Monday, November 28, 2016

Wake Up!!

"Sleepers, wake!" A voice astounds us, 
The shout of rampart guards surrounds us;
"Awake, Jerusalem, arise!"
Midnight's peace their cry has broken,
Their urgent summons clearly spoken;
"The time has come, O maidens wise!
Rise up and give us light; the Bridegroom is in sight.
Alleluia! Your lamps prepare and hasten there,
That you the wedding feast may share."
--Hymn #61, The Hymnal 1982, Episcopal Church

Following the election, a song that kept running through my head was Andre Thomas' arrangement, "Keep Your Lamps," a song of both spirituality in referencing Jesus' parable of the  young maidens who were ready for the bridegroom because they didn't waste the oil in their lamps, and its hidden message to African slaves to also be ready for the day would be coming when they would no longer be forced into hard labor, raped, and beaten by their white slave holders. While the hymn I've quoted at the beginning of this entry has, in my opinion,  a little less of the raw power of Thomas' anthem, it is also a powerful message of both burning light and being ready. Nothing seems more appropriate for these times ahead.

To be more blunt: it's time to wake up.

Nobody can sleep soundly when the lights are turned on high, and nobody can be drowsy when it is time to move into a place of action. For too long, in my opinion, various institutions of our country have been slapping the alarm clock's snooze button. Now we're waking into a nightmare, and the sleepyheads are now rubbing their eyes and saying, "Wha' happened?!"

Wha' happened? Well, my brothers and sisters of the Fourth Estate have come to believe that "fair and balanced" reporting means that you give the same weight to someone telling you outright fabrications as you do to someone who fudges the truth. My brothers and sisters in Christ have been more willing to vote for supposed "pocketbook issues" while totally overlooking their candidate's out loud sexist comments and close ties with racists, xenophobes, and homophobes that are not in sync with the Gospel. And my brothers and sisters on the more left-end of the political spectrum would rather hurl rocks at other progressive people for not being liberal enough and failing to be "utterly pure" in keeping the left-wing agenda to the point that they foolishly spilled the oil from their lamps for third party fringe lunatics who think anti-gay dictators are a-OK. 

Wake up. Wake up. Wake UP!!!

In this season of Advent, a time normally marked by patience and waiting, I find myself not in that space of patience and waiting in the usual sense. Instead, I'm looking around, not with anxiety (that wave has passed), but with a sense of quiet urgency that those of us who have been awake for awhile now must connect with the newly-awakened and form the alliances necessary to retain and maintain a fragment of what our nation should be, and not lose sight of its promises to promote life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness...or more rightly Justice...for all people. We cannot allow this dark wave of authoritarianism to snuff out the light of the longest-running democracy. The only way I know to do this work is through promotion of Love. Love is stronger than hate. Love is more bold than fear. Love is the promise that comes to Christians through the life of Jesus Christ. And Christ did not hold back on touching people and reaching out to those disparate groups who were struggling to hold it together under the rule of the Romans. If I have patience and waiting in my bones for this season, it is to enter into moments of quieting the chatter in my head long enough to listen for those opportunities to connect with other people seeking Love and not hate or fear during this long season ahead of us.

Let's find each other because stronger together, we can light up this world that is gathering under a dark cloud.    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Small Acts of Radicalism and Love

Safety pin on choir vestment

I live in the southeastern United States which, after the 2016 Presidential election, I have dubbed "The Red States of America." The electoral map had a big red mass in the lower right hand corner of the map. And that's where I live, move, and have my being. 

Life here has been intense. As I noted in my prior entry ("Love, Now More than Ever") I have been on edge traveling through south and central Georgia. I have seen postings from people in the Peach State that have made my skin crawl. Pictures of pick up trucks touting Trump's win and what that will mean for "fat dykes." Stories of children worried that they or their families will be deported or "sent back to Africa." A barista shared with me that her boyfriend, who looks like a typical southern red neck,  was heckled by car full of anti-Trump protestors as he was outside in his Tallahassee neighborhood. Of course, they didn't know that he was also anti-Trump. A classic moment of judging a book by its cover...or a southern guy by his beard.

It's also gotten ugly over how best to show support to people who are feeling threatened and scared about the incoming administration. A small gesture, fastening a safety pin to your clothes to indicate "You are safe with me" can kick up a firestorm from both sides. Those on the right ridicule and scoff at the gesture and accuse the wearer of fomenting division in the country. Those on the left ridicule and scoff at the gesture as white people attempting to assuage their white guilt about electing a white supremacist to the highest office in the land. Never mind that the people sporting the pin are more likely than not Clinton voters. The pin has become a prickly point in these parts.

I guess it might be too much to ask those on the left to consider that maybe, just maybe, the people sporting pins are making a commitment to always stand up against bigotry and prejudice and that this has nothing to do with their own feelings, and more to do with their empathy for the oppressed. Perhaps it's time for the left to stop attacking its own people simply because, unconsciously, it's easier to beat up on fellow liberals than to face the anger, hostility and meanness of their true opponents on the right.

I have found myself taking hits from people on both sides. To be both queer and Christian puts me in a perpetual place of vulnerability. 

What does that mean today, to be a person who is among the targeted and despised and yet professes a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? The people on the right reject me and my relationship and are ready to roll back all the civil rights gains the LGBTQ+ community have made and put me into conversion therapy. The people on the left have called me the equivalent of a Hitler-loving Jew for attempting to live into my calling to stand with the oppressed while always looking for ways to soften the hearts of those who right now seem so hard and fast in their hatred of me and my kind. In other words, to be queer and Christian at this time is to become even more in tune with what it means to follow Christ. As I've said, it's easy to say you love Jesus; it's a whole different thing to actually follow him into these impossible places to do the work that bridges gaps and attempts to raise up people rather than continuously drag them down. 

With this Sunday being the last Sunday of Pentecost, or Christ the King Sunday, listeners in the pews of Episcopal churches will hear a gospel lesson in which Jesus, hanging on the cross between two criminals and being mocked and scorned, says, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." From one side, Jesus gets more abuse from a convict; on the other side, he hears his fellow death row inmate come to his defense and beg for remembrance and mercy. Fast forward many centuries and place this scene in a contemporary context, I can see my queer Christian self being similarly taunted and disrespected and tested. I can feel the frustration and pain of seeing how totally screwed up the scene is around me (a man who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and NO major newspaper wins the presidency?) and yet I am, by hook or by crook, required to be in relationship in the world with people who supported this man while not making peace with his oppression of me or others. "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Really? Did they not know who they were electing? Sadly, strangely, it seems some people would not take the Republican candidate's incendiary talk on the campaign trail seriously. The rationale is "he didn't really mean all that stuff  about Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims." I'm not sure how one believes his economic plans while ignoring his troubling rhetoric about the many minority groups and his lack of respect for women. But it has been done. The votes were cast. So now what? How do I go to the communion rail with people who will not see the damage done with all the name-calling and whipping up unwarranted fears about "the others" of our society? "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing...." 

There are some who are among the unreachable. They've tapped their inner fear button through the right wing medium machine so many times that it's become as addictive as any drug. But there are those who are not the totally lost. These are the people I hope to reach with remaining as a presence of Love so that they might see the need for them to join in the work to prevent the spread of fear and to stop the violence--verbal and physical--that is already happening in the wake of this election. 

In the meantime, for those who have genuine fear, I am wearing my safety pin in the Red States of America to be an outward and visible sign of a willingness to speak up against the hatred that is swirling around them in the world. It is a small, yet radical, act of love and an assurance that I will not leave my brothers and sisters behind. Together we will stand on the side of love.    


Friday, November 11, 2016

Love, Now More Than Ever

It has taken me a few days to process and settle my mind enough to write a blog entry. Let me begin with the rawest of my emotions. This year has sucked and this presidential election is a cherry on top of the suckiest sundae ever.

I am shocked. I am angry. I am deeply hurt.

And I have felt fear in my heart. On Wednesday, I attended Morning Prayer, a quiet time of contemplation marked with hugs and tears. I worked and then had to drive to Augusta, GA, for a meeting of the Commission on Healing Justice, a working group-in-progress with the Episcopal dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta looking to leverage our place as Christians to confront issues of the death penalty and criminal justice system. Before I left Tallahassee for the nearly six-hour drive, I made sure I put air in the tires and filled up the gas tank. And then I drove, without ever getting out of the car, until I got to the hotel in Augusta. I did not want to have to stop for anything, even a bathroom break. I look like what I am: a dyke. And I was going to be driving through the heart of Trump’s America. I did not feel safe.

Friends, especially among Episcopal clergy, were posting that we need to come together for the good of the country. One priest here in Tallahassee penned an op-ed piece that appeared in the paper on Monday and insisted this healing had to begin immediately. Even I knew that if Hillary Clinton had won, there was no way the healing was going to be immediate, not after such a bruising campaign. Now, it is really questionable.

Already there is talk of rescinding the Obama administration’s rules that protected the rights of transgender students to use the rest room appropriate for their gender. We have an incoming Vice President who signed a religious freedom law that effectively gave the green light for Indiana businesses to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, and he supports conversion therapy for LGBTQ kids, an absolutely wrong and horrible thing to do to a child. They don’t support marriage equality either. And that’s just what they have in mind for queers for the first 100 days. We haven’t talked about all the other minority groups the president-elect has bullied and further marginalized and threatened to strip away rights and disrespect them. Friends are posting that their kids are coming home in tears because the bullies have become more emboldened in their attacks on them for being "different." It's terrible.  So, please, excuse me if I’m having a little difficulty with wrapping my mind around how I need to “come together” with a person still hitting me in the head with a hammer.

So, yes, I am concerned. I cannot reconcile how people could vote for this man, and particularly if they are people who sit in the pew of a church and hear the same message of Love that I hear in the Gospels. How are Episcopalians, specifically, going to tell me that they truly do “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving their neighbor as yourself,” or claim to be “striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being” if they voted for a man who spits in the face of those very values? (The Baptismal Covenant, BCP, pp 304-305). Have the clergy failed to impart that what one professes on Sunday is supposed to become a rule of life that we live out in the world? Has the church, not just clergy but the entire church, dropped the ball in holding each other accountable on these promises? We wring our hands about dwindling membership, but I hear what is muttered about Christians and Christianity. We have for too long remained too timid to speak up when things go awry. We have allowed too much discretion in whether to stand with the marginalized group and made it OK to make peace with oppression if it protects the church or the diocesan budget, and doesn’t upset some “really nice people.”  I, for one, am tired of hearing about how much everyone loves Jesus. I would rather people proclaim that they will boldly follow Jesus. I believe this is what is meant by our Presiding Bishop when he talks of us joining in “The Jesus Movement.”

My meeting in Augusta went well, and it was good to be with people who also have a passion for finding new ways and different paths to speaking to the issues of the death penalty and the victims of violent crime. I was truly thankful to be immersed for three hours in a discussion that, while colored by the events of the election, has not stopped us from engaging to dig deeper and bring forth Love to a hurting world.

And that’s where this particular entry is headed. In this Trumped America, I have a call to Love and to speak Love and live in Love even in the face of unmitigated hatred. I have a vocation that requires me to keep my inner lamp lit and not hide out in my house but take it out into the darkened streets because there are people who really need to see it. Now more than ever. I will rise. I will not back down. Please join me.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Baseball And The Hard Truths of A Girl's Life

I don't know about you, but I am still buzzing over the amazing and nail-biting finale of the 2016 World Series. I mean, how 'bout them Chicago Cubs, right?
Seven games. A rain delay. Extra innings. The baseball season stretched into the wee hours on November 3rd on the East Coast. It was the bottom of the tenth, two outs, and there was a ground ball hit to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant who smiled as he fielded the ball and slung it across the diamond to first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo pocketed the coveted final out ball and dashed into the mosh pit of his teammates in the infield as they celebrated the end of a 108-year World Series drought. It was pure joy!
I have always loved baseball. I played it from first grade up through my freshman year at prep school. And I played baseball, not softball. I have played every position in the field, but the three positions I was most proficient at were first base, centerfield, and pitcher. Injury forced me to stop playing (I would later diagnosis my problem when I was in massage school as a strain of my subscapularis), and in my last season, I was batting just over .400 and was developing a wicked curve ball where the bottom would fall out on the throw just as it crossed the plate. I even pitched a fork ball to one of my teammates at practice. He stood slack jawed in the batter's box as it traveled with no discernible motion whizzing passed him. 

"What the hell was that?!"
"A strike!" I laughed.

It wasn't easy being a girl who played baseball. Every time I moved up to the next level of play, I went through a process of having to prove myself and gain the trust and respect of my male teammates. Title IX was in its infancy when I was beginning to play team sports and this idea of girls playing with and competing against boys was groundbreaking. As a kid, I wasn't thinking about that at all. I was just setting a ball on top of one the garden posts and practicing my swing, my arm extension, and turning my wrists. My brother Edward would practice with me and I could sometimes get my perpetually busy dad to put aside the law for a little while to play catch. One of my coaches, Ed Gustafson, taught me how to disrupt the pitcher's rhythm when batting and, conversely, he would work with us pitchers on how to stay focused and not let a batter psyche us out. There were definitely men who encouraged me in learning to play the game that is America's pastime.
But their support did not prepare me for the disappointment the day the phone did not ring.
I was eleven years old, and my goal was to play in the Exeter Junior League, aka the Little League in my home town. All the teams had full uniforms that made them look like very young pro ball players. Their games were played at Currier Field about four blocks from my house. I would often ride my bike over to sit in the bleachers and get bubble gum at the concession stand. I dreamed of one day being out on the field, taunting batters with the rest of them:
"Hey, batter, batter, batter, noooo batter, batter, batter, hey, batter, batter...SWING!"
To make it onto a Little League team, you had to attend try-outs. They would pin a number to your back and then you would go through the drills of fielding, throwing, running, and hitting. I first tried out when I was ten years old. And I wasn't very good. I couldn't throw as hard or as accurately as some of the other kids, and I finished in the middle of the pack on all the running drills. I was disappointed that I didn't receive the phone call that I had been drafted, but I took it as a challenge to get better. I played in the Exeter Recreation Department's Minor League, the town's alternative to the Little League. It was challenging playing against kids who were older than me, but it also forced me to get better. And by the spring of 1979, I was ready to take another shot at try-outs for the Little League.
I was good. More than good. My skills had really improved. I was charging ground balls and throwing harder and more accurately than anyone else. With each smack of my throw coming into the coach's catcher's mitt, he would smile and give the approval, "Yeah, that's the stuff!" I would glimpse out of the corner of my eye that coaches were taking down my number and it gave me more confidence as I showed patience and strength in the batter's box. This time, I came away from the try-out feeling triumphant. I had proven myself. Now all that was left was the wait for the phone call on a Sunday afternoon. 
I sat at the kitchen table. I didn't want to seem anxious, but when the phone rang, I almost bolted from my seat. My mom calmly answered the phone.
It was my older brother calling to ask a question. 
My mom hurried him off the phone, explaining that I was expecting a call. 
I waited. And I waited. And I waited.
As the sun began to set on the day, I realized that, once again, I was not going to be picked to play on a Little League team. I cried. A lot.
How could this be? How, after my near perfection performance at the try-outs, could I NOT be drafted?
My mother, who had seen me and noted how well I had done in comparison to the boys, was furious. She got on the phone and called the man who had been my brothers' Little League coach to demand some answers. What she heard was stunning.
"Well, Peggy, y'know I promised John I would pick his son and I couldn't disappoint the little boy..."
And so, at eleven years old, I learned about the good ol' boy network. And I learned that no matter how fast I ran, hard I threw, or how far I hit a baseball, my female gender would always be trumped by "the boy." It was a bitter lesson. 
That season, I returned to the Exeter Minor League and helped my team crush our opponents finishing with an undefeated season and a .682 batting average. The next year, what would have been my final year of eligibility in the Little League, I didn't bother to try-out. The Recreation Department splurged to buy full baseball uniforms for all the teams, so we could also look like mini-pro baseball players. And my coach decided he'd had enough of the Little League's refusal to bring in girls, so he took the story to the media. There was a free feminist newspaper in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire. Coach Gustafson called one of the reporters, and invited her to come talk to the girls on his team to hear our story. And when it hit the stands, there was a big hue and cry heard all over town. The story revealed what I and the others had already suspected: the Little League folks didn't want us, and thought baseball was a "boy's game" and that we should play softball because that was a "girl's game." The fact that there was no softball league and that as pre-teens we were just as skilled didn't matter. 
The end result: a few years later, girls were beginning to be allowed into the Little League and not just for a few games at the end of the year. It was too late to help me, but some other talented girls got the chance to play on Currier Field.
I share this story because as I have watched this political season drag on and listened and read the coverage of the presidential campaign, I see echoes of my own experience playing out again and again. It seems to me that the same resistance rising in the hearts of men (and some women) that I met attempting to follow my dream of playing baseball is the same stumbling blocks set up against Hillary Clinton. People may come up with lots of reasons and righteous arguments for why they think she's unfit to be president, but they all sound like the same righteous justifications used to pick boys who giggled as they fell down during a sprinting drill or threw into the back stop or hit little dribblers back to the pitcher when the girl is smacking base hits into the outfield. It's all sexism, and it is a real thing that I have had to deal with my whole life from childhood into adulthood. So when I see an abundantly qualified woman running for office against a man who has no experience and has insulted every person, place, and thing in America and yet people still say, "I don't see a difference between these two" I feel myself transported back to that kitchen table in New Hampshire waiting for the phone call that never came.
I am not voting for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman. I am voting for Hillary Clinton because I am a woman, and I know how much harder we have to work just to be given a chance to shine, how much more thorough she needs to be on her plans, and how extremely gracious she needs to be in the face of unapologetic sexism. Who better to take the reigns of leadership from President Obama who has had to put up with a steady stream of racism during his eight years in office?
Give her the ball.