For or Against?

14724498_10157594211435113_4623695507832864461_nI like this meme by John Pavlovitz: It gets to the heart of something that always troubles me when I’m labelled as an ally of one group or another…

It is true that we are called by our faith to make a special effort to support those who are not empowered, no matter who they are. And, this is a central concept within my own ministry and in my day to day existence.

But the problem has always been that people tend to view someone who is “for” some group or cause as being against something else. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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Sermon: Evil

It is easy to find people and groups to blame for what happened in Orlando, but is that what our faith calls us to do?

220px-Baal_thunderbolt_Louvre_AO15775
A 14 century BCE stele showing the Sidonian God Baal (with Thunderbolt)

NB: This video by Amaryllis Fox was shown before the start of the sermon, and is referred-to during the course of it.

You know – with regards to the recent events in Orlando, we have once again resorted to the same old game of accusation and counter-accusation: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?  ISIS?  Gays?  The NRA? (Well …)  Maybe Mr. Trump?

Blaming assumes we can have winners and losers; but nobody ever wins. How long will we continue this mindless charade?

Look: 50 people died, and another 53 were hospitalized.  Uncounted others lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their lives with the physical and emotional trauma they experienced that night, or caring for others forever scarred by that attack.

We see pain erupting from within the LGBTQ community because of this. You can understand why: places like Pulse are a refuge from the painful judgmental world they deal with every other moment of every day.  Such refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when we finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.

For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their own individual and communal existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many of our kindred within the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people died.  Thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

Continue reading “Sermon: Evil”

Blame

You know – with regards to the recent massacre in Orlando, we are sliding back into the same old same old set of accusations and counter-accusations we see every time: “Who’s fault is it?”

Is it the Muslims?

The Gays?

Bigots?

Obama?

The GOP?

The NRA? (Well …)

Trump?

Blaming is an old game: based on the idea that we must have winners and losers. And yet, nobody ever wins.

How long must we keep up this mindless charade?

And then we have the next layer of this old game, that of hitching one’s own cause (and/or -ism) to the issue…

Gun Control

Lifting the ban on allowing Gays to donate blood

Immigration

Racism

All of these causes are important and worthwhile, and many of them do intersect with what happened in Orlando this past weekend.  But, by linking a cause dear to us with the terror in Orlando, are we obscuring what happened?  …Obscuring what happened by insisting the event be viewed only through a lens of our choosing?

Look: 50 people died, and and another 53 were physically injured.  Uncounted others have lost loved ones, many more will be dealing for the rest of their own lives with the trauma they experienced that night, and others will spend a lifetime caring for those who have been forever scarred by this attack.

And, we see pain erupting from many in the LGBTQ community because of this, and you can understand why: clubs such as Pulse were a refuge from the judgment and pain they experienced in the outside world.  Those refuges are now no longer safe.  LGBTQ people have become a new target of domestic terrorism just when the laws and society here in the U.S. finally seemed to be on the verge of forever setting aside homophobia.  The newly blossoming reality of being able to live their lives unmolested and free from fear has been taken away from them, perhaps forever.  For an LGBTQ person, this attack was very personal, and very scary: a very real threat to their very existence, carried out against them purely because of who they are.  I can’t imagine feeling like I’m living with a target painted on my back, but I’m sure many in the LGBTQ community feel exactly that way right now.

50 people have died.  Hundreds if not thousands more will never escape the pain and fear planted within their souls that night.

Let’s focus on that.

As a Christian, I see the Bible, particularly Jesus own teachings in the Gospels, as making it very, very, clear that we must take responsibility for our own actions and attitudes, and not seek to escape such responsibility.  Laying blame on others is exactly that: an attempt to say “it’s somebody else’s problem, not mine.”

So, instead of trying to figure out who to blame, ask instead “What have I not done that I should be doing, to keep such things from happening?”  Because, our own attitudes and prejudices and fears definitely played a part – however small – in causing this to happen.

And, instead of hitching one’s own cause to the pain of others, respect the pain and loss that has occurred.  Embrace those who have lost loved ones.  Walk at the side of those who cannot stop the pain of this trauma from leaking out of their souls.  We cannot directly feel their pain, nor can we (nor should we) try to minimize it.  Instead, we must allow them to work through their pain – and be there for them when they need help, or need someone to listen to what they have to say.

Jesus’  taught that we must love God without limit, and love one another in the same way.

The world can be a cruel, hard place.  Bad things will happen.  As Christians, we are called not to judge, but to heal.  So in the end, ask how you can help bring healing.  Ask how you must change in response to what has happened.

Love is the answer, not blame.

Amen.

 

Why Isn’t Jesus a Girl?

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: Why do we think he is male, and why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

Slide1This particular discussion was inspired by this (admittedly facetious) blogpost entitled “Where Would Jesus Pee?”

In it, Andrew Seidel raises an interesting point:  Jesus had a biological mother, but no biological father.  Therefore, even if the Holy Spirit intervened to cause Mary to become pregnant, all of the genetic material was from his mother.

Now, a person of female gender has two X chromosomes (XX) while a person of male gender has an X and a Y (XY).   The gender of their child is determined by which chromosome they get from the father – either the X or the Y.  But, since Jesus has no biological father, then all of his genetic material would come from Mary, meaning he got an “X” instead of a “Y” and so must be female.

I recently presented this as part of our church’s “Message for All Ages” (being very careful of how I presented it, given that grammar school aged children were present).  Then asked the question, “So, what do you think; why isn’t Jesus a Girl?”

As you can imagine, this produced some amazing facial expressions (and answers) from kids and adults like!

The point of this exercise is to challenge our preconceptions of what Jesus must have been like: How can we be sure he was genetically male, or even that he presented himself as a typical male, for that matter?  Why do we assume Jesus is just like us?

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When he became a she – walking in love

I just had to share this beautiful post, no additional commentary needed…

The other day, Zac and I went into a retail store and were greeted by an associate. I soon recognized the associate as someone I used to go to church with years ago. Someone close to my age, who I …

Source: When he became a she – walking in love

On Restrooms, Gender, and Fear

I’ve met Rev. Heath only briefly, but her spouse was a classmate of mine in Seminary.  She is far from the only trans or gender non-conforming person I know; and they all relate the same narrative that Emily gives voice to here: “I’m telling you that no trans or gender non-conforming person wants to use the bathroom for any other reason than you do. I’m telling you that this has never been about sexual predators (who don’t need bathrooms to hurt people, and who won’t be discouraged by an anti-trans bathroom law), but about harming trans people. I’m telling you that I’d like to spend a whole lot less time thinking about bathrooms than I do.”

If we are serious about our Christian faith, then we need to ask – FIRST – how our attitudes to others express the love that Christ mandates – MANDATES (via the Second Great Commandment) – that we show in all our dealings them, and that we do so without condition or exception.

And, will they see that love in how we are acting and speaking towards them?  If they don’t, then we are failing to love them as we are required to do by the most basic tenets of our faith.

The anti-LGBTQ laws recently passed in NC and elsewhere do not pass this test.  And so, we must seriously and deeply re-examine our own motivations and faith principles if we believe this was the Christian thing to do.

Source: On Restrooms, Gender, and Fear

Just Show Up

Being faithful isn’t about being skilled or perfect at anything. It’s about showing up. That’s all that God asks us to do – show up, and you’ll find that God is there too: showing us the way, impelling us to speak or act as needs to be done, helping us to learn what we need to learn, and providing the grace for those we encounter to rejoice in our presence and willingness to stand with them, no matter how clumsy we feel we might be.

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NYPD Officer Lawrence DePrimo buying boots for a homeless man in Times Square this past November.

During this past Sunday’s “Open and Affirming Forum” at ARK Church our guests related some of their own experiences to help us better understand the pain and alienation that many transsexuals encounter every day, and also provided a great deal of information to help us be more sensitive, compassionate and affirming when dealing with anyone who is “other” – especially those in the LGBTQ communities. Our eyes were opened to the challenges of being someone who doesn’t fit into the neat (and very binary) categories of “male” or “female” or “opposite sex loving” or “same sex loving.” It was a moving, growing (and humbling) experience.

The leader of the forum said something near the end of the meeting that has stuck with me all week: “just show up.”

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The Nature of Love

shutterstock_124493413It seemed appropriate on this, Valentines Day, to reflect on the nature of Love.

In Christian Scripture, the Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to Corinthians (chapter 13) is known as the “Love Chapter.” I quote it in full here…

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The thing I observe about Paul’s eloquent prose is that it talks about how Love is at the core of the Christian message.  Without it, says Paul, Christianity is nothing, and our words meaningless.

In fact, in reflecting upon the Gospels I do not recall a single instance where Jesus limits the ways in which we are encouraged (or allowed) to love others.  Instead, like Paul, Jesus focuses us on the importance and centrality of Love, often being an example to us of how to love others, and how our love for the other must be grounded in our Love of God.

I remember the first time I saw a young couple passionately kissing, when I was an early teen, I think.  It was a new thing for me – an unfamiliar sight, something I was not comfortable with, something that unnerved me more than a little bit.  I remember thinking “Ewwww!”  … I’m sure most of us have had similar experiences!

Continue reading “The Nature of Love”

Thoughts on Ecclesiastes, the Second Great Commandment, and Homosexuality

I lived in the mid 1980’s with a man who – unknown to me at the time – was gay.  “John” was a broken, hurting, hiding individual – filled with conflict and deeply buried anger over who he was vs. who his church and his family and society as a whole expected him to be.  His own sense of self and self-worth was so deeply hidden under layers of self-deception, self-loathing and fear that it never surfaced in the time I knew him.  Compulsive and self-destructive behaviors filled his life: a vicious circle of turmoil and pain that he could not escape.

Conservative Christians focus on the Old Testament’s condemnations of homosexuality, especially verses like Leviticus 18:22  – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable (NIV).”  Yet, Leviticus also condemns the eating of shellfish as “detestable” (Lev 11:10).  So, should we stone to death everyone coming out of “Red Lobster”?

Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures condemn homosexuality to some extent.  Many argue this was because the ancient Jews lived in a world that had no room to care for (or even tolerate) people that we would have labelled as “unproductive members of society”, though the ancient Jews did not think in those terms (nor am I suggesting homosexuality falls into that category).  In that ancient time, homosexuality may have been seen as a behavior that was unproductive in terms of the critical need to sustain the culture through procreation.  It might also have been seen as an activity that threatened the status quo /or and gender roles within the culture.  Who knows?  Whatever the reasoning, it was seen as a threat to the community’s ability to survive in a world where the margin of survival was very thin.  Such threats therefore had to be dealt with firmly, if not harshly – since that same slim margin made less harsh punishments – such as prisons – impractical, if not impossible.

Homosexuality in the early Christian era was apparently not condemned of itself.  But, it is clear that it was often an expression of power and dominance or lust, not of love.  The New Testament has much to say in its condemnation of the misuse of power and wealth in many different dimensions and venues of life at that time.  So, is homosexuality itself being condemned by Paul and others, or its use as to express dominance?

Progressive Christians therefore question whether laws against homosexuality have a place in the modern world, a world where the challenge is not that of making sure enough children are born to carry on the culture, but is one of having too many: leading to the destruction of resources critical to our survival as a species.  Yet, in throwing out some Biblical teachings as outmoded or irrelevant, we need to be very careful: it would be too easy to throw out everything we don’t like if we pursue such a path.

A friend of mine once encapsulated the issue by asking me this question: “If someone close to you said they were planning to marry someone of the same gender, what would you do?”  My natural inclination and Jesus’ “Second Great Commandment” (in Matthew 22:36, where he quotes Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”) both tell me I should take the approach of love: accept them for who they are and wish them and their partner happiness in their life together.

Although homosexuality was only one of the factors contributing to his problems, if “John” had seen such love in his life, perhaps he would have had the inner peace he needed to build a meaningful and productive life for himself.  His inner torment and outward pain are evidence that we (as a society, as well as individually) failed to treat him as the Bible teaches us.

Another challenge is the teaching of “hate the sin but love the sinner” that many have adopted as their attitude towards homosexuality.  To me, this is hypocritical: if we criticize someone’s lifestyle or sexual orientation as a “sin,” how can we say that we “love” them unless we’re saying we accept them with a hidden agenda: that we want to change them into something they’re not?

We need to remember the conclusion to book of Ecclesiastes’ in the Hebrew Scriptures: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  This verse has two messages relevant to this discussion:

First, we all have a duty to keep the commandments as best we can, realizing – as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes did – that we can never fully succeed.  Also, Jesus taught us to not judge one another, and it was for this very reason: we all do the best we can, and have no right, nor sufficient wisdom or knowledge, to judge others in God’s place.  Since I know that I am not perfect, and will never be so (in this life, anyway), this plus Jesus’ Second Great Commandment teaches me I need to accept my neighbor for who they are, someone just as imperfect as myself: both of us trying to make sense of the world in which we live, and our place in it.

Second, hidden sin is no different than visible sin: a hidden agenda is hurtful, as it requires you to be false to another – requiring the relationship to be built on a false foundation.  I am certain God will judge such behavior more harshly than homosexuality, which, in the modern context of being a behavior shared by two consenting adults, hurts no one.  (Some will question this statement, noting that the Christian Scripture’s Book of Romans makes clear that God judges all “sin” equally.  But, what I’m saying is that homosexuality is not necessarily a sin at all.)

In fact, since Jesus constantly taught about how we are called to love one another across gaps that others claim cannot be bridged, why would homosexuality be any different? If anything, it would seem that being brave and caring enough to love another in the face of the judgment of the world around you is right up Jesus’ alley.  Some will say “Jesus was not talking about sex!”  Hmmm, maybe.  But, do not forget that sex is but one component of the many facets of the deep and healthy and loving relationship that can exist between two people.  Why are we trying to separate one aspect of that type of relationship out as “wrong” when approving of all the others?  Especially since Jesus never spoke against homosexuality himself?

Therefore, I know that I am being consistent with the teachings and spirit of the Bible when I conclude that I am to be concerned only about whether someone is living a productive and balanced life; and what I should (or can) do to support them in that regard.  A person’s sexual orientation is an issue only if they are not at peace with it themselves, or if it harms others.

Copyright (c) 2009, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via a credit that mentions my name or provides a link back to this site).