Archive for November 2011


November 23, 2011

Melinda and I were out running errands last Saturday afternoon. Because of traffic on the freeway, we took a route that we don’t usually take, and we drove past a church where a friend of ours serves as the pastor. Like at many churches, they have a sign, a marquee out front. This one had the sermon title and the hour of the service, as is typical–but we both noticed that the pastor’s name wasn’t included.

I think that Melinda was upset a little bit, but I was delighted. I told her why: so many churches proclaim the name of the pastor, but that’s not who it’s about. She immediately got it. Good for our friend!

Then this week I pulled out a book of little ditties called Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner, an author and a Presbyterian minister. I love Fred Buechner, and this is one of those well-worn volumes in my library. Flipping through this book, I stopped to read what Buechner had to say about revelation. Right after that was the topic “Reverend.”


     A title of respect to be used only in the third person, if then. Speak about the Reverend Samuel Smith if you have to, but never go up to him and say, “That’s telling them, Reverend!” any more than you’d go up to a Congressman and say, “How are things in Washington, Honorable?”
Reverend means to be revered. A minister is not to be revered for who he is in himself, but for who it is he represents, just as the British Ambassador is seated at the hostess’s right not because of his beaux yeux but because he represents the Queen.

     (See also MINISTER)

+ + + + +

[Okay, so there’s that little problem of non-inclusive language. It grates at me, sure, but in the first place, Buechner was born in 1926; when he went to seminary and then was ordained, all ministers were male. In the second place, this book was published in 1973. And finally, Buechner is a tremendous advocate for inclusivity–for women, for LGBT folks, for everyone. He preached in 1997 at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly, the national church convention, in 1997, talking about how he had experienced God more at a lesbian wedding–a service officiated by a female minister) than he had in church for a long time.]

But I digress

I live and am an elder in San Gabriel Presbytery. Southern California isn’t like the rest of the country in most ways, and our version of presbyterianism is no different. Teaching Elders (as ministers are now called) and Ruling Elders (elected congregational leaders) both serve as voting commissioners to the presbytery (regional governing body); historically they differ in function only, as they (along with Deacons) take the same ordination vows with the exception of one question having to do with responsibilities. But here the presbytery moderator (elected for one year as vice-moderator who then becomes the moderator of presbytery, and then the moderator of presbytery council) seems to be a job for male ministers, since we have just elected our fourth male minister in a row. At least this most recent one, unlike the previous three, is non-European American… And all of the committee chairs–the ones who have presentation roles at our presbytery meetings–are ministers. There are only three elders on the presbytery council: two at-large, and one the chair of a “minor” committee (ironically, the presbytery’s Committee on Representation). Worship at presbytery meetings almost always features a sermon or message from the pastor of the host church, and prayers and other parts of the service are almost always given by “Rev. So-and-So” as listed in the worship bulletin. We rarely see the names of nor hear the voices of ruling elders, either in the church’s work or it it’s worship.

Yep. Clergy-centric. This is sad. It’s certainly not the church of our founder John Calvin (who himself was probably not ordained). And it’s certainly not the church that professes to dislike the idea of having bishops or popes.

+ + + + +

And, in case you’re curious, here’s what Buechner says about “minister”–and remember: 1973… also that he also wrote a book called Son of Laughter:

There are three basic views:

1.  A minister is a Nice Guy. He’ll take a drink if you offer him one, and when it comes to racy stories, he can tell a few right along with the best of them. He preaches a good sermon, but he’s not one of these religious fanatics who thinks he’s got to say a prayer every time he pays a call. When it comes to raising money, he’s nobody’s fool and has all the rich old ladies eating out of his hand. He has bridged the generation gap by introducing things like a rock group at the eleven o’clock service and what he calls rap sessions on subjects like drugs and sex instead of Sunday school. At the same time he admits privately that though the kids have a lot going for them, he wishes they’d cut their hair. He’s big on things like civil rights, peace, and encounter groups. He sends his children to private school. He makes people feel comfortable in his presence by showing them that he’s got his feet on the ground like everybody else. He reassures them that religion is something you should take seriously but not go overboard with.
2.  A minister has his head in the clouds which is just where a man should have it whose mind is on higher things. His morals are unimpeachable, and if you should ever happen to use bad language in his presence, you apologize. He has a lovely sense of humor and gets a kick out of it every time you ask him if he can’t do something about this rainy weather we’ve been having. He keeps things like sex, politics, race and alcoholism out of his sermons. His specialty is religion, and he’s wise enough to leave other matters to people who know what they’re talking about.
3.  A minister is as much an anachronism as an alchemist or a chimney sweep. Like Tiffany glass of the Queen of England, he is a camp figure whose function is primarily decorative. Although their various perspectives are admittedly limited, Maharishis, Communists, homosexuals, drug addicts, and the like are all to be listened to for their special insights. The perspective of ministers, on the other hand, is so hopelessly distorted and biased that there is no point in listening to them unless you happen to share it.

     The first minsters were the twelve disciples. There is no evidence that Jesus chose them because they were brighter or nicer than other people. In fact the New Testament record suggests that they were continually missing the point, jockeying for position and, when the chips were down, interested in nothing so much as saving their own skins. Their sold qualification seems to have been their initial willingness to rise to their feet when Jesus said, “Follow me.” As St. Paul put it later, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
When Jesus sent the twelve out into the world, his instructions were simple. He told them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:2) with the implication that to do either right was in effect to do both. (see HEALING) Fortunately for the world in general and the church in particular, the ability to do them is not dependent on either moral character or I.Q. To do them in the name of Christ is to be a minister. In the name of Christ not to do them is to be a bad joke.

     (see also REVEREND)

And under VOCATION, Buechner say in part, “The place God calls us to is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Amen.

Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.
Copyright 1973 by Frederick Buechner.
Harper & Row.


Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20, 2011

We all have friends. Some, of course, are closer than others. Some are close enough that we call them our chosen family.

I had a friend named Greg who was like that.

Greg was transgender. More accurately, Greg was bi-gender–the only person I’ve ever known to use that terminology. Ze (a gender-neutral pronoun often preferred by transgender people) was also Delia (deh-LIE-a) but the personal expression that I knew best was Greg.

[I know this sounds weird. That’s because I don’t have the right words, not because of the person I knew and loved. Greg/Delia wasn’t a multiple personality. Ze flowed freely back and forth, but was mostly integrated into one being. It’s hard for me to explain, but I never had a problem with it because of the human being who ze was. But since I knew Greg best, I’ll use Greg for this post.]

Greg lived in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Ze had a great old apartment at Geary and Leavenworth. The Tenderloin is a very rough-edged place with its obvious homeless people, substance users and sellers, and sex workers, but it’s also very real, with many charms (even if they’re a bit frayed). From the street, the building looked run-down and funky, but as soon as you crossed through the solid wood door you were in a beautiful place built in the 1930s. To get to Greg’s apartment you walked up two sweeping round staircases with thick carpeting and polished wooden bannisters. It was a world unto itself. (Go here for a fascinating look at the Tenderloin.)

We spent many hours in hir (gender-neutral possessive pronoun) apartment. This was in the mid-1980s. I lived in the Castro, but Greg wasn’t as comfortable there–and Delia definitely was uncomfortable there. We cooked and ate together, we laughed and told stories. We went to the movies. We often went to a bar on the corner of hir block–the Hob Nob Lounge.

The Hob Nob was a mostly male-to-female transgender bar but there were some older gay men who hung out there too. This was the kind of place that opened at 6:00a.m. and stayed open until 2:00a.m. There was a little bar with about five barstools, and about four tables: the capacity of the place had to be around 20 patrons. This was the epitome of a Tenderloin dive bar. The bartenders were all very protective. I’m not petite by any measure, but the one who was there most often when I went in absolutely dwarfed me. I certainly wouldn’t mess with hir! It was best to walk in with someone who was a regular customer–someone like my friend. Unlike in the Castro, drinks were cheap and they were strong. I mostly knew the daytime clientele, since I didn’t often stay in the Tenderloin after dark unless Greg and I were having a slumber party. I was busy living my wild lesbian life in those days, but I probably averaged a trip to the Tenderloin once or twice a week.

Greg had come to San Francisco from Dallas. He (and I use that intentionally here) had grown up in a small West Texas town that a queer kid can’t wait to get away from. Ze had a strong Texas accent and a great laugh and a twinkle in zir eye that made you want to know the story behind it.

But, as with all of us, there was baggage. The worst part for Greg was being estranged from family of origin. It was “bad enough” for them when Greg came out as a gay man, but when ze came out to them as transgender/bi-gender, they just couldn’t listen any longer, so ze left and they never talked again. Greg wanted to be a happy-go-lucky person, so that was what ze projected, but there was so much more that wasn’t let out that it led to self-medication. Not just the alcohol consumed at the Hob Nob, but ze also got into drugs–marijuana, then both speed and heroin. And then Greg got AIDS and quickly died.

I miss Greg. I miss Delia. I’m only reminiscing. There’s no lesson here. Well, I guess there is: people are people, and you never know how wonderful someone is until you take a risk and get to know them. This is true no matter what their worldly condition is. I’m just glad that I once had Greg in my life.

+ + + + +

Transgender Day of Remembrance is on November 20. For more information go to

Ushering in the Reign of Christ — right now

November 20, 2011

My friend Katie Mulligan pastors what she calls tinychurch in New Jersey. This morning, on the Sunday that the church calendar calls “Reign of Christ” Sunday (or the less inclusive language “Christ the King” Sunday), there was to be no sermon this morning. Instead they were going to read this poem, then go out and “do something” to make the world a better place… even if just for this moment.

Now that’s ushering in the Reign of Christ.


Hungry by “Street” from New Jersey, USA

Sometimes you do something you think you never would do
it just for crazy people not people like you
but sometimes things happen that you didn’t plan
no matter how hard you try you can’t understand

something like that happen to me today
i never ever thought i would act this way
i tried everything else so i didn’t have to do it
i never saw myself ever doin’ this shit

first i was asking for change in front of a store
but people act like they daunt even see me no more
i went to the pizza place to see if they need help
but they already got somebody so it was up to myself

i was tired and hungry and feeling real sad
i was out of ideas and getting real mad
i don’t want to steal or hurt anyone
but of all my ideas all that was left was one

i look all around and went to the back
of this hamburger place they call the Shack
i was so embarrassed and so upset
i never did nothing as sick as this yet

it something i really don’t understand
i took food out of the garbage can
i bag of hamburgers they threw away
how do you explain and what do you say

i hid in the back and look all around
and ate from the garbage and forced it all down
it made me cry and then i got sick
i just aint use to nothing like this

i aint a bum and i aint crazy
i want to work and i am not lazy
but nobody saw me like i wasn’t there
maybe they busy or just don’t care
i never wanted my life to be this way
but that’s how it was on this cold rainy day

The author’s name was only listed as “Street.” The poem can be found at


November 16, 2011

Our next door neighbors are more than people inhabiting the space next to ours. They’ve been here for about fifteen years. The kids have grown up in front of our eyes, and we’ve been a part of their lives since before they can even remember. These people are friends, extended family.

Gloria, the mother of the woman next door, grandmother to the kids, is dying. She has advanced untreatable lung cancer. It’s metastasized throughout her body. She’s in home hospice, and soon she’ll be gone.

Gloria is only in her early 60s. She and her husband Henry (Enrique in Spanish — she’s the only one who calls him Ricky) have been together since junior high, and they were friends even earlier than that. At a recent family party I checked in with him: he told me that they haven’t had enough time together even after fifty years. Their love is sweet and tender, and the impending loss is heartbreaking. In fact, it’s so deep that it wouldn’t surprise me to see Henry die of a broken heart soon after Gloria’s passing.

+ + + + + + + + + +

I got several requests on Facebook today. The message was to post a heart as a status update. No explanation — just a heart. The idea is that this is a simple, silent sign of support for women with breast cancer.

I can’t do it.

It seems to me that there’s a sort of hierarchy of cancers. Breast cancer. Sure, we can run, walk, wear pink ribbons and all that good stuff. We can urge women to get mammograms. And I’ve done all of that and will continue to do so. Heck, even my golf bag has a pink ribbon on it.

But hmmm… I had colorectal cancer. I’m a statistical miracle. By the numbers I should be dead, but I’m a ten-year survivor. But I have yet to see an event like a Revlon colorectal cancer event. Same for prostate cancer. And lung cancer? Even after non-smoking Dana Reeve’s death, there’s a real tendency to blame those with lung cancer for their disease.

So… even though my heart goes out for those with breast cancer, my heart is with them, don’t expect to see a ❤ as my Facebook status.