I am still reeling from the fact that there are so-called Christians here in my new homeland who are preaching the false gospel that if you are Christian, you cannot be gay and if you are gay, you are not a Christian.
“It all started with the woman’s self-determination, he says. The revolution goes through the acceptance of homosexuality and transgender people, into a world where masculinity and femininity are denied as such.”
Oh, but wait, there’s more, so much more…I’ll hold your hair while you puke.
“Nunn prefers to call homosexuality broken than sin. And you should not link that brokenness to your ‘core identity’, says Nunn. It lies in what God says about you in the Bible. He compares homosexual Christians with Christians who have a heart defect or suffer from dementia. ‘Does that make you a demented Christian? No, you are a beloved child of God struggling with the brokenness of dementia.”
I mean, I am used to hearing this from the power hunger, fear peddling theocrats of American evangelicalism, but have been utterly astonished by my own ignorance in believing it did not exist here.
I honestly thought I had landed on the golden shores of progressive reason and quiet faith. But seeing the pervasiveness of conservative theology, it is no wonder that so many people here have rejected religion all together.
What is even more surprising to me recently is the flickering of a little pride in my own theological heritage where the existence of diverse theological frameworks give us space to explore the many ways God is still speaking, even though the diversity is often painfully divisive.
Yes, millions of Americans believe that “protection of religious freedom” gives them the right to discriminate against LGBT citizens based on one interpretation of one subset of one religion’s understanding of a few words of scripture. Some folks actually believe deep in their hearts that God will punish them if they do anything at all that cold appear to approve of what they sincerely believe is punishable by an eternity of hell-fire suffering.
I feel really sad for all these people because they are genuinely afraid of God and that is contrary to everything I understand the Gospel of Jesus be about.
Jesus resoundly confronted the religious authorities of his day, shutting down any religious law that separated people from God’s love.
And the good news today is, there are millions of Christians who fully affirm the beautifully diverse lives and loves of queer folks like me.
Also, real and true is the fact that there are queer folks like me who ARE madly in love with Jesus, and even though the label is loaded, call ourselves Christian.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow, we work and pray for the light of God to illuminate a path forward in faith where we claim the truth that nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:31-39)
Side note: please remember that the media often wants to keep citizens misinformed and stridently afraid of one another. They do so by spotlighting the negative actions of a handful of people and ignoring the loving, affirming faith of many more Christians. Whether in America or The Netherlands, the media profits off of people by writing about people who hide their ignorance behind scripture. It is not nearly as profitable to write headlines like “Check out these Christians who love everyone, just like Jesus.”
What I want you to know and trust is that there are good people, loving people, cultural Christians or out-right Jesus freaks like me, who are living examples of God’s radical hospitality.
We come from neighbourhoods, towns, cities and regions all over The Netherlands and yes, even the deeply fractured America. In fact, it is the vociferously fractured religious landscape of America that may it a fertile land for flourishing faith that welcomes all.
We come in all shapes and sizes – individuals, prayer partners, Sunday School classes, campus ministries, congregations and whole denominations that affirm that each individual is a child of God, recognizing “that we are called to be like one body with many members, seeking with others of every race, ethnicity, creed, class, age, gender, marital status, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to journey together toward the promised realm of God.” – (from the Open and Affirming statement of Old South Church, United Church of Christ, Boston, MA)
What I invite you to do is to look around for Christians in your life (or be the Christian in someone else’s life), who lift up voices of faithful affirmation of our LGBT sisters and brothers. Let US ALL be the hands and feet of Christ in a world weary under the weight of fear and loathing. Let US be the people’s microphone and magnify the Love of God that might not sell advertising, but just might save a life.
I also want to share a treasure trove of Christian resources that fully affirm, and work for the full inclusion of, LGBT people. Everyone is welcome to share your own LGBT affirming faith resources in the comments below.
Here are a few resources to get us started. Everyone is welcome to share your own LGBT affirming faith resources in the comments below.
Wijdekerk.nl“Wijdekerk Foundation is an initiative of a group of Christians, themselves LGBT + people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) or closely involved with LGBT + people. We believe that everyone should be able to be themselves in his or her church. We have combined our experiences and strengths and share them on this site.
We want to do this from the love of Jesus Christ. Together are Wijdekerk.”
Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists “Members of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (AWAB) are churches, organizations, and individuals who are willing to go on record as welcoming and affirming all persons without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity, and who have joined together to advocate for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons within Baptist communities of faith.”
Believe Out Loud – is about helping churches live out this Christian principle by becoming fully inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Episcopalian – Integrity USA “Since 1974, Integrity has been a faithful witness of God’s inclusive love to the Episcopal Church and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. We are working for the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments.” Lutherans Concerned/North America “works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans in all aspects of the life of their Church and congregations. They provide a place of comfort and safety. They reach out and teach that Christ’s message, the Gospel, is for everyone equally. They call for the blessing of committed and covenanted same-gender relationships, and for the ordination of those called to minister.”
PC(USA) More Light Presbyterians – is a network of people seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
United Church of Christ Open & Affirming (ONA) Program– ONA is “shorthand” for Open and Affirming, the designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the United Church of Christ which make public statements of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
That All May Freely Serve advocates for an inclusive church for all who are disenfranchised: A church that honors diversity and welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons as full members. Full membership includes eligibility for ordination to the offices of elder, deacon, and Minister of Word and Sacrament.
The Institute for Welcoming Resources at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a networking hub for movement leaders and a source of downloadable toolkits and curriculum for your church.
[featured image by ActiveSteve – Creative Commons license. Use does not indicate artist endorsement]
My mama, who could fry some of the best damn chicken you ever put in your mouth, never taught me to cook. She taught me a lot of things, but she just couldn’t tolerate a constantly questioning kiddo scrambling around her kitchen as she tended to her cast iron skillets and perfectly sweetened pitchers of iced tea.
She did teach me how to assemble pretty outfits, carefully mixing and matching shirts and skirts so that no one would know I was wearing the same things over and over again. She taught me how to apply makeup, with lashes long and dark so that my eyes didn’t look naked and my lips were lined and colored beyond their nearly invisible pink. She taught me how to curl my hair, choosing just the right strands to pull straight away and then slowly wind the curling iron as close to my scalp as I could stand. She tried her best to teach me “the right way” to be a girl, a woman. When I went to University she wanted me to only study secretarial work. When I chose world religions as my academic path, she said college ruined me. And later, way later, when I came out as a lesbian, all of her own self-rejection and fear based faith attempted to persuade me that I was unworthy of God’s love – an abomination better dead that gay.
This morning, standing in my Dutch bathroom, my eyes brimmed as I watched my hands carefully choose just the right strands of hair and gently line my lips with the perfect blend of rose, the old wounds and longing for my mother in ways that she would never love me, came flooding back.
As a queer Christian who happily left the U.S. with her wife for reasons such as the politically motivated anti-LGBT religious landscape (among other reasons), it is with a wounded but encouraged heart that I am watching as a handful of Dutch protestant clergy regurgitate the toxic language of the Nashville Statement here in Holland.
In a nutshell, the Statement, both here and in the States is a theologically negligent and dangerous statement ushered by a handful of religious leaders. The statement makes erroneous claims that reject the sacred worth and civil rights of LGBT children of God. I honestly, in my honeymoon phase with Holland, had thought we’d left behind this ignorance and hatefulness for good.
This flare up of homophobia masquerading as Christianity in this largely secular nation has been deeply disappointing. But the good news is how much more encouraging it is to see municipalities across the country, businesses in every town and individuals near and far call out the statement for what it is – backwards bigotry plain and simple. I am particularly and deeply grateful for language such as “radicalized” being applied to “Christian” groups. It is rarely if ever applied to Christianity in the States and is typically reserved for fear mongering against our Muslim brothers and sisters.
I love my life in Leiden and since moving here have felt more at home than I ever did in my nearly 50 years in America. Here I have felt consistently happier, safer and more secure than the false promises of the American Dream. So too have my wife and I been radically freer to be fully and openly ourselves, without fear or apology. We have made a true and lasting home here.
As it turns out, I have the honor of pastoring a small, English-speaking congregation that is diverse and beautiful and growing in our understanding of who we are as a community. Sojourners’ Fellowship is a small community of people from many spiritual paths who come together to pause and explore life’s great questions through diverse contemplative practices and thoughtful dialogue.
1. Believe in the Sacred Oneness and Unity of all life;
2. Affirm that the teachings of many religious and secular traditions, including but not limited to the teachings of Jesus, provide ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
Believers, agnostic and questioning skeptics,
Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
Those of all races, nationalities and religious backgrounds,
Those of all classes and abilities;
4. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
6. Hope for peace and justice among all people;
7. Hope to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;
8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.
ALL who come in peace are welcome, including but not limited to: believers, agnostics and questioning skeptics; those of all sexual orientations and gender identities; those of all races, nationalities, classes and abilities.
In this light, and inspired by the Denver Statement by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, I’ve crafted my own article-by-article response to the Nashville Statement to share with my Dutch neighbors. If you have the time and inclination, read on and please, please, please share your thoughts in the comments below after you’ve had time to ruminate a bit.
It’s not a short read, so maybe go make yourself a glass of sweet tea, grab a buttery biscuit and settling in for the long haul.
A Sojourners’ Statement
Jesus-loving people, Christians and people from many of the worlds traditions who are inspired by the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, understand that we live in a beautiful, challenging, paradigm-shifting era. Humanity is in the midst of an arduous and exciting journey to more fully understand what it means to be human. People around the world are doing the hard and faithful work of shedding misconceptions and limitations imposed by religiosity that is meant to control rather than love. More and more people, regardless of tradition, find delight in the wild diversity of God’s good creation.
Unfortunately, there are still many people who deny the divine spark in every corner of creation and use their religion to draw lines of demarcation around race, nationality, ability, gender identity or sexuality. It is now commonplace among theologically uninformed Christians to use the Bible as a weapon, especially when it comes to their unfortunate idolatry of one collection of texts written by humans thousands of yeas ago. In their limited understanding, they are wronging convinced that they alone, clearly and for all time, hold the single truth of God’s design and desire.
This spirit of misinterpreting and enforcing scripture has always brought with it great challenges for Christians. From historical sanctions of slavery, subjugation of women, segregation, nationalism and xenophobia, the church has frequently lost site of the radical message of love and grace made known in the Incarnation of Christ who was eventually executed by the state at the urgings of the religious elite.
If the church is to genuinely live into the message and example of Jesus’ life, it must make a bold and prophetic proclamation of the love of God from which nothing, nothing, nothing on earth can separate humans.
We affirm that humanity is created out of and for the purpose of love. We deny that the gift of love and marriage is limited only to people who identify as heterosexual, cis-gendered, and seeking to conceive.
We affirm that humans are created as sexual beings in kaleidoscope variety. We deny that the only sexual expression that is sacred is between legally, church-married, cis-gendered, heterosexual couples.
We affirm that all humans are created Imago Dei – in the image of God – and that God is all genders and no gender. We deny that human bodies, hearts and minds are limited by any one religion’s faltering attempt to understand the holy mystery of the Divine.
We affirm the diversity of gender and sexual expression is a reflection of the divinely creative diversity of all of creation. We deny that such diversity is in any way a result of one religion’s interpretation of a falling away from God.
We affirm that humans continuing to evolve in their understanding of what it means to be embodied is good and holy. We deny that gender is unalterably linked with biology.
We affirm that all humans, regardless of their biological birth and development are image-bearers of the divine. We deny that variations of embodiment limits anyone from thriving in faith, love and society.
We affirm that compassion, love and liberation are at the heart of God’s holy purposes in creation as revealed in Christian scripture AND the shared texts of the world’s religious traditions. We deny that any one tradition has figured out once and for all what it means for humans to live into loving relationships.
We affirm that people who experience same-sex attraction may live an abundant life that honors God and is evidence of faith in Jesus. We deny that same-sex attraction in any way alienates a person from the love of God or the hope of the Gospel.
We affirm that sin is a trifold separation from self, others and God that distorts the beauty of creation. We deny that sin is avoided by adhering to any specific doctrine or litany of purity laws.
We affirm that the church lives in sin when LGBT people are told to deny how God created them, are cast out of families, excommunicated by congregations and denied basic civil and human rights. We deny that it is sinful to be loving allies to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children of God.
We affirm that it is our human duty to stand on the side of justice in the name of love in all times and for all people. We deny the false dichotomy of being either gay or Christian.
We affirm that the unconditional love of the Divine has the power to transform self-loathing (as taught by many in the church and society) into true and lasting self-acceptance and wholeness. We deny that same-sex attraction is a sin or illness for which to be forgiven or healed.
We affirm that Grace invites uninformed, prejudiced or bigoted people to evolve and recognize that human understanding as limited and we will only ever see through the glass darkly. We deny assertions of any one person, church, denomination or religion that they hold pure and absolute knowledge of the Divine.
We affirm that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice and that we are called to partner with the Divine in that bending. We deny any anthropomorphization of God.
If you would like to add your name to this statement, please indicate so and enter your information in the comments below. And if you are in the neighborhood and so inclined, please join us next Thursday, January 17th at Galerie Café Leidse Lente in Leiden from 5:30-7 p.m. for Pub Theology where we can talk about all these things and more.
Progressive Christian Community of Leiden
Outline of Worship for July 1, 2018
Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone”. – Brene Brown
Gathering Music – Be Our Guest by Alan Menken
God of inclusion and abundance, thank you for allowing us to gather here today. Be with us, we pray and open our hearts and minds so that we may listen deeply, understand and move into action.
One: We are called as people of faith
All: To love our creator;
To love our neighbor;
To undermine oppressive powers with life-giving actions;
To be in solidarity with all who suffer;
To act for justice;
And to teach others to act for justice
First reading – The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus On the base of the Statue of Liberty, a visitor can read this is the poem.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Second Reading – Leviticus 19:33-34 and 24:22
When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Third Reading – Matthew 25:31-46
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
At at little after 9 a.m. yesterday I set out for my morning walk through lovely Plantsoen Park in Leiden. As the perfect sunlight was peeking through the gently swaying weeping willow, The 2nd or 3rd song in my randomized playlist began. It was a tender, acoustic rendition of How Great Thou Art. Normally I would skip the slower tunes as I seek to get my heart rate up just enough to burn off yesterday’s delicious Dutch cheese, but this morning I let the song play. I became keenly aware of the world around me – runners swiftly make their way across the sun dappled bridge, dogs sniffing their way around the tiger lilies, and sleepy eyed mamas and papas pushing prams and whispering of the days doings. As my mind settled on the tune and the unsung words floated through my heart, I was struck to my core with how great indeed is God’s good creation, full of all manner of people coming and going in their own lives and loves. What I felt in that moment, in a way that nearly defies words, is the grandeur of all life, and that if we, if I, attest to the greatness of God, then I must also love deeply all of creation, especially my sisters and brothers who are part of God’s awesome creation. And I wondered, how can anyone who believes in God and calls on the name of Jesus do anything other than love and care for the rare and precious lives of all of God’s children.
The Gospel – from parables about sowing and reaping, baking bread and searching for what is lost – to the Beatitudes and today’s reading from Matthew, the invitation of the Incarnation is to take up the perspective of others, especially the marginalized. Jesus’ words proclaim that God is not neutral. God is always on the side of those who are poor and oppressed.
Today around the world, in the U.S. and here in Europe, there are millions of people displaced by poverty or violence who are seeking refuge. The answer from God is to let them come, for what you do unto the least of these you do to Jesus – to God. As Christians we are called to welcome the stranger with radical hospitality. Of course, the answers are not easy, questions about shared resources are challenging to be sure. But if we begin with a theology of abundance and generosity, then we are likely pointed in the right direction
I believe that the first, tangible step is to try to get to know the stranger so you can begin to understand and empathize with their struggle.
The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.
Source of Life who is known by many names;
Over-turner and illuminator of hearts;
we gather with gratitude for the earth and all who journey in it.
We give thanks for the interconnectedness of all creation.
Source of justice who is known by many names;
let us not swerve from the path of righteousness
that leads to just and equitable relationships.
Open our eyes that we may see the immigrant and undocumented;
whose labor enables and sustains our living;
the farm worker, the hotel worker, the line cook,
the childcare provider, the healthcare worker;
Give us the will to leave behind the safety of our sanctuaries
to become your living sanctuary;
and claim our place in the movement to transform creation; that our voice, our heart, our spirit will
join the voice, hear and spirit of all who
demand to live with respect, justice, and peace.
Words of Sending
Exerpt from an Essay on Friendship by Ralph Waldo Emerson
We weave social threads of our own, a new web of relations; and, as many thoughts in succession substantiate themselves, we shall by and by stand in a new world of our own creation, and no longer strangers and pilgrims in a traditionary globe. My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me. By oldest right, by the divine affinity of virtue with itself, I find them, or rather not I but the Deity in me and in them derides and cancels the thick walls of individual character, relation, age, sex, circumstance, at which he usually connives, and now makes many one. High thanks I owe you, excellent lovers, who carry out the world for me to new and noble depths, and enlarge the meaning of all my thoughts.
All year round, many of us Jesusy types look for ways to be intentional about practicing the presence of God. There are a myriad of books, booklets, websites, podcasts and small groups dedicated to spiritual practices meant to give our wandering minds a compass pointing us toward the Divine. Today I’d like to lift up a groovy little secular book that has frequently reminds me of my connection to the divine in, with and through all things.
How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith is an art journaling book that offers “a variety of prompts and assignments” to help the wonderer and wanderer on their journey. Smith begins by sharing how she herself began the process of putting together this little travel guide.
She says: “This book started with a list that I wrote one night when I couldn’t sleep…these ideas are an accumulation of things that I have learned from various teachers and artists over the years and have become the basis for all of my own exploration.”
I’ve read her list many times and it keeps speaking to me, prodding me, asking questions about who I am as a person of faith and offers me one way of thinking about who I WANT to be as a spiritual being. In this list I also see a pretty cool way of way of “doing church”.
I spoke with Keri years ago when I intended to blog my way through her book (I only got a few assignments in and … squirrel!) and interestingly enough Keri told me that she never intended this work to be about a journey of faith – for her it seems to be wholly about art and about living fully in the world, knowing yourself and the creative potential of your life and connecting deeply with world around you. And folks, for these ears that sounds a lot like practicing the presence of God. Her little projects seem for all the world like great guideposts on this journey of stumbling along trying to hear and follow that holy radical from Galilee.
I do not see the list as a 1-13 Powerpoint to perfect enlightenment, but I do see in the list an invitation for a journey, a process for becoming. Each item has the potential to help me understand my walk of faith in new ways. Neither do I see this list as linear. It seems cyclical, where each item can lead back to another and then another. Interdependent and interwoven.
The list calls me forward but a is also a pretty good map of my past. As a child I was always looking, looking, looking. Wonder and delight were found in the simplest of things – like the seasonal textures of the red clay of Georgia or the endless ways to play in a pink pom-pom adorned mimosa tree. That sense of delight has not gone dark, but one’s vision has a way to narrow as our bones age. I still look – but more and more I am looking in a straight line to what ever the next thing is. The next project, the next grocery list, the next pile of laundry, the next dog walk, the next filling of the dishwasher…
I am aware that I need to slow down and REALLY look.
SO I am starting all over again – looking, looking and looking. And this time, in a brand new country with all new sights, sounds, smells and potential awakenings. I plan to work though this list in a prayerful manner because I am called back to the crazy notion that God is everywhere – in the pages of holy scripture and secular texts, in the overexposed corners of travel photographs and in the bobbing heads of a thousand of daffodils, in the slumping shoulders of a tired neighbor and in the raucous laughter of passing students, in the swarm of happy, hungry faces in the Leiden market and along our morning bike rides through farm land as mist rises from the lush earth.
Once we start looking closely, listening deeply, noticing patters and tracing things to their origins – truly using all of our senses – well, how can we not notice that everything is interesting and laced with a shimmering connective tissue beyond our comprehension. When I am fully in touch with my own existence, in this world now, as a transplanted southern gal living a life previously unimagined in Holland, I have an opportunity to experience a real and true sense of the presence of God. And if I really look and listen to the intersecting lines of my life within me, and if I remember that God is present in every moment, I am invited into the faithful mystery indeterminacy and interdependence.
Ok, enough already, here’s the list. I encourage you to read it a few times, slowly. Think of how you might apply this to your daily life, your bible study, your church attendance and your personal spiritual practices.
I would really love to hear from you on this!Do any of the ideas really speak to you? Which ideas challenge you? Are any off the mark? What would happen if you were to apply this list for one month of church attendance? What would happen if you skipped a month of church, dug into this book as a spiritual practice and looked for ways to practice the presence of God outside the ancient, prescribed forms of your tradition?
About five years ago, in the final moments of Ash Wednesday, I found myself propped up against a dingy Greenwich Village bar room wall when I realized I had just experienced a perfect 18-hour liturgy.
It actually all began, as days like this often do, the night before at a bar on Fat Tuesday. I’d only just taken a few sips of my Cabernet while chatting with a jolly midtown bartender, when a gentleman sat down next to me and ordered a martini. I was enjoying a quiet drink and Thai appetizers waiting for the rest of the evening to unfold. The conversation with the generous bartender turned to what I would be doing in the city the next day. I told him I’d be hanging out in Union Square for a very different sort of Ash Wednesday service. This turned the head of my barstool neighbor we began chatting. As we exchanged the usual American “so what do you do?” I was astonished to find that out of the gabillion people in New York city I ended up sitting next to the dean of General Seminary, Rev. Patrick Malloy. Really, really! So, we ate and drank and talked of many things – and laughed at the crazy way God moves and the utter joy of indulging in good food and making new friends on Mardi Gras in a town of 8 million people. With drinks done and nibbles gone, we parted ways on a brightly lit city corner, with hugs and still more laughter. I was simply buoyant with the mystery of how God creates community in this world.
Call to worship
When the alarm on my iPhone disturbed my dream-laced slumber, I slipped out of bed, threw on my clothes from the previous night to fetch a decent cup of coffee. I returned before light and enjoyed a quiet moment of coffee and scones before light peeked between the high rises of the waking city.
Dressed and ready for the day, I headed south on 5th Ave. to Union Square. As much as I wanted to blend in, I surely looked the part of a gawking tourist as I looked all around and up at the soaring heights. I simply was not inclined to repress the silly-ass grin smeared from ear to ear. Not much more than a mile away, the walk took nearly an hour because I wandered into parks, stopped to take pictures and lingered over a more substantial breakfast.
With a full belly and renewed energy, it took a few minutes and a couple of text messages to find the little community I had come to worship with that day.
See, a week or so before heading off to NYC I realized I would not be in Atlanta with my beloved Kirkwood UCC for Ash Wednesday. Yeah, weird that this recovering Baptist, post-denominational gal would care about such, but as it turns out Ash Wednesday means a great deal to me. So, as I often do, I had turned to Facebook to find a solution. Folks quickly recommended plenty of lovely places where I could receive ashes but it was an invitation from my friend Kellie Anderson-Picallo that made my heart sing. Join us, she said, to distribute ashes, prayers and love in Union Square! Well, duh – where else would I be?!?
I found them on the south steps of Union Square, about five or six in all, with signs offering free ashes, hugs and prayers. Among the leaders of this merry band of faithful were my friend Kellie (that’s Rev. Anderson-Picallo to y’all), Rev. Mieke Vandersall (Executive Director of Presbyterian Welcome) and John Russell Stanger. After receiving my own hugs and ashes, a bowl of ashes was placed in my hands. Now, as much as I’d like to say that we were overrun with New Yorkers lining up to receive ashes from this obviously awesome crew, alas, not even close. Folks popping out of the subway or briskly headed across the park would, more often than not, give us an odd sideways glance, if they looked at us at all. A couple of people stopped and snapped photos since John was proudly holding the sign above his head. But there were some who allowed us to enter their lives for a brief moment with ashes and those words “from dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
Don’t laugh, but tears rolled down my face each time it happened. Whether from my hands or one of my ministry partners that day – the spark of grace that passed between the two was visible to all who had eyes to see. I had the honor of sharing ashes with three women, Gloria, Maribell and Sybill. I was utterly undone by the trust and truth that could be shared in that place, in that act.
Response and Confession
And then came Joey Boots! John tells the story best and I hope you will pop over and read his HuffPost piece (and share a little love in the comments) but here is how I experienced that thin place. Joey approached us ready to be sent away, rejected and scorned, maybe to have a little fun mocking the Jesus freaks in the park, but little did he know he’d stumbled across the wrong Christians for that sort of behavior. Love was all he found, well that and grace. I’ll not spoil it for you, head over and read what happened, I’ll be here when you get back.
Passing the Peace
So, after a couple of hours hanging around in God’s Grace, we prayed (yeah, right out in the open like that) hugged, shared Twitter handles, connected on Facebook and said our “stay in touches.” Hands and feet freezing, but heart and soul warm, I headed a few more blocks south to the Village ready to find lunch. As I walked along I would occasionally see a head bobbing along among the masses smudged with ashes. And once in a while there was a glimmer of recognition, a tiny flicker of a connection. Not that we were running through the streets hugging and high-fiving or anything (admit it, that’d be an awesome sight), but there were quiet smiles, occasional head nods and even a few pair of glistening eyes. Why? Maybe because amidst all the world swirling around us we felt a micro-second of connection to one another and a larger story. All those lovely faces – smooth and wrinkled, brown and beige – smeared with the burnt palms from last year, shared something ineffable and at the same time tangible. Something we ALL share but here we were wearing it right out in the open. What is it we ALL share? The promise that we have come from God, in God we all dwell and to God we shall return. Every last one of us. And in admitting our brokenness in this ancient act of penitence, so too we acknowledge our kinship with the masses around us, each one broken and beautiful in her own way. A smile – peace be with you. A nod – and also with you.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around, eating good food, drinking warm beverages, observing lovers gliding on ice in Bryant Park and lighting a candle at St. Patrick’s with prayers for LGBT Catholics, that they might know the peace of God’s love and a community that embraces their whole selves.
At 5 p.m. I reconnected with former seminary colleagues of mine, Bridgette and Amanda, at The Russian Vodka Room (which looked like it could be a perfect for the next “Russian Mafia bar” scene of Law & Order). With hugs and smiles and laughter over a cocktails and happy stories.
The Word Shared
I was unable to linger with Amanda and Bridgette as long as I’d have liked because I had to dash back to Skype in and participate as a panelist in the third session of the Sacred Pixels conversation presented by the Ignatian Center of Santa Clara University. Along with other folks who are exploring the intersection of faith and technologically formed community, and led by Elizabeth Drescher and Paul Soukup, we shared our stories of encountering the Word, God and the other in online spaces. Thanks be to God for online communities with depth and richness!
After a dinner at The Playwright, I hopped in a cab with friends and headed down to the Village, seeking a little bar I’d learned about early in the day. About 10 minutes later we pulled up to the curb and Marie’s Crisis Cafe sign glistened in the rain-diffused light shining from above a small red door. The cab door and the bar door opened at the same moment and the raucous sound of voices surrounding a well loved piano rushed up the slippery stairs, luring us down into the dimly lit bar. We grabbed a few drinks (cash only please) and settled in, just out of the circle of friends gathered around the piano. We were guests in this intimate space, but made to feel welcome none-the-less. The voices all raised in songs of lament or joy, people greeting one another with signs of love and peace, cups raised and shared – it slowly began to dawn on me as Maggie sang. So with tears streaming down my face, I suddenly knew without a doubt what I had experienced all day – it was worship. Much later found a video of her singing the exact song that both warmed and shattered my hear that night. I hope you’ll take a moment and listen…
My Lent began in New York City, a perfect liturgy shared with 8 million people. More intimately I shared this holy day with: an Episcopal priest, some Presbyterian pastors and organizers, a self-proclaimed “recovering Catholic, some fully immersed Catholics, a couple of Methodists, a handful of atheists, a few agnostics and a whole mess of happy, singing souls. And here was me, a recovering Baptist, post-denominational UCC-loving, emergent-leaning queer blogger from the south, grateful beyond measure to see and be sent forth into the world knowing anew what God’s beloved community does, can and will look like.
Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Matthew 5:1-12
When talking with others about the Jesusy things, there’s hardly anything that gets under my skin more than when someone starts a sentence with “The Bible is clear that…” This is because the Bible is a complex collection of texts written in many literary styles speaking from within and to a culture with a particular set of concerns at a particular place armed with a limited set of knowledge (as are all humans).
And then I come to this week’s assigned texts – reading and rereading – and the phrase that keeps wanting to rush out of my face is “The bible is clear that justice, mercy and peace are the crux of the whole matter. The matter in this case being that – God – Who is Without Matter and Through Which All Matter came into being and Of Which all Matter is Constituted.”
The words of Micah, the psalmist, Jesus and Paul are clear that God’s desire is all about how we act, not what we believe.
Some will want to call this preaching politics, but honestly, it’s not politics, folks, this is about people. The sorts of people who admonish preachers to not talk about politics tend to be the kind that think the Bible, and the message of Jesus, is all about believing the right things. Anytime folks don’t want to talk about how we can actually treat people, all people, better, they tend to call that conversation “politics.”
But today we have evidence that following Jesus is about behaving, not about believing.
What does God want of us? The best worship experiences? Tremendous worship experiences? All the biggest, most lavish and ostentatious displays of piety? Nope.
Micah is clear that it’s about what we DO, how we treat one another.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The questions of course that we may have, if plain reading is not our thing, is what IS justice, what IS kindness and what does a humble walk with God look like?
This is a peppy little ditty that basically asks, who gets to hang with you God, in your groovy pad on your holy hill?
The psalmist is clear that it’s all about what we DO, how we treat one another.
“Who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;” The psalmist even gets really specific and reminds folks against the prohibition of lending with interest.
The Beatitudes, Jesus manifesto, turns the world’s wisdom on its ear. The lowly will be lifted up (and the mighty will be cast out, I mean if you read the beatitudes in Luke, which I believe is crucial –
Jesus is clear that the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers will be exalted.
There are a lot of wonderful, faithful commentaries on The Beatitudes, and one in-depth exploration for which I have mad respect comes from Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer, Associate Professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary –
Here are some of her powerfully faithful words…
“For you see, the old fable they used to tell us is not true. Being Christian is not at all the same as being a respectable person from a decent family. Ask the martyr Perpetua who was thrown to the lions, relinquishing both her respectability and her decent family because she refused to deny Christ Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Or, if you do not want to go back that far,ask Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez, Mary McLeod Bethune and Martin Luther King Jr.,Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Being a Christian, a disciple of the one who first appeared to Mary of Magdala and whom Martha of Bethany called “the Christ, the son of God who has come into the world,” being a Christian means being standing where Jesus stood, with the outcasts and the voiceless, and with those who are already standing with them. It means standing with the migrants, with or without papers, as children of the living God remembering that our ancestors were once wanderers through desert places. It means standing with the working class that are taught to blame “those people” for the injustices that irresponsible,unresponsive corporations are perpetrating on them. It means standing with those for whom this great recession has been and continues to be a great depression. It means standing with those nations that are at war over the minerals we need for our cell phones and our motor cars.It means standing with those women and men who are still in refugee camps months and years after earthquake or fire or war or flood. Being a Christian means lifting up your voice with prophets and peacemakers, truth tellers and troublemakers of every generation, putting all on the line for the sake of the God whom Hagar called El-roi, the God who sees.” from “When” a sermon for [Presbyterian Women] on the Beatitudes.
If you want to dig deeply and learn more from Rev. Dr. Aymer, check out the study guide. Print it out, pass it around, create a group study and talk about this stuff, y’all, because it matters. A lot.
Here’s how I hear the beatitudes every time they come to mind…
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Wow, I am really getting worried when I understand and agree with Paul multiple weeks in a row. This text, which I had to read over and over and over to make sure I was hearing what I was hearing, is beautiful and simple in it’s seemingly obtuse complexity.
Paul is clear that the conventional wisdom of the world is not God’s wisdom. Paul is also clear that God’s foolishness is wisdom.
Wait what, God is foolish? Ohhhh, you mean in the way that God creates from nothing, gives in abundance, and is selfless to the point of letting creation have free will, a free will that would execute their own God. And then is extravagant in grace by not striking back in revenge, but returning with open arms and love? Damn, that does seems dumb.
And why does that seem dumb? Because the “wisdom” of the world teaches us to take all we can, to hoard our resources, to be afraid of one another, to think of ourselves first and when wronged, to seek an eye for an eye.
Ugh, so yeah, I’m gonna have to say…
Based on these readings, the Bible is clear that God’s will is justice for the least of these, kindness for all creation and selfless, humble faith.
It is clear that there is no greater call on us as Christians today than to try and figure out how the hell we can actually live into the call of the prophet, the psalmist, Jesus and yes, even Paul to turn the world’s wisdom on its head and truly, actively seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
So let me be clear that – if you are not preaching these “politics” in the pulpit this weekend, then you are not preaching the Bible.