Thursday, February 28, 2013

Preparing for a Panel on Marriage

I had to open my big mouth and scream at God.

I had just come home from leading Morning Prayer at St. John's.  Something in the service had reminded me that there was a panel coming up in Tallahassee with the so-called "God Squad" that does a monthly program called, "Faith, Food and Friday."  They like to tackle difficult cultural topics and let five clergy people (one black pastor, one white woman who is Methodist, a white male rabbi, and two Christian white guys, one of whom is my rector) talk about said topic from a theological perspective.  I have never been to one of these forums because it conflicts with my weekly, personal devotion of attending Friday Eucharist. 

But I was planning to make an exception for this Friday because the God Squad would be talking about "Love, Marriage, and Same-sex Blessings." 

And I was furious.

I looked at the people on the God Squad.  All of them were straight and married.  And this group was advertising they were going to talk about same-sex blessings... which is constitutionally (and in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, canonically) banned.  And they were going to have this conversation without a gay person on the panel. 

I screamed at the ceiling in my house, tears streaming down my face, "How dare they?! How can this happen?!  How can You (God) let this happen?!?!"

Later that day, I got a call from the Rector.  He wanted to talk to me.  We agreed we'd see each other after the church's pre-Lenten Wednesday night program.  We took our seats at an empty table.

"We have a topic coming up on the Faith, Food, and Friday panel that deals with love, marriage and same-sex blessings...."

I played dumb.  I wanted to know where this was going...

"Liz (the organizer) and I were talking and we noted there wasn't a gay person on the panel.  And we wanted to have a lay person, who is gay, who could talk about this issue, and we both thought of you.  Would you be willing to do that?"   I sat quietly, and then said, "Yes."

Lesson: don't ever scream at God.  You might get tapped to be the solution to your problem.

Now, I'm on this panel.  And, boy, hasn't that stirred a pot!  

Apparently, the desire to have a "lay gay" was borne, in part, out of the concern voiced by the conservative clergy that they didn't want to have to debate, face-to-face, any of the three openly-lesbian pastors in town.  So, let's just find a token queer, preferably one who goes to church, who we'll stick up on the panel and won't be as knowledgable about Scripture as the preachers.  But the Holy Spirit is a wily one, and She had another trick up her sleeve.  So, yes, I am a lay person; however, I am a lay person with a diploma from the Education for Ministry program, a four-year extension course offered through the Sewanee School of Theology that explores Scripture, church history and the philosophers who have shaped theology throughout the centuries, and I co-mentor the group, leading them through theological reflection.  I read the Daily Morning Office six days a week, and on the seventh day, am in church.  And I have read books by modern thinkers such as Anne LaMott, Barbara Brown Taylor, Bishop Gene Robinson and Robert F. Capon.  Oh, yeah: and I write this blog.

In short, I ain't thtupid.  Just call me David to their Goliath.

As I've been preparing, I have been contemplating Scripture, especially the passages that often are the "clobber" lines from Scripture: meaning those lines that straight people like to use as "proof" that gay people don't have  a place in the Kingdom.  There's all kinds of intellectual arguments to disprove that falsehood about God's attitude toward the LGBT community.  The words in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that are often erroneously translated as "homosexual" are the Greek words "malakoi" and "arsenkoitos".  Of the former, we know it translates literally as "soft" like leather.   Of the second, we really don't know what it means.  But the assumption is that it was the "active" person in sex; hence, "soft" has meant, for some, the passive receiver of anal intercourse and the latter is the one doing the penetration.  Trouble is, since we don't know exactly what the second word meant, we are relying on a translation.  And translation, and language, has been the biggest bugaboo for Christianity.  I mean, one iota changed the whole understanding of Jesus' relationship to God in the 4th Century!  But more importantly, what was Paul seeing when he was in the randy party-hearty city of Corinth?  Was he witnessing the 21st century relationships of LGBT couples, or Temple prostitutes?  Can you really equate them?

Then there's the Romans 1:26-27 about women and men who give up natural relations for unnatural ones.  This is another favorite, and the only time lesbians come in for a good old bashing.  The assumption in the days of Paul was that everyone gets hooked up with a member of the opposite sex to have children.  In fact, people who were celibate were the radical ones taking control over their bodies by refusing to have sex.  For me, I think this passage plainly says that I am following my nature.  I think of the line in Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  And before you were born, I consectrated you."  So, God knew I am a lesbian, and made me with that sexual orientation.  For me, then, to sleep with a man would be wrong, hurtful and deceptive to the man, to me... and to God.

And then there are all the Hebrew Scripture favorites.  I don't need to go through those; that's why the Rabbi's on "my side."

Ultimately, that's the saddest part about this forum: that there is a "my" vs. "them" side on the issue of Love. Because, at the end of the day, all my EfM training and my reading of Scripture is but the window dressing for what is the true essence of who I am: a lesbian daughter of God.  The mere fact that I, and any other gay person shows up in a church on a Sunday morning, is a testament to God's power to search out and find every single one of the sheep that have wandered away from the fold.  Wandered, or been simply shut out by those who falsely accuse us of undermining the church, and the world.  To reclaim us, reconcile us, and roll out the red carpet for us to attend the greatest party with the best banquet week after week.

I think I'm ready for this.

Pope Benedict's Last Day

I really don't have a lot to say about this. Yes, it is unprecedented to have a pope resign, first time in 600 years. And the Roman Catholic Church is a tattered mess right now... similar to how it was in the 15th and 16th centuries of the multiple popes, indulgences scams and popes who couldn't care less about providing pastoral authority when political power was much more intoxicating. So, I guess it just makes sense for Pope Benedict XVI to retire to a life of prayer.

He has much to pray about. Just look at the headlines on any given day and you'll inevitably read about yet-another sexual abuse scandal in some part of the Roman Catholic Church that was covered up and is now being brought to light.

I have said that I believe that the Roman Catholic Church must die. What I mean by that is that it can not continue with its current structure because that structure is rotten to the core. Dying to these old ways, these ways that hate women and hate the body, will be part of the necessary death that will allow the RC Church to experience its own resurrection.

Alas, I don't know if the Church is ready for this kind of reform, the kind that is not happening from the outside with rebels nailing their theses on the door. Pity for them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Psalms and Sighs

So, after writing such a wonderful entry about my Rule of Life, I am endanger of breaking part of that rule that I had set up for the season of Lent: namely, that just as I had done last year, I would put up entries about the Sunday lectionary and comment on them as part of my regular blogging efforts.  Yeah, well, isn't also true that if I know the rules that gives me the leeway to bend them a little?

The psalm on Sunday, Psalm 27, and some of the ones assigned for Morning Prayer this week, have been providing me with much food for thought.  In fact, I feel stuffed and sleepy at times.  What caught my attention on Sunday were the last two verses:

What if I had not believed
that I should see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!

O tarry and await the Lord's pleasure;
be strong, and he shall comfort your heart;
wait patiently for the Lord.

These lines spoke directly to so many recent events in my long and winding and wacky journey with God.  "What if I had not believed..." is a statement that made me think, "Yeah, seriously!  What if I live staring only into the abyss, and therefore missing the good that is all around me?  What if I had not been in the conference center room in Georgia to watch a shift in policy that removed a roadblock for the LGBT faithful to live into the people God may be calling them to be (talk about a moment of seeing goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!).   What if I resisted the command to "Show up!" and remained estranged from the Episcopal Church, in general, and St. John's, in specific?

The next verse comes quickly to answer the answers I have for the above "what ifs"; the answers that I have given that acknowledge that I have seen and tasted the goodness because I followed.  And because I followed, I am beckoned to keep going.  "O tarry and await the Lord's pleasure," for me means, "Stay with this path and don't attempt to run into the woods and hide."  Next: "be strong, and he shall comfort your heart."  I think about how terrified I can be to make any move that might take me out of what I consider to be my comfort zone, and what is familiar.  And yet, I have made bold moves before: coming out as a lesbian, or leaving public radio to pursue a career as a massage therapist.  But am I able to do it again?  "Be strong... he shall comfort your heart... wait patiently for the Lord."  That last bit is the nagging reminder that I can get through all of this, but only if I stop thinking, and start listening for God (like doing centering prayer...).

I also heard God speaking to me this week during Morning Prayer.  There were actually two psalms assigned for Tuesday; we typically read only one of them.  On this day, our prayer leader skipped both of them by mistake, so I opened the book and read them to myself.  It was Psalm 62 that got me with it's repeated refrain:

For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him. 

He alone is my rock and my salvation,
so that I shall not be shaken.

If this is true of me, and I believe it is, then what needs to happen is for my brain to quit raising a ruckus of questions and doubts and allow my soul (or my heart) the stillness of silence to wait for God.   It's not that questioning isn't a good thing, but in my case it can become an endless loop that doesn't serve any other purpose but to keep me spinning in place.

What would it be to truly, really put my hope in God?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rule of Life and Letting Go

Getting into Lent means getting into shape.  Spiritual shape, that is.   And so I spent a good deal of time Thursday with my spiritual director going over what is called my "Rule of Life."

photo from

The Rule of Life is like your spiritual workout plan.   There's the section outlining your Daily Prayer life.  And the part about your Daily Study (which includes the "What are you reading" list).  And then there is the Daily Action, which in some ways, is a synthesis of the first two categories and actually taking the prayer and study and applying it in ministry to others.

We reviewed my Rule of Life from last February.  Overall, I had done pretty well.  I had met most of the basics in my plan, but there were some places that even I had noted needed improvement. The most glaring was that I haven't been centering daily the way I should, and must, if I am going to surrender my ego and trust God.

Surrendering and trusting. These are not easy for me. I was reminded of the story in the Gospels about Peter walking out onto the water. He was fine as he kept his eyes on Christ. And then the wind blew, which reminded him that he was out on the water, and he looked around and--splash!--down he went into the sea, spluttering and thrashing and hoping not to drown. Jesus, rather than berating him for being a stupid twit, lifts him to safety and returns him to the boat.

I am Peter in that story. A part of me knows full well that I need to keep my eyes on Christ, and as long as I stay focused there, I'll be fine. A part of me knows that when I look away and start to sink, God will lift me up and keep me from going under. And then there is a part of me that has no trust at all. That's the part that continues to think that Christ will laugh at my misery. This is the cruel part, the one who still attempts to pull me off the path with God.

In Morning Prayer this morning, I was reminded again of the task before me from Deuteronomy:

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.--Deuteronomy 11:26-28

This idea gets repeated later by the Deuteronomist in Chapter 30 when the blessings and curses come to life and death: choose life.  The part of me that calls into question my faith, and mocks any trust in God is the one that will lure me toward the choice that is death.  "Other gods" can be any number of other "things" that are not life affirming and will lock me back up in the prison of fear and doubt and self-loathing. 

I have lived in that prison.  And society, even the church, has fed me the gruel that allowed me to stay in that prison.  I believe this prison is the one that many LGBT people of my age have sat in as politicians and preachers invoked the name of Jesus to justify cruelty toward us.  The trauma of the experience of that prison lingers within me, even though I have long since been freed.  The task is for the more enlightened parts of my being, the ones that have known and experienced the liberation of Christ, to continually seek the blessing which is life, and make that the reality that I live in, not the one that is warped by falsehoods which attempt to negate the promise that God is Love and will be with us to the end of the age.

There is a reason the spiritual workout plan is called "Rule of Life."  Follow the rule, and you will live more than you will die.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Collision of Prayer and Politics

My email inbox was a flurry of excitement toward the end of last week.  State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a South Florida Democrat and chair of the chamber's Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, was going to schedule her bill to establish a statewide Domestic Partnership Registry for a hearing.  This would be the first time in five years the measure even gets on the docket of a committee.

Quick: call your state Senator!   Write an email!  Let's make this happen!

Domestic partnership registries are the new "in" thing for us in Florida.  After all, our state constitution bans lesbians and gays from marrying their life partners.  These registries are meant to give those who are currently considered roommates under the law something that they can have in case of an emergency hospitalization or death or imprisonment.  Not exactly the stuff that wedding dreams are made of, but we have take what we can get.

Sadly, though, we can even get a domestic partnership registry.   Too many questions about what would be the effect of this bill, given our state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and whether there are expiration dates on these domestic partnerships (I kid you not: that was a question!) all got the bill mired in the typical legislative muck that led the sponsor to table the bill. 

And the session doesn't even really begin until next month and already one of the bills we were hoping to see passed this year appears headed for the gutter.  Welcome to my world.

In leading Morning Prayer today, the words of Psalm 119 struck me as appropriate:

Remember your word to your servant, *
because you have given me hope.

Your statutes have been like songs to me *
wherever I have lived as a stranger.

Though the cords of the wicked entangle me, *
I do not forget your law.

The psalmist could have been writing for my LGBT times!  The psalm goes on...

The proud have smeared me with lies, *
but I will keep your commandments with my whole heart.

Their heart is gross and fat, *
but my delight is in your law.

So often in these past five+ years, I have taken comfort in the words of Scripture, especially the psalms.  The cry of the psalmist in 119 is like one who is living in a world of oppression and fear while keeping true to the reality that is the grace of God.  It's a difficult place to live into, this place of faith amidst a "just the facts, ma'am" world.  But it is the way that I have come to live because I feel it, deep within me, that the stupidity and cruelness of this world dominated by "the proud" will not endure until the end.  And so patiently I pray on...

The law of your mouth is dearer to me *
than thousands in gold and silver.

Amen to that.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Temptation or The Prosecution?

This morning's Gospel lesson from Luke was the one I've been waiting for!

Yeah, I know that's strange. Who really looks forward to hearing about Jesus being out in the desert, starving and thirsty, and then getting faced with the temptation to turn rocks into bread; have all the kingdoms to himself; and finally put God to the test by throwing himself from the Temple to see if the angels will *really* be there to catch him?

Answer: me (obviously). After Jesus' baptism, I was expecting we would get this story since it seems that in his spiritual autobiography, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River and then is (according to Mark, at least) immediately driven into the wilderness. That chronology works well for my brain-on-God.

Jesus' time in the wilderness is critical for him in his preparation for ministry. And after having the Spirit descend like a dove at the time of the baptism, it only seems fitting that it would quickly transform into a turbo engine that drives him to the place where he must empty himself, so that he will really come to depend upon God, and become the Son of God that was the foundation of his life.

But something struck me in listening to our New Revised Standard Version of the translation of our Bible. The one tempting Jesus in the desert was called "The Devil." Now, we all have heard of "The Devil." And, at Halloween, you'll see costumes for "The Devil." Generally, he (always a "he") has a red suit, pitchfork, a long tail, horns, and a forked tongue. He is regarded as very powerful. Some have even argued that he is a demi-God (that line of thinking is very problematic if you are a monotheist). In other words, the story seems to give us support for the existence of a being called, "The Devil."

But I don't believe that there was a real, actual character named The Devil standing before Jesus and tempting him because I think we've missed something in our translation. I think the character with Jesus is more accurately called, "Satan." Satan, in the Hebrew understanding of the word, means "obstructor, hinderer" or, even more closely, "accuser." In this sense, Satan is the prosecuting attorney, the one who is perpetually examining and looking for that area where our defenses let down, and we are broken. There is a difference between a Tempter, and an Accuser. Temptation makes me think of seduction and the effort to lure you into making the wrong choice. Accusation makes me think of something perhaps more terrifying because you are put on the defensive. An Accuser would require Jesus to justify himself. And I think that is an accurate portrayal of what is happening in this story. And the justification Jesus is providing comes from his pounding, shaping and molding my his alchemist Father. His Father has given the counsel necessary for Jesus to face this prosecution. If I were to re-imagine the dialogue between Satan and Jesus, it might sound like this:

Satan: Are you hungry, Jesus?
Jesus: Yes.
Satan: It's been said that you are the Son of God. Then you should command this stone to become a loaf of bread. Why don't you do it, since you're hungry?
Jesus: One doesn't live on bread alone.
Satan (consults his notes, continues): You are aware that there are many kingdoms in the world?
Jesus: Yes.
Satan: And you know that I have been given charge of these kingdoms of the world?
Jesus: Yes.
Satan: To have glory and authority over all the world would give you quite a lot of power. Are you willing to forego your mission, set out by your Father, in order to become my President of the Board of Trustees of All the Kingdoms of the World?
Jesus: No.
Satan: No? You don't want to have the front office suite and the best cigars and the finest wine?
Jesus: I already have a mission, and it's the best job of following The Lord my God. I am loyal to the Company of Heaven.
Satan: (pause. Looks at Jesus) You have studied the Torah?
Jesus: I have.
Satan: And you are familiar with the words of the Psalmist?
Jesus: Yes.
Satan: Then you know the words from Psalm 91: 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'
Jesus: Yes.
Satan: Then, if you know this to be true about your God, then you should be able to throw yourself from the pinnacle of the Temple, and God's angels will bear you up?
Jesus: No.
Satan: (spinning around to look Jesus squarely in the eyes) NO?
Jesus: That psalm also says, 'He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, abides under the shadow of the Almighty.' My trust is in God, and you do not put The Lord your God to the test.
Satan: (Long pause. Satan flips furiously through his notes) No further questions, your Honor.

And Jesus, having survived this trial, thanks be to God's wisdom and good counsel, will eat and drink again. Meanwhile, Satan prepares the case for the next trial, the one in Jerusalem. And that one, as we know, comes with capital punishment.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Spreading the Love

Happy Birthday to me!!

Ah, but your birthday is today... and it's almost over, you say. And I say, "No!" See, when your birthday falls this close to a weekend, well... then you have an extended fete!

So--yes--even as this is the start of Lent and those keeping with the observance are conditioned to be all depressed and droopy, I say, let the trumpets sound, the dancing commence, and welcome in the joy of life that should be what we mark on a birthday!

My way of celebrating and marking my next trip around the sun is with a party where I invite all my friends (or as many friends as I can think to invite in the hopes I'm not slighting anyone) to celebrate with me at my home and help me raise money for organizations doing good in the world.

The theme of my party is "All You Need is Love." Because I believe that is true. And love can come in so many forms, including a financial boost, because a little extra cash can help make a dream come true.

Take, for example, the Exeter Theater Company's capital campaign to purchase the IOKA Theater. The IOKA holds so many memories for me. It was the movie theater in my hometown where I saw my very first movies, including "The Sound of Music." I remember that the show was virtually sold out, and so my mom and I had to sit apart. I was something like six or seven years-old, so to sit away from my mom at a film that required an intermission to switch out the reels... well, it was a big deal. And it was like being at the stage theater. The long, heavy, velvet curtains would part when it was time for the previews or the cartoon (yes, they used to show cartoons before films when I was a kid). Our seventh grade class trooped down to the IOKA from Exeter Junior High School for a special showing of "The Elephant Man." And I'll never forget seeing "The Shining" with one of my best friends who was absolutely terrified while I just laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of "Red Rum." The IOKA has limped along, been reinvented as a night club, but really it's a theater. And a classic one. The Exeter Theater Company has embarked on a campaign to purchase the building so it can be revived as a center of art and culture, not only for my hometown, but for all the surrounding towns. I would love to see this happen. But it will take some moolah.

Art brings happiness to so many. The Mickee Faust Club has been delighting audiences for more than 25 years, and they have been doing it on virtually no money. Not an easy task now that the company has not one, but two performance spaces, in Railroad Square. The company is often breaking even with its three performances, radio shows, and video productions. A little cash infusion can help with the purchase of CDs for radio, or lights for the stage.

Other groups on my list: Amnesty International, which works diligently to free people from all kinds of prisons, both the physical and the political. They are one of the organizations providing services to those who are LGBT in Africa who face the threat of arrest, rape, imprisonment, and even death. The David Bahati "Kill the Gays bill" seems to keep coming back over and over in Uganda. So, any funds to them will be appreciated.

Finally, two groups committed to making things better now for LGBT children: the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which helps students establish Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs and PFLAG-Tallahassee, the local chapter of the national organization, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which provides a safe landing for parents and others who are struggling with their understanding of their LGBT loved ones. I was beginning to think that GSAs were fading from the landscape because of the increasing acceptance of LGBT people in the country. Then I went to the one at our largest high school, and I was stunned to see almost 40 kids in this room, and most of them were not out to their parents. So, we have traveled many miles down the road of acceptance... and there are many more miles to go. What would it be like for PFLAG-Tallahassee to have a 60-second ad that can be shown on TV?

I recognize that a lot of people don't have money to give. But how lovely is to provide food to those in need? And so, I will also be collecting canned food items (beans, soup, tuna fish), so that I can package them up and take them to one of the food banks.

It's all about Love. And acting out of love for others. Happy Valentine's Birthday to me!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes to Ashes, Part II

As promised, I am going to address the "endurance" of Ash Wednesday. For clergy, this day probably is a test of your physical strength. And your emotional strength as well. For the first time in my life of going through the Ash Wednesday ritual of the imposition of ashes, I looked my priest in the eyes... as he finished,"... and to dust you shall return." I can only imagine what it must be like to see the faces of your congregation and to say those words to them, one after another. What would it be like if you lived in a place where there was constant violence where there is a distinct possibility that you will be burying some of these people in the next six weeks? That exists now. But in places where shootings happen frequently, I imagine, it could put a different spin on things for a priest.

The imposition of ashes was a point of contention for my dear friend, the late Rev. Lee Graham. Last year, I posted his objections to Ash Wednesday, and his assertion that he "ain't dust!" Father Lee was quite adamant that the Church was doing something terribly wrong with this practice. How dare they suggest that he, or me, or anyone, was "dust." As he noted, we are more than dust; we are children of God. And for Fr. Lee, THAT carried a taller order and should give us even greater pause to consider what it means to be a child of God?

No other clergy I've spoken to about this agrees with him. Most considered it the theological argument of a man who knew his own death was coming soon enough.

But I actually think he raises a point that I hope the Church will one day really consider about its current Ash Wednesday liturgy. It's not ordered well, and it misses the point of what I believe is the real purpose of Lent: to get yourself right with God and to consider what is it that you are holding back, clinging onto for dear life as if whatever it is you're holding onto is going to give you life? That seemed to be pretty plain in the Gospel lesson from Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples not to store up their treasure on earth where it can get eaten away, but to store it in heaven. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Return to God. Put your trust and hope in God, and see what will happen to the way you view the world. And in doing this, you will also start living up to that expectation of being a child of God.

That same Gospel passage talks about the hypocrites and the people who parade their piety about for all to see instead of going into their rooms and praying in secret. Again, I think about the ashes being imposed after we've heard this message and wonder, "Did they know what they were doing when they made this choice in the ordering of the service?" Putting the ashes on our heads, and then sending us out into the world for everyone to see these ashes would seem to fly in the face of what Jesus is saying in Matthew's gospel. Perhaps, as I discussed with a priest today, the imposition should happen early in the service, BEFORE the Gospel, and then make the connection that this sign of the cross now smudged onto the forehead is not for other people's sake and for them to see you're a Christian. This is about taking up your cross and following Christ. Go into your room, aka go into yourself, and pray in secret and, as I said in the prior posting, look around to see if you are needing to pick up that room and ready it for the coming Eastertide.

I still am thinking about Fr. Lee Graham's objections to Ash Wednesday. I don't think I'll ever be able to attend the service without thinking about them. And somehow, I think wherever his soul has gone to now, it is laughing in delight that I haven't forgotten what he said to me.

For his sake, I hope in a future Book of Common Prayer there will be many more changes to the Ash Wednesday service. I hope that instead of Joel or Isaiah, we'll have a reading from Deuteronomy about "Choose Life." On a day when we are being reminded so starkly of our physical body's eventual demise, it would seem most fitting to get us thinking that we ought to "Choose Life."

Especially for these next forty days.

Ashes to Ashes, Part I

We are at the beginning of the day in which we, those Christians who observe a Holy Lent, are beckoned to come home to our selves and see what kind of a house we've built. Is it a place with windows that are clear and allow light to shine in and out? Are our closets stuffed with more than skeletons? Are there clothes that no longer fit? Shoes that hurt our feet? Is our cupboard bare? How each of us evaluates and answers these questions are entirely one-on-one with the One whom we meet on this day for the home inspection.

The Good News is that whatever isn't right in our house can be fixed, picked up, straightened out. And we've got the next 40 days to get the repairs done. But we have to be willing to see what isn't right, and then we have to do what it takes to get our place pulled together.

That, to me, is what it means to keep a Holy Lent. But first, we have to endure the day known as Ash Wednesday. I say, "endure" because I sometimes feel this day is treated like a day of woe, misery, and self-flaggellation. I will address that in my Part II of that post for this evening. In the meantime, I leave it to all of you to close your eyes, and go inside this house that you're in. And don't be afraid or ashamed to see the cobwebs and the clutter. Notice it, evaluate it, and then make the plan to clean it up.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pancakes and Prayers

It's Mardi Gras time!!  And today was my last day to indulge in lots of fatty foods before tomorrow's start of the Lenten season.  Just as with Christmas, I don't know if I'm exactly ready for Lent.  It is hitting awfully early this year.  I mean, pre-birthday Ash Wednesday?  That just seems wrong.
Or maybe it's just right.  At this point in my spiritual journey, I feel that I'm entering into some choppy waters.  It started this past weekend in Georgia, and now we're entering that season of reckoning which every year seems to yield difficult, but never fatal, lessons from which I am to pay attention and incorporate into my day-to-day existence.  Perhaps giving me a birthday at the start of this gives me at least a ray of joy as I set sail into the sea.
"Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning."  These words of the psalmist are definitely ones that reflect my past several nights into morning.  But just as true are the words later in the psalm, "You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.  Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever."
I will be interested to see what tomorrow brings.  And I will be content in my present.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Grace in Fourteen Minutes

Several of us attending Georgia's Diocesan Convention in Tifton this weekend were anxious as the delegates moved swiftly through resolutions on changing the date of their next annual church meeting to November, the budget, the suggested tithe to The Episcopal Church, parochial reports. Luckily, the morning began with the youth of the diocese giving testimony in song, story and video, about their camp experiences to keep the adults in the room grounded in what's important to their future. And I noted how many times the teenagers talked about their time at Honey Creek camp for what is called "Happening," as a period when they could be themselves and not have to pretend to be somebody they are not.

What a perfect prelude to a vote on Title IV Canon 1: Ethical Standards, also known as, "that" canon.

Back in the days when the election and consecration of Gene Robinson to the episcopate meant that all other dioceses went haywire and needed to protect themselves against maybe calling a gay person in New Hampshire to be a bishop, Georgia responded with adopting Title IV Canon 1 which read:

"Marriage between a man and a woman or abstinence from sexual activity are the only forms of acceptable sexual behavior for Deacons, Priests, or Bishops."

The intention of this canon was clear. It was a way to keep out the LGBT faithful and tell God who God was allowed to call to ordained ministry. Any gay person that God might call into "the process" would have to vow celibacy or lie and pretend to be somebody they are not. Not exactly a Happening experience, if you know what I mean.

On Friday, the delegates looked at the proposed change to the canon. There had been one more edit made in the language that was not in their prepared packets. If there's one thing Episcopalians can do, it's argue over the words and the meaning of words, so the addition definitely caught folks attention. The amended proposal read:

"Deacons, Priests, and Bishops in the Diocese of Georgia are called to be wholesome examples to the Church exhibited in the teachings and virtues of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In their personal lives, those called to chaste singleness must abstain from sexual intimacy; those not so called must manifest faithfulness, monogamy, life-long commitment, mutual caring, and healthy caring for themselves and their families. Their public lives must show financial honesty, confidentiality as required, respect of interpersonal and professional boundaries, and the avoidance of fraud, deceit, and deliberate misrepresentations."

Here endeth the proposal... Thanks be to God!

Debate swirled around what was the meaning of "monogamy." Some wanted to know why all the categorizations "financial honesty, healthy caring, etc. etc." At dinner, I was with a group of folks from Integrity Georgia. We were all wondering, "Why do they need all of this language anyway? There's a national canon on ethical behavior; why not go with that?"

Clearly, we were not the only ones having this lightbulb moment.

When the convention finally reached the point of discussing this proposed change it was 9:54AM. The rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Savannah, Rev. Sam Buice, made a motion chock full of "Whereas" clauses, all to get to the main idea:

We have a national canon. We have a Commission on Ministry. They aren't idiots. Let them follow the national canon and let's just strike this whole ethical standard and follow the one set by our Church's governing authority.

It was one of those moments where you could feel the whole room shift its collective thinking and realize that there was elegance in simplicity.

I say, "whole room," but there were detractors. Some really felt that they needed to hold onto the standard as it was currently written. There was even a motion made to delay any vote on the matter until the next convention, which would be in November 2014. That was easily defeated by a show of hands.

Back to the "strike-all and insert nothing."

A priest from Augusta went to the microphone, and called the question. Seconded. Bishop Benhase explained again what it meant to vote Yes or No. Rather than a voice vote, it was done by a show of hands. The No's had about a dozen. The Yes's were a veritable sea of phalanges. The motion to strike the whole thing, and accept the national canon was accepted. It was 10:08AM.

In fourteen minutes, the Diocese of Georgia opened its gates to those who have stood waiting on the other side. My body trembled in amazement at witnessing the event. And just as quickly as I absorbed what had just happened, I knew what I would have to do.

My spiritual director had sat between me and a priest named Gavin from Savannah. Rev. Gavin had voted No on the resolution. And I knew this development likely troubled him greatly.

"Excuse me," I said to him, "My name's Susan Gage. I know you voted No on that resolution. I just want to thank you for being here, and for voting your conscience, and" placing my hand lightly and briefly on the left lapel of his jacket, "following your heart."

"Thank you for your graciousness," he said.

"You're from Savannah?"

"Yes, St. John's in Savannah."

"I know you've gone through hell there..."

"Yes, it has been very painful."

"I'm from St. John's in Tallahassee, Florida. We've experienced that, too. So I know what you are talking about."

"Thank you."

"God's peace be with you," I concluded.

"And also with you. Thank you."

And again, grace occurring, and this time in one minute or less between two strangers who were clearly on opposite sides of the issue. My prayer is that Gavin, and the other Gavins in the Diocese of Georgia, not walk away, but continue to stay with the diocese. They, like me, are members, together, in this greater thing called The Body of Christ. And it takes all parts of the body functioning in order to propel it forward in motion.

The fact that Gavin allowed me to talk to him, I hope, is a good sign and evidence that God is working God's purpose out as year succeeds to year at least in the Diocese of Georgia.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What's A Nice Girl Like You Doing at a Diocesan Convention Like This?

My spiritual director is possibly as persistent as the Holy Spirit.

I have been working with her for a year now, and so she has observed my journey, both the ups and downs as I am living them and experiencing them in my context of a diocese that has refused to step up on the issues of LGBT inclusion. And if you are reading this blog, you know that LGBT inclusion in the Body of Christ is one of the driving forces in my life and ministry.

And so, since my SD is canonically resident in the Diocese of Georgia, she put it before me that I could come to their Diocesan convention in Tifton, and see how things are done north of the border. This was an offer, and I could have refused. But if I had, I have a feeling I would have been, how shall we say... wrong.

So, I'm here. In Tifton. With Georgia Episcopalians. And it's a hoot and a challenge!

I attended a workshop on Social Media and the Church Thursday, and got a few pointers on how to use the tools such as Facebook and Twitter (and YouTube and Instagram and Four Square...) to reach a varied population. It confirmed many things I already knew, and it taught me a few things I didn't know. That's what workshops are for, right?

Thursday night, I went to Evening Prayer at St. Anne's in Tifton. It was a beautifully simple service with a great sermon that set the tone on mission and, to borrow the wisdom of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, taught the congregation how to see beyond oneself, so that we can be "a community, not a crowd." Mission is the theme for this conference. Living out one's Christianity beyond the walls of the church and what that looks like is the thread throughout the presentations. And it's being done with seriousness and wonkiness, with plenty of silliness and fun videos to keep you from falling asleep.

There is good news and bad news at the Georgia Convention. The bad news is what many churches across the country already know: people aren't coming to church or pledging the way they did back in the days of President Eisenhower and the novelty of owning a television set. The world has changed... a lot! Even in Georgia. But the good news is that the diocesan bishop and staff believe that the people in Georgia are ready for change. And that includes changing the diocesan canon that prohibits LGBT people from being allowed to pursue a call to ordained ministry.

Bishop Scott Benhase, who has taken it on the chin from some of the progressives in the church for his less-than-outstanding adaptation of the approved same-sex blessing rite, has spent time vetting the idea to change the ethical standards for those entering the discernment process so that an LGBT candidate COULD be considered for ordained ministry. There was a listening tour. There were meetings. And ultimately, there is now a resolution up for a vote at this convention.

Predictably, there were those... many from Savannah... who are not happy about this proposed change and what it could (and does) mean. Savannah, you might recall, has had its share of ugly with the hijacking of Christ Church Cathedral, and schism and squatters and lawsuits. Their pain is very similar to the trauma that places like my beloved St. John's experienced with "the split." There were also many people, straight couples, who voiced their support for the change.

But if one listens to the Bishop, he is challenging them to open their hearts a little wider. In his opening address, he noted that there are still places in the diocese where petty bickering still exists.

"This sucks the life out of mission," he noted. "Let's get over this stuff and move ahead."

The bishop took this plea up a notch in his sermon at the Eucharist last night. He issued what he called his own "altar call" to the assembled congregation. But this wasn't like your Baptist idea of come to the front of the church, and renounce all your wicked ways, and accept Jesus as your personal, carry-around-in-your-pocket, Lord and Savior. This was an Episcopal altar call. And so when we were to come to the rail, we were to think on what are the "things" we are clinging to that are weighing us down. And then we are to put those down at the rail, and leave them there.
Bishop Benhase went further at the time of the offertory. He called on us to reconcile ourselves to anyone whom we are having a dispute, and then, and only then, come to receive the body and blood of Christ.

For the LGBT faithful in the room, his message could not have been any more clear if you consider the resolution from their perspective.

For this LGBT person of faith, his message could not have been any more difficult to absorb.

For me, the Bishop's challenge was intensely personal when I consider my own path. Because what I have to consider is whether I will be willing to give up Florida, give up the idea that I can ever be called to ordained ministry in Florida. I have been hearing the words of Isaiah in my ears for several weeks now: "The Spirit of The Lord is upon me." I think She is. And I think the Spirit is poking at me harder and harder.

At St. Anne's, there is an icon of Jesus in the sanctuary. That icon was in my line of sight at Evening Prayer, staring at me over the Baptismal font. There is also Jesus on the crucifix behind the altar. But their Christ is not a Corpus Christi. He is a living Christ, arms open to the world. And that Christ was in my line of vision when I went to receive the Eucharist. And due to the crowd, I was left there at the rail for a long time to consider, as I consumed the Body of Christ, the question: will I lay down Florida to follow Christ?

People have asked me what I'm doing here. I'm being disturbed.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Love and Suspension of Disbelief

The diviners of the Episcopal Church lectionary have cobbled together a curious group of readings: the beginnings of Jeremiah the prophet; the famous passage from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians that so often gets used at marriage blessings; and finally, Jesus teaching in the synagogue to a crowd, who are at first amazed, and then so royally ticked off that they nearly hurl him off a cliff.

My favorite part of that Gospel story is the last line: "But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way." That reminds me of the Mickee Faust parody of 1940s radio plays, "Jake Ratchett: Short Detective," in which our diminutive hero is surrounded by an all-girl gang with their guns aimed at his head. He gets away by simply stating, "I escaped that time!" No other explanation needed. The audience laughs at the absurdity of it all, and suspends disbelief in order to allow Jake to get away. I suppose we are to do the same with Jesus.

Suspension of disbelief, in theater, means that the audience must pretend that physical or time and space improbabilities aren't important enough to dwell upon. The audience accepts whatever world it is that the actors and actresses and the technical designers have created. This fantasy then becomes the reality. In some respect, I think to have faith requires a willingness to let go of critical analysis and acknowledge the unbelievable as totally believable.

It takes faith, and the suspension of disbelief, to be willing to accept that God would speak to one such as Jeremiah, who argues that he is not the best candidate to be the bearer of God's word as a prophet. Jeremiah himself says, "Ah, Lord God, truly I do not know how to speak for I am only a boy." But in God's reality, Jeremiah is exactly the one to be a prophet. After all, God knew him before he was in the womb, and consecrated him before he was born. And so God puts the words into Jeremiah's mouth, giving him the power to "pluck up and pull down; destroy and overthrow; to build and to plant." It isn't often these days that God places finger tips to lips to give people the words to say what needs to be said. At least, we don't, in our very rational and reasoned minds, believe that God gives us the words to say.

The night my father told me he wanted to die, I remember that he was in such terrible pain and he couldn't articulate to me what was happening. I struggled mightily to understand him, but his mouth and tongue just couldn't form the words in a language I could recognize. Now, I was not going to church in these days, nor did I pay much attention to God at all. But in desperation, I looked up at the ceiling, tears streaming down my cheeks, and begged God for help. It was then that I had the realization that what I needed to do was instruct my father to breathe out each word, one at a time, so I could get what he was saying. I gave my dad these instructions, and he spoke plainly, and clearly, to say, "I. Want. Outta. Here." I double-checked that I understood what he'd just said, and wanted to clarify if he meant out of his assisted living home, or out of the whole she-bang.

"Whole. She. Bang!"

Difficult as that conversation was to have with my father, it was also a moment of deep and abiding love made possible by the wisdom of God. I could claim that I thought of this idea to get my dad to breathe out each word, but it really wasn't my idea. The reality was, I didn't know what to do. The faith element was that I sought God's intervention into that moment to make communication possible.

When St. Paul talks about love being patient and kind, the love he is speaking of is not an emotion. It is God. God who is also known as Love. The Love that bears all things and believes all things and can make things happen in those moments when we just don't have the ability to speak words of wisdom. This is the Love that casts out fear to bring about peace and acceptance in a conversation between a dying parent and a child.

This is the same Love that was on the lips of Jesus when he riled up the crowd in the synagogue. He had just wowed them with his teaching on the prophet Isaiah by telling them that the prophesy he'd just read was fulfilled by them hearing it. They were enthralled, but then he told them the things they didn't want to hear: that Israel has had many widows and lepers amidst its people, but the ones to whom the prophets Elijah and Elisha tended to and visited were not Jews; they were Gentiles. This enraged the crowd, who were fuming at the idea that they were not as deserving of the great prophets' attention as the Gentiles. Were they not the loved ones of Love?

Yes, they were. But Love is not envious or boastful or rude. We might also extend this idea to mean that Love is not exclusive or limited to a single group. And in this case, speaking in Love means telling the truth about those whom the Israelites saw as "others." There are no boundaries when we are talking about the Love that endures all things. Because that Love is the reflection of God's very inclusive reality.

Our task is to enter into that reality, not just as audience members, but as actors and actresses in the play, and be willing to suspend...or even give up... our disbelief. That's when God's reality becomes our reality, too.

Mississippi Goddam? No, Damn Good!

The title of this post may be a bit off-putting unless you know the music of Nina Simone. The artist sang with power and purpose her anger with the state of Mississippi and its deplorable treatment of blacks during the civil rights struggle. Her feelings were justified. They were painful, and understandable.

Mississippi is not one of the nation's progressive leaders. I bear a personal grudge against the state after a trooper pulled his gun on me when he stopped my friend along I-10. Granted, I should never have attempted to approach the man to ask a question, but I was also unarmed. Never was I happier to get over the border into Alabama. And THAT is saying something!

All of this to say that when I saw the headline from Episcopal Cafe that Bishop Duncan Gray of Mississippi announced he would allow the use of the Same-sex Blessing liturgy in his diocese, I was floored. +Gray had voted against the resolution in the House of Bishops. He wrote a long letter to the diocese explaining why he voted the way he did, and emphasized that there would be no blessings there. So, to see that as they meet in their Diocesan Council, he announced he had had a change of heart was.... well, I'm dumbstruck.

The Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray started by announcing that he is seeking a bishop coadjutor. That's the usual step someone takes when they want to retire and pass the reigns of leadership onto another person who learns the ropes with the sitting bishop. Then he told the Diocesan Council, he's prepared to allow clergy and churches to make use of the new rite if they so choose. In a Twitter message, CJ Meaders wrote:"I have chosen to take this step so that the deep emotion can be born by me and not at the outset of new episcopacy" B. Gray

And all I can say is, "Well done, good and faithful servant." I am truly heartened when one who was opposed to the liturgy rite doesn't stop listening and wrestling with the Holy Spirit. And that is what I believe is going on with many of these bishops.

Needless to say, it is a reminder again of Florida's Pharaoh-like stance on this issue. Our diocesan convention came and went last weekend in apparently record time. We celebrated 175 years in high-fashion with pageantry and dinner parties. But when it came to the brass tacks of doing the work that God is calling us to do, it seems that the only concern was for the pension of retired clergy with no discussion or debate of any of the other developments from General Convention... especially the rite for same-sex blessings. That is very disappointing. I've heard that part of the issue for Florida is that during the earlier part of this century, the diocesan conventions were highly contentious and combative affairs. There was an effort afoot to take Florida out of the Episcopal Church, the same way Pittsburgh and others took off.

But all of that was almost a decade ago. And there isn't the same atmosphere any more. Still, the trauma seems to have trapped some into a loop that needs to be short-circuited so that they, and the rest of this diocese, can move forward in Love.

Perhaps Mississippi can serve as an example of hope for those still hiding in the shadows of their fears.

Friday, February 1, 2013

On Forty-Niners, Boy Scouts, and the Bible

Man, what a week this has been!

There was much made of the Boy Scouts of America's announcement that they are preparing to vote on a resolution to drop their across-the-board ban on LGBT members and scout masters. Phone calls, and emails, and petitions on Facebook. The BSA has been so ardent in their opposition to gays that you've had former Eagle Scouts returning their badges and corporate sponsors closing their wallets. So, for the BSA to say, "Well, let's vote on this policy," seems like a huge step forward.

Until you realize that the fine print allows for discrimination to continue on the local level. Perhaps this is to appease another one of the major supporters of the BSA, the Southern Baptist Convention, who were none to pleased to hear of the new, more inclusive development. "Do this, " the SBC said, "and churches will withdraw their willingness to host and support Boy Scout troops." And so, even if the BSA adopts a non-discrimination policy at the national level, local troops don't need to comply. Some probably will. But then there will be those that won't, and more young boys and men will have to choose: camaraderie and camping or being true to one's self? Not a good choice, in my opinion.

Speaking of bad choices, the San Francisco 49ers have managed a couple of public relations fumbles with the gay community leading up to the Super Bowl. It started with defensive back Chris Culliver telling a radio shock jock that he don't "do no gay guys." This was in response to questions about sex and the Super Bowl. Culliver went on to say that there aren't any gay players on the 49ers, and that he wouldn't feel comfortable in the locker room with a gay teammate. The team owners and management quickly tackled this situation, the coach had a sit down with Culliver, and the second-year player apologized to the fan base, saying that his remarks didn't reflect what was really in his heart and that he loves San Francisco, which has a very large gay population.

But then, it just got worse when two other players, Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga, denied that they'd been involved in the team's "It Gets Better" video, aimed at LGBT youth who are bullied and harassed. Brooks said he thought the video was anti-bullying and wasn't a "gay video." Sopoaga, apparently, believes somebody stole his likeness and is disavowing his participation. The message: we'll stick up for kids... just not gay kids, even though we play on the team that represents one of the gay meccas in the United States.

For the 49ers, this is horrible publicity, especially as they face the Baltimore Ravens, a franchise that, at the beginning of the season, came to the defense of one of its players, Brendan Ayanbadejo, who is a straight ally working with Marylanders for Equality when a Maryland legislator wanted to silence Ayanbadejo for speaking out on marriage equality. It also resulted in Dan Savage, the founder of the "It Gets Better" viral video campaign, sacking the 49ers offering on his website. We might as well throw a flag, give them a loss of down, and back them up to their own goal line while we're at it.

And so now you ask, "Where's the Bible in all of this?" For me, there are a couple of things that come to mind. There's the story at the end of Genesis of Joseph and his brothers. After all the rotten stuff the brothers did to Joseph, it is this youngest, the dreamer, who emerges as a powerful right-hand man in Egypt, and ultimately saves his brothers and his people from a famine. When his identity is revealed, and the brothers fear retribution for their evil deeds, Joseph tells them that what they had meant for evil, God has used for good. This is a biblical theme that comes up again and again. And it reminds me that for every idiotic, boneheaded, and terrible thing the Boy Scouts, a football team, or anybody else does to disrespect the dignity of LGBT people, it's their shortcomings that will bring them up short in the end. Love will not be denied.

I also think people such as Culliver, Brooks, Sopoaga, and any number of Southern Baptists might want to go study the words in the Fourth Chapter of the First Letter of John, especially verse 20: 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.

This is in keeping with what Jesus says in the Gospels repeatedly and in many different ways: we are to love each other, look out for one another, and there are NO exceptions to that rule. Denouncing your participation in a video, and advocating for the exclusion of gays from sports and scouting are anti-Christ positions. There's just no way for me to sugar-coat that one.

You want to be righteous? Stop bashing the LGBT community and let us be your brothers and sisters.