MIN Pride Service Homily

This is from the Montana Interfaith Network’s Pride worship service this morning.

Pride is a weird word for me. As a priest in the Christian tradition, pride is the name of the sin that CS Lewis calls “the original sin… the complete anti-God state of mind.” As a therapist, I know the word pride to be the word that best expresses self-acceptance and self-respect. As a gay man, Pride is the word that says there is nothing wrong with my sexuality, gender expression, or how I see the world.

I think there’s some truth in all definitions.

Within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, pride is deeply attached to the concept of Original Sin. Remember the story of Adam and Eve eating from the fruit of the tree because it would make them like God? That, in my opinion, is the teller’s way of saying that it is an unfortunate part of human nature that would seek power over compassion, power over reality. In short, it means I want to throw the Creator on the bonfire of history, I want to be the most powerful being in the world, I don’t care about other human beings. It is me, me, me. And that is repulsive to us in the Judaeo-Christian world- especially as it relates to reality. Ideally, Christians and Jews realize that all people need compassion. All people need to be welcomed and cared for and loved. Ideally- it is far from the facts of genocide, racial prejudice and prejudice against LGBTQ persons. It’s happening because people are more interested in power than in each other.

AS a therapist, I believe that part of my job is to help my patients see their inherent worth and value in the human family. Believing that I am worthy of respect, consideration and compassion and love is not a sinful way of being- it’s in so many of our traditions. All religious traditions have tenets promoting the dignity of every human being. The problem is, they’ve forsaken those traditions for having power. “I’m better than you” is the message of the early Christian missionaries to the Native Americans. “I’m better than you” is the message of too many religious communities to marginalized and misunderstood people. “I’m better than you” falsely inflates the rhetoric that there are a limited number of ways that human beings can glorify their Creator. “I’m better than you” makes it ok to abuse, dehumanize and even kill. That is not the way of the God I know. It is not the way of the God Jesus knew. In fact, it flies in the face of everything Christian.

Do you remember 1 Corinthinas 13? It’s read at almost every wedding in the universe- it was read at my own wedding. It is that important. Let me refresh your memory.

 

 “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Paul is saying that anything without love is BS.

Paul is saying that Love is the most important thing of all.

Which is what Jesus said.

So if you believe in love, you will not believe when people tell you that you are less than, that you’re not good enough, that you’re deviants, that you’re an abomination ( a word that doesn’t exist in Hebrew, btw) that God HATES YOU- which, if you think about it, is ridiculous and impossible- if you believe it, you’re not living the life that God calls us to be.

We are called to be love. I remind myself of this by reading the passage this way:

I am patient, I am kind, I am not envious or boastful or rude. I do not insist on my own way, nor am I irritable or resentful. I do not rejoice in wrongdoing, I rejoice in the truth. I bear what I am given, I believe what is reasonable, I rejoice in the truth. I love.

And that is what makes us human. It is what makes us real to those who hate us. It is the only way forward.

Love rejoices in the truth.

And the truth is this: we are wonderfully and purposefully made-

to show the world how to love.

And God knows we’ve had to try to love a lot of very difficult people.

Easter Vigil Homily

Easter Vigil 2018

St James Episcopal Church, Bozeman, MT

“This is the Night.”

The night we celebrate all of salvation history and the ancient Christian tradition of waiting through the night for the Dawn of the Resurrection. Light is of course, the predominant symbol of the Great Easter vigil. We watch it pierce the darkness as the Christ Candle moves through the church, growing stronger with the candles being lit from it in its wake. It is the night that we celebrate the light of Jesus Risen and his message of Love, Inclusion, Mercy and Peace.

This is the night where we celebrate several revolutionary moments; that women were the first to discover the empty tomb and that Jesus first appears not to Simon Peter, and not to any of the male Apostles but to Mary Magdalene. A woman. By gender, of very low status in the ancient world. It is slightly improved today, but women are still held down by men in almost every society. It’s as if we have forgotten that Jesus never excluded women from being disciples, and never forbid them from speaking to him.

This is the night when we realize that the Original Sin of seeking the Love of Power is overcome and vanquished by the Power of Love.

This is the night that links us with 2,000 years of Christian history- some of it good, some of it horrible. The Church has always lost its way when it has sought power in this world and forgotten to be humble, merciful hard workers for the Gospel of Love. But through it all the Holy Spirit sustains us still.

This is the night when we are once again reminded that we are “to seek Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves”, and we promise “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of EVERY human being.”

This is the night that we remember that God is not found in power, but in the powerless. God is always with the poor, the marginalized, the persecuted, the imprisoned, the diseased, and those with no voice. Human beings may abandon each other- just as the Apostles abandoned Jesus- but God is always with them. If you wish to meet God, go meet those lowly people. Jesus did.

This is the night that we raise our voices in song to proclaim the goodness of creation, and the Goodness of God in Word and Eucharist. Where we take in the ancient words and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

But I think, most importantly, this is the Night in which we promise to be more like Jesus- a light to the world. Why is that important? Our world needs it now as much as ever. People are polarized, afraid, angry. We are distressed by the cruelty and violence that is inflicted in the name of politics, of religion, of money and power and greed.

The exact opposite of the message of Jesus.

This is the night we vow, for another year, to listen to the better angels of our nature- and hopefully those angels reflect the words of the angel in the Gospel,  “Do not be afraid.”

This is THE night.

The night the Light is celebrated, praised and promised- a Light that the Darkness can never overcome!

No Montana HIV Organizations applied for a Pride Foundation Grant This Year

  • I have to say that I’m very disappointed that thousands of dollars available were simply not applied for in Montana for HIV prevention and treatment dollars,

Lets get our act together, people,

Hospitality Is the Best of Humanity

Nearly all of the world’s faith traditions call their faithful to protect and offer hospitality to immigrants. Judeo Christian scriptures urge adherents time and again to welcome the stranger and offer special care for widows and orphans. We are called to welcome our immigrant sisters and brothers with compassion, and to keep families together, regardless of faith or place of birth.

Yet, in communities across our nation, including in Montana, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security routinely employs Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who subvert protocols and training, and terrorize citizenry with arbitrary practices which threaten to destroy the trust that local leaders have built with their communities and should have with local police. As a result, immigrant families and those connected to them may not ask for help or report crimes, fearing the repercussions if local law enforcement would turn them in to immigration officials.

Many methods promoted by the Department of Homeland Security tear apart families, rend the fabric of our communities, and threaten policies that would harm our local economies. Many such policies and actions are also opposed by a majority of U.S. citizens. The Montana Interfaith Network questions budgets which further fund suffering and hate. With the Rev. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community, of Washington, D.C., we see budgets as moral documents. From private households to municipal, state and federal levels, the way we designate our common resources indicates where our priorities lie, as families, cities and as a nation. Will we designate our common resources and tax dollars for efforts that promote fear, threaten public safety and destroy families? As interfaith leaders, our traditions call instead for us to treat each other with dignity, compassion and peace.

For these reasons, the Montana Interfaith Network urges our national representatives to oppose any expansion of funding to the Department of Homeland Security. Our federal budget should reflect the values of compassion and peace, lift up families and support thriving communities. As Montanans, we do not want our common resources spent on suffering, hate, and division. We are our brother and sisters’ keeper. We belong to each other. No matter where someone came from or how they arrived in the United States, their life is of value and they deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion.

We ask for an end to budget policies that would further current Department of Homeland Security efforts that incite fear and division, and we urge our federal lawmakers to deny further funding of Immigration and Customs Enforcement practices that do more harm than good. Let’s instead designate those common resources, our tax dollars, towards the things that makes us thrive like education, bridges and disaster response, care for our veterans and seniors, and maintaining this beautiful landscape that all of us call home.

In Solidarity,

Montana Interfaith Network

Free Speech or Hate Speeech?

Guest post:

My stomach churned today, as I read the comments of Maria Cole in an article tucked into the inside of the Independent Record entitled “Journalism school rejects conservative Cole lecturer.” First, while the title of the article is true, it is also misleading. The Dean of the School Of Journalism at the University of Montana, Larry Abramson, declined to sponsor Mike Adams from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, because of his hostile, offensive remarks about some classes of people, including LGBT people and feminists. Abramson did not reject Adams because he is conservative.

Cole accuses Abramson of chilling free speech. She claims she chose Adams for her Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture series in order to “spark civil discourse,” and asks rhetorically, why would she bring a “hatemonger” to campus. First, Adams routinely makes inflammatory remarks about women, transgender people and “LGBTQIA” people, by referring to them as “mentally ill,” the “A” having “something to do with the buttocks,” and women “reclaiming the “c-word.” This cannot be characterized as “civil discourse” under anybody’s definition of the term.

Second, Cole’s rhetorical question is worth asking: Why would she bring a hatemonger to campus? And, perhaps more importantly, why would the School of Journalism sponsor it? Lauding Adam’s comments about other classes of people as “free speech” is an insult to the first amendment, the purpose of which is to allow for dissidence, and indeed encourage civil discourse. Adam’s manner of speaking simply does not comport with this purpose, as it seeks to dehumanize and marginalize people simply because of who they are. This is hate speech.

As George W. Bush said yesterday, it is the kind of speech that can be characterized as “discourse degraded by casual cruelty.” Adam’s comments deny “the image of God we should see in each other.” As the former president said, it “is blasphemy against the American creed.”

And, Cole calls Adams a “strong Christian.” The word, “Christian” is not a noun. It is an adjective. As author, Dr. Benjamin L. Corey writes, the term, “Christian” “is used to describe people who actively did what Jesus said to do. Essentially, the word meant ‘little Christs.’” I was raised to believe that I should be “Christ like.” Referring to transgender people as “mentally ill” is not Christ like. In fact, Jesus did not refer to transgender people as mentally ill. While there are many different versions of the Bible, basically, Jesus said if you can accept being transgender, you should accept it. Matthew 19:12 NIV. People may quibble about biblical interpretation, however, the inescapable truth is that, given the opportunity, Jesus did not judge or condemn transgender people. If Jesus did not judge or condemn transgender people, why is it alright for any “Christ like” people to judge or condemn them? It is certainly not acceptable for a “strong Christian” to do so.

It is high time we as a society draw a sharp distinction between free speech and hate speech. Not that we could, or should outlaw hate speech, but our publicly funded institutions sure as heaven should not sponsor it.

Roberta Zenker
#istandforyou

Sermon Matthew 15.10-28

“It is not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles them, but the thing that comes out that defiles.”

We have had a week of confrontation, violence and even murder. We have had displays of ignorance, hate, anger and fear.

We have seen people stand up to hate- even at the risk of their well-being.

“It is the thing that comes out that defiles.”

And what is this defilement?

It is in believing that I am better than anyone else- and then saying that.

Defilement is this: hateful thoughts that become words that become actions that defile this world.

It starts with thoughts that become words, words that are not loving.

It is in saying that other human beings are inferior to me.

It is in saying that certain human beings have no right to live.

It is in speaking hate.

And what is hate?

Hate is a fundamental denial of the reality that every human being on this planet is made in the image and likeness of God. It is a refusal to believe in the fundamental goodness and value of every human being.

This is against what we believe. To quote the Book of Common Prayer’s ritual for Baptism- which most of us have participated in once or twice during the past few months:

“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord?

I will with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people; and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will with God’s help.”

This is what we believe.

If you don’t believe that, this is not the place for you.

We must be totally clear. In the words of pastor Jay Abramson:

“Racism is an extremely dangerous sin, invisible to the one suffering under it. Jesus condemned it when He commanded, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” No one who holds racist beliefs can call themselves a Christian. The group in Charlottesville held these views against all but Anglo-Americans. Those views have led them, in the past and now in our present, to despicable acts of violence.

How should we respond to these events?

You and I are not able to recognize the disease of racism in ourselves. We need to find another Christian to pray with us and honestly help us identify any racist tendencies so that, through the Holy Spirit, we can follow the instructions of 2 Corinthians 10:5 and “take every thought captive,” and then daily live out Jesus’ command of love. If you are Anglo, I suggest you find a believer of another ethnicity for this purpose.

We live in dangerous times. Racism has destroyed whole cultures and it will destroy ours unless it is fully and finally dealt with. Followers of Christ should be at the forefront of this healing process. May we all enter into a season of concentrated prayer to that end.”

Former Presiding Bishop Edmond Lee Browning wrote in 1997:

“Sunday at 11 O’clock is the most segregated hour in the American week. The history of every religious denomination in our country is shot through with the scars of racism- fresh scars and older ones. Racial bigotry frequently cloaks itself in religious language.

We all recoil from its extremes, like the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nation, but we must acknowledge the link between even the politest prejudice and violence. It is a short step from holding a group in contempt to considering that group less than human. If it is true that the longest journey begins with a single step, it is true for ill as well as good, and small hatreds are the first steps toward great ones.

The custodians of a society’s religious and moral traditions are precisely the ones who constitute the greatest danger; we are the ones people look to for guidance. If we begin to lead those who seek God down a path leading to hatred, or stand quietly by while others lead them there, they may well follow. And the judgment against us in heaven will be more severe. Our God of love can only be served with love. If we- of all people- succumb to the virus of bigotry and hate that afflicts so much of the world, our state is a grievous one indeed.”

So, what do we do?

We love.

We love until it’s the hardest thing that we’ve ever done in our lives. We love until it hurts; we love even if we bleed, we love until our strength is gone- we may have to love until we lose our very lives.

Just as Jesus did.

We must choose the power of love over the love of power- just as Jesus did.

And most importantly, we don’t stand silent in the face of injustice, oppression or abuse.

We stand up. We speak out. We do it, because as Christians we MUST- even if we are crucified because of it.

Because we are created in love; we are created by love; we are created for love; we are created TO love.

Let us pray.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people and kindle in them the fire of your love. Speak the Word and we shall be created, and together we’ll renew this pained and confused world.”

Amen.

The MT Office Of Public Instruction Erases LGBTQ Protections

According to my sources, all LGBTQ language has been scrubbed from the Montana Every Student Succeeds Act- meaning they only want non-LGBTQ students to succeed.

This is blatant discrimination at its finest- the OPI has decided “let’s hit our most vulnerable students with a complete denial of reality”. This cannot stand. I urge you to express your displeasure at this move by writing the OPI  here: ESSAinput@mt.gov .

This is institutional bullying- and we cannot let this stand.

Update from Kim Leighton, Pride Foundation, Montana staff:

Approximately 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as #LGBTQ with the number one reason being family rejection. Parents or legal guardians often kick their children out of the home once they come out, simply for who they are and who they love; or the home becomes so untenable they are forced to leave. This is both heartbreaking and alarming as approximately 7% of the total youth population identifies as LGBTQ.

After nearly a year of working with allies at OPI to get inclusive language specific to the disproportionate impact of youth homelessness on LGBTQ youth, we’ve learned that the draft of the Montana State ESSA Plan has removed all LGBTQ language. The erasure of queer youth from an entire policy is unacceptable. Pride Foundation is working with service providers, partner agencies, organizations and national partners to address this. We will keep fighting to make sure queer youth experiencing homelessness are heard, seen and valued across these policies.

The public comment period is open until August 11th. You can submit comment at the following link: ESSAinput@mt.gov .