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Monday, April 6, 2015

A Passover/Easter Pastoral Letter

Are you aware that there are people who do not
know that The Last Supper was Passover seder?
Dear Pastor Kenny:

I guess I’m just a big coward when it comes to some things. I’ve had your phone number for a number of months now, but every time I start to dial (an antiquated term, but you’re as antiquated as I am so I know you’ll understand), I don’t finish. I was so thrilled to have found you, only to get cold feet when it counts.

While you responded to my 1st Pastoral Letterand in a very public way—my 2nd, Winter Solstice, Pagan Pastoral Letter went unanswered, as far as I know. I only accidentally stumbled upon your first reply and was surprised to hear, in the posted audio version, my name mentioned from the pulpit of a church. As you know, God and I are not on speaking terms.

In my 2nd Pastoral Letter, it wasn’t really my intention to challenge your religious beliefs. That’s just the way it worked out. Sometimes when the words flow, I just let them, and that’s where it led me.

Actually, “challenge” is the exact wrong word. I should have said, “It wasn’t really my intention to shake your religious beliefs,” because you’ve held them for so long. I recognize how I was being challenging. However, if a few questions from an old friend were to shake your beliefs, they wouldn’t have been very deeply held in the first place. Right?

Since then we’ve had another solstice, the Vernal Equinox. As I did the last solstice, I went to the Tequesta Drum Circle. This time I stayed on the periphery of the crowd, wandering around, banging 2 pieces of wood together when I felt motivated, but watching the people far more closely than I did the last time. All were seeking spirituality, some more desperately than others. That night I was seeking a story for the Not Now Silly Newsroom. I know there’s a drumming piece to be written, but it hasn’t found me yet.

I’m still seeking spirituality, but I didn’t bother to look for it that night. Yet, I couldn’t help but think of you. You’ve become connected with drum circles in my mind: the day I found you I went to a drum circle. I was so thrilled to learn of your support for the LGBT communities that I made a small announcement to that small group about it.

At the Spring Solstice drum circle I thought of you again, but this time I was in an instant community of several hundred people that would not be there on the morrow. The trigger for thinking of you was that several of the people I was spending time with that night were card-carrying members of the LGBT community, some of whom heard that original announcement. There also were many couples in that crowd whose sexuality was apparent. Men with men. Women with women.

If I'm going to continue to drag you into
this, the least I can do is plug your book.


Other Chapters of
A Pastoral Letter

► Part One - Finding An Old Friend
► Pastor Kenny's reply: The Gospel of John,
Chapter One: They Came in Twos

► Part Two: A Pagan Pastoral Letter
I thought about you and the distance you’ve come. Then I realized I don’t really know how far you’ve come. What did you feel about The Gay before you came out in favour of them at your church? Did you hate them? Did you pity them? Did you shun them?

Maybe the answer can be found in your book, A Letter To My Congregation, which I really need to read one of these days. However, I can see how far you’ve come since writing the book, from your old church to a new church, for starters.

This week ‘Merkin society demonstrated how far it still has to go.

As you may know, opposition to LGBT folk is greatest in the evangelical communities. Indiana looked as if it was being administered by evangelicals when it enacted a law allowing legal discrimination based on religious beliefs. While the backlash and controversy centered on how pizza makers could refuse to cater a Gay Wedding—like that’s ever gonna happen—there were other, far worse, unintended consequences of such a terrible law. It would have allowed doctors to refuse to treat the child of a Lesbian couple, as just one example of thousands that could be spun out to make my point.


Indiana Governor Mike Pence never knew what hit him. The backlash was so swift and vociferous, that Pence has been tap-dancing a series of lies ever since. Claiming the law was not intended to discriminate against LGBT folk, which was his biggest lie, Indiana was forced to back down and rewrite itt. Even better: the governor of Arkansas refused to sign into law a similar bill. He must have been watching the news.

I began writing this on Good Friday after sundown, which was also the beginning of Passover; the first time the holidays coincided in quite awhile. This was sheer coincidence on my part. Passover means no more to me than Easter, or any other day of the week. It was simply time to write another Pastoral Letter, as I expressed on the facebookery earlier in the week.

Now it’s Easter Sunday and, in between, I visited Coconut Grove, a place that began as an interesting research project 6 years ago and has since become my passion. Most of my morning was spent in the oldest Black cemetery in Miami, the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery. At one time this was the only place where Black folk could be buried. I went as a journalist to record the community turning out to Honour the Ancestors, by painting the graves and cleaning up the graveyard.

Being there, witnessing this, reminded me that at one time in this country religion was used to discriminate against The Black, the same way some are now using religion—the religion of Jesus Christ—to discriminate against The Gay.

I don’t know if I ever told you why I left my religion behind. Got another minute, Ken?

In a lovely bit of synchronicity,
  Rastafarians appropriated so much
Jewish iconography for its symbols.
As a young Jewish boy growing up I got the normalized indoctrination: God’s chosen people, 4000 years of oppression, the Holocaust, the Jewish Homeland, Never Again, "Next year in Jerusalem," the whole schmear. Then right around my Bar Mitzvah, give or take, a light bulb went on. All around me, in my extended family, I heard racism against Black folk openly expressed.

You’d think that of all people to understand how ugly racial discrimination is, it would be Jews. That’s pretty much when I turned my back on the Old Testament God, and all Gods for that matter. If there was a God he wouldn't let his children treat some of his other children that way. He'd give them a Time Out, like a flood or something. She's done it before, if you believe the press releases.

TO BE FAIR: I was naive and unsophisticated about the Civil Rights Movement back then. We were not yet teenagers while it was happening all around us. I later learned how many Jews were on the Freedom Rides and Marches. My bad.

I read an interesting article and listened to the audio this morning on the NPR site. When Corporations Take The Lead On Social Change tells of how Coca-Cola led the way to change the social/racial dynamic of Atlanta, a city steeped in The Old South.
Wal-Mart, Apple, Angie's List, NASCAR — some of the biggest names in business this week pushed back against "religious freedom" laws [http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/03/31/396555062/indianapolis-mayor-religious-laws-backers-missing-the-bigger-trend] in Indiana and Arkansas. They said the laws could open the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians and were bad for their business.

Such corporate intervention is not new.

Back in 1964, social conservatives in Atlanta refused to support an integrated dinner honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. But then Coca-Cola put its giant corporate foot down, and changed Atlanta's history. 
Isn’t it a shame that there are not more followers of Jesus leading the fight for LGBT equality?

And, it’s a crack like that that makes me wonder if you even want to communicate with me, Pastor Kenny. You stopped after our first exchange of Pastoral Letters, but I don’t know whether it’s because you were busy starting a new LGBT-friendly church, or pissed at my second Pastoral Letter.

Yet, I’m still seeking spirituality. In my first Pastoral Letter I told you how I occasionally look for it on Gilchrist when I’m visiting Detroit. Whenever I am back on Gilchrist, and many times in between, I recall a place I felt warm, and happy, and peaceful, and calm, and protected, and – dare I say it? – spiritual.

In your backyard, right at the back fence, were some huge bushes that were overgrown. There was a small opening under the branches. I recall climbing through this hole to sit under this bush for hours on end. The branches grew up and over, creating a bower big enough for young boys to imagine anything. The ground was packed flat and it smelled of Mother Earth. In the dead of summer it was always degrees cooler under that bush and it was easy to forget there was even a world beyond that curtain of green.

Sadly, I don’t even know what kind of bush it was. Maybe you do.

There was something so pastoral, peaceful, and memorable, about sitting under this bush, that I transferred it to the front yard of Zachary’s house in the fictional Farce Au Pain, which take place on Gilchrist and mirrors the houses we lived in in real life. I have Zachary and Adrian using this bush to spy on Gilchrist when no one could see them, which makes me realize—as I write this sentence—that I often do that as a journalist: embed myself in a group (behind a bush?) to see how they act when they don’t know a writer is watching. 

Maybe that’s why I am still looking for that bush. Do you know where it is, Ken?

Well, that’s it for now, Pastor Kenny. I’ll write another Pastoral Letter on the next solstice, or big holiday, or whenever I like, if it comes to that. If you do want to talk, reach out to me (to use a phrase that’s become a hoary cliché). I would welcome that.

Your childhood friend,
Marc