Monday, June 30, 2008

On the Road Again

In about an hour, I will be driving north to New Hampshire to move my mom back to our home in Exeter. Thus ends another chapter in the life of Susan and Peggy Gage, aka "Hurricane Peg".

I hope to be back to posting by the end of the week. I still have thoughts about the peace and the sword in Matthew, about my hopes and dreams for more light in this sometimes too dark world, and probably some silly stuff, too.

Peace be with all of you... and traveling mercies, too!!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Just As I Am

Just as I am,
Without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me
I come to thee,
O Lamb of God,
I come, I come.

--Hymn 693, The 1982 Hymnal

I don’t know how the music of the above tune goes, but I don’t think that’s what matters in this moment. It’s the page that I opened to when I was looking for something else in the hymnal. As always, my plan isn’t God’s plan…and clearly, this is the song I’m supposed to see this morning. Because this is the song that contains the central message for me today as I am reflecting on the journey.

Last night, an amazing thing happened. A movie about the family, religion, the Bible, and the love of God which can’t be contained and kept locked away was played in the setting of the Mickee Faust Club’s home in Railroad Square. We are talking about a theater company whose membership counts mostly atheists, followed next by pagans as the predominant religious background, showing “For the Bible Tells Me So”. This is the first public showing in Tallahassee of Daniel Karslake’s documentary…and it happened under the roof rented by a bunch of rowdy, raucous, adults who follow a woman wearing rubber rat ears. Jesus would have been proud!

I don’t know how anyone can watch this documentary, and not be moved. There are moments of struggle within families as they try to reconcile what Christianity has taught them about homosexuality, and what that means in the context of now knowing that a loved one, their child, is gay or lesbian. Some end with tragedy, some end in a neutral place, others come to love their children and work to fight for equal rights for the gay kids.

For me, consistently, the part of the film where I am unable to keep from crying is the minute I hear “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” at Gene Robinson’s consecration service. My mother was there in Durham, NH, singing in the choir, as were many, many people who had been my church family as I grew up in Exeter. The music, the pageantry, and the memory of where I was in my own relationship with the Episcopal Church at that time, always come colliding into each other as I watch that scene. I witness the celebration of seeing a man I knew long before he became “the gay bishop” ascending into a leadership role in the church. Yet, I weep. I weep with that sense of homesickness. I would have wanted to have been there, seeing Christ’s love made manifest in the embracing of Gene as a leader. Instead, I was in Tallahassee, the Diocese of Florida, where, in 2003, there was no end to the daily denouncements of this momentous occasion in my native state. In anger and disgust with the editorial cartoonist for the paper, as well as some of the local “Anglican” clergy, I sent what’s called a Zing! into the Tallahassee Democrat:

“Southerners are so fond of saying how they don’t care how things are done up north, but southern Episcopalians seem to care a lot about the bishop of New Hampshire!”

At a time of joy for my home state, I was estranged from any kind of church family. And that is not a good place for a Christian to be. As noted by the Assistant Bishop of Florida in his sermon this morning, it is in the breaking of the bread and coming into communion at the altar that fosters us as Christians and helps us to keep our faith. I felt I had been kicked out of my Episcopal house by my family, and the “traditionalists” were telling me that I only had myself to blame.

I imagine that it is that same sense of separation, loss, and anger that touches every LGBT person who watches this film. I know as a lesbian who is Christian I watch this movie with a different sensibility than a straight person. As I sat with everyone in our darkened theater space, and heard the soft sobbing of people around me, and saw their faces after the movie was over, I could only imagine which parts were triggering the tears.
Maybe it was the Reitan family saying that if they could make their son straight, they would never do it after all they’ve come to learn and love about Jake and his community.
Maybe it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarking that he couldn’t imagine a God who would punish him for being black and not white, a God that would punish a woman for not being a man.
Maybe it was the sadness of Mary Lou Wallner who had to learn the hard way how homophobia leads to death.
Maybe they were feeling the same sense of cautious hope at seeing an otherwise conservative state become the one to make way for a gay man to guide the people on a path toward God.
Or maybe it was the exposure of what God is really saying to us, the gay community, in the scriptures: that we, too, are part of his plan for the world, and we, too, are loved. And the six or seven passages used and abused to separate us from that love are often times being applied to a 21st century understanding of homosexuality that wasn’t in the thinking of the apostle Paul…or wasn’t why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
In other words, Jesus loves me and other “others” and I know it because the Bible tells me so.

Just as I am,
Thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea,
thine alone,
O Lamb of God,
I come, I come.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Facebook Fun

Some months ago, I signed up for the social networking site Facebook. Why, you might ask, would a 40-year-old lesbian want to mess around with such a thing. It was an accident. Really, it was! But the attempt to get more information about Integrity, the LGBT-group of the Episcopal Church....led to finding lost friends from college, and connecting back to people from New Hampshire. So it hasn't been all bad. And it has been a little bit fun.

Especially the groups you can join! I just joined one that I think is very funny:

I Want to Be Banned from GAFCON, too!

A little background for the uninitiated: GAFCON is the acronym for the Global Anglican Futures Convention. This is the group of African bishops, archbishops, American clergy and laity who assert that the rest of us have deserted our faith, deny Jesus, and are otherwise horned devils out to destroy and "tear at the fabric" of our Anglican tradition. Because this group is made up of fearful people who are the "break aways" from the Churches of England, Canada and the United States; and because they fear those who expose the "gaffes" and "cons" of the GAFCON group, GAFCON issued a news release, identifying eight people who should be kept away from their conference this week in Jerusalem. Funny that the people they've specifically listed include gay rights activists within the Episcopal and Anglican Churches...and that some of those people weren't even planning on being at their counter-conference in Africa because they're planning to sit outside the gate at the Lambeth Conference in England next month.

So, all the political blah blah blah aside, I was tickled to see I could join a group online that is poking fun at yet another "gaffe" made by GAFCON. I even suggested a few hymns that one could sing if one were to try to protest and disrupt the meetings led by infamous homophobe Peter Akinola (not so funny aside: there are reports of more beatings of members of Changing Attitudes, the pro-gay Anglican group in Akinola's Nigeria. The Primate remains silent on the matter. What a surprise!)

Sometimes, you have to laugh in the face of such pointed, and pointless, petty stupidity. To take it all in would do more harm to your soul. And the GAFCON followers aren't worth it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"The Framing of Mutual Joy"

Rev. Susan Russell posted the following op-ed piece that will appear in the Thursday edition of the Guardian newspaper in London. I have stayed off the topic of marriage, mostly because it is one that causes me too much emotion to really write about rationally. So, I will offer this piece penned by the Bishop of Washington, D.C. :

Archbishop Rowan Williams has tried to take the issue of gay marriage off the table at the Lambeth Conference, which begins in three weeks. But the celebration of a gay relationship at one of London's oldest churches last month, and the well-publicised gathering of anti-gay Anglicans in Jerusalem this week, suggest the controversy must eventually be faced squarely.Conservative Christians say opening marriage to gay couples would undermine an immutable institution founded on divine revelation. Archbishop Henry Orombi, the primate of the Church of Uganda, calls it blasphemy. But, theologically, support for same-sex marriage is not a dramatic break with tradition, but a recognition that the church's understanding of marriage has changed dramatically over 2,000 years.

Christians have always argued about marriage. Jesus criticised the Mosaic law on divorce, saying "What God has joined together let no man separate", but even that dictum appears in different versions in the Gospels, and was modified in the letters of Peter and Paul. Christians had to square the ecstatic sensuality of the Song of Songs with Paul's teaching that marriage was a fallen estate, useful primarily in saving those who could not be celibate from fornication.

This tension is indicative of the church's long struggle to reconcile the notion that sexuality is a gift from God with its deep suspicion of the pleasure of sex. As the historian Stephanie Coontz points out, the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215.

The church embraced many of the assumptions of the patriarchal culture, in which women and marriageable children were assets to be controlled and exploited to the advantage of the man who headed their household.The theology of marriage was heavily influenced by economic and legal considerations; it emphasised procreation, and spoke only secondarily of the "mutual consolation of the spouses".

In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the relationship of the spouses assumed new importance, as the church came to understand that marriage was a profoundly spiritual relationship in which partners experienced, through mutual affection and self-sacrifice, the unconditional love of God.The Episcopal Church's 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it this way: "We believe that the union of husband and wife, in heart, body and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord."

Our evolving understanding of what marriage is leads, of necessity, to a re-examination of who it is for. Most Christian denominations no longer teach that all sex acts must be open to the possibility of procreation (hence, contraception is permitted). Nor do they hold that infertility precludes marriage. The church has deepened its understanding of the way in which faithful couples experience and embody the love of the creator for creation. In so doing, it has put itself in a position to consider whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.Opponents of gay marriage may raise other objections - that it is unsuitable, for instance, to raise children with two mothers or two fathers. I believe these arguments are easily refuted, but they are arguments about effective social policy, not sound theology.

Christians who want to deny others the blessings they claim for themselves should not assume they speak for the Almighty.

John Bryson Chane is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC, and a member of the Chicago Consultation, which works towards the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Anglican church

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Giving What-For

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.* He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir,* even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
--Gospel of Mark 7: 24-30

I would never have gone looking for the above passage if my mentor and supplier of “approved” reading material, Mtr. Lee Shafer, hadn’t pointed me in its direction. And I’m glad she did. Because this is one passage in which I think we get to see an imperfect Jesus, the haughty Jesus, the very human Jesus. And it’s a woman….one of those of the “other” group…who dares to talk back…and may have swayed his thinking about “others”.

Here’s how I interpret this story: in Mark's gospel, Jesus has already walked on water, and in the passages before this one, he has defended his disciples eating with “unclean hands” which was offensive and a no-no to the Pharisees and scribes. He says to the crowd gathered:

“…there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”* (Mark 7:15)

And he explains this to mean: “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” (Mark 7:20-21)

So, after he has waxed eloquent here, he then tries to go incognito into a region which apparently was populated with Gentiles, a group the Jews of that day thought were…well…like dogs as in “not worthy” “not human”. And even Jesus gets in on the hard-hearted, Gentile-bashing act when this woman, who must have heard about all the stuff he was doing, bows before him and asks him to get rid of the demon possessing her daughter, and he blows her off because it’s “not fair to take the children’s food (meaning the gifts of God for the Israelites) and throw it to the dogs.” Now, instead of sulking away and feeling two-inches tall, this woman lets him have it:

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

And I say, “You go, girl!” Her standing toe-to-toe with him seemed to cause a shift in his thinking. He did as she asked. And she got her daughter back. End of story. Except it’s not. Because, as I read this, I see a changed Jesus in that he will not be quite so cavalier in his treatment of the “others” of his day…and possibly this is the start of seeing that the "good news" is open for more than just “his kind”. Unfortunately, I am not scholarly enough (or schooled enough in theology) to know this for sure, but I wonder if this encounter didn’t pave the way for some new thinking, and new way of being for Jesus and later his disciples? Could it be that Jesus getting the what-for from an “other”, a Gentile, meant that he would sit by a well in the Gospel of John and take all the time necessary to convince a Samaritan woman that, “Yes, even you are eligible to drink from the water I offer.” ?

It may seem heretical to suggest that Jesus didn’t have it all together all the time, and needed to learn a few lessons along the way of his life. After all, if you’re Christian, one of the things you should accept is that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God. So, if Jesus is God, then he shouldn’t make mistakes ever, right?

Except it’s because of his missteps, screw-ups, speaking harshly before realizing what he’s saying that makes Jesus truly one of us. And because he is truly one of us, it makes the rest of the story of his death, resurrection and ascension that much more powerful because it means that act of love and forgiveness at the end of his life applies to me, is available to me, and I can achieve a level of transformation that takes me out of "death" and into "life". That doesn't mean I believe I will be raised three days after my soul departs my body and that I will break bread with my mortal friends when I find them walking around Lake Ella earlier in the day. But it does tell me that I can be different, lighter, happier, more alive in the world. It dawned on me some months back, right around the start of the year, that it was imperative for Jesus to have entered life as a baby with a biological mother who gave birth to him on this planet. Again, if I’m going to be Christian, such an event has to take place because, for me, it is the signal from God to…”Check me out, people: I’m going to experience what it means to be you with you while trying to clue you in on the real meaning behind all those laws you hold to be true. And when I die, I will die as one of you...and not just any one of a criminal...the least, the that, through me, you'll gain life.”

The story of the Syrophoenician Woman says something to all of us: we can change our opinions of “others”. We can realize our own prejudices, colored by whatever is our experience, and we can modify what we believe, especially when we are confronted by the very type of “other” we think we don’t need to think about.

All that out of six lines of the shortest gospel in the Bible! Whoa. I’ve got more on different passages. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Progressive post-script

One small step for a rector. One giant leap toward transparency and dialogue for one Episcopal parish.

During the 10AM service this morning at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Father Lupton Abshire announced that “For the Bible Tells Me So” would be playing on Saturday, June 28th, at the Mickee Faust “Playhouse” (OK, we call it a Clubhouse…but details, details) in Railroad Square. Father Abshire built up to “the lead” by talking about the controversy that has faced the Episcopal Church around the issue of sexuality. He made a reference back to his sermon topic which (and I’m being very broad here) talked a little bit about those “things” we’re uncomfortable talking about in the Episcopal Church (words like “hell”, “sin”) He mentioned that he knew Bishop Gene Robinson because Fr. Abshire was ordained a priest in the Diocese of New Hampshire by then-Bishop Douglas Theuner, Robinson’s predecessor. He noted that Bishop Robinson’s story is in the film, that he has seen the movie and recommends it, and hopes to show it some day at St. John’s. The more that he spoke about the movie, the quieter it was in the room. In fact, it was silent. And then, when he said it was being shown at Mickee Faust, there were scattered chuckles in the church, a sign that there were a few Faust audience members in the pews this morning. Either that, or it was people who knew of Faust's bawdy and brazen reputation, and thought, "You're joking, right?!"

One of the citizens of Faustlandia, a man who is a Eucharistic Minister, stopped me on the way out of the church and was all smiles.

“Mickee Faust is gonna show that movie? That’s great. I’m going!”

“It’s at eight on Saturday!” I said.

“Eight o’clock. I’ll be there!”

The mother of one of our house band members also talked to me about it. And she wanted to know if Eclectic Acoustic would be playing, and I laughed.

“No, we’ll give them the night off for that event!”

I wish I could take credit for the free publicity in front of an audience full of faithful Episcopalians, but the reason for the announcement is largely because my 81-year-old mother pushed to have him say something, and she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. And you don’t get between my mother and her cause.

Still, the fact that The Rector took the time he did to explain his connection to Bishop Robinson, and put it out there that a secular group was showing this movie, I think, opens a door or three toward bringing those people who are grounded in their faith into contact with a community of people, many of whom are gay or gay-friendly and have suffered abuse at the hands of people who say they are Christian. And I can only hope that such a meeting will reveal to both sides that faithful people and Faustian weirdos can get along and find common ground in wanting to end discrimination against the sexual minorities.

Making an announcement might not seem like much, and it is a small step in the grander scheme of life. But if such an announcement can bring a room to silence and attention….and maybe encourage some folks to go to a movie….then this is also the beginning of undoing the damage wrought under Fr. Eric Dudley and his “Kick a Queer for Christ” brigade. Because by making this announcement, permission is now granted from “the authorities” to talk about sexuality and the different expressions of it in the larger context of what it means to do God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” And it means that at St. John’s, on a Sunday in June, there was a moment in which the outside world was allowed to come inside…and be seen as the host for a movie of interest and importance to Christians.

Again, I’ll be very interested to see who the audience will be for this film. How many church-going Christians will attend? How open will they be to hearing the movie’s message? And how many Faustkateers will watch this presentation, or will they decide they have to file their nails on a Saturday night?

Guess we'll know at 8pm on Saturday, June 28th!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

For The Bible Tells Me So, Brother

Time for a little public relations work. Next weekend, Tallahassee’s witty, weird, and way-out-there cabaret troupe, the Mickee Faust Club, will be wrapping up its first-ever Queer As Faust festival with two feature-length films. Friday night’s movie is called “Brother to Brother” and stars Anthony Mackie (Million Dollar Baby). The story follows an African-American gay male college student and his journey to understanding himself and his culture through a friendship with a homeless poet of the Harlem Renaissance. Its won awards at OutFest, and LGBT film festivals in LA, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. I saw the film last fall in Austin and loved it.

Saturday night’s movie is “For the Bible Tells Me So”, also an award-winning film, and a documentary that follows how five American, Christian, God-loving families face the reality of having a loved one who is gay, and having to reconcile this reality with their religious beliefs. It is a moving narrative on a topic that many in the world of “straight church-goers” are not comfortable talking about, or even acknowledging as a topic worthy of dialogue. The movie features the families of Bishop Gene Robinson, and also former House Majority leader Dick Gephardt among others and has commentary from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I also saw this film last fall outside of Washington, D.C. And it’s a movie that should be a must-see for anyone who professes a belief in God. And as someone who knows Bishop Robinson, I am happy to "host" him and his sweet parents in Tallahassee...even if it is only by the magic of celluloid.

So isn’t it interesting that such feature-length films are getting their debut at the Mickee Faust Club’s digs in Railroad Square…especially one dealing with religion?

Actually, it makes sense to me…especially the showing of “For the Bible Tells Me So”. Because if there is one thing that is fact about the Mickee Faust Club it’s that the Faustkateers push boundaries and test people’s comfort levels. In the case of FTBTMS, Faust is putting itself to the test by bringing in an audience that I would venture a guess most troupe members would rather not see. After all, it is far easier to characterize all Christians as gay-bashing bigoted Bible-thumpers than to accept that, just like in any large segment of society, there are some who aren’t hateful, and live out their lives in accordance with their Christian beliefs that God loves us all….in all our perfect and imperfect ways.

But I will be interested to see what kind of an audience we do draw to this movie. As one of the co-producers of this festival, I have been trying to generate enthusiasm within church communities to announce the film’s show date to their congregations. Some are doing it. Some I have had to remind a couple of times. I believe it will be mentioned during services tomorrow in my own church which will be a step forward for that particular parish which underwent a rift thanks to a homophobic rector determined, and yet thwarted, in his attempts to take St. John’s out of the Diocese of Florida. Still, I’m aware that many of the participants in the Pridefest Interfaith service will be out-of-town on Saturday the 28th, and I’m just hoping that doesn’t mean we’ll be playing this film to me and 10 other people who couldn’t resist a free religion movie on a Saturday night (it’s actually not *free*; Fairness for All Families is sponsoring this event and accepting donations to defeat the anti-marriage amendment in November).

I’ll keep y’all posted on what happens. And in the meantime, I have another Queer As Faust event to attend to this evening, and will be pondering more some thoughts I had recently on the story of the Syrophoenician woman and her talk-back at Jesus in Mark’s gospel. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Celtics Breed New Creed

I do have a few things on my mind these days that I know will gel and come together in such a way that I can put them out here for the rest of the world to read. But with more Queer As Faust this weekend, I need to put my brain on something else.

So, in place of me, I am offering this re-write of the Apostle's Creed as composed by my odd and funny brother, Tom, who watched religiously (my choice of words is intentional) the NBA playoffs and championship in which our beloved Boston Celtics finally won the whole thing again. We, the rest of Peggy and Ed Gage's children, have been poking fun at Tom's enthusiasm for the Celtic Gods of the Garden. He felt the need to set us straight as to his true beliefs:

I believe in God the Almighty
Maker of Heaven and Earth
and of all things visible and invisible
(including Pierce, Garnett , Rondo et als)
and in his son Jesus Christ,
who was made incarnate of the Virgin Mary
curucified, died and was buried
now, on the Third Day rose again
and currently sitteth at the right hand of
God the Father
from when he shall judge the quick
(such as, for instance, Rajon Rondo)
and the not quite as quick
(I guess that would be the entire Lakers line up)
and the Dead
(why do the NY Yankees come to mind ?)

Furthermore God IS NOT a Bay Stater
Even though they call it Mass!

I hope this clarifies matters for you.

Unfeignedly yours,

Thomas U. Gage
Rogue Episcopalian

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Open, affirming, Episcopal

Open and affirming. That’s the phrase adopted by several congregations in Tallahassee to clue in the queer people of faith that “here’s a safe place to be gay and worship God”. As I mentioned in my previous post “Men in Ties on Saturdays”, I attended the Pride interfaith service at First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee. The groups leading the service were drawn from three churches: Gentle Shepherd MCC, United Church and the Unitarian Universalists. At Pridefest in the Park, St. Stephen Lutheran Church was handing out flyers to let the LGBT attendees know that they are welcome to come through their doors any time. In fact, I know it to be true because St. Stephen allowed the Mickee Faust Club to shoot a scene for “The Weimar House” in its sanctuary, and the building has rainbow stickers on the windows signaling they are a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation, a designation given to Lutheran Churches that are considered “open and affirming”. Other such parishes in town include both Unity Churches, Temple Israel, the Friends Meeting, and a couple of American Catholic groups, a renegade arm of Roman Catholicism in this country.

Wow! So many choices. But I’m left with that hole in the stomach feeling when I look around at Pridefest, and within Tallahassee’s gay community. I ask, “Where’s my church?”

Indeed, where is my church! There are at least a half-dozen Episcopal Churches in Tallahassee. And yet, at Gay Pride time, I can never find my Episcoposse.

I complained about this to my partner, who said that maybe the problem was that the “open and affirming” churches never bothered to let the Episcopal Churches know about the interfaith service. And really, I didn’t even know about the event until I read about it in the paper the week before it happened! But still, that’s not my point. It’s an easy excuse to say, “But nobody contacted us.” That’s sooo easy. And it’s so typical of the “wait around until we’re asked approach” so many of us like to take.

The interfaith service aside; I’m talking about the conspicuous absence of Anglicanism during the festival in the park…and the other 364 days of the year. Honestly, if the Episcopal Churches in this city really wanted to reach out to the gay community, then they might take the initiative to contact someone to find out, “What can we do to let LGBT people know ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You’?” It could be as simple as gathering a bunch of the ‘real’ Episcopal churches together and splitting the cost of putting an ad in the local gay newspaper. Have the shield, the trademark welcome phrase, and a listing of the congregations that paid for the ad. Simple, and yet effectively announcing to those often shoved to the side by “Christianity” that we do things a little differently in the Church of the Red and Blue Books. There’s no reason Jews, Lutherans, and Quakers along with the other “open and affirming” traditions should be getting to have a corner on being the “good” face of religion and spirtuality.

The Episcopal Church has a program that aids congregations wishing to reach out to the gay and lesbian people in their communities. It’s called Oasis. You can follow this link ( to learn a little bit about the program in Missouri. I’m not saying that all the Episcopal Churches in Tallahassee need to start massive education programs and force their congregants into thinking in ways that are counter to their own personal beliefs about sexuality. I know, I know: not everyone in the Episcopal Church is on the same page as me when it comes to LGBT equality. But sadly, I think those folks who disagree with me have made it so that the Church leadership quakes in fear at possibly offending someone if they speak up for the rights of “my people”. And while I get that desire not to rock the boat because sea-sickness isn’t fun, being a Christian sometimes requires a little boat-rocking. As I’ve said to some, if the apostles had all buttoned their lips and never said another word about Jesus in the face of opposition from the authorities, well, I guess we’d all still be Jews.

And so I am throwing down the gauntlet. I’m waiting to see who in the Church will take that step outside the cozy comfort of a chapel or a sanctuary to let the LGBT community in this city know who welcomes them back for the embrace of a liturgy that reminds us of the One who knows us fully and truly.

C'mon, you can do it! And even as the wolves encircle you, remember that the shepherd hasn’t fallen asleep and will give you what you need to survive the attacks.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all his people on earth.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Men in Ties on Saturdays

Tallahassee’s Pridefest at long last was held back in the downtown area…this time at E. Peck Green Park outside the back entrance to the LeRoy Collins Public Library. There was food, queer folks, and this time a performance from the Mickee Faust Club….although we had to wait for the 30-minute rain delay before we could go on with our part of the show.

It was fun, a lot of fun, to be out amongst “my people”. And for me it started an hour earlier attending the interfaith service at First Presbyterian Church. It was a nice service, some good messages from people who have found faith in God, and a home in the (take your pick: Gentle Shepherd MCC, United Church, Unitarian Universalist) church. I’ll save my discussion about the absence of the Episcopal Church for another time. I was there, and so I felt I was upholding the idea that “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”…especially if you’re a queer with excellent taste in wine.

I’m glad to have had the chance to be in communion with others who believe in God, and aren’t afraid to be both queer and Christian in Tallahassee, Florida. Which makes this next part of this entry a sad footnote to an otherwise positive wonderful day.

As me and my partner were leaving a local bar that had been, we thought, the establishment of choice for wrapping up PrideFest in Tallahassee, I spied a couple of men in dark dress slacks, white oxford shirts, and ties standing on the corner strategically in front of a church and also close to the two bars which would likely be frequented by the LGBT community this evening. One was unfurling and putting together a banner, the other was holding a megaphone and Bible. And the banner said, on one side, “Trust Jesus” and on the other seemed to have the words “Sinners Repent”.

Gee, didn’t I just write about the scribes with their megaphones and messages of “Repent”?

Fifteen years have past since I saw the banner in DC. And there they were again: the “Christians” who give all the rest of us a bad name. I thought about going across the street to confront them and ask them why two guys would feel the need on a Saturday night to stand on a street corner harassing people who are simply being themselves. Maybe these two men see themselves as the modern day Moses out to warn us to stop worshipping golden calfs and such.

But then I am a believer in the new covenant that God made with me and others through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And Jesus does not ask me to repent the core of my being because the mere fact that I’m gay is not a sin. Behaviors, such as not treating people with respect and dignity and manipulating people in any relationship, especially in intimate relationships…I’m willing to accept that as sinful because that would be counter to the commandments of God. And I know that when I have failed and sinned in some way, the God I believe in doesn’t revoke his promise to me to be with me “always to the end of the age”. God looks for us, waits for us, wants us to come into the discovery of his unending love and stop trying to find the excuses for why we don’t deserve it because we are only deceiving ourselves. And he forgives the sins of anyone who seeks the forgiveness.

So, to the two nattily-attired men with the banner, bible and megaphone, I say this: Trust Jesus. Know that he, not you, knows the true heart that beats inside every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered person and he, not you, is in charge of issuing invitations to the Kingdom of Heaven party house. And now go repent your sin of attempting to place a stumbling block between God’s Children and the Almighty. He’ll be happy to hear you. The operator is standing by.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Scribes and such

The Third Sunday After Pentecost this year featured a gospel reading from Matthew…specifically Matthew 7: 21-29….another “Let’s grab her by her shirt collar and pin her against the wall” reading:

Jesus said. "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord,
Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of
power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and
acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell-- and great was its fall!"
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

Whoa! So much for the comfort zone of Christ! It’s not enough, folks, to say you are a believer. You have to act like one. You have to model the behavior of treating all people with fairness and love and equality…all the things you want for yourself, you must be willing to shower on another. Going through the motions won’t cut it with God.

OK, so you think that’s what grabbed me?

Well, yes, it did. But it was really the last line that brought the message home for me as a queer Christian:

“...for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”

This statement actually made me take a deep breath, and promise myself I wouldn’t cry. Not that I think of myself as a scribe or in the role of a scribe in Jesus’ time. Nor do I see myself as having the authority of Jesus. But as a queer Christian, I found myself reflecting on Jesus’ statement, “I never knew you.” He says this in answer to those who would challenge him that, “Hey, c’mon, man! I’ve been casting out demons in your name, and speaking on your behalf. How come I can’t get into the kingdom of heaven.” And the reason for the denial that Jesus gives boils down to, “Dude: you have said ‘Lord, lord’, but you haven’t heard my words and really acted on them. You did all the flashy stuff, but there is no substance there to back it up.”
Contemplating this passage, my mind races back in time to those moments in my life where I have encountered the “Christians” who condemned me to Hell. I remember the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbigay Equality. As our parade of “others” rounded one of the street corners, I could hear a low din of noise, like a growling sound. It was our crowd of otherwise joyous, smiling people encountering this huge 15-foot banner that seemed to rise up from the sidewalk. It was black, with red, white and yellow lettering, flames painted at the bottom.

“Repent or Burn!”

The sidewalk preachers were out in force, with megaphones, screaming at us the false prophecy that “Jesus hates fags!” And the otherwise happy-go-lucky crowd of “others” retaliated with drums and a really simple chant:

“Fuck you!”

Even my Republican mother, who had joined me and my friends for this march, got into the spirit of confrontation: she flipped them the bird!

And while it felt good in the moment to scream at these poor, misguided maniacs…in 15-year-hindsight, it saddens me that the scene went down as it did. Not just for the fact that this group of people felt compelled to protest our march by spreading lies about the real meaning of God’s redemptive love, but because, once again, the modern-day scribes, who cling so tightly to the words of Leviticus and the apostle Paul, were the public face of “Christianity” for queer Americans.

So, as I listened and re-read this passage from Matthew, I wondered about those who mouth the words of prayers in the name of Jesus…and then defile those same prayers with actions against the gay community. I wonder if they can’t see the hypocrisy of claiming to live by the commandment to “love thy neighbor as you love yourself”, while signing a petition to ban gay marriages or “the substantial equivalent thereof”. On what kind of foundation have they built their faith and trust in God when the mere presence of gay Christians in leadership roles “tears at the fabric” of their communion with us? I believe those who condemn me for my sexual orientation lack any authority on the matter, and are akin to the scribes of Jesus’ day who were so dutiful about “the law”, but failed to find the meaning behind the law they said was so important.

“Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.” Psalm 31:5

Thanks be to God, the one who loves us all in abundance.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Weeds and Seeds

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered,“An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

Matthew 13: 24-30

Since Holy Week, I have picked up the habit of reading the Daily Office Lectionary. I don’t always read every passage assigned to each day. Sometimes, I’ve only read the psalms. Sometimes, I skip some of the readings. But I try to read some of it at some point during the day. I started this habit because I was becoming more and more curious about the various parts of the Biblical story, and I have a desire to discover what it all means in my life in the 21st century. Answer: well, at times I’ve been left scratching my head, or shrugging my shoulders, or re-reading to see if maybe I missed some crucial word somewhere. I’m OK with having days where I’m left going, “Huh?” because there are always other days and different scriptural texts that grab me by the throat and pin me against the wall. Such is the case with the above passage.

Here’s what I got out of reading this parable: my eyes immediately fixed on the phrase, “but while everybody was asleep…” I have run across this idea of “being asleep vs. being awake” quite a bit in my study of the Bible. I’m fascinated by the concept of those who are “asleep” or “dead”, and what happens when they wake up. Usually it’s one of those what I call “V-8 moments”. The person or people who had been operating in sleep mode get some kind of jolt of life when they wake up.

And while this parable seems to be speaking to a large number of people being asleep when the enemy came in and planted the weeds among the wheat, I took this gospel passage much more personally and individually. It is during those moments (which have been many) when I have been “asleep” that the enemy (read ‘not of God’) has planted its useless weeds in my heart and soul. Now, I could try to rip out what it is no longer useful, or burn up those things which potentially keep me separated from God. But in this story, Jesus doesn’t have the master panic and scream, “Weeds!! Weeds!! Dig ‘em up!!!” Instead, the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. And then, it’s time to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Do it any sooner and there is the potential to uproot what is good and useful in the fields.

Again, on a personal level, I read in this the challenge I face of having those parts of me that are good living along side parts of me that need to go. And I must have patience with this duality until it’s “harvest time”. At that point, if I return to God and recognize what needs to be cast out of me, he will take care to remove what can go, and let what should stay thrive in my heart. My job is to allow the reaper to do the work and trust that it won't result in an empty field.

I’m also aware that passages such as this one have been used to say that God will burn those who don’t belong in the Kingdom. He’ll gather up all the good people, and all the bad people will go crackle, crackle, crackle. Certainly, there is always more than one approach a person can bring to looking at scripture, which is some of what Christopher Bryan in his book “And God Spoke” talks about in how we study and listen to the messages in scripture. I’ll grant that the good vs. bad people is a valid interpretation. However, I also think that it’s dangerous for us to determine who is the “good wheat” vs. the “bad weed”. This is when I see people trying to substitute their wisdom for God’s, and that never works. Never.

I’ll get to more of that in my next entry.

And on a totally unrelated note: Congratulations to Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson and his partner, Mark Andrew, who became civilly-unionized in the state of New Hampshire’s International Brotherhood of Pink and Lavendar on Saturday! May God’s grace and love protect and keep them in everlasting life together.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Clarifying My Christianity

OK, I promise: I will get to some other topics that have been bouncing around in my brain dealing with any number of readings I’ve run across in the past week. However, a recent misunderstanding, and some odd random comments have me thinking that I need to do another entry to explain my views as a lay member of the Episcopal Church…and my concepts of God and Christianity that are drawn and formulated without the influence of a Seminary education.

To put it simply, I believe in the statements that are in the Nicene Creed. And not just because this is the prayer we recite after the sermon. I actually do believe that God, upon seeing how things were going in the world, made the effort to reach out to a particular group of people and get them back on board with the “love program” by becoming human, living among us as one of us, dying as a criminal, and rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. He did this through Jesus Christ. And while Jesus is no longer with us in the physical sense, I believe that Jesus (God) remains with us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that when one listens to the readings from the Bible, or reads them aloud or quietly, what is there is a loving invitation to enter into a relationship with God. I believe the books of the Bible, no matter what group of guys sat around centuries ago deciding the “Who’s in and who’s out”, have a message that says God loved Israel’s people, God wants to be a part of our daily living, and no matter what we do to shove Him away, He will remain in the background waiting for us to finish whatever temper tantrum or self-imposed exile we’re having that keeps us from seeing and believing in His love.

Having said all this, I do not and have not and will not ever assert that I am the authority on God’s mind. And anyone who claims to understand how God works or seems to think they have an inside track with the Almighty is, well, a liar. Because I also believe we will never fully “understand” God. There is no scientific formula to test and prove that God “exists”. To be a believer in God (and this applies to any tradition that has a belief in God) means that, at some point, you have to have faith, meaning you have to abandon the rational, and analytical approach to follow something that can not be proven like a mathematical formula. Such is my way of accepting the seemingly bonkers concept of a triune God, who I do not think of as three totally separate and apart beings, but rather manifestations of a single Divine spirit. God, in my opinion, is a master creator and will pursue us through any means to show us the Divine.

And now having said all that, I also don’t claim that one has to be a Christian to gain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes, it has felt to me that some in Christianity think they can change the locks on the doors to the Kingdom to keep some of us with keys from getting in. But I believe in what is written in the Gospel of John that “in my Father’s house there are many rooms.” And I think that each one of us who has accepted the invitation to God’s grace and party house will find the door in which our key fits and we’ll be allowed in. Because I believe that God knows me and wants me to come to his party. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have come after me as I walked away! My door to the party bears a crucifix because I have accepted that Jesus is God incarnate and through him I have been brought to the other side of darkness into the light. But there are lots of other entry ways with lots of other symbols. And, again, I think we’ll all be surprised to see who’s also at the party.

That’s my theology as of June 2008. And now, I’ve got to get ready to enter into communion with others who may share some of this thinking, or may not. But, at the very least, they’re showing up for another dose of God’s love as presented at St. John’s.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? I yield the virtual floor to you.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

In Celebration of "Others"

At long last, somebody in Tallahassee is recognizing all of us "others"!! :-) And we can even join them for Bingo on Wednesdays. So as you search your cards for "B-23", you might take a trip over to SisterFriends-Together and read some of the posts in the Gifted by Otherness series. And then come back here and see what whacky ideas I'm musing about these days.
Weeds, seeds, scribes, and queers.
Confused? Stay tuned!
And kiss "an other" today.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A part or apart?

Getting back to that “Living Outside the Sanctuary” discussion again, I am fixated on the mission of the Church and how it takes its mission beyond the safety of its four-walled borders out into the world. For starters, there has to be acknowledgement that there is a world beyond the walls! And we all live in it. Some do a better job than others at “living” in that world outside the sanctuary, but nonetheless, we are a part of our community.

Conversely, the community exists around the outside walls of the sanctuary. People pass by the building every day that is all abuzz on a Sunday. And, unless they are members of that congregation, they have no idea what goes on inside that building. They don’t know that the words spoken inside that building on a Sunday are working to transform lives, communicate love and provide the necessary pep talk to keep some of us from jumping off the cliff. It’s a great message for anyone willing and wanting to hear it.

And it does no good if the only people who hear it then keep it to themselves. God’s message of love and redemption is meant to be shared. We don’t have to pound people with it, or threaten them with it. That’s the antithesis of the message. The Bible is a book, not a bomb.

We must live God’s message by doing the basic commands that Jesus gave to his followers…the simplest one being “love”: love God, love your neighbors as yourselves. And yes, self-love is critical, too. We must be willing to accept that we are loveable, and worthy of the love that God bestows on us. The point of Christ’s death on the cross was to take our humanity through death and into resurrection, so that we may be free and given a chance at eternal life. We must also know the love our neighbors show us when they treat us with respect and dignity is part of that “love” of God. If we can manage these things, then I think we’ll be ready to bring a living example of God’s love into the community that is outside the sanctuary.

Sounds easy? It’s not. Worse, that’s only half the job. And it’s the second half that seems to be troublesome for some churches. Because the church also has to recognize the community on the outside of the sanctuary, and it has to be willing to be seen.

To my mind, that happens by allowing “the outside world” to glimpse in. It’s all well and good for a church and the community within the church to socialize, and stick together. But I look to the entry that precedes this one in my blog as a shining example of what I believe churches need to do. Take your posse, paint some signs, and march in a pride parade! Let people know, particularly the ones who have suffered abuse at the hands of Christians, that we’re not all like that. When an event comes to town that speaks to Christians (or any faith community) but will be hosted in a secular setting…go!!! God is not exclusive about where He’s gonna show up! Or how He’s going to reach out. Or even in what context or ways He will show the way to a life that is not clouded with constant concerns and fears and false ideas that “we’re a bunch of losers.”

So, as an homage to Gay Pride, it’s time for everyone to open up their closets and come out into the light. And that means those of us who believe that eternal life happens right now. Live it, people! And be the light we all wish to see in the world!