Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Wound of Mortality

"Sleep and his half brother Death" - William Waterhouse
Death and taxes, as the saying goes, are the two certainties in life.

And yet, April 15th always catches many of us by surprise.

So does death, when it comes.

I have several friends who are struggling with death. One friend wrote me this morning to report the 12th death in his family and circle of friends since his own mother died on Christmas Day.

This one was his 18 year old cousin who committed suicide.

In my former congregation, I know of four deaths since the beginning of the year - one of them the tragic loss of a man who fell down the stairs and broke his neck. He had broken his neck in the same place in a car accident about five or six years ago and had never fully recovered - physically, emotionally or spiritually.

A dear friend of mine recently lost a neighbor - a young man with a young family and a son in her son's class. He apparently died of a very sudden heart attack.

Here and smiling and joking one minute. Gone the next.

A clergy colleague - now in his eighties but you'd never know it - has lost two former parishioners this week. Because older folks can't often get to church as they once did, and, in many congregations, "out of sight, out of mind" seems to be an operational dynamic, he was involved in the pastoral care of each as well as their family members. He will be presiding at both funerals.

While neither death came as much of a surprise, he says he is startled by how deeply both deaths have affected him.

In Greek mythology, Thanatos (Θάνατος, "death") is the personification of death. His twin brother, Hypnos (Ὕπνος, "sleep"), is the personification of sleep. their mother was the primordial goddess Nyx (Νύξ, "night").

The palace of Hypnos was a dark cave underneath a Greek island where the sun never shines. Through this cave flowed Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. At the entrance were a number of poppies and other hypnogogic plants. His dwelling has no door or gate so that he might not be awakened by the creaking of hinges.

Psychiatrist and novelist, Irvin Yallom, has authored a new book entitled, "Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death". In the first chapter he writes:
Self awareness is a supreme gift, a treasure as precious as life. This is what makes us human. But it comes with a costly price: the wound of mortality. Our existence is foreshadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom and, inevitably, diminish and die.

Mortality has haunted us from the beginning of history. Four thousand years ago the Babylonian hero Gilgamesh reflected on the death of his friend, Enkidu...'Thou has become dark and cannot hear me. When I die, shall I not be like Enkidu? Sorrow enters my heart. I am afraid of death".

Gilgamesh speaks for us all. As he feared death so do we all - every man, woman and child. For some of us the fear of death manifests only indirectly, either as generalized unrest or masqueraded as another psychological symptom; other individuals experience an explicit and conscious stream of anxiety about death; and for some of us the fear of death erupts into terror that negates all happiness and fulfillment."
All of us are wounded by mortality. Some of us call in Hypnos to anesthetize us from our conscious awareness of the constant presence of Thanatos. And then, suddenly, one day, it hits us from seemingly out of nowhere (ex nihilo) - usually through the death of another.

During the height of the AIDS crises, I attended more funerals than I care to remember. Some of them were unbearably sad. Others were an incredible celebration of life. Some featured a chorus of gay men in top hats, white coats and gloves and tails. Others featured specially commissioned music for the mass and/or hymns.

I wept a bit at each one, but it took the funeral of a young Lutheran pastor to break me down. I had gotten to the church late and it was an SRO congregation. A very kind gentleman in the back got up to offer me his seat which I took with gratitude.

Just as I was getting settled, the casket was borne into the church. I could see the pall covering the casket from the corner of my eye. As I turned round, I glanced at the top of the casket. There was his stole, set out on top, as it would have been in the sacristy before he vested.

I. Lost. It.


I felt punched in the gut as I bet over and began sobbing uncontrollably. I was vaguely aware that I was causing a scene and was mildly annoyed with myself and embarrassed, but I simply could not help myself.

I cried for that young Lutheran pastor and all the young men and women for whom I could not deeply grieve because to do so would have been, in itself, paralyzing. So, I had unconsciously bid Hypnos to come and render me unaware to the depth of pain I was feeling for all the losses I, personally - and we, as a community - had suffered.

It was more than that, however. Seeing that stole on the top of that casket came a little too close to my own life. There was my own mortality, staring me in the face.

All of us are wounded by mortality.

All of us try to anesthetize ourselves from the pain of that wound.

Critics of Christianity note that our focus on eternal life as the gift of the Resurrection of Jesus is our own religious anesthesia. That may well be true. One of the prayers we pray in the Burial Office is "may your faith be your consolation."

Well, if faith is the consolation prize for the wound of our mortality, I'll take it. I've certainly known those who have chosen worse possibilities - everything from taking daredevil risks to abusing drugs and alcohol to being emotionally unavailable and unable to enjoy any depth of intimacy.

Thanatos and Hypnos, the twin sons of of Nyx, are two constant companions in life. The former will not be denied, but the latter can be defied.

As painful as it is to be aware of the limits of our time here on this earthly plane, self awareness, as Yallom says, is a treasured, precious gift.

So, I offer this to my friends who are grieving: Do not be afraid to feel the pain of your loss. Do not be afraid to feel your own fear of death.  It only means that you understand the precious gift of life.

Go ahead: Weep. Cry. Sob. Lament. Each one honors God. Each tear we shed falls as a drop of thanksgiving for the gift of our creation and the incarnation of the life force within.

Thanatos may torment you. Hypnos may tempt you to ignore the fullness of life.

In the face of both, may your faith be your consolation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Revenge on the Hacker Nerds

Like most kids, I was absolutely enthralled by the adventures from the collection of "One Thousand and One Nights".

"Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" and "The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor" were among my favorites.

As a young adolescent, I loved the innovative and rich poetry and poetic speeches, chants, songs, lamentations, hymns, beseeching, praising, pleading, riddles and annotations provided by the Persian Princess, Scheherazade, or her story characters.

My elementary school friends and I used to dress up in our mother's shawls and scarfs and towels and giggle with delight as we flung open our arms in front of our Magic Cave - constructed out of a large cardboard box we pilfered from behind Mr. Mendoza's 'Discount Furniture Warehouse' on Brayton Avenue - and shouted "Open Sez Me!"

These days, I'm enthralled but not so delighted by the magic of the internet which also promises to open the secret treasures of knowledge of the universe at the click of a mouse or wave of a finger over the pad at the bottom of my laptop.

That one needs a password to gain entry into the "Information Superhighway" only serves to intensify the allure of the mystery and magic of technology.

Until, that is, one gets one's account 'hijacked' because a 'hacker' has figured out the magic of your password.

That seems to happen most frequently on FaceBook.

It hasn't happened for me in a while, thanks be to God, but for a time it seemed as if every other day I was needing to change my password.

The other day, I logged into FaceBook and had to use my password. No problem, right?

Except, I've changed it so often, and it's different from the ones I use for my online banking, cell phone, blog, google and yahoo group listservs that I couldn't remember it.

I ended up having to change it - AGAIN! - and slowly began to realize what an exercise in aggravation this whole internet experience has become.

Oh, I follow all the advice given by the 'experts' whom I am absolutely convinced are the nerdy boys in the sixth grade - the ones who wore white socks and argyle vests and thick black glasses and were always the ones with their hands up when teacher called and always had the right answer - who never got any of the class beauties to give them the time of day much less a smile.

Revenge of the nerds is no joke. We are living it now, people, and the stuff about passwords is just their way of having fun with us.

It's the Battle of the Nerds - the good guys ("experts") and the bad guys ("hackers"). Looks to me like the hackers are giving the experts a real run for their money.

Here's some "expert" advice about passwords:
+ Try to general avoid dictionary words, proper nouns, or foreign words. Detection software has been created to hack these types of passwords most easily. If you thought it would be clever to spell your favorite word backwards or simply tack numbers onto the end, you’re wrong; these types of tricks are also detectable.

+ Never use personal information. While it may be easier to remember dates of birth, pet names and the city you were born, it’s not a good idea. Skip addresses and phone numbers as well.

+ Make sure your password is different than you account/user name. This may seem obvious, but many people use similar passwords because they are easier to remember.

+ Unfortunately, a strong password requires some level of complexity. The longer the password, the more difficult it is to crack.We generally recommend creating passwords between 6 and 9 characters. Don’t forget to use uppercase and lowercase, numbers, and even symbols throughout the password.

+ The most obvious tip – make sure it’s not easily guessable. For example, try ‘ImuKat!’ instead of Imacat.

+ Avoid using the same password on multiple accounts. In the event that you get hacked (think Sony PlayStation Network a couple weeks ago), the hacker should not be able to access all of your accounts.

+ Never give away your password. If you need to grant someone temporary access to an account, change your password first so that you are able to change it back once they get what they needed.
Mind you, these are the same boyz who gave us these rules in the beginning. You know. When we were being told just how easy it was to use the internet.

Now that we're all hooked and have invested thousands of dollars in computers and lap tops, smart phones and iPads and Kindles, and pay all our bills on line, transfer our meager amounts of money from savings to checking accounts and order last minute flowers for a friend's birthday, it turns out nothing is easy and everything comes with a cost of some sort.

I have devised my own little plane I like to call "Revenge on the Hackers".  I think it would be fun to put in a little hidden meaning in the password. 
 I'm tempted to use something like:
it's long, funny and has one of my previous zip code interspersed with the word NERD.

Or,  how about:


- which is the birth date of my first born interspersed with the text message form for "You are a Jerk".

I'm sort of partial to:


- which is my father's birth date and various symbols interspersed with the message "Eat Crap and Die".

I would use the more vulgar form of the expression but I'm only willing to stoop so low.

I won't use any of these, of course, because I've got everything all set up now and memorized, with  different passwords for each of my many and various accounts, and I'm not changing it again. 

At least, not until the next time FaceBook won't let me access my own damn account because I logged on from my iPhone and they got all confused - even though they have my cell phone number - so I have to make up another password again.

At that point in time, my best advice is that you wrap all the fine crystal and china in bubble wrap,  shelter your babies and run for cover.

The Revenge on the Hacker Nerds is not going to be pretty.

Sinbad the Sailor ain't got nothing on me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"It has gotten personal now"

The "Monday morning quarterbacking" has begun on the landmark, historic, sea-changing vote for Marriage Equality in New York.

An article in the NY Times makes it pretty clear that Governor Andrew Cuomo made it happen by bringing together an unlikely coalition of forces.

Yes, he brought together a group of super-rich Republican donors to meet with two of his top advisers who explained that the Governor was determined to legalize same-sex marriage on his watch.

The strategy was to convince these donors that they had "the influence and the money to insulate nervous senators from conservative backlash if they supported the marriage measure. And they were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views".

NYT photo: Gov Cuomo signing the bill into law
Yes, the Governor also brought together five Queer activist organizations, who, he told them, had lost the 2009 bid by their rampant infighting and disorganization. Mr. Cuomo organized them into one coalition, "New Yorkers United for Marriage," and told them that he would be personally involved in their management.

“You can either focus on the goal, or we can spend a lot of time competing and destroying ourselves,” the governor said.

And, yes, with this Governor, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. His father, and former Governor, Mario Cuomo, rose to national prominence as the conscience of the Democratic Party, passionately defending the poor and assailing the death penalty.

In his first year as Governor, the younger-Mr. Cuomo had achieved what seemed like modern-day miracles by the standards of Albany — an austere on-time budget and a deal to cap property taxes.
But, as Mr. Cuomo explained by phone to his father a few weeks ago, he did not want those accomplishments to define his first year in office.

“They are operational,” he told his father. Passing same-sex marriage, by contrast, “is at the heart of leadership and progressive government.”

“I have to do this.”
And, yes, his strategy with the very powerful, influential Roman Catholic archdiocese was also a piece of how Mr. Cuomo made it happen.
When he learned that church leaders had objected to the language of the marriage legislation, he invited its lawyers to the Capitol to vent their frustration.

Mr. Cuomo even spoke to Archbishop Dolan about the push for same-sex marriage, emphasizing his respect and affection for the religious leader. An adviser described the governor’s message to Archbishop Dolan this way: “I have to do what I have to do. But your support over all is very important to me.”
NYT photo: Gov. Cuomo before the vote
Keen political insight and strategy.

Solid coalition building and community organizing.

Effective management and leadership.

Keeping church and state separate.

Political ambition.


Yes, yes, yes. All of these were the ingredients to a recipe for success. First, you begin with electing a Governor who will be supportive to your cause. (AKA "Preheat the oven to 350 and assemble all ingredients")

Other organizers and activists in other states, please take note.

However, I want to offer another aspect of 'most this amazing' law, because I don't believe Mr. Cuomo would have been effective without it.

It's the power of family.

Yes, Mr. Cuomo had campaigned on the issue of marriage equality in the race for governor last year. After his election, he was reportedly "staggered by the number of gay couples who sought him out at restaurants and on the street, prodding him, sometimes tearfully, to deliver on his word".

At the end of the day, however, it wasn't just Queer families who were the decisive ingredient. No, it was the families of the Governor, the Senators, and the Republican donors who provided the "secret ingredient" to this recipe for success.

Billionaire Paul Singer, who was one of the major Republican contributors to the Marriage Equality Campaign, has a son who is gay.

Mr. Cuomo’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, has an openly gay brother. Apparently, she frequently reminded the governor how much she wanted the law to change.

Democratic Senator Carl Kruger from Brooklyn, had voted against same-sex marriage two years ago. The gay nephew of the woman he lives with, Dorothy Turano, was so furious at Mr. Kruger for opposing same-sex marriage that he had cut off contact with both of them, devastating Ms. Turano.

“I don’t need this,” Mr. Kruger told Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic majority leader. “It has gotten personal now.”
Mr. Sampson, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, advised Mr. Kruger to focus on the nephew, not the political repercussions. “When everything else is gone,” Mr. Sampson told him, “all you have left is family.”
Let me just repeat that so we don't miss its significance:
“When everything else is gone, all you have left is family.”
This is precisely why so many Queer people remained in the closet for so many years. This is the reason so many will remain in the closet, even in the midst of a sea-change that is happening in our national conscience.

When faced with exclusion or expulsion by our families of origin, many of us have decided - and will continue to decide - that "When everything else is gone, all you have left is family."

When that is supported and compounded by judgment, exclusion and expulsion from our religious communities of faith, even cracking open the closet door requires courage of Herculean proportions.

This is why so many of us in "God's Rainbow Tribe" are so devoted to the concept of inclusion.

Indeed, this is the reason so many of us have created our own "families of choice" - both in terms of the trust and intimacy we share with people who are not our "blood-kin".

It is also the impulse to create our own families, adopting or having our own biological children or taking in foster children - the kids no one else wants.

And, when we choose not to have children, our four-legged friends become full members of our family circle, as cherished and loved as any child.

Queer people value families - perhaps more so than those who take them for granted because it's all so "normal" and "natural" for them. You don't often cherish something until it is threatened.

I remember a brief conversation I had many years ago with Otis Charles, retired Bishop of Utah and former President and Dean of The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He was also the first bishop to come out of the Lavender Closet in the House of Bishops, which he did after his retirement.

As I recall, we were standing on a street in Denver, CO, where General Convention was meeting that year. Otis said, "I remember clearly the morning we were taking the vote on the ordination of women. Elvira (his then wife), abruptly opened the shower door and said, 'Before you vote today, I want you to remind all your brother bishops that, at the end of the day, they will be coming home to their wives'".

"That," he said, "made the difference. At the end of this day, no one will be going home to face a spouse or even a family member who is gay."

Not so much anymore.

The Queer Community has taken the Religious Right's mantra of "family values" and turned it around to one that understands the value of families.

It's a powerful concept, one that is a force with which we are just now beginning to reckon in all of its political implications.

At the end of the day, I believe that it was the politics of family which opened hearts and minds as well as check books and helped to craft effective political organizing and strategy.

God Bless Governor Cuomo and all the legislators and activists - past and present - who made this landmark and historic vote happen.

May God also bless our families of whatever variety and constellation.

Families are the chief building blocks of any culture or society.

It is within those family structures that living, breathing, thriving cultural monuments to justice and mercy, peace and compassion are built.

"It has gotten personal now".

'Personal is political' - as we used to say in the early days of the feminist movement - and the politics of family is always personal.

It has ever been thus.

It's just that now we know it better than we ever did.

And, as we like to say in God's Rainbow Tribe, love not only makes a family, it changes everything.

You can't get much more personal - or political - than that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Making the Gospel Connection

The Sacrifice of Isaac - Caravaggio

Pentecost II – June 26, 2011 
All Saint’s, Rehoboth Beach
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

On first blush, there seems a serious disconnect between the lesson from Genesis and the Gospel reading from Matthew. 

How does one get from the reportedly divinely inspired attempted sacrifice of Isaac to these words of Jesus: “.  .  . .  and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward." 

And, whatever does Paul mean when he writes, “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification”?

This lesson from Genesis falls especially heavily on the ears and heart, especially after the conviction this week of former Lewes pediatrician, Earl Bradley, who was found guilty of twenty-four counts – involving seventy-five children – of first-degree rape, second-degree assault, and sexual exploitation of a child. Even though justice has been done, it’s still horrifying. That it comes this close to our doors makes it, at best, disconcerting.

Moving from divinely sanctioned murder, through sin and salvation, to Christ-directed kindness to children would be a huge stretch if you didn’t know the whole story of Abraham and Isaac. The story of this father and son neither begins nor ends with this passage.

Because this is a sermon and not a bible study, I’ll try to be very, very brief – just to put things into context.   

Abraham and Sarah were in their old age when Sarah was finally able to conceive and deliver Isaac. Prior to that, Sarah had given her Egyptian slave, Hagar, to Abraham to conceive a child (and you thought ‘surrogate pregnancies’ were a modern idea). 

Hagar delivered a male son, Ishmael, but after Sarah had Isaac, she had Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael, so there would never be any confusion that Isaac was the legitimate heir.

Hagar and Ishmael almost died in the desert, but Abraham reports that God told him that he would care for Ishmael and “make a nation of him” as well. God heard the cries of the child, we are told, and took pity on them both. Hagar and Ishmael spent out their days in the wilderness in Paran, and Ishmael became an expert with the bow.

Now, supposedly, all of these things were done because God was ‘testing’ Abraham. Well, at least that’s the way the ancient mind understood all these things. 

Me? I’m not buying it. 

We’ve seen 'modern' minds like David Koresh of the Branch Dividian Sect in Waco, Texas and Warren Jeffs who established a 1,700 acre ranch in the middle of a West Texas prairie he called “Yearning for Zion” where he married off 15 year old girls to 50 year old men because, he said, God told him that this was “God’s plan”. Besides, it’s right there in the Bible. See?

I don’t know why Abraham did what he did. I don’t know if he was so overwhelmed with feelings of guilt about what he had done to Hagar and Ishmael that, in a moment of insanity he heard God direct him to ‘sacrifice’ his son Isaac to God. And then, when he came to his senses and understood what he was about to do, he again ‘heard God’ tell him to stop. 

Or, perhaps, in retrospect, he understood the interruption of this insanity as divine intervention.

Who knows? Only God knows for certain. 

What we do have is this ancient story which, when pieced together with bits and pieces hidden in the next few chapters, we learn that Isaac did not escape unharmed from this incident. 

And, neither did Abraham. Or, Sarah.

What we know of Isaac isn’t until much later – when he meets Rebekah, who will become his wife.  He had been living in the Negeb, which, interestingly enough, is where Hagar and Ishmael were also living. 

It’s speculation, of course, but it seems that Isaac had been so traumatized by this incident with his father that he could no longer live with him or his mother. It would appear that he sought solace and refuge with his stepmother Hagar and his stepbrother Ishmael.

Indeed, nowhere in Genesis do we read that Abraham and Isaac ever saw each other again after this traumatic, horrifying, near-death incident. When his mother Sarah dies, there is no mention of Isaac being present to mourn his mother.  

All we know is that Abraham went through great pains to get a wife for Isaac – sending his servant Eliezar all the way back to Haran to find a woman who was suitable for Isaac, adding an interesting command.

The woman whom Eliezar selects for Isaac’s wife must come of her own free will.

Free will? How interesting that Abraham insists that the wife he chooses for his son will be allowed that which Abraham denied Isaac. 

Apparently, Abraham has learned a hard lesson from this incident. By the grace of God, we grow in wisdom and grace and generosity.

You can read the story of Rebekah and Isaac for yourself, but we what we learn is that Isaac loved Rebekah. In all the stories in Hebrew Scripture, here is no other couple about whom this is written.

Isaac loved Rebekah. 

You won’t find ‘Abraham loved Sarah’. You’ll read that David lusted after Bathsheba but not that he loved her.

Isaac loved Rebekah. It’s a great gift – to be able to love and be loved after what can only be considered a traumatic experience at the hands of his own father.

Now, I tell you all of this on a hot Sunday in summer, as a way to explain the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus is pretty clear about his preferential option for the needs and concerns of children. He’s also pretty clear that He is authorizing his disciples to act on His behalf because He has been authorized by God to do all that He does. No longer wandering in the wilderness, we are authorized as His representatives because Jesus has shown us the Way.

St. Paul echoes this theme in his Epistle to the ancient church in Rome. 

We have been given the gift of free will, but that does not relieve us of our own personal responsibility for our own actions. 
“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”, he asks, “By no means!”, he says, adding, “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
Earl Bradley, like David Koresh and Warren Jeffs, cannot blame their behavior on God, no matter how hard they try. 

So, too, must we take responsibility for our own actions as moral agents in this world.  We cannot pick and choose among the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures or the teachings of Jesus as a way to justify actions which oppress or enslave or harm others. 

Indeed, in the great debate over Marriage Equality, which passed the NY Senate on Friday evening and will be signed into law, Governor Cuomo said, 
“The issue here is literally of religious freedom. This is not about marriage in a religious term. This is a civil law issue, and we want to make sure we keep it separate.”

He added, “I happen to be a (Roman) Catholic, and that’s my business. That’s my religion. This is about marriage as defined by government not by religion.”
Even Republican Senator Mark Grisanti, himself a devout Roman Catholic, who crossed the aisle to cast an affirmative vote for Marriage Equality eloquently said, 
"I struggled with the word marriage but I also struggled with the rights of gay and lesbian couples. It boils down to a person can be wiser today than he was yesterday – and I can't deny others the rights my wife and I enjoy."
A person can be wiser today than he was yesterday. 

Everyone has prejudices and biases. Everyone. Including me. 

However, we cannot use bits and pieces of scripture or the tenants of our religious beliefs to bolster or support bigotry and use it to deny the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution. 

Polygamy was widely practiced in Ancient Israel. It is against the law today - well, in this country, anyway.

We are wiser today than we were yesterday.

David Koresh and Warren Jeffs may try to use Scripture to bolster their claim of innocence, but they only have one piece of the story. 

At the end of the day, we have laws against polygamy because it is a legal and moral issue, not just one found in Scripture.  And, because we are wiser today than we were yesterday.

Apparently, so was Abraham.

As one of my mentors once said to me, “You have the absolute right to swing your arms as wildly as you choose, but that right stops at the end of my nose.”

You can’t use the scriptural story of Abraham and Isaac to justify child abuse – or, any form of abuse or violence. 

As Christians, we are followers of Jesus. Not Moses. Not Abraham. Not Paul. Not Peter.


It is Jesus who, taking the whole story of teaching of the prophets together, has authorized us in baptism to be his moral agents of justice in the world. 

We don’t have to like it. We’re even allowed to grumble and moan. (No whining, though. It’s not against the law, but it’s a rule in my house. No whining. And, no sniveling. Just ask my kids.)

However, we cannot – we must not – allow what is right to be subverted by bits and pieces of scripture which we interpret out of the context of the whole story of the history of our salvation. 

We have been given Jesus, who is “The Way” through the wilderness of moral and ethical dilemmas and changing cultural challenges and places us on the path of righteousness and faith so that, in the end, we might enjoy life eternal.

My friend and clergy colleague, Michael Hopkins recently wrote that he was reminded of something the then Lutheran Bishop of the Washington Metro Area said to his Diocesan Convention in Washington many years ago. 
"Progressives in the Church need to remember that God never changes; traditionalists need to remember that God is always doing a new thing."
The challenge of living our faith is contained within the prayer of this morning’s collect: 
Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and the prophets, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns in unity with God and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Thank you, New York.

I am still dizzy with delight this morning.

I watched the live-stream video of the NY Senate vote last night. Normally, this stuff is like watching paint dry, but I was sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time.

I know. I know. Massachusetts was first. And, there's Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia with full Marriage Equality.

I'm not sure why this particular "win" felt so different.

Okay, so there's the fact that the NY Senate has a decided Republican majority and four - count 'em 1, 2, 3, 4 - Republicans crossed the aisle to cast an affirmative vote.

That made up for the one Democrat, Ruben Diaz from the Bronx, who made an embarrassing, rambling display of bigotry, compounded by the fact that he hid behind the brocaded robes and bigoted words of the RC Archbishop of NY and then chided Republicans for really being Democrats. He said it like it was a bad thing. Remember: Diaz is, himself, a Democrat.

As I've always said, prejudice destroys brain cells. This guy sounded as if he was trying to earn his credentials as a member of the Tea Bag Party.

And, and, AND . . . that was all redeemed in that incredible moment when Republican Senator Grisanti rose to say,
"I struggled with the word marriage but I also struggled with the rights of gay and lesbian couples. It boils down to a person can be wiser today than he was yesterday -- and I can't deny others the rights my wife and I enjoy."
This is HUGE, people. HUGE!

It's huge because the new law also insists on maximal religious liberty for those who conscientiously oppose marriage equality. Imagine! Queers and our progressive allies setting the example for a clear delineation of the lines between church and state.

Imagine! Queers and our allies protecting the rights of bigots to practice their religious bigotry and prejudice - the very people who seek to deny the civil rights of others.

The church emerged from this struggle with a huge black eye. The irony is that it is self-inflicted.

Even so, it must be said that many, many religious leaders, across the broad interfaith religious spectrum, joined together to speak to that separation of church and state to lobby legislators about the importance of civil rights for all.

Assemblyman Nelson Castro, age 39 and a former RC and present devout Seventh Day Adventist, was one of three religious Democrats who changed their position last week as the Assembly passed a gay marriage bill 80-63 and sent it to the Senate.

He said, “I think marriage should be between a man and a woman, but I don’t have the right to prohibit others to have the right to get married."

Indeed, Senator Grisanti who spoke so eloquently last night and voted affirmatively for this legislation is a devout Roman Catholic. Well, he may find himself excommunicated on Sunday, but at least as of today, he remains a Roman Catholic.

Another HUGE difference is that, in this campaign, marriage-equality activists were more organized this year. Castro noted that, in 2009, “the LGBT community never showed up to lobby me."

We've done a great deal of work in our own community on our own racism. That work has begun to pay off. You can't change prejudice while still holding onto your own personal prejudices.

Sounds simple enough, right? Of course, it isn't. It's a hard lesson well learned. And, it can't stop here. We have got to use our alliances and organizational skills to work on all the issues of justice, or we'll have no credibility.

It's also just smart politics. It reminds me of something my Grandmother used to say. "You can work hard or you can work smart. You'll still break a sweat, but you'll be more effective if you work smart."

And, and, AND. . . without the support and lobbying efforts of Governor Andy Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, this would not have happened.

Late Friday Cuomo said he was open to changing the language in the bill passed by the Assembly to include more religious protections, similar to a bill that narrowly passed the New Hampshire state legislature in 2009.
“The issue here is literally of religious freedom,” Cuomo said to reporters Friday afternoon. “This is not about marriage in a religious term. This is a civil law issue, and we want to make sure we keep it separate.”

He added, “I happen to be a Catholic, and that’s my business. That’s my religion. This is about marriage as defined by government not by religion.”
Can I get an "Amen!"?

The State doesn't tell us who we can Baptize or to whom we can distribute Holy Eucharist or any of the other five Sacramental Rites, much less authorize those who are ordained to administer the Sacraments or Sacramental Rites. Why should the State have anything to say about the Sacramental Rite of Marriage?

Some of the heroes of this victory, however, are unsung. Yes, there are the "stars," but there are also those who spent numerous hours making phone calls and having difficult, private conversations with Queer people as well as those who could not have imagined, in 2009, supporting Marriage Equality.

The real heroes, however, are those numbered among the Saints in Heaven. I keep remembering all my brothers who died in the early days of AIDS saying, "Something good has to come out of this plague. Hearts and minds have to change, some redemption has to emerge because of this unearned suffering."

The more of us who came out of the closet of fear and broke the silence that was killing us, the healthier we got, even though some of us died waiting for justice and health and healing.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”
I keep hearing Harvey Milk saying,
"I cannot prevent anyone from getting angry, or mad, or frustrated. I can only hope that they’ll turn that anger and frustration and madness into something positive, so that two, three, four, five hundred will step forward, so the gay doctors will come out, the gay lawyers, the gay judges, gay bankers, gay architects … I hope that every professional gay will say ‘enough’, come forward and tell everybody, wear a sign, let the world know. Maybe that will help.”
I think it did, Harvey. I think it did.

The more of us who came out as self-affirming Queers, the better we were able to warm hearts with our humanity and open minds that had been closed by ignorance and misunderstanding.

In the end, as it was in the beginning, it's all about the Incarnation. It's about embodying your beliefs and values and living with as much authenticity and integrity and honesty as you can possibly muster.

It's all about confronting those who are "offended" by "one of those" by being "one of them" and showing them just how wrong they really are.

It's about showing up for your life, even when others don't want you there, and breaking the silence and shattering the secrets and telling the truth everyone pays lip service to but no one really wants to hear: That we are all created by God.

We are, each and every one of us, God's children. Individual and yet equal in the sight of God.

And, under the law.

Harvey, of course, lost his life to the battle against the bigotry of homophobia. He knew the risks. Indeed, he once said, "“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

What happened in New York has helped to break down barriers and will continue to help people - especially young Queer people - come out of their closets of shame and fear and be all that God made them to be.

"Ya gotta give 'em hope!" Said Harvey.

I think that's really the sea change of Marriage Equality in New York. We have hope. The arc of history is long, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, but it always bends toward hope.

Last night, the arc bent just enough to make it just a little easier for the next state struggling for Marriage Equality.

What's that saying about New York, New York?: "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere."

It's up to us to honor the legacy and continue the struggle - state by state - until civil rights for all is the law of the land everywhere for everyone.

We have many more miles to go, but we stand on the shoulders of giants of justice. Our lessons are learned. Our legacy is rich and great.

Now, onto California - with more hope in our hearts than we dared imagine was possible.

Thank you, New York.

And, thank you, Harvey.

"Ya gotta give 'em hope!"

Friday, June 24, 2011


"Our Lady" - Alma Lopez
Bristol Palin, the 20 year old unwed mother and daughter of Sarah Palin, has written a book entitled, "Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far". In it, she reveals that on the night she conceived,
“I didn’t know that girl-flavored wine coolers were just as likely to get you drunk as the hard stuff” while she was on a camping trip with then boyfriend Levi Johnston.

Before the incident, she vowed to wait until marriage but with no memories of what happened, she got pregnant regardless of being on birth control pills to treat cramps.
Now, I'm working hard to put aside my temptation to make snide remarks about this "confession" of her "unconscious conception" whilst on "girl-flavored wine coolers" as well as any about Sarah Palin.

Instead, I want to ask what is to me an obvious question: Doesn't sex involve two people?

Which is not to defend Mrs. Palin's darling daughter but to ask why she has been excoriated and Levi Johnston, who was not, presumably, drinking "girl-flavored wine," not held up for equal accountability and responsibility?

He's the "playboy". She's the promiscuous tramp. 

Although you'll never find it written down anywhere, there is, nevertheless, an ancient, unwritten cultural double standard for women.

There seems to be two extremes: A woman is either whore or virgin.

If she is a whore, she is the object of scorn and ridicule and, in some cultures, punishment and death.

If she is a virgin, then she is the "property" of her father who "gives her hand in marriage" to another man. She is expected to remain the "property" of her husband for the rest of her life. The husband, however, because of "natural law," can't possibly be expected to only have one woman.

So, if he has "played around" and had sex before marriage, or if he is unfaithful to his marriage vows, well, see, he just can't help himself. He's just a man. It's genetic. In his DNA. What's to be done?

We have lots of terms for men who "stray," most of which have connotations which are complimentary. The "other woman" with whom he has strayed, however, does not often fare as well. Indeed, she's often blamed as the reason the poor man strayed in the first place - "seductress" and "home wrecker" and "Jezebel" - that she is.

Scripture and the institutional church's attitudes toward women in general and women's bodies in particular only reinforce these cultural attitudes. Indeed, they are often the genesis of these ideas and ideals about women and their bodies.

The Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary
Case in point: Mary. The Theotokos. The God-bearer. The Holy, Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

We like her pure, thank you very much, her body robed in demure colors of white (for virginity) and blue (I guess because she had a boy), often with touches of red (for His blood, shed for us), her long hair - the symbol of her sexuality - properly covered in a white veil (representing not only her modesty but the 'veil' between heaven and earth).

And, of course, she often has the same pierced heart as her son, symbolic of the suffering she experienced in having her son sacrificed on the cross, and emblematic of the suffering we share as Christians.

As a good Roman Catholic girl, this was the image of womanhood held up for us by the nuns of my youth - they, themselves, all covered up in black with white wimples stretched taughtly around their faces, foreheads and necks.

It was they who gave me the conflicted message of the church about sexuality: "Sex is bad. Save it for someone you love."

I was also carefully taught all those things about which former Roman Catholics now find humor - because, if we don't laugh, we'll go crazy.

Good RC girls did not wear their hair in pony tails because it was viewed as a phallic symbol, which curiously enough, was supposed to excite the male libido.

We weren't allowed to wear patten leather shoes because they reflect up (our skirts).

We were told to bring a phone book with us on dates - just in case the car was full and we had to sit on a boy's lap (I swear to God, it's true!) - so we wouldn't 'inadvertently' excite them.

And, we were told not to hold hands with boys because, as the sage aphorism went, "Whenever there is 'skin to skin' there is an opportunity for sin."

Like Son, like Mother.
I am not making this up. 

Those are the major ones. Then there are the things we learned about women through liturgy.

Like the "purification of women" that went along with the reception and blessing of the baby in the church before baptism.

Or, that women had to wear hats and gloves to church because of their impurity.

And, if we had any doubts - any doubts at all - about the inherent impurity and inferiority of women, there was the obvious absence of women as clergy, as well as the strict prohibition of girls or women serving at the altar or even reading from Scripture.

The "body politics" of the institutional church are always bubbling just under the surface of all doctrine, all polity, all practice.

Lupe & Sirena in Love
So, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that the art work of a Latina woman, feminist and lesbian, Alma Lopez, is causing controversy in the church.

That's her portrait of "Our Lady of Guadalupe" at the top of this post, which shows the Virgin of Guadalupe in a bikini made of roses, held up by a bare-breasted butterfly.

She also did one my personal favorites,  "Lupe and Sirena in love" which you see there on your left.

Her work was recently exhibited at University College Cork in Ireland where it - and her talk - were the target of protest which demanded that the event, “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas (Saints)” be cancelled.

Lopez is also there to promote her new book “Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez's 'Irreverent' Apparition” at the university’s conference on Chicano/a culture.

When Lopez's work was first exhibited in 2001, there were death threats, censorship efforts, and violent protests. In Ireland, the right wing has organized a “Please Stop This blasphemy!” campaign, urging people to send the university a message that concludes:
“In my opinion, these are blasphemous events that offend Our Lady’s spotless purity, insult Catholics and undermine God’s natural order. To avoid such grave blasphemy, offense and scandal, I respectfully urge you to cancel these events.”
Ah, all the right words which I remember from my youth: Blasphemy. Spotless purity. Insult. Undermine. Natural Order. Offense. Scandal.

This from a church which not only participates in and perpetuates sexism, misogyny and the oppression of women, but has tolerated the physical and sexual abuse of children for years, obfuscating justice with silence, secrecy, lies and quiet "transfers".

Excuse me but I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

John Buckley, Catholic bishop of Cork and Ross, described the exhibition as "unacceptable", adding "respect for Mary, the mother of God, is bred in the bones of Irish people and entwined in their lives".

Interesting. I didn't know that all Irish people are "devout Catholics" - or even Catholic at all.

Truth by blatant assertion. It has ever been this with the RC Church hierarchy.

Women around the world are under siege as a new post-modern wave of sexism and misogyny overwhelms us. There are the astounding increases in the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution and slavery, "honor" murders in the Middle East and "acid assaults" India, rape as a weapon of war in the Global South, female genital mutilation as an acceptable "rite of passage', and the continued attacks to prohibit or erode reproductive rights for women, just to name a few examples.

The art of Alma Lopez is under attack because it dares to communicate a message about women in general and Mary in particular which the church hierarchy wishes to suppress.

It is a message about the right of women to claim ownership of our own bodies. It is a message about the power of a woman's sexuality and sensuality and how that is a vehicle of spirituality.

It is, in my mind, a way to heal the ancient rift between sexuality and spirituality by unveiling that power hidden for centuries behind long white and blue robes.

It displays not a desire to offend or a need to scandal, but the deep devotion of the artist to a Most Holy Woman. She is portrayed as a sensual woman, with a round belly and broad hips and full breasts, who stands with hands on her hips, near-naked and unashamed.

The bare breasted butterfly woman who is supporting her represents all women who find strength and courage from this image of divinity, interpreted for us by one of our own. We support "Our Lady" and her on-going apparitions to us in the work of our lives of faith.

Ms. Lopez writes:
I admit, I was surprised by the violent reaction to Our Lady because I am a community artist born in Mexico and raised in California with the Virgen as a constant in my home and my community. I know that there is nothing wrong with this image which was inspired by the experiences of many Chicanas and their complex relationship to La Virgen de Guadalupe. I am not the first Chicana to reinterpret the image with a feminist perspective, and I'm positive I won't be the last.
If you would like to take part in the counter-protest, and let your feminist voice be heard, please visit the post over at the FABULOUS blog, "Jesus In Love."

You will find there names and addresses and links to various religious organizations who are protesting Ms. Lopez's art as well as ways to send messages to the artist and the university, supporting their courageous stand in the face of such ignorance and adversity.

I hope you'll find a way to talk about this work and the issues it raises about sexuality, spirituality and women. I hope you'll have these conversations in church, at work, with your friends and colleagues.

There is a difference between blasphemy and art.

This is art. It is, for me, iconic.  As such, it is an icon, a window into The Divine which provides a way to deepen my spiritual relationship with God and others through the Theotokos.

If the church finds offense in that, I would remind them that this exhibit is not appearing in a church. It is only exhibited in a state universities and private museums. You know, like lots of other religious art.

I would also repeat my own variation of the words reportedly said by Jesus in Matthew 7:5:
"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your sister's eye."
"The Men in Black" (or red or purple), need to be reminded that their response to a woman's body is their responsibility. It is not a woman's responsibility to organize her life to the pleasure or priorities of men, or dress in a certain way so as not to "entice" the male members of the species.

And, even if she does - because she likes the breasts or hips or thighs or legs which God gave her - it's still a man's responsibility to monitor and control his own responses.

Even though I obviously disagree with either her politics or her religious beliefs, as it turns out, Bristol Palin is a feminist - even if unconsciously so. And, I'm not talking about being under the influence of "girl-flavored wine coolers."

The title of her book is:  "Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far".

That could have been the title of a book written by an young Galilean woman named Mary, who, for me, was one of the first feminists.

"Not Afraid of Life" could aptly title of the collection of work by the artist Alma Lopez.

It could also be the mantra of feminists and Christian women who are feminists.

The really scary thing is the deadly politics of institutional church doctrine and polity which seek to stifle the lives - and bodies, and voices, and artistic expressions - of women.

That, my friends, is the real blasphemy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Funny church signs

There is a veritable plethora of little churches in Lower Slower Delaware.   I have observed an unwritten rule in LSD: the smaller the church, the larger the sign out front, the funnier the message.

I am driving to Wilmington next Thursday and I am planning to leave an additional hour just to be able to stop and take pictures along the way to post here. 

Until then, you are going to have to be entertained with these.
I'm not sure this message is the most effective way to boost your ASA (Average Sunday Attendance), but it is pretty telling, isn't it?

Although for some, it's a more meaningful experience than the liturgy or sermon.

True enough. Ms. Conroy tells me it's "O'Shaughnessy".   

What if I don't want them back? Oh, right. You take them to the 'Redemption Center'.

Umm . . . I think I'd rather go to the 'Redemption Center' than Walmart.

Yeah, but nothing tastes as sweet as 'forbidden fruit jam'.  I'm thinking Pastor Jim might have a stash of the stuff somewhere in his Study.

And, last but not least . . . .  . I saved the worst for last.

So, do make sure you get to church at 10:50 like the sign says. Not 10:49. Not 10:51. 10:50. Otherwise, you might miss your flight to heaven and have to stay in bed shouting God's name.

See also: the sign that says "Don't let worries kill you. Let the church help."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Including bigots?

I want to pick up on two threads from the comment section in yesterday's post "Argumentative Theory of Reasoning".

It was Grandmère Mimi over at Wounded Bird who questioned my distinction between prejudice and bigotry.

As I explained, according to Wiki:
A prejudice is a prejudgment, an assumption made about someone or something before having adequate knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy. The word prejudice is most commonly used to refer to preconceived judgments toward people or a person because of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, homelessness, age, disability, obesity, religion, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics. It also means beliefs without knowledge of the facts.

A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. The predominant usage in modern English refers to persons hostile to those of differing race, ethnicity, religion or spirituality, nationality, inter-regional prejudice, gender and sexual orientation, homelessness, various medical disorders particularly behavioral disorders and addictive disorders. Forms of bigotry may have a related ideology or world views.
Both words refer to "assumptions" made about people. The difference, for me, is the issue of "obstinacy" and "intolerance" and, especially expressed animosity.

I have several biases - inclinations to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of (possibly equally valid) alternatives - which sometimes form prejudices.

For example, I confess that what I consider my "natural" inclination (bias) towards women can lead me to an assumption (prejudice) about their superior ability to fulfill the various roles of leadership in the councils and corridors of the church.

That's my bias and my prejudice, which means that I have sometimes been wrong in my decision about some women who have been elected to offices of leadership in both the church and secular life.

All that being said, I'm not blind. I do understand that just because Sarah Palin is a woman doesn't mean that she's suitable for the Office of President or Vice President of the United States. I have a similar view of Michele Bachmann.

While I would never vote for either of these women, I would never do anything to inhibit or prohibit their election to office. If I did, I would move from being someone with admitted biases and prejudices to being a bigot.

See the difference?

I have -  and everyone has - whether they are willing to admit it or not - biases and prejudices. It's just ever so much easier - and healthier - when we can admit to them. My experience with bigots - and I've known more than my share - is that most of them would be horrified to hear anyone call them a bigot. That's because they have a hard time admitting their biases and prejudices.

That takes maturity. And, honesty. And, that takes a lot of work.  Unexamined biases and prejudices place us on the dimly lit road to bigotry.

Now, voting against someone like Mrs. Palin or Mrs. Bachmann does not make me a bigot. Neither does expressing my opinions or trying to persuade someone else not to vote for them.

If, however, I intentionally tried to do something to harm either one of these women, or deny them their basic civil or human rights because they are women who do not hold the same world or political view that I do, that would make me a bigot.

That being said, the dynamic of power is complicated and begins to shade the differences between bias, prejudice and bigotry.

Often, bigots are simply enamored of holding strongly to controversial ideas without much regard to the logical consequences of such ideas. They often defend their ideas by denying that they have any power to effect change or hurt anyone.

Not being powerful, individually, the bigot may consider his or her presence neutral. But, what happens if this 'neutral' environment is a business or a church?

Could it be that the bigot is simply surrounded by like-minded individuals? Could it be that people are unwittingly tolerant of, say, racist ideas?

Questions such as these are very relevant to issues like institutional racism/sexism/homophobia and affirmative action. The bigot's acknowledged racism and 'forgiven' powerlessness becomes a source of conflict when an institution's credibility is called into question.

"It's okay for Marge Schott to be a bigot because she runs a good baseball team." Or "It's ok for Darryl Gates to be a bigot because he runs the police department".

Unfortunately this easily translates into justifications which include an 'excusable minority' of bigots. "It's ok for some police officers in Philadelphia to be bigots, because on the whole most officers are not". Or "it's okay for that fraternity to be bigots because they need a home too." Or "It's okay for black people to be bigots because most white people are."

I want to return to the original distinction I made about bias, prejudice and bigotry. The bottom line for me is the issue of "obstinacy" and "intolerance" and, especially expressed animosity.

There ought to be no - zero, zip, nada - tolerance for bigotry in the church or public service agency or any other community. The bigot ought rightly to be confronted and clear lines of expected behavior drawn.

Everyone has a right to their biases and prejudices. I would even go so far as to say that everyone has a right to bigotry. No one has a right to use their biases, prejudices or bigotry as a reason to do harm or to limit anyone else's right to the pursuit of "life, liberty and happiness".

That's a very simplistic explanation. I don't mean to "dummy it down". I'm trying to keep it simple so that my words and intentions are clear. And, because I think it's a very important distinction to make, especially in the present super-heated cultural environment where sexism, racism and homophobia are running rampant - even in the institutional church.

The second question raised by yesterday's reflections include why I did not "come out" to the Vestry as part of the way I introduced myself.

Funny, you know. When I'm in a social situation, a stranger never comes up to me and says, "Hi, I'm Mary. I'm a heterosexual."  Come to think of it, no one says, "Hi, I'm Steve, and I really love horses." Or, "Hi, I'm Joan and I was molested by my father."

When and if that social custom begins to take place - where it is expected that, as part of the introduction, we are to include something significant about ourselves, I might - might - consider it. I can assure you, however, that it won't be my sexual orientation.

It is not my responsibility to make certain that everyone knows my personal life so they can either flip out or feel more comfortable knowing everything about me - or, at least, one aspect of my humanity.

It's not a 'strategy'. I'm not trying to get someone to know me and like me so that it's more difficult to hate me once they learn about my sexual orientation.

Neither is it being deceitful or duplicitous. I have nothing to hide. It's simply not necessary. 

And, it's not about fearing not being liked. It's okay. I've gotten used to it, over the years. I don't need to be liked. Oh, I did. Once. A long time ago. But, not so much anymore. That tends to happen the more you understand that being "liked" is not anywhere near as important as knowing the you are loved and, indeed, cherished by God.

It's also part of the growth and development of a Christian committed to the Servant Ministry of Jesus.

A quick story: Verna Dozier was the preacher at the consecration of Jane Holmes Dixon as the Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of DC and the second woman elected to the episcopacy in The Episcopal Church.

Verna and Jane had been friends for a long, long time. When it came time for Jane to receive the "charge" for her ministry, Verna - a little itty bitty woman in stature but a spiritual giant - called out from behind the massive marble pulpit at the National Cathedral and said, "Jane Holmes Dixon, stand up."

As Jane rose from her seat, you could feel the entire congregation moving to the end of our seats, the hair on the back of our necks standing at full attention.

Miz Dozier said, "Everyone - and, more than our share in Christian community - has a place within each of our souls, that wants desperately to be liked.  It often gets in the way of doing the work that Jesus calls us to do. Jane Holmes Dixon, if you are going to be an effective Servant Leader of Jesus Christ, you must find that place in you that wants desperately to be liked, And. Let. It. Die."

Most of those in that congregation who were in leadership roles in the church - lay and ordained - gasped because, whether we wanted to admit it or not, we knew exactly what Miz Dozier was saying.

Jesus never said, "Like one another".  He said, "Love one another."

Sometimes, doing what Jesus says to do - like, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending to lepers and prisoners, caring for the widow and orphan, loving each other as He loves us beyond our biases and prejudices about race, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age, or physical or emotional or intellectual ability - means that some people will not like us.

Jesus assures us, however, that we are loved. That God loves us so much that each of our names are written on the palm of God. Which means, even the people we don't like or those who don't like us.

That love inspires hope which gives us confidence to live a life of faith.

It's a mysterious gift. I don't pretend to know how it works. I only know that it does.

I remember a little poem by Edward Markham which I learned long ago. It's from "The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems", written in (1913)
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
That's the real challenge for the church: How to draw the circle large enough that takes in even those that want to exclude.

Can the church draw a circle large enough to include bigots? I would like to think so, but I fear we are being sorely tested.

Some have left The Episcopal Church, not wanting to be included with those they would exclude. That's their choice. It makes me sad, but I wish them well.

Jesus didn't say, "Like one another." He said, "Love one another".

It has ever been thus in the church. The first great controversy in the church was whether or not Gentiles could be admitted to the fold. And, if they did, should they be compelled to be circumcised?

Then, it was women. Then, it was people of color. Then, it was people of color to the status of ordination. Then, it was people to the status of the episcopacy. Then, it was woman to the status of ordination. Then, is was women to the status of the episcopacy. Then, it was "homosexuals" . . . .

It will go on and on, I suppose. As long as there is an institutional church, we'll be fighting these battles against bias, prejudice and bigotry. And, we'll continue trying to draw the circle larger and larger until, as Jesus asked, we "make disciples of all nations."

We can only do that, I think, through love. As mysterious and seemingly impossible a vocation as that is, I can't imagine it happening any other way.

I believe that Love changes everything. Yes, even bigots.  Frankly, I don't think anything else will.

Jesus didn't say, "Like one another." He said, "Love one another".

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Argumentative Theory of Reasoning

Mark Twain reportedly said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and you will annoy the pig."

Turns out, Mark Twain may have been right.

Last week, the NY Times ran an article about the assumption of those in the fields of psychological science and philosophy that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth.

The evolution of rationality and the ability to reason, it has been believed, allowed an individual to forge a path of enlightenment to philosophical, moral and scientific thinking.

New research challenges this assumption, and suggests that reason evolved as an extension of the hard-wired human compulsion to win in battle - extended, now, to a war of words.
According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.
Well, that explains a lot, doesn't it?

I call it "The Perry Mason Effect," but the influence could also come from other television show like "LA Law" and "Law and Order".

What we've learned is that prosecutors and defense lawyers are passionate about constructing the strongest possible argument. That's their job. That's what they are paid to do. The belief is that this process will reveal the truth, just as the best idea will triumph in what John Stuart Mill called the “marketplace of ideas.”

What we've learned, however, is that legal cases are not built so much on finding "the truth" but winning. We've seen that politics play a big part. The District Attorney has to be "strong" on certain issues or s/he won't get reelected - or, perform as well in a planned future bid for election as governor.

Justice is supposed to be blind, but political ambition is often blind to justice.

Mr. Mill's theory of the "marketplace of ideas" seems to have been hijacked by the media which often dumps so many biased 'ideas' and speculation into our living rooms and car radios that "the truth" - much less the possibility of a 'fair trial' - is severely compromised.

Somebody's got to win and somebody's got to lose. In today's world, it is more often the case that the one with the best presentation in court wins. Survival of the fittest has extended its evolution into the rhetoric of human interaction.

Beyond debating techniques or compelling closing arguments - or just below the surface of them - is the old caveman impulse to beat someone over the head with a club until you can drag them back to your cave. In these post-modern times, our words have become our club.

Last night, I met to consult with a vestry of a congregation which is in a search process to call a new rector. I've often joked about consultants and now I find that I'm becoming one.

One of the jokes about a consultant is that their job is to look at your watch and tell you what time it is. I must be doing this wrong because I'm finding that it is not as easy as it looks.

The issues before us were two: "the process" and "the prejudices" in the search for a new rector. "The process" part was complicated by an interesting policy and procedure in that particular diocese.

All potential candidates are vetted by the bishop's office - BEFORE the Search Committee is allowed to look over their resumes or interview the potential candidate. It is the bishop's office that presents 3-5 potential candidates for an interview and possible call. In the end, the Search Committee in that diocese is charged with presenting one - just ONE - candidate for Vestry approval.

The Vestry does not have a chance to interview the potential candidate. They are, however, allowed to meet "socially" with him/her before the final vote.

I'm astounded by this practice, honoring and respecting, as I do, the legal, fiduciary and spiritual responsibilities of the Vestry as Servant Leaders of the community of faith. Even so, it is what it is, and there was no sense registering my complaints with that process. You work with what you've got.

So, we talked about the nature of their community and what their profile said about them and what their liturgical practices - and yes, even their budget - revealed about their priorities and values and theology.

We talked about what questions they might ask of the Search Committee to get the information they needed in order to keep everyone on the same page and how to trust the process and the way the Holy Spirit can and does work through politics and personalities.

We talked about family systems and anxiety and the natural inclination in the system to deal with anxiety through triangulation (thank you, Ed Friedman). We also talked about strategies for the Vestry's "non interview" of the candidate at the allowed 'social event'.

We also talked about the Vestry's final vote of the one potential candidate - whether or not it was to be a simple majority, a super majority or a unanimous vote, and what that meant to both the congregation as well as the candidate as a symbol of support for both the candidate as well as their leadership.

Then, we got to prejudices. No, they had no issues with a woman as their rector. No, they had no issues with a person of color as their rector - although, in that community, some . . . umm. . ."challenges" . . . . would no doubt present themselves. I assured them that a person of color in a predominantly Caucasian community would come into that situation with his or her eyes wide open.

Hmmm . . . What about a person with disabilities No problem, really. We've got walkers and crutches and wheelchairs, someone joked nervously. "But, what about pastoral visits," someone mused out loud. Hmmmm . . . . Never thought about that, they all agreed. And, we probably should.

So, let's see, that leaves us with . . .. hmmm . . .. anybody guess? Anybody? Bueller? Anybody?

One woman slapped her hand on the table and said, "It's me. I'm very clear. I can not - will not - accept "one of those" . . . a homosexual . . . as my pastor."

Funny thing. I found myself admiring her for her honesty and integrity.  Give me someone who can honestly admit their prejudices and take a stand any day over those who profess to have none and smile and nod and then cave into conflict in the name of "peace". 

No justice, no peace. Know justice, know peace.

Now, I should tell you that I revealed nothing about my own personal circumstances. Only that "we" had six children and five grandchildren and that family was my first vocation and highest priority.

Some of the other Vestry members sprang into mildly, barely concealed outrage. They asked her questions - very pointed questions - which she answered gracefully but with clear conviction. She had her own perspective of the world and how it works. She had her understanding of the Bible. She has no problem "dealing" with homosexuals - why the children of some of her best friends are homosexual. She just would not - could not - accept "one of them" as her pastor.

She would not be moved.

There was no arguing with this woman. There was no amount of reasoning with her. She believed what she believed and, I might add, displayed an enormous amount of courage and grace to be the obvious "odd man out" in that group. By the furtive looks and glaces I was getting from some of the Vestry members, it was painfully obvious that some were somewhat embarrassed by her, although they also had obvious admiration and affection for her.

Funny thing. I found myself intervening to defend her and back everyone off. Yup, I'm that committed to the idea of God's unconditional love and inclusion of absolutely everybody. Clearly, she has her prejudices and biases, but she ain't no bigot, if you understand what I'm saying.

Besides, I've been in this place too many times before. I remember one "event" - long ago - some attempt or another at reconciliation with the "orthodox" among us, in the days when we thought that still might be possible. You know. Before the "orthodox" got on their high horses and left for the Global South.

Louie Crew - Blessed Louie Crew - and I were sitting at a table with one older woman who, for most of our dinner and for two hours after dessert, berated Louie about how he could "change".

Louie - Blessed Louie - gently, patiently, told her one story after another. He told her the sweet, sweet story of how he and Earnest had met at the local YMCA - at the elevator, as I recall. He told her romantic stories of how he and Earnest had courted and how they "married" themselves in their own living room, using the 1928 Prayer book - the only book available at the time - and then carried each other over the threshold.

He told her stories of the racism (Earnest is African American) and homophobia he initially encountered from his parents and family and neighbors, and how he had come to forgive them, and they came to love and accept them for who they were.

The woman was adamant. Louie could - if he prayed hard enough, if he wanted it bad enough, if he loved Jesus enough - change and become "normal".

I was amazed by his stamina and his unfailing gentle, caring, loving, patient spirit. I would have thrown in the lavender towel hours before and gone to bed to punch a few pillows.

Finally, even Louie - Blessed Louie - grew weary. He looked at the woman, smiled gently and said, "I'm going to go to bed now, but before I leave, I'd like to ask you a question, if that's alright".

"Why yes, of course," she said politely.

"You have a daughter right?"

"Why, yes," said the woman, "two of them."

"Well," said Louie, "If I were to "change" as you ask, might I ask you something?"

The woman smiled broadly. She smelled victory. "Of course," she said.

"If I were to "change", which of your two daughters would you allow me to marry?"

The woman looked startled. "Why, neither of them!" she exclaimed.

And Louie - Blessed, Sainted Louie - smiled at her sweetly and said, "Of course not. Because you know that I can't change, don't you? And, it would be disastrous for your daughter and your family - and me."

The woman looked astounded and completely befuddled as Louie affectionately patted her hand, stood up, bowed like the Southern gentleman he is, and said, "Good night."

That experience with Louie taught me more about the "Argumentative Theory of Reasoning" than any article in any scientific journal ever could.

I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the most powerful politics and the most difficult personalities.

I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit because I know she has worked in my own life, transforming and reforming me like so much clay on a potter's wheel.

I believe that the Holy Spirit will work through that woman and that Vestry. I trust Her to work through their process to call the best person to do the work of ministry in that place as their rector.

And, if the best person for the position of rector happens to be Queer, I trust the Holy Spirit to work on that Vestry woman's heart and lead her to make the best decision for the health and well being of her soul and her own salvation.

I can hear Shekinah giggling, even now, when that Vestry woman - one day, in the not too distant future, I suspect - discovers that the priest who led their discussion last night, the very one and the same person she lauded with praise for her pastoral guidance, also happens to be .... "one of them."

One of this morning's lesson was from Acts 5:27-42. It's the story of conflict in the early church about the "new teaching" of Jesus which the disciples were preaching all over Jerusalem.

Members of the Sanhedrin were outraged and brought them before the high priest. Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!"

The story continues at verse 33:
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Leave them alone! I think that's the best example of "Argumentative Theory of Reasoning" I've heard. Leave them alone. If it is of God, it will have out.

You see, as it turns out, pigs do sing. Their song is just not one that humans can appreciate. But, I think God does. Indeed, I think it was God who taught them to sing in their own way.

The trick is not to try to teach pigs to sing in a way that is pleasing to us, but to find a way so that their voices can blend in a heavenly chorus that is pleasing to God.

That may not make sense, but then again, this is not an argument I'm looking to win.

I'm just singing my own song, is all.