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 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.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Our Lady of Ferguson and all victims of gun violence commissioned by the Rev. Dr. Mark Bozutti-Jones of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church

It has happened. Again. And again.

In two days, in two cities, two very different men with a single common denominator that they were black. Both were shot down by police officers.

One man in Baton Rouge...his name is Alton Sterling...was called in by someone for selling CDs outside a convenience store and having a gun. Two officers responded, and with Sterling pinned to the ground, they shot him in the chest and the back. That was horrifying.

Then, not even a full 24-hours later, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, another man...his name is Philando Castile...was pulled over for a busted tail light on his car. And with his girlfriend and four-year-old child in the car, an officer shot him and he bled out while his girlfriend recorded the whole incident for Facebook to see. That was sickening.

The media was quick to tell us how Sterling had had his share of run-ins with law enforcement before. Castile, on the other hand, had no rap sheet. He taught in the St. Paul School District. He was a loved teacher and colleague. He was also a black man with a gun, and he told the officer that he had his concealed weapon on his person. He was attempting to get out his wallet from his back pocket when the officer unloaded four bullets into him.

They're dead. The cops are on paid administrative leave. And I have a terrible feeling that, like with the many cases before this, nothing will happen to the officers involved because there will be some justification for why they felt they needed to use deadly force when they weren't being threatened with imminent harm.

Of course, some want to deflect these horrific crimes by reminding us all that not every person serving on a police force is a bad person. Yes, that is true. But I'm not really in the mood to hear about that right now. And even this police officer, Nakia Jones,says it's time for cops to call out and cull the bad apples in their bunch.

Please note: I'm saying the police need to be willing to police themselves. This is not a call to arms to take out cops with more deaths by guns (and please don't even get me started on America's gun addiction!). Even as I have been typing this blog, three four five officers are dead in Dallas at a march against this police brutality. More violence is not surprising given the track record of little to no accountability for the police who have killed black men. But shooting cops only escalates the hate. And the fear. And the mistrust. Enough!

Seriously: is it any wonder that African-Americans in this country are angry and lack confidence in the police or any of our institutions which consistently fail them? Is it any wonder that they express hostility at the idea that they are even "Americans" when their loved ones are gunned down by those who take oaths to protect and serve their communities? Their outrage is understandable and one that I hear and join. I may not have black skin, but that doesn't mean that I can't see this injustice and know that it is a failure which white Americans must acknowledge as our own. If black lives don't matter, then nobody's life matters. And, again, killing the police doesn't make black lives matter, either.

The gospel lesson assigned in this morning's daily office was prophetic:

‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away,and they will betray one another and hate one another.And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.--Matthew 24: 9-14 (emphasis added).

Will we see an end to this lawlessness in our land? Can we acknowledge the racism that infects so many parts of our culture that makes my white life more valuable than that of my black and brown brothers and sisters? I know this is a monumental undertaking, but we must not shy away from it. We have to hold police officers accountable when they abuse power. Same with our political leaders. Same with our courts, our hospitals, our schools, our religious institutions. That might be the beginning of finally living into God's dream instead of wallowing in the nightmare we create.

And so, with that, I leave on this variation of the children's bedtime prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep
In hopes I wake and not to weep
To learn of killings overnight
because a cop acted in fright.
God bless...
Alton and Philando, too
And all the victims, black and blue...
This my prayer I raise to you
Be our guide that leads to truth.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Will This Pride End the Prejudice?

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

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

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

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

Faustkateers gathering before the start of a performance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Mighty Force of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we love we are hated and feared.

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

Love Boldy, Freely, Queerly

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

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

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

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