Friday, March 30, 2012

Wanting Memories

So many times in my spiritual journey, it has been the music of the a capella African-American group Sweet Honey in the Rock that has supplied the prayers for my soul.   When I resigned on the air from Florida Public Radio after enduring indignities from news makers and having my load weighted down by the station management, I chose to use Sweet Honey's rendition of "Balm in Gilead" as my final word on the matter at the conclusion of our program "Capital Report".  It was a perfect statement:

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole,
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my works in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

Yesterday, I found myself leaning heavily on my singing sisters.  I needed prayers.  Lots and lots of prayers. A conversation about my role and place in the church had not gone in a way that I was hoping.  I needed to call out to God with the ever-present questions that the ancestors have asked time and time again:

Why?  Why this pain?  Why this injustice?  Why me?  How far I feel you are from me, O God?  Have you left me?  Do you still hear me?  I am weary and wounded and alone.

As I drove the two hours for my meeting with my spiritual director, I decided that the best CD to have playing in the car was "Still on the Journey" by Sweet Honey in the Rock.  And immediately, my soul became engaged with what was more than an hour of prayer through song.

Can't no one know at sunrise
How this day is going to end
Can't no one know at sunset
If the next day will begin...

I had been looking forward to a conversation about my future path in the church and an opportunity to clear up the great misunderstandings about the Interfaith Pride service scheduled for April 17th.  Perhaps I was foolish to be hopeful.  According to the bishop, as a partnered lesbian, I am welcome to explore a call.... somewhere else.  And I heard that I was not to represent my own Episcopal congregation at the Interfaith Pride event.  I could participate in the service, but I would have to do so as "Generic Episcopalian."  The tears began forming in my eyes as the miles of highway unfolded in front of me.  I sang along:
Another man done broke his word
The truth could not be heard...

My anger, my hurt, and my rage was coming to the forefront as I contemplated all that was embodied in this news: am I not a member of my church?  Am I not one marked and sealed as Christ's own forever?   Is this service not an outreach to the LGBT community?  Why am I not worthy to represent St. John's?  The news about where things are with the bishop is not news; this has been his position yesterday, today, and probably henceforth.   The fear about the Pride event has been more hurtful.  The anxiety is entirely based upon rumors and conjecture about what happens during the service and there is enormous concern about the participation of pagans. I have repeated over and over that in Tallahassee we can't do an interfaith service for the LGBT community and exclude pagans since so many gay people have turned to a Goddess-based spirituality after being thrown out or excluded from other faith communities.   Message acknowledged, but no budging.

I turned the volume up to allow the music to totally surround me.  God and I were engaged in a conversation, and meeting each other in the music.

Somebody's gonna have to pay
And it looks like you and me.

My teeth were gritting. My heart was aching as I wondered out loud where was God in all of this insanity?  And the next prayer came out through the car speakers... 

Somebody needs you Lord
Come by here....

A song Ysaye Maria Barnwell wrote to her late father called Wanting Memories broke the flood gates open for my tears to come in streams down my cheeks...

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me--
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes...

YES!  Lord, show me the beauty of the world because I don't see it right now....

You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms
You said you'd hold me till
the pains of life were gone
You said you'd comfort me in times like these--
now I need you
Now I need you, and you are gone.

I am surprised I didn't drive off the road!  These words were echoing from my heart to heaven in search of an answer from God.  I was feeling so isolated, so discarded. 

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me--
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes.
Since you've gone and left me, 
There's been so little beauty--
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.

And, as any conversation I've ever had with God seems to go, my pleas will receive a reply.  And no--I don't get to have the last word. 

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me--
To see the beauty of the world through my own eyes.
I thought you were gone, but now I know you're with me
You are the voice that whispers
All I need to hear.

I know a please, a thank you, and a smile will take me far.
I know that I am you and you are me and we are one.
I know that who I am is numbered in each grain of sand
I know that I've been blessed again and over again.

The stream of tears came to a trickle and finally a stop. I felt God was very much with me, even in this moment of deep pain, and was reaching out to me to remind me that I am still among the beloved.

More songs on the CD came crashing through the fog of my brain.  "I'm gonna get my baby out of jail."  "Stay a little bit longer with me."  How appropriate that the CD title is "Still on the Journey"!  

In this case, the journey was to see my spiritual director who let me sob and shared in my dismay at all that had happened.  But as the director, she also pointed my thoughts back to the need for another conversation.  And to give the rector the chance to redeem himself of the "Generic Episcopalian" monniker instead of giving into the instinct to withdraw and remain angry.  This is all part of the learning for me.   

I agreed to meet him following the 12:10 Eucharistic service in the clergy vesting room.  His homily had been all about being apostles and carrying the gospel message out into the world and meeting people where they are.

"I really liked your homily.  I agree with you that we are all apostles and we need to do that work.  And on that score, I need you to rethink your position about having St. John's listed as participating in the Pride Interfaith service."

I explained, again, that the intended audience for this service was not the individual faith groups, including the pagans: it's the people of the LGBT community and their allies.  And to make me say that I am just a "Generic Episcopalian" would be wrong and awkward.  Furthermore, to have suggested that had made me feel cast out from the community.

The rector apologized and made it clear that he had not intended to offend me in anyway.  And yes, I could identify St. John's as a participant.  So, yet another phone call to the organizers to say they can put St. John's back into the advertising.

I wanted memories, memories of why I remain affiliated with the church at all.  And it comes back to the whole reason I showed up in the first place: God.  That's it.  I am there to be in a place where I am with God amidst a community.   And when you're in a group, the energy goes up a hundred fold compared with just a  solo practice.

And I am an Episcopalian.  What that means is that I have to be willing to do the difficult task of staying in conversation even with those with whom I have disagreements.   I don't know that I will ever be able to get across my idea that all the deities to which other people pray are merely another path back to the Source, the one God in whom we profess belief in in our creeds.  I can state it.  I can live into that.  I trust God to do the heavy lifting; I'll just keep preparing the path.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Headaches are for Learning

All was normal on a Monday evening in Tallahassee.  It was a clear night with comfortable temperatures.  The roads were dry for lack of rain.  It was a beautiful night.

Was.  Until roughly 8:50pm when I entered the intersection of Calhoun and Apalachee Parkway in my sturdy, dependable 1991 Honda Accord.   I heard the blaring of a car horn, screeching of some brakes, and as I looked to my left, I saw headlights approaching too quickly and too close for me to do anything. 

"Oh, no, no, no, NO!" I said, as I realized I was about to get hit.  My body went right, then left.  My head bumped into the window on the rebound.  And, massage geek who has treated dozens of accident victims, my brain began processing what happened... and how to treat the injuries.

"Check SCM, and Splenius Capitis and Spenius Cervicus on both sides.  Take note of impact at temporal region, look for connections to the musculature in upper thoracic, lower cervicals..."

Fear was an emotion that I might have felt for all of a couple seconds.  It came at the moment that I knew I was going to be hit, at the point of impact, and immediately following the end of my body swaying.  And then I went straight into anger.  I was relieved that I could open the car door.  And when I got out, I looked at the guy who had hit me, raised my arms up in the air in an unmistakable motion of, "Seriously??!! You hit my car!! Seriously?!?!?"  As the guy emerged from his car and his passengers poured out through their doors, I started yelling.

"What $%*@ were you thinking?!" 

He kept apologizing, but I was in vent mode. 

"I SO don't need this! I SOOO don't need THIS!  Do you know how poor I am?!?!"

That's what was forefront in my mind.  As one who has so little leftover every month for any kind of "fun money", the thought of my car being totaled by our "ethic of disposable stuff" culture was putting a pit in my stomach.  The car is drivable; but the driver's side door doesn't close well enough to make it really safe to tool around town in.  I also was thinking about the discussion that I had just left at St. John's.   Over the weekend, a member of our EfM group had come upon a fiery, fatal wreck about a minute after it had happened and was still very shaken by the experience.  I was processing that information, and thinking how lucky I was that my own wreck, as much of a headache as it was going to be, was not nearly as bad as that.

We were able to move both cars out of this major thoroughfare and to the other side of Calhoun where we waited for the police.  My adrenaline was subsiding, and I was doing what I could to massage my neck.

"Are you hurt?" the guy asked me.

"No, I don't think I am."  I explained what I did for a living and that I wanted to make sure that I took these steps now to make sure I would not hurt so much later.   I called my partner and asked her to join me as we waited.  All of us--me, the guy, and his passengers-- we were all on our cellphones to respective other parties to let them know what had happened.  

"What's your name?" I asked.


"Trevor, I'm Susan.  Sorry to meet under such circumstances."

"I am really, really sorry..."

"I know you didn't mean to do it."

He went on to tell me what he thought had happened, how he'd been watching the car ahead of him, how this was his first accident that he'd been in.  As he talked, and did his own venting, I had compassion for him.  Of course, he hadn't wanted to run his car into me.  None of us wanted to be standing outside waiting for a police officer to show up.  We each had had plans for the night: mine was to go home and relax, catch up on Facebook, maybe write a blog entry.  His was to go with his friends to the intramural fields at FSU.  Now we were lumped into this situation.  We talked about his part-time job.  We talked about FSU.  We were talking.
The yelling had ceased.  And while I was not happy with having my car door crunched in, I was able to see the vulnerable and nervous young man before me.  And I could feel empathy for him.

The cop finally arrived, and Trevor didn't fight with me over the facts of the situation as I relayed them to the officer.  He took responsibility for what had occurred.  How rare that is in our America today.

When I got home, I laid down on the bed with a heating pad on my neck.  I used my not-so-smartphone to post a message to Facebook: Susan Gage was in a car accident.  I am OK.

Messages began pouring in with well wishes, concern, even talk of how I should have stood my ground, a reference to the insane law that George Zimmerman is apparently using to defend his use of deadly force against an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin.   I appreciated all of it.  And at the same time, I found myself extending those same things to Trevor.  He is being punished through a traffic citation, and this will increase his insurance rate, too.  For me, that is punishment enough for him.  I hope he will take away from the experience more caution and attention to the road when he's driving.  And for me, out of this headache, I have seen how even in the midst of anger and sorrow, I can still find a way to have compassion for the other.  That is an amazing leap for me.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Covenant or Bust? Really??

Heavy sigh.

Apparently, Saturday's votes in England are just simply unacceptable to those for whom the Anglican Covenant was "the only way forward."   Bishop Graham Kings, who seems very fond of his metaphor of the Communion being either a "bunch of grapes" or a "bag of marbles", is encouraging the other provinces to continue looking at the Covenant and adopting it, even though England won't be able to bring it up at their next General Synod.

You can read his article HERE.

To set the stage for his pro-Covenant argument, Bishop Kings uses the famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's letter from the Birmingham jail:

Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects us all indirectly'

In reading this, I have several reactions.

First, as a lesbian living in the southern United States, I admit to being put off by +Graham Kings using Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.s words to set up an argument in favor of something that was drafted to cast out those Churches that have said people like me are accepted and should be fully-included in the life and breath of the Body of Christ.   Dr. King's ethic of inclusion would not have required some man-made Covenant.  Dr. King's letter from the jail in Birmingham was sent to the local clergy of that area (one of whom I know and have talked to him about that letter and how it changed him) to appeal to them as brothers in Christ that it was time for them to take up their crosses and "do the right thing" in a society that was hell bent on oppression.  The clergy in Birmingham were being skittish and begging him not to push too hard, don't come here, etc. etc.  They were operating out of fear; Dr. King was telling them it was time to go forward in faith. +Graham Kings might want to rethink what King's words might mean to those of us in the Communion who have grown weary of the bending in the direction of oppression rather than justice.

+Kings also notes that "nearly 80 percent" of the bishops in the English dioceses voted in favor of the Covenant.  Well, of course more of the bishops voted in favor of the Anglican Covenant.  The document helped to solidify them as THE most important players in the Church!

+Kings lays out the three possible directions the Anglican Communion can go in from here.  One would be to continue moving forward with the Covenant, which he says stresses 'interdependence'.  Another would be to sign on with the Jerusalem Declaration as drafted by the GAFCONites.   And the third would be to adopt the "independent and autonomous" approach of the "radically liberal" stance of the Episcopal Church.  This is the "bunch of grapes vs. bag of marbles" he keeps talking about.   Well, as a so-called marble, I see in his appeal to keep pressing forward with the Anglican Covenant an unwillingness to admit when you're wrong.   In my opinion, we can maintain a Communion without a Covenant if we all remain engaged and willing to keep in conversation with each other.  Is that messy?  Yes.  Is that Anglican?  I believe so.  The problem, as I see it, is that there has been this desire for something cleaned-up, lock-step and tidy which has never existed, and in the age of the internet, can not exist.

Besides, in the game of marbles, we keep knocking into each other.  The trick of this particular game will be to stay within the circle as our opinions and callings of the Spirit collide.  I'm afraid +Kings wants the objective of the game to be knocking the others out of the circle, so only his marble remains.   If we take his grape metaphor, I believe we can all be on the branches together in our own bunches and I think we have been doing that.  But some have felt the need to pluck off many of us and trample us under foot.  And this whole Covenant business has been an attempt to graft a foreign substance onto the vine which will cause it to wither and rot.

Finally, +Kings ends with the quote from Ephesians about growing into the head of Christ.  I am anxiously awaiting the time that we can all agree that the head of the body is Christ, and not a freakin' Covenant!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Good Vibrations

I was having a hard time with the Sunday lectionary readings as I sat with them last night.  I think my mind was too stuffed with working on a friend's project, processing through the roller coaster I have been riding this week with the whole Episcomeltdown on the Pride interfaith service, and then the relief and the excitement that came from the defeat of the Anglican Covenant.  That, at least, left me with hope that reason can still prevail in the church every so often.  At any rate, all the distractions made it impossible for me to pull together something coherent on the readings.  Let's see what I can come up with now! :)

At the end of the service this morning, the organist began her Voluntary.  It was "From deepest woe I cry to Thee," BWV 686 by J.S. Bach.   I was in a pew toward the back of the church looking up at the enormous pipes of our organ.  The sound of the piece was stirring within me.  I felt connected to the vibrations of the notes and found myself humming quietly along as she played.   It was gorgeous.   And it seemed so expressive of where my heart, mind and soul had been for a good deal of the service: in deepest woe.

To say that the past week was a hard week would be a gross understatement.  The angst stirred up over an interfaith service for the LGBT community was leaving me with doubts again about where I fit in to my Episcopal community.  Coming into church this Sunday made me realize how much what I needed from the service had very little to do with the people who call themselves Christian or Episcopalian even.  It has everything to do with this tango that I am in with God and the dance music hasn't stopped yet.  My lead won't let me retreat from the dance floor and we will do these steps... even if it means that I have to do them backwards and in high heels!

What Wond'rous Love is This isn't exactly an Argentinian song, but it's lyrics are among my most favorite in the hymnal:

What won'drous love is this
O my soul, o my soul
What wond'rous love is this
O my soul, o my soul
What wond'rous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside his crown
for my soul, for my soul
To lay aside his crown
for my soul, for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

I have this song chosen as among the collection that is to be sung at my funeral.  And that was an interesting thought to have in mind as I sang and prepared my ears and heart for what I heard in the Gospel of John. 

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  Whoever serves me, the Father will honor." --John 12:23-26

I seem to be reminded constantly during this Lent that I am called to follow Christ, and in doing so, I must die.  This death is not an actual, physical death.  Instead, it is dying to ways in which I have previously used to identify myself that are no longer accurate for who I am and who I am becoming in Christ.  Exactly what must die now, I am not entirely sure.  And what will be birthed out of this?  Well, I am even less sure of that.  But part of having to trust the one leading me in this dance is to believe that my lead won't trip me as I am trying to move in time with this music.  I don't know all the steps to the dance, but at least I am getting a sense of the rhythm.   It reverberates in me the same way the notes of the music in the church were doing today.

Dying to old habits or ways of living that are not useful can sometimes feel like pulling a splinter out of your thumb.  It stings initially, but the ultimate result is that your thumb isn't irritated and sensitive any more and you can use your thumb again.  But there has to be a willingness and a recognition that the splinter needs to come out.  Sometimes that's half the battle.

As I keep up with my dance partner, I am thinking what else may need to go in order for me to be the dancer I need to be.  How about you?  

The Anglican New Math

Just a note: I do plan to write some commentary, and have started an entry, on today's Episcopal lectionary. However, I am at a pause in that process and will have to put up the post later today.

In the meantime, I am fascinated by the news release that came from the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) yesterday after the votes in England on the Anglican Covenant. Three more dioceses, Oxford, Lincoln, and Guildford, have rejected the AC which means that the document has failed to receive enough diocesan support in England to bring it back before their General Synod. It could come back in another three years, but even then, it would have to be greatly reworked. And who knows where we will all be in another three years!

So, you might expect the ACNS news release to reflect that kind of thinking as "the news" of the day. Instead, the release focuses entirely on the other parts of the Communion that have supposedly signed onto the covenant. I have an image of the flack writing this release sitting at a desk, hands cupped over the ears, saying "La la la la la".  I mean, talk about "burying the lead"!!

Or perhaps it's just the new math being used in the Anglican Communion Office...

New Math, Bishop Yellow Belly-Style
by: susangagelmt

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Anglican Covenant "Fix" Nixed!

Oxford and Lincoln have put the nails in the coffin of this "fix" for the "problems" in the Anglican Communion.  Thanks be to God for the smarts of those voting in England.  The Anglican Covenant was looking to make a centralized authority in the Communion, something that has never,ever existed.  We are a body of independent autonomous churches with common bonds through Christ, not through man-made covenants.  There are still three more dioceses left to vote today, but the Church of England only needed 22 to say "No" to put a stop to this madness.   The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has released the following statement through our CoE Moderator Revd. Dr. Lesley Crawley:

“With today’s results from the dioceses of Oxford and Lincoln, the proposed Anglican Covenant is now dead in the water in the Church of England. This also poses serious problems for the Covenant in other Provinces as it seems nonsensical to have the Archbishop of Canterbury in the second tier of the Anglican Communion and excluded from the central committees.

“When we launched the No Anglican Covenant Coalition 18 months ago, we were assured that the Anglican Covenant was an unstoppable juggernaut. We started as simply a band of bloggers, but we would like to thank the hundreds of supporters and our patrons for their dedication to promoting debate. The Covenant needed the approval of 23 diocesan synods, as of today, that result is no longer possible.

“Especially we would like to congratulate people in Diocesan Synods across the Church of England who, despite attempts in many dioceses to silence or marginalize dissenting voices, endeavoured to promote debate, ensuring that the Anglican Covenant was subjected to significant and meaningful scrutiny. We found, as the debate went on, that the more people read and studied the Covenant, the less they liked it.

“Under Church of England procedures , this proposal to centralize Communion-wide authority in the hands of a small, self-selecting group cannot return to the agenda of General Synod for at least three years.

“We are seeing the momentum turning internationally as well. The Episcopal Church of the Philippines has officially rejected the Covenant, the opposition of the Tikanga Maori virtually assures that the Covenant will be rejected in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and we are seeing increasing opposition in other Provinces of the Communion.

“While today’s diocesan synod results are exciting and gratifying, we are well aware that there is still work to do. However, if the proposed Anglican Covenant does not stand up to scrutiny in the Church of England, we are confident that it will not stand up to scrutiny elsewhere.

“We hope that the Church of England will now look to bring reconciliation within the Anglican Communion by means of strengthening relationships rather than punitive legislation.”
 I'm going to pour another cup of coffee and cheer for the prevail of reason across the pond.  And I'm sure Bishop Yellow Belly will have something to say as well! :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This Strange Path

Well, Monday was one strange day. 

Things started out well enough: Morning Prayer for the feast day of St. Joseph was fine.  Massage appointment before lunch was fine.  Checking my email on my not-so-smartphone...


I have a calendar in my office that lets me know things happening in the heavens, and so I am aware that Mercury is in retrograde.  I didn't know what that meant until a few years ago when I was having problems with my car, and communicating with people around me.  That's when a friend told me, "Mercury is in retrograde."   And when that happens, apparently, you don't want to drive a car or attempt to have correspondence with people.

So, I should have known better than to look at my email on my phone in the middle of the day when Mercury is in retrograde.   I got word that some priests that I had thought were on board and willing to participate in Tallahassee's LGBT Pride Interfaith service now will not be involved.  It seems there has been a breakdown in communication about what interfaith, in a queer spirituality context, looks like. 

Add to this the whole issue of the language we use for God (or do we dare say "God" at all?) and the next thing you know, people are walking away from the table.  You'd have thunk this was the Anglican Communion or something!

The tension seems to be around the words some of us use to identify God (i.e. "Lord"), and the matter of some faith traditions that use other words for God (i.e. Great Spirit, or Shivaya).   My own view of God is that God is bigger, better, and bolder than anything we can say about God.  This deity I believe in is so big that the best any of us can do is use whatever language we have to discern the Divine. 

How we get to that knowledge is also another 'God thing.'   I am sealed and marked as Christ's own forever:  Jesus is my way to God.  I believe the cross is a symbol of sacrifice that led to the most amazing liberation ever.   The Eucharist is the weekly reminder that I belong to the Body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the way God sustains us and moves us and all matter every day.  God is huge.  And I believe God's sole desire is to live in Love with us, and will use any means necessary to pull as many people out of the shadows and back onto the path of light. 

God's mission of outreach to the LGBT community is of personal and particular interest to me.  I am part of a minority group that has, for decades, found itself on the outside of Judeo-Christian denominations because we were labeled "perverts" and "demons".  Because of this, many LGBT people have found a home in the faith traditions such as paganism, with its Goddess-centric spirituality, or Buddhism with its meditative practices.  No one wants to be where they aren't welcome.

It's really only been in the last couple of decades that there has been a move on the part of some mainline churches to repent of their sin of exclusion and invite the LGBT Christians to come back.  Many have been reluctant to return.

But there are those, like me, who have come back.  Why?  Because of God.  Not because of the church.  I am back in the pews because I felt summoned (yes, summoned) back.  Returning to the Episcopal Church after an extended absence, I discovered that the story of our Christian identity is liberation in my ears, and I see the highlight of the service being that moment when we are gathered, shoulder to shoulder, at the rail to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  This is the thing that will carry me forward in the world. 

Still, I recognize that when one is planning a celebration of faith traditions that are important and inclusive of LGBT people, it means I will be gathered with people who do not believe in the Trinity and have a practice that is very different than mine.  Just like the rainbow has become the symbol of the beautiful and vibrant diversity of the LGBT community,  queer spirituality is made up of a diverse cross-section of faiths, each with their own way of arriving at that place of Love, Light, and Truth.  And isn't that the point of "interfaith" as opposed to "intrafaith"?

I admit I do not always feel comfortable with the practices of other traditions... or even other Christian denominations, for that matter.  But I also have enough faith and trust in God as revealed through Jesus Christ to know that I can share space with other traditions, hear their words, and allow them to flow past me like leaves falling onto a moving river rapid.  Pretty to look at, lovely to experience, but they don't hold the root of me the way I am grounded in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Even with Mercury in retrograde, I am sure of the message that God is the one who saves me... and is saving a whole lot of others through whatever way works best for them. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Good Riddance Letter to Rowan Williams

From the Church of Nigeria to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams:  Bffffttttt!!!

Here's the statement from Bishop Nicholas Okoh that was posted on Thinking Anglicans:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt. Hon. Dr. Rowan Williams took over the leadership of the Anglican Communion in 2002 when it was a happy family. Unfortunately, he is leaving behind a Communion in tatters: highly polarized, bitterly factionalized, with issues of revisionist interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and human sexuality as stumbling blocks to oneness, evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world.
It might not have been entirely his own making, but certainly “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. The lowest ebb of this degeneration came in 2008, when there were, so to say, two “Lambeth” Conferences one in the UK, and an alternative one, GAFCON in Jerusalem. The trend continued recently when many Global South Primates decided not to attend the last Primates’ meeting in Dublin, Ireland.
Since Dr. Rowan Williams did not resign in 2008, over the split Lambeth Conference, one would have expected him to stay on in office, and work assiduously to ‘mend the net’ or repair the breach, before bowing out of office. The only attempt, the covenant proposal, was doomed to fail from the start, as “two cannot walk together unless they have agreed”.
For us, the announcement does not present any opportunity for excitement. It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction. To this end, we commit our Church, the Church of Nigeria, (Anglican Communion) to serious fasting and prayers that God will do “a new thing”, in the Communion.
Nevertheless, we join others to continue in prayer for Dr. Rowan Williams and his family for a more fruitful endeavour in their post – Canterbury life.
+Nicholas D. Okoh
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria

COMMENT:  What was all that talk about "bonds of affection" again???  I suggest that the 'new thing' has been happening in the life of the Anglican Communion.  Too bad the Bishop of Nigeria (former and current),  Uganda and all their sympathizers have been too busy sharpening their knives against "The West" to notice!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Healing and Forgiveness

If you have ever wondered where the medical profession gets the symbol of the serpent wrapped around the pole, go to your local Episcopal Church and listen to the lesson out of the Book of Numbers and you'll get your answer! 

The readings on tap for this Sunday speak to the powers of healing.  Complaining Israelites, out in the desert kvetching that they don't want to be there and what they have been given to eat doesn't taste good, find themselves battling poisonous snakes that bite and kill them.  This recalls for me the collect from this past week,

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all
adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul...

In this case, the inward thoughts of raging against God over the less-than-ideal conditions out in the desert lead to the outward attack on the body by the poisonous snakes.  And, as is the wont of our Almighty, God shows mercy and forgiveness to the complainers.  After they acknowledged their wrongs against God and Moses, God tells Moses to make a snake and set it on a pole.  So Moses makes a snake out of bronze, and all who gaze upon it regain their health and live.  

This is the image that Jesus will invoke during his intense dialogue with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who wants to find out just who is this new rabbi named Jesus.  Jesus describes his own impeding crucifixion as being akin to this moment with Moses:

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 

Not just "life".  Not just "health".   Jesus is promising that whoever looks upon the crucified Son of Man and believes in him may have eternal life.  Like Moses' bronze serpent, Christ becomes the means to people being restored and brought to a life that can stand up to any attempts to assault the person and bring them down.  

Is this through Christ only?  As Christians, yes it is through Christ.  Does that mean that such saving grace of God is limited only to us?  I would say no.   

Because just as Moses' bronze serpent alone doesn't restore the griping and dying Israelites,  the power that comes from the belief in Christ is much more than just the Son of Man hanging on the cross.  Because Christ is not doing these actions on his own accord; it is through him that God is reaching out in love to us.  Nothing about Jesus is an act of the one man, but it is the actions of God who abides in him and moves through him to reach out to us.  Just like with the bronze serpent, which was a product of Moses' hands, it gains its power through God to deliver the healing necessary.   Because God is about mercy and love, not destruction and hate.  God is Love.

At a recent talk at St. John's, Fr. William Meninger, one of the leaders of the Centering Prayer movement, said that the only language God knows and the only action God does is love.  And forgiveness is the other side of the coin of Love.  As Meninger says, forgiveness is love repaired.    God is forgiving us before, during and after the times that we have sinned and the reason God does that for Love and relationship.  If God didn't forgive, but instead held a grudge against us, then God would suffer because the relationship would be out-of-balance.   When God forgives, then God is free to love us.  

If all of this is good for God, imagine what it would be for us?  We are commanded to love one another as God loved us.  This would mean that we would also need to flip over the coin and be ready to forgive.  This sounds easy enough, but it never is.  We may not want to forgive someone who did something to us, or we may not be ready to forgive.  

Meninger gave an example of a woman who was gang-raped as a teenager and could not find it in herself to forgive the boys who did that to her.  And she was now in her forties!  What did her lack of forgiveness do to those who assaulted her?  Nothing.  They served their time and then got their records wiped clean when they were released from reform school.  Meanwhile, this woman's life was turned upside down.  She became a prostitute and she stayed stuck in her anger.  Even so, she, a good Roman Catholic, was still attending mass every Sunday, but she didn't receive communion because she couldn't bring herself to the altar while harboring such anger at her assailants.   Meninger offered that maybe she could pray for them.  She scowled at that suggestion, saying she couldn't pray for them and wished they were in hell.  This was an impasse, and Meninger says he turned to the Holy Spirit for something, anything to offer to this woman who he acknowledged was rightfully angry, but needed to move out of that place.

"Do you ever pray for yourself?" he asked her.  She did not.  And instead of having her say 10 Hail Marys and four Our Fathers, Meninger instructed her to take one minute every day to pray for herself and then at the next Sunday, go to the rail to receive Holy Communion.  

The upshot of this story:  Meninger saw the woman a month later, and she was physically changed.  The anger had lifted, her face wasn't as hardened, and she told him that she was finally able to pray for her rapists.  This, Meninger says, was the beginning of her process of forgiveness.  By her willingness to pray for herself, there was an opening for God to chip away at the hard stone that had become her heart.  And the end result was that the woman was freed from the prison of her own misery.  She was healing and forgiving all at the same time.  Because forgiveness is not so much about the other person or persons; it is about breaking us free from the shackles of what holds our spirit down and makes us live in pain and not Love. 

I believe it is this kind of healing through forgiveness that is captured in the epistle reading from Ephesians:

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ --by grace you have been saved--  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--  not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Even the person so hurt and angry can experience the saving grace of God because it is God's sole desire to be living in Love with us.  If we allow ourselves to open to that grace, we can feel the "immeasurable riches of his grace."   If we fix the eyes of our heart on what God is freely offering, we can have a chance at experiencing the restoration and the resetting of our internal well-being that allows us to live fully, boldly, and more completely in Love.   Can we believe in that?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Anglican Covenant: Cue the Fat Lady

There is a saying, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."  And while there are still more dioceses yet to vote in the Church of England on the Anglican Covenant, it would appear that the stoutly soprano might want to start her vocal warm-ups.

Today, three more dioceses-- Liverpool, Ely and St. Alban's-- rejected the document that had been touted as "the only way forward" in an effort to hold together the various churches and provinces that make up the Anglican Communion.  I think this statement from Bishop James Jones of Liverpool best sums up the beliefs of those of us opposed to the Covenant:
“The Church of England and the Anglican Communion have over the centuries developed a generous embrace allowing seekers to taste and see the goodness of God. Within our borders there is a generous orthodoxy. There is space for the seeker to breathe, to inquire, to ask questions, to doubt and to grope towards faith and to find God. That I believe is a space within the Body of Christ worth preserving.”

Thus, there is no need for a proposal that would dare to make members of the Communion pass litmus tests and get approval from other members of the Communion for actions that they take to best live into the Body of Christ in their own contexts lest they face sanctions and reduced roles in Communion relationships.  

Right now, the vote count in England stands at 20 Against and 12 For the Covenant.   There will be more votes coming up next weekend, but if two more vote it down, then it will have failed to garner the support it needs to move along.  And if England can't agree to it, then it would seem highly unlikely that the rest of the Communion would want to go along with it either.  And that is how it should be.  This proposal has been flawed from its inception because it presumed that we needed to "fix" something that was "broken."  Look at the history of the Anglican Communion and you will see that we have never been a monolithic, marching straight ahead kind of people.  We are autonomous, independent and never totally satisfied with each other.  But the thing that has kept us tumbling along is our willingness to keep working through our differing perspectives together.    I believe this document would truncate the struggle we are in to be the people of God we are called to be in the places where we live.  As one of the characters in my Bishop Yellow Belly series noted, "The only covenanted relationship that matters is the new covenant made by Jesus."  Amen, to that!

Go ahead, Brunhilda.  Gargle, rinse and spit.  You will be singing an aria soon! 

I Bind Unto Myself Today

I remember that shortly after my father died, a very strange thing happened.  I started hearing hymns in my head.  My brain became a virtual jukebox of the Episcopal Hymnal, and they played all the time. 

The first hymn to spin around and around was the one known as The Breastplate of St. Patrick, "I Bind Unto Myself Today." 

I thought the reason I was hearing this hymn was my dad.  I have memories of being next to him in church as we marshaled through this piece of music.  However, I am realizing that there may have been another reason this particular hymn became the first one to be put on "repeat" in my head.  I looked at the poetry:

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and the One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever, 
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation; 
his baptism in the Jordan River; 
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way; 
his coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today...

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me, 
Christ to comfort and restore me
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger, 
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

As I look at these lyrics, and reflect upon my journey with God,  I think this was not just about a church song I associated with my dad.  I think it was preparing the stage for what was to come. 

I have, in many ways, taken up the strong Name of the Trinity as part of who I am and how I live in the world.  I find myself engaged in theological reflection as I sit at traffic lights, or stand in line at the grocery store.  A slogan or a bumper sticker gets my brain clicking away at how this bit of the world we live in can reflect something of the Divine... if I free my mind enough to go in that direction.  Imagine: sitting in a coffee shop and hearing the 80's pop icon, Prince, singing, "I Will Die 4 U" and finding your mind going to an image of Christ!  I take note, give pause, and then continue sipping my red hibiscus iced tea wondering, "Am I the only one hearing this song in this way?"

Living in this way has its challenges.  It certainly isn't the topic of small talk or shooting the breeze at the water cooler.  Some might say it should be, but then how many of those "some" work in environments with people who are non-Christian?  Not everybody is going to want to talk about God, especially when they're only on their first cup of coffee.  And there are those who don't want to have the discussion at all.  Period. 

But in my experience, I have found that the more I can find a grounding in God daily in my own life, the more motivated I am to reflect God in my interactions with other people and the planet we share.  If I move from that God-centered place, while outwardly wearing my mustard seed, crucifix, pride triangle, monkey necklace charms, the more I am communicating through my actions what it means to be bound to Christ.  It goes back to those words of +Gene Robinson, "God doesn't need cheerleaders; God needs disciples and followers."

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Maybe between the corned beef and cabbage, and the Irish coffees, we can identify the ways in which we have bound ourselves to the Trinity, and how it motivates our actions.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Exiting Stage Right...

 This just seen on the Anglican Cyber Ordinariate site on Facebook:  Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is accepting a post at Magdalene College, Cambridge.  You can read the announcement from the Anglican Communion office HERE.

I suspect his decision to return to academia might be due in large part because of the growing discontent over the Anglican Covenant.   There are more dioceses that will be voting this weekend in England and thus far, the results have been two-to-one against it. 

And I find it an odd turn of events that his departure from the post of see of Canterbury will coincide with the end of Bishop Gene Robinson's tenure as the Bishop of New Hampshire.  God does work in the most mysterious ways.  Perhaps ++Rowan will see fit to invite the retired Robinson to do a talk in Cambridge.  Not likely, but wouldn't it be nice to think so.

I imagine now there will be a mad scramble in England for who will be the successor.  I hope whoever it is will be one who will have the courage and the ability to lead a Communion that really is made up of many diverse parts that have, and will always, squabble over things temporal.  The challenge is to remind all that while we have our differences, the common denominator is the eternal.  Never lose sight of that.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Don't Get Comfy

One of the things I love most about the Episcopal Church is our liturgy.   I like how it flows from the reading of the Scriptures to a sermon to the restatement of our core beliefs in the creed and followed by prayers, petitions, confessions and peace.  All this leading and preparing us for the experience of receiving the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, the fuel for our engines as we head back out the doors of the church cocoon into the world which may or may not care about Christ.

It's the cocoon that I have found myself thinking about lately.  I actually have toyed with the idea for a couple of years now that I should give up going to church on Sundays for Lent.  Not so much for the experience of taking on a practice that would become a permanent part of who I am.  But I sometimes wonder if I get a little too comfy with the liturgy.  Do I still listen closely to things that are said?   Am I listening deeply to what is behind what we're doing? 

Lent can present moments that raise questions and make me think again about the words that we say.  During the weekday services at noon, St. John's has been using Rite I, and including the Prayer of Humble Access in our Eucharistic service.  The phrase, "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under Thy table..."  are ones I am very familiar with from growing up Episcopalian.   But now, they make me wince.  And they don't serve to pull me into the moment of preparing to receiving the body and blood of Christ, but they make me want to yank the fine linen off the altar in protest.   Because I simply don't believe those words, and find them to be in opposition to Christ.   Think of the story of the Syrophoenician woman in the Gospel of Mark.   Did she not have that exchange with Jesus over this very idea of not being worthy enough so as to gather up the crumbs from under the table of Israel?  By Christ, and with Christ and in Christ, I believe that I have been made worthy not only to have the crumbs, but to be offered a seat at the banquet table. 

If I find this kind of language a stumbling block, I have to wonder what it would do to someone entering the church for the first time.   Might they not get an impression of us worshiping a punishing God who looms so large that we can't get near?   That's not the image of God I have in my head.  And it's certainly not the Jesus who got down in the messiness of our every day living to teach us a message of Love. 

I realize there are probably those who find those words important.  But if that's true, then perhaps they need to ask themselves why.   And what would happen if they didn't hear them.  What would worship be to them then.   Is there comfort in being told we aren't worthy?  Not for me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Prayers Answered, and More Needed

Great news!!  Michael N. has been reunited with Ginger!  This is such a relief on so many levels. Ginger was OK, something I feared would not be the case since she is a pit bull with the personality of a Labrador.  Now, hopefully, the hole in the fence will get fixed so Ginger doesn't get loose again, and have strangers in a van pick her up.

That bit of good news comes as more trouble pours in.  Please consider offering prayers for the following:

The artistic community of Railroad Square.  Dave, a lanky, quiet, blonde-haired guy who served as the park's security and perennial presence, committed suicide in his studio at the art park over the weekend.  It has shaken and devastated many who are now wondering why they weren't able to see that he was hurting.  The difficulty about suicide is that sometimes you don't know why or can't predict that someone is in that level of pain.  My own prayer for Dave is that he has now found peace in a place where there is no pain and that the many who loved him will hold fast to the goodness of having been touched by him.  There will be a memorial bench set up in the park and a remembrance for him at the First Friday gallery hop in April.

Also, remember Dave and Cindy, members of PFLAG, who have had a series of medical problems that have kept them out-of-commission.   And Eden, who is dealing with ovarian cancer.  

Please feel free to add your own petitions in the comment section. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

E-Z Pass or Exact Change

At St. John's, the clergy are using the Sunday lectionary this Lent to focus on a theme of "Pausing on the Road to Jerusalem."   Tomorrow's sermon is looking at the "Toll Booth Ahead."   I sent a note to the priest giving the sermon and remarked that in most states, we have a choice of entering the exact change lane or using the E-Z pass and have our tolls electronically debited from our bank accounts.  How would that concept fit with the gospel, which this week is from John 2?   Well, I guess I'll see tomorrow.

But as I look at the readings that are on tap, it would seem that the concept of an E-Z pass would be, well, non-existent.  We get the unequivocal statement of the law from Exodus with the reciting of the ten commandments.  This doesn't feel like an opportunity for the hearer of these commandments to simply whiz by and have the debt collected later.  This demands the exact change lane for sure, with its fishing in the pockets to come up with the quarters necessary to keep moving along.   These commandments which emphasize to love God first and foremost require a full stop to absorb what all that love will entail. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians would also seem to suggest an exact price of the cross, a price that is understood by those who follow Christ, but is misunderstood by those who don't. Perhaps the followers of Christ are the ones slowly making their way through the exact change lane as they get behind the one who asks for directions from the toll booth worker.

Perhaps if we look at the toll booth metaphor more broadly we can get to something out of the Gospel lesson.
This is the scene where Jesus is tossing tables and driving out the money changers in the temple.  Folks are up in arms over this house cleaning by Christ, and they demand a sign that shows where he gets off telling the merchants to take their merchandise out of this house of prayer.  And Jesus tells them: 

"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.--John 2:19-22

This story is coming earlier in the John gospel than where it appears elsewhere in the Bible, but it seems that Jesus is already assessing that being embodied in a body is going to require him to pay a price.  Like us, there is no E-Z pass lane that he can move into and pay this debt at some other time.  The debt will be paid.  Or perhaps we can say this moment is an E-Z pass for Jesus.  He will have other conversations and perform many other "signs" that will add up to his final debt before the authorities decide they have all that they need to nail him to a tree until dead.  Whatever way you may look at this particular toll, Jesus will pay by giving up his human body as a sacrifice.  But it will also be returned, with interest, in three days when he overcomes death and the grave.  

As we go forward in this week, it might be interesting to think about the ways in which we opt to pay now, or pay later.   And how conscious are we of our debts when we're flying through the toll booths and allowing an electronic device to scan our cars and deduct money from our accounts?  

Friday, March 9, 2012

I Ask Your Prayers For...

As you make petitions for people in your own life, please consider the following:

  • Michael N., who had his dog, Ginger, stolen in the Frenchtown neighborhood of Tallahassee.  This is horrible in its own right, but Ginger was everything for Michael, and many are concerned that this might break him.
  • Charlie, husband of Miriam and friend to many in the music community of Tallahassee, was just diagnosed with stomach cancer and is beyond the place of treatment.  Still, he is undergoing chemotherapy to at least gain some more time with his wife and two sons.   
  • The Episcopal High School community, and the families of Dale Regan and Shane Schumerth following the murder-suicide on the campus on Tuesday.  
May they feel God's loving presence even under circumstances when God may seem the most remote and removed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Esther and International Women's Day

Queen Esther rocks!

Seriously, if you read the story, Esther helps to save the Jews in Persia from a certain death at the hands of Haman (enter the noisemakers to drown out his name).   She is courageous.  She is beautiful.  And she is one crafty lady as she figures out how to get the King, her husband, to spare the life of her uncle Mordecai and hoist the treacherous Haman on his own petard.   And, as with all prophets of the Bible, she is able to achieve much because she calls on God to help her.   She wined and dined Haman into a place of thinking he was the most favored one in all the kingdom.   She reminded the King that it was her Jewish uncle, the man who had raised her, that foiled the plot to assassinate the King.  When the King asked Haman what should be done to honor someone who had done such good work for the King, Haman (full of himself) believed the King was talking about him, and so of course wanted lots of attention, robes and finery, riding around the kingdom to be admired.  The King, thinking this was a great idea, said, "Done!  Go get Mordecai and fit him with a robe and a horse!"  Realizing his goose was cooked, Haman went to Esther and plead with the Queen to spare him.  Too late!  Haman is hanged.  And then in a wonderfully, Biblical reward, the King tells the Jews they can have half the kingdom, arm themselves and slaughter anyone who gets in their way.

The Bible:  definitely NOT a dull read!

Today (well, last night) Jews are drinking and celebrating and gnoshing on Hamantaschen pastries with Purim fests and spiels to mark the triumph of Queen Esther.  And it just seems so fitting that this year, Purim and International Women's Day, are coinciding on the same date.

Around the world, there are women who are taking courageous stands in the face of hostile opposition.  I remember hearing how it was the Egyptian women who saved CBS journalist Lara Logan from a mob of men intent on raping her during the hey days of the popular uprising in Egypt.   In Saudi Arabia, probably one of the most patriarchal places on the planet, women organized to defy the ban on women driving.   That push has led to some important, visible changes in the lives of Saudi women.  For one, the universities are now opening fields of study in law and engineering to women.   Women are being allowed to participate in municipal elections.  And, as odd as this may sound, they are now being allowed to be the store clerks in lingerie shops (yes, believe it or not, women in Saudi Arabia are now being allowed to sell bras, a job that was exclusively male before!)

Strangely, as women in the Middle East are seeing some gains in civil rights, in this country, there is an all-out war on women from the right-wing reactionaries in the Republican Party.   How many states, including Florida, are enacting laws to chip away at the decades-old Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion?   And then there was the Congressional panel convened to talk about women's contraception which featured an all-male panel of "experts" on the subject.   It was that panel that drew Georgetown law student  Sandra Fluke to testify before Congress, and subsequently opened her up to the ire and viciousness of radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh.  Many of Limbaugh's advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of his program as a result of his three-day tirade against Ms. Fluke and his on-air sexist statements about her.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Republican Party presidential candidates have not also denounced Limbaugh.  Perhaps they don't think women care about their silence.

Perhaps they will find themselves like Haman this election year, groveling at the feet of women to please give them a chance.

A few more Queen Esthers in American politics would be a nice change.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bishop Yellow Belly Fights Back

Prayers For The Episcopal High School Community

Morning Prayer had concluded when I learned that a fired Spanish teacher at Episcopal High School returned to the campus later in the day yesterday and shot to death the school's headmistress before taking his own life.

Senseless acts of violence can really rattle the soul, and they serve as a reminder that bad things do happen, even within the walls of private schools.  There are little details as to why Headmistress Dale Regan felt she needed to fire Shane Schumerth.  But the fact that the 28-year-old came back in the afternoon carrying an AK-47 assault rifle in his guitar case tells me that he must have been perceived as a threat, or at least unstable.

Prayers ascending for all in the Jacksonville area affected by this tragedy.  Prayers for the families of both victims, and may God's peace and love transcend the pain to touch those who are troubled and grieving.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ministry Viewed Through a Coffee Mug

During our Education for Ministry group, we were given a reflection exercise where we had to choose an item off the center table.  We were to examine said item, notice why we had picked it, and anything that the item brought to mind.

Once we had done that, we were to consider how this item reflected our ministry.

My item was a "Life is Good" coffee mug.   Initially, I was drawn to it because I like the Life is Good series.  One of my massage school teachers always wore the company's T-shirts with the smiling stick figure drawings hanging out in a lawn chair with a beer, or surfing, or fishing, or bike riding.  As I looked closely at the mug, I found the phrase on the other side: "Do what you like. Like what you do."  I noticed it was somewhat heavy, with a thick-lipped rim.  But what I kept thinking about the cup is that it was empty, and yet "Life is Good."

That thought of "empty, but good" was the basis of my ministerial reflection.  I thought about all of the "official" ways in which I minister:  I am a co-mentor in EfM, a Eucharistic Minister, the leader of Circle of Hope, a leader in PFLAG, and very important, I am a licensed massage therapist, a ministry of healing to those broken by the world.

I looked at the coffee mug again.  Coffee mugs are common every day objects.  I thought about how I take myself, my Christianity as colored in by the Episcopal Church, into common every day places all the time.  One of the most common spaces is among those in my theater group, the Mickee Faust Club.  And while I wouldn't describe the cabaret-style theater we do at Faust as "common", the people involved are representative of the vast majority who have been injured by the church in some way and are embittered, or who just don't bother with the church at all.   In this way, I am a bit of a mystery to my fellow Faustkateers.  As I told my EfM group, I don't push the Christ message on people with lots of "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!"  But because I don't park my Christianity at the door, I know I have made some in the company have to think about blanket statements that start with, "Well, y'know, Christians are always doing...."

This, of course, is something I used to do myself.  The blanket accusation of all Christians for the sins being committed by a few.  I had had more than one or two of the little "c" "christian" persuasion scream at me to "Repent!" of my homosexuality, or corner me in an effort to convert me, or seen them in the media denouncing the likes of me.   I also was horrified that none of the big "C" Christians felt there was a need to counter these messages with the actual Gospel of Love.  Their silence hurt as much, if not more, than the ones who claimed to be speaking in the name of Christ while denigrating members of the body of Christ.   I am reminded of a passage in Romans 14:

Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God.For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
   and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another. 

It it this ethic that I carry with me into these common spaces such as Mickee Faust.   Because even among the ones who have never cared for or thought much of the church, there may be one who is looking for that beacon of light from God as guidance to a new understanding of how they are connected to God, this world, and all of creation.  In his day, Christ was that very bright beacon on a mission to get people to stop bickering over the dicta of how you love God and, in the phrase of Madison Avenue, "just do it!"   That is what we are all called to do as members of the eternal priesthood of the laity.  Our purpose, vocation and ministry is to live and show forth a life that others might see Christ in us.   And then it will be God's own doing that will go to work on the heart, mind and soul of a person.

The more we empty ourselves and share what and who we are, life will be good.