Friday, August 27, 2010

Please pray with us...

In a few hours the verdict on Janie Spahr's ministry and this church's welcoming of LGBT sisters and brothers will be known. Yet the verdict will not be about Janie or any of us who are LGBT, family, friends, supporters, will be about the church who believes they can sit in judgment of others.

Sorry, I don't have space for more time, for more study, or the stomach or heart for more violence extended from the exclusionary practices of this church. This commission has what few have, the chance to open the doors to the church in ways that have always been meant to be. These commissioners have the chance to strike down what should never have stood in the way of we who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender...

Simply, to find others guilty for practicing faithfully what never should be lost is hard to fathom. And, we are in difficult times obscured by fear and worse. All the more reason for this to be a day and a time to fill this world with the Light in ways for all to see.

If you pray, please pray with us this morning. If you don't pray, please pray with us this morning. Pray and envision this committee and this fellowship hall at Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Light of God and the presence of Jesus and the Spirit. Pray that the hearts of the commissioners and the church will open for all. Please. Pray. For us all. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Amazing Day for Love and Testimony

Someone out there might say, because people say the darndest things, that the intense and invasive testimony of the eleven couples that Janie married "...was really their own fault. They should have known that being legally married in the State of California when marriage was legal, having their marriage officiated by a faithful Presbyterian minister would cause them these problems. It's their own fault."

And to that I say, "Pooh!"

Every Presbyterian, the real ones, the ones that still honor those who historically have fought for justice and equality across a host of social changes - those Presbyterians - should thank these couples and the minister who married them. They should be here, standing by these couples and the church leaders like Janie Spahr, Jean Southard, Janet Edwards and others who have extended themselves deep into this time of imminent change with faithfulness, courage, heart, intelligence, and above all a commitment to Jesus Christ as "Lord of the Conscience." In other words, Presbyterians.

These leaders have filled the gap left by a GAPJC that refused to honor a request for guidance to The Rev. Spahr following a change in the laws in California that made marriage legal. These leaders again stand alone, filling the gap created by the absence of any past or present leaders from Louisville at these proceeding and the distance of the Office of the General Assembly at this critical trial. Not a word from any one of help, no guidance, not a peep.

Is it any wonder that members of this church who are LGBT feel like their church has left them behind? If it weren't for these leaders being charged for their leadership - who would there be speaking up for the LGBT community?

Now, about the couples who testified. Amazing. To listen to people who are lesbian and gay and who have fought through more than could be imagined to honor their love and then to make themselves vulnerable to questioning and cross-examination to affirm their love is the Power of God at work. For them to open their lives to public display to support the minister who honored their love and to share the gift of their hope with all who are marginalized and excluded by a church that cannot even give its pastors guidance on legal marriages of gay couples...well, it is the Spirit at work in stunning ways.

They certainly strike me as being more like Presbyterians than those who don't even talk to us or get to know us before they bring charges against us. (Which is how these charges were delivered.)

Tomorrow, Thursday, closing arguments will be made by counsel. Following that the PJC will deliberate until they have a decision about whether The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr violated her vows and the rule of church law by performing legal same gender marriages. The PJC will deliberate. Their decision will say a great deal about who we are, what we believe in, and where we are headed.

What will be certain - what is certain now - is that through these hearings, Janie and these couples have given this church a chance to be faithful, courageous, and prophetic in leading this church through these times instead of into the shadows of what we once were. To the rest of us they have given us a wonderful gift and a blessing of huge proportions.

And I join others in awe of them and with deep thanks for their courage and heart.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A church tha includes one and all

The Trial of the PC(USA)
Monday, August 23
San Rafael Califormia

Tomorrow, the church trial of Janie Spahr begins. It is a continuation of the attempts of some to prevent the marriages of same-gender couples. Eleven of the couples The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr married during the time they were legal in California will testify before the Permanent Judicial Committee (PJC) at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Napa. This is Janie's second trial for marrying same gender couples. The first ended when the then PJC ruled that since there is no such thing as "gay marraige" in the church constitution, whatever Janie might have done - it wasn't a marraige in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Case closed.

Not true. This "case" will not be closed until there is a breakthrough. A breakthrough that makes it clear to those who use the lives and loves of people who are LGBT as their rallying cry that this argument is over. That while we are fully willing and committed to healing and working through our differences together, this church and the lives of its members cannot be used to spread fear, hatred, and violence by a litigious and frightened few bent on excluding gay folk. Any place that does that, whatever it is, is not church; cannot be church - in the PC(USA) or anywhere else.

After 9/11, just about every country in the world came rushing to the side of the USA, ready to make it clear that the world community was with us and against such terrible acts of horror. We had a chance to lead in a thoughtful, collaborative, and strongly measured world response. Instead, we missed the chance. The chance to draw closer together in a response that could easily have led to greater cooperation across a wide host of human needs around the world. Instead, we made it clear that we were the same nation that exercized the only use of atomic weapons in history. We made it clear that anger and fear (and lies to support the associated vengeance) would continue to be the order of the day.

Such opportunities in history happen infrequently, but there are times when groups of individuals and their leadership have the chance to move the cause toward justice beyond the easy embrace and entanglement of the status quo, too often based on unjust and unholy arguments.

In Napa, this week, the PJC will have the chance to "call out" the consuming non-argument of whether same gender people and their sacred covenants be honored with marriage. They will have the chance to make it clear that ministers in this church can only be faithful to their ordination vows by honoring and officiating at same gender marraiges, when asked. The courage to stand up and state that the church is wrong to block the way of honoring such love will change the course of this church. It will move us further in reaching the point where we can work together to address the broader spiritual and world needs that call out to us, refusing to allow the voices of fear and bigotry from holding all of us, all of us hostage.

This is a time when such things can happen. If you think that is not true, just look at how hard others are fighting against us. It is a time into which we have been invited by the faithfulness of ministers, such as The Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr, who continue to honor their vows and continue to serve others.

It seems that any charges that are being brought forth against Janie and others, have been brought againt the wrong parties. It is perhaps the accusers that ultimately will indict themselves by these attempts to divide this church. And, when that happens, we will be there, with all the married couples, to welcome them back to a church that includes one and all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gay Redux - They just keep trying...

Is it a lingering continuation of the late 19th Century apocalyptic millennialism and its charge that the growing feminism was going to bring down the world, no less? Is this all so unfamiliar…

From: Catherine Keller’s Apocalypse Now and Then, A Feminist’s Guide to the End of the World: (Some quotation marks removed for clarity. Further references available on request)

(circa 1890) At that moment, we witness for the first time the potent and now so familiar pairing of conservative gender essentialism with apocalyptic biblicism. A popular fundamental magazine wrote that when woman assumes ‘the prerogative of power which belongs to the man and seeks to dominate the world or all of its activities, as she is doing today, she then possesses the spirit of the beast and is like an angel of light fallen from heaven.’

This rare acknowledgment of the dragon’s female side seems to encode the response of the new backlash against the New Woman’s answer to the last. DeBerg demonstrates that in many of the pamphlets and articles listing signs of the end times – riots, violence, and crimes were prominent – ‘the most space was given to a discussion of the social behavior of the New Woman: the ‘easy-going manner in which women of highest rank and culture have allowed the old-fashioned rules and restraints which governed society to be relaxed.’ In these last dreadful days, women will be tempted to take part in this or that social reform, to give their sex the ballot and place them on political equality with men, for their own protection, and to reform society. Political emancipation was a sure sign of the end. Women assuming leadership roles outside of the home but above all in religion embodied a foreboding sign of the approaching tribulations: ‘but the prominence of women in a sphere inconsistent with nature and with the meekness and quietness, which are the ornament of the Christian woman is one of the signs of the times. Quite logically, if the world is constituted of the proper harmony of the two spheres, then when woman leaves her sphere the world will fall apart.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No Obstacles...

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church & Neighborhood House
New York City August 15, 2010
No Obstacles (Sermon Notes)
©2010 Ray Bagnuolo

If I were a fire and brimstone preacher these passages would rank right up there at the top of my list. Both readings exhale excoriation. In Luke, the frustration of Jesus and in Hebrews, the writer, Paul – maybe or maybe not – challenging early Christians to stay the course, regardless of the temporal conditions.
I’ll start with Luke, listening especially for Jesus’ frustration, almost anxiety in the difficulty he is having at getting his message across. Jesus’ words remind me of his actions on the day he overturned the tables in the temple.
The prophetic tirade that follows must have been especially aggravating since it was likely directed to those close to him, rather than a distant group of "moneychangers" - strangers, in the dusty poorly lit back of the temples.
These were likely people, many of whom we know by names, men and women who had been with him, probably finishing another one of their annoying arguments about who would be first when this new conquering kingdom of theirs is achieved; who among them was the most faithful (read favorite of Jesus); or even the criticism: Why has he not brought down fire and punishment upon these oppressors of the times, establishing himself once and for all?  More:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Already Home...

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church & Neighbrhood
New York, New York Bulletins & Sermons

Already Home! Sermon Notes
©2010 Ray Bagnuolo

From late spring until the beginning of fall, I share a small studio with a lady friend of mine on Fire Island. Toni Ann works during the week, and I work on weekends, so it makes it possible for me to get away on my days off to something of a retreat. For me that is often the beach.

This summer, I’ve been given a good deal of thought to my relationship with God. Through reflection, meditation, readings, and conversations…I’ve been really trying to better know – God.

I don’t expect to understand my relationship with God, but I do believe that God understands God’s relationship with me. It is a home place that I can always enter.

Some of the questions I’ve been thinking about include: How does God understand me? What does God know about me that I haven’t figured out for myself? How is God trying to help? What does God know about me that I would like to keep from God (impossible as that is)? And, what does God know about me that I would really like to know for myself?

And, how does this all connect together?

Well, it’s one of those questions that is too big to answer. But in there somewhere is the belief I have that God trusts and loves us. And that God has faith in us to continue the great hospitality of the ancients with the strangers that come our way, as well as with one another, growing together in relationships. More...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Twenty Years Ago

Twenty Year Ago - A Generation...April 2Twenty YearTwenty Yeas6, 1990

From the Session minutes of Jan Hus Presbyterian Church - 20 years ago: [While The Rev. Jan Orr Harter served as pastor]

Dot [Turnier] presented the proposal to declare ourselves a "more light" church, welcoming gay and lesbian persons into full membership and leadership in our congregation. After discussion about how this would affect the church and about how we feel the spirit is leading us Amy [Miracle] moved, Sue [Erben] seconded and it was unanimously approved to pass the following "More Light" statement:

We at Jan Hus Church believe that to exclude gays and lesbians from the Church is contradictory to Christian principles. We affirm that gay and lesbian persons are vital to God's plan for us and the church. Churches, in general, are uncomfortable discussing issues relating to sexuality. However, we now feel it is time to move beyond our discomfort in order to welcome all people into the fold of God. We believe God's love embraces gays and lesbians, with no requirement of contrition for or abstinance from the sexual expression of their love. We are obliged to make use of God's gifts to gays and lesbians to further the mission of the church including use of these gifts in leadership roles. We believe it is contradictory with the essence of Christian principles to require deception on the part of gays and lesbians as to their sexual orientation to allow then to fully utilize God's gifts and experience of God's grace. Following the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we welcome gay and lesbian people to be active and open members of our congregation, celebrating with us God's love for all.

After presenting a variety of follow-up options, including congregation education, worship, Evangelism, financial support - it was moved, seconded, and passed to: Join with other "More Light" churches in preparing literature and an ad for distribution for Gay Pride Week, the last week of June. Funds will come from the Evangelism budget.

It's been a long time...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

All God's Creatures

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House:   Bulletin

Following the attack on New York City in 2001, the great tragedy of that day and its aftermath brought much of the world to us in unconditional support of the United States of America. For a moment in time, we as a people and a nation had the chance to rise above belligerence and testosterone to embrace the nations of the world and lead in a powerfully peaceful and measured response. Yes, I believe that in that brief window of time we had the chance to take a different path, unlike the path we chose of wars and suspicions.

The reaction. The response.

It is these that I watch for, in myself. Perhaps you watch for it, as well, in your lives.

When I greet life with the “long view,” with patience, tolerance, love, understanding, serenity, joy, gratitude; when I hold onto these in my engagement of life – despite the situation or conditions – I am most who I wish to be; I am closest to the unconditional love and unwavering trust naturally and freely given by the animals here today and those we remember from other times in our lives.

We should always behave, as well.

At the most difficult times of my life, I have taken great comfort in the pets I have cared for. It is no accident that many of the hospitals and schools I have worked in have introduced visits by different animals for the very spirit and comfort they bring to others. These animals, all of them, seem to have the ability to absorb from us the edginess or worse that we know, and replace it with calm and serenity, bring out the best of our own humanness.

I remember Muffins, an Old English sheepdog I once had. She knew when things were off and with all the playfulness and great mass at her possession, she’d leap from a distance onto the couch or the chair where I was sitting - right into my lap, almost as if her great humor and energy knocked me off my perch of disappointment or distress. Nuzzling and licking and knocking me down, soon, I would be laughing and playing with her, the troubles at hand replaced with the great wonder and energy of God in Muffins and all creatures.

We live in a world of great need, and the unique gifts of our pets draw us into their seemingly limitless empathy, joy, and friendship. And, somehow, I don’t know how, these creatures make us better people.

Today’s reading of The Prayer of St. Frances, filled with the aspirations of unconditional love; the promise of Jesus in the reading of Matthew, with cosmic assurance that we have nothing to worry about
are mystically present through these and the other creatures of this world.

For those of us who have before or now offer homes and care for animals, we know they are family. And as with any family, their presence influences us. What could be better than to grow in the kindness and love of these amazing creations of God in all her majesty!

So, let’s follow their lead this morning. Let’s see in each of them the assurance that we can approach life with the lift of timeless joy, the wag of a tail (theirs or ours), the nuzzle of trust that tells us not to worry, that we’re being taken care of, and the deep wisdom that tells us their God and Ours, touches us both.

It would surely be good to strive to approach life with the core of such warmth and steadfast love as present in those we will bless this morning. If we continue to try such a thing, there’s a good chance the world of All God’s Creatures, Great and Small will, indeed, be a much better place.

Let it be so.

Blessing of the Animals

When we bless, in scriptural terms, we are imparting the power of life, mediating that power – a conduit – from the God we know and knows us – to others. What a blessing!

Today’s blessing of each animal by name, means that health, healing and life are being channeled through us from God for the benefit of the animal and its relationship with its human partners.

It is the Shalom we know.