Tolerance

What is it about the “Other” that is so threatening?

In the wake of violent tragedy, can we just put down our own egos for a second and respond to pain, suffering and confusion with true compassion?

Can we?

Some of us can, I guess. But the rhetoric from leaders who wish to respond to violence with even more violence is in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus- and I can’t wrap my head around how they twist “turn the other cheek” and “love your neighbor as yourself” and “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” into “Fight back or you’ll look weak” and “Hit hard, hit fast” and “Give everyone a gun” and still call themselves Christians.

It’s confusing, and I think we have to call it what it is- vengeful and hateful and xenophobic.

Period.

I’m tired of tolerating this rhetoric from “Christians”.

Anybody else?

Christmas Sermon 2014

I wonder how many of you remember Art Linkletter. He originated this program called Kids say the Darndest Things. He would get a child or two or even a small group and ask them questions and the responses (at least the ones we saw) were truly hilarious. I remember two interviews in particular. The first was a little girl about five or six with a heavy Brooklyn accent:

Mr Linkletter: How do you feel about being in school?

Girl: I LOOOOVE School!

What do you think of your teacher?

I LOOOOVE my teacher!

Well what do you think of your mommy and Daddy?

I LOOOOOOOOVE my Mommy and Daddy!

Do you like ice cream?

I LOOOOOOOOVE ice cream!

You seem to love everything I ask you about.

Well, I’m a very loving person!

I love that story because it’s really true, isn’t it? Deep down we’re very loving people. There are things that we love, people that we love, animals that we love, places that we love, foods that we love, seasons that we love, books that we love, movies that we love music that we love- and the list goes on and on.

We love what speaks to us.

The other interview was with a group of kids and Art Linkletter asks them:

Have you ever been in love?

And this boy, who’s probably again five or six says “Oh Yes!”

Mr Linkletter asks “With whom are you in love?” He was very correct in his grammar.

And the little boy, without missing a beat, says pointing to a girl in the group “I’m in love with her!”

The little girl memorably shrieks and starts crying.

Whereupon Mr Linkletter says to the little boy “I’m not really sure, but that little girl doesn’t seem to share your love.”

The little boy says “Well, I’m In love with her, I don’t just love her. And I don’t suppose she can do anything about that.”

Out of the mouths of babes….

Today we celebrate Christmas- The feast of the birth of Christ. The Christ Mass.

The celebration that God’s love for us became manifest in a baby born in a barn. Not a palace or the suburbs or a gated community or a hospital or even a house.

He was born in a barn.

In a country occupied by a foreign power.

To poor parents who probably didn’t really know what they were doing- as most parents of their firstborn will attest.

Born also to a people who yearned for God’s light. And to the whole world as well.

I love the Christmas story because it’s so simple.

And because it’s so filled with complicated richness.

For centuries the Jewish people had walked in anticipation of Isaiah’s words “you who walk in darkness shall see a great light”.

I’ve known a few Rabbis in my life and one of the things they have taught me is this:

For hundreds of years The Jewish people had cultivated a relationship with this God who delivered them from oppressors and violence and injustice and who asked them to wrestle with theology- to get down and dirty with questions and curiosity- because if anyone can take a question God can.

Being an Episcopalian means using our heads as well as our hearts. We get to question things. We get to wrestle with things, just like Jacob wrestled with the angel.

Today, I’m going to ask you to wrestle with this: God is in love with you.

God is in love with you.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Who’s been in love?

When a person falls in love, the world changes, does it not?

And if that love is returned- well, we might even say that we’ve experienced the Divine.

Being in love is not about doing the right things, saying the right things, wearing the right clothes, showing up at the right place, ordering the right food…. Love is much simpler than that.

True love is delighting in the presence of the Other- and knowing that they delight in the presence of me.

This is the essence of Christmas: God delights in us.

I’ll say it again- God delights in us.

Yeah, I know we don’t always get it right, but we’re trying.

And when someone is in love with you, they forgive when you apologize, right?

So does God forgive us.

God delights in us so much that that delight became a person.

It became Jesus.

He is the manifestation of God being in love with us.

Which is pretty amazing if you stop to think about it.

God is in love with you. God is in love with me. Are you wrestling?

We celebrate it in the words of scripture we hear and in the Eucharist- the ultimate sacrifice of someone in love.

Listen to the words “This is my body broken for you- this is my blood shed for you”-

Words of love from a parent to a child. “I give my life for you.”

Words of the lover to the beloved “All that is mine is yours.”

I also want you to remember something else:

God is in love with the people we find it hardest to love- that’s the most important thing to remember.

When you find a person hard to love remember this: God not only loves them, God is in love with them.

God is in love with some “miserable people”.

And sometimes those “miserable people” is us.

And when you have a bad day and feel unloved and find it hard to believe that anybody loves you, remember this: God not only loves you but God is in love with you.

And I don’t suppose there is anything you can do about that.

Except to try and love back.

Like Jesus did.

Amen

PFLAGPNW Conference In Boise Oct 2-5 features Bishop Gene Robinson, Dr Caitlin Ryan

pflagThe 2014 Pacific Northwest PFLAG Conference is inviting people in the Boise/Treasure Valley and surrounding areas to join them on Friday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 in the North Star room at the Riverside Hotel. After a short welcoming speech by Bishop Gene Robinson, there will be a film and presentation by the Family Acceptance Project.

Dr. Caitlin Ryan will provide a brief overview of the Family Acceptance Project’s work to support diverse families and will screen her award winning film – “Families Are Forever” – the moving documentary of a devout Mormon family’s journey to accept and support their young gay son. Mitch Mayne, former executive secretary in the bishopric (religious leadership) of the LDS Church in San Francisco, a national voice on Mormon LGBT issues and a Boise native, will share his experiences supporting Mormon families with LGBT children and will facilitate a discussion with the audience.

“Families Are Forever” has received 18 awards from film festivals across the U.S. and in India, to date. This work is also of important interest in people working in schools, counselors, health care providers, social services and law enforcement. People not attending the conference are welcome to make a small donation.

Bishop Robinson and Dr Ryan will also be presenting in plenary sessions on Saturday October 4th, and we conclude with an ecumenical healing service with Bishop Robinson on Sunday October 5th.

More information on the conference can be found here: http://www.pnwpflag.org/2014-regional-conference/

My interview with Bishop Robinson is here.

BZN NDO 2NITE!

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Be at the City Hall hearing room by 5:30pm to show your support! Here’s my testimony:

 

I am a native Montanan (4th generation).

I am an ordained priest with 3 degrees in theology and scripture.

I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor.

I am also a gay man, and Bozeman is my home.

Despite the prejudice and discrimination I have experienced in Bozeman, I choose to live here. Despite the stories and concerns I hear from parishioners and counseling clients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender- I choose to live here. Why? Mostly, because I am now an adult, and I am supported and loved by my family, friends, neighbors and my church.

And I want to ensure that no kid repeats my Montana childhood here. Not anymore.

As a 15 year-old, I attempted suicide because my church and my community called me “disordered”, “unnatural” and a “pervert”. Not to my face- but they didn’t have to. The climate of my community and church and school – where there were no protections against discrimination- did it for them.

I think we forget how sensitive kids are.

But if nothing else happens tonight- I want you to remember just how sensitive kids are.

Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed, but every time I see the obituary of a teenager, I wonder, “Did sexuality have anything to do with this? My God, did a church have a part in this”?

I’m reminded of this verse from Matthew (18.6): “Whoever causes one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for them to have a great millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Well, the behavior of discriminatory churches is causing a lot of these little ones to lose their faith.

I know. I’m one of the ones they call, in tears and pain, wondering how they can be a Christian if God hates them so much. They wonder what they did.

They did nothing.

And I always tell them God loves them very much- even if God’s people don’t seem to.

Sexuality is NOT a choice. It is a fact. Gender is NOT a choice. It is a fact.

We have to trust the experience of others to help us to see them clearly.

WE HAVE TO.

That’s what civil societies do. We encourage people to tell the truth about themselves- because it sets them free- and maybe the rest of us as well.

This ordinance provides Bozeman with a chance to speak loudly in favor of truth.

Allowing even the perceived sexuality or gender of a child- or an adult- to be the cause of bullying, pain- or even suicide is inexcusable.

It still happens. Right here. There are too many examples to list in the available time.

If any of you would like to speak to me about it, I am available.

Please pass this ordinance.

 

Thank you.

Christmas Sermon, 2013

“I love you.”

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words were tentative, soft and nervous. They were spoken by a third grader- me.
It was the first time I had ever said them to anyone outside my immediate family.

It was a watershed moment for me.

You see, there was this girl who was amazing. She liked all the things I liked, hated all the things I hated, she was smart and pretty and best of all she liked me. She thought I was funny- and cute.

I was.

But I didn’t know what to do about it- I was eight.

I knew that people you liked were kind of like being part of your family. I felt like I wanted to let her know I thought she was awesome- but then I panicked. We were sitting together on the swings after lunch and I just felt the words rising up inside of me.

The words were out of my mouth before I knew what to do.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “What have I done?”

And then- “What if she doesn’t say it back?”

Have you been there?

Lots of rules about relationships.

Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow.

Don’t be insulting. Don’t be demanding.

Don’t say I love you first….

Hmmm.

So. Christmas! I love Christmas. I love the music.

“Joy to The World! ….

“Silent Night….

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing….

“O Little Town of Bethlehem…..

“Angels we have heard on high…..

“O Holy Night…..

“Come, they told me….”

Words and sounds so familiar in this season. I bet as I was saying the words, some of you started singing the tunes.

What’s your favorite Christmas Carol? I have two- My favorite is “O Holy Night”. Mostly because it’s so filled with awe.

“Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….
O Night- divine- O-o night when Christ was born”.

Gorgeous.

It’s a poignant reminder that wonder and awe need to be a daily part of life.

Christmas is a time for Joy.

It’s why I also love “Joy to the World”.
“Let every heart prepare him room…”

Joy is kind of tricky. I tried to explain it to a kid last week who asked, “What’s the difference between being happy and being joyful?”

Like I said- tricky.

I was kind of proud of my answer.

“Well, it’s a lot like like happiness- only better.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I think happiness is about being satisfied,” I said. “Joy is about being loved.”

Yeah. Still proud of my answer.

Today’s Christmas. Tomorrow it will all be over. And millions of dollars will have been spent and tons of food will be eaten and people will still be dying of hunger and disease and only have filthy water to drink.

Except that it’s not over. We forget- Christmas is a season. It actually goes for twelve days- it doesn’t end until January 6th. That’s because the church recognizes that it’s not just a day- it’s a season- and sometimes it takes a whole season to get it right.

So we have presents and food and trees and lights- but that’s not what it’s really about. Not really.

It’s about a story. A story that still is being written.

St Theodore had some very important words to add to this story- you probably remember him-

You don’t remember St Theodore?  St Theodore Geisel?
The world knows him as Dr Seuss. Remember this?:

He stared down at Who-ville!

The Grinch popped his eyes.

Then he shook!

What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

HE HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

IT CAME!

Somehow or other it came just the same!

And the Grinch with Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?

“It came without ribbons it came without tags!

“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore-

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?

Well, In Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light.

And he brought back the toys and the food for the feast.

And he- HE HIMSELF…!

The Grinch carved the roast beast.

If those aren’t the words and insight of a saint, I don’t know what is….

Today we are here to celebrate.

We’re celebrating something very special. So with apologies to St Theodore:

We’re not celebrating happiness- although happiness is okay- we’re here

-here as Christians to celebrate JOY.

Joy comes when “I love you” is said and it’s felt,

It comes from the feeling your heart will just melt.

Today is the day that we gather to see

Just how much our God loves us-

Loves you and loves me!

He said it in Bethlehem with a babe in a stall,

He said it real clearly “I love-

love you all!”

But the real trick of Christmas- the thing that we lack

Is the courage all year just to whisper it back.

Sometimes we’re shy and sometimes we’re scared

But the love of this God is just meant to be shared!

He’s saying “I love you” with the birth of this baby

And Jesus still tells us- and he doesn’t say “Maybe.”

It’s true and it’s real- we just have to answer.

It’s not time to dawdle- it’s time to move faster!

Remember that third grade kid at the beginning of this? Me?

Well, she said it back to me. And even though things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped back in the third grade, we’re still in touch. And I still love her..

In fact, she told me she loved me just last week.

And all I can say is it still brings me joy.

Today, we celebrate God saying “I love you.” And it’s meant with deadly seriousness- and complete joy and selflessness. No games.

Today God says “I love you.” And means it.

Always means it.

Even when we don’t say it back.

On Greg, Bozeman, and Hugs

 

Last night, I had the honor of hearing D Gregory Smith tell his story — from childhood to Catholic priest to former priest/out gay man/counselor/so much more — to a gathering at St. James Episcopal Church as part of the church’s faith formation classes on sexuality and spirituality.

 

While I have been following Greg’s blog for a while, it wasn’t until I moved to Bozeman a couple of months ago that I met him in person. I knew bits and pieces of his story — the parts I had read on this blog — and I knew he was involved in LGBTQI causes here in Montana. But, you never know what a person is really like away from the keyboard.

 

I wasn’t disappointed.

 

I first met Greg in the AIDS Outreach office in downtown Bozeman. By the time I left half an hour later, I was not only a big fan of his, but he offered me a chance to contribute to this blog.  And, I got a hug.

 

The next time I ran into him, he was leading worship at Living Waters United Methodist Church in Belgrade. I left that morning after hearing a great message and with another hug.

 

Last week, I saw Greg at the first session of the faith formation classes, where we heard Bishop Brookhart talk about his research on the issue of sexual orientation and the Bible. Yep, got another hug.

 

Last night, though, I learned so much more about Greg. I learned he is relatable, humble, giving, empathetic, caring and open. He is a deep thinker whose incredible life experiences have shaped him into a person of substance. If you know Greg personally, I’m not telling you anything new. But if you follow this blog without having met him — the way I used to — know that he knows of what he writes.

 

I wasn’t expecting my first post on this blog to be along the lines of “An Ode to Greg,” but his story gave me a lot to think about after I left. Maybe it’s because we are the same age and have lived completely different and often complicated lives only to end up in the same place.

 

I hope to contribute more as I navigate my new “out” life here in this beautiful city. I am excited to be part of the Bozeman/Montana LGBTQI community and to live in a city that is (mostly) accepting.

 

Mostly, I’m excited that I’m four for four on hugs.

 

 

 

Tiny Westboro Baptist Church Protest Fails Hilariously In Montana, Sparks Huge Pro-LGBT Rally

From the Huffington Post:

In what has become something of a regular occurrence, a small protest attempt by anti-gay extremists of the Westboro Baptist Church on Monday succeeded only in giving rise to a much larger counter-demonstration based on tolerance, LGBT rights and ice cream.

About five members of the Kansas-based congregation showed up in Bozeman, Mont.to picket Montana State University and a local high school over their commitment to teaching students that it is okay to be gay. While the tiny group could have gone unnoticed on its own, their presence brought a much larger spectacle — hundreds of people unified against the Westboro Baptist Church’s message of hate.

Proud of my town- I was unable to be there, but I can’t say enough about the love and support that was shown. I believe that every challenge deserves a thoughtful response- and we had one.

READ IT ALL HERE