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

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.

BZN NDO 2NITE!

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Be at the City Hall hearing room by 5:30pm to show your support! Here’s my testimony:

 

I am a native Montanan (4th generation).

I am an ordained priest with 3 degrees in theology and scripture.

I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor.

I am also a gay man, and Bozeman is my home.

Despite the prejudice and discrimination I have experienced in Bozeman, I choose to live here. Despite the stories and concerns I hear from parishioners and counseling clients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender- I choose to live here. Why? Mostly, because I am now an adult, and I am supported and loved by my family, friends, neighbors and my church.

And I want to ensure that no kid repeats my Montana childhood here. Not anymore.

As a 15 year-old, I attempted suicide because my church and my community called me “disordered”, “unnatural” and a “pervert”. Not to my face- but they didn’t have to. The climate of my community and church and school – where there were no protections against discrimination- did it for them.

I think we forget how sensitive kids are.

But if nothing else happens tonight- I want you to remember just how sensitive kids are.

Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed, but every time I see the obituary of a teenager, I wonder, “Did sexuality have anything to do with this? My God, did a church have a part in this”?

I’m reminded of this verse from Matthew (18.6): “Whoever causes one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for them to have a great millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Well, the behavior of discriminatory churches is causing a lot of these little ones to lose their faith.

I know. I’m one of the ones they call, in tears and pain, wondering how they can be a Christian if God hates them so much. They wonder what they did.

They did nothing.

And I always tell them God loves them very much- even if God’s people don’t seem to.

Sexuality is NOT a choice. It is a fact. Gender is NOT a choice. It is a fact.

We have to trust the experience of others to help us to see them clearly.

WE HAVE TO.

That’s what civil societies do. We encourage people to tell the truth about themselves- because it sets them free- and maybe the rest of us as well.

This ordinance provides Bozeman with a chance to speak loudly in favor of truth.

Allowing even the perceived sexuality or gender of a child- or an adult- to be the cause of bullying, pain- or even suicide is inexcusable.

It still happens. Right here. There are too many examples to list in the available time.

If any of you would like to speak to me about it, I am available.

Please pass this ordinance.

 

Thank you.

Montana Celebrates MLK Day with Pride Foundation Support

Past ‘I am Billings’ community photo courtesy of Not in Our Town Billings

Past ‘I am Billings’ community photo courtesy of Not in Our Town Billings

 

Several Montana cities are planning Martin Luther King Day celebrations with support from Pride Foundation’s sponsorship program.

In Missoula, the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) helps facilitate the community planning committee that has put on the January 21st event for years. This year, festivities begin with a rally at 5 p.m. at Caras Park with live drumming by Ben Coral. The rally will conclude with a candle-lit march for racial justice to the St. Paul Lutheran Church (202 Brooks St.) by 6 p.m. Montana Human Rights Network organizer Jamee Greer will deliver the keynote address this year, followed by dancing by the St. Ignatius Dance Troupe from the Flathead Indian Reservation.

In Helena, the Montana Human Rights Network will host their annual Lobby Day at the Capitol, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Email Jamee Greer at jamee@mhrn.org to sign up by this Friday. After a day of talking with legislators, you’ll deserve some fun! Head over to the Myrna Loy Center to reflect on the passage of the Helena Non-Discrimination Ordinance and discuss what still needs to be done to achieve King’s dream in the Queen City. The celebration will include food, beverages, conversation, and several short films with a social justice theme. The films start at 4 p.m., with the celebration to follow at 5:30. Montana Human Rights Network is a longtime grantee of Pride Foundation.

Not in Our Town-Billings will play a major role in their community’s multi-day celebration with sponsorship support from Pride Foundation, Yellowstone AIDS Project, Grace United Methodist Church, Montana State University-Billings, and current board chair and Pride Foundation volunteer Eran Thompson.

Events in Billings kick off Wednesday, January 16, with the Bahai Community’s free presentation titled, “The Purpose of Justice: Unity” at the Doll Museum, located at 3206 6th Ave. North.

On Friday, January 18, the Bahai faith and Not in Our Town come together to host indigenous performer Kevin Locke (Tokeya Inajin in Lakota), internationally known for his Northern Plains flute playing, traditional storytelling, visionary hoop dancing, and cultural knowledge. The free performance is at 7:00 PM and the location is TBD. Call 406-839-6734 for details.

On Saturday, January 19, is the 3rd Annual “I Am Billings” Community Photo. Join diverse friends, family, and neighbors of every race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the spirit of the Martin Luther King holiday. Participants should meet at 1 p.m. at the Pioneer Park near the northeast tennis courts.

“The real reason we do the MLK community photo is because we want to give folks a chance to come together and enjoy being a community,” Thompson explained. “It is an opportunity to come with neighbors, family friends, and strangers. It doesn’t matter their color, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity – we are all together to say we are a part of this community.”

After you’ve warmed up from the photo, head over to the Billings Food Bank at 2112 4thAve. North at 6 p.m. for the annual Martin Luther King soul food dinner and fundraiser hosted by the Black Heritage Foundation. Tickets are $10.  Call Melvin Terry at 690-3644 or email chair@bhfbillings.org for tickets or more information.

On Sunday, Jan. 20, the celebration continues in Billings with an interfaith service at 3 p.m. at First United Congregational Church, 310 North 27th Street. Not in Our Town’s own Eran Thompson will deliver a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon apropos to the theme, and there will be readings and music from the many faiths.

The MSU-Billings campus ushers in the actual holiday, Jan. 21, with a bell-ringing ceremony at 9:45 a.m., at the corner of Rimrock and Normal Aves. Afterward, there will be a march to the Student Union building followed by speakers and entertainment.

More candlelight vigil and marching fun will ensue at 6:00 PM on the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn, 217 North 27th.  After a short program, this Black Heritage Foundation group moves to the Lincoln Center, 415 North 30th, for the 7:00 PM celebration, featuring a keynote by civil rights leader Dr. Charles McDew.

Caitlin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana. Email Caitlin.

 

The Pope Chooses War, I Choose Self Defense

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI spoke to a group of bishops on their ad limina visit- and with all the topics available to him (hunger, poverty, abuse of women, social injustice, racial inequalities, nuclear threat, stewardship of resources, etc), he chose to speak to them about the necessity of battling the “powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage….The church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution,” which is “rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation,” he said.

“Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage,” the pope said.

Defending traditional marriage is not simply a matter of church teaching, he said; it is a matter of “justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.”

Whenever I hear a leader speak the word “Safeguard”, I pay attention. It is a word used by institutions and governments to promote the protection and defense of something fundamental to it. It is not a passive word. It says to me that the Pope is ready to fight for his narrow theological/historical position on sexuality and marriage. Something he believes is fundamental to Christian faith- even though marriage is curiously absent from the Nicene Creed (325-381 ad)- which most Christian churches profess as containing the essential, fundamental elements of Christian belief today.

He did not choose dialog or express interest in hearing about the experiences of thousands (millions?) of LGBTQ catholics and their families. He did not choose to understand, he chose to condemn.

In other words, he openly advocated war.

It’s a culture war, it’s a war of ideologies. It is, in fact, if you count all the open and affirming Christian churches that  welcome LGBT persons and their partners and children into their congregations, a war of christian theology. But it’s a war nonetheless.

I believe it to be totally unnecessary- and I also believe it conflicts with the very theology the catholic church espouses.

“War” is defined thusly: “a state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state”. “Armed conflict” is an important term to notice here. I think it can also mean non-physical weapons- weapons of ideology or theology, for example. But I would be naive not to think that some of the faithful out there may hear in these words a clarion call to harm LGBT persons and their families. I would also submit that the Pope’s words have already harmed them by creating ‘enemies of the church” out of persons and families who have nothing more important in mind than following their hearts and minds- and souls. And, if you recall your history, enemies of the church have not fared so well.

And in that case, the Pope needs to take a closer look at his own catechism.

If someone attacks me and threatens my life or my way of life, according to the Catechism of The Catholic Church, I have the right to defend myself.

 2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful…. Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.[65]

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.[66]

And with the rhetoric being used by the Pope to the bishops in his address yesterday, I have every reason to believe that these are not words of someone struggling to understand the reality of LGBT persons, these are the orders of attack given by a supreme commander to his highest officials. And I’m confused because- try as I might- I can’t imagine Jesus saying them.

I also have every reason to fear for my safety and the safety of all LGBTQ persons. And before you accuse me of being overly dramatic, remember that the pro-life message has spurred numerous acts of violence- in the name of life, I might add. People in Uganda, the Middle East and elsewhere are being butchered and abused because they are known or perceived to be gay.

So do you think these words will be like soothing balm on the righteous indignation of the zealot?: …”threats to freedom of conscience, religion and worship which need to be addressed urgently so that all men and women of faith, and the institutions they inspire, can act in accordance with their deepest moral convictions.”

I’m an idiot if I don’t believe that someone out there is going to see this as a reason for violence- physical or psychological. And remember how powerful psychological threats are- those are the very things killing our kids.

I want to be clear- I am not advocating violence in any form. I’m advocating self-defense. And I’m advocating a careful, calculated, firm and reasonable response to this madness. I want the argument to be two-sided. I want the voice of the Pope and the bishops to be countered by the voices of people who see the Christian message in a different way.

If the Pope chooses war, I choose to oppose that war. I challenge it on its very principle.

So, if I may be so brazen, I would like to be one of those counter voices. Feel free to add your own voice in the comments.

To my LGBTIQ family,

Love toward yourself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is important and necessary to insist on respect for your own right to life. I believe you have been created to fill a very important place in this world- a place often dramatically misunderstood and opposed by people out of ignorance and fear.

It is crucial that you understand that you are not alone- there are millions of people who want to understand you and accept you and who will love you. You have the right to be understood- and you have the right to love and be loved in the ways you feel are most faithful to your created nature.

You have the right to live free from fear of attack and violence. You have the right to defend yourself against ignorant attacks on your dignity, happiness and self-respect. You have the right to fulfill your potential and to follow your heart and mind and soul and dreams to the best of your ability. Despite ignorance, despite persecution, despite fear and power and hate.

I believe that we are all beloved by the God of our understanding. I believe that we are valuable in being beloved. And that value is not diminished, even in the face of anger, fear and ignorance. Even in the face of religious belief which would deny us that value.

We are a courageous, wonderful people, with visions of love and acceptance and equality and happiness that I believe are deeply important to the future of the world.

I beg you, don’t let go of these visions- no matter how strongly others try to pull them away from you. They are your birthright.

They are the key hope to a world filled with peace.

Amen.

“Fair Is Fair Tour”: Exploring The Connections Of Race, Sexuality And Faith

Can the struggle for gay equality be compared to the black civil rights movement? What are the similarities and differences? And how can people of faith participate in both movements? These are the questions panelists and audience participants will explore during the cross-Montana Fair is Fair Tour in September.

The tour, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and Truth in Progress, will visit six Montana cities over nine days, including Billings, Bozeman, Missoula, Kalispell, Great Falls and Helena, and feature Rev. Gil Caldwell, an esteemed civil rights activist who started working for equality in the South of the 1960s and has never looked back.

“Most of us have been wounded by others for a variety of reasons. Some persons and some systems have hurt us because of our race, gender, sexual orientation, economic and educational poverty, religion, politics, same sex partnered relationship, physical characteristics, etc,” says Caldwell. “I look forward to talking about the ‘solidarity of our woundedness’ and how we who have been hurt for a multiplicity of reasons, can discover healing for ourselves as we seek to enable the healing of others.”

Caldwell, documentarian Marilyn Bennett and ACLU of Montana LGBT Advocacy Coordinator Ninia Baehr, plus special guests in some cities will discuss how communities can support gay and lesbian couples’ work for relationship recognition, and how that struggle parallels and differs from the racial justice movement.

“These are different histories. These are very different experiences,” says Bennett. “But the fight for civil rights, and acknowledging equal rights have important similarities.”

Rev. Caldwell is a retired United Methodist Minister who participated in the “Mississippi Freedom Summer” of 1964, the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, and the March on Washington. He is a founding member of the United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church and the Black Methodists for Church Renewal. Today Rev. Caldwell is exploring how faith communities and all people can support work for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality with Bennett through the Truth in Progress project.

Baehr is the ACLU of Montana’s LGBT Advocacy Coordinator and spearheads the Fair is Fair project. Through her work she has been reaching out to clergy members who support domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

“We’re happy to be working with churches on this tour,” Baehr said. “Nearly 100 clergy members across the state have already stood up for fairness and signed onto a statement supporting justice, compassion and defense of basic human rights for same-sex couples.”

All events are free and open to the public.

Billings — Saturday, Sept. 17
5 p.m.
Grace United Methodist Church, 1935 Avenue B

Bozeman — Monday, Sept. 19
7 p.m.
Montana State University, SUB 233-235
With special guest, Dr. Walter Fleming, MSU Native American Studies Department Director

Missoula — Tuesday, Sept. 20
8 p.m.
University Congregational UCC, 405 University Ave.
With special guests, David Herrera and Steven Barrios, board members of the Montana Two-Spirit Society

Kalispell — Wednesday, Sept. 21
7 p.m.
Christ Church Episcopal, 213 Third Ave. East

Great Falls — Saturday, Sept. 24
10:30 a.m.
Great Falls Public Library, 301 2nd Ave. N
With special guest Steven Barrios, board member of the Montana Two-Spirit Society

Helena — Monday, Sept. 26
7 p.m.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Corner of Logan and Lawrence
With special guest Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network, who will discuss work for an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance in Helena