Friday, May 30, 2014

They Rethought It at Sewanee

This just in from the "Holy Mountain" at Sewanee: University of the South:

Dear Members of the Faculty and Staff,

Last week I wrote to you about a matter concerning the University policy on the blessing of same-sex relationships. Over the past week, the Chaplain and I, along with the Chancellor and Regent Bishops, have been in lengthy discussions about how to accommodate the request to allow the blessing of a same-sex relationship after the couple making the request has already had a civil marriage. This particular scenario, highly improbable in December 2012, when only six states (four in New England) plus the District of Columbia permitted same-sex marriage, will become increasingly likely, now that nineteen states permit same-sex marriage and in seven additional states the matter is currently in the courts. We have been assisted by Professor Jim Turrell, whose expertise in the field of liturgics has led to the crafting of a liturgy to be used specifically in those cases where a same-sex couple has already had a civil marriage. As a result, the request to confer a blessing in All Saints’ Chapel has been granted.

I extend my deepest appreciation to all of those involved in the resolution of this issue, which has been handled in the best tradition of our University, with civility, reason, and, above all, an open mind.
John McCardell

This from Kathyn Kendrick, one of the two women involved in this situation:

"Eva and I are grateful and humbled by Bishop Howard's grant of our appeal to have our relationship blessed at All Saints' Chapel and to each of you for your support not only for the two of us, but equality of all persons at Sewanee: University of the South.

We would like to thank Bishop Howard for his leadership throughout this process and for the fairness and spirit of truth with which he and others approached our dialogue.

This evening we are gathered with our closest family members as we prepare to celebrate our legal marriage tomorrow afternoon.  This news has brought joy to our hearts and tears to our eyes as this decision has blessed us in more ways than we can name.

We are thankful for the opportunity to live our lives with integrity and to be part of the Sewanee community."

And we all shout, "Thanks be to God!" and Mazel Tov to Kathryn and Eva as they, and their many supporters, have helped to open the doors a little further for love to flourish on a mountain top in Tennessee.  

May the Holy Spirit continue this good work begun in Tennessee to also exist in the home dioceses of the Chancellor and Regent Bishops.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Ascension and Angelou

As I woke up this morning and thought about this being Ascension Day, that day we remember  when Christ ascended into heaven,  my mind kept drifting back to the events of yesterday.  The poet, author, civil rights and social justice activist Maya Angelou died peacefully in her sleep at her home in North Carolina.  She was 86 years old.  There was no immediate cause of death given.  In fact, word is that she was laughing and planning for a Fourth of July celebration when she went to bed on the night of May 27th.  She'd been frail these past few years, and those close to her were saying her death wasn't unexpected.  Just not now.  

I imagine that this sadness and bewilderment at the death of such a huge figure in American literature and life was similar to how the apostles must have felt when Jesus physically leaves them again to ascend and sit at the right hand of God.  He's spent time preparing them for this departure with the promises that another is coming to dwell with them and give them the strength and courage to carry on.   And then he is gone, lifted up into the sky much the same way his Jewish ancestor Elijah rode off into heaven.  Like those of us who saw the news of Angelou's death trickling in over social media feeds, I wouldn't be surprised if they were staring, blinking up at the sky, and thinking, "We heard him say he was going to go.  But did it have to be now?"

In a word, yes.  Yes, he has to go now.  He has given all that he had.  He has equipped them with the knowledge and wisdom to live life.  Now, it's time for them to do it.  And he gives them that reassuring message from the end of the Matthew Gospel, "Remember I am with you always to the end of the age."

My introduction to Maya Angelou's writing came in prep school.  We had to read books over the summer that would be the subject of our first test in our English classes upon our return to school.  For me, the slow reader, this felt like a dreaded compulsory exercise, and not a pleasant one at that.  But usually there was at least one book on the list that I could enjoy.  Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings," was one of those books for me.  Her autobiography gripped me with its frankness about rape, and the ability of the young Maya to claim her place in a world of sexism and racism.  Later in college, I discovered what a gift I'd been given to have read Angelou in high school.  Many of my classmates in a junior level English course which doubled as Women's Studies had never read her, or Richard Wright, or even Malcolm X (I had chosen to read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" in the 8th Grade.)  

Yesterday's news of Angelou's death left many on Facebook devastated.  Some of my friends changed their profile pictures to a portrait of Maya Angelou.  Lots of them posted messages and videos of interviews with her and some of her poetry readings.   

One of her poems, "Still I Rise," seemed particularly appropriate for Ascension Day.

Much in the same way that Christ's final departure from the planet and from his friends is an invitation for them to live on in the spirit he shared with them, I feel that we, who held Dr. Angelou in high esteem as a poet voice for our country, are now invited to heed her words of wisdom and live into them.  It is one of the comforts an artist leaves behind: the body of their life's work when their soul has left the physical body to become part of the heavenly body.  Maya Angelou used words and her voice to guide us into that same direction of Christ to live life, and not be boring.  Let's do it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rethink This, Sewanee

Note: This post has been updated HERE.
Before I start this post, I would like to ask readers to please open a prior entry from January, 2013, entitled, "A Tale of Two Churches."  That post, from 16 months ago, has the important background to this present day story of love stopped at the chapel doors by a Chancellor and Regent Bishops.

If you've taken the time to read "A Tale of Two Churches,"  then you are now aware that the governing body of the University of the South, also known as Sewanee, came to a rational decision about how to proceed with any same-sex blessings that might want to happen in the All Saints' Chapel, given that the 28 bishops that support the school were evenly divided in their attitude about the new blessing rite when it was first adopted.  I thought that since the Vice Chancellor was worried that All Saints' was going to become the Elvis Chapel of Love for gay people trying to get around blessing prohibitions in the dioceses that most LGBTQI people would forego Sewanee as a "destination" wedding location.  But that doesn't take into account the many gay and lesbian people who have matriculated from Sewanee and, rightly, hold their alma mater in high regard.  All Saints' Chapel is a beautiful church, and has a special place in the hearts of many who have spent time on the "Holy Mountain."  Therefore, it only makes sense that a gay or lesbian couple with ties to the school might want to return there to have their civil marriage blessed.  

This is the case for a couple named Kathryn and Eva.  Kathryn is a beloved member of the Sewanee community.  Eva, while not a graduate, has been embraced as one of their own in the same way anyone should welcome "the stranger" into the fold.  The story is that they live within the diocese of Atlanta, which is the capital of Georgia, and among the many southeastern states that have refused marriage equality to LGBTQI people.  So, the couple has applied for a marriage license in Washington, D.C., and are planning to be civilly married in our nation's capital.  With marriage license in hand, and approval from the bishop of the diocese of Atlanta, Kathryn and Eva would like to return to the Holy Mountain and have their civil marriage blessed by the church in the company of the Sewanee community who loves and supports them.  Note: they are not asking to have a marriage performed by a priest at All Saints' chapel; they just want to receive a blessing.  All of this is in keeping not only with Sewanee's own policy, promulgated in December, 2012; it is among the many scenarios The Episcopal Church envisioned when it adopted the same-sex blessing rite at the General Convention in 2012.  Given these circumstances, one might reasonably expect that the two women would have their application for use of the chapel approved, and all would proceed accordingly.

But that's not what has happened.  The Chancellor, Bishop John Howard of Florida, and the other Regent Bishops, representing the dioceses of Tennessee, West Texas, and Southwest Florida, have denied their request.  The apparent reason for the denial is that Tennessee, the civil authority, doesn't recognize marriage equality, and since the couple in question will have already been legally married elsewhere, to have a blessing in the chapel might give the appearance of Sewanee giving approval to something that is illegal in the state.   

Commence head scratching now.

The Vice Chancellor sent a memo to the faculty of Sewanee, further explaining this decision:

"The Bishops recommended approving the request if the blessing would take place before the marriage.  Indeed, they saw no reason to even be consulted in that case; however, in their judgment, granting the request to have the blessing several months after the wedding would have the appearance of approving same-sex marriage, which the Church has not yet authorized.  Furthermore, though a secondary consideration, is the fact that same-sex marriage is not permitted in the state of Tennessee.

The Bishops acknowledge this decision may seem to be inconsistent with current University policy but also noted that, at the time the policy was approved by the Board of Regents, in December 2012, this particular scenario was not envisioned or considered."  (As noted earlier, this last point is amazing given that this very scenario was included in the documentation presented at General Convention in 2012.)

As I read this memo, posted at the Facebook group "Rethink This, Sewanee,"  I couldn't help having this image from the classic film, "The Wizard of Oz."  

Dorothy and her friends have been through trials and tribulations and had obtained the witch's broom stick as requested by the Wizard.  When they return to present him with the prized possession, and expect him to fulfill his promises, he bellows out, "Not so fast! Not so fast! I have to give the matter a little thought.  Go away and come back tomorrow!"

In other words, to this decision from the Chancellor and the Regent Bishops, I say, "Humbug!"  

If the couple has crossed every T and dotted every I as they were supposed to in order to meet the criteria for using the chapel for a blessing of their civil marriage, then the good and right thing to do is to say, "We will bless you and you will be a blessing."  

It seems to me that there is something else going on here.  I'm wondering if the unstated concern might be fear.  Fear that more conservative donors to the University might withhold their money.  Fear that if word reached back to the home dioceses of these bishops, all of whom who have refused to allow same-sex blessings to occur, there might be some legitimate questions raised about different policies held up on the mountain as opposed to down in the valley.  They seem to have forgotten the oft-repeated phrase in the bible: "Do not be afraid."  

The couple has appealed the decision and is awaiting a response.  In the meantime, the Sewanee faithful are rallying behind them under the name #rethinkthissewanee.  They've been writing eloquent and thoughtful letters to the Chancellor, and they're planning a peaceful demonstration of support on Sunday, June 8th.   That would be Pentecost.  What better time to hope for the Holy Spirit to blow through the campus, and remove fear with the faith that blessing a loving union is the good and right and joyful thing to do. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin With Me

Here's the text of the sermon I preached this morning at the United Church of Tallahassee.  Their service was very much geared toward a Memorial Day theme. 

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me

Texts: an Islamic Prayer for Peace; Micah 4:1, 3-4; Matthew 5:43-48

Happy Memorial Day weekend!  We’ve had an opportunity this morning to honor those who have served the country, and we appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made on behalf of all of us who live in the United States.  I hope that our country does a better job of serving you in the future.

Memorial Day has come to be a celebration of all of our veterans, but its original intent was to remember those who died in the Civil War.  Several cities and towns have claimed the title of being the birthplace of this holiday.  The Veterans Administration cites the first Memorial Day as May 30, 18-68.  Then called, “Decoration Day,” General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, ordered that flowers should be placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  By 18-90, Memorial Day had become a holiday in the northern states.  Southern states chose other days to honor those who died in the Civil War.  Eventually, the whole nation came to adopt the holiday, but only after World War I, when it became a time commemorating more than just those who died in the Civil War. 

The fighting that took place in this country pitting north against south, citizen against citizen, brother against brother, has been called one of the bloodiest and deadliest conflicts in our history.   The wounds of slavery from that period are still with us, and continue to haunt our various institutions.  The animosity between North and South is still there.  Now, we just call them “Red States” vs. “Blue States.”   A perpetual “Us” vs. “Them” mentality always seems to crop up in how we humans relate to one another.

And yet, today, we have heard sentiments from our Abrahamic traditions which seem to point us in a direction of discovering that we are more alike than we are different.   The words from the Islamic Prayer for Peace calls on us “to know each other and not despise each other” even though we are from many tribes and nations.  This sentiment is then followed with by the words of the prophet Micah that nations will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor ever again shall they train for war.”  We would hope this is true.  We would hope this is where we’re all headed, but one need only look at the on-going conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis, the strife that is tearing apart people in Sudan and Nigeria, to say nothing of the divisions in this country to know that even those who come from faith traditions that profess peace between nations will dissolve into combat and conflict.

Which brings us to the words from Matthew’s Gospel in our triad of readings from these three major religions.  Jesus is addressing those who have gathered to hear his Sermon on the Mount, and he is telling them to rethink the teaching, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ and instructs them instead to ‘Love your enemy,’ noting that anybody can love the person who is just like themselves; it’s a bigger deal to love the one whom you can’t stand.   Not just a bigger deal; it’s a huge challenge!  Think about the times when you’ve been in conflict with someone, whether at work or school, or even someone in your family.  It’s a whole lot easier to despise a person who hurts us than it is to love them.

There is a prayer in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (yes, we do pray out of a book) which is simply called, “For our enemies.”  It goes:

“O God, the Father of all whose Son taught us to love our enemies, lead them and us from prejudice to truth.  Deliver them and us from cruelty, hatred and revenge.  And in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

The thing I love about that particular prayer is how it recognizes that this idea of “loving the enemy” isn’t just an outward action, but an inward change of heart that leads to compassion.  I can’t pray for the person or persons I’m in conflict with by saying, “O God, make them see things my way.  Make them quit being cruel to me and hateful toward me.”  The power of this prayer comes in recognizing that I, too, am a participant in the conflict, and perhaps it’s time for me to beat my sword into a plowshare.   That’s not to say that when someone is doing harm to me, I just lie there and take it.  But I have a choice in how I respond: do I respond likewise in doing harm to them, or do I refuse to participate in their negativity.  I remember when the Leon County Commission was debating the adoption of adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Human Rights Ordinance.  There were those who identified themselves alternately as “small business owners” or “Christian” or both who rose to speak against the proposal.  Some of them were out-right rude to the transgender population; others were threatening to leave the county if the commission extended protection against discrimination to “those people.”  I was furious as I listened to this on-going debate.  And as I felt my blood boiling, I would lower my gaze and I would say the prayer for my enemies.  As I did this, I could sense a change in the core of my being.  Instead of remaining enraged, I could feel myself letting go of my anger.  One of the T-V stations grabbed me and wanted to do an interview.  Now, having once been a reporter, you’d think that I would have been OK with this, but I really was not because it’s a whole lot easier being the one asking the questions than being the one answering them.  Still, I consented to going on camera and doing an interview about the ordinance.  When I later saw the footage, I was stunned.  They had interviewed me and one of the opponents.  And, despite my fears of sounding like a bumbling idiot, not only had I articulated the case clearly for why we should have these additions to the Human Rights Ordinance; I appeared calm in contrast to my counterpart who was clearly still so invested in her anger and opposition that it showed in her demeanor.  Her fear was palpable; my love was visible.

If we want to achieve a goal of being a people of many nations and tribes who know each other, who beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks and no longer train for war, our first step needs to be to work on our own hearts.  With God’s help, we have to come to a place of compassion for others so that we learn to love and respect the dignity of all people, and not just the ones who are like us.  The only person we can control is ourselves.  If our desire is for peace on earth and the end to conflict, then it begins with us, grounding through prayer in the love that is from our creator, redeemer and sustainer.  This will fuel that fire of love that we carry out to change our world for the better.  Amen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Depths of God: Copernicus and Kepler

As the heavens declare your glory, O God, and the firmament shows your handiwork, we bless your Name for the gifts of knowledge and insight you bestowed upon Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler; and we pray that you would continue to advance our understanding of your cosmos, for our good and for your glory; through Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I was delighted today to discover that our 12:10 service would be celebrating the astronomers Nicholas Copernicus and Johannes Kepler.  And, admittedly, from the start of the Collect of the Day, printed above, to the readings, all I could think about was how foolish the church had been back in the 16th-17th Century to not see that their scientists of the day were not contradicting Scripture nor condemning God.  On the contrary, science then and now has the power to open our eyes further to the wonders of the created order.

Copernicus was the one who proferred that the earth is not the center of the universe; the sun is.  Kepler, writing about 60 years later, built upon the heliocentric work of Copernicus, and offered that the all the planets move in an elliptical orbit around the sun.  A morning hymn came to mind:

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o'er the shades of night:
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Of course, as anyone who has studied church history can tell you, Copernicus and his heliocentric revolution challenged the Aristolean geocentric philosophy of the Renaissance church.   This would be even more evident when Galileo built his telescope, and saw for himself that the planets had moons and were moving around the sun and not the earth.  Copernicus, who was also a Catholic priest among many other things, had not originally caused a ruckus with his 1543 work documenting his theory, but as the Ancient Greek science was giving way to new discoveries, and forcing the Church to rethink, the Roman Catholic Church responded by saying that it was Copernicus' book, "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres," that was out of line.  Kepler, who subscribed to the heliocentric approach of Copernicus, argued that a sun-centered universe supported the existence of a creative God.  He said the cosmos was a reflection of God, with the Father as the Sun, the stellar sphere corresponded to the Son and the intervening space is the Holy Spirit.  Talk about a vast expanse of interstellar space to describe the Holy Trinity!

It seems silly, here in the 21st century, that these discoveries would cause anyone in the Church to have had angst, or to argue that what these men were saying was contrary to Scripture.  Especially in light of the readings heard today.  Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinithians, talks about the mysteries of God, hidden and secret, from human eyes, which would seem to bolster the work of all scientists:

‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
   nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’— 
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.(1 Cor. 2:9-12)

We keep learning the new depths of God, thanks to our scientists today.  A few years ago, as scientists in Europe used the supercollider to search for the Higgs-Boson, they released a recording of the sounds inside as sub-atomic particles slammed around.  I was fascinated that the sounds they picked up had distinct notes, and, at times, mimicked some of the pieces I've heard on CDs played during massage therapy.  While some have said the discovery of Higgs-Boson casts doubt on the existence of God, I see it as the Spirit revealing more of who God is to us through the work of the scientists.  Thankfully, I haven't found any literature that says the physicist Dr. Peter Higgs has been brought up before some ecclesiastical court for his work in particle physics. 

Maybe we will one day stop this nonsensical war between science and religion and instead see them as opening the doors to more discovery and more mystery.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Michael Sam: Standing Tall in the Face of Foolishness

I have one thing to say about the NFL draft and Michael Sam:


I couldn't be happier for this guy, and his opportunity to play professional football as an out and proud gay man.  Hats off to Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams for drafting him, even if it was later in the game than one would have expected for an All-American and SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year.  Playing in the SEC is essentially like playing semi-pro football, so I am confident that Michael Sam is ready for the big leagues.  He's dedicated.  He wants to work hard.  He loves the game of football.  And above all things, he's a Missouri Tiger.

Can I get an M-I-Z!?  (your answer to that is: Z-O-U!)

Of course, this draft pick, and the picture of him kissing his boyfriend, a former Mizzou swimmer named Vito Cammisano, has sparked outrage among the haters.  I have to wonder which offends them more: that two men are seen kissing each other, or that the two men happen to be an interracial gay couple?  It's hard to know these days when there's so much acrimony in the air about people in love.

Never mind that many of us, including the LGBTQI crowd, have had to watch many, many images of heterosexual joy on the sidelines of football games.  Does it not bother Alabama fans that their quarterback was dating a woman from Auburn?

If folks weren't all tied up into knots over the kiss, then it was the fact that the historic moment received any attention at all that drove some to flame on their Twitter feeds.  A member of the FSU football team actually defended the honor of the school's rival, the University of Florida's Tim Tebow, to take a swipe at the hype about Michael Sam:

"Y'all praise Michael Sam for being gay but y'all mocked Tim Tebow for being Christian. SMH. #society."

Here we go: Christian athletes don't get no respect and gay ones get too much.  Let's start with the fact that there is nothing novel about being a "Christian" athlete.  Christians on sports teams have been openly displaying their faith, both through gestures of prayer or by starting every interview by thanking God.  There is even a Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is very active on the Florida State campus. In short, being a Christian athlete isn't a big deal.  

And while there were some who mocked Tim Tebow for his kneeling in prayer and pointing to the sky during games, there were just as many who loved him for it and praised him for not being afraid to exhibit public displays of affection for God.  When Tebow first entered the NFL, there was a lot of excitement and speculation that he might be a great player... especially if he learned to play another position besides quarterback.

That's where Tim Tebow fell down.  According to all reports, while Tebow is a great guy and sincere about his faith in Christ, he would not let go of his dream to play quarterback in the NFL.  That's really too bad because I think if he had trusted that his coaches knew what was better for him, he would still be playing.  Perhaps as a tight end for the New England Patriots, catching passes from Tom Brady.

Tim Tebow's failure to cut it in the NFL wasn't about Tim Tebow being a Christian.  It was about Tim Tebow being attached to a position where he wasn't needed and wasn't going to get to play.

Furthermore, the suggestion from all of this smokescreen about Christian athletes presumes that Michael Sam is not a Christian.  I don't know if he is or isn't, or if he professes to belong to any particular faith.  I do know that my college friend, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman who is dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, issued an open invitation via Facebook for Michael and his boyfriend to join them for services on Sunday, and even noted that if they came to the 8am, they'd be able to get to the stadium in plenty of time for the kick-off for the early games!  He included the hashtags #JesusLoves #WeDoToo.   Truth via Twitter.

For his part, Michael Sam seems to be just preparing to play football and appreciating the love of his new fans in St. Louis.  I think it's great that he is joining an organization there in the Show Me State where he'll be close to his college roots in Columbia, and fans who loved him so much that they gave him a standing ovation at a basketball game shortly after he came out.  I'm proud that my alma mater, and the city of Columbia, has become a place where it isn't nearly as scary to be "out" as it was even 24 years ago when I was graduating from Journalism School.  One of the shops down town has a window display with the T-shirts bearing a new slogan, "We Are All CoMosexuals."


Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Real Mother's Day

Many people have been incredibly kind to me today.  I mean, really, really kind.  As in, looking at me long and hard to make sure that I was doing alright.  I understand why.  It was Mother's Day, and this is the first Mother's Day without my mother.  And for so many people out there, the non-stop Hallmark happy images and demand for chocolates, flowers, Sunday brunches, and cards that seem tied to this second Sunday in May is what today is all about.  And, if you have no one to share that with, then it can be a huge bummer.

But today, in the Episcopal Church lectionary, it was Good Shepherd Sunday.  All the readings pointed to and led up to the Gospel lesson from John where Jesus gives his talk about being the Good Shepherd (although the diviners of the lectionary put most of the emphasis today on the parts where he is the gate and the gatekeeper.)  What in the world can anyone say about shepherds, gates and mothers?  Thanks for the challenge because I can see a connection between my mom and this Gospel.

I was thinking about how a few weeks ago, at Easter, I felt very lonely, and I cried and cried and cried all day.  Not exactly the response I would hope to have at Easter.  But I was hit with empty space in my life that used to be filled by my mother's faithful phone call, gleefully announcing, "He is Risen!"  With that gone, and the stark reality that it is now gone forever, I was devasted and almost inconsoluable.  Almost.  The thing that I realized, many tears and tissues later, was that my mom had also risen, and that she now was in a position of knowing better than ever the reality of Christ, the resurrected One.  This thought helped to ease my own pain and give me some level of comfort that her life goes on in a way that I won't understand until my mortal life ends.  Her faith in God and in God as Christ was very strong, and she could comprehend that the resurrection is our signal that life will not end; it only changes.  So, in death, we are brought into a new round of life.  And since she believed that, why wouldn't she still be proclaiming, "He is Risen!"? 

And this is how I tie my mom into this idea of the shepherd.  In many ways, my own faith was herded along by my mother's shepherding me in the Episcopal Church, and our rituals and traditions.  She made sure that I knew as a child that while we celebrated Christmas and enjoyed those things that Santa would bring, I never lost sight of why we lit the candles on the Advent wreath, and went to church on Christmas Eve.  Easter eggs were fun, but we'd have to get them done before the Easter Vigil, and we certainly weren't going to go looking for them until we had gone to church to hear how Mary looked into an empty tomb.  Even during the years that I was in exile from the Episcopal Church, I was always quietly keeping the remembrance of the solemnity that comes with the Triduum.  I would play J.S. Bach's "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" in my car on Good Friday.   What better way for the "unchurched" to remain in touch with her tradition than to hear: "Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn/für unsere Sund gestorben" on Good Friday?  Had the Christ Church choir, and my mother, never sung this piece, I would never have known to play it for myself.    Had my mother not instilled in me a love of the church seasons, I probably wouldn't have given a damn about any of it.   Her shepherding which, at times, did feel a little like getting poked with a rod to keep me moving along really did make a difference in my spiritual development.  A fact that I have only come to realize in her death.  Sad that I wasn't able to comprehend her contributuion sooner.

The relationship I had with my mother wasn't grounded in the secular traditions of Mother's Day.  It's roots were in the Christian holidays.  Mother's Day meant that we might get her something special, or find a funny card with dogs, but it wasn't a really big deal.  Neither was Father's Day for my dad.  I think, when you're lucky enough to have parents who are always with you and never divorced or separated, you find that your Mother's Days and Father's Days don't get defined by a greeting card company.  They are strengthened by relationship, and the honor and respect doesn't get limited to one day of the year.  

I've been OK, folks.  Thanks for the concern.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Christian Commentary

I have refrained from commenting on the news that broke last weekend about Bishop Gene Robinson's divorce from his husband, Mark Andrew, after 25 years of togetherness (six of which were in a formal sense as recognized by the state of NH, first as a civil union, and then marriage). My reasons for staying silent were really two-fold: one was that I was deeply saddened to read that news as I love and respect Bishop Gene.  I've never been privileged to meet Mark, but his quiet character came through in the documentaries where I have seen him.  The other reason is out of respect for the privacy of the couple.  No matter how public +Gene may be, I don't believe it is the place for those outside the relationship to offer their commentary on the nature of that relationship, especially if it is one that has seemingly run its course and is now ending.  

Which is why I was alarmed by those who are Christian who felt they had the right to make a public comment on Bishop Gene's character or his place in the church because of this divorce.  There is one judge and jury on this matter and that's God.  Period.  With God, there are only +Gene and Mark who know the in's and out's of this relationship.  Even those who witnessed their vows and promised to uphold them in their marriage can't possibly know what their life together was like, especially the years that +Gene served as the Ninth Bishop of New Hampshire, and the first openly-gay leader in the Anglican Communion.   So, to my mind, the most mature and Christian response to this is to express sorrow at the news and hope that these two men find peace in their parting.  I am continuing to pray for both of them.

If nothing else, I think this event highlights a need for those who feel "betrayed" or "let down" by +Gene and Mark's divorce to take a moment to ask themselves, "Why am I taking this personally?"  I would venture a guess that, for some, this marriage had become an icon.  It was the proof that gay people can have successful relationships, be married, and be just as "normal" as their straight counterparts.  Of course, that's a recipe for disappointment because yes--gays can get married (in some places), but our relationships are still human with human flaws in that way humans fail and hurt one another unintentionally or sometimes with actual malice.   To pretend that there is something "special" or "magically perfect" when you put two people of the same gender together in the covenant of marriage is foolish, and shows a lack of understanding about marriage.  Certainly puts us LGBTQI people up on a pedestal, and at greater risk for crashing on our heads.  That need for us to be above reproach adds another level of stress to our sometimes very stressed-out lives, and makes me wonder if the witnesses to the vows of marriage, in fact, intend to uphold the couple in their relationship in a real way?  

Bishop Gene wrote his own statement to answer questions and critics.  Many other bloggers have written eloquently on this issue defending the couple's decision to separate.  For my part, I am simply saying that if people are having an issue and feeling angry about this development in the life of Bishop Gene Robinson and Mark Andrew, the anger is clearly not at the couple in question, but at what each individual has decided that relationship meant to him or her.  Is their divorce a commentary on your own life or relationship or your own failings in your relationships?  Think. 


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Respecting the Dignity of Every Human Being

On Thursday of this week, I put up a friendly message as my status: "Happy Beltane to all my dear Pagan/Wiccan friends!  May those traveling to FPG (FL Pagan Gathering) arrive safely."  Several of my Pagan buddies hit the "like" button.  But what was striking was the comment from one of my devoutly atheist friends.

"You are awesome! You are the perfect example of being accepting, not hating!"

I appreciated the comment, and it made me stop and think a little.  First, about what kind of Christians this person has encountered in her life.  I've heard it said that the leading cause of atheism is Christian intolerance and bigotry.  The other thing it made me think about is the pledge that all of us in the Episcopal Church make when there is a baptism.  We are asked to renew our Baptismal Covenant, which begins with stating our belief in the nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And then we are asked five questions about how we will take responsibility, with God's help, to live out our lives in following the teachings of Christ.  The last of those questions being:

"Will you strive for justice and peace among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being?"

Again, we all answer, "We will, with God's help." 

Respecting the dignity of every human being, for me, includes recognizing that my path of Christianity is an excellent one for me, but God may have other paths and other plans for other people.  Not everyone is going to be an Episcopalian.  Not everyone is going to be Christian.  But this doesn't make them wrong and it certainly doesn't negate the real possibility that they, too, are entering into a life of seeking and finding the Universal Love that exists all around us.  My theology is confirmed in the recent readings we've been doing in the EfM program.  Year Four has been assigned a book called, "My Neighbor's Faith," which is a collection of essays from people of many different faith backgrounds as they encounter people from other traditions and enter into dialogue with them.  Sometimes, these are chance meetings, and sometimes they've occurred in more structured environments like a spiritual retreat.  And pretty much always, the dialogues will highlight a revelation to the author of a long-held prejudice against "the other" that gets turned on its head.  Love will do that.  One of the essays, written by a rabbi who happened to get into a cab driven by a fundamentalist Christian in Syracuse, New York, captured the attention of both me and one of the other members of our group.  In this discussion, the rabbi was asked pointedly by his cabbie what he thought about Jesus (the driver had already spotted the man's kippah).  The rabbi tried to get by with saying he thought Jesus to be a great teacher.  But the cabbie pushed him: if that's true, then why didn't he believe he's the path to salvation?  The rabbi's answer was brilliant:

"I can believe that Jesus is a great teacher without believing that he's God's son and the only path to salvation. One truth doesn't negate the other.  I can love Jesus in my way.  And you can love Jesus in yours. There is room for both of our understandings of Jesus.  I don't believe you have to be wrong for me to be right."

Like the cabbie in this story, my eyes popped open and I was so thrilled to read such a succinct and wonderful statement of what I believe to be the awesome Truth.  My belief in Jesus does not make someone else's non-belief wrong.  We're just looking at the life and witness and glory of Christ through different lenses.  If only we could all relax into that idea, I believe that there would be less strife and less demand to be right.  And ultimately, I think it could ease so much tension in the world, at least around this very contentious point about religion.

Perhaps, then, I would seem a little less awesome to some when I accept and love those who follow the Divine in their own way.