People Think It’s Ok to Murder Us

The only thing I can take away from this weekend’s horrific shooting in a conservative bastion of hateful Christians is that people of faith think it’s ok to kill LGPTQ+ persons.

I live in Montana, where I was born, raised, educated and taught to feel shame about my sexuality. I was a Roman Catholic priest- educated in Rome- and my secrets nearly killed me. The shame instilled by society, institutions and community have killed thousands of us. To this day, as a therapist and Episcopal priest, I listen to the fear of young LGPTQ+ people who are helpless. They cannot move out of the danger zone. Their families do not have the means to run for safety. They cannot leave the schools where they experience bullying. In some cases, they are thrown out of “Christian” families who have forgotten that love is the ultimate authority in our faith. The terror, horror, anxiety and desperation hit me every single day from my patients, parishioners and community.

As a Christian, I am appalled, disgusted and yes, scared.

I am also angry. The “Pro-Life” contingency doesn’t care about our lives.

The Pro-Life cultists don’t care about reality.

And we are reality.

They are delusional.

They believe that we shouldn’t exist. We should’t love, we shouldn’t have community- shouldn’t be Christian.

Delusional. 

We’re already here. 

We’re already community.

And we’re not going away.

In my church, all are welcome- all are celebrated, loved, and we work to understand, not judge.

But “Christians” are still calling for us to be murdered. To quote ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ (which I know may not be popular, but it is still apt) “If Jesus came back today and saw what was being done in his name, he would never stop throwing up”.

And I think he would also be disgusted, angry and filled with grief.

Just remember, not all Christians believe this- many good people will support us. But it is time to show our grief and anger.

This is not loving or compassionate. 

This is not Jesus.

For the love of God.

~ D Gregory Smith, MA, STL, LCPC

Thyrza Zabriskie, homily

“And this is the will of The One who sent me, that I shall lose nothing of all that is given me, but raise them on the last day”

Thyrza Zabriskie is one of my closest friends. It has been my privilege to be intimately involved with her and the life of the family she gave herself to selflessly and fiercely.

I’ve been with other family members when they were at their most desperate places and times. And I want to say that I have never seen a family with such an expression of trust in God. I can’t believe that this is anything less than George and Thyrza‘s influence.

Because of Alzheimer’s I never really got to know George that well. But he expressed to me at my reception as a priest that he was delighted, and I will always hold that as dear and precious. I was also privileged to be part of his passing. I wear his stole today.

What I do know is I look to this family and see so many beautiful and wonderful and amazing things that I admire and love and support- as well as struggles and difficulties- and I can do nothing but give my heart to you.

When Thyrza specifically asked me to preach at her funeral, I was terrified. She said “Do it and go ahead and cry- that’s a gift”. So I might. And she said “do it for me.”

Of course I will try.

She often said to me, “everybody calls me a saint, but I’m not a saint.“ And I said “ OK, but that’s kind of what makes a saint.” She laughed. And if we want to go back to the basics of our understanding of Saint Paul, we are all saints. so forgive me, Thyrza, but you are a saint.

You brought people to Jesus, you helped sustain us; you brought people to love, you brought people to acceptance, you brought people to seek Justice , you asked people to contemplate things they may never have contemplated before, and I can’t believe anything less than that is Christian. And therefore, a saint. Just as we all should be.

Jesus made us look at normal things with extraordinary vision. And my love, that was you and it is you and we believe that is what inspires us today. You never did anything but love me and my husband Ken with anything but love, acceptance, delight and gratitude. You brought us into your family. And you loved that family fiercely.

I am sad because I am bereft. I am sad because my friend will not show up on the first Friday of every month to share her faith story with me- and let me share mine with hers. We won’t get to wrestle with theology and current events- and we did wrestle- we won’t pray together, hug and tell each other “I love you.”

But I love you just as fiercely as you love your family. I think you feel the same,

But I am also delighted. I am so delighted that this woman whom I love, and whom you love, has finally realized the end of her journey, which is, ironically, the beginning of something we can only imagine- but something we all hope for.

As Christians we have to believe that death is not the end. We don’t say goodbye at this point- we don’t look at people as leaving forever. Instead of goodbye, we say “so long”- see you later. We will meet again. We will talk, feed the ducks, pet the cat, drink tea and share our life experiences. We will yearn for social justice, and we will be people who love. We will be those people who will not let the shallowness and pettiness and the searching for power in the world, dominate our lives. We will not let power overwhelm our power to love- because of our master: Jesus chose the power of love instead of the love of power and we are to do the same.

I love this woman more than I’ve loved many dear people in my life- and that was her gift- she got in. She got in and she never let go.

And she was bossy, but we loved that about her, because we knew the heart behind the directing, and as Laura and I spoke about it, she did up until her death. She got in. Even when she had no words and we stared into each other’s eyes and I held her hands, she never let go. And I couldn’t either.

And that’s the point of following Jesus- we are to love. And that is what Thyrza and I talked about all the time. Do not give into hate, even with the people it is so difficult to love. Do not give in to hate.

We may think of those we dislike- but please, please don’t give in to hate- because God is in love with all of his people- even if we don’t care for them. We talked about this a lot- do not hate. That is not of Jesus. Hatred is Antichrist.

And I appreciate this woman, this wife, this mother, this grandmother, this great friend. This person here, this woman, who looked at the world and found things wanting, and did something about it- even if it was putting on a bumper sticker or filling the windows of her home with tropes of social justice.

If we all followed her example, the world would change. And by her example, if we all followed the example of Jesus, the world would have to change.

I’m going to miss one of my best friends. I’m gonna miss somebody who said refugees, those less fortunate, those who are poor, those who are gay or trans or seeking are just as worthy of our love as anyone else in the world- they deserve to know God’s acceptance and love. And she loved them. Fiercely.

But because of her, I am a better Christian. I’m a better person. I am someone who doesn’t want to look at the world and feel helpless- and I don’t. I pray, I get angry. I get down to the roots of humanity, and I bring Thyrza with me.

She once told me “there is always something to do for Jesus.“ Always. Always something to do.

I stand here with a lot of grief, but I am comforted with the belief that love never dies. The love that we experience in our lives lasts forever. And I know the love I experienced for and from Thyrza will always be part of me. And I think all of us gathered here, can probably say the same.

And that’s exactly what Jesus wanted of us.

Farewell, my love. I know you are exactly where you should be. And I know that I will follow.

And so will we all.

Amen.

Read this

https://www.si.com/high-school/2022/10/19/oxford-high-school-shooting-keegan-gregory-daily-cover?fbclid=IwAR3LvDlJkgN0kZ6kERlbjcETwJYNF-Qh6CeEQPJLudf6o7-SmCSzbFCCUZ4

Sermon, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bozeman

We live in apocalyptic times. There are fires, There are floods, there are earthquakes, there is plague, there is severe illness, there is death, there is famine, there is drought, there is war, There is insurrection ,there is destruction, there is divisiveness, there were even cicadas this year- close enough to locusts to make me nervous- we’ve been through a lot.

We’re experiencing the most difficult time as a nation and as a world that I have experienced in my lifetime. And yet- here we are, the survivors. We may not be whole or healthy- my husband Ken was diagnosed with Covid on New Year’s Eve- he hasn’t been able to taste or smell anything pleasant for 8 months. I had Covid, it left me with brain fog, and a bad attitude. I watch the politicization of public health, the divisiveness around science- SCIENCE!

Every time I turn on the television or read the newspaper -Or God forbid read the comments on a news story on Facebook- I see people promoting ignorance and fear. Congress is even divided as to whether or not to award the Congressional medal of honor to police officers who saved their lives- it’s madness. Yet here we are.

I’ve watched people who absolutely know better create a climate of ginned up rage in order to further their political and personal agendas. I watched people burning masks on main street right here in Bozeman. I’ve listened to parents at school board meetings who would rather risk their children than give in to common sense to oppose masks or a mask mandate because of some whacked out position based on their faith, or gossip or Fox News. Yet here we are.

I am not here to depress you. I’m really not. In the Christian tradition, there is a model for dealing with the apocalypse. And surprisingly, It is the book of Revelation that leads the way. It is in revelation where we find even more pain distraction and craziness than we are putting up with today. Four Horsemen of the apocalypse. The beast and the Mark of the Beast. 666. The whore of Babylon. The suffering, the torture, the misery. Fundamentalists and Biblical literalists see the book of revelation as a fore-telling of the future. I see it as a model of hope.

With all of the destruction and terror that is catalogued in the Book of Revelation, a hero is revealed. The hero of the book of revelation is a lamb. THE Lamb. Meant to represent Jesus of Nazareth. This lamb, meekest of creatures triumphs over all the horrors of the Apocalypse. And ultimately, for me, sums up the whole of Christianity. And it is this: Jesus chose the power of love over the love of power and his followers are to do the same.

Now I have 4° in Christian theology, I read Greek Latin and Hebrew. I have spent the greater part of my life learning how to follow Jesus. And I have to be honest, I have to be clear, there are many, many Christians in our country and in the world who have followed the beast toward promises of power, riches and influence. They are the ones who have pictures of Jesus with an AK 47, they think it’s OK to shoot people who believe or think or look differently from themselves. They believe it’s OK to be cruel to the weak, the poor and the marginalized. Most horribly of all, they have reduced the message of Jesus to this: we are supposed to be rich, we are supposed to be in charge, we are supposed to eliminate all who disagree with us, we are to refuse charity to those in need- in fact we need to pass legislation that will punish the poor in order to get them back to work- a false proposition, by the way. All of that is heresy. That’s not the message of Jesus- its the freaking opposite!

When someone is baptized in the Episcopal Church all are invited to renew the baptismal covenant along with those about to be baptized. Several lines of the covenant speak clearly to the mission of a Christian.

“Will you proclaim by word an example the good news of God in Jesus the Christ?

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

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

The people respond with “I will, with God’s help” after each of these questions. A fervent, yet humble response.

There is no question in that covenant about defending yourself, your family, another person, your country, with violence. That’s the exact opposite of everything I believe as a follower of Jesus.

There is nothing about promising to be cruel to those with less power.

There is nothing about amassing as much money, power and influence as you can.

There is nothing about hoarding food and resources in order to keep them from other people. And yet, here we are. People are standing up in the name of Jesus Christ and preaching the exact opposite of everything he taught.

I want to apologize for my very confused, angry, powerless, brainwashed brothers and sisters. I often feel like I sometimes feel at Thanksgiving when I am the only progressive in the room. I’m overwhelmed by the lack of empathy and compassion. I’m shocked at the amount of fear that people are capable of promoting. The lies, the creation of anger around some thing that only a few years ago would’ve been a no-brainer. But I have to say one thing gives me hope. The lamb.

Now the book of Revelation was written to comfort Christians in Rome during persecution. It was written in highly symbolic language, A kind of code, that early Christians would have seen and understood. The references to Rome are not references to the Roman Catholic church as some denominations maintain- it’s a reference to the persecution promoted by the Roman empire. And yet people have twisted that message too. Some crazy scholars have even spent so much time trying to figure out who the antichrist is that they’ve lost sight of the fundamentals of their faith which are the love of God and the love of neighbor. I read an article a few years ago that I papyrus fragment found in Egypt had a part of the book of Revelation on it. The part had to do the mark of the Beast and the sign of the beast. And the number of the beast. And in that manuscript the number of the beast was not 666. It was some other number which I have forgotten. As you can imagine, there are a lot of biblical literalists with constipation over this news.

I wanted you to hear this particular story from my boss, the presiding Bishop of the episcopal church in the United States Michael Curry. You might’ve seen him preach during Harry and Megan’s wedding you may know a little bit about him. But everything I know about my friend Michael is contained in the reading that we heard today. He loves people, Genuinely loves people. He really strives to live the good news of Jesus. His enthusiasm is contagious. And so is his curiosity.

Michael Curry came to St James two years ago to preach to our congregation. I could barely keep track of the guy because he moved around so quickly and he would greet so many people and stop on the way to things that we were late for in order to talk to a child. Unlike a lot of the bishops I worked with in Rome, he wasn’t that worried about keeping his schedule. He was interested in the people. A lot like Jesus was interested in the people. Michael is fond of saying let’s turn this human nightmare into the dream of God- he’s also fond of saying “we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement”. That doesn’t exclude our very confused brothers and sisters in other branches of the Jesus movement, it doesn’t criticize them necessarily, but it invites all of us to look at our faith- and our image of Jesus.

The Lamb. The one victorious. The one who chose the power of love over the love of power. And at the heart of the Christian faith- if people dare to go there- is a humble servant, not a Lord and Master. Not a King- a term used too loosely in my opinion. Not a President or prime minister. A servant. Someone who gets down in the dirt and washes the feet of his friends- who gives his life for them.

And you can bet your life that Jesus would never carry a slingshot, much less an AK47.

Easter morning sermon

(With apologies to Mr Milne):

You may know we have two dogs, Laddy and Phyllis. Our boy, Laddy, is dying. I am trying not hate it, but it’s hard- and it’s not going to change.

It breaks our hearts, because he is such a good boy. He was the dog of my friend Ed, whom I had the privilege of being with- as was Laddy, when he died in intensive care. We took Laddy in after. He’s an English Shepherd that sleeps outside the bedroom door to protect us. He barks fiercely when the doorbell rings. He follows whoever is on the move in the house- but mostly Ken. He always wants to be with one of us, usually me when I’m working, and Ken when he goes outside.  

But he never stops watching Phyllis- much to her consternation. 

I’ve noticed the way he looks out for us, protects us all. We all see it.  

Well, except Phyllis. She can’t stand him.

It’s mostly because he came late into our home and disrupted everything- the Queen of the house, Miss Phyllis, was ticked.

“Here was someone who took the attention I was used to having. This guy HERDS me! He’s always behind- pushing me. I was so mad once I ripped apart his ear.”

‘I know, Phyllis, but you are and always will be my favorite,’I said.

“Prove it”, she said.

‘How?’ I asked.’

“Please never leave me”, she said, looking with those soulful eyes into mine.

I was stuck. I didn’t know what to say.

“You have to promise me”, she insisted.

‘How can I promise if I don’t know if it’s even possible?’

“Maybe if you promise, it will be possible”, she said.

‘Ok.  Fine. I have nothing to lose, and I want to believe that it is true, so maybe if I make a promise it will work.  Ok,

I promise.’

Laddy entered the room and came over and layed down in a place where he could watch both of us. “What were you talking about?” Laddy asked.

“Oh, we were just promising to never leave each other,” Phyllis sniffed.

“Interesting,” said Laddy. “You know I’m leaving soon…”

“Yes, I try not to think about that” said Phyllis. “But that doesn’t apply to Papa Greg and me- we’re soulmates.”

Laddy sighed. “I know you hate me Phyllis- but I love you. I always will.”

“I don’t hate you”, said Phyllis. “you just annoy me.”

“Well, you at the very least hate my ear- it will never be the same.”

“I apologized about that”, she said- and sniffed again.

“We’re all doing the best we can,” Laddy said. “But I’m still leaving- and things will never be the same.”

“I DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT THAT!” Phyllis yelled.

“But it’s true, nothing will ever be the same.”

“And that’s awful,” said Phyllis.

“Is it? Why can’t it be wonderful?”

“How could you dying ever be wonderful?”

“I guess by the same logic that it’s awful,” Laddy sighed. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I believe that it’s wonderful.”

“But everyone says it’s terrible,” said Phyllis.

“Doesn’t make it true,” said Laddy. “I believe that we are connected, that we’ll see each other again.”

“That’s ridiculous, “said Phyllis.

“Maybe to you,” said Laddy, “but I believe in love. 

All dogs believe in love- that’s why we’re so awesome. 

I think you forgot.”

“No, I didn’t!” shrieked Phyllis. “I believe in love for Papa Greg more than anything! He’s my soulmate!”

“Take that love and spread it around. It’s infinite. You can share it with everyone, and it won’t diminish your love for Mr Greg.”

“It won’t?” asked Phyllis.

“It can’t. It never runs out. It always comes back to life- even though it may not have been really dead in the first place. How does love die?”

“It doesn’t. That’s my point,” said Phyllis. “Papa Greg and I will always be together.”

“I think so, too. But maybe you’re together in a different way?”

“Like how?”

That’s the point. We don’t know. We love. We trust. And we don’t mistake death for the end- because love never dies. I know you believe that. That’s what makes you love Mr Greg and Mr Ken so much…. That will never go away.”

“Oh”, said Phyllis. “I feel better now. I think I get it. My loves will always be with me. You will always be with me.

But, please, when I see you again, will you stop herding me like a sheep so much?

I am NOT a sheep!”

Palm Sunday

W/ Chuck Warnock

Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey.  This day has been described by Christians for generations as the “triumphal entry into Jerusalem.”  But, have you ever asked yourself, “If this was a triumphal entry, then why did they crucify Jesus at the end of the week?”

If this is such a glorious Sunday for all Christians, what goes wrong by Friday that Jesus will find himself betrayed by one of his own disciples, arrested by the high priest’s guard, accused by a coalition of religious leaders, tried by the Roman governor, and sentenced to die the death of a common criminal—death by crucifixion.

You might not know that Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem was not the only procession the city saw that day.  In the year 30 AD, Roman historians record that the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, led a procession of Roman cavalry and centurions into the city of Jerusalem.  (The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, p.1)

Imagine the spectacle of that entry.  From the western side of the city, the opposite side from which Jesus enters, Pontius Pilate leads Roman soldiers on horseback and on foot. Each soldier was clad in leather armor polished to a high gloss.  On each centurion’s head, hammered helmets gleamed in the bright sunlight.  At their sides, sheathed in their scabbards, were swords crafted from the hardest steel; and, in their hands, each centurion carried a spear; or if he was an archer, a bow with a sling of arrows across his back.

Pilate, as governor of the region which included not only Judea, but Samaria, and Idumea, knew it was standard practice for the Roman governor of a foreign territory to be in its capital for religious celebrations.  It was the beginning of Passover, a strange Jewish festival that the Romans allowed.  However, the Romans must have been aware that this festival celebrated the liberation of the Jews from another empire, the empire of Egypt.

So, Pilate had to be in Jerusalem.  Since the Romans had occupied this land by defeating the Jews and deposing their king about 80 years before, uprisings were always in the air.  The last major uprising, long before Pilate’s time, had been after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC.

The Temple would be the center of Passover activity. Antonia’s Fortress, the Roman garrison built adjacent to the Temple compound, would serve as a good vantage point from which to keep an eye on the Jews.  Pilate’s entry into Jerusalem was meant to send a message to the Jews, and to those who might be plotting against the empire of Rome.  The spectacle was meant to remind the Jews of the destruction that happened the last time. There. Was a wide-scale uprising- including the destruction of Emmaus and Sepphoris- and, it was meant to intimidate the citizens of Jerusalem themselves, who might think twice about joining such a rebellion if it was slated to fail.

But I said this was a day of two processions, so let’s get back to Jesus and his entry into Jerusalem.  If Pilate’s procession was meant as a show of military might and strength, Jesus’ procession was meant to show the opposite.  Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus’s own words, as he instructs his disciples to go in to the city and find a donkey tied up.  They are to ask the owner if they may use the donkey, and they are to say that “the Lord needs them.”

Then, Jesus quotes from Zechariah, the 9th chapter –

 Say to the Daughter of Zion,

“See, your king comes to you,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

In other words, Jesus’ quote from the prophet Zechariah reminded those who heard him of the entire passage.  But the message they heard was, “God will deliver the nation from the oppressor”—in this case, Rome!

But, the king they seek will come to them humbly, not on a steed of war, but on a slow-moving donkey, the symbol of a king who comes in peace, according to Zechariah.

The two processions could not be more different in the messages they convey.  Pilate, leading Roman centurions, asserts the power and might of the empire of Rome which crushes all who oppose it.

Jesus, riding on a young donkey, embodies the peace and tranquility that the shalom of God brings to God’s people.

Those who watch that day will make a choice. They will either serve the god of this world, might and power; or they will choose to serve the king of a very different kind of kingdom, the kingdom of God.

Jesus had challenged the rulers of Judea already.  Not the Roman rulers, but the local rulers.  He had said to them that the Temple was not the only way to find God’s forgiveness; and further, that the Temple would be destroyed, with not one stone left on another.

Of course, those who made their living from the Temple like the scribes; the chief priest and his priests; the ruling council of the Sanhedrin; and, the religious parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, would all lose their power and prestige if there was no Temple.  Or, even if the Temple was no longer the only place where one could be forgiven by God.

So, when Jesus miraculously saves the lame man by first saying, “Your sins are forgiven” and then healing him, he challenged the authority of the Temple system. And when Jesus drove the money-changers from the Temple, proclaiming that the Temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but that the religious leaders had made it a den of thieves, Jesus exposed the corruption of the Temple tax, the scandalous monetary exchange rate, and the dishonesty of those who sold animals for sacrifice.

Jesus had disappointed and alienated powerful people.  He did so because the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priest, the scribes, most of the Levitical priests, and others who ruled on Rome’s behalf, were part of the same system of oppression and domination that Pilate was part of.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem may or may not have been planned to occur on the same day as Pilate’s procession through the western gate of the city.  Whether it was planned or not, the two processions provided a contrast that was unmistakable.

A contrast between kings and kingdoms was on display that day in Rome.  And, although many of the common people thought they sided with Jesus, they did so for the same reasons the Pharisees and others sided with Rome.  They thought Jesus could do for them what Rome had done for their rulers—make their lives better, deliver them from the oppressive system under which they lived and worked, and turn the tables on the Romans.

That’s why the crowd turns on Jesus by the end of the week.  They don’t think he’s going to do any of those things.  And, in addition, Jesus is going to make life worse for them, not better.  Their religious leaders, all of them, who never agree on anything, agree that Jesus is going to attract the attention of the Roman empire, especially during Passover, and Rome will come down fast and hard on the entire nation. (see Caiaphas’ speech in John 11:45-50)

So, when Jesus is accused, when he is brought by Pilate before the angry mobs, they want to be rid of him.  Jesus, in their minds, never did what they wanted him to do.  He never defeated the Romans, he never dissolved the unfair tax system, he never put common people in charge of the government, and furthermore, he never would.

 For one moment, ask yourself, “If I had been in Jerusalem that day, and had seen both processions passing by, which would I have chosen to follow?”

Because that is the choice we make each day. To choose power and might over love. To choose “the way things are done” over “the way God intends them to be.” Two processions. Two theologies. Two choices. Which would you choose? What kind of king do you expect?

Guns

“Thou shalt not kill”
“Turn the other cheek”
“If someone asks you to go one mile, go two.”
“If someone asks for your shirt, give them your cloak as well.”
I’m sick of the rhetoric around guns.


Did Jesus, who was innocent, seek retribution against his accusers?
NO, HE DID NOT.
Did Jesus act to protect himself from unjust persecutors?
NO, HE DID NOT.
Did Jesus preach vengeance, revenge or retribution?
NO, HE DID NOT.
Did Jesus say it’s ok to kill your brother or sister in any circumstance?
NO, HE DID NOT.


We’ve lost our way.

Still true: