Feb 282013
 

Lectionary: Lent 3C: Isaiah 55: 1-13, Luke 13:1-9, 1 Corinthians 10:1-17

Isaiah 55:2: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.
 
Luke 13:3: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
 
“Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes
 
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
 
(America never was America to me.)
 
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
 
(It never was America to me.)
 
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
 
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
 
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
 
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
 
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
 
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
 
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
 
The free?
 
Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
 
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
 
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America
 
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
 
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
 
 
1 Corinthians 10:11-12: “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.”
 
“Credo” by Dorothee Soelle
 
I believe in Jesus Christ
who was right when he
“an individual who can’t do anything,”
just like us,
worked to alter every condition
and came to grief in so doing.

Looking to him I realize
how our intelligence is crippled,
our imagination throttled
and our efforts are in vain
because we do not live as he did.
Every day I am afraid
that he died for nothing
because he is buried in our churches
because we have betrayed his revolution
in our obedience to and fear of the authorities.

I believe in Jesus Christ
who rises again into our life
so that we shall be free
from prejudice and presumptuousness,
from fear and hate
and push his revolution onward
toward his reign.

Feb 282013
 

In the spring of 2007, as I was thumbing through the Bible my new girlfriend (now my partner) had recently given me, I decided to re-visit what the Bible says about “homosexual acts.”  I did not at the time know the reference, but I knew that somewhere in Romans lay the verses most often used to justify the claim that LGBTQ people are outside of God’s grace.  I had been out of the church and disconnected from any sort of spiritual community for the five years since graduating from college, where I had been reassured time and again that “unrepentant homosexuality” drew justified disdain from not only society, but from God.  A “homosexual lifestyle,” I was told, negated any effects of grace, leaving one with only the silence of God.

Though these claims contradicted my own deep convictions that God’s grace and goodness still covered me, I was buried in a sense of self-loathing that came from years of living in a culture in which I felt torn between my own identity as a lesbian and my understanding that the Bible – that God – saw this identity as a perversion.  I believed I could at some point reconcile my sexuality with my faith, but I did not believe it was possible to do so while also holding to an authentic reading of scripture: something would have to be fudged a bit in order to fit together.

It is a terrifying thing to go to scripture looking for evidence of one’s own condemnation, but that’s exactly what I was doing that day.  As I flipped through the Bible I found, much to my surprise, that the book of Romans (and a bit of Acts, I recall) was missing completely.  I chuckled as I searched back and forth in the New Testament, wondering if perhaps I had forgotten its location in the canon, then realizing that the misprinted book was a small sign of divine grace working in my life.  I took the sign with a grateful heart, unaware of the journey I was beginning toward true understanding of the grace bestowed upon me as it is revealed in scripture.

When I began seminary a couple of years later, I carried some of that fear with me, combined with a sort of stubborn determination.  Like Jacob wrestling the angel at Peniel, I was determined to wrestle with the Bible until it blessed me.  As I began to study the scriptures, though, what I found instead was an abundance of blessing.  Like the thousands of people in Mark 8, fed by seven loaves and a few small fish, I came to the Bible hungry; I ate, and was filled.  Still to this day, whenever I dig into a text and begin to hear the voices of those speaking across time, and see their faces on the people with whom I interact every day, I am continually filled; and I am continually astounded by the abundance.

Coming to terms with my sexuality and my faith has brought a mixture of both tremendous pain and liberation.  I have been told that my “lifestyle” would lead God to turn a deaf ear to me, that I would not be a suitable Sunday school teacher because of “obvious differences in interpretation of Scripture.”  I have had former pastors tell me, unsolicited, that I am gay for a number of different reasons, from my experience as a middle child, to it being a call to live a life of singleness.  These experiences have helped me to recognize the sting that comes from alienation from a faith community, and at times, the very shame of existence.  However, I have also been cared for by people in the church who did not reduce me to an “issue,” but saw me as a child of God, and honored me as such.  I have been nourished through the respect, challenge, and unconditional love embodied by those in my faith community.  This tenacious love has revealed the grace of the gospels to me, and has empowered me to open my heart and mind in study, working through school so that I might in some way carry the message to those who are convinced they are not beloved by God.

Being part of a church community has taught me a lot about the power of sharing one’s story, and has helped me see the ways in which the things we’re feeling, but seldom allow ourselves to share, tie us together.  Knowing that I am welcomed and truly loved has given me the space to acknowledge my fears, and to face them head-on.  Had I not faced those fears, I don’t know that I ever would have experienced the blessings.  I’ve been blessed to have people who assured me (and continue to assure me) that their love for me was not contingent on me being anyone other than me.

There is something profound in being given the space to acknowledge things like fear, or joy, or questions about the world and our place it in.  It often seems that, despite the discomfort it may bring, it is only when we acknowledge our emptiness that we have the opportunity to experience fullness.  In that vulnerable ( sometimes scary) space we are given strength for the journey, sustenance in the wilderness – abundance in a few loaves of bread and a couple of small fish.

Feb 112013
 

alice-walker
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
― Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender. She is best known for the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Walker is also noted for coining the phrase “womanism” (in her book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983)), which examines the particularities of race, class, sex, and gender as they impact the lived experience of black women and women of color.

From alicewalkersgarden.com: “Walker has been an activist all of her adult life, and believes that learning to extend the range of our compassion is activity and work available to all. She is a staunch defender not only of human rights, but of the rights of all living beings. She is one of the world’s most prolific writers, yet tirelessly continues to travel the world to literally stand on the side of the poor, and the economically, spiritually and politically oppressed. She also stands, however, on the side of the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world.”

Feb 072013
 

Mabel-Hampton-620x480

Mabel Hampton (May 2, 1902 – October 26, 1989) was a Black lesbian pioneer who inspired many during her 87 year stay on this planet. Born in in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Hampton’s mother died when she was just two months old. She grew up in the care of her grandmother, surrounded by chickens, hogs, a garden full of roses and vegetables, her maternal aunt, and of course, friends. She formed fond memories of North Carolina during this time and was forced to leave this haven of safety when her Grandmother died when Mabel was just 7 years old.

Hampton took the train to New York City where she went to live with her aunt and uncle. Treated poorly in that family and raped by her uncle, at 8 years old Hampton walked away from their home and set out on her own.

Between the ages of 8 and 17 Hampton lived with a white family in New Jersey, was wrongfully imprisoned for prostitution, and eventually found work dancing in an all women’s troupe that performed on Coney Island. For Hampton the 1920’s were a time of dancing in all black productions, private parties with Jackie “Moms” Mabley and other Harlem Renaissance figures, and living amongst other dancers and lesbians. Mabel Hampton was “in the life.”

Hampton left the chorus lines as work dried up, claiming that “I like to eat.” She began a career of working as a cleaning woman for white families. Mabel Hampton is perhaps best recognized as a major contributor to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Through out her adult life she collected all matter of memorabilia, letters, and records documenting her history and the world around her as a black woman and as a lesbian.

In 1932 Mabel Hampton met Lillian Foster. The two quickly fell in love and remained a couple until Lillian died in 1978. For 45 years they, along with various friends, formed a household that weathered World War II, the Civil Rights era, and the Stonewall Rebellion. Perhaps most interesting about Mabel Hampton is how integrated a life she led. She was surrounded by her lesbian contemporaries, volunteered for the New York Defense Recreation Committee collecting cigarettes and refreshments for soldiers during World War II., and was her community’s air raid service warden in 1943. Despite her meager salary she attended performances by the National Negro Opera Company and regularly contributed to the Martin Luther King Memorial Fund and later to gay organizations.

Mabel Hampton clipped articles, kept letters, and later donated her treasures to the Lesbian Herstory Archives so that she could be “a part of going on.” She marched in the first national gay and lesbian civil rights march in Washington, appeared in the films Silent Pioneers and Before Stonewall. She inspired members of the gay and lesbian community in New York, and through her gifts to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, shared her tremendous history with the rest of the world. In 1984 Mabel Hampton addressed the crowds at New York City’s pride parade. She said “I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people.”

(This Bio is a summary of Joan Nestle’s Kessler Lecture (November 1992) entitled “I Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Life of Mabel Hampton as Told by a White Woman.” The original essay can be found in A Fragile Union, Cleis Press, 1998. Summary created by Erin Sexton-Sayler.)

Feb 062013
 

Lectionary: Transfiguration Sunday, year C:  Exodus 34:29-35  (“They say she is veiled” by Judy Grahn);  Luke 9: 28-43 (“Tell All the Truth” by Emily Dickinson); 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 (“Cartographies of Silence” by Adrienne Rich)

Exodus 34:33-35: “When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.”

“They say she is veiled” by Judy Grahn

They say she is veiled
and a mystery.  That is
one way of looking.
Another
is that she is where
she has always been,
exactly in place,
and it is we,
we who are mystified,
we who are veiled
and without faces.

Luke 9:41: “Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.'”

“Tell All The Truth” by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

2 Corinthians 4:1-2:”Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.”

“Cartographies of Silence,” by Adrienne Rich
(Thinking about the Epistle, I was drawn particularly to part 7 of this poem, but I couldn’t bring myself to post the poem without posting it in its entirety.)

1.

A conversation begins
with a lie. and each

speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart

as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature

A poem can begin
with a lie. And be torn up.

A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own

false energy, Cannot be torn
up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself.

Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies.

2.

The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment

the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone

The syllables uttering
the old script over and over

The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie

twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word

3.

The technology of silence
The rituals, etiquette

the blurring of terms
silence not absence

of words or music or even
raw sounds

Silence can be a plan
rigorously executed

the blueprint of a life

It is a presence
it has a history a form

Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence

4.

How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me

though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract

without wounding myself or you
there is enough pain here

This is why the classical of the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain?

5.

The silence strips bare:
In Dreyer’s Passion of Joan

Falconetti’s face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera

If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank space or as words

stretched like skin over meaningsof a night through which two people
have talked till dawn.

6.

The scream
of an illegitimate voice

It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself

How do I exist?

This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer

I had answers but you could not use them
This is useless to you and perhaps to others

7.

It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything-

chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums

If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing

a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew

If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn

till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare

8.

No. Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words

moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child’s fingers

or the newborn infant’s mouth
violent with hunger

No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method

whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue

If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciation to the eye

the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn

like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a single ear of grain

for the return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing

are these words, these whispers, conversations
from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green.