Friday, April 29, 2011

A View from Outside the Wedding Gates

Lego has created a Royal Wedding set.  Here is a picture from the BBC.

There are millions who will be waking up very early in the morning, or stopping in the middle of their day or night to witness the marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will be performing the ceremony for the couple. He has met with them, counseled them, and has been impressed with their understanding of what their marriage means. The ABC put together this video for the occassion.

This comment made me prick up my ears:

"A marriage is good news because it says something so deep about our humanity. And it gives us grounds for hope that there are people around that want to spend their lives together, that want to make this generous act of commitment to one another. And so, everyone watching this around the world will have some sense of the commitments that are possible."


Question from a member of the Episcopal laity in the United States: if one is gay or lesbian watching these two fine young people enter into a state of holy matrimony, are we not to get the same sense that such a commitment is possible?

The answer (if I were giving it) is of course this SHOULD be possible. But in most of this country, it is not. In places such as Florida, LGBT people are treated as "others" both by the state and the church. When Florida voters were passing a constitutional amendment in 2008 to ban gay marriage, there were few in the clergy or episcopate who said this was wrong. Most just sat idly by as the scared citizenry effectively made me a second-class citizen. As such, I have to admit I am a bit jaded about the whole wedding business, royal or otherwise.

Saturday, the Diocese of Florida will be honoring couples who have been married for 50 years or more. Truly, that is a huge milestone that not many achieve. At the same time, I think about the upcoming 20th anniversary of my relationship and know that it would not receive the same "Hurrah!" from the church because it is one of "those" relationships, the type that exist outside of the heterosexual-based special rights of bondage in marriage. Technically, I am seen as "living in sin", and we don't celebrate that sort of thing.

Something you won't see during the wedding ceremony in Westminster Abbey: the kiss. This according to the Royal Wedding blog:

"There will be no kiss during the wedding ceremony," explained the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, the dean of Westminster and the man responsible for overseeing the spiritual life of Westminster Abbey. "We don't do that in the Church of England. That's sort of a Hollywood thing: ' You may now kiss the bride.' It doesn't happen here."

Ah, of course: that's a 'Hollywood' thing. I believe that is CoE code for, "Ewww! Americans!" (Never mind that our Episcopal wedding ceremony doesn't have a specified place for a kiss either.) The couple will kiss. It's actually on the schedule for something like 1:35pm; however, it will be on a balcony for the adoring crowds to see. Good grief, like he's never kissed this woman before?!

I am hoping that Prince William and Kate prove to be very genuine people who stick together through thick and thin and that God blesses them and keeps them. Perhaps this next generation of royals can also make it plain that the example they intend to set of love for one another is something that can be extended and blessed for the LGBT community as well.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Prayers for Alabama and Elsewhere

This image from the New York Times captures the widespread funnel cloud that moved through downtown Tuscaloosa at rush hour yesterday.  The death toll across Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi is climbing.  At last count, 200 people were dead from the storm.  I was home watching the Weather Channel at 6:30 last night, and saw the tornado rushing over the northern section of Birmingham.  It was surreal and chilling all at once.  And found myself launched into the simplest of instant prayers: "O God! Help them!"  And I thought of one of my friends on a clergy retreat somewhere to the north of Birmingham in a small town located in the red zone on the weather radar.   I've heard from her and she is safe.  But many others are now picking up the pieces after this devasting storm.  Prayers ascending for all those affected, and for the repose of the souls killed by this storm.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

T-Mobile's Take on the Royal Wedding

This video has been making the rounds of the internet for a couple of weeks now.  And yes--it's an ad for a mobile phone service provider, but it's hilarious.  ++Rowan-look alike cuts a rug.   If the Royal Wedding looked anything like this, I might watch it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Am NOT Lovin' It

I have used restrooms at McDonald's while traveling in this country. And I have been told to leave those restrooms because I was mistaken for a man. So when I watched this confrontation in a Baltimore-area McDonald's I was horrified. I was angry. And I thought, "This could have been me."  It could have been any one of us.

Violence against transgender people is not funny, even though the McDonald's employee taping this attack seemed to find it a hoot. The irrational fear of someone trans totally mystifies me. And yet, for the transwoman or man, it is not merely mystifying. It is terrifying.  Public spaces, especially restrooms, are particularly tricky and often the most volatile spaces for a trans person to enter. 

I am not trans, but I am what some call a "gender non-conformist" lesbian in that I don't look like a stereotypical woman because my hair is short, my shoulders are broad and I don't wear dresses or make-up.  This isn't something that makes me uncomfortable.  But I can see in the faces and the eyes of others that my look freaks them out.  When I enter a woman's restroom in a McDonald's or a gas station or any place that is not in a private residence, I find myself a little anxious and very cautious.  I basically am trying to go in, do what I need to do, and get out lest I have that unfortunate situation of "mistaken for a male crisis" where a person leaps to a conclusion about my gender and turns a simple pee stop into a pissy snit about "the man" in the ladies room.  

 In this way, I have walked a few steps in the shoes of my trans brothers and sisters.  And observing this rampant ignorance of the public hurts.  Watching it unfold in such violence as was unleashed against Chrissy, the transwoman beaten in this video, makes me want to throw up.  Trans, gay, straight, black, white, immigrant: as Shakespeare would say, "If you cut us, do we not bleed?"

McDonald's issued the following statement on the incident:
" We are shocked by the video from a Baltimore franchised restaurant showing an assault. This incident is unacceptable disturbing and troubling. McDonalds strives to be a safe welcoming environment for everyone who visits. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of customers and employees in our restaurants"

I just don't think that's adequate.  I am tired of corporate apologies with all the right words about being "safe" and "welcoming".  It's time for the McDonald's, the Wal-Mart's, the Targets, the many mega companies with all the tax breaks known to humankind to put some of their corporate muscle into action. 
  • Refuse to finance the political campaigns of those who promote hatred against people, especially LGBT people.
  • Get behind efforts to fight bullying in the schools.
  • Adopt non-discrimination policies in employment and accommodations... and publicly back those local governments that make such laws for their communities.
Corporations only exist because people cause them to exist.  And people can take a corporation down.  Yes, McDonald's: I'm talkin' to you.   You don't deserve a break on this one.  Take responsibility in a more active way.  Your words of apology, for me, are just as empty as the calories in your food.

*** has a petition to sign calling on a response from McDonald's to this attack.


Knock, Knock: King Comes to Easter

The lamb was on the grill, the green beans were in the pot, and all was bright and cheerful at our house on a very warm Easter afternoon.  

And then, the truly surreal happened.

King, the Jehovah's Witness, showed up on my door step with another one of his well-dressed fellow Witnesses.  They always come in pairs, and he always wants to talk.

Normally, King and friend make the rounds on Saturday mornings, conveniently missing my Jewish partner, who keeps threatening to tell them she's Jehovah's People.  In fact, I was wondering on Holy Saturday if I'd get a visit from him.  When I didn't find a copy of The Watchtower, I figured I was being spared his company. 

I obviously was wrong.   

When my partner saw who was at the door she motioned for me to answer.

"Well, hello!" I said with a smile.

"Hello Susan" said King.

"Happy Easter!!"  (This admittedly was not friendly on my part.  I know that Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Easter, or Christmas, or Birthdays...).

King looked a little pained as he opened his Bible to the Gospel of Luke.

"Well, we don't celebrate that."  He continued thumbing to find the passage he wanted.

"Oh, you don't?  Oh, I'm so sorry."  (No, really, I was sorry.  No Easter... or any celebration that marks life renewed, restored, redeemed seems like a pretty sad way to be.)

Even though King doesn't celebrate Easter, he felt he needed to tell me why I was wrong to be marking the Resurrection on this fine April day.  This was the mission; tell me that Easter is not in the Bible, that Easter bunnies are pagan (true), and that I am horribly misguided about the Kingdom of God, but luckily the Jehovah's Witnesses are there to help correct my heresies.

I am fairly good humored about all this.  My everyday community and the company that I keep are not necessarily people who rejoice in the victory Christ won over death that continues to free people.  And I am pretty good about letting people have their space to believe as they will.  In exchange, I ask that they respect the fact that I do believe in a Triune God whose work continues through me and others.  As such, I saw King's decision to come knocking on my door to tell me that the resurrection isn't true on Easter Day really wrong.  It would have been like Pat Robertson dropping by with some pork to a Muslim household at Ramadan.

Of course, when I share stories of King's visits, I hear from friends about the various and sundry ways they use to scare off Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons.  Some claim to answer the door stark naked with battery clamps on their nipples.  Others say they pull out their Roman Catholic Bibles.  Still others remind me that Jehovah's Witnesses have suffered persecution in the past, both here in the United States and Germany under the Third Reich.    Certainly, that was wrong and terrible.  History is rife with stories about minority groups being killed or shoved into a societal corner because they were different.  But past persecution does not excuse King's present day decision to deliberately show up at my house on Easter just so he could tell me that "Jesus didn't tell us to remember the resurrection"? 

Bad form, King!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Alleluia! Let the Liberation Ring!

When we proclaim, "Alleluia! Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!"  I hear a single word:


Freedom from the doubts about myself and whether I am worthy of this tremendous Love;

Freedom from the tomb of shame built by listening to others and not to God;

Freedom from the depression of feeling that I am alone and forsaken.

Freedom and liberation.  That's the real essence of Christ's final act before his ascension.  It is to say to the Romans and those Judeans who found him a threat to their own places of power, "You didn't win!  Love wins.  Love and life will reign victorious over hate and death. So take that!"

The story of Christ's resurrection and the liberation won through that act is a powerful statement and one that minorities, particularly the LGBT minority, can and do find great strength and hope.  Anyone who has felt the pain that comes from public votes taken to deny or strip away rights of citizenship knows the figurative, if not literal, feeling of the cross.  The gay community has been nailed to the tree repeatedly by the church and by the state, just as Jesus was executed by an unholy alliance of jealousy and power.  

As Paul says in the letter to the Romans, "For if we have been united to him in a death like his, we will certainly be resurrected in a life like his."   If we understand that Christ died for all us, including us queer ones, then we also know that in Christ we gain new life in the resurrection.  And, the best part about it, is that Christ is resurrected.  I don't believe in or belong to the Church of the Crucifixion because that is not the end of that story.  Similarly, I have hope and faith that the votes taken today to strip LGBT people of various civil rights or parts and pieces of our baptismal vows will not be the period at the end of the sentence.   Because Easter always prevails over Good Friday.  Some say, "Maybe not in my lifetime,"  but that's only if you count your "lifetime" as the days when you are in a body wandering the planet.  

Whether I am incarnate for the time of the gay community's full recognition and resurrection is really immaterial to me.  I know that it is coming because I know Christ is a liberator of the prisoners and the oppressed.  And I know that Christ did not die in vain but has come alive in victory.  And that victory will extend down to those who today we try to oppress and will lift them up.  No government or religious body can stand in the way of that redemption.

Alleluia!  Let the Liberation Ring!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Light of Christ

Tonight is one of my favorite evenings in the whole church calendar. 

"This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land..."

I was assigned to do the reading from Exodus for our Easter Vigil.  As I was looking it over, I was hit with the line "But Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again."

I was thinking about what our ancestors were experiencing.  This must have seemed so hopeless to them, to try to escape from Egypt.  And they were putting their trust in this guy Moses.  Could they really trust him, especially against such a powerhouse as Pharoah (and his horses, and chariots and chariot drivers)?!  And, as the story goes, God was with Moses and gave him what was needed to get the Israelites through the Sea of Reeds on dry ground, while sending the waters crashing back down upon the Egyptians.   And, indeed, the Egyptians whom they saw that day they would never see again.

I sometimes wonder about the modern day Egyptians.  It seems we are never without a someone or a something that is pursuing us or crushing us or trying to beat us down into submission and to a point where we believe the hype and stop trying to gain our freedom.  I think of the people who plot and scheme to turn back civil rights that were hard won, be it voting rights or abortion rights or the right to marry or serve in the military.   I read a story like the one from Exodus, and I see the tension.  And I also see that those who seek God and stay with God are given the path out from under the oppression.  It wasn't just handed to the Israelites.  First, they had to trust and have faith that Moses wasn't leading them astray.   And then they had to act, to move, and to go forward with the walls of water parting on their left and on their right.  Similarly, if we are going to come to that place where we maintain our hard fought rights under the law, we must trust that we are not alone in this fight and find our allies, our Moses.  Then we must go forward... even in our fear that maybe we're being marched into the sea rather than through it.   

This is the night to let fear remain in the grave, and let faith and hope prevail.  This is the night where we reclaim the rights of our full citizenship.  This is the night where Christ's victory over death is a sign to us that we, too, can be victorious over the attempts to keep us down.  

Let that light shine in our hearts, rejoice and be glad in it!    

The Modern Day Crucifixions

I make a point of participating in Pax Christi's Stations of the Cross held at noon on Good Friday outside the state capitol building.  The stations, as practiced at this service, bring the story of Christ's journey to his crucifixion and death into the modern era.  It mentions the use of firing squads, electric chairs, gas chambers and lethal injection.

It also talks of the other ways in which we crucify people.  How do we treat those who are poor?  How do we treat the sexual minorities?   What are we doing for those who have mental illnesses?  Why are we still waging wars?  And even though the liturgy of this service is very heavily geared toward Roman Catholics, the dozen or so people who gather are coming from Protestant, Jewish and Buddhist traditions as well.  Because the overall sentiment is one that is universal: how are we loving one another and helping to build each other up rather than tear ourselves apart.

For me, I dedicated my participation in this service to the memory of David Kato, the slain gay Ugandan civil rights leader.  On a day when we were commemorating the wrongful death of Jesus, I couldn't help think about that particular execution, and my continued prayers for the people of Uganda that they may be delivered from the homophobia and evils that led to Kato's murder.   In our Good Friday service, I was struck that one of the prayers listed under those who have not received the Gospel of Christ was "For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others.... that God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience."  May it be so in those corners of the earth where people have used the Bible as a baton instead of as a book.  May God's love remain kindled in the hearts of those who have been persecuted because of love, so that they are able to stay true to themselves and remember that those who are using religion as a weapon against them "know not what they are doing."    

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Good Earth Day Friday

Because of Easter's late appearance this year, we have an interesting dual holiday. Not only is today that time when Christians are marking the death of Jesus on the cross, it's also the day many of us think to don our tie-dyed T-shirts and recommit ourselves to the protection of our planet on Earth Day.

As I sat watch in the chapel overnight, I got to musing about the connections between the two events. "The world", humanity, crucified Jesus because of greed, lies, threats to power, jealousy, anger. "Our world", the planet, is being crucified by humanity because of greed for oil, corporate lies, threat to losing power, and the covetness that makes us want to have lots of stuff. We have neglected to see the connection that the evangelist John was making in his version of the gospel when he says, "In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God..." It doesn't take much to see the author making a reference back to the text of Genesis, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep..." Somewhere along the way in Christendom, we seem to have lost our way when it comes to the planet. We don't think as much about the way that our planet is very Christ-like and hence imbued with God's love for us. We're content with staring at a Corpus Christi and feeling all the emotions that come up as we consider our God's death upon the cross for our sins. But aren't we crucifying God with every Deepwater Horizon-like well we drill into the Gulf of Mexico?

I wrote a monologue last fall for the Mickee Faust Club called, "A Word from Mother Earth" in which the planet was portrayed as a Jewish mother. After a guilt-laden litany of abuses that are committed against Mother Earth like pollution and drilling and leaving cigarette butts on the beach, she looks at the audience and cries out, "Is this the way you 'Honor your Mutha?!'"

Indeed, is it?

Perhaps this is a Good Friday to remember that when God "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son" that statement of love extended beyond just humanity but to all mammals and creation. We've done enough crucifixion. Time to move in the direction of Easter and finding new ways to sustain and care for our world.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday: Stripping Away

One of the traditions of Maundy Thursday services in the Episcopal Church is the reliving of the story of Jesus' final moments with the disciples, from the evangelist John's point of view. That means instead of focusing on the words of institution Jesus uttered at the Last Supper... he talks of the foot washing. Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the feet of his disciples. Even Peter, who doth protest way, way, waaay too much by insisting that Jesus NOT do this, and then "oh, well... while you're at it, Lord, wash my hands, too." Jesus (who is a much kinder man in John's gospel than in, say, Mark) explains patiently to Peter that those who have bathed don't need anything washed but the feet.

Feet, in those days, were very dirty. People walked everywhere, and they only wore sandals out in the dusty Palestinian towns, so feet needing washing. And even though we wear closed-toed shoes, and spend most of our days going to and fro in a motor vehicle, our feet still need washing.

In my massage practice, I have on occasion washed a person's feet. Usually because they are feeling embarrassed by the odor from having their feet encased in shoes all day; or the fact that the dye inside their shoes has leaked onto their skin; or that their feet are just plain dirty. Whatever the reason, whatever the apology, I simply offer that I can wash their feet. It is one of the "occasional services" of my massage ministry that I find sets a tone of comfort for a client. Something that has caused them angst is being addressed in a simple and sweet way. There is a nice feeling of having your feet massaged with water and soap... to be followed by a light oil or Shea butter... and then wrapped in a cotton towel. I have seen the wrinkles of tension on a client's face lift a little just at the sensation of having someone pay attention to their feet.

Working on the feet, allowing our feet to be exposed, can sometimes be the first step (pun intended) toward stripping away our ego. People can be very embarrassed about their feet. They worry about rough edges, or toe hair, or toe nails, or callouses, or even a problem that causes a deformity of some kind. But these tender parts of our body are the very things that for most of us make contact with the earth, keeping us grounded in the creation that's around us. And, just as in the days of Jesus, the feet are the body part that get dirty quickly. To unveil the feet is the beginning of the unveiling of the rest of us. And the things that embarrass us about our feet... our smelly dirty unclipped feet... can sometimes serve as the metaphor for what embarrasses us about our selves.

"I can't be seen by another because I'm too ...." fill in the blank of your favorite personal self-degrading comment. So often, that is just an ego-driven lie designed to keep us from being our true selves... and sharing with one another the very lovely thing that God sees... namely us in our naked truth.

This evening, the first thing I did before praying, I took off my socks and my shoes. The feeling of having my feet free of my sneakers and the delightful sensation of touching the worn old wooden floor of the church made me think, "I'm just gonna do this whole service barefoot!" It felt like the right and holy thing to do. And as we chanted our way through Psalm 22, I was again hit with the stripping away of the altar as the metaphor for the removal of the socks and shoes of our egos. All the adornments that we put on to make that space so sacred and beautiful is stripped down to it's equally beautiful bare wood. Although the altar is exposed, it is still the Lord's Table... fair linen or not. Although our feet are exposed, they are still that tender and important foundation of our body... shoes and socks or not.

Love your feet no matter what they look like in their nakedness.

Circling the Communion Wagons

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Is PFLAG? Tallahassee style

Thanks to Marisa Ratoff for this great video! Please share this post liberally. There are PFLAG chapters nationwide and in Canada.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Entertaining Angels... and Demons, too

In our parish hall, we have had a banner hanging on the wall with a quote from Hebrews 13:2:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

We have many strangers who wander through the doors of St. John's. Some are homeless. Some are seeking a spiritual home.

Some are the Governor of Florida.

It was a bit of a shock to everyone on Sunday to learn that the most divisive Governor in recent Florida history had decided that he would be attending the 9am Palm Sunday service. I had arrived at church early to set up the outdoor sound system in Eve's Garden for the Procession of the Palms. That's when I was told that we would have a "special guest". And I knew what that meant. Looking to the heavens, I repeated three times, "Thank you, God. I'm an 11:15er!!" My Christian charity was being put to the test... just as it would be for others at our downtown parish.

One thing most everyone in this city knows is that our Governor and state legislature are promising a budget that will cause enormous economic hardship to our community. They are talking of lay-offs of more than 600 state employees, increased health care costs and retirement contributions resulting in a take home pay cut to state workers who are among the lowest paid civil servants in this country. The economic forecast is an overall loss of at least $30 million dollars to the local economy. As you might imagine, this does not make the Governor a popular man... with the churched and unchurched alike. With so many in the St. John's congregation employed by the state, or serving the needs of state employees in the private sector, the idea of entertaining this particular angel was difficult to say the least.

One member, a person who works for a bureau slated to be closed under the Governor's budget, saw him and looked crestfallen.

"It's one thing to have to deal with him during the week, but not on Sunday. Not in 'my' house!" I gave her a hug and assured her it was OK. And then I made my jokes about changing the lines of the Passion Gospel to be "Hail, King of the Screw!" to get her laughing.

I did not stay for the 9am service, but I did see the discomfort. People refused to speak to the Governor. They huddled at one end of the parish hall as far away from him as they could get. I understand that no one from the nine o'clock congregation sat with him, his wife and their handlers. And there were those who, upon seeing the "special guest", walked away and found themselves going into the Presbyterian church a few blocks down the street.

All of these actions are understandable on a gut level. And it was an illustration of the alienation many in this city are feeling and our perception of the "special guest": a Governor of the quality of the other Governor depicted that morning in the Passion gospel named "Pontius Pilate".

It also is a moment for me, as one who had a visceral response of revulsion about the Governor's presence, to take pause and ponder the call to be Christian. I am expected to welcome the stranger in the same way my Jewish friends remembered in their seders last night: be charitable toward the stranger for we were once strangers in Egypt.

Even when I find the stranger to be a bastard?

How was my unwillingness to welcome the Governor even with a simple handshake and "Good morning" any different than those African Primates of the Anglican Communion who refuse to go to the Lord's Table with our female Presiding Bishop? When we are gathered as the Church, we are gathered as the Body of Christ. And the various members of the Body are not all alike, and they don't necessarily get along.

In welcoming strangers, we are not only possibly entertaining angels; we may encounter a few demons. And even demons, at one time, were angels.

This is a tough thing to remember. Knowing who is hurting, being aware of the callousness of those who are drafting these budget plans and their willingness to intentionally inflict harm on a city out of spite or jealousy makes it very hard to resist the tempter that wants to shun a Governor like this one. And yet, it really is inherent in the commandment to "love one another as I have loved you" that I must still love him.

Now, that's not to say, "Go ahead; allow yourself to be a doormat." But rather, we have to remember that the real retribution is in the hands of God and God, despite what we may think, has not been blind to all that's happening. That commandment tells us to love... because even someone like Governor Scott can be redeemed. To walk out of the church at the presence of the one who we don't like shows a lack of understanding that the love of Christ knows no boundaries. That's part of the tension in being a Christian, and definitely being an Episcopalian. Besides, walking away or avoiding means we have ended the conversation with the other before it could even begin.

Still, I readily admit that I made no effort to engage the Governor last Sunday. The wisdom I had in the moment said that I needed to stay back because I could not be civil. And I again thanked God that I normally attend the later morning service. Perhaps, having been made aware of my own lack of understanding Christ's love, I might behave differently with "special guests" in the future.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Welcome and A Crucifixion in Twenty Minutes

There is something truly bizarre about the Church's Palm Sunday liturgy. We make much about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, hand all the laity palm crosses, sing the magnificent "All Glory Laud and Honor"... and twenty minutes later... we have a staged reading of the Gospel story of Christ's final hours and death.

Wait a minute! Weren't we just moments ago really excited to see him? And then we kill him?!

I'd love to think that the reason for this Biblical time crunch on Sunday is to illustrate just how quickly we tend to lose our centering on God in our lives. But I think the real reason the Church does this is because the diviners of our liturgy realized you aren't likely to get a large audience to show up at Church on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday or even the Easter Vigil. "Let's get 'em while we can, so Easter means something!"

Fr. Lee Graham in teaching a class on the book "The Last Week" by Borg and Crossan talked about the countercultural nature of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. The Romans, who had the Jews under their thumbs and knuckles and forearms, were processing into town from the other direction with an army and Pontius Pilate. Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was upholding words of the Hebrew Scripture, and mocking the regal nature of the Roman procession. This was a protest and an activist demonstration for the Jews.

No wonder Jesus is crucified!

Still, I wish the Church would find another way to work in the Passion Gospel. It is read on Good Friday. But only the clergy are the actors in the Good Friday service. Really, if you listen to Fr. Graham, the clergy ought to be saddled with saying the lines normally reserved for the congregation: "Release Barabbas!" and "Crucify him!" were not coming from "the crowds", as in the masses. Those in the Jewish "masses" who had heard Jesus liked him and what he was saying. It was the Temple leadership who were having none of this "new thing" because it was undermining the "old thing" that kept them in the money. It was also drawing attention to the Jews from their Roman rulers and history had shown the Jews repeatedly what that kind of attention would get them.

And therein, I believe, lies the lesson for us today. Fear has served as an effective and powerful way to control people throughout the ages. Fear is the way governments keep citizens from asking "too many questions". Fear that if I speak up or dare to live into my calling to be a loving human being is what creates closets, tombs, and yes--crucifixion. Fear is the bully's biggest weapon.

I don't have any easy answers for how to move beyond fear. I do have fears, too. But I have noticed that the deeper I grow into my faith and belief that Love is more universal and more powerful it has helped to temper my fears. They aren't gone, but they also aren't debilitating. It helps me to keep things in perspective and not go to that place I used to go to where my vision was warped by this House of Fun Mirrors that the world seemed to be.

Holy Week can be a time to try taking that walk out of fear into faith. It can be the time to let fear diminish on its cross and adopt a new bolder vision of Love. Counter culture acts like that are good.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Silence... And Shouts of Joy

Across the country today, young people are contemplating suicide, and being thrown out of their homes and their houses of worship because of their sexual orientation as an LGBT person.

Other students, moved by the statistics about their peers and personally knowing someone affected, will be placing tape over their mouths or otherwise refusing to speak as a symbolic act of solidarity for those voices we've lost and are losing to homophobia and gender violence. It's Good Friday... a week early.

The deaths of these young people are as tragic as the ones from complications due to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s-90s that still plague communities today. And as Marc Adams of HeartStrong was saying at our PFLAG meeting last night, the frustration is that even with all that has happened to make being gay "more acceptable", children (especially) are still dying because of societal prejudice.

I bring this up because we all have to remain constant in our efforts to send a message of hope to our queer youth that you have people and groups... even some faith communities... who will take you in and give you the welcome and the shelter you need to survive. And, believe me, things really are getting better... at least in the United States.

Look at Delaware... the first in the nation state. Yesterday, lawmakers there offered to give LGBT couples a chance to enter into civil unions. This may not be marriage, but it is an important first step toward recognizing the loving and life-giving partnerships that LGBT people can, and do, have.

Check out Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays... a group started about forty years ago by some PARENTS who loved their children unconditionally. The organization is now an international force to bring love to communities and individuals who haven't always felt it.

And look at yourself. Stand before a mirror and know that what is reflected is a beautiful image, a reflection of God who is Love. You are made to be a loving human. You are special and the gift you bring into the tapestry of humanity is bold, and bright, and can not be taken away from you by anybody... but can be given freely to those around you. If I stand as a light for you, know that my light is meant to ignite the wick of your candle so that you may bring it to another.

Death brings silence... but Life brings shouts of Joy. Come out of your darkness, out of your tombs, and be proud of who you were meant to be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If You Think Religion and Politics Are Divisive...

Just try having a conversation between baseball fans of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Or is it Stankees? Or is it Yuckees?

Just a bit of humor to break up the news and the theological musings. Although for some, baseball IS a religion. And as a child, I was brought to the sacred path of Yawkey Way in Boston to the cathedral of Fenway to cheer on the saints like Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant. And I learned at a very early age to hold fast to "the truth" and denounce the heretics of baseball in their pinstripes.

It's true: being a fan of the Yankees is like being a huge fan of fascism.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Los Angeles to Canterbury: Thanks, But It's Not For Us

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has issued a polite, but firm, rejection of the Anglican Covenant.

"We cannot endorse a covenant that, for the first time in the history of The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion, will pave the way toward emphasizing perceived negative differences instead of our continuing positive and abundant commonality," states the response, signed jointly by the diocese’s bishops and General Convention deputation.

To read the news release and full statement, click HERE.

The Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has requested that all dioceses weigh in on the Anglican Covenant by April 24th... which incidentally is Easter. I am thrilled, but not surprised, that Los Angeles has sent word back across the pond that they are not interested in furthering the self-inflicted wounds from writhing that have some in the Communion demanding that we must have a Covenant.

In looking over their statement, the Los Angles Diocese reached many of the same conclusions that I and others in the No Anglican Covenant Coalition have said repeatedly. Sections One and Two of the Covenant go over all the wonderful stuff about our life in Communion and mutual bonds of affection and are not offensive. But Section Three is the start of the turn away from our rather diverse in opinion and appearance Communion to wanting something that is boxed-in and begins to resemble a corporation, not a church and certainly not a Communion. Suddenly, the laity (who... if we're going to be corporate... are the stock holders) have been cut out of the picture. And then there's Section Four which, despite protestations to the contrary, contains language that will allow any Church in another part of the Communion to cry "foul" if a Covenant/Communion partner does something that might be deemed as problematic (like, oh... I dunno... ordain and consecrate openly-gay and partnered people to the episcopate??)

As Los Angeles, which has a lesbian Bishop Suffragan, notes the document is geared toward perceived and potential wrong-doing rather than rejoicing in our supposed bonds of affection. It's as if the Archbishop of Canterbury is standing there, ruler in hand, just waiting to wrap us on the knuckles.

So, this is LA's response. I have yet to see or hear what the response is from the Diocese of Florida to the Covenant.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

LGBT Pride Week: A Holy Week

photo by Winnie Miles

Tallahassee has something that most other communities do not have... and I'm not talking about the live oaks, the spanish moss, the pollen-laden air, or even the unbearably hot and humid summers.

Our LGBT Pride Week includes an interfaith service.

Lots of other places have gained support from the faith communities. Churches, especially Episcopal Churches, have set up booths along side Gay Pride parades to offer the spiritual gifts of love and charity to parade attendees. They've even marched in the parades with the banners of their congregations. But Tallahassee doesn't have a parade as part of Pride. So we do something different, and special.
We invite people to gather in the name of the Creator... called by many names and who knows each of us by our name... to offer blessings for a week of openess and honesty and fun.

I have longed to see representation of the Episcopal Church at this celebration. I have wanted St. John's, specifically, to take the good news that Christ loves queer people out of the pulpit, through the very heavy doors, and out onto the streets of our hurting city. We have preached that message. Many in the congregation have privately told me how happy they are to have me there and participating in the life of the church. The church has been OK with hosting PFLAG meetings, and even letting us gather in the beautiful setting of our library, a room that feels like a comfortable (if formal) living room.

So where, I've been wondering, is my Episcoposse when it comes time for Pride Week?

This year, I wasn't going to let this service go by without the active participation of St. John's!

I met with our rector-to-be and mentioned the Pride service to him. Much to my surprise, he whipped out his Blackberry and made note of it... but also saw that he was scheduled to celebrate at the late afternoon Eucharist at St. John's. Still, I took his enthusiasm and support for the event as a sign that St. John's was willing to be on record as being among the "welcoming" congregations. This was a huge difference from what I had encountered before. No defensiveness. No quoting of Galatians with how "In Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, male or female, free or slave" (this to say, "We don't need to make an overture to the gay community because in Christ we are one.")

So when my dear friend Diana, tasked by the Pride Committee to organize the Interfaith service, needed a volunteer to lead the opening litany, I said, "Put me down on your list to do it." I am, afterall, a Eucharistic Minister called upon to serve as an intercessor during our regular Sunday worship and noon-day Eucharists. I lead Morning Prayer, and I maintain a daily practice of prayer in my life. Plus, who better to lead a call and response litany than an Episcopalian, right?

Bonus: our assistant priest volunteered to serve as an usher at the outdoor service, handing out programs and candles to the congregation.

Bigger Bonus: there were members of St. John's, besides me and her, who attended! And there was a vestry member from Holy Comforter Episcopal Church as well. Ask, and ye shall receive: my Episcoposse had arrived!

The service itself focused on the Pride Week theme of Educate. Liberate. Celebrate. I was nodding in appreciation of the sermon by the pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church who noted that the education about the LGBT community is happening within some Christian churches. I was pleased that our representative from Temple Israel quoted from other parts of Leviticus which make the welcoming of the stranger imperative for the Jews. And our Red Hills Pagan Council leader called us into celebration of the spirit that unites all of us from our various paths into one path of Love.

The take away line for me came in the blessing offered from the ministerial intern at the Unitarian Church. He referred to Pride Week as a "Holy Week". It really is if you consider "holy" to mean "consecrated to God", who I know as Love. Love, in its many manifestations and colors, is at the hub of the LGBT identity. Pride Week provides that network of support for us who, in some cases, have walked a long and difficult path toward loving ourselves with little, if any, support. For those who have reached that point of self-love and acceptance, we are freer to live into the commandment Jesus makes to "love one another" in the same way we have felt God's love for us in our queer, eccentric, and sometimes boringly normal selves. Pride Week is a time when the sheep who have been scattered by some of the irresponsible and destructive shepherds of God get to rejoice in the knowledge that the shepherd of us all is calling us back into the fold. We are brought back in Love, by Love and with Love.

For those who have felt the pain of exile from your religious communities... welcome to your Holy Week in Tallahassee.

the Interfaith Pride participants.


Participating congregations: United Church, Gentle Shepherd MCC, Red Hills Pagan Council, Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee, Temple Israel, St. John's Episcopal Church, St. Stephen Lutheran Church, and Unity Eastside. The Friends Meeting also was present.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Unspoken, But Heartfelt Words: Jesus and the Raising of Lazarus

As I was looking over the Gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday, I was struck by the many dialogues that are occurring throughout. There's the communique that reaches Jesus from Martha and Mary about their brother Lazarus, who is ill.

There's Jesus telling the disciples about Lazarus' illness, and their misunderstanding that when their leader says Lazarus has "fallen asleep" it means "he's dead."

Then there is Martha's moment, the time when we see a woman of note in the Bible declare that she believes Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus says those words we Episcopalians know well from our burial services, "I am the resurrection and the life."

But the part of this story that is catching my attention follows the statement that "Jesus began to weep." (John 11:35) Assembled around, or at least nearby him, are Jews who were the minyan of comfort that came to be with the grieving sisters.

So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone.

I am pausing here. Jesus loved Lazarus, and like the others, is in grief. And what I'm seeing here is a man grappling with the reality of the human experience of death. I get the sense that he is a bit weary and perhaps all cried out when he answers Martha's prostests about rolling back the stone. And so we go on to these next lines of the reading:

And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."

This seems as though Jesus was saying these words out loud, but I think this is a moment of personal prayer. "Father, I thank you for having heard me." When, exactly, did the Father hear him? My guess is in that place of weeping and being greatly disturbed. In times of sorrow and despair, those are the times when I am most likely to consciously turn to God. And the God in whom I believe meets me in that place of deep pain, and hangs with me as I wail and slam my fist into a pillow. God is with us always, but it is in our dark moments where God steps in to keep us together, and hear our rant. It's through this process that I think Jesus offers up his prayer of thanksgiving as he prepares to speak up...

When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Laz'arus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Lazarus is free, unbound for a little while longer, and Jesus has shown the people... again... what amazing power can come when one is working with God. Blind people and dead people and marginalized people all become like him: the light of the world leading more folks out of their own darkness and despair into eternal life. Ah, what a feeling!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Deliver Us From Uterus

For those of you outside the state of Florida, please understand that we have a very special population that appears like a fungus in Tallahassee each year called the state legislature. For two months (sometimes more!) these elected representatives of the people come together to commit crimes of no compassion on the meek and lowly, and random acts of meanness mixed in with crass, rude and otherwise stupid behavior.

I spent twleve years covering this stuff as a public radio reporter. Trust me; I know what I'm talking about here.

But recently the House Speaker hit a homerun in the utterly absurd department when he chastised a member of the chamber for using the term "uterus" in a debate. State Representative Scott Randolph, an Orlando Democrat, was making an argument on the floor of the House, defending workers' rights against Republican attempts to bust unions. He repeated a comment that his wife had made to him at dinner one night as they discussed the GOP's 18 anti-abortion bills:
"If my wife incorporated her uterus, you all would say hands off. If my friends incorporated their bedroom, you'd say hands off. But now we're standing here and we're saying we're going to increase regulation on a specific type of membership organization. And that's unions."

Shortly after that, word reached Rep. Randolph through the Minority Leader that he was not to use references to body parts in debate. Apparently, House Speaker Dean Cannon was concerned that the teenagers working as pages in the chamber would be scarred for life by hearing "Uterus".

No, I am not making this up.

Had the Speaker left well enough alone, nobody would have given a damn about Randolph's statement. But now, "Uterus" has become the word du jour or mois!

Legislators and lobbyists are sporting pink buttons with the word in big, bold, black capital letters. And there are postings all over Facebook as women flaunt the fact that we have a uterus. You've heard of "penis envy". Well, clearly the House Speaker is in want of a womb. Perhaps this is what really lies behind the Republicans insatiable appetite for anti-abortion legislation. Perhaps these men are feeling incomplete, inadequate, and they long for a pair... of fallopian tubes.


As one friend pointed out, perhaps the Speaker didn't hear what was said and thought that Randolph's wife wanted to "neuter us". Hmmm... yes. Be afraid, Mr. Speaker. Be very, very, very afraid!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

By Whose Authority?

Does one need to have qualifications to write a blog that explores theology, and questions church policies and politics?

Boy, I hope not!

This morning, there was a question that made me think, again, if there is an expectation that bloggers must have some special authority in order to write on the subjects we write about. The question came in the context of my studies in Education for Ministry... and some allusions I'd made in the conversation to my blog and the recent entry where I reworked the language of John 9. The person was curious that I was writing on the gospel, but haven't finished EfM and am only finishing out Year Three of the four-year course.

And for a moment, I felt that nagging doubt. "Do I have the authority to write about this stuff?" I stress, "for a moment". Because I maintain that this is my blog, and I can write about whatever crosses my mind, and for me, that tends to be puzzling out those portions of Scripture that I read and hear and squaring that against my experience in the here and now. It's like I'm in constant theological reflection... whether I want to be or not.

Somewhere along the line, a sad thing happened in the church. Priests, deacons and bishops became "THE authority" and the laity was supposed to just take whatever the person in black and white said without putting any thought to how that might fare in their own understanding of the world. It's one thing for children to behave that way and give the thinking power over to the authority, but when adults are unwilling to ask questions or (much worse) are discouraged from doing any exploration of their beliefs, then we have the scales tipped unfairly in favor of the ordained clergy. This is probably something some of the ordained are happy with because then they won't be bothered and their egos can remain in tact. But I see it as disempowering people, and that doesn't seem to be what God as Jesus intended.

In my reading of the gospels, Jesus is wanting to give those within ear shot plenty to chew on, so that they might come to see what is right before their eyes; namely, that eternal life starts now... and the kingdom is at hand. He speaks in parables and riddles because that makes people think. And when they think, and begin to see, it transforms them. And then they are in a place to share.

And that's what this blog is about: sharing. I'm sharing here the sometimes random firings in my brain that keep leading me along a path toward God. And mine is one which is colored brightly by my sexual orientation, something that does play into my view of the world. I invite you into this sharing with me. Go ahead and leave me a comment, or click on one of the quick comment buttons at the end of this blog. Tell me what you like or don't like about what you read here. I'm interested.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Taking Liberties: John 9 Updated

Some may think this heretical, but as I listened to the Gospel reading this morning, I had this nagging desire to rework this story to be more reflective of what I know to be true today. In the 21st Century, there aren't many people or places that believe that a person born blind is blind because of a sin committed either by the person herself or the parents. But there are still many who profess to be Christian who think that to be gay is a sin. Some have "evolved" to a place of saying that gay people are allowed to identify as gay; just don't do anything that might be considered "gay" (i.e. have same-sex relations). That would be icky.

Anyway, I have taken the liberty to rework the story of the blind man given his sight to instead be the gay man who was given the dignity to be his true self. I think this reframing of John's gospel gives a modernized understanding of Jesus' lesson here. And so with that, "The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John... with a re-edit by Susan" (Oh, go ahead: "Glory be to you Lord Christ....)

John 9: 1 - 41
As he walked along, he saw a man gay from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born gay?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born gay so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's mouth, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Silo'am" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and he came out and proclaimed his true self.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before, and assumed he was straight, began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and be quiet?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how are you now so openly gay?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my mouth, and said to me, "Go to Silo'am and wash.' Then I went and washed and came out and became who I am and have been since birth." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

They brought to the Preachers the man who had come out. Now it was a Sunday morning when Jesus made the mud and opened his mouth to proclaim his true self. Then the Preachers also began to ask him how he came out. He said to them, "He put mud on my mouth. Then I washed, and now I am out." Some of the Preachers said, "This man is not from God, for he does not attend Sunday church." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. So they said again to the gay man, "What do you say about him? It was he who encouraged you to come out." He said, "He is a prophet."

The “Christians” did not believe that he was really gay and thought he could be changed until they called the parents of the man who had come out and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born gay? Why has he come out?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born gay; but we do not know how it is that now he has come out, nor do we know who opened his mouth to allow him to proclaim his true self. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the “Christians”; for the “Christians” had already agreed that anyone who comes out would be put out of their church. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

So for the second time they called the man who had come out, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was once quiet and in the closet, now I am out and am not ashamed." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he tell you this is OK?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become gay?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are gay, but we are heterosexual. We know that God has spoken to us, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my mouth to allow me to proclaim my true self. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the Victorian era has it been heard that anyone opened the mouth of a person born gay in this way. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out of their church.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out of their church, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who are gay, and those who judge them may be judged." Some of the Preachers near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not being judged, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were gay, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We are heterosexual and we exercise judgement,' your sin remains.

(This post updated at 10:20pm with some suggested changes.)

When People Don't Listen: A Dialogue with the Blind Man

I was really surprised and delighted this past week to see such an uptick in visits to this blog. I couldn't imagine what suddenly caught everyone's attention. But upon further examination, there was a run on people looking at the entry, "Here's Mud In Your Eye!" That makes sense given that the Gospel lesson for Sunday is from John 9 which is the story of the blind man given his sight after Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud, rubs it on his eyes and tells him to wash in the water of Siloam.

In my previous entry, I talked a lot about the disabled, and the whole notion of seeing a disabled person as a sinner, or a person who is being punished by God. This time around, when reading the story, I was struck by the way this guy who has experienced the touch of God tries to tell people about it and his audience ignores him, or worse.

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

It is not unusual for people to talk about the disabled, but not bother to talk to them. Such is the case here. And when they asked him, and he told the story of what Jesus did, they didn't accept the explanation. Instead, they wanted to know, "Where is he?" The man tells them the truth: "I don't know." And this is not good enough...

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

OK... this should suffice. But here, again, the Pharisees are obsessing over the idea that Jesus performed this healing on the Sabbath. And they know that you aren't supposed to do anything on the Sabbath. And what type of guy does this sort of thing on the Sabbath. Meanwhile, our formerly blind man is sitting in the corner wondering "Do you still need me, or can I go now?" No, he can't because now the Pharisees and the neighbors want proof that this man was really blind... even though they'd seen him as a blind beggar for years:

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

So, now we can't trust the guy to tell his own story: we have to ask his parents. One of the things I note in this passage is the mention of "anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue." This is the major thrust of John's gospel every time he says, "The Jews". John's gospel was written at a time and for a people who were being cast out from their synagogue's for professing "The Way". They were the minority inside a minority religion in the Roman world. In some ways, the relationship of "the Jews" to "the Way" is a little like some of the tensions one sees in the gay community. There are those who are anxious for us to be accepted and think the way to achieve that is by having us behave and dress in ways that are more staid and conservative. But there are many of us who shun that idea, and like to express our differences from the heterosexual world through our clothing and hairstyles. This leads to tension... and much drama.

Something similar happens to our formerly blind man. He now is such a non-entity and not trustworthy that we have to ask his parents if he had really been blind. "Yes, he was blind. No, we don't know who did it. Ask him!" With nowhere else to turn, the crowd looks again at the formerly blind man.

"Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

Again, remembering who John is writing for here, it is not a surprise that the formerly blind man gets identified with Jesus... and is driven out of the synagogue. That's what was happening. It still happens today. Again, looking at the gay community, how many have risked revealing their sexual orientation only to find themselves put out by their faith communities? Sexual orientation, whatever it is, is a gift from God. And if it is of God, then it's good. If it is not exploitative or abusive, it is good. And if it results in companionship, it is good. Gender does not matter in love.

This is not the message many have heard from their churches or other faith communities, and it is a shame. They should hear this message, even if their priest or pastor is incapable of communicating it because this is the message that is throughout Scripture. If "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to the end that all should not perish but have everlasting life," then that means he came to redeem gay people, too... and not until they have completed some bogus re-education program that leaves them more messed up and self-loathing. So, to any of you still on the outs with your faith community, I invite you to read closely this next section of John's story about the blind man:

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him.

Two things I notice here. One, and this is a big one, when Jesus hears that the man had been kicked out of his community, he found him. This is really "the way" of Jesus. He has touched this man's life and led him to the place of having new eyes to see the world for the first time. And his community has responded poorly to that and kicked him out. But Jesus sought him out again. If you take the idea that sexual orientation is a gift of God, it would seem that when one 'discovers' his or her orientation, this is a bit like having had mud stuck in the eye and washing it out. If your orientation makes you "different" and results in you getting kicked out of your church community, I'm convinced by this scene, that Jesus WILL seek you out. Do you believe in this? That's the question you have to answer for yourself.

Another thing strikes me is the statement, "And he worshipped him." Some might see this as, "him" meaning "Jesus". But I am not so sure that "him" is referring to "Jesus" the flesh and blood human being. Jesus is very carefully directing the attention to the "Father who sent me." I've always thought this is because Jesus is on a mission to bring the people of Israel back to the God who delivered them from Egypt; not the God who gets them the winning lottery numbers. The John passage ends on a curious exchange with Jesus and the Pharisees:

Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Phar'isees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see,' your sin remains.

I read this as Jesus saying, "This blind man, who you were happy to ignore, is the very sheep that I have been looking for. But once he had his sight, you turned on him because you are unable to see him as the blessed sheep I know him to be. For shame!" Let that be a message for those who would turn away and cast out any of God's gay children. We are some of the very sheep that the good shepherd is searching for and bringing back into the flock. See us as the sheep we are and quit asking us who invited us inside the gate. Isn't it obvious?

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's? No, just Dove World Outreach Center

From the New York Times via The Washington Independent: [Lal Mohammad] Ahmadzai, the [Afghan National Police] spokesman, said the demonstrators were angry about the burning of the Koran at the church of Pastor Terry Jones on Mar. 20. Mr. Jones had caused an international uproar by threatening to burn the Koran last year on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and demonstrations at the time led to deaths throughout Afghanistan, but on a small scale. Mr. Jones subsequently had publicly promised not to burn a Koran, but then presided over a mock trial and the burning of the Koran at his small fringe church in Gainesville, Fla.

Fran Ingram, an assistant at the Dove World Outreach Center, in Gainesville, Fla., said that the church had burned the Koran after a ceremony on March 20. “We put the Koran on trial and we did burn it,” she said. Ms. Ingram said she and other church members were no more concerned about their safety than before the burning and the killings of the United Nations workers in Afghanistan. “We have a huge stack of death threats,” she said. “We take precautions. I have a handgun. A lot of us have concealed weapons permits. We’re a small church and we don’t have money to hire security.”

COMMENT: Putting another religion's holy book on trial, and then burning it?: Stupid. As in so stupid that it's hard to know where to begin with any commentary. And it has resulted in the attack on a United Nations headquarters in Afghanistan with twelve UN staffers killed. Why? Because when one set of loonie extremists commit violence upon the sacred text of another religion, the loonie extremists in that group will respond in kind.

Everyone told Pastor Jones last September that his threat to burn the Qur'an would ratchet up violence and attacks on foreigners in the Middle East, especially Americans and American troops. We THOUGHT Jones got it. Instead he apparently was biding his time until he could follow through on his hateful, un-Christian plan. The blood of the innocent are on his hands. What a freaking moron!

This is BBC's footage of the attack on the UN in Afghanistan. I apologize for the overly-dramatic music. You might want to turn the sound off to watch.