Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An interesting call this past week-end: from Jamie and his incredible grandmother Hazel.

I’ve mentioned Jamie before in the early days of this space. The two of us were brought together more than a couple of years ago now, when, in his late forties Jamie began coming out to his family and friends. His eldest sister had been the first, and when she saw how anguished but determined he was, she somehow thought of me- who she’d met at a conference on organizational transformation several years previously.

This time, when I asked Jamie & Hazel if I might share our conversation in this space he told me ‘Of course- only no more initials.’ And when he’d explained to his grandmother what he was referring to she agreed, ‘I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,’ she told me. ‘Yeah’, Jamie interjected, ‘Grandma’s out too,’ sending all three of us into self-perpetuating gales of laughter.

But about the call this week-end.

For those who might not remember- Jamie is a very successful lawyer, who abandoned government law when 'the Bushes and their ilk' began spending ‘too much time on Pennsylvania Avenue.’ A self-confessed workaholic hiding the fear of his God-given sexuality behind achievement, he soon recycled himself into working for an international non-government agency which moved him to Europe.

Jamie was back in the U.S. this past week-end however: for the ninety-third birthday of his beloved maternal grandmother: the truly remarkable Hazel. And Jamie wasn’t travelling alone either- more on that later!

It was late enough when they called that Jamie apologized and expressed concern that he might have hauled me out of sleep. But it had been long enough since anything more than affectionate, electronic Christmas wishes that I knew it had to be important, so I’d slid to the floor, resting my back against the bed and listened. Within moments, Willie the unconditional daschund had shifted under the covers and was sympathetically resting his head on my left shoulder.

It turns out that after a long pre-celebration- just the two of them- Jamie had got to sharing details of his current life with his grandmother. Turns out, Hazel has obviously giving a lot of thought to her cherished grandson’s life and had questions- ‘lots of questions,’ Jamie assured me with a chuckle. ‘Why had he waited so long?’ ‘Who in their rather large family had been to chief obstacle to Jamie ever feeling comfortable enough, confident enough to share his deepest truth with the family?’

Turns out there was one question Jamie was asking my help on.

But first a little background. Turns out Hazel’s paternal grandfather was a ‘rather well-known’ Episcopalian bishop. Which of course meant our family essentially forgot about Church once grandpa... had passed on.' Sadly, apparently Hazel’s father never really ‘found himself professionally.’ He was however adamant about his three daughters all receiving a university education. ‘For the longest while, I wasn’t sure I wanted –or even needed to marry,’ Hazel told me, ‘so I ended up getting my PhD. . Taught university for a very short while, got married,’ she admitted with a chuckle, ‘and then went into the world of publishing.’

Hazel’s only child- Jamie’s mother, died only months short of his ninth birthday. In Jamie’s words, it took his father one disastrous re-marriage (‘too soon’) before he found the ‘dream step-mother’ for his two children. Hazel however, largely through her determined efforts never lost touch with her grandchildren, sharing, among other things Jamie’s first taste of Europe and ‘some of the most incredible holidays you can imagine.’ (Jamie’s account).

Oh, and that one question they’d called me with?

Hazel, after obviously a lot of research and thought wanted to know whether Jamie thought ‘same-gender-loving folks would always have to be labelled gay- queer, or that other horrible clinical term? ’

Did she possibly have an easier question we could start with I asked to peals of laughter on the other end of the phone.

‘Hey, my Gran’s no light-weight,’ Jamie interjected on the extension.

The conversation which followed felt so... sacred. One of those times when a lot more is being addressed than just the obvious; one of those spontaneous exercises of discernment where Spirit sometimes works unimagined healing, bonds are deepened and life offers itself even more unconditionally because of ‘understanding.’

Without going into my personal particulars Hazel and I identified several of the more obvious features of the landscape of growing up gay in my generation; the costs and mechanics of ‘otherness’ and the degrees & varieties of fear behind most homophobic violence.

I also reminded her of the remarkable transformation of our LGBT tribe with the lived horror of AIDS: the personal transformations, the unexpected healings, the discovery of gay voice(s) - the slightly ironic freedom found in taking a stand- even in the face of so much terrible loss.

‘But what about Jamie and Michael, are their kids always going to have to live with folks calling their dads gay... queer or worse?’

I told you Jamie hadn’t travelled solo, and warned you his grandmother had a talent for questions that would stop you in your tracks.

After a deep breath,(on my end of the line), we eased ourselves into an exploration of the gifts, strength and blessings of ‘owned otherness.’ How when our people own their deepest truth they bring an incredible load of unexpected experience, lived truth and talents to every situation and conversation- gifts, whose absence has previously impoverished everyone’s experience; the solutions or discoveries a group might be working towards; or the event they may be celebrating.

Hazel had heard about blessed Ed Bacon on national television telling Ms. Winfrey that being born gay is a God from God.

Which led us to a whole discussion/celebration of the prophetic role LGBT folks are playing within our own denomination.

Turns out Hazel had even met our +Gene. During one of his first visits as bishop to her city. ‘This was before I really knew about Jamie,’ she told me. ‘But when I’d read about his election and consecration, it was so clear to me that God was truly at work here. When I heard he was coming, I knew I had to go see for myself.’

‘One of the most wonderful services I’ve ever attended,’ she told me. ‘The cathedral was packed with the most incredible people- many of them probably gay couples, but I wasn’t trying to decode the congregation. The energy in the cathedral was.... incredible. I didn’t know whether I expected the sound of a rushing of wings or for the roof of the cathedral to peel back for a glimpse of the stars, but something was definately happening.’

‘The incredible thing is when it came time to go up to receive communion, the line on the side where Bishop Gene was administering was so much longer, and as they got closer to the altar other folks kept switching over... I must have been a real mess; there’d been tears during his sermon, when he spoke of his understanding of what God wants for the Church. And afterwards, the line of people wanting to shake his hand at the door was so long and slow I had to sit down- at least a couple of times, but when it was my turn, I couldn’t stop tearing up. I kissed his hand and simply said thank-you, though I’m not sure he could hear me, I was that full up.’

Having been there myself- July 27, 2006- Hazel couldn’t know I too have known those tears of incredulous joy. Friday night, it was a moment or two before she continued.

‘There was actually a reception, after the service- for people to meet the Bishop. But I went to my car and just sat there for the longest time. It may sound strange, but afterward I realized I guess I was feeling the reception... didn’t quite belong to me- that it was for the folks who had paid a price for who they are, and who had kept insisting – on the value, the validity of their own lives.'

It was about then that Jamie, on the extension, with real feeling in his voice had interjected, ‘Oh Grandma.’

Which is where I guess I get to tell you about Michael.

In the first months- still essentially in orientation for his posting to Europe- Jamie had met Michael while boarding for a flight between Zurich and London. Michael is a British-born PhD., teaching in Britain and working with the U.N. agency to end famine relief.

Michael is also an ‘out gay Anglican, who has been much heartened by the developments in the American church,’ as he told me when we first spoke more than two years ago.

Jamie and Michael are now legally married, in the process of disentangling Michael from his academic commitments to work full time in famine relief, and have already set up a shared home which has been approved for adoption of their first child- a mixed race daughter who should be with them fulltime by this summer.

Almost ten years younger than Jamie, Michael and he are talking of a family of four. ‘Two kiddies and their dads,’ Michael explained when we'd first spoken.

‘You won’t be able to call them ‘kiddies’ for long,’ I'd teased.

I have no idea how long the three of us talked Friday night. Intentionally, I didn’t check the LED digits on my bedside clock before folding myself back under the covers with the ever-patient Willie.

Shortly before we hung up Hazel asked ‘why do I feel like this conversation has been one long, very real prayer?’

Neither Jamie nor I answered.

However, I did suggest to Hazel that perhaps it was time she told Jamie about ‘the Love beyond our wildest imagining.’

‘I remember-‘ Hazel told me, her voice equal parts amazement and joy. ‘That’s when Bishop Gene... broke my heart for the first time in his sermon. I was a blubbering mess,’ she reminded me.

‘Love you both,’ I reminded them before hanging up.

‘I love you too,’ Hazel confessed, at least slightly amazed by her own admission.

As promised, Jamie and Michael called again, on Sunday afternoon. Hazel was napping.

‘You wouldn’t believe Grandma,’ Jamie told me. ‘After church this morning, we went out for brunch, and she was asking Michael and I if there wasn’t some sort of organization for people like her- with rainbow blessed children she called us,' he added with a chuckle. 'Ninety–three years old and she’s talking about getting in touch with P-Flag, to see if there’s anything she can do to help.’

Apparently Hazel’s birthday celebrations were quite the occasion. Hosted by Jamie and Michael; Jamie’s sisters, their partners and families all made it- along with more than seventy guests.

‘But you want to know something,’ Jamie asked, with real feeling in his voice. ‘The biggest gift this week-end, for me at least, was our call to you Friday night... Michael had gone to bed, and the two of us were sitting up with the last of our first bottle of celebratory champagne-‘

‘Only the first of many,’ Michael interjected with a chuckle. ’And never mind Grandma, you should see my husband, I’ve never known him so....’

“Alive?’ I suggested when Michael was reaching for an apt descriptor. ‘Love beyond our wildest imagining,’ I reminded them.

‘Indeed,’ Michael responded after a moment, perhaps not quite sure what he was agreeing to.

Their e-mail, late Tuesday morning?
‘Home. LOVE YOU. Just spoke to Grandma on the phone and she sends her love too. Jamie & Michael’

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Empire: Insanity & Excess

Is this bothering anyone else?

NY Times leads this morning with the story of Lambeau Field Wisconsin:
subteranean pipes filled with a patented solution
imported heat lights, running 24/7
suspended overhead:
high enough that
over-extended grass can be nurtured, groomed & pampered,

‘The “frozen tundra” is a myth. The ground at Lambeau Field, legendary home of the Green Bay Packers, is heated. It has not been frozen during a football game since it was dubbed the “frozen tundra” more than 40 years ago.’

so the cleats – CLEATS
of superannuated thugs in overpriced protective gear-
so the CLEATS take hold
providing enough traction for the spectacle of televised ‘sports’
so the boys with their brewskies, across the nation can lose themselves
in suds and spectacle long enough
to get through another day.

“The payoff and the benefit is now,” Johnson said. “We have a more full canopy and more grass than we would without it. The green color is a side benefit. That’s aesthetic. The main benefit is stronger, healthier grass, thicker grass in places where it’s usually difficult to grow.”

but on the front page of the NY Times it’s worthy of headlines-

‘The ground below Lambeau Field has been heated since 1967’

And in Haiti, Turkey, Darfour they’re still in tents
Cholera anyone?

‘That changed in 2011, thanks to 24 hours a day of artificial sunlight provided by 1,000-watt bulbs’
“It’s just like playing in the summer on the grass,” Green Bay offensive lineman T. J. Lang said. “It’s never hard, it’s never frozen.”

Having objectified everyone/everything else
Nature’s is the problem de jour
‘fooling Mother Nature’ they call it
and damn the cost.

‘Not only did the lights cast a warm and eerie glow from inside Lambeau Field through the night, they extended the growing season for the grass well past the normal date of dormancy.’

This from the self-anointed ‘greatest nation on earth’
and damn the cost;

‘Johnson said grass needs three vital elements to grow well: warm soil (check, thanks to Mr. Lombardi), good light (check, thanks to Mr. van Vuuren) and warm air (hmmm). By mid-December, when daytime temperatures rarely rise above freezing in Green Bay, the lights and warm soil are not enough to offset the frigid air.’

The show must go on
(all together now) and damn the cost.

‘The contraption fools Mother Nature. Johnson used the lights 24 hours a day from October to early December, moving them every other day between games.’

The cleats- THE CLEATS
and damn the cost

out-distances words: even
my limited vocabulary for rage or obscenity

‘For 30 years, those coils kept Lambeau Field soft, with one exception.’

Oh America, I
fear/for you. How long
How long O Lord?
can Nature tollerate
your heated cleats?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Some days... 2012

Some days it can be a real mindful breath-by-breath practice the far side of any good reason not to give up and just walk away.

I’m talking about our Church here- our denomination, our Communion. The institution rather than the living reality of being a member of the Body of Christ.

Over the holidays there was a painful call from C., a life-long Anglican, who only since the death of her husband has she really found her own place within our tradition ‘as a living/loving/reading and critical-thinking Anglican'. Only to find it all seriously threatened by the ‘latest hi-jinks’ of their interim rector.

Last fall he was seriously uncomfortable with a suggestion the Bible Study Group study Ehrman’s ‘Jesus Interrupted.’ But this- this latest...’ Christmas night, through tears she told me over the phone that probably for the first time in her 68 years she’d missed Christmas midnight mass in her home parish. Instead she’d surprised one of her granddaughters and the granddaughter’s partner by joining them at the local MCC service.

Just days before the feast of the Incarnation, there’d been another pain-filled, long-distance conversation with L., a pastor I’ve been in fellowship with for several months now. Last summer L. had felt he could no longer live with the 'hollowness and patent in-authenticity' of his current charge. Strangely enough, he is currently on sabbatical, living in another city and worshiping with a ‘rather unusual’ Episcopalian congregation' and exploring Zen practice. It was through the latter community L. was put in touch with me; by one of my on-line sangha friends who thought L. might benefit from contact with a fellow Christian practitioner.

For L., being away from parish ministry this Christmas ‘broke me. I’ve never before felt so unnecessary in my whole life. But the miracle of the Incarnation has never been more real, more raw or more immediate.’ L. ended up spending Christmas Eve bundled up outdoors, walking under the stars-‘weeping myself into what appears to be something new.’ L. ended up making his Christmas communion at the 8a.m. Eucharist, Christmas Day, and tells me though he has no idea where all this might be leading he’s never felt more alive.

Not untouched by recent events, I admit my own Christmas practice this year, like that of many others was on what might aptly be described as pretty rocky ground. The images and accounts of the Duarte Park arrests, preceded by TWS’ inability or refusal to meet or negotiate with the occupiers- even with the generous offer of the good offices of Bishop Packard resonated only too painfully for me with memories of the shameful treatment of the Occupy London demonstrators; the prophetic sacrifice of Father Gilles Fraser; and St Paul’s embarrassing concerns over their ‘lost revenue.’

One of the wealthiest parishes in the world and a landmark cathedral- extra-ordinarily wealthy itself; the one resorting to property law, the other worrying about its tourist revenue, while the purple shirts of Lambeth continue to threaten us all with the greatest-misnomer-yet in this century - a game plan to impose their own Vatican-like reign of punnishment & enforcement. Hard as I try, it’s beyond me to find even the slightest suggestion of the Body of Christ alive and at work in any of this.

For me personally, all this recent self-inflicted bruising of Anglican credibility resonated with my memories of another recent date of Anglican ignominy- during the 2008 Lambeth Conference. July 27, 2008: when at great expense, the primates, bishops, their wives and conference retainers were all bussed up to London for a... camera opportunity. A millennial march to end poverty. The march, which lasted minutes short of an hour, but which was followed by a leisurely day: first, luncheon in the garden of the Archbishop’s London palace, and then afternoon tea with Her Majesty the Queen on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. As if the obscenely-expensive rental of the ‘big blue tent’ were not indicator enough of the hollow irrelevancy Lambeth 2008 would turn out to be, there was the spectacle of the London ‘camera-opp.’

And then today, as if we needed further proof of the of Canterbury’s ambitions, there’s his not-so-good friend Bennie of St. Peter’s proclaiming myself and many of those I love 'a threat to the future of humanity.’ Of course the Pope also went on to pontificate on poverty, and social and economic injustice- all while seated on a guilded throne, dressed in the obscenely expensive costume of a medieval prince, sporting a gold ring of office which would probably feed several developing-world families for at least a year.

I hadn’t shared any of this with C. when she called; she’d brought enough to the table. ‘Why stay? Why do you event bother trying,’ her anger and pain as obvious as her challenge.

Drawing a deep breath, I told her I wanted to tell her a story:

A couple of years ago, a ‘power player’ in both the local diocese and national church asked me to accompany her to a local function: a whiskey-tasting at one of the downtown churches. Essentially a rather poorly attended fundraiser, I think she was offering the experience as well-intentioned proof of...... something or other.

Shortly after we arrived the Rector came rushing over to our table, to 'talk Church’ with my host. Eventually I was introduced, only to be immediately asked: ‘Oh, are you Anglican?’

Hesitating, out of fear of offending this priest who I respect for her work of the local refugee committee among other things, I eventually admitted to being a post-Anglican-anglican.

I’m not sure the description even registered. She certainly didn’t need to know any more- ‘Oh, one of those,’ and she was off.

‘Just like that protestant minister, who wrote complaining about how she was exhausted and fed-up with people who told her they were spiritual but not religious?’ C. suggested.'Why stay? Why even bother?'

Bottom line for me? The radical, reality-shifting truth of the Incarnation and the fact that no matter how big a mess and embarrassment the purple shirts of our own denomination or the gang of St. Peters may make of it, the Church is not theirs.

Long before the first stone of patriarchal ‘official Christianity’ had been laid, Ruach- the Holy Spirit was calling us- and continues to call- us into the living reality of being members of the Living Body of Christ, here and now.

So no matter how tragically irrelevant; embarrassingly ridiculous; insulting; threatening or disingenuously manipulative the gate-keepers of ‘official Christianity’ might be at times, this is why I still bother. That and because of the endless possibilities within the sacred-tension beneath Hooker’s three-legged stool.

Tonight, however three of the finest priests I know of are very much on my heart. All three of them have, within the last two years paid extremely high prices for the integrity of their priesthood. E., in an unseasonably-early retirement; L., waiting on the Spirit to find out where she is to serve next; and blessed M., happily, after much suffering and loss about to head out to serve in one of the most challenging corners of her nation.

That day at Duarte Park, there were also, among many others two other priests of our church: Michael+ Sniffen and John+ Merz along with +George Packard and his truly remarkable wife.

As a Montrealer I’m allowed to reference Leonard-the-Cohen: the cracks that let the light through however doesn’t quite cover it. Radiant, shining embodiments of the living truth of our collective vocation to live into the reality of being members in the Body of Christ each of these beings. Prophets in a 'not-for-prophet Church' which has yet to learn our Church was never called to be an end-in-itself, but rather the mid-wife to ‘life more abundantly’ Spirit unceasingly calls us all to.

Which I guess brings to another reason for ‘still bothering:’ my deep and hopeful sense that perhaps as never before, our Church- THE CHURCH has a lot to learn. And as frightening as that might be at times, none of us are alone in this, TBTG.