13 September 2010

Cuba's New Direction

Last week the world's Jewish community observed Rosh Hashana, the beginning of a new year, and with it, a call to repentance. Imagine the world's surprise when one of the biggest stories of redemption these last few weeks, is Fidel Castro’s dramatic apology for his administration’s notorious persecution of the LGBTQ community in his country. As the saying goes, “politics makes strange bedfellows.”

My firsthand experience of this new direction in Cuba came in May when my partner and our four-year old daughter helped kick off the country’s national campaign against homophobia. We were invited to speak on a panel in Havana about our experiences as gay dads. We were enthusiastically and very warmly welcomed and at the end of the presentation we stepped out into the streets where a couple thousand LGBTQ people and their friends marched proudly up the avenue to a celebratory rally. The atmosphere was electric – the excitement and thrill of hope as a people, long oppressed, came out boldly into the light of day, united and determined. In the United States, we have a lot of victories still to claim, but the progress made by the community has been great. In fact, at the NYC Pride events one can almost feel casual and blasé about a gathering in the streets.

In Cuba, the taste of freedom is fresh and the sting of real hardship still very present. The government has started to come around, but in the daily life of family, friends and co-workers long-held prejudices are melting more slowly. Unfortunately, the church, in all its denominational diversity, is the most visible foe of freedom. There are clergy who are actively and lovingly pastoring to the LGBTQ community, and who support the government’s new openness. Though, in a small handful of conversations with folks, they admitted to me that clergy who are supportive of full inclusion, remain silent for fear of be ostracized by the religious community.

One young man unafraid to speak up is Jarley García Nasco, who was rejected by his church because he is openly gay. They extended their inhospitality to include his family as well. But, Jarley is undeterred. Through the support of a Canadian church and with help from the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, he has begun his second year of seminary. Jarley’s witness has already had a significant impact. He was elected president of the student body and has himself been surprised by the deep embrace of some of his heterosexual peers.

Liberation for Cuba’s LGBQT people is an interesting mix of newly found state-support, lingering personal apprehensions, and forceful religious condemnation. The community has been championed by Mariela Castro Espín, President of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Center for the Study of Sexuality (founded by her mother), and daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro. This heterosexual married mom of two is incredibly warm, passionate, and committed to LGBTQ freedom.

On Thursday, I stood on the edge of the East River and together with my family threw bread into the water in a Jewish tradition symbolizing the casting out of our sins. Cuba seems to be casting out its sins this week, too. The question we all must ask ourselves now is: how do we move decisively forward to make right those we have harmed?

Paul Mowry
Certified Candidate, Union Theological Seminary Alum

02 September 2010

In honor of fall, school days, and one mentor in particular...

It’s September, back-to-school time for so many of us. I’m honored to have been asked to write for this fabulous blog—and so in honor of fall and everyone who is going back to school, I’d like to offer a reflection about a teacher I had in seminary.

I arrived in the fall of 1998 to begin seminary in Chicago, and was contacted early on to ask if I’d be interested in serving a Methodist congregation in the southern suburbs of Chicago. After a few visits and interviews, all of a sudden the job was mine. I immediately liked my supervisor, Rev. Ermalou Roller, who was a highly-skilled and capable clergywoman. She had served in numerous posts throughout the years in the Methodist Church and I knew I’d have a lot to learn from her. I liked being there so much I ended up staying on for a second year. In more ways than I can describe it was one of the richest and most formative experiences of learning about ministry that I was offered during my three years at McCormick.

My two years at St. Andrew’s Church and with Ermalou really pushed on what were then the limits of my faith. Earlier in my first year, Rev. Greg Dell, a United Methodist clergyman in Chicago officiated at a wedding of two men, and he was put on trial by the Methodist Church. Ermalou was very interested in the trial, and so I got a crash course in United Methodist polity. She was particularly upset and offended because one of her beloved children is gay. Rev. Dell’s trial verdict was announced the Friday before Palm Sunday in 1999. He was unanimously found guilty of performing a marriage of two men, and in a vote of 10-3 was found guilty of violating the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Because Rev. Dell was unwilling as a matter of his conscience to stop offering pastoral care and weddings to the many GLBT members of his congregation, he was suspended from serving as Pastor.

To say that Ermalou was devastated was an understatement. I remember her pain and hurt like it was yesterday. It was a betrayal for her by the church she had so lovingly served for so many years. On Palm Sunday, she led worship, with tears in her eyes. She gave a prophetic, heartfelt statement about her love for the church, for her friend and colleague who had been found guilty and would be losing his posting to a church he had served with great dedication and love, and about her pain as a mother to a son who is gay on a weekend like that one. Ermalou allowed the congregation to see the turmoil she was in, and during her prayers of the people she offered prayers for the church and all those who have violence done to them in the name of the Church.

Unfortunately, that day set in motion a firestorm of church conflict at St. Andrews that continued until I left a year and a half later. Some parishioners walked out during Ermalou’s prayer. Some offered her words of support and solidarity in the receiving line after church. Those who walked out of church decided that she needed to go, calling the Bishop’s office and demanding that Ermalou be fired. The rest of us on staff were attacked for our ministry and our support. I learned about some of the more difficult aspects of ministry the hard way as observed and experienced first-hand the fallout that can happen from church conflict, and the trauma it can do in the life of a Pastor.

What do we do in the church when name-calling, meanness, or hatred comes into our lives? It is a question we have to wrestle with right now as we look at the bigger picture of our culture that so often tends towards violence, or the Islamaphobia that has taken hold our country, the hatred on display towards immigrants who are among us, and of course the ongoing discrimination within our denomination against those of us who are GLBT and their allies (we have our own painful example in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) once again this past week in the verdict against Rev. Janie Spahr for her prophetic ministry in Redwoods Presbytery).

There is a narrative that unites all of this, and it’s not a good one. It’s the narrative that says that we have to be fearful of the “other” and that we have to keep “them” away from “us.” Nothing could be more antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than this. Many days I ask myself: “How am I going to keep my own personal spirit lifted up in the midst of this narrative, especially when some parts of it touch my life deeply? How can I best serve as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the midst of these experiences—how can I guide and lead my congregation during a time like this?” It is a constant question in my prayer life these days.

I also think about Ermalou during these times a lot, because she was one of my early mentors and because I so admired (still do) the grace with which she handled herself and guided her congregation during a time of deep pain. This past spring Ermalou came to visit our family for a few days, and spoke to a gathering of adults at the church I serve about a memoir she has recently written about that difficult time in her life. I thought I knew Ermalou, but this summer as I read her memoir I realized there was a lot I didn’t know—and I was blown away by the courage it took for her to tell her whole story after so many years. I knew her first marriage ended in divorce, but I didn’t know that her first husband was gay and that they had an open marriage. She writes in honest, raw, and surprising language about her relationships with her children, and about finding love later in life—a love that blew open her mind and her spirit. It catalogues her life, her sexual awaking, and then tells the back-story of the trial of Greg Dell and how she sensed God’s Spirit working through all of these things. Her book is a reminder that all of our lives are like this. They are not neat, they are messy and complicated. Rarely do they follow the straight line, many times we hide how unconventional they are because we are fearful of what others might think about us. But as Ermalou so beautifully wrote in her memoir, we have the courage to tell our stories. Our telling of our stories liberates us. Each one of us is a Child of God, each one of us called in baptism, each one of us loved unconditionally by the One who created us. In the end, that’s the only Good News I can trust in time like this, and it’s the hope I cling onto every day.

So here’s to all the teachers that God has placed in our lives and the lessons they have taught us. I pray that there are many more in store for you and for me as we journey forward and work for God’s justice in this place. There are still a lot of lessons to learn and to teach!

[If you’d like to read it, Ermalou’s book, On Thundering Wings: Homosexuality, Love, and the Church on Trial can found at: www.ermalouroller.com]

Rev. Shannan R. Vance-Ocampo
Pastor, Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church (Elizabeth Presbytery, NJ)
Director of Colombia Programs for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship

19 August 2010

Being on the Left Side of History: Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

When I was a child in rural Mississippi, I would often ride in my father's pick-up with him as we surveyed the soybean crop on our family farm. On these long, bumpy drives, talk would inevitably lead to my father's favorite topic: constitutional law. He was a lawyer-turned-farmer who believed that the judicial branch can -- and often does -- represent the very best protection for civil rights in our society. Having grown up in Mississippi in an era when black Americans were systematically denied civil rights, he had seen firsthand the important role the courts could play in protecting minority groups.

One case that always came up in our talks was Brown v. Board of Education. According to my father, what made this decision so important was that it placed equal rights above popular opinion. This was a clear example of the judicial branch being more progressive than the general public. Yet looking back, almost all Americans now agree that the Brown decision was the morally correct one. By leaning to the “left” of public opinion, the court was on the “right” side of history.

My late father would have been proud, therefore, to read Judge Vaughn Walker's recent decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that struck down California's Proposition 8. Just as my father’s generation fought over civil rights for black Americans, my generation is caught up in a battle over the right of same-sex couples to marry.

In many ways, Perry v. Schwarzenegger is remarkably similar to Brown v. Board Ed. In both cases, the question is whether separate institutions can be considered equal. Are civil unions for same-sex couples the fair equivalent of heterosexual marriage? Judge Walker’s decision demonstrates persuasively that they are not. His decision also identifies the bigotry at the heart of Prop 8: “The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”

In deciding this way, Judge Walker has positioned himself on the “left” side of the majority of California voters who enacted Prop 8 into law. However, it is also the “right” decision. I have little doubt that, 50 years from now, Americans will view Proposition 8 the same way that we now view racial segregation: as an embarrassing stain on our free society.

Sadly, Judge Walker is also on the left side of the Church. In our contentious fight over the rights of gay men and lesbians to marry and to become ordained, we have moved away from the radical inclusion that was so beautifully portrayed by the Apostle Paul: that in the Body of Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, free nor slave, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3).

In Paul’s time, these were dangerous words. They violated social codes that separated people into distinct hierarchies. Paul’s words were grounded in something greater: the transformative reality of Jesus’ love, which made unlikely relationships possible. How did that happen? By allowing individuals to see one another as God already sees them: as equal. This radical love is why Christians can be among the most accepting and loving people in the world.

Paul’s words are still dangerous affronts to bigotry. Only now, the Church is ignoring them. Every time a young candidate is rejected from the ordination process because of his or her sexual orientation, the Church is siding not only with the wrong side of history, but also with the wrong side of its own tradition. Ironically, we may have to look to the American courts to teach us about human rights, instead of looking into our own Bible, which speaks of human equality more powerfully than any secular court.

In a 2003 speech defending the rights of gay men and women, the late Coretta Scott King invoked her husband’s famous statement, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote those words, he was sitting in a Birmingham jail, fighting a two-pronged battle. On the one hand, he was fighting to end Jim Crow segregation laws. King’s second task, however, was even greater: to convince the majority of Americans that segregation was evil and had to be urgently opposed on moral grounds. King’s fiercest criticism was addressed to white religious leaders, who knew segregation was wrong and yet lacked the courage to act quickly and decisively to end it.

This is now the task of religious progressives. We still don’t know whether Judge Walker’s decision will affect only California, or will become national precedent. But whatever the court decides, religious progressives will face a greater challenge: to convince our sisters and brothers in the Church that gay rights are moral rights and deserve our urgent support. This second struggle is more difficult, but its fruits are greater and more lasting. Its goal is no less than Christian love, for all.

Jason Ferris
Certified Candidate in The New York City Presbytery, and
Documentary Filmmaker, New Orleans, LA

12 July 2010

General Assembly Reflections, Again from the Airport on the Way Home, July 9, 2010

I’ve started this reflection a few times now. These are my opening line options thus far:

“It feels good to sit in the sunlight – particularly after many hours in the chill of the Assembly Hall. Or were those just Spirit-stirred goosebumps?” (A little too sentimental.)

“The week isn’t done yet – there are still several issues to challenge us, and several hopes to reckon with – a wonder after all the significant actions of the 219th Assembly.” (A little too bland.)

“I like Chipotle. It’s fast, easy, tasty, and they aim to be socially responsible.” (A little too hungry.)

“Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ – a gentle suggestion: get your hands off God’s Church. It’s not yours to begin with. It’s time. Now. Let go and get out of the way. I’ll even be nice and say please.” (A wee bit abrupt.)

But I’m not going to start with any of those. Instead, I’ll just wonder at the fact that I’m sitting at the airport, heading home early, while a voice on the loudspeaker keeps saying, “Would the passenger who lost something at G-6 please come and reclaim your item.” Most anyone in the PC(USA) knows that G-6 (G-6.0106b, that is) has been at the center of our conversations for some time now. Whatever your perspective, I suspect most of us feel that we’ve lost something at G-6, and we’d like to get on with our journey.

Among its many actions, the 219th General Assembly is sending us back, once again, to G-6. New language has been recommended to the presbyteries, inviting us to set aside the much disputed language of “fidelity and chastity” for words that invite us to “submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.”

This won’t be the only headline, however. Through a curious web of parliamentary process, the Assembly took no action on requests for amendment to the constitutional definition of marriage. At the same time, a motion was approved to allow non-ordained church employees to enroll same-gender domestic partners with the Board of Pensions.

The Middle East Task Force report was perhaps the most hotly challenged item going into the Assembly. Through a process of discernment, cross-passionate collaboration, and prayer, a report has been approved that seems to have been received well by all sides in the debate. Many folks have called this coming-together a miracle of the Spirit. No one is completely happy, mind you – and none of it is easy. (Take, for example, the somewhat confusing actions in a companion proposal, that on the one hand denounce the Caterpillar Corporation for its continued business relationship with Israel, yet on the other hand refuse to divest our holdings in the company.)

Measures were also adopted to speak out on gun violence, immigration reform, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. An entirely new Form of Government has been recommended. The Decade of the Child was reaffirmed. New ecumenical relationships have been endorsed. Committees have been reviewed. The Budget is being written.

God’s sustaining Spirit is always on display at GA. Commissioners and Advisory Delegates are carried through volumes of work in just a week’s time. In the thick of it, we see the best and worst of the Church. The politicking is real – witness the minister commissioner who was clearly working the floor with every controversial vote, going from mic to mic and person to person. The compassion is real, too – see the Young Adult Advisory Delegate crying after a vote, and being comforted by a nearby Elder.

There will be much discomfort in the Church because of this Assembly. More politicking. More crying. More nail-biting moments as we await the results of all the votes to come.

There will also be many opportunities to remember who we are as Presbyterians: people of forbearance, lovers of Scripture, students of Jesus and seekers of God’s will.

It isn’t our Church after all. I know I wasn’t going to mention that, but it’s true. The more tightly we grip the reins of the Church the more we struggle.

I am convinced that the Spirit is at work in the Church – and that none of the Assembly’s actions is outside of God’s ongoing work. I got a few too many goosebumps this week, and not just from the incessant air-conditioning.

Chipotle is good.
God is way better.
And we may yet find what we’ve lost.

Rev. Chris Shelton
Hudson River Presbytery

17 June 2010

Waters of Baptism, Waters of Life

For weeks now the waters of the Gulf have been despoiled by somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000 barrels of oil a day gushing from a pipe a quarter of a mile deep in the ocean floor. The ruin to the ecosystem of the Gulf has been devastating. Not only has the fishing industry been stopped cold, but the ecosystem of four states has been ruined by the oil slicks and tarry residue that have soaked the marsh coastlands and beaches. The eggs of the blue fin tuna are covered with oil in the marshes of Louisiana. The oysters which are filter feeders cannot swim to avoid the slicks. It’s nesting season for the sea turtles, and they must come to the water’s surface to breathe, but this year the surface is coated in oil and so are the turtles. Pelicans are laying eggs in crude soaked nests, and many are simply so soaked with oil that they cannot move, much less fly.

Clean, fresh, pure water is an essential element to life. But when the water is spoiled as it is in the Gulf, it ruins everything and endangers life. The water of baptism is a sacrament not simply because it represents a Jewish rite of purification used when Jesus himself was baptized, but because water is part of the foundation of life. It points to the goodness and love of the One who gave it to us.

I once asked a confirmation class of junior high kids who were discussing baptism how we use water. “You wash with it,” one girl said. Another said, “You drink it. Without water we couldn’t live.” One after another the kids came up with familiar uses of water, until one boy said, “It holds you up.” Puzzled by his answer, I asked, “What do you mean?” “The child answered, “It holds you up, you know, like when you’re floating on your back when you’re out on the water and the water buoys you up. It holds you up!” And then I realized what he was saying. The water of baptism not only sustains our life, it buoys us up.

Baptism is the ordination of the Spirit in the church, the blessing of the person who receives it by the One who gives it. We are baptized by water and the Holy Spirit, and once that blessing has been received there is no taking it back. We are watermarked forever. It is the original ordination and the floodgate of Christian service. Ordination to the ministries of the church stream from the living waters of our baptism, including ordination to the offices of Elder, Deacon, and Minister of Word and Sacrament. As someone once, wisely said, “If they didn’t want me to answer the call to ministry, they shouldn’t have baptized me in the first place.”

The theme of this year’s General Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota (the land of 10,000 lakes) is, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38) As we approach the Assembly, once again we have an opportunity as a Church to filter the homophobia, fear, and misunderstanding from the living waters of baptism. There are overtures to remove G.6-0106b, overtures to support the recognition of same-gender marriage, and overtures to direct the Board of Pensions to include same-gender partners in the benefits plan of the PCUSA. These are all faithful approaches to purifying the waters, removing the oil slicks from the surface, and gathering up the sludge from the beachline and marshes of the Church’s life. I am hoping, praying, and working for the day when the Church buoys all of us up; supporting, celebrating, and honoring the call to love and serve God in the ordained ministries of the church without regard to sexual orientation. I hope and pray that this July, at the 219th General Assembly, “Out of believers hearts shall flow rivers of living water.”

The Rev. Dr. Jon M. Walton
Pastor, The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York

11 June 2010


i can still here them now

the older black women of my grandmother’s generation

miss waddell
miss rosie
ms. montez
ms. hemphill
cousin willie mae

as they visited with each other (it was never called gossip)

in their kitchens

front yards

beauty shops

porches (stoops were a northern thing in southern pines, nc)

sunday school classes

church socials

i can still here them now

the older black men of my grandmother’s generation

mr. waddell
mr. press
bad bill
mr. hemphill
monkey joe

as they sat and discussed (it was never called gossip—that was what the women did)

in the barber shop

under the tree of knowledge outside the barber shop

out in the front yard or side yard tinkering with their cars

after church

during the church socials

and with a history (and a present) that includes such vulgar spectacles as auction blocks and lynchings and pedestals

it is ludicrous for any of us

to believe for one second

that there is any possibility that we work toward the church inclusive
without recognizing the powers that shape the worlds in which we live

living in a shadow box does not recognize the richness of black cultures

because it resorts to collapsing black realities into postmodern minstrel shows

it seeks to freeze frame black life

without recognizing our humanity

or the rhythms and cadences of our living

and sadly, oh so sadly

many of these brutalized and brutalizing images have been internalized in black communities

and in the individual lives of black women and children and men

and in church

for far too many of us

daily life means skipping rope with paralyzing demons

that slip into an endless spiral of horizontal violence

without martin's dream or malcolm's nightmare

we are called to be in bone deep community

not the media-driven images of black living that trick all of us into
believing and/or living into grotesque stereotypes of black life

not the death-dealing images of success that trick us into thinking our
accomplishments are ours alone

not the mind-numbing bromides of racism, sexism, classim, heterosexism, homophobia, and militarism that include fear tactics, terrorist acts, bullying, lying, avoiding, fronting, and simply not giving a damn about anything but amassing power, getting your way, and piling up legacies

not the church, that when my uncle pete, who was dying from complications from aids, told my aunt to tell me to do his memorial service because he didn’t trust the church that loved him and raised him in his youth would love him in
his death

community, christian community is the place where the realities of diversity, difference, disagreement, harmony, hope, justice all exist

this is the place of morrison’s dancing mind

walker’s world in our eye

sanchez’s house of lions

danticat’s krik, krak

it is a place, that we should be building, life by life

to be an inclusive community we are called to

listen for the voices

accept the variety

allowing the voices within our communities

the young and the old

the lesbian and the gay

the propertied and the propertyless

the heterosexual and the celibate

the dark and the light

the bisexual and the transgender,

the female and the male

the conservative and the radical

the thoughtful and the clueless

all these and more

to have a full and authentic and valued place as we sort through how to lead and how to follow

realizing that there are many paths to freedom-and slavery-and death

we must tackle the gross iconization of our lives

that comes from the false dichotomy of sacred and profane in white western self- absorbed penile thought

i first learned about this body from the older black women in my life

and it was years before i realized that they were not just talking about my body

they included miss hemphill down the road

miss rosie across the street

miss montez around the corner

and cousin willie mae down by the juke house

my body was placed in a witness of women and men

who knew violation

enjoyed sex

moved with dignity

and shook from religious ecstasy

what they taught me was that to love myself was also to love God

not the other way around

because to love myself meant that i really accepted that i am made in God’s image

they crafted a community of healing that was a refuge of loving women and men

to heal a scarred throat

or bruised knuckles

or brutalized body

all those women and men are gone now

but what they left me with is the deep knowledge that the community they created and gifted me with

must be re-created by caring for others and caring for myself

but it takes the strong and the weak together who will refuse to accept inept silence or self-abnegating sacrifice as healthy, vital ministry

who will hold themselves accountable to the spirit

who will choose to live rather than die

because silence suffocates when it is prompted from violence and fear

and this is a truly slow and obscene death

yes, i can still hear them

those old black folk who raised me

loved me

and taught me

that the true church is bigger than anything you and i can imagine and as wide as god’s eye

and you and i must keep a-working

because God will not let us stop

and that God gifts us with an enduring faith

and an outright colored stubbornness that simply will not stop until justice comes

no just us

but for all of us

who live here

way down under the sun

Dr. Emilie M. Townes

03 June 2010

Living Waters

Peace be with you all, as you begin the patient journey towards your 219th General Assembly, and hopefully also to greater inclusion within the PCUSA. Our journey together, towards a church where the LGBT community has a full and accepted place is proving a rather long one, and the obstacles on the road are many. They include, but are not limited to– prejudice, homophobia, misunderstanding, cultural mores– the list goes on.

But on thinking of your theme, of living waters, I am reminded of many happy days I had as a young boy in the Scottish hills, next to burns (streams) that bubble and meander down hillsides. As a young lad, camped next to a burn for a picnic I would try and find enough large stones to build a dam – just to see if I could beat nature, and stop the flow of the water. Of course, one can’t.

However large the stone, however well it seems to fit the makeshift dam, much to the frustration of this young boy, the water found a way through. Even the advice of parents that the odds could not be beaten, didn’t put me off trying. Mind, sometimes that determination can serve one well in life.

The Spirit of Christ is much the same. People, institutions, those with privilege they want to keep, put all kinds of barriers in the way of its progress, but in the end its futile. The Spirit always finds a way through the obstacles we put in its way.

The church universal has a long history of not being able to deal with the radical inclusivity of Christ, but in the end it gets there. Like water, the Spirit of God will not be deterred from her purpose, and we arrive at a day when all members of our churches are loved and valued, and hearts are truly opened to the love and compassion of Christ.

I leave you with the verse of a hymn written by Helen Kennedy,

Lord, how I thirst, my Lord i am weak.
Lord, come to me, you alone do I seek.
Lord, you are life and love and hope,
Come, fill me with living water.

The Rev. Scott M. Rennie
Minister, Queen's Cross Parish Church of Scotland

19 May 2010



My Christian friends, in bonds of love,
Whose hearts in sweetest union join,
Your friendship’s like a drawing band
Yet we must take the parting hand.
Your company’s sweet, your union dear,
Your words delightful to my ear,
Yet when I see that we must part
It draws like cords around my heart.

And now, my friends, both young and old,
I hope in Christ you’ll still go on.
And if on earth we meet no more
Oh may we meet on Canaan’s shore.
O glorious day! O blessed hope!
My soul leaps forward at the thought
That there we’ll all with Jesus dwell:
So loving Christians, fare you well.

These words come from the Sacred Harp tradition of music, which is a form of hymn singing from the mid-nineteenth century. The popularity of Sacred Harp singing has ebbed and flowed through the years, but even now there are many Sacred Harp communities that gather together once a month or so to sing the old hymns. This hymn, “Parting Hand” is one that is traditionally sung at the end of the day as friends say good-bye to each other.

We can imagine the popularity of this song in the rural South and Appalachia when it was first sung. There was no guarantee that friends would see each other again. People lived scattered and far apart from each other, and might see people from outside their own family or small town for only a few days a year. Travel was difficult and expensive, so the moment of saying goodbye must have been terribly difficult. So glad were they to see their friends, and so sad at their parting, that in this song we hear about a heaven where we never have to say goodbye to our friends.

And yet despite the terrible scarcity these people faced, and the very few opportunities they had to see their friends face to face, their song is joyful, and the words speak tenderly about the friendships we have made, even those that will seemingly end after our parting.

As the summer approaches, we “parting people” tend to graduate, go on vacation, get married, move on, move up, and move out. Often this season is a time when we are forced to say goodbye to friends we have come to love and cherish. Moreover, the anxiety of our current culture heightens our instability and anxiety. Last week I talked to four people who had lost their jobs that week alone. Recent college graduates are entering the worst job market in recent history. In my work at the Church Health Center in Memphis, part of my responsibilities includes coordinating our college intern program. In the past few weeks, I’ve received frantic calls from soon-to-be graduates looking for something, anything, in their field. Even at this time of excitement and change, we can feel scattered and lost, unable to continue things as they have been and yet unable to see the way ahead.

It’s true for us, and it’s true for the disciples who faced a new and uncertain future after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even in the glorious aftermath of Jesus’s appearances to them, the disciples knew that something was changed, something was different, nothing would be like it was before. They were left to carry on Christ’s church in the midst of a crippling culture. They knew now that they too could be separated from their friends, scattered and alone, left to preach a Gospel of life in the face of death, and to do so without the aid and comfort of their friend, Jesus.

And to their aid, we hear in John 17 that Jesus prays for his disciples, for his friends, and for all those who abide in him. He says: “While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

The joy of Christ, made complete in us, even in our scattered ways and anxious times, is what Jesus wishes for us in his last prayer. He prays that we may have joy made complete in ourselves, scattered as we may be, and that the joy of his friendship may be within us so that we may carry it with us wherever we go.

The Book of Jeremiah talks about how the law of God is to written down not just on paper but on the hearts of the Israelites, so that even when they were scattered to the far corners of the earth through flood or famine or military powers, they would still have God’s law because it would be within them. And here Jesus lifts a prayer that asks the same thing for his disciples and for us: that no matter where we go, what we do or what friends we have to leave behind, we will carry the joy of our friendship with us, and within us, now and forever.

And this joy of friendship, with Jesus and with each other, is what we must carry with us when we are forced to say goodbye. Scattered joy, written on our hearts, of the friendships we have had and continue to have through our joy of each other, and the joy of the abiding love of Christ. No amount of planning or care or safety measures can prevent us from having to say goodbye to our friends. But when we have felt the joy of Christ’s friendship, written on our hearts and made complete within ourselves, we find ourselves thankful for the times we have spent with friends, joyful in our care for old friendships, and hopeful in the cultivation of new ones.

-The Reverend Stacy Smith is a Parish Associate at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, and is the Supervisor of Christian Formation in Wellness at the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tennessee.

13 May 2010

"Evangelicals and Gays: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?"

A few weeks ago, Tim Dalrymple, a thoughtful Kierkegaard scholar who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary -- and, yes, a self-described Christian "evangelical" -- contacted me out of the blue and asked whether I would be willing to join an online discussion on patheos.com, a website dedicated to promoting "balanced views of religion and spirituality," about reimagining the relationship between LGBT people and evangelicals.

I have long been puzzled by the animosity between Christian evangelicals and the LGBT community. As someone who is passionate about scripture and biblical languages -- for example, not only do I own and regularly use hard copies of lexicons such as the unabridged Kittel and the EDNT, but I also love working with Bible software such as Logos and Accordance -- I have felt that there is actually much that evangelicals and LGBT people have in common.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what to make of the offer. Would I be "sleeping with the enemy"? What would my fellow queer theologians and ministers think? WWJD (what would Jesus do)? But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it was critically important for me to engage Christian evangelicals on their own theological terms, and particularly in a spirit of truth, charity, and generosity.

So, in the spirit of Martin Luther, who inaugurated the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517, by nailing 95 theses to the door of the Schlosskirche (castle church) in Wittenberg, Germany, I have posted on the web "9.5 Theses for a New Reformation" for reimagining the relationship between Christian evangelicals and LGBT people.

1. LGBT relationships are grounded in love, which is at the very heart of our understanding of God and the Christian faith. I often wonder if anti-gay evangelicals really understand that LGBT relationships -- whether for a night or for a lifetime -- are really about love and not just sex. I personally have been together with my partner Michael for nearly nineteen years, which has given me a profound understanding of what hesed and agape means, both human and divine. If we Christians profess that God is love, that Jesus has given us a new commandment to love one another, and that the two great commandments have to do with love, why are not LGBT relationships, which are grounded in love, any less holy than non-LGBT relationships?

2. Christian evangelicals often lack compassion toward LGBT people, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for LGBT people to hear the good news of the gospel. I have been amazed how anti-gay evangelicals, who ostensibly profess a gospel of forgiveness and compassion, can be so utterly uncompassionate toward LGBT people as well as other Christians with whom they disagree. I myself have been the recipient of hate mail, vulgar comments, and ad hominem attacks from self-identified Christians, simply for questioning the status quo about same-sex acts. Frankly, I believe a lot of the anger and fear comes from closeted Christians -- that is, those who are struggling with their own same-sex attractions -- who thus end up projecting their own self-hate on to LGBT people. What evangelicals should ask themselves is this: How do you expect LGBT people to hear any good news when all they experience is condemnation and hatred from Christians?

3. Christian evangelicals establish a new works righteousness when they require that LGBT people abstain from same-sex acts in order to be saved. Could someone explain to me why using same-sex acts as a litmus test for Christian discipleship is not the very same works righteousness that Paul condemns throughout his letters? In other words, why are not anti-gay evangelicals just like the legalistic "Judaizers" who Paul critiques in Galatians and elsewhere? I know that the standard explanation is that people who are "truly" saved by grace will be sanctified and thus will not engage in same-sex acts. However, in truth, this just seems to be a lot of fancy rhetoric that ultimately disguises a world-view of salvation by works (that is, salvation by abstaining from same-sex acts). If the Donatist controversy taught us anything, it is that sinful actions do not invalidate the underlying validity of our sacramental status (here, the priesthood of all the baptized).

4. Even the Reformers did not treat all biblical verses as having the same interpretive weight. To me, sola scriptura means that all things necessary for salvation are contained in Scripture, but our Reformation ancestors never intended for all verses of the Bible to carry the exact same interpretive weight as the others. For example, Luther described the Letter of James as an "epistle of straw," and even Calvin recognized that the ceremonial law has been "abrogated" in use. Thus, I do not understand why anti-gay evangelicals are so obsessed with the half-dozen or so passages in scripture that purportedly prohibit same-sex acts (e.g., Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1), when there is so much richness throughout in the Bible that affirms the goodness of the self-giving love -- including deeply loving relationships, both sexual and non-sexual -- that I have seen in a decade of ministering to the LGBT community.

5. True proponents of "family values" would not preach and teach values that drive families apart. Although evangelical Christians often profess that "family values" are at the heart of their Biblical ethics, the fact is that their anti-gay preaching and teaching continues to tear families apart by driving a wedge between Christians and their LGBT children, siblings, parents, and friends. This is especially true with families of color (e.g., African American, Latino/a, and Asian American families) in which the Christian faith is a central aspect of their culture and day-to-day existence. For example, in my own ministries with LGBT Asian Americans who grew up in a Christian household, I have seen an incredible amount of pain within such families that is attributable to the anti-gay evangelical condemnation of LGBT people. If family values are so important, then why can't we take families more seriously by encouraging families with openly-LGBT members to stay together and not break apart?

6. If the uncircumcised and unclean Gentiles could be accepted just as they were through the work of the Holy Spirit, then so can LGBT people. A main theme (if not the main theme) of the Book of Acts and Pauline letters such as Galatians and Romans is the evangelization of the Gentiles in the early Church and the amazing breadth of God's love for all people. I think that anti-gay evangelicals often forget that many early Christians were scandalized by the fact that uncircumcised people and those who did not follow the Levitical dietary laws could be Christians. In fact, we modern-day Christians often forget that we are the heirs to Peter's and Paul's outreach to the Gentiles through the work of the Holy Spirit. So why are not LGBT people simply a new kind of Gentiles? Why can't we treat same-sex acts in the same way that Peter and Paul treated circumcision and the dietary laws? Perhaps it is time for a new Council of Jerusalem, which was the apostolic council held around 50 C.E. and described in Acts 15, that concluded that neither circumcision nor adherence to the dietary laws was necessary for Gentiles to be saved.

7. True repentance only occurs as a result of understanding how deeply we are loved, yet Christian evangelicals often fail to show that kind of love to LGBT people. As Christians, we know that we cannot understand the depth of our sinfulness -- that is, the degree to which we turn away from God and neighbor -- until we realize how much we are loved in the first place. Only in knowing that we are loved by God, through revelation and/or reason, are we able to experience true repentance or metanoia. It seems to me that there is plenty for all of us to repent for beyond same-sex acts. In fact, by treating same-sex acts as a litmus test for Christian faithfulness, anti-gay Christians inadvertently place a stumbling block before LGBT people by failing to show them the unconditional love that leads to true metanoia.

8. Focusing on the "sinfulness" of same-sex acts obscures the true meaning of original sin. To me, the heavy emphasis on the sinfulness of same-sex acts actually cheapens the doctrine of original sin and the fallenness of all people. In other words, it seems to me that anti-gay evangelicals fall into the exact same trap that Paul sets up for the Jewish Christians in Romans 1. Anti-gay evangelicals are so busy condemning LGBT people that, just like the Jewish Christians to whom Paul is speaking, they fail to see that all are fallen, which is the point of Romans 2 -- and the primary point of Paul's theology of salvation by grace. I believe that focusing less on the sinfulness of same-sex acts and more on the universality of original sin would actually honor the doctrine of sin as understood by Augustine, Calvin, and others in the reformed tradition.

9. In this case, hating the "sin" is hating the sinner. I have written elsewhere about the fallacy of "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" with respect to LGBT people. For most of us, being LGBT is such an important part of our identities -- especially given how we experience God's love most strongly through LGBT people and relationships -- that to condemn our sexuality is the same as condemning the individual. Imagine being straight in a gay world but never being able to admit that you are sexually active or that you desire and/or have an opposite-sex spouse, straight children, and other straight friends. Would you experience that world as merely hating the sin or hating the person? I suspect most people would experience the latter.

9.5. Christian evangelicals and LGBT people actually have more in common than either side would care to admit. Last, but not least, I conclude with a thesis that is somewhat less scriptural and theological, but more sociological in nature. As someone who "lives" in both the LGBT world and the Christian world, I believe that both communities actually have a lot more in common that either side would care to admit. In both worlds, there is often a tight-knit sense of fellowship, community, shared experiences and mission, and shared texts and cultures. There is also a sense of being marginalized and persecuted within a larger society. Indeed, both groups often experience difficulty in terms of talking about or "coming out" about one's deepest beliefs and loves openly in many day-to-day situations. It seems to me that a more thoughtful dialogue between these two groups might uncover many of these similarities and help each group better empathize with the other.

In sum, my hope is that these 9.5 theses for a new Reformation might be a useful start in terms of encouraging a deeper and more authentic dialogue between non-LGBT Christian evangelicals and LGBT Christians. As I mentioned above, it is my hope that such dialogue might lead toward a "turning of the mind" by evangelicals about their historically negative views of LGBT people. Similarly, such a dialogue might help LGBT people to reassess our attitudes toward evangelicals, as well as to practice forgiveness of those who may have trespassed against us. I personally would welcome the opportunity to be part of such a dialogue.

The above devotion is excerpted from the Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng's online pieces:
* "9.5 Theses for a New Reformation," Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/95-Theses-for-a-New-Reformation.html (April 26, 2010).
* "Evangelicals and Gays: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?," Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-patrick-s-cheng-phd/evangelicals-and-gays-why_b_559612.html (May 5, 2010).
Copyright (c) 2010 by Patrick S. Cheng. All rights reserved.

The Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng will be joining the faculty of the Episcopal Divinity School in July 2010 and is ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church. For his website, please see http://www.patrickcheng.net .

05 May 2010

Peter’s Vision for Today

My mother talks about the moment when, in college, she had the sudden realization that she was a Gentile. “I knew I wasn’t Jewish,” she remembers, “but it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that I was one of those nasty Gentiles!” She shares this memory with a smile at her own naiveté. Having grown up in a Christian household reading the Bible and being fascinated with Jewish tradition, my mother’s experience was surprising but safe. Surprising because she suddenly realized she was a Gentile, one of those “others” who are often looked on with suspicion throughout the Bible. But safe because the Gentiles were already “in”—they had already been accepted by the followers of Jesus long, long ago.

This week, we heard the story from Acts 11 of Peter’s vision, in which he is called to serve the Gentiles: “As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” The passage concludes: “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”

My mother’s realization, while humorous now, was safe because her group is already included in the Christian sphere. If this passage from Acts—and the whole movement of the book of Acts from a band of small followers to the ends of the known world—tells us anything, though, it is that the Christian community should have no bounds. None. When Christians today welcome the GLBT community into their communities as the early followers of Jesus welcomed the Gentiles, Peter’s vision will be expanded once again. More importantly, God’s desire for open doors and welcoming hearts will see fruition.

Last month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took final steps toward abolishing its anti-GLBT policies, effective immediately. My hope this Easter season is that we Presbyterians can follow in their footsteps, embracing the inclusive vision of Acts 11 and extending God’s gracious and radical welcome to all. Particularly for heterosexual allies of the GLBT community—like my mother and me—may we not rest in the safety of having already been accepted into the Christian fold, but rather risk our safety for a broader and more holy Presbyterian community.

—Rev. Ian Doescher
Calvary Presbyterian Church, Portland, Oregon

28 April 2010

Easter Shepherds

Yesterday was the Sunday that comes every year in mid- Easter we know as "Good Shepherd Sunday" when the 23rd Psalm is at the center and all the readings seem to circle around it. I've been trying to figure out why that happens in the middle of Easter. My guess is that with all the excitement of Jesus' constant random appearances showing up on the road, passing through walls,barbecuing on the beach, it's easy to forget the why of all this. It's a reminder that the purpose of resurrection life for the risen Jesus is to be as a shepherd. For us urban folks, we don't have much connection with real sheep. They're just not around, except in petting zoos at school street fairs, usually with bits of urban detritus caught in their wool as they mill about among goats and other small animals. Shepherds exist for us only as metaphor rooted in nostalgia for experiences we haven't had. When my kids were small, the closest I could come to a workable image was Kenny the porter of our building who always watched them to safety on their way to and from school.

Ironically, even in Jesus' day the metaphor was already one of nostalgia. Perhaps the psalmist was really David who actually was a shepherd, but in first century Palestine, most folks didn't have much contact with shepherds. They were the only folk who didn't come inside the city gates to sleep at night. Even farmers slept inside and would go out to tend their fields then return. The shepherds literally lived outside the gates, on the margins of society. How fitting then that they would be the first to witness the birth of Jesus, the first to celebrate. The power and center of the image thus begins at the margins.

Nevertheless, the psalm has deep resonance for almost all of us. I've never done a funeral without the family requesting a recitation of the 23rd Psalm. It's one of the few verses we still can recall, usually in the King James Version. We respond to the sense of constant presence, the protection, the comfort. Most of us have known our travels through the "valley of the shadow of death." And the sense of humiliation that is answered by a table spread in the "presence of my enemies." From the margins, from valleys of dread, we are invited to dwell "in the house of the Lord forever."

If Jesus is our shepherd, if we are called to be his living risen body, what are we called to do? We look at Peter, impulsive, rash, a triple denier and only capable of responding with philos, friendship and like when Jesus offers and asks for agape, self-giving love. This is the one on whom the church will be built and who raises up Dorcas from the dead. That's a pretty clear clue as to what we are to be about in an Easter life, in Resurrection living. Easter is more about our resurrection than that of Jesus. We are both subject and object of resurrection. We are called to raise the dead. This is personal and relational as we all have living deaths from which we must be raised, some more dramatic than others. It may be grief for a lost loved one or lost love, of addiction or illness or maybe even a hidden life we are afraid to claim as our own. We're called to "shepherd" one another, lead one another, to resurrection living.

But it also a communal calling, whether it is a congregation exhausted by the battle or a whole church that has come to the point of death by exhausting itself by guarding the gates of exclusion. The lgbt movement for inclusion has been like an EMT trying to breathe life back into a moribund body. Like "shepherds" trying pull the church back from the edge of the cliff. It's exhausting work. But the promise is we are not alone. We have learned to feast even when surrounded by enemies. Let us feel that comfort and protection and promise as we continue to live into Easter.

Bob Brashear is Pastor of West-Park Presbyterina Church

14 April 2010

The Resurrection Reality through the Eye of Faith: Scripture passage: John 20: 19-31

Many of us have come to recognize this passage as the story of Doubting Thomas, but is this story really about Thomas and his doubting? Surely, Thomas is the one who says “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” And the other part of the passage we remember well is Jesus’ words that conclude the scene “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” If we remember only this exchange, and put it together with the popular yet non-biblical title like “Doubting Thomas” in our minds, we get an impression that Thomas was the only disciple who needed to “see” in order to believe; and that he is being singled out as the one with a feeble faith, a “poor example of a disciple” we don’t wan to be identified with. But, let’s go back and see if that is how the story goes.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”

So, even before the disciples had a chance to ask, Jesus took initiative in showing them his hands and his side. Not only that, right before this passage is the scene where Mary Magdalene who had seen Jesus earlier on that same day, announced to the disciples hat she had seen the Lord. So the disciples had heard from her the same witness they themselves would later give go Thomas. But Jesus knew the disciples needed to see the marks of the nails to believe it was him, the crucified Jesus, whose presence they were beholding.

But that is just so God. With us creatures, God always is the one taking initiative, going ahead of us, reaching out to us, always providing for us just what we need to turn to our Creator. Thomas may have missed out on that first occasion when the disciples “saw” Jesus’ hands and his side, but for all we know from the story, the disciples might not have been any different from him. Thomas’ reaction of doubt and his resistant to believe the witnesses of others without he himself seeing, highlights what may have been the state of mind of all disciples who were huddled together in fear.

“The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” I need to make a side comment here that the people referred to as the Jews in most English translations of the Bible are not our Jewish brothers and sisters, but the Judeans, referring to the Israelite people from the region of Judea, whereas Jesus and his followers were Galileans from the region of Galilee. At any rate, the disciples had just witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross but a few days ago. In a stark contrast to the ecstatic joy they experienced upon entering Jerusalem with Jesus, their hope for a Messiah had been dashed. All they were left with was the haunting guilt of their own betrayal, which left them with little faith in themselves. Those Judeans must be out to get them, with the help of the Roman imperial officials. They had all the reasons to be afraid.

Behind those locked doors, the disciples had no clue what God had just done, despite the witness of Mary Magdalene that she had seen the Lord. The crucifixion of Jesus was a very physical event that they had just seen with their own eyes, so the disciples needed physical signs to see that the risen Jesus in front of their eyes was just as “Real.” Because in the life of the world as they knew it, every “reality” had a corresponding evidence that was tangible and visible. Isn’t it also how you and I today judge what is “real?” The scientific and technological advance in the past two millennia hasn’t made much of a difference in the way we, too, understand what is Real. If anything, we who have more confidence in our knowledge about the natural world demand physical evidence all the more to accept anything that claims to be “real.”

The signs, as miracles are called in John’s Gospel, were not necessary for Jesus to be Jesus, namely, Son of God, but the author of the Gospel appeals to those “signs” to communicate what had “really” happened, because this “real happening” that John wants us to “see” in the Resurrection is so inexplicable that it can only be seen with the Eye of Faith. The miracles in John’s Gospels are indeed signs that point our eyes to “see” an otherwise intangible, invisible Reality of God.

Rudolf Bultmann was a 20th century theologian who took seriously the question of how to get across to us modern people the message of the Biblical witness concerning the Reality of God, without having it dismissed merely as mythology. He wrote:

…a miracle in the sense of an action of God cannot be thought of as an event which happens on the level of secular events. It is not visible, not capable of objective view of the world. To the scientific, objective observer God’s action is a mystery. The action of God is hidden from every eye except the eye of faith. Only the so called natural, secular (worldly) events are visible to every man and capable of proof. It is within them that God’s hidden action is taking place.

Today, there are faithful, serious Christians who expend enormous amount of energy trying show that God’s action of raising Jesus from death was something that was visible to everyone and capable of proof. You can go online and find lists of facts presented as evidence. But Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have come to believe.” If our Easter Hope relied on those evidence that “made sense” in the world of our own senses, there would be no need for the Eye of Faith, for that would be reducing the Reality of God to fit into the reality of our world limited by our senses, where death and violence and all kinds of evil seem to have an upper hand, even since that first Easter morning.

On the other hand, today, there are those of us faithful, serious Christians who are in the “closet” when it comes to our feelings about the Resurrection of Jesus as a historical event in the past. We may have a deep abiding sense of peace of God in our heart; the Peace that Jesus brought with him to the disciples in that fear-filled room; yet, a question like “Do you believe in the bodily Resurrection?” can make us cringe and leave us feeling like our guarded secret just got exposed, or else we become convinced that people would take us now for a poster child for “Doubting Thomas.” (sigh…) We should never feel that way, for that would be reducing the meaning of the Resurrection faith to our own ability to believe, swallowing whole without questioning, that which is simply unbelievable to us. You do that and see your faith choke itself to death. For doubt and questioning is an essential part of Christian Faith that is PISTIS.

Yes, PISTIS. It is the Greek word in the New Testament for faith, and its verb form “to believe” is PISTEUOU. But this word also means TRUST and TO TRUST, which I think captures better the nuance of “seeing with the eye of faith” of which Bultmann spoke, or “believing without seeing” that Jesus was talking about when addressing Thomas.

The questions then can be phrased: What is it that we COME TO TRUST in the Resurrection story? And how ARE WE to COME TO TRUST “it”?
The answers can be found in the story John tells. The Jesus God raised had the marks of the nails in his hands. John is the only Gospel that tells of this detail, so why did he bother? In resurrecting Jesus, God did not just patch Jesus up and put him right back into the world that had killed him. God did not just “undo” or “reverse” death. The Resurrection as an action of God is far more radical and mysterious. The Jesus God raised bears the mark of the sins of the world that rejected him, but the sin could not keep him down. For God overcame the power of death by bringing the New and Eternal Life into the world. That is the action of God John wants us see with our eyes of faith in his story of the Resurrection. That is the Reality of God that we are called to “believe without seeing.” That is the truth about Jesus, the Messiah and the Son of God, that we are called to COME TO TRUST, so that in Trusting, we, too, may experience this new and eternal life that Death can no longer put out. That is the divine Reality manifested in the risen Christ who came into that fear-filled room behind the locked doors, saying “Peace be with you.”

The moment the disciples SAW that they were indeed in the presence of the crucified Jesus, (including Thomas who did a kind of a double take), their eyes of faith were opened and they saw Jesus for who he was, the risen Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Now it was Thomas who affirmed “My Lord and my God!”

Still the other question remains: How do WE COME TO TRUST this? Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and Thomas….to all of them Jesus revealed himself. But WHAT ABOUT US? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Could those words be for us, who have not seen Jesus with the marks of the nails in his hands, but only have the witnesses of the Bible and the testimonies of those who have experienced the presence of the living Christ?

The answer again is in the Scripture. After that day, after they received the Holy Spirit, outwardly, nothing changed; the disciples still lived in the first century Palestine, with the threat from the opposing Judeans and the Roman imperial officers, but internally, they had been transformed; they became participants in the Reality of God; indeed the citizens of the Kingdom of God.

The other lectionary passage for April 11, 2010 is Acts 5: 27-32 which gives us a glimpse of this transformation:

The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

What a difference. Before they were locking themselves up in the house for fear of them. And now, they boldly declare that they are no longer able to obey the authority of this world, because they are witnesses to the Resurrection, to the new world order, to the divine reality that has broken into this world.

What is the witness here? It is a witness to the new life that they have received.
The new life in Christ is never just a matter of our personal relationship with God. The new Life in Christ is Life in relationship with the world in which we God placed us. God’s gift of Eternal Life is not only about our life that continues even after our death, but we partake in it now. Jesus who is our Savior is at the same time the Savior of the whole world and he sends us out into it to, with the Holy Spirit as our guide and comforter, to be witnesses to his Resurrection. To Witness is to participate in this Reality of God; to live as the citizens of the Kingdom of God. To Witness is to share with others what we have seen with our eyes of faith. To Witness is to start living the Eternal Life in Christ’s name, not after we die, but here and now, following our teacher and the Lord with the marks of nails in his hands. It means for us to be sent into this world that is marked with the violence, suffering and brokenness. It affects our dealings with people whom we trust, as well as those who cause us pain, whether they be in our work place, in the classroom , in our family at home or our church family. Jesus said “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And so Jesus sends also us, saying, “receive the Holy Spirit.” Let us go, then to stand among those who are huddled in this fear-filled world, saying “Peace be with you.”

Takako Suzuki Terino

03 April 2010

Lent: day 40

I find hope in the wilderness when I am surprised by creation right here in the city… be it a tiny bird in a high rise window, or a flower determined to be the first in bloom.

02 April 2010

Lent: day 39

I find hope in the wilderness when I realize God is always with me.
Betty Bolden

01 April 2010

Lent: day 38

I find hope in the wilderness when good conversations happen over a glass of wine--and i remember this is right where Jesus would be--right where Jesus is.

Chris, Presbyterian Welcome Board President

31 March 2010

Lent: day 37

I find hope in the wilderness when I help others come through the mud that is life.
Jami Yandle, Union Theological Seminary 1st year

30 March 2010

Lent: day 36

I find hope in the wilderness when I remember nothing can separate me from God's Love.

David Richardson, Presbytery of NYC

29 March 2010

Lent: day 35

I find hope in the wilderness when I surrender my hopelessness to God which brings me closer to the Holy Spirit.


27 March 2010

Lent: day 34

"I find hope in the wilderness when the angels come and and wait on me."

Jesus, Son of God (Mt. 4:11)

26 March 2010

Lent: day 33

I find hope in the wilderness when my granddaughter calls me to talk about God and heaven. She reminds me to keep it simple.

Helen Bowen-Ingram, Presbyterian Welcome Board Member

25 March 2010

Lent: day 32

I find hope in the wilderness when I remember that the dawn will come again. It is that memory of light which reveals traces of grace in the living of these days.

Jacqui VanVliet

24 March 2010

Lent: day 31

I find hope in the wilderness when the Spirit's detour is more scenic and inspiring than the way I wanted to go.

Derrick McQueen, Presbyterian Welcome Board Member

23 March 2010

Lent: day 30

I find hope in the wilderness when the sun beams through the clouds and shines on the earth and our lives.

Rev. David Cockcroft, Pastor Emeritus, Riverdale Presbyterian Church, Bronx NY

22 March 2010

Lent: day 29

I find hope in the wilderness when I recognize it as a place I'd been through before, and had been delivered enriched.

Takako Suzuki Terino, Presbyterian Welcome Board Member

20 March 2010

Lent: day 28

I find hope in the wilderness when children laugh and hug each other.

Anonymous Father

19 March 2010

Lent: day 27

I find hope in the wilderness when strangers gather to eat, and somewhere along the line, become friends.

Emily Scott, St. Lydia's, stlydias.org

18 March 2010

Lent: day 26

I find hope in the wildness when my very conservative 91 year old mother in law said, "gays are God's children too." Praise the Lord!

Isabel Morales, NYC

17 March 2010

Lent: day 25

What give you hope in the wilderness?

"Jesus wept." He felt our pain. He was in the wilderness and understands our pain. He knows how it feels--even in the wilderness.

New York City

16 March 2010

Lent: day 24

I find hope in the wilderness when I'm so tired even my bones are crying but my feet keep moving forward.

Rev. Beth Waltemath
Associate Pastor
First Presbyterian Church Brooklyn

15 March 2010

Lent: day 23

I find hope in the wilderness.... one step at a time.

The wilderness of discrimination and prejudice can seem like a place of endless despair. The only way I can journey through that wilderness is to hold onto my faith in God, the hand of my brother and sister, and take it one step at a time. The journey toward ordination for our GLBTQ members has felt like a journey through the wilderness and I only began the journey 14 years ago! The disappointment at General Assembly after General Assembly is difficult to bear. But in those moments I have found that there is a community of grace and love holding one another, bearing one another's burden, helping each one to stand and take another step. Those who have been working for ordination far longer than I are a pillar of fire that lead and inspire us to persevere.

But the greatest source of hope I find in the wilderness is in the eyes of those who are waiting for the church to change. One of those people is my brother. My brothers and I grew up in a conservative Presbyterian home where homosexuality was condemned and often made fun of. This became even more so when my brother told our parents that he was gay. The way to deal with his news was to use Scripture as a weapon and to ridicule homosexuality while pushing him to date girls. He was never supposed to talk about it or say anything to his brothers and me.

Imagine my brother's surprise when he learned that my husband and I were supportive of the gay community and supported the work of groups like MLP, The Witherspoon Society, and Presbyterian Welcome. It was if my brother had found an oasis in the wilderness. He told me his story of rejection by our parents. He introduced me to his partner of more than 20 years, who until then was never seen or spoken of. He shared with me the pain of feeling not completely welcome in the Church - even in congregations that say they support ordination of gays, but because of the Book of Order they refuse to ordain. He talked about how much he hoped for a day when he could feel unconditionally loved in the Church. Even as I saw his hope, I became a source of hope for him that one day the Presbyterian church would understand and change. God's restorative love touched us as we grew into a new understanding of one another; our relationship renewed. The hope in his eyes, mixed with pain, speaks volumes and has encouraged me to keep on, one step at a time, teaching, encouraging and supporting until that day when all may freely serve! May it be soon, gracious God, may it be soon

The Rev. Sue Trigger
co-pastor First Presbyterian Church
Rockaway, NJ

13 March 2010

Lent: day 22

I find hope in the wilderness when I realize that every step of the journey I am accompanied by a great cloud of witnesses, all of whom have walked this road before. They know what provisions we need. They teach me songs to sing at night when sitting before the flickering flames. They hold me when I am overwhelmed by fear, and the fear is vanquished.

Rev. Patricia J. Raube
Designated Pastor
Union Presbyterian Church
Endicott, NY

12 March 2010

Lent: day 21

I find hope in the wilderness when I notice tracks in my path that remind me that though I may feel alone in the wilderness, I am anything but...

The Rev. Sarah McCaslin, M.Div., LMSW
Associate Pastor for Congregational Care and Mission
The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York

11 March 2010

Lent: day 20

What gets you through the wilderness?
"The lingering exhilaration of the transfiguring mountaintop, the shimmering hope of Easter."

Skip Dunford

10 March 2010

Lent: day 19

I find hope in the wilderness when I can be close to water. It connects me to the Biblical days--all the Bible stories about water, and to baptism.

Dermonte Alleyne
Facilities Manager, Rutgers Presbyterian Church

09 March 2010

Lent: day 18

I find hope in the wilderness when, in the middle of yet another freaking growth opportunity (with a different head of hair), I remember that, even though I may have entered the wilderness by myself, I am not alone, and will need the help of others to get out, if, I am willing to ask for help, and open to receive it when it presents itself.

Elder Jeremiah

08 March 2010

Lent: day 17

“I find hope in the wilderness when…”

“…I get to see my ‘rainbow friends.’” I am what is commonly termed a “GA junkie.” It doesn’t matter where the General Assembly is being held, I want to be there and so does my entire family. My wife and co-pastor started attending with me in 1996. My 21-year-old daughter has literally grown up going to General Assemblies, including serving as a YAD and a Youth Liaison with the Covenant Network. But it’s our 8-year-old son who really helps put it in perspective. Whenever he hears we’re going to another General Assembly, he gets excited and says, “I get to see my rainbow friends!”

He’s used that term ever since he was 4 years old, attending the 2006 General Assembly in Birmingham. Our family was there and his sister was serving as a YAD and when his parents were busy, people at the booths of the Witherspoon Society, Voices of Sophia, and More Light Presbyterians took turns playing with him and making him feel welcome. Our son’s experience with his “rainbow friends” has made him feel a special connection within the church.

It’s those “rainbow friends” that also give me hope. I don’t attend the General Assembly simply to help work on social justice issues; I attend because I need to experience the kind of welcoming and hopeful atmosphere that I feel in the presence of fellow Presbyterians. While I look forward to that wonderful worship service where thousands of Presbyterians gather on a Sunday morning at the beginning of the Assembly, it still doesn’t compare to the More Light worship service where so many different voices are raised in song and where there is a real sense of praise to God. Somehow, when we gather in a place where all of us come together as “strangers” and we get the chance to see the great variety of humanity present in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my hope is renewed that we will begin to appreciate our differences and not merely tolerate them, or worse, to use those differences to separate us from one another.

It’s my “rainbow friends” that give me hope and I give thanks for them daily.

The Rev. Mitch Trigger
Rockaway, New Jersey

06 March 2010

Lent: day 16

I find hope in the wilderness when I remember that I am not alone, that wilderness is a shared part of our journey of faith, that not only did an entire people wander, led by a cloud and a pillar of fire, but that I try to follow a Jesus whose own walk in the wilderness brought him closer to his calling.

The Reverend Laura Cunningham
Pastor Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church
Pearl River, NY

05 March 2010

Lent: day 15

I find hope in the wilderness when I remember my centering prayer: "Thou art with me. Thy will be done."

Jenny Howard, M.Div. student, Louisville Seminary

04 March 2010

Lent: day 14

What gets you through the wilderness?
"Jesus and music...and the bucket with which to carry a tune."

Donna Konias

03 March 2010

Lent: day 13

I find hope in the wilderness when I travel with those willing to set their face toward Jerusalem, as Jesus did, to set aside safety and comfort - in order to serve others, regardless of the cost.

Ray Bagnuolo, Pastor Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
Openly gay Minister of Word and Sacrament PC(USA), Board Member of MLP

02 March 2010

Lent: day 12

I find hope in the wilderness when even a sightless man can see transgender people have rights.

Anna Taylor Sweringen
Presbyterian Welcome Board Member

01 March 2010

Lent: day 11

I find hope in the Wilderness when...
Portion of a letter sent to Meg Harper in October, 2009, from Earl Brown, Jr.- serving his 23rd year in jail and at this time in solitary confinement:

Please do not let yourself cry. There is a window, I can see trees and sky beyond the fences and razor wire. I can open it slightly and get fresh air and I am never really alone. Please remember that the things of beauty that I find rest in can’t be taken from me.

So my dear friend, Jesus had his forty days wilderness experience, Moses had 40 years…the Buddah had his Tree… and Muhammad his Cave; A pattern and example to know and understand the I Am in us all. So no problem with Shoe (Earl’s nickname) and 4 months of solitary. May the Love, Power, and Peace, the Mystery that has been hidden from the ages… Çhrist in You, Your Hope of Glory. be clear and dear to you, whose tears have taken your soul to the laundry mat, making you clean, without spot of blemish, precious! As Ever, your Brother Earl, Jr.

27 February 2010

Lent: day 10

I find hope in the wilderness when I see another person's tracks.

Jim Nedelka

26 February 2010

Lent: day 9

"I find hope in the wilderness when there is kindness."

T. Silvestro, NYC

25 February 2010

Lent: day 8

I find hope in the wilderness when I throw in the towel and accept that only God can help me and I am not in control.

Betsy Bostwick
Germonds Presbyterian Church

24 February 2010

Lent: day 7

I feel hope in the wilderness when Christians “welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)

Tricia Dykers Koenig, Covenant Network National Organizer

23 February 2010

Lent: day 6

I find hope in the wilderness when... I know that I am not alone, that God is with me, around me, embracing me, sustaining me and everyone else, too...when all means all.

Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D.,
Executive Director & Field Organizer, More Light Presbyterians
gay Elder, Presbyterian Church (USA), Santa Fe, New Mexico

22 February 2010

Lent: day 5

I feel hope in the wilderness when I look out into the future and see the sure and certain dawn of a radically and wildly inclusive church on the horizon, a church where all gifts and talents are welcomed, honored and celebrated. This is the resurrection of the church we hope for...

Rev.Dr. Robert L. Brashear
Pastor, West-Park Presbyterian Church

20 February 2010

Lent: day 4

What gets you through the wilderness?
"Packing my own TP before setting out and then putting one foot in front of the other."

Kate Smanik Moyes

19 February 2010

Lent: day 3

I find hope in the wilderness when my six-year-old son comes home and tells me he's going to marry one of the boys from his kindergarten class. I find hope both that he feels free to express that desire, and also that one day it may be a reality for him.

Rev. Ian Doescher, Calvary Presbyterian Church, Portland Oregon

18 February 2010

Lent: day 2

I feel hope in the wilderness when I can look around and be grateful for all I have been given, the good, the bad and the in between.

Rev. Mieke Vandersall, Minister Director, Presbyterian Welcome

17 February 2010

Presbyterian Welcome Lenten Blog Project

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days...

In the season of Lent, we remember the desert for 40 days. We remember ancestors wandering in the desert for forty years. We remember Jesus' pilgrimage, led by the Spirit. In our tradition and in our lives, we see that sometimes 40 minutes or days or weeks or years in the desert is a choice we make, and sometimes it happens against our will. Sometimes we go there to be refreshed, while at other times we frantically and fruitlessly search for the exits.

In the season of Lent, Presbyterian Welcome invites you to participate in a special blogging project.

To participate, simply complete this sentence:

"I find hope in the wilderness when..."

Please attach your name and affiliation as you would like it to appear on the blog, or let us know if you want to post anonymously, and email it to presbyterianwelcome@gmail.com

We will post one sentence/reflection per day, so keep checking back to Psalms Modern as part of your Lenten practice this year..

15 February 2010


By Drew Paton

Mark 9: 2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The accounts of the transfiguration in Matthew, Mark and Luke are almost identical but it is Mark’s gospel which seems to provide the context that sheds the most light on this story. In Mark’s gospel Jesus seems always to be in a rush – “and straightaway he called them,” “they went to Capernaum straightaway,” “he boarded the ship straightaway,” – Jesus is constantly on the move, often traveling from place to place by night and telling his followers to “tell no one” about the miracles they have observed. In the gospel of Mark, even while Jesus challenges the status quo and carries out his courageous mission, he is on the run from a society which can neither understand nor accept his true and complete identity. But something amazing and powerful happens on the mountaintop in this story we know as “the transfiguration.” Jesus reveals himself. Jesus shows the fullness of who he is. There on the mountaintop, in the presence of some of his nearest and dearest, he becomes himself. Luke says his countenance was altered. Matthew says, his face shone like the sun. And in this act the glory of God was revealed.

I recently became acquainted with someone who has lived more than 30 years as a man. Several weeks ago, after a long, arduous, thoughtful and prayerful journey, this individual gave up the male name which she was given at birth, in exchange for a new feminine name. Shortly thereafter she began receiving hormone injections which will facilitate her outward transition towards embodied womanhood. She told me that since she’s been getting injections she feels like she’s glowing. She was. She grinned from ear to ear and said “people seem to look at me differently.” I found myself thinking of the transfiguration.

How often have we – as a society and as the church – been unable or unwilling to understand, accept, make space for and be transformed by the true, complete identities of our members? How often have we discouraged or disallowed the fullest, deepest expression of those selves – our own and those of others – selves crafted meticulously and gifted lovingly by our Creator? How many times and in how many ways have we kept people from truly and freely becoming themselves – the selves which God intended, the selves to which God has called them?

Jesus wasn’t simply showing off up on that mountain. Neither was he just asserting his authority. We know this because throughout the gospels Jesus resisted countless opportunities to do those things. It seems to me that the purpose of this act of self-revelation is consistent with the self-proclaimed purpose of Jesus’ entire life and ministry: to reveal the glory of God. Jesus showed the truth and entirety of himself in order to teach us about ourselves – to remind us who and whose we are – and to give us license and inspiration to do likewise. He did this, I believe, because he knew that the glory of God is made manifest when we become ourselves. This is what God wants for us.

My hope and prayer for the church and for our world is that we realize the rich resource which exists, by the grace of God, in each unique self and the profound power which results from the revelation and authentic living-out of those selves.

08 February 2010

The Hidden Parts

By Anonymous

I'm not a theologian. I'm not a scholar. I’m just some foolish soul who feels called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, who went to seminary, and who wanders in the wilderness (a/k/a certified ready to receive a call).

When I read Paul in this week’s lectionary (2 Corinthians 3:12 - 4:2) my initial reaction was that he missed the boat. I think he was pretty harsh on Moses. After talking to God, the skin of Moses’ face shone and the people were afraid to come to him. It sounds to me like he had been transformed by this great experience of seeing God. I imagine he must have been aglow with the great love that God holds for us. God sees us fully, no matter where we hide, and perhaps Moses was fully exposed and fully loved. He was transformed and glowing. But the people couldn’t come to him; they were afraid of who he really was. They needed him to hide that part of himself that scared them.

As a child I knew I was not “the same” as others. I too had to wear a veil so as not to scare those around me. And I was told in many ways that what I was hiding was shameful. Paul says, “we have renounced the shameful things that one hides.” I have come to know now that it is not what I hide that is shameful; what is shameful is that I must hide.

May the Spirit of God hold you close in all your hiding places and embolden you to show your face, as God created you, shining and unveiled.

01 February 2010

A Talk About our Relationship

By Jenny Howard, M.Div. student, Louisville Seminary

Paul’s Letter to the Romans has historically been a source of “clobber passages” against LGBTQ people of faith. Yet, many of us are unwilling to reject this book of the Bible. We interviewed one woman (who happens to be trans), and asked her to tell us about her relationship with the Book of Romans. Here’s what she told us.

Romans and I have a wonderful relationship. It hasn’t always been easy – we’ve had our share of differences. To be honest, we still do sometimes. But it’s truly a long-term, loving relationship. I’d like to talk a little bit about what makes it work, or at least, what makes it work for me. If you want to know how he feels, you’ll have to ask him, although good luck with that – he’s not always comfortable with touchy-feely language.

Any good relationship has to be based on honesty. If you’re holding something back from each other, trust breaks down, and you lose faith in each other. Whenever I’m with Romans, I try to be present with a completely open heart. He’s the same way. He tells me what he thinks, what he believes, what he thinks is and isn’t important, and so on. I never have to play “guess what I’m thinking” with him. Sometimes he tells me more than I need to know at the moment, but that’s OK, better to say too much than too little.

Another really important thing is always showing how much you care about each other – not just caring, but showing it too. Part of that is making sure that you spend quality time together. It’s not enough just to be in the same room, you have to engage each other, have real conversations. I know I always feel better when I’ve been spending time with him regularly.

Of course, sometimes those conversations are easier than others. I don’t mean in a bad way… for instance, I’m a pretty emotional person, and he can be kind of intellectual and analytical sometimes. But if you care about each other, you make the effort. I try to listen really carefully, and he’s really patient about being having to explain things more than once.

I don’t want to make it sound like he’s the one with all the answers. See, he hasn’t changed much over the years, and it seems like I’m starting something new all the time. So I can bring that to our time together, and help him understand and adapt to the way the world is now. He appreciates that, because a lot of people bring their questions to him, and he wants to be able to answer them in language they understand.

And speaking of being with someone else – that’s another thing that makes our relationship work – it goes back to that trust that I mentioned a few minutes ago. We’re completely loyal to each other. If somebody else needs him, I’m OK with that, because I know he’ll be there for me when I need him. And if I spend some time with Jude or Mark or even old Isaiah, he trusts me to come back to him. And I always do.

There’s something comforting about him, even though he can be so mental at times. Like even though he has a very clear sense of right and wrong, he’s still very accepting. He doesn’t judge people by surface things, like whether they’re male or female, or workers or bosses. He’s funny – he always says that he doesn’t even care if someone’s Jewish or Greek or whatever! It makes me feel safe around him, because I know he’s accepting of me too.

Another thing – he’s not one of those who are afraid to talk about love. When he says, “Owe no one anything, except to love,” or “Love is the fulfilling of the law”, I get all mushy inside – I never get tired of hearing things like that.

I guess that’s the bottom line – he’s all about love and faithfulness, and so am I. That’s really what’s at the heart of our wonderful relationship. And that’s what will keep us together for the rest of our lives.

25 January 2010

Love is...

Rev. Ian Doescher, Calvary Presbyterian Church, Portland Oregon

One of the lectionary texts for this Sunday is 1 Corinthians 13. Many of us know it well enough to say it in our sleep. For me, it’s ingrained in my head in the words used by Take 6 in their 1990 song “I L-O-V-E U”: “Love is patient, love is kind, love has no envy, love is not proud, love behaves, love is not selfish or easily provoked, love is not evil, love shares truth instead of spreading lies, love bears
all, love believes all, love endures all, love is hope for all, love never fails.”

This passage about love is one of the most overused scripture passages for weddings, even though the context of two people joining together in marriage is far different than Paul’s context of teaching the Corinthian church about the church body. The passage lists several features of love, and is indeed beautiful whether we’re talking about romantic love or Christian love. But given current debates over gays and lesbians in the church, gay marriage, ordination of lesbians and gays, and so on, I’m always fascinated by what the passage doesn’t say love is. Just imagine: “Love is hetero, love is married, love has borders, love is sanctioned only by law, love is for one man and one woman, love is privileged, love is only for the perfect, love excludes, love bears some, love believes little, love endures no challenge, love is hope for few, love sometimes fails.”

That isn’t what Paul wrote. Even within his original context, writing for the Corinthians, Paul didn’t say that love means some people in the body of the church exclude others. Paul didn’t say love doesn’t always work. Until our churches are fully open and welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender people, we’ve entirely missed the point of 1 Corinthians 13, not to mention the point of love.

01 January 2010

The New Year

Friends, when you see these things happening, then you will know that the kingdom of God indeed is NEAR! We pray for this new reality this new year.