Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2009

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c

Today’s psalm bids us to

Search for the LORD and his strength;
continually seek his face.

Yet elsewhere the Bible tells us that no person can see God and live. Earlier this month Jacob wrestled with a stranger and only afterwards understood that he had wrestled with God. Throughout Scripture God makes many cameo appearances, traveling incognito in our midst. We are bidden, “Continually seek his face.”

Where are we most likely to find it? In the poor more than the rich? In the weak more than the strong? In the lame more than the whole?

My friend Gray Temple, a charismatic Episcopalian and long-time rector of St. Patrick’s in Atlanta, spent a sabbatical living as a homeless person. “Louie,” he told me, “you don’t bring God to the homeless; they already know God and God spends lots of time talking with them.”

Gray does not romanticize the poor. He stayed long enough to get a direct awareness of their hard edges as well as of their hardships, plus an awareness of the hard shell we the privileged construct to cut ourselves off from others’ needs. Why is it that I find it much easier to give to the homeless elsewhere through Episcopal Relief .& Development than to offer the spare bed in our apartment to the man who sleeps in the cold in the park behind our house?

Exodus 3:1-15

God is not subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

“There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”

God’s energies do not diminish.

“If….they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM Who I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

In Scripture the Israelites often make extravagant claims that God is on their side supporting their violence against others, yet in their better moments, they refuse even to make an image for God, lest they make God in their own image. It is all too easy for us to limit God to the measure of our own mind. God’s presence is much bigger, and in God’s presence, we need to take off our shoes to stand on holy ground. The Israelites forbad themselves even to give God a name.

“I AM” is grammatically as reduced a claim of identity as one can utter. In Latin and many other languages “I am” is just one word, Sum Descartes added two words to assert his own identity, “Cogito ergo sum.” ‘I think; therefore, I am.’” The Ubuntu theology of Archbishop Desmond Tutu asserts individual identity not in the self but in the community, “Because you are, I am.” [Note: “Ubuntu” is the theme for the up-coming 2009 General Convention.]

People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered often have to work hard to accept who we are. It is much easier to duck into the shadows of presumptive heterosexuality.

I Am What I Am

by Jonas Brothers, as sung by Gloria Gaynor

I am what I am - I am my own special creation.
So come take a look, give me the hook or the ovation.
It's my world
That I want to have a little pride in - my word,
And it's not a place I have to hide in
Life's not worth a damn, `til you can say: I am what I am"

I am what I am, I don't want praise
I don't want pity - I bang my own drum,
some think it's noise, I think it's pretty.
And so what if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try and see things from a diff'rent angle?
Your life is a sham, `til you can shout out:,I am what I am"

I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck - sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.
It's one life and there's no return and no deposit:
One life, so it's time to open up your closet.
Life's not worth a damn `til you can shout out:,I am what I am"

…. More at the site

Romans 12:9-21

Saint is at it again this week. What a piece of work. He calls on us to empty ourselves of all vengeance and anger: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.“

And why?: “for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."

Saint has not really emptied himself of all vengeance and anger: he has only repressed it and given it more power.

Have you experienced Christians being nice to you sensing that something is amiss, guessing that by all rights they dislike you and are “playing nice” with a hidden agenda?

A young teacher who was my colleague in Beijing got a scholarship for graduate study in English at Baylor University, my alma mater. Occasionally Christians would invite him to their home, he told me, “but they haven’t the slightest interest in me, in where I come from or what I am doing in my studies. It seems they want me as some kind of badge of honor, especially if I will join their church and ’accept Jesus,’ whatever that means. And when I show no interest in that, they show no interest in me. They invite me, but they don’t invite me. They know nothing about who I AM.” I AM that I AM.

Many evangelicals have visited AIDS wards to try to persuade the sick and the dying to repent from their evil and turn to Jesus. That’s Saint’s theology on the ground, so to speak. Win them over or heap coals of fire on their heads.

Is this really a way to live peaceably with all? Saint and I have much to discuss on Cloud 999999. I have already booked a year with him.

Matthew 16:21-28

In one of our family albums there is a picture of a young teenager, about 14 or 15, with bright red hair, in a white linen suit, standing in front of family azaleas holding a bible.

The Baptist family and the Baptist Church have written a script for this young man‘s life. He has already gone forward at a revival to dedicate his life to full-time Christian ministry. He’s now in junior high or high school……

Fast forward.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The life envisioned by his parents, his church, and by the young man himself never happened. He lost that life. He grew up queer.

The feelings I was already having when Dad took this picture were not a “passing phase,” as I prayed they would be. They did not disappear. To be I AM, I had to embrace my wholeness. I thought I was losing God in losing the life scripted for me, but God has never felt more real, more present, more supportive.

“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Today’s Lections

Romans 12:1-8

What do you say to a 17-year-old male convinced that he has been called to be a Baptist preacher heading to Baylor in the fall?

Mrs. M., a Southern Baptist by birth but an Episcopalian in her heart, asked the young man how he knew God called him to preach. “Are you not just trying to please your parents by doing what you know will most please them?” she asked audaciously when she came through the reception line to greet all those who had ‘come forward on the third night of the Revival. He did not have time to answer her before the next person extended a hand, and he was not sure whether he had an answer that he or she could live with.

A “spinster” librarian rumored to be ‘one of those’ bought him as a graduation gift from high school several volumes of The Interpreter’s Bible. She too was a Southern Baptist by birth and knew she’d better expose him to opinions more challenging than he was likely to get at their local Baptist congregation.

“So you’re going off to college,” an older man stated rather than asked, to start a conversation during the lunch break at the thread mill where he was earning spending money for his freshman year. “Yes,” he replied, not sure where this conversation would head nor sure that he wanted a mill worker to instruct him about college. The 17-year-old was wrong.

“An educated man,” the mill worker insisted, “is someone who can speak clearly to anyone, even to an uneducated person, without trying to talk over anyone’s head. An educated man calls attention to what he says, not to how fancy he can sound in saying it.”

What would the 17-year-old say to you if given this text from Romans to preach on, especially if the queer thoughts he had prayed to disappear were persistently sticking around, with no involuntary heterosexual fantasies for competition?

What does it mean to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice”? I asked when as that 17-year-old I prepared my first sermon after the congregation that had issued me a Baptist preacher’s license. [See the license.].

‘God does not want you to die a sacrificial death, but wants you alive as a sacrifice, and it is your bodies that God wants,’ I remember saying from the imposing pulpit, center ‘stage,’ with no altar to distract from the Word.

Fortunately I did not have to share my inner dialogue. ‘Does this mean I’ll never be able to have sex if I cannot become a heterosexual? Is this the living sacrifice I am committing to? It this the sacrifice that is holy and acceptable unto God? Is this reasonable service?’

I had little opportunity to have sex with anyone except in a few adolescent mutual inspections. Those had left me ridden with guilt. Mother discovered a couple of photographs that a straight boy would not have stashed away, and pressured, I confessed my fantasies to her.

“Don’t tell Dad,“ I pleaded.

She assured me she would not, and got me to assure her that I would pray to God to make those fantasies go away. Twenty-five years later she told me she had told Dad soon after I told her. Without mentioning her conversation, Dad took me on a long ride on dirt roads out in the county and told me that he would commit suicide if any member of his family were to turn out queer.

I thought I was scared. They must have been scared out of their wits! Thank goodness they were Baptists. If they had been Episcopalians they would have had a huge bill to pay to psychiatrists, but as Baptists they strongly objected to letting secular people answer religious questions.

When I preached my first sermon, I did not know what it would mean in my own life to present my body as a living sacrifice. But that’s what I did.

The next part was easier to understand. Don’t be a conformist. I have not been. Don’t let the world set your agenda. For the most part the world has not. Be transformed. I have been, again and again. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God. I have indeed experienced plentiful redemption in Saint’s command that we think for ourselves.

Young man, as I reflect on your sermon 54 years later, you are still very much a part of my wholeness as a gay Christian. I honor you and have kept faith with what you bade all to do in your first sermon, though in ways neither of us could have understood then. God has been faithful too, also in ways that neither of us could have foreseen. The spiritual world did not fall apart as I embraced the wholeness of my mind and body. That wholeness makes profound sense in discerning the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Exodus 1:8-2:10

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” It was impossible to demonize the Jews for those who knew Joseph. He stood for them all.

Psychological studies have repeatedly shown that one factor has been present in most of the people who have changed from disapproving of lesbians and gays to supporting them: someone they know well has been out to them.

Several re-asserters insist that lesbians and gays want to wear them out by more and more “dialogue,” until they come round to our point of view. We insist that they “know Joseph,” not just talk about ‘those people.’

The Bible is filled with stories of people who sneak. Last month we watched Jacob, a smooth man, put on wool that to his blind father’s touch made him seem to be his hairy brother Esau, and thus got for him the blessing the father planned to reserve only for his first born. Laban sneaked his older daughter into Jacob’s marriage bed so that the older daughter would marry first, and thus tricked another seven years of labor out of Jacob to get the sister he really wanted.

Today, Moses’ mother hides the baby among the reeds along a bank where Pharaoh’s daughter takes her bath.

It appears that lgbt persons also sneak into most families, and like Moses, many of us grow strong, especially when we discover who we are and discover that many in the family think we don’t belong.

Despised tribes survive by being better organized than those who despise them. Massah and Missus thought the darkies were just being happy slaves when they sang “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home,” but often that was slave code to tell the runaway in the next field whether it was safer to wait or to skedaddle.

Yet for every one who grows stronger in oppression, there seem to be several more who are debilitated by it, such as


Maggie always was clever.

At 8 she read Red Cross books to learn
first-aid for every dog, cat & canary
on our block. We were not surprised
when she won a biology scholarship
to the state university.

What we never could understand was why,
when she came back home to tend her pa,
she always wore her same old overalls
and smoked a small cigar.

We only discovered when the boys,
finding her coming out of a city dance hall
just for women,
beat her with a lead pipe
until she lost her mind.

Now Maggie sits in an old lab coat
rocking on the porch, smoking those cigars
all day long, and never says a single word.

from Quean Lutibelle’s Pew by Louie Crew

Psalm 124

As a presumptive heterosexual when young, I was embarrassed by the psalms. They continually refer to enemies scheming and plotting to get us. They seem to invite an unhealthy paranoia about our neighbors.

Whatever happened in Egypt, its shadow is forever etched in Jewish memorials to it, indeed even in the ‘Pass Over’ meal, the Eucharist itself. The psalms proclaim, ‘We got away! God did not allow us to be destroyed, regardless of how close they came to doing so.’

Matthew 16:13-20

It is fascinating to watch Jesus concerned about his reputation. What do other people say about me?

While he was Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold rarely read press commentary about himself, whether praise or blame. He asked his staff to screen out all but what they knew he really needed to see. “I do not want to spend my time reacting. I do not want others to set my agenda,” he explained to me.

I intentionally read David Virtue only about once every six month. I use a search engine to find his references to me on Virtuosity. For those occasions, God made single malt Irish Whiskey. Thank you David.

Peter’s exchange with Jesus suggests that much is at stake in what we assert about who Jesus is. On the basis of his ‘foolproof‘ answer, Jesus grants Peter high status, and gives him the keys to the kingdom.

Do the reasserters have us here? Is this where progressives lose?

It seems too easy to come up with the ‘right answer.’ I cannot believe that faith is measured by right answers.

This does not sound like the Jesus revealed almost everywhere else in the Gospels. This sounds more like the work of a later editor, looking back and wanting to put into Jesus’ mouth some of the answers the church itself has refined about Jesus’ identity. The creeds came almost 400 years after Jesus’ death. Jesus did not turn to the thief on the next cross and ask, “Who do you say that I am?”

Most followers of Jesus in his lifetime would have had a hard time understanding the creeds, much less committing to them. They understood a person and committed to him.

“I am the Messiah, but don’t tell.” I understand that one fully, and fully commit to it.

-- Louie, Quean Lutibelle

Sunday, August 17, 2008

August 17, 2008

Today's Lections

Genesis 45:1-15

Last Sunday Joseph’s brothers, intimidated by his fancy clothes and jealous of the high regard in which their father held him, sold him into slavery (Genesis 37). We begin today eight chapters later, but it is good to look at what happened during that interval of several years.

Joseph has prospered mightily. “It was he who sold to all the people of the land.” (42:6) . Because of Joseph’s foresight, Egypt has grain in the midst of the famine which he predicted. He now serves as Pharaoh’s CEO and CFO combined. Joseph has the title of ‘Governor.’

Meanwhile, because of the famine, back home his father Jacob and his eleven brothers are not doing well. Jacob has heard of the supply of grain in Egypt and sends all of his sons except Benjamin, the youngest, to try to buy a supply. In keeping Benjamin at home, Jacob reasons that at least he will have one son left if ill befalls all the others.

When Joseph encounters his ten brothers, they do not recognize him. Joseph speaks to them through an interpreter, and they think he does not understand what they say to each other. Then Joseph accuses them of being spies, puts them in prison, and declares they will never be released unless they can return home and retrieve Benjamin. One of them must remain in prison as a surety.

What a delightful drama queen.

Joseph knows they will come to no harm, yet puts them through an experience of perceiving serious jeopardy to heighten their empathy. And it works: they see the parallel between their jeopardy and the jeopardy into which they had earlier placed their brother. “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.”

Joseph hears this and has to leave to cry elsewhere, lest he give away his identity before their education is complete. He is moved not by making them hurt, but by hearing them grow into empathy.

I regret that the lectionary skips these chapters. We also miss the graphic detail of Joseph when he first arrived in Egypt as a slave of a master whom he makes even more prosperous. He is a handsome bachelor and the master’s wife gets the hetero-hots for him. She‘s quite importunate. To escape, Joseph leaves his garment in her hands. Like a flasher, the handsome slave dashes naked down the streets to avoid her.

What I find particularly heartening in today’s reading is not so much Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers, but his rationale for forgiving them. He loves them. He has never stopped loving them. That is reason enough to find meaning in the harm he endured at their hands.

Had they not mistreated him, none of the good things in Egypt would have occurred. Joseph gives God the credit, and chooses to let his brothers be free of blame because they were God‘s instruments in making good come for them all. “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves…. for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

O that disputants in the Church and in the Anglican Communion could so love one another.

I am convinced that my brothers ++Peter Akinola (Archbishop of All of Nigeria) and ++Henry Orombi (Archbishop of Uganda) are working out God’s will in excoriating lesbians and gays. In making scapegoats of us, they will force the entire Communion to discover the vast store of love that God has for everybody. Indeed, the entire history of Christianity has been its extension one by one to yet another group of hitherto excluded persons.

God has sent queers into the church “to keep alive for you many survivors.”

Many LGBTs are in the Church not because of what the Church can give to us, but because of what God wants to give the church through us. It would be spiritually dangerous for lesbians and gays to bang at the door importuning, ‘Let us in! Let us in! Let us in!” God has already set a place for us at the holy table. It is not ourselves whom we proclaim, but God. God’s grace is sufficient.

Psalm 133.

Today’s psalm will make your local dry cleaner’s eyes flash like a cash register. An oiled collar is not exactly the image I would choose for physical pleasure, but as old baldy perhaps I am too far away from Vitalis to remember what it felt like.

1. Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!
2 It is like fine oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard,
3 Upon the beard of Aaron, and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

Messy poo!

Last month I was in Georgia for a family wedding of one of our great-nephews, who had not been born when Ernest and I married in 1974. Nor had been most members of the wedding party. I enjoyed the hair-dos, especially those with spiked hair. “But does it stay up like that when you sleep, or do you have to spike it all over again?” I asked a niece. “Yes, she has to spike it all over again,” her nephew said, as an eye witness to the repeated ritual. I keep drenching it in hairspray, she admitted.

How good and pleasant indeed to live together in unity.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

I continue to enjoy the amount of time Saint* invests in explaining Jewish matters to his gentile converts in Rome. Today he sounds like Joseph in his reasoning. Good is coming from evil, they both assert. You gentiles are getting the grace of God because of something that went wrong: the Jews have defaulted on their part of God’s irrevocable contract: they won’t get the blessing, but you will instead.

Saint* stresses, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”

Even if you are lesbian and gay and disobedient to boot?

Yes, even if you are lesbian and gay and disobedient to boot.

Fret not over the sins of anyone else. Seek in them how God might intend a blessing for absolutely everybody.

*I use Gore Vidal’s nickname for St. Paul

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Few heterosexuals will talk publicly about one reason that some have trouble with lesbians and gays, namely, the ick factor. We repulse them when they imagine what we might put into our mouths.

St. Peter had the same ick factor when in a dream in Joppa the sheet was lowered offering him all sorts of forbidden edibles.

The Pharisees in today’s reading are quite upset that Jesus does not follow the rules. Indeed, so would be your local Health Department. Jesus tells his employees it is not important to wash their hands before eating! Icky!

Of course, the subtext is what is really important here: Change what you consider icky! “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

“Very Man of Very Man”

If you have any doubt that Jesus became a real human being bound and limited in one time, place, and culture, look at the blatant judeo-centrism at the end of today’s Gospel. His disciples tell him to send away the Canaanite woman who is shouting for Jesus to cast out the demon in her daughter. When she finally gets to Jesus himself, he insults her telling her that he has come to minister to Jews, not to others, and mocks, “"It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

She does not stand up to say, “How dare you suggest that God has made my daughter and me as of no more value than dogs!?”

Instead, at least for the moment, she accepts his premise: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

On the spot Jesus gets it! We get to see him change his mind!

Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

And her daughter was healed instantly.

Isn’t it marvelous to have a God who can change his mind?!

Let’s keep working on Her to do so. She may just change us too!

“For I have not called you ‘clients,’ but ‘friends.’”

Louie/Quean Lutibelle