BZN NDO 2NITE!

Image

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.

Dare We Hope?

My sermon to the UUFB today:

There are a lot of words we use every day,
that we don’t really pause to consider.
“Hope” is one of those words.

What do you think of when you hear the word “Hope”?

For most of us, “hope” will conjure up images of fantastical satisfaction and happiness- or maybe the iconic images of a certain presidential campaign.

Maybe almost trite images.

And yet, there’s an allure to the word “Hope”

In that presidential campaign, the opponents made fun of the word, made light of it- and I would submit- that may be why they lost.
They underestimate the human gift of optimism.
And I do think it’s a gift.

It’s very easy to look around and see the evidence of malignancy and evil around us- and far away from us- thanks to the miracle of instantaneous global communication. It’s not hard to find stories of death and destruction, exploitation and pain, suffering and greed, disease and addiction.

It’s not hard at all.
In fact, it’s so easy that our society suffers from all sorts of ills because of it- depression being ubiquitous in this day and age.

I think hope and optimism have a bad rap. It’s easy to make fun of the word “hope”. Realists say that it’s fantasy.

I think it’s completely and perfectly human.

Take Winter. It’s no accident that the early Christians of the Northern Hemisphere chose the solstice for the celebration of the Savior’s birth.

The Advent wreath, the greenery, the Christmas tree- none of them originated with Christianity. Some maintain that Germanic tribes placed candles in a sacred circle of greens to symbolize hope in the return of the sun and the promise of Spring. We know Scandinavian people placed candles on a wheel to honor the cycle of the seasons. We know that midwinter- again in the Northern Hemisphere- is around December 21- when days are at their shortest and night is at its longest.

I can imagine that for primitive people whose lives depended on the return of warmth it was good to remind themselves that winter won’t last forever. And I can imagine that it was very hard centuries ago- without antibiotics and polar fleece and refrigerators and Costco- in a harsh climate when those who were weak would often die- I can imagine that some would find it hard to believe that the winter would ever end- especially during the time that night became longer and longer and colder and colder.

But those who knew- those who had lived through the winters before- they were the strength of those who weren’t so sure.
They held out hope.

They knew that in the midst of the longest night- it was important to tell stories of the approaching spring. To hold out hope- to remember optimism when it was at its most elusive.

As always, our lives our shaped by those who have gone before us.

Hope is in our genes- if we care to think about it.

The basic instinct of survival is a mechanism of hope, isn’t it?

Even the limbic system that shuts down our reason in the face of danger and makes us flee, fight or freeze to enable our survival- even that is a sign of hope. It’s in our biology.

That’s probably why the pessimists never win in the long term. Hope isn’t just a trite term for people who can’t handle reality. It’s an attitude for living.

I like to tell my clients that the only difference between excitement and fear is the projected outcome.

The energy is the same- it’s just the projected outcome that’s different. And that projected outcome starts with us.

In our minds, in our hearts, in the way we choose to interpret the world around us. Excitement and curiosity- or fear and dread? It’s our choice- at least more than we think.

One of my favorite stories is this one:

Two boys who were twins, one an incurable optimist, one a pessimist.
The parents were worried about the extremes of behavior and attitude and finally took the boys in to see a psychologist.

The psychologist observed them a while and then said that they could be easily helped. He felt they just needed to adjust to the world by encountering things that would counteract their strong tendencies of optimism and pessimism.

He said that they had a room filled with all the toys a boy could want. They would put the pessimist in that room and allow him to enjoy life.

They also had another room that they filled with horse manure. They put the optimist in that room. They observed both boys through one way mirrors.

The pessimist continued to be a pessimist, stating that he had no one to play with.

They went to look in on the optimist, and were astounded to find him digging through the manure.

The psychologist ran into the room and asked “What on earth are you doing?”

The boy replied “With all this manure, there HAS to be a pony in here somewhere!”

I love that story.

But I know that sometimes i’m not looking though the manure for the pony. Sometimes I’m just sitting in the manure, disgusted. Because, well, you know, it’s manure.

That’s when I forget myself. It’s when I forget my biology.

It’s when I forget that the energy I feel in my body is often harnessed by the projected outcome I hold.

So, yeah, I can sit in the manure, or I can haul the manure back to the garden where it’ll do some good.

My choice.

Our ancestors have chosen to celebrate the return of the light for millennia- it’s why the early Christians chose the bleak midwinter- to link the returning light to the birth of Jesus. Smart, eh?

They’ve chosen to believe that the dawn follows the darkness, that life will continue.

And so do we.

I’m betting that it’s why you’re here today.

And I’m also betting that you’re interested in learning to become skillful at living life with hope.

I believe that the first step in living a more skillful life
is to become more aware of living an UNskilled life.
And by that, I mean living by habit-
not with awareness, not with wonder, not with hope-
but by automatic pilot- habit. By numbing perhaps- or lying to ourselves.

It’s ultimately unsatisfying.
Habits are things we do without thinking. That’s very unskillful.

Skill means bringing awareness and creativity, attention and intention into our endeavors.

I think it’s only by paying close attention that we live skillfully in this world.
And by paying attention to the possibilities is the way we live hopefully in this world.

During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback.

They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour.

The swollen river had washed the bridge away.

Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents.

The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch.

After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river.

The president agreed without hesitation.

The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side.

As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, “Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?”

The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him.

“All I know,” he said, “Is that as I thought of asking the question, on some of your faces was written the answer ‘No,’ and on some of them was the answer ‘Yes.’

His was a ‘Yes’ face.”
(C. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, Word, 1990, p. 6.)

That, my friends, is the face of hope.

So, dare we hope?

If biology and the human spiritual history of millennia have anything to say about it, we dare not.

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.

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.

 

Catholic Bishop: If You Want To Support Gays, Become Protestants

Originally posted (under a different headline) by newwaysministryblog
Sr. Jeannine Gramick speaking with Bishop Thomas Paprocki

An event last Friday that included Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry, highlighted just how supportive Catholics are of marriage equality as the bishops play defense to support their position.

For over two hours at an event hosted by Robert Blair Kaiser and the Jesuit Alumni of Arizona, Sr. Gramick exchanged views with Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, in front of an audience.

The National Catholic Reporter reported on the event, where Bishop Paprocki attacked  the “gay activist lobby” in his opening remarks and denigrated the attention given to the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 as evidence of media bias. He posited that if marriage equality passes, then “everything should be OK” in regard to any sexual practice or activity.

Alternatively, Sr. Gramick spoke of the positive changes occurring around LGBT issues, including her personal conversion that has led to nearly four decades of ministry with gay and lesbian people. The article continues:

“Gramick reflected on changes in her own attitudes, attitudes of the public and attitudes of the church hierarchy. She said more and more church leaders are moving toward support of at least civil unions.

“Referring to Paprocki’s remark that morality cannot be based on polls, she said, ‘We may not legislate on the basis of polls, but they tell us what people are thinking.’

“She said polls show Catholics’ opinions have moved from opposition to same-sex marriage to approval in a short time because nearly everyone has a gay friend, family member or business associate.”

Indicative of these shifting views, the question period was solely aimed at Bishop Paprocki’s opposition to LGBT rights. During remarks by the bishop, a member of the audience, Anne Gray, even yelled out, “That’s insulting” and followed-up with a question:

 “In response to a question from Kaiser, Paprocki said the church would love to welcome gay people but is forced into a defensive position by ‘activists pushing an agenda.’ That set off Gray, who has a gay son, again.

“‘Here I am,’ she said. ‘The big scary gay agenda…My son is a perfect human being. There is nothing intrinsically disordered about him. I know because I am his mother.’…

” ‘You need to listen to mothers,’ she said.”

Another questioner offered her personal experience of supporting lesbian family members and Paprocki made the suggestion that she leave the church to do so:

“One of the youngest people in the room said she was a devout Catholic, but when her aunt and sister told her they were gay, she was put on the spot. She asked Paprocki if she could remain a good Catholic and still support her family members in their desires to form lifelong relationships.

” ‘It is a struggle to be a good Catholic while supporting gay marriage,’ the bishop said. ‘It strains your relationship with the church.’

“He said those who oppose the church on the issue should become Protestants. ‘They do a lot of good things too,’ he said.

This is the latest instance where Catholics supportive of LGBT equality are making their voices heard to the Church’s hierarchy, including Sr. Gramick who recently confronted the famously anti-gay Cardinal Turkson of Ghana. We applaud the many people whose efforts contributed to making American Catholics the leading religious group advocating for equal marriage rights!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Quite a different approach to the Pope’s “Welcome All” message last week….

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?

Sermon 4.07.13

The outline of my sermon yesterday from Living Waters United Methodist Church, Belgrade. Scripture: Acts 5.27-32

Most of us want to be liked.

That in and of itself isn’t anything new- it’s a fairly universal trait.

Most of us also want to stay out of trouble.

Again, simply human.

But when being liked and staying out of trouble aren’t an option when standing up for the truth… Well, that can be a real problem can’t it?

Let’s listen again to the scripture for today.

When the temple police had brought Peter and the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this Name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this Man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

 That’s what we heard today. What we didn’t hear is the passage that came after that.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

A Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel spoke on their behalf, reminding the council of others who had come and gone before them, all claiming to have been sent by God-all of whom had failed.

And then Gamaliel gave the council this advice:

“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail butt if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’

They were convinced by him. Then when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

They left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name.  And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Talk about getting into trouble.

Talk about not being liked.

But what did these disciples do?

They did something all heroes do- they trusted their hearts. They followed their conscience. These men and women preached the Gospel of a God who is in love with us.

And most of them died for it.

Often very cruel deaths.

Just to do the right thing. To proclaim love.

Today I want to ask a very simple question:

“When should we choose love?”

Seems simple doesn’t it?

And yet, we make decisions every day that are not loving.

We can exclude people, we can hoard things, we can lock our doors and load our guns in fear, we can drink too much, we can eat too much, we can lie to ourselves, we can lie to others- sometimes simply to stay out of trouble or to be liked by the right people.

Well, the Jesus who died on the cross, rose from the dead and sent his disciples into the world to proclaim a crazy, loving God doesn’t want us to let the world get in the way of love.

That’s what these disciples knew. That’s why they stood in fear of their lives in front of the courts, why they suffered scourging- just like Jesus- why they refused to deny love.

Because they saw love, risen from the dead.

And so have we.

You know it, in your hearts, you see it every day. Love risen from the dead. You can even create it if you like.

You’ve seen a child’s face- crushed by disappointment- restored to life by a word of encouragement and love.

All you have to do is restore someone’s hope.

All you have to do is not deny anyone their dignity.

All you have to do is trust that we are more than our fears.

All you have to do is open your heart- and your mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet will follow.

Just open your heart.

Let us ask our God to give us eyes to see the opportunities to build the Kingdom of God- right here, right now.

And when you feel that feeling rising up in you, the one that says, “I want to be liked, I want to stay out of trouble”, the one that wants to close your heart down, will you know what to do?

I think we do.

We stop and recognize the choice in front of us: To be open or closed; to be loving or cruel.

So, when do we choose love?

Every time we can.