Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Holy Innocents and These Unholy Times

All day yesterday I was battling extreme exhaustion and a dull headache. I was fighting to keep my eyes open as the nightly news came on the television. And when I heard the lead story--that a jury failed to find police officer Timothy Loehmann guilty in the shooting death last year of 12-year-old Tamir Rice--I figured I might as well just close my eyes. I couldn't even cry. I couldn't do more than close my eyes and through the pain in my skull ask again, "Why? How?" 
There are, I am sure, lots of excuses for why a cop would pull up to a 12 year-old on a playground and within seconds open fire on the child. I am sure that all the miscommunication about "the suspect" could seem to serve as a reasonable cause for why this happened. But, for me, I was left with the continued doubt that there could be any really good reason things had to go down as they did there in Cleveland. And a mother is still left without the opportunity to see her son grow into a man. 
One of my friends posted a statement from an African-American woman who is an academic. In this woman's FB status she laid out the reason why she refused to write yet-another column about the racism of our country, the systems that constantly fail African-Americans, and explaining black outrage to a white audience. I totally understood where this woman was coming from in her anger and disgust with journalism on the topic du jour. It is one of the failings of our media that minorities are expected to talk about "minority stuff" and explain it to the majority in ways that will be palatable. This woman didn't need to write a column; she needed to express the rage she was feeling in her FB status posting. If we, the white public, need this explained again, then it means we really are a sad and sorry lot, and so simpleminded that we might want to enroll in a remedial empathy class.
We don't need this information broken down. We need to get real about breaking down the prejudice and the fear of people of color that leads to the needless and wanton killing of black male children.
Having this verdict come on the eve of the day when the church marks the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod was sadly too timely. The tale of Herod's wholesale killing of male children because he feared a challenge to his place by the newborn king of Bethlehem may not line up one-for- one with what happened to Tamir Rice. But it is still fear, I believe, that is at the root of why police officers shoot first, and ask questions later. There is the real issue for cops that with so many guns in the hands of so many citizens in this country, they can't always tell who has a toy and who has a weapon. Tamir's toy gun that he was playing with didn't have any features that would distinguish it from a regular gun. That said, police officers Loehmann and his partner Frank Garmback arrived on the scene and appeared to have exited their patrol car and immediately shot Tamir. 
Because the dispatch told them there was a "black male" waving a gun? Tamir didn't look like an adult. He wasn't given a chance to show he didn't have a real gun. Like King Herod's soldiers killing any boy three years or younger, these officers just knew that black+male+gun=shoot. Can we really blame black parents who express outrage and fear that their children can be killed so quickly? Would these officers shoot a white kid in the same situation? 
We know Tamir's name. We know Laquan McDonald's name. But there are hundreds more throughout the country, and especially in the city of Chicago, who are getting gunned down. They are our Holy Innocents of this day and age. I'm afraid it won't stop until mothers of white boys become as enraged and are asked to write the 1200-word columns for the newspaper about why this system is broken. And so, for Tamir and all others, I pray...
 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 and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Away From the Manger

The other day I was in a conversation with a colleague about the upcoming Christmas season. It was the usual small talk that one makes at this time of year centering on the topic of whether we're "ready for Christmas." That question for me now always raises a series of other questions about what that really means to be "ready for Christmas." Then she said something that made me think even more: 

"We're a long way from the manger," she sighed. A long way from that placid scene in First Century Palestine with the newborn baby and his doting parents and the animals in the stable, remembered in the 21st century with the words of Silent Night: " All is calm. All is bright...Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep heavenly peace."

At first blush, I could certainly see what she was saying. Our world, in which most of the United States is about to see record high temperatures that are more reminiscent of Austrailia in December, seems to be filled with more rage, more anxiety, and more acts of senseless violence. Many people seem to be operating on a shorter and shorter fuse. Certainly, my patience has been wearing thin with drivers in Tallahassee this week between the ones who like to roll through stop signs and the others who seem to want to take their own sweet time while traveling in the left lane. Every time I could feel my blood pressure rising, I'd be reminded that losing my cool wasn't going to make them go faster or get me anywhere safely. The mere mention of presidential politics makes me roll my eyes. And the deepening divisions between people and the edginess of all conversations involving race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or a combination of any of those definitely can lead to a despairing sigh, "We're a long way from the manger."

But then I'm not that sure that we're all that far away from the manger. Because, despite the song and the soft-glow sepia recollection of what that night was like at the time of Jesus' birth, what that night was probably really like was not that different--in world terms--than our present night, save for the advancements that have led to electricity and cell phones. On that night, a young Hebrew girl and her much older husband were on their way to be present and accounted for by the Emperor.  This was a long trek for the pregnant Mary, and yet this was the type of oppression she and her people endured in this Roman Empire. And it seems Joseph and Mary must have gotten a late start as they could only be put up in the stable. And here--amidst the animals--Mary must give birth. Something tells me that her soul did magnify the Lord--and then some-- quite loudly as she pushed that baby through her birth canal! And, according to our Scriptural accounts, that birth caused a celebration to break out in heaven with lots of "Hallelujah!" Perhaps it wasn't all that calm after all.  And certainly the difficulties of those times, while with less technological enhancements, were no less fear-producing. Roman rulers were tolerant of the Jews as long as they didn't get too uppity. But the Jews were powerless against the Roman juggernaut, leaving many anxious, possibly even full of rage. Various rebellions against the authority had been tried and they failed. This was a time when lepers were segregated away from their communities. Women and children had no standing and there were instances of a breakdown in the social safety net that left some who were to be cared for, begging for help on the streets. Sound familiar?

Here's the thing about that manger and the birth that took place one night so many centuries ago. It was God's amazing effort to make Love so real to us that we could see it in the face of a baby boy. And that act of amazing grace by God is powerful enough, meaningful enough, and ultimately real enough for us that we and others throughout the globe come together on this one night to recall that moment of his birth. That moment lives on in the birth of many other babies, as my spouse noted. It also can be seen in the eyes of any person or creature we stop long enough to step off our own path and our own desire to get somewhere or get something done, and take the time for another. Those things still do happen even if they don't make headlines in the New York Times or even the Thomasville Times-Enterprise.
The manger is at hand. What makes it more than just a sweet story is when we open our hearts to the reality of what it means to have God that up-close and present in our lives. A baby left unattended will die. So we better take care of him, perhaps by loving one another just a little bit more. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Come, Prince of Peace

O God, make speed to save us
O Lord, make haste to help us.

I feel as though this is my daily prayer this Advent. During these days of lighting candles and waiting with patience and expectation the commemoration of the birth of Christ, we are faced with daily reports of gun violence, Islamaphobia, and too much attention to "The Donald" and his angry-filled rants about building walls and kicking Muslims out of the country. Mass shootings lead to mass gun sales. Billboards in California and North Carolina depict Santa with an AR-15.

Is this the reason for the season?

Oddly, it is a common backdrop for the upcoming Christmas. Because if we pay attention to what the Scripture talks about, Jesus was born into a tumultuous time. The Jews were under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Prejudice was rampant then, too. The people knew war... a lot. In many respects, it would seem that Jesus' birth occurred during "the worst of times" in the First Century of the world. So, yes: even as we sing about the little town in Bethlehem and its sweet lullaby-like music sounds discordant against a backdrop of violence and hatred, it is important to have this tune, and all the others that speak to peace on earth and good will toward all people to be on a permanent play in our heads and hearts.

For me, the commitment must be there to live into the ethic that Christ taught to love one another. This is the penicillin of peace against "The Donald" and all others who seek to divide this nation even further. To enter into his realm of hatred will only generate more hatred. This world cannot stand any more of that.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Countdown to First Sunday of Advent

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.

The church year is coming to a close as Christians ready themselves not only for those many office Christmas parties during the week, but the  preparation of our hearts and minds as we enter the season of Advent next week. Our final collect in the Episcopal Church gives a nice summary of thoughts to carry you through to the last Sunday of November:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all
things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of
lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided
and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together
under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

"The gracious rule"  of this "King of kings and Lord of lords," who we Christians know to be Jesus Christ is gracious enough, I believe, to love without reservation anyone who is doing the work of building up the kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven." I think about a young social worker, tattooed and with rainbow streaks in her hair, who has put her passion into the effort to clothe and feed and give aid to homeless teens and young adults who pass through Tallahassee. I think about the people in France who lived adjacent to the Bataclan concert hall who opened their apartments to fleeing and terrified concert-goers during the rampage last week in their city. I think about those people who stop to help a motorist whose car has broken down to move them off the road and into a safer place. I think about how the ones doing this giving and even the recipients never ask questions; they simply respond. They don't make an inquiry about the person's sexual orientation before they help or receive aid. 

Why am I bringing up "the gay thing" in this entry? Because if there is one area that in some places in this country there appears to still be resistance in the church, it is with the LGBTQ+ community. And, in my experience, those same places that have failed to welcome "my people" and remained "divided and enslaved by sin" because of their homophobia are many times eager to announce that they wear the mantle of Christ while shunning their religious kinfolk of the other Abrahamic religions. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, their behavior is more like that of the priest and the Levite who see the beaten and bloodied man in the ditch but cannot bring themselves to go help him because maybe he's "unclean," or maybe they don't "know" him or maybe they just don't want to take the time.

The bishops of the Episcopal Church were given a directive at this last General Convention to respond to the reality that lesbians and gays were, are, and will be, getting married in the United States, and in some foreign countries as well. With this in mind, both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies agreed to some liturgical rites that will be available for use beginning next Sunday. Not everybody was happy to adopt this position of allowing the church to marry same-sex couples. Some bishops signed off on what was called "The Salt Lake City statement" (because General Convention occured in Salt Lake City) to reiterate their objections to the resolutions. All parties who supported passage of these rites cautioned their fellow supporters to be gracious and understanding of the feelings of these minority bishops. These men (because they were all men) were feeling marginalized and unappreciated and feared being bullied by the "progressives" of the church.

I understand all of that. I know that feeling of marginalization. I found it a bit strange that people felt the need to admonish me and others to be kind to these powerful men who still retained the top ranking office in their dioceses, but if that needed to be said, OK.

And, as part of the graciousness extended to those who might disagree with lesbians and gays marrying their partners, the church allowed bishops until the First Sunday of Advent to come up with a plan for how they will aid couples seeking marriage the opportunity to fulfill that dream, even if it means referring them to go outside the diocese. It was no longer enough for a bishop or a priest to say, "I'm not doing this." Now they'd have to show an alternative plan for how to make it possible. 

I'm fortunate that I am a member of a church in a diocese where the bishop has extended grace and hospitality to the LGBTQ+ community. Bishop Benhase, after asking for counsel from various commissions, individuals, and his priests, came out with guidelines that were, frankly, better than I had expected. He acknowledged that there would be those who would disagree with him, and he could handle that. And he is happy to provide an avenue for gay men and women to participate in the life of the church by letting his priests marry them. For me, it was an example of living into the graciousness of Christ's rule, which does not have a litmus test on love.

Meanwhile, in some bordering states and dioceses, there is silence on this issue. Perhaps the Salt Lake City statement was all that some felt they needed to say. It isn't really. It doesn't provide a plan for how to comply with the Church's desire to offer marriage to lesbian and gay men. And yet, there is no word on how they would extend that grace or at least help couples find a place that would. And so who is the marginalized and unappreciated and bullied in those dioceses where the bishop has chosen to remain silent?

There's still time for them to create a plan and publicize it so that lesbians and gay men of faith can know what their roadmap to marriage entails. There is an opportunity for grace, so that God may continue doing God's work in the lives of these couples. There is a chance to make this Advent a truly new beginning.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Welcome the Stranger

There is a meme that has been going around on Facebook which depicts the story of the Good Samaritan. There are the two characters up the road with their backs turned, and then there is the man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead in the ditch. The person tending to him, the Samaritan is in a turban.

This story is so old and iconic that even those with only the barest exposure to this parable from Luke’s Gospel know that the big general message of this is: love your neighbor. Take care of the person in need. And, just as it says elsewhere in the Bible, those of us who identify as Christian carry an additional burden to pay very close attention to the finer details of this parable. It isn’t just any ol’ person who stopped to help the beaten man; it was a person who was very much an “other” to the lawyer whom Jesus is telling this story. Samaritans were the hated “other people.” The ones who walked away were the pure and clean—the priest and the Levite—who crossed and went to the other side. They removed themselves from this bloodied man. The robbers we only know as robbers: faceless, nameless, and wanton in their attack. And who was the beaten man? We don’t know, but the assumption is that he was a Jew, like the lawyer to whom Jesus is speaking. But he could have been anybody, another type of “other,” perhaps. The Samaritan didn’t care. He only saw the fellow human in need, and he laid down his own concerns and plans to attend to this person. Jesus posed the question, “Which of these three is the neighbor to the beaten man?” and the lawyer, probably looking down at his feet, says, “The one who showed mercy.” And Jesus says, “Go, and do likewise.” Amen!

When the Syrian refugee crisis was hitting the news as a lead story here in these far remote United States, my spouse asked me one morning, with tears in her eyes, if we would be willing to take in some refugees into our very modest home here in the swampy south land. Without hesitation, I said, “Yes.” And then I got tears in my eyes, too. How could I say “no” to one who is running away in fear from their homeland where they are either being gunned down by their government or brutalized by a bullying terrorist group? How could I look at myself and call myself a follower of the Son of God, and not accept someone into our home who is traumatized and afraid and a foreigner?

I contacted the Episcopal Migration Ministries, who told me that accepting refugees into our home would be highly unlikely given the extremely lengthy process. But they kept my information and have been keeping me abreast about how we can be of help, specifically how we could increase the extremely low number of Syrian refugees the Obama administration proposed to accept into our country from 10,000 to 100,000.

That was before the attacks in Paris last Friday and yesterday’s Congressional vote that proposes to make it damn near impossible to accept any more refugees from Syria. Everyone is afraid that someone might be a terrorist, especially if that someone doesn’t look like one of us.

This from a country that has countless politicians who cite their Christian credentials every time they run for office. How do we justify blocking the beaten and broken women, children, and elderly (who are the priorities of our refugee policy) and then call ourselves “Christian?” We had no problem back in the 1980s accepting over 200,000 refugees from Vietnam. We made it easy in Florida to accept boatloads of Cubans. Yet we close our borders to Syrians?

Where is the mercy in this picture?

As I surveyed my feelings of anger and bitter disappointment in my Congress, especially my own Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham, I was reminded of a paragon of Christian courage by the same last name: the Rev. Lee Graham. Same surname, but my dear friend, who passed away three years ago this week, I believe would be shaking his head about our reaction to the refugees. Fr. Graham owned up to what it means to live into the Gospel of Love when he faced extreme hatred and hostility during the civil rights struggles in Alabama. He was branded a communist during the Vietnam War because he sided with peace. And he the only Episcopal priest in this city with enough guts to put on his clerical collar and stand with the disenfranchised gay population after the devastating vote against our community in the 2008 election. He was a friend to me during those horrible days after that vote. I remember him shaking his head, and shrugging his shoulders as he told me, “Well, we gotta keep trying.”

At his funeral in 2012, Fr. Lee had apparently left directions that I was to serve as a Eucharistic Minister along with another lay minister friend, and that I was to read a passage he’d selected from First Corinthians. The last line of that passage has felt like his final words to all who seek mercy and justice in the world:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1Cor.15:58)

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, has exhorted us not to be afraid. Embracing Jesus, truly and completely, requires one to let go of fears and lay down one’s life to help another. Our Congress, and our country, has fallen far short of that goal.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Do Not Be Alarmed

Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.--Mark 13:5-8

Do not be alarmed. This must take place. The end is still to come.

What words to have in the Gospel reading this past Sunday, less than 48 hours after the terrorist rampage in Paris. What a message to ponder as pundits piece together on the news the string of deadly attacks waged by those who claim to be fighting against Western ideals in the name of Allah, praise be his name.

Are these times the "birth pangs" of something else on our horizon? 

The readings at the end of the church year are always of an apocalyptic nature. The diviners of our lectionary seem to want to remind us that we're approaching the close of the year, and that Advent is coming and will usher in a new round of quiet waiting and anticipation, and a chance to prepare the way for the coming of Christ back into the world in the most normal of ways: a baby born to a woman who would grow up to be the human embodiment of Love in his own violent and turbulent world of First Century Palestine. He would be "God with us," here to teach us to love our enemies, not curse them.

This perfect love of Jesus is tremendously challenging on a good day. It seems close to impossible on days when our news on television, radio, the paper and social media show us again and again that there is death and destruction and hatred all around. It's not much comfort in the morning office readings to have the Book of Revelation, with "the Devil" or 1 Maccabees with the "fight to the death" narrative. When one reads about Judas, called Maccabeeus, who"searched out and pursued those who broke the law; he burned those who troubled his people," it can feel as though you're right back on Facebook again!

What do we do about those who call themselves "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" or "ISIS"? 

As might be expected, those Syrians who have been fleeing the civil war that is destroying their country, have been caught up in the crossfire of anger, suspicion, outrage, and fear. They are attempting to get away, but have been met at the border of some European nations with hostility. After what happened in Paris, France immediately closed its border and the news media has started alleging that there are ISIS members embedded in the streams of refugees getting out of Syria. This may be true. But it is also true that ISIS has successfully radicalized those who have felt disenfranchised and despised in their own countries because of their ethnicity or religion. While there are still questions about Friday's attack in Paris, the one thing that is clear is that at least one of the attackers was a French national. And there are some ties, it seems, that these terrorists may have had  to Belgium. That's a far cry from Syria. The Syrian refugees are not the enemy. Unfortunately, in the case of those who are becoming radicalized, the enemies may look eerily like us.

What do we do? I wish I had the answer to that. I am not one who likes war or advocates for war or violence to deal with conflict. I believe that ISIS is attempting to get us to act out of our fears and enter into a war (which has apparently already worked with France starting to bomb ISIS points in Syria). For me, I have to remember to keep living my life in Love. I have to pray not only for the victims of violence, but to remember our enemies as well. Gut-wrenching as that can be, I have to ask for God's intervention to soften the hearts of my enemies so it will have the reflexive action of helping to keep me from getting too invested in anger and revenge. I have to trust that God hasn't checked out and is seeing and aware of this turmoil. 

I also have to consider what the factors are that drive people to hate "our western culture." I'm not convinced by our government's narrative that they hate us because of our "freedom." I think they may hate us because of our misuse and abuse of our freedom. When our freedom leads to exploitation of others around the world, so that we reap the benefits of their resources, there's going to be trouble brewing. Does that mean I think the shooting of innocent people at a restaurant or a concert hall is OK? Do I condone the wanton taking of another life, the beheadings, the raping of the Yazidi women and girls? No way! ISIS is a barbaric organization which has seemingly lost all sense of humanity. I just don't want myself or anyone else suckered into diving head first into their pit of Hell and rage.

I don't have an answer for how to contain ISIS or how you can effectively destroy something that isn't a "state" with defined borders or has a conscience. This is an enigma. God help us all.


Friday, November 13, 2015

And A Bully (or a Check) for Old Mizzou

Today, I wrote my first check to the Missouri Alumni Association, and I put "Concerned Student 1950" in the memo line. I did so because I have been grieved to read the stories of what some students have endured on my campus, and even more upset that there are alumni withdrawing their donations because the campus administration has said, "OK, let's address this." 
When I was a student in the J-School, I supervised and worked under and beside many students who were African-American, Asian, and from several European countries. My first Morning Edition editor, the late Lynise Weeks who died much too young, was a tremendous mentor to me. I benefited from listening to the experiences of my fellow students, and did what I could in my capacity as a TA in the radio newsroom to foster their skills so that when we both emerged onto the job market, we could be the best hires. Prejudice and racist stupidity was all around us. But if somebody had put a picture of a lynching up on the dorm room door of one of my friends or fellow students, I'd have sat down in the Quad, too. That's inexcusable! 
When I was at one of my freshman orientation sessions, some parent, probably from a small rural area of Missouri, asked whatever administrator was addressing us if there would be a language interpreter in the room because of all these "furrin' TAs." My Economics 51 class had one of those "furrin' TAs." His name was Osman Hassan. He was from Sudan and was a devout Muslim. Osman was a very demanding teacher, and I was really ill for the last seven weeks of that Fall Semester. But Osman was willing to meet with me, and help me understand concepts of macro economics, even as the room was spinning in front of my eyes. He went to bat for me against the professor who was, frankly, a jerk who had harassed me in the middle of the final exam telling me that I "better get moving" on my test questions. Osman and I would talk. He was critical of "the way things are" in the United States. I would remind him that it wasn't right to say "Americans are 'x, y, z,' because some of us are more 'a, b, c.'" We were different races, different religions, different interests. But we were both members of the Missouri Tiger family, and we had respect for one another.
I had another professor in a Sociology class who was a native African, I don't recall now which country. The course was called "The Black Americans." We had an assignment to write a paper and I remember I wrote mine on the advancement of minorities in journalism, how we were seeing more TV anchors of color. But I noted in my findings that the upper levels of news management continued to be predominantly white and predominantly male. My conclusion was that in order to claim true diversity in broadcast news, there needed to be more advancement of minorities and women into roles of management and ownership of media outlets. I got an "A" and the professor wrote a note asking me to come see him. So I did. And I think the man's teeth just about fell out of his head. 
"YOU wrote this paper?" 
"Yes," I said smiling, and being stupidly naive. He flipped through it and saw his notes and affirmations. 
"It's a very good paper." 
I was curious about that comment. "Well, I guess it must be since you did give me an A." 
Then I realized what was happening. He hadn't expected one of the ten or so white students in this lecture hall class would write this way about race. Perhaps he hadn't met many white students who gave a damn about "The Black Americans." Perhaps he had encountered too many stares, and too much animosity to think that "whitey" might actually "get it."   
My first apartment I lived in as a sophomore was on Conley Avenue down the street from Jesse Hall (I think it has, thankfully, been torn down!) There were four apartments. I was the only American and the only Christian. Everyone else was a Muslim from Malaysia. My apartment mates kept to themselves, especially the woman from across the hall who would dash back into her apartment if she saw me coming out. One day, I locked myself out of my apartment. I knocked on their door, and begged them to let me use their phone. The man invited me in, and (amazingly) the woman didn't hide. But after that moment, she stopped hiding from me, and began to say, "Hi" when we'd bump into each other in the foyer of the building. An embarrassing moment of me locking myself out, and asking for their help somehow broke the ice.
My point in telling these stories is to say that I had a rich, wonderful, educational experience at Mizzou. And my education was enhanced by having contact with people who didn't look or talk like me. Diversity of all kinds is what makes an education complete, and Mizzou gave me that. I would like that opportunity to exist, free of hatred of the "other," for all students attending the University. Yes, facing racism and all the other "isms" is difficult and painful. But I would like to think that our alumni will support efforts to make the campus a better place for all. That's what my check represents. A commitment to see my University through to a better future that values all of its students and faculty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Clicked off: the Confrontation Seen Everywhere

When I saw the video this morning of a tense and heated confrontation between student journalists at the University of Missouri and protesters, who were both students and faculty, I felt as if I'd been slingshot back in time to situations in which I encountered anger and mistrust while attempting to do my job. Fortunately, I never had it quite as bad as young photojournalist Tim Tai had it. And while some faculty on the campus made sure I knew they didn't like me because I was a journalism major, I never experienced a faculty member threatening me with physical harm as happened to Mizzou junior Mark Schierbecker.

This video made me angry enough to write the following email letter to Dr. Melissa Click, the Communications professor who was screaming at the journalists and threatening them. I carbon-copied Garnett Stokes, the University Provost as well as my former advisor and KBIA-FM news director, Mike McKean:

Dear Dr. Click,

"Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here." 

Seriously? You said that? Will you be including this video in your future dissection of video and popular culture topics in your Comm School classes?

As a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I am appalled that a professor at my alma mater would be a party to inciting violence against a journalist who in this case was also a student at the university. A protest such as Concerned Student 1950 is deserving of media coverage, and these student journalists were attempting to fulfill their public trust to gather information and present a current reasoned reflection of the days' events. The reporter who you wanted removed was seeking interviews with participants. As one of the journalists kept repeating, they were trying to do their job. I find it ironic that only a couple of days prior, you had tweeted a message to the world inviting media coverage of these unfolding events. When the media came, you pushed back. How bizarre.

Don't get me wrong. I do not disagree with Concerned Student 1950 and the righteous anger the students and faculty are showing. I was part of the Mizzou culture from 1986-1990, and therefore am aware that racism existed then, and am greatly disturbed by the reports I am hearing now. My sincere hope is that Concerned Student 1950 and the existing administration and the Board of Curators will now take time to sit down and set accountable goals of diversifying our campus, and having a true listening process so that we can become a model of how to move this country toward recognizing the sins of racism and realizing a future where racial equality can be more than just a nice ideal. Critics will take potshots at such efforts, but I have more confidence than ever in my alma mater to ignore the noise of the enemies of change, and begin this important and vital work. 

I also hope that Concerned Student 1950 and the existing administration will continue to make the athletic department, and the football team specifically, a part of this effort toward a better Mizzou. The football team and Coach Pinkel exhibited true courage and leadership by emptying themselves of their position of privilege and power in an effort to draw focus to those whose voices were being ignored. I have never felt prouder of the Tigers in my life. I don't care if we win a national championship in football; I care that our coach is teaching his players what "team" means and how to be men. They did that. 

Teamwork is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Willingness to relinquish assumed privilege to make room for more voices is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Respectful communication amongst those voices is what it will take to change the culture at Mizzou. Having a world-renown journalism school, with hard-working dedicated bright students to get that message out to the world, is a necessary part of exhibiting leadership at Mizzou.

Threatening student journalists has no place at my university. I don't know what kind of sanctions the school might impose on your behavior. I hope you are big enough to review the video and rethink what message that sent.

In solidarity with the students, both protesters and journalists,

Susan Gage
BJ, Broadcast Journalism, 1990 

This evening, word is out from the Columbia Missourian, the city newspaper published, edited and reported by students and faculty of the Journalism School, that Professor Click, who held what is called a "courtesy appointment" to the J-School has resigned that appointment and apologized for her actions. From her statement, she apparently did as I hoped she would: reviewed the tape and realized just how far off-the-chain she'd gone.

"I have reached out to the journalists involved to offer my sincere apologies and to express regret over my actions. I regret the language and strategies I used, and sincerely apologize to the MU campus community, and journalists at large, for my behavior, and also for the way my actions have shifted attention away from the students’ campaign for justice."

Life is messy. Protests are heated. I'm with the J-School dean who commended the students assigned to walk less than the length of a football field to the Carnahan Quadrangle to cover these historic events. Seeing them, and how they conducted themselves, tells me that my peculiar and oft-misunderstood School on the University campus is still turning out excellent journalists. Certainly being in the midst of an important protest happening on the campus is better than the classroom experience, and will lay the foundation for many a First Amendment discussion for years to come.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fight, Tiger, Fight for Old Mizzou!

UPDATE: University of Missouri system president has resigned. Jonathan Butler has ended his hunger strike.

I don't think I have ever been so proud of my alma mater's football team than I am today.

In response to problems with racism, and a lack of action coming from the President's office, thirty members of the Mizzou Tigers football team announced they would not play or participate in any football activities until Missouri University system president Tim Wolfe resigns. Their move is in solidarity with a student movement called #ConcernedStudent1950, which is raising the racism issue after many reports of students being called the "N-word" and the smearing of a swastika using feces on the bathroom wall of a dormitory. The year 1950 was when MU began admitting African-Americans. Student protesters blocked the President's motorcade during last month's homecoming parade as a way of getting his attention to address racism because the President had refused to answer their emails or respond to Twitter messages.

Now, with this football walk out, perhaps the President will get the message.

The Tigers are supposed to play BYU this coming Saturday. But Coach Gary Pinkel has cancelled practice. And he put out his own message on Twitter yesterday with this photo of the whole team:

"The Mizzou Family stands as one. We are united. We stand with our players. #ConcernedStudent1950. GP"

Faculty have announced they are also refusing to hold classes. An African-American graduate student, Jonathan Butler, is on a week-long hunger strike at this point to protest the campus racism. This is no joke. This is real. And it is time for the talk at Mizzou to end and the action to begin.

I am particularly proud because my alma mater has needed this type of shake up for a long time. We had our own pains when I was a student with racism.In the student union building, it was not uncommon that African-American students were grouped together in one area and the majority white population occupied another.  There was soul-searching and discussion at the Journalism School when, if my memory serves me, a professor made an off-the-cuff remark that was offensive. The culture at the J-School changed, somewhat. But not enough.

When I was a senior, I remember being one of the few white students in a sociology class called "The Black Americans." It was taught by a professor who was a native African, and it was probably the best personal education I'd had in seeing things from the perspective of my African-American peers. I didn't do a lot of talking in that class (I usually didn't anyway, but this felt like a time when I really had a mission to listen). I heard from my classmates the internal divisions within them; those who were raised in majority black suburbs of St Louis versus those who had grown up in more racially-mixed neighborhoods had different perspectives on the oft-cited "white man." After awhile, one of the African-American women would speak up to note that white women were also to be seen for having advantages that they didn't have. Another would note that while white women could move about in society more freely and easily than they could, they were aware that their white sisters were still not treated with equity. I listened, sometimes with feelings of anger that I felt blamed for so many sins that I could not possibly address, and sometimes with the understanding that I was bearing witness to pain, and I had a responsibility to my brothers and sisters of color to do what I could do to address those sins.

This translated, for me, into my journalism. I had recognized talent, and I was an undergraduate trusted to be on the edit desk at KBIA-FM. In that position, I wanted to push back against what I knew were the white assumptions about affirmative action by sending forth African-American Mizzou graduates who could out shine any other job applicant, including me. I encouraged my peers. I spent time teaching the delicate art of tape splicing. I worked with them on how to write in and out of a soundbite, so that their stories would move and not sound too "student-y." I would help them choose the audio clips that had the most impact. And, most importantly, I listened. I believed in the abilities of my classmates, even when some of them told me privately that they didn't think journalism was for them. I knew that journalism needed them, and their voices. Some of them were in the same Sociology class, and we'd have a good joke at the expense of our professor about his accent, and his demands that everyone "go natural" with their hair, something my female classmates of 1990 could not imagine.

"That man is crazy!" they'd laugh. "This isn't 1970!"

As I wait to hear news on the developments at my alma mater, our fight song goes around and around in my head:

Fight, Tiger, Fight for Old Mizzou
Right behind you everyone is with you
Break the line and follow down the field
And you will be on the top, upon the top!
Fight, Tiger, you will always win!
Keep the colors flying ever skyward
In the end you'll win the victory
So Tiger fight for Old Mizzou!

This is a fight. Combating the cancer of campus racism is worth more to me as an alumna of the school than whether our football team forfeits a game. Seriously, I have never been prouder. The victory in the end of this will be a state university campus that is better, stronger, and more capable of leading the city of Columbia, the state of Missouri, and maybe even this nation to a place of more equality.

Those of us who have the power must be willing to see how our death grip hold on that power is not serving humanity or the planet well, and it's time to let go and allow those who have been traditionally powerless to enter this picture and assume leadership. Diversity is not a dirty word.

#ConcernedStudent1950, I am with you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hear My Cry

This morning I underwent one of the most uncomfortable medical procedures I have ever endured. I have been having pain associated with my pelvic region, and my doctor, who believes in not leaving any stones unturned, ordered that I have a pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound. The tech was unable to do the pelvic exam (they said my bladder wasn't full, and that all the water I had consumed probably went elsewhere in my body). So, we skipped ahead to the transvaginal exam.

I would place this experience right up there with the oral surgery I had as a teenager that required an injection of Novocaine to the roof of my mouth. I remembered thinking that it was strange that there were such heavy oak wood doors in this surgeon's office that led to the operating room. But when that needle pierced into my upper palate causing me to grip the arm rests and choke on my scream, I understood why those doors were so necessary to protect the innocent still out in the waiting room.

There were no heavy doors involved in this procedure. Just a dimly-lit room with medical equipment and a table with stirrups. The tech gave me the simple instructions to place my things on the chair in the room and then lie down on the table. When we figured out that I wasn't sufficiently full in the bladder to do the pelvic ultrasound, she asked me to put my feet in the stirrups. Here begins the pain.

"This is going to feel cold and goopy," the tech warned me. Then she slipped what felt like a very hard super-plus-sized tampon into me.

"Aiiii! Lord, have mercy!"

"I'm sorry," she apologized as she pressed on with inserting the transducer deeper inside. Everything in my body tensed at the shock of this moment, and I realized this wasn't going to help my situation, so I started breathing in an effort to relax my muscles. She kept moving and pushing this device, first to my right, then to my left.

"Fuck!" I breathed out. This was the area that had been giving me such pain recently and this camera-on-a-stick was touching every inch of my tender areas. More breathing, and holding back tears, and wondering when this was going to be over?

Owww! She moved the wand and was now taking pictures of my uterus. And while my bladder wasn't full enough for a pelvic ultrasound, it certainly did have some pee in there. The more she pressed, the more I worried I was going to let go and piss all over her hand, which, in that moment, I believed she rightly deserved. In my head, my pleas continued, "Please, God, when is this going to end?!"

It finally did. The tech nicely and calmly explained to me that the results of the exam would be known in approximately three to five business days and that I would hear from my doctor about them. There is a bathroom in the waiting area where I had been that I could use.

"Did you see anything?" I asked.

"I'm not the radiologist..."

"And so you just take the pictures, you don't interpret the results." I knew this would be the answer, but I thought I'd ask. She was done with her job. Time for me to get out of the room and go back to get my shorts on. Welcome to the world of clinical procedures.

I am a fortunate woman in America in that I am not in that statistic of women who has been raped. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, approximately one out of every six women has been either assaulted or had someone attempt to assault her sexually. And while I would not equate or want to put myself in the place of a woman who has been raped by a boyfriend, husband, father, brother or even a stranger, my experience of a transvaginal ultrasound gave me a keen understanding of that feeling of being violated. Mine was for medical purposes, scheduled and known ahead of time. Still, I felt powerless. I felt pain. And the clinical nature of the whole event made it feel "cold and goopy" in more ways than one.

I cried. Not for me. Not for my own experience. I cried because this is the procedure that state legislatures and the United States Congress, dominated by men, want to require for a woman seeking an abortion. I know how uncomfortable and unpleasant this had been for me in fulfilling my doctor's desire to rule out ovarian cancer. But to require this for an abortion? What if the woman was with an unwanted child because of rape? We want her, and this fetus, to experience a medical form of penetration and violation, so we can make her feel that sense of loss of power all over again? Is there no level of cruelty we don't know?

My tears came even more readily as I thought of the men who are so insistent on this procedure. I thought of how many of them go to church on Sunday, so they can be seen by their constituents and held in high regard as they profess a belief in Jesus Christ as their "personal" Lord and Savior, the pocket-sized God they can carry around with them, and claim as "their God," not "your God." No God in my understanding and imagining would take pleasure in putting a woman's body through this type of procedure. When I let out that cry of "Lord, have mercy!" I believe that Jesus was with me in my every breath. And in so doing, opened my mind to see the wrongness of making a pregnant woman undergo an unnecessary and uncomfortable procedure to satisfy a sadistic human impulse to control other humans.

It is not right. It is not just. It should not be required.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"If it's not about love, it's not about God!"

What a tremendous moment in the history of the Episcopal Church! The first woman ever to lead this ol' denomination, that has oft been seen as the church of the ruling class, passing the staff of leadership to its first-ever African-American leader. The service of installing our 27th Presiding Bishop, Michael B. Curry, was a phenomenal testament to the diversity of the Episcopal Church. Music in Spanish and English; the Gospel declared in Lakota; "Wade in the Water" played in the same service with hymns on the tune of "Jerusalem." It was the type of service that one hopes will be the spirit of the Holy Spirit infusing us with the joy that comes from the liberating love of God expressed for all in Jesus Christ.

For all? Yes, I mean FOR ALL. In his sermon, Presiding Bishop Curry expressed what I have come to believe in about Jesus. He didn't come to start a religion, or to have a church. He really came to start a Movement...the Jesus Movement, which is a carrying forward of the Movement begun at the beginning and handed on from Moses to various prophets down through the ages. And that Movement was not about being "right"; it was about aligning yourself rightly with God and loving God and loving neighbor, no matter who that neighbor is. And it wasn't about getting puffed up with how good we're doing, but always looking around for the goodness that is being done and helping to foster its growth, whether it is being done with an official stamp of "in the name of Christ" or not. To put it simply, PB Curry stated it this way: "If it's not about love, it's not about God."  Drop the mic, and walk away. Christianity, The Way, is about love. Period.

Our Education for Ministry group had the assignment to watch the service as our primary mission of the day. We gathered in what was advertised as an open house, but are only taker was our priest, who sat in and participated in the group until he needed to leave for his child's birthday party. We talked about the many things that struck us about the service (recognizable liturgy, moments of confusion with the languages, the many inter-religious participants). We talked about the Jesus Movement and how can we express that and hence do the impossible: get an Episcopalian comfortable with evangelizing. And as we spoke, there seemed to be an understanding emerging that evangelizing isn't just about telling people about Jesus; it's about doing the things that build up people and restore the person in need to a place of love. Sometimes, the simplest way to bring that about is through being present with a person and letting them tell their story. Even the person who is angry and accusing us, as Episcopalians, of not being "true Christians," the only thing to do is to remember that (a) we are true Christians and to assert otherwise is just silly and (b) to recognize that those who call us names and demean us are acting out of a place of fear and not faith. And with fearful people, you can let them rant and rail and continue to say to them, "Peace be with you." Really. Peace--please--be with you!

The detractors of the Episcopal Church, those who broke away, have been penning blogs denouncing our Presiding Bishop and trashing what was a beautiful and joyful celebration at the Washington National Cathedral. I read the entry that was published on David Virtue's site, and it was typically filled with jabs and potshots at the service and accusing us of throwing out Jesus, etc. etc. Eight years ago, I would have read such an entry and been irate. But eight years is plenty of time to journey with Christ and to learn that what is not understood will be attacked and dismissed by those who cannot see and will not listen. So, there's no point in getting angry. Instead, I read, shake my head, and pray to God to deliver that person and me from our struggles, so that we may enjoy life. Again, peace, really, be with all of us.

I am excited about the future of the Episcopal Church which has certainly been battered and bruised along the way toward bringing more people into the liberating love of God. I am marching with this band of crazy people who really do want to see God's dream become the reality for our world. It's a parade worth the walk.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Prayers for Those in the Path of Patricia

Merciful God, who has calmed the waters of chaos and led people through the walls of threatening waters in ages past, be close to those now who are hunkered down against Hurricane Patricia. Calm those who are in fear. Protect them from the might of her winds. Grant wisdom and courage to those who serve as first responders in these times of crisis. And deliver all to the shores of safety. In your Holy Name we pray.  Amen.

Speaking With the Wolves

Hello! It's me again. Sorry to be so absent, but sometimes life overtakes me, and the first thing that I seem to surrender and put up as an offering to busyness is this blog. But this morning, as I was doing the office for St. James of Jerusalem, I found myself giggling. I know that's not consider reverent, but the readings, particular from the Gospel of Matthew, fit so well for the "Headline of the Day" yesterday where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat on the hot seat before a Congressional panel for eleven hours. Matthew says:

 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.--Matthew 10: 16-20

Seems from the Next-Day-Commentary, Secretary Clinton was able to slice and dice her Republican opposition on the panel, and in so doing, she 
got a boost to her ambition to become our next President by keeping her cool and appearing, well, in control and presidential. Add to that, there were moments during the testimony when she just sat back and watched the fireworks happening before her as Democrats blasted Republicans for making everyone sit there through a hearing that was going nowhere fast. 

Wise as a serpent. Innocent as a dove amidst the wolves who are still howling at the moon. So much of what I was reading from my friends who were posting to social media about this hearing sounded like the other incredible non-story that wouldn't die: Deflategate, the supposed scandal about an under-inflated football being used in the American Football League's Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. For months at the end of the season, NFL fans listened to pundits carry on and on about how Patriots QB Tom Brady was a cheater who destroyed his cellphone to hide evidence that he "more than likely knew" that two low level equipment employees had under inflated the game ball. And while Brady's ultimate testimony before a federal appeals judge did not enjoy wall-to-wall CNN coverage, the outcome of the hearing told it all: the judge lifted the league's suspension of Brady because there wasn't enough credible evidence to show that he'd done anything wrong, nor was he allowed to properly defend himself during the investigation, an investigation where the lead detective told him he didn't need to keep his phone, so he got rid of it for an upgrade. To me, Benghazi and Deflategate are cut from the same base instinct cloth: a pathological need on the part of others to drag someone down and make someone the goat for a failure of a system. Are there politics, both in the Republican vs. Democrat and sports rivalry sense, at play? Of course! But stripping all the many schemes and overarching desires away...it really comes down to a need to blame and shame. And it has backfired in both cases.

Terrorist attacks have killed hundreds, even thousands beyond the four very tragic deaths in Benghazi. Football teams are always looking for an advantage over their opponents and one team will win and one team will lose; afterall, it's a game. The team that loses reassess, and learns what it needs to do better to win. Maybe that's what the Congressional committee should be doing about terrorism, too.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Stop the Gun Madness

Another week. Another mass shooting of innocents in America. 
This time, it was on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The college didn’t allow guns on campus, but that didn’t matter to the shooter, who allegedly asked his victims what their religious affiliation was and if they said, “Christian,” he shot them in the head. Why he did this will likely always be a mystery, since the gunman took his own life amidst a hail of bullets from law enforcement. 
And thus begins another round in the United States of hand-wringing and praying for the victims, shaking our heads at how someone could do this, getting angry at the availability of guns only to have the gun advocates get angry that it isn’t the fault of the guns; it’s the fault of the mentally ill. And now the new added wrinkle from fundamentalist Christians that believers in Christ are suffering persecution. 
While Christians may have been the targets here, it seems that most of these acts of violence are just acts of violence with no particular group that is the target. And that is adding to the fear and frustration in the country. President Obama, in a 12+ minute address to the news media, captured much of my own level of anger at these seemingly endless repeats of horrible crimes. Despite what the National Rifle Association might say, guns are the problem. Specifically, the easy availability of guns, and the lack of stringent safeguards on who gets to actually purchase a firearm, is the problem. 
I am of the extreme minority opinion that no one should own a gun, and I wish the government would confiscate them and melt them down and turn them into beautiful works of metallic art. That won’t happen, so I go to the next best thing and that is to tighten and toughen the laws on gun sales and prohibit the manufacture of exploding bullets and other paraphernalia that serves no practical purpose for hunting or sports shooting or whatever recreational activities people say they do when they want to buy a gun. If we would make it as onerous and difficult to get a gun as we make it in some places for a woman to have an abortion, we might actually cut down on the violence. 
Cut down. Not eliminate. 
To eliminate the shootings we have to address the problems that are causing people to pick up a gun and shoot other people. A lot of the people who do these crimes are reported to be “mentally ill.” Well, I know a lot of mentally ill people who don’t just go shooting other people. And those who have a propensity to commit such a crime must, in some cases, actually shoot someone before law enforcement will arrest them and they’re sent to jail where they may finally get the mental health care they need. Face it: anyone who shoots another person is per se mentally ill. What exact illness they have will vary. The gun fanatics are correct; mental illness is a problem and we must do more to address that in this country. Still mental illness with a gun in hand or in the teeth, is far more dangerous than the unarmed person with a mental disorder. 
But even mental illness isn’t the only factor driving this bus. There is a sense of isolation and an inability to get along or garner attention that seems to be the spark that lights the fire of rage that empties bullets into innocent people. It’s as if we have lost the ability to relate to one another as human beings sharing this planet. Even as our technology helps to shrink the global village into the palm of our hands in the form of a smartphone, the gulf between people is widening and erecting more silos around us than ever. 
The other day at the 12:10 Eucharist, I was struck listening to the readings, which were pretty depressing. The one that caught my attention was from Baruch: 
And you shall say: The Lord our God is in the right, but there is open shame on us today, on the people of Judah, on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and on our kings, our rulers, our priests, our prophets, and our ancestors, because we have sinned before the Lord. We have disobeyed him, and have not heeded the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in the statutes of the Lord that he set before us. 

(Baruch 1:15-17) 
I heard these words and contemplated what the essential question is placed before us constantly: will we choose life or will we choose death? How many more times must we bemoan and lament the deaths of innocents because we have lost the willingness to change and accepted their deaths as collateral damage in the effort to keep gun manufacturers and the NRA fat and happy in the name of the Second Amendment? Do we really prefer mass death over eternal life? I know I do not. 
While the issues are deeper than just guns, the fact remains that we have suffered far too many mass killings to justify simply praying for victims. If we truly care about those victims, we will strive to change our laws so we won’t be continuing this cycle any longer.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Pope and All The Noise

There's been a lot of noise lately and I'm not talking about the road construction that happened outside my massage practice Tuesday which provided the extra vibratory experience for most of the day.

I'm talking about the constant hand-wringing over marriage equality as dioceses in the Episcopal Church wrestle with "What'll we do? What'll we do?" And that's compounded by the on-going drama in Rowan County where the Clerk of Court, Kim Davis, continues to make headlines in her effort to stop gay and lesbian people from getting married. 

The clashing and clanging gets even louder when you factor in the announcement from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby that he wants all 37 primates of the Anglican Communion to fly to England in January so they can prayerfully consider what the future holds for the very fractured Communion. The ABC even extended a "guest" invite to the leader of the Anglican Church of North America, Foley Beach.  Bishop Beach has said he wants to know what the other bishops aligned with the Global South want to do. And, from their early responses to this invite, it seems they aren't inclined to go to England because they don't want to be in the same room with The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada. And so while the Archbishop seems to believe we have a communion where we are a couple that is "sleeping in separate bedrooms," from where I sit, it would seem that the couple is not only split; one has taken up residence elsewhere entirely. I don't think this is a situation where Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again. 

The invite to ACNA struck a nerve with me because of the history of how they came into being. They have been instruments of discord and fear about gay and lesbian people and our participation in the life of the Body of Christ. In Africa, their Global South partners have backed anti-LGBTQ legislation including the calls for putting gay people to death. To say that I'm not exactly comfortable with their presence in any meeting is a huge understatement. And yet, if I am to be faithful to my trust in God, I must also be willing to believe that God knows my misgivings and God knows that the only shield and strength against fear and hate is Love. And so the call to me is to ground myself in Love and put on that armor of Light that Paul talks of to face those who fear me.

And having done all that, I can say that when I heard the news of this meeting, and the almost predictable response from the GAFCONites, my response to all of it is, "Meh!"

Same thing with the fretting and dialoguing and teaching and discerning and talk, talk, talk about marriage for same-sex couples in the church. As I used to say many times while serving as the President of our local PFLAG chapter, "The more we act as if there is something to keep secret, or hidden, or in the closet about being gay, the more it becomes a 'thing' and the more it feeds into the belief that there is something 'wrong' with being an LGBTQ person." I apply the same thing to the angst about marriage. The more everyone acts as if having a same-sex wedding is a "thing," and not the usual celebratory and happy occasion that's supposed to be associated with a church wedding, then we create our own Hell of "what's going to happen? Who's going to leave? What will the neighbors think?"

What does any of this have to do with the pope? My observations of Pope Francis as he visits the United States for the first time is that he doesn't let the noise interfere in the mission of Christ. Amidst all the rancor and garbage and muck of politics and immigration and keeping a person such as himself "safe," I watched a video of him beckoning his security detail to allow a five year-old child to approach him with her note as he rode along a parade route. The girl from L.A. is a child of Mexican immigrants who fear deportation. He embraced her and took her note. He arrived at the White House in what appeared to be a Fiat compact car; not a limo. There was much ado made about Pope Francis having to meet a crowd of 11,000 people at the White House which would include about a half-dozen gay people and one of the Nuns on the Bus activists. This may have caused the Vatican and some others grave concern, but the Pope seemed to get through the event without any problem. See, in my observation, Pope Francis does this amazing thing: he lives in the moment, following and modeling the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. When one is doing that, there is no place for fear of the "other." There is only the presence of being in Love.

It's as if he, too, is experiencing all that which would distract from Christ as "Meh." Because it is.

Let us pray the words from Psalm 146 from the Book of Common Prayer:

Praise the LORD, O my soul! *
    I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
2Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
    for there is no help in them.
3When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
    and in that day their thoughts perish.
4Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
    whose hope is in the LORD their God;
5Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
    who keeps his promise for ever;
6Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
    and food to those who hunger.
7The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
    the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
8The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
    he sustains the orphan and widow,
    but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9The LORD shall reign for ever, *
    your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fourteen Years Later Can We Learn This Lesson

Here's a thought for this anniversary of the September 11th attack. I remember the stories and the images of dazed and frightened people and the foreign-born and Muslim cabbies who took some of them away from that horrific scene. I think about the many people I know who were personally affected, and those who lost family members. With that, I offer this sentiment:

We recognize how much we need each other and how much we stand to benefit from the support and encouragement that others offer us. It is essential, then, that we offer this support and encouragement to one another and to all whom we meet.
-Br. David Vryhof Society of Saint John the Evangelist

I feel that is the thing we squandered fourteen years ago. At a time when our nation was shocked, confused, and trembling from the repeated images of planes hitting the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and one plane that had been diverted from its original strategic target to crash in a Pennsylvania field, we were in a place that I had hoped would allow us to be introspective. Perhaps we'd be willing to be vulnerable enough to allow our allies to express condolences and solidarity in our hurt. Maybe we'd even take a moment to consider why such anger could be kindled against us?

My heart sunk when I saw how quickly we turned this moment of devastating loss and destruction into a drumbeat for war. We didn't want to think; we wanted to react. And it seems that's all we've been doing for the past fourteen years since that terrible day.

And so my mind is again drawn back to my memories of the pictures of ash-covered New Yorkers trudging across the bridges to get home. They were not all American-born citizens but on that day, as it has happened with many tragedies since, everybody was an American. Religions didn't matter; it was about survival and survival meant, in some cases, relying on the support of a stranger.

It meant being vulnerable. And we were on that day. We all were.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Letter of James to Today's World

In double-checking the lay ministry schedule for St. Thomas, I discovered that I am on to be the one reading the lessons in church tomorrow morning. I'm glad I checked that, and gladder still that I discovered that I am to read from the Letter of James these lines:

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?  Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors--James 2: 5-9 

There's a whole lot more to this reading than just this passage, but these lines really made me sit up and take notice as they echoed in my 21st Century ears after a week of ridiculousness that the courts have had to settle--again--because people in power simply refuse to do the right thing. Foot notes about this passage indicate that "the rich" could be a visitor into the synagogue of the Greek or Roman variety into this Jewish-Christian setting. No matter who or what constitutes "the rich," the passage speaks to the message of Jesus that all people, no matter what they look like, how much money they have, or how they dress, or what their language is, or who they sleep with at night, are your neighbors, and they are to be treated with the same love that Jesus had displayed. It is interesting that this passage coincides with Mark's story of the Syrophoenician woman whom Jesus initially refers to as being like "a dog." Needless to say, Jesus figures out very quickly that even those who are not children of Israel can have the same abundance of faith that he preaches.

The more I thought about this part of the letter, the more I thought about something I had read in a Salon.com article earlier this week which basically takes white progressives to task for how they handle their exasperation about poor whites refusing to align with things such as the Black Lives Matter movement. The issue raised in the article is that social progressives dismiss poor whites who vote Republican as ignorant idiots voting against their own best interests. What they haven't done is show poor whites that by aligning with other poor people, even poor people who are black or Latino/a, they will lift up the scale for everyone. When "poverty" gets conflated with "minority," it helps to feed into whatever racist narratives are currently being fed to impoverished whites who live in fear for their own security and see the status quo as at least something where they can stay marginally ahead of all the "others." If those of us who truly do want to see a shift in America where we realize Dr. King's vision of  all people being able to say, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we're free at last!" then we shouldn't dishonor the poor, no matter who they are, because the poor, and the very financially-squeezed middle class, are suffering the same economic oppression, and they don't like it. 

"Is it not the rich who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?" Yes! When the Donald Trumps and the Rick Scotts and the PACs of our political world use their money to sell a message that it's the fault of "the other" that the American worker feels alienated and desperate, they are playing on human fear and causing us to turn on one another when now, more than ever, is a time for us to pull together. Maybe it takes being in that place of looking at my checkbook that is dangerously close to zero that I one day realized that there is not a whole lot that separated me from the person begging on the street corner. But whatever it is, I feel more of an affinity for those hanging on by their fingertips than I feel for the ones who can't decide if they should drive the Lexus or the Beemer today.

That said, I also know that the challenge from James, which he takes from Jesus, is to still treat the person who is rich not as someone who should be cast down from their seat of power, but as one who is trapped in that power, sometimes without even knowing that their wealth and their fondness for their wealth has imprisoned them. People who are, what I will call the "ungenerous wealthy," the ones who are content with keeping their money to themselves and doling it out sparingly have unwittingly come to worship the worthless idol of the Almighty Dollar. They've bought the lie that somehow their pots of gold will sustain them and keep them until the end of their days. But haven't we seen enough "economic downturns" to show that even having gobs of money won't keep you safe? 

Perhaps the one-percent, who truly have more money then they know what to do with, might be the ones most immune from any economic earthquakes on the stock market. But even then, they aren't going to be able to take their treasure with them to the grave. How sad and depressing for them! They've hoarded and saved and put away all that money and yet it won't prevent their inevitable death. That they don't seem to see this reality and understand how they do have it within their power to alleviate their suffering, and that of others, if they will loosen their grip on their purse strings is unfortunate. They could do so much good by paying a greater portion to the government to support the infrastructure of our nation. How terrible it must be to feel the need instead to prop up a class war between the lower classes, and then throw in some race-baiting, to deflect from how wealth inequality is hurting all of us. If any one of them took a moment of self-examination and reflection, one could only hope that they'd see how their idol worship has led them to make choices that are detrimental to the country they love.

Emphasis on one hopes they would see this.

I hope we will all, one day, be able to see each other more as children of God rather than a potential foe in the struggle for survival.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kentucky Fried Crisis

Photo by the Associated Press

Think back over your childhood. Were there not times when your parents told you to do something that you didn’t like and didn’t want to do? It could be anything from taking out the trash, picking up your room, or maybe they told you that you had to play with a baby brother or sister, or go to a social event and interact with kids you didn’t really like. That last one is an especially difficult thing to do if you’re an introverted child. But nonetheless, your parents or parent, made you do something. You did it, and you survived.

There’s a situation that has been brewing in some places where those with the authority and the office that empowers them to distribute marriage licenses have decided that they don’t want to do it if it means giving a license to same-sex couples. They oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell on June 26th which found the state laws banning lesbian and gay people from marrying their beloved were unconstitutional. The most notable case of this protest is Kim Davis, Clerk of Court in Rowan County, KY, who has now told a gay male couple on four separate occasions since that date that she will not give them a marriage license. Never mind that a federal judge, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the 6th Circuit, has ordered her to issue David Emrold and his partner, as well as all lesbian and gay couples, a license. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to intercede on her behalf. None of that matters to Ms. Davis because this is—for her—a matter of “God’s authority.” In a statement released through the Liberty Counsel, the right-wing Christian legal advocacy group, Ms. Davis stated:

“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience,” Davis said. “It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”

There are those who see Ms. Davis, an Apostolic Christian, as taking a noble stand and one where she is seeking the freedom of a conscientious objector. However, as this crisis unfolds in Kentucky, I, too, am drawn to the words of Jesus:

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.—Mark 12:13-17

In this case, we aren’t talking about a coin, but a piece of paper bearing the watermark of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Ms. Davis may object to having her signature on said paper, but that paper is the Roman…I’m sorry Rowan…County document that grants the civil rights and privileges of marriage. It is a legal document and a secular form. God doesn’t dwell in that document; God dwells in the love manifested between the people being married.  

In fact, one could say that “God’s authority” has spoken in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling from June. Some of us hold a belief that the “life-giving and liberating love of Jesus” that Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry talks of came rolling down like a waterfall of justice on that June day.

No one is objecting to Ms. Davis, or anyone else, holding a particular religious viewpoint. But we live in a nation that has not only granted the people free exercise of religion; our Constitution specifically prohibits the government from establishing ONE religious belief. We are a nation of laws which are there to maintain order. Ms. Davis, under the laws of our country, must follow through and provide marriage licenses to those who are legally able to get married. If she cannot do this, then she needs to resign or be removed from office. She can consider it “the cost of discipleship.”