Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone!

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

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

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

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

Now, what are we gonna call that pumpkin?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Love is a Four-Letter Word

I was privileged to witness a beautiful wedding today.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stewardship Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

Then along came the stewardship campaign. 

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

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

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

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

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

Covenant? No, Thank You

It's been a long time since I have posted anything about the painful process of Provinces, Churches, Dioceses etc. reviewing the so-called Anglican Communion Covenant.  But this morning, a report I saw posted from The Lead indicates that our executive council of the Episcopal Church has said it will recommend a "No" vote on signing the Anglican Covenant at our General Convention in 2012. 

This after the diocese of California also said it will say, "No."   Not to mention many other dioceses and members of the Communion.  Generally, it seems the only ones really gung-ho for the document are the ones at Lambeth Palace.  And my impression of that lot is that they will dig their heels in and insist the AC is "the only way forward" until it chokes them to death.

And the beat goes on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Interpreting the Present Time

 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

The passage from Luke's gospel were part of the readings from Friday's noon day service.  It comes after a long litany of parables and Jesus’ prediction that the teachings he is bringing will cause divisions within households.  He tells the crowd that they can look at the sky and figure out what the weather will be, but they are ignorant of what is happening now in their midst.  These passages are often cross-referenced to the story of Jonah, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of a big fish before being coughed up on the shores of Nineveh where he told the Ninevehites to repent and return to God.  They listened, which of course upsets Jonah who was hoping for a good old-fashioned God-whooping, but that’s not what I’m thinking about here.

No, as I heard the phrase, “Why do you not know how to interpret the present time,” my mind went to today, the 21st Century world as I see it and experience it.   In this world of instant information at the click of a mouse, I feel as though we are more ignorant than we care to admit.  There is no more discourse; just disagreement and shouting each other down.   And lots and lots of discontent everywhere.   I see that embodied in both the so-called Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements.  My heart is with the Occupy Wall Street folks because I definitely see myself as in the bottom third percentile of the 99-percent who are currently pissed off at the unfairness of our economic system.  But I also recognize that the Tea Party and the Occupy protests are both grounded in a common frustration: they see themselves and those around them falling further and further behind economically.  The difference is that one group blames the government and thinks rich people are going to save the world, and the other blames the rich folks and wants the government to right this sinking ship before it goes under.

All of this comes as I was just reading a passage about Karl Marx in my Education for Ministry text.  Basically the text, which was written in 2006, acknowledges that many communist governments have collapsed due to economic failures.  But it also notes that many communist theoreticians believe that global capitalism faces the possibility of collapse “under the weight of its own internal contradictions.”   It left me wondering what will emerge from all of this.  I am not a student of economics.  I barely made it through my required course in college.  But I wonder if there’s another economic model that will come to fore that we haven’t seen before.  Capitalism, as has been promoted with its laissez-faire leave-the-rich-alone approach, seems to be having all of its warts exposed.   Marxism, on the other hand, seems a far too idealistic model that depends on the goodness of human nature and an ability to play well with others.  If I could believe people would really buy into the idea that there is nothing wrong with sharing the wealth then I might be convinced that it would work.  But I don’t think we are there. Yet. 

So when I hear the question, “Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” I’m left thinking, “Where are we going?  Where are we headed?”  I can’t turn to the media for much help on this because too much of it has become a forum for more scream fests.   For me, the present time calls for us to put down the megaphones, and shut up for a spell and listen.  Somewhere, between the radical poles of left and right, I believe there is a Solomon-like answer to our economic mess.  Will we have the wisdom to get there?  Will we even have the will to work together or have we just become deadlocked in polar opposites?        

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Awards and Honors and God: Oh, My!

I'm a winner!

Well, actually, I think of it more as I'm the representative of a winner organization. 

The Family Tree, the local LGBT Community Center, presented me with an award for my work in starting the local PFLAG chapter, and for being so out and willing to be a voice for equality in our area.   When I received word of the award, I was genuinely shocked.   As I told the crowd Friday night, I do what I do because it's who I am.  I am a person who has always been concerned about justice and wanting everyone to be treated fairly.  And I love getting together with the PFLAG group and watching parents and others emerge from their shells to become active in seeking equal rights for LGBT citizens.  It's a lot easier to do justice work when there are others with you!

I never said a word about God in my remarks.  This is not because I don't believe in God, or somehow think that I am doing this life by myself.  On the contrary; I am reminded of God's presence in my life constantly.  But I'm a New Englander, and it isn't customary for us to make overt expressions of our faith, especially in mixed company.  There were some others who received honors who did make mention of being "blessed", which I appreciated hearing, and acknowledged the truth in that statement.  All of us are blessed.  All of us are loved.  All we have to do is believe it.  As I said, for me, I try to show Christ to the world in how I live, and move and have my being.  This has always been for me the appropriate outward and visible way of being a Christian.

And it is the one that tends not to repel or offend other people.   

But while I tend to take the more subdued approach, others are more willing to use a megaphone.  Such was the case with one award recipient, who stated repeatedly that everything this person had comes from God.  At the first mention I thought, "Wow!  That's wonderful."  But when it started to become a repeated mantra, I began to sense the growing discomfort in the room.   There were heavy sighs coming from tables behind me, and shifting in chairs.

I was sitting at a table with my friends from the Red Hills Pagan Council, some of whom get a little tired of the male image of God as the default in society.  When our recipient repeated the line about all comes from God and added a "Some of you don't want to hear that!", one of the blind members of the Pagan group said quietly and with innocence, "Why would you say that?"

Perhaps that was said because that has been the experience of those of us who profess a faith in Christ within our queer communities.   Quite often, we are ridiculed and chided by our peer group for associating with "the enemy."   We are forced to defend ourselves from those who think that our Christianity means that we are the enemies of reason or certainly reasonableness.   All Christians have, in the minds of some, been lumped together in the camp of hate-filled, Bible-pounding, bigoted jerks.  We aren't, of course.  And it is very painful to have people who you otherwise enjoy being around make your life miserable when it comes to faith in God.

And yet, I have not given up on those friends.  I am grounded in my faith, and it gives me the strength to remain standing in places of pleasure and pain in life.  And even some of my most ardent "anti-religion" friends see that.  And they puzzle over it. 

Like I said, I don't feel the need to always use words to show the light of Christ that shines from me to others.  I prefer it to happen in places like a PFLAG meeting where I am witness to people changing and softening their hearts, so that they can make a contribution to the struggle for justice.   I thank God for that privilege.  And I thank the local LGBT community for the recognition of that work done by PFLAG. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who Is To Prevent Me From Being Baptized? A Great Question!

Holy God, no one is excluded from your love; and your truth transforms the minds of all who seek you: As your servant Philip was led to embrace the fullness of your salvation and to bring the stranger to Baptism, so give us all the grace to be heralds of the Gospel, proclaiming your love in Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.--Collect for Philip the Deacon

I can not think of a more appropriate celebration in the Episcopal lectionary for National Coming Out Day than to examine the work of Philip the Evangelist and Deacon, the one who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in the Book of Acts.  So many of the accounts in Acts speak to God's constant message that all beings are good... in fact we are very good.  Somewhere along the way of living and having free will, the people of God have drawn lines in the sand, put up barriers and blockades, and have marginalized those seen as "other."  

The account of Philip in Acts 8 has him running after the chariot where he finds the eunuch, definitely an "other", reading from the prophet Isaiah.  To Philip's delight and amazement, the eunuch engages him in discussion about the text, opening the deacon to the chance to share the Gospel with this "other."  As they see a body of water, the eunuch turns to Philip and asks, "What is it to prevent me from being baptized?"

The answer: nothing.  He was baptized and he sang praises to God as Philip went on his way.

The question the eunuch asks is one that many of the LGBT community still are asking.  What is it to prevent me from also becoming part of the Body of Christ?   What is it to prevent me from being invited into this kingdom of God?  What is it to prevent me from living into eternal life?

The answer: nothing.

Likewise, it is becoming increasingly evident that many of the mainline denominations of Christianity are following the lead of Philip.   The Spirit is moving them, guiding them, and giving them the green light to engage LGBT people and realize that the LGBT community has many members who are seeking to know God, be baptized into Christ and to serve in the church.   This past weekend, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A made Scott Anderson, an openly-gay man, a pastor in Wisconsin.  Rev. Anderson had been a minister, but was outed by some in his congregation and was forced to leave ministry in 1990.  Twenty-one years later, and after much prayerful debate, the Church is in a different place.  And God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year.

On this National Coming Out Day, I give thanks for the Spirit that moved Philip to run after that chariot and discover that the "other" is really just "another", one who was not only good but very good.  And much love for the Ethiopian eunuch who engaged in studying the text of Isaiah and desired to learn of the expansive welcome of God.  Indeed, Holy God... no one is excluded from your love.  And you show that every day another person says, "I am who God has made me to be. And that is very good."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Something Went "Click"

Sometimes, the messages I read in Scripture are not the same ones I hear.

That was the case this Sunday with the combo of the story of the Golden Calf from Exodus, and the wedding banquet parable from Matthew which ultimately ends up with the guest who is not in party clothes getting thrown out where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Like other parts of Matthew's gospel, one could hear in the story of the King throwing this great banquet for his son that many ignore that the wedding guest who does show up and isn't dressed for the party is an "undesirable"... whatever that "undesirable" might be.   One could call into question the grace of God (the King) in this story for rejecting this one unfortunate guest.   One could do and think a LOT of things about this and any passage of Scripture.  And I imagine each of our interpretations would have some kernel of truth, but it wouldn't be the whole truth.

I was familiar enough with the Exodus reading as I was one of the readers at our 11:15 service.  So, I had already prepared myself for this passage, likely a post-exile interpretation of events happening out in the desert which portrays Aaron as an opportunist making a Golden Calf out of the Hebrews jewelry while his brother Moses is up on the mountain getting instructions from God.  Naughty Aaron!

I was having a hard time relating this story to the Gospel lesson.  I read the Gospel, and read it again, and just couldn't see the connection.

But as I listened to the Gospel, I was struck that there was a parallel between what was happening with the Hebrew people who--again--were growing impatient in the desert and turning their attention to a Golden Calf rather than God.  In Matthew's account of the King's amazing wedding banquet, the King is throwing a lavish wonderful party to celebrate his son's wedding.  But the invited guests didn't bother to show up and instead went about doing other things. 

And I could hear it in my head: "Click!"

"Ladies and Gentlemen: the creators of the church lectionary would like you to hear in this portion of the parable the story of the complaining Hebrews out in the desert with their molten idol."  In fact, the whole idea of armies sent forth by the King to wipe out the ungrateful guests is very reminiscent of much of the lore in the Hebrew Scriptures.  

But the King still has a banquet hall full of food, and a son who is getting married.  So he tells his slaves to round up everyone and bring them in.  

Suddenly, the hall is filled with people, the good and the bad, all there at the banquet table. 

That sounds like my idea of Heaven!

So, what is this with the one guest who gets booted out?  What's wrong with that guy?  Didn't the slaves bring everyone, the good and the bad, to the banquet?

I don't think this is about whether or not this particular guest is good or bad... and I don't think this is about the garments he's wearing.  But this guy probably came in the door and refused to accept that this invite had come from the King.  It's not that his clothes are in disarray, but he's ungrateful for what's been placed before him.  He is the proverbial party-pooper.  And so the King places him out with all the rest of the party-poopers.  And perhaps, once he's wept long enough, he will come to the party with a better attitude.

This parable is one that Jesus tells after he has arrived in Jerusalem and is preparing for the showdown that will lead to his death.  He's been trying to tell everyone that there's a party going on and they're all invited.  And while he has some takers on this idea, he also is threatening to the establishment, and they are party-poopers.

And so while some in the Church may like to see the last line about "many are called, but few are chosen" as proof that some are elect, special, saved, etc., I prefer to see this story as more of Jesus' efforts to get his Jewish audience to get back to God... the one from Exodus who "brought you up out of the land of Egypt." Recognize that God is the source of your lavish banquet, and the appropriate response to the invite is to say, "Cheers! Thanks a lot!"



Saturday, October 8, 2011

In the Days of Awe

Jews around the world have been marking the past ten days as the period known as the days of Awe.  It's a time of introspection and self-assessment and seeking forgiveness for those things done and left undone.

So, it was interesting to me that at our noon day Eucharist yesterday, the lessons assigned for Henry Muhlenberg were appropriate for the days of Awe. Particularly the Gospel lesson from Matthew, the one about what to do when a neighbor is acting in a way that injures you:

‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.  Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’--Matt 18: 15-20

As I have said before on this blog, this is a passage that has been used by some to justify why they are kicking a particular member or members out of the congregation.  And while this wasn't the reading paired with this Gospel at the Eucharist, the First Corinthians lesson from Paul I think should be read along side this Matthew passage:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.--1 Corinthians 12: 12-20

When I put these two passages together, I am in awe.  In awe of how the call is for us to always try to remain in relationship, not just with God, but with each other. 

I had a reminder of that this week when I randomly plugged a cassette into my portable recorder, intending to lay down some tracks with my lines for some Faust skits so I could rehearse.  Instead, I decided to listen through to what was on the tape.  It was an interview from the NPR program "Fresh Air with Terri Gross" and her guest was New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson.   The time frame was clearly early 2008.  Bishop Gene had been denied an invitation to the Lambeth Conference in England, a snub of major proportions.  He talked about the tension and the anger and the fear gripping the Anglican Communion on the topic of human sexuality.  What was remarkable, and always the hallmark of listening to the bishop, is how he could talk about the situation calmly and with love.  Because Bishop Gene understands the essential truth: we are all part of the one Body, even when we don't like one another, and our obligation in Christ is to always stay at the table even when we feel the neighbor is wronging us.  To have a community, or a communion, you have to be willing to talk and listen and hash it out.  That's one of the lessons out of the reading from Matthew's gospel.  And, not to hop up another level on the soap box, that is one of the flaws I see in the proposed Anglican Covenant put forth by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  My reading of the document is that it encourages leaving the conversation too early to take your beef with your neighbor to a panel of "Father Knows Best" leaders who will use a ruler to whap the neighbor about the head.  There isn't much room for forgiveness there, and even less room for us to be in awe.

Perhaps that's what most of us should be doing these days: taking a moment to consider the awesomeness of a spirit that leads us all through difficult conversations, tense moments, and disagreements that, as painful as they might be, really aren't going to kill any of us.  It can work, if we are willing to let it happen.  And that's the test of our faith.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy St. Francis of Assisi Day

My cat would no sooner agree to be present at a Blessing of the Animals ritual than she would agree that a trip to the vet's office is "fun".   For one thing, my pledge to my partner at the time of her conversion was that we would raise our cat Jewish.  The cat seems to have taken this to heart.  She delights in listening to practice tapes of Jewish High Holy Day music... and leaves the room if I start reciting verses from the New Testament.  Her favorite stuffed toy is Hanny the Hanukkah teddy bear.  She hasn't quite mastered the laws of Kashrut.  She seems to believe that Torah provides an exception for cats, allowing them to eat shrimp and crab.

So while she won't allow me to have her blessed, I still reflect on what a blessing she has been in our lives.  Often times, cats are seen as aloof, uninterested, or too skittish to be much of a companion.   But our cat is the opposite.  True, she enjoys having her space and her alone time, but she also likes to be in the room with us in the evening, curled up between us on the couch or lying somewhere where she can see us.   She comes trotting up to greet either me or my partner when we come home.  And she likes to hide behind trees or bushes so she can jump out at us in an element of surprise attack, and then dash down the driveway or up a tree trunk.  Our job is to notice and be admiring, perhaps chase her a bit. 

One morning last summer I broke down crying on the bed.  I had been in some physical discomfort for a week, and I was just miserable.  As I was sobbing, and crying out to God to "do something!", I heard the cat in the hallway, doing her trill, as she jumped up on the bed with me.  This was the "something".  My cat had come to be with me.  I scooped her up in my arms and held her as she purred.  And slowly, I came back to that place of homeostasis, and I could believe those words of Julian of Norwich that "all shall be well."

Animals add joy, happiness and love to our lives, which is of course what their patron saint, Francis of Assisi, knew.  They are creatures of God who share the planet with us, and are good companions to young and old. That's the true blessing of the animals.   

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A New Thing for October 2nd

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. --Phil 3: 13-14

When we last left our blogging adventure, I was considering the phrase in the collect about  running after the promises of God.   In the reading from St. Paul's letter to the Phillipians, I find myself reflecting on the notion that part of the race after God is the commitment to shedding the baggage we don't need.  The sprint, even when it slows to a stroll, along the path toward God requires keeping the eyes fixed forward and not searching constantly behind at what is being left or looking over here or over there to see what other people are getting or not getting as the case may be.  The mission for each of us is to journey forward in peace "to love and serve the Lord."   Thanks be to God! 

Nothing could be more appropriate for this inauspicious date in the life of my congregation at St. John's Episcopal Church.  It was on this very date--Sunday, October 2, 2005--that the then-rector ascended into the pulpit and did the unthinkable: he announced he was leaving and taking the vestry and others with him to start a new "Anglican" church.  Anyone who stayed behind, or wasn't invited to leave, was apparently labeled "unorthodox".   Needless to say, it caused a number of the St. John's faithful much pain and anguish.  Friendships ended, and in some cases, families were split.   

But as with all things, out of what seemed like a death came new life.  There were many, including me, who had stayed away from the building because we did not believe we would be welcomed in (certainly, the headlines St. John's was making during those dark years before "the split" made it abundantly clear that we queer people were not invited into the church.)   With the "Anglican" departure, a new normal could take root.  And over these past six years, many fresh faces have entered into St. John's... and stayed... and become involved.  From the many tears shed has come laughter.  New friendships have formed.  Baptisms and confirmations and reaffirmations take place to continue growing the good works that are meant to be.  Because, at the end of the day, St. John's like any church is not about the priests, or the fine linens or even the amazing choir.  It's about God and the ongoing story of the people of God as it is lived through each of us.  And again we say, "Thanks be to God."

The baggage that came with the St. John's of those years can be left at the curb.  The weight of it was too much for the trip and certainly prevented people from "running" after the promises of a God who has pledged an unconditional love for each of us.  As I like to tell people, "When driving, it's best to keep your eyes on the road as seen through the windshield and not the rearview mirror."

That's much of what Paul seems to be telling the Gentiles who make up the Church at Phillipi.  Paul is in prison, and the Phillipians (who seem to be one his favorite groups), are understandably concerned about what's happened to him.  But Paul encourages them to not let the baggage of worry about him keep them down.  Instead, he pushes them to remain in joy... and reminds himself in the process... that the real "goal of the prize" is about following in the ways of Christ Jesus, even when that means facing a hostile crowd that wants to kill you.  Those ways of Christ are summed up in the Hebrew Scriptures assigned for today with the recounting of the Ten Commandments from Exodus; ten instructions which Jesus would later boil down into a condensed version:  Love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

That is plenty to carry on the spiritual journey, and is really the only baggage we need.