Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is that Running "To" or Running "From"

The collect for this week has an interesting phrase that continuously catches my attention:

"Grant us the fullness of your (God's) grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure..."  

Running to obtain your promises.   I find that in my own life, I both run to those promises but when I get too close, I feel myself skidding to a stop and realizing, "I better run away!"   This is the life of one who reads the story of Jonah with great appreciation for our misfit prophet who'd rather hide than go do as God commands.  I understand that behavior because I am that behavior.  A lot.  

It's the contradiction of me as I keep following along after God down whatever path we're on together.  I'll sprint, and then I'll get that sense of "Yikes!" and I'll start moving in the other direction only to find myself turned around again back in the way in which I was going with God initially.  The one comfort I have in all of this is that when I consider the history of the people of God as reported to us in the Scriptures, I am definitely not alone!  Many people, both individuals and whole groups, have done this same running to and running away from the promises.  Tonight and into tomorrow, Jews around the world will be contemplating and considering the story of Abraham and Isaac as part of Rosh Hashanah.  Definitely a story of how Abraham kept running after the promises of God, even though he was being asked to do something as horrific as to sacrifice his only son on an altar.  The story doesn't tell us if Abraham had an internal misgivings; only that he was doing as he was commanded to do.  In the end, he does not have to sacrifice his son.  But his unquestioning willingness to do whatever it was that God asked is seen as a sign of Abraham's loyalty to God.  Isaac lives, and from Isaac and Rebecca we have Jacob and Esau (the former to become "Israel").

I'm not sure that I would be able to have gone as far as Abraham went in the binding of Isaac story without asking some questions!  It wouldn't exactly have been "running away", but I think my sprint might have slowed down to a stroll.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Wicked, Seditious and Dangerous"

Warning:  the following is a shameless plug for the work I do in PFLAG-Tallahassee!

I am exhausted.  Not just by the news, or my work, or my volunteer activities, but by the speed reading that I've done over the past several weeks of ten... count 'em ten... books and novels with LGBT themes.   OK, some of them have been children's picture books, but that's still a whole lot of marathon reading for me.   I've enjoyed it, and it's made me sad.  Because these books are among those so often targeted by censors who claim that anything that hints at acceptance of LGBT people is "wicked, seditious and dangerous."

On Sunday, our PFLAG organization is going to give these books a chance to be heard!

We've planned a benefit that fits in with National Banned Books Week.  Readers, including some local heavy-hitters such as Sheila Ortiz Taylor, Terry Galloway and Kati Schardl, will take to the stage at Tallahassee's Mickee Faust Clubhouse and read works such as "The Well of Loneliness", "Annie On My Mind", "The Color Purple", "King and King" and "And Tango Makes Three." 

These and other books have been the target of censors who will stop at nothing to keep young people from discovering that there are gay families or lesbian moms, or kids struggling with the feelings they have about themselves and their attraction to the same gender. Given the serious issue of teen suicide among LGBT youth, these books can give a child a chance to read about those things that feel the most real to them. Teachers have been fired for including the books in their curriculum; librarians have been forced to remove the books from the shelves. And some novels have been burned publicly.

The event gets underway at 6:30pm when the doors open. We have silent auction items from local businesses such as New Leaf Market, Native Nurseries, Synergy Salon, Taste Budz, Fermentation Lounge, Joe's Bike Shop and more. The readings will begin at 7pm. Tickets to the event can be purchased ahead of time at or at the door. Entry is $10 general admission; $5 students, seniors and people with disabilities. All the proceeds go to PFLAG-Tallahassee.

(if you can't attend, you can still assist PFLAG-Tallahassee by purchasing a ticket through the Faust website).

End of shameless plug!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We Are Not A Better World

The state of Georgia has killed Troy Anthony Davis.  

Davis was convicted of shooting a Savannah police officer in August, 1989.  The officer, Mark MacPhail, was off-duty serving as a security guard at a Burger King when he tried to break up a fight where a homeless man was being beaten.

Davis had maintained he wasn't responsible for MacPhail's death.  And in recent months, seven of the nine witnesses who helped to put him at the scene of the crime with the .38 pistol recanted their earlier testimony.  Numerous prominent people, from former President Jimmy Carter to the Pope, had spoken out against his conviction and argued for prosecutors to look at the evidence again and let Troy Davis go.

Also in the mix was the MacPhail family, who lost their son to an act of violence when he was trying to protect another.  Understandably devastated, they have been waiting for the man convicted of killing their son, brother, father, husband to pay the price handed down by the court in 1991.  Prosecutors had convinced them Davis was the guilty man.  And they wanted their justice.

This is the world of the death penalty.  Justice through vengeance.  One violent act answered with another violent act.  The only difference being that one happened in a parking lot of Burger King with a pistol and the other was done in a sterile, methodical, slow drip of lethal injection in a prison.  Killing Troy Davis does not restore the life of Mark MacPhail.  But it does add to the body count in the case.

I have witnessed a state execution.  I know its surreal atmosphere.  I have witnessed both the families of murder victims and the families of the accused sitting in a soup of misery and grief.  At the end of the day, we may want to say that an execution means "justice has been served."  But what it really means is we have usurped the power of God to mete out the real justice in favor of our often-flawed version of it.

I hope that Troy, who maintained his innocence even on the gurney, is resting in peace with God.  And I especially pray for the Davis and MacPhail families that they may know the peace of God in a world that doesn't seem that peaceful. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's Getting Better... But Not Fast Enough For Some

Today, so many across the country celebrated the once-and-for-all end of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  I stopped by the Midtown Filling Station and toasted some of our local queer vets, hugged a couple more at the Mickee Faust Club, and felt the lightness in my own body of knowing that one of the more discriminatory policies of the past was done.

And then my heart sank.

In the Buffalo, NY, suburb of Williamsville, 14 year-old Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide on Sunday.  His parents say Jamey was bullied in middle school with anti-gay slurs and taunts.

The above video is Jamey's "It Gets Better" statement to other kids. He was a fan of the pop star, Lady Gaga.  The last message he sent on his Twitter account: @ladygaga bye mother monster, thank you for all you have done, paws up forever.

On a day of much rejoicing, it is a boy like Jamey who reminds us that our work continues.  Lady Gaga certainly does try to instill in her fans an understanding that they are beautiful beings worthy of love.  PFLAG works tirelessly at promoting a message that all people deserve equal rights.  And while the It Gets Better project has its heart in a very good place, I prefer our PFLAG message of "Make It Better Now!"  The Jameys of the world need to know that their schools and social clubs are safe, and harrassment via the internet won't be tolerated either.

It's ironic that the Big Bend Anti-Bullying Task Force in Leon County was showing the film, "Bullied" again tonight.  Perhaps someone should ship a copy of the film to Jamey's high school in upstate New York.

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell chapter is closed.  I look forward to when we finish the chapters on things such as bullicide of queer teens.  One day, this country will get bored with the Book of Homophobia.  But we are far from the end at this point.

Grant O Lord, Jamey, eternal rest
And may light perpetual shine upon him.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Envious of Generosity

In today's world, where you have 1,500 people applying to work for companies that only are hiring for 100 positions, the Gospel lesson from Matthew likely stings.

No, it burns!

Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard owner who needs workers.  He hires one crew early in the morning for "the usual daily wage."  Three hours later, he is bringing in another group that he finds standing idly and agrees to pay them "whatever is right."  He does the same thing at noon, at three in the afternoon, and finally hires a crew for the last hour of the work day.  When it's time to give everyone their wages, the ones who had been working all day are expecting a bigger paycheck.  But they find that everybody, including the ones who had only worked an hour, got the same wage.  They stamp their feet.  They pound their fists.  They mutter under the breath about the "unfairness" of the whole thing.  But the vineyard owner notes that this is his money to give out.  He'd said they'd get the usual daily wage... and he fulfilled that contract.  And he asks, "Are you envious because I am generous?"

In the ministry of helping the unemployed and underemployed, I hear similar complaints.  Why do we help the homeless when the middle class is getting squeezed to the point of wondering if they will be the homeless?  Why don't we notice the person sitting in the pew and hurting for lack of work?  Why are recently unemployed state workers getting all the media attention while the long-term unemployed have been forgotten? (The latter can be answered simply: large employer, massive lay-offs=media coverage).

I understand the frustration.  Is it that people care more for the truly destitute than the almost-destitute?  No, not necessarily.  Mostly, I think people just aren't aware of how much pain is sitting around them in a church because those inside the sanctuary don't appear to be in such dire straits as the person begging on a street corner across from the church.  What is sad is when the almost-poor begin to begrudge the really destitute what little charity is offered to them.  That does recall this question of being envious of the generosity.  

Just like with the loaves and the fishes, I think the point of this parable is that God is generous, and will give us exactly what we need.  There is no need for us to look to the right and to the left to figure out who is getting more because what we need is right under our own noses, and we should be focused on and paying attention to that; not what the other guy got.

And I find this parable in Matthew speaks to something even more amazing and profound, especially for those of us who refused to open the party invitation from God until later in life:

God is always inviting more people into the vineyard... and even if they only spend the last hour of the day in the vineyard, they too are showered with grace.  As I prepared my spiritual autobiography for my EfM class, I was overcome with how it doesn't matter to God when we come into the vineyard to work: God just wants us to put on our work gloves and join in picking the fruit from the vine.  Later, we'll eat grapes and press some into some of the smoothest wine imaginable!   Welcome to this party where the abundance and generosity overflow.  We don't need to be envious of this.  We just need to enjoy that we are part of a celebration.  And this is one party invite that is a true open door and not a pink slip into hell. 

I'm not saying that God will be giving out paychecks and health benefits.  Sadly, those are things that are more of Caesar's realm, not God's.  But my encouragement to those stuck in this jobless rut is to avoid the side glance to see what everyone else is getting or not getting in the way of assistance.  That's a sure-fire trip to anger and resentment which will exude from your pores and make you an "undesirable" employee.   Keep your eyes forward, lean into God and ask for help, and be ready when your plea is answered even in truly unexpected ways.  

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Cautionary Church Tale

Once upon a time, a stranger wandered through the doors of an Episcopal Church in a neighborhood of a large city.  The stranger didn't look very different from the others inside. The church had a moderate attendance that morning, but was hardly full, so the stranger took a seat in one of the last third of the pews, and settled in for prayerful reflection.
As the processional anthem began, another woman came in and seemed to want to sit in the same row with the stranger.  The stranger made room and all was well.  Until after the first lesson, the woman noticed someone familiar and moved up a few pews to sit with her friend, leaving the stranger to sit alone again.

At the end of the service, the stranger lingered in the pew.  No one around the stranger said, "Hello" or "Good morning."  No one inquired who this stranger was.  Not even the priests at the door bothered to find out who was this otherwise unknown character.  It was assembly-line time: a handshake, a nod of the head, and out the door. 

The stranger wandered away... never to be seen again.

I tell this story because it is what has happened to me... even as recently as a few weeks ago.   Churches become these insular country clubs where everyone knows who their friends are, and nobody takes time to greet someone new.  Priests are so pre-occupied, or self-absorbed, that they don't inquire about the new face in the crowd or make a point of having someone or someones on hand to take on that role of greeter.  The sad part is that the stranger, or more appropriately, this stranger having felt no real contact from the congregation or the priest will walk out the door, and the likelihood that he or she will return? Nill.

I walked into St. John's in the late winter of 1991, desperate to find an Episcopal Church that embodied the spirit of Christ and the liturgy in a way that didn't seem so foreign to this "yankee" Episcopalian.   I walked away from St. John's in  the late summer of 1991 because it was easy to leave.  No one had noticed me coming and going, or attempted to make me feel welcomed in their midst.  And with a new love life brewing and tugging at my interests, it was easy to let go of a community that had kept me a stranger.

Because I have had this experience of church, I make a point of being warm toward the people I don't recognize at St. John's.  Often times, I discover they are someone who is just trying us out for a Sunday, or is passing through town and came to church.  In those cases, I let them know that they can always come back.  It's an important component I think to making our otherwise large smells-and-bells church feel like a home of God and not just a house of God.

One church I visited did an interesting thing.  As a way of immediately tackling that wall between the church cliques and the visitors, the priest stepped out in front of the congregation before the service began, and asked everyone to take a moment and greet each other in the pews.   This was not the passing of the peace, but rather a simple acknowledgement of one another's existence.  It was nice, and suddenly I felt less like a stranger and more like a part of the group.   

Such little things do make a difference.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Would Jesus Experience?

H/T The Christian Left
I posted this a few days ago on Facebook, but that was before the Republican Presidential debate on CNN where the so-called Tea Party was the sponsor.   During the debate Ron Paul, who some are trying to characterize as the "moderate voice" in the field of fools running hard to the right, offered that a 30 year-old man who has no health insurance and then becomes dangerously ill should be left for dead. 
Why should we have a social safety net?  Or worse--why should we entertain a socialistic approach to health care like universal coverage?  The video reminded me of what I wrote in 2009 in "Send 'Em A Bill."

Yes, if Jesus were a candidate for President of the United States, I'd say he'd be polling pretty badly.  Damn dirty hippie! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiving 77 Times...Especially on 9-11

I know exactly where I was 10 years ago on the sunny September 11th in Tallahassee, FL.   I was on my way to a doctor's appointment having heard Bob Edwards on NPR talk about a plane that had flown into the World Trade Center.  A few minutes later, he announced that a second plane had flown into  the other tower. At the doctor's office, the nurses had a television playing in the back.  I heard someone call out that one of the towers of the WTC was collapsing.  And that's when I leapt into reporter action mode.  I told the receptionist that I would have to reschedule, and then I called to get my assignment: go to the Florida Emergency Operations Center and find out what was being done (or could be done) to deal with the situation.   Our Governor was the President's brother and, as it turned out, the President was in our state that morning.  And with no clue what this was about, all the states were putting emergency plans into action. 

When I got to the EOC, I came upon the St. Petersburg Times reporter standing outside the door, her face ashen.

"Another plane has crashed in a field in Pennsylvania." 

All of us were baffled.  And I'll say that I was scared.  Even though these events were unfolding several hundred miles away, it felt dangerously close.  And I was worried about friends and family in New York City and the surrounding areas.  I breathed a sigh of relief to know that my mom's flight out west for a PFLAG meeting was scheduled for a different date.  And I was chilled when I learned a family friend, on his way to Los Angeles, had opted to take his flight from Manchester, NH, instead of Boston's Logan Airport.  He'd considered one of the doomed flights, but was instead on a plane that had to be grounded in Indianapolis in the wake of the chaos.

I also remember the sinking feeling in my gut that the United States would not respond well to this attack.  I worried about misplaced anger and unleashing unbridled hatred toward all Muslims.  Even though I was part of the "unchurched" at the time, I felt that our supposedly "Christian nation" would show itself to be less than what Jesus commanded.  The God that I yearned for at this time would have had us grapple with our pain... made worse by images beamed to us from the Middle East where Arabs danced in the streets celebrating our misery... and try to arrive at a new place.

I believe that is part of the underlying message in the readings that happened to be assigned for today's lectionary in the Episcopal Church.

Paul's letter to the Romans asks a question that I think dogs us in our culture:  "Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God."  

We, the United States, took the attack on 9-11 as the opportunity to start the ball rolling toward war on Iraq, even though there was no evidence that the Iraqi government had had anything to do with 9-11.  We launched a major crackdown on lots of Muslims in our midst, whether they were suspect or not.  Mosques were defaced.  Arab-Americans found themselves scrutinized more closely.  And some of the truly lunatic fringe decided to burn the Quran.  We also began to let go of many of our freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constituion in favor of allowing for more of a police state.   And anyone--anyone!--who questioned our government was labeled as unpatriotic.  Whether we want to believe it or not, the terrorists were winning. 

And Paul's question echoes, "Why? Why?  WHY?"  Because the actions of an extremist group led us into the rut of divisiveness.    In the days after the attack, there was a panel discussion at one of the downtown churches with a Muslim Imam, the Rabbi from Temple Israel, and a couple of Christian pastors.  The aim was something of a teach-in on the Abrahamic religions.  And to try to answer Paul's question to the Romans with a determination that we, in Tallahassee, would not succumb to scapegoating Muslims, but instead see them as another limb on the tree of life-affirming faith in God.  In at least this one cell, there would be hope that might spread to the rest of the body.  But that cell didn't split and reproduce itself fast enough.

Matthew's gospel lesson takes Paul's instruction a step further.  Paul advises us to get out of the business of judging others and allow God to take care of that.  Jesus hammers home that it's not enough to stop judging others, but to forgive those who judge you.  And not just the requisite seven times; seventy-seven times!  In other words, if we have been so graced by God's forgiveness of our sins, we must be prepared to pass along the Love to others likewise.

Given how much replay has been done this week on the events of 9-11, it may seem a daunting task to think of forgiveness for an act so cruel, so hateful,  and so targeted as to be random.   All in the Middle East today who say they are sorry for the massive loss of life that occured on that day also talk of their anger at our government which often props up the meanest leaders of foreign nations.  The anger is understandable from where they sit.  Our tight ties to Israel, ones forged at the end of WW II, muddy the waters as well.  So many ancient wounds have never healed in that region, and the USA is a part of that quagmire.

And while I believe we have a moral obligation to stick with Israel, I think we have an additional responsibility to be like the older sibling to our friend and push for better relations between Israel and all the inhabitants within its borders.

But back to the main lesson: forgiveness.  Are we, 10 years later, able to find forgiveness?  In a way, I think the young people I was listening to from Egypt were moving in that direction.  Before forgiveness, there needs to be a recognition that someone has been wronged.  And, as far-fetched as it might seem, I continue to hope that all of us can acknowledge that our governments have not always acted in ways becoming of God... YHWH... or Allah.   My continued hope for humanity is that we could have the same kind of calm, reasoned exchange as was exhibited one night in Tallahassee amongst our city's Abrahamic religious leaders.

None of us will ever forget 9-11.  None of us should ever accept such violence as an answer.  But we can move toward a place of pausing, and forgiving that we will never be able to control the actions of extremists, but we don't have to become like them. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

PFLAG Statement on Shannon Washington Murder

Shannon Washington, photo by FAMUan newspaper
I will be posting more of my spiritual/cultural/theological brain firings over this weekend.  But for now, I want to acknowledge the tragic death of a 20 year-old FAMU women's basketball player... a case of domestic violence within the LGBT community.   As noted, I was out-of-town during the Labor Day weekend when Shannon Washington and her partner Starquineshia Palmer were apparently engaged in a rapidly escalating battle between each other.  Palmer stabbed Washington in the neck and back, and according to reports, surrendered to police saying, "I did it.  I killed her."

Last night, there was a gathering of those in the LGBT community to mourn, and discuss how to prevent this from happening in the future.  At a minimum, we need to educate law enforcement and others on the realities of abuse in same-sex relationships (which mirror the incidence in the heterosexual population) and the difficulties encountered by lesbians, and especially gay men and transgender people, when it comes to report such abuse.  FAMU President Dr. James Ammons told students at the historically-black college that Shannon's murder should serve as a "teachable moment" about being careful about choosing your friends.  My only concern with that statement is that in the African-American community, homophobia runs hot... and such advice might be taken as, "Stay away from 'the gay'!"   I hope that is not what he meant.

Below is the statement I issued on behalf of PFLAG-Tallahassee:

“PFLAG-Tallahassee joins with many in our community in mourning the violent death of FAMU student-athlete Shannon Washington. In a world where one’s sexual or gender identity has been used by those filled with hatred to justify beating and killing LGBT people, a death like Shannon’s is even more shocking because it happened within the context of a same-sex relationship. Relationships should be based on love and respect. The home should be a place filled with that love and safety. PFLAG-Tallahassee offers a place for families and friends and LGBT people to gather in love, and move equality forward, one person and one family at a time. We continue in our commitment to help people find resources and support as they navigate their way toward healthy relationships.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dry to The Bone

My partner and I just returned from the excessively dry Austin, TX, area.  No doubt, you are aware of the wildfires that were raging in Bastrop forcing the evacuation of residents.   Bastrop is on the route we normally would have taken out of Austin.  Instead, we went north trying to avoid Tropical Storm Lee as it dumped a foot of rain in the areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that we also would have passed through to come home.

Seeing the dryness of the landscape, especially in stark contrast to the lush green of the Louisiana highways, made me heartsick.  Cattle huddle under the few trees out in the fields.  Sheep and goats were pecking away at the few blades of grass poking up from the earth.  And people are shaking their heads and wondering why they're being left so high and dry.  Global warming, anyone?   I have no other explanation for why Texas is drying up while New England is having to watch the tropics for hurricanes in the same way Floridians do.

Dear God, giver of life and source of all our bounty; pour forth your gentle rains upon the state of Texas.  Give them water to replenish their lakes and streams, and allow the fruits of your creation to bud and grow.  And give the people the hope that you will sustain them.  Amen.

Friday, September 2, 2011

It's Complicated

I seem to be going through another one of those growth spurts in my faith journey. And I can feel it in my day-to-day living and relating to other people.

I’m challenged. I find myself really challenged to see the Christ in people who seem to see the Satan in me. My lesbian sexual orientation, for them, proves that I am possessed by a demon and that if I were really a Christian, I would not be a queer Christian.

In their world, God doesn’t like the taste of fruits.

These are the same people who would turn on their own children if their child were to reveal their orientation to them and beat them black and blue. This, apparently, is the “Christian” response to those whom you once loved, but now must hate because they are possessed.

As a PFLAG leader, I am challenged with how to reach out to the pockets in our community who see me as a fallen angel out to tempt their children into “that lifestyle.” Seeing me in their midst not proselytizing but standing with them may have some impact, but not enough for them to see the Christ in me.

As a Christian, I am then doubly-challenged to see the Christ in them, and to offer forgiveness for their trespass against me.

This is all part of what it is to remain in a relationship with God. This ability to feel the pain of rejection and anger and hatred, and yet not fall into that Hell hole of retaliating in kind. This is what seems to be the way of God, “The Way” that Christ left behind for his apostles to carry on. And since I believe that apostolic succession is not just for bishops, but is for all of us, then if I truly put on the mantle of Christ, I must be prepared for the arrows that will try to pierce that mantle. Holding my own with God’s help, and not back-sliding, seems to be the answer. I will wrestle with these things, but even if my hip joint is put out of place, I will survive.

This is a most complicated relationship.