Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Leather and Grace

I was walking into St. John’s one Sunday recently and was stopped by one of the chalice bearers, a nice guy who used to bring the Eucharist to my dad at Alterra.

"You can't come to church dressed like that," he joked. "Where do you think you are? The Mickee Faust Club?"
What this man was referring to was my black leather biker jacket, originally purchased to authenticate my portrayal of Skinhead Hamlet, but has since served me well as a way to stay warm in winter, especially riding the Ruckus to church in the morning.

“I’m bringing Faust to church with me!” I kidded. Unfortunately, I think he thought I meant I was really bringing the Faustkateers to church, which excited him as a fan of our madcap cabaret. But the likelihood of Faustkateers waking up before noon on Sunday is slim, and to go to a church service….hmmmm….what’s the definition of heresy?

In my own way, though, I am bringing a representation of Faust to church in that I’m there, in my leather jacket and flat-top haircut sitting next to my mom, kneeling in prayer, singing the hymns and receiving the sacraments that unite me with others in the Body of Christ. While Faust is not (despite rumors) a “gay troupe”, we do have a large number of queer members including your’s truly. And so, by being at St. John’s on any given Sunday morning, I hold that space of being “dyke in pew eleven”.

No one is more surprised than me to be making a regular practice of attending services in the Episcopal Church. This was not something I had planned to do. I had become quite comfortable letting the church go. It had become foreign to me, and a bit of a combatant during the earlier part of this decade when priests here in Tallahassee were frothing at the mouth about the election of a “gay” bishop in my native New Hampshire. I was angry and deeply hurt by the snarling and sniping and talks of schism. I could not understand what had happened to the Christian denomination that I was raised in, and had experienced as a place where priests and bishops would sneak in comments about the need to stop the arms race…while some of the congregants wondered if this leftist’s sermon was going to mess up their tee time. We had lived in harmony on Sundays, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, gays and straights. What was wrong now?

To get a really good grasp on that, you would need to read the blogs of others much more caught up in the politics of the church than I am! You’ll find a link to Mark Harris’ Preludium at the bottom of this blog page where you can read up on all the noise in the Anglican Communion. But if I were to summarize the “what went wrong” I’d tell you it is a long-simmering discontent among those who feel they’ve lost control because they have to share the altar with women, and they want to gather up all the marbles (and church property) and take it with them back to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer days. Gay people just fall along the continuum of “others” who “they” don’t like. And, of course, “they” like to quote the Bible as their proof that I don’t belong. Frequently cited passages include the one from Leviticus 18:22 (“thou shalt not lie with a male as a woman; it is an abomination”)…which of course is one of the many abominations in Leviticus. You also shouldn’t wear cotton and polyester, but don’t tell “them” that! And the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is always handy…even though that had more to do with hospitality, and let’s face it: the issue there was homosexual rape, not sex between consenting adults. And, if you read it, Lot’s answer to keeping the two visitors to Sodom safe from assault was to say, “Hey, don’t rape these guys! I have a couple of daughters you can defile!” (Nice, eh?!)

Interestingly, none of those who would reject me and turn me away from the doors of the church ever quote from the gospels. Perhaps that’s because Jesus doesn’t have anything to say about gay people. The God that I believe in wants us to come home, like in the parable of the prodigal son. Come home to a feast even though we are flawed.

So, why am I going to church? It started with my dad’s death. The day after he passed away, someone inserted the quarter into the jukebox in my head and I started hearing Episcopal hymns. I figured these were meant to guide me, and especially guide me in helping to make decisions for what funeral music we would use. People cringed when I mentioned “I Bind Unto Myself Today” (even though I could hear my dad’s voice singing that one!) Certainly, “The Strife is O’er”, an Easter standard in Exeter, was perfect for his funeral in both New Hampshire and Florida. Dad’s Tallahassee service was on November First, All Saint’s Day, and quickly I picked up “For All the Saints”, which then looped itself for several days in a row, exchanging places with “God is Working His Purpose Out”.

Maddening doesn’t quite capture how I was feeling about all this, and I wondered what the point was of the hymns. I attended church on November 4th to carry a banner made in memory of my father as part of the All Saint’s Sunday processional at St. John’s. That same day, there were baptisms. I have always liked the baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer because it lays it out, in call and response form, the beliefs and the practices of Episcopalians as captured in the Apostles’ Creed. And, of course, I got whalloped with the sound of “For All the Saints” one more time…just to make sure it didn’t fall off the pop charts in my brain!

OK, so I’d done all the obligatory “going to church” that needed to be done. Time to get back to my life of leisure on Sunday mornings……

No.

The hymns kept going. In fact, they became ever-present. They played in the morning when I woke up. They played in the afternoon while I ate lunch. They were spinning around and around as I went to bed…ready to greet me again the next morning. They were Easter hymns, Advent songs, fraction anthems, service music from Morning Prayer: you name it! If it was in my experience of the Episcopal Church, I was hearing it! It was bugging me. But the more I tried to blast it out with something else, the more I’d hear:
Crown him with many crowns
The Lamb upon his throne
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but its own!
(O, the irony!)

Saturday night, November 10th, I went to bed with a struggle. Something inside was telling me the omnipresent hymns meant I needed to go back to St. John’s for church in the morning. And the other something inside me was saying, “That’s crap!” So, I thought I would sleep on it, and see what happened. Sunday morning, a voice in my head, strong and authoritative, boomed: Show up!!
There was no room for argument. No place for me to offer a “Yes, but…” I was under orders.

I went, and I found as I sat in the service that I had an overwhelming sense of “I belong here”. As I sang hymns, I couldn’t believe the fullness of my own voice (is that really me? This has got to be Memorex!). As I listened to the lessons, I realized that “showing up” meant much more than being a body in a pew. I had to turn on the lights in my house, and bring my spirit and my mind with me into the sanctuary. And as I was fed with the “spiritual food” of the Eucharist, I had this idea that I was getting what I would need to carry me forward to “show up” in my whole life, not just to church on Sunday.

The hymns are starting to become a little less frequent now. And “show up” has given way to a new mantra: “Pay attention!”

We’ll make that the subject of another blog! Stay tuned!

1 comment:

MCG said...

Now I can go to bed with a thank you God on my lips and say Amen to that, my dear.

I tuned into the blog hoping there would be something there to lift my spirits and there it was.

Again, I hope you print these words somewhere in a book some day.

Goodnight and God Bless!

MCG