You Lost Me…

Beth Woolsey’s blog is always entertaining, and often deeply insightful: filled with a deep passion for life and compassion for others.

This particular post of hers (which lays out why she left Conservative Christianity behind) in many ways reflects my own journey on the same path.

http://bethwoolsey.com/2017/09/how-i-became-a-heretic-or-how-the-evangelical-conservative-church-lost-me/

Sermon: Scattered and Gathered

The story of the Tower of Babel and of Peter’s Sermon on the First Day of Pentecost are two sides of the same coin: Both stories demonstrate that God values us and speaks to us as individuals. Acts 2 also shows that our relationships with God and each other are both communal and individual in their nature; and that God intends both aspects to be present in our relationships with each other and with the Divine.

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited
“The Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1453.

This week we celebrate the beginning of the Christian Church, Pentecost.  Among other things, Pentecost is a declaration that Christ’s relationship with his disciples, including us, is a new thing: one that transforms us and our relationship with the Divine in fundamental and lasting ways.

Pentecost reflects a new level of openness, of sharing, of vulnerability. A deeper bond has been created: binding us together and with God through the Holy Spirit that indwells each and every one of us. It is an affirmation of who we are and who we are to become.

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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

Women Going Topless In Public???

I admire those who are pushing for equality in this area. It does make me feel uncomfortable, but that’s OK: change tends to make all of us uncomfortable. But we’ll survive, and we’ll adapt. Things will be just fine, and our society will once again prove itself to be much more resilient and adaptable and compassionate than we imagined.

topless_300This issue (as well as occasional pushes to legalize going entirely naked in public) has been in the news off and on for quite a while.

Now, intellectually, I recognize that going topless should not be an issue, regardless of gender, gender orientation or gender expression – and frankly, treating two groups of people differently because of something they have no control over always disturbs me: it just isn’t right.

On the other hand, this is a society that sexualizes women’s breasts; and – from an emotional perspective – the prudish old fogey in me recoils at the idea of actually seeing a woman’s bared breasts in public.

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The Many Languages of Faith

Christianity is the faith-language we use here in encountering the Divine, but there are many such languages. It would be nice if there was a single, simple answer, but faith never provides a single answer, let alone a simple one – how could you have such an answer with an infinite God? You can’t write a symphony with a single note, and God’s Creation is far more complex, extensive and wonderful than any symphony! Our faith-language, combined with many others, are sung by the great choir that extols the greatness, diversity and immensity of an infinite and loving God, who loves each of us for who we are, just as we are – treasuring the unique and special gift that each of us is – a gift from God to all of Creation.

VT_2007_03_ 015Our faith is like a language, a framework that helps us explore, express and deepen our relationship with the Divine. Everyone has a faith-language, whether we are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Shamanists … even Atheists (since even non-relationship with the Divine is still a type of relationship).

We use this framework to understand and express our faith. It shapes how we look at the world around us: how we see our relationships with each other; and how we interact with each other; how we perceive the world is organized, what the purpose of Creation is (if any); and the purpose and limits of our own existence. Our faith-language is a lens we use all the time – not just in encountering the Divine, but in dealing with the everyday realities of life.

Our own faith language is Christianity. How we experience and express our faith is influenced by our familial roots, education, relationships and life experiences, the choices we’ve made in life, and many other factors. They all affect how we see and express the relationship we have with God and our relationships with each other. These relationships and experiences are uniquely ours, never to be repeated.

We all have a unique relationship with the Divine because our faith tells us that God values and loves us as and because we are unique and distinct individuals.  The faith-language share binds us together as a community in relationship with each other, and with God.

And, Christianity works well for us (I hope!): we are familiar with it. It is part of the “cultural wallpaper” of our lives. It’s a tool that we constantly use throughout our lives: developing, strengthening and exploring our relationships with each other and with God. But, that does not mean that Christianity is the only faith-language for everyone, or even anyone, else. In fact, it can’t be.

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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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Our Foolish Faith

tiananmenPaul tells us in this week’s Lectionary reading from 1 Corinthians that “the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.…” And, that “God made foolish the wisdom of the world.”

In other words, foolishness (at least in one’s faith) is a good thing. But, can we have too much of a good thing? Are there boundaries beyond which our foolishness should not go?

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Sermon: Making Room

…when we walk out of this church, the question of whether we are going to face the issue of racism and race-based injustice is a choice we can make, because we are all white. And, unlike our black brethren, we can choose to forget about it. … King said “the time is always ripe to do right.” And so I say “yes, the time is always ripe; but are we willing to do right all the time?”

martin_luther_king_cover.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoMy self-image as a strong supporter of Civil Rights crashed in ruin one Sunday morning, in the Spring of 1996. At the time, I was a member of an African American church in Virginia, and their sound technician. (…But please don’t tell our worship team that!) That morning, as I was setting up, a young woman, maybe 16 years of age, came in with her friends, and sat down in front of me and my sound board. She then leaned forward in her chair, so that I could not miss what was printed on the back of her orange t-shirt in big block letters: “I WASN’T EDUCATED IN NO F***ING WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL”.

I must apologize for even hinting at such language here. But it is important for this morning’s message to give you a good sense of what that moment was like.

Obviously, this is not one of my lighter sermons. So, let’s take a moment to pray…

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Coming Out as Inclusive.

UCC Open and AffirmingThanks to Army Chaplain Jonathan R. Fisher for making this valuable point in his blog.

Being “Open” to others (and their otherness) is simply not enough. “Open” by itself is a passive state. As Christians, whether we are in the pastorate or the laity, we are called to do more than merely be “Open.” Our faith calls us to action, meaning that we must not only be Open, but also Affirming. We cannot simply welcome those who come through our doors, but must also reach out to them beyond the doors of the sanctuaries we’ve defined for ourselves. We must affirm others for who and what they are, right where they are.

Affirmation is not about accepting someone when they come into my territory, but rather about valuing and loving others right where they are even if they never step outside the limits of the space they have set for themselves.

Affirmation is a declaration that everyone is a child of God, and therefore a valuable, wonderful person loved by God for exactly who they are right now; and that we are called to do the same.

Being “Open” AND “Affirming” is not an easy thing to do, because it calls us to accept that we don’t have all the answers, and never will; and that we therefore must be willing to accept and value the presence of God in others, no matter how it is expressed, and no matter how challenging we may find those expressions to be.

I’ll end with this quote from Fred Rogers, from his book “The World According to Mr. Rogers”…

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

 

jonathanrfisher

It would seem that a post about this would be completely unnecessary in the pluralistic world of the Army Chaplain Corps. It would seem that the directive to perform one’s own faith and provide for all the others would make such a statement redundant.

Only it’s not.

Somehow, this needs be said.

So, I am going to say it: I am a chaplain for ALL my Soldiers. All of them. The gay ones. The straight ones. The fat ones. The skinny ones. The conservative ones. The liberal ones. The religious ones. The non religious ones. The connected to church and the far away. The reason driven and the faith-based. The agnostic and the Christian. The pagan, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the whatever-you-happen-to-believe right now. Everyone I can think to mention and everyone else.

All means all.

This last summer, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of…

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Affirmation

Affirmation requires embracing the other, and loving them, without judgment, for every aspect of who they are, and what they are. … It is an acknowledgement that we don’t have all of the answers, and that the other’s answers therefore deserve just as much respect and care as we expect them to show for ours. This is driven by our firm conviction that the Holy Spirit is available to all and that God is present in all of Creation, a conviction rooted in Peter’s quote from Joel to that crowd of many nations on Pentecost: “God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” All Flesh. So, it is our role to discern God in the other, even if the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives manifests itself in ways that we are neither familiar nor comfortable with.

Bugobi-29-960x540My “Farewell Sermon” at Sudbury Memorial Church, UCC
Presented 5/19/2013
Scriptures: John 15:12-17; Acts 2:1-21

My first Sunday here was as a pulpit supply preacher on August 7th, 2011. The Lay Leader that day was John, who was a tremendous help, the very first of many here who have reached out to support, encourage and guide me, every time I’ve been in this Sanctuary or ministered in any capacity on behalf of this congregation.

Just over eight months ago, I began serving as your Ministerial Intern. That day, I was leaping into the unknown. I was nervous about the year long experience we’d both committed ourselves to, worried about saying the wrong thing, doing something stupid, or offending someone inadvertently; hoping our time together would be a positive experience for all of us.

And every day since has been a great blessing, filled with experiences I will always treasure.  This has been a time of growth and of correction, a time of learning and of teaching, a time of deepening and broadening my faith and ministry (and – I hope – yours), a time where we have each given a piece of ourselves to the other, a time when we planted seeds for the future within each other, a time where we have been open to each other and shared in deeply moving, loving ways. We’ve bonded with each other in ways that will last forever.

Those most involved in mentoring and guiding me during my time here, the members of my Teaching Parish Committee, and Tom and Cathy, are all up here this morning, continuing their support through our joint ministry today, doing what you have all been so diligent in doing these past eight months – affirming and guiding me in hundreds of ways, small and large. But most importantly, and most memorably, you’ve all offered me your friendship, and your love, and I have been profoundly grateful and blessed by it.

But now, our journey together draws to a close. Our future has arrived, a future where our paths diverge. A time when, once again, we must leap into the unknown; but this time of ministering together will live on, in our memories. Good memories, mostly – I hope! Certainly that will be the case for me. It’s been a good year, but as we often say when times such as this come to a close, our journey together has been all too short.

But is it the end?

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father…”

I do not call you “Servants” any longer… but I have called you friends

We are embarking on a new stage in our relationship, which is also the message of Pentecost. The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was a declaration that Christ’s relationship with his disciples, including us, is one that can never die, and one that has changed into something new. There is a new level of openness, of sharing, of affirming, of vulnerability. A deeper bond has been born, binding us together through the Holy Spirit that now indwells each and every one of us.

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