Today is the anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee, which took place in South Dakota in 1890. Twenty-three years earlier, the local tribes had signed a treaty with the United States government that guaranteed them the rights to the land around the Black Hills, which was sacred land. The treaty said that not only could no one move there, but they couldn't even travel through without the consent of the Indians.
But in the 1870s, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the treaty was broken. People from the Sioux tribe were forced onto a reservation, with a promise of more food and supplies, which never came. Then in 1889, a native prophet named Wovoka, from the Paiute tribe in Nevada, had a vision of a ceremony that would renew the earth, return the buffalo, and cause the white men to leave and return the land that belonged to the Indians. This ceremony was called the Ghost Dance. People traveled across the plains to hear Wovoka speak, including emissaries from the Sioux tribe, and they brought back his teachings. The Ghost Dance, performed in special brightly colored shirts, spread through the villages on the Sioux reservation, and it scared the white Indian agents. They considered the ceremony a battle cry, dangerous and antagonistic. So one of them wired Washington to say that he was afraid and wanted to arrest the leaders, and he was given permission to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed in the attempt. The next on the wanted list was Sitting Bull's half-brother, Chief Big Foot. Some members of Sitting Bull's tribe made their way to Big Foot, and when he found out what had happened, he decided to lead them along with the rest of his people to Pine Ridge Reservation for protection. But it was winter, 40 degrees below zero, and he contracted pneumonia on the way.
Big Foot was sick, he was flying a white flag, and he was a peaceful man. He was one of the leaders who had actually renounced the Ghost Dance. But the Army didn't make distinctions. They intercepted Big Foot's band and ordered them into the camp on the banks of the Wounded Knee Creek. Big Foot went peacefully.
The next morning federal soldiers began confiscating their weapons, and a scuffle broke out between a soldier and an Indian. The federal soldiers opened fire, killing almost 300 men, women, and children, including Big Foot. Even though it wasn't really a battle, the massacre at Wounded Knee is considered the end of the Indian Wars, a blanket term to refer to the fighting between the Native Americans and the federal government, which had lasted 350 years.
One of the people wounded but not killed during the massacre was the famous medicine man Black Elk, author of Black Elk Speaks (1932) . Speaking about Wounded Knee, he said: "I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Word Became Flesh and The Holy Innocents

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of

your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our

hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our

Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy

Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for the First Sunday After Christmas, BCP)

The First Sunday After Christmas pushes the commemoration of the Holy Innocents to Monday this year; however in the Church of the Wake Up and Live blog, I am placing them side-by-side.

Slaughter of the Holy Innocents by Duccio

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy 
innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, 
into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your 
great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish 
your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ 
our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the 
Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect for the Holy Innocents, BCP)

I understand the need for the church to keep these days separated, so that each may receive their due respect and reflection and remembrance. But the more I survey the cultural landscape, and the more I consider where I see the church fitting in to a world increasingly crowded with people and competing wants and desires, the more I felt the need to see these two occasions as the Yin and Yang of what's out there in our every day lives.

The slaughter of the Holy Innocents is Herod's fearful response to the news that there's a new king that's been born in Bethlehem. To stave off any future rival, Herod orders all baby boys two years and younger to be killed. Hence, we have the grisly scene of baby upon baby slain by the sword, none of whom were Jesus because God gave warning to Joseph in his dreams to get his family the heck out of there before the soldiers arrived. Jesus lived, but many others died. For the tyrant, any threat, real or perceived, to their absolute power and authority over others will drive them to do violence. They are the people still walking in darkness and determined to keep everyone else in the dark with them.

Which is why remembering the Gospel for today's First Sunday After Christmas is an important antidote to the destructive and power-hungry forces of the day. John opens his telling of Christ's life not with the manger scene, but with the establishment that this Word, that has been made flesh, was with God from the beginning, and this Word was the Light of the world. With this light now in the world, no amount of darkness will overcome it. This light will be the glowing flame that will challenge conventions, and blaze a trail of freedom and life for those with the courage to follow. And this light will shine into those places where those opponents, who wish to grow the darkness, least want to see. Darkness will attempt to overcome this light. But, as we learn at the other end of this story, not even death can put out this light.

In our world fraught with anger and division and with the abuse of power, the light continues to shine. It comes through every broken or cracked vessel who calls him or herself a child of God or a follower of Christ or on the path to whatever carries them closer to that Light of the world, and believes that light will be greater than the darkness. It comes from the trust that the light in the heart will fill the entire body and be the outward and visible sign to those still fumbling in the dark. This is the light that becomes more powerful when people committed to increasing the light in the world come together for the common purpose of igniting a bonfire that will burn away the darkness. Let this light so shine out in the darkness even in the face of opposition.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

St. John, Teach Us

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sandwiched between yesterday's stoning death of St. Stephen and tomorrow's massive slaughter of the Holy Innocents, we have the Feast Day of St. John, the evangelist. And the words of his collect serve as a reminder that this poetic and contemplative Gospel writer wants us to reflect on a key image of this Christmas season: the Light of Christ which has come back into our winter days. Even for those living in the Southern Hemisphere, where the light is at its height of summer, there is something about that abundance of the sun that can lead one to reflect upon the grace that comes to us through the Son, the Light from Light.

As I think about the illumination of who Christ was as the Son of God that comes through John's Gospel, I think about the ways in which we can carry that light forward so many centuries later. Like the way we pass the flame of a candle to our neighbors in the pews when we sing, "Silent Night," we can pass the light through small gestures of kindness to our fellow human beings as well as bigger statements and testimonies to that Light by standing with our neighbors during their times of darkness and struggle. I give thanks for all those who take care of the elderly and children, whether for money or for love. I also pray for those who seek the Light that they may encounter someone who will reach them in such a way that their newly-lit wick will burn in their hearts forever. Come, Spirit of water and blood, come.