“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things
unknown/ but longed for still/ and his tune is
heard on the distant hill/ for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
(Maya Angelou’s poem, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, punctuates this sermon.)
WOKE has become a politically charged word, but it isn’t a political ideology at all. As I see it, WOKE is a theological imperative.
According to Merriam Webster, WOKE means “aware of and actively attentive to important issues of racial and social justice.” As we bookend this week with Juneteenth and Pride Sunday, let’s be clear…
WOKE is of Jesus and Kingdom building – being attentive to and responding to issues of racial and social justice. Church is where WOKE comes to life!
“But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage/ can
seldom see through his bars of rage/ he opens
his throat to sing”
This is what launches most movements… when people have finally had enough.It certainly powers the Gay Pride Movement.
As was common practice in many cities, the New York Police Department would occasionally raid bars and restaurants where gays and lesbians gathered.
On June 28, 1969, when the police raided and aggressively dragged patrons and employees out of the Stonewall Inn, people finally had enough. Several people, led by drag queens, fought back, and a growing crowd of angry locals gathered in the streets.
The confrontations escalated and sparked six days of protests and violent clashes with the NYPD outside the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street and
throughout the neighborhood.
By the time the Stonewall Riots ended on July 2, 1969, the gay rights movement went from being a fringe issue to front-page news worldwide.
One year later, during the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, activists in New York City marched through the streets of Manhattan in commemoration of the uprising.
In time, that celebration came to be known as the Gay Pride Parade.
By all accounts, the first New York City event was a stunning success, with an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 participants in the march, stretching 51 blocks from
Greenwich Village to Central Park.
Marches and parades also occurred in Chicago, Los Angeles, and
San Francisco. Gay pride has now become a worldwide event.
Happy Pride Sunday, St. Michaels.
Despite this accomplishment, there is still much work to be done.
The LGBTQ+ community continues to experience discrimination and violence in their personal lives and places of employment, in access to gender affirming health care and other services, as well as in houses of worship.
Younger generations, especially those who are transgender, gender non-conforming, individuals of color, and the disabled, report higher incidents of discrimination and trauma associated with unequal treatment.
More than half of our community report hiding a personal relationship. About a 1/3 alter parts of their work and personal lives to protect themselves. We all tend to closet in places we don’t feel welcome and safe.
These “caged birds” cry out imploring our help, our affirmation and our welcome as the work of this human rights movement continues on so many fronts. People continue to weaponize scripture to discriminate, to silence our voices, to ban books, to advocate marginalization.
Of all the places that discriminate, the people in faith institutions who deny us our rightful place in community cause me the most sadness.
We can justifiably honor a time in our own history when gay men and Women of Color came together to rescue this parish from oblivion.
In 1976 there was real concern about the future viability of St. Michael’s, attendance was dwindling, and hard decisions needed to be made. Under the leadership of two gay clergyman, the Rector, Fred Hill, and Associate Jeff Gill, the parish became a haven, a refuge for the gay community.
As the AIDS crisis unfolded, the St. Michael’s community suffered many losses. Led by their priests, the parish became a safe place for gays to belong, offering welcome, and comfort as they grieved sizable losses which powered many members to do AIDS outreach beyond the parish boundaries.
As St. Michael’s reputation grew, a model, if not somewhat unlikely alliance grew
between the sizable population of women of color and gay men who formed the heart of the parish at that time.
We were in the forefront of celebrating gay marriages soon after the diocesan approval.
In faith communities like our own, we can’t become complacent and rest on the pride of our past, our own claims of inclusivity. We need to move beyond
inclusivity to create a woke environment where the full measure of a relationship is more than including others – it is nurturing a sense of belonging for all.
If we haven’t been clear enough through words, actions, or a lack of response, hear it now.
Injustice is morally wrong; it is not of God.
Responding to issues of social and racial justice is Kingdom building.
Jesus loves all without exception – people of all hues, straight, LGBTQ+ without exception. So don’t let anyone ridicule you for being WOKE.
WOKE is the work of our faith.
And if you have personal work to do, do the work.
“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams/
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream /his
wings are clipped and his feet are tied/ so he
opens his throat to sing.”
It has been a personal journey to arrive to this
moment. Growing up wasn’t always so easy.
I’m Deacon Richard, (HE, HIS, HIM), a gay child of God. Sounds so simple, but there was a time when I lived in fear, afraid to utter those words. Afraid to acknowledge who I am, taught that it was morally wrong, and that life would be better lived it on everyone else’s terms.
Denying your own identity is existentially and physically painful.
And if there is one message that you hear continually, it is – better stay in the closet.
Other kids sensed I was different, so I was sometimes treated disrespectfully – better stay in the closet.
Adults picked up on things and sometimes questioned me – better tone that behavior down – better stay in the closet.
Everyone around me made fun of anyone “who was that way” – better stay in the closet.
My former Church told me my thoughts, my desires, my inclinations were sinful – better stay in the closet.
My own “coming out” was painful, but it lifted the weight of the world off my shoulders, I could finally be me. “Coming Out” powered me to live my faith more authentically, to leave one church for another that openly welcomed me.
Yet there are still hard times.
I wear an LGBTQ badge holder on my hospital ID to make patients, families, and staff feel more comfortable, to know that I am affirming clergy.
One day a patient’s family member confronted me about why I was wearing it, angrily telling me it was just wrong. He became so agitated; I left the room. The
following day I thought about removing it.
Pride is all about not having to remove my LGBT badge holder, not having to stay in the closet anymore for anyone, even those who angrily confront.
I’m proud that I represent gay clergy, proud of those who join me and proud of those who are still engaged in the struggle.
I’m proud that I feel a sense of belonging in this Church and in this community.
“A free bird leaps on the back of the wind and
floats downstream till the current ends/ and dips
his wing in the orange sun rays/ and dares to
claim the sky”
Yes, I’m Deacon Richard, a gay child of God.
Let’s work together to claim the sky for all who are marginalized by others.
Happy Pride Saint Michaels!