Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Maybe It's Time for the Haves to Have-Not*

I was not surprised, but very disappointed, to read that a key Senate Committee has defeated attempts to retain a public option for health care in the proposed health care reform bill moving through Congress. You can read about it HERE.
Five Democrats voted against amendments to the bill to keep the public option as part of the package. Florida Senator Bill Nelson voted FOR one amendment (Schumer's) but against another. To the left, is Nelson's official NASA photo. Perhaps he left behind something in outer space. A spine, maybe?
Or at least least his thoracic veterbrae!
I'm not surprised that he did this. He was our Insurance Commissioner here in the Sunshine State. And, in fact, I recall arriving at his Tallahassee home one election night where he was holding a victory party. There in the doorway with me were men who I recognized as being lobbyists for the insurance "industry" in Florida, the very "industry" he would be regulating. The warm greeting between Nelson and these gentlemen told me that they had a "good relationship." And that, my friends, made my skin crawl.
So Senator Bill Nelson has done a favor for his friends and thrown a roadblock into the way of any real competition to force greedy insurance companies with their "fat and gross hearts" to do anything to extend health insurance to the working poor... an ever increasing class of people in the United States.
Honestly, if Congress fails to offer a public option, then I think the only remedy is to revoke the cushy health care benefits package enjoyed by members of Congress and their families and all federal employees, and make them buy private insurance themselves. They can afford it. They make plenty of money. I refuse to have my tax dollars subsidize wealthy people's health insurance. It's one thing to pay for the poor, but I shouldn't have to pay for the rich. And I certainly don't want to buy Viagra for the impotent men of Congress!
(*This post has been updated to reflect the correct vote information.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hangin' with Angels

Put on your red shirts! Today's another one of those major feasts days: St. Michael and All Angels or Michaelmas as it's called.

Actually, I don't care what you wear, and neither do they, probably.
Angels have become quite popular. If you go into any new age or Christian book store, you're bound to find books and statuettes and trinkets of all kinds for people to buy. I'll occasionally see a car with the bumper sticker "Protected by Angels". And even in my massage class, one of my fellow students, who often reported having visions, insisted that we include our class T-shirts:
"Massage is from Heaven and we are angels on Earth."
I think the best description I found for why we should consider angels today was this snippet by James Kiefer from

"What is the value to us remembering Holy Angels? Well, since they appear to excel us in both knowledge and power, they remind us that, even among created things, we humans are not the top of the heap. Since it is the common belief that demons are angels who chose to disobey God and to be His enemies rather than His willing servants, they remind us that the higher we are the lower we can fall. The greater our natural gifts and talents, the greater the damage if we turn them to bad ends. The more we have been given, the more will be expected of us. And, in the picture of God sending his angels to help and defend us, we are reminded that apparently God, instead of doing good things directly, often prefers to do them through His willing servants, enabling those who have accepted his love to show their love for one another."

I would only add to that last point that, having experienced angelic intercession on our behalf, we can see in such characters as Michael, the dragon slayer, or Gabriel, the deliverer of good tidings, or Raphael, the guide to Tobias, further examples of "the way" we are to be with our selves and one another. In the Episcopal Church liturgical tradition, we are never far removed from this gathering of heavenly beings as we are called during the Eucharist to join our voices "with angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven" to sing the Sanctus. We become a choir of Heaven and Earth, all turning our attention to God without whom we are simply adrift. Neat, eh?

I also appreciate what Kiefer is saying about seeing the Holy Angels as reminders that when we are given gifts, we are to put them to good use. And the more that is given, the greater the expectation. This is something that I have always understood about my education. Because I was able to attend a New England prep school, and have a college degree, and now certification in massage therapy, I feel it is my obligation to put what knowledge I've gained to good use in serving others. Hence when I was asked to help out with a program to encourage middle school children at one of the more dysfunctional public school districts to write poetry and record it and set their poems to some kind of music, I was pleased to meet the challenge. Children in private schools are already getting rewarded; children in America's public schools are just expected to pass state-mandated standardized tests so the school district can get funding. There is little to no room for creative thinking. And yet being taught to think creatively, and express themselves in creative ways, the children that I, and others, were working with saw improvement on their state-mandated tests! And greater than that: they had the validation from adults for their ideas, their thinking, their odd age... where they aren't old enough to be considered adults, but they are in that transitional stage... with some forced by family circumstances... to get to adulthood immediately.

So, maybe there was something to my classmate's vision about being "angels on earth." That is, if we all take our gifts, the treasures that have been bestowed on us, and put them to good use... are we not fulfilling the command to love our neighbors as our selves and keep the path clear of debris so that others may see eternal life for themselves?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's NOT just for Moses anymore!

The Jews in the Desert, Tintoretto, c.1593

I've been reading through the First Lesson for the services at St. John's (we use an alternate Track from everyone else because.... well, because!) Anyway, our reading is from the Book of Numbers... the census count out in the desert. The story as told in Chapter 11 is funny, in that 20-20 hindsight, gee-I'm-glad-I-wasn't-out-there, sort of way. The Israelites, out in the desert, have received manna from Heaven. But instead of singing that popular children's tune from Passover, Dayenu, (which means, "That would be enough!"), the Israelites start a new round of complaining to the management:

"If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."--Numbers 11:5-6

Waaaaahhh! We don't want this stupid ol' manna! Life was sooo much better when Pharaoh was increasing our burden as slaves!! And it's your fault, Moses! Fix it!!

As you might imagine, Moses was feeling pretty put out at this point. And he rails against God:

"I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once--if I have found favor in your sight--and do not let me see my misery."--Numbers 11:14-15

Waaaaaahhh! I don't want to be the leader! It's too hard and everybody is on my case 24/7 about the stupid food!

At this point, God, once more, shows that a covenant made is a promise not to just drown them all for their kvetching. Instead, he gives Moses direction on what to do next to deal with this latest round of bellyaching. He tells Moses to go pick out 70 elders and bring them to the tent of meeting, and God would take it from there:

"Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders, and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again."--Numbers 11: 25

When I read this part of the passage, I couldn't help but think about those times when I've been placed in charge... and the task before me seems so enormous that I'd much rather stomp my foot in protest that this isn't what I'd bargained for, and why me? And each time I've been at that breaking point, I am able to see the wisdom in delegating, sharing the burden and responsibility of leadership with other trusted people. Some times this has backfired, but often it has served to greatly reduce my personal burden to "carry a people" and has led to a task getting finished. In this case, God had to intercede because Moses had worked himself up into quite a snit. But nonetheless, this moment with Moses, for me, is reminiscent of that line in the Gospel of Matthew, "Come unto me all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." That's what happened here. The load on Moses lightened, even if only for a short while, was enough to keep him going.

The reading finishes with the story of Eldad and Medad, some of the NON-select, still back in the camp and not at the Tent of Meeting, who nonetheless found themselves infused with God's spirit and they begin to prophesy. "How dare they!" is the complaint. "They weren't chosen, so they need to shut up! Only us 'special ones' get to speak on God's behalf!"

Truly, this is the height of obnoxiousness. This is akin to me to the modern day "hero worship" of bishops and clergy. Sure, they are learned. Sure, they know a lot of theology, and sure they have spent a long time with Scripture. But God doesn't expect only the clergy and bishops of the Church to live out the Good News; that's for everybody. And that's what Moses, relieved from having to be the "be all and end all" to everybody, essentially answers to those who are getting all worked up about Eldad and Medad:

"Are you jealous for my sake? Would that the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!"--Numbers 11:29

Update this language to 21st Century Brooklyn and it would read, "What's da matter with you? This is fine, so shaddup already!"

This particular chapter from Numbers serves to remind all of us, especially those of us in positions of responsibility, that we do NOT have to go it alone if we seek the help. Moses got angry at God, and God responded not in anger, but in the cool, measured response required for leadership. For me, this is the reminder that at those moments when I feel overwhelmed, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a measure of wisdom.

Things Left Undone

Checking in on some of the brilliance in the blogosphere, I realize that there has been much happening in the world of Anglicans that I have, well, ignored. It's not that I don't care; it's that with others writing so much on these matters, I haven't felt that I have anything better to say than what has already been said.

Specifically, I haven't launched into a diatribe about the election of yet-another misogynistic homophobe to be the Archbishop of Nigeria. ++Nicholas Okoh not only doesn't like LGBT Anglicans; he has caused a furor and wants to pick a fight with Muslims. You can read about it HERE. Making such statements while living in a country with a large Islamic population ain't too swift!

And I have failed to offer up any more opinions on the two-tiered mess that is called "The Anglican Covenant". As I commented over at Grandmere Mimi's Wounded Bird blog, every time I think of this document of the most non-Anglican tortured nonsense, I hear the Kyrie eleison in my head! I decided a while back that I just couldn't write any more on this thing because it's just so stupid, and petty, and all about making the Archbishop of Canterbury into Pope Rowan that it wasn't worth it. Really, if you need a fix of foolishness, you can search the entries on the AC at PRELUDIUM or THINKING ANGLICANS. Just make sure you have your blood pressure medication handy.

So, now that I have repented of my unwillingness to invest hours blogging on these topics, I'm off to do a presentation on massage.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

God at the Cellular Level

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalm 34:18

It happens on occassion that as I work on a client's body, I am reminded of the awesome power of God as can be seen and experienced through the simple act of laying my hands on another. Such was the case the other day when I had what I would describe as a "Eureka!" moment during a bodywork session.

This particular client, like others I see during the course of a week, was having life "in abundance"; lots of stress, several out-of-town trips, and compassion, compassion, compassion. And her body was bearing all the signs of being physically and emotionally drained. I centered myself, sitting at her head, and allowed my mind to focus its attention and intention on having my hands meet her in support of the healing needed... whatever that may be.

I have had clients come to me in similar "abundant life" moments, and I never know what will come up for them as I'm working. And I try not to anticipate that anything will happen. Such thoughts, I find, muddy the waters of caring for the person.

But what did come up, as my hands stretched the fascia of her arm, was a sudden profound sense of God in the body. The contact I was making, the feeling of connective tissue becoming warmer and loosening and allowing the deltoids and bicep to lengthen brought to the forefront the thought of God residing and working at the cellular level. I had this vision of all of the cells in the muscles being infused with gifts from the creator, and that my hands were making contact with something holy as they moved toward each other, criss-crossing at the elbow and finishing with a static hold at the wrist and the top of the shoulder. These cellular mysteries unwrapped, this body was becoming more whole... and holy. I thought of the creation stories in Genesis, especially about the second one where man makes the human, Adam, out of clay and blowing on it gives us life. And as I watched my client's breath, I thought of how the breath is the visible and invisible connection we have to our creator. The deeper the breathing, the deeper the connection.

By the time the session was over, I felt as though I had just spent an extended stay in a monastary! The client, too, had felt something profound, and both of us came away from the table a little more enlightened, a little more connected.

My table is not an altar in the same way as you might see in a church, or set up for a pagan ceremony. But I see my massage table as an altar for healing, and restoration of the soul. And, like going to God's table for communion, the gift received when you come to this table is a gift from God for the people of God through the very simple act of non-threatening human contact.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Be Careful With That!

OK, so I'll put off for a day a post on one of those "Eureka!" moments during a massage session. Instead, I couldn't shake the need to address something that was in today's Daily Office for the morning because it's the lead up to one of those infamous seven passages queer people have heard over and over ad nauseum.

Imagine how I felt this morning when I opened to the assigned passage from 1 Corinthians and saw it start with:

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons-- not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world..."--1Corinthians 5:9-10

Oh, great! It's the warm up for that passage with the "blah blah blah who won't inherit the kingdom of God". Anyway, Paul goes on:

"But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? God will judge those outside. 'Drive out the wicked person from among you.'"--1Corinthians 5:11-13

These are the statements that make my heart race, my blood boil, and my teeth clench. Because this is the justification given by so many for tossing gays under the bus. And, as noted, it's also a favorite for poster boards at rallies against gay people. Certainly, I have had the companion passage, 1Cor. 6:9-10, repeated in my face in the past. "Sexually immoral" seems to refer to fornicators, sodomites, male prostitutes, and adulterers. But the group that feels this slap is the gay community. Furthermore, in this passage, Paul is suggesting that "outsiders"... which are the non-Christians will get dealt with by God; but "insiders", aka Christians, have a job to drive out any of these "impure" people from their midst.

OK, so why do I like Paul again?!?!?!

Ratchet down the heart racing, and let's give this a little thought. First off, when they translated the Greek into English, the Greek terms for "sodomite" and "male prostitute" are not exactly precise terms, and certainly do not take into account the experience of people living in the 21st century. This is the First Century we're talking about for Paul. And the struggle of the day is this new emerging religion, once believed to be only for Jews, now in the hands of Gentiles. This letter, and this moment in the letter, appear to be a "pastoral counseling" moment with the assembled Gentile church in Corinth. Good enough.

As I mentioned, I have read numerous commentaries that seem to suggest that the term for "sodomite", arsenokoitai, means "bed males" or male on male sex acts. Even though in some translations used by some churches with a certain political outlook this Greek word is translated as "homosexual", the scholarship by people such as Dale Martin (referenced in this article) indicates that this word likely applied to males raping other males; not consensual sex between adults. The word applied to the "male prostitutes", malakoi, has a meaning of "soft" or "effeminate". This could be seen as the passive sex partner in a gay male relationship, but more likely had to do with Greek boys of Corinth who were undisciplined. It was a cosmopolitan port city, and if you think about it, opportunities to become self-absorbed and self-indulgent probably abounded. This, too, would be "malakoi".

OK... that's all the academic talk. What do I really think?

I think language is tricky, and translating from one language to another is very tricky. I also think we can't possibly have a clear understanding about the life and times of Corinth in 54CE, and it's absurd to think that the modern day gay male relationship was even imagined by Paul. And if he didn't have a word to describe a gay male relationship, lesbianism probably didn't even penetrate his cranium. And, as with all things, I think it's important to pay attention to what's being said and where and by whom and to whom when you read the Bible. Context is EVERYTHING in getting a fuller picture of what's on the printed page!

The Bible has been used to say that slavery is OK; it has been used a lot against Jews... even though the first half of the book is entirely THEIR story! It's misuse against LGBT people is, to my mind, criminal. How dare anyone place a stumbling block before a person who is returning to God! What was that about millstones around necks??

Thoughts of Gratitude

On this morning, I am grateful for the calling of my mentor, Mtr. Lee Shafer, to the be the rector at Grace Church in Anniston, Alabama. The people of Grace are lucky to have found a priest who readily accepts that she is human, encourages others to seek after God amidst all the abundance life provides, and celebrates the Eucharist as a good, and right, and joyful thing. As she is wont to say, "This is GOOD news!"

And I was pleased to read on Facebook that Anita, the brilliance behind the blog Sisterfriends-Together, made it through her surgery, and now will begin the convalescence phase. I'm honored that she is directing her readership to stop in here and see what wild and crazy ideas bounce around in my brain on any given day. Sometimes the thoughts are calm and serene like clouds drifting across a blue sky. Sometimes they feel like a child that's discovered that neato trampoline!! Peruse the entries, leave a comment. I usually answer back. And Godspeed to Anita as she recovers. Her voice in the blogosphere is a warm and humorous welcome to anyone who has been damaged by the liars and thieves who say, "God doesn't love you!" Don't believe 'em, folks! Not only does God love you; God's left the light on for you waiting for you to come home!!
More to come. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Matthew

Saint Matthew and The Angel, Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1655
"As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, 'Follow me!'. And he got up and followed him."--Matthew 9:9
Just like that! No questions. No looking for the hidden clauses and exceptions. No, "OK, but let me just finish this one ledger entry." Matthew, the tax collector, heard the call and went along. Yesterday, I was talking about how children were among the easily ignored and powerless. Not true of the tax collectors. They weren't ignored; they were just widely despised... same as today. Matthew and his professional associates were agents of the emperor, a major thorn in the side to the Jewish inhabitants who were constantly faced with seeing Roman soldiers and forced to use currency with Caesar's face. And Matthew, being Jewish himself, was likely seen as the biggest jerk among jerks because he was imposing the taxes on his own people.
And along comes Jesus who is gathering up the people he needs to carry on his work, and he picks the tax collector?! Da nerve!!
That's what the Pharisees thought to. The Pharisees get a rough treatment in the gospels even though further scholarship shows them to have not been the most rigid of the Jewish groups of the First Century. They are a bit like today's Reformed Jews as opposed to the Orthodox Jews who keep strictly kosher and such. Nonetheless, Matthew's gospel goes on:
"And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with him and the disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' But when he heard this, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners."--Matthew 9:10-13
In fact, Jesus collected all kinds of people on the fringes. Just as I believe God is calling out today and still tapping those marginal people to taste and see how good it is to return to God. If you think about it, the people who are already the "in" crowd are already at the party, so inviting them in is reduntant. It's those who are still standing on the outside that God is seeking. And what better way to bring the outsider in than to show them, in flesh and blood, that, "Yes, even you, O despised and hated one, are a guest welcome in my Father's house!"
To me, the presence of a St. Matthew amongst the apostles is another in the countless, hundreds of examples of why having women, LGBT people, and all minorities in the priesthood is a fulfillment of God's will. Nothing says, "Welcome" to a person in the minority more than to see one of their own standing at the front of the congregation as a leader. Certainly, I've heard it from people at my own church, both gay and straight, how pleased they are that I serve as a Eucharistic Minister. For gay people, especially in a region of the country where the church has been a leading voice for homophobia, seeing another gay person as part of the altar party says, "OK, this is a safe place!" At the same time, straight people, who have become disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the message, "Jesus loves me, but he can't stand you!" that has been out there for so many years, also see the minority minister (ordained and otherwise) as a symbol of a healthier, more inclusive, and more "present" church. Churches that celebrate the inclusion of all members in all of our "otherness", I think, probably look a whole lot more like the rag tag bunch that Jesus enticed to "follow me!" than those that would shut the door in the face of a gay person.
Just as at the time of the calling of St. Matthew, I believe that God's will is being done on earth as it is heaven. The outcast will no longer be a stranger. The broken-hearted will be comforted. And the Church will be made better because of it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend of Worship

What a weekend! Let's see, there was the two-and-a-half hours of Rosh Hashana on Saturday, plus the hour and ten minutes today at St. John's, and then this evening, I participated in a "cyber communion" via the blog SisterFriends-Together for about a half-hour. It was both an intimate and connected experience, proving once again that our minds and bodies have limits, but not God's. And I bet God *loves* the internet for the way some of us in the blogosophere are utilizing it to celebrate and break down the various boundaries between us! :)

So much time spent in worship from Hebrew to Home Office should have worn me out, right? No. That's not how this brain in my head works. Instead, I am thinking on the passages that were read today during our services. And how those words from Scripture from so long ago feel so immediately relevant to my life on September 20, 2009.

Our readings began with the Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1; 12-22. The tone is one where the "ungodly" get to do all the talking, and specifically, all the talking against those who profess belief in God. Among the points the "ungodly" make, they say of our present existence:
"Short and sorrowful is our life."
This sounds a lot like what I and my friends in high school used to say: "Life's a bitch. Then you die."
But the passage goes on. The "ungodly", so angered and irritated by the 'righteous', devise to plot against such a person.

"He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God's child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, hew will be protected."--Wisdom of Solomon 2:15-20

Apparently, according to my Harper-Collins Study Bible, this passage was seen by some in the early days of Christianity as "proof" or foreshadowing of what would happen with Jesus Christ. That's one interpretation. I'm sure that many today who hear these words also hear "Jesus" in the description. But I'm queer. So what I hear is the plotting that some make in attacking, even with physical violence, a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person. That phrase, "manner of life" appears in writings of bishops and other church officials when coming up for the appropriate euphemism for "You uppity queers". In this passage, I hear the voices of those with wicked intentions, people of prejudice egged on by recording artists like Buju Banton who sing songs about killing gay men. I hear the blessing of the Church in Nigeria to attack LGBT Anglicans encouraged by misogyny and homophobia of the leaders.

This would be "my" modern day hearing of this passage.

What is the answer then? Fight back? Well, yes... but not with a baseball bat. But with delving deeper, getting quieter in our hearts and minds, trusting even more in the ultimate power that has promised again and again never to leave us. In the Letter of James, which was our second reading this morning... we get "schooled" on the need to resist the devil (or taking a bat across the head of our enemy) and draw nearer to God:

"Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind."--James 3:13-16.

Finally, we get a very clear directive in Mark's gospel that should make any gay person realize that we are very much included in God's kingdom. The disciples (who Mark treats as the biggest bunch of idiots on the planet) have engaged in an argument about "I'm the greatest!" "Nuh-uh, I am!". So, Jesus lays it out for them:

"'Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.' Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in the arms, he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'"--Mark 9:35b-37

Important to note is that in the world of Jesus and the New Testament, children were among the weakest, the very bottom of the hierarchy, the powerless. Given where our LGBT community stands in this country in the struggle to gain the right to get married, to be left alone and not bothered by more constitutional amendments to curb our rights... I'd say we aren't sitting pretty. We may not be totally powerless, but we sure don't get no respect from most of our elected leaders! And so I look here to Mark, and I see self-righteous, self-important disciples trying to assert who is "the best". It certainly has to be one of these guys. Jesus "chose" them, right? But then Jesus, in a 'teaching moment' with the disciples, lifts up the one that is outside the others experience and says, "Be like one of these. And if you welcome this 'other' you welcome God."

Let that be a reminder to all of us who want to be the judges of who is in and who is out. God is the one who knows who is a goat and a sheep, not any of us. The people who are at the bottom today may very well be the ones who are first in the eyes of God. So, treat everybody... including the one you may not like... with respect and dignity that comes with being a child of God.

Aren't you glad I spent so much time in worship this weekend?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rosh Hashana Reflection

Abraham and Isaac, 17th Century, attributed to Giovanni Lanfranco

The tradition at Rosh Hashana is to hear the story of Abraham's almost-sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac, on the mountain at Moriah. At Temple Israel, they call upon their younger members, teen-agers, to chant this all-important and disturbing Torah portion.

Here's my summary: God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac obediently goes along with his father on this three-day journey, carries the wood, and asks his father, "Um, dad? Where's the ram that we're going to sacrifice?" And Abraham says, "Oh, don't worry. God will provide." He then ties up his son and prepares to sacrifice him to God. That's when the angel comes in and says, "Whoa! Stop!! You made your point! You really do fear God!" And the ram appears in the thicket for the proper sacrifice, all is well, and the two men return from the mountain to go live in Beer-sheba. Isaac would father Jacob (and Esau)... and, from there, the nation of Israel is born.

There are several things that strike me in the story: for one thing, I often have wondered if God really told Abraham to do this, or is this, again, some myth that is used to illustrate a greater truth: that Abraham was so obedient to God that he would even kill his son if asked? I also wonder about "fearing God". I brought this one up to my mentor one time and she explained to not read "fear" in this case as "Oooh, I'm scared!" but rather as awe. As in, "stopped in your tracks and standing slack-jawed" awe.

This story is one of those that is often cited by my friends who want to trash religious belief... especially Christianity (this comes with being the dominant religion in our culture). It goes back to my first question about whether this command had come from God. Assuming it did, then my friends who are atheists, agnostics, or just passionately-opposed to Christians for the years and years of gay-bashing in Christ's name, seize on this moment to say, "See! God asked for a human sacrifice!" This will then spiral into their next favorite, "Gotcha" example: the death of Jesus on the cross. "What kind of God would kill his own Son?!"

It is tough to understand. You would think that this God of love would never do such a thing. That is if all you look at in the cross is the death that occured there. And if you don't stop to consider that the death that occured on the cross was God's sacrifice for the purposes of wiping the slate clean for humanity in another attempt to remain in relationship with us. And if you don't understand that the story of Christ doesn't stop at Good Friday, but culminates in the resurrection on Easter, a statement that eternal life will overcome death every time.

Isaac was lucky enough to have an angel save the day when his father was brandishing a knife over him. The sacrifice wasn't the point; the obedience to God seems to have been the main issue. There was more in store for Isaac... and humanity. More opportunities for God's people to be God's people. Even today.

Friday, September 18, 2009

L'Shanah tovah, y'all! שנה טובה

The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts. You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord's offering by fire.--Leviticus 23:23-25

Today is New Year's Eve, or Erev Rosh Hashanah, for at least half of my household. What does that mean for me? Well, it means that I will be baking hallah this evening. See, she rests.... and I do the work. :)

It was the Erev Rosh Hashanah service in 2003 that started my partner on her new faith path. She wanted to check it out, and I agreed to go along with her to Temple Israel. We found out that we needed "tickets" to be admitted through the front door, and since we had none, we were sent to the back door. I "harumphed" and both of us went around the side of the building. There was a sheriff's deputy standing by and the man at the door wanted to see our driver's licenses or some other photo ID. My partner didn't have hers, and I was reaching to get mine when the man looked at me, eyes widening, smile broadening, and exclaimed:

"I know you! You're Susan Gage! I LOVED your show!!" (a reference to my performance piece "Susan Gage: Term-limited"). My partner, realizing that I had an "in" with the door man immediately exclaimed that she was with me! I talked with the guy a little bit, and learned his background as a state employee who had witnessed the destructive behavior of Governor Jeb! Bush's administration; hence he had not only heard me on the radio, but he also had appreciated the swipes I took at our boorish Governor in my show. And he let us through with no further need to prove we weren't there to cause trouble.

The place was packed! We took seats in the back room that had been opened to expand the sanctuary. My partner reveled in and sobbed through this very, very, verrry long service. I, on the other hand, was confused. The music was nice, but I didn't know what was being said half the time, and what I did understand didn't sound too far off from what I had remembered from my upbringing in the Episcopal Church. Lots of God, lots of praise to God. She was taken. I was still drifting.

Erev Rosh Hashanah was a marker for her faith journey, and a new turn down our road together. I make a point of going to Rosh Hashanah services to hear the blast of the shofar, and the re-telling of the story of Abraham and Isaac... where the only and beloved son is NOT sacrificed... and to hear the music. My partner has joined the choir, literally and figuratively, at the Temple. And I bake the hallah, and dip my apple slices in honey, in sweet remembrance of the first turn toward God for our household.

L'Shana tovah.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hildegard von Bingen

Just as a circle embraces all that is within in it, so does the God-head embrace all. No one has the power to divide this circle, or surpass it, or to limit it. --Hildegard von Bingen, Abbess, Mystic, Poet, Composer (1098-1179)

Often times, when we look at the Church calendar and see the feasts for Saints days, it's often a man. So, I was delighted to see in the Episcopal Church, we honored a woman of depth and determination: Hildegard von Bingen.

She was the youngest of a large family of German nobility. When she was a child, she experienced visions and her parents "tithed" her to a Roman Catholic monastery. Under the tutelage of a visionary named Jutta, Hildegard learned the basics of reading and writing. But Hildegard wrote that Jutta was "unlearned" and thus the student was surpassing the teacher. When Jutta died in 1136, the other nuns chose Hildegard to be their leader. Hildegard wanted an abbey separate from the monastery and asked to move her order to Rupertsberg. The abbot denied the move, and she went over his head to the next in command. She made the move in 1150... and later opened a second convent at Eibingen.

Her visions, which she was reluctant to share except to Jutta and a monk named Volmar, have been attributed to migraines. But her writings, as well as her 70-80 compositions, emerged from the medieval time as truly profound statements of faith. James Kiefer lists this quote:
"Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully ornamented columns with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."
Hildegard was not a feminist in the way we might want her to be. She believed women were the "weaker sex". But she wasn't a shrinking violet and would often take stands for God in opposition to secular and religious leaders. At the end of her life, she defended the decision to bury a man in the convent's graveyard who had been on the outs with the church. Hildegard insisted that the man had repented and returned to God. She eventually won this battle, but not before the church authorities had threatened to exhume all the bodies buried there.
Besides her poetry and visions, she composed liturgical music which is available today on compact discs. She also was passionate about science, and did not see it as separate from God but part of the larger picture of God. She used her voice in song, and writing, to defend the importance of environmental stewardship and the need for humanity to care for the earth as part of God's creation.
While the Episcopal Church, and churches in Germany, mark this as her "Saint" day, the Roman Catholic Church has never canonized her.

Bishop of Southeast FL Steps Up for Equality

The Bishop of Southeast Florida, Leo Frade, has been a true friend to the LGBT faithful in the Episcopal Church. He was the only bishop in the state to take a stand against the hateful Amendment Two during the 2008 election. And now, he's really stepped it up by posting on his blog that he will allow clergy in his diocese to bless same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. Florida not only does not allow LGBT people to marry their same-gender partners; they've made it unconstitutional in 2008, and will not recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Florida is just so friendly that way!

Still, the handwriting is on the wall. And at least this one bishop is not blind to the message.

+Frade's decision is based on the passage of C056 at the General Convention in Anaheim this year. He is clear to say he is NOT authorizing priests to marry couples, nor would he ask a priest to bless a same-sex couple if the priest finds this truly too personally difficult to do. Still, +Frade is the ONLY Episcopal bishop that I am aware of in the Sunshine State who is trying to really fulfill the spirit of C056 and administer pastoral care to same-sex couples.

Thank you, +Frade. May your actions inspire others to be as generous toward the LGBT faithful of the Episcopal Church.

Hmmm... how's the real estate market in southeast Florida.....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Secret of Dan Brown

There's been much buzz on the internet and in magazine's about author Dan Brown's newest novel, "The Lost Symbol". More intrigue, more secret societies, more codes, more Masons, more Knights Templar, more albino monks. I will admit that I have never bought nor read any of his books. I'm not much of a fiction reader. I did see the movie of "The DaVinci Code", and was underwhelmed.
But the real reason I have difficulty bringing myself to read a Dan Brown book is because I know the roots of his theology. I have personal knowledge of the influence that helped shaped young Danny Brown's mind in his youthful days at Christ Church in Exeter, NH. I am far too familiar with the stories he was told in his Sunday School class.

Because, you see: Young Danny learned about the divine mysteries from my mother!

Yes, if you want to know how Dan Brown might have come to believe that Jesus and Mary Magdelene had a fling... and a child... it was probably the logical conclusion young Danny reached when he heard his Sunday School teacher proclaim that, "Jesus was the first politician!" I mean, it certainly would be in keeping with politicians of the modern era... not to mention his own time... if Jesus were to father a child outside of marriage!

It's too weird, this six-degrees of separation which is really more like a degree-and-a-half that I have with Dan Brown. The man who has made millions writing books about Opus Dei and causing the Roman Catholic Church to aid in his publicity by putting his efforts on the "Do Not Read EVER" list... is the blonde-haired boy who sang the role of Amahl in Amahl and the Night Visitors. (I was one of the peasant extras in our church's production.) His parents and sister were also active in the church, so I know the family fairly well.
Which made it all the more surreal when I kept having friends tell me, "Oh, My God! You have to read The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown! It is soooo good!" It should be noted that most of the friends who have really loved his novel are ex-Roman Catholics. When I finally realized, looking at the book one day in Borders, that Dan Brown was Danny, I laughed out loud at the recognition. It's actually kind of fun knowing that I knew the celebrity before he was famous.

Better yet: I know his Sunday School teacher!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Questioning and Questing

So, the other day I revealed a truth about my third-grade self: I ended my Sunday School career by drawing a picture of a black Labrador and saying, "Dog spelled backwards is God!" That's why I found it a bit funny, and very spooky and daunting, that I had been approached by my current parish to be a Sunday School teacher.

I declined, politely. I think I could do it. Trouble is, I have so many other commitments (church and otherwise) that to take on dealing with kids I just thought, "No, this would be one thing too many right now."

I've been told by others that the very fact that I was a child full of questions ("Why can't I be a shepherd instead of an angel?" "Why must I be confirmed before being an acolyte?"), makes me a great adult to work with kids. The fact that I was never satisfied with "because I said so"-type answers may qualify me to work with teen-agers. That I endured some tremendous personal pain and suffering, bouts of serious depression, and struggles with my sexuality while attending a New England prep school, and lived to remember and tell the tale... also apparently is a plus for having the ability to work well with teens.

But if I ever do take on a ministry such as Sunday School, I would hope that the lesson I learned in confirmation class would inform how I work with kids.

In the early 1980s, the confirmation classes from Christ Church had to go on a weekend trip to Sign of the Dove Retreat Center in Temple, New Hampshire. I really, really, really didn't want to do this. I am an introvert, and I never felt "at home" with my peers. So, I was not looking forward to this event. The priest at the center was engaging and friendly. And he was not about to let me slip off into a corner and hide. At this time in my faith journey, I was what I would call a "punk". We had looked at the Nicene Creed in class, and I had found the phrase to use to play, "Stump the priest". And since this center director was new to me and wanted to engage me, this punk was ready to play the game. And so I asked the question:

"In the Nicene Creed, we say "Begotten, not made." So, I want to know... where'd God come from?"

I'd posed this question to my rector who had brushed it off as "not the right question". I had posed it to our curate, who tried mightily to concoct an answer and finally gave up and asked me why I asked impossible questions. Now, I awaited this man's answer. And I was totally surprised. First, he looked me in the eyes. And as he smiled, his eyes seemed to almost dance at the delight that I had asked for this explanation.

"That's a great question!" he exclaimed. "I don't know!"

What? Priests were supposed to know everything. Priests had the handy-dandy answers at their fingertips, or at the very least, the ability to always say, "Because I said so." But this guy, the one with the seminary training and the black shirt and white, round collar, was saying he didn't know?! He went on.

"I don't know. But I have faith that God does exist, even if I don't know where God came from." He went on to talk more about faith, and the meaning of having faith in something that can't be readily seen, scientifically-tested, and proven on paper. Better yet, he kept looking at me, and talking to me as if I had just posed the most important question of the day. And then he turned the question back on me:

"How about your faith? Do you have faith in God?"

A dialogue! He actually wanted to dialogue with me? And he was asking me what felt like a critical piece to this whole confirmation process.

"Um, yeah."

"Great!" And he encouraged me to keep thinking, and to keep asking the questions I was asking.

In one 15-minute conversation, this priest had turned this punk on my head, and gave me a rare moment of actually being met in a theological discussion where I was not only taken seriously, but I was seen as having asked a question worthy of a real talk. So profound was this experience that I remember it, almost thirty years later, as one of the markers in my faith journey.

And it has given me a model for how I think all adults should deal with children, especially teen-agers. No matter how flippant the question may be posed... it is still a question. If you meet the question with thoughtfulness and seriousness... and a smile... you could make some serious inroads into a teen's understanding of their faith.

Oh, yes, the priest at the retreat center was the Reverend Gene Robinson, the current bishop of New Hampshire.

'Nuff said.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Holy Cross Day

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself; Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Collect for Holy Cross Day (Contemporary), BCP, pg.244
It's interesting to me that Holy Cross Day comes the day after we have a gospel reading from Mark where the disciples are quizzed by Jesus on "Who do people say that I am?" This leads up to that moment when Peter... who had earlier received a gold star for saying, "You're the Messiah" then does his Peter-thing of no longer seeing Jesus, God incarnate, but Jesus, that awesome guy who's going to make things better for us Jews in this Roman Empire. The news that Jesus will have to die is "not acceptable" to Peter, and he rebukes Jesus... bringing us to the famous words, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Satan, in my understanding, is "tempter"... not "horned red demon") Jesus then goes on to say,
"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." --Mark 8:34-35
This is hefty stuff. Think about what that means? Again, one could see it as a literal "dying" for the sake of the gospel, the sake of Christ (and the disciples will eventually get this). But, I think for us today especially in places where Christianity is practiced freely, this is a call to give up our own self-interests that keep us separate from God. As we say in the General Thanksgiving:
...give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days.
I am left pondering, "What does it take for me to take up my cross and follow God?"
This is what I'm reflecting on for this Holy Cross Day. I'll be bringing this same kind of reflection to my EfM class this evening.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

God and Dog

I got this video by email recently, and thought I'd share it with all my fellow animal lovers. I chuckled at the title since my career in Sunday School ended with the day that I was asked, yet again, to draw a picture of what I thought God looked like... and I drew a dog. A Black Labrador to be precise.
"Now, Susie, you don't think this is what God looks like?" the teacher asked.
"Yes, I do. Dog spelled backwards is God."
For this smart-ass response, I was asked to leave the class. I suppose it was a sign of devil worship that I, a third grader, had figured out the reverse spelling of "God"! So Ms. Francisco's song is a sweet, simple affirmation that I must have been on to something much deeper!
Naaahhh.... I just was fed up with Sunday School.
Enjoy this video. I'm off to do my EfM homework.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Memorium: September 11th

I was still a public radio journalist the morning of September 11, 2001. I had a doctor's appointment that morning, and so was going to be late coming into work. But while sitting in the office, and listening to the nurses huddled around a television, I heard one of them say, "The towers are collapsing!" And that's when I went to the desk, canceled my appointment, and called my supervisor to find out where I should go. Instructions: head to the state's Emergency Management Office.
There, me and all the media corps based in Florida's capital city watched over and over and over the images of planes flying into the WTC, fires, ashes, panic, grief. And we were all still. We did our jobs of finding out if there was any threat to our state and its many landmarks; to our Governor, brother of the then-President; to our then-President who had been in our state that day. But mostly, we all felt the connection to our people, our families, our friends... and to all those who were killed in an act of aggression. For a day, the members of the media were not simply observers. We all felt this attack deeply.
Each of us has responded in our own way to what happened that day. In the days and weeks afterward, there were forums in cities including Tallahassee, organized by religious leaders to bring about dialogue amongst the Abrahamic faith traditions. This was an opportunity for those who knew next to nothing about Islam to hear from those who do NOT advocate for killing all Americans. But against this backdrop of discussion, there was the rising tide of unbridled nationalism and patriotism and accusations that if you did not support going to war against Iraq, you were a soft-bellied anti-American. Our media, as I said, had also felt this attack, and voices of dissent were not allowed the same amount of face-time, air-time, print-time as those who were beating the drum of war. Yes, even on National Public Radio, the supposedly left-leaning network on the "left" end of the dial... seemed to want to "over-correct" for any perceived bias.
On this day, I remember the moment where everything seemed to come to a halt. And I ask God to remember us.
Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad;
let those who love your salvation continually say,
"Great is the Lord!"
Though I am poor and afflicted,
the Lord will have regard for me.
You are my helper and my deliverer;
do not tarry, O my God.
Ps. 40: 17-19

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"You lie"

In all likelihood, you have seen or heard about the outburst from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, during President Obama's speech on Healthcare Reform last night. For readers outside the United States, know that our joint sessions of Congress with a Presidential address usually feature enthusiastic, or tepid, applause, occasional laughter, and overall, civil behavior.

Rep. Wilson's shout of "You lie!" from the chamber, therefore, was shocking. Had this been a session of the House of Representatives, and a constituent from the gallery shouted something at lawmakers on the floor, that person would have been hustled out of the room pronto... and fined for the disruption.
The President's speech laid out his plan for reform, a plan that aims to get a handle on the rising costs of health care in this country and give some means for people like myself to finally be able to afford insurance again. The President is not advocating for the demise of private insurance companies. I'm sorry to hear that because I would like to see the CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida out of his job and facing the peril of how to pay basic living expenses. But that's just me.
The President is proposing to keep some kind of a public option in the reform plan as a means of letting those with the least have some kind of access to the system... if private insurance companies refuse to lower their ridiculously high premiums.
Much of the rest of what he said sounds familiar to those of us who remember the late-Governor Lawton Chiles in Florida, and his desire to see small businesses coming together in "purchasing pools" in what he called Community Health Partnerships (or CHiPAs) to shop for the best, affordable, health insurance. It's a good idea... if we can make it work.
President Obama quoted from a letter written by the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in which the Senator talked about the character of our country. I would like to believe that the character of our country is such that we would strive to make health care something ALL of us can afford to have.
But then, there is Rep. Joe Wilson. And there are those folks in Wakulla County, FL. And there are the "tea parties".
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

Being Comfortable in One's Skin

I do love and admire my cat.

Mostly, I think I love and admire how at ease she is with who she is in the world. And if you have a problem with that, well... that really is YOUR problem, isn't it?

Cats, dogs, just about any animal, when loved and cared for can show us a very basic way of being in the world: simple, and comfortable in being just as they are.

I find that's one of the stumbling blocks for us humans. We just can't seem to get comfortable in our skin. We think of ourselves as too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too young, too old, too stiff.

What brings all this to mind is a recent training on sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. I had to do the "Safeguarding God's People" course as part of being a Eucharistic Minister in the diocese. Coming from a profession where my job is to touch people who are lying nude or semi-nude under a sheet in a massage office, I have been trained pretty thoroughly in what is appropriate touch and talk with my clients, so there wasn't a whole lot of new information for me. Surprisingly, though, this seems to be "new" for lots of other people. And I could not help but wonder why.

As I thought about it, I considered what it is about humans that when we get to something that is "a matter of the flesh" we get all weird about it. The flesh we wear is God-given, right? The body our soul animates reflects the emotions and habits of our souls and thus becomes infused with our outward and visible being, right? And God, in an act of amazing grace and mercy, actually took on a body like ours in yet another try at being in relationship with his final work of creation, yes?

All of this tells me that the body is NOT bad, and the flesh is not bad. Sex is not bad, either. Well, usually.

Where the "bad" comes in, I think, is when our actions with our bodies become motivated for our own gratification at the expense of another one made in God's image. It goes back to the very early lesson, "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself" aka "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". For most adults, this should provide the appropriate guidance.

Still, there seems to be a dis-ease when it comes to the body. In the church, I think words from St. Paul, particularly in Romans, have been used to "beat down" the body. We are told that "sin" is in the flesh and we are to set our "minds" on the spirit. At times, there seems to be this internal battle raging within the apostle Paul about his own body, and trying to rise above this human casing to reach a more Christ-like state. Hence, the teaching becomes body=sin; mind=holy. And this is when we divide body from mind... and... well, I have seen countless examples in my massage practice of what happens when we deny the health and well-being of the body in favor of the mind that we think is a separate entity!

As artful in language as I think Paul can be, I have to wonder if there isn't something that got lost in our 21st century interpretation of what this man from the First Century was saying. The way I read it, it's not that having a body, and appreciating the body is a "sin". But if your mind, your soul, sets its sights on God... and not on money, power, pride, etc.... you will be putting on the "armor of light" that Paul talks about.

Just my theology as of September 10, 2009.

Here's hoping that you can feel comfortable enough in your own body that you can more easily see all that God has created... including other people... just as they are.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Staking Your Place

The Syrophoencian Woman from the website

The gospel reading on Sunday, Mark's story of the Syrophoencian Woman, is one that I have blogged about before. But it is a story I love to think about, write about, and talk about because it is one of those rare moments in the Bible where the average person suddenly sees Jesus as the "not-so-nice" guy. There is no way around this. No way to pretty up this story. A woman, a Gentile (read "Icky" in the parlance of the First Century) takes a chance and asks Jesus, the Son of David (read Jewish man of "the right stuff") to heal her sick daughter. She's heard about this Jesus because no matter how many times he tells people not to talk about what he's done... that's the first thing they run-off and do.

Take a good look at this picture above because this depiction of the scene is an accurate portrayal of the situation. She's down on her knees, and Jesus is hovering above her, his shoulder turned to block his heart from her. The posture is not welcoming, not friendly, and neither are his words:

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." (Mark 7: 27)

Ouch!! Not fair? Dogs? At the service I attended this past Sunday in Austin, the priest admitted that this is not the Jesus that he likes to acknowledge is in the Bible. He doesn't want to admit that what the Messiah has just said to this woman is extremely insulting and dismissive and, well, thoughtless and mean. That Jesus, of all characters in the Scriptures, has now drawn a line of there are MY people... and YOU people.

Tough as it is, though, as I talked about this story in my Education for Ministry class last week... I think this is a good story for all of us to hear. How many times have we said something thoughtless, something cutting, something dismissive to another person? This gets back to last week with James' letter and the "unbridled tongue" that will curse and bless out of the same mouth. Jesus himself had just finished an eloquent argument about the ritual cleansing laws and how it's not what goes in that defiles, but what comes back out. And then, here he is, in a land of the Gentiles being... well... a jerk with curses coming off his tongue.

And I say, "Good!" Not "good" that he was a jerk. But good that Mark (and Matthew, too) gave us this example of Jesus, so that we see that he really was "just like us" as a human. Even with his divine DNA, he is not without the ability to stub his toe on prejudice during a moment when approached by yet-another person wanting to experience the wonders he was bringing to the world.

And then there is the woman. While in the portrait above, she is shown in her moment of pleading in desperation and love of a daughter possessed by a demon, I imagine that when he called her a dog... her spine straightened, her chest became full, and her gaze became more focused and intense:

But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

Take that, Jesus! You can call her a dog, but this dog will not cower and whimper and hide, but instead stands her ground in the face of one with incredible authority and power greater than even she was really aware. We don't know from Mark if Jesus felt the slap across his cheek that this woman just delivered to him. But you get the sense that his decision to tell her, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter" may indicate that Jesus, realizing that she has just given him pause to consider who is a "dog" in the First Century, maybe got schooled in what his mission really entailed. A lesson that would translate into the events in the book of Acts with apostles learning who's in and who's out... and discovering that many of those who they thought were supposed to be out are very much in.

As a lesbian, I love the Syrophoenician woman for her courage to stand her ground in a society that was very patriarchal. And I love considering the potential that this, another of the nameless many in the Bible stories, was the place where Jesus had an awakening about welcome... and who is part of the Kingdom of God. Not only does it make Jesus seem so incredibly human; in his humanity, you get the idea that even the most stubborn powerful men can soften and do change... and do become broader in their thinking. It leaves me feeling like there is always hope for humanity, even when the current posture is the cold shoulder.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I'm Baaaacckkk

Well, Texas sure was fun! Good food, great company, and a chance to experience a different Episcopal liturgy. How wonderful to be in a downtown city church where they announce that the "Gay, Lesbian and Everyone Else... or GLEE Club... will have a potluck dinner!" St. David's was rather large (three levels, and a parking garage to boot!). And yet the atmosphere wasn't stuffy or unfriendly. Such a nice backdrop to a Sunday with lessons from the Letter of James about how one treats the poor person vs. the one in all the finery... and one of my all-time favs from Mark with the Syrophoenician woman ("'Xcuse me, Messiah boy; who you callin' a dog here?!?!") Such a great set of lessons on a Sunday when I'm the stranger in the crowd. Oddly, the same thing happened last year when I was in Durham, NC, and was present for the service when the reading was the parallel story from Matthew's gospel. I don't plan these things! Really, I don't.

I also took some time to explore favorite haunts in Austin... namely Sweetish Hill Bakery, BookPeople, and Anderson's Coffee. And we had a wonderful time celebrating my friend Terry's mother's 85th birthday. The family rented out a room at a Middle Eastern restaurant called Phara's, and we were spellbound by the belly dancer who balanced a sword on her head... her hips... and her chest. It was fantastic!

I also took a walk around the campus of the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. It wasn't open due to the holiday weekend, which was too bad. But it was small, and the neighborhood seemed fairly quiet. I was really sorry not to have had a chance to go in and look at the Episcopal Church Archives. Perhaps another time.

Overall, it was an active and fun 48-hours in Texas. And a really nice and badly needed get-away.

More theological thinking to come: stay tuned!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You

Well, they'll be upon me very soon. I'll be out of here for a few days. Everyone...keep reading, praying, hoping, loving and learning! I'll be back to check on you Monday!!

Too Funny for the Tea Party

For reasons unknown to me, I have wound up on a mailing list for the people who think of themselves as modern-day New England revolutionaries.

I am, of course, referring to those who have been throwing "Tea Parties" to denounce anything and everything President Barack Obama is trying to do as "taxation without representation". Now, I am a native of New Hampshire. We are notoriously anti-monarchy... Live Free or Die... folks. So, when I hear people saying they are throwing "tea parties" against our current government, I laugh, and think, "Oh, yeah. Isn't it awful! They are trying to find a way to provide people health care, and they aren't going to let your elected Congress people debate and discuss this bill at all!" Sheesh!!

Still, the funniest part of this for me as a lesbian, is to watch these folks with their tea bags talking about "teabagging". "Teabagging", when said to a person of the queer persuasion, recalls images best left to a John Waters movie. Because of this, gay people across the country have been chuckling shamelessly as arch conservatives talk about being "teabaggers".

Well, somebody finally let the tea out of the bag in southern Ohio. According to a "news" release I received via email, a Congressman who is being harassed by the football coach from a Christian private school used the term in reference to this crowd of right-wingers... and somebody didn't appreciate it:

On Wednesday, Thornville resident David Daubenmire was on Fox News channel's "America's Newsroom" with Megyn Kelly. Daubenmire is a local football coach at Fairfield Christian Academy. He has been sleeping on the sidewalk outside Democrat Representative Zack Space's office in protest of the Congressman's refusal to hold a town hall meeting for his constituents in southeast Ohio.

In the interview with Daubenmire, Fox News' Megyn Kelly read the following statement which came from Rep. Zack Space's office:

"Coach doesn't comprehend reality. The rain or fatigue must be getting to Mr. Daubenmire. There was a town hall meeting yesterday five blocks from where he is setting up camp featuring Secretary of Energy Tom Vilsack, Senator Brown and Congressman Space. It had been publicized for days by all offices. If it was "secretive," then more than 300 people found out the secret, including a number of Mr. Daubenmire's teabagger colleagues who were there and talked to the Congressman."

Local small business owner Darin Hill took offense to Space's remarks.

"The unmitigated gall of Mr. Space's comments is shameful," says Darin Hill, owner of Hillsway Ag and Turf in Gratiot, Ohio. "Those words are disrespectful, condescending, and more than that, they're dishonest."
"I don't feel comfortable with my Congressman using sexually perverse terms like teabagging. He shouldn't be talking that way to constituents," continues Hill. "If Zack Space needs a history lesson on taxation without representation and the Boston Tea Party, I'd be happy to enlighten him. There's nothing perverse about an American citizen questioning his government

True, there is nothing perverse about questioning government. But I guess "teabagging" coming out of the mouth of a Republican is different than when it comes out of the mouth of a Democrat?? Suddenly, the term the Republicans have become so fond of is about oral s-s-s-s-s- bwahahahahaha!!! Come on!

Welcome to the secret chuckling behind your backs, southern Ohio!! Chris Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly... all into "teabagging"! That's a hoot!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bridled Tongues

"For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue--a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not be so."--James 3:7-10

It ought not to be so, but how often do we do it? I'll answer for me: lots. Tons. Just mention the Bush family, wind me up, and watch me go. And it doesn't even have to be that removed from my immediate experience (although as a public radio reporter I had my fair share of face time with Governor Baby Brother Bush). The other night, I was in a foul mood showing up for our Faust cabaret auditions and I took it out on one of the writers, unnecessarily so. I later apologized for my bitchiness and all was well.

Words are extremely powerful. We can use them to inform, to entertain, to share, to build up, or to tear down. As a journalist, I know how charged and diffused some words are. Certainly, there were many times where what I said was being analyzed from those on the right and the left of the political spectrum to "figure out" what I was really saying. Where was my bias? Often times, they were sadly disappointed to come away not being able to claim (a charged word!) that I was either "fer 'em or agin 'em". Still, I was in public radio; hence I HAD to have a liberal bias. Whatever.

When I think of the words spoken by people in places of power and authority, I am always struck when they utter things that are best described as curses. Calling other nations, "evil", or those within a Church saying that those with whom they disagree are "unorthodox" are words that breed contempt for the "other". In the political setting, labeling a country or a people 'evil' can justify going to war. Within the Church, claiming that those who don't think like you do are "unorthodox" leads to splits and schism. Or war.

I find it interesting that we are reading these words of James during the week in which we started on Sunday with the story out of Mark in which the Pharisees and the scribes are up in arms because the disciples are eating without doing the ritual purification first. This leads Jesus to the teaching: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. If we constantly snipe at each other, what is that saying about what is inside of us? It's not what we have put in, but what has come back out. If what we have inside is anger, pride, prejudice, etc. than this is what will come out of our mouths. And our curses will, in all likelihood, come back to settle on us.

I'm far, far away from being able to say that I don't speak "curses". I wish I were more apt to utter blessings on people all the time. Maybe it will take a talking mule to knock that kind of sense into me! :) For now, I reflect on the wisdom of waiting to say something, and learn a better way of communicating that doesn't tear a person down, but rather builds them up.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Irish Get It Right

Watch this video from the marriage equality campaign in Ireland. It nails the absurdity of the marriage debate!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Awww...That's Sweet!

The state of Vermont has started marrying lesbian and gay couples today, and native son ice cream makers Ben and Jerry have re-dubbed their "Chubby Hubby" flavor to "Hubby Hubby" to celebrate marriage equality. They'll be serving the flavor in Vermont Scoop Shops for the month of September as a way to support Freedom to Marry.
The company has had a long-standing commitment to social justice action, and so this is one more serving of standing up for the right thing!
They are encouraging everyone to not only buy their product, but also to sign up to support the cause at the website:
Go to the website. Sign the petition. Buy more Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Yum!! Marriage Equality tastes so good!