Sunday, July 31, 2011

All Does Mean "All"

I was glancing at today's Gospel and saw it was the feeding of the five thousand.  And I thought, "What a time for this lesson!"  Our country is standing on the edge of a financial breakdown with no money to pay our creditors around the globe.  Why?  How?  Because we are no longer a democracy; we have become the great American lunacracy!  We are governed by the most fearful and angry bunch of intransigents we could have ever elected. 
Thanks be to God the disciples of Jesus were not members of the so-called Tea Party.   Otherwise, that feeding story would have gone something like this:

"The crowds were gathered and hungry and nightfall was coming.  Jesus turned to his disciples and said, 'Let's get out those two fish and five loaves of bread so I can bless them and distribute them equally amongst all the people.' But the disciples said, 'No!'  When Judas attempted to reach for one of the fish to give to Jesus, John and James tackled him.  Peter scolded Jesus, weeping and saying, 'These are our fish and bread given to us.  If this crowd is hungry, it's not our fault.  They should have gone shopping during the day!'"

My take on the Gospel story from Matthew only has the slightest bit to do with our current political crisis.  When I read this feeding story, I am struck by the phrase, "And all ate and were filled..."  The very first time I really heard this passage three years ago, it blew open all the doors and windows in my brain.  It was a powerful and simple illustration of the love of God, a love that can take what seems finite and make it infinite and give equal amounts of love to each one of us... with leftovers!  No one is left out.  No one gets any more or any less than the next person.  And "all ate and were filled."  

Because of our human nature which sees boundaries and beginnings and endings to things, this concept of an infinite "all" is mind boggling.   Surely there must be limits?   There's no way God intends that all of us are to be loved?  As the Austin Lounge Lizards sing, "Jesus loves me, but he can't stand you!"

Not true.  When the word is "all" it really does mean "all."   Again, the apostle Paul speaks eloquently to this point when he says in Romans that there is nothing that separates us from the love of God.  The only thing that can do that is our unwillingness to believe and trust that God really does love us unconditonally and doesn't have some hidden agenda to pull the rug out from under us.

So, what does any of this have to do with the debt ceiling debacle?   What I see in the midst of all the stubbornness and the willingness to plunge our national credit rating into the toilet is a political strategy of not wanting the "other guy" to have a "win".  Specifically, President Obama.   It is not a secret that the Republican Party agenda has been to do whatever it can to prevent the President from achieving anything.   That's an age-old tactic that's been done on both sides of the American political aisle.   But such behavior used to have limits when there was a real national interest at stake.  This Congress, however, is infused with a tea bag that's sat for too long in the water and is bitter and nasty.  And they are willing to make American taxpayers suffer with the potential of higher interest rates because they don't like minorities, especially when they become President.  And they are so reckless that they are willing to let small businesses, the poor, and the helpless suffer.   Because, for all that they may wrap themselves in the flag and thump their bibles, they are not patriots and they are perverting the words of Christ.  

"All", for them, means "all for them."

What a contrast to see how God intended us to understand "all."   And I say, "God, help us all!"

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like...

In one of those moments of quiet contemplation during this week, I had this thought:

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a borderless country.  We keep driving and driving to find the edge or the line, but it's never there because the Kingdom has no bounds."

Think about it.  When you look at a map, there are clear demarcations of boundaries between states, nations, bodies of water.  We fight wars with rocks and rubber bullets and IEDs over which side of a particular geographical border line belongs to which ethnic or religious group.  We erect walls and fences as a means to protect "our" borders.   

But when we live in the Kingdom... we are not just one nation, but one everything, under God.

I saw a glimpse of that last night on the news.   They were showing scenes from Norway with the first of the funerals for the teenaged victims gunned down last week by the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christian terrorist.  The girl, 18 year-old Bano Rashid, was a refugee from Iraq who was described by all who knew her as "Sunshine."   Leading the funeral procession was an imam and a Lutheran pastor.  The image spoke the proverbial thousand words in recognition of Sunshine as a child loved by a God that doesn't separate Muslims from Christians, especially as a nation mourned her senseless death.  God, whether as seen through Christ or called Allah, accepts the tears of all of us.  Sadly, this is a message lost on Anders Breivik, and those in the radical fundementalist religious camps.   They are still driving looking for the border of the Kingdom, and in their quest to be right have fallen for the mirage of a border.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a banquet table brimming with exotic and ordinary food and drink where a new chair is always available for someone to take a seat."

Oh, to have a world where people could really believe this is true!   

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An Anglican Commentary on Norway's Tragedy

A Facebook friend posted this commentary by Rev. J. Barney Hawkins IV about last week's slaughter in Norway.  The piece can be found at the Virginia Theological Seminary's website on Anglican Communion Studies.  Hawkins' commentary reminds us of the Gospel passage a few weeks ago about the field where there were seeds sown, but in the middle of the night, someone planted weeds to grow up alongside the wheat.  Hawkins writes:

In times like these, I find helpful a “Litany of Contradictory Things” in which there are verses like: “Wheat and weeds: let them grow together; Arabs and Jews in Palestine: let them grow together; those whose thinking is similar and contrary: let them grow together.” I would add a new verse: Christians and Muslims: let them grow together.

In that parable, the sower of the seeds instructs the slaves to leave the weeds alone.  To yank them from the ground might tear out the roots of the wheat as well.  He says to let them grow together and the reaper will make the distinction of wheat from weed. 

That's the problem with an extremist such as Anders Behring Breivik.  He is convinced of his own rightness and has thus tried to elevate himself to be God, the judge and jury of the world.  His anti-Muslim hatred... a sentiment unfortunately shared by other Christian extremists... so warped him that he opened fire on children.  

Many in Christianity are quick to point out that Breivik's actions are absolutely counter to the teachings of Christ.  Certainly, if Breivik, and the other so-called 'christians' who rail against Islam understood the teachings of Christ, they'd back off their vitriol and beat their automatic weapons into ploughshares.  We can live side-by-side in this world.  What happens when we die is anybody's guess.  That's the great unknown, and will remain unknown to us until we are able to bear the unveiling of that next level of understanding.  For now, we live in the tension of difference.  And that's OK.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Baptismal Responsibility

At St. John’s, we baptized two children into the Body of Christ. Baptisms are a great service, and not just because the featured attraction are the cooing and crying young ones in the pretty white gowns.

It is also the time when we, the adults of the congregation, renew our own baptismal vows not only through a call and response recitation of the Apostle’s Creed; we are also asked a series of questions:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching, in the prayers and the breaking of the bread?

Will you resist evil and when you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? 

Will you seek and serve Christ in all people loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?

The answer to all of the above: I will, with God’s help.

God is always willing to help. But are we always willing to do our part?

The point of our participation in the baptism of a child or adult is to recognize that we have certain rights and responsibilities as members in this Body of Christ. It’s not enough to just sit on our rears and watch the world carry on. We have an obligation to see how the world is carrying on, and call out the world where there is no justice, peace or respect of every human being. Membership in this Body does not give us a pass on caring for each other and the world we live in. That care and concern becomes a 24/7, 365 days a year call to action.

Too often people of the Christian faith treat these vows as applicable only between the hours of 8-noon on a Sunday. That’s when you hear the name Jesus, in a way that is formal and reverential, right? The rest of the time, it’s every man, woman and child for him or herself to slog through this muddled up world, dodging through life’s traffic and always looking out for numero Uno.

Uh-oh. I used Spanish words. That’s the language of so many of those “illegals”. We’ve been seeing an increase of laws meant to make it impossible for anyone who isn’t a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant to hold a job, go to college, get medical care or—hey—even get a ride from someone to get to a church so they, too, can take God out of the box for about an hour and fifteen minutes. As noted HERE on my blog, my mentor stood in a pulpit of an Episcopal Church in Alabama and noted that the anti-immigrant law in Alabama, HB56, is not only anti-immigrant; it is anti-Christ. As far as the Gospel message of “love thy neighbor” goes, that new law is an epic fail. She preached a message that reminded the congregation of what it means to have been marked and sealed as Christ’s own forever at their baptism.

Many of them didn’t like that reminder. Just like when Jesus tells the rich young man that if he wants to be “perfect”, he’d sell all his possessions and follow him. The rich young man, realizing the magnitude of what Jesus just said, clutches his possessions and sulks away.

For the rich young man, the “possessions” might have been his gold, his cups, his jewels. Or it might also have been his prejudices and his assumptions that since he isn’t one of “those people” he was a step closer to “perfection.” And here’s Jesus telling him he has to give it all up… including that "holier than thou" attitude? “No way, dude. I know who ‘my kind’ are and I’m not hangin’ out with those furriners!”

The current trend of picking on immigrants is not a “new thing”. The same prejudice that denies services to an immigrant is the same prejudice that denies rights to LGBT people is the same prejudice that says all blacks are criminals, all women are too emotional to handle difficult decisions, and the disabled are “inspirational” when they live their lives. There is no “respecting the dignity of every human being” in any of that. Where is the seeking and serving Christ in all people? And what have we done to the Good News, a message of freedom that the apostle Paul describes as, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”?

If we are baptized in Christ, then we are not given an opt out on compassion and caring for all people. Period!

Welcome to the newly-baptized. With God’s help, and your willingness, we can make this a better world for everyone.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thank You to New York's Fab Four

The Bishops of Central New York, Western New York, Long Island, and Rochester.

These four bishops have said they will allow their priests to bless AND solemnize same-sex marriages in their dioceses.  The Bishop of New York (which includes Manhattan) has said priests may bless the same-sex couple, but the civil authorities must marry them.  That's actually the closest to my opinion on the topic. 

But then, I think the church needs to get out of marrying straight couples as well, and turn that all back to the state to do.

All quibbling aside, I'm excited for all the couples in New York who have been waiting for this day.  And I am pleased that a majority of the Episcopal Bishops there are giving an example of pastoral generousity that I believe is a right and good and joyful thing!  Thank you, Bishops Adams, Franklin, Provenzano and Singh for opening the church a little wider and letting more light in.  Blessings to all of you.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Prayers for Norway

 The news from the normally tranquil Norway is horrific.  At last count, there are 91 people dead from what appears to be the actions of an angry right-wing Christian fundamentalist.   As with all horrible crimes involving bombings and mass killings, the initial reports were that a group with ties to Al-Qaeda was claiming responsibility for the carnage.  And, like many times before, that turns out not to be the case.

One friend on Facebook noted that when the fundamentalism is Islamic, we condemn the entire religion.  When it is Christian, it's the act of a lone mad man with a vendetta.  Point taken.   The tendency of the "we" is to see the "them" as a monolithic group where as we are able to make distinctions among our own "kind."

  But religious fundamentalism, no matter the religion, is dangerous and destructive to the tenets of the faith.   I don't believe that Islam demands of its followers that they strap dynamite to their bodies and blow themselves up in a market place in Jerusalem any more than I believe there's anything in the New Testament that says Christ wants us to kill socialist children in Norway.

Atheists will likely leap at the opportunity to knock all monotheism as fueling such madness as what happened yesterday in Oslo.  But this has nothing to do with what is actually in Scripture. Or Torah.  Or the Koran.  This is about madness.  Period.  The religion layered on top of that is just window dressing and used to nefarious ends that aren't in keeping with the vast majority of the people who practice said religion.

We, believers and non-believers alike, should be able to agree upon the basic idea that this world has got some crazy people.  And they will do crazy things. 

Prayers ascending for the country of Norway, the children, the families and the government workers that were directly affected by yesterday's terrible events.  Peace be with you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mary Magdalene: The "Other" Mary

We hear a lot about Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  The Blessed Virgin.  The one who gave us the gorgeous Magnificat.  

And then there is Mary Magdalene.   The whore.  The harlot.  The slut.  The one who in the musical "Godspell" is given the sultry number, "Turn back, O Man." 

How in the world this woman has come to be linked to the legend of the prostitute turned disciple of Christ is something that baffles me.  I believe it can be traced back to the weirdness of people who don't like the thought that even the most "earthy" of women might have been Jesus' BFF. 

Even my "hometown hero" Dan Brown speculates in his multi-million dollar books that Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ had a child.  And that means Jesus had sex with a woman.  Yikes!!!  NEVER!!! 

Dan Brown's midrash on Magdalene aside, the story that seems consistently linked to Mary Magdalene is that she was the one at Jesus' resurrection and hence the first to see the resurrected Christ and spread the good news.  From John's Gospel:

As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. --John 20: 11b-18

So, let's just suppose that Mary Magdalene is the same notorious Mary, the sinner who had demons driven out of her or maybe the sinner who anoints Jesus and washes his feet with her hair.  If that's the case then I say, "Bravo!"  What a wonderfully powerful statement of Scripture that a person of ill-repute is the one who gets to see the most amazing miracle of them all--a resurrected from the dead Jesus--and is the one told to go and share it with the others.  It is common throughout the stories in the Bible that it's the ones with warts and blemishes that in fact are given the glory of being God's chosen messengers.   Not always the easiest of tasks to carry out, but still they do it.  And she has been given the gift of being the first to see that not even death can take down Christ.  For God to choose her sends the message to all throughout the ages of Christianity that the one who we might not think of as "worthy" deserves our attention because that one may be bearing a tremendous gift.

And therefore, on this day, I say all those who have ever felt the scorn of the self-righteous should rejoice and raise a glass to the lady who truly embodies that amazing redemptive spirit of Christ to embrace us and restore us.  As a portion of her collect reads:

Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed of all our infirmities and know you in the power of his endless life...

Can I get an Amen?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

How To Kill, Embalm and Bury A Church

I saw this posted by the Diocese of Florida.  Follow this 13-step program if you want to blow up your church.

1. Don't come.
2. If you do come, come late.
3. If it is too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, stay home.
4. When you come, be sure to find fault.
5. Don't do anything to help.
6. Don't take part in the services.
7. Don't encourage the rector.  S/he doesn't need it.
8. Don't put more than one dollar in the plate.
9. Don't pay your pledges-- the treasurer can borrow money to pay bills.
10. If you have a friend who doesn't go to church, use your influence to keep him at home.
11. Consider that your church is conducted for your benefit only.
12. Believe everything you hear.  Never investigate.
13. If everything is running smoothly, start something.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Anglican Covenant Simplified

Just in case you forgot that there is still an Anglican Covenant waiting in the wings, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has produced a simple, and clear, statement about the document and why we oppose it.  You can download the statement HERE.

To get the anticipated response from Lambeth Palace, you can watch this latest video in my Bishop Yellowbelly series.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Do! Um, Wait: Is That Allowed Here?

I do love the Episcopal Church, but--man--we can get our knickers twisted into knots better than any other Christian denomination in this country!

That was my conclusion after reading the report in the New York Times about the beginning of marriage equality in New York state this Sunday.  Six dioceses.  Six bishops.  And at least three different approaches to answering the "pastoral genorosity for LGBT couples" afforded to them from the 2009 General Convention.  

Under the rules of the Church, what constitutes a marriage and who gets to preside and what they get to do are governed not only by Church law but the law of the state.  In those jurisdictions such as New York, where LGBT couples will be granted the civil right to marry, the General Convention has given leeway for the bishop to instruct priests on how to handle a marriage that is not "one man and one woman."  

And that's when we get all Episcopalian on the matter!

Two bishops say the church, and its priests, are in the free and clear to hold ceremonies.  One says that the priest may bless the couple, but a civil authority must marry them... and this can not occur in the church.  Another says, "Hell No!" to all of it.  And at least two others are staying out of the discussion and maybe hoping that it will all go away after next year's General Convention.

Complicating matters even further is the requirement that non-celibate priests of any orientation better get married, or they better live apart from the love of their life.   For the Bishop of Long Island, that seemed a pretty clear directive to his partnered-priests that once it became legal to tie-the-knot, it was time to grow up and go to the altar just like their straight brothers and sisters.   So, what does it mean if a priest must marry his or her partner, but then there are all these caveats as to whether it can happen inside the church and performed by a fellow priest? 

Bishop of New York, Mark Sisk, has been a proponent of marriage equality.  But now that equality is becoming a reality, he faces the difficulty of discerning what "generous pastoral response" in light of current Church canon law really means.  Of the six, Bishop Sisk is the one trying to find the via media on the issue.  For that, he wins the "Very Episcopalian" prize.  

Lots of LGBT Episcopalians in New York City are sympathetic to Sisk's position.  They know he is trying to move at a pace that is going to hold the tension between the virulent anti-gay Anglicans and the equally strong opinioned Episcopalians from blowing the whole thing up.   But I guess I see all of this as adding more dirt to the mountain that was a mole hill.

Short of all gay LGBT Episcopalians agreeing to commit mass suicide, those who have been attempting to shred the Episcopal Church with their stampede off to affiliate with Uganda and such will never be satisfied.  And I think even if we did all kill ourselves, they'd still find something wrong with the Episcopal Church.   That's why I find all the hand-wringing and painfully cautious steps toward full inclusion to be just that: painful.  I would love to do research to see if the Church spent this much energy parsing out the particulars in the case of an interracial marriage.  Or better yet: an interfaith marriage.  I would hope that there was as much debate in the Episcopal Church over whether a priest may officiate or even be present at the marriage of an Episcopalian to a Jew.  I would expect to have this much wrangling over how to craft appropriate, separate language for such a wedding, one in which the name Jesus Christ would likely need to be left out of the mix.  And don't even think about a Holy Trinity.  And while all that glass stomping is festive, do NOT break the glasses for the martinis!

As always, I close my eyes and pray with a chuckle that we will all eventually reach that place where this whole episode in human history is behind us, and the church catches up with the state.  

Mazel tov, New York!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our responsibility to live in love: Alabama’s new immigration law sent us back 50 years

This is an adaptation of my mentor, Mtr. Lee Shafer's, July 3rd sermon. It is, without question, her boldest message... and definitely one of her best yet.

Our responsibility to live in love: Alabama’s new immigration law sent us back 50 years: "On May 14, 40 college students joined the survivors of the original Freedom Rides. They came to Anniston to remember and retrace the events of the original rides in an effort to move forward."

On Seeds and Weeds and Worthiness

It's parable a-plenty Sunday in the Episcopal lectionary.   The passage assigned from Matthew includes the parable of the sower who plants good seed, and then in the middle of the night, someone lays down the bad seed (weeds) that then grow up together with the good seed.   The slaves ask the master if they should pull up the weeds, and the Master tells them, "No," because there will be a time in the future when the crop will be harvested and that's when we'll deal with the weeds.  To pull them up now could potentially damage the good seed.   There's also the parable of the mustard seed, a small dot that can grow into a bountiful bush with lots of branches for the birds to make their nests.   And then there is also the story of the Kingdom of Heaven being like a woman making bread and adding yeast to the floor to cause it to leaven. 

Ultimately, though, it is the seed/weed parable that gets the most attention because the disciples ask questions about its meaning. 

"Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;  the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.  Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,  and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! --Matt 13: 36b-43
I am listening!  And this parable, to me, speaks to the idea that we ought not try to root out who we think are the "undesirables" because we may be disrupting the good seed in the process.  It also reminds me of the time when my friends had planted an herb garden and were delighting in all that was sprouting up in their front yard.  One day, another friend came along and saw their lemongrass.  She mistook it for a weed and yanked it... and its root system... out of the ground.   And there was definitely some weeping and gnashing of teeth over that!

I see this notion of leaving the weeds alone and letting God do what God does best as a good and powerful thing.  Others may not.  In an unrelated exchange on Facebook this past week, one of my associates made this comment:

Religion is based on self hate really...not being worthy enough. That is why all the "magic" goes into how your (sic) pray, what is your order of worship etc, as if God had a secret path only "those" know.
Certainly some of our prayers would reinforce that idea of lack of worth ("We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under thy table...")  And I could see where someone might see some of the words in Scripture as saying, "Hate yourself because you are not worthy enough for the Kingdom."   Been there.  Done that. 

But that isn't how I see the parable about seeds and weeds and what happens when the time comes to separate them.  The "take away" I get from the parable is that I need to pay attention to what I'm doing and how I'm doing in relationship with God instead of looking around to figure out who isn't "the real deal."   There are many a homophobe claiming the mantle of Christ who really ought to be doing the same. 

To hold a belief that I don't have control over who is seed and who is weed has nothing to do with my worth.  In my understanding as I develop this deeper sense of God in my life, I think that I am very worthy.  So worthy that it's freaky.  Surely God has some exceptions that make me unworthy?   There has to be a black out date somewhere? 

No.  There isn't.   I was made worthy from the day that Christ died and rose again from the dead.  That was the exclamation point on the whole matter.  As one baptized into the body of Christ, I am to live as one with God in all of God's manifestation: creator, redeemer, sustainer... the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.   "Worthiness" in the meaning of our prayers is the recognition of how often I will label myself a weed, instead of understanding that even I have a flower blooming from the seed that was planted.

It is a radical idea to live and love as one who is free.  For some gay people, the amount of negativity we've injested from the posers for Christ has made it damn near impossible.  What I offer to all is that the posers are the slaves who would have ripped out the weeds because they thought they knew a weed from lemongrass.   Don't listen to them.  Listen for the voice of the God.  And know you are worthy.  You are loved.  Go live it like you mean it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Search for Help and Truth in the Wild

One of my most favorite places is the labyrinth at Florida School of Massage in Gainesville.  Tucked in the back of the school's grounds, it is a special spot with an entrance flanked by two Buddhist monk looking statues.  It is my usual practice to gaze softly upon these two statues in search of the "message" for this trip into the labyrinth.  Today the words were "Search for help and truth".

And so I stepped under the arch, and began making my way toward the center.

But, as is often the case in summer time, the labyrinth path was overgrown with long grass, and weeds, and remnants of a thunderstorm or two having dropped small branches.  There was nothing impeding my progress along the path... except for my noticing its unkempt nature.

Odd to think of an "unkempt nature" in a natural setting such as this labyrinth! 

It seemed appropriate that the path would be a bit wild, especially as I heard the squeals of peacocks over the cicadas in the neighboring Paynes Prairie.   It also was fitting that the more I sensed myself moving toward the center, the sooner I saw myself traveling in what seemed like a distance away from the heart of the labyrinth and my ultimate destination.

As I walked, carefully minding my steps, I considered how much this journey felt like a parallel to my present walk with God.   Things have been feeling wild.  The path has seemed crowded.  And the more I feel myself traveling toward God, the farther I seem to be from that heart center.

I know this is a common experience for many who have walked this walk.  Doesn't make it any more pleasant or easier for me!

When I finally reached the center, I stood still and took in the sky above me.  Clouds were gathering, though it didn't seem as though it was going to rain any time soon.  I waited.  Certainly the answer to "search for help and truth" would now become clear to me.

Instead, what became clear was that I had ants gathering on my sandals and they were biting my feet!

So, out I went, journeying back out of the labyrinth and wondering,
"What the heck was that about?"   And an answer started forming with each footstep.
I had been feeling very comfortable being back in Gainesville.  The purpose of my trip was PFLAG business, and I met two of the people attempting to start a PFLAG chapter in their city.  We had a great luncheon meeting, and I have high hopes for that chapter succeeding!  Being with these folks, having been back on the grounds of FSM, seeing some of my old familiar haunts gave me a very warm and homey feeling.  It was how I imagine a baby must feel in the womb.  I felt cradled in the comfort of memories of the profound personal changes that occurred during my months living there in Gainesville, going to massage therapy school.  If I had had my way, I would have hung out in the center of that labyrinth and refused to leave.

So the ants made sure I didn't do that!

Which brought me back to what feels like the answer to my meditation with the statues.   I can seek help from going to the heart of the labyrinth, and the truth requires me to not hang out too long there but to keep moving.  The same with God.  The help and the truth is both near to me and far removed.   I am allowed time to take it in.  As long as I don't stand still but keep moving, I will be OK.
 To punctuate the moment at the end of this trip through the labyrinth, I felt the wind pick up as I stood before the statues.  The phrase "the wind is at your back" immediately surfaced.  It's part of an Irish blessing:

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rain fall softly upon your fields.

And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Another informative trip through that amazing labyrinth!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Will Sell Birthright for Food

The menu for the Sunday readings included the famous parable from Matthew about the sower and the seeds, a parable I have written on before HERE and its Lukian counterpart HERE.

But my task of the day was to share with the congregation the birth of two nations: Esau, the hairy red- headed hunter, and Jacob, the intellectual younger twin brother of Esau.   According to the rules of how things go, Esau, being older, should be the one who inherits everything from his father Isaac.  But that's not in the cards for this story, or for many other stories in the Book of Genesis for that matter.  It seems to be the younger sibling who has the favor of God.

In this story, the favoritism gets established as we see that the quickest way for a man to fall out of favor with God is through his stomach!

Esau is famished, having been out in the wilds hunting and sweating and grunting.  Jacob is at home in the tent, making a lentil stew.  Esau demands a bowl of that "red stuff" from Jacob.  And the cunning Jacob says, "Give me your birthright and you can have some of my 'red stuff', red guy!"  Esau, without thinking about anything except his stomach, says, "I'm gonna die.What's a birthright to me?" and swears away his birthright to his younger brother.   Or, as in the words in Genesis, Esau "despised his birthright."

There were two things that hit me as I was going over this passage.  First was how the desire for instant gratification can be costly.  And this was the link that I saw to the Gospel message about the sower of the seed.  All these seeds spread all over the place, and the ones that grow are the ones that land in the fertile ground and take the time to pull in all the nutrients from that ground to grow and flourish.  Seeds that are on rocks never develop roots.  And I know from my high school biology class what happened when I overwatered a seed because I was determined to make it grow, dammit!  If all we want is the immediate reward of a mature plant from a seed, we may find the object of our desire molds and dies in the dirt.   Esau was hungry.  And he didn't give a damn about the consequences or his future.  He just wanted that bowl of stew right now.  So whatever seed that was in him was drowned in a red lentil stew.

The other thing that struck me was that I didn't dislike Jacob in the same way that I have.  Instead, I was struck at his metrosexual qualities.  Not gay, but rather one of these straight men who have enough feminine qualities that he's not some knuckle-dragging macho man.   Jacob was making a stew.  He was performing the "traditional female role", but I don't get the sense of him being passive.  As I said, he's the intellectual of the twins.  And he is the more sensitive one.   And as much as we humans look to the male to be the hunter a la Esau, we desire some smarts in those who will lead and guide us, as well as some understanding and compassion.  This is why Jacob is the one who is to wrestle with God and become the one who is to be called Israel. 

I don't take Scripture to be a literal telling of history, but I do take it as a commentary on the nature of human behavior.  And I have certainly behaved like an Esau and a Jacob.  And I have been rocky soil, soil choked with weeds, and good soil.  My "take away" from the lessons on Sunday was one of paying attention to those qualities and nutrients that are in the good soil: my intellect, my intuition, my quiet "sit" in the tent mode, my patience and seeing how those are the means of honoring God and using the gifts that God gave me.  With such attention, I will get fed daily and will have more than just the one bowl of red lentil stew when I'm famished. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Handsome... And Flawed

This week's Morning Prayer readings has included the unhappy transition of power from Saul, who balked at the command to do a mass slaying of Amalek and all in Agag, to the ruddy handsome youngster David, who was tending his father's sheep when Samuel came 'round to Jesse's door in search of "the one" to lead Israel.  When I studied these chapters in my Education for Ministry seminar, I was instantly struck by the jealousy and resentment building in Saul and the damn near Warner Brothers-like scenarios of Saul trying to off David.  It was like the Biblical version of Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner.

David slays Goliath, Peter Paul Rubens 1630

Saul, once out of favor with God, seems not to be able to do anything right and the beautiful David can appear to do no wrong.

And we know from the Christmas hymn, it is from the root of Jesse through David that we have the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

David in the outset appeared to be perfection.  But as with all human characters in the Bible, stick around the story long enough and our human hero is going to do something that tarnishes him and reveals his flaws.   David  kills the Philistine Goliath, gains a reputation as a warrior, and enters into the covenant with God promising that his House of David would rule for eternity.  All is good and then he stumbles.  According to the story, he was walking around on the roof of his house when he saw a hot babe named Bathsheba.  Overcome with a need to have her, he sent her husband off into a battle in which he was set up to die.  How convenient for King David!  And the perfect man turns out to have a streak of scumbucket in him.  Nathan, the prophet, has the unpleasant task of calling David out.  Lucky for Nathan, David didn't do to him what a later King Herod would do to John the Baptist!

These handsome, important, and very flawed individuals in our ancestry as humans seeking after God are keys to the larger revelation of where we've been, where we are, and where we are going.  In the United States, we invest so much in our political leaders, especially if they have a dashing smile, a comforting speaking voice, and the classic "good looks."   If they have intelligence and ideas--hey, bonus!  But what we really want to know is, "Do you look good? And do I think you're the kind of person I could kick back and have a beer with ya?"  It's only after they've been in office that the veneer wears off and we realize they're not perfect.

And then we are disappointed.  Disillusioned.  And some of us just drop out at that point.

This is the error of mistaking the human for the deity. 

I met a friend for coffee as is my wont and we chit-chatted about a variety of things.  He and his wife were going to see a movie and invited me along.  I declined in favor of taking myself on a much needed walk around the lake.  I needed some physical movement as means of exercise and doing some mental clearing after a week that had felt like a year.   At some point along the way of my walk, the word "relationship" cropped up in my consciousness.  A few more strides along the path and looking out over the water, I realized the relationship that was foremost on my mind was my relationship with God.  

I'm not talking about something personal and exclusionary, because that is not how I believe God loves and operates... especially when God is operating in the person of Jesus Christ.  I'm talking about how God is always seeking relationship with each of us, and it's not more for one and less for another.   It's always an invitation to just open the eyes of your heart and know that there is a force of enormous love that you can be part of and remain with if you allow yourself the luxury of saying, "Yeah, I'm for that!"   Even when you are a handsome and flawed individual.  Even when you fail at something or succeed at something... that force is always there to give the Love you need.   It is endless and abundant.  It is free... and it is freeing.

That freedom, and that relationship, makes other things more manageable.  It helps to keep me sane in a sometimes crazy world. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Soon, They Will Be Strangers

Tallahassee is going to have a very large expatriate population… thanks to our Gov. Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters of the state legislature.

One of the soon-to-be former residents of Tallahassee is a guy who had been in the choir at St. John’s. For purposes of the blog, I will simply call him B. He was one of the casualties of the budget cuts which resulted in lay-offs of more than 1200 people in Tallahassee and Leon County. Those who haven’t lost their state jobs are now being forced to contribute three percent of their salary to their own retirement benefits. Some might say, “Well, that’s only fair. That’s how the private sector does it!” But then those who make that argument are clueless about the salaries paid to Florida state employees which average $10-$20 thousand dollars LESS than people in the private sector doing the same work. The retirement package was supposed to be one of the “benefits” for taking a lower paying job with the state. Now, not only are workers not getting raises for the fifth year in a row; they’re getting a pay cut. Welcome to life as a Muggle in Governor Lord Voldemort’s Florida!

And so, back to B. I saw him at the end of the service taking pictures with his cell phone of our altar area, which, admittedly, is very beautiful. I was crossing to go back into the vesting room to get out of my robe, and he stopped me to thank me.

Curious, I thought. Why would he thank me?

Among my many volunteer activities, I have been spearheading a new ministry at St. John’s called The Circle of Hope. We meet for worship and lunch every other week to check in with people who are searching for work and offer some practical help as well as an empathetic ear to the unemployed and underemployed. B has never been to one of our meetings, but like many in the congregation, has heard the announcements and knows we exist. And last Sunday, we managed to collect more than $1,100 in gift cards to supermarkets in case people run out of money for groceries. So he wanted to thank me for what I was doing. And then he started to cry.

He was leaving. He’d found a job in his field in South Carolina. And while that was good news for his employment, he was grief-stricken about leaving Tallahassee and his St. John’s community. He was grateful that for his last Sunday at St. John’s, I had administered the chalice to him.

I’ve written before on this blog about the power and meaningfulness of my role as a chalice bearer. In that space, there is me and the other person with Christ connecting us over the cup. Even though we are not alone, this does feel like an intimate act of sharing in something sacred and special. I don’t know the history, present or future of most of the people I’m serving, and I don’t need to know. In that moment of now, this is about an acknowledgement of God with us, in us and moving through us. This will be important for B as he journeys to a new community and a new life.

I gave him a hug and wished him good luck. And I reminded him that he will always have a home at St. John’s.

I imagine this same scenario of good-bye is being played out all over our fair city. People are pulling up their stakes and moving away because opportunity is no longer available here. What an irony to the Independence Day theme of “Love America: Home of the Free and the Brave!” In Tallahassee, we are free to leave… and brave enough to stay.

B’s encounter with me was important because I was not in a very spiritual place during the service. I couldn’t bring myself to robustly sing hymns about our great country, and I would have rather that we would have found hymns about the freedom offered through God and Christ than sing, “My Country Tis of Thee.” But B, in his sadness, reminded me again why I am at St. John’s, why God continues to yank me back there every Sunday, and why I serve at the altar as a Eucharistic Minister. The pomp and circumstance of the service is nice, but what matters is being a witness to someone’s hurt or joy, and then again asking God to be with us and remember us always to the end of the age.

Tallahassee is in a time of turmoil. But I believe even this rocky ride will end. And then, with God’s help, maybe we’ll see a return of our expatriate population.

Love you, B. Good luck and peace be with you!

Liberty Loves Justice

This morning, we're slated to sing many a patriotic song during our church service.  "My Country Tis of Thee" (which the English will immediately recognize as "God Save the Queen"), "God of Our Fathers" and "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies".   We will sing of the country's natural beauty, spirit of independence, and liberty and justice for all.

There's a lot to appreciate about the United States.   We are a place where there is abundance.   And people do have choices.  Of course, having money helps in making choices, but we aren't corralled into careers forever and ever without the flexibility and latitude to change.  And, despite the annoyance it causes, we have the freedom to speak our minds.

But the chief cornerstone of our country, liberty and justice for all, remains elusive for some in America.  Many states are enacting draconian measures to crackdown on illegal immigrants, forcing anyone who is non-Caucasian to wonder if they will encounter harassment if they don't carry "proof" of their residency.   Lots of people who are disabled and dependent on Medicaid are finding themselves suddenly without access to the services they once had.  And for those of us in the LGBT community, how liberated and justly treated we are under the law will depend on where we live. 

How much more meaningful, then, is it to hear the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  Those of us who labor for liberation and seek justice need to hear that when we are feeling the weight of it all on our shoulders.  There is comfort in knowing we are not carrying this load alone, and that there is a force at play doing most of the heavy lifting... and is always in the background as we wrestle with each other in our human struggles for superiority.   Those words of Matthew have been with me since I was a kid and have been important and useful as I try to remember that God keeps us going forward in spite of human efforts to throw us into reverse.

The Matthew gospel also goes hand in hand with the words of Emma Lazarus' poem at the base of the Statute of Liberty:

 "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Our country has been an entry point and a place for the "others" to start realizing a dream of a better life.  
But it isn't perfect, and there are those in power who have been trying to extinguish liberty's lamp and toss the "others" overboard. 

When I'm asked to sing those words, "America, America, God shed his light on thee," it will be a fervent prayer that we consider the love affair that Liberty has with Justice.   And may God shed God's light on achieving a brighter lamp to welcome and lift the burdens off those who are the marginalized and down-trodden in our society.