Sunday, August 30, 2009
OK, I know the collect may not be the first thing that leaps out at most people during the service, but here's your "words to the wise" for Proper 13 Year B in the Episcopal calendar:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
"True religion" is such an interesting phrase. And to get a better handle on what in the world THAT is supposed to mean, the collect writers were probably hoping that the assigned readings for the day might shed a little light on the situation. I think we basically got that in the reading from James:
"If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."--James 1:26-27
OK...so, "religion"--at its truest--is taking care of orphans and widows (aka the most powerless in the First Century society) and realizing that all that we have... every "perfect gift", as James calls it, comes to us not from 'the world', but from God.
Ta-da!!! True Religion: the mandate that we are to look out for the people around us who are the powerless, and remember that without God... we are a rudderless boat just drifting along.
OK... so, why did I bring my Jehovah's Witness into this discussion? Is he an orphan? Does he need my assistance in some way?
No. And he wouldn't want what I would offer any more than I'm buying what he's selling to me once every six weeks or so on a Saturday morning.
I mention King because this month's copy of The Watchtower, The Jehovah's Witnesses' magazine, features a cover story called, "How Can You Choose A GOOD Religion?" The cover art features what looks like a young, teen-aged, African-American boy surrounded by five other men... dressed in the vestments of various traditions including one in a chausible with a crucifix.... all touching this boy with one hand in a way that seems like they're trying to entreat him to "follow me".
Note: this is GOOD religion, not TRUE religion. And, as one might imagine, what King's literature puts out there as "good" is not necessarily what I see as essential to religion being "good"(quoting Romans 1:26-27, and trying to imply it reflects an understanding of 21st century LGBT relationships, is a sure-fire way to get me irritated and declare the literature 'bad'!)
Good Religion, if you read their literature, can't be found on all roads: only the one that passes through "the narrow gate" (this is from Matthew 7:13-14). It goes on to quote the passages from Matthew about false prophets. Sadly, this fails to take into account that many others who are traveling toward the light and away from the darkness are walking on different paths, and are getting there through whatever means GOD has determined. God is the shepherd. God is the one who calls to the flock and makes them return. And God will not stop and will use whatever means necessary to reclaim the sheep. I do not know all of God's methods because I am not God. I can only speak for me. I can only say that, for me, I see God through the Jesus lens. But others may see God, and may arrive on the path toward light through another means. It doesn't make their religion "bad"; it just makes it different. And that difference may very well be "true"... or at least "their truth".
King and I didn't do much talking about "good" religion. We didn't get that far. He posed the question to me, "Susan, do you think that everyone goes to Heaven?" and I answered, "Yes." This led to the usual shifting uncomfortably and quoting various scripture passages. "King, what do you think Heaven is?"
"What do I think Heaven is?"
"Yes, because, see, I think Heaven is now. It's here. Right now. Unveiled."
"What do I th--Heaven is the spiritual realm. See, we won't have flesh and bodies in Heaven. We won't be here, we'll be spirits..."
"OK, I see."
And then I heard a little more Scripture, got my magazines and he and his friend, Matthew, went away.
Meantime, Isabelle has a beutiful mezzuzah to put on the door. Perhaps that will serve as the garland of garlic for King.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Alone, one could possibly write this man off as a whack job. However, the day after he delivered this hour+ sermon, one of his congregation from Faithful Word Baptist Church showed up at a town hall meeting in Tempe where the President was speaking...and the man was armed with a fully-loaded automatic rifle! His shouts of "I hate Barack Obama!" were met with "Amen!" from those in attendance, so while there's no official link.... I think it doesn't take a social science degree to figure this one out!
Pastor Anderson not only hates Obama; he hates the gay community. Really, really hates us. In one sermon, he kept screaming about the "faggots" and the "dykes" in the pulpits of such mainline denominations as the United Methodist Church. He said LGBT people deserve the death penalty, and noted that the reason we exist in the world is because we have no natural predator. Gee, what do you think a mentally-unstable person with an AR-15 would do with that?!
I hope the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and local police keep a very close watch on this guy. He already has had a run in with border patrol in Arizona when he refused to answer questions. The cops tased him. Perhaps the officer with the taser was a "faggot".
Since Pastor Anderson believes the only bible one should read is the King James Version (because King James wasn't gay, right?), I thought I'd pull this passage:
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's
clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall
know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns,
or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth
good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A
good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a
corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that
bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into
the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
Matthew 7:15-20, KJV
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Kennedy must have known his time was drawing to a close when he wrote to Gov. Deval Patrick last week, urging him to get on with insuring a replacement for him before Congress reconvenes for the health care reform debate. Access to health care had become a "prime issue" for Kennedy, and he knew the importance of getting someone in his seat who would carry that part of his legacy.
No doubt, the scramble will be on in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts today to figure out, "What's next?".
I grew up in a staunchly Republican family in the northern neighboring state of New Hampshire; hence, most of my life, I have felt little warmth for the Kennedy family. During the grilling of Anita Hill, when the Democratically-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by then-Senator Joe Biden buckled and allowed Clarence Thomas' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court to go forward, I found it highly ironic to see Kennedy, who'd had his share of bad behavior with women, sitting on a panel where the subject was sexual harassment. To his great credit, the Senator did not participate in the "boy's club" questioning of Ms. Hill.
Over time, and forming my own political ideology, I have come to respect the senior Senator of Massachusetts, and have been grateful for his commitment to the LGBT citizens of this country. And so his death, while inevitable after the diagnosis last year, is still very sad. He is now united with the many saints in Heaven. May light perpetual shine upon him.
Finally, to get a sense of the amazing mind and the commitment he had to service to all, I am sending you to this speech he delivered at the National Press Club. Tallahasseeans take note: he sings the praises of our young city commissioner, Andrew Gillum.
Rest in Peace, Senator.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Even better, Jesus loves the people in those counties! All of 'em! Even the illegal immigrants in those counties with no health insurance, and the person who just lost their job and can't make the COBRA payments to keep their health insurance. And even the self-employed person who must make the decision: do I shell out $600 a month to Blue Cross Blue Shield... or do I use that $600 a month to pay down the debt that I have incurred from school, from car payments, from credit cards?
These are the realities that were largely getting lost at the health care town hall meeting with Congressman Allen Boyd in the rural Wakulla County. The room was packed with partisans who (a) had health insurance of some kind already and (b) didn't want to listen to anything that didn't jive with their version of the facts. Fortunately for them, they had plenty of people voicing the same opinion over and over: there's nothing wrong with the health care insurance industry in our country, and "guvment" needs to stay out of things (the latter part of that argument is hilarious given how many people in the room were on Medicare, which is a 'guvment' delivered health care model!) And only one of the Medicare recipients wanted to give up his subsidized health care. None of the TriCare4Life (a veteran's managed care plan) wanted to give up theirs. The Marine, who gets his health care through the VA, hates his 'guvment' insurance because he can't have shoulder surgery because it was deemed "unnecessary" (probably falls outside the scope of his injuries from Vietnam)... and he has to wait 18-months for other surgeries.
"This is your guvment insurance!" he intoned, to the cheers of the crowd in the room.
Most of the people called on to speak were men. All of them were white. And the retired men, whose wives work for the state of Florida, are covered under their spouses Capital Health Plan. (Always a joy for a gay person to hear about the straight perks of marriage!)
One woman told her story of working for the state, having paid premiums to CHP during her employment, only to have them deny her claim when she got sick. Her illness took a toll on her, eventually resulting in her losing her state job, and her benefits. Now, saddled with a pre-existing condition, no other private insurance company would take her. She and her doctor got her into a drug trial... but then it turns out she had been given the placebo. So, now she's on disability. The room was remarkably quiet as she told her story. But then when she made a plea to have access to health insurance through a federal program such as Medicare before she's 65, the crowd began to rebel and boo her. After all, she's disabled now; she can't EARN her health care coverage.
Boyd played to the crowd. He was "surprised" to learn that CHP would actually deny coverage to a customer (happens a lot, Congressman!) He consistently spoke against any plan that would cover "illegal immigrants", and he kept going back to his Blue Dog Democrat moniker (meaning, "I'm a conservative, red-blooded, Budweiser-drinkin' 'Merican"). When a woman tried to get him to take responsibility for the rising costs of health care by regulating the insurance industry more, he spun it around to play to the base in the room.
"Oh, you WANT guvment to get involved in insurance?!" The crowd responded with the appropriate boos and hisses.
And then there was the question about why there are so many uninsured Americans. Boyd claims it is because of the young, healthy people who have opted not to get health insurance. (He never thought to say that unless they have a job where the employer offers benefits, they are still too poor from college loans to buy their own). Boyd noted such a decision to forgo health insurance puts the young person at risk if something, such as an accident, happens to them.
Contemplating this scenario of a young UNinsured person in an accident, a woman toward the back of the room, with the stereotypical big southern hair and overdone make-up growled, "Send 'em a bill!"
I bet that's what Jesus would say, too! Because Jesus never cared about the poor, the weak, the least.
Yes, Wakulla loves Jesus. Following him? That's different.
Monday, August 24, 2009
And it is true that those words are the conclusion, the summation, of our belief in God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit. But my partner read a commentary out of her Torah to me that I think speaks to the often-unspoken truth of the resurrection: God resurrects the dead... which is not just the physically dead, but those who might be wandering through the world as the "spiritually dead". And, after God has resurrected these dead, there is the promise of the "life of the world to come."
That's what I'm interested in. "Life of the world to come" leaves one believing that it's all about the after-life. Whatever we're doing here is just the preparation for the next life. And that's when we'll enjoy this wonderful "eternal life" that the priests keep talking about. This life is the life where we toil, and stumble, and keep "doing good stuff" so we can get the gold stars and earn our way into heaven.
This is one of those areas where I'm wondering, "How come the Church doesn't make this more clear?" Eternal life is the everlasting life of the RIGHT NOW. It is the life we gain in Christ, those of us who are Christians. This is a key and important message that I found so amazingly liberating when it first started sinking in two years ago. Imagine how different it is to think that the moment you wake up, you are fully alive... and you have the life you have for the whole day until you go to bed at night in the hope that tomorrow, you'll wake up again. This is different than promising that you are going to have a full bank account when you wake up in the morning, or that your debt has been canceled. Or that you will go to work and have a banner day. But you do have your breath, and the gift from God of a chance to do something with the life you have for this one day, each moment in the day. For me, this is a much better way to start off living life than to be thinking about what I don't have. Focusing on the void means the void becomes the only thing I see. And when that happens, where is God in the mix? And God's a jealous God: I understand that to mean, "I'm not sharing time with 'the void'!" God really is like a Leo: it's all about God!
Once eternal life started to make sense... suddenly, lots of the words in our liturgy became clearer. The whole notion in the Lord's Prayer about "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means that the kingdom of God is not some far off fantasy land, but is present in our world now. As I told my good friend, King the Jehovah's Witness, the kingdom is now. I don't have to wait; all I have to do is look and see the magnificent creation in a tree, a rose bush, a mountain, a river. This is the handiwork of God for which we give thanks in our Prayers of the People every week. And it is here, now, for our enjoyment... our nourishment... and our care. The curtain has been pulled back to reveal all this to us and to see that we are part of a plan for life.
If there is going to be an enigma in any of this, I would think it should be a question of "If all this is for us, could there still be more?" And to my mind, that would lead to the wonderment about what happens when we die. Few have ever been there, and come back to give us a full accounting. And, in some ways, it would probably be best if we don't dive into that pool. If we were to know what's beyond our days on earth... wouldn't that come close to eating the apple in the Garden of Eden? I can be OK with this ambiguity, this uncertainty. I figure I'll know soon enough what happens to us after we die, and I would imagine it starts with us no longer being an "us" anymore.
For now, let's start with accepting the life we have right now in Christ. A life that can rise above death, doom, despair, whatever-it-is that keeps us from accepting eternal life as a present state of being in the world.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of the earth,
for there is no help in them.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.
I would extend that out beyond individuals to include institutions. Those things that are "on earth" are really temporal; God remains as the constant and eternal. Never confuse the two. You'll be greatly disappointed if you do.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
One of my Facebook friends pointed to a great highlight in the right-wing career of journalist Robert Novak: the Crossfire episode with John Lofton of the Washington Times and rock-n-roll legend Frank Zappa. In the mid-80s, there was so much static about rock music and how it was going to turn children into devil worshipping, murderous thugs. Yours truly was just as suspect as the next child, wandering around my prep school campus with my walkman blaring The Ramones, and The Sex Pistols. These were the musicians that would have made all the white guys on the Crossfire set cringe... with the exception of Zappa, who probably would have been amused that I would mix in Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young... as well as a little Beethoven, Ella Fitzgerald and Bob Marley with the raucous rockers.
The image quality on this video isn't the best, but it's an enjoyable 10 minutes! Wonder if Novak will run across Zappa again in the after-life?
One of the big items on their first day of hashing out this proposal, the Statement on Human Sexuality, which is comprised of four parts. There was an attempt to require a super-majority to adopt this change allowing for partnered LGBT clergy to serve. That was defeated. There was another attempt to apparently break out the four different resolutions and make them dependent on one another. In other words, if one resolution failed, then that would be the end discussion of all of them. That also failed. And so, let the games begin.
Prayers ascending to all who are meeting in Minneapolis.
Monday, August 17, 2009
The Psalm for Evening Prayer is the last half of 106, which includes:
Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
May these words serve as the pillow for my weary head that is so pained by this debate.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Taken all by itself, this particular passage of the gospel could make the unknowing and unsuspecting visitor to an Episcopal Church this Sunday take pause and look around and wonder if they've wandered into a Donner Party reunion or something. The language of John sounds, well, cannibalistic, particularly if we stayed so focused on Jesus as the fully human man, forgetting that he has fully divine DNA in that fully human body.
Thankfully, this last installment of the "I am the bread of life" lecture from Jesus is coupled with readings about wisdom. Whether you are using Track 1 with the continuing saga of David (he dies and now his son Solomon becomes King and asks only for wisdom) or Track 2 with Proverbs, which is a poetic passage about how Wisdom (depicted as female) has built her house, the core message here is wisdom. In the Proverbs passage, there is the line:
"...she calls from the highest places in the town, "You that are simple, turn in here!"
To those without sense she says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed."
Aahh... putting this statement with what Jesus is saying in the gospel reading makes this "eat my flesh and drink my blood" possibly sound a little less like Hannibal Lecter, and more like an invitation to a deeper understanding of the ritual we do week in, and week out: the Eucharist.
It helps to remember that in how John chronicles the Last Supper, he doesn't have the apostles sitting at the table with Jesus breaking bread and commemorating the Passover, instructing this group of friends in the new meaning he was giving to the bread and the wine. John's Last Supper narrative is the foot-washing, which has become a ritual used at the Maundy Thursday services. So, for reasons probably known only to Biblical scholars, it seems John has included the "new covenant" moment here in Chapter 6 rather than in Chapter 13. But regardless, the placement isn't as important as the point: if you eat of the flesh of God and drink the blood of God there will be life in you: eternal life. The purpose of the Eucharist is to bind us, through the ritual act of eating and drinking the consecrated bread and wine, to God... and to each other as the community that is gathered at God's table. No matter who we are in our individual lives, we are bonded together through God's sacrifice, through the living bread.
And in that "taking in" of the body of Christ, the bread of heaven and the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation we are opening our bodies to the intake of wisdom. Wisdom granted through God. One of the things I have been becoming more aware of as I go along this long and winding river trip with God is that I seem to get in very tiny, sometimes larger, pieces a glimpse of what it means to be a follower of God. It's the wisdom of looking beyond myself and my wants and needs and seeing how to be with others. It's that wisdom that Jonathan Myrick Daniels received in knowing when to check his Yankee self-righteousness at the door, and seeing the child of God in front of him in a Selma, Alabama, police officer.
Wisdom has built her house, and we, the simple and without sense, are invited in to eat the bread and drink the wine that She has mixed for us. The She who is also the He who is also the One. Taste it and see that it is good.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Today in a small village in southwestern France, the people were having a ball... really. They were in period costumes. They were singing and dancing and celebrating the Assumption of Mary.
In my days of self-imposed exile from the Episcopal Church, I would host what I called "The Assumption Party". I would invite all my friends over who were ex-Roman Catholics (I have many of them!) and we'd have wine with wafers (and chips and dip) and they'd compare notes on what they knew of the Virgin Mary. Some of them knew a lot more than others. Some would argue the finer points of another major Mary holiday, the Immaculate Conception. All would grouse about where the RC Church went wrong in their lives and why they weren't attending any more. This would lead to one of my favorite games of the Assumption Party: famous assumptions made throughout history by the popes of the Roman Catholic Church. Among them:
- Nobody will ever question this scheme of selling indulgences;
- Henry VIII is just bluffing about that whole divorce thing;
- If we keep talking about Mary, the feminists will be satisfied and will shut up and be good mothers
The parties were fun and irreverent. I don't host them any more, mostly because my ex-RC partner has converted to Judaism... and it just seemed to have run its course. But I do always realize that today there are people dancing and celebrating the life, and assumption into Heaven, of the woman who gave birth to God incarnate. And, as one who is Christian, I am always grateful that a teen-aged girl responded, "Here I am!" and not "I'm outta here!" to the message from Gabriel. A reading from Galatians assigned for her day:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child, then also an heir, through God.--Galatians 4: 4-7
Friday, August 14, 2009
For he hath regarded * the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth * all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, * and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him * throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; * he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, * and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, * and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, * as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: * as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
The Song of Mary (Magnificat)
This was apparently one of Jonathan Myrick Daniels favorite parts of Evening Prayer and it became the foundation of his faith that led him to follow a path to seminary, Selma, and a sacrificial death.
Daniels' story struck me for several reasons. He is kinfolk in that he was born and raised in New Hampshire... and eventually ended up being a Yankee in the south. He came to Selma after a transformational experience in March, 1965, during Evening Prayer services at the Episcopal Theological Seminary, where while singing the Magnificat he found the language stirring in him a desire to follow the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to students to join the march from Selma to Montgomery. He went, along with a friend, but missed the bus to come home. Upon further thought, Daniels and his seminary buddy decided that they should actually stay in Selma rather than be seen as outside agitators. They requested leave for the rest of the semester with promises that they would return for their exams.
During that time of the mid-60s, there were numerous marches in and around Selma always met with police and protesters. As I read Daniels account of one such demonstration, I was moved by the softening of the heart in a heated moment:
After a week-long, rain-soaked vigil, we still stood face to face with the
Selma police. I stood, for a change, in the front rank, ankle-deep in an
enormous puddle. To my immediate right were high school students, for the most
part, and further to the right were a swarm of clergymen. My end of the line
surged forward at one point, led by a militant Episcopal priest whose temper (as
usual) was at combustion-point. Thus I found myself only inches from a young
policeman. The air crackled with tension and open hostility. Emma Jean, a
sophomore in the Negro high school, called my name from behind. I reached back
for her hand to bring her up to the front rank, but she did not see. Again she
asked me to come back. My determination had become infectiously savage, and I
insisted that she come forward--I would not retreat! Again I reached for her
hand and pulled her forward. The young policeman spoke: "You're dragging her
through the puddle. You ought to be ashamed for treating a girl like that."
Flushing--I had forgotten the puddle--I snarled something at him about
whose-fault-it-really-was, that managed to be both defensive and self-righteous.
We matched baleful glances and then both looked away. And then came a moment of
shattering internal quiet, in which I felt shame, indeed, and a kind of
reluctant love for the young policeman. I apologized to Emma Jean. And then it
occurred to me to apologize to him and to thank him. Though he looked away in
contempt--I was not altogether sure I blamed him--I had received a blessing I
would not forget. Before long the kids were singing, "I love ---." One of my
friends asked [the young policeman] for his name. His name was Charlie. When we
sang for him, he blushed and then smiled in a truly sacramental mixture of
embarrassment and pleasure and shyness. Soon the young policeman looked relaxed, we all lit cigarettes (in a couple of instances, from a common match, and small
groups of kids and policemen clustered to joke or talk cautiously about the
situation. It was thus a shock later to look across the rank at the clergymen
and their opposites, who glared across a still unbroken "Wall" in what appeared
to be silent hatred. Had I been freely arranging the order for Evening Prayer
that night, I think I might have followed the General Confession directly with
the General Thanksgiving--or perhaps the Te Deum.
As Daniels spent more time in Selma, he could see Christ in those who he did not like... but was nonetheless commanded to love. He made efforts to bring African-American teenagers with him to the Episcopal Church as part of his desire to see the church integrated. After returning to Boston to take his exams, Daniels came back to Selma for the summer and to join in protests of businesses in Fort Deposit, AL, where blacks were not welcomed. Daniels was arrested, and released about a week later... and returned to Ft. Deposit to continue the protest. Four of his group entered a shop where the store owner met them with a shotgun and ordered them to leave. When they didn't, the shopkeeper aimed the gun at the head of a young girl in the group. That's when Daniels interceded and took the bullet for her. He was killed instantly.
The Episcopal Church commemorates this martyred seminarian on the day of his initial arrest.
Daniels moved beyond a place of self-aggrandizement and recognized a deeper reality. Shortly before his death, he wrote:
I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to loseHere's hoping that I and all others in this soup called humanity can come to this same recognition.
self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was
motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee
deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one's motives are usually
mixed, and one had better know it. As Judy and I said the daily offices day by
day, we became more and more aware of the living reality of the invisible
"communion of saints"--of the beloved community in Cambridge who were saying the offices too, of the ones gathered around a near-distant throne in heaven--who
blend with theirs our faltering songs of prayer and praise. With them, with
black men and white men, with all of life, in Him Whose Name is above all the
names that the races and nations shout, whose Name is Itself the Song Which
fulfils and "ends" all songs, we are indelibly, unspeakably ONE.
(Information from www.satucket.com/lectionary).
For more information on Jonathan Myrick Daniels: www.jonathandaniels.org
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Needless to say, the frightened right are getting out-of-control. And that's because I believe they feel that they are really "out of control". They are not able to dictate the discussion. And they see Obama's plan as making room for--eek!--other people to have access to health care, namely the poor.
I remember as a reporter asking Governor Chiles' general counsel to explain his comment about the U.S. being a "Christian nation." "When did we become a 'Christian' nation," I asked. The man frowned at me and said, "By virtue of us saying we were!" This was as a matter of fact, not opinion, that the United States, and Florida as a shining example of America, is a "Christian nation." In fact, I remember the man snarled at me in such a way so as to suggest that clearly I wasn't a Christian, or a United States citizen, if I didn't know this. As he put it to me: "It shows a lack of knowledge of history that would ask a question like that. Or certainly Florida history!" (that was a dig at me for being a Yankee... which for this man may have been my worst sin.)
And then I look at this health care debate. And I look at the swipes people are taking at anyone who might suggest that our current system which is helping to widen the gaps between the haves and the have-nots is just fine, and any attempt to change it is turning the USA into "Russia". Folks, if Russia allows people with so little money that they have to decide between going to the doctor or eating to receive at least a modest level of health care then I ask, "What's wrong with being like Russia?" (FYI: I have no idea what the Russian health care system is really like, but most of the rest of the world DOES provide a social safety net).
If you are really Christian, can you not see how un-Christian it is to let people die simply because they can't afford the care to live? If you really want to "love" your neighbor, do you not see why it is important to give your neighbor the ability to see a doctor rather than end up in an emergency room which is already overrun?
Opposition to discussing the options seems rooted in fear. And, again, I say it is all over the Bible, a book that so many people hold near and dear to the point of idolatry: Do. Not. Be. Afraid. Joseph says it to his brothers. King David says it 2 Samuel. Paul says it multiple places in his letters. And Jesus? Do you really need to ask if he says it?
Do not give into fear. Do not let fear dominate your head and your heart. You can see by what happened in Smyrna where fear leads.
* FINAL VERSION - Concurred Resolution: D048
Title: Adoption of a "Single Payer" Universal Health Care Program
Topic:Health Care Committee: 09 - National and International Concerns
House of Initial Action: Deputies
Proposer: The Rev. Gary Commins
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th Convention of the Episcopal Church urge passage of federal legislation establishing a "single payer" universal health care program which would provide health care coverage for all of the people of the United States; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention direct the Office of Government Relations to assess, negotiate, and deliberate the range of proposed federal health care policy options in the effort to reach the goal of universal health care coverage, and to pursue short-term, incremental, innovative, and creative approaches to universal health care until a "single payer" universal health care program is established; and be it further
Resolved, That the Episcopal Church shall work with other people of good will to finally and concretely realize the goal of universal health care coverage; and be it further
Resolved, That church members and the Office of Government Relations communicate the position of the Episcopal Church on this issue to the President and Members of Congress, and advocate passage of legislation consistent with this resolution.
In a word: YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I realize that those of you out there with the good fortune of having private insurance or access to an HMO might find universal health care coverage to be the beginning of us all wearing Nehru jackets and carrying little red books with pictures of Mao, or Stalin, or Castro. Is this a form of socialism? Yes. But is it right? You betcha!
Why? Well, consider some of the facts as the Episcopal Church considered them when adopting this resolution.
- More than 47 million people in the U. S. are currently without health insurance, more than 75 million went without for some length of time within the last two years, and millions more have inadequate coverage or are at risk of losing coverage.
- People of color, immigrants and women are denied care at disproportionate rates, while the elderly and many others must choose between necessities and life sustaining drugs and care. Unorganized workers have either no or inadequate coverage.
- The Institute of Medicine has found that each year more than 18,000 in the U. S. die because they had no health insurance.While we in the United States spend more than twice as much of our gross domestic product as other developed nations on health care ($7,129 per capita), we remain the only industrialized country without universal coverage, and the United States performs poorly in comparison on major health indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization rates.
- Almost one-third (31 percent) of the money spent on health care in the United States goes to administrative costs.
- The potential savings on paperwork, more than $350 billion per year, are enough to provide comprehensive coverage to everyone without paying any more than we already do.
Under a universal health care plan, everyone would get paid: the hospital, the doctor, the specialist. The difference is that payment would be made on a fee-for-service that is negotiated to cover the cost of the care. For the practitioner, this is similar to what we're being paid right now by the 'lovely' insurance companies that will only cover 60-percent of what we've charged. That other 40-percent goes toward the private companies "operating costs" (read: their pockets). Why must they withhold 40-percent, when the patient is already paying money to the company... to the tune of $250-$600 a month... to have health insurance to begin with?!
If everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, could have access to health care so we can begin to prevent preventable diseases and care for people... I'm willing to take a fee-for-service negotiated rate.
Under universal health care, there would be a global budget for hospital operating expenses. Regional health planning boards would manage and approve expensive equipment purchases.
Who loses in this plan? Private insurance companies. They would go bye-bye because nobody would be making a profit on other people's pain.
Who wins? Everybody... especially those everybody's who currently face a significantly- shortened life span because they can not afford to seek medical treatment.
What does this have to do with the Church: Everything!
The call to us from God always and everywhere is to see God's presence in the world. And where there is a need... as there is so clearly one in the instance of health care... it is our mission to remove stumbling blocks, support the weak, help the sick. Instead of always asking, "What would Jesus do?"... we need to go about the business of doing it!
For reasons I can't explain, I was drawn to look at Psalm 51 during the service on Sunday. I'm fairly familiar with this Psalm because of verse 11: "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me." That's a line that is well-embedded in my brain. In fact, much of Psalm 51 makes up the liturgy for Morning Prayer.
But this idea that God looks for the truth deep within me, and will make me understand widsom secretly? That tastes like the proverbial manna for my soul. And it went hand-in-hand with the message from the Collect:
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things thatThe essence of who I am is a gift of God, freely given. The more I can trust and believe in this the more I will be enabled to live according to the will of God, imparted secretly as wisdom.
are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled
to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, for ever and ever.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."--John 6:35
Taken on face value, this statement would be a clear indication that if you believe in Jesus, you will never have hunger or thirst again. And for many, this statement is one which has been used to say, "Anybody who does not believe in Jesus will starve to death!" But what I see in this statement is the same sentiments that Jesus expresses over and over: "It's not about me! It's about God!"
Again, in our reading from today, the people standing around listening to him, most likely the Temple leaders, start trying to rip apart what he's saying by noting that they know "Who's his daddy" (Joseph) and continue to see Jesus as the flesh and blood man that he is. Where does he get off talking about being the bread that came down from heaven. He's just a man!
And, in part, they're right: he is a man. But, again, Jesus once more takes the argument and tries to turn it back to God.
Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life."--John 6: 43-47.
As I listened to this portion of the gospel, I found my mind actually reversing some of the order of the statement. What I mean by that is what came to mind as I was listening was that those who will be drawn to Jesus are those who are hearing God... learning from God... and are drawing nearer to God. They haven't seen God standing in front of them as flesh and blood (at least they don't think they have). But those who have felt God... God the Father in this case... are the ones drawing near Jesus. And those who believe in that power, that stillness, that "way" in whatever "way" it is that God has reached them... are the ones who are gaining eternal life. These words, I believe, are true even today. Those who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of God, will be drawn near. They will be touched (not physically, but metaphorically) and brought to a place of eternal life in God. And, as Episcopalian, this comes "through Jesus Christ our Lord."
But then, for me, the real kicker comes at the conclusion of Jesus' teaching and attempts to re-direct the fascination away from himself, the flesh and blood man, to the Father who sent him:
"I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The operative phrases in the above are, "I am". I'm reminded that in the Old Testament, God identifies God's self as, "I am". Hence, in the gospel of John, those constant refrains of "I am the bread of life", "I am the vine", "I am the way" I don't read or hear in them, "I, Jesus Christ, son of Mary and Joseph, born in a manger on Christmas Day, am the be all and end all of all things." More like I hear Jesus saying, "Substitute 'God' where you see 'I am'." Suddenly, the sentences read, "God the bread of life" "God the vine" "God the way". And I think this is really what Jesus was trying to impart in all the Gospels: this isn't about me, the flesh and blood man, this is about the divine, the me that is from God. Get back to God!!
In the case of John the evangelist, it would seem this is an important part of his theological reasoning and why he would have put any of this thinking out there in the first place. His gospel, authored long after the resurrection and the writings and teachings of others were part of the consciousness of the time, is making the assertion of Jesus as "The Word made flesh", as "God made man in manifest." And, given the growing tensions inside the temples at the time of John, this assertion was meant to embolden those Jews who were believers in Christ. Hence, this is how John's gospel seems to have been interpreted by some as justification for the heinous acts committed centuries later in the name of Christianity against the Jews. Words can be powerful, and dangerous things, if employed for the means of bolstering prejudice, division and hatred.
"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear."--Ephesians 4:29
Rather than see Jesus as giving us the go-ahead as Christians to hold ourselves up as superior, see what he is trying so hard to do: make us conscience, aware, and followers of the Father who sent him. Because it is through walking that path that we will gain life in God!
Saturday, August 8, 2009
And this is a bad thing because....?
I've read opinion pieces in newspapers decrying the "socialized" medical model, claiming that people will have to wait a year to get in for a visit to a specialist.
And this is so different from our "capitalist" medical model because....?
Former Alaska Governor and vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin called Obama's health care reform plan, "Evil". She's among those alleging that the government would take over health care in this country and push the elderly into wanting to be euthanized.
And I'm supposed to believe this woman because...?
The more that the nay-sayers squawk about Obama's health care reform plan, the more I like it! Because, you see, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain... most especially finally being able to afford access to coverage. It is one of the cruelest ironies in the world that I am a health care provider, and yet I don't have health insurance myself. Last month, when I stepped on a rusty nail in my back yard, I actually called a friend for a second opinon, if you will, on whether I should go to the Patients First clinic. Maybe I could just take a chance and wash my foot out myself... I think my tetanus shot is current?... and then I could bandage it myself and avoid shelling out the money I don't have. She told me not to be ridiculous and take a chance. And so I went. And I paid. Chump change compared to my neighbor's work man who had witnessed my accident, and then he fell victim to a rabid fox two weeks later... and he is stuck with paying for rabies shots that will cost him $1,700. And, like me, he has no health insurance and little money.
For people like us, the idea that costs might be lowered, that pre-existing conditions can't be used against us, that I will be able to stay with my doctor who, bless her heart, has done what she can to keep my costs down... what Obama wants to do sounds pretty good. And maybe, just maybe, I can afford to buy health insurance for myself.
So who wouldn't like Obama's plan? Insurance company executives who have made a profit out of denying legitimate claims and forcing patients and health care providers (including yours truly) to re-file simply to get paid what we're owed. Or maybe it's drug company executives who make a fortune off of prescription drugs... drugs which people overseas can get for a fraction of what we pay because they aren't subsidizing the research costs. Or maybe it's Congressional leaders who already enjoy subsidized health care for themselves and their families. Or worse, maybe it's the average Joe or Jane who has a private health insurance plan provided through an employer. Some of the "haves" seem to think that to extend such benefits to other people would somehow lessen what they've got. For me, it's saddest when another person trying to earn a living can so quickly turn on me and others in my boat with an "I've got mine!" attitude. Would it be too much to ask that I get to have some, too?!
This is a bad thing because...?
Thursday, August 6, 2009
If anyone has been generous these thirty years and more, it has been the LGBT faithful, who have endured from the Church they love a spectrum of pastoral care ranging from spiritual violence and rejection, on the one hand, to ambivalent and fickle tolerance, on the other, with an occasional outbreak of Kingdom hope here and there to sustain them on their wilderness journey.
Gee, ya think?! We have been patient, and kind... even when we've been feeling bruised and battered. Rev. Carroll in his posting on The Lead seems to take the Church to task for this language in C056 about giving generous pastoral care to LGBT faithful couples who seek marriage. Please note that Rev. Carroll currently resides in Akron, OH, and I have no idea if the man has ever lived and worshipped in the southeastern United States. The Church here is not the same as the Church that I grew up in in New Hampshire. And I'm not just talking about the difference between low and super Protestant vs. high and Anglo-Catholic! I read the "generous pastoral care" language as a prompting to those bishops who may be willing to provide shepherding to these "other" sheep if they can do it from the next room, so as to not "get any of it" on them. Again, the real test will be if everyone... laity up to fellow bishops... will have the patience, but determination, to encourage these bishops to a new understanding of the LGBT faithful in the pews, some of whom may emerge to push their D025 buttons by saying they believe they are being called to the ordained ministry. It is the Christian response of those who have been made strong in these resolutions to continually reach out to those who perceive themselves to be weak.
Ah, but then I'm generous! You can read the full article on The Episcopal Cafe by clicking HERE.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’--Mark 8: 34-9:1
This is one of those lessons that, when it is part of the Sunday service, you can almost see it in the eyes of the congregation. A bit of uncomfortableness for some; casting side-glances to the floor; and then there are the ones who just stare blankly and you have no idea if they actually heard this piece of news from the Scriptures, or if they are planning the after-church brunch in their heads.
But speaking as an out lesbian, I remember when I heard this (and I mean really finally heard this lesson), I smiled knowingly. Because the richness of what one gains in losing their "life" to follow Christ is a similar richness that one gains when one "comes out" as gay, lesbian, bisexual or accepts a transgender identity. Because there are greater riches in what Jesus says if you put your faith and trust in him and the gospel. "Gospel", in this case as I understand it, meaning the Good News meaning eternal life as opposed to eternal death. Rather than worrying about what the neighbors will think, or questing after the Almighty Dollar as if that's a God, if you seek eternal life in God, you will gain a richness that comes from that feeling of being unconditionally loved and valued for who you are right now... with no strings attached, no hidden clauses or exceptions or black-out dates: "God's love is good only for Sunday mornings from 9-12"... NOT!
For someone gay, this declaration of identity as LGBT means a loss. For the queer, it could mean a loss of family, friends, job, children, home, or more frequently... the loss of a carefully-constructed straight persona. For a parent or partner of someone who comes out it could mean a loss of dreams built on an assumption that a child is straight or that a spouse is straight.
But how much more is gained in terms of your self-worth and your ability to experience true joy and happiness once you've kicked open the closet door!? And what are dreams for your children if they are built upon a false foundation of a reality that simply doesn't exist? The real life, the real experience, the real joy comes from that place of being honest about your sexual orientation. There is true freedom in being who you really are as opposed to what your "life" was supposed to look like.
I think it's the same story with Jesus. Sure, it's a lot easier to keep all your money and never share it with someone in need. Sure, it is uncomfortable to mingle with those who are not just like ourselves. Being a cheerleader for Christ feels better and is a lot safer than being an actual follower of his ethic of compassion, mercy and love. If we just do that whole "take up your cross and follow me thing" on Sunday mornings, that's sufficient.
No, not really. Not even hardly. In my own experience, once you've allowed God through Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit to be the focal point of how you line up things in your life... you can't just make it a "Sunday only" practice. It becomes the way you live and move and have your being. Does that mean that you drop to your knees in prayer three or four times a day? No, not necessarily. But God is never far from my thinking and being as I interact with a stranger in a grocery store. Like in Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "An Altar in the World" or as I was taught to do in massage school, you learn to look at people in the eyes and allow their spirit and yours to have contact and recognition that "Here is another child of God."
I re-read an old post of mine from this blog called, "Divinely Dreamy Messages", and was struck again by the dream I'd had in which I saw so many different faces coming at me in rapid-fire succession. And then the voice: "These are the faces of God!" How simple and true a dream that was!
Just as I can't "turn off" being a lesbian, I can't "turn off" paying attention and trying to follow God. Perhaps because I'm already an outcast in society, adding another layer of whacky... actually showing forth praise of God not only with my lips, but in my life... is a step I can make. Who'll join me? Or are you happy to watch me carry my cross alone?
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
One of the big no-brainers that I feel called to follow is remembering my life on the goat farm in Gainesville. It was a very bare-bones existence, something that was a necessary change in this march toward a total transformation of my reporter self to becoming the massage therapist and redeemed child of God I am becoming today. I learned a lot from my landlord about being careful with regard to what I threw away and where. He had me separate out my trash: paper items such as newspapers and jars or bottles could be recycled. My banana and orange peels could be composted. My paper towels and tissues could be set aside for his burn pile. And, in the end, one person living on Worth Auxier's farm would throw away maybe a couple of plastic wrappers and plastic bottle caps. On an average week, the amount of trash I'd send to the Gainesville landfill could fit inside a Glad Sandwich baggie... with some room. It was an eye-opening experience.
So, as I am preparing for another year of Education for Ministry, and hosting meetings of small groups, I have been thinking about the things that we throw away at the end of gatherings. And the thing that leaped out at me were the trash cans filled with plastic cups. And that's when I had the "Eureka!" moment to lay out the money for some tumblers and such that I can always collect at the end of the night, and take home and wash and reuse. I mean, why not? That's how I've been serving the after-massage water to my clients for the past six, almost seven, years. Not much, and yet it's a start toward being more conscious of what we contribute to the waste that seems to be the hallmark of the last several decades in the United States as we consume and consume and consume.
O God, our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
--Prayer for the Future of the Human Race, pg. 828
And don't worry, guys: you don't lose anything in her proposal... except your right to keep flapping your gums about "those resolutions" from General Convention.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
It's important to note that just because a diocese has gay and lesbian nominees, it doesn't mean that a gay or lesbian person will be selected. However, had we still been living in the "season of gracious restraint", these priests would not be allowed to be considered.
Meanwhile, those of us living in the southeastern United States, continue to see what's happening elsewhere with hope that this new season will eventually reach us. Many of the bishops from this area of the country will likely vote not to consent to the election of a bishop who is openly gay or lesbian... whether they have a partner or not. Fr. Mark Harris posted at PRELUDIUM the "pastoral letter" from Bishop MacPherson of Western Louisiana. +MacPherson's letter encourages calm, but makes clear that he is not comfortable with the direction the National Church is moving. Like with all bishops in his place, the best thing I can offer is to always return to the phrase repeated hundreds of times in Scripture: Do Not Be Afraid. If fear is allowed to be the driving force of response, then that will be trouble. Calm, that is a better response. Looking to God's mission for us as people of God: this is the place where we, who are in disagreement on matters of human sexuality, can find each other as living members of the body of Christ.
Hopefully, in that finding, we'll also see each other fully.