Friday, November 30, 2012

St. Andrew

"Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give unto us, who are called by your Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."--Collect for St. Andrew, apostle and patron saint of Scotland

It happened again at the noon day service at St. John's. Words from the service caught me by surprise, and left me thinking about them hours later. The above collect was just one example. "Give unto us, who are called by your Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence."

Our homilist emphasized the idea of "call" and what God may be "calling" us to do. She noted that Andrew, like Peter and the others, immediately dropped their fishing nets to follow after Christ. Maybe we are all called to drop something, whatever might be the routine or what we think is the expected role we are to fill, and follow a path to Christ?

I also heard the part of our Post Communion Prayer, again, that I have talked about before on this blog: "Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you." I thought back on my late good friend, Fr. Lee, and what he did in his lifetime. I thought about what it means to have the strength and courage to love God... and serve as a witness to that Love of God which is enormous and unlike any other. That love that holds you up as you stare injustice, inequality, and stubborn resistance to change in the face.

Is this my call?

Advent Brings A New Rite (for some)...

From the Boston Business Journal
 There is excitement in the air for this Advent, and it's not just because it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The long-awaited rite for blessing same-sex relationships has arrived, and is going into effect this Sunday in those dioceses where they are permitting the rite's trial usuage.  Called, "I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing," the rite tracks much the same liturgy that exists for straight couples in the church, with Scripture readings, presentation of the couple before the presider, vows and rings.  I posted a link to the rite on Facebook and the overwhelming reviews from my Christian, and non-Christian, straight friends has been "beautiful."

It is well-written.  It is a right and good and joyful thing.  And it is not available in all dioceses of the church.

I'm beginning to feel a little bit like I live on the Island of Misfit Toys.  I see the postings from friends celebrating this momentous occasion in the history of our church, and yet I know this Advent will be no different than the ones from previous years when it comes to the place of the LGBT faithful in this diocese.  We are to give our time, our treasure, our talent (up to a point), but there is no will power to really live into that final statement of our Baptismal Covenant:

"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"

There is no out-clause of, "Well, except for those queers!"  And there is nothing that excuses the rest of the Church, the larger body living in enlightenment, from keeping their laterns safely ensconced in their own dioceses when there are still large pockets of darkness that exist in the Church as a whole.  LGBT people in Florida live in a state where the civil authorities have been stepping on our necks for decades, and the church has chosen to keep its prophetic voice silent on such matters.  Refusing to even discuss the new rite, and issuing the edict that there will be no blessing of same-sex unions even before there was a vote at General Convention, was just business as usual.

Some have talked to me about how it was in the days of women's ordination.  Heck, they can't seem to get over the gender issue in England, not to mention those places in this country where parishoners still will cross to the other side of the rail rather than receive the Eucharist from a woman.  I know my sisters in Christ have endured much pain and hardship in the face of such anti-Christian behavior and dogma.  That doesn't make the foot-dragging and the intentional snubbing of LGBT Christians as fully-baptized members of the church any better.  In fact, haven't we spent enough time beating each other down rather than building each other up?  Are we really that slow to understand that when Jesus fed all the many thousands of people, he fed all and all were satisfied?  Is "all" too difficult to comprehend?

And so here I sit, on the Island of Misfit Toys, wondering when we will see the day that all people see justice and peace, and have their dignity respected.  Hurrah for you, my brothers and sisters in elsewhere Episcopaland. And don't be afraid to send some light this way!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Remembrance of Harvey Milk

Gay rights activist and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was gunned down on this day at San Francisco City Hall in 1978.  His assailant was fellow Supervisor Dan White who also shot and killed mayor George Moscone.  I was only ten years old at the time, but I was a quirky kid in that I paid attention to the news, and so I did hear about it even as I played with Legos on the living room floor.  It was shocking, and even more shocking days later when we'd hear that it was the Twinkies that made Dan White do it.

Milk, who was a firebrand, once said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."  It may not have destroyed every closet door, but his life, his passion, and his entry into the political arena, makes him one of the many saints of our LGBT civil rights struggle that has led to U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, as well as countless other openly-gay elected officials.  How sweet it is to know that the state who produced the hate-filled Save Our Children campaign of Anita Bryant now has two openly-gay state representatives!

"And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right."--Harvey Milk, March 10, 1978.

Hope is out there, it's very visible.  Let's be brave and embrace it!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

In the Lord Your Labor Is Not in Vain

Yesterday, we said good-bye and farewell to Father Lee Graham, Jr.  I was honored that my friend had asked that I be one of the lectors at his funeral.  I hadn't dared put in a request to participate, figuring that with all the people who have ever felt close to him, there would be a line a half-mile long of folks who would want to be chalice bearers, lectors, ushers, pall bearers, altar guild members to serve one last time along this servant of God.  So, when I learned that he had put it into his notes on his funeral plan to have me read, I cried.  Again.

And then I read the passage he had selected for me to read, 1 Corinthians 15: 51-58.  And I cried.  Yet again.  All the Scriptural selections he made were a beautiful combination that sounded so much like him preaching one last homily for all of us.  And I definitely felt the words he had chosen for me to communicate to the very large congregation were picked with a purpose.  And so, in honor of Fr. Lee, I thought I'd take us through this particular set of verses, as I understand them in light of my theology as of November 24, 2012:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

This is some mystery, isn't it?  A mystery which speaks to many kinds of life and death.  But I'll just stick with the death of the physical body.  It may seem the person is "dead", but the inhabitant of that body, that inner spirit that once animated the body our senses know as "the person", is not "dead" but it has changed and assumed a new unseen and unknow to those of us in this world.  That person has "changed".  And those of us left behind to mourn the physical death have also changed because we mourn the absense and presensce of that person we perceived through their perishable body.  This is a mystery of energy, and understanding the difference between the physical and the energetic (spiritual) body.  Let's continue...

For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

For those who do believe that life continues beyond this life we know on planet earth, and that there are dimensions of life that are the places of the saints (or the ancestors, in some customs), then this riddle-like statement put forth by St. Paul makes sense.  Once the spiritual body has put on a new existence that isn't the perishable body where it lived and moved and had its being with us, then it rejoices in the experience of new life, life that is bigger and brighter than where it has been before.  Don't let this be confused with "eternal or everlasting life."  That, too, exists in a bigger and brighter form in that realm that is beyond us.  But, according to my theology of November 24, 2012, we are capable of experiencing eternal and everlasting life now if we will yield to God and allow God, not our own petty egos, to be the center of our existence.

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because, for those who do believe in life beyond this realm, death of a physical body does not have the final victory over our spiritual selves.  Because, for those who do believe that there is something more, we have seen an example of this victory in the story of Jesus, who claims new life in the resurrection.

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

This, I believe, was the statement that Fr. Lee intended for me, and others, to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.  A man who knew his Scriptural teachings backwards, forwards and sideways, and had them in his heart as he pursued the most unpopular and difficult paths for justice in his time and until his death.  This was the part of the passage that made me bawl each time I practiced my reading.  The thought that all that we do in this life to make things better for everyone does not end when our physical body ceases to exist, and that as long as we are in this life, we are to be striving to look out for those who have not experienced the liberating love of Love.  That is the task before each of us who seeks to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. 

Thanks be to God for having given me a chance to learn from a teacher like Father Lee Graham, Jr.  He has left an indelible mark on my spirit.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Prayer of Thanks

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you
for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world.
Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and
show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until
our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all
your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, pg. 840)
Happy Thanksgiving, and may this day be one filled with friends, loved ones, family and leftovers to spare!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Joys and Sorrows

As with any lead-in period to a holiday, it seems that time speeds up, and there's no chance to slow down and do such important things as post on one's blog! :-)

Yesterday was definitely one of those whirlwind days.   Fortunately for me, my schedule was totally clear which meant I could go here, there, and everywhere, without much trouble.  My day started with the morning realization that our new state legislature would be sworn in that morning.  Normally, I would thank God for deliverance from having to be there as a reporter.  But this day was different.  Because, on this day, Florida would finally have two openly-gay state representatives seated in the House chamber.   I got out my some of my best clothes, and trudged up the hill to the state Capitol building, quietly humming an antiphon we sing at Easter:

"On this day, the Lord has acted.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

And I was!  I was smiling.  I was laughing.  And I was enjoying myself in a way that I never have in all the years that I have entered that ugly structure where sausage is made at the expense of real lives.  On the way in, I met the parents of a newly-elected legislator who unseated one of the rising stars of the Tea Party-infused state Republican party. 

"Oh, thank you for having a son, and congratulations!" I said.  They laughed.
There are advantages to having once been a member of the Fourth Estate.  Namely, nobody questioned me when I fell in with the reporter pack to gain access to the House floor.  I found one of our two new gay boys, State Representative Joe Saunders and his partner Donald, and snapped a quick picture of them.  I gave Joe a big, long hug, and promised him that the community was there to help him however he needed it.

Such an amazing accomplishment as having out-and-proud members of the Florida House is a sign that "the times they-are-a-changin'."  

In stark contrast, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance is the reminder that we have not fully realized equality here in the United States or certainly around the world.   After stopping in briefly at a church function happening at the home of our associate rector, I headed out to the local LGBT community center to listen to speakers and bear witness to the candle lighting ceremony.  With each votive candle, we heard the names, ages, and circumstances surrounding the death of a trans individual, killed in the past year.  There were 38 names in all, and those are just of the ones we know.  Many of the people had been mutilated in some way, almost as if the killers were so appalled by the person's outward appearance that they felt the need to destroy it.  As people placed their candles around the heart, I repeated in silence my own private prayers for each of these souls snuffed out by transphobia violence.   I thought about the resurgence of the "kill the gays" bill in Uganda.  I thought of trans friends I have made in Tallahassee, and the educational Voices of Witness documentary, "Out of the Box" about the transgender people of faith in the Episcopal Church.  And I thought how much further we still need to go if we are going to live into the vows of our baptismal covenant to "strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being."

So many have died and, are still dying, for the right to live and love in peace.  As we celebrate the accomplishment of LGBT people finding a place at the table of state politics, we must also continue our commitment to raise up all people and refuse to make peace with attempts to put us in an early grave.  We must stay on the battlefield, and we must have the voices of others joining us in this race after God's promise that all will be included in the kingdom and have eternal life.

Monday, November 19, 2012

May Light Perpetual Shine Upon Him: Rev. Lee Graham, Jr.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for
our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn,
and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever
hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have
given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This "Collect of the Day" assigned for this Sunday is the one I refer to as the "Lee Graham Collect" because this is the prayer Father Lee would use on Fridays before his homilies. And quite often, what Fr. Lee would share with our congregation of about a half dozen people were the ideas he had gleaned and considered carefully as he heard, read, marked, learned and inwardly digested the holy Scriptures over a long life of serving in the church.  Somehow, then, it is fitting that on this Sunday, Fr. Lee Graham, Jr. went on to be with the saints who have entered into joy.  He was 92.

I have written about Father Lee so often on this blog through the course of the years as I have gotten to know him and serve with him on Fridays at St. John's.   He has lived an amazing life of overcoming his own prejudice as a young white Southern male priest who was one of the recipients of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s letter from the Birmingham jail.  The civil rights struggles in Alabama during the early 1960s  tested Father Lee and he took up his cross to fight for equal rights for black citizens.  Fr. Lee used to tell one story of the vestry meeting where he was instructed to keep quiet as the group laid out plans to get dogs to patrol the parking lot during an Easter service to prevent black families from coming to church. Fr. Lee listened for awhile, and then asked if they wanted to know what their rector thought of this plan.

"If you do this," he said, "I will not celebrate an Easter service."

"Are you quitting?" they asked.

"I didn't say that," he replied.  "I said if you have dogs and patrols in the parking lot, I will not celebrate Easter."   That ended the vestry's plan, but not the racial tensions in Alabama.

Fr. Lee and his wife, Betty, then moved to Tallahassee where he became the rector of St. John's Episcopal Church for almost twenty years.  Racism was still an issue in Florida's capital city, but nothing nearing the brutal nature of Alabama.   Early in his tenure, an usher who was a state Supreme Court justice turned away a black family from the church.  Fr. Lee, recognizing that the man held a position of power in the state and was a muckity muck at St. John's, nonetheless quietly took care of the matter but never allowing the man to usher again.  The Grahams were about bringing people, all people, into the church; not keeping them out.  He survived the angst about women in the priesthood, girls as acolytes, a new prayer book and hymnal.  He provided space for pregnant teenage girls in the county to attend an afterschool session, so they could complete their requirements for graduation (since the county wouldn't let them attend with the other children).  His food and clothing ministry eventually became ECHO, a program that continues to this day in Tallahassee.  The Grahams were always on the lookout for who was not experiencing the liberation of Love.

No place was that more evident than in the way Lee and Betty Graham treated me and others in the gay community.  During the horrible aftermath of Florida's vote in 2008 to ban marriage equality in the state constitution, Fr. Lee was the only priest at St. John's who recognized the pain in my face, and offered words of love and encouragement to me at a time when I felt the world and even the church was against me.  The Friday before that election he had used his homily as a time to preach about the evils of exclusion, and specifically called out the church and society for their treatment of the LGBT community. I cried.  It was the first time anyone at St. John's had even dared to say anything in response to the lies that had been, and were being, told about us in the public square (mind you this was the church that under another rector had embraced homophobia as kinfolk). He openly praised Bishop Gene Robinson for his frank discussions of human sexuality, and didn't shy away from stating over and over that equal rights for the LGBT community was the new civil rights struggle for the church and for society... and both had better get on with establishing justice in the gate.  And when I told him about a rally that would be happening at the state Capitol building for LGBT equal rights, he was there, in his priestly blacks amidst a sea of 20-and-30 year olds.

The Grahams also spent about eight years in Memphis where Betty Graham got the city police department up to speed on dealing with crime suspects who had mental illness issues.  The police officers had no idea what to do with suspects who suffered from psychological problems and would usually use brute force or stun gun them.  Betty and some others involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness   met with the police chief, and offered to train the officers.  Several of the cops signed up for her workshop, and Memphis became the model for the national movement to train officers in how to respond to the mentally ill.

I loved serving with Lee at the Friday noon day service.  He kept things simple, but didn't lose any of the joy embedded in the liturgy.  His homilies were teaching moments, and on occasion he would employ a rabbinic style of asking questions to get us engaged in our own learning, reading, marking and inwardly digesting of the message of Love.  On one Friday, I remember walking into St. John's with him as we were going to vest and prepare for noon day.  The feast day was that for the Ugandan martyrs.  I shared with him my concerns about what is currently happening in Uganda with the LGBT community  Fr. Lee decided that what he was going to say needed to reflect the reality of the current situation, and so he turned to me and asked me to share with everyone about the "kill the gays" bill, and that, rather than the text from Holy Women/Holy Men, became the basis for his homily. 

Father Lee was a tremendous man, and I thank God I had the opportunity to get to know him.  Prayers for his wife, Betty, and his children and grandchildren.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Well, I Declare: Welcome to My World!

I have tremendous respect for Rev. Susan Russell and the many folks at Integrity who have fought tirelessly for decades to bring about full equality for all the baptized in the Episcopal Church. And, as anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows, I owe more than a hat tip to Bishop Gene Robinson for his role in my spiritual development from the time he was running Sign of the Dove Retreat Center when I was a confirmand at Christ Church in Exeter to his brave and brilliant witness as the bishop of the diocese in my native New Hampshire.

These are the people who have been on the front lines of this struggle for LGBT equality. They know how hard it is to overcome prejudice and fear, and they have stuck it out in the face of some ugly opposition.

All of us who have had to take a stand for our rights to be treated as full members of the Body of Christ, whether it be in the context of our churches or in the secular arenas of government, have seen the hard-heartedness of those who wish to hold back the LGBT community, and make us second-class citizens. It is extraordinarily difficult, at times, to maintain your center when you come face-to-face with homophobia and hatred. I know my voice has trembled as I have learned to speak my truth living in an area of the country that has not always shown "my kind" love and acceptance.

But I am heartened when I see the chipping away at hard-line stands against LGBT people in those places where I least expect to see it.  Such was the case this summer when our General Convention approved a rite of blessing for same-sex couples paving the way for churches in those dioceses that allow for civil marriages to offer the seal of approval in the church communtiy as well.  This was a big deal for my brothers and sisters living in the more enlightened areas of the country.   For those of us dwelling in one of the 35 states where marriage equality is prohibited by law, this was another sad reminder of our circumstances.  Still, the option is there for bishops to adopt the rite approved to fit their context. 

Amazingly, some have done it.  The bishop of Southeast Florida gave the green light to the priests in his diocese to offer a blessing to those couples who were married elsewhere (since Florida bans marriage equality...or "the substantial equivalent thereof" in both the state constitution and four places in the state statutes.)  The bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, which begins at Apalachicola and runs along the southern part of Alabama, also gave his approval to use the blessing rite with many caveats (e.g. a lesbian or gay couple must receive his OK in addition to that of a priest and a church vestry).  Not perfect, but better than a flat out, "No!"

Now the bishop of the diocese of Georgia has finally weighed in.   Oddly, Bishop Scott Benhase has felt the need to modify what had been adopted because he contends that the language accepted at General Convention was too much like a marriage.  For him, a marriage within the context of the church is for "one man and one woman."   The one and only rite acceptable in Georgia is what is called Appendix 1 and is basically like a Prayers of the People and not actual vows spoken by the couple.  It is an odd choice and takes away from what I believe the church should be blessing: namely, a covenant between two people. 

But then, we are talking about the diocese of Georgia... which includes all the very red state areas of southern Georgia.  And sadly, Blakely, GA, is not Berkeley, CA.

Sigh.  Welcome to my world!

The upside, for me, is that at least they have approved something in Georgia that acknowledges the existence of LGBT couples in their congregations.  This is a step ahead of the diocese of Florida, the place I find myself, with its headquarters in the equally conservative Jacksonville.  Never mind that the western part of this diocese includes the much more liberal Tallahassee or the southern end that has the far more progressive Gainesville.  In the diocese of Florida, we do not discuss "the love that dares not speak its name."   We gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians are the invisible ones who are welcome to be members of a church, contribute to the lay ministries, and most definitely to the collection plate and stewardship campaign.  But we are to assimilate and then shut up about this "gay thing."   And those actions of acceptance done in Christ's name in Indianapolis this summer?   We are to greet such news with a polite smile, a "bless their hearts,"and then we are to proceed with business as usual. 

This hodgepodge system of acceptance hardly seems like the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven to me.  But what are we to expect when we give bishops the latitude to adapt and make up their own definitions of what constitutes "generous pastoral care" to the LGBT communities in their midst?  I realize this is the only way to get some bishops to do the right, and good, and joyful thing of recognizing the Christ in me and others like me.  But it is also giving many the out to simply keep us as strangers at the gate and refuse to extend the full welcome we all desire.  When is that no longer going to be acceptable?

I appreciate that both Rev. Susan and Bishop Gene are ticked off about the response from the bishop of Georgia.  But the door is cracked open in Savannah in a way that it is not in places like Tallahassee and Orlando.

Welcome to my world.  It's time for the really Good News to reach the Deep South.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Days of Awe

Yesterday was a special Sunday in my journey.  It was Sunday, November 11, 2007, that I woke up and heard a booming voice in my head to "Show up!"  After a week of being haunted by hymns and a nagging sense that I needed to go back to "that church," the final words came to me in a command that allowed no room for debate or questions or doubt.  I got dressed in the best clothes I had in my closet and went with some trepidation and trembling back to "that church".  My experience that morning was amazing and powerful.  After a lifetime as an Episcopalian, that morning was the first time that I heard that I was a beloved child of God, that I have always been a beloved child of God, and nothing--absolutely nothing--can take that away from me.  It was in everything from the prayers to the Scripture to the music and all in that climactic moment when I received the Eucharist, the total acceptance and re-membering me into the Body of Christ.   It was awesome.

These memories were foremost in my mind as I now waited in the back of St. John's in my Eucharistic Minister vestments.  I looked around the sanctuary, privately giving thanks for the work that God had done to bring me this far along.  I never would have thought I would be back in church, let alone in the back of the church in vestments ready to process in and be an active participant in leading the liturgy.  I was assigned to read our first lesson yesterday.  In the case of St. John's, this was the alternate track from 1 Kings, the story of Elijah and the widow who only has a small amount of meal and a little jug of oil.  She is reluctant to give Elijah what little she has because it's all she has for her and her son.  She was collecting sticks, and was planning to make a meal for her and her son before they died.  As I read it, in my own ears I heard this part:

 Eli'jah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.  For thus says the LORD the God of Israel The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth."--1 Kings 17:13-14

The phrase, "Do not be afraid" comes up so often and was an important directive in the beginnings of my spiritual journey.  As I read this aloud, I felt a wave go through my body and it felt like an affirmation and a recognition of what it means to take those meager bits and mix them up to make a small offering of self.  There will still be meal and still be oil to last through those periods of uncertainty and doubt, but first make an offering of a little cake, and all will be well.  

These words then combined themselves with another widow's story, the one of the widow's mite from Mark which was our gospel lesson for the morning.  Here, Jesus uses the example of the widow dropping her two coins into the Temple treasury, all that she had, as an example of one who gives from her place of having nothing versus those who have everything.

"Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." --Mark 12: 43b-44

In my head, and in light of my own personal reflection on my journey, these two moments made for a wonderful commentary on what has become of me in these five years.  I came back to my tradition, much like St. Paul.  I had come to despise the church and seen it as my enemy and oppressor.  Then, my road of Damascus moment came in the death of my father.  It was his passing that led me, blind and staggering, into the sanctuary where God could drop the scales from my eyes... and unplug my ears to finally hear the message of unconditional Love that had been there the whole time. And, as one who doesn't enjoy having a stock portfolio to make me wealthy (and nervous), I came back as one with little to offer to the church financially.   But that wasn't God's interest.  Not for me, or for the meaning of the experience of these two widows.  

As I read them, these two lessons are about giving of our selves.  And no matter how small and insignificant we think we are or we think our gifts are, when we offer our true selves to God, we are giving a gift that is the greatest and wealthiest and the best gift ever. 

In these five years on this long, strange trip with God, I have known what it is to give more of myself to God.  I have experienced it within my participation with the congregation of St. John's, but especially in my life beyond the confines of a church building with the parents I have encountered it  in my work with PFLAG and seeing the hand of God in my massage practice.  I have noticed the change in how I approach the world which has come through both my discipline of reading the daily morning office, but also in my fledgling practice of contemplative prayer.

I stand in awe of these changes, knowing full well that my Days of Awe are not really over.  God is continuing to work God's purpose out.  And I continue to show up to keep marching in the light.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The New Archbishop--in short

I know you've all been waiting for what this blog writer thinks about the selection of the oil-man-turned-bishop-of-Durham-now-the-next-Archbishop of Canterbury. What will +Justin Welby of Durham bring to this "instrument of unity" in our Communion that has clashed and gnashed and otherwise left gashes on each other during this past decade?

In short, I don't know. Neither does anyone else, if they were really honest. His prior career in the oil industry apparently gave him exposure to Africa. His stated opinions have been in support of women as bishops. But he also has opposed marriage equality and other issues of LGBT participation in the church. This gives me concern.

But, you might recall, the outgoing ABC wrote wonderful, scholarly papers on why there should be full-inclusion of gay people in the church. And, well, a funny thing happened on the way to Lambeth Palace, apparently.

So, I'll wait and see. I pray that he will understand that what we seek is what every Christian person seeks: acceptance and support in our journeys with God, no matter where that might take us. In the meantime, to paraphrase Psalm 146: put not your trust in Archbishops or any other ruler of the world for they are temporal beings... and trust goes to the eternal.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Election Reflection

This was the scene at the state Capitol building in Florida on November 15, 2008.  More than 350 LGBT people and their allies marched and cried out for justice against a popular vote that effectively cast me and the hundreds of thousands of others like me into the outer darkness of "No marriage equality for you!"  Florida, along with Arizona, California, and Arkansas, put the civil rights of gay people on the ballot.  And we lost.  And it hurt.  A lot.

I remember it very well.  So many of my straight friends were crying and rejoicing at the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President and a welcome relief after eight years of the George W. Bush administration.   I, on the other hand, was crying and unable to look people in the eye for the next few days because of what 61-percent of my fellow citizens had done at the ballot box. Adding to the pain was the realization that too many of my straight friends simply did not get why I was upset.  "But Obama won!" they'd say, with a cheerful smile.   A hollow victory for those of us in the gay community of Florida.

November 15th became the day the LGBT community of Tallahassee and the nation became resolved to not take these cynical and punitive assaults on our rights lying down.  Across the country, there were Join the Impact rallies which served as places of public confession about the pain we'd suffered, the anger we harbored, and the need for us to get active to change hearts and minds so that we wouldn't keep getting clobbered every election cycle.  My partner and I were among the organizers of the Tallahassee rally, and it was truly a moment of "Wow!" to finally see a large turn out in favor of gay rights that included more than just the usual suspects of the LGBT community.

That "Wow!" became a capital letter "WOW!" last night.  What a difference four years makes!  Maryland voters said "Yes" to marriage equality.  The electorate in Maine, a state where the voters repealed a pro-equality marriage law by a "people's veto" in 2009, changed their mind and have reinstituted marriage rights.  Same in Washington State.  And Minnesotans didn't take the bait on an anti-marriage constitutional amendment.   Add to that the election of our first openly-lesbian U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and several other openly gay candidates, including two new state Representatives in Florida, and, well.... WOW!  A clean sweep of equality. 

What a difference it makes when the President of the United States declares that he has evolved on the issue of marriage equality and believes that people like me should be allowed to marry our partners.   What a change it makes when younger people stream in huge numbers to the polls to make their generation's voice be heard.  And what a softening there is when LGBT people brave rejection by family and friends and "come out", allowing the straight brothers and sisters to see us as we are and not as some ghoulish mock-ups of the incredibly fear-filled political machine.

Yes, there is much rejoicing today for how far we have come in four years.  At the same time, we can not sit contented with the outcome of November 6, 2012.  There are now nine states and Washington, D.C., with marriage equality.  But that leaves the majority of the country without it, and a federal law that still permits this discrimination to be legal.  A married gay couple from Massachusetts on vacation in Florida will have a terrible rude awakening if something goes wrong and one of them is in the hospital.  This should not be OK.  In Florida, it is still legal to fire people from their jobs, deny housing, or accomodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  And--yes--that does happen here.  We have judges who take away children from lesbian moms purely because they are lesbian moms, and refuse to grant second-parent adoptions to same-gender couples.  We have come a long way, but in places such as Florida and much of the southern United States, it still feels a little like receiving that postcard from your northern relatives with the message, "Wish you were here!"

Perhaps what is needed now is another Love-inspired revolution such as that of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s marches or the Freedom Riders bus presence in Alabama and Mississippi.  Perhaps it is time for our northern LGBT relatives to join hands with us here and help us remove these stumbling blocks in the way of justice for all in this Deep South part of our country.  We need you all to stay on the battlefield with us.

Mr. President, last night I was finally able to celebrate your victory in the way I wish I had been free enough in spirit to do so four years ago.  But I am still not completely free from the laws that bind the LGBT community.  Perhaps, God-willing in another four years, I will enjoy my full equality under the law of the land.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Go Vote!

Many people have already done their civic duty, and to those folks I give a nod and a "Thank you!"  There are others who prefer to wait until the day to cast their ballot.  Well, this is it!  Go forth and do what you will to give us our elected leaders. 

O God, who remains present and patient with us; guide our minds and hearts as we discern in the voting booth the best, and most compassionate course for our local, state and national politics.  Help those of us who are serving our counties on this day to remain faithful stewards of this right to choose our leadership.  And may we emerge from this season so marked by bitterness and hatred a people willing to set our sights higher in the days to come.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

“Unbind Him” and the Days of Awe

I told my spiritual director when I last met with her that I believe I am living in what might be considered my own personal Days of Awe.  My Jewish friends are familiar with this idea.  It’s that period between the exuberance of Rosh Hashanah and the penitence of Yom Kippur, a very deeply-reflective period for those willing to “go there” with their faith.   

As I’ve noted, this year is the fifth year since my dad’s passing which is also the fifth year of what I refer to as my “wake up call” (hence the name of this blog).   As we were preparing for our All Saints’ Sunday service at St. John’s, I was reflecting on the state of my mind at that same service five years ago.  I was there because my mother asked me to be there.  St. John’s, at that time, created “saint banners” to remember the family members who had died during the previous year.  Mom had wanted me to carry my dad’s banner in the processional at the service, which I did.  This was going to be my last official activity with the church, and then I could go back to coffee and crossword puzzles on Sunday mornings.  Aside from the very familiar hymns, nothing in the service particularly caught my attention.  But it would be that interim period between that Sunday and the next, and the ever-present jukebox of hymns, that would disquiet my soul and ultimately make me return for redemption and reconciliation with a tradition I had long since declared dead to me.

Which brings us to this recent All Saints service amidst my Days of Awe.  It was the story from John of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Many of us gay Christians love this story for the line, “Lazarus, come out!” and queer liberation theologians will find great meaning in that notion of “coming out” and Lazarus being restored from the dead.  But what I heard in that gospel lesson was, “Unbind him and let him go.”  And tears began forming in my eyes as I absorbed that phrase and let it reverberate in my ears. Just as powerful as the idea of “coming out” might be for a queer Christian to hear, the command from Christ to “unbind him and let him go,” speaks to an important piece in my own journey toward oneness with God.

The Christ I have come to know is a radical liberator of those held hostage by prisons that are imposed from inside and outside of a person.  There is the prison of self-doubt or self-consciousness that keeps us from stepping outside of ourselves to attempt to do something new or touch someone who we don’t know that well.  There is the prison of self-absorption that keeps us ignorant or unaware of the world around us and what impact we are making on it.  And there is the prison of self-reliance, that false sense that we somehow hung the moon and the stars and can do everything on our own, thank you very much.  These prisons are bad enough dwelling places, but with some willingness to do an honest self-examination, they are also ones that can become unbound.

When the prison is one imposed from the outside, that’s a stickier wicket.  In those cases, the only answer I think the prisoner can give is to refuse to be locked up by those forces that wish to contain the person.  Such is the place I found myself in on Sunday as I kept hearing the phrase, “Unbind him and let him go” repeat itself in my ears.  If I believe, as I do, that Christ is the great emancipator, then it is through Christ and faith in God that I can see my way past those attempts to keep me shackled and wrapped in the bandages of death.  When Christ uttered those words to the Jews, it was also a message being passed along for all future generations that would insist on binding people and leaving them for dead.

This includes the Church.  Still, in some parts, there is a refusal to acknowledge the gifts and full baptism of us gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender ones.  We are welcome to make beautiful music, arrange pretty flowers at the altar, and absolutely, we are to be pledging members of a congregation.  But there are limits to our full participation.  There are boundaries, and we are to be bounded.

Unfortunately for those sectors of the Church, this will not do for Jesus Christ.   Jesus keeps uttering those words, “Unbind him and let him go.”  Jesus keeps insisting that through him comes peace and perfect freedom and this includes deliverance from the fear that has bound the LGBT people who remain faithful to God, but must endure the short-sightedness of the Church around them that fears letting them be free to grow.

 In these Days of Awe I am reminded of the cynicism that once bound me and kept me from knowing Christ’s liberating ways.  But having been freed from this level of captivity, I still see my great emancipator at work to take my hand and lead me where I may not want to be led, but where I need to go, passing through the gates of fear.    

 God is working God’s purpose out as five years come to pass… 


Thursday, November 1, 2012

This Strange (Saintly) Tragectory

I have had much to reflect on today, and lots of time to do it.  Most of this day was spent with my spiritual director in Valdosta, a good, and right, and joyful place to be on the fifth anniversary of my dad's funeral at St. John's Episcopal Church, and the celebration of the tenth anniversary of my massage school graduation.  Two very different occasions.  Two moments that have left an indelible mark on my life, and changed it forever.

The decision to leave broadcast journalism and take up massage therapy as a career was pretty radical.  That is, unless you had walked in my shoes and experienced the growing sense of the senselessness of what I was doing.  After witnessing an execution, I couldn't listen to politicians debating the issue of capital punishment in a dispassionate vacuum.  I knew what I had seen.  I knew that there was nothing painless about what that inmate, John Earl Bush, experienced.  That knowledge did nothing to lessen the horror or wrongness of the murder of Frances Slater which put him on death row.  But he was one of four involved in that crime. Two of the four were not on death row.  And all I could think about was the likelihood that this form of justice was not so much "an eye for an eye," but more likely "a fingernail for a heart."   As more mishaps occurred with executions, the cry was not to stop killing inmates; rather it was to switch the method we used.  To then hear elected officials attempt to save the state's use of the electric chair to administer the punishment was sickening.   Add to all of this the unbearable pettiness of the upper management of my radio network toward the employees, and I knew I had to either get out of this work or risk going to an early grave. 

Massage school did a lot to scrub off the crap that I'd absorbed as journalist, both on the outer layer of my being and the inner soul that had needed protection from it all.  The reconnection with my body as a receptor of good was so joy-filled.  And to learn how to transmit Love through my hands and my presence was enormous gift that I could share with others.  I thought this was the complete package of my journey. 

I was wrong.

In 2005, my mother and father made the decision at the urging of me and my partner to move temporarily to Florida.  My dad was now needing to be in an assisted living facility.  In New Hampshire, such care costs twice as much as it does down here.  Those two years with my dad were stressful, and yet wonderful in that I really enjoyed the chance to be with him and do things that delighted him like carve a Jack O' Lantern for his room or read "A Christmas Carol" to him and mom in the same way he used to do for me when I was a child.  When he died, my friends, and some of the people who had come to know and love my dad, insisted that we have a funeral service for him here.  My soon-to-be mentor, Mtr. Lee Shafer, was very kind and generous in her willingness to indulge me and my mom in a non-traditional Gospel selection for his service.  So, instead of the usual "take your pick of John" messages, we had the Prodigal Son from Luke.  It was absolutely the perfect story to capture the type of man my father had been: always including the strays, the misfits and the oddballs inside and outside our family at our table.  My brother Tom, who had practiced law with my dad, noted that our father was not the attorney for those wishing to find an easy out or pull a fast one over an estranged spouse, but rather was the guy who would become the guardian for a mentally-disabled adult child of aging clients, and would be willing to take someone's catch of fresh fish in lieu of paying their legal bills.  Dad did not turn people away.

His death, as I have noted several times on this blog, took what massage school had started in me and brought it back 'round to its logical connection with God in Christ.  Some massage therapists might be adverse to thinking that there is anything about the practice of healing touch and body wisdom that would lead a person to the Western Christian model of belief and worship.  Even I found it bizarre and unnerving.  Yet, I will never, ever forget that feeling that I had when I was summoned by an unknown voice to "Show up!" and I got myself dressed and was present for the service on Sunday, November 11th.  The unmistakable and undeniable and unending message that I was loved, and have always been loved, was just as exuberantly expressed through the liturgy as how that father in the Prodigal Son parable embraced his wayward child.   I was blown away. 

This moment in 2007 would be the beginning point of coming in closer contact with the Love that I was accessing in my massage practice.   And while I was in touch with Love, it hadn't penetrated my heart in this deep way until now.  Having this new, deeper level of contact, it could flow through me and from me in the full knowledge that the Love I was offering was beyond what I had in me already; it really was and is from a universal source that is endlessly supplying it to anyone who wants to tap into it.  This was not part of the instruction I received in massage school and it was far removed from the "truth" that I was scrambling to uncover as a journalist.  And yet it was very true.  And a good, and right and joyful thing.

My gratitude to those who have been with me on this journey and assisted me along the way.  The path is still unfolding before me.   Let's see where we go.