Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Do Commit to Freedom

Tonight was the interfaith pride service. About sixty people attended and helped build a puzzle with their commitment for what they will do to be the change that the world needs.



This time around, I was the lone representative for the Episcopal Church. In years past, I've been accompanied by a priest, or two. We have led those assembled in some kind of call and response prayers. But this year, my usual priestly companion at this service has been through the wringer with a death in the family; hence I was the Episcopalian exercising my "royal priesthood" to lead a section of the service. They also asked my spouse to lead us in a gathering prayer which she concluded with singing the Shehecheyanu blessing to mark the first occasion of this service in a "post-marriage" time.

Since the theme of this year's Pride Week is "I Do" in homage to our newly-won right to marry, and since my partner and I are among the most newly-married in our county, I was assigned to deliver a message about marriage and the long-wait to get there. Knowing that my friend, Petra, would be following me to talk about the horrible "produce your papers to pee" bills that target our transgender brothers and sisters and their ability to use a restroom, I decided to craft my message to hint at the on-going battles but not steal her thunder, which came wrapped in an appropriate moment of silent prayer for the transgender community and those who seek to harm them legislatively. Here's what I said:


We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re getting married!

Nearly 24 years ago, when I first started dating Isabelle Potts, I would never have imagined a day in Florida (or anywhere else for that matter!) that people of my orientation, my queerness, would be given a marriage license. I definitely could not envision entering the county clerk’s office and having local government officials hugging us, congratulating us, cheering us on.

You see, it wasn’t that long ago when the mere attempt to get a proclamation for our city-wide Pride Week event was rejected by the then-mayor of Tallahassee.

Or that there were people who attended a county commission meeting claiming to have a container full of excrement, and warning  our government officials that for them to allow a gay film series to be shown at the local public library would be akin to these people dumping the contents of their container in the county commission chambers.

Twenty-four years has seen so much change to get to “I Do.” At times, it was as if we would never see progress here in Florida. The passage of the anti-marriage Amendment Two in 2008 was an enormously painful event for our community. I wondered, “How can people who say they love God then vote to punish the children of God with such an amendment?” More people came out to their friends and families. Celebrities identified as themselves as being part of our tribe. And we began electing people at all levels of government who were not only our allies, they were one of us. And things began to shift. 

But not in Florida.

Our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer brothers and sisters and our allies were having jubilant celebrations in every part of the country except here. Some friends, tired of the wait, went to other states where marriage was permissible for us. Sure it wouldn’t be recognized in Florida; but they would still be married. Isabelle and I chose not to do that. If we were going to make that type of legal commitment, we wanted it to happen where we lived.

Yes, it felt at times as if we were like the ancestors who wandered around in a desert, wondering if this miserable existence would ever end. But one of the things I have gleaned from those stories is that no matter how desolate and lonely those desert times may feel…somehow there is always going to be rock that will split open, or a well-spring that will bubble up. Or some ravens will come to feed you. No matter the circumstance, the Spirit is ready to break through to help those who are asking, “How long?”

We have achieved a significant step forward with marriage equality in Florida. And even today, our state Senate has sent a bill to the Governor which will, among other things, officially end the state-sanctioned ban on same-sex couples adopting children. But our struggle for full equality does not end with a marriage license. Even as we rejoice, the ones who seek to do our community harm continue to look for the ways to divide us and attack us. We must remain strong and resolute in our quest for freedom and justice for all people…ALL…every. Single. Person.

In the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock: We who believe in freedom shall not rest. We who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes.

 

Friday, April 3, 2015

The World and The Watch

The overnight Gethsemane watch has become one of the important parts of my preparation for Easter. In recent years, I’ve taken an hour slot sometime between 11pm-1am so that I am not so worn out the following day. This time, however, I wound up taking the 2:10-3:10am watch.

Middle of the night, or extremely early in the morning; no matter how you look at it, life in the city is different than the pre-midnight hours. Leaving my house, I could hear nightclubs off in the distance winding down their Thursday night party time. The wah-wah of bass music with the distorted and deep bellowing of a DJ filtered through the street lights. As I arrived at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a city truck was dropping off a dumpster at the church bookstore. Curiously, the driver initially put it down in the middle of the parking lot. I couldn’t help but wonder if the man was just really tired or somehow impaired. In the middle of the parking lot? Really?!

Inside, I was immediately hit with the hint of incense. I wouldn’t have expected the church to have put the thurible to use at a Maundy Thursday foot washing service. I like incense, but was surprised to have been hit with that smell. When I entered the chapel, I saw that the thurible was hanging from a stand. This year, it seemed, we were going to have a burnt offering to go with the reserved sacrament and the lone candle. The person who preceded me in keeping watch quietly left. And now I was alone. God’s work could begin.

The quiet and solitude of the chapel during the watch allows me the opportunity to do my centering prayer work in a very intentional way. But it seemed the work I was to do was not to go into that type of deep dialogue with God. I did sit and meditate on my centering word. But, unlike in past years where I have spent more than half the time in that type of intentional sit, this time, I was drawn to consider the contrasts presented between the relative quiet with the flickering glow of a candle while the life outside was a full soundscape. The dumpster delivery truck clanged and banged and beeped. Police and fire sirens whistled and whizzed past the church. The sounds of cars with more wah-wah of bass music blaring all seemed a stark contrast to this internal environment of quiet.

And yet this all spoke profoundly to me of this same final night that Jesus spent in the garden in prayer. The sounds outside reflected the ways of the world and the pulse of life that is fraught with noise and emergency. The garden, on that night in First Century Palestine, may have been filled with sounds that signaled danger or distraction from centering on God. Watching the candle, I imagined how that night must have been for Jesus as he anticipated the arrival of those who were going to arrest him. I thought that he must have felt some apprehension and anxiety. Even the friends who he had brought along with him weren't able to be present enough to stay awake as he wrestled with the enormity of the task that was laid in front of him. As I contemplated Christ’s difficulty, I thought on some of my own and the tasks that remain in front of me to follow faithfully in the path that God seems to be laying before me. I considered how Christ so completely and willing arrived at that place of placing his life into the hands of God. I thought of how I have not always done that, and have instead behaved more like Peter or one of the other disciples. And I came back to the candle, and the quiet, and how Christ eventually arrived at that place of inner quiet there in the garden. Possessing that quietness in his inner being allowed him to endure the shame and humiliation the world, operating in its own ways, was about to heap on him. I considered the many affronts the world has been dishing out in the past several months, and particularly the reaction against the gay community in the name of religious freedom. And I prayed, as I have done so often, a simple plea to God to continue to fill me with love and light so I may pour it back out as vessel of His love for the world.

My watch time ended, I headed back out into the night of Tallahassee. At home, I sat up drinking a glass of wine to wind down my experience with Christ.

Bang. Bang. Bang.  Gunshots. Three of them. Coming from somewhere in my neighborhood, but it wasn’t clear from which direction.


The world away from that flickering light is a much different place. And it sure could use more of that light.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What Type of God Kills His Son?



Tonight begins some of the most difficult, and meaningful, days for many Christians. As night falls, many of us are headed to church for the marking of Maundy Thursday. Depending on whether you are reading the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke or the more etheral narrative of John will depend on what will get the emphasis. The synoptics note that on this evening, the night before Christ's crucifixion, Jesus instituted the Eucharist at what has been called, "The Last Supper." However, many of us attending the Episcopal Church this evening will hear John's telling of the story in which Christ washed the feet of the disciples in a symbolic act of love and servitude. John's gospel is also where Christ gives an extended discourse to his friends about the most important commandment that they are now to follow: love one another as I have loved you. Pay attention to this speech and it's clear that, for Jesus, there absolutely is nothing more important to distinguish who is a true follower of "the way" than to show love to one another, and that means being willing to put aside the ego, the sense of "this is mine and that's yours" and instead view all things and all people with love. It was, and still is, a radical way of being.

Also in John's gospel is the dialogue with Nicodemus in which Jesus says the frequently quoted, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to the end that all should not perish but have everlasting life." This is another one of those phrases that my non-Christian friends look at and think it's craziness.

What type of loving God would allow his own Son to be killed so violently? That question can evoke in some an indignant response, especially if the questioner seems only interested in using the inquiry as a means to say, "Gotcha!" and dismiss the answer without listening to what the Christian might reply. A form of this question came up in a recent sermon at my church, and there was the immediate retort that God doesn't make bad things happen, even to Jesus. There was also the reaction that since Jesus is God, He knew what was going to happen to Him and that this was all part of the plan of redemption. I suppose that this would justify the words of the Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week:

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be
whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept
joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the
glory that shall be revealed.


As my friend, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis points out, Jesus wasn't all that "joyful" in accepting his being nailed to a cross. If we remember, again, from the story of this night as recounted in Mark, Jesus is in the garden begging to let "this cup pass" by him. He is troubled, and I would go so far as to say that he was terrified. Did he know precisely what was about to happen? I'm not sure that he did. I believe that Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed. I think Jesus knew the authorities were going to come arrest him. I don't think he knew he would be mocked and scorned or that Pilate would hang a sign over his head announcing that Jesus was the King of the Jews, possibly the closest thing we have in the Gospels to revealing the true brutality of the Roman governor. Pilate had the sign placed there as a warning to anyone else who might be thinking they should be an uppity counterculturalist that their end would not be pretty.

So, why would a loving God allow all this? Maybe instead of looking at the question that way, maybe we should consider again that moment in the garden, when a dread-filled Jesus is turning to God and begging, "Please, don't make me have to face this music." Mark tells this story that almost in the next breath, Jesus says that this is not his own will, but the will of God that would be done. As I think about that, I consider the many times that I, like Jesus, have cast my eyes and my prayers to God, begging that I not have to follow a call on my life that is making me beyond uncomfortable. It isn't in the next breath that I am filled with calmness, but once I have opened myself to being vulnerable to God's will, I find that I am often given some strange calm which permits me to go forward and do the thing that I believe I am being called to do. I don't know what the ultimate outcome will be. What I do know is that I am not abandoned because I can sense the presence of God in the inner calm of my being. This becomes the center of my action, reaction, and response.

Jesus, I believe, achieved that same sense of calm which then allowed him to undergo what was nothing short of a horrible and brutal death. As he was hanging there on the cross, we are told that he called out the words of Psalm 22: "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" In this moment of agony, he is again returning to God and essentially again looking for whether this is God's will. Was it God's will that he be nailed to a tree? No, that was the action of human beings. But was God prepared to see Jesus through to the other side of this brutality? Yes! If God was not a God of love, then Jesus' death would have been the end of him. He would have been destroyed. Fear and loathing of love would have the final say. But that isn't the way this story ends. Jesus' willingness, *his* willingness to drop his ego and follow where God was taking him, resulted in one of the greatest stories of victory ever told. Not only did he rise from dead; His name endures to this day. His ethos is still taught. His message continues to comfort those who weep, and gives gladness to those who desire to see Love become the common language. Christianity may not be the most popular religion in the world, but it still lives on in the hearts and minds and souls of many.

Christ will die, but Christ will also rise. And, with God's help and our willingess to let go and be vulnerable to God, so will we.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Did Christ Die?

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

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

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

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

"Why did I die?" 

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


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

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




Thursday, March 26, 2015

Backlash



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Juxtapositions


Well, what a week it has been!

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reflections on an Amazing Wedding Day

We're here! We're queer! We're getting married!


It's not often that activism gets incorporated into the celebration of marriage. But if there is one thing that I know to be true of the new world order of same-sex couples getting married it's that our ceremonies, especially when done in a civil context, have no rules beyond the basics of vows and the pronouncement that the couple is now legally hitched. And, let's face it: when your relationship has been grounds for candidates to raise millions of dollars to defeat you, has been bantied about in the halls of the state legislature, has been placed on a statewide ballot for a thumbs up or down vote of the populace, and requires a federal judge to overturn the laws so that you can get married...well, the marriage itself becomes a politcal statement.

You can view our ceremony, beautifully captured by Diane Wilkins Productions, HERE

There were two overriding comments that both of us kept hearing this past week as friends and family relived the moment. One was that, for many, they had more fun at our wedding than they'd had at many others (save for their own, which was only right and appropriate!) The other comment that most of our straight married friends made was that witnessing our marriage reminded them of the sacred nature of their own relationship with their spouse and how important that bond has been in their lives. Unlike our heterosexual colleagues, gay people have not lived in a world where our unions are recognized, celebrated, appreciated, and uplifted by the state and many cultural institutions. While most straight people have endured the anxiety and the butterflies in the stomach feelings on their wedding day, they were able to arrive at the occasion without the bruising battles we've encountered along the way. Recognizing that fact helped to give hope to some that this institution which has been such a political football for the past decade may, in fact, come out stronger in the end for both gay and straight people.

For me, this may be the place where God resides in the mix of excitement which has survived such a struggle. As we stood on the stage of the Warehouse before a packed room, I could feel the waves of love washing over us. Love is not only the language of God; it is the true identity of God. Love becomes the manifestation of the Holy in our midst, and I could feel that Presence gently resting on me to keep me in the moment and reminding me that this was the day of God's own making finally being allowed to burst forth from the state's prison of fear and loathing as our relationship was sanctified. To have this happen in the back room of a pool hall was also a Godly thing. For the Holy is not confined just to the churches or the gorgeous landscapes; the Holy is just as at home in the dusty corners where Love is alive and real between people. I mean, our Christian tradition teaches that Jesus was born in a stable, so why not have a wedding in a place noted for pouring the best black and tans in the city?!

Our wedding was a joyous occasion, and full of suprises;we had no idea who our bridesmaids were or how many of them there would be. In the end, fifteen people took up our invitation to dress up in a bridesmaid outfit of whatever color of the rainbow they wanted. Some marched around Tallahassee's Railroad Square in the ArtiGras parade as part of the Bondi's Banished Bridesmaid Krewe, a thumbing of the nose at our Attorney General who worked so dilligently to deny marriage equality. They were a marvelous and motley and magnificent mix of women and men striding up the center aisle to Bach's Air on G String. Both of us were tickled and touched. More reminders of Love's playful presence in our lives.  My brother Tom's toast was a demonstration for this very left-leaning political crowd that conservative Republicans can be very funny and charming because they, too, are part of the Love that surrounds us. We broke lots of rules of traditional weddings (we were seen by our guests ahead of time, and our guests dove into both our wedding cake and our "Spouse Two" cake before we'd had a chance to get to them ourselves). We didn't care. The real rule of the day was accomplished: we were married.  And it was good.

We're here! We're queer! We've gotten married! And the next generations will be more used to it.