Friday, February 12, 2016

Getting Connected Again

I don't think there's a season in the church year that has a more profound presence in my life than Lent. No matter what state of mind I might be in as the season approaches, no matter how late or how early it comes, there is something about this season, and how I enter it that always seems to be a little unexpected, and definitely chock full of what we called in massage school, "Learning Experiences." This time is no different.

In my previous entry, I put up the Trinity icon by Rublev. The word that comes to my mind when staring into that image is "connection." The more I contemplated that "connection" and the interconnectedness of the Trinitarian nature of our God as captured in that image, the more I began to think about the relationships I have with family, friends, clients, church members, well...everyone. I realized that, lately, I have felt at times walled off from having a connection to people, and I think that has caused me to suffer. 

I began to mitigate for this disconnect with Shrove Tuesday. I made the trip to my church in Thomasville, dealing with the frustrations of stop-and-go traffic for several miles up 319 to spend the time with my church family. When I got there, most of the tables were already filled, but there was still space at the one with a couple of adults and five very rambunctious children. Anyone who knows me is aware that my decision to not have children is intentional. It's not that I don't like kids; I just don't want the responsibility of trying to raise them. Children always seem generally afraid of me. I figure I must look ominous or strange to them because I am a very tall woman with very short hair and broad shoulders. Adults often times can't discern that I'm biologically a woman because I dress and appear more masculine, so kids being bewildered is something I have just come to expect and don't take personally. These children, with the exception of the baby, were up and down and all-around throughout the dinner, keeping their great-grandmother on the move as well. When it was time to go, great-grandmom discovered she'd locked herself out of her truck. Now what? The kids were squirming, and she had to wait for another family member to come to the rescue.

I may not be the best with kids, but I am an aunt, and I greatly enjoyed the years my niece and nephew were young children because I could invent all kinds of scenarios with them and basically do improv. I noticed the three boys of this quintet had toy trucks and cars. Their great grandmother had told them to stay in their seats, something I thought was never going to happen given all that I had seen happening. So, "crazy Aunt Sue" decided to make an appearance. I got one of the boys to give up a truck to me. 

"OK, guys, here's the game: I'm going to send this truck across the table, and you have to stop it before it goes off the table. And the rule is: You can't get outta your seat!" The boys grinned and nodded. 

"Vroom! Vroom!" I started with rolling the truck back and forth as if it was winding up to go into action. The boys focused intently on the truck, and as it rolled across the plastic table top, they took their respective vehicles and smashed it with much glee. Then they sent it back across, and I snagged it before it could leave the table. Their older sister decided she wanted in on this and announced that she and I were a team. And we played this way for about 15 to 20 minutes, allowing great grandmom the chance to keep her eyes out on the two youngest and their rescuer. By the end of the evening, I could tell that these kids who had always looked at me with a vague suspicion now were seeing me as "one of them." A barrier had come down to let the light of Christ shine between us.

Unfortunately, playing with the children meant that I had missed my EfM member who was waiting for me to deliver her books to her. I looked up her address, which wasn't far from the church, and drove over to knock on the door. She was delighted to have the personal service and asked if I wanted to stay a moment and have some tea. Normally, the introverted person that I am, I would have come up with a reason why I couldn't possibly stay. Given that Tallahassee is about a 50-minute drive to the south it wouldn't have been unreasonable for me to want to get home. But I thought I had no real rush to get back, and this was such a hospitable offer, that I could make the time. And so I did. We enjoyed some orange-spiced tea and conversation which ranged over shared stories of church experiences and our respective family lives. By the end of the evening visit, we remarked that while both of us had been together and sitting with each other in choir neither of us really knew the other very well. As I drove home, I considered how good and energized I was feeling from having had the time with a member of this church family that I'm part of in Georgia, and playing with children in the parish hall. And a little piece (or maybe a big piece) of my Lenten discipline came into focus. 

I needed to cut back on the time I spend on the social media time suck called Facebook. I had become programmed to tune into FB almost from the instant my eyes opened in the morning to when I put my head down at night. It's become the crutch for how I connect with people...without really connecting with them. No eye contact. No silences. And no way to discern body language, especially if the person's profile picture is of their dog. Hitting "like" on a post had replaced actually conversing about a topic. It's just so much easier to click a "like" than to actually go experience what the person is advertising or discuss it any further. 

Lately, with the presidential political season heating up, I have found myself not having conversations but arguments with people. (Are Americans memories so short? Do they really always believe the hype without looking for the substance?) Such encounters online were leaving me bitter. And my conversational skills were suffering. I attended Ash Wednesday, received the mark of the smudgy cross on my forehead, and, upon exiting the church, I removed the Facebook app from my iPhone and later my iPad. I can still get on FB from a laptop or through the web, but that takes more work and effort. I am not pledging not to go on and lurk and post, but I am curtailing my activity and the absence of ease of having the app is so far working. 

I hope this leads to improving my relationships. And to those who miss my many posts, I'll be back, but perhaps with a new appreciation for how much I prefer your personal connection rather than the virtual. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Icons and Idols

Children protesting against the League of the South's pro-Confederate flag demonstration in Tallahassee, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.

It's been awhile since I've posted here, and not because I haven't been thinking, pondering, praying, and wanting to post. I simply don't have a lot of time to sit and organize coherent thoughts into a blog. My prayer life lately has involved some deep and amazing dips into the pool of the vast waters of God. And perhaps that has kept me from writing as well. So here goes nothing as I attempt to explain this title of "Icons and Idols."

A few weeks ago, over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, the League of the South, some of them donning black shirts with white supremacist logos, were out in front of the Florida Capitol building waving their Stars and Bars flags. Apparently, there is legislation to ban the flag from being flown over public buildings. If you are from outside the United States, or simply have managed not to hear any of the history of this controversy, the so-called "Confederate Flag" has been held up as a symbol of Southern heritage; however this particular design of the flag really came into vogue when "Southern heritage" meant fighting against desegregation in the 1950s and 60s. This was not their battle flag used during the Civil War when the South rebelled against the United States from 1861-65. The people who seem to be the most attached to this flag also seem to be the most anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Jew...basically "anti" anything that isn't considered part of "white" culture. 

A young woman in Tallahassee got wind of their demonstration and in 48-hours gathered a bunch of us to be counter demonstrators. She had asked that we American flags to our rally. This was interesting because the people gathered in our group were not your typical "rah rah" America types. We took up a position on the opposite side of the busy intersection of Monroe and Apalachee Parkway, each side competing to see who would get the attention of drivers passing by. It was all pretty tame as protests go. Our group of 25 people couldn't get it together to sing any of the old standard Civil Rights songs to save our lives, but we smiled and waved and held our two fingers up in the peace sign. Then the guy from the League of the South dared to taunt us by calling out the presence of the American flag in our group.

"When I see that Yankee rag, I see prison bars!" he bellowed.

I couldn't believe what I'd just heard. "Yankee rag"? Seriously?! For the first time in my life, every patriotic mitochondria in my body started firing up as I shouted back across the road:


And our group of counter demonstrating social justice activists fell into the familiar grade school cadence of the pledge:


Had we really just said the pledge with that much gusto and true feeling? Do we really feel that much deep attachment to a flag? And what is up with the hanging on so tightly by so many to the Stars and Bars? The Civil War was over 150 years ago. How can anyone still be saying the United States is an occupier of the southeastern United States?

I know that the pledge rings hollow for those who still are feeling like the left behind and the disenfranchised in this country. That was me, too, not that long ago. When I was in junior high and we had to stand each morning to recite the pledge, I would respectfully stand, and say nothing. I didn't understand pledging allegiance to a flag. Shouldn't we pledge allegiance to something a little more than sewn fabric? Later, as I came out, I felt that pledge was like another broken promise. "Liberty and justice" was for some, but definitely wasn't available to all. 

But when faced with such hatred of the symbol of this flawed and imperfect union, even I was willing to rally in defense of what I believe this nation yearns to be: a place where people are able to gather on street corners in support and dissent of the country and have that freedom without the need to resort to bombing each other. I can hope the four bloody years of our ancestors killing each other during the Civil War might have taught us not to know war between each other that way again. And yet, there are some who press on as if we are still at war. Sigh.

Perhaps it was that experience of reciting the pledge with patriotic fervor that has also helped to take my prayer life in a further move toward God. Because even while I was shouting at the League of the South, my burning passion was for the words of the pledge and I was longing for them to lay down their sesquicentennial grudge, and realize that the war is over. 

In so many ways, I think, this is part of what our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is encouraging us to see in the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus longed for his fellow Jews of his day to see that the way to eternal life was through loving more, paying attention to their neighbors more, putting God first more and not making idols of rituals that had become more important than the actual thing for which the ritual was intended to celebrate. 

And even Jesus seems to desire that we not get fixated on him, the human being, but to see through him the way to that Eternal which gives life. This is really the purpose of icons, such as The Trinity by Andrei Rublev. The Russian monk and iconographer designed this as a means by which people may gaze and see God through the art and enter into prayer, which is our line to the One. I happened on this image as I prepped for the 12:10 service at St. John's last Friday. As I looked into those heads all bent in each other's direction and their blue tunic connection, my mind went back to verse from John's gospel:

Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.--John 5:19

These words had been part of Morning Prayer the Wednesday before and as I heard them, I had a revelation of the "both/and" nature of this statement. When we hear the phrase "Son of Man" (or, in this case, it was "Son of God") this is both about Jesus and humanity. Humanity has the chance, especially through following in the footsteps of Jesus, to be at one with God, who is the source of life. This "life" goes beyond the day-to-day arguments over flags, and asks us to tap into our interconnectedness with all things and people. My own belief and placing my own life in the stream of this Great Consciousness is, I think, the reason that while I shouted the Pledge of Allegiance with conviction, it wasn't out of pure anger, but out of a place of sorrow and frustration for the breakdown that leads someone to cling desperately to a past that is no longer the future. That, to my mind, is the path toward death and not life. 

I don't hate those who hate me. My work with the Prayer for Our Enemies has been about teaching me to see the anger and rage that is within me and aimed at me, and deflect it without letting it become the thing that penetrates my heart. This is how I bend my head, and knee, to Jesus. This is how the power of God working in me can help me--like Jesus--do infinitely more than I can ask or imagine. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Statement from the No Anglican Covenant Coalition on the Primates Meeting

We're baaaack! And not because we were chomping at the bit for an opportunity to sound the alarm bells about the ill-fated Anglican Covenant. But the meeting that ended last week in England in which the Primates have--what is it now?--"strongly suggested," "desired," "petitioned?"--that the Episcopal Church be scolded for our inclusivity requires us to release the following statement from our expert leaders about this attempt to enact the Covenant by fiat. You can read it HERE

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, let me just say that we in the Episcopal Church are going to continue standing for freedom, for justice, and for the love of Jesus Christ which is a love for ALL people. And in the words of the civil rights song:

Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around
Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around
Keep on walkin' 
Keep on walkin'
Walkin' to the freedom land.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Go To Your Room

The meeting of the primates of the Anglican Communion (or is it a gathering...or is it a hazing?) that has been occuring in England isn't over, but a leaked document indicates that The Episcopal Church is being told to, essentially, "Go to your room!" for three years as a punishment for changing the canons to allow for same-sex marriages. According to the primates' statement, TEC will not be allowed to participate as representative of the Anglican Communion on various councils. 

What does this mean for the average person attending the Episcopal Church? Not much. Scripture will be read. Hymns will be sung. Eucharist will be served. And, in the Episcopal Church, people of all walks of life and all political opinions will be side-by-side at the Communion rail to be re-membered into the Body of Christ. 
What does it do to the LGBT membership of the Episcopal Church? Well, aside from being as annoyed and pained as we had expected, it gives us a glimpse into the leadership of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who did not buckle and throw us under the bus or make us the sacrificial lambs on the altar of Anglican Communion "comfort."


Bishop Curry's full statement can be found HERE.  Follow the link. You'll be glad you did! 

As the Rev. Cn. Susan Russell so eloquently stated, "I am proud and grateful that being considered second-class Anglicans is a price we are willing to pay to treat God's beloved LGBT people as first-class Christians." Amen. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bowie Before Bishops

There has been much scuttlebutt on various blogs and Facebook postings over the weekend about the impending, and expected, walk out of African Anglican bishops at a meeting that started today with the Archbishop of Canterbury. As always, the huffing and puffing is over the presence of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada at this meeting because those two churches have allowed the likes of me to be full participants and have even embraced us by allowing some of our kind into the Episcopate Clubhouse.
Yes, from my tone, you can see that I am weary of this debate, and this continued demand that our church be punished. They tried to exercise their muscle through Archbishop Rowan Williams and the ill-fated Anglican Covenant (search this blog for commentary on that). It didn't work. Now the titular leaders of churches in Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan and South Sudan, Congo...just to name a few...are threatening that they will leave this gathering of all the Anglican Communion leaders prematurely, and shake the dust off their feet as they leave. Because it's more important to raise a stink about human sexuality in North America than to face the growing problems of civil war, intra-and-interreligious fighting and poverty that afflict their own people.
And just as everyone was ready to get their eyes affixed on this Anglican affair, the news that shook so many more people to the core shot 'round the globe this morning: David Bowie, a legend of English rock 'n roll and an original gender bender, died of cancer at age 69. Most people, and I include myself here, had no idea that Bowie was sick, and given that we were told he lost a courageous "18-month battle" with cancer, he and his publicist did an excellent job of keeping his illness under wraps.
In the greater scheme of all things in life, if I had to choose the more important story emerging out of England today, I would pick David Bowie's passing. For so many of us, who were young or younger in the 1970s and 1980s, Bowie's music was the soundtrack of our lives, particularly for those of us who they say..."different." I was one of those kids who, when I listened to music on the radio, was tuning into the stations that didn't play all the usual pop songs, and definitely didn't bother with the heavy metal bands who all seemed like a whole lot of flash and noise to me but not artists and rockers the way Bowie was, or Brian Eno or Talking Heads. Bowie was sexually ambiguous and changed his look to be whatever he wanted...whether it was in loud outfits and make up or an ascot. He was beautiful and handsome and talented.
Probably the best tribute I've read today comes from the Mad Priest of Saint Laika's and "Of Course I Could Be Wrong." He captured the wonderful irony of Bowie's death bouncing the bishops off the front page:

Those who know the true God will not be surprised at the irony of Bowie's death occurring on the same day a bunch of so-called Christian bishops got together to argue about which people can love which people. Bowie, who was theatrically bisexual but basically straight, had worked out that being puritanical about gender was not only illogical but also very boring even before being gay was decriminalised in Britain. Not only that, he made it virtually impossible for a whole generation of music fans to ever understand why anyone would regard minority expressions of gender identity as being out of the ordinary let alone a bad thing, myself included. Glam is often dismissed as an embarrassing aberration in the history of rock and roll and it has to be admitted that a bunch of skinheads like Slade having to doll themselves up as the world's least convincing transvestites because that was the in thing to do at the time, was a wee bit pathetic. However, glam, coming just a couple of years after gay sex was legalised, was as much a reflection of the cultural zeitgeist as punk was to be four years later and I do not think you can underestimate the effect that it had on British attitudes towards the LGBT community. The Brits have always loved their drag queens and glam made sexual ambiguity even more mainstream. Glam was revolutionary and David Bowie was the most glamorous of them all. He is a major reason why the bigoted, self-hating hierarchy of the Church of England has not been able to convince the English public to embrace the homophobia that remains the church's official policy. Heck, they haven't even managed to convince the majority of their own church members. So, yes, David Bowie is more relevant and more important, bigger to the man in the British street than the fake Jesus of a sham church that proclaims "God is love" whilst preaching hatred.

Well-said! God is love and gave a whole lot of love to the odd people  who were able to dance, dress up, and rock out because of the gift of music made by an amazing performer named David Bowie. Ascend to be with the saints, Major Tom. Ground control has called you home.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Don't Turn Back Now

This past Sunday, there were three choices for a Gospel lesson, one of them being the story of the wise men searching for Jesus, bringing him gifts of frankincese, gold, and myrrh. And then, rather than returning the way they came and telling King Herod where to find the newborn, they go home by another route. The other offerings include Joseph's dream directive to take his young family to Egypt to keep Jesus safe from Herod or the Luke Gospel lesson about Jesus as a 12-year-old disappearing into the Temple to converse and learn when he's family is on their way home. All of these stories have something to say, some "a-ha's" for me. But the biggest "A-ha!" I had Sunday morning that has been on my mind is the odd, and informative, positioning of the characters in the nativity scene on a table in my living room.

Here's how this has gone: I have decorations that are mine, and a few that belonged to my late mother, especially her depictions of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. I dutifully set this up on a table near our front door. What I didn't realize is that every time a person walks in the door or through the room, the vibration on the floor has made the characters on the table move. There is the poor three-legged sheep who keeps keeling over (that just can't be helped), a deer or a horse might start to look like they're grazing on the the church steeple. But on this particular morning, what caught my eye was that Joseph, who had been looking down lovingly at Jesus had turned his back on the baby. I had to laugh.

And then I thought about it, especially given that one of the options for the Gospel lesson included Joseph...our New Testament Joseph who dreams many dreams that offer him warned to take Jesus to Egypt, the same place where his namesake predecessor had been carried off when his dreams, and his big mouth about those dreams, got him sold into slavery by his brothers. Here's the little figurine Joseph, back turned to Jesus, as the Mary figure is kneeling over the crib. What does this say?

For me, lots!

Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is a curious figure in that he's not, according to our belief, really the father of Jesus. And yet, this man raises Jesus as his own son, and shares with him the trade of being a carpenter. We don't get a whole lot of information about Joseph. We know that he was going to dismiss Mary, quietly, so as not to create a scandal when she told him she was pregnant. This makes me think he's a sensitive and thoughtful sort. The fact that he dreams dreams and trusts enough in the possibility that this is really God directing him makes me think he has a strong introverted streak and a good intuition. The positioning of him turning his back on Jesus in this particular nativity scene? This speaks to me of what may have been going on in this poor man's head. He's human, after all. Beyond being a caretaker and a good-hearted dude who obeys his obligation to watch out for children...and even this young woman to whom he's betrothed...Joseph could have turned away. Other dads in our world today who find themselves, for one reason or another, raising a child as their own who isn't their biological child do leave and become the absent father. When my spouse was teaching a college-level criminology class, a question of paternity came up in the discussion and the vast majority of the students at that time thought a guy who wasn't the father owed nothing to the upbringing of a kid that wasn't their own biological offspring. What if that was the approach that Joseph took to Jesus? What if he decided he didn't have a connection, so he didn't care? Perhaps Herod would have liked that type of Joseph!

Turning away from this young possibilty and burgeoning entry into the world of God being with us is something that does happen even today. We are reminded at Christmas time that this new light, this new heaven and this new earth, that has come into our lives will require us to foster and care for it in order for that light to beome the true essence of our visible being in the world. That may require us to accept this light and believe that this light is good and good for us and others. And invariably making that commitment will mean that somethings get burned away by the fire of this light in us, and dark corners of our soul might find themselves exposed by the light all of which can feel a little--well--uncomfortable because it means we might have to do that terrifying thing: change. Faced with that possibility, it might seem easier and feel better to simply deny this light so one can go on living life per usual without the heat generated from the light which yearns to burn brightly for the world to see. 

Perhaps what this Joseph figurine in his unusual position testifies to is how easy a few rocky, or hard vibrating steps can turn a person away from the light. Perhaps then, what I should draw from this Joseph figure is the importance to tread lightly as we enter into the season of Epiphany. Take care, and don't turn back now from accepting the responsibility of caring for this new light of the new heaven and the new earth that has come into the world. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Holy Innocents and These Unholy Times

All day yesterday I was battling extreme exhaustion and a dull headache. I was fighting to keep my eyes open as the nightly news came on the television. And when I heard the lead story--that a jury failed to find police officer Timothy Loehmann guilty in the shooting death last year of 12-year-old Tamir Rice--I figured I might as well just close my eyes. I couldn't even cry. I couldn't do more than close my eyes and through the pain in my skull ask again, "Why? How?" 
There are, I am sure, lots of excuses for why a cop would pull up to a 12 year-old on a playground and within seconds open fire on the child. I am sure that all the miscommunication about "the suspect" could seem to serve as a reasonable cause for why this happened. But, for me, I was left with the continued doubt that there could be any really good reason things had to go down as they did there in Cleveland. And a mother is still left without the opportunity to see her son grow into a man. 
One of my friends posted a statement from an African-American woman who is an academic. In this woman's FB status she laid out the reason why she refused to write yet-another column about the racism of our country, the systems that constantly fail African-Americans, and explaining black outrage to a white audience. I totally understood where this woman was coming from in her anger and disgust with journalism on the topic du jour. It is one of the failings of our media that minorities are expected to talk about "minority stuff" and explain it to the majority in ways that will be palatable. This woman didn't need to write a column; she needed to express the rage she was feeling in her FB status posting. If we, the white public, need this explained again, then it means we really are a sad and sorry lot, and so simpleminded that we might want to enroll in a remedial empathy class.
We don't need this information broken down. We need to get real about breaking down the prejudice and the fear of people of color that leads to the needless and wanton killing of black male children.
Having this verdict come on the eve of the day when the church marks the slaughter of the Holy Innocents by King Herod was sadly too timely. The tale of Herod's wholesale killing of male children because he feared a challenge to his place by the newborn king of Bethlehem may not line up one-for- one with what happened to Tamir Rice. But it is still fear, I believe, that is at the root of why police officers shoot first, and ask questions later. There is the real issue for cops that with so many guns in the hands of so many citizens in this country, they can't always tell who has a toy and who has a weapon. Tamir's toy gun that he was playing with didn't have any features that would distinguish it from a regular gun. That said, police officers Loehmann and his partner Frank Garmback arrived on the scene and appeared to have exited their patrol car and immediately shot Tamir. 
Because the dispatch told them there was a "black male" waving a gun? Tamir didn't look like an adult. He wasn't given a chance to show he didn't have a real gun. Like King Herod's soldiers killing any boy three years or younger, these officers just knew that black+male+gun=shoot. Can we really blame black parents who express outrage and fear that their children can be killed so quickly? Would these officers shoot a white kid in the same situation? 
We know Tamir's name. We know Laquan McDonald's name. But there are hundreds more throughout the country, and especially in the city of Chicago, who are getting gunned down. They are our Holy Innocents of this day and age. I'm afraid it won't stop until mothers of white boys become as enraged and are asked to write the 1200-word columns for the newspaper about why this system is broken. And so, for Tamir and all others, I pray...
 We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.