Friday, January 25, 2013

Paul's Biggest Moment

Today is one of my favorite of the Feast Days on the Episcopal calendar because we mark the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the followers of Christ, to Paul, the prolific writer and emissary to the Gentiles in the spreading of the Good News.

Most know the story: Saul was on his way to Damascus to do some more pummeling of his adversaries, the followers of "The Way", when a funny thing happened. He found himself stopped by a flashing light, so bright that he drops to his knees. A voice called out to him, "Saul, Saul: why do you persecute me?"(Acts 9:4) It is Jesus speaking. Saul is unable to see and must be led into the city with his fellow travelers. There he sits for three days, unable to see; unwilling to eat or drink.

Meanwhile, Ananais, a follower of The Way, receives a vision from Christ in which he learns he must go to the place where Saul is, and lay his hands on him in a healing ritual. Understandably, Ananais argues: ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ (Acts 9: 13-14)Predictably, Jesus hears this complaint, but is steadfast in what He desires Ananais to do: "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9: 15-16) Ananais, no longer able to find reasons to resist this command, goes to Saul, lays his hands on him, and prays: ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 9:17b) The scales fall from Saul's eyes, he is baptized, and he eats some food to regain his strength.

Two enemies brought together through Christ and in Christ. One has his vision taken from him. The other has a vision impressed upon him. Ananais, fearful and skeptical, faces Saul, the fearsome, yet frail. And in between is Christ, the mediator and advocate. What changes things for Saul? Ananais doing the very simple, and Christ-like ministry: he heals Saul through prayer with touch.

To me, this is among the most powerful stories we have in the New Testament, and speaks so clearly to our circumstances today. People are divided, and subdivided, into so many different groups, some of which stand in stark opposition to each other. Conservatives vs. Liberals; Whites vs. Non-whites; "Bible-believing" Christians vs. Christians (this last one truly confounds me. Seems "Bible-believing" is the new descriptor for giving cover for denying equality to LGBT people, in the name of Christ, of course.) What this story out of Acts tells us is that all the labels, all the certainties we have about who belongs to "us" vs. "them", is irrelevant for God because the end goal is always to bring opposing sides together, and holding us in that tension.

How marvelous, then, for this day to mark the beginning of the 170th Diocesan Convention in Florida. Points of view, shaped by individual lives and circumstances and understandings, all coming together to plot the next course for the Church as it exists in that part of the state that is North Florida. My analogy would work better if this Convention were taking up some hot button issues. But the agenda for this annual meeting is mostly focused on the pension for clergy and Medicare Part B. There are also votes for the Standing Committee and other committees on a diocesan level. And then there are parties, and banquets, and concerts.

Meanwhile, a few miles to the north of where the Diocesan Convention is taking place, a Lutheran Church is prepping for its annual Reconciling in Christ Sunday. It's a celebration of St. Stephen Lutheran Church's commitment to welcoming the LGBT community. As part of the festivities, the church is showing the film "Love Free or Die" about retired Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson and the Episcopal Church's struggle with the full inclusion of LGBT people. It is a marvelous and very well-balanced documentary that shows the grace of how Robinson carried himself amidst a barrage of negative backlash in the Anglican Communion. It also did right by the Episcopal Church by showing the different viewpoints within our own faith community. And, at the end of the day, TEC comes off looking good in the film because opposing sides voiced their opinions, had their arguments, and yet stayed together.

Sadly, that isn't always the case within the Episcopal Church. Yet another diocese, South Carolina, has declared that it is leaving. As our diocese wrangles over numbers and pension funds, those who identify as "continuing Episcopalians" in South Carolina are holding their own diocesan meeting with the church's figurehead, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, to elect a provisional bishop for their area. It's an unfortunate scenario that smacks of the sin of leaving the table in anger. What would have happened to Saul if Ananais had given into his fear, and refused to lay his hands on his enemy in healing? What would have become of our story as Christians if Saul had come out his blindness still breathing threats?

Florida is choosing not to take up a discussion of inclusion of LGBT people in ministry or same-sex blessings; thus ignoring this development in the church. How long it can keep this up? I don't know. My guess is not forever. But I see a better vision for our diocese than what has occurred in South Carolina, or Pittsburgh, or San Joaquin. Because I see the hope that is inherent in the story of Saul's conversion to becoming the apostle Paul. I believe our diocese has ability to have these discussions in a way where we can remain in relationship and trust that God is really with us. We just need to believe that. Our theme of this convention is "Procession." I am prepared for our Procession to become Progression.

God is working God's purpose out. We must trust, believe, and allow the Spirit to take us forward.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Believe in Miracles

I know today was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and it was also the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, our nation's first African-American president (because Clinton was NOT). 

The significance of those two events coinciding on this day is not lost on me.  And just as big was the President saying, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law... For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”  He further went on to make the link between various civil rights struggles for women, African-Americans, and the LGBT community by bringing up Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall.

I got teary-eyed hearing this.  For the first time, a President of the United States had connected the dots that I, and so many other gay people, have been connecting together for years, only to be growled at for daring to equate our struggle for equality with that of our black brothers and sisters.  Now it was our black brother, the ally-in-chief, making our case for us.   And, for once, this wasn't just some Democratic politician saying all the right things to get us to open our pocketbooks, so we could be ignored and left behind... again.   President Obama has shown he means it.  He has repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell; his Justice Department has refused to advocate for the Defense of Marriage Act.  And his own significant move came last year when he told Robin Roberts in a sit down interview that he had "evolved" on the marriage issue and he didn't have a problem with people of the same gender tying the knot.  That statement rippled out through the African-American community, and it opened the door for blacks who have quietly supported LGBT rights to step up and become more vocal... especially from the pulpit.

So, what in the world does any of this have to do with miracles?   Because, much like the moment in yesterday's gospel, when Jesus performs the first miracle at the wedding in Cana by turning nasty undrinkable water for purification rites into a never-ending flow of the best wine ever, I am seeing a similar moment of "Wow!" in the President's remarks with regards to the LGBT community. Jesus' miracle, done not for show but as a teaching moment about God, clearly the blew the minds of those present to witness what he did. 

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Ca'na of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.--John 2:9-11

Believing is the first step in having faith.  Having faith is then the motivator for engaging the world in the ongoing effort to bend that long moral arc of the universe toward justice. 

At our service yesterday, we had a guest preacher, Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel, who noted that the miracles that occur in Scripture don't happen without the willingness of human beings to act on our faith.   The advancements that LGBT community, and any other minority group, has seen in history has not come by us waiting and praying for a change to occur and waiting for God to do "God's thing."  It has happened because we have been actively working toward change.  And a "Wow!" has arrived in the words of the President in his second inaugural address.

This "Wow!" that has the potential to continuously "Wow!" for the months and years to come.  May it be so.    

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Well, she's a Christian"

This past week, I went with one of our PFLAG parents to a local Tallahassee high school to talk to their Gay-Straight Alliance about our organization and what it can offer to the parents of these students. This was the first time I'd been asked to speak to an organization of mostly LGBT kids. Often, I'm the gay person asked to speak to the straight social work majors at a university. So this was an entirely different experience for me, and a good one. I was amazed and thrilled to see the classroom filled, and have the chance to share the story of PFLAG and how it is grounded in love. My parent, who tells a great story of overcoming her own prejudices about homosexuality, is a shiny example of what *can* happen with that parent who loves his or her child.

So, the presentation, which lasted about ten to fifteen minutes, was positive, upbeat, hopeful. The kids were attentive, interested, their eyes on the two of us and not their iPhones.

Then it was their turn to share with us. And my heart was heavy listening to them. So many of them are not out to their families. Their parents don't know that they're in this club. One of the girls shared that her mother taunts her for her haircut, and doesn't want her to wear flannel shirts because that will make her look like.... well, what she is. As I took all this in, I found that like with all things with me these days, I wasn't prepared for this. And yet, oddly, I was ready. Because I have lived through these difficult years of human existence called, "Teenager," and thus I know the pain they're experiencing, even if it isn't exactly like the pains I went through at their age.

With the one girl and her obnoxious mother, I didn't answer her, "What do I do?" right away. As Jesus told his disciples in Matthew, "Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time." The context of that piece of advice was for the disciples as they faced persecution; I wasn't facing persecution, but I was faced with a "What do I do?" from a teenager trapped in a horrible situation with her mom. I took a few moments, and reviewed in my head some of the details of what she had presented.

"You're doing everything you need to do right now," I started. I noted that she deals with the hurtful remarks about her hair and clothes by turning them into a joke back at her mother. I told her that was probably the best thing she can do while she's still under this woman's roof.

"Sometimes, the only way you can come out to your parents and develop a real relationship with them is by putting some space between you and them. The important thing is to know yourself, be grounded in yourself, tap into this group of your peers for support, and love yourself."

I asked her if she had a sense of where her mother was coming from on all this.

"Well, she's a Christian..."

This was a theme that ran through some of the stories we were hearing from the kids in the room. And I am always amazed to hear that mom is "Christian" and yet says horrible things about gay people. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be more anti-Christ than that. In all my studies of Scripture, I have yet to find the passage that says, "Belittle and berate your children because it is always best to play out your own fears by tearing down others."

And that's what it comes down to: fear. Whatever is in the mind of this girl's mother, it is grounded not in Love, but in fear. Which led to probably the most difficult thing I had to say to this child.

"You have to love your mother. Know that she isn't in the place where she needs to be with you. Maybe she will be some day."

I later met with my rector, and told him about this encounter with the students at the high school.

"You were doing youth ministry. That's really all it's about. Being the stable, sane, adult anchor."

If that is true, so be it. If my presence could give even one child hope that they, too, will survive being a queer teenager, then so be it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Baptism, Fire, and Me

OK, so it's been a full week since I have put anything new up here on this blog. It's not for lack of wanting to write. It's that I haven't known exactly how to tackle this latest topic that has been bouncing about in my brain.

This past Sunday, we had the story of Jesus' baptism. And, much like how I was not necessarily ready for the birth of Christ at Christmas this year, the baptism story hit me in a way that I wasn't prepared for either.

Here's how Luke's gospel presents the event:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." --Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

I have been thinking about this idea of the dove descending down on Jesus, and the voice from on high saying, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." I have heard in church sermons where priests have noted that, at a baptism in these days, we don't have this same drama of doves and voices from heaven. And while that may be true, that doesn't mean that at baptism, as each new member in the Body of Christ is made known to the corporate body of the Church through the act of water and sealing with oil, that there isn't a voice announcing in a language unheard, "You are my Son or Daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." It also doesn't mean that we, who witness this act, are not also being reminded that we, too, are the Sons and Daughters, the Beloved; with whom God is well pleased.

And then, what happens next?

This is the part that has been really dogging me these past few days. That dove, a sign of peace in our culture, descends on Christ, and he is driven out into the wilderness where he is tested and tempted. You could say he is on fire. He's metal held between tongs in the flames, with God, the alchemist, ready to pound, shape, and prepare him for what is to come. And this is a little like what I feel I've been experiencing lately.

I am restless. And I feel that in my restlessness one of the things that is happening is that I'm being shaped and formed for whatever is next. I can tell myself I need to be prepared, but that gets me back to how I've been experiencing the seasons: I am really not prepared, or at least not prepared in the way that I think I ought to be. Time to let go... and allow myself the time I'll need in the wilderness to wrestle with whatever it is that holds me back.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Churches

I was delighted to open up to my Facebook page and to see the announcement that the Washington National Cathedral, the site of so many state celebrations and funerals for presidents and a major tourist attraction in the nation's capital, will be making use of the new blessings for same-sex couples in the Episcopal Church. 

I wasn't surprised by this news; Washington, DC, and now Maryland, allow for lesbian and gay couples to marry, and the bishop of Washington, Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, is supportive of same-sex couples getting married and agreed to offer the rite to her diocese which covers Washington, DC, and four Maryland counties.  The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, has also long been a proponent of allowing LGBT couples to marry. He had been one of the architects of the new blessing rite, and was seen, by many, as the catalyst needed to bring marriage equality to the Cathedral.  He sees his decision as consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

“I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do,” Hall told the AP. “And my reading of the Bible leads me to want to do this because I think it’s being faithful to the kind of community that Jesus would have us be.”

For Episcopalians such as myself, this is a momentous occasion.  To have such a visible symbol of the church open its doors so completely for the LGBT community is very hopeful and encouraging.

Especially in light of another story I read about involving the chapel at one of the Episcopal seminaries and how it is handling the new blessing rite. 

The University of the South, more commonly called Sewanee, is an Episcopal university and home to All Saints' Chapel, an equally stately, beautiful, Gothic cathedral.  Sewanee's School of Theology, which produces the Education for Ministry program, is one of the preferred seminaries for postulants from the southeast.  When the General Convention overwhelmingly adopted A049, the resolution to allow for the same-sex blessings, Sewanee was faced with a dilemma.  While located in Tennessee, it's governing authority is a chancellor, a position that rotates among bishops representing 28 dioceses of the Episcopal Church.  Many of those bishops were among the 41 who voted against A049, including the now rogue Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina, and Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard of Florida, Sewanee's chancellor.  Now, they had to make a decision: would Sewanee allow a gay or lesbian couple, who meets the basic requirements to request use of the All Saints' Chapel for a wedding, the opportunity to have their union blessed there?  Commence hand-wringing now. 

“An absolute yes or an absolute no was just not possible,” John McCardell, Jr., vice-chancellor and president, said. The college feared its chapel could become a sort of Las Vegas for blessings of gay unions -- an end-run for couples whose bishops wouldn’t permit the rite in their own diocese.("Going to the Chapel?" by Libby Nelson, Inside Higher Ed., Dec. 19, 2012).

Stop right there.  End run?  A 'sort of Las Vegas' for LGBT couples??  Are they serious??? 

Yes, obviously, they were serious.  Seriously afraid of what might happen if they were to open up the use of the chapel for LGBT couples who are affiliated with the school.

I read that statement and I was appalled.  For starters, there is the assumption that LGBT people want to have their unions blessed at Sewanee.  That really is a huge assumption.  Tennessee, like most of the states here in Dixie, don't allow LGBT people to get married.  Many of Tennessee's neighbors have similar laws to Florida that specifically detail that marriage between people of the same gender makes so many people itchy and uncomfortable that they won't allow it.  Therefore, the majority of those who are LGBT and Episcopalian will go elsewhere to get married, and maybe even by an Episcopal priest.  A ceremony at Sewanee would then be redundant.

Secondly, statements, such as what appears to have been attributed to the vice-chancellor, are indicative of an attitude that has successfully turned-off lots of potential LGBT Episcopalians. The "end run, Las Vegas-style" comments make it sound as if the governing body of the university believes that we are sneaky people, attempting to sully the sacredness of Sewanee's chapel with our crude, rude, and disco-infused ideas of a "blessing."  Never mind that there is nothing quite "so gay" as a high church Episcopal service with the splendid music, a chanted Sursum Corda and lots of incense. The notion that we, who have been long-denied the opportunity to make these kinds of commitments before God and the church, would somehow make a mockery of that covenant is insulting and hurtful.  It is not a reflection upon any gay person who may have an association with Sewanee; rather it reveals the prejudice of the one who would make such an insensitive statement.

Finally, it should be noted that, once again, the issue is what is "feared."   That, to me, is the saddest part of this story.  Belief in God, and belief in Jesus Christ as our mediator and advocate, is about faith and about love.  Fear has no place there.  Too often in these stories about the LGBT faithful, I read about those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ responding out of fear to us.  It's as if they've lost their ability to hear what is the underlying message of such miracles as the feeding of the five-thousand: ALL were fed.  ALL received exactly the same portion. NO ONE left hungry. And there were leftovers!  The love of God is for ALL.  Everybody will be OK, so stop worrying and don't be afraid!  There is nothing to fear when it comes to me, my partner, my friends.  We are part of the diversity that makes up the Body of Christ, and the beauty of God's human creation.  And all we want is to have our relationships recognized, and gain the civil, civil, rights of marriage.

Ultimately, Sewanee decided the best course of action would be to allow lesbian and gay couples who meet their usual requirements to use the chapel, if their diocesan bishop says it's OK.  I hope that newlyweds of the heterosexual persuasion also need to receive the approval of their diocesan bishop.

The Very Rev. Hall of the Washington National Cathedral indicates that the debate about same-sex blessings is largely a settled matter in the Episcopal church.  I would agree that most of the Church has settled this matter.  But there are still many of us living in places where it remains an unfortunate live wire issue within the Church, even as society moves forward. 

When will all mean all in the Church?


In Memorium: Jeanne Manford, founder of PFLAG

So often, when we talk about the gay civil rights movement, we focus our attention on the brave drag queens of Stonewall, or the Harvey Milks, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinsons. But one of the key players in moving equality forward was a loving mother of a gay son, Jeanne Manford, who marched in the pre-cursor to New York's Pride parade, holding her sign proclaiming: Parents Unite in Support of Our Gay Children.

Her act of love translated into the beginning of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the major straight ally group fighting for equality. She died at her home in Daly City, California. She was 92.

Manford became active in the struggle for LGBT equality when New York police beat her son during a gay rights protest in 1972. She began a support group with a few other parents of gay and lesbian children who shared her desire to better the world for their sons and daughters. That was the seed of what now is an international organization with 350 chapters, including the one here in Tallahassee.

PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby notes that all LGBT people and straight allies owe a debt of gratitude to Manford:
"We are all beneficiaries of her courage. Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world. She paved the way for us to speak out for what is right, uniting the unique parent, family, and ally voice with the voice of LGBT people everywhere."

May she rest in peace and rise in glory and may light perpetual shine upon Jeanne Manford.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Be Courageous: +Gene Retires, +Robert Takes Over

Today, in a ceremony with less media attention than the prior consecration service and no protests, A. Robert Hirschfield was installed as the 10th Bishop of New Hampshire, succeeding Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson.

My first contact with Bishop Gene Robinson came when I was a teenager in my confirmation class just over 30 years ago. He was Rev. Gene then, running Sign of the Dove Retreat Center for the diocese of New Hampshire. He was to be the latest victim of my favorite game at the time: stump the priest.  I tried to lure him into a conundrum of explaining to me, "Where did God come from?"  But instead of me stumping him, he blew me away.  He smiled with his trademark grin of excitement and joy and exclaimed, "That is a GREAT question! I don't know!  But I have faith that there is a God."  His willingness to engage me, and take my question seriously, not only disarmed me; it was one of the few times in my youth that a priest in the Episcopal Church told me I'd asked a "great" question, one that opened an avenue for a discussion much more meaningful than I had anticipated.  Suddenly, I wasn't some punk kid who didn't ask "the right questions"; I was making a valid inquiry, one worthy of adult attention.  Like I said, it blew me away.

What I have loved so much about +Gene in his public role as the bishop, standing out as "the gay bishop" for most of the Anglican Communion, is that he has kept the same enthusiasm and enjoyment in engaging people that I remembered from my youth. He is a genuine, kind, funny, and a real believer. Certainly, he's been a bright light for me as a lesbian Episcopalian living in a diocese that insists on sitting in darkness. The fact that my "homies" elected him makes me proud to be a native of New Hampshire.  Recently, +Gene noted in an interview that one of the many great things about New Hampshire is that when he was there, he was simply, "the bishop" without the "gay" adjective.  That's because the people of New Hampshire seem to be the only adults in the Anglican Communion.

His election gave me tremendous hope.  I had already walked away from the Episcopal Church because it seemed that being gay and being an Episcopalian was incompatible.  He made it clear that I had been listening to the wrong shepherd.  I was delighted when I learned that my mom, as a member of the choir at Christ Church Exeter, would be among the many voices raising the roof in song at UNH (the hockey arena was the only venue large enough in the state to accommodate the crush of media interest).  I hooked her up with the producers of "This Way Out," the international gay and lesbian radio magazine out of Los Angeles, and she was their "embedded" reporter, giving her eyewitness account in an interview with Greg Gordon, with supplemental sound provided courtesy of New Hampshire Public Radio.  Greg was kind enough to send me a cassette copy of the program so I could hear the story.  I remember driving along the streets of Tallahassee, smiling as I listened.  Then the music bed from the service played:

For all the saints from whom their labors rest
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, before ever blessed.
Alleluia, alleluia...

The smile evaporated and tears started streaming down my face.  The tune was so familiar, the news was so good... and the Episcopal Church in my immediate circumstance of Tallahassee was so foreign to me and so deeply opposed to +Gene (and, by extension, ANY gay person) that all I could do was cry and wonder aloud, "Why?  Why are we so hated?"

+Gene faced that hatred every day, with death threats, hate mail, and the crowning moment when the now retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, announced that +Gene would not be allowed to attend the big Bishop bash called the Lambeth Conference.  Gene became the proverbial Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of the Anglican Communion.  The snub was hurtful and insulting to him, to all LGBT Anglicans, and especially to the people of the diocese of New Hampshire.  And again, I cried, "Why?  Why are we so hated?"

In truth, I still have never received a reasonable answer to THAT question.  Perhaps because there is no reasonable answer, not when the overwhelming message of the Gospel is one of Love.

Things are better now in Tallahassee.  Schisms happened, and the "Angricans" have moved down the street, leaving St. John's to those who would populate it with a mind toward inclusion and love.  Our diocese remains one in darkness when it comes to pastoral care toward the LGBT community, but it's more like dusk rather than the dead of night. Bishop Gene's service to the church has given many the confidence to let their own lights shine.   But he can't illuminate all sectors of the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion; that's the job of those of us in these darkened areas to follow his example, be bold and yet not hard-hearted as we listen to those who still have fear. 

I thought it was appropriate that this morning's daily office started us off in the story of Joshua taking up the mantle of Moses upon the patriarch's death.  The repeated phrase, "Be strong and courageous" seems to be a good mantra as +Rob takes over in New Hampshire.  Those are wise words for all of us who carry on in the Episcopal Church, post +Gene. 

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’--Joshua 1:9
Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Church Nerd

They started yesterday: this dreaded multi-day test called the General Ordination Exam. Seminarians throughout the Episcopal Church are spending the next few days answering essay questions of up to 1,500 words apiece about Church History, Liturgy, the Holy Scriptures, Contemporary Society and the what not.

Those who have been through this academic hazing ritual are offering advice, their best wishes and wisdom to those who are coming down from Christmas-cookie sugar highs to put their best efforts on paper. One person helpfully listed the books that one should have on hand as they go about the open-book portion of the test. When I saw their recommendations, I gulped.

I own, and have studied to one degree or another, at least half of what was on the list. My 1979 Book of Common Prayer is tattered and taped together, dog-eared pages and marked with ribbons; my 1982 Hymnal has pieces of paper carefully tucked to easily find particular hymns. I even had our Morning Prayer leaders make use of the verses from "O Come O Come Emmanuel" on each of the designated days during the Third Week of Advent.

It's time to admit it: I am a Church nerd. 

Being a church nerd has come with a price. Fellow church members look at me funny when I can tell them exactly which page they can find Eucharistic Prayer B, or the table for finding the suggested canticles for Morning Prayer. I can even give them a quick, and concise, history behind the meaning of the Episcopal Church shield.   I have to be careful what I say in conversation with some people.  I have lines of Scripture that are embedded in my brain, and they're liable to slip out when I'm talking to a friend or a client. How many times have I used the image of a lamp shining inside someone's house when encouraging the "enlightened" to not delight in their own precious luminary, but to carry that light out into the darkened streets as a call to help groups such as PFLAG fight for equality for LGBT citizens? I have backed out of doing performances with the Mickee Faust Club because the dates of the show conflict with Holy Week and Easter. Whenever Faust schedules something for a Sunday morning, I have to send my regrets: Sunday mornings are reserved for time in the church. Same with Friday noondays. Hymns, as I've mentioned many times on this blog, play like a jukebox in my head. How can I explain to the unfamiliar that the song I'm whistling is called "Tell Out My Soul" and--no--you won't hear that playing on the radio?  It puts me a little out-of-step with the rest of the world, especially amongst my friends who are mostly agnostic to atheist.

And that's OK. I think about what Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina preached this summer at General Convention. What the world needs is some crazy Christians. Christians who will use that lamp vs. darkened street imagery, borrowed liberally from the Gospels, to make the point that justice requires those with just hearts to speak out and let their presence be known and felt in those areas where there's still inequality among people. Perhaps those hearing me speak are not "Christian", but that doesn't matter.  The image works, and should be shared with the churched and the unchurched alike.

I find, too, that there is something that throws people a little bit when they come across me in my leather biker jacket with my flattop hair cut and my pride earring... walking out of St. John's Episcopal Church.  I think I may be responsible for some uninteded whiplash as drivers gawk at the juxtaposition of me emerging from the church.  I ran into a former neighbor in the parking lot who was coming to eat lunch at the church's cafe.  We greeted each other, she introduced me to her fiancee, and her mother, and then asked if I had just had lunch.  It was a Friday.

"No, I just came from the noon day Eucharist."

Blink.  Stare.  Blink. Smile.  Blink.

"Oh!" she finally said.

"Yes, I'm a Eucharistic Minister!" I offered, cheerfully.  

Blink. Smile. Blink.

"Wow.  Huh!"  There wasn't much more that she could say. The fiancee looked a little pale, but the mother seemed pleased.  So, I wished them a good lunch, and got on my way, no doubt humming somthing like "God Is Working His Purpose Out" under my breath.

My nerdiness served me well when I recently attended the ordination of some friends at a very small African-American mission.  For this service, I left the leather jacket at home and wore my blazer with the PFLAG emblem of a heart intertwined with a triangle.  The room was tiny, and so those who were witnessing this joyous occassion were crammed in pretty tightly with each other.  On one side of me was my partner.  On the other side, a fairly hefty African-American male pastor came in with his wife and took the seat next to me.  The ladies in front of us scooted their chairs forward, and he removed his hat and passed it along to be put behind my partner. I turned to this man, looking over my glasses at him and smiling.

"What are they trying to say about you?" I asked, referencing the chairs that were pulled forward.

"They're saying I'm fat!" he chuckled.

As the service went on, I found myself nodding in approval and acknowledging that I agreed with the messages that the various preachers were offering as they gave their words of wisdom to this trio about to be ordained.  I laughed, knowingly, as the trio gave their own testimonies about not believing that God could be serious about calling them into ministry.   And then the last one to speak broke into song, and I and the pastor and others joined in:

Just as I am without one plea
but that thy blood was shed for me
and that thou bidd'st me to come to thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

I barely know this tune having only heard it once, but I had written about these lyrics years ago on this blog so, somehow, I was able to fall in and sing along.  At the end of the service, as we were leaving, my partner made sure the pastor knew where his hat was and he bid us both a good night.

What I did not know was that this pastor had apparently been one of the African-American ministers in town preaching hatred against gay people from the pulpit.  But apparently my presence, and my church nerdiness that led me to know Scripture and song, made an impression on him.  Gay people, suddenly, were no longer these bizarre, fictious characters he thought we were.  And from reports that I have heard from others, he has had to do some rethinking about his beliefs about gay people as a result.

So, OK.  I'm a church nerd.  And I'm a queer church nerd at that.  And I'm very thankful that, this weekend,  I am not being asked to write 1,500 words on Constantine and the First Council of Nicea or discuss the meaning behind the Paschal Triduum celebration and what music I'd choose and why (although I am partial to Ubi Caritas for Maundy Thursday...)   But even without the formal education in a seminary, or the pressure to prepare for exams, I have grown a lot not only in my knowledge of the whys and hows and what fors of the Church; I am deepening my relationship with God and becoming more the queer person modeled and shaped by Love to be Christ's heart and hands in the world.

My prayer for those taking the GOE is that they never forget who brought them to this point, so they can become the ordained heart and hands of Christ in the world.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Now, THAT'S What I Call "A Happy New Year!"

At midnight in Baltimore, James Scales and William Tasker went from being merely roommates in the eyes of the law to being lawfully-wedded husbands. They were one of six couples to marry at City Hall with the Mayor serving as the officiant. Weddings reportedly were occurring throughout the state last night as marriage equality arrived in full force in Maryland. Voters there gave it a thumbs-up during the November election, making them the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to achieve equality for LGBT couples, and one of three states where the voters, not the courts or the state legislatures, said, "Yes" to allowing LGBT couples to get married.

All of this happened inspite of the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church, which tried to hold Maryland's Governor Martin O'Malley hostage to his church's opposition to marriage equality.  It didn't work.  He pushed to have the bill passed, and signed into law.  And the voters had his back in November.

To me, this speaks to a huge turning point in our country.  And it goes to show that what is written in 1 John is really true:  "perfect love casts out fear."  I, for one, am resolved this year to do whatever I can to bring love down into these parts that still haven't moved passed their fear.  I am committed to being a queer face of Christ, here on this blog, in the church, and in the world, and opening the doors to the amazing banquet hall of God wider and wider. 

Do I hear an "Amen?"