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.
All the energy and time spentby some “conservative Christians” focusing on “homosexual practice” is antithetical to the life, death and resurrection of the One we call Christ.
There are many things Jesus asks of us as Kingdom builders, but sexual policing is not one.I sincerely hope everyone who is called to the life of Christian witness and service can direct their passion for God by talking and doing what Jesus explicitly asks of us such as clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger.
It is a challenging message to hear, and an even harder message to live. In revealing the true nature of God – love – unearned, unqualified, unending love – our Jesus brought down the deadly wrath of the sanctimonious, legalistic religious elite who plotted with powers of the state to execute what they feared the most, Love. What’s so scary about Love? Those who lust after power use fear to control. And as we’ve heard, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” 1 John 4:18
Let us have compassion for those who are obsessed with the sexuality of other people, for in their obsession, there is deep fear masquerading as faith. Behind that fear is a complex and disturbed psychology about sex – often about one’s own sexuality – in the shadow of the church’s longstanding, perverse need to control people through fear. My heart aches for those bound by this fear and whatever in their personal journey has festered into egregiously negative obsession andabout what other people do with their bodies. I pray that all who are enslaved by fear may truly hear the message of the One who came to show us God’s radical love and preferential option for Freedom.
So too, let those of us who can, work tirelessly to be a balm for those wounded by misrepresentations of the Good News of Jesus. Let us speak of God’s love in which there is there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
In a culture that is
In love with fear
And afraid of love
Be not afraid
With closed minds
and plugged ears
Shouting “Be afraid!”
Be not afraid
With hardened hearts
And clenched fists
Spitting “Be very afraid.”
Be not afraid
with open wounds
and tear-streaked souls
Crying “I am afraid.”
Be not afraid
For God has
Freed us from fear
And opened us to a love
That leads to abundant life
birth, life, teaching,
death and redeeming love
of Jesus who said;
Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you.
I do not give to you
as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled;
do not be afraid.
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.
2. To not worship Mammon, The Constitution, The Bible, culture or technology (sorry Facebook).
3. To only speak God’s name when I am either talking to or about God. Ecstasy counts since it could be argued I am expressing gratitude.
4. To take at least one day out of seven completely off. There are jobs to do, bills to pay, groceries to buy, stinky dogs to be washed, sidewalks to be swept and laundry to be cleaned. Without allowing my body, mind, heart and soul to rest I can only bring a fraction of myself to the many roles I am called to play – mom, partner, daughter, sister, digital strategist, blogger, friend and big ole lesbian responsible for all that is wrong in America (that last one is exhausting). Instead of ticking off a task list in the fleeting hours of the weekend, I will clock out for at least one full day and just laze around with the kids playing games or watching tv, eating good food, rolling around on the floor with the pups. When I am done with that I will to switch to a rigorous session of sitting too long by the backyard fire and drinking a good beer. Throw in some praying, reading and singing with friends at church and you can stick a fork in it and call it sabbath.
5. To honor the memories of my mamma by not forgetting the good or the bad and learning to live into the better. To honor the lessons of hard work, determination and loyalty taught by my daddy. I will choose to love my mamma and daddy, not in spite of our long history, but because of it. For who they are is why I am who I am. I will honor my parents by being a good parent – offering my own kids the best of what my they gave me (little things breakfast every morning, badly sewn on Girl Scout patches, trips to the store when I am bone tired and oh yeah, a marriage that lasted until the day my mamma died). I will honor my parents by making plenty of my own mistakes and not repeating theirs (deep insecurity, co-dependance, fear of the new/other/unknown, judging my daughters before trying to understand them or projecting all my crazy onto my kids). I will honor my parents by keeping within me all the good and bad – reveling in the grace and refusing to repeat the sins.
6. To be consistent about the whole no-killing bit. Yeah, the assault rifle part is gonna be a breeze for me, but the not-participating in the suffering and slaughter of the food industrial complex is gonna take a little more effort. No chicken wings and no 5 Guys burgers, no crackling in my cornbread and no B in my LT.
7. To be faithful to my wife in all my thoughts and deeds.
8. To not steal – someone else’s punchline, the credit for someone else’s job well done, another’s joy by trumping them with mine, my daughter’s time with her father no matter how desperately I want to hog all of her days or even so much as an extra bite of fried tofu from Whole Foods before weighing the plate. Oh, and I will become a better, more prolific photographer so I stop using Googled images I did not pay for.
9. To speak the truth as I understand it – every day – no matter the consequences. But I can use my inside voice.
10. To be content with the life God has given me to live. To truly understand and be grateful that I have so much more than millions of people in the world – clean water, warm clothes, soft beds, healthy and thriving children, a committed and faithful partner, a fan-freakin-tastic job that I love and where I am respected, strong bones and a willing heart. I will not covet the latest iPhone, that convertible Mini-Cooper, that new pair of kickin’ cowboy boots, perky little boobs that I will never have again, wrinkle-free skin, or gray-free hair. I will know that: the body I have is enough, the relationship I have is enough, the money I have is enough, the food on my plate is enough, the clothes on my back are enough, the time I have on this earth is enough and all the gifts God has given me are abundant beyond my comprehension.
I am going to try like the dickens to live up to all of it, so help me God.
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.