Friday, February 27, 2009

Perfect Love

Two days into Lent, I am serving this noon-time at St. John's on a day when we commemorate an English priest named George Herbert. Besides serving as a vicar and then rector, Herbert was a poet. This sample, posted at grabbed my attention, particularly as I pay attention to what is in my heart this Lenten season, and strive to live in a place where I see the Christ in all who I encounter, including my enemies.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

guilty of dust and sin. But quicked-ey'd Love, Observing me grow slack
from my first entrance in, Drew near to me, sweetly questioning,
if I lack'd any thing.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:

Love said, You should be he. I the unkinde, engrateful? ah my deare,
I can not look on thee. Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I hav marr'd them: let my shame

go where it doth deserve. And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve. You must sit down, sayes love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
Glory to God on High And on earth Peace good will toward man.
George Herbert (1595-1633)

I can not achieve my Lenten goal until I fully accept that Love accepts and embraces me as a guest. God has known me and loved me so completely. The only one keeping the scorecard that says I'm not worthy is me. On this day, and each day, may I sit down and feast on the meat of faith... and know that is given to me in perfect love and perfect trust, so that I may have everlasting life.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Create in Me a Clean Heart

And so, there was much merry-making and pancake-eating in many a house of worship in Christendom tonight. For today is Mardi Gras… or Shrove Tuesday… that opportunity to have a grand old time and party heartily…. for tomorrow we hit a time of inward reflection called Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday always has seemed like such a downer day in the Christian calendar. Everybody gets so somber, and glum, and makes a pledge of what they will “give up” for Lent. No wine, no beer, no chocolate, no coffee, no bread. Basically, no fun. There will be no fun allowed during Lent! (This last line is best said with a stereotypical German accent).

As I’ve noted in a previous entry, if you are still looking around for what you plan to “give up” for Lent, I have an idea: try giving up “tolerating” other people and instead embrace the idea of really seeing the humanity, the Christ-like humanity, of that person or group you merely “tolerate”. Naturally, I’m talking about the LGBT community as the ones who must endure being simply “tolerated” by our straight brothers and sisters. But I’m hoping most people who find their way to this blog are not the folks who “tolerate” gay people.

For me, I have found it impossible to take a simple “no coffee for Lent” approach to this season of reflection and contemplation on Christ. To not drink coffee, or eat meat or whatever, does very little to make me think on God; instead, it just makes me crabby and I want to complain that I’m not getting to have my coffee until we’ve sung, “Jesus Christ has ris’n today… Alleluia!”, and I’m bitter, dammit!

And I don’t think that’s the point.

Besides, high introvert that I am with hymns streaming through my brain every day, Lent seems to take me to a place of much deeper reflection that I then must take out from its deeper place, and make part of how I will approach the world each day. And, with any luck, whatever I gain through this Lenten experience will not be merely a 40-day exercise, but will become part of who I am from here on out. Last year, it was an attempt to follow the words Mother Lee F. Shafer included in her homily: “Fast on fear and feast on faith.” This year, it seems to be centered on my heart… and particularly to look at how hard it has become. Why has my heart hardened? In the case of Pharaoh, the text in Exodus says that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart to all that Moses was telling him. I do not believe God has hardened my heart. I think this is largely my own doing, and now I’m being called to task to consider ways to soften the edges.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a right spirit within me.

These are the words from Psalm 51 that were with me coming into Lent last year, and have become part of my prayers every Sunday. And seems quite appropriate for me during Lent this year, too. With God, I can hopefully take some steps to change in me those things that need changing and the reaper can work on the weeds that might be choking the good seeds that need attention and causing the ground of my heart to grow hard.

Deliver me from death, O God,
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness
O God of my salvation.

Out of death, and into eternal life. A constant movement out of Good Friday and into Easter. May I grow and learn during this time. Amen!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The ABC is coming; look busy

So, it seems from all reports coming in from various corners of the blogosphere, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that fuzzy-faced English guy, will be coming to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Anaheim this July.

He won't be there the entire time. Just long enough to put in an appearance, perhaps preside over some prayers and such, and--hmmm--maybe do some politicking in favor of his desire for an "Anglican Covenant"... or... or....

Campaign for "gracious restraint"?

This is what I am most afraid is really in the offing. ++Rowan seems to insist that the United States, and our Canadian neighbors, must refrain from full inclusion of the LGBT community in all aspects and elements of the church. He calls it, "gracious restraint" to say that we can not consecrate another gay or lesbian person to the episcopate, and that dioceses of the Episcopal Church should not be allowed to develop rites to bless same-sex marriages or civil unions... even if the civil authorities have granted those RIGHTS to the gay community. The concern is that not every place on this planet has accepted homosexuality as part of God's plan for some of us, and those parts of the Anglican Communion are all in a tizzy because of us Yanks. Trouble is, this isn't "gracious restraint" to tell me that I'm 3/5 of a person; that's called bullying... or slavery.

I hope that ++Rowan intends to show his own level of "gracious restraint" by being our guest here in the USA at our General Convention, and not try to push his agenda. Otherwise, we might have to relegate him to the marketplace as one of the fringe attractions... oh, I'm sorry: does that sound too familiar?

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Different Experience

It was almost a year ago that my friend Jimmers and I ventured into a class at the College of Social Work to engage a room full of undergrads in a diversity discussion about being gay in Tallahassee, Florida. I detailed the "after-class" dialogue in the entry "Dialogue About Disagreement".

This time, there was no such need for a discussion because this time all seven students who attended the class today said they either knew a gay person in their family, or had gay friends, and some even had transgendered friends. So already we were starting from a different place in the social dialogue.

Jimmers posed a question to get the group thinking about how is it that so many people can profess that they are OK with the LGBT community, and yet 61-percent of Floridians could vote to make marriage for LGBT people unconstitutional in the state. And, as you might expect, one word surfaced to explain this disconnect: religion.

Religion, and religious people, have been brainwashed, say that the Bible says it's wrong, their pastors have said it is a sin, that gay marriage would denigrate straight marriages because marriage is a religious right. (On this last one, I quickly jumped in to note that marriage, in a religious context, is an R-I-T-E, not an R-I-G-H-T... which is something civil authorities confer).

I talked about some these issues with the class, and gave my new 30-second answer to the idea that the Bible says homosexuality is wrong: "There are roughly seven passages in the Bible that supposedly address homosexuality as a sin, and yet there are thousands of passages that say everybody, including gay people, are loved." Simple math, even math that I can do, says "thousands" trumps "seven". Still, the fact that social work majors, or anybody for that matter, see "religion" as the obstacle to equality for the LGBT community should alarm people of faith... whether they are queer themselves or not. What does that say about our churches? What does that say about the ministry coming out of those churches? How long will people of faith who are of good conscience and good will towards all people be content to keep that knowledge to themselves rather than taking action to open the doors of the church and welcome people in? Oh, and any of you sporting a plastic collar who are reading this, you are not off the hook!

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that we are ALL redeemed and have been saved from living our lives in a dark void of doubt, death and despair and brought out into the light of eternal life to be lived in abundance. And all means all... not just the ones with the nice clothes, or perfect teeth, or heterosexual orientation.

So perhaps if you are someone still fishing around for what to "give up" for Lent, you might want to meditate on the idea that instead of "giving up" something... you "give in" to a practice of listening to those who have felt so battered by "religion" and discovering ways to show them that you are not a "batterer", but you are a "believer". And a believer means to be a lover of all souls, not in a sexual love... but in a friendship love. Maybe you give up "tolerance" of gay people and instead come to see us as part of your human family, and members of the Body of Christ. Maybe you start a conversation with a relative or a work mate about the importance of equal rights for everyone, or stand up to prejudice when you hear it expressed.

Because all of us who call ourselves Christian, are Christ's body in the world today. And Jesus kept trying to point us back to a God that loves unconditionally all of creation... including the gay ones.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A New Queer Comic Book Hero

I have never thought of myself as a superhero, let alone a featured character in the battle for "love, justice, and the queer way"! But my friends apparently think it is only fitting that I should do battle against the Governor of Florida... and others who would amend the state's constitution to cancel out civil rights for gays and lesbians. I am only posting a few select panels.... to leave you in suspense! Does Flat Top defeat the forces of evil? Do her pumpkin chuckin' skills do in the unnaturally-tanned Gov. Charlie Crist? Write your own conclusion in the comment section!!

And thanks to Danielle and Sam K. for their comedic comic book!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sowing Seeds on My Birthday

Laissez les bon temps rouler and stick those checks in the flower pots on the mantlepiece, y'all! I'm in my "philanthropic forties" and thus I threw a Mardi Gras Happy Birthday Happy Hour and asked my friends to again to make contributions to four of my favorite queer causes. Because our economy is so lousy, I didn't want to push people too hard on this.
But still, my buddies are big-hearted generous people, and I was able to raise more than $600 for Queer As Faust, This Way Out, PFLAG, and Impact Tallahassee. Not too shabby for a time when many people are holding onto their hats in a city that has a populace that is very afraid of potential state government lay-offs. Thanks for sowing the seeds of equality, my friends!
In exchange for their generousity, my partner, Isabelle, worked tirelessly to prepare two big pots of Gumbo and Red Beans and Rice...

Witness the delicacies that awaited my friends. The two pots of two epicurean favorites of New Orleans were big hits with our guests. Many were able to get seconds, and still have plenty of room for the King's Cake!

Two King's Cakes somehow managed to feed the 50 or so people who were in the room when we commenced with a glorious rendition of "Happy Birthday". I have to admit, I was a little worried at first because I wasn't sure if there would be enough to feed everyone. But, amazingly, I experienced a bit of that "loaves and fishes" magic, and--presto!--everyone was fed Kings Cake, and there was even an extra slice for moi, the birthday girl!

So it was quite a fun evening. My dear friends, Diana and Matt, were a tremendous help again...especially in the Mardi Gras bead department (one has to wonder how Diana got all those beads??) And I am now the star of a comic book! I will post on that at another time...mayhaps tomorrow.
For now, Happy Valentine's Day or Lupercalia...or Frederick Douglass Day...or Cyril and Methodius Day.....or just plain ol' Happy Birthday, Susan!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some day...but not today

It was a bright, sunny, 75-degree day in Tallahassee, FL. I had just finished up with a client, slipped on my jacket and pride necklace, and rushed out the door to hop on my scooter to get me to the County Clerk of Court's office on time. I didn't want my partner waiting too long for me. Because today, we were going to apply for a marriage license. An entourage of supporters met us and followed us in, and we were directed to the place where we were to fill out step one of the application process.
The marriage application in Florida does present a bit of a problem for a lesbian couple. There is the section for the groom to fill out (I noticed it was at the top, and "bride" was on the bottom). Since I was the one holding the clipboard, and I really didn't know if I was a bride or a groom in this case, I decided to make myself the bride. I was in the pants and my partner was in the skirt, so it just seemed fitting to do a complete cross-casting of the application.
There was a young African-American couple ahead of us. I was looking over the groom-to-be. He and his fiance I guessed were in their 20s. He had a New York Yankees cap perched on his knee, and seemed content to let his fiance be the one handling all the papers. He seemed relaxed, and she seemed in charge. Not all too dissimilar to my coupling.

It was our turn. My partner and I approached the clerk with our paper and our driver's licenses. We took our seats as she looked at the application and the identifications.
And there it was. The shift.
I am assuming that when we first approached her, she may not have initially realized that we were two women. Tallahasseeans are often fooled by my appearance frequently referring to me as "Sir". However, this woman was able to quickly discern that our application contained two female names, and our driver's licenses also clearly indicated that we were both women. And when she saw that, her backbone straightened.

"Of course, you know, I am going to have to deny this application," she said. Another clerk had wandered up behind her, arms crossed over her chest. I think this other woman might have been there in case we were to become aggressive.

"Yes" we both said. And then my partner explained that what we were doing was part of a national action to call attention to the inequity in the marriage laws. As my partner spoke to her, I saw the woman glancing over at me. She, wearing a crucifix, might have been drawn to the button I was wearing that said, "Gay And Christian".

"You don't have a big red 'DENIED' stamp you can put on the paper, do you?" my partner asked. The clerk smiled and said no she didn't. At this point, both she and the other clerk seemed to be relaxing when they realized we weren't going to cause a scene. We thanked her for her time, and each shook her hand, and then we, and our entourage, departed peacefully. Although the media was notified about this event, not a single newspaper, TV or radio station sent some one to interview us. I guess Florida's indifference, bordering on rudeness and hostility, toward gay people is NOT news.

What is news was how I felt coming out of the experience. I was saddened. I didn't cry because I think I'm beyond crying about this issue. But I was sad that I could watch another couple so easily go through the motions of getting a marriage license, but I can not. I was saddened that as a notary public licensed and bonded in the state of Florida, I can marry other people, but I can not get married myself. And I was saddened that something that I believe should be done as an act of love for another person has become a political protest to make a point. I really wish it were not that way. I wish I could live out my fantasy of standing in front of a priest at St. Andrew's-by-the-Sea in Rye Beach, NH, with my partner and saying, "I do"...and having it count. Some day....but not today.

Love is patient. Love is kind. And love will prevail.

Proof of our application. Photo taken by Linda Miklowitz...after we'd been turned down.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Charles Darwin...and why some Christians DO get it!

I often visit the blog Of Course, I Could Be Wrong written by the man known to the blogosphere as Mad Priest. I enjoy the wit and the banter on the site, so if you have never been, you should give it a go...and see what this priest in the Church of England is posting.

Of particular interest to me was this piece from Dr. Denis Alexander on the upcoming birthday of Charles Darwin and the anniversary of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The article is an excellent analysis of an age-old and, in my opinion, extremely tired debate about religion vs. science. There is a school of thought out there amongst the circles I travel in that if one is a Christian, or professes a belief in God, then you are "guilty by association" of being a Darwin-hater. I'm bothered by the immediate leap some will make to say that Christian belief means a rejection of evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least for me.

As I have noted before in this post, I don't see evolution as contrary to Christianity and vice-versa. The first creation story told in Genesis reads like an ancient people's myth to explain how things came into being...and it sounds remarkably familiar to evolution. And, if you read Dr. Alexander's article, you will find that many of the theologians of Darwin's day seemed to be thinking in the same way. This battle between biology and theology seems to be more of a post-Darwin development. And it's a shame that the two have become entrenched in their positions. Not very evolutionary thinking, is it?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

All You Need Is Love, Right?

I once remember thinking as a child that marriage was a ceremony in which two people who loved each other could make a commitment before friends, family and God, that "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." When my dad, in the role of Justice of the Peace, performed ceremonies, he would often use the passage from First Corinthians in which Paul tells us what love is, and that "faith, hope, love abide, these three: and the greatest of these is love."

I saw how my parents, married for 53 years until death did them part, tested and loved each other. Even when there were struggles in their relationship, the fact was that they still did love and care about each other, and that's why they could forgive the shortcomings and misunderstandings of loving another human being.

And so, you can see, I really believed for the longest time that the Beatles were right: all you need is love!

But that's not true. Not with marriage. And not in the reality of being gay in the United States.

Because while countless numbers of people are in loving relationships with members of the same-sex, our love...which does dare to speak its nonetheless silenced by the law. The federal government under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies us access to the 1,138 laws that govern everything from social security benefits of a surviving spouse to making medical decisions at a time of emergency and joint filing of taxes and bankruptcy. Here in the Overcast State of Florida, our relationships are now UNrecognized by the state constitution. A popular vote of the people allowed the majority to negate the relationships of a minority group. And, despite promises made in front of the Florida Supreme Court by Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, the proponents of this prejudice are now trying to take away what little rights DO exist in some communities. For example, Gainesville's Domestic Partnership law is being put to a popular vote next month.

In California, where 18,000 same-sex couples entered into married relationships this past summer, neo-conservative Ken Starr is attempting to get the court to nullify those marriage certificates. If you click on the video by the Courage Campaign, I ask you to look closely at some of these couples. And ask yourself, "Why can't they be allowed to be with their beloved?" And notice how many of these couples already have children. What would Mr. Starr propose to do with those kids who would suddenly see their parents relationship invalidated by the state that collects taxes from these families?

Not every gay person wants to get married, just like not every straight person wants to get married. The difference is that the straight person at least has an option. An option I would like to have, too.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

God Gathers All...even Gays!

Before I launch in to my theology of February 7, 2009...I want you to read these words that were part of the Daily Office yesterday:

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’

For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,all who keep the sabbath,
and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.* --Isaiah 56:3-8

I am always taken with how the readings in the Daily Office square with what's happening in my life and the rest of the world. And this one is especially timely given the news out of Egypt about the meeting of the Anglican Primates and their continued attempts to achieve a peaceable kingdom within the Anglican Communion. For a thorough breakdown of what went down in Egyptland, I would recommend going HERE and reading Fr. Mark Harris' take on the events. (For the more brass knuckles take, click HERE for the Mad Priest's insight!).

My own view is that there is the continued mush-mouthed mumblings about "gracious restraint" in regards to full inclusion of the LGBT community which, as Fr. Mark notes, isn't gracious if those in the majority are telling those in the minority, "Take your seat in the back of the bus and be quiet!" And that seems to be what is going on, and will likely continue for awhile.


If only the Primates, who also spent time on matters of pressing importance like Sudan and Rwanda, would look at the words of the Daily Office! I can't help but reach the conclusion that what the prophet Isaiah was imparting is a message of inclusion: "Even the foreigner, my fellow Israelites, even the eunuch (a man who has no wife, has no children), if they turn their faces toward God, they will find that God will make a place for them at the festive table." Certainly, it is the discovery the apostles made as they traveled about in the Book of Acts. And how else can one understand the mission of St. Paul?

There's no escape from it: God loves straights and gays alike and sees them as all part of the creative plan of God's. And I continue to live in hope that one day, we'll all see that, too.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Father Matthew video--worth a look!

I came across this video over on Rev. Susan Russell's blog "An Inch At A Time" and loved it so much I had to post it here, too. Fr. Matthew Moretz of Christ Church, Rye, NY, prepared this for a conference in Houston last year. What he says here in 2:42 is what I've been articulating in countless ways on this blog. But don't take my word for the video, and share it with others in your circle!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The National Religion of the South

You may be thinking that the dominant religion in my part of America is Southern Baptist. Afterall, the Southern Baptists and the Roman Catholics often combine forces in the state legislature and elsewhere in the political arena to wreak havoc on the rest of us.

But really the national religion of the southeastern United States is....American Football!

Rock 'em, sock 'em, stomp 'em, single-finger-wavin' FOOTBALL.

It has a ritual of tailgating, half-time shows, and dumping of Gatorade on the winning coach. There is the liturgical calendar for the weeks of fall and early winter: Friday night is high school football;Saturday is college football; and the pros play on Sunday and Monday. Occasionally, there are lesser saints days in college football where the network television companies anoint two teams to play on Thursday night.

And then there is Super Bowl Sunday...the Easter or Yom Kippur of all football days. The streets are empty beginning at about 5pm as the congregations gather in front of the wide-screen television. Every Episcopal Church I've ever been in has made a point of acknowledging that there is this ummm...cultic occurence that will likely mean the congregation is itching to get home and make preparations to place on the altar of chips and dip, so don't blather on too long about all this God stuff, 'kay?!

Oh, yes, the apostle Paul can say all he wants in First Corinthians about "food sacrificed to the idols". But many a southerner will gladly fry up some chicken wings, and open the ranch dressing as a food offering to the gods of (insert your favorite team colors here). Because these devotees to the gods of the gridiron know that the last time they ate chicken wings, their team won!
They even have their own prayers, as evidenced by this one sent to me by my dear friend, Diana the Steelers fan, pictured at the left in her vestments in preparation for this Sunday's service...I mean, game:
Our Father,
Who Art in Pittsburgh,
Rooney be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
5 Super Bowls won,
on turf as it is in Heinz Field.
Give us this day a Super Bowl victory,
and forgive us our penalties,
as we defeat those who play against us.
And lead us into a victory,and deliver us to Number Six.
I took part in the cultic practice of watching the Super Bowl, and was quite pleased with the outcome, and the game was exciting to watch (especially since my gods had had their wings clipped early in the season when the prophet Tom Brady was knocked out with a knee injury). And I am amazed that I not only had correctly predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers would win, but I also almost got the final score correct (I guessed it would be 27-24...and it was 27-23!)

And so now the Church of Football closes down and enters the "off-season"...just in time for the National Religion of the North to call on its saints of bats and balls to report to spring training!!

Let us go forth and rejoice in the spirit of sport!