Monday, May 26, 2008

Same-sex unions

"Why does anyone think that marriage equality will destroy traditional marriage? Marriage has survived Liz Taylor, Mickey Rooney and Britney Spears. I think it will survive the two guys down the street who have been together for 20 years."

Posted by Susan Russell at Inch at a Time this quote caught my attention. I have found myself more than a bit bilious at the comments that gay marriage would destroy marriage from the ultra-right. I have never understood how gay marriage or blessings of gay folks would undermine hererosexual marriage. Are the underpinnings of marriage so fragile that they cannot support the love of others?

I have never married; never wanted to be. But I live in a relationship with another woman that has lasted 30 years. There are no vows, no outward and visible commitment. There is no furtive sexual relationship that many who are married considers the glue that holds the relationship together. The relationship is centered on friendship that goes beyond casual aquaintence and support that honors the other as unique and yet attached at a soul level that goes beyond words. Like many who have lived together for long periods, we do not need to spend long spates of time discussing things. We don’t really need to talk about much anymore. We just enjoy being in each other’s presence.

Both J and I come from families in which our parents lived long years without divorce. Perhaps that is what has enabled our staying together. But there is the other issue of “who else would have had us?” that tends to make us giggle. Relationships are not rooted in vows, or even commitment. They are rooted in the respect that we have for one another. And that does not take a ceremony, a licence, or a sacrament.

Our lives have not been easy. We have had illness, times of ennui, attraction to others, habits that annoy, bishops who have tried to destroy us, right-wingers who have tried to scandalize who we are for their own agendas, jobs that have taken us away from the other that have threatened our commonality. But it has never been enough to destroy the love we have for the other.

That love did not come all at once, either. It is a love, an agape and philios, that has evolved in the small daily caring that has gone on between us. There is little feeling that we are “beholden” to the other—that would destroy what we have. We have just a constant reminder that somehow we are right for each other and we are better persons because of the other.

We do remind the other of our love. I don’t think that there are many days I haven’t told her that I love her and there are not many days that she hasn’t said the same. Even on those days when it is hard because of some argument or disagreement, we end up reminding ourselves of our love for each other. It doesn’t require sleeping together to do that. It just requires the humility to say “I love you.”

The California decision to allow gay marriage will impact the whole of the nation if not the world. It will impact the Church in how it is going to solemnize relationships that do not fit well into tradition. Perhaps we need to look around and find those relationships that require no vows, no sacraments to remind humanity that we are not meant to be alone. It would be nice if people could find ways of encountering the love of God present in the relationships that people have whether hererosexual or homosexual, or not sexual at all. May we lift up Christ in those relationships and focus our concern on that rather than on what is traditional and what is not. Human community is more important than sex.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I love listening to Renaissance music. It is about the only kind of music that I can listen to and do other things. Much of this music is in Latin and periodically I hear a mass part, a Sanctus, or Kyrie ,and immediately know the words and the use of the music. It adds to my prayer during the day.
Some of it is lively dance music that was clearly not for religious setting but it also adds delight to my work.

The harmonies are not the usual ones that we are used to—there is no Bach, Mozart or Beethovenish sound to this work. It is much more primitive in its harmony and even when the choral works are full of long polyphonic lines, the counterpoint has a lushness to it that even Brahms could not accomplish.

I sometimes wonder what it was like to be a priest or pastor when this music was new. What was in the hearts of the people who heard this music for the first time? What was in the hearts of those who wrote this music? I wonder if it was considered irreligious, or did it make the folks uneasy? Would have the sounds of trumpets in the belfry called for a parish council meeting or a call for more “traditional” music? It during this era that Luther nailed his 95 discussion questions on the door of Wurtenburg kirche. I don’t think I would have like being a pastor at that time—it was too much like our own era—schism whispered in every pub. But it was a time of great faith if the music is any indication and if the volume of religious music can be taken as a barometer.

What I have been taught about the Renaissance is that it was a time of great art, a result of escalating economic wealth. People had the time and the resources to enjoy great beauty and engage in theological inquiry. But it was also a time of wars and greed. Perhaps that is what gave rise to the theological discussion. This was theological discussion that went outside of the monastery—into the lives of common folk. But at the same time it was a time when many were so disgusted with the Church that they made outrageous mockery of the Church. It sounds much like today.

No, I do not worry that the Church is going to hell in a hand basket. I just look at the theological discussion that is going on in the blog world. The Church will be changed by my era. It will not look like it does today in 100 years from . Deo gratias! I do wish that modern religious music had the kind of depth to it as did the Renaissance, but hey, who knows who will be listening to it some 500 years from now and wondering what our era is like?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Custodial Responsibility

On several occasions Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori has said that the reason that the Episcopal Church (TEC) is initiating suits against those parishes which are leaving TEC is because we have a responsibility to those who have built the churches and given in the name of the Episcopal Church. TEC has a custodial responsibility for the buildings and their contents for the future of the Church.

It was with some dismay then that I heard from a colleague from another denomination about the condition of St. Andrew’s, Vestal. My friend and her church were looking at a property to buy. They were shown the St. Andrew’s property. It was as if the property had not even changed hands. Prayer books were still in the pews. Choir robes were still in the choir room. The property was up on the blocks, but it was as if there had been no care taken to assess the property and its contents.

Now, I am in no way supportive of St. Andrew’s and its policies of dis-communion. And in no way am I supportive of their leaving the Episcopal Church except that I know that the clergy are happier. But I do have to give them credit for having left the building and the property in healthy way and without damage. The concern I have, is the Diocese of Central New York doing what is necessary to maintain custodial responsibility for the property? There has been no cleaning up of the property. There is some question if the property inside the building has even been accounted for. What is to be done with Altar linens, prayer books, bibles and the lot?

There is no doubt that there are too many Episcopal congregations in Broome County given the wholesale depopulation that has gone on in the county over the past 10-15 years. To close a congregation like St. Andrews because there is no longer a viable congregation to inhabit the building seems to be a considered action. But is this the kind of custodial care that merits the kind of suit against Good Shepherd, a parish in a similar situation as St. Andrews? What will we do with yet another empty building? Certainly the real estate value is not that high given today’s economy.

In such places like Falls Church, VA where there is a viable congregation remaining in TEC and the various churches in San Joachin or Ft. Worth, I can see the need for suits to regain property that has been stolen by the schismatics. But in Central New York, I question the validity of such a suit just to close another church especially when the diocese is doing nothing to ensure the custodial responsibility of the property. Why don’t we just charge Good Shepherd rent?

Then comes the question, cui bono? Where does the money go when these properties are sold? Does it go into the coffers of the diocese to be used to pay for more legal fees or more diocesan meetings that produce nothing? Or does the sale of these properties go for the furtherance of the ministry of Jesus Christ in the Southern Tier?

Christians of the Diocese of Central New York need to be asking questions about the use of the property that the diocese owns. We need to be asking what is to be done with Thornfield, St. Andrew’s in the Valley, Syracuse, St. Andrew’s, Vestal and Good Shepherd, Binghamton before we spend more on legal fees.