Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter 2013

He is risen, and I'm half-dead!

I have served as a Eucharistic Minister at Maundy Thursday, read the Passion Gospel at Good Friday, read the story of Israel's Deliverance through the Red Sea at the Easter Vigil Saturday night, and this morning, I was baptized into the role of Verger at our 11:15 service which had an overflow crowd.  Note: Easter services bring out all the people who don't normally attend; hence, directing traffic at the rail becomes a little more of an exercise.  I survived, and that's all I'm saying.

All of this while thinking about my mom, the Anonymous Peggins, who is spending her Easter in the hospital, recovering from a stroke that has, literally, left her speechless.  I am carrying with me a couple of the Holy Week services from St. John's, so she can hear some beautiful music, and hear the story of who we are as people who see God through Christ. 

My brother knew that all was not right with my mom when she wasn't sitting at the kitchen table doing the morning daily office Wednesday morning.  That was his cue to go look for her in her bedroom.  And that's when he saw all was not well, and called 9-1-1.

I'm so pleased that she is doing this practice, Morning Prayer, a pattern she learned from me and my journey.  She likes to read the Scripture, and will sometimes ask me questions about it.  Usually the questions are, "Why is the Old Testament so violent?  Why is the Old Testament God so mean?" 

These questions are not dissimilar to what others much younger than my mom have asked.  And I often give the same answer: "What makes you think that God approves of the violence?  Don't you think that this is the interpretation of a people who are using God to justify and explain why they get to inhabit a land?"

Even though the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from oppression in Egypt reads like a condemnation of the Egyptians, my own interpretation is not so much that God *hates* the Egyptians and loves the Israelites; rather, I think that God hates oppression and delivers people to freedom.   This is the consistent act of God as can be seen through the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross.  Christ took with him all of our hatred, our bitterness, our unwilllingness to love unconditionally, and he let it die with him on the cross.  I got a glimpse of that this year when I did the reflection on that scene where Mary, his mother, and John, his beloved disciple, are joined together by his say so from the cross.  Two strangers are thrown into relationship because of the love he has for each.  And then, they extend that love to one another.  This is the mission of all Christians.  We aren't supposed to have a litmus test for our neighbors.  We are to love unconditionally.

I am hoping that the Anonymous Peggins will bounce back, or, at the very least recover some of her ability to speak.  She has much to share, I know.  Not the least of which is the phrase, "Alleluia! He is risen!"

Friday, March 29, 2013

Gethsemane Watch, Black Madonna and Moses

There is a Marian window in the St. John's chapel that has caught my attention for the past few days during Morning Prayer. Due to the time change, the window,when we start the service, is very dark and as the service progresses, it becomes lighter until we see all of Mary's very Aryan features, according to the artist of this stained-glass window.

But, when the sun is down, and the glass isn't illumined, you can still discern Mary's figure, but she is black. Like a Black Madonna. It's interesting.

And very provocative, especially on this evening of the annual Gethsemane watch in the chapel. She may very well have been the one nudging me to put my nose where it probably didn't belong, and yet had to be put.

There was a man at the watch who had, apparently, been there for a few hours already. Our security guard had been alerted to this man's presence. He was a 6-foot-three-inch dark-skinned black man in blue jeans and a baseball cap. When I came in to start my time, he was on the floor, knelt over the piano bench in the chapel. The guard, who I will share is also a black man, had let me know that he was keeping his eye on this guy. When I saw who it was, I recognized him.

An advantage of being a Eucharistic Minister during the weekday services is that you get to see some characters at this large downtown church that the usual Sunday suspects NEVER see. In this case, I recognized this figure folded over the piano bench as the guy who has been coming to noon day Eucharists on Fridays. He never says a word, and always stays behind in the chapel praying long since the time that the service has ended. He doesn't make eye contact or, if he does, it's fleeting. At any rate, I told the officer I was OK with this guy being there, and I went in and did my hour or so of sitting, journaling, and otherwise, remaining present with God at this daunting hour.

But I became aware that the officer had roused our praying man, and ordered him to get moving. His crime was sleeping in the chapel.

Or was it that his presence had made some uncomfortable?

Or was it a combination of both?

I came upon the officer and the man outside the doors of the chapel in the church breezeway. I looked at the man.

"Good evening," I said.

"Good evening," he returned.

The officer ordered me to keep moving, that he was handling this. And so I did. But I felt that I needed to stick around. I couldn't leave this poor guy to fend for himself. I had a sense that the darkness of his skin, coupled with his dress and his unorthodox method of keeping the watch, were all working against him in this situation. And I couldn't bear it. I recalled a dream I'd had some years back in which a room full of white congregants and bishops were up-in-arms at the presence of a dark-skinned black man and ordered him to leave. Later, in that same dream, I stated something about the people who "had thrown God out of the church," a reference to the expulsion of the black man.

As the two men made their way down the ramp toward where I'd stopped, I asked the officer, what is his crime?

There was no crime. It was that some people were uncomfortable. The man attempted to defend himself, but the officer kept telling him to be quiet because he was talking to me. When the man kept insisting that he hadn't done anything wrong, that's when the officer pulled out the handcuffs. Game over. The man was going to jail.

I watched the officer take the man across the street to the cruiser. He called into the Sheriff's Department and verified that the man was not a criminal. No record of any kind. I was pacing back and forth across the street from them.

"What's on your mind, ma'am?" the officer said.

"Look, officer, I don't want to interfere with your job, but who are the people complaining about this man?"

Women, mostly. Women who were intimidated by his being on his knees under the piano. People questioning whether he was praying or was he just sleeping?

Not stated: he's a dark-skinned black man and this is a predominantly white congregation and we don't know him because he doesn't regularly attend one of the Sunday services.

"Officer, I've seen this guy before. He's a little strange, but he's not a threat. I will vouch for him."

The officer gave me a sideways glance. "What's your name?"

"I'm Susan Gage, and I will vouch for him. What's his name?"


"Do you want me to speak to him?" The officer, a bit wearied from this whole exchange, agreed to let me talk to him. He got him out of the back of the cruiser and we all stood in the eastbound lane of Call Street.

"Moses, listen. I don't want you to go to jail when you came here tonight to pray." He insisted again with the officer that he was praying, not sleeping. He was on the piano bench because he doesn't want to be around any other people when he's praying. That was all consistent with his behavior at noon day. He often would be far in the back, would take Eucharist, and then find a spot at the end of the service where he could sit away from any hub bub to continue praying.

"Moses, can you take a seat on a bench or in a chair. I think there's a perception issue here and maybe if you sat upright, it would be better."

He agreed. He then apologized to the officer. As the deputy unlocked the handcuffs, I said, "Well, I'm glad to finally learn your name!"

He smiled. "Thank you, Pastor Gage."

I didn't bother to tell him that I am not deemed worthy of such a title in this Episcopal diocese. He went back inside, agreeing that he would do those things which would keep people from getting the "wrong idea" about why he was there.

Personally, if he was sleeping, so what? It would be an illustration of what those beloved disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane while their friend was preparing to meet his brutal end.

As the sun rises, and the light streams through that Mary window, I hope our Lord's mother will release more light into the consciousness of the congregants at St. John's. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Seeking Prayers for A PFLAG Mom

My mom, Peggy, has suffered a massive stroke.  My brother, who lives with her, found my mom yesterday morning, not moving and not making any sense, lying on her right-side in her bed.  He called 9-1-1, and, because my hometown is small, they arrived within minutes.

The stroke was on her left-side of her brain; hence she is unable to speak.  But there is evidence that Peggy is still in the body because she is wagging her finger at the doctors, and is able to follow a nurse's instructions to squeeze his hand.  My two brothers, who live in New Hampshire, are on top of things.  But still, I am going to go home Easter afternoon to be with her, and them, and help in making some of the decisions that we'll have to make about the next step.

In the meantime, I please ask that you all hold Peggy (or more formerly Margaret) Gage in your prayers.  My mom is a fighter.  That's what made her one of the outstanding parents in PFLAG.  She loves all her children, and won't let anyone smack us down.  In turn, we love her, and we will be advocates for her health care.

Dear God, the giver and sustainer of all life, wrap Peggy up in your love and give her strength and will to live.  Grant her doctors, nurses and medical team wisdom and skill to treat her with accuracy, speed and care.  Surround our family in the circle of your light and love and pull us together to follow, to question, and to act in ways that reflect your love for Peggy.  I ask this in full trust in your Holy Name.  Amen.

Monday, March 25, 2013

On the Eve of History... During Some High Holy Times

Tonight marks the start of Passover, the ritual celebration of the Israelites escaping Egypt. Meanwhile, Christians are making the slow trek to the cross with Jesus in hopes of the Resurrection on Sunday.
Both stories have a common theme: the deliverance from bondage to freedom, from sin and death to hope and eternal life.

What a providentially important time, then, for the United States Supreme Court to be hearing the oral arguments in two marriage equality cases.  One seeks to uphold the Ninth Circuit's ruling that California's Proposition Eight is unconstitutional.  The other is a challenge to the constitionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Depending on how the high court rules on these two issues, this could be a watershed moment where the LGBT community is finally made full citizens in this country that has a hodge-podge of laws where we have protections in some jurisdictions, but not in others.  Our relationships are validated... if we live in one of the nine states with marriage equality or the District of Columbia.  It's an awful place to be.

At the Passover Seder, the youngest child is typically asked the question, "Why is this night different from all other nights?"  As I meditate on that question in our modern times, and in this current context, my answer would be:

We were slaves to a world consumed with fear and loathing of our people, but the Eternal God has told us to not be afraid, and trust that God will work out God's purpose, and will always free the captives, and break the bonds of oppression.  Trust and belive in it.

No matter what happens in June with the United States Supreme Court, the cases we are putting before them tomorrow are our plea for justice.  And it will come.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beware of Holy Weak(ness)

This sign out on Miccosukee Road caught my attention. Something about the word "Church" on a caution sign fits with many of the things that have been brewing in my mind lately.

For many of us in the LGBT community, the Church is something that does cause a sense of "Be careful!" or "Beware!" Bad things have happened to gay people at the hands of those in the Church or Church leadership. Those who hold tightly to their steadfast belief that there are seven verses of Scripture that call for my damnation into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth have been the ones holding the megaphone and representing "The Church."

Lots of others have also felt beaten up by those who call themselves, "The Church." Recently, my mentor posted an excellent video of our Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop answering a question about whether one must believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah in order to get to God.

I approve of the applause she receives at the end of this video clip. I was also applauding, nodding in affirmation, and loving the fact that this woman is the titular head of the church I belong to and was raised in from my childhood. My people: they use their brains and can understand that the one God is a God for many and that one God will use any means necessary to call us into relationship... whether it is through Jesus Christ, or in journeying with Moses out of Egypt, or sitting under the tree with Siddhartha.  This recognizes that we are a pluralistic society, and that no one tradition has a firm grasp on all that is God.

Unfortunately, this is not a viewpoint shared by all who call themselves, "The Church."  I have been distressed to find that, even within my world of the Episcopal Church as practiced in North Florida,  not everyone is of one mind on this.  I have come across more people who say the word, "Pluralism" with almost a hiss of disapproval in their voices.  And there are those who watch this video and say that the Presiding Bishop is being deceived by Satan.   Afterall, Jesus IS the way, the truth, the life...

It distresses me to see how "The Church" can be such a bully for Christ.  Certainly, this isn't the way I see Jesus teaching those who would follow him how they are to behave.  Sure, he rebukes people and kicks over tables.  But that is when someone or a group of someones have said or done something that deserves a good tongue-lashing.  Gay people who, if they are in the church, are contributing to its ministries are hardly deserving of being told they are going to Hell for being who they were created by God to be.   A sexual orientation and our ability to express ourselves sexually are gifts from God.  When they are regarded as gifts, then there is no need to feel guilty or ashamed of our orientations or our ability to express ourselves sexually.  So, why in the world do some feel that they can wag a finger in the face of a gay person and scream, "Repent!"?  And can they really see the person they are screaming at through that log that is in their own eye?

The same is true for those who claim that the only path to God is through Christ.  Jesus was never about promoting himself.  Jesus was on a sole mission of bringing mercy to the masses by letting them know that kingdom of God is at hand.  Love one another as I have loved you, he said.  So how are we exhibiting that love when we tell a Jew they are going to Hell?   Or if we spend an inordinate amount of time spinning our wheels over questions of why some other religious traditions don't do the same practices we do in Christianity?  Worrying so much about who is "saved" is a great way, in my opinion, to avoid paying attention to our own spiritual lives and maintaining our own relationship with God through whatever means gets us to more Light and Love.

What does any of this have to do with Holy Week or, as I put it in the title of this post, Holy Weakness?  This is the time when we, of the Christian faith, mark Jesus' long, slow, walk toward his final showdown with humanity, his death upon the cross, and his ultimate victory in the resurrection.  This is the time when Jesus is the most alone and is standing in the corner of all those who have ever felt the sting of rejection by those who call themselves, "The Church."  As we experience this week of a most difficult trek by Christ into Jerusalem, maybe now is the time to ask ourselves how we are behaving toward others as "The Church"?   Have we grown so weak in our faith in a God who can lower mountains and lift up valleys that we think we must insist that our way is the way?  The very thing that gives Jesus strength comes at the point when he is most vulnerable.  As he is dying, he is repeating the words of Psalm 22.  He releases his spirit to God, and dies, only to come back bigger and brighter on the third day.  I believe it takes that level of vulnerability to get a clearer picture of this God whom we worship through Jesus Christ.  The more we can let go of this thinking that says, "I know who's in and who's out of God's kingdom; who is right and who is wrong," the better off we'll all be.  And perhaps then the Church won't be nearly as scary for people to approach.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"I Am About To Do A New Thing"

I had thought I was going to be good about blogging on the weekly lessons during Lent.  It was a wonderful goal, but I have found that I have been lagging in zeal.  But there is something in this phrase, pulled from the Isaiah reading assigned for this morning, which seems in keeping with my overrall experience as of late.

"Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"

These two lines from Scripture seem so hauntingly perfect as I think about all the recent developments in my fair city and the nations of the world in regard to LGBT rights.  We are increasingly moving into a period of greater understanding and acceptance of gay people, and the forces that have attempted to hold us back are realizing that they are losing ground.  And they are angry.  They are frustrated.  They are thrashing.  But they will not prevail.

Many people have expressed concerns to me about the potential backfiring of the marriage equality cases going before the United States Supreme Court in just over a week.  This is not the ideal court to be hearing these challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.  It is far too conservative.  It is the court of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. 

I understand that concern.  A part of me privately harbors the fear that the justices will come out with a ruling that keeps us for another generation in the closet.  But even if the Supreme Court should rule against us, I am undaunted in my belief that God remains with us.  And the Holy Spirit will keep pushing against the obstacles that stand in the way of light entering the world through the love that is shared between people of the same-sex as well as opposite-sex.  And, if we should be victorious, I have seen how those who are against equal rights for all citizens will reformulate and gather a storm, either to come at LGBT people from another direction, or moving on to suppress the rights and freedoms of another group perceived to be weak.  They can try.  They will not ultimatley succeed.

When Jesus notes in the Gospel lesson of John today that we will always have the poor among us, but we will not always have Him, I think that "poor" can be interpreted not just as the state of having no money.  It is also the poor in judgment or the poor in faith or the poor in heart.  There will always be those who, out of their own poverty of spirit, will attempt to keep others in their so-called "place."  And the Spirit will always unshackle the ones kept prisoner, and release them out into the world to increase the presence of light. 

To my LGBT brothers and sisters, and our allies: let us anoint ourselves, and die to the belief that we are captives of a society opposed to our version of Love.  And let us keep lighting the way to justice.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Last Minute Assignment: Done!

I am typically too busy at work to take part in any of my church's Wednesday night programs. But tonight, there was an emergency. This evening's offering was a short introduction into the reflective mode of the Stations of the Cross. Rather than have the clergy do most of the leading, they enlisted the help of the laity in developing a reflection for the seven stations they were highlighting.

I was asked if I would do one of them. I checked my schedule and realized that, while I could do it, I'd be arriving almost at the start of the program, and figured it would be best if I not risk being late.

No problem, said the priest. A member of the youth group had stepped up, and so all was good.

Did I mention this was a youth?

Did I mention that the youth are, sometimes, not the most reliable?

Monday, a message arrived from the priest via Facebook.

"HELP!!!" The youth had dropped out, and the priest really, really, really needed me to step back in. Even if I got there at 6:30pm, that would be fine. Please, please, please--would I help?

Yes, of course. So here's what I put together last night for our reflection on Jesus' death.

Jesus Dies on the Cross

V:We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
R:Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

From the Gospel of John:
When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And when Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished!" And then, crying with a loud voice, he said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." And he bowed his head, and handed over his spirit.

From the cross, Christ looks down and sees his mother, brokenhearted and mourning, and the disciple whom he loved, the only one of his male friends to remain with him until the end. He commands his mother to regard John, the beloved disciple, as if he was one from her own womb:” Woman, behold your son!” Then he turns to John and says, “Behold your mother!” Two people whose only common bond is Christ must now regard each other as family. This is the work that continues for us today: to see each other as mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, all part of the human family and the body of Christ. The cancer that attacks the cells of that body is when we fail to recognize the spirit of God in others. That’s when we withdraw to a place of fear of other people because of who they are, what they look like or what they believe. Christ’s work is finished when he draws two strangers together through his death upon the cross, and thus strengthens the bond of the human family. Our work becomes like his when we resist the fear of others to extend our hands in Love to the brothers and sisters whom we have seen.

V. Christ for us became obedient unto death:
R. Even death on a cross.

(priest)Let us pray. (Silence)
O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; who lives and reigns now and for ever. Amen

Slices of Bread: Domestic Partnership Registry

It was a good day if you are a Leon County resident.

Our County Commission, by a 7-0 vote, agreed to start a countywide Domestic Partnership Registry. It will go into effect on May 1st and it means that couples, both gay and straights who decide not to get married, can pay $50 to register as Domestic Partners. The DPR will guarantee that if your partner gets sick, you can be treated like a spouse and given access to them. It also means that if your partner ends up in jail, you can visit them. And if your partner dies, no one can deny your right to make decisions with regard to the funeral and disposition of the body.

Number of civil rights guaranteed under the DPR: seven. That leaves us 1,131 civil rights short of a full loaf.

Florida is still a long ways a way from treating its LGBT citizens with the dignity that we deserve. While we give standing ovations and extended applause for the right to be with our loved ones in the hospital, the jailhouse, or at their casket, other states are galloping forward in the race to approve marriage equality.

The dominoes are falling on this matter, and the time will come when all will be afforded the same rights under the law, even in Florida. For now, we in Leon County can rejoice that our little pocket in the Sunshine State is seeing more partly sunny skies than those places that are still overcast.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Prodigal Queer

Rembrandt's "Prodigal Son"
I don't think I will ever be able to hear Luke's Parable of the Prodigal Son, and not think of my father. 

It was probably one of the more unusual Scriptural choices for a funeral, but it was the most fitting Gospel lesson to tell the story of my dad and his treatment of all his children.  Because we have all been misfits, to one degree or another, who often brought home with us other waifs and misfits. And my dad, the lawyer, judge and former Navy officer, loved each of us through and through.

And so, I pricked up my ears when I heard the priest begin the Gospel lesson.   It didn't take long before I found myself engaging this story in a new way that certainly recalled my father, and was now striking me in another unexpected understanding.

The story begins with those who were Jesus' critics doing what they always seem to be doing: kvetching about what Jesus is saying or who is cavorting with or with whom is he sharing a meal?  Jesus is always hanging out with "the wrong crowd," according to these naysayers.  And so he begins to tell the parable of the Prodigal Son:

"There was a man who had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.  A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

I'm going to interrupt the narrative here.  As I considered the younger son, I thought, "What if this were a 'coming out' situation?"  The younger son, living in a small town where everybody is in everybody's business, has finally come to terms with his sexual orientation and he knows he cannot stay here or he will be miserable and alone.  He goes to his father and announces he's moving out, but he is too afraid to tell dad why.  Dad, hurt that his youngest son cannot and will not stay, gives him the portion that wasn't due to him until dad passes away.  And the son, determined to go somewhere where he can finally be himself, sets off on his own. 

DJ: pull up Bronkski Beat's "Smalltown Boy" and let's go on with the story...

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."

The younger son has had a blast.  He's found the gay bars in the big city. He's found love in all the right places.  Life seems good. But he is still incomplete.  He has lost touch with his father, for whom he felt great affection.  He doesn't call home because he can't reconcile his gay self with what he believes are the values of his family living in the small town.  He feels the loss, and it is a pain deep within him that prevents him from feeling true joy.  Terrified, he knows he must go home, and face his father to make the most difficult declaration he can imagine: "Dad, I'm gay.  Can you still love me?" 

'So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;  for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

The young son arrives, trembling at the gate.  But before he knows it, his dad, who has been waiting on the front porch, springs to his feet and comes running down the driveway like a lumbering black lab, excited to see the son whom he has waited to see again for the past three years.  The son, in a panic, blurts out, "Dad, I'm gay. Can you still love me?"
The father, without pausing for a moment, responds with glee, "Oh, son!  I knew that! And now you've come home!  I can't wait to tell the neighbors!  Let's raise a drink, you and me, and toast to you finally accepting yourself and letting me back into your life!"  Then he whips out his cell phone and calls his best friends.
"He's home!  My son has come out and he's home!"

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'

I'll pause us here.  As I listened to the Gospel on Sunday, this part of the story led me back to the now famous panel two weeks ago, and the Baptist preacher who sat at the opposite end of the row of chairs from me... and represented the viewpoint that was definitively my anti-gay opposition. If memory serves me from the experience, I believe he said he has a brother who is gay, or, at any rate, he has a "relative" who is gay.  Thus, for him to maintain a position that denies equal rights to LGBT people is, for lack of a better word, sad.
In this next scene from the Prodigal Son story, the elder son, who has kept with all the values of small town and been a good son to the father has learned from a neighbor, who is on her way to the party that his younger brother has 'come out' and come home.  The neighbor, full of the infectious love modeled by the father, smiles and says, "Isn't it great?!" 
For the elder, straight son, the answer is, "No! It is not great."

Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'

This is what I imagine life must be like for those who are in the church and deny the rightness of the presence of the LGBT faithful be in the church with them.  They cannot accept the idea that the LGBT people should be able to have access to all the same sacraments, and have all the same rights and benefits that exist for all Americans.  They've been living and playing by the rules of small town all of their lives, abiding by laws and doctrine which specifically ban people of "that kind" from being treated with the dignity afforded to all human beings. 
In the story, it seems the elder believes that dad has changed the rules.  He actually accepts his gay son, and doesn't just merely tolerate him; he's excited to see this queer son.  "You never get this excited to see me! Me, the straight son!  Remember me?!"

Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

And this really is the answer I believe God gives to those who object to the LGBT community. "Nothing has been taken away from you," the father says.  "Don't you get it? We're just adding another leaf to the table and expanding the banquet to include all the lost ones who have finally come home.  Rejoice! Rejoice! And enjoy a moment of good cheer that your gay brother has overcome the fear of rejection to come home!"

What is so interesting to me about the Prodigal Son parable is that there is no resolution to this matter with the elder son.  Does he join the party or does he shuffle off?  Another way of putting it: does he remain in the Episcopal Church or does he flip off the whole crowd, declaring himself more-orthodox-than-thou to start a rival Anglican Church?

And what does the father do?  How long does he stay out on the sidewalk with his pouting elder son before he goes back into the party?  We don't know.  Given his abundance of love for both sons, I imagine he will hang out there as long as it will take in hopes that the elder son can stop sulking and see the reasons to be happy.

And what about the younger son?  Some reading this might have become nervous that I was going to equate his gay orientation with being a "sinner."  But, as I have said again and again, being gay or even falling in love and engaging in sex with someone of your own gender is NOT a sin.  The sin of the younger son, in how I was hearing the Gospel on Sunday, was the wrong belief and the assumption that he would be hated by his father for squandering the gifts he had been given; hence he stayed estranged.  

This is my own story of my relationship with God.  It was easier for me to remain aloof and away from a faith community because I did not believe I would be accepted as a lesbian.  I had done much the same with my own family.  I was cut off and unwilling to share anything about my life until a letter arrived from my mom that forced me to pick up the phone and come out.

I always have hope at the end of the Prodigal Son story that all three characters will go inside the house, have a glass of wine and break bread together.  I always hope that the elder will soften his heart as he sees his younger brother, and that the younger brother will recognized that the elder has come into the party and welcome him instead of gloating that he got the fatted calf.  Time amongst the pigs must have given him a taste of what it is to be the lowly. 

And I do have hope that the Father will always remind both sons that there is more than enough Love for each of them.

When will we all believe that?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gnosh on This: Images from The Jewish Food and Culture Festival

Amidst our season of Lent comes a wonderful respite from self-denial: The 4th Annual Jewish Food and Culture Festival at Temple Israel!   How can you resist a real New York Deli-style pastrami on rye with cole slaw and a sour pickle spear?  Or a real New York cheesecake from Carnegie's?  Or real, homemade stuffed cabbages?  Or real knishes?  And don't forget the Galilean wines that are kosher for Passover?!

Answer: you can't!  And lots of Tallahassee made the trek up Mahan Drive, following their noses and good senses that said, "Matzo Ball Chicken Soup is good for the soul!"

The kitchen crew was on task bright and early on this first Sunday of Daylight Savings Time to get the yummy food out to the masses.  Knishes, Pastrami and Corned Beef sandwiches, homemade Hamantaschen and Rugelah, stuffed cabbage, tabouli, kosher hot dogs, bagels with cream cheese and lox and capers and onions, Dr. Brown's Cream Sodas, and music, music, music in the tents outside.
My partner roused me early to help schlep the volunteers from their cars, parked off-site, to the Temple for their crazy day of keeping up with the feeding frenzy. 

By 2pm, almost all the food was gone.   Clearly, Tallahassee is hungry... especially for the real deal in Jewish Deli fare.  And so we must wait until next year to get our fix of pastrami with the fixin's!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Continued Ripples of Conversation

I once had a dream that involved some of the older staunch conservatives in the Florida legislature. I was in a log cabin with them and we were listening to "All Things Considered" from National Public Radio. ATC was relating a story about a tragedy that had happened to someone, and in the course of listening to this story, I learned that one of the Republican Senators, Ginny Brown-Waite, had suffered a tragedy of some kind with her mother. As the Senator walked past me, I reached out my arm and stopped her.

"Senator," I said, with tears welling up in my eyes, "I don't normally do this, but I think it's appropriate in this instance" and I wrapped her in my arms in a hug. Another one of the older Republicans came up behind me as a witness to this scene.

"You know it's sincere when there are tears in the eyes of a child," he said.

That's when I woke up from the dream.  That was on March 23, 1996, when I was still a public radio reporter.  

I think tears in the eyes ARE a sign of sincerity, not just for children, but for adults as well.  And I've been seeing a lot of near-tears this past week as people talk to me and ask me more questions about LGBT people and the whole issue of marriage.  I know for some of you reading this it might seem a bit strange that we, here in Florida, continue to have so much apparent angst around this issue.  I guess that's what happens when your civic and religious leaders try to squash any hopes of equality.  It leads to frustration, anger, fear, and confusion.  

There certainly were tears in the eyes of people who spoke to me after the forum.  It seems for many of the straight people, they have never had a face-to-face encounter with someone who is both gay and grounded in God.  Probably most of their experiences with the LGBT community have either been celluloid projections of who we are in TV and movies, or perhaps they've met the gay person who is breathing threats against the church and that makes them uncomfortable. There was so much misinformation spread in Tallahassee back in 2003 about retired bishop Gene Robinson, and who he was.  If only they'd have met the real man and not the straw man.  

Instead, they met me.  And, more importantly, I met them in Love.  

The discussions people are having with me now are more real, more honest. Things like they're probing of my opinion (what is it that "gays" want from marriage? The civil rights or the sacrament?)  The answer to that question is, to a certain degree, both.
For me, personally, and I would venture a guess that for most of the LGBT community, the real desire is to gain the civil rights that come with marriage because those are the guarantees that we can have our families protected.  As one who is in an interfaith relationship, we've already decided that we will forego any kind of religious ceremony should we get married.  There are those who really want to make their commitment in a sanctuary with their friends and family and a priest.  So, just like straight America, we gay folks want to have options.  To my mind, the best thing that could happen is for the religious community to agree that it will no longer sign marriage licenses for ANY couple.  Let the state do the state's business, and then the couple can ask to have a blessing of their relationship in the church.   I think this would serve to give all couples the civil rights of marriage, while allowing the ones who want an official blessing to get that arranged.  

For some straight people, this seems like a logical step.  For others, there is confusion.  Am I against church weddings?  No, I am not.  I am against religious authorities (priests, rabbis, imams) signing the marriage licenses.  

I've also had the question come up: if the church has been so cruel to the LGBT community, why in the heck am I still a Christian?

That's actually an easy one.  I am a Christian because I believe in Christ as the greatest emancipator of the oppressed, including the LGBT community.  His life, in which he preached love and insisted on people acting more out of love than fear, is symbolic of the gay experience in which we, each of us, has found new life in realizing that we are same-sex loving people. Christ's death and resurrection are my hope that no matter how bad things get, or how many ways those with power try to kill us, our love and our lives will not be defeated. Christ has walked my walk and knows the pain of being rejected. But ultimately, he ends up on top. That's a great role model for anyone who has felt denied in their lives. Why did I go back to the church that had a reputation for preaching homophobia from the pulpit? Honestly, that is a God thing. I felt summoned (really, it was not so much a call, but a command) to go back to "that church." And as I look at it now, my presence in "that church" has helped to soften their hearts. My presence and candor on the panel last Friday is taking some a little deeper into exploring their previously held beliefs about the gay community and comprehending, perhaps for the first time, the injustice and the anti-Christ nature of laws, both in the state and the church, as they apply to the LGBT faithful.

These are the ripples I'm seeing. Who knows what's been happening in those places unseen.

And it's all good.    

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Changing Hearts and Minds

I came. I saw. I spoke my truth.

I make that statement, not just for me, but for the rest of the panel as well. That's the best way I can describe this forum called, "Love, Marriage, and Same-Sex Blessings."  It's part of Tallahassee's Village Square's monthly program, "Faith, Food, and Friday," where progressive and conservatives discuss issues of the day from a theological place.  The room at Temple Israel was packed for this event.  I remarked to one of the co-panelists, "That's because they put 'sex' in the title!"

Fran Buhler, a Baptist associate pastor, sat next to Rabbi Jack Romberg, with the rector of my Episcopal Church playing the role of moderator in the center seat. On Father Dave Killeen's left was a United Methodist minister, Betsy Oulette.  Bill Mattox, of the Village Square's board was next to her, representing the more conservative--"traditional"--outlook on marriage from the laity.

 And then there was me; the "lay gay." The only person not present was an African-American pastor who sent his regrets due to a work conflict. As I said in the previous post, I believe my presence on this panel came about because I screamed at God, and God decided to give me a seat on the panel rather than letting me mouth-off at my ceiling. 

The introductions went well, and were very good-humored.  When it was noted that I am a member in good standing at St. John's, despite being a Boston Red Sox fan and refusing to repent my allegiance to the New England Patriots (all appropriate wording from my rector, the Yankees/NY Giants fan), my co-lay panel member turned to me and said, "I'm a Red Sox fan!"

"Well, ya see," I said, smiling, "We DO have something in common!" 

"I'm a Red Sox fan, too!" said the Methodist.

I leaned into the microphone. "Repent, Dave! Repent!"

Instead of repenting, Fr. Dave threw a curve ball to the assembled crew with his first question:

"What's sex for?"

A great starting place.  A good way to get us away from launching into tired arguments over Scripture.  And what a thing to do to me, the super introvert, who needs a few minutes to digest and mull and ask for wisdom.  All I could think was:  "How do I answer this question before a very packed room of predominantly straight people?" 

Easy: let everyone else take a stab at it, and listen.  I heard words and phrases: "procreation," "enjoyment," "within the bonds of marriage."   When it got to me, I noted that I believe sex can happen outside the bonds of marriage because it does, right now, with the LGBT community. Because... we can't get married in Florida.  And then I went to the place I wanted to go:

"I believe sex, and our sexuality, is a gift from God. It is the way for us to be intimate with another person.  And my sexual orientation is a gift from God.  And that's all I've got to say about that."

Moving right along... our next question was to answer what marriage is for.  And, again, there were the words "stability," "children," and the Rabbi noted that throughout history it has been done as a legal contract to allow two men to make the financial arrangement of a daughter betrothed to a man.  Fran, the Baptist, expressed concerns about things in the world that are placing stresses on marriage, and causing problems for marriages.

Me?   Well, I had to acknowledge to the group that many of them said things I could understand, but I couldn't really speak to what marriage is for because I am not allowed into that institution.  And since I'm not allowed in, I can't assist, and won't assist, the straight community in figuring out what they've done to the institution of marriage.

I think I might have heard a collective gasp and gulp from the audience.

As this panel went along, I was waiting for the "clobber" passages to get trotted out.  Interestingly, no one on the panel dared to repeat them.  The favored Bible passage was from Genesis 2, the second creation story, with Adam and Eve...not, well, y'know...   Having Rabbi Romberg on the panel was my relief and back up on all things coming from the Hebrew Scriptures.  What many don't think about, because they simply aren't taught this about the Hebrew words used in the Genesis story, is that the one who is called "Adam", the supposedly male figure, is really named "adamah," which means, "human."  There is NO single gender in that being.  And as Rabbi Romberg told me later, there is Jewish midrash to say that, in fact, the first human was a hermaphodite, and was split then into the male and female who we have come to know as "Adam and Eve."

The main passage of Scripture that I went to during this discussion was from John 16, where Jesus is giving his last will and testament to the disciples.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "There are many things I want to tell you, but you can not bear them at this time."   That, to me, should tell us that there would be evolution of thinking as time moves forward, and that with each generation, the Holy Spirit is unveiling new understanding to us. 

"I mean, people in First Century Palestine didn't know that if you got on a boat and sailed west, you'd hit some place called 'America.'  They thought that the earth was the center of all the universe.... And this is what I believe is happening right now. We are coming to an understanding of human sexuality."

Perhaps the most difficult and emotional moment for me, personally, as I sat on this panel was when my fellow lay person wanted to talk about the importance of diversity in relationship.  And the reason that marriage needs to be one man and one woman is for that diversity that you can't get with "same-sex or even same-kin." 

I have certainly heard many rotten things said to me or about me as a gay person.  I could not believe that someone sitting next to me would have the gall to equate my adult relationship to incest.

"You don't know how incredibly hurtful that statement is for me to hear," I said, doing everything in my power to keep from crying.  As a reporter, I learned the valuable skill of masking my emotions when engaging with people in public.  It is not a skill I enjoy having to use, but it is a skill that has come in handy many times when people would say ugly things to my face and I had to maintain that aura of the"objective reporter."  In recent years, and especially as I've been journeying with God, I have removed that mask and allowed my emotions more free reign.  This was one of those hybrid times where I knew I needed to keep from crying, and yet I had to let at least the presence of those tears show up in my eyes because that was real.

Being real was what this panel was about.  So I was my authentic lesbian self.  I shared what happened on the night that Florida elected Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008. 

"That same night, 61.8 percent of the people of this state made me a second class citizen."  This was a reference to Amendment Two, which defines marriage "or the substantial equivalent thereof" as being for one man and one woman.  I told the story of what happened the next day, how I could no longer look anyone in the eye because I didn't know who on earth, that is, I could trust.  And I shared the event that happened that Wednesday after the election, how I was sitting with my friend, who was consoling me and letting me vent, and this woman approached us.

"Excuse me," she said sweetly and innocently, "I see that you're upset.  I would like to give you this."

The "this" was a pamphlet.  The author of the pamphlet was Dr. James Dobson, infamous homophobe and head of the Family Research Council.  I was horrified.

"Oh, honey," I said, not wanting to be cruel. "I really don't want this. Thank you!"

And what she said next was amazing:

"Oh.  You're not a Christian?"

The room had been silent as I related this true life drama about the Day-After-The-Election 2008.  But the suggestion that I wasn't a Christian because I didn't want a pamphlet from a hatemonger seemed to really strike a nerve in people.

As this panel went along, I found myself feeling more and more willing and able to provoke the others:

"Why do assume that the gay and lesbian community is going to come to your church and want to be married in it anyway?   The church has done such a fine job of telling them they're an abomination and aren't welcome that they've written you off.  That's sad!"  

"Seriously, the LGBT community probably thinks the Bible only has about six or seven verses because those are the only ones they ever get to hear!  They never get to hear about the love.  They never get to hear, 'Remember I will be with you always to the end of the age.' "

"Why is it that the church has such a problem with sex and the body?"  (I never got an answer to that.)

My lay conservative counterpart kept likening marriage to the metaphor of the church being "the bride of Christ." When the clergy people refused to answer this metaphor with the required reason, I stepped in.

"That metaphor is about the Church remaining faithful to Christ," I said.  "So, my question is: how is the Church remaining faithful to Christ when it stands in the way of me achieving my full civil rights?"

When it was over, people wanted to talk to me more, tell me I was brave.   I suppose it is brave to preach the Gospel, especially when you are from a group that has historically, and still is in this diocese, denied that place and is deemed "incompatible" with the very book that contains the stories of Love and life everlasting.  For those who spoke to me, I believe what they heard as bravery was the Gospel, and the call to us from the Holy Spirit to quit trying to find fault with each other and decide who's in and who's out and get back to the Source.

My way of staying with that Source was by having in my back pocket a copy of Hymn 379, "God is Love, Let Heaven Adore Him" which I reviewed before heading to the forum.  The second verse often grabs me:

"God is Love; and love enfolds us,
all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp God holds us,
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow's iron rod,
then we find that self-same aching
deep within the heart of God."

I know for some what I had to say may have been heartbreaking.  For some, the break is for my plight of being a person unable to marry my partner.  For others, it is the breaking over realizing that the certainty they thought they had with marriage is not so certain any more.   For others, I believe I posed a quandry for them as I put forth my true self as a lesbian daughter of Christ.  The Baptist pastor, who was holding as tight as he could to the idea that marriage is for one man and one woman, has a gay sibling.  I can only imagine what it must be like to cling to a belief that it is OK to deny civil rights to your sibling. 

The Methodist pastor, who had started out very ambivalent about the topic, was starting to see things differently.  Now, she must wrestle with her denomination's insistence on standing against the LGBT community while claiming to affirm its love for all people.  The risk for preachers who step out against their church's hierarchy or official line is great.  And yet there is the dilemma of a Jesus who demands that we lay down our illusions of safety if we are to spread the word that God is Love.

That's no small task for any of us to contemplate in this season of Lent.