Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma


We are in the final stages of prepping for what many are calling Irmageddon. I have to agree. This is a whopper of a storm like none other that has been seen before. We have bottles for water. We have non-perishable food stuff. Here we go.

Dear God, you know the power of water and you have calmed the seas of chaos, be with all of us who are in the path of hurricanes, especially Irma and Jose. Give us strength to endure. Give us the patience to proceed. And above all, fill us with your love and hope so that we may resist the temptation to fall into despair. Be close to us, O God, and guide us through this tempest. In your Holy Name we pray. Amen. 


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Standing on Sacred Ground and Marching Forward: a sermon at UCT

Texts from the Common English Version of the Bible
Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28

“Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up.” I’m sure many of us would find it hard to imagine a bush that is on fire but isn’t being destroyed. So is it any wonder that Moses…who had thought he was simply moving his father-in-law’s flock to another area to graze…would be drawn to such a curious sight? We can also imagine how unnerving it must have been for Moses to hear, from this fiery bush, God calling him by name. And perhaps we can sense the power of this moment when God, in the manifestation of this flaming bush, tells Moses not to come any closer. “Take off your sandals—the ground where you are standing is holy.” Moses is in the presence of a power beyond all powers and is about to receive the charge to confront an earthly power and take a stand on behalf of his oppressed Israelites in Egypt.
Let’s remember that Moses was simply tending sheep and goats. According to the mythology, he was a Hebrew baby boy who was rescued by the Egyptian king’s daughter. He was also supposedly a stutterer, and he had run away after killing an Egyptian who he saw abusing his fellow Israelites. In other words, Moses was not some perfect and polished figure. Now, he’s being tapped to go beyond himself to do extraordinary and mighty works of justice.
In the reading we had from today’s Gospel, Jesus talks of the trials he is about to face as he heads toward Jerusalem. He rebukes Peter for trying to put up a fight over Jesus’ destiny. And he reminds Peter, and all the others with him: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.” Forget yourself, take up your cross, follow me. Those are words that can really leave a lump in the throat.
Three images: a burning bush, sacred ground, the cross.
In his book, “The Bush Was Blazing But Not Consumed,” the Rev. Eric Law uses the burning bush image from Exodus as his jumping off point to talk about how faith communities can build multicultural relations within their churches. He notes that a bush that’s on fire ought to be disintegrating into ashes. That’s what happens when fire meets leaves and branches, right? The fact that this bush can be on fire and NOT be destroyed is Law’s metaphor for God amid heated tensions, or flaming rage and anger. Think about it: God is showing up in the form of this burning bush because God has heard the cry of the Israelites. They are oppressed. They are under the thumb of the Egyptians. Their passions are all aflame and God is in that heat but God is not destroyed. Instead, this fire has consecrated the ground on which Moses is standing.
This burning has become, as Law describes it, a holy fire and an example of how people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds can have passions and experiences that can be blazing, but through commitment to a listening process, faith communities can become places where multiculturalism thrives. If, however, a community doesn’t engage in the honest and sometimes difficult work of a true listening process, the danger is that it will stoke those same burning embers of the past into an unholy fire that will not only burn the bush but will take the whole house down with it as well. Since the Rev. Law works as a consultant on multiculturalism, he has seen examples of when a faith community gets it right…and has also witnessed those who get it wrong. Often, the ones that fail are the ones that weren’t really invested in listening to anyone but themselves and whatever was their predominant racial and ethnic outlook.
We can take that example beyond faith communities…and even beyond the continued difficulties that we face in our country on race and ethnicity. We seem to be isolating ourselves from each other based on whatever differences we have or that we perceive to have. We seek out media sources that confirm our worldview. We stop talking to each other. We unfriend each other on Facebook. We retreat to our corners and refuse to engage with anyone we don’t like. This probably feels safer.
But it really isn’t. Because whether we like it or not, that same burning bush is steadily glowing and alight and is consecrating the ground upon which we stand even today. Especially for those who feel strongly that stewardship of the earth is important, we are constantly reminded that the same God who told Moses to stand on sacred ground and hear the command to go speak truth to power on behalf of the people is always reminding us that we must do the same. And this fire in the bush is also the fire in the belly that will give us the power to speak and to know that we, too, are on sacred ground when we stand for justice for the earth and all that inherit this planet.
So what about the cross? Well, it is all fine and dandy to feel that flaming righteousness as we stand for justice, peace, equality and fairness for all people. That makes for great bumper stickers and talking points. But it also is liable to meet with resistance, push back, or worse violence. It’s a whole lot safer to “like” a rally or march event on Facebook than to actually attend it. We can say “Black Lives Matter” but will we actually talk to people in positions of authority about why we believe it’s important to listen to the pleas of black people about why they don’t think they matter, and then join with our brothers and sisters in changing the culture to make them true equals? Again saying it is one thing, but when Jesus tells Peter and the disciples that they must “forget about yourself” and “take up your cross and follow me,” he is being just as fiery as that burning bush and is telling them…and us so many centuries later…that if we, who stand on this sacred ground, want to be true to his mission of love and justice, we must put our trust in God and go sometimes to those places we do not want to go. We must engage in those issues and with those people whom we would just assume avoid. It is not enough simply to stand on the sacred ground and hear the call to action. We must be ready to keep going forward and actually act on behalf of justice for others and not just ourselves. May we be ready.




Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville's Web

In the past week, two discussions with two friends of two different religious traditions brought up the topic of "exposing things hidden." Each of them were dealing with very different things, but I quietly noted that this theme had emerged in our conversations and I carried that into the weekend. 

And then...Charlottesville.

I had heard there was going to be something happening with white nationalists rallying because of a vote by city officials in Charlottesville to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. I had also heard that there would be clergy and laypeople assembling to respond in a peaceful counter-demonstration to this hate-fueled rally. I was anxious for them, and prayed that this would play out as it has in the past four decades in America: one group rallies with  about 50 of their super-white friends while many more  gather to sing and pray in defiance of white nationalism. The groups are separated, they disperse, and that's that.

But not this time in Charlottesville.

I grew concerned as I followed a Twitter feed of the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a St. Louis pastor who has been so outspoken against white supremacy since the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson. Initially, there was the prayer vigil gathering in a Charlottesville church. The sanctuary was filled with people of all races. They were there to center in prayer, be reminded of their mission and commission from Christ to stand in peace with Love to protect those who are the targets of white supremacy. 

Then the images began appearing on Facebook...videos of young white men dressed in khakis and polo and Oxford shirts marching with tiki torches and chanting slogans of "Blood and Soil" and "You will not replace us!" (which was later reported to be "Jews will not replace us!") The cadence of the chant was reminiscent of a scene from the Nazi propoganda film, "Triumph of the Will" in which a crowd assembled in Nuremberg cheered on Adolph Hitler:

"Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein F├╝hrer!  Ein Deutschland!"  

My body temperature dropped as I watched this on the screen of my iPad. This was no 50 people; there were probably a couple hundred of them...all white, all male, and about the same ages as my nieces and nephew. Then there were the tweets from Rev. Blackmon:



This is Charlottesville...home to my dad's alma mater and law school.

Rev. Blackmon would later post a Facebook video, her voice tense with terror as she and others drove through the street back to their hotel. She hadn't seen Klansmen since she was five years old. And here they were...only they weren't wearing their robes and hoods. They were proudly walking through the streets of Charlottesville with their torches and bats. And they were young men dressed in respectable street clothes. 

The tension grew on Saturday. There were clashes between the two groups. And as the counter-demonstrators marched in a street, a car driven by James Fields of Ohio, plowed into some parked cars  that ran into the peaceful assembly of people, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. Two others, helicopter operators with the state police, would also die as a result of this protest by the Nazis. The president, a man who has hired White Nationalists as his advisors, issued a statement in which he "condemned in the strongest way possible" the violence "on all sides." Forgive me for saying this but...bullshit. While some on the counter-demonstration front apparently maced American Nazi leader Richard Spencer as he marched, nobody on their side was killed by a far-left winger slamming a car into them. These are not apples to apples here.

I thought back to my friends and the bringing to light those things which were hidden in darkness. We have always known that there was a racist element in our society. Many of us know that our country was built on the injustice of slavery, the taking of land from the indigenous population, and that there are systems in place to make sure that one group--white Americans--will not suffer the hardships of exclusion of access. But if the many senseless killings of black and brown people without justice being served didn't wake up white America to this fact...if the election of a president who sides with totalitarian regimes and has outspoken white supremacists as his closest aides didn't wake up white America...perhaps this horrific event in Charlottesville might make more of white America see that we have a serious problem...a real enemy...and that enemy is us. 

In the Gosepl of Luke, we hear Jesus say these words:

 ‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.’(Luke 8:16-17)

I think Charlottesville has exposed and shed light on the evil that is all too-pervasive in America and has been for far too long. We have a cancer of white supremacy and it is being brought out of the shadows and into the light and parades through streets with tiki torches in khakis and Oxford shirts. It tweets generic and lackluster condemnations of itself while blustering and bullying with threats of nuclear war. Especially for those of us who are white and who claim the mantle of Christ, while we personally may not participate in the facism of America, we are not allowed to turn away, plug our ears, and otherwise do nothing to dismantle it. Silence is not an option. Now that we have seen the ugly head of Neo Nazism parading in a southern city, there is no turning away but a call to confront this and bring our own lights to this cause.

Dear white people: it's time to dismantle the white supremacy that has festered below the surface in our society once and for all.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Woe to You, Senators, Who Prooftext by Tweet

Senator Marco Rubio started it.

"It" in this case is my deluge of postcards where I quote passages of Scripture.

Our junior U.S. Senator began daily tweets on his personal Twitter account to let everyone know that he reads the Bible, or at least some portions of the Bible. Presumably, he feels the need to share this with the Twitterverse so that everyone can see how he, as a United States Senator, is being guided by God in all that he does. He is such a good Christian.

Interesting. Funny that he has hung so closely to the Book of Proverbs and considers this evidence of his deep and abiding Christian faith. I would have thought someone wanting to call upon the Lord through social media might seek guidance from "our only mediator and advocate" Jesus Christ. And while Proverbs does contain some wonderfully wise words, I thought the Senator needed to get a little closer to the words of Jesus. So, I started sending him postcards each with a different passage from the Bible. I don't think it's right to limit Scriptural instructions to just 140 characters.


Considering Sen. Rubio's recent actions, his most egregious to date being the many votes he cast in favor of taking away access to health insurance for some of the very poor, elderly, and differently-abled people in America, I figured he needed a little more Jesus and a little less Proverbial wisdom.

Most of the passages I chose were from the Gospel according to Matthew. Matthew 25, naturally, came to mind with the closing verses being Jesus' discourse on "what you do to the least of these you do to me," only I decided the Senator needed to read the parts about those who did NOT take care of the poor, the hungry, the orphan, the widow, and the people in prison. I also reminded him of Matthew 7:15-23 in which we learn to beware of false prophets and those people who say "Lord, Lord" but Jesus never knew them because they failed to bear the type of spiritual fruit that says, "I'm a follower of Christ."  I mixed it up with a parable from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, in which we hear the tale of the rich man who ignored Lazarus the beggar at the gate...only to die and find Lazarus was in heaven with Father Abraham while the rich man suffered in the fires of Hades.

I realize the Senator prefers his Old Testament readings, so Psalm 146 seemed appropriate in reminding him of how we are to not put our trust in rulers of the earth because they are going to die and blow away...just like him and his party's ordained and unhinged leader. Each postcard reminded him that the current administration is morally bankrupt and he should stop defending them.

This morning, however, I learned that Sen. Rubio...like Sens. Graham, McConnell, and McCain as well as the president...have all received large sums of money from a Ukrainian billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. So, it may be that Rubio is like one who cannot hear; hence will not listen. Perhaps he needs to read another verse from Proverbs:


The wicked accept a concealed bribe

   to pervert the ways of justice.--Proverbs 17:23

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What Welcome Looks Like


Last weekend, I attended an evangelism workshop.

You read that correctly. I. Attended. An. Evangelism. Workshop.

I did this willingly in advance of a revival that is happening in the diocese of Georgia in September.

Yes, you read all that correctly, too. This is still me writing, OK. And no--I have not forgotten my Northern roots or my sexual orientation and identity. Having established these facts, you can read on in confidence that I will 'xplain all of this. :-)

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is on a mission to inspire Episcopalians to be a little more assertive and bold about the Jesus we teach and preach about in our churches. Because that Jesus is not the one who puts an asterisk next to the word "all" or places limits on who is eligible to inherit the eternal life God promises to all. The Jesus we talk about is ever-expanding the banquet table and adding more chairs and heaping up more plates of food for anyone who is desiring and he won't even check to see if you'd been in the church last Sunday or not. 

Our lead presenter, the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, put before us the following definition of "Episcopal Evangelism":

"We seek, name and celebrate Jesus' loving presence in the stories of all people--then invite everyone to MORE." 

I was so delighted to see this definition! Nowhere does it say, "Go out and convert those heathens and unchurched people," or "Go tell a stranger that they need to find JEEE-SUS to be SAVED!!!" Instead,  this room of about 70 people were split into pairs, and we did some real simple exercises of listening to our partner tell their story and then sharing our own answer to whatever was the question before us. And in this sharing, strangers can become friends, and friends can hear in each other's words similar ideas, dreams, hurts, and anxieties. Where is Jesus in that? Right there in the middle. Because the Good News of God in Christ happens when we take time to get to listen and know each other without an agenda. As our Presiding Bishop says:

"Evangelism is about sharing the journey into a deeper relationship with God and with each other, and not about us controlling the end result. It's not about us increasing our market share, and it's not just propping up the institution. If we believe the relationship with a living God does matter, then evangelism and anything that helps us to come closer as human children of God matters."

I went into the workshop with skepticism and I left with a feeling of affirmation. Everything I was hearing was telling me that I have been doing evangelism, the Episcopal Way, this whole time beginning with this blog which I started in 2007 when I had my own awakening. For newcomers, you can see that first entry by clicking HERE.

So, is evangelism just listening and telling stories? No, not just. It's important, and it's a cornerstone, but the chief cornerstone begins with each of us first getting settled into our own skins. The starting point is--as it always is with the Episcopal Church--prayer. Prayer is not just our words offered up to God; it's our hearts and minds opening to receive "the peace of God which passes all understanding." In some traditions, there's a lot of calling on God, petitioning God. We do that, too. But I have found that sometimes the best prayer begins with taking some time to be silent and even as I pray aloud, I find that I often leave some space in between to give room for me and others to listen. Once I am settled, I'm ready to take that important next step of encountering another person or persons. My challenge...as an introvert...is how to initiate a conversation. I've been lucky enough to be an Education for Ministry mentor which gives me some practice in how to open a dialogue. But that is often very specific to whatever is happening within the group. I don't want to fall into "reporter mode" either because that can feel confrontational. So, instead of asking lots of "why" questions...the trainers suggest another approach that can illicit a story: ask "when" questions such as "when have you experienced community?" or "what" questions such as "what kind of a community do you dream of being part of?" And then...listen. In all likelihood, what I am likely to hear is a description of God. I have had this experience, many times, as I witness various communities that I move in within my city. And I have thought, "This is God at work in this person or people!" Now, my challenge is to acknowledge that out loud. For all I know, it may be the chance to hit the reset button for the other person's perception of what it means to believe in God in Jesus. That would be Good News.

This kind of acknowledgment and affirmation of the good others are doing is what I think Jesus meant when he expressed in Matthew's Gospel: "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

Amen.







Saturday, June 24, 2017

All of Me


It was the end of a rehearsal one night at the Mickee Faust Clubhouse, and I was gathering up my scripts into a folder. We’d just finished prepping a musical number for our tenth annual “Queer As Faust” cabaret, a song poking fun at the president and his gay supporters in the Log Cabin Republican group. One of my fellow cast members wanted to know how I “do this” (meaning Faust) while being a Christian.

This was not the first time I have been asked this question. I had something of the reverse put to me years ago when I arrived at St. John’s Episcopal Church in my leather biker jacket. A member and fellow Eucharistic Minister said to me, “You can’t come in dressed like that. This isn’t Mickee Faust!” (I should note, he was smiling and clearly ribbing me.) But his joke was likely a serious matter for others.

How can I be in Faust and be an active Christian?

I doubt anyone would call the Mickee Faust Club a “holy place.” It is very rooted in the secular world with a mythology built on the quest for world media domination by a giant rat who smokes a cigar, cracks bad jokes, and is the unloved twin of another much more famous Florida rodent with a Magic Kingdom in Orlando. The woman under the rubber rat ears is an avowed atheist as are many of the company members. Some were raised in households where church attendance was mandatory or were put through a parochial school where education came with a heavy dose of Roman Catholicism or Southern Baptist Convention. Many of us identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and as such have experienced the cruelty of Christians coming to our events and railing against us while waving the Bible in the air. Such experiences tend to color one’s opinion of Christianity and not in a good way. And when Christianity asserts that its name sake is God in human form…well, it then makes God a culprit in the nastiness of God’s followers.

But then look at Jesus and the people and places where he primarily moved and lived and had his being. Yes, he taught in the Temple, and people were astounded and amazed at his teachings. Yes, he would have dinner with Pharisees (probably because he was of that set). But much of the time, Jesus was hanging out with all those people who were “those people.” He was close to women and men who had no power to speak of, who were the discarded, ignored, or abandoned of his society. He didn’t assert himself with hellfire and brimstone; his power was in his presence and his willingness to enter the experience of these “others.”

Why do you suppose Jesus preferred to be in these settings? Some might say it’s because “these people” needed to be saved. That would be the popular approach to these stories. But I think another way to see this could be that Jesus was searching for those who were the most fertile ground for achieving His ultimate goal: bringing God and humanity together. If Jesus’ mission was to meet people where they were and not where they ought to be, and if his mission was to go in search of the lost and those who had been pushed away, then he’s going to be seen in some places that his society might have deemed “impure.”

Which brings me back to Faust and being a Christian and that whole notion that if I’m a Christian, how can I possibly be part of Faust? I’d say because Jesus expects to be part of the mix of perfect imperfection of our lives so that the mission of Love and reconciliation continues through us. God doesn’t just love that part of me that can recite prayers, or kneel at the altar. God works through me whether I’m at Faust or offering healing touch to someone on my massage table.

God isn’t contained in things and buildings. The spirit of God lives and moves within us and the way we treat one another and live into that new commandment to love and seek out each other. That can happen at Faust and at Church.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Pulse: A Year Later


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.