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. 



Saturday, February 21, 2015

Wedding Day

This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it

Those simple and yet profoundly loving words have been in my head all day as I bounce between the emotions of excitement and fear like a tennis ball being volleyed back and forth. Every time I start to feel anxiety, I can hear these words in the sweet, even slightly out of tune singing of children who nonetheless give the song all the gusto imaginable to fill the space of a church sanctuary. 

This is the day that the Lord has made for sure!

Today's readings for the daily Morning office were from Deuteronomy and Titus. Those aren't really my favorite books of the bible, and the lesson from the former is some of that violent language that often puts people off reading Scripture. God is going to allow the Israelites to pummel the people's around them, and destroy their Gods etc. etc. If I were to read that all literally, I would find it...well, depressing and nasty and awful. 

But today I read it and thought about all those who have... and are still in some places... standing in the way and attempting to block the sun from shining on me and the others like me who are part of the LGBTQI community. Instead of a literal, physical destruction, what I read in the words of the Deuteronomist was the confirmation of things I have believed about God for some time now: namely, God will never abandon me or the other "queer" people. Our time of oppression was not ignored, nor was it the design of God. This was a very hard thing for me to hang on to back in November of 2008 when Florida voters so cruely implemented Amendment Two which banned same-sex couples from marriage. I felt greatly challenged in my belief. And yet, the remembrance of that feeling and sensation I experienced on the day of my "wake up call" told me that as horrible and awful and bleak as I felt and as vicious as the world was feeling at that time, I must not let go of the belief that God is watching and will work God's purpose out, and that Jesus Christ, my brother in struggle, would be with me even now. Especially now. 

As I look into the face of my partner of 23+ years, I will be reminded that Love is the only truth and it is made evident not only in her willingness to commit to me, but in the support of all who are in attendance and the messages from those who will be unable to be with us for one reason or another. I will think on the power of Love as we say, "I do," and slip wedding rings onto each other's fingers. Love is the source of life. My life: my queer, crazy, not-always-perfect life.  

This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Alabama and Absalom

Monday was to be a joyous day in Alabama. A federal judge had found their ban on lesbians and gays getting married was unconstitutional. The Eleventh Circuit refused to step in and halt the forward progress for marriage equality. The U.S. Supreme Court also turned away the state's appeal with only Justices Scalia and Thomas saying they would have entertained hearing the case. It was a scenario very similar to Florida, only minus the antics of an attorney general and private law firm that couldn't grasp the meaning of the word, "Unconstitutional."

But Alabama has a chief justice of the state Supreme Court. And Roy Moore, no stranger to controversy and thumbing his nose at the federal courts, ordered probate judges in the state of Alabama not to issue marriage licenses and defy the federal mandate. And sure enough, many of them did as Moore said. Marriage license offices in 53 of the state's 67 counties on Monday refused to open and probate judges declared themselves out of the marriage business. I'm surprised Moore didn't stand in the doors of the courthouse to proudly proclaim: "Discrimination now, discrimination tomorrow, discrimination forever!"

Now there is a report that the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi plans to join with those in Alabama protesting marriage equality. The KKK won't be parading in their bed sheets, but they will provide behind the scenes assistance and ensure that no "infiltrators" get in to disrupt their message branding of hatred and intolerance.

This chaos has caused enormous pain, and not just for the lesbians and gay men living in the counties which are openly defying the federal government. I spent a long time on the phone with a straight friend who sounded demoralized by the whole thing. Add to that the frustration with the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama. Yes, they will allow for the blessing of same-sex couples...if a vestry, which is the lay governing body in a church, votes to approve making their church a welcoming congregation for such activity. If the vestry votes "No," then not only is the church not available, the priest or priests associated with said church are not allowed to bless any same-sex couple anywhere, even outside of the diocese. Suddenly, it seems priests are now slaves to the vestry instead of slaves to Christ.

Since all the upheaval, the same federal judge has ordered probate judges in Alabama to comply with her ruling and begin issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. Almost all of the counties in Alabama are complying. I guess the ones who are not just want to be sued. Or perhaps they're waiting until after next Monday's federal holiday.

It was quite fitting to have had this wrangling and resisting occurring as a backdrop for today at the 12:10 Eucharist where we were remembering one of the towering figures of black history within the Episcopal Church: Absalom Jones. Jones and Richard Allen were regular attendees of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in the late 1700s in Philadelphia. Blacks and whites worshiped together amicably for years. Then one Sunday, the white members decided that they wanted the blacks to move to the balcony. This was done in secret, so that the black members didn't learn of this decision until an usher tapped Jones on the shoulder during the opening prayer and signaled for him and the others to get upstairs. Instead, Jones and Allen walked the blacks of the congregation out the door and formed a new church with the blessing of Episcopal Bishop William White. Jones was made a lay leader, and eventually ordained to the diaconate and then priesthood. Allen, on the other hand, had wanted to remain a Methodist and he left to start the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

The Gospel lesson assigned for today was from John 15:

"‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father."

I could feel myself wanting to cry as I listened to this, the great commandment, and what it must have meant for Jones and Allen, and what it means for me. There is no more complete expression of the love of God for all of us than for us to love one another as Love has done for us. And how far did those white Methodists fall from that grace by telling their black brothers and sisters to get upstairs. What a betrayal of Love! 

The same can be said of all the shenanigans in Alabama this week over marriage equality. People who are maintaining that they are Christians and doing "the Lord's" work by denying their gay brothers and lesbian sisters their civil right to get married have somehow missed the main message of Jesus. Letting vestries decide the fate of their church...and their priests...on the question of blessing a same-sex couple is the same terrible scenario that led to the laws that a federal court has struck down. Allowing people to vote to nix the whole thing means, in a place like Alabama where the Klan can get away with publicly supporting a bigoted chief justice, guarantees that only a very few churches and only in large urban areas might bless couples. If the bishop had wanted to give the naysayers on the vestries a sense of power, he could have limited the "No" to just covering the use of the church and its grounds. But for it to extend to the priest, too? Not only does that give the vestries too much control; it will be the kind of intoxicating power that could make the bullies on vestries who don't like all this "progressive stuff" find other areas of the priest's actions they'd like to control. Should the vestry decide they don't like unwashed homeless people, perhaps they could vote to tell the priest not to visit the homeless shelter or make any overtures to people on the street. Maybe they think the schools can handle all that literacy stuff the diocese has been promoting. They could vote to pull out of that, too.  

Perhaps we should think about the collect that goes with Absalom Jones Day:

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear: that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servants Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  

Perhaps that's what Alabama's secular and religious leaders need: a little dose of courage. The courage to love one another as the Divine has loved them. And in feeling that love, take the bold step to share it rather than keep it as if it's a finite resource. 

Or perhaps they just need to have Neil Young sing about them one more time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Drum Major Instinct

It was a cold and windy mid-November morning when I walked from a hotel in downtown Atlanta through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood. I kept my pace brisk as I crossed street after street, even walking under a major interstate. I passed by many a closed business, and bars advertising prizes for twerking. This was definitely out of my element. But I was on a mission: I wanted to go to Ebenezar Baptist Church, the church that launched the career of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I was not disappointed. The docent at the desk informed me that, in the church basement, there was a video playing of one of Dr. King's siblings telling the story of her brother and her family's involvement in the life of Ebenezer Baptist. King's father was the pastor and his mother was the organist and choir director. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was a child, he used to love to sing. He would grow up to be the co-pastor of the church with his father from 1960 to his death in 1968. The video also told the story of how violence rocked their church about six years after Rev. Dr. King's assisination. It was a Sunday morning. Dr. King's mother had just finished playing and they were starting prayers in the church when a man stood up on one of the pews, announced he was taking over, and began shooting. King's mother was killed in the melee along with a deacon. The 23-year-old who did the shooting said he did it because he was opposed to Christianity.

With that in my head, I ascended the steps to the sanctuary. There was only me, and one other couple. They left fairly soon after I got there, which gave me the entire space to myself. Me, an empty sanctuary with flowers and an old-fashioned microphone on the pulpit and the recording of the Rev. Dr. King's sermon, "The Drum Major Instict." 

I was deeply moved as I sat and listened to his voice filling the air. I knew the Scripture passage well, the moment in which the brothers are arguing and asking Jesus to give them the seats of honor on his left side and the right side. It is a moment in Jesus' ministry where I often wonder, "Did these guys who were following him here, there and everywhere have a clue as to what he was doing?" The presumption of these two guys, John and James, that they could ask Jesus to make them first ahead of the other disciples is pretty amazing, and yet, pretty typical of so many of us. That's what Rev. Dr. King referred to as "the Drum Major instinct."  I sat at times with eyes closed as I took in how Dr. King put this tale into his modern day situation in 1968. People putting themselves into financial crises by attempting to live beyond their means. Nations putting themselves and their people at-risk by asserting that their way is superior to the way of other nations. Racism, and how poor whites had deluded themselves into believing they are superior to blacks while suffering under the same oppression and injustice plaguing communities of color. And he turned his own sights back to Jesus for the role model of what real leadership looks like. I wept as I heard Dr. King say of himself that at his funeral he didn't want anyone to go on and on about him. He didn't want to be known for the many accolades he had accumulated. He didn't want them to talk about his Nobel Peace Prize. 

"Tell them I tried to love and serve humanity." 

Little did he know, he was preaching his own eulogy. His wife requested that this sermon be played at his funeral.

Little did I know this mission to find and visit his church would leave such an impression on me. I heard in his sermon many things I have felt for myself as one who has kept plugging away at the struggle for equality particularly for LGBTQI people. I don't work for justice so that I can get awards. I work for justice because I can't feel comfortable knowing that others are struggling. Yes, we have finally achieved marriage equality in Florida. But people are still able to be fired from their jobs if they get married to their same-gender partner. The Roman Catholic diocese in South Florida has made it clear to all its employees to "beware" of making public comments on social media about the marriage issue that might "contradict" traditional Roman Catholic doctrine. The Episcopal diocese of Florida has not even acknowledged that there has been this sea change in the civil marriage laws. We have made progress. But this march is far from over. And so I'm lacing up my shoes, ready to walk the path that is laid before me.