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