After Good Friday Comes Resurrection 

I have struggled to find anything redeeming in the election results. One thing has emerged after prayer and reflection. The argument that biblical values are important to the electorate is now silenced by their own selection. Last night’s election is a vote against practically every biblically moral position that exists: Adultery, sexual abuse, lying, practice of religion, false witness, respect for the poor and oppressed, and welcome to the stranger. The Christian Nation argument is dead. It’s been dead a long time and it’s demise was accomplished by many who claim to embrace it. Now by our actions, we are admitting it. Now we can be honest. 

Im deeply worried however. Over and over our new President-elect has espoused pessimism about the future and echoed Satan’s words of temptation to Christ in the wilderness. “Follow me and I will make you a ruler over all.” “I will give you power on this earth.” “I will take away your pain and worry and people will honor you.” “I alone can save you in this situation.” “I can make you powerful and great again.”

A segment of frustrated, angry people have cast our lot with something dark and evil as was demonstrated over and over during this campaign. I pray I’m reading this wrong and I guess only time will tell. 

I’m reminded that on Good Friday God lay dead in the tomb. Murdered by his chosen people. All his followers felt their world ending. They ran away. They hid. Despair was their lot. BUT…After a bit of time … three days to be exact … something amazing occurred. Dispair was banished. Darkness was banished. Death was overcome. We can take comfort in this. 

In the Great Vigil of Easter when we recount this awesome mystery, we baptize and we renew our own baptismal promises. I feel that need right now. I must remind myself of what I have committed myself to. 

I’m called to submit to the rule of law. I’m called to pray for our elected leaders. I’m called to work for justice, freedom, and peace. I’m called to respect the dignity of every human being. I’m also called to resist Evil. A part of me does not want to do those things but with God’s help I will.

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Telling Our Story

I remember being a small child spending cold nights with my Great Grandmother. Her name was Ursula which she was quick to teach me meant “She Bear.” There never was a more loving woman nor a woman who was a better storyteller. On those cold nights, we would gather in the dim light of her bedroom, light the flames of the gas space heater, sit in chairs in front of that fire, feel its warmth, and she would tell me stories of her life as a little girl growing up on the Bayou Bonne Idee outside Mer Rouge, Louisiana. What I would not give to be able to hear those stories from her lips one more time! Through them I relived adventures, felt loss and sadness, and marveled at new discoveries; basically, I learned the history of the people from whence I came.

This past week was Holy Week in the Christian Calendar. It began a week-long tale recounting who we Christians are. It is the story of our people…fickle, flawed, loving, frightened, amazed. While many would consider Christmas the pinnacle of the Christian Year, catholic Christians (that’s catholic with a lowercase “c”) know that it is Holy Week, Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday) that defines us and rises (figuratively and literally) over everything else in the Christian story. It is the time we gather and recount our family history.

As important as the whole week is, like every good story, there is a core to the story that is itself even more powerful, the Great Three Days called the Triduum: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Without these three days there would be no Easter. The Triduum is where the real action is. It is where catharsis dwells and climax occurs. It is who we are and who we will become much like one watching a play becomes one with the drama. But, to become one with it we must immerse ourselves in it.

Holy Thursday is Act 1 and the dramatic action of the week rises to an unexpected level. We gather like we would on any other day for church. This night is special because it is the observance of that night when Jesus gathered with his disciples for their last meal together. It is the night he observed the Seder, a Jewish meal to relive the Passover and Exodus from Egypt, and transformed it into something shocking to those assembled and glorious to those of us who come after. He washes their feet covered with the day’s filth and tells us we should do the same for one another to remind us of who is first and who is last in this life. Washing the feet of people you know and don’t know is a very intimate act. Allowing someone to wash your own feet is even more so. It is a sign that we love one another and by this we will be seen and known to others. For us Episcopalians who love our pageantry and pomp , many outsiders would say this is seriously out of character but, we know it is who we are actually called to be.

Once cleansed of our daily muck, we are ready to eat. Breaking bread, blessing it, eating it was a normal action familiar to every Jew but this night he told them it would become for them his body. To say they were puzzled is an understatement. After supper it was common to take a cup of wine, bless it, and drink it but this night he scandalized them by saying it would become for them his blood — a horrific thought to an observant Jew. Little did they know what was to follow.

He retreats to a garden and there every thing goes to hell. Friends betray friends, violence erupts and Jesus teaches us how inappropriate defensive acts are. He is arrested, and those who just hours before swore their faithfulness flee to save their own lives and freedom. You might say it is our night to stand before the looking glass and have the rose-colored glasses ripped from our eyes. We look in the mirror and ask who is the fairest of them all and see that it is Jesus alone. Our piety and devotion is a fragile mask hiding our weak, fearful, and fickle nature. It’s fragility trumps the love we so easily professed in better times. It becomes abundantly clear that this “follower of Christ” business isn’t about hanging with friends feeling special while waiting for delivery of pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. It has a dreadful cost attached to it for each of us.

Maundy Thursday is when all this is played out in our worship. It is the first of three great acts and the later two are even more powerful than this. From the happy times of gathering as friends, washing one another’s feet, eating and drinking together, to the sad times as the Messiah is cast down from the high spot he enjoyed on Palm Sunday, our world is cast into darkness. The alter and Church building are stripped of all ornaments. The altar is washed as a dead body would be prepared for burial. The church lights are extinguished and we leave in silence. In a small area outside the church, we recreate Gethsemane, the garden where all hell breaks loose, and there we wait and watch in shifts all night long till Act 2 culminates on Friday.

Good Friday is Act 2. While Maundy Thursday is unknown to many non-Christians, Good Friday is well known by them usually because it’s a day off work when you dye Easter eggs. They’ve all heard the account of Jesus, tried by the Romans, humiliated by the crowds who mocked him as he was forced to carry the Cross to his own execution, and his death by suffocation as he hung on that same cross. A sad end for one claiming to be the Son of God. Pure foolishness many would say.

On this day we gather to pray. We pray the solemn collects interceding for all manners and conditions of the people of the Earth. We venerate and meditate upon the suffering of Jesus upon the Cross. We receive communion from the reserved Bread and Wine with which we kept watch earlier. We begin the mourning of Our Lord’s death. A stillness and emptiness settles upon us as we continue on our journey toward Act 3.

Holy Saturday is the start of the Third Act. It is deadly still. The Church is filled with the silence of death just as the borrowed tomb and Jesus himself were filled with death. We wait. We sit shiva. When we gather it is short – a prayer, a reading from Scripture, the Our Father. Like the apostles, we scatter and wait.

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As Saturday’s sun sets ending the Jewish Sabbath, darkness envelops the church. This building where life is celebrated is now like the tomb in which Jesus’ tortured, broken body has been placed. Sundown marks the third day of death for Jesus. In Jewish practice sundown is the beginning of a new day. We gather in the Church. It is totally dark and silent. We wait. From the back of the building, near the doorway sparks are struck and dry, dead straw catch fire. Flames leap forth like the light exploded forth from darkness at the moment of creation. In the darkness, around the fire, much like my Great Grandmother told me her stories, a voice begins to sing the ancient Exsultet:

“Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,

bright with a glorious splendor, 

for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.”

From the new fire, a great candle is lighted. Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, it is carried from the back of the Church to the front. Along the way we light our own candles from its fire. Light grows and dispels the heavy darkness. This light is different however. The light does not come down from above but radiates from the body of the people. It fills the tomb-like Church.

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Now we hear the stories of Creation, Noah and the flood, the Exodus out of Slavery, the tale of the Valley of dry bones, and many others. This is our family history being told in symbol and metaphor. Between each we sit in silence, reflect, and sing.

As the stories end, still in the candle-lit darkness, those desiring initiation into this bizarre fellowship come forward to be made part of us who wait. We bless water and we ask God to do all the work. Through water and their desire, they make promises (the same promises we have all made), and are washed in the baptismal waters. The priest’s thumb, dipped in blessed oil, traces the sign of the cross on their foreheads and they are marked as Christ’s own forever. Their ordination into the priesthood of all those who believe is complete. They are given a candle and told to be a light in the darkness. A stole is placed around their neck to mark their role as reconcilers between creator and created, witnesses to all humanity of the love of the One we follow. In their vows, we renew our own made long ago. The water made holy for their baptism is splashed and flung on everyone present as a reminder that we too are washed and made new. In the darkness we sit and ponder the past, present, and future of our story: our role, our life, the death of the One we long to see again.

Suddenly, a voice cries out with bewilderment and joy, “He is risen!” We all respond, “He is risen indeed!” Light blasts forth within the church and the first Great Thanksgiving of Easter begins. The light has come forth from the dark tomb of the Church just as Christ, the Light of the World, came forth from the tomb in his Resurrection. Song and music merge in our celebration. Joy is in the midst of us just as we believe the Risen Christ is there as well. Bells ring. The people sing “alleluia,” a word which as been absent since Lent began on Ash Wednesday. We eat and drink at God’s altar and Act 3 comes to a close.

Each time I heard my great grandmother’s stories, I would say, “tell me more.” The great 50 days of Easter and the rest of the Christian year will provide the more I desire. There is always more to hear even though we repeat the cycle every year. Each year one more layer of my stubbornness, distrustfulness, skepticism, self-importance, and doubt get peeled away. I know, too, there will come a time when I will witness this drama from a different perspective. I will be in the nearer presence of the Light we celebrated. A new fire will be struck within me. A pillar of flame will lead me out of bondage. Living water will flow from the desolate place and refresh me. The hands that washed Peter’s feet will lovingly wash mine. The hands that broke the bread and shared the cup with Judas now feed me as well. I will be there with my loved ones in the great cloud of witnesses who celebrate with all the people who have come through the waters — living and dead. This is not my gift alone. It is the gift God’s love bestowed on the whole of creation. Some were people of faith and some are those whose faith was known to God alone. He did all the work and all of them are wrapped in the love of the One. This is the mystery we celebrate on this profound night.

I love this three act play. I love the mystery of this week and especially the transcendence of the Triduum. If you are curious, go. See for yourself. Hear the tale of this peculiar family of people scattered throughout the earth. It is far better experienced than read about. You won’t be put on the spot; we Episcopalians are far too mannerly to do that. You don’t have to do any more or less than you are comfortable with. Whether you believe or not is unimportant. Just be present and let the mystery swirl around you. You never know what doors will open in your mind. Let your heart feel as you immerse yourself in it; and let yourself get wet with the waters of freedom and peace. You may begin to see your own place in that family history. It ain’t called Holy Week for nothing.

Here is an opportunity to see the Easter Vigil from the National Cathedral in Washington DC

So, The Rector Wants an Elevator Speech


Everyone who has ever been in sales or customer service knows the value of being able to succinctly state why they believe their product or service is worth another’s attention. When I trained people to perform either job, one element of the course was the development of “elevator speeches,” short 20-40 second statements conveying value and meaning. Students hated doing that! It’s hard. You have to think. You have to dig deep and ask the question, “Do I really believe what I am about to say.” Oh, sure, parroting something is an option. In so doing one often sounds insincere and rote. To be convincing, both to yourself and others, you have to mean what you say.

Recently, a friend of mine on the staff of the parish church I attend, related that the Rector had challenged the staff to come up with an elevator speech about why they are a Christian. I smiled because I knew what my friend was going to say next, “It’s hard.” It’s hard, not because of lack of faith, but because one has to put some real thought into it. You are on the spot and it’s like describing air. The task brings to mind wonderful images from C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle.” Narnia is disappearing from existence and its inhabitants stream through a tiny doorway allowing them to escape the destruction. As they pass through the doorway one-at-a-time, they come face-to-face with Aslan, the Great Lion and Christ-figure. Silently, they stand before the great judge and stare into his eyes. One question and one question only is posed to their heart, “Do you love me?” If their heart answers “Yes” they go to their left, Aslan’s right and go deeper and farther into his world. If the answer is “No” they go to their right, his left and simply fade away.

To me, the Rector’s challenge to develop one’s elevator speech is the equivalent of staring into Aslan’s eyes. Your brain and heart have to work together to form a reply. To me there are certain requirements as one attempts this given the subject at hand:

  • You have to be able to complete the statement on a 10 floor elevator ride with no intermediate stops…say 50 seconds.
  • When the doors open, it’s done.
  • No trite biblical quotations
  • No vague talking points from sappy movies
  • No words that require explanation to someone who doesn’t speak churchy, religious lingo such as “saved,” “redeemed,” “heaven,” “hell,” etc.
  • No putting the listener on the spot
  • Have some personal element that another could relate to

Let me give you an example of what it should NOT be:

“I’m a Christian and I know if I died right now I would go to heaven. You see, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Once I could confess that I was a sinner, I accepted Jesus in my heart so I would be redeemed and be spared the perdition of hell. Won’t you join me? Don’t you want to go to heaven if you died right now? Just close your eyes and say, ‘Lord Jesus come into my life. I confess you as Lord and Savior’.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but that does not exactly whip up any intellectual, emotional, or spiritual interest for me at all. It would make me pray that the elevator would stop quickly and I could exit. Sadly, it is something I have heard more than once in my life. Keeping this in mind, crafting a statement is difficult because you have to dig deep and you should have skin in the game. It must well up from your own heart as you look into the eyes of the Great Golden Lion.

In the days that have elapsed since my friend related the Rector’s challenge, I have struggled to formulate my own elevator Quid ego Christi discipulus. Why I am a Christian?

As a white male, growing up in the Southern U.S., there was not much choice to be made in the area of religion. I did not know what a Muslim was and there was only one Jewish family I knew. Buddhism and Hinduism were a world away – exotic and not real. Atheists, well, we did not talk about them. In reality there was one religion, Christianity, with it’s many denominational variations. So, I was culturally predisposed in faith practice. Given that background and my earlier conditions, let me take a stab at my elevator speech:

“Truth is, I am a Christian because I was born in a predominantly Christian culture and raised by a Christian family. I was exposed to Christianity from an early age and it was the norm. As I grew, I abandoned it but something pulled me back: a community of people demonstrating Christ’s love and selflessness made the difference. I am my most authentic and peaceful when I give in to Christ’s unconditional love. I am surrounded by others whose love for me allow my imperfections to fade and the better part of me to emerge. It is in Christ’s love that I am able to love when it would be easier to hate and to serve when it would be easier to walk away.”

It took 30 minutes to write that first draft with revisions. It just does not say what needs to be said even though it is completely true. It is 50 seconds long. I need to shed some of the vestments we dress our faith in. Let me peel away some vagueness and try again:

“Being a Christian was not much of a choice. Where I grew up, everyone was. It meant as much as being white, black, fat, or skinny. As an adolescent, subtle messages said being a Christian meant being someone I was not and I tried my best. At age 16, I discovered an Episcopal Church. There I learned I had value. I learned that Christ loved me as I was and I was to love others as they were. Hard as that is, His love, His people made it possible. Falling in love with Christ was not like being born again, it was like growing up and seeing with new eyes.”

A little better. Forty-five seconds. I felt something writing those words. A bit more real for sure but still not all it could be. I must keep trying.

Trying to break down what should be the most transformative experience of one’s life into a 45 second statement is silly in someways and I don’t know that we ever nail it. It must be what the Church Councils experienced coming up with the creeds. When all is said and done, I believe the best elevator speech simply may be:

“Want to know why I am a Christian? Come and see. Hang out with me for a while and I will let you decide if I am a Christian or not.” 

That’s only 7 seconds. It is the most risky thing you can say. You trust, that with God’s help, you will demonstrate the promises made at your baptism. You are intentional about doing the best that you can. Where you fall short, you will pick yourself up and try again…and again…and again. You give up the idea of being perfect. You let yourself slowly transform by imitating Christ, being nurtured by other loving, faithful people who screw-up as much as you do, and being refreshed with scared food. You begin to live out the words we say so often, “With God’s help, I will.”

So, give it a try. Try constructing your own elevator speech about why you are or are not a Christian. If you practice another faith or no faith at all, try explaining why in 50 seconds or less. As you enjoy your introspection, there are so many questions that would profit from this exercise:

  • What do I love about the deity that I worship?
  • Why did I fall in love with my spouse?
  • Why do I support the political candidate I do?
  • Why do I do the work I do?
  • Why do I go to the church I attend?
  • Why do I like/dislike (a racial group, a religion, a socio-economic group, a gender, a sexual orientation, a political party, etc.)?

May your struggle to answer these questions be a fruitful one.

Lent: rewiring our ideas about God


As Lent begins, I am looking for new ways to begin experiencing faith.  The primary channel I’ve chosen for this year is combing the Internet for stories of contemporary Saints and Wonderworkers who show that the miraculous still occurs.  It may not be those biblical or mythological miracles where the the Sun is stopped in it circling of the Earth (sic) in Jerico or the raising of Lazurus after three days, but miraculous events still occur.

If miracles do still occur as the result of devoted human effort and thought, then what can I do to participate in them?

As a first step, I share with you this blog post entitled: Can You Forget How to Believe in God?  Here Paul Wallace, Physics Professor and Minister, explores how we wire our brains with beliefs about God just as we wire our brains to perform a task like riding a bicycle.  He presents the case that we can choose to rewire our concepts, as well, resulting in profound realizations and abilities.

Whether or not your tradition observes Lent, may this season provide you the venue to challenge your concept of God, your relationship to God, and the demands that relationship makes on your life.  As People Of the One God we face choices:  If you are a Christian, remember your Baptism and the vows made by you or for you.  If you are Jewish, contemplate the nature of God’s demands upon a People uniquely appointed as His own.  If you are Muslim, contemplate Allah’s revelations of Peace through the Prophet and your daily role to live in that Peace.   If you are of another tradition or a non-theist, Lent can still offer you a period to slow down, reflect, and marvel at all that surrounds us and our role within it.  May this Season open new doors for us all.

 

Same-Sex Marriage & The Christian Community

Soon after the Supreme Court ruling on Same-Sex Marriage in June 2015, a dear friend with an evangelical tradition as her background asked for my thoughts on the matter. Specifically, she wanted to know how I saw this from a biblical perspective. I would not put myself in the ranks of theologians and scholars but I have been a student of things Churchy since I was a child. I have a fair knowledge of scripture and church history. I have a good handle on the debate on the topic over the last three decades. What follows is my response to her. I borrow greatly and plagiarize extensively in this work. Since most of it comes from memory of scholarly works I have read I am not able to site the original authors with accuracy in every instance. This is more my retelling of a story previously told by many others but it is offered with the hope of us all growing in knowledge and compassion.


My religious tradition is a bit different than that many U.S. evangelicals follow. Rather than being a church based on literal interpretation of Scripture, Episcopalians, base our practice of faith on three main things equally: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. Since we are Apostolic in practice, in some ways we see ourselves as living in the 29th Chapter of Acts and God’s will is still being made known to us though the councils of the Church and guidance of the Bishops. We test things against Scripture. We apply reason to its reading. We look at the tradition practiced by the people of God throughout the past two millennia. All three are necessary to us. Above all we test our position against Christ’s commission to us to love one another and find a way to bring all people to an understanding of that love. Given that bit of background, I can say that even in our own denomination we are not always in agreement about everything but, over the course of time, God’s will becomes clearer to us. Same-sex marriage is one of those things that is becoming clearer just as the abolition of slavery, the role of women in ministry, and the remarriage of divorced persons has. It is a revelation to us as much as the acceptance by James, Jesus’ brother and the Bishop of Jerusalem, that Gentiles could be Christians without first becoming Jews.

So let’s start with Scripture. There are historically six verses people turn to as condemnations of homosexual practice. Three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament. Let’s start with the Old Testament:

Genesis 19 is the story of God’s punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah. The men of Sodom threatened to gang rape God’s messengers. Rape is a crime of violence. This was a gross display of two things considered distasteful in God’s eyes: the abuse of power against the innocent and the inhospitable treatment and humiliation of strangers in your land. It is the Prophet Ezekiel (chapter 16:49) who says, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” Ezekiel’s illumination of the sin of Sodom is an important key that I will return to later.

Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are the Bible verses most frequently quoted by opponents of same-sex marriage: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” And if you do “they should be put to death.” But Leviticus is part of the Old Testament law, and the New Testament teaches that Christians should live under the New Covenant, not the old one. Jesus warned us that if we are going to live under the Law we must be prepared to live under the entire Law. Most Christians, regardless of their tradition, would agree that it is not an abomination to interact with a woman during her period, eat non-kosher foods, wear fabrics of mixed fiber, or have a shrimp cocktail or a few strips of bacon. All of these situations are included in the same list of abominations as same-sex relations. We are told to even kill our family members and children if they violate this Law code. Most of us wrote that off years ago along with owning slaves.

Now let’s turn to the New Testament. In Romans 1:26-27, the apostle Paul condemns same-sex behavior he describes as lustful, unnatural, and shameful. Some would argue that “We can’t accept something that the Bible says is unnatural and shameful.” But in fact, most Christians already do. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:14 that for a man to have long hair violates what “nature” teaches and is “a disgrace to him.” But most Christians wouldn’t condemn long hair in men. In fact, the Bible itself speaks highly of long hair in men in the Old Testament (see Numbers 6:5, 2 Samuel 14:26, and 2 Kings 2:23). Even the tradition of the Nazarenes, of which Jesus was a part, was to wear their hair un-shorn. It is a bit of a sticky wicket when your Lord and Savior’s hair is seen as a disgrace by the Apostle Paul which I don’t believe is the case. That’s why most Christians interpret “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11 as referring to cultural conventions of Paul’s day in the culture specificly practiced in Corinth. Remember Paul in his letter was always speaking to people, almost always Gentiles, in a specific place and culture. In the same way, Romans 1: 26-27 refers to traditional cultural roles where men are the active partner and women the passive in all things. For men to show affection or to be physically intimate with one another, or for a woman to be intimate with another woman, the assumption is that those roles are reversed or blurred and are therefore “unnatural.” Would we say today that for a woman to initiate intimacy with a man is unnatural? I think not. Furthermore, there are culturally other concerns here such as married men having extra-marital relationships with same sex partners which was and is still prevalent in some middle-eastern cultures since it is not seen as adultery.

Before 1946, no Bible translation had ever used the word “homosexual.” Starting in the mid-20th century, many translations of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 were changed from the original Greek words to say that “homosexuals” will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” Fortunately, many New Testament scholars have been pushing back against those translations in recent years, from Dale Martin to James Brownson. Their case is simple: The word “homosexual” didn’t even exist in any language until 1869, nor did the concept of affectional sexual orientation as we think of it today.

It’s perfectly possible that the apostle Paul was condemning certain forms of same-sex behavior in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. He refers to “Malakoi” and “Arsenokoitai”, two Greek words that refer to the “Licentious” and the “Abusers of themselves and Mankind.” The types of same-sex behaviors that were most widely practiced in his day were things like pagan worship prostitution, sex between masters and slaves, and pederasty (sex between men and adolescent boys). Same-sex marriages between equal-status partners weren’t on the radar screen at all, so the idea that he was condemning those kinds of relationships seems to be a stretch.

But what about the Biblical definition of marriage. The problem would be deciding which one of the definitions is the correct one. Throughout scripture marriage is described multiple ways: one man, a wife, and a concubine as in the case of Abraham; or, one man and many wives such as Solomon. Even in the new Testament Paul recommends that a Bishop should be a man of one wife which implies that many men active in the ministry of the new Christian sect had more than one wife. In Matthew 19 is one of the few times Jesus speaks about marriage. Some Pharisees ask Jesus whether a man can divorce his wife “for any and every reason,” and Jesus says no. He responds to their question—a question specifically about a man and a wife—by saying “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” While the assumption is made that this is one man married to one wife it is not specific in scripture.

Jesus wasn’t asked about same-sex marriage and Jesus never makes any comment about same-sex anything. That’s to be expected given that no one was talking about same-sex marriage in the first century when marriage was viewed more as a contract of mutual assistance and inheritance. But while Jesus didn’t directly address same-sex relationships, the core principles of his teachings on marriage can be applied to same-sex couples today. Both Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5 teach that marriage is fundamentally about the self-giving covenant that spouses make and keep with one another, reflecting God’s self-giving love for us.

These preceding examples are the primary points of scripture that opponents of Same-sex marriage point out. You will notice that a recurring theme in the rebuttal made by supporters of same-sex marriage is that either our understanding has changed, the moral law has changed, or the concept did not exist and was never addressed by Christ. Some Christians want to dismiss such an examination of Scripture but we must deal with it in respect to our daily life. If circumstances cannot change and therefore impact the way we view the literal words of scripture and its practical application to life, Scripture would be a dead document. In Scripture there is no mention of the telephone, no concept of modern weaponry, no view of medical practice, or the role of women in a world of dual income families. Our God is bigger than the boundaries of the pages of a book even if that book has red letters in it. Scripture tells us the story of God’s never failing faithfulness but the Holy Spirit refocuses those tales into meaningful reality for God’s people in each successive age.

Jesus provided a blueprint of this reinterpretation continually. He addressed this when confronted by those who loved the rules more than compassion and mercy, the Pharisees. They asked him which of all the rules, or commandments, is the greatest in an attempt to condemn him as a heretic. He responded simply with, “This is the first and greatest commandment, ‘Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul;” and the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two hang all the rest.” He then told the the parable of the Good Samaritan in which the keepers of the law turned their back on the injured man but the Samaritan, one who was deemed inferior and outcast, actually did the work of loving his neighbor. This completely disarmed the Pharisees but it did not take away their distain for what he taught — Jesus kept changing the literal words of the law to make it apply to living a merciful life. Even today, the Lord’s admonition for us to love God and love our neighbor takes a backseat in much religious practice. We love the rules. The rules help us divide people into “them” and “us.” With the rules it is easy to think we are God with the right to judge, violating the first Great Commandment, and to divide ourselves from one another violating the second Great Commandment of our Lord. It is applying this test that allows many of us in today’s Church to welcome LBGT persons who seek to form committed, faithful relationships through public commitment or Same-Sex marriage.

Think back to the story of creation. The only thing God said was “not good” in his creation was that the Man was alone. So God made for the Man a helpmate and companion. For many people, a loving intimate relationship with someone of the opposite sex is as unnatural as a relationship with someone of the same sex would be for others. They would be condemned to live out unacceptable alternatives: a marriage of convenience with someone with whom they could never fully share their whole self, a life celibate and alone denying the hunger to love and be loved, or a life where they see themselves as outcast and unloved forced to use others as pawns in their seeking of affection. To me the “Love your neighbor as yourself,” part of the summary of the law is that we would encourage those created by God to find “bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh” so that they may not be alone in a way that is life-giving to them and to the community of faithful people of which they seek to be a part.

We must remember it’s not the gender of the partners, but the faithfulness and love the partners have for each other that makes a relationship moral. When gay and lesbian people fall in love and choose to form a moral, affirming, loving relationship (or to be married for short), they take the words of Genesis as their own: “Here at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Here is a fitting partner for me.

So, long story short, this is why I believe the Spirit of God is calling the People of God to embrace a new practice and a new understanding. To better love God and to better love their neighbors; to be the Church to more people in more honesty; to honor faithful people who God has already bestowed with many gifts for the good of all His people. This is the church’s response to Ezekiel’s admonition to not be arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; and to help the poor and needy.”. It is time we are hospitable to the stranger who has come among us seeking a home. To be hospitable we must welcome them as God created them without reservation. In so doing, we may be demonstrating hospitality to messengers sent by God.

In closing, I would recommend watching this sermon from a Baptist pastor in Richmond, VA.

A Meditation on Common Prayer

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The longer I live the more I have come to accept that unity is not a natural state for humanity. We love and nurture the things that serve to divide us: tribe, nation, faith, politics, and smartphone operating system. When all is good and everyone is getting along, we seem to struggle to find the one thing that can set us on the course of drawing lines and choosing sides. It is just the nature of the human animal.

It is this realization and the acceptance of it that makes me marvel at something that happens at the Eucharist. In spite of our fractious nature, we seek unity. We call it by many names: community, communion, camaraderie. Those names share something, “com” from the Latin word, “communis”, meaning general or universal. It seems as though some part of us seeks to become something more than the unique individual we are. That is what I want to ponder for a bit, the act and experience of common prayer.

I remember the first time I attended an Episcopal Church. Rebecca Sadler invited me. I was 16 years old and even though I had been reared with church as a normal part of life the act of attending church services was nothing special for me. The small Methodist Church in my little Northeast Louisiana town was loving and welcoming but it never rocked my world. I am sure this had more to do with me than the community of loving people in that place. In reflection I realize that the Methodists, nor the Church of God congregation I attended for a short while in junior high, ever did much as worship other than sing hymns and preach sermons at least that is how it seemed to me. All my friends will quickly tell you that I am not much of a singer. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket and I mimic whatever vocal tone is near me so singing never kindled the flame it might have. Preaching, on the other hand, stuck; and I can unctuously and self-righteously pontificate with the best of them. But back to my first visit to Christ Episcopal Church.

The things I remember the most from that first visit were that people were quiet before the service began. The space where they sat felt differently. Usually people chattered like mockingbirds with a cat in the yard but not here. People were quiet but warm. Things looked differently. There were distinct places in the building and people seemed to treat them differently. People were not wandering around. They took their paused and made some odd curtsy before taking their seats. Then they knelt for a bit. There was a sense of purpose. Things smelled differently. Usually in any gathering of southern people there was a hint of gardenia and magnolia that arose from the perfumed ladies and Old Spice from the men’s after shave. Here the smell was ancient and smokey but nothing let me know the source of that smell. When the service began the minsters approached the front of the church following a cross and the hymns we sang seemed more addressed to God than I had experienced in other places. My experience was that hymns were more about “me” and my experience of God. I was totally confused and lost when the priest turned to the people and addressed them with “The Lord be with you,” and everyone responded together with, “And with thy spirit.”

It became clear to me that this church experience was one that involved everyone. There was a dialog but it was not a dialog of individuals rather it was a dialog of the community as if they were one person. Stand, sit, sing, kneel, cross oneself, bow, genuflect. Everything felt like a living, breathing organism that was more than the individuals that comprised it. I melted away in that service my confusion not withstanding. I felt transformed. I felt like I was part of something huge. I felt like I was home.

It’s been 46 years since that first experience of Common Prayer. I have been both faithful and unfaithful in my participation. I have allowed big gaps of time to pass in my attendance much less my participation in that amazing experience. I keep coming back, however. There have been times I have been extremely active and faithful and times that I have worshiped more profoundly at Saint Mattress and Holy Comforter’s than at the altar in any church. I never felt that God was absent in my life but I felt an absence when there were not others vibrating at the same frequency with me.

There is that community thing. Two or more people doing the same thing…a common activity. It is a very comforting thing. Whenever I’ve allowed one of my gaps to occur I marvel at my return to the community at church. The ability to merge with the rhythm of the liturgy comes naturally. The words flow from my lips again and my body moves with the congregation. The feeling that I disappear and become something greater returns. The older woman, the African-American man, the woman with the walking cane, the spike-haired young person, the oddly pierced young woman, the noisy child all become one with me for a while once I can let go of me wanting to remake them in my image. I know that I am becoming one with them at the same time and my inability to carry a tune is causing them to want to remake me. The melding occurs and all those “I’s” that make up the people of faith becomes “We.” We worship, we praise, we give thanks, we confess, we do not presume, we, we, we.

This is the moment I fill up with emotion and my eyes leak. I realize I get to fade away. I become transparent. I add my distinctiveness to their distinctiveness and resistance is futile. Whoops that was Star Trek and the Borg but the enormity of the moment is the same. In a world of divisions and segregation of thought I become one of many and “we” become one. Not only do we become one, speaking the same words and making the same (or almost the same) movements but we become one with many outside of our community. I become aware that there are others in other places doing exactly the same thing. There are those who now live with God joining in the exercise as well. We are one. We are not alone. We are at once alive and dead and alive again. We are immortal. Mystery of mysteries is all around and yet I am still me. Love outside of myself offers me food and that food is transformative. Love outside of myself offers me love and urges me to allow myself to be taken. When I stumble over words or cannot speak, the person next to me, behind me, in front of me, says the words on my behalf. What else can I do but be a part? No wonder my eyes get moist…my body doesn’t have any other response to what it feels so deeply.

I remember two profound moments when others have questioned my practice of faith. The first was a man I love dearly. To me he is strong, forthright and trustworthy. He is intelligent, insightful, and one of the most Christian men in the way he treats others that I know. He is also a non-theist. He asked me over coffee once, do you really believe all that stuff? He proceeded to rattle off a list of things Christians supposedly “believe.” God created the earth in seven days. Adam and Eve were the first two people. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Mary was a virgin and gave birth. Jesus rose from the dead. I sat there a moment and had to think. Do I really “believe” all those things…literally? I remember my response, “I want to believe them.” In reflection, I would say I want to believe what they represent. I am an Episcopalian. I don’t take the bible literally but I do take it seriously. All those tenets of faith are demonstrations of God’s faithfulness and undying love for both the “me” and the “we.” As an individual my acceptance of each of them is variable. Some I treat as myth and others I take much more seriously. As a part of the community, the “we,” I can believe much more. I can believe in the redemptive Jesus who died, rose, and will come again. I can believe in the transformative action of baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I can believe because my eyes behold all of that within the community. It is there I find the empowerment (what I really find is the courage) to experience those same things within myself and in others. It is an immense task and it makes sense that it takes the collective “we” to make it happen. I also realized that faith to me is not the acceptance of facts. It is the quest of becoming something rather than intellectually assenting to something. It does not matter what my mind says or what my heart feels at a given moment. It is far more important what my being thirsts for and what I am willing to do about it.

The second question came from a man who is like a brother to me. Our connection is long and extends back to my teenage years. He is skilled, deeply kind, and has a searching nature. We have shared life’s journey with each other deeply. We talk for hours about everything. We have stuffed our bodies into little airplanes and put our lives into one another’s hands. He is much more comfortable with the literal than I am. He has recently rediscovered his own practice of faith and I believe out of a deep concern for my own spiritual well being once asked me, “Where does Jesus come into the Episcopal Church?” His intent was to ascertain Jesus’ role in our communal faith and my own. I remember my response was to laugh because it is impossible to attend an Episcopal service without an avalanche of Jesus covering you. It matters not whether it is the Eucharist or a prayer office, practically every word of the liturgy is a paraphrase of scripture from both the Old and New Covenants. “We” profess exactly what “we” believe in every service. Jesus is everywhere. He lives, dies, and is resurrected for us on the altar at each Eucharist in spite of our belief and disbelief. All this happens for but one reason, so that we can go forth to be Him in the life of one another and the world. That is why I laughed. It is inconceivable to me that others cannot see that. My response was, “he is everywhere and I guess you would just have to come and see.” For me, it is hard to really see the Christ outside the mystery of the community…the common (in all the meanings of the word).

So what is the purpose of all this babble? Just me putting into words what causes my eyes to leak, I guess. It is the act of hearing myself say what I feel. It is the act of sharing it with someone else to move it from the “me” to the “we” experience. I appreciate your indulgence and would ask you to think the next time you are in the midst of that mysterious common act of prayer and being. Think about what you experience. See if your own eyes leak when you behold it.

Welcome

Welcome to my babbling. I’ve decided to put into sharable form some of my thoughts. They are more for me than anything else so that I can focus and channel them into something worthwhile. If they are useful for you, good. If they vex, I apologize.  Welcome!