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Thelma Glass Has Died; Lessons from Her Life

Thelma Glass (David Campbell/Alabama State University)

Professor Thelma Glass of Alabama State University has died. She was a principal organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the nonviolent action which propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. to world prominence. She was 96. Go here to read her inspiring story in The New York Times.

I want to focus on a detail we often overlook: people like Rosa Parks weren’t just forced to sit in the back of the bus. One hears that phrase so commonly these days that its meaning is weak tea.

Instead Blacks were told, “Sit in the back and give up your seat to a White person.”

Male, female, it didn’t matter; any White person. An able-bodied kid, even one who couldn’t sit still. This was the law.

In fact it was psychological warfare—brainwashing, programming, conditioning. “You matter so little that you have to stand up so a snot-nosed kid can sit down.”

The entire Jim Crow system of segregation was built to control people’s minds as much as their bodies. Colored drinking fountains—movie balconies—waiting rooms—swimming pools—all were intended to keep the people feeling down; worthless, helpless, confused, intimidated, separated, alienated and self-destructive.

If you can control people’s minds, their bodies follow.

There wasn’t a single White person, ever, who believed they would be harmed if they had to drink from the same fountain as a Black person. When you’re thirsty, water is water—and on the farm, it all comes from the same tin cup or gourd, and everyone cheerfully drank after each other without the least concern about hygiene. Remember when you were a kid? “Gimme a drink of that Co-Cola.”

No cooties to be found—including when a Black person got out of her seat on the bus and a White person plopped his butt right down where she’d been a-sitting.

It was largely psychological. But if you dared not to cooperate in your own brainwashing, they’d burn down your house, or bomb your Sunday School.

I’m still stunned by all the violence Whites were willing to commit to maintain their little advantages. I’d guess their self-esteem was pretty shaky too.

And it’s not as if the violence doesn’t continue, or the little mind games; just this week news bubbled up about a White Baptist church in Mississippi that refused to allow a Black, heterosexual couple to get married, purely for reasons of race. This couple had been attending there awhile, but when it came time to stand up in the White folks’ sanctuary, some of the members threw a fit—and the timid, “sensitive” pastor let them.

Thank God you don’t live in Miss’sippi. Or if you do, just slip out the back, Jack. There must be 50 ways to leave the Worst State Ever.

Now let’s bring it home to us. What did Prof. Glass do, and why did it have such an impact?

What does it mean for us today?

What she did, with Rosa Parks, Dr. King and the Montgomery Women’s Political Council, was remove one of the cornerstones in the edifice of racist psychological warfare.

Eventually, with a great deal of suffering and death, the rest of the structure fell down. Black folk stopped letting White people control their thoughts.

I think this applies directly to LGBTs.

The most homophobic people on earth are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. We’ve internalized homophobia; we’ve let Straight people brainwash us and control our thoughts.

We then turn around and use their weapons against ourselves, and each other.

I think we do this as much now as we ever did. Psychologically we’ve not made much progress at all. We’re outwardly more free, but our most casual, everyday conversations are laden with Straight people’s thought patterns.

Every “camp” remark ever made is homophobic, dividing the world into worthy Straight people and unworthy Gay people, or worthy men and unworthy women. (Because, you know, to be Gay and male really means you’re just a woman.)

Does this mean we give up our humor? Not at all. It means start being funny for a change!

My Jack was a wit; he kept everyone in stitches. He almost never made camp remarks. He liked Gay people, and fought for us.

Here we are, in 2012, and we’ve still got Gay men signing up for non-existent cures. Evidently they can’t think straight – or Straight’s the only way they can think, and they hate themselves.

We’ve still got Tyler Clementis jumping off bridges. That should teach the camp crowd something – but instead they always blame someone else.

We still churn out devastating statistics on LGBT depression, smoking, alcoholism and drug addiction, and tons of new HIV infections.

We worry about children being bullied, instead of teaching them to fight back.

There is plenty of blame to go around for our personal problems and social problems – but we’re perpetrators too, and we never take responsibility for it. We’ve got more denial than all the rivers of Egypt.

You can’t watch 10 snippets of Gay porn without seeing 8 snippets of homo-hatred. “You like that, bitch?”

Um, no, I don’t. We are not female.

We’re just Gay, that’s all.

I would like us to stop oppressing each other and ourselves. We can’t do much, directly at least, about anti-Gay violence, but we can stop thinking like some Straight people do.

Remember, the oppressor’s as terrified as we are. Do you think those ’50s crackers didn’t know they were doing wrong, bombing churches, burning crosses, shooting people dead?

They knew, all right, and so do we.

It isn’t a crime, when you’re an oppressed person, to absorb the mind games and thought patterns drummed into your head.

But it is a crime to keep thinking that way once you lose your chains. And it’s a felony to make other victims keep feeling bad about themselves.

It’s the old programming principle; garbage in, garbage out.

We’re still putting out an awful lot of garbage, every day, in most of our thoughts and conversations.

“Pride” is supposed to be the antidote to this, but it takes more than marching in a parade or buying a T-shirt. It takes deep soul-searching to root out all the bad programming.

There’s nowhere to go to get a brain transplant. If there were, none of us would smoke, drink or get HIV.

What we can do, though, is act. Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and got arrested. She knew she would; she’d planned it all out.

Then once the news of her refusal reached Ms. Glass, she acted too; the Women’s Political Council acted – and within four days all the buses were empty.

The Black folk who depended on the buses had to make other arrangements. Some walked and some caught a ride with a friend.

They all knew instinctively how important it was to grab onto that cornerstone and yank it.

They didn’t need to go to therapy to change the voices in their heads; they had a tremendous advantage over LGBTs in the support of their families, who always knew racism was wrong.

This isn’t to say there weren’t Black folk who were scared to death to challenge the system; there were. The longer the bus boycott went on, the more internal dissent there was. It’s hard to get someplace when you don’t have transportation.

But they acted, and within a year they won, and only later did they stop to think about what they’d done and what it meant.

The larger civil rights movement was rife with internal dissent; the historical record shows that Dr. King got stabbed in the back more often by fearful Black pastors than any other group. But still he kept it together, even as younger, more militant leaders emerged, without his principles of non-violence. They didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, he did.

LGBTs have made remarkable strides as everyone now sees. We’ve been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land.

But if we want to be actors and not just reactors; if we want to have real pride and not just the kind you buy; if we want political change as well as inner peace and joy, we have to change our behavior and our thoughts.

We have to stop oppressing each other as a crooked way of showing/hiding how oppressed we still feel.

If you find it hard to change your thoughts, change your behavior; boycott Chick-Fil-A – and don’t be too quick to laud Target for running Gay ads and selling Pride trinkets just two short years after donating $150,000 in corporate money to a bigot running for governor of Minnesota.

Penney’s, Ellen’s sponsor, didn’t slip corporate cash to bigots first.

And don’t tell me that you can’t keep up with all the terrible companies, so therefore you don’t do jack shit.

Don’t tell us that you love Jesus or the pope or the Mormon church so much that you’re sticking with them no matter what – or we’ll come and pull you off the bus so you can walk. (You can still love your church, but don’t give them one thin dime as long as they treat LGBTs like the antichrist.)

Don’t tell us that you’re voting for Mitt Romney, “even though you disagree with him on this issue,” without expecting the rest of us to call you out. The only thing the Republican Party stands for now is greed – so we know exactly who your god is, the Almighty Dollar. You didn’t get the Gay gene without also getting the Gay compassion, the Gay empathy.

The more we act to liberate ourselves and others, the more our thoughts realign. (If we try changing our thoughts before our actions, it takes forever.)

Most of all stop oppressing other LGBTs with your idiotic remarks and pathetic humor.

Gay women are women; Gay men are men; and yes, you can play with those roles and gender boundaries all you want – as long as you don’t oppress others.

Bisexuals are real people with real feelings, so stop trying to make them fit your brainwaves.

Transgenders are allowed to be themselves – so hire one.

Imagine the world you want to live in, and your place in it; then act so that it comes true, and your thoughts will follow you. Create a world in which everyone is free.

That’s what Thelma Glass did, and she wasn’t much different from you or me.

But what made her different was that she acted. First Rosa, then Thelma, and suddenly it all went viral.++

Terror Time: O, Have Mercy on Me Lord!

“Oh, the humanity!”

A few minutes ago I downloaded a free 30-day trial of Microsoft Word for Mac.

I’m not scared of the program; I’ve used it before. But the download means I’m now committed to publishing The Gospel According to Gay Guys, my third novel, on Kindle within a month.

Kindle requires Microsoft files. Seems odd to me, given that most creative people use Macs, but the rules are the rules. I have to have the whole thing done – reformatted (every damn page, according to still more rules) and uploaded to Amazon.

From here, there’s no turning back.

I have, of course, been pushing myself to get to this day for weeks, months, years – ever since I published my first book and then wondered, “What happens on the driveway?” So the driveway is where the sequel begins.

But now the day has finally come. And I’m a bit scared.

I’ve been in spiritual direction with a counselor so this day would come. (Curiously, Marcia and I don’t have an appointment this month.) Publishing the book has been my #1 spiritual goal/thing to work on, because I believe God calls me to do it, because it’s something only I could have written.

Therefore to become myself, I have to do it. And now, the spacelaunch begins.

Who wouldn’t be a little scared?

This morning I wrote myself a sign, which is on my desktop:

I worry that the book will go nowhere.
And rather than find that out, I don’t publish it.


(Cobbed from Facebook months ago.)

I also have a picture of (ahem) a nekkid man on my desktop, to go with these images, as motivation to do the work. I won’t post the full pic here, but I decided years ago that my character Kent looks like a Colt model from years ago named “Terry DeLong.” Nice looking guy; he has deep-set black eyes, and I decided to make that an inherited trait of his family, many of whom are also characters in the book.

Ya gotta have somethin’ to hang your hat on. (No comments from the peanut gallery.)

The book is a love story, among other things. It’s a hybrid romance-mystery-historical novel. Of course I love it to death. But will anyone else?

Probably not. And that’s very scary, because my “whole life” is bound up in the success of this book. Or so I think.

It isn’t really; I’ll survive either way.

“It’s a big smash hit!” Or “Nobody noticed.”

Here’s what I would not survive: failing to see the project through to completion. Failing to be my best self.

Going in, I already know what the criticism of it will be – the same as the criticism of my first novel, that this story continues on the driveway. “It’s too sweet. They’re too nice, they’re too perfect. The writing is juvenile. It’s incoherent. It’s grandiose. He’s in love with his characters” – which is true, that last one. Maybe the grandiosity too, but I’ve never lacked for ambition.

It will rise or fall on its title, which I hope is an eye-grabber.

But::: You don’t set out to write a Gospel unless you’re an evangelist – and I am, commissioned 1977 by the Bishop of Indianapolis. And::: You can’t write a Gospel unless it’s full of Good News – which it is.

Good news is sweet, nice and it’s perfect. (When it’s not being jaw-droppingly difficult. “Pluck out your eye and cast it away,” anyone?)

These characters are morally good, but they’re not perfect. Jamie’s got brain damage and a mental illness, and Kent can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

But they’re good to each other, and that is something I want to talk to Gay men about.

We’re often not very good to each other, which I think is usually the result of internalized shame about being Gay.

Even in this day and age it’s still the #1 problem we face. If you want to collect the most homophobic people in the world, convene a big gathering of Gay people.

I am very, very high on the ethical and moral worth of LGBTs. But we often believe the absolute worst about each other. You can see that in almost every Gay video ever made, pornographic or entertainment-oriented – and you can readily hear it at any bar or cocktail party in five minutes after two people have struck up a genuine conversation.

Watch documentaries about us, though, and you’ll see heroes and heroines from start to finish.

So I wrote a book about two heroes; you could even call them two saints. They’re imperfect mortals, but they consistently do their best, just like you do.

They do not contain the seeds of their destruction within themselves, a fatal flaw that will kill them. That is the way of classical mythology, but it’s inadequate as an explanation of why good people die.

They do, that’s all; they’re mortals. And unlike classical mythology, becoming gods isn’t an option for us. So I don’t mess with any of that.

There is indeed some violence, destruction and evil in this book, but those originate outside my main couple.

So: here I go. No turning back. Thirty days, all formatting perfect; all spelling, all thoughts, every word.

Will it be perfect? Nah, I can’t do perfect. Will it sell? Not if it’s never published!

I really need it to sell. But even more, I need it to exist, to be available for discovery.

When no one else can do it but you, you have to do it.

The one who does it is a hero.++

Those eyes.

Their Anti-Gay Prejudice Precedes Their Bible-Quoting

The kid does make it to sanity, thank God.

Last night I watched a documentary on Netflix called “This Is What Love in Action Looks Like.” It’s about a 16-year-old Gay boy whose fundamentalist parents shipped him off to a “Gay cure” residential program in Memphis, Tennessee, against his will.

I found it hard to watch, partly because of several poor choices made by the filmmaker (failure to attribute some sources, sitting for a pseudo-interview instead of just facing the camera himself, and constant use of MySpace, the declining social network, as a framing device, which gets old very fast) – and, of course, the topic. It amazes me that in 2010 there were still people – some of them adults – going for the “Gay cure,” paying through the nose for unqualified hucksters to shame them morning, noon and night.

This week Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, the umbrella group for “ex-Gay” ministries, has finally agreed there’s no such thing as a “Gay cure.” Good for him; he has a bit of integrity at last.

However, his announcement is causing him to be slammed by others in the “pray away the Gay” movement, a story you can read here in The New York Times: “Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ is Renounced.”

So far Exodus seems to be holding most of its supporters, though some have left the group. The Times article contains this killer quote:

Robert Gagnon, an associate professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of books on homosexuality and the Bible, last week issued a public call for Mr. Chambers to resign. “My greatest concern has to do with Alan’s repeated assurances to homosexually active ‘gay Christians’ that they will be with him in heaven,” he said in an e-mail.

The quote marks around Gay Christian are Gagnon’s. The man can’t even write an e-mail without insulting millions of people. Some Christianity, huh?

Meanwhile a website I sometimes visit has a video up from something called The David Pakman Show in which Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, a pro-LGBT group, debates a military chaplain who claims he can exorcise the Gay out of him.

It isn’t worth watching, unless you also get a thrill out of seeing Pat Robertson predict that God will send a hurricane to destroy Orlando because of Gay Day at Disney World.

Not very amusing, to my taste. Seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.

There was a time, early in my activist career, when I used to appear on television a lot, talking about Gay stuff. That’s partly how I became, for a few years anyway, “the most famous Gay person in Ohio,” according to Cleveland magazine. Such a title, eh? I’m sure I could have pawned that for a peanut butter sandwich.

I mostly did it because no one else would. Now there are plenty of spokespeople. I think I was fairly good at it, but I quickly realized that I didn’t care to debate homophobes about whether we have a right to exist. Wayne Besen can, if he wants; I find it boring, and useless, and even worse, insulting.

Elie Weisel shouldn’t have to go on TV and sit next to someone denying the Holocaust, just to satisfy some misguided journalist putting on “both sides of the story.”

There’s only one story about the Holocaust; it happened, six million were murdered.

There are six million stories about the Holocaust, but skinheads and bigots can’t tell you one of them.

I’m no Elie Weisel, of course; just one little Gay guy in the Midwest. And what’s happened over the centuries to GLBT people is that we’ve mostly been picked off one by one, not as part of an organized, nationalistic genocide.

Death is death, and injustice is injustice. They don’t give prizes for who’s the most oppressed, and if they did the Jews would win.

However, none of them would show up to collect their plaque. And I really think we shouldn’t either.

Wayne Besen is free to do his thing; maybe it’s useful to someone. But the journalism involved is badly flawed.

TV did the same thing to Martin Luther King, Jr.

And no, reporters, it’s not a matter of “giving the other side enough rope to hang themselves.” That was never TV’s motivation in the Civil Rights Era. There was only one side to the story, and CBS, NBC and ABC were too scared to say so. Their big fear was that Southern stations would cancel the network news and they’d lose money. Lester Maddox and his axe handles got on TV to safeguard corporate profits.

So here’s little David Pakman, who found himself a chaplain in a freak show. And here’s Wayne Besen, thinking he can get some logic through to the audience over the intertubes.

We need to understand that bigots’ prejudice precedes their Bible-quoting. They learned the prejudice before they were old enough to read.

Uh-oh, boys holding hands…

This fact, that the bigotry comes before the religious “justification,” is important for LGBTs, especially Christians, to remember, because we can easily get caught up in debates with homophobes just like Wayne Besen and others do, without any cameras rolling. Principles of the faith, such as listening to others and respecting them, almost seem to require it.

But in 2012, let’s be aware of the Law of Diminishing Returns. In my experience, homophobes understand one thing only: power. They shut up when we show up.

That’s what happens in the movie; the teenage boy blogs on MySpace about being trapped in Christian hell, and protesters show up where he’s being held against his will.

The protesters are smart, loving and kind – just like Gay people mostly are – and eventually the state of Tennessee shuts the place down for providing mental health services without a license or qualified personnel.

No doubt, Alan Chambers has experienced much of the same; that’s the reason for his shift. He and his board members have finally realized those queers make some good points.

There isn’t any “cure,” and Exodus has finally stopped claiming there is one. Praise the Lord for small favors.

President Obama has come out for same-sex marriage in an election year. That is, he finally did the right thing he was afraid to do before.

I remain half-bemused and half-appalled at the Big Media descriptions of all this. While there are more and more LGBT voices being heard, of writers, thinkers and activists, Big Media’s still playing it straight, focusing on rising poll numbers supporting equality. I guess they’re so caught up in the moment (and the homophobic history of their companies and profession) they can’t get much perspective. They don’t seem to know why attitudes are changing, beyond that a generational shift is taking place.

Well, yes, but that doesn’t explain it. The facts are on our side!

We’ve always told the truth about ourselves, including the science, what’s known and what’s unknown. We’ve told the truth like Martin did and Elie still does.

He knows what he’s talking about; he lived through it, and he’s even got pictures to prove it.

The generational shift is happening because we’ve got the facts, our opponents put out bald-faced lies – and the rising generation can tell the difference.

They were not carefully taught the prejudice – for which we have the civil rights movement and especially the women’s movement to thank.

They told the truth too.

It will be interesting to see what happens when America stops denying global warming – but that apparently will take another generation, and I’m not sure I’ll live that long.

Truth Wins Out is well-named, Wayne Besen; I give you credit for that. (Their slogan is “Fighting Anti-Gay Lies and the Ex-Gay Myth.”)

Though really, you should have dressed up like Linda Blair and made that chaplain exorcise your Gay away right on camera.++

Whaddayou bet her makeup man was Gay?


What Is It That Occurs in a Sacrament?

A priest friend of mine performing a baptism; Mom holds the baby, Dad follows the service, the child’s siblings are next to him, and the godparents are there too, to promise they’ll assist in raising the child in Christ.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself having a running discussion with my close friend Stephanie about infant baptism. She doesn’t believe in it; I do.

This discussion is mostly one-way; she’s been busy with family visitors and now is on a trip to the Midwest. The other day, however, while helping her aging mother clean out the garage, they ran across Stephanie’s baptismal certificate from an Episcopal church in Detroit; it was the last page of a commemorative book they used to give out. She was baptized as an infant.

I know her today as a very faithful Christian, someone who has been on a widely divergent spiritual journey over the years, from the Episcopal church through Messianic Jews to her current home, which is a conservative, non-denominational, contemporary megachurch.

She’s married to a great guy, who’s quite the amateur Biblical scholar. Together they’ve raised five kids, all with Biblical names. I love that; these are thoughtful, devoted parents. Stephanie’s a stay-at-home mom who’s home-schooled the kids; her youngest is in high school. The others have all done well in college, career and family.

She’s not someone you’d expect from this description to be my good friend – which shows you that’s she a more complex person than my description indicates. I don’t have any other home-schooling moms on my friends list. She doesn’t berate me about being Gay. I don’t think she particularly approves but she’s not a judgmental person – and it’s important for those of us who are Gay to remember that there are a fair number of people like her that way. Just because someone adheres to a different theology of sexuality doesn’t make them a screaming homophobe. I feel free to tell Stephanie anything that’s going on with me, knowing she is always supportive of me as her friend.

GLBTs need not to stereotype the Christians all the time. There’s more to life than  you see on TV.

Stephanie reminds me a little of a woman I used to work with, a social worker at a mental health center. She was a stalwart of the Evangelical Free Church, which she described as “very conservative” but also “not judgmental at all.” When I was setting up an advisory board for dailyoffice.org, I went to her because I wanted the prayer sites to be ecumenical. We use the Episcopal framework as given in The Book of Common Prayer, but there’s no doctrine in its structure; anyone can use it, it’s 99.9% free of controversy. That’s one reason the BCP has been internationally successful for centuries; it works for Catholics and Protestants both, like the Episcopal Church itself.

But baptism, it turns out, is an area where Stephanie and I have a disagreement, a simple difference in views. But it’s about one of the most important teachings in Christianity, so it leaves me puzzled to be close to someone who sees this central act of the faith so differently. Once again I’m challenged to love across the lines; the normal human impulse I think would be to start an argument, “How can you not see what I’m saying?”

But we’re not going to have an argument; I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings like that. Still, I am perplexed. The only analogy I can think of is it must be like what would happen when an East German physician, professor or lawyer happened to fall in love with a West German businessman. She could denounce him as a capitalist lackey, or put on same jazz and ask him to dance.

Churches are not very good at teaching us how to tolerate differences – and if Episkies can’t do it, nobody can. We’ve been peacefully disagreeing with each other since Elizabeth was Queen the first time.

One reason Stephanie and I hit it off so well on the Daily Office site is that, despite her Baptist-Fundamentalist background, she has a real appreciation for liturgy, thanks to all her Jewish friends; a love of the ancient music and forms of Christian prayer; and an ongoing interest in the Anglican way of doing things. (She’s pursued the latter exclusively among the schismatic set so far – and if I can tolerate that, I can bloody tolerate anything.) So she’s quite aware and astute. As a mother and teacher, she’s very interested in forms that “act out” the truth being told in a story. Seeing and participating in the action is how children and adults learn. We do something, and afterward we appreciate what we’ve just done. Thus she’s very interested in Advent practices, for instance; the wreath, the ritual lighting of candles, Advent calendars for the kids, etc. She’s even devised her own rituals for Lent, because both seasons are about waiting and watching, even though the content is different. This year she hosted a seder for Passover.

So why can’t she get baptism? She takes it as a symbolic thing that comes after the really important part, being “born again” as an act of will, or an assent to the lordship of Christ. That moment of recognition, she thinks, is when a person gets saved. Afterward the water of baptism is a nice thing to do, and even necessary (since it’s all over the New Testament).

I don’t see it that way at all. I think the action of baptism, the liturgical acting-it-out, is the moment God conveys the grace. It doesn’t depend on our will at all; God gives us faith as a gift.

The Psalmist says God knew us “in our mother’s womb” and called us before we were born. Jesus says, “Unless you have faith like a child’s, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So naturally I believe in infant baptism, which has been practiced at least since the 2nd century A.D., and was universal until the Reformation. But even today most Protestants do infant baptism, meaning the vast majority of the world’s Christians; Presbyterians, Methodists, Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, everybody almost except Baptists, Pentecostals, Amish and Mormons – who aren’t really company I want to be with.

Baptists say, “But kids don’t know what they’re doing; they can’t understand what it means.” To which the rest of us reply, “Neither do grownups! Even after a lifetime of faith and study, nobody really ‘understands’ everything it means.”

If you want to delve more deeply into the pros and cons of infant baptism, go here; Wikipedia gives a brief and reasonable overview. But the question of baptism leads me to a broader question, what do we mean by sacraments? Can we learn something about baptism by studying the other times of liturgical acting-out-the-story?

Before I leave baptism, let me add something telling: Stephanie’s daughter and son-in-law recently adopted a little boy, age five or six; it was a joyous event. And while they did not get him baptized into the Church and their Christian family, they did have a private commitment ceremony for him at home. They made the same kinds of vows that godparents make in infant baptism, “We will raise you in the household of faith.” And they welcomed him into the family.

I think, for believers in credo-baptism of adults only, they absolutely did the right thing for this child. They felt a need and created a liturgy; excellent! Baptism would have been much better, in the church, with a priest or minister, in the Name of the Trinity; but short of that they did what they felt was necessary.

If it’s necessary, why not go ahead and dunk the kid? Don’t leave it to chance, I’d say.

But really, the issue comes down to whether the sacrament is the efficacious life-changing event, or if it’s just symbolic of something. I think the Baptist practice devalues baptism (though of course they see it differently). And to me it’s very telling that the same churches that don’t baptize almost never have Holy Communion.

There are very few times in the New Testament when Jesus issued orders; “Do this in remembrance of me” is one of his few imperatives.

Baptism is the other. He himself went to John the Baptist to receive the sacrament from him in the Jordan River.

How much more evidence do these people need, anyway? (“Oh, but he was an adult!”)

The issue turns on whether the liturgical act makes the change occur, or whether it happens when Billy Joe Jimbob, who’s been drunk half his life, finally decides to beg God’s forgiveness so he can get help before he kills himself.

I’m all for Billy Joe turning to the Lord; too bad he wasn’t raised in the Lord in the first place. Or didn’t stick to it, whichever.

We all must be delighted, and are, with every conversion experience. But then to seal the deal, you get your sorry behind to the river first chance you get.

With other people around; with the entire church; and with God’s minister or priest. Make your vows in public, Bubba!

That way the next time we see you drunk we can get in your face over it.

Now then, every Christian wants “communion” with God. We want to feel close; we want to know God’s presence in our lives and God’s love for us.

Yet here are all these Baptists and megachurches who never use the Communion Christ himself ordained. What’s up with that?

They think “preaching the Word” is the most important thing. It isn’t!

Preaching is some guy or gal standing up front and telling you what to think, by telling you what they think.

One hopes they have some educational background for this, but that’s not always the case.

Making preaching the center of the church service leads people to go to whatever church has the most popular preacher. Some of them are razzle-dazzle guys; most of them are fast talkers with the gift of gab.

They thunder, they shout, they prance, they dance; some of them sing, or get offstage so better singers can put on a performance. They’ll tell you you must be “born again,” and then they’ll tell you to vote Republican and hate the Gays, and then they’ll make you give them money.

No wonder so many of them are corrupt.

Preaching is no substitute for Bible study. It’s no substitute whatever for giving you the bread and wine Jesus commanded you to receive as his Body and Blood.

It is the act of receiving – eating, drinking – that makes communion real. It’s not an emotion you have; it’s an objective fact.

Feelings are fleeting; who knows when your mindset and circumstances will line up properly so you “feel God’s communion”?

Take and eat anyway – because it works.

Afterward you might feel kind of happy. It might not always happen, but chances are good you’ll feel better.

That’s why Jesus instituted the sacrament.

He knows you got drunk last night; he knows you were mean to your friends. He forgives you anyway, in the act of your receiving him.

It’s the act that makes it effective – even though it’s liturgical and ritualistic, which all those Protestants have decided they don’t like, because if the Pope’s in favor of it they can’t possibly agree with anything he says.

I’ve told Stephanie more than once, that’s why you see crummy little Baptist churches with steeples and no cross on top; the Pope puts a cross on all his steeples to lift high that Cross and make it the thing you see when you look to heaven. But the Prots all think they should never do anything like the Pope does. It’s pathetic – and it’s heretical. Not the best Christianity.

I wouldn’t give you two cents for the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, but their core theology I think is correct. Jesus is there in the bread and wine, because the church as a community has called on him to be present. And he comes to us, as he came to his disciples, in the eating and drinking.

We all actually know this, because one of the lesser sacraments has never changed: you’re not married until the minister says, “I now pronounce you…” That’s the moment the change happens.

True, they’re only words, but they’re very meaningful; you just got married. It changes your state, your status; you weren’t married before, but now you are.

By professing your love and commitment, giving and receiving vows, you have acted out marriage in front of the public, the church and the minister or priest.

It’s the same with every sacrament; absolution, confirmation, ordination, and anointing. There comes a moment at which it becomes effective.

We don’t know how exactly; theologians argue about that, but I don’t have a need to know how. I need to know, “Now I am confirmed, or married, or forgiven, or in communion with, or ordained, or spiritually healed.”

So Billybob, it ain’t about you calling on the Lord. He called on you first!

It’s a miracle, that’s what it is; too bad those Baptists practice it so seldom.

OR: “Stephanie, how can you possibly not see this!!!”

Instead of arguing, I simply pointed out that the baptism in which she was joined to the Lord obviously worked, even though she was a little bitty kid and doesn’t remember a thing.

The efficacy of sacraments was brought home to me recently by the Daily Office lectionary, where the lesson from Numbers in the Old Testament had nothing to do with baptism. Instead, the story concerned the death of the first priest, Aaron:

Numbers 20:22-29 (NEB)

The whole community of Israel set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. At Mount Hor, near the frontier of Edom, the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Aaron shall be gathered to his father’s kin. He shall not enter the land which I promised to give to the Israelites, because over the waters of Meribah you rebelled against my command. Take Aaron and his son Eleazar, and go up Mount Hor. Strip Aaron of his robes and invest Eleazar his son with them, for Aaron shall be taken from you: he shall die there.” Moses did as the LORD had commanded him: they went up Mount Hor in sight of the whole community, and Moses stripped Aaron of his robes and invested his son Eleazar with them. There Aaron died on the mountaintop, and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. So the whole community saw that Aaron had died, and all Israel mourned him for thirty days.

What struck me about this passage is the sequence of events. The Israelites, after all their wandering, are getting close to the Promised Land. But God decides it’s time for Aaron to die. He’s been a good priest, but he also had that major “golden calf” failure awhile back, as well as not following directions at Meribah when the Israelites complained about not having any water, so God decides Aaron doesn’t get to see the fulfillment of the promise – and Moses won’t either. God directs Moses to take Aaron and Eleazar up the mountain. They go up “in sight of the whole community,” strip off Aaron’s priestly vestments, and put them on his son. Eleazar is thus ordained priest in his father’s place, and Aaron, without his vestments, is naked, bereft of his identity and his role. Then he dies.

It reads as if the stripping of his clothes is what caused him to die. The three of them acted out a liturgy; you could call it a death ritual for priests. Once the vestments (that is, his special robes) were gone, Aaron himself was gone. Stripping him did him in.

(I love that the Israelites give him a full month of mourning, in recognition of the faithful service he did provide most of the time. No doubt they marked those thirty days by performing ritual acts – just as the United States mourned President Kennedy’s assassination by lowering the flags to have staff, and keeping them there for thirty days. In that era it meant raising, then lowering the flag, every morning and night. Soldiers, families and Scouts in 1963 all remember the ritual. Everyone watched in silence as the flag-bearers did their solemn work.)

I wish that Stephanie, steeped as she is in the religious experience of the Jews (and therefore of Jesus), understood the centrality and efficacy of the sacraments as liturgical acts.

I wish that Methodists, Presbyterians and everybody else who neglects the Holy Communion would obtain better minds. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (as an Anglican priest), begged his followers to participate in Communion every Sunday as Christians had always done – but they didn’t then and they still don’t. They do it once a month, or once a quarter, or once a year, and some of them don’t do it at all. On their deathbed maybe, they should live so long; or maybe the minister doesn’t get there in time and they expire, never having fulfilled Christ’s plain command.

The act of baptism is what makes someone a Christian. It’s the water that’s symbolic, not the act. The act is a miracle. That’s what I believe.++

James Tissot: The Death of Aaron (Jewish Museum of New York)