Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swamped by Sandy

From the New York Times.  Twitter accounts last night indicated that parts of Manhattan around 21st Street and 10th Avenue were underwater.

I have been watching news reports and following social media accounts on what's happening in the Northeast in the wake of the enormous Hurricane Sandy.  The storm blew through the New Jersey/New York City area yesterday afternoon and evening.  Some of my friends in Brooklyn were able to post information to Facebook indicating that there were cars underwater in the street, and they were heading out to the fire escape of their apartment for a hurricane party. 
Most of my family is in New Hampshire, and were OK.  One brother and his family live about an hour outside of the NYC in Connecticut.  He had left me a message to say he wasn't concerned and thought the whole thing was being hyped by the media.  Somehow, I think water rushing into the Brooklyn Tunnel and flooding the subway stations of New York City isn't hype.  My mom has assured me that he checked in last night to say it was "bad in Stamford."  No more news beyond that.
The one upside of this hurricane is that we will be spared the endless political drivvel of the presidential campaign.  I only wish it could suspend ALL the commercials, but sadly, that won't happen until November 7th. 
My continued prayers are for all those affected by Sandy.
O God, who remains present with us amidst the many tempests of life and whose Son, Jesus Christ, calmed the seas and gave protection to his friends at times when the rising tides instilled fear and anxiety in their hearts;extend your loving protection to those caught in the midst of this mayhem; give guidance and wisdom to the first responders venturing out to restore order to chaos; and bring us all together to rebuild what has been torn down by this storm.  In your Holy Name we pray.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Voting Values

The presidential debates are finally over.  The home stretch of the interminable campaign season is coming to an end, too.  And I have already attended two trainings for working the polls this election. 

When I was a child, I used to think this was one of the most exciting times of the year.  I'd spend many an evening or afternoon at some candidate's headquarters, stuffing envelopes or making phone calls to arrange for folks to get a ride to the polls.  And I couldn't wait for election night when we'd go down to the town hall and wait for the clerk to step up to the podium and announce the results.  Then we'd head out to the parties, and celebrate victory upon victory.

Ahhh... the days of being a Republican child in New Hampshire.

Today, I wouldn't be caught dead dancing and drinking with the Republican Party.  And I'm not much of a fan of the Democratic Party either.  In fact, I can't say as I really like either of the two major parties much.  And there simply isn't a big shindig on Election Night for those of us who have chosen to be a No Party Affiliation voter.  So, I just go home, prop my feet up, and hope that the best person wins.

For me, the best person is the one who recognizes that equality is a good thing for everyone.  The best person is the candidate who knows that the services we have come to expect (utilities, roads, schools, etc.) require a source of income to pay for them, and they know that this is a shared burden, not just something for the "little people" to take care of while the wealthy play golf.  The best person, in the words of the prophet Amos, "Hates evil, loves good, and seeks to establish justice in the gate." 

Such people running for public office in this country are far and few between.  Sometimes, you can find them on the local level.  But quite often, the more power the office has, the more egomanical the candidates are who are running for that seat.   Complicating this mix is the yo-yo mentality of the American voting public who don't want their candidates to tell them the truth, but then get incensed when they lie.   Or vice versa.  

For me, party affiliation has little effect on whether I will vote for one candidate against another.  But increasingly, I have looked at the Republican Party and the candidates it puts forward as if it were some alien creature or a wolf baring its fangs and growling, ready to pounce and tear me to shreds.  This is not the party I knew when I was in my youth nor is it the party of my parents generation or even resembling the party of Lincoln.  They have ascribed to beliefs in their party platform that are antithetical to my own worldview that we're all in this soup together, and have a responsibility to one another.  They have become more like the biblical character Cain, filled with rage and envy toward anyone or anything that is "other" to the point where they would be willing to kill, if not literally at least figuratively, a perceived enemy in an effort to promote themselves.   They are not alone in this fear-driven mentality.  There are Democrats who I will not vote for in this election because they, too, have taken to growling and snapping and debasing whole groups of people.  And I am fed up with the fear factor.

Some people I've seen on Facebook are asking that their current friends and family "de-friend" them if they plan to vote for Mitt Romney for President.  I have not, and will not, go that far.  Again, my own worldview is that we are all in this soup together: Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal.  There are people I know on Facebook who are ardent supporters of Romney and have gone so far as to say they are "praying" for the President to lose.  Rather than flee from these folks, or "block" them from showing up on my wall, I take it as a challenge to offer up a prayer in hopes that President will win re-election, and my rights as an LGBT American will be protected... and perhaps one day... fully-realized.   God, I believe, is hearing all of our prayers equally.  There are no favorites in God's realm. 

But I would be lying if I said that it doesn't sting me at some level when I see who is touting their support for Romney or other Republicans in light of the party's platform.  Do these friends not know that the Republican Party stands in opposition to marriage equality?   If they do know that, then what are they really saying to me and the hundreds of thousands like me?  Can they really embrace me and my partner as friends while supporting a system of separate and not-equal which punishes us for falling in love with someone of the same gender?  And, if in considering those facts they still side with the forces that stand in the way of equality, then are we really friends?   Are we really family?  What type of person sells out another's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?

 We are all in this soup together.  And if we can not live in that bowl together, we are in a deeper crisis than we think.

So, more than party affiliation, more than campaign slogans and soundbites and commercials, the question comes back to what do we value?  Ourselves only, or ourselves in the context of a greater community?  Do we intend to stick together or are we going to tear each other apart?  Are we willing to sell out the rights of a sexual minority at the polls?

Seriously.  What do you value with your vote?


Friday, October 19, 2012

A Brief Word About Bullying

It has been heartening to see so many people wearing purple, or layering lavender on their Facebook profile pictures in association with Spirit Day. This is the day that the LGBT community has adopted to send hope to those kids who are under assault from classmates, and sometimes teachers and administrators, and to let them know, in the words of the now famous catch phrase, "It gets better." The campaign is directed to LGBT kids, but it is a message for any kid who gets picked on for being different.

We live in a culture where bullying is accepted. Much as we say we're against it, TV shows where judges ridicule singers or competitors expose themselves to what amounts to hazing to win prizes are among the most prolific and popular. And in between those shows right now, voters are reminded why this candidate is a liar and cheat as opposed to the other candidate who is just an all-around ugly human being. Until there is a real commitment from our leaders to refrain from bullying, how can we really expect children to be kind?

I thought it was appropriate that today's morning office included Psalm 17, which includes these verses:

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,
from my deadly enemies who surround me.

To the child being harassed at school or dodging verbal and physical abuse on the bus or the walk home, please know this: you are stronger than you think. You are the apple of God's eye. And you have a legion of adults who not only empathize with what you are experiencing; we are working to make the world better now.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Luke and Love

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to declare in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church the same love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.--Collect for St. Luke the Evangelist

Of the four gospels, I have often thought of the Gospel of Luke as the story of Jesus as told for the underdogs. This is where you get the famous parables of the Good Samaritan, and the Prodigal Son. And this is also the place where we witness the devotional love of Mary for Jesus as she sits at his feet in rapt attention, so much so that she isn't even conscious of Martha's complaint that Mary should get off her duff and get in the kitchen to help her.

In all of three of these stories from Luke, the evangelist let's us see the depth of Jesus' love for those who are in the margins of his society in First Century Palestine. Samaritans were hated; Jesus shows the Samaritan as the "good" one in the story because he aids the man left for dead on the road. How deep is the love of God the Father for the least and the lost; listen to Jesus talk of the return of the prodigal son to a father so pleased to see his wayward child come home when he thought he was gone forever.

And with the Martha and Mary story we can see Jesus taking on the role of mediator and advocate as he simply tells Martha that she is worried about "things" while Mary has chosen "the better part." That better part can be explained to be the contemplative path with a total focus on God and the ability to block out everything else.

I figure that Luke, as a Greek and thus an outsider himself, might have taken the approach he did to recording Jesus' actions as way of furthering the spread of the Good News to the Gentile population. There is power in seeing yourself in the story of Jesus Christ's ministry. It gives the sense of "He was my advocate, too."

And so as the Collect of St. Luke talks of the Church continuing this work of love and healing, I look to those who call themselves Christian to commit to opening the doors of their communities to those who don't look just like them,, have the same level of income, or sexual orientation and gender identity. This is the spirit embodied in the Luke version of Jesus: a love that knows no boundaries.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Loving Against All Odds

The readings for this Sunday are chock full of choices, especially for those of us reading Amos with the command to, "hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate."  That statement alone needs its own separate entry.

What drew my attention in our gospel lesson from Mark about the rich young man who wants to inherit eternal life was a particular phrase used to describe how Jesus looked upon this hapless soul.  The young man wants an answer to his question.  Jesus repeats for him the basics of the ten commandments dealing with relationship with your fellow human beings.  The young man acknowledges that he's been doing all that from his youth.  And here it comes:

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

I have been thinking a lot about the will to love lately.  In this moment, Jesus is not speaking to this man in malice.  He's having compassion for this creature who, whether he knows it or not, seems to be asking a question of how can I be more at one with God.  And Jesus, knowing that to have oneness with this Love requires relinquishing control and giving up precious "things", knows that what he is about to say will challenge him in a way that he is not yet prepared to handle.

And we get the end result: the young man becomes very heavy in spirit, is shocked by this instruction, and goes away because he had many possessions.  Jesus loved him against all odds of him actually taking the instruction.  And he continued to love him and feel compassion for him as he sulked away.

I've been considering lately just how many times I have behaved like that rich young man.  Not that I have lots of possessions that I am clinging to and refusing to sell for the benefit of giving money to the poor.  If only God would bless me with such a dilemma!  But my "rich young manness" has come out in the ways I have avoided instructions my trusted guides have given me to help me clarify my spiritual path.  Bishop Gene Robinson told me to get a spiritual director, and Mtr. Lee Shafer gave me the name of someone.  I thought, "Well, that's all good and fine, then," and refused to act until I found myself in such a state of anxiety over what was going on with me that I finally went back to one of my "thin places": the labyrinth at the Florida School of Massage in Gainesville.  That made me email Rev. Nancy Mills, the previously recommended spiritual director, and I began seeing her.  She recommended that I read, "The Cloud of Unknowing," by an anonymous Christian mystic of the 14th century, as centering prayer was a practice she encouraged me to do.  I ordered it.  I started it.  I put it down where it gathered dust... until my new spirtual director asked me if I'd read, "The Cloud of Unknowing."  At first, I ignored the question, which she did not accept and asked again if I had read it.  Hemming and hawing as I looked at this email, I admitted I'd not really read it, no.  And I knew that this was now my assignment before my next trip to see her.

And I also acknowledged how I recognize the pattern that is emerging in me: when faced with an instruction on what I need to do to become clearer about my path with God, I often will drag my feet, shift uncomfortably, and turn away sulking like that rich young man. It isn't because I don't want to follow; it's because to follow will require me to do some more letting go of control.

It also demands a greater will to love. This is where reading "The Cloud" has been giving me insight. In one part, the author uses the story in Luke of Mary and Martha to show how Mary, who is sitting spellbound at Jesus' feet, has chosen "the better part". Martha, who is angry that her sister isn't in the kitchen helping with food preparation, is complaining to Jesus about this lack of help. Jesus doesn't tell Martha, "You're wrong." What he notes is that she is consumed with other things, and Mary is focused on the one thing: oneness with God. In fact, she's so focused that all Martha's complaining doesn't seem to phase her. Thus, Mary is the contemplative. And Jesus refers to this as being "the better part."

To inherit eternal life means to be more at one with the Source of Love. And to do that is not so much about following a formula of "doing good" but shedding those "things" that keep us from being still and focused on the Source. This appears to be the key to entering into the Love that gives eternal life.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coming Out is Still Not Always Easy

There is no doubt in my mind that things have gotten better for the LGBT community as a whole.  The opinion polls done since the last Presidential election, the one which featured the devastating side-bar election story of states revoking marriage equality or instituting constitutional bans on same-sex couples tying the knot or adopting kids, shows a move toward more acceptance of gay and lesbian people.  These changes in the culture are happening not just among the people who are non-religious, but among those families of faith as well. 

Still, churches tend to be among the least hospitable places for the LGBT people.  Witness the fact that a bunch of preachers felt the need to get into the pulpit last weekend and preach political endorsements, not just politics, in an effort to challenge the IRS. No doubt, some of those messages were aimed at the President who has supported marriage equality and supported an end to the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy of his Democratic predecessor.  Parents of LGBT children sit in the pews of these churches, internalizing the messages of meanness and the gospel of hate. They are taught to believe the Bible rejects gay relationships (this is the evolution from what used to be said that the Bible rejects gay people).  It's those parents who are more likely to send their gay kids packing, and cutting them off from financial support because they can not reconcile their faith with the facts of their family member.

Here enter an ad put together by a group called Faith in America, an advocacy group for accepting LGBT people as children of God.  The Faith and Equality project is designed to reach out to parents and other family members and get them to see more clearly their gay loved ones.  The group attempted to get an ad run in the popular religious magazine, Christianity Today.   But the magazine's editors rejected the ad.  Apparently, the editors are not aware that in Christianity today, there are lots of LGBT people of faith who have families.  In Christianity today, eight out of ten members of a faith community reporting knowing someone who is LGBT or having a family member who is LGBT.  In Christianity today, there are many more voices speaking up for inclusion and allowing gay people to be the fully baptized members in the Body of Christ they were always meant to be.

Now there is a Change.org petition to get the publication to run the ad.  It is an interesting juxtaposition to have this controversy getting shared on Facebook at a time when we are celebrating the 24th anniversary of National Coming Out Day.  It shows that even as we make tremendous strides toward equality in this country, there are still those pockets where the gay community finds itself embroiled in bitter debates over basic freedoms guaranteed to all other Americans.  Frank Schubert, the bankroller and campaign strategist for many an anti-marriage cause, is busy working to pass a constitutional amendment in Minnesota while defeating marriage equality in Maryland, Maine and Washington State.  According to the New York Times, Schubert specializes in making people feel OK about denying marriage equality to their fellow citizens.  One TV ad's pitch line in Minnesota says, "Everyone has a right to love who they choose, but nobody has the right to redefine marriage."  Such an easy message for the ones on the fence to absorb.  Not so easy to internalize if a person has to look into the eyes of the couple they will be harming with their homophobic vote.

With this as the back drop to National Coming Out Day, is it any wonder that some people, be they children or adults, still shudder and shrink in fear of revealing their sexual orientation?  This doesn't include those who fear for their lives, in some cases, if they share that they believe they are transgender.  The more we, as a society, continue to use LGBT people as the boogeymen and women who we must defend ourselves against, the more we will have to mark National Coming Out Day to celebrate the ones brave enough to stand up for themselves in the face of such hostility.  My hope is that I will live to see the day that NCOD won't be needed because "coming out" will not carry personal baggage or political weight. 

Yes, things are better, but we're still far from the promised land.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Into the Lonely Fog

This past weekend, I spent an overnight trip to Camp Weed, the Episcopal Diocese of Florida's camp in Live Oak.  It was the parish retreat weekend and I had never gone on such an excursion, so I thought I'd go and challenge every ounce of my introverted self.  And I did.  I came. I saw.  I played kickball.

I had a good time, although I learned a valuable lesson: never opt for cabin-dwelling.  Bunk beds and my body do not agree and the air conditioning unit was as loud as a train's diesel engine, kicking on every 45 minutes.

Since I couldn't really sleep, I left the cabin for a walk at dawn.  It wasn't the sun-breaking-over-the-horizon kind of dawn; instead, dawn on this morning was a soupy fog draped over the trees and fields.  The birds were out and creating the musical soundtrack for this morning stroll through the mist.  I felt the exhilaration of a new day coming and that sense of being present, right now, taking in everything around me.  The fog lent a special feeling of mystery to the whole thing.  At some point, this drape would lift, and the sun would reveal more of the landscape.

This was something of a metaphor for the state of mind I was in on this walk.  I've been in a fog lately.  Or at least it seems as though the world is blanketed in a foggy mist, and I keep looking for the light. In my faith journey, I have come to a point where I believe it is time to really slow down and take a good long look at the landscape, foggy as it is, and take stock of where this path is leading.  As I noted in my last entry, this is the five-year anniversary of the start of this wild and crazy ride with God, and so it seems this is the time for me to see where I was... and where I am now.  And to recognize that where I am now, in the fog, is exactly the right place given all the movement that has occurred up to this point. And, at some point, this drape will lift, and I'll have the rays of sunshine I need to see the landscape more clearly.

This is a lonely place to be in.  I was conscious of that, too.  It didn't matter how loud the birds were or that I was on this retreat with 160+ people from St. John's, this moment... the one I was and still am in... is a lonely place.  These are the times when one relies on the ravens to come and feed you.  I am fortuate in that I have received some of that from those I have trusted along the way of this journey.  May their sustenance aid me as I continue to take more steps in faith into the fog.  May I take time to feel the dew of the grass and not lose sight of how beautiful even this landscape can be.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reflections on an Anniversary

This is a freaky Friday.

Today, Friday, October 5th, marks the five year anniversary of my father's death.  It happened at about 3:40pm on Friday, October 5, 2007.  It was merciful in that my poor dad had really reached the end of his rope.  A stroke, complicated by a Parkinsonian-related disease, and now a feeding tube because he was unable to swallow properly.  That was it.  So, his death and the release of his spirit are not things that I regret and are not so much the center of my reflection today.  What I am aware of is how the event of his death changed the course of my life.

Prior to my father's death, I had separated from the Episcopal Church.  Despite the election of Gene Robinson as a bishop, not all places welcomed the LGBT community, especially in Florida.  I was leery of church people, and even less trusting of priests.  I thought the whole mess was a heap of hypocrisy.  People professing to love Christ, love their neighbors, and yet thought nothing of casting out queers.  Each time a Eucharistic visitor from St. John's came to my dad's assisted living facility to bring him communion, I would look the person over from head-to-toe, inspecting his or her every move and waiting for "the flinch" or "the look" that I had grown accustomed to seeing when an unaware straight person encountered me.  I was, as my mentor once described me, a feral cat.

Dad's death was a turning point in that relationship.  His death forced me to confront the church of my upbringing because we had to hold funerals; hence I had to be present in the church again.  And it wasn't just one; we held the one in New Hampshire with his body present.  And then, at the request of many, we had one in Tallahassee at St. John's.  For me, this was just going through the motions. I would do "the church thing" and then get about living my life as I knew it.

Instead, this would the reconciliation of me and the church.  Perfect, in so many ways, that it happened at St. John's, an Episcopal Church that had been under the influence of virulent homophobia from the mid-90s until the schism in 2005.  Much like the conversion of St. Paul, there was a need for a feral queer to find a place among a congregation that had been made to fear us, and in so doing, both parties could see each other more clearly in the way God has always intended.

Something strange happened after my dad's Tallahassee funeral.  I kept being bothered by hymns.  There had been a few right after his death, but now they were ever-present and wouldn't quit.  My brain had become a jukebox of the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, not to mention fraction anthems from Morning Prayer and the Eucharist.  I found myself singing along:

O ruler of the Universe, Lord God,
Great deeds are they that you have done
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth
O King of all the ages.

I looked that one up.  It is a Morning Prayer canticle titled, "Song of the Redeemed."

The music is what beckoned me to go back after I'd already thought I'd done "the church thing."  And what is clear to me upon reflection was something that I put into a very short performance piece for a Tim Miller workshop: 

My father's life, now in sunset, had given way to a sun rise in me. 

Out of his death came a new birth and understanding of Christ and the ability of God to rescue and redeem all those who have found themselves strangers at the gate.  Once touched by the Love of God this way, there is no turning back and no ability to retreat.  And once this became the root of my being, the direction of my life has moved progressively deeper into relationship with this source of Love manifested in deeper relationship with others around me. 

Breathe on me, Breath of God.  Fill me with life anew.  That I may love as thou dost love and do as thou wouldst do.


Politics in the Pulpit

It was Sunday, July 3, 2011, when my mentor took her place in the pulpit of her Alabama Episcopal Church, and preached the sermon that shocked her congregation into an uncomfortable reality.  She told them that the recently passed anti-immigration law in Alabama flew in the face of the Gospel and Christ's redemptive love for all people.  She was clear and specific in her message, and it wasn't lost on those in attendance.

It also wasn't necessarily appreciated.  Some yelled at her, wagged their fingers at her, and one of her biggest financial contributors picked up his money bags and walked out.  And the universal complaint was that she should never have preached politics from the pulpit.  This was church; we don't want to think how our public policies fail to live up to the Gospel when we're in church!

So, I find it sad and irritating that this weekend, there will be hundreds of preachers across the country, standing in their pulpits with their captive church audiences, and telling them who they should and should not vote for in this election.  It's called, "Pulpit Freedom Sunday".  Or should we call it, "Break the Law Sunday."  As tax-exempt entities, churches are not supposed to be in the business of endorsing candidates.  But the pastors and preachers who plan to use their pulpits as bullies for particular politicians say such a restriction is preventing them from testifying to truths.  Their version of truth.  And, in an amazing twist of their own logic, some of them are arguing that the IRS' ban on allowing endorsements of candidates is state infringement on the church.  "Separation of Church and State!" they cry.  And the world is turned upside down again.

There is a big difference between what my mentor did and what will be happening this Sunday.  I have no problem with a priest or preacher looking at the Gospel lesson of the day and marveling at how it is speaking to an issue of current political debate.  I don't mind them sharing their thoughts and challenging congregations to think through the catchy bracelet slogan, "What Would Jesus Do?" and reaching a conclusion that might make some squirm in their comfy seats.  Preaching the Gospel, really doing it, would make lots of people uncomfortable.  But that isn't the same as standing in a pulpit and announcing that one candidate is the "chosen one of God" while the other is Satan incarnate out to destroy America.  Believe me, there will be those churches where the pastors will be arguing such a case in their effort to elect Mitt Romney.   Worse is that some will decide that the loose-plate collection at the offertory will go to a political cause or candidacy.  And they will do all this while being let off the hook from paying taxes.

Enough of this!  Either we enforce the law and fine these churches, or we admit that we won't enforce the law and we repeal it. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reparative Therapy Done in California

Governor Jerry Brown showed once again why California is considered to be a "bell weather state." Gov. Brown signed into law a measure that prohibits state-licensed mental health therapists from using so-called reparative therapy to "cure" LGBT youngsters of their "affliction." This action makes California the first state in the nation to outlaw the harmful psychological practice of trying to convince LGBT children that they are straight.

In my own experience, I was fortunate that I didn't have quite the level of violence that many have experienced in the offices of social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists who were ardent believers in this idea that one could be cured of gayness. But I did endure many sessions with a social worker who was prepared to "work on" my lesbianism. It was quite painful and I became very good at using aikido-like defenses of my inner being to protect myself from her questions. I figured out that if I changed the gender of the object of my affection in a dream (for example) from a girl to a boy, I could make it through our session with little trauma. Heterosexual tendencies were encouraged; anything lesbian was suspect. Going away to college would be the ultimate savior in this situation.

Others have not been so lucky. They have been greatly damaged by these attempts to thwart God's good design by convincing the gay person that what God had made for good was in fact evil. Using the name of Christ, these doctors would tell young people that they needed to reject their true selves and adopt a false identity as a straight person. Because, among other things, that's what Jesus would want them to do. Really? I somehow doubt that! Families would put so much stock in this idea that their child could be straightened out, as it were, and be "normal." When the therapy predictably failed, the family would be torn up and often times, toss the child out.

I am so glad that Governor Brown has done this in California. Perhaps we are finally seeing the end of the line for one of the most harmful practices in psychology and psychiatry.