Thursday, April 30, 2009

We Aren't Going Away Quietly

The Florida legislature has done it once again. They have managed to shirk taking any responsible action to improve the lives of the queer population of this state while making sure that they take down environmental protections... all in the name of "meeting the needs of the people of Florida".

Trouble is, they don't really meet the people's needs when they allow a conservation program like Florida Forever to be asterisked into oblivion. And they certainly aren't meeting the needs of the thousands of foster care children who await placement in a permanent home when they allow prejudical hold-overs from the Anita Bryant homophobe days to remain in the state statutes.

Several citizens are sick of seeing progress left behind in the name of profits for a few. And so, Impact Tallahassee, members of the Green Party, and other groups will be holding a New Orleans-style Jazz Funeral to mourn the death of Florida, again, at the hands of a murderous generation of state lawmakers. We'll be meeting at the Old State Capitol building at 6pm, with several caskets, and walking them around the House side of the Capitol complex... led by a "Grim Speaker"... into the Capitol courtyard where we will eulogize our beloved state.

It's street theatre.... to make a point: we're not going away quietly, and we will be back to demand that attention, attention must be paid to such issues!

Tell your friends! It should be a hoot!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Reflection: EfM

I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’ --Genesis 9: 11-17

It is finished.

The "it", in this case, is my first year of Education for Ministry, a theological study program for lay people designed by the folks at Sewanee. And it's been a fascinating journey of learning the stories of my ancestors and the history of the church... the good, the bad, and the despicably ugly... all of which seem to mirror the stories of our ancestors; thus proving the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree!

Year One is focused on the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures. And if you are someone raised in a Christian tradition, this is the part of the Bible that has some of those fanciful stories that they teach you through songs in Sunday school... like how Noah took two of everything onto the ark, etc. I don't know about other people, but my childhood education in the OT was piss poor! And, sadly, it meant that a whole foundation to my Christianity went totally missing. Because if we don't study, mark, learn and inwardly digest the OT... we won't really understand most of what's going on in the New Testament. Or, to put it differently, the depth of our understanding will remain at the surface.

Probably the biggest impression made on me in reading the OT are the covenants. Beginning with Noah... these solemn pacts God is making with humankind have blown me away because of what's inherent in the promises. Namely, that God does love this part of creation, humankind, inspite of the fact that we sometimes do things that should warrant God plucking us from the planet. The book of Genesis alone was a hoot, and at times, read like a script to a soap opera as Abraham takes a mistress in Hagar which produces a son Ishmael... and then his supposed-barren wife Sarah bears a son Isaac. One woman and her son are scorned and sent away (and begin the cousin religion of Islam)... and the other starts our Jewish heritage. There are good choices and bad choices. Dreams and sibling jealousy. And trickery and forgiveness. I'm serious, this is a good read!

The OT can also make you think about Shakespeare. The Hebrew tribes, having somehow managed in the desert inspite of all their complaining and kvetching and constantly needing a leader, or judge, to get them back on track with the YHWH program, realize they need a hero, a King, to lead them (or at least half of them think this and the other half say YHWH is the King... and we see a fracture). And the stories of the Kings really do seem very Shakespearean with conspiracies, and alliances... which lead to downfall and destruction of the Temple and scattering of people. All the while, there were prophets either foretelling the doom, or chronicling the doom, or bemoaning the doom after the fact. Save for the blah blah blah of Leviticus with all the laws... the Hebrew Scriptures have a lot more to them than silly Sunday school songs for 6-year-olds.

I mean, in Judges, Sisera gets a tent peg to the skull... and then the Israelites sing a little folk song about it! Who needs CSI: Miami when you have Judges Chapter 4?

The night of the Easter Vigil, I stopped by the Mickee Faust cast party in Railroad Square. The juxtaposition of those two events was a bit strange, but I got to talking to some folks about the reading from the Vigil that had been assigned to me: the story of the Israelites escape from Egypt through the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds). I was retelling the story in highly dramatic... or melodramatic... fashion. One of the people said, "Y'know, if only they'd told it like this in Sunday School, I might have listened!"
But this past year wasn't just a "Bible Study" of the Old Testament. It was also done in a context of reflecting on what these readings, as well as the study points for people looking at the New Testament and Church History, have to do with where we're at today. How does the study of our ancestors inform our personal lives... and then how do we apply what we believe in a world that doesn't necessarily see eye to eye with us? We don't get trained in EfM to go out and beat up people with the Bible. But how does what we believe keep us grounded and shape the choices we make in the world? And what is it of ourselves that we are to bring to the world?

To be fair, you might want to have some aspirin on hand if you just try to dive into reading the OT on your own. Editing was "different" in those days... and there were several grandmothers and grandfathers re-telling the stories; hence there's a lot of repetition. But if you get a chance to do some study of the OT, it's well worth it. Especially if it's through EfM!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thought of the Moment

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah* is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses* of these things.
--Luke 24: 45-48

THOUGHT: It seems most of what I am trying to communicate through this blog, and in my outlook on life, comes from a place of feeling that my mind has been opened. It has been opened to things that once were mysteries, or murky, or "irrelevant" stories. Doors in my brain that were locked, untouched, and untested. And now, the doors are opening. I am seeing Christ as one who has experienced the human condition, lived as one of us, and paid a heavy price for speaking truth to power... and in the end... still came out on top because he was resurrected from death into life. And, if I believe this is true, then nothing should be impossible, right?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Thoughts On A Troublesome Question"

Things appear to be heating up across the nation on the question of same-sex marriage.
My home state of New Hampshire is in deliberation in the state legislature about a bill that would move the state from authorizing civil unions to allowing for marriage. And in Maine, 3,500 people showed up for a public debate on a marriage bill before the Senate's Judiciary Committee.
Religious leaders in Maine spoke both for and against the measure. Interestingly, the report in the Washington Blade newspaper quoted two Baptist preachers. One was against it and one was for it. Even the Baptists in New England are different than in the south!!
Maine's attorney general, Janet Mills, has gone on record saying that instituting a law where marriage is between two PEOPLE without specifing the gender of the people is OK. No church will be forced to marry people they don't want to marry. And she went so far as to say such a law will have no bearing on HER relationship with God.
She is right.

And while there is absolutely no sign of change in Florida on the marriage issue at the legislative end... there are cracks in the wall of opposition coming from the churches. And through those cracks, a new light of understanding... grounded in Scripture... is shining.

Last Sunday, Pastor Tom Borland of Faith Presbyterian Church delivered a deeply personal and reflective sermon called, "Thoughts On A Troublesome Question" which you can listen to here. What I liked best in Pastor Borland's presentation was how he took what were the assigned readings for the day in the church, and put those first and foremost as he laid out his understanding of God and God's directives to the treatment of the LGBT community. I know this was a courageous step for him since the Presbyterian Church USA is struggling with changing its constitution to allow for the ordination of openly-LGBT people. I'll save comment on that for another day. But I applaud Pastor Borland for speaking his truth as he believes the Holy Spirit has guided him. And whether he knows it or not... his words are spreading beyond the four walls of his sanctuary and reaching people, such as me, in other denominations or even the 'unchurched' as they say down here, and signaling, "Faith Presbyterian Church is a safe place for you to come worship God". It's powerful, very powerful, when such statements come from the mouths of those who the gay community often sees as the chief oppressors. Such bravery results in clearing away the stumbling blocks, and paving a way toward a more inclusive and loving world. Kudos to Pastor Borland, and I hope his congregation got the message.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nichum Aveilim

The title is the phrase used in Judaism related to comforting those who are in mourning. And, as a spouse of a Temple Israel member, I occasionally see this phrase pop-up in my email inbox. I look at these announcements, in the event it's somebody I know. But the message that came in last month wasn't a secret: the subject line included the name of deceased. And it was Joan Glickman, a middle-aged woman who I had known since my days of reporting for Florida Public Radio in the early 1990s.

Her death was sudden. It was shocking. It was, in all likelihood, as a result of a confluence of a variety of health issues finally doing her in. Nonetheless, I had no idea how sick she was, or that there was any clue that she might die.

She was buried in Tallahassee last month, and today was her memorial service. There were people from the state legislature, and Temple Israel in attendance... and a couple of reporters. Two of the Senators who had employed her spoke... each offering important insights into Joan as a person. They highlighted her hard-working spirit, her pencils that she always had sticking out of her hair, and her desire to give. We learned that her family had started the synagogue in their hometown in Long Island, and that Joan had been active teaching the children, and performing in their plays. When she moved to South Florida in the mid-80s, it took her a little bit before she became active in the local political scene. But once she did, she took everyone by storm. Then-Broward County Commissioner Howard Forman was elected to the Florida Senate in 1988, and he hired Joan with him as an aide. And that's how I met Joan Glickman.

I was a rookie to reporting on Florida government, and Joan Glickman knew it. But rather than treat me as a subhuman as some others did, Joan took a shine to me, and she became a person I could rely on to tell me the straight, cold, hard facts... as she saw 'em. And, for the most part, Joan had a pretty good feel for what was what in the Florida Senate. So much so that she gained the reputation of being the "41st senator" in a 40-member body!

What made our connection closer was when her friend, a lobbyist for health care named Ree Sailors, brought her to a Mickee Faust Club show at the Warehouse on Gaines Street. Joan, who had grown up around music hall theatre and cabaret in New York, was overjoyed to have discovered a cabaret troupe with a political bite and social edge. She became one of our first financial backers and would often track me down in committee meetings to find out what we were up to, when is the next show, and how could she get tickets. In fact, when we ran our iconic rat leader Mickee Faust for Governor in 2002, Joan put her support behind our Vote Vermin campaign.

After I left reporting, I would occasionally run into Joan, mostly at Faust shows. And she even hired me a few times to bring the massage chair into her office. I could see that her health was not good, but she was undaunted.

The depth of Joan Glickman's commitment to her fellow human came through in the last years of her life when she moved to Tallahassee. She joined Temple Israel, and within a few months, she became a powerhouse, joining every cause and committee she could. And her dedication to the Temple's outreach to the homeless Shelter was incredible. My partner was the point person for the fifth Sunday mitzvah at the Shelter, when Temple members serve dinner to the homeless. My job was to pick up the food we'd be serving. Without fail, Joan would always come through. First, she'd load me down with two or three casseroles. Then she'd have bags of veggies and lettuce, pre-cut and washed, for the salad. Then she'd hand me two bags of apples. And then... the banana bread... always the banana bread... at least three or four loaves. And she'd always say, "Is that enough?" And I couldn't help but think of the song from Passover, "Dayenu", which is to say, "It would have been enough to have just done the casseroles, Joan!" After the disaster that was the passage of the anti-gay marriage Amendment Two in Florida, Joan was one of the first straight allies to join our grassroots group, Impact Tallahassee, to fight for LGBT equality. Injustice had no place in Joan Glickman's world.

God has prepared a place for Joan, and I'm sure Joan is making her place known in the Kingdom of God. May the memory of her always shine on in the hearts of those of us who knew her.

Lies and Marriage

I'm sure most of you have had the opportunity by now to see the National Organization for Marriage ad "Gathering Storm". And if you haven't seen the original, you might have seen some of the gazillion parodies that are popping up all over YouTube. For the record, I've written one as well for the Mickee Faust Club which I hope we will film in the next week.

This organization is promoting a message of hate wrapped in words such as "Rainbow Coalition" and "Message of Love". But these are not loving people. Just ask Massachusetts State Representative Angelo Puppolo of Springfield. Because Puppolo refused to get on the bandwagon of bigotry and overturn the decision of the Massachusetts Court legalizing same-sex marriage, NOM took out a billboard linking Puppolo with two names that would resonate deeply in the very Roman Catholic, patriotic Commonwealth: Judas and Benedict Arnold.

It didn't work. He is still in office. Thank you, voters of District 12 for seeing through the lies.

Now, on Facebook, a campaign is starting called "Straights for Gay Marriage". And I've been overwhelmed by how many of my straight friends are not only signing up, but also speaking out. And that's the key: straight people who don't get why gays and lesbians getting married threatens their rights MUST speak out! Because you are not seen as having "an agenda". I'm not asking you to march up down the street with a hand-painted sign, or even advocating that you give your money to any group in particular. But I am asking you to consider what is the real cost to you for saying, "Let's get over this nonsense about gay marriage."? What harm comes to you in telling the Pharaohs of our state legislature that continued discrimination against the LGBT community is WRONG?

I have said it over and over: nothing will ever change for the gay community until the straight community makes way for the change. All I, or any of my brothers and sisters can do, is demand our rights. But straight people are the ones who can give those rights. Please help.

Monday, April 20, 2009

God is in the Art

OK... shut down your left brain for a moment, and simply sit with that statement. And when you're ready, you can start reading this entry again.

"God is in the art". I didn't think about it that way until the conclusion of my highly-cultured weekend. Friday, as noted, I was running the lights and sound on a thesis project which examined a society that exists within our own societies. Saturday, I took myself out to the Tallahassee Film Festival showing of "Purple State of Mind", a movie featuring two former college roommates... one an ex-journalist and the other a religion and film professor at a California seminary. The film is about their exchanges and discussions about faith, belief... and the lack of belief on the part of the ex-journalist. It was fascinating! And finally, I was in awe listening to the Tallahassee Community Chorus perform Haydn's "The Creation". It was as if this was the period placed at the end of a very active sentence. The sentence being "God is in the art".

Now I don't think God resides in art. But I do think God inspires artists to deliver a message about God to the masses. The music of Haydn's "The Creation", to me, is an amazing score to the first stories in Genesis. Let there be light... and--SHAZAM-- the sound of it was breathtaking, and apparently did wow its first audiences so much in Vienna that the singers and orchestra had to hold for the applause before continuing! The bass instruments being featured for the creation of the sea creatures, the flutes being featured in the creation of the birds of the air... it was really very cool. And I thought, "Haydn really took this text to heart when he composed this piece!" And, if one believes that God is the inspiration for the myths in Genesis, then by extension, God is the inspiration behind this work.

I do think God is certainly working his purpose out through the conversations and debates between John Marks, formerly of 60 minutes and U.S. News and World Report, and his friend, Craig Dettweiler, a religion professor and filmmaker at Fuller Theological Seminary. Watching this movie, I was struck with how Marks, who comes up with lots of reasons for why he lost his faith and he can't buy into God, is still talking and challenging his friend who came to believe in God and Jesus in college and has been deepening his faith ever since. I had a chance to talk to both men after the film (they were there as part of the Festival, as well as public speaking engagements at St. John's). Marks had been assigned to cover the Balkans War back in the 1990s... and it was there that he finally closed the book on God in his life. I told him that I was a former journalist myself and had witnessed an execution in the electric chair. And I found myself doing the opposite of what he did. He gave up on a notion of God; I found myself desperate to find God and seek forgiveness. And then we shared the difficulty a gay person encounters in THAT quest when you have a church and the people of God standing in your way!
Interestingly, Dettweiler... who had apparently at one time believed that God "doesn't like artists because they ask too many questions", has become a film artist, a believer in Christ... and annoys his friend in the movie because he answers Marks' questions WITH questions. Dettweiler shared with me that he's become an Episcopalian... and I laughed and said, "Oh, well no wonder you answer all of John's questions with questions!"

Even Josh Potter's play has the markings of a piece of work that has God speaking through it. There is the argument between the interviewer and the AIDS nurse over judgment... and not wanting judgment from a gay man on the behaviors of the interview subjects, but simply the opinion of a medical expert. And then there is listening to the interviewees. What they say, what their motivations are for "bug chasing" are as individualistic as the people themselves. But as a person who heard this play a half-dozen times last week as we prepared for the performance, I was left with feeling that we live in a wounded world when sex, and sexual enjoyment, becomes linked with fatalism. God is not absent from this world and God hasn't left these men behind. But the choices they are making are taking them further away from life and into death. And the belief that, "Once I'm infected, I'll just pop a pill, no big deal" is, to me, pure sadness.

If you can hear Haydn's "The Creation" do! Tallahasseeans have one more shot this evening to see "Purple State of Mind" at the IMAX Theatre. And if Josh's play ever gets developed and staged elsewhere, seek it out.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Gift or A Burden?

An AIDS Awareness poster in the UK, 1991

About 70 people got an education at the Mickee Faust Clubhouse last night. I was one of them.

An FSU graduate student in Performance Studies, Josh Potter, enlisted the talents of some of Faust's male actors, as well as two women, and me on the technical elements to stage his one act thesis play, "A Little Death". The script is based on interviews Josh has done with men in the gay culture known as "bug chasers". These are men who intentionally seek out sex with men who they know are HIV-positive. Within this society, there are men known as "gift givers". These are the ones who willing, knowingly, and happily have unprotected sex with men who are HIV-negative. The "gift" is to give the man the virus. Needless to say, this is one risky bit of business!

Josh's play, I think, does a service in not only bringing this behavior out of the shadows, but also doing it in a way where he, as the playwright, has carefully crafted the interactions between the interviewer and an AIDS nurse, serving as the medical expert on the project, as they "talk" to these men. Any judgement is left to the audience... and the audience is left to consider this subculture, and even the culture at large that is layered on top of this subculture.

There were a couple of lines that stood out to me in the play. One was the AIDS nurse, pleading to one of the characters who seems to derive sexual pleasure from playing this risky game of Russian roulette with his body that this "gift" he thinks he's receiving isn't a gift, but a burden. Those who have known friends or family members with HIV/AIDS are aware of that! The struggle to get food down just so they could take the medication and hope it wouldn't make them sick. The once handsome men now gaunt and frail. And the dead. Lots and lots of deaths, essentially a generation laid to waste at the feet of the much-celebrated celebrity President Ronald Reagan.

Another line that caught my attention was "Being gay isn't for sissies." Oh, yeah! That's true! Gays and lesbians, as a group, have to be tough as nails. And yet, we are also caring, compassionate, feeling people. Not all of us, but many of us are. Which is probably why Josh, who is gay, could write a play like this as a point of dialogue within the LGBT community without it being preachy, but provocative.

Where this play left me was thinking about where did the train veer off the tracks? How has it become in this culture that choosing death seems, for some gay men, to be the inevitable choice in order to enjoy a sex life? I count myself so fortunate that I am in one of the lowest risk groups for HIV. Knowing that some guys believe it to be their destiny just makes me sad.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keeping Quiet

The rap group Disposable Heroes of Hipocrisy had it right:

Death is a silence in the cycle of violence.
And nothing is more disturbingly silent than the death of a young person.
And nothing should give us more pause as a society to read headlines like "Eleven Year-Old Commits Suicide"... especially when you read that the young boy was tormented at school with anti-gay slurs, and nobody stepped in to stop the madness.

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield, MA, very likely wasn't gay. But no matter: he was a target, and calling someone "faggot" is still OK in our society. And for a kid in a new school, as was the case here, it became too much to take. Even though the mother complained to school officials that her son was being harassed, nothing was done to protect him.

Ryan Skipper was a 25 year-old Central Florida man, who had served as an altar boy in his church. He kept his homosexuality a secret until his final year of high school. And while others might have been enjoying that last year... his friends say Ryan had to endure getting shoved in the hallways and having rocks thrown at his car.
Ryan was murdered in 2007 because he was gay. The state labeled it a hate crime (how many times do you really have to stab somebody? In his case... more than 20, and his throat was slit).

Even with the enhanced penalty, his murderer was found guilty of SECOND-degree murder, and given a life sentence. I'm not an advocate of the death penalty. But when I read cases such as this, I feel even more strongly that capital punishment is a joke. Why is Ryan's life only SECOND-degree? Was this crime not heinous?

Lives cut short this way are a shame. A shame that should make people think about the consequences of calling somebody a "faggot" or a "dyke". The action that belies chiding something useless or not-as-good or ugly as "so gay". The outcome of what happens when those in authority ban a gay bishop from attending an international gathering of his brethern at Lambeth Palace. The result of votes in states such as Florida that say, "Your relationship is not as worthy as a heterosexual one."
These deaths are the tangible evidence of the intangible and indefensible hatred of the "other".

Death is a silence.

April 17th, students, teachers and others, will be keeping quiet to mark that silence. In the absence of words, one can only hope that there will be meditation on how to make this world a safer place for the LGBT young people.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tune in...and DON'T drop out

This just in from Integrity USA:

The Episcopal Church
Office of Public Affairs
Live webcast to address General Convention 2009Presiding Officers, others will field questions from audience, online
[April 14, 2009] General Convention 2009 of the Episcopal Church will be the topic of a live webcast on Wednesday, May 13 at 8 am Pacific (9 am Mountain,10 am Central, 11 am Eastern).
General Convention 2009 (GC09) will be held July 8-17 at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. The webcast will originate from Anaheim,the site of this year's General Convention.
The Episcopal Church's General Convention, held every three years, is the bicameral governing body of the church. General Convention, the second largest legislative body in the world, is comprised of the House of Bishops,with upwards of 200 members, and the House of Deputies, with clergy and layrepresentatives from the 110 dioceses, at over 700 members.
Participants in the live webcast will be:
Presiding Bishop of the EpiscopalChurch, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori;
President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson;
Executive Officer and Secretary of the General Convention, the Rev. Gregory Straub;
and Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles, the host diocese.
Questions will be accepted via email and from the invited guests in the audience.
To access the live webcast, go to the Episcopal Church
NOTE: I have tuned in to webcasts featuring our Presiding Bishop before, and she is very interesting to listen to because she has a way of always trying to maintain balance and keep from entering the screamfest that sometimes arises out of difficult situations.

My Own Private Tea Party

Happy Tax Day!! OK... I know it's not a "happy" day for many of us, and really my filing is in limbo. I have to recreate my travel for the entire year... and that is one very time consuming activity. So, I have punted... again... and am filing an extension.

Of course, I am tempted to tell the government where it can stuff its extension! Afterall, why should I, or any other LGBT person in this country, pay taxes if we are only 3/5ths of a person? Maybe they ought to institute a new rule: if you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender... and you live in one of the 46 states currently actively, or passively, discriminating against your same-sex relationship... you will only owe the U.S. government 3/5ths of your actual taxes. Seems like the only right and fair thing to do for us second-class citizens.

Well, other than overturning the egregious federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)... and immediately finding the anti-gay votes in FL, CA, AZ and AR unconstitutional... thereby allowing us to pursue life, liberty and happiness like the rest of America.

Short of that, I guess I'll just go brew up some tea... and take my tax return to the post office...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter, Resurrection: YAY!!

Rainbow Cross New Life MCC

It's Easter!

You can drink your coffee again! You can drink your beer again! You can eat your chocolate again (and don't the marketers of Easter Bunnies LOVE that)!

No, getting out of Lent... and Lenten discipline... isn't the point of Easter. Or at least that's not what I would advocate.

The point, as I've come to understand it in my "gay lay way", is that all that has held us down and kept us from being full of life, love and joy has been laid down, dead and buried. And on this day we can re-emerge into the world... resurrected in the same way be it metaphorically that God, as Jesus, overcame death and has reappeared to his friends proving that we CAN and we WILL survive "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" that the world hurls at us daily.

For me, as a gay person, this is a message of amazing power and possibility. Today, as I sat up at the altar listening to the words of Paul from 1 Corinthians, I nearly started to cry:

"Last of all, as one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

To be included in the community of Christians, for many of us who are gay, has been a long, painful struggle to not only feel acceptance from others, but to first accept that we really are accepted by God. Some of us may have believed ourselves unworthy of such an outrageous Love and kept ourselves apart from God. Some of us may have internalized the words of those who I believe are the false prophets of a gospel of exclusion which simply doesn't exist in the Bible, and I don't even think exists in those books left on the cutting-room floor when the canon was created. Our exile... both self-imposed and from others... led to bitterness toward Christ's message. In such a situation... the sweetness of Easter isn't really possible.

Sunday after Sunday I've wept in the pew as I continously heard the words... through the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, the hymns, the readings and even sermons, that I am more than OK in the eyes of God: I am good, just like all of creation. I have found myself in prayer after communion reduced to a simple repeating of the phrase "thank you".

Thank you for including me at the table.

Thank you for your example of "the way" to be with people.

Thank you for loving me in my perfect imperfection.

Thank you for never abandoning me.

Thank you for giving me strength and courage in this mean world to make it through to the next day.

I have struggled against myself to come to where I am. To feel a part of Christ's radical and rebellious spirit of love, and to know that even when that love is seen as a threat to those in power it will win out in the end is reason to scream: Yay, Easter!!

I couldn't help but smile today as I watched the acolyte attempt to extinguish the Paschal candle at the end of the service. The flame was stubborn, refusing to be put out. My hope for all reading this is that light of a resurrected and renewed spirit remains equally as stubborn in your heart today and always.

This is the Night...

The strife is o'er, the battle done.
The victory of life is won.
The song of triumph has begun.
Tonight is the Easter Vigil, one of the most beautiful services in the Episcopal Church's liturgical calendar. To me, this is like one of those evenings where you gather with friends and family and you share the stories that tie the common bonds that you have... that make you friends and family. Such is the Easter Vigil... which retraces our history through our Jewish ancestry and the God who never gave up on us, even though--boy--did we pose a challenge!
And, for us of the Christian faith, we are preparing to receive the best gift that could ever be given us: Christ resurrected... a testimony that light will always shine through the darkness... life will always overcome death... Good Friday will become Easter.
The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shout of holy joy outburst.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Do You Really Wish "Happy Good Friday"?

I was having coffee with one of my friends today, and he noted that I was marking Good Friday.

"Happy Good Friday... or is it Good Happy Friday?" he asked as he tried to figure out what to say to someone like me today.

I mean, what does one say? Is it really a happy occasion to commemorate the day when jealousy, suspicion, greed, pride, anger, fear, resentment, and hatred got the upper hand and resulted in the public execution of God?

My answer is: umm, yeah, actually... this is a "good" day. I don't know about "happy", but it is good.

Good because on this day so many centuries ago, God took every single one of our egocentric "sins"... that laundry list I gave above... absorbed all of it into his physical being as Jesus, and allowed those things to die with him on the cross. Depending on which gospel you read, the thieves crucified on either side of Jesus were either joining in on the taunting, or one of them was asking for redemption because he knew Jesus had not committed any crime besides teaching everyone to love God, love themselves and love their neighbors.

One might think on this day about those people in the world who suffer for love. I'm not suggesting that every LGBT person is a messiah, but each of us is a creation of God; hence each of us has the spirit of God with us. And yet we face discrimination and ridicule... and popular votes... on our lives and love.

I put a challenge at the beginning of Lent to consider ways in which you not merely tolerate those who are different from you, but move to a place of acceptance of the "others" in your life. This was as much a challenge to me as it is to any of the number of you out there reading this blog. How have I done? Better, I think. Not perfect, plenty of room for improvement. But I think God has been chiseling away at the rockiness in my heart, so that I may learn to be more loving and accepting particularly when I find myself at odds with another. I've learned that walking away from those I disagree with is NOT the answer. And I am better able to hold my own space in the face of a bigot, and not respond with the knee-jerk... obscenity-laden way I would have done five or ten years ago.

"It is finished." Indeed, that utterance from Jesus as he died says so much. Fear is finished. Jealousy is finished. Anger is finished. "Tolerance" is finished. Taking the learning of Lent and making it part of every day life: that's the beginning, and the bloom on the Easter lily.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Insights in the Darkness

Christ falls on the Way to Calvary--Raphael

Maundy Thursday is a real mixed bag for me.

On the one hand, its a sobering and solemn night of watching the altar get stripped down to nothing. The chanting of Psalm 22 with the refrain, "They divide my garments among them; they cast lots for my clothing" a constant reminder of Jesus' lament as he died.

And, on the other hand, this is an evening service where we can become linked to our God... through his humanness as Jesus... in a way that is deeply spiritual and meaningful. And that once you strip away all the various faces we put forth to the world and the means we use to divide ourselves from one another, we can see each other more clearly and see in the eyes of the other a spirit of Christ... no matter what body contains those eyes.

I spent a long while in the chapel at St. John's following this service. And the personal transformative experience in that time was amazing. I started my meditation on the obvious: the room was dark, but for some dim lighting and the candle on the altar. And so my mind went to "And a darkness descended over the land..." Sorrow filled my soul... and some of the challenges I feel myself facing about my future began to surface, and that led to a very steady stream of tears. I contemplated questions I have about where I fit in to "the plan", and then reflected on imagery from my blog entry of last year called "Striking A Balance" in which I saw the LGBT community and the Christian community (or faith communities of any kind) traveling on either side of a median, unable to see one another due to shrubs and bushes, and my desire to knock down those barriers, so that this division could end. Tears continued flowing down my cheeks. Until I finally paid attention to my breathing.

And then it hit me: No fear and no regrets.

This was the same phrase I heard in my head the night before my father died, and I sat squeezing his hand in the assisted living facility.

No fear and no regrets about my future. No fear and no regrets about my questions. No fear and no regrets about bridging this gap between queers and Christians. I may suffer ridicule or scorn or rejection. But I should have no fear and no regrets.

The longer I sat with that phrase, the more I could feel my body calming down. The tears came back only a couple more times... but that repeated mantra of "No fear and no regrets" was a balm for my scaredy cat soul. I was in a deeper place of meditation, and of being at one with God, at one with Jesus... the flesh-and-blood embodiment of God. And again, the promise that "I will be with you until the end of the age" popped in my head. Knowing that has given me the necessary confidence on many occasion. Tonight was no exception.
Tomorrow is Good Friday. I will be remembering Jesus as I join with Pax Christi and others who are against the death penalty for the annual vigil held on the steps of the Old State Capitol Building.

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
--Collect for Good Friday, BCP pg. 221

Passover into Maundy Thursday

Last night I celebrated with my partner and a few friends the Passover Seder, the ritualistic meal where Jews remember their membership with YHWH (aka Adonai aka God) by escaping slavery in Egypt, and living out in the desert. Our meal was vegan, which was in keeping with the theme of our stewardship for all of creation... including animals. And, besides placing a cup on the table for Elijah, one of our guests brought a cup for Miriam, the sister of Moses who was one of the women of the Hebrew Bible who helped to preserve her people. She saved Moses as a baby, and she was identified as the source of the water for the Jews as they trekked across the desert, complaining all the way!

I'm careful to not interject Christianity or Christian thinking at these occassions because I don't want to come off as sounding like one of "those people"... meaning the "Believe in Jesus or you're going to hell!" types. But later, my partner and I were talking about the portion of the Haggadah (the ritual reading) that was mine to read, the blessing of the Mahtzah. I was interested that I had to break the "bread" in two, while reciting the significance of this bread. And in my head, I was reminded that, in Mark's gospel at least, Jesus is celebrating the Passover meal with the disciples when he tells them that the unleavened bread they were going to eat was "his body". And he later takes the wine cup, which figures very prominently in a seder, and declares it his blood which is poured out for many. Who knows what the actual prayers were that Jesus was supposed to say at that moment. Instead he took it as the time to introduce a new "thing": eat this bread, and drink this wine, and through this action you are united to me... and to each other... and to "the many" who will come to eat and drink of God.
It seems the apostles couldn't see the handwriting on the wall at that point. But then, if they had figured it out, the story might have changed course, and that certainly wasn't God's plan.

Tonight, I'll be joining with others at St. John's for the traditional Maundy Thursday service which involves the act of washing the feet of each other... another act symbolizing our fellowship in the priesthood... and servitude... of Christ. In John's gospel, we hear how Peter, the disciple who always seems to want to pipe up with all the answers and earn the gold stars, says, "Not just my feet, but my head, too." Every time I hear this, I smile and think, "Peter, Peter, Peter: you are so caught up in the man Jesus that you are not seeing the bigger picture!" Since this is a ritual dinner, the Passover, one can figure that all the disciples washed up before they came. But the dust that they have collected on their feet... a metaphor for sins... is still clinging to them. This is at least one interpretation that I have read about this moment. And it makes sense given the directive to the disciples as they travel from town to town that anywhere where they aren't welcomed as is the Jewish custom of welcoming the stranger, "shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them."(Mark 6:11) The specialness, to me, of the Maundy Thursday service is its quiet simplicity, and the reflection upon how Christ was infusing the importance of our bonds with him and each other in the breaking of the bread.

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.--Collect for Maundy Thursday, BCP pg. 221

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And then there were four...

Last week, it was Iowa. Today, the Vermont state legislature up-ended the Governor's veto, and now Vermont becomes the fourth state in the union to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Adding to the new "flavor of the month"... the city council in Washington, D.C., voted unanimously to recognize marriage licences granted to same-sex couples from other jurisdictions. Welcome, then, all you queer married people of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and South Africa to our nation's capital.

And I hear Japan is thinking of jumping on board, too!

It would seem that this whole "legalize gay marriage" thing has become trendy. It's the "in" thing to do! It's not "Who are you wearing?" it's "who are you marrying?"

And... have you noticed: no plagues, no frogs, no locusts are overrunning any of those "queer-friendly locales. Guess the Westboro Baptist terrorist organization is wrong: God does NOT hate fags; he loves us! We make great guests at his party!

So, Florida, how's it feel to be increasingly seen as spiteful, and mean-spirited by my community... and our allies (who are growing)? How's that Amendment Two vote sitting with everyone? I'm sure the Yes2Marriage folks are still pleased with the evil they have injected into our constitution. And I know that the roaring lion is still on the prowl looking to devour those who aren't paying attention. But that lion is really a cockroach... and the more the lights get turned on in people's hearts, minds and souls to the correctness of marriage equality... the more that roach is going to scurry in a panic, looking for its trusted darkness. It is dark, still, in Florida, but it can not stay that way forever.

Until I see a change in the forecast, I will continue to refer to this place as "The Overcast State". I hope one day it will be, again, the Sunshine State.

In the meantime, God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.....

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"My" Jesus

Today, for one service, there was a woman standing in the pulpit of St. John's playing the role of Jesus Christ in the Passion reading.
Yes: Jesus had a flat-top, and no facial hair, and wore a rainbow pride bracelet!
I've already laid out the drama around this dramatic reading here and here, but needless to say, nothing "bad" happened. And perhaps, there was some good done. There were many who said they liked my reading, which was not the same as the one done at 11:15am...(and a fine reading that one was).
My Jesus was more of a rebel, reminding all that the woman who annointed him with nard had done a beautiful thing, because she recognized that he's about to be killed and buried, so quit your kvetching.
My Jesus emphasized the frustration with disciples who can't keep their eyes open long enough for him to pray when he's in the midst of a personal crisis: "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."
My Jesus was still matter-of-factly defiant with Pilate and the chief priests who were egging on the crucifixion.
My Jesus looked at the audience to ask, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

My Jesus was my understanding of the text... seen through lesbian eyes and understanding of what it really feels like to be the outsider, or the bearer of an unpopular message with the powers-that-be. An understanding of what it means to look around and realize that those who said they were your friends have been more interested in preserving their own skins than risking themselves on your behalf.
My Jesus is as much Your Jesus or the Person in the Next City's Jesus. He is Our Jesus.

My hope is that the congregation that was present was able to move past the obvious cross-gender casting of the part of Jesus, and take ownership of what it was that Jesus is saying and doing in Mark's gospel reading. And, at the same time, they hear the words... knowing that this IS a woman playing the part, or even that this IS a lesbian playing the part... and realizing that women and gay people are, therefore, very much a part of the Body of Christ.
As the prayer goes, "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer." Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Woo-hoo, Iowa!!

I'm still doing a double-take when I see the headline, "Iowa Supreme Court strikes down gay marriage ban."

Are we sure? I mean, Iowa?? I've never actually been there, but having gone to college at Mizzou... I have, at least, some idea about "the way things are" in America's bread basket.
Massachusetts giving an OK to gay marriage: Yes.
Connecticut: Sure.

What that says to me is that, despite what the right-wingers will scream (and it is a scream, not too dissimilar to a screech), many people do NOT understand why any one is upset with allowing same-gender couples to marry. It's ridiculous!

I challenge anyone... and I mean ANYONE... to tell me that the Iowa Supreme Court is made up of a bunch of "liberals" or "activist judges" or any other myriad of names that those on the right want to throw out there. I'm sure Rush Limbaugh is about to pop some more pills to keep his head from exploding over this news, and he's likely telling everyone that Davenport is a decadent haven... and Ames is Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, I've never been to Missouri's northern neighbor, but I don't commonly think "decadence" when I think of Iowa. Miles of corn. Lots of cattle. Beat Iowa State. Not decadence.

With this decision, I have to wonder many things. For starters... which state will be next? Not Florida, I know. But maybe this is a sign that one day, even here in the Overcast State, we will see the insanity of Amendment Two and it will be overturned.

I also wonder about what's to come during the Episcopal Church's General Convention in Anaheim this July. I know that there is a move to get the National Church to adopt a policy to bless same-gender marriages. Several dioceses, including amazingly the Diocese of Missouri, are encouraging adoption of such a policy. I have not had a conversation with the Bishop of Florida about this, and I have a pretty good hunch where he stands just based on other interactions with him. Certainly, adopting this policy would go a long way toward some church clarity.

All of that is future tense. For now, I'm just happy to rejoice in the present... knowing that even practical midwesterners get it: marriage should be for any couple willing to make the commitment!

Jesus or Judas?

An update from the post I put up on Monday about the Passion Play.

After much goings-on which I was not a party to... I am now Jesus again.

This has been a most comical turn-of-events. I was asked to be Jesus on Sunday. Then, an email arrived in my box informing me that I was Judas. I noted that "Judas" was a woman at both services, which I didn't take as a malicious move, but rather a thoughtless one. Some few hours later, another email showed up: the man cast as Jesus at the 9am service would be out of town. So, the part was now up for grabs. Rather than email the entire list of people, I sent a message to the priest who'd asked me, and the "casting director" that I had thought I was supposed to be Jesus, but would play Judas if a female Jesus would seem a bit too strange. Another email came in from one of the guys saying he'd be willing to be Jesus. Seeing as how this guy has been with the parish awhile, and has recently been on the frontline of some difficult decisions, I thought, "Now, if there's anybody who SHOULD be Jesus, it's this guy!" I sent an email in support of casting him. And then I heard nothing.

When I went to pick up the script on Wednesday, I thought I would get clarification. I didn't. So, I figured the best course of action was to simply read through the whole thing... and prepare to play "Bystander" or some such thing as that!

But, today, the mystery has been solved... and I am, indeed, Jesus at the 9am service. We'll see what happens on Sunday. For now... I need to practice my Eloi, Eloi...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prepping for Palm Sunday

Well, as the Grateful Dead once sang... "What a long, strange trip it's been!"

This Lenten season has presented interesting, even unsettling, challenges to me. This latest one being the encounter in the coffee shop being stunned into silence by a "holier than thou" who couldn't mind his own business and felt the need to interject himself into a conversation I was having with a friend. When your Lenten practice is to be mindful of your heart and to soften the hardened places in your heart... such a person presents an unusually difficult challenge.

I reflected on my response: silence. What was the matter with me? Why didn't I do a verbal smack down of this sanctimonious SOB who seems to think he has a more special relationship with Christ than I have?

But then I remember how some of the gospel writers depict Christ's final day... especially during the so-called trial. Here are people making accusations about him, trying to drum up charges against him, and Christ didn't respond in anger at the lies. In fact, in some moments, he didn't respond at all.

And so maybe my own silence is a sign that I am learning how to keep the ground of my heart fertile for the growth of good seeds rather than rock hard, or overrun with weeds.

As I've mentioned in other posts, I'm one of those Episcopalians who actually does what's called the Daily Office. It's a habit I got into after last Easter. Pretty much the way it went, I was so exhilirated and excited by Easter... and all that it means to know that one can emerge from a Good Friday into having an Easter... that I wanted to get more of the story. I wanted to know "what happens next?"... and so I started doing the daily readings. This year, the folks who put together the Daily Office lectionary did me a huge favor by giving us passages from Jeremiah and Romans for the past couple of weeks. Especially Romans (yes, OK, I admit: Paul isn't as much of jerk as I used to think he was!) Again, as another reminder to me that I have a place with God, Paul says:

For there is no distinction between Jew or Greek: the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. (Romans 10:12)

I'm not sure the fundamentalist at the coffee shop understands that statement to mean that God loves him and me equally, because in God there is no distinction between straight and gay, black and white, able-bodied or disabled-bodied. I'm not sure if he hears how deep God's love runs for all of creation. Clearly, he mustn't hear the same thing I do; otherwise he would not have been offended by the conversation nor would he have piped up with how he has a "personal relationship with Christ".

OK... and so what does any of this have to do with "prepping for Palm Sunday"?

What I've been hearing... and what I know we will be hearing more of during the readings at Holy Week... is how God is instructing the people to not just be cheeleaders for Christ... trying to be good little doobies in this life so we can achieve something better in the afterlife. God is laying the blueprint for how to do the action of Christ in recognition that "the kingdom of God is at hand." As in NOW. Take up your cross now. Recognize that Christ is calling us to be willing to sacrifice our egocentric existence to see that we... all of us... are in this soup together and have a responsibility to each other and our planet... and it is all good because it is of God. Pay attention to the prophets and stories from the Hebrew Bible because it's all about God continually making covenants with the people, continually reminding them that God (YHWH) is hearing them. And the choice is always theirs: choose life, or choose death.
So, what's it gonna be?