Ten Reasons to Own Your Faith

Since it is the end of the year and everybody seems to be doing a list. I thought I would jump in with one of my own. Please understand, I am writing this from my point of view as a follower of Jesus. If that is not the path you follow I pray after you have finished reading some of the arrogant sting of the so-called Christian faith will have been removed. The Creator of this universe is far bigger then any self described human made faith or set of beliefs.

Now it has been said my writing style is not the warm comforting and cuddly stuff but rather more “in your face,” “take it or leave it style.” This list will be no different.

For far too long the institutional church has taken the position they own the faith and simply rent it to us. They give us traditions, pronouncements, laws and creeds and if we do not live by them since we are nothing more then renters we get evicted, or as the Roman Catholic Church has done for centuries ex-communicated.

A quick read of Matthew 23 makes my point about the institutional church pretty clearly. To my brothers and sisters in the clergy all I can say here is if the shoe fits…

It is pretty apparent Jesus knew and said the everyday people were being sold a bill of goods. They were being forced to rent their faith.

So without further delay, here are the 10 reasons to own your faith rather then rent it.

10) There is no “Hell” to be sent to.

The institutional church has used this bogus concept for centuries to keep our fear button pushed in all the way. Hell by translation and definition is a “state of being” not a place. Further, it is a state one places themselves in through their own action. By definition “hell” is the total absence of God. God’s biggest desire is to be in relationship with that which God created. It stands to reason, then, that God never wants to be totally absent to us. Why else would Jesus warn of that “blasphemy of the holy spirit” was only unforgivable sin? The only way that could be accomplished is if one was totally absent of God to begin with. That absence would be our choice, our action, not God’s. Own the fact that when we die we will be with God. Further, all the biblical discussion around hell is simply drawing a picture of what it must feel like to be totally absent of God not a place to be found on a map or geological survey.

9) Forgiveness is the only way to experience total freedom

The only way to stay in a relationship with God is to forgive as God forgives us. To be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with those whom God created. It is only through setting aside our anger, our hurt feelings, and our indignity that we find our happiness, peace and our dignity.

Remember the first words of Jesus from the cross were, “Father, forgive them.” If he does not do that then there isn’t any resurrection, dead is dead. If we do not find a way to forgive there is only death and destruction to follow. Own your life, don’t rent it and lose it.

8) God is a lot more creative than God gets credit for

I remember a great piece of theology from one of the original Star Trek shows, where aliens explain to Captain Kirk why they appeared as humans rather then their natural state. They said, “We appeared to you humans as you would understand us.”

It certainly explains why there are so many different faiths, races and cultures. Everyone and everything is at a different place of understanding and learning and God meets us wherever that place or understanding is. Own the fact that God is greater then the limitations we place on ourselves by renting our faith.

7) Our relationship with God is far more important then any sin we commit

I think the best example of this being true is in the story of the “Prodigal son” from Luke 15:11-32. Jesus tells this story to give us an idea of what God and heaven are like. There are three very important points here: 1) the son desired to be in relationship. 2) “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” 3) “But the father wasn’t listening” Get it? When we desire to be in relationship with God, God runs to us, finds us embraces us, our shortcomings (sin) don’t matter. Own your relationship with God, don’t rent from sin.

6) The Bible is not the infallible, inerrant word of God.

 

“The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God’s punishment, and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the ‘literal and inerrant word of God,’ I always ask, ‘Have you ever read it’?”

Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong.

The Bible contains an understanding of the will of God, but parts of the Bible do not reflect God’s will. Every injunction, instruction, prohibition, etc. in the Bible needs to be analyzed carefully to determine whether it was directed to a specific culture at a specific time and place, or should be applied to all cultures and all eras.

Further, the Bible was written by individuals to promote their own evolving spiritual beliefs. Many of the authors were severely limited by culture and their lack of scientific knowledge. I believe that it is important to recognize that many biblical passages contain factual errors and that many do not reflect accurately or consistently the will of God. Of course, in order for one to know this or conclude this, one has to do the hard work of studying the Bible for oneself. Own your Bible, don’t rent it from the church. In addition, this means one needs to read a variety of scholarship on this collection of sacred text as well. This can be a difficult challenge since many people are like lightning and take the path of least resistance.

5) God is all about inclusion not exclusion

We only need to look as far as the life and ministry of Jesus to see that everyone is invited, some may choose not to come but everyone is invited. There are some who would say Jesus was exclusionary and cite the story of the rich man. However, over the years, the story has gotten twisted into meaning that wealth is bad. In reality it was about the heart. Where was this man’s heart in relationship with God or his riches? God, or Jesus, didn’t exclude him – he excluded himself. This is what makes owning one’s faith a difficult task, it requires we take responsibility for our choices.

4) No one can be denied a place at the Lord’s table

This has been a major point of power and control the institutional church since it has assumed the power to say who is in and who is out. Jesus said “as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me.” There are no strings attached to this, no dogma, no creed, no formula for belief, no magic words. Just a simple act of memorial designed to remind us what we have been taught by Jesus. When one owns their faith they can never be denied a place at the table. It is only when we rent our faith we get tuned away.

3) God is a “Chess Master” not a “Puppet Master”

Over the years Fundamentalism has turned God into the ultimate magician. God will fix that, do this, heal this or that. This alone has set up the war between faith and science. God created us with a mind and the ability to think. As we learn and grow we can, and will, do more things that seem astounding. Jesus is quoted at one point saying, “These things I have done you will do and even greater things.” Yup, that will happen when we use our God-given brains to think.

God is not a puppet master. If anything, God may be a chess master. This game of chess is a little different. God is not interested in taking our King, because God has already given us God’s. So it is all about the moves that are made in the game (life). We make a move; God makes a move in response. This is the way we prepare for our next spiritual step. It is called growth. Growth does not come without experience, choice and the consequences of those choices. Owning one’s faith lets us take responsibility for our actions without playing the blame game or having a puppet master.

2) “Do not commit murder” applies to the courts, the state, the feds and most assuredly all people.

Jesus could not have been clearer when he is recorded as saying, “Let the first one without sin cast the first stone.” Sin is recognized as any thought, word or deed that separates you from God. Well who has not done that? There is no twisting this folks; we are not supposed to be in the business of killing folks. We can give all the excuses we want, however it is pretty clear renters of the faith can justify killing, owners of the faith cannot. Couple this teaching with the whole concept of forgiveness and my point is made.

1) Ultimately we will be measured by who we feed, dress, give drink to and/or visit, not by some “sinners prayer.”

I am amazed at the smoke and mirrors the institutional church has used over the years. They have come up with all kinds of rules to be obeyed, directives to be followed and even prayers to be said to get into heaven. This completely ignores what the man they claim to follow said about the subject. Read Matthew 25:31-46 for yourself, but suffice it to say when one owns their faith this will be the focus of their life rather then a whole host of things which grab us now.

So as we move into 2012 how can you (we) have a much better year despite the challenges? Tearing up the rental agreement we have with our faith and taking ownership of it would be a good place to start. Count with me now 10, 9, 8…

“Wag the Dog” of Christmas

Well, we are nine days away from what Christians have come to call Christmas. I find it hard to understand and almost laughable at how twisted and screwed up this “church” celebration of it’s founder has become.

I want to share this obvious observation: Even if there were some remote chance I could become pope…they would never let me. The reason is simple and it is not because of my progressive views of Christian theology, or the fact that I am unapologetically gay or even the fact that I do not believe the bible is the inerrant word of God.

Nope, it is because I believe December 25th is one of the biggest scams ever pulled on humanity.

Those who are pastors know that what I am suggesting is very true. Y’all went to seminary and know that saying Jesus was born on December 25th is like saying there is a real living breathing Santa Claus. Of course this is but one of many transparent lies and traditions that are based on fiction rather then fact.

We have kind of a “Wag the Dog” scenario. You remember the movie: The story of a US President running for office and before elections, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to “fabricate” a war in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal.

I think the first time I heard this Christmas script of a “war on Christmas” was from Bill O’Reilly. What has now become the ultimate fundraiser of those on the “Christian and political right”: “The War on Christmas” is fought for the entire 12 weeks leading to December 25th. Do you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? Legal fights jam our courts over these phrases or worse when a nativity scene gets set up. Conservative Christian websites fire up the war by warning their readers and members that “Christmas is about to be stolen from them so send us money to protect you!”

However if you really think about it, this so-called “War on Christmas” is simply a ridiculous marketing idea that fits our arrogance, selfishness and greed to a “t”. Read me clearly here: the conservatives, fundamentalists, liberals and progressives have all bought into a huge marketing adventure of “wag the dog”.

For the Christmas season, which begins long before the 1st Sunday in Advent, actually right after Halloween, we are subjected to twelve weeks of Christmas messages that have little to do with or about our Christian faith. In fact, most of the preparations and so-called traditions have been borrowed or should I say stolen from pagan practices! Although many marketing people cleverly package their presentations in the form of a cute little baby in a cute well-manicured and warm manger scene.

People begin making plans for family gatherings and the perfect gift to make the perfect statement of love or impression. This is all destroyed when Johnny announces he is bringing Tom home for Christmas or Susie tells the family she will be spending this holiday with Tammy and her family.

Money, jobs, friends, illness, those dying, families, the homeless, starving children, criminals of all kinds and political games all become the all consuming thing that will happen in that particular year or in a lifetime coming up to December 25th.

Starting with Thanksgiving and through Christmas day every story has a Christmas slant meant to make one feel guilty, or believe it is possible for one day if enough money is spent, to be a day of perfect perfection.

Almost every retail business, in America anyway, is geared to this time as making or breaking them for the entire year.

Legislation, which is vital to so many people’s lives, is either held hostage or used as extortion leading to December 25th.

Also, starting with Thanksgiving our food consumption just simple goes off the charts, eating far too much of everything and especially the wrong things. Alcohol consumption also goes off the charts but hey, you got to drink something with all that food.

The normal everyday challenges of life become a crisis of faith because “tis the season”.

People’s social and pageant schedules become so jammed there is no time to take a breath or enjoy a quiet moment of peace and wonderment at God’s creativity in this world in which we live.

We are pushed to acts of kindness because it is the Christmas season, rather than it is the right and just thing to do.

I could go on and on but you get the point.

Now for those who have at this point decided I am some sort of Scrooge or Grinch that stole Christmas, be patient and give me a few more sentences.

When I was young my Grandfather told me the reason one should not lie is because once you tell a lie, you have to tell another lie to cover the first and another to cover the 2nd and pretty soon you are just having to lie all the time because you have lost track of the truth and you can’t remember what you said and to whom.

We have been told and believe so many lies concerning Christmas that we have almost completely lost why this particular birthday is important, why we celebrate a life which in thirty-three years (a couple years more or less) had such an impact as to change the very course of human events.

In all the perfection we strive for in the holiday season, we forget this birth was anything but neat, clean and glamorous. We forget or by cheesy tradition, explain away that this child was conceived out of wedlock, borne in abject poverty and grew up in a world that was most certainly as dangerous to human life as it is today. We forget or don’t talk about how the gossips of the day must have had a field day both inside the temple and outside.

We jump past the truth of this story which tells us that no matter how bad things are or get God can raise us up out of the ashes of despair to a place with the Creator.

We forget this is a birth that gave us a moral compass for living a life that would be pleasing to the God who created us because it leads to a life of doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God.

When we first bought the lie of December 25th, it became easier to buy the other lies. In fact the Christian and political right’s fear of Christmas being stolen while a lie itself was a self-fulfilling prophecy. For you see, I don’t think we have to worry about Christmas being stolen…it already has been stolen and replaced with the craziness that we call the “Holiday Season”.

It is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born that we celebrate. The truth of the date is somewhere between April and August depending on whose math you believed. About the only thing certain about the date is it was not the 25th of December. The story of the circumstances of his conception and birth give us real hope that it gets better. Jesus’ life and work gives us a working model and road map for our life. His life is indeed one we can look up to and not be disappointed in what we see. His arrest, faulty conviction and the administration of capital punishment followed by a resurrection give those us who call ourselves followers of “The Christ”, the assurance that nothing in this world including death of the physical body can keep us from God.

Maybe the date we celebrate the birth in the wider view is not as important as getting back to why we remember this birth like no other birth in history.

So it is with the spirit of being authentic in our celebration I ask us to consider how our “Christmas” celebration this year will measure up to the words attributed to the one we celebrate, we remember, we strive to be like:

“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. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Creator in heaven. Matthew 5:3-16 (New International Version, ©2010)

It seems to me that December 25th is as good as any day to get back to the authentic reason for giving honor to the birth of the one called Jesus. So to those who have bought into the “Wag the Dog” scenario of Christmas, how about we just get back to basics and let people enjoy the season in peace?

AIDS: Still Kills, Maims and Destroys

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

During my time in Chicago, the gay community was party central but also a close-knit community. Over the years I developed close friendships with a group of people that at its peak numbered fifteen.

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, gossiped 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 it at the time 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 latter part of 1982. By the time my partner and I had been together for twelve years, my best friend and I were the only ones still alive from that group of fifteen. None of them had reached the age of forty.

Today, as I write this at the age of fifty-six and in the thirtieth 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 forty-seven after getting the disease because of cheating and an 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 too soon I get a case of survivor’s guilt.

I have also been ordained since 1986, so I have twenty-five plus years of pastoral ministry. In those years I have probably done funerals for more people under the age of fifty than 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.

According to UNAIDS (2010) ‘UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic’ “Since the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died from AIDS-related causes.”

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 have lost someone. Our congregation has a number of people who have tested positive and are at various stages of health challenges.

A 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 that the AIDS pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot. We cannot afford to get comfortable. We cannot afford to not continue to educate, stress prevention, and harm reduction (translation, safe sex and needle exchanging).

We must remember God’s people are dying…

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

Mark Harrington of Treatment Action Group has offered these Sixteen Radical Steps to End the AIDS Epidemic.

I offer some of the more important steps to the readers as a point of education, meditation and action:

We must strive to continue to lower the numbers newly infected. There are several ways we could dramatically reduce infections rapidly if we are willing to take some radical steps around the world.

1) Universal treatment for women equals universal prevention for infants

We must ensure that every pregnant HIV-positive woman has access to full antiretroviral therapy (ART) from the time her pregnancy is known to when she completes breastfeeding, and then for life if indicated by her CD4 and health status. And we must ensure that every HIV infected baby is diagnosed at birth and treated for life.

2) End gender-based violence and strengthen the legal and health rights of women and sexual minorities

We must demand and achieve equal status for women, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people and end the violence against them everywhere.

3) End the war against sex workers

We must insist on decoupling efforts to stop human trafficking from the current stigmatization and exclusion of sex workers from their full human, health, and economic rights to live and work in dignity, legally and safely.

4) End the war against drug users

We must end the punitive, expensive, and wasteful global war on drug users. We must work in countries around the world to decriminalize possession of drugs; provide universal access to drug substitution therapy, clean syringe exchange, and safe injecting rooms and equipment; and provide services for people reentering society after being unjustly incarcerated for nonviolent drug use.

5) End health disparities everywhere

HIV rates among black Americans are eight times higher than those of white Americans; 600,000 black Americans are living with HIV and 30,000 new infections occur among them each year. The epidemic among black Americans is the same size as that in Côte d’Ivoire, and bigger than that of seven priority PEPFAR countries put together.

The U.S. government and its people are obliged to address this epidemic with the same urgency with which they are now addressing the global pandemic.

The United States must develop and implement a national AIDS strategy with specific targets, timelines, and the goal of reversing the epidemic, with special attention and resources targeted toward black Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, women, and men who have sex with men.

6) Scale up HIV testing and improve HIV epidemiology

We must massively scale up HIV testing globally. New York City has belatedly introduced a policy to test — voluntarily and with opt-out — any resident of the Bronx who presents to the health system. If HIV testing can be massively scaled up in Lesotho, it certainly can and should be massively scaled up in New York City, still the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic.

We must have access to much better, more accurate, and timelier information about where the epidemic is and where it is moving to. Recent revisions downward by UNAIDS on the global pandemic and upward by the CDC on the U.S. epidemic have left the impression that we are still far from having a clear enough picture of the size, scope, distribution, and movement of the epidemic in its 28th year.

7) Prevent, diagnose, treat, and cure TB

Everyone has a responsibility to do a much better job of reducing the impact of TB among people with HIV. HIV clinics around the world must implement infection control procedures, intensified TB case finding, and earlier TB diagnosis and treatment so that no one contracts TB while accessing HIV care.

Routine screening for TB at every clinic visit should also allow healthy HIV-positive persons in pre-ART care to receive cotrimoxazole and isoniazid preventive therapies, which despite overwhelming evidence of efficacy are not routinely used in most sites due to overblown fears about resistance, toxicity, and adherence.

8) Diagnose, prevent, and treat viral hepatitis and common opportunistic infections

We should strive to obtain serology and, when possible, treatment for hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections among HIV coinfected persons. Because of the overlapping activity of certain ARV drugs, we are already treating many people who are coinfected with HBV and HIV without knowing their HBV status. As HBV and HCV treatments mature and oral combination therapy becomes possible, we must be ready to scale up hepatitis treatment globally.

Better opportunistic infection prophylaxis and treatment are also needed. Key drugs must be added to the essential medicines formulary and their prices brought down: amphotericin-B for cryptococcosis, azithromycin for MAC and a host of other infections, rifabutin for tuberculosis, and valganciclovir for CMV retinitis.

9) Develop better first-, second-, and third-line antiretroviral (ARV) regimens

We still need cheaper, safer, and more durable first- and second-line ART regimens to guarantee the longest possible duration of viral suppression free of side effects. Though the ART treatment space is maturing, there is still room for better combinations with greater durability, less toxicity, higher barriers to resistance, and cheaper manufacturing costs.

10) Intensify investment in biomedical research, including AIDS research

The last five years have seen stagnation in U.S. investment in research at the National Institutes of Health. The AIDS research budget, nominally $2.9 billion, has lost about 20% of its purchasing power due to inflation during this time. We must demand that the next U.S. president and Congress increase support for all NIH research — including AIDS research — by 15% in each of the next five years.

Other rich countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development must double or triple the amount they invest in biomedical research, including research for AIDS, TB, viral hepatitis, and other diseases. Emerging and developing countries need to increase investment in biomedical research five- to tenfold to help address persistent gaps in health research.

11) Show solidarity with activists, health workers, policy makers, and scientists working on global health issues

We cannot afford a divisive debate that pits advocates for different diseases against each other.

12) We need greater unity

We must become more united if we are to become an even more powerful force for global public health, human rights, and social justice, with our goal of universal access evolving into comprehensive and universal primary care for all. To those who say it cannot be done we must reply, “¡Si se puede! Yes, we can!”

So today I remember, honor and place in memorial all those who have died.

Today, I pray and 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.

Today, I once again say to 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. You did not die in vain and I will never forget you.

Here We Are Again

Sunday 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.

If these words I write look familiar, they are because nothing has changed since I last wrote them, except some people are more aware.

Again this year those who take a moment and 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 2011 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 a part 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 still don’t take seriously enough that folks in the transgender community live in a very dangerous and un-supportive world. This year’s danger and lethal transphobia is no different from any of the last twenty years.

In fact, in almost (not all) but damn near every community meeting, the plight of the Trans community is brought up as an afterthought, kind of “oh yeah, let’s not forget the T’s”.

While progress has been made, while things have gotten better, there is still a long way to go and this community is still too often just an afterthought.

We still do not take it seriously enough that these children of God find it extremely difficult to get jobs, get health care or any kind of support and dignity. In fact, many in our community, never mind the straight community, think if they would just dress correctly and be happy with how they were born there would be less trouble.

In our fair city of Atlanta, the shelters are still not required to accept those who are in transition unless they are willing to accept being forcible moved backwards in that transition. Again, we arrive at this time of the year and nothing has changed.

People in transition walking down the street at the wrong time or in the wrong neighborhood stand a good chance of being stopped by the police and questioned about drugs, prostitution or both.

I am well aware there are some in the neighborhoods who think the Trans folks working the streets are responsible for the crime in the neighborhood and with vicious language have launched a crusade to rid the streets of this so called epidemic.

Let us get real here; if these sisters and brothers could get a job or be protected in the job they have maybe, just maybe they would not have to turn to the streets.

The fact is, most political leaders of the community still see the trans community as nothing more then a “political calculation”. In fact, far too often these people are something to be added or subtracted from the political equation. The political leadership has not and does not have the courage to stand up and say, “Enough!”

Instead, it’s “let’s study the issue, let’s explore what we can do”. News flash: One’s gender identity has zero to do with the administration of equal rights, just do the right thing!

I still see far too often in community meetings the eyes roll or heads shake when the needs of the Trans community are brought up.

I am so sick of hearing that bringing justice, being fair and honorable and less phobic is so complicated when it come to the Trans community. News flash: Gender, just like sexuality, is a very fluid thing and to attempt to fit everyone into the same narrowly defined box is the height of ignorance.

So here we are this year and it is still open season on those who would dare to transition from one gender to another.

Let us not forget that it was these folks who started the whole “gay rights” movement we know today when they stood toe to high heel with the New York City police department at Stonewall.

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

Let us recognize and have more than a passing thought 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 implore you 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:

“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

Sunday evening, here and all around the country, 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 the wisdom, the courage and a compassionate response to this insanity. Let us pray for God’s protection and a calming of theirs and our fears.

And may our prayers be accompanied by expressions of our faith – in which we are not conformed to the ways of 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.

Once again let us ponder 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.”

In the world we live in today there is no “safe way” to be transgender: Some are living very out lives, and some are living fully “stealth” lives. Some are identifying as male, some as female and some as both and neither. Some live in small towns, and some in major metropolitan areas.

There are things we can do and must do, if the killing is to stop. I would encourage our community and friends to:

• Let us educate ourselves about transgender issues.

• Let us be aware of our attitudes concerning people with gender-atypical appearance or behavior.

• Let us make more than a good faith effort to use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity.

• Let us not make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for surgical or hormonal treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans.

• Let us keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person (s) in our lives.

• Let us become more aware of the things which would make life easier and the transition smoother, i.e. markers on drivers licenses, applications and forms.

• Let us not just sit on our lack of knowledge and understanding. Let us seek out support in dealing with our feelings. This is the 21st century and there are plenty of resources for us to get help.

Finally, but not least, let us turn out en masse this Sunday evening at the State Capital to show the “T” really is apart of LGBTQ and it does not stand-alone. I know it is Sunday night and I know you want to quit reading this every year. So here is the deal:

I will stop repeating this blog when we as a whole community are as enraged as when they raided our bar, as enraged as when Matthew Shepherd was beaten to death or when the fight to pass protective legislation for our community includes the “T” as something other then an afterthought or a political piece to be thrown under the bus.

Taking Ownership of Our Faith

If you live in Georgia the story of Shorter College and the faith statement one is required to sign is about a week old. There has been no shortage of opinions concerning this “goodie-two shoes” approach to controlling people’s lives.

I guess as a private institution they can have any rule they want. With that said, the college has absolutely no business in people’s bedrooms. They choose to quote the Old Testament for the reasoning for this rule…I believe that in the Old Testament polygamy seemed to be acceptable, stoning wives for adultery was the law of the day and marriages for the most part were arranged. Shorter University is certainly on a power trip of the worst kind.

Yet there is a deeper and far more dangerous issue which is occurring in regards to this faith statement that people are being forced to sign.

In fact, it is just not Shorter College and their homophobia; it is a “Church Universal” problem from almost every main-line traditional church to the most conservative, evangelical church. This dangerous issue happens to one degree or another in each and every organized congregation.

The “Church” does not want you and me to own our faith. The “Church” requires you and me to either rent or lease our faith. Sadly, that has been the situation for a very long time.

Remember when Jesus chastises the Jewish leadership in his day (Matthew 23:1-12):

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.

“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’

“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.

“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

I would encourage the reader to read the rest of the chapter as Jesus has hit the nail right on the head.

Think about when one signs a rental agreement. There are always lists of things that can you evicted from the property. If there are problems with the property the owner may listen and respond or they may not…if you are not happy, too bad…move out.

Sound familiar? Think really hard, isn’t that what belonging to a church is all about? What is really sad and dangerous is what this does to the individual person of faith.

The “Church” has a list of those things that keep us in good standing as far a renting your faith from God. Screw up enough of them on the list and we are told our relationship with God is no longer valid. Think I am kidding? Consider:

My partner’s father was a hard working man with twelve children. The family was Episcopalian. With twelve children to support and a stay-at-home wife, it required him to work an extra job. The extra job kept him from coming to church very often.

When he suddenly died at the age of fifty-seven from a massive heart attack (probably from working much too hard) the church refused to conduct the funeral or give him a proper burial because he was not in good standing.

What about if we don’t confess prior to participating in “Holy Communion”? We can be refused the host and drink. Don’t take Communion for long enough and we are considered outside the faith.

Are we baptized? If not, then our relationship with Jesus is not valid with God.

Be outside the proscribed norm for the understanding of sexual orientation, the proper participation of sexual activities or not follow the proper definition of gender identity and we are told our relationship with God is not valid.

Another problem with renting instead of owning is there is no reason to invest, grow or improve what is being rented. Why? Because it is not ours, it can all be taken away in an instant…so why bother? How many empty pews are there on Sunday morning these days? People have given up, walked away or found all these rental agreements set forth by the “Church” to be irrelevant to their everyday lives.

Not to be outdone, “The Church” has taken to a marketing campaign to fill it’s quota of rentals not because it cares about our spiritual needs and relationship with God but because… well, please just read Matthew 23. The methodology is even more heinous then in Jesus’ time… PowerPoint presentations, full orchestras, only the best of the best singers, grand buildings, and huge congregations complete with pastors who are nothing more than snake-oil salesmen convincing you if you buy their product you will be saved and if you don’t buy it there is a place reserved for you in the fiery pit of hell.

Shorter College is a perfect example.

The “Church” has had it backwards for a very long time. Jesus taught and lived in such a way that it was clear it was about owning our faith with God and not renting it.

People who own something invest in it. They make an effort to improve it, place value and priority in it. People, who own it, protect it with their lives. Ownership does not allow for one to just walk away and replace it on a whim. When Jesus said the greatest love we can show is by laying down our lives for another…that doesn’t happen with a rental faith…that only can happen when we own our faith.

I have come to understand our job as persons of faith is not about the conversion of souls…it is about the protection of souls. Our job is not to figure out why one has a need and how bad they were to get to this needed place but rather simply meet the need.

Not once did Jesus ever tell someone how screwed up they were but rather treated them as owners of their faith and met the need in measure with their faith.

In today’s world, if we dare to take ownership of our faith, we will be told we are crazy, misfits or rebels. If we dare to claim that our relationship with God is ours and we will no longer allow for guilt trips to be laid upon us or told how and when to practice our faith, we will be called heretics, scandalous or worse, perverts.

When we own our relationship with God rather than rent or lease it, this gives us the ability to understand that maybe by accident or maybe with intentionality, the “Apple” company had it exactly right theological-speaking when they wrote:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

When we own our faith we can then live out the meaning of these words found recently on the internet:

“I choose…to live by choice, not by chance;
to make changes, not excuses;
to be motivated, not manipulated;
to be useful, not be used;
to excel, not compete;
I choose self-esteem, not self pity;
I choose to listen to my inner voice(God), not the random opinion of others.”

A Pastoral Thought

The Occupy Wall Street protest seems to have taken on a life of its own, spreading from Wall Street to many major cities and across the world.

I find it amusing in an ironic way that those who supported the Tea Party folks find the Occupy Wall Street folks as repulsive. One would think both of these movements would literally shout that there is something VERY wrong with our society.

With all the mess going on…and the awful things each side are saying to each other, with the news media behaving like vultures and people jockeying for positions to be called heroes, we now see this embarrassing fighting standing in the way of making sure the folks of our country are protected, secure and safe…

I was doing some meditation time and this particular passage struck a deep nerve.

“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.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

Regardless if one is a Christian or not…it seems to me this is a formula for working through this mess…a way of peace, a way of strength, and a way of walking the talk. A way in which everyone could walk away saying they had a hand in working through the challenge.

I guess I want to ask the question of all; what are you personally doing to help this come to reality? See, I get that both sides are deeply entrenched on their side of the argument; however what is each side doing to make the words of the quoted passage a reality?

I am sitting at my desk wondering if this country and it’s leadership have become so jaded and drunk with power, they have forgotten the basic tenet of our country which says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among the people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

Maybe it is indeed time for a change. I think this crisis proves what we have known for a long time…the politicians do not really care if you or I can pay the mortgage or rent.

They do not really care if you or I have enough money to pay our bills or put gasoline in our vehicles.

HIV and it’s spread only matters if a large block of voters suddenly die or there is oil in the country.

They do not really care if you live or die unless it gives them some sort of leverage in the power and control game.

No, the only thing at stake is their position of power, money and comfort, and they would sell their own mother if they thought it would keep them in power.

The recent behavior of the political and religious right and big business proves that all those “so-called Christians” have forgotten a key to their faith…”Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

Yes, maybe now is the time to call for a change…and in the meantime all I can say to our government is:

Shame on you Mr. President.

Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Congressperson.

Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Senator.

Shame on those of you in big business that have lost sight of the people upon whose backs you made your money!!

Finally, but not least by any stretch of the imagination, shame on all those big CEO’s and big business people who forgot why they were in business to begin with,”…that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We are faced with the conservative political right and the religious right constantly beating us over the head with their brand of morals and practice of faith, telling everyone how to think and what the bible says.

We are faced with the political left not listening to the real concerns of folks and the progressive people of faith forgetting it is not a contest of “their way or my way”.

Damn it, folks, read this passage one more time:

“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.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

So the real questions of the day perhaps are these:

What are you doing to find agreement with those around you?

What have you done to become deep-spirited friends?

Are you pushing to the top or are you waiting your turn?

Are you a person who says what you mean and means what you say or are you a B.S. artist?

Have you stepped outside of yourself to help another get ahead?

Are you obsessed with getting your way?

Can you forget yourself long enough to offer a helping hand, without judgment?

Just a passing pastoral thought…

Fear Doesn’t Live Here

Every year about this time I start having this debate in my head…do we really need “Gay Pride”? Do we really need to go all the trouble and expense of throwing what appears to be a weekend long party? Then something like this crosses my desk:

A gay Tennessee couple was reportedly attacked — physically and verbally assaulted — by a Christian Pastor and his deacons to prevent the same-sex couple from entering the Pastor’s church. Sadly, the pastor is the father of one of the two members of the gay couple. Also sadly, the church members and bystanders did not lift a finger to help the couple or to stop church leaders from perpetrating the crime. Further, initially, local authorities refused to allow the couple to file charges.

Via WBBJ:

“I went over to take the keys out of the ignition and all the sudden I hear someone say ‘sick’em,’” said Gibson County resident, Jerry Pittman Jr.

Pittman said the attacked was prompted by the pastor of the church, Jerry Pittman, his father.

“My uncle and two other deacons came over to the car per my dad’s request. My uncle smash me in the door as the other deacon knocked my boyfriend back so he couldn’t help me, punching him in his face and his chest. The other deacon came and hit me through my car window in my back,” said Pittman. He said bystanders did not offer assistance. He said the deacon yelled derogatory homosexual slurs, even after officers arrived. He said the officers never intervened to stop the deacons from yelling the slurs.

To make matters worse when the police arrived they really didn’t do anything to stop the beating.

What on earth kind of perverted translation of the bible is this preacher reading? How on earth can this possible be justified? Then it hits me…this is not about the bible, well, maybe on the surface. However, deep down where the heart and the soul intersect it is pure raw fear.

The church universal is so fearful of our community they will justify anything to stop us from being accepted as normal and thriving and contributing members of society.

Now mind you, I am fully aware it is not every church and some churches have made tremendous progress in getting rid of their fear…but if one is totally honest the biggest obstacle to our community is the moderate to conservative Christian Churches who it seems will do anything to stop us.

They are deeply fearful of us…they are in two words, “deeply homophobic”.

Homophobia: Function: noun date: 1969: irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Interesting how this irrational fear of the religious zealots of the world becomes their strongest weapon against our friends and us.

The religious zealots of the world are so “fearful” of homosexuals or for that matter anyone that doesn’t fit their definition of gender identity or orientation. They fight so fiercely to throw every manner of fecal matter at the fan and it just blows out all over the place and some of it sticks to us. Some of that crap that we are stuck with:

The fear about where we will end up after death. Not to mention the fear of another Sodom and Gomorrah.

Some people seem to fear that if we pursue the life of our God-given orientation we will end up in this place that some call hell; a horrible place where we will be separated from God for all eternity.

I have come to recognize that this fear and concern are deeply rooted in the way we were and are taught to view God. So in essence, the only way to get past those fears is to change the way we view God.

I have recently been re-reading a book written by Bruce Bawer, called Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity. From this book I have come to understand the real source of our fears when it comes to sexuality.

The source of this fear is the difference between an attitude of love and an attitude of law. On page 5 of this book Mr. Bauer states:

“Simply stated, conservative Christianity focuses primarily on law, doctrine, and authority; liberal Christianity focuses on love, spiritual experience and the priesthood of all believers. If conservative Christians emphasize the Great Commission–the resurrected Christ’s injunction, at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, ‘go to all the nations and make them my disciples’–liberal Christians place more emphasis on the Great Commandment, which in Luke’s Gospel reads as follows; ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.'”

What these few words essentially say is that we have a choice as to whether we understand and live with a God as a strict authoritarian who demands that all come to God in a specify way or we understand and live with a God as a loving Creator who desires that all would come to God and would treat each other accordingly.

All one has to do is read the story of the prodigal son to make the obvious choice.

Yet, what we get focused on is a point of view that is based on the law and authority figures that have decided they speak on behalf of God. “The whole world will go to hell in a hand basket if the homos are given any dignity, acceptance or love.”

So, yes there is a choice to be made.

However, I must say that to believe God would create something with free will and then ultimately destroy that creation because it did not make the choice to follow the law is rubbish.

Why did Jesus spend almost his entire earthly ministry bringing the outcasts, those outside the law back to the fold?

Why did Jesus, when asked to state what the greatest commandment was, say to Love God and to love your Neighbor?

He never said that in order to be okay with God and not go to hell you must obey the law of the day, rather he spent all of his time telling folks to love God and giving them example after example of how they could show and could live that love.

The women caught in adultery released, the raising of Lazarus, the blind person healed, the Roman Centurion slave healed, the woman with the issue of blood healed.

Jesus’ words:

“Be not judges of others, and you will not be judged. For as you have been judging, so you will be judged, and with your measure will it be measured to you. And why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother’s eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?”
–Matthew 7: 1-3

“Then Jesus said to the people and to his disciples: The scribes and the Pharisees have the authority of Moses; All things, then, which they give you orders to do, these do and keep: but do not take their works as your example, for they say and do not. They make hard laws and put great weights on men’s backs; but they themselves will not put a finger to them…
Matthew 23:1-4

“But a curse is on you, scribes and Pharisees, false ones! Because you are shutting the kingdom of heaven against men: for you do not go in yourselves, and those who are going in, you keep back. A curse is on you, scribes and Pharisees, false ones! For you go about land and sea to get one disciple and, having him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. A curse is on you, blind guides, who say, whoever takes an oath by the Temple, it is nothing; but whoever takes an oath by the gold of the Temple, he is responsible. You foolish ones and blind: which is greater, the gold, or the Temple which makes the gold holy?”
–Matthew 23: 13-17

Yes, the hypocritical religious right of center has chosen to live in fear by the law and the authority of those around them, while we have chosen to live by the words of Jesus and his examples.

They belong to the church of the Pharisees, Scribes and St. Paul; we belong to the faith that Jesus spent his ministry building and ultimately died for, unconditional love.

In the end the religious right gets and maintains its power from our fear.

Fear of what our relationship with God is going to be and look like in the hereafter.

We need no other reason for bringing 300,000 people to Piedmont Park each year then this and to say:

“We are not afraid of you, our love cannot be taken away no matter what you do, say or threaten.”

To live in fear is the exact opposite of everything Jesus taught. If we are to really be the beautiful creation that God intended then we must listen to, believe and live the words of Jesus when he said to the disciples and to each of us today; “fear not, it is I!” With the celebration of Gay Pride each year we say loudly and clearly: “Fear Doesn’t Live Here”

Yes, Gay Pride serves our community, it builds our community, it strengthens our community, it expresses our love, but most assuredly it destroys our fear.

Gay Pride allows us to say to the oppressive religious zealots, in the words of Glinda from the Wizard of Oz: “You have no power here, be gone before someone drops a house on you.”

And Jesus Wept…

The events of yesterday (the execution of Troy Davis) have unsettled me in a way I did not think was possible. Let me try to explain.

A few years back there was a TV show called “In the Heat of the Night”. It was a spin-off of the movie by the same name. The TV series starred Carroll O’Connor as Chief William O. “Bill” Gillespie and Howard E. Rollins Jr. as Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs.

In one of the episodes titled “A Trip Upstate” (1989), George Brownlow sends word to Bill Gillespie that he wants to see the Chief at Parchman prison on the day of his execution. George had been the driver in a bank holdup where two robbers killed a guard and a customer before Bill killed them in return. As an accomplice, George was sentenced to die.

At Parchman, Bill sees George, who persuades Gillespie to stay until he is gone. The execution is devastating to the Chief.

When the Chief returns, he and Detective Tibbs have a conversation about capital punishment and whether it’s the right thing to do. Tibbs points out the U.S. Constitution makes reference that no cruel or unusual punishment should be administered. It’s at this point that the Chief relates his experience with the person who was executed. After hours of listening and watching the condemned man, he comes to the conclusion there is no way to invoke the death penalty and have it not be cruel or unusual.

He then gives this example (I couldn’t find the script, so this is from memory):

You take the man who is about to be executed for his crime and you sit him in a chair in front of you. You then tell him he is forgiven and that he is free to go. Then in the moment you see in his face the relief, the happiness at such good fortune, you tell him he is free to leave and go home. As he stands and turns to leave for his newfound freedom, you step up behind him and shoot him in the back of the head.

To say the least, I was stunned. In that bit of TV writing I recognized there is no way to kill another human being without being cruel or unusual.

At 6:30pm last night on CNN it was announced that the execution of Troy Davis had been put on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court took a final look at it. According to the experts, Mr. Davis would have already been in the “death room” with the I.V. in his arm and preparing to receive a sedative to calm him. Then suddenly everything stopped. I don’t know if they left him on the gurney or took him someplace close by; but his final hours were exactly what torture is all about. The really sad thing about it is the state of Georgia was really trying to do the right thing by waiting. According to Georgia state law they didn’t have to wait, they could have proceeded.

So now I sit here and think that damn, this was indeed a cruel execution.

Thanks to Amnesty International for some basic facts about the death penalty:

Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.

Factors leading to wrongful convictions include:

  • Inadequate legal representation
  • Police and prosecutorial misconduct
  • Perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony
  • Racial prejudice
  • Jailhouse “snitch” testimony
  • Suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence
  • Community/political pressure to solve a case

So how on earth can we continue to fight for a system of such a final solution if it has been wrong 130 times – and maybe 131 times, if you count Mr. Davis? How can “We the People” allow the government to kill even one person if the system is that broken? Are you telling me that those who are constantly harping about us being a Christian nation do not get this?

At least Governor, George Ryan of Illinois, in January 2000, said: 

I cannot support a system which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life… Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate.

Thereby, Gov. Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in his state, after the 13th Illinois death row inmate had been released from prison due to wrongful conviction. In the same period, 12 others had been executed.

I shudder to think how many people have been executed for a crime they did not commit.

And how about this little factoid:

In a 1990 report, the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.” The study concluded that a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This has been confirmed by the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.

Wow. So the system is not only broken, but it also appears to have a deep bias.

The most troubling thing for me is that what we call “capital punishment” is about as far from a Christian response as one can get.

In the Christian novel The Shack, the main character Mac has a conversation with God about his inability to forgive the man who brutally raped and murder his very young daughter. The character of God says this in response to Mac’s struggle with forgiveness:

For you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him.

Now, I know this isn’t a quote from scripture, but isn’t this really what Jesus taught? There is no real way we can decide a person should die and be justified. All of the New Testament is about agape – that is, unconditional love and forgiveness. So as Christians, how do we come to the conclusion that someone is beyond God’s reach and that it’s okay for us to come up with all kinds of fancy ways to kill them?

People who commit heinous crimes against others are a what inspire us to call for revenge, to get even, to get a payback. But while that may be our knee-jerk reaction my friends, that is not what we are taught by the One who redeems us; instead we are taught to let the first one without sin cast the first stone. We are taught to forgive not once but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22).

Forgiveness acknowledges that a wrong was committed.

Forgiveness changes us from victim to victor.

Forgiveness takes the power from a bad act and turns the act to good.

Forgiveness is the only road to freedom.

Jesus, as near as I can tell, never made the act of forgiveness a bargaining chip for revenge and judgment.

I did not know Troy Davis, nor did I really know a lot about his particular case, except that he was convicted of shooting an unarmed off-duty police officer. Was this crime anymore heinous then that committed by the man in Texas who dragged a black father to his death and was then executed on the same day as Troy Davis?

I also know there was enough hell raised around Mr. Davis’s case to know that something was terribly wrong. I also know there was no hell raised about the execution of the man in Texas, and this too says that something is very wrong. Has our lust for blood, retribution and power become such we now want God’s job? Do we get to decide a color code for heinous crimes and then ignore our faith teachings and kill?

A presidential candidate recently bragged about how many people had been put to death in Texas, while claiming to be a born-again Christian. The audience was filled with Christians, and they cheered his accomplishment. Really? Oh my God, really?

This might be a stretch here, but I would guess most of the folks in the audience and the presidential candidate himself are also what some would call “pro-life”. How does this square with capital punishment? I mean, if all life is sacred and cannot be terminated, does that not make these folks who support capital punishment nothing more than late-term abortionists?

Our Christian faith and its leader Jesus are very clear on this point. We do not have the ability to make clear judgments that allow the government to take a life. One hundred thirty-plus wrong convictions is really all the evidence we need.

I wonder who in this whole debacle showed more mercy and justice? Troy Davis, who asked for a polygraph test and was denied, said as his final words:

The incident that night was not my fault, I did not have a gun… I did not personally kill your son, father and brother. I am innocent… Those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls.

Was the State of Georgia merciful in waiting to see if there was some “legal” reason to stop the execution – or were they just covering their political asses?

Today I am heartbroken and weep at the thought there are those who really believe it’s okay to play God. I am heartbroken that in the end there are far more than a few who can look past forgiveness and a direct command from Jesus to “Love one another as I have loved you” and find creative ways to come up with all kinds of justifications as to why it is okay to ignore the teachings of the one that Christians call “Savior”.

Today, I have a better understanding of why Jesus sat on a hill outside of Jerusalem and wept. May God have mercy on us all.

“To Serve and Protect”…NOT

Leave it to the Atlanta Police Department to give me more grey hair, or something to write about or maybe just vent or maybe just bitch or make a call for action.

Seems the Atlanta Police Department is in what is known in the world of sports as a prolonged slump.

Generally, in major league baseball when a prolonged slump gets too long the President of the ball club fires the manager.

In the case of Atlanta, the manager is the Chief of the Atlanta Police Department George Turner and the President is Mayor Kasim Reed.

Mayor Reed appointed Turner chief, after being less than honest during his campaign for mayor by saying he was going to do a national search and get the best person for the job in the country.

Chief George Turner was the Mayor’s man. Really? This choice was best in the entire country? Really?

“The Ramage Report”, Atlanta’s well-informed commentary on policy and politics noted in an on-line article from February 12, 2011, as Mayor Reed was getting ready to do a national TV interview:

Reed’s “police year,” however, began in January 2010 when he appointed former Deputy Chief George Turner as interim police chief with the obvious goal of shoehorning him into the chief’s job—something Reed eventually accomplished by overruling the citizen committee he had appointed to choose Atlanta’s next police chief.

The New York and Washington-based journalists on “Meet the Press” won’t trouble themselves with Atlanta’s public safety concerns. The show focuses on national and world issues and its regular guest journalists make their careers by identifying rising figures on the national political scene. It is no accident that one so often hears them say “Well, as I pointed out, you may recall, back in…” Reed has carefully positioned himself as a rising star in the national Democratic Party. Meet the Press will look more at Reed’s affinity with Gold Dome conservatives—regardless of his long track record of carrying water for the Democrats—than at the effects of hiked permit and parking fees on small local businesses. These talking heads think in terms of ideology, facts be damned, and that is one reason that American politics has become a matter of branding rather than a matter of public service.

They certainly won’t consider the fruit that Reed’s underhanded manipulation of the police chief search has produced.

But for Atlantans, that fruit is undeniable. For the past year Atlanta’s taxpayers have dug into their shrinking bank accounts and shelled out cash for lawsuit after lawsuit filed against the police department: The $1 million-plus lawsuit over the Eagle raid developed almost entirely under Reed despite the raid itself having been carried out under his predecessor; the relatively frugal $40,000 lawsuit over police illegally taking a cell phone from a resident grew out of an incident that happened several months into Turner’s interim tenure; and another lawsuit, this one over officers unlawfully strip searching citizens during a traffic stop, is on tap. And there are others in the pipeline.

Though there are certainly some cops who are simply stupid and evil, at some point we must face the fact that these lawsuits were not a matter of a rogue cop here and there. The reality of the APD is that it is a rogue organization with intelligent, well-trained, ethical police officers who do their jobs not because of the department but in spite of it. They work, to the point of exhaustion, for little pay, without needed equipment or support, under stress generated by supervisors and command staff who promote an environment of ass-covering to the detriment of the citizens’ safety. Cops with about 10 years or more on the force are painfully aware that most of their co-workers are clueless when it comes to criminal procedure. They are also aware that an alarming number of their co-workers are little more than criminals themselves.”

That was just a year into the loosing streak of the APD. Here we are 7 months further along and the Eagle mess is still not settled. Further those officers who committed criminal offences have not been arrested and charged for their crimes.

Like the “gift that keeps on giving” a 2nd lawsuit has been or will be filed soon. The outcome of this lawsuit is sure to once again cost Atlanta taxpayers a boatload of money.

Within the past week or two we have also been let in on a really big secret. Many of the officers of the APD on the streets making arrests, supposedly protecting us from all from the dangerous homeless, the ever present prostitutes, those damn sex driven queers and those awful people who pee outside (tongue firmly in cheek) lack the authority to make those or any arrests because they have not met state requirements for certification.

When the story broke the Atlanta Journal Constitution in an on-line article from August 18th wrote:

“The Atlanta Police Department is still reviewing records but already has found that dozens of officers lacked the authority to make arrests because they had not met state requirements for training.

“The APD administration’s failures have just compromised a ton of criminal convictions and pending cases,” said a past president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Christine A. Koehler. “Somebody’s not doing what they are supposed to be doing over there. … They have big problems.”

At least 51 APD officers had not received the state-required 20 hours of training per year, and that meant they could not make arrests. Maj. Jeff Glazier, commander of the Atlanta police training academy, said Thursday that more APD officers will likely be found deficient as agency investigators still have about 600 files to review — or about one-third of the force.”

Chief Turner says it is not his fault. Really? Really? Who the hell is in charge at the APD if it is not the Chief?

Adding further fuel to the fire we have this little gem reported by Copwatch of East Atlanta which according to their website is a group of civilians organized to protect our communities from police abuse. They monitor police stops, using video cameras to document any brutality or violation of rights. They also educate people about their rights and how to file complaints about mistreatment by the police:

Nearly a dozen officers and medics were surrounding a man who was lying on the street in handcuffs and appeared to be writhing in pain.

Officers poured water on the man’s face and made comments suggesting police had pepper sprayed him earlier.

Officers asked us to step back, and we complied. However they then began to move us even further down the block, using up to four officers and their bicycles to obstruct our view of the person in custody. Officer Basile, told us that it was illegal for us to film the man on the ground. When we asked if he was ordering us to stop filming, Basile replied “yes”.

An ambulance arrived and further obstructed our view, so we moved to the other side of the street. The four officers followed us, continuing to obstruct our view and attempt to intimidate us. At one point, officer T. Dziamba asked if we had media credentials and told us to stop filming if we didn’t.

Although we were pushed to the end of the block, other civilians were allowed to walk through the scene.

As a result of a lawsuit brought by Copwatch, APD now has an official policy of not interfering with civilians recording police. A recent federal ruling reinforces that right. However as this report shows, police on the street are still determined to use intimidation, interference, and lies to prevent the public from seeing what they do.”

Then of course if you live in and around midtown, it appears the APD has given up law enforcement to Midtown Ponce Security Alliance as their newsletter shows;

“During the early morning hours of August 31st, MPSA Patrol responded to a 911 call about an apparently unconscious person in the rear of a property in the 700 block of Piedmont, and found a white male lying face down near a dumpster.”

Make sure you read this quote closely and ask yourself a question; since when does a non-profit security company answer 911 calls? In fact if you read their webpage it reads like they run the operation as if it is a bona fide police force.

Let us not forget the gay men who were cutting through Piedmont Park after spending an evening at Blake’s who were roughed up and arrested by APD.

It should also be mentioned here about the kids who are routinely hassled by APD at Piedmont Park for doing nothing more then dancing…really? For dancing?

Yes, we all know the APD is understaffed and under paid and that is never good for moral or encouraging a smooth operation. However, one would think the Police Chief would be spending his time trying to fix this challenge, however it appears like many other happening within the APD this is not his fault.

So why the reader might be asking at this point is a pastor who is writing a faith blog writing about this?

The answer is simple. The sworn duty of the APD is to “serve and protect” the citizens of Atlanta. It is far too obvious from these brief examples our city is neither being served nor protected by APD. One only needs to read the 2 reports issued concerning the Eagle raid to see and understand our tax dollars are going to an agency that is out of control.

In fact if you read these reports and are not worried about what might happen should you come in contact with APD I respectfully say you are naïve.

We are coming up on the 2-year anniversary of that raid and precious little has been done to correct the situation.

Read what Copwatch of East Atlanta is reporting and it becomes painfully obvious APD does not want to be held accountable for their actions.

What is happening within the APD is without good ethics and is an immoral handling of the power given to them by the citizens of our community.

I think my friend Art Izzard summed it best when he said on his Facebook page:

“Seriously, we’ve had a 92 year old woman shot to death in her living room. Patrons at the Eagle have had their civil rights violated. Men have had cavity searches performed on them in public. 85 officers don’t even have the certification required to perform their duties. Now we learn the APD has denied employment to a HIV+ applicant who was otherwise qualified. How low can this department stoop and for how long will the citizens of Atlanta foot the bill for the never ending lawsuits and settlements?”

Yes how long? How long before the community as a whole and in vast numbers begins to express it’s outrage over the chaos that is APD. How long before we figure out that like in baseball you can’t fire the whole team but you can fire the manager? In this case the Chief of Police.

So here are the questions that are begging for an answer. How many more lawsuits have to be brought to court? How many more unanswered 911 calls? How many more 911 one calls being answered by some other non-profit agency rather then APD? How many more wrong establishments being raided, wrong homes being invaded, or citizens bullied? How many more officers do we have to find without proper certification?

How much more will we take before the Mayor of this city hears a unison cry from the people; Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho this police chief has got to go!

Our Spiritual Titanic

If there is one thing that is sure as the rising or setting of the sun, it is “Christians” do not like to be called on their crap.

After my last blog I have caught more then my share of grief from folks who think the “Christian Faith” is the one and only answer in the universe. Therefore, there is nothing “they” could do that could be considered terrorism. They hide behind theology that says the only way to God is through Jesus the Christ. They measure a person’s worth by whether they are “saved” or not. They say they help those who are hungry, homeless or on society’s edge because it is the right thing to do. However, lurking behind that hypocrisy is the real reason: To win souls for Christ.

It is precisely this kind of arrogance, questionable traditions and just flat out power and control issues that have left churches empty, churches struggling to pay the bills and worship services looking more like a Hollywood production then actual worship.

Where does this come from? Simple…it is the mis-reading, mis-interpretation or mis-translation of some of the sacred text. The two most often quoted are John 14:6…

 

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

 

This is not a bible study, but let it suffice to say, to use this for the basis of no one getting to God outside of Jesus is to take the quote out of context. In fact one needs to read the entire 13th and 14th chapters to see the context of this remark. Here is a hint; nowhere did Jesus ever utter these words in public.

And Mark 16:15-18

 

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

 

Here is the footnote you find in most bibles concerning this verse: [The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.]

So the centerpiece for justification for killing, threatening people with someplace called hell and the general thought of “my way or the highway” are based on a mis-interpretation and an “add on” long after the fact.

This is serious stuff because the approach to faith is from a point of judgment rather then relationship, which is the complete opposite of the Gospel Jesus proclaimed.

Really, you say? Try this…

A couple years back I got a phone call from one of the local pastors or maybe it was an email, inviting our church and me to join them on a “prayer walk” through Piedmont Park. The purpose of this prayerful walk was to call on God to “take back midtown” from the drug dealers, prostitutes and bars. I have been accused of being arrogant in my day but sorry my first thought was…and who the hell are you to decide midtown Atlanta needs saving?

Of course this Pastor and I ended up in a rather testy conversation about the attitude and the approach of the Church. His position in a nutshell was, the only way to be saved was to have Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and once that was done in massive enough numbers drugs, prostitution and the bars (source of lewd and awful behavior) would go away. I assume this would be because more and more of the converted would be so appalled by the drugs and prostitution that they would force the police to arrest and prosecute the offenders, sending off to jail the offending element of society.

I am not sure what the outcome for the bars would be; I suppose they would go from alcohol sales to the sale of soft drinks thereby ending lewd and awful behavior.

Nowhere in this conversation was there anything said or raised about a concern for the individuals and what their stories were, just the desire to wipe out perceived sin and bad behavior via walking around a park looking and sounding like a bunch of circus freaks.

My theology on the other hand, has always been a field of dreams kind of thing. In the movie the theme was “build it and they will come”. I adjusted the theme to say, “Walk the talk and they will come.” This has nothing to do with winning souls to Christ, but rather simply living out Christ’s one and only command; “Love one another as I have loved you”.

So, if that is the commandment of Jesus, and I don’t mean to sound too critical here, but damn doesn’t it make more sense to find out why folks are using drugs or to find a way to end the need for drugs? How about finding out why people are selling themselves or buying services from others? How about visiting a watering hole and getting to know people and listening to their stories? If we follow that command, would we not take this approach because it is not about saving a soul but rather healing that soul from destructive behavior? Oh wait, that is too risky, one might get sucked into the sin if they actually make contact with those sinners or worse if you are seen, people will assume you are a druggie, prostitute or bar whore. So, instead we will just pray for God to do something…

If this was from a mainline, charismatic type of church it would be bad enough, but this was coming from a gay pastor and a gay affirming church.

Of course the problem with “save the sinner” kind of theology is that it requires people to do good things to save souls and correct the perceived sinfulness of the world. As opposed to doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God because it is the correct way for them to live out their faith and follow what the Creator desires. (Micah 6:8)

This “save the sinner” approach causes one to say and think, “You are worse than me and I going to save you for me, God, and country”. “I am saved and now I am going to save you”.

I have had several pastors who are involved in homeless ministries and feeding programs say the church is there to “save souls”. Really? They are not doing this ministry because these people have a need and deserve shelter and most assuredly need to eat? These church programs are doing this to “save” people rather than doing an act of justice and meeting the need?

So, folks feed the hungry not because it is the right thing to do, but because they are looking to save souls, to get a convert in their trophy case. They want to stand before God and say “see how many souls I saved”. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say: “I feel so sorry for those people, I just want to introduce them to Jesus and save their souls.”

Wow, I think my response to that would be, “save your own damn self and leave me be.”

I would also be remiss if I didn’t also mention that “saving souls” is not what will save you; rather it’s having a relationship with God that will save you.

When I was part of a board of a non-profit they received a gift of $100,000.00 to feed the hungry. We sat in this meeting for over two hours coming up with the rules for handing out the food. Designing ways that we could make sure we were not being abused or taken advantage of. Also laying out what the criteria was for someone to get food and how much.

I was asked by one of the pastors to share my thoughts as I had not said a word up to this point. I indicated they might not want to hear what I had to say, but I was encouraged to share.

I said that this reminded me of “Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000”. Most the pastors nodded their heads and even chimed in that that is what we could name the program. I said, “However, let me finish. You see I am wondering which of the disciples went into the crowd of 5,000 and got the proper paper work filled out? Which disciple determined whose need was real and whose was irresponsible? How did they determine who was just following Jesus around so they could eat?”

A pastor sitting next me offered this advice, “Paul, I understand your idealism, but this is the real world and we have to be responsible with this gift or God will take it away”.

My response was, “Well, if you don’t just simply meet the need, then you will lose the entire ministry”. This non-profit closed their doors for good a couple of years ago.

The real problem with the Christian traditional church is that over the years it is majoring in minors. Jesus is quoted at one point, observing:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

Matthew 23:13-15 (New International Version)

So, the solution? Spend some time with this: “Love one another as I have loved you”. What does that command mean to you? If you follow it will your life be different?

For me, following this command allows me to sum things up with a thought from a friend of mine that captures the truth and heart of my faith and belief: Here’s my personal take on my Christian beliefs: I refuse to tell you that your religion (or lack of religion) is wrong, and I refuse to insist that you change if what you believe works for you. I’m convinced in my heart that God (however God appears to you) loves and embraces everyone: queer or straight; white or black or polka-dotted; believer or non-believer; liberal or conservative.

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