A Loudspeaker, a Bullhorn, a Whisper

 

By The Rev. Dr. Tim Vivian

Vicar of Grace Episcopal Church

Bakersfield, California (Diocese of San Joaquin)

 

 

Pentecost 23 (Proper 26)

October 24, 2010

 

A reading from Desmond Tutu          Psalm 91:9-16

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18           Luke 18:9-14

 

On Friday our house got a call at 6:30 in the morning, waking Miriam up. When the phone rings at 6:30, your heart stops: your first thought is “Oh, my God. It’s one of the kids.”

 

No, it wasn’t about one of our children. But the call was about someone’s child. The phone message told us that an “incident” had happened at Cal State during the night and parking in our usual lot might be disrupted.

 

When I got to Cal State at 7, the street to my accustomed parking lot was sealed off, with a cop car blocking the road.

 

Later I learned what all of you by now know: a student Halloween get-together on campus got out of control; non-students were in the crowd, some of them gangbangers; a fight broke out; pistol shots rang out in the campus night:[1] Bianca Jackson, an 18-year old BC student, an innocent bystander, was shot through her heart and both lungs. It was the first murder in our school’s history. Rest in peace, child of God.

 

When I walked to class at 8, I thought I had better have the students talk about what had happened. What they said, though not unexpected, was a little troubling to me.

 

Actually, it was what they didn’t say.

 

As they talked, some of the students were subdued; some had that death-defying glad-to-be-alive-isn’t-it-scary? look. I realized that all they were talking about was details—reports, facts, rumors. None of them was getting to the meaning of those details.

My class Friday experienced some sort of sardonic cosmic irony: our subject on Friday was the Hindu and Jain concept of ahimsa. Ahimsa is usually translated “non-violence,” but its richer meaning is “not doing violence to anything.”

 

And yet, outside our classroom violence had stained red the asphalt where I park every day; violence had bloodied the ground we walk on.

 

I told the students about this irony and asked them what they thought. I also reminded them that our topic the previous two class periods had been evil and theodicy. The word “theodicy” is composed of two Greek words: theós, “God,” and dí, “justice.”

 

Simply put, in our traditional monotheistic understanding, God is a good creator, omniscient and omnipotent. But how does a good all-knowing God square with random acts of evil? Even more, how does a compassionate and caring God co-exist with incomprehensible evil like the Holocaust?

 

I don’t recall much of our classroom conversation. I do remember, though, what one student said: “The thing that bothers me most,” Erin confessed, “was how desensitized I’ve become to violence, even killing.”

 

I told the students what I’ve realized has become a mantra for me this year: Guys, all this stuff we’re discussing—goodness, evil, forgiveness—you don’t have to be religious to have these matter: they’re existential questions. They are not just classroom brain-teasers, toys and distractions in some ivory-tower day-care. They apply to everyone’s existence, not just the religious.

 

But perhaps they’re not existential questions but rather existential agonies.

 

And that’s why, like my students, most of us human beings would probably rather skim along on the seemingly-tranquil surface of details and rumor, sound bites and talk-show bromides, rather than ponder too long the mystery and frustration of the darkness below, the darkness around us, the darkness within.

My own heart has been battered and sorrowful for a week now. At diocesan convention last weekend we read the names of the gay and lesbian young people who had recently committed suicide. In a few moments on this Pride Sunday during the Prayers of the People we will once again read that heart-breaking litany.

 

And now a new report shows that churches are contributing to some of these suicides.[2]

 

Compassionate and caring God, have mercy on us.

 

Those suicides, that litany, LGBT pride day yesterday, the immorality and political cowardice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; our moving discussion at convention of the meaning of love, commitment, and marriage; our own Lori, with Arcie beside her, speaking before the Bishop from the deepest wellsprings of her conjugal being; the murder on campus, our easy evasions and denials: all these have been bubbling and toiling inside of me in some kind of strange brew I can’t yet articulate. But, with the help of others, I’ll try.

 

“Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen!”

 

At the advent of the Reformation, Martin Luther spoke those courageous, outrageous, defiant, and perhaps even fearful words.

 

Grace, we have to keep saying those words. We have to keep repeating them until they become a loudspeaker, a bullhorn, a whisper, a hymn and a psalm and a prayer on our lips; an Alleluia in our hearts, in our souls, and in our minds.[3]

 

In one of our original readings for today, replaced by the words you just heard from St. Desmond of South Africa, the prophet Habakkuk cries out:

 

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,

            and you will not listen?

Or cry to you "Violence!"

            and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrong-doing

            and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

            strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack

            and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous--

            therefore judgment comes forth perverted.[4]

 

We should retitle Habakkuk’s words as “Lamentation for the Morning after Prop. 8 Passed.”

 

Safely heterosexual and married myself, Lori, and Arcie—and many more of you here today—I can only imagine and try to empathize with your pain and heartbreak that dreadful morning. The lingering ache you must wake up with many days, with your beloved beside you.

 

But Arcie, and Lori, and all of us here, whatever our orientation, whatever our marital status, listen to what the prophet says next:

 

I will stand at my watchpost

            and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what God will say to me,

            what God will answer concerning my complaint.

 

Sisters and brothers, stand at your watchposts. Keep watch with those who work, or watch, or weep this dark national night.[5]

 

You are not alone. You will never be alone. If, as we believe, Christ dwells within each of us here—if, as we affirm, Christ dwells within each and every person, everyone who lives or has lived—then you always have all of us with you. And not only us, but thousands, millions of others, standing with you, binding your wounds, embracing your tears, carrying your cross.

Some of those standing with us have spoken eloquently; others have spoken words flaming with fire.

 

On the cover of the bulletin today Vern put words worthy of the prophetic gall and chutzpah of a Habakkuk, an Amos, a Jeremiah: on the cover today, Most Rev. Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop of Detroit, takes on the death-camp definition of homosexuality, propagated by the Catholic Church, that gays and lesbians are by definition “disordered”:

If you say someone is disordered, [Bishop Gumbleton reminds us,] that means there is something wrong with that person at the root of their being. I can't believe God would make someone who is wrong from the very beginning.[6]

Bishop Gumbleton has given us our firm theological foundation: my lesbian and gay and transsexual sisters and brothers, if you are disordered, then so is God. Since, as all of us here know—from sitting with you, working with you, holding you, praying with you, loving with you, sorrowing with you—since all of us here know that you are not disordered, then you are the good and blessèd image and likeness[7] of the good and caring and compassionate God.

Since all of us here know in heart, mind, soul, and body that this is so, we must also with all our might declare the theological-political words of John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark:

I thought about [the] history [of the Civil War and slavery] as I read of my own church, the Anglican Communion, seeking a way, "for the sake of unity," to accommodate divergent opinions on the issue of homosexuality. The Church's leadership is acting as if negotiation [were] possible in this conflict, yet the obvious fact is that homosexuality, like slavery, is a moral issue and thus not amenable to compromise.[8]

As we keep watch through the night, through this painful, hopeful night in which we find ourselves, we need the words of one of the great saints of our time, Desmond Tutu:

Homophobia is a crime against humanity and every bit [as] unjust as apartheid. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about; our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given.[9]

 

Remember: the night will end. Cockcrow will signal the light of morning. But remember also: cockcrow, as Peter discovered, can also signal the soul’s self-mutilation of betrayal.

By night and by day we have to remain vigilant; we can’t hide in the warm and comforting womb of trusted family and friends; we can’t let the sanctuary of Grace be a crib and playpen: safe and secure, but nevertheless confining and cloistered.

Keeping watch is not enough. Like Brother Martin of Wittenberg, we have to stand our ground.

But standing our ground is not enough. We must preach and practice Christ’s inclusive ministry in the world: in our families; at our schools, at work; in parks, restaurants, and coffee shops; through candlelight vigils and political forums:

Compromising truth never serves the cause of unity. The call of Christ is not to be all things to all people. The time for negotiating and compromising is over . . . . the moral integrity of the Christ [we follow is] at stake. There is no room for waffling on this moral imperative. The idea that [we] will allow politicians to advocate placing discrimination against homosexual persons into the Constitution of this country, while [our] voices are either in agreement or remain deafeningly silent, is an embarrassment. If it takes a split in the body of Christ to make this generation understand that homosexuality, like slavery, is a non-debatable, moral issue, then for God's sake, for Christ's sake, [we] must be willing to pay that price.[10]

Amen.

 



[1] An allusion to a line in Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/bob+dylan/hurricane_20021332.html.

[2]Churches contribute to gay suicides, most Americans believe”:

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/21/churches-contribute-to-gay-suicides-most-americans-believe/.

[3] Matthew 22:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

[4] Habakkuk 1: http://www.io.com/~kellywp/YearC_RCL/Pentecost/CProp26_RCL.html.

[5] BCP, Evening Prayer II, p. 124.

[6] http://www.shc.edu/theolibrary/gay.htm.

[7] Genesis 1:27. “Image and likeness” is a traditional rendering; most translations have “image“ and “image.“

[8] http://www.johnshelbyspong.com/bishopspongon_homosexuality.aspx.

[9] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article451901.ece.

[10] http://www.johnshelbyspong.com/bishopspongon_homosexuality.aspx, adapted.