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Special Post: YHWH Parts Red Sea for Gay People

Reposted from dailyoffice.org:

StonewallInn

THE LESSON
Exodus 13:21-22 (NRSV)

The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light; so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, left its place in front of the people.

THE PRAYERS

The Gay Lord’s Prayer
© 2013 Josh Thomas – All Rights Reserved

Our Lover in heaven,
your name is holy.
Your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today the bread we need.
And forgive us our many destructions,
as we forgive those who seek to destroy us.
Save us from our wrong temptations
and preserve us from violence and hate.
Yours alone are the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever.
In the Name of Jesus, let it be so.

Let us bless the Lord. Alleluia, alleluia.
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia.

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.++

With this added illustration, just for Gay Spirit Diary readers:

50 years ago this month - before the Stonewall Riots, before we'd even adopted the word Gay!

Fifty years ago this month – before the Stonewall Riots, before we’d even adopted the word Gay! The male authors didn’t believe we’d ever get actual legal marriage; they were promoting commitment and long-term relationships within their underground subculture. This “Gay rights” thing you’ve heard about? It’s *always* been about love.

Retired RC Bishop Calls for Complete Re-examination of Teachings on Sex & Gender

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

I posted a photo and notice about this yesterday on my Daily Office sites, but it deserves wider attention: a retired Roman Catholic bishop, Geoffrey Robinson, has emerged as a thoughtful, constructive critic of Vatican policies in light of the worldwide sexual abuse of children by priests and some religious.

He knows what he’s talking about, because he was the Church’s lead investigator when the scandal hit Down Under. That has led him to question the Church’s entire approach to sex and gender issues.

To me he speaks with the voice of an insider who loves his Church. It’s lost its way, he knows it and he says so publcly.

The Vatican, including this new Pope, who’s been yammering lately about a “Gay lobby” inside the hierarchy, will probably dismiss him as just another publicity-seeking turncoat. That’s their first response to all criticism; the real pressure comes later.

An absolute monarchy is the same thing as a dictatorship. But Jesus of Nazareth never ruled with a pope’s iron fist; Christ left people free to choose, because that’s God’s way.

Joshua J. McElfee of the National Catholic Reporter had a great article on Robinson last year, reprinted on The Huffington Post. Read it here.

McElfee wrote:

Among the other aspects of Catholic culture Robinson said contributed to the abuse crisis are mandatory celibacy for priests, a “mystique” some attach to the priests as being “above other human beings,” and a “creeping infallibility” of papal decrees, which is used to protect “all teachings … in which a significant amount of papal energy and prestige have been invested.”

The application of the church’s teaching on infallibility is a “major force in preventing a pope from making admissions that there have been serious failures in the handling of abuse,” Robinson said.

I took particular interest in Robinson’s critique of homophobic and simplistic “natural law” theory, which states that since human reproduction occurs due to sexual intercourse, Gay people are “outside of nature” and “intrinsically disordered.” These concepts, endlessly repeated by popes and prelates, have led to murders and suicides all over the world.

I think God made Gay people expressly because we’re less likely to reproduce. But the Roman Church has made a total fetish out of the Stone Age line, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Heterosexuals multiply too well; that’s their problem. They need some birth control!

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, the heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct. The island can't support human life anymore, no matter how many gods they made for themselves.

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct; no matter how many gods they made for themselves, the population dropped from 15,000 to 111. (It’s rebounded in modern times.)

The Roman Church isn’t the only group to make this mistake; evolutionary biologists do it too. But bee-keepers don’t; they know that asexual drones keep a queen bee’s colony going.

I call GLBTs “caregivers for communities.” That’s why there are so many Gay guys among Roman Catholic clergy—and so many Lesbians leading those churches that allow women to function.

But patriarchy dies hard, especially in dictatorships.

I have little hope that Pope Francis is going to change much. But he would do well to listen to Geoffrey Robinson. So would you. Patriarchy is killing the Church – it’s killing all religion everywhere. Sexism is patently unjust. It breeds violence and therefore cannot be of God.

Geoffrey Robinson doesn’t come across to me as a partisan. He comes off to me as a thinker. Go now, click the link and see what he says.++

Excelling without Recognition

What was it like for Vincent Can Gogh?

Blooming Plum Tree, 1887

Blooming Plum Tree, 1887

The public hated his paintings. Critics abused him, gallery owners threw him out in the street.

At age 37 he killed himself. Today his paintings go for $100 million.

He’s only the most famous example of a common phenomenon, the unrecognized genius – and now, his story has become too easy for us. We pigeonhole him as a tragic figure and tell ourselves he just lived before his time, as if that’s all we need to know.

What we never say is, “If I’d seen his work back then, I’d have hated it too. He was crazy, the poor sot. No one cared when he died. I didn’t either.”

We’re as guilty of rejecting excellence now as people were back then.

Have you noticed that, when the MacArthur Foundation’s genius grants come out, you’ve never heard of any of them? Or do you have Benjamin Warf, Nancy Rabalais and David Finkel on your Friends’ list?

I don’t either. Nor Terry Plank, Junot Diaz or Claire Chase. Wouldn’t know them if they showed up on TV, which they don’t.

It’s a mystery how the MacArthur Foundation finds out about these folks. But I figure they employ specialists to scour the world looking for geniuses.

They’ve sure never knocked on my door, nor of anyone else I know. My friends do tend to excel, though; maybe not geniuses, but they’re all pretty darn good.

Clearly there’s a big gap between doing great work and being well-known. That’s surely true in every field of endeavor.

This guy is suddenly well-known:

Omar Borkan Al Gala has manufactured publicity by claiming he's too sexy for Saudi Arabia. However, he was supposedly one of four men kicked out of the country, and no one's seen the other three.

Omar Borkan Al Gala has manufactured publicity by claiming he’s too sexy for Saudi Arabia. However, he’s supposedly one of three men kicked out of the country, and no one’s seen the other two.

This guy isn’t much known, but should be:

John C. Bogle, father of index investing and founder of The Vanguard Group of mutual funds, has made more "nobodies" rich than anyone in the history of the world. That's an awful lot of grandparents. (Scott S. Hamrick)

John C. Bogle, father of index investing and founder of The Vanguard Group of mutual funds, has made more “nobodies” rich than anyone in the history of the world. That’s an awful lot of grandparents. (Scott S. Hamrick)

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples – a favorite actor or singer who never quite made it, an unknown writer whose sentences take your breath away, a social critic who’s so accurate that no one can hear her, the rabbi who liberated Buchenwald but got shunned in Jerusalem.

Some people are good at the publicity machine and some people aren’t. If Theo Van Gogh had had the internet, Vincent would have died rich at 92.

Mr. Bogle’s a good example; he’s a titan of the mutual fund industry, but Wall Street billionaires won’t even make eye contact with him. He’s onto their game. Fame doesn’t interest him, but investor education does.

For a rich guy, he doesn’t orient his life around greed, but around ethics. Which makes him a worthy subject for the Gay Spirit Diary.

He was interviewed recently for Frontline, the PBS documentary series. Turns out he doesn’t think money is God.

Here’s what prompts my musings: A little while ago I posted tomorrow’s Morning Prayer on my Daily Office site for the Eastern Hemisphere. It’s a fairly ordinary post, the kind of thing I do every day – but it’s great, if I do say so.

Sometimes a person excels quietly, just doing what they do every day, whether people notice or not. There’s a lot to be said for consistency.

This post, if you haven’t seen it yet, celebrates the Saint of the Day, a poet named Christina Rossetti; notices the death of former Congressman Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister and social action leader; features a Song of Creation written by my friend Maria L. Evans, praising God for the landscape and critters of northeast Missouri; asks for prayers for the Diocese of Nevada by showing a photo of a country church on the edge of Lake Tahoe; and ends with a hymn by Charles Wesley, sung at the Anglican cathedral of Portsmouth, which isn’t one of the prestigious cities in England.

All in all, the post is kind of ordinary and kind of brilliant. For those who get into that sort of thing, it will satisfy the soul.

I like doing that. I am happy with my life. And I’m good enough at it that my prayer sites have had 2 million visitors; I have almost a thousand members on Facebook.

These things make me a “success” on some level. They don’t make me a MacArthur genius, but I’m doing pretty good. I will die content.

Part of me knows that Vincent Van Gogh didn’t give a solitary crap whether anyone liked his stuff or not. And part of me knows that he really did.

I feel the same way, both sides of that duality. I care, and I don’t. After all, you’re reading this; thank you!

I don’t need anyone to read it but you.

On the other hand, the more the merrier, and I sure would like a few more donations from the people who are getting my fabulous prayers online. Money’s the only thing I worry about – and then I shrug, because you have to; it isn’t God.

This happened to me recently: I found out that someone read my new book, understood it and liked it. Five stars on Amazon – to go with my previous one-star review.

I’d quit looking, frankly; I don’t market my books, I just write them. I don’t know who this woman is, or how she found my book. I do know that she understood it, and that’s very gratifying. “Vincent sold a painting! Yay!”

Of course I don’t compare to him; I only compare to me, though every publisher will tell you that all writers compare to everyone else in their “genre.” Amazon keeps track of these comparisons, it’s all numerical. I’m probably # 2,000,000 today; oh well.

Encouraged, I decided to check if any of my other books have reviews I hadn’t seen. Murder at Willow Slough, my first book which sold the best of the three, has 27 reviews – but look at this list of the headlines on them:

• Thoroughly unreadable
• Beautiful Gay Man meets Straight Cop
• Josh Is THE MAN
• A thrilling read
• Interesting plot, poor writing
• Great Thriller!
• Interesting plot, but could have been better
• Contemporary classic for the Hoosier State
• Stunning
• Compelling!

Keep in mind, Mark Twain gets mixed reviews on Amazon, and Shakespeare’s often called “overrated.” No one gets universal acclaim, and if they start to, there will be a backlash. I spent enough time in the newspaper business to know that the media builds you up one day, only to tear you down the next. Reporters have space to fill; that’s their job. And the public is fickle and mostly apathetic.

So I’ve learned not to expect much, though it does seem odd that I’m so polarizing to people. I get lots of love and a fair amount of hate. For every “thoroughly unreadable,” there will be an “OMG, this writing is perfect.” This is why I go months without reading reviews.

The worst, of course, is no reviews at all. If you want reviews, you have to work the publicity machine. And that takes a value set I just don’t have. (Mindset –> value set).

I look more like John Bogle than Al Gala! Though 30 years ago I was kinda cute. Didn’t take advantage of it; didn’t believe in it.

Recognition is important; it keeps an artist like Vincent alive. But at some point a real artist has to say, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” Do what you do, keep at it, and maybe you’ll get recognized, and maybe you won’t.

Don’t kill yourself if you don’t.

IN CONCLUSION… I don’t really have a conclusion, except to take your comforts where you can. Be thankful for what you have, not regretful for what you don’t. However bad you’ve got it, somebody’s got it much worse; and similar clichés that are completely true. You have to be self-motivated; someday Al Gala will be admitted to Saudi Arabia without a second thought. What goes up must come down.

Make sure that what goes down, you bring back up.++

Luke loves me, whether you do or not!

Luke loves me, whether you do or not.

New Year’s Madness

Leonardo Ricardo/Len Clark: Feastival pot.

Leonardo Ricardo: Feastival pot.

There are times I am astonished at my own greatness.

Isn’t that the most ridiculous line you’ve ever read?

I want this essay to explore what it’s like to wake up one day and find yourself with talent.

A million people have that experience; “Hey, I’m Peyton Manning.” Or Julie Andrews, Barack Obama or Yo-Yo Ma.

Then they get up and go to the bathroom, the same as you or me.

Isn’t life crazy? You’re Frank Lloyd Wright, and then you get up to take a leak.

How do they stay sane? I do not know.

Of course I’m not Julie or Barack or Peyton. I’m not even Leonardo Ricardo, who is a certified genius and all his friends know it.

I’m not Stephen Helmreich. He’s the actual genius I’m closest to, and he’s so much smarter than I am it’s not funny.

But I am Josh, and that is good, and hello, 2013.

Think about “the hardest-working man in show business.” Who is that to you? Sammy Davis, Rich Little? The term has been applied to several performers.

What it actually means is “He’s not that talented, but he uses all he’s got.” They try to express their total admiration, “Look at how good this guy is!”

But “Everyone’s a genius on Skid Row.” A social work supervisor told me that in 1984 at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I didn’t much like her, but I’ve always remembered what she said.

Using what you’ve got, instead of peeing it away, is the name of the game.

“I’m John McEnroe! I’m Diana Butler Bass! I’m (fill in the blank)!”

Fame is public recognition that a person has talent and uses it, in public.

That takes courage, to do your thing in public; Emily Dickinson was very, very lucky. She was private, but she managed to attract a few devotés who loved her poetry and made her well known. Without them, I’d have to come up with a new example for Ms. Dickinson. In her lifetime she wasn’t famous at all.

But a few key people recognized she was a soul of uncommon beauty. So they talked her up and now we know her name.

Fame is happenstance. I bet right now you can name a hundred people in your life who are all-stars.

Few of them are famous, though. The set of people who are {famous} ≠ those who are {talented.}

Fame itself is not a thing one ought to pursue. (Kim Kardashian is pregnant! Who exactly is Kim Kardashian?) The person who is wise as well as talented pursues her talent, not her fame. She can’t help it; Susan Boyle was born with that voice, and she has to sing.

She would die if she could not; the people on Skid Row have voices but prevented themselves from singing.

God makes more talent than “men” make famous.

It’s kind of a scary thing. But then you look at a bowl by Leonardo Ricardo and just go, “Wow.”

How did he do that? And why? “It takes so much patience,” that pointilism of his. He’s in fucking Guatemala; who gets famous in Guatemala? But the place is teeming with talent, apparently.

He doesn’t need to be famous; he’s famous among his friends, and that is good enough.

If someday he becomes actually famous, won’t that be a joy. (Or not; it can go wrong.)

I do not know why I am not famous – except that I come from a particular place, which might as well be Guatemala, and I’ve never pursued fame, especially compared to Kim Kardashian, and “talent” I think probably seeks its own level and finds it.

If, years later, you go back and watch Susan Boyle’s introductory video on “Britain’s Got Talent,” you’ll see that whatever she lacked in looks, she made up for in chutzpah. She walked out on that stage prepared. She knew what her talent was, and that if she could get a chance to sing, she could bring down the house.

They gave her a chance and she brought it down. Instant worldwide fame.

Most of us don’t know what she’s done since, but she’s still got that voice inside her body. She still can make, and always will make, that sound.

I’m no Susan Boyle. I don’t even carry Doug Blanchard’s water. I’m just Josh, and that’s pretty good.

I’m happy with my life, this first day of 2013. I’m singing. It’s what my body needs to do, so I’m doing it.

What prompts these musings? Why am I yammering on here? Several things which fuse in my mind.

• I looked over ten days’ worth of posts from dailyoffice.org. This is the public performance I’m best known for now; Morning and Evening Prayer, plus graphics I select, with an occasional prayer of my own composition. I’m happy with my posts, with the art and little comments. It’s some beautiful stuff, and my site’s had two million visitors. I like what I’ve done, and I’m pleased to have a following. Every day, a thousand people get e-mails with my stuff. It’s mostly about God and not about me, but people sign up because, well, I deliver them God.

Leonardo does too; Stephen and Doug and Diana and Grandmère, Robert and Malcolm and Sara. We all do this; we all deliver God, which is a really fun thing to do.

But the other day some friend of Leilani’s posted a hurtful comment. She re-posts my stuff on Facebook for her followers, but FB gave her trouble with the link, which she mentioned in frustration, and some guy wrote, “Go to Mission St. Clare, it’s much better!”

That’s the competition, and no, it isn’t better. It’s run by a machine and not a person. But it’s good, and I’m happy to acknowledge it – because God is good, who you kiddin’? – and anything or anyone who delivers God is doing right. Still, I wondered if that guy knew how hurtful his Christian comment was. “Josh is bad, St. Clare is much better!”

Oh yeah? Sez who?

• I put out a book last fall, The Gospel According to Gay Guys. It’s extremely long, starts out with graphic Gay sex, and it’s not going to make me famous, but I’m proud of it. It distills everything I think I know.

It’s sold enough to pay my electric bill for a few months, and my genius friend Stephen raved about the first couple of chapters he read before life made him put it down. I was pleased by his excellent reaction.

This book has one reader-review on Amazon. It’s one star; I haven’t read it. I just know the person hated it.

I do have the ability to piss people off. Usually I don’t even know when I’m doing it; I make a simple statement, some truth that is evident to me, but whammo, I’m in big trouble.

The few times that Jack, my late beloved done-me-wrong, raised his voice to me, I rushed to stop what I was doing in the latest pissoff. But I can’t do that with strangers, and even Julie Andrews ain’t gonna win ’em all.

• Some part of me is glad I have that pissoff factor. The same thing led me to march for Stonewall in 1974, when sidewalk gawkers outnumbered Pride participants; in 1980, when I led a student rebellion at college; in 1982, when I founded AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, the world’s second-oldest AIDS services organization. Prophets get stoned; I’m proud of my battle scars.

But I don’t like bad reviews, when I’m trying to deliver you God here.

• I’m engaged today in a mini-debate on The New York Times website. They ran an article about Lincoln and Walt Whitman, part of their Civil War series. I commented on Lincoln’s Gay sensibility, which I see dimly between America’s Poet and America’s President. This got some Likes, as well as a chorus of dissenters. A hundred and fifty years later, after three states have voted in Gay marriage, Lincoln’s hetero defenders still turn out in force. That’s fine, I’m not surprised by this, but it does get old after awhile. I don’t claim the fact that he slept in the same bed as other guys while circuit-riding in the wilderness proves he was Gay; for that I look to his relationship with Whitman, distant but respectful. Those two loved each other, but America still doesn’t want to hear it.

God cannot possibly be Gay.

• But God is Gay to those of us who are, and Straight to those who swing the other way, and female if you need her to be; Jewish, Arab, Christian, Black and utterly Japanese. What else would God be but Black or Japanese?

I do not whine; I’m not famous and never will be. Some people hate my books, my sites and my life. Some people like them, too, and for that I’m very glad. They enable me to keep singing by their belief.

Leonardo, down in volcanic Guatemala, keeps on making his bowls and pots and tables and entire house with pointilistic perfection, and if you ain’t been there it’s your tough luck. His doggies snuggle up; he’s got a Juan Carlos, too. The garden blooms, the feasts get made and he lives happily ever after.

Not famous, just talented. Happy New Year.++

To Luke I'm the center of the universe - or at least the guy with crunch food twice a day.

To Luke I’m the center of the universe – or at least the guy with the food twice a day.

Christmas Is Better When We Keep Advent First

The words of the great Advent hymn tell us plainly: Christ hasn't got here yet.

The words of the great Advent hymn tell us plainly: Christ hasn’t got here yet.

Today is the 3rd day of Advent, the four-week season of preparation before Christmas. I find it’s my favorite time of year.

The best way to observe Advent is to avoid doing Christmasy things before December 24th; and to use the time in other, better ways.

This isn’t easy in the United States, or people think it isn’t; they feel an invisible pressure to run around and buy things, or go to Christmas/”holiday” parties, and generally be in a rush to “get everything ready.” Meanwhile they’re not getting ready on the inside, only on the outside.

This is mostly because of television, the great amplifier of commerce. But Christmas isn’t about commerce, it’s about the birth of a Savior.

Babies come when they get here, and no amount of preparation truly gets us ready. So why are we kidding ourselves? (Because somebody can make money by stoking our anxieties, then seeming to offer relief in exchange for money.)

I don’t watch TV; I gave mine away. That by itself eases the pressure by 90%. I take Advent at a slow, relaxed pace that allows me to think and feel.

I feel sorry for people who run around this time of year. I want to tell them, “You’ve got plenty of time!” But they don’t see it that way.

I wouldn’t be caught dead going shopping on Black Friday. Some people do wind up dead that day, trampled to death at Walmart. What a wonderful Christmas their survivors must have, thinking about the big-screen TV that never came home.

The world is upside down. That’s the Bible message in a nutshell; how we live is completely screwed up.

This hasn’t changed since the Scriptures began to be written down at the dawn of history. Everything we think is important is actually trivial; the things we take for granted are the most important of all.

People don’t want to hear this now anymore than they did 6000 years ago. Still, some of us persist in broadcasting the message, or at least trying to live by it.

I can’t make people stay home on Black Friday. All I can do is to stay home myself, and do something thoughtful and fun.

AdventLighting

I always start with an Advent wreath, which is just some evergreens arranged in a circle with four candles to light, one for each week until Christmas gets here. It helps us to mark the passage of time – and not get ahead of ourselves. That’s the temptation in December, always to get ahead of ourselves. The Advent wreath reminds us not to do that. Expectant parents don’t start the party until the baby gets here. Then it’s time to break out the gifts and have a feast. But not before.

The last few years I’ve had to make my own wreaths. I have a circular frame, arrange greenery around it and stick four candles in their holes. Make dinner, put the food on the table, light the candle(s), say the Collect of the Day, then eat. In the Gospel stories Jesus was always eating with his friends; they were a hungry bunch.

The wreath, and the waiting it enables, gives me the annual structure of Advent. I do the same thing with it every year. But I also do something different every year, because I’m not in the same mental place as before. Advent 2012 is new this year, and I want to be aware of what here and now is like. My circumstances have changed, so I ask myself what feels right for now?

This year I am writing, and publishing on my prayer sites visited by millions all over the world, a short, simple prayer for every weekday of Advent. I got the inspiration this year from seeing a photo on Facebook of my friend Cresta’s little boys making homemade Christmas decorations. This brought back memories; when I was a child everybody made little items to decorate their tree. Before there was plastic tinsel manufactured by heathens in China, people used to string together pieces of popcorn and drape that around their tree.

A big needle to pierce the kernels, some yards of thread; baked orange slices and some coarse ribbon - far better than store-bought. (Ladybird Cottage)

A big needle to pierce the kernels, some yards of thread; baked orange slices and some coarse ribbon – far better than store-bought. (Ladybird Cottage)

The Book of Common Prayer, from which I get the content that goes on my prayer sites, does not contain prayers for each of the weekdays of Advent, only for the four Sundays. So here’s tomorrow’s example of my little daily scribbles. You can see it’s just a thought or two.

[A Homemade Prayer for Wednesday of Advent 1
by Josh Thomas

Dear Lord and Friend, this world doesn’t make it easy to keep Advent. We live in a culture where the buildup is more important than the event. But you were a stranger in a strange land too, so help us be cheerful as we go quietly about our lives. Amen.]

My friend Stephen surprised me this year with an animated, online Advent calendar by Jacquie Lawson. Traditional Advent calendars are printed things you buy at the Hallmark store, with little cut-out doors for kids to open, one per day, showing and telling the Christmas story. I don’t have kids, so I don’t do Advent calendars anymore, until now. Ms. Lawson’s little product is a great way to start each day; every one is different. Her theme this year is “Alpine Christmas” and features her familiar dogs, cats and whimsy; she’s not religious because she wants to sell a lot of calendars, but a snowman’s a snowman and you can build your own with a variety of tools she supplies. Today she has a skiing bear who takes a spill at the bottom of the mountain.

I am also doing one other thing this year: I never decorate my house until Christmas Eve. I don’t believe in it; I believe in waiting instead. But this year, in case that feels too rigid, I go down to the basement every morning and pick out one little trinket to display. My house will gradually fill with signs of Christmas until the day finally gets here. On Monday I brought up my Christmas kitchen towels, because Monday is laundry day for me, and today my kitchen counter has a Santa Claus cookie jar right next to the flour and sugar. I am looking forward to finding my downy fawn tabletop, which always goes on an end table in my living room, as well as my miniature trumpet in its little black case, lined with red velvet. Christmas is a time for music, the making and singing of it, not just the listening. I don’t listen to Christmas music until December 24.

Yesterday I went to Murphy’s grocery and got subjected to the Muzak version of “We Three Kings.” Which isn’t even a Christmas song, it’s for Epiphany instead, but nobody knows that anymore except Episcopalians.

I like to host 12th Night parties on the Eve of Epiphany, but I probably won’t do that this year. Do you know what merriment people in England used to have on 12th Night? Jesters, fools, people in drag – like having a Gay bar right in your house!

Cast of "12th Night," Capitol Shakespeare, Bismarck, North Dakota, 2008.

Cast of “12th Night,” Capitol Shakespeare, Bismarck, North Dakota, 2008.

You do whatever feels right to you; my only advice is to think about it and be deliberate. Maybe you’re one of millions who doesn’t like Christmas, religious or secular, because it makes you feel lonely and depressed. (I’ll write an Advent prayer about that, too.) If so, feel free to ignore what the world is doing. Jesus is in favor of taking care of yourself.

But if you love Christmas, as I do – the carols sound so much better when you wait for them and sing them at midnight mass – enjoy this time of year, wherever you find yourself physically and mentally. Christmas practices vary from place to place and person to person. I remember the pleasant shock I felt once, seeing a Gay-themed movie from Australia, which had the characters picking out their Christmas tree in the summertime, with everyone wearing shorts instead of bundled up like we are in the North. If you have a loved one, or several, I visualize you gathered with them, having some wonderful times. If you are alone, and aging like me, you can also enjoy the season, picking and choosing what to participate in and what to pass up.

This year I am glad to be who I am and where I am, safe and warm at home. I find my Christmas is better when I keep Advent first.++

(Kerr Pelto, caligrapher)

(Kerr Pelto, caligrapher)

 

 

I Hate Halloween

Preparing tomorrow’s Daily Office prayers (Oct.31) turned out to be remarkably difficult. In the morning we observe two obscure but noble Asian bishops, Paul Sasaki of Japan and Philip Tsen of China; there’s only one picture of Sasaki on the whole dang internet, and none at all of Tsen. Since I operate a blog called The Daily Office East for the Asia-Pacific region, as well as one for the Western Hemisphere, I can’t ignore these guys. China had a long history of Western missionaries trying to drum up support for Jesus Christ, while the Japanese Anglican church is unique as the first homegrown, indigenous missionary effort, supported by The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England.

I know nothing about these Asian churches except what I read online, so it’s difficult to tailor a “product” for them; the blog is in English, not their native languages, and most of the traffic we get (and it isn’t much) naturally comes from Australia. I’m always on the lookout for art and photographs that depict Asian Christians, but that means relying on Google and Wikipedia in English, both of which leave a lot to be desired. At any rate I finally got Morning Prayer done for East and West (the content is almost identical, but the East is many hours ahead).

Then at night, I have to make a slight nod to secular Halloween, while the Church celebrates the Eve of All Saints (which is what All Hallows’ Eve really is). I have only one great painting of all the saints, by Fra Angelico, which I have to save for the real day on Thursday, plus a dozen pictures of All Saints churches, of which any one will do. Then I’ll run the All Saints’ Day Collect again on Sunday, when most parishes will actually observe the feast day. In My Ideal World™, Episcopalians would actually observe All Saints’ Day like it’s supposed to be done, with a big celebration this Thursday and no concession whatever to ghosties and ghouls, trick-or-treat and Texas chainsaw massacres. I hate what Halloween’s become.

Then there’s what Gay people do to it, which is the most appalling of all.

I’ve never found drag amusing. I don’t oppress the people who engage in it, but it completely leaves me cold.

Halloween turns me into a mean old man, a curmudgeon. I have “no sense of humor.” But I don’t know what’s funny about drag queens, or leathermen wearing eye shadow, or guys going naked in public, or blood-soaked skeletons on the eve of a religious holiday.

I’m not fond of the Mexican Day of the Dead, either – and I don’t think it should be observed in churches.

You can buy “Jesus Malverde,” patron saint of Mexican drug traffickers, right next to conventional Catholic statuary on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York. They’re equally popular, says The New York Times.

All Saints’ Day is one of the highest holy days of the year, according to the Book of Common Prayer, a “principal feast” which takes precedence over any other day or occasion. There are only seven such days, with Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Christmas and the Epiphany. Further, All Saints’ is so important it now has a popular “extension” the next day, called All Souls’ Day, supposedly for unrecognized saints, and more popularly for deceased friends and family, even though the word “saint” means any member of the Christian community, past or present. I’m a saint, you’re a saint, we’re all saints here. But most people don’t see it that way, they think saints are always heroic figures, so now we’ve got an extra day to remember Aunt Gertrude too.

You can tell I lack a sense of humor about this – though when I was a kid we actually did tricks along with our treats, which was great fun, especially for a “nice” little boy like me. In town we “soaped” windows, which meant buying a cheap bar of Ivory soap, then going out at night to rub it on the windows of neighbors’ cars and houses, whether we liked them or not, then running like hell so we didn’t get caught. To little boys, the most fun part was showing that mean old man on the corner what we thought of him.

Now I’m the mean old man. Country kids would knock over neighbors’ outhouses. We’d have done that too, but in town everyone had running water.

Today towns and cities designate a day and an early time frame for kids to go out, invariably with their parents, to beg for tooth-rotting treats. It can’t be nearly as much fun, but everyone’s paranoid these days about apples and Snickers bars with razor blades in them. I doubt anyone ever stuck a razor blade in a Red Delicious, but today you’d get arrested just trying to give a kid a piece of fruit instead of a mound of candy.

So, bottom line, I am old and curmudgeonly, and I’d like to observe All Saints’ Eve and Day in peace.

When I first moved back to smalltown Indiana in 2005, I eagerly bought bags of mini-Snickers and Butterfingers; no one came, leaving me with 80 little candy bars to get rid of. The next year I didn’t buy anything, so kids knocked on my door; I gave them coins instead. Now I just act like nobody’s home. I haven’t had my windows soaped once. You can’t even find a picture of it online.

The idea of a night for adults to dress up, act silly and have fun does appeal to me. But don’t do it on the eve of a holy day, it’s insulting to my religion – even though the Church chose November 1st to be All Saints’ Day deliberately to co-opt and Christianize the old Celtic/Druid festival. It turns out people are more interested in celebrating death than life, which shouldn’t surprise us at all. Now we’re stuck with it and I don’t like it.++

 

But this guy in drag was plenty funny. (Blake Edwards)

Peter and the Blanket: Letter to a Conservative Friend about Same-Sex Marriage

To make the most sense of this you should read Acts 10:9-23, following the link immediately below.

Dear S—,

The pulled Scripture quote for tomorrow’s Morning Prayer is the best explanation I can offer you for why Episcopalians are getting ready to approve liturgies for same-sex marriage next month.

One can argue that in fact it’s no justification at all; we’re aware of that. The quote is sufficiently vague that it can apply to anything.

However, it perfectly matches our experience as a church and denomination. Just as Peter was surprised, we are surprised.

We think it would be good if other churches would listen to our experience. Indeed, the evidence is that many churches are not only listening, but undergoing the same revelatory experience.

We seem to be among the first to receive it in such a widespread fashion; I think that’s because of our democratic governance as well as unshakable faith. We are able, because of the power of laypeople, to enact changes faster than other churches – even though at that, it’s taken us 40 years of study, argument and schism.

I don’t want to discount the leadership of clergy on this issue, but the key thing is that the people in the pews have learned something that we take, in all godly sincerity, to be the Spirit’s ongoing revelation.

After all, the parish clergy are caught in the middle between bishops and laypeople. The bishops’ power to enact change is limited by the other “orders.” They can’t do it by themselves, the priests can’t do it by themselves, so the laypeople are the key.

When the vote is taken, it will no doubt be divided “by orders,” to make sure that all three orders are in agreement. This is a common delaying tactic, but it also has the happy result of affirming, when votes are favorable, the proposed course of action.

The vote will not be unanimous; people have their own minds. There will be a certain amount – less than you might think – of arguing over scripture. “How can you possibly vote for this, when it says right there…”, etc. But that will be over fairly quickly. The voting will proceed, the tallies will be announced, a brief demonstration (joy!) will be allowed, then everyone will adjourn for ten minutes so people can catch their breath and get ready to go back to work.

The vote will make headlines worldwide, and give hope to a persecuted minority in every country, except in Western Europe, where the attitude will be, “Well, they finally got there. How nice.”

The media will then proceed to recount the schism, quoting liberally from Biblical opponents while ignoring the lopsided vote. The end of civilization as we know it will doubtless be invoked, and we’ll have to suffer yet again having our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God publicly questioned, doubted and denounced.

It isn’t easy being Episcopalian, but then again it is. We’re not victims here; we know who the victims are, and they’re not most of the members of the Church.

We find it both amusing and sad that our persecutors loudly bewail their victimhood for not being allowed anymore to brainwash children in America’s public schools, or to fight so hard to make their religion the only one in this country. It never has been; it never will be.

The quote? Acts 10:15:

What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

I write you this out of respect, affection and love, not to change your mind. It’s just a little testimony, that’s all. You’ll hear it again from others; you’re hearing it already.

The question is whether one believes in ongoing revelation, or whether the ancient scriptures are the last word on everything. I don’t know why they would be; they don’t make that claim. Indeed they tell us, “There’s more to know.”

Our solution to the genuine issue of whether to trust claims of ongoing revelation is whether they stand the test of time. If we made a mistake, we’ll correct it.

If we didn’t make a mistake, as God gives us to see the light, we’ll ratify the change, no matter what it costs us.

It becomes a matter of discipleship, of following the Lord’s call. We went through the same thing with women priests, whose service and holy leadership have proven impeccable.

We lost a million members over women priests and civil rights, and we’ll doubtless lose more over this. We’ll also gain new members consistently, from people whose churches drive them crazy and drive them out. People of faith will find us; they always do.

No one worries anymore, as Peter and the early Church did, about foods that are clean and unclean. If it doesn’t make you sick you can eat it. His vision, as a righteous Jew, must have been totally amazing. Revelation always is.

To go from a revelation about food to one about gender and sexuality is even more amazing – because the one thing people cling hardest to is their old notions about sex. It’s ironic, given the history of racism in this country and the world, that we’ve found it easier to give up old ideas about skin color than to change our minds about women and men.

But we live in a time in history when all that’s changing too, and I welcome it with everyone else in my Church. It hasn’t been a century yet since women started to vote – when they could own property and serve on juries. If an heiress married a poor man, he ended up with all her stuff.

That isn’t fair – but God is fair.

Of all the things that can be said about God, that one is obvious; God is perfectly and completely fair.

In fact, God is so fair that when his people the Israelites found themselves oppressed in Egypt, he got them out of it.

When all people were oppressed by sin, he got us out of that too – if we want to go free, by taking on the burdens of others in love.

Episcopalians have learned how loving these Gay and Lesbian people are. We’ve slowly started to take on their burdens in love, when they’ve always been there for the rest of us.

What God has joined together, let no human being tear apart.

Thus it seems right to us to bless their relationships in liturgy, which really means less that we impart a blessing (though we do) than that we recognize the blessing God has given them before we knew it.

If God be for them, who can be against them?

Episcopalians can’t, so next month, we expect to begin to celebrate their blessings.

If we are right, within a century the entire Protesting Church will join us; and if we’re not, I guess we’ll find ourselves alone.

We don’t expect to find ourselves alone.

We expect to continue to prosper in the Lord; God knows we have up to now, or you wouldn’t enjoy our boy choirs so much.

What this all reminds me of is the importance of taking a risk for Christ. The first Twelve sure did, when they had every reason not to.

Peter must have been afraid the day that blanket came down from heaven.

But it wasn’t the first time he’d been afraid either, and the previous times seemed to work out okay.

So he went ahead and met Cornelius’s representatives, and gave them shelter and food.

It is likely, though not certain, that Cornelius was the same centurion who met Christ and asked him to heal his beloved pais.

It is possible, though less certain, that those two were Gay. I don’t care what they tell you in Bible class, the possibility is there.

And if it should be true, which we won’t find out about until after we are dead, then Christ adorned and beautified their relationship just like he did at the wedding at Cana.

So Episcopalians, who are uniquely blessed by maintaining the Catholic religion while curtailing the power of the Bishop of Rome and all bishops, are going to take a risk for Christ. I’m excited; it’s better to take a leap of faith than to cower in doubt and fear.

Everything the human soul longs for lives on the other side of fear.

Our fellow Christians know this, and it’s okay with us if they watch while we leap. Somebody has to take the first jump (and we’re not the first; the United Church of Christ gets their name on the plaque).

The second leap is probably as important as the first; if nobody followed the Congregationalists, then nobody else ever would.

Thank you, S—, for your love and faith in me, knowing as we both do that I’m officially disapproved of by your tradition. You’ve taken your leaps too, and I’m thrilled.

I don’t need you to jump where I jump, or when I jump, or even to jump at all. The fact that you love me when I jump makes me, what, Street Vendor #4? [Her son, recently in a high school theater production.] “It’s not that he did it so well, it’s that he did it at all! And he was rather good, I thought.”

I will always cherish you, and whether we meet in this life or the next, I look forward to it. There’s going to be dancing in heaven that day – as there will be in Indianapolis next month.

Yours,

Josh