Thursday, September 30, 2010

Society's Subtle Endorsement of Suicide

What would make a young boy hang himself? Or another teenage boy shoot himself in a closet? Or another one jump to his death from the George Washington Bridge?

Bullying. Taunting. Distributing a secret video recording via the internet showing a young male violinist having sex with another man.

The stories are mounting in the media, and people are scratching their heads, holding back tears as they try to make sense out of the senseless deaths of four young people, all male and all either declared or rumored to be gay. Sex advice columnist Dan Savage has started a campaign to counteract the nagging negative inner voices that loop in the minds of most kids who are struggling with their sexual identities. "It gets better," promises Savage, and many others who have posted their stories on his YouTube channel. The message: tough out middle and high school because you have much more to live for than to die for.

I agree with Dan Savage. As I've said, I am one who stood on the edge of that abyss and by the grace of God and with the timely help of human intervention by a school chaplain... I'm alive. If you can make it out of those turbulent teenage years, you will be in a much better place and able to silence the negative voices inside your head.

But what about those on the outside of your being? The ones who are fueling the fire of negativity in your brain and are hell-bent on crushing your spirit... if not your skull? Folks are rightly angry that more isn't being done to stop the bullying that goes on in schools. Shouldn't bullies be stopped and made to suffer consequences of picking on other children?

Well, you would think that's true. But then how can we hold our schools and children to a standard that the rest of polite society refuses to obey? In Michigan, an assistant attorney general is hounding and using cyber bullying tactics on the openly-gay student body president Chris Armstrong at the University of Michigan. This legal cretin has a blog where he has posted the young man's picture with a rainbow flag and a swastika. His beratement and over-fascination for this UM student is bullying. And yet Andrew Shirvell's boss, the AG for the state of Michigan, refuses to fire this guy! Even though he is a lawyer... and breaking the law by harassing a citizen. Is that different than the kid who defaces a classmate's locker?

Or how 'bout if we consider Archbishop Rowan Williams' statements to the Times, where he says that the issue of inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the episcopate of the church has become "a wound in the whole ministry." "The cost to the Church overall has been too great," according to Williams. This is the titular head of the Anglican Communion which includes lots and lots of LGBT people! As I have noted HERE and HERE on this blog, the more that a person of Williams' office makes statements that belittle LGBT people, the more he is aiding and abetting the rampant homophobia that feeds the lust for bullying blood on the streets of the U.S.A., Europe and, especially, Africa. How is what the Archbishop doing really that different than the pug-nosed thug hurling insults at a gay kid on campus?

Or what of the voters of states such as Florida? Sixty-one percent decided in 2008 to add a definition of marriage into our state's constitution that had one purpose in mind: ban LGBT people from seeking a marriage license or the substantial equivalent thereof. When more than half the people stick it to a single class of people, what message does that send to those kids who realize that they are part of the ranks of the second-class citizenry. And what did that vote do? Did the bullies not then immediately file to challenge Gainesville's human rights ordinance on the ballot?! Thankfully, the voters there didn't join in on the bullying. But it was another campaign, another opportunity for our opponents to dehumanize us in advertisements. Is that really so different from videotaping your roommate having intimate relations... and disseminating the images over the internet?

Of course, there are differences. But my point is that all of these acts that we find offensive have deeper roots in our society that send the message that all people are created equal... except for "those people". The fact that these others are allowed to exist sends a subtle endorsement to the bullies to keep it up 'cuz they'll help rid the schools, the church, the society of "those people". One suicide at a time.

For an excellent commentary on Rowan Williams' statements this week, please read Rev. Canon Susan Russell's blog HERE.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Archbishop Puts His Foot In It... Again

I received in my inbox the commentary from Integrity's Executive Director Max Niedzwiecki on the latest round of "Rowan, Would You Please Shut Up." The Archbishop is quoted in The Times as saying...

"[T]here's no problem about a gay person who's a bishop. It's about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe." According to the Archbishop, gay and lesbian people are just fine – but unless they abstain from sex with members of their own sex, they should not be bishops.The Archbishop goes on to say that "The question about gay people is not about their dignity or the respect they deserve as gay people, it's a question about a particular choice of life, a partnership, and what the church has to say about that.”

Niedzwiecki points out the obvious double-standard the Archbishop has set in this statement. Rowan Williams has a particular choice of life, a partnership, with Mrs. Williams. But that relationship isn't questioned because... well, y'know... it's heterosexual... and approved of by the majority. There is something deeply disturbing to me about people who will require the vocation of celibacy of other people, but not put on that burden themselves. Really, Archbishop: how can you be so un-Christlike?

I have talked about reposting my entry, Uniquely Eunuch, from last November. Now would seem to be a good time:

His disciples said to him, "If such such is the case for a man and his wife it is better not to marry." But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."--Matthew 19: 9-12

This passage was in yesterday's gospel, and raises an interesting point for me. Eunuchs, who were in many ways "the other" in the First Century world, were the ones who were not to marry but rather to serve as attendants to a harem. They may have been people with same-sex attraction; they may have been people who were asexual. But, as noted above, Jesus' discussion of eunuchs indicates that some were "born that way", some were made eunuchs by others (possibly a physical castration done in war or by force) and then there were those who chose not to marry "for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven" and thus remained celibate. In any case, there are some who see this mention as Jesus talking about the existence of lesbian and gay people and they note that he doesn't dismiss them. I would take this another step to say that Jesus not only observes the existence of lesbian and gays, but this may also be noting the presence of the transgender community of this Greco-Roman world.

All that aside, my attention to this passage was on the last type of eunuch, the one who is celibate, done so for "the sake of the kingdom of Heaven." I suppose this is where the Roman Catholic Church has gotten the idea that priests need to abstain from sexual relations. And in some quarters of the Episcopal Church, this same demand is made on lesbian and gay people in the priesthood. The rationale given for this demand is that we queer people, if we are going to serve God and the People of God, must remain chaste, celibate, asexual, "other-worldly" beings because sexual relations are only permissible within the bonds of a "Christian marriage". And since in some places (Florida!) marriage is now constitutionally-barred by the state, any gay person called to the priesthood must also take a vow of celibacy. And in the eyes of the Church, and lots of other heterosexual human beings, the only way to know that a gay person is celibate is for them to remain single. No living with another person of the same gender or nothing. Single. Alone.
I recently read the thinking of a Presbyterian minister who, after much praying, has come to realize that this effort in his own church to subvert God's will of having gay people in the pulpit is, well, un-Godly. He made a great observation about the beginning of time... aka Genesis... and what was happening in the second version of the creation story. Yes, God made Adam and Eve. And that's been a favorite of all homophobes in the church. But the reason God made Eve was because of a recognition that no human should live alone. God starts by trying to give Adam animals and birds of the air etc., but none of them were quite the partner that Adam needed. And so we get Eve. But the point this man was making is that to expect human beings to live alone without a partner in this world is cruel. God will always be with us to the end of the age, but humans need companionship on earth as well as in heaven! And given the demands placed upon priests and ministers, having a partner in life may be the one thing that helps keep them centered.

To become a eunuch "for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven", from what I read in Christ's words, is a special vocation. So, does that mean that the only gay people God will call to the priesthood are these uniquely eunuch people? I somehow doubt that. I somehow doubt that the same God, who chose a con man like Jacob and whose son claims his lineage to be that of King David, the adulterer, and who had prostitutes saving scores of people from death and destruction in the Old Testament would only pick the "purest of the pure" the "spotless and without blemish" of the LGBT community to become leaders. Certainly, if a person can and is willing to be celibate, that's great and it certainly would make all the straight people much happier. And isn't that what the celibacy demand is all about? Making straight people comfortable?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Does Reading the Bible Lead to Atheism?

An article in today's New York Times about the public's collective ignorance about religion has a quote from Dave Silverman of American Atheists, a group started by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Atheists and agnostics scored best on this Pew survey about religion, which Silverman said should come as no big surprise:

“Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

The quote is funny, but I disagree. If Mr. Silverman gave his daughter a Bible and said, "G'wan now. Read it!" then, to be blunt, he's an idiot. Have you ever tried to read the Bible? The Old Testament is a mish-mash of multiple takes on the same incidents (I mean, there are two creation stories... two flood stories...) and the gospels are like reading midrash of the Old Testament, and letters that people attributed to Paul weren't really Paul's in some cases... in other words, it's not the best cold read in the world.
I think what the survey really shows is how woefully ignorant people are of their own religious history, and how happy the Church has been to keep them that way. When I was a child growing up in the Episcopal Church, there was no encouragement from clergy to ask questions. If I did ask a question, I was told I was asking "the wrong question." (whatever that meant!) Bishop Gene Robinson, before he became part of the episcopate, was an exception. He delighted in being asked by this punkish teenager, "Where did God come from?" Answer: "I don't know, but I believe any way."
Now, as an adult, I ask lots of questions. And nobody's afraid to have the questions asked. And more of the priests readily say, "I don't know." There seems to be more encouragement, at least within the Episcopal Church, for people to learn and engage their brains in theology. I think that's why programs such as Education for Ministry have such a great following: in-depth study of what lies behind the writings of the Old and New Testament, the growing pains and sibling rivalries of church history, and the thinking and crafting of doctrine and philosophy of the church. If Pew had surveyed a student of EfM, I think they would have been pleasantly surprised at what these Christians know about Christianity... not to mention other religions of the world.
Probably more important to the church is not necessarily that people know that Martin Luther's writings fired up the Protestant Reformation. If they do know that, do they know what it was in those writings that led to him breaking away from Roman Catholicism's doctrine? That might be more important. And, as Christians, do they understand the call of Jesus to "love one another as I have loved you"? Do they know how far and wide that reach extends in all directions from their being? Do they know the taste of freedom that comes through the resurrection of Christ, and not just the pains of the nails at crucifixion? Those are concepts and ideas that seem to me far more important for your average self-identified Christian to know than factoids about the religious identification of Mother Teresa.
Perhaps if atheists met a few more Christians who lived closer to the source of their faith and responded to the world from that place of faith, then atheism might not seem so "rad" after all. It's not the Bible that makes people atheists: it's the hypocrisy of so-called Christians that does that!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Communion with Cuba

St. John's, like all the diocese of Florida, offers prayers each week for our companion diocese in Cuba. So it was a treat to have the Bishop Coadjutor present and assisting with us during our services yesterday. Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio spoke through an interpreter during the announcements and offered a post-communion blessing to a parish that regularly sends a team of people each summer to do mission work with San Pedro Apostal in Zorilla, Cuba. She is a rarity in the Latin world; there only five women in priestly orders in the Episcopal Church of Cuba to the 26 men. The purpose of her visit was to strengthen ties between the church here and there. It was an honor to serve at the altar with her yesterday. And (check it out) our Mother Phoebe is back from Down Under. So the women were definitely visible during yesterday's services.
The additional plus was that the Tallahassee Democrat sent a reporter and a photographer to the 9am service; thus landing St. John's on the front page of the newspaper with some positive press for a change! Naturally, the knuckledraggers who post comments on the Democrat's website are all aghast at the idea of a woman bishop, women priests, women with brains, women in general. Good thing our guest of honor doesn't get the Democrat!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It DOES Get Better

I have always been an introvert. And I have always been gay. But I struggled against that identity when I was attending Governor Dummer Academy in the mid-1980s. Being gay at a New England prep school of only 360 students was too risky, and would have resulted in ostracism. But it didn't matter. Even though I wasn't out, other students could read the signs on my being and I became a target for comments, and crab apples being hurled at me as I walked on campus. It didn't take long for that abuse, coupled with my innate quiet nature and other external factors, to feed into creating the dark cavernous space in my psyche of suicide. Death seemed the only answer. As I wrote at that time:

When living means nothing
And there is no escape from the misery,
You have to take your life
Into your own hands.

I survived that void, thanks to an act of God and the kindness of a school chaplain. Not every kid is so lucky.

And so hats off to Dan Savage for a brilliant and necessary YouTube campaign to help save LGBT teen-agers from taking their own lives.

Savage is calling on adults who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender to take a few moments with a video camera and let the next generation know that they remember the difficulties and trauma of being different in middle and high school... and they lived to get to where they are today,a place infinitely bigger, brighter and better than those troublesome teen aged years. Savage, a newspaper columnist and gay activist, was inspired to start this online video campaign because of the report of yet-another 15-year-old, Billy Lucas in Indiana, committing suicide because of relentless taunting and harassment from his classmates. As a student at Billy's school told one of the local TV stations:

"They said stuff like 'you're a piece of crap' and 'you don't deserve to live'. Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever."

Yeah, whatever!

The frustration for those of us who are adults, and have (thankfully!) left high school behind, is that we know there are hundreds of Billy Lucas' out there who just need to have an intervention... like my school chaplain... who will be there when they feel that the light of their lives needs to be snuffed out in order to deal with their difference. Sadly, unless we have a personal stake (read: parent), our motivations for approaching the schools are suspect (read: molestation.... or ye ol' 'conversion' argument, a favorite of homophobes). But the internet, and YouTube, gives us an avenue to reach kids in communities both local and international to let them see us, hear us, know our story, and see that we're still standing... and able to go back to our 25th high school reunions! (If we care to see those folks again!)

Here is Dan Savage with his husband, Terry, discussing their story. Please share this information using the "Share" buttons at the bottom of this blog. And if you have a video camera, grab it, and film your story of survival of the truly fittest and grittiest... and let a kid know, "It Gets Better!"

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wealthy Expectations

If you are of the "have" set, you might get a little uncomfortable with this next bit from Luke's gospel and on the menu for most Anglican and Catholic churches tomorrow morning.

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz'arus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Laz'arus by his side. He called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Laz'arus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'--Luke 16:19-27a

This is not the end of the gospel reading, but I'm going to interrupt here. There is the obvious message here about the rich vs. the poor... or as I started with framing this discussion: the haves versus' the have-nots. But as I read the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus, I see in our current world even more than just the rich being willfully oblivious to the poor people sitting at the edge of their gated communities. "Poor" people today could be more than the homeless; the middle and working classes are increasingly falling behind. To me, this parable is also speaking to how those with any kind of privilege can become so attached to their comfort that they are unable to see the disparities and the suffering of those around them. That blindness leads to taking it for granted that everyone has the same access to the perks. Certainly, I have run into this with straight friends who don't understand such simple truths of my life such as my lack of health insurance. "Your partner works for the state. Can't you be on her plan?" Ummm... no, because the state refuses to recognize our relationship so the insurance companies don't either!

Ahh... but I've interrupted this gospel lesson... let's see what else the rich man asks of Abraham and Laz'arus...

He said, "Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, "No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"--Luke 16: 27b-31

Ouch!!! If they wouldn't listen to Moses and the prophets of old... do you think they'll listen and hear the warnings issued by one who rises from the dead (in the story, that would be Laz'arus... but this would also seem to reference Jesus)? Moral of the story: if you are of the "have" set, there is no time like the present to get with the program and share what you have with those who have not!
Expand that out: if you are in a class of people who currently enjoy power, clout, wealth of any kind... how are you using that wealth you have? Are you keeping it for yourself and storing up more and more here on this earth? Or are you using what you have to effect real change for the betterment of all people?

Paul notes in his letter to Timothy:

...there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.--1 Timothy 6: 6-10

Pains that, according to the gospel, can lead to eternal thirst and life on the perpetual hot seat! I am not trying to glorify the poor: being a have-not of any kind is a crappy place to be, and I think it is wrongheaded to read these words from Scripture as "Don't worry, you poor and downtrodden masses. You'll get your reward when you're dead and singing with the Heavenly chorus." I don't think the message is for the poor. It is for the rich. Your wealth comes with an expectation, and there is a price for being oblivious. So, stewards of wealth, what are you going to do with all that you have?

More on the Adoption Ruling

This is an article from the view point of Frank Gill, one-half of the couple that has been raising two foster boys and wanting to adopt them. Have the Kleenex handy!
State officials in Florida are still weighing what they will do now that the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami has upheld the lower court ruling. Governor Charlie Crist doesn't want to fight this case any more. The state Department of Children and Families, while still mulling over the options, has already issued a memo to all its offices to no longer ask about the sexual orientation of a prospective adoptive parent. Newspaper blogs and editorials are celebrating the thought that Florida has taken a step toward the 21st Century. It would seem that if Attorney General Bill McCollum is listening to his client, the client is sending signals that clearly state: "Enough!"
Meanwhile, Republicans such as gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott are denouncing the court ruling. Scott doesn't believe in "single sex adoption". And Republican members of the state legislature are expressing their displeasure with the court as well. Will they attempt to pass a constitutional amendment drawn to a stricter standard than just a simple blanket ban on gays adopting kids?
I hope not!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Victory for Children

The news broke mid-day today: a three-judge panel on Florida's Third District Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling out of Miami which found the state's ban on gay people being adoptive parents UNconstitutional. The court found "no rational basis" for this discriminatory statute, especially in light of the, ummm, "facts" presented by the Department of Children and Families.

What were those "facts"? The Department claimed that it would behoove children to be raised in a two-parent heterosexual household to avoid the stigma of "gay". However, according to the facts, DCF places a third of the eligible children for adoption in single-parent homes. The Department's leading expert, George Rekers (of the Rent-A-Boy sex scandal fame), presented testimony that gay couples were prone to substance abuse, much the same (according to Rekers) as Native Americans. Say what?? The Department actually tried to assert that LGBT households were boiler pots of domestic violence. The fact is that 95-percent of female homocides in Florida came at the hands of their heterosexual male partners! About the only thing DCF put forward that was a correct assertion: that there isn't a real difference between heterosexual and gay people when it comes to their ability to be parents. Gee, thanks!

The real facts of this case: a gay man named Frank Gill and his long-time partner have been exemplary foster parents for the state of Florida. The men have been fostering two children who were taken from a home because they were being neglected. One was four, the other four-months. Both were poorly clothed, had ringworm and the four-year-old wasn't talking. After living with Gill and his partner, the kids are thriving. The state determined the children should not be returned to their family of origin. But, due to the law adopted in the hey-days of Anita Bryant's 1977 homophobic campaign, Gill couldn't be an adoptive parent. Foster: yes; adoptive: no. That's logical, right? NOT.
Given the lack of evidence presented to support the ban, the Miami panel knocked it down. Given the chances of this thing gaining legs in front of the Florida Supreme Court, Governor Charlie Crist announced that he is ending the ban. Helps that Crist is in a contentious U.S. Senate race... and that he is no longer a Republican. Would have been nicer if the Governor had come to this conclusion BEFORE he spent years publicly defending the statute.

This is a tremendous victory for human rights for LGBT people... but it is a much bigger victory for children's rights. There are thousands and thousands of kids who are languishing in the state foster care system waiting for someone to call "Mom" or "Dad". Because of prejudice, they were denied a permanent home. How cruel!

Opponents of gay people, the ones who claim to be looking out for the children, are likely going to find a way to put this thing back on the books in one way or another. And I doubt they will lie down and die on this legal battle either. But for this time, we can say "Hallelujah!" that the courts continue to be one of the few places where sanity exists in this country.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cowardice and Prejudice: That's Our U.S. Senate!

Threats of filibusters by Republicans and hand-wringing by Democrats over ending a policy that discriminates against openly gay and lesbian military personnel: Gee, must be an election year in the United States of America!

The cowards, who call themselves U.S. Senators, have decided not to proceed with a vote on the Defense Re-authorization Bill for the Pentagon. The Democrats needed to hold down 60 votes to prevent the Republicans from filibustering the bill. Instead, the two Democratic Senators from Arkansas crossed over and no Republicans deserted their party's hard-line stance against the DADT repeal amendment. Democratic leader Harry Reid also voted "No"... the idea being that only a member who voted with the majority can call for reconsideration. Of course, Reid hasn't done that yet. Perhaps, he is worried how pressing for a vote on DADT will play out in his own re-election campaign.

And that's my point. None of these folks give a damn about the gay and lesbian service members in our armed forces or their loved ones. They only care about keeping power. Are Republicans really that afraid of some big, strapping gay guy in uniform who is fluent in Arabic somehow disrupting decorum? And why are Democrats happy to serve up lesbian lieutenants on the altar of sacrifice all the time? Is that free health care and reduced cab fees in DC that precious?
"We need to wait for the Pentagon study," they say. Sen. John McCain, the leader of the GOP goon squad on this, argued that the Democrats were trying to push this through to score political points with their constituencies. No?? Really??? McCain himself is a trip on this one. Once a moderate Republican, he has definitely turned to the dark side and aligned himself with the tea-bagging cuckoos who are kicking all that's left of the old GOP out of the nest. What better way to establish his credibility as a wacko than by stalling a defense spending bill and the repeal of a policy that polls show 80-percent of Americans want to see ended?

I think the psalmist had it right when he wrote, "Put not your trust in rulers, or any child of earth, for there is no help in them." As a gay taxpayer in this country I say, "Ain't that the truth!"

St. Matthew, the Log Cabin Republican

This morning, I was trying to think of a modern-day analogy for the significance of Matthew being amongst the twelve disciples called by Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman government (Boo! Hiss!) and he was a Jew (And working for "them"? Traitor! Bastard!) I tried to think of a type of person who might embody, for lack of a better term, a modern day "sell-out". Then it hit me:

A "Matthew" of today would be a Log Cabin Republican! Y'know, rich gay man in the same category with all gay people in the narrow-mindedness of the Republican Party and yet a registered Republican! Or worse, a registered rich gay Republican who is working FOR the Republican Party despite the GOP embracing of platforms and people who mean to destroy LGBT people.

Can Jesus really love a Log Cabin Republican? Can a Log Cabin Republican be part of the tapestry of followers that Jesus picked up along the way? Shouldn't Jesus just stick to the Rachel Maddow crowd? Maybe my Jesus would do that. But that would make my Jesus not so God-like, but more me-like.

That's the thing about believing in God. To believe that God is as all-knowing, and all-powerful, is to believe that God will also call and make use of all kinds of people whether we like them or not. Who better than someone from a despised bunch to call upon and point his or her nose in the direction of living into eternal life? What better way to demonstrate to us that God is capable of redeeming all, even the ones we think are jerks?

Happy St. Matthew Day!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Prayerful Challenges

It's not easy being a queer. And it's really not easy being a queer Christian. But do we really have to heap it on by asking us to pray for those who are participating in our persecution half way around the world?
During our Anglican Cycle of Prayer portion of Prayers of the People, we offered up petitions for the Anglican Church in Uganda, and I felt a pit forming in my stomach. The Ugandan Church has put out more vitriol about gay people and has been an unofficial partner in the efforts in that country to persecute... and even execute... LGBT people. Ugandan Anglican Archbishop Henri Orombi has visited Tallahassee, not to see St. John's, but to offer his support to the group that left St. John's to form St. Peter's Anglican Church, a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). During his visit, he reportedly mocked St. John's for (of all things) not having enough parking! Besides that being a lie, in the vernacular of the day: What. Ev. Er. Even as recently as last month, Bishop Orombi affirmed his continued opposition to homosexuality and LGBT people being faithful members of the church.

"Homosexuality is evil, abnormal and unnatural as per the Bible. It is a culturally unacceptable practice. Although there is a lot of pressure, we cannot turn our hands to support it," says Bishop Orombi.( "Uganda: African Bishops Unite to Denounce Homosexuality" August 29, 2010)
With that as the backdrop, to hear my fellow Eucharistic Minister asking us to pray for the Anglican Church of Uganda was asking A LOT of me and all the other LGBT people in the congregation. It gave me great pause, and great sadness. As a member of the harassed and hated sexual minority in parts of the Anglican Communion, I find it extremely difficult to be charitable toward my oppressors. As I've noted before on this blog, Uganda was the companion diocese of New Hampshire, and so I was used to praying for them every week. Note that Uganda was the companion; that relationship has been severed. And the cutting of the ties was from their end.
My feelings really came to a head as we began the Liturgy of the Table. I recalled the words of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Mary D. Glasspool, who noted that as long as we can come to the table and break bread together, we are OK. It's when we can't do that, that we're in trouble. I found myself getting emotional, which is never good when you're up in front of the congregation. But I couldn't help it. The table of our Anglican Communion has had a food fight, and the Ugandans and other Africans have declared they don't want to break bread with us. In some cases, they have refused to go to the table because of the presence of our Presiding Bishop. And they refuse to share in the Eucharist with the likes of me.
In reading about our early church founders, it would seem that such behavior would have been classified as a "sin". Regardless of who is at the table with you as a guest, your host is God. Period. And if you do not honor God with the full presence of your being, then you have retained sin which is the division from God.
With that in mind, and the words of my consistent prayer (Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me), I went to our table at St. John's. Because no matter what is being said of me and other gay people in some parts of Africa, they are not the ones inviting me into relationship with God through the Eucharist. That comes through God, and God only. Looking into the faces and the eyes of other members of St. John's over the chalice was the constant reminder that I am fortunate to have a community of believers where I am accepted in a county where we have adopted a progressive Human Rights Ordinance. Christ is present and alive in our congregation.
The Church of Uganda does need prayers. Prayers for deliverance from their fear of faithful people of God who are gay. Maybe then they'll come back to the table.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Paying It Forward

Tomorrow's gospel lesson from Luke 16 is a challenge.
We're given the story of the property manager who is found to be not worthy of the job getting the ax and, as he's on the way out, he devises a plan to make good with those who owe his rich man boss jugs of olive oil and containers of wheat. He tells the debtors to reduce their bills by a certain amount and pay that lower bill. When the rich man finds out, he praises this guy for being shrewd.
I admit, it left me scratching my head. Searching various commentaries on the internet did nothing much to alleviate the confusion. Is Jesus saying the steward, the property manager, should be praised for figuring out how to make himself popular with those who owed a debt to the rich man by reducing their bills? Is Jesus saying cheating a rich man out of what is owed is OK? Am I being far too literal with this whole thing?
Time to put the brakes on. Take a breath. And remember what is true of all of Scripture: context, context, context. This story isn't happening in a vacuum. Preceding this parable are three others: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. In each case, the joy comes in the finding of the one that was not there as opposed to delighting over the ones that haven't gone missing. Jesus seems to be telling these stories in response to the criticisms of the Pharisees, who in Luke's gospel, are most concerned with money and sticking to the rules and not getting sullied by being around "those people."
This story of the unjust manager comes after the prodigal son and is directed to the disciples. At a critical place in the story, Jesus notes that the rich man praises the sacked manager for being shrewd by essentially deducting presumably his own wages from other people's bills... something that "the children of this age" are good at: acting shrewdly in their dealings with one another. That's something "the children of the light"(the followers of Christ) don't do well. The manager has done what he needed to do to preserve himself in this world. And I would say he did so in a way that, whether it occurred to him, gets him in the direction of eternal life. Rather than pocketing his commission, he has given it away, but not in wasteful or useless way: he has helped others by reducing their debt to the rich man. He evaluated his coming unemployment and made a choice to act in a way that would give him some friends to help him through this tough time ahead. Paying it forward. And, again, doing something that would irk the Pharisees of the Gospel of I Know What I'm Owed in the Here and Now.
For me, this ties back into the collect for Sunday:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I see in this lesson the call to us not to cling to money and make money the thing we worship as an idol. Money really is a tool, but is not "the thing" or should not be "the thing" of our lives. In many ways, I believe it is those of us who do not have a lot of money who perhaps have a closer understanding of this lesson. Seriously, if money was the Alpha and Omega then I'd be the one cast into the outer darkness!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ember Days

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their
vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you;
through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Part of this being the week with Holy Cross Day is that in the church, this is the week to celebrate Ember Days. Ember Days are days to celebrate the ministry of those in the church, and are often associated with people in the process of discernment or the ordained clergy. Thankfully, there is a move to broaden this understanding of "ministry"; hence why I have put the above Prayer for Mission from the BCP. Note that it says "all members of your holy Church." Ministry is not just for those in the plastic white collars; it is for everyone in the Church to live and love and serve in the world the same way that Christ did.

The celebration of Ember Days happens four times a year, and fall at roughly the same time as major Pagan holidays. This is not coincidence, I'm sure. But regardless of where the concept of marking days of ministry with fasting and such came from, the thing that has always struck me is the term "ember". It makes me think of the glowing coals and pieces of wood in a fire that are still orange and red amidst the gray ash and dying flames. If stoked properly, and another log added, these embers will ignite the fire anew.

I think this is a good metaphor for my faith journey. The glowing bits of light have always hung on even when the ash was piling up in my life. All that was needed was a little tending, another log laid down top of these embers and--whoosh!--an unquenchable fire comes shooting up through the grill grate! I have had that pattern repeat itself; roaring fire... dying to embers... new log gives way to new fire...even in these years of my wake up call. My embers need some stoking periodically to regain their vibrancy. I imagine that is true of most people, and certainly most priests. This is why I do centering prayer. This is why I read the Daily Office. Because that is my way of opening myself to the One who holds the bellows to blow the right amount of air over my embers to keep me lit up inside. And then--look out world! To quote Bob Dylan:

Wheels on fire rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Considering Covenant Promises

Last night in EfM, I broke one of our norms and owned it immediately. When outlining the resources of tradition that we could consider, I mentioned church documents... "even the Anglican Covenant" and then blew a raspberry. As a mentor, I am not supposed to pass judgement that way, and I am aware that some of the people in the room may not hold the same opinion I hold about this attempt to define "Anglicanism... in the image of the Archbishop of Canterbury."

My main objection to the Anglican Covenant is that we here in the Episcopal Church already have a Baptismal Covenant which pretty clearly lays out who we are as God's people, what we believe, and what our understanding and beliefs should lead us to do in the world. Hence, I don't think we need another Covenant. The document seems designed to punish us 'piskies in the States who hold such beliefs that Jesus Christ died and was resurrected for ALL people... including the gay ones. Take that one to some parts of Africa and Asia and you'd think we were the worst heretics ever!

Or you don't even have to leave our country. There are plenty of people out there who believe that I should be treated like a second-class citizen. And they sit in the pews of churches across the United States, offering prayers and petitions to the same God that I pray to week after week. They will profess to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and will be happy to quote John 3:16. They seem to miss the next sentence in that chapter:

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

I take this as furthering the statement that Jesus didn't go through the death on the cross to be resurrected only for those straight people who are sure of their place in heaven. And yet there are many out there sporting a Christian fish symbol on the back bumper of their car who think it's OK to vote on our rights to get married, don't want us to serve openly in the military, or grant the same immigration status to the foreign partners in same-sex married relationships as exist for those who are in straight couples.

On another blog recently, I offered a slight amendment to the final lines of our Baptismal Covenant:

Will I strive for justice and peace in a country that routinely denies my full citizenship, puts my life up for public votes, takes the pulse of the majority a gazillion times to determine when is it time to "do the right thing" for me and other minorities who also find themselves in the "other" camp?
I will, with God's help.

Holy Cross Day

I'm preparing another entry. In the meantime... here's to your Holy Cross Day courtesy of Trinity Church in Fredonia, NY.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I Did It!!!

OK... so you remember at the end of July when I wrote about my experiences at Sewanee Theological Seminary (aka "The Nightmare on EfM Street")? Well, tonight was my opportunity to finally exorcise the demons of doubt in my brain.

You must have those. Y'know, the nagging little voice that won't shut up about how "the last time you did this, it didn't work"? Since Labor Day, I've been trying to psyche myself up for the experience of leading my group through a theological reflection, and at the same time, quell the nagging little voice that wanted to remind me of the feelings of being lost and floundering as my inaugural attempt at this exercise this summer in Tennessee fell apart all around me. Seriously, I haven't felt so stupid in front of a room full of people since my sophomore Economics 51 class at Missouri, when I choked back tears as I admitted in front of everyone that I didn't know which end was up with the formula that was on the chalk board. The students all laughed at me, but none of them knew the answer either. The grace from that moment was that my TA, a Muslim from Sudan, praised this average American student for being honest enough to admit not knowing the answer. He became an advocate for me as I struggled through that class, and he tried as best as he could to help me overcome my mental blocks about anything dealing with math. In turn, I tried as best as I could to give him hope that not every American college student was ignorant of the world, spending their waking hours drinking beer and scratching their bellies. We got along, and I remain grateful for his guidance through a difficult course during a difficult semester plagued by a nagging sinus infection that left me sick for 10 of the sixteen weeks.

Back to tonight: I spent so much time reviewing, and re-reading, and studying the Microscope Method for Theological Reflection that I barely could remember what I'd read for the rest of the class. I was afraid to have the wheels come flying off the wagon again, and I was having serious doubts about my ability to guide anything at all.
The Microscope Method calls for a person to share a story that is basically just a "slice of life". In this case, my co-mentor shared a short story out of her life. As she talked, the group was listening and noting the action in the story and where they heard her getting most involved in the action. The group identified thoughts and feelings from the story, checked in with her about all of that, and then everyone got a chance to share (if they wanted) a moment that may have felt the same way for them.

From these common experiences, an image or metaphor emerges... and we were off to the races with examining the world of that metaphor and seeing how that image arises in stories in Scripture or hymns. How did the metaphor relate to culture... and then how does what happens in tradition and culture interplay with each other? Does that interplay lead a person to take a position on the topic? Finally, where do we take this discussion and applying it to our lives today? Where is God in all of that? To wrap it up, we wrote a collect at the end of our discussion.

For me, the best part was that it all worked!!! Some of our newer members really got into the concept of metaphor, and were able to get us into that world quickly and smoothly and effortlessly. And the collect seemed to really pull everyone together at the end. Unlike at Sewanee, my sigh of relief at the break was from the genuine release of a burden lifted as opposed to that sensation of kicking myself over and over for all that had gone wrong.

There were still some areas of the TR that felt a little tough for me in terms of knowing how to really guide people. What seemed a little too strained I stayed away from, and went where I thought our conversation was going.

Who was there for me in this? Well, obviously my fellow group members. But during our opening worship, I tapped into the place in me where I've been going lately to ask God to be present with me. I demanded no outcome. I just asked for God's presence and love as I ventured into a place of uncertainty and fear. I don't think, and in fact I know far too well, that I couldn't have made it through tonight without God's presence. And again I can say, "Thanks be to God!"

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reflecting on the 9/11 Rift

God the compassionate one, whose loving care extends to all the world, we remember this day your children of many nations and many faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Console those who continue to suffer and grieve, and give them comfort and hope as they look to the future. Out of what we have endured, give us the grace to examine our relationships with those who perceive us as the enemy, and show our leaders the way to use our power to serve the good of all for the healing of the nations. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord who, in reconciling love, was lifted up from the earth that he might draw all things to himself. Amen.
- Prepared by The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church, USA, for September 11 anniversary observances.

I remember that September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. I had a doctor's appointment and so was going to work late. I remember listening to the radio in the house, and then the car, as the drama unfolded at the World Trade Center in New York. First, one plane crashed, reported as if it were just a horrible fluke accident. Then a second plane, which made it clear this was no fluke accident. At the doctor's office, the nurses had turned on a small TV somewhere in the back. Patients wondered aloud, "What is this? What's happening?" Suddenly, one of the nurses said, "The towers are falling. Oh, my God! The towers are falling!" I was a reporter. I couldn't sit still. I went to the desk and told the receptionist, "I'm sorry. I really can't stay. I have to get to work. I'll call and re-schedule."

In retrospect, it wasn't like it was crucial for a reporter at Florida Public Radio to be "on the job" at that moment. And yet it was crucial for me. I made contact with our news director and determined that I would go to the state emergency management building and follow Florida's response to the crisis from there. We did have a stake in this thing. The President was in our state that day. His brother was our Governor. And we had no idea what the hell was going on. That day, the terrorists did win. They had created panic, fear, bewilderment. The shock and awe.

Nine years later, we seem to be caught up in that same loop of panic and fear, just at a different place on the wheel. Shock and awe have transitioned into shrill and anger. Our nation has seen images of faces that look like closed fists as the people growl about a proposed mosque at the site of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Islam, a cousin to Christianity in the Abrahamic traditions, is seen as foreign and threatening. And the normally metropolitan and progressive city of Gainesville gets in the news because of a wild-eyed maniac proposing to burn the Qur'an. His threat to pull such a stunt at the end of Ramadan, and on the anniversary of such a horrible event, created panic, fear, and bewilderment. A terrorist in words, if not in actions.

I'm wondering what it will take for us, all of us, to stop this madness? I feel strongly that there are many more in the Islamic camp and the Christian camp who desire peace and co-existence than who want to keep killing and attacking one another. That seems to be at the heart of the issue of Park 51, the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." On August 24th, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk, released a letter to his Diocese in support of Park 51, calling on Christians to "reach out to the peaceful Islamic majority and do all in our power to build and strengthen bridges between our faiths." An important reveal in Bishop Sisk's letter is his own personal relationship with the leaders of Park 51, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan:
We know that as Sufis, they are members of an Islamic sect that teaches a universal belief in man’s relationship to God that is not dissimilar from mystic elements in certain strains of Judaism and Christianity. Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan are, without question, people to whom Christians of good will should reach out with the hand of hospitality and friendship, as they reach out to us. I understand and support their desire to build an Islamic center, intended in part to promote understanding and tolerance among different religions.

Nowhere in any of the media reports on this proposed community center has anyone stated that these folks are Sufis. Sufism is, without a doubt, the least likely place to find an Islamic terrorist! As the Bishop states, it is the sect of Islam that strives for relationship with God through such means as dance and music. To put it in these terms, to demonize this Center and its purpose by coloring it with the same brush as those in Islam bent on theocratic terrorism would be like opposing the Quakers building a Friends Meeting House because of the actions of so-called Christians who shoot abortion doctors in the name of Jesus.

I know peace-loving people of faith are not the image that makes for "good TV news". Peace-loving people of faith certainly don't feed into the perpetual "Fear Factor" that is Fox News and the noise generated by Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and the like. But the peace and love that passes all understanding must be the song of our lives that gets played more frequently. This has to become the soundtrack, and must involve people of all faiths sticking together regardless of which door we enter through to reach the banquet or what name we call our host. I believe this is the way to bring order to the chaos... again.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

L'shanah tovah from our interfaith household

Tekiaaaa! Teruah!! Tekia!!! Tonight marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year... and with that comes the blast of the shofar, the reading from Genesis of the almost sacrifice of Isaac, and usually a round challah. I say "usually" because I fell behind on my shopping and so I'm missing some key ingredients, namely yeast, and I'm too tired to go out shopping for that and some of the flours right now. Not to worry; I will be sure to get the shopping done at some point tomorrow afternoon... after the Rosh Hashana service. And it will be gluten-free so my resident member of "the tribe" can gnosh on her holiday bread without risking a migraine. L'shanah tovah, y'all!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Burn A Qur'an Day? No Way!

September 11th is a painful memory for the citizens of the United States. And this ninth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, DC, will be made worse because of a radical right-winger in Gainesville, FL, named Dr. Terry Jones.

Jones, and his lunatic fringe at Dove World Outreach Center, are planning "Burn A Qur'an Day" to mark the occasion when some equally lunatic Islamic fundamentalists flew commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania... an aborted attack thanks to the passengers who fought back against their hijackers. Jones likes to repeat the phrase "Islam is of the devil." Right up there with Islam, in Jones' book, are gays and lesbians, abortion doctors... all the usual "evil" suspects for these frightened people.

I'm reminded of the time that I was walking across the University of Missouri campus and some Christian fundamentalist type reached his arm in front of me and stuck a copy of the New Testament in my gut like it was a hand off in football. I looked at it. I noted what it was. And then I dumped it into the garbage can nearby and in a fashion so that he would see me do it. My motive was to hurt the man, and I think I succeeded. But, in retrospect, what I should have done is handed the book back to the man with a "No, thank you."

My encounter with the fundamentalist Christian in Missouri is mild compared with what Dr. Jones is proposing to do. But it has a similar root: anger... and misplaced anger at that. And what's worse is that this proposed burning of the Qur'an plays into the hands of the very element of Islam that despises the United States and attacks Jews and Christians world-wide. Do something offensive and hurtful to Islam to whip up the extremists into an anti-American frenzy. Gee, perhaps Jones is on the Taliban payroll!

There is a peaceful counter protest planned in Bo Diddley Community Park in Gainesville on the same day as the proposed burning. The Gainesville Fire Department has not granted Dove World Outreach Center a permit for a bonfire. As such, I hope GFD is on hand with their hoses to douse the flames, and that the police arrest Jones on a charge of defying the fire officials. Unfortunately, they can't arrest him for being a jerk and an anti-Christ.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On the Prayer List Today...

This morning's Prayers of the People featured a famous name:

Rt. Rev. Samuel J. Howard.

Our bishop put out a letter to the diocese requesting prayers for him and his wife as he journeys to California to undergo surgery on his neck. From his August 31st letter:
I will be having significant spinal surgery to my neck on September 15 to address the effects of an injury that began as a childhood gymnastics accident and was made worse by football injuries when I was a young man. As you may know, I have been treated in virtually every way imaginable over the years for pain and mobility issues, but have been reluctant to undergo surgery. However, after much prayer, and consultation with a number of neurological and orthopedic surgeons, I have come to believe there is no alternative, and that now is the time. Marie and I have visited with a number of doctors in Florida and the Southeast. All of them agree that surgery cannot be delayed and that, to put it bluntly, even a relatively slight injury at this point could result in a much worse condition, or even paralysis.

Dr. Brian Andrews, a highly respected neurosurgeon in San Francisco, will perform the surgery. This gifted physician specializes in the precise procedure I need, and he proposes surgery that will be minimally invasive and will not fuse my spinal column, nor will it require plates, pins or bone grafts. With God's grace and Dr. Andrew's skill, the surgery is anticipated to restore almost normal function and mobility to my neck and eliminate a great deal of the pain with which I have lived for years.

Without knowing anything more than the above, my massage therapist self hears in this an injury that is likely to the upper cervical area, quite possibly near the juncture of the axis and atlas (C1-C2). I could be wrong, of course, but if there is damage to that area that could cause a lot of difficulty and pain in rotating the head, and can otherwise become quite debilitating after awhile. Bishop Howard is turning over the workings of the diocesan office to Assistant Bishop Charles Keyser and Canon Bob Griffiths while he is in California. He expects to be there for at least a week.

Not on our official prayer list, but in my own thoughts this morning was the repose of the soul of Ellen Frost. Ellen is the mother of a childhood friend of mine, Leonita, who was my neighbor for many years. My friendship with Leonita got off to a very rocky start: we didn't like each other while she was next door and we used to argue and fight. We became friends when I skipped fourth grade, and found myself in the same home room with her. I got badly used by a group of girls in my new fifth grade class, and was left friendless and feeling very alone. Somehow, being in this lowly place, put me together with Leonita whose mom was a homemaker and dad was a plumber. From this friendship, I learned love, respect and to appreciate people no matter their social status. It was through this friendship that I got to see how classist my hometown could be: those whose families were associated with the local prep school were treated differently by some of the teachers in our elementary school. To put it bluntly, the kids from working class families "didn't rate" with some of our instructors. Because I had friends in both the "preppie" and "townie" camps, I saw through this behavior by the adults, and knew it was wrong. So did Ellen Frost. She was a mama bear for her daughter, and wasn't going to let anyone put her child down. I appreciate how knowing the Frost family and being welcomed into their home helped me see an incarnation of God that I could have missed had I not found a friend in Leonita.

When I went off to prep school, my life, and Leonita's, went in separate directions. Not because I didn't care about her, but because every waking moment of my day was occupied with a school 20 miles away and it was all I could do to keep on top of what I was doing there. Leonita stayed at Exeter AREA High School, and when I told her I was not coming back to EAHS, we lost track of one another. It was only through Facebook that I was able to reconnect in these last couple years, and to keep informed about the ups and downs of her life as part of the "sandwich generation", caring for her aging parents while raising her own little girl. I know what it means to lose a parent after an illness, and so I included Leonita, her dad and her daughter in my prayers.

May light perpetual shine upon Ellen, and may God's love, grace, peace and hope fill the hearts of the Frost family during this time of transition.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

John and "the Jews"

I used to not like the Gospel of John in the same way that I used to think that the apostle Paul was a jackass. My opinions had nothing to do with actually reading and studying their words, and everything to do with what other people used to quote at me (yes, "at" not "to"). But since I began this journey, I have read, learned, marked and inwardly digested the words and the context in which those words were reportedly spoken. Having a more informed view of these parts of Scripture goes a long way toward taking the sting out of what's on the printed page.

The other night in our EfM group, one of our members wondered aloud about the split between Jews and Christians. When did it happen and how did it come about? As we discussed the body politic of the First Century Middle East, I noted that it was at this time when there was a growing chasm of belief between Jews and the would-be Christians over whether Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. And that's what the evangelist John documents in his Gospel. His repeated references to "the Jews" and people being afraid because of "the Jews" was an answer to the real situation that was occurring at that time. The Jews were living under the Roman authority which was under its own stress from being so huge. Depending on who was in charge and when, the Jews could either live in peace and be tolerated, or they were under persecution. For them, it was a tenuous balance and a fight for the survival of their tribe.

When people started showing up in their synagogues espousing a new belief, one that the Romans at times saw as atheism (a no-no in those days of Roman power), this caused friction. You had the fights and the arguments and the banning of "those people" from the synagogues, not only because what they were saying challenged the old religion, but that they were drawing unwanted attention from the secular authorities. Fear, again, rears its ugly head.

John's gospel is written for "those people" who were finding themselves on the outs with the Temple crowd as a way of clearly stating that Jesus is the God of Israel made incarnate. The language of John intentionally hearkens back to the beginnings of the Hebrew Bible to show that this Jesus is The Word. John's gospel was designed to give the early Christians the bona fides and draw in any others who were attracted to "the Way." Hence, all references to "the Jews" were not about all Jews; just those who were kicking "those people" out of the Temple.

It seems when you put a text such as the Bible into the hands of people many centuries removed from the realities of the world in those days, you get gross misinterpretations of what is meant. This is how so many can seize upon what's in John's gospel and think that "Jews=bad, evil, Jesus-killer." And because most churches do such a notoriously bad job at teaching Sunday school, lots of people grow up with a really piss poor understanding of the central text of their faith, or that our roots are in Judaism. Or that Judaism was influenced by the pagan cultures around them. If kids go through a confirmation class, they get schooled in the basics of what the sacraments are, read the gospel of Mark, a little bit about faith and the Nicene Creed... but not much on where we came from, or that our confirmation is akin to what our kinfolk, "the Jews", do with their own children with a bar or bat mitzvah. There's little attempt to move these young teenagers from an infantile understanding of Jesus as the good shepherd holding a little lamb to looking at the other views of Jesus. My goodness, even reading Mark's Jesus when I was in confirmation class, we never dove into the fact that this take on the life and mission of our incarnated God was much more like Marlon Brando than Cary Grant!

Perhaps, with the Jewish New Year fast-approaching, now would be a good time to remember how far back "our story" goes. And to remember that "the Word" was with "the Jews" before we took the words of "the Word" as our new testament to the world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Maggie Gallagher Meets St. Peter

Had to share this one! This has been making its way around Facebook. For those who don't know, Maggie Gallagher is the spokeswoman for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) which last year produced the offensive and (unintentionally funny)"Gathering Storm" commercial which denounces the "storm" of gay marriage. St. Peter is looking very colonial American in this video. Maggie Gallagher is looking thin.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Here's Mud in Your Eye

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. --John 9: 1-8

I'm often interested in the Biblical stories where there is someone with a disability who Jesus heals, and hence uses as an example to others of God working in the world. Too often, I think these stories get interpreted in ways that I think miss the larger (and more essential) truth. On the one hand, people with disabilities who have had to put up with overly-zealous Jesus fanatics might cringe at these tales of miracles because they have had to dodge the very earnest attempts to "heal" them of their limps, blindness or deafness. My friend Terry tells a very sad, but funny story, of a relative who brought her to a tent revival in hopes of curing her or her deafness. Upon having hands laid on her, Terry rose up from the ground and proclaimed, "I can walk!!"

Then there is the other troublesome "hang up" of this tale which even the disciples state (who sinned to cause this man to be blind?). Disability is not a sin. Like so many things in our world, disability is part of our human tapestry. Does that mean that people who are disabled are always happy to have the disability? Certainly not. But many who are blind or deaf or have some other difference are no more sinful than you and I, and have found ways to adapt in a world that many times puts up barriers. Now all they want is to be treated like everybody else. And please spare them the pity party, thank you very much.

The story of this blind man... and the stories of the deaf and the lame who gain 'wholeness' in their bodies... I think are not so much about the physical healing. That's there, for sure. But it would seem the bigger message for all of us is what will happen to those who have an intimate contact with God. God will give you new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new feet to dance.

I have undergone some of this transformation myself. I spent years and years working in radio where my ability to hear was critical to my work... certainly on par with my ability to write and speak. So it makes sense that when God decided to seek me out, it was my aural sense that experienced the touch most strongly. Hymns that wouldn't go away; a booming voice commanding me to "Show up!"; and when I did, it was as if I was hearing all the prayers, the Scriptures and the music for the first time in my life and I was blown away.

It is an awesome feeling. And it is often too hard to articulate in any complete fashion. It's also something that most are not wanting to hear about. Same for our formerly blind character of this passage from John's gospel:

The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’ --John 9:9-12

What he does know is what he's told them. And that, for this man, is enough. But that is not enough for other people who want to poke holes in this man's miraculous moment:

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’-- John 9: 13-17

This poor guy will get continuously bothered over this until the authorities declare that he was blind because of his sin and throw him out. This after they accuse him of basically faking his blindness to begin with!

Sometimes, the workings of God in the individual are such that those on the outside of that experience don't understand it, doubt it, and try to diminish it. But for the one who is in the thick of this relationship with God, who now sees, hears and dances, there is no shaking what they know to be true. God's ability to break us open is real.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Going with the Flow

I was leading Morning Prayer this early A.M. at St. John's. For the summer, and for the sake of keeping things interesting and allowing the prayer leaders a little flexibility, we don't always use Canticles 11 and 16 on Wednesdays. This morning, as I was transitioning from leading the Psalm into the first reading from Job, I set my prayer book on Canticle 13, A Song of Praise, which begins:

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
Glory to you for the radiance of you holy Name;
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

That seemed like a good message for the morning. Then, I started with the reading:

Then Job answered
‘A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,
comes up like a flower and withers,
flees like a shadow and does not last.
Do you fix your eyes on such a one?
Do you bring me into judgement with you?
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
No one can.
Since their days are determined,
and the number of their months is known to you,
and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass,
look away from them, and desist,
that they may enjoy, like labourers, their days.

As I continued reading Job aloud, I had this sense that I needed to switch the Canticle. There is something joyous about Canticle 13 in a way that seemed inappropriate coming off of poor Job in his state of lament and trying to understand his situation. So, quick thinking led me to instruct that we would be reading in unison Canticle 10, the Second Song of Isaiah:

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;
call upon him when he draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,
and to our God, for he will richly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it.

That felt much more appropriate and fitting for the Job lesson. We did use Canticle 13 after the reading from Acts where Herod ends up dead. Definitely time for a rejoicing song!

And I rejoiced in the ability to be flexible, and listen to the inner voice that was steering me to a different song as I read aloud. It also served as a good foundation for a day of working with clients in the massage setting where my intuition is essential to my practice. Trusting my inner wisdom is what makes me the massage therapist that I am.

Always good to have that kind of grounding in a God moment to inform the rest of my day's work.