Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Get it Together, Church

I read and reread Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's letter about the Orlando shooting about a half dozen times this morning, and I am left with the same question.

Your words about coming together and admitting where we have "othered" and start working towards a better world - the Kingdom of God are great.  But will I be able to serve in any ELCA church as an openly gay man in a relationship?


Not with our policy of "bound conscience" - the very same policy that allows for the discrimination of women and people of color in our churches, by the way.  Not to mention any number of other possibilities for discrimination which range from physical ability to age.

And all of this discrimination seems to be legally sanctioned by the church.  Each congregation has the ability to turn away a pastor because of any number of these different reasons, because they are "bound by their conscience to not have a pastor that fits into each of these categories because they aren't sure if this candidate is living the appropriate moral life to be a pastor" (I'm paraphrasing many of the excuses I've heard over the years.)

And frankly, I don't know that this policy is going anywhere anytime soon.

Because in 2009, this policy was upheld by the ELCA when it reached a decision that openly LGBTQ clergy could be ordained even if they were in a relationship, but each congregation could make that determination for itself.

And while many were elated that the possibility existed for the first time within our denomination, I felt that it was essentially a step forward and a step backward.  For while LGBTQ folk could become pastors, they could not be comfortable or confident that every church in the ELCA would welcome them as one who has heard God's call - to the point that we still have the designation Reconciling in Christ as a way to identify which congregations will allow LGBTQ pastors.

There was no acknowledgement that sexual orientation had no bearing whatsoever on someone's ability to be a pastor.  That sexual orientation in all of its expressions is not inherently sinful.  And that, most of all, the church still doesn't feel that "it's ok to be gay."

Which is another way of saying, we don't really know what to do with you, but we're not entirely ready to say you are not "other," but we know that we ought to.

Or, in my more cynical moments, "we are more concerned with having a falsely united church that will weaken the gospel, than letting you know that you are God's chosen child and can experience the same call to ministry that any straight person does."

So, if the ELCA is going to be serious about moving forward, I have some thoughts on the matter.

1) Stop requiring pastoral candidates to self identify on the RLP (Rostered Leader Profile).  My gender has absolutely no bearing on my ability to pastor folks.  Neither does my sexual orientation.  Or age.  Making me put this information on the page before the congregation gets the opportunity to meet me (on paper and in person) puts an unfair bias towards me, whether good or bad.

1a) Yes, I'm aware that this means more congregations will assume they are getting paperwork from straight, white cis men, but only by continuing to reverse these expectations will they change.  See also, why feminism is important.

2) Require congregations to say more than "we didn't feel like it was a good fit."  I don't know if I entirely agree with the placement process of our UMC and Catholic sisters and brothers, but I do think that a congregation is able to get away with a lot of discrimination by using those words.  That reason for a good fit could be because the candidate is a woman.  Or black.  Or may be in a wheelchair.  Failing to give reasonable and concrete reasons why the congregation does not feel the Spirit is moving in this direction only legitimizes discrimination that our country claims to not tolerate in any other aspect of the workforce.

3) A resounding statement from the ELCA that revolutionizes and radicalizes our churches by saying, we do not feel that there is inherently anything sinful about the existence of LGBTQ folks.  That being gay, or bi, or transgendered or gender queer does not have anything to do with sin before God and before others.  And that to be a part of the ELCA means to be able to say that, the same way that we confess that we believe in God the Father.

3a) Again, this extends to those who are also "othered" such as people of color, women, folks who are differently abled, older folks, younger folks, etc.

I know this is radical.  I know this will not happen overnight.

I also know this will, to put it bluntly, piss off a lot of people.  The ELCA may lose a lot of members and congregations who cannot abide by any of these (but mostly 3 and 3a).

This does not mean it should not be done.

To not do what is right, even out of fear that others will leave, is not a good enough reason to not do it.

*Disclaimer, not comparing the struggle of LGBTQ folks with the struggle of black people in America ahead*

Abraham Lincoln could have not freed all slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation, and doing so may have prevented the Civil War.  That does not mean he should not have done it.

To do what is right, especially when the Gospel is concerned, is going to make folks angry.  It's going to make people leave.  But that does not mean we should not boldly proclaim the Gospel.

Will we, as a church, do what is right?  Will we proclaim the Gospel boldly, even though folks will get upset and leave our buildings?  Or will we continue to try and walk a middle ground, trying to appease both sides and angering everyone, becoming more and more lukewarm with each passing moment?

I hope, I pray, that we will be empowered to proclaim God's Gospel, regardless of consequence. "Empowered to do this thing by Christ who strengthens us."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love?

What follows is inspired by my sermon for the people of Word of Hope on Maundy Thursday 2016.  The inspiration for this comes from John 13:35.

"By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

In my sermon tonight, I posed the people listening to ask themselves a question as they move throughout Good Friday tomorrow.

"If someone who didn't know God saw you, would they know that you were a disciple of Christ?"

And this, of course, got me thinking.

Would anyone who saw someone who professes to be a Christian, know through them the same radical and crazy love of a God who becomes flesh and blood and washes feet and dies?

 And the answer, quite frankly, is probably not.

And I can already hear your righteous indignation.  So I'm going to ask you to put that aside for just a minute and truly think about this.

Would anyone who didn't know God, look at your life and experience through you, the radical love of God?


I can say that most people who look at me probably wouldn't.

And it's not because I have tattoos.  Or because I swear.  Or because I've known to have a beer or two.  Or because I'm gay.

But it's cause I'm materialist.  I'm selfish.  I'm often scared.  I, too often, put people in categories of "us vs. them."

I'm white.  I'm male.  I'm cisgendered.  I'm abled.  I'm in that sweet spot of being neither too old nor too young.

And while all of those things do a good job of getting me ahead in the fallen world, they don't really help people experience the God of the oppressed through me.

And how many Christians do you know that fit into similar categories?  And in their lives, do you see God's presence?

(Tangent - this is why a white Jesus isn't saving anyone.  That's a post for another day though.  Or just read James Cone, he says it better.)

And not just in our bodies, but also in how we act.

Do we talk to people who are homeless when we see them?  Do we go out and feed the hungry?  Do we work to support justice for all people?  Do we give more than we spend?

Do we love others in a "let me wash your feet" kind of way?

Do we love others enough that we would, without using violence, be willing to die for them?

Do we love others enough to let go of the power we as the majority have held for two hundred years so that others can have a seat at the table?

Do we live in a way that says "I love you the way that Christ loves you.  And I do this because I know Christ loves me like that too,"?

My gut.  No.

Some might.  But Christians as a whole?  Not a chance.

So let's stop kidding ourselves.  Let's stop calling ourselves Christians.  Or Jesus freaks.  Or followers of Christ.  Or disciples.

Cause we're not.

I'm not say we can't be. But we aren't right now.

So let's confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.  Then let's humble ourselves enough to let Christ wash our feet.  And then humble ourselves even more to start washing the feet of others.


Monday, March 21, 2016

What does our Savior Look Like?

Yesterday was Palm Sunday in the Western church.

And what do we do for Palm Sunday?  We read the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a colt (or donkey, depending on the year) and follow that up with a one-two punch of the passion story.

Jesus is welcomed as the Messiah by the mob.  And then less than a week later that mob is turning on him shouting for him to be crucified.

It's emotional whiplash, to say the least.

But, is it really surprisingly, given what we know about humanity?

The mob expects Jesus to be the Messiah - to be the military leader and conquerer who will teach them to violently overthrow the Romans.  They probably expected him to come riding in on a mighty stallion.

So what does Jesus do?  He rides on a colt (or donkey, or both) and completely messes with their head.

They roll out the red carpet for him.  They praise him the way they would a returning conquerer.

And what does Jesus do?

He goes to the temple and teaches about justice.  And God's kingdom.  And the different ways that God wants all people to be in right relationships with one another and God.  And most of all - to quote Bob Dylan - that "the times, they are a-changing."

And Jesus' message strikes fear in the hearts of those in power.  Who then, in turn, incite fear into the mob - the very mob who just days earlier was shouting for joy and praising Jesus.

What's the consequence of irrational fear?


Those in power and the mob now shout crucify.  Kill the one who wants to bring justice and change to the world.

Kill Jesus.  Kill our Messiah - the one who let us down and failed us.

Lynch him. it legally.

Let's set him up.

Let's bust him for false drug charges.

Let's beat him up in prison.  Let's call him names.  Let's degrade him and try to take away his humanity.

Let's whip up the jury into a frenzy during his trial.

Let's pressure the judge into giving him the worst possible sentence.

The let's hang Jesus up.

And watch the Messiah die.
Let's watch the Son of God die.

All because the message of salvation that Jesus brings us isn't one of violence.  It's one of peace.  It's not a message of war, but one of a day without death.

All because Jesus isn't about building walls and keeping people out, but building longer tables and letting people in.

And all of this got to me yesterday.

This message.  This story.  And our world.

I thought about how America is going crazy.  How hundreds of thousands of people are pushing for more violence.  For more war.  For more fear.  For bigger walls (quite literally).

And I thought about what the Messiah actually looks like.

She will be the one who simply refuses to get up out of her seat.  The one who climbs the flagpole and removes a symbol of oppression.

She will be the one advocating for longer tables.

She will be the one offering a day of no more death.  No more war.  Justice for all people.

She will be the one who gets beat up.  She will be the one who gets strung up.  She will be the one who gets shot.

And how many of us will miss her?

How many of us will be so afraid that we follow the false Messiah?

How many of us will be open our eyes and look to places where God shows up time after time - the oppressed, the poor, those who are beaten down and enslaved by the system - and look for our Messiah there?

My hope is that we will find her.  And that we will pay attention to her.

And that she will change our lives the same way the empty tomb changed everything.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Baseball and Social Justice

I was having a conversation with a dear friend this morning about baseball.

And I was trying to share with her my love for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  And she was like, "they are so bad, why would I ever want to root for them?"

And my response?  "I love them, precisely because they are so bad.  And because they get no love from anywhere but Pittsburgh folks anywhere else in the country."

(Note: This is a story that is loosely based on one line of a text message, many of the details have been changed to preserve my integrity and to prove my point)

And I started to think about how I was perhaps primed from a young age to be on board with social justice issues.

Growing up, my dad was a big fan of the Minnesota Twins, who are the running joke as being one of the worst teams in MLB.  And then we moved to West Virginia and I myself became a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.  The team, who also has become a running joke among baseball fans.

Neither of these teams has had much luck over the past...oh 20 years or so.  They've had some good runs, but what happens - especially with the Pirates is that their star players get traded off by mid-season, and then things fall apart after the All-Star game.

In all this, though, my love for the Pirates has not changed.  In fact, I think I love them even more because they are consistently the MLB underdog.  They will never be as successful or as popular as the Yankees or the Red Sox (or the White Sox).  It's just not going to happen.

But I love them.  And I want them to do well and to succeed.  And to not be mined out for their best players in such a way that keeps them at the bottom of MLB.

I want them to get respect.

Which is really, what social justice is, at it's heart.  It is loving the groups in our society, not because of what they've accomplished - but because they deserve respect and an actual chance to do well and succeed.

Social justice isn't about bringing the top down to the bottom.

It's about bringing the bottom to the top.

It's about giving everyone a chance to play 9 innings, with their best players.

It's about playing by rules that benefit both teams.

Sadly, we live in a world where the rules benefit only one team.

So let's change the rules.  Let's make the game actually fair.  Let's start treating the other team with dignity and respect.

I mean that's what sportsmanship is all about, isn't it?   Being a good sport means crying out that the rules or calls are hurting the other team.

Same with social justice.  Being an agent of social justice is, at it's heart, means crying out that the rules are hurting the other team.

Of course, in all this, I am also reminded that God's kingdom isn't necessarily like major league baseball.  It's better than that.

It's more like how the kids in The Sandlot play ball.  Especially when they're by themselves.  There isn't a winner, there isn't a loser.

It's just about playing the game.

God tells us to be childlike, because children - before adults get in the way - don't care about winning and losing.  They just want to play the game and have fun.

Let's learn to play together.  Let's learn to let go of needing to win - especially us white men - and let's learn to treat all of the other players on the field with the same dignity and respect we (again, as white men) have gotten for our lives.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Starting a Conversation

The following is a guest post by my good friend and brother, Brian Foulks.

The constant rehearsing of the trauma of racism has placed an indelible chasm in the soul of black folks. As we wrestle to understand and try to reconcile, how other Christians can stand around as such heinous crimes were/are being done to black and brown folks. How can Christians care so little about the poor and alienated while condoning the evil rhetoric of a Donald Trump? Yes, I applaud Donald Trump for at least [being] honest about his politics but he is an evil man. How do Christians even justify that black and brown lives are not vehemently abused by society? If you call yourself a believer in Jesus and live out the tenants of the Christian faith, how do you reconcile with such evil?
Racism kills the very essence of love and confines perspectives; there is no growth or progression. You can’t say you’re not racist but sit idly by and not combat racism. You can’t say you’re not racist and think that it is ok to allow poor education and poor healthcare to ravage through black and brown communities.
Racism sucks the life out of organization. It demeans in order to tear down. There is no redeemable quality within racism. Racisms presents a subtle approach but it comes with obvious and intentional outcomes –keep black and brown people poverty. There is nothing accidental about racism. It is an intentional weapon used when the majority finds its status sleeping away.
The mere thought of racial reconciliation is laughable at best. What exactly would this reconciliation mean? Here the words of James Cone,
Reconciliation does not transcend color, thus making us all white. The problem of values is not that white people need to instill values in the ghetto; but white society itself needs values so that it will no longer need a ghetto. Black values did not create a ghetto; white values did. Therefore God’s Word of reconciliation makes us all black. Through this radical change, we become identified totally with the suffering of the black masses. It is this fact that makes all white churches anti-Christian churches in their essence. To be Christian is to be one of those whom God has chosen. God has chosen black people.
Now these words can be easily misconstrued if read through the eyes of racism. But Cone is very simply stating that God is on the side of the” least of these.” Black is not a color but a place where “your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are.” To be Christian in to know what the underside looks like and to feel the pain of the margins. Reconciliation is not just a pathological response of forgiveness but it is a deep intrinsic reframing of one’s authentic God-self.
 I love the words that introduce Dr. Yolanda Pierce’s website,
“I am not interested in most conversations about equality. To whom would you like to be equal, given a broken and morally bankrupt system? Do you want to be equal to the persons, forces, and systems which generate the very terms of your oppression?  I am, however, interested in the weightier matters of law: justice and freedom.  How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?"
These words echo the sentiments of a generation that’s been disproportionately jailed, harassed, overlooked and abused for the sheer nature of their skin. Honestly, the system is not broken, it is working exactly how it was programed to work. When corrupt people build a system, you can rest assured that the system is corrupt. America was established through corruption, theft and racism and those sins continue to wreak havoc on all people locked “in these yet to be united states.” Maybe KRS-One was right when he rapped, “There can never be justice on stolen land.” There is no simple strategy or words that can make things better overnight. But a collective sorry that is entrenched in justice is a good place to start.
“How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly?- Pierce

If you want to know more about Brian, you can check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.  Brian is currently a STM student at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC.  His insights have always been important in shaping my understandings of race and Christianity (like above).  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Maybe the Church Should Come Out

What follows are some cursory thoughts, it's certainly not an end all, be all conversation, but rather a lengthened version of Jared's morning coffee musings.
A lot comes from what I preached on Sunday and a lot also comes from the following Ted Talk, which I've found to be really interesting and perhaps helpful.

I think the church could stand to learn a little bit about death and resurrection from the LGBTQ community.

And by that, I mean the church should spend some time coming out.

I cannot speak for the whole community, but I can speak about what coming out was like for me.  And coming out felt an awful lot like death and resurrection.

When I came out, I had to let a lot of things I previously thought or wanted to believe about myself to death.  When I came out, I also got to have a lot of myself resurrected and restored into a new creation.

And while this is a long and interesting story, which I would be happy to share at a later time, I will skip to my main point, which is that the church should spend some time coming out, itself.

And by that, I mean the church needs to let go some ideas of what and who it is, let some ideas about itself die, so that God can resurrect the Body of Christ.  You know, that business that God has been in for 2000 years or so.

The church has been telling all sorts of nasty lies about itself, and none of them are really helping the Body of Christ live and thrive.

Lies that include:

  • We are a church that belongs in authority.
  • We are a church that has all the answers.
  • We are the owners of the exclusive path to salvation.
  • We are the church of the 1950s (ok, so maybe this one belongs to my denomination more than most.)
The list can go on and on.

But the point is, these lies need to go.  We need to stop clinging so tightly to them that we choke out any points for us to grow and be transformed into who God is calling us to be.

We need to come out, to stop trying to be those things, and start being who and whose we are, rooted in scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

We need to stop being something we're not and start being who we have always been created to be.

And maybe, just maybe, when we start doing that, we'll find that we no longer are in a struggle to survive but find ourselves thriving.

That's probably enough rambling for a Tuesday morning.  I'm sure this conversation is one that can be held again and again and again.

Cause coming out is a process that you have to do over and over again.  Because who we are changes over time as we grow and transform.

So, maybe, just maybe, we should stop being afraid of it and learn to love it?

I know I have learned to love coming out.  Why can't the church? 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

40 Frames in Focus

So, after asking the Internet, aka my Facebook friends, I've decided to focus my 40 Frames and 40 Nights Lenten discipline.

I'll be doing the following films, which are fairly easy to stream online.

  • Dope
  • Dirty Pretty Things
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • Weekend
  • Tangerine
  • Blue is the Warmest Color
  • Monica and David

The following are films that I've found physical copies for, that I also plan on watching during Lent, which I will talk about over the course of the next 40 days as well.  However, they are not as easy to stream online.

  • Chi-Raq
  • The Skeleton Twins
  • Saved!
  • Ill Manors
I know not all of these films are perfect.  But I'm going to make a conscious decision for the purpose of this Lenten discipline to not focus on their flaws and how they perpetuate other symptoms of systemic sin in our world.  Instead, I'm going to focus my reflections on how each of these films challenge my understanding of how the world works.

So here goes!