Thursday, January 22, 2009

Here are the pics

One last posting -- pictures to prove I wasn't making it all up!

Ella and Gene with The Man (compliments of Mark).

Ella and Michelle.

Ella, Mark and Gene with the Tom Hanks family.

Hug fest with Bono.

Thanks to all of you for accompanying us on this amazing three day journey. Give thanks to God for a new day in America!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A New Day

Wasn't yesterday amazing?! A new day -- for all of us. Here's what it was like from my perspective.

Mark and I arrived at St. John's Episcopal Church early in the morning. Waiting in the security line, I greeted Pastor Rick Warren, who couldn't have been more gracious. Once inside, we were seated in the fifth row, with a perfect view of the service participants, and eventually, the President-Elect himself. This is not a man who fakes a faith, but one who is clearly motivated by it.

Dr. T. D. Jakes gave a magnificent sermon, based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, being thrown into the fiery furnace. Some of his points, on which he elaborated brilliantly: "there is no light without heat"; the three Hebrew boys were saved because they stood up! it's time we ALL stood up for what is right and good; King Nebuchnezzar (sp?) turns the furnace up to seven times its normal heat, more than the furnace or its contents can bear -- pointing out the ways in which the economy, war, health care, etc. have deteriorated beyond what we can bear; and finally, when the King looks into the furnace to see the boys' destruction, instead, they are intact, and there is a FOURTH figure -- the Spirit of God which has seen them through and preserved them. You can imagine the rest. It was SO powerful.

I met some wonderful people. Sat next to the new Securities and Commodities appointee, who later introduced me to the new Treasury Secretary and his wife. Oprah was there (sitting BEHIND us, I might add!). Most of the cabinet. Other denominational leaders.

Then, we were bused to the Capitol. Mark and I split up, because I had been invited to sit on the Presidential Platform. Through several security checkpoints in the bowels of the Capitol. Al and Tipper Gore left their entourage specifically to greet me -- a real honor, given the magnificent contributions he's making to our common good. Then, we walked down the series of hallways/steps that the new president would walk down in a few minutes. I entered into the light of day and the Presidential Platform, just behind Newt Gingrich and Rick Warren. I told Pastor Warren that I would be praying for him. Again, he was most gracious.

Coming out onto the platform was overwhelming. Not only would I be mere feet away from Barack Obama when he took the oath of office, but the view from the platform of the millions of people on the Mall was awe inspiring. It was a solid mass of humanity for as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Washington Monument, and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, where this weekend's journey had begun for us. The air was electric, the joy palpable, and the momentousness of the occasion solemn. I was seated in the sixth row behind the president, beside Federico Pena (who was delightful), directly behind Gov. Warren Dean (chairman of the Democratic National Committee). General Colin Powell was also in the next row in front of me -- we greeted each other with the secret Episcopal handshake. In front of him was Aretha Franklin (you gotta love that hat, eh? it takes a substantial black woman to wear a hat like that!). Senator Judd Gregg (Republican from NH) came over to chat. I also spoke for a while with Senator Joe Lieberman. Pretty heady stuff for a Kentucky country boy, who grew up in poverty and never thought he'd live to SEE a real president, much less be invited to sit where I was invited to sit.

And then, as you all saw on TV, each of the principals entered. To see the military personnel salute their about-to-be Commander in Chief made me cry. As always, Obama seemed natural, calm, confident-but-not-cocky and present to the moment. I've said it before, but it was never more evident than yesterday -- I've never seen someone so comfortable in his own skin. And then the oath of office, the moment when America changed.

Leaving the swearing in, and still separated from Mark and Ella, I had some alone time to try to absorb what I had just been a witness to. It is still hard to find words to describe it. But you know what we were all feeling. Waking up this morning felt different somehow, didn't it?

After the parade, home for a nap. Then off to the lgbt ball at the Mayflower Hotel. When I walked in, Rufus Wainwright was dedicating a song to me. (He's one of my faves!) He was then joined for a couple of songs onstage by Cyndi Lauper. Then I was introduced to the crowd of several thousand. I got to introduce Mark and Ella to them, and say a few words. The crowd was overwhelming in their kind and generous response. Then I posed for pictures with, oh, six or seven hundred of them. Nearly exhausted, we left for the live Daily Show broadcast, with Jon Stewart.

It's always difficult to do such a show from a remote location. I can only hear what is going on in my earpiece, and am talking into a black camera screen. But it went well, I think. He started in with a joke (this IS Comedy Central, after all), and miraculously, I was able to respond with a joke in return. I don't think he was expecting it, and he nearly fell off his chair laughing. Later, after the show, he told me it was the best line of the show. Amazing praise from a brilliant comedian who is SO good at what he does.

The best part of that was, he had done a joke, and so had I, and then the rest of the interview was serious. I was moved that HE had seen the connection between the inauguration of an African-American and the hopes of the gay community, and asked if it had raised my hopes that one day, perhaps a gay or lesbian person might become president. He had read my thoughts -- and I suspect, the hopes of so many of us.

It is a new day in America, thanks be to God! I was overwhelmed all day by the sense that God is still alive and well and working overtime in our great nation, bringing about things that could have never even been dreamt of a few years ago. Join me in giving thanks to our great God for loving us as we are, and loving us too much to make us content with staying as we are.

I have been carrying all of you in my heart these few days. So often during this time, I have reflected on the many, many blessings that are mine. To serve the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire is a holy and awesome gift to me. To feel your love and support during these momentous days calmed my heart and brought me great joy.

In a day or two, once we "break into" Ella's camera, I will post on this blog a few pictures that you've just GOT to see. But thank you for traveling this path with me, and know that I give thanks to God for you every day.

Today, I return to New Hampshire, back to my "day job" which I love. Tonight, life resumes with the ordination of Madelyn Betz at St. Thomas, Hanover. Ordination of someone to the priesthood is one of the most awesome and wonderful tasks assigned to Bishops -- and I can't think of a better way to re-enter the "real world" of my life in the Diocese of New Hampshire. I look forward to seeing you soon!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Last minute update

One addendum to yesterday's posting: I have been invited to be on the President's Platform for the inauguration/swearing in. An astounding honor!


Monday, January 19, 2009

i thank you God for most this amazing day

These words from one of my favorite e. e. cummings' poem, describe yesterday. It goes on, in part

"and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?"

Monday was a VERY long day (hence, my not writing until this morning; and because I had trouble getting this posted, it is now Tuesday night before I'm getting it online. With apologies!] Here are a few of the day's amazing moments:

Arriving, getting through security (which was, as you can imagine, thorough!). Being shown to my "dressing room," a trailer with heat (thank God), and the announcement that I would be sharing a dressing room with Tiger Woods. Not a problem, I say. There was a sound check and walk through on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial -- but I couldn't keep from looking over my shoulder at the marble figure of Lincoln from inside the Memorial, watching over this gathering, with the kind of calm presence I experience in the new president.

Then lots of time to gather with others in the "Green Room." It was hard not to be a bit starstruck and bedazzled by those gathered, each and every one feeling overwhelmed at the honor of being asked to speak or perform. NO ONE was a "star" today, just fellow Americans, exuberant and joyful to be asked to participate at this historic moment. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, director Ron Howard, Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, a ninety-year-old Pete Seeger, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Correll, Forest Whitaker, Bon Jovi, Josh Groban, Stevie Wonder. I spent a lot of time chatting with Tom Hanks, his wife and kids.

I learned fairly early on that the live broadcast of the event would begin just AFTER I concluded my invocation. A decision made by HBO? Who knows? But I couldn't help but wonder if the HBO-powers-that-be could not imagine that the nation would be interested in a religious prayer. For whatever reason, it was not to be broadcast. I learned a long time ago not to worry about those things over which I have no control! I was honored to be invited to give the invocation, and that's what I intended to do.

Then it came time for me to be taken to the special "Green Room," set up in the bowels of the Lincoln Memorial, in preparation for going onstage. Denzel Washington and I were both there, rehearsing our lines. It was nice to see that he was as nervous as I was! All around us there were photos of the civil rights movement of the '60's, and a lone video monitor played excerpts of the "I have a dream" speech, Marian Anderson singing, and other great events that have taken place at the Memorial. As if I needed any reminders that this memorial is holy ground!

Then my introduction, and walking onto the steps of that magnificent shrine to freedom, and looking out at a crowd of around a million people, which flowed all the way back to and beyond the Washington monument. A teeming crowd of people, gathered to hail this new day in our common life as a nation.

You can see some pictures on Susan Russell's Inch at a Time blog:

When I got to the second petition of my invocation, the one where I ask God to "bless us with anger," those million people got very quiet. It's an unnerving experience to have a million people go silent as a result of what you are saying. It was then that the import of the moment hit me. I wanted it to be a moment for God, and of course, I will never know who or how many were touched by what was said. What I do know is that it was an indescribable honor to be asked to address God at this amazing occasion.

I then got to join Mark and Ella in our seventh row center seats. Two seats over was Toni Morrison. In the next row was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, new Attorney General Holder, and most of the new cabinet. Sitting within our full view was the new First Family, behind bullet proof glass (a constant reminder of the risk they are taking on behalf of all of us). I cannot imagine how, but they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves -- a brief respite from the overwhelming roles that await them.

Since all of the presenters/performers were asked to come back out on stage for the finale singing of America the Beautiful, I left Mark and Ella to go backstage again. There, I encountered Bono, who wanted to talk about my invocation. I was amazed that after hearing it once, he was quoting back to me things I had said. We chatted, and then he asked if I would pray with him and his band (U2) before they went onstage to perform. We gathered in a close huddle, I prayed, and off they went to play to a screaming, cheering, joyful crowd. (We saw him later that night at a private party -- and he picked up our conversation right where we had left off.)

After the closing song, the Obamas and Bidens moved down the line of presenters/performers, greeting each of us. Each of them spoke of their appreciation for the words of my prayer, and their families seemed to appreciate especially my prayers for their safety. After the event, Mark, Ella and I were invited, along with the other performers, to a small reception with Barack and Michelle Obama in a small tent just behind the Lincoln Memorial. We got a chance to chat with Michelle, and then later with the Man himself. He was unbelievably gracious, posing with me and Ella for a picture (Mark sacrificially offered to take the picture) -- which I will post once we retrieve it from Ella's camera. As he left us, he said, "Thanks, Gene. We'll be in touch." I have no idea what he meant, or IF he meant it, but it sure sounded nice!

A day filled with the nearness of God, the joy of hope and expectation, and the most remarkable sense of community I've ever experienced on such a large scale. As e. e. cummings said, "how should any human merely being doubt unimaginable You?" Indeed.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Washington Tales from Closer to the Center

It's very early on Sunday morning. The quiet outside belies the exuberance that promises to explode today here in Washington.

This new "chapter" in my "Canterbury Tales from the Fringe" blog needs to be renamed, of course. It could be "Mr. Robinson goes to Washington," or "Oh my God! How did I ever get to this moment?" Instead, I'm calling it "Washington Tales from Closer to the Center." After the experience of being on the fringe in Canterbury this summer, I am struck that the new President of the United States is including me in a way the Anglican Communion was not able to this summer. Funny, isn't it, and sad, that the culture is modeling for the Church the inclusion meant for all of God's children.

One of the great bishops of the Episcopal Church, Stephen Bayne, once said, "MISSION is looking around and seeing where God is already at work, and joining God there." God, and God's mission, will go on, with or without the Church. My prayer is that all of us in the Church will "see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up," (from the opening collect for ordinations, which I prayed at an ordination yesterday morning). In his invitation to me to offer the invocation for the opening inaugural event, I hope that gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people everywhere will feel "raised up" by the events here in Washington. I know I carry all of you in my heart.

Arriving at National Airport yesterday was like coming into a recently-stirred-up anthill. But there were no angry, impatient voices (okay, I did hear one!), no one in a bad humor. Faces filled with anticipation and sheer joy at being here. Was it my imagination, or were all the African-Americans walking just a little bit taller? I think so. I hope so. And so was everyone else.

I am, to say the least, overwhelmed by the possibilities of this day. Not just offering a prayer for the nation and the new president, but helping to kick off the beginning of a new era of hope in this nation. The hope that then-candidate Barack Obama talked about -- and which was often decried by others as hopelessly (literally) labeled as unrealistic and maudlin -- is about to become reality. The future won't be perfect, of course, and the new president won't be either. But what a new beginning!

I am also overwhelmed and humbled by the task ahead of me. This prayer has weighed on my heart for several weeks now. My words will be the first heard by the crowds who will have been standing, waiting, for six hours to witness this event. I figure they'll be ready to listen, and grateful that the event has finally begun, or maybe they'll start chanting "Springsteen" or "Bono" and wishing the clergy guy would just get out of the way. Either way, I will attempt to get the crowd to pause for a moment before the fun begins, and join me in a prayer that we can all pray together.

I have received a lot of critical email since announcing that my prayer would not be overtly or aggressively Christian, as most of the inaugural prayers of the last 30 years have been. My plan is to address this prayer to the "God of our many understandings," acknowledging that no one Christian denomination nor no one faith tradition knows all there is to know about God. Each of us is privy to a piece of God, as experienced in our faith tradition. My hope is to pray a prayer that ALL people of faith can join me in.

In the end, in addition to doing all this for God, I will be thinking of three kids in the teeming crowd of people today. One of the priests in my diocese, Teresa Gocha, and her husband Jim, adopted three children, Martin and Malcolm, African-American boys, and their mixed-race sister, Margaret. They'll be here in Washington to witness the inauguration of someone who looks like them! They will never forget it, of course. But what they'll REALLY remember is that someone just like them can be president, can be acknowledged for who he is and not just the color of his skin. Everything changes this week for Martin, Malcom and Margaret. It changes for all of us. This is not something that the American people alone have done. This is God's doing.

Pray for me today. Pray that I can point to a God who loves us all, who yearns for the best we can be and do, and who is constantly raising up those of us who have been cast down. Thanks be to God!