Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent Strength

In a world where atrocities, mass shootings, and war happen every day, where refugees take risks by leaving their homes because staying is a greater risk, and politicians choose sound bytes and notoriety over truth and good public policy,  these words by Robert Walsh speak to how I want to prepare for Christ’s coming this Christmas. I first heard them at the World AIDS Day Service in Billings Montana. I read this in church this Advent, during a week when the international, national, and local news was sad, and people in our church were facing their own personal challenges. Because God is sometimes referred to as "Ground-of-Being," I especially appreciate these words. 
When the great plates slip

and the earth shivers
and the flaw is seen to lie in what you trusted most

look not to mere solidity,
to weighty slabs of concrete poured

or strength of cantilevered beam
to save the fractured order.
Trust more the tensile strands of love

that bend and stretch

to hold you in the web of life that's often torn
but always healing.

The shifting plates, the restive earth,

your room, your precious life, they all proceed from love,
the ground on which we walk together. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Response to 11/13/15

Before I saw the charcoal sketch of 
the Eiffel  tower in the peace sign,
or the line drawing of the Statue of
Liberty hugging the Eiffel tower, 
I cut out paper hearts and stuck them
 like tears to a lamp. Not elegant or
 memorable, but helpful all the same.
For all my pastor friends out there struggling to
start a sermon or
adapt a sermon or
decide whether or not to
rewrite the sermon they wrote earlier in the week:

In a world where

a Lebanese father tackles a suicide bomber in Beirut (and the detonation kills him and his little daughter but saves hundreds) and his heroism goes largely unnoticed in the western world;[1] 

 a U.S. police officer’s death is ruled a suicide [2] but, before the facts were known, ex-law enforcement people and pundits blamed “Black Lives Matter” rhetoric[3];

Sikh gurdwaras in Paris open their doors to stranded tourists[4] but the American Cathedral in Paris closed for the day[5];

a Missouri student protests racism on campus by going on a hunger strike[6] and on the same campus, athletes use their power to bring about a university president’s resignation[7];

an Illinois student who is transgender is finally allowed access to the appropriate restroom and a city councilor 2,000 miles away[8] responds by explaining violence is the solution to transgender and Muslim problems;

and people who treat the internet as their pulpit call for killing/deporting/locking up Muslims, despite Christianity’s history of violence across continents, cultures, and centuries;

meanness, fear, ignorance, and spectacle seem to rule the week
and our ordinary tasks of ministry are dwarfed by the world’s sadness.

So I remind myself and you that our call as pastors is
to preach the gospel;
to tell the Jesus-stories full of courage and confusion and challenge;
to lament with the families of the fallen in Paris and Lebanon;
to sing hymns with hope and determination;
and to show by our words and our walk
that God’s love rules our hearts this week
and all the weeks to come.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Grief and Joy

Why do I feel such mixed emotions about the marriage equality ruling being made public the day the Rev. Clementa Pinkney’s funeral was held in Charleston SC?

·         Because Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

Their friendship was strained when Frederick chose to work for abolition first, before women’s suffrage. The friends didn’t speak for several years.  As soon as the fourteenth amendment passed, Frederick went right back to work for women’s suffrage. He said, “My special mission… was the emancipation and enfranchisement of the negro. Mine was a great cause. Yours is a much greater cause, since it comprehends the liberation and elevation of one half of the whole human family.” At his funeral, Susan read the eulogy that Elizabeth had written for their friend Frederick.

·         Because Bayard Rustin and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bayard was a friend of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and influenced King’s adopting nonviolence. But because Bayard realized his homosexuality was a problem for the civil rights movement, he resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1960.  Yet the civil rights leaders recognized his extraordinary talent, and a few years later made him the deputy in charge of organizing the 1963 March on Washington.  In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him (posthumously) the Presidential Medal of Freedom and 
presented it to his long-time partner Walter Naegle.

The work for justice, for nondiscrimination, for stopping hate, isn’t a smooth arc but is full of 
many paths and
uneven stops and
starts and
disagreements and
compromises and
attempts and
failures and

            Abolition, suffrage, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights couldn’t happen all at once. Working on one issue at a time requires letting some suffering go on. Whose rights are most important and how do we choose? Those who are pragmatic choose what is easiest first, hoping that momentum will build so we will have the tools and talent to tackle bigger challenges. The prophets keep reminding us that the hard work is still out there, and God’s beloved people are losing out in the meantime.
            So I keep in mind W.E.B. Dubois’ quote: “We have kept an idea alive; we have held to a great ideal, we have established a continuity and some day when unity and cooperation come, the importance of these early steps will be recognized.”
            His quote comforts me when I am frustrated that there is still so much hate and violence in the world. I get tired sometimes, trying to educate people about discrimination. I am ashamed of my own prejudices sometimes, but have learned to admit them and accept criticism.
            I find comfort in the Taizé song, “Where love and caring are, there is God. Ubi caritas, deus ibi est.

June 19 Prayer Vigil

All week long I’ve been thinking about how to answer the television reporter who asked me: "Why did you want to hold a vigil for the Charleston 9 on Friday June 19?"

I had few words that were soundbyte-worthy —fortunately the 60 seconds of live tape was mercifully quick. Here are the answers I wish I had thought of at the time.
·    Because I feel powerless in the face of such a terrible hate crime, such awful violence, such terrorism.
·    Because no one else here was planning a vigil. 
·    Because I wanted to pray and lament with other people who also wanted to pray and lament.
·         Because the Spirit called me to. (Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15.)
·         Because I want to dismantle racism.
·    Because anything, no matter how tiny, in the face of great evil is better than doing nothing.
·    Because God.  (Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Isaiah 1:16 )
·    Because I wanted to be in solidarity with Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.
·    Because Jesus. (Love your neighbor as yourself, Matthew 19:19, quoting Leviticus 19:18.)

Why did I want to spend my long overdue day off arranging for an extra worship service, writing press releases, and doing my first ever live television interview (plus two more interviews)?
·    Because letting people know they could come and pray together would make a difference. One pastor friend of mine, raised in North Carolina, drove 80 miles to be here. Another new pastor friend with an incredible schedule that day came. With less than 24 hours notice, a brief newspaper article, a briefer tv promo, and after a terrible hailstorm that knocked electricity out, 21 people came. People who couldn’t come told me they were glad St. Andrew hosted the vigil.
·    Because I hoped taking a photo of us all and sending a card to Emanuel AME would matter to their church as much as the cards our church in Oklahoma received after the Murrah building was bombed in 1995.
·    Because the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” were tearing through me. “Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land.”

I remain grateful to those people who came to the microphone and shared stories, their prayers, and commitments to stop racism, starting with ourselves.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Yesterday, a majority of the presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to amend our constitution to refer to marriage as between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.

 Here’s the wording: Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community. 

In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges. 

This means that if individual churches and pastors choose to, they can perform gay weddings.
I know that makes some Presbyterians afraid that we will lose members to more conservative denominations. That may happen. I understand their concerns. My concern is that we are true to our calling to follow Jesus and share the good news of God’s love with all people. 

We tend to think that a person is either male or female. But that is not always the case. In college, I majored in human development. I learned that sometimes children are born with ambiguous genitalia and/or chromosomes. Parents were pressured into approving surgery for their children, so that their babies would have a specific gender. Sometimes these children grew up without knowing about their infant surgery, but they knew that “something was wrong with them.” (This surgery is much less frequent now, as our understanding of gender has broadened.) I was sad that these children would have trouble getting married. I looked to the Bible for help. This verse was scary:

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.                                                                                                                         Deuteronomy 23:1  

And then this verse was full of joy for me.
…do not let the eunuch say, "I am just a dry tree. For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,  I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.                                                                    Isaiah 56:3b-5   
The Bible speaks with many voices; I trust the Holy Spirit to lead me to the voice that applies to my situation and my time. To me, this text from Isaiah means that people outside the binary gender identity are still included in God’s covenant and so we should include them in our churches and support their marriages. (I am not saying that LGBTQ people are equivalent to eunuchs; I'm just saying that the Bible is clear that people outside the sexual mainstream are still included as a part of God's people.)

I know gay marriage makes some of us uncomfortable—we will have to get used to it the way we had to get used to divorced people being able to be married in church.  It used to be that if divorced people were remarried, they couldn’t hold office in the church. Even today, some denominations will not serve communion to people who are divorced.

My concern for gay marriage in church is a pastoral one. Most Presbyterian pastors routinely require pre-marital counseling as part of wedding planning; Justices-of-the-peace do not. Therapists and counselors offer it, but couples have to pay for it and plan for it, so not many do. Pre-marital counseling decreases the likelihood of divorce by a third or a half, depending on whose statistics you’re reading.

During pre-marital counseling, I help couples identify their challenges, celebrate their strengths, and learn to work through conflicts about important issues (money, children, chores) when the conflicts are small. When I meet with a bride and groom, I talk with them about their spiritual lives, and it is a good opportunity for me to share the gospel with them. I want every couple to have a holy, healthy, and joy-filled relationship. Now that people who are LBGTQ  can get married in Presbyterian churches, brides and brides and grooms and grooms too can have this benefit.