30 March 2009

A TAMFS Prayer for the Presbyterian Church

(Offered by Derrick McQueen)

Dearest love my God, I had a dream about you the other day. You had prepared a banquet feast
in the middle of one of your warm and inviting fields.
Your smile shined the sun's beam upon my face
and I could not help but close my eyes
as your warmth washed over me. Looking over the horizon

there were people cresting the hill
holding hands and laughing,
embracing and inviting.

They had all come to sit at the welcome table.
As we stood behind our chairs at the table
You smiled and a tear of joy rested in the corner of Your eye.
We worshipped You because of your love for us.
We sang, we danced, we heard your word
Proclaimed from each and every heart.
What a wonderful gift you give us with life, father God.
What a powerful command to love and be well
you instill in us, mother God.
As we spoke of our joys and concerns
we turned to comfort and console one another;
it was a wonderful kind of peace.
And then there was Jesus, arms outstretched.
He said,

"I'm so glad you all could make it.
I'm so glad you all are home."

As I opened my eyes I noticed the tears had soaked my pillow.
And as my mind-place settled itself
outside of the dream world,
my voice exclaimed, "My church!"

Wonderful God we thank you for the promise
of what your church can be.
We see the open table
where the gifts of Christ are to be shared with one another.

We are grateful that we live in such a time as this

when the home of Jesus Christ is alive
and the Spirit really does open the door
for all to enter in.

We pray this and everyday that You will reveal to us, oh God,
the ways in which we can make the church of Your dreams,
the dream of our reality:
One church family of believers who love you and each other
in every healthy way.
A family where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, straight--
where all of Your children sing together in harmony,

"We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love,
yes by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love."

It is with this love that we come to you
with a request upon our lips:
We ask you for courage, strength, dignity
and that the blessed assurance of your call
will allow all of your LBGTQII candidates
to continue to want to share Our God-given ministry
with the church.

Help us to stand strong as we journey along the path
of Inquirer to Candidate,
from Candidate to Certified,
and from Certified to Called.

We know that in your Wisdom, Sophia, all is possible.
So we ask You to prepare Your children for service
in the surety that our time has come.
And while we are readied, prepare your church.
Allow the votes as they proceed from Presbytery to Presbytery
to speak your truth.
Let all see that the tide of conversation has changed
and so the time has come. We are ready to serve, let it be your will. We ask all of this because you love us.
We ask you for a whole church
because we know that you heal brokenness.
We ask you all of this because we love you and our neighbors--
even those that would knock us down--
as you have commanded.
We love them because we love the fullness of creation
in which you have formed each and every one of us.
Because we love ourselves as you have made us,
we give the purest honor to you Oh God our blessed Creator. I dreamed of you the other day... In your precious Holy names we pray now and forever. Amen.

26 March 2009

Wasn't it Joseph who interpreted dreams...?

Rev. Chris Shelton
Presbyterian Welcome Board President

A warning, gentle reader, the following blog post was written at 3:29am. It was written upon waking from a dream in which the writer, gentle reader, was literally flying back and forth between rooms of a waterfront party facility of some sort – his Texan family enjoying barbecue in one room, while protesters for marriage equality staged a fundraiser-slash-dance party-slash-dog show in the other. (My money was on the Welsh Corgi.) Nathan Lane was in the next room, waiting for a crowd to gather for a stand-up comedy routine, waiting. Ah. (Admonitio est nisus. Lego in pace. – The warning has ended, you may read on in peace.)

Across the hall from my office is a conference room. It has a TV in it. I had never known that the TV actually worked until today. Someone from the church was working down the hall, and their child went into the conference room. All of the sudden I hear a theme song blasting its way across the hall. “Da da da dee dee, dee dee, dee dee, dee doo, da da da dee dee, dee dee dee doo…”

The mother went in to quiet the noise, scolding the child gently as the volume went down. She poked her head in my office afterward, to apologize.

“All’s well,” I responded. “But tell me, what was that theme song – I haven’t heard it in a while.”

“Oh,” she laughed, “Quantum Leap. Quantum Leap is just getting started.”

Indeed. Complete with a catchy theme song that could be our own.

There is a quantum leap underway in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and this is not the time to turn the volume down, no matter what some may say.

As of this writing, 23 presbyteries have “flipped” their votes in favor of ordaining the full spectrum of persons who are called by God into service as Deacons, Elders, or Ministers of the Word and Sacrament. This is good news. Using the language of the newly proposed Ammendment B, these votes join 33 other repeat-defenders in affirming Jesus Christ as “the Head of the Church.” Sadly, 81 presbyteries have failed to join in this affirmation.

The New-B may fall short of the 87 votes it needs this year. But don’t let that lead you to think its time to turn the volume down…there’s a new theme that’s playing loud and clear. There are those who haven’t heard the song yet…and well, they’ll be tapping their toes here someday.

In Presbyterian Welcome, we’re cranking up the volume and learning how to leap again.

The Board recently spent time in retreat together – listening as God calls us to keep on educating, to keep on worshipping, to keep on sharing our stories of struggle and our stories of new life in Christ. With so many vote flips, with such a positive shift in per-person voting as well… with the old Authoritative Interpretations finally set aside, and a new one in place that cracks open the door… with a fresh hope stirring in our hearts even though the road ahead is still a long one… and with an urgency born of this hope, we are simply not going to listen we they tell us to turn down the volume.

“Da da da dee dee, dee dee, dee dee, dee doo, da da da dee dee, dee dee dee doo…”

I’d almost forgotten that song.

Care to dance?

(Or have some barbecue? Or pet the Welsh Corgi? Either way, it’s a dream and a party. Yes, gentle reader, there’s still some waiting to do. But waiting is easier with a good song to sing.)

God loves a good quantum leap now and again.

(Blogito est nisus. Tripudio en pace. The blog entry has ended. Dance in peace.)

16 March 2009

Love all the “whosoevers.”

Lectionary: 4th Sunday in Lent

Three times today I have been the object of judgment by a male stranger. Each time had something to do with my perceived sexuality. Two proclaimed longing but then there was the one in Park Slope. After brunch a female friend and I were walking down Eighth Avenue when we noticed the street was a congested parking lot of traffic due to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. As we walked along a man with the windows rolled down in his car screamed at the traffic and the drivers to go. We both chuckled to ourselves and kept walking. In the next breath the driver began shouting at us and hurled a particularly hateful, sexual slur. My face fell and we walked along for another block in silence, parted awkwardly, and separated ways. We checked in with each other later in the evening and found we were both a little shaken, afraid, and angry.

Condemnation will do that to yah, I guess.

Judgment is painful.

The Good News is that judgment in John 3 is nothing like what I experienced today. John clearly states in verse 17 that Christ did not come to condemn. John is not talking about a god who wags a finger in our general direction nor a savior who hurls hatred and self doubt out the window. No, the Gospel writer speaks of love and grace that ushers us into the light of wholeness with audacious, courageous acceptance and joy. God’s grace sustains and scoots us along the path and helps us to judge and discern what is light and life giving and what is not.

Condemnation is life in the darkness. We who trust in Christ do not need to stay in the dark. Grace sustains our path. Spirit illumines our way. Christ comes to us as a gift of grace, shining love and light into our darkest places.

John 3:16 reminds us that we are claimed because we, queer and straight alike, are part of the “whosoever” that God loves. “Whosoever” includes any and every one of us who dares trust that there is something to this Jesus story. The “whosoever” in 3:16 includes me and you, and, yes, the guy in the car. “Whosoever” includes all of who we are: our sexuality, our sexual orientation, and our beloved sexual partner.

How often do we listen to the road-rage voice and turn anger inward instead of remembering that we, too, are included in the “whosoever?” It is easy to do which is why we need to show ourselves and each other an extra amount of grace this Lent. As we look towards Calvary, let us be earnest in our Lenten disciplines to judge and discern the light and dark parts of our lives. Let us also be clear that when we name our darkness and our sins we are not nailing our most sacred and beloved parts of ourselves up on a tree of condemnation. Trust the light. Look to the light of the world. Love all the “whosoevers.”

10 March 2009

Fear not!

Lisa Larges
Minister Coordinator, That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS)

I think fear is it’s own category of sin. Not the healthy run-you’re-going-to-be-eaten-by-a-saber-toothed-tiger appropriate kind, but the other kind. The fear that comes out of my own internalized homophobia, or my own jumbo sized fear of loss – of job, of security, of friendships, or respect and perhaps a thousand other things.

It slides over in to the sin category when it’s the one thing keeping me from being faithful, from listening and responding.

Maybe as a church we should be getting around to talking about Scripture, where it says, in the Psalms, and the Gospels, and the Prophets, and the Epistles, and just about any other place you want to look, “Fear not,” or “Don’t be afraid.”

What thing I’ve noticed in our movement for lgbt equality and welcome in the Presbyterian church as voting on amendment 8-B has wended its way through the Presbyteries is that it feels as if a burden of fear has been lifted off our collective shoulders. In so many corners of our church where the fear has been so real and so powerful for so long, people – beautiful, grace-filled faithful people – are stepping out of fear, taking risks, speaking out and showing up. After the counting of votes is over, and it’s time for analysis and reflection, let’s remember this as a time when we learned not to be afraid.

03 March 2009

A Friendly Fast

By Raedorah C. Stewart, Inquirer – Presbytery of the Pacific

The neologism ‘Social Networking’ describes the cultural phenomena of FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, DownLink, Tagged, and Twitter. The evolution of virtual communities which hosted special interest conversation threads, social networking has successfully combined the best of all virtual worlds. Members of social networking sites can post live feeds of their daily lives and thoughts, photo albums, videos (homemade or downloaded), thought provoking notes, frivolous nemes, and a vast collection of third-party applications to exchange virtual compliments, virtual hugs, virtual coffee breaks, and virtual pillow fights.

Once becoming a member of a social network, one invites ‘friends’ to join their network. These friends can be found with a single mouse click which dispatches a cyber spider to invite all of the people in your email to become your social network friend. Or, one might discover a high school friend, long lost friend, or friendly colleague in someone else’s network and invite them to become your friend in your network also. In making friends or collecting friends, one’s own friends can even suggest friends for you.

Friends. An honor which some conclude has been diminished by the frivolous use of the word in collecting contacts in this age of social networking. Friends. What happened to meeting a person face-to-face and choosing to share life’s journey as friends? What happened to friends being people who help you move, babysit on date night, or hold your hand in the emergency room? What happened to the honor of being a friend and privilege of having a friend share life’s ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies? Making virtual friends is no substitute for being your authentic self in the company of one equally vulnerable.

In this Lenten season, Jesus, our Friend, calls us to do more than give up meat or sweets or television as an historical sacrifice and spiritual discipline. Perhaps we should consider during this fast to give up all forms of shallow friendship for the power of real friendship. The kind of friendship spoken of in John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Understanding that love is a verb – an action word – I doubt that the depth of love which is life sacrificial for one’s friends could be demonstrated apart from being present, truly present, in one another’s lives. A presence which causes glib status updates and random nemes to pale in comparison.

This Lent, listen for Spirit to compel you to give up the convenience of befriending and tending cyber friendships. Instead, allow Spirit to guide you to show up in the lives of friends and lay down the busy-ness in your life to host friends in your home. The ones for whom Jesus would lay down His life were those who not only believed in Him, but those who believed Jesus to be a friend and brother having spent time, trials and triumphs together.

As much as social networking is good in moderation, it is no substitute for knowing and being intimately known by one called friend.

On the other hand, as a user of three of the most popular social networks, I have experienced spiritual delight in meeting others who worship God, believe Jesus, and are guided by Spirit. On one, I maintain a prayer request box and light virtual candles for those requesting prayer. On another, I am job searching as a religious professional. Through the third one, I am participating in the Daniel Fast during Lent this year. A virtual friend, having never met the fellow in person, invested quite a bit of time in planning and promoting the Daniel Fast. Using biblical historical data, healthy living facts, and modeling daily accountability between himself and the rest of us participants, the Daniel Fast has challenged my critique of social networking for being and making friends.

With these in the household of faith, social networking feels a lot like receiving a letter from an apostle on a missionary journey in a faraway place. What we have in common is love of God and the people of God. As much as we are brothers and sisters in Christ and Creation, there is a deeper connectedness among those who show up in this space during Lent. There is even greater joy that when ministry or life calls us to travel, we take time to meet, giving presence to faces where Spirit has prepared us to be friends.

This Lent, can we hear more clearly that Jesus calls us to lay down the vapid intent of collecting friends on FaceBook (or other social networking sites) to be authentically friendly and become friends face-to-face?