Sunday, February 16, 2020

Gay Pride Sunday

       It is my habit to arrive early for Sunday Mass and try to place myself in a proper mindset. One of things that I have found illuminating and a proper focus is the stained glass above the alter. It is a glorious Risen Christ portrait. The building itself is situated such that the moring light through this stained glass is breathtakingly beautiful. It has become a focal point for me every time I sit in the pew. Another part of my ritual is going through all the readings for the upcoming service. In this way I do not have to read along as the words are proclaimed by the lector.  I hope that I can then get a feel for the Spirit proclaiming those words through the person reading them.

         As I sat this part Sunday and read the Gospel in my silence I was struck yet again by the stained glass shining down on me. The stained glass colors are as bright as any pride flag, brighter than anything we ourselves can make. It is that synergy of meds or Vulcan philosophy where the sum of our parts is greater than any simple math could provide. Whomever created the image could take pride in a work that I feel transcends the mere selection of glass, the cutting and placing to create the image I see.

         The Gospel message from Matthew here today made me think also on Gay pride. Perhaps by exception, I feel challenged and hurt by those errant individuals who say that being prideful about being gay is wrong. And yet, I have a different experience, I hold a different and important truth that transcends being gay.

         It is not a human boast to revel in the gift of who we are as created by God. Let us not boast of anything of human design, judgement or designation but in the created beauty imbued in each of us for the glory of Her name.

           Just as the beauty of my stained glass muse is beautiful in its own right but elevated by God in its vision, message and meaning, so to the beauty of being gay is not an action but a celebration of a unique person and the capabilities, challenges and essence of the person. By accepting oneself, gay or otherwise, and the unique gifts and talents so imbued, we take pride in the fact that God made us this way and wishes us to live out Her plan for creation by honoring who we are. It is not a pride in a human accomlishent of our own but  pride in a cooperation  of a plan of divesity and beauty, as beautiful as the most beautiful and radiant stained glass.

       I pray today as always, that we accept the gifts that God has created in us and as a unique individual. We are a peice of cut crystal for the most beautiful of stained glass to help give a total vision of Gods love and light.  Take pride in whom God created you to be.Without you the picture of Gods love is no complete, nor as glorious as She intends.

Matthew 5:13-20


‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Friday, January 24, 2020

A discernable truth about the role of women and more

       I think it might be an excellent form of meditation or Lexio Divina if you will, to read this passage from John and note all the problems that Jesus brought up that does not jive with the status quo, even for today. Jesus was quite the rebel. If one passage can be a guide to the mindset of Jesus and what He intended to teach us, this is one of those passages.

        One of those lessons is the role of women. Perhaps it is appropriate then that the Episcopal church recognizes today Holy Woman, Florence Li Tim-Oi. Florence was the first women to be ordained a Priest in the Anglican Communion on this date in 1944, that is over 75 years ago and almost 2000 years after Jesus died for us. How magnificently beautiful, right and just this Ordination was. Jesus' life story, ministry, death and resurrection is replete with woman who played primary roles in the incarnation story and redemption of humanity only to have it quashed by the male dominated church of Rome. Sadly, the same kind of ignorance befell the Anglican Communion for Mother Florence, there were protests over her ordination. Courageously, her Priestly status was renewed and she later ministered as Priest in Canada.  Mother Florence's life looms large like that of my beloved Mother Paulette   ( blog entry from October 9, 2016 ), who perhaps helped invent the term 'still she persisted', long before it was officially coined.

         The fact that God plays no preference in the role of women as equal heirs and ministers of God's word and plan, while lost on most of humanity ( especially men ), is a cornerstone of Jesus' life which we should honor, foster and emulate.

           Making this truth live is a challenge for all believers and for all of humanity. The passage though also points to the fact that the message of Jesus, his salvation for mankind, is often aimed at the marginalized, the poor, the sinners and the outcasts.  In today's passage the woman was, well, a woman. Low enough if you will in that time. To make matters worse, she was a Samaritan and was 'living in sin' if you would believe the conservative riff raff.  This woman of John's Gospel was lower than low, clearly not someone that Jesus should even give a moment of recognition to. Yet Jesus' actions and voice speak to another reality.

          Who are the lowest of the low today? And by that I do not mean to judge. I mean, who is considered the lowest of the low by the power elite? The Conservative right? The male dominated Roman Church?  Who in general does society look down upon? We should know that those people are precisely the ones Jesus would engage and not to demean, ridicule or foist arrogant and hypocritical repentance on. Jesus would welcome the perceived outcast as he did throughout his entire ministry, as welcomed, equal and loved. ALL equal and loved creations of the Father  ( Mother? ). 

       For the sake of further example, let us look at the Roman Centurion in the Gospels of  Matthew and Luke.  Note that the Centurion would not be a welcome personage to any Jew, he was the face of the occupying army. That army was brutal and efficient in the dispensing of their authority. So it would seem odd at best that such a man of power would seek out this itinerant Jewish preacher who would not be recognized as anything, much less the Messiah. Yet the Centurion comes in search of a cure for his "pais".  As the history of a male dominated church shows, the agenda driven translation and words are often twisted. We would most commonly refer to a 'pais' as a servant or slave. This is the translation we are most likely familiar with, it is what we were taught. And yet, the whitewash is that 'pais' actually refers to the subordinate male same sex lover that was quite common and accepted in the Roman army of the time. See how things get twisted? Jesus did not flinch to listen or cure this pais. Of course you can see how broad and expansive Jesus' love and ministry is too, or is supposed to be if the words had been translated and accepted as it was intended.  The fight for Scriptural purity and the all inclusive message that Jesus lived and preached is a constant battle and a call for all of us.

        The lesson for today is that God's love is expansive and all inclusive. No judgment, only love. Today especially we remember a woman who breached the barrier of God's call limited by men. 

       For God's call to all of us, may we open our arms, heart and soul to everyone as beloved sisters and brothers. We pray.
       

          

John 4:16-26

Sunday, January 12, 2020

No short cuts on walking the walk.

       How many of us would love to have an epiphany?  A moment in our life when we seem to connect all the dots. Perhaps a moment of conversion or we see such clarity that our lives will move forward with certainty and holiness and righteousness.  I myself will confess to perhaps a twinge of jealousy at people who have had such a moment and everything seems to fall into place. Is that what happened in today's passage from John?

        If you look at society today, everyone is seeking the answer. Some people seem to have found it in President Trump. Is he the anointed one, elevated or chosen by God? I think not. For myself he is the furthest from that. But it does not dismiss the fact that we all are looking for the answer, that epiphany, that answer that makes us whole.  We all seem to be waiting for the Spirit to descend on us and anoint us, make us whole, holy and perhaps even perfect. This hope of ours, this movement in society seems obvious to anyone with eyes and ears. We are seekers as if we have all been abandoned by organized religion. It seems organized religions have lost the message they were invented to convey.

       I recall a time when I was a yearning, faithful soul on my path to Ordination and an active member of my 5000 family faith community. The pastor was accused of some rather heinous things and placed on leave while the allegation were investigated ( and later proved false ). After the investigation and before the exoneration, I was a real lost soul. The man that I had revered, looked up to and sought guidance from was taken away.  He was a holy but not perfect man. My faith though was in doubt. It wasn't until I came to realize that my faith is not in him but in Him. My faith is not placed in an intermediary but with God himself; God who became fully human and whom the Spirit descended upon as in today's passage from John.

            While we are looking for a new improved path to wholeness and holiness or a person that we feel are kindred spirits on the journey, we must realize that there really is no perfect one except God herself, or himself if you prefer. The epiphany we are seeking is not in any one person or path save our own personal journey which cannot be condensed. There are no short cuts. There are no answers that will change us into perfection, at least on this side of the grave.

        We can have enlightening moments, epiphanies if you will. We can get glimpses of what we are intended to be but the real answer for us is a life long journey. We will never be totally fulfilled on this side of the grave no matter how hard we search, no matter how much we read and no matter how much we listen.  We are not perfect beings and our task is a life long journey and one we can accept or try to cheat. It is an offer of wholeness and redemption but never a single moment or a universal answer unless you say something like the answer is in Christ. Even then, you must still walk the walk, still pick up your cross and still live a life of imperfection towards an ultimate holiness that we are destined and intended for.

        While we strive for those epiphanies, those glimpses of holiness within our own life journey, let us not diminish our presence in this moment in in our commitment to our entire journey. There are no short cuts. There is no perfection here, perhaps later, not now. Only God is perfection, the perfection we are drawn toward and seek.

        For the totality of our journey and for our acceptance of the task at hand, I pray.

John 1:29-34


The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

Sunday, January 5, 2020

No returns to the closet

        Many years ago I attended a Christmas pageant at the church of my step brother. The pastor gave a very memorable sermon about this very passage. The pastor noted that when you meet Jesus, you always return ( as the wise men did ), by a different route. In other words, once you meet Jesus you are forever changed. That sermon, some 40 years ago, still resonates strong within me.

       As a gay man, coming out is really the same. Accepting Jesus is all about accepting the inherent goodness of whom God created in you. It opens possibilities and sets you on a new course. Some might call it repentance, others might simply say that it is an acceptance of God's plan for all us, collectively and individually. When you come out as gay, you are accepting that plan of God that is uniquely you, unwrapping it, accepting it, and moving forward with it.  Your acceptance and 'outing' of yourself is an acceptance of what God became man for and what Jesus accepted the cross and died for. To be fully human and fully alive, fully engaged in the gift we are as unique creations of the Father.

     Just as the wise men did not return by the same route by which they came, so too all of us cannot be the same people we were before we fully accepted who we are. Being gay is not a single defining characteristic. Being gay is a part of the totality of who we are. An aspect of who we are. But once we come out, watch out. There is no returning by the same route. We are once and forever called then to embrace this one of so many gifts that God has graced us with. 

    To come out and to somehow return to the closet is as much as a sin. It repudiates and denies the whole reason God became man and died on a cross for us. What would have happened had the wise men returned by the same route? If you read the passage from Matthew again, you may suspect tat no good would have become of that. Once we know Jesus, once we know and accept who we are, there really is no going back to the 'old you'. You are a new creation ( newly recognized ). The calling to be all God created you to be is to be fully out, fully engaged in life and fully alive.

      For coming out, for being fully alive and for new paths, I pray.

Matthew 2:1-12


In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
   who is to shepherd
 my people Israel.” 

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Obeying all the rules

       Let's have a round of applause for all the rules obeyers out there. Yes!  Not the ones who cheat on their taxes, lie with every utterance, cut through gas stations to avoid a red light or bribe people to get their kid into a better college. The list is endless. Keep in mind though that a real good rules obeyer in today's Scripture passage would have had stoned Mary to death for her pregnancy. One of the things that I have learned in life though is that your eternal reward is not based solely on things you should or should not have done. You probably won't get extra credit at the pearly gates for confessing that you never cheated on your spouse and lived up to the vows you were supposed to keep anyway. The problem with the rules and our scrupulosity for them, is that we often see the world then in black or white, no shades of gray. Even so, when we do see shades of gray, it is usually noted to say that our transgression from the law is not as bad as someone else's. It is a mine field where hypocrisy and self righteousness abound.

       I am pretty sure that Jesus was not hung up so much on all the rules. His idea of clarifying rules ( The Ten Commandments for example ), was to speak of the the two Great commandments and that put the Ten in a whole new light. Not so easy then when "Thou shall not kill" starts speaking of not killing a person's spirit or reputation. Jesus was known to break Sabbath rules all the time, helped enemy combatants (  a Roman Centurion ), coming to the defense of a woman caught in the act of adultery and rendered himself ritually unclean by consorting with or allowing himself to be touched by lepers and menstruating women which was taboo. The chronic rules person might argue then that everything is gray and that just cannot be. There must be standards on which we are judged ( and by which we can judge others ). Of course that is true to an extent but Jesus clearly was one to push the envelope and was often found to be chastising his favorite group, the Pharisees for having rules that made their followers 'twice as fit for hell as they are themselves.' 

       Where does that leave us? Let me make a confession here for all to see. While I was faithful for almost the entirety of my marriage, I began to stray when I started to seriously doubt my sexuality. It was almost a drive it seemed to answer a question that ached in every fiber of my being, in my soul. It is no wonder that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown; one side of me ( the rules obeyer ) rubbing up horribly with the guy trying to come to terms with his sexuality, long hidden, long repressed and strictly forbidden as a Roman Catholic Religious married man. This is the time I realized how difficult thoughts of suicide are when each decision, each way out, seems to be fraught with negative consequences. Now that I have that out in the open, let me clarify further. In my attempts to 'find myself' I had indeed advertised on Craigslist. The ad would go on to spell out my feelings and always included the note: "healthy spirituality preferred."  As it turns out in retrospect, there are many people who try to be faithful to God and have been taught to think that they can not be gay and loved by God. They may believe that to express their sexuality is a mortal sin. Nothing could be further from the truth. God wishes us to be whole and holy as God created us. Moving on, you'll note that I have essentially confessed to adultery. But to clarify further, lest your imaginations go wild or you rely on stereotypes of the gay community, I was not out in alley's looking for hookups. I was not in bars  ( and never have been ) looking for Mr. right now. I am repulsed at the thought of mindless sex or orgies that disrespect the very sexuality I embrace as graced to me by God. That "healthy spirituality" was my saving grace as well as prayer, counseling and numerous people who God graced my life with.

        So there you have it, the rules obeyer that broke one of the big ones. In my mind I could probably say I didn't fully break the rules, bent it a bit, maybe tarnished but not a clear break. I am in that realm of grayness where love is always the final arbiter. I was trying to seek wholeness in those two great commandments about loving myself while respecting and loving my neighbor.  

       In my heart and soul I know that I am forgiven for trying to desperately come to terms with who I am as I was created while not turning from the God that I know loves me with reckless abandon. In essence, where was my heart in all this? Was it a turning from God?  It's one of those questions you ask especially in the gray zones but maybe also in the black and white. How many of us feel righteous over obeying the law that is amoral from the get go. Is caging humans seeking sanctuary lawful but actually horrifically sinful in the eyes of God?  The lines are sometimes blurred and for a rules obeyer it is dangerous ground.

             If you think I am proposing an answer here, you'd be wrong. It is once more my call for a full Examen of conscience. It is a call to stop judging others and minimizing our own sins compared to the 'other'. This is a recognition and call to look deep inside ourselves and be silent enough to hear the words and loving call of our Creator.

         For the rule breakers, rule minders and for gray areas in our hearts and soul, I pray.

        

Matthew 1:18-25

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Horse emissions and our practice of faith


      I saw this Starbucks meme on FaceBook the other day ( see below ). It seems to be making the Advent rounds. Of course I wanted to see a few others as well, especially with my penchant to chastise those people that are Bible thumpers. Those are people who seem to practice their 'Christianity' by spouting passages chapter and verse and using their words as weapons against any poor unsuspecting or doubtful souls out there. If you aren't aware it's called Bible Bashing and it is all the rage for pseudo Christians fighting the good fight against homosexuals and the homosexual agenda of love ( and the pursuit of happiness ). 
I for one would love to see a Bible quote that speaks of the love of Jonathan and David 
( 1 Samuel 18:1 ), the story of Ruth and Naomi perhaps (Ruth) or perhaps a real and honest translation of Mt.8:5-13 ( also Luke 7 ) where Jesus cures the homosexual lover of a Roman Centurion. Let the battle of words begin!  Really, just about anyone can pick up Scripture and use it for their own means, to justify their own agenda - usually an agenda of hate and exclusion.

      The real interesting thing is though, see how Jesus responded in today's Gospel reading from Matthew. When Jesus is asked if "he is the One", their is no affirmative answer in words. At least at that point in time Jesus does not use any of the many Scripture passages that point to His arrival for the benefit of mankind. It seems there are countless references by prophets and sages that the Messiah would be coming. How many Jews of the time used their interpretation of those passages to say that Jesus was or was not the Messiah.

       Jesus says what so many Bible thumpers would not be willing to say because it would be so very self indicting. Jesus says "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."  It is not Bible quotes, fancy words or the circular logic so many religions use to bolster their position. It is our actions that count. Let them know we are Christians by our love. Not words, but love. It is beloved Saint Francis ( 1182-1226 ) who 'got the real message' of Christ and said over a thousand years later, "Preach the Gospel at all timesWhen necessaryuse words".

       We all love to justify ourselves and how much better when we can shove a Bible in someones face in support of our cause.  But if we know anything, if we have learned anything, the real message and conversion of hearts come from actions. When we in the LGBTQ community are encouraged to be 'out and proud' it is so that people will see that we are all really the same. We have the same desires, the same hopes and we are genuinely good people when we aren't bashing each other, faith against faith or denomination against denomination. We all have the same agenda even if it seems simply to eat, work, sleep and repeat. What counts is how we love and how we live. Less words, more faith in action.

     

 For focusing on our witness of faith by our love and our love in action and not so much on quoting Scripture or bashing people with words, I pray.    
















Matthew 11: 2 - 11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." 
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 
"See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, 
who will prepare your way before you.' 
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Preparing to be a woke Christian

       I have to confess that I am one of those nuts that really drive other people nuts. I am one who could play Christmas music all year long and certainly push the envelope as to when I can get away with playing it ( the day after Thanksgiving?? ). I also have been a pest as to how soon I can put up the old Christmas Tree. This year, with family coming for Thanksgiving I was actually encouraged to have the house look extra festive. I am not really sure I keep Christmas in my heart all the year round. I am not sure I am prepared for Jesus' incarnation, His second coming or for the end, but this reading from Matthew sure makes me think about that.

        Of all the idiosyncrasies about this holiday season, I almost despise the commercial aspect that seems to dwarf any religious meaning. Madison Avenue has hijacked the season. The madness has escalated to having stores open at 6pm Thanksgiving evening and goes on all through the night. I lieu of that, stores open at really ungodly hours enticing the 'faithful' into mobbing stores, mowing people down for bargains on items they don't need and likely with money they don't actually have for people they may not actually even like.  Not the ideal for Advent, eh?

         So as much as I might like to keep that spirit of Christmas in my heart 24/7/365 and be prepared for Jesus' arrival, I am appalled at what the Advent season brings. I feel like the Grinch.  There was one year I actually sent no Christmas cards at all because that was an easy way to lighten the burden of the season. If I haven't spoken to you all year long why invest the time, energy and hassle sending you a card?

         To top things off for me, there are the pseudo religious zealots who embrace the season by their annual onslaught against people who say "Happy Holidays!" instead of the apparently required Merry Christmas ! Oy. Get with the program, the baby Jesus is not looking for for proper words but proper hearts!  In that regard, Happy Hanukkah! Guess what, Jesus is Jewish! So as these zealots appear each year with car magnets proclaiming to "keep Christ in Christmas " which I should be applauding, I find myself saying simply, how about we just try to keep Christ in Christianity!

        Advent is a challenge for sure, at least for me.  How do I ( we ) keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts the whole year long? How do we become 'woke' Christians so that the love, camaraderie, generosity, giving, celebrations and joy last every day of our life?
It's a challenge for sure but the challenge can seem more intense and wrong hearted during the season that is supposed to highlight the exact opposite. I am not going to advocate for everyone to not send any Christmas cards to family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances as a solution. I think we have to come up with our very own personal solutions. This is perhaps part of the preparation of Advent.  We know something good is coming, we know we have reason to celebrate and prepare. We do need to make time and we do need to spend time ( rather than more money ) at things that highlight the true reason for the season.

       For battles with materialism and time that seems sparse, we pray to be woke Christians and always celebrate the gift God has graced us with. Most assuredly that is the gift of God embracing our humanity to help us, to love us and show us that we can do it, we can be holy, we can be all God has created us to be.  Thank you baby Jesus! 

        ......and we pray.

         

Matthew 24:36-44