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The Oasis: Let the Circle Be Unbroken

I stand at the door and knock

I stand at the door and knock

On May 30th my wife and I were blessed to attend “Let the Circle Be Unbroken”; a Festival Eucharist celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Oasis. The Oasis, a sanctuary ministry for the LGBT community took form and was founded by the humble and holy saints of the tiny but mighty in spirit All Saints Episcopal Church in Hoboken, New Jersey. Two decades ago, as the AIDS epidemic continued to cast a pall over the gay community and the World Health Organization still considered homosexuality a disease, All Saints realized the crying need for a ministry of inclusion for the LGBT community. The foresight of their loving witness of a radical hospitality of inclusiveness and joyous celebration of diversity; still stands as a blessed light to an LGBT community that continues to be excluded, attacked and oppressed by religious bodies, governmental decrees and cultural practices throughout the world.

The Sermon was delivered by Bishop Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong was instrumental in the formation of The Oasis ministry. He has long been an advocate of reform in the church by ordaining women, Gay and Lesbian priests and for his theological writings on scripture and his apologetics of a Christianity that transcends the limited bounds of fundamentalism.

I expected that Bishop Spong would exhort the gathered to continue the fight against the denial of full equality for LGBT people. I feared the forces of reaction were gathering following the California Supreme Court action to uphold the legality of Proposition 8 that prohibits same sex marriage. This judicial affirmation seemed to energize momentum for a movement intent on withholding a basic civil right to LGBT people. But true to his nature as an optimistic contrarian, Bishop Spong exhorted service celebrants to “claim the victory” in LGBT civil rights. He refused to empower the forces of reaction instead acknowledging the ascendancy of enlightenment and change during the twenty years of the The Oasis ministry.

Bishop Spong began his homily stating “by the time a cultural or institutional injustice is debated in public, its power is waning”. He recounted the struggle and process to ordain the first openly gay priest, the late Rev. Rob Williams who was instrumental in the formation and establishment of The Oasis Ministry. Spong reasoned, religious orders throughout history were rife with homosexual clergy. Yet homophobic public pronouncements condemning the practice were vehemently upheld with a theology interpreted through narrow lenses of biblical certainty. Bishop Spong noted that the ordination of an openly gay priest was an indication that the church was finally becoming honest with itself by acknowledging that homosexuality has long had a presence within the church.

Institutional transformation is not easy nor painless. Prophetic leaders that effect change by standing on plainly evident truths more often then not find dishonor in their homeland. Bishop Spong went on to explain how this ordination led to his censure by the Episcopal House of Bishops. Its a fascinating retelling of the fallout from Bishop Spong’s action and an example of the fiat of institutional power. Censure is exclusion and its more then a little ironic that the House of Bishops would resort to the tool of exclusion to block and forestall gay clergy and The Oasis ministries that witness for the absolute necessity for faith communities to be inclusive.

Bishop Spong spoke of the painful process the diocesan clergy committee went through as it sought to reach a decision on the Ordination of the Rev. Rob Williams. The shackles of culture and long held beliefs forged in furnaces fueled by misconception and prejudices are a strong chains to loosen. Bishop Spong spoke of a 4 hour luncheon meeting rife with high emotions, threats and finally a resolution. After much debate and heated discussion committee members were moved to conduct a reasonable and dispassionate examination of the candidates qualifications on the content of Rob Williams character not on his sexual orientation. This empowered some committee members with the strength and courage to change their negative vote to an affirmation of Rob Williams as a worthy priest that can bring his unique gifts to serve all Gods children.  It was a milestone in the history of the Episcopal Church. It opened the door to numerous ordinations of Gay and Lesbian clergy and the eventual call of The Right Reverend Gene Robinson by the Diocese of New Hampshire to become their Bishop.

Gene Robinson’s installation as bishop has forced the church to reexamine its institutional DNA. It is a reexamination that is not complete and has created fissures in the Episcopal Church and in the broader worldwide Anglican Communion. Gene Robinson’s exclusion from last summer’s Lambeth Conference was as astonishing for it’s pettiness as for it’s cowardly subservience to political expedience. Clearly the reexamination needs to proceed. The Oasis, it ministry and supporters stand at the door and knock. Asking that the reexamination open doors to a radical interpretation of what it means to live into the inclusive love and hospitality exemplified in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Oasis Ministry calls us to return to the simple precept of Jesus instruction to love God with all your heart by extending that love to others.

That is the only way the circle can remain unbroken. The unbroken circle informs our faith practice and commands us to recognize and extend all rights and privileges to all Gods children regardless of sexual persuasion, gender or race. A justice denied is an abomination God’s wisdom corrects. To be sure, God is faithful to the beloved and our faith in God’s wisdom is our sanctuary.  Our heart felt prayer and fervent wish is that those who have hardened their hearts through the practice of exclusion will see the light of God’s wisdom and understand that it is an abomination that God’s children can no longer suffer.

On this Gay Pride Day of 2009, marking the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we pray that the Lord continues to richly bless the ministries of The Oasis. We lift up all those who remain burdened and injured by the oppression of injustice to be freed from those unjust burdens and be healed and made whole from their wounds inflicted by those acting in ignorance of God’s abundant and all encompassing love.

God Speed Oasis

You Tube Music Video: Joan Baez, Let the Circle Be Unbroken

Risk: civil rights, God’s love

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June 29, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, Civil Rights, faith, gospel, institutional, LGBT, love | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Oh Happy Day

Real Americans have spoken!

Congratulations

President Elect Senator Barack Obama.

Senator Obama ran a masterful campaign.

My countrymen have chosen well.

The election is over.

The hard work begins.

We salute the winner
the American people and our democratic republic.

“With Malice toward none, with charity for all,

with firmness in the right,

as God gives us to see the right,

let us strive on to finish the work we are in,

to bind up the nation’s wounds.

Abraham Lincoln


We offer songs and celebratory film.

You tube music videos:

Edwin Hawkins Singers, Oh Happy Day!

Brooklyn Funk Essentials: The Creator Has a Master Plan

Appalachian Spring: Aaron Copeland

With Malice Towards None:

Ben Selvin and the Crooners, Happy Days are Here Again

Aretha Franklin: I Say A Little Prayer

Mavis Staples: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Bruce Springsteen: Born in the USA (acoustic)

Risk:

healer of the breach

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Bible, democracy, elections, gospel, holiday, Obama | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

The Rev. Prince Singh

On the morning of September 12, 2001, I awoke in an AIDS hospice on Washington Street in Lower Manhattan. The day before, I was one of the thousands of refugees fleeing the terror from the World Trade Center bombing. Unable to leave the island for my home in New Jersey, a Nicaraguan Nun from Mother Teresa’s Order of The Missionaries of Charity saw my distressed condition and took me into their care. They gave me something to drink, washed away the terror dust from my body, fed me, put me to work in the kitchen to feed the residents and gave me a bed for the night. That day I experienced the worst and the best of humanity and witnessed two radically different interpretations of how people act out of what they perceive to be God’s commands.

That morning I awoke early to join the Sisters for Morning Prayer. It was led by a Priest from the Bronx and after the prayer service we spoke over coffee in the hospice kitchen. He bummed a cigarette from me and recounted the death of the Catholic Priest Mychal Judge and how they laid him on the altar of St. Peter’s just hours before. He offered a simple homily “sic transit gloria mundi,” the glories of this world are fleeting. He explained that these words are recited by a bare footed boy running alongside a procession carriage conveying a newly elected Pope in front of the cheering throngs of devoted Catholics. It’s a good reminder of how we perceive permanence and immutability and how it can all evaporate in the wink of an eye.

That terrible day as I stood peering into the gaping entry wound of the south tower and witnessing jumpers cascading down to their decisive deaths, I continued to wonder how they were going to put out those blazing infernos 110 stories up. Like everyone else, we never considered the likelihood that those buildings could fall. The idea of American indomitableness was the largest casualty on that day.

I felt compelled to recite the same words to my friend, rabbi and spiritual mentor on the night before his consecration as the Eighth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, the Reverend Dr. Prince Singh. It’s not that Rev. Singh lacks humility or is trapped inside an inflated ego or offers a false piety. Indeed if Rev. Singh has vulnerability it is his infinite accessibility and his unfathomable compassion. Bishop Singh’s faith is deep, real and compelling. It is exposed like the iconic Sacred Heart of Jesus, tender, vulnerable, large, life affirming and open to anyone wishing to partake in an ever deepening walk with Jesus Christ. He is a true pastor and I pray that his pastoral gifts are not lost amidst the responsibilities of a ministerial higher office.

Our past glory, Father Singh, as our parish Priest is now gone to the Great Lakes region to continue his ministry on a higher level. I now know how his former Dalite parishioners and his family felt when Father Singh left India to begin his ministry in the United States. I believe that divine providence has brought this great man to Rochester. This great city, once a sparkling jewel of American inventiveness, entrepreneurial spirit and industry now faces great challenges to revitalize and reinvent itself in a post industrial economy. Who would have believed a scant 10 years ago that premier corporate brand names like Xerox, Eastman Kodak and Bausch and Lomb’s business fortunes could be so fleeting and so drastically change? Bishop Singh will contribute to the rebirth of this region. His ministry can weave together the many elements and talents needed to bring forth a new and vibrant community fabric. That’s what great pastors do.

On 9/11 Father Singh was the last of family and friends that I spoke too before being consumed by the conflagration and civic turmoil of that day. After watching the towers burn I returned to my office at 25 Broadway. My phone was ringing. It was Father Singh. He found me and advised me to leave the city. He was relieved that I was unhurt and he promised to contact my family to let them know I was safe. A good pastor always finds his lost sheep. Though I had yet to face my greatest danger of that day, and I would not be in contact with my family until my return home the following day, Father Singh’s contact would assure my loved ones that I was alive and on my way home.

I believe that Bishop Singh’s installation signals that Rochester and its greater region have an opportunity to bring forth a new and vibrant community on a great lake. Just like Mother Elizabeth the Nicaraguan Nun who took me into her care on 9/11, Bishop Singh will water the seeds of growth, will wash away the dust from the city’s broken past, feed the hungry with spiritual food, put the beloved to work in God’s vineyards and see that the weary have a place to rest. It’s what great pastors do.

With God’s help a change will come to the fortunes of this great American city. Our prayers are with you Bishop Singh. May God continue to richly bless your ministry.

You Tube Video: Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come

Risk: unbelief, pessimism, product risk, urban renewal, terrorism

June 2, 2008 Posted by | cities, faith, gospel, terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment