Sunday, June 27, 2021

5 Pentecost


 June 27, 2021

Mark 5.21-43

+ If you’re anything like me—and I know some of you are on this one—you know how awful being impatient can be.

We want certain things—and we want them NOW.

Not tomorrow.

Not in some vague future.

NOW!

And it no doubt drives those of around us crazy.

But I am impatient.

I want to be doing certain things.

And I have never liked waiting.

Waiting is one of the worst things I can imagine.

Many years ago, I studied a famous play by Jean-Paul Sartre called No Exit.


I’m not going to go into the whole plot of the play, but the essence is this.

Three damned souls arrive in hell, expecting torture and fire and unending pain.

Instead, they’re brought into a plain room.

And they wait.

And wait.

And wait.

There’s more to the play than this, but essentially, it’s about hell being simply a waiting room in which one waits and waits and waits.

To me, that play has always been terrifying.

I understand it.

I get it.

Yes!

That’s what hell would be like (if I believed in hell)

Impatient as I am, ultimately I know that waiting and being patient is a good thing sometimes.

I’ll give you an example.

If you have lost anyone, due to death especially, but also due to divorce or any other type of separation, you are going to mourn.

Mourning is a terrible thing.

It is something none of us want to go through.

It is so deeply and unrelently painful.

And the pain doesn’t seem to go away.

For any of us who goes through it, we have all come to  that moment when we simply want to be done with mourning.

We want to be past it.

We want to escape this thing that we simply cannot escape.

We feel trapped by it—walled in on all sides by it.

 So, we want to be done with it all and move on.

We realize that death and mourning and grief are all part of our own experience of hell here on earth.

Because, right there, right then, in the midst of it all—it’s truly the most terrible thing.

In fact, it’s very much like Sartre’s hell.

We want to be done with mourning and sadness and all that goes along with losing someone we love.

The fact is, as much as we want that—it doesn’t work this way.

We can’t rush these things.

Things happen in their due course.

Not OUR course.

Not MY course!

But the proper course.

God works in God’s own time.

Now I know that sounds like a platitude.

And I know that those sound like empty words when we are in midst of our own personal hell.

But it really does work that way.

And this is probably the most difficult thing for us.

Because we don’t see things the way God sees things.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote that classic, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, used the analogy of a carpet.

There are two sides of a carpet.

There is the top side of the carpet, where everything is beautiful and orderly.

The top side of carpet is that way the carpet should be seen.

But there’s also the underside of the carpet.

On the underside of the carpet, we see the stray strands of yarn, the ugly dried glue, a distorted view of what the carpet actually is.

While we are here, we are living on the underside of the carpet—the carpet being our life and the world.

It often feels like things don’t make sense.

It’s because we’re seeing it from this undersided view.

But God sees things from the upperside of the carpet.

And one day, we too will see our lives from that perspective as well.

And somehow, in some way, it will all make sense.

I truly believe that!

But the key is: we need to be patient.

 Impatience is present in our Gospel reading for today, but in a more subtle way.

Our reading from the Gospel today also teaches us an important reflection on our own impatience and waiting, and also about how the hell of death is ultimately defeated.

We have two things going on.

We have Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, who has lost his daughter, even though he doesn’t know it yet.

The hell of death has drawn close to Jairus.

While Jairus is pleading with Jesus to heal his daughter, we encounter this unnamed woman who has been suffering with a hemorrhage for twelve years—twelve years!—is desperate.

This so-called unnamed woman actually, according to tradition, has a name.

Veronica.


And she is, it is believed, to be the same woman we encounter whenever we do the Stations of the Cross.

At Station #6, she is the one who wipes the face of Jesus as he carries his cross toward Golgotha.

So, Veronica is impatient.

She wants healing.

I can tell you in all honesty that as I read and reflected and lived with this Gospel reading this past week,  I could relate.  

I can relate to Jairus, who is being touched with the darkness of death in his life.

And when I read of the woman with a hemorrhage grasping at the hem of Jesus’ garment, I could certainly empathize with her impatience and her grasping.

Many of us have known the anguish of Jairus.

We have known the anguish and pain of watching someone we love die.

And many of us know the pain and impatience of Veronica.

We often find ourselves bleeding deeply inside—and I don’t mean just physically but emotionally and psychologically too—with no possible hope for relief.

For us, as we relate, that “bleeding” might not be an actual bleeding, but a bleeding of our spirit, of our hopes and dreams, of a deep emotional or spiritual wound that just won’t heal, or just our grief and sadness, which, let me tell you, can also “bleed” away at us.  

And when we’ve been desperate, when we find ourselves so impatient, so in need of a change, we find ourselves clutching at anything—at any little thing.

We clutch even for a fringe of the prayer shawl of the One whom God sends to us in those dark moments.

When we do, we find, strangely, God’s healing.

And in this story of Jarius’ daughter, I too felt that moment in which I felt separated from the loved ones in my life—by death, yes, of course.

But also when I felt that a distance was caused by estrangement or anger.

And when I have begged for healing for them and for myself, it has often come.

I have shared with you before the pain of the estranged relationship I had with my sister, how for years we had little or nothing to do with each other, due to what we later realized were outside, nefarious forces in the guise of “family.”

But someone, in God’s own time, after years of praying about that relationship, it was healed.

It was truly a miracle in my life.

And I am very grateful for it.

But it came in God’s own time.

Not in mine.

It is a matter of simply  sometimes waiting.

For Jairus, he didn’t have to wait long.

For the woman, it took twelve years.

But in both cases, it came.

Still, I admit, I continue to be impatient.

I probably will always be inpatient.

But even now, even when the pain of mourning comes back, when I truly mourn still, after many years for loved ones I’ve lost, in the midst of it all, I can hear those words that truly do comfort me:

 “Why do you make a commotion and weep? Your loved one is not dead but only sleeping.”

Resurrection comes in many forms in our lives and if we wait them out these moments will happen.

And not all impatience is bad.

It is all right to be impatient—righteously impatient—for justice, for the right thing to be done.

It is all right to be impatient for injustice and lying and deceit to be brought to light and be revealed.

And dealt with.

It is all right to be impatient for the right thing to be done in this world.

But we cannot let our impatience get in the way of seeing that  miracles continue to happen in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

I know, because I have seen it again and again and, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others.

We know that in God, we find our greatest consolation.

Our God of justice and compassion and love will provide and will win out ultimately over the forces of darkness that seem, at times, to prevail in our lives.  

Knowing that, reminding ourselves of all that, we are able to be strengthened and sustained and rejuvenated.

We are able to face whatever life may throw at us with hope and defiance and, sometimes, even joy.

We are not in Sartre’s hell.

Trust me.

We’re not.

At some point, the doors of what seems like that eternal waiting room will be opened.

And we will be called forward.

And all will be well.

That is what scripture and our faith in God tell us again and again.

That is how God works in this world and in our lives.

So, let us cling to this hope and find true strength in it.

True strength to get us through those impatient moments in our lives when we want darkness and death and injustice and pain behind us.  

Let us be truly patient for our God.  

If we do, those words of Jesus to the woman today will be words directed to us as well:

“your faith has made you well;

go in peace;

be healed.”

 

 

 

Let us pray.

Holy God, the God of life, we are impatient. We are impatient for so much in this life. We are impatient for an end to suffering and injustice and pain. We are impatient for all things to be restored to fullness and goodness. But mostly we are impatient for your presence in our midst, for your blessings and your joy. Help us to be patient, and in our patience, help us to be aware of the needs of those around us who also, in their impatience, are need of love and care. In Jesus’s Name, we pray.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Asexual and Episcopalian

 

Being an Asexual, Episcopal Priest

For all of my career as a Priest in the Episcopal Church, I was a strange anomaly in the Church: I have been a celibate priest.

          Celibate priests have a long and vital place in the Church. Many of my personal heroes in the Church were these single priests—both female and male—who lived life of selfless devotion to God and the Church, who prayed the Offices daily, who celebrated Mass with deep devotion, who cared passionately for those in their care, and who did so as single priests in the Anglican or Episcopal churches. I looked longingly to these priests as examples. But I also took comfort in the fact that I was not alone in my singleness. Others had also walked this same path I walked. And I felt somewhat justified in my celibacy by these brave priests who gave up everything “for Jesus.”

          Now, before I go on I should be somewhat transparent about who I am as a Christian: I am also a life-long, committed progressive. I’ll even be more blunt: I am a good, old-fashioned liberal. I have never shied away from that term. In fact, I have embraced it and held it dear to who I am. My being a liberal Christian means that I believe in the full-inclusion of all people in the Church, no matter who they are, regardless of sex or sexuality or race or whatever.

          Having said that, I did go to a conservative Anglo-Catholic seminary, I served in a diocese that was, until recently, very conservative in regard to the issue of homosexuality and I have served alongside many clergy and have served many Christians who hold views very different from my own. I have certainly never been quiet about my views and opinions, even in those places where the conservative view definitely held precedence.

          Still, my beliefs aside, among my liberal/progressive friends, I was always a kind of anomaly. Yes, I was liberal. Yes, I fully and vociferously supported the full-inclusion of all people in the Church. Yes, I married same-sex couples and spoke out and fought hard so that all people could participate in ALL the sacraments, I was still an odd duck. I was the celibate. And I was proudly and gladly so. I was an oddity even among my progressive clergy-friends. As LGBTQA+ people were fully welcomed into the Episcopal Church, many of my previously celibate clergy friends found partners and married. I remained single and celibate.
          Only as time went by—only within the last few years in fact—did I realize that calling myself “celibate” might not be the right way to describe my single state. Celibacy, I realized, was a choice one made in one’s life, a committed decision to remain single and not engage in sex. For many of my celibate fellow-clergy, celibacy was often a heavy burden for them, something under which they struggled.

          However, for me, the struggle was simply not there. “Celibacy,” as I previously understood it, certainly held no burden. It was natural. It was comfortable. It felt so very right. I didn’t have the temptations for companionship and sexual intimacy some of my celibate clergy friends had. Not even remotely.

          And so, when asked by progressive friends why I still remained celibate when I could certainly date and get married, especially now that all the restrictions for doing  so were gone for all people in the Episcopal Church, I found myself having to look closer at my life as a celibate. And is then, after perusing the internet, after reading too many online articles and forums and commentaries, and reading books that were sometimes more clinical than I cared for, I came to hard realization: I am not celibate after all; I am asexual.

          Asexual.


According to the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (or AVEN), asexuality is defined as such:

 

“An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, just like other sexual orientations. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or better; we just face a different set of needs and challenges than most sexual people do.”

 

                             (https://www.asexuality.org/?q=overview.html)

 

          As simple as that definition might sound, it took a while for to grasp what exactly asexuality was. But once I did, I realized that this was definitely my orientation. This was who I was, and what I was. And it felt good. It felt very much like putting on a comfortable sweater that fits just right.

          As I look around me, both in my personal life and in my place in the church, I do not know or see many Ace people, and certainly almost no asexual Episcopal priests.

          Still, I can’t help but wonder if some of those celibate Anglo-Catholic priests I have so admired in my life were maybe actual asexual. Ultimately, I don’t suppose it matters too much. But personally it would’ve been helpful for me over the years to know of other asexual priests who experienced the same situations as I have. It always feels good knowing that someone has walked a path before me, though sometimes being the first to make the path is also an amazing feeling as well.

          So, this is who I am. I am a weird combo: a vegan, Liberal,  High Church, Episcopal priest and poet, who is Asexual. More than anything, I am a loved child of my God. I am a follower of Jesus, whom I follow as passionately as I am able. And I grateful to God for making me into this strange, weird mixture, for bringing me to this point in my journey, for helping me to see me as I really am, and for allowing me to serve God and God’s people just as I am.  

          I sometimes don’t know how to end commentaries or sermons, so I usually close with a prayer. I found this wonderful prayer on Tumblr, and I think it gives voice to what many of us Ace people feel in our relationship with God:

 

Prayer for Asexuals and Aromantics

God of Love in Diverse Forms,

 You formed me differently from many others, and sometimes it is hard for me to accept that. When I try to be open about who I am, how I feel, and how I love, some people scoff in my face or even rebuke me for it. Help me pay them no mind, knowing that they can’t see into the human heart the way you can.

I want to grow into the person you made me to be, but sometimes I can’t help but feel lonely, isolated, or broken. Send me your Spirit in those times, Lord. Lend me your strength and courage, your wisdom and patience. Remind me of the words your Son Jesus spoke regarding people who do not marry, and which I may apply to my own asexuality/aromanticism:

“Some are born that way; some have been made that way by others; still others have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom from heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:12)

 

My brother and savior Jesus Christ, you were like me while you lived on earth, focusing on other kinds of love than romance, on relationships based on things other than sex. When this world tries to convince me that sex and romance are necessary to being happy, help me see your Truth. If romantic love and/or sex are not for me, help me see how I can connect with people in countless other ways, cultivating friendships into deep, compassionate bonds that imitate your own gentle love.

Oh Holy Spirit, giver of diverse gifts, guide me into understanding how my orientation can be used to strengthen my relationship with you and with your creation. You have produced so many marvelous kinds of love, so many beautiful ways of connecting to others. No one way of experiencing life is universal, and yet, miraculously, we are all one in the Body of Christ. Let me celebrate myself as you made me, and let all Christians celebrate the wondrous diversity of your Church. All glory be to you.

Amen

Sunday, June 20, 2021

4 Pentecost




 June 20, 2021

 Job 38.1-11; Mark 4.35-41

 + Well, today, June 20th, is a big anniversary for anyone who has lived in this area for any period of time.

 It was on this day, 64 years ago on June 20, 1957, that a tornado struck Fargo and killed 12 people.

 As many of you know, I wrote a book about that event, which published back in 2010.

 The book is entitled Fargo, 1957.

 It was just reprinted on Friday.

 And later today I was supposed to read at Broadway Plaza for an anniversary event, but it was postponed due to the rain.

 I wrote that book because my mother’s cousin and her husband died as a result of that tornado.

 Don Titgen, my mother’s cousin’s husband, died in the actual tornado on that day in 1957

 And Betty Titgen, my mom’s cousin, died in January 1960 after being in a coma from the time of the tornado until her death.

 


I ended up doing research on the lives of the twelve recognized victims of the tornado, as well as the life of Dick Shaw, who was the young man in the famous photo carrying the body of a six-year-old victim of the tornado, who ended up dying twelve years later tragically.

 I also interviewed Mercedes Erickson.


 She was the mother of the six children who died that day.

 That day was also Mercedes’ 36 birthday.

 Today would’ve been her 100th birthday.

 The kids didn’t leave the house as the tornado was coming because they had just made a birthday cake for her and wanted to surprise her as she came home from work that day.

 For Mercedes, she lived with a pain few of us know, for the rest of her life.

 That book affected me for a long time.

 I struggled for quite awhile both as I was writing that book and afterward to make sense of this event.

 As a Christian, as a priest, I had to ask myself: why?

 Why did this happen?

 Why did this happen to these people?

 These people were people just like you and me.

 They woke up that morning—to a hot, June Thursday morning in Fargo, North Dakota—just like any other day.

 And then, a storm came and uprooted their entire lives in a matter of moments.

 As I pondered our reading from the Gospel of Mark, I found myself  re-examining the events of June, 20, 1957 and thought about the storms in my own life in the light of that scripture.

 We all have them.

 We all have our own storms in this life.

 We all have our own chaos.

 And they are disruptive.

 And they can be destructive.

 Certainly our own Deacon John, whose first ordination anniversary we are celebrating today, can tell us about storms.

 I remember very clearly the first time he visited St. Stephen’s 7 or 8 years ago.

 He had been battered by some storms in his life—storms created by the Church and by life and in general.

 And he came here looking for a safe harbor from those storms.

 And because he did, we are grateful today.

 We all benefitted from being a safe haven from the storms of this life for John, and hopefully for many others.

 So, the question to ask of ourselves this morning is: What is God saying to us when the storms invade our lives?

 What do we do in the windstorms of our lives, when we feel battered and beaten and bashed?

 Well, as I have been pondering on that Gospel reading and on that book I wrote all that times ago, one glaring, honest reality of my life came forth:

 Although we can’t control the storms of our lives, we can control how we react to them.

 We can’t control ill fortunes, or sickness, or old age or accident.

 We can’t control tornados, and the loss of loved ones, or pandemics or the weather.

 But we can control our reaction to those things.

  So, when we hear scriptures like this today, as we experience our own storms in our lives, what do we do?

 How do we respond?

 Do we let the winds blow, let the chaos rage?

 Or do we, in those moments, calm ourselves and listen?

 Do we strain against the wind of the storm and listen to hear the Voice of God?

 The fact is, if you do so, trust me: we will hear God’s voice.

 If we turn our spiritual ears toward God, we will hear God, even in those storms in our lives.

 When bad things happen in our lives, we ask, Why do bad things happen to those of us who are faithful to God?

 We have all asked this question in life.

 Why do bad things happen to good people, to people who are faithful and loving and good?

 Why do bad things happen to us, who strive in our own ways to be    good and loving and faithful?

 Why do our lives get turned upside down sometimes?

 We want answers when we shout our angry questions of unfairness into the storm, our fist raised.

 But, sometimes the voice from the wind—as we shake with fear or anger (or both) and hold on for dear life during those frightening storms—asks us a question in return:

 “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 That is the voice of Jesus, answering us in the storm.

 Why fear the whirlwinds and all that they unleash upon us?

 Have we no faith?

 Again and again through the scriptures God commands us, in various voices, “do not be afraid.”

 “Do not be afraid.”

 And still we fear.

 And our fear causes anger.

 And our fear causes more storms, more chaos.

 But the message is that although the storms of our lives will rage around us, when we stop fearing, those storms are quieted.

 Because sometimes the voice that comes out of the storms of our lives is not asking a question of us.

 Sometimes the voice that comes out of the storms of our lives commands,

 “Peace! Be Still!”

 “Peace!”

 “Be still!”

 In that calm stillness, we feel God’s Presence most fully and completely.

 As disoriented as we might be from being buffeted by the storm, that stillness can almost be as disorienting as the storms themselves.

 Still, in it, we find Jesus, calm and collected, awaiting us to have faith, to shed our fears and to allow the all-powerful and all-loving God of Jesus to still the storms of our lives.

 So, in those moments when we stir up the forces of our anger, when the whirlwinds rage, when the storms come up, when the skies turn dark and ominous, when fear begins lurking at our doors and anger jostles us around, let us strain toward that Voice that asks us,

 “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

 Do not fear, God is saying to us again and again.

 Do not fear what life or death or storms can throw at us.

 Have faith.

 God is more powerful than death or storms.

 Our God is a God of life and peace.

 God loves us.

 God loves each us fully and completely.

 God will not leave alone even in the storms of our lives.

 And the storms will not prevail.

 In the end, the storms don’t win.

 The storms are only temporary.

 But God’s love, the life we find with God, that is unending.

 In midst of even the worst whirlwinds of our lives, there is a stillness dwelling in its core.

 “In the time of my favor I heard you,” God says to us in our reading from Paul this morning. “And in the day of trouble I helped you.”

 God always helps us in our trouble.

 And knowing that we realize that above every storm, above every tornado, there is a Light that is about to shine through.

 And is then than we can live!

 And flourish!

 See! we hear Paul saying today in his letter,

 See, now is the acceptable time;

 see, now is the day of [our] salvation!