Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good-Bye 2011

We are into the final hours of 2011, and I can't say that I'm going to be sorry to see it end.  It's been a rough year for us in Tallahassee, FL, with the beginning of the Governor Lord Voldemort administration.   The slash and burn that happened with several state government agencies has left many in this town tired, burnt out and bitter heading into 2012.

On the upside, many of us are still smiling over the victory for marriage in New York, and the official end of Don't Ask Don't Tell (not to mention the end of U.S. military presence in Iraq).  

And I am personally sensing a shift in our culture, as well as parts of the Episcopal Church, away from the "culture wars" that put LGBT people constantly in the crossfire.   TEC will be looking at adopting language for same-sex wedding blessings and the overwhelming opinion of many who I've talked to is that this will happen at General Convention this summer in Indianapolis.  Once it does, those jurisdictions where marriage for LGBT is legal will finally be allowed to offer a marriage blessing if the couple so chooses.   That's huge!  It won't mean a thing for those of us in Florida.  But it will add to the burden of those who keep wanting to put up barriers to the full participation of LGBT people in the life of the church.

So, there's much to look forward to in 2012.   It's a presidential election year and the Republicans have been putting on quite the reality TV show with their candidates.  Who knows which one of the wackadoodles will emerge as their nominee.  In the meantime, will Democrats stick with their man Obama, or will they stay home pouting that he wasn't the Messiah after all?   I have wanted more from Obama, too.  But as I noted back in 2008, it didn't matter who came into the White House; that person was going to be saddled with a mess thanks to Dumbya.

I hope that for all of you, 2012 holds much hope, grace, and prosperity.  Cheers!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Occupy In My Brain

I've grown accustomed to getting roused out of sleep by a song in my head.  Normally, it's something out of the Episcopal Hymnal.  Sometimes it's one of the many New Age pieces that play as I do my massage therapy practice.  But yesterday, I woke up on a tune by the Talking Heads that I hadn't heard in years.  I knew it was from their first album.  I knew it was the end of Side A.   But for the life of me, I couldn't remember the name of the tune.

Internet to the rescue!

I remembered the lyrics...

In a world... where people have problems.
In this world... where decisions are a way of life.
Other people's problems... they overwhelm my mind.
They say compassion is a virtue... but I don't have the time.

The song is called, "No Compassion" written by David Byrne.  And it seemed to be speaking to me about many things in my life, particularly as I observe the life outside my own internal experience.  

That has seemed to be the theme for me leading into this Christmas season: a need to move outside of my own experience and take on what's in the world.  All during the last week in Advent I was getting poked and prodded by a different song, one from our hymnal, in which the angel Gabriel delivers the news that Mary is to bear the Son of God because she is the "most highly favored Lady, Gloria!"  Mary's willingness to take on this task was a not-too-subtle message of pushing me forward in this magical mystery tour with God.  And part of that is to acknowledge where we are, and where I am and stand, in this mucked-up mess of the world.

Inequity is everywhere.  And those in power seem to stop at nothing to keep their lock down on having more resources than anyone else and keeping control.  That seems to be the challenge now rising up from the Occupy Wall Street and its spawn of Occupy movements across the country.  A cry has been heard in the wilderness that too many of us have been forced to live by the seat of our pants while a small minority continuously reap the benefits of tax breaks and subsidies.  The OWS grew despite a weeks long media black out about what was happening in New York City.  And while their encampments have been closed down in many locations, and there's a struggle over property rights in NYC with Trinity Wall Street, there is a new consciousness that I believe may have the defenders of the super-rich (aka the Republican Party) feeling just a tad bit nervous going into the 2012 elections.   I think the challenge for OWS will be to maintain its water-like ways of simply migrating and moving without disbanding and funnel its revolt into a juggernaut that isn't so much about occupying physical spaces, but changing the psychological space in the minds of the American public.

In some communities, that has happened.  Occupiers took over homes that had been foreclosed on by the banks.   And the displaced families were amazed to see total strangers taking a stand with them.  These are the seeds that build the relationships that I think are being lost in our hyperspeed information age.  And this is how the 99-percent can finally come together to become a political force.

What does any of this have to do with "No Compassion?"  I think it comes back to my overall observation of the world.  There isn't a whole lot of compassion out there, or if there is, it's not being expressed out of being overwhelmed by the hugeness of the compassion void.  And that's why each of us has to act and respond to a call of compassion.  Put aside differences and work with each other.    

Here we go again...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The First Martyrs: Feast of the Holy Innocents

This is the feast day that always leaves me a little stunned.  Today we are remembering the 20-30 young boys age two and under who were slaughtered in Herod's attempt to eliminate his potential rival, the Christ child.  It is an example of when those in power become so threatened that they go to the extremes to take down any and all that might threaten their power.

From my queer perspective, I see this play out in the various amendments and bills that get passed to prevent LGBT people from having full participation in society.  When I think back on the passage of Amendment Two, the anti-gay marriage amendment to Florida's constitution, I see that as a cynical and desperate move by the religious right to end any marriage rights we gay people might gain in the future before we even had a chance to ask for them here.  They have seen the handwriting on the wall and they know that the younger generations are not interested in continuing their all out assault on LGBT people.

I see it also in Africa where LGBT people live under the threat of imprisonment and death for being who they are.  Christians, who are facing threats from radical Muslims, then turn on LGBT people in a sickening cycle of violence, either committing hate crimes against gays or attempting to pass legislation making our mere assembly illegal.  How quickly have they forgotten what is in this morning's gospel message from Matthew:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”He called a child, whom he put among them,and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.--Matt 18: 1-6

On this feast day, let's remember those who are victims of violence and degradation both through fists and public policy.  And let us recommit ourselves to work for justice and peace and against the forces of hatred and homophobia. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

For the Love of God: The Feast of St. John

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

I used to not like John the Evangelist.  Besides Paul, John's Gospel has the oft-cited passages that have been used to advance a certain kind of Christian bigotry that is obnoxious at its best; dangerous at its worst.

But John is also credited for giving us these words of Jesus:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’--John 13:24-35

This new commandment is in fact the main point of all of Jesus' teachings.  It is also the one thing that we seem to have the most difficulty doing.  It seems, too, that the higher up you move in the church hierarchy, the more this kind of love seems elusive.  I saw headline the other day that the bishops in Sudan are snubbing the primate of this country, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.   How pathetic and sad!   I'm sure that the youngest of the disciples, the one who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, would be jerking himself upright and admonishing those who refuse communion with a fellow member in the body of Christ to remember the words of their Savior: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

On this feast day, let love be the focus and the centerpoint from which we live and move and have our being. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Praying for Enemies: Feast of St. Stephen

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. --Acts 7: 59-60

In this period of the Twelve Days of Christmas, we come across stories such as the one of Stephen, thought to be the first martyr and certainly one of the first deacons of the Church. He was one of seven who was deputized by the apostles simply because they couldn't do all of the 'hands on' work that was required in those early days, most especially paying attention to the widows among the Greeks as well as the Jews.  Stephen was chosen for being full of faith and the spirit.  And it was this commitment and witness that led to his public stoning.

When I first became aware that Stephen was a representative of the office of deacon, it made me think: "Oh, so that's what happens to those in the diaconate!" 

OK... so they don't usually get stoned to death.  But a work of a deacon is one which, as best as I can figure out, is that of the unsung hero.  They occupy this place between being "clergy" and "laity".  All priests have to go through a period where they are in the "transitional" diaconate before they are made priests in the church.  Some in the priesthood remember what it is to be in this role of being in the trenches with the people in the servant mode, and they carry it forward into their new life as the administrator and preacher.  I've always appreciated priests who don't lose that part of their calling.  They always seem to be the most real people to me.

Stephen's death also marks a major moment in the history of Christianity because of the witness of Paul (called Saul) to his stoning.  Saul was encouraging of this violence and made it his mission to persecute people who were followers of "The Way."  I have often wondered if watching this death and seeing Stephen turn his face to God and call out for God to have mercy didn't have an unconscious effect on his enemy.  Could this event have penetrated a portion of Saul's soul?  Was death Stephen's ultimate act of bringing the love of Christ that much closer to one who hated the followers of Christ?  It's not explained that way in the Scripture, but I often wonder if that wasn't part of the unspoken context of Luke including this note about Saul in the story of Stephen's death.

Given the news out of Nigeria yesterday where Islamic extremists bombed five churches during Christmas Day, remembering the martyrdom of Stephen and his untold effect on Paul may be a good thing to contemplate before we call for revenge and reprisal.   Justice must be served by the civil authorities in that country.  But the justice that comes from above needs to be left for God to mete out.  Ours is to ask for that justice to come to those who have been attacked.

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.--BCP, pg. 816

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Dibley Christmas

I'm taking it easy and allowing Dawn French as the Vicar of Dibley to tell you why this day is so special. Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Vicar of Dibley - The Greatest Story Ever Told by BBCfanable

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Will Separate Us From Love?

Last night at our service for Comfort and Healing, I was assigned to read the passage from Romans 8 which I believe is one of the most powerful statements Paul makes in his letters:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As I read this passage aloud, I felt as though my voice was being carried from my toes up through my mouth and filling the entire space with words that put in a sentence the beauty of our celebration tonight. 

Nothing, absolutely nothing, separates us from the Love that will come down to us as a baby in the manger.  The Love that is wrapped in swaddling clothes may be tiny tonight, but this child is the beginning of a new ethic and a new way of living with each other that is stronger than anything Wall Street brokers, or Republican Presidential candidates can throw at us.  Because this Love knows no boundaries and will topple tyranny and burst open any prison which tries to hold it back.   That was definitely the feeling I had running through my body as I read those words.

O come let us adore him.  Let us not just adore, but truly welcome this Love into our lives. 

Today, my buddy King, the Jehovah's Witness, was back on my doorstep (of course, it's Christmas Eve so why wouldn't he be?!)  King wanted to know if I believed that there would be peace on Earth (obviously trying to tap into my celebration of the season). 

"Well, I sure hope so!  That's what I am hoping for."

"That won't happen through man."

"No, I don't think man alone will make that happen.  But with God's help, I think we can do it... if we commit ourselves to living in that way to bring about peace."

King wasn't convinced by my argument, and when he started telling me about the 144-thousand who will reign as basically a sub-level of the heavenly kingdom, I had lost interest in him, too.

But I do believe that we have a role to play in bringing about a kingdom on Earth that more closely resembles the kingdom in Heaven.   It requires us to tap into those lessons that Christ, the child, will be teaching in the coming weeks.  The cornerstone of that teaching is Love: love each other, love ourselves, and in so doing, we are loving God.  When we treat each other and ourselves with dignity we are exhibiting the kind of love God claims for God's self.   This is how I believe we all end up in God's camp... whether we are believers who offer praise to God or not.  God wins.  Again.

What separates us from this Love?  Nobody.  Nothing.  It is persistent and patient beyond measure. 

O come let us adore him!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Winding Down Advent

As I listened to the collect for 4 Advent this morning, I found my mind sticking to the phrase that  we pray Jesus, "... may find in us a mansion prepared for himself." 

A mansion is a much different image than a manger with farm animals!

The whole idea of Advent is to prepare us for the re-entry of Christ into the world, or at least into the world of our Scripture and the church.  Whether Christ arrives in the world as we know it in the day-to-day 21st century is more a matter for us and our willingness to let this Love we encounter in our churches be the guide for us in our every day living.  It's easy to relegate this Love to an hour on Sunday mornings.  Certainly, that's how I lived for years.  God came down to be with us for an hour and fifteen minutes every week.   The rest of the time, God was on a shelf somewhere and was unconcerned about the welfare of the world. 


It's a very powerful Love that is coming.  Even John the Baptizer warns it's the sort of Love that is bigger than anything he was doing.  When this Love enters the picture, the ordinary and predictable becomes a wild and crazy ride.  It is a persistent and patient Love that nudges and pokes and leads us toward justice... whether we want to go along or not. That is what this Love demands.

And it arrives in the form of a baby.  A very human-looking baby born through the very human birth canal of a very human teenaged mother who ponders everything in her heart.  A Love this extraordinary, so awesome that John tells everyone, "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal" is just a very ordinary looking baby boy.  I think that's the point of our Christian story.  Christ shows up in the ordinary form to unleash an extraordinary, counter-cultural Love on the scene.  Not through flashy shows of power and might.  He does it through being and living in Love and out of Love for all he encounters.   This is the expectation placed on all of us who pray the Nicene Creed.   Today, we are the ordinary who carry in us the extraordinary ability to live and be as we have been taught by Christ. 

The question is what kind of a mansion do we have to offer this Christ ?  Is it one that is locked away in a gated community of "me, myself and I"?  Is it one that locks the doors and windows so as to keep out any attempts to get to know us?  Does it come with a vault where we store away all our belongings, valuables, money and a bomb shelter where we can be ready to survive "the end times"?  Does it come with blinds and shutters so we don't have to see what is "out there" that might disturb and disquiet our peace of mind?

The thing is that if we actually allow Christ to be the resident in the mansion, the deadbolts and chains on the doors will come off.  And no matter how many times we pull the blinds closed, they will be opened and we will not be allowed to hide out in this palatial dwelling of comfort and joy. 

Christ came into the world... and comes into our mansion... not to destroy the peace, but to make it spread farther and farther beyond a finite point in time and space.  We are the means to allow that peace to touch more lives and more places in this world of the 21st century.  Unlock the doors and open the windows.  Now is the time to let the light of Christ shine forth through each of us. 

Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  Glory to God from generation to generation in the church and Christ Jesus forever and ever.  Amen.  


Saturday, December 17, 2011

OWS: Whoo-Boy!

photo by Episcopal Cafe, New York.

I remember Spike Lee's film, "Do The Right Thing."  I remember the way tensions were building between the various characters in this Bedford-Stuy neighborhood on the "hottest day of the year." Italians, Africans, Puerto Ricans, Asians: everybody's fuses were growing shorter as the day wore on, and anything could tip the balance.  When a showdown over the pictures on the wall of fame in a pizza shop ends in the cops killing one of the characters, a riot breaks out.

December 17th is not the hottest day of the year in New York City.  And as the Occupy Wall Street movement begins migrating about to find a new public demonstration site, their eyes have become fixated on a portion of land owned by Trinity Wall Street, the main hub of all Episcopalianism in the United States.  TWS, which had been supportive of the OWS protestors while they were in Zuccotti Park, hasn't wanted them to occupy this piece of land, called Duarte Square.   They've reasoned that it isn't "safe" and would not be an appropriate place for an encampment during the winter because there are no facilities.  Today, the OWS movement decided it would scale or crawl under or cut open the chain link fence surrounding Duarte Square and take it over.  The response: TWS called in the cops who arrested 50 people, including a retired Episcopal bishop, and carted them off in police wagons.

No one was killed. There were no trash cans hurled through the windows of Trinity Wall Street.  But this scene raises many questions and should cause all to pause and think.

As Rev. Canon Dan Webster of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland notes at Religious Dispatches:

I think this comes under the heading, “To those who have given much, much is expected,” and that’s what Trinity Wall Street has to deal with. Like it or not…Trinity Wall Street owns the bulk of Lower Manhattan, they have the largest portfolio of any congregation in the global Anglican Communion, and they reap the benefits of the 1%...We have to do something now that brings a conscience to capitalism…

I'm not there in New York, but one has to wonder why things had to get to this point.  Could TWS not reason out a way to accomodate the OWS movement?  Perhaps Duarte Square isn't the perfect spot.  Is there another place, another way to provide shelter to the protestors who are demanding the very things the church says it wants: economic and social justice for all?

How interesting to have this showdown occuring now as the liturgical calendar marks the moment when Gabriel tells Mary that she is going to bear the Son of God.  This is celebrated with the Magnificat.  But remember: the Magnificat is a song reminiscent of Hannah from the Hebrew Scriptures and celebrates God's willingness to use the meek and lowly to topple the powerful and conceited.  Perhaps there is something for the church hierarchy to hear in this message.

Ever the Episcopalian, I am always thinking that there is more gray than black and white in these matters.  There has to be a way for TWS to offer something of their vast holdings of property to push for a fairer, more just economic system.  That is truly the heart of what Occupy Wall Street has been screaming about for the past three months.  We are a country where there is a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, and the have-nots are finally starting to notice, and demonstrate their anger.  At the same time, is OWS willing to be in another place?  Is setting up a tent city for 24/7 demonstrations the answer?   Has anything changed other than cities growing weary of the occupations?  Why occupy a church lot and not storm the New York Stock Exchange, or Bank of America?   Or come to Jacksonville and occupy the headquarters of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (I would love that!)?

Trinity has been a shelter to so many throughout its history.  Now's the time for the church to follow this new born baby about to arrive in our midst... and use its wealth to work for a new paradigm.  Today's melee in Manhattan doesn't get us there.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Body Doesn't Lie

This has been a week of great reflection, in part because of the funeral I attended on Tuesday.  The New Testament reading was from Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians in which the saint is talking about our soul's desire to unite with God and shed this body we live in:

For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.--2 Cor. 5:4-5

I guess the Spirit, then, becomes like a winter coat or a sweater providing us with the further warmth and protection from the cold of the world over the layers we all ready have on.

What caught me in listening to this passage the other day was the phrase, "we groan under our burden."  I have done many massage sessions with people who are in some stage of grief.  Either they have lost a loved one, a job, a relationship, or they have stayed mum and haven't told me anything.  As I work the tissues of their body, there will not only be a physical release; sometimes, it's vocal.  And it sounds a bit like a groan. Not in pain because of what I'm "doing", but in the recognition that those things that are painful to our minds and our souls manifest in the body. 

Recently, I was working on a person who kept slipping in and out of sleep.   This person had been through a rough patch, and sleeping clearly was an important part of the healing.  When I got to the area of the heart, I heard it: the groan.  Soft, and like a heavy sigh.  How much this layer of skin, bones, and muscles was holding and protecting a heart that had been broken.  I held my position for a few minutes and allowed the body to grieve in its own way.  All the while, I silently repeated the Sanctus:

O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us....

I watched my client's breathing as waves of sadness and sorrow came to the surface.

O Lamb of God who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us...

Releasing, letting go.  In these moments, I can sometimes see tears roll down the cheeks.  Sometimes, the facial muscles begin to tighten as the person's mind suddenly picks up on what the body is doing and attempts to override.  But bodies have more wisdom, and they know that when they are allowed this opportunity to unleash their pent up emotions, they need to do it.  In the massage room, this is OK.  Out in the world, they must remain strong, vibrant, and always under the control of the brain.

O Lamb of God who takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace...

Once there has been a release, indicated through another long and heavy groan, I know I can change my position and address new places in the body that are also aching and in need of a reminder that they are loved.

When I reflected on St. Paul's message to the church at Corinth, I was bothered by this idea that "the tent" was somehow getting in the way of the holy.  These are the beginnings of the misguided Christian doctrine that there is something "bad" about bodies.  For some people who have suffered illness or disability, the body may feel like its a prison or rebelling against the soul.  But it is truly the house, or tent, that maintains the soul.  And it can serve as a receptor to what I believe is holy: massage and therapeutic touch.  This contact that I make with clients is part of God's desire to continue having an every day presence in the world.  And there is nothing "bad" about that.

Thanks be to God for those people who have brains humble enough to allow their bodies that holy encounter.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When It Speaks, It Sings

This morning's reading from Isaiah was a balm for my soul:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn...

As noted here, two sets of friends experienced painful losses of loved ones this past week.  My gut desire has been to be with both of them, and care for them.  Give them a hug, listen to their grief; laugh, cry, roar at the world.   I can only do that by email and text message with one because distance separates us.  She and her family are in Texas.  And the funeral for Edna has been scheduled for the same day as the funeral for Ren, the son of my other friends who are here in Tallahassee.  I had been asked to participate in Ren's service which I agreed to immediately.  And my heart broke to know that I could not be in two places on the same day.

Oh, Star Trek: why have we not developed the transporter?

There are many of us in Tallahassee who wished that we could be in Texas because we love our friend and we loved Edna.  But if there is something I learned from the death of my father it is that the loss of a parent, a parent who showed that God-like quality of unconditional love, will rattle you to the core for some months to come.  And so my commitment is to be there for my friend not at the time of the funeral, but in those moments of feeling lost at sea after the funeral and the flowers and the cards have faded.

In the present nearness of my friends who are now missing Ren, I am there, too.  I can be there in body, as well as mind and spirit.  And they need love and comforting as well.  Lending a hand at the time of the funeral is part of that.  Being fully present with them in their grief is the priceless gift of binding the wounds of the brokenhearted.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

In the past week, I also was afforded moments of joy.  Watching the mingling and laughing and the sweetness that pervades a PFLAG meeting helped make the heaviness of the week a little lighter.  And it, too, reminded me of this Isaiah passage.  PFLAG brings the good news to the oppressed and frees the captives in the prisons of self-loathing, the victims of the sin of rejection of God's queer children, and a constant reminder that we are all loved even when the world sometimes doesn't love us back.

I have witnessed that lack of love.  I have seen the faces of women who tell me the stories of how their parents have told them never to come home or bring "that lifestyle under my roof."  There is resignation in their voices as they insist that nothing will move their parents' hearts.  And when I think about young children and how they are so dependant on their parents and look at them as if they are the face of God, is it any wonder that a child rejected by a parent would then think this is God's own rejection of them?

For I the LORD love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

In some ways, I believe that by bearing faithful witness to a different face of God, the one that DOES love justice and DOES love all created things, is an essential mission for me in this life.  People who have been hurt, burned by those who they thought would be with them through thick and thin, need to see that what the world is doing in their lives is not reflective of the love that God bestows on us.  They need to hear, see, taste that God hasn't abandoned them or turned away.  This happens through each of us who are commanded to love one another as we have been loved.  We are the ones who were once captives in our own prisons who are now able to live as free people.  Through us, God moves to work God's purpose out to continuously unlock the gates and bring the light to people who sit in darkness.  Not with Bible-thumping and strident screams of "Repent!" on street corners.  But by giving us the wisdom to be present in the pain of the world.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us....

May each of us who sense that power stirring allow the power to be our light in the world.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Reflection on Mary

In our Education for Ministry seminar, we do an exercise of reflecting on Mary right before we take a break for the holidays.   Below is what finally came to me after a week of wrestling with this exercise... and sitting in a contemplative place before the start of our Advent Lessons and Carols.


Without you, where would the story be?
A young girl, visited by an angel,
who announces you will bear the Son of God,
God with us.
Enormous responsibility for anyone,
especially a teenaged girl.

You pondered these things in your heart.
What questions did you have?

We hear you asked,
“How can this be for I am a virgin?”


Ave Maria…
Oy vey, Maria!
How the question of your Virgin Birth has vexed the scholars,
tested the theologians, and raised more questions.
Were you a virgin, or just a maiden? 
Does that matter?
The church has examined, debated, and lifted you up to heights hardly human.
You have been the comfort to many,
speaking words of wisdom
to those who would listen.
You have been the unattainable, unrealistic version of female,
the “forever a mother” standard.
Is it any wonder that when they see you now,
you are always in tears?


in your own moment of truth,
you recited your ancestor Hannah’s prayer.
Praising God for raising the lowly
and scattering the proud.
Again, God had shown
a memory that stretches backward and forward
covering centuries
never forgetting God’s people
and calling on the least to do great things.


without you, the story is not our story.
God came to be with us.
God came to us.
Through you, with you, and by you
we have a Savior born in our likeness
leading us to the one
who made us in the likeness of God.
Our circle completed with your consent.


Sancta Maria, Theotokos.
Blessed be your place in this incredible story.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

R.I.P Edna and Prayers Requested

If I only could hit the "reset" button.

Earlier this week, I learned of the tragic death of the son of a couple I have come to know and love from my church.  And no sooner had I learned of the funeral arrangements for Ren came the news that my best friend's mother was not doing well post-surgery.

This morning, she died in the hospital in Texas. 

Edna Galloway was a feisty Southern woman who loved to talk about politics and culture and serial killers.  She had a beautiful grin and almost looked like she and Eartha Kitt were separated at birth twins.  I enjoyed the times when I visited the Galloway's Ramshackle Ranch and sat at the bar in the kitchen drinking the coffee Edna had brewed (which her daughter Terry kept insisting she could give me something better!)  and listening to her stories, and what was on her mind... which inevitably would come 'round to why Texas was going to hell in a handbasket with Republican leadership.   She was a lot of fun, and she loved those who loved her daughters.  Paul, her husband who used to tease me with his love for the unloveable Dallas Cowboys, passed away a few years ago.  With the matriarch also gone, there will be a whole lotta space to fill at Ramshackle Ranch. 

My friend Terry is an atheist.  But I believe God loves those who do and do not believe.  And I am hoping that Edna has found her way to whatever is the next adventure after this realm.  Please pray for the Galloway family and their loved ones, as well as my church friends, the Starlings, and the loss of their son, Ren.

And can we please press the reset button.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Comfort, O Comfort My People...Four Years and Running

I remember when I became a Eucharistic Minister at St. John's, I was assigned to be the lector reading the lesson from Isaiah.  

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins...

In many respects, as I reflect on the fourth anniversary of this blog, I am reflecting on the initial mission of this space.  I started it with the intention of sharing my journey and expressing my faith as a queer Christian.  My aim was to demystify gay people and press forward with the idea that a segment of the population often excluded by religious communities is often some of the most faithful clamoring to be allowed inside the gate. 

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."

Since I started writing this blog, I have seen major shifts happening in the church and the world.  Indeed I keep sensing that valleys are being lifted up, hills made low.   Not everywhere.  Not in Florida necessarily.  But as the uneven ground continues to be made level, I see the glory of the Lord being revealed in the consecration of Mary Glasspool, and the decisions of dioceses in the state of New York to comply with same-sex marriage laws and allow for the blessings on couples who have waited decades in some cases to have their relationships made legitimate in the eyes of the state. 

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
"Here is your God!"

Yes, here is your God.  The one who comes on a cleared path, on a cloud descending, and with the intention of setting us all free.  Of course, Isaiah didn't know and wouldn't have known to speak of Jesus, and it does a disservice to the prophet to impose Christian teaching on his words.  But Jesus was the human embodiment of God's constant mission to free us and lead us into love if we would be willing to follow.  Queers who follow are doing so because there is incredible liberation in the love of God.  And the mantra, "Do not fear" is one that resonates strongly for LGBT Christians.  Do not let those who would try to plant a seed of doubt about your free entry into the kingdom get the best of you.  Not only do belong; you were never rejected by God.  Ever.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
As I keep journeying along with you, I hope that those who land on this page will experience through my writing the joy and the freedom that comes from opening up to the Divine.  I hope any negative statements or attempts to lead you away from God can be countered with the real message that you are already part of the kingdom.   Peace be with you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Touchy Topic: Atheist and Black

I'm neither black nor am I an atheist. 

But I was very interested in the article in the New York Times from last weekend that talked about a minority-within-a-minority: African-Americans who do not profess a faith in God. 

Often times in this country, there is an almost inseparable link between the church and the local black community.  When I was working as a Technical Assistant Clerk in a predominantly African-American voting precinct, my fellow pollworkers would introduce themselves by giving their name, and any possible relations the other person might know... and then what church they attend.  I was only included in that ritual when they saw my Education for Ministry textbook that I had brought along for when I would have down time.   They'd look at it, be puzzled by it being in my possession, and then ask me, "What's your church?"   I'd tell them, and my affliliation would make me a little more real for them. Christ the ice breaker at a Leon County polling place!

One of the striking comments in the article was from the young man who came out as gay to his mother and when she tried to use the Bible to explain her problems with homosexuality, he told her he didn't care because he didn't believe in that stuff anymore.   For the mom, hearing that was more disturbing than hearing that her son is gay!

At long last... there is SOMETHING that is worse in the minds of some than homosexuality!

What struck me in that story was that the man didn't believe "in that stuff anymore" and that he is gay.  This is, sadly, all too common.  For some reason, believing in "that stuff" is seen as antithetical to being gay.  And the church has aided and abetted in pushing this as the inevitable conclusion for all LGBT people.  Those of us who refuse to accept this formula for separation from our creator, redeemer and sustainer then face other subtle forms of discrimination within the church. We are welcome to be in the pews, but the pulpit remains a thorny issue in some parts.  Announcements and thanksgiving for the rites of passage for heterosexual couples are celebrated openly while the milestones in the life of an LGBT couple remain unacknowledged or hidden.  

Such slights drive some to leave the church.  And sometimes those slights lead to the mistaken idea that God is the church.  And if the church is going to treat me as a second-class citizen, then God must think the same thing.  So, see ya, God!

My favorite theologian, Robert Capon, made the best statement to counter this misbelief:

"The truth that makes us free is always ticking away like a time bomb in the basement of everybody's church.  And that truth isn't a bunch of ideas.  It's Jesus.  Sooner or later, if we just sit still and listen, he'll blow the lid off of any prison we've built."

For those of us who are queer Christians, we are in the pews and we are being called to the pulpit because we have known the freeing power of being busted out of the jail of homophobia and the sin of exclusion.  God isn't the figment of our imagination; God is real and is empowering us not to become mere joiners of the institution, but to square up to the institution and call it back to God's ultimate mission: love, unbounded and never-ending.  I believe this is why there are a growing number of LGBT people who are coming out as people of faith.   At least in the white community.

Maybe the trend to toward humanism and atheism in the black community is a way to point out the error of the ways of the black church.  That the rampant homphobia that exists in black churches is sending the children packing... and turning their backs on God.  Perhaps atheism may be the way to shake up the theists in the African-American communities to repent and return to a message that Christ did indeed die for everyone.

Maybe God is working a purpose out....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Reflection on World AIDS Day

My apologies to those of you who have made a habit of visiting this blog.  I've been so busy lately that I have very little time to think, let alone write anything.   But this morning, as I listened to the first portion of Psalm 18, I heard words that seemed appropriate for World AIDS Day:

The breakers of death rolled over me,
    and the torrents of oblivion made me afraid.

The cords of hell entangled me,
and the snares of death were set for me.

I called upon the Lord in my distress,
and cried out to my God for help.

He heard my voice from his heavenly dwelling;
my cry of anguish came to his ears.
I found my mind recalling various faces of friends and acquaintances who have died of complications from HIV infection; of seeing the AIDS quilt, both laid out in near-fullness on the Mall in Washington, DC, in 1993... and a few panels at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Gainesville.  I thought about the shame heaped on those living with HIV, and how so many especially 30 years ago... would lose the love of their families as they lay dying in hospitals.  And I thought how these words sounded very much like the kind of prayer the persecuted patient might have been praying.

Scientists have made huge breakthroughs in the 30 years with the antiretroviral drugs, but there are still almost 40-thousand new cases of HIV infection every year.  And there are those who cast all caution to the wind and intentionally go out to get infected, a phenomenon I simply don't understand.

As I remember those who have died, I continue to pray that we will continue funding the research to work us toward eradicating HIV/AIDS here and abroad. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Entering Advent

I've been thinking about the words from the 1 Peter reading that closed out  yesterday morning's Year A  lectionary:

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

I find as I enter Advent, these words are probably just as good as anything.  It feels like the send off a parent might give to a child as they slip them a twenty dollar bill as the kid goes off to college.  And, in a way, that is what Advent is like.  We are being sent off into a new year and new experiences that come with the cycle of waiting expectantly for Christ's entry into our world.

I say "our world" because that's what happens in this ritual of remembrance.   The literalist will be looking for the "acutal, flesh and blood" return of the Messiah to fulfill the promise we recite at the Eucharist: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."   But I don't think in "literal" terms when I consider the idea of the Messiah's return.  Christ, for me, returns every year, like clockwork, at the end of Advent with Christmas Eve and the singing of "Joy to the World".  And the question for me always at that moment is, "Am I ready for this?"   It's all fine and good when we are in awe of this baby, whose majestic birth happens in a manger with animals and shepherds.  But that is just the beginning.  The baby grows up, and presents challenges to the status quo.  If we agree to journey with Christ in this annual maturation, we might find ourselves challenged to see things differently and poked and prodded out of our comfort zones.  And, with this being the "Mark Year," we're climbing on-board with the Christ who is the Doc Marten wearing no nonsense Messiah.  He doesn't have time for games; Mark's version is the Christ of action. Now.

Time to get serious, be disciplined, and stay constant in love.  Then, perhaps we'll be ready for the topsy-turvy ride with the newborn babe. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bittersweet Ending of a Tradition

Tomorrow at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, two midwestern football rivals will take to the field in a game that has come to be known as the Border War.

The University of Missouri-Columbia Tigers vs. the University of kansas Jayhawks... also known as the "Ugly Birds".   Yes, as an alumna of Mizzou, I have an opinion about our opponent.  This game has been played every year since 1891... and its roots go back to the national upheaval during the Civil War.   Kansas was a free state.  Missouri was a slave state.  The "Jayhawkers", a band of hooligans from Kansas, would make periodic raids into western Missouri, burning towns and making mayhem.   Missouri responded by sending William Quantrill and his raucous Bushwhackers into Lawrence (home of kU), burning it to a crisp.

Today, fires and raids have given way to helmets, shoulder pads, and brutal tackling.   As these gridiron gladiators go at it on the field, fans from both sides will be screaming themselves to hoarseness as the bands play on with the fight songs to encourage their teams.

Sadly, tomorrow will likely be the last time Missouri will play its arch rival in this classic showdown.  My Alma Mater, for reasons of money, has decided to leave the Big 12 Conference and will begin playing in the SEC next season.  They'd been trying to join the Big 10, another Midwestern-based conference.  But Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin.... they all refused to acknowledge the request.  Or simply chose to look the other way.   Meanwhile, the SEC was happy to include an institution with one of the premiere Journalism Schools in the nation... as well as a football team that could join Vanderbilt in the "homecoming guest" department.   And so, beginning next year, Missouri will have a Border War with.... umm.... with....


That doesn't work for me.

In fact, most of this whole realignment business of the collegiate athletic conferences doesn't work for me.  The Big 10 has twelve teams; The Big 12 this year had 10 teams.  The PAC 12 (used to be PAC 10) includes former Big 12 school Colorado... a school that might be on the Pacific Coast in the event of global warming!   Florida State has been in the Atlantic Coast Conference... even though it sits closer to the Gulf of Mexico.    The whole thing is a stinking mess, and it is all about money, and television revenues.  Not for the players, of course.  They're chattel in this high stakes world of college sports. The universities make a mint off of them.  And as legislatures continue to hack away at higher education, the need for revenue from the athletic programs becomes greater.  What should be just a game is now all about the ca-ching of cash flow.

Lost in all of this are the rivalries such as Missouri vs. kansas.  When kU heard that Missouri was going to bolt from the Big 12, the Ugly Bird school threw down the gauntlet:  leave, and this rivalry match-up is over!   Mizzou's response: we never liked you very much any way.  So, see ya later and we'll play the Gators.

As an alumna, I am disappointed.  The bitterness between the two schools and the two states has actually been fun.  All Mizzou alums get a kick out of refusing to capitalize the "k" because we know that kansas is "Neither a proper noun nor a proper state!"    In turn, the more Union-friendly fervor of kansans burns hot every time they proclaim that they've been "protecting America from Missouri since 1854!"  And when I was a student in the late 80s, both schools had the same football cheer: "Oh, yeah?! Wait 'til basketball season!!"

I hope that both schools will come to their senses and realize that we are really talking about a game, and that these conferences have become so meaningless in their geographical alignment that to sacrifice a tradition that dates back to 1891 and draws the attention of alums and curious on-lookers alike is just plain stupid.  Surely, one of the SEC foes will forgo a game against the Missouri Tigers to allow them to play the Ugly Birds.   For those of us who went to these schools, the game against the rival might be the only one that could get us excited about the sport in question.  I mean, no one at Mizzou ever gave up her tickets to football or basketball games against kU. 

Guess that won't be an issue any more.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

Happy Turkey Day, America!

This is the day where we all gather 'round the dining room table to feast on fowl, sweet potatoes, cranberries, green bean casseroles, dressing, and pies.   At least, that's how Publix wants us to think.  And by the packed parking lots, it's clear that the message has sunk in.  Thanksgiving is about food!

And family, related or chosen.  People will travel by plane, car and train to be with others for this feast day.  In fact, this is the biggest travel holiday of the year, and AAA is predicting more people will leave home for the holiday than last year.

And football.  Yes, of course!  It's about watching the Detroit Lions vs. the Chosen Opponent.  In year's past, one could safely say the opponent would easily stomp the poor, hapless Lions.  But now they've become contenders.  So, it could be an exciting game!

And God?

One of an overly-pious nature could scoff at all of the above as proof that secularism is killing Christ and robbing us of our faith in God.   OR one could recognize that in all of this, God is there.  It is a good, and right, and joyful thing always and everywhere to remember and praise God for the blessings we have in life: food, family, and--yes--football.   God is there in our rejoicing as well as when we are in sorrow and despair.  And I believe even when we are not actively praising God, if we live knowing that God is ever present with us and moving in, through and around us, if we believe we are redeemed and respond to redemption by treating all things with same love and respect we have experienced, then we are blessing in deed as well as by our words.

Thanks be to God for all the blessings and challenges and love that we share for our friends, family and the world in which we live in.   And may everyone enjoy a Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the Non-Conformist King

We are reaching the end of Pentecost and the Church calendar year culminating in what is called, "Christ the King" Sunday.  It is the time when we reflect that Christ's kingship is not like any others.  He never drew a sword or went into a battle.  He preferred to assert his rule through being who he was and encouraging those around him to follow his example.  He gets killed for this, but not even death could conquer him.  And, as evidenced today by how many still revere his name,  he continues to prove that he has risen, and is still beckoning us to live in the way he was teaching us: love one another, build each other up, lend a hand to someone in need.  And love yourself remembering that you are loved by God first.
It is a day of great joy and celebration as we prepare for the entry of Christ into the world on December 25th.  And then the journey begins in earnest as the baby grows up into the man who is the redeemer of the world.
As I reflect on the readings in the lectionary, especially the gospel lesson from Matthew 25,  I considered the common theme of searching out the lost and lonely, giving wisdom to those who stay in relationship with God, and noting that those who are in right relationship with God are the ones who treat the least among their society with dignity and respect.    I put those insights along side what is happening in the world today, especially with our treatment of the transgender communities and those who don't conform to gender "norms."  We have a long way to go toward fully living up to the commandment to love one another as Christ loved us.   Remember, Christ was a king who did not beat or kill anyone.  When confronted by someone who was "other" in his First Century society, Christ the King often times behaved in a way that some of his contemporaries might not have thought was fitting of a King.  If the Sadducces had had the term, they might have called him, "queer" and not because he was funny looking! 
And that is one of the reasons I value Christ.  For one who was a man, he had an ability and a desire to see women respected and gave them close access to him.  Women were his messengers to the disciples when he rose from the dead.  Mary sat at his feet learning.  Countless women and men with disabilities became able through contact with Christ and are held up by the evangelists as evidence of the ministry Jesus was doing on earth.  He was a man in physical appearance, but he was non-conforming.  He was an outward and visible sign of a man with a very different inward and spiritual grace. 
I have said to people that I believe God is transgender.  In fact, God transcends all our perceptions of what gender is or should be.   The construct of male-female is so limiting.  I see God as having no discernible human form; hence can have a gender that is fluid and at-ease in all genders.  It is this DNA that lived in the male body of Christ that I believe gave him the extraordinary ability to be with men and women fully and equally and treat them with dignity no matter their human condition.  As such, I imagine Christ would not flinch upon meeting someone trans, nor would he have had a problem with the "ma'am" or "sir" pleasantries.  He would have loved them and included them in his royal court of those in need of some kindness.
Today, many of us in the LGBT community are pausing to remember the violence committed against our transgender friends.  Those who would commit such hateful acts as burning people to death, or beating them with fists or clubs, clearly have never met the king who said that those who fed the hungry,  welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited the prisoner were the righteous in the sight of God.   That king is unambiguous about this message of love.   And this king will gather the sheep left shivering for wont of shelter from a society hostile to differences.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seeking Input

The following message is for anyone who wants to see marriage equality become a reality in the Episcopal Church liturgy.

In reading Rev. Susan Russell's blog, I saw where from now until November 27th, anyone who is a deputy to the Church's National Convention in Indianapolis next summer is invited to read and make comment on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music's white paper on same-sex marriage rites.

The rest of us, I guess, don't get to comment until after that period. 

Here's the link to the item on Rev. Russell's blog.

The SCLM is offering two resolutions to consider.  One would be to adopt the liturgical materials they have developed and begin implementing them in those jurisdictions that allow for same-sex marriage beginning on 1Advent of 2012.   The other option is to ask the Presiding Bishop and the House of Deputies President to appoint a task force to "study the theological, scriptural, historical, canonical, and liturgical aspects of marriage and to develop tools for theological reflection along with norms for theological discussion at the local level."  In other words, either go for it on fourth down or punt for another three years.   Folks, honestly:  the discussion about full inclusion of LGBT people in the church has been happening since 1976!!  Babies born in that year have already gone to college, started a career, and come out of the closet.  They are now parish priests, for crying out loud!  I think we are all talked out by now. 

If I were running a "TR" on the two options, I would have a field day. 

What does Tradition say?  Well, they've got lots to look at in the Blessing of a Marriage language in the BCP, and they've done research on these "new" rites as indicated in their white paper.  Some might quote the same tired-old business out of the Bible from Leviticus, Romans, 1 Corinthians.   Whatever.  
What does Culture say?  "The Church is stupid and hateful toward gays."   (Don't believe me?  I'll invite you to a party with my "unchurched" friends!)   
What experiences have I had?  None, really.  I live in Florida and the voters already made my choice for me and the church.  But I sure do get goose-bumps when I see all those other people getting married and seeming to be so happy and joyful.  How much more so will be those who are faithful members of the Episcopal Church who have waited, and waited to have their relationships celebrated in the same way we see our straight brothers and sisters being blessed?
What is my Position?  That the Church should quit the damn studies, and get on with it!
What Insights do I gain from all of this?  That the Church needs to move at a pace that is respectful and comfortable for the members who are the most leery... but the ones who are most leery must also trust that those who have been standing along side them as they wade into these unchartered waters are not going to hold them under and drown them.  Nobody is "dunking" anyone else... and it is time to learn how to swim.  Then everyone can enjoy the water and play with each other.  And all will be well.

So if you are a deputy, or know someone who is a deputy, please forward this message and encourage this process to move ahead and get us off the dime.  Please!

Peace.  Out.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gleaning from the Gospel (and Everything Else)

Blessed Lord, who have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning.  Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.  Amen.

With those words setting the stage, we dive right in to the readings assigned for the Episcopal Lectionary for this Sunday.  I'm sorry the diviners of our lessons decided NOT to tell "the rest of the story" from our Hebrew Scripture lesson out of Judges.  They give us the basics:  once again, the Israelites are screwing up... and this time Deborah is their judge.  She's a prophetess who sits under her palm tree and tells Barak to go get ready for battle with Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army.  And that's where they stopped the story. 

Perhaps they felt that Sunday morning wasn't the time to let everyone know that another woman, Jael, gets Sisera into her tent and, as he's sleeping, she jams a tent peg through his head.  Deborah, Barak and Jael then do a chorus line number to celebrate the victory. 

Like I said, they didn't go there... and so we'll just leave it alone.

Out of Psalm 123... I found myself drawn to these verses:

"Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud."

I imagine that perhaps these are the words that the Israelites might have used to gain God's attention as they found themselves up against the Canaanite army of Sisera.  They sound like words I could have used once or twice in my life!  

Don't fret: the 1 Thessalonians reading goes on to talk about how those who have found themselves "in Christ" are children of light, live in the day, put on breastplates of faith and hope and helmets of salvation.  And, one of the most critical lines of any of Paul's instructions:  "Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing."

And here we arrive at the Gospel of Christ according to Matthew's 25th chapter... and the story of the man who gives three slaves a certain number of talents (talents were "sums of money" not the ability to swallow swords or twirl batons) and then leaves them for a very long time.  When he comes back, he finds that the one who had the five talents wheeled and dealed his way to doubling the fortune.  The one who he had given two talents did the same.  Both of these slaves were praised and given even more responsibility as they became part of the kingdom.  Slave number three, who had only had the one talent, is described as being afraid.  So afraid that he didn't do anything with this pot of gold except bury it in the ground.   When he faces up to the man, he can't admit that he did anything wrong.  Instead, he says, "I buried it because I knew YOU (the master) were dishonest and you don't reap what you sow and you scatter your seeds everywhere... and... and... and...."   This episode doesn't end well for slave number three.   Upon hearing the excuses, the master has the talent taken from the slave and then orders him to be cast into the outer darkness where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Sitting with this story, especially after all the rest of the readings,  I was thinking about this third slave and his motivation (or lack thereof) in handling this gift.  Even one talent in those days of ancient Palestine was no chump change, so it's not like he couldn't have done a lot with it.   But he had a choice of what to do:  do I go wheel and deal like the others and increase the amount of this "seed money" or do I give in to my fear that if I part with any of it, I won't have enough?   From the story we learn which choice he makes.   And then there was the projection: the slave says he didn't do anything with the money because he knows the master to be this dishonest guy who just takes whatever and randomly scatters seeds all over the place.  And then there is the master's response:  "You knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  Then you ought to have invested my money with bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest."

Aside from snickering that the money should be invested with "the bankers" to earn interest, we see that the one thing the third slave failed to do was the work of "building up" others.  That's what happens when you take your money and put it into circulation.  I think about the call in our community to "Shop Local."  Buying goods from a local merchant as opposed to the Wal-Marts of the world means that you are helping a neighbors to earn the dough they'll need to make purchases, pay employees, etc.  I consider this part of the "building up" of our community.  I also think this particular slave is an example of one who hasn't put on the breastplate of faith and hope.  Instead, he's afraid and sticks his money in a hole.  But above all, I was struck by the way the third slave projects all this crap onto the master who'd given the talent to begin with.  In my ears, this is the same thing I hear from those I know who are estranged from a faith tradition or just flat-out hostile toward any religious belief.  What they say they know of God, or of Christianity, is often negative and punishing: hardly a God who will hear the cry to have mercy.   So much of what they say they know about God or Christ or the Gospels is usually tainted by some terrible experience.  And that experience is not coming from God... or Christ... or the Gospels.  It's coming from those who claim to have the religious authority to speak for God who then commit the sin of taking God's good words and works in vain by twisting them into a club to smack people over the head. 

What a person might know about God could be very, very badly off-base.  I would venture a guess that God is always willing to have someone like this third slave say, "OK, so I was wrong.  I screwed up, and buried the talent because I thought you were a mean ol' cur, but I see that you are not."   That's the repentance and redemption piece of the story which happens again and again in Scripture and beyond to our current day.  Too bad the third slave didn't understand that.

May we never forget it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pope Joe Pa: Buh-Bye

There are lots of things I could blog about, but tonight I am shaking my head in amazement and horror at the destruction of a giant of American college football.
Joe Paterno, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for 46 years, has been fired in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal involving his former defensive co-ordinator.  The story is tragic.  Jerry Sandusky joined the Penn State coaching staff in 1969, and eight years later, begins a program called Second Mile in 1977.  He sets up group foster homes for troubled boys who either have no family or come from dysfunctional backgrounds.  And it is from this setting that Sandusky meets his victims... as many as nine boys... who he would take to the showers at the Penn State football stadium and abuse them.  According to the timeline in the grand jury indictment, numerous people, sometimes the parents of the boys and sometimes university employees, saw or learned of the abuse and reported it.
But nothing happened.
And the worst was the graduate assistant who saw Sandusky having sex with a 10 year-old in the showers.  The grad assistant didn't intervene to save the boy.  Instead he told his father, and the next day went to Head Coach Joe Paterno and told him.   Sandusky wasn't even on the official coaching staff, but was some kind of "coach emeritus" with the team.
Did Paterno call the cops?  No, he called the athletic director.  Did the athletic director call the cops?  No, instead everyone promises to "look into it."  Sandusky has his keys taken away.  But not his freedom.
This was in 2002 when there were a number of headlines about the Roman Catholic Church's own issues with child sex abuse.  And Paterno is Catholic.   His response to the news that something was rotten in the showers of his vaunted football progam is too reminiscent of how his Holy See also preferred to look the other way as it became apparent that the church would shuffle pedophiles from one parish to another.
Paterno had announced earlier today that he would retire at the end of this, his 46th season.  The 84 year-old coach probably still believed that his legacy could still be salvaged.  Certainly, everyone would remember his "Great Experiment" of making championship-worthy football go hand-in-hand with great academics.  He probably wanted to add another win to his record of 409, more than any other coach in college football. 
Instead, the Board of Trustees have told Joe Pa: Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Good-Bye.  Same with the University President. 
Like I said, it's all tragic and sad.  Especially for Victims numbers 1-9. 
Most college sports teams are shaken up by financial misdeeds by boosters, or athletes breaking the law, or college tutors cheating on behalf of the players to keep the athlete eligible to play.   But raping young boys in the team shower?  Sorry, Joe Pa.  If you knew and did nothing, you do not deserve to leave on your terms. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

How Time Flies: Happy Birthday, NACC

Yesterday was a marathon day with many appointments with clients and meetings at the church and read-throughs for a radio script for the Mickee Faust Club.  When I finally sat down at the computer at 11pm, and opened my blog roll, I was reminded that November 3rd--aka Richard Hooker Day-- was the day a group of us in the blogosphere launched the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. 

The goal was simple: an online campaign to educate the global Communion about the dangers of adopting a document designed to centralize power in the Anglican Communion to a group of bishops and others in the hierarchy who would dictate what's what, and sanction any Church that doesn't do as they say.   It is, in my opinion, a throwback to the days of the Oxford Movement and this idea that somehow we had lost our way and need correction for "orthodoxy" sake.  And, much as the supporters of the Anglican Covenant have tried to deny this, it is a punishing document that attempts to do the unthinkable: streamline thinking in the Anglican Communion.

Study the history of the development of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion and you'll see that we, those who have bought into communal relationship, have always been a motley crew that were held together by belief in a Triune God... and conviction that one should apply reason to scripture and church tradition (thank you, Richard Hooker).   To suddenly decide that we need to agree to "What is an Anglican" is absurd and arrogant.   And it seems from accounts around the world, the only ones who can agree to the Covenant's terms are the ones sitting on island nation in Europe, sipping their tea and repeating the line that the Covenant is "the only way forward."   As MadPriest notes, this insistence will be the death of the Church of England.

I have not been as active a member in the No Anglican Covenant Coalition during the past several months.  I care about what's happening and I'm impressed with the work our group has done to assemble documents and arguments, not to mention the countless blog entries all of us have written.  Our international leader, Revd. Dr. Lesley Crawley, has done well to keep our message out there as has our stateside leader Lionel Deimel.  There is a certain soap opera-like quality to the Anglican Covenant storyline that allows me to check in and out and still know--roughly--what's happening while I continue to eek out a living and participate in the church as a member of the laity.   My own contribution to the Coalition has been the occasional bit of humor as expressed through the Bishop YellowBelly series which can be found HERE.  Between me and Mr. CatOLick, I think we have used comedy to the best effect of pointing out the ridiculousness of the Covenant.

The latest news is that yet another Maori member of the Communion has rejected the Covenant.  In the United States, dioceses are rolling out their rejections of the document as we countdown to our General Convention in Indianapolis next July.  I haven't heard what the Diocese of Florida wants to do with it, and we usually don't get that news unless we call Jacksonville and ask for it.  I probably won't make that call until early next year.  I have a feeling that as much as our Bishop enjoys the Lambeth Conference too many on this side of the pond are seeing the Covenant as a ham-fisted way to solve a perceived problem.  And those of us who have lived through the schisms and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the "more orthodox than thou" believe that this document only continues to stir pot whose contents have already been emptied.

The only way forward is simply to move forward.  Boldly and bumbling as we attempt to run without stumbling to obtain the heavenly promises of God.  Nix the Covenant and let's get on with it. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Into the Cloud of Witnesses

As one might expect, I awoke this morning with the All Saints' hymn running through my head.

For all the saints who from their labors rest...

I was thinking about all who have passed in the last 12 months, both family members, fathers of friends, and especially the pioneers and the prophets of the gay civil rights movement.  There is a lovely entry over at Jesus in Love that commemorates the LGBT saints who have died since this time last year.  And this morning, I learned of one more.

Axel Axgil, who was among the first out gay leaders in Denmark and helped to make that country the first in Europe, and the world, to legalize same-sex partnerships, passed away on Saturday from complications related to a fall.  He was 96. 

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old...

Axgil was born Axel Lundahl-Madsen.  He was one of the founders of LGBT Danmark... then known as Forbundet af 1948 or F-48, The Association... in 1948.   He and his partner, Eigil Eskildsen, were sentenced to a short prison term on pornography charges in 1955 for running a gay male modeling agency that took nude photos of men.  While in prison, they melded their first names into a new surname--Axgil--in an act of public defiance. They, along with others, fought for decades for the right to have gay relationships recognized by the government.  They persevered and on October 1, 1989, they joined  10 other couples in becoming the first to enter into a civil union and gain many of the same rights as heterosexual Danes.  Denmark finally granted LGBT couples the right to adopt children last year.

A quote in the Washington Post from Vivi Jelstrup of LGBT Danmark said that Axgil never saw the struggle as "his" cause.

"He was a modest man...He always underscored that there were many involved in the work and that it was a common cause.”

Eigil Axgil died on September 22, 1995.

O blest communion fellowship divine!  We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee for all are thine.

Reading stories about men such as Axel Axgil remind me that I am part of a continuum of the saints who have worked to bring this world forward in the struggle for full equality for all people.  Many have gone before me to lift valleys up and bring mountains a little closer to the ground so that there is a level playing field.  Each of us, whether we are standing on a corner with a bullhorn crying out for justice, or simply presenting our full selves without apology before our neighbors, are helping to clear the path and make it a little wider for the next generation to travel toward a fair and just world. 

So often we think of saints as the ones who have died.  But really All Saints' Day is the time to realize that while some are now immortal, those of us still in this realm are continuing their good works and we are part of the tribe of sainthood.  We are to carry on what they have done and accomplish more before it's our turn to rest.     

Alleluia, alleluia!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone!

First off... I need a name for this pumpkin with a tin foil hat.  Yes, a tin foil hat should give you a HUGE hint as to what I'm looking for in a name.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because it recalls memories of my dad indulging me in my wildest fancies of costumes, be it transforming an old blue sweatshirt into a superman costume, or helping me to transform into Henry VIII (although I was a scrawny King of England). But his speciality was to take my intricate jack o'lantern designs and make them come to life.  Nothing was too outrageous or too complicated for his carving work.  And so it was with great pleasure during the last years of his life, when he was right arm was paralyzed and he was unable to create a jack o'lantern, that I would carry a table, newspapers and knives to his assisted living facility to carve a pumpkin for him.  We'd talk over what kind of face he wanted, and I would go to work.  He'd watch me as I would prattle on about whatever.  And I'd check in with him to make sure I was "doing this right."  In the end, he smiled and complimented me on my art work.  I used to like him to make scary-faced pumpkins.  But living in "the home", his preference was to have a smiley-faced gourd.

It's appropriate I think to reminiscence about such things at this time of year.  For the pagans, this is one of their highest of holy days--Samhain--where the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and there is much communing with the ancestors.  Not surprisingly, Christians also celebrate this time of year with All Saints Day tomorrow and remembering all those who have died in the past year.  We hold their lives up in commemoration of their passing and in the hope that one day we, too, will be marching with them and all the company of heaven.

There is comfort in remembering the times of fun I had with my dad, both as a child and as an adult.  But I don't believe his spirit dwells that close to me as if he were in some parallel universe with just a thin curtain separating us.  At this point, the markers of my dad are the ones that are in my mind and heart as well as one-half of my DNA.  My father's spirit, I believe, has ascended to some height and a new dimension of life that I can't even begin to understand and explain.  I suppose that is part of the mystery.  And I can wait to have that riddle unfold later.

Now, what are we gonna call that pumpkin?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Love is a Four-Letter Word

I was privileged to witness a beautiful wedding today.

My two friends, Sarah and Margeaux, were smudged (and handcuffed) in a ceremony that celebrated their love, beauty and levity of their relationship.  And it happened in the state of Florida, which specifically prohibits same-sex marriage.  But this was all legal.  Margeaux, an MTF transgender, had retained some of the "male markers" that allowed for this to be a "legitimate" marriage ceremony by the state's standards.

It was very special to be part of this moment.  These two make a lovely couple, and the story of their meeting (aided in part by my buddy Jimmers in a devil costume at Halloween) was priceless and spoke to how when one meets a soul mate, you just know it's right.  And gender?  Who cares!  I'm convinced that God does not ... nor did the man in the devil outfit.

There are so many in this state that would like to have the opportunity to pledge their love to their life partner in a public ceremony witnessed by friends and family, and have it really count.  But until there is a revolution to change the constitution, we must go elsewhere to get married.  Many of my friends have made arrangements to marry in Massachusetts, Vermont, DC, and even some got hitched during that brief period in California.  The transgender community can, in some cases, exploit the loopholes about "one man, one woman" in the law to get around the ridiculous barriers. 

After the wedding proper, the conversation among some of us turned to the topic of the law and its discrimination.   We appreciated Margeaux's remarks about the intentionality of her decision to keep some of the "male markers" in place so that she and Sarah could legally be married.  All of us were for it, and all of us agreed that it is wrong that anyone should have to do that.  We marveled at the willingness of some to stand firmly and squarely in opposition to love.  Because that's what it really boils down to: opposing love.  They are so threatened by the idea that two people of the same gender might love one another.  And for that, we have to have a constitutional amendment?  As one person said, "Love is a four-letter word."  Sadly, so is fear.  And it is the latter that seems to dominate whenever the discussion arises of permitting the LGBT community some share in that pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Margeaux said at the ceremony that she hopes for a day when we there won't be a prohibition against LGBT people getting married to the person who they love.  I have that same hope. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stewardship Revelation

Oh, boy! Oh, boy!  We’re entering into the final weeks of this year’s readings in the Daily Office and that means one thing:  Revelation!

The Book of Revelation to John really is a part of the Bible that I think must have been authored by the creator of Calvin and Hobbes (the cartoon… not the theologian and philosopher).   Either that, or John got into some funny mushrooms.   You’ve got creatures with wings and multiple eyes and dragons and lambs and horsemen and mayhem and a new heaven and a new earth.  It’s really whacky reading and the kind of stuff an imaginative child might relish.  And it certainly isn’t boring.

What struck me in reading the Revelation passage assigned for today (besides imagining lions and eagles with lots of eyes) was the scene of the four winged creatures and the twenty-four elders bowing to God and saying, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things, and by their will they existed and were created.”  That sentence reminds me of what I often heard the priest say at the altar on Sundays before beginning the liturgy of the table:

“All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”

Until recently, that phrase would pass through one ear and out the other.  Nothing snagged it in my brain, forcing me to contend with its meaning.  

Then along came the stewardship campaign. 

Just as predictable as readings from Revelation showing up in the lectionary at the end of the Church year, it is equally as regular that the mid-fall season means the beginning of the stewardship campaign; that time when some appointed people in the church are called on to help the rector reach out to the rest of the congregation and commit some hard cold cash for a year.  The church exists for God, but God doesn’t pay the utility bills.  And in this human, earthly realm, the church needs money for the privilege of existence on a city block.

I used to get really uncomfortable about stewardship campaigns.  I didn’t like people asking me to make a commitment of money to the church because I didn’t want to be “pinned down” to give a specific amount.  I felt scared by the whole thing; what if I couldn’t pay my pledge?  Would I get kicked out of the congregation as a free-loader?   

My anxiety changed one day as I was in my massage office waiting for a client.  I had been asked to be on the stewardship committee for the parish, and thus was having to face my own fears and doubts about money, what I could afford, and how would I budget for a pledge.  I realized that money held a lot of energy and power over me.  And the only way for me to keep money from staring at me like some looming ogre was to take a more Buddhist approach to the green stuff.  I had to learn to detach from it. 

This is easier said than done.  But as I thought about that line, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee,” I thought about the transfer of money especially that which I called, “my money.”  “My money” is never really “my money.”  It isn’t really something I own; it’s on loan to me to then move it along to someone or something else.  I don’t necessarily believe that our currency is “God’s money.”  But what we do with it and how we relate to it will influence our stewardship of all things.  And if we believe that God created all things, then we are bound to treat all things with care and respect.   This includes the bits of copper, silver and dollars that make up that thing called, “money.”  Adopting a philosophy toward money like that, I found it easier to conceive of making a pledge.  I could find an amount that had significance to me, and then I could let it go without feeling a need or a demand or sensing that I was in any way  still emotionally, spiritually or psychically attached to this check that I had written. 

The church gets the money that had been in my hands and in someone else’s hands before that to put that money to use in supplying a space for people to gather to worship, meet and have fellowship.  Thanks be to God for that.