Sermon of Jan 21, 2018 St John’s Episcopal Church
Gospel: Mark 1:14-20, NRSV
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
This passage is a narrative of calling as Jesus goes place to place calling out to everyone “the time has come” and to some of the locals “follow me.” When was the last time you waited on a call? You just sat and watched your phone, checking for missed calls again and again? Today, it seems like that’s all I’m doing, getting calls or calling someone… I’ve even caught myself calling one of my sons in their room on their cell phone… have you been there? Instead of yelling or heaven forbid going to the room, I phone them.
Anyone remember life before cell phones? Before even pagers? When I was a kid we had, I think it was, an enormous brown 1975 Ford LTD. My dad’s car. We kids just roamed the neighborhood like a pack of hyenas, no iPhones, no GPS, no Google Maps. If my dad wanted me home he would go out and honk the horn on that Ford LTD a few times to call me. And pity me if I didn’t make it home in under 15 minutes. I knew that horn. I left what I was doing, so sorry fellas, I’m out, I’m called, and I gotta go. And I get a little bit of the same feeling here in Mark chapter 1 when Jesus says “follow me” and people drop what they’re doing “so sorry fellas, I’m out, I’m called, and I gotta go.”
It reminds me also an East African proverb we learned a long time ago, “To be called is to be sent.” The wisdom being the recognition that if someone with authority or purpose calls for you, it’s with the intent to send you, to use you, to give you something to do. Jesus seems to be calling with the intent to send.
I’d like to chat about Mark’s Gospel for just a moment, because over the years of preaching, it’s sort of become, if not my favorite, one Gospel that I immensely enjoy reading and preaching out of… this Gospel is a masterpiece of sorts. Mark begins, unlike other Gospels with their birth narratives and cosmic returns to the beginning of all things, with a simple statement… here begins the good news.
This good news is bound up in calling and proclaiming: 1) first with John the Baptizer, the voice crying in the wilderness, 2) then in the voice of God at the baptism of Jesus, 3) with Jesus himself who takes up the role of proclaimer as soon as John is arrested and silenced, and 4) eventually in the sending of the disciples to proclaim the message by chapter 3. Mark’s Gospel is an action story, robust with message, meaning, miracles and often a cyclical return to themes and words. Jesus says follow me many times and by the third chapter he appoints twelve apostles to be sent out to proclaim his message.
When my father would honk that horn, he wanted me for something, he was calling me for a reason… it’s dinner time or I had chores to do, or it was simply late and time to be at home. As my father called me for a reason, Jesus called followers for a reason, and we share a similar call, today. We hear it many different ways and we are called in many different situations, but being called is being sent. We who answer to call to enter the kingdom of God accept a call to ministry, as Jesus told them by the water that day “to fish for people.” A focus on the work of God, a call of ministry to the humanity around us. We may not all fish, but we share this call to be aware of the people around us, and follow the lead of Jesus.
We Are All Called
We’re not called to something burdensome, but to shared work and joy of ministry. In a section of our Book of Common Prayer called An Outline of the Faith, we find some the same kind of language wisely used to speak of our calling. I invite you to look into this Outline of the Faith, it begins on page 845, and we’ll be reading at page 855 under the heading, The Ministry.
Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
Who are the ministers of the church? Who is called? We are all called! Does is surprise you that our ministry is described before the work of a bishop, priest or deacon? The very next question goes deeper… we represent Jesus, in his steps and voice, we bear witness, do the work of reconciliation, and share life together in the church, according to our gifts. No cookie cutter, pre-fab, “only my skills are needed or your gifts desired” but we all come together in our diversity to do ministry. We are each called as we are and fit into the work of Christ. On the next page we find the duty of all Christians: to follow.
Q. What is the duty of all Christians?
A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.
The Apostle Paul uses some of the same language of reconciliation when speaking his ministry and ours, but I’ve always enjoyed the way he described this calling and sending to the church in Ephesus, when he says:
“But God, rich in mercy and loving us so much, brought us to life in Christ, even when we were dead in our sins. It is through this grace that we have been saved. God raised us up and, in union with Christ Jesus, gave us a place in the heavenly realm, to display in ages to come how immense are the resources of God’s grace and kindness in Christ Jesus. And it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and even that is not of yourselves, but the gift of God. Nor is it a reward for anything that you’ve done, so nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things God created us to do from the beginning.”
Ephesians 2:4-10, The Inclusive Bible
We are God’s work of art. I don’t know about you, but I can look around, go to work, read the news, talk to people, see all the things happening in the world, and I can get a little depressed at the dysfunction, discord and deep needs around me. I can get both depressed and a bit overwhelmed. But the calling changes things. The calling reminds me who I am. Remembering the call refocuses me back on the good, the good God has intended and the good of which we are capable and the good needed by the world around us. The calling comes through to each of us to move us fully into this kingdom, this movement, of God’s grace, God’s love and God’s kindness. And the calling sends us, rejuvenated and made more whole, to share these blessings with an often hurting, bruised world.
Not everyone goes fishing… the disciples we find in the scriptures who are answering the call range from vocations like fishing to tax collecting, a physician like Luke, or a religious leader like Paul, benefactors like Theophilus and Phoebe, and church leaders like Prisca and Aquila… men and women of varied means and backgrounds who answered the call according to their many gifts and abilities.
I would love to be a kid again and hear that horn honking in the distance, hurriedly gathering up my Star Wars action figures and toys and saying my goodbyes to friends to head home. I hope that today I can hear every challenge to goodness as a call, each challenge to justice and fairness as a call, every cry of pain and plea for mercy as a calling to be the work of art God has made me to be. The call is there. Today. We are called and we are sent.
I pray that we as a people, as a church, take this calling to heart and cast our nets of love, kindness and healing among the people of the world, in all our variety and diversity of our gifts and our backgrounds. I that pray we answer the call to do the good works God has intended for us as a way of life. Let nothing distract us or sidetrack us or divert us from the call to make goodness our trade, justice our vocation and God’s love our pattern of life.
I will end with a prayer from the Apostle Paul for that church in Ephesus, from Ephesians chapter 3, a prayer for you and I as well, again from The Inclusive Bible:
“I pray that God, out of the riches of divine glory, will strengthen you inwardly with power through the working of the Spirit. May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, will be able to grasp fully the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love and, with all God’s holy ones, experience this love that surpasses all understanding, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. To God – whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine – to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end! Amen.”
I’m taking some time this week to reflect and pray about the move I took a few months ago, following the decision Teresa and I made together almost a year ago, to leave my position as Pastor of Church in Bethesda, our spiritual friends and family for eight and a half years. (And so you know, this post will be longer than 500 words, my latest exercise to practice brevity and be more concise.)
It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Church in Bethesda and I’ve written some things about my entrance into the Episcopal Church, one the strongest factors that led to my resignation. And for the first time in a long time, I’m back in the role of being a member of a congregation without any leadership or teaching responsibilities.
Yes, I’m pursuing ministry options within the Episcopal Church, and I hope to serve our new Church family. I’ll even go ahead and say that I hope and pray that I am able to serve the Episcopal Church and our world as an Episcopal Priest, but it’s all up in the air for a while longer. For now I find myself outside of a role that I have served in for a long time, one I am realizing that I have internalized and made who I am as much as what I do: Shepherd.
As a Pastor, a Shepherd, my role was to come along side other members of our community and dig into scripture, experience life’s best and worst, and to faithfully make sense of it all together. I prayed for and with others. I served others and with others. I weekly spoke and wrote about scripture, God and faith. I creatively pursued ways within community to faithfully hear and follow God’s Spirit and footprints across our dusty globe. I painted. I played my djembe. I solemnized weddings and I officiated funerals.
Talking of shepherds and sheep might sound a bit off-putting to you, as if we’re talking about being a leader with a bunch of followers. The reality is that a good shepherd is as often following the sheep as leading them. (I often saw this when we lived in East Africa.) A good shepherd is serving the sheep and working to meet their needs more often than the sheep might be serving the the needs of the shepherd. Of course, we’ve all known an egotistical church shepherd who wields a wicked stick, but that is not an image of a scriptural pastor nor the example of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.
These most recent reflections are not necessarily about the people we left behind at Church in Bethesda, good people we miss and love dearly. I’m not really writing about them, but about life after them. I’ve become a shepherd without any sheep. I don’t have a group of people for whom I have committed to follow, lead and serve as pastor and shepherd. We do have a congregation, and it’s filled with wonderful folks. I’ve been able to preach a few times on Sunday nights, and Teresa and I have been asked to teach a teen class on Sunday mornings in the Fall. But these are more in the doing part of me as shepherd than the being part.
That being part is what I’m missing. It’s the prayerfully dreaming and the vision casting of ways to enact our faith, within our community and in the world. It’s the circle of deep care around a group of people in which I share and breathe. It’s making art for them and making art together, and the prayerful preparation before the making of that art. One thing that is really getting to me is having messages well up inside of me, and no venue to share. It’s having dreams and images in my heart and no canvas on which to begin making them reality. It’s the realization that it’s much more difficult to be patient in this liminal space than I expected.
My reflections are multifaceted, but I wanted to capture a few ideas while they are still crystallizing in my mind.
1) I’m still feeling very blessed and happy in the Episcopal Church. Our experience at St. John’s Episcopal Church has been wonderful and we’re happy to be there. And my recent joy at Missional Voices is still fresh. We have a beautiful, diverse faith family in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and I’m happy it’s our home.
2) I need to take my impatience and feelings of loss and channel them into prayer and devotion. The thing about liminal spaces is that with growing anxiety and impatience, depression and hopelessness are too often the natural course. It’s all too easy to lose touch with faith and forms, practices that instill hope and reinforce conviction. Choices must often be made and remade as life’s journey moves into new territory.
3) I need a community in which I am a sheep and a shepherd, wherein I lead and follow and grow and share with some other souls. This is probably going to be alongside our membership and participation at St. John’s, but never instead of St. John’s. I shouldn’t be just waiting for what is coming next in my religious life and vocation; it’s a good time to start dreaming and realizing what comes next.
As promised, I doubled the usual length of a blog post… sorry about that, guys. But if one of these three reflections sounds like something you’d like to explore with me, then let’s get coffee and talk. Let’s get together and talk about faith without judgment, diversity without anger, peace without war and love for our enemies… lots of good Jesus stuff. God is good. God is good all the time.
Today, 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!
Click below to jump to Justin’s site with the video, and go to minute 41 for his remarks!
As I’m working on message notes for this coming Sunday, and I’m thinking that I haven’t done much on my blog in 2015 as of yet, I thought I’d share something I’ve been thinking of, along the lines of my post last year looking for an Acts 15 Council Redux on LGBTQ Inclusion.
Today’s post is similar in that I’ve been dreaming with another passage from the book of Acts, Acts 10 and the story of Peter and Cornelius. Today, I’m praying for more and more followers of Christ to dream with Peter. I want them to have visions of God’s grace and love enveloping people who maybe aren’t like them, people of whom they have have been taught are outside of God’s presence and present work.
I invite you to read that chapter, even if it is very familiar to you already. This post may feel a bit like a defense of my affirming beliefs, but believe me, I’m not feeling too stressed about defending myself. What little negativity I have experienced in being a straight ally is no comparison to the hurt and pain that some of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters have experienced in and outside of the church. These are just some of my thoughts right now…
I Relate to Peter’s Experience
I feel as though I have gone through something very similar to Peter’s vision and the events at the home of Cornelius. Like Peter, I was also raised not to associate with certain people and certain things, and I was taught that they were unclean. But as I opened my eyes and desired to see clearly for myself, I began to see things in a different light, and people that I had been taught to see as so wrong no longer seemed so wrong at all, but more wrongly understood. Then as my thinking begin to change I experienced something even more powerful; I began witnessing their faith and I saw God’s Spirit moving among them. More than my mind changed along the way; my heart changed as well.
And so I have moved in my life from just not wanting to condemn my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, to vocally advocating for the affirmation of their sexual identities and their inclusion as full members of Christ’s kingdom and fellow human beings endowed with all the dignity and value God bestows on us. I’ve written about my understanding of many scriptures that are often related to this topic of conversation, but it’s passages like Acts 10 and 15 where my hope truly waits for us to move. I do believe that this is something a bit new that God is doing in the church and it’s not a question to be answered by only by digging in ancient texts and arguing over Greek words… this is movement of the Spirit in us all.
God initiates all the action in Acts 10. God sends an angel to answer the prayer of Cornelius, a Roman soldier outside of God’s people by birth, ethnicity and religion. But this soldier has faith and is called devout and God-fearing, and in answer to that faith God instructs him to send for Peter. Meanwhile, God is also moving in Peter’s life in a surprising way; Peter has a vision of God tempting him to act against his religiosity and spiritual upbringing! Whoa. The vision presents Peter with animals to eat which have been forbidden to him by religious law and practice, and Peter refuses on religious grounds to do as the voice from heaven instructs him. But the voice answers Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happens with Peter three times until he hears the voices of the men sent by Cornelius.
Peter is a quick guy, pretty smart. He puts it all together and goes to the home of Cornelius. He goes and begins speaking with everyone gathered in the house and explains that though he would never have come there before, now “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
If you know the story, or if you just read it earlier, then you know how the narrative goes. Peter hardly gets through his explanation about Jesus before the Spirit is seen moving in the audience in an amazing way, and Peter and the others from Joppa are astonished. Peter calls for their baptism because, “They have received the Spirit just as we have.”
Do you feel the connection that I feel with this passage? Just as the Spirit moved to manifestly convince Peter that he should affirm and accept the faith of those Gentiles who were so unlike him, I believe that we heterosexuals, who constitute the majority, in and outside of faith, are being called to witness God moving outside our expectations. Some of us are so sure, after years of religious life and years of religious practice, that we know exactly all that God has done, is doing and will do. I’m encouraged by Peter’s example of following the Spirit, even into some new places and some new understandings.
Peter surely had to do some rethinking with his scriptures after this experience. He surely had to do some restructuring of his religious thought and practice. And in fact we know that this is not only difficult to do but we make mistakes and stumble along the way. Later on Paul will recount his public chastising of Peter for refusing to eat with Gentile converts, even after Peter has had this incredible experience (Galatians 2:11-21). Change is tough, scary and requires an on going commitment to making it last in meaningful ways.
I Was Already Re-Reading My Texts
Since I made a public statement of my affirming and inclusive interpretations of scripture and religious life, I’ve had some emails and messages to me asking in various ways, “How can you?” How can I deny what I was taught in my youth? How can I deny what is so plainly written (in English at least) in our scriptures? How can I break with tradition? How can I risk alienating people from God by teaching them falsely? Though I will try to answer those emails when I have time, the answer is simple and kinda like the story of Peter in Acts 10: You see, I went and found God there already. I didn’t need to necessarily save anyone.
I Found God With Them Already
As I came to understand many of our scriptural passages differently than I had been taught, I also began to know LGBTQ Christians, people of deep and authentic faith. I experienced the real disconnect between the criminalizing speech of many straight Christians about “the gay lifestyle” or “the gay agenda” and the reality of their beauty, faith and struggle. Indeed, I found that we are far more united in our similarity and faith than we are divided in our dissimilarity and sexual orientations.
I Believe I’m Simply Following God’s Lead
Some keep asking me about a presumed arrogance on my part, that I have in someway chosen to reject God’s authority and wisdom to rely on my own. Really, I don’t claim a single new thought here, folks. Yes, my thinking has changed a lot over the last ten years on this, and even more in the last few years, but I don’t claim for a moment that I have received any kind of a special vision or message from God… I’m using Peter’s story in Acts 10 as a metaphor. I think it’s an exciting metaphor for the way we can see and follow God moving through the world and through people. As the Gospel crushes ethnic and national barriers, so can it remove the barrier of our differing sexual orientations.
If you’re a traditionally non-affirming pastor, preacher, teacher, parent or average Jolene on the street, it can be scary to entertain the option of changing your mind. It can be isolating, endangering of your friendships, and even threatening to your job security if you are engaged vocationally with a non-affirming congregation, school or religious entity. Just to risk asking the question if there’s room for changing the way you’re currently interpreting scripture and taking certain stances on human sexuality can put you in jeopardy and make you feel as thought you are losing firm footing in your faith. I want to assure you that in my experience, God has been waiting for me catch up far more often than trying to hold me back and keep me reigned in. If you need a safe person to ask your questions with and discuss a new way forward, please just let me know!
Worshiping with my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and hearing their stories and expressions of faith, I’m left with Peter joyfully proclaiming, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”
I just wanted to share a pdf document as an example to some who might be thinking they would enjoy an experience with spiritual direction, but aren’t sure what it would look like. This is the first four of eight weeks of readings and prayer prompts we would be using. It’s actually very simple stuff and designed not to be too much for including in our daily lives. You could do this in an easy 15 minutes each morning and 15 minutes in the evening, Monday through Friday. Saturdays are for rest and Sundays are for gathering in worship with community.
Feel free to look it over and let me know if you’re interested in doing the exercise and chatting once a week through the experience. I have been very blessed over the years to have a couple of spiritual friends who guided me in engaging The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, and it’s always a deep time of immersing in God’s presence and scripture. It’s true, I’m not a Jesuit and I have not studied the many years that a man must study to become a Jesuit, but please don’t think I’m just appropriating their work all willy nilly. What I am offering is a small adaptation of The Exercises, my own simple creation that is based on my understanding of the spirit of Ignatius’ work. In the process of adapting ideas and wisdom from Ignatius I am hopeful that God is honored and heard, and that the man’s work might become more accessible to a broad audience of people including those not from the Catholic tradition.
When we chat, I may even refer to my father Ignatius, and I hope you’ll forgive me for the audacity. I feel a great debt of gratitude toward and affinity for the man, though my personal path has been far from that of a Jesuit priest. He was in many ways exactly the kind of man I’d like to be, and as I have been blessed with several fathers throughout my life, by biology and affection, I number Ignatius among the great men and women of faith I hold as spiritual parents.
Let me know if you’re curious about a journey together. The 8 weeks could be started any Monday, but there are already some beginning on this coming Monday, January 5th. You’d be a welcome addition. May God bless your new year richly!
With 2015 just around the corner I want to throw out as much encouragement as I can for you to make and attain some goals in the new year and to grow with God. I want to be a sacred companion for your new year.
This was a title we heard Fr. Richard Rohr use in his email I quoted in my last blog post… a sacred companion is a spiritual friend and/or a director who walks along with you. We walk with God, and a sacred companion is one who recognizes this and lives into that shared journey with you.
I personally come at this from two angles: 1) as a pastor and spiritual director, and 2) as a life coach. Let’s talk about the way each of these two roles can function for us in 2015.
As a spiritual friend directing you in prayer and spiritual growth I will be supplying you with a reading list of passages and questions for reflection. I’ll be supplying you with beginning places (intentions) and methods (different exercises) for prayer. You’ll journal and record the things you experience and discover in the practice of prayer and we’ll be in conversation about those experiences.
What does this spiritual relationship entail and require from you? You need to commit to several things: 1) At least a two month period of direction, 2) at least 30 minutes a day in prayer and reading, and 3) at least 30 minutes a week in conversation with me.
What does this spiritual relationship entail and require from me? I will be committing to several things as well: 1) praying for you daily, 2) reading the same passages you are reading, 3) at least 30 minutes a week in conversation with you, and 4) keeping in contact between our conversations.
Life coaching is a bit different from spiritual direction. In the life coaching relationship I still a companion, but I’m not directing the journey. I’m not providing you with readings and answers, but instead I’m asking questions and digging deep with you into the questions and goals you have about about your life. Life coaching is about managing change, setting goals, and achieving goals.
What does life coaching entail and require from you? Like a spiritual direction relationship, coaching will take some time and commitment… but the payoff can be more than worth it! You will be asked to: 1) be completely honest with me and yourself, 2) set some clear and measurable goals, 3) commit to yourself to pursue the changes and goals you identify as needed in your life, 4) meet with me for 45 minutes once a week, and 5) commit to at least four months of a coaching relationship.
What does life coaching entail and require from me? I also have a lot to do and accomplish with you coaching journey. I will be committed to: 1) being prepared for each meeting each week, 2) spending at least 45 minutes with you each week, 3) holding all our conversations in complete confidence, 4) being completely honest with you at all times, and 5) keeping in contact between our conversations.
A couple of my past posts on life coaching:
One Reason I Love Life Coaching: Healthy Dependence, and
I Will Listen
These are two ways I offer myself to you, in a committed journey of life. Have questions? Let’s chat. Have concerns? Let’s chat. Both spiritual direction and life coaching can happen, and happen well, either face to face, video chatting or over the phone. I actually do prefer Skype. Of course, I’m always happy to have some good conversations with you, but these kind of committed journeys achieve the most for both of us.
Can we mix them up and do both? I think I’ve learned that we cannot in fact mix them up. We can do both over the same period of months, but our times together in conversation need to be kept strictly within the realm of spiritual direction or life coaching. We can do both over the same period of time, or one after the other, but not in a hybrid form of both at once.
Sound like something you could use? Let’s do this! 2015 waits!
It just feels natural to look at the coming new calendar year and begin to dream. It’s a new year, but also the same old me. What will I dream for the coming combo of old me and new days? Am I ready to grow and seek, find and fail? Am I ready to move with a sense of purpose and love? Am I dreaming wide awake?
I was richly blessed by the daily email today from Fr. Richard Rohr. If you don’t get his emails I’ll link that email entitled In Our End Is Our Beginning as well as quoting a bit from it. He’s always laying some beauty and wisdom on us, a deep quiet for our busy and hectic days.
He lays out some important ideas for moving into the new year, new and old practices that help us engage life and growth. Here is how he labels and describes them:
Contemplative practice: Contemplation is a “laboratory” in which you learn to die and to be reborn. The rest of your life becomes the field in which you live out this way of surrender and participation in Love. Commit to a daily practice of some kind–silent meditation, yoga, chanting, or maybe one of the “Rest” practices introduced in the Saturday meditations.
Sabbath: Set aside regular, longer periods of quiet or retreat, simply to rest in awareness of God’s presence. Find a rhythm of rest and work that allows for renewal so that you enter your active life from contemplative grounding.
Service: Allow the natural welling-up of love to flow outward in acts of justice, healing, and compassion. Life is not about you; you are about life!
Shadow work: The task of searching out and embracing shadow–the parts of yourself that you hide or ignore–is ongoing, the work of a lifetime. Let the people and circumstances that “push your buttons” be your teachers. Look for yourself with a loving gaze in the mirror of both your enemies and those who enthrall you.
Spiritual direction: If you do not have someone to guide you, to hold onto you during the times of not knowing, you will normally stay at your present level of growth. Seek out a sacred companion you can trust to be honest and present to your journey, who can reflect back to you God’s presence in your life and the world.
These are beautiful movements of life and growth. How do we make them a reality in our daily hustle and bustle? What of these might you engage in 2015? What other dreams and goals will you set for these coming new days? You can call them goals, dreams or new year’s resolutions, but let’s talk about making some plans for 2015…
First, keep your dreams simple and attainable. Want to engage that contemplative practice? Then be realistic. You won’t begin by chanting an hour every day at 4am. Neither will I. Think about your schedule and where and when you might take a regular break. Is it the commute to work? Mornings are great times to center on God and God’s grace. Is it at lunch when you need to re-energize for the rest of the day? Keep your goals fairly simple and within reach: not too easy, but attainable. Then you can really celebrate the victory of that dream and move on with bigger ones! But doesn’t faith mean that I must dream bigger than I can imagine or attain? Nope. God does bigger than we can imagine, and we are not called to usurp God’s role in moving past our own abilities and imaginations (Ephesians 3:14-21). You can keep it simple and faithful. God will always surprise us.
Sharing is Nice.
Second, share your goals and dreams and have them visible. Let some others know what you are dreaming. They might become partners with that dream! You might inspire them to dreams of their own! But most of all, you are speaking that dream aloud and giving it even greater life. Write down your dreams and plans and keep them visible, prominent in a journal or on a wall at home. This helps you to be reminded of your goals as well as tracking progress and measuring your journey toward a dream. Life, as well as dreams, are best when shared. We need each other.
Plan for Success & Failure.
Third, make some plans for the times when you will succeed and when you will fail. We don’t like to admit that we may not meet a goal or always live according to our dreams for doing life, but it’s a reality that we are frail, fickle and forgetful at times. Be ready to celebrate the successes and to forgive yourself for the failings. How will you celebrate a dream realized? How will you “lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord”? (Psalm 116) How will you forgive yourself, learn whatever should be learned from the failure, and faithfully move on? Both successes and failures will follow our best planning and dreaming. Plan on it.
And finally, I offer myself as a sacred companion. I like that description which Fr. Rohr uses for a spiritual friend who travels along with you. I will be that for you and will ask you to be the same for me. Whether your dreams are more spiritual in nature, seeking growth with God, or more daily life in nature, looking for a new job or car, I will walk that road with you. Let’s talk more about it.
“Let no one ever come to you
without leaving better and happier.
Be the living expression of God’s kindness:
kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes,
kindness in your smile.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
With a heart heavy and sick over the pain, alienation, rejection and struggle of my cherished LGBTQ neighbors and sisters and brothers in Christ, I make this sincere repentance and confession public: I have been too quiet an ally. I’ve coasted easily along in my too passive affirmation of my LGBTQ neighbors, and I am sorry. I was wrong.
I’m “TORN” As I Write These Words
This is not really about me. This about my LGBTQ neighbors, my beautiful LGBTQ sisters and brothers who have had to speak for themselves for far too long as I held back. And yes, with the little paragraph title above I am shamelessly and joyfully putting myself into the story of Justin Lee‘s book, Torn. In his story is where I want to be. In his story, and stories like his, is where I intend to live and breathe and speak. It was reading his book last year that started an itch in my soul. I knew I was too quiet, I knew I must do more, but I didn’t.
My Privilege Is My Hurdle
I’m an educated Caucasian, male, heterosexual, Christian, clergy… does it get any more privileged than that in the West? I don’t have to talk about things I don’t want to talk about. I don’t have to defend who I am or apologize for myself, or for displays of public affection, or who I fall in love with, or who I want to marry, or if I can call myself a Christian. This is my privilege, and this is my hurdle.
I have chosen to speak out for marriage equality before here and here, and I even said that I’m not scripturally or spiritually condemning of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and I even promised to speak more about the biblical reasons and my journey to that position, but then I didn’t. And no one called me out on it. No one said, “Hey, you said you’d talk more about this!” And so I didn’t. So I sat in my privileged silence.
I repent of that silence. I repent that I have not been a strident, informed, vocal and down right annoying ally for my LGBTQ neighbors. I have waited too long and been too quiet, but no longer. Why now? People are funny. Among straight allies we have this stupid one-up-manship thing going on. No matter when I came out as an ally, another ally had been out longer and told me how late I was and attempted to passively or aggressively shame me. It’s happened again and again, and honestly it’s held me back. Allies seem to love their LGBTQ neighbors, but not other allies very much. That’s probably a sure sign of a disturbing stream of paternalism, my friends. We have to be careful. This past weekend I listened to some amazing LGBTQ people sharing their stories of the years and years it took them to finally be honest about their sexuality and find wholeness. They had long journeys to speaking out. They emboldened me. Their stories matter most here, not mine. I am joining their journey, and I’m so blessed to have been loved and welcomed. I am blessed to have them as my allies.
God and The Gay Christian
Last year I read Torn by Justin Lee (two years ago I got to sit at the Wild Goose Festival and have a beer and slice of pizza with Justin and just chat: still a cherished memory). This year I read Matthew Vines‘ book God and The Gay Christian. When I read it I knew I being called from my silence and I purposed to attend The Reformation Project conference in DC this past week. What a blessing that was for me. I sincerely pray it was as much a blessing for every other ally and especially every other LGBTQ brother and sister who attended.
Matthew’s cherubic face makes me feel old and his scholarship makes me feel dumb. Thank you, Matthew! Old guys like me need more kicks in the tush. Allyson Robinson was amazing. David Gushee (Changing Our Mind) was phenomenal. James Brownson (Bible Gender Sexuality) was a humble guide. And here are two bonus round transcripts from the conference, #TRPinDC:
1. Dr. David Gushee: “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities”
2. Allyson Robinson: “The Three Temptations of the Affirming Church”
You’ve heard my repentance, and now for my confession. This is where I want to go on the record, out loud, with sincerity and full conviction saying: LGBTQ affirming theology is good theology. LGBTQ affirming exegesis is good exegesis. LGBTQ affirming ecclesiology is good ecclesiology.
That’s it. And I really will be blogging more about why I make that confession. I will unpack my understanding of what the overall scriptural message is in relation to being LGBTQ affirming. I’ll unpack why I believe that affirming theology, exegesis and ecclesiology are good. This blog entry is already feeling too long, but I want everyone to know where I stand, without any reservation or equivocation. I will be carrying the LGBTQ banner, loudly and annoyingly. My LGBTQ sisters and brothers deserve no less, no less of my love, no less of my concern, no less of my energy and my time.
I Will Listen, Love and Journey With You
One last thing. I do hope that people share this blog, for one very important reason: If you are LGBTQ and you need a brother, a friend, a pastor… I am yours. I am at your beck and call, at your service and I will listen to you, love you and journey with you. Find me on Facebook, on Twitter, and if you’re local to DC or Bethesda, come stalk me at Starbucks. I am yours. Be alone no longer.
Loving my LGBTQ sisters and brothers is never a repudiation of my heterosexual brothers and sisters, even the non-affirming ones! If you want to chat about this, and will do so civilly in a Christ-like manner, then I am also yours. I’m happy to go deep with you, prayerfully and meaningfully.
I want to end this post in prayer, and will do so with my appropriation of one of Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 3… “This I beg of our God, our God who is rich in love, strength and beauty: May you and I be overwhelmed by the Spirit, immersed and lost in Christ, to the point that we have a wider, deeper, higher and lengthening grasp upon the awesome love in which we are steeped, stewed, sent and spent. This is God’s glory and God’s great work among us, in the Church of every place and time, a glory and work which transcends the limits of our feeble and precious imaginations, hopes and dreams. Glory! Joy! Love! Grace! So be it, now and ever, world without end. Amen.”
So, yeah. That’s me in a clerical collar. I didn’t grow up in churches that used collars. In fact, we didn’t have robes for preachers or choirs either. We did have zippered robe-like things for baptisms, but I guess we didn’t find the clerical clothing awfully palatable. Last Sunday, as we set up a booth at the local farmers market to offer a blessing of the pets for all our neighbors, I wore a collar for the first time in my life.
Please don’t call me Father Todd or Padre. If you know me, then you know that I have a deep respect and sincere affection for priests of many orders whether Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal. I also have an abiding respect for other traditions of Christianity that use the collar in various forms and ways. You can call me Vicar Todd… I kinda dig on that one.
In recent conversations and readings I have been introduced to the idea of the clerical collar as an invitation to speak with me about things spiritual. It has been regarded by some as a means by which others found them approachable and open for prayer or conversation. I’d like to think that a collar could do that for me, too.
Thinking about our Sunday morning of offering blessings for pets I must admit that I found people’s reactions as either very happy to see us or distinctly not interested in our blessing. There was very little ambivalence. We were all smiles and not at all intrusive. And we had many fun conversations with some of our Jewish neighbors at the market. I was asked twice if I was OK with blessing “Jewish dogs” and I was more than happy to bless them. Heck, I’m pretty sure I blessed at least one agnostic dog. It’s good stuff. More than one person got all smiley and affirmed the movie line/title, “All dogs go to heaven.”
I believe the blessing of the pets was a beautiful thing to do, and I’m glad we did it. I hope we do it again next year to celebrate St. Francis’ feast day and to serve our community. Not everyone wanted their pet blessed by us, and that’s OK. We were a blessing to many pets and their owners, and asked nothing in return. Good stuff.
And I didn’t feel like the fraud I feared I would see myself as when wearing the collar. That came as a bit of a surprise to me. I did my studies ahead of time and learned that many churches and traditions use the collar in many ways, so I wouldn’t be “stealing” from anyone’s rich (exclusive) claim on the collar. I’m also a very informal guy, and I wondered if the formality of a collar would seem ridiculous on me. It felt pretty OK.
I’m not sure what future the clerical collar has in my ministry and life. We’ll see how the Spirit leads. For now, I’m happy to have blessed some pets, and in the process, their humans. I’m so proud of and personally blessed by our faith community at Church in Bethesda who rallied and came together to help bless the doggies, keep the water bowl filled, over-indulge some furry friends with treats, and to offer smiles and hand shakes to our neighbors. It was a community event in every way.