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.

Dare We Hope?

My sermon to the UUFB today:

There are a lot of words we use every day,
that we don’t really pause to consider.
“Hope” is one of those words.

What do you think of when you hear the word “Hope”?

For most of us, “hope” will conjure up images of fantastical satisfaction and happiness- or maybe the iconic images of a certain presidential campaign.

Maybe almost trite images.

And yet, there’s an allure to the word “Hope”

In that presidential campaign, the opponents made fun of the word, made light of it- and I would submit- that may be why they lost.
They underestimate the human gift of optimism.
And I do think it’s a gift.

It’s very easy to look around and see the evidence of malignancy and evil around us- and far away from us- thanks to the miracle of instantaneous global communication. It’s not hard to find stories of death and destruction, exploitation and pain, suffering and greed, disease and addiction.

It’s not hard at all.
In fact, it’s so easy that our society suffers from all sorts of ills because of it- depression being ubiquitous in this day and age.

I think hope and optimism have a bad rap. It’s easy to make fun of the word “hope”. Realists say that it’s fantasy.

I think it’s completely and perfectly human.

Take Winter. It’s no accident that the early Christians of the Northern Hemisphere chose the solstice for the celebration of the Savior’s birth.

The Advent wreath, the greenery, the Christmas tree- none of them originated with Christianity. Some maintain that Germanic tribes placed candles in a sacred circle of greens to symbolize hope in the return of the sun and the promise of Spring. We know Scandinavian people placed candles on a wheel to honor the cycle of the seasons. We know that midwinter- again in the Northern Hemisphere- is around December 21- when days are at their shortest and night is at its longest.

I can imagine that for primitive people whose lives depended on the return of warmth it was good to remind themselves that winter won’t last forever. And I can imagine that it was very hard centuries ago- without antibiotics and polar fleece and refrigerators and Costco- in a harsh climate when those who were weak would often die- I can imagine that some would find it hard to believe that the winter would ever end- especially during the time that night became longer and longer and colder and colder.

But those who knew- those who had lived through the winters before- they were the strength of those who weren’t so sure.
They held out hope.

They knew that in the midst of the longest night- it was important to tell stories of the approaching spring. To hold out hope- to remember optimism when it was at its most elusive.

As always, our lives our shaped by those who have gone before us.

Hope is in our genes- if we care to think about it.

The basic instinct of survival is a mechanism of hope, isn’t it?

Even the limbic system that shuts down our reason in the face of danger and makes us flee, fight or freeze to enable our survival- even that is a sign of hope. It’s in our biology.

That’s probably why the pessimists never win in the long term. Hope isn’t just a trite term for people who can’t handle reality. It’s an attitude for living.

I like to tell my clients that the only difference between excitement and fear is the projected outcome.

The energy is the same- it’s just the projected outcome that’s different. And that projected outcome starts with us.

In our minds, in our hearts, in the way we choose to interpret the world around us. Excitement and curiosity- or fear and dread? It’s our choice- at least more than we think.

One of my favorite stories is this one:

Two boys who were twins, one an incurable optimist, one a pessimist.
The parents were worried about the extremes of behavior and attitude and finally took the boys in to see a psychologist.

The psychologist observed them a while and then said that they could be easily helped. He felt they just needed to adjust to the world by encountering things that would counteract their strong tendencies of optimism and pessimism.

He said that they had a room filled with all the toys a boy could want. They would put the pessimist in that room and allow him to enjoy life.

They also had another room that they filled with horse manure. They put the optimist in that room. They observed both boys through one way mirrors.

The pessimist continued to be a pessimist, stating that he had no one to play with.

They went to look in on the optimist, and were astounded to find him digging through the manure.

The psychologist ran into the room and asked “What on earth are you doing?”

The boy replied “With all this manure, there HAS to be a pony in here somewhere!”

I love that story.

But I know that sometimes i’m not looking though the manure for the pony. Sometimes I’m just sitting in the manure, disgusted. Because, well, you know, it’s manure.

That’s when I forget myself. It’s when I forget my biology.

It’s when I forget that the energy I feel in my body is often harnessed by the projected outcome I hold.

So, yeah, I can sit in the manure, or I can haul the manure back to the garden where it’ll do some good.

My choice.

Our ancestors have chosen to celebrate the return of the light for millennia- it’s why the early Christians chose the bleak midwinter- to link the returning light to the birth of Jesus. Smart, eh?

They’ve chosen to believe that the dawn follows the darkness, that life will continue.

And so do we.

I’m betting that it’s why you’re here today.

And I’m also betting that you’re interested in learning to become skillful at living life with hope.

I believe that the first step in living a more skillful life
is to become more aware of living an UNskilled life.
And by that, I mean living by habit-
not with awareness, not with wonder, not with hope-
but by automatic pilot- habit. By numbing perhaps- or lying to ourselves.

It’s ultimately unsatisfying.
Habits are things we do without thinking. That’s very unskillful.

Skill means bringing awareness and creativity, attention and intention into our endeavors.

I think it’s only by paying close attention that we live skillfully in this world.
And by paying attention to the possibilities is the way we live hopefully in this world.

During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback.

They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour.

The swollen river had washed the bridge away.

Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents.

The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch.

After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river.

The president agreed without hesitation.

The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side.

As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, “Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?”

The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the president who had helped him.

“All I know,” he said, “Is that as I thought of asking the question, on some of your faces was written the answer ‘No,’ and on some of them was the answer ‘Yes.’

His was a ‘Yes’ face.”
(C. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, Word, 1990, p. 6.)

That, my friends, is the face of hope.

So, dare we hope?

If biology and the human spiritual history of millennia have anything to say about it, we dare not.

Montana LGBT Youth At Increased Risk for Suicide

Today, a groundbreaking piece in the Billings Gazette:

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting through adolescence is hard enough.

There’s the agony of puberty, the mood swings and the withering self-consciousness. Then comes the clumsiness of emerging sexuality.

It can be overwhelming.

For some young people, the passage can be even more daunting. For a few Montana kids coming to terms with their attraction to the same gender — in a religious and rural culture that doesn’t always know what to make of them — the challenge can be deadly.

A 2009 survey of more than 7,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender middle and high school students aged 13 to 21 found that in the past year, at least eight of 10 students had been verbally harassed at school; four of 10 had been physically harassed; six of 10 felt unsafe at school; and one of five had been the victim of a physical assault, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

LGBT youth also are at far greater risk for suicide. A national study of adolescents in grades seven to 12 found that LGBT youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.

There is little specific research in Montana concerning how much of a role sexual orientation plays in youth suicides, said Karl Rosston, Montana’s suicide prevention coordinator. However, national studies have shown about 15 percent of youth who reported suicide attempts also reported same-sex attraction or relationships.

In Montana between 1999 and 2009, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, behind unintentional injuries like auto and farm accidents.

In the two years between 2010 and 2011, at least 57 youth ages 15 to 24 killed themselves in Montana.

It’s difficult to figure the current number of gays and lesbians in Montana. However, according to a report from the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA researching sexual orientation issues, there were 1,600 same-sex couples in Montana as of 2005, up from 1,200 in 2000. This number is almost certainly higher, especially since the study didn’t include youth. The number of male couples and female couples were nearly evenly split, with 806 men and 853 women.

About 2.6 percent of Montana’s population — around 26,000 people — is gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to the report.

Teen suicide is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the state, which has had one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation for more than 30 years. Consider that during 2010, at least 227 Montanans took their own lives. Another 225 people committed suicide in 2011.

D Gregory Smith, a Bozeman-based licensed mental health counselor and executive director of AIDS Outreach, counsels LGBT high school and college students, gay men and a handful of heterosexual men and women. He also counsels parents wondering if their child’s sexual preference can be changed, although he doesn’t believe that’s possible. He counsels parents on how they can better understand their child’s sexuality.

Most of his youth and young adult clients have contemplated suicide.

“Their biggest fear is believing they cannot have a good life,” said Smith, a former Catholic priest who is gay and HIV-positive. “They believe they cannot stay in Montana, be who they are and be happy.”
There’s so much more here: http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/lgbt-youth-at-increased-risk-for-suicide/article_d7e8360a-f437-5ba6-8d03-8aeb2d67d701.html#ixzz2MVkAw1EE

World AIDS Day Candlelight Vigil

(click for link to Facebook Event page)

Hope

Still Time To Be A Proud Producer- And I’m Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

There’s only 1 week left!

Montana Pride 2012 and Wet Paint Studios are working to bring a quality film about Montana diversity to life- and we want your help. Films are expensive to make- and every contribution is important. From their Indiegogo webpage:

The LGBTQI community is coming out of the woodwork.  With political gains such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the Obama Administration’s affirmation of promoting equality for the LGBTQI community, more and more people are coming out and showing their true selves to the world.

And yet, in rural Montana, sometimes their only opportunity is at annually held Montana Pride.  In a state of just a million people, ideas come in slowly.  For some, Montana Pride, held annually in June, is what affirms themselves in the LGBTQI community, as well as the greater community.

“Outside The Lines” explores what it means to be an LGBTQI in Montana, and why pride is more than a weekend celebration in diversity.  Using Montana Pride as our anchor, we plan on exploring how attitudes towards the LGBTQI community has changed in Montana, how Pride brings people together for a weekend of celebration, and how that celebration needs to carry on through everyday life.

Our filming will take place during Montana Pride, held in Bozeman once again June 15-17.  We are also currently lining up interviews with prominent members of the gay community, such as leaders of PFLAG (Parents, Family, Friends, of Lesbians and Gays), representatives of our legal system, teachers, and activist college students.

Plus, every contribution over $10.00 gets a “perk”- which includes Producer credits (you have to be in for more than 10 bucks to get that). It’s an amazing opportunity- and I’ve already kicked in $50 bucks. 

If they get five more donations today, I’ll kick in an extra $50.00. Come on- even $10 will get us closer to our goal!

To see how you can be a producer, click here: http://www.indiegogo.com/montanapride2012