Monday, July 7, 2014

A Month of Sundays: Part Two. A cup of cool water


Pride Sunday. That is, Gay Pride Sunday. That is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Pride Sunday. A good day for West-Park to celebrate, given the victories of this General Assembly. And as someone had said last year, the drafting of the More Light Statement by West-Park in 1978 was the religious Stonewall. On the one hand, a statement of inclusion.  On the other, a statement of defiance and civil disobedience against the national church ecclesiology.

The first reading, Genesis 22: 1-14, is the dramatic story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham believing that God was demanding the sacrifice if his son, Isaac. The last minute appearance of a ram. It’s a tough story. Some commentators suggest that it is a preserved story explaining how the Israelites moved away from child sacrifice. For people like Amanda and her Quaker background, it’s just repelling. Some Jewish midrashim argue that  God wanted Abraham to say NO from the start. For the Muslims, the story is about Abraham and Ishmael. Still, it haunts us and disturbs us.

Jeremy and I share  Leonard Cohen’s Story of Isaac. 
The door it opened slowly,
My father he came in,
I was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me,
His blue eyes they were shining
And his voice was very cold.
He said, "I've had a vision
And you know I'm strong and holy,
I must do what I've been told."
So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
And his axe was made of gold.

Well, the trees they got much smaller,
The lake a lady's mirror,
We stopped to drink some wine.
Then he threw the bottle over.
Broke a minute later
And he put his hand on mine.
Thought I saw an eagle
But it might have been a vulture,
I never could decide.
Then my father built an altar,
He looked once behind his shoulder,
He knew I would not hide.

You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.
You who stand above them now,
Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
You were not there before,
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father's hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word.

And if you call me brother now,
Forgive me if I inquire,
"just according to whose plan?"
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must,
I will help you if I can.
When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must,
I will kill you if I can.
And mercy on our uniform,
Man of peace or man of war,
The peacock spreads his fan.

For Cohen, the reference was the Vietnam War and children being sent off to die, sacrificed by their parents. (My mentioning this on Facebook launched a mini virtual reunion of College of Wooster friends remembering a dramatic performance they had created.) But the song has resonance for the lgbtq movement as well, given the  generations  of children driven from their home, the experience of bullying and high numbers of teen suicides. And it could equally apply to child sexual abuse as we have explored in our presentations of Girl of Diamond Mountain by Lotte Arnsbjerg and Carman Moore. ( And the child soldiers of Africa. And the waves of children crossing the desert into the US from Mexico. The sacrifice of Isaac goes on and on. And Cohen names the banality of these deaths over against the strange mystery surrounding Abraham and his vision, ...when his father's hand was trembling with the beauty of the word…

And we can’t leave without a little Bob Dylan, or t least somewhere between Dylan and Johnny Cash. From Highway 61 Revisited:

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What ?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done ?"
God says. "Out on Highway 61".

 The gospel gives us a response as Jesus says (Matthew 10:42) and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. I explain how that was the verse that inspired an act of witness by Evelyn Davidson, wife of my preceding pastor, Bob Davidson. Around 1982, she felt that the gay community had been so rejected and hurt by the church that there had to be a counter witness.  So she came up with setting up a water table and distributing cool cups of water --in Jesus name—every Pride march day. It would be in  front of First Presbyterian at 5th and 12th along the parade route. At first, First Pres was resistant. Then Presbytery Executive George Todd had an office there and rigged up a hose on the top floor in his bathroom and dragged it all the way down and through the church the outside to fill up the cups. By the next year, the church became an active participant.

With Mark Koenig at the  water table
The Evelyn Davidson Memorial Water Table continues to this day. And with every cool cup of water, she is with us. Now augmented by home baked cookies. (This year they recommended rainbow inspired m&m cookies: ( So many volunteers, advance e sign up was needed. And First Church now has its own crew of volunteers. This is part of our history. Our heritage. Part of who we are. We need to be there.

Amanda and Samantha
Amanda shares her ghost song with its ultimate affirmation of life as sacred and we as children of life. After the service, she had a photo shoot with photographer  Johnnie Miles in the chapel. She dressed in her original wedding dress and cowboy boots for the occasion,. Johnnie wanted to shoot RL as well and he came in his western suit and cowboy hat. Shot together in sepia they’d be a classic mail order bride photo from Dakota or Montana.
Amanda and Bob

I've got time during the shoot to go downtown and take my shift at the Pride Parade. At the
Friends after church
Evelyn Davidson Memorial Water Table.

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