Archive for June, 2015

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:

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“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!

Far AWAY A Book Review

June 17, 2015

FAR AWAY
BY
Kevin Kline and Daniel D. Mauer
Far Away is a book about the Reverend Kevin Kline’s year on the street as a sex worker in 1975, with two young hustler friend’s who died on the streets, and about the “pimp” who brought him there. This is the story of a young man dealing with coming out in an age, a place, St. Louis, Missouri, where it was difficult, if not impossible at the time to find role models. He grew up in a typical suburban family, and being gay was not a part of the equation.
He had a sexual experience with a young friend, who then introduced him to a ‘pimp” as a “friend”, who had sex with him and for whom he had feelings, and then the man took him to Forest Park and basically “pimped” him out. He met two other young men, two street hustlers, with whom he became close friends. He had never been truly open with any of his other friends, they accepted him for who he was, and so that was the lure that kept him coming back to the Park that summer with the “pimp”. He saw the reality of prostitution—lawyers, policemen, politicians, the wealthy—who used young males for their satisfaction. He experienced the brutality of the police, and one policeman brutally beat up one of his young friends, who later committed suicide, and finally his other friend died a violent death as well. He returned to his suburban home, went to school, and was haunted by these experiences, and now they still touch him, and the deaths of his two young friends haunt him. His sexuality has been deeply colored by these experiences. And he suffers from PTSD from that summer, and the experience in a closeted society. They were the best friends he ever had. He is now a successful, openly gay pastor, his scars have healed like the scars on a piece of fine wood, and have made a piece of art out of his life.
For me this book took me back to that year. I was just beginning seminary serving a church fifty miles away. I was deeply in the closet, my former denomination is not even now open to people who are gay. I remember that year a young man coming to me struggling with being gay, and I, being the traditional pastor, gave him the answer of the church—it is a “sin”, and you need to find a therapist, stay celibate, and keep this a secret. He went to another church and they kicked him out because of his sexuality, and he committed suicide, and to this day I am haunted by this young man, haunted by how I let my own fears, lead to basically turning him a way , and I still feel as if I help put the gun to his head.
This took me back to my own coming out, and my years in prostitution. It brought home to me how those three years on the street are so hammered into my DNA that there is no way I can deny them, nor would I want to deny them. I am still a part of the street. I feel more comfortable on the street. The best friends I have ever had were those young guys I worked with—for we had no one else, and we had to be completely honest with one another—and it is still the same. The people I feel the closet to are the street kids, and they respond to me in the same way, for we know that we cannot pretend to be what we are not, and we accept each other for who we are. They know they can call me day or night and I will be there, they know they can stop by and I will feed them, and they know that I will not bring judgment of any kind on them—for that was my experience on the street as a hustler, I was accepted for who I was. A young man, whose name is “Gault” was eating with me in the Haight, and he said, “I have never told you this, but I knew the first time I met you, you were one of us, you hustle like all of us, and you know what it means to have people look down upon you, and try to “fix” you, I knew we were “family” that first day. “ And we are family.
Dorothy Day said that the system was “dirty and rotten,” and it is—it sets itself up to take care of people on its own terms, and that is why so many fall through the cracks. It’s one motive is profit, and which leads to tangible results. That is why I live between the “thin” lines—I work with the system where I can, I work it, I use, it, I “hustle” it, and I live with my mentality on the streets. I suffer with those who are victims of the “system”. The Crucified One stands with them outside the gates. Over my desk I have a painting of a person who has a bleeding heart, and over it the words “counselor”, and that is what I do, I bleed with them. We are all called to bleed with each other, it is in the bleeding that we find our humanness. The Velveteen Rabbit is my favorite story, for he does not become real until he is worn out.
People often asked me when I am in my street clothes if I am in my role as a street priest, and the truth is that is no role, I dress for other roles—in a suit, in dress shoes, in my yuppy clothes, when I am raising money, but my street clothes are my clothes, they are who I am—they are no role. I have experienced deep pain, deep scars as a result of homophobia, and of being a sex worker, as well as my years of ministry on the streets. I have PTSD as a result of the closeted environment I was in as a young man, I have PTSD as a result of the years of being on the streets and of working on the streets. I make no bones about it. There are nights I have night mares, I am haunted by fears, and as I have worked through them I see them as a reality that come from living, and also as scars that have healed and are healing in a piece of wood, that becomes a beautiful piece of art. I see life as art, and as art you have scars and in God shaping those scars he creates beauty, a beauty beyond compare. For example people are always asking me if I have ever wanted an intimate relationship, and I give my standard answer of serving God, but the reality is that the homophobia in which I was raised, and what I have gone through broke me in a way I did not want an intimate relationship, but I believe that God has used this to call me to the ministry where I have served thousands. Through the pain, and the healing of the scars I have been privileged to enter into a fuller relationship with Christ. And as I look back this was the calling for which I was born to in my mother’s womb. Through the suffering and pain God has called me to the ministry for which I was called in my mother’s womb.
Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

The Lost Boys

June 7, 2015

THE LOST BOYS

There was article in the paper this morning about the teens who come to San Francisco and are successful in the tech industry. They make money, have fun.  But the article referred to them as “The Lost Boys” and the reality is they are “lost”, for the writer pointed out that these guys very seldom see beyond what they are doing to others, one young man commented that he talked to this “old uber driver of thirty,” the first person he had talked to outside of his peer group in weeks.   They have no contact with the reality of life. Than there are the one’s, the majority who do not make it, and wind up on the street, several of my guys came here to make it big in the tech world, now they are on the streets in the Haight. They are lost–lost in knowing who they are, where there is life is going. Their hopes were dashed, now they simply have no idea what to do with their lives.

In another article one write was comparing San Francisco’s treatment of the homeless to New York’s and basically said that San Francisco was weak in its treatment of the homeless–and for all of her problems San Francisco is a compassionate City, recognizes the humanity of people, rather than places  them in the category of being “homeless”.   Our economy, our lack of mental health care, our lack of health care and jobs, high rent-all have increased homelessness–it is not often a choice.  Most of us walk on the edge of homelessness all of the time–at least if we live in San Francisco we do.

Lately there has been much said about the Roman Catholic Church and its stands on queer issues, and what is always left out are those of us who follow the Christ who treats every one equal, who hates power, and serves Christ,  who went to his death for what he believed.  The Jesus of the Gospels who told us to “Love God and love our neighbor” is left out of the equation.

For me loving God and my neighbor have opened doors that have fed me, nourished me, sustained me through the years.  As Scott Peck said: “Life is difficult,” but it is in living that life with an open mind, compassion, focused on God that it becomes a joy.   I saw the play The Golden State: Part One-Delano last night. It is a play about people who suffer finding hope in their faith.  That is what faith is about finding hope, sustenance, and in finding that sharing it with others equally and openly. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Love One Another

June 7, 2015

June 7, 2015 Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ “Love One Another” Mark 14:12-26

Thomas Merton at the bloody height of the Vietnam War was asked by a radical peace activist, “what should we do”? He responded, “Go home, read the scriptures, celebrate the Eucharist (breaking of the bread), and you’ll figure it out.  The message of scriptures and the breaking of the bread are the same: LOVE ONE ANOTHER.”

in the midst of war, outrageous rent prices, evictions, poverty, homelessness, divisiveness, homophobia, trans phobia, and pain that is the only advice I give to people now. For when we hear the words of scripture, break bread together we love one another, and we meet the needs of each other. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

Living Out My Dream

June 6, 2015

Mark 12:38-44 “Living Out My Dream”

Today I received a letter from a young man in prison for murder, a young man’s whose father I have known for over twenty years, whom I met on the street; I had a phone call from another young man in juvenile hall, whose grandfather I worked with twenty years ago on the street; I walked down the street tonight and one gentleman has an illness where he can die at any time. He sleeps on the street, and I am his only contact; and so it goes.  My dream as a young boy was to be a pastor, and that is the dream I live out day in and day out–walking with people, loving them, counseling, baptizing, marrying, burying and giving them the Eucharist.  I have never been about changing the world, simply walking with people in their pain, The food given out, the needles and socks, help them, but they are tools for me to know them and be their pastor. I write this as I think of the letter and the phone call I received, for those are signs of living out my dream.  It is what I went to school to do, it is the craft I have spent years honing, and it is the path I will walk until the day I die, for I am living out my calling, and the dream by which to which I hooked  my star to so many years ago. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!