Saturday, September 26, 2009

Area Ministry: Whoever is not Against us is For Us!

Christ the Lord, Pinole, 9/27/09

Good morning and thank you for having me. My name is Este Gardner Cantor, and for a little over a year I have had the privilege of working as coordinating chaplain for a 28 year old chartered organization of the Diocese of California, “An Episcopal Ministry to Convalescent Hospitals.” Very soon after this name was chosen, it was recognized as way too unwieldy, so that unwieldy name was turned into an unpronounceable acronym- AEMCH. Sort of rhymes with the Yiddish word, mensch: but not quite.

As I have spoken to the elders of our organization who have blazed the trail before me, I began to piece together a creation story for AEMCH.

Well, In the beginning there was the Rev. Bill Clancy, dynamic Rector of All Souls Parish in Berkeley. And as far as an organized ministry to convalescent hospitals went, things were pretty much without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the East Bay. But Rev. Clancy had a bright idea and he said “let there be light” and Deacon Arlinda Cosby suddenly appeared across the table from him at a CDSP community night dinner and was positively lit up with enthusiasm for an idea he had.

This igniting spark of an idea was to form a ministry dedicated to those people who live in convalescent hospitals- people who Bill Clancy and Arlinda rightly felt to be among the most needful of fellowship, worship and friendship. The idea was to train, encourage and inspire each Episcopal parish to have a thriving ministry to at least one local convalescent hospital. So Arlinda proceeded to be the light in the firmament of heaven, to give light upon AEMCH for 27 years.

All Souls church was the first to be swept along, and St. Mark’s Berkeley next took flight, followed by St. Alban’s church in Albany which hit the ground running.

Many other East bay churches came on board with AEMCH, including your own, and the wonderful work of supporting, training and encouraging congregations to bring their energy and love and worship to the populations of their local convalescent homes began, providing the warmth that has warmed so many people. And Bishop Swing who was closely involved with AEMCH until his retirement, saw it all and saw that it was good.

I have had absolutely wonderful personal experiences with convalescent ministry and I have had wonderful community experiences with congregations doing this good work. The residents you see are not always bright and chipper, but you do meet some amazing people.

I got to know Camille Folker, who was 109 years old when she finally left us, sharp and funny and politically conscious as ever. When I first met her, and she was a mere lass of 108, I immediately complemented her on her sharpness and liveliness.

“What do ya mean?” She said “I’m lyin’ here like a wart on a pickle!” In her more serious moments she would tell me what she thought about when she woke at night and could not go back to sleep. “I think a lot about God,” she said. Then, back to her old self she said

“It comes in real handy being spiritual when you’re an old bag like me.” She remembered Indians in Mill Valley. She remembered when her family got their first model A and how handy it was not to have to crank it up. She remembered the 1906 earth quake- after all, she was born in 1899! I always felt I that I had traveled through time when I visited her.

I have had the pleasure of bringing youth groups and groups of children to convalescent hospitals and seeing how the faces of the elders light up at the sight of children. I am always struck by the commonality of the young and old and how small things- cards, cookies, ice cream- can be so enthusiastically shared between the generations.

And I have had the great pleasure of sharing the ministry with groups from various East Bay and now Marin and Contra Costa congregations, seeing how contagious the joy of this ministry can be. Seeing the wonders that a little attention and love can do for those who may not get many visitors, or any at all.

So on this day I am bringing to you the gospel of AEMCH, and for those of you who might be doubters, we have the perfect Gospel reading.

Ever since Bishop Marc began to talk about Area Ministry, I have been pleased to note that AEMCH was Area Ministry before there was Area Ministry. The gospel story today shows us a very early form of the competitiveness that sometimes exists between local parishes. John thinks he has done a good thing in castigating the non-homey exorcist, who was in fact doing what the disciples themselves had just failed to earlier in the same chapter- casting out a demon in the son of one of Jesus followers

But Jesus recognizes good work being done in his name, even outside of his small group of intimates. Jesus, I am sure, would have believed in Area Ministry.

According to Bishop Mark, Area Ministry encompasses three things:
Diversity in the participants, collaboration between parishes, and a non-word that Bishop Marc made up: “Embeddedness” in the community. In other words, action that will benefit the community in structures and institutions within the community. I am happy to say that AEMCH fulfills all three requirements. We welcome all parishes to join with us in this Jesus-filled work, that takes us out of our churches and into the institutions who need us so much. And to the individuals in those institutions who need our love, our touch, our listening and our worship services.

In the second half of the Gospel reading, Jesus gets really serious. He invokes the term “stumbling block” for whoever causes harm to his “little ones” in other words, his followers. He goes on to very sternly warn of the seriousness of sin, and to offer a few gruesome suggestions as to how to deal with our own foibles. I don’t believe he was literally speaking of removing body parts, but he may have been referring to something almost equally unpopular in our society: sacrifice.

Sacrifice of any kind, like discomfort of any kind, is avoided in our culture as much as self-amputation. We have a hard time sacrificing, which creates our own stumbling block to really living a life which honors us as Christians.

Discomfort is our stumbling block. If you had a crew from another planet come and look at how we actually spend our weeks, and they ignored Sundays, they might sometimes have a hard time telling that we are Christians. What do we actually do?

My favorite shorthand for the Christian life is in Mt. 25:35:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

When the disciples object that they never did these things for Jesus, he answers them back,

Inasmuch as you did it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me.

Jesus wants us to take care of, feed, clothe, visit and welcome the poor, the powerless, the friendless.

We have opportunities everyday to do these things, but I have never found a ministry that encompassed so many of these sweet dictates as the one I am presenting to you today.

I invite you from the bottom of my heart to join us in this joyous and communal ministry, to join me as we step over our stumbling blocks and live into the Kingdom of Heaven together, free of competition, free of fear and doing it in the name of Jesus.


Friday, September 11, 2009

A Lot to Swallow

Holy Innocents, Corte Madera
August 23, 2009 John 6:56-69

Once upon a conference, we were asked to identify what Christian feast day we would be if we could be any one of them. I jokingly said “Halloween.” Then I found that the next step was to begin to design a liturgy for that personal feast day. The group got into the spirit of the thing and I asked "OK- what would be a good hymn be for my Halloween liturgy?" Someone immediately began to sing “Eat my flesh, drink my blood…” Everyone laughed of course, but it did high-light the fact that it is a phrase that conjures up more vampire than messiah.

This hymn repeats the words from the Gospel of John verbatim- and in a hymn the words sound less shocking- less earthy and challenging. But as we know, Jesus never shrinks from being earthy or challenging. Instead he kind of rubs our face in it: “Eat my flesh and drink my blood. That’s a lot to swallow…

We have been going along on what I think of as the Summer of Bread for six weeks now, delving into the Gospel of John and it’s mysterious and profound meditation on the Bread of Life. Although the Gospel of John does not have a last supper breaking of the bread event, what is called the words of institution of the Eucharist, it does seem to have this very long and very significant reverie on the Eucharist.

There are many thoughts as to why this is. I read one source that felt that those words, “This is my Body which is given for you…and the rest of that section of our Eucharistic prayer, which first appeared in the letters of Paul : I Corinthians 11:23, was so sacred that the words were meant to be kept secret knowledge. But a half a century of so after Paul, the words were included, though slightly changed in Matthew, Mark and Luke. But no where in John.

Our Summer of bread begins with a miracle: the feeding of the five thousand, the followed by Jesus patient and persistent attempt to try to explain the deeper significance of this “sign.”

Then comes the first of three references to the Manna from heaven that God sent to the children of Israel during the Exodus in the wilderness. As is so often the case in the Gospel of John, a line is drawn between the traditions, miracles and feast days of the Old Testament and the revelations of the new- the manna was bread from heaven indeed, but after eating of it you still lived and died as you would have anyway. The Bread of Life is something altogether different- something above and beyond mere nourishment for the body. It is bread that will bring you a kind of utter transformation- a kind of radical real time abundance that Jesus calls eternal life. The people plead with Jesus, “Sir- give us this bread always.” The next week’s reading answers the hungry crowd with the beautiful words, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

This leads up to last week’s reading, when Jesus first uses the word abide - “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” In case anyone did not catch the distinction between manna from heaven and the bread of life, he makes it again. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” He says “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood ABIDE (or LIVE) in me, and I in them. Abide- is trannslated from the Greek work menos which has many meanings: abbide, remain, stay, live, dwell, last, endure, continue, await, wait for.

To abide in Jesus is all of that. He urges us to remain with him, stay with him, live with him, dwell with him, endure with him, continue with him and await him.

Finally, in this week’s passage, the last in our Summer of Bread, we are led to several essential elements to compete this long teatise on the Bread of Life.

The only reference (veiled though it is) to the last supper is heard nin the words, “Jesus knew which one would betray him.” Even this has a Eucharistic tone, because the only breaking or giving of bread in the last supper in the Gospel of John, consists of Jesus handing a morsel of bread to Judas, just before Judas betrays him. I have always felt that this underlined the universality of the mercy and grace of God- even when we are betrayers, God’s mercy is available to us, God will feed us still, the body and the blood are there for us still.

But with Jesus’ continued urging to eat his body and drink his blood, like so many of us, who read the teachings of Jesus, some of the disciples recoil. “This teaching is difficult- who can accept it?” They ask. And many of them desert him. Anticipating further betrayal, , Jesus says to his faithful twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

And it is the bumbling Peter, another one who exemplifies the faithlessness in all of us, who sees that there is no where else to go. Who proclaims that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Who says, “You have the words of eternal life..” And so we are harkened back to the beautiful prolog of John- Jesus is the word of God- the word made flesh. It is Jesus the word made flesh that is our bread- the word that is spirit and life. To me this is the meaning of the incarnation- the word made flesh- Jesus living the word of God. And if we truly allow Jesus to abide in us, and we in him, that spirit, that word will be incarnated in us. I beleive that the meaning of the incarnation of God in Christ is incomplete without the the incarnation of Christ in us. Of Christ abiding in us. Of Christ remaining with, staying with, living with, dwelling with, enduring with, continuing with and waiting, always waiting, for us.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bless Me a River

John 17: 6-19

The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Church of the Holy Innocents, Corte Madera

Today we are privileged to eavesdrop on an exquisite 3-part prayer Jesus prays to God his Father in the presence of his beloved disciples. This beautiful prayer is often called the high priestly prayer of Jesus. In the first part Jesus prays for himself, in the longest section (our Gospel for today) he prays for his disciples, and in the short last section he prays for the believers yet to come- you and me.

Jesus prays with great love and great concern for the welfare and protection of his small flock. He begins by affirming that he has made the name of God known to his disciples- he has made God himself known. He has in fact fulfilled the promise of the beginning verses of the Gospel of John- the glorious hymn that reads in part:

It is God the only Son who is close to the father’s heart, who has made God known.

This prayer we hear today often echoes the Lord’s Prayer, which is given to us in the Gospel of Matthew. The name of our Father in Heaven is frequently hallowed in this prayer. And references to the Kingdom proliferate: The disciple’s joy that will be made complete speaks of the coming of the Kingdom, as does the longed for oneness of the community- Jesus prays to God, “That they may be one as we are one.” Jesus asks God to “protect his disciples from the evil one” just as the Lord’s Prayer asks that we be delivered from evil. But this is not a prayer Jesus teaches us to pray. And this is not a discourse addressed to the disciples as the rest of the long farewell address at the last supper has been. Jesus prays this prayer directly to God for the disciples, for us, perhaps as a lesson. In his last hours on earth Jesus does not make a last ditch effort to give the disciples a final list of revelations. He addresses it all to God, as if to instruct that he is leaving the church in the hands of God, which is where the disciples should place their future and their hopes. They need to understand that the life of the community rests in God’s hands.

We get to hear as did the disciples, the utter intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God his father. The Hebrew word Abba, that Jesus used translates not as father, but as Daddy, an affectionate term you will not hear in used in Old Testament references to God- this intimate relationship with God was something new. Jesus’ faith in the love that God has for him is striking, and the confidence that he will be heard seems to be complete. ”You have given, you have loved, you have sent. Now keep, sanctify, and let them be one.” Jesus prays. Jesus is moving toward his pre-existent relationship with God- moving into a permanent oneness with Him. But for Jesus to return to this pre-existent glory, the incarnation must come to an end- Jesus must die. So there is an urgency- a poignancy to this intimate intercession.

When hearing Jesus’ great intimacy with God, we are given a glimpse of the Kingdom. We are given a glimpse of a relationship with God that transcends all limits and conventional notions of life. A glimpse of a day when our joy will in fact be complete, a day when God’s care and love and knowledge of us will be realized. We will experience the end of ordinary reality and the beginning of our reunion with the divine.

And finally, at the end of this prayer, it becomes clear that what we are hearing is a commissioning. We are to be sanctified in the truth. To sanctify is to be commissioned for some particular task, and therefore to be made holy. But it is mission that is the substance of this sanctification- the task is more important that the holiness.

And so the disciples, and you, and me, are being sent out- commissioned, to spread the truth. A chapter after our Gospel story, Jesus, being interrogated by Pilot, says to him,

I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilot famously asks him, “What is the truth?” Jn 18:37

Truth in the Gospel of John seems to be the whole of the revelation of God, and it seems to be synonymous with “the word,” and synonymous with Jesus. Jesus brings grace and truth (1:17); he is the truth (14:6) the true light (1:9); and the true vine (15:1) and he is the way, the truth and the life. This truth then, is the revelation of God’s substance as redeeming love as expressed in Jesus. Jesus then prays for the disciples to be set apart for the truth. This truth is both the sanctifying power and the purpose for the sending out of the disciples, for the sending out of all of us.

As much as the gospel message today is full of Jesus’ great love and protectiveness for his disciples, its last words are these words of commissioning- of dedication. The prayer is no less that the sanctification of the whole world through the sanctification of Jesus’ disciples.

I am reminded of a time I was preparing some young people to watch a baptism. I was about to show them the blessing over the water that is part of the baptismal service, when one rather precocious child said, “Shouldn’t we use living water- wild water for something like that? So we walked a short block to a creek in the park and we scooped up a bowl full of water. Having brought the prayer book with me I said the blessing over the water, and we prepared to head back to the church. Another one of the young people suddenly lit up and said “Why don’t we pour the holy water into the creek- then the creek will run into the river, and the river will run into the ocean, and all that water will be holy!” Unable to resist such an original theological thought, I handed the bowl to her and she poured the water into the creek. I never checked in with the creatures of the creek and on-ward to the sea, but we never forgot that day, when we sent out that blessing, all the way to the ocean.

Jesus poured his disciples into the river of the world, having sanctified them, having taught them to know God’s name, God’s truth and God’s son. And those disciples poured us out into that untested water. And in the last part of the priestly prayer, Jesus says, “May the love with which you have loved me be in them, and I in them.”

This is a solemn commissioning, but it is not without levity- even joy. Jesus wants to make our joy complete- he said so. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” He wants for us the joy of the children who were so easily welcomed into the kingdom of heaven, the joy of children who stop at nothing in their joyous attempts to sanctify a creek and a river and an ocean. If we can but glimpse that infinite love that exists between Jesus and his father, that Jesus so generously shared with us, if we can even begin to mirror it with our own fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and especially strangers, that blessing just might begin to stretch from ocean to ocean, and illuminate a truth we will never have to explain.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Feed My Sheep

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley

May 2, 2009

The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

Good Morning, and thank you for having me. Well, as we can hear from our exquisite readings, today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It seems appropriate on this day to honor the ministry that St. Marks has faithfully carried out for an amazing 25 years to the ever-changing flock of elders at Berkeley Pines Convalescent Hospital, and to listen to see if we might hear the voice of the shepherd calling us to do something similar.

All our beautiful readings today, and perhaps psalm 23 most gorgeously of all, sing the glories of the Good Shepherd- the glories of healing and nurturing, binding up wounds and protecting the weak. And like so many images in Jesus’ stories, the image of the good shepherd vs the bad Shepard (the hired hand in our Gospel of today) is an Old Testament reference, in this case from Ezekiel. Initially in the book of Ezekiel, the Lord God seems to damn all shepherds as selfish, careless, carnivorous. He childes the shepherds for only being interested in feeding themselves. He says,

You eat the fat, clothe yourselves with the wool, slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the sheep.

The Lord God then goes on to further scold the shepherds, pointing out the utter lack of the pastoral skills that later defined Jesus ministry:

You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not sought the lost.

In contrast to this image of a hungry, careless and selfish shepherd, The Lord God says:

I myself will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places they have been scattered on a day of thick darkness.

This is the course Jesus is claiming when he says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” If the wild animals come, the course of the good shepherd is staying with his sheep thereby risking his life to protect them. There was a practice of shepherds at the time of Jesus, of lying down to sleep across the threshold of the enclosure to insure that wild animals could not get in, and the sheep could not get out. This was literally laying down the body for the sake of the sheep, which recalls of Jesus laying down his life, with great willingness and authority, out of a great love for his flock.

What is described in all these beautiful words is a kind of true community, a community where the weak are protected and comforted. A community where there is chance for reconciliation and redemption for everyone.

In our reading from the first letter of John, it is our brothers and sisters for whom we are asked to lay down our lives. As Jesus has elsewhere said, it is the least of our brothers and sisters who most need to be found, healed, strengthened, loved. These are least esteemed of society, that Jesus always raised up- the sick, the poor, women, orphans and widows. The hired hand may have the job, he may be in the community, but he is doing little more than taking up space and feeding on lamb chops. We may feel sympathy and some identification with the hired hand because all the sacrifices that are implied in creating true community, putting other’s needs before our own, are hard to make in our present climate of economic crisis, flavored with swine flu. It might seem like it would be better to stay home- hold no one’s hand, avoid contact with the rest of the flock, keep your store of fat and wool close to your chests, hang on to what you’ve got. But it could be argued that too many hired hands and not enough Good Shepherds got us into our present situation where too many wolves are at the door of too many of our flock. I have heard it said that most people will not see the light until they feel the heat. We are feeling the heat of the neglect, worldwide, of the realities of true community. We really are utterly inter-dependent.

The only reading today that does not specifically sing the praises of the Good Shepherd is our reading from Acts, which celebrates a healing at the Beautiful Gate and the power of Jesus’ name.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit proclaims to the rulers of the people and the elders:

`The stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

has become the cornerstone.'

And he goes on to say that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus.

Well, what is it to be saved- what is salvation? We often hear that it means proclaiming Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. We might think it means that if we believe in Jesus, we will go to heaven and not to hell.

Or we may think of salvation as freedom from the prison of our membership in the society of the hired hand. Maybe salvation is freedom from the hell of living only to eat fat, wear wool and save our own necks, attractive as that hell might sometimes be to us all. But Jesus clearly points out that doing that is not the way to salvation. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and Jesus is the beautiful gate- and it is through him- through modeling, however imperfectly, his own acts of mercy and justice that we will be saved. And as he continually reminds us, the sacrifices we make toward this end shrink in comparison to all you get back- the life you take up again, the promise of overflowing abundance.

Maybe salvation is hearing and then answering the voice of the shepherd, calling us into true community, calling us to be a true shepherd, or at least a true member of the flock. The hired hand who runs away at the pain or need of a brother or sister, the loneliness of the old or the pain of the wounded, pays for his comfort with his soul. Pays with the loss of a community of the spirit.

Sometimes it is good to hear from a voice that is technically not of our flock- here is a reading from the brilliant Sufi mystic Jellaladin Rumi:

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

of walking in the noisy street,

and being the noise…

Open your hands,

if you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel

the shepherd’s love filling you….

Be empty of worrying.

Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?


Friday, April 17, 2009

The Unexpected Kingdom

A Reflection on Mt. 29:13:31- 13:52
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

I went on a pilgrimage recently, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that I had an experience of the Kingdom of Heaven in the most unexpected of places.

The destination of the pilgrimage was supposed to be the gigantic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where one would expect to have a revelation. But my first unlikely glimpse of the Kingdom was in the huge and dilapidated Methodist Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on 86th and Broadway. I stayed there for 8 days with my fellow priest, Father Richard, the other adult chaperone, Gay Johnson, and 7 of our wonderful high school youth.

There is no denying the fact that the church was a daunting place to live. We shared a shower with the homeless shelter, and after my first look, I attacked the stall with a long brush and some Comet and strove to make it look clean. But for all my scrubbing, this was not really possible. There was also a considerable population of mice in that church. We took to adopting the habits of wilderness campers who hang their packs high in the trees to keep them from the bears. We hung our bags from the wall lamps to keep them from the mice. Our youth group was housed in two fine rooms the first night- until a huge youth group took over one of our rooms, and then, later in the week, a third youth group was welcomed in, and even our plan B space became endangered.

There were always meetings going on in our room when we wanted to be there to rest. We soon learned that obtaining a set schedule for these meetings was not possible. When we wanted to use the kitchen, we would often find it occupied by some darn program feeding the homeless. It was an amazing experience to be there, but it certainly was uncomfortable. We actually considered leaving at one point, and then one of our youth pointed out to us we were on a pilgrimage, not a vacation.

I slowly began to realize that this dilapidated church we were camping in resembled nothing so much as the radically welcoming branches of the transformed mustard seed.

This church runs a women’s shelter. They host a food pantry, run by former clients, who are now happily employed there. The church sends out hundreds of Meals on Wheels packages every day. They have a mothers and babies group. They have a martial arts class for youth. They have a tutoring program. They have music classes in the sanctuary. The night we arrived there was a huge and joyous Indian flavored rock concert in progress, also in the sanctuary. They have a beautiful theatrical stage on the 2nd floor, which was used by no fewer than six theater groups. They have dozens of 12 step programs going all the time, and they often happened in the room we were staying in! The church houses a very large and rather famous radical synagogue, B’nai Jesurun. It also houses a Presbyterian church whose usual space was being renovated. During the Sunday service on Gay Pride Day all of the marchers were welcomed to the center of the church, and everyone laid hands on them to bless them on their march. They used inclusive language in every prayer- God was never a “he.”

Everyone was welcomed in- even us- even the mice. It seemed that no bird would be turned away from building a nest in this great tree, and if a place could be said to have a great heart, this one sure did.

It seemed to me that the blessing and the curse of being part of this great teeming Kingdom was the same thing- we were automatically part of the hospitality because we were given hospitality. We had to accept that our nest was just one of hundreds, and not the center of the tree. And after a while we found that even if we were bumped out of our room there was always somewhere for us to perch, and we found some rather lovely places. We could always camp on the cool and quiet balcony of the vast sanctuary, sometimes hearing the beautiful strains of music from some of our neighboring birds. It did feel a little like heaven up there.

The Kingdom of Heaven popped up unexpectedly again for me in quite another place- this time after the planned part of the pilgrimage was over.

My husband joined me after the pilgrims went home, and after a few days in New York, we decided to go to Washington DC to see the fireworks on the 4th of July. I had lived in Washington for many years, so I called an old boyfriend of mine, Art Grosman, who still lives there, and I asked if we could stay with him. He was delighted to offer us a room at the big brownstone he shares with his girlfriend. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years, but he hadn’t changed a bit. Long ago, when we were both professional hippies, we had crossed Canada together in our VW van, resplendent with tie-dyed curtains. When I saw him on this recent visit, he still had all the photos from that trip, which included the many and sometimes motley hitch-hikers we picked up along the way.

I left this man because he was always doing exactly what he had done for those hitch-hikers and for my husband and me. He was always inviting anyone and everyone to stay- every derelict old friend of his was welcome at the table. Art’s particular call was providing services for free that usually cost something. He started the Washington Free Press. He started the Washington Free clinic, and when he got together with his girlfriend, they housed the Washington Free School. I now realize that I had to leave him because my heart was not big enough. But I got to know his girlfriend Marty for the first time on this trip, and realized that this time he had found someone whose heart was big enough. Before he met her, Marty had already adopted two kids whose parents had been institutionalized. Nobody else wanted these kids. Then, once they got together, they spent the next 20 years, taking in emergency foster kids- kids whose parents were in prison, or on crack, or just not there. Some of these kids stayed for 10 years or more. During this time they managed to have two of their own biological kids as well.

Art is a Jewish atheist (like all my friends were in Washington), and so I was surprised to see an obituary tacked up on his wall for Kenneth Taylor, the man who started the huge Christian publishing house, Tyndale Press. Kenneth Taylor created “The Living Bible” which I have on my shelf because my grandfather gave it to me. This was an early attempt to put the bible into understandable English. I was told that this titan of the Christian publishing business was Marty’s father. He used to read the bible to his children every night and explain what it meant. One time Marty said, ”Well, if that’s what they mean, why don’t they just say it?” This was the catalyst for the creation of "The Living Bible.”

Art and Marty never married during their 30 year old courtship, and this was hard on Marty’s father. But I understand that before he died, he came to realize that Art and Marty were married in the eyes of God. And I hope he realized that contrary to appearances, the words of the bible he had read his daughter all those years had not fallen on deaf ears. Married or not, Marty and Art were doing the work of the Kingdom of Heaven-- taking in the homeless orphans, providing for the poor, opening their house to everyone who needed it- even me and my husband.

Being part of this bustling kingdom must not have been easy. I’m sure there were hardships for their birth children, navigating between so many little sheltered birds, and probably difficulties among the many foster children. And surely there were stresses between the two parents. But they too, apparently recognized that they were on a pilgrimage, not a vacation.

This led me to consider that life is, or should be a lot more like a pilgrimage than a vacation. And if we believe what Jesus tells us, that the Kingdom of God is at hand, maybe that Kingdom isn’t supposed to be entirely comfortable either. Or maybe in the Kingdom of Heaven we are transformed in a way that changes the meaning of being comfortable all together. How comfortable is the wolf when she lies down with the lamb? And if the lamb is comfortable, it is in a way we can’t yet fathom.

I read that if we wanted to have every human being on earth enjoy the lifestyle of an affluent North American, we would need four planet earths. I wonder if the bustling and rich kingdom of our New York City Methodist church, or the loving chaos of Art and Marty’s house could be microcosms of what life might be if we evened out the score on a global basis. It might not be comfortable in our own present terms, but it just might be our introduction into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I believe that in the Kingdom of Heaven, we all get enfolded in the great green branches spawned from that tiny mustard seed, we all glory in the abundance of unconditional love. And, if we can bear it, we get to bring out our treasures, both old and new, and scatter them out from our comfortable households throughout the whole of the Kingdom.


The Undefended Heart

The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
Reflection on John 12:22-33 and Jeremiah 31:31-34

Archbishop Desmond Tutu points out that Jesus did not say “I draw SOME people to myself." He said, "I will draw ALL people to myself.” And the most ancient texts are even more radically inclusive- they say, “I will draw all THINGS to myself.”

What strikes me about this passage, as with so much of what Jesus said is the radical inclusivity, the radical abundance, and the radical love that is illuminated, even with the approaching darkness.

The introduction of the Greeks at the very beginning clues us into the idea of universality- of an abundance of nationalities, of ethnicities. Then Jesus speaks of the grain of sand that dies, but then bears much fruit- in fact has to die in order to bear an abundance of fruit.

Jesus speaks of those who love their lives losing them- a frightening comment on the face of it. But it could be that those of us who hang on too desperately to our life as we need to see it (and I preach to myself here) may not end up with the kind of abundance we most want. Like us, the crowd in the story never seems to get what Jesus is talking about. Like us, they sometimes hear God speaking and all they perceive are storm warnings. But even in a storm, there can be abundance. In fact I have just recently heard it said that life is not about waiting for a storm to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

The things that I hear over and over again from Jesus, the things that stand out either because they are said so often, or because they are so revolutionary and impossible, are all expressions of divine abundance: abundance of love, of inclusivity and of courage:

Love your enemy
Let go of your possessions
And do not be afraid.

“Do not be afraid,” said mostly by angels or by Jesus, appears in scripture 365 times- perhaps once for every day of the year. So Jesus must have meant it we have to work this practice every day of our lives- have this faith on a daily basis- do not be afraid, no matter what.

In this terrifying time of economic insecurity I have had the twin traumatic experiences of losing my job, (and I am very sorry to be leaving you) and my daughter preparing for college, and so, potentially leaving me. And then a tragedy occurred that made my misfortunes seem like nothing. Someone I knew lost her child. Suddenly I realized that I had been living in riotous abundance- paradise, really, possessing a literal embarrassment of riches, without even noticing it. It also made me realize with a shock how fragile, how precious, and how terrifyingly unpredictatable life really is. I absorbed some of the shock myself and was initially plunged into fear. I learned the meaning of “pray without ceasing” and I saw at very close vantage point Job’s whirlwind.

I spent as much time as I could with my friend, and to my astonishment I saw grace and healing even in what I considered to be the very worse possible thing. Her community embraced her, she was not alone with the bearing of her cross, floods of love came her way, not just from her community but from her daughter’s sweet friends as well. I saw the beginning of healing, the beginning of resurrection.

And yet my friend’s loss struck me in the heart- removed my denial that something like that could ever happen even to someone I knew, let alone to me. In our passage today the human Jesus tells us, “Now my soul is troubled.” He apparently is fearful because he forsees his own death, and perhaps tempted to say what he did say in the Gospel of Luke “Take this cup from my lips.” But Jesus is steadfast and heaven answers him that he made the right decision, that his Father’s name will be glorified. The fearful moment seems to pass.

It is somehow comforting to have an incarnated God who is sometimes fearful, sometimes in pain and grief and even rage. Jesus cries tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, he weeps at the death of his friend Lazareth, he explodes into a violent rage at the money changers in the temple. And yet he somehow returns to faith, to love, to an awareness of God’s abundance. Even at the threat of death, even through death itself.

In the Old and New Testaments, there is a constant reminder that God’s abundance, God’s grace is limitless, and is there is for all people- therefore there really is enough for everyone, in spite of our fears. I have heard this described as God’s “more-than-enoughness.”

We are now moving to the end of Lent, and we are asked by Christ to mimic the ridiculous abundance of the anointing woman- to have such over-flowing abundant love that we wash each other’s feet- doing the work of a slave, as Jesus the master did. Jesus models the abundance he sees in God his father, described in the scripture he knew so well. In Genesis, God makes his covenant, when he places the rainbow in the sky, not with humans only, but with all creation.

God Blesses Abraham and Sarah so that they will bless all nations.

And when the Pharoah finally lets the Hebrews slaves go, they start on their way across the wilderness, with “A mixed multitude and very many animals, both flocks and herds.” So it follows that the covenant at Sanai was not given only to the Jews, but to all people- to the whole “mixed multitude” of humanity. To ALL of us, God extravagantly declared, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

With the birth of Jesus, it was the foreigners, the non-Jewish Magi who found the Christ child- the abundance of revelation was not only given to the chosen people even in this treasured nativity story of ours. They brought valuable gifts, like the nard ointment the woman poured so recklessly on Jesus’ head, like the spices brought by the women at the tomb to lavish on what they thought was their dead master.

In the Revelation to John, he speaks of “a great multitude that no one could count, of every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the Lamb.”

And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I will draw ALL people to myself.” This is Jesus of the undefended heart- the mind of Christ that St. Paul urged us to attempt. Jesus always accepted, always loved “all people.” The undefended heart knows no fear, knows no limitation, and excludes no one. Jesus’ impossible but persistent teaching is that we love abundantly-fearlessly- even our enemies. That we have nothing to be afraid of, because abundant life is all around us in the abundant love of God. As the Buddhist/Christian poet and holy man Thick Nat Hahn has said “The winds of grace are always blowing- you have only to put up your sails.”

It may not look like the abundant life we thought we should have. It may sound like thunder and look like crucifixion. It may scare the daylights out of us. But Jesus said “I will always be with you”- this is the meaning of Emmanuel- “God with us.”

Jesus would have known well the beautiful passage from Jeremiah about the new covenant. This is one of my very favorite passages in the whole bible. How can we think the Old Testament is Old when it contains the New Covenant?

"The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah."

We have the rainbow covenant in Genesis and the covenant at Sinai revealed to be for all people- surely this promise is as well: Surely the law will be written in all of our hearts. Surely the struggle can end- straining to know the law, know the Lord, know the answers to everything. Surely this promise holds abundantly for all people- that we will know God without fear, and know that even in all circumstances, even in the very worst circumstances, even in our pain and in our fear, that we are deeply and abundantly forgiven, and deeply and abundantly loved, and that God is with us.

Then we can feel, beating in our breast, the undefended heart, the heart that has opened up and let go of fear where God can and will write her law.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Cosmic Freedom Walk

To my myriad readers, I offer apologies that I have not posted for so long... Since I took on a second job,(the below described AEMCH) I feel I have had little time to breathe.

HOWEVER, in the first week of December I was blessed to attend the CREDO clergy retreat, and I did get quite an eye-opening break.

I realized that I wanted to incorporate more of my background in the arts (theater and filmmaking) into my work. No sooner had I returned than an opportunity to do just that presented itself.

I had already signed up to be on the design team for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend youth Nightwatch at Grace Cathedral, when I had a thought. Here it was the celebration of MLK coming one day before the inauguration of the first African American president in our history- I thought we should do something BIG! SO I recalled the event that Bishop Marc brought us 2 years ago- the Cosmic Walk. This is a walk around a spiraled rope set on the ground, with votive candle set to mark great landmarks of evolution, beginning with the big bang, right up to the present day.

SO I thought- let's do a history of civil rights and the struggle for freedom leading up to the election of Barack Obama! I didn't have a name for it, but when I went to our next meeting, Deacon Carolyn Bolton came up with the name the Cosmic Freedom Walk.

After struggling with WHERE TO BEGIN I decided to begin with the birth of Sojourner Truth. It was designed as multi-media extraviganza, with Jim Freidrich as our VJ (video disjockey, projecting images and film clips of the struggle) and Bertie Pearson and DJ, weaving in songs of the movement, and other great songs like "Strange Fruit."

The Cosmic Freedom Walk began with a gospel song of creation, sung by Eloise Carey, a wonderful gospel singer from Shiloe church in Oakland. Then she read a wonderful poem of creation by James Weldon Johnson, tossing out a beach ball with planet earth painted on it and spraying the air with glitter for the stars, and squirting the youth with water for the creation of the oceans.

Then we transitioned into the long walk of freedom. I began the story, Carolyn Bolton continued, followed by Clinton Williams and finally Will Scott. At each great marking of history, the youth lighted a candle- for the birth of Sojourner Truth, the life of Frederick Douglass, the emancipation proclamation, the right of women to vote, the stone wall riot, etc. THE WHOLE text follows.

The Cosmic Freedom Walk

Then singing- low and sweet.
still in darkness, a woman’s voice singing
And God stepped out on space,
And looked around and said,
"I'm lonely --
I'll make me a world."

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
The large candle is lit, Image of CREATION comes up on screen
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said, "That's good!"
Then God reached out and took hold of the light,
Actor lifts up the large candle
And God rolled the light around
Until the sun was made;
And God set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
Lift the candle high
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball

And flung it against the darkness,
Toss smaller ball into crowd
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Handful of glitter is thrown out, some head of speaker
Then down between
The darkness and the light
God hurled the world;
Toss out ball of Earth from Space
And God said, "That's good!"
Then God stepped down –
Gesture to candle at right hand
And the sun was on God’s right hand,
And the moon was on God’s left;
The stars were clustered about God’s head,
Glitter is sprinkled on Actor’s head
And the earth was under God’s feet.
And God walked, and where God trod
God’s footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then God stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
Actor steps to edge of labyrinth
And spat out the seven seas;
Sound effect spitting, volunteer squirts water on youth
God’s eyes batted, and the lightnings flashed;
God clapped, and the thunders rolled;
Loud clap
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Youth aspurging continues
Then God raised a hand and waved it
Over the sea and over the land,
And God said, "Bring forth! Bring forth!"
And quicker than God could drop that hand.
Youth act out surrounding the labyrinth playing the…
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said, "That's good!"
Youth all quiet- sit down
Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that God had made.
God looked at the sun,
And God looked at the moon,
And God looked at the little stars;
God looked on the whole world
With all its living things,
And God said, "I'm lonely still."

Then God sat down
On the side of a hill to think;
By a deep, wide river God sat down;
Head in hand,
And God thought and thought,
Till God thought, "I'll make me some folk!"

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
A boy and a girl come forward and lie down in the labyrinth
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
God kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over 2 lumps of clay
Pick up each of their hands and “mold” them
Shaping them in God’s own image;

Then into that clay God blew the breath of life,
And they became two living souls.
Youth sit up and look around
Amen. Amen.

Youth stay there and wait to light the first 2 candles.

So God created the world and it was good. And the people were free.

But unfortunately, one of the first things people did with this freedom was to enslave others. This is the story of the freedom that was denied many people. This is the story of the struggle for that freedom- the exodus from slavery, and the promise of a dream.

But the world of slavery lasted a long time. Here is an eye-witness description of a slave ship unloading it’s grief-stricken cargo in 1620:

“But what heart could be so hard as not to be pierced with piteous feeling to see that company? For some kept their heads low and their faces bathed in tears…crying out loudly… others struck their faces with the palms of their hands, throwing themselves full length on the ground and made their lamentations in the manner of a dirge. Then those who had charge of the captives…began to separate fathers from sons, husbands from wives, brothers from brothers. And you who are so busy in making that division of the captives, look with pity upon such misery, see how they cling to one another so that you can hardly separate them.”

Into a world of slavery, a girl child was born one day in 1797. Her people were from Africa, and she was born of slaves. Her name was Isabella Baumfree, but she came to be known as Sojourner Truth.
She was sold when she was nine years old, for $100.00 along with a herd of sheep. She was cruelly abused by her new owners, and when she was grown, she ran away with her youngest daughter, and was given refuge by a Quaker couple.
During this time, Isabella had a life-changing religious experience -- becoming "overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence" and inspired to preach. She quickly became known as a remarkable preacher whose influence, people said, "was miraculous."
She worked with the abolishionist William Llyoyd Garrison and the great activist Frederick Douglass, and was an early activist for women’s rights .In 1854, at the Ohio Woman's Rights Covention in Akron, Ohio, she gave her most famous speech -- with the legendary phrase, “Ain’t I a Woman?” At 6 feet tall and strong as steel, some doubted this:
"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place, and ain't I a woman? ... I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me -- and ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear the lash as well -- and ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me -- and ain't I woman?". .
Let’s light a candle for Sojourner Truth
The life of Sojourner Truth spanned over many landmark events:

In February 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky. He was to become a great president, and the one with the distinction of setting the slaves free after the great and tragic Civil War.
“Whenever I heard someone speak out in support of slavery, I have a strong desire to see it tried on him personally.”
Let’s light a candle for Abraham Lincoln.

In 1848- the first American Women's Rights Convention takes place in Seneca Falls, New York. Two powerful anti-slavery workers were there: Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Along with Susan B. Anthony, these women began to use the same power they had found to try to free the slaves in removing the shackles from their own hands.
In1850 Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin. The book revealed the cruelty visited on the slaves and humanized them as no other work had done. Abraham Lincoln later welcomed her into the White House saying, “Here comes the little lady who started the Civil War!”

In November,1860, Abraham Lincoln is elected President. On the 20th of December, South Carolina becomes the first state to secede from the Union.
In 1861- The Civil war begins
In 1863- President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation takes effect on New Year's Day. The slaves in some states are free at last.
Lets Light a candle for Freedom

In 1865- Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude in all states
Booker T.Washington, the great African American author and teacher, observed this scene as a child:

“As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom.... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see. “
On the April 9th 1965, General Robert E. Lee surrenders to the General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia, ending the Civil War.
in 1866- The Ku Klux Klan, a white terrorist group, is founded in Nashville, Tennessee.

Black men are legally granted the right to vote on February 3, 1870- fifty years before the vote is granted to women.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, the number of lynchings of black men rose drastically. Between 1889 and 1918, 3,224 people are murdered as the result of lynchings. The lynchings were so common and the value of black life so cheap that families would actually take a picnic to the hangings and watch with their children.
Let’s light a candle for sll those who died from these terrible acts.

In the middle of this massive brutality against her people, Sojourner Truth quietly made her last exodus and passed away, on November 26,1883.

By 1909 Black Americans were beginning to organize to fight back against the cruelties of the day. W.E.B. Du Bois, the brilliant civil rights activist and writer, founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Among its early crusades is a movement for anti-lynching legislation. Using graphic leaflets, the NAACP highlights the thousands lynchings in the early years of the twentieth century, exposing their horror and condemning authorities for failing to investigate them.
Light a candle for W.E.B. Dubois

In 1920, during World War I, women finally earned the right to vote. After courageously submitting to harassment, forced feedings during their protest fasts, and prison, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, guaranteeing women the right to vote. Attempting to build on this victory, in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment, calling for equal pay for women is first proposed. After 86 years, it is still not part of the U.S. Constitution.
Amazingly, as early as 1924 there was some stirring for the civil rights of gay Americans. The Society for Human Rights in Chicago becomes the country's earliest known gay rights organization.
Lets light a candle for human rights for everyone


On the 15th of January 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. is born in Atlanta. No other figure looms as large in the story of freedom and civil rights. He was the Moses that his people had been waiting for to lead them on their Exodus out of slavery. His mother was a school teacher and his father was a minister, and they and instilled strong principles of social justice and morality in their son. All his life he was influenced by the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets.

“Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. …the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of women and men.”- Martin Luther King Jr.
Let’s light a candle for Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1938, a singer becomes a symbol for the dream of equality…

Eleanor Roosevelt publicly resigned from the DAR over this incident, but neither she nor her husband the President publicly speak out against the laws which segregated schools and public restaurants and institutions of all kinds.
Let’s light a candle for Marian Anderson.

In 1941 the United States enter WW II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor

On May 3, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt issues Civilian Exclusion Order 34, which states that all persons of Japanese ancestry – even American citizens-- are to be removed from Military Area No. 1 and placed in internment camps. Many of them remain in the camps until 1946.
August 1945: 140,000 die in Hiroshima. On August 9th, 80,000 die in Nagasaki.
Let us light a candle for the innocent victims of Hiroshima/Nagasaki

In - July 1948,President Truman orders the desegregation of the Armed Forces. But Truman's order is not implemented until after the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950. The process of desegregating the Army is not "complete" until 1954, at which point no unit is more than 50% black.

In June 1949 the French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir writes The Second Sex. It is a work on the treatment of women throughout history and often regarded as a major work of feminist literature. In it she argues that women throughout history have been defined as the "other" sex, an aberration from the "normal" male sex. Women reading her book were startled to recognize themselves in De Beauvoir’s portrait of a wife, quoted from Marie Le Hardouin’s “La Voile Noir” (The Black Veil).

"We lived in misery. I put my eyes out mending his clothes. Sickness threatened our only child with death. But a gentle, crucified smile was on my lips, and in my eyes was that expression of silent courage which I have never been able to bear the sight of in real life without disgust."

The book began the stirrings that would explode into the women’s movement of the 1970’s.

Let’s light a candle for Simone de Beauvoir

On May 17, 1954, The Supreme Court rules on the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, all agreeing that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. The ruling paves the way for large-scale desegregation. It is a victory for NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, who will later return to the Supreme Court as the nation's first black justice.

In Aug. 1955 fourteen-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till is visiting family in Mississippi when he is kidnapped, brutally beaten, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Two white men, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, are arrested for the murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. They later boast about committing the murder in a Look magazine interview. The case becomes a cause célèbre of the civil rights movement.

Let's light a candle for Emmett Till


In a carefully orchestrated act of civil disobedience on Dec 1, 1955, civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who worked closely with Dr. King, refuses to give up her seat at the front of the “colored section” of a bus to a white passenger. In response to her arrest the Montgomery black community launches a bus boycott, which lasts until buses are desegregated a year later, a great early victory for the civil rights movement.

Let’s light a candle for Rosa Parks
Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas was to begin the 1957 school year desegregated. Nine black students are blocked by a mob of 1,000 town people from entering the school on orders of Governor Oryal Faubus. President Eisenhower sends in federal troops and the National Guard on behalf of the students who become known as the “Little Rock Nine.”
Light a candle for the courage the Little Rock Nine

Over the spring and summer of 1961, student volunteers begin taking bus trips through the South to test out new laws that prohibit segregation in bus and railway stations. Several of the groups of "freedom riders," as they are called, are attacked by angry mobs along the way. The program, sponsored by The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), involves more than 1,000 volunteers, black and white.
Light a candle for the freedom riders.
In 1962 James Meredith becomes the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Violence and riots surrounding the incident cause President Kennedy to send 5,000 federal troops.

In the planning for the up-coming March on Washington, of August 1963, one of Martin Luther Kings closest advisors was Bayard Rustin. He was a civil rights activist, who mostly worked behind the scenes because he was gay. He counseled Martin Luther King, on the techniques of non-violent resistance drawing on his Quaker roots and his early associations with W.E.B Dubois and James Weldon Johnson who were frequent guests in his childhood home. Rustin became an advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian causes in the latter part of his career; however, his sexual orientation was the reason for attacks from many governmental as well as interest groups throughout his career..
A year before his death in 1987, Rustin said:

"Twenty-five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian."
He died on August 24, 1987, having seen great strides in the cause of gay rights that he worked for as hard as he worked for civil rights for all people.
Let's light a candle for Bayard Rustin

On Aug 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. led the famous March on Washington. In spite of worries that violence would erupt, civil rights organizers proceeded with this historic event that would come to symbolize the civil rights movement. Here, Dr. King gave his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial:

• Denise McNair , eleven years old,
• Cynthia Diane Wesley , fourteen years old
• Carole Rosamond Robertson, fourteen years old
• Addie Mae Collins, fourteen years old

Let’s light a candle for these innocent children
This tragedy galvanized the civil rights movement.

On Civil Rights, President John F. Kennedy believed in the moral correctness of integration. JFK was prepared to use the power of the federal government to uphold the law, as he did when he sent troops to protect the admittance of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi, and later to more peacefully force integration at the University of Alabama.
On Nov 22, 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade in Dallas Texas beside his wife. John F. Kennedy believed deeply in justice for all races, and in his short tenure, was a champion for civil rights.
Let’s light a candle for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

1964 was the summer known as “Freedom Summer.” The Council of Federated Organizations began a campaign to register as many black voters as possible. On June 21: James E. Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, three Mississippi Freedom Summer workers, who had just completed a training on how to help blacks register to vote, are murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. The murders cause a national uproar, and paved the way for President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act.

Let’s light a candle for the freedom workers

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed by President Johnson on July 2, 1964. In his first address to Congress and the nation as President, Johnson called for the passing of the civil rights bill as a monument to the fallen Kennedy. The act makes it illegal to discriminate in employment and illegal to segregate public facilities.

On Feb. 21, 1965 Malcolm X, black nationalist and founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, is shot to death. It is believed the assailants are members of the Black Muslim faith, which Malcolm had recently abandoned in favor of orthodox Islam.

Malcolm X was an African American Muslim minister, public speaker, and human rights activist. He adopted the last name “X” because his African name had been lost to history and he did not want to keep the name of his ancestor’s master. He was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans

While in prison, Malcolm X became a member of the Nation of Islam. After his parole in 1952, he became one of the Nation's leaders and chief spokesmen. For nearly a dozen years, he was the public face of the Nation of Islam.

After leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X made the pilgrimage to Mecca and became a Sunni Muslim. He founded Muslim Mosque, Inc., a religious organization, and the secular, black nationalist Organization of Afro-American Unity. Less than a year after he left the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X was assassinated while giving a speech in Harlem, in New York City.


“You're not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.”

Let’s light a candle for Malcolm X
In March of 1965 a march begins to Montgomery from Selma Alabama in support of voting rights for blacks.

What came to be called “Bloody Sunday” became the catalyst for pushing through the voting rights act five months later.

On August 10, 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for blacks to register to vote. Literacy
Tests and taxes at the polls were made illegal.

In June of that same year, a young, white Episcopal seminarian named Jonathan Daniels wrote to his home church in New Hampshire about working for civil rights in Alabama:

"Our life [down here] is filled with ambiguity, and we are beginning to see as we never saw before that we are truly in the world and yet ultimately not of it. For through the bramble bush of doubt and fear... we are groping our way to the realization that above all else, we are called to be saints."

Two months later, Jonathan and three fellow activists were walking into a small town grocery to buy some cold drinks on a hot August afternoon. Two of them were white, two were black. The store owner met them at the door, pointing a shotgun at 16-year-old Ruby Sales and screaming about "niggers" on his property. Jonathan pushed Ruby to the ground and shielded her with his body as the man pulled the trigger. Jonathan died, but Ruby lived. Martin Luther King would later call this "one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard..."
Let’s light a candle for Jonathon Daniels.

In 1966 the National Organization for Women is founded. Betty Freidan co-founded the U.S. National Organization for Women with 27 other people, co-authoring the founding platform with the first Black Episcopal woman priest, Pauli Murray.

In 1963 she wrote “The Feminine Mystique,” a bestseller, which some people suggest was the impetus for the second wave of feminism, (the first being the suffragettes in 1918) and significantly spurred the women's movement.

Let’s light a candle for Betty Freidan and freedom for women

1966- The militant Black Panthers are founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, Calif.

June 12 , 1967: In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court rules that prohibiting interracial marriage is unconstitutional. Sixteen states that still banned interracial marriage at the time are forced to revise their laws.

On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the last speech of his life.
The next day, he was gunned down on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Let’s light a candle for Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1968, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, a strong weapon in the continuing fight against discrimination.

César Estrada Chávez was an American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. His work led to great advances for union laborers in wages and working conditions.

Later in life, education became César's focus. The walls of his office in Keene, California were lined with hundreds of books ranging in subject from philosophy, and economics, to biographies of Gandhi and the Kennedys. He was a vegan. Influenced by Ghandi, one of his most dramatic acts was a 25 day fast in 1969 to protest deplorable conditions for farm workers.

He died after several days of a protest fast in 1993, and was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton after his death.
Let’s light a candle for Ceasar Chavez

In 1969 The Stonewall riots transform the gay rights movement from one limited to a small number of activists into a widespread protest for equal rights and acceptance. Patrons of a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn, fight back during a police raid on June 27, sparking three days of riots. This was the first instance in American history when gays and lesbians fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted homosexuals, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the modern gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

Let’s light a candle for the courageous demonstrators of Stonewall

In 1973, reflecting a growing consciousness of the normalcy of gay life the American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders

Harvey Bernard Milk was an American politician and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Politics and gay activism were not early interests of Milk's; he did not feel the need to be open about his homosexuality or participate in civic matters until his experiences in the counterculture of the 1960s, when he was about 40 years old. Milk served 11 months in office as city supervisor in 1977 and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city.

On November 27, 1978, Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned and wanted his job back. Despite his short career in politics, Milk has become an icon in San Francisco and a martyr for gay rights.


"Without hope, not only gays, but those who are blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors -- the 'us's' -- without hope the 'us's' give up. I know that you can't live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you have got to give them hope." - Harvey Milk, "Hope Speech."

Let’s light a candle for Harvey Milk.


In the early 1980's AIDS began to devastate the gay population in many American cities. The first AIDS cases in the United States were reported in 1981, but the illness was not referred to as "AIDS" until 1982. Because of continuing prejudice, the education and research that was so desperately needed from the government to fight the crisis was tragically meager and fatally slow.
Let's light a candle to those we lost tin the AIDS epidemic.
Even in the midst of this devastation of the gay community, there was an awakening of consciousness. In 1982, Wisconsin becomes the first state to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In 1989, Denmark became the first country to legalize same-sex partnerships. And Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and France followed suit.

A new expression of black culture, Hip Hop music, began in the Bronx, in New York City in the 1970s, born of Jamaican and African roots. It was initially popular among African Americans and Latino Americans, but is now embraced by many cultures.
By 1979, hip hop had began to enter the American mainstream. It also began its spread across the world. The lyrics had often been political, possibly inspired by the early rap poem, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scot-Heron in 1970. By the late 1980’s Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back became surprisingly successful, even though its tone was militant and confrontational.
In the 1990s, a form called gangsta rap became a major part of American music, causing a lot of controversy over lyrics which seemed to promote violence, promiscuity, drug use and misogyny. Continuing into the year 2000, Hip hop was a staple of popular music charts. Male rappers like Dead Prez now use the form as a vehicle for protest songs, as in the social justice influenced Dead Prez song Hip Hop.
And some feminist rappers like Queen Latifah use politically conscious lyrics, as in the anti-mysogyny Queen Latifah song, “Unity:”

“Instinct leads me to another flow, every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or ho, tryin to make a sister feel low You know all of that got to go. Now everybody know there’s exceptions to this rule, no don’t be getting’ mad when we’re playin’- its cool But don’t you be callin’ out my name, I’ll bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame- who you callin a bitch?”
Let’s light a candle for Queen Latifa and the Hip Hop generation

In 1993, the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy is instituted for the U.S. military, permitting gays to serve in the military but banning homosexual activity. President Clinton's original intention to revoke the prohibition against gays in the military was met with stiff opposition; this compromise has led to the discharge of thousands of men and women in the armed forces.

In 2000, Vermont becomes the first state in the country to legally recognize civil unions between gay or lesbian couples. The law states that these “couples would be entitled to the same benefits, privileges, and responsibilities as spouses.” It stops short of referring to same-sex unions as marriage, which the state defines as heterosexual.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country legalizing same-sex marriages
Let’s light a candle for equal rights for all marriages

On January 30, 2006, Coretta Scott King dies of a stroke at age 78. The widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. was an author and courageous activist, and alongside her husband, Coretta Scott King helped lead the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Scott King's most prominent role may have been in the years after her husband's 1968 assassination; following Dr. King's death, Mrs. King was responsible for finding a new leader of the civil rights movement; when others turned down the leadership position, Mrs. King took on the mantle of leadership herself, remaining a vital and powerful voice in American politics until her death in 2006.
Let's light a candle for Correta Scott King

In February 2007 Emmett Till's 1955 murder case, reopened by the Department of Justice in 2004, is officially closed. The two confessed murderers, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were dead of cancer by 1994, and prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to pursue further convictions.

In 2008 Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fight a long battle for the Democratic nomination for President. The fight is extraordinary, since to the amazement of many, the two front runners are a white woman and a black man. Barack Obama wins the nomination, and later names Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Referring to the 17 million supporters who voted for her to be the nominee, Clinton said,

“We may not have crashed through the glass ceiling of the presidency, but there are about 17 million cracks in that ceiling now.”

Let’s light a candle for Hilary Clinton
On Nov 4, 2008 Barack Hussein Obama is elected 44th President of the United States of America.

In an historic speech on race during the election, Obama said,
“We have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism. We can tackle race as a spectacle… we can do that. Or at this moment, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind. Not this time.”

Lets light a candle for Barack Obama, and celebrate the dream!
Everyone starts singing Aint gonna let nobody Turn Me ‘Round