Category Archives: Blog

The Road to Freedom: Free To Believe God Loves Me

Lenten Study for March 8, 2017. Part two of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter. Here’s last week’s study.

Readings:

By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story. Luke 15:1-3

Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” Luke 15:11-32

This Generation Has a Purpose

“How does it feel to be the first generation to not have a purpose?”

These words were the equivalent of a slap across the face to me. They were coming out of the TV, out of the mouth of an actor playing Cleve Jones, a lion of the TLGBQIA movement who was a contemporary of Harvey Milk and who conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (which by the way has become, at 54 tons, the world’s largest piece of community folk art).

In the scene, Jones is an obviously tired, frustrated and angry activist confronting the reality of a modern queer generation whose equality at this point might feel as though it had been handed to them on a silver platter. The scene is from the third installment of the miniseries “When We Rise,” Dustin Lance Black’s attempt to create a somewhat star-studded documentary/biopic chronicling the modern queer movement from Stonewall to the present.

(Black, you’ll recall, wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Milk”, the biopic about Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, who also won an Oscar.)

“No! No, it is not over! We cannot give up now… We have got to remember who is not with us!” I blared this at my equally tired, frustrated and angry husband — who is, for better or worse, accustomed to these outbursts from me.

Let me explain.

At 62 years old I have been out of the closet for 49 years now, since I was 13.

I have only been in two long-term relationships. The first started in college and ended when he was killed by a drunk driver who ran a red light — a driver who’d been drinking because his wife was divorcing him for having slept with a man.

My current relationship, as of June 25th of this year, will have spanned 35 beautiful years. And while we were legally married on November 21, 2015, we still celebrate June 25th as our anniversary and probably will for the rest of our lives. It’s a quirk of second-class citizenship.

For 31 of the years we’ve been together, I’ve been a pastor — almost 19 of them as the founding and senior pastor of my current church.

In those 31 years I’ve lost track of the number of funerals and memorials I’ve officiated for those who have died as a result of the AIDS plague. Because if you do the math, those 31 years began in 1986. However, I do remember clearly and can still see the faces of the 14 very close friends — including my best friend from my hometown of Chicago who didn’t live to see his 45th birthday — whom I’ve survived, HIV-negative and still feeling the multi-ton weight of survivor’s guilt all these years later.

I share all this as a way of elucidating why Black’s miniseries has been more than a bit difficult to watch. I lived all that. Even though the miniseries is set in San Francisco and I am from Chicago, I could have been one of any number of the characters it depicts. So the whole thing just rests so heavily on my heart.

There’s more.

I was also rejected by my family. I was the victim of sexual abuse. I was threatened with psychological treatment. I was the victim of hate crimes. I was rejected by the education system and the church of my childhood. I was denied housing. I was threatened with violence.

And to this day it’s never been lost on me the threats and dangers I’ve faced as an out and proud gay man living in the South for the last 23 years.

So to borrow from the words of the familiar hymn, this miniseries is my story, it is my song. It’s also the story of countless thousands in the TLGB community — and because it has been our story, it has become the story of countless thousands of QIA folks as well.

Having not yet seen the final installment of this four-part series, I don’t know where it’s going to go our how it’s going to end up. But I can guess. The legal granting of our marriage equality is a great victory. The movement and momentum toward job protections, our assimilation into society, the normalization of our relationships — these are all things we can celebrate and be proud of. We need to hold the s/heroes of these hard-fought advances close to our hearts and always be grateful for their stamina, creativity and courage.

However, we also need to remember something else Cleve Jones has said: “A movement that seeks to advance only its own members is going to accomplish little”.

What does that mean?

It means the current generation does indeed have a purpose, and a great one. While the people whose lives are represented by the T in TLGBQIA have been in this movement from the beginning, they have been treated with disdain, been trivilialized, been the butt of jokes, been afterthoughts — and on our worst days, been part of the sacrifice made in the march toward everyone’s equality.

So what is the purpose the current generation needs? It’s to ensure that bathrooms are safe to be used for their intended purpose — and not as a political football. It’s to secure job protections, insurance coverage and a relief from the violence that is aimed so specifically and savagely at transgender people.

In that vein, these words of Dr. King could not be more relevant to this current generation:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Need more evidence?  Look no further than here: Christian conservative TX mom becomes “accidental activist” after child comes out as transgender

Or here:


This generation must remember the lesson from this story. These accomplishments have only come about because we came together as a community. Remember that during the start of the AIDS plague the world was willing to let us die. It was only when we came together that we found ways to live!

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t supply relevant inspiration from the bible, so here it is (Philippians 2:1-4):

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

This generation’s purpose couldn’t be clearer, and there’s a fully modern way of expressing it. It’s to help the world see that:

  • Trans lives matter.
  • Black lives matter.
  • Muslim lives matter.
  • Women’s lives matter.

… and all that it means in the fullness of the Creation and of life on this earth.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

The Road to Freedom: Free to Follow Jesus, Free to be Me

Lenten Study for March 1, 2017. Part one of our weekly “Road to Freedom” series, culminating in “Freedom Sunday” on Easter.

Readings:

Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking. John 14:1-4

All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud! Ephesians 3:12-13

Acts 15

Easter Sunrise Service Caps 2017 Holy Week and Lenten Observance

The Easter Sunrise Service at the Church Without Walls in Atlanta’s Candler Park at 7:06am on Sunday, April 16th caps the 2017 Holy Week and Lenten observance for Gentle Spirit Christian Church, which includes:

Hygiene Kits for the Homeless: May 21, 2017

Several times a year we distribute nearly 500 personal hygiene kits to local homeless people. Since starting our hygiene kits ministry in 2010, we have distributed thousands of kits. Our goal is to distribute 2,000 kits a year.

Our next distribution is planned for Sunday, May 21, 2017 in place of our regular Church Without Walls service. As with the regular service, we will meet in picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park.

During our last hygiene kits ministry on February 12, 2017 we assembled 500 more hygiene kits for distribution to local homeless people. We were joined by members of the Decatur Rotary Club, which also generously supports our hygiene kits ministry with a grant and sourcing of supplies.

The hygiene kits ministry happens in three phases:

  • Collection of hygiene kit supplies year-round.  (Click here to see a list of what we collect; we can use your help!)
  • Assembly of the hygiene kits on the date and time indicated above, at picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park in place of our regular Church Without Walls service.
  • Distribution of the hygiene kits to local homeless people immediately following assembly of the kits.





Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me

It’s 2017, and if anything is clear at this point, it’s that we absolutely must change the way we conduct ourselves. In other words, we need some powerful collective resolutions – yes, resolutions – to help us change the way things are and the way they might be.

But groups of people don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, do they? When groups of people resolve to do things, those resolutions have different names – laws, proclamations, constitutions.

So what we’re left with is what we can do on a personal level to impact how we as a society do business – in other words, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, to be the change we wish to see in the world.

In this endeavor the bible actually has something elegantly simple and clarifying to say on the subject:

God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

With that in mind, I was re-reading Jim Wallis’ 10 Resolutions for 2015 and realized that I could classify each of his 10 proposed resolutions according to the three main areas of focus God calls us to in Micah 6:8:

To act justly:
• Extend who our neighbors are; whom we are also called to love.
• Love hardest those who are the closest.
• Always ask, “What does this mean for the poor and vulnerable?”
• Support and empower women and girls.
• Question every act of war.
• Question calling any person of faith a terrorist.
• Make sure we know what terrorism is

To love mercy:
• Build racial bridges.
• Practice presence.
• Embrace hope and joy.
• Forgive as fully and as completely as god has forgiven us.

To walk humbly with your God:
• Love God with all your strength, heart and soul
• Stand up for the reality of climate change.

To which I will add: This idea of real forgiveness. Think and pray about, and then practice, living in a judgment-free zone where your inner voice is a voice of wisdom rather than judgment; a voice of compassion rather than judgment; a voice of real love rather than judgment. Because if there is no forgiveness, there is no life. When you refuse to let go and move on, what exactly are you hanging on to, and what exactly is it worth to you?

So there you have it, the start of a path for 2017 that can actually change the way we think, the way we do business. The challenge to this is: It is not about the waiting for the world to get better. It’s about each of us committing to be better, to do better, starting today – starting right now.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

“Am I Going to Hell?”

Dear Pastor Paul,

My name is Ken. I was raised conservative Church of God and I have been taught my whole life that homosexuality is a sin. I began my coming out journey about five years ago when I was fifteen. Now I am in a committed relationship with a guy who was raised the same way I was. He too believes that we are both going to hell, but we don’t know how to change. We have prayed and fasted but to no avail. My question is this: Are we really going to hell for following our hearts?

Dear Ken,

Thank you for your letter. The struggle you and your boyfriend are having is because the institutional church has not caught up with the modern-day world when it comes to matters of sexuality.

Old ideas around sexuality are still being applied to people today, and they just don’t fit as God’s people have grown past the ignorance and a lack of understanding of how and why sex is practiced.

Here are just two quick examples:

    • Biblical marriage required “planting a seed” that grew into a baby. We know that is not how reproduction works.
    • To be married in the biblical sense meant the woman was the property of her father, who made a business deal with the groom to have his daughter. (Ask your Mom whose property she is.)

The “Bible” version that has been preached to you concerning this issue is full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings of the culture. There is plenty of biblical scholarship that points to the fact that gay folks are loved by God, and were created that way, and therefore are a blessing in this world.

Please take a look at this URL: http://whosoever.org/bible/
And this one: http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/bible-study/lgbt-bible-study/

I would be most happy to answer any questions that you might have after reading it over.

The fact that you and your boyfriend are in a committed relationship with God as your center is far more important than the gender of the two people sharing that love. The reason the prayer and fasting are not working is because there is nothing to change.

Do the homework I gave you, and know that neither you nor your boyfriend is going to hell for following your heart of love and commitment.

God Bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Christmas 2016: Worship Services, Lectionary & Ministries

The first Sunday of Advent is November 27th. Here’s everything you need to know about celebrating the season with Gentle Spirit Christian Church.

Tree & Wreath Sale
Every year starting the day after Thanksgiving, there are quality trees and homemade wreaths for sale on the First Christian Church of Decatur lawn through the second Saturday in December. Proceeds benefit church and community missions in the City of Decatur, including the Toy Park and shared ministries with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. Last year’s trees sold out early, so get there soon for best selection!

Worship Services

  • Christmas Eve 6pm Service: We will join First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.
  • Christmas Eve 11pm Service: We will lead the second Christmas Eve service at First Christian Church of Decatur in their main sanctuary to celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth. All are welcome.

Teddy Bear Ministry
Every year we collect teddy bears and stuffed animals during the Advent season and distribute them to patients in local hospitals and hospitals to spread Christmas cheer and let them know they’re not alone. Click here for details on how to participate.

The Live Tithe
If you’re cleaning out your attic, closets or storage after Christmas, you can put unused items that are in good condition to work supporting the ministry of Gentle Spirit Christian Church via our Live Tithe, which allows you to convert gently used (or never-used) items into support for GSCC’s ministry and claim a tax deduction. Click here for details.

Office Hours
The Gentle Spirit Christian Church office at First Christian Church of Decatur will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and open on New Year’s Eve. For an appointment with Pastor Paul, just contact the church office.

Advent 2016 Lectionary

Advent Year AFirst ReadingPsalmSecond ReadingGospel
First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016Isaiah 2:1-5Psalm 122Romans 13:11-14Matthew 24:36-44
Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016Isaiah 11:1-10Psalm72:1-7, Psalm72:18-19Romans 15:4-13Matthew 3:1-12
Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016Isaiah 35:1-10Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55James 5:7-10Matthew 11:2-11
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016Isaiah 7:10-16Psalm80:1-7, Psalm80:17-19Romans 1:1-7Matthew 1:18-25

Hygiene Kits for the Homeless: February 12, 2017

Several times a year we distribute 200-500 personal hygiene kits to the homeless on the streets of Atlanta. Since starting our hygiene kits ministry in 2010, we have distributed thousands of kits. Our goal is to distribute 2,000 kits a year.

Our next distribution is planned for Sunday, February 12, 2017 in place of our regular Church Without Walls service. As with the regular service, we will meet in picnic Pavilion 2 in Candler Park.

During our last hygiene kits ministry on October 23, 2016 we assembled 530 more hygiene kits and distributed 482 of them to the homeless on the streets of Atlanta. We were joined by members of the Decatur Rotary Club, which also generously supports our hygiene kits ministry with a grant and sourcing of supplies.

Continue reading Hygiene Kits for the Homeless: February 12, 2017