Friday, July 27, 2012

Deep-fried Homophobia

The culture war in America has now become a food fight.

By now, I'm sure there is no one out there who is in the dark on the political views of Dan Cathy, the president of Atlanta-based Chick Fil-A restaurants. Most people in the LGBT community have known for years that the fast-food chain was serving customers deep-fried homophobia with a side Biblical literalism. But when Dan Cathy was asked point blank if the company supports efforts to undermine marriage equality in America, he said, "Guilty as charged." This has ignited a fire under the butts of the mayors of Boston and Philadelphia and other cities to denounce Chick Fil-A and even block efforts by the company to spread its franchise into those northern corners where Dunkin' Donuts is THE fast-food of choice. Seriously, we all know that "Boston runs on Dunkin'."

There is a call by queer organizations to boycott Chick Fil-A. Meanwhile, former Republican presidential candidate and off-the-chart conservative Rick Santorum is tweeting from his local Chick Fil-A messages about how "Mmm-mmm good" it is to eat food that funds hate groups.

Obviously, I am not going to be eating one of their chicken sandwiches with waffle fries any day soon. But me boycotting Chick Fil-A will have about as much impact as me promising that I won't join Westboro Baptist Church. I haven't eaten at Chick Fil-A but one or two times and that was back in 1990.  Frankly, it wasn't that good, folks.

What's been interesting is watching straight friends on Facebook wrestling with their appetites versus' their loyalty to their buddies who are LGBT. In some cases, it's been shocking to see the power of deep-fried breaded chicken parts. I've seen where someone actually apologized to their LGBT friends, but they weren't willing to give up a chicken sandwich to stand in solidarity against blatant bigotry.

(Please know that this person is a friend-of-a-friend, not my friend. Really. Not. My. Friend.)

Seriously, can a friendship be bought off by a chicken sandwich and a bag of waffle fries?!

Some have argued with me and others on postings that we shouldn't be trying to impose our beliefs on a business. One woman actually tried to tell me that Dan Cathy isn't homophobic because he never said he was afraid of gay people, and that I should read Pope Paul VI's papal encyclical on abortion to understand Cathy's position about human sexuality. Sorry, but if there is one institution that I am unwilling to receive instruction from on matters of the body and sex, it's the Roman Catholic Church. I wasn't raised an Episcopalian for nuthin'.

If you, or "friends" of yours are still trying to figure out if they can really give up a chicken biscuit for a cause, let me give you some of the facts about where those dollars and change spent at a Chick Fil-A will end up:

Chick Fil-A's charitable arm is called WinShape Foundation, which in 2009, had a bank of more than 7-point-8 million dollars. From that pot, organizations such as Exodus International, which has actively helped support the "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda, got money. So did the Family Research Council. And Eagle Forum, founded by anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-you-name-it Phyllis Schlafly, also got some money. The biggest benefactor was the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund, which received more than $994,000 from WinShape. Altogether, WinShape donated more than 1.7 million dollars in 2010 to anti-gay causes. And where did they get that money? From the purchase of lots of deep-fried chicken on a bun, and bags of waffle fries.

Is a friendship so easily sold away?

Mr. Cathy can hold whatever bigoted views he wants. We don't have to eat his food.  Please, think of your friends, your colleagues, your family members.  Eat More Cow.  Chow down on a fresh salad.  Don't trade my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for a chicken sandwich.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shepherds and Sheep

So the week following the end of the General Convention was one of mixed emotions for me.  On the one hand, there was the excitement of knowing that my church was making waves as the largest mainline denomination to move in the direction of greater marriage equality.  We'd also opened the doors of the church wider and deeper to the trans community.  We took stands against bullying and the Defense of Marriage Act. And there is the much talked about decision to allow trial usage of liturgies to bless same-sex unions.

OK, that last one comes with a caveat.  Since it's a "trial" liturgy, it is up to each diocesan bishop to decide whether to give it a test run in their particular area.  Each bishop has had to make this determination and, in the southeastern USA, its been interesting to see where each one of the shepherds has staked out a position.  In Alabama, there is Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan who voted for the liturgy at convention, but won't approve it's usage in Alabama until there has been more dialogue.  In the Central Gulf Coast, Rt. Rev. Philip Duncan, II voted "No" but is allowing very closely-monitored use of the this new thing.  In Georgia, Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase did not vote for the liturgy because he felt it was too much like the marriage rite in the prayer book. But the church has said overwhelmingly, "Yes".   And his response now is, "I don't know."   Then there are those who are denouncing the vote of General Convention and expressing their annoyance.  This would be places like Central Florida, South Carolina... including Upper South Carolina.   As for Florida...

Our bishop told us in a letter dated June 20, 2012, almost two weeks ahead of the convention, that he would be voting, "No" and would not allow the trial use of the same-sex blessing liturgy in our diocese.  And, thus far, this has been the last communication to the people of our diocese on the matter.

As I was posting notices on Facebook about the good news of the General Convention, I was hearing back from some living in our diocese that indicated their frustration with the circumstances of this place.  I have had straight people confide in me that they don't agree with the bishop.  In fact, at an adult forum after church where the actions of General Convention were discussed, a long-time member of my parish took the floor to say that he disagreed with the stance of our bishop, and he wanted all the LGBT faithful to know that they were loved and should not be discouraged.  He must have heard how discouraged some have been.  I can't blame them.  I have felt that, too.  And at times, I still do.  As I've said, it's very hard to be the sheep living in a world where you can see the lush green field of grass from which others are happily grazing only to have the shepherd insist on leading you to the field with the withered and dying weeds.

I have reread the bishop's letter, especially in light of yesterday's readings.  We are using what is called, "Track Two" which follows a "theme" as opposed to a "book" for the lessons from the Hebrew scriptures.  Ours was from the prophet Jeremiah in which he writes:

"I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD."

These words, heard in 21st century queer ears, are the promise that I hold fast to day-in and day-out as I continue this journey with God.    When this promise is re-emphasized in the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want," I hear the constant reminder to put my trust not in rulers of the earth, but in God who is watching, waiting, slow to anger, and yet not forgetting those who are continuously asking the question, "How long?"   

There is no clear-cut answer to that, "How long" question.  The only response seems to be, "As long as it takes."  The Gospel lesson from Mark contained a phrase that caught my attention as I listened:

"As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." 

And I thought, "That's me!"  It would seem we have been through this situation before.  Sheep, left stranded for want of a shepherd, waiting for someone to come along to care for them and lead them to a pasture with green grass. I think this is what exists for those who feel they are the left-behinds in those parts of the church which are not venturing forward into this new territory of blessing same-sex unions.  And I think that's true for those who are living in all of the dioceses that are pursuing this path with lots of caution, or after dialogue, or continued discernment.  There is the response to look at the leader, the shepherd, and say, "We're ready! What gives?"

That's another question that God hears.  For all I know, God is asking that question, too.  Did Christ not feed all those thousands?   Did Christ not come into the world not to condemn, but to save?  Did Christ not make the ultimate sacrifice of His life on a cross, so that all... every single one... might live?   

And God is also meeting each of these bishops wherever they are in their journey... be it in the middle, or sitting at the stop light... and is turning our question of "What gives?" back on us.  Will we who seek justice stay stuck in this place, expecting a different outcome from diocesan quarters by just saying, "What gives?"

A posting from a friend had a saying that seemed to answer this question.   There was a photo of what looked like a Buddhist monk in meditation before a body of water.  The quote on the picture read:

"Your work is not to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new awareness.  Your job is simply to do your work... Sacredly, Secretly, and Silently... and those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear' will respond."

For me, this was an "A-ha."  Living and moving and having my being with full authenticity  is what will illicit a response.  Drawing people into dialogue is what ultimately matters.  If they happen to wear a purple shirt, that's a bonus.  I can not drag such a person kicking and screaming into a new awareness.  I can, however, continue to present who I am in Christ to all people... including those in the purple shirts... and allow that Christ to shine through me and entice them into a place of sharing, so that we both can see each other, fully and completely.

As St. Paul says to the Ephesians, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."

Can we talk?  Can we listen?  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hymn Hits Home

Most bloggers know the two extremes of having either nothing to say at all, or too much on your mind to get it all out on the page. I think I'm skewing more toward the latter. So as I work on organizing my thoughts on one entry, I offer to you the lyrics from this morning's recessional hymn at St. John's, "Christ for the World We Sing" which is #537 in the 1982 Hymnal, and caused me to sing a sotte voce "Amen!" on the last note of each verse.

Christ for the world we sing!
The world to Christ we bring
with loving zeal;
the poor and them that mourn,
the faint and overborne,
sin-sick and sorrow-worn,
whom Christ doth heal.

(Amen! And prayers for all who face illness, death, and are despairing.) 

Christ for the world we sing!
The world to Christ we bring
with fervent prayer;
the wayward and the lost,
by restless passions tossed,
redeemed at countless cost,
from dark despair.

(Amen! And prayers for those who are in search of God after being rejected by the people of God. Don't give up and continue to seek!)

Christ for the world we sing!
The world to Christ we bring
with one accord;
with us the work to share,
with us reproach to dare,
with us the cross to bear,
for Christ our Lord.

(Amen! May I remember and trust that the power of God working in me can do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine!)

Christ for the world we sing!
The world to Christ we bring
with joyful song;
the newborn souls, whose days,
reclaimed from error's ways,
inspired with hope and praise,
to Christ belong.

(Amen, and Amen!)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Lemons and Lemonade

Much of the nation today has been grappling with how to understand the massive shooting in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

There's no way to understand it. It's pure craziness. And it affects hundreds of people in a place, as well as dozens more living in shock in San Diego, the home of the man accused of the shooting. For others, it recalls the violence suffered at other times and in other cities. An island in Norway.  A college or high school campus.  An Episcopal Church.  All acts of murder and mayhem that seem so senseless and awful.  And reminding us, again, that we could put a stop to such violence... if we could commit to a course of action that reduced the guns in our society, and gave more help for the mentally ill.

So, it was a relief for me today, amidst all of the sadness, to get a cool and refreshing glass of lemonade from a young man named Graham.

His parents, one of whom I knew from my days as a reporter at the state Capitol, had advertised Graham's famous lemonade all week on Facebook, enticing friends to come by his lemonade stand this afternoon for cookies and lemonade for the low, low, very low price of 50-cents a cup or a can of food.  The beneficiary of Graham's efforts was the local social service agency, ECHO.  Every nickel, dime, and quarter was going to help feed Tallahassee families.  This is the fourth year that Graham has squeezed the juice out of dozens of lemons to give a mid-summer boost to ECHO, and last year his little lemonade stand raised $1,100.   That's a LOT of lemons!

As he carefully poured me my cup, I was thinking about that phrase, "When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade."  On this day, when the television was full of images of parents weeping and clinging to their stunned and traumatized teenagers who had hid from a gunman in a Colorado movie theater, here were Graham's parents, kibbitizing with neighbors under their carport, while their child with the soft brown eyes earnestly served up cup after cup of lemonade. It was the yin and yang of life.

Having this moment reminded me that amidst the crap, there are still bright spots.  There is still goodness in the hearts of children who already know the value of giving to others.  And sometimes the lemons can be sweetened and mixed with water and ice to quench a thirst for something positive.

Thanks for that, Graham.  Cheers, mate!    

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Same-Sex Blessings: Good Enough for Pensacola

Big news from a most unlikely area of the Sunshine State.

Bishop Philip M. Duncan II of the diocese of the Central Gulf Coast has said he will allow priests in his diocese to use the recently adopted blessings for same-sex unions.

OK... let me say that again.

A bishop.  Of the Episcopal Church.  In the state of Florida that is NOT Miami Beach has said, "Yes to Bless."

This is a big deal.  Especially because Bishop Duncan had voted, "No" at the General Convention in Indianapolis.

Now there is still a HOWEVER within this decision.  Bishop Duncan is giving priests and parishes the chance to "opt out"; if they "opt in" then the couples must meet with a priest and he will consider each request for a blessing of a same-sex union individually upon notification from said priest.  Still, this is a huge step toward equality from a part of the state which has infamously awarded custody of children to fathers with murder convictions rather than to mothers who also happen to be lesbians.  Bishop Duncan is anticipating some push-back.  And I appreciate what he told the Pensacola News-Journal:

“Episcopalians are a strange lot in that we are always asked to use our minds and our hearts, and to think about where God is calling us,” he said. “We can all hold divergent opinions on things that are allowed.”

I am hoping his decision will serve as a note of encouragement to other bishops in this pocket of the southeastern United States.  The bishop of Alabama, Rt. Rev. Kee Sloan, voted for A049.  But he is not allowing use of the liturgy until there has been more discussion within the diocese.  Bishop Duncan's territory stretches into southern Alabama.  Perhaps +Kee Sloan will receive a level of comfort from the approach his brother in the HoB has taken.  And perhaps it will aid Bishop Sloan as he embarks on the dialogue in his part of the state.

And, of course, one can only hope that Bishop Duncan might pick up the phone and have a chat with the Bishop of Florida, who also voted No at GC77.  And not only voted No, told us in a letter before convention that he would vote No and he won't allow any of our priests to get anywhere near that gay thing.  For me, and for many others, the stance of our bishop on this matter has been a cross between tiresome to painful.   You can only take so much of seeing the postcards from General Convention, gleefully announcing the widening inclusiveness of the Episcopal Church, all the while knowing that this "inclusive thing ain't gonna happen here!"   In order for any of these resolutions to pass, there always needs to be the clause that allows somebody somewhere to be left behind.   We wonder, "Gee, who will be the next group that is excluded from the welcome?"  Well, right now, it's those of us stuck in those places that have been allowed to be foot-draggers or total obstructionists.  When will "All" mean "All"?

If it can happen in the pro-military, patriotic, flag-waving land of Pensacola, it should be able to happen anywhere.

Bishop Philip M. Duncan II:  very well-done and God bless you!  You're a Bishop Duncan I can like!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Can Christianity Be Saved From Political Hack Punditry?

Since the end of the General Convention in Indianapolis, the conservative pundits have been busily writing the obituary for the Episcopal Church. They cite falling church attendance in the past decade, which they blame on the inclusion of LGBT people, or they trot out the theology of retired Bishop John Shelby Spong as evidence of our "unorthodoxy."   They've even taken  potshots at some of the more harmless resolutions that recognize the importance of family pets and the bereavement process one goes through when an animal companion passes away. 

Doom, doom, doom!  The end is nigh!  The sky is falling!  Whatever happened to the good ol' days of WASPy, preppy, staid Protestantism that you could always count on from the Episcopal Church? 

Somehow, in the world of a newspaper pundit, widening the circle of inclusion means that others are pushed outside the bounds of the circle.  Because, for pundits, there have to be winners and losers.  Otherwise, they really have nothing to write about.  And then there goes their livelihood.

I don't even think this is a question of our circle getting wider in the Episcopal Church.  I think it's getting deeper.  The people who we say we're including (gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender) have been inside the circle for a long, long time.  We may have appeared as black-and-white figurines inside this circle; now we've been colored in and we're being seen for who we are as multidimensional beings rather than cardboard cutouts to set up and knock down.  I believe that each time we discover the people who are next to us and all around us in this church and see them as fellow beings in the Body of Christ, we go another step deeper into the pool of God's love and delight. 

For the pundits, venturing further into the depths of that pool seems to be cause for alarm.  I think it's reason for us all to commit to swimming lessons.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Jesus Said Feed the Sheep

A clip from CNN's "Faces of Faith" in which Rev. Susan Russell goes toe-to-toe with a member of the "Angricans" over the same-sex blessings liturgy.

Episcotweeting: What's She Saying?

Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints, Pasadena captured this photo of the Presiding Bishop as everyone was leaving Indianapolis. It shows our modern church operating in modern times (much to the chagrin of Jay Akasie of the Wall Street Journal). If you haven't seen Akasie's article, it is easily the most sophomoric piece of writing I've witnessed in a major newspaper. Seriously, you can disagree with someone without descending into sniper mode.
Anyway, this picture has made the rounds on Facebook. Now I am asking you: what do YOU think PB Jefferts Schori is typing out on her super smart phone?
I'm betting she was planning a pet funeral!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Episcopal Church Says, "Ummmm" To Anglican Covenant

Gobsmacked.  Pissed.  Stunned.

Those are just some of the initial reactions among some of us who have been writing and lobbying to have the Episcopal Church in the United States defeat the proposed Anglican Covenant.   We thought we had presented a resolution that would garner enough support to stand up to scrutiny, and would give the Episcopal Church the language it needed to say, "Thanks for trying, but no thank you."

What has come out of the sausage-making process is an anemic statement that we, as a church, have too much division around this issue; therefore, we're simply deferring on the Anglican Covenant until the 78th General Convention in 2015.

The primary author of Resolution B005 is Fr. Mark Harris of Delaware, who writes at Preludium.   Normally, I admire what Fr. Mark has to say, but his statement on the proposal, and its companion, D008 that affirms our commitment to the indaba process (listening with intention and attention among Anglican Communion partners), left me puzzled:

"I have to say that I understand why this may be difficult for some because it is not taking a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stand on the acceptance of the Anglican Covenant. The belief of the subcommittee is that we grew to respect one another in the process of the discussion to a place where it was our collective sense that we needed to present to the convention the possibility that when we are in a place of considerable internal dissent of a variety of sorts, such that there is no clear mandate in one direction or another, that we say to each other, ‘Continue to sit at the table and be in discussion with each other.’”

Even one of the Florida deputation, Jack Tull, who had put forth another proposal to say, "No" to the Covenant voiced his support for the ultimate resolution that says, "Ummmm".

It's as if we are on a game show of "Who Wants the Anglican Covenant?" and the Episcopal Church is sitting on the hot seat, saying, "Gee, Meredith.... ummm... we think it's "No," but, well, gosh, "Yes" means we get to go meet with important people.  Ah, gee, ummmm...maybe, well, maybe we could ask the audience, but ummmmm...."

Meanwhile, those of us sitting at home are screaming at our computer screens: "No!!!  The answer is No!!!!"

Perhaps they needed the "Phone-A-Friend" option.  Call Scotland.  Call the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia.  Heck, call the 26 diocese in the Church of England who had the guts to say "No"!

Our moderator, Revd. Malcolm French, issued the following statement on behalf of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition:

The wind has clearly gone out of the sails of the Anglican Covenant. There was not even a single dissenting vote when the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia declared itself unable to adopt the Covenant. While our Coalition would have preferred a clearer “no” from the Episcopal Church, the resolution passed in Indianapolis is scarcely more than an abstention – and the commitment to “monitor the ongoing developments” rings hollow when we consider that the same General Convention phased out funding for the Episcopal Church staff position for Anglican Communion affairs. Perhaps they will monitor the situation by following#noanglicancovenant or #nocovenant on Twitter.The next major step in the Covenant process will be at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, this fall. We understand that there will be an attempt to introduce a ratification threshold and a sunset date to the Covenant process. Depending on the details, our Coalition is likely to be broadly supportive of both initiatives.

Hats off to Malcolm and our Episcopal Church leader, Dr. Lionel Deimel, for doing what they could in Indianapolis to make our case for "No."  Gentlemen, what can I say?  Our church can adopt resolutions that cause the very groups the Covenant was meant to appease to go ballistic... and then can't finish the deal with a simple, clear statement of "No!" 

As one friend noted, "Well, at least the NACC buttons will be good for another three years!"

Picking Up Their Ball and Going Home (fixing link)

(fixing errors in link and information)
There's so much to talk about in regards to things happening in these final days of General Convention 2012. But I am not surprised to see this news to say that the diocese of South Carolina is pitching a fit and leaving.  Two members are staying behind, but the rest of the deputation can not continue to function in a "business as usual" way.   Will be interested to see what unfolds.  I guess in South Carolina, the signs that say "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" really need the addendum, "Except you queers!"

H/T to Grandmere Mimi for the heads up on the broken link.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Point of Personal Privilege

Bishop Gene Robinson has had enough.

Yesterday, he rose on a point of personal privilege and called on his brother and sister bishops to cease and desist in the constant sniping and backstabbing that he has had to endure for nine years.

I am not there in Indianapolis, so I don't know what it was that two other members of the House of Bishops have said or done to undermine Bishop Gene's credibility this time, but I really don't have to be there because anyone who has followed this man's career, especially during these past nine years, are all too aware of how nasty and mean-spirited and downright ugly people have been.   Particularly the people in the purple shirts.  It is disheartening and it is a dishonor to the One whom these bishops say they serve.

Bishop Gene has had to endure more crap from all corners than anyone should ever have to take.  Pointedly excluded from the decennial Lambeth Conference; daily death threats; endless interviews in which he must answer questions about the bad behavior of others toward him in the Anglican Communion rather than talk about his true passion, which is God.  What's his "gay agenda?"  Answer: Jesus Christ.    

It is fascinating, in that incredible God way, that Bishop Gene's statement to basically, "Get off my case!" came on the same day that the House of Bishops approved resolutions to widen our welcome in the Episcopal Church to transgender people, and adopt liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions.  It is the perfect display of where we are as the Episcopal Church.  On the one hand, we are ready to embrace the differences in our human sexuality and see them not as divisions but more of the wondrous biodiversity of God's good creation.  HOWEVER...

There always seems to be a "however."  While most of the Episcopal Church is basking in the glow of the sun (or is that S-o-n), there are many more of us living in dioceses that have overcast skies and in, some cases, a forecast of endless rain.   No matter what happens at the national level, there always seems to be the fine print that says, "This offer is null and void in [fill in the blank]."  For those of us living in places where the sun isn't shining yet, it can be depressing to see the postcards from elsewhere with the implied message of,"Wish you were here."

In the realm of God, there is no fine print.  There are no black-out dates, no exceptions, no exclusions.  Christ's love for the world is for all, everyone, and given out freely with plenty to go around.   It is only in the church, a human institution with human beings running it, that suddenly some travelers are left stranded at the gate.  And why is that?

It is fear.  Fear of the unknown, of what may or may not occur if we allow people who are living in society's margins to have a seat inside the church, inside the rail even, and give them the chance to rest and bask in God's love story and participate as active members in its telling and re-telling to the world at-large.  Fear, the very thing that throughout Scripture God is saying, "do not be afraid! I am with you!"   Fear, the direct opposite of faith, the roaring lion that is on the prowl ready to devour everything and anything in its path.  I heard it expressed again and again when I read the testimony given on the same-sex blessing resolution.  Clergy and bishops talking of their fear of what granting full membership in the Body of Christ to LGBT people will do to Christians and churches half-way around the world.  Do these same bishops and clergy ask themselves about what happens when the church doesn't recognize us as fellow Christians in those same countries?

That whole argument about what is happening... and could happen to Christians... in predominantly Muslim countries is a red herring.  The tension between the cousin religions has been going on for millennia, I would even argue from the moment that Abraham turned to Hagar and said, "Sorry, babe.  You and Ismael have gotta go."   Dangers have faced Christian minorities long before the Episcopal Church began embarking on a call to allow all of God's children access to the sacraments of the church.  Seriously, folks: crack open your copies of "Holy Women, Holy Men" and read all about the various martyrs throughout our history.

I can be sensitive to the difficulties inclusion may pose for some members of the body.  But I can not allow my sensitivity to their pain to become my pain as well.  Because I am not in pain.  I am in joy.  I can not allow their fears to become my fears because I am not afraid.  I have faith that God will continue to spread out a feast of Love before us every day with the open invitation to those who want to come to the table to pull up a chair and break bread and have wine and be happy.

I have had enough of the bickering, and the clouds and the rain.  It is time for the sun to shine.  Everywhere.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New Zealand says "Meh" to Anglican Covenant

Word from New Zealand is that their General Synod has voted, "No" on the Anglican Covenant.  Well, actually, they've said, "Meh."   Sections 1-3, which restate what the core beliefs are in Christianity and affirms that Anglicans really like their bishops, seem acceptable enough to the church there.  However, Section four, which contains the big stick method of disciplining those member churches that do things outside the box (like ordaining women and gays and supporting marriage equality), did not go over well in NZ.  Since it seems votes on the Anglican Covenant do not allow for breaking apart the four-sectioned document, the vote would go down in the books as a "No".  And it was unanimous.

Will see how the Anglican Communion Office spins that one.

In the meantime, at a church convention much closer to home, our deputies and bishops are grinding up the various proposals on the Anglican Covenant from the "Oh, yes, sir: please may I have another" idea... to the "Are you nuts? No!" proposal that I support, as well as everything in between.   The type of sausage that will come of this process is still unclear.  Our No Anglican Covenant Coalition representatives, Lionel Deimel and Revd. Malcolm French, are doing a great job of making our case that our "No" must mean "No".   Both of them have been talking to deputies and bishops and keeping us all abreast via their blogs (Lionel Deimel's Web Log and Simple Massing Priest).  The big sticking point seems to be fear.  I'm not sure if anyone is actually using that word--fear--in their discussions and debates as they try to shove this bit and that piece into the sausage casing.  But from what I am gathering from our intrepid leaders of NACC, there is this desire on the part of the subcommittee making the sausage to come up with a product that both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops can gobble down without choking.  There is strong feeling that the HoD is not interested in the Anglican Covenant and wants it to die.  But there are those in the HoB, some of whom are part of the sausage subcommittee, that... (here it comes) fear a firm "No" will be unacceptable.

Let me quote a portion of a Rule for Lent that was once shared in a sermon by former Episcopal Presiding Bishop Arthur Lichtenberger:  "Fast on fear, and feast on faith."

I am hoping those creating the Episcopal Church's answer to the Anglican Covenant will pay attention to what is happening.  The Anglican Covenant is a non-starter in much of the Anglican Communion.  Worrying and hand-wringing about what may or may not happen in the HoB seems to be an excuse to allow fear to have the upper-hand in our true discernment of the proposal.  If the deputies are strongly opposed, it really doesn't matter if the bishops vote for it.   And trying to second-guess or hedge bets or whatever is just creating more chaos where there is a clear choice: we either approve it or we don't.  And most of us in this church don't want it, so let the vote reflect that opinion.   Please do not kick it down the road to 2015.  That would be like holding vigil at the bedside of a dead person in the hopes that in another three years she'll take a breath.

Please continue to hold Lionel and Malcolm and all those participating in this process in your prayers.

Almighty and everlasting Father, you have given the Holy Spirit to abide with us for ever: Bless, we pray, with his grace and presence, the bishops and other clergy and the laity now  assembled in your Name, that your Church, being preserved in true faith and godly discipline, may fulfill all the mind of him who loved it and gave himself for it, your Son Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, p.255)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Shaking Off Dust

Rev. Danielle Morris of the diocese of Central Florida.  Photo by S. Sheridan, ENS.
 The word filtering down from Indianapolis is good.

The House of Bishops has approved a resolution calling for a churchwide response to the epidemic of bullying.   They've also adopted a resolution to offer anti-discrimination protection for church employees who are transgender and opening ordination to transgender people.  And there was a baptism using the fountain outside the Westin Hotel!   How cool is that?!

The discussion is underway about same-sex blessings.  There were more people who rose to speak in favor of resolution A049--a resolution to authorize liturgical resources for same-sex blessings.  The chatter on blogs for weeks has been that this proposal, which is the product of last convention's resolution C056,  was almost a "done deal."   But I noticed as I scrolled through countless tweets that the opposition to A049 was largely coming from one diocese.  More searching and I found out which one:  Central Florida... with some additional help from the diocese of Southwest Florida.

Well, at least it wasn't the deputation from Jacksonville.   But rather Orlando and Fort Myers.  Still two dioceses in this state in which I live.  I only wish that the report from the Episcopal News Service had revealed that someone, anyone, testifying in favor of A049 was from the Sunshine State.  Miami?  Ft. Lauderdale?  Unfortunately, if they did, it wasn't in the report.

It seems fitting, then, to have the Gospel of Mark for this Sunday be the passage in which Jesus realizes that he will not be able to make headway with his message in his home town, and so he and his apostles move on.  And he sends them out, two by two, to take the good news to the people with these instructions:

He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."--Mark 6:10-11  

It would seem to me that if I were an LGBT Episcopalian living in either of those dioceses I would be ready to shake the dust off my feet as I walk out the door.  During the testimony, one of the priests from Central Florida looked at a young gay man from Duke University and told him he would be welcomed in her church, and then went on to implore gay people to be sensitive to the consequences of having the Episcopal Church welcome us as full members.  She noted that by pressing for our full inclusion, we were putting Christians living in predominantly Muslim countries at risk.  Because Christian would then equal gay and that wouldn't sit well with Muslim leadership. 

I have heard this argument before.  And I have said in a prior blog entry that the sick part of what is happening with Christians in Muslim countries is that many of those Christians have turned on LGBT people and persecuted my African and Asian brothers and sisters resulting in death, imprisonment and general fear.  And let's face it: the divisions between Muslims and Christians, and the dangers of fundamentalist fury in foreign countries, existed long before there was any hope of same-sex blessings in the Episcopal Church.  Asking us to continue to live in a crucified place is not OK.  

Many of us in the southern United States continue to live in that crucified place in a way that our brothers and sisters in the northern urban areas do not.  Even as I celebrate the turning tide toward full justice occurring at General Convention, I am also aware that no matter what happens in Indianapolis, laws and canons in Florida will not change.   Church-wide things might be different, but as the old advertising campaign used to say, "Florida: the rules are different here."  It seems our church can move forward in many parts of the country, but we refuse to budge from our bygone era in Florida.  A049 allows for the trial use of same-sex blessings, but our bishop won't allow our priests to use them.  Period. 

Shall I simply shake off the dust of this place?   The Mark passage is similar to the message delivered to Ezekiel:  "I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.' Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them."  

I think it's incumbent on all LGBT Episcopalians in this state to not shrink and fold in the face of opposition to our full inclusion.  The Spirit is speaking to the church and is calling the larger body to move more in the direction of making all of us in the LGBT community welcomed guests to the party.  We must continue to live and love as we do and claim our place in the body of Christ.  There is a reason so many of us are coming back to the church.  And there is a reason so many of us who want to come back stay away.  We must ask the groups such as Integrity to give attention to places such as Florida and equip us with what we need to educate about LGBT inclusion and lessen the fears about us.  I, for one,  would rather stand in a prophetic place than a crucified place.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ixnay on the Ex-Gay

I remember when I was doing research for my radio documentary on Anita Bryant's 1977 crusade against the gay community in Miami, I read about her fall from grace not just on the national scene, but amongst her ultra-conservative, holier-than-thou backers.  She and her husband, the late Bob Green, were divorcing.  And in her Baptist, bible-thumping circles that was considered an abomination.

I mean, really: she might as well have said she was a lesbian.  People stopped talking to her, wouldn't acknowledge her presence in a room.  To them, she was dead.

Given all that the former Miss Oklahoma had done to demonize the LGBT community, it was hard to feel sorry for her.  And yet a part of me did not like to read about her suffering isolation and hatred. No one should be treated that way. 

That same isolation and hatred seems to be the fate facing the leader of the harmful and homophobic Exodus International.  Alan Chambers, the 40 year-old leader of the Christian consortium that touted reparative therapy for gays who wanted "out of the life", has now said that the group has been wrong to push for gays to change, and has even said that people who are LGBT can also be Christian without having to renounce and repent the very core of their sexual beings.  This has not gone over well with the Exodus International crowd, and many are calling for his head.  To be clear, Chambers, who says that he struggles with his own sexual identity, is hanging on to some of his conservative credentials, but he is realizing the hypocrisy of the message:

“I believe that any sexual expression outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sinful according to the Bible,” Mr. Chambers emphasized. “But we’ve been asking people with same-sex attractions to overcome something in a way that we don’t ask of anyone else,” he said, noting that Christians with other sins, whether heterosexual lust, pornography, pride or gluttony, do not receive the same blanket condemnations. 

That's because there is nothing to overcome.  That's the point.  There is nothing, absolutely, positively nothing sinful about being a same-sex loving person.  Just like there is nothing, absolutely, positively nothing sinful about being an opposite-sex loving person.  Sin happens in how we treat the person we purport to love.  If we are using them as a means to an end, and not respecting their dignity and their humanity, then we are sinning.  Sexual expression is a gift from God.  Our sexual beings are good gifts, given freely, in the hopes that we will enjoy them in a way that is mutually loving.

But because Mr. Chambers has evolved in his own understanding that LGBT people can not be cured and can be part of the kingdom of God, many of his cohorts have gone sour on him, and are denouncing him.  Just as society, and even faith institutions, are growing more and more comfortable with LGBT people there will always be those who will ratchet up the rhetoric to denounce us and call us products of the devil.  And their voices will get louder and more strident.  The key to overcoming their hatred is not to descend to their level, but to continue ascending to the place where we are headed: full equality.

I am sorry that Mr. Chambers is now feeling the heat from his hot-headed once-friends.  No one deserves to be isolated or alone.  And yet, he helped make the monster that now wants to devour him.   That's sad.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Episcopal Sausage Making

It's virtually impossible for me to keep up on this blog with everything happening in Indianapolis, especially from Tallahassee.

But in a convention center far, far away from here, the discussion is underway on the Anglican Covenant. The No Anglican Covenant Coalition has its Episcopal convenor, Lionel Deimel, and our moderator from the Anglican Church of Canada, Revd. Malcolm French, at the convention. Both of them are providing on-the-ground perspective on their blogs which can be found in the "Brilliance in the Blogosphere" to the right. You can also check in on the NACC blog "Comprehensive Unity."  There really is only one acceptable stance on the Anglican Covenant: "No!"  Apparently, there is still hand-wringing among some who worry that a "No" vote will result in the Episcopal Church being relegated to a second-tier status.  Well, at this point, we'll have some excellent company because the Scots have rejected it along with the Philippines.  And, let's face it: the Scottish Church helped us create an Anglican Communion when they gave us our first bishop in the States with Richard Seabury.  The majority of English dioceses have rejected the document which sets up a system of rules and punishment that simply have never been part of Anglican doctrine.  What makes us the lovable, frustrating, fractious people of God that we are is that we don't have a lock-step approach to church, but we do share a common love of God as embodied in Christ and breathed as the Holy Spirit.  If we can please just accept that we are never going to agree on everything, but we do agree on the essential truths, then we can put this nonsense to rest and get on with being agents of Love in a world that sorely needs that.

There is, of course, lots more happening at General Convention. Things seem to be proceeding apace on the full inclusion of transgender people in the church and more movement on the marriage front... beyond just simply allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages. Today, a committee in the House of Deputies moved forward a resolution that would create a task force to study and report to the 78th General Convention on giving priests the opportunity to marry same-sex couples, not just bless them. For serious church wonks, this same discussion is happening simultaneously with the Presbyterian Church USA.

And yes--there's even more happening in Indianapolis. The Episcopal Church has set up a feed that will let those not in attendance tune in to watch what's happening.

Please keep all at the Convention in your prayers, especially if they step outside into the unusually hot and humid weather they're having in Indiana right now!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Out of the Box in Indy

There's a double-feature playing in Indianapolis. Below is one of the movies, the latest in the Voices of Witness series. This one is called "Out of the Box" about the experience of transgender people in the Church. Get yourselves a bowl of popcorn, and spend a half-hour learning about your trans brothers and sisters-in-Christ.

Let Freedom Ring... and say "Yes to Bless"

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines. 

Or at least say a prayer.  The Episcopal Church's General Convention is starting in Indianapolis.  And there is much that will be on the plate of our bishops and deputies between now and the scheduled end of July 12th. 

On my own radar, I am hoping that our church will follow suit with Scotland, the Philippines, New Zealand, the dioceses in the Church of England (etc. etc.) and vote, "No" on the Anglican Covenant.  It is a flawed document that was borne from a very bad place (the Windsor Report) which was borne from an equally bad place of fearing the inclusion of LGBT partnered people in the episcopate.  There are attempts to soften our response to this plan by saying, essentially, we'll continue to mull it over.  The only response that I find acceptable is for us to say, "Thank you, but no thanks!"  If you would like to read more on the Anglican Covenant, click HERE, or simply go to the labels section of this blog and read entries listed under the "Anglican Covenant" or "Anglican Angst."

Another major issue on my radar, and the one likely to receive the most attention from the secular media, is the proposal to adopt liturgies for same-sex blessings.  I already know where my bishop stands (opposed).  I am not so sure where the rest of our deputation from Florida is on this matter.  My hope is, from all that I have been hearing about the priests in our diocese, that our bishop may have one or two who will stand with him on this, and the rest will see fit to vote their conscience as they contemplate the presence of the LGBT&  faithful in their midst.  Increasingly, the resistance to recognizing gay people as fully-baptized members is becoming a position of a bygone era.  My continued prayer is that God keeps doing God's thing to bring more and more into the fold... even if that means the hardening of some hearts in the process. 

Scripture helps to shed some light in this area. In the daily morning office, the readings have been from Numbers.  We have entered that part of the book with the famous scene in which Balak has called on Balaam to curse the Israelites.  But that's not what God has in mind, and put different words in the mouth of Balaam:

Then Balaam uttered his oracle, saying:
‘Balak has brought me from Aram,
   the king of Moab from the eastern mountains:
“Come, curse Jacob for me;
   Come, denounce Israel!”
 How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
   How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?
 For from the top of the crags I see him,
   from the hills I behold him;
Here is a people living alone,
   and not reckoning itself among the nations!
 Who can count the dust of Jacob,
   or number the dust-cloud of Israel?
Let me die the death of the upright,
   and let my end be like his!’  Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but now you have done nothing but bless them.’ He answered, ‘Must I not take care to say what the Lord puts into my mouth?’--Numbers 23:7-12

Stories such as this from the Scriptures give me hope that there are those in Indianapolis ready to vote "no" on the resolution on blessings who may find that their hearts and minds are changed as they encounter the incarnation of the very people they would deny.  Folks who are gay and have been living in partnerships who would like to have their unions recognized by the church are in the pews on Sunday, and they are there in Indianapolis as well.  For now, all we're seeking from this gathering is approval of the liturgies to bless our unions.

There are resolutions, notably A050, which will take the Episcopal Church even further toward full marriage equality.  But that issue won't come up for a final decision until the 78th Convention.   Let's get through this 77th meeting first, recognizing that the Episcopal churches, especially in Province I, would like to offer a blessing liturgy for same-sex couples.

Gracious God, who has made us one family by Holy Baptism, give compassion, wisdom, and courage to our bishops and General Convention deputies who will soon gather in Indianapolis; that all your children may be hallowed by equal access to all the sacraments; through Jesus Christ our Teacher and the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.  Amen.--Integrity's Prayer for General Convention

Monday, July 2, 2012


OK... I did not come up with that title on my own.

That's what my rector used as a term in his sermon on Mark's story of the hemorrhaging woman, and the 12 year-old girl of Jarius, who was dead but Jesus brought her back to life. It is the perfect term for these imperfect times as the arguments heat up over health care. In case you missed it or were totally unplugged from any news source whatsoever, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Healthcare Act (often called "Obamacare") with the conservatives darling Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the majority. It was not the outcome many had expected, given the right-leaning nature of the Court. And it was the outcome many of us had hoped for as we live day-to-day without health insurance. Far from the perfect plan, at least I stand a chance of being able to have access to health insurance. And as anyone in this country can tell you, possessing health insurance means that (in theory) you can afford to do those things that will keep you healthy. Like go to the doctor...

It was interesting to have the Mark gospel story of these two dramatic healing events on the weekend following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision and preceding Independence Day. The music at church was meant to recall our Americanism, including "America, the Beautiful" right before the Gospel lesson. Admittedly, I found myself struggling against some the lyrics in this well-worn American classic.

"O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved,
and mercy more than life!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control
thy liberating law."

My throat started closing and my eyes got watery on that verse as I contemplated the state of our nation.  The political dialogue in this country isn't a dialogue but a screaming match.  Attempts to make health insurance accessible to those like me are met with vows by one political party to do everything to block it.  Our Governor has announced that he will not expand Medicaid to make room for more enrollees... even though the federal government will pick up most of the tab.  He'd rather people get sick and go without care than to admit that he has lost this argument in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Thank God for the Gospel lesson!!  The story of the unnamed hemorrhaging woman and the cure of Jarius' daughter were the pill I needed to swallow on this Sunday.  Because under the Jesuscare plan, everybody is made whole.  Everybody is made well.  Everybody gets included.  A woman sick for twelve years who, no doubt, had gone to countless number of healers in her day could not find a cure.  But under Jesuscare, she not a single-payer system... but a single-provider network... and--poof!--she's cured.   As an unnamed person it would seem she had no great social standing.  As a woman, we know of that period in history, she was a second-class member.  And then Jesus goes on to Jarius' house, the named man; hence a man of prominence in the society.  People are wailing because Jesus, having stopped to find the woman who touched his cloak, arrived after the girl was dead.  But under Jesuscare, even dead little 12-year-olds (a girl who was as old as the unnamed woman's mysterious illness) get to have their life restored.  I imagine Jarius had access to the best doctors and medical care of the day.  But it was the freely-given Jesuscare that helped his daughter.
Sadly, if this scenario were to play out in today's America the Beautiful, the hemorrhaging woman might be a convert to the cause for more Jesuscare while the Jarius family would likely say, "I got mine; screw you!"  Certainly, I would guess that most of the people in the pews hearing this lesson missed the idea that what Jesuscare represents is UNIVERSAL health care; a system where anyone who is willing to believe and puts their faith in this single-provider will be given a new lease on life.  Or perhaps they did hear and understand that, but because this doesn't jive with what their political ideology tells them, they simply choose to ignore the radical nature of Christ. 

The Episcopal Church is on record from the last convention as supporting Universal Health Care.   I do, too.   I think it's the only fair solution.  And if people want to pay extra for private insurance, they can elect to do so.  But there should be a level of care given to all people so we can have a healthier society.  And people should not be forced to stay in crappy jobs, or get married, in order to have access to care.

I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court came down on the side of "Obamacare" in its ruling.  I think that's a start.  But I hope one day Jesuscare becomes the reality in this industrialized country.  I hope that all those who say they love "country more than self" can also ascribe to the true meaning of loving "mercy more than life."  Then, America will be more beautiful.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Communion Conundrum

When I was about eight or nine years old, my family invited our neighbors to attend church with us one Sunday. My mom wanted to share the Episcopal liturgy with our not-particularly-religious,  New England Congregationalist friends. I was just happy to have my buddy with me at the service. I needed someone my own age to commiserate with me later about the experience of the sermon. I remember that when it came time for the Eucharist, I turned to my friend.

"You can't have communion."

She looked at me funny. "Why?"

"Because," I reasoned, "you haven't been baptized."

You see, I had been trained so well by the rector in the "rules" of the church. I knew I wanted to receive Holy Communion as a child, and this was yet-another one of those "things" that I pressed with my rector at the tender age of seven.   He had me do a special study, and cut out pictures from magazines and demonstrate that I knew what "communion" meant and what the bread and water and wine represented, and by doing this I had proven myself worthy to receive the Holy Eucharist. But my friend hadn't done any of that. So, I knew that meant she could not join us at the Eucharist.

My mother, a cradle Episcopalian, shot me a disapproving look.  "Yes, she can!"  And I was given one of my first lessons in the chapter of life called, "Don't Be a Jerk."  My friend joined us and, in fact, she and her brother were later baptized in the Episcopal Church.

I share this story as the Episcopal Church prepares for its General Convention in Indianapolis.  Among the issues that are on the front burner for church wonks, but not as important to the secular media, is the resolution which would open up the Eucharist to the unbaptized.  I know reporters will be waiting to file their stories on the Church's vote on the blessing of same-sex unions; we LGBT people are very fascinating critters that need to be examined, re-examined, and talked "about" a lot.  Helps to divert attention away from the more difficult and--well--less sexy topics that happen at a Church governing convention.   But I imagine the debate about the unbaptized receiving Holy Communion will generate some sparks as people weigh the meaning of these two all-important sacraments of the Episcopal Church: Baptism and Holy Eucharist.

They are important each in their own separate and together way.   Talk to most lay people who are engaged in the Episcopal church, and the majority will tell you that they love the Baptismal service.  It is not only a moment of welcoming a new child (or adult) into their own relationship with God, but it is the community event of pledging our support and love for this person and a commitment to help nourish and encourage them as they grow up in Christ, and reaffirming our own commitment to keep walking with God.

Similarly, the Eucharist is the moment of reconnection with God in Christ and with God in us as we take the body and blood into our being.  The Eucharistic feast is the celebration of the life-affirming event of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf.  In confirmation class, we were schooled in the phrase that the Eucharist is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."   To bring that into my body on a weekly basis is a way to remember, and re-member, myself to God and to allow Love to flow through me and out to the world.

How important is it to have the former before the latter?

I have known of many people who have received the Eucharist, but were of other faith traditions.  Nothing bad happened to them.  Nothing bad happened to the church.   And, in some cases, it can lead to a desire to be baptized. 

I also think about how "the Way" spread following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  In the Book of Acts, people who were considered the outsiders hungered for a chance to be included.  And despite the misgivings of his Jewish disciples, Jesus' followers came to realize that these people have the Spirit within them; and then they baptize them.  So, that makes me wonder if this is a chicken or egg kind of question?  Again, how do we know that by allowing someone to receive Christ's body and blood, this won't whet their appetite further and lead them to become baptized?

And then there is the basic feeling that I have about what we are doing in the ritual of the Eucharist.  We invite people to "The Lord's Table."   We call this meal "The Lord's Supper."  Operative in both of those phrases is "Lord"; not "the Church".   The meal is provided by God, both in the figurative sense of it being the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, and the literal sense that the bread and the wine are products of the earth's bounty which are also part of the creation of God.   The functions of the people at the altar, be it a bishop, priest, deacon, Eucharistic minister, or acolyte, are to be the wait staff for what is really supposed to be God's meal.  It's God's banquet, God's party, and God only knows who will get called to taste and see how good this food and drink is.

Finally, let's steal a phrase from the culture wars: "Think of the children!"   I think of me as a child.  I really, really, really wanted to partake in this ritual.  By my understanding (and that of many others I have found who are in the ordained priesthood) I didn't need to prove my knowledge of what all the symbols meant.  I had been baptized; hence I was already considered ready in the eyes of God to receive.  But there continues to be a practice in many places that children must be "of age" to receive the host and the cup.   When I talked with the former rector of St. John's, he said the one consistent battle he fought at each church he went to was over the Eucharist and when it was appropriate to give it to a child.  I know I was not the first child with a deep desire to join in this uniting to Christ at the Table.  And if children long to be included in this moment of symbolic solidification of faith, how much more so would an adult want that?

No matter what happens at General Convention, a change such as this would not happen overnight.  In the meantime, I commend to those with interest to go visit Elizabeth Kaeton's blog, Telling Secrets, to read more analysis and consider ordering "Water, Bread and Wine" which contains essays examining the question from many perspectives.  If nothing else, I hope this issue will encourage more dialogue about why we believe what we believe about baptism and the Eucharist.