Friday, February 16, 2018

The Great Equalizer: You are dust and to dust you shall return

Ash Wednesday was just two days ago and at every service there was the haunting phrase hanging in the background: You are dust and to dust you shall return, as ashes were smudged on the foreheads of the faithful.

The words were oddly out of place when the recipient was a child, even more so for a baby. The words were poignant when the recipient was mature in years. Yet no matter the age, the words are the great equalizer. And no matter the station in life, the wealth or poverty, gender, gender expression/identity, sexual orientation or other characteristic, we all return to the dust.

The words used when ashes are imposed are from Genesis 3:19, based on the words spoken to Adam and Eve after their sin and eviction from the Garden of Eden: you are dust and to dust you shall return. No one escapes this fate. All of us eventually return to the dust. Obviously as “Easter people” we look to the resurrection, however and whenever that occurs. But that is on the “other end” of Lent.

I wonder how often (or even if) those in power, political power or otherwise, ever ponder those words that spell out their ultimate fate. I wonder the same of those who treat others so callously or badly. The great equalizer will be the fate of those who try to remove the safety nets from the poor - however meager those safety nets might be. The great equalizer will inflict itself on those who practice racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and yes even on those who perpetrate sexual assault - no matter how long or how hard they try to hide what they have done. The great equalizer will prevail.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., warned us that we must learn to live together as siblings or we would surely perish together as fools.

A former bishop of Alabama, whose name long ago escaped from my memory, was also brutally direct when he said: If we believe what we profess, we had better learn to get along because we will be with each other for eternity. Ponder that for a moment, both from your perspective and then from that of those who would treat us as second class members of the church and society. Eternity. Together.

The great equalizer: We are all subject to its declaration that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

If you have taken on my challenge to make your Lenten discipline contacting all who represent you in secular government and those who have been charged to be your pastor(s), you might, perhaps as an ice breaker, remind them that they, just like you, are from dust and they, like you, will return to dust.

Yes my kindred, there is indeed a great equalizer and all are subject to it.

Amid the somberness of Ash Wednesday, we endured yet another poignant example of our inhumanity to each other with the Parkland High School (Florida) mass shooting. Pray for the all the victims of that senseless tragedy: the dead, the wounded and even the perpetrator. And pray that we will come to our senses and stop allowing perversions of the intent of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution to cloud our judgement about controlling guns whose only purpose is to kill the children of God. I don’t think this was the time intended for the work of the great equalizer… it was far too soon, at least in my mind.

I wish each of you a blessed, holy and productive Lent.



Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow





Friday, February 9, 2018

Lent Approaches

This is the last Friday before Lent begins on February 14. As we approach the Lenten season, I am reminded of how Lent was viewed decades ago in my youth and young adulthood: The question was always “What are you giving up for Lent?” I sometimes did give something up for Lent. On the occasion of several Lents I vowed to give up profanity. Well that generally lasted barely until the Second Sunday of Lent. The colorful language just managed to slip in despite my best efforts.

At some point I became aware of another nature of Lent, namely that of taking on some discipline or activity for those forty days. It could be daily prayer, self-improvement, reading specific literature or pretty much any activity that could be considered productive and helpful for the season. I got “hooked” on the value of the Daily Office after a Lent when I took on the discipline of praying Morning Prayer each morning. It stuck.My day begins with prayer following that model.

We seem to be living in a time of little discipline, at least on the part of our elected leaders. Accountability seems to be a “nice idea” rather than something that should be expected and demanded. The wind blows and the position changes. The wind blows and another change. Little thought is given to the impact of such “flexible” thinking on the lives of millions of people.

I urge you to take on some discipline(s) during the upcoming Lenten season. I urge you to make one of your disciplines to be contacting your elected representatives on a very regular basis sharing your thoughts and ideas and how you honestly feel about some of their positions on issues that have a direct impact on you as an LGBTQ+ follower of Jesus Christ. And I urge you to use that language. Make sure they know that you are a person of faith, part of the Jesus Movement.Be persistent. Lent has 40 days. Contact your elected representatives at least one fourth of those days. (Each of the 40 days would be great, but hey, I will take what I can get!)

Elected officials do not hear from nearly enough of their constituents. Often they only hear the harsh meanness of the religious right. Let them hear a more moderate expression of faith. It helps those who need reinforcement. It might convict others to change their thinking. So get out your personal devices, laptops, and desktops and email, tweet, text or whatever form of communication gets you going. Who knows, some might even write an actual letter and mail it!

Don’t forget to include your religious leaders as well. If you are in one of the infamous non-marriage eight, contact your bishop during Lent and point out the pain his position is causing for you and those close to you. Make it a part of your discipline for the season to be in regular contact with your bishop… maybe even your commission on ministry or standing committee… whoever it is who needs to hear from you. Make it a discipline.

I wish each of you a blessed, holy and productive Lent.



Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow




Thursday, February 1, 2018

Done. Check the Box. Well, Not Really

Last week I wrote about The Episcopal Church’s short term memory once we have enacted legislation, especially when it pertains to issues of justice, inclusion and prejudice. There is another aspect of that concept that plays out in how well others really understand us as queer folk. Some folks “get” us and some do not… I’m inclined toward the numbers of those who do not being at least a plurality, if not a majority.

This mentality goes back to what I call the “check box” mentality of our church. That is the mentality that lets us get away with thinking such thoughts as: “We have women’s ordination, so we have addressed and resolved that “issue.” Notions about the deployment of women clergy are no where on the radar screen. The “glass ceiling” related to compensation and benefits didn’t get in the conversation either. How many women fill the positions of cardinal rectors? We changed the canons. Done. Check the box. Well... not really.

We do the same thing about issues of race. We tout our canons that prohibit discrimination in every aspect of the life of our church. But again, where are we on deployment? Having people of color in visible roles of leadership does not mean that we find the same allegedly welcoming attitude at the diocesan and parish level. Because we have passed our canons, we have resolved the “race issue.” So why do I still see the need for training and education on what it means to be the beloved community? Why do we still need to have anti-racism workshops and training? Why are the percentages of people of color, not to mention those in ordained positions way below the percentages of the general population? We passed the canons. Done. Check the box. Well… not really.

Now we come to issues about sexual orientation/gender identity/gender expression. Again, we passed those canons prohibiting discrimination in all aspects of the life of the church including ordination and now even marriage. So….where does that put us? Yes we have some LGBTQ+ folks in leadership in the church at all levels. What does that mean? Did some of them “pass” to get where they are? Are some of them simply tokens to appease general opinion? Back to deployment: How many visible calls are made to LGBTQ+ clergy outside very large metropolitan areas? Two queer bishops is an indicator of the presence of LGBTQ+ people in our church. We passed our canons. Done. Check the box. Well… not really as is evidenced by the situation in the Diocese of Tennessee and seven others.

So why would I ever think that so many just do not “get” us queer folk (anymore than they “get” women clergy and people of color)? It isn’t a long journey to take to answer that question. Aside from the less than tolerant current political climate, having a cisgender white male wonder (sometimes aloud even) why the gays and lesbians and trans folks cannot and do not grow into a perspective other than that of who they are, namely gay, lesbian or transgender? Seriously?

You are going to ask me why I am not willing or not capable of viewing things beyond what you think is my limited perspective as a gay man? Would you ask a black person why they cannot view a perspective other than being black? (In reality many probably would, but let’s not go there for now). Would you ask a woman to view things from a male (invariably white) perspective? (I can pretty much guarantee that many would ask that question based solely on what has been going on for months now about sexual harassment.)

Kindred in Christ, we really do have some serious work to do! And it is not just for us queer folk that we need to do this work. It is for all who would claim to follow Christ and meet with an attitude that finds only one perspective, one race, one cisgender, one sexual orientation to be “the norm.” Our work is for everyone who encounters an attitude that they need to change their outlook and perspective to more closely align with those of the perceived majority. The work is not done. There is no box to check.

What will it take for us to rise up and say that it’s time that we as a church start learning more about what it is like to be the other instead of asking the other why their perspective is so limited? Again, I see this as the ministry of lay people. We have nothing to lose by asking pointed questions. Our ministries, our vocations, our salaries are not on the line. We CAN ask the difficult questions and continue to ask until we get real answers. I would hope that those answers would be based on the ministry given us in the Gospel and in the vows of our Baptismal Covenant.

Do you think we're done? Should we check the box?

So I will close with yet another (probably maddening) question: When will you start asking why the way things continue to remain the way they are for so much of our church? When?















Bruce Garner, President


Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Short Prophetic Memory

The Episcopal Church has been known for taking prophetic positions when it comes to issues of justice and inclusion. We did so about race, even though rather half-heartedly in many places. The same was true for the ordination of women, despite resistance from some of “the boys” who just couldn’t perceive of women clergy. We responded to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression/identity, or I thought we responded. Soon to be three years ago we changed our canons to allow for the marriage of same sex couples. Again, at least we purported to do so.

We seem to “get” the issues at the church-wide level and act accordingly to address issues of injustice and discrimination. Then, at least it seems so, our prophetic memory gets very short as we don’t seem to have the ability to address the problem of those dioceses and bishops that choose to ignore or refuse to enforce the canons of the church. We let things “slide” under some notion of “keeping peace and unity” even at the expense of justice.

The bishops of dioceses of Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, North Dakota, Springfield, Tennessee, and the Virgin Islands have not authorized use of the liturgies for the marriage of same sex couples. How they have addressed the need to provide for the pastoral needs of those couples is not clear.

The bishops of the dioceses of Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, Springfield, and Tennessee prohibit their use by clergy canonically resident in those dioceses, whether within or even outside of the diocese. That posture takes on a degree of arrogance that further promotes injustice and inequality and seems to be nothing less than some power play over the clergy allegedly in their care as chief pastors.

Some claim we did not do enough study or establish a sufficient theological basis for our position. I think 40-plus years represents a reasonable investment in prayer and study. After all, Israel only had to wander in the desert for 40 years to get to the promised land.

We take a prophetic position and then develop memory loss over helping insure that those intended to benefit from our prophetic position actually achieve those benefits. Reasons vary. Some seem reasonable. I am inclined to see our memory loss as hypocritical.

Unfortunately, clergy are trapped between the exercise of pastoral ministry and obeying unjust restrictions from their bishop. Their livelihood and exercise of their ministry must be weighed against disobeying for the sake of conscience. I doubt any of us want to find ourselves in such a place.

Those of us who are not ordained can generally afford to be prophetic in action and in challenging unjust authority. Short of ex-communicating us, there isn’t much that could happen. (And I haven’t heard of any excommunications in many years!) Accordingly, we CAN speak out. We CAN raise questions. We CAN be a prophetic witness in the face of injustice and discrimination. We CAN show the face of Christ to those who may not yet understand the unconditional love of all God’s children, who may not grasp the concept that all of God’s children belong in the Beloved Community.

There is a group of lay folks in the Diocese of Tennessee -- that is the middle one of the three dioceses in the state -- who are challenging the stance of their bishop over same sex marriage. They share their own very personal stories. Their experiences will tear your heart out. I cannot comprehend how their bishop or any other bishop could justify inflicting such pain on those under their care. It flies in the face of the vows bishops take at their consecrations.

The extremely compelling story of those brave folks in Tennessee is told in a video. I urge you to watch.

You have endured me asking you for many weeks who you contacted about what matters to you, how you feel about injustice and oppression. Let me bring those questions closer to home. Have you contacted your own bishop about addressing his refusal to allow same sex marriage in your diocese? Have you witnessed to the power of Christ in your relationships and those you have witnessed that the church has said should be honored but he refuses to acknowledge? As a lay person, as one who experiences his prejudice or witnesses it in others, you have no reason for not sharing how you feel. Have those of us who live in the dioceses that do permit same sex marriages asked our bishops what they are doing to help insure that all have access to what the church has said they should?

How about we all do what we can to lengthen the memory of our church in its prophetic witness? I will ask again…
















Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

Friday, January 19, 2018

Paying Attention

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I wonder how many of us are indeed paying attention. It seems that this administration continues to quietly (sneakily??) try and make changes to important regulations while most people’s attention is focused on what appears to be a larger and more newsworthy event.

If you do a little research, you can learn that the Census Bureau was directed to change questions that might identify LGBTQ people. Another change was to do away with specific questions in a Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) program about LGBTQ seniors. The list is longer than I can or want to cover here.

It now seems that, at least according to sources identified by several newspapers, that the newest attempt to undermine progress made by us queer folks, is to create an entire division within DHHS to support the right of health care providers to refuse to treat LGBTQ folks based on the religious beliefs of the provider. Also included in that “cover” is the right to refuse to provide abortion services.

Where is this coming from? It is more of the ultra-conservative religious right’s attempt to impose their particular brand of Christianity on the entire nation. Aside from potential constitutional issues that involve the government dictating religious issues, why should one part of Christendom be allowed to overrule the beliefs and practices of any other part in this multicultural nation of ours?

Have the rest of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ lost our voices? Have we already succumbed to attempts to disenfranchise us? I have to wonder, I really do. Are those of us who take a different view of these issues, of all religious issues, afraid to make our voices heard? Are we afraid to let those in this administration hear us and know that there is no single voice of Christians in this nation and all of us must be heard?

There was a saying, from the sixties if I recall correctly: If you are not pissed off, you are not paying attention. Seems applicable to the current situation. Perhaps our various bubbles just keep us insulated from the attacks on us as full fledged members of our society.

Integrity began its life in response to injustice against one gay male, interracial couple. Have we lost that edge? Our church has come a long way. Society has lagged behind. Our roots should give us a voice. Are we paying attention?

I keep asking the following questions thinking it might shake some out of their complacency: Whom have you contacted among those who represent your interests to express your concerns and disagreement with current administration policies? Have you emailed, tweeted, texted, called, used carrier pigeon or any other means of communication? Look in the mirror and ask yourself why not? Look in the mirror and ask yourself why you, deep down, still consider yourself a second class citizen?





















Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friends

The Integrity Window, or St. Aelred Window,
was dedicated April 2 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church,
Fargo, North Dakota.
Today is the second Friday of a new year, the 12th day of January. By happenstance (or divine intervention?), January 12 is also a very important day for Integrity. It is the feast day of our patron saint, St Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx. I don’t know how much most who will read this know about Aelred, other than being our patron saint. The background information in the Episcopal Church's "Holy Women, Holy Men" (formerly known as "Lesser Feasts and Fasts") is very clear that Aelred placed great value on friendship. It also notes that the monks in his monastery were allowed to hold hands.


Some information can be found at Forward Movement and a reading for services honoring Aelred in his “Treatise on Spiritual Friendship.” Some additional resources are listed on Integrity's web site at http://www.integrityusa.org/aelred. In the figure shown above, the Integrity Window, or St. Aelred Window, was dedicated April 2 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Fargo, North Dakota.


Obviously I would view the information about Aelred from a different mindset than someone who is not queer. Regardless of that, it is very difficult not to find at a very minimum a “gay friendly” aspect of Aelred’s teachings. Yet our society, and the church of course, has not really owned that possibility. How many do we know who just cannot find a thing supportive of anything “gay” in Scripture or the teachings of the church over the centuries? It’s not surprising. The queer folks had to hide in order to survive. And a straight guy is rarely going to see anything other than “straightness” when he looks at something.


So as this new year begins, I urge us all to look for, nurture, and support the type of friendship Aelred describes and taught in his monastery. Who knows? That might be a way forward in a society that seems to keep us stuck in one way of viewing things.






















Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow





P. S. Thoughts for the upcoming week: think about how our lives as queer folks has changed in the last year. What gains have been pushed back, altered, or stalled? What have we done to make our feelings about that known to those whose job description is to serve the people.





Friday, January 5, 2018

A Return To Our Roots... Our Grass Roots

Integrity began as a grassroots organization founded by Dr. Louie Crew Clay over 40 years ago, essentially as a newsletter connecting lesbian and gay (LG) folks (the current language of LGBTQ+ had not yet come into existence). Initially there was little structure and no staff. Over the years a board of directors was formed and the organization grew. Even during my first tenure as Integrity’s National President, there was no paid staff and everything was done by volunteers. We even published a regular magazine entitled “Walking With Integrity.”  Yes, it was a “hard copy” publication! Over time with the growing complexity of the organization a staff person was hired as an administrator.  The face of Integrity, however, remained the face of its volunteer leadership.

The need for an Executive Director was discerned for a season and that position as well as other positions became paid staff. Even with staff there was a need for volunteer leadership and volunteer involvement if the Integrity’s work was to be successful, particularly at the church-wide level.

The General Convention of 2015 brought decades of work to a successful culmination with the passage of legislation that put into place the last pieces of protection and inclusion of LGBTQ+ members of our Episcopal Church. The remaining work in those areas is and will continue to be achieved at the grassroots level where individuals interact with each other to help all of us see the face of Christ in each other and without condition or exception. We are at the point where minds and hearts are changed at the one-to-one level. All ministry like that is volunteer ministry.

The work of Integrity is far from done. The presence of 8 dioceses who refuse to allow same-sex marriages bears sad witness to the further needs. The current political climate continues to create more barriers to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks in society... sometimes giving voice to similar actions within the church. Again, that witness is best made at the volunteer and local level.

The Board of Directors of Integrity USA has recognized the need to shift the focus of the ongoing work away from paid staff and toward volunteers at all levels. Accordingly, December 31, 2017, marked the last day that Integrity USA had any paid staff.  Other than items of contract work, the work of Integrity will return to the hearts and hands of volunteers... and we will need all the hearts and hands we can find!

It is bittersweet to say farewell to our Administrator, Laura Zeugner. She has given her time and talents to the work of Integrity far beyond what we have been able to compensate her for doing. She has stepped in and worked with our members at all levels and taken on the work needed to keep us operating, even during some less than the best of circumstances. On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I extend our heartfelt thanks to her.

As you will note elsewhere, the telephone number for Integrity USA will remain the same, just answered from a different location. The mailing address has also been changed to
P.O. Box 70605
Houston, TX 77270-0605 USA
Rest assured that Houston is a huge blue”lake” in the middle of a red state!

In closing, let me wish you a Happy 12th Day of Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a Blessed Feast of the Epiphany!












Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA