Monday, December 21, 2009

January 3, 2010. Second Sunday after Christmas

© 2009, 2010 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.

How refreshing to remind ourselves as well as God that when God created human beings, as with all of God’s other creations, God looked upon us and said, “It is good!” -- St. Augustine to the contrary notwithstanding.

The collect reclaims the assertion of Psalm 139, “I have been marvelously made.”

St. Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin asserted that we were all tainted as descendants of Adam, that something is fundamentally sinful and wrong about us. Scholar Karen Armstrong has noted: "Western Christians often regard the doctrine of original sin as essential to their faith. But the Greek Orthodox of Byzantium, where Rome did not fall, have never fully endorsed this doctrine, do not believe that Jesus died to save us from the effects of the origina sin, and have asserted that God would have become human even if Adam had not sinned" (from A Short History of Myth, page 156).

God did not make a mistake in making us, nor did we inherit fallenness. Jesus would have come quite apart from a need to get “fix” us.

The doctrine of Original Sin flies in the face of Jesus’ preference for friends -- publicans, drunkards, outcasts, sinners. He reviled the studiously religious charging that they killed the spirit of the faith by taking laws more seriously than people.

Jesus still does enjoyed our company. He shared our humanity and delights in it.

Be whole! Rejoice!

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Jeremiah speaks of God’s great in-gathering:

See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.

At no time in history have so many people been as dispersed from their points of origin as at this time. Millions are in flight from genocide, persecution, famine, disease. Millions sleep in temporary shelter and own only what they can carry.

In the last two decades I have frequently been a personal reference and an advocate for lesbians and gays seeking asylum. A friend from Sierra-Leone finally got refuge status when she documented that her father tried to murder her when he learned that she is a lesbian. She fled on short notice just before he was to be released from prison. She is thriving the the U.S. She completed undergraduate education in record time with top grades and is now blaizing a trail through graduate school -- all on a full scholarship.

A brilliant Russian friend still is struggling to keep his green card so that he can live in the United States: he would have no trouble if his spouse were a U.S. female; but his spouse is a U.S. male physician and professor at a major medical school.

A straight Anglican friend spent six years in prison conditions at the Port Elizabeth detention center behind the Newark Airport, where INS warehouses those who arrive without visas and appeal for political asylum. My friend committed no crime, except to believe Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty, "Send Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses....." As a law student he had backed an opposition candidate in the Congo: he got out in short order, with only a few hours' notice when his family learned of a plot to murder him.

At great risk to themselves, his family spent most of their life savings to get him on the plane as a stow-away.

When INS finally granted him asylum, they gave him no credit towards residence for the years he had spent in detention: INS has declared such detention facilities not to be on USA soil, regardless of what all maps of New Jersey say.

He quickly got a job with a company that cleans carpets, and he lives in a tiny room above the business. Shortly after he was released, a woman whom he knew in detention was released to a half-way house with her small son; in the same half-way house were several sex offenders out on probation. Horrified, the young man from the Congo took in the woman and her son. He gave them his bed. He sleeps on the floor.

I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth

Please, God, ASAP!

Psalm 84 or 84:1-8

I regret that those who compiled the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) give the option of omitting verses 9-12 of Psalm 84. Verse 11 has long been a favorite of Integrity, the international Anglican ministry of lgbt persons, which I founded in 1974:

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

Contrary to the popular misconception, integrity is not the special provenance of used cars sales personnel. Integrity names wholeness. One cannot be whole unless one integrates sexuality and spirituality in healthy ways. I named the organization "Integrity" to reclaim what the church systemically violated for generation after generation

The RCL also gives the option of omitting verse 9:

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

The main point of the psalm is to rejoice in being in God’s house. True enough that point is quite well made by the end of verse 8, but the final third of the psalm amplifies that point powerfully. The speaker appears to be of modest means. He refers to “my own room” as if he has only one, where as the temple is vast.

My parish, Grace Church in Newark, is a gorgeous place, a Richard Upjohn building. We have a very fine organ -- a Cassavant -- and Joe Arndt, our organist, only 24, is a genius. Our Anglo Catholic liturgy is done carefully and naturally, without italics. The preaching is nourishing. The congregation is a rainbow of the many cultures represent in Newark.

One day at Grace Church is better than many in my own room (but without some of the creature comforts).

We make no effort to trap God on our altars, however. Our most significant ministries are outside this building when we have been fed by the Spirit in this place.

Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a

Saint is a master of nurture and encouragement. It is a shame that we do not have diaries from members of the congregations to whom he wrote his epistles. Sometimes Saint bears the mark of classic passive aggression, especially when he is writing to the Corinthians about some of their behaviors that displease him. He suggests that the Christians in Ephesus haven’t even begun to 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.”

Nor have we.

I grow weary of the efforts of the Anglican Communion to devalue the faith of lgbt Christians like me because thereby those who excoriate lgbts cut themselves off from the immeasurable greatness of God’s power to love and transform us, even an old quean like me.

I do not need a seal of approval from my adversaries, but they risk the scorn of Jesus, who routinely stood on the side of the marginalized and the despised over against the religious purists who consider themselves better than others. Many of the leaders in the Anglican Communion quickly condemn those whom they do not know. They readily take their views from crude stereotypes that have little or nothing to do with the reality of our faith and our calling.

Luke 2:41-52

I suspect we know these details because Mary repeated them to the disciples years later, much the way that all mothers store treasured narratives of the childhood of each child in the family. The narrative preserves enough of the consternation of the parents at the boy Jesus for breaking away from them and not keeping them informed of his whereabouts. "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety."

Jesus seems unconcerned about their worries, even a bit sassy: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Would his reply satisfy you if your child had failed to keep you informed and you were worried sick after three days of trying to find the child!? Not likely, except with the benefit of hindsight from many years later.

I find it significant that his parents did scold him, but also respected the strength they found in his character.

Being the Holy Family is a tough assignment. Being a good family is a tough assignment.

See also

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December 27, 2009. First Sunday After Christmas

© 2009 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

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Today’s texts are largely like pep rallies for the faith, a time of rejoicing and celebration, at least for the most part.

In this setting, God manifests far less machismo than in some other parts of Hebrew scriptures. Here his spiritual DNA is a closer match to that of his son Jesus:

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

But he’s not nearly so accessible as his son. His son said, “I have not called you servants, but friends.” Saint Paul stresses the same point in his letter to the Galatians: “So you are no longer a slave but a child.” That’s a bit too chummy for the vision of God in Psalm 147:

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

Isaiah says that we make God happy when we are full of awe and fear.

Psalm 147:13-21

Beware of questionable assumptions that can sneak into a text when the predominant mode is one of uncritical celebration. We are most vulnerable when we assume that we do not need to be critical readers. Here, for example, amidst all the celebration in No. 147, the psalmist asserts:

He has not done so to any other nation; *
to them he has not revealed his judgments.

That is the attitude that has built the wall, not a fence but a wall, separating the Jews from the Palestinians in Jerusalem. That is the attitude that threatens stability and peace not only in the Middle East but in the whole world. `My God is better than your God. Yanh, yanh, yanh, yanh, yanh.’

When the Samaritan woman asked where it is best to worship, Jesus refused to take the bait. “God is a spirit, and those who worship God are those who worship God in spirit and in truth.”

I know that it is Christmas, a time of rejoicing that God dwells with us in great happiness. All the more reason not to turn off our thinking caps regarding the sacred texts. God gave us good brains and expects us to use them.

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

When I consider God’s purpose in loving lgbt people in our time, no text more clearly explains God’s intentions than this passage from Galatians.

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.

There is no way that lgbt persons can live in the church under the discipline prescribed in Leviticus, one of Scripture's main law books. "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination" (Leviticus 18:22). “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 20:13). Those laws are disciplinarians indeed, and for centuries the church exacted huge penalties from lgbt persons.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”

Lgbt people are new faces in the old story of God’s grace -- amazing still. We are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.

We are living in hard times, many straights and gays alike. Many doubt that the church has any news genuinely good for them. Some are watching how the church responds to those whom it formerly cast out. Some straights who have no particular fondness for lgbt persons themselves, are watching closely: “If the Church welcomes them, maybe the church will welcome me too!”

Lgbt persons are the canaries in the coal mine called the Church. We test for toxicity. An Anglican Communion not safe for lgbt persons is probably not safe for most other people either.

An Anglican covenant that subjects lgbt persons and our friends to a disciplinarian is a violation of the Good News, and it will likely bite back for others in the communion in the future about issues quite different from the sexuality issues framed around lgbt persons.

Merry Christmas!

John 1:1-18

God loves straight people just as much as God loves lgbt persons, no more and no less. May your Christmas season be filled to overflowing with the Good News in that.

See also

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 25, 2009. Christmas.

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Note: the collect does not say “that we…may not be too afraid when we behold him as our judge.” The authors of the collect do not anticipate disjuncture between Christ as our Redeemer and Christ as our Judge. Hence, we dare to be glad, joyful, and confident. We need that kind of Christmas every day of the year.

Isaiah 52:7-10

You have beautiful feet: keep them so with a pedicure!

How many times have you complimented a friend for his feet? More for female friends?

I monitor the anniversary of ordination to priesthood of all clergy deputies since 1994 and of all bishops. If I have someone’s email address, I send special good wishes on that occasion, usually referring to the message itself as a pedicure. Through the years at least a dozen have asked what a pedicure has to do with their ordination. It is always a pleasure to quote this passage,

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."

All of us are charged to bring news genuinely good to absolutely everybody, even to highways and hedges, indeed even to the uttermost part of the earth.

I am amazed at how few of those adamantly opposed to lgbt persons have invested anything at all in bringing news of any kind to us. They risk missing out on important opportunities to see Jesus, who always hangs out with those whom we consider the least among us.

Not a very joyful thought for you? Not one compatible with the high spirits of this night?

The holy family did not spend the holy night in a 5-star hotel or a first-rate cathedral, as comfortable as those may be.


Worn-out manger, speckled slightly with sheep
dip, stuck with bits of straw and prickly
angel hair. Smells a tad like joss sticks.
Unsuitable for fashionable crèche.
Contact Joseph, 1-800- 243-2836. Telex:
EFRATA. Email: MasterCharge,
American Express, and Visa not accepted.

--Louie Crew

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

We pause in this your joyful celebration for this brief public service announcement, to remind us of why we are singing, why we are giving gifts, why the world is taking any notice whatsoever in this holy day:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

Now back to our regular programming.

John 1:1-14

Sometimes when I am listening to a concerto or a violin solo on NPR, talking heads create an arbitrary intermission, even if the performance is recorded, not live. At times they tell me how old the composer was when she wrote the piece, or where the soloist was born and educated. Somewhat uncharitably I refer to these interruptions as “the Presbyterian interlude.”

I went to a prep school founded by devout Presbyterians, and they were great at explaining even the most minute details. When major controversy arises, Presbyterians insist on issuing “confessional statements” to say definitively how the whole denomination currently responds, and they hope ’for all times’ will respond.

I am decidedly an Anglican. Anglicans don’t issue confessional statements. (The drafts of an “Anglican Covenant” are a break with that tradition, and if the Communion does in fact agree to a confessional covenant, we will have changed our polity radically. I don’t anticipate that happening.)

Anglicans have rarely had enough members to risk requiring that all of them agree. “Jesus is Lord!” we agree on. The Nicene and Apostles Creeds we agree on -- so long as we don’t insist on clarifying exactly what it is that we believe them to say. Nor do we wire congregants with lie detectors when they say the creeds.

In his gospel John is attempting to tell us not just the details of a birth narrative, but the philosophical meaning of Jesus’ birth. “In the beginning was the Word” (in Greek, the logos) -- a word that embraces mind, order, understanding, critical and logical thinking. For John and for Christians generally, the birth of Christ is not just any birth, but a very special birth: the God of the universe, the maker of heaven and earth, the divine creator, became flesh, and dwelt among us as a mortal.

John’s tells not only who Jesus is, The Word, but also what it means to us who believe in him: “All who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

Psalm 98 asserts:

Sing to the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.

Yes, God has!

Brother, sister, Merry Christmas!

-- Quean Lutibelle (a.k.a. Louie)

See also

December 20, 2009. Fourth Sunday in Advent.

© 2009 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.

Click here for my comments on this same collect last year.

Micah 5:2-5a

Micah gets to say, “I told you so!”

Micah predicted correctly where the Messiah would be born, in “one of the little clans of Judah,” not one of the large ones.

Today most of the Christians in Bethlehem are Palestinians, and their numbers are rapidly decreasing as they are killed or flee further violence from Israel.

A great many of those Palestinian Christians are Anglicans, yet few Episcopalians seem to know that. Most Americans are woefully ignorant of geography. Some Christians act as if “Since God has the whole world in his hands, I don’t have to.”

Canticle 15

Frequently conservative Episcopalians accuse me of mixing politics and religion. “You bring the world’s agenda. We need to be about the business of saving souls.”

Tell that to Mother Mary; she seems to make my own mistake:

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.

That sounds like the business of saving souls to me. That does not sound like the world’s agenda: it sounds like God’s. That’s how Mary understood her pregnancy.

Hebrews 10:5-10

Saint works really hard to get Christians to accept his doctrine of the blood atonement. Since Christ is sinless, his sacrifice of his body is efficacious in paying the price of the sins of all others. We really don’t have to work our way into heaven: Christ has already met our price of entry.

Then what’s our motivation for doing good works, since we are going to get into heaven regardless of our worthiness? Like Christ we come to do God’s will not to appease God, but to show our gratitude that Christ as already appeased God on our behalf.

That’s news genuinely good. Imagine how we would pack our pews if we got the word out that these pews are safe for sinners. Throw the self-righteous out of the temple. They are the G*n*r*t**n *f V*p*rs that John the Baptizer spoke of in last week’s reading.

Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

Elizabeth acknowledges that her sister Mary is to mother the messiah. Elizabeth’s own son, John the Baptizer, is but a fetus but jumps in Elizabeth’s womb to acknowledge Mary’s presence, as if already to pay homage to the son that Mary will later conceive.

Micah knew in advance. Elizabeth knew in advance. John the Baptizer knew even while in Elizabeth’s womb. Mary prophesies it, especially as a triumph for the poor and the oppressed whom God has chosen to honor in this way.

How about us? Do we know it in advance of December 25th, now only five days away? What does the birth of Christ mean to you? What news in it remains genuinely good now 2009 years away -- give or take a couple of years when they recalculated the calendar? What news in it remains genuinely good?

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly

Is that good news for you?

Have you had enough of cleansing? Want some lessons that more directly celebrate God’s love and concern for you, indeed for the whole world? Don’t stay home on Thursday night. Attend the midnight mass with great expectations!

See also

December 13, 2009. Third Sunday of Advent.

© 2009 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.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory.

The image of God as a warrior who gives victory likely gave more comfort to the original audience than it does to me. Where was this warrior during the holocaust? Do I really want a defender who smites all my enemies? Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and do good to those who do evil to us.

Using Zephaniah’s perspective, we would have an easy formula for separating good people from bad people: good people prosper and bad people don’t. That counters some of the oldest insights of Israel. Job, for example, insists that the misfortunes which have been heaped upon him are not the result of his misbehavior: “Show me my guilt!” he protests through much of the drama (for indeed the book was intended as a play).

Note that writing within a patriarchal context Zephaniah refers to Zion and Jerusalem as “daughters.” Zephaniah names God himself as the “King of Jerusalem.”

With God in charge and on our side…… Enter Bob Dylan. Listen to Buddy Miller’s very powerful video performance of Dylan’s “My name it is nothing“. It is quite a commentary on Zephaniah’s vision of God.

Notice that like many psalmists, Zephaniah abruptly shifts grammatical point of view from talking about God to letting God speak for himself. The third person shifts to the first person. This rhetorical device is a strong way to engage readers and listeners alike, with the effect of overhearing the Almighty.

As a gay male I hear much comfort in what God says:

I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

In 1985 newly elected Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning boldly proclaimed, “There will be no outcasts in this church.” Resolutions D025 and C056 at General Convention in Anaheim this summer did much not only to “gather the outcast” but also to “change their shame into praise.”

Canticle 9

The first song of Isaiah is also the first song of Quean Lutibelle.

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.

That is not for straights only, not for males only, not for whites only, no for the rich only……

Grace is amazing still. If God loves an old quean like me, God can surely love absolutely everybody. She does!

Philippians 4:4-7

“Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”

Gentleness does not have much purchase for males as our culture emphasizes masculinity.

Thirty years ago I decided to change my default salutation in personal and business correspondence. No longer did I use “Dear Dean Smith” or “Dear Charlotte.” Instead I used “Gentle Dean Smith” or “Gentle Charlotte.” Salutations are generally considered phatic, like “How are you?” One does not expect a review of the health of the one thus greeted. Yet occasionally males have responded, “I am not gentle” or even “How dare you presume that I am gentle….”

“Gentle Dean Smith” and “Gentle Charlotte” sound like Sissy Talk, and that is precisely why I choose them as salutations. I rejoice to let my gentleness to be known to everyone.

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.

-- Louie Crew

Publication history:

Queer Power

Swish Summer, 1979. Postcard
Gay Christian [U. K.] 17 (1980): 27
Contact II Winter 1987: 50. Used my pen name Li Min Hua
NABWMT Journal 4 (Summer 1991): 7. Used my pen name Li Min Hua

Luke 3:7-18

John the Baptizer calls those in his audienxe a “G*n*r*t**n *f V*p*rs! [censored]” yet they still come to him, including a tax collector and a soldier -- both of whom were commonly considered scum for collaborating with the Roman Occupation

He calls on all to repent, and many do.

Street preachers abound in most of America’s large cities, and in some of the smaller ones as well. Some carry megaphones to amplify their cry: “Repent! Repent!”

Occasionally one of them rides on the No. 24 bus with me going from East Orange into Newark. Usually the prophet stares straight ahead. Often passengers outside the prophet’s line of vision roll their eyes to register the judgment, “Who is this kook?” or “Has this freak forgotten to take today’s medications?”

Not so for John the Baptizer. Luke reports: “The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.”

John warns that just being Jewish is not enough to save you when God comes. You must “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” God can make a Jew out of the very stones on the ground it God needs to keep the record straight in his promises to Israel.

John illustrates fruits worthy of repentance: if you have food and clothes, you don’t have to give them up, but you need to share them with those who do not have them. If you are a tax collector, you don’t have to give up your job, but you must not exact a fee for yourself that is not prescribed by your employer. The soldier does not have to quit being a soldier for the occupation, but the soldier must not exact bribes: “Be satisfied with your wages.”

The lgbt person does not have to give up her or his life partner, but must cherish that partner as Christ cherishes the church.

How wondrous to be part of a church where we are expected to turn on our thinking caps!

See also

Friday, November 20, 2009

December 6, 2009. Second Sunday of Advent.

© 2009 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.

Baruch 5:1-9

During his 2008 campaign for president, Barack Obama told Jewish voters that his first name had the same Semitic root as the Hebrew Hebrew name "Baruch," meaning "A blessing.” See a clip on YouTube The American Heritage Dictionary confirmed his claim. Baruch has been a personal name for Jews for centuries.

In today’s passage, Baruch appeals to Jews to stop being whiners. He says what is needed is a change of clothes:

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God

Those who have been oppressed often find it hard to give up the mantle of their oppression. Whining becomes ‘second-nature,’ self-pity a familiar routine that bears witness, as if to say, “at least I am.”

To prepare himself to write “The Prisoner of Chillon,” George Gordon, Lord Byron spent many days and nights in the same prison where his narrator had been shackled. Byron imagines that the prisoner did not find it easy to be freed; freedom lacks the familiar details of the prison:

My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:--even I
Regained my freedom with a sigh.”

See my article “Abusing Literacy to Colonize Minds: Eight Scenes from a Travesty in which I track related examples from Alabama, Hong Kong, South Carolina, Georgia, and other former British dominions.

Advent is meant to be a time of repentance, a time to ‘re-think, re-think! for God’s realm is near!”

Saint Paul cautioned Christians in Rome “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (12:3). As a gay Christian and as a son of a dear Southern Baptist mother who raised guilt and self-pity to an art form, I find it much more challenging to think of myself with a much respect and care as God has for absolutely everybody.

Paul completed that verse, “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Baruch speaks more boldly, more imaginatively:

Put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.

Both give counsel fit for a Quean like me, a challenging discipline for Advent.

Where is my tiara when I really need it?!

Canticle 16

Canticle 16 is the Song of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel, 1:68-79. Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist, and had been struck dumb during the pregnancy of his wife Elizabeth. When Elizabeth and Zechariah presented the baby for circumcision, the priests asked her what name to give him. All who knew the couple expected them to name the child for his father, and when she said “John,” they were confused, as that was not a name commonly used in her family. Then Zechariah himself was freed from his affliction and spoke, “He shall be named ‘John.‘” The spirit then prompted Zechariah to proclaim the advent of Christ, with John as the prophet who goes before to prepare the way. Elizabeth and Mary were sisters; John and Jesus were first cousins.

A Jewish friend of mine cautions that we Christians are prone to read too much magic into the birth narratives. “Every Jewish mother,” she tells me, “thinks her son has bee sent by God. And here we have two Jewish sisters, one of them pregnant and the older, newly a mother, resolving a potential family conflict deciding the relationship between these two “sons of God.”

Quean Lutibelle imagines another witness concerned about what the birth of Jesus might mean:

Ancient Hairpins

Honey, I know what I saw and heard
and I swear the three fancy foreigners
spoke of a baby Jewish "king"
kept in a stable by peasants.

I was in my Yiddish drag cruising
a dishy census-taker at the inn
when I overheard them saying
this little baby would bring
"salvation" even to us Romans.

Someone had better tell Herod
there's going to be trouble.

-- Louie Crew

Publication history:

Swish Christmas, 1980. Postcard
Pangloss Papers 4.3 (1985): Used my Chinese pen name ‘Li Min Hua’
Dignity/Integrity Mid-Hudson 3.8 (August 1, 1990): 7
New Poetry 5.11 (June 1992): 14
Gay Place from April 1999.

Philippians 1:3-11

What I like most is that Paul does not give them a set of rules to show them who is right or wrong. While he may hope they will side with him, his prayer for them is that “your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best” (1:9-10). Paul operates with several assumptions:

  1. We need knowledge.
  2. The knowledge must flow from love.
  3. We’re given the job “to determine what is best”;
  4. ‘what is best’ has not been pre-determined for us. It's ours to discover.

Wake up, Anglican Consultative Council. Wake up, Anglican Communion. Why are you trying to bypass this understanding of how God wants us to determine what is best? What love is overflowing from you for those who have come to conclusions different from yours as they and you try “to determine what is best” regarding lgbt people and those provinces which want to ordain and bless them?

Luke 3:1-6

Even put here in the NRSV, if you listen closely, you may have trouble hearing this text without the influence of George Frederic Handel:

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

In almost 36 years together, my husband has chosen many tee shirts, usually with an eye to fashion more than to politics, but with one of those dearest to him fashion was not the designers’ main concern:

“Jesus is coming; look busy.”

My Advent prayer for us is that “our love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help us to determine what is best.”

See also

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 29th, 2009. The First Sunday of Advent

© 2009 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.

Just when most protestants start the count-down to Christmas, we liturgical Christians can’t go near the holly and the ivy, the mistletoe and the other marks of celebration, but first must clean house spiritually.

What works of darkness do you intend to cast away?

My question intimdates me, because only 11 days from being 73, I still don't trust my ability to discern my own works of darkness.

I was raised in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s, deep behind the Cotton Curtain, by parents who loved me dearly. Yet they taught me, as they had been taught, that "Nigras" (they chose that form intending to be polite) were created inferior and while they should not mingle with us socially, should be treated fairly.

That view was maintained at our Baptist congregation, at my prep school (the same one that Ted Turner attended with me, and that Senator Howard Baker and The Rev. Pat Robertson attended a decade earlier), and it was maintained when I entered Baylor University as a freshman in 1954 -- 55 years ago.

When I analyzed works of darkness in my life then, it did not cross my spiritual radar to include racism or sexism or heterosexism. I thought that only a few godless Yankees would turn religion into political agendas, stirring up trouble.

Meanwhile, I knew that you shouldn't smoke, drink, cuss, chew or beat your wife -- not that I was tempted to do any of those things. I knew about my secret desires but avidly suppressed them, the guilt from which made me all the more fervant in worship.

And at Baylor, I learned of a new sin to add to my list: 'mixed bathing.' When Texans told me that God opposed 'mixed bathing,' I wondered what would ever have possessed anyone to be heathenish enough even to think about taking a bath naked with someone of the opposited gender!

Many of our priorites for the "works of darkness" were wrong for most of us freshmen at Baylor in 1954, but what similar community understandings blind me to systemic works of darkness in which I willingly participate right now?

I have little trouble listening to my conscience: I have great difficulty educating it. Thus I would emend the opening of today's collect: "Almighty God, give us the wisdom to discern what is good and evil and then give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness...."

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Let’s personalize Jeremiah’s witness to our own time and place:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for the United States; and its President shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Washington will be saved and the nation will live in safety. And this is the name by which the righteous branch will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."

Hope is indeed audacious.

Psalm 25:1-9

The psalmist suggests that we are not to be weighed down for sins long past:

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

I sometime find it harder to forgive myself than to believe that God has already forgiven me. Sometimes my sin’s most devastating consequence is my perception of it as indelible.

In the 1970s while working in London, I sought the counsel of a priest. He listened patiently and said, “Your story is very moving but it sounds rehearsed, like you might have perfected it through several iterations. Is this something you are really feeling, or are you stuck with some private shame as safer than or more certain than taking on uncharted directions for your life?”

A few “Hail, Mary’s” and “Our Fathers” were almost redundant after this priest opened my heart again to the living God.

As I try to discern my own "works of darkness" I continually find it easiest to focus on old sins that are no longer pressing problems -- habits I feel more comfortable confessing. Feeling guilty becomes for many of us a drug of choice. That is not healthy. Jesus died for our sins; he does not expect us to grovel.

I was delighted when a friend of mine at last completed his jail sentence and was released. We had met during one of his earlier releases: he saw an ad I had placed in a local paper in Georgia, inviting writers to a regular meeting at which we would read our new work and critique the new work of others. He wrote lousy poetry, but he took criticism to heart, re-wrote and returned meeting after meeting. He went on to write some good work.

I did not see him again after we moved to another state, and then I received a sad letter from a prison in Florida: he told me that he been convicted for armed robbery of a convenience store. He stole a six pack of beer and then sat in the parking lot of the store drinking it all. He passed out and was sound asleep when the police were called.

“I did not know how to cope with the freedom I had,” he wrote me. “A conflict arose at work and I felt trapped between two adversaries. It seemed I could in no way win, and so I freaked out about it. I suppose I really hoped to be arrested. I know the rules of the joint. In here I am not given much leeway to do myself harm.”

That pattern continued through two more incarcerations and release, and then he determined he could live responsibly outside. He worked for a time as a carnie. He met a woman who loved him, and after about two decades together they’re still living successfully outside the joint but below the poverty level on the edge of the desert in Arizona. His poetry continues to improve, and he haunts the public library.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” Plagiarize Saint. I am sure that he gives us permission to use his words as our own and send then on a hand-written note to 5-10 persons that need to hear that from us. Who in your life gives you joy just to think about? Do they know that?

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus invites his disciples to live on the edge with Great Expectations, unafraid of all the disasters and signs and wonders that will herald his approach.

“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” Really?!

Have they left already? Has the second-coming happened already?

Or did Jesus have a faulty iPod calendar?

Don’t ask; don’t tell.

See also

November 22nd, 2009. Last Sunday After Pentecost. Christ the King

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

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.

All the lessons today are about kings -- King David and his descendant, Christ the King. The collect reminds us that Christ is not just a king, but “the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

These texts were written in cultures where kings and queens had more real power than most of them do today. If/when the Prince of Wales becomes King Charles III of England and Scotland, he will control lots of money and a huge estate, but like his mother, he will exercise almost no power over the various governments of his realm. In being so closely identified by Scripture as a monarch, does Christ the King suffer a similar, if unnoticed loss of status? Do we with modern ears imagine Christ the King in charge only by title and rank but not by power and control?

Does Christ even want to be king? Does he want his subjects bowing before him in splendid ceremonies that assert his majesty and glory?

Suppose your spouse were to greet you on rising, “Good morning, your Majesty” or on bedding, “Rest well, your Majesty.”

Nor can I find a modern political title that would communicate for us what ‘King’ communicated for the bible’s original audiences. “Christ the President” or “Christ the Commander-in-Chief” or “Christ the Prime Minister”…. all offend.

Jesus said: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Is that kind of candor reserved only for those in the upper room? Are we to imagine that to the rest of us his followers, Jesus says, “Mind your place”? Jesus sternly scolded his disciples when they talked about which one would be the greatest with him in heaven: he counseled that the greatest are those who serve, not those who are served. What kind of king is that? Does calling him King of kings distract us from what Jesus really wants of us?

In his new book Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell Bishop John S. Spong warns that we have created a God who is to be flattered, as if God “needs” flattery.

Concerns for one’s grandeur or title or rank distances the concerned. Those concerns do not bring one closer to the object of reverence.

In Adam Bede, George Eliot counseled, “If you would maintain the slightest belief in human heroism, you must never make a pilgrimage to see the hero” (Chapter 17). Eliot suggests that no human being can stand the tests of real heroism at close range.

Of course Jesus is a divine hero, not a human one. For John, Jesus passed all the tests for reliability at close range, and John insists that Jesus wants us as friends, not as subjects.

It's easier to be a subject. Being a friend requires much more responsibility.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

Given the candor that Scripture gives about David’s sins -- his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder in the second degree of her husband Uriah, his sometimes abusive conduct in battle… -- it is fascinating to see the place that he secures for himself in Hebrew Scriptures, and even in the genealogy of Jesus in Christian Scriptures. He’s an arch sinner that it’s hard not to love if you are on his side.

In his “last words” David praises himself (and we who repeat him, praise him) for his good government:

One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
Is not my house like this with God?

My father loved the rituals of his college fraternity. When I complained about various misdeeds of some of our heroes, he often quoted The Sigma Nu Creed “To keep green the sainted memory of our loved and lost, their faults forgotten, their virtues enshrined in our hearts forever.”

I am not a cynic but prefer the counsel of poet Thomas Hardy: “If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst“ (in his poem 'de Profundis').

I am glad that Scripture includes details of David’s failures as well as details of his achievements.

Psalm 132:1-13, (14-19)

Like many of the powerful in history, David revels in what he claims as God’s promise to him not just in his lifetime, but in posterity. Note that the promise for his posterity is explicitly conditional: “If your children keep my covenant and my testimonies that I shall teach them, their children will sit upon your throne for evermore."

I have seen several dozen thrones in museums plus a few more in drafty old castles; and not one of them has looked comfortable. I cannot imagine being pleased with the notion of sitting upon a throne forever more, even if only metaphorically.

Ezekiel has no trouble at all imagining it: “I saw the dome that was above the four winged creatures, and on it was the sapphire throne“ (10:1). I take that as strong evidence that gay queans will be in heaven, because who else could advise God about an antique store where he could find a sapphire throne?!

Revelation 1:4b-8

John the Divine had no trouble at all imagining Jesus’ throne either.

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

I highly recommend reading the whole of the Book of Revelation aloud occasionally. Candle light and sherry can enhance the experience.

In the 1960s I fell asleep before my fireplace after reading the whole of it aloud. Later I awoke, or thought that I awoke, to see a metal saucer upside down in the great lawn before my home at St. Andrew’s school in Middletown, Delaware. The saucer seemed only about 5 to 6 feet high, but 60-70 feet in diameter. There was little noise on its take-off, save the heavy rustle of leaves. I fell back asleep, or thought that I did.

At dinner, I made the great mistake of telling the lads at my table what I had dreamed (or by then thought that I had dreamed). I wish that I had kept the experience to myself. Most likely the wild imagery of the Book of Revelation had prompted my dream. At the time, and the few times that I have remembered the experience, the dream has meant nothing; it tells me nothing. But for months I felt like a prime kook for giving evidence to several who wanted to make more of it. Some were angry that I did not report the episode to the Air Force. Heavens to Betsy, No! I am glad that I have had no such experiences, real or imaginary, since.

John 18:33-37

I have great sympathy for Pilate in this episode. It could not have been a plum assignment to be sent to Israel, and it must have been especially annoying to have the indigenous leadership among his subjects to ask him to crucify someone whose crime, if any, was clearly more against the local leaders than against Pilate himself or by extension against Rome.

And the prisoner is not cooperative. Most gospel writers show Jesus as largely saying nothing when his accusers speak against him. In this apparently private audience, Pilate seems to pursue the possibility of a rapprochement. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks straight-forwardly.

Jesus might have said, “That’s how my enemies mock me. You can see for yourself that I sport none of the grandeur or aspirations of a king. It’s a ‘Jewish thing.’ I am sure you have seen how worked up my people become over disagreements about our doctrines. Obviously you have to decide how to appease them. I wish you well. I am glad that I don’t have your job!”

Jesus said no such thing.

Or Jesus might have said, “Yes, I am the son of God. I am Christ the King. I am Lord of Lords.”

Jesus said no such thing.

Instead, he was vague:

Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Okay. What am I as Pilate to do with this testimony? What do I know now that I did not know before I asked? I can’t make heads or tales of what he has said. He seems strange but is apparently innocuous. He hardly seems a felon, yet how will I be able to use anything that he has said to me as evidence to save him from the crucifixion local leaders are demanding for him?

Maybe I can get around it by offering to release him in my annual pardon of a felon. I’ll offer them a truly unsavory character instead, Barabbas. That will bring the priests to their senses. They'll never choose to release the thug instead of this guy. That’s what I’ll do.

Isn’t it about time for Happy Hour? Christ the King indeed!

See also

November 15th, 2009. Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

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 recall an occasion about 35 years ago when a colleague in another department invited me to address her students’ questions about homosexuality. An older student in that class had decided to earn a degree while still working as a fundamentalist preacher. He became particularly agitated when I quoted as the first commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and as the second "Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39 -- NIV)

“There you go misleading these people and distorting what God said. Those are not the first two commandments,” he exhorted me, huffing. “The first commandment is ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ and the second is ’Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, ’” (Exodus 20: 3-4 -- KJV)

“Very good,” I told him. “You cite the first two of Moses’ Big Ten. I cited Jesus’ two. Jesus said all the law and all the prophets hang on these big two” (Matthew 22:40).

“What version of the bible are you using?” my adversary said snarling.

“This time, the New International Version.”

“There you go again misleading people by reading a bible written by men. I use the King James Version, which records what God said exactly,” he replied.

“And Jesus spoke English?” I asked.

“Yes, sir!” he replied.

“And what’s another name for the King James Version?” I asked.

“The Authorized Version,” he snapped. “It’s the one that has God’s approval.”

“Authorized by whom for whom?” I asked.

“Say what?!” he replied. “That’s obvious. It is authorized by God for all Christians.”

I rejoiced to have someone who cared enough to challenge the authority of the teacher.

“No,” I explained. “The KJV was ‘authorized’ by Quean James (a.k.a. James 1st of England and James 6th of Scotland) for use in the Church of England, my church,” I explained.

“If you want to use my cookbook, you are welcome to use it,” I went on a bit unkindly, “but don’t come into my kitchen and tell me how to use my book.”

We were about equally exasperated with each other.

Today’s collect describes what the two of us were trying to do with Scripture in a most Anglican way: “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”

Scripture is not given to us to follow blindly. Jesus’ own list was a careful response to the Pharisees, who tried to trip him by asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” I find his short answer extremely helpful as I try to sort out apparent conflicts in Scripture.

For example, Leviticus tells us that we should kill a man who lies with a man, yet John 3:16 says that “whosoever believes in Jesus shall have everlasting life.” John does not say “whoever is heterosexual and believes” just “whosoever believes.” Jesus did not shout from the cross, “Don’t misunderstand me: I am up here dying for heterosexuals only….”

What changes would take place in the Church and in the world if those who call themselves Christians would love their lgbt neighbors as they love themselves?

“Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” Indeed.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

In reading the bible, it is often fascinating to note details not in the writer’s central focus. For example, this text is not about polygamy. It neither supports nor opposes polygamy. It simply describes a domestic conflict within a polygamous household. Elhanah gives a double portion to one wife (Hannah), but another of his wives, Peninnah, provokes Hannah severely, mocking her for having no children.

Elhanah tries to comfort Hannah by asking, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” Put otherwise, “Am I not man enough for you?” Ah, the irrepressible ego of the patriarch!

Hannah bargains with God for a son by conceding in advance that she does not want a son who will be rival patriarch. If allowed a son, she promises to set him apart from birth as a Nazarite, a special celibate order, of which John the Baptist was also a prominent member later, in Jesus‘ generation.

I am fascinated with the place of rank and privilege that sexual non-conformists enjoyed in ancient cultures. E.g., note not only Samuel the Nazarite here, but also the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, entrusted as many eunuchs were, with great responsibility.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah’s song prefigures Mary’s Magnificat. Both note that God reverses the order of things. God overthrows the rich in favor of the poor. The full become hungry; the hungry become full. God gives power to the weak and overthrows the strong and the haughty.

The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.

… for not by might does one prevail

Quean Lutibelle sings a similar sassy song of power:

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.

-- Louie Crew

Has appeared:

Gay Christian [U. K.] 17 (1980): 27
Contact II Winter 1987: 50. Used pseudonym Li Min Hua
NABWMT Journal 4 (Summer 1991): 7. Used pseudonym Li Min Hua

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

Saint gives strong assurance here. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is complete, and we who believe should approach judgment “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Attention heterosexists: this promise comes with no disclaimers regarding homosexual persons who believe.

Saint uses the word provoke in an interesting way, to describe how we Christians should behave towards one another. One would hardly welcome being told to “provoke one another” in the context of the Anglican Communion currently. We’ve been there, done that far too much already, thank you very much.

But Saint restricts the kind of provoking he counsels us to practice: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds….as you see the [Judgment] Day approaching.” For example, we might expect these news flashes:

The Anglican Province of Nigeria to deploy fire-fighters through the Diocese of Los Angeles

The Diocese of Newark to help with clean-up following flooding in the Diocese of Albany

Two of the fifteen LGBT bishops in The Episcopal Church will receive honorary doctorates at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA

Two Arch-Conservative bishops in The Episcopal Church to receive honorary doctorates at Episcopal Divinity School

Et al.

Saint thinks that Christ would welcome having a footstool made up of the bodies of his enemies. Saint even says that Christ has been sitting around waiting for such a footstool.

I think not. How gross Saint’s imagination in this instance!

We would not appreciate a non-believer who took this tidbit from Hebrews 10 to justify calling Christians barbaric. The non-believer wanting to make such a case might also point to the disciple who cut off a bystander’s ear on the night of the crucifixion.

We do similar violence if we read the Qu’ran with similar reductiveness. We should not use isolated instances of violence therein as justification for calling Islam essentially violent.

I much prefer Samuel’s witness: “[F]or not by might does one prevail.”

Mark 13:1-8

The first verses of Mark 13 invite us into a long-term perspective from which that which we see as grand is in fact leveled:

Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

Global warming is triggering many alarm bells about the transience of all that is grand in our environment. When will the melt-down flood our major seaports? How long do we have before the floods and hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis make culture as we know it, nations as we know them, disappear from the face of the earth?

Percy Bysse Shelley wrote of a potentate who came to similar oblivion in ages long past:


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

When I taught in China (1983-1987) I trekked through tomb after tomb after tomb. As my group walked through echoing subterranean passageways, I often whistled softly Thomas Tallis’ tune to which Arthur Cleveland Coxe set the words:

O where are kings and empires now
of old, that went and came?
but Lord, thy Church is praying yet,
a thousand years the same.

We mark her goodly battlements
and her foundations strong;
we hear, within, the solemn voice
of her unending song.

For not like kingdoms of the world
thy holy Church, O God,
though earthquake shocks are threatening her,
and tempests are abroad.

Unshaken as eternal hills,
immovable she stands,
a mountain that shall fill the earth,
a house not made by hands.

As I pass empty church after empty church, many with boarded windows and iron gates long locked shut, I realize that non-believers making the same journey can fairly ask of us, “O where is the church now? Praying still? Really?”

Jesus warned that the great Temple of his day would be left with not one stone on another. Such is sure to be the fate of our mighty temples as well. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."

Our temple must not be made of human hands.

See also

Sunday, October 25, 2009

November 8. 2009. Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost. Proper 27

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The 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.

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Where did you first meet your beloved? Was the meeting accidental, or did someone set it up? Was there a match-maker in the wings?

Have you ever served as a match-maker for someone else?

Do you review these details long into your relationship, and long into the matches that you have nudged into being?

In what level of detail do you remember the episodes?

This passage from Ruth chronicles a love-match . Ruth, a Moabite and a widow, has left her people to live with the Jews, the people of her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi instructs here carefully on how to catch a husband.

Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman (and thus also a kinsman of Ruth’s late husband) is rich. Ruth first gets his eye by her steadfastness as a gleaner. Farmers were required to leave dropping from their harvest so that the poor could glean them. Boaz notices her, and invites her to return to his field with the other women so that she might have safety.

Naomi instructs Ruth on how to win his more intimate favors. She is to bathe and make herself smell good. She is to dress in her best clothes. She is to wait until food and drink have primed the pump, until Boaz is lying down to rest. Then she is to uncover his feet, lie down, and wait for his instructions.

Boaz is to be the boss, Ruth his attractive, willing servant. -- Passive Aggression™ brought to you by those who invented it.

It worked. Ruth hooked her man and became Boaz’ wife. The Lord made her conceive Obed, a son, grandfather to King David and ancestor of Jesus.

I met Ernest Clay when he stepped off the elevator on the 6th floor of the Lucky Street YMCA in Atlanta late one night on Labor Day weekend in 1973. It was love at first sight. He invited me to Room 637 but following Naomi’s instructions, told me to wait for 15 minutes while he freshened himself and the room. I was sure that he must be a vice-squad cop, but took the risk anyway. I have never left his room. We courted for 5 months and then married on February 2, 1974.

Who would have thought a threshing floor to be a holy place, or the elevator area on the sixth floor of a YMCA?

Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est.

Psalm 127

Psalm 127 is lovely and romantic in sentiment, but do we believe it? Perhaps it is easier to test our belief in it by reading it in more contemporary language:

Quean Lutibelle’s Candid Psalm 127

It is silly to install burglar bars on your windows
or loud alarms in your automobiles

Unless God builds your house or automobile
no guards or devices can protect them.

It is silly to be early to rise and late to rest,
silly too to fill your life with work,
for God gives to his beloved sleep.

You will be happy if you have lots of children
because they will enlarge your army
and keep you safe.

Do you still believe the claims in the psalm?

Hebrews 9:24-28

Was Hebrews written for heterosexual only? Should one word in the last line of this lesson should be changed?: “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those heterosexuals who are eagerly waiting for him”?

I am amazed at the audacity of those who arrogate just for themselves God’s promises to absolutely everybody.

Mark 12:38-44

I called a friend recently to tell him that I have missed him at church. I frequently alternate between the 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock services, and assumed that he may have been doing the same with choices opposite to my own. “No,” he said, “I have not been to church for a long time.”

“I do not mean to scold,” I assured him, “only to tell you that I miss you.” He lives a distance away, and I assumed that he might be going to the fine parish in the town where he lives. “No,” he said, “it’s nice but snake belly low. When I come to church, I will come to Grace. Part of it is my schedule. I am working as well as attending classes. But part of it is also my finances. I am embarrassed to have so little to give.”

Thinking of today’s Gospel, I assured him that Jesus is unimpressed with money given to prove one’s faithfulness, that Jesus affirms those who give only the mites they have to give.

I remember the first time that I spent time really looking at the crypt and at various other isolated but grand nooks and crannies of the National Cathedral in Washington. I was in residence for a week at the College of Preachers nextdoor, and visited the Cathedral during breaks all week.

My friend the Rev. Grant Gallup attended the same consultation and sometimes walked with me during the breaks. “I feel guilty liking this beauty so much,” I told him, “because Jesus treated with contempt those who gave grandly out of their abundance to build and furbish the holy places the better to show off their own splendor and generosity.”

“Honey, don’t mar your enjoyment. All of this belongs to God now, and God has generously given you eyes to see and a heart to rejoice in its beauty.”

See also

Sunday, October 18, 2009

November 1st, 2009. All Saints Day

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

In the early 1980s I recall seeing a stranger in a railway station wearing a jersey with the logo of my prep school. He was much younger than I, and he had obviously attended after the school had integrated racially. I was delighted and moved to introduce myself. “I am Louie Crew, Class of 1954, and you?”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “Man, what are you talking about? I don’t know you.” Nor did he sound like he wanted to know me.

“Sorry,” I said, “I saw your jersey and thought too you went to the McCallie School in Chattanooga.”

“This is just a shirt, man,” he said as he rushed away to his train.

It’s easy for us to come to today’s passage from the Wisdom of Solomon thinking we know what it’s all about, and miss the point, because for us the text is “just a shirt, man” -- and carries little of the meaning and importance that it has for the Jews who wrote it.

The author (writing with imprimatur of King Solomon though not necessarily King Solomon himself) is asking a question that at some point in our lives becomes very personal to each one of us: “What will happen to me when I die?”

Most of us asked that question even when we were small children, especially when deaths occurred in our family. Some of us have asked it quite poignantly after the death of a parent, for our parents’ deaths prefigure our own, since through them God gave us life.

Now that I am in my 70s, I find that I must take care lest I become morbid with the question, “What will happen to me when I die?” I am one of the younger residents in our coop with 400 apartments. When I greet people on the elevator with “Hello. How are you?”, some say, “I can’t complain. I am above ground.”

The author of the Wisdom passage answers the question forthwith: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.”

It’s easy for us Christians to say, “Ah, that’s a jersey with a logo that I recognize: we are from down home. The author is talking about Christians.”

This author is not talking about Christians. The phrase The righteous has a very special meaning for the original audience that we Christians do not give to it. “The righteous” in the Hebrew scriptures are those whom God has tested and found worthy:

like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.

In Hebrew scriptures, one gets to heaven by passing all the tests and being proved good enough.

In Christian scriptures, one gets to heaven because Jesus passed all the tests and was good enough: Christians are justified not by our good works, but by Christ’s. We don’t have to pass the tests. We do good works not to get into heaven, but in our gratitude that in our baptism we have already been marked as God’s own forever.

I asked persons on the bishops-deputies listserv to choose their favorite from my collection One Hundred and One Reasons to be Episcopalian and they ranked highest one by the Rev. Tom VanCulin in Honolulu:

“ God loves you, and there is not a thing you can do to change that!

The respondents ranked as their second most popular reason to be an Episcopalian one from the Rev. Phil Wilson at Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, NJ:

“The only requirement to take Communion is that you be hungry!”

Yes, we all our tested. Yes, we all are placed in a refiner’s fire. Yes, the tests strengthen our character, as today’s passage from the Wisdom of Solomon poignantly describes, and yes, God “watches over the elect”; but we are elected by Jesus’ actions, not by our own.

That is good news. I greet you as “saints.” Your righteousness has been achieved for you by the God of the universe. Enjoy it. Spread the good news.

Psalm 24

Psalm 24 continues the emphasis of the Wisdom text that God rewards us because of our righteousness:

“Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? " *
and who can stand in his holy place?"

"Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.

They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."

Suppose an unholy person stands in a holy place. Suppose the priest blessing you or pronouncing forgiveness to you is a person who has just committed a grave sin. Does that sin cancel the blessing or the forgiveness you have received? No. According to traditional church teaching, the acts of a priest have efficacy not because of the merit of the individual priest but because of the office of priesthood that God through the church has bestowed on the priest.

So too for the priesthood of the individual believers, the great body of all believers, like Jesus, lay priests after the order of Melchizedek: the good we do has efficacy, has effectiveness, not because of our state of grace or lack thereof, but because of God’s great goodness and mercy.

Revelation 21:1-6a

Today’s epistle comes from the penultimate chapter in all of the bible. In it, John envisions a new heaven and a new earth. In it, “Death will be no more.”

“What will happen to us when we die?” John proclaims that wee will dwell in that new heaven and new earth.

John stresses not so much that we will be with God, but that God will be with us. “See, the home of God is among mortals.”

Strange religion. Our God not only made us: God prefers our company.

John 11:32-44

A few years ago, someone asked on an Episcopal listserv, “Any suggestions or advice regarding pastoral care for Gays and Lesbians?”

I am in a Pastoral Care class at seminary. I signed up with several guys to do a presentation on Gay and Lesbian pastoral issues.

I felt drawn to talk about coming out issues. Does anyone have any suggestion or material on counseling folks who are dealing with coming out issues?

I offered two suggestions from Scripture: Today's Lazarus story (come out! with all your stinky clothes) and the story of Queen Esther (you are family, sugar, and you can continue to enjoy the privileges of this closet only if you collaborate, only if you become a closet militant).

Dr. King said, "Unmerited suffering is always redemptive." I phrase that differently, "Unmerited suffering is always meant to be redemptive; therefore work to make it so."

Not every coming out is an unqualified blessing. Even in some of the better dynamics, one pays a price, sometimes a big price. If at all possible, time your coming out to maximize the redemption purchased with your holy sacrifice.

Trust no formulas. There are some who need to let a hateful parent finish paying the college bills before saying, 'Yoo-hoo, hi there! Guess what!' There are some who need to pay their own college bills with a wry smile. There are some who will enable parental love they had not yet seen....

Don't demonize your family and friends: it is understandable that immediate family members are concerned about what the extended family, even what the neighbors will think, not just about the lgbt child, but about their parenting. Some have been taught to think that we are their 'mistake.' They loved us too much! or they were cold and distant! Some are dealing with all sorts of stereotypes of themselves, not just of us.

But is their concern about the family and the neighbors more important than our breathing? than our spiritual health?! I have seen many students' eyes light up when I have asked that question, as if a millstone had just been removed from around their necks.

The biggest fear I had when in the closet, ages and ages ago--but until I was 28--was that somehow I would be embracing all my stereotypes of who lgbt people are. What a big surprise to discover just the opposite, that in my newly claimed wholeness I had the birthright (or the 're-birth right') to know that whatever else others think lgbts are, they're wrong if they don't include me just as I am.

Coming out did not make me have to be someone else; coming out gave me the freedom to be myself, to be whole, as I had never been before.

Another big surprise in coming out was to discover that I am really not the center of the universe. Protecting my closet, not wanting to be who I was, trying to account for it....... voraciously consumed vital energy. Secret sexual identity was so absorbing that it threatened to define me. `How will family and friends react if ever they discover that I am not who they think I am, but queer?...' I felt they could not possibly love or respect me, for I had grave problems in loving and respecting myself.

In the closet it took enormous discipline even to think about anything else or anyone else for extended periods of time. Sexuality loomed extremely large, disproportionately so. No wonder that I gave evidence to the stereotype that we are neurotic. I was fast becoming so.

But when I came out, sexuality became just sexuality, integral to who I am, all the more delightful because not furtive or anonymous, but by no means definitive.

I got a life, a new life. I was born again with a new spirit, one that turned not inward on itself, but outward towards others in God's marvelous creation.

People who counsel lesbians and gays in the closet need to be very careful not to get their own sense of worth by having such a lovely bird in a cage. From the first day of such counsel, they need to envision the joy of flight when the cage door opens.

It is far easier to help people adjust to the closet than it is to prepare them for survival outside it.

Some who knew my secret and were trusted confidants while I was a caterpillar in the cocoon where they kept sacred vigil were not altogether happy with the lovely mariposa when I emerged. Some found it easier to be my protector than to be my peer. Maybe that's inevitable? God blesses them also.

God, holy and immortal one, as Jesus you stayed in a closet much of your ministry, later to emerge as the Christ, the son of the Living God. Help all of us in transition to be whole, in this life, and in transition to the life to come. AMEN

Note: You can listen to my own sermon for this date -- preached at Trinity Church in Columbus, Ohio. I used only bits and pieces from the material above.

Thank you for your interest. -- Louie Crew

See also

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 25, 2009. Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 25

© 2009 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.

The authors of the collects did not assume that the gift of faith would flourish without encouragement, that converts or even long-time Christians would automatically manifest spiritual gifts or want to do God’s will. The authors of the collects assume that we are sinners, like themselves, who need to learn the mind of Christ. One way of learning the mind of Christ is by praying for it.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

The play ends happily ever after. We can hardly fault the playwright for the optimism, since that formula still pleases audiences enormously. I suppose that with four generations to do so, a Job might get over the ‘all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.’ I am glad that the playwright remains honest that God did bring evil upon Job. Some want to improve God’s performance by claiming that we who suffer bring on our own punishment.

I am unhappy that in this play, the ‘solution’ for Job is to confess: he has not discovered any sins that he had ignored when for most of the play he declared himself innocent. Yet now he professes that he knows how ignorant he was: “I uttered what I did not understand.”

Job has told the truth about his own behavior; what he did not understand was that God was using him capriciously to prove a bet with Satan. Job has been duped.

He’s well rewarded as a dupe -- getting back far more than he ever lost. Perhaps Yahweh should have gone Allah ‘one better’ and rewarded Job with 1,000 virgins.

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

Psalm 34 seems written to order as a postscript for Job. Job has suffered but God is faithful and delivers him from “all of my terror.” Righteousness promises no immunity from troubles, but it does promise final deliverance.

Recently I watched the very powerful 2008 film God On Trial, starring Rupert Graves, Dominic Cooper, Antony Sher and Stellan Skarsgard. A group of inmates at Auschwitz know that half of them will die then next day in the gas chamber. They put God on trial for their murder, for abandoning the covenant with Israel.

One of them, who had been a judge in the high court, presides. The playwright intersperses this drama with the story of a group of tourists, many of them well-off Jews of today, who visit the prison. Some rejoice that God has indeed remained faithful, that they are themselves alive and well. It seems to me that the tourists' claim is glib and trivializes the enormity of the prisoners' suffering. I encourage you to come to your on conclusions by watching the film. You can rent it through Netflix

Hebrews 7:23-28

Last week Saint introduced Jesus as a high priest, a role that Jesus did not take on for himself. While he dwelt among us, he was a carpenter and an itinerant rabbi.

Saint argues that Jesus alone could fulfill the demands of the law because he alone was sinless. All other high priests have to pay the price of their own sins, not just the price of the sins of those whom they serve. All other high priests have to die, as the price of their own sins, but Jesus through his sinlessness overcame death, and has paid the price of our own sins forever -- “once for all.” God made his son “perfect forever.”

Is this Doctrine of the Blood Atonement a nice sermon illustration or a serious requirement for entry into heaven? Adult circumcision doesn't seem all that painful if it could effect an exemption from believing that God has nothing better to do than sit in heaven and punish his son so that the rest of us don't have to suffer.

Nowhere does Scripture make belief in the doctrine of the Atonement a core requirement for being a Christian. Nor does Scripture spell out belief in the Virgin Birth or every clause of the Nicene Creed as core requirements.

How successful would Jesus have been in evangelizing the Samaritans if he had turned from offering Living Water to requiring doctrinal purity?

With the woman at the well, Jesus ducked her invitation to argue about the supremacy of Jewish doctrine or Samaritan doctrine. She asked him whether the Jews or the Samaritans were right in regard to where and how we are to worship God. Jesus did not take her bait but said that “God is a spirit and those who worship God must worship God in spirit and in truth.” Jesus' answer to her is not a favorite theme with institutional guardians of the faith.

Suppose Jesus had answered the thief on the next cross: “With me in Paradise? O come now. You must first repeat after me ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty…….and the life everlasting.’ When you have said that without crossing your fingers or toes, I want you to describe and assent to my role as a high priest….”

Mark 10:46-52

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered, have cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on us.”

Some have sternly ordered us to be quiet, but we have called out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Jesus told his disciples, “Call them here,” and some of you have come to tell us that Jesus is calling us to come near.

When we reach him, Jesus says to us, "What do you want me to do for you?" We answer, "Teacher, make us whole."

What do you suppose Jesus will do or say to us? Will he hit us over the head with draft upon draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant?

See also

October 18, 2009. Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 24

© 2009 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.

Would this prayer be a good choice for an opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations? Or for the inauguration of a President of the United States; or for a governor of one of those states?

Would it work if we cut out language that is specifically Christian? -- as in “Almighty and everlasting God, you have revealed your glory among the nations. Preserve the works of your mercy throughout the world. Amen”

In these times of great international conflict, no doubt it gives comfort to many often to proclaim that we on the side of the omnipotent. However, we might find far more comfort if we were to proclaim to ourselves alone that our God is our friend who chooses to remain no more powerful than we ourselves can be through acts of justice, mercy, and humility. Let our actions speak louder than our prayers.

Did Jesus spend any time at all talking about himself as reigning? He said, “I have not called you servants [some translations: ‘I have not called you slaves’] but friends.

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

In the Quean Lutibelle translation, God finally answers Job: “You little pipsqueak! Who do you think you are, yelling at God? Don’t you know who I am, how big I am, and how little you are! Where were you when I made everything, little Mister Big Complainer?!”

The problem is not with my translation: it crudely expresses God’s rhetoric, yet with neither his bravado nor his [sic] tremolo.

The problem is with the rhetorical stance that the author of the play Job gives to God.

Remember, Job is a literary work. The characters in it are fictional. Job never existed; nor did the character of God in this play. We already know what the playwright thinks God’s real reasons are for bringing on Job’s suffering: he’s trying to win a bet with Satan; he’s trying to prove that Job will love him even if God takes away all of his comforts and forces Job to suffer.

The playwright lets God win the bet. Job does remain faithful, but he also persistently insists that he has done nothing to deserve this treatment. For chapter after chapter Job complains, “Show me my guilt; reason with me, God!” When God finally shows up in chapter 38, rather than fess up to his wager with Satan, God, as created by the playwright, tries to intimidate Job.

Many of my atheist and agnostic friends wonder why on earth I have anything to do with the Church. “Louie,” they say to me, “you’re a nice guy but is it not some character flaw that you invite your oppressors to have so much power over you? Do you really believe all that superstitious nonsense? The scriptures that proclaim it proclaim that folks like you ought to be put to death.

And lgbt friends who are atheists and agnostics find my faith even more ridiculous. I tried to memorialize their point of view in the speaker of this poem:

Old Opium in a New Sniffer--or a Cynic's Gossip

My silly fairy friend kept the 11 p.m. Vigil
with his Cardex, like a prayer wheel,
mumbling over the names of 435 "holy" queers
and 37 of their chapters,
while 17 candles flickered before a plaster Mary
and lace draped the poker-chip host,
as if my friend really believed in Resurrection,
or more preposterous, believed that Jesus,
even if resurrected,
would have anything to do with us.

-- Louie Crew

Has appeared:

  • GALA Review. 5.2 (1982)
  • NABWMT Journal. 5 (Summer 1992): 14. Used my Chinese pseudonym ‘Li Min Hua’
  • Out of Line: Fiction, Poetry, Essays: Themes of Justice and Peace. Edited by Sam Longmire. Trenton, OH: Garden House Press, 2006. Page 95

I am guilty as charged. I am the “silly fairy friend” in the poem. I do keep the Vigil. I do believe in the resurrected Christ who loves lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered, who indeed loves absolutely everybody.

Like Job, I know that my Redeemer lives and that in my flesh I shall see God.

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c

In a poetic rapture Psalm 104 praises God the creator without the proud boasting that the playwright of Job had attributed to him. Gone too is the contemptuous put-down of Job for asking why he was being made to suffer. Suffering is not in the lens of the psalmist for this psalm. The psalmist stresses that he is blessed because of God’s marvelous works in nature:

Bless the LORD, O my soul; *
O LORD my God, how excellent is your greatness!
you are clothed with majesty and splendor.

Of special delight is the way the psalmist vividly describes vapors, light, and fire in relation to God personified, yet far larger than human persons:

You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak *
and spread out the heavens like a curtain.

You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; *
you make the clouds your chariot;
you ride on the wings of the wind.

You make the winds your messengers *
and flames of fire your servants.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Ordination makes priests qua priest ontologically different: in the office of priesthood they have the power to forgive sins that they do not have just as mortals. “One does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”

Saint Paul notes that it is the priest’s mortality and weakness that imbues the priest with gentleness and compassion as the priest administers God’s grace. When a priest has heard a confession and pronounced absolution, the priest says, "Pray for me, a sinner."

As an Anglocatholic, I have a high view of priesthood. As a born-again Christian, I also have a high view of the laity.

Jesus was a lay person. He became a high priest not by official investiture but by imputation -- a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He was what George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, would call, “a lay priest.” The doctrine of the priesthood of individual believers is not some Protestant innovation. It is thoroughly Anglican.

I hope the liturgy police will not go into orbit over this one, nor should the cash registers of Almy spin. We need no new vestments nor formal rituals to put strong lay priests into liturgical parades. Lay priests function as priests far more often outside the church than inside it.

Melchizedek is as big a ‘problem’ for rabbinical scholars as for Christians. All Hebrew priests are supposed to be associated with Aaron or Levi, yet Melchizedek predates them. He showed up to Abram (Genesis 14:18-20) even before Abram became Abraham, and Abram gave tithes to him acknowledging his priesthood to be from God.

Enjoy the enigma. Later in Hebrews (chapter 13) Saint Paul counsels us to be hospitable to strangers, because sometimes strangers are angels incognito. Celebrate the Melchizeks incognito among the laity.

Mark 10:35-45

Several points in today’s readings counsel us not to be on power trips. The playwright of Job has God tell Job not to get uppity. Saint Paul warns priests that it is their humility, not their grandeur, that allows them to function ontologically as God’s surrogates. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus explains that if you want to be first in the God’s kingdom, you must be the slave of all.

Don’t you love Scripture’s honesty even with the sins of the Holy Apostles?

It is small wonder that James and John provoked a snit among the other ten when they tried to cut a private deal with Jesus to make themselves to have the major positions next to him when he comes into his glory. Like the writer(s) of today’s collect and like the playwright in creating God’s speech in Job 38, James and John misunderstood what power is in God’s realm. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”

See also