Sunday, July 26, 2015

Getting Crazy With the Feeding

Sermon 9 Pentecost 7-26-2015
Year B, John 6:1-21 (Proper 12)

At the General Convention in 2012…the one before the meeting that just concluded earlier this month…our Presiding Bishop-elect, Michael Curry, preached a sermon in which he was calling on all of us to be “crazy Christians.” Not crazy in a bad way. Crazy in the Jesus way. The crazy “Jesus way” means doing the unexpected and the unprecedented, things that result in the building up of people and giving them that power that comes from the love of God.
The story of the feeding of the five thousand in today’s Gospel is definitely a crazy Jesus moment. In fact, this is crazy enough that it’s one of the few stories that is in all four Gospels in some form or fashion. Only Luke tells us of the Prodigal Son; Matthew and Mark have a Caananite or Syrophoenician woman depending on who is relating the story. But all four evangelists thought this feeding of the five thousand needed to be mentioned.
In John’s version…we know it’s close to Passover, which is the biggest Jewish holiday and remembers, with the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, how Moses helped to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Jesus and his disciples have crossed over to the Sea of Tiberius. And a large crowd has gathered to follow after him as he continues to minister and heal people. Jesus sees all these folks, turns to Philip and says:
“Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”
And while John doesn’t give us this detail, you can almost get this visual of Philip looking back at Jesus, his head kind of cocked like that RCA Victor dog, staring at him and—in contemporary terms—saying, “Seriously?!?!”
“Six months wages’ would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”
Even Andrew, who shows signs of some optimism when he notices the boy with the five loaves and two fish, is just as puzzled. “But what are they (these loaves and these fish) among so many people?” If you’ve seen the movie “Inside Out” you might see Andrew’s emotions at play here with the initial Joy at seeing the loaves and fish…only to become pessimistic when Sad gets ahold of the control panel as he surveys the large numbers before them.
Jesus, undaunted, has the crowd sit down on the grass. He takes the bread and the fish, raises it up to give thanks to God, breaks it, then he has his disciples distribute the food. And--lo and behold—everyone got as much as they wanted and they were satisfied. And when they collected the leftovers it filled twelve baskets, a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. Even the gathered fragments get pulled together to feed the people.
That’s crazy!  At least by the standards applied in the world’s economy. In the world’s economy, somebody should have been hoarding and leaving others empty-handed. Or someone should have been complaining that by giving bread and fish to this group of one thousand would mean that these other four thousand were getting something less than their fill. There’s a finite number, and some will win and many will lose.
But this is the economy of God. And in the economy of God, five loaves of bread and two fish is more than enough and not only feeds those present on a mountainside but will feed all of those who come seeking. And nothing, and nobody, is lost.
This is the Eucharistic feast in John’s Gospel, the same Eucharist that we will remember and celebrate here in a short while. In the same way that the crowd was gathered, we will come to the table, shoulder to shoulder, people of all ages, all different backgrounds and all sorts of conditions, and we will each receive exactly what we need to sustain us and keep us in relationship with God and each other. No matter who you are or what you do or where you on your spiritual journey, you will be fed.
John will emphasize this point about the Eucharist later in this same Gospel chapter. If our lectionary diviners had wanted to go on (which would have meant poor Deacon Scott would have had to read an even longer passage), we’d hear Jesus say, “I am the bread of life,” which is even more satisfying than the loaves of barley bread this crowd had consumed. This is the same bread, that body of Christ, which we receive. And by bringing that body into ourselves, it nourishes the spirit within and empowers us to go share that power with others. Because there is plenty of God’s power and love to go around.
Jesus knows, and is telling everyone with ears to listen, that he too will be raised up, and broken in death, but he will overcome death in the resurrection and in this way…this crazy Jesus way…everyone will come to have eternal life because nothing, absolutely nothing, will defeat God and God’s love for all of creation. Not even death! This teaching, this type of discipleship that requires trusting that there’s enough Love for everyone and that Love is stronger than death, was a little too much for some to handle and they walked away. Some still do.
But there are many who don’t. There are still those of us who come to this table of God…a smaller scale version of what is the larger heavenly banquet...not for solace only, but for strength. We come not just for pardon only, but for renewal of our resources so that we can be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. As we look around in our communities, whether it’s in Thomasville, Cairo, Camilla, or even in Tallahassee, there are people who will be shocked and pleasantly surprised if they were to encounter Christians who exhibit the kind of generosity and willingness to help one another that makes five loaves and two fish into a feast. Too often, the people who we call “the unchurched” have felt, for whatever reason, that they weren’t invited in to discover they have a place at the table. Perhaps in their experience they were specifically told to stay away. Or maybe they’ve bought into that message that somehow you have to prove your worthiness, or wear the right clothes, or pass some other test of human design to gain acceptability in order to cross the threshold of the church door.
I once was providing massage therapy at a Wounded Warrior event organized by the diocese of Florida. This soldier was really talkative and had a little bit of that tough guy edge to him. He told me he wasn’t much into religion, but he appreciated being at this church camp. Then he looked at me in curiosity as I was working on his bicep:
“Are you part of the church?”
I smiled. “Yes, I am. I’m an Episcopalian.”
He laughed. “Well, I’ll be!”   
Even the massage therapist was a Christian. It gave this guy something to think about as he experienced receiving kindness and caring beyond his expectations. We were everywhere…pouring out that love of God that had been poured into us through the Eucharist, and offering it back to those suffering from the wounds of war.
As the modern day theologian Henri Nouwen says, the transformation that happens at the table makes us more than individuals but a community:
the living Christ, taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world.  As one body, we become a living witness of God's immense desire to bring all peoples and nations together as the one family of God.(Daily Meditation,“The Body of Community,” from “Bread for the Journey.”)
Having been fed, we end with praying that we have the strength and courage to love and serve God with gladness and singleness of heart through Christ our Lord. It’s not always easy, but it is our calling as members of this one Body into which we are baptized.
Don’t be afraid to be a little crazy with seeking to serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor…no matter who they are… as well as yourself. Show the world your craziness by striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Be crazy enough to live and love life in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mulling Over Marriage on Mary Magdalene's Feast Day

There was so much love in the air at the beginning of this month as Americans soaked in the new reality that the United States Supreme Court made marriage equality legal in all 50 states. Following on this news, the Episcopal Church passed resolutions to allow for new trial marriage rites that are gender neutral and changed the church canons to allow for same-sex couples to have access to the sacrament of marriage. Toot your party horns! We have achieved victory!

Ah, but not so fast. 

While our civil laws must now recognize my marriage as valid and legal everywhere (much to the chagrin and consternation of some), the actions of the 78th General Convention left some wiggle room for those bishops who oppose marriage equality to keep on keeping on. And they have. Some have penned very lengthy letters to explain their "No means No" to their dioceses. They term these letters "pastoral" but they seem to fall far short of offering the kind of caring exhibited by Jesus, even for the rich man seeking the answer to how to  achieve eternal life. I pray for those living in the dioceses of Central Florida, Albany, and Springfield, among many. Given the positions articluated by your bishops, you have some soul-searching to do for yourselves.

I'm in a different place. My own bishop, +Benhase of Georgia, made it clear in a letter to the diocese that he is in a struggle. Bishop Benhase has been clear that he is partial to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. And so, for him, he is in conflict because he sees the new canons of the Church being in disagreement with the language embedded in the BCP. Equally difficult for the bishop is the decision to put the weight of whether a diocese will make these rites available to couples, beginning on 1Advent, squarely on the shoulders of the people in purple holding the croziers. This was done for the benefit of the now "minority" bishops. Bishop Benhase, who abstained on the vote changing the marriage canon, must figure this out for a diocese that is not particularly liberal overall, but has active and faithful LGBTQ+ Episcopalians and family members throughout the congregations. 

As one of those from the latter group, I couldn't help but smile that Bishop Benhase called for a meeting of many various leaders of the church in Georgia to begin a dialogue process about marriage, and he chose to have this meeting on the feast day of Mary Magdalene, the magnificent...and maligned...and absolutely devout follower of Jesus Christ. There are lots of different Marys in the Gospels, and Mary Magdalene has been thought to be one who was a notorious sinner, healed by Jesus, and became one of his closest followers. She, after all, was at the cross when he died when all the men had scattered. And she was the one who saw the risen Christ first and ran to tell the men who (surprise!) didn't believe her until they had seen Christ for themselves. I see so much of the LGBTQ+ Christian community in the witness of Mary Magdalene. Like her, the Church has labeled  us "notorious sinners." They've called Mary a "notorious sinner" and classified her as a prostitute...when they're being nice about it because she's believed to be the adulteress who was about to be stoned to death before Jesus interceded, and might be the woman who washed his feet with her tears. Like queers in the church, all anybody wants to talk about with Mary Magdalene is her sexual practices. There's nothing wrong with being sexual. But--truly--do we wonder about what any of the men around Jesus were up to in their sex lives? 

Like so many of us in the LGBTQ+ Christian community, our experiences and encounters of a "God nature" pull us closer to Christ because we can feel and understand deeply what it is to advocate for Love only to have the world beat you and spit in your face. We know what it means to suffer rejection. And we know that power that comes from the realization that nothing, not even a cruel and painful death, will ever destroy Love because Love will be victorious. From the Morning Daily office, there is this passage from Zephiniah:

I will deal with all your oppressors
   at that time.
And I will save the lame
   and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
   and renown in all the earth. 
At that time I will bring you home,
   at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
   among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
   before your eyes, says the Lord.
(Zeph. 3: 19-20)

I appreciate that the new reality that marriage is simply now marriage and not qualified as "gay" or otherwise is something that everyone is adjusting to and getting used to. And I believe that God has been willing, able and ready for us to come to this new understanding as part of unfolding more of the mystery of eternal life to us. May the bishop and those from whom he has sought counsel pay attention, keep awake, and listen to that voice that repeats over and over to us to not be afraid. We're all going to be OK, even those who feel they are in the minority will be OK. Trust that we're all walking in the light of God together. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Undoing of Pride

And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.--Mark 6:23-26

This morning's Gospel lesson seems to be not only a sad commentary on that moment many centuries ago when a king ordered the beheading of an innocent man because of an oath he'd made before guests at a party. It seems to offer insights into our contemporary world where pride and wanting to save face in front of others trumps thoughtfulness, and realizing when making an apology would be more important than carrying out a promise.

I haven't put the whole Gospel reading up here, but this is the portion of Mark where we're hearing that people are all scratching their heads and wondering who in the world is this guy Jesus. Could he be a propet like Elijah? Or maybe he's more like John the Baptizer? The latter is what this King Herod believed, who is a different Herod than the one that slaughtered children out of fear of a rival in Bethlehem. We have something like a flashback where we find out what had happened to Jesus' cousin, John the Baptizer. John, the one preparing the way and eating locusts and honey, had dared to tell King Herod that he was wrong for marrying his brother's wife. This didn't sit well with the wife, and wasn't something Herod wanted to hear, either, so he had John arrested and thrown in jail. Then we have the scene with Herod's birthday party. Mark tells us that this is a big shindig with lots of courtiers, officers, and leaders. Our imagination can fill in the details of the rich food, lots of wine flowing freely, people making merry and probably getting a little tipsy. Herod's stepdaughter does a dance in front of these men and delights all of them, especially her stepdad who is overcome in the moment and makes the solemn promise to give this girl whatever she asks for. 

And so she gets her instructions from her mom, and tells Herod what she wants: John's head on a platter.

According to what Mark says, this wasn't the type of request Herod thought he'd have to entertain. He was prepared, perhaps, to find the finest spices for her, the most purple of all robes, maybe even a few thousand acres of the best land of Galilee. But....

John's head? On a platter?

We can imagine the continuation of this scene. All eyes are on Herod. Given the times, I won't go so far in my own imagination as to think that this created quiet in the room as everyone waits to hear his answer. Instead, this is a time when being brutal was a sport. I mean, the Romans did crucify people. Still, we get that, for Herod, this isn't an easy thing. We get that because we remember the recounting of this story is a flashback for him as he is listening to what people are saying about, "Who is Jesus?"

It's too bad we can't pause the story for Herod at that moment when his stepdaughter makes her request. It's unfortunate that his bravado and drunken pledge to give her whatever she asks for leads him to actually give her what she asks for. What would have happened if he'd said, "OK, I was wrong to say I'd give you whatever you asked for because what you've just asked for is too much for me to give"?

I think about the promises that get made when lobbyists are writing out a check to a politician. Sometimes the politician is extorting the contribution by saying, "If you want me to do 'x' for you, give me money for my re-election." But there are plenty of times when one can look at the contribution list to a candidate's campaign and see where corporations and other high-rolling members of society have made sure to put their cash behind the person who will do their bidding in the halls of government whether its the best thing for the people and planet or not. Rarely will you ever see a candidate go against what a big donor wants.

The same thing happens in the church. I've read where there is suspicion that at least one bishop who has remained on the fence about blessing same-sex couples and kept that streak alive at GC with the resolutions on the marriage canons may be catering to one of the large and well-heeled congregations in his diocese. As long as this one house of worship, with all its monied people, keep saying that they don't want to recognize LGBT relationships, an entire diocese is made to suffer. 

What would happen if those with money and power to influence leadership heard, "No," once and awhile? They'd probably find another who would do their bidding and shower that person with all the riches of the world. But it might also signal something else to a broader audience if leaders, upon reflection, would be willing to say that money isn't everything, and some promises simply can't be kept any more. It could result in that leader losing their position of authority. But what good is it to have authority if one is presiding over a system where innocents get slaughtered?  Better to have the grace to say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong," than to save face in the vanity of thinking this will preserve power. Sometimes being vulnerable leads to greater gain. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My View on a Facebook Posting

One of my most memorable professors at the University of Missouri was Dr. Don Ranly. He was the perfect picture of "professor"with his grayish-white beard and mustache and his authoriative delivery of his lectures in my Journalism 300 course. This was one of the pre-requistite classes designed to weed out those second semester sophomores who aspired to enter the famed School of Journalism. We had to pay attention, do as he said, and pass J-300 to fulfill our dreams of J-School. To this day, I still remember one of Dr. Ranly's most famous statements. It was to answer the question: What is News?

"News is the current reasoned reflection of the day's events."

For my career as a journalist, marked by more awards than I can count or remember at this point, Dr. Ranly's succinct definition was a touchstone to guide me as I strived to do my part to serve the public radio listening audience of Florida. I also had my scroll, handed to me at graduation, of Walter Williams' Journalist's Creed to remind me that my job meant that I was in a position of public trust and to not abuse this trust as I went about presenting "the current reasoned reflection of the day's events."

There are days when I wonder what the hell has happened to my once beloved profession. I had one of those yesterday.

The medium was Facebook. The text was a posting by a friend who now serves as an editor at the Tallahassee Democrat, the only daily newspaper in the capital city. She was sharing what had run on the op-ed page of the paper. It was a column by a local minister decrying the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality.

Such an opinion piece would not be so unusual for this city. I wouldn't agree with it and it would bother me to have yet-another Christian getting a column to rail about gay people. What was unusual, and why it more than bothered me, was that this was no run-of-the-mill ranting pastor. This was Fr. Eric Dudley of St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish which had its beginning in an act of spiritual violence committed against St. John's Episcopal Church. Fr. Dudley, with all of the priests, most of the vestry, and several of the wealthier members of the congregation, announced at the 9am service on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2005, that they were leaving St. John's and walking down the street to begin a new church affiliated with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). He invited people to join him as he went out the door. And those who didn't were left with no priests, no lay governance, and in shock, hurt, anger, and disbelief.

Father Dudley's decision to do this act of rebellion on a Sunday morning came from his almost pathological hatred of the Episcopal Church and its decision to consecrate Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. He had been in the newspaper and on TV speaking out against Bishop Robinson. And he started having cottage meetings, six months prior to the big walk out, to see who might be willing to follow him. Declaring those who stayed "unorthodox," he effectively shook the dust of the Episcopal Church off his feet and left. On the Christian Sabbath day.

What's more: St. Peter's is affiliated with the Church of Uganda, which has been a participant in promoting the passage of laws in that country that criminalize homosexuality.

The timing of this op-ed piece was curious. The Episcopal Church has just finished its General Convention where it voted overwhelmingly to offer trial marriage liturgies for use by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. In a move of pastoral generosity, the Convention also made room for theological disagreement, so that no bishop or priest has to marry a couple if they don't want to do so; however, the bishops must make provisions to find a way for a lesbian or gay couple to access the marriage rite with another diocese. It appears Florida will be one of those opting out.

None of this history, or corresponding current state of affairs, appeared in Dudley's piece or in the newspaper. Instead, all the average reader saw was a man in a clergy collar, talking about God's intentions for creation as "one man and one woman" and asking for lesbian and gay people to respect him and his church's position to continue denying that our marriages are valid.

But for those of us who do know this history, and particularly for those of us who are LGBTQ or allies and know this about the author, to see this in a newspaper with no additional comment or corresponding "counter-point" from a member of the Christian clergy was appalling.

My newspaper friend informed me this piece was unsolicited. As I noted to my friend, allowing this unsolicited piece to run without an opposing opinion is akin to having a fan of the New York Yankees offer a commentary on the 2004 Boston Red Sox win of the World Series. Or--to put it in purely local terms--giving a UF Gator fan free space to offer an opinion on the FSU Seminoles. The fact that it was not even a piece the newspaper requested, and they printed it any way, opens them up to other questions: will an atheist get to offer commentary on Easter? Can a neo-Nazi decide that at times when Jews are remembering the Holocaust he should submit a piece to the paper to explain why it's all a big lie?

Answer: of course not! And yet there are lots of atheists in our community. And there are people who hold anti-Semitic views in our society as well. By the logic of the Tallahassee Democrat, we should open the editorial pages to those viewpoints, too, without any counterpoint. Printing an unsolicited piece by Father Eric Dudley...especially given the timing with the actions at the Episcopal Church's General Convention...was simply wrong. There is no defense for this. The ethic of public trust and presenting "a current reasoned reflection of the day's events," especially when dealing with a current events topic on an editorial page, calls for not accepting just anybody's opinion piece, but putting some thought and planning into the presentation. That's called being responsible with this public trust.

The paper is going to run a My View piece answering Dudley's theological arguments to support denying recognition of married same-sex couples. The rabbi of Temple Israel, Jack Romberg, was good enough to respond, and he has and has done what he has done before: explain the Hebrew Scriptures to a Christian audience who keep referring to them to back up what they think God intends for humanity. Jews have spent a whole lot more time on Genesis than most Christians ever will.

Too bad the local Episcopal priests aren't the ones answering Dudley. They might tell him and us about Jesus and the most extravagant and liberating Love that rocks the world.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reflecting on Independence Day

Off in the distance, I can hear the fireworks already going off as the heavens are preparing a different kind of fireworks show as is typical of our North Florida summer afternoons. I have already had my own little bit of patriotic fun, waving a couple of rainbow flags that were gifted to me as I hummed a Sousa march.

Indeed, this year's Independence Day is a little bit different. This is the first time I have truly felt that my country of origin has made a real statement that I, as a lesbian, am entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "Happiness" in this case is the fundamental civil right to be married and have my marriage recognized in all 50 states and not just a bizarre patchwork of local county ordinances and such. That "happiness", by extension, goes to those LGBT people who choose not to marry. It is now a choice. This is wonderful, and a bit bizarre, given the long period of "outlier" status we've had as gay people. You start to grow kind of accustomed to that place, creating your own rules and reality. But now our reality is being brought into the fabric of the nation for real. I'm OK with this.

At the same time, as I consider closely where we are with our many intersections of identities in this nation, I'm still unsettled and troubled. Lots of people have been sharing the words of Frederick Douglas about what Independence Day means to a slave. Believe me, I can't help but be reminded that we still have not guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when people are killed for their skin color. When the fact that your skin contains more melanin than mine means that you are denied access to a job or housing, how in the world can that leave you happy? I'm not happy, and I'm the one who has the privilege that affords me those things which are denied to black and brown people. Add to the mix the intersection of skin color and sexual or gender identity and watch the disparity grow. Where is the happiness and the fireworks in that?  I know this type of discrimination exists. And it must end.  

The United States, like any other nation on earth, will only be made stronger when all its people are treated with respect and dignity. As I think about purple mountain majesties and amber fields of grain, I think about the vast and amazing beauty that can be seen in all of our people. And I think that we have failed to lower those mountains and lift up those fields, so that we're all walking together on the same plain. This is the desire for justice that has been with me all my life, and is my ongoing commitment to all my brothers and sisters. In my world, and my vision, all means all. Liberty and justice for all. That is the pledge I will make to my country and its citizens.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Peaceful Kingdom

"A shoot shall come out from the root of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."(Is.11:1-2)

By now, most have heard the news that The Episcopal Church in both its House of Bishops and House of Deputies at General Convention has adopted resolutions that permit two new trial marriage rites and instructs an understanding of marriage that would include same-gender couples by eliminating the words "man and woman." These votes did not happen willy nilly. There was time for discussion. There was time to file amendments. There was most definitely time for prayer. And then there was time for voting.  And the outcome was for marriage equality in the sacraments. 

There are some who don't see it as equality. There are some who think this is a rush toward changing centuries of tradition in favor of a minority within the church. They feel as strongly in their righteousness as I feel in my convinction that the righteous act is to include all who are baptized into all the sacraments. 

There has been much ink written by people on both sides of the political spectrum of the church about this issue, and I don't need to rehash all that, or engage in arguments about the many definitions of marriage over the centuries, not to mention how marriage came to be a sacramental rite to begin with. I am happy to leave that to others to parse out. Instead, for me, I am interested in the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court presented our country with a new reality, for all of us, where I am afforded the fundemental civil right of marriage in all 50 states. This reality has been recognized by the Episcopal Church as it seeks to minister to the LGBTQ+ community which has been so hurt by the institutional church. Whether any one person or bishop agrees with this reality or not is immaterial; it is the reality. And so where do we go from here?

"The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a child shall lead ." (Is. 11:6)

As one who has been in the minority for a long, long time in the church, both at the intersection of being a lesbian and being a woman, I certainly understand what it feels like to be getting the short end of the stick on any particular matter. So, to the ones who are hurting at the moment, I know you are. And to the ones who hold the longer end of said stick, who continuously feel the need to remind me how to be generous to those who are hurting, thanks, but please stop lecturing me on how to exhibit Christian love. Again, I have had ample opportunity as a lesbian in the church in a much more conservative part of the country to know the pain of those who have experienced being in the minority. I am willing to listen to what pains the more conservative person about this vote. What I am not willing to do is to say that their pain is reason for me to continue being denied my place in the body of Christ. We all are part of this body, the conservative and the liberal, the wolf and the lamb. And in God's economy, everyone is a stockholder and there are no "sides"; only people. 

This is why I think the first step for those dioceses where there is still a lot of hurt and division over the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell and the passage of resolutions A054 and A036 is for there to be a listening process across the diocese where everyone who wants to say something is given that opportunity. I believe this may serve two important purposes: one is to allow people the opportunity to give voice to their fears as well as their hopes in the march toward more faith in our risen Christ to guide us toward respecting the dignity of everyone. Some bishops may also take this opportunity to hear the full range of the voice of the Spirit as he or she discerns the best way forward for their diocese. The Holy Spirit dwells within all the faithful; listening to all the faithful of a diocese is one way to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

This will take time. It will take effort. And it will be worth it. If people are heard, both in their hurt and their joy, it will make whatever is the final decision of the bishop something more palatable. The only ones who won't be satisfied are the ones who insist it's their way or the highway. 

At a pre-convention forum at St. John's Episcopal Church in Tallahassee, someone asked if the resolutions were going to result in people leaving the Episcopal Church. After the rector gave his polite answer, I gave the answer inspired by the words of a crazy Christian, the late Fr. Lee Graham:

"Oh, people have been leaving the Episcopal Church for decades over all kinds of things!" I continued, "We shouldn't be focusing on our fears. We should live into the faith that we have." 

"The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Is. 11: 8-9)

I cannot promise that there will not be attempts to hurt and destroy. It is my hope that, as people of God, we will refrain from attacking one another and instead make a true commitment to the belief that God is working God's purpose out, and put in the time and effort to meet one another and see Christ in each other through honest discussions.  In God, as in the Episcopal Church, there are no outcasts. This is my prayer for those dioceses where there is strife and discord. 

We're all going to be OK. Really, we're all going to be OK. Trust that the shoot coming from the root of Jesse will only be made stronger if we all commit to making it work.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Stars Aligning

It was as beautiful as I could have hoped for on a muggy evening in North Florida. Venus, the planet of love and sensuality, was appearing in the sky to be so close to Jupiter, the planet of high intellect and spirituality, that they looked like dance partners. Jupiter would wink and Venus would glow. Being at the beach gave us a great opportunity to witness this phenomenon which some say may have been the star that guided the Magi to Jesus in Bethelehem some 2,000 years ago.

I'm glad that the movement of the planets seemed to correspond with the movement of legislation in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal Church's General Convention #78. Love and Higher Intellect appear coming closer together as the House of Bishops moved along legislation to allow Episcopal priests to perform marriages and not just bless them. That may seem really wonky, insider-baseball-played-with-a-verge for some readers, but there is a difference. In the latter case, lesbian and gay couples were allowed to get their necessary marriage license and then go to a civil authority to get married. Once that's done, they could seek a blessing on their marriage from a priest. In some dioceses, the bishops authorized a provisional blessing rite which allowed the priest to conduct a ceremony, but could not declare the couple married. Again, only a civil authority could do that. What's being proposed now are two trial liturgies that allow priests to actually marry and sign off on the state's paperwork for a couple. In addition, there is a change to the words as stated in the Book of Common Prayer about marriage being a "man and a woman," and offering an alternative opening of the service to something a little more palatable on the ears of a same-gender loving person. I, personally, have found it very hard to hear the story of the miracle of Cana as one that backed up heterosexual marriage instead of God taking what was undrinkable, sin-filled ritual water, and making it into a delicious Cabarnet. It's not a miracle about a wedding; it's showing the truth of how God can take the bad and make it good.

The votes on both resolutions were overwhelmingly positive. And there is an "out clause" provided to bishops with objections. They can refuse to let the liturgies be used, but they must help couples denied a chance to get married a way to have that happen. They can't simply say, "No" and be done with it without facing some serious problems. This gives comfort to some. For me, I pray for those LGBT couples living in dioceses with bishops who might take advantage of this "conscience clause." I see little difference between this and refusing to let divorced people remarry, or denying the sacrament of marriage to let an inter-racial or inter-faith couple wed. Those kinds of exceptions would not be tolerated by most people today. Why is this OK to do to lesbian and gay couples who, otherwise, meet all the requirements of the church's expectation of marriage? 

The stars aligned to put love and higher intellect so close together. As these resolutions move on to the House of Deputies, I pray that the movement of the planets might mirror the movement of the hearts and minds of those in the chamber of clergy and lay deputies. And for the bishops: perhaps ponder that image of this astronomical occurence as a metaphor for this marriage debate. If this is a reproduction of the Star over Bethlehem, what a guide to be in the sky for the General Convention as it draws to a close on Friday!