Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sunday, March 1st, 2009. First Sunday in Lent

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen..

This collect focuses on sin as something we consciously choose to do because we are tempted, in our weakness, just as Satan tempted Jesus.

The Baptist church nurtured me in the same primary focus, and provided me with special lists of sins which I should carefully avoid growing up. I should not smoke, drink, or chew. I should strive to be 100% Christian as measured by the items that I was asked to check on my weekly envelope: such as reading my daily bible readings, praying before meals, attending services……

Never was I asked whether I participated in unfair white privilege in our segregated society. Never was I asked to examine my behavior to discover ways that others were diminished as a price of my advancement.

The culture of today's sonorous collect, like the culture of the Baptists in my childhood, makes it easy to become absorbed with sin as some kind of slip up or weakness, but not as a systemic error, such as injustice.

Bertrand Russell wrote a powerful expose of The Harm That Good Men Do.. I recommend it as Lenten discipline.

Genesis 9:8-17

Genesis envisions the use of massive natural forces for destruction, specifically the flood in which only those on Noah’s ark were saved, as the provenance of God alone. The writer of Genesis had no idea of global warming nor of global dimming.

God repents and makes a covenant with human beings never again to try to destroy the earth, “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” The rainbow reminds God, and us of God‘s covenant, but it should bring no comfort to us unless we too pledge to halt our prodigal abuse of creation and learn to live more simply, respecting ecological balance.

Otherwise, the waters will rise, and the sun will dim. The temperatures will increase and kill of much of the life now possible on the planet, and all very soon, according to climate experts. See What’s up with the Weather (Nova and Frontline)

The forests and the water have changed dramatically since the progenitors of most of us stopped spending much time outdoors.

Psalm 25:1-9

let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Growing up gay in a small Alabama town I wondered why straight boys ever needed to pray that prayer. It seemed like someone sneaked it in just for me. Straight boys had no enemies just for being straight, nor did any gays have an interest in triumphing over them. Mainly we hoped they would not find us, and if they did, we hoped they would leave us alone.

Many in the church who condemn gays today stress that we are abusing the bible in reading into it God’s affirmation of us. “Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.” How everlasting are they if they are not available to lgbts?

Even if we are wrong in believing that loving someone of one’s own gender is not a sin, are we wrong to plead to God to ignore our sins? Are straights the only ones who will be hear d when they pray, “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”?

1 Peter 3:18-22

Peter proclaims that the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection was to pay for our sins “once for all”! Unless you're gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered? Hello! Just what part of "once for all" is so difficult to understand?

Mark 1:9-15

This short passage from Mark functions like a brief commentary at the front apron of a stage while the crew is changing the props in the dim light behind. The props for John -- a simulation of the River Jordan and the dove a Jesus’ baptism) move off stage while John himself is arrested. At another place, the stage is readied for Jesus’ entry and almost immediately he will be driven into the wilderness. This is a "Preview of the Coming Attractions" for Lent.

Most of us already know the story, but that familiarity does not diminish our enthusiasm for re-enacting the sequence for another 40 days.

See also

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009, Last Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

The collect stresses that we Christians, like Christ, are better able to bear a cross if we know in advance the glory in which God regards us.

This is true for lgbt folk as well as for other. In these days in many, perhaps most, places the Church is a cross that lgbts have to bear. It is dangerous for lgbts to come to the church asking to be let in and welcomed as heir of Jesus: Lgbt should come to the church only if they already know in advance their welcome and their invitation from the Lord of the Feast. It is in that prior knowledge that we can bear witness to God's manifold and great mercies.

2 Kings 2:1-12

I love the lack of economy manifested in many biblical narratives. It is easy to reduce this passage from Kings and save all of the essentials merely by cutting out the several long repetitions. For example, one might write, “Three times Elijah said……’Stay here…. Also, three times Elisha replied, ‘As the Lord lives.” But the narrative power, especially when read allowed, is augmented by hearing the full statements read out loud each time.

Spiritual economy is expansive and generous, much as is the economy of love. You do not want your beloved only once to say to you, ‘I love you.’ You want to hear it again and again, some times many times in the course of an hour -- not because either of you doubts the authenticity of the statement, but because the saying of it each times enlarges the speaker and enlarges the one thus affirmed.

Reflect on someone who has dramatically influenced your life for good, someone who serves the world as you would like to serve the world, and imagine that person’s death. How might you ask for a double portion of that person’s spirit? Know, as Elijah cautions, that the request is a hard one and may or may not be granted.

Psalm 50:1-6

Those who fear pantheism must find themselves occasionally uncomfortable in reading the psalms. The psalmists frequently use the elements to dramatize God’s appearances among us. Given that Israel did not believe in graven images and believed that we cannot see God and live, the wind, thunder and the sky seem sometimes, in the psalmists' eyes to serve as God’s surrogates.

Before modern times, people could be presumed to spend much more time out in the elements than they have done in the last 200 years. Psalmists seem acutely aware of the fragility of human beings up against the power and majesty of physical creation.

The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.

Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.

He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Occasionally I encounter those who say, “You do not serve Jesus. You serve your own distortion of who Jesus is. You serve only yourself to make your wrong seem right."

I may be wrong, even as they claim, regarding questions of lgbt sexuality. I am not wrong about God nor about God’s love of absolutely everyone. I do not trust in my own righteousness, but in God’s great mercy. I proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and myself as his friend and servant.

Mark 9:2-9

Several times I have felt close to God in the presence of a small group of other Christians, and a few times I have turned to say, “Let’s build a tent.” Such was the transfiguration for Peter. Let’s make it permanent. Let’s just stay here forever.

In crossing the wilderness in Hebrew Scriptures, the Jews depended on daily manna, loaves God offered as freely as the dew for them to eat in the desert, but if they tried to hoard the manna, it rotted. Spiritual highs are like that. Manna cannot be freeze-dried.

Nor can we expect those watching our spiritual experience from outside it to understand it as we understand it:

Sound Effect

Hollywood rarely gets it right.

Off-screen, at the fancy wedding,
the organ's tremolo rarely muffles
the carpentry down the street.

Neither rolling drums nor a funeral's
21-gun salute ever fully mutes
the interstate a block away.

Nuptial tin cans inevitably clatter
through another's pain-filled drowse.
One's cortege irreverently squeaks
past some solemn wedding party.

Fiction-mongers shut their ears
to contradiction.
Any cacophony, they must control.

Motorists rarely stop for funerals anymore,
even in small towns.
Sunday School pregnant virgins
ride to Jerusalem on
"Look, another dirty camel!"

-- Louie Crew

Earlier appeared:

New Letters 54.1 (1987): 103. Published using my Chinese pseudonym Li Min Hua

Pierian Springs 2.4 (July 2003). Published using my Chinese pseudonym Li Min Hua

Little Magazine 22.2 (2005)

See also

Sunday, February 15, 2009, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

Drop the self-deprecation and you might get this:

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because you have given us talent and strength more than we have yet realized, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

As a gay male brought up in an extremely conservative Baptist family deep behind the Cotton Curtain, self-deprecation was my daily bread, and it did very little to help me imagine that I am a child that God could care much about. I could keep my secret from my parents, but not from God. There was no one gay in my family or neighborhood to counsel me, nor was I in anyway prepared to accept the messages of my body chemistry.

We need to be very careful in using common prayer uncritically without sensitivity to how the prayer might speak not peace, but trouble. The creation story showed God fashioning us to be his friends, and friends of each other. God does not fashion grovelers, and common prayer should neither fashion them nor encourage those who have learned to grovel at society's bidding.

Surely God has had more than enough awe from some of us than any God who wants to be our “friend” would ever want or demand. When we grovel, we get the posture all wrong. God wants us to stand on our own good feet and look Her in the eye, both of us smiling.

2 Kings 5:1-14

God’s protocol is made clear in today’s lesson from 2 Kings. Naaman, a powerful commander, has leprosy. He learns through a lowly servant that someone in Israel can cure him. He gives expensive gifts to Israel’s king. Since the king is not the one with powers to heal leprosy, he is in private anguish, feeling the request is merely Naaman’s ruse to expose him and start a battle when he cannot effect a cure. Elisha, with the low rank of a prophet, sends a message telling the king to send Naaman to come to him for the cure.

Imagine the grand contrast between Naaman’s finery -- his horses, his chariots -- and the simple home of Elisha. Elisha does not even put himself in a position to grovel. He does not come outside to greet Naaman, but sends word to him, as if in a fortune cookie, to wash himself in the Jordan seven times. Naaman huffs and puffs in agitation at being treated with so little deference or respect, but is indeed cured when he does as Elisha has told him to do.

My husband is a flight attendant and tells about a friend who is a ticket agent for the same airline. His friend is African American, as is my husband. On one occasion a Russian dignitary traveling with his wife and two children on a world tour missed their flight, and Ernest’s friend, the agent had much work to do to meet their complicated requirements. As she typed away, the dignitary said to his wife in Russian, “Dumb cow! She does not know what she is doing!” and “Yipes. She’ll never get it done and it won’t be right when she finishes. Dumb cow; she doesn’t know what she is doing! The agent smiled and kept at her work steadily.

When she handed them the four sets of tickets all revised, the agent smiled and said “Mooooo.”

The dignitary was so embarrassed that she had understood Russian, that he fled to the restroom. The agent told his wife in perfect Russian, that she would have to send the little boy to fetch his father as there are many questions that she by law must ask him about their luggage. While they waited for the dignitary to return, the agent and his wife talked in Russian about the agent’s life growing up in Moscow with her Russian father and her American mother.

To the groveling of all Naamans and other dignitaries, Elisha says, “Moooooo!”

Thanks be to God!

Psalm 30

Growing up gay in Alabama in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, I wailed at God a lot to make my plumbing over again. God did not budge to do so, and all my own efforts to do so failed.

I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

"What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?

God did something much more dramatic, something that I least expected. God loved me just as God made me, and taught me not to scorn or devalue or call unclean the one whom he had made. God did not give me a choice of plumbing, but does give me a choice to be the best gay person I can be, with God’s help.

You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Some straights prefer to argue with lgbts rather than to listen to us. What’s at stake for them is merely winning the argument -- a “perishable wreath” indeed. What’s at stake for those of us who are lbgt is “imperishable.” Our eternal life is at stake. Even if I am proven wrong in my spiritual choices, I have not chosen idly but with full awareness of the consequences of the race.

Mark 1:40-45

Our society and our church have made spiritual lepers out of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. We lepers have come to Christ saying, "If you choose, you can make us clean."

Christ answers: “I do choose. Be made clean!" Immediately the leprosy leaves us, and we are made clean.

Addenda to Greensleeves

"Why hang AIDS bells on our green tree?"
the State the leper is asking.
"I dare to claim that God loves me
and in this hope I'm basking."

This, this is Christ, the King
whom peasants guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring God laud,
The babe, the child of Mary.

"Your plastic bag is rude and smells,"
the Church the beggar is chiding.
"It's all I have; a manger tells
I'm safe in God confiding."

This, this, et cetera

"Why lie you down before the tanks
we use exporting freedom?"
"The ox and ass to God give thanks
and we are here to feed 'em."

This, this, et cetera

-- Louie Crew

Appeared first in New Verse News,
Sunday, December 17, 2006.

See also

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Compare: Set us free from the bondage of letting others define our sins. If lgbt folks allow others to declare sinful our loving, committed, life-long unions, we license them to deprive us of the liberty of the abundant life which God has made known to us in Jesus.

Another lgbt variation: Set us free, O God, to trust what you have made known to us in Jesus.

Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah reminds his audience that God is larger than the measure of our minds. He points to the enormity of creation to proclaim the enormity of the creator.

We who have codified our faith in creeds and liturgy can too easily forget or discount God’s enormity, beyond what we can imagine.

I taught in Beijing in 1983-84 and in Hong Kong from 1984-87. I went to elaborate tomb after tomb, each a monument to a potentate centuries ago.

Isaiah proclaims that God

brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

British poet Shelley wrote a sonnet in which the speaker found the visage of a forgotten king named “Ozymandius” whose pedestal proclaimed, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Yet no works remained. “Around the decay of that colossal wreck the lone and level sands stretched far away.” See the poem and commentary.

I like the resonance that tombs give to a whistle. In several of them, I have whistled Sir Thomas Tallis’ ordinal "O where are kings and empires now,” and in two different tombs, an auditor whispered in my ear, “But Lord thy church is praying still.”

At 72, I have likely completed most of my gadding. I dodder too much and grow weary. Isaiah reminds me that God does not dodder or grow weary.

Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

The psalmist shares Isaiah's emphases. “God is not impressed by the might of a horse; he has no pleasure in the strength of a man; but the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor.” Compare Isaiah’s phrase: “Those who wait on the lord.”

Both writers also emphasize that God knows creatures by name. Isaiah says: “He ... brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name.” The psalmist says: “He counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names.”

Garrison Keillor tells of a pastor who wanted much to be pastoral and thinks he has the gift for it. But on many occasions the pastor forgets the names of those whom he counsels, demonstrating that he has not really heard them. He has heard only his own need for a good reputation.

Teaching in Beijing and Hong Kong, I felt cut off from students whose names I could neither pronounce nor remember. Other foreigners before me had trained the students to have names in English as well as Chinese, to make our task easier, but I knew that “Joe Kwong” would not give me the access provided by “Kwong Wai Lap," the name 'Joe's family and all who loved him used. And the more personal diminutive, “Lapsai” (like ’little Louie’) could open the ears as a parent might.

Faced with over 100 students at any one time, I set myself the task of learning their Chinese names and pronouncing them accurately. To help, I asked each student to give me an index card with a small photo id (very cheap and available in shops all over China) with their names and three personal facts about themselves. I also had the students sit in the same seat for several weeks so that I could match the pictures with the real faces and names. And unknown to them, I prayed for each student by name before class, using some of the details they had revealed of their lives on the cards and adding details I gleaned from their papers through the course. It is much harder to forget someone whom you pray for by name day after day.

Quickly my students no longer looked all alike. I had broken through my own self-imposed isolation.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Except for the politicians and sales persons among us, few of us even aspire to be “all things to all people.” Being able to do that certainly was one of the features of Saint’s phenomenal success rate in winning people over to accept Christianity. He also had the benefit of not having everybody see how he shifted from place to place. There were neither cameras. nor cell phones to share the pictures.

Some see it as hypocritical for a persons to drink wine with those who drink wine, but to be a teetotaler with those who think it is wrong to drink.


Visiting home from my first job teaching
I read an ad in THE STAR.

"Want to go, Dad? Isaac Stern is here
tonight for the Knox Music Club."

From 7th grade onward, Dad had sat with me
on the hard seats at the high school
for all recitals in the Club's season.

Dad's closest classmate in college
was Knox S., named 'Knox'
for his mother's people, who
for three generations had brought "culture"
to our mill and foundry town.

Mother begged off to play bridge during our adventures.

"Want me to call for tickets?" I asked,
excited. Stern was better fare
than the Club used to draw.

"I hope you'll go, but I have a confession
that only now is it time to make,"
Dad said; "I don't really like classical."

"But all those times, and you said you liked it!"

He smiled.

"Knox liked it. Other classmates liked it.
They had a treasure that would not open for me.
I knew you might close your ears too soon
if I helped you to."

Almost I mistook it for hypocrisy,
but Stern's recording covers me
half a century later in Dad's love.

-- Louie Crew

First appeared in Ithuriel’s Spear from May 2007

Mark 1:29-39

This text is studiedly ordinary in the life of Jesus as he goes about healing and casting out demons.

Recently a student contacted me through the internet for help with an undergraduate paper that he was writing on formal exorcism in The Episcopal Church. A former dean of his cathedral parish is famous for his charismatic services of healing and is rumored to have done exorcisms. The student was not able to find any official liturgy for exorcism in The Episcopal Church. The authority for any such services, like the authority for any other liturgical innovation for local needs, rests with the bishop, as indicated on Page 13 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Many Episcopalians are comfortable with the administration of oils while praying for healing; but most Episcopalians are uncomfortable with “faith healing liturgies” like those used in charismatic and some evangelical congregations. If you have a physical ailment, most Episcopalians will direct you to a physician. It you claim to be possessed of demons, Episcopalians typically will send you to a psychiatrist.

See also