Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Did Christ Die?

Palm Sunday could be renamed in the Episcopal Church "Schizophrenic Sunday." It starts with liturgy and songs about Jesus' entry into Jerusalem for his ultimate showdown with the authorities of His day. And within about twenty minutes we are already nailing Him to the cross to endure shame and a cruel death. How quickly we are going from cheers to jeers in an attempt to make sure people get Holy Week in a single service!

This is one of the most sobering times in the lives of Christians who are observing this lead up to Easter Sunday. We are faced with the uncomfortable reality that the man we revere as the Son of God was crucified because, as the evangelist John notes, people will turn away from the light and retreat to darkness. We are more likely to run away from love and allow our fears to dominate us. We seem more drawn to death than to life.

The question, "Why did Christ die?" was the way our rector began his sermon on Sunday following the lengthy Passion gospel lesson. I would update this question to ask, "Why does Christ continue to die?" In what ways do we continue to turn away from the message of Love and light to embrace fear and darkness as "the way" we will carry on in the world? 

My atheist and non-Christian friends are often quick to point out the hypocrisy of Christians when something such as Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act gets put into law with the presumption that people of faith, specifically Christian business owners, feel they must be protected from the advancement of equality for the LGBTQ community. "Love thy neighbor" becomes a hollow platitude when there is an asterisk added and fine print that says, "Unless, for religious reasons, you can't possibly offer services to this neighbor or that neighbor." It also undermines the very act of love that Christ committed in taking the risk of entering Jerusalem, knowing that there were those who were looking to have him killed. What made Christ such a threat was his willingness to keep widening the circle of who was the neighbor, who was included in the vision of the kingdom. And--lo and behold--that circle included many of the most despised by the "religious majority" of his day. I would have to think that if the Jesus of Nazareth were to appear in our country in this 21st Century, he'd be appalled by the ways people are using His name to defend their biases and prop up the institutions that continue to oppress people. And He may be forced to throw His hands up in the air and ask the same question:

"Why did I die?" 

Certainly He didn't die so that we could continue to find new ways to draw up distinctions between "us" and "them." And I'm unwilling to think that because we persist in being punitive in our relationships with each other that this is somehow a failure of Christ, a failure of God. One of the reasons I think it's important for us as Christians to attend Holy Week services is to allow ourselves to experience the vulnerability of Christ in His final moments, and know that even though he was weakened and hung up on a tree like a common criminal, He burst those bonds of death to be resurrected into a major force to be reckoned with and that has endured centuries of good times and bad times, but still lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of people. A member of the EfM group that I mentor shared an email of a story of a hill in Lithuania where there are hundreds and hundreds of crosses. It started in 1831 to remember those Poles and Lithuanians who died in an uprising against the Russian czar. During the era of Communist rule in the Soviet Union, the Soviets bulldozed the hill three times. 

Each time, pilgrims restored the crosses in defiance of government leaders who had outlawed religion. It exists today in the bravery of Christians in war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa where there are threats against their property and their lives every day. And still, they keep the faith that comes from knowing the resurrected Christ. These are the Christians who know the real dangers of having your religious liberty threatened.

Why do we keep killing Christ? Why do we, who profess our faith in Christ, refuse to live and love as He loved us? 

Thursday, March 26, 2015


For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton's third law doesn't just cover physics. It covers politics and culture, especially in the United States. And it is in full force in this country as state legislatures embark on new and creative ways to continue discrimination against sexual and gender minorities. In Florida, the focus has been on the bathroom and attempting to police which restroom a transgender person may use in order to pee and poop. Sorry to be crude, but that really is what this is all about: some Florida lawmakers don't think that trans people who go outside of their homes to, let's say, go to work should be able to use the restroom that fits with their gender identification. They raise the spectre of attacks, particularly on women, in public restrooms by men who want to rape and assault them. Actually, what a MTF transperson wants to do is relieve herself of bodily fluids... in a stall... wipe, wash their hands, and go on their way. I don't identify as transgender, but a bill such as this, where people will be forced to produce a driver's license that shows a gender which conforms with their choice of restroom is of great concern to me on a personal level. I have been followed into restrooms in the Southeastern United States (yes, folks, thus far it has ONLY happened in the South) and been accosted for being in the wrong restroom. My short hair and broad shoulders seem to confuse people. My blue jeans and leather jacket must obscure my womanly features. And some people must believe they are the bathroom police. Having failed to stop marriage equality in Florida, it seems lawmakers are casting about for who is the next vulnerable group they can bully by legislation. And it appears to be the "T" of our community. The bill has found support in the House; thankfully, though, it seems to be of less importance to the State Senate. 

But things aren't so lucky in other states where there have been a number of these so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration" acts filed. Indiana has passed this bill and sent it to the Governor. It purports to protect business owners who are seeking redress for being asked to provide services that counter their religious beliefs. What horrors are happening? Well, for instance, with the advance of marriage equality, same-sex couples might want to have a wedding cake. 

"Eek!" shrieks the baker. "A wedding cake for two men or two women?!?!"  

Or, perhaps, a same-sex couple might want to honeymoon in a hotel. 

"Ew!" shudders the hotel manager. "They want to sleep in a bed in my hotel together?"

Due to their deeply-held religious beliefs that me, and the many others like me, are products of Satan, these business people want to be able to use their religion as a means to subvert local ordinances that say they can't deny services to people based on their sexual orientation or (in many cases) gender identification. Again, failing to be able to stop us from getting married, they want to prevent us from living our lives in simple and peaceful harmony with the rest of the population. Love, sadly, remains a battlefield in America. 

The terrible thing about this particular type of law is that it doesn't protect anyone's freedom of religion. There is no threat in this country against someone worshipping Jesus Christ or paying homage to other deities. The free exercise of religion, even minority belief systems, is protected by the United States Constitution. And to assert that having to provide services to people you don't like is akin to the type of cruelty and retribution being visited on Christians in other parts of the world is insulting and makes a mockery of very real threats against Christianity. These laws aren't about religious liberty; it's about religious bigotry. And as a Christian, a queer Christian, I say, "Enough!!" I am tired of having the wolves dress up in sheep's clothing, enter the gates, and scatter the sheep away from God by claiming that they're the voice of Christianity and that they're being "persecuted" by laws protecting me and others like me. Christ did not go to the cross and die so that we could continue hating one another. Christ left us with a directive to love one another. You don't have to go to bed with me and my wife; you don't have to attend the wedding for which you are being paid to bake a cake. There are plenty of people in the world who I probably disagree with over one thing or another, but if they come to me for massage therapy services, I'm not going to tell them, "No" unless they act in a manner that is inappropriate and could threaten my license. 

Marriage equality is coming to all 50 states, even if it means some of them will be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The light is coming into the world, but as Jesus notes in John's gospel, the people will turn away and go to darkness. Lord, give me the strength and the compassion to keep lighting the way and coaxing the frightened to leave their dark corners and journey with us toward greater light and Love in the world.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Well, what a week it has been!

 I admit that the wedding has done a lot to lift my spirits, or at least my sense that the budding of flowers in Tallahassee is an outward and visible sign of the new life being breathed into existence in Florida, a state that has dealt cruelly with its LGBTQI population. But just as often happens in the springtime here, there is still a cold snap, a chill that wilts young flowers and is another reminder: with the beauty comes an ugly under belly which will show itself, too.

The state legislature has returned to the Capital City, and has begun the attacks again on our queer community. They can’t stop legalized marriage from happening, but they can make life miserable for transgender people by forcing them to produce a driver’s license in order to pee or use a public changing room. To our north, the state senate in Georgia overwhelmingly passed a bill to give cover for people to refuse services to LGBTQI people based upon their prejudice. It’s being couched in “religious liberty” language, but it is simply a license to discriminate. Such measures are cropping up across the country in a fearful reaction to the advancement of marriage equality.

 Here’s the thing: if the senators from Georgia had opened the email from my Episcopal Church in Thomasville, they would have seen this photo.


I did not ask my church to do this. The St. Thomas community did this on their own without prompting. That’s true religious liberty in my opinion!

Frankly, I am wearing thin on listening to people who say they are people of faith acting out of their places of fear. In that way, I have found the past week’s daily office… both the critique of Israel from Jeremiah and the cries of the psalmist…to have been enormously helpful in framing my view of the situations happening in many a state legislature. Jeremiah is at his wits end with how far afield his people have gone from God, and how God will respond to this people who have lost their way. The psalmist this week was reminding me not to lose hope that God is near to those who cry out in a loud voice:


“Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor…

 You have showed me great troubles and adversities,
but you will restore my life
and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth” (Ps.71:4;20)

Some may dismiss my dependence on God’s help in these times as being a Pollyanna. I’m not. I know that having faith alone without putting that faith into action will not get us anywhere. Having faith, however, is the important groundwork that has to be there if I am going to push forward in my quest to move this world closer to being the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That means standing up against injustice and encouraging others to do the same. With Christ as my guide and my teacher, activism in favor of all humanity becomes not just a cause but a way of life.

 I’ll say it again: if a faith community in a small south Georgia city can celebrate my marriage with the same love that they do for my straight brothers and sisters, then the clutches of the oppressor will not hold us down forever. If their trust in God has led them to this place, then it is conceivable that others can get there also. And so I pray the collect for the Third Sunday in Lent:


Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.