Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010. The Last Sunday After Epiphany.

© 2010 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.

Exodus 34:29-35

Read without reference to Saint’s commentary on this passage in our epistle for today (see below), the afterglow on Moses’ face and the veil which he dons seem signs of the reverence which God expects of those who worship him.

Yet in 2nd Corinthians, Saint turns the Exodus account into an indictment of the Israelites for thinking they do not have the freedom to enter God’s presence -- the freedom which Saint insists that God has given to us as Christians.

Rejoice that Scripture in dialogue with Scripture does not support a literal or exact understanding of itself. Scripture invites us to be critical of Scripture. Saint expects us to read analytically and to interpret Hebrew scriptures (the only ones to which he had access) boldly in the light of God’s revelation in Christ.

Jews in all ages have read their own holy books in a critical way. Through Midrash (interpretation of interpretation of interpretation….) they respect the texts by taking them seriously.

Exodus insists that Moses did not actually see God. The chapter just before this one, Exodus 33:30, states “‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’" Apparently just being in the presence of God creates the after-glow. The effect seems that of an apparition, much as the Gospel reading today reveals an apparition of Moses and Elijah when Jesus is transfigured.

In the 21st century, Christians generally expect such iconography to be revealed in stained glass, marble statuary, or oil painted onto canvas. If you tell someone at work in the secular world that you saw Jesus last night, and if on questioning you insist this was a literal appearance, you may be given medical leave for psychological testing.

Yet your first amendment rights will reduce such risks when the bishop or your rector calls on you and others in the congregation to bid the spirit of God to fill the worship space, especially if you invoke the spirit in Latin. “Venite spiritus sanctus”

Psalm 99

Psalm 99 portrays God as exalted and regal. The psalmist tells us to tremble. Apparently the psalmist thinks that God likes it when “fall down before his footstool.” This expectation is congruent with Moses’ behavior. He wears a veil to hide the afterglow when he has been in God’s presence -- which is apparently too big an experience for the multitude to bear.

The psalmist’s view is incongruent with Jesus, in whom God is manifested as friend, collaborator, lover.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

“Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory….”

President Barack Obama named his book The Audacity of Hope.

Dare Jesus assure a place in heaven to a thief on the next cross who did no more nor less than show sympathy for Jesus?

Dare lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered claim a space at Jesus’ heavenly banquet?

Are the poor closer to the heart of God than we rich?

Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

I like the way the text for today juxtaposes the exalted and the mundane, the transfiguration and a medical emergency. In the latter, Jesus casts the demon out of the child, but he is a fuss-budget towards his disciples who had tried and failed in a similar effort.

Luke does not try to connect the healing with the transfiguration. Nor does Luke privilege the transfiguration narrative as somehow more exalted. In both stories the disciples come out looking less than stellar. They miss the point of the transfiguration and want to stay forever transfixed, in positions of privilege next to Jesus, in a heavenly mutual admiration society.

Jesus squelches that expectation. “Jesus is Lord” -- the primary reduction of the faith in the first century immediately requires “Jesus is servant”; and Jesus expects his disciples to be servants, not exalted potentates.

In my parish on Maundy Thursday the priest washes just one foot each of twelve volunteers while the rest of us watch this photo-op for Jesus.

What might our lives look like if daily we lived as if washing both feet of all willing persons around us?

W. H. Auden wrote:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth
there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood

-- from “Musée des Beaux Arts”

In the painting, the children don’t even notice Icarus falling from the sky.

Taking my cue from Auden, I wrote:

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

Has appeared, each time under my my pseudonym Li Min Hua:

New Letters 54.1 (1987): 103.

Pierian Springs 2.4 (July 2003).

Little Magazine 22.2 The Hypertext Mechanic in both text and audio.

No two people see any one scene identically. Nor are any two experiences of a scene equal.

I studiously avoid knowing much about sports. They don’t interest me. I cannot watch a football game on tv in the same way a friend who was a tackle in high school forty years watches it, even though we sit in front of the same large flat monitor eating the same snacks.

I love choral music, but frankly I do not like to listen to the comments of friends who are professional musicians when they talk about a choral concert that we have just attended before going out to dinner. They hear mistakes that I did not hear; they hear accomplishments that I cannot even understand.

Our experiences are radically shaped by who we are and how we have developed ears to hear and eyes to see. We are not the same; we are not equal.

While I was living in Hong Kong, 1983-87, I became friends with a Jesuit named Wilfred Chan. We met as members of the same computer users group. It turned out that he had also been part of a group who heard me speak to Hong Kong clergy on gay issues at the invitation of Dean Paul Clasper, at St. John’s Cathedral.

Fr. Chan and I frequently met for dinner. I would show up at a designated spot on the subway, and he would take me to a little known but treasured neighborhood restaurant nearby riding on the back of his motor scooter. Or sometimes we would use the subway together.

Fr. Chan never saw the same crowd that I did. He moved through all spaces noticing and responding to human crisis as naturally as an athlete tosses a ball. It was impossible for anyone in crisis to interrupt him, because he had already put the crisis at the center of his attention before the needy person spotted us. And Fr. Chan rarely wore a clerical collar.

Nor did Fr. Chan reduce in any way his participation in our on-going spirited conversation, usually about the latest computer software.

My friend Petero Sabune, a native Ugandan, is much the same way. While he was dean of Newark’s Episcopal cathedral we lived only three blocks from each other in the same neighborhood. When we served as deputies together to the 1997 General Convention in Philadelphia, Dean Sabune offered me a ride home to Newark. It took us three times the normal trip home. He preferred to avoid the interstate. Whenever he saw a car parked on the roadside with the hood or trunk open, he stopped and offered to take the driver to a nearby gas station or repair shop. He drove that way in Uganda. He drives that way in the United States. He manifests no frustration at having to stop. Indeed, he does not have to. He manifests great joy in being able to offer help.

Imagine the surprise and sometimes the fear of many stalled by the road when they see a very black man stop and come toward them!

Wilfred and Petero do not glow in the dark the way Moses did. They don’t need to wear veils to protect us from their reality. They do manifest that they have been with Jesus; and if I do not myself wear a veil, they include me in their reality.

I watched closely as they responded to the needs of others only years later to realize that they were doing the same for me. It was no accident that they sought me out as a friend. They spotted my need before I had named it to myself. And never were they patronizing about doing so. They always enjoyed my company.

“Grant that I beholding by faith the light of Wilfred’s and Petero’s countenance, may be strengthened to bear my cross, and be changed, as they have been, into Jesus’ likeness from glory to glory.”

See also

February 7, 2010. The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

© 2010 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.


Thank you, O God, for setting us free from the bondage of our sins. Thank you for the liberty we already have in the abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns ... etc.

One of the ways we can most surely remain in bondage to our sins is continuing to confess the same ones over and over again as if we believe that Jesus’ action at Calvary was not enough to cover them.

Once you get the knack of it, feeling worthless or of no account is easier than being a joint heir with Jesus Christ.

Today might be named “’Called by God’ Sunday. Isaiah is called. Saint Paul is called. Jesus calls his disciples.

Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]

Isaiah’s call is not one for the faint hearted: hot coals cleanse his lips.

The message he is given to preach is no less dramatic, even if less well known:

`Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.'
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed."

Sometimes it seems that this prophecy has already been massively fulfilled, that the mind of this people is indeed dull, that their ears are closed and their eyes shut.

Isaiah begins by talking to the people, but immediately distances himself to talk only about them. He tells the people, "Keep listening...."; then he tells God, “Make the mind of this people dull.” That’s the way curses are expressed. The ones cursed or condemned are forced to become eavesdroppers.

Isaiah’s prophecy demonstrates that it is perfectly all right for us to get exasperated with the world order -- its politics, our ecclesiastical structures….. God does too.

The rhetorical strategy is to try to prompt repentance by suggesting that it is no longer possible. “God has already given up on you” is meant to rally the one addressed to say, “God has not given up on me. I will show you….”

Yet how often can the prophet say the sky is falling without becoming Chicken Little?

How often can one use this rhetoric before it loses its efficacy?

How long can we demand repentance of our collusion with Global Warming? Are the dire conclusions now inevitable?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is not a ‘theory’ nor a prophecy per se; it is a ‘law.’ Laws are inexorable.

But for the time being, might the prophecy of doom lead to behaviors that postpone the doom, as Jonah’s prophecy did for Nineveh?

Psalm 138

I love to watch for shifts in grammatical point of view in the psalms. The first four verses of Psalm 138 are pointedly in the first person singular:

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise….

Verse five shifts to the third person plural:

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth. …

Verse seven shifts to the third person singular:

Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

The psalmist has noted that the high and mighty from everywhere will praise God, but then notes that God is not impressed with the high and mighty, certainly not if they are stuck up.

Next, without warning, as so often in the psalms, verse eight shifts to the second person point of view, so that the psalmist, or any reader, moves into direct conversation with God.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.

If you are a Marxist looking for how the opium works, you can point to how the reader is suckered in, how unawares the reader moves from commentary about God to conversation with God.

If you are a believer, you can point to the same rhetoric as a tool for the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Saint hedges a bit here from his claims elsewhere that our salvation has already been accomplished. Here the form of the verb is ‘progressive,’ ongoing, with a hint that it may not remain so for the one who stops believing it:

I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you--unless you have come to believe in vain.

Even when some translate the verb as “are saved,” the final clause, “if….” sets some conditions on whether the action of salvation is an irreversible act, or whether we have properly concluded that someone is saved if later the person does not hold firmly to the message.

Next Saint reviews the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, concluding with an abbreviated reference to his Damascus road conversion (also told three times in the Book of Acts: 9:1-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18).

Saint indulges in a bit of double-speak. He does not want to boast (“For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” but he wants to make it quite clear that in comparison with the other apostles, he “worked harder than any of them.” Then he backtracks “--though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Then, aware that he’s not speaking too clearly while on the witness stand, he muddies his testimony: “Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.”

How good that Saint did not have a PR person on staff. Even if you don’t like it, his humanity keeps sticking out, often in spite of himself.

Luke 5:1-11

We would pack our congregations for every service if we could pull a trick like this one to draw them in. We would not need to take out ads in the big newspapers; the big newspapers would be carrying the story as news. It would be shown, live if possible, on the 7 o’clock news. “St. Swithin’s helps fishermen catch more fish than they have ever caught before, helps doctors heal more patients than they have ever healed before, helps teachers to have more pupils who win the biggest prizes……."

Note how the story does not end. They do not take their huge catch to the local market and multiply their usual profits. They do not set up franchises for The World’s Best Catch all over the Mediterranean. Instead, “they left everything and followed him.” Jesus is true to the word he spoke to Simon: “From now on you will be catching people."

“From now on”…. like right now too.

In all three great “Call” texts today, those called are sent with a teaching mission. Isaiah prophesies “Make the mind of this people dull” in the hope of quickening them. Saint makes disciples among the gentiles all over the Mediterranean. The original twelve also fish for disciples.

At General Convention in Anaheim, we participated in a project called Public Narrative, by which each deputy and bishop practiced the art of telling her or his call story. Each of us told those gathered at our table about an experience that drew us to Jesus and then took us to the world. As we told our own narratives and as we listened to the narrative of others, we reconnected to the most important dynamism of mission, the movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, in our own time. We treasure the “old, old story” much more vitally when we experience God’s presence in our own narratives.

Jesus came not only to save us; he came to save the whole world.

As a child I learned two important hymns in primary Sunday School: not just “Jesus loves me, this I know….” but also “Jesus loves the little children, all the children just like me [No!] all the children of the world, red and yellow black and white, we are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” All of us!

That’s quite a gospel to sneak into a Baptist church in 1936 deep behind the Cotton Curtain in apartheid Alabama. My hometown, Anniston, Alabama, was later the site for burning the freedom rider bus.

That’s quite a gospel to sneak into an Episcopal Church when the Philadelphia Eleven were ordained in 1974.

That’s quite a gospel to sneak into the Anglican Communion when +Gene Robinson was consecrated in 2003.

See also

Friday, January 1, 2010

January 31, 2010. Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jeremiah mentions wombs, as does the psalmist today.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Jeremiah stresses that God knew him even before forming him in the womb, even before consecrating him for his ministry as a prophet.

Psalm 71:1-6

The psalmist stresses

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength

God knew each of us too before forming us in our mother’s womb. Each of us has been consecrated for a ministry -- not to be clients of a parish or a denomination, but to be disciples who know and cultivate our gifts and then share them.

Our responsibility is awesome. Jeremiah speaks for many of us:

Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the LORD."

Koq, leader of the Griquas tribe, before a battle with
the Afrikaners in 1876, echoed similar concerns:

O, God!

Despite a great many prayers to You we are continually losing our
wars. Tomorrow we shall again be fighting a battle that is truly
great. With all our might we need Your help and that is why I must
tell You something: This battle tomorrow is going to be a serious
affair. There will be no place for children. Therefore I must ask You
not to send Your Son to help us. Come Yourself.

The psalmist stresses that our deliverance is not in our own hands:

In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me

Saint Paul emphasized that it is God’s righteousness, not our own, that will deliver us and set us free. Martin Luther made justification by faith the centerpiece of the Reformation.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

It takes discipline to turn off the tremolo when reading this chapter. Its demands are huge, but we must listen closely. The NRSV says:

If I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

The KJV was much more austere:

Though I Give My Body to Be Burned, It Profiteth Me Nothing.

“Only faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

We Christians often throw the word “love” around far too glibly, and the secular world does so even more. Poet D. H. Lawrence once suggested that we might try not using the word for several years to see whether we could restore its vital significance.

I find Saint Paul's tests demanding when I try to discern whether my act of love is the real thing:

  • Am I being patient in this action?
  • Am I being kind?
  • Am I envious or boastful or arrogant or rude?
  • Am I insisting on my own way? What would my behavior look like if I were not?
  • Am I irritated by or resentful of the one I claim to love?
  • Do I rejoice when I catch my enemies in wrong doing?

A schoolmate not in contact since 1954 called recently when she discovered my website. Over the week she updated me regarding many in our home town.

"I have always been fond of you," she said.

In a fourth call she said she has a special language for talking with God. “God wants you to leave Ernest. Parts of your lives are filthy. I hope I have not hurt your feelings."

Why do some blame their bigotry on God? Or is she a bigot?

Was she being rude? Insisting on her own way? Or was she being kind?

Am I being rude? Am I insisting on my own way? Am I being kind?

If she thinks Ernest and I are doomed, was she being loving in saying so? Even when we had not sought her out nor requested her judgment?

Was her delay of several days sneaky and deceptive -- preparation for moving in for the kill? Or was her delay kind, an effort to refresh the trust we had when last in touch 55 years ago?

I do not know. It is all too easy for me to deceive myself about my own motives, and certainly too easy for me to deceive myself about hers.

I rejoice for both of us that

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth's failings
have such kind judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man's mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

-- Frederick William Faber, 1862

Luke 4:21-30

Last Sunday we looked at the first part of this chapter, in which Jesus reads from Isaiah:

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

That message is not good news for the rich, not good news for the captors, not good news for oppressors.

Nor were average “everyday” people in his hometown impressed. They expected the fireworks of big miracles such as he was reputed to have performed away from home. But the carpenter’s kid performed no tricks, and explained that prophets before him often limited their performance of miracles to outsiders.

They became angry and intended to throw him over the cliffs. In so doing they missed the one major miracle that he did perform for them: “He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” That’s a disappearing act worthy of Houdini.

See also

January 24, 2010. Third Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In September 1995, my bishop, Rt. Rev. John S. (Jack) Spong, sent me as his official ambassador to a conference on “The Decade of Evangelism.” It was held in Kanuga, North Carolina, and was attended by many leaders from all over the Anglican Communion, including then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. Linda Strohmeir, then the chief evangelism officer of the Episcopal Church, introduced me as an evangelist and noted that through Integrity, the lgbt ministry that I founded in 1974, over 30,000 have come into, or back into, The Episcopal Church.

In retrospect, the conference seems to have been a warm-up for the 1998 Lambeth Conference two years later, when attacking homosexuality and homosexuals reached new watermarks on the agenda of the Anglican Communion.

Linda’s introduction bestowed upon me instant notoriety.

  • Several foreign visitors publicly decried the presence of a gay minister in their midst.

  • My business cards became a collector’s item for many foreign visitors.

  • A person from New Zealand said in our break-out group, “Louie, we love you, but you are a defilement on the body of Christ.”

  • A person from Vermont clinched my arm in the same group as she repeatedly said, “Be healed! be healed! be healed!…..” I realized that if I tried to pull loose, I would appear to be thrashing her, so I endured her unwanted attention in silence until as a surprise I screamed as loudly as I could, “Let go of me!” Fortunately she did.

  • At a plenary of the same conference, a woman with a tambourine approached me. “Louie,” she said, “God has anointed me to tell you that you must leave your African American husband and be saved.” I thanked her for her concern for my soul and explained that God has already saved Ernest and me and wants us to “proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.” She retreated weeping at what she took as her failure, into the arms of nearby Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison, Retired Bishop of South Carolina. Had he counseled her to try her hand at saving me?

There is a sad cartoon that shows a distinguished person leaving a huge church saying to a companion, “Evangelism??! Isn’t everyone already an Episcopalian who ought to be?”

Indeed not! But like Jonah, I find it a fearful thing to bring to Nineveh news that I do not expect Episcopal Nineveh to want to hear: if God can love an old quean like me (and God does!), God can love absolutely everybody (and God does!)

See also my article in The Episcopalian: Evangelism: How to Do It, How to Stifle It

Today’s collect will make many Episcopalians uneasy. What does it mean “to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation”?

  • Must I start going door to door clutching my Book of Common Prayer the way Mormon missionaries arrive with the Book of Mormon?
  • Must I cluster with others in a public park passing out copies to all takers of The Watchtower?
  • Must we hire John Stott or John Guest or Alden Hathaway to teach us how to do Fervor in an Anglican way?
  • Should I start asking strangers on planes or trains or buses or in public hallways, “Are you saved?”

Those measures may work for some. I have found it effective to say to the scores of congregations that have allowed me to speak, “God loves you, and God needs you to love some who won’t believe God loves them until you love them first, in God’s name.” No one is beyond the reach of God’s embrace. No one can defile the body of Christ by returning his embrace.

I have not been called to judge the earth, nor even to judge those who so readily and so frequently judge me. I am called to love them, to proclaim forgiveness even before some know that might need it, from the same source of my own forgiveness.

That is still news to most of the world, news for which most are spiritually starving, news genuinely good. “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim [it].

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Today’s text comes just after the Israelites have rebuilt their country following their long captivity. They weep when they hear the law read to them from early morning to midday. One would think they would rejoice, but they grieve. Their bodies are now free, but their souls remain captive.

Grief can become a drug, as can guilt -- addictive and destructive. Nehemiah and Ezra correct them: “Do not mourn or weep… Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

It is easier to be unhappy than to be happy. It is easier to live in fear of what might go wrong than to live in joy about what God may accomplish with our help.

Psalm 19

In 1958 I was a junior at Baylor and frequently depressed. I felt cut off from God and was terribly afraid of my incipient sexuality, which I labored hard to repress. I did not want the involuntary fantasies that would wrack my soul. Night after night I would fall asleep in tears.

Early one morning I was awakened by the radio still tuned to KRLD in Dallas for Jay Andres’ program “Music 'til Dawn.” Andres was playing Haydn’s version of Psalm 19, “The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God.” Suddenly my room flooded with bright sunlight. Like Wordsworth, I was “surprised by Joy, impatient as a nun in breathless adoration!”

Some days are too glorious to waste on being a sourpuss.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

All of us can take delight that Saint did not extend his metaphor to include those among us represented by various parts of the body that we keep covered.

I wish that parishes would take the time to inventory the talents of members, not just our pledges.

Identifying our own talents is not always easy. Sometimes we stress the talents that we long to have without looking closely and valuing the ones that we do have.

Sometimes those who are almost ghoulish in mien gravitate to being ushers and greeters, perhaps hoping to compensate. They might be much more effective to identify a definite skill which they have but perhaps devalue (accounting, e.g., or decorating or …). Put those talents to work for the Body of Christ.

Nor does the Church always value our gifts. Perhaps I would have been more effective had year after year I worn sandwich boards saying, “Queer! For Christ’s Sake” or “Flasher for Jesus.” That’s all that many have seen when I have tried to give my mind to the task, but in the marvelous arithmetic of faith, being a flasher for Jesus has been redemptive challenge and a blessing.

David Allen White, a dear friend of mine for decades, told me in great excitement several years ago, “I now understand what God has been doing in my life. I knew as certainly as I know day is day and night is night that God called me to be a priest, yet in three dioceses I have been turned down from the ordination process because I am gay. ‘How can God expect the impossible?’ I asked myself. And now I see. God has used me as one clearly called to be a priest yet rejected by a church not yet ready to receive one whom God has so clearly chosen." Being a flasher for Jesus can indeed be a redemptive challenge and a blessing.

Luke 4:14-21

The Rev. John Peterson, while Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council, preached at the 1995 Kanuga Conference (see my commentary on the Collect above). His credentials as a progressive are impressive. When David Virtue created an infamous hate deck of cards to identify enemies in the Anglican Communion, he named Peterson the Ace of Spades. (Alas, he named me as only the Queen of Spades!)

Today’s Gospel was the lesson appointed for the night Peterson preached, and he was well aware of how dangerous it is

to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free

Jesus is reading Isaiah 61:1,2, the text within Luke’s text. Peterson pointed out in his sermon that soon after Jesus read it in the temple, Jesus narrowly escaped from enemies who tried to hurl him over a cliff. (That part of the story, Luke 4:21-30, is next Sunday's Gospel.)

Taking his cue from Jesus, Peterson did not stick around for the rest of the conference on evangelism as Linda Strohmeir and I did.

A highly placed lesbian was in the breakout group where I was excoriated, and she said not a word publicly or privately. Perhaps that’s why she began to miss most of the group’s meetings. Today she is a bright and positive presence, out to the church and to the world.

Peter Carey, son of the Archbishop, interviewed me at length and knew of these matters. His father heard me excoriated in plenaries. Yet when the Peace was shared, the Archbishop remained fixed only two rows from me and spoke not a single word.

Hundreds more who know better ducked in silence.

One bishop sought me out and thanked me for being there: “I never realized it could be this bad for lgbt people,” he said.

God deploys angels carefully. We are never without them. Listen for their wings.

See also

January 17, 2010. Second Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen

John 2:1-11

Few stories have been cited more than the Wedding at Cana to promote the doctrine of hetero supremacy. This was Jesus’ first miracle, we are told, and it was to bless heterosexuality!

Well, yes but….. There are problems with that interpretation. For starters:

  • That emphasis does not hold up under a routine close reading of John‘s narrative:

  • Jesus was not the groom. Jesus was not even the celebrant. Instead, he spiked the punch.

  • The guests had been drinking for three days. That is quite some wedding party.

  • Jesus turned the water into wine not as a spontaneous act of blessing, but as a concession to get his nagging mother off his back. With an impish sense of humor, he gave her more than she had bargained for. That many days into drinking the guests needed weaker wine to reduce inebriation: Jesus did not accommodate them: he gave them stronger wine than they had been drinking.

  • I’m told that when the canons were established, one principle to identify texts not to include was the presence of ‘show-off miracles.' The consensus, such as we can imagine it, was that such texts strayed into fantasy and failed to stay focused. Show-off miracles were tainted with adolescent braggadocio.

  • Later Herod was annoyed when Jesus would not do miracles on demand. Yet the Cana story is a miracle on demand, and a miracle by which Jesus knows that his mom is showing off.

  • The narrative does not focus on the vows the couple took nor on the solemn meanings of a life commitment. There are no fearsome pledges,such as those in The Book of Common Prayer.

  • The marriage at Cana bears little resemblance to marriages in Brides Magazine or those reported on society pages of the nation’s newspapers.

Other aspects of Jesus’ ministry fail to support a doctrine of hetero supremacy, as do aspects of ministry from Scripture and Tradition.

  • Jesus did not get married himself (yet was in all things like unto us).

  • Of his twelve disciples, only Peter is referenced as married, and that obliquely, in a reference to his mother-in-law.

  • Saint Paul said that marriage should be avoided except when lust otherwise proves uncontrollable.

  • For most of Christian history, marriages did not occur except for the wealthy, and for them primarily as a means of handling property rights. The poor had little property to negotiate: their marriages were something they agreed to privately, and to this day, ‘common law’ marriages are recognized in some jurisdictions, but not in others. See Wikipedia on common-law marriage.

  • For most of Christian history Roman Catholics thought marriage so problematic and spiritually draining that they have forbidden clergy to marry, thereby removing from the Catholic gene pool thousands whom they have identified as the brightest and the best.

Please do not misunderstand me.

I’m not a sourpuss regarding marriage. I cherish my husband. We will celebrate our 36th anniversary on February 2nd, 2010. See my early account of our modest ceremony. The picture at the left shows us in the East Orange City Hall moments after we registered our domestic partnership on September 2nd, 2004. We will move quickly to have a civil marriage as soon as the courts or the legislature in New Jersey make that possible. We do not consider that we are the ones who have been “living in sin” for the last 36 years.

Yet, as much as we treasure our marriage, Ernest and I believe that marriage is not the center of a Christian life: God is. Jesus said if you are not willing to leave your family and follow him, you are not worthy to be his disciples.

According to Jesus, there is no marriage in heaven.

We find it presumptuous of our enemies to suggest that by virtue of our life-long commitment to each other Ernest and I threaten the stability of heterosexual marriage. How does that work? Do heterosexuals think of us and as a result love each other less?! Why on earth? Are they admitting to secret homosexual fantasies? Are their own erotics so minimal or unstable that they fear competition?

I suspect they simply have not thought through the issues. Many are reacting irrationally, as one might on visiting a culture for the first time where the citizens eat dogs or monkeys or rats or … . In our minds we can rationally understand that such choices are no more bizarre than our choices to eat calves or pigeons or squirrels or rabbits or sweet breads...

Yet taboos seem to have an animus all their own. That why George Weinberg coined the term homophobia, to get at the level of irrationality some experience in response to lgbts. I call it the Ick Factor.

Or are they genuinely afraid that our kind of affection may spread and ‘infect’ their families? That does sometimes happen, but almost always when a gay male or lesbian has been persuaded to marry heterosexually in hopes of being ‘cured.’

A woman from Kenya asked me in a discussion group at the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Church in December 1998: “Have you ever thought about being cured?”

I told her I would answer her question but first had a question for her: “Do you want your daughter or son to marry a ‘cured homosexual?”

She paused a long time and then smiled kindly: “I would definitely expect the cured fellow to tell her before he proposed to her.”

“Do you still want to know about my own experiences of being cured?” I asked. She returned my smile. “You have answered my question already.”

One more comment on the Cana narrative

At Baylor University (1954-58) I minored in Greek. I chose the minor originally because I intended to be a Baptist preacher, but in the advanced courses I became an atheist to the Baptist religion for a season. In one of the advanced classes we translated Xenephon’s Anabasis. In the next course we translated John’s gospel.

In no other class did I encounter cheating, but cheating in this class appeared to be almost ubiquitous. I remember covering my exams with my arms and head tight, allowing just enough light to let me write. Once a guy next to me tugged at my sleeve as he whispered, “O come on, brother. Jesus said we should share!”

The only professor of Greek at Baylor at the time was Dr. Henry Trantham. He had been a Rhodes scholar, and he remained a tennis champion at Baylor until well into his 50s. He was dispirited by the time I took his classes. The Koine Greek of the New Testament was a lingua franca -- tourist Greek -- to help barely literate folks talk when neither understood the other’s language. Koine lacks the vast literary brilliance of Greek classics, but the only reason Baylor kept Greek in the curriculum was to give cache to those training to be preachers.

I remember vividly the day we translated today’s text from John. Dr. Trantham had an impish smile (probably like the one Jesus manifested when yielding to his mother’s nagging), when he called on one of the older Baptist preachers, one long in the trenches without a formal education, now back for the veneer of one. When the preacher reached οἶνος (oinos, Greek for ‘wine,’) he translated it as “grape juice.”

Dr. Trantham cleared his throat several times, and asked the student to try again.

Again the student translated οἶνος as “grape juice.”

“Is this not the same οἶνος that we encountered last semester in The Anabasis?” Dr. Trantham asked, “and did not Cyrus and his men sometime have to recover for a day or more because of the amount they drank before they could continue marching more parasangs?” Dr. Trantham asked, with the hint of urgency.

“Yes,” the preacher replied, “but Dr. Trantham….”

“I think I understand your problem, young man,” Dr. Trantham interruped. “You find it hard to believe that the Holy Bible would contain a text in which the Lord of the universe gave fermented grape juice of stronger than usual alcohol content -- wine which he called ’good’ -- to people who had gathered for the wedding….”

“Yes, yes,” the preacher increased the pace.

“I find only one thing wrong with your position,” Dr. Trantham told him.

“What is that?” the preacher asked sheepishly.

“You are putting yourself in the position of telling the Lord of the universe what he can and cannot do. Furthermore, you don’t even know our own Baptist history. When I was a young man, many Baptists served wine at communion. It was only when the Prohibition Movement came along that they substituted grape juice. Now continue at verse twelve.”

Isaiah 62:1-5

Although I can manage to sing the “Stars Spangled Banner” as spiritedly as the next -- even when it is not war time (though when was that?), and although I rejoice that an earlier organist at my parish composed the tune used for “America the Beautiful” I do not much like Patriotic Gore. I am glad that we don‘t sport an American flag inside Grace Church in Newark, but we do have one on the pole in the courtyard, appropriately I suppose since we are in front of the federal post office. Also we are opposite a Federal Building, and we are one block from City Hall.

Isaiah today is rejoicing with patriotic gore of Israel, announcing how much they are God’s favorites and thumbing his nose for all the lesser nations who will have to pay obeisance to them.

Italians are much nicer as fat old men who like to eat pizza than they were when they terrorized the known world as the Roman Empire. I long for the day that America and Israel won’t act as if they have a mandate to lord it all over everyone else.

I am glad that God is fat and likes to hang out with her friends eating pizza or veal scaloppini, such as the veal on which I feasted at a restaurant in Joppa recently, after visiting the church where pigs were first offered to Peter on a sheet. Ernest and I looked out on Mediterranean trying to spot a spout on a whale such as might have transported Jonah from that place.

Psalm 36:5-10

Look closely at the sensuous details of Psalm 36. God’s love affair with human beings manifests the intensity of the erotic.

How priceless is your love, O God! *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.

That’s some light indeed, bright but not blinding. Thomas Edison, “Eat your heart out.” (Edison’s lab was 1.3 miles from our apartment where I write this.)

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Has your parish ever taken an inventory of all the talents of the congregants? Does your parish give the inventory of talents the same attention it gives to pledge cards?

Have you reviewed your own talents? With an eye to evaluating your stewardship? See my reflection on ‘professional Christians’.

Sometime we need to turn off the tremolo, especially if we are trying to access the holy.

See also

January 10, 2010. First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

I have been baptized three times, first in October 1945, when I was still just 8 years old. I came forward at a revival at Parker Memorial Church in Anniston, Alabama. The church was undergoing renovation at the time, and you had to prepare in the basement and go outside to get into the sanctuary and up to the pool, in the center and above the choir. The pulpit is at a lower level between the choir and the congregation.

You had to make the same trek back after your total immersion. It was unseasonably very cold that night. I caught the flu from the exposure.

A few years later I was in the youth choir seated on the back row. During his baptism, a large man slipped when the minister was saying, “I baptize you Cliff Worsham in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost.” A glass panel allowed the congregation to see the water level and confirmed that the minister did indeed fully immerse the baptized as these words were said.

When Mr. Worsham slipped, the water splashed those of us on the back row, so at least as Methodists and Episcopalians would have it, we all got a new baptismal name, albeit accidentally.

As freshmen at Baylor in 1954, three of us who were studying to be ministers in the Baptist Church wanted to be sure that our baptism had really “taken,” so on a cold winter night (well not so very cold, as it was Texas, after all) we trekked to Lake Waco and each paired off to baptize the third until all three of us were again baptized.

I gave the three dates to Father Russell Daniel, rector of St. Peter’s Church in Rome [Georgia!] when he was preparing me for confirmation on October 29, 1961. He used only the date of the first baptism, as Episcopalians consider re-baptism redundant.

Another former Baptist turned Episcopalian, Very Rev. Paul Clasper, was dean of St. John's Cathedral in Hong Kong when I taught at Chinese University, 1984-1987. He reported that an elder member of the congregation had seen him in the park outside the cathedral and below the governor’s mansion.

“I need to bring my grandson by some time soon so that you can ‘do’ him,” the congregant had said.

“Baptism for some,” Dean Clasper explained, “is like a vaccination: you get a little dose of Christianity so that you don’t have to be bothered with the real thing.”

Today’s Epistle and Gospel both raise a similar concern.

Acts 8:14-17

Some of the Samaritan converts “had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” and the ‘vaccination’ had not ‘taken'; they had not received the Holy Spirit. That happened only when Peter and John laid their hands on them.

Did my baptism ‘take’ only when classmates Jim Pippen and Bob Thweat laid hands on me in the cold waters of Lake Waco in 1954? or only when water splashed over the glass panel on the night Cliff Worsham was baptized (circa 1950)? or only the night I caught the flu from being dunked in October 1945?….

David Virtue sometimes refers to me as "the chief sodomite emeritus of the Anglican Communion.” Those who agree with him might be asking whether any of my baptisms ‘took.’ "How," they might ask, "can an out gay person be marked as God’s own forever?"

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

No heavenly dove showed up at any of my three baptisms, nor have I seen a dove at any of the more than 300 baptisms which I have witnessed, except occasionally in a stained glass window. Nevertheless I continue to renew my baptismal vows whole-heartedly.

In the depth of depression and threatening doubt, Martin Luther would reassure himself by saying again and again to himself, “But I have been baptized! I have been baptized.”

Through the years of my ministry as an out gay male Christian, I too have found re-assurance by saying, “But I have been baptized! I have been baptized,” especially when teenagers have hurled rocks at our apartment shouting “Faggot, N* lover!….”

In 1975, when a vestry in Georgia asked me to “find some other place to worship more in sympathy with your concern for gay people" (see the whole story) and in 1981 when a vestry in Wisconsin seriously considered my possible excommunication, I rejoiced knowing in my heart, “I have been baptized! I have been baptized.”

Note, I did not say, “Let me in!” That would be spiritually unhealthy. For mysterious reasons too great for me to imagine, the Lord of the universe has already welcomed me to the heavenly banquet, and if I don’t ‘get in,’ those locked in their exclusionary rhetoric may not get to hear from me how utterly amazing Grace still is.

Isaiah 43:1-7

Even Isaiah misses the point of God’s inclusion. Today he vaunts God for giving welcome primarily to Israel. He, like many writers of the Hebrew scriptures, proclaims God’s special favor to Israel, even when it costs others their lives.

I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

That fervor, that same mind-set today confiscates Palestinian property to build new Jewish apartment buildings -- with the strong support of many Christian fundamentalists, who believe that these conflicts will hasten the day of God’s reappearing and speed up their own entrance to heaven.

Psalm 29

Such concepts are enough to tempt one to meditate only on the psalm of today -- to listen to God through thunder, to hear God split trees in the forest, to watch God bring forth skipping calves and young wild oxen. The marvelously animated universe of Psalm 29 avoids human bloodshed, and God “shall give his people peace.” Whew! We need that bad, God. Even so come, Lord Jesus.

A few weeks ago a high school classmate contacted me. She had found my website, she said, and wanted me to know that she had always loved and admired me. We had had no contact for about 55 years.

It was delightful to re-connect. When I was in prep school, she was my date for the sweetheart ball. Her boyfriend back home was my close friend and was glad for her to experience the pomp and pageantry of a military school dance. As a closeted gay male, I was delighted to have the most beautiful girl of all for my date on this occasion. More important, she was a kind friend.

‘Many years ago my husband and I left the Episcopal Church to return to Parker Memorial,’ she said.

I assured her that I rejoiced in her happiness in finding a spiritual home in the place where I had been baptized. I remembered my joy when I took Ernest to see the spot several years ago. No one his color would have been welcome there when I was baptized. I doubt that he and I would be welcomed as a couple there even now. But maybe I am wreong about that. I remembered my joy when Ernest took me to the small church near Warner Robbins, Georgia where he had been baptized.

“Louie, you are still a Christian, I hope?” my friend said, turning the statement into a tentative question. She quickly added, “I don’t mean to be offensive, I assure you.”

“No offense,” I said. “Yes, I am a Christian, and I am glad that you care. I rejoice that you are a Christian too.”

She and I understand that baptism is not a vaccination, that baptism of the spirit is real and vital. Even the flu can’t erase it or augment it, nor can the overflow of someone else’s baptism, nor can fervent plunges into Lake Waco in the winter.

“I have been baptized! I have been baptized!”

Thanks be to God.

See also