Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ups and Downs

This past week has been a rollercoaster ride on the news front.

There was much celebration and rejoicing at the news that the Church of England has finally said, "Yes," to women becoming bishops.  However, there is a caveat: if a congregation objects to a female see, they can request oversight from a male bishop.  And the seeds of likely schism begin to be sowed. Still, there is something to be joyful about.  As the Reverend Elizabeth Kaeton of "Telling Secrets" aptly noted: the Church of England has dipped a big toe into the baptismal font of the 20th century.  And those in the Southeastern United States say, "Bless their hearts!"

As you might imagine, this caused much venomous grumbling and declaring the Church of England apostate and all kinds of other nastiness coming from the Anglican Church of North America and their lot.  A Facebook friend, and fellow Episcopalian who is attending St. John's in Tallahassee, made the mistake of visiting the ACNA sites and seeing, first-hand, what hate they harbor toward the Episcopal Church, and anyone who believes women... and by extension the LGBT faithful...have a place in the church.  He noted that St. John's suffered a very painful schism back in 2005 when the rector marched out on a Sunday with many of the most wealthy and well-connected members of the congregation to start his own church.  Seeing the commentary on the CoE vote only served to rip the scab off the wound of that event for him.   Like with so much that makes headlines, my friend had seen the ugliness and recalled the pain as if it were yesterday that this split had occurred.  

But it wasn't yesterday: it was on October 2, 2005.  And, as I responded to him, that was the day that the chains that had barred so many faithful queer people, me and him included, came off the doors of St. John's.  Terrible, awful, rotten-to-the-core event that it was, that split had to happen, in my opinion, if St. John's Episcopal Church was going to be saved from its long bath in the sinful waters of homophobia.  The place was burning with anger and rage toward the Episcopal Church, and there was an air of suspicion that hung over every conversation in the place.  So it was time for the fire to be extinguished.  And out of those ashes came new life.  It took time but today that parish is doing very well. 

Also doing well has been the fight for marriage equality in Florida and elsewhere.  A Monroe County Circuit Court judge found Florida's discrimination against lesbian and gay couples getting married is unconstitutional.  The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld marriage equality in Oklahoma.  But even with these victories, the opponents of marriage equality are still fighting on, appealing the decisions, forcing more delays of the inevitable.  The same day that the Florida case happened, the rest of the world had their eyes on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam.   A third of the passengers on that flight were activists, scientists and some of the top researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS.   The plane was apparently attacked with a ground to air missile launched from just inside the border of Ukraine, an area that has been rocked by the Russian invasion of the country.  And as information dribbles out, it appears the Russians are likely responsible for this horrendous act that has killed many engaged in a humanitarian effort to relieve suffering in Africa and Asia.  

This evening, as I sat at dinner with friends celebrating a birthday, I happened to go to my phone in search of information about an event on Facebook. I was stunned to read that one of my friends from St. John's had passed away quite suddenly.  She had been ill, but this was unexpected.  I had to excuse myself from the table to go outside, pray, and cry, before I could head back into a joyful dinner.

Ups and downs.  Life and death.  Good news and bad news.  We all want things to be safe.  But even safety is an illusion.  Part of our journey of being alive and in the world is that we will experience life in abundance... and that means we're going to have unpleasant stuff happen in our private world.  The trick is to remember that no matter what: Good Friday is followed by Easter every year on the calendar.  There is a change that comes with that, but not every change is bad... and quite frequently, it's good.

Strap in.  The rollercoaster is still moving on the tracks!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sing My Tongue

My brain is a jukebox.  

Unbeknownst to people who encounter me on the street or in conversation, there is often a soundtrack playing very low in the background inside my head.  It's like I have "theme music" playing.  As I've noted before on this blog, this abundance of music in my mind was a gift from God when my father died.   And it is the gift that keeps on giving to this day forward.

One of the tunes that has been ever-present lately caught  me by surprise.  It's a hymn that we often sing on Maundy Thursday in the Episcopal Church, the night when we commemorate the Last Supper and strip the altar of all its finery. 

"Sing my tongue of glorious battle" is a plainsong chant.  The organ usually accompanies us until the end when, many times, the congregation and the choir sing it acappella as we stare at the nakedness of our altar.  It can be chilling and powerful.

It's curious that a tune associated with Holy Week should be so forward in my mind in the middle of what we call "Ordinary Time."  But events in this Ordinary Time have been reminding me that our Easter for this world, sometimes, feels like a distant destination and that we are perpetually caught in a loop of repeating Good Friday.  I've been keeping close watch on the situation involving the 19 year-old unceremoniously turfed out of his family home for being gay.  People in the boy's hometown have attempted to reach out to the parents and grandmother and get them to see the errors of their way.  Instead, they ignore the help, sometimes out right reject it, and continue to breathe threats against their son, all with a Bible in their hands.  

"He endures the nails, the spitting, vinegar, and spear, and reed; from that holy body broken blood and water forth proceed; earth and stars and sky and ocean, by this flood from stain are freed."

I've been saddened by this situation, and the thought that parents could be so cruel as to completely cut off a child and deny him an opportunity to see his siblings or even the family dog.  Somehow, in their worldview, treating their son and grandson this way will lead him to "change."  Still, in 2014, there is a belief out there that people "choose" their sexual orientations.  Unreal.

The good news for this young man is that, where his parents and his grandmother have failed him, others have stepped in to help.  A call to find a temporary home for him in Tallahassee has landed him a bedroom and his own bathroom at the home of a PFLAG family.  Where he's staying is being kept under wraps since the boy's father is threatening to take away the truck.  And in Tallahassee, if you don't have your own means of transportation, you are going to be at the mercy of a half-assed bus service that doesn't even take you to all parts of town.  Some folks have given job leads.  And those who know and love him from his home town are still offering him help with a little bit of cash here and there.  Good Samaritans can still be found when the ones who claim the mantle of Christ do little to exhibit the model of their Savior.  With any luck, this young man will land a job, and be able to get on his feet, get established in Tallahassee, and move forward with his life.  And there will be Easter out of this Good Friday. Perhaps we will arrive at the moment when Christ is allowed to be resurrected instead of constantly crucifying Him with a Bible in hand.

I've told those who are attempting to reach the family and talk sense into them to leave it alone for now. They've done all they can, and the best thing any one of us can do is to pray that they come to their senses. 

I look forward to hearing Easter hymns in my head. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Superb Sermon

I am fortunate in that I have many friends who are Episcopal priests in the United States, or Anglican priests elsewhere in the Communion.  And some of those friends happen to be excellent preachers.

So, rather than have me summarize this sermon delivered at Christ Church Cathedral by the dean, and my college friend, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman... I thought I'd just cut-and-paste the link to the audio.   Reading the sermon was fine; hearing it raises the bar.  Mike is doing his part to restore the good name of Christ to Christianity.

Rebekah, Hobby Lobby, and The Word of The Lord that will Heal a Village

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Trouble That's Brewing

This week, I've been gobsmacked at the news I've been hearing.

Apparently, a five-member, and all-male, majority of the United States Supreme Court has decided that not only are corporations considered "people," these bricks-and-mortar-over-the-internet-add-appropriate-sales-taxes-"people" have religious freedom, and can freely exercise their religious beliefs to opt out of portions of the mandated Affordable Care Act; namely, no birth control coverage for female employees... but coverage of male erectile dysfunction drugs is OK.

Putting aside what anyone thinks or believes about abortion and birth control, this is a dangerous precedent that the high court is establishing.  As I understand it, what these five men are saying is that any corporate CEO can claim "religious freedom" to skirt laws that he or she doesn't like because now a "closely held for-profit business" is an extension of the CEO's "personhood."

And who is most likely to invoke this "religious freedom"?  Businesses such as Hobby Lobby, who say paying for contraception violates their "Christian" values.

As I attempted to make sense of all of that, with the fast and furious opinions flying on Facebook, I found myself engaged in a lengthy phone conversation with a young man from Southwest Georgia. His parents, upon learning of his homosexuality, have thrown him out of their house, cut-off contact with him and are forbidding him from having any contact with other family members.  And, in the course of listening to this scared young man, he told me how many times his parents or his grandmother or his  aunt were telling him that he was "going to Hell" because the "Bible says this is an abomination!" They believe this because, they say, they're Christians.

And then there was the news last night of the angry mobs of white people who blocked a road and screamed at the people inside three buses.  The buses were carrying mostly undocumented immigrant children from Central America.  This gathering in a small town in California could have been South Boston in the 1970s, or the Deep South in the 1960s.  How ironic that this story ran on the same night that we, as a nation, were marking 50 years since the signing of the Federal Voting Rights Act designed to allow blacks the right to vote.

This scene, looking so similar to the violence African-Americans and the Freedom Riders faced in Alabama and elsewhere, is being played out again... this time with Central Americans in a Southern California town.  No doubt, some of those screaming the loudest at these children were probably doing so with a crucifix hanging around their necks.

Christianity is in trouble.  Not because of atheists or non-Christians.  Not because there is rampant discrimination and persecution of Christians in the United States.  Not because gay and lesbian people are getting married.  Christianity is in trouble because Christ, who should have been resurrected and ascended, is still being crucified by the very people who say that they are His followers.  Each time people who claim the mantle of Christ exhibit behavior like screaming at children, throwing teenagers out of their homes, and denying female employees a health benefit because it offends the religious beliefs of a company owner, it is the bang-bang-bang of the nails into the Body of Christ.  Worse yet, these "christians" become the face of Christ that the media is more than happy to share with a public that feeds on cynicism and division.  I've said it before that Christians are the ones waging war on Christians in this country.  It's one thing to say that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior; it is an entirely different thing to behave and live a life that actually models the ministry of Christ.

As often happens, I was struck in yesterday's Morning Prayer with the words from Psalm 119:

Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
    give me understanding, according to your word.

Let me live, and I will praise you,
    and let your judgments help me.

I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; 
search for your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

As I watch and listen to all this anti-Christ behavior by my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, I am grieved.  It feels to me as if those who profess a belief in Jesus Christ have gone astray like lost sheep, and not only do they need Christ to come looking for them, they need to start looking for Christ in the eyes of the people they are cursing.  How is it Christian to scream at people?  What part of one's Christian belief is under attack if other people get a prescription for birth control?  Again, from Morning Prayer, we heard the story of Balaam and Balak.   Balaam was supposed to curse the Israelites, but God placed a blessing on his tongue:

"How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?" (Num.23:8)

I think about the situation with the19 year-old who has parents and family who have turned their backs on him. Despite the things said to him, I told this young man he isn't going to Hell.  God has not cursed him; his parents have done that.  And by doing so, they have denied the Christ in him.  Same thing with the immigrant children being screamed at as they sat inside a bus which had driven from Texas to California to a processing center.  And to add more financial burden to female workers by denying them a portion of their health care coverage is not something that has come from God either.  For a "closely held" corporation to wrap itself in religion over that issue, and be allowed to do it, is mind-boggling.

Christians who keep asserting that their religion is under attack have no earthly idea what it is to really have their lives threatened for their religious beliefs.  Their children are not kidnapped and forced into adopting another religion.  Their books are not banned or burned.  Their homes are not invaded and their women raped.  No, the "christians" in this country are claiming that because this is a pluralistic society and they must share the gifts that God have given all people, they are under attack.  This makes a mockery of those who are truly under threat for their religious beliefs, while denying the seed of God that is present in all others. I don't remember that being in the Gospel.

I looked ahead to the Collect of the Day, Proper 9:

"O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Amen." 

Seems like a good starting point for the reflection and return to Christ necessary to save Christianity from itself!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Forty-Five Years: A Celebration of the Saints

It was a hot night in New York City, 1969.  The actress Judy Garland had died of a drug overdose, and there was mourning in the gay community over the loss of one of their Hollywood icons.  Drag queens and kings, lesbians and gay men, had gone to the Mafia-owned Stonewall Inn for a night of drinking watered-down cocktails to let themselves "be" among those who were just like them.  That's when the police of the local precinct in Greenwich Village decided it would be a night of busting up the gay bar, and hauling people in for the crime of being queer.

But on this night, 45 years ago, the men and women at the Stonewall Inn had a collective uprising that said, "Hell NO!" to this ongoing harassment.  And for several nights, they pushed back, stood up, and refused to be bullied any more.   One of the people at the bar, the Rev. Magora Kennedy, recounted what she saw that night:
"This scene in 1969 was incredible -- like in an alarming movie.  I personally witnessed this one Gay boy who was marched out of The Stonewall Club, by what turned out to be plain-clothes cops.  The boy actually tried to escape and nearly escaped but was grabbed from behind, pulled to the ground outfront The Stonewall and then he was needlessly drop-kicked by a big uniformed cop.  The boy's nose must have hit the pavement because he was suddenly bleeding.  His standing up to this police abuse against Gays sho' nuff sparked the rebellion.  That scene was just too much for the growing and angry crowd of every type person you could imagine.  My friends and I observed a couple of cops take Williamson Henderson, though I didn't know him or his name then, off to a black and dark green cop car and did a little billy-clubbing along the way.  I really feared for Williamson's life, though I was in a circle of fear myself.  In 1969, those things actually happened."

"The Gay Rev.," as she's called, went on to talk about the turnaround on the police:

"After awhile, as the excitement and the crowds continued to grow and get louder and feistier, I saw this big, good-looking, black drag queen, with a fancy blue cocktail dress and some sparkly high heel shoes, yank loose a street parking meter "with a little help from her friends".  Funny, that was a sing-a-long song by The Beatles at The Stonewall a couple of years earlier.  Anyway, as anyone who was ever there or ever travelled that block knows, there was street parking there then.  At this point with the turning of the tables, many of the cops were now barricaded inside The Stonewall Club and we were all on the outside!   What a change of events that was.  The 'black 'n' blue' drag queen -- without a green light -- and her newfound, very Gay rebellious friends began to batter The Stonewall's door with the uprooted parking meter and bang on the front door of The Stonewall but nobody in the 'inn' was answering.  Hello?!  It wasn't too long before the cops called for some heavy duty reinforcements.   They arrived in uniform, with helmets, armed, dangerous and on horses!"

Out of this rebellion came the modern day LGBTQI Pride Movement.  This would be the beginning of Pride parades, including the one in 1973 when Jeanne Manford walked alongside her son through the streets of Greenwich Village, a move that would lead to the birth of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

It was out of this rebellion and action that gave the backing to the truth that San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Harvey Milk spoke in the mid-1970s when he became the first elected gay official, and was subsequently martyred by a man let off from his murder by claiming he had "diminished capacity" that he was depressed and ate too many Twinkies due to his depression.

Preceding all these events, there were others who, in their own way, were heroes and heroines of this fledgling movement for equality.  One of my favorites is Bayard Rustin, an advisor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who suffered exclusion due to his sexual orientation.  The FBI was all over the civil rights leadership, and they naturally kept a file on Rustin.  He was arrested for his homosexuality in 1953, an event that would dog him throughout his participation in the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans and workers' rights.  He never denied being gay, but because he was gay, he was often forced to take a back seat and not shine quite so brightly.  However, the famous 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech was all the organizational effort of Bayard Rustin.  

And, despite what the popular historical belief is about Dr. King's commitment to non-violent protest, King actually learned the strategy of non-violence from Rustin, a Quaker who went to India to learn from Gandhi's followers, and a man who committed his whole life and being to refusing to use weapons in the effort to reach equality.  You can learn more about this passionate leader in the award-winning documentary, "Brother Outsider."

On this day, I give thanks to all these men and women who paved the way to where we are now: a nation still struggling to accept LGBTQI equality.  We have made great strides since 1945, but we are still a country that is divided with 46-percent of the population living in a state or the District of Columbia which recognizes full marriage equal rights for gay and straight couples.   That leaves 54-percent still waiting for fairness to come our way.  

How long, O Lord, how long?

(To learn more about the history of the Stonewall Rebellion, go to the site:


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Increasing and Decreasing: St. John the Baptist Day

This past Sunday, I heard a couple of different themes emerging from sermons that I either read or heard, based upon the Matthew Gospel lesson in which Jesus is telling his disciples, three times over, "Don't be afraid," as he then lets them know what kind of trouble is brewing.  It's biiiiggg trouble.  Jesus said to them that he wasn't bringing peace, but a sword.  Families are going to be divided because of him.  Take up your cross and follow me.  So, fear was one theme.  

The other major note was that one would have to be crazy to agree to follow someone if it's going to be this much strife and difficulty.  A supposedly sane person would never want to willingly go into a situation this divisive.  

Today on the calendar, we celebrate the man who, in the descriptions, sounds a little off his rocker.  St. John the Baptist (or "Baptizer)  is living out in the wilderness.  He's eating locusts and honey, wears a camel's hair tunic, and is calling out to all the people of Israel to "Repent!"  "Get yourselves back on track," he's saying, "Because God's kingdom is at hand and the Messiah is coming!"  Mind you,  John does not see himself as the Anointed One.  But he's got this inner gut feeling that tells him that one who was born six months after him is THE One.   He believes that Jesus is going to be the person who delivers Israel from being under the thumb of the Romans.  So, you can imagine how he might have been wondering if his instincts had deceived him when he's sitting in jail, and there hasn't been the kind of revolutionary movement that he had anticipated.   He sends some of his followers to ask Jesus if he really is THE One, or perhaps John needs to check his gut again.  And Jesus sends word back to John, noting that the wounded are healed, the blind have sight.  In other words: "Yeah, I'm the One you've been waiting for.  But this is a Love revolution, and that doesn't look like the human form of overthrow."   

Of the readings assigned for today, I find myself again drawn to the comment John makes to his followers who are fretting over the people leaving John to be baptized and follow Jesus.  John notes that "no one can receive anything except what has come from heaven."  He's not at all troubled by people turning to Jesus for leadership and concludes with, "He must increase, but I must decrease."  This is a challenging thought.   It runs completely countercultural to how one is supposed to be.  We are supposed to want to climb to the top of the ladder in all things, be it with our bank accounts or in our jobs.  There are those among us who want to control everything in their universe, be it people or situations.  Somehow "being in control" will give a sense of being "on top of" whatever needs to be controlled.   And if we don't maintain a firm grip on control, then nobody will and there will be chaos.  Our egos love to be stroked this way.  We love to feel important because importance gives us self-worth, and self-worth tells us we matter and we aren't irrelevant.   I'd argue that not only is it the common human experience to want to "increase"; we'd really like to super-size that, if we could!

Which makes the whole notion of decreasing seem weak.  And weak, in this case, would seem... well... wrong.  It's too bad we don't get to hear what John's followers had to say to this statement.  One might expect them to complain about it being the incorrect answer in the same way Peter rebukes Jesus when he describes the type of death he must endure in order for the fulfillment of God's mission to be complete.  Even Jesus understood that idea of decreasing to the end of having something greater increase.  

In this way, I see John the Baptist being an appropriate guide in how to perceive one's self in the face of the greater God and greater good that comes from God.  I think if any one of us really desires to live and work in the path that leads to greater awareness of God's grace and mercy for all in the world, then we have to let go of the illusion that any of that work is about us.   It's not.  It is only about God's power working in us.  The more we allow that light to shine within us, and quit attempting to direct or control or operate a dimmer switch on that light, the more wattage that light is going to put out to the world.  In order for God to increase in us, we must decrease in our own ego, give up control, and let God move through us.

Happy St. John the Baptist Day!


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sins of the Past Revisited

"The repeated Johns Committee assaults on my integrity and my worthiness as a human being left permanent emotional scars.  To this day, my emotions are undergirded by dark feelings of unworthiness; of being "less than" when compared with others.  While one learns to cope with these feelings, they never truly go away.  For me, that is the true legacy of this dark period in the social history of our country.  Hopefully, enlightenment and eternal vigilance will preclude its return."--Art Copleston, one of the victims of the Johns Committee.

During this month of LGBTQI Pride activities around the country, it is fairly customary to pause and reflect on the road that we have traveled to get to the places we are now.  Such was the case last night at the Mickee Faust Club, where we screened a 30-minute documentary called, "Behind Closed Doors: The Dark Legacy of the Johns Committee."  The film, done as a thesis project by a University of Florida journalism student in 2000, tells the story of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee headed by State Senator Charley Johns of Starke.  Johns had recently been defeated for Governor (he was serving in place of Governor Dan McCarty who had died in office), and had returned to the Florida Senate where he decided to make his legacy starting this committee of legislators, lawyers, and law enforcement officers to root out Florida's criminal element.  "Criminal element" is a euphemism for "civil rights leaders, communists and homosexuals."  
The group first went after the membership records of the NAACP.  The NAACP mounted a formidable resistance, fighting the committee in court, all the way to U.S. Supreme Court which said the organization did not have to turn over its membership list.  Having been stymied in this effort, they went to the group that had no defenders: the lesbian and gay community of Florida.  And for the period from about 1958-1965, the Johns Committee made the lives of gays and lesbians in public schools, universities and state government a living hell.  At Florida State, investigators would throw parties hoping to entrap gay male students.  They also patrolled the Greyhound bus station.  Students were either expelled or they were enlisted to become informants for the committee.  Professors were hauled out of classes by investigators and interrogated for hours in motel rooms.  It was state-sanctioned terror.

Part of what brought the committee's work to end was the publication of its infamous "Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida" booklet, which was designed to shock the sensibilities of Floridians.  Instead, "The purple pamphlet" (so nicknamed because the cover was a swirl of purple) offended lawmakers who couldn't believe that Johns used taxpayer dollars to make a soft porn publication, complete with a glossary of terms and suggestive photos of anonymous gay sex and bondage.  

There was another factor that helped end the activities of the Johns Committee.  The population of Florida was shifting more to the south which meant there was a growing number of urban, and more urbane, up and coming lawmakers coming to the state Capitol.  And when the Johns Committee decided to go after gays and lesbians at the newly-created University of South Florida campus, legislators from the Tampa area, including former Congressman Sam Gibbons, were furious.  The committee's work came to a close in 1965, and Senator Johns moved to have the records sealed until December 31, 2028.   However, voters in 1992, passed a state constitutional amendment affirming our desire for open records which forced the release of the Johns Committee's work product, all 30,000+ pages of it.  Today, those records are maintained at the Florida State archives in the R.A. Gray building.

 As I thought about this record of past sins, I kept reflecting on the message I received above from Art Copleston, one of the students at the University of Florida who ended up on the wrong side of the Johns Committee.  He shared with me that he's soon going to be turning 82, and has lived a full and rewarding life as a gay man.  And yet, he expresses the fact that he's learned to cope with the feelings of inadequacy from that period where he was interrogated and made to feel as if he was a "pervert" in need of "help."  Those feelings are still there for him.  And it made me realize that there are many of us, perhaps even a whole generation, who, despite the confidence we have and our sense that we are good and right, we are somehow a "less than."  Even as our society evolves in its thinking on LGBTQI rights, the Governor of Texas and his state Republican Party are saying that we're like alcoholics, diseased and in need of a cure.  Our own Attorney General in Florida says to grant us the civil rights of marriage would do irreparable harm to the state.  And let's not even talk about what various faith communities, and bishops, might say about our righteous selves.  Sadly, these sins are still with us today.

When I wrote back to Art, I told him the truth as I know it:  he never was a "less than," and he still isn't today.  It doesn't matter what the committee's investigators told him.   I can only hope that when his days on earth come to an end, he will find himself standing with the other saints, Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, Stormé DeLarverie,and the many others and be finally freed from any lingering doubts that he is loved exactly as he is without an asterisk.