02 January 2009

Good news about a hate crime in San Francisco

I really try to confine my blog to things religious, but today, some good news came though for which we all need to say a Te Deum. The following is from AP

RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) — Two men and two teens have been arrested on suspicion of gang-raping a woman last month in the San Francisco Bay area while allegedly taunting her for being a lesbian, police said Thursday.

Officers arrested [NN] at his Richmond home Wednesday night, Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan said. The 31-year-old is being held without bail on gang rape, kidnapping and carjacking charges.

Police on Wednesday also arrested a 15-year-old Richmond boy and a 16-year-old Hercules boy, who were being held at a juvenile detention center on similar charges. Their names were not released.

[A second suspect, NN], 21, turned himself in Thursday after police announced they were searching for him. He was wanted on charges of gang rape, kidnapping and carjacking.

Gagan said [the second suspect] asked for an attorney when he turned himself in but said nothing about his alleged role in the attack.

"We feel that while these four suspects were at large, a large cross-section of our population felt unsafe," Gagan said. "Now that the fourth one is behind bars, we can all breathe a sigh of relief."

Police would not detail each person's alleged involvement. Tips from local residents led to the arrests.

Detectives say the 28-year-old victim was attacked on Dec. 13 after she got out of her car, which bore a rainbow gay pride sticker. The alleged attackers made comments indicating they knew she was a lesbian, police said.

Authorities have characterized the case as a hate crime. Police said the victim lives openly with a female partner.

The 45-minute attack started when one of the men approached the woman in the street, struck her with a blunt object, ordered her to disrobe and sexually assaulted her with the help of the others, according to detectives.

When the group saw another person approaching, they forced the victim back into her car and took her to a burned-out apartment building. She was raped again inside and outside the vehicle and left naked outside the building while the alleged assailants took her wallet and drove off in her car, police said

I say, Thanks be to God for the arrests. And a shout out to JCF for alerting me to the news.

According to hate crime organizations, it is an indisputable fact that following any type of GLBT legal attempts to gain equal rights, there is a rise in violence against easily identifiable gay and lesbian people. Perhaps the ring leaders of the "Yes on 8" campaign can be named as an accomplice in this hate crime. I belive something similar was done and resulted in bringingthe KKK down.

01 January 2009

Prayers of the People Updates

The one part of this blog that makes me most happy I started TTLS is the prayer list. Many of our readers can not assist with the troubles in the AC, but they can pray at home, from their chairs and their beds.

My thanks to all who contribute prayers for our friends and those not known to us but who need prayer.

Invocabit - Lent I

Lent I

Genesis 9.8-17; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mart 1.9-16

Who hasn’t been impressed by the beauty of a rainbow? Rainbows have the quality of wonder: yes, there is a scientific explanation for how light is refracted in a certain way, but really they seem more like magic. After a rain, a colorful bow appears in the sky, a pure gift, a delight to the eyes and heart, beauty and hope after the rain.

In our first lesson today we hear how our forebearers in faith, the ancient Hebrews, saw in the rainbow a sign of God’s covenant with Noah, and through Noah, with all humanity. Our lesson comes from the end of the story of the great flood. It’s a story of God’s willingness to lose in love. It may not seem like a story about losing. After all, it ends with God’s promise that God will never again destroy the earth in such a way. But what if we imagine looking at the story from God’s point of view?

Reading the creation story in Genesis Chapter One, you’ll notice at the end of each day God looks at everything he has made and says, “It is good.” Over and over again, God looks at what he has made in the world and says, “It is good.” When we come to the sixth day, God creates humans, and on this day God says, “It is very good.” God looks at humans and sees the crowning achievement of creation: us. And God says, “This is very good.”

But before too long, things start to go wrong. God has given humans a great gift: the gift of freedom. God has made humankind in God’s image. That is, according to The Book of Common Prayer, God has made us free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, to live in harmony with creation and with God. But too often humans choose the other possibilities granted in their freedom: to hate, to destroy, to be thoughtless, to break their relationship with creation and with God.

When we come to Noah and the ark, God, who had seen humanity as the very best act of creation, is heartbroken. The divine heart is so broken, so disappointed, so upset, that God decides there is no way out of all the pain and destruction humans are causing except to wipe the slate clean and start all over.

In the story of the flood, God is the big loser. God’s beloved humanity, God’s precious children, God’s best day of creation had all gone terribly wrong. So God chose Noah, who alone of all the people on the earth had not forgotten about God, to build an ark, and to be protected from the waters, so there would be a way to start over again. The rain started, and it is as if the tears of our broken-hearted God flowed down from heaven, tears of sadness, tears of disappointment and anger flowed from the very heart of God and filled the earth.

When the waters subsided, Noah, his family, and the animals came out of the ark onto dry ground, and God said some important words. God was not lulled into thinking that this experience changed humans, that somehow we wouldn’t sin anymore, or that we would always use our freedom to choose rightly. No, God said, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever destroy every living creature as I have done” (Genesis 8:21).

This is the meaning of original sin: everyone of us, if left to our own devices, will do wrong. No human ever avoids the inclination to sin, even from the time we are small children. But God decided he won’t let that fact lead to our destruction. And so, when we come to today’s reading, we see God hang his bow in the sky. Here, think “bow” as in “bow and arrow,” but now not as a weapon of anger, not an archer’s bow taut and pointing down on people to destroy them, but hung up in the sky, unstrung, disarmed, and colorful. God hangs the bow in the clouds as a reminder of God’s promise, to remind God never again to destroy the earth.

This promise God makes to Noah is called a covenant. A covenant is a solemn agreement made between two parties. People have been making covenants for a very long time, thousands and thousands of years. Party A agrees to do something for Party B if some conditions are met. Covenants usually come with strings attached. “If you pay me tribute, I will protect you.” “If you keep this law, things will go well for you.” Usually the agreement made between them is sealed with some sign. Here the sign is the rainbow. But what is amazing is that God’s covenant with Noah has no conditions. It’s a covenant without any “if” clauses, such as, “if you love me,” or “if you obey me,” or “if you worship me,” or “if you are kind to others, then I will be good to you.”

No, the covenant God makes with Noah is an unconditional covenant, a covenant of love in which God promises to remember us even if we forget God. And the covenant God makes with Noah is really made with all humanity and all creation. God will never destroy all humankind, despite all we do to turn our backs on God, to choose hate instead of love, to destroy rather than create, to act thoughtlessly instead of using reason, to break our relationships with others instead of living in harmony. Despite our wrongdoing, God will remember his promise to us. God is willing to be heartbroken for us before he will break his covenant with us.

It’s not that God has been willing to tolerate our sin, but rather than send another flood, he sent his own beloved child, Jesus Christ, to deal with our sin. Rather than kill, God sent Jesus, who was willing to die. Rather than punish, God is willing to forgive. God added to the sign of the rainbow the sign of the cross. And in the sign of the cross, we see God’s willingness to love us unconditionally, to be broken-hearted for us. In the sign of the cross we see a sign of victory through the death of Jesus that means that someday all tears will be dried -- the floods of tears cried because of the evil humans do to one another will be dried and gone. The deluge of tears we cry because of our injustice, prejudice, and indifference will be wiped away. In the place of destructive waters of a flood, there will be only the water of life, and in the place of the tears, a rainbow.

In our Epistle lesson today we hear that the waters of the flood prefigure the waters of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we are joined to Jesus Christ, to his death and resurrection, in order that we might know new life now. In the waters of baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own forever.

For many Christians, our Lenten journey now underway will end at the baptismal font, where we will once again renew our baptismal promises, where water may be sprinkled on us as a reminder of God’s love, not God’s wrath, and where Jesus’ triumph over the power of sin and death will be celebrated. As we journey through Lent, may we be people who look for the signs of God’s love and actions in the world, signs like the rainbow and the cross, and celebrate that God keeps his promises. May we be people who carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world, accepting and sharing God’s love and forgiveness for us and for all humanity. The covenant made with Noah has never been overturned. God still promises to be gracious to all people, including people who have known loss, people who have caused loss, and people whose loss seems meaningless. God still promises to love all humanity and all creation. As followers of Christ, may we be people who also reflect God’s love and graciousness to all humanity, to people of every creed and color and class, and to all creation.

The Holy Name of Jesus

The Holy Name of Jesus*
Puer natus

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

The ancient Romans had among their pantheon a god of doorways. His name was Janus. With two faces, one looking forward and the other looking back, he was the god of beginnings as well as endings. He gives his name, of course, to this month, “January,” and to “janitors,” the keepers of doorways.

And so, on the threshold of another year, as the vast majority of our fellow citizens are waking up from last night’s revelry and switching on holiday parades and football games, we are holy janitors, gathered here this morning to sanctify this transition – Janus was also the god of transition and change, by the way – and to greet this beginning with prayer and song and fellowship.

Just as the ancient Romans felt the need for a god of beginnings, and gathered to pay him homage when the wheat was sown, or when the harvest began, or when a baby was born, there is, within our human nature, a deep yearning for new beginnings, and a natural hope that this year will be better than the last.

That same yearning, that same hope, was ascribed to Jesus Christ by the early church. Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians, writes very simply: “He is the beginning.”

And, though as far as we know Jesus had only one face, looking forward, in the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos records the Lord saying again and again, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end.

After Pentecost, in a time of transition, the early Church struggled with its identity and purpose, longing in the face of persecution and skepticism for a new beginning, for the coming of the heavenly Jerusalem that John so vividly describes. The first followers ached for a second chance.

On this Feast of the Holy Name our readings are all about second chances, as we look backward and forward at the same time. In the book of Numbers, God pronounces a blessing on the new priests as they begin their new way of life. God has brought the people out of Egypt, and now God begins trying to build them into the vision of a priestly kingdom that is the culmination of God's plan. Centuries later, after prophets have risen and kingdoms have fallen, God tries again. Yet another chance, and again, God has a new name – officially given on this holy day: Jesus, Yeshua, the Lord is Salvation.

As a sign that it is indeed a new beginning, that God is crossing a threshold that has not been crossed before, as a sign that things are to be different, the news of the second chance is told first to shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks. Not to kings or sages. Not to the rich and the mighty. And where are the shepherds to find him? Not in Jerusalem. Not in the temple or in a palace, but in Bethlehem of all places, in a barn, wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding box. An old way is ending, and a new one is beginning. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Christ’s birth, his advent, is a second chance for humanity, and for our relationship with God. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, declares that by it we have received adoption as God’s children. And what is adoption but a second chance? God in Christ has chosen us – adopted us – and given us a new beginning; and even more than a new beginning, a whole new life, a new birth, a new creation in which to live. We are no longer slaves but children of God. And so on this wonderful morning, on the threshold of another year, the news is good: God so loved the world, that in Christ, he gave us another chance, so that we may not perish, but have eternal life.

The tension built into the theology of Advent is its focus on both the first coming and the second coming of Christ. We prepare to celebrate the first even as we wait for the second. And some of us may wonder if we are to give thanks for the second chance that God offered us in Christ while all we can see around us is the need for the third chance?

In our most grounded, centered, and prayerful selves, we know that cries of “How Long, O Lord?” must be tempered by an understanding of the first coming. And the tension of Advent, the pull to give ourselves over to the hope of a new beginning that will fix everything, is balanced by an understanding of the incarnation, and the Church in God’s plan of salvation.

The tension of Advent is resolved in some sense by the knowledge that no matter when the second coming takes place, the first coming has given us the ability to live in the kingdom. That deep desire of every nation, that profound longing that we hear in Isaiah’s oracles, that Mary articulates in her song of praise, that Jesus foresaw – that possibility is present. It’s here. Jesus, as Paul says, is the Beginning.

In other words, we are living in an in-between time. We are living between the first coming and the second coming. And somehow, though we have been given everything we need to build the kingdom of God, we haven’t built it yet, at least not to the specifications of Jesus’ blueprint.

And so, as we step boldly once again across the threshold into a new year, perhaps our greatest hope should be that in this in-between time, God is not finished with us. That God is still at work in our lives and in creation.

On the Feast of the Holy Name, we might remind ourselves that our society has given God a lot of other names: “money,” “success,” “things,” “alcohol,” “drugs,” “sex.” Many people don’t know God’s name at all.

Our work as Christians, what we, in fact, must do, is to help people discover that God can still transform their lives. We are not just following an ethical code set forth by a lovely and kind teacher 2,000 years ago. We are building the kingdom of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, co-creators with God of a transformed reality. We must show the world that God, the great “I am,” the alpha and the omega, is not finished, but is at work, and has the power even now to give us new lives and new hearts.

It won’t be long – just a few months from now – until we gather before the cross, to witness the baby whose coming fills us with such hope, now grown and dying. The power of God, friends, is to draw Easter out of Good Friday.

The power of God is that beginnings follow what seem to be endings.

The meaning of the birth is connected to the meaning of the death and resurrection in this way: the kingdom breaks in where and when it is least expected. And despite any sense of powerlessness or hopelessness or cynicism we might experience, our purpose in this in-between time, this time of transition, is to be agents of the in-breaking. The kingdom comes – it can come and it will come – when we, by our work and witness, manifesting the power of God that we know, bring it to bear.

Our work as Christians is to make the kingdom real where and when it is least likely to appear. Isn’t that what it means to be the Body of Christ?

And so, fellow holy janitors, keepers of this new day, let us pray that God may fill our hearts with joy and hope in believing; save us from our fears and doubts; and give us courage and strength to be instruments of the in-breaking of his promised kingdom.

-- The Rev. Timothy Crellin is vicar of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Boston and founder of the B-SAFE program, which serves more than 500 children and teens in Boston every summer, and the St. Stephen's After School Program, which serves more than 125 young people every afternoon. He lives in Jamaica Plain with his wife, Jenny, and seven-year-old son, Adam. E-mail: TECrellin@aol.com

*How many of us are old enough to remember when today was "The Feast of the Circumcision Our Lord"?

31 December 2008

Economics and the schismatic spin

If this were a melodrama, the full title would be:
Economics and the schismatic spin
any life jacket will do.
I've been reading quite a bit lately about the deficits many (if not most) churches in TEC are experiencing. Some parishes are 70-100,000 in the hole and the deficit projected for 2009 are even greater. Even the National Cathedral is in financial distress and as I understand it, heads have rolled.

What is so interesting about all of this is the way the schismatics in the United Stated have grabbed it and run with it in an attempted end play. (I think that's the correct metaphor - I didn't play football in school.)

So desperate are they for validation of their new organization that they are grasping at straws. Canterbury has not validated their new organization, so they have something to make themselves feel good.

So, the economic crisis is the best thing possible for them. They can point to the reduced income of come parishes to show that God is cursing TEC and blessing the schismatics. What they don't tell us is how their cash flow is holding up. I have it on rather good authority that the schismatic organization is having financial difficulties, too. But, we aren't going to hear about that - that bad news wouldn't make them look like the anointed remnant of "true Christians."

They don't examine the full scope of this economic downturn. The church for which I am pastor musician has a deficit of 48,000 for this year. Pledged income for 2009 is only 140,000 of which 127,000 is what they pay their minister. The whole projected budget was slashed more than 60 percent. This has nothing to do with gay rights or God's curse. It's a simple economic matter. The above fact proves the schismatics are breaking wind about TEC's finances proving anything.

So, in the end, it's more propaganda from the schismatics. But then, that's all they know how to produce. Didn't someone biblical say "by your works shall all know you?" Ah, yes. lies and manipulation are such great Christian virtues.

On a different topic, you must, not need to, you must go read his article on MSNBC: Parents' response key to health of gay youth. Most of us have known this information for a long time, but it's nice to see it presented and confirmed by reputable researchers.

For me, the most interesting bit is that our sons and daughters are "coming out" at a younger age than ever before:
Such conversations are necessary because young people have been coming out at younger ages. Consistent with other studies, the youths in Ryan's study were on average younger than 11 when they first experienced a same-sex attraction, were just over 14 when they realized they were gay and came out to their families before they had turned 16.
How things have changed since I was that age - and what a great thing it is that they can come out at such a young age -- for their peers, it's a non issue. Thanks be to God!

And on a completely different subject, sometime early this morning, TTLS received it's 28,000 unique visitor. Who'da thunk.

30 December 2008

Does prayer work?

The book of James says that the fervent prayer of the righteous "availeth much." We have received the following update from JCF about her friend Cath
I saw Cath today: I can tell you those prayers ARE moving heaven, because she looks great! She says she feels pretty well, too.

Let's keep those prayers going, though. Lung cancer isn't supposed to surrender, but with our prayer power - and if it be Bod's will - I think we can lick this thing.
I'd say that prayer does work. My personal thank-you to all who pray for those on our list. Also, between now and New Year's Day, please give us an update on anyone you've placed on the prayer list.

Take a close look at the holy card I've posted. See if you see what took me ten minutes to see after I received it.

29 December 2008

Congratulations Wayward

A wee shout out to my online friend, Nathan, who celebrates his 500th post on his blog, The Wayward Episcopalian. Way to go, my friend!

Holy Innocents and St. Thomas Beckett

Today most of the Western Church is commemorating the Holy Innocents. The actual feast was 28 December but it was transferred because the First Sunday after Christmas has precedence in the liturgical world.

But today is also the Feast Day of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. It has been omitted this year because of the transfer of the Holy Innocents. I do not want to forget Thomas this year, though.

For most of my life, I didn't think much about him. That changed a couple of years ago when I spent the summer in the United Kingdom. As part of my sojourn there, I made the obligatory pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. As cathedrals go, it's not much, in my opinion. There are so many more beautiful cathedral, particularly at Petesrburgh.

As I was wandering about after the principal Eucharist that Sunday, I walked though a passage and ran smack dab into Thomas' death site. I hadn't even thought of him on the way to the cathedral or while in the cathedral. But there it was.

My whole body stopped moving as if I'd been physically restrained and shoved backwards. Although I'd looked at the Martyrs' monument in Oxford, this was different. Oxford was much changed since the burning days.

But here, it was exactly the same as it was on this day in 1170! There they were-- the actual stones his blood ran over. In that instant history and faith were one for me. I stood there in stunned silence because I understood the power that martyrdom has.

I was alone there at the spot for a few minutes before other people, who knew the spot and had come specifically to see it, arrived. One visitor was a history "don" (a head, fellow, or tutor of a college) from Cambridge. He stood there for a minute then looked at me and said, "I had the same reaction; it's really remarkable, isn't it."

As we talked (history major to history major) he filled me in on many interesting things about Thomas (including a possible/probably romantic link between Henry and Thomas) and the site. One of the things he said was, "If you reacted thusly to this, can you imagine the reaction of the pilgrims 900 years ago when they saw the shrine?" My reply was so inadequate, "no, I can't!"

He took me up the stairs that Thomas had taken his last steps, and once in the great Choir he showed me where the shrine stood and pointed to a candle burning in the center of the floor. He explained that the candle burns continually and marks the spot where Thomas' body lay in the shrine.

Then he took me back down the stairs and showed me a little chapel to the side of the spot of martyrdom. He explained that many "competent" historians believe Thomas is burred in the chapel. When Henry VIII sent his men to loot the shrine and dispose of the body, the monks apparently secreted Thomas away and buried him in this chapel and put some other unfortunate person's bones in the shrine and it was the "fake" Thomas who was disposed of.

He told me of "odd" services held throughout the centuries in the chapel on St. Thomas' day, and other interesting bits that lead the experts to believe the events transpired as he told me they had.

But, in the end, it was the power of the spot that captivated me; and continues to captivate me. I understand the power of the martyrs now. I'll never be able to sing the Te Deum without realizing that power in the phrase "The Noble Army of Martyrs praise thee...."
O God, our strength and our salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church: Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Here's a bit of trivia for you: The same day same three knights of King Henry killed a baker and his family after the king stated that he'd kill for a good meat pie. Say a prayer for the baker and his family, too.

28 December 2008

The First Sunday after Christmas

Christmas I
Dum medium silentium

(Year B RCL) Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

“Fast away the old year passes.” So goes the last verse of the old Christmas carol, “Deck the Halls.” For Christians, our celebration of Christmas is but three days old. We have nine more days, and would that we could have all the world join in; some will, but for many, once the tree is out with the trash, it’s time to move on.

The twelve days of Christmas are intended as days of celebration, but also for reflection. The majestic hymn that opens the Gospel of John sets the stage for a whole new order of life, forged in the beginning of Creation with the presence of the Word, now made flesh among us, full of grace and truth.

Once in awhile, people get a glimpse of what God is doing among us. Once in awhile the light shines so brightly in the darkness that nothing can dim it. Once in awhile people feel an upwelling of joy in their hearts, and they don’t even know where it comes from.

These days of Christmas call us to celebrate, to re-order and perhaps re-frame our lives so that we can live differently, not because it’s the time of New Year resolutions, but because Jesus has come to live among us to show us the way.

As this particular, some might say peculiar, year comes to a close, think about what has happened. The world economic engine has all but collapsed. We are officially in a recession in the U.S. We have a new president-elect who will take office amidst the ravages of war and terrorism and economic chaos. Some have lost their jobs, and more likely will. Others have seen much of their retirement disappear. Many of the things that we rely on for our security have vanished.

So, in the midst of our lowliness, in the time of our testing, the Lord appears among us. God enters our hearts with a love that cannot be extinguished. God offers us a guide to faith and salvation that no economic collapse can erode or cheapen. God takes our puzzlement and our failure and redeems them with new insight.

If the light truly shines in the darkness, then where have we been living? Some would say we have chosen darkness over the light. We have chosen to live on credit. We have chosen to live beyond our means as a nation and a people. We have forgotten that there is always a price to pay for greed – a price paid by all of us. And if we were honest, we would admit that deep down, we all knew this economic splurge would have to end; perhaps “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as T.S. Eliot wrote in one of his poems.

But in that darkness comes the light of the Word made flesh. Within the darkness can always be found the seeds of light.

In a neighborhood shelter there was a financial crisis. Grant money that usually supported the shelter had dried up, and the place that many relied on for a daily meal was faced with imminent closure. A local rabbi came by to see the director and asked, “Why are you closing?”

“We’re out of money, rabbi,” she said.

“Well,” he replied, “then go get some!”

She looked at him oddly for a moment and then realized she hadn’t thought about any alternatives. In a month, with the rabbi’s help, seven churches and a synagogue had taken on support of the shelter. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So, how is it with you as the old year passes? Are you simply waiting to see when the other shoe will drop? Are you waiting for a new president to do something big and bold? Well, he doesn’t have any money either. It has all been committed to war and bailouts.

It is time to go to work, time to act like the gifted people God created us to be, time to be about God’s business in our churches, communities, and families – business that is committed to redemption, and business that brings graciousness to the lives of all people. That is what we should be doing, because that is what God has done for us.

“Fast away the old year passes;
“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses.
“Sing we joyous all together;
“Heedless of the wind and weather.”

Welcome to the twelve hallowed days of Christmas. May they be days that you see the Word made flesh scatter the darkness from before your path and empower you to give light to others.

-- Ben Helmer will shortly complete an 18-month assignment as interim ministry developer with the Episcopal Church in Micronesia (Guam). He and his wife, Jane, will be returning to their home in West Missouri. E-mail: bhelmer1247@msn.com.