Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, January 4, 2009. Second Sunday after Christmas

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

Episcopalians rarely grovel. Our kneelers are often in needlepoint, sometimes even in petit point. Even in asking to get into heaven, we do so with sublime decency and good order. With this collect we acknowledge that Jesus humbled himself to share in humanity, but at the same time praise God for wonderfully creating us and even more wonderfully restoring us when we sin and fall short of God’s plan.

In the Baptismal Covenant we pledge to respect the dignity of every human being. Dignity is not an overlay or an afterthought. It is essence, in the fundamental design of absolutely everyone.

God ended each day of Creation saying, “It is good.”

Imprinted as a Southern Baptist, I find that the Book of Common Prayer often makes me sound better than I feel I ought. The 1928 edition encouraged a bit more groveling, bidding us to approach God admitting to be “miserable offenders,” proclaiming “there is no health in us.” I was bred proclaiming the amazing grace that God could save a “wretch like me.” Some Episcopalians never sing "Amazing Grace."

Even at 5 or 6 years old, I could work myself up into a proper sweat convinced that I was chief of sinners. I recognize there is real danger in thinking of myself more highly than I ought to think. But Episcopal liturgy does me a great service by reminding me again and again not to run the other debilitating spiritual risk of thinking of myself more lowly than I ought to think.

Self-pity is a major risk for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered folk raised in my generation, and for some in the latest generations as well. When we are despised, it takes strong faith to keep focused on the marvel of our creation. It is God who has made us, and not we ourselves. God knows us all by name.

Jesus said, “You must be born again.” As a teenager, I was taught that only heterosexuals have God’s favor, and wrongly I sought to re-wire myself as heterosexual, I was a failure:
Queer Power

Swish, swish, men of America.
Cross your legs only at 90-degree angles.
Swish, swish!
Your fingernails are getting a mite too long.
Swish, swish!
That fuchsia shirt might be misunderstood.
Swish, swish!
You'd better lower your pitches
and say something evil about your mothers.
Swish, swish!
You smell too sweet and are too polite. Be crude
Swish, swish!
Talk about war, not about flowers.
Swish, swish, men of America.
Swish, swish. Swish, swish.
Swish, swish. Bug off.

I had to die to the heterosexual life, to lose it, before I could discover the rich life that God made possible for me as the gay person God had made. I had to be born again, not of a new body, but of a new spirit. My salvation came in discovering how lovingly, wonderfully God had made me.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

In today's readings, even sourpuss Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” eschews lamentation:

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty
He rejoices because God is gathering those who have been scattered, those who have been dispersed.

Psalm 84

I will never forget the first Integrity Convention, when for the first time in history over 130 gay and lesbian Episcopalians gathered at St. James Cathedral in Chicago in the summer of 1975. At times it seemed like a great rush of angels wings. We were not alone. We were at the altar together, as who we are, honest to God and honest to one another.

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you. ….

No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a

God does not choose us out of great pity, but out of great joy. God’s plans for us began before the foundations of the world! We are not God’s after-thought. We are not late-comers into God’s love, though we are occasionally slow in realizing it. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give all lgbt persons a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know God, so that, with the eyes of our heart enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which God has called us, what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us, lbgt and straights together, who believe.

Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

Out LGBTs of my generation (I am now 72) often traveled light. Any property we owned was easily portable. I was 62 before I ever bought any real estate. When I came out as gay to my employers, I fully expected to be fired and was amazed when I was not. We were integrating our neighborhood in a small town in rural Georgia, both racially and sexually. We were frequently threatened with violence, but lived largely unafraid. Occasionally a friend would see me walking or jogging at night and insist that I not run such risks.

The Holy Family got wind of a murder plot against all Jewish male new-borns, and fled to Egypt for the first years of Jesus’ life. They returned only when Herod, the mass murderer, had died, and even when they returned, they did not go to Jerusalem, where they would be more visible and at risk, but to Nazareth, more out of the way.

There are approximately 34.5 million refugees and displaced persons world-wide. (See Refugees International.) This number is expected to grow as poverty and violence escalate in the world.

Keep your eye on the child growing up in Nazareth.

See also

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008. 1st Sunday after Christmas

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The lessons today are pointedly about the meaning of Christmas, not about the birth narratives, and definitely not about Yuletide celebrations, commercial or even ecclesiastic.

As a reminder, Ernest and I have occasionally sent out this message as a Christmas card:

The Gospel Truth

Well, you remember how at Christmas
last year the two fairies down our street
wrote "Bah, Humbug!" on their front door,
using rhinestones in Olde English script
(You know how they are!)?
Well, I just learned that last week
the one who teaches at the college
told a group of students at a Christmas party
that Jesus was born
without benefit of heterosexuality
and less than nine months
after Mary and Joseph were married!
There really ought to be a law
against such scandal!
If we don't stop them soon,
they'll probably claim
Jesus loves them!

When Ernest and I floodlit our door display, some of our neighbors in rural Georgia threw things at it, and a few others ripped pieces from it. Humbug to their kind of Christmas indeed.

The ‘gospel truth’ is that God truly does love Ernest and me, plus Eve & Margaret, Adam, Eve, Adrian & Andrew, Anno & John, Kim-Ming, Austin, Barbara, Bernie, Beryle & Edna, Betty, Bill & Michael, Bob, Bron & Bruce, Caryl, Catherine, Charles & Cheryl, Clarence & Clifton, Conrad, David & Joseph, Jim & Jo Ann, Irl & Sharon & Jack, Ana & Tawanna, Tim & Tom, Kim & Scott, Chris, Mae Del & Clifton, Ed & Patty, Flo, Joe, Kit, Nan, Ned, Ric, Zou, Wan-kan, Anthony & Evens, Win-win, Eula & Bubbah, Lula & Erman, Bets, Horace, Annakali & Susan, Ronald, Rasalind, Bryan & Luc, Susan, Eliana, Lazaro, Libby, T. C. & Ted, Joyce, Marcela & Marge, Nancy, Linda & Liz, Gordon & Grace, Mike & Mildred, Connie, Hale, Jane, Eugenie & Eunice, Peter, James, Janet, Geoffrey, Wilfred, Sergio, Douglas, Ruth Ann, Michael, Richard & Robert, Kathleen & Kay, Fifi & Fletcher, Marie, Juliette, Regina & Rhoda, Maxine, Monique, Doris, Louis, Louise, Judith, H. J., Nick & Barnet, Jack & Christine, Jack & Linda, Mark, H. K., Parker, Earl & Edgar, Paul & Victor, Neil & Ethel, Neil, Nella & Nicholas, Hillary & Bill, William & Winston, William, Guilio & Jesus, Thomas, Raymond, Inan & Elizabeth, John & Jon, Gwen, Jean, Joan, Francis, Ewing & Fernando, Zhang & Wu, Dennis, Frank, Avinash, Saunders, Cynthia & Beckie, Orris, Marcy, Tilly, Chad, Archie, Derrick, Juan, Beulah, Cheryle, Huntington, Carlos, Cornelius, Derek, Claudia, Rollie & Michael, Odoric, Ginette & Sallie, Demitrio & Alex, Glennes, Grant, L. P. & Andrew, Lavinia, Leopold & Adolph, Edythe & Kathy, Carolyn & Dr. Jay, Rand, Devon, Dorothy & Dot, Lorraine, Deirdre & Julian, Warren, George, Gloria, Patrick, Sharon & Shujan, Henry, Russ, Luis & Lynn, Otis & Pamela, Cassandra, Marshall & Martha Luz, Judson, Justin, Milton, Victor & Wantu, Shiuanan, Zhouyi, Gervais, Steven, Melvin & Merritt, Lloyd, Luo-Zhang, Adam & Eve, Lutibelle, Li Min Hua, and absolutely everybody.

Joy to the whole world!

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

One of the amazing things about Isaiah is his certainty about God’s goodness regardless of the current circumstances, under various invasions of Israel. He proclaimed that the earth is the God’s and that God will destroy it, but God will not destroy Israel if Israel will remain faithful to God.

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Like Isaiah, the psalmist stresses that God is on the side of the humble and the meek.

God is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, *
in those who await his gracious favor.

The Meek are Getting Ready!

Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7

Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian. -- unless you are lesbigay -- according to too many in the Church.

Christ has turned the rules upside down, inside out. Those who were condemned by the law are now justified by our faith in Christ our savior. And not us only: God loves absolutely everybody just as much (not more and not less) as God loves lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered.

John 1:1-18

The Word of God is person, not a book. The Bible bears important witness to that person, but it is no substitute for that person. We worship the person Jesus, not the book.

In his book The Sexuality of Jesus William Phipps reveals painting after painting of the Madonna with mother Anne pointing gleefully to an obvious erection on the baby Jesus. Sometimes a man is standing behind appearing to peek, as if luridly. He is Joseph, rejoicing with his wife and mother-in-law. To the huge audience of the church for centuries this scene was not lurid at all. The Vatican museum may be one of the few safe places for these paintings in our time, but for centuries they were treasured as holy icons of the incarnation in churches throughout Christendom.

Early Christians had little problem in understanding how Jesus could be God: the bigger miracle for them was how God could be human. The erect penis of the Christ Child was irrefutable proof of God’s humanity.

God did not turn out the lights when She made us! All parts of us are honorable. God made us whole. Rejoice!

Imagine how much more the Good News would be perceived as such if those of us who have heard it would be as welcoming as God is.

Merry Christmas!

See also

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008. Advent 4.

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Occasionally a collect seems to have made it into the book without careful screening. It surprises me that this one made it in, especially for the final Sunday of Advent.

I don’t like the mixed metaphor of God as a visitor finding inside us, specifically inside our heart (the left or right ventricle?) a place to live, and not just a place, but a mansion.

I went for an echo cardiogram yesterday, and that experience influences my response to language about the heart as much as one of Jesus’ initial twelve disciples would be dramatically influenced in speaking about the “road of life” were he to ride on a donkey down the New Jersey Turnpike.

The collect further complicates the metaphor by asking God now, before Jesus’ coming, to purify our conscience. Where is our conscience? In our head? In the left or right brain? In our circulatory system? Is God causing my gout as a punishment for the pâté and port that I had last night? Do the pâté and port need God's help in causing the gout?

Add to that complication the de rigueur homage given to potentates (even though this potentate is off on daily de-lousing missions) with a bob to God’s son, assuring God, that Jesus “lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.”

I presume God and Jesus already know who they are, that in this prayer we are speaking more to ourselves to remind us who they are, but even on those terms, does this collect get it right? Compare, “so that Jesus at his coming may find in us a manger prepared for him.”

Did Jesus undergo his major sacrifice for the sins of the whole world just for a McMansion? Are we his disciples just so that we can hedge against the exigencies of Wall Street and get our own mini-McMansion by and by? Do we as Christians reject materialism in this life only so that we can get all that stuff in the end?

And why should we ask God to purify our consciences? Is not that work we should do for ourselves? God’s part has already been done, once and for all, for ever. Will we ever move away from guilt and self-absorption if we prefer the irresponsibility of wallowing in it?

At Mass today I will tune out on this Collect, substituting: “Thank you, Jesus.”

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

McMansions, again.

The parish finder of The Episcopal Church Annual identifies 45 parishes in the Diocese of Newark within a radius of 10 miles of my own zip code. I have collected pictures of God’ housing in the Diocese of Newark. Some of those are cold and drafty and take up so much of the parish energy just to keep in operation that little is left for mission to the world around them.

It seems appropriate that God shifts from David’s talk about a house for God and talks instead about a House, a lineage for David. God is always on the move and as we are told elsewhere, does not live in a house made of human hands. Besides, why would God want to get stuck living inside huge structures built in a style long outdated, a style that most of the members themselves would not choose for themselves when they build their own McMansions?

So that bishops can live like other people

Legend has it that when J. P. Morgan built the Bishop’s palace for the Diocese of New York, he said that it was important for bishops to live like other people.

A canon friend of mine swears that his own bishop, in another diocese near mine, arrived late at a meeting on social concerns, listened carefully to a person speaking about homelessness, and then asked, with no tongue in cheek, “You mean there are people who live without either a summer home or a winter home?”

(The Episcopal Church used to be known as The Republican Party at Prayer. Unlike another Republican leader of our time, at least this bishop knows how many houses he has.)

I am intrigued that God says, “I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.” This refers to the Arc of the Covenant which the Jews kept in a tent, including its Holy of Holies, later replicated in the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem. It’s similar to the doctrine of ‘real presence’ held by many Anglocatholics, that in the reserved sacrament God is kept physically present at the altar. That is awe-inspiring. It can also sometimes be convenient to keep God stuck there and out of your business when you leave.

Note the reversal in 2 Samuel: David looks at his own house and decides that God needs a house too. God acknowledges that God has been living in a tent since he delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. (Was God living in a McMansion before that? Was God’s house as fine as David’s cedar house? The text does not say.) God shifts the subject away from getting his own real estate and points instead to the real estate he has given, and is securing, for his servant King David, “Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”

The passage in 2 Samuel is about David’s entitlements as rewards that God has bestowed on him.

What would the family of Uriah would say about that?!

Would it have been any different if Jonathan had survived to become David’s husband or domestic partner? I doubt it. We lgbts can compete in all ways with heterosexuals, and can be just as sinful when we set our minds and hearts to do so.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Clearly David’s house is no longer a literal house of cedar, but a lineage, a dynasty, one inherited by Jesus in his DNA, and as joint heirs with Jesus, inherited by all of us Christians:
"I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:

'I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'"
Later the psalmist asserts:
He will say to me, 'You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.'
That is probably not what he whispered into the ear of Bathsheba when he first stalked her. The psalm text is what David’s PR manager might report.

Romans 16:25-27

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
Try diagramming this passage and you will discover that it is not a sentence at all: it has no independent or main clause, but is a combination of two prepositional phrases,

Now to God…… -- to the only wise God….

All else is subordinate to those phrases.

The text comes at the end of the last chapter of Romans. The NRSV gives it the heading, “The Final Doxology.”

Notice Paul’s ownership of the good news he proclaims, “my gospel."

Notice Paul’s phrase “the obedience of faith.” In it he mingles faith with works (obedience) -- two items he often keeps far apart. He is the great promulgator of the doctrine that salvation derives from faith alone, not from right behavior, nor from correctness in following God’s law.

By qualifying obedience to be ‘the obedience of faith,’ he leaves room for consistency, by suggesting that the obedience is a response that faith makes possible. In Pauline theology obedience is worthless when calculated to gain God’s favor; obedience is a response because we already have God’s favor, based not on our righteousness but on God’s love and mercy.

-- We already have God's favor unless you are lgbt, according to classical readings of the first chapter of Romans, wherein Paul uses homosexual temple prostitutes (aresenokotoi) as examples of those so depraved that God has already given up on them.

I have never met a temple prostitute, nor do I want to be one. The behaviors Paul lists here bear no resemblence to the union Ernest and I have, with God's help and blessing, experienced for almost 35 years.

Paul suggests that his readers in Rome need to be careful not to judge the temple prostitutes' behavior, for his readers have themselves been involved in it and will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 2:1-3). The original texts have no chapter divisions, and the “Therefore” at beginning of Chapter 2 clearly refers to what he has been saying in Chapter 1.

Luke 1:26-38

Mary becomes fascinating if we refuse to put her on a pedestal. She is feisty. Today’s canticle is her Magnificat (the passage just following the Gospel lesson). In it “sweet“ and “gentle“ Mary is an uppity working-class girl pregnant out of wedlock. She is so poor that when her baby comes, her maternity ward will be a stable: Yet Mary is not a complainer or whiner. She asserts that God…
… has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Let it be; let it be.

See also

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008. Advent 3

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

In three and a half decades of asking the Episcopal Church to treat lgbts justly, I have often been advised to use other language. “Use the language of the bible,” many have counseled. “Justice is a secular concept and you will be accused of bringing the world’s agenda, not God’s, at least within the USA. With countries who have struggled for justice -- like India, for example -- Justice Talk may win bring you better luck, as it helps some to bypass their squeamishness about sex -- but in the United States, stick with Gospel language.”

What a sad commentary on the biblical literacy of The Episcopal Church if my advisors’ counsel is well founded!

For I the LORD love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

“Justice talk” has long offended the religious. It offended the Bush administration when criticized for torturing prisoners, many of them persons who had not yet stood trial and had not been convicted of any offense.

Jesus offended his neighbors back home in Nazareth where he had grown up as a carpenter‘s son. He read this text in his own voice and the crowd was so offended by his uppityness that they tried to hurl him over a cliff. He disguised himself in the crowd and disappeared safely. (Luke 4:18),

Psalm 126

The psalm also proclaims the reversal of fortunes for those who have been oppressed:

Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

In the language of recent months: This is not a bail out of Wall Street, but a rescue of Main Street.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Do not quench the Spirit.

Quench here means ‘extinguish, ’ as when we quench a flame on a candle.

It is dangerous to ignore the Holy Spirit’s demands upon us. In Brecht‘s play Galileo a visitor to the Vatican asks a resident ecclesiastical courtier how the trial can be going so fiercely against Galileo in view of the evidence. “It’s easy once you get the knack of it, “ the courtier replies.

In our economy, it is relatively easy for the rich and powerful to reduce their own taxes while increasing the taxes on workers and reducing services to the poor. Those thus abused are easily dismissed as less qualified and mere complainers.

One of my students from the Dominican Republic said to me several years ago, “Sir, I need to return home. This country is threatening my soul. In the Dominican Republic, beggars are rarely scorned, and even though most people are poor, they try to give at least a token to the beggars. But since moving to Newark, I’ve become like most other people: when I see a stranger on the street walking towards me, I steel myself and refuse to look at the person. When she or he asks me for assistance, I pretend not to have heard, or I say ‘Sorry, not today.’ Something in me is dying slowly and steadily as I shut out compassion."

“But I am old and doddering and if I reach for my wallet, I could easily be knocked over the head,” I often have told myself. Yet when I have moved through the rough streets of Newark and other cities in Northern New Jersey with my friend and colleague in the deputation to General Convention, Lyn Headley-Deavours, I have noticed that she always stops to give to beggars, and to speak kindly to them.

As an attractive female, Lyn is far more vulnerable than I. In my guilt, I asked her about it. She always keeps a few single bills easy to reach on her when she uses the street. “My gifts are small and probably not important to those who receive them, but they are very important to who I am and how I perceive my neighbors,“ Lyn explained. Lyn refuses to quench the spirit.
Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Spirituality is not cheap sentimentality. It demands hard work, mental work.

Shortly after General Convention in 2003, a priest called, gave me his name, and asked whether I remembered him.

“Sorry, I do not recognize you by name,” I replied.

“I have written to you a few times telling you how evil you are.”

“Sorry, that’s not a helpful clue since many have done that,” I said. “What may I do for you?”

“I have called to ask you for your forgiveness,” he said. “I started to read what you have written on your website and to listen to how you respond to those who disagree with you, and I see that you are a Christian, that you do not return evil for evil.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but you don’t get to read my first drafts,” I teased.

“I am quite serious,” he said. “Jesus spent most of his time with people like you, and I was wrong to despise you as a prophet before I even tested what you say. Will you forgive me?”

He and I have broken bread together several times. One of his sons is a very fine poet. His family is gentle and kind. I value his friendship as together we continue to test what prophets say and try to hold fast to that which is good.

John 1:6-8,19-28

John the Baptist reminds us of how very political Christianity was in its origins. His head ended up on a silver platter very soon, and aside from being Jesus’ first cousin and his baptizer, John was not around for most of Jesus’ short ministry. John dared to confront Herod and his sleazy mistress demanding that they repent. He was not only a Nazarene (resident of Nazareth like Jesus) but also a Nazarite (a strict ascetic order). He fomented dissention and unrest even among the Jews, and he was enormously popular with many people. Those in power feared his influence. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'"

How welcome would he be in your parish? How welcome would be anyone who understand her or his identity as that of a prophet?

We are only 15 days away from the annual trek to Bethlehem. Get ready.

See also

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008, Advent 2

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Consider the rhetoric of collects. What does the author of the collect intend to accomplish by having people pray it?.

Advent is a season of great expectations, the first season of the Christian new year. It is preparation for the second season, Christmas. This collect prompts us to ask for what the season is to effect: repentance to get us ready for salvation:

To hold great expectations, we must be willing to change, and not just any change. This collect commits us to heed the prophets, to examine ourselves and turn from our sins. For example, the prophet Micah says that God requires only three things of us. In what ways have we failed to
  1. do justice
  2. love mercy
  3. walk humbly
-- not just in .our personal behavior, but in our corporate behavior as a congregation, a diocese, or a province of the Anglican Communion; and also in our corporate behavior as a nation, where we are franchised and shareholders through taxation?

The collect does not prompt us to grovel or wail. Instead, we beseech God: “Give us grace to heed their warnings.” Repentance can be done decently and in good order. How very Episcopalian!

Isaiah 40:1-11

It’s hard for me to read this passage. Handel keeps ringing in my ears. Perhaps the congregation’s best tenor should be the first lector, beginning, “A reading from the prophet Isaiah” and then sing Handel’s solo.

If you don’t have a tenor up to the challenge, invite a lesbian male impersonator to lip-synch it from a recording.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Benedixisti, Domine

Does the land prosper when people are good? Does famine or other disaster result from our sins?

When things go wrong, are we right to seek out our misbehavior as the cause?

As religious people are we any different from other superstitious people? Why do we so easily see superstition in the faith of another, and no superstition in our own.

Psalm 85 is easier to pray when things are going well:

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

It is not a psalm for 9/11 nor a psalm to recite while in the eye of Katrina or Ike.
Imagine a community in which Arabs and Jews embrace and support each other. Imagine a community in which men are just as concerned with women’s rights as women are? Imagine a community in which every family dines with a family of another race or culture at least once a month? Imagine a church in which lgbt persons are valued and encouraged..

Then be that community in the making.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Peter urges us to blend patience with urgency. Expect God to come at any minute, but remember that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Don’t be caught unprepared. And we prepare ourselves by “leading lives of holiness and godliness.”

Leading holy and godly lives not only helps us in our waiting, Peter indicates, but actually “speeds up the coming of the day of the Lord.”

Is that just metaphorical? If it is just metaphorical, is it any less efficacious?

Mark 1:1-8

Have you eaten locusts and wild honey at your coffee hour recently? Or in the sermons?

Imported by Neiman’s from the Gaza Strip? Or with a recipe from your favorite chef on the Food Network?

Today is a good opportunity for a brief Advent Pageant. A young athlete “clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around her waist" might interrupt and terminate the sermon repeating this refrain

Repent! Repent! Repent!
Jesus is coming again, at any moment. Get ready!
Do justice.
Love mercy.
Walk humbly

-- while other children, dressed wildly, move through the congregation passing out candy made with honey, and chocolate covered locusts, or a substitute that crunches like them.


You might invite a quartet from your local gay men’s chorus (or gays from your own parish choir) to end the sermon by singing Holly Near’s We are a Gentle Angry People, and We are Singing for Our Lives. Add verses of your own, especially, “We are lgbt people and we’re singing….”

When the song gets to the verse “We are all in this together,” the singers would invite those in the congregation to join them in singing and processing around the church.

Repent! Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

See also

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008, Advent 1

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

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

At an annual meeting of the parish, the agenda is distributed with this item in first place:
The vestry has decided to change the name of the parish as a strategy to evangelize the community. Our current name has grown much too familiar. It does not make a clear statement about who we are and what we are about in the first decade of the third millennium. We need a new name to attract more people as we revitalize.

Henceforth, we will be known as ‘The Episcopal Church of the Second Coming.’

Please help us invite all of the town to join with us in vigilant anticipation of Jesus’ arrival in glorious majesty.
“But Episcopal Churches don’t use names like that!“ someone protests. We name churches after Saints, or after God (the Holy Family, Holy Trinity, Christ Church,….) or after attributes of God (Grace…) or events in the life of God (Church of the Resurrection, Church of the Nativity, Church of the Ascension…).”

“But the Second Coming is an event in the life of God!” the senior warden counters.

“If people in this town want to emphasize the second coming, there are plenty of Pentecostal and fundamentalist congregations to choose. Episcopalians have never courted that share of the market, nor the music that comes with it!” the head of the Altar Guild replies.

“We build our churches expecting them to last for generations. All those other details are metaphors for the end of life for each one of us individually, not a mass exodus and resurrection on Pay TV!” shouts another parishioner.

Isaiah 64:1-9

It would surely help with evangelism if God made an appearance in person now and then, and an occasional miracle would help too. We can use the Psalter to praise God’s mighty works in the past, but that is not close or urgent. Isaiah puts it:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil--
to make your name known to your adversaries
We will call Church Insurance, God, so don't hesitate. Puleeze put on a show, or at least make an appearance! Our wells are mostly invisible underground, but we have some fine malls with fountains to serve as a good venue.

Others find it difficult to to believe that God is showing up all along by incarnating highly unlikely persons and settings, and only for those who have ears t to hear and hearts to understand:
Lutibelle Imitates a Straight Male Prayer

God, I can't pray just now,
though you're the ruler
of the universe.

Some people
have been saying that you
might not even be a real man,
might be instead an androgynous mutation.

Forgive me for my difficulties
in paying attention.
I do find it distracting
if I don't know for sure
what's under that robe
you're wearing
and whether those whiskers are fake.

It was difficult enough
when those black children
started coloring you black.
Before long
even sissies will be saying
that you lisp
or go about in drag.

God, I think I'm about to lose
my religion,
and you'll
just have to thunder again
if you're going to get me back.

--from Quean Lutibelle’s Pew by Louie Crew

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

The psalmist also wants God to show up and fix all the problems. Psalm 80 suggests that God hasn’t shown up lately and notes that seeing God‘s countenance helps a lot with being saved.

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

The psalmist admits that maybe we have angered God, but how long is God going to stay away? :

O LORD God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?

As in many other psalms, the psalmist turns to self-pity:

You have fed them [us] with the bread of tears; *
you have given them [us] bowls of tears to drink.

You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

When the world took me to be straight, I was embarrassed by the psalms, especially this refrain that ‘our enemies laugh us to scorn.’ Once I came out, I understood, especially when I came out as a gay Christians.

When I came out of the closet, the psalms so clearly spoke for me about my own oppression that at one point I foolishly wondered how those who are not oppressed could see anything for themselves in psalms that complain of enemies.

I under-estimated the power of empathy: this psalm has the potential to put everyone into solidarity with all who are laughed to scorn, and not just with our own oppression.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

I suggest that we hold onto this gentle opening of 1st Corinthians. Six chapters late, as Saint surely knows already, he’s going to scold several in the church in Corinth, particularly for their sexual immorality, but he begins the letter by buttering them up rather than by battering them:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark 13:24-37

One of my husband’s favorite t-shirts says, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” It is interesting to watch reactions to it when he wears it public. A few seem almost to panic, as if fearing God might accidentally strike them while punishing Ernest on the spot. Some glare at him. A few smile or snicker.

In 1989, I returned to teach at a college where I had taught 18 years earlier and found the college much fallen in its energy and its mission. It had gone from teaching survivors of the worst sorts of racism, mainly first generation blacks from the rural south, to being a place for unambitious idlers who had moved into the middleclass. Students no longer had interest in academics. The new president insisted that the faculty give good grades to all to keep up the enrollments.

I shared my frustration about this shift with a dear friend in nearby Charleston, Near the end of the meal, my friend smiled gently, reached across the table, and took both my hand in his. “Louie, let go of some of your frustration, my friend. We have only a short time together, and only a short time on this earth. I doubt I‘ll make it to 40, and I know how precious each moment is.” My friend lost his battle with AIDS six months later. He was 39.

People who have survived a near-death experience also sometimes stress that they learned from it to revise their priorities, to live fully now, the only time we are guaranteed.

Did Jesus forfeit some of his omniscience in becoming fully human? Jesus told his disciples that “this generation will not pass away” before the eschaton.
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake
Saint too counseled the Corinthian Christians to expect the “Day of the Lord” and be ready for it.

381 years later a second council at Nicea approved as part of the creed: “He will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end."

Now. almost 2000 years since the resurrection, no Church is called “The Episcopal Church of the Second Coming.”

For now, it seems Advent is it.

"Behold, I come quickly"

Even so come, Lord Jesus.

See also

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008. Christ the King

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

As an lgbt person, I listen with trepidation when Jesus tells the church that it has the power to choose who is in and who is out. There are many Christians who will endanger the lives of lgbt persons if indeed they hold the keys to the kingdom. If God binds in heaven what they have bound on earth and looses in heaven what they have loosed on earth, lgbts are in deep trouble, as are many others who have been cast out.

I rejoice that Christ the King has not abdicated. Christ the King gets the last word and uses criteria very different from those used by enemies of lgbts in many parts of the church. Christ’s rule is “most gracious” and Christ desires all people to be freed and brought together:

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

The Anglican Communion strains with conflict about lgbt persons. We hear much about the “Four “Instruments of Unity” (The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Primates Meeting, the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council), yet it is clear that the majority of the primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury have no place of respect for lgbts and our friends in the unity they envision.

The Archbishop invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference persons who support governments that imprison lgbts and even put us to death just for being who we are, yet the Archbishop refused an invitation to gay bishop +Gene Robinson, duly elected as Bishop of New Hampshire.

Little in the actions or the rhetoric of the bishops would bring lgbts together within the Anglican Communion. Several bishops have supported Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, who has asserted that gays are “lower than pigs or dogs.”

Not so with Christ’s rule, which is “most gracious.” It is Christ, not the primates nor the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and it is Christ who wants to bring us all together.

Christ did not shout or even groan from the cross: “My sacrifice is for heterosexuals only!”

“God so loved the world that God gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes on him shall have everlasting life.”

Just what part of whosoever is so difficult to understand?

Psalm 100

What a gem! So much so that it is easy to recite in ecstasy not noticing some of its assertions:

  • We did not make ourselves. God did
  • We belong to God.
  • God is good.
  • God’s property is always to show mercy (even when others do not)
  • God’s mercy and goodness will last forever
  • Liturgy should be exuberant.
But read the psalm. It says it far better. I am glad that those who collected the Psalter gave this psalm a big round number. Psalm 100 and Psalm 23, must be the most memorized of all the psalms. Say them both ‘by heart.’

Ephesians 1:15-23

Saint wants active listeners, listeners that pay attention “that with the eyes of your hearts enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

I relish Saint’s syntactical flourishes. Remember that he is writing this for the poor, for those not approved by an earthly king yet fully aware of kings all around them.

His first sentence is warm up. He continues, ever the master of sound bytes to encapsulate his entire theology:

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Even into our adulthood, neighbors liked to repeat what they overhead when Charles, my friend across the street, 6, and I, 4, sat arguing in a sand pile:
Charles: My dad has more money than your dad has.

Louie: No he does not. How much does your daddy have?

Charles: He has ten thousand dollars.

Louie: Well my daddy has twenty thousand dollars.

Charles: Well my daddy has one hundred thousand dollars.

Louie: Well my daddy has a million dollars.

Charles: That’s nothing. My daddy has a trillion, trillion dollars.

Louie: [silent]

Charles: Whatsamatter? Your daddy can’t top that I betya! My daddy has a trillion, trillion dollars!

Louie: My daddy has so much money that there are not enough words to say it!
“Christ the King”, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”: they are a bit like that. We really need Handel to sing it for us if we expect to say it right. Hallelujah!

Matthew 25:31-46

But our King of Kings and Lord of Lords is radically humble in exercising his majesty on the ‘Great Getting Up Morning.’

Straights will be judged not by how right or wrong they are in arguments about sexuality, but by how well they treated Jesus when Jesus masqueraded as the lowliest lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered persons.

LGBTs will be judged not by how right or wrong they are in arguments about sexuality, but by how well they treated Jesus when Jesus masqueraded as those who disagree with lgbts.

What a wondrous religion! God leaves us stuck with each other -- stuck not just with our friends but also with our enemies. God gives us a model of prayer to remind us again and again: “God, use the same standard in judging me that I use in judging those who have sinned against me.”

It is dangerous to pray the Lord’s Prayer if we don’t really mean it.

See also

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2009

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

Waiting for God‘s Handouts

Psalm 123

With God “enthroned in the heavens” the psalmist watches God's hand closely, expecting a hand-out:

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the LORD our God, *
until he show us his mercy.

What can a servant do to attain an employer’s favor? Attend to the employer’s every need and keep your eyes on the employer’s hand for a gratuity.

Watch the eyes of a beggar approaching a friend with whom you are walking down the street. You will often see this same dynamic. The beggar is watching your friend's hand: is any money there? The beggar’s eyes will often move to your own hands before the beggar turns to ask you for help.

The psalmist puts us in the same relationship with God.

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, *
for we have had more than enough of contempt,

Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *
and of the derision of the proud.

Enough already! Indeed.

I stayed away from Lambeth altogether while it happened. It is not a healthy spectator sport. I quietly went off all discussion lists and was amazed at how cleansed I felt. When the Conference ended, I easily sped through a few good summaries to see what I need to know, sans the contempt.

Lgbts have had far too much of the scorn and derision of those proud to think they are better than we are. Lord, I am watching your hand for the most valuable gratuity possible: mercy. Lord, have mercy.

The Collect
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I rejoice that Episcopalians do not have to hang up our minds when we enter. The bible is not a weapon with which to clobber us, but a book to study, even with a high-lighter, not just be told, but to be challenged to think for ourselves about what we read.

When we “inwardly digest,” our own body chemistry alters what we have eaten to appropriate it for our own nurture, for our own spiritual experience, and there is nothing wrong about critical thinking.

I taught the bible as literature at state universities for many years. Sometimes I would begin the course by bringing in a bucket of dirty water and a worn out paperback of the Bible we used in the class.

“Holy Bible” refers to what is in it, not to the binding, the paper, or typeface. In this course, this book will have to compete with any other books that you have studied. What you do privately with it is your own business. In this class, this book must earn its title of ‘holy’ just as we expect any other book to live up to the claims it makes for itself and the claims that others make for it.

We Episcopalians hear more scripture in our worship than do the congregations of most other Christian groups. We hear it in a context of reverence, not a context that promotes the kind of inspection, challenge, and rigor that a student devotes to a chemistry text.

Many of my students in the bible class are atheists, Muslims, Buddhists…… If they take the two classes (Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures), they will spend a minimum of 90 hours in class and in intense homework. They would have to go to church every Sunday for 26 years to get that much exposure to scripture if the sermon and the lectionary devote at least 12 minutes to Scripture.

My undergraduate classes are demanding, but clearly only introductory. It is small wonder to me that so many Episcopalians, known for more than our share of advanced education, are biblically illiterate.

Coptics who take my classes are somewhat in the position of Puerto Ricans taking Spanish 101: it’s an easy “A” if they do the work because they already have native competence. Coptics do not typically do much evangelism but depend on maintaining their numbers by training their own children. They know that if a generation does not know Scripture, they will die out.

Episcopalians have spent much of the last 50 years cutting back on Christian education in the parish and dismantling most of our college chaplainries. "We have been eating our seed corn," says my friend John Worrell, who for many years was Episcopal Chaplain at Rice University."

Just out of college, I left the faith when I discovered how evil many Christians took me to be. I mistakenly believed that they spoke for God. Yet, because I have academic minors in New Testament Greek and in religion, throughout my career I have taught Scripture. God has used Scripture in a major way to communicate love and mercy to lgbt persons.

Today's collect squares with my own experience: when I “inwardly digest” scripture, I am led to “embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

Judges 4:1-7

I do not enjoy the blood and gore of the history book Judges, nor the Israelite tendency to see God as always on their side. Nevertheless, Deborah makes a pleasant break with the steady stream of patriarchs-in-charge. The lectionary often protects our corporate worship from seeing a really strong female, like Jael. Deborah, however, strong herself, foresaw that a woman would overthrow Sisera, the Canaanite bully who oppressed Israel for 20 years. In Atermisia Gentileschi painting we watch as she puts a tent peg through Sisera’s temple

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Saint keeps at eschatology. For him, “end times” was not just a metaphor. He expected the second-coming at any moment, as Jesus warned last Sunday, in the night and at the moment you least expect it to happen.

It’s amazing the way that Christianity is still widespread 21 centuries later, with far more adherents than it had in the first 5 centuries combined, with now very few expecting the second coming any time soon. Only after several centuries did Christians start building edifices designed to last for generations after the builders had died.

Matthew 25:14-30

The easy way to interpret this parable is to see the servant as wicked for not at least investing his money with bankers so that he would have something to give his master when the master returns.

“Go to your first national bank and be done with it, lazy man.”

But when Matthew was written and for centuries thereafter, usury (charging an interest on money lent) was a sin big time. See Exodus 22:25-27, Deuteronomy 23:19,20. Nehemiah 5:11, et al.

By not investing the money, the servant was honoring the biblical standard.

That cultural reality makes the easy interpretation patently false. Can you tell this story so that the servant is the obedient character and the owner the disobedient? Or might Jesus have intended still another interpretation? Be sure to try to reconcile all of the details with your interpretations.

See also

Sunday, November 9, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

We should call this “Billy Graham Sunday,” so strong is his evangelical connection to the lesson from Joshua. Graham’s tv program for years was “The Hour of Decision,” or in Joshua’s terms, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.”

Joshua decides for himself and for his whole family that they will serve the lord. He gives a choice to the others, but insists that the Israelites know what is at stake in their decision. He warns against too easy assent. He asserts that God will not forgive them if they choose to serve God now and then turn to serve other gods.

Note that the decision Joshua calls for is not the individual choice that Billy Graham calls for. Joshua decided for his family and presumably for their descendents, with no indication that individuals had significant input to the decision.

It is also not clear whether the choice Joshua offers is a free and equal one. He says that God will punish if they decide for God and then desert to other gods, but Joshua does not say whether God will punish those who choose other gods from the beginning.

The Collect

The Episcopal Church has no one document that collects all of its doctrine, nor any series of ‘confessional statements,’ such Presbyterians write to clarify their beliefs.

On September 30, 1990 Rt. Rev. Walter Righter, then the Assistant Bishop of Newark, ordained to the diaconate Barry Stopfel, an out gay male with a male partner. Ten Bishops with jurisdiction signed a presentment to bring Bishop Righter to trial. Later a total of 76 bishops, signed the presentment, most of them retired. On May 13, 1996, almost six years after Righter‘s alleged offence, the Court for the Trial of a Bishop exonerated Bishop Righter, saying that in the ordination, he had not violated any core doctrine of The Episcopal Church. Core doctrine for the court was to be found in in the creeds, in Scripture, and in how we pray. All else is Adiaphora, i.e., matters not regarded as central to the faith but allowable. See my collection of materials about the trial

When push comes to serve, the BCP has major status in determining what Episcopalians “choose to believe.” Treating the BCP as a source, what beliefs do we find in today’s collect?

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The collect asks us to affirm that the devil is real. Are we heretics if we reject the notion of a devil?

The collect assumes that Jesus’ purpose in being in the world was to make us God’s children and heirs of eternal life. It invites us to assert that to accomplish this purpose, Jesus had to destroy the works of the devil.

Why is the devil not mentioned in the creed? Obviously Christians would not pay allegiance to the devil, but are we really required to believe the devil exists?

Or is the devil just a literary device to personify the works of evil? If so, then is god just a literary device to personify the works of good?

Suppose a friend says to you, “I have had a real battle with the devil over the last few weeks.” How much farther will the friend need to go before you determine that the person is mentally unstable? Or would that sentence alone convince you?

Suppose a friend drives your car without permission, wrecks it, and cannot afford the repairs. The friend tells you, “I am so sorry, but the devil made me do it.”

Or coming at it from another angle, suppose you return from a vacation to find that in your absence, the Doukhobors have entered your home, collected anything that could be called ‘a modern convenience,’ and have burned those things in your yard while dancing naked around the bonfire to abjure these works of the devil.

In the 1960s artist Walter Sorge painted a series of abstractions depicting grotesque, obese nude Doukhobors dancing to purify the community of all of the works of modernity.

What in your own theology is ‘core doctrine’ and what is Adiaphora?

If today you could make or re-make a religious choice that would save your soul for eternity, what would it be?

When others around you are saying the creed, how much do they really believe, and in what sense?

Mother and Dad died six months apart, in 1982. During the second funeral, I stayed with Mama Moore, a close family friend, my parents’ contemporary, and my tutor in Latin 30 years earlier. Mama Moore was a pillar of the Baptist Church where she belonged, as well as a smaller pillar of the Episcopal Church nearby, where she would often sneak to worship.

After the funeral, we sat in her back garden for supper.

“Louie, I suppose I am a Buddhist, because I really don’t believe in the afterlife,” she said. “I believe,” she continued, “that the only immortality that we have is in the memory of those whose lives we have helped shape. Please do not forget your parents.

I can ‘pass’ the creed with a lie detector test, but I am very glad that up until this point TEC does not require one. We’ll have to wait and see what the proposed Anglican covenant will try to impose upon provinces that want to be in good standing.

Psalm 78:1-7

Today’s psalm shares Mama Moore’s concern that we re-Member, ‘make a member again,’ emphasizing that we should not forget God’s actions in our collective history:

I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.

We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD, *
and the wonderful works he has done.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Clearly Mama Moore did not agree with Saint this time, and felt she could comfort me with words quite opposite to these.
[T]he dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever
If you do not agree with Saint on this vision of the afterlife , would you see any reason to remain a practicing Christian, as Mama Moore did?

If when you die, that is your end, save as you live on in those whose lives you have helped shape, would you still remain a Christian? Would God continue to love you regardless?

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus amplifies Joshua’s urgency. Joshua stressed “choose you this day.” Jesus points out that you must be ready on short notice: you may not have time to get ready if you wait until the last minute.

Is that the same fervor which drives the Doukhobors in their naked acts of ritual purification?

Caveat: Don’t get carried away, as did a passionate country Baptist preacher I heard once exhorting his congregation: “How would you like to be stuck out in the cold dark night with ten foolish virgins?”


Letter to Hong Kong from my 8th-Grade Latin

Teacher in Alabama, 36 Years Later

Vowed I would not let another week pass
before I wrote.

Back from Charlotte for my last checkup for my eyes.
I had surgery there in November.
Did not realize I could not see colors correctly
until the first cataract was gone.

I see fine now.

Don't know from whom you hear in town,
but I'll try first to list those
of your Mother's friend's who've also died:

  • Evelyn (57 yrs.), died Thursday after a
    three-yr. valiant battle with cancer.
  • Ralph from cancer about a month ago.
    He had a lovely second wife.
  • Harriet, his daughter lost one of her sons in
    the Service before Christmas.
    She is divorced. He dropped a bomb. They were loaded.
  • Mary Francis was found dead in bed last fall.
    She was Van's stepmother.
  • Fred and his wife were brutally murdered in March.
  • Mr. Mill is gone,
  • Garvin gone.
  • Clarence is still here, in body only. Poor thing.
  • Virginia (Mrs. Fred Sr.) is gone. Her house,
    in front of Clarence's is vacant still.
  • Sunny Sr. is gone. Poor Tommy, his wife, is
    senile, and so pathetic.
  • Dr. S. (Donald) has Parkinson's disease. They
    don't talk about it, but you can surely tell it.
  • Marvin has cancer all over him. Pitiful.
  • Thomas is in very poor condition.
  • Rose still hangs on.
  • Doris is gone, as is Catherine.
My garden is very pretty now, but so full of weeds.
I've spent today watering it.
And they all have Baptist appetites.
I can't work in it like I used to
because of a bad back and foot and 80 years!
Get the fellows from the Fellowship House, alcoholics,
to help me and they are pretty good for the most part.
I enjoy it, and so do my friends.

What do you think of all the Methodist hullabaloo
about deleting "Onward Christian Soldiers" from the hymnal?
And the Baptists quarreling
about what is and isn't true in the Bible?
Two august bodies spending precious time on such silly things.

By the way, our minister resigned on Sunday.
For my part, I am delighted.
Wish we could get a little more mature fellow than we have had.
And in Charlotte, the minister of the largest Baptist Church
has left the Baptist and going to become an Episcopal priest!

Oh yes, Justin R. is in London with a liver transplant,
doing very well.

Poor Hazel is here on needles and pins.
She was over there for three months. Just returned, in fact.

What are you doing during the vacation? I'd love to see you.
I'm home for good, I think.
Can't take all this running around any more.
I'm surely glad I did all my gadding when I was younger.

Let me hear from you.

Mrs. M. (1986)

See also

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

God does not keep a check list or score card to determine whether we believe in a required number of points of the creed. Nor do we forfeit points for every day we do not check in with a full quota.

Faith is not our gift to God, but God’s gift to us.

In this collect we acknowledge that our service to God is not something we do to earn God’s grace, but because we already have it. “[I]t is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service:

After I founded Integrity, I noticed that some, energized by experiencing wholeness for the first time, would give to this ministry substantially for a few years and move on to share their gifts elsewhere. I rejoiced in their time with us, and wished them well when they had completed this assignment.

I realized that the ministry also needed some of us to stay at it through thick and thin. So I made a clear commitment to God: I will stay with this ministry no matter what, even if the worst happens --- namely, even if I lose my faith.

To my suprise, and without my even asking for it, God has given me an unbounded supply of faith far beyond what I could ever have imagined.

Previously I had gone through occasional periods of doubt; that has rarely happened since I pledged to stay with the ministry.

I say this not to boast, because I have nothing to do with it. Some who have lost their faith live more faithfully than I do. I am humbled by the gift of faith and though too feeble at 71 (for a month more at least) to do much running, gladly pray that “without stumbling “ I may continue my commitment

Joshua 3:7-17
God … without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites.
This one of those Sundays the lay reader is glad she has prepared in advance. I have heard some unrepeatable mispronunciations, especially of “Hittites“ and “Girgashites.”

Although the miracle of God's holding back the flow of the Jordan River is dramatic, the text does not invite us to look at the price paid by those driven out -- the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites.

The Israelites claim entitlement to the land, with a deed written by God. The claim remains in dispute and is one of the most dangerous bits of real estate in our own time.

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

The exodus from Egypt, the 40 years in the desert, and the entry into the Promised Land become a metaphor for the spiritual journey of all believers.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, *
and he delivered them from their distress.

Like the Israelites, we may cry to the Lord in our trouble

After founding Integrity, I did not give much thought to my deployment, nor have I ever felt it primarily my responsibility. I knew that many doors in academia would be closed to me, especially because I was as out in my lgbt scholarship as in my work for Integrity. I did not presume that God is involved in decisions of hiring committees of English departments, and I certainly knew it was my responsibility to publish, speak at academic meetings, qualify for various fellowships....

But I did these things out of the joy of doing them, not to keep myself ’marketable.’ I went to interviews galore before various moves, but always assumed that where I landed was where God wanted me to be.

I feel it was no accident that I was in black higher education when I started Integrity, at the time discovering my own wholeness from which racist entitlement had cut me off. It was no accident that Ernest and I next lived in Wisconsin in the Diocese of Fond du Lac and next worked in Beijing and Hong Kong. All of these were missionary experiences for me. Nor was it an accident that I was hired by Rutgers in Newark just as Bishop Spong was initiating the Oasis ministry with lgbt persons.

He put their feet on a straight path gay trajectory *
to go to a city where they might dwell.

Man proposes, and God disposes, but we need to be very careful about dumping on God the responsibility that is our own.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

“We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children.” Indeed, even in this letter Saint is busy instructing them in good theological manners. He reminds them of his many gifts to them, as a parent might remind a child to say “thank you.” And he reinforces their good behavior by complimenting them on it:

“We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers.”

But this letter goes beyond lessons in ecclesiastical etiquette. When you know that the word you give is the word of God, you know too that for it to take root as God’s word, God must be at work in the hearts of those with whom you share it. Spiritual transformation takes place that cannot happen without God’s prompting.

We Christians need to spend time building up the faithful. Sometimes that is a matter of listening for God’s presence in the comments of others. When we see talented people at work in the church, we have the responsibility to put them in touch with a wide range of opportunity. “Would you like for me to sponsor you so that you can attend a conference the diocese is holding on……?” “Have you considered writing a book or some articles on ….?” “Might God be calling you to priesthood?”

Typically God uses our lips and our hands as her own. Not all that we say is what God would say, but God’s spirit moves in the world prompting discernment for all of us in our interactions with one another.

Matthew 23:1-12

Quean Lutibelle’s rendering:
Jesus said to the Anglican Communion:

The Primates sit as an equal on Canterbury’s seat; therefore, pay close attention to what they say and where it does not violate your conscience or violate your brothers and sisters, do what they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

  • They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, especially lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
  • They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for
  • they buy their vestments from Whipple, Challwood, and Almy and sport much lace and expensive fabric.
  • They love to have the place of honor at banquets and their thrones are the best seats in the churches,
  • and [they love] to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,
  • and [they love] to have people call them “Your Grace.”

But you are not to be called “Your Grace,” for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father-- the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

See also

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

This prayer manifests no respect for one’s own freedom to choose. In it we ask God to take away our choices. “Make us love what you command” That violates love’s spontaneity. Make me obey your orders? Don’t expect me to do so of my own volition?

The collect is stated as a contract: I will love what you command if you will make me do it.

In our marriage Ernest and I have striven for justice in the way we share resources -- money, time….all.

“If you find that I am not doing my share of the housework and other chores,” I said enthusiastically early in the relationship, “please tell me so that I can reform. Let me know. I want to be fair.”

“No,” Ernest replied. “I want you to take the responsibility on your own to check whether you are being fair, and I want to take that responsibility on my own to monitor whether I am being fair.”

Theologian Carter Heyward says, “Love without justice is cheap -- sentimentality.“

I am glad that the priest alone says the collect. Were the congregation to join in, I would try to be as inconspicuous as possible in my silence, or I might mutter sotto voce
God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; Help me to love you by loving my enemies as much as you love them and me

Matthew 22:34-46

Once when I was a guest speaker for a class, an agitated fundamentalist asked me for evidence that the bible approves of homosexuals.

“Consider the first two commandments,” I replied

“So,” he answered, “I don’t see anything about homosexuals in either Commandment No. 1, ‘You shall have no other gods but me’ or in Commandment No. 2, ‘You shall not make any graven images.’”

“Those are Moses’ first two. I referred to Jesus’ only two.”

“Huh,” he said.

“And part of the first is the most often forgotten commandment of them all: ‘You must love God with your mind.’”

“You must not be using the King James Bible,” he said with disgust.

I pointed him to today’s Gospel. “The first commandments is to Love God, and the second is like it, “love your gay neighbor as you love yourself.’” All the other commandments hang on these two.

“That’s not in the book!’ he shouted.

“Read it again,” I urged.

Those who claim to “Love the sinner, not the sin” also rarely get it. They speak glibly about love. Check out the budgets of their congregations and dioceses. How much money have they given to the healing ministries which they claim to be important for lesbians and gays? How welcome would even healed homosexuals be in their midst except as persons to trot out in arguments?

Would they want their own heterosexual child to marry a “healed homosexual”?

Jesus sets very high standards for loving someone we consider the least among us. Be there as their strong advocate and benefactor when they are sick, or naked, or in prison…

I did not write these criteria, but I know what they are, and am daunted myself that at the Great Getting up Morning I too will be judged not by how kind and fair and generous I am to other lgbt people, but by how kind and fair and generous I am to those who despise and wrongfully use us.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Psalm 90 invites us out of the narrowness of our own vision and wondrously puts us into one of God’s perspectives.

In theological arguments we run the risk of limiting God to the measure of our minds, yet this psalm exalts God:

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.

You turn us back to the dust and say, *
"Go back, O child of earth."

For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.

You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.
The psalm also proclaims God to be accessible and personal. I begins:

Lord, you have been our refuge *
from one generation to another

and ends:

May the graciousness of the LORD our God be upon us; *
prosper the work of our hands;
prosper our handiwork.

Psalm 1 is an alternative for today. Instead of it, I offer Quean Lutibelle’s revision, which tries to redress the smug, holier-than-thou attitude that seems to infuse the biblical version. It‘s hard to imagine Jesus saying Psalm 1 before and after every encounter with prostitutes, tax-collectors, drunkards, and other sinners who considered him their friend.

Psalm 1B
Miserable is the person who never talks with the ungodly,
who goes out of the way to avoid sinners,
who never can see life critically.
The self-righteous live by the rules of the elite,
and by these rules are they compulsive day and night.
They are like trees planted in a swamp, moored
in every flood of fashion.
They seem to endure, and whatsoever they perform
is always noticed.

The humble are not so; but are free,
like leaves which the wind drives everywhere.
Therefore, the humble shall not sit to be judged,
nor shall the gentle join the congregation of the
For God knows the ways of them all,
and only the self-righteous shall perish.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Saint is in one of his affectionate moods today. “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

Resolution A076 at General Convention 2003 stressed the importance of learning how to tell our own stories.

Social scientists have documented again and again that the major contribution to a person’s change from a negative to a positive attitude about lgbt persons is the presence in their lives of lgbts whose stories they know.

It’s much harder to hate an abstraction, much easier to care about a person whom you already know in many dimensions.

One measure of how effective it is for lgbts to share our stories is the studied resistance to listening to us. At four successive Lambeth Conferences bishops committed themselves to listen to lgbts tell our stories, yet few have done so, and in 2008, the only regularly consecrated bishop in the Anglican Communion not invited was the only out gay bishop, Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson. Go figure! Bishop Robinson remains, like Saint, “determined to share … not only the gospel of God but also [himself],“ his personal witness.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

In today’s lesson from Deuteronomy, shortly before his death, Moses gets to take a peek at the future of Israel, by seeing the Promised Land from Pisgah, a point at the top of Mount Nebo. Moses realizes that although he will never live in the Promised Land, his people will.

Perhaps it‘s fortunate that Moses does not get to see much of the tragedy that will afflict that land when they get there, when they are dispersed on several occasions, and when they return, again and again.

Before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of having gone to the mountain top, to envision the kind of America where his dreams of racial justice would become the experience of black and white Americans alike.

What disappointments might Dr. King and Moses experience if they could look today at their Promised Lands?

This is an election season, and the nominees of both major parties have tried hard to share their vision of a new country under their leadership. We must try to discern who has the best vision and who has the best strategy to get us there.

What do you imagine the world to be like in 20, 30, 50 years? What would you dream for the world of the future? What changes in your own life will best promote our getting there?

See also

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Many of the collects and readings in the last few weeks balanced God’s glory with God’s mercy. Some of the works attributed to God might not seem all that glorious to objective readers with no religious commitment that demands them to see all God does as good.

Occasionally, God in Hebrew Scripture sounds a bit like a personal crony of Pat Robertson. Robertson (who attended the same prep school I did, but a decade earlier) once prayed publicly that God would divert an impending hurricane farther up the coast from his compound, with no apparent sympathy or concern for those to whom he would divert the disaster. Perhaps Pat thought them not nearly as much on God’s side as Pat thinks he is.

Exodus 33:12-23

To some modern ears, Moses comes across as a more appealing character than God, much as Lot comes across as a Jesus type, pleading with God to be merciful towards those in Sodom and Gomorrah, while God blusters that he will wipe out all of them.

Last week Moses pled with God to remember that God would break his own promises if God were to wipe out the Israelites, and so God actually changed his mind.

(I use his intentionally here, as it is hard to imagine God’s gender as merely generic in this instance, for God is behaving stereotypically as patriarch, not matriarch.)

In today’s reading, Moses, exasperated, asks God to show up and display his power before the Israelites lest they again take Moses to be a fraud for not being able to convince them of God’s power. Instead, God blusters, that his name will go forth and that “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

The subtext might be, “Don’t you tell me how to be God. I’ll make my own choices.”

Then God goes into details about the theatrical effects of being present but not seen, lest those who see God die. God plans to cover Moses’ face with his hand: “you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

In his novel Counterlife (1986) Philip Roth levels stringent criticism at Zionists, especially Americans, who move to Israel, settle on the West Bank, and with blind, fervent reverence for the first five books of the Bible make a huge mess. A local character in Israel charges:

Is your brother as thrilled by the religion as by the explosives? These settlers, you know, are our great believing Messianic Jews. The bible is their bible. These idiots take it seriously.

I tell you, all the madness of the human race is in the sanctification of that book. Everything going wrong with this country [modern Israel] is in the first five books of the Old Testament.

Smite the enemy. Sacrifice your son. The desert is yours and nobody else’s, all the way to the Euphrates. A body count of dead Philistines on every other page.

That’s the wisdom of their wonderful Torah.

If you’re going out there, go tomorrow for the Friday night service and watch them sitting around kissing God’s ass, telling him how big and wonderful he is, telling the rest of us how wonderful they are bravely doing his work as pioneers in biblical Judea.

Psalm 99

Today’s psalm again proclaims God as potentate. It’s about as far as you can go from the evangelical’s saccharine, “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and God talks with me and walks with me and tells me that I am his own.”

Dominus regnavit

The LORD is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.

Yet this powerful God is not inaccessible, nor in this instance, the blusterer we see in the Exodus selection. The psalmist takes heart that Moses, Aaron, and Samuel are “among those who call upon his name” and better yet, “God answered them:

“O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob”

I get the impression that the psalmist is inviting us to pacify God with compliments that suggest behavior we would like to see God manifest more often, not behavior we always expect or even feel that we deserve.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Saint sets his gentle words in a context that is similarly grim: “…Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (verse 10).

Mainly, however, Saint compliments the faithful in Thessalonica for their “full conviction,” not just their right thinking. He attributes their conviction to the work of the Holy Spirit among them. Faith for them is “not in word only” and their “faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.”

As a person of faith and also an academic, I find it important to be able to move into uncritical commitment to the work of the faith and also be able to move outside those experiences and look at them critically.

After founding Integrity (lgbt Episcopalians) I repeatedly experienced God’s presence when colleagues in this ministry called me to higher Gospel standards.

My husband Ernest was a hair-dresser, and in the sink of our kitchen he did the hair of some of the poorest women in Peach County. Long before the computer, they were a major network about what was really going on.

One afternoon, one of his customers called me down from my study. “I suppose you know the latest about Dr. T****?” she said.

Dr. T**** was the one who had collected the vestry signatures on the letter that asked me to leave my parish in tiny Fort Valley, GA. (See a full account in Christianity & Crisis 37.9-10 (1977): 140- 144.)

“What?” I asked.

“Chile,” she replied, “he not only has the five children by his own wife, but is about to be a father of another by his mistress!”

Later that evening, I called my friend and mentor The Rev. Grant Gallup, a.k.a. “Mary Rattlebeads,” chaplain to Integrity’s first chapter in Chicago.

“Should I send Dr. T**** a Father’s Day card?” I asked, armed with this delicious dirt on him.

“You will do nothing of the kind,” Grant replied. “A new baby is coming into the world, and that child deserves all your attention, not your petty grievance against Dr. T****. If you genuinely care about this child, you might contact its mother and offer to sponsor it for baptism, but only if you intend in some important ways to contribute substantially to the baby’s well being.”

Christians in Thessalonica had an unchallenged reputation for authentic conviction throughout the region in spite of the persecution they endured. Fruits of the Spirit, particularly when we are not noticing them, are required if want to be sure of God’s presence among us. We need those about us who will steadily hold us to God’s high standards.

Matthew 22:15-22

As I have noted before, The Gospels are filled with trick questions, questions that would damn Jesus with at least one part of the audience no matter how he answered them. His enemies tried to provoke him to say things that would prompt the Romans to punish him.

“Should we pay tribute to Caesar?” Caesar’s image was on the official money of the realm, and in the minds of some that meant Caesar was god of the moment. A good Jew made no images of God whatsoever.

If Jesus said “Yes. we should pay tribute to Caesar,” he would seem to be acknowledging Caesar’s claims to deity, and if not that, would at least seem to collaborate with the oppressor.

If Jesus said “no,” he could be charged with treason or promoting insurrection. Jesus was cagey, and answered without a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’:
Render under to Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God’s.
What is Caesar’s? Caesar’s picture on the coin might suggest that the coin, or the despised taxes are Caesar’s to command. But that’s interpretation. Jesus is not so clear as he wants each side to think he might be. He buys time without compromising his conviction. He renders unto God that which is God’s, in this case, his very life itself.

See also