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

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The collect is fairly basic: ‘Keep us on course.’ Like most collects, it is stated corporately, “we pray…follow uswe may…” What would happen if in the same corporate space each were to pray, “ I pray….follow me I may…”? Does the latter version effect more individual commitment by making it a personal, individual prayer? Does the version in the BCP let us assent more easily because we presume someone else in the congregation will actually do the good works?

Why not stop the prayer with “through Jesus Christ our Lord”? We’re talking to God in the prayer. Does God really want us to bow and scrape as if to a potentate? I sometimes maintain more awe than I suspect God wants. It's a way of leaving God with responsibility that I could well undertake myself.

When we revise the BCP, as we will at some point if we want to keep prayer common, should we drop “Lord”? Isn’t “God” enough? Does “Lord” increase or diminish stature in contemporary ears? In countries with no monarch, how many rightly understand Lordship?

Those who introduced Lord had many other lords: the title had a context it no longer has for many Christians. It also registered a hierarchy that might make God seem less accessible or familiar to those who understand the hierarchy or see themselves at the bottom of any hierarchy.

When his disciples spoke to him, they did not tag onto their utterances “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.” Is that the way to talk to someone who says, “I have called you not servants, but friends”?

I realize that my questions come out of our time, not out of the monarchal cultures in which the collects and the Scriptures were written.

In my private prayer, I find that changing the collects makes me pay closer attention to what I am asking. Since God already knows my heart, she does not seem to mind how I bespeak it. I find that the verbal part of prayer, formal or informal, is warm-up for the real thing, the intimate and loving silence God shares with me when I finally shut up and listen.

Exodus 32:1-14

And God changed his mind.

Of all that you encounter in today’s readings, don’t forget that. “And God changed his mind”!

If God can do it, why does the Church find it so difficult to do it?

Part of our problem is in expecting the Church to change its mind instantly and of one accord. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church -- not to mention a lot of store fronts and other side-liners, some of whom are more numerous than the ‘main-liners’ -- has no central way to reach conclusions, though many consortia, like the Roman Catholics, the Greeks, the Russians, the Coptics, or the Anglicans -- have ways of gathering and coming to decisions.

The Holy Spirit appears to change minds by working on Christians one at a time, one congregation at a time, one diocese at a time….., a veritable plentitude of Pentecosts.

Those who have not yet changed, often decry the change of others as obviously evil because the new way does not meet the standards of the old way.

“And God changed his mind”! So might we, but first we have to use our mind. We have to listen to the appeals made for the change.

“You will break your promise, God, if you destroy the Israelites. You told Abraham and Isaac and Jacob that you would make their descendants to be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. Don’t forget your promises!”

“Jesus, you promised that if we lift you up you will draw all unto you. Do not you really mean all? All races? All genders? Persons of all sexual orientations?

Scripture proclaims that whoever believes in you, shall have everlasting life. Did that really mean only “whoever is straight and believes”?

And if we believe God has changed her mind, how are we to persuade those who believe God won’t ever change God’s mind again, those who feel that if it is not in Scripture, God won’t allow it?

The Word of God is a person, not a book.

Only a dead God never changes his mind.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Psalm 106 is the Broadway musical version of today’s reading from Exodus. It compresses the narrative and briefly summarizes the part where God changed his mind:

So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

Who will stand in the breach before God’s devoted servants +Peter Akinola and +Henry Orombi, and others in the Anglican Communion to turn away the wrath for consuming The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and any of their supporters?

Of course I am quite well aware that +Peter Akinola, +Henry Orombi and many other good people respect these same texts and hear in them something quite different. For them, TEC’s welcome of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered is a radical departure from the faith, much as Aaron made the golden calf and the Israelites worshiped it, forgetting I AM their deliverer and Moses I AM’s servant.

For many who condemn TEC, lgbt Christians are demonic and larger than life. Notice how we are portrayed in many the blogs of many re-asserters. When I encounter this discourse, sometimes I check out my tail bone to see whether it is growing, or Froogle for pitchforks on sale. My hair used to be red, and the color goes well with my complexion and my green eyes. No wonder +Peter and Mrs. Akinola told the New York Times that they jumped back in “wonder and horror ” when I introduced my husband Ernest to them. That’s queer power!

It’s difficult to take responsibility for the exaggerations in the evil imaginations of others. In March of 1983, I preached at St. Andrew’s in Ann Arbor. Six people walked out, and one complained to the bishop that I had used the f-word from the pulpit. Given my strict Southern Baptist background, I did not learn to swear at all until an adult, and I’m extremely awkward when I try. Nor does my husband swear at all; so there’s no sympathetic ear, even if I hit my thumb with a hammer or drop the crème-boulet on the dining room floor.

I did not use the f-word in the sermon. Fortunately I did not learn of the accusation until after it was resolved. The Rev. Jim Lewis, then the rector at St. Andrew’s, sent to Bishop Coleman McGehee a manuscript of my sermon, nor did the rector hear any such thing. Bishop McGehee scolded the complainer, charging him not to bear false witness.

That’s why we should not use the word homophobia to describe mere objections to lgbts: we need to reserve it for behavior that is truly phobic, like this person’s irrational act of hearing what I had not said.

Philippians 4:1-9

I don’t recall ever meeting or reading about a modern Christian named Syntyche. I was prepared to rejoice that it never caught on as a “Christian name” and survives only as the bane of lay readers, but when I Googled to check out my assumptions, I discovered 48,500 hits! That’s more than four times the number of hits for “Jack Iker” and Syntyche’s been dead almost two millennia.

Apparently Syntyche and her friend Euodia have an ongoing disagreement. Saint tells them to get over it: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” And since others will read this letter (little did Saint anticipate how many and the authority millions would give to it) Saint advises other readers: “[H]elp these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

So much for who claim that women should have no prominent place in the work and worship of the Church!

I’m intrigued by material in Scripture that is not in central focus. Clearly Saint thought he was writing a letter, not a book of Scripture. If Saint thought of writing this as a set piece, we might not have had these minutiae.

Hebrew Scripture refers to the “Book of Life,“ where the names of the righteous are recorded, and the “Book of the Dead,” where the names of the impure are recorded. Saint appears to refer to the “Book of Life” loosely, as a compliment: these two people are so good they are certainly in God’s ledger of good people, much as my mother praised long-suffering in the lives of her friends, “Stars in your crown, honey, I tell you, stars in your crown!”

The most enduring part of this passage is Saint’s reminder that we should take responsibility for what we spend time thinking about: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

One member of my family has a drug problem. At one point she got so hooked that she would even steal from her mother’s home (a tv, a clock…) and hock it to get the money for a hit. She has occasionally done time in jail, and many in the family advised her mother not to let her hang around, lest she victimize their mother again. The mother never replied to such a suggestion, and never would have denied any child access to her. There was no point at which she would allow herself to stop forgiving.

One afternoon the daughter told her mother, in the presence of several of us, “I feel depressed.” Her mother, a person who was living on public assistance, revealed much about her spiritual reserves, if not about the dynamics of her daughter’s depression, when she replied in loving exasperation:

“Depressed!? What do you mean ‘depressed’? You’re only 23; you have no reason to be depressed! If you’re feeling down, take a broom and sweep the floor. If you still feel depressed, take the broom and sweep the porch. If you still feel depressed, take a rake and sweep the yard. You don’t have time to be depressed!”

Take responsibility for what you worry about. I wish depression were as easy to dispel as the mother’s love would have it so.

In their last two years, both of my parents were too feeble to drive a car. I lived over 1,000 miles away. A friend from my father’s Sunday School class drove him once a week to do basic grocery shopping. They gave away their car to a grand-nephew starting college.

Once when I was visiting, mother was standing at the window of their apartment and saw the young man from the apartment upstairs park in their parking place. Agitated she said to Dad, “He’s doing it again. His own parking place is empty, yet he’s using ours!”

“Mother,” I said, trying to be gentle, “don’t you have something more important to think about than about Geoffrey’s parking in your parking place, especially since you don’t even have a car of your own to put in it?”

She paused a moment and looked daggers at me. “Louie, I hope you live long enough that you don’t have anything more important to worry about than who’s usurping your parking place!”

She spoke the last part with increasing slowness, and when she finished the curse, there was a delicious Irish smile at the edge of her eyes. She understood what I was saying, but also what she was saying.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Old age brings power of concentration that amazes me, but requires discipline as to what is worth the concentration. For example, I enjoy the discussion on the bishops-deputies discussion list, but I sometimes enjoy it too much. If I am not careful, I can become engrossed with the same points of view, even my own, for hours on end, and not use the time to read a good book or listen closely to a recording.

During July I gave myself one of the nicest gifts I have ever given myself: I went offline for major discussion lists for the entire Lambeth Conference. I can now sort through the major accounts that have survived without the toxicity in discourse that treated the Conference as a spectator sport.

Matthew 22:1-14

I was in the Diocese of Fond du Lac from 1979-85 when it still did not ordain women. As the founder of Integrity, I was the resident pariah at the Church of the Intercession in Stephens Point, where I taught at the University of Wisconsin. The vestry even discussed my possible excommunication, and the rector gave himself high marks for not allowing it.

Not that the rector was a great paragon of welcome. At one point he bragged to the dean of a seminary, not knowing that the dean was gay, saying that he had in his congregation 'the church’s main gay person' but was doing all he could to minimize the man’s influence. “And I tell his partner that he is living in sin every time I see him walking by the church on his way to shop.”

Ernest never told me about this. When I asked, he said he ignored the rector. Small wonder that Ernest did not become an Episcopalian until several years after we left Wisconsin.

To keep a sense of humor about it all, I called our home, in the next block from Intercession, the Faggotry. That was a nicer name than some gave it when I became the advisor to the campus lgbt group and when Ernest and I became members of Anthony Earl’s “Governor’s Task Force on Lesbian and Gay Issues.”

No one at Intersession ever talked about women’s ordination. It simply was not done, and it seemed almost “unheard of.” Even when the parish delegates went to diocesan convention, they had no risk of seeing a female priest.

The Rev. Anne C. Garrison, one of the oldest priests in TEC at the time, was a dear friend. She was a participant in a week-long consultation “Ministry WITH [sic] Lesbians and Gays” which I persuaded the College of Preachers to convene December 15-19, 1980. Two years later, on one of her visits to us, we asked her to lead a house Mass so that persons in Stephens Point could experience the Eucharist with a female celebrant.

We sent out word not only to those at the Church of the Intercession, but also to our German Lutheran neighbors and to the sisters at a local Catholic convent.

Since we were not using Church property, we did not require the bishop’s or the rector’s permission, but as a courtesy, I informed the bishop that Anne+ was coming. The bishop replied with a strong appeal that she not celebrate, and he asked that one of our two male friends coming from Chicago be the celebrant. The male priests refused even to concelebrate.

The local paper reported the “community service” and described Anne‘s presence in town as a ‘disturbing houseguest of Clay and Crew.’ "Denial of Women's Ordination Follows 'Trail of Tears'","Stevens Point (Wis.) Journal"," Friday, July 16, 982: 8.

The bishop’s objections helped to get the word out to the community in ways we could not, and our home, in the next block from the parish, was packed into the yard with participants.

`The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the Faggotry was filled with guests.”

Eucharist indeed.

See also

Sunday, October 5, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

This collect portrays God as extravagantly generous and invites us to bring to God our uncertainties. Through this collect, we ask God to “forgivi[e] us those things of which our conscience is afraid.”

Often we are not sure that we did the right thing. If we have not, forgive us anyway.

Sometimes our conscience speaks the prejudice of the community, not the love of God. Psychologists recognise that our super-ego is a powerful force: it collects mores of our community and stows them away in our unconscious. The Collect today recognizes that it is dangerous to assume that our conscience automatically speaks for God.

When we rationally choose to do what is right even if the community thinks it is wrong, our mind may move faster than our emotions, and we may feel guilty. God’s generosity offers us indemnity even in our uncertainty. The collect implicitly contrasts sin with perceived sin. The collect invites us to live with ambiguity: it does not ask for a clear answer about what is right and wrong, but rather asks for an abundance of mercy regardless of how we choose.

This is not spiritual milk, but rather gospel meat.

God is not uncomfortable with ambiguity: why should we be? God founded the Episcopal Church to be a safe place for ambiguity.

A colleague recently mentioned that as a Southern Baptist, she was uncomfortable when she first visited an Episcopal Church -- "a church that used prayers written down by others!" By the time she became an Episcopalian, she said she had learned much from the Book of Common Prayer. “It takes me some places I would not likely have thought to go on my own, even to places that I would find too frightening without the community‘s approval that it is all right to be honest to God."

Those in the Episcopal Church who are not sure that TEC is right to support lgbts will find this collect especially helpful.

I think I am right in my understanding about homosexuality, but I may not be. All of us pray for God to “forgive us our sins, known and unknown”. That’s the same sort of indemnity this collect seeks..

My sins, like yours, have already been forgiven, even before we have the heart or the wisdom to understand they are sins. It is blasphemy for the Anglican Communion to tell God whose prayers God may or may not answer.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

I was blessed to be an English teacher for 44 years. I began as a graduate assistant at Auburn University in Alabama. From there I taught in two different prep schools, then in a secondary modern school in a slum in London, thereafter at colleges and universities -- two historically black schools in the South, two Chinese institutions, one in Hong Kong, another in Beijing, and the Universities of Alabama, Wisconsin, and New Jersey (Rutgers).

Often an assignment, like a sermon, may work with one group and not with the next, even if you are using it in the same location.

One of my assignments worked well in most of these locations, and I regret that I did not save the students‘ responses.

First I gave to each student ten blank 3X5 index cards, and then said, “Don‘t write your name on the cards. Your responses will be anonymous. What are 10 things you would feel guilty doing? Put each of the ten on a separate card. Don’t be overly concerned about these. Write the first ten things that come to your mind. I will call time in 5 minutes. Go.”

I actually let them take up to 10 minutes unless I saw that all had stopped writing,

“Now stack your cards in order of what would make you feel most guilty, to next most guilty, to next most guilty…. When done, number the cards using Roman numerals, I, II, III….”

When they had done that part, “Now stack the cards in order of most tempting, next most tempting, next most temping…. Put in a separate stack those which do not tempt you at all.”

When they had finished that: now use Arabic numerals, 1, 2, 3.… with those you found tempting and put a zero on all those which you did not find tempting.”

When done, “Now put in the top right corner of all of your cards a 4-digit identifier known only to you, so that you will be able to retrieve your set when I have finished using them.

Finally, on a separate sheet of paper, copy what you have written on your ten cards , including the two ranks you assigned to each.

When all had finished , I collected them and said,

“By the way, you have just re-written the Ten Commandments, so pick up the sheet with Exodus 20 on it on your way out, and be prepared to compare your lists with Moses’.”

You might try this as part of your sermon, asking the ushers to pass out index cards and pencils.

I assure you that not many of Moses’ ten will show up in their ten. Most of them will privately revise their own priorities . This assignment engages scripture far more authentically than it would if I had begun, “Make up your own list of Ten Commandments. In case you forgot, here is the list God gave to Moses on stone tables as His own .

Psalm 19

Let’s lip-synch. Drag-queans find it exciting to do, and so will your congregation, if you gently coach them to let go of their inhibitions.

Hand out the text Hayden’s “The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God.” Tell them, “Most of us at one time or another have stood alone listening to music and pretending we are the conductor. Today we will collectively pretend that we are the singers instead. We will lip-synch Hayden’s version of our psalm today as the choir sings it (or as we listen to the recording of XXXX Orchestra singing it). The point here is to open your mouth so appropriately that someone deaf could read the anthem on your lips. We will stand so that we may more fully throw our whole bodies into it.”

When my world was falling apart in my sophomore year, after a night of heavy crying I fell asleep, listening to American Airlines “Music Until Dawn“ on Radio Station KRLD out of Dallas. At dawn, on God’s cue, the brilliant sun managed to find a crack in the shade and targeted my eye just as a choir began, “The heavens are telling…..”

On some days, being depressed is work too hard to sustain. I suspect that depression is one of the “presumptuous sins” from which Psalm 19 bids us seek deliverance. It is presumptuous to assume that with our bad mood we can banish all efficacy to the beauty and wonder of the glory of God as shown in the firmament.

Lip-synch, lip-synch, lip-synch it, as if your very life depends upon it. Be a spiritual drag-queen for Jesus.

If the Presbyterians had learned to address sexism in their diction, the banner from Westminster Catechism high above the stage of the study hall at my prep school would have read: “Our chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy her forever!”

And in your enthusiasm, don’t miss the amazing point of the psalmist's delight: the psalm rejoices in the law of God. How good it is to do what is right. The psalm is a much more compelling way to sell the law as a way of life than the fire-works God used in Exodus: “When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin."

Hayden and the psalmist do not try to scare you into it.

Philippians 3:4b-14

Saint reminds those at Philippi that he was a master of the law, that the law authorized him even to persecute Christians, but it brought him no comfort or fulfillment. He almost gives a Powerpoint presentation of his Jewish credentials:

  • circumcised on the eighth day
  • a member of the people of Israel
  • of the tribe of Benjamin
  • a Hebrew born of Hebrews
  • as to the law, a Pharisee
  • as to zeal, a persecutor of the church
  • as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

These credentials brought him no advantage at all when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Suppose the Anglican Communion establishes a new covenant that will punish those who disobey the law as understood by the majority of those in the Communion. Will that bring advantage to those who punish those who disobey the majority?

If General Convention in 2009 continues the de facto moratoria on consents to lgbts as bishops and the refusal to write and authorize blessings of same-sex unions, will that bring advantage, even if understood as following the law?

B033 blasphemes the Holy Spirit by telling God whom God may and may not call.

Matthew 21:33-46

Suppose God sent +Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference to check out whether God would be welcome there. That surely would not be the first time God appeared incognito to test out welcome.

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures:
`The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes'?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."

See also