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!

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

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.

#stopHB609

Because this issue is not going away, I thought I’d put my testimony against HB609 on the internet so that people could see it, read it and think about it:

March 23, 2017
HB609

 

My name is Greg Smith. I am a fourth generation Montanan, born in Butte and raised in the Ruby Valley. I am a licensed Mental Health counselor specializing in LGBTQ issues, and I’ve been a priest for almost 26 years.

I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences as a pastor and as a psychologist.

I’m one of those Christians that believe causing pain and suffering to anyone is sinful. Jesus was very clear on the matter “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke10.27) Some of my clergy colleagues may disagree, but I think that this bill is not about loving others as ourselves, but about creating barriers of shame, fear and isolation. I know that this bill would create a great deal of pain and suffering for transgender individuals and their families in the State of Montana. Not only that, I believe It defies science, it defies experience, and it defies reality.

The reality is that transgender people exist. In fact, they live here in Montana. I need to say this out loud: they are not going away. Just because some of us don’t like this reality-or don’t understand it- doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, I believe the definition of mental health involves seeing and acknowledging reality. To deny reality is to live in mental illness- and transgender persons are real. To deny the reality of transgender persons is to live in mental illness. It is a fundamental denial of reality.

I am proud to work with and for transgender persons- these children of God are not being intransigent- they are expressing their truth. I believe you have the power to help make people’s lives better- and passing this bill will not make anyone’s life better. There have been no reported assaults in locker rooms or restrooms by transgender persons. In fact, the hypersexualizing of this issue causes a lot of misunderstanding and needless fear.

Please see this not as a safety issue- because it isn’t, but as a civil rights issue- which it is. This is not about “choosing” gender- we are born knowing our gender, it’s in our heads, not necessarily in our bodies. I have worked with hundreds of transgender persons in my career and I would like to help you understand that this is not about “switching” genders. It’s about being faithful to the person your brain tells you that you are. And many do so with a great deal of physical pain and discomfort- and with a great deal of emotional pain and social stigma.

This bill seems to be nothing more than an attempt to harm transgender persons as well as their families and friends- I can’t find anything in here about loving our neighbor- it’s all about fearing your neighbor. As a Christian minister, I cannot support it.

Thank you for your kind attention, I am happily available to answer any questions you may have.

Rev D Gregory Smith, STL, MA, LCPC, LMHC

Why Gay Rights are not Special Rights

First off: the fact that I have to write this out is problematic for me- this falls under the category of “General Sense of Decency” for me, but here goes.

I was born a gay male, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. I don’t like cauliflower or the color orange. I am interested in psychology, spirituality, social justice and equal rights for all human beings. I like chocolate- but not really bitter dark chocolate. Why?

It’s a mystery.

There are many mysteries about our humanity, but sexuality isn’t one of them. Science is on my side: I was born attracted to other men. I know that because I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this difficult life for myself. I can’t help what piques my curiosity or interest. It just happens.

There’s an excitement that happens when we see an attractive person- that’s how we know they’re attractive. I can honestly say that I have never felt that for a woman. I tried. but I realized that going against nature is a waste of time.

My church respects me. My Federal Government (for now) respects me. My State can’t be bothered to get to know me.

Or else it wouldn’t have so callously dismissed HB417.

A bill that would add a few words to take away the significant pain that LGBTQA Montanans are feeling (and if you love an LGBTQ person, you’re the “A”).  As a psychotherapist, I am privy daily to stories of LGBTQ persons feeling disrespected, feeling afraid of an uncertain future. It breaks my heart. And as a Christian, I have to wonder why our culture is so willing to promote and add to the pain of another human being?

Monsters are the only things that do that- and I need to believe the people of Montana are not monsters.

This is an easy fix- adding a few words.
A few words will be a step toward decreasing pain in the lives of thousands of Montanans. And it’s there, believe me.

Being gay is who I am- it is not a choice (who would choose to be so discriminated against?). And being who I am should be good enough to add me and my brothers and sisters to the Montana Human Rights Act.

If a landlord refused to rent to me because I am an Episcopal priest, they would be in legal trouble. Ditto if I was refused service because of my race, national origin, beliefs or disability. But as a gay man, I have little recourse.

Back in graduate psychology, I learned that a hallmark of bullying is exclusion. By definition, this exclusion of LGBTQIA persons from The Montana Human Rights Act is bullying with legislation.

It must stop.

MSU Lavender Graduation Ceremony

I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the first ever MSU Lavender Graduation- an honor and privilege. This was my introduction (which I loved), followed by the address I gave today.

Fr. Greg Smith, a native Montanan and a licensed mental health counselor has been called the “Gay Godfather of Montana” for his work in advancing LGBTQ rights in the state- especially among faith groups and with spiritual leaders. He has worked for over 25 years in HIV prevention and was an original member of the Montana Governor’s AIDS Advisory Board. Originally a Catholic priest, he now works as an Episcopal priest and therapist in Bozeman where he lives with his husband, Ken and their two dogs, Bandit and Phyllis.

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When Ariel told me that the graduating LGBTQ and allied students had chosen me to be the keynote speaker for this celebration, I asked the question that every gay man asks himself in this situation, “What am I going to wear?”

It wasn’t that hard. I decided to wear my clerical collar.

Mostly because we have been subjected to a lot of hateful and ignorant and vicious attacks from people dressed like me. I’m hoping to correct some of that. I’m hoping that you’ll realize that not all Christians hate you. This gay Christian loves you.

It’s weird, but I remember the keynote speaker at my graduation from Twin Bridges High School very clearly because he was SO boring. I think he was an executive at Montana Power. I also remember the speaker when I graduated from Carroll- also because she was VERY boring.

So I vow to you today- I will NOT be boring….

Congratulations!

Achieving a degree is an amazing thing in our society. Achieving it when you have extra baggage (placed on you by society) is Extraordinary. Many of you have struggles that I personally know of- and many of you have struggles that I will never imagine. But the great thing about struggling with things- wrestling with things- it makes us stronger. But only if we learn from them- and that also means, sometimes, letting go. It is easy to cling to our pain- that’s called suffering by the way- but it’s much more beneficial to take our pain and use it to change ourselves- make ourselves stronger. More on that in a minute.

When I was a kid growing up in Twin Bridges, Montana, there were very few options for a geeky kid like me. I was too awkward and asthmatic for sports. I was allergic to everything in the summer, which meant I spent a lot of time indoors trying not to mucus myself to death. The one thing I always had were books. Because it was a small town, I had read everything I was interested in at the Library by the time I was in 6th grade. But one thing kept me going, and they arrived every month at McAlear’s drug store. Comic books.

I still love comics- not the lame Archie or Little Lulu, but the superheroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Captain America, Thor. They usually involved some lame secret identity that covered up the fact that they were fantastic. I call them lame because they were the people I identified with- and I thought of myself as lame because I couldn’t keep up with the other kids my age- and secret because I, too, had a secret.

I liked boys. A lot. And I knew the world wouldn’t approve. Especially my church. So I maintained this secret identity as Greg Smith, but in my heart, I knew I was really Superman. Someday, when all would be revealed, the kids who teased me and bullied me would learn the truth and cower before my magnificence…. It kept me going. Because sometimes, revealing a secret too soon is an unsafe thing to do- so many of us hold on- even after it really is safe to let go.

So, back to pain. Many of us in this room have experienced pain associated with our sexuality, gender, gender expression or just because we’re unusual. Pain is an important part of our lives- without pain, we might quickly die from an injury of which we are unaware. It’s essential for our survival. The only problem is that many of us live in our past pain- and that keeps us from moving forward. The trick here is to take your pain and make it work for you. Take that pain and use it to jumpstart compassion for others in this world- because that’s what we’re made for. Use that past pain to make a better future for yourselves and others. It’s exactly what your predecessors did- what my predecessors did.

I also need to tell you, as a religious leader, please don’t buy into hatred perpetuated by ignorant religious people.

I need to tell you that however or whatever you believe, God loves you very much. Just the way you are. No matter what Higher Power you believe in.

God loves you very much- just as you are. I believe it, because I feel it. And I feel it because it was ingrained in me from an early age- I see evidence all around me.

So the next time you hear some stupid argument about sexuality or gender from ignorant people, I hope you hear my voice in your head. God loves you- just as you are.

Because you are beautiful.

A few months ago, I had the very difficult task of eulogizing a young trans person at their funeral. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Because I know what that pain is like. I know what it’s like to believe that the world will be better off without you.

But as a person of faith I have to tell you outright- that thought is a lie. You were created to be exactly your real selves- the person you are right now.

This world is not better off without you. It needs you. YOU. I believe God made you for a beautiful reason. That’s yours to discover, that’s the adventure of life. It’s yours to create. Believe in your own power.

Why?

Because- even if you have to have a secret identity sometimes- you are heroes.

You know this.

Somewhere deep inside you, you see it. And when you have a hard time seeing it, find those confidants who will remind you. Every Superman needs a Jimmy Olsen, every Batman needs an Alfred. And if you can’t find anyone, call me. I’m happy to remind you.

So, today, as you receive your lavender cords to wear at the official MSU graduation this weekend, know that in my heart I’m officially giving you your capes and golden lassoes and utility belts to go out and change the world.

Please be the heroes our suffering world needs. Be the heroes the next generation needs- and maybe someday somebody will ask you to speak at their graduation!

I believe in you- and so do thousands of others.

 

Congratulations, Lavender Graduates!