Grace

July 5, 2015

I Corinthians 12: 7-10  “Grace”

Last night I anointed and prayed for a man who is terminally ill who lives on the street. He had called a City agency again about getting a hospice bed and received a “text” saying, “Sorry sir you are not sick enough yet, see your doctor Tuesday and we will get back to you.”  It is a  cold, dreary night , drunks all around,and he is looking at the text, I took the number and I sent a text back that got her attention, and she called me.  Her excuse was, “there are too many people,” and I replied, “and this one is dying, and you sit in your comfortable office, with your cup of coffee, and show your inhumanity to this man, who is on the streets,” and her response, “too bad.” He always tells me he feels “God’s power” when I anoint him, and lately I feel nothing but emptiness, but I keep on doing it.  For in the emptiness God is most present.

Steve Jobs wrote: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

In  this these words the Gospel is spoken to me–the Angel of Death draws nearer and nearer, and we have nothing to lose–we are naked–and we are called to give of all so that others might have life.

Paul wrote: “My grace is enough, it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”  These days all I have is that grace, I have nothing else left, and I understand my friend in so many new ways I have never understood before. So I will continue to follow my heart.  Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

‘Moving Into the Neighborhood”

July 4, 2015

MOVING INTO THE NEIGHBORHOOD  John 14:23-29

Last week was Pride, today is the Fourth, and as I move on the streets I feel as if the City goes from one high to another. Massive crowds, total partying and drinking. When it is over–people go into total depression, you feel it on the streets, you see it in people’s faces. Our social networks, our technology have simply created a void, a widening the gap of loneliness and alienation for we do not truly touch people’s lives.

I have a friend who is sitting through the weekend awaiting an HIV diagnosis, the first test was in between, and his doctor tells him to count on it being positive. He has reached out to various friends. They have “texted” him how busy they are, and will be in touch later. Someone taking him out to dinner would mean  the world to him as he awaits, for he has only heard one human voice all weekend–the rest–emails and texts. And believe me emails, and texts do not get it when you are in fear.  You may feel like you have done your part–but the person feels like he is nothing, absolutely nothing-a piece of technology.

Last Sunday I was taken to the emergency room by a young guy who is a med student, whom I had met one time, and he was in town and wanted to see me. He saw me all right–he took me to the emergency room, waited around for hours,  and took me home.  He says he is an “atheist”, but he was the greatest Christian in the world to me that night. He says he did not do much–but he did more than he will ever know.  He gave of himself–to basically a stranger, a stranger who will never forget him.

Christ “moves into the neighborhood” in us. He moves in by our acts of personal kindness–not through texting and emails–he moves in through our giving of ourselves to others, and feeling the pain of others. Christ moves into the neighborhood when we see each human being as the broken person that he is, and we walk with them for we too are broken. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

The Crucified One

July 3, 2015

The Crucified Christ

Through the past twenty one years as I have buried some 2500 individuals, have sat with thousands as they suffer from HIV, drug addiction, homelessness, mental illness, poverty, and all of the pains of life–those who have nothing materially; have experienced disease, injuries, had my life threatened, and have knives, needles, plunged into my body, and have been shot at on several occasions and  my theology has moved away from the culture wars–they simply do not matter.

What matters is the Crucified One. All Scripture is interpreted from the face of the Crucified One–and he cuts it all away to simply loving God and loving your neighbor; He is a pacifist, He calls for equity of income and the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the visiting of those in prison and of those who have no one; He calls for us to love each other and respect our individuality, He calls for everyone to have housing and health care; He is a respecter of all persons regardless of nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or race.  We are justified through our faith in him, pure and simple–we have to earn nothing. Some one asked me recently if I was a socialist–and my answer is I simply follow the Crucified One.

A Catholic Worker wrote the following which sums up what I believe is the way in which the Crucified One looks at the recent violence:

No death penalty

In the midst of so much sorrow over the senseless killing of nine
beautiful human beings, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley can offer
nothing more profound than a promise that she will seek the death
penalty for Dylann Roof.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church community understands
the moral imperative of forgiveness, but Haley speaks of vengeance.

Execution is her solution for a sick person who has been raised in the
South, a region of the country where African Americans were enslaved,
raped, lynched, segregated and executed as a way of life. Roof is a
product of a Southern state that shouldn’t forget its history.

Haley’s promotion of execution is part of the problem, not the solution.

Patrick O’Neill; Garner, N.C.

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

“We Do Not Stand Still

July 1, 2015

July 1, Blessed Juniper Serra We Do Not Stand Still!

Gen. 2121:5, 8-20  Matt. 8:28-34

Today is the feast of Blessed Juniper Serra, there has been much said of why he should not be made a saint, and I have read three biographies–one pro, one in the middle, and one con–and ultimately what I conclude is he was a man of his time who treated the Native Americans in the missions with compassion, and care, and protected them where others in the Spanish missions did not. To say he does not deserve to be a saint is to read with a bias from our times. It is like the remarks about Hilary Clinton being homophobic, years ago–she has evolved, and she has done so with grace.  When I was growing up I was racist, homophobic and I evolved as I grew and changed. When I came to San Francisco twenty years ago I was against needle exchange–and now I carry needles with me twenty four hours a day. We change, we evolve.

The gentrification of America, the separation of our cultures, will hinder the evolving of people in racism, sexism, and understanding of culture because we are so separated. I see that on Polk now.  Rather than blame others we need to look deep into ourselves and asked ourselves are we being open, or closed. Are we truly listening to the needs of people of different racial and economic backgrounds?

There is much said about forcing churches to perform all weddings. I had friends before marriage for all was legal refuse to do heterosexual weddings, and I did weddings. Primarily because I am a priest and will not use the sacraments as politics.  We are a country of freedom and we should let people make their choices. This is what freedom is about. 

My prayer is that we will look at ourselves and let Jesus kicked the evil demons out of us that put down other people, for I have found if we love our enemies ultimately they will change. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Salt and Tears

June 30, 2015

Gen. 19:15-29  Matt. 8:23-27  “Salt and Tears”  St. Emma

Last night I  sat with a one of my guys who is sick with chronic bronchitis at General, I was dozing off, and one of the doctors jokingly commented, “if we did not know better we would think you were his dad,” and I laughed, and said, “you use to call me their brother, soon it will be grandfather,” and he laughed.  I remember studying a story in college “Goodbye Mr. Chips” about an English college professor during World War II. It took us through the years to his retirement and he sat in a chair on the lines of a their soccer field reflecting on his time there.  They were the only kids he had.  I thought of that during Pride as I talked to the young kids at Pride, I think of that story as I hang out with my kids. That is the role I am moving towards. And like Mr. Chips I have no regrets, for I have touched the lives of thousands upon thousands of young people. I am ill, running chills and fever, tests are being run, and in the middle of my fever and its breaking I often wonder if it was all worth it, laying here alone. Than I see my buddy on the street who is dying, and look into the eyes of Jake in the hospital, knowing he will stay with me for several days after he gets out having no where to go, and know it is worth it and more. All I have ever been is a pastor, since I was 16 years old, even as a prostitute like it or not I was a pastor, that is my call, and to pastor for me is to give my life a way. Like the velveteen rabbit I am being rubbed bare–and that is the call of all us.

For we can choose to be like the woman in our story from Genesis looking back, not wanting to leave, wanting her past back or we can choose the Jesus of the Gospel’s who tells the storms “Peace be still”,” we can choose death or life.  I choose life.

In the last few years I have become more and more aware of how we are consumed with technology. I sat down with a “mature friend”–yesterday for lunch, and she had to check her texts and call her neighbor because the woman wanted to use her pool. I do not check my phone when I am with some one, they get my total attention. The following poem from David Alben sums it up for me–we need to look at each other, give time to each other.

This is well worth reflecting on:

.

“We’re able to interact with thousands of people around the world with a device in the palm of our hands, yet we’re having a hard time listening to the person right in front of us.

Look around you, everything everywhere is constantly fighting for your attention. There always seemed to be something beeping, something notifying, compelling us to do something.

It’s an exhausting rhythm of perpetual input. It follows us into our homes, into our beds, into our minds, and into our souls.

This leaves us with trivial time for rest, self-reflection, personal spiritual growth, and deep connection with others.”

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

[…]

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

June 29, 2015

Matt. 16:13-19  “Who Do You Say That I Am?”  (Peter and Paul)

Saturday and Sunday I worked at Pride, a celebration of diversity. Last night I attended a dinner of celebration of the victory in a murder case of a defendant I testified for.. That was where I experienced the real Pride, and the real Church. These were men and women, of all racial backgrounds, who have given their lives as public defenders, defending people that no one else cares about. As far as I could tell none are  believers, but they are the body of Christ because they see the broken body in those that are knocked down by society, and who need defending regardless of their guilt,  without judgment. I love the Law and Order series, it is my one addiction,  but you never see the public defenders in a positive light–it is always the law and order people–but the public defenders are the real heroes. These men and women could make a fortune in private practice, instead they have chosen a way of life that is often not safe, certainly not praised, and they make little money compared to their brothers and sisters. They put their lives on the line. Haddi, and Jennifer are two that I give the loudest praise to, for they give their all, and continue helping their defendants  after the trial. The celebration of Pride for me is born out in the giving of your life to all people, no matter the circumstances, and these men and women do that. I celebrate their Pride, and their work.I give them thanks for inviting me to be apart of their celebration and their work.

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

“Amazing Grace”

June 27, 2015

Luke 23: 26-46  “Amazing Grace

Yesterday President Obama gave probably the best speech of his career in the Eulogy at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the offering of forgiveness, and the grace of God.

Emmanuel AME Church offers the most supreme example of Christian living in its offering of forgiveness to the young man who committed the crime.  Rather than hate, they show love, rather than vengeance–mercy.  In their pain and grief they embody the broken body of the Christ they serve. In them the Christ is incarnate–alive, and present.

Their act of mercy offers to Dylan Roof the presence of the Christ who loves, who shows mercy, and in that encounter may he come to experience Christ’s love in his life, and may he experience change, and redemption.   That is what happened to John Newton, that is why we have the hymn “Amazing Grace,” John Newton sold slaves, and countless human beings were sold into cruelty and died in chains on his ship–yet he experienced Christ’s forgiveness.  John Newton saw himself as a murderer.  That is what grace is about.   The giving and the receiving of grace is not easy, and the work we do when we do both is not easy. But it is life-giving.

When I want vengeance on people, when I feel hatred towards people, I look at where my other four fingers are pointing–to myself–and I asked myself–what am I afraid of?  Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

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Living On the Thin Line–the In Be Tween

June 20, 2015

“Living in the In between–Living on the Thin Line”

Matt. 6:34: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

I remember growing up a good friend commented that “River is always trouble..” And what he meant in his own adolescent way was that I never conformed. I lived on the thin line, in the in between. Through the years I have tried to conform but it has always gotten me really into trouble, and is deadening to my life.

I live on a thin line, I live in between, I do not fit in, and what I have learned it has been the greatest blessing given to me, because in not fitting in, in living on the thin line living in the in between I am able to see all sides, to size situations, people, ideas up, and to be non-judgmental, and to touch the lives of people from various walks of life.

A favorite term used in psychology to describe particularly youth who do not fit in is that they are “feral’–wild and unmanageable.  Last night a nineteen year old, whom I will call “Z” was told that at a local agency, and that he was impossible to work with. He is a kid who is transgender but can not afford  the services to transition, a heroine user, and he was crying because he felt like he had been thrown out to the wolves.  We went “tagging” and we talked, and I shared with him how I had been told I was “feral”, and how I see it as a gift, for I am still wild, but I have learned to manage that feralness use it in the service of others.  I shared with him how I am usually totally exhausting after spending time with my “straight”- friends–the people who are comfortable in the black and whiteness of the culture, and that is why I am good with the street people and why I feel comfortable being with him and hanging with him, for we understand one another.

We put our “labels’ on people; we want them to fit into the square holes rather than appreciate the differences and our labels are death dealing. For me living on the thin line–the in between–is what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel, with total trust in him:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

A Fool

June 19, 2015

I Cor. 11:11-30–  “A Fool”  St. Romuald

“, , ,if you really just accept accept the fact that I am a fool.”

I have received several face book responses telling what “a fool” I am, plus numerous other lovely, comments. The truth is I am probably whatever people say that I am.  We expect people frankly to be perfect, and the result is we get lifeless politicians and leaders and we become lifeless–I will take a sinner any time over a plastic supposedly perfect individual–for you see we sinners are true and fragile, and open– for you see we are all a mixture of the grey. But I am a fool, a fool because I because we should meet people where they are. There is a gentleman who is dying on the street, and he will not leave the street unless he has to. I will support him in what he wants, and I am told I am a “fool”-because he needs to be forced into a facility; we talk about racism, and the prejudice in our society and yet as I walk around I see no blacks, and the minorities are serving us in our restaurants–rather than talk, let’s see people as simply our fellow travelers and travel with them, but than I am a fool.  Will Tuttle wrote about veganism:

 
“A primary danger is that we might leave home but not return; that is, we could awaken to the harmfulness inherent in our culture’s commodification of living beings but fail to bring this awakening to our culture by becoming a voice for these beings.

If our understanding isn’t articulated in ways that are meaningful for us, it can become imprisoned within us and turn sour, becoming cynicism, anger, despair, and disease. This doesn’t serve us or anyone else.”

But to carry these words out into life  we can not  simply talk about something, and give our opinions for  we become cynical–it is in the mixing, and intermingling and personally relating that we meet a middle ground where we can agree and live.  But than I am a fool. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Pray With Simplicity

June 18, 2015

Matt. 6:7-15  “Pray With Simplicity”

Today I spent time with a man who lives on the streets, and has a terminal illness, and he said to me “I have lived on the streets, I will die on the streets, and I have been blessed,” and another young man from Tennessee who is 20 was telling me how blessed he felt to live in San Francisco, even on the streets. They expect little, they do not blame God, and all they asked for is “three square meals a day,” and they find that most of the time. The grain of wisdom in this is that if each one of us expected little accept our “three square meals a day,” all would have housing, be fed, and be allowed to die in their own bed. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!


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