Rainbow Prayers

27 06 2015

For the past dozen or so  years, I have been praying for my LGBT brothers and sisters in the church and around our nation.  Many others have been praying for far longer than that; but for me, my reading and interpretation of Scripture, as well as my understanding of the sciences behind sexual orientation and gender identification, were slow to develop.  As a result my support for gay ordination and marriage, and my prayers for those most hurt and offended by the discrimination of church and society, were not realized until the mid 2000s.

But this morning, June 27th, 2015, the morning after the history-making decision of SCOTUS, a decision making gay marriage legal in every state in our union: my prayers have changed!  The rainbow colored lights on the White House mark a great shift in the rainbow prayers that I am lifting up to the Light of God this morning.  Today, my petitions are no longer for the gay community.  Rather, they are for the portion of my Church, and for every religious community in our nation, that continues to lag behind at best, or resist at worst, the work and movement of God’s Holy Spirit.

Speaking on behalf of people of faith, what religious zealot Franklin Graham, media hound Ann Coulter, and political extremist Ted Cruz, regard as a great travesty, many of us in the Church of Jesus Christ regard as a great triumph.  And so such people need our prayers.  Because they no longer get to be the only ones defining what it means to be Christian, nor what is or is not a movement of God’s Spirit in our nation today, they need our prayers.  Because they no longer get to be the only ones determining what it means to be God’s people, called from our wicked ways, nor what God’s healing upon our land might look like, they need our prayers.  Because they no longer get to be the ones, whose white, American, upper middle class, heterosexual, Cristian privilege, is determining the rules by which the rest of us must live, they need our prayers.

This day, many in our land are praying for our nation because they believe that we’ve gone astray.  Well friends, this day, these are the people for whom we need to start praying!  We need to be praying that their hearts might be softened to recognize the variety of ways peoples’ lives might be lived to the honor and glory to God.  We need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to remove the fear that governs so much of their lives — fear of the unknown, fear of those who are different, fear of anything that is new. And we need to be praying that the way of Jesus — the way of love and grace, might replace the way of law and vengeance.  Living with such rigidity, such fear, such resentment, is not easy.  Having been there, I know!

So today, rather than continuing to argue, or gloat — let’s pray!  Let’s continue to offer to God the rainbow prayers of the LGBT movement, what I believe to have been the rainbow prayers of Noah — that never again, will our world, our nation, or our Church, be so blinded by ours sin, that we fail to grasp the perfect, unconditional, and inclusive love of God.  And may the knowledge that we will no doubt continue to fall short of this prayer, give us all a great deal of humility in the lives that we live.

God’s way truly is the only ways worth living.  And that way, the way of Jesus, the way of truth and life, have brought new justice to our land.  Our fervent prayers have availed much, allowing love to reign, and reigniting our commitment to the bonds of marriage.  For this, and for the countless new ways in which our country is living into the Kingdom of God, we must all give thanks, and pray!

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Sadness

19 06 2015

I’m usually very deliberate and methodical about my blogs! I spend a great deal of time carefully considering what’s on my heart, and making sure that my words are carefully thought through. Accurate information, appropriately placed passion, and the right spirit, are all important factors in what I have to say and when I say it.

But this morning I’m sad — so sad that I want to . . . I need to . . . write! That’s what I do when I’m sad; and frankly, it’s one of the only things I do well when I’m sad. And I’m writing here, without all the considerations that are normally part of my writing, in the hopes that the Spirit might have something to say . . . both to me, and to you.

Now I’ve been sad before. I remember gathering on the campus of The College of William and Mary the evening after Treyvon Martin was killed, for a vigil that both honored his life, while at the same time challenging a ‘stand your ground’ law that appeared to have been unjustly used to excuse the murder. But then, in the days that followed, I heard countless people claim that while Treyvon did happen to be Black, his death was not about race. It wasn’t about a teenager in a hoodie, taking a short cut home from a convenient store where he purchased a bag of Skittles, being in a neighborhood full of people who didn’t look like him, where he was assumed to be a thug looking for trouble. Rather, it was about someone looking out for his community, protecting his home and the neighborhood he cared about, from a smart-mouthed punk who needed to be put in his place . . . oh, and that ‘punk’ just happened to be Black.

I was also sad last year when Michael Brown was shot on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Many others were sad this time around too . . . that is until we all learned that he was a trouble-maker. The NYTimes let us all know that Michael was ‘no angel’, and he was only shot after shop-lifting from a local small business, and pushing the store’s clerk on his way out. Besides, he also liked to smoke a little pot! So once again, the story was rewritten and retold. Because after all, if you’re going to reach into a police car and try to take a cop’s gun, what do you think is going to happen? Michael didn’t just steal a few cigars. He was a big, intimidating 18 year old; and while it’s sad that he was shot six times, twice in the head . . . his death had nothing to do with his race.

Perhaps like you, I was sad a couple of months ago as I sat in horror and watched the streets of Baltimore erupt in violence over the tragic death of Freddie Gray. He was arrested, not for being a Black man who dared to look into the eyes of a white police officer, but because he had an illegal switch-blade. And when he tried to run away from the cops, force was only used to subdue him so he could be cuffed and put into the police van. It was completely justifiable, and his accidental death which resulted was just that . . . accidental. His being Black was simply not an issue.

So I’ve been sad before; but that sadness went away, and relatively quickly. This morning . . . this time around, my sadness makes me want to weep. It is so deep and so painful that it makes me wonder if it will ever going to go away. It makes we want to weep . . . and to scream . . . and to get up from my desk and go do something. Today’s sadness over the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina is simply too much. I need someone to come along and put my mind at ease. I need someone to come and explain what happened, someone to . . . rewrite . . . to . . . retell, the story.

Surely this is not about race! Not again! I mean why would a young white man, from a state where the confederate flag flies proudly over the state capital every day, want to kill a bunch of Black people? After all, that flag is all about Southern pride, acknowledging a time in American history when people were not so much in favor of slavery, but simply supporters of states’ rights! Surely this could not be a race thing . . . not in South Carolina! I don’t care what the guy said as he was shooting people, he must be mentally ill! That’s why this happened – mental illness. And how did he get a gun in the first place. If this doesn’t convince us that we need stricter gun laws, nothing will.

Actually, if you really think about it, the murders took place in a Christian Church. So maybe this wasn’t really an attack on Black people at all. Maybe this was an attack on Christianity! After all, this country has been out to get Christians for years; beginning in 1962 when the government took prayer out of our schools. And now this country has all these damn Muslims moving in . . . is it any wonder things are such a mess. Store clerks are not even allowed to wish people a Merry Christmas anymore. All they can say is “Happy Holidays!”

Speaking of Christmas — did you know it’s only six months away? Now there’s a story I love telling . . . in fact it’s one of the few stories I like to tell again, and again, again. And when I do . . . well, it just makes me feel better. It takes away my sadness.

Good stories do that, don’t they? They take away our sadness . . . whether they’re true . . . or not!





If you can’t find one, change one!

11 06 2015

It seems like they’re everywhere! In fact in some communities, you can find one on every corner.

No, I’m not talking about Starbucks. I’m talking about churches! Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches exists in abundance, in just about every town and city in America. Some are large. Some are small. Some are full of life. Some are dying. Some are great reflections of the body of Christ in the world today. And, well, some are not.

Sadly, not every congregation of Christ followers in America is a dynamic, joyful, transformational, inclusive, inspiring, or missional part of the Church. Some are stuck in another era, irrelevant and out of touch with the world. Some are arrogantly exclusive, welcoming only to people who look and act like those who are already there. Some are so concerned about those who are already there, they don’t have the time or the energy to think about those outside their doors, those who desperately need to hear the Gospel and who are longing for a community where they might love, and be loved. And some, even have really bad pastors. Their elders may not be all that great either; but as a pastor, I will be the first to admit that some of us should never have gone into ministry in the first place.

But worse than all of this, is what is coming out of so many churches today. Some are preaching supposed “good news”, that is anything but! Their messages take shape in an environment wrought with fear and anger — fear of the big, bad world; and anger over the fact that everyone appears to be out to get them. Their approach to faith is born in a literal reading of the Bible, built upon a God who is more like an angry cosmic cop than a unconditionally loving parent, and nurtured by a Spirit who appears to have stopped working centuries ago. The Jesus who is at the center of these churches’ lives is more interested in taking people to heaven when they die, than making them into transformational change agents in the world today.

Some are so bogged down in tradition that they appear to think it sinful to sing anything written after 1600; and others are so contemporary that they wouldn’t know a sacrament if it hit them over the head. Some are so ‘mainline’ that their Sunday gatherings look like scenes from the “Stepford Wives”; and others are so caught up in political correctness that it is ok to believe anything you want, as long as you just believe something. And some are more concerned with what kind of coffee is being served during the fellowship hour than with the homeless person down the road; while others are serving coffee so bad that even the homeless person down the road doesn’t want to drink it.

No, not every Christian church in America reflects it’s namesake. We’re messed up. All of us. And in all kinds of ways.

But ya’ know what? We all know that. Those of us inside the church know that. Those who have walked away from the church know that. And many of those who have never even darkened our doorsteps know that. Further, anyone reading this who is currently looking for a church home, they — you — know that as well. There is no perfect church out there. Period.

So rather than just bemoaning the fact that you “just can’t find the right one,” one that “meets the needs of you and your family,” that “inspires” you, that preaches a Gospel you’re “comfortable” with, or that gives you some “meat” on Sunday mornings that will keep you going throughout the week — instead of allowing any of those reasons, to in any way justify your lack of involvement in a local Body, can I challenge you a little bit here? Because what you really need to do, is to just find the congregation nearest to your home, and jump in! Pick one . . . any one . . . the one with the best landscaping . . . the one that has cleanest restrooms . . . the one that has the best communion bread . . . choose one and just jump in and get involved. Find a church somewhere, anywhere; even it it’s not what you think the church should be. Then, begin working to change it! Get involved, and do what you can to make Christ’s body in the world today what you think Christ body in the world today should be! It really is that simple.

You see, finding a church is not like buying a new pair of shoes. It’s not about shopping around for a product that has already been mass produced, that you can purchase, consume, or wear on your sleeve like a new watch. Not at all. Finding a church is more like that little shell that you discovered on the beach last summer . . . the one you brushed all the sand off of . . . and then took home to wash because didn’t smell too good . . . and that you’re still carrying around in your pocket to remind you of the beauty of God’s creation.

The church is what we make it. And as someone who’s given his life to the broken body of Christ in the world today, I’m tired of hearing people complain about us. If you don’t like us, change us! Join us! Come and be part of us, and MAKE US WHAT YOU THINK THE CHURCH SHOULD BE. I’m interested in what you might have to say. And I think there are many others who feel the same way.