random musings...

Category: Church Page 2 of 3

“Out of the Ashes” is Here!

I’m excited to announce that my book, “Out of the Ashes: Constructive Theology for Those Burned Out on Christianity,” is finally at the printers. Please check it out! It can be pre-ordered at a discounted price through Monday, August 14, at the publisher’s website (see below).

Who might be interested, you ask?

* Progressive Christians
* Anyone who is interested in their spirituality but who is put off or disillusioned by traditional Christian doctrine
* Anyone who was raised as a Christian but isn’t sure what they believe any more
* Anyone who thinks fundamentalism represents all Christians (it doesn’t – despite the impression the media gives us)

By looking at Christian beliefs and the Christian way of life in new ways, the book seeks to help readers open themselves to some of the alternatives to the fundamentalist and often oppressive Christianity that is too often assumed to represent all followers of Christ.

I’ve set up a web page with more information about the book as well as ordering links at http://www.pieceofthepuzzle.net/outoftheashes/. I’ll add additional links and ways to order as they are available.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

What does it mean to call yourself a Christian? A month or so ago this question came up in a couple of different conversations in the span of a few days. In one of those conversations I was a little surprised when a person who has been around progressive Christianity circles for many years answered the question in a very traditional way. For them, to be a Christian meant to believe the right doctrines – to believe in and accept Jesus as a personal savior who died for our sins to save us from hell and to believe in teachings such as the virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Unfortunately, this definition of Christian that they were taught as a child was so deeply ingrained in their psyche that they couldn’t see past it nor live up to it. I believe that this is a common experience in our world today and, as a Christian minister for whom this path has been incredibly meaningful, it saddens me.

This and other conversations got me to thinking once again about what does it mean to be a Christian.

The Story That Must Be Told

When the religious leaders ask Jesus to tell his followers to quiet down (Luke 19:29-44), he responds that “if they were to keep silent, the very stones would cry out!” What is so important that nature itself demands it be said? The disciples are shouting a message of peace. What’s so bad about that? Well, the real problem is that they are referring to Jesus as “king.” Not a good idea in an occupied city overloaded with religious pilgrims and political tension. Jesus and his followers were challenging the injustices of their time by declaring that our loyalty should belong to God’s way of Love (as revealed to us in the life and teachings of Jesus) and not Caesar.

This is the story that must be told: God’s way is better than Caesar’s way – love wins over hate; compassion wins over oppression. This is still true today. This is a story we must still tell. We don’t have a Caesar today but patriarchy still looms large and sexism is still the rule in our culture of power and greed. The would-be kings of our modern world must not go unchallenged. When the world tries to force their kings upon us we have a choice to make. Do we go along with their corruption, their lying and false promises, their scapegoating of other religions and immigrants or do we choose love and compassion? Do we choose justice?

Today, we are still called to declare that our Caesars are false leaders and that God’s love is our only true guide, our only true hope. This is the story that must be told. The disciples shouted their hosannas and they were cautioned to be silent. Where and why are the oppressed being told to be quiet today – or else? We should always remember the hosannas, the calls to love and action. They, I believe, will keep us from turning to shouts of “crucify him” and call us to justice and compassion in response to the world’s cruelties. With the stories of despair that need to be told, there is one story that must also be told or even the earth will shout it out: the light that Jesus brought into this world cannot be extinguished. God’s love cannot be defeated.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, April 9, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Seen and Heard

In Luke 7, when John the Baptist starts to have doubts about Jesus, he must have had all kinds of questions: Am I following the right path? Am I putting my trust in the right person? Is Jesus really the one I should be following? What does it even mean to call him the chosen one? Are my expectations of him really what he’s all about? Part of the problem for John seems to be that Jesus’ ministry wasn’t exactly what John expected. John, like many of his day, may have been hoping for direct confrontation with their oppressors but Jesus was instead resisting through messages of healing and love.

These questions of who we should follow and why are questions we still ask ourselves today, not only in our spiritual lives but we see them reflected in our modern day myths such as the Harry Potter movies or the Matrix movies. To get some of these questions answered, John sends his followers to ask Jesus if he’s really God’s Chosen One. Jesus doesn’t answer right away but spends time healing the people that had gathered before responding. When he does respond, he doesn’t refer to scripture or suggest some contest to prove his power. He tells John’s followers: report what you’ve seen and heard. He simply says this is my ministry, this is what I’m doing. See, hear, and experience what it means to challenge the powers of the world with love and healing instead of weapons and then report your experience to John. That will have to be enough.

We aren’t told what John thought of this answer, but we might reflect on our own reaction. What have we seen and heard on our spiritual journey? How have we experienced God’s presence in our life? Through healing, acts of love, community? When life isn’t going as expected, can we put our trust in this way of God, this way of love? And are we willing and able to report what we’ve seen and heard? The world desperately needs more love, more deep connection, more compassion. The world needs to find healing and wholeness that we may live together in peace and mutual support. Are we willing to try this way of love and then share it with others, even invite them to walk with us?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, February 12, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Honoring Sabbath

We’ve all had the experience of being too busy in life, trying to catch up to some goal such as wealth, happiness, wholeness, or even God, only to have it continually elude us. But what if, in our busyness, we’ve actually been running from what we want and not toward it? In Judaism and Christianity the idea of Sabbath is to take a regular day off from our busyness and “work” to devote to God and our spiritual lives while we rest and reenergize ourselves. It reminds us how important it is to slow down so that our blessings can catch up to us. Sabbath is a gift from God that allows to reorient ourselves away from the demands of a culture centered on greed and power and renew our love and compassion for life.

Especially in this time when our world seems even more chaotic and our busyness continues around the clock seven days a week, it is important to take time to stop, rest, and open ourselves to the presence of the Spirit. It’s critical for our spiritual health to be able to renew our energy and make sure we’re on the right path in life, to take the time to ask “who am I” in this time and place. Sabbath time in our lives hopefully means regularly attending worship to be in community with other seekers so that we can support each other, but it might also mean spending time in prayer and meditation, taking walks in the woods, or even just finding quiet time to sit and let your mind go. Whatever you find reenergizing and spiritually uplifting might be part of your personal sabbath time.

Sometimes we may also need longer periods of rejuvenation. I thank the church for allowing me such an opportunity this year as I go on sabbatical from May through July. During this time I will be attending a couple of conferences as well as hopefully spending time traveling and doing reading and writing in addition to just resting as I engage that Sabbath question of “who am I?” This is also a time that the Phoenix Church Community might want to take some time to look for new energy and ask “who are we?” A time of sabbatical can be filled with excitement and anxiety, hope and fear, for both the pastor and the church but it is also critical for our spiritual health to take this time to stop and rest, letting the Spirit guide us as we look forward to a renewed ministry together post-sabbatical.

Whether we it be a Sabbath day or a longer period of Sabbatical, we all need to allow ourselves time to open ourselves to Spirit and heal from the chaos that constantly batters our souls. Never forget to slow down once in a while so your blessings can catch up to you.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, January 29, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Nothing is Impossible

The baby Jesus arrived in this world with high expectations. Not many babies have their births announced by an angel. Mary must have been scared and overwhelmed when the angel visited her and told her she was going to give birth to such a special child. In the story as told in the gospel of Luke, Mary runs off to visit her relative Elizabeth shortly after the angel’s visit. I wonder if she sought out Elizabeth, an elder of her family, for reassurance. The angel after all had said that Elizabeth’s own pregnancy was proof that with God nothing was impossible. Elizabeth seemed to provide a port in the storm for Mary, a place of comfort and welcome, when Mary probably wasn’t sure how her own family and future husband were going to react to the news that a baby was on its way.

Where do we turn to when life gets overwhelming? Of course, we can turn to God, but do we also have an Elizabeth in our lives? Someone we can turn to when we need unconditional love, when we are uncertain and scared? Do we have someone like that in our lives? Can we be that for someone else? How can we provide a warm welcome, reassurance and hope, to someone who is overwhelmed by life? Christmas is about the birth of God’s love in human form – the promise that with God nothing is impossible – but it’s about reminding us that that love is born within us too.

Imagine for a moment that you are pregnant with God’s love… that you are about to give birth to the embodiment of sacred love… a love that is needed to heal the world…

That might be just a little bit scary. It might make us want to run and hide, to find refuge where we will be welcomed and reassured. Can we be that refuge for each other? Maybe beginning as Elizabeth did, with a warm greeting, maybe a hug, and a listening ear. God doesn’t call us to save the world a la James Bond, by killing the bad guys. God calls us to love our enemies, to embody love, to treat the world justly with compassion – and then challenge others to do the same.

When Mary hurried off to visit Elizabeth, she went seeking something. She went seeking reassurance that with God all things are indeed possible. Elizabeth welcomed her with love and hope, for where there is love there is hope. When we trust in the limitless possibilities of God, there is hope. This Christmas may the love of God be birthed anew in each of us.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, December 18, 2016. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Wolf and the Lamb

Advent is a time of waiting. We await the birth of the Christ child but perhaps even more importantly we await what the Christ child represents: change. Christ brings us the promise of a new way of living in the world, a new way of doing and being. Into our current world that is so obsessed with greed and power, love is born. But Advent isn’t just about waiting as if God is suddenly going to solve our problems. It’s about an active waiting, anticipating and preparing for how we can participate in this new world – how we can help bring hope by creating peace and justice in our lives and in our society.

In the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, the prophet also gave the people of Israel a vision of a different kind of world. This was a world where “common sense” was turned upside down and where the wolf and the lamb lived in peace. Not a world where the lamb defeated the wolf in battle but where they learned to live harmoniously. A world where the lamb no longer needed to fear. Is Isaiah’s words, this would be a world filled with the knowledge of God, a world without violence or oppression for if we truly know the love of God we cannot do violence and harm to others.

For us who follow Christ, we understand this vision of a different way to be fulfilled in Christ. By knowing Christ we know God. But simple knowledge of doctrines concerning Christ isn’t enough. We also need to “know” Christ as we know a trusted friend. We need to know Christ in our hearts and not just our heads for it is in our hearts where transformation and growth must take place. How we act in the world doesn’t change unless our hearts change. How do we do this? Can we forget about doctrines and whether we’re believing the “right” things and just feel the presence of Christ, of love, in our hearts? Perhaps what we really anticipate during Advent is the birth of Christ into our hearts, continually, that we might be set upon a path of transformation and love.

This Advent, let us in our anticipation make room in our hearts for the birth of the love of Christ that we might be transformed and in turn begin to transform the world. For where there is love, there is hope. Let in the Spirit of God this Advent that it may bring us the wisdom and courage we need to create a new world where the wolf and lamb live together in peace, where we stand up for the oppressed, where people are treated fairly with compassion. This Advent let us be God’s love to the world.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, December 4, 2016. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

Where there is love there is hope

Many of the people I love are in deep pain this morning. Many of us this morning are fearful and grieving. We are wondering where we find hope for the future as we awake to the surreal reality that our country has elected the candidate of homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and white supremacy. The candidate who has promised to take away affordable health insurance and any implement any number of other policies that will prop up the power of white, straight, rich men to the detriment of anyone who isn’t that.

I can’t yet wrap my brain around it. I don’t understand it. I am discouraged and saddened. I am particularly discouraged that those who identify as evangelical Christians seem to have overwhelmingly voted for this new reality. Nothing about this is Christian. It doesn’t come from an ethic of love your neighbor, the core of the true gospel. It instead screams hate and fear your neighbor. That form of so-called Christianity cannot die fast enough.

Although, for now, I may be struggling with my faith in humanity, I do still have trust in my God. I still trust that love wins in the end. That is the true meaning of the irrational message of resurrection. And, yes, it is irrational. If I were being rational right now I’d have to give into the despair. I’m not willing to do that. I choose to put my trust in the belief that love wins in the end. Love is the very core of our being, even those who choose to live out of their fear. I’ll put my faith in love.

We have a lot of work to do. Things may get much worse before they get better again. There may be even more new realities to deal with in the next months and years. It will take time to try to understand each other again, to forgive each other. But we must.

Take time to grieve and then remind yourself that there is still love in the world. And where there is love there is hope. Then let’s redouble our efforts and get back to work.

Stop the Insanity

It’s been weirdly re-assuring to see conservative politicians condemn Donald Trump’s proposal to stop Muslims from entering the US. I truly fear what far-right conservatives would do to our country in their pursuit of more wealth for the rich should they regain control of the presidency so it’s nice to think there is some moral line that they wouldn’t cross. Trump seems to finally have found that line.

As a nation we must stop giving into our fear. We must stop condemning an entire religion because of criminal terrorist organizations that create mayhem in the name of Islam. They no more represent Islam than Westboro Baptist Church represents Christianity. When we attack the entirety of Islam because of these terrorists it simply makes us their best agents because it creates a fertile atmosphere for them to recruit people to their cause. Instead, we need to embrace our Islamic brothers and sisters with love. That is how we could truly disarm the terrorists.

As many have been pointing out it is high time for ALL people, but especially our leaders, to speak out against the fear and hate that is running rampant throughout our nation, resulting in levels of xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-Islamic rhetoric that are frightening. It feels as if the world has gone insane.

As a Christian minister, I am particularly disturbed that supposedly Christian leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, and Pat Robertson routinely add to the fear. Such messages are not based in the Christian gospel. Remarks such as Falwell’s comments that we could “end those Muslims” by arming more people are profoundly offensive to me and should be offensive to all Christians. Christ taught that “love your neighbor” was the basis of, well, everything that matters. Anyone that preaches anything else is very simply not Christian.

Whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, some other religion, or atheist, I hope that “love your neighbor” or some other version of the golden rule is a principle we can all get behind. It is only by realizing our inter-dependence, realizing that we need each other, can we save this crazy world we are living in. We have to stop the insanity. It’s time to stand up and say enough is enough. We need to declare that all lives matter, but we need to do that not as some kind of code that really means white American lives matter. We need to be specific: Black lives matter. Latino lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Trans lives matter. And on and on. Not to say it is to deny it.

The German protestant pastor Martin Niemoller is famous for the post World War II quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The truth of this is more relevant today than ever. It’s time to speak out however we can, whenever we can. #blacklivesmatter #iammuslim

Queer Theology

The “anarchistreverend” blog, in the post http://anarchistreverend.com/2011/07/synchroblog/, asked people to blog about queer theology today, August 10, 2011. I think it will have a list of all of those who responded by blogging. My friend Cindi, who blogs at http://cindik.com/, has echoed the call several times, which finally inspired me to add a few words to the cause.

The original proposal stated: “On that day I want people to blog about what queer theology means to them. I want you to share your story of how reading the Bible queerly has changed your life. I want you to talk about how your sexuality or your gender identity has brought you deeper into relationship with God.”

And further clarified: “This synchroblog is NOT ABOUT apologetics. This isn’t about taking on the clobber passages or explaining why it’s okay to be queer. It’s time to move past those conversations. […] This day will give a hint of the beautiful stories that can be shared; of the amazing ways that queer folks read and delve into the Scriptures.”

Since I’ve waited until the last possible moment to think about this, my thoughts aren’t as well thought out as I would like… but I’ll give it a shot.

As a gay pastor of a small church composed of mostly LGBT people, the relationship of Christianity and queerness is very much of personal interest to me. First of all, I would echo the anarchistreverend’s sentiment that “it’s time to move past [apologetic] conversations.” Although I don’t mind giving my take on the “clobber” passages or why one can be queer and Christian to those who are genuinely struggling with those questions, I have no interest whatsoever in arguing about it with those who are determined to adhere to homophobic views. Queer people are loved children of God and our inherent, God-given worthiness is not up for debate. Period. End of Question.

But what does being queer and Christian mean to my life? For one, if I had not come to terms with being gay, I probably would never have come back to the church or Christianity. After many years, having left the church behind for reasons that had nothing to do with the question of queerness, I came back to church as a safe place to meet other gay people. In the process, I discovered “progressive” Christianity and re-found my love of the church and God. This has led me on a weird and wonderful journey to ministry.

But does being gay / queer enhance my spiritual journey? One way in which it does is that being a queer Christian forces me to question the status quo. To think for myself. I cannot just accept whatever traditional doctrine that I’m told I’m supposed to believe. Too many church teachings have historically been about maintaining the church’s power over people’s lives and not about helping them find God’s love. To buy into those doctrines would be self-damaging and irresponsible. The way many churches treat queer people is a good example of this at work.

This questioning and challenging is a gift that queer people give to the church. Being queer is to be on the margins of what is “acceptable.” Queerness makes people question and challenge boundaries, especially as to whether our boundaries are really God-given or established by fearful, power-pursuing humans. Marriage is a good example. Queerness challenges the status quo. It challenges the very definition of and reasons for marriage.

But, our questioning as queer people should also go beyond pushing the boundaries outward to include more people. We should question the very structure of the boundaries. Sticking with marriage, we might question whether being included in this institution is even the best thing. Perhaps we instead need new understandings of committed human relationships. In one way, I’m surprised that conservative Christians are against gay marriage. If conservatives wanted control over gay people and how they are allowed to act and present themselves then the best way to do that would be to bring them within the walls of their moral codes. I think it is wonderful when a new state approves gay marriage, but is to be within those walls really what is best? I’m not saying I disapprove of marriage… I think it is exciting when two people are in love and make a commitment to each other. But there are lots of side issues (such as church vs. state marriage) and this is not really meant to be a blog entry on marriage.

And there are plenty of other issues that come to mind… sexual ethics, open relationships, pornography, bdsm, family dynamics, the nature of love… Being queer should challenge us to try to think through those issues and not just accept the stereotypical, traditional Christian responses. And all of this questioning and searching the Bible, our hearts, and our fellow spiritual journeyers for answers should bring us closer to God in a more genuine, heartfelt relationship. Because that’s what queer people have to do, forge our own path of relationships – with each other and with God.

Related to this questioning, being a gay Christian has led me to think of Christ as queer… Jesus was always challenging the status quo, making people think. If you’re interested in the idea of a queer Christ, I’ll offer a sermon I preached a couple of years ago for further reflection. Listen to it at http://www.phoenixchurch.org/sermons/032909_ka_1corinth12_12-21_26.mp3 or read the pdf file attached to this blog entry.

Okay, that’s it as a last minute reflection on what being queer and Christian means to me… at least what it means to me today anyway 🙂 I’m still questioning… and hope I always will be.

referenced sermon in pdf format:  Recognizing Ourselves in Christ

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