Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: It's Been A Gay Ol' Time!

The news for the LGBT community in 2012 was beyond amazing.

Openly-gay people elected to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. A presidential administration that finally said there is nothing wrong with marriage equality which caused, what I would describe as, an earth-shifting event in our political discourse that led to LGBT people finally celebrating victories for their relationships at the ballot box.

The Episcopal Church further opened its doors to equality with the adoption of a rite for same-sex blessings, and giving the transgender members of the church the invitation to not only be included through their baptism, but to ascend to leadership, both lay and ordained. Amazing! Truly amazing.

Well, that is, if you live in those places where the truly amazing has been allowed to be the reality.

If you live in Florida, as I do, you can rejoice with your LGBT brothers and sisters and celebrate the advancement in the political arena with the election of two openly-gay members of the state legislature. As one who used to cover the state capital for public radio, I assure you that this development, and advancement, is huge. Some of the more homophobic representatives are gone, and so it is possible to hope and dream that maybe, just maybe, even Florida might see a brighter future for the LGBT community.

But there is still a long way to go, especially within the church.

If I drive across the bridge on Highway 98 into Apalachicola, I will be in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. The Episcopal bishop there, Philip Duncan III, is allowing priests and churches to use the new blessing rite in recognition of couples wishing to get the church's approval of their relationship.  Go about a half-hour north of Tallahassee into Georgia, Bishop Scott Benhase is allowing a portion of the blessing rite to be used.  My partner and I even attended what may well have been the first use of the new rite in Bainbridge, not exactly a hotbed of liberal thinking.  Stay put in Tallahassee, the Diocese of Florida and, well.... is that the sound of crickets chirping?

There is definitely a stained-glass ceiling that still exists in parts of the Episcopal Church for LGBT people.  The good actions at General Convention don't seem to reach down to the local level, particularly if you happen to live in some parts of the southeastern United States. But glass can, and does, break  especially as more pressure mounts against it in the form of a firestorm that I call, "The Holy Spirit."  Those bishops and dioceses that refuse to recognize that "equality is godly" are going to find themselves in a similar position that I see occuring in England.  Bull-headedness and foot-dragging on entering into the 21st century on "gays and girls" has resulted in many of the churches in England standing empty on a Sunday morning.  The vote on the Anglican Covenant in England should have said everything in respect to what the majority there think about the continued petty nonsense and hand-wringing about gays in the episcopate. New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, only a few days from retiring now, is no longer "the gay bishop" in the United States, and the Episcopal Church hasn't collapsed.  If anything, it is the actions happening in those parts of the country that have broken the stained-glass window that are drawing the interest of LGBT people of faith searching for something beyond themselves.  Pay attention!  Wake up!  We are part of the future that God is creating for the church!

As I close out this entry, I am thinking again of the words my late dear friend, Fr. Lee Graham, left  for me to ponder:

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. --1Cor. 15:58

A new year brings new opportunities for the LGBT community to raise up valleys and bring down mountains so that we all may stand on equal ground.  For those of us who hold fast to our faith, it is also a time to light our candles and march them into our dioceses that insist on sitting in darkness.  We are Christ's hands, feet, heart in the world today.  And we are marching.  We are marching.  We are marching in the light of God.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

What's in a Word?

The Word of the day for the First Sunday After Christmas is.... Word. Check out the collect for this Sunday:

"Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of
your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our
hearts, may shine forth in our lives..."

The Word, as we will learn in the Gospel lesson from John, was with God. It was in the beginning, just like at the start of Genesis. John the Evangelist makes a rhetorical point to use the same structure as the opening of the first book of Torah for a reason. He is writing to an audience that is suffering rejection from within the Jewish community because they maintain that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they've been waiting. John's Gospel gives this group the assurance of the rightness of their position because not only was Jesus a human being; he is fully divine. And--yes--this would be a major schism between Christians and Jews.

Similar to the way last week's lesson with Elizabeth and Mary was the meeting of the old and the new, I see this week's Gospel as John taking what is the text of the old, familiar Torah of the Jews and using it to tell a new story, the one of the Word made incarnate, Jesus Christ. The plot of the story, that God loves us and wants the best for us, is still the same. But with Christ, God is embarking on a new tactic to keep us engaged in relationship by bringing the Divine into the world as one of us, the God with us, the Word made flesh.

In today's vernacular, when somebody says, "Word," it means, "Truth." It's a convenient shorthand for, "You speak the truth on this subject." So, what is the truth for us on this subject of 'the Word'? In essence, that is the place I think we are now as we tell the story of who we are as Christians in our season of Christmas. God has re-entered the world, and now we must consider and encounter this Word. And really what I think that means is we must confront our own truth, whatever that may be. It may require us to let go of long-held beliefs and see things in a different way. This may be a time of personal transition that requires stepping outside of the familiar patterns to learn something new, or accept that new circumstances require a shift in the way 'things have always been.' It may be the time for coming to a new place of letting Love into your heart, so that you may learn to love the person you are as you are, not as others think you ought to be. This incarnate Word is not just an abstract other; it's the in-dwelling of Christ in each of us, and he's on a mission to spread Love to all, everybody, no exceptions. Are we ready?


Friday, December 28, 2012

Holy Innocents: Bring Us Together

Holy Innocents by Fra Angelico

Today is probably the darkest day of the Christmas season as the Church remembers the slaughter of all the children two years old and younger in Bethlehem on the orders of King Herod. Called "The Holy Innocents," these little ones have been regarded as the youngest martyrs. The story of their killing appears in Matthew's gospel:

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’--Matthew 2: 13-18

The slaughter of children continues today as we saw two weeks ago in Connecticut. It happens outside the townhouses of kids playing in Chicago. It happens in war-torn areas of the Middle East. Every time we see images and hear these reports of young children killed by bullets and bombs, our hearts break at the horror of it all. And, yes, there is wailing and loud lamentation, and parents who can not be consoled.

And yet there was a line that stood out for me as I read the Morning Office today.  From Isaiah, it says, "Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you."  This is the yin and yang relationship of darkness to light, and ultimately the light, that which builds up and does not tear down, will come and brighten a darkened world.  This is the message for those of us who hold up the ones suffering from loss.  We don't know why, as the culture says, "Shit happens." We know that it does, we recognize the pain it causes.  We also know that it will not have the final word even when words fail us to say how we know that to be true.

Like Joseph, I had a dream this morning; not about getting me, my partner and the cat off to Egypt, but about the violence and suffering and distrust and misunderstanding that seems so prevalent in the world today.  A young African-American child had broken into an apartment and the owner of the apartment, a middle-aged white man, had shot the child.  A regular "Stand Your Ground" situation.  I was enraged with the white man and was in the apartment to prove that he could have done something other than shoot at the child.  After much arguing, I came to realize something about this man: one was that he may NOT have been the one who fired the gun since no gun had been found. The other was that he had made many assumptions about the child and I had made many assumptions about him.  And, in the end, I found myself in the dream arguing not about guns, or racism, or poverty.  I was arguing that we have lost a sense of interdependence on each other and an understanding that when one part of the body of Christ is suffering and in pain, it is the responsibility of all of us to come together in an effort to bind the wounds and build up that suffering member.  We have come to see ourselves as more separated than together.  It's from this place of a fractured existence that "the destroyers" outdo "the builders."

Perhaps this is what I need to consider in the deaths of all those innocent children.  When young children die, it's a disruption of order. Young children aren't supposed to die ever. When murder cuts their lives short, then it's time for us to consider all the factors at play, and come together to ensure that we protect young lives in the future. Perhaps that is what we are to hear in today's collect:

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Perhaps it's time for us to be more about living and thinking as us and rethink our priorities so that we might establish that rule of justice, love and peace.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

St. John: Love One Another

I know the Christmas carol would lead you to believe that today's gift to the true love is three French hens. And while that might work for some, for me, the third day of Christmas is a pause between two otherwise brutal tales during this season to remember St. John the evangelist, the one whom Christ loved.

John is given credit for the Fourth Gospel, three of the Epistles, and some believe he was the author of Revelation, although that one is a little less certain. The Gospel of John is also thought to have had some additions thrown in at the end long after he died in Ephesus. 

All this wonkiness aside, the important thing to me in John's gospel showed up in this morning's assigned Gospel reading.  Jesus is gathered with his disciples.  He says to them:

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’"--John 13:34-35

Interestingly, this statement follows the moment when Jesus dips the bread and hands it to Judas Iscariot, a sign that it would be Judas who would betray him. The text says that "Satan entered into him [Judas]" at that moment. That is to say, Judas gave into the temptation to sell out his friend for a cash payment of some silver. Jesus sends Judas off and then gives this new directive about love.

It seems to me that his timing was intentional.  Having sent Judas off, he is shoring up those who remain with him in the reminder that there first mission must be to love... in the face of what is to be a frightening and chaotic moment as they see him arrested and sent to certain death at the hands of the Roman authorities.  If there is ever a time for them to hold fast to love, and to remember the love he demonstrated to them, this would be the time.

Probably more than any of the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John has the constant refrain of, "Love, Love, Love." Love, not only expressed in words, but in actions such as the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and Jesus weeping for his friend, Lazarus. But it's in the giving of this new commandment that I see Jesus passing on the essential truth which reaches beyond the disciples to touch each of us today.

Sometimes, I think this is the passage that many Christians have forgotten as they go about leveling judgment against friends and neighbors, not to mention those who they keep as the strangers at the gate.  The song, "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love," puts me on edge, simply because I have seen and experienced how this love sometimes gets expressed, and it isn't in a way that I think Christ himself would recognize as the kind of love he was bringing to the world.  Accusing LGBT people of undermining the moral fabric of society, denying immigrants the ability to access health care or education, decrying the "pluralism" in churches as a threat to Christianity: all of it leads back to that anti-Christ called, "Fear."   And what does our patron saint of the day have to say to this?

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.We love because he first loved us.Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also."--1 John 4:18-21

And so, my rhetorical question is: who is that we do not love?   Who is it that we can not love? 

Perhaps before we attempt to do anything else, we should take the time to consider those questions, and wade into those waters of Fear that keep us from perfecting our love.  In all likelihood, if we are really honest, the one we can not love is quite often the person staring us in the mirror.  And that's my invitation on this night: love yourself, as you are, because He loved you first.  Peace. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

St. Stephen: Paving the Way for More Love

St. Stephen by Giacomo Cavedone
The story of St. Stephen has a sad and gruesome ending. He was one of the seven selected by the apostles to become one of the first deacons in the church, doing the hands-on work of serving the needs of the widows and orphans while the twelve studied and prayed. In the Book of Acts, he's described as having an angelic face, a regular fresh-scrubbed cherub. And he wasn't shy about speaking out for Jesus Christ. This would eventually be his undoing within the Jewish community. False charges brought against him, which leads to his accusation that the Jewish leaders have consistently killed prophets and rejected the Holy Spirit. You can just imagine how well they received that tongue-lashing from the young deacon:

"When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died."--Acts 7:54-60

Take a moment. Take a deep breath. And now, consider this particular line:

"Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul."

Saul, as we will learn in an upcoming chapter of Acts, is the persecutor of those who follow "The Way" and was en route to Damascus to wage war on the believers in Christ as Messiah when he had an encounter with the resurrected Christ:

"He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."--Acts 9:4-5

Saul is blinded and must now rely on others to lead him into Damascus where a follower of The Way, Ananais, receives the instruction to pray over this man and restore his sight. Despite his misgivings, Ananais follows this order from God, and Saul, now with new eyes to see, becomes St. Paul, the one who would traverse from here to there to establish churches throughout the region and become a major influence on the spread of Christianity.

I have often wondered about the influence it must have had, even if subconsciously, for Saul to witness in approving silence the stoning death of Stephen. We are told that Saul was OK with watching Stephen die. But what was God working in that moment? Could it be that this death would pave the way for more love?

I imagine that this death of Stephen somehow did trouble Saul much in the way I think any person of good conscience gets agitated when they witness injustice, or humans being brutalized. It's the story of those who witness the bullying of their classmates. Perhaps they just stand by and collect the coats of the ones who are throwing the punches. Perhaps they need to do this in order for God to do the work necessary to make them discover empathy for the one who is being beaten up.

It's what happened to me when I witnessed the execution at Florida State Prison in 1996. I was indifferent about the death penalty until I watched the state put a man to death in the electric chair. And my shift in thinking didn't happen right away. It happened over a period of months as the scales fell from my eyes with each report I did for public radio on capital punishment and the justice system. I was no longer on the fence about it when it became clear that it was indefensible.

I imagine, too, this is the process that a former homophobe goes through when they encounter a gay person in a way that blows their prejudices out of the water. It's hard to hold on to beliefs when those beliefs come face-to-face with reality, and the reality isn't as scary or "weird" as one thought.

St. Stephen died with his eyes fixed on the Christ who would not only forgive those who killed the deacon, but would later intervene to take their most ardent enabler and convert him to the purpose of spreading the Good News. More proof that with God, nothing is impossible.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

It's Christmas Eve afternoon, and I am more harried than merry.

I have been back and forth to a couple of different supermarkets three times today. Do we have an onion? Aw, man, we forgot the beef broth! We need port wine for the sauce.

Seriously: we need it only for the sauce, not to get sauced.

It's amazing how a simple task like dinner can become a production. And that production, which winds up being several trips to the store where you encounter all the other harried and bothered people of the world can very quickly make you lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas as you curse under your breath the guy who just took that parking space you'd spied from afar.

On other days during this season, I have taken a deep breath, and allowed my frustration to flow out through my nose and mouth, so that I could stay a little closer to my center. That wasn't working today.

And perhaps that's as it should be. Advent, the season of patient waiting for The Lord is done; we are now at Christmas and I am aware of just how stirred up things are around me. I sense my life is about to shift into a new gear, but I don't quite know what that gear is or what speed I'll be traveling at as I bump along the road. And I do mean bump. The road in front of me doesn't appear smooth. So I better buckle up as God revs up the engine. I have had to take on more responsibility as a co-mentor of our EfM group. My name has been thrown out there to become a verger. And I have tossed my hat into the ring to be considered a delegate from St. John's at the Diocesan Convention.

And that's just what's happening to me in the church.

Outside of the church, I am watching the shifting attitudes in our population on issues such as marriage equality, and am wondering what will be the fate of the case going before the U.S. Supreme Court in March. And what impact will that have on my life with my partner as we continue to live in the less-than-enlightened state of Florida.

And what about our gun culture? And what about climate change?

These are the "things" stirring as I welcome the return of Christ into the world. He comes, as he has every year, in such a tiny and unassuming way, as a baby. But the cute baby does grow up, in more ways than one, to become my example of what it means to be an advocate for a more just world. He is grounded in Love, a listener, and a healer, amidst a harried and difficult world. And I know it is those times when I am feeling at a loss for what to do next, that when I earnestly turn to God and say, "Help me!" the help comes.

And so maybe that's what today's overstimulated rushing around was about. Remembering to stop, breath, and ask for help. Because it will come.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Blessed (and Historic) Advent Event

There's not a whole lot of time for us to celebrate the fourth week of Advent, the day as noted in the previous post that we in the Church mark the occassion of Mary and Elizabeth's meet up and rejoicing at their parallel, and historic, situations.  Elizabeth, the elder woman, is about to give birth to the last of the prophets of the "Old Covenant"; Mary, the teenager, is bearing Jesus, the one who will give us the "New Covenant."  Old meets youth, and the old celebrates at the hope that is coming forth from this young woman.
What a fascinating backdrop to have as I witnessed today the first-ever blessing of a same-sex couple in, of all places, Bainbridge, Georgia, under the authority now granted by the Episcopal Church for such happy occasions to occur in their diocese.   Two women, who have a flash-in-the-pan relationship of a mere 19 years, held a ceremony surrounded by their friends in a parishioner's home.  My partner and I were the official wedding crashers.  We'd been invited by my spiritual director who was the assisting priest at the ceremony.  It was lovely.  It was warm.  They used Eucharistic Prayer C, (y'know the one with the "vast expanse of interstellar space" language) that jettisoned my mind back to my childhood in New Hampshire.  And it was a pleasure to be present, and be in a community of people lifting up this couple in their relationship.  This is how a blessing within the church should be.  Georgia law does not permit people of the same gender to marry; however nothing should stop a church from honoring the commitment a couple wants to make to each other.  Church blessings and civil marriage rights are not the same thing.  So, in this instance, the state can go stuff it.
And so a new thing has happened in a part of the country where the "old way" still rules the roost. 
It also comes as news has filtered out about the death of one of the earliest pioneers for marriage equality.  Richard Adams and his partner, Tony Sullivan, applied and received a marriage license from a county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, named Clela Rorex in 1975.  Rorex had been issuing wedding licenses to gay couples when she learned through the district attorney that nothing in Colorado law strictly forbade it.  Adams and Sullivan had been in a relationship for four years, and wanted to be married not just for love, but for the practical purpose of protecting Sullivan, an Austrailian native, from being deported.  After getting their marriage license and having a ceremony in the Unitarian Church, the couple immediately applied with the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service for Sullivan's residency.  They got back a one-sentence answer from the government agency:
"You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."
Adams sued the INS in 1979, and thus began a lifetime of struggling for recognition of their rights as a married couple.  What he and Sullivan... with the help of Rorex... began was the heralding of what was to come.  And while Richard Adams died on December 17th, he was able to live long enough to see President Obama put a halt to the break-up of LGBT families through deportation, and to witness the changing times in this country on marriage equality.  Adams is one of those who was announcing that a new thing was coming, and it was time to bring down mountains and lift up the valleys, so that we might all be on the same level field in our relationships.  
His life and witness with his husband are part of the reason an Episcopal congregation in South Georgia will now celebrate the same-sex relationship of two church members.
The tune that has been on my mind for a few days now ended up being our recessional hymn this morning.  I think it quite nicely sums up my feelings on a day of witnessing the new things occurring in the midst of the old:
Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.
Tell out my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children's children and for evermore! 

Advent 4 and Mary's Part in the Puzzle

As we come to this fourth Sunday of Advent, we've been hearing that there is one coming who is greater than any other that has come before. Unworthy is John the Baptizer to untie the thong of this one's sandals. He will come on clouds descending. He will be called "Wonderful counselor! Prince of Peace!" Certainly, this one will come swooping into our lives like a mighty super hero ready to take on all our enemies.

Or maybe, he is coming, in the ordinary way through the birth canal of one very brave young girl who found herself singled out for a most extraordinary purpose. Without Mary, Jesus would not have had the human flesh, the human birth experience, the human childhood into adulthood that led to his ministry. I have sometimes wondered if there were others before her who simply refused to take part in the plan God had for the incarnation. I mean, the option was there for her to say, "I'm outta here," instead of "Here am I." In the Gospel reading from Luke assigned for this Sunday, we pick up the story after Gabriel has informed her of what's to come. She has gone to her cousin, Elizabeth, who--amazingly--is also pregnant with John the Baptizer. Elizabeth, a much older woman thought to be barren, is going to give birth to the last of the prophets of what we, in Christianity, call the "Old Covenant." The young Mary, always described as being a teenager, is about to give birth to the bearer of the Good News of the "New Covenant." Together, these women make up a dynamic duo that would make any doula proud to be at these births!

Luke, as a Gospel writer, makes a point of highlighting the women in the amazing story of Christ. So, it's no mistake that he is the one who includes the prayer, the Magnificat, in the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Her prayer of exaltation of a God who lifts up the lowly is very reminiscent of the prayer Hannah offers when her long-held desire to conceive comes true, and she gives birth to the prophet Samuel. Luke wants those with ears to hear to listen to this story, and ponder in their hearts how Mary readily responds to God, and sticks with God at a time that had to be confusing, and frightening for her.

At Morning Prayer this past week, I chose to forego use of the Magnificat, in favor of this canticle ascribed to Julian of Norwich.

A Song of True Motherhood

God chose to be our mother in all things *
and so made the foundation of his work,
most humbly and most pure, in the Virgin’s womb.
God, the perfect wisdom of all, * arrayed himself in this humble place.
Christ came in our poor flesh * to share a mother’s care.
Our mothers bear us for pain and for death; *
our true mother, Jesus, bears us for joy and endless life.
Christ carried us within him in love and travail, * until the full time of his passion.
And when all was completed and he had carried us so for joy, * still all this could not satisfy the power of his wonderful love.
All that we owe is redeemed in truly loving God, * for the love of Christ works in us;
Christ is the one whom we love.

This description, to me, is not only of Christ the male figure, but recognizing that it is through his life on earth in human flesh that he had all the attributes of his mother. This is part of what made him such an unusual presence in his First Century world. And like what all powerful women have experienced, it is this strength and presence of his feminine nature of caring and compassionate love for all that put him on the outs with so many in his day. And because of that, because he's known the pain of what it is to be a person like me, a misfit for more Love, his experience comes alive for me, and I can sense that mothering love that "bears us for joy and endless life."

This is the Mary contribution to this puzzle. Without it, Jesus wouldn't have been nearly as interesting, compelling and as human a figure, and wouldn't be the compassionate liberator that I believe him to be.

"All that we owe is redeemed in truly loving God, for the love of Christ works in us." True that.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas... except for you 'manipulators of nature'

I have to admit it: every time Herr Pope Benedict XVI opens his mouth, I rejoice that I am an Episcopalian and proud of it.

The latest useless drivel coming from the pontiff was a focused rant about marriage equality in his Christmas message from the Vatican. This was the second time in a week that the pope has decided to make LGBT people into the scapegoat for what ails the world.

In his Vatican Christmas address, the pope made reference to marriage equality as an attack on the traditional family, and once more, denounced LGBT people:

“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being... They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves... The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”

That's right. Apparently, the biggest threat to world peace is the possibility that the French and the British will approve marriage equality just as other European countries and nine states in the United States have done. This will not do for a pope who has been inadequate in responding to the problem of child molesters in the Roman Catholic Church, and wants to crack down on American nuns because they work on feeding the poor and clothing the naked rather than crusading against the LGBT community and ending access to abortion. Da nerve!

Love, and the expression of love between two people, is the biggest threat to world peace and destroying families? Really? Somebody needs to open a window for this man, and quickly!

There are lots of snide and cutting things I could say about the pope and his misguided message at a time of joy, peace on earth and mercy mild. But I am instead going to note with sadness that he looks a lot like the drawings of Ebenezer Scrooge that I remember from our family copy of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." His insensitive, boorish, belligerent, and meaningless message of fear and loathing are more evidence that he has the heart of that old bastard Scrooge, which makes him a very bitter and pathetic single old man in a fancy dress. Perhaps he will receive three visitors in the night on Christmas Eve. One can hope for a miracle.

Or we can just ignore him, and go about our business. Much as he thinks he's got sway, the scandals of the Roman Catholic Church in recent years have greatly undermined the pope's authority.

And then there's that whole thing that went down in the 16th century which freed so many of us from ever caring what the pope says or does. Ever.

Merry Christmas, Benny. I look forward to seeing more ex-Catholics arriving in the Episcopal Church in the new year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

St. Thomas in the Ember Days

There is something perfect about having the Ember Days, that time of praying for various orders of ministry in the life of the church, in the same week with St. Thomas the Apostle's saint day, and leading into Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ into our world to stir up the pot.

Anyone who has ever felt called by God to step up to the plate of ordained ministry ought to have some serious doubts about it. It is asking you to put aside your ego and become a countercultural force of Love in the face of an often unloving and unrewarding world. In that way, I sometimes think LGBT people are uniquely qualified for ordination because we already know what it means to face this obstacle because we do it daily, churched or unchurched. And because of the walls of prejudice we queer Christians have faced within the church community, is it any wonder that so many of us have become like Thomas, doubting Christ and his resurrected self, especially when he comes a callin'?

This is also a time of great doubt in the world. The shooting rampages in a mall in Portland, Oregon, and then the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shook the nation and grieved us all during this time when we are preparing for joy and celebration. How can there be joy amidst tragedy? We also sit on the edge of what they call "the fiscal cliff," yet-another breakdown in relations between the White House and Congress that throws several social welfare programs, including funding for teen suicide prevention hotlines, into doubt (talk about something that will hurt our LGBT youth the most!)

And it is with this backdrop that we hear the collect of St. Thomas today:

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with
firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so
perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our
Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting
in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I would imagine that as bells toll across the nation in remembrance of the children and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, some of what we ask for in this collect may feel particularly poignant for us. For those who turn to Christ, these are the times when we are looking more and more for the strength to believe that, even when everything seems like it's coming undone, our faith will see us through. Holding fast to that idea is mocked and scorned by many. And there have been those times in my life when the weight of the world was so heavily on my shoulders, and I did not believe that God was there to share that burden; in fact, I believed God was the cause of the burden. So, I have a particular soft-spot in my heart for those who doubt and need to see with their own eyes and through their own touch that the grace of God and the redemption offered through Christ is real. Once Thomas had discerned that this really was Jesus resurrected before him, he believed. And I think that is the lesson Thomas leaves for us; once we've been tapped by God, we can not return to a state of non-belief.

Which brings me back round to this Ember Day period. If God is yanking on your collar to put you in a collar, the response to that needs to be one of faith. Because it is that ultimate act of total dependence on God to see you through which is the foundation of what I believe is necessary in following a call to ordained ministry. We don't have the benefit of being able to place our fingers in the wounds of Jesus, but our faith, tested and refined by God through our journeys, tells us this is real and He comes to liberate us from our doubt and fear. To those who live in places where your particular God-given make up gives the Church pause: take heart and have faith. God looks for the weird ones to carry on this task of spreading God's Love, and sometimes the starting place needs to be in the Church itself.

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every
place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word
and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the
extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd
and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where is God in All of This?

There is a petition circulating on the internet to prevent hate groups such as Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funerals of the slain children and teachers in Newtown, CT. Former Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has suggested that the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School was somehow God's punishment for taking prayer out of the public schools. And I'm sure someone else somewhere on the far-right end of the political spectrum is spouting off about these horrible acts of violence are because of gay people, or abortion, or atheists, or all three.

I'm always ashamed when such lunacy gets picked up and published by the media. For far too long, these were the voices of Christianity that were heard. Thankfully, the more reasoned leaders of mainline religious groups are no longer allowing the message of Christ to be hijacked by those relatives in our family who we wish wouldn't show up for the cameras so often. Let me join with that former group to offer up the other face of God in Christ.

God did not will this shooting to happen. God does not want the senseless slaughter of children in Connecticut, or Chicago, or Aurora, or Littleton, or China or anywhere else. These acts of violence are not acts by God; they are the acts of human hands. We are created for good, and given free will. And God, like any decent and good parent, hopes beyond hope that we use our freedom in ways that are beneficial to all and above everything that we remain in Love. I would say many of us, even the ones who don't believe, are doing OK at living up to these expectations. We fall down frequently, but we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and try again.  And then there are the ones who, for whatever reason, use their freedom to hurt others and commit acts that are, frankly, evil.

Did God back away and forget to check in with the people of Newtown?  No. God was never far from those children and those adults in that school even as evil swept through to destroy the goodness of creation.  Why didn't God stop it then?  I don't know.  But why do we assume that God can prevent us from doing any number of things that darken our world?  We aren't puppets and God isn't a puppet master.  In my own imagination, God felt all the pain and suffering that day... including whatever twisted, fearful, and maniacal firings were in the head of Adam Lanza.  Only God can know what to do with the shooter. And only God can know if there was any meaning to this tragedy.

I have to leave this one up to God to take this moment of pain and suffering and move along with us as we come into a new reality.  With God's help, what was meant for evil will be turned for good.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Things That Are Stirring

I have described this Advent as having the color of turbulent indigo. The world has felt unsettled as we enter this third week with the collect that calls on God to "Stir up your power...and with great might come among us." This is the week in which I always wonder, "Do we really know what we're asking for when we say that?"

In Morning Prayer today, I got what seems to be a glimpse into what is stirring in me these days:

"For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble."--2 Peter 1: 7-10

Sometimes, I think I stumble on a regular basis. Am I always supporting my faith with goodness? Or increasing faith through endurance with godliness? I can't always say that I am. Sometimes, I think I fall off that horse pretty regularly.

Besides Morning Prayer, I am committed to a practice of centering prayer. Some days, centering, in its blocked off time-slot, doesn't happen. Like so many people, I can find lots of other things that I need to do instead of taking the time to sit in contemplative prayer. When I do get myself to stop, I find it peculiar, yet important, part of my day. It's pecularity comes in that there is no grand outcome, no big revelation. Quite often, once I'm passed the monkey-mind antics of my brain, it is something of a blank. If there is a revelation, it will come in its own way, and its own time, later in the day. But this will only happen if I am willing to take the time on the front end to sit still in silence.

As a society, I wish we'd all engage in a contemplative prayer practice. I wish we would consider the steps the Second Letter of Peter puts out there for increasing faith in the direction of Love. Please understand, I'm not advocating for a Christian theocracy or the exclusion of those who don't believe in God. Rather, I'm thinking of his steps as taking us through a transcendence into a new consciousness. For me, that is a Christ-like consciousness; for others, there are other names. Ultimately it brings us to the place where light will overcome the shadows of doubt, despair and fear that have been the anchor in this country for too long. Pull that weight out of the water, and let's set sail for somewhere new!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christ Coming into the Chaos

Some of the best time of reflection and discussion for me happen on Sunday mornings as I walk around Tallahassee's Lake Ella with my partner. Satisfied with having had a good cup of coffee in the form of a mocha, we stroll along, in conversation. As you might expect, today's topic was the shooting in Connecticut, and all the violence that has occurred in recent days.

We kicked around the issue of gun control. I am adamant that we need to end the easy access to assault weapons. She says this is not the answer. So we touched on the mental health care issue and the need to fund services and not wait until the mentally ill "do something," which then often results in the ill person going to prison where they may, or may not, get help. But mental health care reform is a tricky issue given that "mental illness" takes in a broad range of things, and it would be expensive. So, what then?

She says we have to look at the root cause of what's happening. We are a nation that is very afraid. And fear is driving a lot of the craziness that is out there.

She has a point. The reason so many seem to feel the need to own a gun comes down to fear. We are scared because we are single women who don't feel safe in our homes. We are scared because we've seen our finances shrinking. We are frightened by what we see on the news. We need to have a gun because if we don't have a gun, the criminals will have a gun.

We are afraid of gays getting married. We are afraid of immigrants without papers getting jobs. We are afraid that anyone else might get access to affordable health care.

As NH Bishop Gene Robinson notes, "The opposite of Love is not hate; it's fear." And Fear seems to be spreading.

Here enters the recessional hymn from this morning's service:

Rejoice! rejoice, believers, and let your lights appear!
The evening is advancing, and darker night is near.
The Bridegroom is arising, and soon he will draw nigh;
up, watch in expectation! at midnight comes the cry.

In the face of fear, the answer is not to respond with more fear, but to act out of Love.  During times such as these, Love seems to be a scarcisty in the world. But that is the very thing that needs to be growing in us if we are going to overcome the violence in our world.  And it is from this place of Love that we need to act in order to change our world. 

When we say we own a gun because we are afraid of (fill in the blank of any number of scary things), where is that fear coming from?  Some will say it is from the endless stream of violent TV shows.  I hate "CSI:Name-of-City," and really can't stand "Criminal Minds".  The premise of many of these shows is a horrible, torturous crime against white women or children that now must be solved by a team of forensic experts.   But are TV dramas to blame for our heightened fear?  Perhaps.

Or, after the violent TV show, we stay tuned to the local news, where guns are used to settle disputes at gas stations over the loudness of the music that the teenagers are playing in their car.  The shooter will say, "I was standing my ground. I thought they had a weapon."  But there is no other weapon; just the one he had concealed, legally, in his car and then he used in a fit of fear of black teenagers with their loud music.   Are reporters not to tell us when this sort of thing happens?  No, we don't want that. Then we'd be afraid of censorship.

So where is this fear coming from?   Loss of control?   Certainly, there are a lot of things that feel like they are beyond our control.  I think that's what a lot of people are feeling in the wake of this shooting in Connecticut, and the one in the mall in Oregon, or even the one in the Birmingham hospital last night.  It's what we felt when two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, and another slammed into the Pentagon, while a fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania.  We don't expect first graders to get gunned down in small New England towns, or that airplanes will get highjacked and used as weapons of mass destruction.  And the shocking and unexpeceted leave us feeling out-of-control.  

I don't know that there is anything the President, the Congress or the local city council can do to make us not be afraid.  Gun control, mental health funding restoration: yes, they can do something there.  And perhaps this will address some of the anxiety level.

Scripture tells us repeatedly that we are not to be afraid, and yet we always seem to fall into fear.   And I am reminded of the words based on Psalm 42 that were in our sequence hymn:

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness
mourning 'neath their sorrows' load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

Even now, as things appear so bleak and dark, we who are awaiting the arrival of Christ into this chaos must keep lighting the candles on the Advent wreath and bringing more light to the darkness in the world.  Christ came into the world at a time of fear and chaos, and has come many, many times before to meet the world in its depths of despair.  It will happen again this time.

We must not only keep the flames burning on the Advent wreath, but we must bring that fire within and kindle the spark of Love that lives in us to become the light outside our homes and in the world.  We can't restore any of the lives in this country that have been cut short because of gun violence.  We can resolve not to let that violence define our lives, lessen our Love, or extinguish the light of Christ in each of us.  We must continue to extend our hands in Love.  This is the only defense against fear.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Nation Weeps, Again

The shooting today in Newtown, Connecticut, has left the nation shocked, stunned, and, in some cases, speechless.  What do the parents of the surviving children in Adam Lanza's rampage at an elementary school say to the parents who have lost a child to a bullet fired from a semi-automatic weapon?  It is all too horrible.  An entire small town in New England is scarred from this.  And the only thing most of us know to do now is to offer up prayers for the parents, children, community and the Lanza family, as they enter into this new version of reality.

But once we have turned our minds to God, and made our petitions for healing for those affected by this tragedy, we must, as a nation, turn the mirror and look at ourselves to that burning question, "Why did this happen?"  

We are country obsessed with our guns, and we have been told by the National Rifle Association that our second amendment grants us the right to have as many guns of whatever fire power we want.  Some places may have waiting periods, but what's that to someone who is plotting to murder his mother and then shoot the children in her class? (BTW,  I don't know if CT has a waiting period for purchasing guns.)  In this case, Adam Lanza didn't have to wait.  The guns, all three semi-automatic weapons, were readily available in his home that he shared with his mother.  And all three were registered to his mom, who then fell victim in her own home to her own gun.  Which begs the question, "Why did a kindergarten teacher own two semi-automatic, multiple-shooter, pistols and a semi-automatic assault rifle?"   These are weapons that are used by the Secret Service and SWAT teams.  Where is the need for this kind of in-the-home weaponry?

We look to our leaders to do something at times like these, but they are often silent, or preferring to label this sort of thing a "random act of a deranged person."  This is a convenient side-step of the burning issue of gun obsession: say that the shooter was mentally ill, and make much noise about how now is not the time for gun control.  Well, pardon me, but I believe now is the time. Actually, the time was at the shooting of Lincoln.  Or perhaps it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or Bobby Kennedy, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or the kids at Columbine High School, or the Luby's massacre in Texas, or the Virginia Tech shooting, or at the Gabrielle Giffords event in Tuscon, or the mosque in Milwaukee, or the movie theater in Aurora, or the mall in Portland, Oregon, and the list can go on and on.  

Here in this city, a group called "Leadership Tallahassee", which seems aimed at the up-and-coming and well-connected in our community, does an outing to the Leon County Sheriff's Department.  There, the group gets to go to the shooting range and do target practice.  One friend I knew who participated in this program was delighted with the opportunity and the feeling of firing a gun. It was "exciting".   In Hawaii, there are several shooting galleries on the main streets in Honolulu, catering to Japanese tourists, so that they, too, can experience that thrill of being like an American and taking aim at targets.  Nothing says America like a gun, right.

It's because of all of these things that I somehow doubt anything is really going to change in the wake of this horror show in Newtown, CT.  There is no will to change.  There is no desire to restrict who may own a semi-automatic weapon.  People will continue to point to mental illness as the real culprit, but strangely, it's the same folks who oppose stricter regulation of guns that also don't want to spend money on any health care reform, let alone mental health care.  The statistics that show that other industrial countries with stricter gun laws have less gun violence will be ignored.   And the tired mantra of the NRA ("Guns don't kill people; people kill people") will get trotted out to protect that endangered species, the firearm, from extinction in the United States.

In order for us to get a handle on this kind of mass shooting violence, our political leaders must turn down the campaign contributions from the NRA, and get serious about re-enacting the ban on assault weapons, and no longer allowing ordinary citizens to have access to semi-automatic pistols and rifles.  Nobody needs a gun like that to go hunting for duck and deer.  There needs to be stricter regulations on licenses as to who may have a gun.   And there should be a mechanism to prevent people from stockpiling weapons like what happened in Aurora.

These are the should happens.  What will happen?  I'm afraid it will simply be more tears, more funerals, and more expressions of outrage at a senseless tragedy.  I hope I'm proven wrong. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Scalia Should Shut Up

No doubt some of you have seen the story about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's remarks this week at Princeton University in which he compared homosexuality to murder. It was in answer to a student's question about his anti-LGBT comments. Scalia referred to his position as "the reduction to the absurd.":

"If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have moral feelings against murder? Can we have them against other things?"

He said he wasn't drawing a comparison between "sodomy" and "murder," but was showing the parallels between the bans on both. And he further stated that while he doesn't think it's necessary for state legislatures to enact laws against behavior they consider to be immoral, he does think it's "effective." And he apparently doesn't think much of the Bill of Rights saying that, "Every tinhorned dictator has a Bill of Rights."

It has never been a secret that Justice Scalia is a right-wing ideologue. That was clear when he was nominated by the late President Ronald Reagan in 1986. I remember being floored that the Democrats were willing to go along with the chuckling Scalia when it seemed clear that Reagan's intent was to stack the high court with people who might overturn the Roe v. Wade decision which made abortion safe and legal. For me, it was more evidence that the Democratic Party would be willing to throw anyone under the bus to appear that they weren't obstructionists (like a certain Tea Party-infused other group...).

Now, here we are a few months away from the high court hearing cases on marriage equality and the senior most justice is spouting off about what he thinks is "moral" and equating support of homosexuality being the same moral equivalent as advocating for murder. I don't really care what he personally believes. But as a sitting justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, it grates on me that he would make such statements in advance of hearing a case that is of tremendous importance to me and thousands of other LGBT Americans. And he likely will not recuse himself. It further upsets me how many people are shrugging this off as a, "We all knew where he stood, so what's new?"

When a person takes an oath to serve as a judge or a justice, their moral beliefs must not be the basis from which they make decisions that affect the lives of others. Furthermore, when one is a judge or a justice, one knows that it is proper judicial conduct to refuse to comment in any way on a topic that is due to come before them lest they be seen as impartial.

Obviously, Justice Scalia doesn't care about that, and too many of my friends seem to think that's OK. It is not, was not, and never will be OK. This is the kind of behavior that undermines public confidence in the judicial branch, not just at the national level, but down to your local judge hearing cases on traffic infractions. Nominations such as Scalia's helped to politicize what should be a process free from undo influence from political parties, or the Roman Catholic Church, or anyone else.

I thought I couldn't trust Scalia to hear the marriage equality cases. Now I know I can't.

He should have just kept his mouth shut.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent: Turbulent Indigo

When I was growing up in the church, the seasonal color for Advent was purple, the same color for the season of Lent. I suppose that was a way to recognize the yin and yang nature of those two seasons. In one, we are preparing for the arrival of Christ into our lives. The other is the slow march toward his death culminating in his resurrection.

Now, we light blue candles at Advent, a nod to the Virgin Mary, and to give it its own, distinctive color in our color-coded church calendar.

Thus far, for me, this Advent has felt more like a melding of blue and purple into an indigo. A turbulent indigo at that. I've been restless, and sensing a certain restlessness around me.

 So, it was only appropriate that I was listening to that particular Joni Mitchell CD as I drove home along the backroads of rural southwest Georgia after meeting with my spiritual director. The lyrics to some of the songs are such an important commentary on our times, and in many ways, to the darkness and brokenness of the world: border lines, within families and communities, that divide people; the gas leaks and the oil spills; and the discarding of women who are victims of violence. There is plenty of hurt to go around as the stores play their hopped-up version of the season: "Hark! The many merchants shout, 'Buy it now before we're out!'"

As part of my session with my SD, we discussed Advent and how I wasn't feeling like I was in a happy-happy, joy-joy space. She noted this isn't necessarily a joyful season if we're paying attention. There is a birth about to happen, not only in our story of Christ, but in our own lives as well. We are preparing to give birth to a new self. And with that, there will be death of the old self, old habits, old ways that no longer serve a purpose. Birth, she said, changes everything.

And that might be the thing that is at the root of my turbulent indigo.  I'm not pregnant, not physically at least, but in a sense I am moving through a kind of pregnancy of Spirit.  All the work I've been doing with my SD...coupled with the everything that I have done with others and my practice of daily prayer, centering, and reading has been like the refiner's fire and the fuller's soap.  And that process doesn't come without some pain as I go through another round of change.  Perhaps this is why I am suffering with a head cold that is leading to laryngitis.  Perhaps I need to silent my voice and listen more closely to another's?

And I think of the first line of one of the songs on Turbulent Indigo:

Let me speak
Let me spit out my bitterness...

But first, let me get my voice back.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On the Ride... Five Years and Counting...

My first Spiritual Director recently posted this time-lapsed video of her new hometown, Asheville, North Carolina.

When I watched it on my iPad, the music track didn't play, so I was forced to look at the video in silence.

The funkiness of technology apparently was an accident that was meant to happen. Without the distraction of music, I looked at this video and imagined that I was viewing the world through God's eyes.   Looking at this hyper-speed of creation in change made me reflect on the movement of time, and how time, as I think of it for God, happens in an instant whereas we see it crawling along month-by-month-by-month.

So, that means that this blog, born five years ago as a response to my "Wake Up Call," must have just happened in the last second in God's time!

I have changed, too, in five years, molded and shaped, as I have remained on the ride with God.  Many times, I have wanted to get off and go hide.  I have felt the river rapid accelerating the movement of this boat, and then slowing it down to a lazy drift.  I have looked longingly toward this river's tree-lined banks, and thought, "Maybe I can jump out of the boat and swim over there and hang out in the woods," only to realize that I am terrified of getting my head underwater, and so swimming to "safety" isn't an option.

Amazingly, for every time that I have thought about jumping ship, I haven't longed to go back to the place where this began.  Perhaps because I know that I can not.  Once inside the boat and on this river, I realized there is no ability to revisit the past and live there because there is no life there.  I simply have changed too much.

As I sat in church this past Sunday, I pulled out the hymnal and randomly let the page fall open.  It landed on a tune I didn't know with lyrics by Philip Doddridge and music by Handel.  Just like with the video, the tune wasn't as important or necessary as I read and contemplated the words:

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve
and press with vigor on;
a heavenly race demands thy zeal,
and an immortal crown, and an immortal crown.

A cloud of witnesses around
hold thee in full survey;
forget the steps already trod,
onward urge thy way, and onward urge thy way.

'Tis God's all-animating voice
that calls thee from on high;
'tis his own hand presents thy prize
to thine aspiring eye, to thine aspiring eye.

Then wake, my soul, stretch every nerve,
and press with vigor on;
a heavenly race demands thy zeal,
and an immortal crown, and an immortal crown.

All aboard...and all hands on deck... and press with vigor on as this journey continues.  Slow and rough, smooth and swift; for God, this boat ride that has been five years for me is only the beginning.  The purpose is still being worked out as year succeeds to year.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

World AIDS Day: Getting to Zero Means Ending All-Discrimintation

Criminalization of same-sex relationships in Africa as well as widespread discrimination and stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often fuels HIV infections among our communities. African governments must come to terms with the fact that no meaningful progress can be made in the fight against the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa without the decriminalization of homosexuality and protection of LGBT human rights.--Damian Ugwu, Program Co-ordinator for Africa, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

This is the truth, and this is the reality of what helps to keep an epidemic spreading on continents such as Africa.  And this statement comes at a time when, yet again, the government officials in Uganda are attempting to pass a law that would institute criminal penalties for LGBT people, and their allies.  Even though Ugandan parliament member David Bahati says he has removed the death penalty provision from the legislation, he hasn't produced his amended version.  And frankly, I don't trust him or any of those associated with this hateful measure.  The international pressure is out there to stop the bill.  But until it is withdrawn, and Bahati is no longer in office, I will not be convinced that my LGBT brothers and sisters in Uganda are safe.

The fears of people who are HIV positive and people living with AIDS, the misconception that this is somehow "God's will" to "punish" people for sexual behavior you would think is something we've moved beyond.  But we haven't.  Not in Africa, not in Asia, and not even in the United States of America.  There is an excellent and heartfelt peace by Bruce Garner at the Integrity blog site that captures some of the frustration that is still out there, particularly in the southeastern United States.  I highly recommend it.

In order for us to "Get to Zero" rate of infection, and finally have an AIDS-free generation by 2015, many things are going to have to change.  The old fears, and the old ways of telling everyone that abstinence is the only way to prevent infection needs to end.  We need to get real about talking to kids... and adults... about sex, and it needs to stop being such a taboo topic.  We need to stop accepting discrimination as a given for not only gay people, but all people (I heard a report on NPR that said that immigrants are among the high-risk groups because they don't seek medical care until it is too late).   I go back to a theme I've been writing on recently, that final statement of our baptismal covenant in the Episcopal Church:

"Will you strive for justice and peace and will you respect the dignity of every human being?"

Besides responding, "We will, with God's help," we must commit that we will. 

I will.  God's help or not.