random musings...

Tag: God

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.

Road to Jerusalem

In Luke 18: 31-19:10 Jesus is traveling the road to Jerusalem and he knows things are going to get real when he gets there. He tries to warn his disciples but they don’t understand. Maybe they have plans and desires of their own. Like many of their day maybe they foresee themselves as a movement to liberate Israel from Roman oppression and they can’t see past their own hopes. Perhaps they are having a hard time understanding that our hopes and plans aren’t necessarily in line with where the Divine would lead us. Whatever the reason, Jesus tries to interrupt their lack of understanding and wake them up.

Often, we get so focused on one thing that everything else gets blocked out until something happens to interrupt us, to wake us up to what is happening around us. How much of life seems like an accident? We make plans and then the plans go in unexpected directions. Some of the most important things that happen in our lives are not planned but are unexpected. These are often life-changing, unexpected interruptions in our lives. Sometimes they’re difficult and sometimes they’re joyous, but they wake us up in some way. In other words, being interrupted or woken up from the hum drum routine of our lives often leaves us stopped in our tracks and not knowing what comes next. These times, and perhaps this is the really sacred part, ask us to be mindful of the opportunities we might have at that point in our lives.

Jesus on the road to Jerusalem could be seen as a metaphor for our own spiritual journey to realize God’s Kin-dom, where in the end God’s ability to create life and love wins over the worst that human tyrants can come up with. But on that journey, Jesus is constantly providing interruptions for people and being interrupted himself. For example, the blind beggar interrupts Jesus with his shouting and Jesus interrupts the beggar’s life by healing him. This was a momentous event and completely unexpected. And just imagine what new opportunities then awaited. Likewise, Zacchaeus, who as a tax collector and therefore a colluder with Rome is despised by his neighbors in Jericho, climbs the tree to see what’s happening and when Jesus notices this guy up in a tree, he’s interrupted. He in turn stops to talk and eat with Zacchaeus and his family, interrupting his life and reminding him that he too is loved by God and thereby opens him to new opportunities, to new and better ways of living.

Jesus is still trying to interrupt us today, to wake us up, asking us to be mindful of the opportunities that life gives us in unexpected events and encounters. Perhaps when something stops us in our tracks we should imagine ourselves as Zacchaeus in that tree and Jesus has just stopped to say “come down, I have a surprise for you.” The Divine wants to wake us up, interrupt us, but we have to open ourselves to those interruptions. We have to do some interrupting of our own. The sick man has to go outside, the beggar has to shout, and Zacchaeus has to climb a tree. We too need to open ourselves to sacred moments that ask us to slow down, listen, and remember the holy in our lives, to stop and ask what new life, what new opportunities we might find as we journey together on our own spiritual roads toward the kin-dom just as Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem with his disciples.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, April 2, 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)

A Christmas Reflection – 2016

On this day is born a child, the savior. On this day, the light and love of God takes our form that we might be healed and made whole. That is reason to rejoice! This Christmas morning I woke filled with happiness at just being alive. For a few seconds anyway. Then I remembered what’s happening in our country, in our world, and immediately felt my chest tighten, that happiness dissipate. Anxiety was back. Persistent anxiety seems to be the new reality as 2016 comes to a close. As I lay in bed I wondered what it means for Christ to be born into a world that is becoming ever darker.

Donald Trump is our president-elect, the future leader of my country and soon to be one of the most powerful people on this planet. This is a man whose rhetoric is filled with anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-muslim vitriol. This is a man who behaves like a prepubescent child, where any criticism isn’t met with reason or discussion but with insults and twitter tantrums. This is a man who seems too busy to be bothered with facts and evidence. Instead, whatever comes out of his mouth is expected to be taken as truth – and many do so without question. This is a man whose advisors and future cabinet include white supremacists, homophobes, corporate shills, climate change deniers, an education secretary nominee who is an enemy of public education, and on and on. This is a man who, while his team plans the future of his administration, goes on a victory tour so he can continue to enjoy the cheers of adoring fans. This is a man who lambasts US intelligence agencies while praising a Russian dictator. This narcissistic, treasonous, emotionally stunted demagogue, who cares not a whit for you or me or our country but only that his pocketbook is full and his ego has been properly stroked, is our president-elect.

I find a little hope in the knowledge that the majority of voters did not vote for this man but that his electoral victory was an artifact of our particular and peculiar process of electing a President. And I’ve pretty much given up trying to figure out why anyone voted for this man. Every justification I’ve heard rings hollow. Clinton was in bed with the banks and corporations, you say? So the solution was to elect the banks and corporations directly, I ask? Take a look at Trump’s proposed cabinet. It’s filled with billionaires, people who care about nothing but maximizing their quarterly profits. Why we have done this to ourselves makes no sense to me but it is the reality we are faced with and it fills me with anxiety. Frankly, everyone who isn’t a wealthy, straight, white, “Christian” male should be a little afraid.

Frankly, one of the most discouraging and depressing aspects of the 2016 presidential election is how many of Trump’s supporters claim to be followers of Christ. We cannot proclaim to be Jesus’ followers, to be Christians, and not follow what he taught: to love one another. To love our neighbor as we love ourselves is the foundation of everything Jesus stood for. It is simply not possible to support Donald Trump and his actions, both real and promised, and truthfully call yourself a follower of Christ. Simply not possible.

So what does it mean to me to say that into this world is born the light and love of God? What does it mean to affirm the spiritual reality of this Christmas Day? It means there is hope for the future, that there will always be hope. If there is still love in the world, and there is, then there is hope. It means I can put my trust in God because, although it may sometimes feel like it, God has not forsaken this world but God is born into this world. And like Jesus was born as God’s love incarnate 2000 years ago, today God’s love is being born into each of us should we choose to make room for it in the stable of our hearts. Each of us is being asked to give birth to love this Christmas. That we will say, as Mary did, “Here am I, the servant of God; let it be with me according to your word,” is where my hope lies for we are the voices and hands of God, the servants and prophets of the Divine. We are the hope for the world.

Yes, that scares me a lot too. It’s a daunting responsibility. I’m still living into the idea, still trying to figure out what exactly I’m called to do and be in this new reality. I’ve never claimed to be an activist of any kind. I confess I don’t want to be an activist. But this Christmas, I pray that God’s light and love be born anew in my heart. I pray that light not only brightens the darkness, but that it reveal what lies hidden in the darkness, that it reveal how I may serve my loving God.

Merry Christmas! May God’s love abound in all of our lives this Christmas Day that there may be hope and healing in the world, that the evils of our world, the misogyny, the homophobia, the racism, the xenophobia, may whither and die in the light of our love. Amen.

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)

The Eschaton: Upon Dreaming of a Barren Land, Bigfoot, and Kris Kristofferson as God

The Eschaton: Upon Dreaming of a Barren Land,
Bigfoot, and Kris Kristofferson as God*

Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down
the barren boulevard,
an urban desert,
exploded skyscrapers gape,
disembodied toothless grins
stacked one upon the other.

At the neighborhood park,
mirth burned away,
the playground merry-go-round spins,
draped with the body of a dead child.
“They Killed Him and all the rest,” I wail,
haunted by the laughter of impish ghosts
wanting one more ride.

A final act of salvation, God walks
into the haze of my despair,
flowing gray hair parted in the middle,
beard neatly trimmed,
with the air of divine confidence
one expects in a deity.
He asks me to call him Kris, of all things,
and gestures at the world around us –
“Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).”

His forehead,
with more wrinkles
than an old prune,
and his eyes,
squinting as if he had stared
into a thousand fire plumes,
betray his distress.
“The Taker will return,” he warns,
“it can't be stopped now.”

He beckons me to follow
and I wander a labyrinth of rubble,
The Pilgrim, Chapter 33 of an endless story,
seeking sacred refuge from endless horror.
Finally, a green oasis, sanctuary,
arises to swallow us whole
and I behold the sights and sounds
of creation's gathered remnants,
frightened and amazed.

Have you ever heard?
A sasquatch,
arms wrenched from their sockets,
howl in pain as if to ask
“Why Me?”

Have you ever seen?
A velociraptor,
last of its kind,
wander aimlessly, looking
For the Good Times.

But Kris simply sits on a stump
of a forgotten tree in this forgotten Eden,
buries his head in his hands and sobs.
Only once more does he look at me,
as if to plead “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

Even God doesn't know what to do next.
Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends.

*Italicized phrases are Kris Kristofferson song titles taken
from http://tasteofcountry.com/kris-kristofferson-songs/.

©2016 Kenneth W. Arthur

The Scream

The Scream

(for Orlando, June 12, 2016)

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on
one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I
stopped and looked out over the fjord — the sun was
setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a
scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I
heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the
clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This
became The Scream. – Edvard Munch

We are the instruments of God.

If that's all God has to work with
we're doomed,
an off-key, out of sync
marching band parading off a cliff,
cheered on by the bombastic blaring of trump-ets.

Is that why the man is screaming
under the blood red sky?
Oh, how the crimson shrieks.

Is it the horror of two men tenderly kissing?
Is it the horror of forty-nine souls now missing?
Is it the scream of a bad dream?

Is it the blood raining from the clouds,
running down the walls?
Is it the tears flooding over the shrouds,
cascading as an angel falls?

Or is God screaming?
And the man cowers
as the shriek of nature's despair
echoes, the cacophony of a marching band
parading off a cliff.

©2016 Kenneth W. Arthur

The Scream

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

And God Created…

Here’s a cute story…  I don’t know the original source, but I found it here: http://www.frtommylane.com/stories/humility/man_dog_cat.htm


It is reported that the following edition of Genesis Chapter 2 was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

And Adam said, “God, when I was in the garden, you walked with me everyday. Now I do not see you anymore. I am lonesome here and it is difficult for me to remember how much you love me. “

And God said, “No problem! I will create a companion for you that will be with you forever and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will know I love you, even when you cannot see me. Regardless of how selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourself.”

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