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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

My Name Is Legion

stempedeOne of the more disturbing Gospel passages for me appears in the fifth chapter of Mark.  It is the story of Legion;  a man possessed of many demons.  Legion lived amongst tombstones and took to cutting himself.  The townsfolk were terrified of Legion and bound him with chains.  Legion would break his chains and he could be heard howling and cursing his fate as he roamed the night in lonely exile through his mountainous domain.

One day Legion saw Jesus approaching the village and went to him begging not to torment him.  Jesus saw that the man was possessed of demons and commanded them to leave the stricken Legion.  When the illness left Legion the demons asked Jesus if they could inhabit a heard of pigs foraging nearby.  Jesus consented and the pigs went mad and rushed off a cliff into the sea where all the pigs drowned.

Though the story may be the first accounting of a human sickness causing a swine flu infestation it always bothered me.  Jesus’ consent to infect a heard of innocent pigs whose sickness compelled them to leap to their deaths is disturbing.   Perhaps there is a cultural justification to the story for the prohibition of eating pork and the classification of pigs as haraam but upon rereading the story,  it was the desire of the illness to enter the swine.  The story is a wonderful examination of the non-discriminate nature of illnesses and disease.  Jesus provides the reader with an important lesson not to shut out the ill and to take considered action to engage the malady to effect the cure.

Who amongst us does not have demons or illness lurking within?  Indeed we are all Legion.    As a person in recovery, I identify with Legion’s state of possession and find great comfort in Jesus’ example of the necessity to heal. He rebuked the use of chains, showed tenderness and empathy to the infirm.  He effected the cure and commanded the ill to rejoin the the community as a whole and healthy human being.  John Donne’s Meditation 17 is very similar in the importance of community in dealing with illness and tribulation.

Jesus’ understanding of illness and his example as a healer stands in direct contradiction to some of the inane proscriptions for dealing with the swine pandemic that have been put forward.  Guided by fear and the desire to politicize the pandemic some politicians are using the swine flu as an opportunity to collect some political capital.  The Stepford Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman; observed with great intelligence and insight that the the last swine flu outbreak occurred while another democratic administration held the White House.  Ms. Bachman apparently suspects that the pandemic may be politically inspired and connected to the platform of the Democratic Party in some way.

Twitter and other social networking sites are alive with tweets proclaiming this is evidence of another terrorist attack.  Ive seen a bunch of tweets stating this pandemic is clear evidence of Al-Qaeda activity in Mexico using our open borders to destroy America.

This type of thinking is very dangerous.  I remember when AIDS first surfaced as a disease.  Little was known about its origins and causes.  What was known was that many Gay men were becoming infected with the disease and if I recall correctly it was referred to as the Gay influenza or virus.  This categorization of AIDS stigmatized the disease and those who were infected.  This stigmatization contributed to the spread of the disease because homosexuals who were infected with AIDS would avoid treating the disease because of guilt and shame.  Non-gay men who were infected with the disease may have been slow to seek treatment because they believed themselves not to be infected because they did not engage in homosexual activities.  In either case the misinformation, stigma and shame attached to the disease by people for the purpose of political gain were responsible for the spread of the disease.

The howling yodelers of Talk Radio and Fox News are also crowing about the political dimensions of the flu.  Some want an immediate closure of our borders and question the political resolve of of the Obama Administration to live up to their pledge to protect the Homeland.  Glen Beck of FOX TV states that President Obama is a prisoner of his liberal PC convictions.  Beck cries through a river of alligator tears about  the failure to close the borders is synonymous with an act of sedition that seeks to destroy America.

While Mr. Beck professes a great love for his country he demonstrates a poor understanding of  what distinguishes America.  Just lurking underneath the surface of Mr. Beck’s demagoguery is blaming Mexicans for the pandemic just as Ms. Bachman blame of democrats for the spread of the disease.  Science  instructs that illness is an equal opportunity malady.  It does not discriminate on the basis of people place or color.

In Mark’s story about Legion, Jesus took action.  Jesus didn’t say use a more study chain nor did he say build a wall around us to protect us from this scourge.  No Jesus touched Legion.  In story after story Jesus touched lepers,  blind people, crippled and the dead to cure them.  Jesus was available during his ministry to all people and allowed others to touch him so that their faith would free them from their demons.  Jesus understood that a wall of ostracism is a poor defense from a pandemic.  Ironically its isolation that incubates the disease of body, mind and soul.  Jesus  stressed that the ill be part of the community to witness and teach others about restoration, rehabilitation, the importance of action and the need to serve.

Politicizing problems obfuscates solutions. The mother of fear is ignorance and the thinking exemplified by Ms. Bachman and Mr. Beck is enough to create 10 pandemics of fear, suspicion and resentment.  Little do they realize the real gold that can be mined through the challenge of tribulation. We’ll close with these words from John Donne’s Meditation 17.

Writes Donne:

Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

You Tube Video: Louis Armstrong, St. James Infirmary

Risk: isolation, politicization, ignorance

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Bible, community, culture, democrats, gay rights, jazz, LGBT, Obama, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment