Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupying Saint Louis in the Cardinal Nation or Politics and Baseball

Today is the day that the Lord has made; I am rejoicing and conflicted.

As with a good portion of St. Louisans, I am worn out but elated with the St. Louis Cardinals win in the sixth game of the World Series last night. Because of their win, the Series is tied again by the Texas Rangers and the aforementioned Cardinals. The Cards have a new nickname, “Cardiac Cards” due, in great measure, to the fact that they basically lost the game and almost the series to the Rangers. Score lagging, error prone, bats only hitting to infield causing double plays…not a good combination to win against a World Series team…which the Texas Rangers definitely are.

Regardless…at the last moment with two strikes and two outs in the 9th inning, the Cardinals pulled out of a loss and into a tie and extra innings. Then behind. Then again – so close to losing the 2011 World Series, they tied the game up. In the 11th hour … well, not really, it was actually the 11th inning, they finally, unexpectedly and many might say undeservedly, won. Had the Cardinals played throughout the game as they did in the last three innings, there would be no question of deservedness.

Regardless, as a result of the crazy and dramatic win, the St. Louis Cardinals, with their new nickname, will host the Texas Rangers in the very last game of this year’s World Series. There will be a winner tonight. It will be done. Who it will be will be determined by the 9th inning…or the 11th…or, let us say, at the end.

So, what is the conflict? Not between the Cardinals and Rangers…although I have had several moments and actually quite a few more last night when I thought the Rangers deserved to win the World Series. But no. That is not it.

My partner Debbie had a meeting last night at the Cathedral so our son and I decided to walk down to Kiener Plaza to see up close and personal how OccupyStL has expanded since the first time I was down there. Since that one time, I have only followed and supported through Facebook.

It was 6:30 in the evening, sixth game of the World Series. There were people everywhere! At Kiener Plaza, a few blocks from Busch Stadium, within the plaza itself, there was quite a bit of activity within the ring of tents that lined the area. Yet on the sidewalks briskly walking toward the stadium, were those in a hurry to get to their seats prior to that first pitch.

Tucker and I stopped to speak to a couple of the OccupyStL group…a young man and an older woman who were handing out info flyers. The young man said he wasn’t staying at the plaza because he had a job but that he came in the evenings and on weekends. He said he had been there since near the beginning. The woman appeared less likely to have a job…or a home other than the one there in the plaza. She was very enthusiastic in her support of OccupyStL and seemed to be a part of and very well informed as to all that was going on. As much as anything, she seemed hopeful that what was happening was a good thing and that as a result, good would come from what they were doing.

The young man and I talked about the lack of police presence at Kiener. We talked about the frightful scene at Occupy Oakland that had happened earlier. I wondered aloud if the St. Louis police were staying away from Kiener Plaza because of the World Series in town. He said he thought they were hoping that all the protesters would go away as the temperatures fell and that they were just waiting for winter. He said with great pride and a good deal of hope that “we” (the protesters) were not going anywhere. And I believed him.

Drawn by the lure of lights and all those things that have drawn generations of people of all ages to the sound of a baseball game, Tucker and I continued to wander towards the sight and sound of something as American as rebellion...Baseball. We paused outside of Mike Shannon’s on the corner just across from the Stadium. A big screen television was blaring in the outside bar; a woman in a kiosk was selling beer, people were standing around drinking, talking, laughing…hoping…

Still, the lights and roar of the crowd drew us closer until we were standing outside the wrought-iron fence that separated those who had and those who wanted.

All along the way, we were stopped by one or another who wanted us to buy or give. One guy stopped Tucker, handed him an American flag pin and then wanted a donation. I told him I had no money…which was truth. Tucker gave him the seventy-five cents he had in his pocket and the guy told him, “Well, you can keep the pin anyway” as though Tucker had not given him the correct “donation”. Later he said, as we passed a buy playing a guitar with a tip jar near his case, “I should have saved the change to give to this guy.”

One couple that passed us answered Tuck’s question of how they got their tickets and how much did these cost with a quick, “a friend and face value”. Tucker asked what was face value and the guy told him $250 each. A couple of comments were tossed out of how much the tickets would cost for the 7th game IF there was a 7th game.

It is a definite that the stadium will be filled tonight with people who paid exorbitant amounts for a chance to be a part of this historic season as a Cardinal (with their 10 previous WS wins) or a Ranger (second time to the series and a very good chance of winning their 1st WS) team wins.

Baseball, a game so many have loved and revered as a part of the American dream, thrives with its philanthropic millionaire players blasting homerun balls into the upper tiers of mega-dollar stadiums filled with affluent and, at minimum, very lucky attendees. Meanwhile, down the street, testifying against the corporate greed that has so rocked and rolled our world that the homeless and those who have chosen to be away from home, the toothless and the pediatric orthodontic white gleaming smiles of young adults, the dreadlocks and the balding, the dirty from the inability to wash and the dirt taken on in penance, have all mixed together in one voice, here and across the nation to say, “It’s gone too far.”

I am drawn to the voices speaking out in the midst of the injustice in the chaos of the day and in the silence of the night, turning their lives upside down for a chance to be seen and hopefully heard…for a chance to be a part of a change for the good. And I am drawn like a moth to the bright lights and the roar of the crowd and the allure of all that is baseball. I am drawn to and filled by the hope that comes from both. 

I believe the hope will outweigh the conflict. Well I know that the Occupy spaces across the nation hold within them the power to bring about the changes that are so needed in our world…a chance to adjust the imbalance created by our legislature and our courts…created in large part by our own lack of action…our silence that allowed this imbalance to over tilt to one side.

We are the Occupy forces whether we realize it or not. We are them. They are us. Homeless or not; teeth in place bright and shiny or not; by choice or by circumstance…we are them. They are us.

We are a part of the American Dream, be it politics or baseball. Regardless of whether we have the money to buy a World Series ticket or even a cheap seat ticket during the regular season; even if we are one of the ones who have the dollars to philanthropically give to the charity or cause of our choice whether it be hundreds of thousands or simply seventy five cents…we are a part of the American Dream.

It is time for us to live into that idea that politics are a part of that dream and that if we, the 99%, are missing from that mix, the dream is not being fulfilled. Regardless of our place in life, we have a responsibility to be an active part of the system.

As I walked by the young man and the woman as we headed back to the Cathedral, I told them thank you. It’s not enough but it is a beginning. Hope lives. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hopeville, Saint Louis, MO, USA

During the Great Depression, my grandmother and grandfather were a newly married couple. Their first home together was in a Tent City in northwest Tarrant County Texas in the area of where Eagle Mountain Reservoir would eventually be as the dam was completed and the reservoir began to fill up. My grandfather was one of the lucky ones working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. He had a job and they had a home, albeit a tent. Plus, they had a community.

Our friend, Connie, called Saturday morning and said, “Barbi, you have to come out here and see this. We are in Hopeville, the tent city.” So, Debbie, Tucker and I jumped in the car and went there.

What is community but a diverse group of people pulled together by a common thread. That is Hopeville.
Connie had been told to talk to “Big Mama” before she walked into the community. So, she asked for Big Mama. She was told that Big Mama was in the shower and would be out soon.

Shower? In a tent city?

Well, why not, indeed? When we used to camp a lot, we had one of those black water bags with a shower hose attached. Fill it up, let it sit in the sun for a while and a nice warm shower c ould be had even out in the woods. So, why not in Hopeville? I have no idea what their shower looked like but I do know that “necessity is the mother of invention.”

Picturesque it was not. There were many rickety looking structures, fraying tarps and tall weeds all around the area. But if one looked deeper, there were tents raised on platforms to keep them out of any rainwater runoff. There was a popup camper and a few more tents hidden away in the woods with front porches and areas to sit and enjoy the company of neighbors or the quiet of the evening…at least as quiet as it can be in the city.

There was the communal area where meals are shared if one had a desire to do so. There were port-a-potties set off from the “homes”. There is even a mail box set up on 1st Street and a USPS vehicle delivered mail while we were there.

The Saturday morning of our visit, a local preacher had come by to share a prayer, a scripture and a blessing before the breakfast. The smell of sausage, onions and hashbrowns cooking filled the air. Eggs had been brought by Connie and her husband. We came empty handed…not knowing what was expected or what was needed.

So, we just listened and looked. And asked a few questions.

Big Mama used to work in Social Services, mostly with people who had mental health issues. She was laid off and ended up losing her home. She is now the “Major” of Hopeville. One guy is the Constable type person, making certain that things don’t get out of hand and that order is kept. One couple had been in Hopeville in the past but had just returned two months ago. He was trained as a chef at Cordon Bleu Culinary School. He started work at the age of 15 as a grill cook. He supervised the cooking for the morning meal.

Away from the main crowd was a young couple. I don’t know their intentions but it seemed obvious that they had a purpose and were about to set off to accomplish that which they had planned. Not that much different than many other young couples on any given Saturday morning.

It occurred to me at the moment of watching them, rather naively, I might add, that just because one does not have a stationary building overhead does not mean that one is “home” less. A home is where one’s heart is, so the saying goes.

As the young woman walked past us after getting her breakfast, she told us thank you…as if we had done something other than just BE in their space. She and her male companion got in their car and left to do whatever it was they had planned.

Although I do know that being homeless can and does create anxiety, stress and fear which can lead to disorders associated with mental illness, I will venture to say that there are many other reasons for homelessness other than mental health.I didn’t meet anyone in Hopeville that had any more evidence of mental illnesses than those of us visiting. There was laughter, good natured ribbing, one grouchy old guy, sassy young people, some aloof, many sort of wary, some singing, some shouting orders… there was even a dog chasing a cat. Everyone seemed to very normal. (whatever the heck that is…) Perhaps ordinary is a better word to use. Everyone seemed ordinary.

There are many opinions about Hopeville and whether or not it should be allowed to remain a viable community. Larry Rice and the New Life Evangelistic Center believe that the tent city is a better alternative than living on the streets. Lord knows, NLEC is full to capacity at any given time. As I have seen, the city seems full of people with no homes looking for some sort of space they can claim as their own. The area surrounding Centenary Methodist Church and St. Patrick’s Center always have people milling about.

I have to say that I agree with the thought that a community that has tent shelter is safer than little or no community living in an alcove of a building or behind a dumpster in the alley. In my three and a half years in the city, homelessness seems far more of a problem now than before. There are definitely more women and children on the streets now than there were three years ago.

Yet, I also realize that a tent city, subsidized or merely allowed to exist, could be seen as creating a new and different problem and that a more permanent solution needs to be created. I do, however, question the motives of some. I was told by a few of the residents that LumiƩre Place Casino does not like them living so near for fear it will hurt business.

In January, 2011, the City of St. Louis established rules that allowed the residents of Hopeville to stay if they did not harm themselves or others or any property. The City banned “drugs, criminal activity and drunkenness.” (Aren’t these rules everywhere??) Propane cookers/heaters and safely contained fires could be used for cooking and heating. Now, we were told, there is a new eviction date – December 2011.

Is a Tent City the best place for these people to live? Well, surely no, one might immediately claim. Perhaps the reasoning would include that they do not own the property. Or that it is unsafe. Or that the winters are far too cold to thrive in a tent. Or maybe people are just idyllic and believe everyone should have a home. I can see the merit in all but I especially like that last one. I believe that also.

However, it is disingenuous to say that we contribute to the problem by allowing the people to live in tents in the city. Or that by giving people blankets and coats and food we compound the problem because it keeps them from going into the shelters where they would be better for them. I love it when we so easily determine what is best and better for other people. How kind of us!

We would like to think that everyone has a place to get out of the extreme weather and to be safe. We especially love the thought that if a person is homeless, they choose to be shelter-less – to live outside of the rules required to get inside the shelter. It is justified reasoning – the reason doesn’t have to be real; it only has to justify the actions…or non action.

Is Hopeville a place I would want to live? No, not really. But then, I can guaran-damn-tee that I would rather live in a tent behind the levee wall than to live in an alcove of a building in the middle of the city. I can also see a great deal of personal autonomy living in a community with community made rules rather than in a shelter run by people trying to do good by ensuring that others follow every rule.

Do-gooders are sometimes the bane of a good deed.

Meanwhile, as we have this discussion, there are people who do not qualify for one of the empty beds in the city shelters. Then there are people who do not wish to have one of the empty beds because they feel they are perfectly capable of providing that on their own. Regardless of those who want or don’t want one of the beds or whether those of us who have beds feel they are or are not worthy of said bed, the common statement I heard in Hopeville is the same one I hear from those who walk through the Cathedral…

…they all just want a job. 

Falling Off of the Edge

Homelessness is a problem in any big city in any given economic climate. When times get tough, homelessness gets worse. It’s a fact. Numbers are not needed to prove it; one only has to spend a little time to see it.

Saint Louis is no different.

When we think of homeless people, how many times do drugs and alcohol pop into our minds as the cause of homelessness? I cannot recall the number of times I have heard the statement that some people ‘choose to be homeless.’ It is easy to think that, I suppose. After all, what might the average person do to keep from being homeless? Surely I would never allow that to happen, right?

And then there are those pesky runaways. “Troubled” kids – that just means kids that cause trouble, to their parents, to the schools to the police.

Did you know that the National Network for Youth puts the number of “disconnect, unaccompanied and/or homeless youth in our country” at 2.5 million? That’s a whole lot of mothers’ babies all alone in this world doing whatever they have to do to survive. That’s two million five hundred thousand children and youth whose chances of being productive citizens in the future lessen dramatically every day they are disconnected, unaccompanied and/or homeless.

What if we thought about homelessness differently? What about these “excuses” for homelessness:
An abused woman with children running from a violent partner/spouse…
A recently discharged veteran, disabled, not yet receiving benefits…
A family living too close to the economic edge, falls off due to a crisis such as injury or sickness…
A senior citizen living on a fixed income that is far too fixed and no support system in place…
Children abused and/or neglected by parent/step-parent…
Children sexually abused by family member or family friend.
Uninsured, under-employed, have to choose between medicine and rent…or food and rent…or any number of other things and rent…
Me losing my job and my partner losing her job in the near future, times are tough, we are both in our 50’s…

All these explanations sound a lot more reasonable than someone choosing to be homeless. I have never heard a child answer, “a homeless person” when asked what she or he wants to be when they grow up.

The only thing separating me and “them” is a small puff of wind.
Working upstairs at the Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Saint Louis, I had forgotten the number of people who walk through the first floor hallways on a daily basis to get a drink of water, use the facilities, or just to sit in the Nave seeking a modicum of shelter from the streets. Back on the first floor now, I am only there a couple of weekdays each week now but I am still amazed at the people who come in seeking help.
Many are looking for “the lady in the bookstore.” That lady would be Debbie, my partner. Word on the street is that she will help with incidentals like snack foods, toiletries and sometimes socks and such. We have a small “emergency” closet church where we store pop-top foods, crackers, fruit cups/snacks, toothpaste and brushes, deodorant, etc. Being in the Bookstore on the ground floor of the Cathedral, she is often the first person that sees or is seen by those seeking help.
There was a woman and her little girl that came seeking help not long ago. Their time was up at New Life Evangelical Center, a non-profit church center downtown that provides help for those who are homeless. The woman and her child had been there as long as the rules allowed so they were on the streets. She was trying to get into one of the shelters for women and children but had been told by them that there was no room. She wanted a suitcase, pillows and shoes for her little girl. A call went out for help and three people promptly responded with the requested items.
A couple of weeks ago, as I walked from one office to the next, I saw a young couple standing in the hallway. They had a little boy with them. They were hot and sweaty, tired and looking lost. I asked if I could help them. They said they had been told to come to the church to find “the lady in the bookstore.”
The couple was from Colorado. Out of a job, his grandmother in Saint Louis County had bought them bus tickets to bring them to St. Louis so he could find a job. She told them they could live with her for two weeks. They had been there three weeks and at the end of that day, they had to leave her house. Their little baby was with her for the day. Hoping to find a place to stay for the night, they still had to return to pick up the baby.
At a board meeting the other day, I heard an oft repeated statement:  there are plenty of beds for “the homeless” in Saint Louis. Well, that’s all good and fine if one is comforted by numbers. 200 homeless; 200 beds (small random number to show a point). Comforting, right?
No.
Because the fact is that just because the beds are there doesn’t mean that those who need them are allowed to sleep in them. There are rules and regulations deciding who can and who cannot use the different facilities.
Rules help keep community safe. But it is a fact: the street is not a safe place for women and children.
To stay in many of the shelters, one must have proof of identity. There is also the residency restriction. One must be able to prove they are a legal resident of Saint Louis to stay in a homeless shelter in Saint Louis. If a couple wants to stay together, it won’t be possible in most places. If a father wants to stay with his wife and children, it isn’t possible. If a woman and her children just lost their home but are not actually abused and running scared, it is far more difficult for them to find those elusive beds.
These are just a few of the details of why those beds are not filled at night but the nooks and crannies of the streets are.
This is just the beginning, I think, of things I have to write about this subject. We have a problem and somehow we have to figure out what needs to be done.
While talking to the people who THINK they understand the problem is an important part of understanding, talking to the people who are actually living within the problem, hearing the whys and hows of what brought them to the point and what they believe will help them – that is where we have to get serious. There has to be the recognition that those who are without a “home” to live in are no different than you or me. They are people who found themselves, suddenly or otherwise, without the basic need of shelter. We cannot superimpose our perceived understanding as a solution.
Just as with any alleged problem, the solution is often a state of mind. Even more often, the solution to the problem often involves simply removing the offending sight from the eyes of the offended.
Out of sight; out of mind. That type of solution has to eliminated. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lavish, Economy, Radical = Love

Market personified
 I shudder hearing the market made into a person, aka "We will see if the markets like (don't like) the latest news" or "How will the market react?" It as if we have bowed down and offered our destiny and our serenity to the "market."
The market does serve very useful functions. It creates wealth and capital, funds retirement plans etc.... However it is a man-made creation and as such is fallible. Period. It is not a person. It is certainly not God. It is not a relationship. It is not love, or connection. It is a man-made creation and as such is fallible. 



I get a “daily communique” every morning from Emergent Village which “is a growing, generative friendship among missional Christians seeking to love our world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” In our ever growing economic catastrophe, this one seemed relevant to many recent conversations.  

Strangely, their statement of intent seems oxymoronic to much of what is ongoing today. Many people talk about “mission.” More talk about money…or rather, the lack of it.
I told someone the other day – actually, I told several someones because I was fairly irritated – that I have never been in a parish that didn’t have money problems…AND I have never been in any parish that walked fully in faith.
I am quite clear about the need for money in this world we live in today. I am facing my own possible financial crisis in its ugly face as I write.
I know that salaries have to be paid, clergy pension funds filled, health insurance premiums met and then there are those pesky little things like electric, water and gas. Then there is the monster so many live with, the huge, antiquated buildings that require constant maintenance at normally high prices.
So what difference would it make to a parish assembled for worship if there was no water? Or lights other than candles? Or heat or cool? Or for that matter…clergy?
Yes, there would be many who would complain. But would it prevent the Holy Spirit from being present? Would it change the liturgy? Would fewer voices be raised in song?
In fact, with no utilities, there might be no need for a stewardship committee. Rather than a bunch of people getting up in front of the gathered and telling their personal stories of why they give, the need would already be evident.
Or, if some of the money saved from paying the numerous bills that so often seem antithetical to the idea of a faith experience were to be set aside for when that young couple with the two little children looking for work and a safe place to lay their head for the night…something right about here comes to mind to remind me about strangers…welcoming…if someone asks for your cloak give them your shirt as well…
Somehow suggesting that they walk on over to New Life Evangelistic Center just doesn’t taste the same in my mouth.
Money. It’s all about money.
We talk about God and bow down under the burden of money.
So many predict that the “church” is dying. In many cases, that is a hard point to argue.
We talk about what we can lop off with as little damage as possible so that the body doesn’t bleed to death. Yet how long can the body last with only a head?
The adage says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Thinking of the church as a business is a good intention. But is it? Can it be a business? Can we continue to think first in terms of break down, get rid of, unnecessary, not needed, not breaking even…Free.
This thing that we do is not free. It costs but those costs are not necessarily in dollars. The gospel on Sunday, August 28 was about picking up the cross and following Jesus. That is not a burden. That is the way to life. But when we pick up that cross and follow, other things have to be set down. I think worrying about money is one of those things that has to be set down.
I had the great privilege of watching faith in action this weekend. I spent time with Becca Stevens and two women, Katrina and Sheila, of the community of Magdalene and Thistle Farms. If you do not know of the Rev. Becca Stevens or the Women of Magdalene, I urge you to do so. They are phenomenal gifts from God just waiting to share their love and life with all who are looking for a chance to dance a new dance.
Here are some of the things I brought home with me.
To heal it we have to first deal with it. – name it and own it.
We are called to get our hands dirty. – we cannot dictate from on high, we have to be involved.
We are not called to change the world; we are called to love the world.  – with our love, change is brought about. If we try to change things, we have a tendency to dictate what change is needed. We don’t often really know what that is.
Love heals. It is lavish, economical and it is radical. AND it will always bear fruit.
To worry is a waste of time. We cannot get weary – take a little time to rest and then go do good, do more rather than less. There is no time to be tired and no time to worry.
We need to stand on new ground, understanding that it is Holy.
Little girls do not dream of being prostitutes, addicts or being victims of rape.
“You can’t be willing to die for something if you are not willing to live for it.”
Worthiness is another word Becca used. We gauge UNworthiness on a daily basis. Is that person worthy of a handout? ‘He/she will probably just use it for drugs or cigarettes or booze.’ Boom. Unworthy. ‘They will just sell their bus passes for drugs or cigarettes or booze.’ Boom. Unworthy. ‘We don’t give them money when they come into our building because they can get what they need from other places in town that are in that business.’ Boom. Unworthy.
Determining UNworthiness is just not our job. Declaring all people as children of God worthy is.
Nowhere in any of Becca’s, Katrina’s or Sheila’s talk, was the matter of money discussed in relationship to worthiness. Rather, they spoke of Lavish, Lavish love. It costs nothing to manufacture. It is brand new every time it is given away. It is radical because it goes to the very root of Scripture – Love one another. Help one another. Don’t give leftovers – give what is on your back, give new, they said. Because everyone is worthy of that.
A woman or girl child on the streets is in serious danger of being raped, not once or twice but repeatedly. It doesn’t matter if a man is with them or not. They are in danger.
The questions we have to ponder seriously and intentionally are what are we spending money on? If it is not lavish, economical and Radical, maybe we need to cut it out. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

It is the Journey

Occasionally, quite often, actually, I read something and think, “That is exactly how I feel; I wish I had written that.”

While that may be placed in the category of coveting…not sure about that…it is exactly what I thought when I read Sr. Joan Chittister’s newsletter Vision and Viewpoints. The article is titled, “Too Late?”

“There is no such thing as coming too late to God. All the way to God is the Way.
Clearly, we cannot lose God; we can only prepare ourselves to come to see the face of the eternal and ever immediate God in everything. How long will that take? What difference does it make? The God we find when we do will be the same God however long that takes, whenever it happens. It is the journey, not the end, that counts.
– from The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)

How many times have I thought I came to this place of answering God’s call to me too late? How many times have I ventured into that dark place where I wished I had continued my conversation with God that I began at a very early age? How I have so often lamented the fact that I ran and hid myself (or so I thought) during my teens and twenties!

I returned to “church” in my early thirties. I say “returned” meaning, I began attending occasionally. I felt the tug to be in community, to be a part of Something when I was in my twenties. I even tried to attend but it was difficult. Everyone was so old and so cold. It wasn’t the way I remembered feeling as a child in the Southern Baptist rural community church setting. So I decided I was just past that stage of church life. Or not yet there.

As I entered the beginning of my thirties, my daughter was baptized. It was a turning point in my life. There were so many such points afterwards.

Yet all along the way, I grappled with the sense of too late, wrong way, too long on pause, too long running away. It seems to be an underlying current that runs within me. What causes it is the unrest that comes from knowing that although I was called early, the church was not ready for me. Now that I am older, I am not sure the church knows what to do with me.

Due to fact that I am far closer to 60 than to 30 and in a church that is actively trying to find ways to recruit younger people, have I waited too late? Is the end near and I still have no answers?

So it is with those thoughts and feelings that I read Sr. Joan this morning.

It doesn’t matter…not really…how long ago I was called, how long I waited or ran away, not even how much I want to just be on the Way. It matters only that I am.

God continues to be God. My way on the journey continues to create stories that others need to hear. The end does not matter. God continues to be with me as I journey. And as Sr. Joan writes, “It is the journey, not the end, that counts.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Saint Louis is SO Gay!" reads the new PROMO tee shirt.




And it is…So much so that one can get really comfortable living here. We have lived in two neighborhoods in the three and a half years we have been here; we have never been the only same sex couple living on the block. We have visited numerous Episcopal parishes in the half of the state of Missouri (geographical boundaries of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri) and have yet to see any type of bias exhibited against us. In fact, many of the parishes are openly welcoming by being Oasis Parishes and/or Integrity Proud Parish Partners. (http://www.theoasismissouri.org/ & http://www.integrityusa.org)

Saint Louis City has had a domestic partnership law since 1997 (pro, not anti). Domestic partnerships registered in other cities are considered valid here when one files a certified copy of the registration with the City Register.

It is easy to forget that people across the globe are discriminated against, beaten, and murdered simply because they are LGBT. It is easy to go to work or home, go to a restaurant or bar, enjoy the company of friends and only fleetingly, if ever, think of those just outside of the city limits who do not do these things, simply because they are not allowed to do so, at least not openly.

But there are those who do not allow us to get too comfortable in our forgetfulness, people right here in this comfortably LGBT city who let us know every day that everything is not all right.It is not alright until it is all right and just. Missouri continues to be a very homophobic state with laws that do not protect its gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender citizens.

PROMO is one of those groups, working for change at the state legislative level and on the home front also. Human Rights Campaign St Louis is another. The work that is being done with Growing American Youth is nothing less than phenomenal. Bus # 10 will take off for Iowa on August 26 in the ShowMeNoH8 Show Me Marriage Equality so that the next group of couples can be legally wed. The LGBT Center of St. Louis recently opened its doors at a new location offering an information center and safe refuge to any and all.

Saint Louis is so gay! BUT there is still so much work to do…here and everywhere else. Even though we are fairly comfortable here, it is good to see all the work being done to promote equality for all.

Please, visit these sites. Check out what is happening in St. Louis. You can find out how to get one of the tee shirts on the link provided under the picture In this city known for its poverty, racial tensions and crime rates, it is very good to be in the top 10 of something good!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dogs and God's Will

My times are in your hands…” regardless
(Psalm 31:15)

I can think of nothing else that fits more clearly where I am in this journey. All along I have thought I was following “God’s will”…at least in my prayers, I continued to ask God to guide me. All I wanted was to do what I thought God was calling me to do.

One of the things I was told while in discernment, both initially with my spiritual director and later with my discernment committee, was to listen to the voice of the community. That voice was a primary factor in us leaving Fort Worth. That voice said we want you as a priest. We believe God is calling you to be a priest.
After a year in Saint Louis, living and working within a divided community as the director of Christian Education for youth and children, again, I heard those same words.

Our “home” parish in Fort Worth, St. Stephen’s in Hurst, has a long history of controversies and splits. So also our much loved second home, Christ the King. It doesn’t take the “gay agenda” to send anyone into a frenzy. Frenzies happen anywhere there are two or more gathered together, in God’s name or otherwise. So, Christ Church Cathedral was no different. Parishes live on the edge of divide constantly. It is rarely one thing; ten other controversies hover at any given moment.

But having come into the Episcopal Church during all the different but constant stream of differences, there has always been one idea in my heart – We are one in the body of Christ regardless of where our minds are. There are always opportunities to gather people into that body and remind them that is exactly what they are, the body of Christ.

So, I sit in the midst of a bit of confusion for this time. Part of the confusion rests with my discernment committee, which often felt as though I was on trial and they the judge rather than in the midst of a discernment which needed the whole of us to work together to discern God's will. They ended up split: two believed priesthood, two diaconate (with lots of accolades for my lay ministry).

Another part comes from the Commission on Ministry. I know that they did not appreciate my answer regarding finances. To the question: ‘Have you thought about the expense of going to seminary should it be determined that you are to go on,’ I answered, “yes I have thought of it but I have come too far trusting that God will give us what we need as we need it to start worrying now about that.”

I was told that another concern they had was my age – how old I would be after going to seminary, if need be. I am not sure what to do with that concern, especially in light of the fact that others have been, are being ordained at ages older than my own. Considering the fact that I already have a Master of Theological Studies, half, at least, of any seminary education is complete. That’s two years less anyone might worry their ‘pretty little head about.’ (a quote from the Congressman Jim Wright when I asked him a question long ago)

I am sure that COM had other concerns but these are the two that were given me.

Two things I know for sure: I will grow older…unless I die and I cannot begin to worry about building up treasures for anything…not even this. My treasures are far too many now. I continue to work at getting rid of these, not acquiring more.

But I also know one other thing. The Canaanite woman in today's Gospel knew what so many did not. Jesus listened to her because he had no choice; her faith was bigger than his opinion. She knew that he did not have to like her, nor did he have to believe her worthy. It didn’t matter that he thought her on the level of a “dog” or that he believed what desire he might grant her would be better served going to one of the chosen ones. (Matthew 15:21-28)

She believed in him. And he realized it. And it was enough to make him realize he was wrong. It was enough.

Just as her times were in the hand of Jesus, so also are mine. I have held back for three years now. I have held myself in check because I didn’t want to offend anyone with my “radical” thoughts or words.  I want to return to my “root”.

I have served myself… and God…unwisely. Writing has always been an outlet, a way to process, a way to share what I feel inside. It is one way that the Spirit speaks to me. Worried more about what others might think, I shoved aside my gifts, concerned that these might be seen as too forward or as an annoyance.

I don’t know what I will do about discernment. I was not told no, merely to wait a little bit. COM heard a call to ministry; they just didn’t hear to which ministry. But the two things won’t change.

But I can. I can return to that root. I can also rest assured that, just as Merton prayed so also can I. By the very fact that I want to do God’s will, God must be pleased. Therefore, I will continue trying to do that very thing.

It is enough.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reflections

A repeat from some years past. Today is Father's Day and we were supposed to be in Texas. Due to some scheduling conflicts, that was postponed for one week. So, here I am again, from a distance, wishing Daddy Happy Father's Day. 
I love you, Pop!
Barbi

Reflections on a Father's Day in 1998
B. G. Click

My small neck angled backwards to see what blocked the sun.
It was you, looming protectively like a darkened guardian angel.

Fat feet on your shadow, in frenzied pursuit behind,
I tried to keep up with you, just to be a part of that bigness.

Skinny arms raised in hope, eager to be swung above your head
I knew you were Hercules, conquering a dozen labors.

Child heart brimming with pride, anxious for your approval,
I struggled to live up to what I thought were your dreams for me.

Untrained mind ever questioning all mysteries of the universe --
except one - I knew you loved me even when I didn't need it.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Notch on My Belt

When I was in the midst of my parish discernment committee, one of the members, the only other woman in the group, noted that perhaps I wasn’t called to ordained ministry at all. Instead, perhaps, I was merely “seeking another notch on your belt”.

Just as Paul told the church in Corinth that women should be silent in church, be subordinate in all things, the woman’s statement about the notch speaks loudly as to what it does not say.

Why would Paul tell women they should be silent? They must have been creating quite a ruckus for him to have had to write a letter from so far away telling them to shush it. Or rather, what the heck did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 14:36? That, too, speaks volumes in what it doesn’t say. But I digress.

So what had I done in my past that made this woman feel I was seeking yet another “notch” on my belt? In many circles a “notch on the belt” means that one has scored a sexual triumph. I am sure that this woman more sincerely meant that I had past successes or achievements; nonetheless…

Considering the fact that I am 57 years old, have worked possibly 15 years of that time as a paid employee, regardless of the fact that I have two degrees, three, actually when one includes the associate’s, I have attained no great heights of success, at least not from our present cultural connotations of success. I am not financially successful, although I owe relatively little in relation to my income. I have no insurance (other than full comprehensive for my vehicle). My retirement plan reflects (foolishly, according to many) my financial plan of the moment, which is, if the need is there, God will provide. Yet, I have far more than enough. My assets outweigh my liabilities by a good piece.

However, to our culture, secular and in many cases, the church, I have failed to take care of myself. Worse yet, if I am wrong about God, then that society of which I am a part will be forced to take care of me. Grudgingly so, as far as the current political scene is concerned.

One can imagine the concern of the ministry commission when asked about my finances and my reply was, “I have come thus far trusting that God will provide as needed. I cannot stop doing so now.”
I can say I have and will continue to be a fool for Christ.

I will be foolish yet once more and proclaim that as long as we measure success in material things, we cannot continue to aver that the orders of ministry are full and equal orders and we will continue to have problems discerning the difference between lay, deacon and priest.

We can loudly protest that happiness is not measured in big houses, nice cars and big parishes and isn’t it nice that poor people can sing so loudly and joyfully in their churches but as we sit in our air-conditioned homes and drive our fossil fuel driven vehicles and seek status and privilege through our employment, we will continue to live within one very large lie.

We should be able to be joyful in our poverty yet, that is easy to say it and much more difficult to live it and be the “fool for Christ”.

I will go one step beyond and say that as long as ordinands to the diaconate have far less education to achieve, no GOE requirements and few or no prospects of being employed (that means paid, not used) by the parish they serve, the church will continue to have a mis-understanding of full and equal. As long as we live in a culture that says more is more and the church adheres to that idea (more education, set salary for priests; less education, no wage for deacons), there is no full and equal. As long as it takes money to be a priest or the willingness to put oneself in deep debt, we will not live into the idea of a radical priesthood. We are just too human to make it so. “Radical” becomes a four letter word.

One cannot desire or even perceive of one more “notch” on a belt of life when seeking to follow God in discerning our role to the people of God.

Either we are seeking God or we are serving a lesser god.

Let’s call it what it is. 

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A New Name

Words have always been my friend, my companion when things got tough. I could write my thoughts and come into a clearer understanding of what was going on, how I felt and what I should do. But now, I seem to have nothing. No words.
Well, of course, there are words. The ones above are an example. I guess what I am saying is that over the past year or so, I don't like the words that come to me as I try to process. They feel empty, unimportant, with absolutely nothing solved. I remain in the same quandary in which I began.
I have spent a good part of the past ten years processing my thoughts and feeling by writing about the Episcopal Church, LGBT issues, bishops whose thoughts differ widely from my own. But many of those things have changed. If nothing else, I have changed.
I don't want to complain about the church anymore or who can or can’t be a part of it. I have no more idea what to do to make it better than anyone else. Besides, the best I can tell, it's better than a lot. Not perfect, but then it never will be. It's full of humans. A couple of thing I know…I am an Episcopalian and I believe that growth cannot be our primary concern.
I don't want to complain about LGBT issues anymore. Plus there are others who are far more up to date and able to debate the issues, both within the Episcopal Church, other denominations and in secular organizations. And I might add, they are doing a wonderful job.
And there are just so many other problems in the world. It is really difficult to focus on one. Just a small few of these...
budgets that feed the rich and further starve the poor…
a world out of balance environmentally, literally and figuratively...
violence which some feel can only be solved by more guns, more death, more prisons all the while screaming against abortion while showing large pictures of fetuses cut into pieces...
all the boys and girls who have been promised a job and an education if they will fight an unjust war in a foreign country so that we can play like we are safe here in the US. Oh, and oh yeah…the war…
Where does one begin? It is paralyzing.
And then there is God. What a joker! Or wrestler. Not sure which at this point. I vacillate between standing in confusion, scratching my head, feeling a bit silly for having come this far with so few directions up such a strange lane or feeling as though I have just been thrown to the ground and am now in a hammerlock. Either way, both feelings are debilitating to a degree.
To say I have been paralyzed is to tell only a part of the story. I have been rendered immobile with no ability to process.
So, imagine my delight when I found a new blog, new to me at least. It’s named Dirty Sexy Ministry. The name itself made me smile. One post resonated clearly, Disguised Blessings. It was particularly thought provoking.
The post made me re-remember that I know eventually I will come out of the other side of this thing and say "Aha!" as I nod slowly in appreciation for the understanding that what felt like an adversity was actually a blessing well disguised. Forget the fact that it was disguised in a bunch of what felt and looked like wadded up, wrinkled wrapping wet from whatever icky trash was tossed upon it before being pulled from the bottom of the waste basket. A blessing is a blessing. Thanks be to God.
I know I have been taking on a great many worries and concerns that do not belong to me -- right NOW, later maybe but now NOW -- I try to set these aside but they wash over me at unexpected moments in the middle of the night, in the midst of a prayer...even after offering a sermon, overwhelming me with joy and anxiety at the same moment.
So I suppose what this is not is the ravings of a mad woman (God knows I have wondered). Instead, I am merely involved in a struggle with what feels like the demons of the world rather than an angel of the Lord. I do believe there are demons of the world, however, I am fully aware that the process of understanding God's will for us almost always runs contrary to our culture's idea of ease and comfort therefore feels more like an affliction than a blessing.
I am not sure enough to tell the angel this but if it be demons, I say, Bring it on! Regardless of how well disguised it might be, I know who has my back.
If it’s an angel of the Lord, well, maybe it’s time for me to have a new name...regardless if it transforms me even more. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Talking with Jesus

I know many people who have terrible things going on in their lives right now. Enough so, I feel fairly childish, churlish, petty and whatever other word might fit. Nonetheless, today, I miss the set of kids that just left to return home to Texas…which makes me miss all the family that wasn’t here. On top of that, it was just a crappy day. Perhaps it was a crappy day because of my attitude. Regardless, it sucked. Mean people always suck. People who make judgments based on what people say who are trying to cover their own asses suck just as much.

So, what do I do when I am missing kids, parents, Texas, sunshine, nice people and all that? I turn to Willie. Or Randy. And I listen to them sing gospel music. Deep roots. (for those who might not know – Willie Nelson and Randy Travis)

It all makes me feel better. Listening to Willie sing “Sometimes my path grows drear without a ray of cheer and then a cloud of doubt may hide the day. The mists of sin may rise and hide the starry skies but just a little talk with Jesus clears the way.” Because listening to this, I remember that Jesus loves me regardless of anything else in this world.

Regardless of my own sin that causes me to be petty or childish; regardless of how narrow other people see the world; regardless of all the disasters going on in people’s lives and the world, Jesus is still here.
“I may have doubts and fears my eyes be filled with tears, but Jesus is a friend who watches day and night.”

It may not be very deep theologically, but I don’t care right now. It’s all I need at this time. It reminds me that I am a feather on the breath of God and that the hot air that blows around me is not that breath and if I am still, I will know the difference. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Serving My “Civic” Duty with a Hermeneutic Of Suspicion

A disclaimer: I know that there are many who believe that it is a good and right thing to be called to jury duty. I do not deny that. I do not wish to contradict that. The following is merely my observations and thoughts after spending two days within the judicial courts system.


Jury duty is touted as our civic duty – the responsibility to serve on a jury where another is being tried by that jury of his/her “peers”. Civic duty is, of course, our responsibilities as a citizen of our state and country. A peer is one with whom we share equal standing as in rank, class or age. That in itself is rather funny since the U.S. has always claimed to be a classless society. Let’s forget the fact that I am denied quite a few rights because of my perceived “life style”. Let’s just look at the idea of civic responsibility to serve on a jury.

Ccalled to appear on January 18 to serve on a “petit jury” at the Civil Courts Building in downtown Saint Louis, I diligently showed up at a few moments before the required 8:00 a.m. There was plenty of time to go through security, find the Jury Assembly Room, check in with the court clerk and squish into a seat in a very crowded room between two people who clearly left that space between them purposely.

I read the little handbook explaining all the things that would happen and how these events would unfold. I read about my civic duty and how fortunate I was to be called. I was being called into action to serve with my peers to keep justice in the forefront. We were there to keep the lawyers and judges just. On the walls around the room there were posters to substantiate the message of the booklet. Heady stuff.

All of this might ring a bit more true were it not for the fact that had I failed to show up for court or if I walked out at any given moment, I would be held in contempt of court punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. Suddenly I would have need of a jury to uphold justice for me.

A woman came on the loud speaker telling us, just in case we had not read the booklet, about the day(s). She thanked us for being there, told us again of our duty as citizens and tried to make us feel that all of the time spent would be rewarded by the idea that we were full citizens in a country that trusted our ability to form opinions. Oh, and don’t forget the $12 per day check we would receive!

She went on to let us know that if we had an “extreme” hardship that kept us from being able to serve, please come to the front desk to talk to the person there. And please, understand that loss of wages at a job that does not pay while one is on jury duty does not count as “extreme” hardship. It is our civic duty to suffer hardship for our state and country. Forget rent that needs to be paid; never mind about the electric bill. Tell the landlord and Ameren UE (electric company) that jury duty is far more important.

I, thankfully, have a justice minded board of directors along with a great boss who made certain that I lost no wages because of my civic duty begin served. Through the course of the day, I spoke with many who were not that fortunate and would suffer the consequences later in the week.

She also told us that there was a mezzanine on the floor above with vending machines and tables. A surprisingly few people took up the offer to leave the crowded room. I bolted up the stairs and found a nice table near the window.
There was something very surreal about sitting around all day waiting for my number to be called. There were hundreds of us there. At the sound of the intercom, all talking would cease. Or if one or two remained on the phone or created noise that interfered with the faceless voice, those listening expectantly threw glares at the offenders.

People sat with eyes closed or staring at a fixed point, heads cocked, ears tuned, listening intently for the one number that mattered. The speaker ceased calling the dozen or so numbers and a sense of normalcy returned to the room. Conversations were picked up where these had been dropped.

I sat a table with three other women. We knew that if we were not called on the first day, we would have to return the next morning. It took five rounds of numbers before my personal number was called. I was so used to it by that time; my comrades were the ones who caught it.

The weirdness if the situation returned as I told them goodbye. I felt a combined relief at a change in the game and a dread of what would come next.
Those of us called in the that round found our way to the front desk on the first floor where we were told to sit in the next to last row of a group of pews already filled to near capacity. Role was checked to make certain that those called were actually there. Six more jurors were needed to round out the required number.

We were once again thanked for attending to our civic duty and with paperwork done, we were told to follow the officer where he led us.

Following the officer down the stairs in single-file form, we passed signs warning us to remain quiet, no talking, no food, no drinks allowed. As I was near the end of the line, each time the line stopped for a few minutes, the cause was unknown. The sense of strangeness only increased because we were in a hallway and unable to see. Finally to a point of sight, it became clear that we were being herded onto an elevator. Eight people at a time. Another officer waited on the elevator. The other one counted us off: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, wait right here” as he pointed for the next number 1 to stay outside of the elevator.

We rode up in silence to the 5th floor. The officer in the elevator told us the division number and our judge’s name. She told us we would get off the elevator and await further instructions.

Throughout this procedure, I could not help but think of those before us who had been herded quietly into the unknown, in a single-file line with little chance to alter the course of events. Had I been one to panic at such scary thoughts, this would have been the time to do so. Thankfully, I held my calm.

We all wandered off the elevator and I, for one, was rather glad to see the unknown faces I had seen downstairs. There was no one at that moment waiting to tell us what to do or where to go so we aimlessly sat, leaned against the wall or paced uncertainly. It is rather amazing how quickly we can fall into a pattern of blind obedience.

After what seemed like a long time but was really only about ten minutes, an officer opened the door of the jury room and called in those assigned to the division number and judge. Within a few moments, role was once again called (in case one or two lost their way or bolted) and we were told where to sit. We were also alerted that this seat would be ours until jury selection was made. Looking up, I noticed that some of the light fixtures were in the style of the Scales of Justice.

Another five or ten minutes passed and a buzzer sounded. The officer called out, “All rise!” And we did.

The judge came in and we were told to be seated. He then began to explain the proceedings for the day. Again, he gave the now recognized spiel about our civic duty and how justice is only served when we are tried by a jury of our peers. The lawyers put forth evidence, the judge judges but the jury follows the letter of the law to decide beyond a reasonable doubt if the defendant is indeed guilty. And please do not forget that the burden of proof lies with the State to prove that the defendant is guilty because, as we all know, the one arrested, handcuffed and taken into custody until bail is set is innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his or her peers a year or so later (one year in this particular case). He told us the charges against the defendant (possession of a controlled substance) and reminded us that the only way we could give a verdict of guilty was in the event that the State offers evidence that convinces us “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is indeed guilty.

Then the fun began. Timeline review: checked in at 8 a.m., called to the jury assembly room around 2 p.m.( after 1 ½ hour lunch), sitting in the courtroom with the prosecuting attorney readying herself to begin questions at 3:15 p.m. The prosecuting attorney began polling the jury pool.

Law shows on television are obviously very popular. The reality of the courtroom can only be described as tedious, at least the reality of the courtroom as I saw it.
Obviously, the State’s evidence was tied up primarily in the testimony of two police officers and one analyst who ran the tests on the controlled substance because most of the questions were targeted at finding whether or not we, as individuals, could and would make a decision of belief based upon that testimony alone.

By four o’clock, my butt was numb and my brain was even more so. I felt trapped within a tedium that seemed interminable. Those who lifted their hands to answer questions were almost comical…at first. There was one I called “Jeremiah Johnson” who at each question would proclaim in a loud, booming voice, “Judge NOT, lest ye yeselves be judged!” Then there was the young woman behind me who was a waitress in a bar who answered, “well, you know, it’s like…well, I know both sides…they come into the bar and you know, I see, well, I see them acting like, you know…I am sorry, I don’t mean to be rude but you know, it’s just that, well, I see both sides and I, uh, just don’t know if I can be, well, you know, fair, because, you know, it’s just that, well, I see both sides…you know?”

Then there were the unending side bars. Does anyone realize the control that a Court Reporter has on a court? Nothing moves, no word is heard until she is in place and gives the nod to resume.

The judge finally called for a recess at 4:45 p.m. We were to show up the next morning at 9 a.m. and we were to be on time because to not be so would waste the time of the court and all present.

I can go on, but I would become as repetitious as the court itself. The basic point is this: I did not want to be there. I do not believe it is my civic duty to perform a duty at the threat of being incarcerated or fined if I do not perform that duty. I do not believe that drug possession should be a punishable offense nor do I believe that drug addictions will be cured or lessened by prosecuting those addicts.

Nonetheless, I do believe that I would have been as fair and impartial as possible regardless of the fact that I know of numerous instances of police harassment and unfair verdicts in court situations; in spite of the fact that I believe that racial profiling occurs often and the law is skewed in favor of those who have and against those who have not. Despite that, I would have tried to set these thoughts aside to listen to the evidence. After all, the burden of proof is always on the State to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, right?

What got me cut from the pool of jurors? When I finally had to hold up my hand to answer a question because to not do so would have had me sitting in willful silence, the lawyer answered my statement with, “So, are you saying that you could not be 100% impartial to the testimony of the police officers?” I answered, “Are you asking me if I would believe them simply because they are police officers?” She stated, “I am asking if you can be impartial because they are police officers.” I answered, “I can say to you that I will put forth a 100% effort to be fair and open to the evidence.” She again asked, “Does this mean that you cannot be 100% sure that you will be unbiased?” I answered, “I will always use a hermeneutic of suspicion in listening to any evidence put forth by the defense or the State.” She answered, “Thank you.”

I was cut in the next go round.