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.

June Becomes Even More Beautiful

My sermon from today at Living Waters UMC:

(Mark 5. 21-43) The gospel today says much to us about faith.

The faith of Jairus- a man who, out of love, calls Jesus to help.

The faith of the woman in the crowd- who dared, out of the desire to cease her suffering-

to touch the robe of Jesus as he passed by.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have such faith?

Or are you a person of that faith now?

If you already have that faith, you can relax, because I won’t be talking directly to you this morning- but you can help me if I stumble.

I don’t think that will be very many of you.

I know, because I’m not sure I have that kind of faith.

I would like to believe as an ordained person, a professional Christian, that I have some sort of leg up on that faith, but it’s just not true.

I believe, but I’m not sure if it’s always faith.

I have many things that get in the way of that simple trust that God is greater than I am.

Fear does that.

Gets in the way.

Love of money gets in the way.

Anger and resentment and cynicism and pain- they all can keep me from trusting that God has things under control- or at least- like a parent watching a child make a huge mess and then helping them clean it up- God is still waiting with us to see how much of a mess we make before he has to step in again.

This week has been a particularly significant one for me. June usually is- with Gay Pride and my ordination anniversary and it’s such a beautiful time to be in Montana. June is beautiful, but it became even more beautiful for me in the last week, because there were three additional  things of major significance that happened in my life.

Because of chronic illness and preexisting conditions, I am subsidized in my healthcare by the Federal government. There was a chance that it could be taken away from me by the Supreme Court. But, in a move that allowed my soul and my family to rest more easily at night, those subsidies were preserved.

I seriously did not know what I (or tens of thousands of Montanans) would do if the decision were not in our favor.

But it was.

And I knew I would handle what I had to if necessary, but it felt like a wind of grace blowing through my life.~

Like you, I watched the news in horror to learn of the Charleston Massacre in an African Methodist Episcopal church. During a bible study. By a man who was embraced by that congregation as a seeker- before he shot at them- causing death and destruction and injury to a peaceful place dedicated to Christ Emmanuel “God with us”. That’s what Emmanuel means- God with us. It didn’t seem like God was with them, did it? ~

I am a man whose relationship was not acknowledged legally across our country until Friday morning. And I have to say, that for the first time in my life, I feel like a full citizen of these United States- even though many people still hate me for what I am without ever caring about who I am. I feel grace in the affirmation of my dignity by the court we hold Supreme in this land.~

Three different and yet enormously important moments in my life packed into a few short days. Sometimes when I think about it, I feel a little giddy, drunk with the craziness of this week.

Right now you might be saying, “Two of those things were really good for you, Greg- but the other one, the shooting was very horrible. How can you put them together?”

Fair question.

Notice I didn’t say they were all happy moments- they were significant.

Significant is the daughter of a murdered mother looking at the killer and saying “I forgive you.”

Significant is the amount of compassion that allowed a symbol of oppression to be swiftly removed as an accessory to murder.

Significant is a nation that mourned the good people who lost their lives for trying their best to have faith in a world that so seldom supports it.

Significant when the President of the United States gives perhaps the best sermon I have heard in my life to a grieving nation and especially a grieving race of Americans who have been particularly plagued with violence, oppression and prejudice.

Like I said, significant.

If you haven’t seen that eulogy offered by President Obama, I officially recommend it. And I’d like to quote a few lines from it, because it gets right to the point of the message today. We can have all the faith we want- but without grace- we are nothing.

“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley — how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and shortsightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.”

At some point, my friends, we have to allow our imperfect faith to meet God’s perfect grace.

And we have to believe that our feeble attempts to love will be assisted by the Grace of God and become an offering of sweetness and peace and substance and good.

That’s the story of the gospel today.

Even when we but try, God meets us in the person of Jesus Christ and offers us help with the power of the Holy Spirit.

He has raised those from the dead we have thought were lost forever.

He has alleviated our suffering- and the suffering of many throughout the world, because we have simply -with whatever small faith we possess- reached out to touch his garment.

So maybe this Gospel isn’t about faith after all.

Maybe it’s just simply about God’s grace- which is just another word for love- about God’s grace being unstoppable.

That’s what we call the Gospel, the Good News. God’s crazy love for us is unstoppable.

Amen

Marginalization

Sermon to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bozeman, 1.25.15

Good morning- it’s so great to be back here!

I’d like to continue with Nina’s theme from last week.

Dr King and Bayard Rustin are heroes for standing up for their race- a springboard for civil rights. They were the precursors of Stonewall, the feminist movement, Occupy Wall Street, It Gets Better- and much more.

Marginalization.

It means not being part of the body- on the margins.

Marginalize: “to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group.”

There are many ways to marginalize and be marginalized.

Socially. Economically. Politically. Physically. Ideologically. Theologically, Spiritually. Religiously. Scientifically. Literarily. Geographically. Hygienically. Racially. By almost any reason human beings can think of.

There’s a psychological principle that’s used to keep people in their place.

It’s very effective- and it’s become so commonplace that most of us don’t realize that it’s happening. And it’s all around us.

It’s called shame. And it’s a killer.

Shame is used by persons or institutions in power to promote powerlessness. It’s often confused with guilt, but it’s very different.

Guilt is a feeling that arises inside from trespassing a value. I feel bad.

Shame comes from the outside and it’s a judgment “You are bad”

We can internalize this shame, believing it ourselves, that because someone or something in power thinks we’re bad, their authority is accepted and we believe it ourselves.

Does this make sense?

Guilt can often be helpful because it helps us define our values- keeps us from doing things against what we believe and hold dear.

I have never found shame to be helpful.

Shame is what often brings young people to hurt or even kill themselves. Shame is disguised as bullying. Shame is disguised as wealth. Shame is disguised as political or religious power. Shame tells us that we aren’t who we “should” be.

I want you to be very clear about the disease of shame in our world. I want you to be able to recognize it so that you can avoid it in your own lives and can counter it when you see it in the world around you.

And I’ll give you the best example I know. Every time you hear a “should” or shouldn’t”, you’re more than likely about to hear a shaming statement or question.

You should know better. You shouldn’t act that way. You shouldn’t complain. You should sit down and be quiet. You shouldn’t ask for what you need. You shouldn’t rock the boat.

Does that make sense?

Which brings us back to marginalization.

What are some of the reasons people are marginalized in our world?

What are some of the ways people are marginalized in our country?

What are particular ways people are marginalized in Bozeman, Montana?

In the US we have a particular social theory called capitalism that was supposed to equalize all people who worked for a living. The theory is that if you work hard, you will be able to thrive.

It is sadly and deeply untrue at this point in our history.

The minimum wage cannot support a family of four unless both parents work over 40 hours a week.

People who have millions- perhaps billions- of dollars in this country have never worked a hard day in their lives. They simply were born into the “right” families. Families of wealth, power and influence. Sounds a lot like Feudal Europe.

I don’t think that this was how it was supposed to work.

We have enshrined wealth in this country, further marginalizing the poor, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged. Some to the point of despair.

As spiritual people, it is not our job to create despair; it is in fact, the opposite of our job.

There once was a group of people who “were together and had all things in common. They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” They cared for the widow and the orphan with great care and “They were of one heart and one mind and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.”

Any guesses?

These quotes are from the book of the Acts of the Apostles- they describe the early Christian community.

Sounds a lot like socialism doesn’t it?

Oops- I said the S word.

All spiritual traditions recognize the marginalized as a part of their mission- and all spiritual traditions recognize the importance of restoring humanity to every human being.

In my tradition, we believe God is in love with every human being- not just those with wealth or power or prestige.

Our job is to bring humanity back to the forefront.

Our job is to see those on the margins and bring them in. Our job is to speak for them when they can’t speak for themselves. Our job is to bring the truth of systems of government and society to the surface- if they don’t serve all equally, they don’t serve at all.

And God is here for everybody.

Despite what some of those in power would have us believe.

PFLAGPNW Conference In Boise Oct 2-5 features Bishop Gene Robinson, Dr Caitlin Ryan

pflagThe 2014 Pacific Northwest PFLAG Conference is inviting people in the Boise/Treasure Valley and surrounding areas to join them on Friday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 in the North Star room at the Riverside Hotel. After a short welcoming speech by Bishop Gene Robinson, there will be a film and presentation by the Family Acceptance Project.

Dr. Caitlin Ryan will provide a brief overview of the Family Acceptance Project’s work to support diverse families and will screen her award winning film – “Families Are Forever” – the moving documentary of a devout Mormon family’s journey to accept and support their young gay son. Mitch Mayne, former executive secretary in the bishopric (religious leadership) of the LDS Church in San Francisco, a national voice on Mormon LGBT issues and a Boise native, will share his experiences supporting Mormon families with LGBT children and will facilitate a discussion with the audience.

“Families Are Forever” has received 18 awards from film festivals across the U.S. and in India, to date. This work is also of important interest in people working in schools, counselors, health care providers, social services and law enforcement. People not attending the conference are welcome to make a small donation.

Bishop Robinson and Dr Ryan will also be presenting in plenary sessions on Saturday October 4th, and we conclude with an ecumenical healing service with Bishop Robinson on Sunday October 5th.

More information on the conference can be found here: http://www.pnwpflag.org/2014-regional-conference/

My interview with Bishop Robinson is here.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Recently, I have been turning toward the Beatitudes. I have looked at them from every direction and wondered why more “Christians” haven’t taken to them as a way of life. The one that really struck me today was Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

All my life, I have been a peacemaker. (Well, okay, there was one period of about 5 years where I tried to stir up as much drama with my family as I could. . .but let’s not dwell on the past) I don’t like it when people fight and I just want to see people get along.

I seem to have been born with a highly developed sense of compassion and empathy. I used to (and still do) befriend what my mom lovingly termed, “The Unlovables.” These were the kids that got picked on in school because they were different. The kids that had no friends. I was constantly asking questions as to why people were being treated so badly and my heart regularly broke for them. I also have to admit (much to my chagrin) that I got a little teary at the end of Dangerous Liaisons when I watched it in high school. My heart broke for Glenn Close’s character. Yes, she brought most of it on herself, but did she really deserve to be treated so harshly by the very society that created her? Where was the compassion? I know, I know. . .it’s silly.

There have been many inspirations for me over the years: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King, Jr. And more recently, there have been some inspirations from closer to home: Liz Welch of the ACLU Montana, Gregory Smith of the Pride Foundation, Caitlin Copple, Jamie Greer, Edie Windsor just to name a few. These are the “Children of God.”

I have seen some very negative posts lately. I have even created one. And if you saw my last post, you will also know that I have issued an apology in the interest of being a peacemaker. I do not presume to know the mind of God. I would be leery of anyone who says they do. However, I listen to the “Still, small Voice” inside and I know what God says to me. And it may not be the same thing that God says to you. Does it mean you are wrong? No. Does it mean I am wrong? No. Just different.

Christians are not bad people. They are people, just like the rest of us. They make mistakes. They fall from the path. We have to remember to hold ourselves to the very standards that we are comparing them against, like “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” I would also refer to Luke 6:42 “Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

A moment of clarity came to me this morning in a Biblical argument with a misinformed person. The Bible is a tool to show YOU how to live. It is NOT a tool for YOU to show ME how to live. It is for me to use the tool myself. But, I digress.

Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Pursuing peace and negotiating it is a tricky business. But even the ACT of pursing peace is the act of departing from evil and doing good. We need to be mindful of that.

The Old Testament was tribal law, meant to hold the Israelites together during the time when they had no home. The Old Testament is included in the Bible to show Christians where they came from and what their history was. Jesus brought the New Testament to show a better way to live. It is a new covenant, replacing the old. Jesus was/is the Son of God. A child of God. A peacemaker.

I will continue to be a peacemaker. I will continue to support people that are peacemakers. I will continue to fight for people’s rights and to fight injustice where I see it. That is part of what being a peacemaker is.

Perhaps I am not on the forefront, helping to change and write policies and laws, but that doesn’t mean I am ineffective. I am on the sidelines, changing people’s minds and hearts. I write because I can, because it is a talent given to me by God and I have been charged with using that talent. And I will continue to wield it as a peacemaker. I am a child of God.

 

Reading Tonight!

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Tonight: “Love Free Or Die”

Tonight on many PBS stations airs “Love Free Or Die”, the story of ‘the first openly gay bishop in Christendom’, Gene Robinson:

 

 

Tonight on Independent Lens. Montana PBS airs it at 9pm.