Thursday, July 31, 2008
Observing this process so far removed from where it is happening hasn't been easy. And certainly, news that the Windsor Process and rules adopted 10 years ago that reduced LGBT Anglicans and Episcopalians to second-class status seemed to still be acceptable was extremely hurtful, and made me wonder, "Are we (gay people) again going to be sacrificed on the altar of unity of the Anglican Communion?"
But that was 48 hours ago. In this moment, I feel that no one is being sacrificed. Not the gay community. Not even the "conservative traditionalists". This, in some ways, feels like Abraham's moment with his son Isaac...where just when you think he's going to go through with plunging a knife into the kid's body to show his true love of God...God steps in and says, "Whoa, Nelly!! You don't have to do it!"
The news conference with the Archbishop Ian Ernest of Mauritius and Bishop of Colin Johnson of Toronto has given me hope. Both of them, but most especially the Archbishop who represents the African...and more conservative...voice, spoke of their conversations in their groups, their willingness to not only share their perspective, but to then set aside how they view scripture and hear from those who are coming from a different place...and in the end...look at each other and acknowledge that they can not remain on a journey toward the love and light of Christ without each other is an extremely important realization. In answering questions, Bishop Johnson noted that this is not so much a "one side versus' another" but an attempt for two sides, holding paradoxical views, to keep them in the appropriate tension. And while that may not seem hopeful, it really is. Because it means the conversation is continuing! And there was the additional discussion of polygamy...which is still practiced in parts of the communion. See: it isn't all about homosexuality.
In fact, that has been the big ruse. The notion that "homosexuality" is tearing at the fabric of the Communion is one that I rejected a long time ago. What tears at the fabric of this Communion is the fear of change. But if we can trust that God, not people, is the one driving the bus, we will see that the Holy Spirit remains alive and well and amidst those who will accept they don't have all the answers. All of us in the Anglican Communion must accept that God works in strange and mysterious ways in an effort to bring more people into the party. And, for those of us in the Western world, that means recognizing the gifts gay people have and the presence of God that we have felt in our lives, and believe that it is of God, and we have a place at the table and not under it.
The best statement out of this news conference was that there was no statement. Because that's not what's needed at this time. This time, we need real honest conversation. May God's Spirit remain in the mix of those discussions and keep the words flowing. Amen.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.* Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Yesterday, I would say I was having a "Martha moment". I had read the many emails flooding my box about the shooting at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, and then about the attempts to discuss human sexuality at the Lambeth Conference in England without the active participation of the LGBT community. I was growing more and more despondent over the seemingly endless stream of hatred toward gays and "liberals" in one email...and then the frustration with what seems to be another message from the Anglican world that gay people can be seen, but not heard. I was starting to feel the branches that had grown up from my mustard seed the week before beginning to wilt and wither under the hot sun.
In other words....I was becoming distracted by the "things" instead of putting my focus back where it needs to be, especially at this time. I must not forget the promises I was feeling last week that "God will take care of all this." Because God will. How that will look, I don't know.
But what about the shooting? Wasn't that senseless violence? Where was God there? God doesn't want to see innocent lives lost? I would say yes to the first two questions. As for "where God was"...well, I don't have a GPS device that can determine that sort of thing, but I don't believe God 'condoned' that act of aggression. However, out of this tragedy, what is emerging is a story of a gunman who was suffering in this economy, and had been fed full of the hatred spewed by the likes of FOX News' Sean Hannity and others who lay the blame for all things bad on "liberals" "gays" and "women libbers". And this lost soul decided the UU's harbored such "people" and thus he went there to kill two people, and wound five others. And so while we mourn this act of senseless violence, we must also as a society recognize the factors that fueled this: poverty and unchecked hate speech. And we (me included) can demand more action on poverty...and certainly when we encounter "hate speech" in our presence, we can overcome fear....and call a bully a bully.
And actions at Lambeth? I can't do anything except pray. Pray that by some miracle a la the Book of Acts that the Holy Spirit can help translate two very divergent viewpoints...and find a middle ground that will keep people at the table. Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda....they've walked away in more ways than one. But let's work with those who, despite their serious misgivings, have come to Lambeth. May God give them the patience to muddle their way through their differences and me the peace of mind that this is out of my hands, but God will not forget his LGBT children.
Post-script: A client who has closely followed the UU church shooting informed me today that the gunman, who failed in his suicide attempt because some UN-armed church members tackled him, had a history of domestic violence. He had threatened his ex-wife by putting a gun to her head. Ex-wife was a member of that UU congregation.
Monday, July 28, 2008
I give the curious the short answer: it’s an amulet of faith, a reminder to me that if I have faith the size of a mustard seed, my faith has the potential to grow much, much larger. If I’m lucky, they might stick around to talk further and ask me more about my faith. However, most just nod politely and take the conversation elsewhere. But, for the benefit of those in the blogosphere, I’ll treat you to a bit more details behind this charm on my necklace.
My mom gave me this charm when I turned 16 years old. The inspiration for the gift came because the chaplain at my prep school had alluded to the parable in Matthew in response to some writing in which I had said that one of the only things stopping me from killing myself was the thought that God would somehow not love me for taking my own life. Interestingly, I had initially referred to God as my “worst enemy” in the essay…and then crossed it out to say “best friend”. My mom must have seen me looking up the gospel passage, or maybe I asked her about it. At any rate, she heard me and gave me a mustard seed charm on a necklace when I turned 16…a month after I had started seeing a psychiatrist to deal with my suicidal tendencies. This became an important touchstone for me, and rarely have I taken it off. It is symbolic of the one lifeline I had. And it has served me well in all tests and trials of the world.
So, how interesting to have the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew be “on the menu” at St. John’s…along with other passages from First Kings and Romans. In the First Kings reading, God gives Solomon the chance to ask what God should give him. And he asks for the ability to discern good and evil to aid him in governing the people. Not lots of money, or big armies to crush his enemies. He asks for wisdom. And for that God essentially says, “Right on! You get the idea, and here’s your wisdom.” How cool for a leader to ask for wisdom! How amazing to see God plant that seed in him.
Paul writes to the Romans:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
These are the words that water the mustard seed-sized faith and help it to grow. Because the more that I can accept that this is true, the more I can feel the roots sinking deeper. Nothing, save for me not believing in it, can separate me from an enormous abundance of love. No one, no “thing” can place a stumbling block between me and this love. And anyone who tries is in line for getting run over by a steamroller of Spirit.
The belief and unbelief part will have to wait for another entry. Stay tuned.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
When I was in prep school in Massachusetts, I came to the attention of the school’s theater director when he saw me perform a soliloquy from George Bernard Shaw’s “St. Joan”. The speech was a dramatization of Joan of Arc telling her English accusers that she would not give up her fight for her homeland because God had commanded her to defend France. Unlike many of my classmates, I had no problem tapping into anger and righteous rage as an actress. Often times, I felt that anyway, so acting it was pretty easy. The theater director was so impressed with this “unknown” Freshman, and begged me to do the school plays instead of defending the school’s honor on the sports fields. I finally did act in a play…as a Senior. And, as much as I had been told that I was fantastic as a Freshman in that role, I later learned from this same man that, if he were to ever do “St. Joan” at the school, I wouldn’t get to play the lead. I was too tall and my athletic build made me look too strong. Apparently, only dainty little girls could play the role of a saint.
Why I was thinking about this story goes back to the passage from Isaiah. A line toward the end of my monologue was “His ways are not your ways”. That, and “For your thoughts are not my thoughts” are two phrases that have been on my mind the past 24 hours. When I checked the footnote on this particular verse, it said, “God’s ways and thoughts, the divine plan to redeem Israel, are beyond Israel’s comprehension”. And I say, “Yeah, no kidding!”
As I’ve been following things happening in England through blogs and listserves, I have been struck by how God appears to be at work. I was pleased to read that a “Fringe Event” involving that “scary gay man” resulted in an evening where some healing and reconciliation started to take place. Bishops, particularly from outside the USA who took a chance and attended, came to see that their fears were baseless, and—shock—maybe they had been wrong to listen to the voices of the strangers who try to cheat their way past the gatekeeper. Then there was the march for support of the Millenium Development Goals…a U-N initiative embraced by the Anglican Communion. There they were…600-something purple-shirted protestors…marching through the streets of London demanding action on global poverty (which is the first of the goals). I’m used to seeing and participating in protest marches involving young people, bathed in Patchouli, and beating drums. Or beautiful, strong men and women with rainbow flags demanding equal rights. But middle-aged multicultural bishops? That was new! And they employed a tactic the oppressed have often had to use to make their case to the majority that action is necessary to rectify a wrong. I’ve been pleased to read in some of the blogs that more than a few bishops from our own country, when faced with meeting someone from a developing nation, are knocked off their comfy perches of privilege when they realize, “Oh, you mean not everyone has a (fill-in-consumer-item-du-jour).”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts”. On the more personal scale, this message is coming to me as yet another reminder that I need to trust that God’s plan will become clearer in due time. Not just for the Anglican Communion, but for me as well. Patience is not only requested, but required.
I’ll remain patient…with God’s help.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
During a week in which the Archbishop of Sudan called for Bishop Robinson of New Hampshire to resign for the sake of "unity", the words we in the Episcopal Church are directed to read every day are from Paul's letter to the Romans. Look at this passage from Romans 15:
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Two people, with polar opposite views on human sexuality and the Church, can read this same passage and have two different opinions (each will likely think of themselves as the strong one needing to put up with the weak one). But regardless of who is who, the plea is for us to come together in Christ. What an amazing passage to have put before me as I gather news via email and the internet about what is occurring in the life of the Anglican Communion!
This, and other readings from Romans this week, have been so important. At a moment when I might otherwise have wanted to take hold of the wheel of this boat I'm in and run it ashore in anger, disappointment, and disgust...these messages have been the reminder to me that God is running this river trip, his hands have a steady hold on the wheel, and he will take care of getting the boat through all the choppy waters. He's got it under control. And my mind, my heart, my soul remain calm. If there's one thing I think I've learned, when I get the signal to keep my hands off the wheel, I can trust the boat won't capsize.
As for Bishop Gene Robinson, I ask those reading to pray for him. Below, I have copied some of his statement from his blog (http://www.canterburytalesfromthefringe.blogspot.com/) in regards to the Archbishop's comments. The bishop, wisely I think, is keeping his comments to his own blog which was established mostly for communication back to the citizens of New Hampshire, but certainly is viewed by anyone who goes looking for it. May God continue to grant him strength and courage to love and serve in the name of Jesus Christ. He does it well.
First, this is also about the faithful people of New Hampshire who called me to be their bishop. Everyone seems to forget that I am not here representing myself, but rather all the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire, with whom it is my privilege to minister in Christ's name. They have called me to minister with them as their Bishop, and suggestions that I resign ignore the vows that I have taken to serve my flock in New Hampshire. I would no more let them down or reneg on my commitments to them than fly to the moon. We may be the one diocese in the entire Communion who is, for the most part, beyond all this obsession with sex and are getting on with the Gospel. They would be infuriated, as well they should be, if I entertained any notion of resigning. And it is not just Gene Robinson who is being denied representation at the Lambeth Conference, it is the people of New Hampshire who have been deprived of a seat at the table.
Second, those calling for my resignation seem to be under the impression that if Gene Robinson went away, that all would go back to being "like it was," whatever that was! Does ANYONE think that if I resigned, this issue would go away?! I could be hit by a big, British, doubledecker bus today, and it would not change the fact that there are faithful, able and gifted gay and lesbian priests of this Episcopal Church who are known and loved for what they bring to ordained ministry, who will before long be recognized with a nomination for the episcopate (as has already happened in dioceses other than New Hampshire), and one of them will be elected. Not because they are gay or lesbian, but because the people who elect them recognize their gifts for ministry in that particular diocese. We are not going away, as much as some would like us to. That toothpaste isn't going to go back into the tube! Not if the Bishop of New Hampshire resigns. Not if the "offending" bishops leave the Lambeth Conference. Not ever.
I especially need your prayers tonight. It is the first of two Wednesday evenings in which some American bishops will sponsor a Fringe Event (officially sanctioned, not as part of the conference, but as a Fringe Event), for bishops and spouses of the Communion to come and meet their brother bishop Gene. After four bishops describe the process that led to my election and consent, and testimony, one from a bishop who voted for my consent and one who voted against consent, about my warm welcome into our House of Bishops by virtually all members of our House, even and especially those who voted "no." They will bear witness, I hope, to how the Episcopal Church is forging a model for ministry together, despite our differences. Something the Anglican Communion might want to learn from.
Then I will be introduced -- not by a bishop, but by the people of New Hampshire who elected me. A DVD presentation will include voices of clergy and laity from New Hampshire introducing me and reflecting on our ministry together. I am so proud of that.
I will then attempt to share my own witness to the love of Christ in my own life. It will not be a "sell job," although I'm sure some will judge it to be that. Rather, my one goal is to talk about my own life and journey in Christ in such a way that those who are listening will perceive that the God I know in my own life is the same God they know in THEIR lives. Then we can wrestle with the faithful differences we have in interpreting that God's will for us and for God's church. I feel an enormous weight on my shoulders as this evening approaches, and hence ask for your prayers. I assume that God will, as God has always done, supply me with the words I need. Not MY words, but GOD'S words, as best I can open myself to being a channel for those words. Those who have ears to hear, by the grace of God, will hear.
This has gone on much too long, and I apologize. But as I write these words, my faith in God is strengthened and my spirit is calmed. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "God is good. All the time." I trust that this evening will be no different.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Open your ears and hear God's word.
Open your hearts, O royal priesthood,
God has come to you.
God has spoken to his people, Hallelujah!
And his words are words of wisdom, Hallelujah!
Torah ora, Torah ora, Torah ora, Hallelujah!
--Hymn 536, Hymnal 1982
*Torah ora is Hebrew for, "The Law is our Light"
Today, my heart sunk when I read that our own House of Bishops meeting at Lambeth Palace in Canterbury, England are dissing their brother-in-Christ, +Gene Robinson. They'll hold one of those special gatherings for just your own little corner of the Communion on Tuesday, and they've decided to play along with the Archbishop of Canterbury's rule that no one should engage that red-nosed, pink-triangled bishop from New Hampshire in any of our bishop games.
And here I had thought that there might be some hearts changing at least within our own church. But there seems to be some bizarre overriding concern that if they were to include Robinson, they're taking a risk of getting ex-communicated from the Communion. Maybe they don't realize that, if you listen to +Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone, those Bishops who call themselves "traditionalists" have already dropped the Episcopal Church from the picture. So what's the real risk then?
They who have ears to hear the message,
they who have ears, then let them hear.
They who would learn the way of wisdom,
let them hear God's word.
I can't believe that the God who called me back into the fold last November, and has been in some sort of hot pursuit of me ever since, wants me, and anyone like me, to be banished into the badlands. I don't believe God sees me as a weed that will get tossed into the fire at "the harvest time". Why, then, is it so hard for those gathering at Lambeth to overcome whatever this barrier is that keeps them from seeing Christ in all people? What is this fear?
Lately, the collects have been bringing tears to my eyes. The following one seems appropriate for my feelings today....even though it's the one scheduled for next Sunday:
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
--Proper 12, the collect for the Sunday closest to July 27
For all at Canterbury these next two weeks, I offer this simple prayer from the author Anne LaMott:
O God: Help! Help! Help!
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Already I have read what’s been happening on the inside of the bishop bash. It sounds like this is an incredible chance for those from the privileged world to meet their equals from the not-so-privileged countries, and both sides can learn and gain much from each other’s experiences of the Bible and its relevance in the lives of their people. And it seems the Bishops are also getting some schooling in what exactly their roles can or should be within their provinces and dioceses. All of this sounds like a chance for some genuine personal and spiritual growth.
And I ache as I think about the one who has been specifically and intentionally excluded. For many days now, when I have stopped to pray for those at Lambeth, I have found myself weeping about Bishop Gene Robinson’s place on the outside, “the fringe” as it’s called of Lambeth in the Marketplace. His rejection from the party has felt much bigger than simply rejection of “Gene, the Gay Bishop”. It sent a chill to any “out” person in the church that our earthly reward for living our lives in truth of who we are is too threatening to the straight majority, and will stir things up too much, and we must be kept locked outside the gate so as not to disrupt decorum. How insulting and un-Christ-like can you get?
But this morning, I woke up with another thought, one that takes the tears of hurt and turns them into the soothing waters my heart needs if I’m going to offer any further prayers for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and any of the others attending Lambeth and be genuine in my petitions.
Painful as it is to know that my brother-in-Christ is left out….what if it really is God’s will? What if God, a power of wisdom beyond wisdom, has a plan at work here, and if I quit my own gnashing of teeth, I might realize that the Holy Spirit is doing some business that I might not now understand?
At a press conference, the Bishop of New Jersey was asked a question about Bishop Robinson’s exclusion. The Bishop, who had waxed eloquent about how wonderful the experience of Lambeth had already been, began to speak about his personal disappointment that Gene is not with them….and then began to choke up, and had to stop to regain his composure. Clearly, the pain is felt by those on the inside as well.
What if the Bishop of New Jersey is not alone? What if others are, or will be, sensing that there is something not quite right here? That a sheep has gone missing, and needs to be called back? What if they start looking at the Gospel of John and the story of Jesus’ talk with the Samaritan woman and see not only the need to include and engage women in the church, but to include and engage all minorities…even the LGBT community in the invitation to drink of the living water? What if Bishop Robinson’s exile serves as the necessary “outward and visible sign” that some bishops in the Communion need in order to see that it’s not enough to give lip service to inclusion, but they must take action and include those they’ve been content to ignore, or sweep under the carpet?
As these thoughts rattled around in my brain, the number one hit on the juke box in my head began again:
God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year.
God is working his purpose out
and the time is drawing near.
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be;
When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
And the waters cover the sea.
I have no way of knowing if this is indeed a design of God’s will to keep Bishop Robinson out. As I’ve said before, I’m no expert on the mind of the Almighty. But my sense is the Holy Spirit may use this as a teaching moment for everyone…on the inside and the outside…if they just have the wisdom to stay awake, and pay attention. I doubt there will be any change in the hearts of those outside the USA who are so adamantly opposed to the New Hampshire bishop. Many of them don’t like our female Presiding Bishop much either, and so c’est la vie.
But maybe, just maybe, some more members of the House of Bishops from this country will have to examine their special place of inclusion at Lambeth and ask, “Why not him? Is he not my brother? Is he not my neighbor?” …and then, “Have I been doing the same thing in my own diocese toward LGBT people seeking greater participation in the church?” May such questions lead to wisdom for those with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to feel God’s inclusive love for everyone.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
As seems to happen often to me, I was in church last Sunday, practicing the rituals of an Episcopal Eucharistic service amidst my fellow believers at St. John's. It was nice to be back with the choral music extraordinaire and the bells. I love Christ Church Exeter. I really do. But this is my new church home. At any rate, we had finished confessing our sins, we were crossing ourselves, and my ears...ever alert....took the following phrase deep into my soul:
....Strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.
Uh-oh...here comes the sling-shot again! Ping!
Eternal life. I've heard it said in church for years, and years...and yet only now do I feel that I'm starting to scratch the surface of understanding what that means for me. For starters, it is the opposite of where I had been living...in eternal death. Not literally "dead", obviously. Nor do I call it "death" as in how I remember the whole Parents Music Resource Center and Tipper Gore back in the 80s would have called the music I listened to "of the devil" that would lead me into "sin and death." But, how I see it, living in eternal death was to replay the horror of watching John Earl Bush's execution in the electric chair, to torture myself thinking about past slights on a professional and personal level, and to not believe my life was worth living. The other day, I found some of my poetry from prep school: I definitely was not living in eternal life then!!
To live into eternal life, on those days when I am consciously-aware that I am doing it, I think approaches what the apostle Paul seems to be driving at in his constant struggle to separate spirit from flesh. If I accept that God really is with me, and in me, and hasn't taken a coffee break when I start to stumble, the stumbling doesn't end with me falling face first and breaking my nose. When I put my faith in God, and not in (fill-in-blank-of-whatever-might-satisfy), I am in a much better frame of mind. It's in those moments that I can believe I will be OK, no matter how crazy the world around me might seem to be.
Here enter: abundant life.
I have noted this essay could also be called: Courage Part Two. Because, with the eternal life that is strengthened by all goodness, comes the living life in the world in abundance. That can be good, like a huge feast or a big party spread with lots of wine and cheese. It can also mean you experience life fully....and not everything in life is a party. And, quite often, when I pay attention, I realize we, the human race, are a long way from having a perfect world. Certainly, my slice of the world isn't always filled with rainbows and fluffy bunnies. I am one of those millions of Americans you hear about as a faceless statistic that doesn't have health insurance, even though I'm in a health care profession. I have stood in the supermarket staring at the price of staples such as bread and have to measure carefully if I really have the means to buy what I need at the moment....and fill up my car....and pay my utility bill. Often times, I have to do a mental game called "Budgeting on the fly" where I calculate quickly what I may earn in the next few days...provided I don't get sick or my clients cancel their appointments. I can, and do, make it all work. But how many others can't even make it work?
This abundant living means I'm aware of the ups and downs, not only for myself, but for my neighbors. Perhaps this is why I find doing the work of serving food at the Shelter with Temple Israel an important moral obligation. I have never been, even as a child, a person who can sit back and watch someone else suffer when I have the means and the capability to give them a hand. Over time, I have also learned the importance of offering that hand when they really want it and are ready to receive it.
Bishop Gene Robinson in his book, "In the Eye of the Storm"pointed to the parable about the master and the talents he gave his servants as a way of highlighting this lesson: "The life we've been given by God is a treasure to be invested, not to be possessed, to be risked, rather than to be buried in the ground or hidden under a mattress.....Each of us must decide whether we'll invest our lives or squirrel them away."
I would add this: that once we decide to invest in life...it means living life in abundance. Bumpy, beautiful, bungling abundance. That seems to come with the package of being strengthened in all goodness and kept in eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Such an investment, I believe, is an act of courage because it involves taking some chances and having faith in a God who won't abandon you to the wolves. Scary? Sure! But we shouldn't let our fears separate us from the eternal life God wants all of us to have.
Monday, July 14, 2008
‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'
--Matthew 10: 34-39
I don't know what you're thinking, but when I read the above passage I thought, "Ouch! You're kicking my butt!"
Here I was, happy to know that God had given me redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus...and then I read this, and I'm left gulping at the thought that I might have to give up my life to be truly in step with God?!
For Jesus and the disciples, of course, that ended up meaning a literal "giving up their life" through death as they went about preaching in the style of Jesus in a world that still wasn't ready for that message. For me, living in the 21st century United States of America with people wearing WWJD bracelets, I don't think I'll be killed for believing in Christ.
But I read that instruction as something possibly more scary than actually losing my physical presence in the world: it means I have to give up those things I associate with "having a life": money, a job, relationships...in short security. We're being asked to step outside of ourselves, and take a chance in the name of doing the will of God. And what stops us from risking losing all that makes up "our life"? I think it's fear of what it would be like to be without them.
Fear was the topic of Bishop Gene Robinson's sermon at St. Mary's, Putney Sunday night in England. The fear that something might change in the Anglican Communion, that LGBT people might, like the Gentiles, be worthy of the message of God's incredible and unending love for all of us, likely sends a chill up and down the spines of Anglican leaders such as Orombi and Akinola. Fear certainly was demonstrated for all present at St. Mary's, Putney, when a heckler shook his motorcycle helmet in fury at Robinson, screaming at him that he was a heretic and he should "Repent, repent, repent!" Thank God, the choir director knew what to do and the church erupted in song to drown out the man as he was led from the sanctuary. Robinson, his voice wavering, asked the audience to "pray for that man." Instead, I cried. My tears were at the sorrow that a man, who appeared younger than me, could be filled with so much hatred. And I cried as I observed Robinson simply step back, wait, and call for prayers before resuming his sermon. That's courage!
Back to the butt-kicking from Jesus: it seems to me that the passage from Matthew is letting us know that to follow in Christ's footsteps, it's not going to be an easy walk. You will have to do and say some things that may jeopardize "your life as you know it". You might be put on the outs with your family, your friends, even those people who you thought were so central to "your life". Such words might make somebody decide to step off the path and hide out in the hole in the sun.
"See ya, Jesus! Don't forget to write!" We know what happens to Jesus for all his efforts to love and teach us how to live into the light: he gets killed. No, thank you.
But even at those times in the past nine months when I have wanted to slip away, and hide out from the tour guide...I remember the important lesson that comes to us each year in the form of Holy Week...Good Friday into Easter: you can go through Hell and back....and there is resurrection on the other side. And when you feel that exhilaration as I felt it this past Easter, you know the promise of resurrection is not a joke.
How many times have you gone through a rough patch and thought your world was crumbling...only to come out of it bigger, better, brighter than you were before? I see it as the same concept here. We are being called on to take some risks in our lives that could cause us (or others) to be uncomfortable. As +Gene Robinson notes, the members of the LGBT community who are returning to their places of worship are making some people uncomfortable right now. And it may even be unsettling for the LGBT person of faith to be back in a place they'd considered dangerous territory. But that's a risk that is worth taking because the discovery that can occur on both sides can...should...and I think must...lead to resurrection. In this way, those with enough courage to stay in the conversation can listen and learn from one another and can become stronger members together in the body of Christ.
In Matthew, Jesus smoothes out the rough edges of his tough talk with words that I hold close to me daily:
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."--Matthew 11: 28-30
Comfort language after getting such a difficult message only a chapter before!
Now, let's all take a deep breath, and go forth in peace to do justice in the world.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Not a mother. A godmother.
I have wanted to be a person designated to aid a child in their growth and understanding of God, even before I fully understood the importance of that knowledge for myself. I think this idea came to me because I had godparents who each gave me something like that. My godmother, Jennette, was a friend who, as I got older, gifted me each Christmas with a piece of a creche set...which now is complete with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and many animals. It is one of my favorite holiday decorations. My godfather, Tom, didn't have as much contact with me. But I will never forget those times where he came to visit, and would play with me until I was worn out. And then, when I was in that place to sit on the steps of the house and be quiet, he'd talk with me about the role of God in my life. He would ask me a question or two, and we'd share back and forth. For me, this always felt special, a time when an adult was engaging me and conversing with me, and meeting me at my place of knowing God at that time.
So, with those two role models, I have this weird longing to be a godmother. Unfortunately, everyone I know of child-bearing years who's had a kid is either not a Christian or could care less about baptism. Sigh.
But I did get the chance this past Sunday to play godmother!
As we stood up in Christ Church to recite the words of the Nicene Creed, the four-year-old in the pew in front of me kept her seat. Clearly, she didn't understand yet this particular maneuver in the "pew aerobics" of the Episcopal Church. We all began, on cue, to say the Creed. And as we did, I became aware of this child looking over at me. We made eye contact. She grinned, and I returned her smile, while continuing with the prayer. Then, a lightbulb went on in my head, and I began reading the creed to her as if it were a bedtime story. And, really, it is a bit like that...since it's the ritual telling of "our story" as Christians.
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man....
The little girl stared at me, her smile growing bigger as I shared more of the story with her.
On the third day, he rose again. He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father...
She looked at me holding the Book of Common Prayer, her eyes examining this "stranger" reading to her.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church....
She reached out for a prayer book. By the time we were finished, complete with the making of the sign of the cross, she was opening up the book. Sold on the idea that there must be something inside that book worth looking at because that was some story I had just relayed to her!
And it is some story. It is an amazing story for anyone who follows that path toward the light, forgiveness and redemption of God as embodied in Jesus Christ. And as I reflected on that moment, I realized that what I had done is the very thing we all pledge to do during the service of Holy Baptism. The promise we make to the candidates, often times babies, is that we, as a community of Christians, will do what we can to nurture and support the candidates in their growth as members of the body of Christ. I don't know how often folks stop to reflect on that directive. Certainly, as the Lambeth Conference approaches, I wonder how many bishops take the time each day to remember that baptismal covenant and how it must be applied in the life of all members of the church. I do not mean disrespect by that statement. But I sometimes wonder if those who are most concerned with keeping the LGBT community, women, and any of the "others" out of the leadership of the church have forgotten the basic commitment we all make to one another in the words of that baptismal service. Something to contemplate in the next three weeks!
In the meantime, I enjoyed my 15-minutes of godmother fame at Christ Church. I can only hope that my four-year-old will one day open that Book of Common Prayer and discover the common bonds that make her and me sisters in Christ and communicants in the Episcopal Church.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The maddening side has to do with my reason for being here. The sole purpose of this trip was to move my mom back here to live for an indeterminate amount of time, and sort through my dad's belongings. Going through his clothes, his papers, and his various "things" he's accumulated hasn't been gut-wrenching. I recognize certain pieces here and there as "Oh, that's the tie he used to wear to church," or "I remember this watch". But as far as me feeling sadness at letting go of these "things" that were the attached to my father, I don't really feel it. Because the "things" don't resonate as "him". They were possessions of his, trappings of his, but they don't hold the key to my father. And that father that I knew and loved is so far beyond my reach now that the "things" aren't able to tether him back to me. And for that, I'm grateful.
But there is something rather strange in all the sorting and parceling out and putting aside (which has been physically exhausting): my father's shoes.
Dad's shoes made a distinctive sound on the floors and steps to our house. I always knew when he was coming home because the weight of those leather shoes clomping up the steps to the door sent a mini-seismic wave through the living room. And his shoes were beautiful brown and black leather, and you could tell by looking at the heels which of these pairs was his favorite. As a lark, I slipped on a pair, ones that I remembered him wearing routinely to his office.
No way! So I tried on another pair, ones that were a little fancier and also among his favorites.
They fit even better.
So, now I'm feeling a little bit like Cinderella, and wondering how it can be that I can "fill my dad's shoes."?
Without going out of control with that pun, I feel that this might be a tangible message to me that I have, in some ways, filled my dad's shoes. I'm not a lawyer, and don't want to be. I'm not interested in going to auctions, or walking property lines, or any of that. But I do think that my dad had a good heart, and a desire to be of service to people. And he did have a faith in God that I never realized was as important to him as the day he let me know he wanted to go to the Bible study at his assisted living facility, and feared I would go away and leave him if he did. And it's in these ways I would like to think I'm filling his shoes...and walking in his footsteps.
So, I am taking the shoes home, and will fix the heels. Maybe this will be one item that can serve as a touchstone to my dad as I remember him.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I'm only half-way through the book, but he's so far candidly covered the topic of sexuality, both from a Biblical scholarly perspective and noting the current struggles as they play out in the church. And where I'm at now is his constant reminder to everyone: God loves us all...each one of us....in all our imperfect and perfect ways. And God wants only one thing in return for his love: he wants us to love him back. These are the words of a man who has a spirit of Christ within him that is obvious to those who know him, and can be found by reading his words.
And yet, I don't think he'll ever stop being "the gay bishop" to most of the world. Because most of the world can not see beyond his sexual orientation. This week, he and others are on their way to England for the Lambeth Conference. Except, Bishop Robinson is the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of the bishops and hasn't been invited to their reindeer games. And yet, he's going. He will stand on the outside of the gates along with others. He will preach one Sunday. And he will show "For The Bible Tells Me So" as a fundraiser for AIDS treatment programs in Africa.
It would be better if the Archbishop had seen fit to invite him inside to hob-nob and study alongside his fellow church leaders. But perhaps his exclusion will serve as a visible reminder to those in the Communion of good conscience to ask the difficult questions, and remind the AC that "lost sheep" come in all variations of humanity and we should be working toward a more inclusive Church.
To stay abreast of what all is happening from the perspective of +Gene Robinson, follow these links:
There will also be a daily VIDEO blog for Claiming the Blessing, called The Lambeth Gene Pool:http://lambethgenepool.blogspot.com/
May God's peace which passes all understanding keep the hearts and minds of all inside and outside Lambeth 2008 in a place of openess and willingness to hear each other. Amen.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
The Anglican Church of Kenya now wants to stop gays attending church.
Gays and lesbians will not join the Anglican congregations anymore...unless they renounce their sexuality.
Eldoret Dioceses Anglican Bishop Thomas Kogo yesterday said the church had decided to forbid homosexuals from going to their churches if they could not repent and stick to biblical teachings.
He said: "We have no choice about this. Those who want to practice lesbianism or be gays must stand aside and let those of us who respect the biblical teachings continue with our work."
He was speaking after he arrived from a crucial worldwide Anglican conference held in Jerusalem, Israel, that discussed homosexuality. Kogo said the church had extensively discussed the matter at the just-ended conference where it was agreed that all followers of the church must stick to the Bible.
For more on this, please visit http://www.othersheep.org/.
Such news causes me first to grit my teeth in anger, and then, not desiring damage to my oral health...I realize I have only one remedy at hand: I will continue to attend services in my country, and offer prayers for *all* the Anglicans in Kenya that, one day, there will be an end to this sort of discrimination and *all* God's people will be free to attend the Anglican church.
After so many hours in a car crammed almost to the top with mother's "things", I decided the best medicine for me, and my stiff back, was to take a walk along the sidewalks and streets I remember so well from my childhood.
My footsteps led me past the statue by Daniel Chester French in Gale Park, down Pine Street, to an old familiar place: Christ Church.
The outside of the building looks the same: I'm convinced it still could be confused for a NASA complex. There's a reason Eucharistic Prayer C was so popular there...with it's language referencing "the vast expanse of interstellar space". But something new has been added to the landscape. As I walked across the front lawn of the church, I was pleased to find they've constructed a labyrinth with mulch pathways and granite masonry. Beside it is a tree ringed with bricks containing names such as "Taylor" and "Aly". And given the decorative art work, I figured this had to be something the youth group had done. Whether the kids were responsible for laying out the labyrinth I don't know. But how cool to have one there at the church that seems so beautifully made and maintained.
I set an intention, and I took a meditative walk along this curvy path. It didn't matter that this labyrinth was street-side of Christ Church; once I was on the walk, all other cares and concerns began to fall away. As I sat on one of the benches in the center, I reflected on the long journey...not just driving my mom home this time....but the journey that began with bringing my father to Florida in the summer of 2005...followed with driving my mom down with her "things" a couple months later.
Sitting there, I became aware of all that has happened in that time in my life in that time: doing what I could to be there for my parents and helping my mom through the pain of watching my dad's slow crawl toward death. Trying, as a self-employed person, to be a friend and daughter to my mom these past few months. And now, the completion of this cycle in that I have brought her back home.
And, as has happened to me before in the labyrinth in Gainesville, I had a sense that I was not really alone as I sat there. And I was reminded of Christ's promise to be with me always "to the end of the age." My sense was, he was there with me, reminding me that I don't have to carry all my burdens by myself.
If you had asked me three years ago if I would be sitting at a computer writing such words about God, I would have looked at you sideways and then laughed at you, mocking such a ridiculous suggestion. But as I close another chapter in my life, I realize that the constant and consistent character of Christ has to remain in the storyline for me. Not in a Bible-thumping way, but in that way I experienced his presence in the labyrinth.
He's just there ready and willing to be supportive. Always.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
On our trip, we've had a chance to discuss lots of things...including this interesting and bizarre faith journey I've found myself on in the past nine months. We've been listening to the C.S. Lewis book "The Great Divorce" and that got my mom onto asking me a question about this story of what heaven and hell may be.
"Do you think your father is on the mountain?" (The mountain being "heaven", the destination for the spirits in this purgatory plain in the story if they are willing to drop whatever baggage they have and head in that direction).
The question made me tear up as I pondered the "Where in the hereafter is Ed Gage?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
Back at Christmas time, I had very strong sense of my father's soul at peace and play. I could feel his joy at being free from the pain and suffering of the progressive supranuclear palsy that afflicted his body in this realm, and the freedom to laugh and play with dogs and enjoy those things that had always given him pleasure.
But these days, I have a new feeling. One in which I think my father has gone and grown into some kind of life that is beyond my knowledge. I haven't lost touch with my memories of him. But I think he's entered into something new that has taken him to some level beyond the great beyond, if you will. And I have to acknowledge that what I have lost touch with is a sense of my dad's soul. Sad? Yes, it does make me sad. But I have my memories of him. And, again, by the grace of God, I am open to the knowledge that whatever is occurring for my father's soul at this point, it is good and he is at peace.
And the peace of God passes all understanding. That seems to be a truism. Mine is to keep my heart and mind open to that. For it is in that meeting of known vs. unknown that I discover the "what I need to know now". Amen.