Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of 2014

Here in the United States, we're hours away from saying, "Good-bye!" to 2014. I am fine with seeing this year go away and become part of the history books. The year had a difficult and sad beginning for me. Multiple airplane trips north with delays, cancelled flights due to ice and snow in Atlanta, and unexpected stays in Baltimore and Jacksonville...all were part of the difficulties and trauma associated with the eventual death of my mom. She passed away on February 7th, and I was back with my partner in New Hampshire for my birthday for her funeral a week later. 

Losing my mom was different than when I lost my dad. Dad's death awakened my faith; mom's death put it more to the test. This might account for why I haven't been posting as much on this blog during the year. She was my most avid reader and would comment regularly. With her gone, this space has sometimes felt as if I'm talking to the trees, and just another reminder of her death. I started this blog in the wake of my dad's death and as a way of processing my faith journey, particularly as I returned to a church that had a reputation for homophobia before it split in October, 2005. With my mom's death, I also experienced something of a more symbolic death in having left that church in Tallahassee to join my new congregation, St. Thomas in Thomasville, GA. There I am opening to new life. I'm singing in the choir, serving as a Eucharistic Minister, lector and will be leading an EfM group. And my discernment process continues. In Georgia, it's allowed to continue because my sexual orientation doesn't pose a problem. 

Which brings me back to my faith. It has suffered some knocks but it hasn't waivered and, in fact, has been sinking deeper roots to draw up the Source to keep me centered. Something about having lost an important and central figure in my life has made me reflect on the importance of letting go of certainty and holding onto things. The worst pain seems to come from becoming overly attached to people, places or things and expecting that nothing will change. The one thing that will always remain is that Source which continues flowing like a constant river and even as all other things fall away and become part of my memories, I can continue to drink from that river. Without it, I don't know how I'd manage.

This blog will continue. I will post as I am moved to share that drink with all of you. Happy New Year and may 2015 bring new lessons. 


Monday, December 29, 2014

History and the Holy Innocents

There is some doubt about whether King Herod's fear-filled directive to execute all the baby boys in Bethlehem actually happened as was stated in Matthew's gospel.  But the history of Wounded Knee is real. A friend posted this account today on Facebook:

From today's Writer's Almanac by Garrison Keillor
Today is the anniversary of the massacre at Wounded Knee, which took place in South Dakota in 1890. Twenty-three years earlier, the local tribes had signed a treaty with the United States government that guaranteed them the rights to the land around the Black Hills, which was sacred land. The treaty said that not only could no one move there, but they couldn't even travel through without the consent of the Indians.
But in the 1870s, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the treaty was broken. People from the Sioux tribe were forced onto a reservation, with a promise of more food and supplies, which never came. Then in 1889, a native prophet named Wovoka, from the Paiute tribe in Nevada, had a vision of a ceremony that would renew the earth, return the buffalo, and cause the white men to leave and return the land that belonged to the Indians. This ceremony was called the Ghost Dance. People traveled across the plains to hear Wovoka speak, including emissaries from the Sioux tribe, and they brought back his teachings. The Ghost Dance, performed in special brightly colored shirts, spread through the villages on the Sioux reservation, and it scared the white Indian agents. They considered the ceremony a battle cry, dangerous and antagonistic. So one of them wired Washington to say that he was afraid and wanted to arrest the leaders, and he was given permission to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed in the attempt. The next on the wanted list was Sitting Bull's half-brother, Chief Big Foot. Some members of Sitting Bull's tribe made their way to Big Foot, and when he found out what had happened, he decided to lead them along with the rest of his people to Pine Ridge Reservation for protection. But it was winter, 40 degrees below zero, and he contracted pneumonia on the way.
Big Foot was sick, he was flying a white flag, and he was a peaceful man. He was one of the leaders who had actually renounced the Ghost Dance. But the Army didn't make distinctions. They intercepted Big Foot's band and ordered them into the camp on the banks of the Wounded Knee Creek. Big Foot went peacefully.
The next morning federal soldiers began confiscating their weapons, and a scuffle broke out between a soldier and an Indian. The federal soldiers opened fire, killing almost 300 men, women, and children, including Big Foot. Even though it wasn't really a battle, the massacre at Wounded Knee is considered the end of the Indian Wars, a blanket term to refer to the fighting between the Native Americans and the federal government, which had lasted 350 years.
One of the people wounded but not killed during the massacre was the famous medicine man Black Elk, author of Black Elk Speaks (1932) . Speaking about Wounded Knee, he said: "I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Word Became Flesh and The Holy Innocents

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of

your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our

hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our

Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy

Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for the First Sunday After Christmas, BCP)

The First Sunday After Christmas pushes the commemoration of the Holy Innocents to Monday this year; however in the Church of the Wake Up and Live blog, I am placing them side-by-side.

Slaughter of the Holy Innocents by Duccio

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

I understand the need for the church to keep these days separated, so that each may receive their due respect and reflection and remembrance. But the more I survey the cultural landscape, and the more I consider where I see the church fitting in to a world increasingly crowded with people and competing wants and desires, the more I felt the need to see these two occasions as the Yin and Yang of what's out there in our every day lives.

The slaughter of the Holy Innocents is Herod's fearful response to the news that there's a new king that's been born in Bethlehem. To stave off any future rival, Herod orders all baby boys two years and younger to be killed. Hence, we have the grisly scene of baby upon baby slain by the sword, none of whom were Jesus because God gave warning to Joseph in his dreams to get his family the heck out of there before the soldiers arrived. Jesus lived, but many others died. For the tyrant, any threat, real or perceived, to their absolute power and authority over others will drive them to do violence. They are the people still walking in darkness and determined to keep everyone else in the dark with them.

Which is why remembering the Gospel for today's First Sunday After Christmas is an important antidote to the destructive and power-hungry forces of the day. John opens his telling of Christ's life not with the manger scene, but with the establishment that this Word, that has been made flesh, was with God from the beginning, and this Word was the Light of the world. With this light now in the world, no amount of darkness will overcome it. This light will be the glowing flame that will challenge conventions, and blaze a trail of freedom and life for those with the courage to follow. And this light will shine into those places where those opponents, who wish to grow the darkness, least want to see. Darkness will attempt to overcome this light. But, as we learn at the other end of this story, not even death can put out this light.

In our world fraught with anger and division and with the abuse of power, the light continues to shine. It comes through every broken or cracked vessel who calls him or herself a child of God or a follower of Christ or on the path to whatever carries them closer to that Light of the world, and believes that light will be greater than the darkness. It comes from the trust that the light in the heart will fill the entire body and be the outward and visible sign to those still fumbling in the dark. This is the light that becomes more powerful when people committed to increasing the light in the world come together for the common purpose of igniting a bonfire that will burn away the darkness. Let this light so shine out in the darkness even in the face of opposition.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

St. John, Teach Us

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sandwiched between yesterday's stoning death of St. Stephen and tomorrow's massive slaughter of the Holy Innocents, we have the Feast Day of St. John, the evangelist. And the words of his collect serve as a reminder that this poetic and contemplative Gospel writer wants us to reflect on a key image of this Christmas season: the Light of Christ which has come back into our winter days. Even for those living in the Southern Hemisphere, where the light is at its height of summer, there is something about that abundance of the sun that can lead one to reflect upon the grace that comes to us through the Son, the Light from Light.

As I think about the illumination of who Christ was as the Son of God that comes through John's Gospel, I think about the ways in which we can carry that light forward so many centuries later. Like the way we pass the flame of a candle to our neighbors in the pews when we sing, "Silent Night," we can pass the light through small gestures of kindness to our fellow human beings as well as bigger statements and testimonies to that Light by standing with our neighbors during their times of darkness and struggle. I give thanks for all those who take care of the elderly and children, whether for money or for love. I also pray for those who seek the Light that they may encounter someone who will reach them in such a way that their newly-lit wick will burn in their hearts forever. Come, Spirit of water and blood, come.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the 
first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed 
for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at 
your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the 
Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The first few days of the Christmas season are, well, gruesome. It's as if the church hired the Grimm Brothers to lay out the lectionary so that we won't forget that amidst the joy and celebration of the birth of Christ, we are never without those stories of death, especially violent death. The story of Stephen's martyrdom is that this young man was among the true believers, and an early deacon, spreading the news of Christ. He was unwilling to back down from his convinction in Christ, and, like Jesus, he found himself brought up on trumped up charges because he was calling out fellow Jews. The end for Stephen wasn't pretty. He was dragged out into the street and stoned to death, while Saul (later to be St. Paul) looking on.

On this night, perhaps it is best to take a moment to remember all those who are killed for conscience or have their lives cut short because they are following their call. For all those willing to put their lives on the line, we give thanks. We remember you, and we pray for those who persecute others that they may be delivered from their cruelty, hatred and revenge as we also ask that our hearts not turn to stone in the face of violence.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Looking for That Light in the Darkness

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who have lived in a land of deep darkness on them a light has shined." These are the opening lines that we always hear from the prophet Isaiah on Christmas Eve as our Episcopal service progresses toward the greatest light that Christians have known in the darkest times: the light of Christ. That light, for many of us, is like the steady glow of a lighthouse that breaks through the thickest, most pea-soup type of fog so that we may find our way home. It is an unfailing light which we can see best when we open our eyes.

If there was ever a time when I feel that I need this light to shine, now would be it. As I've been blogging throughout this Advent, it seems that this celebration of the nativity of Christ is coming at a time when our nation is going through painful realizations of how deep our divisions are along color lines. We are still locked in a battle over whether marriage equality is legal, let alone OK, in the state of Florida with lawyers looking for any minute loophole they can find in a federal judges' order to keep lesbian and gay couples as second-class citizens. Police officers are wantonly gunned down in New York City and instead of seeing this as more evidence of the proliferation of guns and the problems of mentally ill people getting guns, there is more yelling, more fingerpointing, more blaming anyone or anything than the individual who committed the crime and the powers that colluded to give him access to a weapon. We are in a scream fest and we are at each others throats while the band plays on.

In many respects, this upheaval and disquiet is similar to the world in which the Word became flesh and shined a new light. There was oppression. The haves were quite satisfied to be the haves, and not always doing the social contract duty of looking out for the children and the widows. Some worked in collusion with the Roman authorities to burden the Israelites with taxes. There was fracturing and division. Different stressors. Different times. No internet or Twitter feed, but still, things were out-of-whack. This is the world into which Christ is born. And this birth is the hope of a people searching for a Messiah.

In our world today, we may not have a baby being born in a barn somewhere who will take on the role of Messiah. Instead, what I think is expected is for us to realize that the birth of Christ is not merely an outward and visible sign, depicted sweetly in a creche, but rather it is the birth of the spirit of Christ in us to grow as he did from that baby dependent on the love of a mother and the dreams of a father to survive into the man who would see the disparities, discord and brokenness of his time and tend to the person in need while calling out the forces that caused the injury in the first place. Jesus didn't make his statements so much as personal indictments of individuals, but he would question the motivation of the individuals which contributed to systematic oppression. We are being asked to do the same as we look at our world today. Who are the people being kept down, being left out, still sitting in darkness? What is colluding to hold them back? This where the light of Christ is ready to enter. Are we willing to be that light?

 O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the
brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known
the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he
lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Are We Ready For This Visitation at Advent Four

Four candles are burning on the Advent wreath now. In our interfaith household, we are also lighting not one, but two, menorrahs on either side of the mantlepiece in our living room. And as I stare into the flames dancing on these candles, I think about the nature of fire as a blazing energy and a purifying force.  

We warn children not to play with fire. There's danger involved with burning things up, and we can see where it can be a destructive force when it is wild fire in a forest, or a house that has gone up in flames. Habitat is destroyed, animals and people can be displaced. Objects that are of value can be reduced to ash. Brings a new meaning to the liturgical phrase, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." This would be the destructive energy of fire. 

But there is also the fire energy that comes from a hearth or a wood stove, providing heat and warmth or even light to a room. We use fire to sterilize the end of a needle if we are using it to help do something like take a splinter out of a finger. A blacksmith forges metal in the fire. And we have the expresssion about having "a fire in the belly" as a way of saying that we have a passion to act on something or make things happen. In other words, fire, like so many things, have the potential to be both destructive and purifying. Even when things get burned away, there is always the possibility for new growth.

I'm in the midst of reading the Rev. Eric Law's book, "The Bush Was Burning But Not Consumed." Law discusses the factors that can lead to what he calls "unholy fire" of either/or and win/lose type of thinking where we set ourselves up as the judge over another as opposed to recognizing God as the ultimate judge and authority. He brought up an example of a conversation he had with a woman who was his chauffer and liason to a conference workshop. The day he had arrived was the day of the verdict in the OJ Simpson case. Before that had gotten very far in their initial contact at the airport, this woman wanted to know from him if he believed OJ Simpson was guilty or not. Rev. Law felt the crackling of the unholy fire coming for if he answered that he thought OJ Simpson was guilty, then this woman was loaded for bear and ready to tell him all the reasons why Simpson was innocent. If he said he thought he was not guilty, he was going to be lying about his own feelings. He made her promise to stay in dialogue with him, which she did. So, he told her that his initial response to the verdict was that he thought he was guilty...

The woman interrupted and wanted to argue. But he implored her to please listen and keep to the bargain they'd made about staying in dialogue. She quited down enough to hear out his reaction and they continued their dialogue over dinner, calmy and listening to one another. And the big reveal was that Law's reason for believing OJ Simpson was guilty was based in his own gut repulsion to men commiting violence against women. He goes on to say that the workshop went very well because the Simpson case became the centerpoint for discussion. Rather than get into the unholy finger-pointing and name-calling that can result in brokenness, the fire fueling the discussions came in the grace to open the ears and listen to one another and be willing to experience the discomfort of hearing things that may not fit in with one's worldview and be OK with that.

With that in mind, imagine what kind of fire it must have been for a young Jewish girl named Mary to have the Archangel Gabriel appear to her and announce that she will be having a baby, and not just any baby, but the Son of God?! The way Luke tells the story, Mary seemed pretty calm about something that for many of us, I think, would have sent us running and screaming from the room. Her life was about to take a radical turn into an off-road adventure. Somehow, I think she might have been a little more than "perplexed" by this message. 

But Mary, the Theotokos, may have been actually more evolved in her way of responding than most others, which is, perhaps, why she became the God bearer. Luke doesn't let us go inside her head to know what all the little voices were saying. But the one clear voice she heard through that Archangel was the voice of God reminding her that she can have her doubts and still be "the most highly favored lady." Because not only with God is everything possible; with God the unholy fire that leads one to want to run from the difficult path is made holy by turning that fear into faith.

How does that relate to our world today? I think we, as a nation, are facing many situations that call us to walk into the fire, all of us, in the trust that we will be put to the test and we will emerge in a better place. The raising of the consciousness of white America to the inequities experienced by people of color at the hands of law enforcement and the judicial system presents an opportunity for us to enter into the flames of purification and come out of that fire to refine those things that need to change to bring about justice. This work isn't easy.  It will be an off-road adventure. And it is necessary, and I believe it can be accomplished if we allow God to be at work in us as the One who will take our unholy fires and make them holy.  

And so we pray...

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Things Getting Stirred at Advent Three

Last week, we heard in the reading from the prophet Isaiah to "Comfort, o comfort, my people." And we had the edgy odd character John the Baptist wandering in from the dessert to preach a message of repentance, or a call to rethink and reconsider your ways, because there was one coming who was much greater than himself. Those were good words to carry with us into the week as we were greeted with more news that likely rattled our cage of comfort. The Senate released a report on the types of tactics our country used to extract information from terrorist suspects. The details of the report were genuinely revolting. Locally, black churches in Wakulla County have had "KKK" spray painted on their marquees. And the budget Congress has sent to the President seems to give more breaks to big banks and wealthy campaign donors further tipping the scales of equality in our economy and politics in favor of the haves over the have nots. Are we hearing the prophetic call to repent?
I attended a lecture series held by Temple Israel and St. John's Episcopal Church which featured a Christian Hebrew Bible scholar named Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke Univeristy's Divinity School. Her topic was the Book of Leviticus. Normally, I would stick my fingers in my ears and repeat, "La la la la" whenever this particular part of the Bible comes up for the obvious reason that I'm a lesbian and am sick of hearing hate-filled people use the verse at Leviticus 18:22 as a means of denying my goodness and the grace extended to me. Thankfully, Dr. Davis didn't narrow in on that verse; instead, she went to Chapter 19, which she describes as the "Reader's Digest-version" of all that one needs to know and understand about this particular part of Torah. She describes Leviticus as a "right-brain book," meaning it is much more poetic and metaphorical in its language than what our normally left-brained selves would expect. That's one of the many reasons one must not read Leviticus with intention of using it literally. Another important point that she made is that the author of Leviticus, whoever that Priestly writer is, did not separate the expectations of ritual purity from moral purity. They are intertwined, and so one cannot, or should not, claim to follow the moral purity codes while rejecting the ritual purity because they are often at play with each other all the time. What I found particularly fascinating was the point she made on the second, and concluding, night of this lecture series. She noted that the covenantal relationship in Leviticus is not just between God and humanity; God has a covenant with the land, and is in the land. And our covenantal relationship is not just with God, but with the land itself. Therefore, failing to keep the covenant with the land and treat it with same love and respect that we are to treat our own bodies is a violation of that relationship, and, in Leviticus, there is language that essentially allows the land to "vomit us up." 
Dr. Davis is most interested in the use of our land for purposes of farming, and certainly we have been guilty of sin there, too, with rampant development and genetic engineering to make crops produce more and grow at times they normally would not. I would say, and listening to her I imagine she would agree, that when we fail to treat one another with the love and dignity and respect we all desire, then we are inviting God and the land to expel us. Her lecture certainly stirred a lot of thinking in me as I reviewed the landscape of our current culture!
Which then brings us to today's readings, specifically the words of the prophet Isaiah.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners; 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn; 
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Is.61:1-3)

As I watched footage of the National Action Network's march in Washington, saw the many photos from the march occuring in New York City, and even in the small Dance for Justice march that took place in Tallahassee, I could see and feel the spirit that is upon us. I get the sense that there is a desire growing in the country for real change. Like with all movements of the spirit such as this, there is also the push back. Not everybody wants to engage in changing the systems or modifying personal habits in favor of helping the greater community. But once the movement begins, it isn't an easy thing to go back to how things were before. 

This is the spirit that is growing brighter as we light the third candle on our Advent wreaths. This is the approach of Christ coming into the world to rattle it some more in the never ending pursuit of infusing Love into our daily experience. Now is the time for that real presence to become flesh.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Heeding the Call of the Prophets at Advent Two

The gospel reading for this Sunday starts, "The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

In our ears today, when we hear the phrase, "Good News," it can produce a feeling of relief, of warmth, of being comfortable with what we are about to receive from the teller of this news. But then the next lines come as a distant refrain from the prophet Isaiah:

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight” ’, 

Is that "good news"? The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness is John the Baptizer, a locust and honey-eating counterculturalist who has wandered into the scene calling for the people to be baptized in repentence for the forgiveness of sins. Is that "good news"? Imagine if today, we were faced with a person who "ain't from 'round here" telling us to look at ourselves, see the ways in which we are broken from our connections to our neighbor, and choose to change and move toward Love? How receptive would we be to this news?

Many priests and preachers are wrestling with this Scripture as they craft their sermons to be delivered to a congregation of people who may or may not want to hear what they have to say. Quite often, the one preaching is that person who is the messenger being sent ahead to give the people the "Good News," in the hopes that there will be a response to that news. Today, many of those same priests and preachers are likely looking at our current state of affairs in this country and wondering, "What do I say?" One person on Facebook who is facing such a situation asked the question, "Where are the prophets today?" I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people are staring into the screens of their computers and laptops wondering the same thing. I did, too, as I went about formulating this post. In my staring, praying, and meditations, I kept coming back to another gospel passage which we won't typically encounter until we're deeper into Lent:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)

I kept thinking about the question of "Where are the prophets?" I believe that we are killing them. The prophets aren't the heroes or the beautiful people. Frequently, they are the average workers, the stutterers, and the ones who are the least likely to be seen as a "leader." They are reluctant participants in God's overall plan, and yet they trust enough to follow. Today, I think they are the ones who are doing what they can to keep body and soul together in this world. They're the ones saying, "I can't breathe" "I don't have a gun. Stop shooting!" and their deaths are raising up the voices of new prophets who are taking to the streets, tape over their mouths in some cases, or lying down in the major intersection of a city. They are calling us to take a good, long look at our systems, and how they are skewed and how some of us benefit while others are left to wonder if they are worth anything at all to anyone. I doubt that Eric Garner, or Michael Brown, or any of the others shot and killed by police would call themselves "prophets."  But what their deaths have done is raise some important prophetic questions for us to wrestle with and highlight the need for a new approach and better training of our police officers. For me, as a white person, it has forced me to consider that for my black brothers and sisters, not even the courts are a place where they feel safe and will receive a fair shake. Not even a videotape of what happened was enough to bring a grand jury indictment so we could have a trial in the death of Eric Garner. The non-indictment of the officer who used an illegal chokehold in his death was so upsetting to me that I felt the same sense of grief and horror that I felt when I saw the images of people stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Upon hearing the news out of New York, all I could do was reach out to one of my black friends, and cry, and repeat, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." 

We need to listen to the call of these new prophets. We must be willing to repent and return to Love by committing to real change. This is what John the Baptizer was telling the people of First Century Palestine as he warned them of a one who was coming, and this is the drumbeat we are are hearing now.

 Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Casting Away Darkness at Advent One

A new church year begins this Sunday as we begin the season of Advent. It is a time where the people who are sitting in great darkness will begin to see the growing light each week with another candle lit on the Advent wreath, a symbol of the light Christians anticipate seeing return to the world.

Now would be a great time for there to be more light in the world!

This has been a particularly difficult time for many in the United States, and especially here in Leon County, Florida. The country has been tuned into the Ferguson case. And as things were exploding and protests were occurring all over the country in response to the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, people in Tallahassee were lining the streets, in the rain, to pay respects to deputy Christopher Smith who, a week ago, was ambushed by a white man with a gun and anti-government streak. The gunman set fire to his house to lure the police and firefighters to the scene. Deputy Smith was the first to arrive, and he was the only one Curtis Wade Holley was able to shoot and kill before another off-duty cop, who lived in the neighborhood, responded and fatally shot him. All this after there had been a shooting at the library on FSU's campus only a few days earlier where a graduate of FSU, with a history of growing delusions and mental illness, shot three people and fired at the police when they ordered him to drop his gun. Six police officers vs. one guy with a gun. You know who lost that battle.

So much violence. So many shots fired. So little of what we might call justice in the world. It certainly all seems to fit in with the themes that emerge at the end of a church year. The daily office readings, and the Sunday lectionary, often reflect a sense of things falling apart, the eschaton or End Times. For some, the events in Tallahassee have made them cautious about saying what they feel about how things went this week in Ferguson. I can understand the reticence. Nobody here wants to appear to be trashing law enforcement when they've just been through more hell than usual in our relatively small city. But, as with so many things in life, this isn't a question of either/or; it's more a both/and. And so, I don't see raising questions about the Ferguson case as being a put down to law enforcement in Tallahassee or Leon County. And I think it is time, more than time, for people to recognize, and to listen to the cry of our black brothers and sisters and other people of color who do not feel they stand on equal ground. Can we have an honest conversation and open our ears and listen to each other? We must do this. People of color must express themselves without fear and that includes the people of my color, too. Those who are the peace makers, we have to make a commitment to work to change the system...even if that change isn't something we'll enjoy seeing in our lifetime. But we owe that to the generations of children that are growing up quickly. And it's the perfect discipline to begin for Advent.

If Advent is, at least for us Christians, the preparation for the dawning of a new day and the return of Christ into our world, then isn't Advent the time for us to see the brokenness that is in our world, and connect with others to change it? I'm talking about race relations, which will be the topic in some of the major cathedrals throughout the Episcopal Church in the United States this Advent. And that is a desperately important topic in all cities and towns in this country. Perhaps this division between people of color and whites is contributing to poverty. Maybe it is at play in child abduction and human trafficking. Maybe it is simply the starting point of a broader discussion about the many ways we have managed to break down our worldviews into a series of "us" vs. "them" arguments that go nowhere but toward more sin, or breaking from God.

Scripture indicates that God's dream for us is that we live as one with all that is One. How would it look if we could really function and live as if we are truly connected to one another and all those connections lead us to the Source that is Love? Crazy and radical as this may sound to some, I really believe that we are supposed to be living as one human race... made up of a canopy of lots of "otherness"... but at the end time of it all... we are really supposed to live as though each and every person we encounter is our brother and sister... and we are stewards, or caretakers, of all creatures great and small.

Maybe for this Advent the challenge put before us is to see brokenness as the darkness that needs our light and for us to be willing to bring our lights out of the safety of our own homes and into those places that need more light so they can see their way out of the darkness.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of
darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of
this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit
us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come
again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the
dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Let's Not Just Make Noise; Let's Make a Difference"

I tuned in to CSPAN last night to hear the outcome of the St. Louis County grand jury investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson this past August. I knew CSPAN would provide the coverage, sans talking heads, so that I could make my own conclusions about what was said. And what I heard from the District Attorney made me scratch my head and say, "Huh?" 

I appreciated the methodical detail of the course of events that led to Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson crossing paths with 18-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown. But as I heard the story unfold, I couldn't help but wish that this were one of those movies where we could pause the action and allow for an alternate ending. Did Officer Wilson really need to back up his vehicle and block Brown and his friend? Did Brown really need to have an altercation through the window of the police SUV with Wilson? When Wilson's gun went off and grazed Brown's thumb sending the 18 year-old man fleeing down the street, did Officer Wilson really need to pursue him, or could he have waited for back up to arrive? And did Officer Wilson really need to fire off repeated rounds at Brown, even when Brown turned around? The District Attorney said there were conflicting stories. That's believable since it was a highly emotionally-charged scene, and probably the adrenaline of witnesses was running as hard and fast as the two men engaged in the fight. But I just can't shake the fact that Brown didn't have a gun. Officer Wilson did. Even the forensic evidence cited showed that Brown was collapsing forward and yet the bullets kept flying. And one family lost a child, a young man.

The grand jury took what was presented to them, and concluded that Officer Wilson was within his right as a law enforcement officer to respond as he did. Missouri had spoken, and America reacted to the news. 

Many of us, African-Americans and people of all colors, were, sadly, not entirely surprised by this decision. But we were disappointed. Many were angry. Unfortunately for business owners along a block of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, MO, the anger erupted in setting buildings ablaze and destroying the workplaces. The news media, naturally, gravitated toward the more violent outbursts even though there were peaceful demonstrations and vigils taking place not only in the St. Louis area, but all over the country. As I noted on Facebook, division and fear make for good television visuals. Nobody wants to show the non-violent protests, the people allowing themselves to scream out for justice and not just burn the whole thing down.

I understand the rage. I cannot help but feel the powerlessness of people who, rightly or wrongly, believe the whole system is set up against them. How many times have unarmed black men and women been shot and killed, yet nothing happens? How many parents have had to teach their sons how to behave when the cops approach them, and now even telling their children to put their hands up or out and away from their body doesn't necessarily save them? And there won't be a trial, held in the light of the public eye, to get at the truth in this case. Even the announcement of the non-indictment came at night and not during the day.

I understand the tension of the police. It is not easy to put on a uniform that invites such disparate responses of repulsion on the one hand, and adoration to an extreme on the other hand. It's a dangerous and difficult job, particularly in a country which has a love affair with individual rights to be their own private militia. I was once a student officer with the University of Missouri police department, so I know the type of abusive behavior the cops endure from the public they serve. 

But what I don't understand is how we can keep having these same scenarios play out over and over and over where, at the end of the day, a young African-American or other person of color who is unarmed ends up dead, and there are no consequences, no discipline, real justice.

Some have argued that Michael Brown wasn't an innocent choir boy on his way to his grandma's house. They note that the confrontation between Wilson and Brown stemmed from the report of someone matching Brown's description having just stolen some cigarillos from a convenience store. Officer Wilson testified that he saw cigars in Brown's hand and he realized that he was likely the thief. There are many, mostly white Americans, saying that Brown shouldn't have broken the law by stealing the cigars. And there are those who go so far as to say, "He got what he deserved."

I have to wonder when it became justice to shoot and kill someone for shoplifting? If that's now a capital crime, then there are lots of kids and young people who won't make it to their adult years.

And it doesn't answer the central question that is still in my mind: why did Officer Wilson feel so threatened and afraid that he shot to kill, rather than wound, Michael Brown?

I don't think we'll ever really know that answer. And so I go to the place that Michael Brown's parents have gone: demand that their son's death not just be more noise in the racial clammoring of America, but that we do something to make a difference. The difference needs to be greater than Ferguson because what happened there on a mid-day August Saturday could easily have happened here in Tallahassee, or in Seattle, or in West Roxbury. Communities of color have very little trust that the police are there to serve and protect them. Constant racial profiling hasn't helped and may actually be contributing to a subconscious belief that everybody is a bad guy until proven not guilty. The Browns have called for all police to have body cameras to record their interactions. That will document what happens at traffic stops and such. But there are still more things that may need to happen. And it will take all of us, police officers and the communities they serve, to come together and work toward solutions that will address the growing mistrust.

My faith tells me that I am to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being. That is my ongoing commitment in my hope and desire that we will all one day see that we are a human race made up of many hues which also color our experiences which in turn become our realities. I will commit to the long slog toward making true equality THE reality.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

If Christ is the King, then....

We've reached the end of the season of Pentecost and have arrived at the date that is commonly known throughout the Episcopal Church as "Christ the King" Sunday. To punctuate the moment, we hear the famous words from Matthew's Gospel:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:34-39).

We also know what follows this. Those who don't feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, take care of the sick or visit the prisoner are the ones who have not done the will of the king...and they will not inherit eternal life.  To put this all in simpler terms, when we take care of each other, look out for each other, recognize our selves in the "other", this is when we have made earth more like heaven. It's when we do the simple things of paying attention to the people we encounter and treat them with the respect and dignity afforded every human being that we put the Christ back into Christianity and He can reign as king.

Just saying, "Oh, yes, I will take care of the poor and the needy," doesn't cut it. To actually achieve "earth as it is in heaven" entails a lot of work and it isn't for the feight of heart. It means entering into the messiness of humanity and sitting with the stranger in the dark and daring to touch their hand or their shoulder to remind them that they are not alone.

We've had some terrifying events lately in Tallahassee which sadly are the same terrifying events that happen in cities and towns all over this country every day. A person with a gun opens fire on people who are unarmed or responding to others in need of help. It happened twice in less than three days. On the Florida State University campus, a young man who had graduated from FSU and gone on to law school and had a career as an attorney in New Mexico returned to his alma mater, to the library where he used to love to study as an undergraduate, and shot three people. When the police arrived and ordered him to drop his weapon, he fired off shots at them. They killed him. Myron May wasn't the smiling student and promising young lawyer he'd been. Friends report that he had been on a terrifying downward spiral of mental illness and a belief that the police had bugged everything from his car to his sneakers. We won't know why he felt the need to go back to the campus he loved to inflict pain and terror. But it seems he is yet another victim of a mental healthcare system that has too many gaps in which very sick and troubled people continuously fall and their families and friends are powerless to do much more than watch. When one has to "do something" in order to get help, it can lead to them "doing something," that harms themselves or others. That seems to have been the case with Myron May. And how sad is that. It wasn't that his friends didn't attempt to go sit with him in his dark place, to get him the help he needed. They did. But the gaps that have been allowed to grow in the system, the inability due to bureaucracies to get people help conspired against their efforts. And so a campus and its police officers got pulled into his hell. And we, again, are left with questions: why can't someone with a mental illness get proper treatment? And how in the world are they able to purchase a gun?

Another man, with a gun, took aim this morning at Leon County Sheriffs deputies and Tallahassee firefighters responding to a house fire on a normally quiet cul-de-sac. Details are still sketchy, but it seems this guy was someone with a record and known to be trouble. He may have set fire to the home as a way of drawing out the first responders, and then he ambushed the first deputy on the scene, killing him and taking his gun. An off-duty TPD officer who happened to live in the neighborhood and was preparing to work a shift at the FSU football game, heard the melee outside and was the one who ultimately ended up shooting and killing the guy. A neighborhood was terrified and shaken. And more lie dead from gunshots. Many are quick to note that it could have been worse. But that is small consolation to those mourning the dead. All day on Facebook, as the story of this latest shooting unfolded, I would learn that one friend may have known the perpertrator; another lives only a few houses away from the dead deputy. The violence ripples out from the crime scene and touches us all. 

If Christ is King, then surely he must be like the man who returned from his journey in last week's Gospel parable only to find that the person given the one talent (which was actually a huge amount of money in those days) had buried it because he knew the man was greedy. What will this King have to say about how we've been doing, as a human race, to make earth resemble heaven? Will he note how we throw our hands up and say, "We can't do anything about XYZ because... (fill in the list of excuses)?" Perhaps as we prepare for the return of the King in these coming weeks of Advent, we might begin with looking at our unwillingness to tackle the tough issues every single day, and demand better of our leaders and our selves when it comes to the lack of adequate resources for mental health care. Maybe now is the time to ask the harder questions about the easy access to guns, and for those with the power to change laws to worry more about the public good than the next election cycle. The "least of these" are really any of us and all of us. Our refusal to see that and respond in Love to one another through doing the hard work of making earth like heaven is when we fail the King.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sharing Talents...and Worship Spaces

The Gospel lesson read across the Episcopal Church on Sunday is the familiar story of the man going on a journey who gives out talents to his slaves. The one who received the most invested it and made more. Same with the one given the modest amount. But the one given a single talent buried it in the ground. When the man returns from his journey and learns what the slave with the one talent did, he takes that one talent away, gives it to the one with the most and banishes the "wicked slave" for squandering the opportunity he'd been given with his one talent.

Lots of churches use this time as an opportunity to bring up that uncomfortable "S" word: stewardship.  And stewardship becomes uncomfortable because it means talking about money. And money makes people uncomfortable because the people who don't have any can be led to feel guilty that they don't have means, and the people who do have money can end up feeling put out because they're expected to give more. The old saying, "Money is the root of all evil," really is true. Because stewardship gets so focused on the false god of money, we miss the true God over and over.

So, instead of talking money, I want to talk about how hearing this Gospel story made me reflect upon a dust-up in Episcopal circles about the use of Washington National Cathedral by Muslims for prayers last Friday.  You might have heard that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, opened use of the cathedral's sanctuary to Muslims for their sabbath day prayers. This was an invitation-only event, and included some non-Muslims as well. The purpose was reconcilliation and allowing the many more members of the Islamic faith to pray in peace and show the face of Islam that doesn't make headlines. Security for the event had to be tight due to threats. And even with that, a middle-aged white woman was inside and attempted to disrupt the prayers with shouts about Jesus dying on the cross. She was escorted out by a verger (we do come in handy at times like these!). In some ways, that outburst was similar to what happened to Bishop Gene Robinson when he was invited to preach at a church in London during the last Lambeth Conference. And it is the same source that powers those actions: fear. Fear of something or someone "different." Fear of something or someone "changing." Fear that someone or something is not able to be "controlled." The participants were able to get past the momentary interruption and continued with the service. 

When I first hear that this event was happening, I was puzzled. Had something happened to a mosque in DC that required Muslims to relocate? No, this was a gesture of stewardship. I thought about that some more. I am someone who believes that we, all of us who say we are people of faith, are approaching the same One God. There are those who prefer Goddess, but I use the term God. I also strive to avoid referring to God as a male figure, unless I am referring to Jesus Christ, who I believe is not only a male figure, but the symbol of a fully-realized man who does not see women and the spirit of the feminine as a threat to his manliness and is so completely at one with the One that he is indistinguishable from that source of Holy. I believe that the Holy Spirit is the mysterious, sometimes impish, essence of God that is always around us, above us, below us, and within us, and not only descended onto Jesus at baptism but was part of Jesus from his formation. I am, therefore, very much a Christian. That said, if people don't hold my same Trinitarian views and have a different way of accessing the Divine, who am I to say, "No, you're wrong!"? I believe that as long as people are turning their faces toward more Love, more Light, more Wisdom, then, in my theology as of November 18th, Jesus would join me in rejoicing that some of the "other sheep" have also found their way back to the flock. At times in my discussions with people who also call themselves "Christian" and even "Episcopalian," I have found that my views don't jive with their views of the Almighty, or this idea that there is One God. And from what I understand, that's a lot of what the comments have been on the cathedral's Facebook page and website.

But I want to go back to that word, "stewardship." If this cathedral is called the "National Cathedral," and we are a nation of multiple faith traditions, then it would seem to me that we would open the doors to other faiths as a way of being good stewards to our brothers and sisters of other traditions. As best as I can tell, this gesture of reconcilliation did nothing to disrupt the worship of Episcopalians who call the Washington National Cathedral their church home. In fact, it might have actually planted the seeds for some important, powerful, and spiritual work that I think we must start doing: namely, recognizing the divinity of other people who aren't like us and beginning to address the wounds that have kept us hurting and angry at each other for centuries. It will take a long, long time to do this work, longer than my lifetime, that's for sure. I applaud our Episcopal dean for making a move in this direction. 

Stewardship isn't just about time, talent and treasure. It's about living into our every day call to love one another as we have been loved by Christ... including the call to reach out to the stranger and welcome them in as part of the human family. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin'

There is the old saying that you should never discuss religion or politics, but I am going to violate that rule and do both in the same post.  It just can't be avoided.

The Gospel lesson from this Sunday was the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids and their oil lamps. There were ten. Five were the wise ones who brought along extra oil for their lamps; the other five were fools who only brought enough for the hour or so that they thought they needed it. When the bridegroom was late arriving, the foolish ones demanded that the wise ones give up some of their oil. The wise ones say, "No, go buy your own oil," and so the five underprepared bridesmaids go off to get more oil. While they are away, the bridesgroom arrives and greets the wise ones who stuck around with their extra oil. When the fools come back and realize that they'd missed the party and the door was closed to them. And bang as they would on the door, the bridesgroom wouldn't let them in because he didn't know who they were. Jesus ends this teaching with, "Keep awake therefore for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Matt 25:13).

What a wonderful parable to illustrate the voting public of Florida! Only 50-percent turned out to the polls statewide last Tuesday. The other 50-percent, who had ample opportunity to vote early, mail in a ballot, or make plans to vote on Election Day, just simply didn't do it. In my viewing of this situation in light of the Gospel, I would say that the 50-percent who did vote are likely the ones who still have enough oil. Others might argue that the wise ones were those who didn't bother to vote. "The system is rigged," they say. "Money has bought elections," they complain. But these are the fools who don't realize that all the money that got poured into negative campaign ads that play ad nauseum during election season are designed to keep people from voting, and thinking they're the smart ones for believing that "Everyone is a scumbag, so what's the point?" As I have pointed out in posts on social media, Big Money has figured out how to do a lot of things, but the one thing it still doesn't know how to do is stand in the privacy booth and mark a ballot. It can influence the person who is doing the marking, but it takes a person to go vote. By not voting, Big Money wins. Everyone knows that when there is a large voter turnout in Florida, the Democratic Party is more likely to win. And while I'm not a fan of the Democratic Party, their candidates are usually more in line with my thinking, especially on gay rights and the environment.

So, if the 50-percent who did vote are like the wise bridesmaids,  how did we re-elect our climate change denier Governor and the anti-gay attorney general? Because clearly the 50-percent who did vote still do care, and still do see the vote as the one and only way to influence democracy. Those people exist in all political stripes: Republican, Democrat, Independent, Socialist, Green, etc. And, as I said when it comes to Florida elections, if voter turn out is low, it's usually those more likely to vote for Democrats who stay home because they are easily dissuaded from casting ballots. So,--yes-- I am saying Florida Democrats are fools, and have behaved as fools. Their party has lived from election-to-election and done nothing to build up their potential leadership in the meantime. As such, they are more likely to run out of oil, and let their lights go out. Certainly, that was my take away from this election.

But what about those of us who did vote and were on the short-end of the stick? What are we to do now?

The offertory anthem, "Keep Your Lamps" by Andre Thomas, that we sang at St. Thomas contains the perfect instruction:

Keep your lamps, trimmed and burnin'
Keep your lamps, trimmed and burnin'
Keep your lamps, trimmed and burnin'
The time is growing nigh!

Children don't grow weary
Children don't grow weary
Children don't grow weary
'til your work is done!

If we cared enough to vote, even in those instances when we were less-than-excited about the particular candidate, then we clearly have enough oil left in our beings to keep our lamps lit up in the hope of justice and freedom from those things that hold us back. Yes, the re-election of certain people is discouraging. But leaders come and go, and our collective lights can out last them if we carefully tend to that flickering flame of Love.

In the meantime, I can only hope the fools will actually purchase oil and not water as we await the next round of elections in two years.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Print This or Copy It Down and Vote!

Because so many have are my opinions about most of the issues and candidates on the ballot in Florida, particularly in North Florida... that part of the state that isn't exactly Miami Beach.

Election Day is upon us. This is your opportunity to cast your ballot for the future of this state...and the nation. And the planet.

No, that is not hyperbole. Florida is in trouble with climate change and melting glaciers. "A Word from Mother Earth" was a skit and was poking fun at the issue. But sea levels are rising, and when large portions of your state are below sea level, it's time to quit laughing about it unless you like living underwater.

And this is why when you look at the race for Governor, which features the unnaturally tan and quick-silvered Charlie Crist against a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Harry Potter character Voldemort you should vote for the reborn Democrat Crist. The sitting Governor, Rick Scott, has denied that humans and our industries have contributed in any way to climate change. And his excuse for not taking action is grounded in the statement, "I'm not a scientist." That's pretty clear since he doesn't know the distinction between an electric device, such as a fan, and an electronic device, such as an iPhone.  And then let's not get into the criminal past of bilking Medicare. Do I really have to help you any more?

Our Congressional District race is also an obvious choice, especially if you're a woman. I'm not saying that you should vote for Gwen Graham because SHE's a woman; I'm saying you should NOT vote for Steve Southerland because (despite his splitting hairs technicality that he voted for *a* version of the Violence Against Women Act) Southerland has opposed the VAWA, he thinks "the missus'" need to stay at home while the men drink Irish whiskey and smoke cigars, and he has done nothing but be an obstructionist while in DC. I went to a Gwen Graham house party. I listened to her concerns about our environment. I share her concerns and I have a sense that she really wants to go to Washington and serve the district, not her buddies. Let Steve Southerland go back to Panama City to bury the dead. Vote for Gwen Graham.

For some reason, George Sheldon seems to be running a campaign of silence. Maybe he's hoping that Attorney General Pam Bondi hangs herself with her record of fighting losing causes with great gusto. Or her famous concern for the Chesapeake Bay, which perhaps, through the workings of climate change, will become part of a Florida water system. Even though Sheldon hasn't put an ad on TV or come 'round knocking on my door, I am a lesbian, and I will not vote for a woman who is so expert at "traditional marriage" that she's done it three times already... all the while refusing to give up and acknowledge that the state's constitution discriminates against lesbian and gay couples wishing to marry. You don't have to be a lesbian to find Pam Bondi offensive. Vote for George Sheldon.

OK... now we get on to "the rest of the ballot." This will go pretty quickly.  If you love your licensed massage therapist, if massage therapy has helped to aid your injured body in recovering from a motor vehicle accident, then you will vote for William "Will" Rankin for Chief Financial Officer. WHO?? The guy running against incumbent Jeff Atwater, who backed the legislation that Voldemort signed that doesn't allow you, the consumer and accident victim, to see a massage therapist under your PIP auto insurance. Atwater "has never heard of anyone getting better from an auto accident" because they went to see a massage therapist. Oh, really?! Rankin for CFO. It may just be a protest vote, but I'm protesting.

Commissioner of Agriculture: here I'll tell you to vote for Adam Putnam, the incumbent. The Democratic Party has fielded Thaddeus "Thad" Hamilton for a second time for this office, but then does nothing to get out information about the man. All I can find out about him is that he holds an undergraduate degree in Agriculture, has an extensive Army record and has served on the Broward Soil and Water Conservation Board. I suppose if you're a die-hard Democrat, you'll vote for him. Otherwise, I would just vote for Putnam.

Speaking of Soil and Water, let's skip over to those races. Group 2: this is a classic case of guilt-by-association makes me say, "Ewww." Apparently, William Helmich has worked for Marco Rubio; therefore vote for Stan Peacock. Group 4: Brian Lee is a Faust fan, friend of mine on FB (and I do know him), and he and his wife, Kim Ross, are passionate about this planet and protecting it. This time, "by association" leads to a "Vote for Brian."

Judges of the First District Court of Appeal. These always seem to cause voters the most heartburn. Of course, if we simply had appointed judges, that would eliminate the problem. But we have that marriage of appointment and election called "merit retention," whereby voters can reject a judge the Governor has appointed. We have five judges on the ballot: Robert Benton is a Yes; Joseph Lewis Jr. is a Yes. Judges Makar and Osterhaus were appointed by Governor Lord Voldemort and so...guilt-by-association...No. And then the last one, Clay eye started twitching when I saw his name. Clay Roberts was the head of the Division of Elections under former FL Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and was in that office during the presidential election in 2000. Yeah, you remember that election? (commence with slow rocking back and forth). Not only is Roberts a No; he should be a HELL NO!

Constitutional Amendments: Well, perhaps you've detected that I care about the environment, public lands, taking care of our natural resources. And that's the gist of Amendment One. It establishes a dedicated funding source to protect things such as our drinking water supply, our forests, and the Everglades. Vote Yes. 

Amendment Two, which I lovingly refer to as the "Reeferendum" is also a Yes. I don't smoke pot, but I have and I did inhale and I used to like it until I realized it heightened traits that I didn't like. But this amendment feels like Florida is finally catching up to things I was reporting on in the late 1990s! I'm sure the then-drug czar Jim McDonough must have thought I was a pothead. I was not. But, again, I am a lesbian and I knew people who were sick with HIV/AIDS and I knew that medicinal marijuana would have helped them with symptoms, including stimulating their appetite. Please vote Yes for all those who could really stand to benefit from a plant and not a pill.

Amendment Three. Please go back to my discussion of judges. Did you see where I say that Voldemort has appointed judges to the First DCA? Now, imagine giving Voldemort or ANY Governor the power to appoint a judge BEFORE the current sitting judge retires or otherwise vacates the seat. Does that sound like a good idea? I didn't think so! Vote NO!
I hope this helps those of you still scratching your heads and wondering what to do this election. Remember, these are just my opinions and you are not bound to follow any of my advice. But you will regret it if you don't. :-) Do the responsible thing: VOTE! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

O Blessed Communion

"O blessed communion fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee for all are thine:
Alleluia! Alleluia!"
--For All the Saints, Hymn #287, 1982 Hymnal

One of the things I've noticed about myself is that I am keenly aware of "the seasons."  I'm not talking about summer, fall, winter and spring, which, in this particular part of the United States, are often simply called, "Too hot!" or "Too cold!" with about a week or two of "just right." I am talking about the church calendar, and the various occasions in the church calendar. The most recent is All Saints' Day, which many churches marked today, even though it was technically yesterday.

This is another time when what Christians, at least Christians still identifying with our roots in the early Roman Catholic traditions, have adopted what was a pagan custom and found meaning in it for ourselves. Pagans at this time of the year commemorate Samhain (pronounced Sowin) which is a time when the veils between the worlds of the living and dead have thinned and they remember the ancestors. We do the same thing in Christianity, even if we don't necessarily speak of it in those terms. We take this time to remember those loved ones who have died, and we reflect upon and give thanks for the communion of saints that have gone before us.

I realized that with this holy day coming up, my mind was on my mother, who died this year in February. As the weather transitioned from the season of "Too Hot" to "Too Cold," I discovered that I had in the inside pocket of my jacket several of her prayer cards from the funeral home. It seemed weirdly appropriate that they were there, and I pulled one out to put in my music folder. As we sang the traditional, "For All the Saints," I was able to have her looking at me with the smile I know would have been there if she were still in the flesh and with me. We didn't sing her favorite, ultra-Anglican, hymn, "I sing a song for the saints of God," but we did sing, "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones," which had been in her funeral service. And while my particular church chose to stick to the readings assigned for 21 Pentecost, I was aware that elsewhere in the Episcopal Church, the Gospel lesson had been the Beatitudes...the same Gospel reading I'd selected for my mother's funeral. Clearly, it seems my mother was making sure the walls that separate us--the ones of living in this life and the next--were going to crumble some. Perhaps this is why the Patriots also won handily in their game against the Denver Broncos...

I have been touched with sadness through all of this.  There have been tears as I considered that I lost her this year... as well as friends who died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Their memories are indeed for a blessing, and the loss is still fresh enough that it sometimes catches me when I realize that they are no longer here.

I keep remembering how I felt the day of my mom's funeral, held the day after my birthday and with more snow falling outside the church. Inside, I felt her presence, and I had an odd experience of sensing that she was sitting in the pew enjoying this celebration of her life. Today, I felt as though she was with me again and not just in a picture smiling back at me from my music folder.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

EDAT: Loving the Neighbor and the Neighborhood

Last year, I wrote about a mission with a dream to transform an urban neighborhood in Thomasville, GA, with a simple, yet intensive effort, to build a community garden and refurbish a church vicarage into a community center.  

That dream is now a beautiful blessed space, and it is thriving. It is attracting the interest of the neighborhood on Oak Street as well as local city government officials and agencies that are anxious to see it succeed on the grounds of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. 

EDAT, or the Episcopal Development Agency of Thomasville, has had many minds at work in the past couple of years, coming from the three Episcopal Churches in the city to commit to working jointly to make this dream a reality. Three members from All Saints, Good Shepherd, and St. Thomas formed the initial board of directors. They quickly realized they needed to gain a couple more people from outside of the church communities to serve on the board. In July, they hired Keith Jenkins, a native Georgian with community organizing in his bones, to be the executive director. Keith took to the neighborhood around Oak Street, talking to the residents and getting them excited to come work in the garden. 

The garden has done quite well. In fact, amazingly well! This winter, Good Shepherd was using greens grown on the premises in their food ministry program. Neighbors were excited to pick okra off of plants that were growing taller than anything they'd ever seen. Children in the neighborhood learned how to pickle vegetables. 

As Keith talked to folks, he learned what it is they're hoping to get out of this project: programs about health care, healthy living, and job creation opportunities. Social service groups have come in to set up after-school tutoring, a necessary support so the next generation will be ready to become the job creators in the community. Habitat for Humanity stepped in to refurbish the vicarage, sanding and refinishing the floors, repairing the walls, repainting the structure. 

And the neighbors watched this transformation. There were some who wanted to get involved, to also help out. This was their community center, their garden, their little corner of Thomasville.

The gospel lesson for today was another episode of the authorities in Jesus' day playing a game of "gotcha." The game is not too dissimilar to the shouting matches that pass as political discourse in the country today. The question before Jesus was for him to say what is the greatest commandment. And Jesus, good Jewish man that he was, quoted the Shema, "Love God with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind". And love your neighbor likewise. Jesus goes on to assert that all the other 612 laws found in Torah are all linked to that simple, yet challenging task, to love God and love your neighbor. The EDAT project is an embodiment... the incarnation... of that simple command. It is born from a place of love grounded in God that then reaches out to neighbors to make something good happen. All are welcome into this Love that has built bonds between people from different worlds in Thomasville. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

You Can't Hide Your Light: National Coming Out Day 2014

‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. --Luke 8:16-17

Let these two sentences sink in for a minute. Today is National Coming Out Day, and when I read these words out of Luke's gospel, I smiled broadly and thought, "Yes!" This is the truth of what it is for a person who comes out. The moment that a person ignites the spark and puts it to the candle of their inner truth, there's no way to hide it. And why would they? The realization that one is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a bigger personal shift than most people understand. There's the whole process an individual goes through to figure out why he or she doesn't feel "right." Society, and all its various cultural institutions, are geared toward being heterosexual. So, if you're not that, then you tend to feel "weird" and out-of-place. And, for many, they don't know what "it" is that makes them feel so ill-at-ease. Once they discover what "it" is, it's as if all of their life finally starts to make sense and fall into place. Lack of confidence gets replaced with a sense of worth that they were hitherto unable to wrap their minds around. And, just like that light that cannot be hidden, the understanding and appreciation of who they really are shines through and cannot be, nor should it be, covered up and hidden.

There was a wonderful story shared as a meme by PFLAG National on Facebook today.

This, to me, is the way that God working through us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Whoever was the actor or actress in that Mickey Mouse costume that day responded in the way that I believe Christ calls us to respond to someone so young and searching for the candle to light in her darkness of self-doubt and worry that the world will turn against her. Whether that person playing Mickey is a Christian or not, their response was the act of Christian charity that all of us who do call ourselves Christian would be well-advised to follow. And for all we know, given the high number of LGBTQI people in the entertainment industry, that Mickey Mouse may have been having a personal moment of realizing that he or she was able to either keep that flame burning or snuff it out. 

Not all people feel safe coming out, and that is the reality and one of the many shames still facing us in this nation and the world. For those of us who are safer in being authentically who we are, it is incumbant on us to keep pass the light to others and burning up fear to blaze a new path and a new way so that all people can come out.

Whoever you are, and however you identify, don't be afraid to let that light and spark of inner truth and power of yourself shine through. You are the light of the world. And the world will be much darker if you continue to hide your light.