I woke up Easter Sunday in a mood. The previous evening, Stephen and I had attended the late service at Trinity Episcopal Church, and everything had come together for me in an exhilarating way. Witnessing the preparation and lighting of the Paschal candle and the passing of the flame to hand-held candles in the congregation, listening to those old familiar psalms, hymns, and readings from Genesis and Ezekiel, and hearing our competent choir, accomplished organist, and phenomenal preacher, I basked in the lovely ambiance that these elements of worship had created. I have for decades been involved in liturgical service. I recently resigned from altar service, where I have held every lay role, but I continue with my sacristy duty. Being in community with my friends and fellow parishioners as we celebrated the First Eucharist of Easter had resurrected some of my old faith.
A failed attempt to organize action in response to the Orlando murders leaves Jim musing about why he remains a person of faith.
Sunday, June 19, I decided to attend an afternoon public meeting the agenda of which was to explore organizing action in the St. Louis area in response to the killing of 49 queer people, many of them latino, in Orlando last Sunday. We heard an overview on intersectionality and occupying space, listened to stories of oppressed people of color, received training on how to occupy space in a non-violent manner, and ultimately disbanded without setting specific action goals. It was generally speaking a very worthwhile experience, but all of us were shocked when, early in the meeting, a young gay man with an Asian appearance made a brief statement of objection to the proceedings, picked up his backpack and left. His protest was basically, “How can you talk about creating safe spaces where people who are frightened, hurting and angry can share their stories, on the one hand, and have this public meeting in a church sanctuary, on the other? Don’t you realize that the church has been one of the major oppressors of LGBTQ people for centuries and centuries?! I do not find this to be a safe space!”
How can you talk about creating safe spaces where people who are frightened, hurting and angry can share their stories, on the one hand, and have this public meeting in a church sanctuary?
What do I make of my dream, then, quoting from Part 1 of this epistle?
“I am out on the street in some small town with a woman I don’t know. She is perhaps 35 or 40 years old, and I somehow know that she is a lesbian. She proposes to me that we both take turns putting a nickel in the nearby parking meter, and that as we do this, we offer up a prayer. I am to go first. I rummage around in my pocket, and there are lots of dimes and quarters, and one nickel that I finally discern. I take it out, and as I insert it into the parking meter, both I and my surroundings are suddenly transported. Now the sky is dark and ominous, and I am sitting in a wheelchair feeling very weak. I am struggling to say the prayer that is not yet in my mind. I hear myself, stuttering, hesitant and trembling, say and then repeat, “Lord, you are my strength and my redeemer.” I am crying as I say this. And then I wake up.”
Coincidentally, Sunday was the opening of the Trinity “All Things New” art show, containing some of the artwork of our fellow parishioners. I happened to have contributed to this show a piece of counted cross stitch, which you can see below. The text displayed with this piece is as follows: “”The Lord Is My Shepherd” stitched by Jim Andris in 2013, design by Sandy Orton of Kooler Design Studios: Counted cross-stitch, embroidery floss on 14 count ecru Aida cloth, 11 1/4w by 16 1/4h inches, stitch count 154w x 224w. The 23rd Psalm has been part of my strength and my refuge since my father read and explained it to me at age five. When I saw this design of Sandy Orton’s, I knew I had to bring it into being.”
This morning I attended Trinity Episcopal Church, where Stephen and I have been attending for the past 29 years. I think it is fair to say that Trinity is at least a center of our lives, if not the center of our lives. I can also say that we are anything but traditional Christians. For one thing, we both are careful in our lives to make room for our non-Episcopalian friends. We have other broad circles of friends of differing faiths, of no particular faith, and of faith in the non-existence of God.
I had a good experience in church today. Well, for starters, the sermon was riveting. This was Pentecost, and the priest amazed us all by literally engaging in a flame-swallowing exhibition. I hadn’t seen this phenomenon since I was a child. It’s really quite astonishing to see someone put a burning flame right on his tongue, and then next put the whole wick in his mouth and extinguish the flame. It’s even more astonishing when it comes in the middle of an episcopal church sermon by a crimson-vested priest. But then again, I was so distracted by the flame-swallowing, that now, at a distance of a few hours, I can’t remember how the words he said segued in and out of the main show. I’d have to listen to the sermon again. Not that I’m criticizing the good reverend; his sermons are fine.
In my old blog I had a category called Magic. While I’m not in a constant alternative reality, the Other Side definitely speaks to me at times. And it happened again yesterday. I’ve been going to the hospital the last couple of days to visit Stephen, who is recovering from an operation. As I was driving there, I passed a graveyard by the side of the road. I’ve never even been in it, and I know of no one who is buried there. I’ve driven by it dozens of times. But yesterday afternoon, for some inexplicable reason, just as I could see the grassy hillside leading up to the well-spaced grave markers disappearing in my right field of vision, I had the sudden urge just to go and sit on the inviting green grass amongst the graves. Being on the interstate, I had to drive on, of course, to complete my journey to visit my friend. My mind, however, remained ensconced in the grass, and I began to have an amazing set of cogitations and realizations. This morning, as I was visiting with Stephen, I tried to tell him about my experience, and now I am going to try to set some of this down here.