Monday, November 28, 2016

Wake Up!!

"Sleepers, wake!" A voice astounds us, 
The shout of rampart guards surrounds us;
"Awake, Jerusalem, arise!"
Midnight's peace their cry has broken,
Their urgent summons clearly spoken;
"The time has come, O maidens wise!
Rise up and give us light; the Bridegroom is in sight.
Alleluia! Your lamps prepare and hasten there,
That you the wedding feast may share."
--Hymn #61, The Hymnal 1982, Episcopal Church

Following the election, a song that kept running through my head was Andre Thomas' arrangement, "Keep Your Lamps," a song of both spirituality in referencing Jesus' parable of the  young maidens who were ready for the bridegroom because they didn't waste the oil in their lamps, and its hidden message to African slaves to also be ready for the day would be coming when they would no longer be forced into hard labor, raped, and beaten by their white slave holders. While the hymn I've quoted at the beginning of this entry has, in my opinion,  a little less of the raw power of Thomas' anthem, it is also a powerful message of both burning light and being ready. Nothing seems more appropriate for these times ahead.

To be more blunt: it's time to wake up.

Nobody can sleep soundly when the lights are turned on high, and nobody can be drowsy when it is time to move into a place of action. For too long, in my opinion, various institutions of our country have been slapping the alarm clock's snooze button. Now we're waking into a nightmare, and the sleepyheads are now rubbing their eyes and saying, "Wha' happened?!"

Wha' happened? Well, my brothers and sisters of the Fourth Estate have come to believe that "fair and balanced" reporting means that you give the same weight to someone telling you outright fabrications as you do to someone who fudges the truth. My brothers and sisters in Christ have been more willing to vote for supposed "pocketbook issues" while totally overlooking their candidate's out loud sexist comments and close ties with racists, xenophobes, and homophobes that are not in sync with the Gospel. And my brothers and sisters on the more left-end of the political spectrum would rather hurl rocks at other progressive people for not being liberal enough and failing to be "utterly pure" in keeping the left-wing agenda to the point that they foolishly spilled the oil from their lamps for third party fringe lunatics who think anti-gay dictators are a-OK. 

Wake up. Wake up. Wake UP!!!

In this season of Advent, a time normally marked by patience and waiting, I find myself not in that space of patience and waiting in the usual sense. Instead, I'm looking around, not with anxiety (that wave has passed), but with a sense of quiet urgency that those of us who have been awake for awhile now must connect with the newly-awakened and form the alliances necessary to retain and maintain a fragment of what our nation should be, and not lose sight of its promises to promote life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness...or more rightly Justice...for all people. We cannot allow this dark wave of authoritarianism to snuff out the light of the longest-running democracy. The only way I know to do this work is through promotion of Love. Love is stronger than hate. Love is more bold than fear. Love is the promise that comes to Christians through the life of Jesus Christ. And Christ did not hold back on touching people and reaching out to those disparate groups who were struggling to hold it together under the rule of the Romans. If I have patience and waiting in my bones for this season, it is to enter into moments of quieting the chatter in my head long enough to listen for those opportunities to connect with other people seeking Love and not hate or fear during this long season ahead of us.

Let's find each other because stronger together, we can light up this world that is gathering under a dark cloud.    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Small Acts of Radicalism and Love

Safety pin on choir vestment

I live in the southeastern United States which, after the 2016 Presidential election, I have dubbed "The Red States of America." The electoral map had a big red mass in the lower right hand corner of the map. And that's where I live, move, and have my being. 

Life here has been intense. As I noted in my prior entry ("Love, Now More than Ever") I have been on edge traveling through south and central Georgia. I have seen postings from people in the Peach State that have made my skin crawl. Pictures of pick up trucks touting Trump's win and what that will mean for "fat dykes." Stories of children worried that they or their families will be deported or "sent back to Africa." A barista shared with me that her boyfriend, who looks like a typical southern red neck,  was heckled by car full of anti-Trump protestors as he was outside in his Tallahassee neighborhood. Of course, they didn't know that he was also anti-Trump. A classic moment of judging a book by its cover...or a southern guy by his beard.

It's also gotten ugly over how best to show support to people who are feeling threatened and scared about the incoming administration. A small gesture, fastening a safety pin to your clothes to indicate "You are safe with me" can kick up a firestorm from both sides. Those on the right ridicule and scoff at the gesture and accuse the wearer of fomenting division in the country. Those on the left ridicule and scoff at the gesture as white people attempting to assuage their white guilt about electing a white supremacist to the highest office in the land. Never mind that the people sporting the pin are more likely than not Clinton voters. The pin has become a prickly point in these parts.

I guess it might be too much to ask those on the left to consider that maybe, just maybe, the people sporting pins are making a commitment to always stand up against bigotry and prejudice and that this has nothing to do with their own feelings, and more to do with their empathy for the oppressed. Perhaps it's time for the left to stop attacking its own people simply because, unconsciously, it's easier to beat up on fellow liberals than to face the anger, hostility and meanness of their true opponents on the right.

I have found myself taking hits from people on both sides. To be both queer and Christian puts me in a perpetual place of vulnerability. 

What does that mean today, to be a person who is among the targeted and despised and yet professes a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? The people on the right reject me and my relationship and are ready to roll back all the civil rights gains the LGBTQ+ community have made and put me into conversion therapy. The people on the left have called me the equivalent of a Hitler-loving Jew for attempting to live into my calling to stand with the oppressed while always looking for ways to soften the hearts of those who right now seem so hard and fast in their hatred of me and my kind. In other words, to be queer and Christian at this time is to become even more in tune with what it means to follow Christ. As I've said, it's easy to say you love Jesus; it's a whole different thing to actually follow him into these impossible places to do the work that bridges gaps and attempts to raise up people rather than continuously drag them down. 

With this Sunday being the last Sunday of Pentecost, or Christ the King Sunday, listeners in the pews of Episcopal churches will hear a gospel lesson in which Jesus, hanging on the cross between two criminals and being mocked and scorned, says, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." From one side, Jesus gets more abuse from a convict; on the other side, he hears his fellow death row inmate come to his defense and beg for remembrance and mercy. Fast forward many centuries and place this scene in a contemporary context, I can see my queer Christian self being similarly taunted and disrespected and tested. I can feel the frustration and pain of seeing how totally screwed up the scene is around me (a man who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and NO major newspaper wins the presidency?) and yet I am, by hook or by crook, required to be in relationship in the world with people who supported this man while not making peace with his oppression of me or others. "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Really? Did they not know who they were electing? Sadly, strangely, it seems some people would not take the Republican candidate's incendiary talk on the campaign trail seriously. The rationale is "he didn't really mean all that stuff  about Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims." I'm not sure how one believes his economic plans while ignoring his troubling rhetoric about the many minority groups and his lack of respect for women. But it has been done. The votes were cast. So now what? How do I go to the communion rail with people who will not see the damage done with all the name-calling and whipping up unwarranted fears about "the others" of our society? "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing...." 

There are some who are among the unreachable. They've tapped their inner fear button through the right wing medium machine so many times that it's become as addictive as any drug. But there are those who are not the totally lost. These are the people I hope to reach with remaining as a presence of Love so that they might see the need for them to join in the work to prevent the spread of fear and to stop the violence--verbal and physical--that is already happening in the wake of this election. 

In the meantime, for those who have genuine fear, I am wearing my safety pin in the Red States of America to be an outward and visible sign of a willingness to speak up against the hatred that is swirling around them in the world. It is a small, yet radical, act of love and an assurance that I will not leave my brothers and sisters behind. Together we will stand on the side of love.    

 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Love, Now More Than Ever

It has taken me a few days to process and settle my mind enough to write a blog entry. Let me begin with the rawest of my emotions. This year has sucked and this presidential election is a cherry on top of the suckiest sundae ever.

I am shocked. I am angry. I am deeply hurt.

And I have felt fear in my heart. On Wednesday, I attended Morning Prayer, a quiet time of contemplation marked with hugs and tears. I worked and then had to drive to Augusta, GA, for a meeting of the Commission on Healing Justice, a working group-in-progress with the Episcopal dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta looking to leverage our place as Christians to confront issues of the death penalty and criminal justice system. Before I left Tallahassee for the nearly six-hour drive, I made sure I put air in the tires and filled up the gas tank. And then I drove, without ever getting out of the car, until I got to the hotel in Augusta. I did not want to have to stop for anything, even a bathroom break. I look like what I am: a dyke. And I was going to be driving through the heart of Trump’s America. I did not feel safe.

Friends, especially among Episcopal clergy, were posting that we need to come together for the good of the country. One priest here in Tallahassee penned an op-ed piece that appeared in the paper on Monday and insisted this healing had to begin immediately. Even I knew that if Hillary Clinton had won, there was no way the healing was going to be immediate, not after such a bruising campaign. Now, it is really questionable.

Already there is talk of rescinding the Obama administration’s rules that protected the rights of transgender students to use the rest room appropriate for their gender. We have an incoming Vice President who signed a religious freedom law that effectively gave the green light for Indiana businesses to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, and he supports conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids, an absolutely wrong and horrible thing to do to a child. They don’t support marriage equality either. And that’s just what they have in mind for queers for the first 100 days. We haven’t talked about all the other minority groups the president-elect has bullied and further marginalized and threatened to strip away rights and disrespect them. Friends are posting that their kids are coming home in tears because the bullies have become more emboldened in their attacks on them for being "different." It's terrible.  So, please, excuse me if I’m having a little difficulty with wrapping my mind around how I need to “come together” with a person still hitting me in the head with a hammer.

So, yes, I am concerned. I cannot reconcile how people could vote for this man, and particularly if they are people who sit in the pew of a church and hear the same message of Love that I hear in the Gospels. How are Episcopalians, specifically, going to tell me that they truly do “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving their neighbor as yourself,” or claim to be “striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being” if they voted for a man who spits in the face of those very values? (The Baptismal Covenant, BCP, pp 304-305). Have the clergy failed to impart that what one professes on Sunday is supposed to become a rule of life that we live out in the world? Has the church, not just clergy but the entire church, dropped the ball in holding each other accountable on these promises? We wring our hands about dwindling membership, but I hear what is muttered about Christians and Christianity. We have for too long remained too timid to speak up when things go awry. We have allowed too much discretion in whether to stand with the marginalized group and made it OK to make peace with oppression if it protects the church or the diocesan budget, and doesn’t upset some “really nice people.”  I, for one, am tired of hearing about how much everyone loves Jesus. I would rather people proclaim that they will boldly follow Jesus. I believe this is what is meant by our Presiding Bishop when he talks of us joining in “The Jesus Movement.”

My meeting in Augusta went well, and it was good to be with people who also have a passion for finding new ways and different paths to speaking to the issues of the death penalty and the victims of violent crime. I was truly thankful to be immersed for three hours in a discussion that, while colored by the events of the election, has not stopped us from engaging to dig deeper and bring forth Love to a hurting world.

And that’s where this particular entry is headed. In this Trumped America, I have a call to Love and to speak Love and live in Love even in the face of unmitigated hatred. I have a vocation that requires me to keep my inner lamp lit and not hide out in my house but take it out into the darkened streets because there are people who really need to see it. Now more than ever. I will rise. I will not back down. Please join me.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Baseball And The Hard Truths of A Girl's Life

I don't know about you, but I am still buzzing over the amazing and nail-biting finale of the 2016 World Series. I mean, how 'bout them Chicago Cubs, right?
Seven games. A rain delay. Extra innings. The baseball season stretched into the wee hours on November 3rd on the East Coast. It was the bottom of the tenth, two outs, and there was a ground ball hit to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant who smiled as he fielded the ball and slung it across the diamond to first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo pocketed the coveted final out ball and dashed into the mosh pit of his teammates in the infield as they celebrated the end of a 108-year World Series drought. It was pure joy!
I have always loved baseball. I played it from first grade up through my freshman year at prep school. And I played baseball, not softball. I have played every position in the field, but the three positions I was most proficient at were first base, centerfield, and pitcher. Injury forced me to stop playing (I would later diagnosis my problem when I was in massage school as a strain of my subscapularis), and in my last season, I was batting just over .400 and was developing a wicked curve ball where the bottom would fall out on the throw just as it crossed the plate. I even pitched a fork ball to one of my teammates at practice. He stood slack jawed in the batter's box as it traveled with no discernible motion whizzing passed him. 
 

"What the hell was that?!"
"A strike!" I laughed.

It wasn't easy being a girl who played baseball. Every time I moved up to the next level of play, I went through a process of having to prove myself and gain the trust and respect of my male teammates. Title IX was in its infancy when I was beginning to play team sports and this idea of girls playing with and competing against boys was groundbreaking. As a kid, I wasn't thinking about that at all. I was just setting a ball on top of one the garden posts and practicing my swing, my arm extension, and turning my wrists. My brother Edward would practice with me and I could sometimes get my perpetually busy dad to put aside the law for a little while to play catch. One of my coaches, Ed Gustafson, taught me how to disrupt the pitcher's rhythm when batting and, conversely, he would work with us pitchers on how to stay focused and not let a batter psyche us out. There were definitely men who encouraged me in learning to play the game that is America's pastime.
But their support did not prepare me for the disappointment the day the phone did not ring.
I was eleven years old, and my goal was to play in the Exeter Junior League, aka the Little League in my home town. All the teams had full uniforms that made them look like very young pro ball players. Their games were played at Currier Field about four blocks from my house. I would often ride my bike over to sit in the bleachers and get bubble gum at the concession stand. I dreamed of one day being out on the field, taunting batters with the rest of them:
"Hey, batter, batter, batter, noooo batter, batter, batter, hey, batter, batter...SWING!"
To make it onto a Little League team, you had to attend try-outs. They would pin a number to your back and then you would go through the drills of fielding, throwing, running, and hitting. I first tried out when I was ten years old. And I wasn't very good. I couldn't throw as hard or as accurately as some of the other kids, and I finished in the middle of the pack on all the running drills. I was disappointed that I didn't receive the phone call that I had been drafted, but I took it as a challenge to get better. I played in the Exeter Recreation Department's Minor League, the town's alternative to the Little League. It was challenging playing against kids who were older than me, but it also forced me to get better. And by the spring of 1979, I was ready to take another shot at try-outs for the Little League.
I was good. More than good. My skills had really improved. I was charging ground balls and throwing harder and more accurately than anyone else. With each smack of my throw coming into the coach's catcher's mitt, he would smile and give the approval, "Yeah, that's the stuff!" I would glimpse out of the corner of my eye that coaches were taking down my number and it gave me more confidence as I showed patience and strength in the batter's box. This time, I came away from the try-out feeling triumphant. I had proven myself. Now all that was left was the wait for the phone call on a Sunday afternoon. 
I sat at the kitchen table. I didn't want to seem anxious, but when the phone rang, I almost bolted from my seat. My mom calmly answered the phone.
It was my older brother calling to ask a question. 
My mom hurried him off the phone, explaining that I was expecting a call. 
I waited. And I waited. And I waited.
As the sun began to set on the day, I realized that, once again, I was not going to be picked to play on a Little League team. I cried. A lot.
How could this be? How, after my near perfection performance at the try-outs, could I NOT be drafted?
My mother, who had seen me and noted how well I had done in comparison to the boys, was furious. She got on the phone and called the man who had been my brothers' Little League coach to demand some answers. What she heard was stunning.
"Well, Peggy, y'know I promised John I would pick his son and I couldn't disappoint the little boy..."
And so, at eleven years old, I learned about the good ol' boy network. And I learned that no matter how fast I ran, hard I threw, or how far I hit a baseball, my female gender would always be trumped by "the boy." It was a bitter lesson. 
That season, I returned to the Exeter Minor League and helped my team crush our opponents finishing with an undefeated season and a .682 batting average. The next year, what would have been my final year of eligibility in the Little League, I didn't bother to try-out. The Recreation Department splurged to buy full baseball uniforms for all the teams, so we could also look like mini-pro baseball players. And my coach decided he'd had enough of the Little League's refusal to bring in girls, so he took the story to the media. There was a free feminist newspaper in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire. Coach Gustafson called one of the reporters, and invited her to come talk to the girls on his team to hear our story. And when it hit the stands, there was a big hue and cry heard all over town. The story revealed what I and the others had already suspected: the Little League folks didn't want us, and thought baseball was a "boy's game" and that we should play softball because that was a "girl's game." The fact that there was no softball league and that as pre-teens we were just as skilled didn't matter. 
The end result: a few years later, girls were beginning to be allowed into the Little League and not just for a few games at the end of the year. It was too late to help me, but some other talented girls got the chance to play on Currier Field.
I share this story because as I have watched this political season drag on and listened and read the coverage of the presidential campaign, I see echoes of my own experience playing out again and again. It seems to me that the same resistance rising in the hearts of men (and some women) that I met attempting to follow my dream of playing baseball is the same stumbling blocks set up against Hillary Clinton. People may come up with lots of reasons and righteous arguments for why they think she's unfit to be president, but they all sound like the same righteous justifications used to pick boys who giggled as they fell down during a sprinting drill or threw into the back stop or hit little dribblers back to the pitcher when the girl is smacking base hits into the outfield. It's all sexism, and it is a real thing that I have had to deal with my whole life from childhood into adulthood. So when I see an abundantly qualified woman running for office against a man who has no experience and has insulted every person, place, and thing in America and yet people still say, "I don't see a difference between these two" I feel myself transported back to that kitchen table in New Hampshire waiting for the phone call that never came.
I am not voting for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman. I am voting for Hillary Clinton because I am a woman, and I know how much harder we have to work just to be given a chance to shine, how much more thorough she needs to be on her plans, and how extremely gracious she needs to be in the face of unapologetic sexism. Who better to take the reigns of leadership from President Obama who has had to put up with a steady stream of racism during his eight years in office?
Give her the ball.
      

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Celebrating A Life Well Shared

Paul Davenport 1949-2016

I was brought up short about two weeks ago when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw that one of my friends who had been a counselor and advisor to me while in massage school was asking for prayers for her husband, the co-owner and director of my massage school. I immediately lifted his name and spirit and hers in prayer, but I wasn't exactly sure what was going on.

As time passed that day and into the next, the news began to filter out through third parties: Paul Davenport had had a heart attack and his wife, Josie, had found him and was able to use CPR to revive his heart. But he was in the ICU at a Gainesville Hospital. And the prognosis did not look good.

It is so strange sometimes that people who have touched my life in some important and profound way re-enter my conscious thinking when there is something going on with them. I had had such an occasion of Paul as I was working with a client. They were having an issue in the area of their armpit, or the anatomically-correct term, at the axillary. I recalled Paul's quirky way of helping us learn body parts with his stories that would always end in a really bad pun. In this case, it was the Volvo mechanic who is pointing out to Paul the problem with Paul's car as its up on the lift. The mechanic's name was Larry, as signified by the name badge on his left side above his heart. As Larry pointed to the axle of the Volvo, Paul couldn't help but notice the large sweat stain at his left armpit. And it made him think: "Axle+Larry=Axillary." We would then have to repeat that...and forever have this image seared into our memories.

I kept up my prayers for both Paul and Josie and the entire Florida School of Massage community. I asked to add Paul's name to the Prayers of the People at St. Thomas. And I would periodically check to see if Josie had put out any more information.

Tuesday afternoon of last week, I learned that Paul was being taken off life support. His chance of survival was such that the best thing was to let him go and have his spirit move on from this realm to the next. I wept. There are just some individuals whose hearts were so large that its impossible to imagine that their heart will give out. Apparently, though, Paul's had been giving him problems for the past seven years. He had bypass surgery in 2009 which forced him to slow down. But even in the slowing down, he kept up with playing music and being the man so many of us had come to know as the warm, compassionate presence of love and kindness.

He finally breathed his last on Thursday morning.

I've noted before here on this blog that the labyrinth cut into the grass in the back of the Florida School of Massage property has been an important "thin place" for me to go when I need quiet contemplative time with the Holy. My spouse and I took our separate trips along the winding path this past Saturday following Paul's Memorial service at the school. As per usual, I stood at the opening and took a moment with each of the statues that greet visitors to the labyrinth. One instructed me to look for wisdom. The other gave me the word "joy." And so my walk began. Wisdom and joy...joy and wisdom..

The more those words traveled back forth in my mind with each step, the more I realized that Paul's influence and the school's philosophy had really planted a seed for my overall spiritual growth. He did, after all, inform all of us that we were being ordained into the royal priesthood of the PHLANGES! (this must be done with a step forward, arms raised, and fingers to the sky). The fact that he put in a labyrinth on the grounds was a nod to an ancient prayer practice and an encouragement for those attending FSM to see that touching the body makes us the carpenters and caretakers of the house for a person's soul. The regular mantra at the beginning of each month when we'd receive our calendar of instruction--"Changes will be made"--was not only a reminder that, sometimes, we'd have to go with the flow on any given day but it was the inherent promise that the deeper we went into our practice and the more we worked on the body, the more likely it was that changes were going to happen.

I reflected again on the many silly stories and puns and Paul's inviting and playful smile. I thought about the way that I have approached my own study and reading of the Bible, and how so often a bad pun has come to mind or I've delighted in a play on words in Scripture that helps to open a new and different understanding. It's as if my learning of Scripture bears the mark of Paul's constant presentation that we can all change with a little more love. How Jesus of him! My walk on this hot midday afternoon came to an end with my two statues and the culmination of where "wisdom" and "joy" had led:

"Wisdom and Joy
Joy and Wisdom
The Holy Spirit blows in love
And it travels to the heart,
And once it has settled into the heart
The heart will pump out love into the veins
which exude love through every part of the body.
The learning is in the experience.
You get it now?"

At Paul's memorial service, we heard the prayer that he penned and that he and Josie would say as part of their regular meditation. Paul, who had a Methodist background, never ascribed to any particular religious path although he was highly influenced by the Dalai Lama and Buddhism. He took a Buddhist prayer and put his own interpretation on it.

With the wish to help all beings to be free from suffering 
I will always go for refuge
To the purity of all phenomena
It's direct perception 
And it's manifestation

Enthused by wisdom and compassion 
Today in the presence of enlightened awareness
I generate the awakened mind
For the benefit of all beings

For as long as space endures
And sentient beings remain
May I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world

------------------------

From my precious teachers 
And the pristine nature of existence 
I take the open path

With myself clear
As a vessel for wisdom and compassion 
I present my offering 

Following teachings of kindness and right livelihood 
I remain committed to purity of thought speech and activity

Enjoying the fruits of study and practice 
I benefit others 
With the giving of shelter sustenance guidance and love

------------------------

May the supreme jewel Bodhicitta
Arise where it has not arisen
And may that which has arisen
Never diminish but increase more and more 

Due to all these merits may all the father and mother sentient beings have all happiness 
And may the lower realms be empty forever
Wherever there are bodhisattvas, may their prayers be accomplished immediately 
May I cause all this by myself alone

May people be happy and their years be blessed
May crops grow well and may religion prosper
I pray that all happiness arises for everyone
And that whatever they desire shall come to pass





Sunday, July 17, 2016

Choosing the Better Part

The tumult of last week seems to have carried over into this week. Globally, we have had another horrible attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day, with an angry man plowing a big rig truck through a crowded street. And there was an attempted coup in Turkey which also killed more than 200 people. And in this country, one of the two major political parties has released a platform that is fitting of the Taliban in Afghanistan with its stridently anti-LGBTQ+ positions and opposition to women's reproductive rights. As a former member of the Republican Party, I don't even recognize what part of the "Party of Lincoln" this remnant claims to be. I'm only happy my parents did not live to see this. It would have devastated them.



Closer to home, I have been engaged in a process of doing what I call "praying with my feet." I have laced up my sneakers and taken to the street marching with students on Tuesday night from the Florida State campus to the state Capitol. On Wednesday, I met another set of marchers, this time from the FAMU campus, who also converged on the Capitol to call out the names of the 559 black lives ended in altercations with the police in the United States. They also printed their names onto cards attached to plastic picks which we stuck in the ground around the memorial to the victims of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I have watched interviews and reports looking at the intersection of race and the police, listening to police officials who struggle with being both black and blue, who know that there are problems and yet their uniform becomes an obstacle. And there is their legitimate fear that, in America, everybody seems to not only have one gun, but many guns. What a world. What a world.



As hard, and as difficult, and as sobering as all of this has been, it has given me a chance to open my heart a little further. As I raised in an earlier post about Pulse, the true test of one's Christianity is the ability to enter into the woundedness and pain of the other and be truly present for that person. By walking, sitting, crying, chanting, linking arms, and hugging people at these demonstrations, it has been a way for me to listen with my ears and my body and be present with my black, brown, and white brothers and sisters in their place of feeling wounded by the world. I am, and have been, wounded by the world, too. And so I march. I hold hands. I show love.

And I read the Gospel! And the Gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday morning is from Luke where Jesus shows up at Martha and Mary's house. Martha invites him in and goes about doing all the things one does to welcome a guest into a Jewish home. Mary takes a seat at Jesus' feet to learn from him. Martha at some point gets irritated and asks Jesus to get her sister up off the floor and helping her. Instead, Jesus notes that Martha is distracted by many things but Mary is focused on one thing; hence Mary has chosen the better part.

Now, unbeknownst to me, this passage apparently has been used to show that study is good and a "manly" thing while housekeeping is lowly "women's work" and not as important. It's also apparently been used as a way of dividing women from each other (professional women vs. housekeepers, I guess?) I've never read the story that way, and I can't say I would approach this slice of Jesus' life and teachings with that in mind. Rather I can see some things here that relate to what we are seeing in the world, and the importance right now for us to look at what's happening to our sisters and brothers of color in America.

Nowhere in this Gospel lesson does Jesus say, "Martha, you aren't as valuable to me as Mary." Instead, what he notes is how Martha is "distracted by many 'things.'" And he's not just talking about the 'things' of being the perfect Jewish hostess with the mostess. Jesus' message transcends the immediate scene way, way, way back then in the First Century and hits us between the eyes today in the United States. See, we've allowed many 'things' to keep us distracted from THE thing: Love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Because we have allowed for the wound inflicted with the initial institution of slavery to go untreated, and have ignored how we have not kept promises to various populations that we have displaced or uprooted or deserted by white flight to suburbs, we have fallen short of fulfilling that commandment, and kept ourselves otherwise occupied. We have not heard the complaints of our neighbors that they aren't treated with the same respect and dignity as those of us who are white. Worse, we have heard their complaints, and we have chosen not to act. Perhaps, then, it's time to start going back to choosing the better part and living into those promises of our baptismal covenant "to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being."

And, as was pointed out in a sermon I heard last Sunday, that work must begin with an examination of our own heart, our own mind, our own soul, and of our own strength. If each of us made the commitment to become radicalized for Love, and choose the better part, we may be able to have a butterfly effect in our own families, and communities. With enough of us doing this, it could truly change the world. Here's the thing about Love: it is stronger than fear, more powerful than hate, will burn longer than rage, and will win in the end. ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter ‬has called for accountability and justice and an end to the brutality. That's not hate speech; that's Love talking. And it's a conversation we are all invited to join.





Saturday, July 9, 2016

"Do This, And You Will Live"

FSU student Randall Smith addresses Black Lives Matter on the steps of the Old State Capitol


Tomorrow morning in Episcopal Churches, congregations will hear the familiar parable from Luke of the Good Samaritan. For those who don't know it, this is Jesus' teaching moment with a lawyer who wants to "justify" himself so that he may inherit eternal life. Jesus, ever the Jewish teacher, gives this lawyer a story of the man who fell into the hands of robbers who beat him, stripped him of his money and clothes, and left him in a ditch to die. Along comes a priest who sees the half-dead man, and hurries on his way. Then comes a Levite, who also moves along without stopping to help the victim. 

Finally, the Samaritan shows up, and not only does he stop to take care of the man, he gets him to a place where they can treat him, and agrees to pay for the care. The big catch here--as the lawyer knew, and we in the 21st century know--is that the Samaritans were the despised "others" of Jesus' Jewish contemporaries. Therefore, to have a Samaritan portrayed in such a positive light would have made the lawyer cringe. And if that fact didn't bother this lawyer, Jesus' follow up question...asking, "So, who was the neighbor to this dying man at his hour of need?"...certainly would have made this lawyer sweat and shift uneasily back and forth as he mumbled, "The one who showed mercy." Jesus says, "Go and do likewise." A deacon will proclaim this to be "The Gospel of the Lord." And the congregation will respond with "Praise to you, Lord Christ."

In light of the week that was in the United States, this lesson has so many moments, so many pieces that speak to multiple parts of the media drumbeat of the maddening world that as I attempt to address it here on this blog, I can see a few things I want to tackle. I'll start with a social media hashtag: #JesusIsSpecific.

If we pay attention to the story, Jesus didn't shy away from using an identifier for the three people who came upon the otherwise unspecified victim. We don't know the identity of the half-dead guy in the ditch, or even the ethnicity of his attackers. But we do know that a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan all had the chance to show themselves to be the good neighbor to the man in need. Only the Samaritan followed through. Was the victim a Samaritan? We don't know, and it didn't seem to matter to this Good Samaritan because he was responding out of love for another human being in need. This is important in Jesus' parable because when our Gospel writer Luke tells us that the lawyer, "wanting to justify himself, asked Jesus 'who is my neighbor?' (Lk14:29) sounds a bit like someone saying, "But really, do I have to focus on any one specific neighbor? How wide does this have to be?" 

Or, to put it in the context of this week, "Do we really need to say 'Black Lives Matter'? Shouldn't it be 'All Lives Matter.'?"

In theory and in a perfect world, yes. In the reality of our broken world, no. Because we are still living in a time in this country where people who have darker skin than my own are suspected of guilt simply because they are black or brown. They are followed in stores, watched like hawks, and arrested or shot on routine traffic stops for no reason. Black families have to have "the talk" with their sons, and we're not speaking of the birds and the bees. We're talking about how to not scare white people, especially ones in police uniforms. They are not treated with same respect and dignity that I am. And, according to our Baptismal Covenant, which specifically directs me "to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being," that's not OK. So, until black lives matter I cannot believe that all lives matter.

That includes the lives of police officers. My heart was crushed again when the body count climbed Thursday night with the pointed killing of five Dallas police officers who were doing their sworn duty to keep the peace as people protested the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But I couldn't help but notice how the television news media turned its attention swiftly to the murders of police officers which conveniently takes away from the whole reason they were in a public place where they could be targeted by an angry man with a high-powered military rifle. They were guarding people protesting the murders of two black men by police officers in Baton Rouge and a Minneapolis suburb which again raises the issue of rampant racism in America. However that part of the story seems to be "old news" and isn't being discussed or acknowledged. In fact, some TV anchors have wanted the surviving family members of Philando Castile to comment on what happened in Dallas, totally ignoring that they are people in grief and mourning who should not be asked to shoulder the burdens of people in a city several hundred miles away. Blue lives will matter when black lives also matter. 

In the Gospel story, Luke notes that the lawyer was attempting to test Jesus by asking him the question, "What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?" When Jesus asks the lawyer to quote what he knows, the lawyer gives the response of reciting the Shema: "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus praises him and says, "Do this, and you will live."  This should raise a number of questions for all of us. If we are truly loving God in every way possible, then we ought to be ascending into our better selves, not our basest instincts. If we our loving our neighbor as ourselves, we will quit begrudging them their hashtags that demand we pay attention to their lives when they are in an even deeper pain and grief than we are. We must also understand that a phrase like, "Do this, and you will live," might cause a sharp pain for those mothers and fathers who have been having "the talk" with their sons only to have them still dying needlessly.

This has been a very difficult week in the country, for sure. A week that began with a celebration of independence ends with shock, horror, and some painful reminders that we must commit ourselves to interdependence or we will collapse. Perhaps it is best to remember more words that are part of Jesus' Jewish tradition:

"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."--The Talmud.