27 April 2009

God of destruction

By David DeLauro

Amos 4:1
"Hear this word, you fat cows on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, "Bring us some drinks!" "

What a ride this week has been: from temperature swings of 50 degrees, finding out America tortures, to the PCUSA once again voting against inclusion. It all seems so tumultuous but then again that's what Spring is all about. We are changing seasons. We are moving from the cold introversion and self-reflection of winter to the warmth of rebirth and community. As I was laying in the sun basking in this new found change in the weather, I came to realize something about my theology that was missing. For all of this new Spring life to appear, something needs to be destroyed first. God is a god of destruction. At first this sounded blasphemous to my uber-liberal-god-is-all-love ears but the more I meditated on it and upon the prophet Amos, which I had been reading this week, I came to find peace and a sense of joy in God breaking things we hold to be unchanging facts. God destroyed death in the resurrection of Christ. God overturned life and walked with us. God destroyed the power of sin.

I know I've often overlooked the parts of the biblical witness that proclaim God's wrath and destruction. I've often looked at it as being a patriarchal throwback to when it was good to be an abusive father to a wayward son. If I peel back the patriarchy, though, I find that the message behind the culture is quite on par with the Good News we proclaim in Christ's life. God is working to bring humanity to its full dignity. God is working to tear down all walls that separate us from being a community of love. God is freeing us from the husk of our seed so we may sprout and bask in the joy of all creation.

While this change is occurring, though, it can be quite a frightful thing. At least for me, it's hard to accept new things that will upset the flow of life I have created around myself. The suffering that comes from this destruction is not found in the in-breaking of God's love and mercy but rather from our inability to let go of an inhuman past--with its patterns of power in which we have found comfort--and embrace the humanity found in God's new way of love. Now, I'm not saying that God sends lightning bolts, tornadoes, or even earthquakes as retribution or as a way of punishing us into "getting on the right track." Rather, I'm saying that God's destruction is found in the freeing of our hearts to love each other as fully as Christ loves us.

I have seen this new way of love especially growing this past year as the PC(USA) voted and began anew conversations of full inclusion for ordination. Though the measure to remove restrictive language against glbt folk has since failed, I still see God beginning the process of destroying the PC(USA) with God's love. More and more people have formed communities to embrace the dignity of human beings and in so doing they share in God's destruction by showing each other love. Those that are fighting to keep the church mired in legalistic and restrictive language are 100% correct about the results of changing whether or not the church accepts persons of various sexual orientations: it will destroy the church and it will be God's doing. God will destroy the part of the church that preaches marginalization and oppression of glbt folk and transform it into a church that listens to glbt folk preach to us about God's life giving grace and love. God will destroy the industrialized notion of family and open the church to form new ways of family in community that uplift the whole of humanity. So, with my whole heart I have been and will continue to pray that the church is destroyed and transformed into a vibrant witness to God's limitless mercy and love.

Praise God for my destruction and the new life that I have been given because of it!

23 April 2009

“Peace” Seriously?!?

John 20:19-23
By Elder Jeremiah

On the first Sunday after Easter, the lectionary Gospel reading provides us with an account of the first visitation of Jesus to his disciples, that rag-tag, eclectic and sometimes crazy as loons assortment of fishermen, tax collector, and God only knows what else. His first words to them are “Peace be with you.” “Shalom aleichem!”

Petty and vindictive as I can be from time to time, I would have expected an indictment of character, followed by a litany of charges. But all encompassing and loving that Jesus is, he speaks those reassuring, healing words “Shalom aleichem.”

Of all the words in the Hebrew lexicon, to say shalom; that word so rich in meaning which has no direct equivalent in the English language. Yes, it means: hello, welcome and peace. But also happiness, health, well being, wholeness, safety, prosperity. As poignant as in his earthly ministry, Jesus goes right to the heart of the matter and addresses their needs.

What anguish the disciples must have suffered. What torture they must have been experiencing at the hands of guilt, shame and remorse. To have abandoned one whom they had held so dear. To witness their preconceived notions crumble in the face of reality. To have their delusions of grandeur stripped away. To feel less than by their actions; for succumbing to the survival instinct, when they were just being human.

And now, they huddled behind closed doors and barred windows, in the dark, hiding from the Roman occupying forces, from the religious authorities and from their own personal demons. Anyone who has ever hidden, literally or metaphorically, from life, from the past, from responsibilities or from future potential, knows the state of pitiful and incomprehensible isolation. So acute isolation can be that even in a crowded room, or, as in this Gospel story, in a room with companions that have traveled together the past three years, one can feel completely and utterly alone, defective and empty. That is why these words, these restorative words, these grace filled words, spoken when; as my friend Stuart likes to say; they “least expected it, most desperately needed it, and were no more deserving of it than that man on the moon,” had the power in them, through the one who spoke them, to act as an elixir to their ailment and anguish of spirit.

But did you notice? Even before these words were spoken, Jesus was there. There was no puff of smoke, no thunderous crash of sound, no blinding flash of light; he just appeared without saying a word. Stepping into that empty space, filling that space between the disciples, between each other, just as his words would fill that space between them and themselves. Unnoticed. Overlooked. For how long? Seconds? A minute, minutes, even possibly an hour or two?

And isn’t that also the case with us? Just as the disciples were unawares that Jesus was present, do we not do the same? When grace fills that space between here and there, this and that, us and ourselves, ourselves and others, and the fit is so perfect that it seems it has always been, how easy it is to overlook, gloss over, even minimize the miracle occurring in front of our very eyes. I have found on my faith journey that writing a gratitude list, taking time from the busyness of life for gentle self examination and reflection, and obtaining observations and constructive criticism from trusted friends has been invaluable at identifying those grace filled moments when a Power greater than myself filled the gap between . . . . How has the Divine brought shalom in your faith journey? How can you share that experience, strength and hope with someone else?

13 April 2009

Easter in a broken world

By Katy Moore, Inquirer, and Senior at Union Theological Seminary in New York

It is Easter, and my heart is heavy. Unfortunately, this is becoming a pattern.

Last year, Easter ’08, I was deeply immersed in a Christology seminar with Dr. James Cone, looking at the history of thought about Jesus through the lens of “the cross and the lynching tree,” Cone’s forthcoming book. It was a brilliant class, and it was a whole semester of Lent. I could not feel Easter resurrection while I wrote papers about spousal abuse condoned by pastors, looked at souvenir photographs of bodies hanging from trees, or contemplated the meaning of the cross in my own life. Last year I had a hard time with Easter in the face of all the violence that still happens in our world.

Today, my soul aches because I am alone: about a month ago my partner started a new job in Pennsylvania, and I am still in New York for 6 more weeks. I spent my Easter saying goodbye and driving away, back to a city that does not feel like home anymore. How do I celebrate resurrection when my own life feels so broken?

I am thinking, instead, of Good Friday. Of all the people who had waited and watched for a Messiah, a savior – an anointed king who would come with guns blazing and free them from Rome and from oppression – and instead, got more death. How let down they must have felt! “We thought he came to save us, but we were wrong. He’s dead too, like all the others.”

And even after Easter, people still died. People died because of tyranny, people died fighting one another, people died for talking about Jesus. The Kingdom (or kin-dom) of God that Jesus spoke of did not magically happen on the first Easter, and it still hasn’t happened in the way that we want and need God’s reality to be our reality.

In the midst of so much that is still wrong with the world, how do we proclaim life? What does Easter mean when it is celebrated in churches torn apart over the worth of their members?

I pause and watch my cursor blink, waiting expectantly, as I grasp for an answer.

Then as now, Easter does not proclaim that God has already “won,” that the kin-dom is already a reality on earth. We know, with flesh and blood and with heart and soul, that this world of injustice and violence and oppression is not God’s way. Jesus’ work, which must be our work also, is not yet finished.

What Easter does promise is that this is not the end. Jesus did die, and more will still die, but their work and their spirits do not end there. As we carry on their message, they live in our hope for a better reality. The way of the world right now may be injustice and death, but it will not be that way forever.

God’s realm is coming, and we can catch glimpses of it in our lives together. After Easter, we know that this time of struggle will end in justice.

At Easter, our sometimes rocky and twisting paths may not be made any easier. But each year, we are reminded to look up into the distance and see that there is something shining and beautiful ahead.

09 April 2009

Can’t not

Jenny Howard

Like many of us, I have lots of inspirational signs taped to the wall in front of my desk. The briefest one is just two words: “Can’t not.” I’ll come back to that sign in a minute.

First, I’ll introduce myself. I’m a first-year M.Div. student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and an Inquirer for Ministry of Word and Sacrament under the care of the Presbytery of Detroit. And I’m transsexual.

When I talk about being transsexual, I sometimes get the response, “I admire your courage!” But of course, it’s not about courage. Courage means making hard choices. For me, coming out to myself in midlife as transsexual was the only option left. I spent a lot of time in the library looking for another answer to what was going on inside me, any other answer. Finally, it was just a matter of accepting transsexuality as something that’s true whether I want it to be or not.

When I talk about changing my vocation from computers to ministry, I sometimes get the response, “What made you want to go to seminary and be a minister?” This, too, was a matter of accepting, not choosing. I can remember my “prayers of discernment” last year sounding more like a 17-year-old sassing her parents: “Hey, God! What the hell are You thinking? I can’t be a minister! As You perfectly well know, I’m transsexual! Don’t be ridiculous!” God, not surprisingly, did not give my opinion more weight than God’s own opinion. And, like the teenager’s parents, God can be way more patient than I can. In the end, I found that I could see God’s point. And besides, I didn’t have a better plan for my life. Or any other plan, really. So, I accepted the only possibility. Well, I did apply to more than one seminary, to give myself the illusion of choice, but God made sure I ended up at Louisville.

And so, with all that wonderful acceptance on my part, my life got onto the path it was meant to, and it’s been a smooth ride ever since.


Technically, legalistically, I don’t have the same concerns that gays or lesbians do in pursuing Presbyterian ordination. The “gotcha” rule in the Book of Order –G6.01016b – just says that ministers have to be faithful in marriage to a person of the opposite sex, or be chaste and single. I’m chaste and single, and likely to remain so. (I’m not saying that’s what I want, but that’s a topic for another day.) So there should be no problem, right?

But if that’s true, then why did my transsexual friend get kicked out of the process – excuse me, I mean “released from care” – by her presbytery just after she informed them that she was transitioning? Why am I the first transsexual student ever to attend Louisville Seminary? Or the first transsexual, as far as I know, to be admitted to any Presbyterian seminary? (I know one person who transitioned partway through her time at Columbia.) Why did Union-PSCE, certainly no more selective than Louisville, reject my application after much delay, and without explanation? Why is the Field Ed Office here at Louisville telling me that there are only two churches – the More Light ones – where I can get an intern placement next fall, out of a dozen or more Presbyterian churches in this Presbyterian-rich town?

So why, then, do I want to keep trying? Why do I want to be a transsexual Inquirer, and eventually, a transsexual Minister of Word and Sacrament? The trick, of course, is in that word “want”. It’s not about what I want. I didn’t ask to be transsexual; I tried to find any other answer. I didn’t ask to be called by God to the ministry; again, I tried to find any other answer. The reason I keep trying is because this is the only option left. I am transsexual; I am called; and all I can do is accept both.

That, then, is the explanation of the sign in front of my desk: I’m doing this because I can’t not do it.

To all of you reading this who know that there is a call on your life, I wish you the blessings of Christ’s grace and peace.