Thursday, May 31, 2012

The American Catholic Nunsense

The CBS morning news program was interviewing a Roman Catholic sister about the past month's hue and cry from the Vatican over nuns in the United States caring more about the poor than denouncing marriage equality.

I almost started to cry for this woman as she talked about the excitement that had filled the RC church after Vatican II, and mentioned the "opening of the windows and letting air in."  I remember reading that when a cardinal questioned Pope John XXIII on what he hoped to accomplish with Vatican II, he went to a window and opened it.

In the meantime, his successors have not only closed the window, it seems Pope Benedict XVI intends to place locks and bolts on it.

The earnest interviewers prodded the sister: what does she think needs to happen?   She responded with, "Vatican III."   And what would that look like to her?  From what she says, a Roman Catholic church where the laity have more of a voice, and decision making is more democratic.  It's the laity, she says, who know the good works of the nuns and their commitment to living out their vows of service to others... which includes LGBT people and the environment.

Sadly, what the sister is looking for is, well, not Roman Catholicism.   At least not Roman Catholicism as it has been practiced now for centuries.   She is yearning for the church that, in the early 1960s and in a world of increasing pluralism, tried to get to that place where it had more in common with those who broke away and were labeled by the Vatican as the unclean, unorthodox, rabble rousers... aka Protestants.  Vatican II was Pope John XXIII's attempt to stretch out a hand into that open air on the other side of the window and meet God in a new place, in the experiences and faces of those who had been labeled heretics.

Pope John XXIII died before Vatican II was done.  Since so many confuse the Church with God, I wonder if that's what some meant when they scoff that, 'God died in the 60s.'

Every time I see the Roman Catholic Church doing something else to crucify Love incarnate in the world, I cringe.  As the sister noted in her interview, there is a growing denomination in the United States: ex-Catholics.   So many of my friends who are now either Episcopalian, or Jewish, or pagan, or agnostic, or atheist, come from families where they were raised in the Roman Catholic Church.  And it is that Church that made them think that God is some paternalistic fire-breathing drill Sergeant in the sky and that Jesus preferred men (but not that way!)  because all the apostles were men, so only men can serve at God's altar in the church.   The view of God that the Vatican seems to prefer is the half-world view, where there are men... and then the rest of us.  No wonder they waste so much time thinking and plotting around issues of homosexuality; the only other beings that count in the world are men!

Interesting, too, that CBS did this interview on the day when many of us are marking the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when she learns she's going to be the God-bearer and goes to her cousin, Elizabeth, who is going to give birth to John the Baptizer.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the one feminine example the Roman Catholic Church has glorified.  And yet, I believe that same young girl who bore the Son of God is weeping tears of frustration to see what has become of the people her son came to redeem.  How would this incarnation of the Vatican have treated her today?  Branded her a feminist (as if that's a bad thing!) and told her to stand ten paces behind her husband?

I feel for the nuns in this situation.  Today's Eucharistic reading from Colossians reminds us all that whenever we are faced with the obstacles erected by those in the world, we need to go back to the place that is the center of our calling and being:

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.--Col. 3: 14-17

Christ is eternal.  Popes are temporal.  Stay strong and stay the course, my sisters-in-Christ.



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black, Gay and Christian: Another Trinity

PFLAG-Tallahassee group with playwright and actor James Webb in the black T-shrit.
 I had a great time Saturday night returning to the FAMU  campus to bring along some of the PFLAG group to see, "The Contract" by James Webb.  I had seen and written about the play this winter, (see "The Contract Raises Questions") and so I was very excited that it was back, and I could get a group together to see it.

Unlike my previous experience, when the play was done in the black box theater, the audience at this last performance were engaged, and not enraged.  Moments in the play, and different statements coming from the characters, made some people shake their heads or mumble out loud, "Don't do it!" or "Girl??" or whatever.  But nobody, at least that I could see or hear, stormed out of the theater or worried at intermission about their own souls for witnessing this play.

There has been a lot of difference in the world between the first time I saw this performance at the end of January and this past weekend.  And I think some of that also gave the play a slightly different feel for me.  Since President Obama's endorsement of marriage equality on national TV, there has been a tremendous public shift in the dialogue, especially coming from the pulpit of black churches.  On YouTube, there are more examples of black preachers endorsing the President.  Polls are showing that the attitudes of black voters on the question of marriage equality are softening from the hard-line stance that it is an abomination to a more "live and let live" attitude.  Even on my own Facebook page, I am watching with interest as black community leaders go toe-to-toe with those who are reeling from this announcement from the President and reminding their brothers and sisters that it wasn't that long ago that the majority of Americans didn't think blacks should have equal rights or be allowed to marry the person they loved.

And the media has discovered that there is this other trinity that exists in the world:  Black, Gay and Christian.  National Public Radio has done reports about the presence among us of such Christians, and the New York Times this past weekend ran an article about a black gay church in Harlem.  Is this really anything new?  No, it isn't.  But since the President has made it OK to talk about it, lips are opening.and tongues are speaking.  And plays, such as "The Contract", are cracking open the doors of the churches and allowing more light to enter.

I have felt pain for my gay brothers and sisters in the black church.  I have heard them talk about their difficulties and fears about coming out in an environment that has been so openly hostile.  Many of them have given up attending church, figuring it is better to just have whatever relationship they're going to have with God without the grief of being amongst the hateful ones on a Sunday morning.   And still many more have internalized the hatred they've heard from the pulpit and believed the b.s. that God doesn't like "their kind."  In turn, they have brushed off God, so they can enjoy being gay.   Those same scenarios exist for whites raised in the church as well.

I will say it again, and again, and again:  God is Love, and Love does not reject love, same-sex or opposite-sex.   When two people share a mutuality of love for one another that is not forced or coerced, then it is a human expression of the love God has toward all of creation.  

May that love continue to spread, and may the churches, both black and white, grow up further into Christ and the understanding that we are all part of this vibrant, diverse, and beautiful body.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tongues of Fire: But What Are We Saying?

Pentecost is one of the more exciting days in the church calendar.   After the patient and anticipatory waiting of the birth of Christ during Advent, we have the long and sometimes difficult trek through Lent as we lead up to Good Friday and the crucifixion.  Our heaviness gets a reprieve with the reward of Easter and the resurrection.  And just when we're thinking all is well again--whoosh--Christ is gone.

The disciples must have been in a state of confusion for sure.  And, huddled together in the upper room waiting for this promised "other" Jesus had told them about, they probably weren't ready for the burst of wind and something like tongues of fire resting on each of them.  And they must have wondered what was going on as they began speaking in languages other than their own, but known to at least somebody  in the room.

In our reading from Acts, we hear that some of the people were supposing that all these babbling guys were just drunkards.  And that's when Peter, the extroverted and eager Peter, stands and delivers his testimony to the honor and glory of God and the Messiah who is Jesus Christ.

I have always thought of this scene as Peter's moment to shine and to speak with such authority that the words leaving his lips are coming from a place of total and unshakeable faith.  What that we all could have those moments where we overcome fears or shyness, and speak what we believe to be true.

For a long time, those of us who are Episcopalians have been reticent to engage in the "e" word of "evangelizing."  That word... and what it has come to represent... is NOT what we do.  You don't find the people of the red and blue books standing on street corners with megaphones, shouting at the passers-by to "Repent!!"  Evangelizing means megachurches and preachers in polyester suits and a thousand pairs of arms raised to the ceiling and shouting out in praise of "Gee-zus!"

That isn't exactly typical of your average Episcopal church service.

And yet, evangelizing is what we do every time we extend ourselves to another from a place of Love.  When we greet a stranger and make eye contact, that is the beginning point of the evangelism that is doable, even for Episcopalians.  If the topic turns to God, we need only to tap into that root of our Baptismal Covenant to know how we respond, grounded in our own faith the same way Peter did, while respecting the dignity of the other to be responding to God in a way that may or may not look just like our way.

Evangelizing isn't about converting people.  I believe only God can really convert a person to Christ.  Evangelizing means sharing the good news with others that light drives out darkness, love overcomes hate, life will triumph over death.  It is about reminding everyone that Jesus' life and mission was to free us from our prisons of fear, hatred and greed.  And not just reminding others, but to remember that essential truth for ourselves and live into that place.

More importantly than any words we can speak, we must also listen to other people and hear what they are saying.  For as many times as it seems Jesus was speaking words of wisdom, he was also remaining quiet so he could hear what was being said, and then could respond in Love.  While the church needs people to share and talk about their faith, I think Christianity could use time listening to others and paying attention to their  words instead of just our own.   We have our faith in God.  We acknowledge the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.   What can we learn about other people, and then how can we share what we know of the Divine with them in a way that is an exchange and not an argument?

And can it be that in engaging with others who are not like us in a respectful dialogue about our faith, we might learn more about God than we knew before?  In John's gospel, Jesus tells the disciples:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 

God is enormous and all-encompassing.  And because God is so huge, it is impossible for us to know all that there is to know about this Almighty Being.  But those who are engaged in a relationship with God, in whatever way, are having the mystery unfolded to them piece by piece.  So, imagine the fun of discovering when the piece you have fits with someone else's piece of God.  It can be mind-blowing and way cool!

The Holy Spirit has now entered the picture.  And that Spirit moves in ways that defy any logical understanding.  But it's the Spirit that will aid us on our paths toward God, as long as we are willing to let that Spirit give us the guidance.  May we all be able to preach like Peter one day!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Interfaith Eve

Happy Pentecost Eve... and Tikkun leil Shavuot, y'all!

In this Judeo-Christian household, my partner and I are having that rare occasion where both of our religions are celebrating feast days at the same time.   For her, this is the end of the 50 days of counting the Omer which commences after Passover.   I am ending the 50 days of Easter.

Both celebrations are a time for God's people to receive what they need to go forward to love and serve God, be it in the form of Torah or tongues of fire.  My beloved will be at Temple studying and eating ice cream (this is apparently the tradition at her Temple.  No Torah study should go without a treat!)  I'm getting ready for tomorrow's service, where I will be reading the lesson from Acts, serving the chalice and being honored as an EfM graduate. 

It's nice to have much to celebrate over a holiday weekend!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Saving Christianity

It's sad when I seem to get more information about things happening stateside by reading bloggers in England than I do looking at my own local news.

This just in from the brilliant and witty blog, Of Course, I Could Be Wrong:
Scores of Maine churches will pass the collection plate a second time at Sunday services on Father's Day to kick off a fundraising campaign for the lead opposition group to November's ballot question asking voters to legalize same-sex marriages. Between 150 and 200 churches are expected to raise money for the Protect Marriage Maine political action committee, said Carroll Conley Jr., executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine an evangelical organization and a member of the PAC. Conley is also trying to drum up support for the Maine campaign from religious leaders from around the country.

Such direct fundraising efforts on behalf of a political campaign should result in those churches losing their tax-exempt status.  But, then again, it seems we have entered into a new error era of politics in the United States where we say that corporations are people and political Super PACs can form overnight and run near-libelous ads with impunity.   And money, especially in the church collection plate, I suppose, could be considered "speech."

I responded to Mad Priest's post by, among other things, noting that it is the job of those Christians who do support marriage equality to become as loud, as present, as "out there" with their support as any fundamentalist "christian" church.  But MP raised another point:  should we consider starting a new name for our religious beliefs so we don't have to keep distancing ourselves from those who are perverting the name of Christ for hatred and greed?

Hmmm... maybe we could go back to calling ourselves the followers of "The Way."   After all, that's what we, who believe in the God that is Love, are all about: living into The Way.   That Way is the way of light, truth, love.  That Way is the path that Jesus so carefully and consciously taught to his disciples and anyone who would follow.  It is that Way that was supposed to be passed down from one generation to the next.  And that Way does NOT separate and divide, nor does it use the pulpit as a means to pulverize people.

I agree with MP that it is getting tiresome to always counter the angry hateful people who regularly give Christianity a bad name.   Their screaming and swinging Bibles like bats into everybody's head have made it hard for the rest of us to proclaim a belief in God as Christ when the image that conjures up for most of the "unchurched" is a face twisted into a fist to punch at gay people and pull money away from the needy.

And yet, I press on with calling myself a Christian, and not shying away from my belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  Christ doesn't need me to be some kind of defense lawyer to make his case.  Christ needs me, the queer, and all kinds of people to live and be the better representation of the Love that is The Way.

Here I am, Lord.  Send me.


Moses and Pharaoh

There are many times in life when we are faced with obstacles.  Physical obstacles prevent us from driving the well-worn path we have to work each day.  Emotional obstacles, such as fear, keep us from taking action on an issue before us.  And then there are people who become the obstacles: a boss, a colleague, a politician, a religious leader who, because of the power they wield in this realm, are able to stymy the progress of others.

It's important to note that the power they have is limited to "this realm."   That is the case with Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus of the Israelites.  Sure, he could order that the Hebrew people must gather their own straw for making bricks, and he could call them, "Lazy!" as they slaved longer and harder hours.   But, as we all know from the story, it was God who asserted the ultimate authority and used Moses and Aaron to get the Israelites out of Egypt.

We also know from the story that it was God who was hardening the heart of Pharaoh.  Why would God do that?   Perhaps the reason lies in Moses' earlier protests when God first appears to him in the burning bush. 

If you remember, Moses is a little stunned by this encounter and is not so sure of these instructions he's getting to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh, "Let my people go."   He raises all kinds of reasons why this is an impossible task and why he can not possibly be the right person for the job.  "Nobody is going to listen to me. I stammer. How will they believe you sent me?"  And with each objection, God assures Moses that He will take care of the listening, the speaking, the believing.  Just go do it.  And then, as the story goes, God hardens Pharoah's heart.  The King of Egypt will not accept the signs that Moses and Aaron perform to prove that they are speaking with authority.... even as the Nile is a bloody mess.

Why?  Maybe this hardness of heart  was necessary in order to push and shape Moses as a leader.  Instead of thinking about Pharaoh as "the bad guy" (which is often how I think of him in this story), he is "the necessary obstacle" that gets Moses past his fears and doubts which allows God to move through Moses.   At one point, even God tells Moses:  "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh and Aaron will be your prophet."     

I think this idea is interesting, and it tells me something about the ways of the temporal powers that operate in today's world.    

Recently, Facebook and the internet has been all lit up over the remarks of a Baptist preacher in North Carolina who suggested that all the "lesbians and queers" be rounded up and put behind an electrified fence a la the Nazi concentration camps of World War II.   This weekend, there are plans to protest outside his church.   And the Raleigh-based media will have a circus to cover.

I can't help thinking that we have given this man a lot more power by watching the YouTube of his hate-filled sermon than he had even a week before he preached it!  While there are those who share the same opinions and attitudes toward the LGBT community,  the polls show that he is increasingly becoming part of a screaming minority.   Protesting him won't change him or the people who follow him.  As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."  What pastors like this man in North Carolina remind us of is that when there is such viciousness coming from a pulpit it is incumbent upon those of us who profess a God who is Love to amplify that love to the world.  If there is a lesson to be learned from his horrible tirade it's that we must profess a God of Love early and often, especially to communities that have been so verbally-abused by the church.  It was God, through Moses, that ultimately freed the Hebrews and put Pharaoh in his place.  It is God, through us, that will ultimately show Christ to be a liberator, not a jailor, to the oppressed.

As we meet the Pharaohs in our lives, may we see them as ones who only hold limited power over us.  And may we tap into the river of Love and strength that will mold us into a Moses, no matter what we believe are our limitations.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

For Only In You Can We Live in Safety

As the Grateful Dead might say, "What a long strange trip it's been."

This Sunday we are arriving at time when the disciples have seen their risen Christ, been amazed and overjoyed that he has conquered death.  And then, last Thursday, he took them up to the mountain and told them, "OK, now I'm really outta here.  But you'll be getting another boost from a close buddy really soon!"  And off he went, ascending to sit at the right hand of the Father.

I don't know about you, but I'd probably want a stiff drink at this point!

He's gone.  Again.  And now they're left.  Again.  And the world isn't getting any kinder or gentler or easier.

Jesus was aware of what his friends would be enduring in his absence.  In this morning's gospel, we find him in prayer.  John's gospel gives us a glimpse into the Jesus who is preparing to be put to death and making a petition to God on behalf of the disciples:

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.  I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.--John 17: 11b-18

Imagine, for a moment, that this prayer is being cast out many thousand years into the future on our behalf as well.  In many ways, those of us who take solace and gather strength in coming together at the Lord's table every Sunday in the Eucharist are facing our own trials once we walk out of the church.  Like the disciples, we, too, enter into a world that doesn't necessarily believe in Christ, or--worse-- claims the mantle of Christ but betrays his ethic of Love to assert themselves as the moral superiors to everyone else.  They say they believe in Christ, but actually saying and doing things that reflect Christ's love?  Well, y'know...  

Like the disciples, we may find ourselves feeling left behind and wondering how to carry on in the face of hostility, and indifference.  Remember, to be Christian, to really live and abide in Christ, is to be counter to a culture of consumption and climbing the corporate ladder.  It is a life that requires us to extend ourselves in Love to people with no expectation that we are going to gain anything in return.  That's not the normal way of your every day human being! 

When I think of this prayer of Jesus' in John's gospel, I am reminded of the petition we make in the daily office:

V: Give peace, O Lord, in all the world
R: For only in you can we live in safety

This seems to sum up what Jesus is saying.  In God, we have peace and only in God's peace can we live in safety.  We have choices in how we respond to the many challenges we face in our daily lives.  If we choose to respond from a place of thinking that we must "solve" and "fix" everything in the world then we are circumventing the power of God who is the one who gives us the ultimate peace if we will relax and listen to the wisdom and give the control to a force greater than ourselves.  It is through God and being in relationship with God that we have what we need to experience the sense of  freedom and calm that comes with eternal life.  And it is from this place of freedom and calm that we can respond to the world.  If we so choose to live in that way.

And we have to be able to do this without the physical Christ looming over our shoulder, and being able to pull Jesus out of our pocket.  Much in the same way the disciples must rely on knowing that they have been given all the tools they need to carry on without Christ being right there with them, speaking in parables and offering clarification.  Our experience of Christ can come in a variety of ways, but its baseline for most of us is that moment or moments when we have intentionally allowed ourselves to be in contact with God.  We must remember those words after Communion that, having been fed with the spiritual food of Christ's body and blood, we are now sent into the world in peace to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart, a way of being that comes from having shared in the Eucharist.  We are given the opportunity now to take our counter cultural Love to meet the world as we experience it.  The more willing we are to allow that Love that flows from each of us to come out, the more we become the agents of something radical that builds up and transforms the world as we know it.  Are we ready for that challenge?     

Saturday, May 19, 2012

New Hampshire diocese elects Robert Hirschfeld as bishop coadjutor

New Hampshire diocese elects Robert Hirschfeld as bishop coadjutor

The votes are in, and it's decided: the new bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire is Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld.  He will have some incredibly big shoes to fill coming in as the 10th bishop of New Hampshire after Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson.

The embedded link takes you to the official news release as well as a bio of the rector of Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts, now bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire.   Good luck to him, and God bless my native home and my Episcopal Church of origin.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Twenty-one Years: The Love That Love Knows

God does move in the most mysterious and profound ways.

 Today, my partner and I are celebrating twenty-one years of togetherness in all its beauty and bumps in the road along the way. It is amazing to both of us that so much time has passed. I found it particularly interesting that this morning's daily office had as a reading the words that Hannah offers to God in 1 Samuel upon having her prayer for a son answered. The text of her prayer, which would no doubt informed the Virgin Mary's Magnificat, starts:
“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength." -- 1 Sam. 2:1b-4
There are many of my friends who see my relationship with my partner as reason to put our portrait on the poster for why we should legalize same-sex marriage. I suppose we could be used that way, but as I woke up this morning and thought about this day, I was thinking more about the way that God continues to do God's will no matter what the civil and church authorities think ought to be "the way things are." We do not have the blessing of the Episcopal Church, or any other religious institution, although my own rector conveyed his congratulations to us. We were turned down in our symbolic protest of the state's marriage law as not being eligible to apply for a marriage license. But none of that matters in the eyes of God.  I believe that God blesses and rejoices in our relationship.

As for the continuing struggles that we face in light of the lack of legal recognition, I found today's gospel from the noon day Eucharist particularly helpful:

"Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." --John 16:20-23

Every struggle or attempt to move society forward has been met by resistance.  In the days of Jesus, it was entrenched power bases and an oppressive Roman authority that would step on the neck of anyone getting out-of-line.  Women have faced these struggles (and still do) for equality, especially their fight for the right to vote.  Blacks have faced these struggles (and still do) to be treated as fully-human.  The same for immigrants.  And the same for the LGBT community.  But every group that has faced the obstacles of oppression have also seen steps forward and barricades knocked down.  I believe this is because injustice can not last forever when God demands justice and mercy for all.  As I work to release myself into this river of God and trust in its movement, I want to carry these words of Christ.  His promise was that he would be with us always to the end of the age.  I believe him.

And because I believe, I know that one day my 21 years of "co-habitation" will receive the proper recognition.  It already has.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III Gets It Right

I have (hopefully) corrected for the problem that seemed to happen where this video was loaded three times! How strange. This statement from the pulpit by an African-American pastor addressing his black congregation brought tears to my eyes. I have long wondered why the leaders of black churches could not see that condemning the LGBT community and calling us an "abomination" repeatedly was an "anti-Christ" message. I have waited patiently for their hearts to turn, and to see that we are all part of the same body, and to preach a message of love and joy rather than hate and fear. Here is that message.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beware, Mr. Big: Double 0-Seven is Coming

I have to laugh that the No Anglican Covenant Coalition's proposed resolution for the upcoming General Convention has been filed and assigned the number:  D007.

That's "House of Deputies" Double O-Seven.  Y'know, like Bond.  James Bond.

But unlike Bond's martinis, I would say that, as a group, we have been stirred and not shaken in the past several weeks.  The votes out of the Church of England have given me hope that there are more and more members of the Communion who understand that the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant is a really bad idea that just needs to be put in the circular file and forgotten.   The NACC, and its allies going to GC 2012 in Indianapolis, are preparing to bring logic to bear once more in the hopes that we will convince the Episcopal Church to vote in favor of keeping our Communion together rather than cater to the fears that have produced the Anglican Covenant.

Below is the text of D007.   Time to live... and let the the Anglican Covenant die.


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 recognizes 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 proposed 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.


Churches of the Anglican Communion have been asked to adopt the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant.The suggestion for such an agreement was made in the 2004 Windsor Report, which recommended "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 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 proposed 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 unacceptable 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 Aoteroa, New Zealand and Polynesia renders it virtually certain that those churches will also decline to adopt.

The deficiencies of the proposed Covenant would lead to an Anglican Communion further divided rather than more unified. Declining to adopt the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant not only avoids permanent, institutionalized division, it opens the way for new opportunities to build relationships across differences through bonds of affection, by participation in the common mission of the gospel, and by consultation without coercion or intimidation.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Love Extending Outward

Well, welcome back to me.
I have just been on a whirlwind trip from Tallahassee to Sewanee, Tennessee, to see my mentor receive her Doctor of Ministry degree, visit with an old friend from Mickee Faust, and conduct an interview in Nashville on behalf of St. John's for the update of their history book.
It was a wild, wild, ride, but well worth it.  I had not seen Leah in many years, so it was great to hear all about her life in the Theater Department at Vanderbilt and how she and her husband are ready to make Nashville their home.
My interview with the former rector of St. John's, Fr. Bob Abstein, was interesting and told a story of transition in the life of that parish.
And I  managed to pull off the intended surprise of showing up for my mentor's graduation. As the editor on her project, I knew the work she had put into writing amidst her more-than-full-time life as a parish priest, wife, and mother. There was an impressive group from her current congregation and her family in attendance.  And many of them looked at me in astonishment when they learned I had made the trip "all the way" from Tallahassee.
Admittedly, it is no small feat to make that trip up to Sewanee.  But I was resolved to be there and be present for this occasion because it was a big life event. That's what friends do for friends.
In the gospel lesson, Jesus talks about love as the new commandment; that we are to love one another as he had loved.  And there is no greater gift than to lay down one's life for one's friends.  He is talking of a much greater sacrifice than simply driving eight-and-a-half hours to a graduation ceremony.
And yet, in the scheme of things in our 21st century world, there is still something to be seen in putting aside other "things" to celebrate, to comfort, or to mourn with your friends when life presents another turn in the road for them.  Because what Jesus is getting at here is that love, the common bond between people, is about being present and showing up for your friends at all times, both in big and small ways.  We don't just show our love for another person by taking a bullet for them; we show it in the way we speak to other people, in the way we look at them, and in the way we are with others in the world.   
Jesus tells the disciples that they are no longer servants, but friends because he has included them in the understanding about God who is Love as exemplified through Christ.  This is the love that they will now have to extend outward to an even wider circle of people.
It seems that the disciples, amidst their foggy comprehension of what Christ was saying in these final hours before his death, come to their own individual realizations about his message.  We get that from the reading in the book of Acts where Peter declares amidst the Gentiles, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality.... Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?"     

This moment is remarkably similar to what happened with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch last week.  It is like what happens with conversion of Paul who, upon encountering the resurrected Christ, is blinded temporarily and must depend upon a follower of the Way to have his sight restored.  A persecutor of the followers of The Way becomes one of the staunchest advocates for spreading this Love even wider.
Once Love has touched us, it is impossible to hold it in because it calls us to live in Love and share that Love through our very being.  
As we inch ever closer to Pentecost and the arrival of the fiery rushing wind of the Holy Spirit, this is the time to reflect on what all these lessons from the Scripture during this Easter season are pointing to:  Love.  Love in word.  Love in action.  Love in deed. We are to live in Love and let that Love extend outward from us.   As the psalmist says, "Sing to the Lord a new song.  Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thank You, Mister President!

See the video HERE.  This makes President Obama the first sitting president to acknowledge my full humanity, and to call for my equality with my straight brothers and sisters in ways that DO matter.  Even those who have mixed feelings about marriage acknowledge that under our current system, this is the way to provide protection for partners, children, health care benefits, hospital visitation, and on and on.
And it allows us to express love for the person who matters to us.
Now is the time for the LGBT community to hustle and get out the vote for this President like our lives depend on it.
Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sadness in the Southland

Image via Passport

Another vote.  Another constitutional amendment passed to ban marriage equality in a southern state.

This time it was North Carolina, a state that I have enjoyed visiting and spending time (and money).  But I don't know that I want to go there anymore.  Not after what 58 percent of the voters have done to my brothers and sisters.  The electorate went to the polls and adopted an amendment which says, "marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

I know what this feels like, my NC brothers and sisters.  We went through a similar pain in Florida four years ago.  On the night that all my straight friends, African-American friends, Democratic friends were giddy and gleeful and celebrating the Obama victory over John McCain, I was numb.  I could not get into the spirit of the celebratory moment--our first black President--when I realized that 61-percent of the voters in the state had made me a second-class citizen.  People who did not know me or my partner or my friends thought it was OK to say that my relationship was illegitimate.  It was a pain that went so deep to my core that the next day, I could not look people in the eye.  Not my clients.  Not the barista at the coffee shop.  And certainly not the woman who approached me as I sat crying to a dear friend about all of this.  The woman wanted to help... and tried to hand me literature from the James Dobson "Focus on the Family" group (I am not making this up!).  

Again, I go back to this line that I have posted before on this blog:

Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  (1 John 4:20)

What North Carolina has done to its LGBT population is hateful.  I don't know how many of that 58-percent like to self-identify as "Christian", but for those who do I think they might want to consider what it means to be a capital "C" Christian.   It begins with loving God... and is closely followed by loving your neighbor as yourself.  How does passing Amendment One accomplish either of those two goals?

I am proud of the Episcopal leadership in North Carolina.  Unlike what happened in Florida four years ago, all of the diocesan bishops from all three of the state's dioceses went on record in opposition to Amendment One.  Thank you for taking a stand and showing that there are those in Christianity who do strive for justice and do respect the dignity of EVERY human being.   

Tomorrow,  LGBT North Carolinians are going to wake up to a world that feels extremely cold.  To my straight brothers and sisters, I say please understand that this is an enormous ache for your queer friends.  Please don't try to make it all better with statements that "your time is coming."  Be kind.  Listen.  Let them cry and rail.  Acknowledge the hurt.  And then resolve for yourself that you will join us in standing for justice and work to overturn the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.  Have the courage to call out your relatives and colleagues when they crack jokes at our expense.  Join PFLAG.  Get involved!  We need your allied voices to be part of our demand for a better


Monday, May 7, 2012

Methodist Missteps

Demonstrators call for inclusive church at 2012 United Methodist General Conference
Protestors disrupt a session of the UMC General Conference after Methodists fail to change anti-gay policies. Photo from the United Methodist News Service

 I feel as though I could just copy and paste most of the previous entry.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ who are members of the United Methodist Church: my heart aches for you.  I have been sitting on the sidelines, occasionally glancing at headlines coming from your General Conference.  Needless to say, I was greatly disappointed to see that the body of Christ that is your particular denomination could not see fit to repeal the language that calls homosexuality "incompatible" with Christian teaching.

You and I both know that is not true.  You and I both know that you are a beloved child of God.  You and I both know that just because your fellow Methodists have failed you, God will not abandon you... nor let your church off the hook.  As more and more Christians come to understand that God doesn't reject the LGBT community, and as other protestant denominations (Evangelical Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterian USA) offer the unconditional welcome you seek, the United Methodist Church will feel the Spirit breathing down its neck.  It may respond by sticking its head even further into the sand.  But the Spirit will not allow you to be left in the cold. You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who recognize your sexuality as a gift from God.

I have felt this same rejection of my lesbian-self from the Episcopal Church before.  Things do change, even if the changes are slow and come in patchwork form across your broader church.

God is love.  Never forget that.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

God is Love. Period.

Today was one of those Sundays where I was reminded why it is that I attend the worship service instead of lounging with my coffee and a crossword puzzle.

Our processional hymn--#379 "God is Love"-- spoke volumes to me as I continued to hold in my head and heart the people of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicot City, MD, following the tragic events there on Thursday evening.   A portion of the lyrics:

God is Love; and though with blindness
sin afflicts all human life,
God’s eternal loving-kindness
guides us through our earthly strife.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love for ever
o’er the universe must reign.

This sentiment, and the entirety of the processional anthem, put the emphasis where it needed to be: God is Love.  All the readings of the morning pointed to this same theme.  I have written more than once on the Ethiopian eunuch story from Acts. I am moved to tears when I hear the phrase from the eunuch, so eager to learn more about God, "Look, here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?"

Nothing, dear earnest eunuch soul.  Nothing prevents you from being baptized into the Trinity.  You are, have been, and always will be, part of the body.  And, unbeknownst to you, your story will become a touchstone in the 21st century for all those called "others" who have been wrongly told that they don't matter and there is no place for them in the kingdom.   As the First Letter of John said this morning:

Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. 
These are the words I shared with my EfM group the Monday after the horrible vote in Florida in 2008 when the voters placed marriage discrimination against the LGBT community into the state constitution.  This message from 1 John had been in the daily office and appeared in the rotation about three or four days after that election night.  God has a strange way of doing that to me.  Amidst my own personal hell and pain and feeling the insults of the world or the church (or both), something will draw me back to what is the truth, the way, and the life.  That truth can be summed up in the statement: God is love.  Period. Exclamation point.  Emphasis added.

All this love culminating in the Gospel message about being part of the vine, the image Jesus uses in John's Gospel.  That love is tended and cared for by the vine grower and that vine is coming up through the soil and feeding the branches so that they bear much fruit. The more fruit on the vine, the more people will come and taste of the fruit of that vine.   What if the vine grower didn't love and tend that vine?  What would happen to the branches of that vine?  No fruit.  And no fruit means nobody will ever know how good the fruit on the vine can be.

And this leads me back to my prayers for St. Peter's Episcopal Church.  At a time of such violence and death, it would be easy for people to allow their hurt and fears to spill over into hatred and mistrust of people who are like the shooter, Douglas Jones.  

The homeless can make one nervous.  I would be a liar if I said I wasn't made uncomfortable at times by someone approaching me on the street, especially someone holding a conversation with no one in particular. I've had plenty of encounters with people who were mentally ill in some way.  Still, more often than not, the homeless and those on the streets are victims of violence.  The mere fact that they are living on the streets is, in my opinion, a form of violence, or at least brokenness. And rather than assume that the homeless and mentally ill are guilty of being murderers until proven innocent, there needs to be more of an effort to tap into Love for those who need shelter, and adequate mental health services.  

The Diocese of Maryland recognized that in a resolution passed over the weekend at their annual convention.  Not only did they resolve to provide and care for the people of St. Peter's Episcopal, they resolved to look into ways to better protect priests and other workers in the church, and fight for the needs of the homeless, the mentally ill, and the victims of gun violence.   All things that are necessary.  All things that reflect the many multi-layers of Love in action.  All ways that honor the life and service of Brenda Brewington and Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn, who by all accounts, did all they could to provide care and comfort to those who came to the church in need.

The more I listened, the more I reflected on my connection in spirit to those in Maryland, the more I felt that God met me in this service in a way that I haven't felt for some weeks.  And for that I say, "Thanks be to God!"




Update on St. Peter's Shooting

**UPDATE: The Associated Press reports Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn died at 2:47pm.
2nd woman shot at Howard Co. church on life support | Howard County News - WBAL Home

Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn's family is keeping her on life support, so that her organs may be donated.  This is the statement from the church's co-rector as reported by The Lead:

 Dear friends, colleagues and fellow travelers in Music and Ministry-
Thursday a great tragedy intruded on life in our parish, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills - A deeply troubled homeless man entered our Parish Office, shot and killed my two closest colleagues in ministry: Brenda Brewington, our Administrative Assistant, and The Reverend Dr. Mary Mary-Marguerite Kohn, for seven years first my Associate Rector and for the past two years as Co-Rector of St Peter's. I have spent most of my time since the incident was reported at 5pm on Thursday working with the Howard County Police, the parish, and the families of Brenda and MM. I cannot begin to thank all of you who have offered your support and prayers at this time. It makes a difference for me, for our family and for all of us at St. Peter's. I have had the support of a local sheriff, Sam Hammond, who was by my side all of Thursday evening and night into the early hours of Friday, as was the Reverend Angela Shepherd of our Diocesan Staff. Thanks to all of you I and everyone at St. Peter's feels supported by a great cloud of witnesses, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please keep the prayers coming as we find our way forward. Brenda's family and MM's family join me in thanking you for keeping their life and miinstry a living icon for good and love in this world. Blessings and Peace be upon you and upon us all as we seek to see God's power and majesty in every moment of every day.
Yours in Christ,
Fr Kirk Kubicek,
aka Chief the Drummer.

Prayers ascending for all of them.  This will be a particularly difficult day I imagine in the life of the St. Peter's parish.  They have lost two people who served God and them at the apparent hands of one who was lost and bitter.  May God be with them and continue to open their ears to the message of Love inherent in the Gospel.  It is that Love that breathes life into those places that ache from the pain of death and violence.  May they move through their grief continuing to feel the cloud of witnesses who surround them in the name of Love. And may they know peace at this time of transition.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

More thoughts on the Pride Interfaith Service

Last night I went to Temple Israel, my partner's Reformed Judaism synagogue, to pick her up after Friday evening services.  The President of the Temple (i.e. the Sr. Warden for the Episcopalians reading this blog) had sung in the combined choir with his wife.  He was so pleased with the service and the things he got out of it.

"I'd never prayed with pagans before," he said.  "I've participated in things with the other groups and attended a Quaker college, and I was really pleased to have the Quakers close out the service with silence."

My partner talked about the first Pride Interfaith service we attended back in 1993 and how the pagans had actually opened and closed the service, and how moved she and I both had been to be present in that sacred space.

"And what was interesting," the President continued, "is how you could really see the connections between all the traditions.  I look forward to doing it again."

This is the straight, white, married, Jewish male President of the largest synagogue in the city saying this about our Pagan-Buddhist-Unitarian-Jewish-Episcopalian-Evangelical-Spiritualist-Lutheran-Unity-Quaker-MCC Interfaith service for the LGBT Pride Week in Tallahassee.  Such a contrast to what I got back from some members of the Episcopal clergy in this city, who either never answered my request for them to participate, or told me that because of the pagans, they felt they could not.  

It reminds me of this piece from Matthew's gospel that was in today's daily office:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  

I don't consider pagans, or any of the others, my "enemy".   But if we substitute the word, "other" or "different" or even "Unitarian" into the statement for the word "enemy", you get the idea of where Jesus is heading with all of this.  If we only want to be around the people "just like us" and if we can only do things that honor God in the presence of people "just like us", then we have failed to understand Christ's command to us to love one another and go beyond ourselves to touch the people who are not "just like us."

I'm glad to have been part of this service.  I think we did a very good thing.  Thanks be to God.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Prayers for St. Peter's Episcopal Church

 Go to the Facebook page for St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicot City, MD, and here's how they describe themselves:

St. Peter’s is a vibrant community of faith, sharing in the transforming power of God's love, rooted in the Gospel of Christ, nourished in the joy, hope, and beauty that are God's gifts, called to worship, to dream, to risk, and to serve. We endeavor to seek and serve Christ in all persons, always remembering:

With Christ as our Guide,

St Peter’s Episcopal Church at Ellicott Mills
Is an Open and Supportive Community
That puts God’s Love into Action through
Service, Spiritual Growth and Joyful Celebration

The doors of St. Peter’s open wide in the name of Jesus Christ. 

According to news reports, yesterday at about 5:20pm, the sexton of the church discovered two people--Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn and a church secretary named Brenda-- shot in the church office.  Police, including the SWAT team, swarmed into the neighborhood where they found the alleged gunman, identified only as an "unbalanced homeless man", also dead in the woods behind the church, the gun at his side in an apparent suicide.

We've known this kind of senseless gun violence in the Episcopal diocese of Florida.  Earlier this year, a fired teacher from The Episcopal High School in Jacksonville returned to campus and shot to death the school's principal, Dale Regan, before killing himself.  The pain was felt from one end of the diocese to the other, especially among the many children who knew students attending EHS.  The pain that will be felt by all those in and around the St. Peter's community will be enormous.  

Coincidentally, theologian and author Diana Butler Bass is scheduled to speak at the Maryland Episcopal Diocesan Convention, which is this weekend.  Her topic is "Facing the Future without Fear."  Timely, in a very weird and sad way.

As I think about this, I am again saddened at the thought that a place that has opened its doors wide in the name of Jesus Christ becomes a killing field.  We assume that churches are safe from "the world" and yet really they are no safer than any other building.  Look at places outside the United States; how many times are people killed, bombed, beaten, burned inside houses of worship?  So is the answer to lock our doors, bar our windows, and otherwise retreat from the forces that disrupt the goodness of God?

I look to these words from 1 Peter 5: 

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 

Bad stuff happens, especially in a society with way too many guns in the hands of way too many people who really ought not to have them.  At times like these, we need to recognize that Christ is there feeling crucified again because of the violence we inflict on one another.  Violence that includes the fact that this alleged shooter was an "unbalanced homeless man."  

Amidst grief and pain, we must remain committed to doing what we can to advocate for better mental health services, ways to combat the problem of homelessness, and advocate for sensible gun laws to cut down on the number of weapons in the hands of the "unbalanced" people.

Prayers for the people of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, for Rev. Dr. Marguerite-Mary Kohn and the medical team that is helping to save her life.  May God be with them granting them strength and courage and easing the pain in their hearts.  And may light perpetual shine upon Brenda and the "unbalanced homeless man."  In your Love, God, you can reconcile all things.  May each find their place toward your eternal flame. Amen.

Gnawing on the Gospel

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

My college friend,the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, likes to say, "The gospel isn't to be just gulped down on Sunday, but gnawed on throughout the week so it really becomes a part of us."  And certainly, I've been chewing on the Good Shepherd passage from John's gospel that we heard this past Sunday.  

It was the verses quoted above that went straight to my heart during the service on Sunday.  And even though I was standing at the front of the church in my black and white Eucharistic Minister vestments, I couldn't stop the tears from coming to my eyes.  One escaped and rolled down my cheek as I heard the phrase: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice."  

So many things went through my mind.  I know what it feels like to be one of those "other sheep."  I feel it deeply in the seat of my soul that I am, and will likely always be, one of the black sheep.  That no matter how much the world and the church universal changes, the church specific where I am remains in some weird time capsule buried underground.  Will it be opened up this year?  Next year? Twenty years from now?  I just don't know.  I keep looking for signs that we're ready to break off the lock and release the old air and bring new air in, but it just doesn't seem to be happening.  

Elsewhere, I see and read of things changing.  Just the other day, Integrity sent around a message about nine same-sex couples in South Florida having their weddings (performed out-of-state) blessed in an Episcopal Church.  So, in a place much further south in this state, the bishop supports full equality, and is even allowing those unions to be blessed in the church before the General Convention's House of Bishops and House of Deputies have taken their votes on the resolutions.  

Another thought also came to mind.  "Other sheep" made me think again about the faces in the room at our Pride Interfaith service.  People from various traditions and yet all sharing in celebration of a spirit that is larger than ourselves.  I call that "God"; others say "Goddess" others say "Adonai" while others still say nothing.  Yet, in this gospel passage, Jesus is saying these "others" who are "outside this particular fold are just as much part of him.  Makes you wonder, "Who Would Jesus Exclude?"  Answer: no one.  All sheep who are wandering in the world, and especially the ones in search of a shepherd, will find their way when they hear their name.  

These are the riches of listening to Scripture and considering its message for more than five minutes it is read aloud in church.  Your thoughts?    

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An End of a Chapter: EfM Graduation

It is over.

Last night, my Monday night Education for Ministry group said, "Good-bye and have a good summer," to each other.  And they also celebrated my graduation from the four-year extension course.   I am happy, and a bit sad, all at the same time.  EfM is a lot of work, but it is also a chance to have some really good and intellectually stimulating conversation about "Where's God in all this?" as we go about our day-to-day living in 21st century Tallahassee.  It is additionally hard to end this chapter as I have been the group's co-mentor for the past two years, so I feel a special bond with the Monday night crew.  I thought about the ones who had graduated from this group ahead of me and how much each of them have added to my own understanding and appreciation for God and the creation that is at hand.

My friend and neighbor, Terry, came by the house last night and I was holding my diploma.  She told me how well the auditions had gone for Mickee Faust that evening, and was sorry that I wasn't there.  And she inquired as to what was in my hand.

Terry is a devout atheist, a true believer in non-belief.  Hence, I have not explained why it is that I am "never available" on Monday nights to do projects that are related to Mickee Faust or anything else for the past four years.

My grin became wider and my eyes were probably dancing with delight as she again asked, "What is that in your hand?"  I wanted her to guess.

"Something fell off the wall?"


"Some kind of certificate?"

Grin with stifled laughter.  Her eyes darkened, and she shifted her hips to one side.

"Oh, is this some kind of church thing?" she said, in resignation.

I laughed and turned the frame around and let her read it.  And even the atheist, who thinks all religions are stupid and populated with morons, gave me a hug and a kiss and told me she was proud of me.

"So, this means you're a theologian?" she asked.

"Well... yes, in a way, I guess I am!"

That's always one of the biggest questions about the EfM program.  What exactly are we being educated to do?  Once upon a time (and, in some dioceses, it remains true for those becoming vocational deacons), EfM was a means of offering a theological education to those discerning a call to ordination outside the seminary environment.  It quickly morphed into being a program for the laity and a way for the church to respond to adult Christian Education.  It is not your typical Bible Study or a paint-by-numbers approach to teaching lay people about what it means to be a Christian.  At its very heart, what I believe EfM is about is allowing those people who are "seeking God or a deeper knowledge of God" a place to do their exploration with others while engaged in a process of figuring out, "What does it mean for me to be a Christian?  And what am I doing with the gifts and talents I have?" The coursework allows people to not only learn the roots of their tradition in the Scriptures, but to see the good, the bad and the ugly of how the Christian church evolved from its start where a man was preaching Love in First Century Palestine to anyone with ears to hear all the way to the challenges of the postmodern time that often call faith into question.   Rather than runaway from those questions, the people in EfM turn them around and around and often discover, "By golly, there isn't always a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to any of this!"   And, in my mind's eye, nothing delights the Divine more than our willingness to keep engaged in a game of "Come and Find Me."  Sometimes it's "Hide and Go Seek", but more often I think it's, "Hey You!  I'm right here!"

I posted a picture of my diploma on Facebook, and within minutes, the well wishes and more questions came pouring in:  What's your title?  Rt. Rev. Susan? (I think that might make some heads spin!)   My title remains, Susan Gage, Licensed Massage Therapist, which is a healing ministry in its own right.   Some expressed a desire to hear me preach the Gospel.  Well, I may not be in a pulpit, but I certainly strive to preach the Gospel in my own quirky, queer way here on this blog.

The question I am left with as I finish this particular chapter in my spiritual journey can be summed up in six words:

Here I am, Lord.  Now what?

I am part of a living water, a river rapid that keeps moving and pushing forward, even against the dams that have been built up to contain the likes of me.  With God, all things are possible... even if they must happen in unconventional and circuitous ways.  Given what I have learned in four years of EfM, I can safely say that God seems to find convention highly-overrated!