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.