Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tea Party and the Schismatics

I was relieved to see the numbers that attended the Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear in Washington DC yesterday. To know that maybe, just maybe, there really are more people who recognize the lunacy and the anger coming from the right for exactly that gives me hope.
As I thought about the people who identify with this Tea Party movement, I considered that many of the same people... or at least the same mindset... are among those who force schisms within mainline denominations such as the Episcopal Church. The average Jane and Joe Schmo who have followed a leader out of TEC have been told that we are "unorthodox". They leave not in love, but in anger and bitterness. In this country, the Schmo family has been fed lies about what we believe about Christ and the Christ mythology, claiming that we don't recognize his birth, life, death, resurrection and/or ascension. And, much like the Tea Party making a demon out of our African-American President and female House Speaker, the schismatics have rallied the Schmo family to their cause by making the inclusion of LGBT people... especially +Gene Robinson and +Mary Glasspool... reason to be afraid. Very, very afraid.
Fear has become a useful recruiting tool for those who wish to tear apart people who once stood together. And, unbeknownst to the poor Schmo family, they are drinking from a cup of Kool-Aid and not one of salvation.
The Tea Partiers are being manipulated by Republican Party operatives such as Karl Rove who know how to play upon people's insecurities and prejudices, convincing them to vote against their own self-interests. The Schismatics are being manipulated by leaders in the Southern Cone who see their numbers rising, and want to be the moral and spiritual bullies with the absolute authority within the Anglican Communion. In both cases, the puppeteers have no interest in reason or dialogue with anyone. And as long as they can keep serving up the Kool-Aid, they'll have a group of obedient hopped-up followers who will keep them in charge.
Sadly, in the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury has reasoned that the way you keep everyone in dialogue is by whacking them on the knuckles, or placing duct tape over their mouths. Too many opinions, and too many voices seem a bother. The Church of England will be facing a vote in the General Synod on November 24th as to whether it will adopt a new contract... I'm sorry, covenant... to supposedly hold the Anglican Communion together. The problem with the proposed Anglican Covenant is that it will put a centralized authority in charge of deciding who's being naughty or nice, and basically any other part of the Communion can veto what happens in another province. So, if a member such as the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada should decide that gay people, having been baptized, might also be called to the priesthood... or might just being called to marry their same-sex love... and decides to respond to that by honoring and witnessing that call... the Church in Africa or Asia who disagree will now be able to nix that provincial decision. Instead of allowing the churches to struggle and disagree and dialogue, an outside authority will tell the covenanted members what they can and can not do.
That sounds more Roman than Anglican to me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear

Photo by Jeff Gray
Reports are that there were 215,000 at today's rally brought to you by the Comedy Central stars Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. This would seem to have been larger than the Tea Party and Glenn Beck rally in August. Such news gives me hope that there really are more of us than of them!

Scarier Than Halloween: Rick Scott

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott likes to talk about "let's get to work!" He claims he has a plan to create thousands of jobs in Florida. Perhaps he'll do this by living up to his promise to bring Arizona's draconian immigration law here; hence creating a huge private prison industry as exposed in this report on National Public Radio. No wonder Sarah Palin hates NPR so much!!
Again, we see the cynical manipulation of the system by corporate America. This time, it's the "celling" of America by locking up as many people as we can. And the Republican Party of Florida, led by the Voldemort-in-a-tie Rick Scott, has been raking in the dough from two private prison companies, Geo and CCA. The companies are getting their ducks in the row for the next legislative session, so that Florida can jail all the Mexicans, Cubans, Haitians, Puerto Ricans that enter our state.
All of this explains why the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents prison guards, might be just a wee ticked at the Republican crook for Governor!

Don't let this happen, Florida!! Don't let Rick Scott take over the state!

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Martyrs and Betrayl

‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. --Matt 10:16-22
Anglicans across the globe will be marking today as the commemoration of James Hannington and dozens of other Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries who have been beheaded or burned alive in the annals of time in Uganda. The country has seen much turmoil with secular leadership being either 'fer or a'gin' Christianity and the presence of foreign missionaries. Today, the country is 85-percent Christian, and that Christianity has taken a swing toward creating a new category of "other" in the country.
Fueled by evangelical Christians from the United States, Uganda's sometimes virulent hatred of LGBT people is rising to levels that should be getting the attention of Christians, especially leaders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury. As noted in my post, "The New Ugandan Martyrs?", a publication urging the hanging of leaders such as retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo for ministering to and protecting LGBT people should have been condemned by all bishops in the Communion. Sadly, only one, Bishop Mark Sisk of New York, has taken this up. According to Integrity USA, +Sisk wrote privately to the ABC asking him to please make a statement against such threatened violence. So far, not a word out of Lambeth.
Perhaps the Archbishop is too busy preparing for next month's General Synod and the ram-rodding through of the Anglican Covenant. Or perhaps he's still frothing at the mouth about duly-elected and consecrated LGBT bishops in the USA. Or perhaps, somehow, this story out of Uganda that has been on major networks such as CNN and BBC never reached his desk.
Or perhaps... he condones this attack on fellow members of God's kingdom. Unless ++Rowan says something, how are we to know what he really thinks?
"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." Bishop Christopher and his wife appear to be safe. That's both literally and spiritually. LGBT people are grateful for his witness amidst the wolves in Africa. May others join him in proclaiming a gospel that is for ALL people.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The War on Halloween

Back in 2005, Faux News commentator Bill O'Reilly told the world that there is a "war on Christmas." He supported this assertion by citing the number of retail giants, such as Sears and K-Mart, who advertised and encouraged wishing customers "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." The logic behind this marketing decision lay in the fact that there are people of many faiths in the United States, including no religious affiliation at all, and using a term like "Happy Holidays" seemed to be more inclusive. O'Reilly sees this as the conspiracy of "the loonie left", the mainstream media, and the "secular progressive movement" headed by the ACLU.

"Anyone offended by the words 'Merry Christmas' has problems not even St. Nicholas could solve!" says O'Reilly.

O'Reilly, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and a laundry list of other such groups have been asserting that the conspiracy to keep Christmas off the lips of store clerks and out of the mass mailed catalogues is a part of the plot to kill Christianity in our country.

Well, if it's a sinister plot to recognize our diverse culture and choose to wish people "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", then what are we to make of the conspiracy to kill Halloween?

That's right: I believe there is a war on Halloween being waged by a narrow-minded fundamentalist movement that is forcing us to forgo such rituals as Trick or Treat and carving funny faces into pumpkins in favor of the P.C. "Fall Festival". The holiday is All Hallow's Eve. The Celtic pagans... and many neo-pagans in this country... mark it as Samhain (pronounced sow-in)... a time when the worlds between the living and dead are thin. Ancestors who have passed on are honored. We in the Anglican tradition know this as the spirit of our All Saint's Day. To undermine this annual ritual of noting that there are people who came before us by belittling it with a "Fall Festival" is--to quote Bill O'Reilly--nuts!

I'm an Episcopalian. And I would be willing to bet that most Episcopalians would not be insulted if somebody wished them a "Happy Halloween". Lots of Episcopal children enjoy dressing in costumes and knocking on doors, gathering up chocolate candy in a pillow case. Many Episcopal adults have fun dressing up with their children and bobbing for olives in the martini glass.

Knock it off, people! It's Halloween. It's a Celtic holiday. Let's all share in the celebration and eat a KitKat for the ancestors.

H/T to Diana Kampert for the Halloween bumper sticker graphic!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Blessing For Those Who Are Bullied

If you are a GLBT boy or girl, man or woman, who is being bullied, then this blessing is for you. Carry it with you. Keep it near you at all times. Let it shield you from all harm. Let it be a light through any darkness as you find your path to the dignity and respect you deserve as a child of God.

My Name Is ______________________.
What ever others may try to call me, My Name Is ______________________.
God knows me by My Name because God gave me life.God calls me by My Name because God has a purpose for my life.God remembers My Name because God loves me just as I am.
Therefore I will not be afraid. I will not be intimidated. I will not be denied my dignity. I will not harm myself.
I will not be called by any other name than My Name.
My Name is _______________________.
And I am beautiful and precious in the eyes of the Lord.

This blessing was written by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, a Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Print this out on a card and hand out to any LGBT youth who may someday find themselves at risk.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Little Words of Wisdom

"Never repeat a conversation, and you will lose nothing at all."--Sirach 19:7

I'm sure I'm not alone in being thankful that we are reading passages from Sirach during the Morning Daily Office to mitigate for the woes of Revelation. I tend to read Revelation not as literal but as this character John's really bad acid trip. That tends to help mitigate as well!

The wise words provided in Sirach this morning deal with gossip. We've all engaged in that at one time or another sometimes in a manner that is offering up titillating details about another person's life, or giving a friend some background on a situation they might be about to tackle. Sometimes, we think that gossip isn't that harmful.... unless you are the person about whom others are speaking.

In my previous employment as a radio reporter, I would say that about 90-percent of what I would hear every day boiled down to gossip and rumors which I was then supposed to question and test to see if they were true or false. That was fine as long as I was good to make the inquiry and make sure that what I was hearing had some basis in reality. But I was also working in an environment where gossip ran amok throughout the building and, too many times, to very hurtful conclusions. It was like having Iago as your manager with a bunch of Othellos running around smothering each other based upon half-truths or out and out lies.

Thank God I'm out of that place!

Gossip, and the repeating of conversations that are best left alone, is quite often one of the forms of bullying that happens in schools. It's one of the reasons that LGBT kids keep their true selves hidden. There's a tremendous risk in coming out that then you will be the subject of everyone else's "talk". I certainly figured that out in prep school, which was a place full of gossips. To tell anyone what was going on inside me was too huge an ordeal. And so I learned to create many layers of "self" to keep my true self protected. It worked for the most part. But then would have to be "undone" or "unlearned" as a survival pattern as an adult.

My challenge today is to weigh carefully what information to share with others and what can be allowed to die with me. I think that's the challenge we all face.

The Pharisee and How Not to Pray

The Pharisee and the Publican by James Tissot
I was thinking about the gospel lesson from Luke with the Pharisee and the tax collector, together, and yet set apart in prayer in the Temple. Not only physically, but in the words they choose:

The Phar'isee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'--Luke 18: 11-13

Of course, Jesus goes on to say that it is the tax collector who will reap the rewards of being humble and relying on God for mercy as opposed to the self-satisfied Pharisee. I thought about this "self-satisfied" prayer. It is the ultimate 'there before the grace of God go I' kind of prayer. "Oh God, thank you for not making me one of them!" But the truth is that the Pharisee is just like the very people he sees as "other" to him. The pride he expresses in his prayer, "I am not like other people", is the seed for what I believe is meant by Jesus' rebuke of the "adulterous and sinful generation." The adultery the Pharisee is guilty of committing is the type where he has placed himself on a pedestal and has crafted a prayer in homage to how wonderful he is. "I give a tenth of all my income" (words that conveniently show up at this stewardship time in the church). "Look at me: I fast twice a week" which means I'm following the letter of the law. I'm so good. I'm so wonderful. And the rest of these "others" are not.

I think there is a caution here about the way we pray. Are we able to look at ourselves and present our true selves to God in prayer, or do we insist on casting our selves in light of what other people are doing or saying? Are we minding how we live our lives as we try to stay in step with God, or are we trying to say, "Well, at least I'm not one of those people."?

Jesus gives us an outline of how to pray through the Lord's Prayer. The basics: praise God first and foremost, and then seek the grace, mercy and guidance of God so we may live according to God's will. Prayer is about God; not about yourself. Seems that would be the model to follow. How different a prayer the Pharisee might have offered had he stuck to that formula!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New Ugandan Martyrs?

The above rag is apparently a very small publication in Uganda, but it has already had a large impact on a country where homophobia runs rampant. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, in the week since this "Rolling Stone" published the photos and addresses of gay rights activists and a call to have them hanged, four of the activists have been assaulted and several others are now in hiding. The Ugandan government has sanctioned the newspaper, not for running such an inflammatory story accusing gays of recruiting children, but because it failed to register with the government. Once they complete the paperwork these muckrackers will be allowed to keep publishing.
One of those pictured on the front page is retired Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Integrity USA's contact in the African nation. One activist had his home attacked by neighbors throwing rocks.
Uganda, according to many of the LGBT activists there, was not a friendly environment, but wasn't this bad before the evangelicals from the USA such as Exodus International began spreading the lies about "the cure" for homosexuality. That led to the bill that proposed to execute some LGBT people. The death penalty legislation has been shelved, but clearly the effects are lingering.
I am reminded that as backward as things can be for LGBT people in this country, I am safer here than in other parts of the world. My prayers for my brothers and sisters who live in places where they face real danger and death. God make haste to help them.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Bet St. James Would Have Cried Foul

Grant, O God, that following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.--Collect for St. James of Jerusalem

The readings assigned this morning for St. James of Jerusalem, thought to be the brother of Jesus, seem so on point as I read of next month's pending decision in the Church of England to vote in favor of the Anglican Covenant (thus supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury) or to defeat it with less than a majority vote (which would seem to be a slap to ++Rowan). In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus reminds the disciples that he is sending them out "like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." In other words, there are hardships coming. They will be reviled and brought up on all kinds of charges, but they must keep the faith and endure to the end. Don't worry about what you'll say to all of this; God will do the speaking.
I think this is what has troubled me about this whole Anglican Covenant nonsense. It is true that not everybody in the Communion is seeing eye to eye on a variety of social justice issues. But rather than accepting that we are not all of one accord, and trusting in the spirit that has kept many of us praying and working through our temporal differences, the Archbishop is proposing a plan that cuts off discussion, and attempts to smack about the head any member of the Communion who might do something that another member of the Communion finds troubling enough to "impair" relations between members. For those of us in the Episcopal Church, we can't help but read into this language in the Covenant that we are getting set up to be sent to the wolves for our willingness to treat all persons as equals.
In a post on Bishop Alan's blog, Bishop Alan Wilson gives a couple of metaphors for the Covenant: you can see it either as a Swiss Army knife or a Turkey Turner. I prefer the latter. And this is one bird that is far from done!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The End of 33 Years of Stupidity

Today is a good day in Florida for children in need of a permanent home.
After 33 years of enduring the hatred sowed by former beauty queen Anita Bryant with her Save the Children campaign, the law banning LGBT people from being adoptive parents has quietly, and thankfully, died.
Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum released the following statement about the case involving Martin Gill, his partner and their two children they've been caring for as foster parents.
"The constitutionality of the Florida law banning adoption by homosexuals is a divisive matter of great public interest. As such, the final determination should rest with the Florida Supreme Court, not a lower appellate court. But after reviewing the merits of independently seeking Supreme Court review, following the decision of our client the Department of Children and Families not to appeal the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal, it is clear that this is not the right case to take to the Supreme Court for its determination. No doubt someday a more suitable case will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of this law."
This is all McCollum wants to say on this case which stands as one of the ugliest and embarrassing attempts to keep discrimination in Florida law. The "experts" called to testify, including the infamous George "Rent Me A Boy" Rekers, were grasping for reasons to justify preventing gay people from adopting children. It didn't work. And now it's gone. Thanks be to God!

Another Poll, Another Call to Repent

I came across a message in my email inbox about a recent poll taken of Americans about their houses of worship and homosexuality. The conclusion: many Americans give religious institutions low marks for their handling of LGBT issues, especially the recent well-reported spate of suicides. Roman Catholics, particularly, gave their churches "D's" or "F's" on the topic. And, not surprisingly, a plurality of those surveyed by the Public Religion Resource Institute and Religion News Service (PRRI/RNS) found that people gave higher marks to their own individual house of worship than to the broader spectrum of churches.
This is kind of like those polls done periodically about Congress. Everybody hates Congress, but "my representative is doing a great job." Perhaps, with the advent of the loonies in colonial hats waving tea bags, those polls might reflect a different outcome. But I digress...
One of the interesting notes in this survey is that people age 18-34, and women, are among the groups most critical of the messages that are coming from churches and the effect it is having on LGBT youth. This should give pause to anybody in a church leadership role, especially among those mainline denominations that spend so much energy wringing their hands about how to attract "young families" to come worship. If you want the young families, which often include that wife who usually makes the call that she wants her children to have a religious upbringing, perhaps you might consider that when you fail to be inclusive of the gay friend, or lesbian sister-in-law, in your messages, you will lose that family forever.
That's the head count game which seems to pre-occupy so many in church leadership. Then there's the practical, nuts-n-bolts of this issue: God is love and where true love is God himself is there. How can anyone sing the words of this hymn and then attempt to put a limit on that love? It's absurd! I realize that there are seven passages in the entire Bible that get pulled out regularly to condemn LGBT people. Some of those passages have been repeated in my face by people who believed that such brow-beating might "save" me and make me different. But those seven passages, chosen selectively and quoted out-of-context, are trumped by the entirety of the rest of the Scriptural canon which contain life-affirming messages that say, "I have known you were a queer from the beginning, and I am your God, too! And like so many before you, you will suffer at the hands of those who don't hear, don't see, and think they know more than they really do. Just stick with me, and you'll have eternal life. I promise!"
The other day I was at Tallahassee Community College for a Spirit Day vigil in remembrance of those six young people who have taken their lives due to anti-gay bullying. As I stared through my candle light at the pictures of the dead, I couldn't help but think about a culture that allows people to use their religion as a weapon against others. I thought about their parents now left grieving and what are their clergy or pastors doing to help them? Did they even trust a person of the cloth in the first place!
What this poll should say to all of us in the church is that it is time to repent the silence too many have taken on the complicity that church has had in empowering the bullies. Repent the official stances that treat the LGBT faithful as the half-assed baptized. Repent the use of Scripture as a weapon instead of the Word of the Lord. Repent and become the prophetic voice of God's love for all of creation.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Purple People World

What if all the LGBT people and their allies were to turn purple?
That's what will be happening on Wednesday, October 20th. A teenager, Brittany McMillan, began this effort in response to the suicides of young gay people because of being bullied. Called "Spirit Day", the idea is to visibly show support for all those struggling to stay alive in a world where the bullies use words, fists, and the internet to discourage gay people and has led so many to kill themselves. For those of us who remember our own youth and see those difficult years of high school in a rear view mirror, the stories of what kids are still enduring on their campuses makes us realize that those objects really are closer than they might first appear.
So, in the same way that high schools have that homecoming "Spirit Week" where students dress out in the school colors, this is an invitation to wear your purple, and show the world that there are more of us in support of LGBT people than what one might think.
What if we all turned purple for a day? One can hope that it might mean this world wouldn't feel so lonely to so many LGBT people.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Will he find faith on earth?"

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, "Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" --Luke 18: 1-8

I read this, yesterday's gospel lesson, while waiting to pray and process in with the rest of the altar party. And I was blown over by that final statement:

"And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

Even though God has heard the cries of those "done wrong" for whatever reason, what will be the response from those who receive said justice. I was reminded of the ten lepers who were healed in last week's gospel lesson from Luke. Only one returned to acknowledge that he was made well, not by some fluke but by some faith. Can we find it in ourselves to slow down in our harried existence long enough to see that God is continuing to work God's purpose out in our lives in ways both big and small?

In his sermon, our priest-in-charge Fr. Dave talked of the recent Chilean miner rescue. His sermon was not so much based on the gospel story as it was on the reading we had about Jacob and his wrestling match with "the man" in Genesis. He noted that some of the miners had described a kind of wrestling match they were having with the hope that God would save them, while being in a kind of Hell with the devil raising doubts that they'd make it. He noted that those miners, their friends and families, and their country would be changed because of this incident in the same way that Jacob is changed by refusing to let go of "the man" until he'd received a blessing (and an important name change).

The question for me remains: will they remember God acting in this? I'm guessing that, for many, they might because this was a huge deal. But what about the smaller things in life? The less dramatic? Or when things don't go well?

Think about the attack made on the United States on September 11th. Three thousand people killed in the World Trade Center; passengers on airplanes taken on a suicidal mission not of their own choosing. Shock. Awe. Anger. I knew people directly affected by the disaster. I knew someone who almost flew out of Boston to Los Angeles that morning. As a nation, we grieved a horrible wound. I remember reading an account of an Episcopal chaplain in New York City who found his faith in God shaken to the core by the event. "Where is God now?" might have been on his mind.

Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson put it out there that they knew the mind of God: God was punishing us because of gays, pagans, abortion rights activists, liberals. Of course, lots of people were quick to condemn their remarks as insane and hateful rantings. But were they any more insane and hateful than a country that responded with patriotic fervor and an unjust attack based on lies about weapons of mass destruction... which has now racked up several thousand more dead people both among the Iraqis and our American military?

I am among those who have witnessed these events and wondered at times about God in all of this. From a place of quiet, I can sense that God is still present and knows the prayers of those who wish the conflicts and the name-calling to end. And yet, I remember an anti-war vigil I attended with my partner. She came away from that place saying that God wasn't done working through Bush yet. Thinking on it, I believe she may been right. As my spiritual director noted, sometimes you need the death and decay before you can have a renewal of life. Perhaps it is through the actions of a President Bush that we are to called to tap into our faith that God is calling us to take a deeper look at ourselves.

I believe this is what the people of St. John's are experiencing now. I recently heard that the one who caused "the split" apparently marked the fifth anniversary of that painful event by preaching a sermon about us "bad unorthdox people who 'they' left behind." Meanwhile, we are looking to a future in which we are one parish, one family... with one goal of getting to know one another, and share what we each bring to the table (and I mean God's table here). That's both our joys and our fears and our hopes and our dreams. As noted yesterday, we have wrestled with God, and held on. For that, we give thanks. For that, we see what Christ was saying about prayer: you will be granted justice if you stick with it, don't lose heart and remain faithful that God is with you to the end of the age.

"Will he find faith on earth?" Such a pointed question. I hope we can say, "Yes."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Because You Might Ask: Vote Yes on 5 and 6

I'm going to take a moment to step away from church politics, religion, and all things Episcopal to address a key ballot issue that Florida voters face this election.
Amendments Five and Six: Standards for Legislative and Congressional Redistricting. Pardon me while I go sit in the corner and rock back and forth for awhile!
Back in 1992, my boss at Florida Public Radio gave me a choice: I could focus my coverage on our earlier-than-usual legislative session on the lawmakers' task of drawing the new political boundaries in the state for both the legislative and congressional districts, or I could cover the state budget. I absolutely detest "number stories", and I have always enjoyed maps, so I thought this was a pretty easy pick. Now, I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from witnessing what was the worst-of-the-worst of the legislative sausage making process!

That 1992 session was the beginning of the turn that Florida has taken toward having a public that is mostly registered Democrats and yet has a state legislature that is disproportionately Republican. How, oh how, did this happen? Easy. Republicans made an unholy alliance with African-American and Hispanic lawmakers who argued for more minority-majority districts. This led to “bleaching” many parts of the state. Blacks, who usually vote for Democrats, were being lumped together through the craziest configurations to create districts that would “guarantee” the election of an African-American. It also meant that there were lots of very white and Republican areas now concentrated and able to elect several knuckle-dragging neo-cons to the state legislature. The session was marked by accusations and name-calling: "uppity Spics" and labeling the white male Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives "Pharaoh". (This from now Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown who proclaimed, "Peter and Peter: let my people GO!")

The most telling comment I heard during the debate was when then-State Rep. Betty Holzendorf was whining outside the federal courthouse in Tallahassee, “I just care about MY district.” Clearly, for the members of the state legislature, this wasn’t about you and me: it was about them keeping their seat and cherry-picking who would be the most likely people to vote for them.

Amendments Five and Six take up the clarion call of many public interest groups that have long advocated that legislative and congressional districts should try to keep communities together in compact and contiguous districts. What that means is that we shouldn't be drawing district lines along highways so that we can pick up a neighborhood of African Americans living in a county and put them in a district with African Americans who live in a county over 150 miles away in the wrong-headed thought that, somehow, this will yield an African-American candidate. It might do that, but it's been shown over and over that white voters WILL cast ballots for black candidates; hence it makes more sense to keep communities in tact and thus allow places like Tallahassee to have stronger representation.

For people who are LGBT, this is an extremely important issue. We are not a protected class; even though people have the ability to pinpoint neighborhoods, most of us don't live in a gay ghetto. But we are one group of citizens who have suffered from the skewed lines that have elected a majority Republican legislature. The GOP-controlled chambers have squashed almost every pro-gay bill that has been proposed in the past fifteen years. The anti-bullying bill could be seen as the exception; however, that legislation did NOT specifically offer protection to students being harassed for their sexual orientation and gender identity. Why? Because the Republicans wouldn't allow that in the bill. And while I do not accept that Democrats will pass lots of gay-friendly legislation, they aren't as nasty as the neo-cons in their speech about gays. And, as I have expressed over and over, words DO matter.

The state legislators have shown that they are incapable of doing this important work of drawing district lines that are fair to the population. It's time to clip their wings by putting some stricter rules in place. Vote Yes on Five and Six.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Parable of the Massage Therapist

Last year was a terrible year for me, financially. That was confirmed for me last night as I finally finished my income tax extension. I knew it was a bad year. Many clients had either stopped coming for massage all together, or had told me that, due to their own rotten financial circumstances, they were going to have to cut back and extend the time between their appointments. People weren't buying as many gift certificates for their friends and family. In short, I could tell that my business was taking a hit due to the economy.

But there was a small group of people who had kept my practice alive by being regular clients. They were both male and female, able-bodied and disabled, but all with a common feeling that massage had helped them keep going and being capable of handling what life might throw their way. They came, in some cases, despite fears of cutbacks at their jobs. Massage was too important to give up. As I looked at my books around Christmas time, I recognized that these clients had been very kind to me by trusting their bodies to my care.

"I should reward these folks because they have been good to me," I thought.

And so, I pulled out my gift certificates, and to those clients who had seen me at least 10 times during the year, I sent them a gift certificate with a note that thanked them for their patronage, and gave them a one-hour massage that they could either keep for themselves, or pass it on to someone else who they thought might need the same care they received.

And then I waited.

The next time I saw most of these clients, they were beaming.

"I opened your card and I thought, 'Oh, wow!'" said one.

They came to their next appointment, chipper with their gift certificate, and proclaimed it a gift to themselves after spending on family at Christmas. Still others shared with me how they were gleefully giving the certificate to a friend or a co-worker. Their happiness at receiving a reward for their faithfulness to massage was well worth the sacrifice that I was making of basically giving away one-hour massages.

And, like in most parables of this nature, the reward has come to me this year. Many of those who received that free gift certificate have either referred a friend, or have increased the frequency of their visits. As a result, I can see that 2010 is on track to being a better year for me than before. By giving away, I have received many-fold more than I had before.

This is a good thing to keep in mind as many churches launch into their stewardship campaigns. The sacrifice of giving away freely what you have to give does come back to you. And it comes back with glee and gratitude. And what a gift that is!

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day 2010

I joined with about a dozen other people to stand at a busy intersection in Tallahassee with signs that read, "Stay Alive Gay is OK!" and "Yes, I Am SO Gay". We hung the PFLAG banner and a couple of our people held the other PFLAG sign to show support from straight parents and allies for LGBT people, particularly children and teenagers. Overall, these Monday morning commuters were positive. We had many thumbs up and people honking their horns and waving. But we did have detractors. There was one guy in a pick up truck towing a trailer who decided to take his turn as wide and as hard as he could, blowing a cloud of black exhaust up in our faces. There were others who also took their turns wide with the seeming intent to bully us with use of their two-ton trucks. And then there was the van for some Tallahassee Church for Teens where the man in the passenger seat leaned out the window to yell, "Jesus frees you!" To which I yelled back, "Yes, he made me gay!"
As our local PFLAG chapter President, I had a prepared statement ready to hand out to the media should any of them show up (which they did not). So, I'll share it here:
"Coming out is an individual choice and one that should lead a person to a sense of freedom, joy and comfort in one’s own skin. Being able to live as the person you were meant to be is what everybody wants to do. Sadly, the media reports keep rolling in reminding us all that for LGBT people, especially teenagers, there is a price to be paid for simply being who they are. They are verbally abused by students and teachers; physically assaulted by classmates; and sometimes brutally attacked by casual acquaintances just because they are a different sexual orientation or gender identity. This must end now.
Schools are a microcosm of our larger society. If those in authority, both secular and religious, continue to support laws and policies that create separate and unequal categories in which to place LGBT people, then what message does that send to the students on middle, high school and college campuses? Policies such as Don’t Ask , Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act run counter to the promises made by the pledge of allegiance recited in classrooms all over this country. If we are truly “one nation, under God, indivisible” then there needs to be “liberty and justice for ALL.”
For this National Coming Out Day, it's not only time for all LGBT people to stand up for who they are, it is time for our schools, government and religious institutions to come out from the denial that there is no prejudice, students are safe, and we are enlightened. Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a safe harbor for those families wishing shelter and affirmation that having an LGBT kid is OK. Our desire is to see our society reflect that same welcome for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
It's 2010. Isn't it time to live and let live?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When in Brooklyn... Paladino's Poisonous Prattle

New York Republican Gubernatorial candidate, Carl Paladino, addressed a group of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn and reportedly delivered a speech that chastised his opponent for marching in New York's gay pride parade and said that children shouldn't be "brainwashed" into believing that homosexuality is OK. This from a man wearing a Tinky Winky purple tie! Nice!

I think the above picture needs a caption. Anyone?

Choral Evensong Contemplation

Another beautiful choral evensong at St. John's brought about some deep contemplation of this one verse from Psalm 111:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

These words were sung in the early part of the service, and hung on in my mind. Particularly the phrase "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." The "fear" is the moment of awe, the point at which one becomes aware of a power beyond one's self. Becoming aware of "the Lord", of God, is the beginning of wisdom. To many of my friends such awareness is the beginning of foolishness. This is the common view you find in a world that has seen the hypocrisy of the Church and mistaken it for God. How can one say it is the beginning of wisdom when you consider the behavior of those who claim the mantle of Christ, and yet would deny the full dignity of every human being?

Simple: understand that the Church, the people, is not God. This is something I figured out many years ago and it became the rock of my faith when I came out as a lesbian. If I had made the mistake of thinking the Bible-thumping people standing on street corners and damning me to Hell were speaking for God, I would have been wrong. I might even say that would have been blasphemous. The God who knew me before I was formed would not now spit in my face and call me "faggot!" or deny people like me a place at the banquet table.

Being aware of God's vast and incredible power and then knowing, and living, in accordance with the wisdom that the eternal life promised to us is something we can access right now, I believe, is the "good understanding" the psalmist references. Having that in my head while listening to our choirsters sing the Magnificant brought tears to my eyes:

For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him *
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

Indeed, his praise endures forever! What a promise to those of us who, against the wisdom extolled by "the world", have been willing to seem foolish in our pursuit of God.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Unfit", the story of Ward vs. Ward

A film producer contacted me about two months ago about a story I'd worked on in the mid-90s for Florida Public Radio, NPR and This Way Out. It was the tragic tale of a mother and her eleven year-old daughter. The mom had divorced her husband because she had fallen in love with a woman. The split had been OK in terms of the custody of the youngest daughter, the eleven year-old. But when Mary Ward asked John Ward for more money in child support, it was as if she'd fired a shot across the bow, and he was determined to retaliate. Suddenly, John Ward decided that it was time to bring up "the L-word" in a bid to get custody of the daughter. In turn, Mary Ward's lawyers brought up "the M-word", as in John Ward had served time for second-degree murder in the death of his first wife.

The question now was before the courts in Florida: is a murderer more fit to be the custodial parent or a lesbian? For Judge Joseph Tarbuck of the Escambia County Circuit Court, it was not hard to reach the obvious conclusion: the girl needed to be brought up in "a NON-lesbian world." Mary Ward appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Two talented lawyers, Charlene Carres of Tallahassee and Kate Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, laid out a case that Mary Ward and her partner were providing a good and supportive home for Mary's daughter, and contrary to the arguments made by John Ward's attorneys, they were not doing anything sexually-explicit in front of the child. Still, a three-judge panel concluded that there was not sufficient evidence in the trial record to justify reversing Judge Tarbuck's order... even with Tarbuck's prejudicial statement in the record. The news sent a chill throughout this part of the state. It seemed clear that if you were lesbian and living in Northwest Florida, you were sub-human. Even a murderer was better than being a lesbian. Her lawyers planned an appeal to the state supreme court.

Mary Ward died of a heart attack a few months after the appelate court's ruling and before the next legal round. The First DCA then withdrew its opinion. It seemed an even sadder post-script to the story.

This documentary crew is now in the place of raising money to help get their film finished and distributed. I think this is a story that needs to be told. They have a website, and the above trailer. I hope that in the coming months, we'll see a schedule of festivals and screenings!

Christian Moguls

I've been reading articles this week in both the New York Times and the Washington Post about the obscenely wealthy... and what effect that is having on our overall society here in the United States. You can imagine, the news is not good. Columnist Maureen Dowd talks of the rich and famous giving away their best clich├ęs on how to reel in the dough with Jesus at your side. And Steven Pearlstein analyzes the true dangers of a society where one-percent of the population hold half of the nation's wealth in their wallets. There is no longer a sense of "We're all in this together" because we really aren't. Lucky for the super-rich, most Americans have yet to put two and two together to realize that they are being played.

I remember sitting in a church service a couple years ago, and listening to the rector give a sermon in which he touched on how difficult these times were because of the economy and specifically the disintegration of people's stock portfolios, and how that can cause concern. I told him after the service that I wasn't worried; I was already at the bottom of the barrel because I didn't have a stock portfolio. "Welcome to my club!" I said, noting that I lived daily according to the viscissitudes of the economy. He stared at me blankly. Clearly, just as his sermon had spoken to a reality that wasn't mine, he couldn't relate to an existence that didn't have a stock portfolio.

It all makes me wonder about the role of the Church in a world where the church leaders don't speak up more about this growing disparity between that one-percent who have so much, and the 99-percent who think that either the one-percent deserve to be that wealthy, or (worse) have a belief that one day they, too, will be part of that one-percent if they just keep voting a certain way and working hard. How many were lured into believing they WERE among that one-percent when the serpent slipped them a credit card offer they couldn't refuse with promises of tons of credit, low interest rates (for six months) and how 'bout them frequent flyer miles?!?!

I contemplate all those sayings of Christ in the Scriptures about wealth, the wealthy, having enough, and what happens to the treasure stored up in this life (hint: it rots). If you recall what Jesus says to the young rich man:
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.--Mark 10: 17-22
To give up everything, and follow Christ, I understand to mean not only the literal "give it all away and wander from town to town with me." Obviously, one can not do that today because Jesus, the man, is not in the flesh and blood to be followed from town to town. But, according to my theology as of October 8, 2010, I think this is the plea of Jesus for the young rich man... and all the very rich people... to realize that we need to be "all in this together." That's a very Jewish perspective on the collective community needing to be the focus, and not just the individual. As Pearlstein notes in the Post article, the danger of not coming to this understanding is a nation that will collapse due to people becoming even more disenchanted, angry and industry will grind to a halt. It really behooves the very wealthy to share what they have, so as to keep the society clicking along. The Church certainly gets this at stewardship time: how many grumble about those in the congregation who have the means to support the ministries, but will only part with a couple of copper pennies?

I asked what the role of the Church should be in this discussion. I'm thinking it should be taking on its traditional place of being the prophetic voice. Why just leave it to newspaper columnists to state the obvious?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Let Me Live

As I lead our small congregation of three during morning prayer, I was struck by these words of the Psalmist:

Let me live, and I will praise you,
and let your judgments help me.

For a brief moment, I recalled the feelings of fear and depression that I had when I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was and how did I fit into this world that saw gay people as the butt of abuse and jokes fueled by the AIDS epidemic and so forth. It was as if a rip in the time-space continuum opened, and as these words exited my mouth and filled the room, it was a much younger version of myself speaking, like an echo from my past. I never said those words, or wrote them down anywhere when I was in prep school. At least not these specific words. But they reflect the sentiment of much of what I was writing at that time, prayers that were a plea for God to stop the pain and explain why I must suffer and why I was being condemned for feeling love.

The well-publicized deaths of gay teens recently has stayed very present in my thinking. And so as I reflected on this echo, I thought of how many others are still out there struggling against the very strong temptation to make an early exit. I know they're dodging bullies in the hallways and on campuses across this country. They're holding in a part of themselves, and learning how to perform "straight" so they can avoid abuse. They might even be doling out some slurs to show that they aren't "one of them".

But how many of them are hearing the words of the Psalmist, either in this way... or in some other way? Probably not much.

With National Coming Out Day just around the corner, I'm thinking again on how thankful and grateful I am to God for the chance that I got to live. I reflect on all the things, good and bad, that I have experienced along the way that have molded and shaped me into the person I am now: a lesbian who rejoices daily that through Christ I am free, in Christ I am loved, and with Christ I can live and share in the world. In other words, I feel as though the "judgments" of God have helped me. Now, I pray that I and other people who recognize the uphill battle gay teens are still facing, can be the incarnation of God that says, "Ask to live! You will make it!" God, may thy will be done.

Monday, October 4, 2010

St. Francis Day

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to
be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
--Book of Common Prayer, pg. 833

Saturday, October 2, 2010

OT and the Ugliness of Today's World

I glanced at the readings assigned for today, and was struck how the lesson from Habakkuk could speak so well to the emotions many of us in the LGBT community feel when we see report after report about kids being bullied... sometimes to death. Integrity USA is calling upon priests in the Episcopal Church to address the rampant reports of bullying in their sermons tomorrow. I am not a priest, but here's a sermon based on the OT reading in Track Two that I'd want every gay Christian to hear...

The oracle that the prophet Habak'kuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!"
and you will not save?

How many of us have felt this at times when we have been the target of an attack? Certainly, I have lived these lines both through my turbulent teenage years, and even as recently as the start of this decade. I wondered aloud why God was so far from me? Why was I being left to fend for myself while the wolves were breathing words of hatred and condemnation against me.

Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous--
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

And here, we have my sentiments expressed exactly about all that I have been reading this week. Young middle and high school boys perceived to be or outwardly gay are taking their lives in an effort to escape the pain of being picked on constantly. This speaks to the problem I see in a society that still treats homosexuality and homosexual persons as freaks and people who are somehow "less than". This gets reinforced by the laws that treat us as second-class citizens, and the schools that, even after lawsuits, have yet to get the message that it is NOT a rite of passage to allow kids to stalk and beat up other students. It is compounded by the words of our allies when the people who are supposed to be our "friends" talk about our "lifestyle choice", our sexual "preference" or (my least favorite word) "tolerance". Please, folks: am I so difficult to live with that you simply "tolerate" me? Is tolerance the way to show that you respect the dignity of every human being?

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

Just as I've stood in the complaint line to the Almighty, as I have moved more in the direction of God in my life, I have also known the solace and the power from going quiet, and waiting on the reply to my complaints. I am not naive. I don't expect God to send me an email or a text message to my cell with "the plan to make this a better world." But I do know that, in my continued hope, I know that there is a power beyond me that has heard the complaints and is "working on it". Can I be patient to keep watch? That's always the big question. An immediate response to the injustice would be much nicer.

Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

"For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay." This is the Biblical way of stating, "It Gets Better." When you are in the thick of feeling shat upon by the world, it's hard to hang on to this hope. And that's what I see in the lives of these young people who are killing themselves because they've been identified as queer. There's been no discussion of what, if any, faith life they might have had. But, if they are like most of us in the LGBT community, the church has not been a safe harbor during the anti-gay storm. And yet, I firmly believe that God is with them as God was, and is, with me. Whether they want to see that God in the same way that I do, through the window of Jesus Christ, is another matter... which doesn't matter to me. What does matter is that if you are among the harassed know that there is Love in the world... as above and so below. If it seems to take forever to respond, wait for it. It is there for you to taste, but you must remain alive to know it, and not allow the bullies to grind you down.

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

I believe the oracle has summed this up well for the prophet and for us. Those who believe themselves superior, who are haughty and who place the stumbling blocks in front of gay people in an effort to crush their spirits... it is the spirit of those mean people which is not right in them. Remember that!! And don't let the term "righteous" scare you off. What does it mean to be counted among the righteous? It has nothing to do with you needing NOT to be gay (despite what any person on earth might have told you!) You are righteous because God, the creator, has made you good just as you are. If you are Christian, Christ has restored you to that place of righteousness through the crucifixion punctuated with the resurrection; you just have to believe it, internalize that feeling, and go forth to treat others with that same sense of being loved by Love. Can you do that and be queer? Yes!! You can!!! Don't let those who are the "proud" tell you otherwise!

With that in mind, let us pray:

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us
grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace
with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom,
help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our
communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy
Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
--Collect for Social Justice, BCP pg. 246