Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

Gay AND Christian

On June 2, 2019 I had the honor of sharing a few words at an Interfaith Pride Service in Kalamazoo, MI. Here is what I shared:

I have known many people who have struggled with reconciling their religious faith with their sexuality and gender identity. Too often religious institutions have tried to tell us who identify as queer in some way, who find ourselves in the rainbow of LGBTQA, that we should be who we are not. Because of this, many have been driven away from their religion or even abandoned their faith journey altogether.

My story, however, is a little bit different. I grew up going to a sort-of conservative Christian protestant church in northern Michigan. But when I went to college, my religion fell by the wayside. Much of the teaching and doctrine just didn’t ring true anymore and it no longer held a lot of meaning for me. And it really had nothing to do with my sexual orientation.

It was actually finally dealing with my own inability to accept myself as gay, coming out at the age of 30, that I found myself back on a spiritual path. I heard of this group called Phoenix Community Church that had a lot of gay people and some allies and I thought hey, that sounds like a safe way to meet people.

The church was started in 1988 by a group of 18 or so folks after one of the founding pastors was fired from his previous church a year earlier because of his sexual orientation. And those brave folks decided that they needed a safe and welcoming place to explore their spirituality, where they could be true to themselves, and they gave birth to Phoenix Community Church.

These many years later I find myself the pastor of that church but that is a whole ‘nother story. When I encountered the church for the first time back in 1996, I found what I was looking for. I’ve met many absolutely wonderful people there through the years. But I also found what I was not looking for. I found God again.

I found a place that accepted me and supported me.

I found a place that taught the truth that God loves me unconditionally, that I didn’t need to change.

A place that encouraged questions and didn’t claim to have all the answers.

A place that even acknowledged, celebrated, and learned from spiritual paths other than Christianity while still maintaining a Christian foundation.

And in the journey that brought me to this church, that brought me back into relationship with the Divine, I found a couple of things that really stand out for me in this intersection where our spirituality and our sexual and gender identities meet.

First, being queer and Christian forces us to question the status quo. To think for ourselves. We can’t just accept whatever traditional doctrine that we’re told to believe.

This questioning and challenging is a gift that queer people give to the church and all religious institutions. It’s how we can learn and grow in our spirituality and in all aspects of life. From a Christian perspective it’s also very Jesus-like. Jesus was always challenging the status quo and trying to make people think.

Second, I learned I have a right to my spiritual identity as much as I have a right to my sexual identity. Queer people are the loved children of the Divine and our inherent, God-given worthiness is not up for debate. If we cannot find a spiritual community where we feel welcome than we do what queer people have been doing for a long time – we create our own. Luckily for us here in Kalamazoo, we already have options.

But, no matter what, no matter what others say, no matter which religious framework we put around our spiritual journey, no matter our sexual orientation or gender identity, let us celebrate the fabulous people we were created to be by this Divine, loving energy we sometimes call God. Thank you for hearing my story.

Follow me on Instagram

Ok, started a new account on Instagram and have been playing around on there… check it out if you want: https://www.instagram.com/kennethwarthur/

Who Are You?

How would you answer if a stranger (or a friend) came up and asked “Who are you?” Would you talk about your job or your career? Would you mention your family or maybe say something about your personality? Would you mention religious beliefs or political stances? It’s an important question because it speaks to our self-identity and how we, or if we, find meaning in our lives and that seems especially important in a world where we can wake up every morning thinking, “this is not the world I thought I knew yesterday.” It’s also a question that we sometimes have to confront, whether we want to or not, when we experience major life changes such as losing a job or a divorce. These are experiences that make us question who we are.

Many characters in the Bible are confronted with this question of identity. One such story is when the resurrected Jesus appears to Peter and other disciples over breakfast on the lakeshore (John 21). After all that had happened with Jesus’ arrest, murder, and then resurrection, it would be shocking if Peter wasn’t confused and feeling lost, like he didn’t know who he was or what he was supposed to be doing. It shouldn’t surprise us then that he has returned to what he knew best, fishing. Now, after breakfast is done, Jesus starts asking Peter this one question: “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” After Jesus’ arrest, Peter had denied three times that he was his follower and now Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” In other words, who are you? Are you my follower or not? If you are then feed my sheep, take care of my sheep… (sheep, of course, referring to the poor and oppressed to and with whom Jesus ministered).

Jesus needs Peter not to be a fisherman but to accept who God needs him to be: the shepherd that Jesus was, God’s hands and voice in the world caring for all of God’s beloved children. Jesus needs Peter to accept his own identity as God’s beloved child, a person of God’s Way of Love. This is who we are also created to be: God’s beloved and divine children, people of God’s Way, people of love. And this is, in fact, an identity which can never be taken away from us. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Can we accept, like Peter, that this is who we are? We sometimes resist, thinking we aren’t good enough. We judge ourselves as unworthy even though God does not. We fail to forgive ourselves for mistakes even though God forgives freely.

Peter was challenged in his encounter with the risen Christ to accept who he was. Encounters with the risen Christ will always challenge us, too: Who are you? Are you not a person of love? Encounters with the Divine are an invitation to be God’s love for this world in which we live, a world desperately in need of more love. “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep,” Jesus says. Feed God’s people, both with actual food to feed the hungry, as well as figuratively to feed God’s people with the message that they too are God’s beloved children, and if we can accept that then no one and no thing can take the love of God from us.

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This reflection is inspired by the sermon, “Do You Love Me?” from May 5, 2019 and originally published in the church newsletter on May 17, 2019. Recordings of most sermons can be found on the Phoenix website: http://www.phoenixchurch.org.

Shouting Stones

If you see an interesting stone on a beach, what would you do with it? Would you put it in your pocket? Or leave it alone? Would you take it home and put it on your dresser or maybe tuck it away in a drawer? Everything and everybody has a story to tell, even that small rock we find on the beach. Where and how was it first created? Does it speak of earthquakes and volcanoes? Or perhaps it tells a story of life, such as a fossilized Petoskey Stone.

When Jesus paraded into Jerusalem to the shouted praise of the crowds on what we now call Palm Sunday, certain leaders asked him to tell his followers to be quiet lest they attract the unwanted attention of their Roman occupiers. Jesus responded that if his disciples were quiet, the very stones of the road would shout out instead! Some stories just have to be told. Indeed, the stones of the earth shout out to us even today. The earth shouts for healing and liberation through forest fires, earthquakes due to fracking, extreme flooding and drought, animal species dying and threatened with extinction, etc. The earth shouts for help, for justice. But I think creation also shouts out of the glory of God in the sunset, in the beauty of mountains, in the peace we feel when we walk barefoot in grass or on the beach, when we touch a tree or smell a flower…

To me, the stones of Palm Sunday shout of Jesus’ entrance to the halls of power, telling us that God is the real power at the foundation of life, not human empire. The stones shout of healing, love, and the sacredness of life and ask us to take notice and join the chorus, to join the procession and lift our voices in speaking truth to power.

We too have our stories, important stories. What do we do with them? Do we hold them up for others to hear? Or do we tuck them away someplace private? What story do you have to tell? What are the truths within you demanding to be told? As the stones might have sung out, let us also sing out and tell the story of God’s glory, the story of the power of God’s healing love in our lives, that in the darkness of the world, we might be God’s light.

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This reflection was inspired by the sermon, “Shouting Stones,” from April 14, 2019, and originally published in my church’s newsletter on May 3, 2019. Recordings of most sermons can be found on the church website: http://www.phoenixchurch.org.

Borders are in Season

My poem titled “Borders are in Season” won second prize at the 2019 Westminster Art Festival in Portage, MI. Read it here: https://www.westminsterartfestival.org/2019-poetry.

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