Breaking through My Asphalt

I am reading a classic book, “God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

I was inspired to do so after reading a biography of Rabbi Heschel, perhaps the preeminent Jewish faith writer and a leading social justice advocate of the 20th century. I chose to read about him as part of my study of becoming a stronger spiritual leader.

The tenacious plant at the Hinton Center

I finished reading his biography while on retreat recently at the Hinton Rural Life Center in North Carolina. As I closed the book, I was deeply moved, and prayed. Then, I took a walk.

On the walk I came across a plant growing in an asphalt road. There was no crack or break in the asphalt in any direction for more than 10 feet. It seemed impossible that the plant should be growing, and seeming to thrive, there. 

I started to cry–tears of recognition. I remembered how Heschel says that while the Bible is a record of our search for God, it is just as much a record of God’s search for us. God never gives up seeking us, even when we turn away from God.

This little plant is giving forth its green beauty tenaciously, just like God. Today, may I be open to God, breaking through the aspalt of my life.

Lesbian Saints Making a New Man

I grew up on classical music and Episcopal Church music. I cherish them both.

But as an adult, if you ask me my favorite musical types, I’d say Blues and Gospel. Depending on my mood, I might put them in reverse order.  

And this week, I’m getting both.

Jonathan and I went to the Gay Community Center of Richmond last night for a concert by Gaye Adegbalola and her pianist/singing colleague, Roddy Barnes. My feet never stopped tapping, my tears and laughter never stopped streaming . . . they are simply the best.

Nobody channels Bessie Smith the way Gaye can, and she takes Bessie and Ma Rainey, Ida Cox and all the rest, places nobody ever dreamed by doing her own Queer thing.

But if Gaye is First Dyke of the Blues, then Delores Berry is the Queen of Gospel.

Rev. Delores Berry at MCC Richmond 2009

And I’m driving to Pennsylvania this week to spend a couple of days with her and her beloved Judy. The purpose of my visit is to learn more about my spiritual voice. I want it to be stronger.

I figure that Rev. Delores Berry–who prays and sings and sighs and laughs and preaches and hugs and loves with a power unlike just about any one else I have ever known–can teach me a thing or two.

Talk about renewal–these two lesbian saints are making a new man out of me. 

Glory Halleujah!

A Gift of Absence

Absence can indeed cause the heart to grow fonder. Or at least to realize the strength of your love.

My sister called this morning with news about my neice and her family. Talking to her reminded me how much I miss them, and how eager I am to go to Ohio in late May for my great-nephew’s high school graduation.

In the past few days I have had occasion to see a few friends from church. What a joy! But the joy is tinged with sadness, too, because I am reminded of how much I miss these people I love.

A sabbatical is a break, a time to let go of daily issues and concerns, and focus on important things that often get neglected in the press of regular business. I am doing that, and am grateful for the opportunity to renew and be renewed. I am growing as a person and as a pastor.

I am only about halfway through this special time, and I am eager for what is still to come–including several trainings with colleagues and seeing family in Chicago and Ohio.

But I also will be glad, indeed overjoyed, to see my entire church family when it ends.

Stay Close to Jesus

I have been quiet for a while–on retreat last week and silent in this space for more than a week. I have gained much from this time, learning, or relearning, some important lessons.

One of them is pretty basic: when I talk less I listen more.

I came home from retreat committed to retooling my life to make more room for quiet, for meditation, for prayer. In these first few days back, I am not finding it easy to change. After all, I have been living this way for a long time!

Bell Tower at Virgnia State Capitol

And in the midst of this personal change, I have been working with others to get ready for the statewide rally tomorrow, “Don’t Hate, Legislate,” at Capitol Square in Richmond (11:00 am, corner of Franklin 9th Streets, at the Bell Tower). I won’t be quiet there!

My life–and probably yours, too–is like that. In the midst of committing to one thing I must attend to something quite different.

Jesus helps–because he shows me how to stay centered and serene in the midst of tension and strife. That’s another learning from these past few days: stay close to Jesus. He helps me get where I need to go, including to the rally tomorrow.

A Time for Silence, A Time to Speak

I cherish quiet and solitude.

Of course, I don’t always want it–I also want to be with Jonathan, daughters and other family including Cocoa, friends, church, neighbors–but I am fed by quiet and solitude.

Hermitage House at Hinton Rural Life Center

That’s why I am so eager to be heading to North Carolina tomorrow for a few days of retreat in a cabin at the Hinton Rural Life Center.

But before I go, I have a few things to do. There is always something to do!

One is to encourage people to sign the Statement of Conscience prepared by People of Faith for Equality in Virginia–a statement outlining support for anti-discrimination policies by our state government. Check it out at

Another is to encourage people to come to the statewide rally for non-discrimination on Wednesday, April 21, at 11:00 am at the Bell Tower on the state capitol grounds.

Quiet and solitude are good and necessary things, at least for me. But equally important are speaking up and joining with others to carry the message of justice, liberation, and inclusion.

“For everything there is a season . . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:7

Back in Ole Virginny

We know we’re home. 

We spent a few delightful days in California visiting Jonathan’s family–and commiserating with them about the state of their state (huge debt, lack of viable leadership, etc.).

But at least their governor, a Republican, is unlikely to issue any proclamations extolling Confederate History Month–and that’s not just because California remained loyal to the Union.

LGBT folks know that change is hard and slow here–especially when we see people still claiming that armed rebellion to maintain the institution of chattel slavery was a glorious moment in our history.

Another April event: President Lincoln Visits Richmond on April 4, 1865, engraving by Thomas Nast

Sure, it is important to recognize history. But in doing so we need to tell the entire story–and that includes our Governor.

His proclamation makes no mention of slaves. When asked why not, he said he was not “focused” on that part of our history right now.

His proclamation mentions that it was in April that Virginia joined the Confederate States of America. What he fails to mention is that April also is when Richmond fell, and President Lincoln made his famous visit here. Why was not that in the proclamation, too?

You can tell a lot by the history a person chooses to tell, or not.

A Bit of Personal Resurrection

It had been a long time since I was not in my home church on Easter Sunday.  Frankly, I was feeling considerable anxiety.

After a web search of congregations in Santa Barbara, CA (where Jonathan and I are visiting family) I had chosen to worship with First Congregational Church (part of the United Church of Christ). As we arrived and were warmly greeted, my anxiety receded. By the time we left, we realized we’d come back again on our next Santa Barbara trip.

Friendly people, with a declared committed to being an open and affirming congregation (for queer folks); a woman minister who had beautiful long, gray hair and a very open manner; a gifted pianist/organist as well as two trumpet players (Bach and Hayden)–what was not to like? Besides, we got to sing “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!”

Most of all, I appreciated the spiritual quality of the minister and how she arranged the liturgy. I learned several things from her, and was reminded of some gifts that I had been ignoring in myself.

I felt some inner resurrection myself, and that is always a good thing, especially on Easter.

Good Friday, Wherever You Are

I grew up in a Christian household. Good Friday was a big deal.

We always went to church in the middle of the day–so did just about everyone else in our small Michigan town (or they stayed indoors between noon and 3 pm out of respect).

There was one year, though, when my father and I spent that time cleaning and moving damaged furniture out of an apartment he owned right on Main Street. I was so embarrassed when a few cars went by. I could tell my father was not happy either, but the renters had left it in terrible condition and prospective tenants were coming to look–after church, of course.

I am reminded of this today, as Jonathan and I fly to California. We’ll be going to the airport and boarding during that same time.

Of course, today, fewer people seem to take Good Friday seriously, and even fewer go to church during the traditional noon to 3:00 pm hours. I am sure the airport will be very busy.

I am delighted to be visiting Jonathan’s family (they are mine, too), but I will miss church.

While in the air, I will spend some time in prayer, thanking Jesus for living into and beyond his fear and being so loving.

Bless Your Feet

Today, for Christians, is Holy Thursday. At many churches, services this evening will include footwashing, based on the account in John 13.

Some people shy away from this practice, because they feel awkward about their feet or because they worry that they will encounter stinky feet. But I think the biggest reason is that we are uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus serving us.

For me, however, this is the heart of Christian faith–being willing to accept that God, in the person of Jesus, desires an intimate relationship with us. Such a relationship involves more than mental agreement; it involves actually touching each other, emotionally and physically.

Such a relationship means being vulnerable. And that may be the hardest part of footwashing: accepting the care of another. When we do that, we are not in control.

That is the amazing thing: despite what so many think, neither Jesus nor God desire to control us. They want to be in relationship with us.

So, go to church, pray, sing, hug one another, but most of all: take off your  shoes and socks, stick out your feet, and receive the blessing. Your heart, and your feet, will feel better.