15 November 2008

The day of protest

I went to our local rally for equal rights. I was pleasantly surprised that there were about 1,000 people there. The overwhelming number of people were college students from our local University and Community College. Gay, straight, bi; married heterosexuals, married gay people, co-habitating straights. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera. So....

Here are a couple of photos from the rally attended by my friend Matthew in Sacramento. He said there were about 1,500 people there, far less than the rally last weekend.

Ft. Worth gives Iker what he wants

It’s official: at 8:29 PST, most of the 197 delegates to the convention of the diocese of Fort Worth voted to terminate their membership in the Episcopal Church. What a surprise and shock. Not.

I listened to Bishop Iker’s address to the convention before the vote. I can sum it up in a couple of statements

We are leaving. We are going to do all we can to steal the property. I call upon Mrs. Schori to wish us well in our theft. TEC should tell us to depart in peace and be happy to have us steal everything but the sand.

There is something deeply disturbing about the people whose property we are stealing resorting to legal redress. It’s unchristian (it is, however a Christian thing to be lying, thieving wolves, which we are).

We are the true Episcopalians; we are “orthodox’” we are the real Anglicans in the United States. TEC is apostate; we have the only right to interpret the bible.

The bible is the ultimate authority in all things (unless we don’t like something in it and decide to ignore that bit).

I’m proud to be your bishop and to have led you into schism and to be the head of the Theft Department.

What came though crystal clear is that Iker needs significant psychological help. He cannot distinguish the difference between reality and fantasy. It is also clear that he is morally bankrupt.

The opposition gave a lengthy and sound refutation of the proposed changes in the C&C of Ft. Wroth. They presented eleven reasons why the vote will be illegal under canon and secular law. Three of the reasons are that it violates (1) the C&C of the diocese of Ft. Worth, (2) the C&C of TEC, and (3) the C&C of the Southern Cone. It was also pointed out that such a move will violate the Windsor Report. The speaker used each of these documents to show how the act will be illegal.

All of the legal reasons were dismissed as an attempt to intimidate people into staying in TEC.

The supporting documentation was simply that they are “orthodox” and TEC is apostate. There was not one legal reason given why the move should/could take place.

The main proponent of leaving TEC had the qualifications of “I’m a mother and grandmother.” Her main point of proving the move was legal was that at one meeting she attended, a woman (Mrs. X) expressed shock that Mrs. X’s husband could not teach Sunday school simply because he wore a dress to church. That was the strength of their argument for leaving. Not one unassailable or logical reason was given for leaving TEC. Every statement in favour of leaving was simply and blatantly an appeal to emotion.

What was interesting was that we repeatedly heard what “the kids” think or would do, but not one young person spoke for those “kids.” Of the three people who spoke, the youngest person was thirty years old – and a priest. He was the expert in what “all the teenagers and younger kids” think and want. Other than the three speakers listed above, only one person spoke from the floor of the convention. Iker had done his job well.

And of course, the African rector of St. Phillips put in his two cents on why TEC is apostate “and totally abandoned be a Christian.” His reasons were an apeal to emotion, too.

Despite the irrefutable evidence provided showing that the move is illegal for many reasons, the delegates said “to hell with the law” and violated at least four sets of canons and constitutions.

I’m not sure if I were the presiding bishop of the Southern Cone, that I would want a bunch of people who proved they have no regard for the legal aspects of the C&C of the Southern Cone or any other organization ecclesiastical or civil.

And then, with a confusing number system of voting with a scantron, the delegates removed themselves from the Episcopal Church. They think they took the diocese with them, but they didn’t and the courts will remind them that they are wrong in their imagination of their hearts.

There was a very interesting documentary shown about the Anglican Church in Peru. That alone was worth watching Iker’s Circus.

The tragic thing of all of this is that these are truly sincere people – they really do love God. They have just been led astray by an egotistical and immoral man who really wants to be a Roman Catholic type of autocratic bishop.

So we now have a situation where the majority of Episcopalians in four diocese have left TEC. There is some peculation that to have a province there must be four diocese. Well, once Pittsburgh, Quincy and Ft. Worth organize themselves in some type of community of faith, the GAFCOnners can say there are the necessary four, and recognize a province in North America. It won't be Anglican though, unless ++Williams truly has gone insane.

The average of the votes for each of the four issues was clergy 72/18 - lay 104/24.

14 November 2008

Mt. Calvary Santa Barbara California burns to ground

The raging Montecito wildfire has destroyed historic Mount Calvary Retreat House, staff and Santa Barbara County officials have confirmed.

The resident brothers, members of the Order of the Holy Cross, and staff are safe following evacuation, said Nancy Bullock, program director for Mount Calvary, speaking by phone from All Saints by-the-Sea Church in Montecito.

Bullock said that All Saints is currently working to determine if any parishioners have lost homes in the blaze, which has claimed more than 100 residences across 2,500 acres. Bullock's husband, Jeff, is rector of the parish.

Bishop J. Jon Bruno, who is in close telephone contact with clergy leaders in the Santa Barbara area, asks the prayers of the diocesan community for all those affected by the fire. The bishop and staff of the Diocese of Los Angeles have pledged their support in assisting the coordination of fire recovery efforts. Checks, payable to the Treasurer of the Diocese and earmarked "Montecito Fire Recovery" may be sent to the Bishop's Office, 840 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90026.

Mount Calvary's prior, the Rev. Nicholas Radelmiller OHC, is leading the brothers and staff in assessing next steps of response to the fire damage.

Bullock said the brothers and staff at Mt. Calvary, were able to leave with some of the hilltop retreat house's valuable art treasures, as well as computer records, "but so much is lost."

Mount Calvary staff will assist groups and individuals in seeking alternate locations for upcoming retreats, all of which are now cancelled owing to the fire, Bullock said. The Cathedral Center retreat center in Los Angeles is available to assist this process.

At Santa Barbara's Trinity Church, rector and deanery co-dean Mark Asman is meeting with staff and volunteers to assess the situation and crisis response. Further information will be reported through the Episcopal News email list as soon as it becomes available, Asman said.

Asman said Trinity Church's rectory and parish house were able to accommodate the brothers overnight November 13. St. Mary's Retreat House, an Episcopal Church site near the Santa Barbara Mission, has also extended hospitality, although it was subject to a temporary evacuation November 13.

Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared the fire zone a disaster area as fire fighters continue to work to contain the blaze.

Mount Calvary Retreat House, with its panoramic ocean views, was founded in 1947 by the Order of the Holy Cross, based in West Park, N.Y.

--Report filed by Bob Williams, canon for community relations, Diocese of Los Angeles.

One never truly knows who one's friends are - really

When I was a kid, a very prominent citizen of our town died. He was very well respected. When "they" cleaned his house out, our community was stunned to learn the man had a well used KKK "uniform" hanging in his closet. I remember how shocked my parents were when they learned the news.

Today I'm in both shock and mourning. I used the LA Times search engine to see who donated to the Yes/No campaign. It's a data base that one can search by zip code or name. When I typed in my three local zip codes, I was shocked beyond belief. I know every single person who donated to the "yes" campaign. I know them personally. The hate is no longer abstract -- it is personal.

One man, Leon Fairbanks, whom I thought was a friend, donated $15,000 to the hate campaign. I almost fell out of my chair.

One of my very best friends Kim Kunz, a member of the stake presidency, donated $1,000. Another friend, who used to work for me, Ruth Vrajich donated $1,000. She has a board and care facility in Atascadero.

The son of good friends of mine donated $500. He is a 21 year old LDS, married student with a baby and they are struggling to pay the bills and he found $500 to donate to the hate campaign.

Every single "yes" donated in our three town/city area is a Mormon. Every single person.

I was very relieved, though, to see that more people I knew (LDS) did not contribute.

As I write this post, I'm watching a documentary on the History Channel called Voices of Civil Rights. It is documentation of the actual expediences of blacks and whites who were living in the South during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. The similarities between then, and the black experience, and now, the GLBT experience are eerily similar.

Thanks to my parents, I suppose I'll never understand hate and bigotry. And I'll never understand how a group of people who used to be second class citizens can discriminate against another group of people. I'll never understand the Klan mentality -- and that's what they are, Klansmen.

13 November 2008

When is "enough" just too far?

This past week I've had several conversations with a younger friend of mine, Matthew. He expressed his deep concern and his uncomfortableness with how some people who supported the "yes" campaign are being treated by the community. Matthew is right to be both concerned and uncomfortable.

Two people in particular were singled out that really bothers him. The first is a restaurant owner in the greater Los Angles area who gave a paltry $100 to the yes campaign after being told to donate by her LDS elders. The outcry was so bad in her case that she invited the entire GLBT community to her restaurnat for a free lunch so she could talk with them face-to-face and express how bad she felt and to try to assure them she is not against civil rights for the gay community.

Many of us have been following the story of the other person singled out -- the artistic director of a theatre in Sacramento. He is a member of the CJCLDS and he donated $1,000 to the "yes" campaign as his church "urged" him to do.

The backlash was astounding. Playwrights withdrew their permission for the theatre to perform their works; a "prominent" lesbian actress declared she would boycott working in the theatre; and she convinced many other actors to do the same.

Because of this, Monday the director issued an apology. Tuesday he "resigned." It does not take a genius to know the resignation was not his idea but an agreed upon face saving action by the theatre owners to save their wallets.

What I am going to say is going to be unpopular. This has gone too far: it is McCarthyism and it's just plain wrong. The man is being persecuted for his religious conviction. His employment was terminated because of his religious and political activity. What has happened in this instance is just as wrong as the removal of GLBT civil rights on 4th November. Whether we like it or not, he has the right to his opinions.

I support boycotts of companies who gave obscene amounts of money to the yes campaign, but I do not support causing a person to lose his livelihood for his religious views and his political donation.

This is beneath our dignity as a community; we are better than that. This is beneath our dignity as people of faith.

We are better than this, my friends. The GLBT community should stand to defend his rights just as we stand up for our GLBT rights. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Pray for this man, friends. And pray that the GLBT community finds its centre and moves away from the very bigotry it decries.

12 November 2008

The internal cost of injustice on one Mormon, and the rest of us, too

I received an email yesterday from a close friend who is a member of the CJCLDS. I'll call him Joseph. He is not one of the idiots in the pews: he has a position of pretty hefty leadership in the CJCLDS.

Joseph married a very pretty LDS girl and they started a family of very good looking children. I mean stunningly good looking.

Their oldest daughter (I'll call her Emma) was never "in the mold" and they couldn't figure out just why until puberty hit. At that moment they recognized that she "liked girls." This was difficult for my friend and his wife, but they were as supportive of her as they were of the other children. The whole family showed up for every school play, sports event, theatre event -- what ever one family member was "in" the whole family was there to show support.

Emma finally graduated and left home and went to San Francisco. She met a cool girl and they've been together for years. Both Joseph and his wife really like Emma's partner and have been vocal about their support of that relationship even stating that they were very happy for Emma when church members would make snide comments about gay people.

Prop 8 has caused Joseph and his wife a lot of anguish. On the one hand the obligation to support their church. On the other hand, they have to support their daughter. Joseph voted "no." Then he had to justify to their three "active" children why he had to vote "no" -- their conviction that Emma's relationship is a marriage. (It's interesting that those same active children welcome Emma's partner, but don't think after 15 years it deserves to be called a marriage.)

The email today told me that Joseph, with the support of his wife, has asked to be released from his position of authority in the church. Joseph said he didn't know if the members would see it as a sign of protest, but that it wouldn't bother him if people do see it that way.

He said that asking to be released from his position was the only way to demonstrate to Emma and her partner by word and deed, that he supported their marriage completely and his complete disgust at the actions of the church. He has put everything on the line for his lesbian daughter and her wife.

My reply told him how much I've always liked him, but that I had never been more proud to be his friend than at this moment.

I've had emails from several returned missionaries telling me they've turned in temple recommends and stated the reason why to the leaders -- the duplicity of those leaders and the loss of confidence. Some of my friends have asked to have their names removed from the church records. One returned missionary telephoned me last week and sobbed for an hour on the phone. I don't mean he cried as we talked -- I mean he sobbed while I talked. He could do nothing except sob. He could not believe the leaders -- whom they are told "cannot lead them astray" -- had done that very thing.

It is impossible for someone who is not LDS, particularly someone who was not raised in the church, to understand what has happened to these people.

Please remember, in your indignation, that the CJCLDS stabbed their own members in the back over this. There are thousands of LDS who are deeply wounded and have lost confidence in their leaders. Remember to pray for these wounded people; they hurt just as much as we hurt.

In a very real way, the same inner turmoil is going on in the Anglican Communion. People are torn between following the way of justice or upholding years of church tradition that is comfortable. I have friends whose family has been split between those who believe TEC is on the right path and those family members who think the Gafconners are the only true church.

It is too easy for both "sides" to point the finger at the other and say, "you're not listening to the spirit or you'd know that I am right."

I have no liking for the tactics used by any type of fundamentalists, nor for the problems they have caused. But the past week has given me a different prospective on our trials and tribulations.

In the early days of the AIDS crises, we saw the emergence of a group of true Saints (and I use a capital "s" on purpose). The were the people who came forward to care for the ill and to work for funding to research the disease.

I am convinced that the aftermath of Proposition 8 will give us a new group of Saints.,straight and gay. My friend is just one of those saints who are following Jesus and doing the right thing. When the history of GLBT civil rights is written, these saints will be largely unnamed. But they will never be forgotten by God.

Like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, it was not the big names who brought about the change. No, it was the little, unnamed masses. For every Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr., there there hundreds if not thousands of unnamed saints who were the real heroes of the movement. Do a web search for photos from that era; look at the photos and see how many people you recognize -- one, two, perhaps for our five. Then look at the hundreds and thousands of other people in the photos -- they are the people who brought the change.

The same is and will be true of the civil rights movement of the early 2000s. People like Susan Russel are just tiny cogs in the wheels of the moment.

Like the the song we sang two weeks ago, "I sing a song of the saints of God," these heroes are people just like you. People who do the grunt work and receive no recognition; people who put the human face to the issue for your friends and acquaintances.

I've met one of these saints and I'm proud to call him my friend. You've met some of them too whether you realize it, or not.

The hardest thing for many of us, if not all of us, to remember is that all of us are God's children and God loves us equally. God knows us, fully, our secrets and our shames, and yet God has accepted us, just as we are without a single qualification, warts and all. God knows my name and he knows your
name, too and miracle of miracles, God loves us just as we are. And nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from that love. Deo Gratias!

When Christ was lifted from the earth,
His arms stretched out above,
though every culture, every birth
to draw an answering love.

Where generation, class or race [or sexuality]
divide us to our shame,
he sees not labels but a face
a person and a name

Thus freely loved, though fully known,
May I in Christ be free
To welcome and accept his own as
Christ accepted me.

About the photo. The LDS have three "standard works" 1) Book of Mormon 2) Bible 3) Doctrine and Covenants which is more or less the revelations given to Joseph Smith regarding the administration of the CJCLDS. The poster is a pun of that book.

11 November 2008

Ninety Years - Remembrance Day

In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were Loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep
Though poppies grow in Flanders Fields

Benjamin Britten, England's most prolific and beloved composer of the 20th century was commissioned to write a "piece" for the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral. He wrote one of the most monumental choral works of history. The War Requiem is a tribute to his many friends who died during the First World War, and in particular to one young man -- Britten's lover. The clip below is of the Lacrimosa -- with weeping. Britten used poems written by WWI soldiers and incorporated them with the test of the requiem mass. If you ever have the chance to hear this opus performed live, do not miss that opportunity because this work is so large it is seldom performed.


10 November 2008

Biblical sharia -- are you ready for it?

The RBK (Religious Bigot Klan --the new, acceptable KKK) is on the move again. Embolden by their narrow victory last Tuesday (about 400,000 votes), they have set their sights on other states. The coalition of Mormons, Romans, and fundamentalists now believe they are invincible in their quest to make a biblical sharia the law of the United States. The following is from 365 News. One must wonder what lies the religionists will use in other states?

Energized by a comeback win, conservative activists want to apply the same formula they used to outlaw same-sex marriage in California to prevent other states from recognizing gay unions and President-elect Barack Obama from expanding the rights of gays and lesbians.

Leaders of the successful Proposition 8 campaign say an unusual coalition of evangelical Christians, Mormons and Roman Catholics built a majority at the polls Tuesday by harnessing the organizational muscle of churches to a mainstream message about what school children might be taught about gay relationships if the ban failed.

Same-sex marriage bans also won in Arizona and Florida. But in putting together the California victory, the coalition overcame opposition from the state’s political establishment and assumptions about how voters in the famously tolerant state would respond to taking away the rights the state’s highest court granted this spring.

“Everyone told me it could not be done, people do not care about this enough, you will be overwhelmed and you will lose,” said Maggie Gallagher, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, a New Jersey group that provided seed money early this year to qualify the measure for the ballot.

“This is an issue people care about when they understand what is at stake and we mount a vigorous and visible defense of marriage,” Gallagher said.

Same-sex couples are expected to start marrying next week in Connecticut, the third state after Massachusetts and California where courts have held it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marrying.

Unlike California, Connecticut does not have an initiative process that would allow voters to override the judicial decision there. So Gallagher said anti-gay marriage groups plan to focus next on New Jersey and New York, where the state legislatures are being lobbied to pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage.

The plan is to mobilize the same religious factions that joined forces in California to deter lawmakers from “taking on this divisive social issue while we are in the middle of a huge financial crisis,” Gallagher said.

Campaign operatives attribute their success to the churches, which served as voter registration centers, phone banks and volunteer recruitment hubs.

Religious institutions also gave Proposition 8’s sponsors an avenue to a range of ethnic voters, including many Democrats, said Mat Staver, who heads the Florida-based Christian legal group Liberty Counsel.

Catholic and evangelical Hispanics and African-American Baptists stood alongside conservative white evangelicals in arguing for traditional marriage. Exit polls showed 70 percent of blacks supported the ban, a far higher percentage than any other race.

“This is an issue that … transcends political ideology, religious affiliations, races and time and history,” said Staver. “It brings people together who ordinarily wouldn’t be sitting at the same table together.”

Gay-right activists attribute their loss in California in large part to overconfidence among Proposition 8 opponents. Although polls showed the measure far behind in mid-September, the Yes-on-8 campaign was raising far more money than its opponents.

“There was a lot of complacency. People didn’t believe it could have been this close, so we had to scramble to raise money.” said Yvette Martinez, political director for Equality for All, the coalition of gay, civil rights and liberal religious groups formed to fight the initiative.

Martinez also blamed a Yes-on-8 TV ad featuring a little girl telling her mother she had learned in school that she could grow up to marry a princess. Spanish-language ads were released on the same theme.

Proposition 8 says nothing about education, but gay-marriage opponents say allowing same-sex weddings would have affected what California public-school students are taught. Gay-rights groups disputed that, noting that the schools already are required to teach tolerance of gays and lesbians.

“Those lies penetrated,” said Martinez. “People believed that we were going to force gay marriage into the classroom, and there is no getting around people wanting to protect their children and to make decisions for their own family.”

Perhaps the most crucial faith-based ingredient of the California campaign was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church was invited into the coalition by San Francisco’s Roman Catholic Archbishop George Neiderauer, who previously spent 11 years as bishop of the Catholic diocese of Utah.

Mormons make up less than 2 percent of the California population with a religious preference, but it is widely believed that church members around the country were responsible for a major share of the more than $36 million raised to pass the gay marriage ban.

Gay-marriage opponents say the bipartisan, multiracial alliance that helped Proposition 8 pass could be instrumental in fighting any steps Obama takes as president to expand the rights of gays and lesbians.

“Those can be activated and pressure can be put on senators and congressional leaders who are not as left-leaning as Barack Obama to not follow his agenda,” Staver said.

During his campaign for the White House, Obama pledged to work for repeal of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from affording Social Security and other benefits to same-sex couples. He also vowed to reverse the Defense Department policy that prevents openly gay people from serving in the military.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said she isn’t worried the Proposition 8 campaign has produced a new political juggernaut, noting that the religious denominations that worked together in California have deep theological and spiritual differences.

Kendell, who was raised Mormon, said she was astonished to see black pastors working alongside members of a religion that did not allow blacks to serve as priests until she was in high school.

“Any time a coalition is formed for the expediency of one issue, it is very hard to hold it together,” Kendell said.

Once must wonder about their logic. The nation is in the beginning of a great depression, therefore we must not not move forward with civil rights -- in fact, we must move backward. Once again, the RBK has shown that the can only use fear tactics to win their antiquated quasi biblical dominance over the American population first, and then the world. Their goals are identical with the radical fundamentalist Muslim terrorist goals. Make no mistake about that. They want a total biblical sharia.

So, why did the Mormons jump on the band wagon? No, it was not for religious convictions. Those who believe that are deluded. The signed up for only one reason -- acceptance. Beginning in the late 1970s, when they finally allowed black people full membership in their church, there has been a monumental effort to become a "Christian religion." Most Christian organizations do not believe the Mormons are even remotely Christian. The LDS leaders saw Prop 8 as a godsend whereby they could be seen as mainstream as the Romans and fundamentalists. It was the perfect opportunity to advance their cause of acceptance. But it came at price -- but the price is one the Brethren are more than willing to pay -- remember, politics and power are willing to pay any price for its acquisition.

At a rehearsal last night for a Christmas concert I'm directing, two of my LDS friends came to me as soon as they got to rehearsal and said,

"I'm sorry how things went this week Jim. I'm really sorry."

"Thanks, Dave; but it's okay because it's not over; we all know it's not over because it's going to the courts.

"Yeah, it's not over, but it's split my family, and I mean really torn us apart. In fact, there isn't a single member family that's not split over this." (The LDS refer to people as either "members" or "non-members".)

The price for acceptance has split the California LDS community. Children against parents, brother against brother but mostly on age lines. SLC doesn't care in the slightest that they've caused all this damage. All that matters is the political furtherance of the church and that they be seen as mainstream.

The turmoil in the LDS families is no consolation for those who are hurting because of the bigotry, but it's nice to know that not all LDS people supported the "yes" campaign and made a stand against injustice. And I must admit to a wee tinge of satisfaction knowing that my friends' families are hurting because of the blatantly political action of the Church, and are really pissed at the SLC Brethren.

I am so thankful that I had parents who were authentic Christian people who believed what Jesus said when he said all are our brothers/sisters, and who passed on to me their complete lack of prejudice.

On an unrelated subject, but related at the same time, take a minute to go read Is Your Nation on White Privlege. It's a brilliant post, absolutly brilliant. The answer to that question is a resounding "yes."

09 November 2008

Evensong for Pentecost XXVI -- Bach and the BBC

When I was a wee lad, the gospel for today was part of Advent -- usually the First Sunday of Advent. I was always shocked by the poor stupid virgins who didn't know how to tend a lamp and keep the wick trimmed and the reservoir filled with oil. We frequently had power outages in the winter and if we didn't take care of the kerosene lamps, we'd be in the dark -- literally. But, I always love the great German hymn, "Wachet Auf!" which we sang on that Sunday.

Today's evensong is Bach's great arrangement of the hymn from Cantata 140. And below the clip are the lyrics for the Bach challenged among us. Evensong from the BBC, recorded in Canterbury Cathedral, is here.

1. Slumberers, wake, the Bridegroom cometh!
Awake, behold the Bridegroom cometh!
Ye Virgins, wake, to sleep no more.
Midnight hears the shouting voices,
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Your lamps now trim, so bright of yore.
Th' advancing train draws nigh;
Lights flash, and bridemen cry:
Sing ye also,
And forth to meet the Bridegroom go!

2. Zion hears the exultant singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Spouse comes down all-glorious,
The Strong in Grace, in Truth Victorious,
Her Star is risen, her Light is come!
Haste then, ye Virgins fair,
His marriage-feast to share,
Ye too shall sing
As we go forth to meet your King.

3. Lamb of God! The heavens adore Thee,
And men and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbals' clearest tone.
Of one pearl each open portal,
Where we are with the choirs immortal,
That stand around the great white Throne.
Ten thousand thousand tongues
There pour triumphal songs
Chanting their hymn,
With Cherubim and Seraphim.

4. Lo! the Bride, fair as the morning,
The royal crown her brow adorning, —
With fine wrought gold her bright robes shine.
On her breast are jewels gleaming;
In sevenfold light her beauty beaming
Bids welcome to her Spouse divine.
Round Him, in raiment white,
Sing all the saints in light,
On that blest shore
Rolls evermore and evermore. Amen.

Pentecost XXVI

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

What are we to do with Jesus’ parable of wise and foolish bridesmaids? It’s not easy to be sympathetic with any of the characters here. The bridegroom sends out invitations, but shows up hours late himself and then shuts the door on half of the bridesmaids. Those maidens who get shut out are off trying to buy oil in the middle of the night, when the wedding is about to begin. Meanwhile, the bridesmaids who did bring extra oil won’t share it, and come off looking selfish and snotty.

And what shall we do with a parable that speaks about God closing the door to heaven? That much seems clear – the wedding banquet represents the joy of being in the presence of God. A month ago we heard another parable about a wedding feast, in which the king sends out invitations to his son’s wedding feast, only to have the invitations refused. Not to be deterred, he invites in whoever is standing at the street corners, and has a huge party anyway.

Once again in today’s parable, everyone is invited to the banquet. So why does anyone get shut out? They all do show up; they all do bring their lamps; they all are ready. Could the problem be their lack of watchfulness? True, the bridesmaids do fall asleep while they’re waiting; and Jesus admonishes us at the end of the parable to “Keep awake … for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

But let’s be fair – all the bridesmaids fall asleep, the wise and the foolish alike, yet half of them end up enjoying the wedding anyhow.

That leaves us with the oil. We’re told the wise maidens bring extra oil, and the foolish ones don’t. That sounds simple enough, but we’re on pretty shaky ground if we look for the easy answers, and decide that the oil represents Goodness, or Piety, or Works, or even Faith. If we do, then it starts to sound as though what’s important is the amount of oil we’re carrying around – as though we all ought to be doing extra good deeds, or praying extra hard, or living a perfect life, so that we can store up a spare flask full of midnight oil, ready to burn if the Messiah decides to pull a pop quiz at the end of days.

The pattern of Jesus’ teaching throughout the gospels simply doesn’t support that viewpoint. Instead, in his parables the invitations always go out to everyone, the pay is the same for those who start work early or late, and everyone is considered a faithful servant so long as they don’t bury their gifts.

No, it’s not that the foolish bridesmaids are shut out because they don’t have enough oil – after all, their lamps are trimmed and still burning when the bridegroom’s arrival is announced. They get excluded because they’re so worried their lamps might go out that they run off in search of extra oil, and wind up missing their grand entrance.

What they seem to forget is that God hasn’t retired from the miracle business; that in fact, God seems particularly fond of weddings, of making a little go a long way, and of keeping oil burning when it really matters. Jesus turned an ordinary wedding into a foretaste of the banquet to come when he turned water into wine. He defied scarcity with the abundance of the kingdom of God, and fed thousands from a small boy’s lunch.

According to rabbinic tradition, when the Maccabees liberated Jerusalem from the Seleucid Empire, only a single night’s worth of oil remained undefiled in the Temple. Nevertheless, the sanctuary lamps remained lit for eight days until fresh oil could be prepared. Next month Jews around the world will commemorate this unquenchable abundance as they light candles in celebration of Hanukkah.

Mindful of God’s abundance, consider the passage from the book of Wisdom that was offered today as an alternate reading in place of a psalm:

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
And one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

We don’t need to chase after Wisdom – just seeking her is enough. In fact, Wisdom herself is seeking us.

Now we can see how the foolish bridesmaids have gone astray. Instead of trusting that they can find Wisdom sitting alongside them at the gate, they run off to the marketplace of ideas in search of illumination. Instead of trusting that Wisdom is radiant and unfading, they worry that their own little lamps won’t be enough for the bridegroom’s party. So they hurry off, hoping to find someone who can sell them some security, who can take their money and hand them a nicely packaged flask of enlightenment that will be sufficient to please the bridegroom.

Perhaps if the foolish bridesmaids had trusted that wisdom is unfading, they would have stayed and greeted the bridegroom and would have been welcomed into the feast. Perhaps the wise maidens never even needed to open their extra flasks, because the banquet hall itself was so brilliantly lit.

You see, God doesn’t only perform miracles with oil and with water – the sorts of miracles that defy the physical laws of nature. God’s greatest miracles are those that defy the laws of human nature, our ingrained expectations of work and reward. We’re used to thinking that doing more gets us more, that by and large we are rewarded in proportion to our effort.

But the Bridegroom does not open the door to us because of more work, or even more faith. He opens the door to us so long as so long as we keep our lamps burning for him; so long as our faith allows us wisdom enough – a gallon of wisdom or one radiant drop – to answer his gracious invitation and await his arrival at the feast.

-- The Rev. Cole Gruberth is an associate rector at St. Bartholomew's Church in Poway, California.