Sunday, January 30, 2011

Videos Worth Watching

Archbishop Rowan Williams is on a roll. He condemned the killing of LGBT rights activist David Kato within 48 hours. Then today, at the end of a summit of most of the Anglican primates, he went on record again about the murder and disgraceful handling of David Kato's funeral. There are two reports imbedded in the Irish television network RTE's site.

Anglican leader in warning over homophobia - RTÉ News#video#video

Meanwhile, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon this morning in Dublin at Christ Church talked about infant mortality and the killing of David Kato. She again returned to the theme of the body of Christ. And she challenged the congregation that being part of the body of Christ requires us to "show up". Something that at least seven bishops did NOT do this past week in Dublin. Among those who refused to be at the table because of the presence of Jefferts Schori: ++Henry Orombi of Uganda. A reporter asked Jefferts Schori what she thinks of that, and she simply noted that if they aren't there, there is no way to have a dialogue. ++Katharine expressed a renewed sense of commitment to the Anglican Communion from those present. Will this mean that we move forward and leave those who won't show up in our rearview mirror? I guess we'll see.

Mystery Gift

Today was the annual meeting at St. John's. Nothing terribly exciting to report from that event. We are committing to a year of Christian hospitality which is a good goal. A transformative goal for St. John's which has been through a time of everyone looking over their shoulder before speaking for fear of who might be listening and turning them into the "orthodox police".

As I approached my car with my Pyrex containing the leftovers of my Chicken paprikash from our potluck, I noticed a book on the driver's side of the roof. I had a moment of, "What did I leave out here for four hours?" It was a slim book by the Bishop of Atlanta on his journey toward understanding what I know in the marrow of my bones: Gay people are part of God's kingdom. In fact, I believe my sexuality (and yours) is a gift from God. At any rate, this book had a sticky note: "I hope you enjoy this. I found it very interesting. A fan of your blog."

Quite the mystery! I only know a few of my readers by name or acronym. Some I know personally, but many are folks who I've come to know as part of this virtual church in the blogosphere. Now a member of this church has passed along a tangible gift which I hope to get to this week (unfortunately, I have to focus on the popes of Avignon and Rome for EfM first). But I will read the Bishop's book. And I might even comment on it here. So, thank you, Mystery Gifter. How fun to have blog readers bestow me with books!

And Deliver Us From Evil

Archbishop Henry Orombi

The Mad Priest has made a suggestion that I would love to see happen across Episcopal Churches, and throughout the Anglican Communion: given the deplorable actions of the "official" representative of the Anglican Church of Uganda at David Kato's funeral, the rest of us should celebrate the slain activist's life by reading for him a proper burial service. This would be a way of delivering us from an evil committed against a dead man, and his friends and family, by a church that has decided to place itself in the judgement seat of God.

The readings for this Sunday, too, speak to me about the abuses that have happened this week in Uganda, and elsewhere, against LGBT people. Our first lesson is from the prophet, Micah, which begins with God reminding Israel of all that has been done for the nation.

"With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
--Micah 6: 6-8

Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. That is what is expected. I wonder if the head of the Church of Uganda, Archbishop Henry Orombi, has any clue or concept that he must read this passage from the prophet and see the error of his ways? He has encouraged and fostered hatred of homosexuals in his country and around the globe. Let's face it: St. Peter's Anglican Church, the renegade crew that left St. John's in Tallahassee with accusations of 'unorthodoxy' and such, is affiliated with the Anglican Church in Uganda. And one need only do a YouTube search to find that the faux priest Eric Dudley is STILL foaming at the mouth about TEC's acceptance of LGBT Christians. I would ask Eric Dudley, Henry Orombi, Nicholas Okoh, Martin Ssempa, Scott Lively, "The Family" on C Street and all the others: where was the justice and the kindness in the offense committed at David Kato's funeral? How was launching into an anti-gay rant at a gay man's funeral a humble walk with your God?

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us..."

I am admittedly finding it extremely difficult to forgive what is happening on the ground in Uganda. Ultimately, I know that God is watching what is unfolding there, and my hope rests in the belief that Kato's death may stir some otherwise complacent people to see that the time for silence and wishy-washy liberal excuses about not wanting to appear "colonial" will come to a halt. This is a human rights issue, not a matter of trying to impose foreign rule. It is not OK to kill or to call for the hanging of peaceful people such as Bishop Christopher Senyonjo. People are being murdered for who they are. How is this different from any other holocaust or genocide in history?

The gospel lesson for today comes from Matthew's account of Jesus' sermon on the mount and reciting of the beatitudes:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. --Matt 5: 3-12

To all people, and especially my LGBT brothers and sisters in Uganda and Honduras and all parts of the world where you face danger and persecution: the idea of 'rejoicing and being glad' for what is happening may sound idiotic at times. It certainly has to me! But I believe in a God who loves. I believe that those of us who are living as God has known us to be are the ones who are bringing us closer to the fulfillment of the prayer: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We remain grounded in our truth because we are blessed.

O Lord, make haste to help us.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Stonewall in Uganda and a Communion Divided

It is no small irony that as I write this entry, the shuffle on my CD player has landed on the 60s Burt Bacharach tune, "What the World Needs Now is Love." After all, "it's the only thing that there's just too little of."

Nowhere is that more evident than in Uganda. Friday was the funeral for slain LGBT rights activist, David Kato. Bishop Christopher Senyonjo was in attendance, a brave move given that he, too, is among those targeted in the tabloids to be hanged. Reverend Canon Albert Ogle, who runs St. Paul Foundation which supports Bishop Christopher's work to help LGBT Ugandans, reported that Kato's funeral became an anti-gay rally...

Since Kato was an Anglican, the local parish church of Nagojje was responsible for his funeral rites to be read from the Book of Common Prayer. Although tributes have been pouring into the Kato family from President Barack Obama and other international leaders, the Church of Uganda sent no priest, no bishop, but a Lay Reader to conduct the service.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo arrived in his purple cassock accompanied by his wife Mary and let the master of ceremonies know he would like to say a few words at some point in the service. He was going to read a message from Frank Mughisu of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) where David worked tirelessly since 2004.

As an excommunicated bishop of the Church of Uganda, Christopher has no standing in the official hierarchy of the church. The Lay Reader began to make inappropriate remarks condemning homosexuality quite graphically and stating the Church of Uganda’s position that homosexuality was a sin and against the Bible.

The crowd began to cheer him on and the bishop described the event as turning into an anti-gay rally. The bishop was never called upon to speak. He felt for the LGBT community having to suffer yet another public humiliation.

This scene would have continued, but for the actions of one brave lesbian named Kasha who grabbed the microphone away from the lay reader. In Ogle's words, this (Kato's violent death and chaotic funeral) was "the Stonewall moment" for LGBT Ugandans. The reader fled the scene and David Kato's friends completed the service. They had to carry his coffin and bury him quickly as reports are that the local villagers began to assemble against them.

As life for Ugandan LGBT people is becoming more and more difficult and dangerous, the Anglican Church of Uganda has shown little resemblance to the Christ it proclaims to profess.
They refused to send a priest to lead the service, and the man they did send launches into a diatribe about homosexuality. The police in Kampala are claiming Kato's death was an "aggravated robbery" and had nothing to do with is homosexuality or his activism for LGBT rights. Will the Anglican Church of Uganda say anything? I believe the lay reader they sent said enough!

In Canon Ogle's commentary, he poses the central question:
As the Anglican Primates gather in Dublin, Ireland, the question they must ask themselves and ponder this weekend is what kind of Anglicanism are we really representing? What are we proud of from David Kato’s life and the rites our church provided over his dead body? And what are we ashamed of?

From the description of what happened, the Anglican Church... as practiced in Uganda... has much to repent of the sins committed. The Archbishop of Canterbury did issue a statement on the murder from Dublin, where he condemned the killing as "profoundly shocking".

"Our prayers and deep sympathy go out for his family and friends - and for all who live in fear for their lives. Whatever the precise circumstances of his death, which have yet to be determined, we know that David Kato Kisule lived under the threat of violence and death. No one should have to live in such fear because of the bigotry of others. Such violence has been consistently condemned by the Anglican Communion worldwide. This event also makes it all the more urgent for the British Government to secure the safety of LGBT asylum seekers in the UK. This is a moment to take very serious stock and to address those attitudes of mind which endanger the lives of men and women belonging to sexual minorities."
Our own Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, offered prayers for Kato during the eucharist in Dublin, and added that she hopes that from David Kato's life we might gain "a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone."

But I question where the heart is at all in Uganda. So successfully poisoned by white evangelical American preachers, and the fear of "others", Ugandans seemed to have suffered a massive heart attack. So what will we gain? Will we acknowledge that Kato's death... and his funeral... show us that we in the Anglican Communion can not live in harmony with one another as long as this anti-gay pogrom continues with a wink and a nod from the local Anglican Churches? Will we try to bring a new voice to Ugandan Anglicans, one that sounds more like Bishop Senyonjo? In the resurrection of Kato, will we finally have the understanding that all the kings horses and all the kings men can not put this Humpty Dumpty Communion back together again?

If this is indeed the "Stonewall moment" for LGBT people in Uganda, then something new must be created out of the chaos.

Friday, January 28, 2011

On this date... 25 years ago

I remember where I was at the moment that the space shuttle Challenger blew up.

I was in the student center on the Governor Dummer campus, drinking a cup of coffee and working my way through some homework. Someone called out, "The space shuttle blew up!" Another student looked at me and then he rushed over to the television. He turned up the volume, and the few of us sitting in the building watched the image of what happened a minute and thirteen seconds into the flight... over and over and over as only TV news knows how to do.

I was shaken. Aboard the Challenger shuttle was Christa McAuliffe. She had become a celebrity as the first teacher going into space, and as a social studies instructor at Concord High School in New Hampshire. The hours and hours of TV and radio specials had made her your next door neighbor and best friend. New Hampshire was buzzing that we had a national treasure in our midst... and she taught at the high school in our state capital!

The moment was exhilarating. An ordinary citizen, McAuliffe, was going into space and would be delivering messages back to earth so that all of us could go on this journey with her.

You heard on the video the guy at Mission Control: "Challenger. Go with throttle up." The response, "Roger. Go with throttle up." And then... boom! In an instant... McAuliffe and the other six crew members were gone. It was surreal. After awhile, I wandered toward the dining hall, still seeing the image over and over in my head. My math teacher saw me coming in and must have noticed that I wasn't quite right.

"Sue, what's the matter?"

"The space shuttle blew up."

No response from the teacher. I could have said, "Mashed potatoes" or "What's up, doc?" or any other phrase and possibly elicited a bigger reaction. She shrugged, and that was it. Not even a polite, "I'm sorry to hear that." At tables in the hall, students were cracking jokes about the tragedy. One person actually said of the explosion, "So what?"

So what?!?!

"Am I just that different from all of these people??" I wondered. "Does no one else care that seven people just blew up over Cape Canaveral?! That the coolest person to go into space was now particles vanishing into thin air??"

In my own mind, I saw this as another huge emotional punch in the gut to New Hampshirites. Two days earlier, our beloved professional football team had raised our hopes and dreams by going to the Super Bowl for the first time... only to have the Chicago Bears completely dominate them and clean their clocks. That stung. But the Challenger broke our hearts. That night, Governor John Sununu made a special televised address to the state. It was the only time Sununu spoke in a way that wasn't his normal arrogant, self-satisfied smugness. He was hurting just as much as we all were, and you could see it in his face.

I drew the image of the explosion in the margins of many notebooks the rest of that year. I remember finding the AP radio coverage of the event in the studio at KBIA when I was in college. I listened to the sounds of excited school children counting down to lift off. Because of Ms. McAuliffe, many schools had made this shuttle launch part of their school day. And then that mission control voice: "Challenger. Go with throttle up." The crowd cheered at first, thinking the burst of flames was all part of the show. Then you hear a child's voice in the crowd, "Where'd the shuttle go?"

To slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of God, as President Reagan said.

I'm sure we all have memories of where we were on that day and at that hour. So strange to think that 25 years later, the memories are still vivid. The responses, or lack thereof, around me so memorable. And I remember Christa McAuliffe.

To the Archbishop of Canterbury...

Dear Archbishop Williams,

It is with great sadness and urgency that I am writing to you about the murder of LGBT activist David Kato. Kato's murder in Uganda is terrible, but not unexpected given the increasingly dangerous situation there with tabloids publishing the pictures and addresses of gay and lesbian people and their allies with the headlines to hang them. Bishop Christopher Senyonjo was among those pictured, and now his life is in danger. This can not continue without comment from you as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I implore you, sir: please use your position as a leader in the Anglican Communion to say that such violence against other human beings is anti-Christian, anti-Anglican, and will not be tolerated any longer. You must call on the Anglican Church of Uganda to cease its tacit participation in the violence against LGBT people in that country. We are not all of one mind on human sexuality and gender expression in the Communion. That much is clear. But we should be of one mind that murdering other human beings... regardless of who they are... is a sin.

The silence of the Church on these matters presents a stumbling block to those looking for Christians to follow the gospel message of protecting the weak, the friendless, the oppressed. Please, sir. Speak now.


Susan Gage
Tallahassee, FL, USA

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Discernment Process

This needs no further comment. This comic by Dave Walker originally appeared in the Church Times.

A Successful Night

I needed some time to recover from what has been a whirlwind of activity in my life before I could post on the great event that happened Tuesday evening on the Tallahassee Community College campus.

The Big Bend Anti-Bullying Task Force, a product of conversations between Gentle Shepherd MCC, PFLAG-Tallahassee and State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda's office, kicked off an awareness campaign with the movie "Bullied", a film that tells the story of the Jamie Nabozny case in Wisconsin. Jamie came out as gay when he was in middle school, and thus began a cycle of violence and abuse that nearly killed him a couple of times. Principals and other school administrators refused to protect him from a group of bullies who would punch him, kick him, and even urinate on him. They (the school) would tell Jamie and his parents, "Boys will be boys." Or the even more incredible, "Well, if Jamie is going to be so openly gay, then this is what he can expect." Jamie finally met a legal advocate who encouraged him to sue the Ashland, WI, school district. He did, and he won.
The movie was produced for the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Teaching Tolerance" campaign. And in only a few months, the Center has already sent off nearly 40,000 copies at the request of school districts and non-profits.
We were lucky to have the film director and producer, Bill Brummel, join us for the panel discussion after the movie. He noted for the crowd of about 120 people that it was important to protect all children in schools. And that it was incumbent on everyone to work on changing the culture, so that bullying becomes unacceptable. A tall order. But it is not impossible to make what everyone assumes is part of growing up into a thing of the past. The attorney on the panel, Holly Dincman, said what I had been saying in our meetings with the representative: protecting students from harassment and bullying is a human rights issue.

One of the most moving moments to me during the evening was when the moderator, Pat Smith, a light-skinned African-American woman, began sobbing as she related her own experiences of being bullied in middle school by a darker-skinned girl. She talked of the fear, and the depression, and the anxiety caused by the events which all came back to her as she watched the movie. Beyond my feelings of empathy for her as she tried to compose herself again to lead the discussion, I was heartened that a black woman in the south could see the connections to her own experience through a film about a white gay boy in Wisconsin. The trauma of bullying is a universal feeling. The hurt and the damaged caused by "isms" and "phobias" are the same. This is why the artificial barriers erected by some between the black experience and the gay experience are just that: artificial. The bigotry is for different reasons, but it is still bigotry. And it is all wrong. The fact that the moderator saw herself in the story of Jamie Nabozny speaks to that universal truth, and to the long-term effects of bullying. Imagine how much adults spend on therapy trying to undo the damage done to them in childhood!
I considered the evening a success. We've got people thinking and talking. That is the beginning of action, and the way that we can make things better now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kato Murder: Homophobia=Death

One of the leaders of Sexual Minorities Uganda is dead. Murdered in his house, and only weeks after he and others successfully sued a tabloid newspaper that published their photos and addresses with an incitement to "hang them" for being homosexuals.

The report on the Human Rights Watch website indicates that David Kato, who had been one of the leading voices of Uganda's LGBT movement and an outspoken critic of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill filed by Parliament member David Bahati, was hit twice in the head by his assailant who then drove off. Kato died on the way to the hospital. Human Rights Watch is calling for the police to do a thorough and impartial investigation into his murder. I can't say as I have much hope for that.

The situation in Uganda has been going from bad to worse for awhile. Aiding in them falling into the death pit of homophobia are evangelical preachers from the USA who have decided to export hatred and fear of the sexual minorities to Africa. They have played upon the need for the strong to always find a weakling to attack so they can know they're the strong. It is horrid. It is disgusting. And it is anti-Christian. It is time for the international community, secular and religious, to stop side-stepping their moral responsibilities on this situation in Uganda and impose sanctions until the government of President Museveni puts an end to this pogrom.

Kato had said he was afraid for his life after the Ugandan tabloid, the Rolling Stone, published his photo and address as one of the "100 homosexuals" that the paper said should be hanged. Sadly, he was right to be scared.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Place Where I See Hope

The Conversion of St. Paolo by Michaelangelo
On this day the Lord has acted. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. That is the antiphon sung to Psalm 118, and in my very fuzzy memory, this is likely used at times such as Easter. And it is the leitmotif in the story of Paul's conversion from the bad boy hooligan on the hunt for followers of "the Way" to one of the most zealous and steadfast believers in the grace of God granted through the redemptive powers of Christ. The story of his conversion, as told by Luke in Acts 9, is one of my favorites. Saul (who is called Paul later because that's the Hellenization of the name Saul) is ready to rumble in Damascus, and is marching on down the road with some of his mates. And that's when God pings him... or rather wallops him with a bright ray of light. As Paul later testifies in one of his trials at Agrippa:

I was travelling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” I asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”--Acts 26: 12-18
Blind and bewildered, he's led into town where Ananias, a follower of Christ, gets the instruction from God to heal him. At first, Ananias says, "Say what?!?! Heal the dude that wants to have me stoned to death?!?!" But God assures him this is a good thing and (as always) do not be afraid because "I have this one under control." So Ananias does as he's told. He even addresses Saul as a brother. And in that exchange, God acts to redeem Paul... taking two enemies and making them brothers in Christ.

I love this story. I love what it says about a power beyond ourselves that can strip away the petty nastiness and the anger and the fear and the hatred that infects our relationships with one another and make something else happen. In Paul's conversion, I see the hope of what can be in all areas of relations, both secular and religious. It is possible for people to change. It is possible for the one who is persecuting me today to see a great light and become my friend tomorrow. It is possible for me to get past my distrust of such a conversion, and allow that God may be working in a way that defies logic or imagination. Because that's what God does all the time.

I'm not a Pollyanna about these things. But I hold it as my hope for this messed up super competitive world that such conversions can and do happen. So mote it be.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Out of Darkness: Florence Li Tim-Oi

"The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined."--Isaiah 2:4

I remember the first time I really heard those words, I cried. I came close to tears again yesterday, only this time it was in recognition and remembrance of that inaugural hearing. It felt as though the prophet was speaking to me personally and directly. Today, the sound of that image in my ears doesn't take me inward into my own journey only. I hear Isaiah describing a truth for a broad swath of humanity, especially within the church. We can see it with the celebration today of Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first woman priest in the Anglican Communion, whose calling became a political football not unlike what we've seen with gay bishops.

Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong had a crisis on his hands: not enough priests to serve in the Japanese-occupied China during World War II. Li Tim-Oi was a deacon. Hall ordained her on January 25, 1944, and you would have thought that the world was coming to an end. Her ordination caused a firestorm of protest in the Anglican Communion because they were still living in the darkness of "no women in the priesthood." Rev. Florence Li Tim-Oi was forced to give up her priestly license at the end of the war. However, nearly thirty years later, the Communion would again be faced with issue of women in the priesthood. As the Communion saw the great light of allowing women into priestly orders, Florence Li Tim-Oi was again recognized in the diocese of Hong Kong as a priest. She moved to Canada where she lived until her death in 1992.

Today, in the Episcopal Church, there is no lack of women in leadership positions... starting with our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Her presence, and that of others, stands as a testament that at least in this pocket of the Anglican Communion, those who lived in a land of deep darkness now are bathed in light. As our Church continues to follow how the Holy Spirit is moving and guiding us, I believe we will be a people brightly shining for many outside our Church as they go seeking a community in which to worship God. I believe there will be more women, more ethnic minorities, and--yes--more openly gay bishops, priests and deacons. The more light that shines in--and out--of our stained glass, ritualistic, body of Christ... the more we will reflect God's bright future laid out before us.

"For the yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian."--Isaiah 9:4

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jefferts Schori: She's Worth the Trip

The cathedral in Jacksonville was packed. The incense was thick. And the Presiding Bishop was awesome!!
In fact, I joked with our Mother Phoebe that I think Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori must read my blog. Because how she spoke sounded like what I've said HERE.
And HERE. And HERE, too.
Trying to get into this service at St. John's cathedral was no small undertaking. First, I had to wait for the opportunity to get a ticket. It was like waiting for spring training or play-off passes. When the time came, I pounced, and got on "the list".
"The list", however, wasn't at the convention registration desk at the hotel. It was at the cathedral. And since I'd arrived three hours early thinking I needed to get my ticket at the hotel, I had plenty of time to finish my reading for EfM!

The theme of the 168th Diocesan Convention is "One Body". The readings, therefore, reflected that idea, with 1 Corinthians 12 which is Paul's likening of the Church to the body, with its many members all interdependent on one another. The Presiding Bishop ran with that theme in her sermon. She talked about the many members of the Episcopal Church body (the United States, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Germany, etc...) She also noted that we are part of the body called the Anglican Communion (insert heavy sigh from me here). And this is where our PB showed herself to be the self-assured spiritual leader that she is.

She talked of what happens when we recognize those parts of our bodies that we consider "familiar" and begin to wage war on those parts that we think are "foreign". She pointed out that our bodies have bacteria and fungi that are good, that protect our skin and help us with digestion. But we will do things to disrupt and injure our bodies, introducing antibiotics which may kill the intended bad bacteria, but will also wipe out the good bacteria in our bodies.
"Are we T-cells looking for the foreign invaders?" she asked.
A good question, one which requires all of us to stop and think as we evaluate our dealings with one another. And a question that may be on her mind as she heads to Ireland next week for a meeting of Primates. No doubt, the Anglican Covenant will be high on the agenda. The thing hasn't been adopted yet by most of the Communion, and yet there are already moves to put representatives of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada in a perpetual time-out. One has to wonder if it's possible for those who are so wedded to the Covenant to ask that same T-cell question of themselves. And I won't even bring up the malcontents who stamp their feet in protest every time they think of this woman in a mitre.
She concluded her sermon by noting that allergies are an auto-immune response to a foreign substance in the body. And she implored us to "stop sneezing!"
Ah, yes: for those wishing the Joan Rivers red carpet report: ++Jefferts Schori donned a stylish and classically conservative chausible and mitre: white with a silver knot-work pattern. None of the bright colors she's worn elsewhere (I tried to get a picture of her, but it came out fuzzy). I believe this was a concession to the tastes of our diocese... or rather our bishop. There were some chuckles from a few in the congregation when she thanked him from the pulpit for inviting her. I imagine those were from others like myself who have heard the "I didn't vote for her" line. Still, Bishop Howard was gracious in his welcome of the PB, noting that what she had said in her sermon was a reflection of the feelings in the diocese of Florida. The applause for her was extended,
both at the announcement time and even her sermon (heck, half the clergy gave her a standing ovation!) All things which I think speak to the spirit that is moving in this diocese.

At the end of the service, a man who I think was in his forties spotted the rainbow wristband I was wearing. He tapped me on the shoulder, gave me a thumbs up and pointed to his wrist.

Perhaps we are on the cusp of seeing winter come to an end in the diocese of Florida, and we can begin to take off the heavy coats and woolen mittens this body has worn as protection, and opt for a windbreaker instead. I hope. I hope.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm Off to See the Bishop!

Hold the presses: the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is going to be in Jacksonville, Florida!!

For those not familiar with our diocese: Florida is just a teensy-weensy conservative. Lots of churches, including mine, have endured painful schisms. Some haven't survived and were closed. Our Bishop has not had an easy time of things and has had to steady a boat that has been rocked side to side several times. But boat rocking is part of the Episcopal/Anglican experience. How green you get depends on your ability to weather such storms.

I was in the room on All Saint's Sunday, 2008, when Bishop Howard was asked about our Presiding Bishop, who had apparently made a stealth visit to St. Augustine to bless a church parking garage. The people of St. John's Tallahassee were wondering if she might come back. The Bishop, before answering the question, informed all of us that he had not voted for her consecration as the Presiding Bishop. ++Jefferts Schori is in good company: Bishop Howard didn't support +Gene Robinson or +Mary Glasspool either. So, it really is news that not only has she come back to our diocese; she's coming for our 168th Diocesan Convention!!

I'm going for the opening Eucharist. I'm not a delegate to the Convention, so I had to wait for the email from the Diocesan office announcing the availability of tickets to St. John's cathedral. I saw, I contacted the diocese, I received word that I am "on the list." Now I have to pick up my ticket at the Jacksonville Marriot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jacksonville: A Gay Parenting Mecca?

photo from the New York Times

My personal experience of Jacksonville, FL, is not rainbow flags and pink triangles. On the contrary, I know it as that place where I was stuck for three days covering a trial on the state's use of the electric chair. It is that city with the airport that has Southwest Airlines service to New England. It is the area that sent some of the meanest conservatives to the Florida legislature. And the population there overwhelmingly voted to ban same-sex marriage in 2008.

And now I read in the New York Times, it is one of the cities with the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children.

Are you kidding me? Jacksonville?!?!?! My friends and I started joking that we needed to send dispatches to these queer families: You don't have to live there!! Come to Tallahassee!! Check out Gainesville!!

The Times article notes that the South is the region, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, where there are the most families being headed by same-gender couples. And it notes that a number of them are black or Latino. At long last, the media are starting to pick up on something that we LGBT people already knew: gay does NOT equal "white male with money".

I think it is an amazingly complex idea that so many couples have settled in arguably one of the most conservative parts of the state, and are creating their own queer spaces especially in the church. It poses a challenge for the community around them; do we integrate this population into our spaces? Are we comfortable leaving them to fend for themselves? I'm thinking specifically of the Episcopal Church, which has its Florida Diocesan headquarters in Jacksonville. During the last General Convention, Bishop Howard of Florida wasted no time in sending a letter back to the diocese to firmly assert that "Florida Episcopalians" knew what was what with all this LGBT stuff, and there would be no change in our diocese on the question of ordaining LGBT people to the episcopate (or the clergy, for that matter). The letter made me sad, especially as I noted how many times the word "fear" was stated over and over.

So here is the diocesan office... in a city with an apparently large number of LGBT people with children. Many of those LGBT people would like to find a spiritual home in which to raise their children. How afraid can one be of a child and parents wanting that child sealed and marked as Christ's own forever? If there's no fear there, then why would there be fear of a gay person who bears that sign of the cross on their being living into whatever is their calling, their vocation?

At the same time that this news was breaking, our new Governor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Voldemort, was appointing a new secretary for the Department of Children and Families, David Wilkins. Wilkins prior employment includes working for the Baptist Children's Home, which requires couples seeking to adopt children to be "professing Christians, be active in a local Christian church, and follow a lifestyle that is consistent with the Christian faith." Governor Voldemort refused to directly answer any questions about whether he would seek to reverse a decision made by Governor Charlie Crist to let the ban on gay people adopting children fall by the wayside of a bygone era. He would only say that he thinks married straight people make the best adoptive parents.

Lost in all of this, again, are the children in foster care who are looking for a permanent home. These are the kids that have suffered the most from Florida's ban. Gay people could foster kids, but weren't allowed to finalize a family bond with them.

In Jacksonville, all those same-gender couples are having to shell out big bucks to provide health insurance coverage to their children. Why? Because gay people can't get married, and are treated as roommates under the law. Hence, there is no "family" coverage. Who suffers? The children.

In time, I hope, there will be a change to this state of affairs. I mean, if Jacksonville can be a mecca of gay parents.....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who Do You Say I Am?

I've been engaging in an exercise for my Education for Ministry group that involves mapping my theology. This is no small task, and it is taking a couple weeks to work through the various combinations (God the Father in Creation, God the Son in Creation, etc. etc.) Time consuming and thought-provoking are two descriptions I'd give for the exercise. And at the center of it all is the question that I think we, especially the followers of Christ, must answer:

"Who Do You Say I Am?"

This is the question Jesus put to the disciples. At first, the query was about the people: what are they saying about me. The disciples were quick to answer. "Oh, well, some think you're John the Baptist, and then there's that group we heard speculating that you might be Elijah." Everything was an easy answer when it was what other people were saying. But then Jesus makes the question personal. "OK, boys, now that you've heard what everybody else has been saying, what do you think? Who do you say that I am?"

Gulp! Ummm... (fidget, fidget, shift from one foot to the other, stare at toes, blink, blink, blink).

And up pipes Simon Peter, the eager beaver in the group, with the answer:

‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’--Matthew 16:16-19

Today we celebrate that moment when St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. But when I look at the accounts of Peter's understanding of this mystery across the gospels, I wonder if he really understood all that Jesus was telling him... and if Peter really knew what those words meant when they sprang forth from his mouth.

My sense is that he did get it... sort of. At least he got the base understanding. But his knowledge of who Jesus Christ was was still incomplete. There was much more that he would have to learn because there was much more to be revealed. We see that in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter, who hung his head in shame when he realized he had betrayed the Messiah to the authorities, is now standing before the elders and speaking with conviction and eloquence in confessing Christ to those who not only don't believe, but wish he and the others would go away. It is only in time, God's time, that Peter reaches this new understanding and firmness in his faith.

This is true even of us. We say the creed. We acknowledge day after day, week after week, year in an year out, that Jesus Christ became incarnate through the Virgin Mary and was made man for us and for our salvation. That he suffered, was crucified, died and was buried and rose again on the third day and ascended into Heaven. Hallelujah! But how deeply into the marrow of our bones do we believe all that? Do we have a full comprehension of this lamb that takes away the sin of the world? Maybe. Perhaps fleeting moments. This, it seems to me, is where the rubber meets the road in the faith journey. In my experience, I seem to have one level of understanding of this mystery... only to discover there are several more levels that will be revealed in due time. God's time.

As I continue plugging away at the EfM assignment, I realize with delight that all the words I'm finding today for my theology are just today's words. Who knows what will ping me in the forehead tomorrow or the next day as I try to explain my comprehension of God. I can only hope that, like St. Peter, I get it at the base level. How much more I will "get it" is up to my willingness to travel and remain open to the revelation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

God of Our Silent Tears

So often when we think of "Lift Every Voice and Sing", dubbed the Black National Anthem, what we hear is the first verse. But as I was looking at the lyrics, my heart was moved by the final verse:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

For anyone who has felt themselves in the struggle for justice and equality, these words are ones that can resonate deeply.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing" was a poem written by James Weldon Johnson, the principal of a segregated school, and was publicly performed on Lincoln's Birthday in 1900 as an introduction for Booker T. Washington. Johnson's brother John set it to music five years later, and it quickly became part of the culture of African-Americans and included in hymnals in black churches across the country. It speaks of the ongoing struggles blacks faced in this country at the turn of the century with Jim Crow laws and the ever-present racism.

It is still relevant to the black experience in America. But its hearkening back to God as the ultimate light to guide us through the storms of "the world" is a message for LGBT people and immigrants as well. Which is why these words of verse three really struck me as I read them. No matter how long the struggle may seem to be, no matter how tired and defeated one can start to feel in the face of opposition, God is there to provide the shelter. Can I get an Amen?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I Think Her Fifteen Minutes Is Up

There was a marked study in contrasts this week between the video news release of Sarah Palin, and the remarks President Barack Obama made at the memorial in Tuscon. And it was clear to me on that day why he is the President, and she... is not.

Early in the day on Wednesday, Sarah Palin put out a video that ran about eight minutes long. It was her first public statement since the shooting in Tuscon that killed six people and has left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital making slow, but apparently steady progress, as she recovers from a gun shot wound to the head. Palin has come under sharp criticism, on this blog and elsewhere, for her repeated use of gun metaphors and her now infamous map which placed several Congressional districts, including Giffords, in the crosshairs. It was inflammatory, and in light of what happened, it was in amazingly bad taste. This video news release was Palin's opportunity to show some remorse for how she has contributed to the toxic political rhetoric in the country. It was her chance to show introspection and grief for what occurred. It was her opportunity to appear "presidential".

She blew it. Big time.

Instead of noting that perhaps she should be more careful with her wild west approach to politics, she was defensive and kept casting the blame on the actions of a deranged individual. She blasted the media and those she perceives as her political enemies, using the term "blood libel", a term often used by anti-Semitics who say Jews want to kill Christian babies (and incidentally, Rep. Giffords is Jewish). She brought up how our founding fathers would settle disputes with duels as if 18th and 19th century ways are still legitimate in the 21st century. And she struck the most amazing tone deaf note when she defended her statements about "a call to arms" to her supporters during the last election; that wasn't about guns: that was about voting. Methinks this lady doth protest too much.

In contrast, President Obama, who has not lived up to the expectations of many, found his center on Wednesday night. His speech, in which he acknowledged the acromonious nature of our political debate, called for a truce. Not just for us, as a nation, to stop searching for blame when evil strikes, but also to start looking at each other through the eyes of the youngest victim in this tragedy, Christina Taylor Green. What can we learn from her? She was eager to meet her Congresswoman. She was engaged in the world around her. And she lived her short life with an eye toward a bright future, having been born on arguably one of the darkest days in our nation's history, September 11, 2001. He was gracious. He acknowledged the woundedness and the loss experienced by those whose family members were injured or killed. And he called on us as a nation to grow up from this experience.

He was presidential, and his remarks hit a home run.

I am one of the few, according to popular polls, that still believes that when we foster anger and violence in our culture, it can result in something as awful as what happened in Tuscon. Was Jared Loughner motivated by right-wingers to commit this crime? The pundits, the politicians, the people say "No". I don't say the right-wing loaded the gun or told him to shoot it. But I have no doubt that the anger stirred up in this country primarily by the right has a negative effect on the sane, and can cause a feeding frenzy in the warped heads of the insane. We can't stop evil, but we can slow it down considerably. And I believe the President has asked for us to rethink our way of dealing with one another because he understands that point.

Sarah Palin apparently does not.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

We've Tried to Dialogue, But....

It's been awhile since I've posted anything on the ongoing Anglican Covenant debate. Mostly because there have been other equally weighty topics in my head... and we've been waiting for a response from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the letter sent by our moderator of No Anglican Covenant Coalition, Revd. Dr. Lesley Fellows. Alas, not a peep out of Lambeth Palace. Not even a warning that what we are arguing might "tear at the fabric" of the Anglican Communion some more. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

So, here is our good leader's letter in its entirety. And I encourage you, again, to visit the No Anglican Covenant Coalition website where you will find an abundance of resources collected by the members to be shared liberally as your church, diocese, province or coffee clatch discuss this proposed document. Perhaps you might like to write us a response to the letter in the comment section of this blog.

Letter dated 7 December, 2010:

Dear Archbishop Rowan,
I am the Moderator of the International No Anglican Covenant Coalition, and I am writing to explain why our group is opposed to the Anglican Covenant. My hope is that through this correspondence, we may come to a better understanding of each other’s approaches to the Anglican Covenant. These are some of our objections:
Firstly, the Covenant creates a two-or-more-tier Communion, as we know that some Provinces will not or cannot consent to it. This means that some Anglicans are ‘in’ the Communion, and some are less ‘in’. There is no getting away from the feeling that the Covenant creates first- and second-class Christians. This in itself is unacceptable, but it also opens the door to some churches ‘asking questions’ about others if they perform ‘controversial actions’, ultimately leading to the imposition of ‘relational consequences’. Hence, it favours the intolerant and the very conservative. Jim Naughton has said that the Covenant institutes “governance by hurt feelings”. This seems counter to the gospel imperative of not judging others, but bearing with them and concentrating on the logs in one’s own eye. A two-tier Communion does not represent unity.
Secondly, it seems unlikely that one can ‘make forceful the bonds of affection’. “Where love rules, there is no will to power”, Jung said. If we use force and coercion in our relationships, there is no true affection. A Covenant is made in joy at a time of trust – like a marriage. The Anglican Covenant is in reality a contract between parties where the trust has broken down. It may seem to you that this is the only way forward, but a better option is to remain a single-tier Communion, allow people to leave if they must, but keep the door open for their return. Any alternative position cedes too much power to those willing to intimidate by threatening to walk away.
Thirdly, in many countries, such as England, centralised institutions are breaking down and being replaced by networks. There is a great suspicion of hierarchical structures and rules that are enforced from above, particularly when the central authority is both physically and culturally distant. The Fresh Expressions movement is successful because it recognises this. The Anglican Communion, which is a fellowship of autonomous churches, is well placed to thrive in the challenges of this age. If we adopt the Covenant, then we will be less able to be mission-focussed in our own culture because we will be constrained by the Communion’s centralised decision-making. One might say that Communion churches are on separate tectonic plates – the plates of modernism, postmodernism, and perhaps even pre-modernism. They are moving apart, and if we try to bind them together more tightly, then schism will surely occur. At this point in history, we need more flexible relationships, not a tightening of bonds.
I implore you to reconsider your support of the Anglican Covenant. I have the greatest respect for you as a person of God and for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. However, I feel the Covenant is in a way like suicide – it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Moreover, it institutionalises inequality and judgementalism. In addition, I believe it will not work and will itself cause, rather than prevent, schism. Let us concentrate on things that bring us together, such as mission, worship and prayer, and let us agree to differ on issues that tear us apart, not judge who is wrong and who is right, who is ‘in and who is ‘out’.
Our group would very much like to begin a dialogue with you. We have the same aims of strengthening love and unity within the Communion and enabling out churches to go forward in mission, even if we have currently come to radically different conclusions about how to achieve those aims. We hope very much to hear from you.
With very best wishes
Rev’d Dr Lesley Fellows
Moderator, No Anglican Covenant Coalition

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

St. Aelred, Patron Saint of Queers

Almighty God, you endowed the abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness: Grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection, that, in loving one another, we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the gift of your eternal goodness; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect is "nice", but it also doesn't get to the heart of Saint Aelred. The abbot of Rievaulx was a gay man who never shied away from his same-sex attractions and instead found in them the glory of God, and the true friendship that inspired his writings. When I read about Aelred, I see a man for whom love was both the intangible grace of God, and the tangible human contact of his brothers at Rievaulx. He celebrated a "true friendship" as it was termed with a monk named Simon. Upon Simon's death, Aelred wrote:
"He was the refuge of my spirit, the sweet solace of my griefs, whose heart of love received me when fatigued by labors, whose counsel refreshed me when plunged in sadness and grief... What more is there, then, that I can say? Was it not a foretaste of blessedness thus to love and thus to be loved?"

Aelred was born in Hexham, Northumberland in the 12th century. He was invited into the court of King David of Scotland where he distinguished himself as one who could remain cool and calm in the face of insults and anger. He joined the Cistercian order in Rievaulx in 1134 when he was 24 years old. He became an abbot at the monastery in 1147, and would die there of kidney failure at age 57. He wrote two major works, The Mirror of Charity, which was the basis of his approach to all people and things. He believed charity was the love God commanded us to live. His later work, Spiritual Friendship, deepened that discussion by looking at the various kinds of friendships. Aelred believed that developing a "true friendship" with others, even of the same gender, was a very Christian thing to do. He noted that Jesus loved the disciple, John, as well as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. So to develop an intimacy was OK, and should not be taboo... even for monastics.
Integrity USA, the LGBT group within the Episcopal Church, has adopted St. Aelred as their patron saint, and I understand why. For one thing, it shows that prior to the 13th century and crusades and such, to be gay and in the church was not a big deal. There was nothing to hide, and everything to celebrate as a joyous gift from God. And as I look at St. Aelred and his abilities to be forgiving even of those who insult him in that Christ-like way, it says to me that gay people can be great teachers to all members of the Church. How often have we been slammed by our fellow Christians, and still we remain standing? Because we know that we are "of God", and we if we know that love of Christ for us in ourselves, we can seek it more in the eyes of another. And in that seeking, we don't diminish our own love, but offer it up to other people. Again, charity.
As I study Year Three of EfM, I'll have to go back through my materials to see if there is any mention of Aelred of Rievaulx. I somehow doubt it. St. Anselm, St. Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas... but no Aelred. Pity.
source material:
Saint Aelred the Queer: The Surprising History of Homosexuality and Homophobia
Aelred of Rievaulx by James Kiefer at
Novena in Honor of St. Aelred

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's All Connected

An essential truth in massage: every part of the body is connected. You can see it in the connective tissue, the fascia, as it stretches over bones and muscles to create the body stocking. If something is happening in the right hip, there's often a knot also forming at the left scapula as the connective tissue gets tugged and pulled. What draws the attention is the stabbing pain created by the knot in "that spot right there" as we reach around our backs to point to it. It isn't until a massage therapist places her hand on the part that hurts, and the other hand on the hip that has been out of balance that we say, "Oh, yeah, y'know that hip has been bugging me."

For me, our bodies are living analogies of our communities, secular and religious. Certainly, Paul in his various letters to the emerging Churches spoke of the body of Christ as not just the literal body, but the figurative body with its various parts all needing one another to function as a whole. A head can't say to a foot, "I don't need you." Because the head and the feet are all part of the same body. And while they don't function in the same way and are separated by several other body parts, they are still connected as one body.

In this same way, I think about the political rhetoric that has predominated in this country. If something is said in one quarter about using "Second amendment remedies" if a particular candidate or party doesn't get its way, then that tugs at the connective tissue in another part of our body politic. When a prominent political figure puts out a map with gun sights over Congressional districts and a tweet message to supporters to "don't retreat; instead reload!" that is another knot in the muscle of the body politic. Such knots in the fiber of the political muscle cause pain elsewhere. And that's what I've been seeing.
I've been amazed at comments on Facebook which have tried to excuse Saturday's shootings in Tuscon as some kind of isolated, freakish, crazy work of an isolated, freakish, crazy young man. "Let's not jump to conclusions," "We don't know his political leanings," "Did you see what he put up on YouTube?" "Is this really a Lee Harvey Oswald or is this more like the Virginia Tech shooting?". Whatever Jared Loughner's mental issues are, and there appear to be many, this use of mental illness as a deflection from what's happened to our body politic has to stop.
What is the truth? Our body, this country, has been ingesting the junk food of hate-filled speech. It surrounds us all the time, no matter what media we're listening to or watching. The newsmakers have become increasingly strident. Going to governmental meetings, we hear politicians pontificate and say things that are rude and dismissive of the people they supposedly represent. We watch supposed "reality" TV shows where people are egged on to treat each other poorly. We swallow this down, and then wonder why our stomachs are hurting.
Or more directly, why people might actually shoot other people. If such negativity makes a sane person grumble about the incivility of it all, imagine what it might do to a person who is unable to reason?
"Freedom of speech!" people say. As a former journalist, you will find no one more willing to allow people of opposing opinions to my own a chance to say what they want to say and be heard. I did it for years, interviewing people who I personally did not like, and yet their views represented those held by others and needed to be heard. Still, even in that role and with that ethic, I knew the consequences of the words spoken. And I knew better than to just go find the most idiot reactionary on a topic just so they can spout off. On the death penalty, I wanted to hear from those who were deeply engaged in the legislative debate; not just some state lawmaker who wanted to say sensational crap to get a headline. Quotes were meant to move the story forward, not keep it spinning in a cesspool. And to my mind, there is a big difference between speaking freely, and screaming "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater.
For far too long in the United States, and most especially in Florida, the people on the right have been doing just that: screaming "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater. There is nothing that is not cause for alarm for them, and reason to panic. "Gay Marriage" "Immigration" and--oh, my God--"Health care". It is one thing to disagree, and debate, and be passionate in your argument. All people are, or at least should be, willing to let our body digest diverse views and get the nutrients out of those arguments. But if what is going into the body is junk food deep-fried in hate and fear, there is no nutrition and the body will eventually become sick.
And if the digestive tract is ailing, it will be felt in the head. And may start to injure the heart.
It's all connected, folks. We can't pretend that the words of those in places of influence don't have a trickle down effect on all of us. If you have a position of power--be it as a pundit, politician, priest, player of any kind-- you have an additional burden of responsibility to feed the body something other than venomous junk. The head can't leave the feet behind. The connective tissue is holding us all together. I think it's time for a new diet.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Too Familiar

I've been thinking about the nine year-old girl killed on Saturday in the shooting rampage in Tuscon. Christina Taylor Greene sounded eerily familiar. She was interested in politics. She wanted to talk to her Congresswoman. She came to a meet and greet event probably with some butterflies in her stomach at the thought that she would have contact with a decision maker from her home state who might listen to what is on her mind as she observed her country through her child eyes.
Instead, this girl born on September 11, 2001, was among the body count of a horrible assault on democracy. A life born on a day of terrorism; a life taken by an act of terrorism.
The reason I think about this girl is that I know her. Not literally, but in a figurative sense. Because I was a Christina Taylor Greene. At her age, I was stuffing envelopes, making phone calls and going door-to-door campaigning for political candidates. Some of those candidates were my brothers. Politics were a part of my growing up. I met a number of presidential hopefuls passing through New Hampshire, some of whom did their meet and greets in the front room of our house. So a young girl like Christina is all-too-familiar to me. A girl who wanted to talk to the politicians and tell them in simple terms what she thought of our policies (yes, at nine, I had political opinions and I wanted them to be known!)
Meanwhile, the young man being credited with saving Rep. Giffords life is her intern, Daniel Hernandez. Only five days on the job, Hernandez came running from around a corner when he heard somebody yell, "Gun!" and heard the shots. He ran to the aid of the Congresswoman, and kept pressure on her head wounds with his hands and frocks provided by the meat department at the Safeway. He doesn't consider himself a hero, and not surprisingly, he says this is not an experience he ever wants to repeat. What more have we learned about Daniel? Well, besides the obvious that he is Latino... it turns out that Daniel is also an openly gay man. Some might wonder why this matters. It doesn't really. Except in the climate that Arizona has created with its "jail the immigrants" attitude, and the equal amount of hatred that the right has aimed at LGBT people across this country, knowing Daniel's labels is confirmation (again!) that heroes come in all ethnic backgrounds and orientations. We are all Americans. Please treat us as such.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Baptism and Bloodshed

In Episcopal Churches across the country, the lessons to be read are about the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove with the announcement, "This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." In my own mind, I am picturing the awe that must have been with that crowd of people who had come to have their sins washed away in the Jordan by John the Baptizer as this all took place. And here is Jesus, immersed in this water, announced and anointed for all to see: here is the Beloved. Here is the one who will take the sins left in this water and he will dispose of them with his own life.
It's a rather vivid picture I have going in my head. At this point in the story, we aren't in Jerusalem and we aren't at the cross. Good Friday is still many weeks away. And yet, we all know that this is the mission upon which Jesus will embark. To teach us to love God and one another and to know that God will always be with us no matter how good or bad things may be. For that, Jesus is willing to die. And in death, he shows us that one can rise again. Even death can not snuff out life forever. That's the hope that all Christians cling to as we muddle our way through this often messy world. Through faith and trust in God we know that the sin of the world has been overcome by a stronger power of light and life.
And then there is Tuscon. Six people killed, some as old as 79 and one, a young girl born on 9/11/2001, was only nine years old. And a member of Congress hailed as a true moderate who worked amicably with members of the Republican opposition is now in a medically-induced coma, recovering to whatever extent from a gunshot wound at point-blank range to the head. Anger, sadness, frustration are abounding in Arizona and the rest of the country as we all try to wrap our minds around how this could happen. If Jesus came and died and rose again to take away the sin of the world, then why this?
There is no easy answer to that question because we can't know those answers. They are the unknowns that are beyond our comprehension. I don't believe that God delights in this moment, but I do believe that God is with all the people, all of us... including the shooter... as we piece all this together. What I can say is that Congresswoman Giffords had warned people in a television interview last March that the map produced by Sarah Palin placing a gunsight over her district in Arizona was contributing to an already vicious level of rhetoric, and could be misinterpreted by an unstable person. Her comments now in retrospect seem prophetic.
I hope as we shake our heads in shock and horror at what has happened in Arizona, we might take time to repent (meaning "rethink") what we have become in this country. This last political campaign reached down to a level of ugly I have never seen before. Those who thrive on negativity won many victories. But out of this bloodshed, I believe we must turn away from the hate-filled speech that creates scenes like the one in Tuscon. We must emerge out of the waters soaked in the sin of anti-this and anti-that. Because we are the Beloved embodied in our world today. We have been sealed and marked at our baptism. Live to love. Live for love.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Don't Retreat; Instead RELOAD"

Today, Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot point blank in the head outside of a Safeway grocery store in northern Tuscon, Arizona. There are no details about why the man opened fire on Giffords, and then got off another 15-20 shots which killed at least five people, including a Giffords aide and a nine year-old child. But one might look at Sarah Palin's Map of America to see why this might have happened.
The darling of the Republicans and Tea Partiers produced this map as a way of "targeting" those who voted for Obama's health care bill. has removed this since the shooting today.
Palin's Twitter quote at the time: "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Pls see my Facebook page."

I have said for a long time that when people in positions of power and influence say things that fan hatred and violence, the result will be hatred and violence. Putting gun sights on a map (and one of the ones in Arizona was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) is an invitation to the violent nutjobs with guns in this country to go kill a "liberal" for Sarah.
Giffords had already faced violence in her district. Someone else tried to bring a gun to one of her rallies but was arrested by authorities. And her district office in Tuscon was vandalized after the health care vote.
Some have suggested this might have been a random act of violence committed by a guy strung out on drugs. And that is possible. Just as likely is that it was a person running on the rants and ravings of right-wingers such as Palin who decided to take matters into his own hands. We won't know for sure until police have time to question him and then let us in on the answers.
Prayers ascending for all who were shot, and for the people of District 8 in Arizona.
God help us all.
***** updated at 6:20pm
Police have identified the alleged shooter as a 22 year-old from Tuscon named Jared Lee Loughner. He had a MySpace account which has been taken down, and also a YouTube channel with three videos which you can see HERE. His "My Final Thoughts" talks about government control over grammar and our minds and is just bizarre.

Seeing Gray

I'm finishing up a book my mentor sent me a couple months ago called, "Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality and Politics" by Adam Hamilton. He is a United Methodist pastor in Kansas, coming into the Methodist Church after first starting out on a more evangelical path. The book's premise is that we spend a lot of time fighting within our culture and our churches between being liberal or conservative, and what we need to do is demand a radical center, and realize that there's more that we have in common than what divides. In his own way, I think Hamilton is trying to do what I have tried to do: remove the barriers that have been erected in the median of the road that keep the people in one camp or the other from really seeing each other. He is talking about "traditionalists" vs. "progressives". Mine has been the mission of bridging the gaps between Christianity and the LGBT community.

The book has been a challenging read. And that's a good thing. The most difficult for me has been the chapter on homosexuality. Because Hamilton is trying to present the arguments of "traditionalists" and "progressives" as he searches for that radical center, I feel he misses one of the central truths about us "practicing homosexuals": there is no gray about us being children of God. The chapter consists mostly of a sermon he delivered which was in the context of the debate that was happening (and still is) among the Methodists about full inclusion of LGBT people. The governing body of the Methodist Church failed to remove the language that says that being gay is "incompatiable" with the church's teachings. Protestors mobilized in the assembly hall, and one woman stood on the balcony and appeared ready to jump when Hamilton and another man grabbed her and pulled her back. The incident kick started his thinking on the issue. And I'm glad it did. However, I think he has more to do in his own understanding. My sense was that he may have at one time in his life believed that the passages in the Bible oft cited and quoted to disasterous ends at gay people (and I do mean at) were talking about LGBT people in the current era. His sermon felt remote and unwilling to take a step toward "radical inclusion" rather than staying in this nebulous center. Perhaps this is the safe place for him to be as a United Methodist pastor in Kansas. He says the sermon disappointed and angered people on both ends of the spectrum. And I could see why.

Still, the main idea of striving for gray is a worthy goal. I have certainly wanted us in the Anglican Communion to reach a place where those things that seem to divide us are seen as meaningless. Our common bond is in Christ. And no matter our politics, our skin color, our sexual orientation... those elements merely place us in the body of Christ. But we are still "in" Christ, not "outside" of Christ. Even with that, we have a responsibility to acknowledge how we have injured our various body parts and make efforts to bandage and heal those parts. That has been true in the area of race, and it is very true in the area of sexual orientation.

I admire Hamilton for attempting to find a radical center on homosexuality for his "traditionalist" readers. But for those of us who are gay and therefore lumped under "progressive", it is incredibly hard to read a straight married man's rationalization for why anyone thinks it's OK to refuse full inclusion to LGBT people of faith. Our center is God and God's singular desire as expressed throughout scripture and history is to include us in the kingdom with our straight brothers and sisters. And there is no gray in that statement.

Friday, January 7, 2011

R.I.P. Richard

I received the news that my friend Dona's father, Richard, passed away at about 8:30 PM on Thursday. He was such a huge presence, and a good natured man who was always willing to help you with anything, especially if it meant he could tinker with your ailing desktop, or find that perfect thingee-ma-jig to fix something amidst his collection of parts in his garage. He was friendly, he was boisterous, and he had a great sense of humor even as he was dying. Please keep the Milinkovich family in your prayers.

Open your arms, O God, and welcome Richard into your heavenly kingdom. Give him the keys to your work room, and shine your light upon him as he comes into your presence. Deliver him from all worries, pardon him from any offenses, and laugh with him as he joins in the chorus of all the good humored in your court. May he enjoy eternal rest with you as much as you enjoy loving him. Amen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany: It Keeps Getting Better

"Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn."--Is. 60:3
January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, has a special sobering spot in my heart. While the Church celebrates this day as the arrival of the three wise men, and the revelation of Jesus to these outsiders from the East who give him gold, frankincense and myrrh, it is the day that I came close to snuffing out the light of Christ in me. Strange to think that of all the days, this is the one where God made an intervention through a school chaplain and kept me from doing something truly stupid.
Lots of teenagers, gay and straight, find themselves in that dark place where they believe that there is no hope and no reason to continue in what seems like a miserable existence. Too many don't have a chaplain, or some other trusted adult, who will be there to throw them the life ring when they feel themselves drifting away into the sea of nothingness and despair. But for those of us who did have that, we stand today as the testament to the truth: living is worth it because it not only gets better; it keeps getting better.
I had a wonderful illustration of that this Christmas season. On the winter solstice, I take the day off to spend it out by the smoker stoking the fire for a brisket which I share with friends to celebrate the beginning of winter. Since I had the day off, I decided to take my car, which had been acting up, into the shop. Turns out my problem was a tire that was about to separate. The guy at the shop could replace the tires (I bought two), but the man who did alignments was off. "Go ahead and do the tires," I said. "I'll save up my money for the alignment later." Then, there was a power outage which affected not only the shop, but me as well. When the power came on, something went wrong with my oven. It was busted. Good thing the main course was out on the grill! But sides would have to be taken across the street to a neighbor's oven.
The day before Christmas Eve, my partner asked me to loan her some money for her trip home to her mom. I went to my bank, and learned that they had put a hold on almost all the money in my business account. I was able to withdraw money from my savings, but still, I couldn't access any of my money until the Monday after Christmas?! I then tried to get the money exchanged for Euros. After going to bank number three, I learned that nobody in Tallahassee has Euros on site to do an exchange and I would need to get it done at an international airport. So, I went home, still steamed about my own bank freezing my assets for no reason, and frustrated with the others who couldn't do this transaction. I was in a foul mood, and "Merry Christmas" was the last thing on my mind.
As I walked in my house, I saw a car pull in the driveway.
"Go away!!!" I thought.
It was my old landlord. He'd noticed the paint on our trim was looking pretty ugly.
"I want to give you guys a Christmas gift," he said. "I have somebody who is unemployed and I want to hire him to paint your house." I stammered in amazement. Really?? This man's politics and mine are not at odds, but we don't see eye to eye on a lot of things involving the city and county commission. And yet he was giving us this gift because he knew we needed help.
The next day, when I dropped my partner off at the airport for her trip home to France, I realized I had stayed long enough that I'd have to pay a fee to leave. As I was reaching into my pocket to get the crumpled dollars I had, the lady at the gate told me not to bother.
"Don't worry, ma'am. She's paying for you."
What? I looked where the woman was pointing and in the next booth area was a PFLAG mom.
"Seriously?" I said, smiling and waving to her. "You're really paying for me?"
Yes, she nodded. "Merry Christmas!"
On Christmas was my third stroke of luck. My friends, being aware of the health issues my partner and I have been having and our need to eat healthier, bought us a Vitamix, the ultimate blender, chopper, food processor, make-your-healthy-living-lifestyle-easier machine. I started to cry. I had been wanting one of these for months, but I knew it would require saving every dime and nickel we had because they are expensive. I felt the love. I felt the appreciation. And suddenly it felt as though the boomerang was coming back round to me. The efforts that both me and my partner have put forth for others, the support we have given, the love we have shared, showing up in this life and not just coasting through it: all of it was now getting rewarded in ways that were helpful, meaningful, and wonderful signs that we do matter to people.
Epiphany is the day that magi arrived with gifts. This Epiphany I have received the gift of knowing that being here and giving of myself has tremendous rewards in return. A gift that would have been lost on January 6, 1984. My dawn is brighter. Thanks be to God.