Paul Joseph Lane (1961-2018)

Paul Joseph Lane

Burial of the Dead and Holy Eucharist

Saturday, June 23, 2018, 2pm

St. Luke in the Fields, NYC

Homilist: The Rev. Julia Macy Offinger

Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9 / John 11:21-27

 

Like most of you here today, I would rather not be here at St. Luke in the Fields on Pride weekend, laying our brother Paul to rest. I would rather see Paul tomorrow, corralling all of us Episcopalians around a float that declares to the world: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” a message from the core of who Paul was and is to us still: whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever you believe, whoever and however you love–you are welcome here, you are invited to the table of this feast of life. It feels completely unfair that Paul won’t be there tomorrow, spreading that love that was his life’s work, that he won’t be here next year, or for years and years to come, marching with us, feasting with us, celebrating with us.

When Paul died last month, I spent some time searching for tucked away memories of Paul, searching my email, his Facebook page, clicking through pictures of Paul’s smiling face, jaunty scarf tossed around his neck, a cigarette between his fingers. His sweet, knowing smile. His enviable pictures of croissants, espresso, French wine. The elegance of a Parisian cafe in the early morning after his flight had landed but before his hotel had opened. Blog posts from his friends.

I am grateful especially for two remembrances I found. For Doug Blanchard’s eulogy for Paul, remembering Paul’s early days in New York, how he worked as a cocktail waiter at Uncle Charlie’s, getting his, in Doug’s words, cute “tuchus” pinched all night by the patrons there. Doug wrote:

“Paul was one of those rare people who could light up a room whenever he walked into it. And he could do so without dominating it. He was a real bon vivant who thoroughly enjoyed life from good company to good food. Doing good work and being generous was less a solemn act of self-sacrifice for him than it was a way of keeping the party going and the guests happy; a very exceptional quality for a saintly person. … His sudden departure leaves a great big hole in the middle of so many lives.  As I said to a fellow parishioner, we now live in a post Paul world, and we are about to find out just how much we depended on him.”

I am also grateful for Christian Paolino’s meditation on Paul’s influence on countless livelihoods of so many LGBT people, through his organizing work for the Episcopal Diocese of New York LGBT affairs committee. Christian wrote:

“Imagine how many LGBT people saw that small army [of Episcopalians] and that float over the years, and thought, “Wait, what?  A church wants me? All I’ve ever heard from church people was what an abomination I am.” Be they a teenager scared to come out to [their] parents, or an older person who finally came to grips with a lifelong secret, this witness affected people on the sidelines: I know, because I was part of that march many times, and they told me, sometimes with tears in their eyes.”

The scripture says:

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
  a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
  of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
  the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
  the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:6-9)

Paul’s sister Nancy and those closest to Paul chose this scripture from Isaiah because of its invocation of Paul’s favorite things: rich food filled with marrow and well-matured wines. But I love it for its quiet assurance to all of us who mourn this day: “the Lord will swallow up death for ever, the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,” just as Paul did for so many people who felt lost or unloved by their families of origin or their church.

I met Paul over ten years ago when I started coming to church here at St. Luke in the Fields, searching for a community where I could figure out who I was. I knew a few things about myself: I loved musical theater, and New York City, and fancy elaborate dinners, I loved church, specifically the Episcopal Church and its rich worship tradition, I loved singing hymns with gusto in four-part harmony, and I loved drama. So St. Luke’s was the perfect place, right? I quickly joined the acolyte guild, where I got to do synchronized torch bearing with so many of you, including Paul, working my way through the ranks.

St. Luke’s is the right kind of place for those of us who love the finer things in life, delicious food, lusty singing, and again, drama. I mentioned that I spent some time searching my inbox for memories of Paul, because I remembered all the juicy emails over the years that folks on the acolyte guild would fire back and forth, representing just a fraction of the drama that actually goes down in the sacristy. I wanted to find a sassy quip or two from Paul, but I came up short. And I realized what made Paul so very special was his quiet kindness, neutrality in the face of conflict, his steady loyalty to the institutions to which he belonged and served. Not to say there was never any snark from Paul, of course, but he coasted above the drama, didn’t he? I think of him now, straddling coffee hour and the sacristy, at the smoking bench, flicking that cigarette, quietly observing, interested in everyone’s stories.

Shortly after I first came to St. Luke’s, I saw Paul one night at Marie’s Crisis, sitting by the piano, and we sang showtunes together all night long. I felt a piece of myself click into place that night, knowing that I had found a home where I could be myself, a church where I had the privilege to follow in the footsteps of the faithful Christians who had come before me, Christians like Paul, who devoted their lives to widening the entrance to the feast.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I know you join me in echoing Martha’s words to Jesus; God, how could you let this happen to Paul, your servant, our beloved brother and friend? “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus says to Martha and says now to us. The resurrection we believe in as Christians, that we celebrate every time we come together around the table of this feast, promises to us that Paul’s death is not the end of Paul’s life.

We know that one day we will meet again, joining Paul and all those whom we love, at a heavenly banquet that I imagine will look something like the rickety table of a Parisian cafe: open to the street, welcoming anyone who passes by, piled high with croissants and wine. And as God wipes the tears from our eyes, Paul will march with us tomorrow, and every year to come, through the lives of all of us, all of the people Paul welcomed and loved. Amen.

Jonah’s Terrible Sermon

Preached on January 21, 2018 at All Saints’ Church, Brooklyn at Evening Prayer, 5pm

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The Old Testament story this evening is a very brief snippet of the story of Jonah, or as it is popularly known, Jonah and the whale. But if you know anything about bible scholars, the kind who like to tell you that what you learned in Sunday School was wrong, then you know it wasn’t a whale, it’s really a Big Fish. 

This passage is just a tiny little part of the story, and it includes what I think might be the worst sermon in all of the bible. Jonah preaches to the people of Nineveh: Jonah’s big sermon in the center of the city is not quite as eloquent as Jesus’s famous sermons on the mount or the plain, Jonah’s sermon is just, in a strangled voice: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” That’s it. That’s all it takes for the whole city to be convinced, to repent, to do what God wants for them.

You never really get the full story of Jonah in the lectionary, so I want to take this evening to celebrate what is one of the only truly funny, intentionally funny, I would argue, stories in all of the bible. Because humor, in this life of ours where we are, at our best, just trying to figure out what God wants for us, and why everything can, at times, seem pretty awful — humor is something that brings us joy. That reminds us that something outside of our control will always ensure something good peeking out of the darkness. For me, laughter is like an involuntary reflex, bubbling up, like when a doctor checks that your knee bounces against your will when she hits it, laughter reminds us that we’re alive, and that God loves us.

So here’s the story of Jonah. He is a curmudgeonly little man, who for no reason really, God chooses to be a prophet. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them and get them to repent. Jonah is uninterested in this task. He thinks Nineveh is dumb, he has worse problems in Tarshish. He says no. So God sends the famous big-fish-not-whale to swallow Jonah up, and while Jonah is in there he laments his fate, and then the fish spits him out, and God tells him to go again, and Jonah is like, “UGH FINE!” Which is where we greet the story and hear this terrible sermon, which VERY ANNOYINGLY to Jonah works. And so, in his frustration, this is what Jonah does, I’ll read the last chapter of Jonah in full:

Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The Lord God appointed a bush,* and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

That’s it, that’s the end of the story. It’s really funny top picture grumpy Jonah under a bush. And God’s point seems to be pretty simple. God is kind of just like, “yeah, exactly, Jonah. Stuff is kind of terrible and it’s hard because people are actually pretty stupid. But you can be grumpy and angsty about it or you can laugh about it and do the best that you can.”

I do like to imagine that if the story were to continue, Jonah 2, if you will: Jonah would start laughing. Jonah would laugh and laugh until his sides hurt. That he got swallowed by a big-fish-not-a-whale and then got spit out and then got grumpy about a bush, but ultimately his crappy little sermon saved 120,000 people … and also many animals.

My question for you, then: What crappy little annoying thing is God calling you to do? This is actually a very serious question. What is so very frustrating and boring to you, maybe because you know you won’t really be THE BEST at it, or because it seems hard, or because perfect is the enemy of the good for you, so you are sitting down in the desert waiting for a bush to grow up around you instead of just getting on with it and doing it? Because Nineveh, aka the world right now–full of pretty dumb people and also a lot of animals–needs you. We need you to cry out from the center of the city whatever that thing is that you know to be true. And if you can find some humor in it, too, all the better.

Amen.

Look up! Look around!

3rd week after Epiphany

Sunday, January 22, 2017

St. Lydia’s Dinner Church / Brooklyn, NY

“Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Continue reading

Do Not Lose Heart! Gender & Winning & Jesus

Credit: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Credit: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 24

Sunday, October 16, 2016 / Year C

All Saints’ Episcopal Church / Brooklyn, NY

When I was 12 years old, I was selected to be in an oratory competition. This was kind of a big deal and it was hosted at the local rotary club. The challenge was to write an essay on a specific topic and then deliver it as a speech, and compete against other local sixth graders.

Here’s what I remember: I remember working very hard on my essay and practicing my speech over and over again. I remember going to the event on a school night and I remember that I was wearing shoes with a small heel that were very uncomfortable. I remember feeling uncomfortable in my body in the way that 12 year-old girls are specifically prone to feeling.

I remember the boy who won, and I remember his speech, which was all about, as he called it, “nucular war.” In my memory, he was pacing back and forth telling us that in the future, we would all be engaged in “nucular war,” and we would have to live in special shelters and a new kind of human would evolve.

And I remember thinking, how did that win this competition???? Continue reading

Is Jesus telling us to Hate? And what Colin Kaepernick shows us.

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 18

Sunday, September 4, 2016 / Year C

All Saints’ Episcopal Church / Brooklyn, NY

I have two younger brothers who are both in their 20s. And one of those brothers, my middle brother William, has always been the black sheep of the family. Not at all in a troublesome way but more like: we all like to go to bed late and sleep in, but Will likes to get up early. We all like to eat elaborate meals and fancy foods–Will is a picky eater who likes the basics. And we all like movies and TV and reading novels, but Will likes sports.

Growing up, in the Fall and Winter seasons, Will would want to race home from church to watch football. He would yell at us: “What kind of American family are you??? On a Sunday, YOU WATCH FOOTBALL!!!!!”

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Leaving the Mountaintop

Epiphany Last, Year C

February 7, 2016

St. Thomas, Newark, DE

Good morning, St. Thomas! I am so thrilled to be here this morning, and I would like to thank Father Paul for lending me this pulpit. I guess the first thing to know about me is that Father Paul knew me when I was 14 years old — more than half my life ago — and still asked me to come preach to you all this morning, so he is a good and trusting man, and sees potential in teenagers who are  … I’ll say precocious.

I actually knew about St. Thomas before Father Paul even got here because my older cousin was a student at the University of Delaware. She is someone who would self-identify as “not into church,” but once she told my “very into church” mother that she would come to dinner here on Wednesday nights when she was feeling low and she would always leave feeling better. She said, “I’m still not a church person, Aunt Nancy, but I’m glad that it’s there.” So I have known for a long time that you are a very welcoming church and thank you for having me today.

Let’s talk about Moses. I am having so much fun picturing Moses this morning, trudging down that steep mountain lugging two tablets. And he doesn’t even know it, but the skin on his face is shining. It’s shining so intensely that it’s scaring his friends. And his face is shining this way because he had been talking with God.

I think we’re all familiar with the idea of having a “certain glow.” Sometimes you can tell if people are drinking enough water and taking care of themselves, because they have a bit of extra shine to them. “Oh, you’re positively glowing,” is something you maybe don’t hear as often as I’d like.

But have you ever, in all your days, been glowing this intensely?
Continue reading

Hurling Off Cliffs: A Sermon for Wonderers

All Saints’ Church / January 31, 2016

Evening Prayer / 5pm

Proper 13 / Year B

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany / Year C

Luke 4:21-30

Good and gracious God, you eclipse our best words, and still we know that you are with us. May our thoughts and prayers and rumblings tonight be holy in your sight. Amen.

Tonight I am thinking about following Jesus–what it means to follow Jesus.

The beauty of this evening prayer service is that everyone is welcome here, to talk along if you wish, or simply to listen, to let words fall over your ears and bodies. To come together, a group who wouldn’t be together in any other context. To look at each other. To look into each other’s eyes and not have to come up with anything to say. We give it all to you in a little bulletin to follow along.

A chance to sit in silence. When do we do that at other times in our lives?

Anyone can do this with us, no matter what you think about who God is, or even if there is a God, and no matter what you think about Jesus.

But I want to talk about Jesus today, and what it means to follow him. Whether we are far along that journey with him, or at the very beginning, or perhaps walking on a parallel path, or maybe a path that is about to cross, or even a path that has already crossed.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? Continue reading