Civility

October 2015 and Diversity

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“Diversity is not a weakness for faith, but a strength.
Our diversity is not discouraged by scripture, but validated.
Diversity is not disunity, but should help us be a unified whole.”

me in ma beardIt’s October and I’ll be starting a couple of things this month: 1) I’ll start working on my winter beard… and I know it’s never much of a beard, maybe more of a beardlette, but I’ll see what difference another year on the march to manliness means for me, and 2) I’ll be investing the month in writing out my thoughts on diversity as a core element of Christian faith that is too often given short shrift or completely ignored.

Diversity of Faith Expression/Identify

I’m not choosing diversity because it’s a buzz word. I’d like to focus on what our scriptures, especially in the New Testament and the words of Jesus, have to teach us about being different. Too often I’ve heard much more about being the same. In my own lifetime I’ve heard sermon after sermon about conforming to a single ideal, a single belief and a singular expression of faith and church. The church of my youth was devoted to a single refined expression of doctrine and ecclesiology to the exclusion and utter rejection of all deviance from that expression. We fantasized about our ability to come to conclusions and decisions about theological and doctrinal matters outside of personal experience and enculturation, and therein find the single answer to all questions for all people in all times in all places. Today, I’d call that misguided and un-hopeful.

Our scriptures present a different picture of life and faith. The ministry of Jesus showed a diversity of disciples and gifts surrounding Jesus, and times of Jesus himself affirming the existence and authenticity of others. In fact, Jesus often did this over the protests of his disciples who desired exclusivity and personal greatness, uniqueness.

Diversity of Gifts

We have often spoken of diversity in the realm of giftedness and abilities. It’s appropriate when we speak of individual calling and giftedness to recognize our diversity, and we’ll chat about that in October. We just won’t leave our diversity solely to the realm of gifts and abilities.

Diversity of Calling & Being

More than ever we are being challenged to be open and welcoming to differences. We are being asked to be comfortable with our differences. So where and how do we plant our feet solidly in our understanding of faith and scripture and tradition to do that? We’ll be exploring that question through the coming month. My central hope in this month is to show that we are able to be both faithful to God and respectful of one another’s dignity by becoming more open and tuned into the value and strength of our differences.

I’m excited to push back against many misconceptions about people, scripture and faith. I’m hopeful that we can live and worship with a greater love and sincere appreciation for one another, even in our differences. I have come to hold diversity as one of our greatest strengths, one thetas validated by scripture and necessary for us to realize lasting wholeness as a community.

AMDG, Todd

The Love But Lifestyle

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love everyoneLet’s talk about love.

Within my own faith tradition (and maybe yours) God is love, the driving and primary orientation of God toward us is love, the reason for the incarnation of Christ is love and the love of God for us is unending, complete and steadfast, not able to be removed by any other power or circumstance of life. These are some of the assurances from our scriptures about love. Love is the greatest command, the identifier Jesus wanted associated with his followers and the fulfillment (summation, pinnacle, totality, completion) of religious aspiration. Are those just poetic words from our scriptures or actionable realities that people of faith need to weave into life’s fragmentation and pain?

To hear so many of us chattering away on a daily basis, you’d think that “God is love, but…” You might think, from the current divisive posturing and fighting about flags and marriage equality on the internet and around dinner tables, that God’s love for us is on hold, waiting for us to be a little more deserving, a little more compliant, a little more something other than we seem to be.

We are quick to assign hate and happy to alienate. We are quick to be threatened and shameless in our rejection of people in their noncompliance to our assumptions about life. We live the love, but lifestyle so often that we forget rightness isn’t really the point of either faith or of following Christ. The moment we choose a posture of rightness with/from God and others that assumes our deservedness to be sharing that love, it is no longer the love of God that scripture witnesses to us.

I know, we’re talking about love, but and not love butts. Sorry. That was a gratuitous attempt to garner clicks. =) And a way to label a problem we have in our current disagreements around the reading of scripture and history. Rarely has love got a thing to do with the questions we’re posing (or screaming) to one another and the drive to dominate conversations and win arguments. We’re arguing from a love, but position that assumes too much about the “other side.”

Maybe to keep love at the center, we need to move these conversations off the Facebook timelines and away from the dinner table, and chill ourselves out. Maybe we need some quiet time (some really need a paddling & time out, to be honest) to regain our center with the God of love, the love of God, God, Love.

I’d like to offer two suggestions, simple things that can have an impact. We can do these things right now, and start now even if we’ve been running the opposite direction. I have nothing here new and certainly not unique to me or my own life, but these are real, timeless and helpful. They can help us leave behind the love, but lifestyle and reengage with one another in our diversity, imagining new ways forward together.

1. Take a deep breath and celebrate God’s love for you.

Really. This is for everyone, white or black, and every shade of the beautiful human experience. This is for my gay friends, my straight friends and my friends trying to make an authentic life all along that spectrum of orientation. This is for my gender conforming friends and my gender fluid friends. This is for my rednecks, my Democrats, my Republicans and my independents. This is for my Christians, my Buddhists, my Hindus, my Muslims, my Wiccans, my Jews and my atheists. This is for my humans, and any trees or cats that happen to read my blog. This is for all: God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. Anthony de Mello spoke it simply and truly, “You don’t have to change for God to love you.” God’s love does not just pursue you; that love has already overtaken you and is yours right now. Breathe it in. Ignore all the voices that deny this truth. Let your heart be still and calm. Let your soul rest in God’s love.

We each need to begin our day with a reminder that this love is the house in which we awaken, the clothes in which we wrap and present ourselves. It’s the food of our soul throughout the day. We may and often do hear the untruth of not having God’s love during the day, but we can recognize it for the untruth it is, and roll on. Words may still have the power to hurt us and rejection from our fellow humans can still pain us, but we have a reservoir of truth to salve the wounding.

Really, please grab hold of this and make it your own. When someone hates you or mistreats you, that is the lie. Their lack of love or outright hatred is an untruth. It’s not true. Your value and worth are the truth. You are a recipient of God’s love. Their injury to you is not who you are or a true reflection of your value and dignity. When we know the love of God in which we stand we can then recognize the untruth in another person’s words and actions and avoid the danger of our soul feeding on that lie and faltering in health and growth.

Having been able to recognize the untruth in another’s words and actions, we can honestly love them, as they are. Maybe we can move past their hurtful words and see or hear something deeper in them, the pain and hurt that has caused them to be makers of pain and hurt. This is how God loves, without reservation and without any needed reciprocity. Jesus taught this kind of love, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Only by seeing the untruth in others and loving them anyway can we begin to forgive them and avoid letting the untruth take root in our heart and soul.

2. Stop the fighting, all the fighting.

There’s no culture war if we don’t show up on the front lines loaded and ready to get it on! Really, stop viewing everything as a fight and a conflict. Stop buying the rhetoric of political and religious leaders who claim you have to wage a war for your belief and opinion. We’re being herded by powers that deal in human misery when we answer a call to battle our neighbor. Neighbors are for loving. (Jesus said that, too.)

We are not going to wake up tomorrow to a world that agrees with you. You may be in the majority one day and minority the next. Your candidate might win, and yours might lose. Jesus gave us no marching orders to dominate this world… even Paul knew the difference between every knee bowing to Jesus and bowing to us. We are not promised world domination and we are not asked to attempt it.

Every time we speak in competition, every time we speak in conflict, every time we try to win a point, win an argument, out shout or out think or out debate someone, love loses. You know that passage about love from Paul, the one we always read at weddings? Yes, the one from 1 Corinthians 13 that is the “but have not love” and “love is” stuff… it has nothing to do with marriage and weddings. At least, no more to do with weddings and marriage than any and every day of life. That passage is about us sharing the world together, all of us and every day. It does not leave room for power games or cultural wars over tradition and personal opinions. All of the religious posturing about the fragility and offense of our faith is ridiculous and just comes across as a clanging symbol, selfishness and comical self-matyrdom. Claiming your rights over someone else’s on a religious basis is not kind, patient, humble or honoring of others. We fight or we love. What will it be?

Please. Whatever side of whatever issue is most compelling and meme-worthy of the moment, love will outlast it. Love will win. Love will be here. But will we be here? Will there be anything or anyone left on either side of any issue to enjoy the pride and power of dominance? You want to be amazing? You want to make God smile? Love somebody near you like they’ve never been loved before. And if you just can’t love them right now, at least take some quiet time to yourself until you can reboot the heart and catch a breeze of that free-flowing grace that God has woven into our DNA and the very elements of our world.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one anotherhumbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
We’re leaving too many half-devoured neighbors, friends and family, littered along the trail of our self-righteous and love-lacking love, but posturing and meme’ing. We weren’t supposed to be known by our bite marks.
AMDG, Todd

Grateful for Justin Lee

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justin lee and meToday, I’m feeling really grateful for an acquaintance of mine, Justin Lee. He’s the kind of guy I want to say is my buddy, but we haven’t hung out all that much. We did have a chance to sit a few years ago at the Wild Goose Festival and enjoy some beer and pizza one afternoon… and to offset the anemic feel of our just being acquaintances, I’m throwing in a pic of he and I together last year in DC! =)

Justin wrote the book, Torn, and it’s great. He’s the founder of the Gay Christian Network, and he also recently gave an excellent ten minute snapshot of both the predicament in which LGBTQ Christians often find themselves, and the wrong hurtful ways that straight Christians are responding to that predicament. It’s worth so much more than ten minutes of your time! Here’s the link, and Justin’s ten minute remarks begin at the 41 minute mark of the video. Enjoy!

AMDG, Todd

Click below to jump to Justin’s site with the video, and go to minute 41 for his remarks!

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 12.45.55 PM

Be Counter-Cultural Jesus Style

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No. No. No.

TACOMA, Wash. — A woman was choked and stabbed and had homophobic slurs written on her body with a marker in an attack early Sunday in Tacoma…

The 45-year-old woman was attacked while looking for her dog that had slipped out of her house about 3 a.m. She was followed into an alley by the man who made homophobic slurs during the assault…

The News Tribune of Tacoma reported that the man kept saying to her, “Are you a dyke? God hates fags.”

http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2015/02/homophobic-slurs-written-on-womans-body-in-tacoma-hate-crime-attack/

sighing jesusWhat God actually hates: the injustice and abuse of the attacker’s actions and hate. There is no room in our world for this kind of thing. And there is no excuse for hate engendering language which fuels this kind of an attack. Before spouting off more on the alleged culture war in our country and the problem of those people, please know that it’s not just a battle of words and many LGBTQ people suffer daily from the rhetoric.

Want to be on God’s side? Love more, love all, love stupidly until people think you’re a raving lunatic for your inexplicable tirades on justice, liberty, dignity and the value of ALL people. Be counter-cultural as Jesus taught us: Love those who may not love you or be like you at all, and serve them, and sacrifice for them, and do not fight with any weapon but love, turning “the other cheek” and giving more than you’re asked to give, and not only rejecting murder and violence but also rejecting hatred and disdain. That’s basic, fundamental Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity 101 stuff!

Stop the rhetoric which fuels this mess. Stop the us vs. them talk. Stop the “God hates {people you don’t like}” talk. Stop the “that just makes me sick” talk. Stop labeling people with agendas, bad intentions and criminalizing assumptions. Stop making anyone the butt of your jokes. Speak up for people’s dignity, freedom and value. Serve those least like you. See people through the lens of God’s raging love and the servant heart of Christ.

Be a peacemaker. Be prayerful. Be holy.

AMDG, Todd

A Civil Repudiation of a Judgmental Viewpoint

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me at my baseThings like this pop up in the news every now and again, and I took a hit for the team today and actually listened to Pastor Steven Anderson’s full sermon entitled: “AIDS: The Judgement of God.”  It came as no surprise that he generalizes people, uses stereotypes and exaggerates, and does some pretty horrible handling of scripture.

This preacher is not mainstream Christianity. He’s not even mainstream for Baptists, even non-affirming Baptists. He’s not doing good exegesis of scripture. He abuses his concordance by picking and choosing uses of English words across the breadth and width of scripture. And I have to take a moment to repudiate his message and proclamation. I won’t join him in name calling and I won’t join him in screaming. But I won’t sit by and let this be done in the name of Christ, with the accompanying laughter of his congregation, without a strident denial of the message of vilification, violence and anger.

I had hoped to just mention a few things he did wrong, but it’s a long sermon. I ended up with at least 14 things he did that were disrespectful of people and/or disrespectful of our scriptures.

1. Jokes about HIV/AIDS and people’s health and suffering. Really, he laughs about AIDS rates and people having AIDS. He repeatedly jokes about their suffering and about efforts to help them. HIV is a laughing matter to him.

2. Backward reading of Romans 1 and dismissal of Romans 2. He ignores Paul’s point to the verses in chapter 1 which is made in chapter 2: Don’t judge. Since he ignores Paul’s point of not judging, he is then free to read the verses in chapter 1 any way he wants. I outline in depth this kind of problematic reading of Romans 1 in another post here at the blog.

3. Associating HIV/AIDS with Romans 1:27. I didn’t think people still did this, but he actually makes it the sermon title that he believes HIV/AIDS is the penalty mentioned in Romans 1:27. Do we have to go into the problem of reading a disease in our current time backward into scripture from 2,000 years ago? This is so disrespectful of scripture that it defies explanation when coming from someone so stridently claiming “biblical authority” for his message.

4. Use of the word “sodomite.” If we are honest about the destruction of Sodom as biblical writers spoke of it, then we have to know that using the word (which was created long after the scriptures were written) to reference a specific sexual activity is a warning sign that we’re listening to a severe lack of education on biblical topics and a lack of respectful interpretation. Again, I wrote on this in a previous post. Using sodomite as an adjective would more correctly denote gluttony, pride or a neglect of poor people as scriptural writers spoke of Sodom’s destruction.

5. Defining words with a concordance. He jumps around an English translation of the Bible to define biblical terms in one instance by the use of that term in another instance, as if it were all originally written in English, yesterday.

6. Setting up straw arguments which he of course wins. He says, “They said *blah blah” to which I say “blah blah*” and wins the argument… of course. He makes everyone who disagrees with him sound stupid both in their intention, content and inflection.

7. Advocating the execution of homosexuals. He claims that we can have an AIDS free world in short order by killing all LGBTQ people, as we were told to do in Leviticus. His words normalize and justify violence against sexual minorities.

8. Name calling. Psycho. Homo. Satanist. Freak. Hypocrites. Bastard (speaking of President Obama). Twinkie.

9. Vilification and criminalization of homosexuals in every possible sense. He says, “Homos are gross.” “Homos go both ways.” “No queers allowed in this church.” “All homos are pedophiles.” He actually asserts that all gay men are pedophiles. He asserts that all gay men are trying to spread AIDS to straight men and women. He says that gay men are to blame for any straight person who has AIDS, which of course he can assert by believing that God gave gay men AIDS in Romans 1:27. He claims that gay people only want to be married to be insulting to straight people. *Sigh*

10. Believing the gospel means that a person cannot become gay. He asserts that becoming a Christian means that a person cannot be then tempted to explore gay sex and negates any previous leaning toward gay sexuality. Since when does faith work that way with anything we might consider a sin? And of course, since I don’t believe that being gay is a sin, then I’m left further befuddled.

11. Misuse of a verse from Jude to link homosexuals with the destruction of Sodom. He misuses a phrase “strange flesh” from Jude’s short letter, almost as an afterthought, to link homosexuality with Sodom. The phrase is sarkos heteros in the Greek… very hard to link homo-sexuality with hetro-flesh, but it doesn’t stop our preacher in this instance. I hope we all know that hetro- means different not male. Therefore heterosexuality is attraction to the opposite sex.

12. He doesn’t know any gay Christians. Not just to repeat points 9 & 10, but it’s so sad that he doesn’t know any gay Christians, whose faith has at times put my own to shame. His narrowed and incorrect view of sexuality limits him from a fellowship which would do him such good.

13. “I’m not going to stone them with stones… this is not a violent sermon about harming anyone.” After asserting that we would have an AIDS free world if we’d only execute homosexuals, he then claims that he won’t himself use stones to kill anyone and isn’t meaning to advocate violence. Too late.

14. He engenders fear, “Don’t just put your kid on a school bus.” …because gay people are waiting everywhere to devour your children, with government support. He speaks with the language of fear and abuse. He himself is fairly stereotypical in his language when not only vilifying gay people but also the public educational system and politicians.

Now I have to pray and find a way to detox from this sermon. His anger, his venom and his excited joy in condemning and ridiculing people is injuring to the soul. Please, my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, don’t listen to this man. No one should be swayed by his screaming tirade and twist of scriptural passages and words. Don’t believe that he in any way speaks for our Christ, our God or our Church.

I can’t muster the spirit at this point to listen a second time, but I’m fairly sure he never once quotes Christ in this sermon. I can’t even recall that he mentions Christ. I do know he at one point makes fun of Christians who emphasize love. Hmmmmm. Let that sink in and be a warning flag for the future. If he did mention Jesus, then it was so passing as to not even register in my memory. Know that you cannot preach as this man preaches if you are tuned into the heart of Christ, a heart that breaks with every ridiculing joke and sneering dismissal of a human being from this man’s mouth.

AMDG, Todd

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    Matthew 22:34-40

Sexuality and Violence

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me its on us profileI took a bit of time off from blogging to get thru Thanksgiving, and it was a great time! I hope your holiday was blessed, happy and safe. I have the same prayer for your Advent Season and celebration of Hanukkah: safety, joy and good times with friends & family!

Sexuality and Violence

I was captivated by the story this morning of two sisters in India who courageously fought back against some young men harassing them on a public bus. But, it stands in stark contrast to the tragic story of Tugce Albayrak who was murdered in Germany for standing up for two other women who were being harassed. Sexuality and it’s tragic link to violence is a conversation that we must all engage, in our homes, within our local communities, across our nation and around our world.

Women’s Sexuality and Violence

Women are whole sexual beings of value and beauty, not sexual commodities to be handled, traded, devalued or owned. I’m glad that in an increasingly post-patriarchal world we can see women’s value on the rise, but we still have a journey ahead of us. I encourage you to support campaigns like It’s On Us and Hollaback! I just started looking through the website of Stop Street Harassment, a group working to equip male allies in the struggle to end this type of sexual violence. Honestly, I’ve been a bit discouraged by the number of men I see on Facebook justifying or laughing about the problem of street harassment. We can do better.

Something that I believe men often miss is the physical and emotional stress caused by verbal violence and actions (proximity and following) which engender fear for women in public places. We’ve probably all seen the recent video highlight the problem of street harassment in NYC, but many men are missing the point. Take for instance this interview with a man who clearly has no clue what kind of violence lurks behind street harassment and defends it as something women secretly desire. Then there’s a video of a muscular man walking in NYC and receiving some similar catcalls and harassment. The creators of that video believe there’s a dynamic equivalent between the experience of the woman and the man in a similar situation. The sad truth is that women are sometimes beaten and killed for rejecting those street harassments whereas the muscular guy has a bit less of a chance of the verbal assault becoming physically violent. Let’s get real.

Here’s a quick look at the global problem of violence against women, courtesy of the World Health Organization.

LGBTQ Sexuality and Violence

One of the saddest parts of engaging the current conversations about our valuable LGBTQ sisters, brothers and neighbors is the prevalence of violence linked with their sexual identity. LGBTQ youth have a high rate of homelessness which leads to vulnerability to crime, exploitation and drug abuse. They are often rejected at home and either driven out by the stresses of nonacceptance or simply told to leave. This is sexual violence. One of the saddest parts of this picture is that religion is often cited as a basis for both the nonacceptance and for kicking these teens out of their homes.

Sadly, we’re all familiar with stories like this one from Philadelphia just a couple months ago when two gay men were harassed and beaten. These stories are all too familiar and they highlight the problem of sexuality and violence. I recently shared the video of Laverne Cox speaking on street harassment and the ugly verbal violence she has faced and the physical violence which sometimes faces transgendered women on the street.

And who can forget the preachers who have used their pulpits to incite violence, both verbal and physical, against our neighbors based on their sexuality? Some of us may want to forget them, but we should face the truth that this is our issue in the church and we still have work to do to address it and move forward.

Here’s a downloadable report on hate crimes and violence against our LGBTQ friends, neighbors and family, courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign.

Speaking Up on Sexuality and Violence

What I ask is that we learn to speak up on behalf of anyone and everyone who faces verbal and/or physical violence because of their sexuality. We’re talking about gender and sexual orientation. We need to develop reflexes as a culture and a species which react to this violence with justice and mercy. We need to be heard from our homes, phones, Facebook streams, blogs and pulpits clearly saying that this kind of violence predicated on issues of sexuality is unacceptable, not funny and unwelcome on our big blue spinning globe.

I’m mediating this week with the beginning of Advent on John’s introduction to who Jesus is as he arrives in the world, from John 1:1-4…

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Word. Powerful Word. Creative Word. We know this truth: that our words have meaning and power. As the Word was a shaping and creative force in God’s founding of creation, we have similar words to shape and make this a world of justice, peace and hope. We know the words of Jesus, who is himself the light and life, claiming that we similarly are “the light of the world.” 

Are we ready to speak up? Are we ready to stand up and use our words to shape the world with God’s peace and grace? The world, every woman and man, every LGBTQ neighbor, awaits our decision. Let the light shine.

Let the light shine.

AMDG, Todd

Transgendered Day of Remembrance and Awareness

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Trans Remembrance Candle

Two Videos for Transgender Day of Remembrance 2014

It’s November 2oth and I just learned this year that Nov. 20th is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to remember those murdered for their gender expression. This is also a day to face the violence and hate that is perpetrated against transgendered people, and to oppose it. I’m going to dedicate today’s blog post to our trans neighbors who have faced violence and hatred, those youth who have been rejected by families and made homeless, those who have been bullied and those who have been murdered for trying to live as they most authentically understood themselves.

On this day of remembrance I ask that we all make a communal effort to replace any anger, any fear, any confusion, any hurt or lack of empathy, with love and a renewed desire to oppose all violence, verbal and physical, against our transgendered neighbors.

I was blessed recently to stumble on a short snip of Laverne Cox’s speech on the violence and bullying that the trans community often face in daily life. I shared it on Facebook and I offer it again as a place to begin listening and empathizing. Whoa, I just learned how to insert a YouTube video instead of just linking! Sweet!

I’m also happy to share another video, the Thursday Night Keynote from Rev. Allyson Robinson at The Reformation Project conference in DC a couple weekends back. She’s transgendered and a great preacher! Her message was deep and inspiriting.

I do realize that many (LGBTQ and straight) may not share the optimism she expresses on where we are at with LGBTQ acceptance and inclusion, either in churches or civil society. However, this lady can preach! I was blessed to be present hearing her message that evening, and blessed by her humility and gifting.

Talk to ya soon, beloved!

AMDG, Todd