Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010. Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. Independence Sunday in The United States

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

With this collect we buy into Jesus’ summary of all the law and the prophets as covered by the first commandment (love God with heart, mind, soul, and strength) and the second commandment (love our neighbors as we love ourselves).

Many of Moses’ top 10 get moved to Jesus’ back burner, where they are still important, but need to be tested against these big two, on which all other commandments hang.

Jesus’ big two are alike in that both command us to love. Only the object of our love shifts -- in the first, love God; in the second, love our neighbors.

How interesting that God did not add as a codicil to this will, “unless our neighbors are lgbt.”

What would it look like to love our lgbt neighbors as we love ourselves?

What would it look like to love undocumented works as we love ourselves?

What would it look like to love the poor as we love ourselves?

What would it look like to love prisoners as we love ourselves? …..

2 Kings 5:1-14

God’s protocol is not the same as our protocol.

This narrative jests royally at the protocol of the high and mighty. As servants well know, the high and mighty often have difficulty hearing and perceiving what is in their own best advantage. Kings want to talk only with kings. Even when the servant girl breaks through to advise Naaman, his boss insists on looking not for the prophet of Israel, whose power the girl has praised, but for the king of Israel.

Sensing a trick, the King of Israel rips his garments, manifesting fear. He knows that he has no power to cure leprosy. What trap might the King of Aram be setting for him? The King of Israel does not think to consult with his prophets or to single out Elisha. Elisha learns about Naaman and his problem only through court gossip, most likely, again, through servant networks.

Naaman thinks that the route to the cure is by vaunting his rank and his power, as do many politicians who show up in stretch limos in the hoods of today. Elisha ignores Naaman’s ostentation and instead, practices God’s protocol. Elisha does not even come outside his unimpressive house to confer with Naaman, but sends a messenger to tell Naaman to wash himself in the Jordan seven times. That would surely be easy enough to do, but Naaman is incensed and in high dudgeon.

Again, only the lowly servants understand and finally break through to him, explaining how simple Elisha’s remedy is.

It would indeed be simple, but it requires humility, which Naaman has only in very short supply.

Many of the remedies we need are right at hand but not easily accessible because our humility is in very short supply.

Look for example at the great need the United States Military leaders have for clear intelligence about the communications in Arabic and other languages about which most soldiers are ignorant. The Military brass could have easy access to a significant cadre of talented persons dedicated to serving the United States by sharing their vast linguistic skill, but these are not easily accessible to the Military brass because of the country‘s military policy of “Don’t ask; don’t tell.” In high dudgeon the U.S. Military brass continues each year to discharge less than honorably scores of linguistically talented lgbt soldiers who insist on telling the truth about our lives.

‘You mean I have to wash in a dirty public river seven times?! No way!”

‘You mean I not only have to let Queers stay in the military, but need even to listen to what they can reveal about the communications of our enemies?!”

Psalm 30

The psalmist begins and ends by having us talk directly to god. In middle sections we talk about God.

While God is praised for delivering us and showing mercy to us, the psalm avoids glib sentimentality in its claims.
  • At times God hides God’s face.
  • At times God is wrathful.
  • At times we weep all night long.

‘But joy comes in the morning,’ ‘his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,’ and the outcome is overall positive: “You have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.”

Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16

Saint seems here to falter from his strong conviction stated in so many other places that nothing we do can save us, that we are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own works. By contrast, here Saint suggests that eternal life is the reward of sowing to the spirit, that we will reap the harvest of doing right (good works) only “if we do not give up.”

The first six verses, treated as optional by the lectionary, temper Saint’s counsel with patience towards those who transgress and are caught doing so. Note that Saint does not suggest they have on their own discovered the wrong-doing and brought it to light, but specially emphasizes they have been ‘detected’ -- caught.

Are we to treat confession and repentance as without efficacy when done under the duress of having been caught? Saint offers no such caveat.

Instead he counsels: “Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” ’One another’s burdens’ anticipates that any one of us might be the one who lapses next time, that we are not a gathering of the sinless, but a gathering of sinners who help one another with the burden of trying to live righteously.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

On at least three occasions in my life, I have left an unwelcoming community, stood by a U-Haul, and wiped the dust from my shoes.

Life is very short, even for those of us blessed to live for many decades. It is too short for us to waste portions of it on small talk and idleness. Many arrive at the ends of their lives having never taken the time to speak about matters truly important to all with whom we share the journey.

In sending out the seventy, Jesus counsels them to get their priorities in order.

Do not rejoice when you see that God has given you the power to be an influence for good in the lives of others, sometimes even to be a catalyst for someone’s discovering new life and meaning. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

See also

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010. Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This language is not helpful when I look in it for imagery to bring good news to those in my neighborhoods in New Jersey. Most of my students have little or nothing to do with what they call ‘organized religion,’ and they would be singularly unimpressed with a group of people seeing themselves institutionalized as God’s ‘holy temple’ and claiming that Jesus’ chief role is to be the cornerstone of their temple.

“Enough already!” The world has had a glut of the religious parading ourselves before them as better than they are, living and reigning right next to God Almighty.

Does Jesus of the Gospels ever reveal himself as wanting such adulation?

And if we insist on architectural images for ourselves, must they be constructed with the draftiness and discomfort of state rooms with thrones and other paraphernalia?

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

What grand theater! Small wonder that Elijah shows up generations later at Jesus’ Transfiguration, together with Moses. (See Matthew 17). A prophet’s résumé can’t have better references than those two.

What is especially compelling about the rhetorical stance of the narrative of Elijah’s ’ascension’ is that it (as does the narrative of the Transfiguration), celebrates not an established political figure, but instead, the courageous prophet who dared speak unwelcome truth to established political figures -- King Ahab in the case of Elijah, “sly fox” Herod in the case of Jesus.

Center stage is a humble man being exalted, while his successor Elisha longs not for greater power but for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Into the bargain God also throws Elijah’s magic mantle.

I wish a good poet would write a poem imagining how Elisha slept the night after Elijah’s ascension and in what setting.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

Why did these verses not survive the editors’ cuts when those who made the lectionary went to work on today’s lections?

3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
7 "Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"
10 Then I thought, "To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."

Did the liturgists object to an over-dose of self-pity in these omitted verses? The parts they chose focus much more on God and God’s faithfulness, not on the psalmist’s sense of being rejected that characterizes the censored material.

Clearly the Book of Psalms would be far thinner if all manifestations of self-pity and all protests of being abandoned were to be excised.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

This is a superb text to explore through Queer eyes.

LGBT Christians can take heart that God judges us not by negative stereotypes, but by the spiritual fruit we manifest.

For example, in the steady stream of harsh rhetoric attacking lgbts throughout the Anglican Communion for the last 1-2 dozen years, who best manifests the fruits of the spirit -- lgbt Christians or Communion leaders? What “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” have the powerful leaders manifested towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered? Almost none. Instead, they have steadily excoriated lgbts as the least among us, and they have extended similar stigma to any who dare to advocate on behalf of lgbts.

What has fomented the loudest dissention?: They “bite and devour one another” in trying to out-do each other’s rage against lgbts.

Yet which of us, straight or gay, can dare to be comfortable with the erotophobia with which Saint organizes his categories? Are Christians never to gratify the desires of the flesh? Is sex something to be done only in the dark, only quickly and without pleasure, only to produce progeny, and even in that instance, only if we are not able to exercise adequate lust control? (See 1 Corinthians 7:9)

Gay males in particular have taken heavy pelting from what Saint calls “obvious” as the works of the flesh: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”

Because we are to many straights the ‘dark other’, some assume that our lives are defined by sensual pleasures which they are denied. From the obscenities which our neighbors sometimes shouted out their windows as they passed our apartments in small-town America, it was clear they thought we must be swinging from the chandeliers or doing orgies around the clock, never seeing us darning socks, taking out the trash, sweeping the study, washing dishes……

One of my far Right adversaries has sometimes referred to me as the “Chief Sodomite of the Anglican Communion.” I teased him a few years ago: “David. I confess that your rhetoric can give a rush that is cheaper than Viagra or Cialis.” In his next reference to me he re-named me as “Sodomite emeritus.” O well.

In the early 1990s I invited to dinner in Manhattan one of TEC bishops most hostile to lgbts. I was glad he accepted my invitation, but disappointed that he insisted on treating me, charging our huge and elegant meal to the budget of the Commission on which he served. During that dinner, he asked me pointedly about the ‘hedonistic life style’ of gay men, as he forked juicy slivers of his New York sirloin followed by toast slathered with foie gras. Several years later he gave me a bottle of single malt, the first I had ever tasted.

My hedonism?

It is unhealthy to treat sex as evil and sinful and then “save it for marriage.” Many a marriage has paid a huge debt when people cannot quite shuck the shame with which they have prepared themselves for conjugal relations.

I have long been confused by how people can treat all lgbt sexual relations as alike, making no distinction between a sneaky one-night stand with a stranger and a life-long monogamous public commitment. Saint Paul’s lists in today’s passage can easily underwrite such simplistic categorizations unless we read very carefully and critically.

Yet lgbts are not the only losers to Christian simplistic talk about sexuality. Many bring to heterosexual marriage little evidence of understanding the rich and subtle complexity that mind and body, spirit and sex can manifest when integrated in a whole person.

When I taught in the London slums in 1965-66, one of my favorite pastimes on Sunday afternoon was Speakers Corner at Hyde Park. There was a particularly handsome African male who loved to entertain the crowds by comparing the sensual differences of an African man moving in a crowd and a ’proper’ Englishman moving in a crowd.

I surely am glad that I am queer. It has made me work hard to integrate body and spirit as I might never have been compelled to do were I the privileged straight male that my parents prepared me to be.

William Blake wrote two series of poems, one called “Songs of Innocence” (e.g., “Little lamb, who made thee….), the other, “Songs of Experience” (e.g., “Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forests of the night….”

My clearest reply to Saint on the “works of the flesh” is to counterstate him in

Watching the Watcher

I watched God when He made
Adam's penis,
matched it with his own,
checked it out for size,
for accordianability,
and for fit and feel
in a dozen orifices;
and I swear
He was happy,
did not draw the curtain,
never smirked,
but winked,
even blinked in anticipation.

I watched God as She made
Eve's vagina,
measured it with Her delicate fingers,
nudged out a dimension,
added springs, nectar, slush,
rejected the notion
of a finger-like protrusion
self-insertable at the entrance,
purred to experience
for the first time
the joy for which
Eve was being made.

--Louie Crew

Has appeared
  • Panic! Brixton Poetry from March 2000. Used penname Li Min Hua
  • Ex Animo from 2002.
  • Poetry Super Highway Poet of the Week (May 8-14, 2006).
  • Insight 1.4 (1977): 19
  • Chiron Review 8.1 (Spring 1989): 11
  • Swish Publications 1994, 1997, 1998. 127 pp

This is not a dirty poem. Any dirtiness you see here is dirtiness you have been educated to bring to it. While it is not a vision of innocence, it is not a vision of guilt either. It is song of Christian experience.

When God made each of our parts, God said, “It is good” -- not “it is nasty.”

Christians should be encouraged to have healthy adult sensuality as integral with our spiritual needs, not in competition with them.

Apparently Saint never had experience of mutual, healthy, adult sexuality. Bless his heart. Christianity would have been much richer if he had. I have a long appointment already booked to chat about these things with him.

Luke 9:51-62

I was teaching at the University of Alabama when Dr. King was murdered in 1968. In the wake of that assassination, several of us on the faculty organized a silent march on campus to express our grief. We were a small procession, 25-30 folks. The national Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan lived in Tuscaloosa, and the head of the local clan lived right next door to me.

As we processed slowly past Morgan Hall, a young colleague in the English Department spotted me and nervously asked me why we were marching. Clearly he wanted to join us, but asked, gravely, “Will Dr. McMillan likely see us?!” Dr. McMillan was head of our department. “He’s standing about five persons in front of us I pointed out. “Whew!” my colleague sighed and settled in to be a part of the march.

Through the years numerous academics have shared with me their anguish about being in the closet, especially in 1960’s when most lgbts were not ‘out.’

“I’ll come out when I get tenure,” some would say.

“I’ll come out after mother dies,” others would say.

“I’m going to wait until I retire,” still others would say.

But Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead…. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

See also

Sunday, June 20, 2010. Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Note well the terms under which God’s foundation for governing us is secure: it is a foundation of God’s loving-kindness, not a foundation of power to control the wind, the fire, earthquakes… As Elijah discovers in today’s reading from 1st Kings, God is not in those, but in the “sound of sheer silence.”

In the severe controversies which beset the Anglican Communion, look for evidence of loving-kindness across the divisions. Better: manifest God’s loving-kindness ourselves towards those who disagree with us or despitefully use us. Let God’s will be done here on earth right now. Do not wait for heaven.

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

My parish, Grace Church in Newark, celebrates the mass with great dignity and care. The Gregorian settings soothe the soul. The young organist is a genius in his mastery of the music and in his mastery of the Cassavant.

We are currently searching for the successor of our rector, who has announced plans to retire early in 2011. He has been a good rector and his will be a hard act to follow. The vestry is serving as the search committee and has surveyed the membership towards preparing a parish profile. It is not surprising that in response to “What things about Grace Church do you value most and wish to see preserved?” several responded with variations on “the silence.”

Much of our silence is quite intentional. Visitors are sometimes likely to wonder whether a reader has lost her place or is perhaps momentarily incapacitated when at the end of the reading the reader stands in place for about 50 seconds or more. Most of the regulars do not use that time to locate the next hymn or to peruse the announcements in the service leaflet: we are encouraged to use the time to reflect on what we have just heard as “The Word of the Lord.” The service leaflet reminds people to expect the pause.

Mother Teresa was once asked what she said to God when she prays. She responded, “I just listen.” “And what does God say to you?” the interviewer asked. “God just listens too.”

In the midst of many storms in my own life -- tornadoes, winds, fire -- I have often at Grace Church experienced the “sound of sheer silence.”

Psalm 42 and 43

It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

-- William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams was not only a poet, but also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine. He well understood death, not only physical but spiritual death.

So does the psalmist today understand spiritual thirst. Many die every day because they have not diagnosed as such the great longing they feel for God. We who have had our thirst quenched are obligated to reveal where we have found living water.

As the deer longs for the water-brooks, *
so longs my soul for you, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

Galatians 3:23-39

I well understand the longing to have exact lists of what to do and what not to do as a way of disciplining our behavior to conform to the “what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will” -- as St. Paul puts it elsewhere (Romans 12:2).

To the Galatians Paul makes it clear that no ideal rule list, no exact discipline, can save us.

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, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

Unless you are a lesbian or transgendered Christians? Do such folks make a special class who do require disciplinarians? The majority of bishops in the Worldwide Anglican Communion think so, and the current Archbishop of Canterbury, who, when Archbishop of Wales, used to argue for the full inclusion of lgbt persons in the Church, now says that he is constrained to demand obedience to the discipline set forth by the 1998 Lambeth Conference -- no lgbt bishops, no blessing of lgbt unions, no equal status in the communion for those who would persist in consecrating lgbt bishops and blessing lgbt unions. Many argue that an Anglican province should lose equal status even if it merely argues for changing the restrictions.

Yet scripture announces no lgbt exception when Paul proclaims:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

There is no longer straight or gay, black or white, Arab or Jew, slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus. And if we belong to Christ, then we too are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

But perhaps we should only whisper this good news lest we alarm the heterosupremacists.

Luke 8:26-39

Why are there swineherds in Israel in the first place? Is there a Jewish black market for bacon and pork loin?

Not likely. Jews may well be employed as swineherds, as was the Prodigal Son for a season. But Jewish swineherds in Israel then and today serve a gentile market. Nearby is Caesarea Philippi, conclave of the Roman Occupation.

Quite apart from the drama for the Jews when Jesus casts out the demons from the man so long held captive by the demons, imagine the drama not recorded here when the swine herders must explain to their bosses what happened to an entire herd of swine. I wish that a good story-teller would take on the challenge of writing that addendum to Luke’s account.

Some Christians treat homosexuality as similar to demon possession. Christians who find themselves not wanting the lgbt body chemistry with which they find themselves may also feel that they have been “possessed” -- if not by demons, certainly by strong forces that exercise a will hard to resist. The more ones immediate religious community condemns behavior to which you are privately compelled, the more you are likely to feel wracked with spiritual pain: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.” -- as St. Paul puts it in Romans 7:19-20. The divided self courts schizophrenia and or hypocrisy, especially if your name is Ted Haggard.

A friend who is a psychologist was brought up in the Church of Christ in the South. That body forbade pianos and any other musical instruments. Faith for them was joyless. Yet my friend was ebullient and manifested a kindness and a generosity that seemed to me almost inexplicable, given the austerity of her rearing.

“How did you ever re-wire all those circuits?” I asked her.

She smiled gently: “I didn’t. I walked into another room.”

“You must be born again,” Jesus told Nicodemus.

“You mean I must enter again my mother’s womb,” Nicodemus, incredulous, replied.

“No, you must be born of a new spirit. Get a life!”

Check the Yellowpages or Google for a herd of swine upon which Jesus may hurl all the demons that possess us and prevent us from being whole?

See also

Sunday, June 13, 2010. Third Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The collect is another red flag, albeit a gilded one, to warn Glenn Beck & Co. that the Episcopal Church is a dangerous place, committed to justice not just in the abstract as a nice idea, but also in the exercise of our ministry: God’s justice is what we are called to minister.

Pee Tee El indeed!

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15

I particularly like some of the flourishes in the narrative, such as the particulars of how Ahab pouts when he finds that Naboth will not make a deal with him: “He [Ahab] lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.”

Jezebel to the rescue! She promises to deliver to Ahab Naboth’s vineyard, and deliver she does, through intrigue and murder.

Note that Ahab wants to strip the vineyard and replant it with vegetables for his private use. Generations in Naboth’s family have tended the grapes. The vineyard has importance for them across time, not just for its value or use in any one generation. Naboth considers the vineyard a gift from God and tells Ahab unconditionally that it is not for sale. “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.”

Ahab is complicit in consenting to let Jezebel take over the Naboth affair. He never offers his formal agreement to her plans; he never asks what her plans are. Presumably he does take her offer: “Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."

Only when Elijah confronts Ahab does Ahab understand the price he will pay for the evil that he has done: "Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood."

Psalm 32

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

If so, why do many of us Christians have trouble believing that God really has put away our sins?

And what of those who insist that our sins, known and unknown, things done and things left undone…have not really been forgiven?

For example, millions of Christians believe that any lgbt affection and commitment is sinful and unforgivable unless the behavior ceases altogether. Many consider any lgbt ‘act’ as of one kind, equally egregious whether done with a stranger or done in the context of a committed, life-long lgbt relationship.

Is God willing and able to separate from lgbts all our sins as far as the east is from the west, or does that promise obtain only as hetero privilege?

The psalm does not concern itself with the sinless, but with sinners whose sin has been forgiven.

I never come to God’s table trusting in my own righteousness, nor in the rightness of my interpretation of what is or is not right for me to do. I believe that the commitment Ernest and I make to each other and to God is right and good, but I could be wrong about that. I am not wrong about God, whose property is always to show mercy.

When I stand before heaven’s gate, I will not plead that I have been right in my understanding about sexuality or anything else. Instead, I will plead, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

In anticipation of that Great Getting Up Morning, I sing because I am happy. God has already washed away all of my sins, indeed all the sins of absolutely everybody!

Galatians 2:15-21

Saint makes my point for me, as I make his for him. My righteousness does not derive from obedience to the Law. We are justified not by proper works, but by faith.

Luke 7:36-8:3

I find myself in this story as the woman cleansing Jesus’ feet. For most of its history the church has cast queers like me as prostitutes. Christians who do not so view us are often themselves condemned for being taken in, for exercising cheap compassion. That’s what a majority of the Anglican Communion is saying when it scolds the Episcopal Church:

“If the Episcopal Church had the real understanding of a prophet, they would know who and what kind of people these queers are who claim to love Jesus -- that they are sinners."

Like Jesus, the Episcopal Church is wonderfully kind.

We make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own
And we magnify his strictness
With zeal he will not own.

-- Frederick William Faber

See also