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Put Grandmère Mimi among the Wikipedia Notables, Where She Belongs!

It has come to my attention that Wikipedia contains a glaring omission. It has no listing for June Butler, aka “Grandmère Mimi,” among the Notable Natives in its entry for Thibodaux, Louisiana.

WANTED: Suspicion of blogging.

I am sure Jimmy Wales, founder of the free online encyclopedia, never intended such a shameful oversight. Grandmère is a Distinguished Personage in any city – in every city – much less the capital of Lafourche Parish, there on the banks of the bayou.

So I am appealing to all my friends, followers, and my very large Entourage to correct this mistake immediately.

Now the good news is that Mimi’s entourage is even bigger than mine. Yes, that’s hard to believe, but hey, she’s got white hair and looks harmless. But do not be deceived; she’s notorious.

She always returns to the scene of the crime.

For many years Ms. Butler has masterminded a criminal enterprise called The Wounded Bird, from which her influence has spread worldwide. She was among a handful of shadowy operatives who prevented the Church of England from adopting the Anglican Covenant, along with her accomplice, one Jonathan Hagger, who goes by the alias MadPriest. Together these  anarchists have sought to undermine all Anglican Stuffiness and Pretense™,  which is all that keeps those old English bishops from crashing over at the slightest puff of wind.

Ask yourself, people: what institution will she try to topple next? The CIA, the Stock Exchange, the Jane Austen Lending Library & Tourist Trap plc?

Mind you, this so-called Mimi (which in English means, “Me, me!”) got started innocently enough; for years she cultivated her image as a charming, inoffensive Church Lady. But one fateful day, she got introduced to a life of crime, and let it be a lesson to you all. Ms. Butler took her first bribe.

Ten years ago she accepted the offer of a free, all-expenses-paid vacation at a palace in the American Southwest, where she rode around in limousines and ate like a queen – despite knowing that her hosts were charter members of the International Gay Cabal (known to the CIA as the “Gay Agendists”). These subversives succeeded in beginning her conversion to warped ways.

Experienced spies will tell you that everyone can be seduced to The Other Side. For some it’s sex, and for all we know that may have been part of her downfall. But for others, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Those Gay tempters must have taken her to the top of a mountain and shown her, “All this can be yours!”

She signed right on the spot, happily entering a life of sordid degradation.

Within a few years, Ms. Butler published a four-part series called “Confessions of a Recovering Homophobe.” It’s still in print today. Even worse, she began undermining all standards of propriety in the Diocese of Louisiana, particularly concerning a man referred to in official publications as “the practicing homosexual Bishop of New Hampshire.” (Co-conspirators know him only by his code name, “Gene.”)

From there Ms. Butler infiltrated a very popular blog run by one Terry Martin, a purported Episcopal priest using the alias “Father Jake.” This gave her access to a vast worldwide network of radical ne’er-do-wells and brilliant criminal minds, known to occupy key positions in the misty Anglican Mafia. She rose in the organization by mild, reasonable-sounding comments on events in the underground war on the Establishment, and occasional jokes she blamed on the patently fictional “Doug.” Fellow travelers took her to be a sweet, kindly old Southern lady who was no threat to their positions. But the bodies began piling up quickly behind her.

The Bishop of Pittsburgh – disappeared! The Bishop of Fort Worth – kaput! San Joaquin, even Quincy, Illinois, no town was too small to escape her wicked bloodletting. She became the de facto ecclesiastical authority (though she modestly calls herself merely Ordinary) in every section of the country.

And then, my friends, she went after The Mother of Them All – yes, Canterbury itself.

She triumphed a few months ago by reducing the Anglican Communion Office to rubble – though no photographic evidence exists that she actually burned the Anglican Covenant in a pagan ceremony under the ancient fig trees at Lambeth Palace. One source reported that instead of singing the hymn St. Anne, as any proper Anglican would do after burning effigies at the stake, the rebels danced instead to Dixieland jazz, in defiant violation of three known rubrics in the 1662 Prayer Book.

(Another report, since discredited, maintained that while the Covenant remained unlit, Ms. Butler oversaw a deliberate burning of the steak – known as “blackening” in south Louisiana. An eyewitness reported, “That wasn’t beef, ya’ll, that was largemouth bass. Them’s good eatin’.”)

The Foreign Office confirms that Ms. Butler’s passport shows multiple trips between Thibodaux and Heathraux. Her dossier in MI5 is six inches thick.

THEREFORE, as one of the many secret acolytes of our High Priest and Grandmère, and yes, a card-carrying subversive myself, I call upon all hippies and yippes, Gayboys and Dykegrrls, friends and relations, and everyone who knows anyone to join our Amalgamated Queer Entourage and rectify this horrible oversight in Wikipedia at once. Way-farers of the World, Unite!

As they say down in Cajun country, “If Grandmère ain’t Notable, Thibodaux don’t knaux Notable.”++

Treat her nice and she might let you kiss her ring. (revdlesley.wordpress.com)

What Is a Bishop Supposed to Do?

Getting older every day.

Someone on Facebook told me that the Pope popped off at Castel Gandolfo again about how “marriage and the family” must be preserved, and suggested that Gay people are not whole human beings.

Here’s a link. The writing is a bit skewed past the point of logic, trying to reiterate that Benedict is an anti-Gay extremist, but in fact his language is sufficiently moderate to allow for multiple interpretations – if you ignore the giant insult that he’s a human being and I am not. That isn’t Christian, denying another person’s humanity. It is anti-Christian.

Whatever it says on that website above, it’s true that past statements this Pope has made were plenty extreme: the whole world will come to a crashing end if Lesbian and Gay people can get married. Civilization is at stake!

I wish internet reporters would stick close to the facts. The Huffington Post is terrible at this, with yellow-journalism headlines that promise more than they deliver. But HuffPo’s in a battle for clicks, and is every bit as commercial as any other news source; that’s how Arianna makes her money. She’s a nice woman and a talented political analyst, but she sold her soul to the devil a long time ago. Stick to the facts, honey. You don’t need more moolah, you’re already rich. The question is, what about the Pope?

What about this claim that civilization will collapse if Gay people get rights, including the civil right to a civil marriage? Will the world end???

Uh, no. There aren’t enough of us to make the world end.

Nor is current Gay culture so attractive that we’ll make all Straight people turn Gay.

Homosexual behavior is quite attractive, but that’s a different issue than the current low state of Gay culture. And make no mistake, heterosexuality is a very strong attraction too. Billions of people are committed to it; there’s no chance that it will die out, just because a few guys or gals marry each other.

The Pope diminishes his office with this Chicken Little act. The sky is not falling.

God’s principal concern is love, not the birth rate – which is plenty high. In the next century the earth will host another two billion people, thanks to all those heterosexuals parading their nasty bits.

I blame the Pope, but Protestants are just as paranoid about LGBT people. “If we don’t stamp out homosexuals, the whole human race will die!”

It’s nonsense; Straight guys are as obsessed with sex as Gay guys are. And that’s a good thing overall. Gay people aren’t battling for market share, and Straight parents consistently produce millions of Lesbian and Gay kids.

Straight sheep produce Gay lambs; it’s part of the plan – to stop overpopulation.

God’s very smart. S/he really doesn’t want this planet to overheat.

So I can take the Pope’s latest insult with a grain of salt. It isn’t the first time Popes have sought to diminish my humanity or make me a scapegoat. I don’t get angry at Popes anymore. I condemn their latest stupidity, urge people to convert to the Episcopal Church – then ask myself, what are bishops supposed to do?

(In English, the name of the Episcopal Church is “the Church of Bishops.” The Presbyterian Church is “the Church of Priests,” although they’ve gotten so far away from that they’re not priests anymore. These names have to do with governance: who runs the church? In the Episcopal Church, the bishops do, though we’ve put in effective checks and balances. In the Presbyterian church, the presbyters (ordained ministers) do.)

I belong to an Episcopal church; we still have bishops, whose office is much the same as the Pope’s. So I wonder, what is the correct, proper role of a bishop?

Episcopalians elect ours; the Pope appoints his own. That makes us very different, because Episcopal laypeople are in charge of the election. But what is any bishop supposed to do? What exactly is the correct job description?

It’s to be Defenders of the Faith. That is, they are the guardians of the tradition, handed down by Jesus and illustrated in the Bible. It’s a very important job, and as a Christian I want the bishops to perform it. I want the Christ I follow to be the actual Jesus who once walked in Israel.

Defend the faith from all the cultural changes that might alter it. That’s what I want bishops to do; it’s why I support them. Episcopal bishops do defend the faith.

But they also change. And that’s the crucial distinction.

The Pope’s bishops try to prevent all change; Episcopal bishops try to create more of it, for the things that need to change.

We even have a formula for this: “the historic episcopate, adapted to local circumstances.” And the fact we have a Prayer Book to tell us how to perform the sacraments and how to pray guarantees that the essentials don’t change, although the externals might. It’s a good balance.

I am forever wishing that the Episcopal Church would catch up to this century, but in fact we’re open to change. We’re slow, which is in keeping with that competing desire that Jesus doesn’t change; but we eventually kind of catch up to the times – because “the times” matter. People learn things; society develops.

Churches must keep up with the times. They also must consistently deliver the message of Jesus 2000 years ago.

So here I am, a Gay guy in 2012, watching the Pope spout off again, because the new French socialist government is going to legalize Gay marriage, yet I belong to an “episcopal” church run in part by bishops. What is the proper role of these fathers- and mothers-in-God?

It isn’t to prevent all change, as the Popes believe. It’s to find what the essentials of the Christian faith are and hold fast to those, while embracing what humanity has learned in the 2000 years of learning since Jesus walked here.

The Popes say that since Jesus only chose men as his apostles, we can’t have women priests.

Episcopalians call that misogyny, sexism and the oppression of women – which we have slowly learned is offensive to God.

Jesus relied on women constantly; they were his most consistent supporters, spiritually and financially.

They paid his bills, so he could walk around Galilee preaching and healing. The women did the work that allowed Jesus to do the work.

In modern times Episcopalians have found that there is nothing in the nature of priesthood to prevent a woman from being ordained. They’re just as good at it as men are, so the Episcopal Church has ordained women priests since 1974. We have more priests than we know what to do with, because so many men and women love God.

The Pope thinks otherwise and sits around watching his all-male, “celibate” priesthood (it never has been celibate, and never will be) disappear, because he thinks that’s his job.

Roman Catholic women are begging to be ordained; so are married men. The Pope doesn’t give a damn. So the priesthood withers, and here in my Indiana home town, one priest has to serve three parishes.

What do I want bishops to do? What is their actual job?

It’s to preserve the faith while drilling down to the essence of it.

The Pope seems to think male superiority is the essence of it, and I disagree. “In Christ there is no male or female.” Jesus called himself a “mother hen.”

The Pope seems to think heterosexuality is also the essence of it, and again I disagree. Straight people are very, very good at being fruitful and multiplying, which is the Pope’s stated concern. Indeed, they’re too good at it, like rutting deer who destroy state forests.

If Jesus were here today he’d preach at Gay bars. And the Gay people wouldn’t always like what he said, but they’d give him a big listen. He was enormously charismatic, with a physical presence about him as well as a huge spiritual aura.

I want the bishops to preserve the essence of what he said and did and was, while discarding the prejudices of the past. The world was not “created in seven days” –  not even the Genesis writer thought that. What s/he wrote was a meditation on sunrise and sunset, the holiness of the Sabbath (which is why the poem is geared to seven days); the passage of time, the magnificence of God’s creation, and the sacredness of living in the now.

“Wo-man” was not created out of “man.” There is no man without a woman; if you disagree, show me one.

The creation myths are lovely (and true in spiritual ways), but they’re not science. We go on science now, and reinterpret the old myths. They’re quite beautiful, but they’re not the end of the story.

Jesus doesn’t care who you make love to; what he cares about is how you treat that person. That’s what he would say in Gay bars, and that’s why he wouldn’t be entirely popular. There are users in Gay bars and online, and he condemned all who sought power over others.

Meanwhile we’re left with a Pope who says Gay people aren’t really human beings. In the words of Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a woman?” Ain’t I a man, Benny?

Who the hell are you? And why do you besmirch the Christian religion by claiming that some people are not human beings?

The whole point of Christianity is that God loves us so much he became one of us. Don’t deny that, or I will deny you.++

Jesus and Friends; David LaChapelle.

Book Review: “Holy Women, Holy Men”

Like many Episcopalians, I’ve been using Holy Women, Holy Men (2009) for about three years now. It’s a book of saints, major and minor, whose “feast days” are observed every year during the Holy Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer.

The saints range from the world-famous to the truly obscure from the past 2000 years of Christian history. A large percentage lived prior to the Protestant Reformation; others lived through it and after it. They come from many traditions; the Undivided Church prior to the Great Schism of 1054, which split the Church into East and West, Orthodoxy and Catholicism; Episcopalians and other Anglicans; and, for the first time, worthy Baptists, Lutherans, Moravians and others. There are even a few Jews.

Holy Women, Holy Men is an update of prior works called Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The new book’s purpose is to provide a calendar list (which saint goes on what day), along with Bible readings and a prayer known as the Collect of the Day, which mentions the saints and what they are known for; that is, why we observe them. A thumbnail biographical sketch is included on the page opposite the prayer.

HWHM, produced by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, offers a great expansion and diversification of the saints recognized by The Episcopal Church. There are many more women now, including more Americans. The list of saints is also more international than ever and goes beyond a standard collection of Dead White Europeans.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer mentioned 67 saints, but gave no liturgical directions; by 1964 the American Church added a hundred new worthies, each with lessons and a collect. Now HWHM adds another hundred or so, including 20th century Americans like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dorchester Chaplains of World War II, Julia Chester Emery, a great laywoman, and Jonathan Daniels, a seminarian who gave his life in the civil rights movement.

In broad terms this is a successful book; it holds up less well on any given day. After three years of trial use, the Episcopal General Convention decided, based on the Commission’s own request, that it wasn’t ready for prime time, and thus its trial use was continued for three more years in a vote last month.

Some of the saints chosen are controversial; I object to a few of them, for what that’s worth. John Calvin, the theologian of hellfire and damnation, is in there, including his proclamation that all humanity is guilty of “total depravity”; so is Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (She also popularized Thanksgiving Day and helped make it a national holiday.) John Henry Newman gets a day, despite causing all kinds of uproar when he defected from the Church of England to Roman Catholicism – and then arranged to be buried next to his longtime “friend.”

Beyond the question of including or excluding someone, which is bound to be contentious, some people raise objections to the exact phrasing of the prayers; everyone’s a critic in this democratic Church. Some commenters want to substitute other Bible readings that accompany the Eucharist.

The Commission knows its work isn’t done yet, so I give them credit for that.

However, the production of the book itself is almost shocking in its flaws; like the Bible, the Prayer Book has to be letter-perfect, and HWHM, essentially a Prayer Book supplement, is full of typos and other mistakes. Sometimes it doesn’t even spell the saint’s name the same way from one page to the next. I don’t think The Episcopal Church has ever produced a book this sloppy. (I should know, having proofread the Psalms in Authorized Services (1976), the forerunner to the current BCP.)

The worst feature is the inclusion of unrelated saints on the same day. Apparently the Commission intends for some churches to observe one person and not the other, according to local preference. We’ve never had to pick and choose before, and the logic isn’t always obvious. On August 3 there are separate services for George F. Bragg, Jr., an African-American priest and Church historian, and W.E.B. DuBois, the African-American father of sociological science who studied the Black slums of Philadelphia. Could no one figure out a way to combine these two? Which one is a Black parish (or a White one, or any other kind) supposed to choose? They combine them, of course – or leave them both out.

On August 27, we observe two great priests and missionaries to the deaf, Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle—with the latter given the slightly degrading treatment no other saint receives of being merely “with” Gallaudet. Unlike all other clergy whose days are observed, their priesthood is not mentioned in the day’s title; why not?

We have a day for “William F. Mayo, Charles F. Menninger, and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine,” with the years of death of the fathers. The sons aren’t named, nor are their death dates given; are they really included or not? The bio accompanying the day mentions that the Mayos were Episcopalians, but there’s no note at all on Charles Menninger’s faith; his son Karl, who comes up in the sketch but not the title, wrote an influential book, Whatever Became of Sin?, which emphasized holistic healing of body, mind and spirit – but what his old man believed, we’ll never know.

The book is great for including a lot more women than we’ve ever had, but with the simultaneous inclusion of a lot more men, the male-female imbalance hasn’t changed at all.

Beyond all this is the question of how any day can be special if every day is taken up with a saint. At dailyoffice.org, I’ve had to alter my policy on including artworks with Morning and Evening Prayer, to put the emphasis back on Jesus and the other figures of the Bible, so we don’t get caught up in observing every Aelred, Aidan, Alban, Alcuin, Alphege and Anselm that comes along.

The bios are especially problematic, along with the grandiose titles given most saints of the middle and later Church. If someone was a king, an earl or a rich man’s daughter we’re going to hear all about their wealth, prestige and stellar education; apparently the poor don’t have what it takes for sainthood according to this Commission. It’s the worst English class-consciousness I’ve ever seen in an American book. Jon Daniels gets his whole name spelled out like a baptismal certificate, when he was just a young guy in blue jeans.

For a denominaton that is no longer the Church of the Upper Class, that indeed is struggling at times for its ongoing life, the Standing Commission has no clue how to market these people as role models – the principal role of a saint. It’s as if this Commission takes all its meetings at Downton Abbey, while the rest of us carry the tea and pay for the lodgings.

I exaggerate; I know some of the Commission members, who are good people trying to do a difficult job. This book isn’t the only thing they’ve had on their plate; this year they offered, and General Convention approved, rites for same-sex blessings (which aren’t marriages, they hasten to add). There was a little arguing about it but the Convention okayed those new liturgies by a landslide, so the Commission gets kudos for that.

Pushing back final approval of this book was also the right thing to do. It isn’t finished yet, it’s kind of a mess—and we’re not used to that. Millions of people depend on what our official books say, but HWHM isn’t entirely dependable yet.

Let me also give credit to the Commission for engaging the Church and the public in the process of revising the calendar, with all its pitfalls. Anyone can comment on their blog at http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com – and people do. I was able to put the Commission in touch with the descendants of a new saint, Conrad Weiser of Pennsylvania, a colonial diplomat with the Native Americans of the Northeast. I’m proud of that, but find it sad that Weiser’s family, with their own website and frequent reunions, had no idea that TEC was elevating their ancestor, and that the Commission never even looked for his relatives. All it took was a Google search.

I expect better of The Episcopal Church; I expect the best human beings can do, and Holy Women, Holy Men isn’t it. Maybe it will be someday, but it isn’t now.

Howard Galley, General Editor of the Book of Common Prayer (1979), would have made sure it was before it was released, but he isn’t here anymore; I nominate him for sainthood.++

Sometimes saints get added from the ground up, not the Commission down; Thurgood Marshall, an Episcopal layman and the first Black Supreme Court justice, was recognized after his parish in Washington, D.C. began celebrating his life every year and talking up his candidacy. The same thing is now happening for Dr. Pauli Murray, a priest and civil rights leader in North Carolina. The Standing Commission’s guidelines for recognizing sainthood say to wait 50 years after a person’s death, but that didn’t stop Dr. King, Jon Daniels or Justice Marshall.

 

Fundamentalist Chickens Come Home to Roost

A lawyer lays out photos of a child who died at day care, as his father looks on. (Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star)

Here is a sad story, worth telling because one family’s tragedy is directly traceable to America’s so-called culture wars – which have nothing to do with whether you prefer Mozart, Gaughin or Woody Allen. Two parents in Indianapolis took their little boy to day care, just like millions of other parents do every day. Except this time the little boy didn’t come home.

Juan Carlos Cardenas, age 1, wandered off during lunch, but none of the adults noticed. When they finally went looking for him, they found him face down in the baptismal pool. He drowned.

Why was there a baptismal pool at the day care center? Because it was held at a church; specifically the Praise Fellowship Assembly of God.

The newspapers never have said, to my knowledge, how far away the baptismal pool was from the main day care area; or whether the pool was covered with a lid when not in use; or whether he had to climb up to get to the pool; or whether it was sunken into the floor, so that anyone could trip and fall into it; or how long Juan Carlos was gone before the adults noticed and went looking. The Indianapolis Star, whose story this is, has always been vague about the details – except for a very salient fact: day cares aren’t licensed in Indiana if they’re run by churches.

In Indiana church day cares are “registered,” not licensed. They are exempt from all the safety and staffing requirements state government imposes on commercial day cares and secular non-profit versions. The state legislature decided, after pressure from churches, that they didn’t have to comply with the legal requirements. The church-run centers have lower costs that way; the state doesn’t interfere with their “exercise of religion.” Juan Carlos sadly exercised himself all the way to the room with the baptismal pool.

How many staff were on duty that day? The Star doesn’t say, never has. I guess that’s up to the judge to find out, because a lawsuit’s coming – against the Indiana state government.

Thank you, legislators, so much.

By “registering” church day cares instead of licensing them, the state knows that they exist and takes a role in advising churches how a day care should be run. The state can even do inspections – but it can’t force compliance, because that would interfere with “religious freedom” – to run a day care that kills a kid.

But wait, there’s more: it turns out the state legislature decided, faced with the obvious need for more day care facilities, that it would give out vouchers to qualifying families to send their kids to day care – without requiring them to go to a licensed facility. The Cardenas family enrolled their son at the Praise Fellowship.

Thus the state is deeply implicated here, and probably liable to some extent, though a judge will eventually decide. The church itself has already settled with the family – and shut down the day care center by refusing to accept the vouchers anymore. The state didn’t order the shutdown, they left that to the church.

Indiana sent an inspector to examine the facility back in November, four months before little Juan Carlos was drowned. The inspector cited the facility for 18 violations. However, the church was exempt from complying. See how this works?

After the child’s death, the state sent another inspection team, but by then it was too late, and besides, the state couldn’t close what it never licensed to open.

All this so the Assembly of God, and every other congregation like them, could practice its religion.

No doubt they were well-meaning, but that didn’t keep the child safe. He wandered off and nobody noticed, probably because there wasn’t enough staff.

The Star has never said whether the baptismal pool was considered a violation. Pity the poor inspector whose hands were tied by the legislature. She was busy counting the number of marked exits and making sure the applesauce was refrigerated and not expired, but never got trained in what to do about a baptismal pool. Clearly baptism is a religious matter.

A rational state – New York comes to mind – would handle this differently, I suspect. There, if a church wanted to open a day care center, the state would have welcomed them with open arms – and then told them that religion notwithstanding, they had to be licensed. If they got licensed, they would be eligible for the state to send children there and pay for them.

Not in Indiana.

I hope the state pays through the nose for the parents’ loss. I wish, though it will never happen, that the settlement funds had to come out of the salaries of state legislators. They’re the ones who failed the kid by not requiring oversight.

Why did they do it? Because the churches wanted them to, and had a thousand reasons why they couldn’t comply with the regulations. These aren’t just day care centers, but “ministries,” and everyone knows you don’t mess with a ministry, no matter how wacky it is. Indeed, politicians are eager to do everything they can to help out churches – including giving them money to take in kids like Juan Carlos.

The stupidity of all this need barely be mentioned. A child is dead and politicians killed him. They didn’t mean to, the kid just wandered off.

Surely however we can see many connections between religion, politics and the nation’s problems. Are you worried about the budget deficit? Try paying for your wars next time. Whose wars? George W. Bush’s, the Lord’s Anointed. That’s what the Fundamentalists said; by invading Iraq, Bush was going to remake the Middle East, guarantee Israel’s safety and thereby usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

I’m still waiting.

We could make long lists of the failed promises and lies of Fundamentalist preachers and politicians, but instead let’s ask another question: why and how did mainline Protestants let these goons take over in the first place?

Or: how are Episcopalians responsible for the wholesale theft of the Christian religion?

Fundamentalism is a 20th century movement, and its roots go back to developments in the 19th century, a period of great scholarly ferment among theologians. New methods of Biblical “criticism” arose, and many reactionary Christian leaders became alarmed. They launched a movement to stress the “fundamentals,” no matter what discoveries scholars made about the texts.

They decided to take over Protestant Christianity – and they did it, because Episcopalians didn’t want to dirty themselves fighting back.

They decided to write papers instead, and become even more scholarly. To the triumphant Fundamentalists, it meant God slew all the Amalekites. Piece of cake, really.

Now a hundred years later we are living with the results – when we’re not dying from them, like Juan Carlos Cardenas.

Does anyone realize how many state legislatures, like Indiana’s, Fundamentalist Christians now control?

Here’s a map of the 2004 presidential election results, which I submit as a proxy to answer the question. St. George the Bush won, of course.

It’s a vast swath of the United States.

But maybe you’d rather look at it by population; we’ve got a map for that too. This map is called a cartogram.

2004 presidential results, weighted by population.

 

That looks a little better perhaps and helps reveal the closeness of the popular vote and Electoral College. But it doesn’t do Juan Carlos or his parents one bit of good in little red Indiana, or a pregnant rape victim any good in Todd Akin’s Missouri.

God help you if you’re a Muslim in Murfreesboro, Tennessee or a Gay kid in Casper, Wyoming.

The unwillingness to fight of Episcopalians and others these past hundred years has real consequences. If the questions were only theological they wouldn’t matter so much. But Fundamentalist Christians want to make themselves the Established Church in the United States, and every other country they can get.

Christian Fundamentalists act just like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the “ultra-orthodox” in Israel. They want to control everything and everybody, and they’ll happily use war to get it.

It’s that last part that freaked out the Episcopalians so much and paralyzed them. “These people are warlike!”

Well, d-uh. Memo to theologians and bishops: there’s no sense arguing when your enemy’s got a gun in his hand.

So they surrendered. They won’t admit that’s what they did, but the evidence is all around us.

Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri who’s “no abortion, no exceptions,” would have told my grandmother, “We don’t care if this pregnancy will kill you. Your maybe-baby is more important than you are.”

(My grandmother did die in childbirth. If she’d had a safe, legal abortion, I wouldn’t be here – and I still think she should have had a choice.)

As I consider my own Church, and how willfully useless it’s been in fighting for an accurate, balanced, faithful and intellectually respectable Christianity, I think back to the great heroes and heroines of the faith, who were never afraid to fight back. Our calendar of saints is filled with intrepid fighters, who didn’t shed blood but gave their lives combating heresy and preaching what the Church calls “pure doctrine.” We celebrate these people every day and every year. What made us so wimpy when challenged in our own time?

We’ll never fully know, and can’t turn back the clock, but here’s the good news: Fundamentalism can still be defeated, if we’ll take up the tools at hand and fight for the full, entire faith – including its nuances, doubts and contradictions too. I give credit to the 20th century bishops and theologians, they preserved and enhanced the faith for those of us inside the walls. That’s no small achievement. But it doesn’t bring back that little boy, either.

Fundamentalists don’t like the truth, and are afraid of it, so they rely on lies. This is a position of great weakness, because the truth can beat them every time, and the keyboard is mightier than the sword. Mine isn’t, but ours are; Leonardo Ricardo has pointed out the similarity between the Arab Spring and America’s future choices if the Fundamentalist-Tea Party-Republicans succeed this fall. We are not powerless, no matter how many billionaires line up for Romney. If the Assembly of God takes over the government, Americans won’t like it one bit. (In many places, when Fundamentalists have taken over the school board in one election, they’re thrown out the next. Even Kansas finally got rid of its militant anti-abortion attorney general once they saw what he was like.)

No side will ever win a complete victory. But we have power if only we’ll use it.

My hope for the Episcopal Church is that the next time we elect a Presiding Bishop, we’ll pick one who isn’t afraid to fight for the truth. Jesus doesn’t care if two men or two women get married, but he cares very much about how we treat women – children – the poor – the elderly – the sick – the homeless – the oppressed. Since Fundamentalists are intent on marginalizing powerless people, we can count on having his power on our side.++

Valentin de Boulogne, c. 1618: Take That, Goldman Sachs!

 

 

The Gospel According to Gay Guys

13th century Russian icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus; graphic design by Peter Schröder Studio, Amsterdam.

My third novel was published yesterday and is now on sale as an e-book at Amazon, in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

You can read it on all Kindle formats, iPhone and iPad, as well as desktop computers with a free downloadable Kindle app; link below.

Other formats will be rolled out soon, along with more stores.

My book’s as long as the Bible – but much more entertaining. It reads fast and has comedy too. At $6.99 it’s only a penny a page. (Although there’s really no such thing as a “page” in an e-book, since readers can change the text size to whatever they want.)

I’ll tell you a secret: it’s really a Gospel for Gay Guys. I stole “according to” from someone else’s work.

Three of the chapters are sexually explicit. My friend Leonardo is going to blush. He may even walk away from it for awhile, but I bet he comes back to find out what happens next.

It’s got four-letter words, because that’s how guys like us talk. I wrote it in the vernacular. Maybe it would sell better if I’d told Peter to label it “Vulgate Edition.”

But it’s good news for every Gay guy who ever loved God.

I have no idea what reaction I’ll get from women. They were 50% of the audience for Murder at Willow Slough (2001), the book that introduced these characters, Jamie and Kent. Women loved that book; some of them will like this too, but it is a grown-up story. Slough contained no sex; this book makes up for lost time.

Here’s the official pitch from the Amazon sales page:

Kent is a cop, Jamie is a reporter; they fell in love three months ago while working on a serial murder case, and now they’ve come to the end of their first date. They want to make sure their relationship lasts, but they are babes in the woods and the forest is scary. They have to face their dangers and fears, separately and together.

Their challenges range from a drive-by shooting in Murder City USA to a seductive waiter at a resort hotel, but their worst difficulties are close to home: family expectations, health issues, money concerns, sexual styles. And “what are you going to do about kids, anyway?”

Jamie keeps getting attacked by creatures out to kill him, and Kent’s never around when he needs him. They move into a weird old mansion and suddenly a 10-year-old boy disappears.

They treat each other tenderly, but what they don’t say matters as much as what they do.

The Gospel According to Gay Guys is a romance, a murder mystery, an epic family history. It’s the story of one man coming to faith, and two men making a marriage.

Does God love Gay guys? Absolutely – including, and within, their sexuality.

The Church has always taught that within marriage, sex is sacramental. So the book’s got a couple of communion times in it.

Last month the Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriage rites. It’s local option, so they won’t take place all over the country right at first, but in marriage equality states, local priests will be able to sign our civil licenses, the same as they do for Straight couples.

The Episcopal Church has given GLBT Christians everything we want: our own bishops and priests, marriage, non-discrimination, full respect. That’s great news.

Sure, it took a long time, about 40 years, but as God measures time, this was an eye-blink.

The message of the book is this: we’re free to come back to church now. The Episcopal Church Welcomes Us.

Episcopalians aren’t being trendy, they’re being faithful. God wants LGBTs in church, so Episcopalians have thrown the doors open.

There are other good, welcoming churches of all denominations, on every continent. Whatever church you grew up in or used to go to, you can probably find an accepting community.

I make a case that the Episcopal Church is ideal for Gay people because it’s both Protestant and Catholic, but also that no one should tell you how to think. Go where you’re comfortable; go where you find God in the church’s midst.

My biggest target audience is GLBT Christians raised in the faith, who left because of Pat Robertson and the Pope. Churches have been full of anti-Gay hatred for as long as most of us have been alive. I left too; I don’t blame you.

But times are changing, and churches are, too.

Find yourself a good faith community, test it and join it. It’s much easier to encounter God with other people around. Yes, you can worship on a mountaintop or in the woods, but let’s face it, you don’t do that very often. The community has a purpose: mutual teaching, mutual support.

And it welcomes people with no religious background at all. When we first meet Kent Kessler, his faith is as vague as can be. He doesn’t know much, he’s never examined the claims Christians make for Jesus, and his life is okay without asking about him. He goes to church because his family does, but he just never thought much about it.

I hope Gay guys can still listen when God calls.

But the book doesn’t preach, it tells a story: here’s what happened after these guys fell in love.

Genuine romance changes lives. So does real friendship. We’re never the same. We’re better off for knowing someone and trusting them with our inner selves, the way we really are.

I’ve loved several Gay guys, and they’ve loved me. So this is what I’ve learned from them; God is there inside our love.

Physically, spiritually, emotionally – in every way, God is right there.

I’ll end now with a final observation. Maybe you already know God loves you. I hope you do; it means you’re one of his.

But few of us perceive the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us. It includes all the things about yourself you hate.

Gay guys have been taught to hate ourselves, and nearly all of us still do, deep down inside. The most homophobic people on the planet aren’t Christians, but Gay guys. “Religious people” have taught us how to do this, but we’re the ones who absorbed the lessons down to the core of our being, where our sexuality is located.

But The Gospel According to Gay Guys argues that Gay liberation began with Jesus Christ. There were these two guys living together, see…

You heard it here first. The idea isn’t original with me, but nobody tells the story like I do.

It takes a Gay guy to tell it; someone who isn’t academic, and whose job doesn’t depend on pleasing anyone else. Chances are your parish priest could tell it, but s/he doesn’t.

I’m the one who’s free to go for broke. So in this book, I do.

If that isn’t worth $6.99, go to the movies or buy yourself another drink. All I can do is tell you the truth; from here on it’s up to you.

You can download it here.

Whatever mistakes are in the book I’m responsible for. Whatever’s true about it the Holy Spirit wrote.++

Tom of Finland. I so wanted this for my cover art, but the Peter Schröder Studio had a better idea; saints first, studs second.

 

 

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

We Are the Madding Crowd

One of the weird-but-nice things about my online congregation is how incredibly diverse we are.

The same thing happens to every other vicar. I wonder how they manage it; some days I wonder how I do.

I’ve got an anti-abortion state rep from Oklahoma following me; she used to be with NARAL. But most of my followers are pro-choice, as I am; I’m opposed to abortion as a general principle, but I want it to be legal – because women have always sought it, in every time and place, and I want them to be safe.

My mother considered aborting my brother. I’m glad she didn’t, but when she explained her reasons I could well understand. She was afraid my dad would kill her, which was a constant threat we lived with for 25 years.

Why men blame women for getting pregnant is beyond me; it does take two to tango.

The fortunate news for me is that the Daily Office is really not concerned with abortion, but the simple-complex praise of God. The prayer service is mostly Bible with an added theme or two, and Holy Scripture doesn’t address abortion, unless (like the Vatican) you stretch “Be fruitful and multiply” beyond all recognition. Thus I can happily welcome this Oklahoma woman, who has obviously been wrestling with herself on the subject for years. I’m glad she comes sometimes; she helps me by her presence to remember that “my ways are not your ways, nor are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”

I mean, Josh’s opinion is not authoritative on anything. I might like it to be, but then, you know, I do prattle on. (And here you are, reading more of my prattle.)

Who isn’t pro-life? We’re all pro-life. And we should be; I certainly don’t want fetuses aborted for being Gay. I don’t want them aborted at all, if a woman can avoid it.

But I grew up with my dad, and I’ve seen how violent some men are. So I don’t like abortion, but don’t you dare send my mother to a back alley; Don’t You Even Dare.

That prayer site gets Protestants and Catholics; being an Episcopalian, I swing both ways. Some days I’m a total Catholic; but then Maureen Dowd writes another column (like yesterday’s), wondering why her church is so out of touch and out of date, and I want to shout, “The Protesters were right!”

She never seems to grasp why there was a Protestant Reform-ation. I guess if you go to Catholic school, the nuns just brush right over it.

(Of course there aren’t really nuns anymore in Catholic schools; the pope’s doing his best to get rid of them all. They don’t worry enough about abortion and homosexuality, he says. They’re too worried about the poor.)

But there’s poor Maureen, trying to make sense of her Church again, invoking JFK and Vatican II for the umpteenth time, like they were going to solve the structural problems inherent in the Church According to Rome.

If you set up a dictatorship, it means you follow the dictator. I don’t cry for you, Argentina.

They want married priests now; they’re right about it, though they happen to be 500 years late. They want women priests too, and they’re right about that; but not in your lifetime, Maureen. Wait a few centuries, then maybe.

Otherwise I’m all for mainstream Catholic theology. It’s beautiful, it’s gorgeous, it’s ennobling; it makes us better people.

Just leave out the sex, because they’re all screwed up about that.

I am Protestant and Catholic; that’s what’s unique about the English Reformation. The way we got here was bloody awful, but as a 21st century American I couldn’t be happier with my Church.

We have a woman Presiding Bishop. I don’t like her – she’s cold, political, calculating – but I thank God for her. Maybe she’ll wind up in a BBC mini-series someday, if the Brits can ever get past their own navel-gazing. She could give Tom Becket a run for his money (especially if Judi Densch gets the starring role).

She wears the worst robes you’ve ever seen; never was a woman more desperate for Gay advice. –> But she isn’t about the clothes, and I am very grateful to belong to a church whose male bishops voted in a woman to preside over them. Those men are living out their faith like no men ever have, and I’m in awe of all of them (while taking an appropriately skeptical view of their various pronouncements). This woman is a saint, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t like her. Katharine Jefferts-Schori is my Presiding Bishop.

My congregation reflects the democracy of the internet. We’re pro-Gay and anti-, Catholic and Protestant, Pentecostal and Baptist, American and Filipino.

This is the mind-blowing legacy of Thomas Cranmer, an English Catholic (married) priest who boiled the seven-times-a-day prayers of monastic life into a twice-daily discipline that ordinary people can follow. It’s almost all Bible; you can’t go wrong.

No controversy.

I don’t get why everyone’s not Episcopalian. It’s the only church on earth that makes any sense!

(Of course, it’s very English, and yes, that causes problems, and it’s this too much and it’s that too little. It has a million problems. – But not the essential ones: popes going off half-cocked or TV preachers building cults of personality. Prosperity Gospel? You’ve got to be kidding me.)

Meanwhile I’ve got business executives who come to the site, and ministers with outreach to the homeless. I depend on them, and they depend on me.

I’ve got Gay people and Straight people; neo-cons and Marxists. We’re all just trying to get by; to invite into our lives a little solace, a little strength, a little holiness – because we need it; because we’re sinners. Because we’re loved.

God’s love knows no bounds – and that includes insurance guys, radical feminists, the whole conglomeration of humanity.

I struggle to respond to them sometimes. I worry that my words carry too much weight, that the choices I make (especially in the art and captions) don’t reflect them accurately, don’t nourish them enough, don’t enable them to worship together with people who aren’t like them at all.

I worry it’s a cult of personality. I know there are people who come because I write it.

I want to have fans, but Jesus is the One who matters, not me.

So I can get confused. For example: I have no doubt Barack Obama will win the Episcopalian vote. (That woman PB tells you all you need to know, without dictating a single vote. As a Church, we’re feminists; that’s our moral stance. We’re pro-Gay and pro-choice and we even collect rainwater from downspouts, which is really ridiculous where I live, 75 miles south of the Great Lakes.)

But it may well be that some percentage of my congregation sincerely believes, as a matter of moral conviction, that Mitt Romney is the better choice for president, and I have to respect that.

I cannot follow their reasoning, but if the Daily Office is really for everybody, I have to be welcoming to everybody.

Sometimes this becomes a great challenge; I couldn’t begin to tell you what a rector goes through, dealing with a swath of humanity.

I’m not wise enough to know how to be Jesus. All I can be is Josh, who is no one to take dictation from.

The good news of course is that I don’t have to be Jesus, and I wasn’t put here for this purpose. All God ever asks of me is to be Josh; a better Josh than I am, but “Josh” is good enough. When you love someone, you don’t repeal their very nature; I can’t say “God loves you” unless that applies to me too.

God is infinitely respectful of our unique personalities. The same God who loves me loves you – and the banker, the tailor, the candlestick maker.

I wish I were a better vicar, but I’m not going to beat myself up. We’re all doing the best we can here.

So as I reflect on the burdens and joys of being Episcopalian, someone Catholic and Protestant both, this is the best I can come up with for now: if God loves him and her and him, then I have to learn how, too.

“How” is another matter; I couldn’t begin to tell you how, unless it’s by listening, and respecting, and allowing, and forgiving. Wide latitude is what my Church preaches, even if I sometimes wish it wouldn’t.

I’ve lately declared that dailyoffice.org is a Safe Place for GLBT people; no homophobic comments allowed. (Very few were offered, but there are trolls in this internet universe). My particular gift, I think, or mission or calling, is inviting Gay people back to church. That’s what I want, for Gay-Les-Bi-Trans people to feel safe enough to meet the Living God.

In a way that’s all I want. Just meet him-or-her, and be safe. She can take it from there. (And she doesn’t depend on me to issue the invitation.)

But I also have to be open to people who are in a different place. We don’t all get hit with the Gay Lib Bolt of Lightning; it comes and goes.

I had a chance recently to engage with the mother of a Gay son; she’s come a long way and favors same-sex marriage, although she can’t get past her interpretation of the hammer verses.

We ended up deciding that we could take Communion together, which is the sine qua non of Christian life.

God doesn’t require us to agree; we can be both Protestant and Catholic. We can be neither or both or whatever we want; that’s just theology, which is really not uppermost in God’s mind.

Who eats together? That’s what she cares about.

Because that’s where the healing happens, where love can start to flower; I see you, and you see me, and we can be at peace with one another. That’s what God cares about.

Because she knows that when people eat together, we come away feeling satisfied. We’re at peace; we don’t fight.

The whole of the Christian religion is there in the meal; that’s why the Catholics are right. Jesus said, “Do this,” and he didn’t say, “Once a month, or once a quarter, or once a year, or once a lifetime, or if you feel like it, or if you don’t.” He said, “Do this.” I take that as a commandment.

If you get bread and wine you’re good to go.

So help me, Lord, I don’t know how to deal with these insurance people! Republicans! Capitalists! They’re everywhere! Some of them are even Gay-bashers, which really ticks me off! At least they vote for people who are!

God does not approve of bashers. Beyond that, we need to learn to get along.++