Saturday, April 28, 2012

And We're Worried About Pagans?

What a fascinating sight to see on the major thoroughfare that leads to our state Capitol building in Tallahassee.  Big, bold and visible through the trees, the question comes at you: Are you an atheist?

Quite a change from the billboards you normally see in Florida where you might have a looming cross or very Anglo-Saxon looking Jesus and the famous John 3:16 passage: " For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to the end that all should not perish but have everlasting life!"

As a good New Hampshire-born Episcopalian, I find all of these types of billboards gawdy and off-putting.  And we don't do marquee signs to glorify the Messiah either, thank you.

But this billboard on Apalachee Parkway comes at a time when one of the local clergy from a United Methodist Church announced that she was resigning because she is an atheist.  Pastor Teresa MacBain had had enough of standing in the pulpit every Sunday preaching about a God that she just didn't believe in any more.  She spoke at the American Atheist Conference on March 26th, telling them:

"I was one of those crazy fundamentalists, haters...  I want to apologize for verbally abusing you from the pulpit. I was the one on the right track and you were the ones who were gonna burn in hell. And I am happy to say, as I stand before you right now, I'm gonna burn with you!"   

As you might imagine, the fallout from this event has been well... bitter.  According to a post MacBain put up on the Richard Dawkins Foundation site, her former church "locked her out" and she was unable to get in, presumably to collect her things.  And, this being the Richard Dawkins site, you can imagine that everyone thinks the "theists" are the bad guys, Teresa MacBain is a martyr, so much for Christians being about "love," and all religions are stupid and silly.

There are many things that I think are highly-regrettable in what I have heard about the Teresa MacBain story.  I don't think she deserves death threats, or hate mail, or to be marginalized in any way.   I don't think that's Christian, and I don't think that's the right response especially to one who has now professed un-belief.  From what I have read and heard in her statement that she made to the American Atheist Conference and elsewhere, she didn't come to this decision overnight.

At the same time, MacBain's actions are not so innocent or innocuous.  She apparently went public as an atheist before her congregation knew.  In the meantime, it was revealed that she had been posting on the Richard Dawkins sponsored site "The Clergy Project" under a pseudonym.   And if you listen to MacBain, and others on the site, apparently there are a lot of clergy out there who really don't believe in God but are afraid of losing their paycheck, not to mention friends and family, if they come out as atheists.

Call me insensitive, but I think if you are a priest, pastor, rabbi, religious leader of any kind and you don't believe in God, then I'm sorry: get out of the pulpit and earn your paycheck some other way.  It is ridiculous, not to mention unethical, for someone who is a non-believer to pose and offer spiritual counsel to people about God or Jesus while secretly denying God's existence.   God can handle the unbelief.   But the people of God in a religious institution have a right to expect their spiritual leaders to be real believers.  And there are plenty of people who do believe who would be happy to take the place of this legion of clergy posers.

Does this mean that religious leaders aren't allowed to have doubts about church doctrine as dictated throughout the centuries, or question where is God when the world looks like it's going into the crapper?  No, absolutely not.  Religious leaders need to wrestle and struggle with all of it.  It is in the questioning and the struggle that one's faith should grow stronger.  And if it does not, and you lose your faith in God, and believe the whole story is poppycock, then tell your congregation or your vestry, "I need to retire."

Like it or not, dear ministers:  your "job" is more than just something where you punch-in and punch-out like a mid-level bureaucrat in an office.   You have supposedly been granted this place in the church by the grace of God to guide and nurture people in their journey toward a deeper relationship with God.  Yours is a vocation that is with you always and should be a part of who you are not just in the church but in the world.  You are a public figure.   And there are ways public figures exit their public stage.  You can either go out quietly or you can slam doors and make a spectacle.  I know; I was a public radio journalist.  People hated me for quitting radio.  But I knew what was the healthy thing for me to do.  And when I resigned,  my on-air announcement said nothing about the level of constant backstabbing I was enduring in my work place.   I was professional and appropriate.

And I played "Balm in Gilead" as the closing music on that edition of "Capital Report".  Those intimate enough to know what I had been enduring could read between-the-lines.

People have said that coming out as an atheist is like coming out as a gay person.  To an extent, in a Judeo-Christian society like this one, that is true.  But a clergy person who comes out as an atheist?  That's more like filing for a divorce.   It stings and it causes hurt and resentment.  The wounds may heal, but whether there will ever be forgiveness will depend on the people deciding they'd rather live in joy than misery.

And to think that the clergy in this city are afraid of the pagans?  My goodness, at least pagans believe in something sacred!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Turning Attention to Indianapolis

Now that the majority of the Church of England dioceses have rejected the so-called Anglican Communion Covenant, those of us with a passion for preserving the Communion are putting our collective minds toward seeing the Covenant defeated at the Episcopal Church's General Convention 2012 in Indianapolis this summer.

One might think this shouldn't be too tough to sell the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, the two governing bodies, on the wisdom of rejecting a document that couldn't even hold up in its home base of the Church of England.  But this is the United States.  These are our bishops, clergy and laity. And we have certainly seen bizarre and unimaginable things happen when you put a question up for a vote in this country! 

The members of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, especially the ones with working knowledge of how to draft resolutions and exactly how to wordsmith these things, are making a modest proposal for the delegates to GC2012 to consider.  Please feel free to share this post  with delegates from your own diocese or go to the NACC blog and find the resolution in Word document and PDF form.  Our hope is that many delegates to the Episcopal Church's GC2012 will consider our position, and vote a simple, "Thanks, but no thanks" to the Anglican Covenant so we can get on with the business of the Church's mission of sharing Love with the world.  Perhaps when all this covenant business is behind us, we might start to see each other again as brothers and sisters in Christ and not brutal enemies that must be destroyed.

Title: Relation to the Anglican Communion

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 77th General Convention give thanks to all who have worked to increase understanding and strengthen relationships among the churches of the Anglican Communion, and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention reaffirm the commitment of this church to the fellowship of autonomous national and regional churches that is the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention believe that sister churches of the Anglican Communion are properly drawn together by bonds of affection, by participation in the common mission of the gospel, and by consultation without coercion or intimidation; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention, having prayerfully considered the merits of the Anglican Communion Covenant and believing said agreement to be contrary to Anglican ecclesiology and tradition and to the best interests of the Anglican Communion, respectfully decline to adopt the same; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention call upon the leaders of The Episcopal Church at every level to seek opportunities to reach out to strengthen and restore relationships between this church and sister churches of the Communion.

Explanation: Churches of the Anglican Communion have been asked to adopt the so-called Anglican Communion Covenant. The suggestion for such an agreement was made in the 2004 Windsor Report, which proposed “the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican Covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion.”

The Windsor Report was produced at the request of Primates upset with the impending consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and the promulgation of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions by the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, of the Anglican Province of the West Indies, was entrusted with leading the development of the first draft of a covenant. This same Archbishop Gomez was one of the editors of To Mend the Net, a collection of essays dating from 2001 and advocating enhancing the power of the Anglican Primates to deter, inter alia, the ordination of women and “active homosexuals,” as well as the blessing of same-sex unions. Archbishop Gomez’s punitive agenda remains evident in the final draft of the proposed Covenant.

Despite protestations to the contrary, the Anglican Communion Covenant attempts to create a centralized authority that would constrain the self-governance of The Episcopal Church and other churches of the Communion. This unacceptably inhibits Communion churches from pursuing the gospel mission as they discern it.

The Church of England has already declined to adopt the Anglican Communion Covenant. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines has indicated that they will not support the Covenant, and the rejection of the Covenant by the Tikanga Maori of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia renders it virtually certain that those churches will also reject the Covenant. A number of Global South churches have indicated that they will decline to adopt the Covenant.

The deficiencies of the Covenant are legion, and the Anglican Communion faces the prospect of becoming a fellowship not united but divided by the Covenant. It is essential to reject the Anglican Communion Covenant in order to avoid the Communion’s permanent, institutionalized division.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Episcopalians Who Stand Against Bigotry

I am heartened by this photograph.  The bishop is Rt. Rev. Michael Curry of the diocese of North Carolina.  At least one of the priests was identified as being from St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Durham, NC.  They have taken a public stand against North Carolina's Amendment One which would put into the state constitution language defining marriage as being between a a man and a woman.  It would also eliminate recognition of domestic partnerships.  

All three of the state's bishops, Curry, Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel III of East Carolina, and Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor of Western North Carolina, signed a joint letter condemning the proposed amendment.  Part of their letter reads:

“We oppose Amendment One because the love of God and the way of love that has been revealed in Jesus of Nazareth compels us to do so. We oppose Amendment One because every time we baptize someone in The Episcopal Church, the entire congregation vows to ‘strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.’ We oppose Amendment One because it is unjust and it does not respect the dignity of every human being in the State of North Carolina. If passed, it will harm not only law-abiding gay and lesbian citizens but other men, women and innocent children in our state.”

One of my FB friends who is a Christian raised a point that the bishops should be opposing the amendment on the grounds that it is unconstitutional for the state to dictate to a church who it may or may not marry or have participate in any of its rites.  That certainly is AN argument.  But what is more important is to have the church leaders taking a stand on a matter of civil rights rather than sit back and watch from the sidelines as others claiming the mantle of Christ attempt to write their form of religious-based bigotry into a state constitution.   I wish more bishops and priests would speak out on matters such as this.

Now that the bishops have done their part, it is time for the voters to do theirs.  Vote No on Amendment One.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mark the Evangelist and Jesus the Rebel

Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

 Today we are celebrating Mark the evangelist, the one believed to be the first of the gospel writers.  I love all the gospels for different reasons.  My love of Mark's gospel has nothing to do with its short length (which seems to be the only thing most priests use as a selling point for reading it from start to finish).  Instead, it's the portrayal of Jesus in Mark's telling of the story.  Mark's Jesus is a man of action.   Mark's Jesus is constantly on the move and does not suffer fools.  Mark's Jesus is a rebel, but unlike James Dean, he is a rebel with a cause: to get everyone back in line with God's program of unconditional love. 

My vision of Mark's Jesus is the one with his jaw set toward Jerusalem, his shirt sleeves of his tunic rolled up, and some hefty Doc Marten-like sandals.  This Jesus is ready to rumble, and you can either follow... or get out of his way.  

Who is this Mark of the Gospels?  Well, it's hard to know.  There is some speculation that he is the man named John Mark in the Gospels, and that he is the man in Mark's gospel who the Romans tried to seize during the arrest of Jesus, but only managed to grab the man's loin cloth from his body, forcing him to runaway naked.  Scholars think this is an odd detail to include, unless it's the author reporting what had happened to him during that height of tension in the passion story.

This morning, as I listened to our assigned reading from Ecclesiasticus, I was reminded of what else makes Mark's gospel such a living testament for me.

My child, when you come to serve the Lord,
   prepare yourself for testing.
 Set your heart right and be steadfast,
   and do not be impetuous in time of calamity.

To be a Christian is inherently countercultural and unpopular.  After all, Jesus' mission was to get people to love more:  both God and each other.  In our own world today, such a message would be scoffed at as ridiculous.   And, given that LGBT people are persecuted on the grounds of how and who we love, when we are expressing love in a queer Christian context... whoa, Nellie!  How appropriate, then, to be reminded in this bit of wisdom literature that when we become part of Christ and serve the purpose of Love, we will be tested and face calamity.

Accept whatever befalls you,
   and in times of humiliation be patient.
 For gold is tested in the fire,
   and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation.
 Trust in him, and he will help you;
   make your ways straight, and hope in him.   

Again, this is more balm to the aching soul of the one who is courageous enough, or foolish enough, to live in Love.  I know this to be true in my own life.  I have dealt with the prejudice of those who either don't think I belong in the church because I'm queer or (worse) partnered and queer, or don't think I make for a very good queer because I'm Christian.   And yet, I go on and refuse to apologize for either of my identities.  As a result, it has forced some to moderate their distrust of me.  So much so that some were shocked when I told them about the hateful commentary that has taken over the post of my video "Queer vs. Christian."   

You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
   do not stray, or else you may fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust in him,
   and your reward will not be lost.
You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
   for lasting joy and mercy.

Remembering that "fear" does not mean, "quaking in my boots" but rather "in awe" of God, all these statements feel true to me.   And I know that on some days I do better at remembering all this than on others.  Lately, I have felt oddly separated and apart from God.  Or, more accurately, I have encountered static interference that has made it hard for me to hear God amidst the ever-present and increasing white noise.   This passage seemed to be coming at me through a bullhorn so as not to be missed.  It has not been.  These are the words upon which I will meditate this evening as I go to sleep.

Consider the generations of old and see:
   has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken?
   Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected?    
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
   he forgives sins and saves in time of distress. 

Yes.  Yes.  And Yes to this.  Is it any wonder that I was definitive in my response to the familiar, "The Word of the Lord" with a "Thanks be to God!!"?

A perfect, no-nonsense, and direct statement from Hebrew Scripture to reflect the day set aside in remembrance of the no-nonsense and direct evangelist!   

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Celibacy? Grow up!

This is a post that has been nagging at me for a long, long time. And it was the recent publication of a presidential address from the Bishop Barry Morgan in Wales that has finally pulled this post from the depths of my brain and out into the blogosphere.

Bishop Morgan's address is aimed at a particular issue facing the Church in Wales about the lack of movement on the part of the church to allow for the civil registration of same-sex partners in a church building as opposed to a government office.  Apparently, this question has been before the Bishops for a year and they have been ducking it ever since.   Now there is the discussion of allowing actual marriage equality which only further exacerbates this particular issue.

But all of that is just the cover for the deeper point that Bishop Morgan wants to address. This is more about the inherent discrimination faced by LGBT people within the church at a myriad of levels, and not just where they can register their partnerships.   Bishop Morgan is getting to the nub of the whole thing: we gay people are given a conditional welcome.  Or, as Bishop Barbara Harris says, the LGBT people of faith are treated like some kind of "half-assed baptized."

It is true.  Churches are more than happy to have us join, but what happens when we are moved by the Holy Spirit?  What happens when we feel our relationship with God growing deeper and stronger?  What happens when we feel our talents and innate, God-given gifts require us to move from the laity to the ordained?  Suddenly, we go from the stranger invited into the home to being treated like a relative who has overstayed their welcome.

For example, consider the rule that exists in some dioceses that says if someone is seeking ordination, they must be either married or celibate.  Since Florida does not allow LGBT people to marry, nor does it recognize the rights and privileges afforded to lesbian and gay couples who marry in another state, anyone of the gay persuasion seeking to discern a call to the priesthood must be celibate.   Unmarried straights will quickly add that they, too, must be celibate under the rule.  That is true.  And it is also wrongheaded.  There should be no requirement that someone take the extraordinary vow of celibacy.  And while I can feel bad for those straight people who must walk a precarious line while dating someone when they are in discernment, I can't help but note that they DO have an option: they CAN get married.  In Florida, LGBT people can not.  Why then is there this demand?  Even Bishop Morgan says:

[But] can celibacy be imposed?  Shouldn't it be freely undertaken as a personal vocation by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike?  As Rowan Williams once put it, "anyone who knows the complexities of the true celibate vocation, would be the last to have any sympathy with the extraordinary idea that sexual orientation is an automatic pointer to a celibate life: almost as if celibacy before God is less costly, even less risky to the homosexual than the heterosexual."  And is not separating mind and body or feelings or orientation from practice a kind of dualism which the church has condemned in the past since human beings are a unified whole and cannot be compartmentalised in such a way.  If that is true of humanity in general, why should we expect people of a homosexual disposition to be singled out in this way? 

There is no good answer for this question.  It appears to me that the only reason for this extra requirement is to deal with the prejudice that still exists within the church toward those of us who are in same-sex relationships.  The gospel commands us and expects us to bend toward justice, not cater to the prejudices and make peace with oppressive attitudes just so that some can feel comfortable.

Bishop Morgan wonders how can the Church of Wales show that the gospel is good news for the homosexuals?  I have a very simple answer: treat us with same dignity, respect, and acceptance that is fully expected and granted to the heterosexual majority.   Do not demand that we prove ourselves even more worthy of God's love and grace as baptized members of the Body of Christ.   And allow us to live into our full baptism which includes all the sacraments of the Church. Then I will believe that the Church is willing and able to tell of the good news that is in the Gospel.  

In short, grow up and grow into the Body of Christ, and allow Christ, not the flawed and too-human episcopate, to be the head. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yom HaShoah

Today we remember all those who were victims or were killed in the Holocaust in Europe during the reign of Adolf Hitler.  I encourage you to follow THIS LINK to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and watch the video, "Why We Remember the Holocaust."  

I say we remember the victims because the type of mass murder carried out by the Nazis has left permanent scars on the psyches of millions.  It makes the Biblical admonitions about the sins of one generation affecting those after a very real truth.  Even though we are now a few generations removed from Hitler's rule in Germany, the suffering he inflicted on Jews and non-Jews who were viewed as "others" to be exterminated (gypsies, gays, disabled, communists, even Free Masons...), not to mention the bombings of other countries, has touched the lives of those who were not yet born during those years.   I will never forget the first full-blown conversation I had with my German exchange student as we sat next to each other in the back seat of my parents car.  She asked me if I knew who Adolf Hitler was.

"Ja, natürlich,"  I said.

"Not all Germans are like that," she told me.  The fact that she felt the need to explain this made me realize the devastation that had been done to more than Jewish people, but to the generations of Germans since the end of World War II.

As the video notes, we still as a species struggle with prejudice that has led to horrific crimes against humanity.  Bosnia. Rwanda.  Dafur.  And those are the ones that the media has exposed.

We must never make peace with oppression.   We must never look away from how we contribute to the degradation of others through our silence.  This Day of Remembrance must be a day where we again commit ourselves to never allow fear and hatred of the "other" to destroy and disrupt humanity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Widening the Circle of Faith

I'm back from the Pride Interfaith service which serves as the kick-off for Tallahassee's LGBT Pride Week.  How many gay pride events in the country start their week with a coming together of various faith traditions to create sacred queer space?

Answer: not many!  And that's what makes Tallahassee special.   

This year, we had 100 people in attendance, certainly rivaling some congregations Sunday worship services.  There was a combined choir from the Unitarian Universalist Church with Temple Israel, the reformed synagogue.  Pagans, Buddhists, Evangelical and Mainline Christians, and--yes--even Free Thinkers took turns and offered words of wisdom to those assembled in a spirit of radical inclusion.  As a minister serving Gentle Shepherd MCC noted, the service was not about tolerating each other but recognizing the widening circle of faith.

For me and my partner, this service has always been a special one.  It was the Pride Interfaith service in 1993 that served to spark in both of us that longing to belong to a spiritual community again.  Both of us had retreated from our respective religious roots.  But being in a space that was affirming of our sexual orientation, and lifting us up through a variety of faith traditions started me on a quest to figure out where I belonged.  I looked into Judaism.  I tried Buddhism.  I even circled with pagans.  All of them were good.  All of them have something to offer.  And none of them felt right.  For me, the missing piece--Jesus Christ--was just too big a deal.  No matter what I did, I could not reject my baptism.  But at the time, there was no place for me in Christianity in Tallahassee, either.  I am an Episcopalian, and there was no Episcopal Church that embraced the LGBT community.  

That all changed for me in 2007 with the death of my father.  The last church that I had attended, St. John's, had been freed from the grip of a highly homophobic Rector, and the associate rector at the time, my mentor Mtr. Lee F. Shafer, extended the olive branch and invited me to return, so that I might taste and see that God is good... even in an Episcopal Church in Tallahassee. 

This evening, St. John's and Church of the Ascension at Carrabelle took a step toward coming out of their own closets to show radical inclusion of the LGBT faithful and their allies.  Yours truly and the Rev. Phoebe McFarlin served as the "Episcoposse" and led what we called, "Prayers of Inclusion".   I was Leader 1;  Mtr. Phoebe was Leader 2.  And we had the voices of many joining us as the congregation.  Read along, and see what you think.  

Episcopal Prayers for Inclusion for Pride Interfaith 2012

Leader 1:  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ --Luke 19:5-7; 9-10
Leader 2:   Jesus beckoned Zacchaeus, a tax collector of small stature, to come down from the sycamore tree to be joined with him much to the displeasure of the crowd.  We ask that all who seek to be found amidst the grumbling crowd be discovered and guided toward light and love.

Congregation:  Come in and be welcomed.

Leader 1: He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”—Mark 7:27-28
Leader 2:  The Syrophoenician woman heard the rebuke of her plea for help.  And rather than retreat, she stood her ground and asserted her place as a Gentile child of God.  Her courage and faith was recognized and rewarded with the healing of her daughter.  Grant to those who have heard the words of exclusion the power to stand firm and receive the grace promised through their faith.

Congregation:  Come stand with us and be welcomed.

Leader 1:  The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong.—Exodus 1:15-20
Leader 2:  The midwives actions saved the Israelites from a hostile king at a peril to their own lives.  Let us give thanks for all those who stand up for others in the face of oppression.

Congregation:  For those who hold offices of public trust, for the advocates of justice both here and abroad.

Leader 1: I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. –Luke 15:18-20
Leader 2:  The father of the prodigal son rejoices and before the son is able to make his plea, the father has fitted him with fine robes and orders they throw a party for this son who was thought to be dead but is now alive.  We give thanks for parents and families that have welcomed all their children home and pray for healing and reconciliation for those still looking for acceptance and understanding.

Congregation: May love abound in families, both of our blood relations and those of our choosing.

Leader 1: But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. –Luke 10: 29-34   
Leader 2:   We are often faced with those who are different from ourselves. And sometimes those differences lead to violence toward one another.  How do we respond to the one in need?  Do we turn away because they aren’t like us, or do we stop to help?  We ask for the ability to see our differences not as things which divide and separate but as part of the diversity of creation that is to be celebrated and honored.

Congregation:   Help us to see each other more clearly and live more in Love.

Leader 1:  And may the peace that passes all understanding be always with you.

Congregation: And also with you.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Lesbian Goes to a Wedding

For those of you who regularly check-in here, sorry for the absence.  I have been slammed to the wall with the preparation for this past weekend's Mickee Faust Club cabaret show (which runs again next weekend).  It has taken every ounce of my energy, and free time, to prepare for the show.  And we had a PFLAG meeting. And I'm fighting with car insurance companies.  And I need to file my taxes.  You get my drift...

Oh, and I was asked to read at a wedding taking place at St. John's on Saturday afternoon.  That meant attending the rehearsal Friday night before heading off to the Mickee Faust Clubhouse for opening night.

I only casually know the bride.  She and I are friends on Facebook, so I was surprised and honored that I was asked to participate in the service.  She attends St. John's and has heard me read lessons and lead prayers; hence I became a designated reader at her wedding.

I was asked to read a passage from the Song of Solomon, one of the most beautiful love poems and highly evocative books in the Old Testament.  The Episcopal Church only designates one reading from that book for weddings, which I think is strange because there are lots of places in the Song that would be appropriate.  Jews, for example, use the portion which says, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" for their weddings.  The Episcopal Church chooses the part that talks about being "set as a seal upon my heart, a seal upon my arm."  And how "many waters can not drench love."   At the rehearsal, I read through my portion aloud and then went to sit down in the pew.  One of the bridesmaids stopped me.

"Solomon?  As in King Solomon?"

"Yes, I think that's who they are attributing that book to, yes."

"Y'know, he was a magician!"

This then led to an explanation of how Solomon wasn't Christian etc. etc. (which he wouldn't have been, since Christ came much later in the scheme of things...)  I took note of the woman's necklace which appeared to be a faery star.

"Are you pagan?" I asked.

"Yes, for forty years!" This was followed with information about God and Goddess, something that she said took "too long to explain for you to understand."

"I know pagans, so I'm familiar with what you're talking about."

The woman seemed surprised and smiled.  I was clearly not the kind of Christian she thought I was or perhaps had ever encountered before.  After the rehearsal I made some more inquiry about her particular practice, and let her vent some more about what the Christians had done to the pagans throughout the course of time.  Again, having friends and also having studied the history of the Church in EfM, I was not ignorant to those things that we have done that we perhaps ought not to have done.  And I didn't want to get into a fight by reminding her that before Constantine decided Christianity was super cool, pagans were slaughtering those who were followers of "the Way."    Those in power are always going to be the bad guys in the story.

The next day, the day of the wedding, the woman thanked me for having listened to her.  She was glad that she had been allowed to express herself and that I had heard her out.  I was glad that she was in that place and was hoping in my heart that if she felt so strongly about Solomon's pagan roots, then she might hear the inherent paganism in the words I was reading and maybe take some of that away with her.

Thinking more on her, I could understand how someone who is viewed with disdain and distrust by the local clergy, as I have learned through recent conversations, would have been on edge and arriving at the church with a chip firmly in place on shoulder.  What she didn't realize is that, as a lesbian, I was also,oddly, an outsider in this setting.  Even though this is my church, and my tradition, this particular sacrament is one in which I am routinely told through the language, "You are not welcome."  And when you live in Florida, a state where the voters decided to prohibit marriage equality in the constitution, every mention of joining the "man" and the "woman" in the service is like another slap across my cheek.  But then, Jesus did say if you are slapped on one cheek, offer the other.  Not as an act of pure passivity, but as a show of passive resistance to the prevailing Roman authority of the day, who would have been shamed for slapping a second time.

And the Romans were pagan, she writes with a sly smile.

Some of my concerns with our wedding sacrament will likely be addressed by the delegates at the General Convention this summer.  Or at least they will be addressed for those people living in jurisdictions that have marriage equality.  For those of us in places where we are second-class citizens, the actions of the national church will be a lovely show viewed through the gauzy haze of continued discrimination.  And we will likely be the lost and forgotten ones as those in New York and Boston and Burlington and DC and Des Moines and Manchester and Hartford rejoice and sing a new song.

Some day, I hope that I will get to sing along in that chorus of "Free at last!"  Some day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter 2012

Night has fallen in Tallahassee and I am now finally getting around to posting for this Easter.  One might expect me to expound upon the Gospel lesson.  But honestly, I have often felt that there is so little more that any of us can add to the news of Christ's resurrection other than a simple: Wow!   I realize priests feel compelled to preach a much more expansive sermon than just saying, "Wow!"   There are people out there in the congregation who they likely will not see again, or may see again at Christmas Eve.  And so there is pressure to come up with more than, "Wow!"

I just hope everyone does take a moment to sit in quiet and consider the amazing awesomeness of what happens on Easter.  Death was not the finality for Christ.  He conquered death, too.  And in rising, his earthly compatriots, both men and women, are stymied and don't recognize him until he speaks their name, or breaks the bread, or does some other "sign" that let's them see him.  In my own mind, I imagine that the Christ that emerges from the grave does not look the same as the one who died on the cross.  I imagine that the risen Christ may appear stronger, bigger, perhaps not as world-weary.   I would think he would have to be as the final act of saying, "Nothing, absolutely nothing, no amount of hatred, and violence, and jealousy, and stupidity, can crush this life force!"  Again, I am brought back to, "Wow!"

For me, in yet another odd twist in God's whacky outreach to me, I found myself listening carefully to the words of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.--1Cor.15:8-10

This sounds like me.  I did not persecute the church of God in the same way that Paul did.  I certainly never went around rounding up Christians so we could stone them to death.  But I have stood outside the gate of the church in the past, and spit and cursed at it.  And I have labeled all Christians homophobic hypocrites. In this way, I have attacked the Body of Christ.  But like Paul, I had my own encounter with God that pulled me out of darkness and into the light in a way at a time that I never, ever expected it to happen.  It wasn't anything I sought intentionally.  In fact, I was resistant.  But the day that I was told, in no uncertain terms, to "Show up!" was the day that I did what was the unthinkable in my mind: I started attending church again on a regular basis. And I discovered the liberation afforded through the grace of God and the redemptive power of Christ.   Even for me, the queer Christian.  Given the history of how the church has treated my kind (and, in some quarters, we're still rejected), coming home to God is no small thing!

This Easter has not felt as exhilarating as others in the past.  But it feels incredibly solid in my conviction that Christ counts me as one of the beloved.   The fact that I have not deserted Him in the face of opposition , marginalization, and human rejection is truly amazing grace.  He is risen... not just in the re-telling of the story but in the hearts and minds of many who others would toss aside.  Alleluia! Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Light of Christ: An Exodus

As Holy Saturdays go, this was a most unusual one for me.  For the first time in my experience, Passover and Good Friday collided on the same night.  And because I was serving at St. John’s, and because it was a Friday, and because my partner and I were just too worn out, we decided to forego the Seder on Friday night… and instead celebrated it this afternoon, a few hours ahead of the Great Vigil of Easter.
I’m glad we made that decision.   Because it helped to give even greater meaning for me as I made my transition from our Seder plate at home to the gathering at the table at St. John’s. 
This period of Lent has certainly been intense for me… especially the last week.  The Jewish tradition of dipping bitter herbs into salt water to remember the tears and turmoil of the Israelites in Egypt felt real to me.  I have shed so many tears in the past ten days, I’m not sure I have any left.  I have felt very close to Christ, too.   I have experienced the pain of living in Love and truth, and finding that I am scorned and rejected by some of the very people who should know better.   Christ’s journey and his mission to bring freedom to the oppressed are as ancient as his ancestor Moses leading the Israelites through the waters of the Sea of Reeds to escape slavery.  In the same way that Moses was delivering his people from the oppression of the Egyptians, Christ’s mission was to bring all people out of their prisons of fear, prejudice, and hatred and deliver them to Love.  What makes Christ’s story the amazing, remarkable and incredible moment that it is comes with the arrival of Easter and the realization that the brutal death he endured on the cross was not the last word.  Christ beat death, too.  And that takes my breath away.
As I read the Exodus portion assigned at the Great Vigil of Easter this evening, I was drawn to the statement of Moses to the Israelites, who were scared and complaining about this seemingly fool-hearty idea of escaping from Egypt.  Moses tells them not to be afraid, stand firm and keep their eyes on God:
“…for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.  The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
In my recent experience, I have felt myself stuck in Egypt.  And like the Israelites, I have been feeling scared.  I have not known what is next for me in my journey with God, but I know that I have had a stumbling block put in my path that is seemingly impossible to get around.  And it is impossible, if I believe that I am the one who will remove that stumbling block. 

"The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."

As I think about my own journey, it is in those moments when I try to break up the stumbling block before me that I find myself thrashing and becoming embittered.  This is part of what led to my self-imposed exile from the Episcopal Church in the early 1990s.  The stumbling block became the "thing" that I paid attention to, and not God.  It was when God became the center and focus and reason for my being... in church and in the world... that my journey could begin in earnest.

I was reminded of that again this evening with the reciting of our Baptismal Covenant.  Nothing we do in service of Christ and for the sake of sharing the Good News can be done without God's help.   This includes warding off the Tempter's desire to pull us away from God.   The only way to move out of darkness is to follow the light.

Christ is providing that exodus out of pain, suffering, oppression and degradation.  When we trust in that, then his mission will be complete.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Walk in Love

 H/T Rev. Lee F. Shafer, Grace Episcopal Church, Anniston, AL

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”--Lamentations 3:21-24

No doubt, anyone observing Good Friday is likely feeling a little worn out by now.  Certainly, I am feeling that way.   I have been feeling that way all week.  My Good Friday really started ten days ago.  Today, kneeling on the hardwood of the church floor and looking up at the wooden cross, I could only hope that Easter is coming.

Good Friday is a tough love kind of day.   It's the day of remembering that Christ allowed himself to be put to death in an effort to reclaim us for God.  This is Love going to an extreme.  This is a man so dependent on Love that he will give up his life in the trust that this is indeed what Love intends.  I'm not sure if I can get to that point in my own life.  At times, I have put myself that completely into the hands of Love because my soul was able to say, 'The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him."  But remaining in that place is not always easy.  And, in this way, I have a Peter streak to go along with my inner Jonah.

To get to that point of fully trusting in God I believe is what leads us to walk in Love.  When I can surrender my ego, stop willing a certain outcome, or otherwise insist on having control of a situation, I can feel my feet moving more in the direction of Love.  That walk will lead me to the cross again and again.  But with each crucifixion comes a new resurrection and greater growth and deepening of my understanding of my connection to creation.  And each rising again puts me further along the road to God.   The crucifixions, painful as they are, do not get to be the final event.  They are part of the learning. 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday and Massage

This evening, we did the now traditional practice in the Episcopal Church on Maundy Thursday of washing the feet.  The idea is to recall the moment in John's gospel where the night before Jesus is killed he takes the role of the servant and washes the feet of his disciples as a way of illustrating what they are to do for each other... and all others.

Often times, there are only a smattering of people who will participate in this ritual.  There's some kind of aversion to touching feet... especially feet that have been closed in often stinky shoes.

This isn't just an issue for church-going Christians.  Lots of times, clients will express sheepishness to me about not having had time to bathe and clean their feet prior to a massage.  For those who are just too embarrassed, I will offer that I can wash their feet for them.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm very sure."

Much of what I do as a massage therapist feels like the washing of the feet, or the woman who anoints Jesus with the nard.  I am always rubbing shea butter in my hands and applying it to the muscles of a client who puts their trust in me to make them feel better.   It is a special kind of servant ministry where I get to engage in healing.  That's different than when I was in the role of servant as a public radio reporter.  Holding a microphone, I had access to the state's powerful people where I could ask them the uncomfortable questions.  And I would take that same microphone into places where I would give voice to the otherwise voiceless, allowing them to make their case for justice for migrant farm workers and inmates on death row.

Washing feet in a church in the 21st century is nothing like the scene with Jesus in that to get feet clean in Jesus' time would take some doing.  If the people weren't walking around barefoot, then they would have been wearing sandals and their feet would be getting very dusty and dirty.  For Jesus to wash these feet, he'd likely have been at it for more than a few minutes to make them spic n' span.  But that's the kind of scrubbing job he had come to do.  His was to remove the sins of the world and by doing so he also demonstrated to his disciples what their calling is to be: to carry on in this same way.  And to love one another as he has loved them... as evidenced by carefully cleaning the part of their body caked and covered in the muck of the world.

With the foot washing this evening, the gift we have given each other is to prepare our feet to carry us forward into the world again... and take another step closer to the arrival at the cross on Good Friday.  Walk in Love.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rejected Stones

As I listened at Morning Prayer today, I had another one of those pinged-in-the-forehead moments with God as we got to the end of the passage from Mark's gospel.   Jesus has just finished describing the history of how the human race has dealt with God, the prophets and ultimately how they will be dealing with him; namely, they're gonna kill him, throw the body out, and keep the vineyard that belonged to the owner.  Jesus asks his accusers what the vineyard owner in this parable would do?  And then answers his own question by saying the vineyard owner will destroy the wicked tenants and give the land to others because:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’”

Interestingly, this was a passage I quoted to someone yesterday when talking about church "things" with the diocese of Florida.  And it's what has been on my mind recently as I think about the place of LGBT Christians in the church.  I believe that it is in the interest of the church, if it wants to have any relevance or expectation for growth, to be very careful about who it has chosen to reject.  I have been thinking that the return of gay people into the church and their desire to find a faith community is a sign of God's mission to reclaim all the wandering ones and guide them back home.  Much the way "Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone,"  the community of LGBT people who are entering (or re-entering) the church is about bringing those whom the "builders" have rejected and making them a cornerstone of membership growth.  When those who were considered the stranger are welcomed into the community, there is hope.  And there is God.

What God intends to do with those who return?  Well, that's God's doing.  But in my own experience, I believe God is looking for LGBT people to fulfill their places in the Body of Christ.  We are the arms, legs, toes, fingertips, brains, heart, eyes, ears, and vocal chords just like our straight brothers and sisters.  We come in with the expectation that our baptism makes us full members in the Body.  We are more than pocketbooks and potlucks. We are people of God and the sheep of God's pasture.

Advice to the builders:  take a closer look at the stone you want to reject.  It may be the Lord's doing that the one you want to toss into the heap is the very one that is the future of the vineyard that you lease.    

Jesus Confronting the Prejudice

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

These are the moments with Jesus that I enjoy.   I delight in Jesus facing off with the authorities, getting back in their faces and standing up to their attempts to lay a trap for him by using superior reasoning and logic to lock them up in their own box.   This business involving the accusation, "By what authority are you doing these things?"  to me is very much like what some of us in the gay community have encountered when we mix ourselves into the Christian community.

It's a "Who do you think you are?!"  or a "Where do you get off asserting that you have a place here?!"    Jesus has thrown over tables and cursed fig trees.  And the Temple authorities are some kind of pissed and concerned that this non-conformist is nothing but trouble.  Big trouble!

Sometimes, I have felt that I am viewed as a threat or some kind of trouble. Gay people, and I would venture a guess that anyone who is a minority in a majority church setting, have found ourselves standing accused by some in the congregation who don't want us there. We are viewed as sinners, or at least in the minds of a few, sinners beyond redemption unless we "repent" of our sexual orientation or our relationships.   It's a tough place to be.  However,  being grounded in our faith, we are able to do as Christ did: confound our adversaries through the strength gathered in us because of our faith.  When we know that we are "of God", we don't have to prove it to anyone.    

We are only a few days from Friday.   Who or what is demanding you justify your relationship with God?  Who or what is trying to shove you off your path to be with Christ?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Welcome to Jerusalem! And Now, Let's Kill Him!

Bless their hearts!

You can put whatever emphasis or intonation with that standard Southern stock phrase that you want.  But I am thinking about the decision the Episcopal Church made somewhere along the way to slam together the entry into Jerusalem with the crucifixion.  One minute, we're singing, "Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"   And then some 20 minutes later, Jesus is getting nailed to the cross.

That isn't how it happened.  And I'm sorry the church seems to think we have to do it in this way in order for the people to have Holy Week so neatly wrapped up in one service that they don't have to live out this week with intentionality and focus on the steps that led to the cross.  I'm afraid it robs the power of Holy Week in an effort to make it all "convenient". 

And so, rather than focus on the Passion Gospel, I'm going to stick with the other readings, each of which give us something to ponder deeply.  Certainly I found myself in tears as I read through the Isaiah passage that I was going to have to deliver to the St. John's congregation at 11:15.   The events of last week were reminders of what has been my life ever since the morning of November 11, 2007:

The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens--
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.

There have been days when I wanted to rebel and run away.  But I can't because "morning by morning he wakens my ear" with a song, a psalm, a Scripture passage, a thought.   This adventure of blogging began in December of 2007 as a means of expressing those things that have come to me as I travel a path toward God.  Insights, or indignation at oppression, have been with me in the moments when I'm waking, going to sleep, or waiting at traffic lights.  I can't escape God, or what I think is God, constantly nudging me along.      More and more in this past month I have felt myself moving in a direction that Paul talks about in his letter to the Phillipians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. 

Am I sure about this?

My mentor posed some tough questions this week in her sermon:    What if Jesus requires more of me than I can give? What if following Jesus really costs me my life as I know it, my well deserved, hard-earned security? 

Yes, what if that is the case?  What if I have to take some bold steps in faith and stretch further than I have at this point?  So often it seems to really follow Christ closely means we have to walk through some rings of fire in our lives and trust that we won't get burned to a crisp in the process.  Following Christ means that we have to be brave.  We have to be willing to walk into places that challenge us, enter into conversations with people who try our patience, and we have to stand when others wish we'd simply sit down and shut up.  I think about the courage of those in England who were under enormous pressure to vote for the Anglican Covenant because that's what the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted.  Eighty percent of the English bishops have voted for the Covenant, but the clergy and laity split 50-50 on adoption.  It must be very difficult to oppose one's bishop on a matter of church politics.  And yet, they have stood up for what they believe to be the direction that the spirit is moving the Communion.  

I also think of the countless number of saints, known and unknown, who have advocated for a more inclusive vision of what the Christian church should look like.  Their positions have not always been popular and have often made the people uncomfortable, even angry.  Yet, having the mind of Christ in them, they continue to articulate a message of what it is to be in Love.  And in Love there are no exemptions, no black-out dates, and no out-clauses.  No matter how much we may not like someone or some group, it is never our place to decide if that person or group is worthy of inclusion at the Lord's table because we are all guests, and the host is generous.

Each one of us will have this week to consider if we are going to go the distance with Christ, even if only metaphorically speaking, and be at the cross on Friday.  We will each have our own experience of this week in which God came down to teach us to live in Love with one another and we, in our fearfulness and resistance,  killed Love.  Will you be there on Friday when they crucified my Lord, nailed him to the tree, pierced him in the side, laid him in the tomb?