Friday, December 31, 2010

What Will You Remember of 2010?

A wonderful thing about writing a blog is that I have an instant notepad available to me to help me remember what did happen this year. And there were a lot of things. Some, like the passage of the Leon County Human Rights Ordinance and the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the adoption ban for gay and lesbian couples in Florida were very good pieces of news. As a lesbian, I began to feel parts of me becoming more whole as artificial hetrosexist barriers were knocked down. In Los Angeles, not only did we in the Episcopal Church gain two women in the episcopate, one of the suffragans, Mary Glasspool, is a partnered lesbian. Finally, +Gene would not be alone! There is still more room for improvement, but at least we are getting better. Just in the same way that columnist Dan Savage promises young suicidal LGBT teens who face bullying and intimidation by their classmates: "It Gets Better" so don't let the difficulties you are facing as a teenager cause you to take your life. You won't enjoy the good stuff unless you stick around.

But with the good stuff that has come to the LGBT community, there is much in the world that needs to be healed. And that begins with the Gulf of Mexico... and the other water ways fouled by our greedy need for oil. British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon geyser, as I called it, was devasting and unspeakably awful. Many of us living near the Gulf could only watch as BP tried one way to plug the oil geyser. And then another. And then another. The whole time, birds and fish were getting coated in crude, and those who make their living on the sea were desperate. There were attempts in Florida to ban forever any notion of off-shore oil drilling. But the state legislature, a body in recent decades not known for its environmental awareness, refused to go that route. Meanwhile, many of the BP branded gas stations are now boarded up. Ironic that the greeting on the now defunct pump station pictured above reads: BP Invigorate.

Along with the man-made disasters are the natural ones: the earthquake in Haiti, the flooding in Pakistan and Australia, and the crazy weather patterns that produce stronger storms like the Christmas blizzard. Some folks still maintain what is happening has nothing to do with that issue mentioned above about greed and oil and global warming. That's just Al Gore poppycock! Ask any member of the Tea Party, and they'll tell you global warming isn't happening. Drill, baby, drill.
Yes, that mantra isn't going to go away... especially after the 2010 election. Many of us in Florida are scratching our heads (which we know sit on our necks) wondering what happened at the polls this time?! Why is our new Governor the crook who rooked the federal government out of 1.3-billion dollars in the largest medicare fraud ever?!
On the church front, there's the ongoing debate about the Anglican Covenant. A document heralded to be "the best way forward" for this communion of squabbling Anglicans seems to be doing nothing more than pouring salt on the open wound. I have enjoyed mocking the mockery of the Covenant with my Bishop Yellowbelly video shorts. And I have thrown my hat in with the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, a group of bloggers in various provinces throughout the Communion who are gathering resources and talking points to put in the hands of all people interested in and concerned with the direction we seem to be moving. To put it simply, the only covenant that matters to me is the one we repeat with each baptism. To me, there is nothing "Anglican" about putting on paper a vague idea that if a particular church (with headquarters in New York City) does something that another church (in Africa or Asia) doesn't like, then they get dragged in front of the Star Chamber and kicked off Anglican Communion Island. And yet, from all that is being said and done in the Communion right now, that appears to be the sole intention of this document. And I blow a big ol' raspberry for that one!

2011 is just around the corner and with it, I hope, will bring all of you new dreams and seeing old wishes come to fruition. I will continue to post my thoughts and musings although I may change the look of this blog at some point. I haven't decided. December 2010 marks the official third year of "Wake Up and LIVE" and I continue to do that each day finding new challenges to push me along my spiritual growth and plenty of pockets of joy to remind me that the journey has some valleys, but lots of peaks, too. Thanks, and at this hour, I toast you with my coffee cup. Be safe and enjoy the ride!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pick Your Artist

A break from the Daily Office, and a little end of year fun. I saw this on Lesley's Blog some time back and have taken the plunge. The idea: choose a musical artist, and without repeating, use song titles to answer the questions. If you like, you can share your results in the comment section.

Pick your Artist: Joni Mitchell

Describe yourself: Twisted

How do you feel: Blue

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Free Man in Paris

Your favourite form of transportation: Just Like This Train

Your best friend is a: Strange Boy

You and your best friends are: Not to Blame

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called: Refuge of the Roads

What is life to you: The Same Situation

Your current relationship: All I Want

Your fear: The Fiddle and the Drum

What is the best advice you have to give: Down to You

I would like to die: Songs to Aging Children Come

Time of day: Chelsea Morning

My motto: Both Sides, Now

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Holy Innocents, Victims of Fearful Power

If St. John was a martyr in will if not in deed, the Holy Innocents, the male babies in Bethlehem slaughtered at the order of King Herod, are the ones called "martyrs in fact though not by will." They didn't know they were giving their lives as a sacrifice to protect Jesus. Unsung heroes of very tiny stature.

We learn in Matthew's gospel that Herod, having heard that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem, felt threatened by the prospect of one greater than himself. He'd hoped the three wise men would return to him with information so he could have the infant Jesus killed. But, just as with Joseph, the wise men learned in a dream that they needed to stay clear of the King. So they took a different route home. Furious, King Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two years old. But Joseph had whisked the family away to Egypt where he waited for word of Herod's death before venturing back.

There are many in this world today who I would consider our modern "Holy Innocents". I think of the transgendered people who are brutally murdered. I remember the LGBT Africans who are facing imprisonment and death. I think of the broken but innocent souls on death row who will be executed for a crime committed by somebody else. I think of people in this country without health insurance who are more likely to become seriously ill and die because they couldn't afford the health care that others insist must remain the private privilege of those with health insurance. And among the group of uninsured are the illegal immigrants and their children.

Happy as I was on the day that the Senate finally voted to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, I was disturbed that the DREAM Act, a bill designed to give the children of illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens, failed to garner enough support. The United States has often had a troublesome attitude toward immigrants, illegal and otherwise. While advertising that we are the "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave", we have turned away boats carrying Jews escaping Hitler's regime; we have opened our shores to Cubans, but not necessarily Haitians. And now we are telling the children of illegal immigrants, who have no control over their parents' situation, that even though you are with us and among us... you are definitely not us. Even service in our military, fighting wars that too many Americans object to, does not qualify or count toward citizenship. During the health care debate, one of the questions raised repeatedly was if the illegal immigrants would have access to health insurance. It was important, apparently, that the answer to that question be not only, "No" but "Hell, NO!" As with all people who have no health insurance, when someone who is illegal gets sick, they go to the emergency room. And those costs get passed along to all the people with their private health insurance.

So why don't we have universal healthcare? Fear. And fear-filled people in power. The fear is that if we were to offer a basic across-the-board health care, then CEOs of Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Capital Health Plan etc. etc. would not make as much money. And then there is the attitude that exists among the fear-filled public: I paid for my insurance, why should somebody else get it for free or reduced-cost? Have they forgotten the lesson of the loaves and the fishes?

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.--Collect for the Holy Innocents

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

St. John, the Lover

A martyr in will if not in deed.

It reads a bit like an epitaph, but this is the description given of St. John, the evangelist and son of Zebedee, who was the only one of the twelve who didn't die an untimely death. He did suffer as a promoter of "The Way" and was thrown in jail for a time. But according to history, he lived into his old age and died in Ephesus.

The Gospel according to John differs in style from his counterparts Mark, Matthew and Luke. In fact, I have often described the different gospels as being a bit like reading the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post side-by-side. Each reporting on the events and the sayings of Jesus in a way that would be best suited for whomever was in their audience. John, on the other hand, is like the A&E channel's Biography. And his Gospel is written with the purposes of drawing intentional lines connecting Jesus in all ways to God, and showing that this man was more than a man; he was God, the Word made flesh. He was trying to boost the morale and resolve among the followers of Christ who were finding themselves increasingly unwelcome in the Temple. "The Way" followers were rocking the boat and there was still a tinderbox situation with the authorities about what was a legitimate religion and what was not. These were the early Christians to whom John was speaking.

If I had to choose a word to describe St. John it is love. He is referred to as "the one whom Jesus loved." The writings attributed to him have many mentions of love, and beautiful explanations of the meaning behind the new commandment Jesus gave to his disciples in John's gospel: to love one another as I have loved you. Remarkably, that scene takes place immediately after Jesus dips the bread and hands it to Judas to indicate that he would be the one to betray him. Indeed, painful as it might be, love extends to Judas, both the man among the disciples and the Judas' of our own lives. In the epistle, the First Letter of John, it says:

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.--1 John 4: 16b-21

There are many ways to show another love, but I find the simplest is to look someone in the eyes. At the Florida School of Massage, there are two classes that may be meeting at any given time of the year. One class is about three-fourths of the way through the program before the next class comes in. When the two groups come together for the first time to meet, they form two circles: "old" class in one facing toward the center, "new" class in the other facing out. The co-owner of the school plays the flute as the other owner keeps a chime. And in roughly ten second intervals, the old class moves its circle around the new class. Each old class member takes the hands of the new person in front of them, and for those ten seconds between chimes, we remain quiet looking into the eyes of the other and holding their hands. It is not only a way of seeing the God within the other person, it is a way of making contact in a non-verbal and non-threatening way. Just as Christ would have wanted.
We have that same opportunity to make contact with those around us in the way that the apostle and evangelist John describes in his letter. We love because he loved us first. Those who say, 'I love God', and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. Let's try seeing the light of God in the eyes of the people we encounter. Treat them with the love we have felt from God toward us. The world knocks us around and will always try to blot out the light. Let yours shine in love!

Monday, December 27, 2010


This is very clever and funny. Oh, how technology would have changed the world at the time of Christ!

St. Stephen, the First Deacon

So many people. So few laborers for this harvest of humanity.

Today, we remember Stephen who was among the seven who were selected to be the ones making the most immediate contact with the Hellenists, meeting the needs of the widowed and the orphaned, as the twelve apostles continued in their more "priestly" calling to spread the good news of Christ among the Gentiles. Stephen stands out because of his success at his ministry. His success led the Jewish temple leaders to be jealous of Stephen. And, much like with the story of Jesus, there were false accusations and trumped up charges brought against him. Stephen, being innocent and having the Holy Spirit with him, refutes the charges against him and admonishes the crowd and the temple leaders. Not only would he not shut up about Jesus Christ as the Messiah, he noted that the crowd at his trial were trying to suppress the Holy Spirit. His candor would cost him his life.

It's at the time of Stephen's stoning that we meet Saul, who would later be renamed Paul. He was holding the coats of those who were hurling the rocks at Stephen. A tacit participant in the attempt to silence those who were continuing in Christ's work.

I have to admit that when I realized that the story of Stephen and the six others was the beginning of the office of deacon in the church, I thought, "Well, that's one sure-fire way to get people to reject the role of deacon!" Anyone who has ever been in a leadership role of any kind can tell you what it's like to face rejection, stiff-necked people, and stoning (figuratively speaking for most of us!)

It's interesting that in the service for the ordination of a deacon, the work laid out for these special people is the work of a prophet. They are the hands-on folks who see the needs in the community and take it back to the Church for action. So, that leads to a question: does that mean that the stiff-necked people of our modern day the Stephens tend to meet are not the crowds, but the Church itself? When a Stephen returns with news of a community of people in the world needing care, compassion and welcome, how does the Church respond? I've known of two responses to my own deacon-like work to cracking open the doors of St. John's again to the LGBT community. There has been the response of indifference and quoting the Galatians passage (in Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, free or slave... and by extension straight or gay) as the reason we won't extend ourselves to the gay community. And there has been the response of gladly welcoming the community into our midst, and encouraging participation. The approaches that St. John's has shown toward the LGBT community, I think, speak more of the people in charge than of the congregation as a whole. But just as the Holy Spirit gave Stephen the words to keep speaking, even in the face of death, the spirit has continued to work its powers of persuasion and insistence on the decision makers of St. John's. The doors of our church have opened much wider in the last eight months, and it showed in our congregation on Christmas Eve: there were Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses. Transgender and gay. Piercings and mohawks. It was the true harvest of humanity... gathered likely for just the one service. But in that one service, they heard what is true: you are all welcome to be who you are and sit among us here.

Although the diaconate is a special order in the Church, the innocence and sincerity of mission that Stephen showed is one that I think any Christian can and should do. Because there is still a harvest of humanity out there that needs to be met where they are. Come, labor on.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Prepping the Mansion...

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

I'm sitting by the glow of the Advent candles and taking a moment to consider what the collect is saying as we get closer to the moment that we mark God's return into our world as a baby, again.

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation. It is interesting to think that we place so much emphasis on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Advent is supposedly a season of waiting and anticipation, but for many it is a season of wringing the hands and running to and fro from the shopping mall to the grocery store to the job to the holiday party with platters of food that you really aren't supposed to eat (OK, maybe this WON'T kill me to have a few cookies... and cheese... and artichoke dip...). In all of the build up of this season, it can be hard to remember that the work begun in each of us to prepare our mansion has been going on all year. For me, to think about the "daily visitation" of God is just a little unnerving to have in a collect since "God thoughts" seem to intrude on me as I sit at traffic lights, or as I surf the internet. And the daily visitation is something that we can be oblivious to noticing. How often do we take a moment in our hurried lives to see the creation around us? Just to take in a breath can be enough to remember that we are a uniquely beautiful creative masterpiece of God's will, and to know that God is never far from us if we remain willing to look.

...that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. I have talked before here on this blog about The Body House and how I read references to God dwelling in the temple to mean not just a building, but rather to be dwelling in us. And as I read this part of the collect, I'm reminded of the famous lines in the Gospel of John, "In my father's house there are many mansions..." (KJV. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible uses 'rooms' instead of 'mansions'.) Through the 'daily visitation' of God in our lives, and through us being mindful of God being above, below and all around us, we may find that our "mansions" have been spruced up a bit. When thoughts turn to God, fleet away from God, and yet return back to God, our way of behaving and responding in the world changes. This begins what I see as the shedding of old patterns and habits that don't feed into the waters of eternal life from which we are invited to drink. The stuff of "life" that weighs us down is dead weight...figuratively speaking. When we realize that "the stuff" doesn't have to hold so much importance, there is a mental shift that happens. Kind of like throwing open a window in the room that had been closed up. Air and light blow in, and the room (our mansion) is transformed and ready to receive the much anticipated guest of honor.

The Advent wreath is glowing with light. We are on the cusp of Christmas. Let's take a moment to breathe and know that I AM has been at work within us to prepare a mansion fit for this king.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Over!

This morning, President Barack Obama fulfilled a campaign promise to repeal the military's anti-gay Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Also today, the UN restored sexual orientation to the list of minorities included in protections from extrajudicial and hate-inspired slayings. Both of these important events gave me pause to give thanks. I have no words to express my joy and gratitude for this day. So, I turn to the prophet Isaiah:
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

And I say, "Amen and Amen!"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

St. Thomas and Trust

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with
firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so
perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our
Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting
in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

These days, I find I can really relate to Thomas.

He is referred to as "Doubting Thomas" for his unwillingness to believe that the resurrected Christ really was standing in front of him until he'd placed his fingers in the marks on Jesus' hands and side. His behavior has become slang for a person who won't accept something even when the facts of the thing are staring him or her in the face.

As I listened to this collect and some of the readings associated with Thomas' feast day, it struck me that even more than calling him "doubting" we should also think about his "trusting".

This is where Thomas and I become twins. It seems that he did have trust in God, but it wasn't boundless. I sometimes feel this way, too. As much as I am willing to believe and hold fast to what is an unprovable truth, that God exists and came into the world as a human to touch us and be with us in the struggle of life, I still find myself holding back.

What would it be to fully let go and let God? I have had glimpses of this. It is energizing and leaves me slack-jawed when I do. What would it be to live this all the time? This would mean really giving up control and knowing that all will be well, even if I can't plot and plan the course.

As if to give me tangible evidence of this, I've been experiencing one challenge to control after another today:
  • My car, which had been pulling so hard to the right I was going to name it "John McCain", needed two new tires. The front right one was about to shred; hence the pulling.

  • The electricity went out, which not only interrupted my phone and internet, my oven is now kaput because of it. Luckily, the range still works!

  • A client showed up at my office wondering where I was. I called her back to say that she was a day early. Then it turns out she couldn't make her actual scheduled appointment. Thankfully, we have worked out another time.

So much for control, eh?!

The challenges of life are one thing. And they can lead to that all-too-common wail, "Why me, God? Why me?" God has nothing to do with Tallahassee utilities, or the roads that ruined my tire. But it is when life gets rough that I have been most prone to lose trust and think that I must be the butt of some cruel joke. That was true of our ancestors in Christianity to whom Peter writes,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.--1Peter 1:3-7

Even when you're faith is being put to the test by killings and beatings, as was happening to the early Christians, hold fast and trust that God has got your back. Always. And so, on this feast day of St. Thomas, I ask for an expansion of my trust that God, the alchemist of my self, may continue to craft and form me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And They Will Call Him Emmanuel

If you notice in this stained glass window, we have Mary and Jesus. But Joseph... well, he wasn't really the dad now, was he? No need to put him in the picture.
Unless you're the evangelist Matthew who, in today's gospel lesson, made the story of Jesus' birth all about Joseph:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emman'uel,"
which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. --Matt 1:18-25

The prophet to whom Matthew's language refers is Isaiah, which was our first lesson of the day. And it is in keeping with the way Matthew writes and speaks of Jesus. This particular gospel is all about making sure that everyone knows that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecy. He was "it", the Messiah, the real deal.
I doubt that Isaiah was talking about Jesus since Jesus wouldn't have been in the prophet's consciousness. But for Matthew, and for us in Christianity, it is important to have this link and this fulfillment of the prophecy.
What struck me in reading this was how Joseph followed the information he received in a dream. Not unlike the Joseph in the latter chapters of Genesis, one of the other big dreamers in Scripture. The good news of this New Testament Joseph story is that after sleeping on his dilemma of what to do with this girl who is pregnant, he wakes up with the understanding that he has to stick it out with her. Especially if this really is the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah's words, "the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel."
The coming of Emmanuel was as important then as it is today. The Jewish people had already been in exile, seen the destruction of Jerusalem and their temple, and now were living under Roman rule which was a tenuous situation kept in balance by carefully negotiated power structures. Jews could be Jews, but they were to pay taxes to the Emperor and not get too uppity.
But there were those who were ready for a change. And in comes Emmanuel, God with us, to be the catalyst for that change.
In my experience, this is the way of God. God is waiting in the wings for that moment when we say we want a change and then-bam-here it is! I can't count the number of times that I have complained that I didn't ask for God to become a presence in my day-to-day thinking, but then I remember that I did ask. It seemed inocuous at the time. But when I repeated the lines from the Prayers of the People to my mentor (I ask your prayers for those who seek God or a deeper knowledge of him. Pray that they may find and be found by him), that was the knock on the door. And the long strange trip began.
I can only imagine what Joseph must have been going through. It's not like there's a whole lot of information about him. He didn't break into song the way Mary did to have his words immortalized by the Church forever. But I figure whatever he was experiencing, his dreams were meant to calm his fears and remind him, too, that with God, nothing is impossible. And whether he knew it or not or was ready for this new role as step-dad to the Messiah or not, he was now being asked to step up. He did so, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As we quietly approach the re-entry of Christ into the world, take a look around and see what has changed, and where do we still need the love of God to shine a light into the darkness. And if we find ourselves despairing over what needs to get done, and how we will accomplish it all (be it micro or macro in scope) consider Joseph and sleep on your worries. And let your dreams be your guide.

My View on Bullying

This is the article that ran in Sunday's Tallahassee Democrat. Fortunately, I have not received a lot of hate mail, and the usual boneheaded commentators on the Democrat's website have kept away from taking me on.

All I want for the holidays is to see an end to the culture that enables bullying.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask during this time when the music in the malls is bright and cheerful with promises of joy and glad tidings.

When I was a teenager my classmates daily taunted me, pushed me, and threw things at me. They used anti-gay slurs even though I wasn’t out. It didn’t matter. They knew. And I was a target. Had it not been for the school chaplain, I would not have lived to be among those that can now say, “It gets better.”

If only all children had a trusted adult they could turn to during times of a life or death crisis. Not everyone has that kind of fortune as we have learned this year with the highly-publicized suicides of at least seven young people in only a few months. The cause of the suicide: bullying and attacks based on sexual orientation.

A recent survey by the non-profit Josephson Institute of Ethics based in Los Angeles found that half of the approximately 43, 000 teenagers questioned since 1992 had either bullied a classmate or been a victim of bullying. The issue has even reached the White House. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is reminding schools and universities that federal law protects students from discrimination. According to Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights, punishing perpetrators of bullying is not necessarily enough to guarantee a student won’t face harassment based on their gender expression. Ali says schools have to follow through beyond the immediate incident to determine if there is a pattern that would lead LGBT students, or any other group being bullied, to feel that a school isn’t safe.

Locally, the Big Bend Anti-Bullying Task Force convened by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda with Gentle Shepherd MCC and PFLAG-Tallahassee, is initiating a dialogue amongst school, university, mental health, first responders and social service organizations to look at the bullying problem. The goal is to make our area safe, and communicate a message that being cruel is not cool.

To get there, however, will take more than just the combined efforts of committed people at a table.

Bullies receive affirmation from leaders and other authority figures for tormenting those perceived as weak or different. It will be incumbent upon our elected and other leaders to consider the consequences of their speech and actions and how it feeds a culture of bullying. Do the words spoken in a public forum help to build up our society or tear it down by burying certain people at the bottom? How are we doing in our own conversations?

Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our young people is to commit to improve the way we deal with each other. Instead of telling kids, “It Gets Better” let’s try to make it better now.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Step Toward "Liberty and Justice For All"

I was doing the holiday braving the crowds at the mall when I got the text message that the U.S. Senate, a body that recently has been one of the most cowardly and creepy bunch of people, finally voted to repeal the noxious Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. It will take 60 days for the Pentagon to put this fully into effect, but that means that in another two months, LGBT members of the armed forces are going to have a sword of Damocles lifted from over their heads. They can then go about their business of serving the country, and receiving support and love from their same-sex partners.
It's only fitting that a lame-duck Democratic Congress made this happen. After all, it was the Democratic President Bill Clinton who tackled the dismissals of LGBT service members as one of his first acts of his administration. But the push-back was so much that it ended in this horrible policy that has stuck around for seventeen years.
I am grateful to the 65 members of the Senate who voted to repeal this policy. I am even more grateful to Lt. Dan Choi who put himself and his incredible West Point credentials on the line to make the case for why this discrimination was hurting our military. And I am also grateful for the many men and women who have been serving, and being discharged, under this policy for so long. I think of Col. Grethe Cammermeyer and what she went through when she came out... and won a court battle to be re-instated into the military after her dishonorable discharge. All because she self-identified as a lesbian during a security clearance.
Today is a great day for LGBT people. Even if you are not a person who supports the military this is still good news. If people are willing to serve and die for their country, the least the country can do is let them be who they are.
And, even as we celebrate this news, it is still a mixed message from our Senate. Another bill, the Dream Act which would have granted citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants if they sign up for military service or completed two years of college, was effectively killed by a 55-41 vote. Some must always be treated as unequal in our land of the free and the brave.
Today we've taken some more steps toward liberty and justice for all. And--as Robert Frost notes-- we have miles to go before we sleep.

These Presidents Promise "It Gets Better"

Wow and yay! Found this video on Elizabeth Kaeton's Telling Secrets blog. Please note that the Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, the head of the Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, is among the LGBTQ presidents. And her statement is awesome!

As the Senate debates the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, play this video, and listen to what each of these people is saying about themselves and about where they are now. Because this is the real reality show, folks! And it is people like these presidents who are not only saying, "It Gets Better"; they are doing things to make it better now.

I Ask Your Prayers For...

Some months back, I wrote about the mother of my friend, Dona, who was having some serious health issues and spent several weeks in a rehab hospital. Gloria, the mom, is doing much better. Sadly, Dona's father, Richard, is not. Richard, who is gregarious and a guy who liked to help people, had been having some problems for the past few months. The doctors thought that maybe he'd contracted tuberculosis (he had been visiting with homeless vets at a shelter and had brought them computers to work with, so the theory was he'd been exposed to TB). After antibiotics failed to help, the decision was to operate. They took out part of his right lung, and... after initially saying there was no cancer... discovered that there was cancer. And it has spread.

They're trying to move Richard out of the hospital and into either hospice house or back home with hospice care. The doctors have not given him more than days now to live. He'll begin to sleep more, then drift into that state of being here but not here... and then he'll be gone. Please keep Richard, Glo, Dona and her partner Dana in your prayers.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Funny Freudian Slip

Our leader during Morning Prayer was reading the collect of the day... the Ember Day II collect... and hit a bit of snag on this one part:

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every
place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word
and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the
extinction....extension of your kingdom..

Several of us got a chuckle out of the idea that those being brought in as shepherds within the institution of the Church would be working for the "extinction" of the kingdom! Let's hope that's not the case! :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ember Thinking

Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in your divine
providence you have appointed various orders in your
Church: Give your grace, we humbly pray, to all who are
[now] called to any office and ministry for your people; and so
fill them with the truth of your doctrine and clothe them with
holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before you, to
the glory of your great Name and for the benefit of your holy
Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
for ever. Amen. --Collect for Ember Day I, BCP p.256

This week in many Episcopal Churches, prayers are ascending for those who are responding to God's call to minister. Typically, a bishop will set the ordination services during these Ember Days, and welcome new deacons and priests into the church. Also, at this time, seminarians usually write a letter back to their sponsoring bishop to reflect upon their call and their ministry.
Ember Days, to me, are not just about those in the ordained priesthood, but also the baptised ministers. The laity are the ones who are like the Episconinjas, serving God not only with our lips but in our lives and without a lot of fanfare, and no dog collar to give us away. As a lay person, I have no obligations to correspond with my bishop. But if I did, these are a few of the things I'd say about my ministry up to this point:

God is never far from head or my heart. Whether that presence always makes it out of my mouth, I can't say "Absolutely!" I am human, and I do stumble.

Speaking of stumbling, I keep trying to do my part to remove the blocks that have caused some not just to stumble, but to fall and roll away from God. I have been blogging for more than three years now. And while I am not the most-widely read blogger on the internet, I have a fairly steady stream of folks who come here, and I keep this place honest, and reflective of my understanding of God's love for all people. If you've ever been told the lie that God hates you, bookmark this blog and come back over and over to read how much God loves you.

My ministry seems to follow along the lines of the prophets. I seem to find myself in situations where I am speaking truth to power whether it be on behalf of LGBT people in "the world" or in the church. I have grounded this work in prayer, both through the practice of doing the daily Morning Office readings and through a newer practice of centering prayer. I am learning to listen and to respond in a way to keep the message from getting lost in viciousness. This requires taking a step back sometimes and going quiet. I think the centering prayer is helping me with that.

My prophetic ministry is complimented by my service as a Eucharistic Minister and co-mentor of my EfM group. This, too, requires me to be quiet in my own head as I listen to what is being said in the group, and guide discussion. As an EM, I take care in my contact with my fellow members as we connect over the chalice, and if I am asked to lead the prayers or read the lessons, I prepare ahead of time, so the words I speak can be heard clearly. I know how important it was to me as I re-entered the church to hear the lessons and reflect on how God was reaching me through the Scriptures. I assume that there are others like me out there in the congregation with that same need. Likewise, my very small shared ministry of recording the services provides a way for those unable to attend to still have the experience of the service, or just the sermon, through our website and CDs.

Finally, you may have heard about the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, the international bloggers, that formed to write opinion pieces on the proposed document currently on the table in the various parts of the Anglican Communion. It is true that I oppose the covenant because I think it will have the opposite of its intended effect to unify and strengthen bonds in the Anglican Communion. Such a plan will more likely result in upping the gay and women-bashing that happens in some parts of the Communion while sanctioning the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada. Again, going back to my prophet status, I think its important for those who have concerns to raise them now (as we have been doing for awhile) rather than wait until its too late and we're in a hole.

So, that would be my report to my bishop. Too bad laity aren't encouraged to write more often!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dark Night of the Soul

It is bitterly cold in North Florida this evening. We're already hovering at freezing and the temperature is expected to drop like a rock down into the low 20s or teens by morning. Because it's so cold, the city is opening the overflow shelter for the homeless: the old Belle Vue Middle School that has been closed for a couple of years now. Local churches are taking turns staffing the extra shelter for the early part of the night, and then city workers take over for overnight. I intend to volunteer for this ministry. I was going to go this evening.

But then it hit me: I'm tired. And I just couldn't bring myself to join with my fellow parishioners in this mitzvah this evening. I did help shop for easy-to-carry breakfast items to give the homeless. And, because I'm sensitive to nutrition and diet, I made sure the food stuff wasn't going to give somebody a sugar rush, and even bought a case of diabetic protein shakes (chocolate flavored, of course!).

Still, as I sit here in a house with a blanket to keep me warm, I am troubled. I couldn't bring myself to add one more item to my day, an item which I think is important (making sure the homeless have a safe, warm place to sleep at night). I have empathy for people who are living on the street. When I was a journalism student in Missouri, I wrote a feature article on the homeless shelter director in Columbia. I spent time talking to the men who had taken refuge at the shelter, some lucid veterans from the Viet Nam war, others paranoid schizophrenics who were convinced that the CIA had chopped their heads off, but they had grown a new one (that was Willy). I was apprehensive when I first encountered these characters. But after we got started in conversation, I saw their humanity. And all that truly separated me from them was circumstance. And that could change at any moment in our lives.

A couple weeks ago, my car broke down in the parking lot of the Publix shopping plaza. A kind woman stopped to give me a jump, and I drove the car to my mechanic. As I walked from the auto repair shop to my house, I encountered a homeless guy who was panhandling across from a sandwich shop. Our eyes met, and he asked for money. I knew what little I had left in my wallet needed to last for a couple days. So I opened my shopping bag and pulled out the vegetable sushi I'd bought for my lunch.

"Will you eat this?" I said, holding the tray out to him. His eyes surveyed the food; carrots, cucumbers, avocado...wrapped in rice and seaweed with a packet of soy and a dab of wasabi on the side.

"Yes, ma'am." He averted his eyes as he took the food from me. At least he was going to get something with some nutrition and protein. And as I walked on and realized that even though this was going to be my lunch, I had other food at home that I could pull together. This man had nothing but the hope that strangers would hand him a dollar or some spare change.

So for one instant, I fed the hungry. But tonight I was too tired.

I struggle with the questions of whether what I do is "enough". And why can't I just give myself over to do more? This is my dark night of the soul.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stirring Things Up

In prayer, one might want to pay attention to what one is asking for...

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

When we ask God to "stir up your power... and with great might come among us", are we prepared for what that might mean? This is the daunting question that hangs over my head this morning as I am up to get a cup of coffee with my partner, and then help her bake cookies for an office party before I enter the sanctuary to be reminded that we are at "Stir up Sunday". I know God isn't coming to help me bake cookies, deck the halls, and trim the tree while writing an opinion piece for the newspaper... and keeping tabs on my football team. I don't think God is so much concerned with my mundane tasks.
But when God is invited to "stir up" the power and come into our lives, things change. If we are really paying attention, God has a way of knocking us out of our routines and our self-absorption and becoming aware that the universe is a whole lot bigger than what our eyes perceive. That's not always comforting.
Why do we invite God to come into our lives? "Because we are sorely hindered by our sins." When I think about how I've been perceiving the world lately, I think of how I am seeing the glass half-empty. I am observing and absorbing the fears being expressed to me by many state workers about the impending doom called the Rick Scott administration taking over state government. I shake my head at the prevailing stupidity that results from the ungrounded fear of gay people, be it in the Congress or in the Anglican Communion. I cringe when I hear a bigot invoke "God's law" as the justification for being cruel to another of God's children. I know what such words do to the image of Christianity. And I sometimes feel as though I am screaming into the wind as I try to say, "It ain't necessarily so!" My frustration interferes and obscures hope. So I feel that I succumb to a sin called "hopelessness" which is the opposite of the hope that is necessary to grow a seed of faith.
"Let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us". And we arrive at what I believe this collect is building towards: a prayer the author Anne Lamott would call, "O God; help! help! help!" Things in the world are chaotic and crazy, God: hurry up and get here and help us to make it better. Advent is a season of preparing for Jesus to enter the picture and become a catalyst for change. That change begins with us. It begins with finding the small, still voice inside ourselves that guides our words to speak truth to power. "Power" being the human powers in our lives. That is the power of the Lord that has been stirred up so often in my life. And yes, I have been figuratively imprisoned, beheaded, and crucified for doing such things. But I still do it. And, with God's help, I will continue to do so.
"Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us." Bring it on! The world needs a catalyst, and let us be that vehicle for change.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Even Jesus Got the Activist Blues

I was feeling pretty down in the dumps yesterday.
I couldn't shake that statement I'd made at the end of my last post about the United States, it's claim to be a nation "under God", and yet everywhere I look, I fail to see evidence that we are living into the kingdom. I watched Rachel Maddow's interview with the nasty David Bahati, author of the "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda, and it only further depressed me. And then there's the on-going strife over the Anglican Covenant which only feeds into the bullying of anyone wishing to see the Church better reflect the diversity of the kingdom. Dare to be different; we'll censure you and kick you out of the Communion. Nice, eh?
But luckily, yesterday was Friday, I was serving at noon-day with Fr. Lee Graham, and our gospel lesson was from Matthew:
‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’--Matt 11: 16-19

We were supposed to end there. But Fr. Graham included the next section.

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.
For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’ --Matt 11: 20-24

He suggested in his homily that this is another glimpse of the humanity of Jesus. He is trying to get his fellow Jews to rethink their ways, and he's experiencing the push-back from those who don't want to change. Something Fr. Graham dealt with during the civil rights era in Alabama as they tried to integrate the schools in Birmingham. It was him versus' the establishment. And in those days, the establishment had an affiliation with a certain organization known as the Ku Klux Klan. And the newspaper was in cahoots with the Klan, so everything Fr. Graham had said at this particular meeting with the secular leaders of Birmingham was left out of the story. It was almost as if he hadn't been there at all.

As he talked, I felt a wave of calm move through my body. There's something very reassuring to hear that your own struggle, your own frustration with the slow pace of change, and your own feelings of 'am I just being ignored?!', is nothing new. And there have been plenty of great people before you who have faced this same problem. Even Jesus. It is the place of an activist... the place of a prophet. Suddenly, the words of this Second Week of Advent's collect came alive for me:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Now is the time to keep speaking up. And you just gotta hope that somebody is listening. You can sing the blues, but don't let that tune keep you down or keep you from speaking your truth. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

DADT: Another Colossal Fail by the U.S. Senate

It was just a vote to proceed with the discussion of the National Defense Authorization Act. But apparently any talk of repealing the 17-year-old Don't Ask Don't Tell policy would make the Senate choke on its words. And so, the United States Senate defeated the proposal to discuss the bill on a 57-40 vote.

It's ironic that lawmakers in Washington are afraid to have a discussion about a measure that affects servicemembers in the U.S. military. Many of them LOVE to talk about these patriotic men and women who put their lives on the line for freedom. And God knows I feel as though we've talked and studied to death the ramifications of a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. No, this vote was pure politics. Gutless, anti-American, fear-based politics.

The natural course of action would be to appeal to the President to do something, but it seems unlikely that Obama will act on this issue, other than to defend the policy as it goes to court again and again and again.

My heart goes out to the men and women in uniform who are more mature than the average member of Congress, and have stated unequivocally that they are able to handle serving side-by-side with someone of a different sexual orientation. I pray for the troops who are gay, and their loved ones, as they continue to lead closeted and double-lives just to keep serving the country and protecting the freedoms they don't get to enjoy. And I weep for our nation which continues to stand divisible with liberty and justice for some. We may think we're under God, but we aren't achieving the kingdom with this kind of crap!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hanukkah Humor

H/T to Phoebe for this... and many other... cartoons! Happy last night of Hanukkah, y'all!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Arguing with an Atheist

I couldn't resist reading a story with this headline:

"Tony Blair, Christopher Hitchens debate religion".

I didn't actually care so much to read what the former British Prime Minister, turned faith bridge builder, has to say on religion; he is now a Roman Catholic, and I tend to distrust those who were once Anglican that retreat from the Reformation to become RCs.

I was much more intrigued with the idea of debating religion... and debating it with a renown atheist such as the columnist and author Christopher Hitchens. In his opening remarks at these Munk Debates in Toronto, Hitchens came out swinging.

"Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs, to appeal to our fear and to our guilt — is it good for the world?"

"To terrify children with the image of hell... to consider women an inferior creation. Is that good for the world?"

My answer: absolutely not! But then the question I would have posed back to Hitchens, "Why do you start from a position that this is 'my' deity? Is it good for the world that intelligent people stoop to setting up straw men and women when engaged in an intellectual argument?"

The God that I turn to is not one that takes sides in wars and human affairs... much as I sometimes wish that God would do that, and actually follow through on the words of the psalmist to smite down all my enemies, trample the wicked, and exalt those of us who aren't "them". That would be just peachy! But, as I've noted some time back on this blog, when I read the words of the psalmist, I think of "them"; "they" read the words of the psalmist and they think of me. God hears the words of both of us, and continues to view the "mes" and the "thems" as the "we" and the "us". The God I believe in stands with both of groups and all groups. My end of this bargain is to believe that God is with us... even with an ailing Christopher Hitchens, who has cancer.

Hitchens also contends that religion has done more harm than good, pointing to centuries of warfare between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and genocide in Rwanda where the church has remained silent, and sometimes has harbored those who have done the killing. I would add to that growing list of "religions gone wrong" the attacks on LGBT Africans at the encouragement of the churches in Uganda and others, and the benign neglect of that situation from the hierarchy of the Anglican Communion. Geez, with all the parade of terrible illustrations that Hitchens was able to provide, is it any wonder that the columnist was declared the winner over Tony Blair?!

I think what the problem is is that it is debating "religion". In my EfM group last night, we had an interesting discussion as the Year Four people were getting a taste of Karl Barth's theology. We talked about how our "religion" came to follow the path of St. Paul, who took the message and spread it far and wide, but made the message "about" Jesus, rather than "of" Jesus. I think this is a critical misstep. From the way I read the gospels, Jesus was not "about" Jesus; Jesus was "of" God and reminding the people who would listen to him that they were people "of God". For Jesus, following the formulas was not as important as living into the 'love God, love thy neighbor' commandments. For Jesus, the formulas were meaningful if they led to "Love God, love thy neighbor." It's what came after Jesus that led to more "religion" and less "Christianity."

So, I would agree that religion is a problem. But I don't translate "religion" as "faith in Christ" (or faith in whatever deity you worship). Faith in a deity that loves Hitchens, even in his unbelief, and how one who has such faith views the world and its messiness, I think, would have proved to be a much tougher challenge for the "avowed atheist". It usually is. Because that is an uncomfortable place for the typical atheist to go. It isn't so black and white and wrapped up in a box. Mystery, and things that are beyond our human understanding, make those with the absolute answers go berserk!

Next time they have one of these debates, I think they ought to look for a more formidable and credible opponent for Mr. Hitchens. Mad Priest, perhaps?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Reflection on Theotokos

A few weeks ago, I was commenting to my spiritual director that as we were approaching Advent, I found that I was thinking on the word "Theotokos". This is the Eastern Orthodox designation for Mary, the "God bearer" or simply "Mother of God". I've passed through the chapters in EfM on the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431, where Mary was officially stamped with the title of "Mother of God". And, like all actions in the church then and now, such a title had its supporters and detractors.
For me, though, this title conjures up an image of the Advent preparation which is decidedly "mother-like". Because as I reflect on Advent, I see it as being a bit like pregnancy. There is a seed, a branch of Jesse's root, planted in each of us which is growing. As we move through these days leading to Christmas, we are (or should be) nourishing this growing Christ within us. How? Any number of ways. For me, it is through prayer and meditation and making the effort to look people in the eye, and quiet my interior so that I may hear and see the other person. To recognize that Christ within them that shines like the Advent candles through their eyes. I have had some great experiences of this. Recently, I was tapped to be on our stewardship committee; hence I've had conversations with people at St. John's who were total strangers to me. But by the time we'd talked, the stranger became like a member of my extended family. And now the neurons in the body of Christ were talking to one another, building the tissues that will form the muscles of this body. With these kinds of connections, the Christ within is growing... not just inside me as I reach out to make contact with new people, but inside the community as a whole as we become more and more connected. It's a lot harder for the hand to say to the foot, "I have no use for you" when the hand knows more about the foot's function!
In Luke's gospel account of the annunciation, we hear that Mary was "perplexed" by the message from Gabriel that she was about to give birth to the Lord of the Most High. Can you blame her? And yet, despite any misgivings or fear of what all was being revealed and what her future might hold, Mary responded like all the prophets by stating, "Here am I".
As I look to this Advent season, I have many worries and concerns about my future, given the new political climate hanging over our fair city. But, like Mary, I will not turn away from allowing Christ to grow within me, in the hope that come Christmas morning, I will have prepared the way to give birth--figuratively--to the spirit of Christ that is growing in me during this season. May it be so.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

When Wolves Lie with Lambs

In tomorrow's lesson from the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Isaiah paints a vivid picture of the one who will spring forth from Jesse's root. He will have a spirit of wisdom and understanding. He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and his breath will kill off the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt at the waist; faithfulness will gird his loins. And then, the most incredible images in Scripture of how the so-called "natural" enemies will learn to be in harmony: Wolves lying with lambs. Leopards lying with the kid. The calf and lion and fatling together. And a little child will lead them.
These words are a balm to the soul of us who feel as though the world is in constant strife and battle. In the world that I see, wolves surround and devour the lambs and leopards feast on the young kids. This is the world of a United States where the wealthiest of Americans have seen their incomes swell. And some cynically tell the angry and desperate that they, too, could be so rich if it weren't for (insert name of undesirable politician or group here). The mob then turns and seeks revenge. And the rich remain happily rich and the angry and desperate have no idea that they've been had.
The same is true of the Anglican Communion. Wolves and lambs not only will not lie with each other; they won't even come to the field to look at each other! If they won't come to the banquet that God has laid out before them, then how will they be led by a little child? I just don't know.
I'm reminded of our Psalm from last Sunday, 122, which reminds us that "Jerusalem is built as a city at unity with itself to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, the assembly of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord" (vv3-4). Jerusalem, that city of peace, should be our common destination. I'm not talking literally here. I'm thinking figuratively. We should all, as people of God, be seeking that city at unity with itself.
And yet, I remember the words from Luke 13:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’(vv34-35)

As we come into this second week of Advent, consider the state of our Jerusalem and how are we living it. Consider for yourself if there is some way you can live more in unity with the others around you. Remember: we are in a time of preparing the way for the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pictures from the Interfaith World AIDS Day

Well, it was bone-chilling cold Wednesday night as the temperatures were falling to close to freezing, but about 60 people braved the weather to make a human AIDS ribbon on the steps of the old state capitol building. I know that my northern readers find it hard to believe that 40 degrees is "bone-chilling", but when you add the NW wind blowing... it was bone-chilling by Tallahassee standards.

This visual statement, accented with the red glow sticks, was a simple way to acknowledge the reality behind the statistics read aloud by various clergy about AIDS. As we heard a statistic that spoke to us, we were to break our glow stick and shine a light for those affected by AIDS/HIV. I had many reasons to break mine, but waited for the stats on sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is ravaged by HIV and AIDS.

Many thanks to the clergy and faith leaders who put this event together. A perfect compliment to the words of St. Paul to cast out the darkness and put on an armor of light.
photos by Winnie Miles.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Light One Candle for World AIDS Day

Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary wrote a song called "Light One Candle" which links the story of Hanukkah to the always present struggle for justice and freedom, especially for those who are oppressed. The song begins:

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
Give thanks their light didn't die;
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied;
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand;
light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker's time is at hand!

Don't let the light go out,
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears!

What a cosmic combination it is, then, to have the first night of Hanukkah fall on World AIDS Day. For the generation of LGBT people before me, AIDS has robbed so many close friends and lovers. I, too, have known some men who, when they reached a certain point where their immune system was collapsing, had friends assist them with suicide rather than face the slow and agonizing death. I have seen the many panels of the AIDS quilt on display at the March on Washington in 1993, a quilt that has become so huge it no longer can tour in its entirety. I have gathered with the community around the enormous live oak tree at Meridian and Gaines Streets to sing the names of those who have died from complications of AIDS as the sun was rising on a new day. And today, I read with sadness about the prevalence of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Statistics show that just that one region of the continent makes up nearly two-thirds of the total HIV/AIDS cases in the world. Even the pope has finally seen the dangers of this syndrome in Africa by softening his stance from 2005 against condoms to now saying that it might help to stem the tide if male prostitutes wear a condom. He also thinks that will raise a prostitute's awareness about the "banalization of sexuality" as morally harmful. Sure.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe;
Light one candle for those who are suff'ring
The pain that we learned long ago;
Light one candle for all we believe in,
That anger not tear us apart;
And light one candle to bind us together
With peace as the song in our heart!

It is frustrating to me that so much energy in the Anglican Communion has been wasted on trying to define our Anglicanism for the purposes of weeding out the United States and Canada rather than focusing on this real issue of AIDS in the Global South. The church primates from African nations should be advocating for more medical aid and education about the spread of the disease to save their flock from infection. Church leaders from outside of Africa and Asia should be demanding that the countries who have the means to supply medicine should do so and should do so without reservation, and to share the knowledge they've gained on how to stop the spread of HIV. Sadly, some of the people who have the best practices and knowledge to help with that effort are the folks in this country who were part of groups like the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City. I'm not counting on the Orombis of Africa getting in touch with them any time soon.

What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died?
We cry out "they've not died in vain,"
We have come this far, always believing
That justice will somehow prevail;
This is the burden and This is the promise,
This is why we will not fail!

As we light the first candle for Hanukkah, or relight the first candle of Advent, offer a prayer and meditation for those who have died, and for those who are living with infection today. Pray that one day we will cast off the darkness that keeps us separated and put on the armor of light that draws us together in the common purpose of ending HIV/AIDS. Don't let that light go out.