The Small Surrenders That Lead to the Ultimate Freedom

We have begun the 6 week journey of reflection and introspection of
ourselves that leads to the Easter experience. I was reflecting on what to write when I recieved an e-mail that caught my attention.

I belong to a gay clery list serve and one of the members shared some
thoughts concerning this Church season. I thought this was worth our
consideration and offers powerful wisdom of our daily journey with God.

LENT

 

We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this
endless series of large and small conversions, inner revolutions,
leads to our transformation in Christ.

-Thomas Merton

“WHAT ARE YOU GIVING UP FOR LENT?” This long-established custom of
giving up treats, chocolates, caffeinated or sugary beverages,
alcohol, or tobacco is perhaps the way we most often think of Lenten
discipline. And it makes good conversation in casual situations. But
we know it is surface stuff. Choosing to give up something good for
something a bit less is a play-it-safe strategy. Something tells us
there is more to spiritual transformation than this. We suspect that
playing it safe is not what Christ lived and died for.

Thomas Merton’s view, that we must undergo a series of large and
small inner revolutions, is a truer picture of Christian
transformation. When we choose some exercise for Lent, daily worship,
daily prayer, abstinence from one thing or another, it is not so much
the practice that transforms us. It is our willingness to change. And
Merton says the process is endless. It’s not about getting there,
it’s about being on the way.

Lent is our chance for a fresh start, a new page. We consciously let
down our defenses against the grace of God. We admit to ourselves our
need for improvement. We notice how hopeless we are. We tell God
we’re doing our best but we wish we could do better. We put ourselves
in God’s hands.

That is what Jesus does when he goes into the desert. He puts himself
completely in God’s hands. In Matthew’s Gospel we read: Then Jesus
was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the
Devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he
was famished. (My first thought: don’t try this at home.) By exposing
himself to hunger Jesus opens himself up to assaults from the Devil.

But he isn’t just performing daredevil stunts. He makes a deliberate
surrender of the will, a spiritual exercise. Jesus is placing himself
in the Creator’s hands.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness is a time of preparation. It
is a kind of training. Jesus has a larger mission to fulfill, a
ministry, a life’s work. He is preparing himself for a larger call.
When we go into the wilderness with Jesus our motive is similar,
surrendering ourselves as a kind of preparation.

But how can we compare our little Lents to the walk Jesus takes in
the wilderness? Of course the gap is huge between our holiness and
his. We can hardly say our own names in his presence. But Jesus
doesn’t notice this gap, or he seems to overlook it.

The huge divide between our lives and his is a gap he is constantly
closing. He wants us to come into the wilderness with him, if only
just to observe at first. “Watch how I do this,” he seems to be
saying. “Notice these steps, this maneuver.” Practice, he is telling
us. Practice, and you’ll improve, without even knowing it. Practice.

One thing we can learn from Jesus in the desert is to fortify
ourselves with God’s word. When the Devil tries to goad him into
turning stones to bread, as a kind of power play, Jesus answers with
words from Deuteronomy, Scriptures he knows by heart: It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from
the mouth of God.” The Devil wants him to break his fast. More
important, he wants to weaken Jesus’ allegiance.

What can we learn from just this little visit with Jesus in the
wilderness? From watching him resist the Evil One?

We know, by watching Jesus, that emptiness is the beginning of
holiness.

We know that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for
righteousness. We know we will be filled.

We walk with Jesus to be purified. We walk with him to be fortified.
Nourished by sacrament and word, we walk through desert places more
easily. We learn to deal with our own gaps, our lapses. We find that
we can tolerate our hunger and our thirst.

We are converted not only once in our lives but many times. And the
conversion is little by little. Sometimes it is as imperceptible as
grass growing. But Lent gives us a time to move the process along.
Intentionally. By small surrenders.

Merton says we “may have the generosity to undergo one or two such
upheavals, (but) we cannot face the necessity of further and greater
rendings of our inner self. . . .”

Merton says we cannot. But I think he knows we can. That is how our
holiness grows, by small surrenders, without which we cannot finally
become free.

Silence=Death

A couple of weeks ago, my best friend who is HIV positive and has been since 1994, let me know that the medical cocktail he had been taking was no longer working. His viral load had gone from undetectable to unacceptable levels. He has been feeling tired of late and he has had to deal with some skin irritations while not painful make him look like he has a severe sunburn.

As I write tonight I am worried…I am scared…I am deeply disturbed. For you see for the last 20 years or so I have seen this before and this is reality come home again, for there are no fairy tale endings.

Yes, there are miracles, yes there are new discoveries and yes there is hope…for with the unconditional love of God there is always hope, always miracles, and always-new discoveries.

Yet, I suppose I am being selfish here…not wanting a friend who means the world to me, at the least suffer and at the worst die long before his time. I don’t want to see and feel the anguish, pain and suffering of his family, his friends and his partner.

With that said my friend is a strong man. He is a man of God. He is a man whose faith in his Christ is as deep as any ocean and as strong as any mountain. He will endure, he will stay strong and ultimately he will win this battle because he is wonderfully and uniquely made in the image of God. So I am just asking readers to prayer with me for him, for his healing…for his miracle.

I needed to get that off my chest so that I could talk about 2008. I want to sound a warning, ring an alarm, rise up and shout from the mountaintop to my brothers in the gay, bi and straight community…ENOUGH ALREADY…STOP IT…HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MINDS?

This is 2008 not 1994 nor 1982. We know for a fact how HIV keeps it’s bloody record of death going. We really know this is not a manageable disease, but rather a killer that does unbelievable harm to untold millions of people. We know that the medications used to fight off this virus have horrible side effects and in the long run lose their effectiveness. We know that whole generations of humanity will never see their 21st birthday.

Yet, many gay men, bi men and straight men still behave as if HIV is an after thought, as if the magic pill will arrive just in time for Christmas. While I dare say it is not a majority, it is significant enough to cause untold misery and destruction for millions of people.

This is 2008 and we know we have the weapons that can stop this disease in its tracks. The weapons are so simple. One is an object and the other a program.

The object is called a condom and the program is called “needle exchange” or harm reduction (needle exchange and harm reduction is another blog).

Yet when you talk to folks in the community you would think I was “Henny-Penny and crying the sky is falling…think I am kidding? Take a look at this: (not for the squeamish) Some samples from Craig’s list:

“I’m into a lot of different things such as public sex, fisting, bareback, bondage, w/s, group fun, Master/slave type “relationships”… and yes, that is meant to mean “strings”. I expect that anyone who wants to get to know me should at least be open minded and adventurous, even if they haven’t done it all. I live a polyamorous lifestyle. I hope this stuff here sums me up well.”

“I need to suck a **** and eat a large load of ***. I also get into rimming, body contact, J/O and whatever else you can think of. If you are negative I am bb friendly.”

“Yeah, bb btm loves to get plowed hard by raw ****
Into it? like seeding a hot, horny, furry hole?”


There are places in the fair city of Atlanta where one can go and have any number of sex partners in an evening and there are no condoms in sight or asked for. Before the straight folks reading this say ah hah it is you gays…let me be clear there are plenty of these clubs for straight folks as well and the men who are picking up women while out of town are not using condoms either. In fact go to any straight party club and well you get the idea.

I had a person in pastoral counseling who is now a recovering sexual addict tell me how he would go to a local hotel here in town…place an ad on Craig’s list giving his location and room number. He would invite anyone who wanted sex to his room to find the door unlocked and him blindfolded with his butt in the air waiting to receive all the bareback sex he could.

Or how about these websites that have thousands of subscribers for both gay and straight people:

Bare-back-central

Gay Bareback Sex and Hairy Masculine Men

Bareback Resources

The porn industry is a multi billion-dollar empire whose hottest films involve sex without condoms. If people are spending that kind of money you cannot convince me they are not doing what they see in film.

This is not a blog to sound a moral cry about how sexually loose society is, nor is it to start an ethics debate on adultery and or fornication.

Rather it is about admitting and recognizing people regardless of morals, ethics, or the churches teachings are going to have sex. They have been doing the “deed” since the beginning of time.

I will save the sexual ethics discussion for another time. Right now I am concerned about stopping the bleeding. For you see when a person is wounded, 9 times out of 10 before you do anything else you have got to stop the bleeding.

Stopping the bleeding in this case means if you are going to have sex use a condom.

Believe me, I know they are easy to use, easy to dispose of and can save one from any number of life threatening or life ending diseases. My partner and I have been together 25 plus years and have never had sex without condom use.

My friends don’t we have a moral obligation to not put others at risk for our sexual enjoyment?

For those who call themselves Christian can you really in good conscience put your partner or yourself at risk of a shorten or messed up life for a night of taking care of a “sexual itch”?

Do not those who consider themselves tops have an obligation to say no to bare backing?

Do not those who consider themselves bottoms have an obligation to say no to letting someone inside them without a condom.

How about straight folks…unless you are making a child and you both have tested negative, don’t you have an obligation to keep each other safe? I know all about the marriage vows of fidelity, however it is what it is…I mean really…do you want to find out your partner cheated on you when you come up with a positive test?

If you are going to cheat on your partner or even if you have an open relationship do you really want to introduce HIV or God knows what other disease to the one you say you love?

Isn’t the whole relationship thing difficult enough without adding a premature death sentence to it?

The moral police will tell me the answer is abstinence and then only sex in wedlock.

Well that has really worked well hasn’t it? Read the court dockets and the reasons for divorce. Look at the record levels of teen pregnancy. HIV rates of infection are up not down. STD’s are on the rise rather then declining.

People committing adultery in the State of Georgia can go to jail…but that is of little good to the one they infect and I might add too little too late.

Gay folk are denied marriage, so their only answer is no sex? Right-so now convince me that a healthy 20 something man is not going to have sex regardless of the marriage laws.

I was talking to a Pastor who works with folks who are HIV positive and he told me about an informal survey that was done for men in prison. People going into prison are given an HIV test. Of those who tested negative when they went into prison, 54% of them tested positive when they came out. Of course you don’t give prisoners condoms because that would be approving sex and the wrong kind of sex at that. What kind of screwed up thinking is that?

I want with all my heart to have conversations around long-term monogamous relationships.

I want to teach values, respect and commitment as a part of our sexual relations.

My faith walk encourages and even demands me to support and model that kind of sexual responsibility.

However, I am left with the reality people are going “sow their oats”, they are going to experiment, they are going to be wild, they are going to be stupid and do sexual things out of a lack of judgment.

Like it or not that is the condition of the human race, it is the way we live and learn.

Yet if I can convince folks who are going to have sex regardless of some moral authority, to use a condom they might live long enough to learn a sense of responsibility.

If I can convince folks that if you have sex without a condom you are either suicidal or are a totally self-absorbed selfish person they might live long enough to learn there is other peoples lives at stake.

So to those men in the gay, bi and straight community…I am begging you, pleading with you, save a life and use a condom.

One final thought for those who would blast me for writing this blog, thinking this is the wrong subject for a minister to write about or it was just too graphic please remember:

Silence=Death and my friends we have been silent far too long in the matters of safe sex and the use of the condom.

WHEN DID WE FORGET…?

Listening to the news, reading the blogs and listening to “professional Christians talk today I was left with some questions.

When did the church quite being “followers of Christ” and become the zealots of “power and control”?

When did we forget the main teaching of Jesus the Christ was to call people back into relationship with God?

When did we forget most of Jesus’ teachings around God were about what it was like to be with God and how God desires to be with us?

When did we forget that Jesus lived a life of forgiveness and grace as opposed to condemnation and exclusion?

When did we forget Jesus was born out of wedlock?

When did we forget the first response of Jesus to a major challenge was to pray?

When did we forget that when Jesus fed people they did not have to fill out paper work?

When did we forget that at one time Jesus was an “illegal immigrant”?

When did we forget Jesus taught us to turn the other check?

When did we forget Jesus taught that “murder” was wrong regardless if we thought it justified or not?

When did we forget that Jesus said, “let the one without sin” cast the first stone”?

When did we forget that Jesus taught that divorce was not a good idea? (Hummm…. maybe we forgot this one when we quit being careful who we hooked up with.)

When did we forget that Jesus looked into the eyes of one clearly condemned and guilty of the crime for which they were accused and said: “I accuse you not”?

When did we forget that Jesus taught us not to swear an oath by God, but let our yes be yes and our no be no?

When did we forget that Jesus taught us to love our enemies?

When did we forget Jesus taught if asked for our coat we should give our shirt too?

When did we forget that Jesus said those who are not against us are for us?

When did we forget the greatest love we can show is when we lay our life down for our friends?

When did we forget the meaning of the words when Jesus taught us to pray like this:

 

“This, then, is how you should pray:
” ‘Our Creator in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we also have forgiven those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil ‘ for if you forgive people when they sin against you, your heavenly Creator will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive their sins, your Creator will not forgive your sins.

 

When did we forget the living standard Jesus was teaching when he said:

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

When did we forget the only commandment that Jesus gave us is:

 

“… Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

Finally but not least…when did we forget the judgment of God would be based on these words of Jesus:

 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I am not sure, as I am just one little queer preacher who according to the professional Christian is going to burn in hell…but it appears we might be putting far to much time effort and money into the wrong things. Seems to me we might be living in a different kind of world if more folks were remembering these afore mentioned things each day. Just a disturbing thought.

YES TO 2008: BRING IT ON!

I was sitting here this afternoon thinking I should write something for the end of the year.

Of course that is what everybody is doing. Looking back over all the stuff that happened during 2007. The year 2007 will be reviewed in print, in video and radio till we are just sick of it.

There will be plenty of “this was a horrible year” or “this was a great year” or “the best and worst stuff” written about. So I was stuck as to what to write about which would not be the same old stuff.

Then I remembered an old quote from a former Hall of Fame major league baseball pitcher by the name of Satchel Paige; “Never look behind you, cause something might be gaining on you.” Ain’t that the truth?

In addition our faith calls upon us because of the Christ to be forward looking. St. Paul writes,

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:13-14 (The Message) )

This past year has been full of challenges; very difficult times and full of loss…but St. Paul’s words are so true for those of us who claim a relationship with God.

I might be a little too arrogant here, but I am looking forward to 2008 and the incredible good things that will happen!

The ministry which I am blessed to be apart of is on the edge of doing some things that most Pastors can only dream of. March 15, 2008 Gentle Spirit Christian Church will be 10 years old. Given our start and our journey of faith this is no small accomplishment.

I look forward to 2008 because I am the pastor of real life heroes. In a day when we lack for people we can call heroes, I am truly blessed.

I am the pastor of a church that has some of the most resilient and gutsy people on the planet. It takes great effort to break down the walls of tradition that is suffocating and more about morality and rules rather than relationship with and the grace of God.

On any given Sunday, there will be gay, straight men and women, bi, lesbian and transgender folks worshiping together. There will be white, black and Latino all worshiping together. It takes guts to see each other as a true child of God.

There will be Evangelical, Progressive, Moderate Christians, and followers of Jesus, Buddhists, and church questioning folks all worshiping together. It takes guts to allow for many paths to God.

It takes guts and resilience to move the worship time out of doors and never cancel a service because of the weather. Our service moved outdoors Labor Day weekend of 2006.

Worship took place regardless of 100-degree temperatures or a temperature in the 30’s with wind and rain. The congregation was always there with food for the picnic after they had worshipped and praised God.

It takes guts in this day and age to worship outside in a public city park where anybody could show up looking for God knows what. Anything from needing some travel money to some food to get through the day. There have been people showing up needing help finding shelter, or finding a way to get into recovery. Every one of those folks has been welcomed with open arms by each of the people in church that day. The people attending church that day have helped every one of those folks in some way. It did not matter if it was giving a few dollars, a ride, a hug, a smile, or the assurance of support for the need.

Yes, it takes guts to “walk the talk” and love rather then hate, support rather then condemn, embrace rather then shun, include rather than exclude. It takes a special kind of faith to give up the comforts of a building; the security of locked doors and is front and center in the community.

It takes guts to be in church where one’s pets are as important as the people.

Those worshipping in the park every Sunday give a new sense of affirmation to God’s people. An affirmation, which says the people are more important then buildings, committee’s and rules.

Those who worship each Sunday give a loud and visible witness that feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned is far more important then having a church building where the utility bills are 10 times more then the benevolence fund.

I look forward to 2008 because of the heroes God has brought to this ministry.

People have heard God’s call and they have answered. The wealth of talented and spiritually diverse people God has brought into our midst is astounding!

We already had an outstanding Deacon who had become a “jack of all trades” and a dedicated treasurer, but we have added an assistant pastor, a vicar of education, a church administrative assistant, prayer warriors, and a marketing professional. All of who give of their time, talents efforts without seeking a salary or fee.

We have a core group of people who with a simple phone call will help with housing, food, medical, recovery issues, mental health issues, jobs, legal matters, financial needs and transportation.

We have people who have simply opened their homes to those who needed a place to stay; no conditions to length of time, no expectations of being paid…just opened their home.

We have people whom week after week brought food for those who had none.

We have people whom week after week, have provided rides to doctors, grocery stores, hospitals, to jobs or back home.

We have people whom have volunteered to help people move, gave money to those in need with no expectation of every getting one dime back.

We have those who call the church office week after week to inquire about any special prayer concerns.

We have group of people who walk 3 miles to church each and every Sunday regardless of weather.

We have a group of people who can testify to the healing power of God almost daily.

These folks are all heroes because in a world where recognition, wealth, power and control mean everything, it means nothing to them. Except for here most of you will never hear of them in the media or in the power places of the community.

I thank God for these faithful people of God:

Braden Baker
Allen Bozeman
Robbin Brown
Rev. Jarrod Cochran and Erin
Kim and Sharon Dugan
Gareth Fenely
Carmen Gonzales
Maru Gonzales
Lance Helms
Monica Helms
Corey Hoblit
Vicar Alyce Keener
Teresa Kenney
Deb Wolfe
Ann Marie Knittel
Estelle LeClaire and Erin
Christopher Martinez
Maura NiConnell (Spike)
Richard Ozveth
William Pabst
Caroline Ray
Rev. Judy McVey
Nancy Vandyke
Deacon Bob Shaw
Clinton Silver
Phyllis Silver
Susan Stephens
Jeff Tatum
Father Warren Taylor
Charles Smith
James Langston
Bill Smith
Bill Bailey
Charles Harris
Wolf Thomas
Jennifer Turner
Enrique Silvani
Zan Thornton and Elizabeth
Melissa White
Bill Butler
Darrell Grizzle
Aaron Angel
Tom Rose
Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge
Rev. Guy Kent
Rev. James Brewer-Calvert

Yes, I am more then just a little excited and looking forward to 2008. I cannot wait to see and experience the new heroics these people will do by the power of God!

Yes to 2008: bring it on!

I JUST WANT TO SCREAM…

Just when I think things cannot get worse…the 2 stories come across my desk.

Now mind you over the last couple of months there have been more then our fair share of really bad things happening to our community, but these two set up tonight’s soapbox.

“Gay teen couple made to sit apart on bus
Posted by: “Thomas Jackson” tcjackson2005@sbcglobal.net tomjackson2008
Mon Nov 5, 2007 9:58 am (PST)

Two gay teenagers from Scotland are considering legal action after being
humiliated on a late-night bus journey.

Steven Black, 16, and Mark Craig, 19, were told to get off the bus by the
driver and then forced to sit in separate seats, according to the Sunday
Mail.

“If we had been all over each other, I could understand – because that
behavior in public is not appropriate whatever your sexuality. But Mark
just had his arm around my shoulder,” Steven told the paper.

“I have never been so humiliated in my life. I just can’t believe we are
still made to feel like second-class citizens.”

In 2000 Mr. Souter, an evangelical Christian, donated half a million pounds to a campaign in Scotland to uphold Section 28, which banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools.

He cited his religious beliefs as justification for his actions, insisting he is not homophobic.

Mr. Souter is a member of the Church of the Nazarene, a Methodist denomination.

The couple chose to sit separately because they had no other way to get
home.

Indicted in beating of gay couple
Saturday, November 03, 2007
By MICHAELANGELO CONTE
JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
UNION CITY – Two former employees of a Burger King on Bergenline Avenue have
been indicted on hate crime charges in connection with the vicious beating of a
same-sex couple outside the restaurant earlier this year, officials said yesterday.

Angel Caraballo, 28, of Duncan Avenue, and Christopher Soto of Prospect
Street, both of Jersey City, were charged with aggravated assault and a first-degree hate
crime in connection with the July 22 beating, officials said. The hate crime offense
carries a possible sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.

The two victims, Union City men in their early 40s, were in the Burger King,
on the 3500 block of Bergenline, when they asked someone behind the counter for a refund for an item that was not available, officials said.

One employee allegedly asked the other who was asking for the refund and he
replied with a derogatory term for a homosexual, according to a news release issued by
the gay rights advocacy group Garden State Equality.

The couple left the restaurant, but a group of Burger King employees followed them outside, where “they beat them mercilessly,” while repeating anti-gay slurs,
the news release, says.

There is the 21 year old who was executed in Iran (we don’t have any homosexuals as stated by Iran’s Dictator) for being gay.

There was the drive by shooting in front of a gay club in Atlanta.

There was the transgender person who was murdered down in Savannah Georgia.

There was this headline: “Gay-bashings up in 2006”

The African Episcopal Bishop continues to say all kinds of nasty things about us as if we are not in the room.

This is followed by an entire section of the Episcopal Church leaving the denomination because a man who is tremendously gifted but gay and in a long-term relationship is made a Bishop.

“The Diocese of San Joaquin, a conservative fold that serves California’s Central Valley and has long chafed under what it considers the increasing liberalism of its fellow Episcopal, on Saturday became the first in the nation to separate from the U.S. Episcopal Church, voting overwhelmingly to take a strong and definitive stance against how the church deals with homosexuality and other controversial issues.

The vote capped a dispute that had been sweeping through the Episcopal Church in the United States for decades, one that was highlighted in 2003, when the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, was ordained as bishop in New Hampshire.

“We were interested in seeking leadership that held to a traditional interpretation of Christianity,” said the Rev. Van McCalister, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Joaquin.”

We have a democrat who wants to be President of the US and thinks it is perfectly OK to have a lying, self-absorbed internalized homophobe sing for his campaign. I wonder if a former grand wizard of the KKK who suddenly got religion would be ok to sing for the campaign too?

Of course there is the radio talk show host by the name of Michael Savage who gets in his dig:

“CNN is a bear trap. CNN is a bear trap for anybody conservative. Look what they did the other night, last week rather, with the YouTube/CNN debate, when they put a planted, gay, phony general in the audience to throw out a question, and then Anderson Cooper followed up with intelligible, ‘Did you get the question answered adequately?’ That’s your idea of a fair debate? It’s like a Stalinist show trial.” “I don’t care about this old queen, frankly. He disgusts me to make — my flesh crawls from the old queen. That was a general? Now you wonder why we’re still in Iraq five years later. General — with General Keith Kerr, you know why we’re still in Iraq five years later.”

Think the craziness is over? Hell no…we get a National League football coach with this gem:

“During an interview with Bob Costas on HBO’s Costas Now, Colts coach Tony Dungy seemed taken aback when asked what he would do if he had an openly gay player on his team.

After a pause in which Dungy smiled and looked as though he wanted to choose his words carefully, Dungy said, “I’m sure I would talk to him about my views on it, what the Bible says about it.”

So why is the afore mentioned stuff so bad? Why do I want to just sit in a room and beat my head against a wall?

Because it shows just how fundamentally flawed the whole damn issue around LGBT folks really is.

People in the LGBT community have to fight for full and legal recognition of their relationships, job protection, protection from being hunted down like animals and killed. We have to fight for the ability to be contributing members of the church, to be a pastor, a bishop, to get communion.

We have to fight to visit our partner in the hospital, get health insurance for our partner, or just live in peace where we want too.

To make matters worse we are told that because of whom we love, we don’t meet biblical standards for being included equally in God’s creation. Yet when these same biblical standards are applied to these zealots the hypocrisy could not be more obvious.

Anybody with more then a 6th grade education knows to claim the Bible, as the inerrant word of God is as ridicules as it is foolhardy. I am sorry if I offend people’s faith here, but God and the Holy Spirit did not go out of business 2,000 years ago.

Hey wait a second…let’s take the Bible at its word…let’s suppose for a moment we have exact quotes from Jesus. Let us suppose there is a heaven or a burning hell for which people are heading. Let us suppose God is going to sit in judgment and one by one will decide who is in and who is out.

How will God make the determination? By what standard will we be held accountable? In the very words of Jesus I found an answer.

31″When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41″Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44″They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45″He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46″Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25 (New International Version)

Damn, apparently those whom think the battle to stop homosexuality is the end of the world have missed God’s agenda all together.

Tell you what, I will make a deal with all the traditionalists, fundamentalists, conservative family value folks. When y’all begin spending your time, energy and resources living up to God’s agenda for who is in and who is out as stated by Jesus, then and only then can we talk about homosexuals and how we are supposedly destroying the world. It seems to me we are the least of the problems with the coming judgement.

WORLD AIDS DAY

My coming out days was lived out in Chicago, Illinois (1965-1982). I also came out prior to HIV/AIDS being part of our everyday lives.

The gay community in Chicago during my time there was party central but also a close nit community. Over the years I developed close friendships with a group of people that at its peak numbered 15.

We all hung out together, spent time at the clubs together and I guess by today’s standards could have had a reality TV show made about us.

We compared notes on our boyfriends, went to parties, made gossip about straight people, got jobs, participated in the community and marched for our rights. We were always there for one another no matter what the circumstance.

I didn’t think about then but now I know we had something special-we had a group of people who had become VERY close friends and became a support system to one another that I don’t suppose will ever be repeated.

Starting in 1981 through 1982 the group started to drift apart. Some got jobs that took them out of Chicago and into other parts of the state, some got involved in long term relationships and moved to the suburbs, others found themselves struggling to find the love of their life or way through life as a gay man and lacking direction or support turned to heavy amounts of alcohol and drugs.

In June of 1982 needing a fresh start, I moved to Cincinnati where within a month of arriving I would meet the man I am still with today. The choice to move probably saved my life.

For you see the crushing and deadly wave that we would come to know as AIDS arrived in Chicago in the later part of 1982. By the time my partner and I had been together for 12 years, my best friend and I were the only ones still alive from that group of 15. None of them had reached the age of 40.

Today, as I write this at the age of 52 and in the 26th year of marriage (Yes, despite what the world says I am married), I am the only one left who is alive and HIV negative. My best friend died at the age of 47 after getting the disease because of cheating and abusive boyfriend.

I was no angel in those days and I guess every year at this time when I think of my friends who died much to soon I get a case of survivor’s guilt. Hey, that is another blog.

I have also been an ordained minister since 1986, so I have 20 plus years of pastoral ministry. In those years I have probably done funerals for more people under the age of 50 then most pastors do in an entire career.

What is really heart breaking is that HIV/AIDS is not done yet. Despite media spin “that this is now a manageable disease”. That is a lie and severe distortion of the truth. AIDS still kills at an alarming rate and the rate of infection is on the rise.

“AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, with an estimated 38.6 million people living with HIV, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 3.1 million (between 2.8 and 3.6 million) lives in 2005 of which, more than half a million (570,000) were children.”

Every month I still counsel people who are newly infected. Every month I am there with someone who has died or in support of a partner, family and friends who has lost someone. Our congregation has a number of people who have tested positive and are at various stages of health challenges.

My best friend in Atlanta is HIV positive and while he is healthy and living a productive life…the meds that he has to take are anything but pleasant. The side effects require he not get too much sun, eat the correct foods and not get too stressed, as the reaction is more then a pain in the ass, it is debilitating.

So I guess I am writing this today to remind folks the AIDS pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot. We cannot afford to get comfortable. We cannot afford to not continue to educated, stress prevention, and harm reduction (translation, safe sex and needle exchanging).

We must remember God’s people are dying. “A third of these deaths are occurring in sub-Saharan Africa, retarding economic growth and destroying human capital. Antiretroviral treatment reduces both the mortality and the morbidity of HIV infection, but routine access to antiretroviral medication is not available in all countries.[7] HIV/AIDS stigma is more severe than that associated with other life-threatening conditions and extends beyond the disease itself to providers and even volunteers involved with the care of people living with HIV.”

I am asking the readers of this blog to get involved in harm reduction, to recognize this pandemic knows no boundaries.

I am asking folks to adopt the 4 principles as put forth by the Prevention Justice Mobilization organization.

Here are 4 principles that must be reflected in a focused, justice-based HIV prevention strategy that can actually stop HIV/AIDS:

1) HONESTY AND PROTECTION: UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION, HARM REDUCTION AND HIV PREVENTION

Prevention justice asserts the fundamental right of all people (including people living with HIV) to expect every effective and ethical approach to be employed to prevent HIV transmission. Everyone at risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV must have access to scientifically based, culturally and linguistically- appropriate sexual health, harm reduction and HIV prevention information, materials and tools.

The federal government bears primary responsibility to fund these efforts at adequate levels (at least $2 billion per year across programs, as noted in the AIDS Budget and Appropriation Coalition’s chart on FY 2008 Appropriations for Federal HIV/AIDS Programs), and must end bans on funding for effective programs such as syringe exchange.

The next President of the U.S. should develop a results-oriented AIDS strategy that incorporates prevention justice principles and policies.

If political and cultural barriers impede such access (such as bans restricting access to sterile needles/syringes, and condoms in prisons and jails; comprehensive, accurate sexual information and skills for school youth or detainees; or the gag rule on naming “harm reduction” in federally-funded research and programs), then funders and providers of prevention services must also invest in strategies to remove these barriers.

2) IT’S NOT ONLY WHAT YOU DO, IT’S ALSO WHO YOU ARE: HIV/AIDS AS PROOF OF INJUSTICE

All prevention campaigns and strategies must include explicit goals to lessen and eventually eliminate structural risk factors that lead to community-level or population-level vulnerability, such as homelessness, high rates of incarceration, domestic and other gender-based violence, lack of adequate access to high-quality health care, and/or a living wage or income.

They must include plans to eliminate any significant disparities among populations in HIV prevalence and risk, including those associated with race and ethnicity, immigration status and language, gender and gender identification, sexual orientation, nationality, age and area of residence. It must also address disparities in treatment, care and support for people living with HIV as a key component for HIV prevention. Resources must prioritize eliminating the greatest disparities in HIV prevalence and incidence.

3) AIDS DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE… BUT SOCIETY DOES: END VULNERABILITY BY AFFIRMING THE DIGNITY AND RIGHTS OF ALL:

All HIV prevention efforts must include an affirmation of the dignity and rights to equality of every individual (including those living with HIV/AIDS) and must actively confront social, cultural and legal norms and forces that prevent or impede realization of such rights and dignity, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia; HIV and drug-use stigma; or discriminatory legal status.

Any programs that claim to prevent HIV by attacking the dignity and rights of individuals — such as abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that encourage sexism, homophobia and AIDS stigma — must be defunded and repudiated.

Since rights are meaningless without the means to realize and use them, all HIV prevention must include or ally with efforts to provide every human with the economic and other material necessities of life, including adequate housing, employment or income, physical and mental care, food and nutrition, and drug treatment – the lack of which have each been shown to drive HIV spread.

4) DON’T BLAME US OR SHAME US FOR WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW: RESOURCES, ETHICS, AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN CRITICAL RESEARCH AND MONITORING

Communities and programs lack the resources and tools to fill the gaps in our knowledge base on HIV prevention. HIV prevention research efforts must be funded in sufficient quantity and diversity as to quickly solve critical unanswered questions and provide essential tools and technologies we are currently missing.

Research must focus on providing tools to assess community vulnerability and structural risk and to guide the design of efficient, comprehensive, multifactorial prevention strategies, as well as investigating new individual behavioral or biomedical interventions, and must include answers to relevant questions regarding prevention issues for people living with HIV.

Further, government and private entities engaging in research and policies must provide timely, understandable and accurate information on their work and proposals, actively soliciting and integrating diverse community input into resource allocation and policy formulation.

The basic elements of counting and describing people living with, or at risk for HIV infection (surveillance categories and systems, testing, case reporting, partner notification and counseling) must not blindly follow previous, narrow medical public health models, but must reflect the other principles described above. These systems and methods must be designed and implemented with awareness of their direct or indirect impact on individual dignity as well as community health and vulnerability.


So tonight I write to remember, to honor and to place in memorial all those who have died.

Tonight, I write to proclaim the hope and healing for all those who live and are affected by this virus. For you I will not be silent. I will speak out persistently, loudly and with a clear voice for justice.

Tonight, I write for my friends who have been received in the loving arms of God: Timothy, Gerald, Brandon, Billy the nerd, William, Paddy, Tyrone, Tom, Chuck, Thomas, Sammy, Joey, Philip and John…I love you, I will never forget you.

HAPPY HOLY DAYS

Get a cup of coffee or some hot chocolate and get comfortable…this is a little longer then usual.

You know it was bad enough that I had not even got Thanksgiving fully into my mind, had not gone through my annual cry of, “how much weight will I gain this year?” When I started receiving e-mail alerts from the American Family Association shouting there was a “war on Christmas”. Now folks this is “Thanksgiving weekend”. Did anyone note a lack of Christmas?

I mean we barely finished with Halloween and Christmas decorations started popping up in all the stores. My favorite radio station has been playing Christmas music since the beginning of November, and I don’t mean just holiday music, I mean Christmas carols and songs.

Then I start getting lists of stores that we should shop at or not shop at based on if the use the words Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Excuse me? Who is sitting down and counting all the words in advertisements? Further, isn’t one of the definitions of holiday “Holy Day”? Is not the celebration of Jesus’ birthday a “Holy Day” even if we celebrate it on the wrong day? I may get flamed here but Jesus was not born on December 25, 0.

People need to stop and read a little of the history of Christmas controversy at Wikipedia.

Let’s be real here, we live in a capitalistic country where if there is a way to make money, it will be done even if we have to make up a war. Think I am kidding? Take a look at the letter I got from self-proclaimed leader of family morals and values Don Wildmon:

“It’s hard to believe that there are companies which ban “Merry Christmas” and replace it with “Holiday Greetings” because, they say, they don’t want to offend anyone.

It’s time Christians take a stand and proclaim to our communities that Christmas is not just a winter holiday focused on materialism, but a “holy day” when we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

This year you can remind your community of the true meaning of Christmas by taking a vital leadership role in AFA’s “Project Merry Christmas.”

Here’s how. AFA is making available an attractive button and magnet that carry this thought-provoking, Gospel-focused message: “Merry Christmas. God’s Good News.”

I am asking you to purchase enough buttons for each member of your church and enough magnets for each family to have one. Urge your fellow members to wear their buttons and display the magnets during the entire Christmas season.

If you are unable to sponsor your church yourself, ask your Sunday school class to make it a class project. You can even order buttons and magnets to share with co-workers, children in Christian schools, customers, etc.
I know that some might think simply wearing a button or displaying a car magnet is a small thing, but God can use small things to make a big point, and to create opportunities to share the Good News. And what a great time to do that at Christmas!

I’m asking individuals like you in thousands of communities across the nation to head up this project in their local churches. Your willingness to underwrite the cost for your church and enthusiastically promote this project is the key to making an impact in your area.

Click Here to Order

Sincerely,
Donald E. Wildmon, Chairman
American Family Association

Don, did you run out of people to judge, companies to boycott? Do you have some memos stating these companies will “ban” the use of the word or phrase “Merry Christmas”? Or wait…maybe nobody is paying attention to poor Don. After all how many ways can you say America is going to hell in a hand basket before people start turning you off?

So I guess you need to do your annual fundraiser Don. It is the same every year; you start by saying Christmas is at risk. Then you start making buttons you can sell and yelling for boycotts of all those who don’t fit your brand of Christianity or definition of Christmas. Hey Don how much money does your “non-profit” (I use that term loosely) make off Christmas?

These businesses sell their goods to all people Christian and non-Christian alike. They will use words in their marketing that will bring in the most people and the most money, it is not their job to explain, teach or support your brand of Christian theology.

Alas if it were just Don who was looking to be on the front page but no there are other lunatics out there.

I have taken to reading a blog called “The Carpetbagger Report”, a commentary and analysis on politics in America. By Steve Benen. Here is the latest entry by a person called Morbo.

I hate to keep carping about the “War on Christmas,” but there have been major developments, and I believe you need to be informed.

The Liberty Counsel has issued its annual “Naughty and Nice List.”

This legal group, associated with Jerry Falwell before his demise, puts out a helpful list (.pdf) advising you which retailers to avoid and which to patronize. The criterion is simple: whether the word “Christmas” is used in sales material and on websites.

Unfortunately, the list does not address every issue that might confront zealous fundamentalist Christians, Bill O’Reilly and various other Christmas Nazis over the next six weeks. I want to help the Liberty Counsel in its quest to force Christmas down the throat of every American, so I’ve compiled a list of some specific situations and questions that the list fails to address:

* Unnamed Retailers: A lot of retailers aren’t even on this list. I need to know if I can patronize Meineke Mufflers next month. Little help, please!

* Mixed Messages: Some businesses are clearly trying to play both sides. Every week the gang at the Vermont Country Store sends me a catalog. Some mention Christmas on the cover, some do not. Worse yet, some use the term “Holiday” on the cover but say “Christmas” inside. Does that count? What am I to do? This list provides no guidance.

* Type Games: This list says nothing about the always-crucial issue of font size. What if the catalog uses both terms, but “Christmas” is in smaller type than “Holiday”? Is that insult to our Lord and Savior big enough to trigger a boycott?

* The Greater Good Conundrum: Here’s one for all of you Jesuits out there: Let’s say I can achieve greater good by buying something from a merchant who uses the term “Holiday.” Is it ever morally licit to do so? What if an item I want to buy is 50 percent off from a store that uses the term “Holiday”? Can I take the money saved and give it to a TV preacher — or is the money saved ill-gotten gains that would be rejected by any morally upstanding television evangelist? (I think I know the answer to this one. Operators are standing by to take your check.)

* Suspected Tricks/Clarence Thomas Factor: What about retailers that use the term “Christmas” but don’t really mean it? If the local adult DVD store is having a “Christmas Sale” on sex toys, whips and dog collars, can I buy some? If going into such a shop is considered a sin but Clarence Thomas is hanging around outside, can I give him the money and ask him to pick the items up for me since I wouldn’t actually be entering the store?

* Exploding Head Paradox: Let’s say my local bookstore is having a “Christmas Sale.” Is it permissible to go there and buy something that makes fun of Christmas or the faith that spawned it, like a Christopher Hitchens book or this horrifying Billy Idol CD?

I’ve heard that in the Middle Ages, learned theologians spent hours debating questions like how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. We’re not getting that kind of attention to detail from today’s religious fanatics. To Liberty Counsel, I can only say that the list is not enough. Next year, send some instructions as well.

P.S. This week, Pat Robertson said on “The 700 Club” that Christmas trees are not worth making a fuss over because they “come from Teutonic Paganism” and “are not an integral part of Christianity.” You know things are getting bad when even Robertson starts making sense.

I do not know who this person is but with good use of satire they have hit the nail on the head.

So Don and all the others who think there is a “war on Christmas” what are you doing for Advent this year?

Our church is collecting stuffed animals which will be hugged and lovingly held during worship over the next 4 weeks in preparation of being delivered to AIDS hospices, to children’s homes, and kids in the hospital who desperately need something to hang onto.

Our bible study over the next 4 weeks will attempt to get folks ready to welcome the Savior into their everyday lives. Along the way we will continue to feed the hungry, try to find housing for the homeless. We will continue to advocate for those caught in the hell of addiction. Yes Don, we will also continue to clean up the mess you and your kind are making of the church daily.

Oh yea if it is exceedingly cold on any of the nights this winter, I and an army of volunteers will drive around the city picking up the homeless and getting them to a shelter.

We will come together with another congregation and worship together with a “candle light service” Christmas Eve. We will do our best to make sure that anybody who wants company or someplace to be will have that happen.

Sorry to say we will not be making buttons or helping your marketing ploy…instead we will do our best to live out the true meaning of the season, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” John 15:12-13 (New International Version)

I guess that is why the birth of Jesus is a holy day.

Shedding the Trappings, and the Traps, of the Traditional Church

I got a call today from one of my friends that I have not seen for a long time. Stacy who is a very conservative Christian was concerned about my state of mind. She has never liked the fact I was gay and has spent the last 30 years or so praying God would turn me into butch straight man. Right, like that was going to happen!

She has gone through 4 husbands to date…so maybe…nah not going there!

She had “bumped” into our website and after being horrified we don’t think “homosexuals” are going to burn in hell and her heart almost stopped when she read our mission statement.

Then she saw where we were worshipping, not just occasionally but 52 weeks out of the year.

She almost yelled at me, “your church services are held in a park…outside…without walls…where everybody can see who you are…have you lost your mind?” Don’t you know that if you are going to be a church and preach all this stuff that will piss good Christian people off, you should be inside where it is safe?”

Well the long and short of it was I got her calmed down and we had a great conversation about why we moved outside and how the biggest desire of this congregation besides serving God was to “walk the talk”.

After I hung up I wondered how many other people think I (we) are insane. Maybe that is why growth has been a little slow…it takes guts to worship in a public park. I say it takes guts because of

1. The weather-there is sometimes too much heat, other times not nearly enough heat. Of course there are the times the roof (sky) leaks rather substantially. Of course then there is the wind. Things can and do blow around.

2. In the spring and summer there are plenty of ants, gnats, flies and mosquitoes, the occasional bee or wasp.

3. There are lots of other people in the park, with their kids laughing and carrying on. Cars coming and going.

4. The city garbage people managed to show up each week to empty the trashcans around the pavilion during our worship time.

5. There is a huge soccer league just across from us, which gets pretty loud sometimes.

6. There are also the strange looks you get from some folks as they walk by…

So yea I guess it takes some guts to meet outside for church. It takes a person really choosing to be there. It takes a willingness to let God be the decorator, rather then some architect. It takes a conscious choice to dress for the weather rather then for people’s approval.

It means being committed each time you come to bring food for the picnic after church rather then having some committee sign people up to serve coffee and cookies after service.

It means that anyone and I do mean anyone can show up for church and not look out of place. It also means that an important part of the congregation on any given Sunday is our pets.

It means you know where most of Jesus’ ministry took place.

It also means one is willing to practice their faith right out in the open for everyone to see.

This also means that the walls that keep many folks out of church are now gone.

Over the years the church buildings and what goes on inside out of sight from the world has come to represent for some people the worst of Christianity.

You have rules for dress.

Rules for who is and isn’t a member.

Rules for who can be in the building and when.

Rules for when the building will actually be unlocked and available for prayer or meditation. I have to say most buildings are locked up tight all week and only open on Sunday.

Rules as to what groups can and cannot use the building.

Rules for building use-“we can’t have homosexuals, drug addicts, homeless people, transgender, drunks, non-bible believing Christians, or other unrepentant sinners occupying the property”.

My God, the fights…fights over whose property is it anyway? Think I am kidding, just ask any Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist or Presbyterian.

Fights over who gave more to the building fund and therefore should have more say in the building use.

Fights over the way the building should look; the fancier the better…the bigger the better.

Fights over the signage; what kind, how big, what should it say?

Fights over how the decorations will be placed or should there be decorations.

Fights over the flowers each week and what kind of flowers or plants he or she will bring.

The list is endless and when you really stop and think about all of the aforementioned stuff, it really gets in the way of the message and what church is suppose to be about.

I guess it is pretty hard to worship God when you are upset about what happened at a trustees meeting and you find yourself sitting somewhere other then your special pew by your favorite stain glass window.

Maybe I have lost my mind but I think I prefer God’s house to worship in.

God’s house is decorated to perfection every Sunday. The seasonal church colors take care of themselves.

Even if nobody volunteers to be in the choir, each Sunday in God’s house there is a choir from the birds, kids laughter and the wind through the trees.

We have truly learned what it is to make a joyful noise!

In God’s house passersby stop for a moment to say hello, meet the pets or wait till a prayer is finished.

In God’s house folks feel free to share a bite to eat.

In God’s house it will never be locked and is always available for prayer, walks or some alone time.

In God’s house there is room for any and all who want to come. There are no doors, windows or walls to block the movement of the Holy Spirit.

In God’s house there is wild, crazy and wonderful feeling of peace, community and solitude all at the same time.

If this is insanity then it not such a bad place to be!

LET US REMEMBER

Today is a day of mourning. It is not a day that is on the national calendar. In fact with the exception of a small percentage of people in this country this day of mourning will pass completely unnoticed.

Those who remember on this day will find themselves swinging between tears of grief and deep waves of anger not to mention a certain amount of fear of further attacks.

The devastating images of those viciously killed in 2007 for simply trying to be themselves is something we should remember, something that should burn in our souls.

The people we mourn for this day are apart of the community most would just as soon not deal with. Oh we go to watch the drag shows and tell our jokes and we have added a “T” to the GLB_Q but don’t really take seriously folks in the transgender community live in a very dangerous and un-supportive world.

We do not take seriously they find it extremely difficult to get jobs, get health care or any kind of support and dignity.

In fact just this past month Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi and the HRC made it clear they were not even worth naming in a piece of legislation design to give us job protection. The political spin was that it could not pass if the transgender community was part of it.

In fact, the leaders of HRC told me they were nothing more then a “political calculation”

So the message went out loud and clear…it is still open season on those who would dare to transition from one gender to another.

Of course what we forget is it was these folks who started the whole “gay rights” movement we know today when they stood toe to high heal with the New York City police department at Stonewall.

We forget they have been with us every step of this bloody fight for our rights, our self worth and our very souls.

We forget that each day when they get out of bed and step into the world it may in fact be their last day.

So on this day I want us to remember the transgender community…to pay attention to the day that has become known as “Transgender Day of Remembrance”

May we who mourn and remember today take some comfort in these words of scripture:

“God is King, despite the chaos that may be roaring around us.” (Ps 93)

“If one member suffers, the whole body suffers…” (I Cor 12)

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8)

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

“The Lord takes care of me as his sheep; I will not be without any good thing. He makes a resting-place for me in the green fields: he is my guide by the quiet waters. He gives new life to my soul: he is my guide in the ways of righteousness because of his name. Yes, though I go through the valley of deep shade, I will have no fear of evil; for you are with me, your rod and your support are my comfort. You make ready a table for me in front of my haters: you put oil on my head; my cup is overflowing. Truly, blessing and mercy will be with me all the days of my life; and I will have a place in the house of the Lord all my days.” Psalm 23

Today may we find ourselves moved to pray. May these prayers be for all of the victims, their family and friends.

May we pray for our government to have wisdom, courage and a Christ like response to this insanity. Let us pray for God’s protection and a calming of their and our fears.

And may our prayers be accompanied by expressions of our faith – that we are not conformed to the ways the world and how they will respond to children of God, but to the way the Christ would respond. May we be in our speech and actions the love of God.

Let us remember the words of Gwendolyn Ann Smith,

We have lost so many people in our community to the hand of hatred and prejudice, yet we still are not seemingly willing to fight back. Meanwhile, we die at the hands of a lover, of police, of medical practitioners, and even parents, while the news media calls us “freaks” — and worse.

In fact, the media’s reluctance to cover our deaths lies near the heart of this project. It can be all-but-impossible to find honest, reliable media on the death of a transgender person: It either does not exist (which is how one can cover thirty years of cases and still only have as many as I have to present), or it uses names that the deceased did not own, and pronouns that did not fit their reality.

There is no “safe way” to be transgender: as you look at the many names collected here, note that some of these people may have identified as drag queens, some as heterosexual cross dressers, and some as transsexuals. Some were living very out lives, and some were living fully “stealth” lives. Some were identifying as male, and some, as female. Some lived in small towns, and some in major metropolitan areas.

Today we remember:

Nakia Ladelle Baker
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Cause of Death: Blunt force trauma to the head
Date of Death: January 7, 2007

Keittirat Longnawa
Location: Rassada, Thailand
Cause of Death: Beaten by 9 Youths who then slit her throat
Date of Death: January 31, 2007

Moira Donaire
Location: Viña del Mar, Chile
Cause of Death: Stabbed 5 times by a street vendor
Date of Death: March 5, 2007

Michelle Carrasco “Chela”
Location: Santiago, Chile
Cause of Death: She was found in a pit with her face completely disfigured.
Date of Death: March 16, 2007

Ruby Rodriguez
Location: San Francisco, California
Cause of Death: She had been strangled and was found naked in the street.
Date of Death: March 16, 2007

Erica Keel
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cause of Death: A car repeatedly struck her
Date of Death: March 23, 2007

Bret T. Turner
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Cause of Death: Multiple stab wounds
Date of Death: April 2, 2007

Unidentified Male Clad in Female Attire
Location: Kingston, Jamaica
Cause of Death: Gunshot wounds to the chest and lower back
Date of Death: July 7, 2007

Victoria Arellano
Location: San Pedro, California
Cause of Death: Denied necessary medications to treat HIV-related side effects.
Date of Death: July 20, 2007

Oscar Mosqueda
Location: Daytona Beach, Florida
Cause of Death: Shot to death
Date of Death: July 29, 2007

Maribelle Reyes
Location: Houston, Texas
Cause of Death: AIDS; Reyes was turned away from several treatment centers due to her transgender status.
Date of Death: August 30, 2007

WHOM SHALL I SEND

I now really understand “writer’s cramp” or writer’s block. I am sure some of you have noticed this blog has been pretty dry over the last couple of weeks.

It is not like there is not plenty for me to write about, bitch about or for that matter celebrate. Yet, according to one of my friends this is something that happens to all blogger’s and really good writers, so I guess I find myself in good company.

I think another reason for my block is that I am extremely nervous and excited about a meeting a pastor colleague and I are hosting tomorrow. This meeting is about bringing some fire to a vision I have had of the church for almost the entire time I have been in ministry, probably as far back as when I first felt called to follow this one called Jesus.

As long as I can remember these words of scripture have rested in my soul:

John 3:16
Micah 6:8
Matthew 22:34-40
Matthew 25:31-40
James 3:17
John 14:1-4
Romans 8:31-39

These were and are the passages that drive me, haunt me and really define who and what I am as a pastor.

I say drive me because to me they seem to be the core of what a follower of Jesus strives to be about.

I say they define me because despite falling far short I really try to live my life by what these passages proclaim. For me this is not a head thing but a matter of my heart, the depths of my soul.

I say they haunt me because the church I grew up in and the church universal today seems to have forgotten these passages and lives out an existence that is more about exclusion than inclusion, more about money and prestige rather then simple service, more about moral enforcement and judgment rather than sharing and proclaiming grace, more about dogma and creeds rather than openness and an intentional inclusive community.

Because of the afore mentioned the church universal is no longer safe, no longer a place of peace, no longer a place of refuge from the terrors of the world. Hell it is not even a refuge from the terrors brought about by so-called Christian leaders. So I am haunted…what would God have me to do? How does one little gay pastor push the church universal back to its roots, back to a time when God, not rules were the order of the day?

Frankly, I was pretty content to try to do that with Gentle Spirit Christian Church. We are a church “without walls”. Every day of our existence we try to “walk the talk” and some days we do better then others. Those scriptures I mentioned are apart of our core beliefs, they in fact drive our church.

Yet I have been restless, frustrated and disappointed as we fall short of the need of the larger community.

This was made so clear to me several months back when I was at a meeting with a group of clergy who had receive a large sum of money to used to feed the hungry.

Now folks we are a good hour into the meeting debating the rules for this food distribution. Rules for how to fill out the paper work, which people get the food, how much and how many times a month. There was even discussion, no actually an argument over how much info to keep on file and not mess with people’s privacy.

To this point I had been very quiet and trying to devise an excuse to leave, when one of the pastor’s asked me what I thought. I said they probably did not want to hear what I was thinking, but I was encouraged to share.

So I told them I was thinking about the story of Jesus when he fed the 5,000. Of course all these pastors started nodding their heads in agreement. However, I was stuck on the differences of that story and what was being discussed. See I wondered who of the disciples went through the crowd that day and had the folks fill out the paper work? Which of disciples did the assessments of who was in real need? Was there somebody who determined if the folks who got the food were just going from rabbi to rabbi to eat each day?

As you might imagine my questions were not well received and I have not been invited back to any more meetings.

My next few prayer times with God were screaming sessions.

“Is this really all there is? Is this the kind of ministry you want? Damn you…give me something…give some sign I am not an idiot…tell me some how these scriptures are really central…damn it do something!”

Then Lance from our church introduced me to Rev. Jarrod Cochran, a straight evangelical Christian who had a vision and was trying to get a movement started.

A movement of “Progressive Christians”, A Mustard Seed Revolution of Grace, Love, Mercy, and Inclusion…” On his website he explained is efforts.

“The Progressive Christian Movement seeks to unite followers of Jesus and reclaim our hijacked faith. This movement is one fueled by love, the message of grace, and the desire to leave no one on the outside looking in. This movement is looking for speakers, ministers, writers, activists, singers, dancers, painters, to join in this revolution of grace. The world needs you. We need you. Jesus needs you. Won’t you join us?”

His website included the following ideals:

· Jesus’ central message is about radical inclusion, thus we welcome anyone to participate in our fellowship without judgment or forcing them to conform to our “likeness” or affirm our creeds in order to be accepted. We invited and offer all a place at the table – no exceptions.

· Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma. Faith is about the search for understanding, the raising of important questions, the open honesty of having doubt, and the realization that no one has it all completely right nor does any human hold all the answers. We seek to follow the advice found in 1st Thessalonians 5:21, which is to “seek truth out in all things and hold firmly onto that which is good.”

· Religious absolutes of dogma, legalism, and strict doctrine become stumbling blocks and “litmus tests” for who is “in” and who is “out” of the circle of God’s grace. These false tests that Jesus never required get in the way of truly following Jesus and his teachings.

· Following Jesus is counter-cultural, radical, and disrupts the status quo. The good news of the gospel is intentional in its inclusion of those who are traditionally marginalized and refused by Mainline Christianity.

· The words of Jesus found in the gospels are to be the focus for any disciple of him. We submit the rest of Scripture to the position of “sacred commentary.”

· Recognition and affirmation of the differing belief systems of others, whose faiths offer a way into relationship with God and call upon them to further God’s love and grace on the earth, is crucial. Jesus revealed this path in the acts and works of the Gospel According to Matthew, chapters 5-7; and demonstrated this inclusion on many occasions – including in his witnessing and affirmation of the Samaritan woman, whose culture and people were looked down upon for worshipping God in a different way (the Gospel According to John 4:1-42). As Jesus taught and revealed through example, any “spiritual” or “non-spiritual” person adhering to this way of life are indeed furthering the Reign of God and God’s message of radical love and inclusion here on earth. As Jesus said, “Anyone who is for us cannot be against us” (the Gospel According to Mark 9:39-41).

· Creating fellowships and communities that are dedicated to lifting up, affirming, and equipping one another for the work the Spirit of God has called us to in Micah 6:8: active peacemaking, striving for justice and equality of all people and nations, loving those who are labeled by our government, society, and – at times – ourselves, as “enemies,” caring for God’s creation, and bringing hope to the poor and poverty-stricken.

· God created humans with a brain capable of discovery and reason. God does not require us to “check our brains at the door,” along with our coat and hat in order to be a part of the faith. Faith and Science are not in conflict; they are in harmony. The Bible is not a Science textbook and should never be taken as such. We affirm that if God is truth, then any discovery we make about ourselves, our origins, or the way the universe was created has come from God and should not be viewed as heresy.

· The Church is not simply a four-walled institution, but a ministry without walls that surrounds and encompasses everything and everywhere we go. Our brothers and sisters are not only those who label themselves as “Christian,” but are everyone we meet. Ministers and adherents of the PCM recognize that their ministry does not begin only when they are behind a pulpit or that their witness is only conveyed through spoken word; but their ministry extends to all places and their witness is conveyed by their actions.

Praise to God, I am not alone! There might be a way for the church universal to live out those scriptures! There might be a way to make the church safe again, a way to recapture the mission of God’s church.

So tomorrow Rev. Jarrod and I have invited 30 clergy persons to a meeting to see if others see what we see. Ten have committed to be there and the rest who can’t make it want to be kept in the loop.

Maybe there is something to this. Maybe God is still calling. Maybe we are still listening. Maybe the commission given to Isaiah will be born yet again:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
The whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send I!”

An independent, affirming and progressive church serving metro Atlanta. We are open, positive and inclusive.