Saturday, January 31, 2009
But some thinking I've been doing lately has me wanting to come back to this topic again, and maybe expand it out further.
I've been contemplating the story of Jonah, and his reluctance to be a messenger of God's word and warning to the people in Nineveh. He tries to stow away on a ship, he gets thrown overboard, ends up in the belly of a whale and begins wailing to God to the point where the whale gets nauseated and coughs him back up. He finally does as God had commanded him to do, and the people of Nineveh listen to Jonah's warning, and repent and return to God. This greatly angers Jonah who was wanting to see some real "fire and brimstone" action and the taking down of this great city. So, he goes off and pouts about the unfairness of it all. And God ends up schooling Jonah on God's mercy.
When I think about Jonah, I see a lot of me in him, especially that first part of the story of wanting to escape from having to be the messenger for the Almighty. But, as I said in an email recently to my mentor, if I had been Jonah, I would imagine that if I had wandered around Nineveh, crying out at the top of my lungs, "Forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown!" and then seen people stop, take stock of the message, believe God, put on sackcloths and proclaim a fast...I would have been stunned. Shocked, really. Stopped in my tracks, looking around and saying, "What? You're actually listening to me?" And I probably would have fallen victim to pride thinking that I had done all this. I had made them listen, and they are repenting because I told them to do it. Puff, puff, puff...ain't I something else?!
And God would have to come in with a different ending to the story. One in which, instead of growing a shade bush and then having it destroyed to remind me who is the merciful one around here...I think God would have to plug up some ears, or make people deaf to my existence in some way. And then give me the schooling:
"Yes, they listened to you, but they heard me!"
Oh, yeah. Ego in check again.
This is one of the things I think about a lot as I discern what it is that I'm doing with my blog, with my service to God via the church as a Eucharistic Minister, with my life as a whole. If God is to work his purpose out through me, then I have to remember that, while the words may be coming out of my mouth...or being tapped out on the keyboard with my fingers, the real message is one that must point back to the love and mercy of God. For example, I feel my mission as a Eucharistic Minister when I'm in the role of reading the lessons is to be loud enough, and clear enough, that the person sitting in the pew hears the lesson. Sure, everyone has an insert and can read along and many do. But one hopes that their ears are as engaged as their eyes. And while it may be my voice speaking, the words are not mine, the story is not one that I created, and the last thing I say is, "The Word of the Lord" meaning, "This is about God, not me!" I remember well the proclamation from my youth growing up with Morning Prayer: Lord, open our lips, and our mouths shall proclaim your praise. I think that applies here.
As for my blog, I continue to strive toward communicating this enormous love God has for everyone...including the LGBT community. And even those times that I may not be directly speaking to issues that are about "my people", it's not as if I have stopped being gay. I don't see a separation between my sexual orientation and my Christian faith. I am a lesbian because that's who I am, and that's how God knew me as I was being knit together in the womb. I am a Christian because I have faith that God entered the world as Christ, and sacrificed himself for me, and then gave me hope through the resurrection. The "saving" happened at the time of Christ's death. The acceptance of that act of love and sacrifice, and the understanding that it was done for all of humanity without exception, has been the journey. I wish you peace, love and joy on your own journey toward fully embracing this love of God.
And may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Driscoll is described as an "indy rocker" preacher. His church plays rock music gospel tunes, he wears a headset with microphone to preach, and has his Sunday church services wired to be shown at other venues throughout Seattle.
I'm all for what he's trying to do: make Jesus accessible and understandable and not sterile and so "other-worldly" that he is unattainable.
But here's just a snippet of what was in the Nightline report last night:
Driscoll calls the mainstream church's portrayal of Jesus "a hippie-Christ. A neutered and limp-wristed popular sky fairy of popular culture that would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell."
According to Driscoll, Jesus was an outcast who didn't play by the rules.
"Jesus is typically portrayed as very effeminate guy, kind of long, flowing hair wearing a dress, always smiling, [making] pithy Zen statements that read like fortune cookies at a Chinese restaurant," he said. "And the truth is that he was a construction worker. He was very controversial and got murdered."
One word missing from this transcript was that Driscoll, according to the interviewer, had also said the "mainstream church" portrayed Jesus as a "queer", something Driscoll denies. Doesn't matter: "limp-wristed" says enough! And, given that Pastor Dude likes to talk about sex...but thinks sex is for married people only...and "queers" are excluded from marriage in most parts of this country....gee, what do you think Pastor Dude thinks of "gay people"?
These words, "effeminate guy", "wearing a dress", "neutered", "limp-wristed", "sky fairy"spoken by a man who is reaching out to the tattooed-crowd, are sowing the seeds toward two kinds of "us" vs. "them" hatred. The obvious is furthering homophobia in the punk crowd. It's as if Pastor Dude can't handle that Jesus can be a hippie, and wear Doc Martens at the same time, so he uses every pejorative term for a gay man he can think of because--what--real men are Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious? (For the record: I like The Sex Pistols). Is he trying to establish for his young skinhead audience that, of course, Jesus isn't one of those "faggots"? On the contrary, Pastor Dude: Jesus is not only a queer, he's a hippie and a punk. He was an outcast in his day because the authorities couldn't make heads nor tails of what he was saying, and they didn't like that his message was resonating with people, and they were threatened by his words. Why must he be one kind of rebel, and not another?
The other hatred is a denigration of "mainstream" churches. Does Pastor Dude really believe he's the first "dude" to recognize that Jesus was a rabble-rouser? Does he think that those of us in "mainstream" churches have never heard that Jesus' radical introduction of a "new thing" caused such a stir that it ended in him getting killed by the Roman authorities like a criminal?
My advice to Pastor Dude: keep reaching out to the supposedly "unreachables" because they are sheep needing to discover that the shepherd has been waiting for them to come home. But spare us all the garbage about how you personally view mainstream churches, and for the sake of the God of all, quit the gay-bashing. Remember, Pastor Dude: this isn't about you. It's about God.
Monday, January 26, 2009
“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.”
And believe me: woe unto anyone who tries to argue with that sentiment. In my own experience of God, I would have to say God is one persistent and determined force to be reckoned with. You can try to run away from him as Jonah did, but, in the end, God is like the Canadian Mounties: he always gets his man…or woman!
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I am so taken with the story of the apostle Paul’s conversion from the man who stood by as Stephen was stoned to death…to the man who became “the chosen one” of the Christian church to have his letters, his writings about the love of God as expressed through Jesus, become the centerpiece of the New Testament. As the story goes in the Book of Acts, Saul (who would become Paul) was on his way to Damascus, determined to find more believers in “the Way” and bring them bound back to Jerusalem for persecution. That’s when there was a “Godly intervention”:
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
The next part of the story is another moment of “Godly intervention”. Here’s the blind, and likely confused, Saul in Damascus, praying and not eating or drinking. We don’t know what his prayers are, but we can imagine that he’s in a bit of state having been blinded and asked “Why do you persecute me”? In the meantime, God is working his purpose out by calling on Ananias:
The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision* a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’
Ananias has the initial reaction of, “You have GOT to be kidding!” He was aware of who Saul was, and what Saul was about when it came to people such as himself. But God assured him that he must go do this because he had some big plans for this Saul. So Ananias, in spite of his misgivings about this task, met Saul of Tarsus:
He laid his hands on Saul* and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
We don’t know from the text what Ananias thought of all of this, and it hardly matters. But what immediately struck me in this story is how God took two foes and put them together. How God made the strong (Saul) weak…and took Ananias from a place of fear and weakness and gave him the strength and courage to face his enemy and bring him into the fold. All of it to work out God’s purpose: to turn a zealot of anti-Christianity into one of the most outspoken messengers of Jesus.
The story of Paul’s conversion is a powerful one of personal transformation. There are many stories like it throughout the gospels, but Paul’s is of particular interest to me because it speaks to what I think is possible, with God, in breaking down the fears of “others” in our own lives.
As a gay person of faith, I know through this story that with God it is always possible that the zealot who would condemn me today can one day have the scales fall from his or her eyes, and see me as I am: a fellow child of God and, in my case, a member of the body of Christ. Likewise, I can see the zealot as part of this human family, and I can face such a person with the strength and courage that comes from knowing that Jesus has promised to be with me “to the end of the age”. I do it every time I enter church. I never know who is there with me, who may or may not believe that gay people have a right to participate fully in all the sacraments of the Episcopal Church. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am present, I am showing up, and I am paying attention to God. And God will do the work of making anyone blinded by their prejudices to see who I am.
In the conversion of Paul, God so turned this man around that he channeled all of that energy expended on persecuting others to reaching out and bringing the Good News to more and more people. I look to God to continue this work and to keep calling on people who have the potential to bring a message of hope, of light and of love to a world that desperately needs to find its way out of darkness.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
There will be fireworks, and dragon dances, and exchange of gifts in China to celebrate the Lunar New Year...The Year of the Ox. Same thing will happen in large cities with Chinese neighborhoods throughout the world. Here in the decidedly "smaller" world of Club South Meridian, we aren't "doing it up" the way we have before due to these "tough economic times". But we bought some Dim Sum-like goodies, and we'll enjoy them when I get back from my class Monday night.
A little bit about the Year of the Ox: people born under the Ox years are generally dependable, methodical, diligent, quiet, and intelligent. They are natural leaders, who prefer calm and peace so they can concentrate and accomplish the task at hand. They are kind-hearted people, but can also be stubborn and materialistic and don't like to be told what to do. Security is a BIG deal for them, and they will work to create a stable place for themselves in the world. They're polarity is Yin, which is the front of the body, as opposed to the Yang, which is the back side (If you look at the Yin-Yang Chinese symbol, the Yin is the black and Yang is the white). The Gemstone is Onyx, and the colors are Yellow and Blue.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Interestingly, one of the readings assigned for her Saint Day is from one of the most beautiful books in the Hebrew Bible: the Song of Songs.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
--Song of Songs 2:10-13
Reading this, I was moved to reflect on assigning a passage such as this to a girl who presumably never had a lover (Agnes is the patron saint of young girls, virgins, and rape victims). Although, one could say she was in love with God, and it was her love for God expressed through a belief in Jesus as the Son of God that made her Christian. Her refusal to give in to marriage to the Prefect's son led to her violent death.
And I also found my mind turning back to yesterday's inauguration, and how appropriate these words are for the current euphoria in the country. Funny how these old texts can take on a multiplicity of meanings in our current day, isn't it!
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand -- true to thee, O God, and true to our native land.
We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day. We pray now, O Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and, indeed, the global fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.
For we know that, Lord, you're able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.
We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.
And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.
And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.
Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little, angelic Sasha and Malia.
We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.
Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.
Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.
REV. LOWERY: Say amen --
REV. LOWERY: -- and amen.
AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)
The Inauguration team, which took responsibility for silencing Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer on Sunday, did a make-good today. Apparently, Bishop Robinson's prayer was replayed on the jumbotrons, so the millions (and did you see how many millions were there?!) could hear it. Rick Warren's prayer was fine....but I noted that he couldn't resist that urge to bring in Jesus at the end, and then finished on the Lord's prayer...again, establishing his Christian cred while alienating everyone else. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was amazing!! What an awesome experience it must have been for him to be offering words to God to shower down on this nation and this new president.
And then there is, of course, Barack Obama...now President, and a man who seems all too aware of the challenges ahead. And, at the same time, he appears ready to look to all of us to join in the effort to rebuild our country which has been raided by the greedy for personal gain.
As a Christian in America, I remain hopeful that with God nothing is impossible. Note, I said "with God" not "with Barack Obama". He is still a man. And I very much appreciated in his speech today that he included all faiths....even those who are "non-believers"...to take part in righting the conscience of our country and getting to work. And I am hopeful that he can help heal some of the rifts the previous administration created in its cowboy Christian zeal to bring on "the end times".
And, as a lesbian in America, I am heartened that on the White House website under the heading "Civil Rights", there is a laundry list of "to dos" for the gay community. I think it's great, and we'll see how far we get with "the list". But at least there is a list! And for that, this Christian lesbian says, "Thanks be to God!"
Support for the LGBT Community
"While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."
-- Barack Obama, June 1, 2007
Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees' domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
" Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority."
"Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority."
"Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true."
May we learn from these words, and move ever closer to the promised land that was part of his dream.
Therefore...let us not let his words be silenced. Please, spread this blog entry around.
By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire
Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009
Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.
O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…
Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.
--From "The Lead" at Episcopal Cafe
Saturday, January 17, 2009
These words from today's reading out of Isaiah, for me, are great for a sunny, cold morning with a cup of coffee as I anticipate this weekend leading up to the inauguration. My childhood Episcopal "hero", Bishop Gene Robinson, will start the activities tomorrow. And, despite the nay-sayers, I am pleased the bishop plans to keep his invocation broad enough so that no matter what name you use to call on "God", you will be part of his prayer.
And we have to include all of us in this new time, this new day that is coming with a new administration. Because as one of my favorite singing groups, Sweet Honey in the Rock, say:
"Folks would never, never, never suffer
if there was more love for your sister and your brother,
but these are trying times"
And to me, you can see how trying the times are in the words of those who remain skeptical of the incoming President. Obama's message of "hope and change" doesn't resonate because, in their world, there is no hope and the only change they are thinking about is the change in their pockets. Or perhaps they refuse to think that someone who doesn't "look like me" has the ability to understand how they live, what they see when they look out on the landscape of their life. And then there are those who have become so jaded from eight years of idiocy, greed, and avarice that they are numb.
I'm not looking to President Obama to wave a magic wand and make everything all better and--thankfully--he is not making such empty promises to all of us. His job is tremendous, and he will need all of us if we are going to rescue this country from where its been. The fact that he is pulling in Bishop Robinson...along with Joseph Lowry...and (gulp) Rick Warren...as well as rabbis and imams is a gesture in the faith arena that I see as trying to gather all of us...from "the four corners" as it were...to start this journey together.
And I, for one, am happy to know that 12:01pm Eastern time on Tuesday, January 20th, is getting closer!! God be with us all...and may God guide Barack Obama through the waters and the fires.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Even Oprah looked a little surprised, and was wrestling with the idea that a man in a collar representing a mainline Christian denomination would actually call "gay" a "gift from God."
But Rev. Bacon, and countless others out there in Christendom, understand that the essence of who we are is "of God". You can even find it in today's Daily Office reading from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians:
"You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ*—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."--Ephesians 2: 1-10
There are no asterisks, or opt-out clauses in this passage that say, "Applicable only to heterosexuals."
Now, the "Cut-and-Paste" Bible crowd often say that people who are gay are giving in to sinful, fleshy desires, and that the only way they can be right with God, is to repent their sin of same-gender orientation. But that presupposes that homosexuality occurs only below the belt, and between the sheets. Not true. If that were really the case, then sure: I could simply stop being gay by not having sex. And (by logical extension) straight people could also stop being straight by not having sex, too. Somehow, I don't think most heterosexuals, even the ones who like to quote the same ol' seven passages from the Bible, would buy that argument. Because that would mean their sexual desires would be the sole definer of why they are straight.
If we believe that God created us all, then we should also believe that God created us all with a blueprint that is uniquely God's, and imbued with special gifts given through the grace of God. Our sexuality, straight and gay and bi and transgender, are part of those gifts. And, as with any gift God has richly bestowed on us, it is freely-given in love to be shared with love and in stewardship. Such a basic idea, and yet one in which we're always looking for the fine print.
But you won't find the exceptions for gays. And you heard it on Oprah!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
"Father in Heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting."
The Baptismal Covenant in the Episcopal Church is, I think, one of the most important prayers we say as a community and as individuals. It states the basics of our belief system, one based on the faith that there is a God, there is a Son of God who was the "God in man made manifest", and there is a Holy Spirit. All three love and care deeply for all of creation and have put it to us to do the same. And then begin the questions:
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
To each of these questions, there is a five-word answer: I will, with God's help. And I don't know about anyone else, but I definitely need "God's help" to accomplish some of what I'm promising to do here. I am committing to being more than just a cheerleader for God; I'm committing to actually do the most important mission God gave us to do: to love God first and foremost, and to love our neighbor and ourselves in the same way that God loves us. For Christians, God provided us the living, walking, human teacher of Jesus to show us what is "the way" of that love. Our challenge is to pay attention, internalize it, and then carry it forward out into the world in every encounter we have. Not easy. Especially when "the world" is not returning the favor.
But even if "the world" is being ugly, attacking, trash-talking, red-light-running, littering jerks, the questions posed in the covenant aren't concerned with how "they" are acting. You are answering only for you, and how are you going to live and respond in "the world". Do you look the grocery clerk at the supermarket in the eyes, or acknowledge the stranger who passes you in the hallway with a smile? Such small, simple acts of kindness are ways to even see the divine light in the eyes of the other person.
"Boldly confess him as Lord and Savior". Stand on the street corner and shout Bible verses at passing cars? Paint "John 3:16" on your face for a football game? I suppose that's bold to some. But rather I go to a phrase I remember from my youth, that we should show forth God's praise "not only with our lips, but in our lives." We must take action to live our faith every day, and not just on Sunday morning when we're with our "peeps" in the pews. That, to me, would be a pretty bold move!
Mahatma Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." If we keep our covenant, the change in the world will bring the earth closer to peace, justice and harmony for all. It might even start to resemble heaven.
Monday, January 12, 2009
This is some good news, especially after learning that Rick Warren, the pastoral lightening-rod selected to give the invocation on January 20th, was telling Chrisitianity Today last week that his Saddleback campus in California would welcome all those San Joaquin schismatics because that big, ol' mean Episcopal Church wanted its property back! Mark Harris' Preludium site also noted that Pastor Warren last summer was praising Anglican Primate Peter Akinola of Nigeria. Regular readers of this blog know that I don't hold much regard for Akinola, who is among the leaders of the anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Anglican GAFCON; denounces homosexuality as often as he can; seems obsessed with +Gene Robinson (and other LGBT members of the Episcopal Church); and says nothing when gay Anglicans in his country are threatened or beaten. Charming fellow, really!
So, now having all that information about Pastor Warren, I was really not enjoying this idea of him giving the invocation or being called "America's Pastor". I understand President-elect Obama wanting to bridge gaps, be inclusive, and all that. But again, when the balancing act is done on the backs of the gay community, one has to wonder what will be the straw that breaks this camel's back?
Congratulations to my brother +Gene. I know he will deliver a prayer inclusive of all people. And I hope his words break through the anti-gay fog that seems to cloud Rick Warren's brain .
Thursday, January 8, 2009
SEMINARIES FAILING TO PREPARE CLERGY TO ADDRESS SEXUALITY ISSUES
New Study Reveals a Disturbing Lack of Sexuality Training in Seminary Curricula
CHICAGO, January 8, 2009 – United States seminaries and rabbinical schools are failing to prepare the next generation of clergy with the training they need to address sexuality issues in ministry, according to a study released today by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and Union Theological Seminary.
The study, titled Sex and the Seminary: Preparing Ministers for Sexual Health and Justice, reports that sexuality courses are largely absent from most seminary curricula and degree requirements. At most institutions, students can graduate without studying sexual ethics or taking a single sexuality-based course.
“With so many congregations embroiled in controversy over sexual orientation issues, or struggling to address teenage sexuality, or concerned about sexual abuse, there is an urgent need for ordained clergy who understand the connections between religion and sexuality,” said the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, director of the Religious Institute. “Seminaries must do more to prepare students to minister to their congregants and be effective advocates for sexual health and justice.”
Sex and the Seminary is based on a survey of 36 leading seminaries and rabbinical schools of diverse size and geographic location, representing a range of Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist traditions. Each institution was evaluated on criteria for a sexually healthy and responsible seminary. These criteria measure sexuality content in the curriculum; institutional commitment to sexuality and gender equity (e.g., the existence of anti-discrimination , sexual harassment and full inclusion policies); and advocacy and support for sexuality-related issues. The criteria were developed by an advisory group of seminary deans, faculty and clergy with expertise in sexuality. The survey and final report were authored by Dr. Kate Ott, associate director of the Religious Institute.
The survey revealed that:
· More than 90% of the seminaries surveyed do not require full-semester, sexuality-based courses for graduation.
· Two-thirds of the seminaries do not offer a course in sexuality issues for religious professionals. Three-quarters do not offer a course in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) studies.
· Seminaries offer three times as many courses in women’s and feminist studies as they do in LGBT studies or other sexuality-related issues.
· The next generation of scholars is not addressing sexuality issues. Sexuality-based courses are taught by senior professors or adjunct faculty, not by upcoming faculty seeking tenured positions.
The study also noted a “stained glass ceiling” in seminaries and a lack of policies on full inclusion of women and gay, lesbian and transgender persons. Two-thirds of the seminaries surveyed have fewer than 40% women serving in faculty, senior administrative and trustee positions, in contrast to student populations that are frequently more than 50% women.
“Religious leaders have a unique opportunity, and moral obligation, to help congregations and communities wrestle with the complexities of sexual health and justice,” said Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York . “Is there any subject more important and more on-the-ground crucial than sexual health and human flourishing? This study challenges all of us who are charged with ministerial formation to look closely at the institutional environment we create to prepare our students to be active and informed – and hence to effect people from the pulpit and in the public square.”
Sex and the Seminary recommends that seminaries and religious denominations develop and require competencies in sexuality for ordination to ministry. Most denominations currently do not require ministerial candidates to be competent in sexual health and education beyond sexual harassment prevention, the study noted.
The study also recommends that the Association of Theological Schools, the accrediting body for U.S. seminaries, integrate sexuality education into its standards for ministerial formation. It calls on seminaries to strengthen their curricular offerings and inclusion policies, invest in faculty development and continuing education, and pursue collaboration with other institutions and advocacy groups to expand educational opportunities for seminarians regarding sexuality issues.
The Religious Institute will send copies of the Sex and the Seminary report to every seminary and rabbinical school in the U.S. The report is available online at http://www.religiousinstitute.org/SeminaryReport.html.
The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, based in Westport , CT , is a nonprofit, multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society. More than 4,400 clergy, seminary presidents and deans, religious scholars and other religious leaders representing more than 50 faith traditions are part of the Religious Institute’s national network.
Union Theological Seminary, founded in 1836, is an independent, ecumenical graduate school of theology with the mission to educate men and women for ministries in the Christian faith, service in contemporary society and study of the great issues of our time. Located in New York City --where the local and the global intersect daily--the Seminary believes that the city remains a critical training ground for facing such issues.
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Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Happy Ephinany, y'all!! I took the day off work to cook a festive meal for friends including the King's Day cake. Nobody found "the baby", so I guess it'll be up to me to win the prize!
**IMPORTANT amendment: Isabelle has found the baby. Drat! She gets to be Queen...and I'm the serf. Figures! Oh, well....here's the story as told in the readings assigned for January 6:
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men* and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,* until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped,* they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. --Matthew 2: 1-12
Sunday, January 4, 2009
But there was a passage read today from Paul's letter to the Ephesians that I think approaches an explanation for my blogging motivation:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. --Ephesians 1: 17-19a
As I have come into relationship with God...stepping into the light through the door that is Jesus Christ....what I have found is more hope, more peace, more love than I thought possible. A love that does not discriminate, and illuminates the beauty of each of us. To quote the collect of the day, I have discovered a God who "wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature." And, as Episcopalians are always reminded in our Baptismal Covenant, we have an obligation to each person we come in contact with to "respect the dignity of every human being." Because the spirit of God is in everyone, and to fully live into that commitment necessarily means we will open our hearts...and more importantly the doors of the church....to those who come seeking, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, income level, or any other myriad of ways humans separate from one another.
For far too long, my brothers and sisters in the gay community have felt rejected by their religious communities...either in blatant outward ways or in much more subtle and very hurtful ways of simply not allowing us to participate in any way. And even though the times they are a-changin' in the church (especially the Episcopal Church), there are still forces in the world trying to convince the LGBT community that Christ did NOT die for them. If my blog serves no other function, I hope it is to show that (a) God is love, (b) God loves all of us equally, passionately, endlessly and (c)God looks forward to your return home...right now....because God has the best party going on, and can't wait for you to show up. Once you've said "Yes" to the invite, you will find yourself on a path toward eternal life....which is a whole lot better than eternal death!
So as I ponder a question of "How to keep the church vibrant and relevant in today's world?" what immediately comes to mind is, "Let God's love and joy be the centerpiece." Remind the people that this is an amazing story, an incredible love letter, and an invite to a party that's open to anyone who wants to come in. And don't be afraid to smile at a stranger, and welcome them in.
God is with us when we're down. And, as the poet Hafiz notes, God is with us in our joy...
What is laughter? What is laughter?
It is God waking up! O it is God waking up!
It is the sun poking its sweet head out
From behind the cloud
You have been carrying too long,
Veiling your eyes and heart.
O what is laughter, Hafiz?
What is this precious love and laughter
budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
of a soul waking up!
--"Laughter" by Hafiz, Sufi poet (c. 1320-1389)
So wake up! There's a lot of life out there!
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Yes, "survived" is the appropriate verb. As my closest friends know, I am not a fan of December 31st. As holidays go....it seems to be a bunch of hype about not a whole lot and an excuse to get plastered and behave badly. Bah humbug? You betcha!!
Now we're approaching a holiday that I do enjoy: King's Day! The Ephinany! The arrival of the magi at the manger with all their gold, frankincense and myrrh and recognition that there is one greater than any treasure they can bestow upon him. And then, in a moment of Godly-intervention, the three kings...who in Matthew's gospel encountered an insecure and ultimately evil-intentioned Herod...thought better of going back along the same route they had taken to Bethlehem...and instead set their camel-driven GPS to a different path home.
Funny that this gospel reading is one of three for tomorrow in the Episcopal Church. The other two are just as much fun: another Matthew account of Joseph and his dream...in which God uses those moments of slumber when the mind is at rest to let this human daddy know "It's time to get a move on, son!" And Joseph packs up his family and moves them out of harm's way...ultimately ending up in Nazareth, which as I've noted before, seems to be the "Newark" of the Middle East.
Another alternate reading is from Luke, where Jesus, the young boy, scares the wits out of his parents by staying behind in the temple in Jerusalem, asking questions and amazing the elders with his knowledge. Mary chews him out for having caused her and Joseph so much anxiety as they searched for him. And Jesus, the twelve year-old, dishes it back to her in the way a pre-teen might....letting her know he was supposed to be in his "father's house". And, like with so many of the readings from this chapter in Luke, you get the sense that Mary, amidst her motherly-righteous anger, is thinking, "Holy Goats and Sheep! My child is as special as they say!"
Ultimately, all three readings lead to one place: we're embarking on one amazing journey full of joy...adventure...espionage....and lots and lots of dream wisdom. And it makes all that time of Advent with the waiting, waiting, waiting...preparing the way....waiting....all worth it! Now that God, as Jesus, is in the world, humanity is about to have all assumptions and preconceived ideas about "how we always do this" put to the test in ways that make some very uncomfortable, and others left totally dumbfounded. And still others, so amazed that they chase after this man wherever he goes in hopes of getting something, anything, from this enlightened person.
The question I have in 2009 is...which camp are we in? The uncomfortable? The dumbfounded? The seeking? I know for me I am in all three depending on the day. I may spend more time in one than the others...but I have lived in each reality.
But, no matter where I'm at personally at any given moment, the experience of this journey has been worth the wait of getting to it. To reach the Ephinany of knowing the vast expanse of God's love as real has made the Advent of four weeks (or forty years!) a reason to celebrate.