In the Right Place

While on Renewal, I am worshipping at various churches. For the past two Sundays, I have visited Episcopal Churches where friends of mine are priests.

I cherish these friends and it was great seeing and hearing them in their church habitat. I even enjoyed a trip down memory lane with the traditional prayer book liturgy.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and graduated from a wonderful Episcopal seminary (I am going back for my 25th class reunion in May).

But as much as I enjoyed my visits, I realize I have moved well away from Episcopalianism. Liturgically, it is too formal, too contained, for my taste. And Episcopalians are still arguing about things that are long settled for me (and not arguing enough about other things that very much trouble me).

Metropolitan Community Churches have spoiled me. I am so glad God brought me home to MCC.

I appreciate our diversity–not just racial, gender, sexual, and class diversity (although I truly revel in that), but also our willingness to blend our worship and try new things, and even think new things. And I truly exult in our lack of stiffness.

Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for all I received from the Episcopal Church (including so many wonderful friends). But Renewal is reminding me: I am in the right place.

We Count!

It is U.S. census time, and for the first time same-gender couples are getting a chance to have our lives counted.

Couples can check one of two options: unmarried couple, or list each other as husband or wife. Either way, we will be counted. In the past, we were lumped together as unmarried couples, and the Census Bureau made no attempt to distinguish same-gender and different-gender unmarried couples.

We’d like more–say, offering a sexual orientation checkbox–but this is a good start on being counted.

If you have not yet filled out your census form, and you are a same-gender couple, I encourage you to check husbands or wives, even if you are not married legally anywhere.

In the eyes of God you are married, not to mention your friends and (hopefully) family. Given the inadequacy of the law, that is good enough for the census.

Remember, we count!

Spiritual Raking

“The spiritual life is above all about the quality of our connection to God.”

That wisdom from Timothy Geoffrion, a pastor and an executive with a community service organization in Minnesota, reminds us that simply going to church–or going through the motions of religious observances of whatever kind–are not enough. Our connection to God is a living one, and requires investment. 

Or as Geoffrion says, it is critical to “actively cultivate your own spiritual life.” As you can imagine, I like his use of the word “cultivate.” It reminds me that in tending my spiritual garden, I need to see what plants need attention, what weeds need pulling, what parts may need watering, what branches may need pruning.

Today, I am raking old leaves off my lawn so that the grass can grow. In the process of raking, it is quite possible God will send me a message about some part of my life that could use a little spiritual raking.

What old leaves are holding you back, matting the new shoots of grass wanting to burst forth?

Loving Our Neighbors

There is great division in the country about the passage of health care reform.

I am not divided. I am elated.

This nation has taken a major step in the direction of making sure that our national security is protected.  A nation of sick people is not a safe nation.

This nation has chosen to invest not just in technology and commerce–both essential, of course–but also in its people. Healthy people–people who don’t have to worry about being wiped out by illness and people who are not afraid to get the care they need–make the best workers and citizens.

I am not a legal scholar, so I cannot make a sophisticated argument about the Commerce Clause.

However, I am religious scholar and I can make a well-educated statement about the Bible: there is more emphasis, in both testaments, about caring for the widows, orphans, aliens, poor than any other single thing. And throughout both texts is an emphasis on the well-being of the community, not just individuals.

I am elated: we are moving towards keeping the second half of the Great Commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

What about the Bible?

On this day, in 1457, the Gutenberg Bible was published, becoming the first book printed by mechanical means.

Today, in English alone, the Bible is available in hundreds of versions, not to mention as books on tape and in animated and other film versions. The Bible is everywhere.

And yet it also seems to be nowhere.

Sometimes I despair that people actually read the Bible, or if they do, that they really engage it. For example, people have told me that the church Bible readings for that day were too long (from these conversations, I think that a total of 25 verses for two readings are the maximum they can handle).

Reading the Bible requires attention. It requires thought and reflection. This is especially so if you believe, as I do, that it contains many layers of meaning.

I do not doubt the human writers of the Bible were divinely inspired. But it seems clear to me that they often fell far short of what God was inspiring them to say. The truth is that God is still speaking today and the Bible helps me discern God’s message now.

That’s why it is important to engage the Bible daily, and to take some time doing so. The treasure is too great for occasionally dipping in for a brief visit.

Smiling with the Trees

As Cocoa and I have been taking walks, and working and playing in the yard (he plays, I work but sometimes I play, too), I notice things changing.

For example, you can already begin to see some of the trees beginning to change–buds getting fatter, even a few beginning to show color on the branches as leaves begin to get ready to burst into view.  It almost seems to me that some of them are standing taller, just proud to be showing off their beauty.

The noted landscape architect and naturalist, Dan Pearson, writes that “trees are one of the keystones of life.” He means that trees provide an invaluable link to the past, as they also provide us with a sense of provision for the future.

I simply love trees. They represent spiritual strength and hope for me. Once again, as spring unfolds, I will witness their glory, and be reminded of God.

As Pearson also says, “A tree in flower is like a life change for the better. It will make people smile and put them in the moment.”

I am smiling.

Time to Take Action

I just watched an amazing YouTube video by Will Phillips, a 10-year-old boy from Arksansas.

He got in trouble for refusing to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance, not because he does not love his country and its flag, but because he recognizes that there is not “liberty and justice for all.”

You can see and hear Will by clicking here. 

What Will did was use what he had at hand to take a stand, to make a difference. As he says, we can all do something to promote change, to champion equality and justice.

You may or may not want to do as he did, but there is something you can do. So do it. Today.  

Right now, there is a major effort to push House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, HR 3017) out of committee. You can call her at 202-225-4965 and leave a message. Or write her at  Speak up for job protections for LGBT folks!

Getting the Hang of It

It’s beginning to sink in. I am on Renewal (sabbatical).

Earlier today, I was concerned there had not been a new message on my Blackberry for several hours. I  wondered if there were something wrong with it.

Then, it dawned on me: this is what it’s like not to be on call, on demand, always engaged in some activity and juggling six, or sixteen, others.

Now, there was some excitement today. A furniture repair guy came to the house this morning, right before I joined a conference call for People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV). A little later, I had lunch with a friend.

But then I came home, feeling relieved that was all the stuff I had commited to for the day. I felt really tired.

I sat for awhile just looking at the yard, then raked a few old leaves, and threw a stick for Cocoa. When I  tired of that I sat down again. A little later, I came in and took a nap. Awaking about an hour later, I read for awhile.

This is going to take some getting used to. But I think I am getting the hang of it.

In God I Trust

Jesus did not put much stock in following precise rules to the letter, especially in religion. Instead, he taught more about living with a certain spirit in one’s conduct.

I thought of this when today I read something about Albert Einstein. The great physicist was asked which question, among all his inquiries into the mysteries of the universe, is the most important one to ask. He replied, “Is the universe a friendly place or not?”

In that question I hear the echo of Genesis 1, “and God saw that it was good.”

Einstein was not known for religious sentiments, but he was so clearly a spiritual being. He understood that our attitude toward fundamental questions make all the difference in our lives.

Many folks are fighting over how the universe began, claiming that their way–a literal interpretation of the Bible–is the only way it could be done. But that is so much less important than what we make of the universe we have been given.

I answer Einstein’s question with a strong affirmation, not because I cling to ancient texts for proof but because I see God continuing to create. In God I trust.

Don’t Forget to Be

Today is the first day of my three-month Renewal (the more traditional term is “sabbatical’).

The quiet has been grand. I like quiet, I draw sustenance from silence.

Yesterday was anything but quiet, and it too was grand. The beautiful folks at MCC Richmond, whom I serve and lead, gave me an absolutely wonderful send-off (moving worship, wonderful meal, and totally unexpected, awesome gifts). I am touched and honored. What a way to begin–feeling all that love and hope and joy!

And they are on Renewal, too, learning about how to do church without a full-time pastor. I know they are going to exceed their own expectations.

I doubt we will learn exactly the same things on our respective Renewals, but I already am learning one thing: slow down, take time to breathe, see the beauty around me, feel the love of Jonathan and Cocoa and God.

And that is a good learning for everyone: do what needs to be done, but don’t forget that we are created by God as human beings, not human doings.