Monday, June 28, 2010

Praisin' in the grass is a gas, baby can you dig it?

A friend of mine from Fort Worth commented on my Facebook note about Mass on the Grass on Pride Sunday in Saint Louis, MO. He wrote “praisin’ in the grass is a gas, baby, can you dig it?” That paraphrase couldn’t fit any better!
And it was a joyous occasion with only one blot upon the service. That was the preacherman who rants each year a short distance from the crowd gathered to praise God and give thanks for God’s inclusive love. This year he stood much closer than in the past two years. He shouted throughout the service that God condemns all those who are gay and lesbian, bisexual and trangender. He yelled out that if we don’t change we will burn in hell. At one point, he asked if we thought that God would really listen to our prayers. A number of people nearer to his rant cried out in unison, “Yes we do!”
If he could be called nothing else, the word rude is appropriate to describe him. But many other descriptive terms come to mind. However, the emotion he brought out in me was an extreme and almost overwhelming sadness.
Sadness for him. That his idea of God is so small and his understanding so limited that he focused on a very few pieces of scripture rather on the theme throughout all scripture – LOVE. He attempted to thrust upon us a god so small and vengeful that only the fearful and hateful could ever worship a god such as that. All of his rantings were antithetical to my understanding of what God is to me.
I wanted him to hear the idea that if we are able to reconcile ourselves to one another, then we can be reconciled with God. He seemed a sad and lonely man, full of the fire of hell. Driven by a false dilemma that creates an inability to live in faith and love, he could not hear my message or that of others who tried to talk with him.
The Epistle reading for yesterday was Galatians 5:1, 13-25. I am sure that the preacherman knew the verses well. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” Sadly, I am also sure that his focus would be only the part dealing with sexual acts rather than viewing the verses as a whole.
Even sadder still is the fact that he does not reap the promise of the very next verses…”The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
Preacherman is scared and filled with vengeance. Preacherman is afraid that if we, as LGBT people are accepted as full members into the living kin-dom of God, what does that say for him? If we are loved by God as children of God, and that in that love there is no “other” or “them,” where does that leave him in the hierarchal, patriarchal tenuous world he lives in? Where is his authority and power?
And that is the sad part. If we, as LGBT people hold an equal share in that love of God, he may see himself as losing the small amount of power and authority that he feels he can claim.
That is what fear does to us. It makes us worry that we are not getting our fair share. We put ourselves first rather than understanding that it is in the giving that we receive.
We are called into freedom but that does not mean that we can stand on a street corner and judge and condemn those we deem unworthy according to our own limited understanding. The “whole law is summed up in a single command.” We are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Preacherman can’t love me because his imagination won’t allow him to know how fully he is loved by God.
Because of that, he is not able to love himself. There is no way he could understand what was happening as we were “praisin’ in the grass.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

What is it to you?


I have worked at a few food pantries over the last 15 years. In each one, one of the biggest problems was combating the need to control who gets how much. Someone was always worried that those receiving help would take advantage of those giving it away.

If a food pantry wishes to receive canned FDA foods, there certain rules apply that the pantry must follow to qualify. The pantry has to keep records of the people who receive the goods, i.e. social security, picture ID, residency, income eligibility. Time restrictions on how often a person/family may collect food are also set. Each client according to family size receives a certain amount of protein (tuna, peanut butter, legumes), vegetables and fruit each time period.

The reason a food pantry follows these guidelines is that this food comes from the federal government at no charge to the pantry. It is free. That means there is a great deal more substantial food that can be given out to each family every month over and beyond what comes in as donations. But, as I have heard all my life, nothing in life is free. With the free food come rules that exclude. If the pantry does not wish to stock their shelves with federal foods, then that which is given away becomes subject only to the largeness of heart…or the fear that there might not be enough.  

Complaints that this, that or another “client” has a cell phone, a nice car, cigarettes, nice clothes or some other you-got-it-but-I-want-it material object causes these things to become a meter by which that client is gauged worthy (or unworthy) to receive free food.

Not long ago, I read Sara Mile’s Take this Bread. Now I am reading her book, Jesus Freak. Two things come to me from these books: Feed my sheep. Feed all my sheep, no exclusions.

It’s all about steadfast unconditional love…that hesed of God. “We can't be taken advantage of when we give away without condition. When we give with the only consideration being that we give to all, no one can take advantage of us. (Sara Miles in Jesus Freak when a student asked if she was afraid that people would take advantage of the St. Gregory of Nyssa Food Pantry) It’s sort of like that crazy verse, “whoever loses his life will save it; whoever is last will be first.”

This is important information for us to digest, not just from a food point of view but for all basic needs that people have. We need food. We need shelter from the elements. We need education and medical care. All these things make up a community. We need to love and be loved. We need community. By what do we monitor another’s need?

The world is full of people who worry that someone else is going to get something he or she doesn’t deserve. We are so worried about that idea that we can’t even see that people are dying from lack of medical attention, food, shelter, love…and more.

These things should not be used as bargaining chip in the game of life. Food, love, shelter and so many other things are not treats to hold over another’s head while asking that person to sit, beg, or play dead.
“Feed my sheep.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Simon Peter – feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. And then, when Peter worries about whether or not the beloved disciple should stay or go, Jesus says, “what is that to you?” He did not say, ‘if you think you have enough to share, then feed others.’ He just said, “Feed…” He said “Follow me” not, ‘come on, if and when you have the time.’

What is it to you or to me?

Jesus didn’t tell us who the lambs are. He didn’t tell us where we were going. We cannot assume that there are lambs less deserving. We cannot assume we have the answers. We have only the work that is in front of us. We don’t have time to worry about who we should exclude. The only thing we can safely assume is that Jesus meant all.

Every last one.

Now.

Today.

This very minute.