Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

Tag: church (Page 1 of 3)

The Family of God and LGBTQ Pride

In the early morning of Saturday, June 28, 1969, the New York City police raided a bar called the Stonewall Inn. This was a bar that catered to marginalized people: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. But the raid didn’t go as planned. Those marginalized people fought back against persecution that night. Riots developed and the modern liberation movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons was born. One year later, on June 28, 1970, Christopher Street Liberation Day marked the anniversary of the Stonewall riots with the first ever Gay Pride march. The New York Times reported that the parade of marchers stretched for 15 blocks.

48 years after that first march, we still celebrate Pride. Although the world is much different than it was for LGBTQ people in the 1950’s and 60’s, it is still important to celebrate who we are and to stand up and declare that LGBTQ lives matter. I feel blessed to live in a city that is relatively liberal and accepting but we don’t have to stray very far into the world to know it’s not that way everywhere. Even here in Kalamazoo, there is still much work to be done. Because of that Pride shouldn’t be a once a year party. We need to live with pride in who we are every day, affirming our self-worth to ourselves and to the world.

Our culture would rather that those who are oppressed and marginalized be invisible. Humans fear what we don’t understand. The world would rather we deny our authentic selves rather than challenge their notion of how the world is supposed to work. But, to deny who we are is, in religious language, a sin. To deny who God created us to be – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, cis, gender-bending, queer, straight, etc. – is a sin. Denying who we are separates us from the Divine Presence within us and around us. It creates a barrier between us and the sacred and that barrier is what we mean by sin. In Jesus’ words found in Mark 3:20-35, it’s a serious sin, an unforgivable sin, a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

When the religious scholars accuse Jesus of working for the Devil, they are accusing him of being something he is not. Jesus responds by telling them that they know better than that. They know his power comes from God but they deny it. They know the truth and yet they deny it. And he goes on to declare that denial a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In other words, to hear and understand the voice of the Divine within and still deny it is an unforgivable sin. To use the word unforgivable is a bit misleading, however. It’s clear from all of Jesus’ other teachings that there is nothing that cannot be forgiven. Or in the apostle Paul’s words, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Perhaps Jesus here is engaging in hyperbole, exaggerating to make a point. Perhaps he’s trying to stress the seriousness of denying what we know to be true. For if we deny who we are, how does one recover from that? For those who are LGBTQ, we all have experience with what we call being in the closet. We know firsthand how damaging it is to our mental and spiritual well-being to deny who we are. The only way to recover from that denial is to embrace who we are. That’s not always easy.

We may need to work on discovering ourselves. We may need to overcome internalized homophobia. We may need to deal with hostility from friends or family. We may need professional help. We certainly need the support of good, healthy relationships. These things are not always going to be easy, especially if we lack the support of family. In scripture, Jesus’ family wasn’t so sure about him, either. We’re told they thought he might be losing his mind. Religious leaders were accusing him of working for Satan. He was constantly being mobbed by crowds of marginalized people, those needing healing, those thought possessed by demons. It was all beyond his family’s understanding. So his mothers and brothers went to try and rescue him, but Jesus wasn’t having it.

Jesus redefines family as what I’d call the Family of God – family defined by love, not blood. Anyone who lives with and by God’s love is our sister, brother, mother, and father. Jesus is teaching about community. To live an authentic life we need loving community, the support of family, of people who love us for who we are, as we are. That may include our birth family but it certainly includes the Family of God, those who love us for our authentic selves, who will support us in our times of need, who will forgive us when we mess up. It is this Family of God that we are called to be. It is this Family of God that can change the world.

One of my seminary professors interviewed people about what changed their minds regarding their acceptance of LGBTQ people. What he found was that it actually had little to do with their understanding of scripture. Discussions about how to interpret scripture and apply it to their lives didn’t matter nearly as much as getting to know someone who identified as gay. Relationship and love – these are the things that change people. Welcoming people into this Family of God is where the hope lies for this world we live in. That doesn’t mean converting people to Christianity. It simply means loving people unconditionally, for who they are, as they are. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Note: The above reflection is an edited version of my sermon from June 10, “Family of God.” Go to www.phoenixchurch.org/sermons.php to listen to the entire message.

Called to Serve

Jesus calls his followers to be servant leaders: to lead others by serving them, by doing for them, by acting out of concern for their well-being. This leadership model reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr’s statement that no one is free until we are all free. By calling us as servant leaders, Jesus asks us to work on our own freedom by freeing others from whatever injustice holds them down: racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, violence, poverty, and on and on. Until we can free our neighbors from these evils, we cannot ourselves be free of them.

This is the vision of a world free of injustice, filled with love, peace, and hope. It’s what we mean when we talk of the kin-dom of God. But is such a world really possible? I trust in God that it is. If we can envision it we can build it. When we begin to live by the principles of the kin-dom (love, justice, and peace) then the kin-dom begins to exist within each of us. Born within our hearts, the kin-dom begins to grow in the world.

We answer this call to be servant leaders by humbling ourselves in the service of others and not worrying about what we get out of it but serving out of compassion and concern. This type of leadership by example is sorely needed in our “me-first” culture. Jesus’ call to servant leadership stresses the equality of all, that we’re all equally important in God’s sight. It also acknowledges that our true leader as Christians is Christ, God’s word of love to the world. Above all else, we are led by Love.

There are also temptations and dangers when we start to think of ourselves as leaders. We can fall prey to hypocrisy, not practicing what we preach. We can get attached to the power and the praise, becoming all show and no substance. We can also give in to greed, serving only those who can give us something back. A strong relationship with the Holy Spirit can give us the strength and courage we need to help us avoid these kinds of temptations as we answer Christ’s call to work for a justice filled kin-dom.

As followers of Christ we are called to be servant leaders, to serve where, as Frederick Beuchner says, “the place of our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” By beginning to build the kin-dom within ourselves by opening our hearts to the strength of the Spirit and by offering ourselves as God’s servants in the world, we can make God’s kin-dom a reality. We are called to serve. How will we respond?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 5, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Reclaiming Our Faith

A healthy spirituality, our relationships with God, Creation, and each other, is so important for a healthy and vital life. In our relationship with God we are “given” our faith as children. We’re taught certain ideas and concepts about what we should believe and how we should think and act. However, as we live our lives, we sometimes find ourselves harmed by these concepts or we simply can no longer make sense of what we were taught as children because it doesn’t match our life experience. When this happens, we can either cling to our beliefs, becoming fundamentalist, or we give up on our faith altogether. However, there’s also a third way.

Beyond the given God there is also an “ungiven” God, a hidden and mysterious Divine Presence that we can’t quite ever know fully. There’s always something new to be learned, some new revelation to be discovered. When the given God doesn’t make sense anymore, we can reclaim our faith by going in search of this ungiven God. We can try to find more meaningful understandings of the Divine and our spirituality. But, because what we’ve been taught is so deeply embedded in our psyche this can be a difficult journey. It can seem very threatening when we are presented with challenges to how we have always understood the world. However, if we choose to take on this mission, there are several steps we might consciously consider that can be helpful:

1. Name our hurts. It’s important to tell our stories and name out loud what has hurt us or what no longer makes sense to us. If we can’t name it, if we can’t express our doubts and concerns, then we can’t get past them.

2. Understand our hurts. We need to deconstruct what is bothering us. What doesn’t make sense? How does it conflict with our life experience? How does this make us feel? It’s important to explore both the logical and emotional aspects.

3. Let go of the beliefs that hurt us. We need to give ourselves permission to let go of what is no longer useful or healthy for us. This can be very difficult as it might be scary or even feel like a betrayal of our upbringing. Ritual might be helpful in letting go. It might also take time. Think of letting go as a process, not as a one-time decision.

4. Reclaim our faith. It might be easier to let go if we’re aware that there is something else waiting for us, that there are other valid ways of understanding the world and the Divine. This step is our search for those understandings. In addition to letting go, we might ask what was good about what we were taught? What is worth hanging on to? We can also learn about new understandings by reading books, talking to spiritual leaders and our peers in our spiritual community, and by reflecting on our personal experience. We might even dive deeper into how our religious tradition has understood whatever issue we’re trying to let go of because often religious traditions can have more than one way of understanding something.

Spirituality is an important part of our human experience. We have a choice how we react when we are confronted with crises of the spirit. Don’t give up on your soul but embrace growth, the never ending cycle of resurrection, of letting go and being re-born.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by a discussion I led at a church retreat in October 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Out of the Ashes Reading

Here’s a reading I did for my book “Out of the Ashes.” Enjoy!

Note that toward the end of the reading I read a poem which contains some adult language.

Building God’s Church

Every building needs a strong foundation. The bigger the building, the deeper and stronger the foundation needs to be. Strong foundations aren’t just important for buildings, either. We would probably agree that one needs a good education as a strong foundation for a fruitful career and that love and communication are needed to form a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. Well, when Jesus says in Matthew 16:13-20 that Simon will be known as Peter, which means “rock” in Greek, and then talks about building the church on “this rock,” it makes me also think about the foundation of the church.

We’ve all heard about the so-called decline of the Christian church over the last 10-20 years. It makes it tempting to ask if the foundations of the institution of the church is showing cracks, perhaps rotting away? Is the church really in danger of collapse as some fear? Maybe it’s past time to inspect the foundations of our churches. What are the foundations upon which the church has been built? Or, perhaps we need to first ask what are the foundations which Christ intended for the church?

Some people understand Jesus to say that he will build his church upon Peter the person. But what if instead Jesus, in the scripture above, means that he will build the church upon the revelation that Peter had just shared, the revelation that Jesus is the son of the Living God? What if that revelation, which we are further told that Peter learned directly from God, is the bedrock of the church? Perhaps what Jesus is saying is that he will build the church on our firsthand, direct experience of Jesus as the loved and loving child of the living, relevant, still-speaking God. Perhaps the bedrock of the Christian community is to be built on the personal revelation of God’s love through Jesus.

The church is, of course, not a building but a way of life, a community of people. It is meant to be the beginning of God’s kin-dom on this earth, an example of what the world can be and of what it means to walk God’s path. It’s where we come together to practice being the world that God intends us to be, a place of love and justice, a place of hope and peace. We fail at this a lot, which necessarily leads us to inspect our foundations. But, coming to know the revelation of God’s love in Christ, we can build the church upon that love. Community based on God’s love is built on a firm foundation that will last. If we build the church, our lives in Christ together, on the foundation of God’s love, if we truly love God and our neighbor and make that the foundation of who we are, we have nothing to worry about.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 27, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén