Thursday, August 8th, 2013

What’s Facebook good for? (church edition)
Facebook logo

How Facebook isn’t good for church
(click to embiggen)
I’m resurrecting my Facebook series for one more post because God wants me to. Okay, okay, I don’t actually believe in God, but given the timing of two things, it’s tempting to think God is calling me to write about how Facebook is not good for churches.

Two days after my blog post about becoming unchurched, a church friend of mine posted in our (former) church’s FB group. She wrote, “I am still in such disbelief of the lack of support/contact from what I previously considered my church family.” That resonated with me because I feel the same thing, but unlike me, who posted on an obscure blog that no one reads, this friend, by posting on Facebook, made sure that people at church (at least 58 of them) would see what she wrote.

And cue the surprised and the “if only you’d said something” responses:

  • “I don’t remember seeing a post from you saying you needed support.”
  • “I may have missed your posts about a need of support.”
  • We “would love to see you back at church. That way we would definitely see you more than twice a year.”
  • I am “also puzzled by your post. I have scrolled back over the last 2 months of posts on this site and could not find a request for prayer or assistance from you.”
  • “I too scrolled back 2 months and couldn’t find a post either.”
  • “I sent you an IM; it might have gone to your ‘Other’ folder.”

Click on the image to the right to read the whole sad thing (including my snarky response at the bottom).

In my blog post last Sunday I wrote that “being in community requires effort on the part of all who want to be in community,” but I also wrote that “each person’s ability to work on being in community varies.” So while it’s not good to judge people who can’t read minds and don’t know when someone in their community is feeling alone or depressed, it might be helpful too for them to realize that someone who’s feeling alone or depressed might not have the energy to reach out for help.

In other words, “if only you’d said something” is not a very helpful response to someone who complains about not having received support.

The thing is (and I’ll use God language here since I’m writing about church even though I don’t believe in God), God doesn’t call us to be mind readers but does call us to be mindful of one another.

Sometimes typing a comment on Facebook is the wrong thing to do (believe me, I know). Step back from your stupid computer, and pick up your phone. Wonder why someone’s no longer coming to church? Call him. Wonder why someone is venting about church not supporting her? Call her.

And do not ask your pastor where someone’s been. Your pastor may very well know, but if you want to know, you have a tool that you can use to find out. And it’s not Facebook.

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Unchurched

If you know me, or if you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’ve been a long-time member of a church. You also know that I’ve considered myself a Christian, despite what others thought about my thinking that.

Neither of those two things is true any more, although getting to this point has taken a while.

About a year ago I started a test. I hadn’t really intended it to be a test, but it became one. I stopped going to worship every week and instead ended up going about once a month.

And what was the test? It was whether anyone would notice.

For me the important thing about belonging to a church is community.

It’s not the singing. Praise music isn’t important to me—I don’t believe in a God that demands praise. I’m not opposed to thinking of praise as a metaphor for being grateful for things, however. I do have some favorite hymns (and Christmas carols), but with a lot of hymns I don’t pay attention especially to the words (the metaphor of God as king doesn’t work for me, for example). I do like singing, especially in groups, but then that gets back to being in community, so it’s not the singing that’s important but what singing together gets you. (One study found that singing in a choir is good for you, but I think it’s the being part of a group, not the singing itself. And you don’t have to go to church to sing in groups.)

It’s not the sermons. Over 30-odd years of attending church (from age 5 to 18 and then again from about age 30), I figure I’ve heard about 1300 sermons. A few have inspired me, but most I can’t even remember. Something ironic is that my (former) denomination believes that “God is still speaking” and yet every sermon every week is based on the Bible. Yes, you can get an infinite number of sermons based on passages from the Bible (even if you restrict yourself to passages in the Revised Common Lectionary), but at some point it gets old, or at least it has for me. (And yes, progressive Christians such as those in the UCC respect that God speaks through other religions and in other ways, but the UCC’s Christian, not universalist, when it comes to worship and sermons.)

It’s not the Bible. Not that I think there’s nothing good in the Bible—that “Love one another” and caring for the least among us stuff is good—but frankly the world would be a better place if there had never been a Bible. Even ignoring how hatefully the Bible can be used against people, it’s absolutely amazing how much time is spent analyzing Biblical passages. Countless authors have spent countless hours writing books about the Bible, and even more countless people (including me) have read those books. We worship the Bible. Figuring out what it really means is paramount; it’s what church seems to be about. But it shouldn’t be, and understanding the Bible is not the main reason church used to be important for me.

And it’s not the praying. I wrote earlier this year about some of my thoughts on prayer. I know that many people are comforted when others pray for them. To me, however, prayer’s been seeming like the least you can do.
snippet from our church newsletter the week they prayed for me (click to embiggen)
For a couple years, my church has been “car[ing] for each other through prayer, […] praying for several households each week.” The beginning of July was my turn this year. There my name was in the church newsletter, amongst five other households. Even if not everyone who got the newsletter bothered to pray, I knew at least some folks were praying for me.

You know what? Knowing that people at my church were praying for me made me feel worse, not better.

Great, you prayed for me. Did you call me to see how I’ve been doing? Mail me a card to say you’ve missed me? Send me an email to see where I’ve been? Nope, you didn’t, but I’m supposed to feel good because you prayed for me?

 

Actually I do know that people have wondered where I’ve been. The way I know is rather round about, though. A couple weeks ago I had lunch with our church’s senior pastor and my friend. (He was my friend before he was my pastor and he’ll remain my friend after having been my pastor.) He told me that people had asked him about me. I told him that made me crazy. They wonder where I’ve been but can’t contact me directly to ask?!

Over a decade ago this happened to a friend of mine, someone whom I met at church. A fun church story about her is that we were in a small group together, shortly after our church started, and she looked around at everyone, and it dawned on her that everyone else was gay! Although the church had a reputation as the “gay church,” in fact not all the members were gay. The point of mentioning my friend, however, is that a few years later she stopped coming to church for several reasons, and no one noticed. In fact a few people did notice and they asked me where she was, but did anyone call her to see how she was? Nope. I stayed in contact with her and knew why she’d left. She didn’t have to come to my church to remain my friend.

What’s more painful than people wondering where you are but not bothering to ask is people who don’t even notice whether you’re there or not. Last night I went to a fun event downtown and ran into some friends (Bekannte?) from church, a couple who’ve been a part of our church since it met in a storefront. I like them well enough, as, I think, they do me. They came up to me to say hi, and in the course of our conversation I asked if they were still going to our church. Yes, they were, they answered. Wasn’t I?

Not so much any more, is what I told them, and we moved onto other topics. It wasn’t really the right place for a serious answer, and they weren’t the right people to give a serious answer to. If they care, they can find the serious answer here.

     
     

So yeah, I was a part of a church not because of the singing or the sermons or the Bible (or God) or the praying. I was a part of a church because of the community I found there.

Being in community requires effort on the part of all who want to be in community, although each person’s ability to work on being in community varies. And I’m not perfect, so as a Christian, or someone who’s not a Christian but still finds value in some Christian precepts, I shouldn’t judge others for being imperfect. There are plenty of people who’ve left our church for reasons I don’t know because I was one of those who remained but who never called or emailed to find out how those who’d left were doing or why they’d left. And I’ve also not made as much effort as I could have to check on people who have not left the church but who I have good reason to suspect might be lonely or struggling.

I haven’t done nothing, however. I keep a stash of blank cards in my desk at work to make it easier to dash off a note to someone. For a while I was pretty good about it, trying to send at least one card a week to someone. I’ve slacked off, but I still send cards if I find out someone’s suffered a death in their family. Although I shouldn’t judge, I admit I’m rather scornful of those who think adding a comment to a thread on Facebook is a decent way to offer condolences. Still, a handwritten card, taking only a little more effort, really isn’t much more than the least one can do.

A couple years ago a church friend went through an extreme crisis and did something that let a lot of people know about this person’s situation. I hadn’t been a very good friend before this person’s crisis, but I tried to step up when the crisis hit—making an effort to visit, driving this person home, buying this person gas, taking this person to dinner. This person survived the crisis and is in a better situation now, an active member of our church’s community, and I’ve gone back to being the bad friend I was before, not having made any effort to check with this person to see how things are now.

What this person did was a cry for help, and it was an effective one. Something perhaps to be learned from that is that if you need help, you should ask for it. I’m not good at asking for help.

 

Over the last year one way I tried to help myself, and in a way, to ask for help, was to hold a few “Facebook dinner sweepstakes.” I would do a post saying that the Nth person to comment would win dinner with me at a particular restaurant. It wasn’t a bad idea. Each time I had a nice dinner (my treat) and conversation with a friend who, as it happened, I had never spent time one-on-one with before.

As it happened, two of the winners of my dinner sweepstakes were also members of my church. One was someone I’ve known since the beginning days of our church. Another was someone who volunteered with me at the church food pantry. As you might expect, they both asked me why I was doing these dinner sweepstakes. I took a risk and I told them: I’m lonely and I’ve been struggling with depression. Perhaps a bit much to dump on someone expecting a casual dinner but then again not done in a dramatic way, no tears or desperate crying and not the only topic of conversation. And my friends were sympathetic.

But I also did not hear from these friends after our dinners. I don’t mean they didn’t thank me for dinner—both sent nice handwritten notes of thanks. After that, however, they went on with their lives. I can understand that. They’re busy with jobs and taking care of families. But in a way, as with not going to church as often, I’d set up a test, and they failed it.

It’s not fair, though, to say that no one from church has asked me directly how I am. A few have, although only after having been prompted by circumstances.

Last fall, after I sent an email to another of our church’s pastors to let her know about a food pantry volunteer who’d decided to stop attending our church, that pastor in her reply asked if I was okay, mentioning that someone had been asking about me (but not asking me about me!). I gave her an honest answer—that I was feeling disconnected from folks at church and sometimes felt lonely in a crowd there, and she responded sympathetically, offering to meet for coffee or lunch some time. I never took her up on that, although last week she emailed again saying we were long overdue for coffee. We’re meeting this week, which has prompted me finally to write this post, although I’ve been thinking of writing this for a while now.

Earlier this year another church friend asked me why I wasn’t at church much any more. Ironically she posed her question at card ministry, a church activity I still participate in and enjoy. We meet in a member’s stamping studio and make cards to be sent to church members having birthdays or who’ve helped with various church activities or who are ill or have suffered a loss. Stamping isn’t about prayer or the Bible but rather about community, both amongst those making the cards and with those who will receive them. But I didn’t give this friend an honest answer, instead saying something about being busy traveling. It wasn’t a good place for her question or for the answer I could have given.

And then a couple weeks ago, two days after my lunch with my pastor, I got a call and then an email from a friend from church, the food pantry and PFLAG. We missed each other’s calls, so she sent a nice email saying that she missed seeing me around church, that she missed my leadership at the food pantry, and that she hoped I’d be back. I was honest with her, probably more honest than she wanted, saying basically what I’ve written here. One thing I wrote, though, is worth sharing here:

I like the folks at church and I don’t doubt that there are many who would be absolutely willing if I were to call with a specific request for help (e.g., my car’s broken down — can you come now to give me a ride), but I have shared a more general issue with a few people (I’m depressed and I’m lonely) and really gotten nothing from that, which just makes me more depressed, more lonely and more disconnected.

I got absolutely no reply to that, and that amazes me. Yes, she might not have known exactly what to say, but surely she could have come up with something. How about “I’m sorry to hear that. Are you talking to someone about this?” Ugh.

     

And so that’s that. My church is no longer a place I want to be.

Actually any church is no longer a place I want to be. I’ve gone a few times to another church, pastored by two friends of mine (God, I do know a lot of people who are clergy!), but while the people there are nice, I’m not feeling drawn to be there instead of my own church.

Part of why is that I’m tired of the complicated metaphors I’ve used to reconcile being Christian with my beliefs. Thinking of the Divine as the interconnectedness that comes from being in relationship with one another is pretty, but when it comes right down to it, I’m an atheist. Thinking of praising God in song or prayer as being grateful for what we have is nice, but we can be mindful of how lucky we are without bringing God into it. Thinking of prayer as a way to bring awareness of others’ needs is okay, but instead of asking God to do something, how about we each consider what we ourselves can do to help ourselves and those around us?

For a long time jumping through those hoops was worthwhile because I valued being part of a church. Now that I no longer do, there’s no point in playing semantic games about whether I’m a Christian. I’m not.

Despite the fact that I’ve been very negative in this post, I recognize that I am very privileged and that focusing more on being positive and less on being negative would help me to feel better about life. Not going to church is going to be a part of that. If I can’t go to church without feeling negative, then I shouldn’t go to church.

I still plan on being part of the stamping group, because I like it, and I won’t rule out ever going to any church activities such as picnics or retreats. I’ll still send out the weekly newsletter when the guy who normally does it is unavailable. I’ll train someone on the database I developed if the church does another service auction.

But there’ll be no more worship services for me. No more pretending I’m a Christian. No more seeking something that isn’t there to be found. I’m unchurched.

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Just shut the fuck up, Alan Chambers!

You may have heard that Exodus International, which for 37 years has been “proclaiming freedom from homosexuality,” has finally apologized to the queers and announced that they are closing their “ministry.”

Except Exodus isn’t really closing their ministry—they’re just rebranding. Their closing announcement says that they “unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry,” to be named Reduce Fear.

Alan Chambers
Alan Chambers has said way more than enough and should just shut the fuck up.
Alan Chambers, the ex-gay heterosexually-married with kids but still struggling with same sex attractions President of Exodus, wants to “come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

And to that, I say: Don’t. Just don’t.

You’ve done more than enough damage, Alan, and you’re not going to fix it by continuing to be an attention-seeking charlatan earning money going around now in the guise of trying to “host thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality.”

There are already plenty of people hosting such conversations, Alan, and you don’t really have any credibility, so just what makes you think you’d be a good facilitator for these conversations?

It’s great that you're shutting down one of the world’s most harmful ex-gay ministries, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people.”
— Tony Moore, Exodus board member
and it’s good that you’re kind of apologizing for the harm you’ve done, although at the same time Exodus wants to be absolutely clear that it’s “not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people.”

Alan, perhaps instead of continuing to talk, you could just shut the fuck up for a while.

Stop blathering the evangelical Christian talk of God and “His Kingdom” and the “whole truth of the Gospel” and “coming to Christ” and “surrendering [your] sexuality to Him.”

Just stop talking.

If you want to be in ministry, great. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and then go serve silently in a homeless shelter or a food pantry. You've been talking for so long that it’s way past time for you to let your actions, not your words, show your beliefs.

If you’d do a few years of silent atonement in this manner, then, and only then, would I and others in the LGBT community give a damn about what you might then have to say.

Update 8:00 p.m.: I love John Shore’s “open letter to Exodus International’s super-remorseful Alan Chambers.”

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Prayer: Are we doing it wrong?

or What’s the point of prayer?

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say to you, they have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:5–6

Did you go to church this morning? If you did, I bet you saw someone standing at the front of the sanctuary, praying in front of the congregation.

Which is strange, given that Jesus, according to the Bible, gave us very explicit instructions about how to pray. Praying in front of others is exactly what Jesus told us not to do.

Most Christians have probably heard of the Sermon on the Mount, but if you ask most Christians what Jesus said then about prayer, they’d probably say he taught us the Lord’s Prayer, not that he told us to pray alone in secret.

Perhaps that’s because most Christians haven’t been paying attention on Ash Wednesday (do most Christians even go to an Ash Wednesday service?), when Matthew 6:5–6 is included in the Revised Common Lectionary (all three years—A, B, and C).

More likely it’s because Matthew 6:5–6 is read in church once a year, while every Sunday pastors and liturgists climb up to pulpits and lecterns to pray in public. All churches, conservative or progressive, do this. And it’s not just in church that we pray; in America we pray everywhere, at inaugurations, before city commission meetings, at prayer breakfasts, at football games, on reality TV shows.

And do those of us who pray get our reward?

For an answer to that question, you could ask John Helmberger, head of Minnesotans for Marriage, who this past Monday told the folks he brought to St. Paul to “pray for God to intervene” to stop queer Minnesotans from gaining marriage equality. Helmberger prayed standing in the streets (see Matthew 6:5 above) and got his reward accordingly—gay marriage in Minnesota.

Or you could ask me. I spent many a night as a closeted teenager praying to God to fix me. I prayed in secret (see Matthew 6:6 above) because I had a horrible secret, but God declined to answer my prayers—yep, I’m still gay.

Some might argue now that God did answer my prayers, just not exactly as I asked, instead helping me to see that it’s okay to be gay. Salon.com has a fun excerpt from Kevin Roose’s book, a chapter about how Roose and some other Liberty University students went to Daytona to witness to spring breakers. Favorite prayer: “Lord, let them be nicer to us tonight.” God works in mysterious ways and all that.

And I would answer, no, that’s bullshit. I do not believe that an omnipotent omniscient God hears all prayers and makes decisions about how to answer each one, sometimes in ways we don’t understand.

 

Lots of people do believe in the power of prayer, though.

For example, my church has a Facebook group, and while it’s also used for things such as announcing events or seeking volunteers, it seems lately that its
Click to embiggen to see
some Facebook prayers
primary purpose is for public prayer in the form of Facebook comments.

If you see a Facebook prayer request, how should you respond? You could simply comment “PRAYERS” (ALL CAPS makes it work better). You could opt for the standard “My prayers are with you,” or you could go with the more secular “Thinking of you.” Do make some comment, however, because it’s the least you can do.

The least we can do does seem to matter. In the example to the right, the prayer requester comments at the bottom that she wants to thank everyone for their concern. I don’t know if she believes that everyone’s prayers would sway God to intervene in her situation (some people do believe that), but she did appreciate knowing that people care about her.

Although if typing a one-line comment on Facebook is the least we can do, then there’s certainly more we could do, isn’t there? Sending a card or flowers would have more impact, as would calling not to say “If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” but instead to say “Can I walk your dog or bring you a meal,” concrete actions that would be more powerful than verbal prayers.

And so, despite what Jesus taught about prayer, perhaps the point of prayer is not asking God to do something but spurring one another to do something. If that’s true, then praying in a closet where only God can hear would be rather pointless. The point of prayer might be to let others know what we need so they can help us and to hear what others need so we can help them.

And yet something I read a few years ago suggests there may also be a purpose for prayer done alone. Brown University student Kevin Roose took a semester off from Brown to attend Liberty University so he could write a book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. Roose returned to his “ultimate, secular, liberal” environment but “still tries to pray every day.” Why? To answer that, Roose quotes Oswald Chambers, who said that prayer doesn’t change things but instead “prayer changes me and then I change things.”

I don’t see myself getting into the habit of praying daily, even though this idea of being mindful of what I could do to improve things (either in my own or others’ lives) doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Perhaps, instead of tossing off one-line Facebook comment prayers (“my thoughts are with you”), a first step would be to really try to have my thoughts be with those who seek prayers and to think about what small step (bigger than a FB comment) I could take to make a difference for them.

Prayer might have a point, but only if we do prayer right.

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Listening to Amy Grant again

Having just written about my past with Amy Grant, I figured it’d be appropriate to listen to her music again, so yesterday I pulled up my Amy Grant albums on Google Play on my phone and headed out for a drive in the gay car with the top down and Amy Grant blaring.

I got as far as the first song on Amy Grant’s first album before I burst out laughing.

“Beautiful Music,” the first song on Amy Grant’s self-titled debut album, wasn’t a song I remembered. Part of what makes this song unmemorable and rather laughable is that its melody so fits in with the 1970s bubblegum pop genre, contrived sugar sweet teenybopper music.

What really killed me, however, were the lyrics.

Fresh-faced and virginal, the teenaged Amy Grant in 1977 was singing to Jesus, “Since you came inside me… I’m hooked on your lovin’.”

Yes, no one wants to be judged years later for choices we made when we were seventeen—I wasn’t much older than Amy Grant when I first had someone come inside me (don’t judge me). “Beautiful Music” isn’t even a song Amy Grant wrote (no, Lanier Ferguson is the one to blame), but oh my God, Amy Grant liked the lyrics well enough to sing them with a straight face.

Amy Grant’s not the only Christian singer to love having Jesus inside her. In “Christian Rock Hard,” a 2009 episode of South Park, Cartman becomes a Christian rock star, and he, like Amy Grant before him, sings to Jesus, “I just want to feel you deep inside me.”

Jesus Christ, South Park didn’t even have to make this shit up. It’s real.

An Amy Grant song that I do still like musically is “Angels,” from her 1984 album Straight Ahead. But, again, the lyrics get me.

If you ask Amy Grant (at least 1984 Amy Grant) what Christianity’s about, she’ll answer that it’s in large part about “Angels watching over me, every move I make, angels watching over me, every step I take!”

That’s a nice comforting “His Eye is on the Sparrow” kind of thought, isn’t it? Have faith, and God and God’s angels will protect you from any “reckless car” by making it “[run] out of gas before it [runs] [your] way.”

Except God doesn’t work that way.

I know I said my last blog entry about Facebook would be my last. I lied. This FB post is such a good illustration of what some Christians believe that I wanted to share it here.

God loves you but if you don’t repost this on Facebook, God will have no choice but to send you to hell.

Don’t believe me? Ask the four girls murdered in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. God protects Amy Grant from runaway cars but God won’t protect innocent girls worshipping in church?

Or google “pastor killed in car crash” and then tell me why the fuck God can spare angels to watch over Amy Grant but not over any of these dead pastors and their families.

Maybe there is an omniscient omnipotent God who works in mysterious ways but we have evidence before us that God does not work as Amy Grant claims in her song about angels.

Another of Amy Grant’s songs does give us a clue as to what Amy Grant’s songs as a whole tell us about God and Jesus. That song is the oh-so-aptly named “Fairytale” from her 1979 album My Father’s Eyes. The melody and Amy Grant’s youthful high pitched singing in this song are about as appealing as the bubblegum “Beautiful Music,” but the lyrics of this song, written by Amy Grant and Brown Bannister, are informative.

 

On the one hand, Amy Grant sings:
My life was just a fairytale.
I was letting an illusion
Come into this heart of mine.

 

While on the other hand, in the same song, she sings:
There’s a world out there that human eyes can never see,
But it’s just within the reach of the heart.
Two princes wage the battle for eternity.
But the victor has been known from the start.

In other words, Amy Grant’s been fooled by fairy tales before, but now, with the tale about the struggle between princes of light and darkness, she just “know[s] this time the story’s true.” You gotta have faith and all that.

I don’t have faith, not in the literal truth of the fairy tales in which evangelical Christians believe.

Fairy tales aren’t all bad, however. Melissa Taylor does a good analysis that provides “8 Reasons Why Fairy Tales are Essential to Childhood.” And of course Joseph Campbell did great work examining the purpose and value of myth. Truth can be found beyond facts.

Indeed it’s only by looking for the truth beyond the facts that I was able to find value in returning to involvement in a church, and it’s only by considering Amy Grant’s music as old familiar fairy tales that I’ll ever be able to listen to any of it again.

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I used to care what Amy Grant thinks of me

When I was a teenager I loved Amy Grant’s music.

Amy Grant (1977)
Amy Grant (1977)
My Father's Eyes (1979)
My Father’s Eyes (1979)
Never Alone (1980)
Never Alone (1980)
Age to Age (1982)
Age to Age (1982)
Straight Ahead (1984)
Straight Ahead (1984)
The Collection (1986)
The Collection (1986)
Lead Me On (1988)
Lead Me On (1988)
Heart in Motion (1991)
Heart in Motion (1991)
Home for Christmas (1992)
Home for Christmas (1992)
A Christmas to Remember (1999)
A Christmas to Remember (1999)
I bought each of her albums as they came out, and I listened to them over and over. It was a rough time in my life, I was lonely, and Amy Grant’s music brought me some comfort as I struggled with something that at times seemed life threatening — yep, figuring how to deal with the fact that I was a big ole queer was a big deal to me then.

I don’t remember for sure where I first heard Amy Grant’s music, but it must have been at my church, Good Shepherd United Methodist* in Mad River Township here in Dayton.

To the left you can see copies of Amy Grant’s various albums that I bought when I was a fan. I was pretty religious about getting every new Amy Grant CD, continuing even after I stopped going to church but eventually tapering off. I skipped 1994’s House of Love and 1997’s Behind the Eyes but I did buy A Christmas to Remember in 1999.

If you were ever an avid Amy Grant fan, you might notice that 1999 was when Amy Grant got divorced, a shocking event that caused many of her devout Christian fans to drop her. However, my no longer buying Amy Grant albums wasn’t because of her divorce—I wasn’t shocked by that and thought it made her more human—it was just that Amy Grant’s music didn’t speak to me as much as it once did.

I’ve still played the two Amy Grant Christmas CDs I own each December, but other than that, I haven’t really thought about her much.

Until yesterday, when I saw a clergy friend (interestingly now that I’m out I have quite a few friends who are clergy) post a link on Facebook to Amy Grant’s first ever interview with the gay press. Of course I and a bunch of other gay Amy Grant fans flocked to read the article—we were all dying to know “how she reconciles Christianity and homosexuality.”

Michael W Smith Project (1983)

Amy Grant’s friend Michael W. Smith was another Christian singer whose music I liked, in part because he was cute.

That he’s now a close friend of Santorum makes me think he won’t be talking to the gay press any time soon.

You see, how Amy Grant reconciles Christianity and homosexuality is something I’ve wanted to know for a long time.

Indeed I wanted to know so much that back in the 80s, after I stopped going to church but while I was still an Amy Grant fan, I wrote her a letter. This was back in pre-WWW days, before many people had email, when you actually had to put your message on paper, stick it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and put it in a mailbox. A disadvantage of those days before email and scanners is that I don’t have a copy of what I wrote, although I remember the gist of it. I know I didn’t use the phrase “How do you reconcile Christianity and homosexuality,” but I did tell Amy Grant that I was gay and I did ask her what she thought of people being gay and Christian.

 

I did get a response to my letter but not from Amy Grant and also not from someone on Amy Grant’s staff. No, the response came from a very compassionate woman, a stranger who found my letter in a seatback pocket on an airplane, where Amy Grant or one of her assistants had left my letter, probably by accident. This woman didn’t know me or Amy Grant, but after reading my letter, she felt compelled to write to me because she said she could feel my pain. She wanted me to know what had happened to my letter and, more importantly, to know that she would pray for me in the hopes that God would heal me and help me to leave the homosexual lifestyle.

God must not have heard that stranger’s prayers for me because God never healed me of my homosexuality, and instead of leaving the homosexual lifestyle, I embraced it, coming out and realizing that if there is a God, God loves me for who I am, including being gay. I was cured of something though, cured for the most part of internalized homophobia, cured of caring whether others, including Amy Grant, approved of me despite my being gay.

I don’t know what I expected when I read Amy Grant’s interview with PrideSource. I guess I was hoping, knowing that Amy Grant had no ground on which to stand about the sanctity of marriage, that the reason she finally wanted to talk about teh gayz was because she wanted to come out, as so many others have recently, in favor of marriage equality.

Amy Grant declined to take a position on marriage equality, either pro or con, instead saying “I never talk about anything like that.” She didn’t say anything overtly offensive in her first gay interview, sticking mainly to “a message of honesty and welcoming,” saying that “you can either default to judgment or you can default to compassion” and acknowledging that she knows “that the religious community has not been very welcoming.”

Nevertheless something in Amy Grant’s careful interview—in which she tried not to offend anyone and stressed that “everybody is welcome” on “the journey of faith” towards having “a relationship with God”—did strike me as language I’d heard before.

I had friends in high school who eventually said, “I’m living a gay lifestyle.”
— Amy Grant, PrideSource, issue 2116, 4/23/2013
And what was it that I’d heard before? A conservative Christian’s favorite term when it comes to teh gayz: lifestyle.

Amy Grant tells us that she “had friends in high school who eventually said, ‘I’m living a gay lifestyle,’” to which I say, no, you didn’t.

I wouldn’t say that Amy Grant was intentionally lying, and I do believe that she had gay high school friends come out to her, but I don’t believe they said, “Amy, I need to tell you something. I’m living a gay lifestyle.

Unless we’re still desperately trying to leave it, “lifestyle” is not a word we queers use. No, we just think we have lives just like everyone else does.

But conservative Christians sure do love the word “lifestyle.” Are you struggling with same sex attractions? Google “leaving the gay lifestyle” and you’ll find tons of compassionate people willing to help you.

Amy Grant was probably just paraphrasing when she talked of friends telling her they were living a gay lifestyle. Despite her use of the term again at another point in the interview, talking about the ACLU’s first openly gay executive director, Anthony Romero, whom Amy Grant “felt so changed by” but who has a “very different lifestyle” from hers, given the lengths to which she went to stress being compassionate and loving and welcoming and to avoid being judgmental, I shouldn’t read too much into Amy Grant’s choice of words.

Why shouldn’t I? Because what Amy Grant thinks doesn’t really matter. I didn’t care two days ago, before I knew she was talking to the gayz. So why should it matter two days later? Maybe Amy Grant, living in what some would call an adulterous relationship, has no problem with gay people also finding love but is afraid to say so in so many words. Or perhaps instead “lifestyle” really is hidden code for what Amy Grant thinks of me.

Either way I’m living a gay lifestyle and I’m happy with it.

Good Shepherd United Methodist Church *About Good Shepherd United Methodist Church: My mother, my sister and I went to this church while we lived in Forest Ridge. It was a small church, originally part of the EUB, something older members of the congregation still remembered although the 1968 merger with the Methodists was before my time.

I never felt unsafe there, well aside from the time I was inducted into the youth fellowship group via a staged kidnapping when I answered the doorbell at home to find people on my front porch in masks who pulled me outside, put a bag over my head, and pushed me into a van that took us away. Kind of a scary thing to do to a child of divorced parents. Ended up at church where the rest of the older kids already in the youth group were there to greet me.

Except for that poorly thought out incident, Good Shepherd was a fairly safe haven for a young nerdy closeted fag. Nothing overtly anti-gay came from the pulpit there, and I had some friends, of sorts, including a girl who told me in the pews once that I had a nice singing voice (and who once also called me “faggot!” along with other kids as I got on our school bus carrying my books clasped to my chest as only girls were supposed to).

I was popular enough my senior year to become president of Good Shepherd’s youth group, or perhaps instead of my being especially popular, it was that I was willing to take the job, although I didn’t keep it long, coming to the conclusion later that year that I couldn’t be gay and be Christian and thus deciding to stop doing church. Where’d I get such an idea? The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, which declared back then and still declares thirty fucking years later that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

Good Shepherd is now closed, as of December 30, 2011, according to the latest Miami Valley District directory of churches. At some point in the last decade, Good Shepherd operated as Good Shepherd Community Church, affilliated both with the United Methodists as well as the Presbyterians (the Presbytery of the Miami Valley still has a webpage, albeit a rather sparse one, for Good Shepherd).

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Some notes after hearing Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggeman This afternoon I and a group of almost 20 people from my church, Cross Creek Community Church, UCC, went to Southminster Presbyterian Church to hear Old Testament scholar (and UCC pastor) Walter Brueggemann speak on the topic “Hope and Healing in a Broken World.” Afterwards most of us Cross Creekers met together over a meal to talk about what we’d heard.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard Brueggemann speak—in October 2009 I took a day off work to go hear him at the SONKA Clergy Day. I don’t exactly remember why I went to hear Brueggemann that first time. I’m not clergy myself, nor do I wish to become clergy, but since returning to church in the early ’90s I’ve hung out with a lot of clergy. Cross Creek counts among our membership way more clergy than do most churches. I’ve learned through this association with clergy that they are human beings, usually with specialized education in theology, but as fallible as the rest of us and whose interpretation of what the Divine may be telling us is subject to challenge by non-clergy.

I didn’t blog about that SONKA Clergy Day in 2009, though I did take a lot of notes. Tonight, however, I feel called to process some of my thoughts about what I heard from Brueggemann today. That’s a bit ironic given my somewhat cynical blog post from just two days ago about Occupy Dayton’s love of processing, but a friend (retired clergy) who was part of our discussion (processing) after Brueggemann’s talk spoke of how writing letters to politicians was helpful not just to get her voice heard but also to organize her thoughts. Also, despite the fact that my blog post of two days ago could be taken as opposition to Occupy Dayton, I do claim to support some of their goals and I found that much of what Brueggemann said today resonates with their movement.

I’ll try to sum up what Brueggemann said in a sentence: Brueggemann compared what the Bible has to say about departure from empire (systems of money and power), whether exodus from the Old Testament empires of Egypt or Persia or from the Roman empire in the New Testament, to choices we as present day Christians must make about departing from the control of the American empire with its system of consumer violence and militarism.

That’s where the resonance with the Occupy movement starts. The Occupy movement is not one (only) of Christians but it is about the violence done to our society and the brokenness caused by the consumerism and militarism of the American empire.

Brueggemann also spoke about the anxiety and stress that comes from staying in the rat race and trying to avoid loss (loss of what, you might ask—perhaps the privilege I mentioned the other day). Brueggemann said that instead “we should seek a Gospel zone of freedom for our lives” and that we should “organize our lives for an alternative to the imperial system.”

A “Gospel zone of freedom” isn’t exactly something Occupy campers would picket for, at least not using those words, but they sure would advocate “organiz[ing] our lives for an alternative to the imperial system,” wouldn’t they?

Brueggemann explained that alternative as “neighborliness in an anti-neighborly socio-economic system” and gave four “marks of neighborliness”:

  1. Hospitality (as opposed to being exclusionary)
  2. Generosity (as opposed to “miserly selfishness”)
  3. Forgiveness (as opposed to “calculating vengeance”)
  4. Economic justice (or “valoriz[ing] people” that our dominant system discounts)

That economic justice stuff is certainly what the Occupy movement is about. Brueggemann went on to explain it by saying that it is “important to provide viable life resources and support for all people.” (Contrast that message to Michele Bachmann’s recent declaration that “if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”)

Brueggemann then reminded us of what he called “the most dangerous Biblical teaching,” found in Deuteronomy 15, about the forgiveness of debts during Jubilee years. The Occupy folks aren’t calling for the cancellation of all debts, but they sure are calling for the cancellation of some debt (see OccupyStudentDebt.com).

Some other nuggets from Brueggemann’s talk:

  • Church is like a 12-step program for addicts to consumer capitalism.
  • The God of the Gospel is not the God of Empire.
  • The Gospel is a subversive revolutionary summons.
  • The Golden Rule is that the one with the gold makes the rules.
  • Our government is in the grasp of the rich.
  • President Obama is in bed with big bankers.
  • Loss brought to speech turns to energy. Loss not brought to speech turns to violence.

Brueggemann also made reference to something Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, said about change being effected not by institutions but by movements. Brueggemann then pointed out that movements begin small. So my mocking Occupy Dayton the other day for being 1% of Montgomery County’s population rather than being comprised of the 99% they claim to represent could really be a mistake.

Brueggemann then told the story of a woman in Liberia who started a movement for peace by sitting down in the street. I did some googling just now to find out more about who he was talking about and found out it was Leymah Gbowee, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her actions in leading other women in protests that stopped the second Liberian civil war.

Interestingly, Brueggemann then confessed, “I am not a candidate for sitting in the street.” Perhaps that’s because he’s 78 years old. Perhaps that’s because he himself isn’t ready to give up all his privilege (he’d mentioned earlier his anxieties from worrying about his retirement portfolio). Perhaps that’s because he’s a white man—white men, he said, are the last people to “get it” in any movement.

I too am not a candidate for sitting in the street, nor am I, as I made clear the other day, a candidate for camping out on Courthouse Square to occupy Dayton. But can I just dismiss everything Brueggemann called to our attention? Can the others in my church (many of whom, like me, have substantial privilege in our lives)? I don’t know. Cynics might say that yes we can dismiss challenges to our privilege. Others might say that change begins with movements that start small.

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

My so-called Christian life—a response to two people’s opinions about my Christianity

A few days ago a gay friend of mine complained on Facebook about my “Christ-centric” point of view, saying that he couldn’t understand my “still want[ing] to find hope within the religious mainstream.” On the very same day, a heterosexual stranger with whom I had a little debate on Twitter about marriage equality in New York said that his opposition to same sex marriage was “the Christian point of view,” having expressed astonishment at my 140-character explanation of my religious beliefs. An irony made more evident by the close timing of the reactions from these two very different people is how they, coming from such antithetical places, share something in common with each other—neither approves of my religious beliefs or the spiritual choices I’ve made.

For the former person, someone I’ve known for many years and whose friendship I still value, I’m too Christian. My openness about my faith, my participation in a church, my knowledge of scripture, all of this is apparently too much for him, this despite the fact that I’ve never pushed my religion on him, never told him he should be Christian or join a church, never engaged him in debate about religion, never emailed him or posted on his Facebook wall about religion. Indeed my comment on one of his posts that triggered his harangue made no mention either of Christ or of religion.

For the latter person, the stranger whom I’ve never met and never will, I’m not Christian enough. My being a member of a United Church of Christ congregation, part of a denomination that not only endorses marriage equality but also espouses views such as the key UCC one that “God is Still Speaking,” means that I am “not Biblical” in my approach to life. [Another irony is that this stranger’s father is a UCC pastor, although I do not know whether this stranger and his father share similar views about the path the denomination has taken.]

Perhaps one reason my friend disapproves of my religious perspective is that, although he does not realize this, he agrees with the stranger about Christianity. The stranger, explaining his beliefs on marriage, on the UCC and on Biblical inerrancy, presented his views as “the Christian point of view,” not a Christian’s point of view [emphasis mine], and I think that somehow my friend agrees with this stranger, Somehow my friend agrees with this stranger, that there can be only one Christian point of view. that there can be only one Christian point of view, and thus if I say I’m Christian, my point of view must be invalid.

A third irony is that the stranger showed me a little more respect than did my friend because he actually asked about my beliefs, while my friend I don’t think understands them, but both the stranger and my friend think I’m wrong when it comes to religion. While I respect the right of both my friend and this stranger to have religious beliefs different from mine, I refuse to allow either of them to tell me that there is a single Christian perspective.

 

So what do I believe? Well, what I told the stranger about my beliefs, in a Twitter-sized chunk, is “that the bible isn’t inerrant, that, as the UCC says, God is still speaking, and that Christianity isn’t the only way.”

For many Christians, including the stranger, my beliefs are enough to disqualify me from claiming that I’m a Christian, and given our culture’s understanding of what it means to be Christian (an understanding of Christianity that, ironically, my non-Christian friend shares), I guess I’m not a Christian. I do not believe the Bible to be inerrant. I do not believe an omnipotent God had no choice but to sacrifice his only son to atone for my sins to save me from eternal damnation. Further, I do not believe in an omnipotent God at all, I do not believe Jesus was the son of God or the sole manifestation of God, I do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, and I’m not entirely sure there even was a historical Jesus. The stranger’s right—
I’m not Biblical.

My friend’s right—
I am Christ-centric.
The stranger’s right—I’m not Biblical.

For many non-Christians, including my friend, my beliefs are enough to dismiss me as yet another Christian, and given my choices in life, especially those about many of the people with whom I associate, I guess I am a Christian. My background is Christian and I’m a part of a Christian church. You may not know many people who’ve helped to start a church, but I’m one such person, having been a part of Cross Creek Community Church since before it was even called that (I drove my little gay Miata through a blizzard in 1996 to be part of a small group of people who met to come up with our as yet unborn church’s name). Many of my friends are clergy. Despite not being entirely sure there ever was a historical Jesus, I believe much of what Jesus reputedly says, including the bits about loving one’s neighbors and caring for the least among us. It’d be much easier if I didn’t believe this stuff—I wouldn’t ever have to take a vacation day to unload a Foodbank truck or to get up very early on a Saturday to volunteer at a church food pantry. My friend’s right—I am Christ-centric.

Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter whether either the stranger or my friend is right. I can’t live my life to please strangers who understand my beliefs and thus think I’m going to hell, and I can’t live my life to please friends who misunderstand my beliefs and thus think I’m making choices to avoid going to hell. All I can do is make choices that, as much as possible, make my life better for me.

And whether the stranger is right that I’m not a Christian but should be or my friend is right that I am a Christian but shouldn’t be, I’m happy being the kind of Christian I am. A statement that is true for me, though it will be too Christ-centric for my friend, is that I’ve found God at Cross Creek. The God I’ve found there is neither the one in whom the stranger believes nor the one whom my friend rejects. No, the God I’ve found is one whose voice is heard through relationships and dialogue, one who is made powerful from people working together but one who is limited by people’s imperfections. My describing God in this way should make it obvious that I believe God can be encountered in many circumstances, not just through Christianity and indeed not just through religion, but my encountering God through this Christian community works for me. I’m not ashamed of it, nor will I apologize for it.

A final irony before I close is that in another context this same statement—I’m not ashamed of it, nor will I apologize for it—would be something my friend would wholeheartedly endorse. It’s rather queer that in a Christian context he would find it so offensive.

Update 8/4/2013: This post is a bit out-of-date. I still believe, as I said above, in Jesus’s instructions to love one another and to help those in need, but I’m no longer calling myself Christian. Read why here.

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

A rabbi tells my church to listen for truth from conservatives

Rabbi Irwin Kula
Rabbi Irwin Kula
If you’re a regular reader of my blog or if you’re familiar with the church I attend, Cross Creek Community Church, you know that over the years we’ve had quite a few rabbis come to talk to us. It’s become a tradition of sorts for us to invite a rabbi to talk to us during Advent (read about rabbis who spoke to us during Advent in 2009 and 2006), but this weekend we invited a rabbi, Irwin Kula, to come to speak to us for Lent.

Rabbi Kula lives in New York City but has developed some Dayton connections through teaching a class at United Theological Seminary where he influenced Ruth Hopkins, one of many Cross Creekers who have gone to seminary there. Ruth brought Rabbi Kula’s book Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life to the attention of Cross Creek’s pastor, Mike Castle, who ended up incorporating teachings from the book in the sermons and liturgy for Lent in 2009, and many Cross Creekers read Yearnings that Lenten season. Because of those connections, Rabbi Kula is back in Dayton this weekend for Cross Creek’s latest weekend intensive; he gave a talk this evening after a chili supper and will be back to preach at both services tomorrow morning.

I have to confess that I was not one of the Cross Creekers who read Rabbi Kula’s book in 2009, and despite the many references to Rabbi Kula’s writings in Cross Creek materials from 2009, he didn’t make a big impression on me then. It’s not that I disagree with what he said; I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.

This evening, however, I appreciated what Rabbi Kula had to say, and I think I can pass the test Rabbi Kula’s son might put to me—Rabbi Kula shared several anecdotes about his family, one of which is that his son often travels with him as he lectures around the country, but people don’t realize who his son is, and if his son hears someone saying to Rabbi Kula, “I enjoyed your talk,” his son will ask that person, somewhat mischievously, “Oh, really? What did Rabbi Kula say?”

A great deal of the first part of Rabbi Kula’s talk, which had been billed as being on “Tradition and Change: Reimagining Religion in the 21st Century,” was helping us to understand the state of religion in the United States in 2011, and much of what he told us wasn’t surprising. The fastest growing religious segment in America is “None,” and that’s not atheists but spiritual people who don’t identify with any religious group. People don’t feel obligated to follow the religious practices of their parents. Rabbi Kula used the metaphors of cathedrals and bazaars for how people used to get information on religion and how people get that information now—people used to have beliefs handed to them in cathedrals, buildings whose price of admission was buying the beliefs being sold in them, but now people search for wisdom from the many booths in a bazaar (one that, unlike markets on the streets of old European towns, doesn’t have an anchor store in the form of a church at its center), and if the wisdom being sold at your booth doesn’t make sense—real practical sense, the effects of which people can witness—people will move on to other booths.

Rabbi Kula then tried to explain why people search for wisdom, and, given his Jewish background, I didn’t find his mentioning the Jewish concept of tikkun olam unexpected, but instead of translating it in the way I’d heard before, repairing the world, Rabbi Kula described it differently, as “repairing the soul.” That’s not so altruistic. “Do[ing] less damage,” another reason Rabbi Kula gave towards the end of his talk for seeking wisdom, is important too, but we seek wisdom to make our own lives better.

 

What Rabbi Kula said next about this 21st century search for wisdom was something I really hadn’t expected and indeed heard very skeptically at first. Locate
the partial truths
our opponents have
What he said was that an important way to find wisdom is to locate the partial truths that our opponents have.

Now Rabbi Kula made it very clear that he’s pretty progressive; beyond being willing to come talk at a Christian church pastored by an openly gay man, he was also explicit about advocating for the acceptance of LGBT people in his Jewish circles. So, although Rabbi Kula wasn’t just talking about the gay issue but any issue with multiple sides, my mind went immediately to how unlikely it would be that those who say I’m going to hell for being gay or that God hates me for being gay or that I can change my being gay could have any truth on their side. And I did something somewhat rude and blurted out a question about just how little these partial truths we were supposed to find could be. Rabbi Kula had confessed during one of his initial anecdotes that he himself finds it difficult to control his impulse to blurt out exactly what he’s thinking sometimes, so I hope he understood my lack of impulse control. At any rate, he took my question seriously and diverted temporarily from the planned path of his talk to give an answer I found very helpful.

The partial truths that conservatives or fundamentalists have in our society’s culture war turn out not be so small after all: the truths they have are related not to the remedies they prescribe for our society but have to do with the diagnoses they’re making about our society.

For example, sexuality is messed up in our society. The specific example of this, pointed out by Rabbi Kula and discussed some afterwards by the assembled group in the appointed question and answer time, is the hypersexualization in our society of young women from their teens to early twenties. Conservatives aren’t wrong when they say this is a problem. What they think should be done about it—oppressing women back into traditional roles, stopping acceptance of alternative sexualities, etc.—is wrong, but the problem is real, and liberals can find wisdom by acknowledging it and talking about it. Rabbi Kula modeled this talking about this particular problem by sharing an anecdote about a situation his daughter, working amongst liberal artsy folk in a NYC gallery, found herself in.

Other areas in which conservatives have some partial truths are in the ideas that sacrifice and discipline and aggression can be necessary, although, again, not necessarily in the ways conservatives might advocate.

This seeking wisdom by locating the partial truths our opponents have pertains not only to large groups of strangers but also to individuals whom we know and love, love being the operative word. Rabbi Kula, sharing some anecdotes about his relationship with his wife, said that we should not seek to understand our opponents so that we can then love them but rather that we should love our opponents in order to understand them.

That should ring a bell for Christians, shouldn’t it? Rabbi Kula’s not the first Jewish teacher to tell us the importance of loving our neighbors. He’s just the first one, at least that I’ve heard, who frames it not as a belief—“Thou shalt love thy neighbor”—but who offers it as a method for finding wisdom—by trying to love your opponents, by cooling down the rhetoric, by listening, you might understand them and gain something for yourself in the process.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Date: Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
From: David Lauri
To: Pastors and Congregation Council members of Epiphany Lutheran Church
Subject: Your church’s debate over homosexuality

Dear Pastors and Council of Epiphany Lutheran Church,

I read with interest the Dayton Daily News article about your church’s struggles with reconciling homosexuality and Christianity and your church council’s recent vote in favor of leaving the ELCA because of the ELCA’s decision to “open the ministry of [your] church to gay and lesbian pastors […] living in committed relationships.” I was interested not because I’m Lutheran (I’m not and never have been) but because I’m a gay Christian and because several years ago I attended a Centerville Washington Diversity Council community conversation about “Gay and Lesbian Issues at the Intersection of Faith and Public Policy” at which both Mike Castle, a friend and the openly gay pastor of my church, Cross Creek Community Church, UCC, and your senior pastor, John Bradosky, spoke.

Reading about the struggles in your church, both your congregation and your denomination, makes me glad I found the United Church of Christ, a denomination that’s settled this issue (although individual UCC congregations are allowed to differ), that supports the calling of openly gay clergy and that supports full equality for LGBT people, including marriage equality. As I said, I never was Lutheran, but I was raised Methodist, and as I’m sure you know, like Lutherans and other denominations, the United Methodists have long debated and continue to debate this issue. The ongoing debate in what was my church as to whether I was an abomination “incompatible with Christian teaching” or whether I was who God created me to be made me tired, tired enough to leave Christianity altogether for a time and then, after a brief return to Methodism, too tired to want to work for change in that denomination when I could find acceptance elsewhere.

You may well be wondering why I’m e-mailing you given my gladness that I’m not part of your struggles. You may well think what your church does on this issue is none of my business, and to a certain extent, if you think that, you’d be right. It isn’t my business. Whether Epiphany Church stays in the ELCA or leaves the ELCA will have no direct impact on my life; I’m not going to change my beliefs or change my church affiliation based on what you all say or do (and I recognize the irony inherent in my assuming, after such an arrogant statement, that you might change your beliefs based on what I say, but oh well).

However, having read that your church has 3,000 members, I thought to myself, wow, that means your church has a fair number of LGBT kids and teenagers and even adults, closeted or out. Take a conservative estimate, say two or three percent, and that'd be about 60 to 90 (or take a liberal estimate of ten percent, and that'd be 300!). These are the kids and the teenagers and the adults who are hearing your senior pastor say that homosexuality is “to’ebah,” that who they are is an abomination, that unless they manage to change who they are or at least suppress it, God will never accept them. These are the kids and teenagers and adults who are witnessing your church declare that you must take a stand against accepting homosexuality even if it means giving up your denominational ties, a stand that your congregation did not feel compelled to take on the issues of divorced clergy or remarried clergy or female clergy. A queer kid attending your church is getting the message that it’s better at Epiphany Lutheran Church to be divorced than it is to be queer. Perhaps as importantly, the non-queer kids at your church are getting the message that queer kids are “less than” and perhaps deserving of being bullied.

My telling you this, my pointing out to you that the message you send out makes you partly to blame for anti-gay bullying and for suicides committed by LGBT people, is probably not a message you want to hear, least of all from a faggot like me.

However, perhaps you’d better appreciate that same message from a heterosexual conservative Christian pastor, and to make you aware that there is such a person with that message is partly why I decided to write to you all. I’d urge you to become familiar with the Rev. Dr. Leslie David Braxton, Senior Pastor of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship. Apparently, according to an article on TheStranger.com, Braxton used to be an anti-gay preacher but now thinks the church’s rhetoric on homosexuality is partly to blame for anti-gay bullying and gay suicides and who thinks that “[t]he church definitely needs to have a conversation about sexuality.” I’d never heard of Braxton before today, but it’s rather serendipitous, isn’t it, that I read an article about him the same day I read an article about your church’s struggles.

I also want to point out some resources that you might find useful in your continued discussions about your LGBT brothers and sisters. One is a film, available on Netflix, called Fish Out of Water. My church in conjunction with the Dayton chapter of PFLAG sponsored a viewing of that film last month, and for us, of course, it was rather like preaching to the choir, given that folks at Cross Creek and many folks in PFLAG think it’s quite possible to be openly gay and Christian (and not just in a chaste Catholic celibate for the rest of your life kind of way). We lamented at the viewing that people who didn’t agree with the film’s message would probably never see it. I’d urge you, at least the pastors and leaders of your church, to watch it; it’d be even better if you had a viewing of the film for your entire congregation (even if you disagree with the film’s premises, surely your faith is strong enough then to be able to withstand challenges to what you believe).

Another resource that you can have access to is folks both at Cross Creek and in Dayton PFLAG. Although I am a member of Cross Creek’s Coordinating Council (I’m the chair of Cross Creek’s Justice and Witness Ministry), I am sending this message to you as an individual, not as a representative of Cross Creek, and I have no official capacity with Dayton PFLAG, but if you’d be interested in dialoguing about this issue with people who may hold a different perspective than you do, I’m fairly confident that I could bring folks from Cross Creek and PFLAG to the table.

One last point I want to make is that at first I was disheartened to see that 10 out of 15 of your church council’s members voted in favor of your congregation’s disaffiliation from the ELCA. However, after thinking about it more, I realize that’s the wrong way to look at it. Fully 1/3 of your church council voted against that decision. I don’t know who among you to whom I have addressed this e-mail feels one way or the other, but there’s a good chance that at least some of you to whom I’ve sent this e-mail are part of that 1/3 minority. I don’t know whether those of you in that minority fully accept your denomination’s decision about queer clergy or whether you disagree with it but also disagree with breaking your denominational ties, but I figured it might be good for you to know that there are gay-affirming progressive Christians in Dayton, Ohio, who are your neighbors.

My sending this message is also a reminder to myself that you all are my neighbors too. If I profess to be Christian, I have to try to love you, as distasteful as I may find what you say and what you do.

I wish you and your church luck as you continue to work on this decision, and I won’t bother you again if you choose just to ignore my e-mail.

Sincerely,
David Lauri

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

Greek Festival and Gulley

This weekend I experienced a rather odd juxtaposition of two things one wouldn’t normally experience in tandem, namely the Dayton Greek Festival and Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley. The first I experienced by walking right across the street from my physical home, and the other I experienced by driving 15 minutes south of town to my spiritual home.

The Greek Festival, which occurs each year the weekend after Labor Day, is something I’ve attended annually for over a decade, even before I gained such convenient parking for it, having fallen into the tradition of going with the same friends each year. There’s plenty to experience at the festival—cute Greek boys (especially the one there Friday lunchtime at the Never on Sundae booth), music, shopping (in particular for icons that a friend of mine collects), dancing, thick Greek coffee in small cups, crowds, noise—but it’s the food that’s the main draw.

It used to be that I’d go only once each year, but now that I live so close I eat Greek all weekend. Friday for lunch I had a gyro and cheese and spinach pies and a chocolate-coated baklava for dessert. For dinner I shared a bottle of retsina and had pastitsio and Greek salad, followed by Greek coffee and a couple baklavas. The festival doesn’t open each day until 11 a.m., but, knowing that, I’d planned ahead and had
A sweet, if not healthy, Greek Festival breakfast
baklavas and chocolate pinwheels for breakfast both Saturday and Sunday. Today for lunch I had a chicken gyro (not as good as the lamb gyros—be sure to ask for extra sauce on the side—but tasty) and another spinach pie, followed by some honey puffs. I definitely got my Greek on, as one of the t-shirts available for purchase said.

On Saturday, apart from breakfast, I took a break from Greek and ate Italian, not in the way you might have thought (no, not at the Italian festival) but at a spaghetti dinner held at my church as part of “An Evening with Philip Gulley.” Gulley was at Cross Creek as the guest speaker for the most recent of our weekend intensives, occasional times where we invite “professional thinkers” (as Gulley refers to himself and as my pastor introduced him but applicable also to other guests we’ve had previously) to give us amateur thinkers something more to think about.

You might be thinking I’d have done better to stick with the Greeks (and perhaps another bottle of retsina) than to go to a church dinner to hear a preacher talk, but Gulley, whom my pastor also introduced as an Indiana Quaker version of Garrison Keillor, was entertaining. Gulley has a dry self-deprecating sense of humor, a quiet, folksy manner that drew out quite a bit of laughter from those in attendance.

Like Keillor, Gulley draws upon his experiences growing up and living in small town America, but, unlike Keillor, Gulley’s purpose is not just to entertain but also to share his understanding of his faith, and, as Gulley shared on Saturday evening, although he is Christian he doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way to experience the Divine. Gulley believes there have been and are multiple “God bearers,” and he spent his time Saturday explaining how we might recognize them. (Hint: the more loudly one proclaims that one is a God bearer, the less likely it is that one is.)

As part of his explanation of the concept of God bearers, Gulley, who says he likes to avoid theological language for the most part and to speak instead in language more people can understand, did bring up and explain a theological term, Theotokos, a Greek term for Mary, the mother of Jesus, a term that means (you guessed it) “God bearer.” I mention Gulley’s mentioning of Theotokos not so much because the term itself was central to his message but because I happened to hear that same specific Greek word again not more than 24 hours later.

 

Just as one helping of Greek food wasn’t enough for me this weekend, neither was one helping of Gulley sufficient, and I went back to Cross Creek again this morning to hear Gulley preach during our morning worship. Gulley was again entertaining, telling funny stories from his life experiences, not just to elicit laughter but to explain his faith. Gulley told a funny story from his Catholic childhood about being caught by his priest sledding down the hill of the Methodist church in his small town; rather than progressing in his faith by associating with non-Catholics, the priest thought Gulley should instead remain on the unchanging flat lawn of the Roman Catholic Church.

The problem is, as Gulley went on to explain, faith is not unchanging. Gulley illustrated this with another story, about a photo that his parents still display, a photo taken in 1958 of their family, before Gulley and his younger siblings were born. The photo which Gulley’s parents are still so fond of is valuable because it shows their family at a point in time, but it’s not an accurate depiction of their family over all time.

Alongside that story about a cherished family photo Gulley talked also about the Nicene Creed, again straying briefly away from folksy stories and into theological explanation, but again I mention his mentioning of a theological reference because this too I would hear mentioned again very shortly thereafter. Gulley talked about the 1685-year-old creed not because it is worthless and to be discarded but because, like the photo Gulley’s parents still like so much, the Nicene Creed is a snapshot of Christian faith at a particular point in time, not an unchanging depiction of Christian faith forever and ever.

So after my two helpings of Gulley, I went with another friend back to the Greek Festival for some more Greek food, and after eating, we went inside the Annunciation church to hear a brief explanation of the building and the Greek Orthodox faith, and here’s where the odd juxtaposition of Gulley and the Greek Festival took place. Sitting in the interior of the church with all its beautiful
The only Theotokos?
icons, I heard mentioned two things I’d just heard Gulley mention—Theotokos and the Nicene Creed.

For the Greek Orthodox there is only one Theotokos, and they venerate her with a large icon at the back of their sanctuary, and the Nicene Creed, available on laminated cards stored in the backs of their pews, they brought up as an example of the unchanging and eternal nature of their faith. Quite a contrast to how Gulley made mention of these two theological things.

I point out this juxtaposition not as an attack on the Greek Orthodox faith (this statement echoes one I just saw made today on another blog by someone claiming, as it happens, not to be making “a personal attack on Pastor Philip Gulley”). It’s just that as enjoyable as I find the food at the annual Greek Festival, I’m afraid I don’t find what they serve inside their sanctuary to be as nourishing. Ironically, considering Gulley’s story of childhood sledding, it seems that those who go up the hill to the Annunciation Church value most the unchangingness of their faith while we who worship on the flat lawn in the church building that is Cross Creek cherish that God is Still Speaking.

I guess a lesson to be learnt from this odd juxtaposition is that just as there are multiple festivals with different kinds of food, there are also different Theotokoi bearing the Divine to us in different ways, even if some of us would prefer to go all our lives to the same festival.

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Amidst our festively decorated sanctuary Ruth read the Scripture.

This Sunday at my church, Cross Creek Community Church, United Church of Christ, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday.

Our worship space was festively decorated in Pentecost Red with balloons everywhere lifted by the Spirit!

Click any photo to embiggen it.






Of course, I brought one of the balloons home myself to enjoy on my balcony:


After worship some people released their balloons into the wild.

Mike Castle preached about Pentecost and said next year perhaps we should add a goose to the decor as an additional symbol of how the Spirit works.

Watching balloons everywhere after worship

Being mainline Protestants we don’t normally do Communion except for the first weekend of each month, but for Pentecost we made an exception.

Dan Carl, the pastor’s wife, snagged a couple balloons.

Happy anniversary to Ken and Richard!

Sue tries to get her balloons into her van.
Friday, April 2nd, 2010

As I’ve done for a few years now (the first time was in 2006), I participated again today in the annual Good Friday Walk for Peace and Justice, combining the Stations of the Cross with social justice issues ranging from immigration to health care to homophobia to hunger, issues whose continued existence is why Jesus is still suffering metaphorically on the Cross.

Whatever you believe about why Jesus was crucified—whether you believe it was the only way Jesus could save us from the horrible eternal damnation an omnipotent God would otherwise have had to subject us to, or whether you believe Jesus was a radical communitiy organizer who ran afoul of the Romans—you can probably agree that Jesus (the historical one or the arisen one) would be aghast that the issues raised each year during this walk are still unresolved.

Click to embiggen Here is the Rev. Ruth Brandon, Cross Creek member and also Association Minister of the Southwest Ohio Northern Kentucky Association of the United Church of Christ, on Courthouse Square at the start of the Walk with the cross she selected. Later as we were walking, Ruth told me that fear is what keeps Jesus on the cross.   Click to embiggen On Third Street in front of the old front entrance to the downtown Dayton Metro Library (the side that still bears its old name, Dayton and Montgomery County Public Library)
Click to embiggen Other Cross Creekers who participated are Nancy and Dan Tepfer (left and right) and Nikki Hammes (middle with her kids).   Click to embiggen Marching through Cooper Park behind the library
Click to embiggen Looking back at marchers along Third Street   Click to embiggen The Rev. Darryl Fairchild, community organizer for Vote Dayton (soon to become a reorganized Dayton chapter of the IAF), with Beth
Click to embiggen Every Good Friday we always seem to end up in front of at least one pawn shop (this time we spoke before two of them).   Click to embiggen We marched past the Citizens Federal Centre, which seems to have resumed its maiden name after being abandoned by Fifth Third Bank, so I had to take a photo.
Click to embiggen Although you can’t tell it from the outside (ironicially?), this is where the Greater Dayton LGBT Center has office space adjacent to the MJ’s Cafe gay bar. Cross Creek hosted Station 4 on the walk, Jesus Meets His Mother, addressing how violence against LGBT people affects our families. Nancy and I were the readers.   Click to embiggen What was the topic for the station across the street from the CareSource building? Equitable health care for all, of course.
Click to embiggen The Rev. Beth Holten, interim executive director of Greater Dayton Christian Connections, didn’t start the walk with a cross but ended up with one nonetheless.   Click to embiggen Although our march this year took us east of Main Street, rather than west, our last station was still at our traditional stopping point, First Baptist Church of Dayton.
Friday, December 13th, 2009

Tonight I saw the Dayton Playhouse’s production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, a play that reimagines the myth of Jesus. Corpus Christi first premiered eleven years ago, in 1998, and I first saw it six years ago in Cincinnati. That 2003 production was by Know Theatre Tribe (see archive.org’s copy of their Corpus Christi page) in an unconventional theatre space called Gabriel’s Corner housed in a church building. I enjoyed the play six years ago, but I enjoyed it even more tonight.

Corpus Christi has driven conservative Christians crazy since before its premiere, and tonight’s production in Dayton was no exception. The sidewalk into the Dayton Playhouse’s theatre was lined with protestors, quiet and polite but bearing signs complaining about the blasphemy of the play and promising to pray for all involved in it (I told the bearers of one prayer sign that I’d pray for them too).

I’m sure that these protestors, if at some point they google Corpus Christi and run across my little review here, will think my reference to Jesus’s story as “myth” just to be more blasphemy along the lines of McNally’s play. Yet I mean no disrespect to the historical Jesus (if there was one, and I’m inclined to think there probably was) nor to the idea of Jesus, nor do I think that Jesus, at least not the Jesus in whom I believe, would be offended by my talking about his story as myth. I don’t choose the word “myth” because I think the story of Jesus is made up or not real; instead “myth” comes to my mind in reference to Corpus Christi because of truth.

The truth I mean is not literal truth. Obviously Jesus was not born of a Brooklyn Jewish Mary in a sleazy pay-by-the-hour motel in Corpus Christi, Texas, to the sounds of johns fucking prostitutes. Bishop Forsyth of South Sydney needn’t point out that Corpus Christi is “unhistorical and untrue” — McNally isn’t asking anyone to believe that Texas was ever under Roman rule. McNally isn’t even asking people to believe that the historical Jesus was in fact gay (for someone who is asking people to believe that, read a post I wrote in 2004 about the book The Man Jesus Loved).

Bishop Forsyth and others outraged by Corpus Christi are quite right that the play is “unhistorical” but they’re quite wrong about its being untrue. The bishop and his fellow protestors need to read some Joseph Campbell and learn about the power of myths. For anyone who has ears to hear there is indeed truth to be found in Corpus Christi.

That truth is not primarily that Jesus was gay, although Sean Frost’s portrayal tonight of a 17-year-old Texan Joshua going to prom with a girl and then not wanting to do what was coming naturally to all his straight classmates that night certainly rang true to me — in high school I went through the motions of dating and even kissing girls and went to prom with a girl, but like Joshua, I never sealed the deal. I also spent too much time staring at boys on whom I had crushes, enough to attract the wrong kind of attention, just as Joshua does in Corpus Christi. And let me mention here that I found Mark Diffenderfer, who played the masculinely and aggressively gay Judas, to be quite hot.

 

No, the primary truth to be learnt from Corpus Christi is something one might expect even those protesting the play to agree with, for despite the liberties McNally takes, he remains faithful to the most important lessons taught by the Jesus of the Gospels. Love your neighbor, and realize that your neighbor isn’t just the person who shares your demographics and lives right next door to you but that the people who make you most uncomfortable, the lepers, the homeless, the faggots, the tall-haired Pentecostals, whoever, are also your neighbors.

People who focus on Corpus Christi’s literal untruths and protest the play miss this most important truth. What Jesus would want isn’t protection from blasphemy — as depicted both in Corpus Christi and in the Book of Matthew, if Jesus wanted protection from blasphemers, “Do you think [he] cannot call on [his] Father and … [have] at once … twelve legions of angels” to provide such protection? No, instead what Jesus wants is for us to recognize the divinity in each of us (shown beautifully in the introduction/baptism of each of the actors/disciples at the beginning of the play).

However, Corpus Christi focuses not only on Jesus’s message of love but also on the hatred his fellow men show to one another and to him, culminating in the play’s portrayal of the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus. Here I find Corpus Christi to be very true towards traditional Christian understanding — Jesus’s betrayal by Judas and his suffering and death were preordained by God — but I disagree (ironically, probably as opposed to the play’s protestors) with that traditional understanding and its depiction in this play. I do not believe that the only way an omnipotent God could forgive humanity was by sending a Son to Earth to be sacrificed to atone for our sins. Hello, omnipotent means all-powerful and an all-powerful God could damned well decide just to forgive us, couldn’t he? No, instead I think that the historical Jesus with his radical message of defying social conventions and loving everyone ran afoul of religious and secular authorities and got himself killed.

Yet despite my disagreement with the historical accuracy of the crucifixion in Corpus Christi, I think director Michael Boyd did manage to bring truth to its depiction nonetheless. The projection of photos of protestors from Westboro Baptist Church, of defaced pro-gay Christian billboards and of Matthew Shepard and the site of his death rammed home the point that just as the historical Jesus faced hatred from his fellow humans so too are we today endangered by such hatred, especially if we try to be true to Jesus’s message. Unconditional love of all God’s children is radical and dangerous and difficult and scary.

Corpus Christi at the Dayton Playhouse runs through November 22, so if you’re reading this post shortly after I’ve written it you still have time to see it. Unlike other productions Boyd’s includes no intermission but runs straight through, but I found it very powerful and thought the time passed quickly. You might not think you could find such good theatre in Dayton, but you can.

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Candace Chellew-Hodge, Jason & deMarco, and the Holy Cow
Candace Chellew-Hodge provided the message part of Holy C.O.W., and Jason & deMarco provided the music part.
This morning I attended a workshop at my church by the Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge (the first part of whose last name rhymes with “shoe,” not “chew”), author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. Frankly I’d been a bit reluctant to go. I’m quite secure in my faith and don’t need what I thought Chellew-Hodge would have to offer, but because I chair my church’s Justice & Witness ministry, whose Equality Cross Creek team arranged the big Holy C.O.W. (Celebrate Our Welcome) Weekend of which this workshop was a part, I felt obligated to go. However, having gone, I can say that I did enjoy hearing Chellew-Hodge speak (if she ever wanted to give up preaching, she could take up a career in stand up comedy) and learned a thing or two.

What I’d thought Chellew-Hodge would have to offer (and my thinking this probably shows that I did not read her book) was a bunch of refutations to the various Bible verses so often trotted out by people who believe homosexuality is a sin, but that’s not what Chellew-Hodge’s talk was mainly about. She did offer one fun refutation, however. If someone cites Romans chapter 1 to show that God disapproves of homosexuality, you can ask whether that person has read Romans chapter 2, which talks about no one’s having any excuse to pass judgement on anyone else.

Yet proof text fighting, countering one Bible verse with another, was not the point of Chellew-Hodge’s talk. Instead, her main idea is that people who use the Bible or other arguments to condemn homosexuality are trying to offer a gift and just because one is offered a gift does not mean that one has to accept it. In other words, for those of us who are secure in our faith, for those of us who have come to an understanding that we too are made in God’s image, for those of us who find value in trying to live as Jesus taught and are comfortable doing so without having to try to change our sexual identities, (and, I imagine, also for those who are comfortable not being Christian) there shouldn’t be anything anyone can say that will bother us. I pretty much knew that already because the example she gave was already true for me — if someone tells me I’m going to hell, it doesn’t bother me. I know, for a lot of reasons, that I’m not going to hell. What I also know, but more often need to put into practice, is that I can’t change the minds of most people who do think I’m going to hell and thus usually shouldn’t bother to try to do so.

Chellew-Hodge also pointed out that if we are bothered by something that someone else says about our faith, that we are bothered is not about the person who said something but rather is about ourselves and is something we need to work on for ourselves. She told us about having been motivated to go to seminary in order to learn how to refute the various things fundamentalist Christians say about homosexuality, to be able to change their minds and convince them they were wrong, but she finished her studies, having gotten weapons that might come in handy for proof text battles, with the conclusion that she didn’t need to engage in battles to defend her faith, in part because such battles usually cannot be won but also because there are better things she can be doing with her time, better ways she can serve God.

Thus, often, Chellew-Hodge said, when she gets hate mail explaining she’s going to hell for her “lifestyle,” she just uses the DELETE button. Sometimes she uses gentle humor—tell her she’s going to hell, and she’ll tell you she’ll save you a seat.

Chellew Hodge also realizes that, just as our being bothered by something someone else says is more about us than it is about them, so too is what someone else says more about them than it is about us. So sometimes when she’s challenged by someone about homosexuality, she really disarms her opponent by using Dale Carnegie’s magic phrase and saying, “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.” People who feel compelled to speak out against homosexuality often are looking to do spiritual battle and are surprised when instead their words are simply acknowledged as having been heard.

That’s not to say that Chellew-Hodge never engages in debates with those who disagree with her theology. She warns against doing so in anger and with the intention of coming away right because that leads to frustration and unhappiness. A debate is less about changing one’s opponent’s mind than about quietly influencing bystanders, some of whom might also think as one’s opponent does and others of whom might be, for example, closeted young queers. Gentle and respectful disagreement can open minds.

An example Chellew-Hodge gave is one I too recently found myself using, though perhaps not as gently and respectfully as she. In 2006 Chellew-Hodge spoke on panels in South Carolina against the proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Once an African American man spoke up to urge that gay men and lesbians wait until public opinion had changed in our favor before pressing for our rights. Chellew-Hodge told him that after the 1967 Supreme Court decision striking down bans on interracial marriage, polls still showed over 70% of Americans disapproving of such marriages; she pointed out that civil rights shouldn’t be subject to the will of the majority. As Chellew-Hodge pointed out to us at Cross Creek this morning, one can still refute nonsense but should do so gently and respectfully.

Another thing Chellew-Hodge said that stuck with me was that people shouldn’t have to say, “I’m a Christian.” If you have to say it, you might not be acting in the most Christ-like manner. I think that this goes along with the rest of her message, that by striving to live one’s beliefs one can change more minds than by talking about one’s beliefs. It goes along with the best way to get people to be in favor of equal rights for all people including queers—the more queers non-gay people see going out our lives gently, respectfully, trying to work for justice, the less a big deal equal rights for queers will be. It’s probably also the only way to convince people that one can be gay and Christian.

Monday, March 16th, 2009

What a shame…

that homosexual men and women such as Wesley Hill and Bekah Mason continue, so many years after Stonewall, decades since it's been possible to grow up thinking you're "the only one" around, to buy into the bullshit that the only way to be Christian and gay is to consider a large part of who one is to be temptation towards sin placed in one's mind by Satan, something one must resist lest one imperil one's eternal soul.

There's no point in my trying to refute all the arguments that people such as Wesley and Bekah make. Obviously they have access to the Internet and obviously if they'd wanted to, they could have read all sorts of material refuting the worldview to which they're bound. Both of them, should they ever happen across this post, will probably pray to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that I come to my senses, see the Light and mend my wicked ways.

Here's hoping that Wesley and Bekah don't waste too much more of their lives trying to suppress who they really are and that sooner rather than later they realize that their gayness is in fact a manifestation of the Divine within all of us.

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006
Real Christians only, please
If you read my blog last month, you know already what ChMS stands for and that some ChMS companies don't care for churches who cater to alternative lifestyles. Despite a few setbacks my church's search for the right web-enabled ChMS has been continuing, with the latest possible candidate being Ekklesia 360, a system that does everything from managing web content to attracting online traffic to involving your community in the ministry to spreading the gospel.

Yes, gospel is spelled with a lower-case "g" on Ekklesia's website, although as it turns out, I'm thinking they should be capitalizing it, because The Gospel's pretty important to them. You see, after we contacted Ekklesia, they took a look at our website and told us they didn't want to do business with us, though not for the reason you might expect, that we're soft on homosexuality. No, it's because of the shocking news, featured on the front page of our website, that a Jew was coming to Cross Creek to preach, and not to preach the Good News that Jesus is Christ.


Rabbi Judy Chessin
Our Jewish guest this weekend was none other than Temple Beth Or's founding rabbi, Rabbi Judy Chessin, an interesting choice for the first weekend of Advent, the season during which we anticipate Christ's birth.

Rabbi Chessin did not come to proclaim that she was a Jew for Jesus but rather explained that she does not believe Jesus was the Messiah. She was quite tactful about it, explaining the criteria outlined in Jewish tradition for what it takes to be the Messiah. A person must fulfill every one of these criteria to be the Messiah, and at least one of them, worldwide peace, is a humdinger. Logically, Rabbi Chessin said, we wouldn't expect there ever to be someone who could qualify. Even Christians don't believe Jesus achieved world peace during his time on Earth, hence the need for a Second Coming.

However, it was our similarities, not our differences, that Rabbi Chessin wanted to stress. We all are waiting for the Messianic age, whether it is marked by the Messiah's return or by his (or her, Rabbi Chessin said) initial arrival. We all need to work together to bring about this time when there'll be no more injustice or ignorance or disease or poverty.

Ekklesia's not having any of this ecumenism (it can't be a coincidence that ecumenism about rhymes with secular humanism, can it?) though. If we're willing to have a rabbi, and a woman nonetheless, stand up in our church and say that Jesus isn't Christ, no matter what she might say about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, then we're not Ekklesia's type of Christians, and God knows, if they took just any type of Christians, they might as well rename their software Ecumenia 360.
Friday, April 14th, 2006
This year was the first year that my church, Cross Creek Community Church, participated in the annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross walk for justice and peace, along with people from College Hill Presbyterian Church, our partner church. The walk combines the traditional stations with important social justice issues of today and relevant contemporary quotes about each issue. Our church's Justice and Witness committee thought it would be good for us to participate; we got to sponsor station 8, where we talked about discrimination.

So many people think that this week is all about Jesus' having died as part of some convoluted way through which his father could forgive us all for our sins (God couldn't just choose to extend grace to all of us?). Whether or not that is true, I do think that the historical Jesus was a witness for peace and justice, and by calling attention to issues he would have cared about, we take a step towards following his example.

You can see more pictures from the walk in the galleries.
Saturday, May 22nd, 2004
If you've browsed the books I've gotten lately, you might have noticed The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament. I haven't gotten too far in it since I only read it in bed. I usually read for pleasure just before going to sleep, but not for the reason you may be thinking (the book's not about gay erotic stories, although I do have a book or two of those).

Theodore Jennings' argument is that Jesus' beloved disciple, mentioned thusly only in the Gospel of John, was not only a man but Jesus' gay lover. I've never really considered this before, nor, I'd bet, have most people. Certainly people have considered that Jesus might not have been celibate, but perhaps the best known candidate as a mate for Jesus would be Mary Magdalene, especially given the popularity (notoriety?) of works such as The Last Temptation of Christ and The Da Vinci Code.

I wouldn't be upset if the people who think Mary Magdalene was Jesus' lover or wife are right, but they have some explaining to do about the disciple whom Jesus loved. Jesus did have more disciples than the 12 apostles, and some of those disciples were women, but Mary Magdalene was not the disciple whom Jesus loved. During the crucifixion (see John 19:25-27), Mary Magdalene stood at the cross with, among others, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Jesus then presented his mother Mary and that disciple to each other as son and mother, and Jesus' beloved took Mary into his home. So if Mary Magdalene were Jesus' lover and especially if she were the mother of his children (the Merovingian dynasty?!), why is Jesus sending Mary his mother to live with some man instead of with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren?

Of course there are many theories about Jesus' life, the predominant one being that he was celibate, sinless and divine (How can I consider myself Christian if I consider that just a theory? That'd be a whole other blog entry, if not a book). From what I've read so far Jennings does a pretty convincing job of dealing with these other theories, although he acknowledges that gay people may be predisposed to accepting that Jesus was gay (just as homophobes might be predisposed to reject such an argument).

In the chapter I'm reading now (5, "The Hidden Tradition"), Jennings reveals something that is not only surprising to me but that was also surprising to him, namely that this idea that Jesus and the disciple he loved were gay lovers is not new. For example, at the inquest of the death of Christopher Marlowe, one of the men accused of murdering him tried to justify it by complaining that Marlowe had said that "St. John [who many people, but not Jennings, think was the disciple Jesus loved] was bedfellow to Christ." That's just one example Jennings found. Accuse him of being a revisionist homosexual activist if you want, but he's not the only one.
Sunday, April 18th
Today was the last day of the Alliance of Baptists convocation held here in Dayton. I went to the worship service last night, at which the main speaker was Charles Kimball of Wake Forest University, to a dialogue this morning with James Fowler of the Emory University Center for Ethics and Public Policy Research, and to the worship service this morning, at which the main speaker was Karen Thomas Smith of Al Akhawayn University in Morocco.

Jeremiah Wright on Friday night was a very dynamic speaker, and I really enjoyed Karen Thomas Smith today. The daughter of a Baptist preacher, she became one herself and now serves as ecumenical chaplain at Al Akhawayn, a university founded by the King of Morocco in part to promote dialogue and work among people of different faith backgrounds. Part of what she stressed was that Christians who try to convert people of other faiths not only cause others to question Christians' motives but also lose an opportunity to learn what other faiths have to teach. She's definitely a woman who believes that Jesus had some important things to teach us but that Jesus is not the sole path to a relationship with God and God's creation.

If that's not enough to make you realize that the Alliance of Baptists are different from their more fundamental brethren, two books I bought today at the convocation's bookstore might be. Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible on its own might be enough to rile some Southern Baptists, but The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament would certainly make them indignant.
Friday, April 16th, 2004
You may know that I'm a member of Cross Creek Community Church, and you may know that Cross Creek is part of the United Church of Christ, but did you know that Cross Creek is also affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists? Just as some people make certain assumptions when they hear the word Christian so too do they make similar assumptions when they hear Baptist. There are of course Baptists and Christians who are pretty vocal about their beliefs, thus fostering those assumptions, but there are other Baptists and Christians who put a different emphasis on their beliefs. Southern Baptists might be representative of the former group; the Alliance of Baptists is representative of the latter.

Cross Creek's pastor, Mike Castle, comes from a Southern Baptist background, and after leaving the Southern Baptists and coming to the UCC (with a brief visit to the United Methodists), he wanted Cross Creek to have a connection to the Baptist tradition, at least the parts of that tradition that Cross Creek could affirm. So Cross Creek has been affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists since Cross Creek's founding. Last year the UCC as a denomination decided to partner with the Alliance of Baptists along with the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ (with whom the UCC already partnered for foreign missions).
? So to make a long story at least somewhat short, this year the 18th annual convocation of the Alliance of Baptists is being held here in Dayton, and Cross Creek is the host church, providing volunteers to staff tables, cook and serve food, house participants and other tasks. Since our building is too small for all the participants, the event is being held downtown at First Baptist Church, an American Baptist church that's also part of the Alliance of Baptists.

I chose an easy task for my volunteer duties, namely providing housing to a participant. My guest this weekend is David Reese, a religion major at Oberlin College. He's got an interesting web site, and apparently he's a comedian who's part of the group Piscapo's Arm.

I'm not participating in the workshops at the convocation, but I am going to the worship services. Tonight's started off fairly slow with all the officials of the hosting congregations and the three denominations taking a long time to say how glad they were that they, each other, and all of us were there. The pace picked up when Timothy Tutt, pastor of United Christian Church in Austin, Texas, explained ecumenism by comparing it to jazz, with some musical help from Winton Reynolds, Phil Borrero and Brad Taylor's jazz trio.

The highlight of the service was a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah H. Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. This man has a style that's decidedly "African American Baptist preacher," which had me wondering where he was going (was he heading to Biblical literalism? Jesus as Christ is the only path to God?), but by the middle of his sermon he was saying some things I could definitely agree with. I'd be very surprised if any members of his congregation were ardent Bush supporters or strident believers that homosexuality is a sin.
 
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