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!

A Poem for Daniel Berrigan, SJ

The love of justice and mercy
are inseparable.
The God of Justice and the God of Mercy
are one and the same.

And so,
put on your coat and shoes
to meet
the many kinds of people
that God is in love with-
and know
they may not know it yet.

Be kind and gentle
with the radical and jarring news
of a love beyond imagining.

Because this people may not be able
to see or hear or feel
because of their pain,
be gentle-
yet firm-
with the shocking
good news
of this active and radical love.

~D Gregory Smith

Easter Vigil Homily 2016

Darkness.

Light.

Cold.

Fire.

Fear.

Hope.

Pain.

Resurrection.

 

Christians have gathered for thousands of years on this night to remember the history of Salvation. To remember that no matter how dark and cold the world is, no matter how often we are afraid, no matter what pain we must endure, there is Light. There is Fire. There is Hope. And there IS Resurrection.

We see it- if we look- we see it in the joy of a new mother.
We see it when we refuse to answer violence with more violence.
We see it when those who are wronged refuse to pursue revenge.
We see it in the face of our beloved- a hope that will never die.

We’ve come close to giving in.

We’ve created weapons that could destroy this planet. We’ve created laws based on fear and not hope.

We’ve built walls and fences- both physically and with words of hatred toward one another.

We’ve been victims of fear mongering.

We’ve been guilty of fear mongering.

We’ve looked past those in need because it makes us uncomfortable.

We’ve turned other human beings into evil creatures in our minds.

We’ve created idols.

We’ve become narcissists in the way we feed our egos with the illusions of power and wealth and status. Sadly, I think I have to say we’ve not learned that much in 2000 years.

For example, we have turned the fully human and fully divine Jesus into Superman- someone so far above us that we can never get close. We’ve glorified him so much that the glory of his humility- his humanity- means nothing. If you listen to some of our brother Christians, you might as well believe that some alien visited our planet from Krypton- and we need to be very afraid of him.

I saw Batman vs Superman today. I loved it. Because I love Superman. Always have.

Superman represents the power and strength of hope- the might of the good. And that is helpful and hopeful for us as human beings. He represents our better nature. He also represents a fighter- a soldier- who uses his powers to crush the enemy.

For many Christians, Jesus IS Superman.

But I think it’s worth noting that there can be no comparison.

Jesus forbids violence. Jesus refuses to defend himself. Jesus sits and eats with people who are seen as the dregs of society- people that many of us scorn today. In this town filled with Christians, why do we have a $4 million dollar animal shelter, but no homeless human shelter?

Jesus doesn’t fight for justice- he becomes it. He becomes it by embracing those who are downtrodden, broken, diseased overlooked and alone.

It is no accident that women discover the empty tomb first. Women were among the least of Jewish society- suddenly become the vital heralds of a miracle- exactly what the Kingdom of God is about.

“The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.”

This is crazy talk.

Crazy enough to get you executed. Even today.

We are here tonight to celebrate the light that has come into the world- and we are here also to pray that the darkness will not overcome it.

Because there is no guarantee- that’s part of the definition of HOPE.

If we knew it was all going to be ok, we could just go home and watch tv or Youtube or Facebook and forget that we have a job to do.

We forget often enough anyway. I know I do.

But we do have a job to do. What’s that job? To imitate Jesus. As fully as possible. As best we know how. Because our baptism unites us with him in his pain, his death and his resurrection. It’s not about following the rules in order to get to heaven- it’s about imitating the Master so that we can change the world.

Just like him.

By being crazy- at least in the eyes of the world.

Crazy Christians.

The Biblical scholar NT Wright said, “You can fulfill the commandments of the Bible better by falling in love with God than by trying to obey him. The Christian faith is not a business transaction. It’s not an arranged marriage where you receive a dowry of riches for compliance. Christianity only works if you’re in love.”

And an alien is hard to love- unless you’re Lois Lane.

My point is simply this: Jesus is lovable. And loving Jesus helps us love each other. And loving each other-unconditionally- is what will change this world.

Darkness. Light. Cold. Fire. Fear. Hope. Pain.

All a part of the mix. All meant to be part of our human experience. And resurrection?

Well, that only happens if we sacrifice our egos.

Just like Jesus.

Joseph W Laythe, PhD

When I first met Joey Laythe, At Carroll College Freshman orientation in the fall of 1983, I didn’t like him.

He was loud, he was brazen, he was funny and he had more energy than I did.

Competition.

Because I, too, am loud and brazen and funny.

Later, we became pretty good friends. I would say, that we learned- as all friends do- to join forces.

We had some pretty good times at Carroll College. In particular, was the time Joey almost got us arrested. Another was when he threw a paper airplane in Fr People’s class when Sr Mary Sarah Fasenmeyer fell asleep during Fr People’s tenure check. Behind her head. Right at me.

While she was sleeping.

But I digress.

Joey annoyed me. And I’m pretty sure I annoyed him. Because we were a lot alike.

And I think we really only realized it a few years ago.

Through Facebook.

Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.

Joe supported me through a really weird time in my life, so I figured it was the least I can do to be here, when he asked me in October.

We saw the world in much the same way. We saw the world as a place in need of education, in need of healing- in need of love. In need of kindness and understanding. That is the pinnacle of my faith- and we connected there.

Neither of us would happily put up with willful ignorance. Neither of us could put up with injustice.

Neither of us could stand idly by when people were being injured, manipulated or exploited.

We mutually liked every Facebook post the other made.

These are the human ties that aren’t maybe created through birth, or circumstance, but by common purpose.

We had some of the same mentors at Carroll- some of the most formative years of my life- John Downs, Fr. Gene Peoples, and although I never took a class from him Dr Robert Swartout- a man who inspired generations of historians. And someone who especially inspired Dr Joseph Laythe- to be a teacher, an academic, and a good human being. They all did. That was the magic of Carroll for me. We were surrounded by exceptional human beings with great hearts- who inspired us to be exceptionsal human beings-stretch ourselves beyond the obvious into eternity.

All I ever wanted was to be a priest. All Joe ever wanted was to be a teacher. A funny, irrepressible academic with the heart to change the manner in which his students would perceive the world around them. And the brilliant brain to teach them the facts that motivated his heart. Along the way, he added some additional wants- being a husband to Chris and a father to Lydia and Izzy.

This was his world.

And now, it’s ours.

“We all have a story. If you’re not friends with your mailman, you’re missing something”- John Downs.

“Jesus was the ultimate example of powerless love”- Fr. Gene Peoples.

I hold these things close in my life today. For me, it’s what Christianity boils down to.

Jesus rejected the love of power for the power of love. He spent time with the small people of society- those estranged and downtrodden and misunderstood. He ate with sinners- prostitutes and tax collectors and Pharisees and common people- they were all the same to him. People who needed to be seen as people.

Today, we make people into things. Murderers, terrorists, gays, Buddhists, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, North Dakotans, poor, diseased, addicts, transgender, prostitutes, anything but human.

Jesus makes us see the human.

Joey asked us to please see the human beings beyond the labels. And today, I beg you- please, never forget, we are not things. We are people. It may be the best way to honor our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend.

It’s how I will remember him. Last week at Mass, I came across the following from Bridges of Contemplation- Lent and Holy Week with Thomas Merton, where the author said

“Life and death are identical twin sisters born within every human being. We are all kin as we travel the uneven roads of our common journey through life. Yet being kindred- why are we so unkind toward each other?

Why do we find it so hard to see each other’s dilemmas as being identical to our own? Why do we so often accept unkindness as the order of relations among us? For us to live unkindly to each other is to live unnaturally.

How do we live kindly in an unkind world?

Humility teaches us kindness. Humility prevents our taking the first places at life’s banquet, prevents our excessive consumption of resources while sisters and brothers on other continents or down the street cannot feed their children.

Humility helps us step down from the pedestal of individual destinies to share life with the crowd.

Humility helps us to see how easy it is to lose everything we hold dear in an instant; our house, our status, our families, our very selves lost in the distractions that keep us from realizing our kindness with one another.

Lent is an occasion for us to reorient our priorities, to attend to the least privileged first- to allow the lame lead us in the procession by their slower pace and with rhythms that appreciate how we must all proceed carefully or suffer soul-death alone.”

I will honor my friend by being careful with other humans beings in my life.

I will treat them with respect and dignity and kindness and humor and understanding.

I will treat them with love.

Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

I used to think that really enlightened people took their pain and changed the world; Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Vaclav Havel. Peter Abelard. Victor Hugo. Joan of Arc. Francis of Assisi. Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Oscar Romero, Stephen Bieko. Father Damien of Molokai. Dorothy Day. Raymond Hunthausen.

Like I said, I used to think these people took their pain and changed the world. But now, I’ve changed my mind.

I think these people took their pain and changed themselves.

And that changed the world.

That’s what our Joey did.

That’s what we are to do.

We are here to take our pain- a very ordinary part of our human lives- an unpleasant part of our ordinary lives- and change the world.

We are here to take our pain and change the world.

Into something extraordinary.

That’s building the Kingdom of God.

That’s honoring our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend. Because that’s what he did.

We take our pain, and we change the world- by being kind to one another.

Please be kind.

Above all things.

Even- and especially- when people can’t pay you back.

Or even, when they almost get you arrested- especially then- they might become your dear, dear friend.

Be open to surprises.

That’s life.

Amen.