Sunday, December 14, 2014

Things Getting Stirred at Advent Three

Last week, we heard in the reading from the prophet Isaiah to "Comfort, o comfort, my people." And we had the edgy odd character John the Baptist wandering in from the dessert to preach a message of repentance, or a call to rethink and reconsider your ways, because there was one coming who was much greater than himself. Those were good words to carry with us into the week as we were greeted with more news that likely rattled our cage of comfort. The Senate released a report on the types of tactics our country used to extract information from terrorist suspects. The details of the report were genuinely revolting. Locally, black churches in Wakulla County have had "KKK" spray painted on their marquees. And the budget Congress has sent to the President seems to give more breaks to big banks and wealthy campaign donors further tipping the scales of equality in our economy and politics in favor of the haves over the have nots. Are we hearing the prophetic call to repent?
I attended a lecture series held by Temple Israel and St. John's Episcopal Church which featured a Christian Hebrew Bible scholar named Dr. Ellen Davis of Duke Univeristy's Divinity School. Her topic was the Book of Leviticus. Normally, I would stick my fingers in my ears and repeat, "La la la la" whenever this particular part of the Bible comes up for the obvious reason that I'm a lesbian and am sick of hearing hate-filled people use the verse at Leviticus 18:22 as a means of denying my goodness and the grace extended to me. Thankfully, Dr. Davis didn't narrow in on that verse; instead, she went to Chapter 19, which she describes as the "Reader's Digest-version" of all that one needs to know and understand about this particular part of Torah. She describes Leviticus as a "right-brain book," meaning it is much more poetic and metaphorical in its language than what our normally left-brained selves would expect. That's one of the many reasons one must not read Leviticus with intention of using it literally. Another important point that she made is that the author of Leviticus, whoever that Priestly writer is, did not separate the expectations of ritual purity from moral purity. They are intertwined, and so one cannot, or should not, claim to follow the moral purity codes while rejecting the ritual purity because they are often at play with each other all the time. What I found particularly fascinating was the point she made on the second, and concluding, night of this lecture series. She noted that the covenantal relationship in Leviticus is not just between God and humanity; God has a covenant with the land, and is in the land. And our covenantal relationship is not just with God, but with the land itself. Therefore, failing to keep the covenant with the land and treat it with same love and respect that we are to treat our own bodies is a violation of that relationship, and, in Leviticus, there is language that essentially allows the land to "vomit us up." 
Dr. Davis is most interested in the use of our land for purposes of farming, and certainly we have been guilty of sin there, too, with rampant development and genetic engineering to make crops produce more and grow at times they normally would not. I would say, and listening to her I imagine she would agree, that when we fail to treat one another with the love and dignity and respect we all desire, then we are inviting God and the land to expel us. Her lecture certainly stirred a lot of thinking in me as I reviewed the landscape of our current culture!
Which then brings us to today's readings, specifically the words of the prophet Isaiah.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
   because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
   to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners; 
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
   and the day of vengeance of our God;
   to comfort all who mourn; 
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Is.61:1-3)

As I watched footage of the National Action Network's march in Washington, saw the many photos from the march occuring in New York City, and even in the small Dance for Justice march that took place in Tallahassee, I could see and feel the spirit that is upon us. I get the sense that there is a desire growing in the country for real change. Like with all movements of the spirit such as this, there is also the push back. Not everybody wants to engage in changing the systems or modifying personal habits in favor of helping the greater community. But once the movement begins, it isn't an easy thing to go back to how things were before. 

This is the spirit that is growing brighter as we light the third candle on our Advent wreaths. This is the approach of Christ coming into the world to rattle it some more in the never ending pursuit of infusing Love into our daily experience. Now is the time for that real presence to become flesh.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Heeding the Call of the Prophets at Advent Two

The gospel reading for this Sunday starts, "The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

In our ears today, when we hear the phrase, "Good News," it can produce a feeling of relief, of warmth, of being comfortable with what we are about to receive from the teller of this news. But then the next lines come as a distant refrain from the prophet Isaiah:

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight” ’, 

Is that "good news"? The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness is John the Baptizer, a locust and honey-eating counterculturalist who has wandered into the scene calling for the people to be baptized in repentence for the forgiveness of sins. Is that "good news"? Imagine if today, we were faced with a person who "ain't from 'round here" telling us to look at ourselves, see the ways in which we are broken from our connections to our neighbor, and choose to change and move toward Love? How receptive would we be to this news?

Many priests and preachers are wrestling with this Scripture as they craft their sermons to be delivered to a congregation of people who may or may not want to hear what they have to say. Quite often, the one preaching is that person who is the messenger being sent ahead to give the people the "Good News," in the hopes that there will be a response to that news. Today, many of those same priests and preachers are likely looking at our current state of affairs in this country and wondering, "What do I say?" One person on Facebook who is facing such a situation asked the question, "Where are the prophets today?" I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people are staring into the screens of their computers and laptops wondering the same thing. I did, too, as I went about formulating this post. In my staring, praying, and meditations, I kept coming back to another gospel passage which we won't typically encounter until we're deeper into Lent:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)

I kept thinking about the question of "Where are the prophets?" I believe that we are killing them. The prophets aren't the heroes or the beautiful people. Frequently, they are the average workers, the stutterers, and the ones who are the least likely to be seen as a "leader." They are reluctant participants in God's overall plan, and yet they trust enough to follow. Today, I think they are the ones who are doing what they can to keep body and soul together in this world. They're the ones saying, "I can't breathe" "I don't have a gun. Stop shooting!" and their deaths are raising up the voices of new prophets who are taking to the streets, tape over their mouths in some cases, or lying down in the major intersection of a city. They are calling us to take a good, long look at our systems, and how they are skewed and how some of us benefit while others are left to wonder if they are worth anything at all to anyone. I doubt that Eric Garner, or Michael Brown, or any of the others shot and killed by police would call themselves "prophets."  But what their deaths have done is raise some important prophetic questions for us to wrestle with and highlight the need for a new approach and better training of our police officers. For me, as a white person, it has forced me to consider that for my black brothers and sisters, not even the courts are a place where they feel safe and will receive a fair shake. Not even a videotape of what happened was enough to bring a grand jury indictment so we could have a trial in the death of Eric Garner. The non-indictment of the officer who used an illegal chokehold in his death was so upsetting to me that I felt the same sense of grief and horror that I felt when I saw the images of people stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Upon hearing the news out of New York, all I could do was reach out to one of my black friends, and cry, and repeat, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." 

We need to listen to the call of these new prophets. We must be willing to repent and return to Love by committing to real change. This is what John the Baptizer was telling the people of First Century Palestine as he warned them of a one who was coming, and this is the drumbeat we are are hearing now.

 Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Casting Away Darkness at Advent One

A new church year begins this Sunday as we begin the season of Advent. It is a time where the people who are sitting in great darkness will begin to see the growing light each week with another candle lit on the Advent wreath, a symbol of the light Christians anticipate seeing return to the world.

Now would be a great time for there to be more light in the world!

This has been a particularly difficult time for many in the United States, and especially here in Leon County, Florida. The country has been tuned into the Ferguson case. And as things were exploding and protests were occurring all over the country in response to the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, people in Tallahassee were lining the streets, in the rain, to pay respects to deputy Christopher Smith who, a week ago, was ambushed by a white man with a gun and anti-government streak. The gunman set fire to his house to lure the police and firefighters to the scene. Deputy Smith was the first to arrive, and he was the only one Curtis Wade Holley was able to shoot and kill before another off-duty cop, who lived in the neighborhood, responded and fatally shot him. All this after there had been a shooting at the library on FSU's campus only a few days earlier where a graduate of FSU, with a history of growing delusions and mental illness, shot three people and fired at the police when they ordered him to drop his gun. Six police officers vs. one guy with a gun. You know who lost that battle.

So much violence. So many shots fired. So little of what we might call justice in the world. It certainly all seems to fit in with the themes that emerge at the end of a church year. The daily office readings, and the Sunday lectionary, often reflect a sense of things falling apart, the eschaton or End Times. For some, the events in Tallahassee have made them cautious about saying what they feel about how things went this week in Ferguson. I can understand the reticence. Nobody here wants to appear to be trashing law enforcement when they've just been through more hell than usual in our relatively small city. But, as with so many things in life, this isn't a question of either/or; it's more a both/and. And so, I don't see raising questions about the Ferguson case as being a put down to law enforcement in Tallahassee or Leon County. And I think it is time, more than time, for people to recognize, and to listen to the cry of our black brothers and sisters and other people of color who do not feel they stand on equal ground. Can we have an honest conversation and open our ears and listen to each other? We must do this. People of color must express themselves without fear and that includes the people of my color, too. Those who are the peace makers, we have to make a commitment to work to change the system...even if that change isn't something we'll enjoy seeing in our lifetime. But we owe that to the generations of children that are growing up quickly. And it's the perfect discipline to begin for Advent.

If Advent is, at least for us Christians, the preparation for the dawning of a new day and the return of Christ into our world, then isn't Advent the time for us to see the brokenness that is in our world, and connect with others to change it? I'm talking about race relations, which will be the topic in some of the major cathedrals throughout the Episcopal Church in the United States this Advent. And that is a desperately important topic in all cities and towns in this country. Perhaps this division between people of color and whites is contributing to poverty. Maybe it is at play in child abduction and human trafficking. Maybe it is simply the starting point of a broader discussion about the many ways we have managed to break down our worldviews into a series of "us" vs. "them" arguments that go nowhere but toward more sin, or breaking from God.

Scripture indicates that God's dream for us is that we live as one with all that is One. How would it look if we could really function and live as if we are truly connected to one another and all those connections lead us to the Source that is Love? Crazy and radical as this may sound to some, I really believe that we are supposed to be living as one human race... made up of a canopy of lots of "otherness"... but at the end time of it all... we are really supposed to live as though each and every person we encounter is our brother and sister... and we are stewards, or caretakers, of all creatures great and small.

Maybe for this Advent the challenge put before us is to see brokenness as the darkness that needs our light and for us to be willing to bring our lights out of the safety of our own homes and into those places that need more light so they can see their way out of the darkness.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of
darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of
this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit
us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come
again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the
dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Let's Not Just Make Noise; Let's Make a Difference"

I tuned in to CSPAN last night to hear the outcome of the St. Louis County grand jury investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson this past August. I knew CSPAN would provide the coverage, sans talking heads, so that I could make my own conclusions about what was said. And what I heard from the District Attorney made me scratch my head and say, "Huh?" 

I appreciated the methodical detail of the course of events that led to Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson crossing paths with 18-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown. But as I heard the story unfold, I couldn't help but wish that this were one of those movies where we could pause the action and allow for an alternate ending. Did Officer Wilson really need to back up his vehicle and block Brown and his friend? Did Brown really need to have an altercation through the window of the police SUV with Wilson? When Wilson's gun went off and grazed Brown's thumb sending the 18 year-old man fleeing down the street, did Officer Wilson really need to pursue him, or could he have waited for back up to arrive? And did Officer Wilson really need to fire off repeated rounds at Brown, even when Brown turned around? The District Attorney said there were conflicting stories. That's believable since it was a highly emotionally-charged scene, and probably the adrenaline of witnesses was running as hard and fast as the two men engaged in the fight. But I just can't shake the fact that Brown didn't have a gun. Officer Wilson did. Even the forensic evidence cited showed that Brown was collapsing forward and yet the bullets kept flying. And one family lost a child, a young man.

The grand jury took what was presented to them, and concluded that Officer Wilson was within his right as a law enforcement officer to respond as he did. Missouri had spoken, and America reacted to the news. 

Many of us, African-Americans and people of all colors, were, sadly, not entirely surprised by this decision. But we were disappointed. Many were angry. Unfortunately for business owners along a block of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, MO, the anger erupted in setting buildings ablaze and destroying the workplaces. The news media, naturally, gravitated toward the more violent outbursts even though there were peaceful demonstrations and vigils taking place not only in the St. Louis area, but all over the country. As I noted on Facebook, division and fear make for good television visuals. Nobody wants to show the non-violent protests, the people allowing themselves to scream out for justice and not just burn the whole thing down.

I understand the rage. I cannot help but feel the powerlessness of people who, rightly or wrongly, believe the whole system is set up against them. How many times have unarmed black men and women been shot and killed, yet nothing happens? How many parents have had to teach their sons how to behave when the cops approach them, and now even telling their children to put their hands up or out and away from their body doesn't necessarily save them? And there won't be a trial, held in the light of the public eye, to get at the truth in this case. Even the announcement of the non-indictment came at night and not during the day.

I understand the tension of the police. It is not easy to put on a uniform that invites such disparate responses of repulsion on the one hand, and adoration to an extreme on the other hand. It's a dangerous and difficult job, particularly in a country which has a love affair with individual rights to be their own private militia. I was once a student officer with the University of Missouri police department, so I know the type of abusive behavior the cops endure from the public they serve. 

But what I don't understand is how we can keep having these same scenarios play out over and over and over where, at the end of the day, a young African-American or other person of color who is unarmed ends up dead, and there are no consequences, no discipline, real justice.

Some have argued that Michael Brown wasn't an innocent choir boy on his way to his grandma's house. They note that the confrontation between Wilson and Brown stemmed from the report of someone matching Brown's description having just stolen some cigarillos from a convenience store. Officer Wilson testified that he saw cigars in Brown's hand and he realized that he was likely the thief. There are many, mostly white Americans, saying that Brown shouldn't have broken the law by stealing the cigars. And there are those who go so far as to say, "He got what he deserved."

I have to wonder when it became justice to shoot and kill someone for shoplifting? If that's now a capital crime, then there are lots of kids and young people who won't make it to their adult years.

And it doesn't answer the central question that is still in my mind: why did Officer Wilson feel so threatened and afraid that he shot to kill, rather than wound, Michael Brown?

I don't think we'll ever really know that answer. And so I go to the place that Michael Brown's parents have gone: demand that their son's death not just be more noise in the racial clammoring of America, but that we do something to make a difference. The difference needs to be greater than Ferguson because what happened there on a mid-day August Saturday could easily have happened here in Tallahassee, or in Seattle, or in West Roxbury. Communities of color have very little trust that the police are there to serve and protect them. Constant racial profiling hasn't helped and may actually be contributing to a subconscious belief that everybody is a bad guy until proven not guilty. The Browns have called for all police to have body cameras to record their interactions. That will document what happens at traffic stops and such. But there are still more things that may need to happen. And it will take all of us, police officers and the communities they serve, to come together and work toward solutions that will address the growing mistrust.

My faith tells me that I am to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being. That is my ongoing commitment in my hope and desire that we will all one day see that we are a human race made up of many hues which also color our experiences which in turn become our realities. I will commit to the long slog toward making true equality THE reality.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

If Christ is the King, then....

We've reached the end of the season of Pentecost and have arrived at the date that is commonly known throughout the Episcopal Church as "Christ the King" Sunday. To punctuate the moment, we hear the famous words from Matthew's Gospel:

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.” (Matt 25:34-39).

We also know what follows this. Those who don't feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, take care of the sick or visit the prisoner are the ones who have not done the will of the king...and they will not inherit eternal life.  To put this all in simpler terms, when we take care of each other, look out for each other, recognize our selves in the "other", this is when we have made earth more like heaven. It's when we do the simple things of paying attention to the people we encounter and treat them with the respect and dignity afforded every human being that we put the Christ back into Christianity and He can reign as king.

Just saying, "Oh, yes, I will take care of the poor and the needy," doesn't cut it. To actually achieve "earth as it is in heaven" entails a lot of work and it isn't for the feight of heart. It means entering into the messiness of humanity and sitting with the stranger in the dark and daring to touch their hand or their shoulder to remind them that they are not alone.

We've had some terrifying events lately in Tallahassee which sadly are the same terrifying events that happen in cities and towns all over this country every day. A person with a gun opens fire on people who are unarmed or responding to others in need of help. It happened twice in less than three days. On the Florida State University campus, a young man who had graduated from FSU and gone on to law school and had a career as an attorney in New Mexico returned to his alma mater, to the library where he used to love to study as an undergraduate, and shot three people. When the police arrived and ordered him to drop his weapon, he fired off shots at them. They killed him. Myron May wasn't the smiling student and promising young lawyer he'd been. Friends report that he had been on a terrifying downward spiral of mental illness and a belief that the police had bugged everything from his car to his sneakers. We won't know why he felt the need to go back to the campus he loved to inflict pain and terror. But it seems he is yet another victim of a mental healthcare system that has too many gaps in which very sick and troubled people continuously fall and their families and friends are powerless to do much more than watch. When one has to "do something" in order to get help, it can lead to them "doing something," that harms themselves or others. That seems to have been the case with Myron May. And how sad is that. It wasn't that his friends didn't attempt to go sit with him in his dark place, to get him the help he needed. They did. But the gaps that have been allowed to grow in the system, the inability due to bureaucracies to get people help conspired against their efforts. And so a campus and its police officers got pulled into his hell. And we, again, are left with questions: why can't someone with a mental illness get proper treatment? And how in the world are they able to purchase a gun?

Another man, with a gun, took aim this morning at Leon County Sheriffs deputies and Tallahassee firefighters responding to a house fire on a normally quiet cul-de-sac. Details are still sketchy, but it seems this guy was someone with a record and known to be trouble. He may have set fire to the home as a way of drawing out the first responders, and then he ambushed the first deputy on the scene, killing him and taking his gun. An off-duty TPD officer who happened to live in the neighborhood and was preparing to work a shift at the FSU football game, heard the melee outside and was the one who ultimately ended up shooting and killing the guy. A neighborhood was terrified and shaken. And more lie dead from gunshots. Many are quick to note that it could have been worse. But that is small consolation to those mourning the dead. All day on Facebook, as the story of this latest shooting unfolded, I would learn that one friend may have known the perpertrator; another lives only a few houses away from the dead deputy. The violence ripples out from the crime scene and touches us all. 

If Christ is King, then surely he must be like the man who returned from his journey in last week's Gospel parable only to find that the person given the one talent (which was actually a huge amount of money in those days) had buried it because he knew the man was greedy. What will this King have to say about how we've been doing, as a human race, to make earth resemble heaven? Will he note how we throw our hands up and say, "We can't do anything about XYZ because... (fill in the list of excuses)?" Perhaps as we prepare for the return of the King in these coming weeks of Advent, we might begin with looking at our unwillingness to tackle the tough issues every single day, and demand better of our leaders and our selves when it comes to the lack of adequate resources for mental health care. Maybe now is the time to ask the harder questions about the easy access to guns, and for those with the power to change laws to worry more about the public good than the next election cycle. The "least of these" are really any of us and all of us. Our refusal to see that and respond in Love to one another through doing the hard work of making earth like heaven is when we fail the King.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sharing Talents...and Worship Spaces

The Gospel lesson read across the Episcopal Church on Sunday is the familiar story of the man going on a journey who gives out talents to his slaves. The one who received the most invested it and made more. Same with the one given the modest amount. But the one given a single talent buried it in the ground. When the man returns from his journey and learns what the slave with the one talent did, he takes that one talent away, gives it to the one with the most and banishes the "wicked slave" for squandering the opportunity he'd been given with his one talent.

Lots of churches use this time as an opportunity to bring up that uncomfortable "S" word: stewardship.  And stewardship becomes uncomfortable because it means talking about money. And money makes people uncomfortable because the people who don't have any can be led to feel guilty that they don't have means, and the people who do have money can end up feeling put out because they're expected to give more. The old saying, "Money is the root of all evil," really is true. Because stewardship gets so focused on the false god of money, we miss the true God over and over.

So, instead of talking money, I want to talk about how hearing this Gospel story made me reflect upon a dust-up in Episcopal circles about the use of Washington National Cathedral by Muslims for prayers last Friday.  You might have heard that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, opened use of the cathedral's sanctuary to Muslims for their sabbath day prayers. This was an invitation-only event, and included some non-Muslims as well. The purpose was reconcilliation and allowing the many more members of the Islamic faith to pray in peace and show the face of Islam that doesn't make headlines. Security for the event had to be tight due to threats. And even with that, a middle-aged white woman was inside and attempted to disrupt the prayers with shouts about Jesus dying on the cross. She was escorted out by a verger (we do come in handy at times like these!). In some ways, that outburst was similar to what happened to Bishop Gene Robinson when he was invited to preach at a church in London during the last Lambeth Conference. And it is the same source that powers those actions: fear. Fear of something or someone "different." Fear of something or someone "changing." Fear that someone or something is not able to be "controlled." The participants were able to get past the momentary interruption and continued with the service. 

When I first hear that this event was happening, I was puzzled. Had something happened to a mosque in DC that required Muslims to relocate? No, this was a gesture of stewardship. I thought about that some more. I am someone who believes that we, all of us who say we are people of faith, are approaching the same One God. There are those who prefer Goddess, but I use the term God. I also strive to avoid referring to God as a male figure, unless I am referring to Jesus Christ, who I believe is not only a male figure, but the symbol of a fully-realized man who does not see women and the spirit of the feminine as a threat to his manliness and is so completely at one with the One that he is indistinguishable from that source of Holy. I believe that the Holy Spirit is the mysterious, sometimes impish, essence of God that is always around us, above us, below us, and within us, and not only descended onto Jesus at baptism but was part of Jesus from his formation. I am, therefore, very much a Christian. That said, if people don't hold my same Trinitarian views and have a different way of accessing the Divine, who am I to say, "No, you're wrong!"? I believe that as long as people are turning their faces toward more Love, more Light, more Wisdom, then, in my theology as of November 18th, Jesus would join me in rejoicing that some of the "other sheep" have also found their way back to the flock. At times in my discussions with people who also call themselves "Christian" and even "Episcopalian," I have found that my views don't jive with their views of the Almighty, or this idea that there is One God. And from what I understand, that's a lot of what the comments have been on the cathedral's Facebook page and website.

But I want to go back to that word, "stewardship." If this cathedral is called the "National Cathedral," and we are a nation of multiple faith traditions, then it would seem to me that we would open the doors to other faiths as a way of being good stewards to our brothers and sisters of other traditions. As best as I can tell, this gesture of reconcilliation did nothing to disrupt the worship of Episcopalians who call the Washington National Cathedral their church home. In fact, it might have actually planted the seeds for some important, powerful, and spiritual work that I think we must start doing: namely, recognizing the divinity of other people who aren't like us and beginning to address the wounds that have kept us hurting and angry at each other for centuries. It will take a long, long time to do this work, longer than my lifetime, that's for sure. I applaud our Episcopal dean for making a move in this direction. 

Stewardship isn't just about time, talent and treasure. It's about living into our every day call to love one another as we have been loved by Christ... including the call to reach out to the stranger and welcome them in as part of the human family. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burnin'

There is the old saying that you should never discuss religion or politics, but I am going to violate that rule and do both in the same post.  It just can't be avoided.

The Gospel lesson from this Sunday was the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids and their oil lamps. There were ten. Five were the wise ones who brought along extra oil for their lamps; the other five were fools who only brought enough for the hour or so that they thought they needed it. When the bridegroom was late arriving, the foolish ones demanded that the wise ones give up some of their oil. The wise ones say, "No, go buy your own oil," and so the five underprepared bridesmaids go off to get more oil. While they are away, the bridesgroom arrives and greets the wise ones who stuck around with their extra oil. When the fools come back and realize that they'd missed the party and the door was closed to them. And bang as they would on the door, the bridesgroom wouldn't let them in because he didn't know who they were. Jesus ends this teaching with, "Keep awake therefore for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Matt 25:13).

What a wonderful parable to illustrate the voting public of Florida! Only 50-percent turned out to the polls statewide last Tuesday. The other 50-percent, who had ample opportunity to vote early, mail in a ballot, or make plans to vote on Election Day, just simply didn't do it. In my viewing of this situation in light of the Gospel, I would say that the 50-percent who did vote are likely the ones who still have enough oil. Others might argue that the wise ones were those who didn't bother to vote. "The system is rigged," they say. "Money has bought elections," they complain. But these are the fools who don't realize that all the money that got poured into negative campaign ads that play ad nauseum during election season are designed to keep people from voting, and thinking they're the smart ones for believing that "Everyone is a scumbag, so what's the point?" As I have pointed out in posts on social media, Big Money has figured out how to do a lot of things, but the one thing it still doesn't know how to do is stand in the privacy booth and mark a ballot. It can influence the person who is doing the marking, but it takes a person to go vote. By not voting, Big Money wins. Everyone knows that when there is a large voter turnout in Florida, the Democratic Party is more likely to win. And while I'm not a fan of the Democratic Party, their candidates are usually more in line with my thinking, especially on gay rights and the environment.

So, if the 50-percent who did vote are like the wise bridesmaids,  how did we re-elect our climate change denier Governor and the anti-gay attorney general? Because clearly the 50-percent who did vote still do care, and still do see the vote as the one and only way to influence democracy. Those people exist in all political stripes: Republican, Democrat, Independent, Socialist, Green, etc. And, as I said when it comes to Florida elections, if voter turn out is low, it's usually those more likely to vote for Democrats who stay home because they are easily dissuaded from casting ballots. So,--yes-- I am saying Florida Democrats are fools, and have behaved as fools. Their party has lived from election-to-election and done nothing to build up their potential leadership in the meantime. As such, they are more likely to run out of oil, and let their lights go out. Certainly, that was my take away from this election.

But what about those of us who did vote and were on the short-end of the stick? What are we to do now?

The offertory anthem, "Keep Your Lamps" by Andre Thomas, that we sang at St. Thomas contains the perfect instruction:

Keep your lamps, trimmed and burnin'
Keep your lamps, trimmed and burnin'
Keep your lamps, trimmed and burnin'
The time is growing nigh!

Children don't grow weary
Children don't grow weary
Children don't grow weary
'til your work is done!

If we cared enough to vote, even in those instances when we were less-than-excited about the particular candidate, then we clearly have enough oil left in our beings to keep our lamps lit up in the hope of justice and freedom from those things that hold us back. Yes, the re-election of certain people is discouraging. But leaders come and go, and our collective lights can out last them if we carefully tend to that flickering flame of Love.

In the meantime, I can only hope the fools will actually purchase oil and not water as we await the next round of elections in two years.