Saturday, January 1, 2011

Holy Animals Sample of Eire

Chapter 3
The Church Mouse That Roared!
New Hampshire Elects Gay Bishop!

     Hazard sat staring at his blank computer screen.  For the first time since his arrival in Charlottesville, he had no idea what his father-in-law would do.  Even the progressives were acting like deer in the headlights with the election of a gay bishop in New Hampshire.  His father-in-law was vacationing up in Maine, and actually being in New England didn’t seem to be helping in the area of advice for his son-in-law.  Since that spring evening on Mother’s Day, the bishop and the rector had not seen each other.  The spring had turned into summer, and Episcopal controversy would not bring them back together for a few more weeks.
Hazard waited for the call from the bishop, the one that would outline the wise and prudent course of action for the young rector who once had a bright future.  The bishop would know the moderate, ambiguous stance for the southern progressive; with the proper language of understatement, the patrician tact that reflected good manners and breeding (and a trust fund somewhere).  It would be a statement that really said "no comment."  But the call never came.  The hot line from Richmond did not ring.     
Hazard knew Bishop Thorne looked back at the civil rights movement with pride and a rose-colored nostalgia.  But when Hazard had once, impertinently, asked Bishop Thorne to tell the story of that time, the bishop had gone strangely quiet.  He had brooded darkly with his glass of cabernet before him.  The southern storyteller with a million stories to spin and wind had gone deathly silent.  He had not gone to Selma; he had never marched.  Bishop Thorne had waited in Virginia to see which way the wind was blowing.  He had joined the hymn "We Shall Overcome" at the very last moment possible, on the last verse, finally linking arms with his brown brethren when the game had already been won, more or less.  Dessert had been served in an awkward silence that evening, until speculation about the University of Virginia’s football team’s prospects had brought the conversation back from the dead.  Things were looking up for UVa with a new coach from the New York Jets.  Coach Al Groh was recruiting like a demon, bringing in black boys who could play from all over the country, and the Wahoos, with fresh blood, would soon look to overcome. 
     Hazard’s ecclesiastical fortunes and future were hinged to his wife and his in-laws.  Everyone with a scorecard in the church knew that much.  Evangelicals liked to ask "what would Jesus do?" when it came to a moral conundrum, or a difficult personal decision.  This conservative moral dialectic was quite sure that Jesus would approve of driving an SUV, keeping stock options for software employees, and destroying the environment under the mighty muse of the profit motive. 
After all, God made the Earth once.
He can do it again if we fuck up the first one. 
But Hazard’s invisible bracelet read differently than the evangelical version.  His mantra instead asked the question: WWBD?  What would the bishop do?  Hazard’s moral exemplar was on holiday.  That’s exactly what the bishop would do.  He would go to Maine and avoid the media circus around the Reverend V. Gene Robinson and the Diocese of New Hampshire, and his absence would say "no comment" until it could be determined which way the wind was blowing.  Hazard was left all alone in the political winds, both local and national.  
The homiletical trick was to say something pious in a pastoral style, without saying anything in the area of content: do not take a stand.  Stay low in the trenches, roll with the punches on the ropes, and keep your head down.  It would be bad manners to stand up for the rights of "bachelors" any way you looked at it.  It also would be very bad to condemn what happened in a private home; let the states work it out while someone fetched a new vintage of cabernet from the wine cellar.  The moderate should also make a great show of consensus: that he was no coward, just a good Christian soul trying to keep everyone at the table.  Taking no stand would be seen as a pastoral offering, one that could hold a family together in the face of a hurricane, whose wicked winds had come blowing down from Yankee New England after all. 
Hazard listened to the mournful quiet of the Virginia night as he contemplated the still blank computer screen.  His wife Virginia slept in the master bedroom next to his study.  For a moment, Hazard imagined a cross burning on his immaculate lawn in his perfect Charlottesville neighborhood.  The young rector had everything, or used to have everything before Mother’s Day, why would he give it all up for a gay bishop from New England?  Everything looked right in his life, but nothing felt right.  He and Virginia were no longer sleeping together, and Hazard had declined to offer more semen samples for further study at the fertility clinic.  They were not discussing in vitro fertilization, or any other fertility technique.  Hazard and Virginia were barely speaking to each other.   
Hazard thought of what his father the golf pro would do.  Dad loved rattling the cages of the WASP duffers he taught as the golf pro at the Portland Country Club.  Jesse Flowers would call them all cross-dressing pussies and pederasts, then amble off in search of a catering girl, with her nice tits squeezed into a peasant dress, who would set him up with a fresh cocktail.  He’d be snaking up behind her, nuzzled up like the old pro he was, teaching the young wench about the golf swing with an imaginary club, with some not so imaginary pressure from behind. 
For the first time since her death, Hazard considered what his mother might do, or want him to do.  Since his ordination he had been unable to remember her face, or to hear her voice from his childhood years.  He couldn’t recall the scenes of her bedside near death, or the moment of passing itself.  It was as if his ministry had laid a thick sheet of ice over his mother’s memory, and nothing could break through the fossilized winter of his heart, like a hockey rink built directly over an Indian burial ground.   He thought of his mother’s brother Richard, his "bachelor" uncle who had died of "pneumonia" in the early 90s.  Even out west, the mourners had sometimes spoken in code, as the band played on in San Francisco.  Was Hazard really going to break the evil ice and speak in words of truth? 
His little trouble with Virginia that had loomed so large on Mother’s Day was probably the source of his writer’s block, and his newfound desire for meaning in his priesthood: to truly let it fly.  The big trouble with his semen had pushed him to a breaking point.  St. Augustine thought original sin was passed through the semen, and for once in his theological career he might be right about something, after his pre-saintly days of skirt-chasing in the Roman Empire.  God had called a halt to the lies by Hazard’s sterility.  He was no father of a multitude.  He was no Abraham.  But it was still time for a blessing to be given to someone out there. 
Hazard’s fingers finally found the keys on his computer keyboard, and they, like Union soldiers about to charge a small hill in Dixie, rested, both poised and tense, upon the letters that would change the course of his career, and his life.  Someone out there would hate him for the sermon he was about to write.  A lot of people would hate him in fact.  Quite a few people already did, so what was there to lose by speaking the truth?  Aside from his job.  The question was how many in his parish would want to throw him out as their rector.  For all their surface friendliness, Virginians were about as open as a buried coffin when it came to questions of controversy.  Even with bourbon in hand, southerners didn’t become more open, with their precious secrets flying this way and that, under the mighty muse of whiskey candor.  Yet Hazard still hesitated, fearful of breaking the gentlemen’s code.  Instead of writing, he watched the fireflies on the summer evening, like tiny sparks of truth that didn’t seem to know the circuit of their small, short flight patterns. 
Hazard then did what Episcopal clergy do only in situations of total emergency:  He prayed.  He listened to the silence.  What would Hazard do?  That was the only meaningful question left in the silent solitude.  In the perfect silence of the Virginia night, a strange thing happened as Hazard’s head was bowed in prayer.  It was one of those moments that was impossible to explain to anyone else. 
Hazard heard a voice.  A still, small voice came to him in the night.
"You’re right, my son," a female voice in the room said quietly, almost inaudibly. 
No, it seemed to be two female voices, speaking almost in unison, from different directions.  Hazard’s heart froze.  And then that vital, fist-size organ skipped a beat, as if out of time with this world, but just in time with another one that was being born in the miracle moment.
     "You’re right.  Say what’s in your heart," the voices said, now perfectly joined together.
     "Mom?" Hazard asked the voices. 
There was no night vision, just the voice of a sacred womanhood buried deep within Hazard Flowers.  Hazard was discovering the true feminine character of his own conscience.
     "Where are you?" Hazard asked. 
He did not know if he were actually speaking.
     "I am safe," said a single voice.  "You will be too.  No harm will come to you."
     "What’s going to happen?" Hazard asked the Cassandra of his conscience.
All will be well," the two voices rejoined.  They spoke perfectly together now.  Hazard felt a hand on each shoulder, a palpable presence, the security of the Holy Spirit in any age, and the rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Charlottesville began to weep.  He also began to write, like a demon.  Hazard Flowers wrote the first true sermon in his life. 
The rector found himself crying, chuckling, and typing, all at the same time.  He laughed out loud as he began his sermon with wicked understatement, the style of communication southerners prized above the casual candor of the wild west.  But he went in an entirely different direction with his own understatement than any other preacher would go in the south, or in any region for that matter.  The Yankees from New England with their gay bishop were not going to have the last word in Charlottesville.  A voice would cry in the wilderness. 

10 August, 2003

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

The Reverend Hazard Flowers
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church

“The Promise of God in the Wilderness"

Well, it was an interesting week to be an Episcopalian.  In this precious time of remaining summer, these dog days of August, the Episcopal Church wasn’t on vacation during its general convention in Minneapolis.  Would that our many and important ministries, at home and abroad, received as much media time as the hot button and sensational issues of our day.  But they don’t. 
For many of us, the landmark election and confirmation of the Reverend Gene Robinson, the Bishop-elect of New Hampshire, have produced a deep and wide range of mixed feelings.  To disagree with others of your own denomination is never an easy or comfortable experience; the diversity of opinions of the church was heard in Minneapolis. 
No one has been silenced.  Nothing has been swept under the carpet.
One can only imagine the range of voices in the sermons being preached in Episcopal churches throughout the nation, and this city and state, this morning.  It is humbling to consider the multiple voices of conviction today.  In his novel As I Lay Dying, the author William Faulkner changed his narrator thirteen different times to tell his story fully; a regular shifting of perspective like one of us handing off a rolling camera to another.  Each lens is important and valuable, not to be lost or forgotten; the narrative includes everyone, the joy and sorrow, and secret darkness of each inner monologue.  When questioned about the many voices of the novel, Mr. Faulkner responded, simply, “Truth is too blinding for a single point of view." 
Truth is too blinding for a single point of view.

We may debate whether God is doing a new thing in the church. 
But we certainly are. 
     All of this recent debate started with a priest from New Hampshire.  There are many good and admirable qualities and gifts in Gene Robinson, priest and bishop-elect; and we can now name courage among them. Under a national microscope, he has already endured a scrutiny that no other bishop in the world has been subjected to.  Gene Robinson has been a trusted and respected priest in his home diocese for many years, serving as the executive officer, and before that as a cardinal rector.  There is a deep and abiding covenant of trust, even love, between the people of New Hampshire and their new leader.  They knew him well and elected him bishop because he was the right person for the job.  That’s how all this started.
Gene Robinson also happens to be a gay man who has been in a committed, same sex union for the last thirteen years.  And in that last fact of his biography and person, we have our spark to tinder, and the flames of controversy.  Robinson is not an activist, not really; he is simply a good and faithful priest.  Under a national and even world spotlight, our faith and common life have moved away from a place of comfort, to a kind of sacred unrest and uncertainty. 
What will our future be like?  As a denomination, as a world communion, and also here at St. Alban’s.  Will the center hold? 
Where is the center?  How can God’s will be taking us in so many different directions all at once?

Maybe faith isn’t supposed to make us comfortable, at least not all of the time.  God is the dynamic force behind creation, the untamed spiritual fuel of the universe, after all.  In the lesson from Deuteronomy, the Israelites are in the wilderness.  It is a holy but confusing time of wandering and spiritual formation, which leads to the spiritual and literal vista of the promised land--a promised land which they finally enter as God promised.  For many faithful Episcopalians, it seems like general convention has purposefully led our denomination into the wilderness, and out of the promised land of the past.  They are heartbroken. 
How long must we wander and flounder over the intractable issues of sexuality? 
Aren’t there more important things going on? 
For others, especially the faithful gay and lesbian members of our churches, and this parish, the controversial election is a reminder that a promised land of full inclusion just might exist after all. 
And that the church may have more courage than anyone expected. 
Our present situation may be compared, and often is, with the civil rights movement and the women’s movement; both of which were probably larger and more passionate controversies than our present one.  I may be wrong about that.  These modern transformations in the last century were prophetic by the biblical standard of justice, and also the modern promise of full inclusion: for all of God’s people.  Yet the church then resisted and obstructed nearly as much as it led the changes, often holding tightly to sacred tradition and interpretations of scripture in doing so. 
But human sexuality is different from race and gender.  A person’s sexuality can be hidden and often is.  Someone’s sexuality is not the first thing you see when you look at a person.  Unless of course you are Gene Robinson.
Sexuality is different from race or gender.  But prejudice is prejudice.  It is difficult to reconcile prejudice and the persecution of the outcast with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Ironically, the Diocese of New Hampshire is not one of the more strident or liberal dioceses in our denomination.  There is an ornery New England conservatism to the people there; with a "Don’t tread on me" spirit that is patriotic, libertarian, and pro-military; they prefer to do things their own way, without interference from outsiders.  Their state motto is the very direct injunction "Live free or die," and they mean it.  In our nation’s political history, tiny New Hampshire, with its early primary, has been a proving ground for the presidency, a place where dark horses can become contenders.

     New Hampshire, every now and then, is the mouse that roars.
     In our own diocese and city, and throughout the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, there has been considerable sadness and anger at the decisions of general convention this week.  Perhaps one day in the future, the Episcopal Church, our spiritual home, can become a church where we choose our clergy and bishops without regard to sexual orientation. 
The Diocese of New Hampshire, with equal parts humility and stubbornness, has asked for us that new day to be right now.  There’s no time like the present.  And the people of the church, the lay people who have voice and vote, have said yes to an openly gay bishop.  The House of Bishops the said the same in a close vote of diocesan bishops. 

Can any of us remember significant change that happened when everyone was ready?
Those who are saddened by the actions of their church must also be welcome in our worship and fellowship; we have so far to go before we are truly a church without outcasts.  The Anglican ability to agree to disagree is not to be undervalued or demeaned in a world torn apart by religious fanaticism.  In a Dallas Morning News editorial, we were thus praised as a denomination: "We have been struck by the calm and deliberative process the Episcopalians followed in reaching their conclusion.  Perhaps their thoughtfulness and mutual respect for one another on this issue will have a positive impact on how all of us Americans carry on our larger social debates.  At least we hope so."
Regardless of how you feel about Gene Robinson, we can still offer to a divided world, even as a small denomination, a mouse that sometimes roars, a changing and thoughtful face of Christianity; through respect, civility, and even love for those who disagree with you.  Those who remember the previous history of the Christian faith as a record of unity, harmony, and accord should definitely reread their history.

     So, a person many of us had never heard of before this summer, or even this week, has come into our lives, a virtual household name by now.  Bishop-elect Gene Robinson of New Hampshire has given issues of sexuality and full inclusion a name.  Ours is an incarnational faith, centered in holy personhood, and we can better know our world by calling each other by name.  An issue or category can be ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed; but a person is of an infinite value, irreplaceable.  Bishop-elect Robinson has stated on numerous occasions that he wants to be known as a good bishop, not a gay bishop. 
He deserves our prayers. 

     But the Reverend Robinson is not the first openly gay bishop in the American House of Bishops, nor even in the Anglican Communion.  He is the first to be elected and now confirmed.  In the Diocese of Utah in the early 1990s, the Rt. Rev. Otis Charles, announced that he was a homosexual and had been one all of his life despite his marriage and family, despite his choices.  His announcement and his divorce were virtually simultaneous; there was a lot of confusion and hurt among his former flock.  Why is he doing this?  Many were angry with Bishop Charles for taking them through an ordeal that seemed to be, to many, selfish and unnecessary.  The then diocesan Bishop of Utah George Bates summed up all of the confusion with a simple question in his pastoral address to the diocesan convention that year.
     (Hazard paused as he reread the journal of the Utah convention in 1993.  For once, a convention’s daily diary wasn’t dreary reading; he was putting the past to good use for a change.)  
     The bishop began his difficult sermon simply enough, "We have all heard the recent news from Bishop Charles, and many of have a question in response: ‘Who cares?’" 
Who cares?
     The bishop let the convention think about the question for a long moment. 
He continued,
“And the only answer we can have as the church is that we do.  We care."
     The hot button issue of homosexuality had called a diocese by name, in Utah of all places, and many people responded to Otis Charles, the person, with open arms; not simply as an old man shamelessly sharing his long hidden secret; but rather, as a child of God redeemed.  Many in his former flock, certainly not all, responded with acceptance and love.  A child of God was painfully seeking the authenticity for which he was created, and he needed help from other people to claim it.   

So who cares about Gene Robinson? 
We do.  We care.

     Many of us would dearly love for the questions of sexuality to go away for good.  We would then hope that the legions of gay members and clergy of the church, who have served honorably throughout the centuries, would just take their places in silence; to protect the collective dignity and unity against controversy and its unpleasantness.  General convention has delivered us from that past.  This decision is not just a statement of who we are now, but finally an accurate reflection of whom we have been.   
We still have so much to learn about how to be a church. 
The recent story of Gene Robinson reminds all of us of our own stories; how this issue touches lives directly, and calls us by name.  Agreeing to disagree may not be the most impressive stance for a national church to take on the issue of homosexuality.  But it forces you to think for yourself, to bring experience and Reason into sometimes uneasy relationship and new balance with scripture and tradition. 
Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best a family can do. 
It was certainly the best my mother’s family could do. 

If you have been able to consider this issue in the abstract, without the thorn of personal experience, I am envious, to a degree.  But there is a time to pull the thorn out, and to speak the truth.  (Hazard laughed out loud as he wrote his words.)  My own family experience over this issue, painful as it was along the way, I now consider as a gift and blessing.  Truth is too blinding for a single point of view, a southern novelist once said. 
For as long as I knew him, my Uncle Richard was different, in a lot of ways.  What exactly was different about him I didn’t know how to name at first as a child; but, like you, I learned some of the awful names of the playground and locker room, and I used them.  At some point, I accepted Richard for who he is: a gay man and a Christian. 
None of us was surprised when he came out of the closet.  The question of "who cares?" was often on my mind.     
By comparison with other points of view on the issue, the question is relatively enlightened.  Sexuality shouldn’t be so important. 
Who cares?
My own answer has taken a long time to arrive, and it came to me just last night, or rather, very early this morning. 
And the answer is this: I care. 

I don’t worry too much about the loud and confident voices, the extremes of this issue right now, on either side.  I worry more for the silent middle, which is many of us.  Richard’s father, my grandfather, was a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic.  He was old school, a World War II veteran and a devout Catholic, even former monastic.  My grandfather was never going to change his mind about homosexuality, even in relationship with his own child.  And he never did.  My grandfather had no way to accept or even to understand the sexual identity of his own son. 
Whether this rejection of another person is spoken or silent, it is a rejection that is as personal as it gets.  This rejection occurs often.  It is a refusal to care in the name of God; with all of the confident assertions of religious teaching and practice, however fossilized, behind it.  This week something changed, a door was opened, a church mouse spoke out.  For some there is a quiet pride now about the family of the church; for others there is sorrow and disappointment.
There is room in God’s church, at table with family, for all of us.
I am proud of the Episcopal Church.  I am proud to be an Episcopalian, proud that we care and can be confused in communion with each other; and I am curious about the future and the angels who will guide us to our better selves.  I am proud of my mother and her only brother Richard.  May they both rest in peace, now.  And I am proud of Gene Robinson and the Diocese of New Hampshire. 
The dignity and respect each person deserves includes his or her sexuality and orientation.  We may agree to disagree with one another as individuals, but let us all be confident that the one God has asked us to travel on this journey together as the church of Jesus Christ. 
We are together the Body of Christ, in unity and diversity, followers of the Holy One, our savior, who suffers with all the people of God on his heart.  Amen.         

     Hazard preached the first of his two Gene Robinson sermons on a steamy Sunday morning in August.  For the first time in his preaching career, Hazard had not been performing for anyone, not even for God.  He had done what only Hazard Flowers would do.  He was so mesmerized by the experience, the shocked looks and withering stares of his parishioners, that he hadn’t noticed that his wife Virginia had gotten up and walked out during the sermon at the service. 
The congregation had also looked truly stricken with his words, but he also saw a few women weeping as he spoke the words straight from his heart.  Several of the women had hugged Hazard after the service.  One confessed that her oldest son was gay, and that her ex-husband and he had never reconciled.  She wanted to send them both a copy of Hazard’s sermon.  A dozen parishioners would cancel their pledges that very week, the silent WASP rebuttal to Hazard’s shot across the bow sermon, and a new church was in full swing throughout the nation, and the world.  Hazard had just taken command of Union troops deep inside Virginia, just a long artillery shot away from where the old Battle of the Wilderness had played out near Charlottesville.  A new battle had begun, and it would take many years to determine the victor.  The first casualties would be easy to spot.
A TV crew from local channel 29 had even succeeded in getting the exhilarated rector to give a brief interview after the service.  The interview, which took place on the steps of St. Alban’s, across the street from the University of Virginia, would be widely replayed on the local station since no other Episcopal clergyman in Charlottesville would grant one to the television media.  Even in the print media, Hazard was the only rector in town speaking on behalf of the Reverend Gene Robinson and the embattled gay community of the south.  Without a second’s thought, Hazard had smiled for the television cameras and spoken words that would haunt his wife and in-laws for weeks to come.  All things considered, he thought his words on TV were right on the money, and also pretty humorous considering the hysteria running through the church.  The blowing winds of controversy were now lifting the holy robes of Episcopal clergy and bishops everywhere, just like Marilyn Monroe above the city grate in that famous footage of her flapping skirt.  Hazard had said a mere two sentences to the camera, but they were rolling everywhere by dinnertime.
     "We’re not ashamed of Gene Robinson.  He’s a decent chap."
The Reverend Hazard Flowers was still orbiting the Earth when he returned to his home.  It was the first time he had paused to consider what Virginia Flowers had thought of his sermon, and Hazard found her on the phone when he came home.  Virginia’s eyes were red, and she was crying as she listened to the receiver.  She handed the phone to Hazard.
It’s Daddy," she said. 
Hazard took the phone and slowly placed it to his ear.  He slumped down to the sofa.  After a great liftoff, the Challenger was hurtling back to Earth.  Better buckle your seat belts for a crash landing.
“Hello," Hazard said quietly. 
There was a long pause on the line.  Maybe it was a crank call from God, like when Abraham was told to kill his only son.  There was no Flowers’ heir to murder in the name of the faith, so Hazard waited patiently for the voice of his superior.  His father-in-law Bishop Randall Thorne finally spoke, much louder than Hazard.
     "You made a lot of people upset with your message this morning."  
     Message, Hazard thought.  He was finding out from on high that he had not even given a sermon, or a homily.  It was just a crazy message.  A message could be taken back, apologies could be issued.
     "Or maybe I made a lot of people think," Hazard responded, his voice growing slightly in volume.
     "You poured salt in people’s wounds.  Virginia was sobbing on the phone."
     "I’m not sorry about that."  Hazard could hear his wife upstairs.  She was packing a suitcase, he knew. 
     "She’s coming to Maine for a few weeks."
     "That’s news to me."
     "Your message was news to all of us."
     "It was a sermon not a message, so get it right, bishop.  I didn’t realize I should have enlisted the services of an editor.  Or should I say censor?" 
Sarcasm flew not very far with the bishop, but at least they were speaking to each other again. 
I think you need to take a break."
The bishop pronounced each syllable slowly, like a judge sadly reading a guilty verdict for an otherwise honest man.
     "I don’t need a break," Hazard said calmly. 
     "Yes,you do.  I have talked to your senior warden, and he agreed with me.  You’re going to take a few weeks off at the Resurrection Monastery."
     For a low church Virginia bishop to turn to Anglican monks for a rector’s cure was about as desperate as a situation could be.  The bishop continued, with his just sentence for a parson who had gone way too far.
     "Once you are at Resurrection, you will recant your sermon today, and we will all forget about this momentary lapse of judgment."
     "No.  I won’t do that," Hazard shot back, his conviction surprising even himself.
     "Then I will," the bishop returned, volley for volley, like a family tennis match that is getting ugly, with vicious shots whizzing past the net.  It was only a matter of time before one of the players got nailed in the groin.
“I am taking your services next week.  I will explain that you are suffering from exhaustion.  I am speaking now as your bishop, not as your father-in-law." 
Pride comes before a fall.  Every tragedy, from the Greeks to Shakespeare, teaches us that.  How dare Hazard do a new thing?  He thought he had hit a home run from the pulpit, but now the righteous umpire had said his wild drive had drifted foul, endangering loyal spectators, both young and old.  Hazard listened to his bishop without further interruption.  He hung up the phone as their conversation concluded.
     "Fuck me," Hazard said to himself.
     His wife Virginia came down the stairs with her suitcase, like a prep school girl headed off to summer vacation; or perhaps a medical leave to treat her eating disorder, which wouldn’t be a bad idea.  Hazard was being sent to the penalty box at the monastery. 
     "What did Daddy say?"
     Hazard gave his wife a wicked smile.
     "Daddy said I’m getting a big raise.  Daddy said I’m next in line to be the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Daddy said I can sleep with any UVa coed I want.  Daddy said I get to go to Disneyland!"
     "Don’t raise your voice to me.  You went too far today, and you know it."
     "I know no such thing."
     "Scripture is very clear," Virginia said.
     "It is not at all clear," Hazard said quietly as he stood up.
     "St. Paul says..."    
     "Oh, the hell with St. Paul.  He also said women should be quiet.  They should shut the hell up, and keep their heads covered in church.  He had about as much use for women as your father does!"
     Virginia, wearing a black hat with a broad brim, like a mourner at a funeral, turned white at his words.
     "What did you just say?"
     "You heard me.  Let’s put some things on the table.  I’m not your daddy’s son-in-law or his priest.  I’m his pet, and he thinks I’m cute.  He likes to stroke me because I’m so cuddly.  Now I’ve gone and shat on his best purple carpet.  Today’s sermon was the best I’ve ever given, and I’m not going to recant a word of it.  Ever."
Virginia turned from her husband, slowly, with her head down; the tear faucet was now open and pouring.  She picked up her large suitcase and left the house, the perfect home with a city charm on Westwood Road.  It would soon be up for sale. 
Hazard sighed, and sat down.  He found the remote control between the sofa cushions.  The rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, the newly announced Gay Moses of the Commonwealth of Virginia, turned on the interleague contest between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees.  The preacher settled in on the sofa for America’s pastime.  Thank God for baseball, it really cleared the mind.  A couple of weeks off during baseball season didn’t sound so bad to him, but he wished he had some beer in the fridge.  The Yankees were up 7-0 in just the second inning.  Like Sherman in the same city, the Yankees were rolling over the Braves, one game away from a complete sweep of the series.
     "We’re not ashamed of Gene Robinson," Hazard said quietly to himself.  "He really is a decent chap."
     St. Paul really wasn’t so bad either, once you just accept him for who he was.  The dignity and respect each person deserves includes his, or her, sexual orientation, after all.


Chapter 4
Taking Time for Paradise

Hazard Flowers did not go to the Resurrection Monastery in New York.  He had taken his two weeks of continuing education, as per the request of his bishop, but Hazard had driven to New England for his sacred contemplation, instead of the monastery on the Hudson River.  He began a field of dreams baseball road trip, and he was now watching a minor league ballgame every night in the states of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  He was not traveling with his cell phone, and Hazard and Virginia were now in a period of radio silence, which is always a bad sign in a marriage, Christian or otherwise.  Even gay partners should definitely talk to each other every night.  Like Jack Kerouac in the old days of the beat poets, Hazard was now on the road.  He was presently unavailable for further advice and criticism from the Bishop of Virginia.

 From the private diary of the Reverend Hazard Flowers, the summer of 2003, "The Summer of Sodomy," as Anglican conservatives were now calling it:

“19 August, 2003
Historic Holman Stadium
(The first integrated ballpark in the United States of America)
Home of the Nashua Pride
Nashua, New Hampshire
(The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

     I’m outside this old New England ballpark in the old industrial section of this New Hampshire city.  There are church bells ringing in the distance, an appropriate partner of sound to the sights of the old stadium still in use.  I can hear the batting practice now taking place with the Nashua Pride taking their practice swings.  It’s a beautiful early evening in this perfect, rustic American scene, a working class city taking time in the evening for paradise. 
I am here alone, without my bride Eve, like Adam returning to the garden where he was once banned by a higher authority.  There is no lord of the manner to stop my return to this diamond garden.  There is not a bishop in sight--gay, straight, or transgender.  There is no talk of kin and royal family lines, but only the blood that is common to every man and woman.
Here is the daily drama of Eden in summertime, timeless and yet here again, at a minor league ballpark near you.  Even major league parks have a little of the egalitarian magic still hanging around.  I have made so many mistakes east of Eden, but I am liking my own story more and more each day.  I believe hard work makes a difference, and one independent thinker can change the world.  I am both elitist and egalitarian.  I am gentle with paradox, the only trait I have in common with my parishioners back in Virginia.
I am the worst Republican since Abraham Lincoln.
The happy cries of children fill this place that is holy and profane, industrial and sporting.  In the summer wind, there is a symphony of childhood sounds from every age of the American dream, the sounds of our young citizens who were born equal, until a higher authority tells them otherwise.  Thank God some children question what they’re told.  Thank God someone calls "bullshit" on the adult world. 
Trees bend in the breeze, leaves dance and wave with the currents of this evening, the only night under heaven that really matters.  The box office will soon be open. 

I now sit with my back against a tree, the trunk fitted to perfection against my spine.  I am thirty-something going on ten years old.  When I was ten, my mother was still alive, and I remember her better and better each day now. 
The early crowd of minor league baseball fans has arrived.  They don’t seem to think there is anything "minor" about the ballgame to be played at seven o’clock p.m. eastern standard time.  American flags hang from the upper deck of this old brick stadium.  The concession workers are ready for us, and maybe the ballplayers are too. 
We are all ready to be dreamers again; to dream again of what America once was, and can be once more.  A place where everyone has a chance.  Where everyone can follow his or her dream.  Excellence can spring from any soil.  The solitude of this week has been luxurious, the devil’s delight.  My idle hands are finally free to write what I want, to feel my heart beat again, and to dream a dream for God.  It’s baseball season after all.  Anything can happen.
Everyone is slowing down, taking time for paradise.  The team buses for the two teams are aptly titled Paradise Lines.  Mystical perfection can be so ordinary, and a royal priesthood can be common to everyone. 
I do not wish Virginia were here.  Her presence would spoil the rhapsody, and the fertility of this land would contract.  I do not know what to do with this feeling, my desire to ban her from this New England soil, where I am here healing, but there it is.
God is always here, though I am not always awake enough to find the clues.  God is also in the entropy, the breaking down of things that were supposed to last forever.  Here God is as sweet as ice cream, a father and child enjoying each other’s company silently, wordless in the eternal sway of ephemeral love.  God is as perfect as the first cup of beer I will drink tonight.  The Sabbath can come on any night during baseball season.  In the church of baseball, every game on the schedule is a holy day of obligation.  There is a stand selling "fresh hot" fried dough.  I, for one, hate it when my fried dough is cold.  And if it’s not fresh, who the hell wants it?  Nobody.  The beer is cold, and the dough is hot.  The evening is cool, and I am alive again. 

God is doing a helluva job, gay bishop or not.  For all you wonderful straight bishops out there, I give you the wisdom of Casey Stengel smacking down those pesky New York sportswriters.
You guys wouldn’t like it if you had a box score on yourselves each day.’
 I’ll be back in the pulpit this Sunday.  I’m not recanting shit.  I’m going all the way, so it’s time to fasten your seat belts. 
I sure ain’t goin’ to be whistling Dixie."

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
24 August, 2003
The Reverend Hazard Flowers
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
“Embracing the Outcast Spirit of God"

With all of the changes and controversy going on in the Episcopal Church, I was thrust into the fire two weeks ago, as your preacher after the wild week of our general convention.  And, as many of you are aware, this is my first Sunday back in the pulpit after being away.  I’ve taken a little enforced break, a little mandatory vacation, to clear the mind. 
Due to time limits, I can only offer a few of my vacation highlights, my time in the penalty box.  It also might be nice to put Bishop Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the church, aside for a moment.  He’s not going away.  He’s still coming to dinner.  For the last two weeks, I went to every minor league baseball game I could find in the states of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  Now that’s a vacation.  That’s using your continuing education time wisely.

Armed only with my journal and NPR on the radio, I saw teams with wonderful names; from the Portland Sea Dogs, to the Lowell Spinners, the Nashua Pride, and the Bangor Lumberjacks.  I have always had a special affection for the minor leagues; how can you not love something that proudly calls itself "minor"?  Nobody else ever admits they are.  Many minor league players are working hard to get by financially, playing for love more than anything, and the last chance at a dream.  If you like the underdog, impossible odds, tilting at twirling windmills, and those who don’t take no for an answer, the minor leagues are just the place.
Every ballpark is different, full of local flavor.  At the ballpark it is natural to recall the past, as you slow down for a summer evening; golden memories of better, more innocent days come back to you on the summer breeze. 
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" a songwriter once asked us, during a time of painful change and upheaval.  It was such a simple question; a haunted and nimble economy of words.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?"
"A nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

In a time of controversy, the dreamers must dream again, digging among forgotten memories and heroes of the past.  Minor league baseball became something like a compost pile that I decided to tend for a week, seeing what if anything would grow.  The players, from every part of the country, are chasing a dream, to the very end; when something childlike must be laid to rest.  Being able to follow your dream is what this country is all about.  Deep in our bones, the pursuit of our dreams is a sacred human need--to take time for paradise--even if it hurts. 
Most of the minor league players never make it.  But the chase, the story, just an opportunity means everything.  Baseball is just a game.  But it also can be a mirror of our democracy in action.  Sometimes sports, at their best, on a level playing field, can heal divisions and wounds no other activity could reach; with the tender fingers of our common humanity.
     In his book Life on the Run, the former basketball player, Rhodes Scholar, and senator Bill Bradley wrote about how basketball changed him and how he saw others; especially those from backgrounds different from his own.  In his words, at the summit of success as a New York Knick:
“In the locker room after our second championship, as I looked around at my teammates I thought of how I liked something about each of them.  They were good people, and from our sharing these unique moments they would be forever different from other people.  I saw our reflections in the lives of nomadic Indian tribes on the Plains, making the group adjustments necessary to exist in a constantly changing environment.  Our friendship was based on deeds accomplished together.  It even seemed at times like that night to seal the split between the white and black races.  ‘There warn’t no home like a raft, after all,’ says Huck Finn.  ‘You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.’  Being a championship team is like being on that raft, floating down the Mississippi."

The experience of a common journey can change our vision of each other, the boundaries that separate us.  Is what divides humanity more powerful than what is common to every human being?  Genetically, we are 99.9% the same.  Can tolerance be stretched too far?  Much depends on where you sit to answer the questions; who you are and how you remember your own history.  But there are landmarks in our past, lamps lit to mark the way we have come before.
Change can sometimes hit us like a lightning bolt, thunder rumbling for miles.  America was once shaken to its very core by one man who stood alone.  Jackie Robinson.  Jackie Robinson was a revolution in cleats (spikes actually).  His presence on the baseball field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as the first black player was also a flaming meteor of change moving through our society.  Or rather, from where a minority sat, the changes were at a glacial pace.  Jackie Robinson was a biblical event.  He was an athletic apocalypse.  Robinson endured abuse beyond our comprehension.  All of the hell that is trapped in the human heart came at him head on.  Yet he could not fight back, no matter what happened; a Christ-like discipline he lived everyday.  Many Americans saw him as the devil incarnate. 
As a player, Robinson had a rare combination of power and speed, one that had never been seen before.  He was a fearsome hitter, but what held our breath, and our hearts, was Jackie Robinson the base runner.  He was audacity personified, a daring and taunting artist.  More than that, we all noticed: he was beautiful.  On the bases, his silent rage became deafening.  It rose like a song buried deep within. 
It was as if he were speaking to all of us:
     I am poetry in motion.  I am God’s lyric of change.  You can’t stop me.  I cannot stop myself.  I am childhood triumphant.  I’m going to steal home before your very eyes.  Watch me do it.  I am a raft floating down the mighty Mississippi River.  I am free.  I am a free man.  I am a child of God.

     The forces of hatred and darkness never had a better target out in the open.  How can someone be all alone with millions watching?  Robinson was on a team, but he stood alone.  You are not alone, we wanted to tell him.  Television was bringing it all home.  Baseball became more than a game in 1947; it was an opera. 
     The purest gesture of simple humanity, so small yet unforgettable, came from the captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  It was the quiet body language of shortstop Pee Wee Reese that helped all of us turn the tide, in ourselves.  At a game in Philadelphia, Reese took the field with his black teammate.  The verbal detritus of ignorance and hatred was swirling from the grandstand and the Philadelphia dugout.  It is amazing that God gives us the power of speech.  As the crowd watched the Dodger players take the field, Reese did something for all of us, for all time.  Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson and held him.  In front of all America.  That was all.  The simplest gesture of touch, common humanity, and affection. 
It was a lightning bolt from heaven.

Sometimes all any of us can say, in whatever language at hand, is just that: I am with you.  I am with you.  The two of us are stronger as one.  You are not alone.  I got your back.  The invitation to go deeper into the mystery of God’s love and our common humanity has come to us again, in our time.
It was at historic Holman Stadium in Nashua, New Hampshire, that my worlds finally collided on my field of dreams road trip.  In the grandstand, I found myself in a conversation with two Nashua fans.  The subject: the local New Hampshire celebrity, the new Episcopal bishop.  I just couldn’t get away from the church, even at a game between the Nashua Pride and the Long Island Ducks.  My two new friends, both Roman Catholics, know Gene Robinson personally; it’s a small state, after all.  The husband and wife were most fascinated with the empowerment of our lay people, at the highest levels of Episcopal Church governance; both in the diocesan election that elected Robinson and at General Convention. 
The people were allowed voice and vote, and they spoke. 
Don’t worry, I didn’t ever lose my focus on the game. 
Nashua lost 6-4.  What a shame.   
But I did contemplate the voice of the people that we have heard, and also the House of Bishops, choosing to follow a path of inclusion, embracing a gay man as a rightfully elected and confirmed bishop of the church.  Is there a price that is too high for such a step by an individual diocese and by the autonomous American church?  Must one diocese ignore its conscience to keep the peace?  Curiously, lost in the sound and the fury of our General Convention was the silent scandal: the continued, blatant discrimination against women--by holdout bishops in dioceses in this country who still refuse to ordain women.  No one seems to be offended by that.  That’s called diversity.  Women’s ordination will not come to much of the Anglican Communion in our lifetime.

     As I left historic Holman Stadium, an interesting thing happened.  Leaving the park, I noticed something: a bronze historical marker.  I could have easily missed it.  It told the story of the place where I stood: Holman Stadium was the first integrated ballpark in the United States of America.  The Nashua club was the first American professional team to have black players.  Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, both future Dodgers, played for Nashua the same year Jackie Robinson was in the minors in Montreal.  You can look it up.  Good for New Hampshire. 

     Sometimes the eternal players watch the minor leagues for a change.

Our church and society are now in a period of significant change and upheaval again; changing definitions of who can be a family, and what makes a marriage, are before us.  As Episcopalians and Anglicans worldwide consider what it means to be in communion with each other, whether unity has a breaking point, we are also discovering each other anew; pondering again the question of who is my neighbor.  This timeless question transformed Jesus Christ; and he followed its full implications to Calvary.  How are we to follow him now?

As we debate who is or who is not acceptable in the eyes of God, let us all remember how we got here.  We are not the chosen people.  We are warming ourselves at a fire we did not build-- drinking from a well we did not dig.  We were once the outcasts: the underdogs, the impure, the practitioners of abominations, the Gentiles.  The messiah did not come to earth for us.  But he changed his mind when he met us, when he saw our faith. 
Do you know how much sacred tradition Jesus put into question when he changed his mind about us?  Yet we have moved so confidently to the manor, and the halls of power, it is breathtaking.

 No one has forgotten his spiritual roots more completely than the white American Christian.

     There has been much discussion about the role of scripture of late, and how it informs our common life.  St. Paul offers advice this morning, particularly for the women in the congregation.  We all heard it.  Paul presents a vision of a benevolent hierarchy, responsive to the needs of others.  The vision was progressive at the time; power and privilege were to be used responsibly by men over others.  Power should not to be abused, and I can’t object to that.  These are helpful words for husbands, patriarchs, and slave owners.  But they are not enough for us now.  I am not a woman.  But I believe St. Paul was wrong here.  Equality and freedom are the only foundation I can imagine for a just society.  Equality and freedom are the foundation of the church I love.  Equality and freedom are the best description of what a Christian marriage should be.
     Fear of the other, fear of the outsider, is the long and painful history of humankind.  Yet the messianic ministry of Jesus Christ embraced the outcast on a daily basis; risking scandal, courting failure and rejection, spilling the treasures of his Hebrew God everywhere.  Jesus was able to see a person of faith beyond the category, the group, the sacred boundary.  He was able to see a child of God in the outcast, the outsider. 

     He was able to see a child of God in us.  

     The next time the purity codes of ancient Israel seem to be the final Word of God regarding normative sexual ethics, please read all of the purity codes.  They are the foundation of the biblical authority argument.  You will find out that you are ritually impure right now; you have been practicing abominations your whole life.  The Virginia ham alone...  Leviticus spells it all out.  Biblical authority today is selective for Christians, but it is not random.  It is often used to preserve our sacred prejudices: these are the ones we share with God.  Any of the purity requirements, if not observed, made a Jew just as unclean.  Unclean was unclean.  There was no hierarchy. 
We have put one there.
     The interpretive tendency of many Christians is then, in honest and open practice, quite similar to what Anglicans have been doing for centuries: with the three pillars of scripture, tradition, and reason.  They represent the Anglican dialectic at its best, one that expects and even demands change in the ongoing life of the church and society.  And when the church lacks the courage and stomach to lead just changes, God’s will can move through society instead.  The progress of science and other fields of research are also spiritual guides to the will of God.  Religious leaders are clearly making judgments about what is really important and lasting in the scriptural record, and what is more limited historically. 
     For example: Christians, of every stripe and denomination, were able to use reason, personal experience, and perhaps even compassion in reversing the long tradition and clear biblical directive in the area of divorce.  This new interpretation overcame the unambiguous teachings of Jesus himself; it was a remarkably progressive interpretation of scripture, one which rejected centuries of tradition overnight.  Jesus didn’t use the purity codes in his own teaching; he wasn’t particularly interested in them.  He used the Ten Commandments, the major league Torah, adultery.  Divorce was just a speed bump for the church and its majority of heterosexual members moving into the brave, new world of progress.  It was the right decision.  But our ability to radically adapt scripture for the important people should trouble all of us. 

     There is a word for what we are doing. 
     Jesus liked to use it: the word is hypocrisy.
     As I read the vitriol directed at the American church generally and at Gene Robinson personally, I cannot believe that one gay man from New Hampshire is responsible for all of this outrage.  It doesn’t add up.  There is no proportion here.  You protest too much. 

What did Gene Robinson do that was so bad?
Gene Robinson broke the gentlemen’s agreement. 

These agreements are the arrangements, never written down, which govern human society and hierarchy, both visible and hidden.  They are more important than scripture in how things get done.  In the real world.  Variations of the gentlemen’s agreement have always been part of the church.  Gene Robinson, like any other American child who grows up, has a chance of being judged and accepted for his abilities, his determination, and oh yes--the content of his character.  He can even be a priest if he is very careful.  There is a catch, however; or there used to be.  A gay man or a lesbian woman must always remain hidden to be accepted, an invisible outsider. 
Gene Robinson simply stopped hiding. 
Not only that, he went even further.  Denied the means of grace by the church he has served and loved, he formed a monogamous relationship with another man, all on his own.  This relationship is thirteen years old; we still don’t have a name for it.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?"
Joe DiMaggio hasn’t gone anywhere. 
That’s the funny thing about our inner circle.  Once upon a time, not long ago, it was the Italian Americans who were the dark outsiders, ruining our neighborhoods, cooking with all of that garlic, threatening the virtue of our daughters.  But we fell in love with the elegant grace of an Italian man, whose parents didn’t even speak English (they also thought baseball was much people have to learn.).  We fell in love with joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, and his real name was Giuseppe Paulo, a man of style who always rose to the occasion in the clutch.
The Yankee Clipper changed our hearts. 
Frank Sinatra helped too. 

In the same year that Jackie Robinson broke the color lines in baseball, a great movie was made--a movie about the unbelievable depths of prejudice and discrimination in America, the home of the free.  The film really should be dated by now, but sadly it isn’t.  Gentleman’s Agreement is the story of a reporter named Phil Green.  It is the late 1940s, and Green has moved to New York City to do a story on anti-Semitism for a magazine.  He has read all the statistics, Green even has close Jewish friends--his best friend is Jewish, but he can’t find his angle, the new thing that must be said.  He is facing the worst writer’s block of his career.  Green laments his assignment:   
      "There isn’t any way you can break open the secret heart of another human being."

     But then it comes to him.  That’s it.  He will become Jewish.  Nobody knows him in New York, and you can’t necessarily tell a Jewish person by looking at him, or her.  Gregory Peck is mesmerizing in his experiment as Green.  (For those of you who hate extra inning games, just so you know, I am rounding third right now; everyone is waving me in!it’s going to be a very close play at the plate.)   
The next six months are an unbelievable hell for Green, filled with every bigoted nuance and indirect rejection; all manner of insult, hypocrisy, and cowardice, from all of the nice people out there.  His son is attacked for his religion by neighborhood children.  But Green doesn’t quit, he digs deeper for the truth, down to the bone.  His whole way of being human is being called into question; Green is being transformed, sacred edges are being forged in his renewed Christianity. 
Or rather, he is become Christ-like. 
The reporter will finish his story, but he can never go back.  He has no desire to.
I was Jewish for six months," he wrote to begin his story for the magazine. 
These first words lead him inexorably forward not backward in his humanity, imagining changes in human society that will never stop until the Kingdom of God truly reigns.  On earth as it is heaven.  "I suddenly want to grow to be very old," his proud mother tells him.  "To see how everything turns out."  Phil Green was breaking the gentlemen’s agreement.  With every word he wrote, a sharp axe was struck to the rotten wood of the human character and soul.

     Race.  Gender.  Sexual orientation.  Religion.  They are all different.  Prejudice is a uniquely adaptive and malignant cancer that must be diagnosed and rooted out.  The treatment of gays and lesbians by church and society has been un-Christian.  But more than that, it has also been un-American.  If our noble experiment of democracy is to be truly noble, it cannot reserve its most fundamental freedoms and rights and the pursuit of sacred dreams to the powerful few, the inner circle, or a complacent and mediocre majority. 

We must be a beacon of hope for everyone.

Until we see each other as God sees us, on the inside, as a child of God, we are not finished with the work begun by Jesus Christ.  God is the incarnational outcast.  God is the beautiful outsider whose tolerance and love and charity and forgiveness go way too far, never stopping, entering even the mortal clay of the human body for our salvation.  Into the common blood we all share.  God is the one outside our circle: yet our neighbor.  God is there in the least among us, a raft on the Mississippi, floating free.  This is the Christ, the God of Humanity, who died that each of us might be reborn and truly live, equal and free, for all eternity.

Be kind to each other.

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