Sunday, December 31, 2017

Moving on from 2017

I had been planning to write a blog entry centered on the Gospel for today, which is John's prelude in which he tells about "In the beginning was the Word." There is actually a lot to say about the incarnation of Jesus, the importance to 2017 to remember that God actually entered into our experience as a human being with human flesh and bones. But I'm going to hold that discussion to go directly to the secular or cultural discussion of the end of 2017. 

I posed a question on Facebook to my friends to describe 2017 in a word or a phrase. The clear favorite among them is "shit show." There are many variations on that theme, but that is the two word answer that seems most popular. And, on the whole, I would have to agree. I really do hope there are people, or at least more people, in the United States who are realizing that electing a totally self-absorbed man with a strange love of Nazis as president of the United States may be the the most colossal error we have ever made since we took up arms against each other to defend the inhumane institution of slavery. I am not going to be deferential or attempt to find some neutral ground here. The man in the White House is a terrible buffoon. Worse, however, is that there is a Congress which is also largely run by cynical, greedy twerps who wrap themselves in the flag and place a Bible out on their coffee table to feign a faith in the Messiah who encouraged us to look out for the lost, the lonely, and the persons who were in need. If they actually read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested Scripture, they would be hard-pressed to continue punishing the poor and middle-class while giving away our tax dollars to corporations and extremely wealthy people. 

I do know that part of my charge if I am to live into the Love that is unconditional is that I must be able to still feel compassion for those with whom I disagree to the point of truly despising them....which is where I am now with the president and his lapdogs at the Capitol. The only way I can successfully muster anything close to warmth for these individuals is to remember that they are human and, just like me, they want to be happy and free from suffering. That latter part has been the most helpful because I'm pretty convinced that Mitch McConnell and the others must be suffering. There is no other logical explanation for being OK with taking away people's health insurance coverage, despoiling our planet with more drilling, and giving middle-income people a few hundred dollars in tax breaks for a couple of years while slashing the tax rate for corporations forever. There must have been something that warped their sense of right and wrong, or they must be so miserable that they have to take down other people. I'll never know because I doubt I'll ever meet McConnell or any of them.

So I will pray for the leadership of our country. And in 2018, I will be doing all I can to help them move out of Washington, DC, forever. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Purify Our Conscience: A Prelude to Christmas Eve

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen.--Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

For many of us, today is going to be a crazy and dizzying day of two different church services. This morning is Advent 4 in which we hear the annunciation and we learn that a young girl, Mary, agrees to be the mother of God. This evening, we will all reconvene in a church sanctuary bedecked in green and white to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In church liturgical time, nine months goes by rather rapidly!

Real time, of course, doesn't move so fast. So let's slow it down for just a moment...and stay in this moment of the morning with annunciation. This is a special mission, this idea that God will be manifest in the world in the form of a human baby and born in the same fashion that all human babies of the time came into the world. I imagine that this was also a method that was fraught with lots of danger in those days. Childbirth is dicey medical business and there were no incubators or sterilized surgical equipment. Heck, the mythology of Jesus' birth is that he came into the world in a stable with animals and hay. Talk about poor and lowly!

And that's really the main point: the Christ child, the one who was born to lead his people with Love as his sword and shield, was not born into comfort. Even the times of that day were hard and difficult for the Israelites. Their temple had been destroyed, they had been conquered and scattered, and the Roman Empire was notorious for being every bit as harsh as the Egyptians had been to the Jews many centuries before. The Jews were permitted to have their religion, but were heavily taxed, and were expected to keep their heads down and not disturb the balance of power...which was against them. Those who did attempt to revolt were killed and their deaths were on display as a reminder to anyone else who dared to question the Emperor or his subordinates. And yet....

The angel Gabriel comes to a teenage girl and doesn't pose a question: Will you bear a child who you will name Jesus who will be Emmanuel--God with us? Instead, the story the evangelist Luke gives to us is that Gabriel basically voluntold Mary that she had been chosen to take on this incredible responsibility. Mary, like anyone who has experienced a call from God to step out and do something they weren't prepared to do, is mystified and does some push back: how is this possible? I've never had sex? Look at me: I'm barely in my teens! And, just like anyone who has experienced a call from God to step out and do something they weren't prepared to do, the answers come back to her: trust this. Nothing is impossible with God. Girl, you're gonna be alright. You are exactly the one and this exactly the time and place. 

We are living in a time so many thousands of years later that still has extreme poverty and cruelty and oppression where those with means and money work to crush the hope of those without the capital. I suppose then as we celebrate this story of how Mary trusted in God enough to allow herself to be a main player in the story of his birth, we need to look at our own selves and see how perhaps God is searching out the people who will embody Christ and give a figurative birth to that one who will lead us back to Love in these times of despair. And this isn't going to happen in those places of comfort and fancy houses and mansions  on a beach in Florida. It will be coming from the many who are meek and lowly of our world...the 99-percent. Prepare ye the way.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Hear What the Spirit is Saying

Jerusalem Window in St. John's Episcopal Church's Carter Chapel.

We are finishing out the First Week in Advent, and I can say this has been a week like no other Advent that I can remember in recent years. Past Advents have felt introspective and--how to say this--a little more private in their impact. But given our current state of affairs in the world with this particular administration and Congress in Washington, D.C.,  this season with its emphasis on patient waiting, self-reflection and examination, repentance, turning around and preparing for the return of Jesus Christ into the midst of our human condition, the words in the daily office spoken by the prophet Amos are echoing loudly. 

A phrase repeated in one of the Amos readings this week has stuck with me for a couple of days. Amos is listing out calamity upon calamity that have befallen the people of God. Prophets do that sort of thing and in the past, I might have heard these words and shrugged them off as what we always hear from the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures to make their point. But as I listened to the lector going through one natural disaster after another as God's "punishment" for Israel's transgressions, there was the repeated mantra:

"Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

Tears began to well up in my eyes as I stared at the Jerusalem window in the chapel. So many truly terrible things are happening now because we have a president who is a liar, thief, and abusive man. Our Congress is run by even smaller tyrants operating out of a place of greed and shamelessness. And the height of all that is wrong from my perspective could be seen staring into that window depicting the landscape of the Holy City, and knowing that it was destined to be a scene of bloodshed and terror once more after our feckless leader announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel only. Our president, and Vice President, are catering to the extremists of Christianity who believe that the events foretold in the Book of Revelation can only happen if all the Jews return to Jerusalem, while also pandering to the crazed Zionists who oppose the presence of Palestine. This, of course, has led the Palestinians to rebel, and will egg on extemists in Islam who want to kill all the Jews and have hated the United States for our attempts over the decades to broker a peace that includes Israel, not to mention the corporate dealings we've had that have polluted water ways or backed oppressive regimes around the world. Attacks will happen, people will die...Muslims, Jews, and likely Christians, too..."yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

I contemplated the new sexual ethic we are living in where, after centuries of ignoring the voices of women when they say they have been harassed, abused, or raped, we now say "We believe you." As a woman, I am happy that there seems to be a recognition of the wrongs that have been done to us. Seems to be a recognition. What seems more like the reality of this new found belief is that we only seem to care if it is politically expedient to care. U.S. Senator Al Franken, who had been a very effective leader for the Democrats and was showing signs that he might be a potential presidential candidate, has been drummed out by his own party because of allegations that he sexually harassed women. Long-time Detroit U.S. Representative John Conyers, also a Democrat, was similarly forced out of office for having paid off claims of sexual harassment. Many praise these moves as "the right thing to do." Because we seem to care about women now. In fact, we care so much, that the Republican National Committee is funneling money to support the campaign of a man running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama who has been banned from the Gadsden Mall in that state because he was a child sexual predator. We have a justice serving on the U.S. Supreme Court who we learned from Anita Hill during his confirmation hearing is a porn-addicted sexual harasser. And then there is the president who bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, admitted that those comments were wrong, but we were told by his wife that it was all "boy talk." Twenty women...with names...have come forward to say that the man who is now president acted inappropriately with them. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." 

I prayed for all those in Southern California surrounded by a ring of wildfires, for the people in Puerto Rico who are stuck on island that still has less than 50-percent of the population with electricity after a hurricane, for all of us here on the mainland who are bracing for what type of future we'll have if the tax bill that was so hastily pushed through gets to the president's desk for his signature. Among the many purported problems with the legislation, losses due to natural disasters such as a wildfire will not be counted as a tax deduction. Graduate students will see their tuition waivers taxed as "income." And already the talk of how to pay for all of this comes back around to more cuts to Medicare,  Medicaid, and Social Security. Those programs, by the way, are often all a family has to work with when their parents become too frail or become otherwise so dependent that they must be moved into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Without those, families would be out thousands of dollars a month. "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord."

Indeed, this First Week of Advent is bringing home to me more and more the chaos and the desperation of the world we now live in here in the United States. The warnings of the prophets of old are sounding more current than they ever have before. So the question is: will we repent and return to the Lord? What does that mean?

For me, it means what it has always meant: we take care of the planet. We tend to those that are dependent on us, be they animals, children, elderly, people with special needs for assistance. We treat everyone with dignity and respect in the same way that we wish to be treated. We honor one another. "Returning to the Lord" is about restoring relationships and recognizing that we are not the center of the universe.

When will we return to that?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"Lord, Let Our Eyes Be Opened"

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. --Matt 20:29-34

Typically, I do the morning office readings, but today I was thrown off my game. I woke up and made the terrible mistake of looking to see what had happened in the world overnight. And I saw where, when given the chance to choose life and be a sheep instead of a goat, the Republicans of the United States Senate approved a destructive tax bill that is not going to help anyone who isn't the owner of a private jet or a hedge fund operator living on the U.S. Virgin Islands. The plan will eliminate many standard deductions, end access to health insurance for 13 million people, and put us another trillion dollars into debt. In order to do this, the Senate kept giving away more pieces of the American Dream to buy off Republican votes and they ended up with a bill that was 500 pages that nobody had time to read, much less understand the handwritten amendments in the margins of the pages. This was not a great day for the Senate, and it was a terrible day for the country.

So, I guess it was helpful that I decided to end the day with the office and give myself some time to sit in reflection on this passage of Matthew in light of today's events and the dawning of a new calendar year in the church tomorrow.

Here we have two men, blind men at that, sitting on a road side as this itinerant and revolutionary rabbi is passing by with a large crowd in tow. Obviously, these two must have been hearing something about Jesus and his ministry of healing because they start yelling out to him. The crowd, the ones who were already part of the following of Jesus who could see just fine and could hear quite clearly, were annoyed at these two for creating a spectacle. Or perhaps the crowd was afraid that these two were bothering their beloved leader. And, at any rate, they wanted the blind guys to sit down and shut up. But they won't be bullied into silence and in fact got louder. Jesus stops and asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" We don't know the tone of his voice in asking that question: was he exasperated? Was he perturbed? Was he calm? Jesus does this many times throughout his ministry. Somebody is in need, and instead of just instantly fixing whatever it is they want addressed, Jesus makes them an active player by inquiring of them what is it that they are seeking? "Lord, let our eyes be opened." 

This answer, I think applies beyond the story of these two men. They are seeking to have their physical eyes opened so that they are no longer blind. And while Jesus meets them in that place and does restore their physical sight, they also began to follow him. To me, this says that not only did Jesus give them the ability to use their eyes to see the world, he opened their hearts and their minds to "the peace of God which passes all understanding" that causes them to follow him. They see beyond just the tips of their noses. They now see the bigger picture of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ and with God.

I think that plaintive cry, "Lord, let our eyes be opened," is a perfect set up for this upcoming season of Advent in which we are a church living in a land of destruction and fear. I think there is much that we all could be turning to Jesus and asking, "Open my eyes so that I may see you more clearly":

+see the poor and the homeless not as an "other" but as a "mother" or "brother";
+see the hopeless as a person who has not felt the warmth of acceptance or felt anyone has listened;
+see the depressed as one feels as though they are always looking up from a pit of hell and instead of sitting at the edge looking down, sit with them and meet them as you offer that they are never alone;
+see the pained and scared about our political climate and offer them the hope that you will never abandoned the mission of bending the arc of history toward justice.

Open our eyes, Lord, and in so doing, break open our hearts and our minds to be your people...the peacemakers, the justice seekers, the lovers of liberation, and the compassionate listeners, so that we can usher in an Advent of new beginnings, and greater resolve to find the common bonds with our neighbors and build up our strength and never be deterred from that mission to love and serve the spirit of what is good, right, and Holy. Amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Matthew 25: Leaders, You're Doing It Wrong

Today's Gospel passage from Matthew is probably one of the most famous of Jesus' sayings. It is the answer to all the evangelicals with their "What Would Jesus Do" bracelets:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'  And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." --Matt 25:31-46

At this point, there are certain members of Congress, most notably my United States Senator Marco Rubio, who are also familiar with this part of Matthew's gospel; that is, if his staff has been passing along my post cards to him. And if not, some staffer in his office has problem never read as much scripture in their entire life. Since Senator Rubio has decided that he wants to appeal to the 'base' of the Republican Party by quoting the Bible in 140-character tweets, I have encouraged him to consider this message from well as countless other pieces of Scripture...when he votes for legislation that harms millions of people. Because if politicians and their 'base' are going to claim the mantle of Christ to do their dastardly deeds, they need to be aware how what they propose is not even remotely in the ballpark of what Jesus was all about.

Is taking away Americans' access to affordable health insurance coverage...allowing them to see specialists and have necessary life-saving surgeries as well as get routine physical keeping with the Matthew 25 narrative?

Is passing a tax plan that will result in the poor paying a higher percentage of their income to the federal government, graduate students being taxed for their work study which lowers their out-of-pocket tuition expenses, people on medical devices who are unable to work being forced to pay taxes on the equipment that keeps them alive...all so that the very richest among us can enjoy a lower tax rate and buy another yacht or Aspen villa...looking out for those who are strangers, sick, hungry or in prison?

Is undoing regulations that protect our food, water, and preventing banks and financial institutions from using predatory lending practices the actions of sheep or goats?

I'm sure there are members of Congress who are headed into their houses of worship this morning to be with their families one last time before heading back to Washington. Some of them attend churches that using the lectionary and thus they will hear these words read by a priest or Deacon or pastor or even a lay reader in some places. Will they hear these words and actually "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them"? Perhaps a few post cards from constituents might help.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma

We are in the final stages of prepping for what many are calling Irmageddon. I have to agree. This is a whopper of a storm like none other that has been seen before. We have bottles for water. We have non-perishable food stuff. Here we go.

Dear God, you know the power of water and you have calmed the seas of chaos, be with all of us who are in the path of hurricanes, especially Irma and Jose. Give us strength to endure. Give us the patience to proceed. And above all, fill us with your love and hope so that we may resist the temptation to fall into despair. Be close to us, O God, and guide us through this tempest. In your Holy Name we pray. Amen. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Standing on Sacred Ground and Marching Forward: a sermon at UCT

Texts from the Common English Version of the Bible
Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28

“Moses saw that the bush was on fire, but it was not burning up.” I’m sure many of us would find it hard to imagine a bush that is on fire but isn’t being destroyed. So is it any wonder that Moses…who had thought he was simply moving his father-in-law’s flock to another area to graze…would be drawn to such a curious sight? We can also imagine how unnerving it must have been for Moses to hear, from this fiery bush, God calling him by name. And perhaps we can sense the power of this moment when God, in the manifestation of this flaming bush, tells Moses not to come any closer. “Take off your sandals—the ground where you are standing is holy.” Moses is in the presence of a power beyond all powers and is about to receive the charge to confront an earthly power and take a stand on behalf of his oppressed Israelites in Egypt.
Let’s remember that Moses was simply tending sheep and goats. According to the mythology, he was a Hebrew baby boy who was rescued by the Egyptian king’s daughter. He was also supposedly a stutterer, and he had run away after killing an Egyptian who he saw abusing his fellow Israelites. In other words, Moses was not some perfect and polished figure. Now, he’s being tapped to go beyond himself to do extraordinary and mighty works of justice.
In the reading we had from today’s Gospel, Jesus talks of the trials he is about to face as he heads toward Jerusalem. He rebukes Peter for trying to put up a fight over Jesus’ destiny. And he reminds Peter, and all the others with him: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.” Forget yourself, take up your cross, follow me. Those are words that can really leave a lump in the throat.
Three images: a burning bush, sacred ground, the cross.
In his book, “The Bush Was Blazing But Not Consumed,” the Rev. Eric Law uses the burning bush image from Exodus as his jumping off point to talk about how faith communities can build multicultural relations within their churches. He notes that a bush that’s on fire ought to be disintegrating into ashes. That’s what happens when fire meets leaves and branches, right? The fact that this bush can be on fire and NOT be destroyed is Law’s metaphor for God amid heated tensions, or flaming rage and anger. Think about it: God is showing up in the form of this burning bush because God has heard the cry of the Israelites. They are oppressed. They are under the thumb of the Egyptians. Their passions are all aflame and God is in that heat but God is not destroyed. Instead, this fire has consecrated the ground on which Moses is standing.
This burning has become, as Law describes it, a holy fire and an example of how people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds can have passions and experiences that can be blazing, but through commitment to a listening process, faith communities can become places where multiculturalism thrives. If, however, a community doesn’t engage in the honest and sometimes difficult work of a true listening process, the danger is that it will stoke those same burning embers of the past into an unholy fire that will not only burn the bush but will take the whole house down with it as well. Since the Rev. Law works as a consultant on multiculturalism, he has seen examples of when a faith community gets it right…and has also witnessed those who get it wrong. Often, the ones that fail are the ones that weren’t really invested in listening to anyone but themselves and whatever was their predominant racial and ethnic outlook.
We can take that example beyond faith communities…and even beyond the continued difficulties that we face in our country on race and ethnicity. We seem to be isolating ourselves from each other based on whatever differences we have or that we perceive to have. We seek out media sources that confirm our worldview. We stop talking to each other. We unfriend each other on Facebook. We retreat to our corners and refuse to engage with anyone we don’t like. This probably feels safer.
But it really isn’t. Because whether we like it or not, that same burning bush is steadily glowing and alight and is consecrating the ground upon which we stand even today. Especially for those who feel strongly that stewardship of the earth is important, we are constantly reminded that the same God who told Moses to stand on sacred ground and hear the command to go speak truth to power on behalf of the people is always reminding us that we must do the same. And this fire in the bush is also the fire in the belly that will give us the power to speak and to know that we, too, are on sacred ground when we stand for justice for the earth and all that inherit this planet.
So what about the cross? Well, it is all fine and dandy to feel that flaming righteousness as we stand for justice, peace, equality and fairness for all people. That makes for great bumper stickers and talking points. But it also is liable to meet with resistance, push back, or worse violence. It’s a whole lot safer to “like” a rally or march event on Facebook than to actually attend it. We can say “Black Lives Matter” but will we actually talk to people in positions of authority about why we believe it’s important to listen to the pleas of black people about why they don’t think they matter, and then join with our brothers and sisters in changing the culture to make them true equals? Again saying it is one thing, but when Jesus tells Peter and the disciples that they must “forget about yourself” and “take up your cross and follow me,” he is being just as fiery as that burning bush and is telling them…and us so many centuries later…that if we, who stand on this sacred ground, want to be true to his mission of love and justice, we must put our trust in God and go sometimes to those places we do not want to go. We must engage in those issues and with those people whom we would just assume avoid. It is not enough simply to stand on the sacred ground and hear the call to action. We must be ready to keep going forward and actually act on behalf of justice for others and not just ourselves. May we be ready.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville's Web

In the past week, two discussions with two friends of two different religious traditions brought up the topic of "exposing things hidden." Each of them were dealing with very different things, but I quietly noted that this theme had emerged in our conversations and I carried that into the weekend. 

And then...Charlottesville.

I had heard there was going to be something happening with white nationalists rallying because of a vote by city officials in Charlottesville to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. I had also heard that there would be clergy and laypeople assembling to respond in a peaceful counter-demonstration to this hate-fueled rally. I was anxious for them, and prayed that this would play out as it has in the past four decades in America: one group rallies with  about 50 of their super-white friends while many more  gather to sing and pray in defiance of white nationalism. The groups are separated, they disperse, and that's that.

But not this time in Charlottesville.

I grew concerned as I followed a Twitter feed of the Rev. Traci Blackmon, a St. Louis pastor who has been so outspoken against white supremacy since the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson. Initially, there was the prayer vigil gathering in a Charlottesville church. The sanctuary was filled with people of all races. They were there to center in prayer, be reminded of their mission and commission from Christ to stand in peace with Love to protect those who are the targets of white supremacy. 

Then the images began appearing on Facebook...videos of young white men dressed in khakis and polo and Oxford shirts marching with tiki torches and chanting slogans of "Blood and Soil" and "You will not replace us!" (which was later reported to be "Jews will not replace us!") The cadence of the chant was reminiscent of a scene from the Nazi propoganda film, "Triumph of the Will" in which a crowd assembled in Nuremberg cheered on Adolph Hitler:

"Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein F├╝hrer!  Ein Deutschland!"  

My body temperature dropped as I watched this on the screen of my iPad. This was no 50 people; there were probably a couple hundred of them...all white, all male, and about the same ages as my nieces and nephew. Then there were the tweets from Rev. Blackmon:

This is Charlottesville...home to my dad's alma mater and law school.

Rev. Blackmon would later post a Facebook video, her voice tense with terror as she and others drove through the street back to their hotel. She hadn't seen Klansmen since she was five years old. And here they were...only they weren't wearing their robes and hoods. They were proudly walking through the streets of Charlottesville with their torches and bats. And they were young men dressed in respectable street clothes. 

The tension grew on Saturday. There were clashes between the two groups. And as the counter-demonstrators marched in a street, a car driven by James Fields of Ohio, plowed into some parked cars  that ran into the peaceful assembly of people, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. Two others, helicopter operators with the state police, would also die as a result of this protest by the Nazis. The president, a man who has hired White Nationalists as his advisors, issued a statement in which he "condemned in the strongest way possible" the violence "on all sides." Forgive me for saying this but...bullshit. While some on the counter-demonstration front apparently maced American Nazi leader Richard Spencer as he marched, nobody on their side was killed by a far-left winger slamming a car into them. These are not apples to apples here.

I thought back to my friends and the bringing to light those things which were hidden in darkness. We have always known that there was a racist element in our society. Many of us know that our country was built on the injustice of slavery, the taking of land from the indigenous population, and that there are systems in place to make sure that one group--white Americans--will not suffer the hardships of exclusion of access. But if the many senseless killings of black and brown people without justice being served didn't wake up white America to this fact...if the election of a president who sides with totalitarian regimes and has outspoken white supremacists as his closest aides didn't wake up white America...perhaps this horrific event in Charlottesville might make more of white America see that we have a serious problem...a real enemy...and that enemy is us. 

In the Gosepl of Luke, we hear Jesus say these words:

 ‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.’(Luke 8:16-17)

I think Charlottesville has exposed and shed light on the evil that is all too-pervasive in America and has been for far too long. We have a cancer of white supremacy and it is being brought out of the shadows and into the light and parades through streets with tiki torches in khakis and Oxford shirts. It tweets generic and lackluster condemnations of itself while blustering and bullying with threats of nuclear war. Especially for those of us who are white and who claim the mantle of Christ, while we personally may not participate in the facism of America, we are not allowed to turn away, plug our ears, and otherwise do nothing to dismantle it. Silence is not an option. Now that we have seen the ugly head of Neo Nazism parading in a southern city, there is no turning away but a call to confront this and bring our own lights to this cause.

Dear white people: it's time to dismantle the white supremacy that has festered below the surface in our society once and for all.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Woe to You, Senators, Who Prooftext by Tweet

Senator Marco Rubio started it.

"It" in this case is my deluge of postcards where I quote passages of Scripture.

Our junior U.S. Senator began daily tweets on his personal Twitter account to let everyone know that he reads the Bible, or at least some portions of the Bible. Presumably, he feels the need to share this with the Twitterverse so that everyone can see how he, as a United States Senator, is being guided by God in all that he does. He is such a good Christian.

Interesting. Funny that he has hung so closely to the Book of Proverbs and considers this evidence of his deep and abiding Christian faith. I would have thought someone wanting to call upon the Lord through social media might seek guidance from "our only mediator and advocate" Jesus Christ. And while Proverbs does contain some wonderfully wise words, I thought the Senator needed to get a little closer to the words of Jesus. So, I started sending him postcards each with a different passage from the Bible. I don't think it's right to limit Scriptural instructions to just 140 characters.

Considering Sen. Rubio's recent actions, his most egregious to date being the many votes he cast in favor of taking away access to health insurance for some of the very poor, elderly, and differently-abled people in America, I figured he needed a little more Jesus and a little less Proverbial wisdom.

Most of the passages I chose were from the Gospel according to Matthew. Matthew 25, naturally, came to mind with the closing verses being Jesus' discourse on "what you do to the least of these you do to me," only I decided the Senator needed to read the parts about those who did NOT take care of the poor, the hungry, the orphan, the widow, and the people in prison. I also reminded him of Matthew 7:15-23 in which we learn to beware of false prophets and those people who say "Lord, Lord" but Jesus never knew them because they failed to bear the type of spiritual fruit that says, "I'm a follower of Christ."  I mixed it up with a parable from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, in which we hear the tale of the rich man who ignored Lazarus the beggar at the gate...only to die and find Lazarus was in heaven with Father Abraham while the rich man suffered in the fires of Hades.

I realize the Senator prefers his Old Testament readings, so Psalm 146 seemed appropriate in reminding him of how we are to not put our trust in rulers of the earth because they are going to die and blow away...just like him and his party's ordained and unhinged leader. Each postcard reminded him that the current administration is morally bankrupt and he should stop defending them.

This morning, however, I learned that Sen. Sens. Graham, McConnell, and McCain as well as the president...have all received large sums of money from a Ukrainian billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. So, it may be that Rubio is like one who cannot hear; hence will not listen. Perhaps he needs to read another verse from Proverbs:

The wicked accept a concealed bribe

   to pervert the ways of justice.--Proverbs 17:23

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What Welcome Looks Like

Last weekend, I attended an evangelism workshop.

You read that correctly. I. Attended. An. Evangelism. Workshop.

I did this willingly in advance of a revival that is happening in the diocese of Georgia in September.

Yes, you read all that correctly, too. This is still me writing, OK. And no--I have not forgotten my Northern roots or my sexual orientation and identity. Having established these facts, you can read on in confidence that I will 'xplain all of this. :-)

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is on a mission to inspire Episcopalians to be a little more assertive and bold about the Jesus we teach and preach about in our churches. Because that Jesus is not the one who puts an asterisk next to the word "all" or places limits on who is eligible to inherit the eternal life God promises to all. The Jesus we talk about is ever-expanding the banquet table and adding more chairs and heaping up more plates of food for anyone who is desiring and he won't even check to see if you'd been in the church last Sunday or not. 

Our lead presenter, the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, put before us the following definition of "Episcopal Evangelism":

"We seek, name and celebrate Jesus' loving presence in the stories of all people--then invite everyone to MORE." 

I was so delighted to see this definition! Nowhere does it say, "Go out and convert those heathens and unchurched people," or "Go tell a stranger that they need to find JEEE-SUS to be SAVED!!!" Instead,  this room of about 70 people were split into pairs, and we did some real simple exercises of listening to our partner tell their story and then sharing our own answer to whatever was the question before us. And in this sharing, strangers can become friends, and friends can hear in each other's words similar ideas, dreams, hurts, and anxieties. Where is Jesus in that? Right there in the middle. Because the Good News of God in Christ happens when we take time to get to listen and know each other without an agenda. As our Presiding Bishop says:

"Evangelism is about sharing the journey into a deeper relationship with God and with each other, and not about us controlling the end result. It's not about us increasing our market share, and it's not just propping up the institution. If we believe the relationship with a living God does matter, then evangelism and anything that helps us to come closer as human children of God matters."

I went into the workshop with skepticism and I left with a feeling of affirmation. Everything I was hearing was telling me that I have been doing evangelism, the Episcopal Way, this whole time beginning with this blog which I started in 2007 when I had my own awakening. For newcomers, you can see that first entry by clicking HERE.

So, is evangelism just listening and telling stories? No, not just. It's important, and it's a cornerstone, but the chief cornerstone begins with each of us first getting settled into our own skins. The starting point is--as it always is with the Episcopal Church--prayer. Prayer is not just our words offered up to God; it's our hearts and minds opening to receive "the peace of God which passes all understanding." In some traditions, there's a lot of calling on God, petitioning God. We do that, too. But I have found that sometimes the best prayer begins with taking some time to be silent and even as I pray aloud, I find that I often leave some space in between to give room for me and others to listen. Once I am settled, I'm ready to take that important next step of encountering another person or persons. My an how to initiate a conversation. I've been lucky enough to be an Education for Ministry mentor which gives me some practice in how to open a dialogue. But that is often very specific to whatever is happening within the group. I don't want to fall into "reporter mode" either because that can feel confrontational. So, instead of asking lots of "why" questions...the trainers suggest another approach that can illicit a story: ask "when" questions such as "when have you experienced community?" or "what" questions such as "what kind of a community do you dream of being part of?" And then...listen. In all likelihood, what I am likely to hear is a description of God. I have had this experience, many times, as I witness various communities that I move in within my city. And I have thought, "This is God at work in this person or people!" Now, my challenge is to acknowledge that out loud. For all I know, it may be the chance to hit the reset button for the other person's perception of what it means to believe in God in Jesus. That would be Good News.

This kind of acknowledgment and affirmation of the good others are doing is what I think Jesus meant when he expressed in Matthew's Gospel: "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."


Saturday, June 24, 2017

All of Me

It was the end of a rehearsal one night at the Mickee Faust Clubhouse, and I was gathering up my scripts into a folder. We’d just finished prepping a musical number for our tenth annual “Queer As Faust” cabaret, a song poking fun at the president and his gay supporters in the Log Cabin Republican group. One of my fellow cast members wanted to know how I “do this” (meaning Faust) while being a Christian.

This was not the first time I have been asked this question. I had something of the reverse put to me years ago when I arrived at St. John’s Episcopal Church in my leather biker jacket. A member and fellow Eucharistic Minister said to me, “You can’t come in dressed like that. This isn’t Mickee Faust!” (I should note, he was smiling and clearly ribbing me.) But his joke was likely a serious matter for others.

How can I be in Faust and be an active Christian?

I doubt anyone would call the Mickee Faust Club a “holy place.” It is very rooted in the secular world with a mythology built on the quest for world media domination by a giant rat who smokes a cigar, cracks bad jokes, and is the unloved twin of another much more famous Florida rodent with a Magic Kingdom in Orlando. The woman under the rubber rat ears is an avowed atheist as are many of the company members. Some were raised in households where church attendance was mandatory or were put through a parochial school where education came with a heavy dose of Roman Catholicism or Southern Baptist Convention. Many of us identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community and as such have experienced the cruelty of Christians coming to our events and railing against us while waving the Bible in the air. Such experiences tend to color one’s opinion of Christianity and not in a good way. And when Christianity asserts that its name sake is God in human form…well, it then makes God a culprit in the nastiness of God’s followers.

But then look at Jesus and the people and places where he primarily moved and lived and had his being. Yes, he taught in the Temple, and people were astounded and amazed at his teachings. Yes, he would have dinner with Pharisees (probably because he was of that set). But much of the time, Jesus was hanging out with all those people who were “those people.” He was close to women and men who had no power to speak of, who were the discarded, ignored, or abandoned of his society. He didn’t assert himself with hellfire and brimstone; his power was in his presence and his willingness to enter the experience of these “others.”

Why do you suppose Jesus preferred to be in these settings? Some might say it’s because “these people” needed to be saved. That would be the popular approach to these stories. But I think another way to see this could be that Jesus was searching for those who were the most fertile ground for achieving His ultimate goal: bringing God and humanity together. If Jesus’ mission was to meet people where they were and not where they ought to be, and if his mission was to go in search of the lost and those who had been pushed away, then he’s going to be seen in some places that his society might have deemed “impure.”

Which brings me back to Faust and being a Christian and that whole notion that if I’m a Christian, how can I possibly be part of Faust? I’d say because Jesus expects to be part of the mix of perfect imperfection of our lives so that the mission of Love and reconciliation continues through us. God doesn’t just love that part of me that can recite prayers, or kneel at the altar. God works through me whether I’m at Faust or offering healing touch to someone on my massage table.

God isn’t contained in things and buildings. The spirit of God lives and moves within us and the way we treat one another and live into that new commandment to love and seek out each other. That can happen at Faust and at Church.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Pulse: A Year Later

The bells of St. John's Episcopal Church solemnly tolled 49 times at noon today, the one year anniversary of the deadly hate crime committed against the black and Latinx LGBTQ+ community in Orlando's Pulse nightclub. Each echoing ring a remembrance of one of the people killed that night by a twisted and angry individual armed with an assault rifle. The attack shocked all of us who identify as LGBTQ+ because clubs such as Pulse have traditionally been the places that have harbored us, especially when we are young and just beginning to understand our orientation and identity.

I lit a rainbow candle and then sat quietly on a bench in the church's columbarium, closing my eyes to pray as the bells sounded. I couldn't remember all the names of the dead, but I could remember their faces. Most were so young, not even yet 30 years old. And there was the one name and face I could remember: Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, a mother of eleven children and a two-time breast cancer survivor who had gone out to the Latin Night at Pulse with her gay son. They were there to celebrate Orlando's Pride Week. When the gunman began his shooting spree, Brenda reportedly told her son to get down, and put her body in the way of the bullets. I began to sob, my tears co-mingling with the misty rain.

How much more death?
How much more grief?
How little progress have we made since that horrible night?
How? How? How?

Even since Pulse, there still have been violent shooting incidents in this country. None with same body count, but every incident--in Illinois, Texas, California, New York, Alabama--all of those killed had a family that is left to bury their dead and grieve that loss.

There was no will power to address the issue during the Obama administration. And now, we have the NRA's poster child in the White House, and federal lawmakers are actually proposing legislation to relax some of the restrictions on guns. Even Florida Congressman Neal Dunn (R-D2) has signed on to a bill to make it easier to purchase silencers. In our state legislature, there were twice as many pro-gun laws proposed to the ones that were gun control measures. Thankfully, a couple of Republican lawmakers from South Florida complained of "gun fatigue" which resulted in many of the bills dying quietly in committee.

But for Florida to have done nothing to address gun violence after Pulse is...well...repulsive. If any state should be taking the lead on limiting people's access to these weapons of warfare such as the one used at Pulse it should be Florida. I'm losing patience with politicians who want to offer their remembrances of this tragic day.  I would rather they use the power given to them by the voters to do something constructive to stem the violence. No citizen needs to own an AR-15 or any other multiple-shooting device. There is also technology in the works that will make it harder for someone other than the actual owner of a weapon to fire it. These types of technological developments deserve funding and support.

As the bells finished tolling, and I wiped away my tears, I felt a sense of peace come over me. I prayed the Lord's Prayer with special emphasis...

Our Father who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come 
thy will be done 
on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses 
as we forgive those who trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, April 24, 2017

St. Thomas and The March for Science

I couldn't help myself this past Sunday.

Our deacon finished reading the assigned Gospel lesson from John, which is always the story of the apostle, Thomas, who insists that he must be able to see Jesus for himself and stick his fingers in his wounds in order to believe that Christ really had risen from the dead. I leaned over to one of my fellow choir members, a scientist, and whispered:

"Thomas just wanted peer review."

Joking aside, I think there's definitely an element of truth to that idea. All the other apostles had seen the resurrected Jesus, and were telling him all about it. But Thomas had his doubts about the veracity of their statements and wanted proof.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ (John 20:24-29)

Whenever I hear people talk about this story, it's always presented as "doubting Thomas," as if there is something wrong with him. If Thomas had had more faith, then he wouldn't have needed this proof. And maybe it was just the juxtaposition of hearing this Gospel story after spending a few hours of my Saturday marching in Tallahassee along side scientists and science lovers that I gained a new insight into one of my favorite apostles. I've liked Thomas because of this moment of being so completely real to the way we are as humans and having our doubts about something we haven't seen for ourselves.

And, if we think about Thomas as if he really were a scientist requiring an extra study to prove this "fact" that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, then his doubt can be seen as a legitimate and necessary inquiry. Certainly, Jesus didn't seem to have a problem appearing again for Thomas' benefit, and even challenged him to follow through on the experiment he wanted to do of sticking his fingers and hand into his wounds. Thomas doesn't; the appearance alone was enough for him to say, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus gives him the nudge: "Oh, so now because you have seen me you believe. Blessed are the ones who haven't been so lucky and yet have come to believe."

In his sermon at our church (which happens to be St. Thomas Episcopal Church), Bishop Scott Benhase drew the distinction between having "belief" and having "faith." "Belief" is about having certainty and proof of a truth beyond a shadow of a doubt. "Faith" requires a trust in the movement of God's grace in our lives. Thinking of this moment again with Thomas...his need to experience the risen Jesus first-hand, and not just hear the stories from his fellow apostles...speaks to Thomas wanting a verifiable truth that would fit with his belief system. And you can imagine, he must have believed what made the most sense to him and to any rational person: there is no way Jesus defeated death because nobody does that. Thomas must have thought the rest of the apostles were high.

But the other part of faith, and definitely the way of Jesus, is to not fit into our rational idea of what constitutes "the way things are" because faith, and most definitely Jesus, doesn't adhere to those kinds of rules. As the prophet Isaiah said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord." The whole mission of Jesus is to turn our belief, that commitment to concrete answers and certitude, on its head and get us to give up on the mission to find "the truth" in favor of trusting in God's unending revelation of truth through faith. That's the work of grace.

This is where the sciences, and the scientists, come in. There's been such bad blood between those who make it their life's work to search out truth, in the universe or the earth or the seas or the mind, and those who are content to live into a hope that trusts God will unveil all things in God's time. I'm sorry there's been such a binary split between science and religion that people tend to pick sides and set up straw men that they can knock down to prove that they're right and the other side is wrong. Personally, I think God loves scientists as much as any other group and delights in their Thomas-like inquiry and demand for proof, and seeking out signs that point to a "truth." Scientists are the ones cracking the codes of the mysterious for us. They are helping us to find out more about our world, our ecosystems, and how to be the good stewards of this planet we were commanded to be. And, for me, rather than their discoveries proving there is no need for a belief in God, I think they're just taking us deeper into the mystery. It's like one of those Russian dolls where you open one, there's another one. And another one. And another one. It's endless! Once a hypothesis is tested, and tested again, and the "truth" remains elusive, the best scientists are the ones who eventually say, "We just don't know."

Here enters faith and the hope and trust that it's OK not to have all the answers. And this is the place where I believe God meets us to say, "You don't know it all. But keep going. Keep probing. Keep seeking. I'm here. And I delight in your curiosity!" Science is cool. So is God.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Intersections: A Good Friday Sermon

We are at a crossroads. Today we commemorate Jesus’ execution at Calvary. Fortunately, for those of us who are believers in Jesus as the Son of God, we know that this is not the summation of the events of this week. If our story ended with the crucifixion, I’m not sure that we’d still be here some two thousand plus years later remembering this man’s sacrifice for humanity.  I have yet to run across Christians who gather in a building called “The Church of the Crucifixion” because the saving power of God doesn’t remain nailed to a cross but comes through the rising and resurrection and the victory of love and life over sin and death.
But we aren’t there yet…and I don’t want to skip passed this chapter in the story to get to the triumphant conclusion too soon. And there’s a lot we can unpack out of this moment.

I mentioned crossroads but perhaps a better term is “intersection.” We have several players here: the Roman authority with Pilate and the guards. The “Jews”…which in this case were really the subset of the power elite in the Jewish community…Jesus’ mother Mary, and the beloved disciple… John…along with Mary Magdalene and another Mary…two criminals, who we assume are in fact criminals, being executed with Jesus on either side, Joseph of Arimathea….and Nicodemus…who we remember from early on in John’s Gospel as the man who visited Jesus at night to have an intellectual conversation…only to find his mind blown up by this new rabbi on the block.
For the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus represents a threat. This Jesus challenges their earthly authority. The Romans barely tolerated having Jews in the empire to begin with and the Jewish leaders had worked out a tenuous balance that kept them in power amongst their followers and kept things comfortably safe. Jesus disrupts that…constantly challenging people to look beyond the letter of the law to see what is the spirit behind it: that they are to release the captives, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and above all, that they are to love God and one another as he has loved them. Jesus challenges the status quo and the two groups most invested in keeping their power structure in place intersect to bring him down.

At the foot of the cross we have some of those who were among Jesus’ closest friends. Jesus, while hanging there dying a slow and painful death, looks down to see his mother and his beloved disciple.  To her he says, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple he said, “Here is your mother.” Through him…these two lives have intersected and now must cleave to one another in love as they prepare to grieve this loss.
While it’s not in this account, we know from Luke’s telling of the crucifixion that the two criminals on either side of Jesus were having their own moment with the Messiah. One is jeering him and taunting him, but the other scolds his fellow inmate and pleads with Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. And the dying Jesus promises that this man will be remembered in paradise. Another intersection…here it’s a man who, in his darkest hour, recognizes and expresses a belief in Christ and the one who goes to his death mocking Jesus in his unbelief.

Jesus dies and from the shadows we have the emergence of Joseph of Arimathea to ask that he be allowed to take possession of Jesus’ body so that he might give him a proper burial. And then Nicodemus also overcomes his fear to assist Joseph and prepare Jesus’ body for the grave. Two men…who had previously been lingering in the distance…draw near…intersect and do this honor for a respected teacher.

Jesus is at the center of all these intersections: enemies, friends, believers and non-believers, the curious, the ones who are afraid. In his death…as he did with his life and ministry…he is leading them through a life-altering transformation that becomes complete with his resurrection.  Even some of the ones who are actively participating in putting him to death will not escape being changed.  The temple curtain in the holy of holies will tear in two…bringing heaven and earth in closer contact…the ground will shake. And some who had been content to mock Christ in his life will be left to wonder if they hadn’t just made a terrible mistake.

Probably the biggest intersection in this story comes not so much from the Gospel directly, but the interpretation of the story throughout the millennia. (You’ll be happy to know that the Education for Ministry group over at St. Thomas has been reading a book examining atonement theories, so the timing of our study couldn’t be better with this being Holy Week!) I’ve often heard it said that we killed Christ. We are the ones who gave him up and allowed our fear of change to put him on the cross. I’m not saying that’s not a valid interpretation of us and our role here, but I think if we separate ourselves from Christ in this intersectional moment we’re missing out on the “good” of this Good Friday.

I believe that St. Paul was on to something in his letter to the Romans: if we profess a faith in Jesus’ life and love, and have been striving to do his will, then we are becoming ‘at one’ with Jesus because we are in relationship with him. And if we are one with Jesus through our baptism then we are also one with him in his death and resurrection. We are in that relationship constantly…it’s not just a one-off and we’re done.  Jesus takes us with him through his own bondage of sin and death so that we, too, may rise with him from the grave…and live into the liberating love of God. And once we’ve experienced that sense of freedom we are prepared to carry it forward to everyone we encounter. That is Good News!

This intersection, the one where Jesus is meeting us in our present lives and working through us…crucified/resurrected…crucified/resurrected…crucified/resurrected…is often the one where we stall.  We sit at the traffic light too long wondering if that green light means it’s safe to go. Or maybe we’re not paying attention and we’ll just look at the phone in our laps and ignore the light altogether. Because to step on the gas means we have to leave the spot we’re in and travel in a different direction than what we’re used to. We may encounter something or someone new. We will be changed.

If we are deeply committed to being Christian, and remaining in relationship with Christ, then we will, by necessity, undergo this transformation that comes from dying to our old selves and habits and fears and prejudices and resurrecting to a new way of living, and of seeing ourselves and other people, not as strangers, but as fellow travelers loved unconditionally by God. The more we are willing to let Christ carry us through our various types of crucifixion to resurrection, the more we become refined and primed to offer back to our world, our friends and neighbors, the same love that was in Christ. This is what empowers us to speak up at times of injustice, reach out to the people in need and on the margins, meet and embrace the person who we think of as “the other”: politically, racially, ethnically, sexually, mentally…you name it.

We need what our Presiding Bishop calls “The Jesus Movement” where we meet our neighbors wherever they are on their spiritual journey…from those who share our belief in Christ, or worship God by another name, and even those of no-faith at all…and build relationships with them deeply rooted and grounded in the love and grace we have been shown through Christ. This is how we continue that good work of God to change our world for the better. If we can die to fear and resurrect in faith, we will be doing our part to make earth as it is in heaven. So let us pray for our human family:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Power of Transfiguration

We are fast approaching Lent, and that means we are at the moment in the Sunday lectionary where we hear the story of Jesus on the mountain transfigured before Peter, James, and John who hear from on high the booming voice telling them, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." Jesus is appearing ablaze with the two most revered prophets of the Jews, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, in conversation with him. It is an incredible sight. And, because this is many thousands of years ago, there was no way to go live on Facebook to prove that it happened. No Twitter. No Instagram. No Snapchat. So we have to rely on the Evangelist's account, and for those who are believers in Jesus and followers of Christ...that account is enough. Smiley emoticon. Like button thumbs up.

I have heard this story countless Last Sundays in Epiphany. It is a reminder that God so ordained Jesus as God's Beloved at his baptism in the Jordan River. But now, this moment of transfiguring, a type of transformation, is something more. I guess one way to see this is a bit like Jesus having his confirmation service, or, since he was a Jew, this is his Bar Mitzvah and this moment with Moses and Elijah may have been the blessing to embark on what must have seemed like a daunting mission. I can only imagine this conversation: 

"You, Jesus, Beloved Son of God, will teach this stubborn people to love one another in ways that you will love: healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, going into spaces and conversing with people whom the religious utter purists have rebuked. You will do this in a hostile environment of Roman authoritarianism. You will be doing the unexpected. And in doing all of this, you will be both loved by some, and feared and hated by others. And you will die for it. But trust, Jesus. Trust in God the Father. Because you know that God is within you and will be the power to raise you up. Trust. Teach. Live. Love."

This is the type of transfiguring power Christ has passed along to us in the Church. We, too, are the new beloved sons and daughters of God, and as the ones who are marked and sealed both into the death of Christ, so are we also brought into his abundant life. We are given life so that we may also love one another as Christ has loved. That means we respond to people when they are in need. When they are sick and suffering, we heal and comfort. When they are feeling alone and abandoned and afraid, we go to them and remind them that we are with them. And we do this whether the person worships in the pew with us, or doesn't dare get near any house of worship. And beautiful things can happen when we allow ourselves to be transfigured and fall in love with Love. We can change, and in that changing, we can become more ourselves.

Today, I spent time listening to the stories of transgender people. For those who might have missed the latest horrible news from our president who said "the gays love me," during the campaign: the Republican administration is ending a federal order that protected transgender kids by allowing them to use the bathroom and locker room at school that corresponded with their gender, not necessarily their anatomy. The administration says this is a "state's rights issue." But really it's a return to the days where transgender kids feel unsafe at school, a place most kids spend seven to nine hours a day. It's returning to a time when we define the bathroom as that public space so dangerous that we must separate the sexes and the races. Remember when blacks couldn't use a restroom because it was for whites only? (Truthfully, I don't remember those days because I was thankfully born after that time and in a place where that type of segregation didn't exist). 

As I listened to their stories, how much they suffered just to become the people that they are today, I could identify with that pain. Like them, I have been through those days in the desert attempting to deal with all the many voices and messages that would make me doubt the transfiguring nature of knowing that I was "different" and having no one affirm that. And like those who spoke today, I emerged from those pits of hell to become who I am: an out, proud, queer, Christian. And I am still on a journey with God to discover more of the ways that I can live into being who God has intended me to be.

For any Trans person out there who might stumble upon this entry, please know that God is glorified in your transfiguring moments of discovering who you are...who you really are. Do not let false messages and mean-spirited people tell you that you are not loved by God or that "God doesn't make mistakes" as if you are somehow some kind of human experiment gone awry. You are the clay being refined and made into a beautiful vase. You are God's beloved, and God is pleased to join in your transfiguration, so that you can share your love with the hurting world that needs it. Stay strong!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly With God

Father, forgive! 
Tonight, I lit a candle for my country. For all of us. I sat with my phone tuned into Facebook and participated in prayers offered by my friend Robert. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has said, what Christians do is that we pray. We send up petitions to God in the hope and trust that our collective cry will be heard. And once we've prayed, we must act. 

Prayer is not a monologue; it is a dialogue and is meant to give us the calm and the strength to go out into the world in peace and bring light to the darkened streets. And on this night, like last Saturday when millions of us marched for women world-wide, I saw hundreds, if not thousands, being the light crowding Terminal 4 at JFK airport in New York to protest the executive order of our new president to crack down on refugees coming from seven predominantly Muslim countries, leaving even dual citizens and green cardholders stranded at customs. There are crowds gathered at other international airports in Dallas, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco chanting to let the people come in. Foreign nationals are posting that they are among those currently trapped in limbo, unable to get back to their families, their homes, their jobs. The president even went so far as to order that universities release the immigration status of their college students. The University of Michigan has said it will not give up that information.

The president? Of the United States? Asked for immigration status of college students? This is surreal, and, sadly, it is true. More candles. More lights. More tears for what is happening to my country.

Tomorrow morning, I will be reading the assigned lesson from the prophet Micah. It contains one of the most famous and repeated statements from the Hebrew Scriptures to us Christians, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God?" (Micah 6:8) If I were to take each of those parts and apply them to today's news, it's enough to set my hair on fire. How is it justice to deny people who are not criminals re-entry into the country that, for some of them, is the only home they've ever known because it was their parents who came over here first? To love kindness, to me, would require us to dip back even further into our Judeo-Christian tradition to remember that we were once the strangers in Egypt. And even in the First Century, the followers of The Way were a persecuted and tormented minority group within the Roman Empire. In fact, as I have noted, Jesus was an early proto-type of what it is to be part of a Resistance Movement. And his movement was entirely based on loving God to the fullest extent. In doing that, one could (and should) feel love toward others...all "others" in the society. And that's when one can walk humbly with God as we step beyond our own egos, our own comfort zones, and enter into the experience of the other to be a friend, a mediator, an advocate. In other words, we finally live into our call to be Christ in the world. If we commit ourselves to follow this directive, how can we not see how the actions taken against foreigners and refugees flies in the face of our Judeo-Christian ethic?

Tomorrow's Gospel lesson is the Beatitudes from Matthew. I challenge us to read these words aloud as we think about the chaos caused by our president:

"Blesssed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 

 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 

 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

These words of Jesus are for me the song of my heart and that of so many of us who believe in his mission of Love, inclusion, and mercy to those being pushed out into the margins. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account." Take heart, all those who are finding themselves in the crosshairs of our president's peculiar xenophobia: you are not forgotten as those thousands crowding airport terminals were showing the world. You will not be abandoned as the ACLU and the federal courts have told you tonight coming to your aid. You do have Christian sisters and brothers who are linking arms with people of all faiths and no faith at all to be the resistance to these anti-Christ policies. If I am to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God, I can do no better than to start with standing up for you in saying, "This is not my America."