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 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.”