Thursday, May 30, 2013

Listening to Voices

When I was a freshman in prep school, I had to perform a monologue from George Bernard Shaw's play, "Saint Joan." My brother was getting married the weekend that was our finals week, and the final exam in my theater course was to be a scene between two people. Since I wouldn't be there, my teacher had me do a monologue. He took the speech in Shaw's play where Joan is on trial, removed some of the interjections from other characters, and gave it to me to memorize. And, massive introvert that I am, I delved headlong into learning this part... and tapping into her courage and convinction. I knew the history of St. Joan, and how she was guided by voices. And I imagined how a woman, not that much older than myself, who had already commanded armies and proven herself a fighter would have felt if she were told, "You will spend the rest of your life in a prison." I also went into her belief that she was doing the work of God as guided by the saints. There was burning rage and righteous rebelliousness in the speech. I hit all of it. And I got an "A" and the great admiration of the school's theater director who, unbeknownst to me, had been invited to "drop in" and watch my performance. My freshman teacher had seen a preview of what I was going to do, and told Dr. Tretler, himself a former Catholic priest, "You need to see this."

What had amazed and wowed everyone was the passion with which I delievered the lines. I wasn't afriad to shout where it was appropriate. I didn't hesitate to allow my voice to quiet down as she talked lovingly about her French countryside, only to build back up into a roar against those who were condemning her as a heretic. I remember the last part of the speech:

"His ways are not your ways. He would will me to go through the fire to his bosom for I am his child and I am not fit that I should live among you. That is my last word to you." (emphasis added)

I felt her rage. I felt her struggle. I think I still do.

Those who tap into the source of Love through hearing the voices of saints or hymns or prayers are the peculiar ones. I count myself among the peculiar. I can't seem to go through the day without something turning my mind toward that Love that runs like an invisible river through the world. I often feel I'm at slight angle to the culture. I know I desire to see the world around me shift closer to that river of Love. I'm not about to pick up a sword and lead an army. I feel, at times, I've done that in my role as an LGBT activist. But there are times when leading an army isn't the right course of action. These days, the pull on me is not to protest, but to keep paying attention to the repeating chant, "Veni, Sancte Spiritus."

The Collect for this day:
Holy God, whose power is made perfect in weakness: we honor you for the calling of Jeanne d’Arc, who, though young, rose up in valor to bear your standard for her country, and endured with grace and fortitude both victory and defeat; and we pray that we, like Jeanne, may bear witness to the truth that is in us to friends and enemies alike, and, encouraged by the companionship of your saints, give ourselves bravely to the struggle for justice in our time; through Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Part of this paying attention is for me to open myself further, and release more of the grip my ego has on defining me. This is tough stuff. It requires a level of weakness and vulnerability that many rational minds can not endure.

And this is my path as of May 30, 2013.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Fourth Dimension of the Trinity

Trinity Sunday: the day so many priests run away from the pulpit. This seems to be one of those Sundays when the most junior clergy person is asked to preach, and is given over to explain to the congregation the nature of our triune God. Hazing for priests, I suppose. If the person preaching is smart, however, they'll quickly reach this conclusion: "I don't know. I can't explain it. Too many have tried and failed because we're attempting to wrap our minds around the real question inherent in the question of the Trinity: 'What is the nature of God?' And that's beyond our human capacity to answer in any full, complete way. So let's move on..."

When I think about something like the Trinity, the first thing that comes to mind are the lines from Isaiah 55:

"For your thoughts are not my thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says The Lord."

Theologians, and church wonks of all kinds, have wrestled with ways to explain how God can be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all at once, with distinctly different roles, being of one substance, and not three separate persons. Lots of people have been called heretics, cast out of the Christian community, embraced, then discredited, then embraced again... only to finally be thrown out for a final time all because of the doctrine of the Trinity, or the equally quarrelsome Eucharistic feast.

From where I sit, on Trinity Sunday 2013, I wonder if our 3-D God isn't missing one other dimension: the feminine power of God which is found every time we encounter the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. Consider what is today's reading from Proverbs:

Does not wisdom call,

and does not understanding raise her voice?

Ages ago I was set up,

at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth,

when there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains had been shaped,

before the hills, I was brought forth--

when he had not yet made earth and fields,

or the world's first bits of soil.

When he established the heavens, I was there,

when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

when he made firm the skies above,

when he established the fountains of the deep,

when he assigned to the sea its limit,

so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

then I was beside him, like a master worker;

and I was daily his delight,

rejoicing before him always,

rejoicing in his inhabited world

and delighting in the human race.

This feminine force of Wisdom has been with God from the beginning; hence she is weaved into the Trinity with the Son and the Holy Spirit. This, I believe, supports my theory that the completion of the Trinity called, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," is colored with the feminine Wisdom, present in all three persons of the Trinity. Wisdom adds the depth and breadth to the Trinity. Wisdom is also present in Christ's mind, body and spirit; hence, even this male personage, who came down from heaven to be born, live, and die with us, had a well-developed sense of his feminine side, too. Andrew Harvey, and others, have pointed to this being the Androgyne Christ: Christ, who explodes the binary concept of gender, and invites us to also let go of those things that separate us from God through gender constructs. This Wisdom, inherent in the Trinity, will rock us, challenge us, and guide us to a new relationship with God, the Three in One and One in Three.

It will happen... if we let it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Wolf Makes a Whoops!

I'm sure most of you have already seen the above video of CNN's Wolf Blitzer baiting a survivor of the Moore, OK, tornado into thanking The Lord for her and her child's safety during the event. Turns out Rebecca Vitsmun is an atheist. To the young mother's credit, she was polite and handled the awkwardness of the moment very well.

This interview raises many issues for me. Let's start with the sin Wolf Blitzer committed against the profession of journalism. When you are interviewing someone, particularly somebody who has been through a major traumatic event such as a tornado, you don't bait them into giving the answer YOU want to hear. You ask them to tell you what they know, what they experienced, what emotions were running through their mind. You listen. You respond to what they say. This is their narrative; not yours. And if they want to thank The Lord, you give them that room to do so because that's what is in their heart. If there is ever a time where a journalist needs to be aware that, "It ain't about you, kid!," times of tragedy and reflection on those events is definitely it. The journalist is the outsider... unless they were huddled in a storm shelter themselves.

Then there is the sin of making assumptions about a particular group of people. And this is increasingly becoming an issue, I think, in a country where we've had this seething, boiling pot of Tea Party fervor that seems to lash out at anything and everything that's perceived as "different." Wolf Blitzer's statement, posed as a question, makes the assumption that because this is a young mother in the middle of Oklahoma, she mustbe a Christian. Even as a student attending the University of Missouri-Columbia, and majoring in broadcast journalism, and being exposed to a city that had plenty of Assemblies of God to go with the numerous Baptist churches, I knew that religion was a big deal for many people in the greater Boone County area. Still, unless the person had a religious symbol of some kind on their person, I knew to stay away from asking them about matters of faith. The only time that would enter the discussion was if (a) the story was about faith or religion or (b) they brought it up. I never based my questions on my assumption that this person is from mid-Missouri; therefore they must be an evangelical Christian. Many probably were, and so what?

Which gets to the matter of Ms. Vitsmun's atheism. Some of the right-wing commentators in this country have sneered that Blitzer found the only atheist in Moore, Oklahoma. Glenn Beck believes the interview was a set-up to advance the idea that atheists exist, even in middle America. I don't believe that. I don't believe a journalist like Blitzer would want to come off looking as foolish as he did, on purpose, on a nationally televised interview. I think what Rebecca Vitsmun reflects is a truism about midwesterners: they are the ultimate "What You See Is What You Get" kind of people. She doesn't believe in God. And so what?

Atheism has been on the rise, or more specifically, lack of interest in religion has been steadily growing over the years. There have been Gallup polls and other surveys that show that the younger generations are becoming less and less interested in going to church. This causes those within the religious institutions no end of fits and panic attacks about how to get people to come to church. I don't think the focus should be on getting people to "come to church." It should be how do we remove the impediments for people seeing God. A lot of that comes down to us, individually, who are believers, being more transparent vessels of God's love, and presenting a more complete picture of God. Many of my atheist friends scoff at God as an imaginary "sky wizard" or "old man in the sky." I can only imagine that they've come to this conclusion because this is the Sunday School image brought to them by whatever was their local church or synagogue. I don't buy into that image of God. I don't buy into the image of God having a male gender when I think that God is the perfect feminine and the perfect masculine all at once. In other words, I don't believe in the binary understanding of gender, especially as applied to a being so far beyond our human understanding as God. While I don't believe in pressing an atheist into believing if they do not, I also am not willing to let them define what God is or is not any more than I am willing to let the fundamentalist Christians define God and Christ for the masses.

Pope Francis I made waves this week when he indicated that all people who do good are doing the work of Christ and God... even atheists. This is one of the other areas where many of my atheist friends get prickly, and so I am very happy the Pope said what he did. Of course, atheists and believers are all made in the image of God, are all created with the potential to do good or evil, to choose life or death. I've always said that God believes in the atheist even if the atheist doesn't believe in God. This is why Rebecca Vitsmun knew to flee her home with her baby in enough time before the tornado turned it into a pile of pick-up sticks. Ms. Vitsmun loves her child as a mother, so, of course, she had the instinct to protect her child and got them both to safety. She may even pitch in to help her believer neighbors gather up their lives as the community works toward recovery. Does she need God to tell her to do that? No. Is what she did and, may do into the future, pleasing in God's sight? Yes.

In many ways, I wish we would all chill out about belief vs. non-belief. Those of us who do believe know that our faith buoys us up during difficult times, and adds to the sweetness of those moments that are joyous. And that's the fuel that keeps us going. Others run on different grades of fuel. It's all good, especially if we keep moving in the direction of doing good.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is It Hot in Here or Am I on Fire?

I was recently moved into a new role of service at my local Episcopal Church: verger. To put it in simplest terms, the vergers are the house or stage managers during the service. You're paying attention to the acolytes, to the Eucharistic Ministers, to the priests, to the congregation. We keep the order; hence we're given the virge to carry: ornate wooden sticks that were originally meant to keep the "unruly" in line. And we wear a purple chimere: a long, sleeveless, academic-like garment that goes over our poly-cotton blend cassocks. Just in time for the heat of the Florida summer!

When I'm serving as a verger, I'm "on"... and not in the way that I want to be. Because my "on" is often not "on" the one thing I want it to be on: namely, I am there to bless God with all my soul. My attention is forced to be divided between God and the matters of "order" in the service. That was definitely true this past Sunday, where we had many additional moving parts because it was Pentecost and we had baptisms. No sooner had I put on my vestments that I was getting question after question about the location of various items for the Baptisms, and locating the participants in the various roles of our Pentecost procession, and checking on the families of the soon-to-be baptized and answering their final questions, and realizing nobody had told the ushers to reserve the pews by the Baptismal font for those families. By the time we were ready to gather the altar party for a prayer, I was sweating having just done a full aerobic workout getting everything and everyone "in order."

What a funny juxtaposition of realities. Here I am, in this "order-keeping" role on the very day we are celebrating and acknowledging that the Holy Spirit was about to blow all sense of "order" out the window!

Perhaps it was that realization which allowed me to hear the lessons that morning, and find myself getting pulled deeper into these texts than I ever have before.

I have been reading the modern day mystic Andrew Harvey's book, "Son of Man," which is rich beyond measure for me in terms of seeing how each of us has the potential to become more at one with The One, if we will allow ourselves to experience all the steps that Christ did... including temptation, the feelings of loneliness, the crucifixion of our ego, and finally arising in a new transfigured state of being. This can't be done by emotion alone, or intellect alone, or senses alone. This requires the whole being to give into this process. And it's daunting, daring, difficult, but ultimately it's the direction we should strive for if we, in fact, want to be "in Love." With that as my back drop, all of my earlier exercise gave way to listening, not so much to the Acts lesson, which I am very familiar with after so many Pentecosts, but hearing what Paul had to say to the Romans about who we are as children of God.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery tofall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearingwitness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.--Romans 8:14-17

I felt my body getting warmer as I listened to these words. I had been thinking about the importance of Christ's cautionary tale in the Gospels about coming to the kingdom like a child, and offering a stern warning to anyone who gets in the way of a child who is approaching God. As I heard this Romans reading, I thought about what it means when our spirit is crying out to God as "Abba! Father!" to be met, wherever we are in the journey, by the Spirit who recognizes the one calling, and invites us children to come closer, so that we might, as heirs, grow up into Christ, and have a Christ-like mind within us. We come to God as infants, and as we grow closer to Abba, we are also growing up as spiritual beings. This growth will change us. The trick is to remember that this change and this growth should be directed toward opening the doors and windows of the prisons of fear, or greed, or prejudice, or whatever and allowing those who have been kept prisoner (including ourselves) to see that they, too, can be transformed. My hands started feeling a little moist with sweat as I thought about this, and the realization that in about 15 minutes, we would be reciting the Baptismal Covenant with those who were about to be marked and sealed as Christ's own forever. That covenant is a pledge, not only of recommitting ourselves to living and loving as Christ did, but to pass along an ethic based on Love and encourage those who were becoming initiated into our family as the new brother and sisters-in-Christ to seek God first in all things and all people.

If that wasn't turning up the heat in my heart, I then heard the Gospel of John:

The words that I say to you I do not speak onmy own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. "If youlove me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.--John 14:10b-17

Again, I thought, "Am I having a hot flash? Is it these vestments causing this heat?" as my hands became warmer.

No, it wasn't an external source. I was hearing in the message what I believe Christ's almost riddle-like farewell speech was attempting to say: "My mind, my soul, and my body have achieved a level of being at one with The One." And, looking at the disciples, he was letting them (and centuries later, us) know that they, and we, have this ability, but only if we are prepared to go as far as giving our selves (yes, I mean our "selves") over to God. When I listen to John's writing, I hear a mystical experience of Christ. I hear the Jesus who Mahatma Gandi greatly admired, but then confessed he didn't like "our Christians" in this country because "they aren't really like Christ." Pity that!

As I've noted before, I feel as though the Alchemist is ready to pick me up with the tongs and stick me in the fire for some more refinement. Perhaps what I was feeling were the flames getting closer to me.

How very like Pentecost!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thinking of Those in Oklahoma...

The pictures say everything.  A swath, almost two miles wide, of an Oklahoma City suburb was flattened.

From the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma:

Thank you to all who have reached out to us in response to the devastating tornados in Oklahoma. We are in the process of assessing the situation and coordinating assistance to our communities.
If you would like to make a financial contribution to help in those efforts, please make your check payable to "The Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma." In the notation line write "Tornado relief."
Send checks to:

Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma
924 N. Robinson
OKC, OK 73102

O God who has been our help and strength in ages past, let your loving-kindness be felt amongst those in need and pain in Moore, Oklahoma.  Give those who are picking up the pieces of their lives the hope that comes from knowing that there are many there to help and care for them, to bolster them and get them through this difficulty.  Comfort them now and always. Grant all those who have perished eternal rest that they may rise in glory with You.  And sustain all those who are working round the clock to restore and rebuild their community.  To You, I offer this prayer.  Amen.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Burn up the Fears!

This week, I've been in conversation with many clergy people, both in person and via the internet. There seems to have been a theme running through many of these conversations:

"Where were the people last Sunday?"

This is often quickly followed by the next hand-wringing question:

"What can we do to get people to come to church?"

Now, never mind that last Sunday was Mother's Day, and, in Tallahassee, at least, it was a beautiful sunny day, and most moms in this day and age want to get an extra hour of sleep rather than schlep children to church. But the fact that women who are married with children didn't come out in droves to church is cause to bring back the tired topic of, "Why are people not going to church?"

There are lots of books out there to help priests and pastors figure out how to fill their pews. I see articles posted on listserves with ideas and helpful hints, or what one chuch has done in its local context to draw all kinds of people into the sanctuary. But, usually, the articles are just more hand-wringing. For those who draw a paycheck from the church, I imagine this all-consuming topic is based upon the fear that if people stop coming to church on Sunday, then, perhaps, it's a sign that their job is becoming obsolete. And nobody wants to face the prosepect of losing a job in this economy.

Again, I'm reminded of how amazing it is that I have encountered this conversation in so many places during this week where we are, in the church calendar, suspended between the jaw-dropping moment of Christ's ascension to be seated at the right-hand of God, and the mighty fiery wind of the grand entry of the Holy Spirit blowing into our lives to keep us on our toes for next half of the year. They call these next several weeks "Ordinary Season." (I'm still wondering what's so "ordinary" if you are tuned in and paying attention to what's going on around you.) Anyway, here we are in this in-between time, and everyone seems to be spinning in circles about "the numbers." Did the collect not talk about "Do not leave us comfortless..."? How quickly we are thrown into a tizzy because a bunch of women of child-bearing age didn't show up to church!

So many of these discussions I see as totally fruitless and pointless and ignoring the fact that there were people in church who may, or may not, be mothers. And my attitude, as one not dependent on the church giving me an income, is, "Was God blessed and praised? Did the people who were there hear the Good News and did they taste and see that God is good?" If the answer to those two questions is, "Yes," then there is no reason to keep chasing the imaginary tail of where were all the missing moms. Furthermore, if we're so concerned with knowing why people don't come to church on any particular Sunday, shouldn't we be looking to see what their needs are rather than assuming that we, the Church, know what's good for them and it's us? Not only is that an arrogant attitude; it's the product of an ego-driven approach to spirituality. The ego will want the individual to believe that somehow, he or she has "the answer" for other people instead of listening to the other people and meeting them where they are, not where we think they ought to be.

All of this comes to the point of what I see as the big deal this Pentecost. We need the Holy Spirit to blow its fire into our world and consume our egos and our fears. Quit looking for gimmicks to get people to come through the door as if some human-based endeavor is going to make someone want to come listen to platitudes that have nothing to do with their every day lives. All the re-imagining and re-engineering and cure-all books out there mean nothing if those who are preaching and receiving the Word still believe that they somehow are responsible for God's working God's purpose out. The one and only job, as I see it, for a priest at the Sunday service is to do the work of being the maitre d'; the chef, who is the host of the meal, will provide the food for thought, and the inner change in the heart of the individual.

I know for me, I feel myself preparing to enter into the furnace as the Spirit continues its work of forging and forming and shaping me for the next steps in this journey. The Alchemist has been pounding out the rough edges, and is in the process of adding some new contours to this work-in-progress that is me. Just as the leadership of the churches needs to let go of the ego and allow the flames of Pentecost to burn up their fears, so, too, must I surrender to trusting that the fire will refine me, but not destroy me. Burn, baby, burn.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

This Liminal Time

The ten-day period between Ascension and Pentecost is one of the odder times of the year for me. But this time around, it is particularly strange and unsettled.

This really is feeling like liminal time. I don't have a sense of where I am in my journey. Or, probably more accurately, I realize that if I keep moving along a path toward God, my ego is going to get burnt to a crisp in the fire that is forging me into a more complete relationship with the One. I'm also realizing, perhaps because of my mom's stroke, that all that we think is certain or "secure" in life really isn't. That whole notion of "security" is an illusion. Does that mean that I should live my life recklessly. No, I don't think that's it. But I need to abandon the idea that I have any control, and any sense that I have control is, again, an illusion. My part in this life is to show up, stay awake, and follow.

The collect for this time when we're between Christ's Ascension and the "tongues on fire" arrival of the Holy Spirit includes this phrase:

"Do not leave us comfortless..."

Perhaps it should say, "Do not let us fret in our uncomfortable place."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Update On Anonymous Peggins

Happy Mother's Day!

I have returned from New Hampshire where I visited my mom on a pre-Mother's Day trip with my partner. When I last left our "Anonymous Peggins," she was in a bed at Exeter Hospital, barely able to move anything on her right-side. Her only word was "so" and her prognosis was, to be blunt, fair at best. The stroke, which knocked her down, happened the Wednesday of Holy Week. I left for New Hampshire right after the 11:15 Easter service, and spent many hours by her side, promising that I would return when she was in a facility with therapists who would help her get better. Between that time and now, my mom was transferred to New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portsmouth. But that proved to be a facility that wasn't the right fit: they are a short-term, quick recovery place. Mom is 85, and had a stroke that created a black hole in 40-percent of her brain. Not good odds for a "quick" recovery.

And so mom was transferred, again, this time to Colonial Poplin, a "skilled facility" aka assisted living with nursing home. This seems to have made a difference.

When my partner and I arrived in her room, my mom let out an "Oh! Oh! Oh!" and immediately started to cry. She grabbed our hands, and kissed them. She fondled my necklace, holding the mustard seed she had given me when I was 16.

"Yes," I said. "That's the message for you, too. Have faith! You'll get through this."

She is not only showing signs of getting through this; she is showing great tenacity and a willingness to keep at it despite her biggest disability at the moment: her inability to express her thoughts in words, either spoken or written. The speech therapist, at a meeting with me and my brothers, indicated that both verbal and written language were affected by the stroke. As part of her therapy, she's been having Peggy practice writing by making my mom copy what the therapist has written on a page. I shared with her that, earlier that day, mom took the whiteboard that we had bought for her, and wrote T-E-D. At first, everyone thought she'd made a mistake and meant to write, "Tom," as in my brother who was in the room with us at the time. She kept pointing at the magnolia on her dresser. It had come from her half-brother, Ted, as a pick-me-up to his sister.

"Oh, wait: you meant, 'Ted' as in your brother and his flower!" I said, almost 15 minutes after this exchange.

She nodded emphatically, "Yes." And the purpose was to let us know that the flower was kaput, and she wanted it gone now. Thank you. The flower was gone, and order restored to her dresser. It also left room for the additional flowers that would arrive via my brother, Edward, who has been receiving her "loot" at our family house in Exeter.

All the therapists are really pleased with the progress my mom is making. She's kicking a soccer ball, batting a balloon, and walking (with assistance) along the bar in the hallway. She also practiced wheeling herself in a wheelchair. Some the activities are more difficult because she still only has use of her left hand. The right hand and wrist are not moving, and they hurt as the nerve endings are starting to "wake up." This, like her speech, may be one of the last things to come together.

Speech is a challenge. She is now consistently adding, "I" to her "So." As a result, most conversations with the Anonymous Peggins involve a declaration that, "I, so, so, so, so, so, SO!" Sometimes "so" will be a drawn out, low drone of "Soooo." Sometimes, it's a higher-pitched, almost smiling, "Sosososososo!" Sometimes it's more of a, "So-so" with a shrug. Satisfaction gets expressed with an, "Ahhhh!" And, again, there are the tears, "Oh, so, so! So, so!" Just witnessing her working with the therapists can wear out the observer. Imagine being the one in the body, and the brain, that has suffered this damage? Her work ethic is admirable and amazing! The speech therapist, named Leslie, explained that she is having difficulty moving the facial muscles to make different sounds, and what's more likely to happen (and has) is that if we don't make her think about making a sound, she may spontaneously come out with a different one. For instance, she managed an "F" one day. She pronounced the name of Tom's dog (Toby), and she got out a nearly perfect, "perfect" (it came out more "paafect.")

One of the things this trip has made me think about it is the value of spending time with my mom. I have lived away from my family pretty much from the time I went off to college at age 18. In the past decade, I haven't been able to go home much at all. But this crisis with my mom has given me cause to make the time to get back to New Hampshire. Perhaps the take away for this Mother's Day. I shouldn't waste an opportunity to spend time with my mom.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

If You Show It, They Will Come

I read a blog entry tonight that I really enjoyed.  The author, a pastor at a Lutheran Church in the midwest, announced that his would no longer be a "Welcoming Church."  Instead, he argued, they were going to become an "Inviting Church."  What?  Huh?

"Welcoming" means that you presume that people have already come in through your doors.  And you have had the opportunity to shower them with lots of love, coffee, and breakfast sweets.  They've heard how wonderful you are.  But what do you really know about them and where they came from?

"Inviting" is the real work of the people (and the clergy, too!) of being the church outside the safety and security of the four walls of your worship space.  It's about meeting people where they are, not where you think they ought to be.  It's the outreach effort of letting others see you being a child of God, and inviting them to a meeting or a group affiliated with the church.  This is not done with the intention of making the person a "member" or a "pledge unit" (please see my previous entry about the day of the Domestic Partnership Registry starting in Leon County).  Being an "Inviting Church" isn't about parochial reports to the bishop; it's about removing the obstacles that block people from seeing the Kingdom "on earth as it is in Heaven."

Truthfully, this is what it means to live and love as Jesus did.  I'm struck, again, by the words we'll be hearing from John's gospel, as Jesus is doing his lengthy last will and testament to his disciples.  He tells them, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world does." And then he tells them not to be troubled or afraid.  After all, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will come to them and make our home with them."  Better yet, the Holy Spirit is coming to make all of what Jesus is imparting in this moment much clearer after he's gone.   Huh?  What?

Jesus has had this group of men... and women if we count Martha and Mary... hanging around, going from here to there, witnessing his healing power, and never making any of his ministry a glorification of himself and what superstar he is.  He has been on a mission to be the most transparent representation of God for the masses that they've encountered since Moses' face lit up talking to a burning bush. All that he wants anybody to see is God, and how God's power working in him can do more than he could do if he were just doing this for his own selfish pride. So, what is the "peace" that he leaves?  His love.  What is the "peace" he gives? How to love.  These are not the tangible and consumable gifts that the world traditionally gives to people.  No Hershey's Kisses here, folks; his kiss is one that is meant to transform all of us to be more like him: transparent Sons and Daughters of Man whose bodies are a home for the Spirit of God to dwell, grow and shine within us.  The brighter we become, the more people who are seeking some light in their lives will come to us and want to know, "What is this light?"

Paul got that in the Book of Acts when he, and Luke, we presume, go down to the gate and find the women there.  As Paul is sharing his illumined self, another of the enlightened ones, Lydia, "listened eagerly" to what Paul was saying, and opened her home to him, and Barnabas and Luke.  She was clearly a woman of means (dealing in purple cloth), and thus this was an important connection for the beginnings of Paul's building of churches.  Important to note, this connection was NOT made in the Temple.  It was made in the space by the gate.  Just the way Jesus would have wanted it.  Paul didn't wait for the women of Lydia's household to come to him so he could welcome them; he went to where they were, and, in turn, Lydia, a believer, invited him to her home.  And the church is on its way to kindling more Love within people; love and "peace" that they could share with others.

Showing love, being love, living in love or showing peace, being peace, living in peace.  This is the way, the truth, the life.  And it is far more inviting than just a welcome.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More Steps On the Way to Equality

In Leon County, Florida, we have inched along the road to equality with the start of a Domestic Partnership Registry today.  It was a happy and even relaxed occasion as couples waited under cloudy skies and threat of rain to walk through the door of the Clerk of Courts office and initial here, here, here, and here on the papers to gain seven of the 1,198 rights afforded married couples.

That's right: seven civil rights.  Couples who register, be they straight or LGBT, will be granted the ability to make emergency health care decisions for their loved one, be the point of contact when there is an emergency or serve as the guardian if their domestic partner is incapacitated; visit in the hospital (or jail); participate in the educational lives of the couple's children, and can be responsible for making funeral arrangements in case of death.  These are all important and very helpful.  I have been with friends who, in mourning and grief over the death of their partner, were not allowed to have any say about the disposition of the body or the funeral arrangements until the deceased partner's family had been contacted.  And when there is discord between the surviving partner and the family who wasn't too keen on this whole "gay thing," you can imagine the agony in that situation.

I'm grateful to the county government for doing what they could do given our state constitution, Florida statutes, not to mention the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  The laws, specifically and pointedly targeting the LGBT community, have hemmed us in to such an extent that we're lucky to get anything at all.  The commissioners who were on hand for this morning's inaugural registering of the couples are aware that what they've done with this DPR is given us a slice of bread, and not the loaf we would like to have.  Or, as I noted after Morning Prayer today, I feel a bit like the Syrophoenican woman looking at Jesus and saying, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from Israel's table."

Morning Prayer, on the saint day of Philip and James, was a perfect prelude to today's festivities.  The collect for these two disciples reminds us that they were given strength through God "to bear witness to the truth." And that is exactly what I, and others with me, before me, and even in the years to come after me, have been doing: bearing witness to the truth of who we are, whom we love, and how we are part of the creation that keeps unfolding before us.  And we keep bearing this witness, over and over, in our work places, in front of governmental bodies, both secular and religious, and our families. 

Being that witness is a long slog through unbelievable muck at times.   In fact, I had hoped to be able to use the prayers that are part of the newly-approved same-sex blessing rite in the Episcopal Church as a way of celebrating those couples who planned to register their relationships.  However, I received word back that, because the Bishop of Florida has not authorized usage of that rite, I was to refrain from using any part of it. Instead, I could let people have intercessory time in the service to offer up their own prayers and thanksgiving... a practice we already do in Morning Prayer. I wanted something more special.  The words from the reading from the Book of Job felt very real to me:

Today also my complaint is bitter...I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.

I feel a bit like a broken record when I say the church in general, and the Episcopal Church in specific (especially in Tallahassee), could do a lot to atone for the sins of the church in the way it has treated the LGBT community.  One of the things it should be doing is outreach and making concerted efforts to show the gay community that they are really welcome in our houses of worship.  We shouldn't be concerned with whether or not they'll become "members" or "pledge units." The first step is to let them know that they can come as they are, and find rest from the chaos and demands of the world.  And that no one is going to condemn them to hell for being gay, something too many of us have had to endure.  Doing something simple, like a service in which we honor the events that have meaning to our lives and relationships, like registering our partnerships with the county, is part of that outreach.  That really was my intent in wanting to use the prayers this morning.

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

 My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.

 I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured in
my bosom the words of his mouth.

I sought advice from my spiritual director on how I could honor this occasion at our weekly service. She pointed me to the "Prayer for Families," #45 and suggested I make some revisions.  And so, in addition to the other collect read at this service, I included the following words:

Almighty God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer of life, who grants us the gift of human love and intimacy.  We commend to your continual care the homes in which your people dwell.  Put far from them, we ask, every root of bitterness, selfish desires and arrogant pride. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness.  Knit together in constant affection those who, in commitment to one another, have made a covenant known to you. Turn the hearts of parents to the children, and the hearts of children to their parents; pour out your Holy Spirit upon their relationships, and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I then offered a prayer for those who suffer for the sake of conscience because many are still in that boat. And there are those of us who are not in prison for our beliefs, but we suffer for the sake of conscience nonetheless.

Sadly, there were none of the LGBT couples of St. John's, or anywhere else, present for this service.  But there were some new people who showed up because they are allies and survivors of the horrible years of homophobia that gripped St. John's in the late 1990s up to 2005.  For them, this was an opportunity to offer up their prayers for the community on this joyous day, and support the LGBT people they've come to know through the church and elsewhere.  I know I carried their energy with me as I walked down the street to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

As my partner and I stood listening to the speakers, I thought about the distance we've traveled in  Leon County to get to a day like this. We've had outrageous battles over movies and video stores.  Pipe bombs at night clubs.  And countless laws adopted by the state legislature across the street that feel like a thousand paper cuts.  But now, in our county, we have a human rights ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and a domestic partnership registry.   The overcast skies felt about right.  It wasn't storming, but it was still gray.

"Dark clouds will break up if you will wake up and live," are the lyrics of the Ella Fitzgerald song where I got the name for this blog.  They'll break up eventually.  With God's help, and our willingness to remain true to being instruments for Love in the world... and in the church.