Monday, June 25, 2012

Caught in the Storm

For those of you following the news of Tropical Storm Debby, we're doing OK here in our pocket of Tallahassee. The rain has been falling non-stop all day, at times heavy downpours and blowing wind. This is the South's version of a Nor'easter.
It sets an interesting backdrop for the things on my mind. Yesterday's gospel lesson was the story from Mark about the raging sea, and the frightened disciples, and the sleeping Jesus who wakes up to their cries of "Help!" and calms the storm. It seems that this metaphor was appropriate as the rain blew against the stained glass windows, and as we made our way from the safety of our sanctuary to the parish hall for an update on General Convention 2012 by our rector.
There are lots of issues that will be facing the bishops and deputies of the Episcopal Church next week in Indianapolis. From the description of the budget situation, it seems there is an intent to cut many program areas at the church headquarters (environmental justice, diversity, Christian formation). From what I understand, the idea is to shift these responsibilities down to the diocesan and even the parish level. What's not clear is what kind of funding will accompany that shift. And years of covering state politics showed me, when the state decided it wasn't going to be in the business of "xx" and it would be up to the counties or cities to provide "xx", it would be up to the County and City Commissioners to figure out how they were going to pay for "xx" to continue in their communities. My guess is that is going to be the upshot of this budget cutting and shifting down to the local level. It's going to be painful. And apparently has already had its own internal pain in the process of creating a budget for the Episcopal Church as reported by Katie Sherrod, who is a member of the Executive Council, the group normally charged with carrying out the duty of drafting a budget.
There is the matter of the Anglican Covenant. Thankfully, from the description I heard the rector giving, it would seem that our deputation going to Indianapolis is inclined to vote against the document. He gave the impression that there was a resolution that would be offered which would say, "We want to continue in dialogue, but we don't support the Anglican Communion Covenant." That would sound like D007, which is what me and my fellow bloggers in the No Anglican Covenant Coalition are supporting. But I know that is not the only idea out there, and my rector couldn't tell me which resolution he was referencing. To be clear, the only option that I find acceptable is the one that politely, but firmly, says, "No, thank you; non, merci; no gracias; nein, danke (have I covered all the languages of the Episcopal Church?)" This flawed proposal, the outgrowth of the Windsor Report which was the outgrowth of fear of gay people becoming bishops, just needs to die and go away. Period.
Speaking of fear, we get to one of the biggest hot button issues: blessing same-sex unions. There was much made of the term "union" vs. "marriage" at our forum. Mainly, it seemed there was a desire to make it clear that the rites to be considered by GC2012 would allow the blessing of "unions" not "marriages." I found this a bizarre distinction given that there are states and the District of Columbia where the civil government has said it is OK for us LGBT people to get married. But whatever! Our bishop, John Howard, has again written a letter to all of us on the topic of General Convention, with extra special attention given to this particular resolution. And, again, the bishop has gone on record opposing the idea of allowing LGBT people of faith to have our partnerships recognized by the diocese of Florida. Nevermind that if we cared to get the blessing of an Episcopal priest, all we'd have to do is travel to Miami where Bishop Frade has already given the green light to bless marriages that couples have entered into in those six states and DC where it is allowed. Suddenly, it just seemed so fitting that the sky was pouring down rain on our roof as this topic was being discussed. Unless you have lived in society's margins, you have no idea how painful it is to have an institution founded on the basis of Christ's love telling you, "We want your time, talent and treasure, but we don't really want you." The church ought to be the great equalizer where no one is greater or lesser than another. Ah, but then, they don't call it an "institution" for nothin'.
I have had enough meetings with our rector to know that he doesn't share +John's opinions about same-sex unions, marriages, blessings, etc. And rather than attempt to defend or explain the bishop's attitude (beyond saying +John is a "traditionalist"), Fr. Dave offered to people that they could take hard copies of his letter and read it for themselves. And the copies quickly went around the room.
I did not take one. I didn't need it. I had already read, marked, learned and inwardly rejected his reasoning on Friday when the letter showed up on the diocesan website. If there was any silver-lining in what I saw in his words, words, words on this issue: at least he owned the opinion as his own. In 2009, the bishop sent a letter back to all of us during the convention to denounce the adoption of D025 which lifted the moratorium on electing and consecrating LGBT people to the episcopate. It was an incredibly hurtful letter which framed the argument in the "fears" of Florida's deputation and grounding the argument against gays in what "We Florida Episcopalians" know about "Christian marriage" and so on.
In a change of approach, this letter makes it clear that the opinion expressed is that of Bishop John Howard and not necessarily our deputies. My hope is that when the voting occurs in Indianapolis, our deputies will find it in their hearts to consider the faces of the LGBT people they have encountered (and you know that they have), and that they will choose to see us as the face of Christ worthy of the compassion of our Savior as expressed in Matthew 25.
And, once again, our bishop will stand firm in the quick sand of "No" as the rest of the church says "Yes." Perhaps then, Bishop Howard will realize that the storm that is sending waves crashing over the bow of his boat is not one that will drown him, or me, or any of us. Because this, too, will pass.
Perhaps by then, Tropical Storm Debby will stop raining down buckets of water on our heads and we'll see the sun again. And maybe even a rainbow.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shameless Plug...and Happy Pride Month

It's June. It's that sweaty hot season here in the southern United States where you have to shower in the morning and the evening. And that must mean it's time for Gay Pride Month!

Here in Tallahassee, the local LGBT community tends to go elsewhere for Pride celebrations. But a few of us in the Mickee Faust Club, that band of misfits making mirth and mischief on stage in Railroad Square, decided that it was an abomination to neglect the historical Pride month, or proclaim how proud we are to be someone else's backyard rather than our own. And so, despite the heat, we have been staging what we call our "Queer As Faust" festival at the Mickee Faust Clubhouse, which has no pleasantries of climate control, but plenty of water and fans to keep the audience comfortable. This is our fifth year doing QAF, which nicely coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Mickee Faust Club. And because it is our silver celebration, all the material we are performing is from the 600+ skits, songs, bad jokes, monologues the troupe has written over the past 25 years. Hence, we are calling this cabaret, "The Queerest of Faust."

I was surprised and flattered that one of the pieces selected for this show was the video I did three years ago called, "Queer vs. Christian Relationship". It is the foundation of a yet-to-be-written solo performance piece in which I struggle with the identity of being both a lesbian and a Christian. Most folks reading this blog may think those two things are perfectly compatible. And they are. And they are not. At least not when you start to talk to the gay community or the Christian community. If these two identities were the natural extensions of each other, we wouldn't be wasting so many years locked in fights over same-sex blessings and Anglican Covenants, and a crucifix worn around the neck wouldn't be a conversation killer amongst queers.

I think the problem is s-e-x. Gay people...oh, my...are sexual beings who do make love to one another. Straight people are and do as well. But some straight women have actually told me that I'm not really having sex because I'm not experiencing penetration by a penis, and that just tells me that straight women have either been fed a whole bunch of crap about what "sex" should be, or they just don't know how to have any fun, or both! The church is scared to death to talk about sex in an honest and open way because it is such an "earthy" activity. But some of the early formers of our Christian beliefs were also some of the randiess guys in tunics and sandals. So rather than talk about it, they just classify it as something that is not to be mentioned.

Ah, but then God has this funny way of getting into the mix. And a strange thing happened along the way to blissfully ignoring a part of our humanity: gay people started appearing in churches and synagogues, and being honest about who they are in God. There was an initial response to this of treating the LGBT faithful like the modern day lepers, or tax collectors, or demoniacs (take your pick). The unchecked vitriol spouted from the pulpit proved an effective way to alienate LGBT people from their communities, and from God.

Oh, but then God isn't so easily foiled. Because when God wants a person to taste and see that God is good, that will happen... whether the institution is ready for it or not. And that's what's been happening over the past 40 years. Gay people of faith have been knocking at the gate and demanding to be allowed in with no strings attached. In some cases, those gates have opened only to find there are even more gates to get through before we are embraced fully. One of the ways the institution tries to reconcile its dis-ease with sex is to tell the LGBT people of faith that they must be celibate (this would be a string attached). I'm often curious why we must take on an additional vocation like celibacy. I mean, there is the expectation, as foolish as it is, that straight people who are UNmarried will not be having sex. But if straight people do have sex...well, does anyone really care? But when gay people have sex--EEK! I imagine this is why it's so much easier to deal with single LGBT people because then there is no temptation to think about how that person might be having sex. And if they are partnered? Well, we just don't talk about that...

These failures in communication have contributed to the difficulties of having gay people feel at home in a faith community. And because the gay community at-large have felt unwelcomed by the faith communities, many have chucked the church entirely. And sadly, they've tossed out God with it because (as I mentioned in previous entries) there is the mistaken idea that "God" and "church" are the same thing. Again, I don't worship the institution; I worship God. And my presence, and that of other LGBT people, is part of God's intention to make the institution look more like the image of God: one massive face of diversity and beauty.

I'm pleased with the audience response to my "Queer vs. Christian" video. One person last night told me he thought it added a nice balance to the otherwise broad and bawdy humor in our Faust show. I notice how quiet the audience gets. Until the punchline when they laugh and applaud with delight.

Three more performances to go! Buy your tickets now at! And Happy Pride month, my queer brothers and sisters around the globe!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime (or more)?

The General Convention is less than two weeks away, and amidst the battles expected over the budget of the Episcopal Church and the debate about allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages, there is that nagging matter of the Anglican Covenant going before the church.

Our No Anglican Covenant Coalition is sending our moderator, Revd. Malcolm French, and our Episcopal Church convenor, Lionel Deimel, to GC 2012 in Indianapolis. And that is no small expense. Our group is making this appeal:

For the first time, the No Anglican Covenant Coalition needs to solicit financial help in support of our efforts. To date, coalition members have run our operations on a shoestring, and some members have made significant personal sacrifices to enable us to oppose what we believe is a disastrous change in direction for the Anglican Communion. Our presence at General Convention, however, will be our most expensive undertaking, requiring funds for travel, lodging, meals, buttons, brochures, and other expenses. Your help is urgently needed. Please consider a making a generous donation to this important effort. The No Anglican Covenant Coalition is an unincorporated organization, and contributions are not tax-deductible.

As a bonus to those who make contributions to our cause of $25 or more, you will get one of our eye-catching buttons with the message, "Yes to Communion; No to the Covenant."

Below is a link that will allow you to donate via PayPal. Please help us have a presence in Indianapolis, so that our church may follow in the footsteps of the Church of Scotland, and the majority of English dioceses and defeat the Anglican Covenant.

Donate to NACC

Monday, June 18, 2012

Driving a Wedge Between God and God's People

It's a mystery.

That's apparently what Pope Benedict XVI had to say about the 50+ years of documented sex abuse scandals in a videotaped message played to an assembled multitude of 75,000 Irish Catholics over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Guardian newspaper ran a scathing, and sadly accurate, commentary by Nick Cohen titled, "A Church Fit Only for Bigots and Hypocrites."   Cohen was speaking of the Church of England, "the Mother Church" of Anglicanism, which has been bound and determined to dig its heels into the quick sand of prejudice against gays and women.   The result:  a church that is teetering on the edge of going over the waterfall of total irrelevancy.

For me, the worst part about all of these articles (which are getting posted multiple times on social networking sites) is that it further undermines the efforts of those of us who know that the institution, and the hierarchies of these institutions, are not--repeat, not--God.   Too often, people associate what they see and hear coming from these supposed spiritual leaders for being the word of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Rather than take the time to establish their own relationship with God, and taste and see how good that really is, they look at the Pope, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and think that's what God is.

Really, no, they are not God.

At the same time, the continued crucifixion of Christ by both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury is appalling.  Who is Christ, gentlemen, but the very people that you refuse to see!  Christ is the child who suffered abuse.  Christ is the woman seeking to follow her calling.  Christ is the gay man wanting to marry his beloved, not simply be "civilly partnered."  Have you forgotten your lesson from Matthew 25:

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 
Don't speak: I already know the answer to my own question.

I really do wonder if Hollywood shouldn't put in a call to the Vatican and Lambeth Palace and ask if the two would like to participate in a new reality TV show in which the two contestants compete for who can drive a further wedge between God and God's People.

Perhaps that reality is a little too real.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

One Life in Sunset; Another in Sun Rise

I've been procrastinating at starting on a writing project.   It's not that I don't want to craft another solo performance piece.  It's that I can't seem to make the time to do it.  Or maybe it's that I know how much work that is and I can think of a half-dozen other "things" that need doing.  Hence, I am slow to getting started. 

But this weekend my foot-dragging has been pricking at my conscience more.  And I am pretty sure it's because of Father's Day.   Father's Day holds no special meaning for me any more.  My dad passed away in 2007, and yet all week I have been deleting message after message from chain stores that want me to know what I can buy for my late father.

I thought about that for a moment.  There is nothing for dad in this world.  He's not part of this world.  And the last few years of his life, he didn't enjoy comfort in the body which held his soul here.  One of the few things I could do for my dad was to rub his neck, sometimes his shoulders and his arms as well.  The disease that was progressively taking away his ability to move made his muscles stiff and achy.  And although he wasn't thrilled when I told him that I was leaving a career in radio journalism to become a massage therapist, I know he was thankful for my newly-acquired skills when he felt my fingers making gentle, yet firm, circular motions along his neck.

Both my parents factor into my spiritual autobiography, but it was my dad's death that brought me back into the church.   Not just for the funerals although that was the start of it.  But something bizarre happened when my dad died.  I heard hymns.

I know.  That sounds like, "I see dead people."  And it is a little like that sort of "The Sixth Sense" weirdness.

But really,  my head became a virtual jukebox of the 1982 Hymnal:  "I Bind Unto Myself Today"; "God is Working His Purpose Out"; "Crown Him With Many Crowns"; "The Strife is O'er"; and even fraction anthems from my youth when we did Morning Prayer every other Sunday and some of the tunes at the Eucharist like Agnus Dei.  It was unsettling, almost maddening, at times. And the intention seemed to be geared toward shoving me out of my comfort zone of spending Sunday mornings drinking coffee and doing crossword puzzles into this church that I had decided was dead to me years ago.  I was being called to be present in a Christian community and not in a fake way.  And I was to arrive as myself with no defenses, no chips on the shoulder, and my fists loosened and at my side.  It was only in this state of  being totally receptive and unbounded that I could feel myself showered in a steady rain of words from Scripture to hymns to the prayers which all spoke a single phrase:

"You are loved, totally and completely, unconditionally, forever and ever."

These words watered the soil of my being and the tiny mustard seed I wore around my neck since I turned 16 was finally coming into its full growth and pushing itself above the weeds that had been choking it down.  My dad's life had reached sunset, in fact the sun had gone down below the horizon.  And out of that death came a sunrise in my heart.  Or is that S-o-n?

This morning, as I idly flipped pages in the hymnal, I landed on "Eternal Father, Strong to Save,"  also known as the U.S. Navy hymn, and one of the pieces we sang at my dad's funerals.  Somehow it seemed fitting to see this one on Father's Day.

Eternal Father strong to save
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.

Interesting since so much of this spiritual journey has felt like a boat ride, one in which I am always looking for a way either to steer the boat or find a way out of the boat.  Or leap into the belly of a whale and hope that any further pestering from God will pass me by.  None of which has seemed to work.  Perhaps it's time for me to listen to the words of this hymn, too.

Eternal Father, strong to save....

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Play Ball and Go Blue!

Normally, a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox wouldn't matter to me.  I haven't liked the Dodgers since the abbreviated 1981 season when they knocked out the Montreal Expos from the play-offs.   And the "real" Sox of baseball are the boys in Beantown who play at Fenway Park home of the Green "Monstah".

So, why then am I devoting a blog post to this game?

Because the two teams are number one in their respective divisions?  No. 

Because interleague play is exciting?  No.

Because it's Episcopal Night at Dodger Stadium?


And to mark the occasion, the Dodgers have invited Bishop Mary Glasspool to throw out the first pitch.  How super cool is that??

First, you rarely see women being given the chance to toss the ball to the catcher in the traditional start of the game (a huge oversight, I believe, of many Major League Baseball franchises.)  Women are baseball fans, and there are plenty of girls who love to swing for the fences, too.  Showcasing a prominent woman at a major league game is just good public relations.

Second, it's Pride Month, and what an honor to have a lesbian be on the mound at Dodger Stadium to start the game.  Two snaps for that PR move.

And last of all, she's an Episcopal bishop.   And the church goes to the ballpark and drinks bad beer and eats hot dogs and roots for the home team just like the rest of the world.  That is the way it ought to be.  Yes, we have lovely sanctuaries, beautiful stained glass windows, and amazing music.   But part of being in the Body of Christ is to be that body in common spaces as well and remove the idea that we are so apart from "the world" that we don't participate in it.   And if there is one Christian denomination that knows how to party, it would be the Episcopal Church.  It also establishes the idea that "the world" will embrace the church and allow it to take part in its rituals of sport.   A win-win PR coup for both the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the Dodgers.

So, for my money, tonight's game will be won in the first 30 seconds when Bishop Glasspool makes her throw to home plate, and then takes her seat to watch two young, talented left-handers attempt to keep the batters off the bases.

May the peace of the Lord which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the game, L.A.! Play ball!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crucifying Christ... One News Release At A Time

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity.--Ecclesiastes 8:14

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’” Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”--Matthew 8:8-11

"We must not torture the English language. Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and that's marriage. We supported Civil Partnerships [the bishops in the House of Lords], because we believe that friendships are good for everybody. But then to turn Civil Partnerships into marriage, that's not the role of government to create institutions that are not of its gifting. I don't think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is."--Most Rev. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, January 2012.

I let out a loud scream from our back room last night when I opened a tweet from Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans and read where the Church of England has staked out a position opposing full marriage equality in that country.   Besides the apparent lie in that statement (at least two or three other sources in England say the CoE has never supported Civil Partnerships in the House of Lords), when I saw ++Sentamu's comment about Civil Partnerships... that "friendships are good for everybody"... I was stunned at the level of insensitivity and dismissive patronizing inherent in that statement.  This from one of the frontrunners to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the titular leader of the Anglican Communion.   And I wondered aloud again, "Why should we bother remaining in Communion with these bores?!"

I have heard the complaint that marriage equality, and any other attempt to open the doors of the church to include more people, is in fact an assault on the tradition and such efforts are trying to bend the institution to be more reflective of the world around it.  I would argue that it's not an assault; it's an effort to pull the church away from going over the cliff of total irrelevancy.

How many times have I read the complaints and the bemoaning of bishops, priests, deacons and some laity that there are fewer and fewer people who regularly attend church these days?   Parishes struggle to keep their budgets together in the face of decreased giving.   Schools and recreation departments schedule soccer practices for Sunday mornings.   And everyone sits around, wringing their hands and trying to invent ways to make ourselves more interesting, entertaining, and popular as a way of keeping interest in Sunday worship services.

But all the changing of music and prayers won't mean anything to the throngs of people currently sitting outside the gate of the church when what they hear in the media is such nasty and prejudicial speech as ++Sentamu's.   No one wants to come to a church that looks at the culture in which it finds itself and thumbs its collective nose at it.   The fact is that marriage equality is coming.  And the church keeps repeating the line, "...the intrinsic nature of marriage [is that of] the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history." (Really?  Would this include our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?)   This line will continue to push away the younger generation who don't have the same hang-ups about marriage that their parents and grandparents seem to have.   These younger people can not reconcile the message of Christ, which is one of love and inclusion, with a church that keeps wanting to wear blinders in an effort not to see the very people its called to serve and continue to discriminate against whole groups of citizens.      

I notice that the Church of England has a slogan on its news releases: A Christian presence in every community.  Clearly, not in the LGBT community of England.   I would suggest a new slogan for the CoE: Crucifying Christ One News Release At A Time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

To Los Angeles, with Love

Today was Pride Day in Los Angeles, and the Episcopal Diocese of L.A. were selling T-shirts.  The design was a really eye-catching design of mosaic-like Jesus with the message: "The Episcopal Church... and proud of it!  Come As You Are!"

I don't often shell out money for T-shirts any more, but this was one that I could not pass up.  And I was super excited when it arrived in the mail right before a big Pride weekend not only in L.A. but up in Boston as well.  I was looking forward to wearing it to church this morning, and celebrating in my own small way something that I think is important missionary work of the Episcopal Church: namely, outreach to the LGBT community.   In places like Los Angeles and St. Louis, the Episcopal Church leaves the comfort zone of the pews and hymnals, and meets people on the street for a Eucharist at the Pride Parade.  How cool is that?

Answer: Very!

Strange as it may seem, wearing the diocesan T-shirt under my vestments as I served this morning felt really good.  Even though I live at the other end of I-10, I felt connected to a community of believers who were also enjoying that one time of the year when we put aside our political struggles to enjoy being out of the closet and proudly marching and dancing in the streets with our peeps.  Knowing that the institutional church, in some parts of the country, will celebrate along with us proves that a peaceable kingdom can be a reality.  And in the Episcopal Church, "there will be no outcasts."

Come as you are!  Yes!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Switching Gears

I am scheduled to serve tomorrow morning as a lector/chalice bearer.  And being the good little Eucharistic Minister that I am, I looked up my assigned reading and practiced aloud a couple times to make sure I wouldn't stumble and bumble my way through the Scripture (that has happened to me before and it was not pretty.)

So, I was all prepared to share with the congregation the story of our often miserable and complaining Israelites telling Samuel that they want a king. I remember when I encountered this passage the first time, I had an image of these folks gathered round, pouting and pleading, and noting that all the other tribes in the area had kings...

And--yeah-- we know from this perspective that they clearly weren't seeing that they had a king, only one that could not be seen.  But I digress...

I'm not reading that passage after all.  I got a note from the man who does the scheduling that I am instead to read the alternate track for this Sunday from Genesis, a portion of the Adam and Eve creation story.   And the Scripture geek (that would be me) let out a long sigh.

Really?  OK, I thought.  That's the call of the clergy, and so onward into reading aloud.

In this particular part of the Adam and Eve story, we meet our characters in the Garden of Eden after they've already succumbed to the temptation to eat of the tree of knowledge which then led them to realize they were naked and they needed to cover themselves up.  We pick up at the moment that God is walking through the garden in search of his two delightful human creatures.  When he finds them with fig leaves, he's not a happy God.  Adam and Eve start doing the blame game; God curses the serpent and Adam and Eve, and now we have "The Fall" which is often cited as proof that we human beings are hopeless sinners and are bad, bad, very bad.

I don't buy into all of that because I know that in the other creation story that starts the Book of Genesis, we are part of what God made and sees as "very good."  Bad, or "The Fall", or sin happens when we choose to ignore our goodness, or abuse that privilege.  Being human is not a sin.  If that were the case, then there would be no hope at all because--hey--we, or the we reading blogs on the internet, are human.

My one regret in switching the readings is that there is a feeling among some that we Episcopalians don't get a good sense of the Bible.  And that's due, in part, to the snippets of Scripture we get on Sundays.  Those who are choosing to stick with Track One (as it's called) will go on a steady diet of 1 Samuel, which is where we get the whole "We need a king" whine, and eventually they'll get a very handsome young man named David as the King of Israel.  Going through a single book gives people a chance to see the build of the history that is the ancestry of Jesus and the foundation of our own Christian tradition.

Track two is supposed to be "thematically-relevant" readings.  So, in looking at what else we have... 2 Corinthians... our "earthly tent" is wasting away... these things are temporary, God is eternal... and the Gospel of Mark... where does he get the power to cast out demons?  He must have a demon himself... house divided against itself will fall... finishing with who is my mother and who are my brothers and sisters?  Answer: anyone who does the will of God.

Theme?  I guess it could be summed up in the Collect of the Day:

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your
inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by
your merciful guiding may do them...

If we had had the 1 Samuel, we would have Samuel going to God with his worries about this clamor from the people for a king.  In his own head and heart, Samuel seemed doubtful about the wisdom of this move.  And yet God, recognizing the folly this would be, reportedly tells Samuel to go ahead and listen to their cry and give them a king.  That is their choice; God will respond to that choice.   In contrast, Adam and Eve make a choice, too.  But their decision gets them in a whole heap of trouble and booted out of Eden.  Skipping over to the gospel lesson, Jesus seems to be encountering those who think he's got an evil spirit in him; hence he's able to cast out demons.  As he says, that's wrong-headed because evil isn't going to drive out evil.  And as for who is his family, the crowd sees his earthly family and says, "it's them!" But he sees the whole of humanity and says, "it's them!"  

Theme?  I would say it's we all have choices to make: we can look at our immediate surroundings and get fixated on what will give us the most pleasure and gain now... or see ourselves in the big picture as part of a living, breathing organism called, "The Body of Christ".  And then do good, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Existential Insights

I'm often amazed when the Daily Office seems to coincide with my daily life!

Recently, one of my friends on Facebook tragically lost his 20 year-old son in a motorcycle accident.  His posts on the social networking site were heart-breaking.  After being up all night, he wrote about a time when he went to an interfaith event hosted at the Railroad Square Art Park.  A Christian, a pagan and atheist were on a panel (no, this is not a joke.  It's apparently real.).  The inevitable question came up: Why do bad things happen to good people?

The Christian said: it's God's will (more on THAT in a moment).
The Pagan said: it's karma.
The Atheist said: shit happens.

In that moment of deep pain, the friend remarked that he could buy into what the atheist said.  And not even being in that same place of pain, but feeling enormous empathy for this man's sorrow, I could also accept an explanation of "shit happens."

I'm not exactly sure who this Christian was that tried to assert that God "wills" bad things to happen to good people.  I suppose if we were to take the book of Job from the Hebrew Bible, and believe it to have literally been true that God and Satan had a bet on just how much the righteous Job could take before he threw in the towel and denounced God, then-- yeah-- God may actually enjoy playing puppet master of the Universe.  But I don't believe that Love is the great manipulator pulling the strings of our lives or intentionally pulling the rug out from under us.  A belief that God has preordained someone to be miserable would also seem to negate our free will to either choose life or choose death, which I believe is the constant choice put before us.

Here enter a good dose of that Hebrew wisdom literature!

This week, we've been reading from Ecclesiastes during the morning daily office.  And I have found myself taking in the words of this part of Scripture as if it were a tall cool drink served on a summer afternoon.  I was curious by the use of the term "vanity" as in "all was vanity and a chasing after wind..."   Interestingly, it means not only something "meaningless", it also suggests "breath" or "vapor" or, in Hebrew, hevel, which is an essential part of life. Such understanding makes a difference when looking at something like this;

"The wise have eyes in their head,
   but fools walk in darkness.
Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them. Then I said to myself, ‘What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?’ And I said to myself that this also is vanity."--Eccl. 2:14-15

If "vanity" is essential, and doesn't just mean something that is wasteful, I started thinking that the author of this book isn't necessarily bashing 'vanity.'   Instead, what I think this Scripture wants us to know is that while we all live and die the same whether we are "wise" or "fools", what matters is how we lived in the present time.  Are we living in Love, or are we toiling away and not getting fed in any way by anything but the product of our own hands and minds?  And are we spending all our time fretting over whether we're doing that, or are we simply living into that Love?   And that's when we can cue up the CD player to words known to all fans of 60s music: To every thing... turn turn turn... there is a season... turn turn turn.

There are times when we will die; there are times when we will live. And it all happens according to whatever season it is.  And all of those are matters under heaven, but not matters in which God is moving us around like chess pieces.  It isn't God's will that bad things happen to good people.  Bad things will happen.  Good people will die before what we believe is their time.  And yet we will remember that goodness they shared with us because we will have felt the Love that they shared with us when they were here.

In Christianity, there is a sense that even in bodily death, we have life.  That life-after-death is a complete and total unknown for us who aren't in that transition of crossing-over.   But for those left behind, the life of the one who has shuffled off their mortal coil lives on in the hearts, minds and memories of their friends and loved ones.  And that's how the deceased continue to live.  No wonder the Jews say, "May "xx"'s memory always be a blessing."           

Death happens, and there is a time to mourn.  And that mourning will give way to dancing again when we re-enter that season of life.  And don't be afraid to dance while we're alive!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

For Those With Unclean Lips...

If Pentecost is an exciting Sunday, Trinity Sunday is bizzaro Sunday.  Or tortured Sunday, depending upon your perspective.  Since my return to church, I have often wondered why priests feel the need to try so hard to "explain" the Trinity.  Especially since they always want to preface their sermons with an apology that what they're giving in the way of an explanation will fall short. 

If that's the case, then why do it?  Because you have to?  Because it's Trinity Sunday and the expectant congregation wants to know the secrets of the Trinity?

I'm not ordained, but I have an answer to this one for the clergy: please don't sweat it. Please don't twist yourself into a pretzel over something that has been debated, annotated, and obfuscated by councils and theologians throughout the centuries.  This is one of those topics which will keep us chasing our non-existent tails.  The way I see it, Trinity Sunday is the final dance of a most amazing story where the dancers are moving so quickly that the three-in-one and one-in-three is so intricately intertwined that we can't distinguish one from the other.  And that's the Trinity as I see it in 2012.

What is of more interest to me was in the reading from Isaiah.  I love the prophets.  I don't think there's a single one of them who has the bravado and self-confidence to say, "Oh, yeah: I'm ready to go out there and tell everyone about God and what God wants people to do."  Every one of them is a person who sees their flaws as if they were being projected on the big screen, and yet they step out and put themselves forward to take the body blows for the sake of Love.   Isaiah is one of those.   He says of himself, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" 

"Unclean lips", in this case, is referring to his humanity and the period in which this particular Isaiah was living: Jerusalem at or about the time of the Syro-Ephraimite war... and leading up to the exile to Babylon.  And while the people "spoke" all the right words, the faith in their hearts was questionable; hence the unclean lips.  But here was Isaiah, seeing a vision in the Temple, and yet he felt he was unworthy and now he's seen a vision of God--eek!!   Thus, the seraph touches the hot coal to his "unclean" lips and removes his sin so that when God asks, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Isaiah's mouth opens and he says, "Here I am, send me!"

I know there have been many times in my life when I stood, or knelt, in church and recited all the prayers but had absolutely no connection to them whatsoever.  I wasn't present at all.  I was there because this was what I was supposed to do on a Sunday morning; not because I felt a need to be there.  Such a difference from when I was summoned to "Show up!" in 2007.  It was then that I  found myself blown away by those same words that I had just mumbled along with everyone else every Sunday during my youth.  I didn't have a hot coal touched to my lips, at least not literally.  But I was shocked by the depth of love in the words we were praying, and my voice was surprisingly strong and loud as I sang the hymns.  I was being re-membered into the body that I had turned away from because they had rejected "my kind."  It was as if my adoption was now complete and final, and there would be no separating from God.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could wrap their arms around me in the long-awaited embrace, the same way that the father in the Prodigal Son parable hugged his wayward child.

Trinity Sunday is supposedly the beginning of "ordinary time."  But once I felt that overwhelming sense of being loved by Love, I can't say that anything has been "ordinary" again.  May that be the same for all of you, too!