Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thinking Ubuntu

My mentor posted something on Facebook about how she was thinking about Ubuntu, the theme that was the focal point of this summer's General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says this African philosophy gets stated simply as:

"A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has proper self-assurance that comes from knowing he or she belongs to a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated and diminished, when others are tortured and oppressed"

This idea is remarkably familiar to me. The idea of being "open and available" and "affirming and not threatened" was the philosophy and the ethic taught at Florida School of Massage. It affirms, and confirms, our relationships as people on this planet together. And, for the Church, it is the beginning of seeing Christ in the other, and the "building up" of the body of Christ... as opposed to what has occurred with the repeated attempts to surgically-remove those who we think are the tonsils or appendix.

The more I thought about this, the more I thought, "How different the world would be if we really did put this into practice." If this really were the ethic by which we live and move and have our being then there would be no reason for voters in Maine to go to the polls next Tuesday to decide if gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry. Florida children pent up in the foster care system would be able to be placed in loving homes with gay and lesbian couples, so these kids could stand a chance at having a stable family. Our military would retain some of its brightest intelligence corps if we could see each other as a continuum of humanity where the "asking and telling" of one's sexual orientation is of no consequence.

We are a long way from being in this Ubuntu place.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When the Stars Align

Amazing things happen when I'm at work!

As famed British actor Sir Ian McKellan held an audience spellbound at Florida State University's Conradi Theater, our city commission was unanimously adopting a policy to extend its benefits package to cover domestic partners in straight and gay relationships. And as they were doing that, the President of the United States... for the first time EVER... signed a pro-LGBT rights bill into law: the Matthew Shepherd/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Matthew Shepherd was the young gay man in Wyoming, brutally beaten and tied to a fence to die in October, 1998. James Byrd, Jr. was an African-American man in Texas killed by three white supremicists who beat him, stripped him of his clothes and dragged him for three miles chained to the back of a pick up truck. That crime occurred in June of 1998.

Of course, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was part of a military war bill... which is a bit odd... however this is legislation that so many groups have been seeking for years, so the signing of the bill, like the domestic partner benefits package in Tallahassee, has been greeted with enthusiasm and praise from the LGBT community.

So while the world seemed in chaos during those months in 1998 when such brutality was all over the news, yesterday was a day when, for once, all the stars seem to be in alignment for those who have been the "left behind" for so long.

Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Take A Moment

I will be with a client, no doubt trying to undo life's abundance as knotted up in her rhomboids and levator scapulae, but I am mindful and taking note that the President is about to do something positive this afternoon for the LGBT community in signing the Matthew Shepherd/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into law.

Sadly, it is the kind of positive move that says, "It's not OK for you to kill or maim me because I'm a lesbian." It never should be OK... and yet such hate-motivated crime does occur in this country.

Integrity USA is calling on Episcopalians and all people of faith to pause at 4:45PM EDT in recognition of this historic event. Our prayers are encouraged to give thanks, remember the victims of such violence, and to pray for our continued progress forward toward a world in which your sexual orientation does not hold you out as separate in God's kingdom on earth. I believe that we are all one in heaven; it's just down here where we're having a little bit of difficulty with that idea.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Ice is Melting in Fort Worth

I have no words, and I'm sitting here choking back tears at the news from the new and improved Diocese of Fort Worth: the diocese will finally have its first woman priest and rector.

Read the good news of the Good News coming to fruition HERE.

The story of Rev. Susan Slaughter's journey and discernment will feel familiar to some of you out there. Welcome the emerging spring in Fort Worth after your 33 year-long winter.

"Death is conquered, we are free;
Christ has won the victory."
--"He Has Risen", Hymn 180, 1982 Hymnal

Maine and Marriage

We are one week away from a pivotal vote.

Not in our nation's capital.

Not in California.

Not even in Florida.

But in Maine.

Maine. One of the rarely talked about states in our country. A state with 3,500 miles of coastline, 17 million acres of forest, and 41.3 people per square mile (by contrast, the US Census Bureau reports that Florida has 296.4 people per square mile). The trees out number the people!

But there's one thing Maine's got that Florida and California and Washington, DC, don't got: marriage equality for straight and gay couples!

By act of the state legislature and encouragement from the Attorney General, the Governor of Maine, John Baldacci, signed into law the right for lesbian and gay couples in the state of Maine to enjoy the privileges of civil marriage. Important to note, as always, we are talking about civil marriage rights... those rights conferred by the state to the happy couple... and not the blessing of a marriage, which is what is the primary function of a religious marital sacrament. But because the church has become the agent of the state in the marriage business in this country, too often these two functions are blurred. It takes a keen person to realize that all the wonderful words and pronouncements that "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder" are words directed to God, and for a congregation of people; the priest and the couple then slink away after the dismissal and sign the state-sanctioned, legal paperwork for the civil authorities. It is these civil authorities who then issue the license that allows couples access to the world of benefits... include pension payments, social security and, if you're lucky, health care.

And in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa... lesbian and gay couples can have a taste of what it's like to have your relationship so validated by the state.

But... some people in Maine are a little cranky about all this. And shortly after the bill became law, they mounted a campaign to have what is called a "People's Veto" of the legislation. And so now voters in Maine will head to the polls to decide the question... listed as Number One on their ballots.

Why, oh, why, must we put these things to a vote? Do we vote on whether senior citizens should get married? Do we vote on whether people with disabilities should get married? Do we vote on whether ANYBODY else gets married?!

The arguments, so very tiresome at this point, always go back to things like, "This will lead to teaching children that homosexuality is OK!" It won't. And even if it did, so what? Another popular one, oft-stated here in Florida last year, was that it would make it illegal for clergy to refuse to marry a same-sex couple. It won't. There is no requirement for clergy to do anything that would offend their religious beliefs, and as I had pointed out here, the real problem is that there are clergy that would LIKE to officiate at weddings and can not. And then there is the really bizarre idea that allowing same-sex marriages somehow cheapens opposite-sex marriage. I'm still wondering how somebody else's relationship status affects another's.......

It's simple people. If you live in Maine, Vote NO on One.

Because NO ONE should tell Mainers to discriminate against their neighbors!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thought for the Evening

Even before I had heard or read any sermons, prayers, collects or sung any hymns, I was hit with what felt like quite the important central message of the week:

We are not the center of even our own personal universes. If we're doing this Christianity correctly, we must recognize that God is at the center, and when we give into this idea as the organizing principle of our lives, there is a radical reordering of what we think is important. And it's never too late to do this.

That may all "sound" easy, but to actually put it into practice takes effort. And perhaps this is why we were warned that this whole "taking up your cross" business is NOT for those unwilling to face difficulty. And the first difficulty is facing our own ego, and taking a good long hard look in the mirror before we start working on everybody and everything else. Anyone who has gone through a personal transformative experience knows what I'm talking about. And if you don't, take it from me: when you begin to remove the mask that you wear for the world and allow your true face to be the one you put forward... you'll know what I'm talking about. It's frightening at first, and then extremely liberating.

And it is the beginning of clearing the space to put God back in the middle.

And now I lay me down to sleep... to pick up with other thoughts tomorrow!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Everybody Loves a FAMU Parade

One of the benefits of living in Tallahassee is that we are home to Florida A and M University and its spectacular band, the Marching 100. The Rattlers band has been invited to President Obama's Inaugural parade and they were the only band from the United States to play in France for the bicentennial in 1989 in Paris. They put on a show of not only music but dance. And the Alumni band, which marched ahead of them, still have what it takes to high-step and blow their horns. I couldn't hang out for the whole parade because I had another meeting this morning, but I didn't want to miss seeing the band... even in their practice suits. They're saving the full uniform for the game this afternoon against Norfolk State. Go Rattlers! Strike! Sssssssssssss.......
(PS: I am hoping that my alma mater does honorably in our Homecoming game today. We scheduled the Texas Longhorns. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Fight Tigers you will always win (ha-ha-ha) )

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hate Crimes Juxtaposition

Finally, after years and years of trying, the Congress has passed the Matthew Shepherd Federal Hate Crimes bill which enhances the penalties on those who would kill me just for being a lesbian. That horribly violent act of tying to a fence and leaving for dead this brutally beaten young Wyoming man occurred when I was still a journalist with public radio, a career I left more than seven years ago. That's too long to have waited for this crumb to fall under the Congressional table! But fallen it has, and for that we can all be thankful. This will enable law enforcement not only to make the arrests; it will mean that we will have the data collected to highlight a very sad reality: LGB and especially T people are disproportionally targeted for violence based solely on their orientation and gender identity.

Some straight people don't get it. Over on Facebook, a lesbian singing the praises of the legislation had supposed "friends" denouncing it as a "Sad day." One of them got into a protracted argument which reached the absurd conclusion that somehow having this federal hate crimes law has made the LGBT community "more equal" than his heterosexual, white, male, conservative-self. Besides the obvious that "more equal" can't exist, there is the annoying idea that once again, straight white guys seem to think that when a minority group gains a level of protection from the brutality of the majority, straight people have lost something. They want to argue that ALL people should be protected from murder, as if that isn't happening right now?! What they don't want to recognize is that we have always set up "special" categories of people who we consider their murders to be heinous: police officers, for example. Quickest way to guarantee that you will get the death penalty in Florida is if you kill a cop. But it has not always been the case that killing a gay person will lead to just punishment. In fact, a number of times, defendants in a murder trial will use the "gay panic" defense, ("Your Honor, I'm not gay and that gay guy was checking me out, so I was gonna rough 'em up and I got a little carried away because he was so scary gay!") This defense actually does work in some places!

I think the interesting juxtaposition of this legislation passing finally is that it has happened during a week in which, in some corners at least, the Internet has been abuzz about the proposed legislation in Uganda allowing anyone caught committing "aggravated homosexuality"... which includes gay sex with the disabled... to be put to death. I can think of some disabled queers who WON'T be going to Uganda any time soon! Religious leaders in that country are backing increasing the penalties for being gay, or being a straight person who supports LGBT rights. Makes one ever-conscience of how lucky we really are in the west. And that our western leaders should NOT remain silent on these matters of human rights around the globe.

And while they are speaking out on human rights, and while we are bowing our heads in thanks to our politicians for finally adopting the hate crimes law, we must not forget that we are still far from being fully equal citizens in the United States. How about now allowing LGBT people to serve their country without having to lie about their sexual orientation? How about allowing me and others to marry our partners? How about making it illegal to say that because I'm a lesbian, I can't be hired in a job? There are still more crumbs that need to fall under the table to make a whole loaf.

Federal hate crimes law? Check! Next......

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Challenge


That's sixteen minutes and forty seconds, not 4:40 PM for those of you who use the 24-hour clock.

That's how long it took me to do the Daily Office this morning. Confession of Sin, Invitatory and Psalter, The Lessons with assigned Canticles, Apostle's Creed, The Prayers, The Collects, The Great Thanksgiving, and The Great Buh-bye (that's not what it's called, but that's what I call it).

Now, this is not an Olympic time trial or anything like that. But I decided to time the speed at which I could do the Office, without rushing, because we (my EfM class) are planning to introduce its usage to our congregation at St. John's as one of the offerings during Lent.

The Rector began to explain the Office to me during a meeting yesterday. Knowing that he doesn't read my blog and is therefore unfamiliar with how many times I've written out my thoughts from the passages assigned to the day, I politely informed him that I do the morning office and it doesn't take me long to do it. Precisely how long? Well, I estimated that I might take 25 minutes if I stop to ponder the readings of the morning. If we're doing the Office, he would like for it not to be longer than 20 minutes, and he suggested maybe we could cut the Apostle's Creed. I told him my 25 includes not only the Apostle's Creed, but that I have a tendency to do all the available collects. We, my EfM mentor and I, pointed out that the liturgy we developed out of the BCP only makes use of one Psalm, two readings, two collects, and the shorter of the two suffrages. In short, we'd see his 20 minutes... and probably be able to come in at or under the time!

We're talking about introducing a spiritual practice that allows people to begin their day centered in prayer... and thinking on God and, one hopes, perhaps creating an opening for God to become the center of our lives as opposed to our desires, our greed, our pride, etc. etc. Our liturgy has spaces for quiet reflection so we can allow the prayers and the Scripture to roll around in our head and our heart and give us something to "chew on" for the day. If that takes 20 minutes or 25 minutes, so be it. We're starting at a time designed to get state workers to their jobs, so this shouldn't be an issue.

And it may only take 16:40.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When in Doubt, Look at the Psalms

I direct your attention to Psalm 146, which begins...

Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.

This is indeed true. And a very important truth that I return to when I contemplate the state of the Church and the world. Besides the Pope's plan to reinvigorate the Borg-like qualities of Rome ("You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!"), there is the additional news out of Uganda about a new "final solution". The government, with backing from religious leaders, is proposing a law to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death.

Yes. Punishable by death.

And, as Elizabeth+ Kaeton on her blog "Telling Secrets" notes... there has been deafening silence from the leadership of the Episcopal Church and most notably the Archbishop of Canterbury, the guy who has been the first to serve up the LGBT faithful in hopes of holding together his crumbling Anglican Communion. This is the same ABC who will put out mealy-mouthed pronouncements that violence against the LGBT faithful is "bad"; HOWEVER they really are an icky bunch of people who are causing an awful lot of heartache, aren't they?

So, while some may be wondering and waiting for the leaders in Anglican world to say something about this troubling development in Uganda... I have long since lost any hope for human leaders to "get it". Even in our own country, in this state of Florida, governmental leaders think nothing of throwing LGBT people under the bus. And the Church stands silent, and this silence reads as tacit approval. At stewardship time, the Church is more than happy to take my "queer" money whether I'm celibate or not. But bless and honor my relationship? Never!

And so, where is there hope? Go back to the rest of Psalm 146:

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
whose hope is in the Lord their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps his promise for ever;

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed
and food to those who hunger.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger;
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.

The Lord shall reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Never mistake the machinations of the men and women who claim to be "authority" with the true authority. Never forget that those who were marked as Christ's own forever with our baptism are bound to him through the Eucharist. This is the free grace of God, who is always looking out for those who are "bowed down"... and "sets the prisoners free." This grace, this love, comes through Jesus Christ who is the author of our salvation, not some purple-shirted God-wanna-be.

Your God, O LGBT community, is the Lord who reigns for ever. Sing Hallelujah! And remember that he will always be with you until the end of the age!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Herr Pope Creates Haven for Homophobes

There is just no way to say this nicely: Pope Benedict XVI is trying to cause a rift between Anglicans and Catholics.

In a story in the New York Times, the Pope is creating a home within the Roman Catholic Church for those Anglicans, and presumably Episcopalians, who just can't take it that women are in the priesthood and are becoming bishops... and those freaky gay people are now being allowed into the black shirt with white collar club as well. Eek!!

Don't worry, the Pope is assuring them, you'll get to keep all those things that make you feel all comfy-cozy like some of your prayers and your hymns. But you won't be forced to take communion from one those people. The Pope also is trying to pass this off as simply an effort to make things coherent and easier for Anglicans wishing to convert to Roman Catholicism. But, given that these "conversions" could be whole parishes or dioceses and not just individuals, sorry Benny: I don't buy it.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the one who seems to want to be the first Pope of England, apparently hadn't learned of the RC's plans until three weeks ago. And while the ABC doesn't seem particularly concerned or worried about the implications of all this, his emissary to the Vatican it seems was caught off-guard by this papal plan.

Decades of work to heal the wounds of history between Anglicans and Roman Catholics all seem to be falling by the wayside. One wonders if, in the Great Beyond, "Bloody"Mary is blowing a raspberry at Elizabeth I?


This video by a priest in Georgia has been making the rounds on the internet and Facebook, and I think it's brilliant!

The Episcopal Church has been engaged in a public relations campaign asking people to videotape, in their own words, "Why am I an Episcopalian?" This video takes the concept a step further by highlighting the quiet contributions many of us are making in an effort to bring some sanity into an otherwise madcap, insane world!

Incidentally, I understand that the priest behind this video, Rev. Frank Logue, was a finalist for Bishop of Georgia. And while he didn't get the job, he is getting the job done using the 'new media' of the internet. Congratulations to him for that!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Adulterous and Sinful Generation

"Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."--Mark 8:38

Something about that phrase, "adulterous and sinful generation" has really captured my attention recently. Could be because we've been steeped in Mark's gospel on Sundays. Could be because the last class I went to on Wednesday night was Fr. Lee Graham's talk about the Gospel of Mark. Could be that we just wrapped up a section-by-section look at Mark in my Education for Ministry class. Whatever the reason, I have had that phrase in my head. And privately, I've been applying it to our world today. When I read about the murder of a MTF transgendered youth, the phrase is there. When I read about pastors in Nigeria convincing parents to kill their children because they suspect the children are 'witches', the phrase is there. When I am in conversation with others about the annoyance that is the Anglican Covenant, the phrase is there.

"Sinful" generation I understand, and have understood, to have the plain meaning of doing acts that are contrary to God, and God's commandments. To put our own will ahead of God's will, which (broadly thinking here) is the fair and just treatment of all that is in creation. But "adulterous" I have wrestled with. Adultery has a specific meaning in our language. And I've been wondering, "Was there rampant cheating going on in coupledom at the time of Jesus?"

And then it hit me this morning: Adulterous, in this case, isn't about our relations with each other; it, too, is about our relationship with God. And when we commit 'adultery' in our relationship with God, it means that we are worshipping and chasing after things that are NOT God. This could mean falling back into a polytheistic belief system. Or more immediately, the affair happens when we put "things" ahead of, and in place of, God; wealth, power, possessions. When climbing the proverbial corporate ladder, acquiring more 'toys', throwing all our energy into making money becomes the center and focus of our life... where is God in that? God becomes the jilted lover, sitting alone at the table waiting for us to come home.

And so, we have the adultery of the generation at Christ's time: a time of simmering resentment of the Jews toward the Romans, Temple authorities who make widows give up their last coins, and do we really need to talk about the Roman authorities like Herod and Pontius Pilate? Yes, it was an adulterous and sinful generation... and Mark's Jesus was just the Doc Marten-wearing upstart to push back and challenge with parables and speeches that were spoken with authority unlike any the assembled multitude had ever heard before.

My lingering questions: is our time really that different from then? How many of us are placing our ego first, and chasing after bright shiny objects in the false hope that a new acquisition will make us happy? To whom are we faithful?

While I'm Thinking....

Thanks Mtr. Phoebe!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

St. Luke

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. --Collect for Saint Luke, BCP pg. 244

St. Luke the Evangelist is the only one of the four who was not a Jew. And so it's interesting that "Dr. Luke" who also chronicles the Acts of the Apostles for us, is the gospel that focuses the most attention on outcasts. It is in Luke that we read the story of the Good Samaritan (the Jews distaste for Samaria dates back to the Old Testament times) and the wonderful tale of the Prodigal Son. In Acts, we see the expansion of the apostles' mission to take the good news to more people considered "other" (Gentiles, eunuchs) and the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. Luke is the evangelist that emphasizes Jesus, man of love, as opposed to my rebel Jesus in Mark's gospel, for example. We see his youthful days in the Temple, and we get a fuller picture of his mother, Mary, the teen-aged girl who responded to an angel's news of her pregnancy with song:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
--The Song of Mary (Magnificat), BCP pg.119

Happy St. Luke Day!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Love and Marriage

Beware: Shameless plug to follow.

This weekend in Washington, DC, "The Weimar House", the mock horror film that I wrote and produced will be showing at the LGBT film festival on Saturday at 3pm. To say that I'm thrilled is a major understatement: I'm ecstatic, and just very sorry that I can't be there. It will also be showing in Pittsburgh, PA in about a week at their film festival. This video short pokes fun at the insanity behind the same-sex marriage debate, particularly the assertion that somehow allowing couples of the same gender to wed will "stain" straight marriages, and somehow disrupt gravity or something. Some audiences have seen the humor behind the commentary; others have not. And that's art for you.

And it leads me to thinking about one of the readings from this week's Daily Office. The very famous passage from 1 Corinthians:

"Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not envious, boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease. As for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put away childish ways. For now, we see through a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part, then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now, faith, hope, love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." --1 Corinthians 13: 4-13.

Anyone who has ever been to a wedding, no doubt, has heard this passage read. And I suppose the purpose is to sing the praises of love and the adult act of getting married and isn't love a many splendored thing. It is. And so is God.

See, when I read this passage from Paul, I began to substitute "God" wherever it says "Love". Try it out: "God" is patient, "God" is kind. "God" is not envious, boastful or arrogant or rude. These, in my experience, all seem true. And so I think that's what is at play here. I don't think this is about the butterflies in the stomach, the sweaty palms, the tingly all over sensation of being romantically all googly-eyed in love with your beloved. It's about recognizing there is love, and this love is so deep, so vast, so wide that it is available to one and all... whether you have a partner or not! No fancy white gowns and snazzy tuxes necessary. This love sweeps the one who is the most lonely off their feet in a tender embrace of "You matter to me!"

And that is extended to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. We are part of that embrace. We are included in that group that currently only sees in part, but will know this love fully, even as it has fully known us. I can only imagine how it would be to attend an LGBT wedding with this reading!

The wedding in The Weimar House is fictional. The women playing the lesbian couple were actresses. But the basic premise of the storyline is true to life. It is one where love conquers hate. And where there is love, faith and hope also abide. I have faith and hope that one day, such weddings will not be fictional in the state of Florida.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where'd She Go?

Never fear, folks. I haven't left. But demands of doing my taxes, and the upcoming Mickee Faust cabaret, "Haunted Faust", not to mention that thing called "my day job" have gotten in the way of any meaningful blogging. It's not that I'm NOT thinking; I'm just needing more sleep... like right now! I'll be back soon! :)

Monday, October 12, 2009

In Support of the NEM...

It was not a HUGE turn-out, but getting 30 Tallahassee people to show up in support of the National Equality March in Washington on 72-hours notice is pretty darned good! And we actually had some media coverage. Sadly, the TV station's website didn't feel the need to put the video up for people to see, but they did come... and they did give the newly-forming PFLAG chapter the credit for organizing this demonstration. I'm telling ya: Impact Tallahassee, the real organizer, don't get no respect!

People were of good cheer, and we had a number of people flashing us the peace sign and thumbs up. One car with four smiling and cheering African-American women rolled down their windows to take pictures. One of the passengers yelled, "I'm not gay, but I support y'all!"

And that's the point, isn't it? There were many standing with us along Monroe Street who are NOT themselves an L, G, B or T, but are people of good conscience and seeking a country where the phrase "... and liberty and justice for all" means something. And that is what it will take for there to be a real sea change in the United States. It is coming. It is slow, but it is coming. Now it's time for all those politicians to take note of the LGBT community, which showed up in the thousands in DC for the March, and make good on the promises they've made us. We are not going away, and we are certainly not backing down quietly.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Establish Justice in the Gate: Prelude to Oct. 11th

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank says tomorrow's National Equality March is a waste of time. And gay activists in state organizations have been divided about whether to get behind it. But like it or not, folks, it is happening. I was really hoping to be there. But finances being what they are, and the grueling schedule for the coming week with my theater troupe made a jaunt up to DC to declare my queerness a "No go". Instead, I will be gathering with many others here in Tallahassee to wave signs and get dirty looks and horn honks from motorists as we demonstrate outside the Old State Capitol Building at 2pm. It's only an hour, but what the heck--it will be in sympathy with our brothers and sisters in DC.

I know there are some who believe such demonstrations as this are futile. Rep. Frank, a veteran gay Congressman, makes the point that nobody cares about us rallying and stomping our feet on the Mall in Washington, DC. He says it would be better to have had this march at a time when Congress will be in town instead of over the Columbus Day holiday weekend, so folks could lobby their Representatives and Senators. I get it, but I also get why we're demonstrating.

We're fed up! And we're tired of waiting for action.

President Obama, in a speech this evening to the Human Rights Campaign, touched on the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, the backwards policy of silence in the military, which has not curbed the expulsion of gay service members. And while the President says we shouldn't be expelling "patriotic Americans serving this country", his administration has not made the move to strike the policy. Obama remains opposed to same-sex marriage, but says he wants to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. And then his justice department defends the ban on same-sex marriage by issuing a highly-inflammatory legal brief which characterizes my relationship as being akin to incest. He talks of his appointment of gay and lesbian people to various posts in his administration, and the federal hate crimes bill as proof that he cares. And those are good. But given that marriage is the ballot issue-du-jour in so many places, it is a mixed message to have a President say he opposes same-sex marriage, but wants to repeal DOMA.

Such wishy-washy political speech is as helpful as the ongoing shenanigans within the Anglican Communion about the proposed "Anglican Covenant". The Archbishop of Canterbury, who recognizes the problems of homophobia in parts of the Communion, nonetheless is pushing a plan that is designed to punish those members of the Communion who are embracing the LGBT faithful. He continues to refer to my orientation as a "lifestyle" like I can slip on being a lesbian like it's a pair of Levi's. It's offensive, insulting, and ultimately makes any charitable language from the man sound like the empty smacking of lips. Fr. Mark Harris has posted a brilliant speech made by Bishop Peter Selby about resisting the Anglican Covenant. You can link to it HERE. It's long, but worth the read!

When it comes to justice and equality for members of the human family, there is no middle ground. Not for people of color, not for women, and not for LGBT people.

It is time for this nation to establish justice in the gate for its LGBT citizens. And that takes the will of the people to pull their political and church leaders along.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Spiritual Autobiography: Song of the Redeemed

We pick up this story of me at the point following my dad's funerals in New Hampshire and Florida. My three brothers and I eulogized our father in New Hampshire, but I was on my own for the funeral at St. John's. After much back and forth via email, and discussions, I told Mtr. Lee Shafer that we (my mom and I) wanted to have the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke's gospel read at my father's service. Yes, I know: that's not on the approved reading list for Episcopal funerals, but it was highly appropriate for my dad. Especially as I shared in my eulogy the incredible statement he made when I came out. Here I am, on the phone, tears streaming down my cheeks, my voice quivering and sweaty-palmed telling my dad, Judge Gage, that I'm a lesbian.
He paused for a moment and then said, "Well.... who's to say Jesus Christ wasn't gay?!"
There were a few gasps in the assembled congregation, but then came the laughter. Because this was my dad's way of saying, "You are still my child. And I love you."

And now, we continue...

A strange thing happened after my dad died. Me, the child who had gone far from home... and the Church... began hearing hymns in my head. I figured this was probably just some weirdness from having had to be in Church and select appropriate music for a funeral. I agreed to go to Church on All Saint's Sunday, November 4th, because St. John's did a special ceremony of carrying in banners with the names of the departed. The Church had made one for my dad, so I agreed to carry it.

"OK, great! That's over with," I thought. "Let's get back to normal Sunday crosswords and coffee!"

But the hymns wouldn't quit. In fact, they were becoming constant. And the one that kept rolling back around was "God is working his purpose out". I was getting a little irritated.

On the evening of Saturday, Nov. 10th, with another chorus of the number one hit hymn reminding me that "the earth shall be filled with the glory of God and the waters cover the sea,"I was struggling with whether I was supposed to go back to “that church” in the morning. I finally thought I’d sleep on it, and hope that it would all go away. The next day, there was this voice that boomed in my head:

“Show up!”

This was a command, not a suggestion. So I got dressed and went to church. And I was amazed, as I sat in the service and listened, how deeply I was hearing everything: lessons, psalms, the gospel, the creed. It was as if I had been given new ears. Prayers that had seemed so rote and dead to me were vibrantly alive. As I was leaving, Mtr. Lee Shafer looked at me and said, “You came back!” And I said, “Yeah… ummmm… can I come talk to you?”


So, I met with her, and shared about the hymns in my head, the experience of hearing, "Show up!" and all kinds of other stuff. Towards the end of our discussion she asked me, “What do you need from me?” And I said, I didn’t need anything. Then I thought some more and said, “You know that part of Prayers of the People, Form II, where it says, 'I ask your prayers for those who seek God or a deeper knowledge of him. Pray that they may find and be found by him.' I think that’s what is happening. I can’t stop thinking about God.”

She took to meeting with me regularly, and giving me books to read... which some, like Robert F. Capon's "The Mystery of Christ... and Why We Don't Get It", blew me away. I would come in with lists of questions... and then ask more questions via email... and then shed tears of joy as I discovered piece by piece, bit by bit, that not only had my earthly father loved me, the lesbian, unconditionally, but God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit also offered this same love to me in more ways than I could imagine. And all that noise and screeching from pulpits and pundits about the LGBT community were lies and stumbling blocks, designed to separate me from the greatest love the world could ever know. How cruel is that?

One of the daily songs I had in my head for a while was Canticle 19:

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
Great deeds are they that you have done
Surpassing human understanding
Your ways are the ways of righteousness and truth
O King of all the ages.

When I looked it up in the Prayer Book, I discovered it was called, "The Song of the Redeemed." I cried, and said, "Thank you!"

This brings me to today. I still am living in two worlds, worlds which I would like to bridge. My friends in the LGBT community of Tallahassee are still, on the whole, suspicious and hostile toward Christianity. And so I enjoy the company of bloggers who share in my belief in God... and many are the LGBT faithful. A third world, and like a virtual common community of queerdom. My Episcopalian friends are welcoming, although our Diocese remains skittish about the whole issue of human sexuality.

As for me... I am a work-in-progress. I have no idea where I'm going from here on this journey. But it will be interesting to find out. For now, here I am... and this is where I am.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Spiritual Autobiography: On the Road

And here we arrive at a major life-changing moment: bearing witness to the end of my father's life. Up until now, I haven't said much about him. So here's a quick glimpse at who my dad was: a quiet, thoughtful, fair man, born before the Great Depression in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He was a friend to most furry creatures... except skunks, of course. He served in the Navy during World War II, and taught young men how to fly. He earned a law degree, and was appointed the judge of Exeter District Court... where he heard cases that ranged from speeding tickets to dealing drugs. He also had a probate law practice, where he would accept salmon caught on a fishing trip to Alaska instead of money from some of his clients. This was how they could afford legal services, and my father never pushed them for anything more.

My dad had had a stroke earlier this decade, and then developed a Parkinson's-related illness that left his right side paralyzed and the muscles atrophied. After yet-another time of my mom not being able to move him from the bed to his wheelchair, the doctors advised it would be safer and better for my mom to have my dad enter an assisted living facility. Such care isn't cheap; so my parents moved temporarily here to Florida. And that's where we pick up the story:

My dad had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, and given his trouble swallowing due to his illness, the surgeon advised it was time to insert a feeding tube. My father was to no longer receive anything by mouth. Clearly, that, for dad, was the last straw. He was discharged from the hospital, and when I went to see him at his facility, he was angry and in pain. He kept trying to say something to me, but I couldn't understand him. At some point, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I looked up at the ceiling and begged God to help me. And something told me to put my ear to his mouth and ask him to breathe out his words, one by one.

"I. Want. Outta. Here!"

It was the clearest my dad's voice had been in weeks. To make sure, I asked him the follow up question:

"You said you want outta here. Is that 'outta here' as in Alterra? Or 'outta here' as in the whole shebang?"

"Whole. She. BANG!"

There was a brief silence that passed between us, and then I assured him that if he felt it was time, I wasn't going to tell him no. And, probably the most important thing for him to hear, was that I, my mom and my brothers, were all going to be OK.

The night before he died, I made arrangements with my brother, Tom, to talk over the phone to my dad. By this point, dad wasn't speaking at all anymore, and didn't open his eyes. But as I held the phone to his ear, I saw my father's expression changing as my brother wept on the other end of the phone. The spirit still present in my father was hearing and taking in this good-bye. I stayed with my dad squeezing his hand. He’d squeeze mine back, and we just kept up this silent communication for awhile. After a while, I had the sense that it was time for me to leave for the night, and I had this saying come to me, “No fear and no regrets.” I didn’t know if this was something he was communicating to me through our hands or if it was God or what, but as I said Good night to him, I whispered into his ear, “No fear and no regrets.”

When my dad died, I had to return to the Church for his funeral. Actually, two. We did one in NH, and then at the insistence of folks down here, we held a second funeral at St. John’s. I met with the associate rector, Mtr. Lee Shafer, to make the plans. We weren't sure if his funeral should be in the main sanctuary or in the chapel. So, she showed me both. And given that the chapel had a Corpus Christi looming over the altar, and most of my friends coming to this funeral were hostile to Christianity, we decided the more staid sanctuary would be best. As I stood with her near the pulpit, I told her about witnessing the execution, and my feeling that I could never be forgiven.

She smiled. "All you have to do is ask."

What? That's it?!

No, it's not! The exciting conclusion tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Spiritual Autobiography: Desert Part Two

When we last left me, I had made it through prep school, college and now was starting my professional life as a radio journalist in Tallahassee, FL. I attended St. John's after "doing the circuit" of Episcopal Churches in town. But having also found a lover... and my lesbian community... I discovered that if I was going to be a "real" lesbian, I needed to put away such ridiculousness as going to church on Sundays.

But, as we pick up the story, we'll find that this separation from a faith community would come at a cost:

Oct. 1996: I was assigned to witness an execution of an inmate at Florida State Prison. I didn’t think this was going to affect me, but it totally changed me. And the change didn't happen in the moment; it began on the drive home after the event… and the many, many years to come. I was depressed, and I felt that I had done something very wrong in being there. I told a friend one night when we were driving to New Orleans that I felt I could never be forgiven for having sat there and watched this sanitized act of barbarism. "How can I wipe this slate clean?" was the underlying question behind my journalistic passion for the subject. I became almost obsessed with reporting on the electric chair, the death penalty, the flaws in the judicial system, the legislature’s desire to speed things up which only helped to slow things down…etc. etc. All of this, coupled with increasingly stressful and unsupportive conditions in my work environment led me to finally leave journalism.

And all throughout this time, I had no faith community. True, I had exiled myself in the wrong-headed belief that being a lesbian and being a Christian were incompatible. But in that time, Evil had moved into the pulpit at St. John's in the form of a South Carolinian priest who took it upon himself to rail against gays and lesbians in the local media. And so the church that had at one time been "just right!" was now all-wrong and off-limits to the likes of me.

So, I found God elsewhere... Massage School.

This was a major transformation! I feared what was going to happen when I left Florida Public Radio. I literally woke up in the middle of the night, sweating, and thinking, “If I’m not Susan Gage of FPR, then who the hell am I?” My identity had become totally wrapped up in my work. With that stripped away, I was virtually naked. I was vulnerable. And, scared and insecure as I was, a part of me embraced this opportunity to go live on a goat farm, and listen to spacey new age music as I learned a new set of professional skills.

I spent a good portion of massage school just reclaiming who I am. And I discovered that the answer to the who I am could be found in my body, and in a willingness to allow myself to receive touch… and have another person lay their hands on me. Florida School of Massage has a labyrinth on the campus cut into the grass, and I would regularly go to it and do walking meditation, and allow this place to be where I could receive God. In this spot in nature, I was feeling a presence that I had once sensed standing at the edge of Profile Lake in New Hampshire's White Mountains of a force greater than myself. There were two statues at the opening of the labyrinth. I would allow my eyes to soften their gaze as I looked to these statues for inquiry about what each walks intention should be. And then I would step in, and journey slowly along this circular path to the center and back out.
In these moments in the labyrinth, I came to understand that I had been asleep for a very long time. The sleep state was necessary as a journalist because the overwhelming damage I was witnessing would have sent a fully awake person into shock and I would never have been able to live up to the expectations of "objectivity" that Americans place on journalists. But now, in this next phase, I was waking up and stretching out... and returning, in my own way, to God.

To God, but not to the Church.

Where do I go from here? That's the next installment....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spiritual Autobiography: The Desert Part One

As noted yesterday, I was struggling with my Spiritual Autobiography. As my classmates gathered around the table in the next room to fill their plates and get a glass of wine, I opened the Book of Common Prayer to the Collect of the Day from Sunday, and scribbled it at the top of the page:

"Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."
Don't ask me why this helped to write this out, but it did. I s'pose in writing it, I was praying it, and thus getting grounded. So there it is. But it's a good one, isn't it?

At any rate, we are now entering a period of time where things in my life were dark. Perhaps some of this will feel familiar to your own life experiences; that's part of the sharing of the autobiography. At this point in the story, I am entering yet another world: I am leaving behind my friends in the Exeter Public School system to attend Governor Dummer Academy. The picture is of the entrance to the school. The Ingham Footbridge took students over the street to some the boy's dormitories. I was a Day Student (Thanks be to God!) so I didn't live on campus.

I definitely felt like a square peg that was being jammed into a round hole. And, since this was a New England prep school, there were plenty of teachers and administrators who made a point of reminding me that, unlike the other students, I had come from a public school background; hence I would never be as good as the other kids. Having skipped a grade came back to haunt me because I hadn’t gotten a good grounding in fractions. And my eighth grade math teacher had been a rotation of three different people; hence we learned nothing that year. So, I got to this prep school totally unprepared for Algebra… and it showed.

And, by this point, I was also realizing that this whole “boys” and “girls” thing wasn’t working for me… because I wasn’t attracted to “boys”. I liked boys. I wanted to have boys as friends. But when it came to something like going to the prom… I was more interested in dancing with Annie more than Andy.

The school was very small. And even though I wasn’t out or acting on my feelings, other kids picked up on the fact that I was “different” and they made my life hell. They threw things at me, tried to trip me coming out of classes, etc. There had been some other events in my life (multiple deaths) that had also been upsetting, and all of it was pushing me toward suicide as the only solution.

Then came Epiphany, 1984. I had a choice: I was either going to leave my religion class and walk to the foot bridge on campus over Elm Street and jump. Or I was going to keep the promise that I had made to the school chaplain and, if I felt suicidal, seek her out first. The bell rang, and my body became heavy and rigid, and I couldn’t move. And I asked this chaplain, “Talk me out of suicide.” I don’t really remember what all happened next, except that I was there, in her classroom, for almost the entire next period as she kept talking to me. Later on, I would realize that if I had ever had an encounter with angels, this was probably it. I have a visualization of four Archangels grabbing my ankles, sitting in my lap, doing everything to keep me from leaving that room.

This was a new turn in my relationship with God.

College: I went to the University of Missouri-Columbia, majored in broadcast journalism, and actually PREFERRED radio journalism to TV. I also kept attending church, and found the one Episcopal Church, Calvary Episcopal, was only a couple blocks north of the J-School. This also is when I finally came out to myself as a lesbian, but I didn’t seek out anyone for a relationship. Instead, I just quit trying to force myself to be straight when it really wasn’t working for me… or the guys I dated.

When I moved to Tallahassee to take a reporting job at WFSU, I went on a Goldilocks tour of Episcopal Churches… which was a first for me, as I never had lived in a place with multiple choices for Episcopalians! I was feeling pretty fed up and depressed by it all, and then came to St. John’s. This was 1991. And it was great! It had all this pomp and circumstance, a female associate rector, and every week, we prayed for people living with AIDS.

But I fell in love, and discovered that in the world of lesbians living in Tallahassee, you do NOT attend church! And in my new “chosen” family, as we call it, if you believed in God, you were some horrifying bigoted brainless fool. So, I stopped going to church, except for certain occasions and even then that was sporadic. I was having to adapt… and finding that my identity as a lesbian was incompatible with identity as a Christian.

More to come from the Desert. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Spiritual Autobiography: In the beginning....

I did it! I made it through my Spiritual Autobiography without crying, without wanting to run from the room, without my voice cracking and shaking. I suppose that's a sign of trust in my classmates as much as it is the steady hand of God helping to guide me along as I unfold pieces of myself for people. I don't share easily(Yes, believe it or not!). I used to not share at all... which, of course, was just one of the ways of guaranteeing my spot in Hell. Keep people at arm's length, remain apart from a faith community, and try to do this life alone: yeah, that was like punching a ticket for eternal death!

This is a photo of the courtyard at Christ Church in Exeter, the Episcopal Church that I belonged to for the first 39 years of my life until I changed my membership to St. John's in 2008. The altar, the crucifix, and the baptismal font are all from the church from the days when I used to serve as an acolyte and sang in the Junior choir.
I didn't go into great detail about my early church life in my autobiography since I had done so much of that last year. Instead, the theme of my Spiritual autobiography was being a person who always stands with one foot in one world, and another foot in another world... and never feeling that I am totally in one space at a time. I discussed how my parents were older, my brothers were older... and while my classmates were listening to Shaun Cassidy, I was listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Benny Goodman! (My dad believed that music died with Glenn Miller).

So, here's an excerpt of my autobiography:
When I was in kindergarten, the teachers determined that I was “emotionally not ready” for First Grade. That was code for I am an introvert, and because I was born in February, I was apparently not going to be the right age for First grade, so I was placed in a program called “Transition”… which later was called “Readiness”. So I was starting First Grade with the class of 1987.
Until I got to Third Grade.
Something happened. I was grasping concepts faster than anyone else, and now the school officials told my parents that I needed to skip a grade, and rejoin the class of 1986. Besides doing the assignments in my third grade class, I had to do extra work which included occasional forays to Mrs. Brown’s fourth grade class for the state requirement on New Hampshire geography. I also had to write a "book", an historical fiction, about co-education in my hometown. I interviewed graduates of Robinson Female Seminary and Exeter High School to write my story. And once all that was completed, I was granted the privilege of skipping Fourth grade.

After I skipped a grade, I was really messed up emotionally. It’s one thing to move to a new town and start over; I was in the same school, and everybody knew that I was that kid who skipped Fourth grade. The kids who’d been my friends in Third Grade didn’t want to be around me any more, and looked at me like I was a freak. And this new group of kids in the Fifth grade were at a point in their development where boys and girls didn’t play together, but were starting to see each other as “boys” and “girls”. That’s not where I was at, and I didn’t understand the new socialization at all. I wanted to hang with the boys, but they shunned me. So, I fell in with a clique of girls who were mean, and it didn’t take long before they turned on me… and suddenly I was very, very alone. I was a stranger, even though this was the same school that I had been in already.
Back to being “between two worlds”. I had friends whose parents worked at Phillips Exeter Academy… the local prep school…. and I had friends who were working class kids. I quickly became aware of the classism that existed among my teachers. Depending on which set of friends I was with, the teachers would treat me differently. For instance, my sixth grade English teacher was always mean, and condescending to the kids from lower-income homes… but she’d be gentle and kind toward the Academy kids. And it bothered me that depending on who I was with, I would either be accepted or rejected by a teacher.

My best friends growing up were my neighbors, Gwen and Earl. They were also “in-between” people in my town because their parents were a mixed race marriage. Whites viewed them as black; blacks viewed them as whites. I learned to view them, and their parents, as friends. Knowing their father did much to teach me not to fear blacks. As a small child, blacks scared me because I didn't understand how a person could be that dark. Then, this family moved in next door, and my friends' dad was the coolest person I had ever met, and very friendly. And it was through that relationship that I learned to see the person beyond the exterior features.
This takes you up through about the eighth grade. I'll post a segment about "the next phase: high school, college and Tallahassee tomorrow. Stay tuned!

SA=Spiritual Avoidance

OK, in the short-hand of those in the Education for Ministry program, "SA" is supposed to stand for "Spiritual Autobiography". And it does... but this weekend, and at this moment, I'm engaged in spiritual avoidance.

I'm not sure why this year's SA has been so particularly difficult. I do think it's fitting that on the second anniversary of my father's death, I'm due to present my SA in my class. It was his death that really pushed my life in a new direction, one which has put me firmly back inside the Church after years and years of running away from it, and cursing the Church here in Tallahassee with their eagle-imagery that made St. John's look like it was the Reichstag or something. And given the level of homophobia and intolerance coming from the pulpit at that time, well....

OK. Enough avoidance. I have to get this thing finished. And perhaps, once I do, I will post it in sections here. We'll see. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Blessing of the Animals

At churches across the United States, our furry four-legged companions or winged and feathery friends or those with tails and gills will be front and center for the annual Blessing of the Animals. Our cat, Valkyrie, will not be among them. I made a promise when my partner converted to Judaism that I would raise our cat in the Jewish tradition: hence we are waiting for that glorious day when we celebrate her Cat Mitzvah. We'll serve lox at the Kiddish lunch. Just lox.

The blessing ceremony comes on, or around, October 4th to commemorate St. Francis of Assisi, a patron saint of animal lovers. Animals have always played an important role... even in Biblical stories... in the lives of humans. Think of the ark and the instructions to Noah to take representative animals with him. Or the ravens bringing bread to Elijah to sustain him. Or the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem in his steps towards crucifixion.

I see the importance of blessing our pets as the reminder to us that we are all part of the great plan of God called "Creation". And these creatures, who give us companionship and unconditional love, are not only our pets and friends, but the love they give to us is a tangible example of the love that is always there for us. I've heard people say that animals don't have souls, but I don't believe that. I have looked into the eyes of so many dogs and cats in my lifetime, and each one of them has had a special something shining out through those eyes, which Shakespeare described as the window to our souls. Even if they can't speak, animals know how to communicate with us. And I can say that on days when I have felt the world was beating me up, the presence of an animal has done wonders to comfort me and make me realize that I'm still OK, at least in their opinion, even if everyone else is treating me poorly.

And so, to all the animals, and their human companions, may the Lord bless and keep you always and for ever more. Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Prayer Punted in Georgia

In a small North Georgia town, the football team will have to take to the field without the benefit of Bible verses held up by their cheerleaders. The school board in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, has decided to ban signs at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School's football games displaying passages from the Bible. The district says it doesn't want to be open to lawsuits. As one might imagine, the residents in this town located near the Alabama-Georgia-Tennessee border are mighty peeved about this. According to the Associated Press, hundreds attended a rally in support of the signs, and students on Friday showed up to their classes wearing T-shirts with Bible verses and had painted passages of Scripture on their cars along with "Warriors for Christ" (The Warriors is the name of the school team).

"When you get a whole bunch of teenagers mad, this is what happens. We stand up for what we believe in!" said Shelby Rouse, a 16-year-old student attending a pep rally.

NOTE: I wonder if they used any of those lines out of the Psalms about burning up enemies and such on their signs to intimidate the opponents?

Needless to say, I am happy I don't live in Fort Oglethorpe, GA, as this is the kind of stuff makes my skin crawl!

I don't know if the district's school board had learned that someone was upset by the "cheerleaders for Christ" and that's what motivated the decision to ban the signs. And I can understand people being angry if they feel their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion is being dissed. But, like that "Wakulla Loves Jesus" billboard south of Tallahassee, there is the obvious issue of "What if you are not a Christian?" and where does that leave non-Christians when the rest of the crowd wants to end a prayer, "in Jesus' name." or claim that a victory for this high school football team was "in Jesus' name"? Would Jesus really want people who are coming to a football game to cheer for their team to be alienated because somebody couldn't simply leave "in Jesus' name" off the prayer? Even amongst my Episcopalian friends here, I am struck when I hear a prayer end "in Jesus Christ, we pray." It's not that I don't accept Jesus as Lord; it's just that I'm not used to Episcopalians saying, "in" and not "through" Jesus Christ. "Through", for me, gives a sense of what I believe Jesus was about: a pointer to God, the Father. The one through whose death and resurrection we have been brought back into right relationship with God, the Father. These are probably minor points, but--hey: lots of people lost life and limb and soul over what words got used in creeds and such!

I often wonder, too, if the people who are so attached to holding up signs like "John 3:16" at a football game have ever bothered to read and consider the rest of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus? It's a fascinating back-and-forth as this Jewish man seeks out this other Jewish man for some ol' fashioned philosophical discussion and finds himself in a very challenging, mind-expanding dialogue about what it really means to be one with God anyway. Unlike other Pharisees, Nicodemus seems to be asking Jesus questions not for the sport of trying to trap him, but being intrigued by this new Rabbi on the block. And he gets more than he bargained for!

Where I'm headed with all this is that it's easy to say all kinds of great things about Jesus, and about God, and to wear a T-shirt or hold up a sign. But I think the demand is deeper than that. I think we aren't supposed to just take what is on the page and learn it by rote and "Repeat after me." I think we're supposed to really take all this in, wrestle with it, look at it from different angles, and then incorporate it into our daily way of being in the world. Perhaps some of that has happened in this North Georgia town. Perhaps this ritual of holding up placards with Scripture is an outward and visible sign of their inward and spiritual grace.

I don't think so. But I could be wrong.


Lesbian comedian and musical entertainer Lynn Lavner says it best:

The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision!

Case in point: This Sunday's gospel reading from Mark 10, which spells out what Jesus has to say about that little thing called "divorce." Oddly, Jesus talks about divorce in all three synoptic gospels. But, by golly: I don't see the self-righteous creeps who crack on queers all the time getting ugly toward people who are divorced. And there's whole lot of divorced and remarried people in this country and they obviously missed a key teaching from Jesus' ministry. C'mon, James Dobson: get on the radio and tell all the divorced Christians who've remarried that they've committed adultery and must repent! Better yet: let's raise money for campaigns to constitutionally bar divorced people from re-marrying, so they aren't tempted into sin.

Hyperbole aside, I know that the passage from Mark 10 on divorce is not going to be easy for vast numbers of people to hear. Jesus doesn't mince words:

He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."--Mark 10: 11-12


But, as with everything in the Bible, there are the words on the page... and then there's more to those words than meets the eye. This is the culture of the First Century... a society where women were property, honor was everything and the Jews to whom Jesus is speaking lived under the thumb and amidst the Roman Empire. According to the Jewish scholar Josephus, Jewish women were not supposed to divorce; however they could under Roman law. And this whole discussion begins with the Pharisees wanting Jesus to explain why Moses told them "a man" could write a certificate of dismissal and divorce his wife. Jesus throws it back at them:

"Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you." Mark 10:5

And he goes on to re-tell a portion of the Adam and Eve story from Genesis about God having made one for the other... and we get the phrase from our Episcopal wedding service, "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder." Point being that marriage isn't something for a man to do and then when it doesn't suit him, just write out a certificate and say "see ya, baby!" Matthew's gospel gives an out-clause for the woman's "chastity" if that should come into question. Luke doesn't dwell on the subject more than a verse.

Today, we don't think it's wrong for men and women to remarry after a divorce (unless it's our ex, and then that triggers all kinds of stuff.) But I think what folks should focus on more here in the gospel is not so much the divorce point as the point that if you're going to get married, it's no small whim, and it shouldn't be treated as a lightweight commitment. If you're going to say those vows, you better be willing to do what it takes to live up to them. Otherwise, don't bother.

This is a particularly stingy subject for me, and thousands of other people like me, who are not even allowed to seek a marriage license from the state because we're queer. Some of us have been in relationships for years... far surpassing some of the marriages of our straight friends... and yet we are not seen as worthy of making such a supposedly life-long commitment as marriage. So, I guess I can tune out of this Gospel reading, eh?

No, I can't. Because it finishes with that good stuff about laying his hands on children and blessing them. That's another entry. Stay tuned!