Monday, May 23, 2011

June 5, 2011. Seventh Sunday of Easter

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Word has it that God is too busy spending time with real folks in real need to take time out for kingship. God wants us as friends, not as vassals. Nor need we keep an eye out for God to "exalt us."

I prefer Quean Lutibelle's reVision: "God, send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us and prepare us for that place where our Savior Christ has gone before. Amen"

Acts 1:6-14

"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."

Small wonder indeed that the disciples, after hearing Jesus' challenge, retreated to a room upstairs in their place of lodging, "constantly devoting themselves to prayer."

The script was not the script they expected.

If I imagine a video of my life as I expected to live it when I was growing up, it bears no resemblance to the life I have been blessed to live. Observe the young redhead with his heavy bible in front of his mother's azalea's just before heading off to church, where later he became a licensed Baptist minister.

At that time I understood very little about myself or about the nature of the ministry to which I already understood myself to be called. To live my own live, I had to lose that life.

Had I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a public queer, that redhead might have acted on some his early fantasies of committing suicide if puberty persisted in asserting his unorthodoxy. He did not yet know that God loves him "Just As I am without one plea."

How has the script you thought you were given changed?

What about the next act of your drama?

"Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" We have work to do before Christ comes again, before we notice Christ already here among us.

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

I suspect the authenticity of the opening of this psalm:

Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
let those who hate him flee before him.

Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
let them also be merry and joyful.

This passage lacks the provenance Rabbi Jesus taught us to expect regarding God claims. The God Rabbi Jesus called Father is not interested in scattering his enemies through a show-down of power. God the Father is interested in loving his enemies into friends. God's wants us to love enemies too -- not only ours but also God's.

The histrionics attributed to God here sound more like the proud imaginings of those who consider themselves more righteous than anybody else.

However, much else in the psalm is in synch with what Jesus revealed of God's priorities: God does indeed take sides, and God takes the side of the vulnerable. God is the "Father of orphans, defender of widows" and "God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom."

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

When I founded Integrity in 1974, the church spent very little time addressing the issue of homosexuality. And most lgbtq persons in the church dared not speak up lest they find themselves summarily kicked out. For centuries homosexuality had been known as "the love not mentionable among Christians."

That changed when lgbtq Christians started finding themselves in Scripture and with increasing intensity demonstrated that God loves the outcast. Indeed, many straight people will not believe God loves them until they see how thoroughly God can love an old queen like me.

Spreading that ancient Good News and claiming blood kinship with Christ, lgbtq Christians provoke "fiery ordeals" indeed, even unto this day. See, for example, the website of The Westboro Baptist Church, known as ''. Fred Phelps, their pastor, has picketed many General Conventions of The Episcopal Church. The congregation pickets funerals of soldiers killed in action. Days after 911, Phelps asserted that fags working in the Pentagon and in the World Trade Center had prompted God's destruction of those place.

Peter faced far worse calumny and abuse, yet boldly proclaimed: "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.."

Ernest and I lived in a tiny town called Ft. Valley, Georgia when I founded Integrity. As a racially integrated couple, we could not have been more visible. If we had announced our marriage in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, we would not have drawn the attention we received when we took out a joint checking account at Citizens Bank in Ft. Valley.

A national John Birch Society Paper published in nearby Macon accused us of causing a tornado that hit Ft. Valley. Our apartment was stoned several times, We were under heavy threats of other violence. In that context, living with Peter's vision of God, I wrote "A Gay Psalm from Ft. Valley":


John 17:1-11

Fortunately God used double entendre when Jesus spoke from the cross, "It is finished." His earthly life? Well, no, not if you count the post resurrection appearances; and not if like Thomas, you demand to put your fingers into the holes the nails made.

Does this passage mark the end of Jesus' 'earthly ministry' as he is about to ascend into heaven? Well, what about the time he appeared incognito in Calcutta, or in the South Bronx?

The story is told that a woman working in high finance in New York decided a few years ago that she wanted to spend her summer vacation doing something significant to help those lest fortunate. Months in advance of her time off, she wrote a letter to Mother Theresa in Calcutta offering to spend her vacation time there serving the poorest of the poor.

Anxiously she waited. After two months she began to fear that her letter had been lost in the mail, though she had sent it Express. As the vacation time drew closer, she feared she would not hear anything at all.

Then a letter arrived, with a stamp for surface carriage, in an envelope that had obviously been used for other mail earlier. A dirty, frayed Indian stamp was attached. She tore open the letter to find out the plans for her.

On a small single sheet appeared just two words: "South Bronx."

The Sisters of Mercy operate a ministry for the poorest of the poor only a couple of miles from where she worked in Manhattan.

Has Jesus really departed, or might we find him, where he said we always might expect to find him, among those whom we consider the least -- not just those whom we consider the least in some exotic place on the other side of the plane, but among those whom we consider the least among us?

See also

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 29, 2011. Sixth Sunday of Easter.

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It would be hard to be more upbeat than this collect. We would be wise to pay close attention to what we are saying. The collect walks us step by step into greater expectations of God and of ourselves.

Acts 17:22-31

In a polytheistic culture, the Athenians had something going for them. The altar of "Unknown God" works like the tombs to the "unknown solder" at Arlington and various other parts of the world. There are so many bodies unidentifiable in a war that we choose one to honor grandly as a surrogate for the others.

In a universe of multiple gods, likely there are many whom we have not yet identified, so we at least modestly honor one as a surrogate for the others.

Saint purposely 'misses the point' intended by those who made the altar. Saint does not believe in multiple gods and proclaims that his God is living, not entombed in shrines made by human hands.

Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

Saint connects God to us and not to sculptured images and memorials. God "gives to all mortals life and breath and all things." We are God's "offspring."

Paul is an iconoclast to polytheism and asserts that we can glimpse God looking at God's offspring, human beings.

I wish that Luke had given a body count for the congregation and the details of any altar calls. Is his cleverness efficacious in prompting unbelievers to believe, or does his rhetoric work best on those of us who already believe and delight to have him express so well what we have experienced?

Paul directly connects his message of Jesus to something his audience already knows. Often I have heard straight priests preach to gay gatherings with not one word to relate to the specifics of our lives. Often they merely preach what they preached in their own congregations earlier in the week. What huge waste of gospel opportunity.

One of the reasons that I initiated this blog is to provide three years of witness to a queer eye for the lectionary.

Psalm 66:7-18

The psalmist today is as up-beat as the author(s) of today's collect. All has gone well for the speaker, and the speaker gives full credit to God. True, the speaker has known trouble, has known victorious enemies, has known what it is to be caught in a snare, but when the speaker called on God, God provided deliverance. The speaker feels vindicated and shows gratitude by burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Forget for the moment David's understanding in Psalm 51 that the sacrifices God really desires are not burnt offerings, but 'a broken and contrite heart.'

1 Peter 3:13-22

"Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?"

Well if you are queer, you might begin by standing in most congregations of Christians and pointing to each of them. Some congregations are controlled solidly by those who will harm us. They don't agree that we could ever be eager to do what is good. They believe that all our intentions are perverse.

But if queers suffer even for doing what is right, we are blessed. We should not fear what heterosexists fear. We must not let them intimidate us, but in our hearts we should sanctify Christ as Lord.

For almost three decades in the Episcopal Church queers have been ready to make our defense to anyone who demands from us an accounting for the hope that is in us; and we have tried to do it with gentleness and reverence. Among myriads of examples, you might listen to "Welcome to Samaria" as recorded when I preached during General Convention in 1994, total time just under 19 minutes:

John 14:15-21

In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

Open my eyes, Jesus, to see you in those not noticed and not valued by the world.

See also

May 22, 2011.  Fifth Sunday of Easter.

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today's Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Is this collect a fancy way to address our doubts?  Using it, do we in effect say, we need your help with our faith.  Can you please help us to know Jesus perfectly as the way, the truth and the life?  If you do that, then we will be steadfast when we try to follow him?

I believe that faith is God's gift to us, not our gift to God.  Faith is not a multiple choice test about God's attributes, where a perfect score will assure that we get to heaven.  Is our faithfulness in attitude and behavior  dependent on how richly God has filled us with seeing Jesus as who he is supposed to be?

I have few problems accepting Jesus claims to be the way, the truth, and the life; many who are far less certain that Jesus' claim are valid live lives far more faithful to God than my own.

Acts 7:55-60

Saul appears as a minor character at this point in Luke's narrative.  He is a member of the crowd gathered to persecute Stephen, the first martyr. At the time of the martyrdom, Saul is convinced that he is faithfully protecting the faith from the Jesus folks and their heresy in claiming that Jesus is the Messiah.  The Christians present recognize Saul with a rather dramatic gesture:   "Then they dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul."

What an anointing!   Are the witnesses themselves Christians?  Or are they just part of the anonymous crowd gathered to watch, such as those who gather for public executions even in our time when capital punishment is enacted?

Whoever the witnesses are, their public gesture of laying down their coats at Saul's feet shows that they recognize Saul as a powerful force behind the persecution of Stephen.

Of course Luke, the author of Acts, knows the end of the story. In Luke's account of the martyrdom, the detail stands our as a kind of anointing, all the more poignant with Saul's conversion to Christianity.  

It is small wonder that after his conversion and his new name, Saul (now Paul) stays away from those whom he persecuted for three years (Galations 1:17-18).  Clearly they will need some time to adjust to his claim of being converted.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

These verses are jammed full of nuggets that show up widely in Scripture and in other Christian literature.  Most famously, Jesus quoted verse five from the cross:  "Into your hands I commend my spirit."

One of the most frequently used blessings or benedictions is lifted from verse 16: "Make your face to shine upon your servant," which becomes, "The Lord make his face to shine upon you."

The second of the Ten Commandments strongly forbad making images of God; yet verse 16 suggests that it is perfectly all right to ask for God's face to be seen in our own faces.

The passage is quite forceful in providing metaphors to reveal God's relationship to us mortals. For example, Verse 3 refers to God as

  • my strong rock
  • a castle to keep me safe
  • my crag and my stronghold
  • And verse 4 refers to God as
  • my tower of strength

In the 21st century few of us in great danger would seek out a strong rock, a castle, a crag, or a tower as a place of security.   The most famous threats of our time (earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, nuclear radiation....) seem far more than mere "nets" that our enemies have secretly set for us.

The psalmist asks God to "rescue me from the hand of my enemies" and commits his spirit "into God's hands."  In most modern battle, the hand that pulls the switch of major destruction is often continents away.  The murderer or the destroyer often never has to lay a hand on the victim nor to look the victim in the eye.  Even our dirt and our flowers are often made of plastic to decorate gathering places both public and private.

Yet I am quite unhappy with my attempt to re-cast the psalm in terms current now:

  • You, oh God, are the body scanner of my enemies and terrorists
  • God you masterfully sniff out lethal weapons and drug contraband
  • God you provide a perfect rocket for our escape to another planet or universe when the apocalypse arrives

Clearly I have not yet found a felicitous way to state in the context of our own vulnerability the God-claims that the psalmist made in pre-modern Israel.

Even when we use the language of security, we do so most often to talk about places that are least secure.  TSA (The Transportation Security Administration), for example, emphasizes our vulnerability more than our security.

After World War II, The Securitate in Romania (the country's Department of State Security) marked the vulnerability of the citizens to its overreaching control of their lives.  From 1948 to 1951 it grew from just 3,549 employees to 25,468, and under Ceausescu it became the most brutal police force in the world, with 11,000 agents and a half-million informers for a country with a population of only 22 million by 1985. (See Wikipedia).

1 Peter 2:2-10

I am fascinated with the comfort level that biblical writers had in using metaphors of gustation to celebrate God.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Peter echoes Psalm 34:8 "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

Many 21st century westerners might be disconcerted it told to "taste Jesus" or "taste the Lord."

I suspect we are the losers in not having easy access to this understanding of God and to this understanding of our own bodies.

I have often welcomed opportunities to preach on this text to audiences filled with many out TQBLG persons. Regardless of our own sexual or affectional orientation, read the text again intention supplying transgendered, queer, bisexual, lesbian, and gay as the referent for you:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people,
but now you are God's people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

The passage rings dramatically true to TQBLG experience as Christians.

John 14:1-14

I am struck by the play between the material and the immaterial reality in this passage, one used at most Christian funerals to provide comfort for the bereaved. Momentarily Jesus' world of heaven sounds almost as material as Madonna's "material world" here on earth: "In my father's house are many mansions, many dwelling places....."

Yet Jesus' biggest claims, the ones about himself, are notably immaterial, philosophical, almost ethereal, "I am the way, the truth and the life."

How much is our own personal identity tied to the physical details of our lives? Those of us in our 70s have radically different understandings of "who we are" than we did when we were 14. Tennyson's Ulysses says, "I am a part of all that I have met." One who is 74 may still have all the makings of the self at age 14, but the one at 14 does not have a physical connection to the person she might become if she lives to 74.

Will heaven be at place that most will welcome if there, they find themselves with no connections to the physical selves that they were on earth?

Jesus has said that in heaven there will be no giving or taking in marriage. You won't know your spouse there? You won't know the other members of your family there?

How long is eternity, and will the many mansions there remain stuck in just one style forever and ever.

I am personally far more frightened by amputation or dementia than I am by death. One of the brightest members of my family now has serious dementia. Please pray for her, for those of us who love her, and for those who fear not being able to know and recognize those whom we love in this life or the next.

See also

May 15, 2011. Fourth Sunday of Easter. Good Shepherd Sunday

I encourage you to listen to "The King of Love My Shepherd Is"

It is fitting as preparation for the lessons of Good Shepherd Sunday to meditate on the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at General Theological Seminary. The chapel is a holy place.

I was confirmed as an Episcopalian on October 29, 1961, 41 days before turning 25. Several gay friends explained to me that I could not be a genuinely gay Episcopalian until I had made three pilgrimages: one to All Saints on Margaret Street in London, a second to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and a third, to the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at General Seminary:

All Saints became my local parish four years later when I worked in a secondary modern school in London, 1965-1966, and again when I tutored American undergraduate for the Experiment in International Living, 1970-1971.

I first visited Grace Cathedral in the summer of 1974, while I was an NEH Fellow at UC Berkeley. I called to ask whether my husband and I would be welcome. The laughter from several secretaries prompted me to found Integrity four months later.

I did not make it to General Seminary's chapel until I moved to New Jersey in 1989, to work at Rutgers.

In 2003 General Seminary awarded me an honorary doctorate. Grace Cathedral's dean now is an out lesbian.

Today's Lections

The Collect

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I wonder how accessible language of sheep and shepherds is to urban folks in the 21st century. Or how accessible was it to urban folks in earlier times?

I well remember riding to Birmingham, Alabama, with my parents when I was ten or eleven. We had only a 2-lane highway, and traffic slowed to a trickle through the hills. It was very hot, and we had all the windows open.

Cars did not have air-conditioning then. At one point we gagged when a truck load of pigs pulled in front of us. The stench and the squeels pervaded all.

Behind us was a car with Yankee license plates, in which rode 3-4 kids about my age and their parents.

"Look, look!" they chimed excitedly, "a whole truck filled with sheep!"

John 10:1-10

Saint John's gospel indicates that Jesus himself had trouble being understood when he spoke of a gatekeeper and sheep: "Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them."

Wanting to be understood, Jesus explained:

Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Jesus stresses

The sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.

TSA eat your heart out! Bill Gates, where is voice-recognition software this dependable?

Every year two or three dozen TQBLG persons ask me, "Where is a church where it is safe for my partner and me to go to church?" -- almost the same question I had asked of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1974.

Many of us -- and not just TQBLG folks -- have experienced harsh rejection and disapproval from church people. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we thirst, but we don't want to be battered. We seek a pastor (etymologically a 'shepherd') who knows us and values us by name, someone who is more concerned with our thirst than with our sins.

Note well that the purpose of God's elaborate security is not so that the sheep, the believers, might live isolated from the pleasures of life. Christianity has too often earned a reputation of being a life-negative religion. You have to look no farther than English novels for the last 300 years. The moment a clergy person enters a group conversation about matters of the world, the clergy person typically blunders or seems divorced from the 'real' life of the others.

John's witness contrasts radically. In his account, Jesus does not say, "I am come that they may have life hereafter if they just deny themselves most pleasures in this life." No. Jesus the Good Shepherd proclaims: "I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly."

Jesus' 'abundant life' is not a call to proclaim glibly "Eat! Drink! Be merry! for tomorrow we shall die." But neither does Jesus reject of the good things God has prepared for us.

Psalm 23

The 23rd Psalm stresses that even in the presence of our enemies, God prepares for us a feast!

When he faced severe depression, Martin Luther comforted himself by saying over and over, "But I have been baptized."

I am blessed very rarely to be depressed, but when I have faced depression, I have turned to this psalm. Millions of us have learned it "by heart." I urge you to pause now to say the psalm "by heart," and if you cannot, commit it to memory so that you can access it whereever you are.

Karl Marx, if this be opium, let me have access to it when pain comes. I hope no one ever again has to experience a Dachau or a crucifixion on a wire fence outside Laramie, Wyoming, but I am glad that most at Dachau and that Mathew outside Laramie had access to this opium.

Acts 2:42-47

"Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were done by the apostles"

One of the reasons that I am an Anglocatholic is the tradition's respect for awe. We use the body, the eyes, the ears, not just the mouth. We bob up and down. We fill the space with incense. We process. We use holy oils. We take long communal silences. We vest.

The actions of most Christian worship contrast radically with the actions of the work place, as shown in this sample:

God has given me strong faith. It's God's gift to me, not mine to God, and not something of which I can boast. If God ever takes away my gift of faith (I certainly hope that won't happen), I intend still to worship in community. Otherwise, how else could I ever sing? The bathtub just can't cut it, however hard I try.

Inadvertantly I have avoided one of the more engaging parts of this text, nor I have prepared a good segue:

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

As some have noted: "Obama is not a brown-skinned anti-war socialist who gives away free health care. You're thinking of Jesus." You can even buy t-shirts to make this point.

1 Peter 2:19-25

Why does a good God allow people to suffer? That's one way of putting what theologians call "the problem of evil."

In this part of his letter, Peter focuses the problem more specifically on just one group of sufferers: "Why do good people suffer?"

Peter himself and many other Christians were suffering for their faith. He does not blame their suffering on God. Indeed, he sees the crucified Christ as the consummate sufferer, as one who knows all about pain and unmerited suffering. Therefore, Peter reasons: "It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly."

Dr. King stressed that unmerited suffering is meant to be redemptive.

These texts have sustained me when I have been made to suffer for my claim that God loves absolutely everybody.

She does!

I invite you to listen to "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" as played on the magnificent 4115 Skinner organ at Old South Church in Boston

See also