Monday, June 12, 2017
The bells of St. John's Episcopal Church solemnly tolled 49 times at noon today, the one year anniversary of the deadly hate crime committed against the black and Latinx LGBTQ+ community in Orlando's Pulse nightclub. Each echoing ring a remembrance of one of the people killed that night by a twisted and angry individual armed with an assault rifle. The attack shocked all of us who identify as LGBTQ+ because clubs such as Pulse have traditionally been the places that have harbored us, especially when we are young and just beginning to understand our orientation and identity.
I lit a rainbow candle and then sat quietly on a bench in the church's columbarium, closing my eyes to pray as the bells sounded. I couldn't remember all the names of the dead, but I could remember their faces. Most were so young, not even yet 30 years old. And there was the one name and face I could remember: Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, a mother of eleven children and a two-time breast cancer survivor who had gone out to the Latin Night at Pulse with her gay son. They were there to celebrate Orlando's Pride Week. When the gunman began his shooting spree, Brenda reportedly told her son to get down, and put her body in the way of the bullets. I began to sob, my tears co-mingling with the misty rain.
How much more death?
How much more grief?
How little progress have we made since that horrible night?
How? How? How?
Even since Pulse, there still have been violent shooting incidents in this country. None with same body count, but every incident--in Illinois, Texas, California, New York, Alabama--all of those killed had a family that is left to bury their dead and grieve that loss.
There was no will power to address the issue during the Obama administration. And now, we have the NRA's poster child in the White House, and federal lawmakers are actually proposing legislation to relax some of the restrictions on guns. Even Florida Congressman Neal Dunn (R-D2) has signed on to a bill to make it easier to purchase silencers. In our state legislature, there were twice as many pro-gun laws proposed to the ones that were gun control measures. Thankfully, a couple of Republican lawmakers from South Florida complained of "gun fatigue" which resulted in many of the bills dying quietly in committee.
But for Florida to have done nothing to address gun violence after Pulse is...well...repulsive. If any state should be taking the lead on limiting people's access to these weapons of warfare such as the one used at Pulse it should be Florida. I'm losing patience with politicians who want to offer their remembrances of this tragic day. I would rather they use the power given to them by the voters to do something constructive to stem the violence. No citizen needs to own an AR-15 or any other multiple-shooting device. There is also technology in the works that will make it harder for someone other than the actual owner of a weapon to fire it. These types of technological developments deserve funding and support.
As the bells finished tolling, and I wiped away my tears, I felt a sense of peace come over me. I prayed the Lord's Prayer with special emphasis...
Our Father who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Monday, April 24, 2017
I couldn't help myself this past Sunday.
Our deacon finished reading the assigned Gospel lesson from John, which is always the story of the apostle, Thomas, who insists that he must be able to see Jesus for himself and stick his fingers in his wounds in order to believe that Christ really had risen from the dead. I leaned over to one of my fellow choir members, a scientist, and whispered:
"Thomas just wanted peer review."
Joking aside, I think there's definitely an element of truth to that idea. All the other apostles had seen the resurrected Jesus, and were telling him all about it. But Thomas had his doubts about the veracity of their statements and wanted proof.
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 20:24-29)
Whenever I hear people talk about this story, it's always presented as "doubting Thomas," as if there is something wrong with him. If Thomas had had more faith, then he wouldn't have needed this proof. And maybe it was just the juxtaposition of hearing this Gospel story after spending a few hours of my Saturday marching in Tallahassee along side scientists and science lovers that I gained a new insight into one of my favorite apostles. I've liked Thomas because of this moment of being so completely real to the way we are as humans and having our doubts about something we haven't seen for ourselves.
And, if we think about Thomas as if he really were a scientist requiring an extra study to prove this "fact" that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, then his doubt can be seen as a legitimate and necessary inquiry. Certainly, Jesus didn't seem to have a problem appearing again for Thomas' benefit, and even challenged him to follow through on the experiment he wanted to do of sticking his fingers and hand into his wounds. Thomas doesn't; the appearance alone was enough for him to say, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus gives him the nudge: "Oh, so now because you have seen me you believe. Blessed are the ones who haven't been so lucky and yet have come to believe."
In his sermon at our church (which happens to be St. Thomas Episcopal Church), Bishop Scott Benhase drew the distinction between having "belief" and having "faith." "Belief" is about having certainty and proof of a truth beyond a shadow of a doubt. "Faith" requires a trust in the movement of God's grace in our lives. Thinking of this moment again with Thomas...his need to experience the risen Jesus first-hand, and not just hear the stories from his fellow apostles...speaks to Thomas wanting a verifiable truth that would fit with his belief system. And you can imagine, he must have believed what made the most sense to him and to any rational person: there is no way Jesus defeated death because nobody does that. Thomas must have thought the rest of the apostles were high.
But the other part of faith, and definitely the way of Jesus, is to not fit into our rational idea of what constitutes "the way things are" because faith, and most definitely Jesus, doesn't adhere to those kinds of rules. As the prophet Isaiah said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord." The whole mission of Jesus is to turn our belief, that commitment to concrete answers and certitude, on its head and get us to give up on the mission to find "the truth" in favor of trusting in God's unending revelation of truth through faith. That's the work of grace.
This is where the sciences, and the scientists, come in. There's been such bad blood between those who make it their life's work to search out truth, in the universe or the earth or the seas or the mind, and those who are content to live into a hope that trusts God will unveil all things in God's time. I'm sorry there's been such a binary split between science and religion that people tend to pick sides and set up straw men that they can knock down to prove that they're right and the other side is wrong. Personally, I think God loves scientists as much as any other group and delights in their Thomas-like inquiry and demand for proof, and seeking out signs that point to a "truth." Scientists are the ones cracking the codes of the mysterious for us. They are helping us to find out more about our world, our ecosystems, and how to be the good stewards of this planet we were commanded to be. And, for me, rather than their discoveries proving there is no need for a belief in God, I think they're just taking us deeper into the mystery. It's like one of those Russian dolls where you open one, there's another one. And another one. And another one. It's endless! Once a hypothesis is tested, and tested again, and the "truth" remains elusive, the best scientists are the ones who eventually say, "We just don't know."
Here enters faith and the hope and trust that it's OK not to have all the answers. And this is the place where I believe God meets us to say, "You don't know it all. But keep going. Keep probing. Keep seeking. I'm here. And I delight in your curiosity!" Science is cool. So is God.
Friday, April 14, 2017
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Sunday, January 29, 2017
"Blesssed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These words of Jesus are for me the song of my heart and that of so many of us who believe in his mission of Love, inclusion, and mercy to those being pushed out into the margins. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account." Take heart, all those who are finding themselves in the crosshairs of our president's peculiar xenophobia: you are not forgotten as those thousands crowding airport terminals were showing the world. You will not be abandoned as the ACLU and the federal courts have told you tonight coming to your aid. You do have Christian sisters and brothers who are linking arms with people of all faiths and no faith at all to be the resistance to these anti-Christ policies. If I am to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God, I can do no better than to start with standing up for you in saying, "This is not my America."