Monday, November 30, 2015

#AdventWord #Proclaim

Luke 4:18-19
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

When I saw today's word was "proclaim," Jesus' words in the Temple (he's reading from Isaiah) came to me. Walking to lunch today, I looked at this scene I see everyday.

That red building in my picture is a jail. That bridge and the bridge I'm stood on as I took this photo, give shelter to only a few of Houston's poorest of the poor. Right here, next door to where I work are captives and poor people.

This was not a revelation. I've been conscious of this for the 4+ years I've worked downtown.

Something that occurred to me, however, was how Jesus/Isaiah say they are anointed to speak to the captives and the poor. It occurs to me that when I write or talk about systematic oppression, I'm talking to the people who are the oppressors (someone much like me, if I'm to admit to the uncomfortable reality) more than to the oppressed.

And then I realized I have no idea what to say to captives. My interactions with the poor are brief, hasty even.

This takes some wind out of my sails.

This is worth thinking on, praying about.

I'm also reminded of my numbness on September 1, 2001. I remember writing something like, "It's another terrible thing that has happened far away. I don't know how to help someone next door."

Recalling yesterday's word, there's more waking up to be done. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

#AdventWord #WakeUp

I have issues with waking up. Probably more accurately, I have issues with going to sleep. As I like to say, I have no trouble falling asleep, I have trouble going to bed. But back tot he beginning, this translates into having issues waking up.

I looked at the mug I'm using this morning for my morning tea. It was given to me while I was in seminary, very much the sort of thing seminarians get. It has the familiar verse from Psalm 118, "This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

I'm reminded of the verse heard at Matins (quoted from memory, so maybe not precise): Open my lips oh Lord and my mouth shall declare your praise. 

All of which to remind me that because I do not wake up well or easily, I do not rejoice or proclaim God's praise easily. Not first thing in the morning.

"The days are surely coming." The prophet Jeremiah was fond of telling us this, with words of promise and warning. "The Reign of God is near." Jesus was fond of telling us this, also with words of promise and warning.

The season of Advent begins to day, and all these thoughts are jumbled up in the prompt #WakeUp. I will go to church and hear from Jeremiah and Jesus. This afternoon, I will go to a funeral. This morning my mug tells me to rejoice (with the tea to aid in waking me up!).

Warning and promise. Rejoicing and proclamation. Waking up to it all.

Let us begin.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Reign Coming Near (Advent 1C)

We're about to start a new year in the Christian calendar, as this coming Sunday begins the season of Advent. These four Sundays/weeks before the season of Christmas make up one of the more difficult seasons to talk about. It is about the coming of Christ, yes, but not precisely about preparing for Christmas---although that can be an aspect of it. See? It already gets convoluted.

I decided I wanted a look at the the lessons for the first Sunday of Advent. A sort of anticipation of the anticipation, if you will. In the jumble of this season that often gets swallowed up in the secular, commercial Christmas, I wanted to see how I can enter it with something else.

Looking at the lessons, two phrases leap out at me. The first comes from Jeremiah: "The days are surely coming, says the Lord . . . " It's a phrase Jeremiah likes a lot (and used to be spoken regularly by a woman I know who used  it with a threatening tone whenever someone was annoying her, but I digress). It's phrase full of threat and promise and hope. Actually, a quick survey of how Jeremiah used it, it was most often with a promise or a hopeful look forward. There was threat in some instances, sure, but more often, the days that are surely coming are hopeful days, days of restoration and fulfillment. That's the sense that we find in the first lesson this coming Sunday. "The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah."

The gospel lesson is part of what is sometimes referred to as Jesus's apocalyptic or eschatological discourse. It's full of talk about the destruction of the Temple (for the immediate listeners) and of strife between nations (something we experience today). Jesus is trying to warn his followers and give them hope at the same time. It is the latter that I hear when I read, " . . . when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near."

Is Jesus talking about the future, making predictions? Maybe, to some extent. But I hear something more immediate in this word.

Jesus' mission is defined, at least in the synoptic gospels, as preaching the Kingdom or (as I prefer) Reign of God. This is described in parables and sermons in many and mysterious ways, but I've come to associate it with the Beatitudes. Also, while there is a forward-looking aspect of the Reign (it's always coming), there is also the word from Jesus that it is among or, depending on translation, within us. (Luke 17:21)

I've come to understand the the Reign of God as appearing whenever the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed and peacemakers are blessed as children of God. I no longer hear the Reign as being a place where all is perfect and beautiful, but where the imperfect and ugly are tended to. So, what I hear in Jesus's word in Luke 21:31 is that when we see the stories of wars and the heavens shaking, we can know the Reign is at hand because there will be people tending to the the ugliness of the world, offering help and healing.

It's akin to the somewhat famous story from Mr. Rogers who, based on a teaching from his mother, said to look for the helpers, the ones offering relief in times of disaster. Jesus doesn't promise that in the coming Reign that all will be peaceful, but that there will be peacemakers in the chaos.

And those peacemakers are among/within us.

The 21st Century has not been anything like I'd hoped growing up. Besides the absence of rocket packs and hover cars, it seems we've learned nothing from the wars of the 20th Century and in fact we seem to be getting worse. Just this past week, I've seen people posting on Facebook about how current events in the middle east, the downing of a Russian jet by Turkish firepower, and scapegoating of refugees seems  eerily familiar to those who have read histories of how the first two World Wars started (there are parallels in both wars).

So, we see these terrible things taking place and they are terrible and fearful and might cause us if the world is about to burn down, but even as we see them, we will also see the Reign of God breaking into this situation. Perhaps we who have heard the Reign is among us will be part of the Reign breaking into the desolation.

The days are surely coming . . . you know the Reign of God is near . . . the advent of our Lord is celebrated and we are reminded that we look not only to a future return of Christ or even the preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation that is Christmas, but also to the ways the Reign of God is always appearing, always tending to the ugliness and  brokenness of this world that my faith says God loves so much.

Friday, October 30, 2015

#HERO Fear and Love and Action

As I write this there is less than 4 hours left to early voting in Houston, where the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is on the ballot. (Remind me again why rights are on a ballot? Well, we haven't time for that, now.)

So if you're opening this at 6:00pm and don't think you'll get to your local polling station on Tuesday, go vote now. And vote YES on ONE in the Houston city propositions (there are a couple of state and county props, too, and worthy of your consideration). This will be here when you get back. You have until 7:00pm. Click HERE if you don't know where to early vote.

I have three words today:

FEAR: I've said the anti-HERO campaign has been full of fear. I want to ask the people behind this, "who are the people, specifically, who are the trans people who have frightened you? Who are the trans people who have threatened or hurt you?" Maybe they have a story to tell, maybe they're going off what they've heard. Either way, I realize that there is a lot of fear that has not been attended to.

And, look, I'm fearful, too. I'm afraid of the people who are anti-HERO. I'm afraid to be in their presence and tell them I'm a gay man. I'm afraid of conversations I overhear on public transportation that uses "gay" as an epithet, as a way of raising a conflict, of accusing someone of being "less than." I'm afraid of how effective "gay" is as an epithet is in some of these situations. There's lots of fear to go around.

But when we let fear rise to the level of wanting to take away people's rights, when it rises to the level of demonizing each other, most likely without even knowing one another, this becomes, in biblical terms, bearing false witness. It's easy and we've all done it. It's also one of the top ten "thou shalt nots." We need to repent from this fear and the urge to spread lies about one another.

LOVE: Love casts out fear. (Click the link to the biblical reference and a multitude of ways that source has been translated.) I don't know what more to say about love. It isn't warm fuzzy love, it isn't romantic love, it's a harder love love that than, and by harder, I don't mean harsh (as I feel perhaps some anti-HERO people might mean it) but I mean difficult for the one who loves. It involves getting to know someone better. It involves seeing in one another the Image of God. It's not an easy Hollywood falling in love story. It's a practice.

ACTION: I'm, in my soul, Lutheran. By upbringing and education (if not by current church membership), I am Lutheran. We do not believe action (works) saves us. Yet, I don't think you'll find many Lutherans would argue that action is useless. We have whole agencies involved in helping people, from disaster relief to social services.

Here's a confession: I'm a terrible activist. I've been in more than one situation where I've gone to help out on one or another campaign, and when it came to doing something beyond licking envelopes and writing letters, I seize up. Specifically, when it comes to talking to random strangers, either in person on the phone, my entire body reacts in a way that I can't do it. It's ridiculous, given the things I've done in my life, from performance to writing to chaplaincy with dying people back in seminary. It's something I need to explore more, as I obviously have no problem with writing, I've had no problem with public speaking or being on a panel discussion or two (long ago---but would do it again). I've had no problem with inviting strangers in a bar to writie on my lycra-clad body with a Sharpie.

So I write. I bless the people who are able to phone bank, who are able to walk up to a strangers door and ring a doorbell. They deserve so much credit for almost every social movement that has ever gone forward. But I write. I engage, when I can, on social media (slacktivism, I do believe it's called, and so there I am).

But really, the action we need most right now is getting to the polls. Vote.

Houstonians: Please Vote YES on ONE.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#HERO: Changing the Narrative

(Another post directed primarily at the Houston religious community.)

There are several reason this HERO campaign, or rather, the anti-HERO campaign, gets me worked up, but one that particularly rankles is the fact that the anti-HERO campaigners paint themselves as the righteous, that this is some sort of holy campaign to keep the scary and dangerous trans people out of restrooms. They use the name of Christ to spread their fear and misinformation.

The media is getting a smidgen better at this, but the media are also not interested in the nuanced story. Simple lines in the sand are easier to sell to advertisers and so when the loudest opponents of HERO paint themselves as Christian, it's less time consuming and easier to just tell the story as "Christians vs the gays."

This is why people of faith, Christian and otherwise, need to speak up if they are in favor of HERO and they need to put their support in terms of their faith. We need to change this narrative.

It's changing, it really is. There are now mainline denominations with gay and lesbian bishops. There is now, at least within most major cities, a menu of worship styles and theological perspectives for LGBT people to choose from if they choose to be churchgoers. (What's going on in rural situations is much more iffy, but not without signs of hope here and there, too.)

Has it changed enough to secure HERO's passing next Tuesday? I live in hope, but I also recognize the possibility of living in wishful thinking. But that will all resolve itself in less than a week.

As important as it is to express our support for HERO in religious terms, we have to keep expressing this support after election day. Let's be clear---whatever happens with HERO on Tuesday, that will not be the end of the story. If HERO passes, there will still be angry anti-LGBT folk out there, spewing their anger with a publicly Christian face. If HERO fails, well, it's not as if we're going to just go away. We'll continue the fight for equal protection under the civil law. And we will have to redouble our efforts to do so with a a faith based face---in my case, a Christian face.

Facts and figures don't matter if you think you're doing something for God or because of a faith in God. We who want protections for our Muslim neighbors as much as for ourselves have to learn to use the love, the justice, the welcoming languages of the Bible, as that's the language that will turn certain hearts and minds.

And it will give to the non-Christian a clearer understanding that at the end of the day, this public argument isn't between Christians and the LGBT community and their supporters. It's between people who do believe in equality for all and those who do not believe in equality for all.

When we are able to change the narrative in this way, we have a chance of influencing fair minded people who perhaps want to do the Christian thing, but aren't sure they want to align themselves with the people who appear so angry and mean.

And because I do actually believe in the invitation to Christ, that there is something of value, of hope, of salvation in the Christian faith, it may actually give those burned by the angry and mean faces of Christianity a way into a Beloved Community (as some would call church communities).

Houstonians, vote Yes on One. Tell others you are doing so. If you have a reason for it that actively counters the religious reasons with your own religious reasons, please do so. You could be the key to someone's salvation.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Houston, where I live, is making national headlines due to the rather ugly battle here over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (or HERO). The fear mongering, particularly against trans people, is off the scales. People are certain that passing HERO will invite sexual predators into the women's restrooms, i.e., cis-men who will pretend to be transwomen to prey on women and girls. While I am aware of a few incidents of cis-men entering women's restrooms with evil on their mind, none of them pretended to be women to do so. And you know what? Either way, being a sexual predator is illegal whether you're wearing a dress or blue jeans, whether you're trans, cis, or intersex.

So, having gotten that out of the way (and it feels weird that one has to say such things) . . .

This evening, I went to a Houston Unites meeting, focusing on the faith community. A friend had contacted me about it (I hadn't heard of it) and asked me to join her, so I did.

The early voting (now in progress here in Texas) indicates that the vote on HERO is going to be close, that the fear mongering is working to motivate the anti-HERO folk to go to the polls.

So many things collided in my brain during this meeting and I'll probably have to say more in another blog post.

But tonight I want to refer back to a post I wrote over a year ago, "Loving Those We Don't Understand." It relates my first encounter of any depth with a transwoman.

Second, I want implore everyone who sees this and is pro-HERO to engage other Houstonians about the ordinance. Facts and statistics are great, but those aren't going to change hearts and minds alone. Tell stories, like I told in the above-referenced blog post. Tell about your friendship with a trans person, about your first encounter with one, or the first time you deeply understood how Black people are discriminated against, or about that time you saw a religious person or group denied housing and how HERO would have helped them, or how people with a disability don't always have equal access despite the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ordinance has spread the net very wide in naming who it protects. It's not just about any one group getting protection.

And when I say engage, do it however you can. In person is usually best for full communication, phone calls are great, emails and social media are not useless. Heck, share this blog post or one of the many more articulate ones out there. Just don't be silent, particularly in the face of people who are uncertain. Help them understand that they might need HERO one day, how it might help them settle a discriminatory incident locally without having to take it to a federal court (because Texas courts won't be much help for some categories---LGBT folk are not a protected class under Texas law and you can be fired from a job just because you're gay, but HERO would give at least Houstonians some recourse in that situation).

And of course, fellow Houstonians, get out and vote and vote Yes on Prop One. If you're like me, you might look at your Facebook newsfeed and see a lot of support for it, because that's the sort of friends you have. Don't let that lull you into complacency. Prop One will only pass if you vote, and if you help get other people to the polls to vote Yes on One.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Not Just a Mild Abrasion

I'm about to do the equivalent of Facebook "Vague-booking."

But I want to put this out there, in all it's ambiguity.

I hope I've never, in this blog, pretended that the church is always a safe place. It certainly isn't for everyone. Despite being gay, I've come through my lifetime in the church pretty well intact. I did my coming out in a safe congregation. I've long been aware of all kinds of ways that the church has blessed me where others have been beaten and broken.

I've also just realized that not all wounds are cuts or broken bones. Not all wounds are that sharp and sudden and obvious.

This is how I described it to someone today: It's like a spot that has rubbed raw. It may have started out as a mild abrasion, but eventually, it gets ugly. Like a bed sore. But because it starts as a mild abrasion I could treat it that way. No big deal, just a scrape.

This past weekend, I had a visit with my spiritual director. I've been seeing him for over a year and I've sometimes wondered what it was doing. It felt like a regularly scheduled ramble session by me, with a very kind man listening. Sometimes I just complained. I can't imagine it's been pleasant for him. Still, he said he saw "movement" (a word he prefers to "progress") and I've come to trust him. Movement seemed reason enough to keep the appointment, even if I didn't necessarily feel it myself.

Then this past weekend---I don't know what happened. I think maybe I/we got more specific than usual (certainly more specific than this blog post). I could see a light go on for him. He realized the depth of something I think I've talked about before, but this time he saw a specific consequence. Maybe that's what happened. He might say otherwise.

But the light going on for him somehow illuminated my own story. He saw something and he seeing it somehow made it legitimate. He saw the wound and I saw it through his eyes.

He saw it as significant and I can no longer pretend it's "no big deal."

I've thought about this all day today. Pondered it in my heart, to use biblical language. The bed sore image makes sense on many levels. Paralysis, not moving, is what leads to bed sores.

It's past time to turn over and give it a chance to heal.

The "movement" seems to be a breeze, but it's moving. She's moving. Mysteriously.

Come, renew the face of the earth. I have a glimmer, today, that it's possible.