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Peak Spiritual Experience Isn’t Easy

dawn-28mfdrt

Yesterday’s Daily Office webcast was so enthralling I had to shut down for today; we may never reach those heights again.

It wasn’t my doing, but the music of Merbecke, Byrd & Tallis, the 3 Great Musicians. People even stayed 20 more minutes for the Vaughan Williams recital, they didn’t want to leave.

Yeah, I picked out the clips, so two bits for Josh… but having entered into that holy space, and knowing that I can’t reproduce it every day (wasn’t me, it was Mr. Big), I had to retire so we could get back to earth. I can’t further explain, but I had no spirit left.

Better to take the weekend off, and come back strong on Monday.

Terrible way to run a railroad, maybe, but I’m sure it’s right. We are not a bunch of cars on a fixed track, going here-there, here-there.

We hit the sun yesterday, and the only thing I know to do is to sit quietly this morning. The few who witnessed it I think will know why. They couldn’t stand it if we hit the sun again; they need some time to absorb it and just get back to normal. Have a piece of pie, pat the dog, get their bearings again.

We thought we saw God, and man, that isn’t easy. Don’t know what Moses went through after the Burning Bush, but in my world it’s major freakout time. Gather with friends, hold the puppy, allow it to happen – and go to work on Monday.++

Internal Dialogue: Little Tommy & Big Josh

This morning Marcia, my spiritual director, sent me this quote from Hannah Whitall Smith’s A Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.

 
“A Christian who was in a great deal of trouble was recounting to another the various efforts he had made to find deliverance, and concluded by saying, ‘But it has all been in vain, and there is 
literally nothing left for me to do now but to trust the Lord.’
  
 
‘Alas!’ exclaimed his friend in a tone of the deepest commiseration, as though no greater risk were possible, – ‘Alas! has it come to that!’ “

 

Marcia is hoping this bit of humor helps me, based on a phone conversation we had last night.

We have established by now that I have a great deal of trouble with St. Julian’s ideal of our soul’s being “one’d” to God.

Intellectually I’m all for it. But emotionally I invariably get anxious when the Holy Spirit invites me to get closer. I have a recurrent dream in which Christ stands inside a beautiful blue cave, with his hand outstretched, inviting me in.

The first time I dreamed this, I came close to the edge of the cave, saw that there was a little ledge to step over, and took one step inside before I ran away/woke up.

The second time, I took three steps inside, but no farther.

Then last week, when I was working on a new idea for webcasting Morning Prayer five days a week, which might really grow my website dailyoffice.org even more than its current 2.5 million hits, I got both excited and scared. So I called Marcia, and we talked last night.

She suggested that I try having a conversation with my childhood self; I’ll call us Big Josh and Little Tommy.

I have a photograph of him on my desk, taken by my grandfather when I was about 4. My parents had just driven from our home in north central Ohio to my grandparents’ house in Northwest Indiana. I was so glad to be out of the car that I ran around the outside of the house 3 times, then crouched down in the front yard, watching these people, waiting for what would happen next.

This was apparently remarkable enough that Granddad went to the house, got his camera, fiddled with the gear, came outside and took a snapshot. In the time it took to do all that I hadn’t moved.

In the photo Little Tommy doesn’t smile. It’s summer, obviously, because he’s wearing short pants overalls and no shirt; big head, big eyes, big ears, button nose, little mouth, short blond hair. His forearms are on his knees and he holds his hands together. All he does is watch for what happens next.

He looks anxious. That may be because of how he’s wired, but he’s also afraid of his dad.

One would think that the ultimate reassurance for a scared little boy is the protection of Christ himself. But that’s intellect talking.

This boy doesn’t trust.

I do, but he doesn’t. And when I get excited/scared about the most important relationship in my life, he runs the show. I have the dreams, but he’s the one who runs away/wakes up.

So, I told Marcia, this kid’s kinda messing up my life. She said, Talk to him about it. Then listen when he answers back. (Be both sides of yourself, like gestalt therapy’s “empty chair” technique.)

I didn’t do it right away. I’m trying to do it now.

Josh: I love you, little boy.

Tommy: I love you too. Gee, am I gonna look like you when I grow up?

Josh: Well, when you’re 62, yes. Sorry! I was cute when I was younger!

Tommy: That’s okay, I guess.

Josh: Do you know why I keep your picture in my bedroom-office?

Tommy: No.

Josh: To remind myself. You are me and I am you.

Tommy: I don’t understand.

Josh: That’s okay. You will someday. The thing is, child, your fears keep holding me back from getting closer to God.

Tommy: I don’t mean to.

Josh: I know. It’s my fault in a way, not yours. You were right to be scared then.

(No reply.)

Josh: My fear of the blue cave is that once I go inside, I’ll get lost and never come out.

Tommy: I’ve never been in a cave.

Josh: I have; a guide was with us. And there were lights inside, steps, a path. And signs, “This way out.”

Tommy: That would be good.

Josh: In another part of that cave, there were thousands of bats!

Tommy (covering his eyes): Ooh!

Josh: I know. I still don’t like bats much, but these were good bats. We sat and watched them fly around, while a hunky Park Ranger told us all about them.

Tommy: I don’t know that word hunky.

Josh: You will, buddy. I guess the point is that sometimes we get afraid when we don’t have to. When we’re with someone who’s safe and knows about bats, we don’t get so scared.

Tommy: Like a friend?

Josh: Yes, a friend.

Tommy: I don’t have any friends, I don’t think.

Josh: No. Which makes you twice as scared. But it’s all right. I’m your friend now. Will you be mine?

Tommy: I guess so.

Josh: I don’t want you to ever be afraid, baby. I want to hold you and love you and keep you from being afraid.

Tommy: Nobody holds me.

Josh: I know. But someday you’ll meet people who will.

(No reply.)

Josh: When you grow up you’ll get really good at taking a risk. Even when you’re afraid.

Tommy: How will that happen?

Josh: Some very nice people will teach you that being afraid prevents you from getting something you want a lot. And you want that thing so much, you’ll decide to try it in case they’re right. Because you know you won’t get what you want if you don’t try.

Tommy: What is it I want that time?

Josh: You want to help other people, at a place called the Crisis Center. Those adults run the Crisis Center, but they won’t let you work there if you can’t take a risk, and be honest and open. Which isn’t as hard as it seems, but you have to be willing to try it. Since you already know what it’s like to hurt so bad, like the people who need the Crisis Center hurt, you decide to do what your adult friends are telling you to do. It turns out great, baby. You change overnight, and become an open, honest person. The whole world opens up for you, because you took a risk to try and be like what they said.

Tommy: Gee.

Josh: That’s how you started making friends, and helping people. And they helped you too; they liked you, they loved you, they held you.

Tommy: Does it take a long time?

Josh: To a kid, yes. It takes surviving, first of all, which you’ll turn out to be good at. See, I’ve always kept you with me. I am still that child you are. You’re the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten.

Tommy: I like you.

Josh: I’ve always kept you safe, baby. We’ll always be together.

Tommy: That might be nice.

Josh: Now we’ve got to see what’s inside that cave, ’cause Jesus asked us to come in and explore it with him. He won’t let us get lost, baby. He always finds us and brings us back. And it’s this really beautiful cave, I’ve seen the inside of it. A little; but I want you to come with us. If you don’t come, I’ll never get to see all of it.

(Tommy thinks about this.)

Josh: I won’t make you. But Jesus is the one who will hold you forever, and keep you safe and warm.

Tommy: I don’t like being cold.

Josh (smiling): I know, baby. I don’t like it either. But we’ll be safe and warm with him. And we’ll see all these beautiful sights!

Tommy: Will we ever get to come back home?

Josh: Yes. Although Marcia says we won’t be the same as we were before. We’ll be better than we used to be, before we took the chance. Would you like to see a picture of this cave?

Tommy (nodding up and down): Yes!

Josh: Here it is, then. What do you think?

blue-cave

Courtesy of

bluecavejohnsparacio

blue_cave_walls

Tommy: It’s pretty!

Josh: Let’s go, baby. Hold my hand, okay?

Tommy: Okay. What if we get lost?

Josh: Stop trying to control everything. You trust me, I trust Jesus, we’ll be all right.

Lord, we’re ready. Keep the lights on for us; show us some of that pretty stuff you’ve got.

Jesus: Hey, guys! Nice you finally showed up.

Tommy: Don’t blame me, I’m just a little kid!++

 

 

Over the River and Into Default

Turkey

To Grandmother’s house we go!

Actually, I wish we could go to Grandma’s, because she had common sense, unlike anyone in the House GOP caucus.

My grandparents, born 1892 and 1897, taught me a lot about coping with life’s problems. Principle #1: you’ve got to eat. Crises can happen, and when they disrupt your routines, go back to your routine. Get some food down, you’ll think better.

Principle #2: choose the obvious solution, even if you don’t like it. Not liking it is how you know it’s the right thing to do.

Which brings me to John Boehner. Apparently he didn’t have a grandmother, because he consistently chooses everything but the right thing to do.

So he flails – in public – while we all wonder if he’s going to take down the entire world economy. Which is to say, the standard of living of everyone on earth.

From México to Russia and Greece, the world looks on in shocked disbelief. The New York Times reports other countries are “Viewing U.S. in Fear and Dismay.”

We should take that gavel and knock some sense into John Boehner. (usnews.com)

We should take that gavel and knock some sense into him. (usnews.com)

But thanks to my dad, I’ve seen this act before. It gets old; this is a rerun. The cheap little drama wasn’t entertaining the first time.

So House Republicans are out of control. And Boehner’s the worst of them.

My father got out of control a lot; my grandparents were very experienced at handling a crisis. The first thing was to get him under control. Feed him, then talk some sense into him. Make him do the right, obvious thing.

Because everything he was doing was avoiding the right, obvious thing.

Boehner should, as we all know, reopen the government and raise the debt limit. Put an end to this public spectacle.

(Sidebar: the public spectacle doesn’t bother people who are out of control. What would be mortifying to you or me just seems par for the course to them.)

Flailing

If it means he no longer gets to be Speaker of the House, well, that’s too bad. Unfortunate. Not necessarily his fault entirely. But then again, he’s the one flailing in public.

He’d feel better to just go ahead and do what needs to be done. Afterwards we can talk if he feels like it.

This was my grandparents’ basic solution. I don’t know how they “made” my dad do the right thing most of the time, but they did.

Every time he got in trouble, he ran home. Usually he wanted his parents to bail him out. They did that at first, but over the years they got a little smarter about making him be responsible for himself. He still robbed them blind, though.

I guess John Boehner doesn’t have a home to go to; no Grandma. I’d feel sorry for him, except he’s pathetic.

One excuse after another; “the Tea Party made me do it.” No, they didn’t, John; nobody can make you do anything. Now straighten up and fly right.

He could have been a hero to the American people. Instead he’s sacrificing the whole country so he can keep his title – for another day or week or month.

It’s obvious the Crazy Caucus will cut him loose the minute he no longer suits their purposes.

Yoo-hoo! Yoho, you're a bozo.

Yoo-hoo! Yoho, you’re a bozo.

They’re out to bring down the U.S. government.

It’s no longer about Barack Obama anymore, much less Obamacare. They’ve given up on that entirely. They want to destroy the government, while insisting “this is the greatest country on earth.”

Not without a government, it isn’t.

This is a civil war without shots being fired yet.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, although I wouldn’t put it past them. We’ve seen the Tea Party’s violent tendencies before.

Tea Party rally, August 14, 2010. (therightperspective.com)

Tea Party rally, August 14, 2010. (therightperspective.com)

We saw it in all the furious arguing over “gun rights” last winter. Polls said 90% of Americans support background checks so criminals and crazy people can’t buy guns, but Boehner and the Republicans blocked it – while insisting they were “doing the will of the American people.”

We’ve seen the war on women, including a skirmish yesterday on including a “conscience clause” in the Continuing Resolution to reopen the government, so fundamentalist employers don’t have to pay for birth control under Obamacare.

Birth control! Really?

Birth control is health care. A lot of women take it to regularize their menstrual cycles. Preventing pregnancy is only one reason doctors prescribe the Pill. Every woman’s body is different, and they don’t need politicians telling them what they can and can’t do to take care of themselves.

Abortion is also health care. My other grandmother died the same day she gave birth to my mother. Didn’t Boehner watch “Downton Abbey” last season, when Lady Sybil died? Complications of pregnancy kill women worldwide – and the United States has a shamefully high maternal death rate.

We’ve seen the absolute willingness of fundamentalists to go to war over Gay and Lesbian rights.

Now that they’ve lost in this country, they’re exporting their war on Gays to Africa and Russia.

(The New Civil Rights Movement)

(The New Civil Rights Movement)

Strict Tea Party Libertarians don’t care so much about private sexual issues, but many of the Tea Party politicians are also fundamentalists. Issues get mixed in the spaghetti salads of their minds.

Then there’s the argument about “socialism.” They think Joseph Stalin has come back to life and is occupying the White House.

Ron Paul, of the racist newsletters, gave the keynote speech at the 50th anniversary convention of the John Birch Society. His son Rand Paul had to let go a racist staffer earlier this year.

This is a bloodless civil war. Many issues come together – racism, homophobia, economic decline, failure in Bush’s Wars, immigration, put-upon men crying that women have taken over the world – and now we have a faction trying to take down the U.S. government.

Boehner is James Buchanan, who was President just before Lincoln; a Southern sympathizer and appeaser trying to run out the clock on his term before the great war came.

Lincoln got elected and it came.

America's worst president. Lived for years with his male friend. (Wikipedia)

America’s worst president, Buchanan was a “bachelor” who lived for 14 years with Vice-President Rufus King. Andrew Jackson called them “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy.” (Matthew Brady/Library of Congress via Wikipedia)

These are very bad times. I wish Boehner’s Grandma would slap him upside the head, but no such luck.

I know what my Grandma would do with him. She was an Eisenhower Republican. She lived through the Depression. She believed in paying her bills. She bought U.S. Bonds. She saw my Granddad ship off to World War I and my father fight in World War II. She knew the difference between patriotism and selfishness.

John Boehner and these Republicans are no patriots. He’s willing to screw the whole country so he can keep riding around in his limo.

For what? Another day, another week, another month?

This won’t last. The question is what comes next. It’s going to take all the President’s skill to avoid a bloodletting. Does he have it in him? No one knows.

He’s been strong in this current crisis, and his party is united behind him. But he wasn’t strong the last time, which helped get us into this mess.

He needs to understand this is a fight for the U.S. government. It isn’t about him, even though he’s Black and all that. It’s about government itself, with anarchists the enemy. My advice: don’t heat this cold war into a hot one, but understand we’re in the fight of our lives.

The enemy’s within, and they must be crushed.++

steam_roller

GOP Death Spiral: Gallup Approval at All-Time Low, Boehner “Day to Day” as Speaker

I don't call her a "low-information voter." I call her dumb as fuck.

She’s not a “low-information voter,” she’s dumb as fuck.

I called this death spiral months ago – July 4th, actually; see it here.

Now comes word that the Gallup Poll (one of the most conservative and least accurate) finds that Americans’ approval of the Republican Party is at an all-time low, and favorable ratings for the Tea Party are even worse, thanks to the government shutdown and the “debt ceiling” crisis.

Makes sense; the shutdown threw 800,000 people out of work, while blocking the “legal authority to pay our bills” threatens a worldwide depression. Keep this up and we’ll all be living in tents in the woods, with shotguns to keep away scavengers.

Interest rates will soar, millions won’t have a home anymore; that’s what default would mean. The whole world depends on U.S. currency; even the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The whole world depends on our dollar.

So hey, Americans are no dummies – though often as not, we vote for them.

So poll numbers are dropping, but people are still confused. Listen up: the “debt ceiling” doesn’t allow more debt! It allows us to pay the debts Congress already voted for.

If you don’t like the “debt ceiling,” you don’t like the Congress you voted for. We shouldn’t even have a “debt ceiling” law, it’s only a politician’s cosmetic to cover up how much your Congress has already voted to spend.

If you like Tammy Faye’s eye shadow, you’ll love the debt ceiling.

tammy_faye_gi

In the past few days I’ve heard more TV commentators say “Republican death” out loud. I’m no prophet, and I don’t blame them for being cautious up to now, because the mass media aim for the masses, which mostly want to hear what they’ve already heard. But now, things are starting to change.

However the current mania turns out, we need to keep track of two things: how political parties die, and how they live to fight another day.

America’s Whig Party died because of two mistakes: they took positions Americans repudiated (on slavery; what else). Then the Whigs held a convention and nobody came.

Kablooie!

Today’s Republicans are only at step one. Last week the government shutdown was all to destroy Obamacare, but now it’s not. The Affordable Care Act looks popular, if you judge by web traffic so heavy it caused healthcare.gov to crash. So Rep. John Boehner, the Speaker no one listens to when he speaks, has stopped talking about the healthcare law at all, and now yammers about coaxing the President into a “conversation.”

– Which took place tonight, with no conclusion, because Boehner’s offering was paltry to the point of useless; even if President Obama does negotiate, Boehner can’t deliver his own party’s votes.

There’s no one for Obama to negotiate with; nobody speaks for these Republicans. They’re at war with each other, a mere array of factions. Boehner can’t deliver, Paul Ryan can’t, Eric Cantor, Peter King, Steve King, none of them.

There is no “Republican vote” anymore in the House of Representatives. So six weeks of kick-the-can, even if Boehner could get the votes for it, is pointless. The result is national repudiation – fulfilling one, but only one, of the criteria for killing off a political party.

Republicans still control a majority of governorships and state legislatures. That’s why we keep seeing states passing right-to-work laws, abortion restrictions, voter suppression laws, cutting people off unemployment, defunding public education, closing hospitals, refusing Medicaid expansion and more. Rush Limbaugh’s still on the radio, Fox is still on cable, Republicans still control my county courthouse, and I have no doubt that if someone called a convention, thousands would show up, hoping for “Obama’s a Kenyan” red meat. Killing off a party takes time, even when you’re Bonehead Boehner.

In this leadership vacuum, he’s hanging on as Speaker day-to-day. He has no strategy for how to get out of this, because he never wanted to get into this. But he never had the balls to tell the Tea Party to go to hell.

The biggest component of power is fear. No one on earth is afraid of Boehner.

"Boehner's the sane one?"

“Boehner’s the sane one?”

Meanwhile people suffer, which is why GOP poll numbers drop.

I have no insight into how this all will end, though I dearly hope we don’t go into default and ruin the entire world economy.

Perhaps as a partisan Democrat I should wish for that to happen, because it would surely sound the GOP death knell. But I can’t. I’m an American first and a partisan second; I’m a world citizen and I don’t want more people to suffer.

If we default it would mark the end of the American Empire. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want us to prove we are ungovernable, so I’m hoping the GOP splits up and the President comes out on top.

He’s a good man, though his policies are often deeply flawed. I trust him; I feel like I know his heart.

He’s a patriot; John Boehner is not. None of the Republicans are anymore; they’re willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States, when after Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s all we’ve got.

Boehner’s sole motivation is riding around in his limo, telling himself, “I’m the Speaker of the House! Third in line, hey, look at me!”

He won’t bring up a “clean CR” out of fear it would pass, and then he’d be deposed by the Insane Party.

To me it would be an honor to be kicked out by this Republican Party. But he can’t adapt to how things have changed from 1956, much less yesterday.

It’s no crime to be “old school,” but it’s a serious crime to put your own title, salary, prestige and perks above the national interest. He should call the psychotics’ bluff, or resign.

In 1956, no Republican would have considered such dishonor as putting self above country.

1956 GOP Platform

What makes a death spiral fascinating to watch is that the longer it goes on, the closer the skater gets to the ice, until at last s/he falls down and the music ends.

Once Boehner collapses, there will be no music and no applause.

I just don’t want him to take the rest of us down with him.++

Death Spiral

The Smart Way to Boycott Putin’s Olympics

UPDATE: See MSNBC video below.

LGBTs in Russia are really suffering under Vladimir Putin’s new “anti-propaganda” law, and American Gay people are properly concerned, especially when we see what a political, financial and propaganda windfall he’s about to reap next year with the Olympics.

This has prompted a movement in San Francisco and New York, led by the writer Dan Savage and others, to boycott Russian vodka, especially the Stolichnaya brand, which for decades has touted itself as the quintessential brand of Russia’s quintessential drink (and advertised heavily in LGBT media).

Gay bars dumping so-called Russian vodka. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

Gay bars dumping so-called Russian vodka. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

But as we’ve since learned, Stoli isn’t made in Russia; it’s now made in Latvia, and the holding company which owns it issued a statement in July proclaiming itself a “fervent supporter and friend” of LGBTs – as well it should be, considering how much money we make them. So this Latvian base has prompted critics, Gay and otherwise, to denounce the vodka boycott – without coming up with any better ideas.

Some people have floated the idea of boycotting the Olympics themselves – which is closer to the mark, in my opinion, except (as Jimmy Carter discovered), it doesn’t work. The athletes who trained for the 1980 Games weren’t allowed to go, so they sat around and sulked, telling everyone how deprived they were, and four years later the medalists at the Los Angeles Olympics had their records tainted in the popular mind because “the Soviets weren’t there.”

So along sped Greg Louganis, the poster boy for Gay Olympic athletes, this summer to criticize the “boycott Sochi” movement because of those poor deprived athletes – most of whom, at least in the glamour sports, make a lot more money than Gay bartenders do, and even Gay bar owners. MSNBC had Louganis all over its air as soon as the boycott idea surfaced – which got me to thinking.

I like Greg Louganis and admire him. But he’s no one’s idea of a trenchant political analyst or even a Gay spokesman. If his opinions were worth listening to, he might have said, “Don’t keep the athletes from going, because they’re good at winning public sympathy and causing a backlash.” Or he could have gone even further and said, “What ought to happen is that LGBT sports fans and our allies shouldn’t go to Sochi and shouldn’t buy tickets.”

So since nobody seems to have thought all this through correctly, here’s the smart idea. Don’t boycott Stoli; don’t boycott the Olympics.

Don’t boycott the advertisers; they’re too big a group, while boycotts must be focused to be effective.They make too many products, and even if you want to punish them, you’re likely to buy their products even as you tell yourself you’re boycotting them. Know why “Boycott Koch Industries” doesn’t work? Because they have a near-monopoly on paper products. Are you giving up toilet paper these days? When you buy more of your favorite brand, do you really turn the package around to find out who the manufacturer is? (You should; don’t buy Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.)

Procter and Gamble will probably advertise; even if you follow the company fairly closely, it’s hard to keep up with everything they make. P&G buys and sells brands every week. They don’t make what they used to make, and a brand that used to be owned by someone else is now owned by P&G.

They’re not the proper focused targets. Boycott NBC-Universal instead. Just don’t watch the Games.

Look who's on top in this logo. NBC's who American LGBTs should boycott. They're the easiest to hurt and you don't have to lift a finger.

Look who’s on top in this logo. Boycott the biggest company behind the Olympics, NBC. They’re the easiest to hurt and you don’t have to lift a finger.

NBC’s the one paying the massively corrupt International Olympic Committee, which talks out of both sides of its mouth like graduates of the Putin School of Doubletalk, all those billions for the broadcast rights.

Don’t watch the opening and closing ceremonies; don’t watch the competitions. Simple. (You can see all the highlights the next day on YouTube anyway.)

If you really want to get NBC’s goat, liberal Gay person, don’t watch MSNBC either during the Olympics. Make Rachel Maddow squirm. Be a real Inner and stick it in Chris Hayes’s face. Instead of watching – you won’t miss any news anyway; there won’t be any during the Olympics – fire off a tweet every night, “Boycott #Olympics Rachel Maddow @TRMS @MSNBC #corporatemasters #Putinsucks.”

This Gay woman is owned by Vladimir Putin's sex partners at NBC-Universal.

This Gay woman is owned by Vladimir Putin’s sex partners at NBC-Universal.

Make her ratings drop and I guarantee you’ll get her attention. And she’ll tell her boss, who’ll tell his boss – which might eventually help shape NBC’s news coverage of Russia, Putin, the Games, the IOC – and the latest bill introduced in the Duma, authorizing the Russian police to confiscate the children of Gay people.

Remember, we got Anita Bryant fired back in the ’70s, because Florida orange juice was a specific target, easy to remember.

Refuse to watch the Olympics. And every day they’re on, skip MSNBC and tweet its hosts.

Then when it’s over, declare victory and return to your normal programming.

That’s how to do Gay politics and win. LGBTs in Russia are depending on us. We must win this, and I’ve just told you how.++

[http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032507&#8243]

Bill Black, Apostle to LGBTs in Cincinnati, Now Rises to Glory

BishopBlack.7.7.13

William Grant Black, 7th Bishop of Southern Ohio, died July 7 of complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 93.

You can read a fine obituary about him here. It was apparently written or commissioned by the family and first ran in the Athens, Ohio newspaper before being reprinted online by the Episcopal News Service.

He served as rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens for 11 years in the ’60s and ’70s, prior to his election as bishop.

Athens is a college town, the home of Ohio University, and the parish is right across the street from the campus. I guess the Black children remember Athens fondly, and consider his ministry there a highlight of his career.

But the obituary they published left out half the story; so I’m going to fill you in.

I left this comment (slightly edited) on the ENS site.

This wonderfully detailed biography of the great Bishop and pastor Bill Black somehow fails to mention the thing he was most famous for in Cincinnati: he opened Church of Our Saviour, Mt. Auburn, to Gay people, decades before the rest of the Episcopal Church got its act together.

Starting in the 1970s, Our Saviour hosted a fledgling MCC congregation, which met there every Sunday night despite the opposition of some in the parish and the reluctant acceptance of others. Some people were members of both churches, and both grew as a result. For years, every time the local LGBT community had a crisis (and they often did, thanks to homophobic politicians and police), someone would call a community meeting at Our Saviour and the place would be packed.

Unless you’ve experienced discrimination, you can’t know how important it is to a stigmatized group just to have a place to go. Every other church in town was closed to us – but not Fr. Black’s church; he welcomed us. How many lives did his hospitality save? How many souls were brought to Christ because of him?

That’s what made his election as Bishop so amazing; “My God, they’ve elected the friend of the queers.” No one expected him to win – but he did. And he used his office to further the inclusion of women and LGBTs in the city, the diocese and the national Church.

I should know; I was one of the Gay leaders he embraced. When the city and the Church went through excruciating Gay turmoils – including the Disease of the Century and a billionaire’s successful campaign to write homophobic discrimination into the city charter – he put us front and center. And where were those later meetings held? In Bill Black’s old church – which to this day remains, under the leadership of Mother Paula Jackson, the capital of Gay Cincinnati.

We revered him. You know that word “reverend” that clergy routinely get appended to their names? It means “revered one.” I have to tell you, I’ve met a lot of reverends in my time, but not so many revered ones.

Bill Black was one – and on his death the heavenly choirs burst into song.

“Forasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my family…” – and that’s what we were, the very least, not even human to some people – “you did it to me.” Hallelujah!

I moved to Cincinnati in 1976, having been fired from my church job in Charlotte, North Carolina for being Gay. I wanted to be back in the Midwest, closer to my mother, and a convent in the Cincinnati suburbs hired me for a year. The next spring I founded a chapter of Integrity, the LGBT caucus in the Episcopal Church; a core group of our chapter members belonged to Bill Black’s church, Our Saviour in Mt. Auburn.

The MCC congregation in town had already started meeting there, and they soon hired their own pastor, a dynamic young man named Howard Gaass, who had an M.Div. from New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey. His was a remarkable hire, because in those days many MCC pastors did not have much theological education, and his call meant that MCC Cincinnati, though small, was moving up in the world.

Within a short time, Howard and I became the first Gay people in town to use our full, real names in the newspaper. The Cincinnati Enquirer was doing a pull-out section on “Gays in Cincinnati,” which they published on Palm Sunday. Naturally the reporting team contacted all the semi-out people they could find, like “the Gay minister” and “the Gay Episcopalian,” as if there were only one.

Howard and I helped lead many events, then he left town shortly afterwards. I believe he’s now an Episcopalian in the Diocese of Los Angeles, while I got appointed to the Diocesan Committee on Sexism and Sexuality by then-Bishop John Krumm, Bill Black’s predecessor.

This committee produced our report, which was viciously attacked at diocesan convention, until… I finally stood up when I couldn’t take it anymore, gave a two-minute speech and turned the tide, followed immediately by a supportive priest who was Gay but closeted, and translated my emotional speech into intellect.

I made the front page of the Enquirer the next day, by speaking out “for my people.” It was a sensation. Shortly afterward, Bill Black got elected bishop in that amazing election.

I didn’t cause it, he did. He fit the times we were in; that’s what wins elections, not five-foot-five-inch flamethrowers.

But the bottom line was clear: my church did right by me, and by all of us. That’s one of many reasons I’m an Episcopalian.

But this didn’t end homophobia and discrimination, of course, in the city or the church. Our enemies mobilized, inside and out. In a couple of years somebody invited a nationally-known lay theologian named Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, who was going to set us all straight on allowing queers in church.

I was also on the program, held at Church of Our Saviour, the Bishop’s former parish. He’s the one who put me on the program, part of the local “B” team, I guess. Paid me a hundred bucks; I wonder how much she got.

I destroyed her with a single remark. It was easy to do; she turned out to be a polysyllabic windbag, trying to win the debate with a snowjob. I still have photos of that day, and the shock on her face is priceless.

She finally left in a giant huff, Bill gathered all the clergy around and dedicated the mass to me. Greatest honor I ever got.

Concerning his obituary, I don’t know or care why his family had it written the way they did. It honors him greatly, as he deserved.

Now I have tried to do the same. Because when a man or woman touches the untouchables, like Bill Black did to us, angels rejoice. He didn’t get the acclaim Mother Teresa did, but it was the same Christian act for the same Christian reason. And while it’s obvious to all that India’s Dalits do not deserve their outcast status, LGBTs are still “controversial” in this country and around the world.

So the truth must be spoken still. Bill Black was one of the greats.++

The capital of Gay Cincinnati. (panoramio.com)

Church of Our Saviour, the capital of Gay Cincinnati. (panoramio.com)

Do we need a Christian Left political action committee?

One of the elders, watching over his fields.

One of the elders, watching over his fields.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times, interviewing historians about 20th century mainline Protestantism, which the reporter (wrongly) equates with the Christian Left.

See it here: A Religious Legacy, With its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered.

I think she’s wrong that Methodists, Episcopalians, Disciples, Presbyterians and UCC/Congregationalists always or even mostly have a leftward tilt, and that the Christian Left doesn’t also include, say, the Baptist Jimmy Carter and most U.S. Catholic nuns. But disputing the article is not my point; the piece is fine as far as it goes. The questions it raises for people of faith are more important than what she chose to include or leave out.

Namely, where are we today as progressive Christians? What more should we be doing to assert our Christian values into the public dialogue?

This morning, dailyoffice.org ran this photo and caption:

Bring the DREAMers Home: demonstrators for U.S. immigration reform Monday on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, Ohio included Manuel Perez and the Rev. Paula M. Jackson, rector of Church of Our Saviour/La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador, Mt. Auburn. (Alejandra Pimentel)

Bring the DREAMers Home: demonstrators for U.S. immigration reform Monday on Fountain Square, Cincinnati, Ohio included Manuel Perez and the Rev. Paula M. Jackson, rector of Church of Our Saviour/La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador, Mt. Auburn. (Alejandra Pimentel)

The demonstration, and the photo of it I was able to obtain, are well-timed; the House of Representatives is taking up immigration reform today. Most people don’t really expect it to pass without another avalanche of draconian punishments for “illegal aliens,” but we’ll see.

What bothers me about the debate around this issue is that a Christian interpretation of it is completely lacking. The so-called “illegals” are “strangers and sojourners” in Old Testament parlance, and “neighbors” in Jesus-speak – as in “Love thy neighbor.”

They are also scapegoats, just as Christ was, for the real problems of the nation – financial collapse, unemployment, and the replacement of democracy with oligarchy.

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, turned out and left to die.

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, turned out and left to die.

Scapegoats are not allowed, Christians; you know that. There can be no question that the racism and prejudice against Latinos must stop at once.

And while there are plenty of U.S. Christians saying these very things, we get consistently drowned out by shock jocks and their imitators in Congress.

I suppose if we were equally shocking we’d get on the teevee too. But there has to be another way.

What about a political action committee that’s specifically organized by and for the Christian Left?

There are many vehicles for the Secular Left and they all do good work. But so much of the vitriolic right-wing opposition claims Christ that I think we should take him back again and set him free from his fundamentalist captors.

The basic reason fundamentalist Christianity exists is to promote racism, sexism, homophobia and war. The Southern Baptist Convention is the proof of this in its very existence; it was founded to defend slavery.

As I look around the Episcopal Church, I see several manifestations of firm belief in Christ and in God’s liberating mission to save humanity. For heaven’s sake he parted the Red Sea a long time ago, to free the Jews from slavery.

That act is still God’s template. So is the Crucifixion, which set us free from sin.

By Luiz Coelho, Jr., an ordained deacon in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. A Gay guy, too.

By Luiz Coelho, Jr., an ordained deacon in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. A Gay guy, too.

At 62 I don’t feel like I’m the person to organize the Christian Left PAC (nor that that’s necessarily the best name for it; we’re talking mainstream Christianity here). It’s something younger activists ought to do.

But they’re not, so I keep thinking about it.

What do you think? Do you not find, faithful ones, that nearly every public policy question on the American agenda is spoken of in the Bible?

Republicans in the House want to end Food Stamps, while Christ told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

We cannot let this impasse go on, because people suffer horribly from our inaction.

I do know this: we have to take on Christian fundamentalism full in the face. That’s something we’ve never been willing to do before, which I think is probably mainstream Christianity’s biggest mistake in the last 100 years.

But from 9/11 to the shooting of Malala, the Pakistani schoolgirl who advocates for universal education, we’ve seen what fundamentalist violence is like. We’ve seen it when so-called Christians bomb abortion clinics, assassinate doctors, bomb Gay bars in Atlanta, send Orthodox priests to beat up Gay people in Russia; we see it in Israel, in Hasidic communities in New York. We’re even seeing it lately among Buddhists in Myanmar!

Slavery. Scapegoats. Patriarchy. Homophobia. Attacking the poor. Trayvon Martin. The Military-Industrial-Religious Complex, in case you’ve forgotten George W. Bush and the “Left Behind” series. None of the enemies of Christ are going away anytime soon, there’s too much money and power in sin.

We’ve lacked nerve; we’ve been unwilling to endure persecution. So we kind of nibble around the edges of theology and politics, not wanting to mix them up too much, even though half of what Jesus said was directly “political” as we understand it today.

“Feed my sheep,” don’t cut Food Stamps.

Strap your sword upon your thigh, O mighty warrior, *
in your pride and in your majesty.
Ride out and conquer in the cause of truth *
and for the sake of justice.

— Psalm 45

I know we’re lovers, not fighters – but we’re fighters too.++

First same-sex wedding on a U.S. military base.

First same-sex wedding on a U.S. military base.