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

 

Letting Harmony Find You

Harmony California

Harmony California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

From my sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Billings yesterday:

 

I love the word “harmony”.

 

Besides being just a musical term, it also describes being in balance.

 

Sometimes it takes some time to find that balance- I’d like to tell you a little bit about the time it’s taken me….

 

I was born in Butte and raised in Twin Bridges. My Dad was a rancher, my mom stayed home with me and my brother and sister. From an early age, I knew I was different. I really couldn’t have put my finger on it when I was young, but I seemed to be more sensitive than other boys my age, more compassionate about things that could hurt.

 

In fact, I actively avoided rough games and play. I liked to read- and I read constantly- often about far away places, places that I might be able to go to when I was older- where people might understand me.

 

It’s hard to find harmony when your insides are saying one thing- and the world is telling  you its opposite. But I did find it sometimes.

 

When I was alone- in my room or in the woods.

 

When I was reading a great book.

 

When I was in the quiet of my church.

 

In fact, church was probably my salvation. I grew up Catholic, and I loved all of the rituals and music of our little church. I loved that the priest took an interest in me, didn’t think I was weird, encouraged me in reading and study and conversation. I felt the harmony.

 

But then, around twelve or thirteen, something happened.

 

I realized that the difference I felt wasn’t just about the way I saw and felt the world, it was about how I felt and saw other people.

 

I learned that other boys my age wanted to chse girls and that other girls my age wanted to chase boys- not that they’d know what to do when they caught them- but that wasn’t what I wanted.

 

It was confusing. I had crushes on older boys. Felt myself looking at my classmates in the shower during gym. And it terrified me, because I knew it was bad. I knew that I was one of those people that were really monsters, freaks. Teachers said so- kids said so- the church said so. “Queer” was evil. We played smear the queer at recess. It never went well for the “Queer”. The word “Fag” was a term of derision worse than “Nazi”, or “Communist”.

 

And that’s what I knew I was.

 

A Queer. A Faggot. And it was bad.

 

That’s when I lost the harmony.

 

It was important for my survival 35 years ago- as it sadly still is for kids today- that I not be detected. That I not be singled out. I had to hide.

 

So I did. I no longer trusted the goodness of my nature. My desires were to be obliterated out of necessity. It wasn’t safe.

 

I pretty much hid my sexuality in high school and college- with brief moments of harmony when I found others like me, but mostly, I was just working hard to keep myself from being fully seen. And that culminated in my becoming a priest.

 

And not just any priest. I went to seminary in Rome. I knew people in the Vatican. I found other gay men who were following the same path I was and we supported each other.

 

Over the years, I’ve noticed that of all the people in seminary with me, the ones that later got into some kind of trouble were the ones who were in denial about their sexuality- the ones without any support.

 

Harmony actually found me again for a while.

 

I loved the work, I loved the people. But it got tiring.

 

I got tired of not being seen for the real me. I got depressed because the official church position on my particular sexuality was that we were all “fundamentally disordered”. It’s hard to believe in an institution that discards as irrelevant your particular, strong and direct experience. It’s hard to maintain day after day the lie.

 

I tried everything.

 

I worked harder. I got a dog. I bought a truck. Nothing helped. Finally, I got counseling.

 

What took me so long?

 

Denial can be a very high and thick wall- especially if you lay each brick in desperation, in fear for your very life. I had denied my experience.  I was hiding from harmony- only I didn’t know it at the time.

 

What brought me out was something ordinary.

 

I fell in love. Hard.

 

I heard the notes of harmony again. Sometimes- when I just let myself be loved by this man- it was more like a symphony.

 

I came to realize that my experience hadn’t conflicted with my faith at all- it just conflicted with the interpretation of that faith by others. In one sense, LGBT people aren’t asked by their churches to inform the faith- they’re asked to stand outside and accept the information given by others- some of whom are hiding behind their own self-built walls of shame and denial.

 

I also realized that I hadn’t allowed myself the common dignity of reflecting honestly on my life before making promises to a church that would never accept me as the man I really was.

 

Ironically, I had preached “the truth will set you free” a million times- but it never sank in until I was freed to be myself. To have compassion for myself. To create a space of understanding in myself.

 

As a therapist, I know the biggest breakthroughs often come from uncovering the lies that we tell ourselves. “What’s the lie?

 

But it has to be done with compassion.

 

I spent years dealing with the fallout of my denial. That initial relationship didn’t last. I spent time doing drugs, having meaningless sex, until I had  spiritual breakthrough just weeks before I was diagnosed with HIV.

 

I’m not sure if we have the time for me to into it here, but here’s what I walked away with: “Nothing can go wrong” (You can read about it here)

 

Nothing.

 

In my best moments, I believe this.

 

In my worst moments, I forget this and struggle to make the world make sense by bending it to my will.

 

The complete opposite of what I should be doing.

 

You see, there’s nothing more important than the recognition of reality. Loving what is- not what should or could be- loving what is. Right here, right now.

 

It doesn’t mean we have to stay in it forever, we just have to let the total reality of the present moment sink in if we want to have fulfilling and satisfying lives.

 

And yes- sometimes pain is a part of the present reality.

 

But it’s always temporary.

 

Notice I said “pain”, not “suffering”. Suffering is almost always optional.

 

Here’s my definition of suffering: “Suffering. Noun. Remembering past pain in a way that traumatizes; imagining future pain in a way that traumatizes; creating stories about pain that doesn’t exist- either from the past or future. Creating or re-creating unnecessary pain.”

 

What do you think of that?

 

I’ve come to understand that it’s not about making things happen, it’s about allowing things to happen- and finding my place in them.

 

It’s not about bending the world to my will, its about truly looking at the world and knowing that I have a place in it- even if it’s not immediately evident.

 

It’s about feeling loved. By everything. There’s music there….

 

How do you do that?

 

Practice. And by listening for it.

 

How do musicians get the feel of harmonizing? Practice. And by realizing they won’t get it right every time. By not needing it to be perfect. You have to stop and listen.

 

Because nothing can go wrong.

 

Today, I have a man that loves me more than anything else in the world. I believe that. And I love him the same way. We have a house and dogs and a very satisfying life together. I work with LGBT people, helping them to be happy. I work with HIV+ people, helping them to be happy and healthy. I’m doing things that satisfy me.

 

Some have said “You’ve overcome so much to get where you are today- how did you do it?”

 

“Yeah, overcoming your own sense of self-importance and shame and denial is a bitch- but we all have to do it eventually. On earth or in heaven, I guess.”

 

It’s not the circumstances- it’s how you see them.

 

I believe prayer is trying to see with God’s eyes, not vice-versa. That’s the only way it makes sense. Why would I pray for anything but to see the truth?

 

Well, maybe to hear the music…. :)

 

We all know the tune- and I believe that we all have the power to discover the harmony. I believe that sooner or later, the harmony will find us- especially if we slow down, quiet ourselves and wait for it.

 

And that music is so beautiful and rich.

 

May harmony find you.

 

Amen.

 

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Recently, I have been turning toward the Beatitudes. I have looked at them from every direction and wondered why more “Christians” haven’t taken to them as a way of life. The one that really struck me today was Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

All my life, I have been a peacemaker. (Well, okay, there was one period of about 5 years where I tried to stir up as much drama with my family as I could. . .but let’s not dwell on the past) I don’t like it when people fight and I just want to see people get along.

I seem to have been born with a highly developed sense of compassion and empathy. I used to (and still do) befriend what my mom lovingly termed, “The Unlovables.” These were the kids that got picked on in school because they were different. The kids that had no friends. I was constantly asking questions as to why people were being treated so badly and my heart regularly broke for them. I also have to admit (much to my chagrin) that I got a little teary at the end of Dangerous Liaisons when I watched it in high school. My heart broke for Glenn Close’s character. Yes, she brought most of it on herself, but did she really deserve to be treated so harshly by the very society that created her? Where was the compassion? I know, I know. . .it’s silly.

There have been many inspirations for me over the years: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King, Jr. And more recently, there have been some inspirations from closer to home: Liz Welch of the ACLU Montana, Gregory Smith of the Pride Foundation, Caitlin Copple, Jamie Greer, Edie Windsor just to name a few. These are the “Children of God.”

I have seen some very negative posts lately. I have even created one. And if you saw my last post, you will also know that I have issued an apology in the interest of being a peacemaker. I do not presume to know the mind of God. I would be leery of anyone who says they do. However, I listen to the “Still, small Voice” inside and I know what God says to me. And it may not be the same thing that God says to you. Does it mean you are wrong? No. Does it mean I am wrong? No. Just different.

Christians are not bad people. They are people, just like the rest of us. They make mistakes. They fall from the path. We have to remember to hold ourselves to the very standards that we are comparing them against, like “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I would also refer to Luke 6:42 “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

A moment of clarity came to me this morning in a Biblical argument with a misinformed person. The Bible is a tool to show YOU how to live. It is NOT a tool for YOU to show ME how to live. It is for me to use the tool myself. But, I digress.

Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Pursuing peace and negotiating it is a tricky business. But even the ACT of pursing peace is the act of departing from evil and doing good. We need to be mindful of that.

The Old Testament was tribal law, meant to hold the Israelites together during the time when they had no home. The Old Testament is included in the Bible to show Christians where they came from and what their history was. Jesus brought the New Testament to show a better way to live. It is a new covenant, replacing the old. Jesus was/is the Son of God. A child of God. A peacemaker.

I will continue to be a peacemaker. I will continue to support people that are peacemakers. I will continue to fight for people’s rights and to fight injustice where I see it. That is part of what being a peacemaker is.

Perhaps I am not on the forefront, helping to change and write policies and laws, but that doesn’t mean I am ineffective. I am on the sidelines, changing people’s minds and hearts. I write because I can, because it is a talent given to me by God and I have been charged with using that talent. And I will continue to wield it as a peacemaker. I am a child of God.

 

Bishops’ “Fortnight For Freedom” Fizzles

 

From New Ways Ministry Blog:

 

Painting, 14th century, Flanders. Rogier van d...

Painting, 14th century, Flanders. Rogier van der Weyden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the Fourth of July, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 2nd “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign comes to an end, and it looks like this effort was not any more successful than last year’s program.  The campaign, which began on June 21st, was intended to rouse Catholics to become motivated to work to protect religious freedom in the U.S.  The bishops have proposed that the freedom of Catholics to worship and govern their church is under fire, particularly because of the advancement of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples in the political world.  The fact that Catholics do not envision the issue with the same sense of threat that the bishops do is a major factor in the failure of the campaigns the last two years.

 

Marcos Breton, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, points out that the Catholic bishops seem afraid of the changes that are happening in American culture, and that may be why they have latched on to the religious freedom argument.  ”The world is changing rapidly,” he wrote, “and it’s natural for some to view the change with trepidation.”

 

But that doesn’t mean that religious people need to fear for their freedom.  Breton suggests a positive toleration on both sides of the marriage question:

 

“Same-sex marriage is now legal in 13 states and the District of Columbia, meaning that roughly 30 percent of Americans now reside in states that support marriage equality.

“Within five years, gay marriage could very likely be legal in all 50 states. Public opinion has tilted in favor of marriage equality so quickly, it seems history is on fast forward.

“Watching same-sex couples arrive at the Sacramento County clerk’s office on television Friday reminded me of the night the Berlin Wall came down.

“Years of pent-up emotion suddenly found a release. Old restrictions dissolved into thin air. There were tears. There was exultation and a sense of giddy disbelief. Isolated people suddenly joined a broader community.

“With due respect to fellow Christians who disagree, this was cause for celebration – one that doesn’t have to come at the expense of religious freedom or with intolerance toward religious people.

“You can support the idea that government has no business restricting same-sex marriages while loving your church and trying to live the Gospel.”

And toleration for religious institutions is not only a good thing to do, Breton points out it is also the law:

 

“In a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to invalidate, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker wrote: ‘Affording (same-sex) couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom or any religious organization, official or any other person; no religion will be required to change its policies or practices with regard to same sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.’ “

Steve Chapman, a columnist for The Chicago Tribune, also challenges the idea that religious freedom is under attack because of the spread of marriage equality.  Speaking of religious people who make such a claim, Chapman wrote:

 

“It’s a bit rich for these groups to complain that the court is infringing on their freedom to infringe on the freedom of gays. Advocates of same-sex marriage are not trying to exclude heterosexuals from matrimony. They are only asking to be free to practice it as well.

“But opponents charge that churches will be forced to host same-sex weddings and their clergy will be required to perform them. Churches that refuse, they say, may be stripped of their tax-exempt status.

“The likelihood that any of these fears will come to pass ranges from minimal to zero. State laws allow divorce, but Catholic priests haven’t been forced to preside at the weddings of divorced Catholics. Employment discrimination laws haven’t been applied to end bans on female clergy. Nor have such internal church policies led to the loss of standard tax exemptions.”

Chapman notes that marriage equality, far from eroding freedom, is actually an extension of it:

 

“When Justice Anthony Kennedy made the case for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, though, he relied on a different provision. DOMA, he wrote, ‘is a deprivation of an essential part of the liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment.’ “

Let’s hope that the failure of this second year’s campaign may teach the bishops that Catholics do not see their religious liberty threatened by marriage equality.  Indeed, many Catholics see the support of marriage equality as an important way to practice their faith, not an impediment to it.  Instead of Fortnights for Freedom, the bishops would do better to have Fortnights for Dialogue, so they can learn from Catholics how issues of LGBT equality proceed from their love of God, neighbor, and the church.

 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

WELCOMING ME HOME

It was my pleasure to sit behind retired Methodist Pastor, Lyle Hamilton in the basement of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena, Montana for an All Church Conference to discuss a proposed Reconciling Congregation statement.  The Conference Superintendent led the meeting and asked the fifty or so assembled to speak what was on their heart.  And a few did.

UMC Logo

UMC Logo (Photo credit: RoyJr)

The meeting, however, was anti-climatic.  Their was a strong sense that the statement of inclusion and affirmation of groups of people who have formerly felt shunned and excluded was merely a reflection of the already imbedded character of St. Paul’s anyway.  In fact, a few people described how they had heard comments over the previous year of meetings, discussion and classes leading up to this moment to the effect of “duh-uh!  Don’t we have that already?”

Yet, there was also a sense of importance, of critical mass, of mission, purpose and rightness of call.  My friends, John and Vicky Wieda, had painstakingly spearheaded the effort in that vain with deliberateness.  So yes, when it came time to reach consensus as a congregation there was little to detract from an outcome which seemed certain.  St. Paul’s would become a Reconciling Congregation.

So, why do it?  I mean, why all the fuss if St Paul’s, with its open minds, hearts and doors, has already established inclusiveness as part of its character?  Isn’t it really much ado about nothing?

Pastor Lyle gives a clue about the answer in this post on his Facebook page:

Late yesterday afternoon, at an all church conference, St. Paul’s UMC in Helena officially became a Reconciling Ministries Congregation by a consensus vote. We have now publically declared ourselves to, in fact, be what the community of Helena and most of our congregation has long felt is both our calling and our reality: “All truly means all,” and everyone has a place in this community of faith.

Our incarnated statement, that is imbedded in our soul, is as follows: “St. Paul’s United Methodist Church welcomes all people of any age, gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, or disability into the full life and membership of this congregation.”

May God bless us, every one . . . as we move forward with grace and compassion toward all!

The oft repeated statement over the months of examining this issue that “All truly means all,”which, as Lyle says, is “imbedded in our soul,” is not just a statement.  It is in many ways transcendent, like a lighthouse beacon shining through the storms and rough seas of understanding and reconciliation between who we are and what we believe, between what we believe and the world around us, between the world around us and the one within where Jesus calls with open arms and his profound and unconditional offer of love.

To proclaim that “All are welcome here,” and mean it,  is to shine the light of Jesus’s love through all the violence and hateful rhetoric in the world around us for those, like me, who else would have no place to go for the communal understanding, practice and experience of that love.  I would have no congregation, no church.  For some, perhaps, it is possible to live as a Christian without church.  For me, from the day I walked into St. Paul’s almost seven years ago in my first week of gender transition on “Welcome Home Sunday” to this moment,  it is not.

Christianity is a communal practice.  God speaks to me in many ways, some far, far away from books and buildings.  But God also speaks to me through other people – through you.  And I can find few better places to hear God speak and feel God’s presence than in the company of other Christian believers – through congregation and communal worship.  Thus, as a Christian transwoman, it is vital for me to have a Christian community to call home.

Last night I was reminded, as I spoke what was on my heart, of the day I became a member of St. Paul’s.  It was my birthday and the whole congregation sang Happy Birthday.  I stood there, dumbfounded, with a tear in my eye and my flesh all goosey.  I knew then, as publicly affirmed by this Reconciling Statement that I have my congregation and my church.  Thank you St. Paul’s for welcoming me home.

WWES? (What Would Ezekiel Say?)

“Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle, or like, premarital sex between heterosexuals … it says that that’s a sin … I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ,” he said on the show. “So, I would not characterize that person as a Christian, because I don’t think the Bible would characterize that person as a Christian.”

~ Chris Broussard, ESPN Commentator.

Bible

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I do so wish to avoid judging those who judge others.  Thus, I have tried to avoid comment upon the religious right rhetoric about LGBT people.  Yet, it is becoming increasingly clear that statements like the above quote stray from even the most basic of Christian tenets, Jesus’s command that we “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  John 13:34-35.  Moreover, for a biblical literalist, the above scriptural interpretation  (Not cited, but denominated as biblical by the phrase, “it says.” ) is simply inaccurate.  Finally, one of the most basic rules of journalism is that the media represent all sides of an issue.  And, there is another side to this story.

So, what is gained by my silence? Some great Christian leaders have posited that to be silent in the face of oppression is to join the oppressor.  (E.g., Dr. King, and more recently, Bishop Gene Robinson).  Thus, I gladly risk the criticism that I am being judgmental in favor of speaking out on behalf of the oppressed.  I speak my truth to power.

Now, about Gay Christians.  The term is neither an oxymoron nor disingenuous.  I personally identify as LGBT and Christian.  I believe that Jesus is Lord!   According to scripture, I cannot make such a statement lightly, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 12:3).  Moreover, if I say it and believe it than scripture guarantees my salvation.  (Romans 10:9).  Hence, the scriptural formulaic equation for salvation is not exclusive.  I can be Gay and Christian.  And I am not alone in this belief.

There are a whole host or Christian organizations, many of which we see on Face Book every day, dedicated to the same proposition. We are in the minority now, but I believe that as we continue to change the world that all of Christendom will likewise evolve.  One such group is called Fortunate Families, a national organization of Catholic parents with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender children, with a passion for social justice advocacy and a focus on the Catholic Church and LGBT issues.  In my present church affiliation, Methodist, we have the Reconciling Ministries Network whose purpose is to mobilize United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.  The Episcopal church has an organization called Integrity, whose mission it is to inspire and equip the Episcopal Church, its dioceses, congregations, and members to proclaim and embody God’s all-inclusive love for LGBTQ persons and those who love them.  Perhaps you know of others.

When it comes to scripture, I am merely a “jack-theologian,” so-to-speak.  While I have a minor in religious studies, I certainly do not have any sort of divinity degree.  However, I have at least read the passages to which I refer.  I understand that they have been through multiple translations over the millennia, and were written in a vastly different culture with a vastly inferior world view, knowledge and technology, and that they were gathered into what we now know as the Bible by church fathers in the Third Century.  (Even a cursory search reveals that the origins of the Bible is a complicated story rife with dissension and debate).  Scripture did not even have line and verse until the 16th century.  (The Bible was divided into chapters in the 13th century by Stephen Langton and into verses in the 16th century by French printer Robert Estienne).  People believed over the entire 4,000 or so years that the various books of the Bible were written that the world was flat and the heavens (and God) resided a few hundred feet above them.  Science now informs our world view to cast aside such notions, as well as the notion that the Biblical genealogy found in Genesis denotes the age of the world.

Against that backdrop, we have the self-righteous and inflammatory conclusions above.  They can be summarized as follows: The bible says that homosexuality is a sin in open rebellion to God and Jesus.  In claiming to be LGBT and Christian I must, as Gene Robinson says, “unabashedly” assert that this statement is false! None of the Gospels attribute to Jesus as ever uttering a single word about homosexuality, much less the word itself, or that he would accord it to himself as “open rebellion.”  No such word existed in Hebrew or Greek, the two main languages in which the books of the bible were written.  The word “homosexual” is not in the Bible, except in oblique translations of the six or so references to men “lying” with men in the Hebrew text and Paul’s letters, the most notorious of which is found in Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”  (Evidently, the only reason one lies with a female is to have sex.  But is it okay if I lie with a woman until I need glasses?  Sorry, I digress (impishly laughing to self with tongue firmly in cheek)).

The Hebrew term, shiqquwts is translated as “abomination” by almost all translations of the Bible. The similar words, sheqets, and shâqats, are almost exclusively used for dietary violations.  Toeba, is also translated as abomination in some texts. Many modern versions of the Bible translate it as  “detestable”or “loathsome.”  I hear one Rabbi refer to it as “yicky.”  Biblical literalists interpret this to mean that same-sex sexual activity is an abomination and therefore inherently sinful.  (Note, however, that it is not one of the Ten Commandments).

However,please consider that a word or phrase which has been translated through multiple languages over centuries and the subject of great debate and disagreement among the worlds great scholars and theologians, inherently, cannot credibly be taken as a modern-day literal truth.  Moreover, this supposed proscription was part of what is called the ancient Hebrew Holiness Code which highly regulated the everyday lives of ancient Hebrew men, from what they were to wear to what they were to eat.  Violations of these rules were also called abominations.  The code referred to how they were to treat one another too.  Later prophets make this clear.  In a little referred to scripture, Ezekiel says at  16:49-50: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.”  Clearly, Sodom’s lack of hospitality is the abomination.

Yet, there is no mention of the word, “homosexual,” again defying the literalists.  They cannot rely on the literal words of scripture to reach the result they want, but must interpret the meaning of the words used through their various translations over time in spite of  later clarification within the Bible’s own pages.  Now I wonder how to characterize the above quotation from the ESPN announcer.  Is it hospitable, or detestable and loathsome?  Is it an abomination?  What would Ezekiel say?

Fair Is Fair

This past weekend was important to me for a number of reasons.

47985_10200301350709797_307221521_nI got to meet and spend some quality time with one of my heroes, Bishop Gene Robinson. (story/interview to follow)

But I also got to meet and spend some quality time with dedicated Montana people who care about equality in our state. Some became even more strongly convinced after watching “Diversity Day” and “Love Free Or Die” presented in local churches.

Even I- a committed partner of the ACLU and the Fair Is Fair Campaign- became inspired after hearing Bishop Robinson speak about the need for Christian compassion and understanding in the face of fear and unintentional ignorance about LGBTIQ persons.

“Our job is to make this an issue of compassion and justice, not theology”, Bishop Robinson said. “We have to make the issue of fairness one that brings a face to mind whenever we talk about equality. This is about people.”

But being inspired is only as good as the actions it produces.

I want to encourage you to bolster the ACLU’s Fair Is Fair campaign by taking your inspiration and desire for justice and take action- by becoming a member.

My family belongs because we believe in the work of the ACLU. We believe it is important to support a coalition of organizations to bring full equality to all Montanans- but that only works if we all come together. The Montana ACLU is helping to make that happen, and I’m proud to be a supporting member.

I hope you’ll join us.

~Greg

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